Cube is a complicated format with tons of cool interactions and possible decks. There are control decks that draw a million cards and deny everything, decks where creatures are going in and out of your graveyard constantly, decks where you combo off in one turn to win the game. Sometimes there are a million decisions you need to make a game, and all these decisions can fall in one turn. Single games can go for longer than half an hour, intricate chess matches where my move is matched by my opponent’s and vice versa, back and forth slugs to the body and grill that take their toll like a boxing match between two masters.
And then there’s mono red.
A blistering fury of 2/1s and 3 damage spells that leaves your opponent dead on turn 5 or before. While they’re setting up their complicated board states or buffing their hand with bombs and answers, you’re tapping guys for 2, 4, 6 damage and throwing burn and what not at them. For the most part, you don’t give a damn about their turn 5 or 6 bomb, since your deck wants to win the game on those turns anyways. Mono red is the deck that people who walk into cube expecting insanity love to hate because it doesn’t let their decks go nuts, and it’s the deck that cube purists respect the most because they know their silly slow decks and plays mean shit if they get killed by a Jackal Pup followed by a Porcelain Legionnaire followed by Molten Rain followed by Avalanche Riders. Mono red is the aggressive deck other fast cube decks want to be, one of the few decks the control players truly fear, and one of the decks that asks you to make the smallest-yet-biggest decisions in a game of cube.
For a long time, a lot of non-regular cubers didn’t even know how powerful mono red actually is. They’d open up packs full of Jaces and Swords and top tier removal, and then they see something like Goblin Patrol or Stone Rain in their deck and they scratch their heads. “This is cube—why is there a 2/1 for R with echo? That card only destroys a land? Strip Mine does it pretty much for free!” They’ll go through their first game and spend their turns brainstorming or ramping up, taking their time, thinking about what the next few turns will entail and what they have to run into. Their deck is slow, but cube is a crazy-slow environment right? In the last round of the draft they face the guy they noticed was up and about watching all the games more than playing. Bad draws for them or their opponents? Did they have a bye? Or all their games lasted only a few minutes because they either win or lose by turn 5. “How is that even a deck? Where are all the planeswalkers? Swords? Big, stupid creatures?”
Mono-red looks at your slow silly decks, laughs, and takes a dump on their chest. Mono-red is for the player that says “screw convention” and goes into tunnel-vision mode in the draft, first picking “boring” creatures or even hate drafting because you know no one else will take the card that you want. Mono-red is awesome, and epitomizes what red has been flavor-wise in the history of magic, compacted into the cube: a laughing, cackling burst of destruction, taking a bite out of his own skin and going all-in with a kamikaze-infused dive in the hopes that you take out your opponent before they know what’s happening. And hopefully this guide will help you learn how to draft and play the deck!
Important Cards and Draft Strategies:
-If you want to go Mono-Red, you need to tell yourself it’s happening and let it happen. This is, by and large, one of the most important parts about drafting the deck. There will be packs will all these sweet, non-aggressive cards that are asking you to take them. Garruk! Fact or Fiction! Griselbrand! They are all so sweet, cards that beg you to go into their direction, cards that are screaming “hey I’m kind of a signal! Go here!” You know what else is a signal? Stormblood Beserker. Chandra’s Phoenix. Rakdos Cackler. In just about every pack, you will be taking one of, if not the least, exciting card available. You have to remember that instead of building around one card, you’re making a very specific deck that needs 24-25 parts that all have what is the same end-goal: KILL ASAP. While drawing something like Goblin Guide over Goblin Patrol in your opening hand certainly makes a difference, they’re both 1 drops that attack for 2. Goal: achieved.
