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Mauling The Competition With Mono-White Aggro In Zendikar Rising Standard

Ready to get aggressive in Zendikar Rising Standard? Todd Anderson offers his latest Mono-White Aggro list and sideboarding guide.

Seasoned Hallowblade, illustrated by Manuel Castañón

With the Zendikar Rising Championship this weekend, all eyes are on Standard and Historic. I covered my Historic choice last week, an Izzet build of Goblins splashing primarily for Negate to help out against control and combo, but my Standard choice is a little more complicated. If I were playing in the event, I would have to go with Mono-Green Food, but I covered that one two weeks ago and it’s become a known quantity and a major player in the format.

As the years have gone by, I look back on some of my favorite decks I’ve played in Standard and many of them have been aggressive decks. With Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath out of the equation, it’s possible for an aggro deck to flourish again. I haven’t had much success with Mono-Red, but I recently found this gem from Magic Online Grinder Phil_Hellmuth and I absolutely love it! Cedric Phillips, eat your heart out.


A new player in Standard, Mono-White Aggro has some serious chops. Like most white-based aggro decks, they have a combination of hard-to-kill threats and protective elements. While there are no traditionally disruptive creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or similar, having multiple ways to protect something like Skyclave Apparition has a lot of value.

I don’t want to do a card-by-card breakdown this time. Most of the spells do similar things. That’s kinda the whole point! However, aggro decks often need a little extra help in this day and age. Red mages get Embercleave. White mages get Maul of the Skyclaves. Perhaps it’s not “fair” or “the same thing,” but having a way to consistently pump your threats so you don’t have to overextend into a sweeper has a lot of value.

Some creatures are also just better than others, and having ways to pump them or make them more important can be huge. Think about the difference in putting a Maul of the Skyclaves on a Giant Killer or Lavabrink Venturer. Having a boost for a normal creature to make it viable in combat is useful, but adding it to an unkillable Lavabrink Venturer gives you that X-factor you need to compete in such a hostile and powerful environment.

As with Maul of the Skyclaves, it’s important to acknowledge the cards that can steal games for you or give your deck a different angle of protection, attack, or overall gameplan. Fight as One can protect two different creatures in one game-breaking swoop, preventing a loss at the hands of a non-Extinction Event sweeper or weird combat step. Inside a tough combat step, just pumping two of your creatures can slaughter an opponent who made some traditional blocks.

Cards like Fight as One force your opponent to play differently than if it wasn’t in your deck. The threat is often just as powerful as the card itself. Having played a lot of Heroic and Feather decks during my tenure, that one-mana protection spell can certainly be a major factor in winning or losing a game depending on the creature you’re protecting!

Sideboard and Matchup Guide

Standard is fairly open at the moment, but there are five decks hovering at the top of the format. I’m going to go over each of those decks and tell you how to approach the matchup, what cards are important, and how you should sideboard. If you want to learn the ins and outs of Mono-White Aggro in the current Standard format, look no further.

VS Mono-Green Food

Against this archetype, you’re the beatdown. They have some explosive starts but there is no universe where you can play a longer game against them. They just gain too much life once they get Feasting Troll King and Witch’s Oven / Trail of Crumbs online. Luckily, most of their interactive pieces (and blockers) are even casting cost, so Lavabrink Venturer is an all-star. You can still put Maul of the Skyclaves on it and get to work!

Skyclave Apparition might be your best card, as it handles most of their early threats, engines, and acceleration. You just pick whichever angle of attack you need to disrupt their flow. The fact that they also don’t have removal means you might get a freebie or two, where most of your opponents will aggressively remove it and generate an extra body for attacks/blocks.

Skyclave Apparition is an incredible card, and a great addition to Standard for white decks to have a shot. The “downside” of them getting an Illusion token is almost nothing, but having a few ways to protect your Skyclave Apparition can go a long way. I remember the days of using Banisher Priest or Fiend Hunter and protecting it with Gods Willing or Harm’s Way or somesuch. The patterns of play here are similar, but the downside of losing your removal-creature is not nearly as backbreaking as it used to be.

Your overall gameplan is to be as aggressive as possible. Giant Killer can clear a large blocker in a pinch. Lavabrink Venturer and Seasoned Hallowblade are very hard for them to block. Your interactive elements come online fast enough to remove key ramp creatures or slow them down so your one- and two-drops get in some quick damage. The bad news is that Wicked Wolf will eat you alive if you aren’t careful. Of all their cards, that one is the most terrifying because it’s large, it’s very tough to attack through, and it eats your best creature the turn it enters the battlefield. It’s basically Ravenous Chupacabra but a thousand times worse for you.

Out:

In:

Your protection spells are mostly useless here. They only protect you from Wicked Wolf, and that’s not nearly enough to justify such weak cards outside of their primary function. Disenchant helps lock down their engines, as The Great Henge is likely their best card at going long. It can also stifle their early Trail of Crumbs or pop a Food token in a pinch. It’s not 100% effective but it certainly has some juicy targets.

The planeswalkers aren’t fantastic here, but I think they’re better in games that go long, and I expect most of these games to go pretty long simply due to the fact that they’re going to gain so much life from Food tokens. Basri Ket can at least give you some semblance of a snowball game if your opponent stumbles. Continuously putting counters on your creatures while pushing toward an ultimate is a huge deal, and something a removal-light deck might have trouble beating on the draw. If you take out their mana accelerators, it might actually be impossible for them to attack Basri Ket before it ultimates.

VS Temur Adventures (Obosh)

There are a bunch of different builds of Temur Ramp. Many of them are Adventures-based featuring Obosh, the Preypiercer as a companion. Others are more traditional ramp and accelerate into Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. How you approach these matchups is relatively similar, but sideboarding against them can be tricky, so I’ll try to give you the tools you need to figure it out once you see the cards they’re playing.

Out:

In:

Your deck is set up to beat them about as well as it can be. Your sideboard of Idol of Endurance, Sorcerous Spyglass, Baneslayer Angel, and Disenchant isn’t exactly ideal here. Their entire deck is odd-mana-cost value creatures with an emphasis on Genesis Ultimatum. Your protective elements and removal spells are both exactly fine against them. Your sideboard is more reliant on helping out against matchups where those types of cards are bad.

Basri Ket shines when you’re on the play or against opponents who aren’t attacking it within the first few turns. While they will likely have a creature on the battlefield on the third turn, it’s unlikely to connect with Basri Ket if you have any real plays in the first few turns. Your removal spells like Glass Casket and Skyclave Apparition are ridiculously good against them because the majority of their threats cost three mana. Your cheap removal spells dealing with a creature worth more mana than you’re investing to remove them is a pretty huge deal.

Out:

Variable

In:

If your opponent’s build has a bunch of Bonecrusher Giants and Lovestruck Beasts, don’t sideboard out your removal. Instead, look at getting rid of something like Fight as One. If they’re all ramp, removal, and interaction with Ugin at the top-end, feel free to trim on Glass Casket or Skyclave Apparition (or both). In the case that all your removal is dead, Basri Ket and Disenchant are fine additions depending on the tools they show you.

VS Dimir Control (Yorion)

Dimir Control is where most of your sideboard elements come to fruition. Your maindeck has a few mediocre elements, but overall your deck is favored against this style of matchup because your creatures are all a nightmare for them to deal with.

If they try to one-for-one you to death, they lose to an overwhelming swarm of cheap threats. If they try to sweep you, they only get half your creatures or they get dunked on by your protection spells. Extinction Event is their best card against you, but all their removal is pretty lackluster in the face of Selfless Savior and Fight as One.

The versions relying on Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are a bit harder to beat than the ones that don’t, but that’s just because Ugin is a card Mono-White Aggro can never beat in a million years if it resolves and is not locked down immediately. Your protection spells suck against it and the only real tool you have at your disposal to overcome it is Sorcerous Spyglass.

Out:

In:

Skyclave Apparition isn’t great here, but it can still snag Mazemind Tome in a pinch. I think it’s better than Giant Killer or Glass Casket, but not by much. Your plan is to attack them as hard and consistently as possible using your cheap threats and protective elements. Hopefully they don’t draw Ugin or you can lock it down with Sorcerous Spyglass. Otherwise, it will be the card that wins them the game.

Idol of Endurance and Basri Ket are exceptional here, fighting through all their traditional removal. In a game where both players are “doing their thing,” your sideboard cards are just banging. The cards you’re taking out of your deck are also trash, so upgrading those dead slots is gigantic.

