Adapt Or Perish

It is again time to check in with Anthony Lowry as he evolves his Standard understanding and deckbuilding! Here, on the week of #SCGCLE, he examines two of the foremost aggro decks the format has to offer!

Last week
, I entertained a few ideas for a potential evolution in the G/R Dragons archetype.

Almost every splash has its merits. White gave you Dromoka’s Command, one of the best spells out of Dragons of Tarkir and a great answer to the problem
that is Whip of Erebos. There wasn’t much else going for it, though, and the seemingly strong mirror breakers out of the sideboard were already within the
two primary colors. Black was in a similar boat with Thoughtseize, except that your removal, should you choose to play more, was more robust and
unconditional. Black was more of an awkward splash than White, however, mostly because Thoughtseize was more time sensitive than Dromoka’s Command, which
led to being forced to play in ways that the deck didn’t really want to play.

Turns out that I needed to change the way I viewed the entire thing.

Somewhere during the whole thing, I lost sight of why I was trying to splash in the first place and just wound up doing things on a whim, with no real
direction. The builds were becoming more and more like worse versions of either the initial deck, or Abzan Aggro. I had to take a step back and start again
from square one.

“Okay, why was I doing this again?”

“…because you wanted more push-pull effects in the maindeck without sacrificing consistency of either your creatures or your manabase! Duh!”

“Oh, right…”

Dromoka’s Command, while a powerful card, did not help against Stormbreath Dragon, and it wasn’t the aforementioned push-pull effect I was looking for. The
black Dragons weren’t even that good, no better than what we were already doing. Every time I tried to splash blue, I kept wanting to be more and more
aggressive, which was the complete opposite of what this deck was predicated on.

Then it hit me.

I spent this past month or so working on prototypical two-color decks that touch a third for something very specific, and the tension with specifically
Temur was how many of the cards were trying to push you into an aggressive slant. What happens if we push back?

Icefall Regent is the card that pushes back, and it is the only maindeck blue card we could ever want.

Out of all the other Dragons available to us, Icefall Regent far outshines the rest of them. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for against the Abzan
Aggro menace that’s been crushing me.

As Ari Lax stated last week
, the best way to answer the big hits in Standard is to hit them right back, mostly because while the answers in the format have gotten cheaper, it’s too
easy to end up with the wrong answer to the wrong threat. Icefall Regent handles that problem when we need it to: when we’re well into our mid-game but not
quite ready to turn the corner. We were never interested in actually controlling the bigger problems if they became an issue, so long as we had enough time
to get them dead. We would play Ashcloud Phoenix or Arbor Colossus in this spot as a way to make sure that we don’t die while also having a solid clock.
The issue with those two cards was specifically the Abzan Aggro matchup. When you’re struggling to get a hard to cast virtual vanilla 6/6 on the board
against a deck flush with removal for it, or a 4/1 that is embarrassing against Siege Rhino or even Rakshasa Deathdealer, then it’s going to be a problem.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that that specific part of the game is what makes Abzan Aggro so good against us. They find a very specific choke point:
our ability to get back creatures with Haven of the Spirit Dragon, an easily removable obstacle, or just having worse creatures, and they’ll run you over
once you get caught needing whatever it is they choked you on. Now, with Icefall Regent, you can do exactly what they were trying to do to you and then
some. It’s more difficult to power through due to the Frost Titan effect, can block Surrak, the Hunt Caller, is very nice with Thunderbreak Regent, and
doesn’t really hurt our mana aside from the few painlands we’d play that hurts our Mono-Red matchup (which I already thought was pretty good).

These same upsides can be applied to the mirror, where Stormbreath Dragon is key. Being able to tap down a major piece of the deck and swing the momentum
in your favor is pretty huge, not to mention the extra push it has in making your opponent’s clunky deck that much more so.

So what does this deck look like?

The most difficult part of this entire thing is managing the tight rope that is the manabase. Icefall Regent is our only blue card in the maindeck, but it
costing double blue makes things difficult. I’ve always advocated against Frontier Bivouac, as I legitimately think that it’s the worst card in aggressive
Temur decks, but here, I think it’s worth it. You need to hit all of your colors as quickly as possible, and you aren’t completely strapped to stick a
Savage Knuckleblade or anything of the sort quickly, so you can afford to have a few more additional lands that enter the battlefield tapped.

Is it worth it? I don’t know, but the only bad plan is one that isn’t executed.

The Abzan Aggro Debacle

Since when does land count determine if you’re aggressive or not?

Well, since Abzan Aggro has become a force in Standard.

You probably see it all the time, players trying to skimp on lands to jam every sweet spell they can into their decks.

Here’s a question: Would you rather have as many sweet spells in your deck as possible, or have the mana to cast the ones you already have as much as
possible? If you answered the former, then what do you do when you don’t have that mana? If you answered the latter, what do you do when you have too much

The answer to the second question is easy: have sinks.

Abzan Aggro is the best deck in the format at always having things to do with its mana.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have too many lands than not enough lands, especially in this Standard format. At the very least, you get to play
what you draw, and the things that you play in this deck can be utilized even further if you do draw more lands. If you don’t need more lands, some of your
lands keep you from drawing more of them!

The real problem that many have with this deck is the label. How is a twenty-creature, twenty-six land deck with two six-mana planeswalkers considered an
aggro deck?

My answer: Who cares?

If your goal is to kill your opponent as swiftly as possible with creatures, and without a combo as a primary gameplan, you’re an aggro deck. You are being
aggressive. Your land count is only indicative of how you plan on developing that gameplan, not how you classify your deck as a whole. Often times, you may
have to change the way you think about things if you’re trying to get better.

While the main event didn’t go too well for me in Providence, I have some good ideas for Cleveland, I have a lot of cards that I know I want to play, but
time will tell what I wind up jamming with.

Maybe I’ll have Dragons in my deck!