So today we’ll be looking at decks that want to BATTLE! However we need to establish some ground rules for the best way to do that. Otherwise, our glorious midrange overlords will return and rule the land without Sphinx’s Revelation or Rakdos Cackler to stop them.
This should be the top priority for anyone that wants to attack in this format and even if it means moving more toward midrange or aggro-control, you need to have real answers. We lose the cheapest and easiest in Rubblebelt Maaka and Mizzium Mortars and instead have to deal with these walls in other ways. Let’s not fool ourselves and pretend we can duck them either, while I doubt it’ll hold a 70-80% deck penetration in Standard, we could easily see a world where half the decks play these cards.
In essence beating these cards means we either need creatures that are big enough to punch through them, ways to remove them, or ways to ignore them entirely. For the first option we have Titan’s Strength and Gather Courage as cards that are low impact but dirt cheap.
Removal is self-explanatory, although I think we’ll be looking at more unique options closely, like Devouring Light, Crater’s Claws, Crackling Doom and Mardu Charm. I’m more than willing to slow down if the cards are good enough to punch through these defensive green creatures.
There are other ways around them as well, which is the final approach to the problem—cards that evade the blockers entirely. Cards like Ruthless Ripper are perfect for getting some cheap damage and discouraging blocking, eating a Caryatid for free or trading with Courser is perfectly reasonable. Frenzied Goblin, Jeering Instigator, and Horde Ambusher immediately come to mind to negate Courser on defense on a temporary basis and Chandra, Pyromaster can take over the role in midgame.
Of course as the heroic decks showcased in Block, you can really go deep with cards like Aqueous Form. Who cares if they have a Courser on the table if your plan involves hitting them with an unblockable 5/5 Fabled Hero on turn four?
This is something worth remembering, while four-mana sweepers are gone, there are mass removal effects still abound and can ruin you as an aggro player. What’s worse is that these effects are even cheaper. The flip-side to this is that most of them will be located in the sideboard so you have at least one game without needing a great plan against them.
3) How slow can we afford to be before full-on midrange becomes more attractive?
All of the tri-color creatures so far are very attractive at the three slot. The smallest one listed so far is a 3/3 and all of them have relevant abilities for combat. I mean have you read Savage Knuckleblade?!? Not only is it just straight bigger than anything else in the format, but the pump ability means it can get past a non-monstrous Polukranos! This may not seem big, but considering Polukranos is looking like the defining non-planeswalker four-drop, creatures that can attack through it are a big deal. Even better is that the haste ability keeps it relevant later in the game, since you can play it off-curve and still get damage in. Cards like Mantis Rider are more of the same—cheap evasive beatdown that rewards you for slowing down and hitting your land drops.
Playing three colors lets you get away with playing the Charms or possibly Ascendancies or other sweet gold spells. The true quality of these cards is up for debate, but some of them are just obviously potent as long as you can cast them.
Let’s look at Theros Block fan favorite, mono-black aggro:
While this deck has seen a few breakthroughs in Standard here or there, it was always missing something to make the leap. What’s nice is that the primary Standard weapons against the deck have left the building and presumably other decks will force the midrange Courser decks to not adopt so many swarm countermeasures. Even without taking into account what Khans brings, this deck already had admirable ways to deal with blockers:
So it really doesn’t feel like the deck lacks for good ways to attack the opponent without splashing colors. It also gained some potential sweet ones from Khans, such as Mardu Skullhunter and Ruthless Ripper.
Ravenous Rats isn’t exactly a Constructed powerhouse, but we never attached it to a 2/1 before which may be all it needs to break through. Wizards has drastically reduced the amount of cheap card advantage or even card neutral spells. This had been going on for a while, so we all adapted, but right now even the expensive card advantage spells are lacking. Our best bet is Jace’s Ingenuity or virtual card advantage via planeswalkers or Prognostic Sphinx. This makes discard all the more powerful, since even throwing away a weaker card at that time is harder to make up.
Ruthless Ripper is likely better as a 1/1 deathtouch than another 2/1 vanilla. If there are more playable morphs for the deck then the fun guessing game for the person with giant creatures becomes a treat.
Red decks have been on a roll lately and I don’t plan on stopping that train until players adapt:
Obviously this is day-zero stuff since I have no idea if Foundry Street and Firedrinker are acceptable in the metagame. All I know is they have the potential to get up to 3 damage without needing a Titan’s Strength. That’s pretty important when Fleecemane Lion and Sylvan Caryatid are primed to be everywhere. Frenzied Goblin and Horde Ambusher are a solid 1-2 no blocksies!
Goblin Rabblemaster is ten whole dollars. Pretty sure that means it makes the deck. Without the extra speed the old cards provided I’m not 100% on board shoving Eidolon of the Great Revel in here yet, but it’s another card that has proven itself in every format. Still, I think it’s risky to just shove a playset in when it looks like we’ll be battling mostly creature-heavy decks and your main advantage is being able to dump your hand quickly. You also lack the burn or haste to punish people for casting Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods which may also make things very awkward.
You can slow things down to make yourself more resilient against this type of defense, but not to the necessary degree. For that you need to dive into a different color scheme or go full-on clan/shard bigness to really justify moving away from small-ball red. In the vein of a slower deck that isn’t midrange, let’s look at GW aggro:
This is where I think non-red decks should head—curve-oriented while utilizing larger creature. In red your abilities and burn spells lean toward dodging board clogs and punishing low life totals without attacking. With this deck you don’t have that luxury, so instead of trying to front-load the entire offense, I’m fine utilizing my own biggums to get people. Wingmate Roc in particular is a perfect finisher in this type of plan, Broodmate Dragon was excellent in midrange, and this comes down a turn earlier. You have plenty of creatures you can throw to the Rocs for raid and if Ajani or Polukranos is in play you may be able to attack safely anyway.
If we’re talking about larger curves, then obviously we need to take a look at some of the other options. Gruul looks mighty appealing even with the emptiness at the two-slot.
Heir of the Wilds looks like something that may help out in the same way that we can really abuse Crater’s Claws in this deck. It gives us a two-drop that isn’t miserable to attack with and doesn’t take a ton of work to turn on.
Next week we’ll be going off the deep end.
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Bonus Deck List: