Every now and then an unusual Magic: The Gathering deck rises above the crowd to claim a competitive tournament. Sometimes it’s a deck in an unfavorable meta environment, sometimes it’s a new brew that has never been seen before in a competitive setting, or on rare occasions a lower tier deck performs better than it typically does. The recent Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth is one example of the latter, where Kevin Mackie won 9-1 by piloting Skred Red, a long-ignored mono-red build that is typically overlooked in favor of more aggressive red decks such as Mono-Red Burn and Sligh Red.
With Skred Red clenching first at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth, and making multiple high ranking appearances at StarCityGames tournaments (8th at the Columbus Invitational Qualifier, 4th and 10th at the Knoxville Modern Classic), it’s becoming rapidly apparent that Mackie’s Grand Prix victory wasn’t a fluke, and that Skred Red may have some staying power behind it. Thus, it’s very important to recognize Skred Red in possible Modern match-ups and make proper preparations to deal with it—or even to pilot it ourselves.
Skred Red is a very unusual deck in that it doesn’t necessarily fit any one deck archetype; instead, it covers a range of deck archetypes (typically Control variants). Skred Red builds can vary from Control-Aggro (Midrange) to Control-Combo (Prison). Historically, Skred Red has been a deck that focuses on locking down the opponents board through the use of mainboard Blood Moons and wide removal spells, while slowly ramping into large threats once the opponent’s board is clear. This deck tech will cover options for the different builds but will primarily focus on the Prison-orientated build used by Mackie at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth.
Skred Red Deck Tech- Planeswalkers and Creatures
Koth of the Hammer has, historically, been one of the cornerstones of Skred Red. Hhis abilities are all key to providing powerful advantages for the Skred Red player and help to get our finishers out on the board. His +1 ability sets a powerful clock, allowing you to ramp ahead of our land drops while also putting Koth out of range of cheap removal spells (such as Lightning Bolt). His -2 ability provides a massive ramp, allowing us to get our bigger, higher-cost spells out onto the board or to push His ultimate ability, the -5, which is surprisingly easy to achieve in slower match-ups and helps to push damage through bulky blockers. Skred Red decks always run four copies of Koth.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is Kaladesh‘s contribution to Skred Red. Touted as one of the strongest mono-red Planeswakers printed to date, Chandra has sadly struggled to find a worthwhile archetype to fit into. Skred Red seems to be Chandra’s new home, as her four abilities all greatly benefit Skred Red’s playstyle. Chandra’s first +1 puts us into topdeck mode, letting us search for the spells we need to cast or getting rid of the ones we don’t need in favor of dealing two damage to our opponent. Her second +1 provides ramp, although not on the same scale as what Koth is capable of providing. Chandra’s third ability, her -3, can help to clear out the big creatures that most of our usual suite of removal spells can’t take care of on their own. Her ultimate, the -7, creates an emblem that turns every spell you cast into fast-stacking damage. Mackie ran a single copy of Chandra in his mainboard but has said in follow-up interviews that he should have run two copies.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker appears in some (very) fringe variants of Skred Red, particularly those in heavy discard-themed meta environments. It’s an option to consider if you’re finding yourself up against those types of decks but isn’t very useful otherwise.
There are a number of creatures we can run in Skred Red, which function primarily as late game finishers, as opposed to the creatures of other red decks that are used to get in early damage. Indeed, much of Skred Red’s strategy revolves around stalling and disrupting for as long as possible before smashing in large amounts of damage as quickly as possible.
Our main finisher (and Mackie’s finisher in his matches at Grand Prix Dallas Fort-Worth) is Stormbreath Dragon, a 4/4 Dragon with Flying, Haste, and protection from white. It also has Monstrosity, which gives it a nice buff and is easily achievable thanks to Koth, Chandra, and our other mana ramps. Protection from white means it can’t be hit by Path to Exile, it can’t be chump blocked by white creature tokens or white-based man lands (such as the most common, Celestial Colonnade). It’s also too big to be affected by removal spells like Abrupt Decay and can’t be taken out with a single burn spell such as Lightning Bolt (especially once it’s monstrous). Other Skred Red builds run four copies; Mackie ran three.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar is one of our important four-drops, providing a way to catch-up with “go wide” strategies, such as those employed by Affinity. The ability to sacrifice some of our early game artifacts in the late game can be crucial for equalizing the board or squeezing in extra points of damage. Three copies are sufficient, as Pia and Kiran Nalaar are legendary creatures and subject to the legends rule.
Typical builds in the past have used Boros Reckoner, a fairly unassuming creature that none-the-less provides integral support for the early game. The ability to deal damage it receives back to the opponent or their creatures means that a well-timed Boros Reckoner can trade two-for-one. Even when it’s targeted by burn spells the advantage is in your favor. Most decks run four copies, but Mackie’s version of Skred Red ran zero, opting to cut them in favor of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and our next creature card.
