Aggro in Extended: Part 2

Josh brings us part 2 of his series examining the Extended decks that made a spalsh at last month’s Worlds competition. There are three more aggressive options on the slab today: Boros Deck Wins, Aggro Loam, and Flow Aggro. The coming PTQ season will be shaped by decks like these… are you prepared to face the beatdown?

Today we’ll be covering Boros Deck Wins, Aggro Loam, and Flow Aggro.

Boros Deck Wins

I’m reasonably sure everyone has seen this deck now, so I’m not going to give a “basic list.” Feel free to see the Worlds lists for that, or my article on BDW data.

The reason BDW succeeds is the basis of simplicity itself. It combines a dedicated ground attack with efficient beaters with the best burn available in Extended. BDW just makes other decks play to its strengths and that’s why it tends to do well, despite being grossly underpowered compared to other deck choices.

Creature decks end up in attrition wars with a deck that runs reusable burn and creatures that are designed to excel in combat. Control has to fight a deck that seemingly never runs out of threats and can take full advantage of any tap-outs with burn. Combo can try to ignore the deck, but post-board is has to try and play “fairly” because BDW starts using its LD, Pyrostatic Pillar and, in some cases, Cabal Therapy to ruin the win on turn 4 game plan.

The biggest concerns BDW seems to have right now is making sure it can keep combo in check and having a clear plan to win the mirror. Winning the mirror right now seems to take precedence, so let’s take a look at strategies to do that:

Plan A: Play Armadillo Cloak / Umezawa’s Jitte on Pro: Red men.

Advantages: If either card survives long enough on a creature for a hit or two, you’ll quickly be in a dominant board position. Both of them can make a creature big enough to trump any opposing plan that deals with playing a larger threat.

Weaknesses: It relies on the opponent having no real answer to Pro: Red men and loses major value if you lack a Knight, Paladin, or Priest. It also has little impact on lob-sided board positions, unlike Worship or conceding. Cloak also forces you to add Green to the manabase, though with so many fetches that’s a minor drawback.

Plan B: Pyrite Spellbomb

Advantages: Cheap efficient burn that can kill any creature BDW normally runs. In other matches it can cycle if it needs too.

Weaknesses: Not a big “impact” card the same way the other plans are. Pretty much the easiest to run and simplest solution to help the mirror match; which can even fit into the maindeck easily.

Plan C: A big hulking threat or must answer card (Worship and Fledgling Dragon come to mind)

Advantages: Cards like this can easily decide a game-win against an unprepared BDW opponent. Dragon can come down on turn 4 and win the game in 2-3 turns, and Worship can turn a one-sided beating into a stalemate in a single turn. These simply give you the most bang for your buck.

Weaknesses: Power comes at a price though; it’s sometimes difficult to support a main gameplan of “last until you play a four-drop and hope the opponent doesn’t have an answer.” That’s not exactly the greatest plan ever invented, especially when Umezawa’s Jitte and Disenchant are some of the most popular sideboard cards for BDW.

A version dedicated to beat the mirror while keeping game against combo may look something like this:


The thing about BDW and matches… is that people forget that it’s consistent. Far more consistent than any other deck available, you’ll draw nearly the same hand of men and burn literally nine out of ten hands. This means if your deck can’t smash or split with BDW, it really loses to BDW.

Aggro — Opposing aggro decks aren’t the greatest matches with BDW, but with enough burn, everything gets better. Against Goblins it’s a question of time… do you have enough time to burn the opponent out before you need to fight your way through an Empty the Warrens? It’s not a great match, but in all the “fair” combat situations you run into, all of the pro-Red guys and burn will trump them unless they cheat.

Aggro Loam is going to kick you in the face until post-board. It’s simply not close due to the power of Devastating Dreams, Helix, and large creatures. Heck, it doesn’t even need to play all of those to really put you in terrible spot. All they need to do is obsolete your creatures and then the game becomes “try to throw ten points of burn at his head before me or my land dies.” Literally the only bright spots in the match come from post-board. In games 2 and 3 against Loam you can at least use Cloak and Jitte to gain an overwhelming early advantage.

Trinket Angel wins nearly every game it can resolve Counterbalance. Once you can accept that, you can slowly work on playing to win the other 60% of games or so to try to make the match even. The main thing to focus on is maximizing your resources. Keeping your creatures alive isn’t a priority after turn 4, so know when to start going for the throat.

Remember that the deck only runs 14-17 creatures, so it’s quite possible to run them out of men in an attrition war. Only Lightning or Exalted Angel is going to have more than two toughness in the first place, so any of your burn spells or a resolved Lavamancer can trump their men long enough to win. Play it as you would the retarded half cousin of Affinity: just run them out of guys and proceed to kick their faces in.

Post-board you can take out a few Lions, because they die so easily in this match-up and you never want to get two-for-oned by Fire/Ice. At best they trade after turn 3 or 4, and at worst they’ll sit on the board being useless against a large angel or Silver Knight. At that point can bring in Jittes of your own and then you’ve essentially taken that trump away from them and they have to win the hard way.

The Rock match is sort of silly in that nobody can agree who’s supposed to be favored in it because everyone is using a different list. Builds like the aggressive Flow decks get smashed without too much trouble, because all of their men (except Mongrel) get smashed by burn and trade or lose with your guys in combat. The Hierarch builds including Deed and co. are near impossible unless you get them stalled on mana early on. Gifts Rock versions are entirely dependent on what answers they use in the maindeck.

Control — U/W Tron is pretty easy to beat; if you play a few weenies, they pretty much have to waste a Wrath on them. Repeal barely slows you down, and a single Molten Rain screws up Tron something fierce. The only times you ever have to worry is if you kept a burn-heavy hand, in which case you the Tron player might be able to race you with a quick Exalted Angel. Barring that they have no chance until board, when they desperately bring in stuff like Sun Droplet in an attempt not to die.

Scepter-Chant, you have no chance game 1. Just concede; and no, I’m not joking. The match is horrible for you as long as they have four Lightning Helix between the maindeck and board, along with some amount of Wraths and Isochron Scepter. It doesn’t even matter what the rest of the deck consists of as long as they have those three cards, land, and a win condition. Post-board you may have a shot thanks to Pillar, Cabal Therapy, and Ancient Grudge (Assuming you run two of the three) since you can now directly counteract the early game strategy and Scepter auto-wins.

Combo — Ritual Desire (TEPS) and Sunrise Long (Eggs): in both of these matches you’ll be hard pressed to win game 1. Your best chance comes from a very fast hand and a Molten Rain on turn 3, but even that may not be enough. You’re simply too slow to consistently beat them and you lack the disruption necessary to make it a game. Pyrostatic Pillar from the board helps significantly because it deals an average of about ten or twelve points to this deck when it attempts to go off. This means they usually have to deal with it via a Wished-for answer like Chain of Vapor or Simplify, or go off via Empty the Warrens. If they do that, then you typically have time to throw burn at their head to win the prize.

Another option that has only been looked into by decks like Ichorid and Flow Rock is using Cabal Therapy to get a few extra turns out of the deal. Considering successful BDW decks have easily splashed for Green or Black cards, it’s not difficult to run two duals and be able to throw down Therapy on a consistent basis. In addition you have enough creatures to use the flashback cost efficiently while playing more men or Pillar. There types of tricks are the main things you have to rely on; any board option will work as long as it slows them down to a turn 6/7 win instead of turn 4.

Aggro Loam

This is a pretty standardized Aggro Loam build.

This is a relatively basic version of Aggro Loam that you could’ve found floating around on MTGO for months now. My guess is that it played against aggro all day, because other than Devastating Dreams, this build has no good way to stop combo of any sort. However there is hope for the deck as we see with the other 5-1 build at Worlds…

Now this is the version with a Black splash with the major differences being most people run White over Black (Or Black as another splash color, versus cutting White) and run Lightning Helix plus Loxodon Hierarch. Wild Mongrel and Werebear are the usual contenders, but have been replaced in this build with Wall of Roots and Vinelasher Kudzu. These moves actually make a lot of sense in the context of such an aggro-heavy metagame and the addition of Sudden Shock. You can play Kudzu, play a fetch and then crack in on the same turn to boost it +2/+2, putting it out of most burns’ range immediately.

I prefer the Black splash in the current metagame because Cabal Therapy is huge in improving the combo matches. The only thing I’d like to see in here is Lightning Helix, because it’s superior to Putrefy against half the metagame, and possibly fitting in one or two Eternal Witness.

The basic plan of the deck is simple: lay an early beater, disrupt the opponent with Therapy / Dreams, and use Life From The Loam to begin recurring land and outdrawing the opponent. Burning Wish contributes by fetching any hoser necessary to keep the opponent in check or getting LFTL online in the first place. Against aggro you can even skip all the pleasantries if you crack early fetches, use LFTL and just throw down a turn 4 ‘Vore and start kicking teeth in.


Aggro — Just ask yourself the following questions.

1. Is it an aggressive deck?
2. Can it combo out?

If you said yes to 1, congratulations! You have a good match-up. If you answered yes to number 2, then you probably have closer to a 50/50 match.

Yeah, that summarizes it. I’ll freely admit I haven’t done a large amount of testing with the deck, but I’ve done enough to figure that part out. Basically normal aggro like BDW just rolls over and dies to your larger creatures and DD, meanwhile decks like Trinket Angel can’t consistently stop your engine from dominating the game (and even if it can… Terravore). Goblin decks can at least try to combo out via Warrens and Fecundity in some games, but they still roll to DD every time.

Control — U/W Tron is too slow to consistently stand a chance against the deck. In addition, they absolutely need to counter Seismic Assault or DD whenever played or they practically scoop and go home. The one trump they have in Mindslaver costs far too much to be any sort of constant threat against you. Even if the deck was a major issue, all Loam has to do is board in a Ghost Quarter or two and it’ll severely slow down Tron mana via recursion.

Scepter-Chant crushes you game 1. You need to force through DD to have a chance at beating them before boarding. Post-board you at least get cute stuff like Pithing Needle and Krosan Grip as options that can shut off the auto-win hands Scepter sometimes get. After that you just have to play a resource game with them, balancing your creatures against their removal and hopefully try to resolve Seismic Assault eventually.

Combo —Your main disruption is still going to be Cabal Therapy and DD, but Dreams won’t hurt most combo that much due to Lotus Bloom and most decks switching to need only 2-3 sac lands in play when going off. The thing to look for is what cards are worth hitting with Cabal Therapy and then just trying to race from there. It’s not a fun match overall.

The main problems with the deck are twofold.

1. The deck doesn’t really have a good disruption element. This is partially solved by Cabal Therapy in the Black build, but ultimately it has a very limited amount of ways to stop an opponent who isn’t relying on creatures or a large amount of lands. Hence why Scepter-Chant and combo make you want to puke every time you play against them. Even when you manage to hit combo with discard, there’s no guarantee you’ll have enough time to actually take advantage of it. The same goes with Dirty Kitty; if you don’t hit a key card (or they happen to redraw it) you’re done and there’s no saving you.

It’s annoying, to say the least.

2. The manabase is a gigantic pile of dung against disruption. Other than Tron, no other deck gets slowed down as much as Aggro Loam does when hit by opposing LD like Molten Rain or Vindicate. I’m not saying it’s impossible to recover from… after all, the deck runs LFTL and far more lands than the average aggro deck. Just that it sucks a lot of tempo away from you since practically one-third of the land base comes into play tapped.

Still, these problems can be fixed with some tinkering and a good sideboard, so Aggro Loam can definitely be a strong choice for the upcoming PTQs.

Flow Aggro

The deck is quite the interesting contraption, even if I don’t agree with its exact construction; the deck went 6-0 so it’s hard to argue. Looking at the deck, its basic premise is simple to anyone familiar with the cards involved. Try to get a Destructive Flow down along with a few men and beat the opponent to death while they’re busy dealing with manascrew. In aggro matches, even when Flow is useless, the deck packs as much burn and annoying combat creatures to go head to head with anything else.

Flow is the decks key card that keeps it from being a completely underpowered deck that should just outright lose to more powerful or decks with a more fundamentally sound plan of attack. Take a look at the top eight or so decks in the environment, and ask yourself how many basics they play. The answer? Well let’s take a look for those of you unfamiliar.

Aggro Loam: 2-4, usually only Forest and Mountain
Boros Deck Wins: 2-4
Goblins: 12 or more
Ichorid: 2-4
Ritual Desire (TEPS): 0
Sunrise Long: 6-8
Tog: 5-8
Trinket Angel (Solution): 2-5
Scepter-Chant: 4-7
UW Tron: 5-6

And so on and so forth. My basic point is that only three or four decks really have enough basics to sustain a game against Flow. No deck except Goblins has more than one-third of its manabase immune to the card, which means the chance for blow-outs is not just there, but should be expected.

Ultimately that’s what should draw your attention to this deck. Flow Aggro is unique in that it has a card, much like Armageddon and Cataclysm, that just seals the game for you if played early in the game with a few men. Aggro Loam has a similar type trump in DD, but Flow costs very little resource wise to play and abuse by comparison.

As for the deck itself, as I’ve said above it’s a very underpowered deck by any means. Its best cards are Dark Confidant and Wild Mongrel, and neither of them can truly be abused in the deck. The key against decks like Boros Deck Wins, Trinket Angel, and Ichorid is to force the opponent to deal with your men in a head-to-head fight. Put some early pressure on the opponent and after his first creature or two dies, he’ll begin feeling anxious to get something to stick or get on with their main plan of attack via a cheat like Counterbalance, multiple flying 3/1s or a recurred Yosei.

On a level playing field, Kird Ape, Mongrel, and Elephant tokens are going to dominate the early game. Meanwhile Grim Lavamancer, Shadow Guildmage and all the burn means anything small is going to be instantly fried. Considering the average toughness of a creature in Extended hovers in the 2-3 range, this means you’ll usually be dominating combat much like Zoo does.

Of course this means decks like control and combo get to largely ignore you and your merry men. After all, you’re not threatening a turn 4-5 win unless Flow resolves. However, once people key in on stopping Flow from hitting play, decks like Scepter-Chant and U/W Tron can quickly take over a game via Wrath of God or even laying a large creature like an Exalted Angel. There’s no power for a comeback, nor is there any late-game trump like Demonfire or a last barrage of burn (at least no significant last barrage *scoffs at two-damage spells*). It’s not all bad, as post-board you get Therapy to try and force flow through, and in some versions you’ll have the fourth Flow for additional redundancy.

Combo simply ignores decks like this until game 2 or 3. The flaw in this thinking being that Flow completely reams them if dropped early before they hit their critical mass mana-wise. Unless of course you’re playing the Sunrise deck, in which case you run enough basics that it probably wouldn’t matter. Post-board however, Cabal Therapy helps the deck significantly because there are always men to sacrifice and it just goes with Flow in the spirit of depleting significant resources from the opponent. Against Sunrise you’ve got Tormod’s Crypt to help make their lives a bit more miserable.

This deck really amuses me in a way; it’s almost like a solution style deck for a heavy aggro metagame with a trump against other decks. It runs the same style of underpowered-but-specialized creature base with a basic metagame trump. Yet it was mostly overlooked by the majority and instead Trinket Mage and his handy toolbox have gotten all the awards for being a metagame answer deck.

My testing is limited with the deck and I don’t have any real previous experience with matches to fall back on (unlike Aggro Loam) so I’ll simply leave you with the abovementioned observations about the deck. With luck Stuart will write an article about the deck, or at least mention how he feels about some of the matches in the forums. It seems like this answers the criteria he outlined in his Extended Overview: a somewhat powerful aggro deck that doesn’t rely on the graveyard or artifacts (only using Jitte to even things up in the aggro mirror) while playing a card that decimates the environment.

Whew! Another three aggro decks down and only a few more to go, I know I said there were a bunch of aggro decks from Worlds, but even I forgot how freaking many there were.

As a reward for lasting till the end of the article, if you’re done with your finals and want to waste hours of your life… here’s a neat little game. Think Risk, minus the six-hour minimum time requirement to finish a game. DICE WARS!

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom