Deep Analysis – The “Simple” Aggro Mirror

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Aggressive mirror-matches are much maligned in Magic. While folk look on control versus control fights as the true Magical path, aggro versus aggro is often labeled as hugely luck based or draw dependant. Today’s Deep Analysis sees Richard throw monsters at other monsters in an attempt to ascertain the truth behind such myths…

As I mainly work with control and midrange decks, I don’t get to talk about the aggro mirror very often. It’s not talked about very often, and many seem to have the impression that it is simple, straightforward or — worse – mainly draw-dependant.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Last year beatdown sensei Pat Sullivan told me he was 14-0 in Red deck mirrors in PTQs. At the time, I was pleased with myself for being X-2 in PTQ control mirrors, but X-0 in beatdown mirrors? That’s a whole different ballgame. I have no idea what it takes to amass a record like that; the first and only time I brought a beatdown deck to a PTQ was White Weenie at the end of Kamigawa Block, and although I was undefeated until the finals, I don’t think I faced a single aggro deck all day.

Now, while I haven’t had nearly the practical experience of someone like Pat Sullivan, I have learned quite a lot about aggro mirrors over the years. A good bit of it was recently summarized by The Professor, but I’ve picked up a good bit more from Pat and Dan Paskins. The rest comes from my general knowledge of Constructed Magic.

And now here I am with the U/R aggro deck I built, about to start testing beatdown mirrors, tasked with applying the aggro-on-aggro principles I’ve learned over the years… well, more or less cold turkey.

I’ve made some changes based on forum comments I got, and decided to give this a spin for the aggro matchups.

This will be a case study in translating knowledge into lessons. You can read all the theory articles you like, but without practice at applying those theories, you’ll be in for some rude surprises come tournament day. I’m about to try and sidestep as many of those pitfalls as I can (well, given article deadlines and limited testing time) by taking a careful look at where exceptions to the theories I’ve learned come up, and by coming up with a few new theories of my own based on my experiences.

I’ll be fighting against two different beasts today. First up is Kithkin Boros, a deck I’ve heard some mutterings about as Worlds approaches.

Kithkin Boros



I’m on the play, and my opening hand is as follows. Island, 2x Shivan Reef, Mountain, Gossamer Phantasm, Infiltrator il-Kor, Riftwing Cloudskate. Perfectly keepable.

I start with a pair of Islands and a Phantasm. Opponent plays Flagstones, Plains, and Amrou Scout.

I’ve drawn lands so far; I suspend Infiltrator with the knowledge that I can hardcast Cloudskate in two turns rather than waiting for his suspend to run out.

I hit for two with Phantasm; opponent plays Cenn and hits me for three with Amrou Scout.

I draw Psionic Blast and bash. Life totals are 16-17, I have Infiltrator il-Kor coming in next turn alongside my existing Phantasm, my opponent has Amrou Scout and Wizened Cenn, and I have a choice to make with regards to this Psionic Blast.

Do I Blast his dome here?

This is a pretty simple question, but the reasoning behind the answer gets into a whole lot about the beatdown mirror.

One way to think of creatures in the aggro mirror is that they are reusable burn to the face. My opponent’s Incinerate to the dome will deal me three, but my Infiltrator il-Kor will deal him three, then another three, then another and another…until the 3/1 dies or the game ends. Sure, it might deal zero if it runs afoul of an Incinerate, but in that case it has traded one-for-one with a spell that would have otherwise dealt me three damage.

So consider the Infiltrator versus Incinerate stand-off. Does it ever make sense for my opponent to let my Infiltrator hit the red zone without Incinerating it? Only if he’s so far ahead in the damage race that he thinks he can finish me off with the Incinerate before the Infiltrator’s multiple hits will cause him to die instead. If the race is fairly even, then failing to Incinerate the Infiltrator will probably put me ahead in the race, and will mean I’ll be the first to start chucking burn spells at the other guy’s head.

