The top deck going into the TCGplayer Standard State Championships weekend is G/W Aggro, an archetype that I have become well known for over the years. Today I will analyze the deck, explaining the card choices, key interactions, matchups, and sideboard strategies. I will also offer you the list I would play this weekend if I were playing in the TCGplayer State Championship.
Here is a link to all the recent successful G/W Aggro lists to compare.
And here is the list I would recommend for this weekend:
Let's start by breaking down the creatures.
4 Warden of the First Tree
Warden of the First Tree is the one of the few powerful one-drops in the format. It can hit for three on the second turn and also quickly escape from Wild Slash range against Jeskai when on the play unless they have an untapped red land on turn one. Unlike many of the other one-drops of the format, Warden is excellent late in the game too, able to turn into an 8/8 trampler very quickly. So it's great early and great late, but it also serves a third important role: life gain. With Atarka Red and Jeskai Black being two of the top decks in the format, Warden's lifelink ability at level two comes up often, especially in conjunction with Dromoka's Command because you gain life when the lifelink Warden fights another creature.
4 Hangarback Walker
For a while I was mostly down on Hangarback Walker because Silkwrap is gaining so much traction, but with Jeskai becoming one of the most prominent decks of the format, my opinion of Hangarback Walker has gone back up. It's about the only two-drop in the format that is positioned positively against Wild Slash. It also can provide a stream of fliers to win the game with, especially in conjunction with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar emblem. When you pump it big enough it can protect all your other creatures from Crackling Doom or prevent opposing Deathmist Raptors from attacking you for fear of creating an army of Thopter Tokens.
2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Nissa is a two-for-one on turn three, trading with an opposing creature or removal spell while netting a Forest. And late in the game it Threatens to flip into a planeswalker that nets an extra card each turn or a 4/4, depending on what the situation dictates. Against midrange and control decks the planeswalker side is particularly brutal. It's a little slow against Atarka Red, but we have enough earlier interaction for the first two turns that we can afford to play a slightly less impactful threat against them on turn three. Despite not being great against Red Aggro, she is still one of the most powerful cards in Standard.
4 Deathmist Raptor
Deathmist Raptor is a good size in Standard right now. It dodges Wild Slash from Atarka Red and Jeskai Black while blocking most of the creatures in each deck profitably except Mantis Rider. It also races effectively by hitting for as much damage as the Mantis Rider. The Raptor is even better against midrange and control decks, acting as a recurring threat that dodges a lot of removal spells by coming back each time Den Protector flips up. Post-board it gets even stronger in those matchups when we bring in Whisperwood Elemental and Mastery of the Unseen. She's also a great creature to enter into the Octagon. Deathmist Raptor is the Ronda Rousey of Dromoka's Command fights.
4 Wingmate Roc
In my opinion, this is the biggest reason to play G/W Aggro right now. It stops a pair of Mantis Riders cold, flies over everything else in the G/W mirror, and is protected by Ronda Rousey from Crackling Doom. It's not great against Esper Control decks that aim to wrath our board, but Gideon, Ally of Zendikar made it much better in this matchup because now Gideon can attack post-wrath and immediately set up the raid trigger on Roc. And Gideon's emblem also gets Rocs out of Languish range. Given that this is in large part a Gideon deck, it makes sense that it would also be a Wingmate Roc deck.
4 Den Protector
Den Protector is the recursive piece for Deathmist Raptor and is a way to win attrition fights against midrange and control decks, including the mirror. Getting back a Wingmate Roc or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar goes a long way toward winning an attrition battle. You can also loop Den Protectors. Another nice feature of Den Protector is that she can be played for two mana face up against an opposing Zurgo Bellstriker or Soulfire Grand Master. I'll sometimes also do this against Jeskai if I'm holding Dromoka's Command and another Den Protector because then if they play Jace, Vryn's Prodigy on their second turn, I can untap and fight it down with Dromoka's Command on the Den Protector. Then later in the game when that early Den Protector dies, I can get it back with the second one and replay it face down for full value.