But it all comes back to Ugin. It’s hard to get around and even harder to defeat. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here but I want you to know just how tough it will be to win through a resolved Ugin. I don’t know if it’s possible with the current configuration and not something a Mono-White deck can do very often.

VS Gruul Adventures

This is the only matchup where it might behoove you to become “the control deck,” as much as a Mono-White Aggro deck can be. Your removal spells are huge here and your threats are cheaper. The games you lose are the ones where your opponent outsizes you and finds spots to be aggressive. You can’t realistically block against their landfall creatures or Questing Beast, so your only real way to play defense is by using Glass Casket and Skyclave Apparition to your advantage.

Embercleave can easily win them the game because you aren’t able to block early. Chances are that your early threats could make attacking difficult for them, as Selfless Savior can do some dirty stuff. Fight as One is also solid mid-combat as a way to make two creatures gang up and block + kill their giant landfall creature.

Gruul Adventures is the de facto best deck and best aggro deck in Standard, so toppling them will require this being a good matchup. I think Skyclave Apparition and a low-to-the-ground strategy are good ways to attack them, but I’m wary of playing any two-drop creature against a Bonecrusher Giant. Getting Stomped is pretty disgusting.

Out:

In:

Baneslayer Angel is pretty good in this matchup. As long as they don’t have Elder Gargaroth, Baneslayer Angel should provide you with battlefield superiority. The lifegain can occasionally save you from Embercleave, but the easiest way to beat an Embercleave is to continuously pressure their life total and creatures. If they can’t afford to attack, Embercleave is mostly useless. That’s one of the reasons why we take out Maul of the Skyclaves, because we expect them to bring in a bunch of removal. Instead of having cards that enhance your creatures, you just want more threats in general.

Disenchant is solid, but not worth bringing in more than a few copies. If you see The Great Henge in the first game, or even another artifact or enchantment, it might be worth bringing in one more copy of Disenchant to help save you from losing those longer games.

VS Dimir Rogues

This matchups feels like a bye, which is one of the best reasons to play this archetype. They have cheap removal and such but our archetype is naturally favored against their deck. The flash creatures can be annoying for some decks, but we just mostly ignore them.

Our removal lines up well against their threats. Our creatures line up well against their removal. Last, but not least, our protection effects are just broken. Fight as One stopping their removal spells or Thieves’ Guild Enforcer with deathtouch is sick. Selfless Savior protecting your Luminarch Aspirant allows it to snowball out of control. Even Skyclave Apparition is excellent here, removing their only foothold on the battlefield while providing them with an extremely weak body even if it doesn’t survive the encounter.

Out:

In:

Giant Killer not having a target is often a good reason to sideboard it out. Maul of the Skyclaves is similarly weak here, as augmenting a creature isn’t how you beat a deck like Dimir Rogues. Basri Ket is solid because it doesn’t get attacked often, and even if it does, it’s usually not for enough to get it off the battlefield. Idol of Endurance is doing double duty, acting as a way to return creatures that are killed or milled while also reducing the size of your graveyard to make their Rogues a bit worse.

This matchup is all about whether or not they can contain your early threats. If you get under them, it will take a ton of cheap removal to catch up. They have that capability but their strategy revolves more around being able to capitalize on a slightly higher set of casting costs. Going under Dimir Rogues is easily my favorite way of attacking them because it feels so good to overwhelm them through sheer force of will. Dumping three to five creatures in the first few turns will often be too much for them to defend against. This is especially true if they have a creature-heavy draw.

I’m actively happy with Standard at the moment and I’m enjoying the games quite a bit. I think that’s the safest and easiest way to judge a format’s health. Mono-White Aggro fills a gap that currently exists in Standard. Normally that groove is filled by Mono-Red Aggro in some form or another, but those builds feel a bit worse than Gruul Adventures because your creatures in Mono-Red just aren’t very good. Outside of Embercleave and Anax, Hardened in the Forge, the green cards are far better. Mono-White Aggro offers the type of gameplay you might normally enjoy if you’re an aggro player at heart. The Gruul Adventures decks are just a bit too midrange-y for my tastes.

I’m looking forward to watching the Zendikar Rising Championship this weekend. I hope we get to see a good showcase of different decks, including Mono-White Aggro. If we don’t, I hope Feasting Troll King wins it all!