Now that Standard has had some time to adjust to the inclusion of Ravnica Allegiance, the big question on everyone's mind is what is the best deck? And if you are a diehard white mage like me, the question on your mind is which is the best version of white aggro? Today I'm going to discuss three versions of white aggro that have recently had success to determine which version is the best.
Max Magnuson made top 4 of SCG Indianapolis Open with this Azorius build. Eric Hawkins also made Top 4 of the Classic with a nearly identical build. The idea is to generate a ton of tempo early by playing low-cost creatures and follow it up with anthem effects that allow the creatures to apply more pressure while also matching up size-wise with opposing creatures higher up on the curve.
The curve starts with four Hunted Witness, four Dauntless Bodyguard, four Snubhorn Sentry, four Legion's Landing, and a Healer's Hawk. Snubhorn Sentry might not seem like the most aggressive one-drop, but this deck gains the City's Blessing very quickly and allows the dinosaur to make up for lost time usually starting on the fourth turn. It's better than Skymarch Aspirant because it survives Goblin Chainwhirler (and thus mitigates how good the goblin is against us) and it also allows us to punch through for more damage on the ground once we get an anthem or two online. Given how many ground creatures we have, we can't really avoid committing to a ground-based offense. So once we are committed to getting through on the ground, it makes sense to play the largest creature available for that purpose.
Tithe Taker is the lone two-drop in the deck, mostly because what we really want to do is playing a pair of one-drops on the second turn. Tithe Taker provides a pair of useful abilities to play well with our overall strategy. The Afterlife ability gives us resilience to board sweepers, much like Hunted Witness does. The other ability gives us protection from Settle the Wreckage and also forces the opponent to kill our creatures on their own turn instead of on our turn. This makes it more likely that Benalish Marshal sticks around at least for one combat and thus we don't have to decide whether to open ourselves up to potentially getting blown on inside combat by a removal spell on our anthem. Similarly, it allows us to resolve Benalish Marshal followed immediately by Dauntless Bodyguard to protect the anthem creature without the potential of the Marshal getting killed in response. It also protects our creatures from getting countered.
Speaking of Benalish Marshal, that and History of Benalia are the premier three-drops in the deck for applying pressure. Unless the opponent has played something that requires us to react, we really want to be playing one of these two cards on the third turn.
Venerated Loxodon is Benalish Marshal's partner in crime when it comes to increasing the size of our creatures. History of Benalia can also pump some of our creatures on a crucial turn. Unbreakable Formation can act as yet another anthem effect or it can provide us protection against something like Kaya's Wrath or Deafening Clarion depending on the matchup and board state.
The removal spells in the deck are sparse because we usually only have to get rid of one or two things over the course of the game since our Game Plan is to end things quickly, so we run four Deputy of Detention and one Conclave Tribunal.
We only have eight blue sources main since our only blue spells are four Deputy of Detention, but in the sideboard we have some much-needed counters for the control matchups and for the Wilderness Reclamation matchups as well as for anyone boarding in board sweepers against us. Since blue becomes a more prominent part of our post-board games, we also board an Island to give us a ninth blue source. Ajani gives us more ways to combat removal spells and to size up against slower creature decks. Baffling End comes in against other aggressive creature decks or against specific opposing creatures that give us trouble such as an opposing Deputy of Detention. Tocatli Honor Guard is great against the explore deck and anyone else that relies on creatures having triggered abilities.
Splashing blue is a solid option, but some have opted instead to splash red.
This build is straight white except for a handful of red cards in the sideboard, mostly to improve the control matchup. It differs in a few other ways from the Azorius build – it plays Skymarch Aspirant over Healer's Hawk and the other two copies of Hunted Witness. It also plays Adanto Vanguard over Tithe Taker. It also runs Pride of Conquerors over Unbreakable Formation. These are all minor changes that don't significantly impact much. The big differences are the removal spells main and the sideboard cards.
Instead of running four Deputy of Detention and one Conclave Tribunal, this deck runs the full four Conclave Tribunal and a single Pride of Conquerors. Deputy is higher variance than Conclave Tribunal in the sense that it can be much more easily killed, but it the body can be very impactful if it sticks around, given the tempo nature of the deck as well as the Abundance of anthem effects. So if you like to roll the dice, Deputy of Detention is the better bet. But if you want to play it a bit more conservative, Conclave Tribunal makes more sense.
