Towards the end of Khans of Tarkir Standard, before Fate Reforged was tournament legal, RW Aggro emerged as one of the top performing archetypes in the format. Sam Pardee played the deck to a high-profile Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Denver, and since that time the deck has gained a large following. On Magic Online, where Fate Reforged is not yet released, RW Aggro currently holds a 10% share of the metagame as the third most-popular archetype in the format, being surpassed only by Abzan Midrange and Abzan Aggro. Here's the stock list heading into Fate Reforged, as popularized by Sam Pardee and widely imitated on Magic Online:
RW Aggro is poised to capitalize on Standard's transition into Fate Reforged. It has already shown great success in the first weekend of competition. It won the Super Series Championship in Seattle, and it put up a 2nd-place finish at the SCG Standard Open in Washington.
The Sunday Super Series at the Wizards of the Coast HQ in Seattle was won by a classic RW Aggro deck with some simple Fate Reforged updates.
The SCG Standard Open in Washington last weekend saw a RW Aggro deck make its way to the finals.
This version sees a major departure from the classic RW strategy with the removal of Chained to the Rocks and the incorporation of Monastery Mentor. It has returned to the RW Tokens roots with a full set of Raise the Alarm, and it includes Outpost Siege and even Collateral Damage to further push the token aspect.
RW Aggro has gained some powerful tools from Fate Reforged, as displayed by these decklists, and I'll begin by analyzing their individual impacts on the archetype.
Valorous Stance offer the utility of two options and a significant amount of power overall.
The removal spell half is tailor-made to destroy the troublesome Siege Rhino, and it does plenty of other work against cards like Courser of Kruphix, Anafenza, the Foremost, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Polukranos, World Eater, and the new Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It also helps to contain UW Heroic.
Destroying a creature with Valorous Stance will always be good when applicable, but it's particularly powerful in this archetype because it offers a way to destroy the creatures with 5+ toughness left alone by Stoke the Flames. In theory this could eliminate the necessity for Chained to the Rocks, which was an adaption made this past weekend in the SCG decklist.
The indestructible ability of Valorous Stance may be unassuming but it is extremely powerful. For one, in matchups without creatures to Remove, like against control decks, giving Indestructibility to a creature will be among the most powerful effects available. Its mere existence in the format requires that players use removal like burn spells and Hero's Demise much more carefully, and particularly often on their own turn before the opponent can untap and gets access to Valorous Stance and can protect their creatures. With opponent's actions forced, Valorous Stance steals initiative for aggressive decks.
Valorous Stance is great with the cheap creatures this deck uses to apply pressure, and it's especially excellent for protecting creatures like Goblin Rabblemaster. Playing some small number of God's Willing has been an occasionally adopted practice for aggressive white decks, tracing all the way back to Yuuya's Top 8 Jeskai build from Pro Tour: Khans of Tarkir. RW Aggro loves the creature-protection effect but can't afford to spend maindeck slots on it, but Valorous Stance makes that a reality. Keep in mind that it also has value in creature combat.
There has been a lot spoken on Monastery Mentor, and it's clearly extremely powerful. It's something like a souped-up Young Pyromancer that comes with an anthem ability attached to its tokens, but as a three-drop it's slower to get going. Slower seems perfectly fine in Standard, where as a three-drop Monastery Mentor sits in the sweet spot in the curve filled by comparably powerful cards like Goblin Rabblemaster, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and even Courser of Kruphix.
Some big names like Brad Nelson and Owen Turtenwald have argued against including Monastery Mentor in RW Aggro, and the Super Series-winning RW Aggro decklist from this past weekend doesn't include the card, and I agree that it doesn't necessarily fill a void in the archetype. The stock decklists have 18 noncreature spells maindeck with some more in the sideboard, an average of about 33% of the deck. Modern UR Delver decks with Treasure Cruise averaged around 50% instants and sorceries with 28 maindeck, while last Standard season's Boros Burn had around 27. It's clear that 18 just doesn't cut it when there are other excellent creature options don't require any additional help. This point is particularly important when you consider that this format has Thoughtseize and the good old-fashioned mulligans and mana flood to further restrict resources: a mulligan into Plains, Plains, Mountain, Brimaz, King of Oreskos looks a whole lot better than Plains, Plains, Mountain, Monastery Mentor. It's in these resource-scarce games where it's important that each and every card pulls its own weight, which Monastery Mentor can't claim to do.
On the other hand, Monastery Mentor offers an immense amount of potential power that other cards can't claim to match, because as a reusable token-generator and anthem-effect, it will easily overcome any opponent if given enough time and fuel. Like Young Pyromancer it will require some dedication in the decklist, but it has the potential to win a lot of Standard games. The Monastery Mentor-powered RW Tokens deck from last weekend did just that on the way its 2nd place finish at the SCG Standard Open. He brought his noncreature spell count up to 25, a reasonably high number that gives Monastery Mentor more sustainable fuel than the 18 from the stock list could provide.
Outpost Siege is in some ways the ultimate card for RW Aggro, one that offers significant power to any build. The key ability here is the first one, which is worded like the "0:" ability on Chandra, Pyromaster. For practical considerations, in the mid to late game this is comparable to drawing an extra card every turn, which is obviously a considerable advantage, and particularly so in a deck utilizing burn as game-winning reach. Overall it's not as powerful as Chandra, Pyromancer, since it neither destroys X/1 creatures nor prevents creatures from blocking, nor ultimates, but it can't easily be destroyed, and this resiliency and reliability is worth a huge amount.
The second ability on Outpost Siege is potent in any aggressive deck, especially one that utilizes tokens. It generates value from every token even if immediately destroyed, so in this sense it makes the deck less vulnerable to removal like the new Crux of Fate. The fact that this ability can hit creatures makes tokens better in combat and useful as removal, like for picking off opposing tokens from Hornet Queen or opposing Hordeling Outburst at a two-for-one rate, like they would with a Grave Pact in play.
Soulfire Grandmaster is a fine aggressive two-drop, but it doesn't compare to Seeker of the Way. It's best as a card advantage engine into the late-game with plenty of mana available. It shines with Stoke the Flames, but keep in mind that it's lackluster with Chained to the Rocks. I don't think this card has a place in the traditional RW Aggro, although it could have value after sideboarding, when the deck often plays a more controlling game. I could easily see playing Soulfire Grandmaster in the maindeck of an alternative build designed to better take advantage of it. One maindeck copy in the SCG decklist is a nod to its high instant and sorcery count and its lack of Chained to the Rocks.
Collateral Damage offers RW Aggro an efficient burn spell. Assuming the deck can jump through the hoop of sacrificing a token, then as a one-mana spell it can be a significant tempo play. The Monastery Mentor build from SCG plays two copies, which illustrates the fact that sacrificing a token is not a bad deal with Monastery Mentor to play to offer up a replacement.
My major point of contention with the stock build of the classic RW Aggro deck is playing Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is quite a powerful card, but its mana cost is restrictive. The double white casting cost forces the deck to play a high number of white mana sources to ensure it can be cast on turn three with some reliability. The fourteen white sources in the stock list allow for it to be cast on turn three around 68% of the time on the play, and around 74% of the time on the draw, ignoring scrylands. Actual odds are slightly higher because of the potential for scrylands scrying on turn one and two, although the potential for them being the second white source and coming into play tapped on turn three mildly Tempers the benefits of scrylands. Not being able to play a key spell on time a quarter to even a third of the time is troubling. While Brimaz, King of Oreksos does retain some value into the mid game, it's best as a hard-hitting early tempo play.
Trimming down the number of Brimaz, King of Oreskos or cutting it completely would make the deck more consistent. Removing the double-white card completely would ease up the white requirement enough that the overall white mana count in the deck can be reduced by one, down to 13 sources, which will still support white on turn two for Seeker of the Way and Chained to the Rocks.
My approach to the Brimaz, King Oreskos problem is to cut it.
I had been impressed by running a small number of Tormenting Voice in the stock RW Aggro build pre-Fate Reforged. It helped to smooth out the deck, whether by digging for extra land to play expensive spells or helping to mitigate mana flood. I like playing one to two copies of Tormenting Voice in the classic RW Aggro build post-Fate Reforged. It provides some control over draws and makes them smoother, and because it can dig for land, they help to support more expensive cards, like the sideboarded Elspeth, Sun's Champion.Exploring Monastery Mentor with Tormenting Voice
Tormenting Voice has a lot of potential with Monastery Mentor, so today I'll share my attempt at abusing the synergy between those two cards.
Once Tormenting Voice has been included, Defiant Strike is the final cog missing from the Monastery Mentor engine. It's pure value with Monastery Mentor, and the +1/+0 is a useful combat trick or racing tool.
The issue with Defiant Strike is that it makes it more difficult to manage opening hands and mulligan decisions, and it's dead until it can be cycled. I alleviated some of this issue by shifting the focus of the deck away from the midrange shell that goes over the top with Stormbreath Dragon into a hyper-aggressive shell that goes under the opponent with the one-drop Monastery Swiftspear, which works particularly well with Defiant Strike. Monastery Swiftspear is also excellent with Tormenting Voice. Monastery Swiftspear supplements Seeker of the Way by providing the deck with another cheap aggressive threat that benefits from Prowess.
Moving away from Stormbreath Dragon and towards the one-drop Monastery Swiftspear significantly reduces strain on the land count. Also consider that Defiant Strike is a cantrip, meaning that it draws a card, and Tormenting Voice is something like a super-cantrip in that it can help to fix a draw in addition to cycling itself. The typical wisdom behind cantrips is that they allow one to cut lands at something roughly like one land per two cantrips, or three cantrips conservatively. I have taken this to heart in this build by reducing the land count, which allows for a higher density of spells drawn and more ability to chain cantrips with Prowess creatures in play.
By playing three Evolving Wilds, this deck maintains the 13 white mana it needs to consistently cast white cards while maintaining a high enough Mountain count. Taking inspiration from the SCG Monastery Mentor build, another avenue would be to cut Chained to the Rocks altogether and support a better manabase:
I recommend giving these decks a try, they are quite powerful, and have a unique feel compared to the typical Standard fare. Then turn to the comments section and let me know what you think!
What is your preferred take on the RW Aggro shell? Where is the best home for Monastery Mentor? Where this Standard is metagame headed? Share your thoughts in the comments.