The hardest part about drafting mono-red isn’t the decision making, but rather the discipline to stay on board when all instincts say “draft these other awesome cards.” For some players, this may not be an issue, as they’re actively looking to draft aggro in every situation; but for someone like me who’s comfortable drafting just about every archetype and would rather draft decks that put big things in play, some of my choices when I’ve mentally committed to the archetype still hurt. Picking a 2/1 for R over an Ulamog or a Dream Halls makes me cringe in the slightest bit, even in packs 2 and 3 when I’m as far from those decks as possible. Instead of buying a sweet piece of meat and making an entire meal based around that cut, I bought 24 items off the dollar menu. It may not be as sweet or savory or as intricately put together, but take 7 items out of that fast food bag and you’re going to have a great selection in front of you. (“Great”, as always, is relative.) While other players are drafting reanimator with a mid-range side plan, or a control deck that also can upheaval at its pinnacle, every card in your deck is meant for aggro.
This is one of the reasons I feel that aggro, in general, is strong in cubes that go out of their way to support it without including too much aggro hate. (Things like Perimeter Captain, Wall of Reverence, etc.) Instead of reliance upon an engine piece or a need to have a perfect mix of fatties and ramp in your hand, your deck should be filled with cheap spells. Having a single creature and a bunch of burn or like 3 creatures and a pillage are perfectly fine, since there’s an extremely good chance that they’re all cheap and you can curve out or come close to it. Pretty much any opener with lands and spells is keepable, so you’re rarely mulliganing and most all your starts are great. The biggest thing you need to remember about aggro is…
-If you feel like you aren’t the only one drafting mono-red, get out—GET OUT NOW: Stubbornness is no place for a draft. While forcing an archetype is a definite strategy in 8 mans for cube, realizing when you need to run is one of the biggest keys to doing so. While mono-red or reanimator or combo or any of the “archetype” decks you might find in cube are being drafted by multiple people at the table, then the available cards are being split in half for decks that need just about every card they see in the draft. It’s not uncommon for my mono-red decks to be only a little bit over the amount of playables I need, by like 3 to 5 on average. Once you factor in another player following your footsteps, going mono colored becomes impossible. You start to notice run-of-the-mill one drops not tabling. Cards like black vise disappear from packs. Some packs won’t even have red cards—not unheard of but definitely more unlikely than not. Pretty soon you’re looking at other cards in the pack, liking the imagined feeling of casting a 5 drop or countering that other guy’s Goblin Guide with a Force Spike.
Two color aggressive decks are a thing, and they do well, but they aren’t as easy and shouldn’t be done without caution and focusing on your mana base more than you would in the mono colored decks. That’s part of the major appeal of going mono color: being able to play utility lands like Strip Mine, Wasteland, Rishadan Port etc. without issue since you’re playing all mountains, or not worrying about whether or not a WW/BB/RR/XX card is actually castable since it looks like you’re going mostly basics. While the 2 and even 3 color aggro decks do exist (I’d like to refer to this mock draft where I draft what I think is a pretty good looking Kaalia aggro deck), it is dangerous to go into that route without highly prioritizing fixing. That being said, sometimes this is rarely an issue since you are allowed to take the cards that only a few players would look at, and you can take your pick from a few colors. You can’t seriously consider a Hymn to Tourach, but Night’s Whisper or a Blade Splicer are perfectly fine and definitely castable cards. 3 colors is a bit ambitious for most, and a 3+ color aggro deck that doesn’t work out will lose quite a bit, but if you can make it happen it’s worth it.
But I can’t emphasize it enough: if you feel you aren’t the only mono-red player, run as fast as possible. Will his deck be a lot better, if not awesome? Probably. Would your deck be awesome if they abandoned the plan? Definitely. But do you really have any chance of making a good mono-red deck when someone else wants all the same cards? Most likely not. Why stay stubborn? Why not draft a deck that can beat those aggressive decks? They exist.
-Specific cards: There aren’t many cards that drive you towards the archetype, at least for me. I don’t see Lightning Bolt or Chandra’s Phoenix and cream my pants. But in the first pack, there are certain cards that will make me want to go into the archetype.
