Exploring RBC: Aggro

Josh continues his excellent series exploring the intricacies of Ravnica Block Constructed. Today, he presents a number of exciting decklists based on popular guilds, with explicit attention paid to Aggro builds. With Pro Tour Charleston just over a week away, the Team Block format has never been more relevant. Looking for an edge on the competition? Look no further!

The first sets of decks that I’ll be analyzing are the early game aggro decks. Typically these don’t kinds of decks don’t fare all that well versus their big brothers the mid-range aggro (Aggro-control, typically) decks, both in performance and in the actual match-up. However, with no amazing control lists floating around, and certain creatures such as Frenzied Goblin and Dark Confidant, pure aggression could be a viable plan for the PT. Besides, it’s doubtful that you could really get more than a mid-range and control deck out of a trio, barring some janky alternative deck (I’m looking at you, Searing Meditation) or wacky combo or being found.

Ah, Gruul… Nothing Beats Gruul. Or was that Rock? Carrying on… considering you can make a near duplicate of Heezy Street, minus Flames of the Blood Hand and Kird Ape, it stands to reason many people will consider this a potential deck. Despite these two valuable losses, gaining Seal of Fire and a slight change to the creature base could bring G/R back into the limelight. It offers a good package of speed and reach that can’t be overlooked.

A basic list could look something like so:

Some of the potential changes from the Standard deck for RBC are:

Elves of Deep Shadow over Scorched Rusalka — Though Scorched Rusalka helps with a little late-game damage and dodging Faith’s Fetters, the fact remains that the Gruul deck has lost a significant amount burn along with opponents ping damage. Char and Flames of the Blood Hand basically guaranteed that the opponent would be taking four to the dome at some point in the game. Rusalka, combined with pain and dual land damage, could easily knock the amount of combat damage needed to be done down to 10-12 points.

Without this extra boost, Scorched Rusalka is far more questionable in the deck. Elves still enable the turn 2 Scab-Clan Mauler, but also can power out a turn 3 Giant Solifuge or Rumbling Slum. Considering the extra concern about tokens and Glare of Subdual, the sooner these guys get to attacking, the better.

The addition of Silhana Ledgewalker — Normally a 1/1 untargetable evasion creature isn’t much to write home about. Now consider the fact that most G/R decks are running 3-4 Moldervine Cloak. A semi-common scenario of: turn 1 dork, turn 2 Ledgewalker, turn 3 Cloak, swing, is nothing to look down upon. It puts the opponent on a five-turn clock that’s really more like three or four, thanks to Skarrg, the Rage Pits and Char. Still without a Cloak, she’s a rather inefficient creature for this aggro deck. You have to ask yourself if you’re willing to take a massive hit in efficiency whenever you don’t have Cloak or need to trigger Bloodthirst. [And of course, a great many folk run this in their Standard R/G deck too. Gotta love untargetable guys… – Craig.]

The addition of larger creatures — Cards like Rumbling Slum or Rakdos Pit Dragon suddenly look a lot better in Block, when the majority of creatures you’ll be facing will be just as big as your own. The Slum is the obvious addition, as it can bash through most blockers and live to tell the tale, while slowly eating away at the opponents’ life. Pit Dragon is a far more questionable call, but when you run out of steam, having a double-striking flyer could be just what you need. However, the wonderful curve these decks enjoy could be disrupted by having to rework the manabase and cut some amount of two-drops to accommodate these larger men.

The addition of Gruul Guildmage — This almost goes hand in hand with the creature base decision. If you keep the Rusalka in the deck along with the eight burn spells and four Giant Solifuge, Guildmage is worth at least a consideration. Throwing your useless land and creatures at the opponent is now the burn you’ll be relying on far more often. The upside is you have multiple ways to back up the burn damage.

Rakdos, much like Gruul, loses very little in the conversion from Standard to RBC. In fact it even gains from the format change, since suddenly you don’t have to worry about Wrath of God coming down and annihilating you. You also get to abuse the best card drawing engine in the format while maintaining a solid set of aggro creatures. One again, I present a basic list below.

Possible changes to the deck:

Running Terry Soh — Despite all the crying about how they crippled Soh’s card, Rakdos Augermage still has the potential to shine. So you may wonder why I left him out of the deck for Block. Simply put, while First Strike means Augermage won’t be dying in combat too often, he’s not all that good at actually dealing damage. Meanwhile his discard ability is of questionable status, because of how scattered any metagame information is at the moment. However I wouldn’t lambaste anyone for using him in the maindeck or sideboard.

Pawns in the Game of War

Adding ‘Risk’ creatures and embracing Hellbent — By “risk” I mean creatures with hefty drawbacks that may or may not be worth running. Creatures like Drekavac, Jagged Poppet, and Avatar of Discord come to mind. Sure, if they aren’t nullified they provide a very useful speed boost for the deck, but if they are killed off they cost you two or more cards. A lot of their usefulness depends on how heavily you want to rely on hellbent.

If you’re willing to take a gigantic early-game risk against the mid-range and control decks of the format, then turn 2 Drekavac followed by turn 3 Poppet may strike you as a good idea. The other important note is how much this helps your reach. Yes, you’ll be topdecking, but how much better do your topdecks get with no cards in hand? Demonfire becomes a legitimate finisher and Rakdos Pit Dragon is very scary once fully realized. Ultimately I think you gain more from sticking with the non-hellbent plan, but time will tell.

Evaluating how much discard is usableDelirium Skeins seems to be the most usable for the archetype, crippling the amount of bombs you’ll have to deal with from turn 4 onward. Augermage also seems like a reasonable piece of discard usage, if only because it’s attached to a significant body. You could take the strategy to the next level and run cards like Rise / Fall, Cry of Contrition, or Hellhole Rats. Though not a mana- or damage-efficient strategy, such a flurry of discard could run other aggro or mid-range decks out of gas by turn 4. The viability of this plan lies entirely with the effectiveness of the popular sweepers and card drawing.

Catfish Stevens

Though Azorius lacks the speed of the first two archetypes, it can make up for this with the number of cheap evasion creatures to which it has access. Though Azorius suits itself more towards an aggro-control deck, it’s still very much an abuser of the early game. Hence I’m running it here instead of the Glare and Good Stuff mid-range decks.

The main advantages in using this guild over the above decks include the fact that your guys all have evasion and you have a trump in Pride of the Clouds. In addition, you can actually use the tempo counters like Spell Snare and Remand. Finally, Azorius Guildmage can act as a bad Glare of Subdual to force through more damage in the mid-game.

Though I have no idea what exactly a really solid Azorius Skies deck would look like, considering the basic framework is almost like a reincarnation of Fish. Without a truly coherent metagame, trying to describe specifics is nearly impossible. However… here’s an interesting set-up versus the normal W/U configuration. You gain removal in Mortify and Pillory of the Sleepless along with better three- and four-drops in Daggerclaw Imp and Moroii. Heck, you can throw Dark Confidant into the mix if you’re willing to forgo your Rakdos build in the team set-up. It’s certainly worth a thought if you seriously want to use the Azorius cards.

Here are two sample builds:

Now we move onto the type of deck that the esteemed Mr. Kn00tson talked about right before Regionals. The advantages of this deck over the ones already mentioned are the usefulness of the non-creature cards. You have strong removal Electrolyze and Char, plus you the finishing power of Demonfire. In addition you get Remand, which has already demonstrated to be a very effective Time Walk for these types of decks.

Though the creature base loses the powerhouse of Kodama of the North Tree, Graft still can keep Giant Solifuge happy when dealing with elves or tokens. Plaxcaster Frogling can also keep Vinelasher Kudzu swinging far longer than normal. In addition, you have a very good mana-curve, which means you can actually use the Karoo lands to their potential. Here’s a rough listing:

As you can see, the sideboard isn’t exactly the most polished thing in the world. Savage Twister can back up Electrolyze in handling weenie decks, while Stomphowler and Position can ruin Glare decks and GWB Good Stuff (no more targetable removal? There goes half the deck!) plan A. Voidslime is going to come in whenever you need a possible mid or late game answer to Dovescape, Debtors’ Knell or a similarly stupid effect. In fact, it may even warrant going up to a four-of, I simply don’t have enough data to say one way or another. The final Demonfire is also iffy, against control you certainly want the extra reach, but it’s of questionable value.

Simic Sky Swallower is also questionable, and could become Rumbling Slum. It depends if you want a late-game threat that can function against a fully developed control deck or under Dovescape. Or if you want a man you can drop on turn 3/4 and stomp on aggro, while being bigger than anything the mid-range decks can muster.

Running a deck like this allows you some of the best curve starts like Rakdos, more late-game reach than any other early game aggro deck and overall stronger cards and sideboard than the other listed decks. One of the major downsides is the mana, which gets ugly once you go up to three colors. With no Wood Elves or Sakura-Tribe Elder to find the correct mana, you’re left with the decision to either run Birds of Paradise, Utopia Sprawl, or Coiling Oracle.

Oracle itself is the most unreliable of the three, since it needs Blue and Green mana to even get started and isn’t guaranteed to hit a land. On the other hand, if it hits a Karoo, you’ve just gained a decent chunk of tempo, and in the late-game, Oracle is the only one that is a cantrip. So though I’ve included Oracle, the other two choices have their own merits.

The other major downside is the sheer number of good cards you take away from your teammates. You not only take Stomping Ground and Breeding Pool, but almost all of the good burn, Remand, and more than likely Giant Solifuge. At that point, you may as well go all the way and give that player the best board options in Savage Twister and possibly a few SSS to actually get use out of them.

Possible changes to the deck:

Adding more mid-late game dropsRumbling Slum is certainly a possibility when building this deck. A 5/5 for four is nothing to sneeze at in nearly any Block format, especially this one. Assault Zeppelid and Stratozeppelid are large flying beatsticks that go well with Graft creatures. You could even fit a few SSS in as finishers, to go along with Demonfire. Or you could aim for the utility / mirror tech in Cytoplast Manipulator.

The obvious downside to this plan is trading in some of the early game potential of the deck and adding more land into the deck to make it properly function. You gain a better chance of dishing out mid-game damage, but without Chord of Calling or Glare, that may be a losing battle anyway. Against control, you sufficiently doom yourself due to Faith’s Fetters along with Mortify and Putrefy.

More counters maindeck — Certainly you could add 4 Voidslime and some Spell Snare to the maindeck to become real aggro-control. In fact, my first few builds ran 4 Voidslime to help with stopping various annoying enchantments and Savage Twister. The main problem I ran into is properly balancing removal, counters and creatures. That, and trying to keep the mana happy in a deck full of gold cards and GG costs.

I couldn’t do it, so I cut my losses and moved Voidslime into the board. If you can sufficiently balance the ratios, then I wholeheartedly endorse having maindeck counters. Forcing the opponent to conserve and slow down his play of any bombs in hand is one of the most powerful things you can do in this format.

Other possibilities
Plaxmanta: Bears that double as protection from removal later in the game? Not terrible.
Aquastrand Spider: If you’re Becker, it’s because it’s a spider. For everyone else it’s a two-drop that goes along with the graft theme and Cytoplast Root-Kin.
Cytoshape: Should just read, “If you control a creature with graft, destroy target creature. It can’t be regenerated.”
Patagia Viper: (Insert your own joke involving a plane here)

Questions aggro specifically has to answer:
1. Can I kill an opponent from 24 life or higher consistently? If not, do I have a way to consistently negate the life gain (Counters or Rain of Gore would be an example)?
2. Does my deck have an answer or recovery mechanism to Savage Twister or Culling Sun?
3. Will I be able to break a stalemate versus a mid-range deck within a few turns?
4. Is my aggro deck capable of curving out and creating a huge early game advantage?

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are other kinds of aggro (Dark Gruul or Boros come to mind), but these are the four I’ve seen people succeed with thus far.

Next time: Mid-Range Aggro

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom