The Long And Winding Road – Attacking In Every Format

Thursday, February 24 – How would you like to attack in every format? Matt Elias covers all the best aggressive strategies you can be running – in your PTQs and at the StarCityGames.com Open in DC this weekend!

When it comes to Magic, I like to attack, and I know there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way. The ratio of articles on decks that
attack to people who like to attack is not so good lately, so come on and get your fix of the red zone.

Attacking in Standard

With StarCityGames.com Opens coming to both WashingtonDC and Edison, NJ, I’ve got a great reason to play Standard again. And, again, I’m
looking to attack. Reviewing the top decks from Pro Tour Paris, along with the data from the last few SCG Standard Opens, it looks like there are
actually some decent options available.


Theoretically, Boros decks have a strong match-up against CawGo, so with two present in the Top 4 of Pro Tour Paris, this deck is probably the most
logical choice for people looking to attack. There’s no reason to believe that Caw-Go isn’t going to be the go-to deck for most folks for
the next few weeks.

The basic foundation of the Boros deck hasn’t changed in some time, but Mirrodin Besieged really has a lot to offer this deck. Take another look
at Paul Rietzl deck:

He’s got two Heroes of Oxid Ridge and two Mirran Crusaders, plus the Sword of Feast and Famine. The sideboard has another Mirran Crusader and
protection from the other aggro decks by way of Cunning Sparkmage and Basilisk Collar, plus a full set of Arc Trails. When you’re talking about
aggro decks in this Standard format, you’ve got Kuldotha Red which can goldfish on turn 3, plus Quest decks that can fire off Argentum Armor on
turn 2. By comparison, this is almost the thinking man’s beatdown deck. It attacks from multiple angles, gets a lot of value out of its
aggressive cards, has trumps for the non-Boros aggro decks, and does an admirable job not running out of gas.

Compare Paul’s build to that of Vincent Lemoine’s, and you find some interesting differences. Actually, did you know that you can use the
StarCityGames.com Deck Database to do this comparison for you? It’s so awesome that it makes me want to tattoo a logo on my face!

Elias Tattoo
Image courtesy of Ryan O'Connor

a look, here.

Vincent is not playing Sword of Feast and Famine main, which seems wrong, but he does have Bonehoard, a card I think is fantastic. He’s also
maxed out on Mirran Crusader in the main and is not playing Hero of Oxid Ridge. In the sideboard, he ignores the Sparkmage / Collar combo to play
Luminarch Ascension for the control matchup. He also has the full-on four Journeys to Nowhere between the main and sideboard.

As an aside, let me talk about Bonehoard for a second. I’m going to do something of a Flores impersonation here.

Back in 1997, I won some tournaments playing Senor Stompy, which looked like this:

Please ignore the hideously ugly twos and threes; they’re not the issue here. Senor Stompy was an aggro deck that naturally overextended into
Wrath of God, and being mono-green, had absolutely zero reach. However, it had some built-in resistance to sweepers and was able to punish control
decks and recover post-Wrath. This is what really tied the whole deck together.

The primary way it did this was by playing Winter Orb. If the opponent played any spells to slow down your rush of creatures, you could drop Winter Orb
to keep them from hitting four mana until they were dead. Alternately, you could only partially extend out, draw out their Wrath, and then drop Winter
Orb to try to win with your second group of creatures. The deck also played Lhurgoyf, so a control opponent who played a Wrath might immediately be
staring down a massive Goyf.

In the sideboard, there was another potent weapon against Wrath of God: Nature’s Resurgence. This way, if you got hit by a Wrath, you just gassed
back up immediately and played out a second wave of attackers. Jolrael’s Centaur was great at both drawing out Wrath and taking out control
opponents post-Wrath.

Bonehoard is basically letting your deck do the same thing. Not only is it a creature unto itself, and probably a big one against some opponents, but
it makes every other creature you have into a super-Lhurgoyf. I understand why this card isn’t seeing much play, on account of how the format is
structured at the moment, but I still believe this card is very good and will see more play as time goes on. Decks like Boros and Quest decks should
absolutely be considering Bonehoard.

Kuldotha Red

If you don’t want a thinking man’s aggro deck, there’s always the full-on aggro explosion of Kuldotha Red. While this deck is
considered aggro, it’s really almost a combo deck in the way it operates, at least in my mind. Think about it: an Empty the Warrens deck is a
combo deck, even though it’s killing on turn 3 with creatures. Kuldotha Red is more or less the same idea. It’s an aggro-combo deck.

Anyway, Petr Brozek’s build went 8-2 and seems to have gotten the most “press,” so to speak:

Timothee Simonot also played Kuldotha Red to an 8-2 finish. His deck had the following differences from Petr’s:


-1 Chimeric Mass

-2 Devastating Summons

-2 Lightning Bolt

+1 Mountain

+4 Ornithopter


-1 Arc Trail

-4 Flame Slash

-2 Lightning Bolt

-1 Koth of the Hammer

+2 Forked Bolt

+3 Mark of Mutiny

+1 Phyrexian Revoker

+1 Teetering Peaks

+1 Tuktuk the Explorer

The extra Mountain and Ornithopters look to me like nods to consistency, but I’m surprised to see that the other Summons aren’t anywhere in
Simonot’s build. I would’ve thought the general school of thought was four or none.

Mono-White Quest

Another aggro deck comes from Frank Karsten, who went 8-2 in Standard at Paris, playing this mono-white Quest deck:

You can watch the Deck Tech on the
Wizards site to get the rundown on this deck from Frank and Rich Hagon, but briefly, here’s the idea. If G/W Quest has a backup “Vengevine
and Fauna Shaman” plan, this build has a backup “smash your face” plan. With eight battle cry creatures plus four Contested War
Zones, this deck is able to assemble an air force that beats down with impressive speed. Steppe Lynx with multiple battle cry triggers will kill
someone dead in a hurry also, and you still retain the “nut draw” capability of being a Quest deck. Signal Pest actually improves your
Glint Hawks by giving you another artifact to bounce.

If you’re curious, Frank’s explanation of three Squadron Hawks is that it helps make sure you’re not hitting opening hands with two
of them.

I really like the idea behind this deck, as it’s powerful and straightforward, but I do have some concerns. It’s unfortunate that you’re somewhat
obligated to play a thirteen-card sideboard, but you definitely want some number of Plains to bring in against decks that can steal your War Zones.
I’m also not sure what’s going on in the sideboard overall; this seems like a great deck to play Stoneforge Mystic with equipment in the
sideboard, if not in the maindeck. After all, this deck has no way to tutor for the one Masticore or one Journey.

Another thing to consider is a way to destroy opposing equipment, as s-words (Saber!) are all the rage at the moment. Leonin Relic-Warder is an option,
since we really want creatures with abilities to fuel Quest more than we want actual spells. I’d consider a package like this:

1 Plains

3 Kor Firewalker

3 Refraction Trap

1 Bonehoard

2 Sword of Feast and Famine

2 Stoneforge Mystic

3 Leonin Relic-Warder

I think that with 24 lands available between the main and side, I’d consider cheating down to one Plains in the sideboard, with the plan of
siding out two War Zones for one Plains. I guess that since RUG is still a deck, one Sword of Mind and Body might make sense, but I think I’d be
more concerned with black removal spells at this point, especially as we’re a Quest deck, and I don’t have the pro-black creatures I had in G/W

Again, I have no clue if this is taking a perfectly reasonable sideboard and just making it terrible. Frank is a Hall of Famer, and I play local
Vintage tournaments, so… there’s that.

The other thing I’d love to try is Hero of Bladehold. Again, refer to the Senor Stompy example up above. In this deck, Hero is basically
Lhurgoyf. After you get hit by a sweeper, you drop the Hero, and they better have an immediate answer. With one Contested War Zone, Hero is going to
untap and bash in for ten damage.

Attacking in Extended

High on my list of things to accomplish during 2011 was to play in more PTQs. On February 19, there was an Extended PTQ in Philadelphia, so I figured
I’d start there, as I knew it would be awesome for a number of reasons. I can’t attend the Pro Tour this qualifier was feeding, so I was
basically playing for fun, with a side mission to see if I could help out some friends.

The real mission was to try and cram in four or five meals at the Reading Terminal Market into a ten-hour span, but don’t tell anyone that.

Given that I haven’t played Extended yet this year and have only loosely followed the format as it has developed, I asked people to suggest
decks. I got a lot of responses, and in doing so, I realized this format was much better than I’d expected. Originally, back when the results
from Worlds were posted and immediately after, it looked to me like most people were literally focusing on Standard decks, like Faeries, 5-Color
Control, Mythic, and Jund, and the idea of replaying those decks again didn’t interest me at all.

Looking at the format again, today, it looks considerably better, even though most (if not all) of those decks are still seeing play, especially
Faeries. Sure, Faeries is still obnoxious and sometimes looks like it’s absolutely tearing up the format, but there are obvious chinks in the armor.
The Valakut decks have fractured into the two distinct decks, a Scapeshift version of Standard Valakut and a more control-oriented Wargate build with a
number of interlocking pieces that end in a Valakut win. Regarding the former, I think it really speaks to the power of Valakut. Regarding the latter,
Gerry Thompson’s build looks like all the sickest cards in Extended jammed into one 75. What’s not to like about that?

Still, if you know me at all, you know that I’m probably not going to battle with one of those frontrunners. Jund hasn’t been doing
particularly well, nor has Mythic. As far as the control decks, I feel too disconnected to want to try them, and I’ve gotten wildly varying
reports on how good those decks are. As far as Faeries or Valakut, I’m nowhere near practiced enough with Faeries to think I can pilot it through
a field of mirrors and decks gunning for it and have any degree of success or enjoyment; R/G Valakut is the kind of flop-your-cards-down deck that I
don’t really like. There’s no attacking, no storm… nothing. It’s anticlimactic. I need some sizzle with my steak! And, the GT
build is for people that, I don’t know, “play a lot of competitive Magic” or something along those lines.

Thankfully, I have plenty of friends who were willing to help and know my Magical predispositions. That is to say, they provided decks that included
some of the following traits:

Are generally not acknowledged as the format’s ‘best deck’ and

Contain Elves or

Have lots of BURN!!!! or

Are a degenerate combo deck or

Cheat giant monsters into play or

Don’t give opponents the chance to “play Magic” or

Abuse the graveyard

Now, none of those rules are hard and fast, but a deck with any of those things is going to catch my eye, far more than something like Faeries or U/W
Control. For instance, a deck like G/W Quest is essentially registering with my need to cheat things into play, and G/W Quest also abuses the graveyard
via Vengevines, so it’s easy to see why it appealed to me at the StarCityGames.com Invitational.

With that as a backdrop, here are some of the decks that caught my eye.

Elves decks also seem to be growing in popularity online, and one made the Top 8 of the PTQ in Paris as well. They were certainly everywhere in the
MOCS on 2/12. These were very interesting to me. I fell in love with the Beastmaster Ascension deck from Zendikar block and have fond memories of
attacking for 100 damage on turn 5 with Bill Stark’s Elves! deck from 2008. In many ways, these Elves decks are operating in the same design
space – as, I suppose, most Elves decks do. Here’s an example:

Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about decks like these, you want to be riding the crest of the wave. When they’re good,
they’re really good, and then everyone adapts, and sometimes you’re dead on arrival if you’re a week too late. Not saying
that’s the case with Elves in real-life Magic, but it could be trending that way; these decks are going to slide wildly up and down the power
curve at any given event, based simply on how prepared the field is, and there’s really not much you can do about it.

Also, I didn’t have all the Elves I needed in foil, and that’s just no good. Not that I’d ever, you know, let that affect my deck

Another deck that seemed like something I’d like was G/W Trap. This deck also plays lots of cards I enjoy, including hideaway lands, and best of
all, it cheats Emrakul into play… in more than one way! Wow, what a variance rollercoaster this thing is. Still, the deck’s had some decent
results, and people assured me it was actually pretty good, with a decent backup plan of just bashing faces, and I love me some face-bashing decks.
While I ultimately didn’t play this deck, it would be on my short-list to consider after watching it operate in a few rounds on Saturday.
Here’s an example list:

And of course, Mythic is always an option. Mythic is a deck I’ve always liked but only played in one tournament. It was a Grand Prix Trial, and
the deck didn’t perform for me, and I’ve held a grudge against it ever since. You’re probably starting to get a feel for how logical my
deck choosing decisions are at this point. I did test it again, against Faeries, and the builds with lots of removal were really annoying to play
against even before Go for the Throat.

