With control decks running rampant and putting a Stranglehold on most of the midrange decks of the format, now is the perfect time to pilot an aggressive deck. Today I will discuss what I take to be the seven best aggro decks in Standard and why each is especially well-positioned in the current metagame, focusing primarily on each deck's plan against control decks.#1 Red/White
Chad White won the SCG LA Open with Red/White, which is currently the most popular deck in Standard. Against control decks, RW is able to deploy threats backed by Outpost Siege and burn spells. Valorous Stance can take out any creature in Abzan Control (Siege Rhino, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, or Courser of Kruphix) or it can protect a creature from Hero's Downfall or Murderous Cut. Chained to the Rocks is pretty useless against UB and Sultai Control, but it is great in game one against Abzan (before they bring in Erase). Two copies of Chandra, Pyromaster and two copies of Outpost Siege are the card draw engines in the deck and allow RW to keep pace with the control decks long enough to finish them off with burn spells.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos dodges Bile Blight while Stormbreath Dragon dodges Abzan Charm. Hordeling Outburst requires specifically Bile Blight. Post-board Chained to the Rocks becomes Ashcloud Phoenix and another Chandra, Pyromaster against control while Lightning Strikes become Glare of Heresy against Abzan. Games typically slow down post-board against control because they bring in extra removal, including Drown in Sorrow. This allows us to increase our curve by replacing cheap removal spells with four-mana cards without functionally stretching our mana base.
It also has End Hostilities, Chandra, and Arc Lightning to take care of green decks and specifically Hornet Queen. Wild Slash is great against other aggro decks, especially Goblin Rabblemaster. Erase is a multipurpose card that is good in a lot of matchups, killing opposing Outpost Sieges, Courser of Kruphix, Whip of Erebos, Chained to the Rocks, Jeskai Ascendancy, or even Dictate of Heliod or Purphoros, God of the Forge.#2 Abzan
Lunatic went undefeated in an MTGO Daily Event with a fairly stock Abzan Aggro list. The one thing I really like about his list is that he runs multiple copies of Warden of the First Tree. That card is really good right now because it creatures early pressure but then quickly becomes the biggest threat in your deck in the later turns, demanding a Hero's Downfall. This draws the attention away from your Siege Rhinos and Wingmate Rocs.
Having access to four copies of Thoughtseize gives the deck a lot of options against control. You not only see what their game plan is and are thus able to play around what they have but you are also able to take away their best card. Unless their hand is all redundant removal spells (which it rarely is), you can usually sculpt a strong game plan around a single Thoughtseize. They have inevitability, so you have to close the door quickly with your threats once you see the coast is clear.
Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer are cost-efficient two-drops that are also good draws late game because each can Threaten to protect itself from removal (Lion by going monstrous for hexproof and Deathdealer by regenerating or pumping itself out of Bile Blight range). Siege Rhino, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Wingmate Roc also survive Bile Blight. When playing against Abzan be careful with your Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Don't put your three power creatures in danger of dying to an Elspeth, Sun's Champion -3 activation.#3 Jeskai Tempo
Coloro_1985 went undefeated in an MTGO Daily Event with a strong Jeskai Tempo build. Mantis Rider and Stormbreath Dragon are great follow-up plays to an opponent tapping out for anything because that single haste hit is often enough to put them into burn range. Seeker of the Way is a cheap threat that gets underneath a lot of the removal spells and can get in a few hits while the opponent deals with all your follow-up threats in the ensuing turns. The one Soulfire Grand Master provides the deck with some reach. Oftentimes the control deck is momentarily out of removal spells and has to spend its turn digging through time for more removal spells. Soullfire Grand Master takes advantage of that window of opportunity by firing off a free burn spell, or even better, a free Dig Through Time.
The other two copies of Soulfire Grand Master are in the sideboard, allowing us to more reliably go on the buyback plan with our spells in the late game. We also get another Dig Through Time, Outpost Siege, and Prognostic Sphinx. These are each very powerful midgame cards in the grindy post-board control matchups. The one thing I think is lacking from this list is the small number of Counterspells in the sideboard. Disdainful Stroke is an all-star against the control decks, especially UB and Sultai. Negate is pretty much just as good, although it doesn't counter a Siege Rhino. I would prefer a couple more counters in the board, but other than that I like this build a lot against the control decks.
It has Anger of the Gods in the board for green decks and other aggro decks. You take out all the mana dorks and also all their insects along with the Hornet Queen. It also takes out Sidisi and all her zombie Minions. Against aggro decks it's a way to permanently get rid of a Bloodsoaked Champion, along with the rest of their threats. Valorous Stance is great against any speed of Abzan and also against green decks. #4 UW Heroic
UW Heroic decks have mostly looked the same for the past few months and have steadily remained a Tier 2 mainstay in the metagame with the occasional opportunity to take advantage of the lack of appropriate answers to it in people's decks. Joe Losset added Temur Battle Rage to his recent list in order to end games a turn early due to double strike. DerrickJones had a similar idea but chose to stay on-color by using the full four copies of Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest instead. The result is that he went undefeated in an MTGO Daily Event.
It's a bit too early to tell whether Shu Yun will become a mainstay in UW Heroic, but I chose to highlight this particular list mostly because everyone already knows what the stock UW Heroic list looks like. I'm not sure if it is better or just different, but it's entirely possible that Shu Yun was the card that UW Heroic was looking for to put itself over the top and into Tier 1 status.
UW Heroic as an archetype is great against clunky removal spells such as Hero's Downfall, Abzan Charm, and Utter End because you end up trading a one-mana Gods Willing for a three-or-four mana removal spell. It basically amounts to a Time Walk if you spend the rest of your mana that turn advancing your board. The one card that throws a wrench in this plan is Thoughtseize and unfortunately all the control decks are running Thoughtseize. Stubborn Denial, Disdainful Stroke, and a third Valorous Stance gives us more redundancy in our protection spells while Treasure Cruise allows us to refill on more protection spells to keep up with an opposing Dig Through Time or Read the Bones looking for removal spells.
Lagonna-Band Trailblazer is a good card to dodge cheap removal spells such as Bile Blight, Lightning Strike, and Wild Slash. Ordeal of Heliod allows us to win a race we might not otherwise win against opposing aggro decks. It's unclear whether Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest or Heliod's Pilgrim is the better card for the deck, but Shu Yun is certainly the more exciting and explosive option between the two.#5 Monored
There are two distinct versions of Monored Aggro right now. Red Deck Wins plays more powerful standalone cards whereas Heroic Red revolves around cards synergies.
Red Deck Wins made Top 8 of SCG LA in the hands of Gary Quach. I like his main deck quite a bit. It's very streamlined, plays all the best cheap red threats, has Hordeling Outburst to supercharge Foundry Street Denizen, and only plays eleven burn spells. Instead of overloading with upwards of 18 burn spells like some other Red Deck Wins lists are doing, Gary opted for Outpost Siege as a stable card draw engine or massive (potential) burn spell depending on the board state.
Monastery Swiftspear and a dashed Mardu Scout provide strong haste pressure that can keep the pressure on without overextending into a board sweeper such as Drown in Sorrow. Mardu Scout is especially proficient at this because if you just keep dashing him, he is immune to sorcery-speed removal (Drown in Sorrow, Crux of Fate, End Hostilities, or even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon). Bile Blight is already taxed pretty hard by the Goblin Token generators, so Hero's Downfall is about the best answer to it.
In the sideboard Eidolon of the Great Revel can punish any of the decks that rely on casting a steady stream of cheap spells to keep up with us and it incidentally singlehandedly beats Jeskai Ascendancy combo. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and the 23rd Mountain are a package deal that comes in against control decks and probably a lot of post-board games in general since you can usually expect the games to slow down after the opponent brings in Drown in Sorrow and extra removal spells.
Arc Lightning is great against green decks and aggro decks while Searing Blood is a homerun against any deck running two-toughness creatures. Between four copies of Wild Slash main and four copies of Searing Blood in the board, Goblin Rabblemaster and company are no match for this deck. Harness by Force is a bullet card against Siege Rhino and other large creatures. Some lists run multiple copies of the Threaten effect and some run Collateral Damage as a way to sacrifice the Bile Blight target for value.
Heroic Red is the other red aggro deck. It utilizes the heroic triggers on Akroan Crusader and Satyr Hoplite to increase its clock on the opponent. Instead of running burn spells and Siege Outpost, Heroic Red runs heroic enabling pump spells. The deck is faster than RDW but much worse generally at playing from behind, through a Thoughtseize, or recovering from a Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods. Hall of Triumph is a nice answer to Scouring Sands if anyone plays that.#6 Red/Green
The lists we've discussed to this point are seeing a medium-to-high amount of play. Red/Green is starting to gain momentum but is still a bit under the radar. Most of the time people say "Red/Green" they are actually taking about Green/Red Devotion. This fact alone proves how far Red/Green Aggro is flying under the radar right now. It's a very powerful deck and one that I would consider playing in a major tournament this weekend.
Elvish Mystic into Goblin Rabblemaster is the premier opening combination. Flamewake Phoenix can also be played on the second turn if you played Elvish Mystic off a Mana Confluence and then played a second red source as your second turn land drop. The Backup Plan for draws not including Elvish Mystic involve casting Heir of the Wilds or Rattleclaw Mystic on the second turn. Lightning Strike can also be the play, especially when on the draw against a deck with a second turn play.
