The past few rotations have had aggressive decks put up great results early on. Those decks tend to be mono-red or a red deck with a small splash. This has been true for a good reason: red has always had the best early creatures backed up by the most efficient removal spells.
This is no longer the case.
The best aggressive decks in the format are now white. White has the most powerful 1- and 2-mana creatures and the best removal in Standard. The only question is: do you go fast, or do you go faster?
Let’s start with the easy ones—the 1-drops that almost every Human deck includes.
Town Gossipmonger is the new hotness. It really does amount to a 2/3 creature with upside for 1 mana. Transforming a Gossipmonger with any sort of anthem effect creates a huge attacker. It also has natural resilience to Reflector Mage in that you can still play the Gossipmonger after they bounce your Incited Rabble since it has a different name.
Thraben Inspector is the other side of the spectrum. It’s the only creature you’d play that doesn’t have at least 2 power, but the upside is tremendous. The white Elvish Visionary sports an extra toughness, which means that any anthem allows it to continue attacking into most of the blockers in the format. While it still can’t get through a 2/3 , like Sylvan Advocate, it still forces a block that will allow your other creatures through. Combine that with a a Clue token to cash in for another card after you’ve played out your hand, and this is a great way to help mitigate flooding.
Kytheon, Hero of Akros is a 1-mana planeswalker in this deck. It’s a 2-power creature with tons of upside. The only reason you don’t play 4 is that it’s a legend. Not being able to curve out because you drew 2 is a real problem, but the card is so powerful that virtually every list runs 3. With access to so many 1-drops, Kytheon will regularly flip on turn 3 and your opponent will have already taken a bunch of damage. This is nearly impossible for many decks to overcome.
The number of Dragon Hunters or Expedition Envoys you run will vary on how aggressive you want to be. You already have eleven 1-drop creatures before you even consider playing the first Hunter or Envoy, and it continues to slide from there. Dragon Hunter has slightly more upside since there are a few Dragons that actually see play in Standard.
The only reason to run any Envoys before playing 4 Dragon Hunters is to play around Declarations in Stone, or if you have Lantern Scout in your sideboard and want to have a few additional Allies. These creatures are weaker than Kytheon, Inspector, and Gossipmonger, but they decide how aggressive you want to be. The most aggressive lists will actually play 4 of each of these, while less aggressive versions might play 3 total between them.
The final potential 1-drop is a new piece of technology, courtesy of Tom Ross. Anointer of Champions may have found an excellent place in the metagame. If players are trying hard to put road blocks in the way of your 2/1 creatures, like 1/3s and 2/3s, Anointer is a great way to continue to push through. It has even more synergy with some 2-drops in the deck, namely those with first strike, and Always Watching will both grow the Anointer while allowing it to attack and still use the ability in combat.
Thalia’s Lieutenant is what allows Humans to be a deck. Playing fewer than 4 is a crime. It will pump your entire team and then continue to grow itself as the game goes on. This is Champion of the Parish, the best card in former Humans decks, on steroids. The second Lieutenant is nearly always unbeatable as it will add 2 counters to the first while adding a second counter to your already large squad.
Knight of the White Orchid is the next best 2-drop. Knight will change how you sequence your land drops, as sometimes you will intentionally miss when you have lands to play, but the advantage is huge and it will catch you right back up. This is the card that makes you not mind being on the draw, but is still serviceable anywhere since the floor of a 2/2 first strike Human for 2 mana is still strong. Knight is also the card that allows the turbo Humans decks to actually function. Keeping a 1-land hand and missing for a turn or two is mitigated quite a bit by the Knight.
The third-best 2-drop Human is Consul’s Lieutenant, which represents a huge drop off. This Lieutenant can act as another anthem effect, but it requires setup. The combination of the 2-power first strike body with other anthems will help to enable the Consul’s Lieutenant, but it’s also the most susceptible card in the deck to an opposing Reflector Mage.
This is the heart of the Humans deck. The early drop Human creatures are powerful and have lots of internal synergy. The next best option, Hanweir Militia Captain, is a card that sees some main deck play, but has mostly been relegated to sideboards. There are games where it’s awesome and can win you the game, but you already have 4+ creatures in that game and were probably doing just fine. Creating a token every turn and pumping your Thalia’s Lieutenant is nice, but rarely necessary. The 2/2 vanilla for 2 just isn’t enough in the format against many decks.
Now, if this suite of creatures were considered the strongest aspect of the Humans deck, you wouldn’t have the most powerful shell. Shadows over Innistrad made sure that’s not the case.
Declaration in Stone is the best removal spell in Standard and this is the best deck to play it in. Declaration offers potential card advantage and unconditional removal for a mere 2 mana. Killing two creatures and giving them 2 Clues is exactly where you want to be as they’ll struggle to ever cash them both in, while you’re getting a ton of mana advantage. Without Declaration, Humans would still be a decent deck, but it would be nowhere near the powerhouse it is right now.
Always Watching is the other new tool that sets this deck apart. Anthem effects are already powerful with small creatures, but vigilance completely changes a race. Pumping your team full of 2-power 1-drops and first-striking 2-drops is amazing even before factoring in Thalia’s Lieutenant. Opponents often won’t be able to block a giant Knight of the White Orchid, nor can they attack back into it.
Stasis Snare is solid removal that is a good answer to a card like Archangel Avacyn. It’s not the most mana efficient, but instant speed is useful. Some versions that are simply fast will opt to play this, but the fastest versions can’t afford a 3-mana removal spell in the main.
Gryff’s Boon, however, completely caught me off-guard. Gryff’s Boon is the new Rancor. It equates to a 1/1 haste flying creature for 1 at a minimum, but it also gives another creature evasion to stack up damage. If that wasn’t enough, it keeps coming back. You can keep killing their creatures and keep bouncing them with Reflector Mage, but given enough time, the Boon will get you. Unlike Rancor, if you kill the creature in response to enchanting it, the Boon will still be back. You’re going to need to find a way to race to beat this thing, and racing against the fastest aggro deck in the format is no easy task.
The lands for this deck? Plains. And lots of ‘em. There’s no need for anything else. This deck doesn’t really want Westvale Abbey, at least not in the main, so there’s no need to mix it up. Just make sure you have W on turn 1 and WW on turn 2 to cast your important creatures. Whether you play as few as 17 or as many as 22 lands depend on how aggressive you’re going to be, but they’re probably going to be (mostly) all Plains.
Here’s the list that took down the Invitational last weekend:
Max McVety, 1st place at the Invitational
This is the “fast” version, meaning you can go much faster. That seems crazy to say in a deck with 14 one-drops and 12 two-drops, not to mention 3 copies of Gryff’s Boon, but that’s the world you live in.
This deck will kill you quickly. It often has 4 creatures on the battlefield by turn 3 (although you can certainly kill some of them). Once there’s a board presence, Always Watching makes blocking tough, and Gryff’s Boon will make blocking impossible. And Declaration in Stone will end the game often enough.
After sideboard, this deck can slow down a bit. Archangel of Tithes will help slow down opposing quick decks, Silkwrap deals with problematic creatures, Eerie Interlude fights sweepers, Hanweir Militia Captain wins games that go long against decks that can’t kill creatures well, and Hallowed Moonlight for tokens and Collected Company.
So what does the really fast version look like? Enter Tom Ross:
Tom Ross, 5th place in a Standard Open
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22.
22 one-drops. Let that sink in. This means Kytheon will flip regularly and Always Watching will always be watching your opponent get blown out.
Tom played 18 lands main and would side a land out on the draw in those matchups he wasn’t boarding in expensive cards, keeping his threat density high. Only needing 3 lands to operate makes it all work and you have Knight of the White Orchid to help make sure you get to the 3rd land eventually.
This deck is crazy fast, but also doesn’t have too much play to it. This is definitely the deck to play if you want something powerful but also need a mental breather. Your matches will be over lightning fast whether you win or lose.
Once you start losing, they will likely be able to close you out quickly. When your deck packs 22 one-drops, you’re going to draw a lot of them. This also means that if you happen to get to turn 6+ without winning the game or a stable board, your most likely draw is going to be a 1-drop. It’s over a third of your deck.
That’s not to say that this deck can’t come back from a losing position. With Thalia’s Lieutenants and Always Watchings, even the most motley of crews can eventually get big enough to cause havoc, but you don’t have very good blockers once you end up on the backfoot.
After sideboard, there are a few ways to go bigger, but that doesn’t appear to be Tom’s usual plan. He does have Westvale Abbey for when he needs more lands, but the rest of his sideboard is similar to the other white decks. There are more Militia Captains that will easily flip in this deck in the matchups where you’re boarding it in since they aren’t killing creatures and you have so many, Silkwraps for some additional removal, and then Gryff’s Boon to fly over the top of green decks or those trying to race. Lantern Scout also helps guarantee that nobody can race you, but Tom doesn’t bother with cards like Eerie Interlude. They’re expensive for a deck with so few lands and they’re not easy to leave up. Sweepers are going to be fantastic against this deck but often they’re too slow, and cards like Kozilek’s Return can actually get turned off by Lieutenants and Always Watching pretty quickly.
If you want to beat Mono-White Humans, you better be ready to interact early. The faster the version, the better your matchup is against midrange decks like Bant Company. This also makes you weaker to more controlling strategies, like UR Goggles, as their removal and Kozilek’s Returns are going to get even more hits.
The Humans decks don’t have a major flaw. They have the best aggressive creatures and the best removal spells. White has been given the most powerful tools to work with and many players are choosing to utilize them.
I know that Tom strongly believes his version of Boss Humans is the best deck in Standard—in any format, even, but what do you think? Is faster really better in Humans? Or is it better to slow down more to splash blue or white? Let me know what you think will be the evolution of this powerful archetype in the comments!