So You Want to Play 1-Drops in Standard?

At the upcoming Mythic Championship in Cleveland, I would prefer to play a deck with 8+ 1-drops. Not because I believe that aggro is a particularly well-positioned strategy in Standard right now, but simply because I don’t have fun with cards like Wildgrowth Walker, Absorb, or Nexus of Fate.

In recent years, every time I chose a midrange or control deck, it ended up in a disaster. Conversely, I’ve enjoyed the gameplay and sideboarding decisions with aggro decks, and I have tended to do better with them. It’s just a personal playstyle preference, but I would prefer to be the beatdown in game 1.

Any decent aggro deck needs at least eight 1-drops. Fortunately, in the current Standard there are plenty of reasonable options. I tried a bunch of decks over the course of last week, mostly in the Platinum and Diamond ranks on MTG Arena. Today, I’ll share the deck lists I tested, along with my observations and win-loss records. (Keep in mind that my 10-match sets are far too small to draw significant conclusions, but they’re included for completeness.)

My process started with five aggro decks that contained 1-drops from a single color. For example, Llanowar Elves and Pelt Collector. To consistently cast them, I made sure that there were at least 14 untapped sources of that color of mana.

Afterward, I tried three decks that contained 1-drops from multiple colors. For example, Benthic Biomancer and Kumena’s Speaker. To come close to consistently casting them on turn 1, these decks employed Unclaimed Territory, Sphinx of Foresight, and/or hybrid mana costs.

Let’s get to the decks! By the way, at this stage in my testing process, I’m not trying to attack a specific metagame. The metagame will likely fluctuate wildly before MC Cleveland, and I’m considering proactive decks anyway. I’m just trying to get a feel for the best aggro strategies in the context of Standard as a whole.

So You Want to Play White 1-Drops?

Dauntless BodyguardLegion's Landing // Adanto, the First Fort

Azorius Aggro

Record: 7-3

Given that Andrew Elenbogen had won the previous Pro Tour with White Weenie, it seemed natural to copy his list. It played out well—the list was solid.

Some observations:

  • I’m unsure about the blue splash, as eight blue sources is below where I would like to be, even if all blue cards are in the sideboard. I do admit that Negate makes more sense than Heroic Reinforcements or Experimental Frenzy in a format with a lot of control and combo decks. But I wasn’t blown away by Negate, and my first inclination is that straight-up mono-white is just better. Just add a Demystify and an Unbreakable Formation to the sideboard to retain some interaction against Wilderness Reclamation and Kaya’s Wrath, and your mana base can be pristine.
  • Unbreakable Formation, a new Ravnica Allegiance addition, was impactful enough. As a split card that either counters a Wrath or mimics an Always Watching, it’s deserving of a few flex slots.
  • I liked having Dauntless Bodyguard and Adanto Vanguard to beat sweepers, but I was not impressed by Snubhorn Sentry, as I had trouble getting to the city’s blessing early in the game, and the 0/3 encouraged me to overcommit. But the best alternatives seem to be Healer’s Hawk and Haazda Marshal, which seem even worse. The life gain creatures can support Ajani’s Pridemate, but Ajani’s Pridemate was only good when Deafening Clarion was the sweeper of choice. Jumping through hoops to build a 4/4 is a poor plan against Kaya’s Wrath or Gates Ablaze.

So You Want to Play Blue 1-Drops?

PteramanderSiren Stormtamer

Mono-Blue Tempo

Record: 7-3

I copied the list from Alexander Hayne, who used it to clinch the #1 Mythic spot on MTG Arena. The deck is real, and most of my losses came from mana screw or errors of my own. It’s not your typical aggro deck, so the strategy takes some getting used to.

Some observations:

So You Want to Play Black 1-Drops?

GutterbonesDiregraf Ghoul

Rakdos Aggro

Record: 5-5

This is a list I brewed up myself, although it was inspired by Andrea Mengucci’s deck. The goal is to come out of the gates quickly, with lots of early drops to enable spectacle. While the deck wasn’t terrible, it felt a little underpowered overall.

Some observations and deck building notes:

  • If Fanatical Firebrand were black, I may have run it over Diregraf Ghoul. But given the mana base, I settled for black 1-drops only.
  • Orzhov Enforcer and Pilfering Imp both succeeded in turning on spectacle reliably. The cards may feel slightly underpowered for Constructed, but they filled a role, and I think they’re more impactful than Goblin Instigator. Orzhov Enforcer and Pilfering Imp also helped mitigate the impact of sweepers, which are otherwise a big issue for the deck.
  • To my surprise, Spawn of Mayhem was disappointing. It often just… died, without leaving behind any value.
  • Rix Maadi Reveler also wasn’t as good as I was hoping. It was nice to discard Gutterbones on turn 2 or to draw 3 cards in the mid-game, but the undersized 2/2 body was usually not very relevant. The problem is that it’s surrounded by a bunch of 2/2s and 2/1s in this deck, so if the opponent makes a 2/3 or better, then their 2/3 can blank many of your creatures. Also, drawing 3 cards in the mid-game isn’t as powerful as what Sultai Midrange or Esper Control can do—they still go over the top.

So You Want to Play Red 1-Drops?

Ghitu LavarunnerFanatical Firebrand

Mono-Red Aggro

Record: 7-3

Mono-Red Aggro was the deck I played at the last Pro Tour, so I felt confident enough to build my own list. The deck played out well, though I wasn’t blown away.

Some observations and deck building notes:

  • Light up the Stage is just like Thoughtcast, bringing back good memories of Mirrodin block Affinity. It also turns on Ghitu Lavarunner more reliably, and it allows you to reduce the land count to 20-21 Mountain.
  • I’ve seen lists with more burn spells than creatures, but I’d rather make sure I have enough repetitive damage sources. To me, the 20 creatures are non-negotiable, and I wouldn’t even mind a Legion Warboss or Rekindling Phoenix as the 21st.
  • I think 13-14 burn spells (which essentially comes down to 15-16 with the Light up the Stages) is a good number. Hence, I don’t have the full set of Wizard’s Lightning and Skewer the Critics. If the metagame gets to a point with few 1-drops and/or many Wildgrowth Walkers, then I might shave a few Shocks for extra Bolts, but I liked the mix so far.
  • Previously, Experimental Frenzy was the best card in Mono-Red Aggro. Ravnica Allegiance changed all that. Light Up the Stage is now the card advantage spell of choice, and to consistently exploit it, you have to lower your average converted mana cost. Moreover, control players got a main deck answer in Mortify. So I cut down from 4 to 2 Frenzy.

So You Want to Play Green 1-Drops?

Llanowar ElvesPelt Collector


Record: 9-1

Many players were high on Rhythm of the Wild. While I shared their enthusiasm initially, I moved away from the enchantment when I sat down to brew up my own Gruul aggro deck. And this Rhythm-less list performed very well for me.

Some observations and deck building notes:

  • I like Rhythm as a sideboard card against Absorb decks, but not in the main deck. When you don’t curve into it off a Llanowar Elves or if you draw it in the late game, it’s pretty awkward. It’s hard to take a turn off of adding creatures to the battlefield, and it also doesn’t grow Pelt Collector. I felt I’d rather just have another 3-mana creature in this style of deck.
  • I believe that this deck has the best 1-drops in Standard.
  • The creature curve and the mana base is solid. The two Thrash // Threat are a nice bridge to optimize the creature/noncreature mix.
  • Growth-Chamber Guardian is the truth. It can single-handedly beat sweepers. Haste creatures also help you mitigate the impact of Wrath effects.
  • Cindervines from the sideboard was an all-star.
  • I considered Rekindling Phoenix and Steel Leaf Champion, but I couldn’t get the mana to work at my preferred level of consistency without some weird singletons of Adventurous Impulse, Incubation Druid, and/or District Guide. It didn’t feel it would be worth it to jump through those hoops, at least not in my first build. I do believe these angles are worth exploring in the future, and Rekindling Phoenix seems appealing. It may require you to shave the number of turn-1 green sources down to 12-13, which is a big sacrifice. I don’t like doing that, but I may accept it if the power level increase is large enough.
  • Thud is… speculative. It may ultimately not be worth it, and I was often boarding it out, but the combo potential with the four Collision // Colossus was tempting enough to try out. Alternatively, you can fling a huge Kraul Harpooner or Ghalta in your opponent’s face.
  • Raptor Hatchling and Shivan Fire were the last cards in the sideboard, as I wanted something I could board against both mono-red and mono-white. Fiery Cannonade should be better against mono-white, and Kraul Foragers or Thrashing Brontodon should be better against mono-red, if the metagame calls for that.

So You Want to Use Sphinx of Foresight?

Healer's HawkSiren Stormtamer

Azorius Skies

Record: 3-7

Not sure what I was thinking when I brewed up this mess. The idea of the deck was to put a bunch of cheap flyers onto the battlefield and then boost them with Favorable Winds. But the deck was atrocious.

Some observations and deck building notes:

  • By overloading on the number of 1-drops, there is a high likelihood of having either Plains and a white 1-drop, or Island and a blue 1-drop. And on the draw, Sphinx of Foresight helps find the correct mana to cast your 1-drops on turn 1 as well.
  • Sphinx of Foresight was decent, and a Favorable Winds deck is one of the best homes for the card, but neither blue card elevates a pile of 1/1 flyers into a playable deck.
  • Curious Obsession and Dive Down felt out of place, so I didn’t include them.
  • Unbreakable Formation and Venerated Loxodon (both of which filled the role of backup Favorable Winds) do not synergize well with Pteramander.
  • The deck has trouble beating Lyra Dawnbringer, Goblin Chainwhirler, Kaya’s Wrath, and various other cards that see plenty of play in Standard.
  • Dovin was just not very powerful. It’s a playable card, but in the games I played, his abilities didn’t feel impactful enough to warrant building your deck around it.

So You Want to Use Unclaimed Territory?

Benthic BiomancerKumena's Speaker


Record: 5-5

This is my Merfolk brew. The deck was fun to play and is close to competitive, but it wasn’t impressive.

Some observations and deck building notes:

So You Want to Use Hybrid Mana?

GutterbonesFootlight Fiend

Mardu Judith

Record: 10-0

Ah, I saved the best for last. I was originally going to build my own Mardu Humans deck, inspired by yoman5’s list. But then I saw Gerry Thompson’s updated list. I copied it, and it worked out beautifully.

Some observations:


I do enjoy the occasional combo deck, especially ones that feel like you’re playing 4D chess. But if I surveil Standard for a competitive deck that operates on a completely different axis, then I end up with a Nexus of Fate deck. I don’t feel like proxying up a Mountain or ending up with the dreaded 0-0-7 record. So 1-drops it is. At the very least, aggro decks help me finish the round in time.

The aggro decks I liked the most were White Weenie, Mono-Blue Tempo, Mono-Red, Gruul Aggro, and Mardu Judith. I generally dislike playing countermagic at the Pro Tour because the better players never play into it, but Mono-Blue Tempo is still strong enough to consider. In any case, I don’t have a clear preference yet—I’ll need to do additional testing and keep an eye on the metagame developments. The other decks I tried (Rakdos Aggro, Azorius Skies, and Merfolk) were not powerful enough, had too much trouble against sweepers, and/or lacked removal against key roadblocks.

In the current Standard format, aggro decks need a plan against the abundance of sweeper effects: Find // Finality, Kaya’s Wrath, Deafening Clarion, Goblin Chainwhirler, Gates Ablaze, as well as Fiery Cannonade and Cry of the Carnarium from the sideboard. You can get around them with indestructability, countermagic, death triggers, graveyard or deck recursion, haste, planeswalkers, and/or discard spells.

In addition, aggro decks need to kill non-interactive opponents on turn 4 or 5. Otherwise, you may never get another turn. They also need plans against potentially problematic creatures, such as Wildgrowth Walker, Tempest Djinn, Deputy of Detention, and Hostage Taker. They are not a big deal if you have enough removal spells, but if you’re light on removal, you need some other way to get past them. Swarming the board with 1/1s or 2/2s is not the answer, and this is part of the reason why some of my decks failed.

As a final note, I was able to build all decks from today’s article on MTG Arena as a free-to-play player. I collected the entirety of Ravnica Allegiance by crushing the Drafts and saving packs to exploit duplicate protection. I explain my approach in a bit more detail in this video.

Is there a deck that you’d like me to highlight in more detail in a deck tech article, or a deck that you’re hoping I will play at the Mythic Championship? Let me know in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “So You Want to Play 1-Drops in Standard?”

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