Frozen Fish – Searching for Rogue Aggro-Control in Standard

Ben Snyder is rapidly becoming known for two different things: detailed articles about whatever combo deck catches his attention and articles about crazy rogue creations that just might work in Standard. Today’s article is one of the latter, and it should provide some interesting fodder for the Friday Night Magic crowd to play around with.

There are a couple of reasons why I’m taking a small departure from my traditional combo-oriented approach to Magic. The first is that I’m working hard on making Juicy Fruit better than it is right now, but I don’t have enough results to write another article about it yet. The more important reason for me is that I want to be active in writing and contributing to the Internet community. That means producing more than one article every two years.

While tinkering around with Juicy Fruit, I’ve come up with a couple of other decks that have been tested (not nearly as extensively) and, the ones that have performed well, I’m going to share with you. In the next few articles, I’ll be going through the Rogue decks that I’ve developed or come across in testing, in an effort to provide those of you out there who don’t want to play the big Three come summer time with a variety of options to start your creative minds in gear.

Keep in mind, these are what I call Evolution Articles, and are designed so that you see the process I go through in building decks. No random deck “pimping” here with only a tiny sentence fragment to explain my decisions – you can see the deck evolve before your very eyes as I test.

Let’s get started:

Frozen Fish

4 Early Frost

2 Plow Under

1 Fabricate

3 Crystal Shard

2 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Sword of Fire and Ice

14 Spells

4 Eternal Witness

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Troll Ascetic

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Spiketail Hatchling

3 Viridian Shaman

1 Duplicant

24 Creatures

1 Chrome Mox

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

3 Blinkmoth Nexus

10 Forest

7 Island

22 Land

What is that pile? Some people call it Crystal Witness. I’m not a big fan of the “combine parts of the names of two of the key cards and form a deck name” idea, so this, to me, is Frozen Fish.

Why Play this Deck? Or, what’s the plan?

The plan: this deck is good at beating a great number of decks currently receiving play from Regionals playtesters and FNM aficionados everywhere. The reason that my initial strategy has proved successful is because of Early Frost, and the variety of routes it can take to victory.

Plan A: Aggro-Control with Creatures with Nasty Special Abilities

The famous Fish strategy of using fast utility creatures is our first focus. This is the easiest part of the deck to become accustomed too, and the aggro route is relatively simplistic (play creatures, play Jitte or Sword, win). Of course, we need to have a back up plan, because our creatures aren’t going to beat control decks on their own.

Plan B: Aggro-Control with Early Frost and Eternal Witness

Opponents that are playing control who think they can get out of this lock are deluding themselves. Even if they make every land drop, every turn, you are going to be tapping three of their lands every turn, and eventually you’ll start Eternally Plowing Under their lands with Boseiju back-up (and Jitte protection if you get low on life).

Plan C: Combo-Control with infinite Mindslavers

This plan comes online after board. Plan C is just that, a Plan C. We don’t want to use this plan, but it is powerful and functional if we have to. Right now, the only matchup I really like to use this in is against Tooth and Nail with red. Against them, the creatures are an X/2 liability (Pyroclasm) and you have a good chance of winning through control (and slow Eternal Witness beats). Still, plan B usually works in that matchup, but Mindslaver only takes up a single slot, and if you get it online early enough, Tooth can’t win.

Some of the problems with the main deck:

1) This really wants Aether Vial. I mean, really, really bad. It wants Aether Vial like you want that hot girl from Calculus who ignores anything and everything that doesn’t have a varsity letter jacket or rich parents. Unlike you, however, this deck has a chance*, and could fit in a couple of Vials. The difficulty comes in the fact that without any card drawing to speak of, we would need at least 3 Vials, and preferably 4, to make a consistent early drop. One option is to drop the Early Frosts and add 3 Vials plus another Plow Under. I’ll get into the other options in a second.

2) I wish we could we fit Curiosity or Mask of Memory into the maindeck, but with only Spiketail Hatchling capable of evasion in the early game, and only against certain decks, the viability of these creature-based forms of card advantage is a moot point.

3) I probably need some form of card drawing or tutoring beyond a single Fabricate and two copies of the Ultimate Creature Enhancing Blade of Death. But I’m limited to cheap Blue cantrips or Gifts Ungiven. Serum Visions is a possibility, but again, space is a concern.

Going into testing, I kept these problematic areas in mind, specifically to watch for their effect on the aggro matchups. Early side-by-side playtesting revealed that Frozen Fish was more than capable of handling UG and MUC, but with G/B/u, Ponza, and Mono-Green Aggro forming the general metagame in Regionals thus far, I need to keep in mind the knowledge that the list can change.

But enough of the asides, let’s talk about the sideboard.

The metagame right now is shaping up, but it does seem like there is still quite a number of viable decks. Here’s what I had in the sideboard pre-testing:

3 Leonin Bladetrap

4 Naturalize

4 Echoing Truth/Karstoderm

3 Mana Leak/Squelch

1 Mindslaver

I’m not going to try and explain why the sideboard looked the way it did at this time, I’ll get into the card choices in the matchup sections. Essentially, though, I felt that you needed control elements against Beacon Green, Red Decks, and White Weenie, while also having added tools against random control decks and Honden.dec.

I didn’t play against quite as many decks with Frozen Fish as I did with Juicy Fruit. Generally, two decks from each of the Aggro, Control, and Combo categories, was enough for me to present you with detailed enough information and relevant results.

Against the Aggro:

White Weenie

Everyone and their mother has built a White Weenie deck for Regionals, and almost all of them are functionally the same, but with several tiny differences between the versions. I decided to re-test this matchup using one of the new builds, but if you are interested in the old results (use my WW list from the Juicy Fruit article) they were 6 wins 4 losses pre-board, and 4 wins, 6 losses post-board.

The new list I used is available here on StarCity in Mike Flores‘ article “So This is the Metagame,” and it’s the “Fast White Weenie” version.

The results were: 3 wins, 7 losses pre-board. 2 wins, 8 losses post-board.

The sideboard plan is standard:

-4 Early Frost, -2 Plow Under, -1 Fabricate, +4 Naturalize, +3 Leonin Bladetrade

A few things to note: Leonin Bladetrap doesn’t work the way I want it to in this matchup as it kills an amazing five guys in the whole deck. How WW plays with 16 fliers is beyond me, but it works like a charm for them. In all 5 of my wins, I had an active Jitte – otherwise, I got run over.

Some other notables: Early Frost is actually useful in this matchup if they don’t have a turn 1 Aether Vial. Similarly, the Shamans are incredibly good against the many equipment cards (read: Jitte) that WW uses.

If you are going to test Frozen Fish against WW, there are some important things to keep in mind. Obviously, you are the control in this matchup. You have a variety of ways to slow them down, and that should be the first priority. If you can seize control of the game state, then you have put yourself in fantastic position to succeed later. Sadly, the only true possibility of inevitability that you have is the infinite Mindslaver lock out of the board.


6 Wins, 4 losses pre-board. 5 wins, 5 losses post-board.

If you are interested in the decklist, here is the one I used (from a French Regionals held in March)

Remi Poussard’s MGA:

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Viridian Zealot

2 Fangren Firstborn

2 Isao, Enlightened Bushi

4 Troll Ascetic

3 Karstoderm

3 Kodama of the North Tree

2 Genju of the Cedars

2 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Blasting Station

4 Beacon of Creation

4 Blanchwood Armor

2 Plow Under

1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers

21 Forest

This is the highest place finish for MGA thus far (at least, I assume no one has done better than First Place…) so it stands to reason it would be the best version to test against. (other versions include Sosuke’s Summons with Orochi Ranger as the only snake, for example) The results are somewhat inaccurate, since the MGA deck was difficult to mulligan, but 50% seems about right. If you play extremely tight in game one you can control the situation by keeping their mana down. This isn’t the best strategy, though, against a deck with Birds, but the lack of Tribe Elders on their side makes it possible. If we survive to seven mana-although it seems doubtful, it happened in every game that ended with a W-the infinite Duplicants prove very troublesome for Mono-Green.

