Current Standard For The R/B Aggro Player

With new archetypes still being found and finding success in Standard, Heart of Kiran’s biggest fan is teaching you to adapt for the SCG Indianapolis Standard Classic meta!

Core Set 2019
has been out for a bit now and we’ve got several weeks of Standard results
to work with. At this point in the format, the metagame has been defined
and we can see which decks are going to be contenders going forward and
what’s going to be left behind for the foreseeable future. If you’re
testing for an event in the next few weeks, these are the decks you’ll be
most likely to face:

  • U/W Control
  • Grixis Midrange
  • B/U Midrange
  • R/B Aggro
  • Mono-Red Aggro
  • Mono-Green Aggro
  • G/B Constrictor

Here’s what’s trending in the format as of today:

  • Creatureless control is rare
  • Expensive creatures are popular
  • Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is everywhere
  • You’ll need to kill big green creatures with four toughness

White-based control is still around, but some of its metagame share is now
being taken up by black midrange and control decks. Expect to see lots of
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, The Scarab God, and Torrential Gearhulk running

With that in mind, here’s my current R/B List:

The biggest divergence from conventional wisdom is my four-drop slot.
Notice that there are zero copies of Hazoret the Fervent and in their
place, I’ve got four copies of Rekindling Phoenix. With all the Mono-Green
Aggro running around, Rekindling Phoenix gets the nod because while
Mono-Green Aggro can’t really deal with either, Rekindling Phoenix always
attacks and blocks and can be a lifesaver on turn 4 when you’re under
attack. Blossoming Defense means that you can’t reliably plan to resolve an
Unlicensed Disintegration before casting Hazoret and sometimes you just
need a guaranteed blocker right away. Lastly, Rekindling Phoenix has
flying, something that’s critical for winning races.

Against black midrange decks, it’s a little closer. Both Hazoret and
Rekindling Phoenix excel at applying pressure while demanding a specific
answer. Haste is nice with Hazoret, but so is the ability to Abrade your
own Rekindling Phoenix in response to a Vraska’s Contempt. It’s worth
noting that Hazoret is a bit clunky in sideboarded games and a big part of
this style of matchup is overloading their Vraska’s Contempts with
expensive threats. As such, I bring in all my copies of Chandra, Torch of
Defiance and between those and Glorybringer, you’re a bit more likely to
get bogged down with a handful of expensive spells and you don’t really
want to have to discard them to turn on Hazoret.

Against white-based control, it’s a similar story except now your Abrades
and Unlicensed Disintegrations are far more likely to be dead or at least
very narrow. Once again, the ability to kill your own Rekindling Phoenix,
this time in response to a Settle the Wreckage or Seal Away, can easily be
the difference between winning and losing.

Right now, my removal suite is skewed toward killing big creatures. Against
Mono-Green Aggro, Unlicensed Disintegration is as good as spot removal
gets. Against black midrange decks, they’ll often tap out to try to
stabilize with a Nicol Bolas or The Scarab God, and Unlicensed
Disintegration can pull you further ahead.

While I’m mostly happy with the changes I’ve made, there are still some
issues. Before Core Set 2019, I had really liked my black midrange
matchup. My win rate definitely took a hit, however, with the printing of
Nicol Bolas. While I believe that Unlicensed Disintegration is the right
removal spell at this time, it’s hard to truly punish someone for playing
Nicol Bolas. He still makes us discard a card, which matters more often
than I initially thought it would and having to fight your way through
multiple copies can be tough. Unlicensed Disintegration is still a
semi-answer to The Scarab God, but now they just have more big threats, and
our premium removal is taxed hard.

My version of R/B Aggro was already weak against red mirrors, and going up
to four Unlicensed Disintegration hasn’t helped. I tried loading the
sideboard with more copies of Magma Spray and Chandra’s Defeat, but that
didn’t make a big enough impact to justify all the sideboard slots. The
main issue is that red mirrors are fast, so you won’t always have time to
draw your sideboard cards. Another huge problem is I’ve cut Hazoret
entirely and while Rekindling Phoenix is great, it’s still killable.
Ultimately, a lot of games just come down to Hazoret, and if you want to
draw her, it helps to have some copies in your deck.

My sideboard plan against control is also less effective now, mostly
because Duress has lost a lot of value. Duress was specifically great
against creatureless versions of U/W Control since it can be so important
to take a Settle the Wreckage. Torrential Gearhulk lets them get around
that, and sometimes in the late game Duress is just an outright bad draw
which is not where you want to be with such a narrow card.

Further, I don’t even bother to bring in Duress versus black midrange and
control decks. The same reasoning regarding Torrential Gearhulk applies,
but additionally they just have a much higher density of creatures. I’m
still running three copies of Duress in my sideboard as I think it’s
necessary against U/W Control, but I could see replacing them with two
copies of Arguel’s Blood Fast and an additional black source to maximize
the powerful enchantment. For the moment I’m sticking with Duress
especially because it helps to have access to it if we run into something
less popular like Approach of the Second Sun.

As if I didn’t already have doubts about R/B Aggro, this started popping up
everywhere in the Magic Online leagues.

Initially I figured that a combo deck with sparse interaction was going to
have trouble with R/B Aggro. They need an Aetherflux Reservoir on the
battlefield to actually win, we’re fast, and we’ve got disruption in Abrade
and discard. At this point I’ve had that notion beaten out of me repeatedly
because there are two big problems. The first is that we’re already
trimming on Abrades. The second is that between Glint-Nest Crane,
Paradoxical Outcome, and a bunch of cantrips, they’re pretty good at
finding a second Aetherflux Reservoir even if you manage to kill the first

Additionally, they don’t really need to do all their comboing in a single
turn. Reservoir generates a ton of life, and each Paradoxical Outcome gets
them closer to the next one. This lets them cast an Aetherflux Reservoir
when you don’t have open mana and start casting spells. Even if they aren’t
able to go off, they can still gain 6-10 life and then just try again next
turn. You may be able to Abrade to slow them down, but they’re pretty good
at surviving to the next turn to find another Aetherflux Reservoir and

They’re also great at buying time before they even have to deploy
Aetherflux Reservoir. Baral’s Expertise severely punishes us for leaning
too hard on Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer to deal damage and Sai,
Master Thopterist is a huge impediment. Even if we’ve got an Unlicensed
Disintegration ready, he’s going to generate an extra blocker at the very
least. And between Paradoxical Outcome and Baral’s Expertise, our copies of
Duress are already heavily taxed.

If we want to keep up, we’re going to need some new tools.

This is similar to Gerry’s Grixis Dragons list
from a few weeks ago
, except that it doesn’t run the bad cards. Sarkhan, Fireblood is just too
narrow. It’s fine against some control decks but it’s horrible against
anything that plays creatures, and I’ve found that I rarely needed him to
cast Dragons anyway.

Note the lack of one-drops. Against basically any non-control deck, Bomat
Courier is going to power an occasional Unlicensed Disintegration before
getting sideboarded out. When we were R/B Aggro we wanted it against
creatureless control, as it swings your matchup from slight dog to a
favorite. With access to Nicol Bolas and some counterspells, we should be
able to get by without the construct.

I’m less sure about Soul-Scar Mage. It’s similarly narrow, performing well
against Mono-Red Aggro and Mono-Green Aggro, but otherwise is very low
impact. Still, it could be a mistake to leave it out. The tools we gain by
going Grixis over R/B Aggro don’t really help us as much against the aggro

Four Heart of Kiran is possibly too many and I could see cutting one. We
don’t have Bomat Courier though, and we’d still like to turn on our
Unlicensed Disintegrations.

Why Grixis?

Going Grixis opens some entirely new doors for us. To start, we get to play
with our own copies of Nicol Bolas, a card that helps our black midrange
matchups since he lines up well against Vraska’s Contempt because we get to
spend the same amount of mana as they do, but now our opponent is down a
card. He also does double duty in grindy games since transforming him isn’t
out of the question. Because they must kill him, Nicol Bolas lines up well
with our plan of overloading their Vraska’s Contempts.

We don’t get to play Glint-Sleeve Siphoners of our own; instead we have
Goblin Chainwhirler. Not only can we punish opposing Glint-Sleeve Siphoners
and clean up Thopter tokens, but we can also use it to let Scrapheap
Scrounger push through opposing copies of Nicol Bolas.

It’s important to remember that as is the case with R/B Aggro, we’re still
the aggressor. We’re flexible in that we have some ways to win a grindy
game, but we’re still trying to get out ahead of our opponent and force
them to deal with our aggressive threats.

Another massive benefit to having blue mana is access to Jace’s Defeat.
Unlicensed Disintegration is great, but a two-mana answer to Nicol Bolas,
The Scarab God, or Torrential Gearhulk is just insane. Jace’s Defeat
replaces some of the copies of Duress in the sideboard, a massive upgrade
for reasons I explained earlier. It’s less effective against U/W Control,
but I’ll still bring it in as long as people are playing Torrential

Jace’s Defeat is also great against Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome. As long
as you’re applying enough pressure, countering a Baral’s Expertise or
Paradoxical Outcome can just be game over since they still had to spend
mana to cast it and it also cleanly deals with Sai, Master Thopterist.

When to Grixis?

If I had to lock into a deck today, I’d play Grixis Aggro over R/B Aggro.
Right now, I think that it’s better positioned, but that could change as
soon as tomorrow. You’re not going to be a favorite against Mono-Red with
either version so that’s kind of a wash, but Grixis Aggro is going to
perform a bit better against black-based midrange and much better against
Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome. The spot where you really lose out is
against Mono-Green Aggro. Rekindling Phoenix is insane against them, and by
playing Nicol Bolas in that spot, you’re walking right into their sideboard
Vine Mare plan.

If I were to try adding more copies of Rekindling Phoenix, I’d probably
want to start by trimming one copy of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and one
Glorybringer from the sideboard. You can’t really afford to go below three
copies of either though because Chandra is too good against black midrange,
and Glorybringer is necessary to fight Mono-Green Aggro more than
Rekindling Phoenix is. Both are critical for our plan against G/B
Constrictor, not to mention the fact that they are just powerful, versatile
cards that generally perform well variety of situations.

I just can’t quit you.

As I mentioned, this could all change tomorrow. We could, for instance, see
resurgence of Mono-Red Aggro to counter Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome,
which might point us back to a Hazoret-centric version of R/B Aggro. It
could even force us to abandon Heart of Kiran altogether.

I’m kidding, of course. I would never do that.