It’s been awhile since I’ve written an article, but ever since Pro Tour Hour of Devastation I’ve had the itch. I played Ramunap Red, and I played a ton of games with the deck leading up to the Pro Tour. Today, I’ll explain why it’s the best deck in Standard.
Hazoret the Fervent Is Completely Ridiculous
I started out as most people did, by copying a deck list from the internet. Although I don’t remember the details, I’m fairly certain it had 1 or 2 Hazorets in the main deck. I played a few games, and moved up to 3 Hazoret, and quickly to 4. One of the biggest mistakes made by those who played Ramunap Red at the Pro Tour was to identify that Hazoret was one of the best cards, but then not play 4.
It reminds me of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in Mardu Vehicles—it gives you a busted nut draw and a curve topper so you can go big if your cheap cards don’t run the opponent over. Remember when people tried to sideboard to beat Mardu Vehicles? It made them play with Radiant Flames and Release the Gremlins, and those cards are all horrible against Gideon. Having cheap, aggressive creatures and a big resilient threat makes you hard to sideboard against.
Similarly, Hazoret fights the game on a completely different axis. Any time someone puts a card in their sideboard to beat Mono-Red, it’s going to be cheap removal, life gain, or a sweeper, and the options for those effects in Standard all match up comically poorly against Hazoret. When some of my teammates expressed nervousness about playing red, I pointed to the 4 Hazoret as the technology that made this deck different than your typical net deck. And anyway, this deck is totally busted—either I could start with a great hand, or take a mulligan that allowed me the privilege to start with fewer cards and the chance at an even more busted opening hand that can attack with Hazoret turn 4!
An argument I’ve heard in defense of 3 Hazoret is that it’s bad to draw 2, and while that’s true, it’s only bad to draw 2 in a specific type of hand. Often you can still curve out and cast Hazoret, and attack with your last card being the 2nd Hazoret. In my experience, when I draw fewer than 4 lands, I can dump my hand on to the table, and the moment I draw my fourth land I can make a hasty Hazoret and attack. The fact that I drew 2 did not matter at all. The real disaster is when you draw 2 Hazorets and more than 4 lands—this makes it difficult to impossible to empty your hand. Still, on power level it’s such a strong card that you simply want to give yourself the best chance to draw it. We played 4 Umezawa’s Jitte and 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and now we play 4 Hazoret.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance Is the New Jace, the Mind Sculptor
I was using this phrase a lot during testing, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I only played 3 copies at the Pro Tour, which was almost certainly a mistake. They have the same casting cost, they both generate card advantage, they both remove a creature the turn they enter play, and they’re both planeswalkers with high starting loyalty and 4 abilities.
It’s true that Jace is a much better card, but when you power down all the cards that surround it in Standard, then they appear to be pretty similar in their respective formats. It became clear that the field would be those with unplayable decks, those smart enough to figure out that Mono-Red was the best deck, and those stubborn enough to identify that red was great but would instead play a black deck designed to beat it. The people who played black decks all turned to Kalitas and heaps of removal. Chandra is totally busted against people who play Kalitas and heaps of removal, since it’s not only your best answer, but it’s also a strong proactive threat that’s hard to deal with.
This card didn’t look particularly strong to me when I first saw it. Surely it’s worse than Barbarian Ring, right? Well, this card is bonkers, and it almost invalidates control by itself. Traditionally, mono-red decks are likely to lose a game in one of two ways: Drawing a poor mix of lands and spells, or excessive targeted hate. In the past we’ve seen burn decks that aim to keep 1-land hands since they can play a few spells early, and when they draw into lands they have a handful of gas to finish the game.
This is not that red deck.
I identified early on that you should mulligan most or all 1-land hands, since drawing too many lands is heavily mitigated by the existence of Hazoret, Ramunap Ruins, and Earthshaker Khenra. In the past, burn decks that drew 6 lands could never win. Now when you draw 6 lands, some of the time you have Ramunap Ruins and Sunscorched Desert to deal 5 damage. Let that sink in for a moment. Most of the games you would lose in the past, instead your opponent has a starting life total of 15? Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty big advantage to gain—and from lands that don’t even come into play tapped. It’s possible in a different strategy you wouldn’t have to time to activate a land like this twice before you die, but in practice your opponent has to spend so much of the early game defending themselves that attacking you is an afterthought. Once I’m out of gas it’s about turn 5, and I’m at 20, so you only have a turn or two to kill me before I exhaust my Ruins and your life total.
It’s also true that mono-red decks historically can be hated out, but this Standard format has some of the least effective sideboard hate imaginable. What I saw from Magic Online results was a shift to Sweltering Suns, Yahenni’s Expertise, Radiant Flames, Magma Spray, and Kalitas. Kalitas could be dealt with by Collective Defiance and Chandra, and the rest could be mitigated by sideboarding out some of your cheap creatures to load up on Hazoret and Chandra.
The Mana in Standard Is Bad
If you want to play a 2-color deck in Standard, you’re going to struggle. Two matchups that appeared to be poor on paper were U/W Oketra’s Monument and U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift. They both seemed to have life gain and tons of cheap cards to defend themselves, but when you played the matchups out it was clear: They just weren’t winning. I played and played expecting to lose, but I just didn’t. Some games I would even mull to 5 and it didn’t matter. Not only did they not win, but it was an absolute landslide in red’s favor. The reason is because Port Town and Prairie Stream are inconsistent and unreliable. I walked around the testing house asking, “How does someone cast a spell on turn 1? Honestly, how do they do it?” 6-8 Plains and 4 Thraben Inspector? 2 Mountain 4 Game Trail 4 Magma Spray? It was amazing to me how poorly equipped these decks were to defend themselves early. I couldn’t think of a matchup where I didn’t feel like a big favorite if I won the die roll.
Lastly, with the banning of Aetherworks Marvel, people had to start from scratch, and none of the decks seemed fine-tuned. On top of that, there wasn’t an obvious best deck or even an obvious metagame! I’ve always felt that in a field of underdeveloped decks, having an aggressive proactive game plan is essential. I toyed with the idea of playing R/G Pummeler, but it was slower than Ramunap Red and also had a problematic failure rate. I even made a list of decks the night before the PT that I thought people might play, and it was so long that it just reaffirmed my choice. I suspected people might play Ramunap Red, Zombies, B/G Energy, God Pharaoh’s Gift, U/R Control, R/G Ramp, Mardu Vehicles, R/G Pummeler, and all sorts of Elder Deep-Fiend/Kozilek’s Return/Prized Amalgam decks.
These felt like strong reasons to play red, and ones that aren’t all bogged down with in-game strategy, but overall metagame predictions and understanding of what makes a strategy the best one in a Constructed format. As you can see from the results, it’s pretty clear this was true, and my biggest regret was not practicing more Booster Draft.