Adapting Against Aggression

Valeriy shares some ideas for adapting to the aggressive metagame in Standard that you could use this weekend at SCG Standard Open: St. Louis.

Metagames are strange beasts. I expected aggressive decks to rise, and they did—at Grand Prix Guadalajara and #SCGDAL and then even more at #SCGBALT. I thought that the key card for successful aggro decks was Burning-Tree Emissary, but new Naya Aggro decks don’t contain a single copy of it. Red decks and Naya Blitz are still around, but if you want to win you better reject the fear and put Boros Reckoner and Strangleroot Geist in the same deck.

I’m a little bit skeptical about the mana base, but somehow it works. The new generation of Naya Aggro is here to beat anyone who is unprepared. With three copies in the Top 8 of SCG Standard Open: Baltimore, it’s clear that the mana base works better than one imagines from looking at the list. There are only two lands unable to cast Boros Reckoner and four unable to cast Strangleroot Geist, but I’m afraid of playing only ten turn 1 green sources for Experiment One.

The deck is an aggressive one, so early pressure is very important—even more so due to the lack of Burning-Tree Emissary. A starting hand of Rootbound Crag, Temple Garden, Sacred Foundry, Experiment One, Strangleroot Geist, and Boros Reckoner is sick, but if you exchange Temple Garden for the second Sacred Foundry, you’re in serious trouble. Even if you have Voice of Resurgence for the second turn, this hand simply doesn’t seem fast enough.

Let’s look at the changes made by this week’s pilots of Naya Aggro. Richard Nguyen played Bonfire of the Damned over Rancor, Joe Pennachio played Call of the Conclave instead of some random cards, and Nicholas Bray added Pillar of Flame. I like how these changes were inspired by the mirror. A Centaur token is big enough to stop all early aggression, and Pillar of Flame is just insane against a deck with both Voice of Resurgence and Strangleroot Geist. Bonfire of the Damned isn’t as clear-cut, but it’s still a great weapon in creature mirrors.

This fast adaptation to the mirror offline is interesting because new decks rarely become popular quickly, especially when the breakout finish wasn’t made by a famous player. It’s even more interesting because Naya Aggro isn’t that popular on the usually fast-adapting Magic Online; most versions Naya you encounter are based on Willy Edel and Ken Yukuhiro’s decks from Grand Prix Guadalajara.

Currently, the slot of hyperaggressive decks is still filled by Mono-Red and R/G Aggro on Magic Online, while there wasn’t a single copy in the Top 16 of #SCGBALT. The reason for this may simply be because red-based Gruul is very popular online, and it usually contains four Pillar of Flames maindeck, so the online metagame isn’t friendly for Naya Aggro. I expect the metagame of SCG Standard Open: St. Louis next weekend to adapt in a similar way.

So the big question is how to adapt Naya Aggro for the format’s countermeasures. Adding Call of the Conclave to the main seems to be the right idea. Selesnya Charm may be interesting too as a way to protect two-mana creatures from Pillar of Flame and still have other sweet options. Silverblade Paladin is debatable, but he gives some haste to the deck, which may be crucial to be fast enough for the format (especially against Junk Reanimator).

However, Silverblade Paladin is added pressure on a mana base that already has Strangleroot Geist and Boros Reckoner. I’m probably ok with one or two copies since they’re good at any stage of the game, but having Strangleroot Geist, Boros Reckoner, and Silverblade Paladin in the same deck is probably outside of my comfort zone.

Here is how I’d build Naya Aggro for the upcoming SCG Standard Open in St. Louis:

Three copies of Ray of Revelation are a concession to the recent rise of Bant Hexproof, which put three players in the Top 8 of the last United States WMCQ. Triumph of Ferocity is a necessary anti-control tool that is especially great with so many creatures dodging Supreme Verdict. I’d be happy to have Domri Rade in here (also for the mirror match), but 26 creatures is too few to gain enough advantage from Domri. However, if you prefer having Silverblade Paladin or maybe Restoration Angel instead of Advent of the Wurm, you should give Domri a chance.