A note: Blanchwood Armor is ridiculous tech in some matches for MGA. I’m not saying its better than the Sword, but it is faster and gets out of hand very quickly when attached to something like Fangren Firstborn.

Sideboard plan: -4 Early Frost, -1 Fabricate, -2 Plow Under, +3 Leonin Bladetrap, +4 Karstoderm

Plow Under here, like in the WW matchup, is too slow in our deck to be good. Although we do have the possibility of a turn 3 Plow Under, it happens much less often than we would like since we only run two. Early Frost, as I said, is a good trick to keep their mana down, but it doesn’t always work. By bringing in the fat, we have the ability to compete with their Big guys.

Another note: If we keep the Bladetrap in the sideboard, a good trick to remember is that after creatures are all declared as attackers you can use the Bladetrap when you have priority. That means, if they attack with a Troll, a Firstborn, and a Zealot, you can get a 3 for 1 with the Firstborn ability on the stack. (Also note, this usually doesn’t happen more than once… usually)

Results of the Aggro Playtesting

Thus far, we are doing better than I thought we would. While building Rogue decks is fun and creative, generally the results are usually worse than we would like to admit. Aether Vial would definitely be useful in these matchups, and I noticed while playing that ST Elder isn’t nearly as good as I wanted him to be. With that in mind, here is the updated list:

4 Aether Vial

3 Plow Under

1 Fabricate

3 Crystal Shard

2 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Sword of Fire and Ice

15 Spells

4 Eternal Witness

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Troll Ascetic

4 Spiketail Hatchling

2 Isao, Enlightened Bushi

2 Viridian Shaman

1 Viridian Zealot

1 Duplicant

1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror

23 Creatures

1 Chrome Mox

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

3 Blinkmoth Nexus

1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers

9 Forest

7 Island

22 Land


3 Dosan, the Falling Leaf

3 Viridian Zealot

3 Kira, Great Glass Spinner

4 Early Frost

1 Mindslaver

1 Sword of Light and Shadow

Let me explain some of the more interesting revisions: Isao is now in the deck because he works very well into our curve. He can’t be countered. And he regenerates, just like the Ascetic. Equipped with a Jitte or a Sword, he dominates creature combat and quickly ends games. Fitting two of him in wasn’t hard, once I settled on taking out the Elders.

I added Meloku, Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers, and a Viridian Zealot, in fairly self-explanatory ways. Meloku gives you an out against WW’s fliers by providing near infinite chump blockers or evasion creatures to slap a Sword on to. The Legendary Land can target three of your guys, and possibly a Horobi, so why not use it?

The Zealot is easier to drop with Aether Vial, is smaller in the curve, and can take out Worship or Hondens, or other such garbage. Late game, you can get the Witness/Vial/Zealot action going and really wreak havoc upon an artifact or enchantment based strategy.

Dropping the Early Frosts was a hard decision, but one that was made a lot easier by Isao and Aether Vial. I still think that the Frost has a place, you can see it waiting in the sideboard to smash face against Tooth and Nail and BuG Cloud. For now, though, the current configuration improved against both WW and MGA, and that is enough for me to stand by the changes.

Against the Control:

These matchups look uglier than they really are. You have the tools to succeed, but you need to use them properly. The two decks I tested against were MUC and BuG Cloud.

Mono Blue Control

The results were 3 wins, 7 losses pre-board. 4 wins, 6 losses post-board.

It’s not all bad, I assure you. For those of you who are interested, the MUC list I used is pretty standard, so expect results to be similar to anything you test. I’m not posting the exact decklist because part of it is very good technology, and I’ve promised the designer not to give that away this time.

Like I said, the results look worse than they are. The sideboarding plan is:

-1 Duplicant, -1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror, -2 Viridian Shaman, -1 Fabricate, -2 Umezawa’s Jitte, +3 Dosan, the Falling Leaf, +2 Viridian Zealot, +2 Kira, Great Glass Spinner.

