Playing with Fire – Khans of Tarkir Red Set Review and Red Aggro Ideas

Welcome to the Playing with Fire Khans of Tarkir review. Rotation has occurred (a moment’s silence for our fallen friend, Young Pyromancer) and the initial feedback I am hearing from friends that attended prereleases is that Khans is a great Limited format with a lot of interesting interactions (“Morphs are gas” -Wilfy Horig).

We are entering one of the most fun periods of time for any red mage—it is time to prey on all the brewers exploring the format with creative three- and four-color strategies. How foolish.

Skip to the end for some deck lists for your week two events.


Ashcloud Phoenix: This Phoenix has been getting a bit of hype online, but I cannot really fathom why. Red aggro decks need a very good reason to go this high on the curve, and without haste, I just do not think that the Ashcloud Phoenix makes the cut. While it is resilient to most removal, nevertheless, a morph body just does not line up well with what else is going on in the format (Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix need to be kept in mind), so for me, this is a pass. Even in a larger red strategy, I would rather splash for a more solid creature in both offence and defense.

Dragon-Style Twins: Prowess is an exiciting mechanic, and certainly one I will be keen to keep revisiting as more cards are added to the format. Right now, I do not think there are quite enough pieces to enable a prowess-burn style deck, so without evasion, the Twins fall short of our other five-drop options. Some writers have floated the idea of building a Splinter-Twin style combo deck built around Dragon-Style Twins and pump spells, so if you are so inclined you may wish to explore that idea.

Horde Ambusher: I really like this card as a Goblin Shortcutter variant. Ambusher is basically free to reveal, so you have the option to play it as a beater on two, or as a Falter with a body on three, which from my testing to far is the most crucial turn (pushing past a Courser or some other ramped-out blocker). Horde Ambusher is less powerful, but more immediate than Jeering Instigator, which is its main competitor.

Jeering Instigator: I am quite high on Jeering Instigator as a Zealous Conscripts variant, which was incredibly powerful. Against decks without creatures, you just have another 2-power beater to deploy early, but against the midrange decks, Jeering Instigator is a problem that must be answered before your opponent can deploy their big threats. I like having cards with this much upside in my main deck, especially at the start of the format when your opponents may not be entirely familiar with what all the red morphs are.

Monastery Swiftspear: Our obligatory red one-drop with a keyword. Generally, a 1-power haste creature is just worse than a traditional two power one-drop, outside of tactical advantages (for example, finishing off a planeswalker). Swiftspear interacts very powerfully with pump and burn spells however, and might be what a “burn deck” needs to be viable in the format. So far, red aggro decks are struggling to fight through Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, and going wide with many bodies does not seem to be cutting it. Swiftspear fights through Caryatid and Courser quite easily, since they cannot really block when you have mana open. Swiftspear has already been able to make the leap into Modern and Legacy, where it is at home as additional copies of Goblin Guide.

Valley Dasher: These sort of all-in, hyper aggressive cards are not really my cup of tea, but if there is a “Boss Sligh” style deck, then this is a likely inclusion. Curving 2-power one-drop into Valley Dasher is quite terrifying on the play, even more so in a format where mana bases are either slow or painful (and sometimes both). Nevertheless, I am particularly weary of any card that lines up this poorly against the expected creature suite in the new format.

War-Name Aspirant: Our pushed raid card that is somewhat reminiscent of Stormblood Berserker. Both require you to have an abundance of one-drops to enable their boost, and both can be difficult to block down. Whether there is enough upside in War-Name Aspirant’s pseudo-evasion to justify running it over Borderland Marauder is unclear; it will depend on how viable the decks with twelve or more one-drops are.

In general, while there are enough new cards to support a Rabble Red style strategy, there does not seem to be a sufficient influx of new powerful cards to make up for what the archetype is losing (another 2-power one-drop, better 2-drops, and critically, Mutavault). It may be that successful base-red strategies need to be a little larger, so that they are not simply shut out by a single Sylvan Caryatid or Courser of Kruphix.

Noncreature Spells

Arc Lightning: This is just an excellent sideboard card for winning aggro-mirrors, where you can easily two-for-one (and sometimes three-for-one) your opponent. Two years ago, Flames of the Firebrand was the card to catch you up on the draw and I can see Arc Lightning having exactly the same effect, especially with how little the creatures are in the Mono-Black Aggro deck.

Crater’s Claws: I really like this card in a larger red strategy, since casting it with ferocious is quite necessary to justify its inclusion. Red is also struggling for ways to deal with larger creatures outside of a splash, so a Blaze goes up slightly in value too.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker: PV already covered the new Sarkhan in incredible detail here. I broadly agree with his analysis. In particular, I would emphasise that Sarkhan offers red aggro decks a way to remove large blockers and then attack, while still retaining value—something Stormbreath Dragon does not do.

Trumpet Blast: This reprint fits into the hyper-aggressive, likely heroic, or just any aggro deck that can produce a lot of attackers quickly (so, most of them). While effects like this are not my preference, I foresee dying to Trumpet Blast many times over the next year.

Week Two Deck Ideas

Mono-Red Aggro by Sam Loy

This list was contributed by my good friend Sam Loy and I think it is a great starting point for the first week or so of the new format. The list is extremely proactive and has a consistent draw, which is where you want to be when you need to pick off unrefined and greedy opposition. The deck plays all the cards that we know are solid performers: Foundry Street Denizen, Goblin Rabblemaster and Stoke the Flames; while also pre-empting what we can expect to be the main obstacles in the new format by including ways to get through Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid (Mogis’s Warhound and Everflame Eidolon in the main deck).

Mono-Red Heroic by Zemankjaski

This is a list for the hyper-aggro enthusiasts. By emphasizing the strongest possible nut draws, this deck puts itself in the best possible position to punish all of the untuned decks in week one. The tricks are all designed to help through an expected field of Abzan Midrange decks built around Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid and Siege Rhino.

Finally, though I never played a Boros deck before in my life, I thought that I would at least entertain the idea of the splash.

Boros Control by Zemankasi

Going to completely the other end of the spectrum, we have a midrange control deck, built around strong defensive creatures that provide value, and Planeswalkers. The card quality is extremely high, and the sideboard gives you options to become more aggressive or more controlling, as the matchup warrants.

That is it for this edition of Playing with Fire. I hope everyone enjoys their early events in the season and I will be back in a few weeks with some more refined deck ideas.

How do you like the new format? Any obvious improvements to my starting lists? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments.



“I don’t know why people say a double-edged sword is bad. It’s a sword. With two edges.”

Bonus Decklist!

I have not had time to really flesh out this idea so far, but I have received a great many messages asking for a new Boros Burn deck, so here is my best early approximation:

From what we have seen so far in Khans Standard, green-based creature decks are the majority of the field and this deck has an abundance of tools to combat those decks while having the right sort of interaction to combat the early format aggro decks too.

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