Finish the Year with a Bang with This Budget Pioneer MTG Deck!

Well everyone, it’s the end of the year and we’ve all somehow made it through another one. 2022 was a wild year, from the return of paper Magic to the return of the Pro Tour to more bannings than one can reasonably shake a stick at. Magic has done a lot of changing in the past year as we’ve seen many new cards, products, business philosophies and ways to enjoy our favorite game coming from Wizards HQ. To cap the year off with a bang though, let’s take a look at one thing that never seems to change in Magic, something that weathers the shifting seasons like a rugged mountain. You may know the deck by many names; Sligh, Red Deck Wins, Atarka Red, “That one fast deck that my friend Erik plays”, whatever you like to call it, let’s explode into the new year with some little: red creatures.


Unlock CFB Pro and get all the benefits of a TCGplayer subscription for one monthly fee. Join now!


Budget Pioneer Atarka Red by Darren Magnotti


The Deck

Atarka Red, for the purposes of this article, is a low-to-the-ground zoo style deck that aims to load up the battlefield with as many creatures as possible in order to swiftly overwhelm an opponent before they can establish their game plan. While other cheap red decks may be looking to unleash a flurry of burn spells, this one looks to go wide with small one and two-mana creatures in order to capitalize on mass-board pumping effects. It preys on decks who are looking to play a more fair game by trading their resources one for one, or those who can’t establish a significant enough defense by the early game. 

Starting Small

The Atarka Red deck looks to capitalize on the best aggressive one-drops in the format. Haste is also generally a much-appreciated ability, as it helps to continue to fight through early turn interaction, as wasting turns sitting around with a summoning sick creature only works to shift advantage towards the slower opponent.

In that vein, the deck packs playsets of Monastery Swiftspear and Phoenix Chick. Swiftspear is a mono-red all star that feels like a mandatory inclusion regardless of what the other 71 cards in the deck are. Its combination of haste and prowess is just everything that a red player wants to be doing on turn one, or at any other point in the game honestly. While other builds can take more reliable advantage of its prowess with their higher spell counts, this list offers some sneaky ways to buff the Swiftspear’s attack via the likes of Kumano Faces Kakkazan and the Adventure creatures.

The Chick, meanwhile, acts as a recursive threat that can punish players looking to use a full card in the early turns to disrupt our creature plan, such as Phoenix with its Fiery Impulses. Bomat Courier is a regularly contested addition to the deck, as its fragility is frequently matched by its overall usefulness in accruing card advantage over the course of several turns. In my opinion, it really comes to player preference more than anything, and I like to prepare for the circumstances where things don’t always go exactly to plan.

Kumano Faces Kakkazan, while not a creature on its face, is an excellent newer addition to the red one-drop roster, coming down as a two power attacker that also plays nicely with prowess creatures, Burning-Tree Emissary and the Adventure creatures later in the game. Lastly on the one-drops is arguably the best in the deck, Legion Loyalist, who can break through opposing armies with ease thanks to its first strike and trample granting. Running through the likes of Gruul Vehicles’ and Devotion’s early board presence, as well as dodging all of the tokens generated by the likes of Humans, Greasefang or the Pyromancer decks goes a long way to secure those early turn victories.

Moving up the curve, we see some familiar faces to anyone who’s been casting red creatures for a while, as well as a couple of less common newbies. Burning-Tree Emissary (BTE) is no stranger to entering the battlefield in force, from its time in Standard to even some slight Modern play. This card, in multiples specifically, is an absolute house when it comes to loading up a board state. Effectively free creatures are never something to miss when trying to go wide. Thusly, the other two-drops in the deck are all cards that can come in for free via BTE mana.

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider plays well into the deck’s theme of spreading damage out across the table, as she brings out a (trigger warning) Ragavan on each attack. In combination with her menace, she can be extremely difficult to cleanly answer as she’s nearly always going to get in for damage somehow. Rimrock Knight is yet another interesting point of contention in this archetype, with neither side of the card coming across as particularly powerful. Like most Adventure cards though, the combination of the two effects is really what makes the card shine as its flexibility and card advantage generation can come with great effect. Between triggering prowess with its Adventure half, sneaking in an additional Shock to any combat situation and its relatively massive attacking body, the practicality of the Knight cannot be understated. 

Acquiring Mass

Piloting this deck often comes in two stages; the first few turns are spent going wide – or creating a small army of attackers – and the second step is to push those little guys over the top. There are a range of options when it comes to making this happen, though the two that stand above the rest are Atarka’s Command and Reckless Bushwhacker. The BTE-into-Bushwhacker play has been a core staple in many aggressive decks over the years, as it creates a tremendous burst of damage out of nowhere. Bushwhacker in general is excellent for adding a ton of temporary power to the board, though in combination with one or several Burning-Trees, can be enough to close out a game before it even begins. In a similar vein, Atarka’s Command is almost exclusively played with the modes “deal three damage” and “creatures get +1/+1.” The ability to use the Command to disrupt combat math post-blockers can be beneficial, though the card can also be used to punish greedy no-blocks lines from opponents as well. 

Some of the more niche methods of payoff for the go-wide strategy are Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Embercleave. Embercleave is a mainstay addition to the deck as a one or two-of, turning any creature in play into a must-answer individual threat. It’s combat trick element of play is also incredibly meaningful, as a good portion of the next-level play to this deck is when you can attack in representing one thing, and change that thing with one card after the opponent has locked in to their response. Anax, on the other hand, is more of a backup plan than a first option. While he does become a sizable threat on his face, his real practicality comes from his ability to restock the battlefield in the case of a board wipe. One of the major pitfalls to this deck on the whole is the capacity to pick its plan apart via removal, whether it be mass or single-target, and Anax helps to mitigate that while also creating a huge threat on his own. 

How Does It Play?

Atarka Red is the fastest deck in the format, with one of the very few turn three wins available. There are enough intricacies in gameplay that piloting the deck stays interesting throughout the course of an event, though the deck is also consistently quick enough that games don’t last very long either. The main point of the deck is to quickly overwhelm, erupt out of the gate and make games end as quickly as possible. Of course, there are two sides to that coin, and games can definitely end very quickly in the other sense of the term as well.

Unlike many slower strategies, Atarka Red doesn’t have a lot of capacity to grind a game out, and can become overwhelmed itself just as quickly as it intends to do to others. As many champions of the aggro deck lifestyle have claimed about their builds before, “It’s a great deck to play if you like eating lunch”, which is to say that in a tournament environment you aren’t going to be committing too much time to any individual match and will have the free time to go out and grab food between rounds – something that many midrange and control decks don’t have the luxury of.

In terms of in-game play, the deck provides a familiar yet unique challenge that many red decks have offered before but none so much in the Pioneer format. Instead of memorizing lines of play, this deck relies on a comprehensive ability to navigate mulligan decisions and forward thinking. The capacity to picture the game as it might be in one or two turns is a huge part of this deck’s success, whether it be to determine if a particular attack is correct or when deciding to keep a close opening seven, you need to be able to pre-calculate your damage outputs and follow the lines that will provide the most damage over the course of the next two turns to best maximize your efficiency in playing this strategy. This is why you’ll find that many players who just pick up the deck may not find immediate success with it, as the skills needed to consistently succeed aren’t as common as other skills. While I think that this is an excellent choice for a beginner or as a second option to diversify a local scene, it’s also one that requires some work put in to truly capitalize on all that the deck has to offer. 


Pioneer Atarka Red by IslandGoSAMe


On its face, Atarka Red is one of the cheapest decks in the format, so there isn’t much to say in terms of upgrading. As usual, a more reliable mana base with the full suite of creature-lands and shocks is mandatory, but outside of that the only real cost comes in the sideboard with the fleshing out of Rending Volleys and Unlicensed Hearses. There’s a reason that the typical go-to for budget players is the red deck; they’re always made up of commons so they’re always super cheap to fully assemble.

That’s all for this one! I hope that you all are having an excellent holiday season and have some good plans for the new year. I’ll be looking forward to all of the sweet new cards and sets coming out shortly, and am excited to see what sorts of new toys we’ll get to play with here in Budget-land. Until next time, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading. 

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top