Magic: The Gathering – Black/Red Sligh in Standard

Magic: The Gathering

Hello, everyone! You may remember me from various sources – my articles at StarCityGames.com in 2005 about U/W Mind’s Desire that eventually became the standardized combo deck during the PTQ season for Philadelphia, my articles about the R/G “Freshmaker” deck during Mirrodin block, or my articles about mono-blue in Standard when we ran cards like Chrome Mox, Relic Barrier, and Annul.

But if you don’t, I can’t say I blame you. I’m a never-was – I made three or four PTQ top eights in my past, never getting past the first round. I lost in the last round of GP: Oakland (Mirrodin-Mirrodin-Darksteel limited) to Ben Rubin where a win would have locked up a Top Eight slot and a draw would have ensured a Top Sixteen finish – and an invitation to PT: San Diego. I needed to win one of three matches at GP: Columbus (Mirrodin-Darksteel-Fifth Dawn limited) to make Day Two; I drew one and lost two.

I prepared exhaustively for GP: Boston (Extended), grinded at the local stores to get my rating above 1900 for two byes, and promptly went 0-2 because I didn’t test against Aluren and I kept bad hands against Reanimator.

My sole claim to Magic excellence was a 2025+ rating in Extended back when the ratings were separate. Most of you can’t even remember that, I’m sure – but rest assured, few players could pilot Thieving Magpies, Morphlings, and Faerie Conclaves to wins like me.

While I was at dinner at Morels in Las Vegas with my wife a month ago, my friend Cedric Phillips called me. I picked up, and he said plainly into the phone: “Your brother won a PTQ. Call him and congratulate him or you’re an idiot.” So, I did. After that, I wrote it off and had a good time in Vegas, but I laid to bed every night thinking about Magic and how my brother reached the promised land (with the deck I vowed to crush in Mirrodin Block Constructed, no less!) while I never did. Certainly I was excited for him, but as a result, I got the itch to play some magical cards. The last three weeks of drafting Shards-Shards-Shards or Shards-Shards-Conflux at First Pick Games and MODO has been a lot of fun.

Never the limited master, I turned to sixty-card decks and checked out Standard, thinking that with Conflux coming in, it would be a great time to enter the metagame with a new twist on an old deck. I proxied Patrick Chapin’s five-color control deck, Tsuyoshi Ikeda’s Blightning Aggro deck, and Kenji Tsumura’s Faeries deck. With willing friends at work, I tested these decks against themselves and against their own creations. I quickly realized that I liked the Blighting Aggro deck the best, but that something overall wasn’t right – it was trying to be a midrange deck, and I thought Faeries was a better aggro-control deck overall. It wasn’t fast enough to be the beatdown deck, but it had elements from both camps.

I bought a subscription to SCG Premium and spent hours poring over the articles – past and present. I read Brainburst articles, I read MTG.com’s archives, I reviewed decks from deckcheck.com – I became obsessed and attempted to understand the metagame of today’s Standard format and how Conflux could change it all. The question that I kept asking myself was:

How do these decks deal with Hellspark Elemental?

Hellspark Elemental

Hellspark Elemental

I couldn’t come up with a clear answer, so I put the card into Blightning Aggro; it didn’t work. It fundamentally changed the deck’s construction, and while the card was powerful, it couldn’t take advantage of the speed and damage that the card offered. Shambling Remains showed a lot of promise in the Demigod/Siege-Gang B/R deck, but it competed with Blightning as the optimal three-drop. Both did their damage best against control decks, but neither was stellar against aggro or aggro-control.

Thoroughly confused, I sat down to contemplate how to best leverage this card in a new deck. I checked out every deck that finished 4-2 or better at Worlds and saw a few mono-red decks that ran Tattermunge Maniac and other aggressive cards. That was the first spark in my mind – I wanted to run Sligh. Not Boros Deck Wins, not Red Deck Wins, not Blightning Aggro – but Sligh.

Most of you have heard of Sligh and know it to be a red deck that burns them and plays cards like Ball Lightning. But this is not exactly what it is – Sligh was first conceptualized by Jay Schneider and played to infamy by Paul Sligh, winning a PTQ with ridiculous cards like Dwarven Trader and Orcish Librarian. Sligh is not defined by the cards it plays, but rather the mana curve it employs.

