Mono-Red Tempo: Censor Deck Wins

Where it all started, so you know who to direct your anger at >:)

Hello! Some of you may recognize me as it_that_betrays or yatagarasu; I’ve been playing Gladiator for about a year now, and the thing I enjoy most is brewing off-meta decks and playing them in tournaments to…we’ll say mixed success. Today I’m here to provide a deck tech on the list I am probably most well-known for, Censor Deck Wins (CDW).

Have you ever looked at Mono-Red Aggro (also known as Red Deck Wins or simply RDW) and thought “Wow, such a powerful, consistent deck – I wonder if I could make it worse” or “Gee, I sure hate losing to Elder Gargaroth and Wrath of God, and I couldn’t bear to splash White for things like Swords to Plowshares and Unbreakable Formation”? Do you ever wish you could play a Tempo deck that didn’t fold to your opponent killing your 1/1 Quirion Dryad with a stiff breeze? Well, do I have the deck for you! 

The Deck List

Card Discussions

This deck looks and plays a lot like a stock Mono-Red Aggro list, but there are a couple of includes that are worth discussing.

Captain Lannery Storm

The Captain is usually only seen in aggressively-slanted Midrange builds. In a deck playing high impact five drops, it is valued for the ability to be a hasty aggressive threat on turn three that also lets you ramp up to five mana on the following turn. In this deck, it’s an auto-include because of its ability to generate blue mana, even letting us hold up Spell Pierce or Lightning Bolt on the same turn!

Goblin Chainwhirler

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “A RRR card? In a deck splashing blue?” However, this is actually not too different from playing the Chainwhirler in a stock Mono-Red Aggro deck. The only two lands that might not produce red mana in our deck are Riverglide Pathway and Faceless Haven. The latter is already played in every Mono-Red Aggro deck and the former is often replaced by Blightstep Pathway (to facilitate the Scrapheap Scrounger activated ability) or a second creature-land like Blinkmoth Nexus.

Hellrider as the Only Four-Drop

Many Mono-Red Aggro lists will top off their curve with one or more of these additional threats: 

  1. Chandra, Torch of Defiance for consistent damage or card advantage that can’t be answered by a normal wrath effect.
  2. Hazoret the Fervent for indestructibility and raw standalone power as a five-power haste threat that can discard excess lands for damage.
  3. Glorybringer for arguably one of the most powerful five-drops in the format.

(Embercleave does not count)

However, I have disregarded all these options and more for a few reasons:

  1. I believe the strength of a Mono-Red Aggro deck is in playing several cheap threats rather than in a single standalone threat (and some Mono-Red pilots had already begun to cut these cards long before I got there).
  2. This deck will hold up mana during the opponent’s turn more often than a stock Mono-Red Aggro list, and as a result benefits more from being able to play cheaper threats. 

Only Eight Counterspells?

This number can definitely be tuned to your liking, but I found that eight counterspells was a pretty happy medium: you are about 82% likely to draw at most one counterspell by turn four (meaning you get to play as your primary mode of Mono-Red Aggro the majority of the time), but also almost 60% likely to draw at least one counterspell in that same timeframe (meaning in the matchups that matter, you’re likely to see a permission spell). These numbers also get higher when you are on the draw. 

For reference, with ten counterspells you are about 70% to see at least one counterspell by turn four, but you are only about 73% to draw at most one counterspell (reducing the chances of you curving out like a regular Mono-Red deck). I believe that the meta is skewed towards aggressive decks right now, so I would lean more towards the eight counterspell version.

Playstyle

“Mono-Red Tempo”

This deck plays first and foremost like a stock Mono-Red Aggro list and you should mulligan and sequence your plays accordingly. This means that you should aim to curve out and reduce your opponent’s life total to zero as quickly as possible. However, this deck also has the ability to win a longer game through a Tempo playstyle of counterspells and haste threats. What this translates to, at a high level, is that you are sacrificing some percentage points in aggressive matchups (where counterspells are more likely to be dead) for some percentage points in Midrange and Control matchups (where their entire game can hinge upon a single high-impact spell resolving). Here are some general playstyles I’ve found in my games with the deck

Aggro

My main tip here (that applies more generally to Aggro mirror matches) is to not be afraid of playing like a Control deck! You will have fewer threats and more answers than a generic Aggro deck, but more importantly, you will have no real catchup mechanics if you fall behind in tempo. That being said, you are still at heart a Mono-Red Aggro deck, which means that you can race any deck with a good curve.

Midrange and Control

I am grouping these two styles of decks together because the playstyle is very similar against both of them. You are looking to establish early threats and then do one of the following:

  1. Overwhelm them with creatures or burn spells before their high impact turn
  2. Counter their high impact spell

In both cases, if decklists are known, I would pay attention to the key catchup turn for your opponent. For white-based Control decks, that will often be turn four, which is the earliest they can drop a hard wrath. I would not bother holding a counter for a three-mana wrath like Cry of the Carnarium or Anger of the Gods because you will often need to develop a threat on turn three to keep applying pressure should they have a single removal spell. For Midrange decks, it usually depends on the average stats of their creatures and how they line up against your current draw. For example, I am less likely to try to hold up permission against a Midrange deck with four mana threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Binding the Old Gods, but I’m more likely to do so when they’re playing Ripjaw Raptor. As a side note, green-based Midrange decks are the most likely to have their catchup turn involve tapping out, so I am least likely to cycle Censor in those matchups.

Combo

While Combo decks, especially those involving Tainted Pact and Thassa’s Oracle, can have draws that rival the speed of an aggressive deck, they are not consistently fast enough to keep up with one of the fastest Aggro decks in the format. Feel free to keep a counter in your back pocket for the turn right before you win, but in general you should be playing this matchup like a Mono-Red Aggro deck the vast majority of the time.

Parting Thoughts

If this isn’t the greatest compliment you can get as a deckbuilder I don’t know what is

CDW is pretty much my Magma Opus as a deckbuilder: I built it first and foremost to have fun and be a little goofy, and the end result was a deck that I believe has sparked inspiration and joy in many parts of the community. People have since started talking about “Blue Deck Wins”, the 48 creature Mono-Blue Aggro(?) Tempo(?) deck and “Mono Green Tempo”, the analog of CDW using the winning deck from LoadingReadyRun’s Great Big Gladiator Games as a base. This deck can even take down a tournament in the right hands (I’ve unfortunately only gotten as far as second place)! If that doesn’t convince you of how great and diverse this format is, I don’t know what will.