In a little over a week, I’ll be packing into my car and driving down to a friend’s house in preparation for U.S. Nationals. I failed to qualify via any of the many ways open to me, so I’m left with one hope: grinding in. The format of choice? Post-Tenth Standard. As such, I’ve decided to share my preparations for the grinders.
The U.S. Nationals grinders are stereotypically aggro-heavy tournaments. Whether or not this is true, that belief lines up well with a playtesting plan many people I know swear by for new formats. The plan is to try to find the format’s best aggro deck, and then scrap any ideas that you come up with that get mauled by it. If the grinders are going to be aggro-heavy, then this is the perfect litmus test.
It also lines up well with the information that came out of the U.S. Regional Qualifiers. By my own count, Red/Green Aggro as a whole (counting both Heezy-style decks and slower Gargadon decks) took down nearly 50% more Nationals invitations than runners-up Project X and Dragonstorm.
Pre-Tenth Edition Lists
The first thing to do is find our starting point. There are two main categories of Red/Green decklists at the moment, though there are certainly others, such as the one I recommended before Regionals. The dividing point is the inclusion of Greater Gargadon; the decks without it plan to end the game as quickly as possible, while the decks with it play for the early- to mid-game, where they can overwhelm the opponent’s defenses.
First up, a new look at the old standby:
Maxime Hermes — French Nationals Top 8
And then the upstart challenger:
Steve Sadin — U.S. Regionals Top 8
- 4 Scorched Rusalka
- 4 Martyr of Ashes
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Keldon Marauders
- 4 Tarmogoyf
These two decks are remarkably different takes on the same idea. Both want to come across the red zone for a healthy amount of damage, and then close the game out with a heaping helping of burn to the face. The execution of this plan, though, is where the two lists differ.
Maxime’s deck is your standard Gruul package, plus or minus a few cards. He can start off with Kird Ape into Scab-Clan Mauler, and when the small men get swept away he’ll finish off with Giant Solifuge into burn spell after burn spell. Sadin’s deck will start out much slower; you won’t find any 2/3s for one or 3/3 tramplers for two in this deck. However, while Martyr of Ashes and Mogg War Marshal hold off any opposing aggro decks, the Gargadon will tick down and eventually come crashing through. Gargadon has a number of applications as a sacrifice outlet as well, such as fizzling Tendrils of Corruptions and feeding Tarmogoyf.
Mogg Fanatic — People should be relatively familiar with Mogg Fanatic. It was an auto-include in old Extended’s Red Deck Wins, and its cousin (Frostling) was played in Standard and post-Ravnica Extended for a long time. The card is not everything glorified that people make it out to be, but it’s a guy with a built-in Lava Dart, and that’s still a good thing.
Incinerate — Both of the above decks played Volcanic Hammer, which Incinerate is replacing. As a straight swap, the post-Tenth decks get a free upgrade from Sorcery to Instant, and they get an answer to regeneration (which is largely irrelevant). Luckily for Tarmogoyf, Rift Bolt will still fill your Sorcery requirement, so I see absolutely no reason not to be excited about this switch.
Manabarbs — In U.S. Regionals three years ago (the Tooth and Nail year), a large number of Aggro-Red decks played Jinxed Choker in their sideboards. The Choker was powerful against control decks as a constant source of damage, even if you were also getting hit by it. The idea was that it would deal them more damage than it would deal you, and you could race the self-inflicted damage with your Sliths and Sloggers. Manabarbs is essentially the same thing. It will deal both players damage, but the control player is the one that will be hit the hardest; after all, they have the expensive spells and slow clocks.
Quirion Dryad — The Dryad has a lot of potential due to the number of good one-mana Red spells that a R/G deck might consider playing. Fanatic, Rusalka, Seal of Fire, Rift Bolt, and so on all give cheap power boosts to this two-drop, so the question is whether or not he’s worth the risk. The best point of comparison is Vinelasher Kudzu; the Dryad is probably stronger, yet both are fragile enough that they will likely not be played.
Troll Ascetic — The last time that Troll rumbled through the Standard format, he did so backed up by Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte. In other words, the Troll was powerful because he gave you a sure-fire way to slam your creature-enhancers into your opponent’s face. These days, the best things you can find to toss on a Troll are Griffin Guide and Moldervine Cloak. Neither of these is a bad idea, but neither of them are very exciting in R/G.
Treetop Village — There may be games where you miss your one-drop on turn 1 because you have to play the Village, but beyond those games it’s an uncounterable, un-Wrath-able threat of fairly decent size. Even when you do find yourself stumbling on a turn 1 Village, you can console yourself with the fact that you’ve invested in a 3/3 Trampler for those turns after your opponent Wraths your board.
There are also two big decks leaving the field: Dragonstorm and U/x Tron. The departure of both of these decks opens up the R/G deck’s options for sideboarding. No more Dragonstorm means you don’t need Riftsweeper, though it’s still good against decks with Aeon Chronicler. No more Urzatron means that Magus of the Moon is also not necessary, though like Riftsweeper it does still have applications.
I have been interested in updating the more-traditional version of the deck. I have found that Sadin’s deck is very good, but it is not the deck that I expect to see en-masse at Nationals, and so it is not the deck I have chosen to spend time on.
The changes are forced, yet relatively cosmetic. With Kird Ape gone, we need another one-drop, and I’ve turned to Llanowar Elves. The elves let you open with a second-turn Call or even a second-turn Tarmogoyf plus Treetop Village. The Scorched Rusalkas became Mogg Fanatics, which is not necessarily an auto-switch. Rusalka is much better than Fanatic against Faith’s Fetters and Tendrils of Corruption, while Fanatic allows you more options to deal with utility creatures and gives you the option to trade up in combat. I cut one Call of the Herd for the Incinerate, simply because I think that Incinerate is better than Call of the Herd.
The mana has also been reworked, though not too dramatically. The addition of four more 1/1s begged for the inclusion of a Pendelhaven. The other basic Forests became Treetop Villages. As I said above, there are times when they hinder your opening curve, however, they make up for that by being threats themselves. The Sideboard has been slimmed down to the old-fashioned 4/4/4/3 configuration. Cryoclasm is for decks with Islands, Tin Street is for decks with artifact mana, Cloak is for aggro matchups, and Manabarbs is for big-mana decks.
The deck is very similar in terms of matchups and games as the Gruul decks of old. However, it thrives in the absence of Dragonstorm, and that fact alone gives it an edge that it did not have before. Some new arrivals to the scene, such as Life from the Loam/Seismic Assault decks, will find that they are simply not fast enough to keep up with this powerhouse. There will certainly be new decks that can do well in the grinders, but the first thing they’ll need to get through is this deck.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM