Derfington’s Corner: Playing with Fire – Jaya Ballard

The Lady in Red

I must confess, I’ve always had a smoldering nerd crush on Jaya Ballard. The feisty Task Mage is the hotness, hands down. With a blazing bod and a fiery personality to match, this girl is almost too hot to handle.

Okay, no more fire puns. Let’s talk about mono-Red in EDH.

Compared to the other colors, Red seems like it’s got the short end of the utility stick. The other colours are well-equipped with counters, versatile card draw and spot removal, reliable mana acceleration and tutors of all shapes and sizes. So what has Red got?

There’s no inherent enchantment removal, which is dangerous when your buddies play fun cards like Debtors’ Knell. Tutors? Gamble, while funky, is no Demonic. But Red’s got great sweepers (both damage-based and non), brutal X damage spells, respectable artifact and land removal, and some of the scariest creatures anywhere.

I don’t think many players gravitate towards Red as readily as they do towards other monochrome options because they feel it might play too narrowly. I think there is merit to this belief, but I aim to prove that mono-Red can scrap as well as the rest, while being a tremendously fun EDH archetype to play.

Here’s the text of the totally sweet Jaya:

R, T, Discard a card: Destroy target blue permanent.
1R, T, Discard a card: Jaya Ballard, Task Mage deals 3 damage to target creature or player. A creature dealt damage this way can’t be regenerated this turn.
5RR, T, Discard a a card: Jaya Ballard deals 6 damage to each creature and each player.

Now tell me that isn’t spicy.

Part 1: TEH FIREBEAST

The other peasant-burninator

When did this fascination with mono-Red begin? It was during a Zendikar Prerelease Sealed event and I was playing my third round, going 1-1 over my first two rounds with my R/G deck. I needed a win for any hope of getting monies. I lost Game 1 to a sneaky Windborne Charge, so I was steamed. I swore it would never happen again. The board during the second game had grown to a huge stalemate, and I needed an out. I ripped the next card off the top of my deck: Obsidian Fireheart. TEH FIREBEAST (as I shall call him) single-handedly won me that game. My opponent died by losing 5 life in one turn to the burninating whims of TEH FIREBEAST. Spoiler Alert: I won Game 3 after.

TEH FIREBEAST became my favourite card in Zendikar. I wanted to, once again, experience the throes of ecstasy that can only come from setting random objects and small animals ablaze. I suddenly considered a marriage of awesome red cards and EDH. Let’s take a look at a couple other EDH offerings from Zendikar:

Chandra Ablaze: Speaking of ablaze, the other mistress of incendiary delights would prove to be irresistible. All of Angry! Chandra’s abilities looked very playable in a mono-red scheme.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle: A potential mono-Red EDH deck seemed like it would have a fair number of mountains. Colorless damage sources are quite welcome in a deck that might be easily hosed by a Story Circle. But in a deck of 99 cards, how can I get this scrumptous land more quickly?

Expedition Map: Oh Wizards, you know me too well. In a deck with few tutors, the Map can pull any of your other utility lands in a pinch.

But enough of Zendikar; I digress.

Part 2: Building around Ballard

Why choose Jaya? Besides being one smoking hot lady, I mean.

Even in a balls-to-the-wall deck like this one, I like having utility and flexibility in my generals. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Heartless Hidetsugu are both powerful options, but everyone knows their intentions and will gun for them at the earliest opportunity. Jaya can fly under the radar more easily, taking a defensive stance until later in the game when you have the resources to send damage flying everywhere. It’s counter-intuitive to the common perception of Red, but subtlety goes very well with unpredictable, explosive finishers…which win more than a few EDH games.

So, I decided on Jaya. How to build around this mistress of molten magnificence?

I needed her to act immediately once she came out. Sitting uselessly out in the open for a turn is bad for a 2/2 General. Haste was therefore a necessity:

Anger
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Lightning Greaves

Jaya’s first ability hoses blue players, but what if there were ways to make her ability a little more universal?

Painter’s Servant: Infamous with Grindstone and Teysa, it’s a natural fit with Jaya (Due to the banning of Painter’s Servant on 12/4/09, you cannot play this in EDH anymore – MtGCP).
Scuttlemutt: Mana dork and targeted Jaya enabler, recommended to me by a man wiser than I (He wrote that, not me – MtGCP).