In the sideboard, the Boros version looks similar in a lot of ways to the Azorius build. It runs the three copies of Ajani as well as a mix of Tocatlis and Baffling Ends for the same reasons discussed with the Azorius build. It also runs an additional second-color land in the board, just as the Azorius deck does. The difference is that instead of running five Counterspells, this deck runs one Banefire, one Response // Resurgence and three Experimental Frenzy. The split card can take care of an annoying blocker or it can provide a super combat to finish the game. Banefire can accomplish a similar purpose at finishing a game or clearing out a creature, but it also cannot be countered. The biggest reasons for splashing red, however, is Experimental Frenzy.
This card has wrecked me multiple times in testing out of the sideboard of Red Aggro decks. The fact that you can play lands off the top of the deck in addition to all the cheap spells means it will typically amount to at least an extra card or two per turn while also snowballing toward even more cards later in the game as we rarely miss a land drop with this card on the battlefield. Then eventually if you decide you have enough gas in hand and you hit a snag of lands on top of the deck, you can use the Frenzy to blow itself up and unlock all the cards in hand, which are usually all expensive cards like History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal that got stuck on top of the library after having tapped too low playing out all the cards that were above it in previous turns.
The blue relies on using its counters to capitalize on its early tempo and to stop a key sweeper or removal spell whereas the red looks to overtake the game with Experimental Frenzy, essentially generating an Ancestral Recall worth of value each turn for the rest of the game. The blue is better against Wilderness Reclamation decks because unlike against control decks, we have to stop them from going off. Otherwise we may never get another turn.
This isn't, however, the only Boros deck in town.
Zastoparikus made Top 4 of the same MOCS tournament with a version that incorporated more red cards into its build. Instead of running Benalish Marshal, it runs Legion Warboss. And its removal spell of choice is Lava Coil. And it goes higher up the curve with Heroic Reinforcements, which acts as a temporary anthem for the turn. It also runs Ajani main deck instead of in the sideboard. This gives the deck a bit more Staying Power and makes it less reliant on having a fast tempo start. It even goes up to five mana for a pair of Divine Visitations. This is a monster with Heroic Reinforcements, combining to produce 10 points of flying haste damage in addition to the anthem effect for all our other creatures.
Instead of staying low to the ground in post-board games and relying on a single Counterspell or a card advantage engine like Experimental Frenzy, this build completely changes its strategy to include higher cost threats such as Tajic, Aurelia, and Lyra. I'm assuming it boards out its early threats for these bigger threats after opponents replace their Vraska's Contempts with Cry of the Carnariums and Golden Demises. This leaves opponents with the wrong answers to our threats. Since Experimental Frenzy doesn't play well with this strategy of increasing our curve, this deck instead plays The Immortal Sun for a similar albeit more expensive effect. It also brings in Deafening Clarion, a card opponents likely will not expect out of the board of a deck full of one-drops and two-drops.
Which is Best?
In my estimation, the Azorius version is best. It has the best plan against Wilderness Reclamation decks while also staying low to the ground and explosive, preserving most of the elements of the deck that won the Pro Tour in Atlanta a couple months ago. I think its sideboard plan against control is about equal to that the Experimental Frenzy sideboard plan. The only reason I would play the third deck over the previous two is if midrange decks full of removal spells become the overwhelming norm. Even then I might prefer to just play Experimental Frenzy main deck in the first Boros build instead of playing the second Boros build.
My guess is that the second Boros build mostly had success due to the surprise factor of the tricky sideboard plan, but now that people know about it I suspect it will be less effective. Having the ability to make that transformation should not be underappreciated though. The previous two builds are too all-in on the aggro plan to pull something like that off and therefore have to rely on specific sideboard bullets like counters or Experimental Frenzy to keep up while the third deck has more flexibility to change its strategy in ways that leave the opponent guessing as to how best to sideboard against it.
Six white weenie decks in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour is a hard act to follow, but I suspect white weenie will continue to make its presence felt in Cleveland.