So as you can see, there are several decks in this format that are in my wheelhouse, which surprised me. I definitely underestimated this format in
terms of what it was going to look like, and specifically, in terms of its width, how many viable decks the metagame would encompass. It still has the
same problem Extended always has had, in that no one is going to play it when the season is over, so I’m not really sure what was accomplished by
jettisoning all those blocks out of it early, but hey, it’s not my product!

Does it look like I was debating between all these different decks? I wasn’t, really.

It was all a façade, just a ruse to trick myself and my friends, while I was waiting to find the list I really liked. I wanted them to think,
“Well, this Matt fellow has a weird list of criteria, but at least it’s a list that encompasses a chunk of legitimate decks!”



I knew what I wanted to play all along. I just had to find the right version. AJ Sacher’s seemed strong, but it had too many Tattermunge Maniacs
for me. I saw a cool version that splashed for Bloodbraid Elf that went 4-0 in a DE, but I wasn’t sure that’s how I wanted to go because I
hadn’t seen something similar in a larger event. I had to keep pretending I didn’t know what I wanted to play, until the MOCS results went
up online, and there it was! The red deck I’d been waiting all year to play.

Oh, what a thing of beauty Sandydogmtg played to a second-place finish. It’s everything that I want when I’m not playing Eternal formats.
It’s almost completely four-ofs. In fact, this thing looks like it was built using deckbuilding 101 from George Baxter in 1995. I’m
serious. Everything is segmented off into packets of four and breaks cleanly. You’ve got your twenty lands, and then your twenty guys, and your
sixteen burn spells, plus your four extra lands that are basically burn spells. And, it’s reasonably good at maximizing mana use each turn, as you have
unearth creatures, Figure of Destiny, a reasonable cost curve, and scalable burn.

To put this another way, I have enjoyed playing this deck and variations of it for fifteen years. Fifteen years! How many of you reading this
were a glimmer in your parents’ eyes when I was playing red decks, raise your hands?

Sweet mother of God, put your hands down. That’s really depressing.

Anyway, this is the deck. When you picture it in your mind’s eye, you have to imagine that it’s all foil and that I’m shooting lightning
bolts from my eyes, exploding opponents all over the place, and basically burninating the entire countryside Trogdor-style, because that’s how it
goes down.

No? Okay, well, at least picture the foil part. It’s a sweet-looking deck.

There are some valid reasons as to why you might want to play this deck, outside of the fact that you really enjoy it. It sits in a legitimate sweet
spot in the metagame, with a really strong matchup against Faeries, a reasonable matchup against Valakut post-board, and a good matchup against Elves.

Also, if you have early-onset arthritis in your hands from writing Vintage decklists, just imagine what a relief it is writing out this deck on a
registration sheet. I checked it like thirty times, as I was convinced it was too short to possibly be a full deck.

The PTQ itself was sort of a mixed bag. As far as having an enjoyable day, I most certainly did. The deck is really fun to play. I opened against
GT’s Wargate deck, winning a close match in three games and then played Wargate again in round two, winning another close, three-game match.

I then lost a match to 5-Color Control, where I kept this hand game three:

Teetering Peaks

Goblin Guide

Goblin Guide

Boggart Ram-Gang

Lightning Bolt

Goblin Bushwhacker

I drew my second land on turn 4, and the game was just already over at that point. The match almost didn’t get that far; in game two, I had my
opponent on one life. He tapped out to play Wurmcoil Engine, so if I topdecked any burn spell, the game was over. I didn’t.

I then won in three against Jund before losing to a G/W deck with plenty of anti-red cards available main and sideboard, including Obstinate Baloth,
Kitchen Finks, Baneslayer Angel, and Basilisk Collar. I still had a great shot to take game three, opening on this hand:

Scalding Tarn

Teetering Peaks

Goblin Guide

Figure of Destiny

Goblin Bushwhacker

Boggart Ram-Gang

Flame Javelin

Unfortunately, my third land did not show up until turn 5, and by then, it was too late, so that was the end for zombie Shakespeare.

Would I play this deck again? Hell yes! I’m not sure if I’d rock the same sideboard, though. The Bushwhacker / Summons combo is cute, and
clearly it is pretty powerful, but it also felt superfluous most of the time outside of the round two final game against Wargate, where I cast it three
times. And, Tunnel Ignus was awesome, and I wanted a fourth. I would probably consider something more like this:

4 Volcanic Fallout

4 Tunnel Ignus

3 Goblin Ruinblaster

3 Manabarbs

1 Koth of the Hammer

I’d also consider taking out one spell from the main for a Koth of the Hammer. While I lost some matches due to being tight on lands, on the day
and during testing, I’d say I had a tendency to flood out more than coming up short. Koth does some nice things in this deck, ramping up Figure
of Destiny ahead of schedule and helping to resolve any flood issues. Playing Manabarbs and Ruinblaster gives you game against control decks, and while
the Wargate / Valakut decks are very good, they didn’t seem popular enough to warrant that type of sideboard dedication.

Then again, I know very little about Extended, so you should also feel free to come to me for advice on real estate investing, ideal soil composition
for agriculture in the Southern United States, or any other number of topics on which I know basically nothing.

Attacking in Legacy

Yes, attacking in Legacy is, in fact, still awesome.

It should surprise no one that Zoo is on my short list of decks to play in Legacy. Most of the people I’ve spoken to are still on the “Big
Zoo” train. Some builds have Elspeth, or Bloodbraid Elf, at the top of the curve. Some ramp up with Noble Hierarch; some play Wasteland.
There’s nothing really wrong with these decks; I just don’t like them, just like I don’t like grape jelly or pumpkin pie. There
isn’t anything wrong with those things. They’re just gross, offensive, and disgusting; that’s all.

Also, if you care about small sample-size win percentages, the speed or small Zoo decks (or Cat Sligh) have had far better numbers since January 2011
than the other Zoo decks (and better than the majority of the format, to boot).

If I were to play Zoo, I’d probably play my exact 60 main from June 2010. The format is eerily similar, frankly, with the exception of some Show and
Tell and Natural Order decks, which are not good matchups. I would operate with the assumption that our main opponents are going to be 4-Color
Counterbalance/Top, Goblins, and Merfolk, and go from there. Storm is not particularly popular at the moment. That suggests that Zoo is a viable deck,
especially one that is designed for speed so you have a chance against big-spell-type decks that are roaming around in the format.

Here’s what I’d play:

I understand Zoo isn’t everyone’s thing, though. In fact, I may play it in NJ and try Affinity in DC. This is my current list:

This deck, in a fair fight, will smash the other creature decks in the format. It’s faster, and there just aren’t any answers for Etched Champion
in those decks. I’m not saying the win percentage is 100%, but I’m saying that this deck is favored against other aggro and Tribal decks. Junk is
really draw-dependent. Mindbreak Trap and Duress give you some resistance to combo, so then it’s just a question of how best to combat control decks.

While I don’t want Tezzeret against much of the format, against Control decks, you can reasonably expect the game to last long enough for you to
hit four mana, and Atog and Jitte are basically dead cards. Tezz can let you win through things like Peacekeeper as well. It’s theoretically a strong
addition to the deck.

Another option against control is to just bring in Bonehoard. Have I mentioned how much I love Bonehoard? It’s a nice play post-Firespout. This
deck is loaded up with creatures; it’s an artifact, etc.

It may be worth considering Ancient Den over Great Furnace here. I’m hardly playing any red cards, and Stoneforge Mystic can supply you with
Jitte and Cranial Plating. White also offers some potent sideboard options. However, Atog gives you some game against combo decks; Merfolk has no
removal for it; and it helps make sure you have a sacrifice outlet for extra Mox Opals.

You may also note that this deck’s plan against hate is to pretend there is no hate, and that everyone loves machines, and no one has seen Terminator, The Matrix, or any other film where sentient machines rise up to kill their human masters. Frankly, if hate is showing up to such
an extent that you’re worried about it, play a different deck.

Attacking in Vintage


Oops, we’re out of time!

Matt Elias

[email protected]

Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source