Good old Mono-Red. To the shock of no one this is arguably the best deck for week 1 since it requires the least amount of refinement and punishes all the brews people will bring to the table. It also gained some obvious and not-so-obvious main-deck additions, so let’s start with the best of them. Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics are both huge additions to the Mono-Red deck and it’s now nearly as strong as it was when Hazoret and Ramunap Ruins were the scourge of the earth. Part of it is that the tools to fight them aren’t quite as efficient and the sheer number of burn spells that say “deal 3 damage” have reached a tipping point. Meanwhile, Light Up the Stage plays like a Faithless Looting where you don’t have to discard. It’s easily the best red draw spell since that 1-mana sorcery.
At this point, you need to be prepared for classic 20/20/20 strategies and some are burn decks in all but name. It turns out that Spear Spewer and Electrostatic Field are just slower burn spells and often deal 3-4 damage on their own if left alone. So if you want to jam the maximum amount of burn and focus on damage, Spear Spewer is a lot closer to a Flame Rift than not. It certainly gets more done than Fanatical Firebrand unless you really need to kill a Llanowar Elves.
I like the all-burn-all-the-time list using creatures that are effectively burn spells. While they can be clunky later, having access to Light, Risk Factor, and Frenzy means that you can easily find 6-8 cards that get you a 2-for-1 or better. Plus if you need to go slower, you can easily sideboard the classics: Goblin Chainwhirler or Rekindling Phoenix. Some builds with higher land counts still prefer Treasure Map into Banefire as well.
As for players who don’t want to get burned to a crisp—access to some form of life gain is almost necessary at this point, though green decks can sometimes pressure well and kill the red deck before they really get going. Since their spells are often conditional, this can force some awkward turns. If you can punish them for these breaks in the action, then you’re going to be in good shape. If you’re looking to drag them into a longer match without life gain, you’re going to find that the red decks are quite good at finding gas and ignoring blockers.
So take what I said about red and playing decks without life gain, and apply it here as well. My take on the deck relies heavily on abusing Wildgrowth Walker into explore creatures and if Vannifar lives, chain Jadelight into Shalai for a soft lock. They can’t kill your creatures, you’ve gained a bunch of life, any 1- or 2-drop becomes another explore creature, and you can always start popping off counters. Alternatively, just jam a Lyra Dawnbringer and see who blinks first.
The biggest drawback of this deck is that it ends up being incredibly straightforward and nobody is going to ever be surprised by something you do. There’s not a lot of room for shenanigans and not being able to Pod at instant speed is an unfortunate sacrifice to the altar of balance. The upside is that you are very good at winning fair games of Magic against creature decks and have a brutal sideboard against decks like Fog trying to play unfair games of Magic against you. You are soft to slower decks that can abuse your lack of removal with giant Drakes or Dragons. You can fall back on Incongruity in a pinch, though.
I’ve seen some straight Simic lists and it’s possible that adding more ramp and playing that approach is superior on the back of Hydroid Krasis. But I really like having the utility from Knight of Autumn and more life gain/removal options in general. Still, we have Genesis Hydra 2.0 and with Incubation it isn’t that hard to start chaining them to bury the opponent in resources.
Otherwise here’s your basic Simic shell:
After that it seems to either go heavy on Elves to abuse Marwyn, the Nurturer or the explore package for extra filtering and Wildgrowth Walker life gain against aggro. Both have their own sets of advantages so it really depends on how the format breaks.
Light Up the Stage was the most interesting new addition to the deck. It wasn’t something I thought would necessarily work well, but I wanted to give it a shot. Well I’m glad I did, because it often acts as a 1-mana Divination for the deck and gives it a little more velocity once you stick a threat. Against slower decks, treating it as a normal Divination isn’t even bad. You can almost always use both cards unless you hit double Drake or double Dive Down, or some other odd combination of cards.
Adding Pteramander was another key in having it function as well as it has. Playing it as a Flying Men and getting in there for 1 early allows you to fire off Chart a Course and Light Up the Stage without repercussion. Growing into a 5/5 later in the game is often 1-2 mana and can easily be protected by Dive Down or Negate. The mana costs of Crackling Drake and increased speed due to burn make it a bit less effective than I’d like, and I would actually consider splitting it with Murmuring Mystic in the main now. Not having to rely entirely on the eight Drake package to carry the day makes it a lot more appealing.
You can activate the ability on Pteramander in response to removal, meaning even if they try and kill it off in response to your first activation, you can throw another one on the stack. At a minimum you can often force two burn spells out of red and with Dive Down you can set up situations where they simply cannot kill it. The 5th toughness makes a big difference against Lava Coil.
With those tweaks you now aren’t so impacted by drawing multiple Crackling Drakes early and that means you have 16 cards that dig instead of the usual 12. You also have a cheaper threat to deploy against countermagic, making it easier to leverage post-board instead of leaning so heavily on Niv-Mizzet.
My board is a little odd because the format is so open right now, with the exception of a ton of mono-red, so I’m skewed towards surviving against it. Sailor of Means and Murmuring Mystic aren’t exactly all-stars, but they help out considerably against creature-heavy hands. Raptor Hatchling was another consideration as a way to absorb some damage early.
You can also easily splash with this deck—Deafening Clarion was already an interesting option. Hallowed Fountain opens up the possibility of a slightly heavier splash for, say, Revitalize, Integrity // Intervention, and white sideboard cards. While your mana base becomes more painful and you’ll likely be running 1-2 more lands, you do get much better swing cards against aggro.
Regardless of whatever deck you choose, here’s some generic advice that applies to everyone: Double check those mana bases, pack your anti-red sideboard cards, and don’t fully rely on dealers having new cards the day of the tournament!