Other equipment cards to enhance Jaya’s durability and effectiveness, thus making her more awesome:

Shield of Kaldra
Magebane Armor
Sword of Fire and Ice
Quietus Spike

The inclusion of all this juicy equipment warrants the inclusion of the one and only red equipment searcher-upper: Godo, Bandit Warlord!

The Quietus Spike and Shield of Kaldra are fairly straightforward additions, but the Sword of Fire and Ice, besides being a great piece of equipment, protects Jaya from her “Ultimate” Inferno ability. Magebane Armor, generally considered playable only in M10 Limited, functions excellently in the same role.

We’ve established a few good ways to get Jaya out fast and get the most out of her. What about the rest of the deck?

Part 3: Recruiting the J-Team

Disco Inferno!

The deck needed to be more than just burn. Any Red deck can burn – this one needed a strategy to use Red’s destructive spells to control the opponents’ boards, while minimizing any collateral damage.

First, the burn spells:

Banefire: Should always be used at full effect.
Demonfire: X damage spell with Exiling goodness and a nice bonus if you Jaya’d your hand away.
Hammer of Bogardan: Recurring burn spell, and plays well with Jaya.
Molten Disaster: The split-second kicker is key.
Rolling Thunder: Versatile X damage spell.
Starstorm: A cycling, instant sweeper. Just the kind of utility we need.

The ubiquitous nukes:

Jokulhaups
Obliterate
Ruination

Now we come to the mana acceleration package. Red needs a lot of artifacts to help out in this regard. These should be straightforward:

Darksteel Ingot
Extraplanar Lens
Foriysian Totem
Gauntlet of Power
Journeyer’s Kite
Mana Vault
Ruby Medallion
Sol Ring
Thran Dynamo
Braid of Fire: Not an artifact, but works great with all our activated abilities. And with the loss of mana burn, it doesn’t hurt you to have it in play.

This may seem extreme, but it’s not. The deck needs tons of mana. However, it’s dangerous to completely rely on artifacts for mana, so casting things like Wildfire and Decree of Annihilation might feel like shooting yourself in the foot…with a grenade launcher. Also, Fracturing Gust is not our friend.

Some artifacts to help out with drawing cards:

Font of Mythos
Howling Mine
Mind’s Eye

We also need artifacts to help remove enemy enchantments:

Nevinyrral’s Disk
Oblivion Stone
Capricious Efreet: He’s not an artifact, but he nukes enemy enchantments (and other non-land stuff too).

See? Not entirely screwed.

Blood Moon: As scary as it sounds

Red has a nice enchantment subtheme of screwing people over for doing dumb things like not playing Red or casting creatures. We can try to play on this a little bit:

Blood Moon
Furnace of Rath
Vicious Shadows

For the most part, we’re going to be using basic Mountains because having reliable red mana is really important. But the non-basics we do use will also be important:

Dust Bowl: Once we’re rolling in mana, we can start taking out those annoying lands that we don’t like.
Kher Keep: Who doesn’t like Kobolds? Combos with Capricious Efreet and Vicious Shadows. Provides chump blockers in a pinch as well.
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea: Nice card draw when we need it; also searchable with Expedition Map. I’d rather have my opponents draw too than get stuck on bad draws all game. It garners goodwill as well, so politics-wise it’s a boost.
Spinerock Knoll: Easy to activate in EDH.
Thawing Glaciers: Another way to keep pumping out Mountains. Fixes mana screw and powers both Jaya and Valakut.

A lot of non-basics you see in EDH come into play tapped. Non-basics are cool, but if everything CIPT (Still a relevant term besides the Battlefield term – MtGCP) then we’re slow, sad pandas. We’ve got a schedule to keep.

Part 4: Putting it All Together

Card draw, more than any other EDH deck I’ve run, is so key to this deck. The resources need to keep flowing in order for Red to get its game on, because it’s so focused in what it does. Much like a standard burn or RDW deck, the moment you run out of gas is the moment you lose. The conclusion I’ve currently reached is that a deck like this one would let its true strength shine in EDH duels.