Are there any alternatives among aggressive decks? Sure! Mono-Red Aggro is popular on Magic Online for a good reason and is even better in a Naya-invaded metagame due to Pillar of Flame and overall consistency. Let’s look at the list that won a Premier Even a week ago.

The changes I’d make here are adding a second Temple Garden and the fourth Pillar of Flame instead of the fourth Ghor-Clan Rampager. The deck’s mana base is absolutely fine for casting Flinthoof Boar or any sorcery speed green cards (like Domri Rade, who may be fine post-board against control decks), but I’m afraid of Ghor-Clan Rampagers being stuck in my hand. This problem is similar to one with Naya Blitz, where some players have large eight or nine green sources for bloodrush and 19-21 lands to prevent Ghor Clan Rampager from being cast. So I would consider Pyrewild Shaman (or even Rubblebelt Maaka) as a substitute for the fourth Rampager to improve the mana, but not as an additional copy.

Another idea is to create an even more aggressive deck that could beat existing ones and be similarly positioned against the rest of the field. The Naya decks from Grand Prix Guadalajara are examples of this approach, but they’re not fast enough to beat Junk Reanimator, so I’d try other colors. Junk Aristocrats is legitimate, but it’s not quite aggro. Look at its one-mana creatures and mana base: typically eight sources to cast Doomed Traveler on turn 1 and the same for Young Wolf. That’s because deck’s engine allows small creatures to be good late (viva Varolz!).

Green-based Gruul Aggro is fine too, but it isn’t very good at beating other aggressive decks since is too straightforward. Access to better removal requires black, so Jund Aggro is a place to start. Older versions of Jund Aggro, however, are well studied, so I want to present a kind of brew that lies somewhere between Jund Midrange (which is awesome against aggro) and Jund Aggro (which is fast enough to beat Junk Reanimator).

This beast utilizes a lot of hasty creatures and tends to be aggressive in nearly any matchup. That’s more risky than the classic Jund Midrange approach because we sacrifice the deck’s primary strength (flexibility), but important matchups like Junk Reanimator require you to be aggressive and our set of creatures and removal still has a reasonable game 1 against decks weak to Thragtusk. You can easily sideboard into something similar to Jund Midrange against the appropriate matchups.

You may have noticed a decision I’ve recommended to avoid: just ten turn 1 green sources to cast one-mana creatures. But this deck is suited to have four mana on turn 3, so if you don’t draw Farseek a turn 2 Arbor Elf plus one-mana removal is totally fine. I’d be happy to have more green sources, but it would require simpler mana costs and would lead to the well-known Jund Aggro with Borderland Rangers (who I’d also like to see here but couldn’t fit into the list).

Another thing to note is the complete lack of graveyard hate in the 75. The deck may or may not be fast enough to skip Ground Seal, but sideboard space is very limited, so I decided to rely on speed and removal for the first sketch. Maindecking Ground Seal would be a huge mistake because you want to keep on pressure and drawing a card for two mana might be a fatal loss of tempo.

That’s all for today’s article, but not all that could be done to adapt to Standard’s newcomer. Junk Aristocrats is fine against it (but you had better read Brad Nelson upcoming tournament report), and Jund Midrange never fails to adapt, even if pressed hard by Bant Hexproof.

Last but not least, midrange options are not limited to Jund; RUG and BUG are still unexplored but have some potential. Jake Taft just made Top 8 with BUG in Baltimore, and there should be good Turn // Burn deck. I still don’t have a good list, but you may do better if you’re able to combine planeswalker-provided advantage with good anti-aggro tools like Huntmaster of the Fells and Izzet Staticaster. The tools possible for RUG are generally less flexible than Jund’s, but a good list could exist.

Do you have any ideas? Share them in comments!

Valeriy Shunkov