At least two players made Top 10 masters this month with a Mono Fire deck. To my knowledge, this is by far the best a Mono Fire deck has ever done on the ranked ladder, and certainly something that warrants investigation. Let’s break down the decklist, provided by EtripsTenshi and try to figure out what makes the Mono Fire deck tick, and if these results were just a spike by two players at the end of a set one weary season, or if Mono Fire is an archetype we should be respecting. This wouldn’t be the first time a know deck sits completely under the radar for months before someone finds the best build of it.
First, let’s start off with the disclaimer. I have historically been one of the primary detractors to the Mono Fire archetype, and once famously created an entire tier on the tier list just to hold Mono Fire decks which I firmly believed were two full tiers below the bottom tiered decks. Not exactly the resume of an impartial onlooker. However, as in all things, I had reasons for my beliefs.
At the time, decks like Rakano and Stonescar Jito were in their prime, and Mono Fire decks were clunky, unreliable burn decks that relied on cards like Flash Fire and the now removed-from-the-game Detonate. Nowadays, Rakano and Stonescar have had a lot of their aggressive cards pulled back a bit, and influence requirements are a legitimate consideration. You actually gain some consistency from playing a single influence power base now, and this new build of the deck is far more streamline and less relient on curving Obliterate into Flame Blast into Flash Fire and hoping its opponent does nothing for 3 turns. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve played against both EtripsTenshi and NotoriousGHP a number of times in the past few days, and have got a feel for how the deck is played in the hands of an experienced player.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the decklist!
The Good News
There’s a plan, a curve, and some synergy. Oni Ronin is the best aggressive 1 drop around, and Pyroknight isn’t far behind. Rakano Outlaw is a fine 2 drop, and Censari Brigand can really put the hurt on an unsuspecting opponent. Everyone but the Ronin uses the power boost from Ornate Katana and Shogun’s Scepter well, with Overwhelm, Quickdraw, or psuedo Double Damage. Some combination of Torch, Piercing Shot, Charchain Flail, and your opponent’s trades will keep the board relatively clear and your opponent on the defensive. As the game goes long, Granite Monuments and Soulfire Drakes start to charge in, and Flame Blast and Obliterate can end games through any amount of units. Running the full four monuments means you’ll have the power you need to reach 5, but you’re unlikely to flood out and rely on a single huge Flame Blast to bail you out.
This deck is really, really good at punishing opponents who aren’t able to maintain a board presence. Three chargers and three big burn spells give the deck a ton of reach, and every little piece of chip damage adds up when Flame Blast is in your arsenal. Soulfire Drake gives the deck a new angle, adding evasion to its already tough to block units, and Censari Brigand means your opponent has to think about charge units as early as turn 3. Other aggressive decks aren’t accustomed to being under this much pressure early, and control decks have to actual clock you while leaving back a blocker or they risk being burned out even if they survive the initial onslaught.
This deck avoids many of the early game development problems that “plag” other aggro decks. Single Faction means you’ll never be stuck on influence, higher power count + 4 favors helps keep your curve moving, and Powersurge gives you cards that are playable early and strong late game. A low weapon count avoids the Rakano problem of too many weapons, and this deck isn’t vulnerable to a single Lightning Storm like the Jito decks of old. All in all, Mono Fire decks come with an array of strengths that legitimately set them apart from other aggressive decks.
The Bad News
No deck is without its faults, and Mono Fire is no exception. It has it’s own distinct strengths from other aggressive decks, so it stands to reason that it would have it’s own weaknesses. The main problems that I identify are its curve, its power hungry nature, and its weak midgame removal suite.
Problem 1: The “curve”
Mono Fire is a deck that lacks powerful turn 3 and turn 4 plays. In some cases, Censari Brigand can be powerful, but it definitely lacks anything as imposing as old Champion of Chaos or Sandstorm Titan. Mono Fire has only a single unit in the 3 drop slot, and no cards whatsoever in the 4 – not a sign of a clean curve. Now, in this case this is not a sign of flawed deckbuilding. EtripsTenshi has done a fantastic job of stacking the curve at two and including flexible Powersurge spells to help cover the gaps. However, the fact of the matter is that Fire lacks powerful cards that cost 3 or 4 power, which means that you need to either play off curve (not ideal) or make do with two less powerful plays. Now, this can sometimes work out in your favor – Torch + Brigand can set your opponent on the back foot – but turn 4 is where many aggressive decks hammer their strategy home and Mono Fire simply lacks the cards to do that. 4 power turns into more a breathing room point for opponents than a critical turn – and god help you if you don’t get to 5!
Problem 2: Power Hungry
Mono Fire is a deck that relies more on its power drops than other aggressive decks. It usually needs to reach 5 power in order to actually kill you, which does give decks some breathing room if it ever gets stuck on power. Mono Fire is ironically one of the worst aggressive decks at playing from only 2 or 3 power – it really needs to be able to bring its big burn spells to bear to threaten anyone. While it can still get a fast start and curve out, its midgame tools are clunky and if it misses a power drop its in trouble.
Problem 3: Removing Enemy Units
Yes, Charchain Flail and Flame Blast can kill anything. But on curve, its extremely difficult for Mono Fire to content with cards like Combrei Healer or Sandstorm Titan. Piercing Shot doesn’t look very good in the face of 5 or 6 health, and Throne Warden is a pain if you don’t have a Flail on hand. Most of Mono Fire’s units aren’t very good at attacking through other units, so nearly any board presence can be a problem. Token decks in particular can present a problem, and potentially a fast enough clock to cause Mono Fire problems. Like most aggressive decks, it doesn’t defend itself well or play from the back foot, so if its early aggression is stopped it can easily be overwhelmed.
Mono Fire is a legitimate archetype with its own distinct strengths and weaknesses from other aggressive decks. I think the deck loses a lot of potency once players are aware of it, as its weaknesses are relatively simple to exploit and playing against it isn’t too difficult once you know what you’re up against. That said, it’s clearly a good enough choice to push two different players to Top 10, so the power is there, and there’s at least two 4 cost units coming up in the new set that Mono Fire would be very interested in. Look for the deck to evolve and improve come Set Two, and don’t be surprised to see it in the meantime!