Is It Time To Get Aggressive?

Valeriy looks at the fine art of beating down as the prime way to overcome the wave of Devotion decks currently dominating the Standard metagame.

Since Mono Black Devotion has taken the torch from Mono Blue Devotion, there’s just a week before Heliod, God of the Sun will finally have his revenge.

Or not.

Heliod is a fine card by itself and probably a reasonable threat, but the only other cards with Devotion to White in its text is the constructed-unplayable Evangel of Heliod. Maybe Iroas* or Karametra will help Heliod shine after Born of the Gods release, but for now luckier Gods will continue winning instead. Standard is still going to overreact to certain events (read: BBD and Co. are awesome), but it’s slowly taking shape; therefore it’s a perfect time to adapt to the limited number of best decks instead of an unpredictable metagame.

*: For those who are not aware, it was confirmed that the next two sets of Theros Block will contain ten more Gods – one for each combination of two colors. Five of them (supposedly ones to appear in the second set, Born of the Gods) were spoiled in Theros by their followers. Iroas is red-white (Priest of Iroas), Karametra is green-white (Karametra’s Acolyte and Setessan Battle Priest’s flavor text), Kruphix is green-blue (Prophet of Kruphix), Mogis is black-red (Fanatic of Mogis and Mogis’s Marauder), and Pharica is black-green (Pharica’s Mender). B/W, R/G, U/B, U/W, and U/R Gods will probably be spoiled in Born of the Gods and appear in Journey into Nyx.

The best decks are Mono Blue Devotion, Mono Black Devotion, Esper Control, and some kind of green deck (probably Mihara’s Colossal Gruul aka G/R Monsters). Other decks are significantly less popular (aside from Mono Red on Magic Online, as the deck is very cheap), but there are some weak points to exploit. Note that there isn’t an aggressive deck among the four most popular ones. Does it mean that these four decks are all good against aggressive decks and simply ousted them from the metagame?

I don’t think so. These decks are good against each other, but the two newest ones (Esper and Mono Black Devotion) can have significant troubles against aggressive strategies. One of the key points is that Mono Black Devotion and Esper somehow share powers (good removal, card drawing, and life gain), so they can be considered together if you want to beat them.

In my opinion, Mono Black Devotion is overrated and overrepresented, because of both great success of the StarCityGames crew in Louisville and the deck’s price. The first thing I would do is put four copies of Pack Rat into your Mono Black Devotion deck. The mirror match is… let’s call it “very random” instead of “stupid,” and it’s almost entirely about Pack Rat. Simultaneously, the card is fine against many other decks (thanks to the fact than Standard contains no good sweepers playable outside of Esper Control), so it’s very reasonable to have four main-deck. That being said, I’d rather avoid this deck just because of its mirror match.

What if you’d like to beat Mono Black Devotion? It’s primary powers are having the best removal and Thoughtseize, so you’d likely have a versatile deck rather than one based on synergy between otherwise-weak cards (read: don’t play Devotion). Another hint is to have cheap threats, forcing Mono Black to spend more mana on answers than your cards cost (read: play Mono Red Aggro or White Weenie). Yes, I just said “play Mono Red or White Weenie”. The first one is naturally great against Esper Control, and the second one could be if you build it properly.

Another worthy idea is Selesnya: its creatures are cheap, powerful, and often have embedded resistance to creature removal. Golgari offers similar things, but for a larger cost. Selesnya may actually be a sort of White Weenie, but I count it separately as its power creatures all have green in their mana cost, not the creatures it share with other white decks.

Another way of beating decks with superior pinpoint removal is producing more than one threat per card. In the past this is where we would go towards planeswalkers, but Hero’s Downfall doesn’t make that the best of ideas. So what we need is something like a planeswalker, but not a planeswalker. Enter Assemble the Legion:

This deck is a different take of the oft-overlooked Mono Red Devotion deck from Pro Tour Theros. It also has some advantages over the G/R version. Assemble the Legion is much better positioned that either Domri Rade or Xenagos, the Reveler, and Chained to the Rocks can easily deal with Gods or Master of Waves. Other minor advantages over the G/R version include Wear // Tear, which can deal with both Underworld Connections and Whip of Erebos when fused, and Warleader’s Helix as a reasonable way to fight Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

The deck is fine against Esper, Mono Black Devotion, and Mono Blue Devotion, but just fine (not more), so I can’t quite recommend it yet; that said, it’s definitely worth trying if you already like this kind of deck. Both Esper and Mono Black have much more trouble with fast Mono Red, but this deck is versatile, flexible, and has a much better chance against decks like Selesnya (basically unbeatable for fast Mono Red) and Mono Blue Devotion.

The game-plan against Esper and Mono Black is to provide early pressure and then win through Assemble the Legion. The first point is crucial, so be careful about your mulligans. The most troublesome card out of Mono Black is an early Desecration Demon, as it’s hard to outrace if you don’t have Assemble the Legion exactly on turn five. Esper doesn’t have good early blockers, so you will probably provide some pressure around their Supreme Verdict and then resolve Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Assemble the Legion, Hammer of Purphoros, or some other important threat. The Mono Blue Devotion matchup is more about removal and preventing them from doing what they want. Be aware of Cyclonic Rift as an answer to Chained to the Rocks (that’s why Anger of the Gods and Ratchet Bomb are in the deck).

Mono Red Aggro isn’t the deck I like, but it looks very interesting right now. It’s great against Esper Control, good against Mono Black Devotion, and can get free wins with certain draws against G/R Devotion or Mono Blue Devotion. However, you should be as fast as you can, so you should consider playing Foundry Street Denizen. Owen Turtenwald list from SCG Worcester is a great place to start.

The list doesn’t include Fanatic of Mogis, which may be a problem – and six “target creature can’t block” effects are likely excessive if you’re concentrated on beating control decks. I also think that a white splash could be very powerful here, helping to deal with Desecration Demon and Master of Waves, which Owen wasn’t worried about at that tournament.

Now we’re ready to face everything (maybe even Unflinching Courage), especially if you mulligan aggressively to ensure early pressure. I didn’t put Boros Reckoner in the main as the card isn’t that great right now; simultaneously, I don’t have four Mutavaults due to the white splash. I really wish I could, but I believe that Chained to the Rocks and Wear // Tear are worth the sacrifice. We can always have a load of cheap threats, forcing the opponent to spend a lot of mana on removal. However, Mono Red isn’t the only option, as black and white also offer plentiful, solid cheap creatures. I presented my take on White Weenie in its white-black form last week and I’m still happy with that deck. I was a little bit skeptical about a Boros version, but Justin Herrell has proven me wrong, barely missing the Top Eight of GP Louisville.

White creatures are cheap and powerful, even if they’re not as fast as the red ones. Judge’s Familiar makes removal worse, and Brave the Elements combined with Boros Charm is enough to protect you from all kinds of removal and blockers. Given the popularity of Mono Black Devotion, I’d switch Fiendslayer Paladin with Banisher Priest in Justin’s list, but otherwise it’s just fine, even with just three Precinct Captains and four Mutavaults. Personally, I wouldn’t be so greedy; I’d exchange a pair of the animated lands for a Mountain and a Plains and add the fourth Precinct Captain instead of a third Imposing Sovereign, but this list is very reasonable as-is.

The last aggressive idea for today is Mono Black. I mentioned Mogis’s Marauder as a legitimate substitute for Brave the Elements and I encountered a deck exploiting it on Magic Online. The second bonus of Mono Black Aggro is its ability to invalidate Doom Blade and even Ultimate Price (a note for Mono Red players: always play Rakdos Cackler before Firedrinker Satyr).

Here we have eight creatures invulnerable to both Doom Blade and Ultimate Price, a good load of cheap threats, Thoughtseize to take out Supreme Verdict or whatever they have to stop you plus Xathrid Necromancer to continue beating if they do manage to deal with your creatures. The deck isn’t as fast as Mono Red or Mono White are, but it has many ways to deal with blockers and to deal the last points of damage. I also saw heavier versions featuring Desecration Demon (reasonable enough) and Gray Merchant of Asphodel (too cute for an aggressive deck in my opinion), but I’m very happy with this list too. The few tweaks I’d make are more copies of Gift of Orzhova instead of some sideboarded removal, and probably less copies of Duress.

You can also splash red for cards like Spike Jester and, more importantly, Slaughter Games… but this decision is probably too cute when you should already be very confident after choosing an aggressive deck. Good luck and may your devotion to your deck lead you to good results, especially if you’re going to start the last season of StarCityGames.com Open series in Los Angeles or Charlotte.

Valeriy Shunkov