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.
Budget Pioneer Atarka Red by Darren Magnotti
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.