Eternal Scourge, from Eldritch Moon, is another new addition to Skred Red, and a very interesting one at that. Not only does it possess the ability to be cast from exile, but whenever it is targeted by an opponent’s spells or abilities, it is exiled. While this may seem disadvantageous, the ability to “buy back” Eternal Scourge whenever we need to is immensely useful. Removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile are useless against it, as it can simply be recast when the opportunity presents itself. Even being put into the graveyard is, at best, a mild inconvenience as our mainboard Relic of Progenitus can place it into exile, where we can then recast it. Mackie only ran two copies of Eternal Scourge, as it has diminishing returns in higher numbers and we are mostly using it as a reliable way to stall until we find our finishers.
The only other creature that is really given serious consideration is Demigod of Revenge, which has some recursive properties that allows the Skred Red player to refill their board after a wipe. Running both it and Stormbreath Dragon can tax your mana quite heavily, even with ramp, so I would choose whichever works better in your meta environment (i.e. run Stormbreath Dragon if there’s a lot of white-based removal spells, run Demigod of Revenge if there isn’t).
A creature seen in some very fringe decks is Simian Spirit Guide, used to help achieve turn two (or even turn one, in rare cases) Blood Moons. It’s not a serious contender by any means, but if you’re in a meta-environment where the pivotal gameplay happens on turn three it’s an option to consider.
Skred Red Deck Tech – Enchantments, Instants, and Sorceries
The sole enchantment that Skred Red runs is Blood Moon, a card typically found in most Modern sideboards. Because most Modern decks have greedy two-or-three color mana bases, it’s almost always guaranteed to put a damper on our opponents strategies regardless of what deck they’re running. With Blue/Red Splinter Twin no longer a viable threat due to the banning of Splinter Twin, the worst match-up for it is Naya Burn, and even then Blood Moon helps to remove some of their non mono-red burn spells (such as Lightning Helix or Atarka’s Command). The full playset has diminishing returns, so we’ll run only three copies in most cases.
Skred Red runs a very broad removal suite, allowing its pilot to tailor removal to whatever situation is required. It should go without saying that we will be running a full playset of this decks namesake, Skred. With all of our lands having the snow supertype, the damage dealt by Skred can reach well into the double digits – damage that is unheard of for a one converted mana cost spell. If we’re running Boros Reckoner, we can even deal Skred damage to it to have Boros Reckoner deal that damage to the opponent – a combo we’ll see appear once more with a different card.
We’ll also be running a full playset of Modern’s premier red removal spell, Lightning Bolt, as well as three copies of the board-wiping Anger of the Gods, which is even more useful now with the rise of Dredge and other graveyard strategies in Modern, and also takes care of cards that have on-death triggers (such as Kitchen Finks and Wurmcoil Engine). Skred Red has in the past run Volcanic Fallout and Pyroclasm, but with higher toughness creatures becoming more common the extra point of damage is needed to punch through.
Other builds have run Blasphemous Act, which is a very hard spell to cast against decks that don’t run very many creatures. The use of mana ramps and our Planeswalker abilities can make casting it easier, but it’s still very hard to pull off. The upside is that if you’re running Boros Reckoner, the damage it takes from Blasphemous Act is often enough to win the game – especially with multiple copies of Boros Reckoner on the field.
In addition to Lightning Bolt, Skred, and Anger of the Gods, Mackie ran a single copy of Magma Jet, primarily for the Scry 2 benefits (which allow us to set up our Scrying Sheets) rather than for its damage.
Skred Red Deck Tech – Lands and Artifacts
Skred Red’s claim to fame is, of course, the Snow-Covered Mountains from the Ice Age block, which allow us to fuel our Skreds and our other land, Scrying Sheets. These two lands are the only lands this deck runs, and the only lands it needs. In our early game, Scrying Sheets provides necessary mana to cast spells, while in the late game it acts as a mana sink, letting us set up future draws.
The artifacts that Skred Red runs are primarily “mana rocks”, artifacts which can be tapped as a source of mana. This allows the Skred Red pilot the ability to ramp into large spells earlier than usual, gaining tempo over their opponent. The two artifacts that the Skred Red pilot should consider for this role are Mind Stone and Coldsteel Heart, each of which have their own advantages. Mind Stone only provides colorless mana, but can be cycled to draw a card from your library (handy if an opponent has a Kolaghan’s Command). Coldsteel Heart however, can provide mana of any pre-selected chosen color, and has the snow supertype, meaning it can add to the strength of your Skreds. Historically, Skred Red decks have only run three of either Mind Stone or Coldsteel Heart, but Mackie chose to run four of Mind Stone.
Where Mackie switches things up from other typical Skred Red decks (or even other Modern decks) is that, instead of having his playset of Relic of Progenitus‘ in the sideboard, he has them in the mainboard. This provides two advantages: first, it immediately assumes a Dredge-heavy meta and thus immediately denies the fuel that Dredge needs in order to be successful, while also keeping an opponents Snapcaster Mage from operating at full capacity; second, it allows the Skred Red pilot the opportunity to “buy back” their Eternal Scourges from the graveyard, as Relic of Progenitus completely exiles both players graveyards. Relic of Progenitus can also shrink an opponent’s Tarmogoyf if it becomes too big to handle with our removal spells.
Mackie also runs a single copy of Pyrite Spellbomb, which is useful as a non-red source of damage to hit creatures with protection from red (such as Etched Champion), as well as a way to cycle cards late-game if there aren’t any valid targets for.
Historically, Skred Red decks have run a few copies of Batterskull for grindy Midrange matchups, but the printing of Kolaghan’s Command means that its usefulness has taken a drop. If you want to use it, I wouldn’t recommend running more than two copies (Mackie only runs one, and the only on-camera appearance sees it taken out with a Kolaghan’s Command almost immediately).
Another card from historic Skred Red builds is Shrine of Burning Rage; after a few upkeeps and spell casting, it can be used to deal lethal damage to the opponent. This is for the slower Skred Red decks that look to play long games and can give extra value to late-game removal spells.
Skred Red decks that look to play a longer, more Prison-orientated gameplay can look to Ensnaring Bridge and Chalice of the Void as cards to play mainboard. Both artifacts are “set and forget”, meaning that require little maintenance in order to remain useful . With Chalice of the Void we do have to be careful in its application, as it is symmetrical and will affect what cards we’re capable of casting.
It’s also important to note that as the late game begins, many of the ramp artifacts lose efficiency and can be used as fuel for Pia and Kiran Nalaar’s activated ability.
Skred Red Deck Tech – Sideboard Choices
As usual, any card that we don’t run a full playset of in the mainboard can be run in the sideboard, and as usual what you choose to run in your sideboard depends heavily on what decks you’re up against in your meta environment – the same sideboard won’t work for every situation.
The most important card we can run in our sideboard is Molten Rain. After game one, our opponent will want to fetch out their basic lands first before we drop Blood Moon, in an attempt to play around Blood Moon and have some access to usable mana. Molten Rain punishes them by removing access to that mana, while also dealing some damage to the opponent as a result. In conjunction with Blood Moon, this shuts down our opponent fast. Additionally, if your environment is filled with blue-based decks, Boil can also be utilized to remove large numbers of Islands at once.
Smash to Smithereens, Vandalblast, and Wear//Tear serve as very cheap, efficient ways for us to deal with troublesome artifacts and enchantments. Another hate card to consider is Pithing Needle, which can help target cards that we are ill-equipped to otherwise deal with.
While we have quite a bit of mainboard Dredge and graveyard hate, more can’t hurt – if our opponent is able to deal with our Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage can still prevent them from casting creatures from their graveyard.
Our answer for a Burn-heavy meta environment is Dragon’s Claw, which helps to offset some of the damage we take from direct burn damage. If we’re up against token-based decks, Engineered Explosives and Ratchet Bomb can clear the field very easily and efficiently.
In meta environments where we are up against many blue or white decks that don’t pack fliers, Rending Volley can help make sure that the big threat we need gone will be gone.
Being red, counterspells really aren’t in our part of the Magic: The Gathering color pie. We do have access to a misdirection spell though – Richochet Trap helps redirect particularly unpleasant spells for cheap, so long as a blue spell was cast.
Skred Red Deck Tech – Mackie’s Grand Prix deck and Match-ups
TechRaptor staff have recreated the mainboard and sideboard that Mackie used in Grand Prix Dallas Fort-Worth on TappedOut.com. It’s important as always to note that the sideboard used with this deck is suited for the meta environment he played in, not necessarily every meta environment – and it’s important to note that Mackie has said that his sideboard needed refining to deal with Dredge.
Mackie does suggest some changes for his version of Skred Red in his follow-up interview; he would have played a second Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and he would have played a twenty-third land. In my opinion, I would have the second Chandra in the sideboard, and remove Batterskull for another Snow-Covered Mountain. I would also either run two copies of Pyrite Spellbomb, or two copies of Magma Jet, not splitting them. Splitting them reduces efficiency – either you’re in a meta environment where you face a lot of protection from red, or you don’t need that avenue of damage and it’s a wasted card slot.
