Aggro in Extended: Part 1

Worlds Extended saw a plethora of interesting and innovative decks… and a shedload of Boros. In today’s Extended offering, Josh looks at some of the Aggro builds available to the old-school spellslinger, with an examination of successful goblin and Zoo builds. He also casts an eye over the dying Affinity archetype, lest we forget the horror and let it creep back into the metagame.

After the basic overview of the format in my first article*, we now move on to breaking down the multitude of aggressive decks. This will be broken down into multiple parts, because there is a three-to-one ratio of aggro to control or combo decks in the metagame. The basic criteria are the decks that are popular enough that they’ll see some sort of significant play and fall under the basic definition of the category. Today we will be examining a couple of decks, possible variations, and some card options.

*As an aside, I didn’t mention Urzatron or Mono-Green Aggro decks in the first article. At the time the article had been submitted, Tron had simply not been around long enough to classify either as a fad or as a legitimate contender. At this point, it clearly has had enough success to be worth consideration. MGA was an active choice I made as its popularity had waned with that of Aggro Loam. Since MGA’s success looked directly tied to Loam’s success and it had faded, it didn’t seem worth mentioning. In retrospect, it would have been prudent to mention both in some capacity.

So let’s begin with a surprise hit – a returning favorite and a dismal failure.

Zoo (3-5 colors)

Domain Zoo is an accelerated aggro deck that runs a full set of shocklands and fetches to play every cheap, efficient beater in the one- and two-slot, while powering up the domain cards: Gaea’s Might and Tribal Flames. Both of the domain cards provide a potent effect in efficiency, and life-swings of ten or more in a single turn aren’t uncommon. In addition, the five-color base allows the deck to play any efficient aggro creature or board option. Essentially, they pack the same creature base of the Standard three-color Zoo decks, but gain the ability to dish out damage at a significantly faster rate when everything is going according to plan.

The main advantage over Boros Deck Wins is the increased speed of the deck, giving it a fighting chance against combo decks or unsuspecting control players. In general, Zoo has solid normal aggro matches across the board due to the high toughness of its creatures, as well as the amount of burn it packs. Only Affinity and Storm Goblins really can consistently hold up against Zoo. Affinity can just make a few huge men, though this plan got a lot worse thanks to Sudden Shock; and Goblins can drop ten tokens on the board in a turn.

The addition of the three-toughness creatures and Armadillo Cloak can also make the fight against BDW very one-sided. All of your men simply outclass the ones BDW runs, and the pump afforded by Gaea’s Might can force some ugly trades. The main reason you win a lot of games against them is the fact that you can drag them into a war on your combat terms, and then your men are simply bigger. Unfortunately for you, this can also work against you because you’ll be starting at thirteen life in nearly all of your games due to your land. Getting randomly burned out one turn before the win happens enough to lead one to question the morality of a format that lets little White and Red men play with each other.

Or you could be a complete bastard and slip in the super-secret tech of 4 Sun Droplet post-board; I doubt they’ll see that coming.

Control is a different matchup that depends on the exact build involved. For example, Counterbalance will destroy you, and so will Wrath of God backed by Pulse of the Fields. However, control like Tron has very limited resources to fight against so many creatures. Then take into account that Repeal is the best weapon they have against you in the early game, and suddenly huge dogs and apes look like a much better plan.

The most prominent combo among non-hybrid builds will clock in at a turn 4 goldfish; until you board, that’s all you really are to them. The plus side is you roll along at a nice turn 4 to 5 win rate, so racing isn’t out of the question. If you have a bit of luck and post-board Orim’s Chant or Duress, it’s quite possible to beat combo. Domain Zoo can race Desire’s normal draws since it is at heart a fourth turn kill deck that really wants multiple Rituals or first turn Lotus Bloom. You must get lucky with your opening hand to win on the draw. On the play it is very possible to race since you can go all-out on attacks with Gaea’s Might and other pump without fear of instant speed reprisal.

