A New Type of Aggro

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[Note: This is Mike Lanigan's first Spike offering for Quiet Speculation. Please let us all know in the comments what you think and whether or not you'd like to see more from Mike! -Dylan]

It was a cold and rainy night. The results from pro tour Paris were in, and an aspiring young mage was pouring over the data. He was wrong, there was a new deck in Standard and it was tearing up the tournament scene like a California brushfire. This new deck had a strange name, CawBlade, and resembled a previously known foe. With this new version, though, there was more to it than meets the eye, he thought to himself. No longer was it a slow controlling deck that couldn’t win for ten or more turns. No, now it was more of a dominant strategy that controlled the game and won before you knew what happened. How had he not seen this? All the information was there. Is this new Sword really that good? It couldn’t be. He and all his friends had made fun of how lame the Sword was and how horrible it was even compared to Sword of Body and Mind, the least powerful of the three printed so far. The more he thought about it, the more he realized just how broken this new Sword of Feast and Famine was in a Control deck like this. Sure it was subpar in an Aggressive deck, but what an all-star it could be in a more Aggro-Control type of deck! Not only did it put your opponent on a fast clock, but it also deprived them of resources by making them discard a card. On top of that, it allowed you to untap your mana to play a powerful Planeswalker spell or keep the mana open to counter something. Wow, how could this Sword have been underestimated so much? You can even tutor for it with Stoneforge Mystic, so you often only need to run one copy. That is simply amazing.

The next few short weeks, this CawBlade deck continued to dominate tournaments from local FNM’s to large Star City Games hosted events everywhere. The young mage, Mike Lanigan, read articles, built decks, and tried his best to build a comparable strategy that could take down this "Jund-like" beast (or "Faerie-like" if you prefer). One day when he was testing with some friends, he had an idea. Right there in the middle of the game they were playing, everything went into slow motion. Could this be it? This cheap, underused card, could this really be the answer?

He apologized for his lack of attention to the game and for stopping partway through, but continued to make changes to the deck he was playing. His mind raced so fast that his hands could barely keep up with the changes he wanted to make. How am I going to make room for four of those? Now if I make that an instant, does that change the mana base? All these things coursed through his thoughts as he quickly made the changes and shuffled up, ready for another game. All of a sudden, the games started going his way. Now, he dictated the flow of the game. It was like the game was being played on his terms now. He started winning a lot more than he lost. Could this really be the answer? But most players don’t even really consider this to be a real deck now that CawBlade was arguably the only Tier 1 deck.

So I bet you are wondering, what is this deck and what was the card that made the difference? I am Mike Lanigan, and today I am going to tell you all about it. I don’t want to just give it away so I’ll give you a few hints and we will see if you can guess correctly. Hint 1: it costs one Black mana. Hint 2: It can completely destroy any Standard players’ chances to win the game. Hint 3: It is a sorcery that has typically only been played in Control decks.

Okay, so you guessed it right? Well if not, the card is Inquisition of Kozilek. This seemingly innocent little card is one of the most powerful things you can be doing in Standard today. Think about this card in any game of Magic right now. How many decks rely heavily on their early plays to set up the game for them? Let’s take CawBlade for example. If you Inquisition them and see that their only early play is Stoneforge Mystic or Squadron Hawk, what happens if they no longer have that in their hand? The answer is, typically, that they lose the game. What about another popular archetype right now, Kuldotha Red? Can they win if you take the Kuldotha Rebirth from their opener? Even Valakut relies on accelerating their mana through Explore, Harrow, Khalni Heart Expedition, and Cultivate. Think through every deck you played against at your last tournament. Now, imagine if they had no relevant early play in the game: think just how many more games you would have won! Inquisition of Kozilek is just that good. Blue-Black Control relied on this card for as long as it was a competitive deck. Control is not what you want to be playing against CawBlade though because they will just tear you apart, very similarly to how Faeries does in Extended. What about disrupting their early game and applying pressure all at the same time? We need to end the game as quickly as possible.

Enter the Vampires

Vampires, really? Yes, Red-Black Vampires. This deck is aggressive, disruptive, and can combo-win the game out of nowhere. You may be thinking that you have beaten Vampires many a time at tournaments but this isn’t your typical Vampires. Let’s see that decklist already!

