Last updated on June 23, 2022
Bomat Courier | Illustration by Craig J Spearing
Kaladesh Remastered is here, and it brought a lot of fun tools for Mono Red with it, namely Bomat Courier and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Mono Red was a great deck in Historic even before this set was released, but it struggled against control matchups in BO3. With Bomat Courier now being back in Arena, it’s not stopping Red Aggro from claiming its rightful tier 1 spot.
Most of you should be painfully aware of how Mono Red plays, likely having suffered many losses against it. If you’re new to MTG, however, here’s all you need to know: this deck is powerful. It’s commonly referred to as “red deck wins,” for undeniable reasons.
You wanna know what reasons? Let’s dive into the deck and find out!
Light Up the Stage | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak
There are two versions of Mono Red circulating, mainly Burn and Aggro. I’ll go over a very consistent Aggro list today along with suggestions of cards to swap around if you want to build different style lists. If you’re a Burn player instead, you may still find a lot of value here.
Mono Red is simple. You put your low mana creatures on the battlefield as soon as possible and strategically pick off opposing blockers so you can keep attacking. Because we have plenty of damage spells that can target anything, you can even use those to burn your opponent instead for an early victory.
Bomat Courier and Soul-Scar Mage are the stars of the deck. The Courier is exactly what Mono Red needed to reclaim its tier 1 spot. Whenever it attacks, you exile a card face down. Once you’re running out of steam, all you have to do is pay one red mana, discard whatever is left of your hand, and add all the exiled cards.
Bomat Courier will sometimes get destroyed before you can activate it. A good way to avoid this is to keep one red mana open. That way you can respond to removal or a board wipe. You can still cast an instant spell during their end step, so your mana doesn’t go wasted.
You want your Courier to gather at least three to four cards before activating. Since it’s a 1/1, it’s not threatening enough to be dealt with early on and might slip under the radar. A smart opponent will learn to deal with the Courier as early as possible, though! Regardless, when your hand is empty, the opponent’s life total should be pretty low already. With some luck, you get a bunch of tools to finish the game at that point.
Soul-Scar Mage, on the other hand, has a lot of synergy with all our instant and sorcery spells because of its prowess. This means that whenever you cast a non-creature spell, the Mage gets +1/+1 until the end of the turn. A turn 1 Mage can snowball out of control pretty fast thanks to our many low-mana spells.
This deck is a creature aggro list, and it’s already incredibly strong. Still, in a dedicated Mono Red Burn deck, a single Soul-Scar Mage plus a bunch of 3-damage spells can win you the game as early as turn 3. If you want to build a list like that, updating this deck is easy.
All you need to do is include four copies each of Wizard’s Lightning and Skewer the Critics. You can take out some of the 2-mana creatures and some lands as long as you make sure you have at least 18 lands left in the deck.
The Mage has a second powerful effect, as well. If a source you control would deal non-combat damage to a creature an opponent controls, put that many -1/-1 counters on that creature instead. Is your opponent blocking your Soul-Scar Mage with a 4/4? Too bad for them, because with just one Shock it’s now a 2/2 and our mage becomes a 2/3 thanks to its prowess. I find this card’s name so cleverly flavorful because it “scars” the soul of the opponent’s creatures with -1/-1 counters.
Several 2-drops would be perfect in a Mono Red list like this. Viashino Pyromancer and Thermo-Alchemist are two that didn’t make the cut. Still, we have Burning-Tree Emissary and Robber of the Rich as our mighty crew instead.
I’ve found that the Emissary is a staple in this list because it’s technically a free 2/2 creature thanks to its enter the battlefield trigger. The green mana it produces can be annoying if you have lots of cheap red spells, though. Thankfully you can still use it to pay for cards like Bomat Courier or other generic costs. So, plan at least one turn ahead if Burning-Tree Emissary is in your starting hand.
Robber of the Rich is a great value card. It has haste, reach, decent power, and on top of that, if your opponent has more cards in hand than you do, it exiles the top card of their library for you to cast. Hitting lands with this effect isn’t great.
Still, sometimes you find some real gems, especially if they used a scry effect during their previous turn and left something useful on top. Reach must have been a word-pun when WotC was designing this card because it “reaches” into the opponent’s pockets. I absolutely love the flavor.
Being a Mythic card, it’s quite a hefty wildcard investment for a playset. By all means, feel free to swap this one out for a Viashino Pyromancer if needed. Both have their benefits. If you go with the previously-mentioned Burn deck, the Pyromancer being a wizard can help cast a Wizard’s Lightning as well.
The 3- and 4-Drops
Since we’ve covered the deck’s main aggro package and alternatives already, let’s briefly go over the end of the curve cards and finishers.
Bonecrusher Giant is a card you’ll see in most aggro decks that run red thanks to its flexibility. A 4/3 for just three mana is also pretty lovely, along with its built-in effect to shock the opponent if they’re trying to deal with it. I consider the Giant to be more of a filler value card than a real finisher. In my opinion, the primary finisher is Hazoret the Fervent.
Hazoret the Fervent is a fantastic 4-drop. It has both indestructible and haste, so it’s unlikely to get removed. A 5/4 body is also great. The downside of this card is that it can’t block or attack if you have two or more cards in hand. Luckily, being the impulsive red mages we are, getting one or less cards in hand isn’t all that difficult. In the worst case, if you did get flooded with lands, you can always use its 3-mana ability to discard two cards and deal two damage to your opponent.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is more of a value card than an actual finisher in Mono Red, but the plus abilities are all great. The top one especially can net you a ton of card advantage in a game where you’re behind. On top of that, it can double as a removal spell capable of dealing four damage to a creature for only minus three loyalty. This combos nicely with Soul-Scar Mage if you face giant creatures. The ramp can come in handy at times, but you’ll likely rarely use that ability.
While it does have a powerful -7 ability that gives you a perfect emblem, you’ll rarely be in a position where you can actually pull this off. In my years of using Chandra in various formats, I have used this ability maybe once. So don’t tie your strategy to it.
Regardless, you should have enough tools available to trigger your Light Up the Stages and keep your momentum going thanks to these cards. Like I said before, it’s entirely possible to build a full-on Burn deck. Replace a bunch of creatures and lands for Wizard’s Lightning and Skewer the Critics and you’re set.
Using the burn spells to your opponent’s life total always feels great, and there are plenty of matchups where the opponent doesn’t even use creatures. Those games especially, Mono Red can get you some lightning-fast wins.
Shatterskull Smashing will mostly be played as a land, but there are situations where you want to cast it as a removal spell instead. These currently take up four land slots, but they’re not necessary for your win condition. If you don’t own four copies, feel free to replace these with basic mountains.
Ramunap Ruins is our “last resort” burn spell. You can tap this plus four mana and sacrifice it to deal two damage to each opponent. Having to pay one life to add red mana to your pool can hurt at times, but you can always tap it for generic mana instead.
Rules of the Mulligan
Mulligans with Mono Red are simple with just two rules:
- You need two to three lands to get your momentum going;
- You need at least one card that gives you card advantage, either Bomat Courier or Light Up the Stage, and a clear path to cast either early on and attack.
Always do some calculations in your head to see if your hand has enough cards to bash your opponent down to at least 12 life by turn 3. Since the deck is relatively light on land, you’ll probably draw more resources with your draw steps and advantage through Bomat Courier and Light Up the Stage.
Since this deck doesn’t rely on Embercleave to win the game, it’s extra essential that your creatures can continuously attack. Because of this, make sure you have some removal in your starting hand and don’t waste it to get additional damage if it means you can’t attack the next turn.
There’s an MTG saying: “math is for blockers.” I think this is especially true for this deck. You bombard the opponent with significant damage per mana on top of removing their key blocking creatures.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
As far as sideboarding goes, it’s quite challenging being Mono Red. Since there’s no real hard removal for many things, you might get stuck against decks that run big blockers or lifelink-ers. We do have a couple of excellent tech cards we can add in, though!
First, we have some extra copies of Grafdigger’s Cage. Some of you may have noticed I also put two copies of the Cage in the mainboard. This isn’t a mistake. There are so many graveyard-, goblin-, Collected Company-, and now even Aetherworks Marvel-centric decks around right now. I’ve opted to put some copies in the mainboard pre-emptively.
Four copies total may be a bit overkill, but when a card can lock out half the meta from winning, we should use it as much as possible. If the meta shifts away from this trend, feel free to add more burn spells instead.
Magma Spray is another excellent removal that can double as an exile effect. You can side these instead of Shock to get pesky cards like Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath exiled the moment they enter the battlefield and sacrifice themselves.
Roiling Vortex is perfect against lifegain decks, plus it deals a decent amount of damage for it being on the battlefield.
Lastly, we have an extra copy of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Some control matchups just need that extra card advantage.
Tips and Tricks
Soul-Scar Mage | Illustration by Steve Argyle
Mono Red doesn’t have many tricks, but there is one that I particularly like. With multiple copies of Bomat Courier, hold priority between each trigger. At this point, sacrifice one Courier and then sacrifice the second in response. Since discarding your hand is a cost, you’ll end up discarding your hand just once and you get to keep all the cards both Couriers exiled.
As for other tips, always make sure you try to trick your opponent into a bad block with your Soul-Scar Mage because of the -1/-1 counters. The prowess also helps get some great value out of your card if they do decide to block.
Grafdigger’s Cage | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
This deck is incredible. People will probably hate you for playing it, but it’s just too much fun. Mono Red was already great before Kaladesh Remastered, but I have to say that getting Chandra and Bomat Courier back was the one thing it needed in Historic. It even out-shines Goblin decks for the tier 1 red deck slot.
Chandra feels less powerful than it used to, but I’ve been able to pull off some really cool plays with her regardless. This deck is perfect in both BO1 and BO3, and I like that you can use the same deck in both without swapping stuff around. Feel free to give it a go, and maybe I’ll see you soon in the Mythic queue!
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