Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mark Rosewater, Please Read This Article: Red in the Late Game

[This series consists of articles about the future of Magic.  Because they are intended partly as feedback for R&D, they contain no original designs.]

"Red.  Red never changes."

Unfair, you might cry!  Red has changed a lot over the years.  But sometimes, casting Stromkirk Noble into Hellrider feels a lot like casting Goblin Guide into Hell's Thunder.

Or Figure of Destiny into Boggart Ram-Gang.
Or Goblin Sledder into Blistering Firecat.
Or Goblin Cadets into Viashino Cutthroat.
Or Jackal Pup into Ball Lightning.

Aggressive 1-drops, hasty creatures, and efficient burn spells are among red's signature effects.  This combination often means that the best red deck is the one that wins as quickly as possible.  But what does that leave for red players who want to play the long game?  What about big fireballs, huge dragons, and cataclysmic power?  And what about multiplayer formats? I firmly believe that every color should have faster and slower styles of play available to it.  For much of its history, red has been pigeonholed too strictly into the fast end.  Anyone who's tried to build a mono-red Commander deck knows exactly what I'm talking about.

What does red need to escape from this?  Other colors use their own tools to rule the late game: efficient card draw or life gain, for example.  But obviously, one can't print a red Baneslayer Angel or Consecrated Sphinx and call it a day.

Many players have lobbied for red's slice of the color pie to be expanded. While that may or may not be necessary for the general health of the game, I claim that red already has a wide enough range to print cards for slower decks.  The design space is there, waiting to be utilized.  And this can all be accomplished with red style and red emotions.

"I don't have pet peeves like some people.  
I have whole kennels of irritation." 
-Whoopi Goldberg

Red, more than anyone else, gets annoyed by Steppe Lynxes or Llanowar Elves pecking away at its life total.  Surviving to the late game usually means clearing out the initial rush of pesky creatures.  Red has often had good tools for irritable smackdowns, including recent hits like Slagstorm and Whipflare.  Keep 'em coming!

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light." 
-Dylan Thomas

There is nothing redder than flying into a rage and blowing everything to smithereens.  Conveniently, this sort of reset button is also a great way for a deck to gain card advantage.  Unfortunately, red has not always been strong in this area.  There have been occasional gems like Wildfire, but these are few and far between.

"Energy and persistence conquer all things."
 -Benjamin Franklin

Passionate determination is well within red's emotional wheelhouse.  Recurring threats make fantastic finishers in decks that want to win the long game.  Demigod of Revenge filled this role well.  There have also been a handful of good phoenixes, but many underwhelming ones as well.

"Impatience is the mark of independence, not of bondage."
 -Marianne Moore

Who wants to wait a whole turn to get some value out of a big creature?  Not red.  And not any smart player, given the prevalence of cheap removal spells.  That's why threats that have an immediate effect on the board are of utmost importance.  Cards like Siege-Gang Commander, Inferno Titan, and Bogardan Hellkite give red some real staying power.

"I'm just generally hugely frustrated, I'm a very, very frustrated man. 
I'm just a ball of pent-up frustration."
 -Allan Carr 

Rising frustration that leads to violent outbursts?  Definitely red.  Cards that embody this concept are threats that start out mild, but get downright terrifying if you leave them alone to stew.  Creatures like Dragonmaster Outcast and Krenko, Mob Boss give red an emotionally appropriate way to accumulate value over the course of several turns.  Red planeswalkers can and should fill this role as well.

In short, R&D already has the ability to print more red cards that are worth casting on turn ten.  Card advantage is the soul of the late game, and red has plenty of built-in ways to accrue value!  It just needs sweepers, both large and small, and threats that are persistent, yield immediate advantage, or have the potential to get bananas.  (And really, isn't getting bananas what red is all about?)

What do you think, readers?  Do you agree that red needs some help in the late game?  What kind of cards would best propel red out of its fast, aggressive corner?


  1. I'm not sure that this is really a huge area of concern, and at the very least it's one that R&D is aware of and continues taking steps to correct. I'd like to see this article go a little more in depth about what exactly you see as symptoms of this problem or what you see as lacking. I mean, sure, red consistently has fast aggressive cards. But it's also been the main compliment to the most recent dominant ramp deck (Wolf Run). And it's had the best combo pieces in recent memory (Splinter Twin/Pyromancer's Ascension). It's got arguably the best card in standard (Bonfire), and that card is an X spell not some one drop.

    Is this all just a perception problem? If it is, I'm not sure what can be done to fix this beyond Development pushing more late game Red cards. It's certainly what was done with Bonfire, but maybe that's just not enough?

    *I also think that Persistence is an odd quality to associate with red. Especially because it's followed immediately in the list by Impatience. I've always felt that cards like Demigod represent more of an "Avalanche" effect of Red. Hammer of Bogarden only feels Red because it's on a burn spell, but I would prefer something like it in Black now.

    1. Perhaps I should have made this clearer, but I'm not only talking about tournaments here. Red is a generally crummy color for slow casual decks, multiplayer, and Commander, in my experience. Lots of people complained to Maro on tumblr about this issue a while ago, and I'm finally getting around to adding my input.

      (Aside: As far as tournament decks go, Wolf Run Ramp was not exactly a shining example of red flourishing in the late game. It was a Primeval Titan deck that ran some red cards, mostly because Kessig Wolf Run requires red mana to activate. And red-based combo decks are not at all about winning in the late game either.)

      Yes, it does seem clear that R&D is aware of this problem. But we keep getting cards like Worldfire, Firewing Phoenix, and Hamletback Goliath, so perhaps it wouldn't hurt to lobby for something better. Besides Koth, the planeswalker selection has been underwhelming.

      Persistence is definitely a red trait. Recurring phoenixes have been in red since Legends. I also don't see a conflict between persistence and impatience; one can work towards a goal both immediately and consistently. (Chandra's Phoenix, e.g.)

    2. There *was* an awful lot of Wolf Run that used red exclusively for the trigger, but that might be besides the point, especially with reference to the Iyanaga deck that won Worlds.

      Persistence *does* seem a little out of place in red, but Relentlessness does seem perfectly in place.

    3. Annnnd havelock beats me to it by a hair.

    4. Better than being beaten with a hare.

    5. Or being harried by a beet.

      It's true that red combos a la Splinter Twin aren't really looking for the late game, so they don't necessarily answer the second half of the article, but they are a variation from the Jackal Pup+Ball Lightning tradition, at least.

    6. If you're talking Commander, I'd suggest that the cards are certainly there for people willing to try it. In our gauntlet of EDH, we've got Kiki-jiki and Bosh as solid mono-red options that both play a controlling roll differently. In the more competitive end, the red Akroma is also a perfectly defensible option.

      Wolf Run was certainly a base green ramp deck, but it also exemplifies the style of deck you seem to be advocating for here: Slagstorm style sweepers that allow you to ramp into Inferno Titan-style fatties or explosive X spells. Red doesn't normally get ramp, but green doesn't normally get sweepers. It's hard to ignore the influence of Red on most builds of the deck.

      The complaint as I understand it is more about the inability to print these kind of cards at lower rarities. Look at the cards you profiled: All rare. That means that the casual player doesn't have access to these tools for building a control red deck. It doesn't mean that they don't exist, as your article points out, there are pieces of Reds pie that totally fill these ideas. But you aren't going to see many common sweepers, Wildfires or dragons. Instead, red gets the same little creatures and burn spells set after set after set. That's a problem with a much more difficult answer.

    7. Sure, there are a few decent mono-red EDH decks, but compare that to any other color's options. I think it's pretty apparent that red is the weakest color in that respect.

      Yes, Wolf Run Ramp is the kind of deck I'm advocating here, although I also dislike it because Primeval Titan is a format-warping monstrosity that should never have been printed. But I also feel like decks of that nature are few and far between. The vast majority of successful red decks in tournaments are very aggressive. It's much harder to measure the kitchen table, which is what I care about much more, but I still suspect like it's harder to build a slower red deck.

      A lot of these cards just can't be printed at lower rarities because of Limited. Small sweepers at uncommon, yes, but definitely not ETB fatties or recurring threats. At least we sometimes get Fireball or the equivalent at uncommon.

    8. We can't have Mono-Red Control in Standard? Por que why not?

    9. When was the last time we had Mono-anything Control in Standard? Black in 2003? Or were there some successful Emeria decks?

    10. Time Spiral block had some mono-blue decks (like Pickles, the lockdown deck with Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter or mono-Faeries).

      Early on in Scars standard, there were a few Big Red decks with cards like Koth, Inferno Titan, Slagstorm, and Kuldotha Phoenix.

    11. Good to know! I wasn't aware of Big Red.

      Still, I wouldn't hold out much hope for Mono-X Control in general; if you want the game to go on for a long time, there just isn't as much incentive to skew your manabase entirely to one color. (Particularly not with Shocklands legal again.) But I'd be delighted to be proven wrong.

    12. Really, the weakness of Mono-colored control decks isn't the fault of the colors themselves. As you point out, it's way more a result of effective dual lands.

      The only way to counter this is to make basics more relevant for these decks or to make fixing worse. Printing more of the cards you listed will only serve to help control decks use red, and not achieve a mono-red archtype in any format with fixing available.

      Block mono-control decks are almost always examples of the latter. Coffers/Emeria/Koth decks the former

    13. When people talk about mono-red control decks in casual formats like EDH, I think of Task Mage Assembly! You listed Siege-Gang Commander which is obviously awesome, but there are similar dragons which let you funnel a bunch of mana into them to burn stuff the turn they land.

  2. Somebody posted on Maro's tumblr about the possibility that Red can act like a volcano, penting up energy over time and then blowing up. That could be Red's long term style.

    1. Yup, that's my "frustration" category. I'm actually extremely happy about them printing Krenko and his exponential torrent of followers.

    2. I'm not sure Dragonmaster Outcast or Krenko is a good example of "first charging, then blowing up." They're more like a way of generating advantage every turn.

      By volcano, I meant something that spends some turns charging, then some turns blowing up.

    3. I see what you mean. I think of tapping Krenko for one or two goblins as "charging", since it doesn't have a huge board impact, but it means he'll get awesome in future turns.

  3. Very well said, Havelock.

    I would love to see more cards supporting Red Control and I agree that's the combination of deck-style and color that gets the least love.

    1. Thanks, bro. I might write a follow-up article with some designs in it.

  4. Red control?!? WTF?!? If you want to play Control, you don't want to play Red. They do not live in the same space. The very definition of red is chaos, and lack of control. Why do WoTC bother with a color pie if they need to constantly smash it because certain players insist that every color should be able to do every thing?

    You want more sweepers? Great, see Bonfire of the Damned, and Mizzium Mortars. See also Blasphemous Act, Alpha Brawl, Magmaquake, and to some extent Chandra's Fury, Electrickery, and Rolling Temblor. These are only the sweepers available in Standard.

    1. I thought I wrote that these cards can be printed without any sort of alteration to the color pie. Was that not clear from my post?