Building a deck is all about context. Sure, some cards will be weak in any context, but even well thought-out decks will fail if the other decks in the metagame aren’t considered in the process. Even within a format certain decks can thrive in a certain meta and falter if moved to another environment. Just look at Frank Karsten’s article on the worst Pro Tour winning decks. Some of those are unthinkable today due to changes in card quality, but they weren’t that good in their day either. They just happened to be just the right deck for that particular tournament.
So, Wizards R&D doesn’t just let this happen naturally, although they say they don’t test every idea. They just like to build an environment and let players loose (although so many great deckbuilders work or have worked for development that I’m guessing many of the decks were discovered by them). They do try to maintain a certain RPS-style non-transitive environment (transitive: if A beats B and B beats C, A will beat C, for example running, non-transitive: if A beats B and B beats C, that doesn’t mean that A necessarily beats C). In the past, the RPS were Aggro, Combo and Control. Now they try to work with a five step version where Pure Aggro < Midrange < Ramp / Combo < Control < Disruptive Aggro < Pure Aggro. Sam Stoddard wrote about this recently in Recent Developments on the Mothership.
Now, this is of course simplified, but if you can identify the decks being played the most in your metagame (for example your FNM), you’ll probably be able to find a deck that beats those easier, if you take advantage of this idea. For example, in our LGS pretty much no-one plays Pure Aggro. There’s been some Rakdos decks recently, but those tend to either be more in the Disruptive Aggro camp with [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]s, or in the Midrange camp with plenty of four drops such as [card]Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch[/card] and [card]Desecration Demon[/card] and such. What I mostly see, especially in the higher standings, are Monoblack Devotion decks (control), UWx-decks (mostly Esper, again control) and sometimes GR or Jund Monsters (Ramp and Midrange).
Based on this, I should play Disruptive Aggro and I’ve been doing pretty well with such a deck. My current version of the deck:
4 Tormented Hero
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Pain Seer
4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
4 Herald of Torment
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Desecration Demon
4 Ultimate Price
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Dark Betrayal
4 Doom Blade
2 Desecration Demon
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
However, the heart of this article is how you should be playing this deck. Gladly the RPS helps here too.
Our game plan is to deploy a couple of early threat and after that I’m trying to “[card]Time Walk[/card]” my opponent by not letting him form a board presence. For this I use discard and removal. Unlike many other decks, I’d rather play a one-drop creature on turn one and use my [card]Thoughtseize[/card] on turn two or maybe even three or four, depending on what I expect from the opposing deck.
This is the reason we’ll lose to the Pure Aggro. They can also get their threats out early, so we can’t time walk them. Generally they have a better creature quality, so we’ll lose on the ground too. Gladly, because of all the monster decks out there, aggro is pretty bad and therefore I’m in a good position.
On the other hand, all the control decks out there have a clear edge over the monster decks, therefore the monster decks will gear their decks and sideboards against the control decks, leaving me out of the equation. Sure, I’ll get some of the splash, like [card]Dark Betrayal[/card]s everywhere, but as I’ve chosen a pretty unpopular angle, I’m not that big of a concern, although now I’ve done so well I’m being taken into account more and more.
So, there might be a desire to move my deck to a more midrange approach by putting in more higher costing creatures, but that would be a mistake in general. The [card]Desecration Demon[/card]s in the sideboard are there for the Pure Aggro matchup, where they shine as they move this deck closer to a Midrange deck, which can prey on the smaller creatures. In general, I would much rather have the [card]Tormented Hero[/card] out on turn one and then begin to take down my opponents threats or destroy their hand.
Just remember that this isn’t control. Control will try to exchance card for card until it can gain massive card advantage with a sweeper or card drawing. We don’t care about that. We try to get a small edge on the board and then exchange card for card trying to maintain our small edge, until we can kill our opponent. Usually we’ll be able to do this pretty quickly and we can usually get some card advantage from [card]Pain Seer[/card] or [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], but its not what we’re striving for. Its more like an added benefit, which often does make things easier.
I tagged this post as ‘Fish’ also. This is because the Fish decks of the past (and currently in Modern, Legacy and even Vintage) pretty much rely on the same approach. They have different tools, but their approach is the same. Get a few creatures out and start messing with your opponents game plan. Simple as that. This approach is very different from Aggro-Control which first tries to stop their opponents game plan and then goes in for the kill.