Black-Red Aggro in Standard

by Zen Takahashi on 27 November 2017, Monday

Zen Takahashi


Black-Red Aggro in Standard

Hello everybody! 

A couple of weekends ago, I competed in Pro Tour Ixalan, where I played Temur Energy. While I do not regret my deck choice, especially since we had a great list for the mirror, I was very inexperienced with the deck and I finished with an unexciting 5-5 record in Constructed. 

The main reason I was so inexperienced with Temur Energy was that I spent a large portion of my time in testing trying various builds of black-based aggro decks. After making Top 8 of New Zealand Nationals with Black-Red Aggro, which you can read about here, I made it a priority to test all the different builds throughout the week leading up the Pro Tour. 

Unfortunately, I was never able to get the deck to a point where I was comfortable with its Temur Energy matchup. My final version, which I will be sharing with you today, was the best build I could find against Temur Energy, while not sacrificing a lot of percentage points against other matchups – and it still felt slightly unfavored.

In the end, we knew that the Energy decks were going to be very popular at the Pro Tour (though we were still surprised that they were 50% of the total metagame!), so I had to shelve the deck and play Temur Energy myself.

However, since the Pro Tour, we have seen the metagame shift to becoming less Energy focused, and there has been a large increase in the presence of Ramunap Red – which is Black-Red Aggro's best matchup. In addition, the Energy decks have gravitated towards being built with the mirror in mind, with greedier manabases to support cards such as Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, as well as more Chandra, Torch of Defiance and less Bristling Hydras.


Black-Red's Time to Shine

All the above changes are great for the positioning of Black-Red Aggro, and if I was to play a Standard tournament tomorrow, I would definitely play this deck.

This is the list that Lars Dam, who won the MOCS Championships in 2014, posted on Twitter just under a week before the Pro Tour. At the time, he was 18-1 with the deck, after going 7-1 in the MOCS Quarterly and 11-0 in Leagues. 



Night Market Lookout Aethersphere Harvester


The biggest change he made from the list I played at Nationals was cutting the full playset of Night Market Lookouts. While the card was great for being aggressive and its interaction with Aethersphere Harvester is powerful, the card is simply too much of a liability against Whirler Virtuoso. Cutting the Night Market Lookouts meant that your Aethersphere Harvesters became much worse, so you could no longer play four main deck. 


Canyon Slough


However, since you only have four black one drops now, you do not need as much early black sources, and hence you can cut the Canyon Sloughs for more Mountains. I always hated Canyon Slough in this deck as you want to try to curve out as much as possible, and a tap land very much gets in the way of that. While I was initially worried about having four Mountains in my deck, after playing lots of games, I never found it to be a problem and I was happy with how much smoother the manabase felt. 

To make up for the Night Market Lookouts and Aethersphere Harvesters that he cut, Lars Dam added three additional removal spells, two Gifted Aetherborns and moved the third Yahenni, Undying Partisan from the sideboard into the maindeck.


Gifted Aetherborn Yahenni, Undying Partisan

These additions were clearly to make the matchup against the Energy decks better, as any removal spell is generally good against them, while Gifted Aetherborn plays well on offence and defence against some of their most problematic creatures – Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra. With the additional removal in the deck, Yahenni, Undying Partisan becomes a lot better, as you can build your game plan around it where you cast her and then chain a series of removal spells, making her a very big threat that is also difficult to deal with. 

I was immediately impressed with Lars Dam's list. While the deck was still an underdog to Temur Energy, it was definitely the best build I had tried thus far against it. Without the Night Market Lookouts and Aethersphere Harvesters, your matchup against Mono Red became much worse, and your control matchups also became worse as you traded off aggressive creatures for dead removal spells.

However, I still felt favored against Mono Red and these control decks, and I think the percentage points you lost against them were worth the percentage points you gained against the Energy decks. 


Cut // Ribbons

As I was playing with the deck, I really liked Cut // Ribbons and wanted a second copy. Longtusk Cub is the card that I am most worried about in the early game, especially when I am on the draw.

While Fatal Push does deal with it, Fatal Push is pretty bad against the rest of Temur Energy, so I usually want to shave some copies after sideboard. Cut // Ribbons acts as an additional removal spell against Longtusk Cub on the draw, while also being good against the rest of their deck – notably being able to kill Glorybringer. The reach that the Ribbons side provides is also not to be underestimated.


Vraska's Contempt

On the other hand, I found Vraska's Contempt to be very clunky, and I was often stuck with it in hand and could not attack with my Hazoret the Fervent. I like the card only for dealing with Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God, so I prefer it much more in the sideboard than in the maindeck. 

I also found that without the Night Market Lookouts, and having more removal spells, the deck was now a lot less aggressive. This meant that I was casting Lightning Strike at my opponent's face a lot less, as I was generally winning by dealing with all of my opponent's creatures and grinding them out on board, instead of trying to get them to exactly zero life on turn five.

Therefore, I decided to try Harnessed Lightning over Lightning Strike, and I was stoked with the change just after a few games.


Harnessed Lightning

Harnessed Lightning covers a lot of bases in this deck, as it can act as a removal spelt that can deal with bigger threats such as Glorybringer or Longtusk Cub, while also making your mana more consistent by fuelling Aether Hub, and allowing you to draw more cards with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.

In short, I found that Harnessed Lightning's flexibility significantly outweighed the benefit of Lightning Strike being able to be cast at your opponent's face. 

The one change I made in the sideboard was that I cut the Vance's Blasting Cannons for an additional Chandra's Defeat. I felt that control would not be popular at the Pro Tour, and that continues to be the case, while Mono Red has become increasingly popular, and Chandra's Defeat is one of the best cards against them. 

Based on these changes, the following is my updated list:


Sideboarding Guide

Temur Energy

+3 Bontu's Last Reckoning

-3 Fatal Push (Play)
-2 Bomat Courier (Draw)
-1 Fatal Push (Draw)

If they keep in Chandra, Torch of Defiance and/or multiple Glorybringer post-sideboard, then also bring in Chandra's Defeat. 

Ramunap Red

+2 Chandra's Defeat
+2 Abrade 
+2 Vraska's Contempt 
+1 Aethersphere Harvester 
-4 Scrapheap Scrounger 
-2 Cut // Ribbons
-1 Yahenni, Undying Partisan 

Sultai Energy

+3 Bontu's Last Reckoning

+2 Vraska's Contempt 
-4 Bomat Courier 
-1 Aethersphere Harvester 

White-Blue or Blue-Black Control

+3 Duress

+2 Doomfall
+2 Vraska's Contempt 
+1 Aethersphere Harvester 
-4 Fatal Push 
-2 Harnessed Lightning 
-2 Cut // Ribbons

Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift

+2 Abrade 

+2 Doomfall 
-2 Aethersphere Harvester 
-2 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner (play)
-2 Bomat Courier (draw) 

I hope you enjoyed this article as I covered my favorite deck in Standard at the moment – Black-Red Aggro. Over the coming weeks, I plan to share some of my thoughts on Ixalan limited, in time for GP Singapore in mid-December!

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi 
@mtgzen on Twitter 


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