These strong openings are backed by potent midgame plays. Ashcloud Phoenix is resilience to a lot of the removal spells being played right now (pretty much everything short of Abzan Charm). Shaman of the Great Hunt is a powerful haste threat that provides excellent recovery from a wrath effect. It also provides card draw if it stays alive. It's fragile against Wild Slash decks, but it's unlikely the opponent will still be holding Wild Slash by the time we play our four-drop, given that the card kills every previous play in our deck. Finally there is Stormbreath Dragon to top the curve, which is conveniently immune to Abzan Charm, Valorous Stance, and Bile Blight (well, not immune, but doesn't die to it). Each of these midgame threats is also able to trigger the Flamewake Phoenix's Resurrection ability. Crater's Claws is a great finishing spell against control decks too.
Post-board Whisperwood Elemental provides wrath protection while Chandra, Pyromaster adds a card draw engine and an answer to Hornet Queen's Insect Tokens. Arc Lightnings are also great against green decks and aggro decks. Destructive Revelry has the same function Erase has in the decks we talked about earlier but with some added upside. Polukranos, World Eater and Mob Rule can trump the board stall matchups.#7 Naya
The best answers to Goblin Rabblemaster right now involve dealing it two to three damage or giving it -3/-3 until end of turn. Gather Courage is a convenient and inexpensive answer to any of these cards. It even stops Last Breath if anyone tries to play that to deal with the goblin. The deck plays out in a similar way to Red/Green but with a few differences. Instead of Running Crater's Claws we get Chained to the Rocks and instead of Lightning Strike it runs Valorous Stance. These changes make us much better against green creature decks but worse against UB and Sultai Control.
The other difference is the addition of Fleecemane Lion. The lion fits perfectly into the deck because it provides an extremely cost efficient threat that survives Wild Slash and also gives us something powerful to do with our mana in the midgame when we don't have Shaman of the Great to activate. More importantly, it allows us to make a Wizard of Oz reference every time we cause our cowardly Fleecemane Lion to Gather Courage in the face of a Lightning Strike or Bile Blight.
In the sideboard we get a lot of the same cards that we've already discussed from the previous decks. Wild Slash and Arc Lightning are great against anything with cheap low-toughness creatures. Glare of Heresy is great against UW Heroic and Siege Rhino decks. Outpost Siege comes in probably every time in order to combat the added removal spells that all of our opponents will bring in against us each round. Peak Eruption is a maverick answer to Chained to the Rocks. Xenagos, the Reveler is basically more copies of Outpost Siege against control decks.
There is one last deck I'd like to talk about briefly, one that JVL highlighted in his most recent article on the mothership that Gongal went undefeated in an MTGO Daily Event with.Bonus Honorable Mention: Black/Red
I was highly skeptical at first. I mean, Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury over Stormbreath Dragon? Mardu Strike Leader over Mogis's Marauder or Herald of Torment? Brutal Hordechief over Ashcloud Phoenix or Chandra, Pyromaster? These are some strange card choices. After playing some games with the deck, however, I saw how the individual card synergies in the deck really added a lot of power to each of these cards that I initially questioned.
The point of the deck is to get off to an aggressive start but then back it up with token synergies. Kolaghan pumps the whole team and thereby essentially acts as a double Stormbreath Dragon the turn it comes out. The dash ability is also relevant because it protects itself from a sweeper effect.
Mardu Strike Leader can be cast on curve and act as a pseudo Brimaz or it can dash onto the battle and then bounce back to your hand to avoid overextending into a wrath effect. The upside is that if they don't have the wrath he still managed to help advance your board by leaving behind a token, in addition to increasing your clock with three power worth of haste damage.
Brutal Hordechief starts out as a Drain Life of sorts as soon as he is cast and then threats to act as a Falter the following turn if he survives. The deck as a whole does not feel completely optimized, but it has a lot more promise than I first gave it credit for. In addition to having a fast clock, resilient threats, and reach, it also has good mana and four copies of Thoughtseize in its 75. All these things combined make it one of the best decks against control strategies right now. The verdict is still out on how it matches up against non-control strategies.Conclusion
There are several viable aggro strategies in the current metagame. With control decks expected to surge in popularity this week, I would recommend switching to one of these aggro decks. RW is still king (of Oreskos) and Abzan Aggro is not far behind. Any of the other strategies discussed today are also viable though and I tried to find the build of each that was most optimized against control decks. Where appropriate I mentioned how to make it even more so (for instance, adding Thoughtseize main or more Disdainful Strokes or Negates to the sideboard).
Which of these decks do you think is best right now? Better yet, which one would you like to see me play at GP Miami next weekend? Vote in the comments section below.
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