Sulfuric Vortex: This is the best card for mono-red decks. It’s not essential, like I feel Dream Halls is for the combo deck, but a mediocre mono-red deck with Sulfuric Vortex is arguably better than a good mono-red deck without one. Sulfuric Vortex provides everything your deck could want at a spot on the curve where it acts as a finisher. Vortex is inevitability that is tough to handle for most decks, at minimum 2 damage unless they can deal with it at end of turn. Enchantments are difficult to deal with initially, so it’s not a guarantee they’re going to pull that Vortex off the table. Against aggro lifegain is huge too, the effect is rare in cube and not always there but something you need to worry about. Vortex tells you “don’t worry bro, I got that life gain covered.” They look at that Batterskull or Loxodon Warhammer (if they still play that) and realize their over-costed answer is now awful. A sense of dread overtakes them as they realize that instead of being swung in for 2 or 4, they’re really taking 4 or 6. Instead of having 2-3 turns of attack to eat, they have 1, or they’re dead. Blocks become bad, spells become unplayable. Vortex is THE card to see and say to yourself “I want to be in mono-red now.”
Goblin Guide: There is only one creature in the history of magic with a casting cost of R, haste, and 2 power. That card is Goblin Guide. It’s funny how they give the Goblin Guide a fairly large drawback of allowing your opponent to draw cards and he’s still the sickest. The thing is if they aren’t drawing a card, you’re given a heads up of what you’re walking into so you can play around it. Is that removal? Hold back your threats. Counterspell? Play around it. Pain-in-the-ass planeswalker? Save your burn to get that thing off the table. And if you’re giving them lands? Who cares, you’re attacking for two. Goblin Guides are often responsible for 4-10 damage typically, an insane amount for 1 drops. The only other 1 drop that consistently hits that threshold is Black Vise, and yet that card is awful on the draw. Goblin Guide is fine there, because attacking for 2 on turn 1 is kinda huge since most decks you face won’t be aggressive as well and therefore lack a 2-power one drop themselves. (Oh yeah he has 2 toughness as well which is kind of a big deal.) There isn’t really a lot you can say about Goblin Guide other than that it does what you want in a mono-red deck: it attacks for at least 2, and it does it as soon as possible.
Koth of the Hammer: There aren’t a lot of 4 drops that you want in your mono-red decks. In fact, stopping the curve at 3 is pretty strong, since you can operate on 3 lands and you’re allowed to run only 15 lands. It’s fine to have one or two 4 drops though, and you want ones that: 1) attack immediately, and 2) impact the board in a big way. There aren’t a lot to choose from, and they’re all stellar, but Koth is the best. Koth provides you with a constant stream of big threats on a tough to remove card. Planeswalkers are a pain to deal with, and since you’re mono-red a lot of the other decks won’t have burn and will have to rely on attacking or permanent removal, which there isn’t a lot. (Though the last sets have introduced some big, important pieces that handle planeswalkers.) His ultimate is a game ender too, since you can do extra damage with all the lands you aren’t using. Koth is a tough to deal with threat that ends games that are close to done—he’s perfect for your mono-red decks.
Hellrider: While the rider is wayyyy more fragile than Koth, he is still a thorough beating. Being a creature is way worse than being a planeswalker. Making 4/4s from your lands is way better than being a 3/3. But Hellrider gives you reach that is, for all intents and purposes, unstoppable. They can use removal on the rider before you declare attackers, which would suck, but if they don’t have that, or if that removal means your other creatures are getting in, then it’s not the absolute worst. Hitting players adds an inevitability that’s reminiscent of Sulfuric Vortex, and directing the damage to planeswalkers that you can’t really afford to sink damage into but need to deal with is nice, since you’re able to stay aggressive towards their life total while using your creatures as swiss-army knives as well. I think Koth is definitely better, since he doesn’t die to doom blade and keeps on killing it even if your mountains hit a wall or get taken out one by one, but if I’m in mono-red there are only a few cards I’d take over Hellrider every time, and they’ve been mentioned. Hellrider is cool with token makers like Young Pyromancer or even Siege Gang Commander, since they represent so much more damage from attacks. Soon your combat steps are adding 4-5 damage per turn, which spells sudden doom for a lot of decks.
