Deck Lobotomy – Ember Shrine

Ember Shrine is an utterly potent deck that is like poison to the current Standard meta game, and to Caw-Blade in particular. In this article Leonard gives away his current take on the deck.

It seems that I really cannot get enough of this sweet mono-red brew. First a quick look in video form à la Deck Tech; now a whole article dedicated solely to this turn-one Goblin Guide deck. Perhaps it is all down to the fact that Koth of the Hammer has really found a home in Ember Shrine, or perhaps because it does so well against Caw-Blade or the meta in general right now. Or perhaps it is because I went on refining the build, keeping it fresh and up-to-date. For what use is an old version of a deck in a world of tomorrow?!

Koth is . . . the second-best planeswalker in current Standard

The basic layout of the deck has not changed at all. It is still a mono-red deck that wears many parts of the Red Deck Wins shell at its core. And Shrine of Burning Rage is, of course, also still a pillar of the deck. Even if your opponent happily sides in artifact removal (just to board out other important stuff), a turn-two Shrine on the board is always a threat, one that can easily be decisive in winning the game. To call Shrine the central card of the deck, though, would not do justice to the deck’s full setup. Not even close. Koth of the Hammer is at least as important as Shrine, if not more, let alone Goblin Guide. Koth is your turn-four powerhouse, your anti-Jace weapon or, in slightly other terms, the second-best planeswalker in current Standard. (Note that his name consists of exactly the same amount of letters than the current number-one planeswalker.)

What I did not notice when brewing the build for the Deck Tech episode were two things: (1) Moltensteel Dragon is basically useless due to heavy artifact removal; and (2) Spikershot Elder is quintessential to the deck. This little inconspicuous pinger literally saves you a bunch of precious burn cards that you would have wasted otherwise on, for instance, Caw-Blade’s equipment-hungry Hawks. Apart from such ping-action he makes for a decent attacker in the early turns especially in combination with Teetering Peaks. Exactly why some players have cut Teetering Peaks from their builds is beyond me. Not only does this sweet pump-land boost your creatures significantly, no, Teetering Peaks also gives you a decent shot at pinging for three damage with Spikeshot Elder (and attacking with him). The downside is that it can occassionally slow you down in the sequencing of your spells. I, however, think it is well worth it in order to punch through early extra damage.

Nowadays a deck without any artifact removal in the mainboard is more prone to give away game-ones for free

In my current build (scroll down to the bottom if you cannot wait any longer) I have included two tech-y cards. Nowadays a deck without any artifact removal in the mainboard is more prone to give away game-ones for free. Therefore, a Shatter has found its place in the deck. It should be noted here that Shatter not only beats Spellskite (who in turn beats a good portion of your game plan) but also aids us a bit in terms of sideboarding. We have, thus, freed up one slot in the sideboard that we can happily use for some other spell now. The other tech card is a copy of Dismember directly coming from the sideboard to make room for three Vulshok Refugees there. Dismember turns big guys into very manageable bits and can aid you immensely in dealing with (sworded-up) pro-red guys.

Ultimating Koth can never be the basis of your game plan

“Why no Volt Charge,” you might ask. “Wouldn’t it be a perfect fit for proliferating two possible targets, your Shrine and Mr. Koth?” No! Here I firmly stick to what I said in the Deck Tech video regarding Koth brews in general. Ultimating Koth can never be the basis of your game plan, but rather it is like the sword of Damocles hanging over your opponent — a constant board threat. This is the main reason why Volt Charge, that Lightning Bolt with proliferation tacked onto it, has never made it into any of my Shrine builds. And then there is Caw-Blade, main-decking Into the Roil for a pretty bounce effect, and all these aggro-red decks, happy to burn your planeswalker as always, and that are seemingly gaining in popularity amongst the players now. This is not the best environment for Volt Charge to begin with.

Let us turn shortly to the sideboard for the remaining part of the article. Given how much the deck lists vary even for Caw-Blade, I will refrain from giving you an exact sideboard plan. You should rather take your time with the deck, and refine your plays and sideboarding online in two-mans or in tournaments at your local game store. I cannot stress highly enough how invaluable it is to actually interact with the deck itself and not just with a net-decked list, and to find out for yourself its real strength and weaknesses in particular matchups. The variance that we see in most top decks makes it even harder to give you an exact sideboard guide. Is Spellskite part of their main deck or sideboard? What about Leyline of Sanctity, which renders all your Searing Blaze spells useless? These are all observations that you have to make for yourself during game one (if you can), and act accordingly during sideboarding.

The sideboard is as much an integral part of the deck . . . as is the mainboard

I will, however, give you a quick overview what the cards in the sideboard are meant to go against and how they go together with the main deck. The sideboard is as much an integral part of the deck, the whole 75 cards, as is the mainboard. As a general rule, in game two (and three) you can expect more artifact hate as a counter to your Shrine. I would not recommend, however, (unlike I have done in my Shrine video) to side out Shrine too much. Rather, make sure to have as little three-drop spells as possible to keep mana up much more consistently for cashing in Shrine. That usually means that Staggershock has to go for something else (if you are not up against an opposing Koth player where Staggershock works wonders).

For better readability, we will best be doing the quick sideboard overview as a brief notes list:

  • Act of Aggression: I must hereby correct the error that I kept doing in my videos on Shrine and Vampires. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot cast Act at the end of your enemy’s turn, untap all your lands at the beginning of your turn, and keep their creature until the end of your turn has arrived. If that were the case, the card would be outright broken, I guess, and it painfully cost me a match realizing all this. Rather, it works very much like Mark of Mutiny but with the difference that your snatched creature does not get a +1/+1 counter, making Act slightly worse against titans. The upside, however, is that it totally owns the Splinter Twin combo (snatching their Deceiver Exarch at instant speed) and, occasionally, it can catch the one or other Phyrexian Obliterator off-guard (if you take control of a creature to block him). Under the bottom line, Act is still my number-one creature snatcher.
  • Arc Trail: If you are up against Vampires or Boros with their plenty of x/1s and x/2s, this is the card to side in. I would be cautious to side in more than 1-2 against Caw-Blade, if any at all, because you really want instant removal against them as much as you want instant artifact hate.
  • Crush: Speaking of artifact hate, Crush is better than Manic Vandal because it is much harder to counter and you can cast it during their turn whenever you feel like making enough value out of it. If Spellskite dominates your meta, better side in Dismember and keep Crush strictly as a counter against equipment.
  • Dismember: Against creatures you cannot touch otherwise and that are way out of bolt range Dismember comes in pretty hand despite its high life cost. I am speaking of pro-white Kor Firewalker here, of Spellskite, and just too big a creature for red in general.
  • Vulshok Refugee: Since more and more mono-red decks populate the meta, you do good to side in a few of these pro-red bodies. On a side note, they also help you well against Valakut and Boros or any other deck with only red removal.

I think it is time for a little wrap-up. One of Ember Shrine’s strongest match-ups, and the number-one reason it should really be played on a grand basis now, is Caw-Blade. It is almost ridiculous how good Shrine fares against the best deck out there compared to other non-Jace decks like B/R Vampires for instance.

If you are into turn-one Goblin Guides and Koth of the Hammer, and do not mind burning to the face a bit here and there along the way, Ember Shrine could really be something for you. And the best is that it is rather inexpensive to brew for a competitive Standard deck.

What follows is the complete deck list in visual and text form.

Thanks for reading.
– Leonard

Click image to enhance

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Staggershock
4 Arid Mesa
1 Shatter
3 Spikeshot Elder
4 Koth of the Hammer
1 Dismember
4 Burst Lightning
4 Ember Hauler
4 Teetering Peaks
4 Goblin Guide
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Searing Blaze
12 Mountain
Sideboard
3 Crush
3 Arc Trail
3 Vulshok Refugee
3 Act of Aggression
3 Dismember
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