There is only one rule of Sligh: Choose the card for the mana slot, not the mana slot for the card. This principle is often ignored. Sligh is not Lightning Bolt, Jackal Pup, and Fireblast. Sligh is this:

1cc: 9-13
2cc: 6-8
3cc: 3-5
4cc: 1-3
X spell: 1-3
Removal/Burn: 8-10

The cards you choose conform to the mana curve above and not the other way around.

I looked at the metagame – full of aggro-control (Blightning Aggro, Faeries, Reveillark-based strategies), pure control decks (Five-color control), and a few beatdown decks (Kithkin). The time is right to play Sligh – Conflux gives it the final tools that it needs.

Agonizing on card choices for a whole two days, I sleeved up the following deck for FNM at Berserk Games in Seattle:

R/B Sligh by Kyle Boddy
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Goblin Outlander
3 Boggart Ram-Gang
3 Shambling Remains

4 Magma Spray
4 Flame Javelin
4 Incinerate

6 Mountain
4 Graven Cairnes
4 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Ghitu Encampment

SB:

4 Blightning
4 Volcanic Fallout
3 Everlasting Torment
3 Guttural Response
1 Terror

Let’s check it against our Sligh mana curve:
1cc: Figure of Destiny (4), Tattermunge Maniac (4), Mogg Fanatic (4) – 12 total
2cc: Goblin Outlander (4), Hellspark Elemental (4) – 8 total
3cc: Boggart Ram-Gang (3), Shambling Remains (3) – 6 total
4cc: None
X spell: None
Removal/Burn: Incinerate (4), Magma Spray (4), Flame Javelin (4) – 12 total

Pretty close! I would argue that Figure of Destiny, Shambling Remains, and Hellspark Elemental all push the theoretical mana curve up a bit, fulfilling the slots in the 4cc slot and perhaps one in the X spell slot.

The mana is pretty self-explanatory: All the lands must produce red mana because of Figure of Destiny, and Ghitu Encampment is necessary to beat control and add another attacker when no other options are available.

However, when I got there, I noticed everyone was playing Kithkin and R/W Reveillark. I audibled into the following changes:

Maindeck:
-3 Shambling Remains
+3 Volcanic Fallout

Sideboard:
-3 Volcanic Fallout
+3 Terror

Round one: I played against a slow, controlling Kithkin-based deck. I burned his creatures of importance (Knights of Meadowgrain, which is about it) and ran him over with Hellspark Elemental and Boggart Ram-Gang.

Round two: I played against an R/G aggro deck with Nettle Sentinel, Boggart Ram-Gang, and Flameblast Dragon. Like round one, I burned his creatures of importance (Nettle Sentinel and assorted 2/2s) and ran him over with Hellspark Elemental and Boggart Ram-Gang.

Round three: I beat a three-color control deck that was basically the five-color control deck without red or green. He played Kitchen Finks over Rhox War Monk, which was annoying, but Magma Spray handled it easily enough. He won game two by protecting a Kitchen Finks and drawing lots of cheap countermagic and lost game three because he stalled on three land and could not counter all the cheap threats I had.

Round four: I beat a standard Kithkin deck that had Knight of Meadowgrain, Wizened Cenn, Spectral Procession, etc. Game three was super close; I resolved an Everlasting Torment and was about to scoop his board with Volcanic Fallout, but he had Rustic Clachan to protect one of his Wizened Cenns. I managed to stabilize due to the wither damage and got into a position where he attacked me down to 1 while I had a Goblin Outlander and no cards in hand with him at 6. I had three outs to win (Flame Javelin), and I managed to cash in my 7% equity and killed him with it.

You might be thinking the following questions:

“Tattermunge Maniac? Really?”
“Is Goblin Outlander good enough to play maindeck?”
“Where’s Banefire?”

The answers are:

“Yes. Do not focus on card choices; focus on the mana curve.”
“Yes. Do not focus on card choices; focus on the mana curve.”
“I don’t know.”

Sligh is all about efficiency, and as such, cards like Fulminator Mage aren’t worthy of (maindeck) consideration. It is a 2-power creature for three mana, and typically reads “1RR: Destroy target non-basic land.” Now that’s fine in various types of decks, but not this one. Sligh played Pillage to kill Masticore in addition to their lands – that’s efficiency!

Sligh will always lose to five-color control and Faeries if they draw their specific cards in combination to beat us – that is inevitable. However, that’s the beauty of Sligh – we have so many redundant threats that serve the same purpose that our deck is simply more consistent and can eke out random wins with burn spells. If the opposing deck does not draw their convoluted cards in combination with their shaky mana bases, they will lose. We are too fast and too consistent. That is that nature of Sligh.

There are a lot of complaints by writers and people in various forums who don’t like speculative articles about cards that don’t see much play, and I completely agree. Most of the writers on this site don’t play in FNM or weekly 16k random tournaments and pontificate about what they should play in the latest Grand Prix, PTQ, or Pro Tour. As I said at the beginning of this article – I’m a never-was: A player good enough to post a few PTQ Top eights and run his rating up to and around 1900, but not one who ever understood how to ultimately get to the next level. I never put the time in to understand the theoretical underlying concepts of Magic, and when I came close (Mind’s Desire in Extended season), I had a lot of bad runs in PTQs and quit shortly thereafter.

I know that there’s many of you out there – people who play at Friday Night Magic week in and week out; you prepare for PTQs but can’t quite hack it, your card choices are based on feel, and you don’t think you play as well as the pros that you face at the PTQs on Saturday mornings. You want someone who has been in the trenches and someone who is a tournament regular at both the PTQ/GP level and the local one. That’s me!

My articles going forward will focus on deck construction primers and how to prepare for your local tournaments in addition to the PTQs and GPs that you’ll compete in. However, I’m not perfect – if I was, I’d be in the Magic Hall of Fame by now, seeing as how I’ve been playing since Legends. I was playing the best Magic of my life when I was writing, and that’s why I want to pick up the keyboard and detail my thought processes along the way. Hopefully it will help me get to the next level, and who knows – maybe I’ll drag a few of you along the way.

As a parting gesture, here’s the version of Sligh that I will be testing over the next week:

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Goblin Outlander
3 Boggart Ram-Gang
2 Shambling Remains

4 Magma Spray
4 Flame Javelin
3 Incinerate
2 Banefire

6 Mountain
4 Graven Cairnes
4 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Ghitu Encampment

SB:

4 Blightning
4 Infest
4 Bitterblossom
3 Deathmark

Debate about the cards – there’s so many wonderful cards to play that you might like. What about Cryoclasm? Reflecting Pool? More Shambling Remains? Blightning maindeck? Quenchable Fire or Nyxathid in the sideboard for the mirror? Unwilling Recruit? Where’s Guttural Response? How do you deal with Story Circle without Everlasting Torment?

As one of my favorite Magic writers (Chad Ellis) said: “Go rogue in the details.”

(Articles in the future will be shorter and less detailed; this was a pre-written article for consideration at StarCityGames.com.)

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2 responses to “Magic: The Gathering – Black/Red Sligh in Standard

  1. Nemesis. I still reel from when you beat me in heads up hold ’em that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. A game for the ages. Fall into a throttling wood chipper

  2. Shane "AIRDW" Williams

    Greetings.

    As an avid Red Mage, might I suggest the following? Instead of Boggart Ram-Gang/Shambling Remains, try Countryside Crusher.

    Negatives – He dies to most removal. He doesn’t have haste, wither or unearth.
    Positives – He gets huge while helping you to draw gas the rest of the game. Besides, you dont’ need more than three mana anyway.

    I definitely run 4 Volcanic Fallout main because it is outstanding in every matchup except the mirror where it is marginally good and gets boarded out for Dragon’s Claw and Wild Ricochet.

    Also, I’m running Mutavaults main to help with the pesky Burrenton Forge Tenders.

    My version is Mono-Red so Stigma Lashers replace the Outlanders. Lashers help SO much vs. Boat Brew, 5CC, etc.

    Thanks for reading.
    Shane

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