The Return Of Red Aggro With Amonkhet

Some people just want to watch the Standard metagame burn. Gerry Thompson takes a close look at the red cards of Amonkhet, divides them into “packages” that might slot into decks, and provides a pair of decklists for your consideration!

With the release of Amonkhet, red aggro is going to be a thing again.

Cards like these make it easy.

Flameblade Adept is an unassuming one-drop, very similar to Monastery Swiftspear. It doesn’t look like much, but it will probably pack a big punch. Now, Monastery Swiftspear is a multi-format all-star, and Flameblade Adept isn’t quite that, but I think there are going to be plenty of people sleeping on it. We’ve needed a second (great) red one-drop for quite some time, as Falkenrath Gorger wasn’t exactly getting the job done.

Hazoret the Fervent is a little more intriguing. It’s mythic, has a bunch of great abilities, and can even close out the game on its own. The real question: how often is that thing going to be attacking on turn 4? If it’s not, then we would probably rather play Chandra, Torch of Defiance or even something like Fleetwheel Cruiser. As is the case with many of these synergy-based cards, we won’t know for sure until we can see the entire picture.

One card that is clearly good is Ahn-Crop Crasher. The comparison to Goblin Heelcutter is valid, as both cards are mostly filling the same role. With Goblin Heelcutter, you were often trapped into spending three mana each turn to continue dashing, whereas Ahn-Crop Crasher you can only use every other turn. I would prefer Goblin Heelcutter if all I wanted was to get through blockers, but Ahn-Crop Crasher, as a three-mana 3/2 haste, is definitely fine on rate alone.

Consuming Fervor is narrow, but it’s for the Boss Sligh decks of the world. Tom Ross might get offended by me saying that, since Boss Sligh was more nuanced than just putting pants on your creatures, but I hope he’ll forgive me.

Even if a hyper-aggressive red deck doesn’t show up, this could be a fine sideboard card against decks without Fatal Push. Either you want to push your creature out of range of a red sweeper (for at least a couple ofturns) or you want to put on extra pressure against combo decks. Cartouche of Zeal is also interesting, but in a different way.

Obviously Glorybringer is a little too slow for a traditional red aggro deck, but red has no shortage of good midrange options. Plus, having the ability to sideboard into a bigger deck in post-sideboard games is a tool that’s being used far more frequently these days. For that, Glorybringer is excellent.

So where do we start? The biggest issue I’ve had so far is how to build it! We have so many playable cards, plus the metagame will likely shift away from Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli, so where does that leave us? For the first week, it’s almost always better to not metagame too much and instead focus on building the best possible version of your deck in a vacuum.

Still, that’s proving difficult.

Flameblade Adept and Hazoret the Fervent both want you to be discarding cards, so mixing that with a madness shell is one way to go. Between wanting another one-drop and more discard enablers, having an artifact subtheme seems wise. There is no more Smuggler’s Copter, so we end up being a little light on discard outlets, but Key to the City is still excellent. I’m just skeptical that we can go as far as having Fiery Temper reliably, and that’s one of the biggest payoff cards.

In order for me to clearly see what I’m working with, I’m once again employing the cluster method of deckbuilding.

The Aggressive Package

This is classic red aggression, and these cards are great at what they do. You should be aiming to keep your opponent in check in the early turns, establish a strong battlefield position, and find a way to close the game quickly. Having burn spells double as removal as well as a way to close the game is ideal.

Some would put Combat Celebrant in this section, but it seems overrated to me. A 2R 4/1 isn’t bad, but it’s incredibly weak to Walking Ballista. I’m also skeptical of how much use you’ll be able to get out of an extra combat step when we’re not necessarily trying to go wide. It is pretty nice with Key to the City, though.

The Artifact Package

This is kind of a proven package. When Kaladesh came out, R/B Aggro was a solid deck. With Aether Revolt, it got a little better, but so did everything else, which again relegated R/B to Tier 2. As it turned out, Mardu got to splash the great black cards while still playing the good red ones, and having the white cards were more powerful than not.

With Amonkhet, maybe that will change. In order to make that happen, the new red cards need to be good. They look good, but they’re not just good on rate, so we’re going to have to make them work by pushing the discard and “almost hellbent” theme. Thankfully, we should have enough cards to do that. If not, there are still plenty of cards we haven’t seen from Amonkhet, so hopefully we’ll get something else.

Secondary Options

Herald of Anguish could make for an excellent sideboard option out of artifact-heavy R/B decks that want to morph into a control deck. Battle at the Bridge would be nice as well.

If you want to play Heart of Kiran (which is difficult without Toolcraft Exemplar, Veteran Motorist, and/or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar), then you could play something like Dhund Operative. Aether Chaser is a solid body that also pumps Inventor’s Apprentice starting on turn 3.

Bomat Courier used to be a staple in the archetype, but that’s because we didn’t have any other one-drops. While it’s a little on the weak side, it does have synergy with Flameblade Adept and Hazoret the Fervent, so it’s probably making the cut. Bomat Courier also turns on Spire of Industry and Inventor’s Apprentice early, which will probably be a necessity.

The Madness Package

Fiery Temper is incredible and Bloodhall Priest has had its moments. One of the forgotten mythics that might suddenly be great is Olivia, Mobilized for War. Not only does she keep your hand size low, but she works well with your gameplan, is difficult to Fatal Push, and helps keep on the pressure.

Secondary Options

These are the cards that have continually fallen short. I’m expecting that now is the time for them to truly shine.

We have some cards that reward us for discard cards (or having few cards in hand) and some cards that help us discard cards. Some of those areas are clearly lacking, but we have enough playable cards that we should be able to make it work.

The Odds and Ends

Forerunner of Slaughter is another card to use with Heart of Kiran. Yahenni, Undying Partisan is a solid card that probably doesn’t see enough play.

Which removal spells you end up using depend on the metagame, but Fatal Push and Cut // Ribbons are both great if you’re taking a more board controlling stance rather than trying to burn your opponent out. Then again, Cut // Ribbons helps you burn them out too.

Collective Defiance could be the real sleeper. It kills things, hits players (and therefore planeswalkers), and can even cycle your entire hand, giving Flameblade Adept a huge boost for the turn.

The “Go Bigger” Package

With some maindeck removal, sticky threats, and a reasonably high land count, transitioning into a more controlling deck should be relatively easy if you want to. There is no shortage of options here, and going bigger will likely continue to be a good plan going forward.

How you transform (and by how much) is up to you. It also depends on how you build your maindeck. For example, the one-drops aren’t particularly powerful when you transform, so you probably want to cut most of them. Usually there will be some other cards you want to cut too, which means you won’t be able to get rid of everything you want to. Either you end up with a plan where you’re fine with that, or you end up with a mish-mash of aggressive elements and controlling elements, which isn’t particularly useful.

If you can squeeze some of these cards into your maindeck, that should make things easier. Walking Ballista is one of the best bridges you have for sideboard plans like this.

The Manabase

There’s not much to tinker with here. Foreboding Ruins is the best land of the bunch. While Canyon Slough has synergy with Flameblade Adept, it’s also not exactly what we want to be doing. Cycling for two mana is expensive, and having your lands enter the battlefield tapped isn’t ideal. Smoldering Marsh has also been scoffed at for the same reason.

The Green Package

Arlinn Kord is likely worse than Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Manglehorn is incredible, as it provides maindeckable hate for both Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli. The real gem is Noose Constrictor, though. With it and Flameblade Adept, you could be attacking for a hefty amount of damage on turn 3. Key to the City makes it even scarier, especially since you know Hazoret the Fervent could come down on turn 4.

The black cards look better overall, but I really wish I could get Noose Constrictor in the R/B deck somehow.

The Decklists

Twelve artifacts is a little on the low end, but the only things I’d be willing to shave on are Olivia, Collective Defiance, and Heir of Falkenrath. We could certainly max out on Bomat Courier and play a lower curve, but I think this deck wants a relatively high land count because it has so many ways to use excess mana. Ribbons and Hazoret seem like the best way to steal games, and we need lands to use both effectively.

While Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli can win quickly, most of the games are about how you interact with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo, which inevitably slows the games down. This R/B deck has enough interaction to make that happen; therefore, it needs to exist in a space where you play a longer game with them.

You could try building a version closer to midrange, which would make a transformational sideboard plan more cohesive, and that might be where the format dictates you end up. For now, I want to try to utilize the new aggressive cards and see where that gets me.

Walking Ballista is another fine addition that doesn’t have much of an opportunity cost. It even works quite well with Olivia! Heir of Falkenrath is a little better at getting your opponent dead, plus it helps make Fiery Temper playable, but that might not last forever.

Perhaps jumping through hoops isn’t the right way to go about it. After all, if we’re trying to utilize the aggressive cards to their fullest, we should just commit.

Is this deck great or terrible? A scant nine artifacts doesn’t strike me as great. We could easily swap Kari Zev, Skyship Raider for Scrapheap Scrounger and play Spire of Industry and Foreboding Ruins. At that point, I want Unlicensed Disintegration somewhere, and then we’re back to where we started.

Ravenous Bloodseeker seems a tad mopey, but it could potentially get out of control with Consuming Fervor. Since it enables Fiery Temper and Hazoret the Fervent, it might be one of the best cards we can play.

It would surprise me if something in this space didn’t exist.

Can These Decks Compete With Mardu and Saheeli?

Overall, that’s going to be the big question, isn’t it?

One thing missing from last season’s Standard was the presence of a great aggressive deck. Mardu ended up being the control deck of the format, so I don’t think that counts. We need something to punish the midrange decks for ignoring everything else and tuning themselves against the mirror matches.

Having an aggressive curve, good removal, and some ways to close the game once they start to stabilize is a plan that should work against both Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli. With Amonkhet, something like that will likely exist. If it does, it will be on the back of Flameblade Adept and Hazoret the Fervent.