Koth of the Hammer, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Red

Last year, with the release of Zendikar, we started seeing a bit of a subtle change in the color red. For the longest time, red creatures weren’t exactly aggressively costed unless it involved them dying at the end of the turn. We had the dragons, of course, which early in Magic were the base line for giant creatures, but few of the dragons were every truly playable in any really competitive environment. They also got some other strong creatures, but they tended to either involve other colors (Bloodbraid Elf) or hybrid mana (Demigod of Revenge/Deus of Calamity/Figure of Destiny). Most of the straight up red creatures were just unimpressive. Red got along with their litany of burn spells. Which is fine. That’s what the color pie dictated.

In the past year, we’ve gotten the following creatures in red:

Obsidian Fireheart: 1RRR, 4/4 Mythic Rare from Zendikar with a fantastic anti-control effect.

Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs: 3RR, 5/4 Rare from Worldwake with a fantastic anti-alpha strike effect and the ability to bash while having some natural defenses.

Kargan Dragonlord: RR, 2/2 Mythic Rare from Rise of the Eldrazi, arguably the most busted leveler from ROE, with just incredible power.

Cyclops Gladiator: 1RRR, 4/4 Rare from M11 with a fantastic effect to take care of opposing creatures, blockers, and utility dorks while still beating in for damage.

Inferno Titan: 4RR, 6/6 Mythic Rare from M11. He’s a titan that Arc Lightnings. Stupid good.

So we have something we haven’t seen too often. Mono-red aggressively costed well statted creatures with good abilities. And lots of them all legal in standard at the same time. Plus Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, and Searing Blaze, three of the better burn spells we’ve ever seen (no Flame Javelins, but that’s okay). And Goblin Guide, who is in fact a 2/2 haste for one. These are some of the best red cards we’ve ever seen. Some kind of mid-range red deck seemed like a pretty intense possibility.

Of course, when you get down to brass tacks and actually build the deck, you run into some problems. The biggest problem? Red’s complete and utter lack of a competent three cost creature. The closest they can get is Cunning Sparkmage. Beyond that you’ve got garbage like Molten Ravager and Arc Runner and Fiery Hellhound. We’re about to lose every Ball Lightning variant available to red in the rotation, so the mono-red decks will have to change. We try to build the mono-red mid range deck (the fabled “Big Red” deck) and find ourselves losing to Bloodbraid Elves and Rangers of Eos and Elspeths and other four drops with extreme card advantage. Red has some good fours, as we’ve noted, but lack the explosiveness of the fours in other, more successful colors. Your Vengevines. Your Jace, The Mind Sculptors. And so on.

Enter Koth of the Hammer.

Things have just changed. A lot. Here’s the thing, since Planeswalkers were introduced in Lorwyn, Black and Red have gotten the short end of the stick. Both Chandras, Lilianna and Sorin were powerful but prohibitively expensive. These were Stage Three cards in an environment featuring quite a few decks that were easily good enough to just finish you in stage two. Red and Black on their own didn’t have the ability to competently stall out the game to reach the point where you could play their walkers and have them matter. If you could drop a Sorin, you were probably already winning the game anyway. They didn’t change the pitch of the game with the same impact as a resolved Elspeth or Ajani Vengeant (and yes, I know Ajani has red in the cost, but he’s a white card). Now, black still needs the help (more on some of the irony of that in a little bit), but red just got a ton of help to counteract the loss of their legions of Ball Lightnings.

Now, let’s be clear. The mono-red decks with Koth at their core are very different than the straight Red Deck Wins decks or Devastating Summons decks of the past Standard season. This is a different animal. We’re looking at a deck with some serious curve based threat density. Cyclops Gladiator into Kazuul into Inferno Titan is something that opposing creature decks just will not be able to beat. At all. It plays offense and defense at the same time, and is encouraged to alpha strike you into oblivion. Kargan Dragonlord is the type of repeatable threat you can use to pressure the control decks without over-extending into Day of Judgment. And throughout all of this, Koth will be the glue that allows the whole thing to work. Let’s take a quick look at his modes:

+1: Untap a mountain, it becomes a 4/4 elemental until end of turn. Doesn’t give it haste, so you want to make sure you don’t play it on the Mountain you dropped for your land this turn. One thing to note is that right now, considering the cost of the creatures we’ve discussed above, this deck seems like a more than fitting place for Everflowing Chalice (or an Iron Myr, but I prefer the Chalice). So let’s imagine that a good portion of the time, this stuff is happening on turn three. This +1 effect is basically a flightless Hell’s Thunder for the turn that costs nothing and also gives you access to an extra mana in a pinch. You can play out your walker and still hold serve by bolting a Lotus Cobra on the same turn. This is easily one of the best + abilities we’ve seen on a planeswalker. It’s right up there with Elspeth’s +1’s, and in some ways better. It certainly fits with the mono-red theme pretty damned well.

-2: Add red to your mana pool for each Mountain you control. So Koth’s second mode is a red Cabal Coffers. We’ve obviously seen a lot of red rituals in the past (your Rite of Flames, your Seething Songs, your Desperate Rituals, etc, fueling the Dragonstorm deck), but this is arguably one of the more potent ones. In truth, this effect is just what the doctor ordered for red, as it will give them the option of taking a running leap to Stage Three and slamming an Inferno Titan on the field turn four or five (with more mana available, no less!). This effect gives red decks the jump they needed to get past their clunkly mid game of Cunning Sparkmages and Ember Haulers staring down a Vengevine and cut straight to the chase with some stone cold death. This effect allows you to remain on curve whenever you drop Koth (turn four play Koth and a Cyclops Gladiator) and keep the threat of consistent 4/4 Mountains to make your opponent think twice about leaving themselves defenseless. Obviously, ramping to earlier Kazuuls or Inferno Titans is the best possible scenario, though a miser’s Comet Storm or two could have some serious implications when we’re dealing with double digit mana on turn five. Dangerous applications, this one. Kargan Dragonlord is your best friend here.

-5: Emblem that allows you to tap a Mountain to ping whatever you want. Mini Valakuts! And once again, all hell breaks loose. The most obvious application here is flat out killing your opponent to the tune of 5-6 unstoppable, uncounterable damage a turn. It’s most likely going to be at least turn six, and your opponent’s probably pretty low what with all the 4/4’s in your deck (your Cyclops, your Fireheart, your second level Kargans, your Hell’s Mountains, etc.), so it shouldn’t take much to finish them off if you put yourself on the Koth ultimate plan. There are some control applications as well, as you can now easily deal with just about any creature threat this side of a Gaea’s Revenge or Frost Titan, and you can make absolutely sure that Jace, the Mind Sculptor over there is never going to go ultimate on you. I’m not sure how often we’re going to reach Koth’s ultimate (let’s all remind ourselves that at the end of the day, we’re red mages casting Inferno Titans. One of us in this duel is not long for the world), but it’s a good thing to have in your back pocket against the blue white decks that will certainly be all over the place.

Here’s the funny thing. Koth’s -2, as I mentioned, is a red Cabal Coffers. His -5 ultimate is, in point of fact, a red Hecatomb. Two black abilities stolen straight into the world of Mountains. Black mages are going to be very jealous of this, especially considering how good a Coffers effect would be for mono-black right now what with the Nantuko Shades and Bloodhusk Ritualists running around. But black doesn’t get the goodness. Red does. We’ve seen practically nothing out of the red cards from Scars, and there are a few artifacts right now that might have some applications (namely Chimeric Mass and Steel Hellkite), but this is what an initial build might look like to try and maximize the Koth-y goodness. Obviously, this isn’t polished in any way, and I’m not worried about a side board or anything, but it’s a baseline we could potentially start with.

Creatures:
4x Ember Hauler
4x Kargan Dragonlord
2x Cunning Sparkmage
4x Cyclops Gladiator
2x Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
2x Inferno Titan
Spells:
4x Koth of the Hammer
4x Everflowing Chalice
4x Lightning Bolt
3x Searing Blaze
1x Comet Storm
Lands:
18x Mountain
4x Scalding Tarn
4x Arid Mesa

This deck probably wants Basilisk Collar, possibly over the Searing Blazes. That card seems like it would be just insanely good in this deck. Obviously, numbers will need refining.

So there you have it: My first new content on the site. Please let me know what you think.

This post was written to the tune of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Official Soundtrack)


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