Deck Types: Aggro

There’s an old article from last millenium by Mike Flores called Who’s the Beatdown?, which is still available on Its about assignment of who is the beatdown and who is the control and what can result from not understanding this.

What I’m talking about today, are the decks that want to be the beatdown in most situations.

First, lets define an aggro deck: An aggro deck is simply a deck that wants to get on the battlefield and attack as fast as possible. They are often characterized by cards with low mana cost, and willingness to lose in the card race, as long as they can get damage through.

The common mistake done by many players is that playing control is somehow more difficult than playing aggro. Its not true, really. Its more like this: Playing aggro fairly well is easier than playing control, but if you play the aggro decks to their fullest, they are actually at least as hard to play as the control decks, if not harder. The way the best aggro players go into the tank only to come out of there with a line of play I would never have identified, is quite masterful.

Playing aggro is often quite counter-intuitive. You might need to throw a bunch of resources at your opponent just to get a few points of damage through and losing most of your board in the meantime. You might need to put quite a few eggs into one basket and hope your opponent can remove the creature you’ve put two enchantments on. The problem is that you need to identify these situations. Its often risky, but if you are risk averse, aggro is not for you.

Your general strategy is to end the game as fast as possible. Don’t let your opponent get on board, because that’s when you lose. If your opponent stabilizes, you usually lose. You will generally have some reach (ability to push some damage through no matter the board state), but depending on your deck its usually just a handful of points. Maybe five from something like [scryfall]Shrapnel Blast[/scryfall].

You don’t want to be answering questions, you want to be the one presenting the questions to answer. Often the key is that you need to ask the questions so fast that your opponent doesn’t have the time to answer them all.

Aggro decks are usually at their best against control decks. Control decks need time to stabilize, and a good aggro deck just doesn’t give it any. However, in the RPS world that is MtG, if a deck is creature based and bigger than you, you won’t be fast enough and your goblins will run into [scryfall]Loxodon Smiter[/scryfall]s.


Take this deck by Tom “The Boss” Ross.

[cardlist title=Boss Sligh]
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Ash Zealot
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Rubblebelt Maaka
17 Mountain
4 Dragon Mantle
4 Madcap Skills
2 Lightning Strike
2 Shock
4 Titan’s Strength
1 Blinding Flare
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Lightning Strike
2 Magma Spray
1 Searing Blood
4 Skullcrack
1 Harness by Force
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Peak Eruption
1 Seismic Stomp
1 Mutavault

Ross won the second SCG Invitational of 2014 with this deck (its mixed formats, but the Top 8 is Standard) in a quite convincing manner. Here’s the quarterfinal against Brad Nelson, who is clearly visibly shaken after his 3-0 loss.

It takes less than 30 minutes and they spend more time shuffling and sideboarding than actual games. Nelson has some bad luck, but its not that bad. He’s just completely ill-equipped to handle the onslaught. Ross can play a creature on the first turn and two creatures on the second turn, when Nelson doesn’t have removal which costs less than 2 and simply can’t keep up, especially when using lands that come into play tapped.

Also of note: Patrick Sullivan, a renowned expert on red decks, in commentary. (Hunt is more of a combo guy.)

Ross’s build is pretty much the fastest possible in the format at the time. Although the sideboard makes some slight concessions, the main deck includes all the usable one-drops available ([scryfall]Satyr Hoplite[/scryfall] might be a good addition[/scryfall]). This is about context. Ross knew most players would opt for plenty of Temples (the dual lands that come into play tapped and have a scry 1), so they would often be effectively one turn behind, giving Ross plenty of time to kick some ass. In another metagame, Ross’s approach would probably be wrong (but I’d still count on him finding a way to play aggro).

Red is a strange color. It doesn’t have the best cheap creatures, but it does have everything else you need to push damage through, such as [scryfall]Lightning Strike[/scryfall]. The color’s philosophy is about here and now, and it shows. Red is not about small, incremental advantages. Its just about getting in there and kicking some ass.

If you want a color with better creature quality, go for white.


See the difference between these two cards:

or (because the the previous cards are of different rarity and thus not necessarily comparable) these two:

The difference is more obvious in the first ones. The red card is still very much playable, even if it isn’t as strong as the white one, just because it is red. In the second pair, the quality difference is not as obvious, but there’s a definite difference in the approaches. Here, the Satyr is more about not caring about your own lifetotal, or defense. He’s all about pushing damage through as quickly as possible. The Soldier does have (very) situational evasion (which will probably lose much of its usefulness in the rotation), but its more defensive. You aren’t paying life to it, you are gaining some points here and there. Its not as easy to kill as the Satyr either.

White is less proactive than red, but it has the ability to think longer term. Here’s a deck Paul Rietzl played to win Pro Tour Amsterdam in 2010.

[cardlist title=White Weenie]
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Student of Warfare
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Knight of the White Orchid
2 Ranger of Eos
4 Brave the Elements
2 Mana Tithe
1 Path to Exile
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Spectral Procession
4 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Flagstones of Trokair
1 Horizon Canopy
10 Plains
4 Relic of Progenitus
3 Burrenton Forge-Tender
3 Path to Exile
2 Rule of Law
1 Angel’s Grace
1 Celestial Purge
1 Lapse of Certainty

Here’s Brad Nelson losing to that deck, again 3-0.

Whereas the red deck is all about doing damage here and now, the white deck likes to invest in the future. [scryfall]Student of Warfare[/scryfall] and [scryfall]Figure of Destiny[/scryfall] are the clearest examples of this difference here (although the Figure is also red, but it doesn’t sit as well in a mono red deck). Instead of using spells like [scryfall]Titan’s Strength[/scryfall] to push three damage through now, white uses it resources to be able to push damage through more persistently, which is why there’s also the [scryfall]Honor of the Pure[/scryfall]s in the deck. [scryfall]Brave the Elements[/scryfall] is about reach, as it can enable an alpha strike (attack with all creatures, leaving you open to opponents backswing) in the late game, but its also about protecting your creatures from removal at key moments of the game.


Red and white are the usual aggro colors, but that doesn’t mean your options are limited to those. There’s always the linear aggro, which is all about finding cards that work well together. These decks often include cards that are in themselves quite subpar, but together can push a deck. These include Affinity decks (which use the affinity for artifacts keyword and a bunch of artifacts), quite a few Goblins decks of the past, Rebel decks of yesteryear, and the Monoblue Devotion that’s been a top tier deck for a year now.

Here’s a list by Frank Karsten, a huge Affinity proponent:

[cardlist title=Affinity (Modern)]
3 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Vault Skirge
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Steel Overseer
2 Master of Etherium
2 Etched Champion
2 Galvanic Blast
2 Thoughtcast
4 Cranial Plating
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Glimmervoid
1 Island
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Etched Champion
2 Spellskite
2 Thoughtseize
1 Dismember
1 Gut Shot
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Illness in the Ranks
1 Blood Moon
1 Rule of Law
1 Choke

(Note: This might be a bit out of date, as [scryfall]Ensoul Artifact[/scryfall] from M15 has changed the archetype.)

For this specific deck, Affinity is actually a pretty bad name, as it only has two copies of one card with actual Affinity. It does, however, take full advantage of Metalcraft. Most of the deck is artifacts and your goal is to get your hand on the battlefield to take full advantage of Metalcraft, as well as other synergistic cards, such as [scryfall]Cranial Plating[/scryfall]. Of course, simple [scryfall]Signal Pest[/scryfall] and plenty of cheap, including seven zero-drop, creatures, can take down a game quite quickly.

I couldn’t find a video of Brad Nelson losing to affinity 3-0, so here’s a video from SCG’s Versus Series of Chris VanMeter playing Affinity against Brian Braun-Duin’s BG Midrange.

The Versus Series is in a way better than actual competitive matches, since here good players can often talk through their line of thinking while playing, so you’ll learn why they do what they do. However, a single match-up won’t necessarily show off the decks capabilities that well, as linear decks are often weaker against removal.

Linear decks often need a set of tools to function, so mulliganing with them aggressively is pretty much a requirement.

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