Part of me wants to take out the Spiketails, but they are usually quite useful. Kira is a great way to stop Shackles hi-jinks, although we have to expect “Bounce, fizzle, Shackle” every once in a while. It at least helps to keep the card advantage at an even level. The Zealots get the nod for me because they come down faster than the Shaman, but that’s really a personal choice in this matchup, I think. They do have the ability to negate Threads of Disloyalty, which can be important. Dosan should be self-explanatory. Frozen Fish really takes off with this sideboard with four extra aggressive creatures and no high-end mana costs clogging the curve.

Sometimes, Meloku is worth leaving in. It all depends on how confident you are that you can achieve a game state that includes Kira and Dosan. You don’t want your opponent to steal Meloku, nor do you want such an expensive spell countered (you could, conceivably, get around this with Aether Vial, which is another consideration). For now, I side him out.

BuG Cloud

This is actually a pretty Rogue build of the DC Green staple. Here’s the decklist, which should remind most of you of 5CGifts.

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

2 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Eternal Witness

3 Kokusho, the Evening Star

1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

1 Duplicant

4 Gifts Ungiven

4 Death Cloud

4 Kodama’s Reach

1 Naturalize

1 Rude Awakening

1 Engineered Explosives

1 Cranial Extraction

1 Persecute

4 Tendo Ice Bridge

4 City of Brass

1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers

1 Mirrodin’s Core

7 Forest

5 Swamp

2 Island


1 Defense Grid

1 All Suns Dawn

1 Dosan the Falling Leaf

1 Quash

1 Eradicate

1 Plow Under

1 Barter in Blood

1 Crucible of Worlds

1 Naturalize

1 Boseiju, who Shelters All

3 Cranial Extraction

2 Kodama of the North Tree

Whether or not this is the best list obviously remains to be seen. It probably isn’t, but it is very, very powerful. To a greater extent than many of DC Green decks are, in fact. The results of the testing were not good for us.

2 wins, 8 losses pre-board. 4 wins, 6 losses post-board.

Frankly, Engineered Explosives is the reason that we lose. It doesn’t seem like it should happen that way, but for some reason, the BuG player always has that card exactly when I’m tapped out. “Oops, you’re tapped out? Tap three, cast Explosives, tap two, destroy all your guys.” Our sideboard plan isn’t even very good. Generally, I bring in the Early Frost and Kiras and try and out-control the control deck while racing as fast as I can. That plan usually shakes out like this:

-1 Fabricate, -2 Aether Vial, -1 Crystal Shard, -2 Viridian Shaman, -1 Zealot, +3 Kira, Great Glass Spinner, +4 Early Frost

Results of the Control Testing:

Not fantastic. If we look the deck’s results over, at this point we realize that we have only won 29 out of 80 games. That isn’t good. But, broken down into each matchup, we do have some very close results, and many games can go either way. If you think, this deck only wins 33% of the time, you might be inclined to dismiss it out of hand. I’ve said that these articles are evolution articles, and when I started compiling data for this series and writing it, I realized that I might have some ideas that end up going nowhere. What I’ve tried to do is tune each deck and make it as competitive as possible. You should note that there are many decks that only win 50% of their games in testing, that nevertheless end up being successful. My Elvish Succession combo deck wasn’t fantastic in testing, but YMG stormed the Standard scene in a series of tournaments, winning many of them with the same deck.

So, even if the results seem bad right now, it’s ok to keeping plugging along. Besides, we have great game against Tooth and Nail.

Against the Combo:

I don’t know exactly which decks people consider combo decks right now. For me, it is Tooth and Nail along with Juicy Fruit at the forefront of viable combo builds. I don’t like Beacon Blaster, and Lickity Split (which I will get into in one of these articles) is not Tier One by any stretch of the imagination.

Tooth and Nail

6 wins, 4 losses pre-board. 8 wins, 2 losses post-board.

Tooth falls in and out of favor, but if you think it won’t be around, you’re deluding yourself. It’s the last of the Tier One decks from last year’s Regionals, and the people who have the cards are going to play it if it’s the least bit viable.

That is good for us.

Games generally go long against Tooth, and having Early Frost in the sideboard is integral to winning the matchup. That said, game one isn’t bad either. You have Spiketail Hatchling, which you should use to counter their Sylvan Scryings and Reap and Sows. You have Plow Under, which devastates their board and their game plan (even with Tops and the land searchers). Duplicant is worth its weight in gold, especially with Crystal Shard, which is equally invaluable.

The sideboard plan is -1 Aether Vial, -2 Viridian Shaman, -2 Isao, Enlightened Bushi (if they are not red), -1 Viridian Zealot, -1 Meloku (if they are red). +4 Early Frost, +1 Mindslaver.

All in all, the matchup is pretty straightforward. Control their mana and things will not get out of hand. You are leaning towards being a control deck in this matchup, but you can get fantastic draws that involve the Sword of Ass-Kicking and Knowledge-Reaping. Tooth is much faster than I initially gave it credit for, and it is hard to race against them. Getting to the long game with Witness recursion on your side is advantageous, but it is important to not let them gain a mana advantage.

Juicy Fruit

3 wins, 7 losses pre-board. 5 wins, 5 losses post-board.

This is a strange matchup, and I’ll be honest, it definitely leans towards the combo deck. Unlike Tooth, Juicy Fruit is actually a degenerate combo in a multi-color package, capable of “going off” and doing all sorts of broken things. What that means is, we can’t race them, nor can we really control them. It puts us at a distinct disadvantage. The post-board games got better because Juicy Fruit doesn’t like being forced to combo at instant speed, and by control the mana with Early Frost, the situation often ends up that way.

All three of the pre-board wins were the results of infinite Plow Under action getting started early and slow draws on the combo deck’s part.

Our sideboard plan is -2 Isao, Enlightened Bushi, -2 Viridian Shaman, -1 Duplicant, -1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror, -1 Sword of Fire and Ice, +4 Early Frost, +1 Mindslaver, +2 Viridian Zealot.

The logic for taking out a Sword, which I almost never do, is that we cannot usually race the combo deck. Leaving one in means effectively two copies are floating around the deck, and drawing one won’t be bad. But this plan gives us access to all of our control measures and gives us a good chance to hit infinite Early Frosts or Plow Unders (by infinite, I should point out, if you haven’t noticed by now, that I mean infinitely recurring, usually only one a turn).

Results of the Combo Playtesting

Very good, very solid results against Tooth and Nail are positive signs that this deck could compete. I’ve only made one change after the combo and control matchups, but here is the most recent version as of right now:

As you can see, I added Thieving Magpies and a Chrome Mox; which could also probably be a land, but I went with the artifact mana to give us a few more explosive starts.

In the end, the deck is solid at this point, but certainly not Tier 1, and probably not Tier 2. That’s the struggle with using Rogue decks, especially entirely home-brewed creations. What I’ve done through this article is give you a demonstration of how I build a Rogue deck, how I test it, and what I do to change and evolve a decklist.

By putting a deck like this out there, I hope I’ve helped some of you planning to go to Regionals with Rogue designs of your own. With any luck, I’ll be back soon with another few articles like this one, and one or two more Juicy Fruit articles before the big day. With a little under two months to go, we still have time, and this season is shaping up to be very interesting.

Due to the fact that AOL costs me money, and my school doesn’t charge me for e-mail, I’ve dropped my AOL account. So, if you are interested in hearing more about this deck, or others, send any questions or comments to

[email protected]

Until next time,

Ben Snyder

Stormskull on MTGO

Stormskull on Most Poker Sites**

*Don’t take this as a personal slam, I’m just trying to be funny. So, I suppose, if you are reading this footnote, I probably haven’t succeeded. Oh well, just take the hot girl out for ice cream and forget you ever read this.

**Anyone from the Southeast Minnesota area looking to play in any of the events at the Fall Classic at Canterbury, and interested in joining a team, e-mail me and let me know.