Let’s go back to the “Psionic Blast your dome” play. If I do choose to dome him with it, it’s got to be because I think I can race him. My opponent is at 16, and will take 5 points of damage from my Phantasm and hasty Infiltrator next turn, assuming he kills neither of them. (Obviously he can kill the Phantasm as soon as he hits four mana, by fetching out Bound in Silence with the Scout, but that’s a questionable use of his mana and Scout for a turn when he might be able to play multiple spells and attack instead.)

The Phantasm plus Infiltrator attack will drop him to 11 life, allowing me to add Riftwing Cloudskate to the table and attack for seven the next turn, which will be lethal if I Blast the dome. (Naturally, if that all goes according to plan, I don’t need to Blast him now; I can just wait a turn and do it after I whack him down to 4. It’s a waste of mana this turn, but I have a ton of mana to work with and am not likely to come up short the turn after I hardcast the Skate.) However, this math only works if the opponent doesn’t have any burn of his own – a foolhardy assumption, at this point in the game.

What if I Blast the Cenn instead? I’m expecting to take about three more attacks from my opponent this game, so Blasting the Cenn will save me 6 points of attacking damage plus another 3 points of attacking damage from the pumped-up Scout. There’s also a good chance he’s going to play another Kithkin or two, so I’ll probably save another 2-4 damage there as well. After subtracting out the two points that Blast deals me, I expect to gain 9-11 life from Psionic Blasting his Wizened Cenn here. That’s much less of a life swing than Blasting the opponent, which nets me -2 life and only drops his by 4, putting a 2-point wedge in between our life totals instead of a 9-11 point wedge.

Although the Blast His Dome plan works if I hold onto the Blast for this turn, I only gain the life from killing the Cenn if I kill it right now. The math makes it pretty clear that I will get more out of saving 9-11 life (and more if the game drags on) by killing the Cenn than I will by shooting his dome, because I really don’t think the game is going to end quickly enough for me to reap the benefits of going for the dome. I pass the turn without Blasting him.

He attacks with Cenn and Scout, and I Blast the Cenn, dropping to 13 after the attack. He plays his fourth land and Mirror Entity.

I draw Martyr of Ashes, which is unhelpful as I haven’t seen a Red card all game. I play my fifth land and Skate his Mirror Entity, then beat for five to swing the life totals to 13-11 in my favor.

He attacks me to 11 with the Scout, tying up the damage race, and plays Goldmeadow Stalwart and Mirror Entity.

I draw Incinerate! This is huge, as I can now use my Martyr. I attack for seven, bringing my opponent to 4, then play and activate Martyr of Ashes to clear away half the board. The remaining creatures are my Gossamer Phantasm and Riftwing Cloudskate, and his Goldmeadow Stalwart. The life totals are now 11-4 in my favor, and I’m holding Incinerate.

He Disintegrates my Phantasm, but has no blocker for my Cloudskate, so the Skate and my Incinerate finish the job.

Looking back a few turns, if I hadn’t Psionic Blasted that Cenn, not only would I have taken a boatload of damage, my Martyr wouldn’t have been able to clear him out, and I would have died a horrible death with Psionic Blast in hand.

We go to boards. I added Lash Out and Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender to the board of the Kithkin deck, as I would not expect them to have anything else to board against me.

I board as follows:

+4 Ancestral Recall
+4 Lash Out
-4 Psionic Blast
-2 Threaten
-2 Pongify

W/R boards as follows:

+4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
+4 Lash Out
-4 Militia’s Pride
-3 Mirror Entity
-1 Goldmeadow Harrier

Why no Sulfur Elemental? I want to see if I can do without them.

My opening hand: two Faerie Conclaves and Red cards. Not keeping! I mulligan into Shivan Reef, Ancestral, 2x Martyr of Ashes, Lash Out, Cloudskate.

I’m on the draw. Is this a keeper?

Well, it’s a one-lander. I lead with Ancestral, naturally, and then Martyr, meaning I’ll start the game off at 18 and with no board presence. As soon as I hit two mana I can definitely activate Martyr for two, which will pretty much kill everything but Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, assuming it survives to the untap step. This hand is risky, but then again so is mulling to five. Overall, I think that staying at six is the less risky of the two options, so I keep.

Opponent leads with Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Greater Gargadon. I draw Infiltrator il-Kor, play my Shivan Reef, and suspend the Ancestral. The opponent plays Plains and Knight of Meadowgrain. I draw Riftwing and play my Martyr.

The opponent plays Wizened Cenn and hits with the Meadowgrain to swing the life totals to 20-15 in his favor.

I draw another Ancestral and suspend it. Opponent hits me to nine and plays Flagstones, declining to play any more creatures.

I draw Mogg Fanatic and play it. Why play it when I’m going to either clear the board with Martyr or die? Mogg Fanatic is a huge life swing here because it blocks Knight of Meadowgrain and then suicides before the Knight can deal its damage, saving the opponent from gaining another three-point life chunk.

Ancestral goes off and finds me a second land, but it’s too late. I’ve gone too many turns without playing a spell, so the opponent just Incinerates my Martyr on my end step (I pop it in response), then he sacrifices everything to Gargadon and comes in for the kill.

In retrospect, was this a good hand to keep? I have 19/54 (35%) chance of topdecking a land right away, then a 19/53 (36%) chance to do so if I fail to a second time, and a 19/52 (37%) chance the third time. I think if I hit a land on my first, second, or third draw step, I’m in good shape to turn the game around when the Ancestral goes off. The fact that I missed it on the fourth and fifth draws as well was what did me in.

For kicks, I shuffled up and drew a five-card hand to see if that would have looked any better. (Very scientific, I know.) Mountain, Ancestral, Lash Out, Phantasm, Incinerate. No land in the first two draws.

Opening hand for the third game: 3x Mountain, Martyr of Ashes, 2x Gossamer Phantasm, Looter il-Kor. Lands and spells? Keep!

I start with…

… yeah, I was kidding. Naturally, I mulligan 3 Mountains, Marty, and Blue cards faster than you can say “Paris.” The new six-card hand is Mountain, Shivan Reef, 3x Mogg Fanatic, and Gossamer Phantasm. Works for me.

I lead with Mountain and Mogg Fanatic, which is met by Plains and Goldmeadow Stalwart, revealing Knight of Meadowgrain. The Knight is a problem, but at least he didn’t have Forge-Tender for a one-drop.

I draw Lash Out, but will definitely be saving it for his Knight. I beat with Fanatic (he doesn’t accept the trade with his Stalwart) and play another two, dropping to 19 from the Shivan Reef.

Here’s a question: should he attack with his Stalwart here? Obviously I’ll block and trade my Mogg Fanatic for his vanilla 2/2 if he does that, but if I attack with Mogg Fanatic next turn, will he block? If so, it’s the same thing – he’ll trade his 2/2 for my Mogg Fanatic. Which play is better, then?

The answer is that he should attack because he’s holding Knight of Meadowgrain. It is more valuable for him to keep his Knight on the table, gaining him life than it is for him to get a two-for-one because I traded two Mogg Fanatics for it, so it makes more sense for him to start getting rid of my Mogg Fanatics here.

He bashes with the Stalwart, I block with a Fanatic, stack damage, and finish it off. To my surprise, he plays the Knight of Meadowgrain anyway, despite the fact that I still have two Fanatics on the table.

I draw Martyr of Ashes and Lash Out the Knight. We both flip a land on the clash, and both put it on the bottom. I knock him to 17 with my Fanatics.

He plays another Goldmeadow Stalwart, revealing another Knight of Meadowgrain (which explains why he was okay with playing the first one), and passes with Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Plains open rather than playing the Knight.

I draw Infiltrator il-Kor, and again comes the question: do I attack my two Fanatics into his Stalwart here? I know he has a Knight of Meadowgrain, and obviously I want to kill it, but he didn’t play his Knight. Why not? I have to assume he has a burn spell for one of my Fanatics here, and is willing to use it in order to protect his Knight.

If that’s the case, then I save damage by keeping my Fanatics home. If I bash with both and he kills one, then he’ll take one damage from the other and then attack back with his Stalwart to take my life total down by two points. By leaving both Fanatics home, I ensure that we’ll both take zero damage over the next two attacks, unless he wants to spend two burn spells removing Fanatics, which will leave me with larger threats to resolve in the future.

So I’ve decided not to attack. (Notice I’ve done this in my precombat main phase, before playing any spells, as the decision might affect which spells I play, and in what order.) Now I have another choice to make. Do I play Gossamer Phantasm or suspend Infiltrator il-Kor?

Here’s some simple math to help with the consideration.

Infiltrator deals 0 damage next turn, 3 damage the turn after that, and 3 damage the turn after that.

Phantasm deals 2 damage next turn, 2 damage the turn after that, and 2 damage the turn after that.

So Infiltrator breaks even with Phantasm as long as it gets to attack twice, and deals more damage if it gets to attack 3+ times. On the other hand, I have a Martyr of Ashes in my hand, which will kill Infiltrator if I activate it, but which will not kill Phantasm. On the other, other hand, I have to activate it after the Infiltrator comes in (two turns from now) for that to matter.

However, if I do topdeck a Red spell right now, it’s probably either Incinerate, Rift Bolt, Lash Out, Martyr of Ashes, or Keldon Marauders. (The only other Red spell I have left is the last Mogg Fanatic in my deck.) The first three will burn the Knight out on their own, and the last one will at least step in its way unless my opponent has a burn spell to take it out. In any event, if I draw another Martyr or Fanatic and want to try and blow up the Knight using my existing Martyr, I’ll still need the help of an on-table Mogg Fanatic to do it, as the Knight’s First Strike means I won’t be able to block with my Martyr, stack damage, and finish it off by activating for 1. Since I’m expecting one of my Fanatics to die to a burn spell right now and another to trade with Goldmeadow Stalwart, I’ll likely end up chumping the Meadowgrain with Marty anyway, and just sacrificing him with damage on the stack in order to stop the lifegain.

Since I don’t think activating the Martyr is going to come up soon, I suspend the Infiltrator, hoping his extra damage (if he doesn’t get burned out) will offset the lifegain from the Meadowgrain. A Mogg Fanatic is Incinerated on my end step, and I ping him for one in response.

He attacks with Stalwart and I trade my last Fanatic for it. Then he plays Forge-Tender (must have just drawn it) and Knight of Meadowgrain. Man, that’s trouble.

I Infiltrator goes down to one counter, I draw and play Faerie Conclave, and lay Gossamer Phantasm.

Bound in Silence takes out the Phantasm, and an attack from the Forge-Tender and Knight swings the life totals from 17-16 in my favor to 18-14 in his favor. Things are looking very grim now that the Knight is active and protected by Forge-Tender.

I draw another Infiltrator, far too late to help. I hit with the Infiltrator that just came in and suspend the other one. I don’t want to start chumping with Marty until I don’t have a better use for my mana, and I can still put it to better use by going with the Infiltrator.

He attacks with the team and the life totals go to 17-11 in his favor.

I draw Lash Out! Perfect!

I smack with Infiltrator and it is blasted by an opposing Lash Out. I flip Riftwing Cloudskate to his Plains, and we both throw our flips away. I still need to dig to another burn spell, as my Lash Out is just going to be stopped by his Forge-Tender, and Cloudskate is definitely not a burn spell. I Lash his Meadowgrain, Forge-Tender suicides to save it, and I flip Mountain (also thrown to the bottom) to his Amrou Scout, which he keeps.

He attacks with the Knight and plays the Scout. Life totals are now 19-9.

Infiltrator shows up and attacks, and I draw Ancestral. I don’t want to come in with Faerie Conclave because I’ll take points from Shivan Reef if I do, so I just suspend the Ancestral and play Marty to block the Scout. Marty is Incinerated on my end step.

The enemy troops come crashing in. 18-5, and he plays a Goldmeadow Harrier as well.

I draw Shivan Reef and lose.

What went wrong this game?

In a nutshell, an unanswered Knight of Meadowgrain was unstoppable. He gained 8 life off that thing; had it been a vanilla 2/2 instead, the last attack from my Infiltrator would have put the life totals at 5-7 in his favor instead of 5-15. Had I been able to kill it right away with a burn spell, the totals would have been 13-7 in my favor.

I needed to draw 3 burn spells to take out his Knights (plus Forge-Tenders), and instead I drew only 2. My opponent, on the other hand, drew 4 removal spells in total, and was able to keep my creatures easily manageable.

So what did I learn?

1) Don’t board out all the Psionic Blasts.

Prof advised boarding out Chars for the same reason I initially thought boarding out Blasts would be correct in this matchup: it’s expensive removal that deals me damage! This still holds true in a lot of aggro mirrors, and I’ll probably continue to take them out against other aggro decks, but against Kithkin in particular, it’s so important to be able to take out Forge-Tender and Knight of Meadowgrain, I think I need to keep at least some of them in.

The negative consequences of a Knight or Forge-Tender living for more than a couple of turns seem to far outweigh the downside of dealing myself two, and I can’t get rid of a Forge-Tender with any burn spell but Psionic Blast. It will take a lot more than one match worth of testing to figure out how many I should leave in – could be all 4, could be only a couple – but I am definitely more interested than usual in keeping Blue Char in post-board here.

2) Shock and Sulfur Elemental would have been better than Lash Out in this matchup

It’s not surprising that Shock would have been better, considering how few 3-toughness creatures Kithkin decks run (they basically need two Cenns), but I would have loved a one-mana removal spell. Sulfur Elemental also would have been really awesome – not only because he would have killed some Forge-Tenders, Scouts, and so on – but also because I could have used him in conjunction with Martyr or Mogg Fanatic to kill those Meadowgrains that kept giving me trouble. In fact, I would have been able to kill the second Meadowgrain with a Sulfur Elemental (that would have offed the Forge-Tender first), given the Martyr of Ashes I had in hand, but could not with only a Lash Out.

3) Too many suspend cards?

It’s too early to tell after one match, but a boarding plan that leaves me with 12 suspend cards has the potential to get me into trouble. On the one hand, I topdecked Ancestral in the third game where I needed any burn spell to get back in the game, but drawing it early on probably would have given me enough extra juice to turn the game around. It’s too early to jump to conclusions, but I sure wasn’t happy to see that Riftwing Cloudskate

Next up is G/R.

I used Robert Schiermeyer’s winning list from Colorado Champs:

I lose the die roll and my opponent keeps his hand. I see 2x Mountain, Shivan Reef, Martyr of Ashes, 2x Infiltrator il-Kor, and Riftwing Cloudskate. This hand is fine. Intuitively, Martyr with two Infiltrators is a nonbo—but that hardly means I should mulligan. Even if Marty is just a vanilla 1/1 this game, I still get to curve out with turn-one Mons’s Goblin Raiders and suspending hasty 3/1s and/or 2/2 flyers for the three turns following.

My opponent leads with Mountain and Greater Gargadon.

I draw a third Mountain, play it, and play the Martyr.

My opponent plays a second Mountain and Mogg Fanatic.

I draw a third Infiltrator, play Shivan Reef, and consider my options. Clearly I will suspend either Riftwing Cloudskate or Infiltrator il-Kor this turn… but which will be better?

Well, if I suspend the Infiltrator, he’ll know he has a better target than Martyr of Ashes and will probably save his Mogg Fanatic for it. However, if I suspend the Cloudskate instead, there’s no way I will bounce the Gargadon with it (Gargs will have 9 suspend counters to my Skate’s 3). It seems like the best course of action is to just attack with my Martyr and see if he blocks or not. If he has something important to play next turn (especially Troll Ascetic) that the Martyr could trade with, it will be in his best interest to block with the Fanatic here.

Here’s an interesting twist. If I really want him to trade his Fanatic for my Martyr, I can potentially get a better deal out of the exchange if I don’t attack with the Martyr. Why not? My opponent gets a perfectly reasonable trade if I attack, he blocks, stacks damage, and deals me one, does he not? He certainly does, but look what happens if I don’t attack. By not attacking, I signal that I consider my Martyr more valuable than his Fanatic. My opponent doesn’t know that I have zero Red cards in hand; for all he knows, I have three or four. If I decline to attack with Martyr and then suspend Infiltrator, my opponent will see the writing on the wall: I’m planning to clear his board with Martyr before my Infiltrator de-suspends, leaving me with a 3/1 Shadow on an empty board. Rather than let me have that, he’ll just shoot the Martyr with Mogg Fanatic straightaway, meaning I won’t have to take the extra point I would have if I’d attacked, he blocked, and the Fanatic shot me with damage on the stack.

There’s one last piece of the puzzle missing, though. Even if he does plan to kill my Martyr, he’s not just going to shoot it on my end step… he’s going to attack with his Fanatic, let me take one, and then shoot it before playing his three-drop. If I block it, he’ll stack damage and I’ll take one anyway… there’s just no getting out of taking one damage when I trade his Fanatic for my Martyr.

Which brings me back to the original question: do I attack with the Martyr or not?

I do not. If I swing with the Martyr and he does not opt to block it (perhaps thinking he can get a bigger damage swing next turn by chumping the creature I play this turn and shooting the Martyr), then we’ll trade a couple of one-point hits and he’ll get to trade Mogg Fanatic for my Infiltrator. If I hold back, I can definitely expect him to attack with his Fanatic next turn, at which point I’ll block and get rid of it.

I suspend the Infiltrator and pass.

He attacks with the Fanatic as expected. I block and take my extra point, going to 18. (A question for more experienced beatdown players: would it have been better for him to sac the Fanatic to his Gargadon with damage on the stack, taking it from 8 to 7 counters? If so, does that remain true if he knows I play Pongify and Threaten?)

Next up is a Forest and Call of the Herd.

I draw a second Riftwing Cloudskate. Again I suspend Infiltrator il-Kor instead, as I only need one more Blue source to be able to start hardcasting Riftwings, and they are much better when hardcast than Infiltrators are.

My opponent plays a Tarmogoyf, then Grove of the Burnwillows and activates it to play a second Goyf. Right now they are 2/3s, but the Gargadon can turn them into 3/4s at a moment’s notice by sacrificing a land. I take 3 from the Elephant token and drop to 15.

I draw Psionic Blast, my first Infiltrator comes in, and hits the opponent to 17. I can’t Blast either of the Goyfs, as my opponent will just use the opportunity to pump them to 3/4 with Gargadon, causing them to be 4/5s when the Blast resolves and hits the yard.

I have three Mountains and a Shivan Reef. My choices are: suspend a third Infiltrator, suspend a Cloudskate, play Psionic Blast, or do nothing.

Assuming my opponent sacrifices a land to the Gargadon, then after his upkeep he will have three lands, a Gargadon with 5 counters on it, two 3/4 Tarmogoyfs, and a 3/3 Call token. If he really wants to hit me with that Gargadon, he can flashback Call first and then sac both of his Elephants and his remaining three lands to end up with two 2/3 Goyfs and a 9/7 Gargadon. Granted, that will take me to 1 life and shut down my Shivan Reef… but if I’m holding Pongify, I’ll blow him out.

Heh. Or will I?

If he does all that and I Pongify his Gargadon, then I still take 6 from his Goyfs and drop to 9, meaning he still has a lethal attack force on the table. He can also hedge his bets by sacrificing a Goyf (or an extra land, if he’s got one in hand) instead of flashing back Call, which will keep a Sorcery in his graveyard and give him one last turn worth of mana production.

Honestly, it seems like there’s a good chance I’ll be facing down a Gargadon next turn, and there’s nothing I can do about it. My only real hope is that he tries to play around Pongify (or Unsummon or whatever) and doesn’t attack if I leave mana open. I pass the turn.

He plays Incinerate and Treetop Village, then sacrifices everything but the two 5/6 Tarmogoyfs and attacks me for 19.


+4 Ancestral Vision
+4 Lash Out
-4 Infiltrator il-Kor
-4 Psionic Blast

+2 Loxodon Warhammer
-2 Ghostfire

I’m on the play this time. My opening hand is Shivan Reef, Faerie Conclave, Ancestral Vision, Martyr of Ashes, Keldon Marauders, Pongify, and Threaten. Keep.

Do I start with Shivan Reef and Ancestral, or Faerie Conclave?

Thinking back to Prof’s article and how excited he was to see someone sacrifice precious life total points to play Stomping Ground untapped just to get a Mogg Fanatic in on turn 1, I’m going to go with Faerie Conclave. I’ll just play both the Martyr and the Ancestral on turn 2.

My opponent starts with Mountain and Mogg Fanatic.

I draw the other Threaten, play Shivan Reef and suspend the Ancestral. There’s no value in playing Martyr here when I can actually clear a board with it given a third land, so I’m going to play Keldon Marauders next turn (when it can presumably actually get in the way of something large) and just go with the Ancestral this turn.

The opponent beats with Fanatic, then adds Grove of the Burnwillows and Mogg War Marshal.

I draw Lash Out and play Keldon Marauders. The opponent pays the echo on Mogg War Marshal, plays Treetop Village, and passes rather than attacking and losing his Mogg Fanatic in order to get two points of damage in.

I draw Mountain. Ding! I play Mountain and Martyr, and activate it for one, revealing Threaten. (I reveal Threaten over Lash Out in order to encourage him to use Treeetop Village, which is a fantastic target for Lash Out.) Mogg Fanatic pings me for one, and the leftover Goblin token from War Marshal declines to chump the incoming Marauders. Life totals are now 17-16 in my favor.

The opponent plays Pendelhaven, pumps the Goblin token, and hits for two. He then plays Tarmogoyf and passes with Mountain open.

I Pongify my Marauders with Vanishing on the stack, tying up the life totals at 15 each and leaving me with a 3/3 to his Goyf and Goblin. Ancestral goes down to one counter, and I draw Rift Bolt. I want to Lash Out the 2/3 Tarmogoyf here, but if my opponent is holding Tarfire, the Goyf will grow to 3/4 and I’ll be in big trouble. Instead, I just hold it and pass.

My opponent starts with a Tarfire at my head, then when I go to Lash Out his Goyf in response, responds with a second Tarfire. We both bury lands off the clash, and the Goyf and the Goblin stay home rather than dying to my Ape token. I’m still at 12 from the Tarfires (one was cast off Grove).

My Ancestral serves up two Mountains and a Pongify, and I get another Island off the draw step. No good; I wanted some Incinerates or Lash Outs. Threatening the Goyf here will do nothing but cause his Goblin token to chump block, so I have to figure out what I’m going to do to not die to his Goyfs and Treetop Villages.

I work out that he can’t kill me next turn if I attack, so I decide to race. I attack with the Ape and Faerie Conclave, and he declines to block, dropping to 10. I suspend Rift Bolt in my second main, and pass the turn.

My opponent plays a Mountain, meaning both his Treetops can come in this turn. He can clock me for 10 this turn, but I’m at 12 and will kill him next turn if he tries it. Instead he just comes across with one Village and the Goyf, leaving me at 5.

I untap and Rift Bolt goes off. I can target his face (he’s at 10) or his Goblin token. Killing the Goblin won’t run him out of blockers, as he has Treetop Village open and mana to activate it. However, I can still make him lose a Treetop if I Threaten his Goyf and force him to block, which seems more valuable given that I can’t kill him this turn.

I shoot the Goblin and draw Keldon Marauders, which is awesome. I’m at 5 life and he has one card in hand, so attacking with my Ape token is way too risky. However, if all I do this turn is to Threaten his Goyf and bash him with it, he’ll either lose a Treetop or drop to 6 life – at which point I can kill him next turn using damage from Marauders, Faerie Conclave, and my other Threaten. So I Threaten the Goyf and attack with it. He blocks with the Treetop, which is fine. I’ve gotten to make another land drop, removed a threat, and went back up to 6 life because he had to activate Treetop using Grove of the Burnwillows.

I play Keldon Marauders and pass. Life totals are 9-6 in his favor.

He attacks with both Tarmogoyf and his Treetop Village. He has two cards in hand, and I’m at 6. He’s played one Incinerate so far this game, but no Ghostfires or Rift Bolts, so it’s not unreasonable to think that he might be holding a land and a burn spell, or at least another Incinerate. I’m obviously going to chump the Goyf with my Marauders (taking life totals to 8-6 in his favor), but not blocking the Village with my Ape could end my life if he can deal me three.

However, what happens if I do block the Village with my Ape? I Threaten his (now 5/6) Tarmogoyf next turn, knock him to 3, block his incoming Goyf with Faerie Conclave next turn and Pongify it to come up with the last 3 points. The only way that plan fails is if he draws a burn spell and I don’t draw a burn spell (other than Lash Out), both in the next turn.

So I block both attackers. My Ape dies, he goes to 8 as my Marauders chump the Goyf, and he plays another land and passes with one card in hand and three mana open.

I draw a Mountain. Not helpful, but there it is. I Threaten the Goyf, knock him to 3, and pass with Conclave mana open.

The opponent draws and plays… Mogg Fanatic. Gah. So much for chumping with Conclave. Since the Conclave is clearly going to die one way or another, I activate it anyway when he attacks, and when he goes to ping it with Fanatic, I Pongify it in response, planning to chump with the token. Unfortunately, he’s got the Ghostfire for that as well, meaning I take five to the chin from Goyf and drop to 1.

The life totals are 3 — 1 in his favor, but I have a draw step coming up. Sound familiar?

“Don’t look, just slam it!”
Olivier Ruel

I slam… Mountain. And die.

So what did I learn?

1) Mogg War Marshal is, in fact, All That in the aggro mirror

That one extra goblin token saved my opponent from Death by Threaten several times over this match, and having three Goyf Chumpers on my end would have easily ended the fight in my favor as well. I should definitely reconsider fitting some of those back in.

2) Infiltrator il-Kor is not The Value against G/R

Riftwing Cloudskate’s not much better, but at least he bounces a Goyf or Elephant token. Infiltrator’s whole problem is that they have both Mogg Fanatic and Tarfire to remove him for one mana, and he’s a horrible topdeck when I need a chump blocker. At least Gossamer Phantasm is good for the latter.

3) Treetop Village makes instant-speed burn a lot more important

TTV was obnoxiously good at dodging my Threatens and Rift Bolts, and made my Threatens with other targets a lot worse because he’d always have a blocker. This isn’t so much something I’d change about my sideboard or deck design as it is something to consider about when to play my spells. I might want to trade a creature for an attacking dude rather than burn my Lash Out, for example, if the Lash Out might be the only way to stop TTV from wrecking me later.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t want to make big changes to my deck based on a super-small (five games!) sample size, but the list I gave at the beginning of this article was an experimental variation of last week’s build, so I might as well finish up with an adjustment to that experiment.

Here’s what I’ll try for next week.

I’m not changing the sideboard because I really didn’t get enough of a feel for it to figure out how it should be changed. I drew Ancestral twice across these matches; it was crap the first time and good the second time, so it’s tough to say how it will fare overall when I test it more thoroughly. I do know that Brute Force would have been a big blowout in a number of situations here, and that I recall wanting it against some of the control decks, so I’m finally going to give it a shot in place of Pongify and one of the Martyrs.

On several occasions I suffered from “Suspend flood”—having too many Infiltrators and Riftwings and not enough immediate action—and honestly, I’m not sure what to do about it. I know I’d prefer Infiltrator against Mannequin and Kithkin, but Riftwing against G/R and Guile. It’s a really tough choice, but I think since I’ve already had a lot of experience with Cloudskate, it will make more sense to start trying out the Infiltrator in his stead and seeing if I like it better or worse overall.

That’s it for this week.

One final note: I just learned that not only is today my birthday, it’s also the birthday of a fellow SCG columnist. Guess which one and win a prize!*

See you next week,

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]

* The prize: I say “good job” in the forums