Tempered Steel: A Love Story

Tuesday, December 28th – Tempered Steel is an early favorite for best aggro deck, and has all the tools you need to win at your disposal. So let me show you my latest build, tuned for the variance of the first round of PTQs!

Following the slew of Extended lists coming out of Worlds, I’ve been testing on Magic Online as much as possible, and have found a few decks that I really like. The best aggressive deck in Extended is Tempered Steel — an artifact-based aggressive deck that packs plenty of disruption and synergy. Tempered Steel abuses artifact-based pump effects, and uses efficient creatures like Memnite, Court Homunculus, and Tidehollow Sculler to set up an aggressive curve, then closes the door with massive pump effects like Tempered Steel, Master of Etherium, and Steel Overseer. With the new Scars of Mirrodin dual lands allowing you to play three colors, Thoughtseize is an easy inclusion, allowing you to disrupt the draws of both Combo and Control while you pummel them into the ground. Rounding out the deck is Thopter Foundry and Ranger of Eos, both cards that will help you grind out the long games against decks like Jund.

While Pascal Maynard went 6-0 in the Extended portion of Worlds with
a solid-looking list for Esper

, I’ve found that a lot of draws can be clunky. With that in mind, I’ve made a few changes to help streamline your draws, as well as giving you a mini-toolbox of sorts. A lot of draws featuring multiple Mox Opals really hurt in testing, so I’ve cut back down to two. I also found myself mulliganing a ton due to a shortage of lands. While nineteen lands still doesn’t seem like a lot, it really is plenty with the two Mox Opals and the trio of Springleaf Drums. Here’s the updated list.

The mana base is sweet, made possible by the new (and very underrated) Scars of Mirrodin duals. When they were first spoiled, I knew they would be powerhouse lands for any aggressive deck, but they’ve made it into almost every two-color control deck as well. With such a variety in casting costs, having a bunch of duals that come into play untapped is awesome.

With Springleaf Drum and Mox Opal, casting your spells shouldn’t be an issue. Drum and Opal allow you to have your “busted” draws, but also fuel your Thopter Foundries later in the game. Thopter Foundry plays a subtle role in the mix, acting as a way to fight off removal, but also as a way to create an army at will from your useless artifacts. With so many pump effects, your army of 1/1s can become formidable in a flash, killing your opponent out of nowhere.

A neat trick against control decks is to cast Tidehollow Sculler, then sacrifice it to Thopter Foundry with his ability on the stack, making it so their card “returns” before it ever leaves. Then, when your first ability resolves, you’ll remove the card from their hand completely and permanently.

While Thopter Foundry is mediocre in multiples, and not nearly as powerful without Sword of the Meek, it still provides you with a valuable tool against decks trying to grind you out. I’ve often waffled between two and three for the maindeck, but you never want to draw two of them, so two is probably the correct number.

Now, let’s discuss some of the major changes. For one, I’m a big fan of Trinket Mage in this deck. Not only can he fetch a mana producer or a Pithing Needle, but he can grab a variety of creatures to boot. Need to block a Demigod of Revenge? Grab an Ornithopter. By playing a few Trinket Mages over two Rangers of Eos, I’ve added the ability to shut down Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which is one of the Control deck’s easiest way to gain a huge advantage. Often you’ll have them on the back ropes, and then a resolved Jace will just put the game out of reach. Pithing Needle doesn’t have a large variety of applications in Extended — but there are certain man-lands, and stopping Jace is very important.

The number of Ornithopters was cut significantly, because it’s just so mediocre even with a pump-spell active. The control players will usually blow up your Tempered Steel with Esper Charm, making him even more useless. However, there are situations where he’s good, so having one to fetch up with Trinket Mage and Ranger of Eos is fine.

The original list only had seventeen lands, but that just wasn’t enough. While I did add a few lands, those lands were Creeping Tar Pits, which make it okay when you do get flooded, because they trade for damage or value. While he doesn’t get any of the pump bonuses, he’s fine by himself.

The rest of the maindeck remains intact. Your explosive draws are hard to match, much like Affinity decks of old, but without the feeling of getting combo-killed via Disciple of the Vault or Arcbound Ravager. With Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler to keep your opponent on the back foot, your nut draws are nigh-unbeatable. Ranger of Eos and Trinket Mage are almost like army-in-a-can cards when you have a Tempered Steel or other pump effect active. While Tempered Steel’s primary function is killing your opponent, it also prevents you from getting swept out by Volcanic Fallout — which is what we call a “sweet bonus.”

The sideboard is set up primarily to help battle the 4-Color Control decks
made popular by
Luis Scott-Vargas at Worlds
, but you have a few tutor targets to get with Trinket Mage and Ranger of Eos in certain matchups, as well as a few disruption-bears and removal spells.

Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender is pretty standard, but people often forget to board him in against the control decks that rely on Volcanic Fallout. He’s pretty weak when it comes to attacking, but he protects your important creatures from Volcanic Fallout and Lightning Bolt, plus he can be fetched up via Ranger of Eos in the long game. He also just shuts down any version of red, which is pretty sweet.

Dispeller’s Capsule is an experiment for the mirror match, but doubles as an (admittedly slow) answer to Prismatic Omen. In the mirror, the most important cards are Master of Etherium and Tempered Steel. Dispeller’s Capsule can kill either, and can be fetched with Trinket Mage.

Nihil Spellbomb is just an answer to a hypothetical problem. If there is a Vengevine deck at some point, it will be fairly useful to dig up with Trinket Mage. There are always decks trying to abuse the graveyard, so I like having a singleton bullet just to be safe.

Executioner’s Capsule is a sweet answer to cards like Baneslayer Angel, which just shuts you down completely, and is also fetchable with Trinket Mage. While it doesn’t deal with Wurmcoil Engine permanently, it will shrink it down to a reasonable size if you want it to — though I don’t recommend siding it in against the control decks.

The Leonin Arbiters are primarily for Scapeshift decks, but you can bring them in against anyone packing a ton of fetchlands or search effects. The combination of Leonin Arbiter with Thoughtseize, Negate, and Tidehollow Sculler just shuts down combo decks in their tracks. They’ll spend all their time trying to stop your disruption instead of trying to combo out, giving you plenty of time to kill them.

Celestial Purge goes along with Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender to help out against Demigod of Revenge and company, buying you time against their more absurd draws, but also randomly answers cards like Doran, the Siege Tower or Bitterblossom if you have nothing else to side in. Celestial Purge is a very versatile card.

The last two Rangers of Eos come in against any deck trying to grind you out, but are mostly there for the Jund matchup and the mirror. Jund’s plan of attack will be to kill anything you play, so Ranger of Eos being a 3-for-1 is pretty sweet.

The Negates are mainly for Four-Color Control, but are great against all varieties of Scapeshift too. Negate has always been my favorite answer to Cryptic Command decks, shutting down all of their answers while you beat their face in with different versions of Wild Nacatl. When their entire game plan involves building up to Cruel Ultimatum, a timely Negate will foil all of their plans. Don’t expect them to be bringing in Thoughtseize or Vendilion Clique against you, since both of those cards are fairly mediocre against aggressive decks (at least out of the four-Color Control player’s board), so you should be safe. Negate can also stop non-Volcanic Fallout sweepers, as well as Jace, which is a nice bonus. While it doesn’t stop Wurmcoil Engine, you can’t have it all.

While some of the sideboard options seem suspect, they all have a reason for being there. If you don’t feel like being adventurous, feel free to switch some of the cards out for something that fits your style better. I love toolboxes, so Trinket Mage fits my style. If the format continues to stay away from graveyard based decks, you can just cut the Nihil Spellbomb for something a bit more useful. The same goes for Executioner’s Capsule, though I am wary to cut either in such an open format.

Meddling Mage is a card that should probably be seeing more play, but likely won’t due to the fact that every combo and control deck plays Lightning Bolt. While you could just name Lightning Bolt, that won’t stop you from losing to Volcanic Fallout or their combo. If you can hit them with an early Thoughtseize or Tidehollow Sculler, Meddling Mage becomes a lot better since you will get a peek at their hand. However, you need to learn how to snipe people, or just figure out what card is best against you in certain situations.

While the deck is explosive, you have a lot of late-game power with Thopter Foundry, Ranger of Eos, and pump effects. Your Steel Overseers will take over any board stall if given enough time, but his inability to protect you from Volcanic Fallout is his ultimate demise. I’ve often contemplated switching him out for Vedalken Outlander, which could become the next evolution of the deck, seeing as every other deck has red-based removal. Awkwardly, Steel Overseer is much better in the mirror, which gives him the nod right now.

With the relatively low cost of this deck, expect it to increase in popularity on Magic Online in the first few weeks of Extended PTQs. The deck itself costs less than $200 — which is pretty fair considering a play set of Jace, the Mind Sculptor costs around $400.

I think it is much too early to be delving into different matchups and sideboard plans, simply due to the vast amount of unexplored territory. A deck could spring up at the early PTQs and change the format completely, nullifying every potential plan, or making you less prepared than I would like. Expect Magic Online results to start streaming in as early as January 1st, since that is the date of the first Magic Online PTQ. I’ll keep my eye on the results, and I’ll be brewing in the meantime.

Pick up this deck. It’s my early favorite for best aggro deck, and has all the tools you need to win at your disposal. If you come up with any sick tech, let me know. I’m right on the cusp with you. This format is fresh and really has my creative juices flowing. Thanks for reading.