-You need to pick up burn: The main reason mono-red is such a viable archetype in cube is that all that burn you pick up doubles as early creature/planeswalker removal as well as late game reach. (Late game meaning turns 4-6.) I think the sweet spot is 5-8 pieces of burn. You don’t want TOO much or else you risk too many hands being all burn and not creature threats that get in for continual damage, but you don’t want too little in case your opponent can deal with or stop creatures and you have a bunch of 2/1s on the board while your opponent is building up their regular, crushes-aggro-decks-when-moving strategy. I feel like 5-8 is good because it still allows you to have the 12-14 creatures you want along with the other various weapons and planeswalkers.
There are pieces of burn that are better than the others. Let’s take a look:
Lightning Bolt/Chain Lightning: While these are not the same card, they do the same thing when you boil it down—3 damage for R. Lightning Bolt is a lot better since it’s an instant and they can’t send it back, and if they’re in the same pack you take Lightning Bolt 100 times out of 100, but Chain Lightning still rocks. 3 damage is kind of the sweet spot for burn: more than that only exists in a few cubeable cases, and less than that for R is not worth it since it doesn’t kill enough or do a lot of damage. 3 damage kills so much more than 2, like 4 does so much more than 3.
Fireblast: Free spells are inherently broken. Playing something without paying the mana cost means there’s very little your opponent can do to try and predict your play, allowing you to blow them out or take away games from them they thought weren’t going to be an issue because you’re tapped out/don’t have the right mana open/etc. Fireblast is a card you want to wait until the very last minute to use, but since you’re throwing 4 damage at their face at the cost of two mountains, it’s not that hard to hold onto it. The beauty of Fireblast is that, in those mono-red decks, you don’t need a ton of mana to operate. You could have 4 mountains, sacrifice 2 to Fireblast, have it not work (i.e. your opponent doesn’t die) and you’re still reasonably fine with the two mountains you have left. Your deck should be running a ton of mountains, so having the resources to sacrifice shouldn’t be too hard. Fireblast is a tough card to play with, since you have to know when you’re able to stomp the boot without getting blown out by counters or what not, but people typically don’t see it coming in early games and Fireblast has won more games than it’s lost because of that.
Incinerate/Searing Spear/Lightning Strike: Paying 2R for 3 damage at one target is asking a lot. Paying 1R? Not that bad. It’s the ceiling for that cost and damage by themselves, but since 3 damage is the sweet spot, I’d happily play any of these cards. They are obviously worse than Lightning Bolt and in most situations you’d rather have Chain Lightning when you’re picking since you’ll have R open/available more often than 1R, but 1R for 3 damage is still extremely cheap and what your decks want.
Char: Speaking of awesome burn for 4, I think this is an awesome mono-red card. 4 damage is so friggin much, and if I’m going to pay 1 more than an Incinerate, I want to deal 1 (at least, but hey this is fine) more damage. The 2 damage to yourself is not relevant, and if it is then you’re playing the aggro mirror or you’re way behind and aren’t going to win any time soon. Like I said before, 4 damage is so much and such a big leap over 3 that it’s worth paying three for that extra bit. I value Char in these decks more than a lot of other players do, but with the goal of “KILL KILL KILL” in mind, I think Char brings me to a spot I want to be moving towards.
Arc Trail: This card is super underrated and also incredibly awesome. Yes, it is awful if you’re the only one with creatures or planeswalkers out, but the wonderful thing about magic is that there are a lot of decks that want to play creatures, and a lot of those decks want to play early creatures that Arc Trail kills with either the 1 or 2 damage. Being able to remove a creature and hit their face is incredible. You open up the path for your one drop, deal with their guy, and move towards the goal of winning. Also if you 2-for-1 them then that’s awesome. Arc Trail is also great in any other deck that can pay 1R since getting 2-for-1s are a thing magic players like to do, so you might need to prioritize the card if you see it.
Ankh of Mishra: Another “not technically burn” card, Ankh has a lower ceiling than Black Vise and can hurt you, but since your life doesn’t matter Ankh is pretty awesome as it goes with the overall plan of mono-red decks. For starters, land destruction is very much a thing in mono-red. Knocking your opponent’s resources down while your 2/1s continue to slam into them keeps the beats bumping, and with cards such as Stone Rain, Molten Rain, Strip Mine, and Avalanche Riders floating around, your opponent won’t be able to afford to keep lands in their hand and try to stabilize without the means to do so. Ankh is insane against decks with a lot of fetches and tons of fixing since they need to hit their land drops the most to be able to play all their spells or they risk having dead cards in hand against a deck that you need to use your resources efficiently against. It’s a card that’s really awful against other aggressive decks, but against a lot of other strategies you’ll play it and your opponent will give you the “hmmm…well then” face, which is almost like a concession. It’s a pain-in-the-ass card that your deck is quite OK with.
Winter Orb: This card is either amazing or it loses you the game. You have to time it where your opponent is playing a spell that doesn’t affect the board incredibly, like a draw spell or what-not, because otherwise you can run into serious trouble. If your opponent can drop signets or other artifact mana for cheap that nullify the effect that your Winter Orb brings to the table, then you could be facing a bunch of mana casting a bunch of spells that you can’t handle as you’re untapping your single mana every turn. The last time I drafted Winter Orb with my mono-red deck I ended up facing a blue player in a game where he was able to untap for Cryptic Mana to bounce one of my important creatures and do something else. He had a signet or two as well (I honestly can’t remember—suppressing PTSD, as it were) and just blew me out of the water. Did I horribly missplay? Perhaps, perhaps not. It certainly wasn’t the best move, and I could’ve found a way to maybe wait a turn, but he tapped out and I had threats so I felt like I had to take advantage of the position. Instead, he whipped my butt, I scooped up my cards, and as I was shuffling he gave me a smirk and said “Winter Orb was pretty good, huh?” What he said was funny, sure, but it reinforced the point home that, perhaps, Winter Orb isn’t actually the best card to have for those mono-red decks. That being said, there have certainly been games where Winter Orb was actually insane.
In the same vein, land destruction can be a huge part of your deck as well which makes Winter Orb much better. If you’re playing Stone or Molten Rain off your untaps, or you’re packing Strip Mine or Wasteland in your repertoire of lands, then Winter Orb looks way more awesome. I like Land Destruction in my mono red decks, but not every piece. I’d be happy with 2 spells and a ETB creature that destroys lands, since a hand with 3+ of those can often stall out if my opponent draws lands.
-Power is still power: In the past I’ve talked about Sol Ring or Library of Alexandria being less good in aggressive decks since you tend to empty your hand a lot or play cards with heavy color-symbols in their cost, things that certain apply to Sol Ring, Library, and off-color moxen. This would be a poor line of thought to apply to your drafting, as you’ll be passing power, which is awful for a couple reasons. One is that, if it does work, it’s power and it will be incredible. Playing 4 drops on t2 and drawing a million cards off of Library are things the mono-red deck can still do, just not as often or without having to go below 7 cards in hand sooner than later. The other is you’re passing power to other players, making their decks way better against yours.
I will say though that, if you’re going to pass a piece of power for the Mono-Red decks, Library of Alexandria should be it. Believe me, I feel weird typing that out as well, but Library doesn’t exactly fit with the strategy the mono-red player wants to run with. Opening with Library typically means you aren’t playing a 1 drop, since you need to hold the cards in your hand to make it good or else it’s pretty much strictly worse than a mountain. Against the mirror Library is awesome, since you can stabilize and just play 1 spell a turn and typically be alright, but against the other decks you need to be able to apply pressure by flooding the board, removing threats, and hitting them in the face. Holding another creature in your hand because you want to draw more cards hurts the aggro decks more than any other, as every turn you’re not applying the optimal amount of pressure is another turn your opponents can use to play their game and beat you. Of course, passing a library is easier said than done, so I can never blame you if you take it. It is Library of Alexandria, after all.
-Equipment is good, but not too much: There will be games where your 2/1s are outclassed. There’s nothing you can do about that—it’s cube, other decks will be playing better creatures, and every game won’t go how you want it to. Equipment does a good job of making sure your early drops are able to get in there later, or that when your opponent does stabilize that you can still get in there for heavy damage as well. Let’s look at a few pieces of equipment that are great. (Note: Jitte is Jitte and is obviously insane; if you’re playing creatures, you’re playing Jitte.)
Skullclamp: This is a card that isn’t at it’s best in Mono-Red, but is still excellent. Skullclamp helps you dig for burn or make your 2/2s “unblockable” in that your opponent would rather take damage than give you two more pieces of gas in a deck with less lands than most. The extra point of damage can be the difference in a lot of games, and 2 cards for a deck that typically can never draw cards is so insane, especially if you can repeat it. The problem is that the plan of the deck is to be attacking with your 2/1s and not sacrificing them, since you don’t really have time to diddle about by sacrificing all your creatures and drawing a lot of your deck. It won’t matter that you have so many more guys on the board because you drew more cards if you let them cast their Gideon Jura or Damnation. Young Pyromancer has improved Skullclamp’s stock considerably for mono-red if you pick it up. Using the 1/1s for gas is a fine strategy, as you can chain burn at their face from the cards you draw off the killed Elementals.
Swords: They’re very good. But they’re also very expensive. For this reason I’m looking to draft one but I’m not really in love with playing 2. That’s because if I have a hand with two swords, I can’t afford in most matches to be able to play both and equip them and still expect to win. Unless I’m hitting land drops to 5, which is never a guarantee for the mono-red decks, then there will be moments where I’m essentially using two turns to get a sword into play and equip which can be bad. This isn’t even a guarantee of a successful sword it, since the protection colors are not always shared with your opponent’s deck and chumping to gain an extra turn to build is certainly fine and could be enough to win. If I only have one threat to equip the sword with—which is also a definite possibility since removal is abundant and your opponent trading their plan-creatures such as elves or other utility creatures for your 2/1s is a good way to stop the red decks—then they can either kill the creature with Doom Blade etc. as you try to equip the sword on it or just block and you’ve given them a turn to help stabilize. If there’s ANOTHER sword in my hand that does just as much to improve my game state, then I’m in serious trouble. I have less of an issue running a sword and a majority of the other equipment since their lower costs at both casting and equipment make it less likely that my hand will be clogged up if I draw both the pieces of equipment.
Grafted Wargear: One of my favorite cards and certainly one of the more underrated, I think the Wargear lends itself nicely to what mono-red reds because equipping for free is nuts. Turning a Goblin Patrol to a 5/3 or an Ash Zealot to a 5/4 on turn 3, with them attacking, is crazy. The equip-and-attack means they must have a disenchant or bounce effect in hand and with the open mana ready in order to not take one hit from that creature, and that one hit is such a huge smash after you’ve probably already dealt at least 4-6 damage from other sources or earlier attacks. While you can get 2-for-1d all day by your own Wargear, which is really awful, the ceiling that Wargear gives you is high enough and consistently attainable that it’s totally worth running. If you’re able to splash something like Bitterblossom or have that Young Pyromancer—a card which if you can’t already tell by my multiple inclusions and mentions has impressed me considerably—then Wargear must be answered or your opponent will lose. Wargear is so friggin good.
Batterskull: It costs 5 and doesn’t attack when it comes into play, so it’s really awful. Worth considering hate drafting if you find it in an empty pack, an unfortunate side effect of going mono colored at times, but generally stay away. However, if you’re splashing Stoneforge or playing it in more-dedicated Boros build, then Batterskull is crazy and necessary off the Stoneforge alone. Not doing anything for a couple turns while you set up an instant-speed end-of-their-t3 Batterskull is always worth it.