Still, combo versus aggro is never fun for the normal aggro deck.

The downsides of the build are linked to the land base. Running a manabase composed almost entirely of fetches and duals means taking a multitude of Shocks and Lightning Bolts to the face. It also increases the risk of running Dark Confidant, though some builds have taken that route anyway. In addition, there’s always the dreaded "all one on-color dual" hand with a mix of colors so you have to take a trip to mullsville.

In addition to the mana issues, if the deck gets bogged down against opposing aggro with a midgame plan, like U/W/R Trinket Angels or Ichorid, it may as well scoop up. With no real draw engine, a crippling lack of high-end burn like Demonfire, and a low starting life total, stalemates or slow attrition wars will drain all of your resources. A deck like Scepter-Chant or Mori’s Psychatog build can take advantage of this by trading most of its early game resources to simply stonewall you to get Fact or Fiction or Gifts Ungiven online.


Sadly my only clever name was Empty the Goblins, and so it’ll probably just be called Storm Goblins or something similar. And of course the Fecundity builds will either be called Dirty Kitty or something similar.

Goblins were generally the bottom of the barrel for most of the last season, except for a few lucky showings in Top 8s with Seething Song builds. My own build of Goblins, which ran Suppression Field, was one win away from making Top 8 at two PTQs, but ultimately came along too late in the season for any serious impact. It seemed that a Goblin swarm was simply weaker than large robots or utility creatures backed by pinpoint burn and disruption.

However, with the release of Time Spiral, we have a new card that makes Goblins resemble its most successful variants from Extended seasons past. Gobvantage and Food Chain Goblins always contended with stronger decks by featuring a cute combo kill that won on turn 3 or 4 while keeping the typical goblin beatdown play as back-up. Now we have Empty the Warrens as our new turn 4 kill enabler.

The basic core of the normal deck is the following:

16-20 Land
2-4 Chrome Mox, Rite of Flame and Seething Song
4 Empty the Warrens
4 Piledriver, Warchief, Prospector

The following usually fill out the rest of the decklist:

6 -18 other goblins between Siege-Gang Commander, Mogg War Marshal, Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactic, Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Matron, etc.
0-8 storm-building cards: Lava Dart and Rift Bolt

The Fecundity builds’ normal core is:

17-20 Land
8-10 Red rituals – Song, Flame or Brightstone Ritual
4 Empty The Warrens, Fecundity
0-1 Finisher – Grapeshot
20-26 Goblins

The construction of the deck depends on the person; some of the combo builds run Lava Dart and Rift Bolt with the bare minimum of Goblins, relying mainly on a combo-style win. Meanwhile, other builds simply look like last year’s models, running Red mana acceleration, replacing four lands with Chrome Mox and four random slots with Empty the Warrens. They still include 22 to 26 Goblins.

These decks typically run four Empty the Warren along with the typical Goblin suite, and accelerate into a four to five storm Warrens via Chrome Mox, Rite of Flame, and Seething Song. Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief also help with the early mana boost necessary to the deck. This gives Goblins a faster average goldfish turn, while giving it a better swarm versus aggro and a valid way to attack control with a hard-to-stop win condition even after a Wrath.

My own personal build takes the middle road; I still have enough Goblins that Ringleader isn’t a lost cause when I use it, while I use some Lava Dart versus BDW and to build up storm. However, I’ve seen the builds pushed to either extreme. Roy Williams’s deck would be the heavy Goblin side of the deck, using Ringleader and Matron to make a straight Goblin swarm a legitimate plan A instead of being relegated to a back-up plan. Meanwhile, other builds have chosen to run the bare minimum for the deck to function, mainly relying on Empty the Warrens. However, it seems like the builds with so few Goblins will soon simply add Fecundity, since it adds a more explosive option while already running a small count of Goblins.