1 Archangel of Tithes
Most lists run three copies of Nissa, but I only want two copies of the legend. Lists are also running a pair of Hidden Dragonslayers, which I am not a big fan of, mostly due to the decline in popularity of Siege Rhino. Archangel of Tithes, on the other hand, is a card I am very excited about. It's the absolute best card in the format against Atarka Red, shutting down their whole game plan. It is also very serviceable against Mantis Rider and against GW Aggro or any token based board. Valorous Stance is on the decline, so I don't expect a lot of people to have easy ways to answer the Archangel. And just as is the case with Wingmate Roc, the three-power on Archangel of Tithes allows the angel to be protected from Crackling Doom by Ronda Rousey.
Now let's talk about the spells
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Gideon is the best card in the Battle for Zendikar set. He provides a steady stream of 2/2 tokens against control and midrange decks, a way to deal lethal or near lethal combat damage to an opposing planeswalker by attacking as a 5/5, or he can sacrifice himself in glorious fashion for the benefit of the rest of the team with a +1/+1 emblem. When Jeskai holds up Ojutai's Command to counter Wingmate Roc, then just play Gideon instead. Gideon is a skill testing card. Often you'll want to emblem immediately because once an opponent takes a few loyalty counters off him, there won't be another opportunity to get up to the emblem. Ideally you make a 2/2 the first turn, attack as a 5/5 the second turn, and make an emblem the third turn while keeping Gideon alive with one loyalty. It's hard for things to go exactly according to plan though.
4 Dromoka's Command
Dromoka's Command has several important functions in this deck. It fights down Jace on turn two with Warden of the First Tree. It handles opposing Silkwraps, Stasis Snares, or Quarantine Fields. It stops Outpost Siege against Mardu. It also prevents a lethal burn spell from Atarka Red or Jeskai. It can also counter Radiant Flames. Another uncommon function that sometimes comes up against control decks is adding a +1/+1 counter to Wingmate Roc to save it from Languish. It's also pretty nice with Hangarback Walker, allowing the artifact creature to trade up with a large creature while getting an extra thopter out of the exchange. And of course it turns Deathmist Raptor into Ronda Rousey. No opponent survives a fight with Deathmist Raptor...except I guess Undergrowth Champion.
This is probably the best removal spell in Standard right now. It stops Jace, Vryn's Prodigy at equal mana investment, it is good against Atarka Red, it's one of the few good answers to Hangarback Walker, and the only risk is that the opponent can blow up the enchantment to get their creature back. Fortunately if you expect this to happen, you can keep Dromoka's Command open for when they do and you can kill the creature they got back at instant speed before they can use it for anything. You can also play around opposing Dromoka's Commands by using your first Silkwrap to handle a Hangarback Walker or Bird Token from Wingmate Roc or Knight Ally Token from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Then you can sacrifice the "empty" Silkwrap to Dromoka's Command instead of the second one that is on Deathmist Raptor or Warden of the First Tree. You can also exile a morphed Den Protector because when it comes back they only get a 2/1 creature and never get to use the Regrowth ability. You just have to be reasonably sure it's a Den Protector.
0 Valorous Stance
I'm down on Valorous Stance right now for a few reasons: Siege Rhino is at an all-time low, Atarka Red only has a target when they cast Become Immense on a creature or Atarka's Command on a Taylor Swiftspear, and many of the common removal spells in the format aren't thwarted by Indestructibility (e.g. Silkwrap, Stasis Snare, Utter End, etc.). It also doesn't stop many of the most important threats such as Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Mantis Rider, or the various token creatures of the format. It does kill Wingmate Roc though and gets better when the opponent makes a Gideon emblem, and killing your own Hangarback Walker is sometimes a sweet option. Overall though, I wouldn't start these in the maindeck this weekend. Let's wait for the metagame to change and we'll reconsider moving these back to the main.
0 Hidden Dragonslayer
Nearly every G/W Aggro list has two copies of Hidden Dragonslayer. It's reasonable against Atarka Red just as a two-mana, two-power, lifelink creature that can trade with an attacker and gain a couple points of life. It can also potentially blow out their attempt at using Giant Strength or Become Immense, but only if you're living in Magical Christmas Land. It's half threat and half removal, which allows the deck to feel like it plays nine removal spells when in actuality it only plays seven. I chose to run an extra actual removal spell (fourth copy of Silkwrap) and an Archangel of Tithes instead. Archangel is half removal and half creature, so it's essentially the same concept. I just prefer Archangel over Hidden Dragonslayer right now.
