May 29, 2015

New Angles of Attack


Today I'm going veer slightly away from my normal coverage of decks this column is named after, and instead take a look at unexpected ways to attack the format. Playing a deck that is off the radar has some advantages, especially the more stable a metagame gets. And the top slew of decks in this format have been pretty well-defined over the last couple of months. The popularity of the top decks changes, as do some of the card choices, but since the Pro Tour some combination of Esper, Devotion, Abzan Control, Abzan Aggro, Mardu, and Mono-Red have made up the majority of the winning decklists.

Also, when I said "attack the format," I meant it literally; all the decks I'm covering today have a strong aggressive component. There's a reason for that, which is that there is more room to go under the best decks right now than over them. It is hard to make a slower and more controlling deck than Esper or Abzan Control, or to make sure your late game can keep up with the 50 mana Devotion can frequently make. It isn't impossible, and decks like Mardu have a decent shot, but when looking to brew new decks, I'd start with ones that attack fast enough that these late-game decks never really get going.

Diefi00's Jund Aggro

This deck is what happens when you take Red-Green Beats and add in a bunch of good black cards. Rakshasa Deathdealer is chief among them, as it's one of the most powerful cards in the format that currently only sees play in one deck (Abzan Aggro). This deck still has the power of Elvish Mystic into Goblin Rabblemaster, but the addition of black gives it access to better removal, and some awesome new threats.

Mardu Strike Leader in particular is the most interesting. It's a pseudo-Rabblemaster if you cast it and it survives, but I suspect that won't be the way you want to play it most of the time. There tends to be a pretty high mortality rate among 2-toughness creatures, and I like the idea of dashing this out more. You get to smash them for 3 and leave a 2/1 in play, at which point you've gotten solid value out of your card (even if it does trade in combat).

Another angle of attack this deck gets is Thoughtseize + Planeswalkers. Even if this deck wants to beat down, if it gets a draw that involves Thoughtseizeing and casting Chandra or Sarkhan, it can easily play the midrange role. Thoughtseize is just one of the best cards in Standard, and Thoughtseize backed by powerful threats is a strategy Abzan Aggro has built an empire on.

What This Deck Does Well:

It has high-quality threats and high-quality answers, so all of its cards pretty much stand on their own. That means that removal doesn't disrupt it all that much, and one unanswered threat can often end the game.

What This Deck is Weak Against:

This is the most similar to Abzan Aggro in terms of profile. Strategies that are good against Abzan Aggro will frequently be good against this, though this deck is vastly better against Foul-Tongue Invocation, which is a staple removal spell in Esper.

merton519's Red-White Tokens

I've always been a fan of this strategy, so I try to include a token copy whenever I get a chance. The inclusion of Great Teacher's Decree and Spear of Heliod does a pretty good job of indicating what the plan is, which is to flood the board with 1/1's and attack with them as 3/2's or 4/3's.

This is basically a Jeskai Tokens deck without Jeskai Ascendancy, which at first blush seems very odd. Ascendancy is the best card in that deck, after all, so what is the incentive to take it out? The idea is that this deck has better mana, fewer "enters the battlefield tapped" lands, and isn't as reliant on one specific card. Dromoka's Command is quite prevalent now, and basing your deck on an enchantment is riskier than it used to be. This deck does have a couple enchantments, but they aren't as important to the strategy as Ascendancy is to the deck which bears its name.

Between Raise the Alarm, Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, and Secure the Wastes, making a ton of tokens is not hard to do, and that even enables the rarely-seen Triplicate Spirits. Besides the spells that make tokens, Rabblemaster and Monastery Mentor can really go off, even if they are a bit more vulnerable to removal. There aren't very many creatures in the deck, mainly to keep the deck as resilient to removal as possible, but they are powerful enough that a couple makes sense.

Once you have a critical mass of tokens, you can use Decree or Spear to win the game easily, or you can just attack with the tokens by themselves, and that will often do the trick. The more Hero's Downfalls and Foul-Tongue Invocations that show up, the better this plan is.

What This Deck Does Well:

It's very resilient to removal, while still presenting a fast clock. It also does a good job of stopping other decks from attacking it, due to the legions of chump blockers and the good cheap removal.

What This Deck is Weak Against:

Bile Blight is public enemy number one by far. Drown in Sorrow is mildly annoying, but enough of the token makers come at instant speed that it isn't a huge concern. If Abzan decks are trending toward Blight as a removal spell of choice, this may not be the best deck to play.

HamppuHannu's Mono-Blue Aggro

This is the deck that goes deepest (which pleases the God of the Sea). I've talked about decks like this before, because I'm a fan of decks that combine vastly underpowered cards to obtain overpowered results.

There are a few different synergies at play here.

Master of Waves and Thassa aren't a combination themselves, but they both reward you for doing the same thing, which is accumulating as many blue mana symbols as possible. Shorecrasher Elemental is the biggest help here, but all the one-mana 1/1's also contribute, as do cards like Military Intelligence and Bident of Thassa. Master of Waves is one of the most powerful cards that isn't being played, and this deck gets to take advantage of that.

These cards do the same thing, which is reward you for attacking with the dorkiest creatures imaginable. Cheap creatures like Ornithopter and Gudul Lurker play perfectly with all the card-drawing enchantments, and once you have a steady stream of cards, you get to assemble all the combos. It's crucial to have lots of ways to use these trinket-y creatures, because multiple different aspects of the deck require them and you don't want to end up with a hand full of Lurkers, Sirens, and Ornithopters without a way to use them.

The last main theme going on is Ensoul Artifact + sweet artifacts. You already have all these Ornithopters floating around, so you might as well toss in some Darksteel Citadels and Springleaf Drums and go off, right? Ensoul gives you a 5/5 hasty threat that sometimes is flying or indestructible, and even adds to devotion. This combo, like the rest, takes cards that don't do a ton on their own and makes them very powerful. Throw enough combos like this at the wall, and some have to stick (is the theory).

What This Deck Does Well:

Incredibly sweet things. When this deck gets a good draw and doesn't get an engine piece destroyed, it really can go broken. Putting tons of tokens into play, drawing tons of cards, and finishing the game with a bunch of 5/5's is very sweet.

What This Deck is Weak Against:

Cards that break its toys. Some of them are more difficult to break than others, but I wouldn't want to run this in a field full of enchantment- and artifact-removal. Slow spells like Hero's Downfall aren't a big deal, but Dromoka's Command and Wild Slash are a bit more annoying.

I hope that one of these decks strikes your fancy, as they all attack the format in slightly (or very) different ways. Presenting threats your opponent doesn't expect is a good way to rack up wins, especially if those threats happen to dodge a lot of the commonly-played removal.

Next week the top decks I'll be talking about are the ones that got me into playing Magic, in honor of Magic Origins Week. See you then!


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