Winning With R/B Aggro

Todd took his talents to #SCGRegionals, where he jumped off the Bant ship for enemy territory! See his breakdown and sideboarding advice for this archetype before #SCGMKE’s Classic!

#PTKLD is in the books and Kaladesh lived up to the hype, as we have a wonderful Limited format to go with a diverse Standard format where aggro, midrange, control, and combo decks are all viable. Before diving in and taking a look at the deck I played at #SCGRegionals last weekend, I wrote eight bold predictions for Pro Tour Kaladesh in my article last week, so let’s check back to see what happened.

1. There will be zero copies of R/W Vehicles in the Top 8.

Miss. Ben Hull proved me wrong and made the Top 8 with R/W Vehicles, and honestly Lee Shi Tian’s Mardu Vehicles was close enough to R/W Vehicles that I would have counted it against me as well.

2. There will be at least one Thalia’s Lieutenant deck in the Top 8.

Miss. There was an R/W Aggro deck that wasn’t Vehicles and made Top 8, but surprisingly it was R/W Tokens and not R/W Humans. Another miss.

3. Torrential Gearhulk will be the breakout card from Kaladesh.

Hit. Well, this one was a direct hit, couldn’t be more spot on.

4. Day 1 breakout cards will include Aetherworks Marvel and Electrostatic Pummeler.

Hit. Both of these cards were a big part of the Day 1 coverage and the metagame as a whole, but the success of each card dropped off on Day 2.

5. Graveyard decks, both delirium- and emerge-based, will be very successful.

Miss…barely. I made this prediction based on the lack of graveyard hate in current Standard, and even though graveyard strategies were a big part of Pro Tour Kaladesh and did well, they were shut out of the Top 8, which I wouldn’t count as “very successful.”

6. There will be twenty or fewer copies of Smuggler’s Copter in the Top 8.

Hit…barely. I felt bad about this prediction after making it, and I wish I would have said that exactly twenty copies of Smuggler’s Copter would be in The top 8, as my prediction was too easy. There were sixteen copies, so I was technically correct, but I would have been wrong if I’d tried to predict the exact number of Smuggler’s Copters.

7. Cataclysmic Gearhulk will be the only Gearhulk not to see camera time. (Standard Portion)

Miss…barely. It was true that Cataclysmic Gearhulk didn’t see any camera time during the Standard rounds, but unfortunately Combustible Gearhulk didn’t see camera time either, placing this prediction as a miss.

8. The Pro Tour-winning deck has blue for the first time since Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.

Hit. The two decks in the finals were both blue-based control decks, so this prediction was another big hit.

Overall, four hits and four misses, but my two best hits were the two most important predictions. Torrential Gearhulk was absolutely the breakout card from Kaladesh and a blue deck won Pro Tour Kaladesh.

Unfortunately I did not get to travel to the beautiful state of Hawaii this past week for Pro Tour Kaladesh, as I was not qualified, so instead I was battling in Plano, TX at #SCGRegionals. As you probably know, leading up to #SCGRegionals I was testing various Bant decks, both midrange and Humans-based. I had success at #SCGINDY with Bant and it is the color combination that I’ve been playing almost all year and am most comfortable with; however, I decided late to leave my usual weapon of choice behind.

The possibilities as far as playable cards for Bant in Standard are seemingly endless, which may appear to be an asset when deckbuilding but for me ended up being problematic, as I just couldn’t find the exact 75 cards that I was satisfied with.

I played League after League on Magic Online and it always felt my deck was a little off no matter what I tried. I was trying a new combination of cards each League, but it always felt basically the same, good but not remarkable. It was an incredibly frustrating process, as there were so many quality options that I felt I could make a 100-card singleton deck that would be just fine, but I couldn’t find the optimal 75.

The Bant-colored lenses that I was looking through were getting foggier and foggier with each change I made. I was losing sight of what I was changing and why, what was working and what wasn’t. How many Blossoming Defense did I want? Was Declaration in Stone or Stasis Snare better? Did I even want either one? Do I want to play Humans for Heron’s Grace Champion or did I want Sylvan Advocate? What is the right split between Verdurous Gearhulk and Archangel Avacyn? Why do I have so many creatures in my deck now that Collected Company is gone?

It was maddening. For days the questions in my head wouldn’t stop as I didn’t have the answers for them. One of my talents when designing decks for tournaments is my ability to be reasonable with myself when determining what cards to play. Sure, I have my pet cards just like anyone else, but when registering a deck for a tournament, I have a well-thought-out reason behind each choice and I can recognize when to let my favorite cards go.

This was different, though. I was able to rationalize way too many cards for the Bant deck, yet at the same time I couldn’t justify most of them. It was a deckbuilding puzzle that I couldn’t crack, and I had decided to go back to square one. I was ready to register basically the same deck that I played in Indy until I got a message about a different deck a couple of days before Regionals.

I decided to leave my usual weapon of choice at home and try and go under the competition with R/B Aggro. The following decklist is three sideboard cards off from what I played to a 6-2 record, good for 13th place at #SCGRegionals, but what I would recommend going forward.

First off, I would like to give credit to Eli Kassis for the original design of the deck, and to Josh Fielman for tuning it with Eli and for giving me the decklist. I was relieved to play a deck other than Bant and take a step back from it. I used their exact maindeck, which I still prefer over other R/B Aggro decks, but I changed the sideboard a little by adding the planeswalker package.

The goal of the maindeck is to be the most aggressive in the format and go under every other deck. Built to Smash fits right in when the goal is to be attacking each turn, and the haste from Forerunner of Slaughter and Lathnu Hellion helps the deck keep the pressure on the opponent, even when they think the coast is clear.

Bomat Courier is quietly the best card in the maindeck, and it’s the card I want the most in my opening hand. It’s not uncommon for Bomat Courier to deal a couple of damage in the beginning of the game only to turn into a Treasure Cruise later on, and that kind of value is too powerful to ignore. Bomat Courier is a difficult card to evaluate on first glance, but after playing many games with the card, I’m a believer in the little Construct. This R/B Aggro deck can empty its hand quickly and then Bomat Courier is ready to fill it back up.

My favorite part of the deck, though, is the transformational sideboard and the ability to turn the fastest aggro deck of the format into a removal-heavy control deck that pressures the opponent from a completely different angle. Time after time my opponents would sideboard in all of the removal they could against me to try to slow me down, only to be unable to answer a planeswalker that would ultimate to win the game for me after a couple of turns.

Leading this plan is Chandra, Torch of Defiance, who has been even better than I imagined, especially with everyone else being so down on the card. There are many cards in the format that Chandra doesn’t match up well against, but she is still a powerful card and the sideboard of this deck is the perfect spot for her.

My post-sideboard plan usually turns into a “protect the queen” strategy when I draw her by making sure she can resolve and then try to keep her around on the battlefield long enough to ultimate. This is the “Plan A” of some midrange or control decks, and when it is, then opponents can knowingly sideboard accordingly against it for Games 2 and 3. Although this is a viable maindeck strategy, I prefer it in the sideboard of aggressive decks like this one. Opponents are forced to respect the speed of your deck and must sideboard accordingly, so coming back and attacking on a different axis can be advantageous.

Liliana, the Last Hope can fit this mold as well, but she oftentimes serves a different purpose. R/W Vehicles is not the best matchup for this version of R/B Aggro, but they do have an abundance of one-toughness creatures between Toolcraft Exemplar, Veteran Motorist, Selfless Spirit, and even the token created by Pia Nalaar. Liliana also helps enable your control plan against various G/W or G/R creature decks as well.

Against decks like G/R Energy where you turn into the control deck and bring in all of the removal spells, I would recommend sideboarding as followed:



Built to Smash and Lathnu Hellion are the first cards to come out, the former because attacking is no longer the primary gameplan and the latter because the games will end up going long. Although Scrapheap Scrounger is a terrible blocker (obviously), two stay in the deck as artifacts to pump Inventor’s Apprentice and as a creature to Crew Smuggler’s Copter on defense. The plan is kill everything on sight, have Smuggler’s Copter and Collective Defiance filter when possible, use Bomat Courier to refill your hand, and let Chandra and Liliana take over the game.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow is the single most difficult card for this version of R/B Aggro to beat. One of my two losses at Regionals was because I couldn’t beat Ishkanah in Games 1 and 3, and a big reason for that is not having access to Key to the City, which many R/B Aggro decks do. I’ve tried Key to the City, and honestly I don’t miss having access to it in any other matchup except against Ishkanah decks. Thankfully there wasn’t a dominance of G/B Delirium at Pro Tour Kaladesh and it’s not a deck that I face too often, but if it does become more popular, then I could see adding a Lost Legacy to the sideboard to exile the pesky Spiders before they enter the battlefield. I’m not very close to that tipping point yet, but it’s on my radar if Ishkanah, Grafwidow becomes more prevalent.

Playing R/B Aggro was a nice change of pace for me, as it was the first time I had registered a basic Mountain in a StarCityGames.com tournament all year. I loved having the ability to go back and forth between an aggro and a control deck.

Comments from Last Week

I’m finishing my article this week by highlighting some of the comments from my last article, “Standard Humans and Bold Predictions for Pro Tour Kaladesh,” where I talked about the strength of Thalia’s Lieutenant and Heron’s Grace Champion in the aggressive Standard format for #SCGRegionals, as well as eight bold predictions for #PTKLD. If you would like to be featured in next week’s Comments from Last Week section, then leave a question or comment below and be sure to come back next week to see if you made the cut!

The only way there are no R/W Vehicles decks in the Top 8 is if everybody abandons it. The deck is too good.

– Jacob Knott

Looks like you were right, Jacob! R/W Vehicles is absolutely a good deck, one of the best in the format. I was going with a bold prediction that it would be in everyone’s crosshairs and that players would want to attack the format with something new, and that zero copies would end up in the Top 8. I wasn’t right with this one, though, as many of the game’s best played the deck and a copy did make the Top 8 as well.

Excellent article. It makes me happier than it should to see Torrential Gearhulk getting a shout-out. Snapcaster Mage’s big brother has been nothing but an all-star for me. If only we had a better hand filler than Glimmer of Genius.

– Jeremiah Kilby

I agree about Torrential Gearhulk; I still think that it is the sleeper hit of the set. It’s been nothing but a bomb for me in testing, whether fishing back removal, a game-breaking counterspell, a card draw to dig for answers, recursion through Grapple with the Past, etc. A complete all-star so far in testing.

– Damon Luk

I really hope you’re right and we see blue actually do something besides being a splash color for Reflector Mages etc. at the Pro Tour.

– Jacob Bachand

Looks like you all were right about blue and Torrential Gearhulk, as it sure was the story of the Pro Tour. I actually really like Glimmer of Genius as well; it’s a wonderful card to flash back. Torrential Gearhulk has put control decks on top of the Standard metagame for the first time in a while, and I wonder how long that will last.

The post-Pro Tour metagame looks quite favorable for R/B Aggro as Torrential Gearhulk decks are exactly what I want to be playing against, especially if they start adding more and more cards anti-control cards to their maindeck in order to win control mirrors. We’re heading back to Modern this weekend though at #SCGMKE, but if Day 1 doesn’t go as planned, then you’ll find me playing Mountains on Sunday.