You can count me among the many players that were a bit surprised by how impressive white aggro decks were at the Pro Tour. Putting six decks into the Top 8 is truly incredible, and something that usually only happens when we have a clear best deck in the format. It has been quite a long time since this kind of strategy was great, which may have led to the apprehension my team and I had about playing them.
We know that these strategies are very strong and there are a few different directions you can go in. Jeremy Dezani had a more token-based, go-wide approach to his version, with some mentor synergy mixed in. I don't expect that version to see as much play as the version of Boros we saw in the finals, though. Luis Scott-Vargas was playing the lifegain oriented version of the strategy that is particularly good in the mirror. However, his team didn't actually do very well with the deck even though his result was great.
The most typical version of Boros Aggro right now is a variant of the list that won the Pro Tour in the hands of Andrew Elenbogen.
The addition of Snubhorn Sentry is smart. This is a robust one-mana creature that aims to ascend early and also can get out of range of Deafening Clarion with the help of Venerated Loxodon. Heroic Reinforcements is certainly worth some consideration here, though it is pretty much deciding which is better between Heroic Reinforcements and Pride of Conquerors. With fewer red sources, some percentage of the time Heroic Reinforcements won't be able to be cast due to not having red mana.
The sideboard of this deck looks quite polished and allows you to have access to a lot of powerful tools, especially versus control decks. Both Experimental Frenzy and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants can be very high-impact, and Andrew has additional lands in the sideboard when he brings in these four-mana plays. The fact that this version of the deck was the one that won the Pro Tour was not a fluke. I want to talk about what other decks in the format can do to combat Boros.
Golgari is still the second most popular deck in Standard and something players will inevitably continue to gravitate towards. There are specific ways to build the deck so that you have a better matchup against Boros. These adjustments have the potential to shift the matchup in favor of Golgari. Having been on a testing team where most of us chose to play Golgari, I feel confident in saying that it is time to add more Wildgrowth Walkers to the main deck.
Wildgrowth Walker is most impressive in game one, though most lists at the Pro Tour only have two copies in the main and maybe another one in the sideboard. That isn't to say there weren't a few players who did make the heads-up decision to play the full playset of Wildgrowth Walker. Of the various Golgari decklists from the Pro Tour, the one Matt Nass played was particularly impressive.
Having access to four Wildgrowth Walker provides a nice edge against any aggressive deck, as if they don't kill it immediately the advantage it provides snowballs. The life gained from the Wildgrowth Walker also helps off set the lifeloss from potential Doom Whisperer activations. The three copies of Doom Whisperer stand out here, but are particularly good against decks like Mono-Red where you want a fast clock, plus being able to get creatures into the graveyard is useful for the Golgari deck.
Find // Finality is the card that you are relying on to actually beat the white decks. The goal is to survive until you can cast Finality and wipe their board. At that point, killing them is very easy as the Boros Aggro deck will be dumping out their hand aggressively. After sideboard, this deck also gains access to more sweepers, and Golden Demise makes a lot of sense as it doesn't kill your Wildgrowth Walkers. Casting this card on turn three oftentimes spells doom for the Boros player as many of their creatures hit the graveyard.
This is the version of Golgari I recommend if you want to be tuned toward having a better matchup against aggro. Don't rely on the explore synergies as much after sideboard though, as opponents undoubtedly will have access to Tocatli Honor Guard so you also need removal like Cast Down in the deck to deal with that. Assassin's Trophy is also a nice catch-all that can get rid of their Conclave Tribunals too.
Let's move onto another strategy that universally is believed to be good against the Boros decks: Mono-Red decks that play Goblin Chainwhirler. There are a few different directions you can take Mono-Red, but all include a number of removal spells and Goblin Chainwhirler, a card that thrives against decks with lots of one-toughness creatures. Which is the best version? That is still up for debate, though there is a more midrange version that has been doing well.
Most of the Mono-Red decks at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica were aggressive and Wizard-based, but there were a few players who went in a different direction. This list from a recent Magic Online league may have been inspired by the few players who have been championing Mono-Red Midrange and claiming it is actually better against Boros Aggro than the regular version.
Why might this be the case? While this deck is clearly very different from Mono-Red Aggro, the first major difference I want to point out is there is only one copy of Experimental Frenzy, and it is in the sideboard. This means you aren't relying on one single card for your lategame. Oftentimes the Mono-Red Aggro deck relies heavily on Experimental Frenzy, so if the opponent has an answer like Conclave Tribunal it is very bad news – let alone if it gets hit by something like Ixalan's Binding.
The midrange version simply has bigger, more expensive threats, and even a land like Arch of Orazca can be quite important when trying to win in the lategame. There is a downside to putting Arch of Orazca in a deck with four copies of Goblin Chainwhirler, but the fact that you have an actual way to grind through control and Golgari does make it worth it. The creature selection helps illustrate that the goal is to get as much value out of each individual card as possible.
One of the best card advantage creatures in the format is Dire Fleet Daredevil. Having a threat that is actually fine to play on turn two and has a big upside later on is a big deal. This card is particularly good against decks with lots of cheap spells like the Izzet Drakes deck. This deck has skipped the one-mana creature slot altogether because cards like Ghitu Lavarunner and Fanatical Firebrand are underpowered in a midrange strategy.
Goblin Cratermaker is nothing groundbreaking, but it is a flexible two-drop that can be used as a removal spell. The creatures that are the most exciting are the more expensive ones – Legion Warboss is great against control or any deck without good blockers, because it needs to be immediately dealt with or it will snowball. The other reason why the Goblins are so relevant is Siege-Gang Commander.
Siege-Gang Commander has been Standard-legal for a little while now without picking up much traction. However, it remains a very powerful card. Putting multiple bodies onto the battlefield and having a strong activation attached to it makes this a way to realistically close out games. If you happen to have a Legion Warboss out and a Siege-Gang Commander, you can always sacrifice the tokens the Legion Warboss creates.
Rekindling Phoenix is another red creature that we already know is really powerful – it's the reason why so many decks are forced to have access to removal that exiles creatures. Against aggressive decks you can use this card for blocking, and against control it gets around the most common sweepers like Deafening Clarion and Cleansing Nova because of its ability to come back from the graveyard. The creature base is very clearly built with longer games in mind, and the same is the case when we look at the spell choices.
The removal is focused at dealing with opposing creatures efficiently. The fact that a removal spell can target the opponent doesn't have as much value in a deck like this, that isn't as reliant on trying to burn the opponent out. That's we see some copies of Shivan Fire, as the upside of being able to cast it with kicker does come up. Lava Coil is also a much better removal spell against creature decks than Lightning Strike. Banefire is functional removal that can go upstairs when it really needs to for a huge chunk of damage.
In many ways the deck looks like a Mono-Red Aggro deck post-sideboard. Treasure Map is a card I have found myself bringing in a lot, so it makes a ton of sense to have the card main deck. The treasures can be very useful both for acceleration and card draw, and this deck gets to play even more top-end removal after sideboard. Star of Extinction and Fight with Fire become much easier to cast when you have already flipped a Treasure Map. Kicking a Fight with Fire is another easy way to win a game. I also love having access to Karn, Scion of Urza, to grind out longer games.
Basically, this deck can take the control role against aggro decks with really efficient removal spells and creatures that are tough to answer. Sometimes when playing versus Boros Goblin Chainwhirler will be the gamebreaker and other times you can use spot removal until getting cards like Rekindling Phoenix or Siege-Gang Commander into play, which are very difficult to attack through. I fully expect Mono-Red Aggro to remain more popular than Mono-Red Midrange, but I do believe the midrange deck is quite strong.
Thanks for reading,