0 Stasis Snare
I had this one in my deck for a while in testing but ended up cutting it in the end for a few reasons. Primarily it was because a three-mana removal spell would take up my whole turn whereas a two-mana removal spell could be played the same turn as casting another threat, leveling a Warden of the First Tree, or unmorphing a Den Protector. The secondary reason for cutting it is because having to many enchantments was too big of a liability in post-board games and there isn't enough space in the 75 to be able to replace the removal spells with different removal spells. For instance, Jeskai can use Ojutai's Command to recur Felidar Cub to kill multiple enchantments or it can activate Soulfire Grand Master and cast Erase with "buyback." Four Silkwraps is a small liability but adding more enchantments really starts to hurt too much. Similarly against Tragic Arrogance you basically die if they can unlock all their exiled creatures. Silkwrap is more efficient and targets most of the things I want to target, so Silkwrap gets the nod while Stasis Snare got no sir'd.
4 Canopy Vista
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Flooded Strand
Most lists only run three Canopy Vista because they want to minimize the chance of missing a beat by drawing too many tapped lands. While I agree with this logic, in my list I want to be optimally set up to cast Archangel of Tithes on turn four. This requires running as few Forests as possible. This also hinders your chances of casting Warden of the First Tree on turn one, but those are the risks I have chosen. I have 12 turn one green sources for a first turn Warden and 21 total white sources for Archangel of Tithes. If you don't run Archangel of Tithes then you should replace one of the Canopy Vistas with a fifth Forest. Otherwise stick with this mana base.
Lastly, let's briefly talk about sideboard strategies.
4 Surge of Righteousness
3 Archangel of Tithes
0 Arashin Cleric
Against Atarka Red these are the two best cards. Arashin Cleric is only good enough if you have Ojutai's Command to bring it back and, still, maybe not even then. I'm not sure why people are playing Clerics over Surge of Righteousness but I much prefer Surge against the combo-centric style of the current best Red deck. Archangel is the stone best card in the format against Atarka Red while also being a serviceable threat against various other decks in the format, especially ones where we want to take out excess removal spells or cards that are not great in the matchup.
1 Dragonlord Dromoka
2 Evolutionary Leap
1 Mastery of the Unseen
2 Whisperwood Elemental
2 Valorous Stance
Against midrange and controlling decks we want to board out a lot of our removal spells in favor of key card advantage engines. Evolutionary Leap is great with Hangarback Walker but also generally good at cashing in a creature in response to each removal spell. It can also sacrifice Deathmist Raptors to find Den Protectors and use the Den Protectors to bring back Deathmist Raptors until your opponent's head starts spinning. Mastery of the Unseen is also a great way to pull ahead in the slower matchups. Dragonlord Dromoka and Whisperwood Elemental are particularly good at replacing Wingmate Roc against deep control decks that aim to wrath our board. They keep our threat count high but are better threats against those decks. They are also additional threats when we want more threats. Valorous Stance is a hedge against Siege Rhino that can be bought back with Den Protector but also comes in against Dragonlord control decks or opposing Archangel of Tithes. It's similar to Radiant Purge right now.
0 Tragic Arrogance
I'm pretty confident in most of my decisions regarding G/W Aggro but this is the one card that continues to leave me scratching my head. Lots of lists play two copies, yet I don't know when to bring them in. They are situationally good vs. the mirror, but are they even good enough there? The card is clearly powerful and was the best card against Green Devotion pre-rotation, but I'm not sure when to play it. If you know and want it, then go with it. I just can't recommend playing a card I have no idea when to use. It's certainly sweet to be able to wrath the board and attack your Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into their Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, so maybe that's all there is to it and I'm just too comically Humble to play Tragic Arrogance.
I won't be playing in a TCGplayer Standard State Championship this weekend because I'll be playing in Pro Tour Battle of Zendikar instead. I'm looking forward to using these sweet new Ally Knight Tokens that were just given to me:
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