Dirty Kitty is an interesting take on Goblins that reminds me of a less consistent version of Food Chain Goblins. Although the vulnerability and back-up plan are significantly different from FCG, it shares enough similarities that one who’s played the old deck can pick this up rather quickly. The main thing people need to get used to is that the combo moves from a solid alternative plan to the main plan in the deck. There simply aren’t enough Goblins in DK to really beat down or sustain an attrition war.

The key to playing the deck against control is knowing when to drop the normal Goblin beatdown plan and attempt to throw down an Empty the Warrens. When planning on using the combo, the most important decision becomes when to drop Skirk Prospector to minimize the risk of losing it to removal.


Aggro – This new build can still swarm the old fashioned way with Warchief, Ringleader, and Commander. However, its aggro matches have been improved with Warrens providing an army on turns 4 or 5. The aggro decks with the best chance are Zoo and Affinity, simply because they can force through enough damage that even if the combo works, they still have a turn or two to finish the job with burn. In addition, these decks make Goblins try either to win in one turn or to play into an attrition war. With the older builds, attrition against Goblins was a losing strategy for most decks. However, the addition of the combo in some Goblin decks forced out a number of creature slots which lead to lower threat density and far less removal.

BDW only has a chance in the games where Goblins doesn’t combo out; otherwise it’s a complete wash for Goblins. Decks like R/G Aggro have similar issues; unless they get an active Umezawa’s Jitte for multiple turns they’ll simply be run over by an annelid Goblin horde.

Control – Scepter-Chant still reams the deck unless it drops consecutive Warrens for turns 3 and 4 – and even then Goblins might still lose. The deck simply can’t beat Wrath and Wish removal and Helix and Fire / Ice in any relevant way, unless you run Suppression Field or Pithing Needle maindeck. Post-board you at least get Thoughts of Ruin, Krosan Grip, or something similar. Still, the match is awful.

Tron, on the other hand, is a solid match-up even before you consider boarding in Blood Moon or Ghost Quarter. What does U/W Tron have to stop you in any relevant way? They can stall for a bit via Repeal and the time counters, but eventually you’ll drop Warrens or Goblin Piledriver and men, and they’ll have to Wrath. Unless they have Tron out, this is pretty much your opening to lay a second Warrens, Ringleader, or Siege-Gang Commander, and put the pressure back on. The only real way you lose the match is via multiple Wraths and an early Urzatron package. U/R Tron has a better game due to a cheaper board-clearer in Pyroclasm, but the same fundamental problems still exist. As I said above, post-board LD can come in and make life miserable again for Tron.

Combo – Sadly, the Heartbeat and Desire matches still isn’t a fun match, but your goldfish will match theirs. They typically have the advantage game 1, because they win faster and more consistently than you. Desire can push itself to try to go off on turn 3 if it must on the draw. You have no such option, especially with the non-Fecundity builds. After boarding, something like Blood Moon can also become a factor as you can just drop a few men, shut them down and then win the game before they find the necessary blue and extra mana to bounce your Moon and go off.

Counterbalance is a major bitch and can single-handedly make either version of the deck start crying in its tracks. Wrath of God is another major issue, though the new Empty version of Goblins is better equipped to deal with it thanks to Siege-Gang Commander, and even an Empty the Warrens for six or eight Goblins can put the opponent right back where he started. Decks like BDW and Aggro Loam can also drag you into a fight of resources you really don’t want. Aggro Loam especially can, since Devastating Dreams completely invalidates the "build up enough guys to swarm" plan and further eliminates any chance of immediate retaliation.

The DK version is highly vulnerable to land destruction due to its excessively low land count. Even with multiple Rituals and Prospector helping to power the deck, a destroyed land can lead to multiple wasted turns as you wait for enough power to go off. Also, when being forced to move onto the back-up plan, spot removal and mass removal can really cripple the DK version simply because it has less of a chance to come back.

Remember, Wrath of God doesn’t hurt the DK version quite as much as the original versions. However, losing all of your men is still a concern for the hands where you can’t combo off right away. People constantly underestimate the importance of having a certain amount of Goblins in play when trying to combo out. Remember that most versions only have 22-24 Goblins in the deck, which means it’s quite possible to stall out early on.

Combo is another issue, though not quite as big as some people originally made it out to be. DK can race any current combo deck in the format with a good draw; post-board either Goblin deck can bring in Cabal Therapy or Thoughts of Ruin to help slow the opponent down. Against the current crop of decks, I’d be mildly surprised if Blood Moon didn’t become a staple of Goblin boards. Goblins is in a prime position to abuse it, able to power it out on the second turn and take advantage of it through its efficient clock.


The deck that just never dies is back once again and… sucking quite badly. The metagame at Worlds was filled with Boros Deck Wins, which (thanks to Sudden Shock and Kataki, War’s Wage) is an awful match-up. Other decks have also gotten some increasingly obnoxious cards like Engineered Explosives, Repeal, Destructive Flow, and Ancient Grudge. This of course is in addition to the usual annoyances like Wrath of God, Pernicious Deed, Lightning Helix etc.

So the real question is whether the normal Affinity route, which had its moments last season, will be effective enough this season. My initial thought from the Worlds results is that it doesn’t have a real shot unless it gets an overhaul beyond the typical “Atog plus Shrapnel Blast” or “Erayo Affinity” decks that were briefly popular last season. So, this leaves us with a few different options to explore.

We can attempt to rebuild the speed version into an even faster killing machine, running a full set of Togs, cheap cantrips and mana producers. That’s not going to work. You may as well build KCI and hope all Affinity hate drops out of boards after the Worlds results take hold.

The only real options I see for an effective Affinity deck is either to drop the eight or so metagame slots it had last year and adapt them towards beating BDW, or running Erayo Affinity with a twelve-piece hate board. The latter option, for lack of a better term, sucks – unless someone better than I am fixes it, in which case it’s brilliant and he totally stole the original idea from me.

Let us consider cards that are good against BDW and don’t make us run the five-color manabase which Kataki ruins. Darkblast comes to mind as an answer to Kataki and all of the other obnoxious one-toughness guys, including Lavamancer and Soltari Priest. If that were enough, we could just run four and be done with it; sadly, they tend to be a bit more resilient than that. Further, Darkblast is downright awful against Togs, Mages, and all types of large beasts.

Another answer is necessary, and to solve this riddle I turn to you, gentle reader. Which does more damage to BDW? Cabal Therapy’s flashback cost is prohibitive since giving up creatures in this match is akin to whatever card you just grabbed. Something like Smother takes care of most of the aforementioned cards, but is dead in other matches. Pyrite Spellbomb, if you are willing to run Red, looks better by the day.

This is ultimately what my modded list looked like; please, no flames talking about how terrible it is and how much I suck. I know.

Rich Shay and I even tried coming up with an entirely different version based around fewer creatures, instead focusing on reaching an early breaking point of Affinity cards and keeping Myr Enforcer and Ravager alive to actually win the game. Mishra’s Bauble, Chromatic Star, Welding Jar, etc. allowed early Affinity to be reached without having to play a bunch of creatures. Despite this, too many games were decided by all of the smaller creatures being destroyed and getting stuck into a war of creatures versus creatures and burn.

The main problem is that there aren’t any great combo options left for Affinity, and the main way it trumped aggro in the past was cheating them out of a long game. Now nearly all such tools have been removed or neutered – thanks Sudden Shock – and the hate is still amazing against the deck. It’s certainly possible that there’s a version of Affinity that stands a chance in the metagame, but it’s not going to be really strong choice, even if people remove some of the artifact hate from their boards.

And that’s all for now! Next time I’ll try to cover the remaining aggressive decks that made an impact at Worlds.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
E-mail me at JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom