War of the Spark is here! Which means one thing. Litanies of jank fodder for Red to burn to ashes, like the hopes and dreams of the decks pilots. All seasoned vets know that the best aggro decks of last standard tend to become the best week 1 decks of a new standard. The reasons for this being, the Control and Midrange lists get tremendous amounts of new toys to begin testing with. But that is all it is, testing. Let’s say hypothetically the Nicol Bolas Dragon God strategy is the strongest in War of the Spark, none of the pilots have enough games played vs mono red. Where as the Mono Red strategy players, at this point, have thousands of games played thanks to Magic Arena. Ultimately the list that won the first competitive open (RDW) had a playset of new cards, Chandra, Fire Artisan, functions very similar to Experimental Frenzy. Both cards are value engines for red, not really changing the archetype a whole lot between players decklists. Early tournaments REWARD REPETITION, over deck strength, as we can see because the top 8 players, not on red strategy, have had a tremendous amount of repetition with their respective archetypes. Open Top 8
The base red build has become the litmus test for viability of decks in the War of the Spark meta. If the next tournament is all decklists that counter red, red will obviously not have the same results that it put up at SCG Open. But, let’s say people don’t tune their jank grixis lists to have even 40% vs Red, what are the choices for red decks going forward. The largest separation with all of the top 25 Red Decks is, which value engine do you chose? All of them have their drawbacks, the only one not up for discussion is Light Up The Stage. R : Draw 2, is a downright broken card. The value engines up for discussion, in no order, Experimental Frenzy, Chandra, Fire Artisan, and Risk Factor. All of them have different pros and cons for different matches which I will go through.
I am sorry to you Flame of Keld and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer lovers, those value engines just don’t really generate value the way you’d one. Keld forces very lopsided hands and requires either a delayed keld, or to punt value for a chance to resolve a Keld. Good Flame of Keld games only exist within a goldilocks region of Mythical Magical Fairy Wonderland. Saheeli is the same way, it forces you to play awkwardly in the force couple turns to MAYBE generate value at a later turn. The way control and combo are set up with inevitability (Teferi, Nexus, now even Lilly), this is just something we can not afford to attempt. Red has no grace or majesty in its attempt to win.
First value engine I’d like to bring back for discussion is Experimental Frenzy. In matches where our opponents best chances are to 1 for 1 try and hope they gain an edge, Experimental Frenzy, nullifies that edge. These are matchups such as the mirror. Where one may think it’s about first to deal 20, but a lot of the matches you are trying to remove creatures because you don’t want them to gain more value than your creatures and burn could. Mirrors become a race to the value engine, Experimental Frenzy wins those types of games 90% of the time. A win with Frenzy feels very certain, but sometimes, an opponent can play to their outs while you flood or deny yourself value, #MagicMathMatters. Frenzy does giveth more than it taketh. But we need to accept a card that minimizes the skill gap isn’t always a certain win. You have to be cognisant of which cards are left in your list, if you want to remove creatures or if you want to send upstairs assuming you might have a creature that can’t attack back to block (cough cough semis of open). I don’t want to say it wasn’t skillfully played from the non frenzy player, but the frenzy player in that match was able to play a lot more aggressively than they did. Many players fall into the trap of aggressive lockdown because, “infinite value”. Other matchups such as esper frenzy becomes a much harder card to play with. Yea, some games it may resolve and get value, but only when Esper has an extremely untextured hands will frenzy be good. Versus Nexus it is just too slow. Nexus has this looming shadow of inevitability past turn X that red needs to beat. So that leaves basically just red right now. And we have the question is Chandra better?
So you want a game ender in the mirror match.... Look no further. In the mirror, Chandra, Fire Artisan, makes a strong argument for being better than Frenzy. Where frenzy offers the potential for value in future turns, call JG Wentworth, because Chandra gives it to you here and now. If your opponent decides to stop the Chandra they spend at least 5 damage, which turns into burn for you, which can close the game very fast. An issue with Chandra is similar to Frenzy vs Esper and Nexus. Esper has Despark, Danny Devito, Vraska, Teferi Daddy, Baby Teferi, Absorb, Chandra is equally a dead card in the match as Frenzy. The same issue are presented with Nexus. The turns chandra starts to gain value are the turns nexus just wins. We can not afford this sort of value engine in this matchup.
That leaves us with one last value engine card, where loving or hating it is a choice of your opponents. Risk Factor. When I look at this card I see, deal 4 when I want, draw 3 when I want. But I can understand how certain game decisions it quickly turns to, deal 4 when I need draw, draw when I need damage. This comes down to early game play decisions. I would not argue with dropping the cards to play another value engine, to eliminate that skill gap. Risk Factor presents serious upside with Esper and Nexus matchup. In the Nexus match for the cost, we are able to almost always guarantee value when we want with it. Where the other value engines are just dead cards in this match. For the Esper, I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend reading this article. This article starts to present higher level strategy in playing matches vs decks with control spells. Me writing a similar article at this point is redundant when the resources exist. Having a strong 3 drop instant, opens up, End of Turn or Upkeep plays, which we wouldn’t have prior. We can force our opponents to inefficiently spend mana while we maintain tempo on board. Again, I can’t understate how relevant that article is today. Back when that article was published the counterspell pool was very similar to today, so playing spells properly around them is still suited.
Until Next Time
This is just a quick discussion on the pros and cons of each of the value engines in RDW. Ultimately none of the value engines are strictly better than the others. The vast majority of your wins will be gained from playing the bulks of your decks, and the value engines are just going to be rounding the corners in specific matches. Your choice of value engines will have to match your specific playstyle and what you are looking for. I personally would consider splitting some combination of all of the value engines between mainboard and sideboard. Possibly 2 Chandra, 2 Frenzy main with a couple Risk Factors in the sideboard. This is all dependent on your local meta and your playstyle. There is no “best” decklist, there is no “best” value engine, because nothing in Magic exist in a vacuum.
Thank You for reading. If you are interested in my thoughts about other cards like Tibalt and Heartfire, follow on my socials, I have long discussions on the cards. Also sorry if this wasn’t as thorough as other posts, I haven’t had the same enthusiasm about writing and playing recently, and am preparing for the MQW. Until next time, May you always top deck your bolts.
Follow on Socials
Mono Red In All Formats.
Follow On Twitch and Youtube for Red Content!