That’s not to say that Jaya is unviable in multiplayer – on the contrary, she’s a blast to play. It takes time to get mana set up and make cards stick, but it’s a thing of beauty to see all the little combos go off. The current high point of the deck is one-shooting an opponent in multiplayer with 40 damage from Akroma, Angel of Fury (with Furnace of Rath, 16 age counters on Braid of Fire and many untapped lands), and proceeding to win the game with dominant board position. That game I had Mikokoro and Mind’s Eye out, which only emphasizes the deck’s hunger for card advantage. The huge combos don’t happen every time (I had a Demonfire Distressed out of my hand with 12 lands, Furnace of Rath and Gauntlet of Power in play), but the thrill of it is enough to keep going.

And your opponents’ reactions are priceless.

Click here to view the full deck list.

There are a few cards I’d love to include but just don’t have yet, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. Have you ever built a mono-Red deck? What strategies do you run?

I still need more experience under my belt with Jaya (holy double entendre, Batman!), but I have been, and still am, giddy about the deck’s potential. I hope to mine deeper into Red’s card pool and develop the list into something that people would be even more scared to face. It’s not going to be easy, but you know Jaya and me – we’re in it for the long haul.

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About Derfington

Dave "Derfington" Lee is the author of the weekly Magic: The Gathering web comic Durdling Around. He has previously written Commander articles for a number of MTG sites. View all posts by Derfington

10 responses to “Derfington’s Corner: Playing with Fire – Jaya Ballard

  • mtgdecksource

    Fantastic! you absolutely stole my thunder, but still fantastic! 🙂 Red was the first color i have ever played with in magic and i hold a soft spot for it in my heart. the Jaya EDH i was/am working on is an attempt to… i suppose embody the red mentality while still being playable. Also; Gamble > Demonic Tutor.

    Just wayy cooler!

  • Zekedog

    Fantastic! Jaya Ballard is one of my favorite cards, so much utility all packed into 1 creature. Best Task Mage quote: “Of course you should fight fire with fire. You should fight everything with fire.” From the card “Sizzle”.

    • Derfington

      Oh no, I completely neglected all her awesome quotes! The sizzle quote is superb, but I love the attitude of the quote in Melting: “Who needs the sun when you’ve got me around?”

      Nice to see other Jaya fans out there!

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  • endymion

    Great deck, I built a Jaya EDH myself and included a lot of the same cards. Some cards I have that you don’t:

    1. Squee, Goblin Nabob. You just gotta add this guy, it’s like he was made for Jaya. You’ll never have to worry about pitching actual cards again.
    2. Distorting Lens. Sucks Painter’s Servant was banned, but this is a nice replacement as you’re only really going to blow up one “blue” permanent a round anyway.
    3. Wheel of Fortune. Great way to reload your hand, and you”ll usually be able to get more mileage out of it than your opponents.
    4. Rings of Brighthearth. Perfect with Jaya and anything else with an activated ability (like your planeswalkers). Lets you incinerate twice while only discarding once.
    5. Stuffy Doll. Just a good EDH card in general, but even better in this deck due to Jaya’s “Inferno” ability.
    6. Fiery Temper/Reckless Wurm. Two nice madness spells to pitch to Jaya.
    7. Thousand-Year Elixir. I put this in any EDH deck with generals who have activated abilities with a tap cost. Allows her to guarantee at least one or two activations even in the late game when she’ll likely die before she can use her abilities.
    8. Dragon Breath. Another great card to discard to Jaya and will make your giant bombs hit faster and harder. Haste is so good in this format.
    9. Khalni Gem. Another way to boost your hand size to feed Jaya.
    10. Candles of Leng. Slow, but pretty much guaranteed card draw in a color which lacks it (and like you said, you need card draw in this deck).

    Some food for thought anyway…

    • Derfington

      Thanks for the suggestions! Squee and Stuffy are actually in the decklist, and I have since scrounged up a Wheel to put in 🙂 Khalni Gem is some rad tech (with Valakut too!), and Dragon Breath is also rad, so I’m gonna try those out! I really need a Crucible of Worlds…

  • Cody

    I love red EDH! Sexy general. My favorite toys with Jaya are Scythe of the Wretched and Basilisk Collar. Give ’em a shot sometime!

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