As far as match-ups go, it depends heavily on what variant of Skred Red is run. If we consider the deck Mackie ran as the new “norm” for Skred Red, then it performs fairly decently against Modern’s Tier 1 decks (discussed below). Due to Modern Mono-Blue Merfolk and Jeskai Harbinger just falling out of Tier 1 usage recently (and as they are a part of TechRaptor’s competitive archetype primer series), we’ll also be covering the match-ups there.
Naya Burn: Mackie’s Skred Red doesn’t perform as well against Naya Burn as the version with Boros Reckoner does. Our opponent punishing themselves by casting burn spells at Boros Reckoner helps keep the life race to a minimum, and even with Blood Moon hitting their multi-colored spells they still pack enough mono-red burn to keep momentum going. After the first match, sideboard out Relic of Progenitus for Dragon’s Claws and Molten Rains.
Jund: Jund is a very tough match-up for Skred Red. Blood Moon doesn’t have as much effect on our opponent as Jund is based in part around red mana, and they have plenty of hand disruption to keep us from completely controlling the board. Our mainboard graveyard hate does make the match-up a little easier, but it’s still going to be a grindy match-up and will require tight, consistent playing to win.
Abzan Midrange: Next to Dredge, this is Skred Red’s best match-up – Abzan refers to the green/white/black color wedge, meaning that a resolved Blood Moon is absolutely devastating for our opponent. Relic of Progenitus helps to keep enemy Tarmogoyfs tiny, and Stormbreath Dragon is protected from Path to Exile, and too big to be affected by Abrupt Decay.
Infect: Infect does require some skill to play around, but can be thought of as a good match-up. Blood Moon shuts down almost their entire manabase – Inkmoth Nexus, shock lands, and Pendelhaven are all rendered useless, and Infect usually only carries two Forests for basic lands. The important thing to remember when playing Infect is to never cast removal on your opponents creatures during their combat step – they can cast pump spells in response to save their creature, and that just translates into extra Infect damage for you. Save removal for their end step.
Dredge: It should go without saying that Dredge is far and away Skred Red’s easiest match-up in Modern Tier 1. Between the mainboard graveyard hate and Blood Moons, it’s very hard for the Skred Red pilot to lose here. After match 1, sideboard in your Molten Rains to provide extra pressure on the opponent.
Bant Eldrazi: The Eldrazi variants are well known for their explosive openings and ability to establish a stable board very quickly. This is therefore a bad match-up unless the Skred Red player is able to outpace the Bant Eldrazi player and wipe their board out. Prioritize on removing their Noble Hierarchs or Birds of Paradise first before they’re able to ramp into larger, beefier Eldrazi creatures that aren’t able to be taken out with targeted removal.
Affinity: Affinity is somewhat of an unusual match-up for us – while they do carry non-basic lands that our Blood Moons can hit, they also don’t really need colored mana to cast most of their spells, and they have Mox Opal for the occasions where they do. In dealing with Affinity, the important thing to do is cast Anger of the Gods or other board wipe spells first, before following up with targeted removal – more often than not the Affinity player will sacrifice non-essential artifact creatures to their Arcbound Ravager in an attempt to save it. Targeted removal and artifact destruction spells should be reserved for these five priority targets: Arcbound Ravager, Master of Etherium, Mox Opal, Cranial Plating, and Steel Overseer.
Jeskai Harbinger: An okay match-up for Skred Red, provided that a resolved Blood Moon is landed early. Jeskai Harbinger’s mana base is built primarily around blue mana, and only carries one or two Islands at the most for basic lands – a resolved Blood Moon shuts off access to almost the entirety of their counterspells. For the most part our removal spells won’t be of much use – the creatures Jeskai Harbinger plays are useful moreso as utility creatures, rather than board presence. The most important thing to watch out for is Nahiri, the Harbinger; if the opponent can get one onto the field, they can exile your Blood Moon and resume their game plan. Save your targeted removal specifically for Nahiri and get it off the field as soon as possible.
Mono-Blue Merfolk: Match one is guaranteed to be in their favor. Between Aether Vial, Kira, Great Glass Spinner, and Spellskite, they possess enough ways to divert removal spells and recover after losing creatures that we just can’t keep up. Because Merfolk focuses around synergistic buffing from Merfolk “Lords”, it also makes it much harder to use targeted removal like Lightning Bolt or even board wipes. Being a deck that only runs Mutavault as their only non-basic land also means Blood Moon is less-than-efficient. After the first match, sideboard out Relic of Progenitus and Blood Moon for Boil, Molten Rain, and Smash to Smithereens.
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What are your thoughts on this Magic: The Gathering deck tech? Does Skred Red look like a deck you would be interested in playing? Let us know in the comment section below.