-Off-color cards I want to splash for: In a majority of the drafts where you know early on you’re mono-red, there will be picks that are either fetches or duals that aren’t fixing anything yet, but are chosen because the pack is probably pretty weak and you could see some cards that are worth splashing for. Once you grab a few lands and find one of these cards, or you get that card and then dedicate picks to the appropriate fixing, then playing that card can be really great and add an element to the deck which makes it that much stronger. While one of the major strengths of the mono-red decks is the ability to play ~16 mountains or that number minus one for a land like Rishadan Port, if you do have the fixing to make a splash effortless, then what is the issue? Here are a few cards that draw me in.
Mother of Runes: While you don’t attack with mom a whole bunch, she makes your other creatures go nuts. Dropping a mom on turn 1 and then stopping the first piece of removal every turn or forcing through a creature deals so much damage and puts enough pressure on from turn 2 forward that missing an aggressive start on your first turn is fine. Mother means the rest of your deck must be hitting, but if you can keep threats on the board then you’ll get in for damage each turn. Combined with weapons Mother is really strong, as you’re hitting for a lot of damage and potentially hitting some triggers from Swords or Jitte.
Bitterblossom: I previously mentioned this with Wargear, but even without that or other pieces of equipment it’s nice to pump out a steady stream of fliers for the cost of useless life. Red doesn’t have a lot of early drops that can fly—pretty much only the subpar Kargan Dragonlord, unless I’m missing any—so if an opponent can mount a defense on the ground then you could be in trouble. Bitterblossom takes the battle to the air, and while a card like Meloku can reasonably stand up to Bitterblossom, there isn’t really a continual source of resistance in the air that can stop a Bitterblossom that’s active and chugging. Bitterblossom is a good card to side out if you’re worried about a mirror/aggro match up able to get to a faster start than you.
Bloodbraid Elf : One of the “easier” cards to splash in that it costs 4 instead of being more efficient at an earlier stage of the game, Bloodbraid Elf is nice in decks that contain a bunch of cards that costs 4 or less. And, hey! Guess what? Your mono-red deck is FULL of cards at that cost. Bloodbraid Elf also meets the important requirement 4 drops must carry in that it has haste as well. This is a point that new cube builders have a hard time grasping—why are my red 4 drops without haste awful? Up until Ember Swallower, there wasn’t really a red 4 drop that was both good and able to survive Wildfire. (If I’m wrong, please correct me in the comments.) Outside of that strategy, red is mostly a splashable/”control” color or purely aggro. Since you’re not running finishers at 4 in a control deck—or maybe you are in some cases—and since red is so aggressive, you want all the 4 drops you have, as few as that may be, to be able to attack the turn you drop them. Your red 4 drops need to be able to win the game the turn they drop or within 1 or 2 turns after that. The mono-red deck can’t afford to be sitting around with their thumb lodged up their bum; the deck needs to be aggressive. Bloodbraid is insane too since you’re pretty much always guaranteed a hit off your cascade. Bloodbraid Elf into Chandra’s Phoenix or Goblin Guide is pretty awesome.
Time Walk and Ancestral Recall: You find a way to play these. Take these, prioritize Scalding Tarns and such. I mean, one lets you take an extra turn for 1U and another is an instant speed draw 3 for U. If you don’t understand the power of these cards, then you probably haven’t played with or against them. The term power is not a colloquialism; these are crazy cards that do crazy things. THEY’RE REALLY GOOD.
Misc: Wrapping up, here are some more cards that I didn’t put in any spot above so they’re being added in addendum. Thanks for reading! (I’ll repeat that in a bit–watch out.)
