If you know me personally, you know that Mono-Red Aggro decks are a beloved guilty pleasure of mine. There is something heart warming about haste creatures and burn spells. The best way to do that in Modern today is with Mono-Red Prowess; sorry 8 Whack friends. Contrary to popular belief, the Faithless Looting ban has not even come close to putting this fire out. Today I will go over the recipe for deep-fried opponents; the recipe for Mono-Red Prowess. If you are interested in the deck, be sure to join the Facebook group.
When Looting was still legal, we wrote a lengthy article on why a build that gave up on it and Phoenix was perfectly viable. To be honest, we eventually came around to the weakness being Phoenix rather than Looting. Ryan Overturf championed the Looting build and proved it with high-level results. Looting was still integral to enable consistent, early Bedlam Revelers. That being said, it was not great in the deck beyond helping out Reveler. It was negative card advantage in a critical mass deck. It was optimal but not entirely necessary for the strategy to succeed. This is what the deck looks like today:
Us Mono-Red players are not know for our creativity. Thankfully, when putting this deck together there is really only one decision to be made; the flex slot package. So about 85% of the decklist is locked in and the remainder is almost just personal preference.
A mono-colored deck’s manabase. Riveting stuff. The deck is always at eighteen lands but at times I am tempted to go up to nineteen and max out on canlands. It can be trying to run eighteen lands deck with four Lava Darts; it is surprisingly rare to even cash in your canlands. That being said I recommend only two or three. If you want to run four, go up to nineteen lands and please let me know how it goes for you.
Taylor Swiftspear is, in my opinion, Modern’s best one-drop creature and as of our most recent analysis the data supports it. This easily becomes a 3/4 and often goes even higher and as a haste threat with high damage potential it forces the opponent to leave back unnecessary blockers or risk dying; queue Reality Smasher flashbacks. The lack of haste is what puts Soul-Scar Mage a step behind but he has tricks of his own. With just a Lava Dart in hand he defeats a Gurmag Angler in combat and lives to brag about it. It is also very important in the Infect matchup. They can outgrow damage but when the turn ends and they drop back to a 1/1, the -1/-1 counter will be waiting for them.
Then finally we come to Bedlam Reveler. Beddy has been a pet card of mine since it was spoiled and I am sad that we cannot get away with four copies anymore. Looting usually contributed two or three mana towards it and Beddy helped us to recover from Looting’s negative card advantage. Alas, it is still a great card but we struggle to play it before Turn 4 anymore. It is a bit slow for the deck now but Treasure Cruise with a 3/4 prowess body is too good for us to pass up. I generally prefer two copies but in this slow metagame I could not fault you for running a third copy.
Crash Through is far and away the most underrated card in the deck. Pumping a prowess threat to the roof does not feel so good when they just chump block it. We can only do it once or twice before our resources are exhausted and if they chump block, we are just a bad Burn deck. Crash solves this problem on both accounts. The most obvious is that it provides evasion to guarantee that damage comes through. It also provides a prowess trigger while maintaining our card count to keep the damage coming. The most overlooked aspect though is that it is non-targeted; we can give evasion to multiple threats. More importantly, you do not need a target. You can just cycle it to hit a land drop or some action in the early game. Better yet, if the opponent removes our threats we are still getting our card at least; they cannot fizzle it.
Of course we are also running Lava Dart. Mono-Red was seen by many as a budget Izzet Phoenix deck before this was made Modern legal. The easiest way to describe it is an instant speed Forked Bolt that nets two prowess triggers. The drawback being that you have to sacrifice a land for the second half, the upside being that the pings can happen on separate turns. An odd mistake I have seen a few players make is trading in untapped Mountains for the flashback. There is nothing on the card that says that this is a requirement. You could float that mana, fire off the Dart for the spectacle, and then use the floating mana for a Light Up the Stage; that is using every part of the buffalo.
The more straightforward burn spells are Lightning Bolt and Lava Spike. I am not sure what more I can say about Bolt at this point. It has been the most played spell in Modern every year since its inception. It is a busted card. Run a playset and never board it out. Lava Spike is just a way worse version of it; downgraded to a sorcery and only able to hit players. It is not great but it is better than the other options available. Sorcery speed is not a huge issue in a prowess deck after all. We need to enable spectacle, trigger prowess, and win against removal somehow.
Then finally we come to the two great spells that interestingly do nothing. Manamorphose takes a card and two mana to give back a card and two mana. Sure it fixes mana but we are playing a single color. In this deck it is effectively 0 mana to give a creature +1/+1 until end of turn and make Bedlam Reveler cheaper. While that does not seem great, keep in mind that it does not cost you a card in hand so it ends up being great. The last card is arguably the best in the deck: Light Up the Stage. As long as you have two mana, it will usually be one mana Divination. I will say that using combat damage to trigger spectacle is a serious feel bad, but the cards will still be available next turn. Regardless, we have fourteen or more direct damage spells to turn it on for just one mana. When fully utilized it is one card becoming two cards and as many as three prowess triggers. This is the card that put us on the map and with Looting gone, it is hard to keep one land hands without it.
The Flex Slots
Even among the flex slots there actually is not a lot of flexibility. There is not a consensus on these slots but players have moved in two distinct directions with them:
Runaway Steamkin + Burst Lightning
When we were trying to sort the deck out for the old article, I tested both of these cards independently. I liked that Steamkin was often a two mana 4/4 and allowed us to dump our hand. But there was nothing to do with the excess mana and we were already quite good at deploying our hand quickly. I tested Burst Lightning but the kicker was just not happening. This is an eighteen land deck with Lava Darts and canlands; five mana is very steep. However, it is now clear that these two individually powerful spells take one another to the next level.
Steamkin can get in for four damage and then ritual us into doming the opponent for four. Admittedly, without Steamkin it is pretty much Shock. Steamkin though has been impressive all around. Due to his ritual effect every one drop is functionally free and the “free spells” now generate mana. If you untap with it, you usually just win and it makes casting Turn 3 Bedlam Reveler much more realistic. That being said, it is an abysmal topdeck as a vanilla 1/1 for two mana. Doming opponents for four feels really great though and he makes it possible.
Kiln Fiend + Reckless Charge and Firebolt
A more recent development has been a set of Kiln Fiend alongside a split of Reckless Charge and Firebolt. Where Steamkin has interesting mana applications, Kiln Fiend is raw power. It is worse against blockers but after a single spell it matches the absolute ceiling on Steamkin’s power. If you untap with it, you will easily swing for ten or more damage. It is simply trading utility for greater power and it might just be worth it. Without the ritual effect you should be looking at other flex spells though; five mana kicker is not very realistic in my experience.
Modern Horizons printed both Reckless Charge and Firebolt into the format. As explained above, haste is great and Charge allows to grant it to our less fortunate creatures for a single mana when we topdeck them. Most of our creatures will be +4/+1 but Kiln Fiend will get a nasty +6/+0. The flashback is a little too costly for haste to be relevant but +3/+0 is always welcome. We cannot run too many though because it requires a creature and is awful in the face of removal. Firebolt, on the other hand, is a mystery to me. At face value it is a sorcery speed Burst Lightning. Instead of four mana kicker, you get five mana flashback. The upside of that is that although the damage is the same you can get the first two early and the other two later, netting two prowess triggers in the process.
That being said, five mana is just so much without Runaway Steamkin. This is an eighteen land deck with at least six effects that sacrifice lands so the flashback will not come up much. That being said, I do want to test Firebolt over Burst Lightning in Steamkin builds. The first cast of Firebolt is “free” and the flashback is the same cost as a kicked Burst. Being able to proactively fire it off for spectacle and then getting the second half later seems great. I think Kiln Fiend builds need to explore something else though. That being said, it should be a burn spell to keep spectacle consistent and we are working toward the bottom of the barrel at this point.
Now that is some serious power for $200. I will admit that the deck is mostly overshadow by Burn at the moment but I believe this to be a temporary condition. The Modern needle can only lean toward interaction over speed for so long. When do you think this deck will rise to the top again? Where do you stand on Kiln Fiend versus Runaway Steamkin? Please share your thoughts with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.