Cards that cost more than 4: These cards are all traps, even things like Siege-Gang Commander or Thundermaw Hellkite. It’s not that these cards are weak in the mono-red deck. If you can play either one of these, then they’re awesome and can take over a game, whether being a 5/5 hastey dragon or a guy which represents 11 damage off a clear board with 6 mana. But that is the major issue: how often are you reaching 5+ mana in the mono-red deck? Your decks consistently have 16 lands, sometimes even 15, and the difference that makes is huge. There have been so many games where Im operating on 4 or less mana not because Im sandbagging land and I want to represent spells that I don’t actually have, but because I’m just not drawing the lands. Is this actually a bad thing? Not at all; drawing gas should be welcomed in the mono-red deck where you generally lack card advantage and you’re depending on your top decks for forward momentum. In terms of mana cost, this means you really can’t afford to play the “expensive” spells. I used to try and play Siege-Gang and such in those decks and there were so many games where I was just sitting on my thumb or the extra guys didn’t make a difference as I gave my opponent another turn to find something to deal with my threats. It’s less of an issue with Thundermaw since he has haste, but costing 5 is still important enough that you should avoid it.
Perimeter Captain: I’m not exactly sure how many cubes run this. My brother used to run it and had to take it out because it was so good, and that’s the point I’m trying to make. If you’re playing with a cube that uses Perimeter Captain, and you see it in the draft or feel like you’ve seen it before, it might be worth considering avoiding the deck or having a good sideboard option since Perimeter Captain is actually insane against the mono-red deck. If a Perimeter Captain hits the board on turn one, then you really can’t win the game. The mono-red decks shouldn’t be playing Mizzium Mortars because it doesn’t hit players and is therefore fairly awful in the mono-red deck, and a majority of the cubes I’ve seen now don’t run cards like Flame Javelin or Flame Slash. Because of that, you’re either looking for a 2-for-1 or trying to force them into a block where you can combine that damage with a piece of burn. By that point, Perimeter Captain has done its damage. 2 life and the nullification of an attack and a piece of burn is huge. If aggro is an issue in your cube, then Perimeter Captain is the real deal.
Young Pyromancer: While not always going to be insane, making free 1/1 threats adds up quick when most of the gas behind the production is damage to the face. I think if you’re hitting the 6-8 sweet spot of burn spells then you have enough to make the pyromancer good. If I only get one token then I could potentially get an extra 1-4 damage off my pyromancer, which is a large amount from a spell that’s already attacking for 2. Clearing the way with burn while you smash in for 3-5 a turn is a heavy boot to the throat. Once you drop lower than 6 spells you start to see way less consistently in hands, and if your Pyromancer is only getting in for 2 a turn as a 2 drop is he even worth it? I’m happy with only consistently making one other dude if that’s the average for pyromancer, but when there are plenty of games where 0 is to be expected then he’s a bit less good.
Dismember: While it’s a free spell and can be very very good, I’ll only main deck it if I’m extremely burn-light. When Dismember can’t kill what you want to kill and you just need to hit them in the face for a small amount, it seems awful. Against decks where there are a lot of mana elves, other aggressive creatures, or ramped-into midrange threat, Dismember can be nice to clear the way quickly. I am not always so quick to side in Dismember against other aggressive decks since there are draws where it is an unplayable card, but your clock is usually faster than any other aggressive deck’s so the extra 4 life is largely a non-issue. If I’m splashing black for something like Bitterblossom then I’m more inclined to main deck or side in the Dismember more often.
Dark Confidant: This is a card that is an amazing splash. While Confident is fragile, it’s really only against the red and white decks, and since you’re the deepest in red at the table there is only so much removal that can stop him early on. That being said, Confidant is a pretty nice draw on every turn except the one you need to win on, which makes him pretty nice. Once you’re able to untap with him you can start using him to his full potential, only taking at most 3-4 damage which is a low percentage to hit as is. Even though the life taken can hurt, mono-red is less likely to kill itself than black aggressive decks, so his shelf life is actually considerably longer as a splash in the mono-red deck.
Again, thanks for reading!