Alright, let’s dig into this decklist. As you can see, there are quite a bit of differences but the core of the deck remains intact.

Vampire Lascerator: This is the most aggressive thing you can be doing on turn one, and usually you want to be doing just that. In many games your plan is to play this guy turn one and then keep your opponent off balance as long as possible so he can beat down. This card plays similar to the way Goblin Guide does in a Red deck.

Viscera Seer: This innocent little draft leftover can have quite a powerful affect on the game. Many games are won and lost by playing this card correctly. His first job is to filter the top of your library into what you need it to be. If you need land, more creatures, or the right removal spell, this creature can help you get what you are looking for. When you combine this creature with Bloodghast and a fetchland like Verdant Catacombs, there is a lot of Scrying that can take place. The most important thing to remember is to not miss an opportunity to Scry. Let’s say turn one you play this Viscera Seer, turn two you play your Bloodghast, then on turn three (after you have attacked but before you have played your land) make sure to sacrifice the Bloodghast to Scry. Then, play your land to recur the Bloodghast. Little things like that make this card so powerful. The second purpose for this creature is to provide a late game way to sacrifice your creatures for additional life loss through Kalastria Highborn. Make sure to utilize all the triggers when your opponents kill your creatures as well. You should always sac to Scry in response to a removal spell. If your opponent has not gotten the memo about how good this creature is, make them pay for it by abusing it repeatedly.

Bloodghast: This creature never dies. How much more do you need? Sure you can combo with Viscera Seer and Kalastria Highborn but did you really need anything past "he never dies?" If you still need more, it’s not like they are going to counter it so if you think they are keeping mana open to counter a spell, that is the perfect time to play your Bloodghast.

Kalastria Highborn: This is the glue that holds the deck together. Typically you don’t want to play her unless you have mana open to use her drain life ability. Because this ability is so powerful, she is good at any stage of the game.

Vampire Hexmage: By now you know that killing Planeswalkers is important, and this card does just that. The first strike ability she has is quite relevant in the format right now as well. Also, don’t forget that if you need to you can sacrifice her with no real targets to drain life with Kalastria Highborn.

Gatekeeper of Malakir: Two-for-ones are always great, and he provides a huge tempo boost with some potentially hard choices for your opponent. Once in a while, you might want to target yourself and sacrifice one of your own creatures to drain your opponents life for those last two points of damage with your Kalastria Highborn. Making them sacrifice their turn two play on your turn three is amazing against any deck.

Hero of Oxid Ridge: Who is going to be expecting this card in Vampires? No one. No one ever sees it coming. It can win the game out of nowhere. Sometimes it is correct to save this card until after your opponent casts Day of Judgment if you have a Kalastria Highborn in play. Make sure you always have mana open to use Highborn’s ability and don’t over commit to the board unless absolutely necessary.

Inquisition of Kozilek: I am not going to spend much time here but this card is crucial to the deck. Against CawBlade, always take their creature, or if you draw it later, take the Sword they searched for. In general you want to take whatever your opponent is relying on the most for the early game. Generally on the play, you want to play a guy on turn one then turn two play Inquisition. On the draw, usually it is opposite of that. Play Inquisition first then on turn two play a guy. CawBlade is now even splashing Black for this card sometimes, so you know that it is good. This is one of the best things you can be doing in Standard right now.

Lightning Bolt: One of the best removal spells of all time. Also, the most efficient burn spell of all time. Every red deck should be playing four of these by now.

Burst Lightning/Go for the Throat: Between these two cards, you should be able to deal with just about anything. The Burst Lightning is new. They used to be Arc Trail, but being a sorcery was too much of a liability. Being able to burst their guy in response to it being equipped is game winning. Also, being able to pay five mana and deal them four damage will often just win you the game. Arc Trail is awesome and often kills two of their guys from your one spell, but Burst Lightning is just better for this metagame. You still want the two/two split because Go for the Throat kills [card Frost Titan]Titans[/card]. If you have a significant amount of artifact creatures running around in your metagame it’s possible that you wan the Go for the Throat to be Doom Blade instead, but I think since you have Lightning Bolt that Go for the Throat will almost always be better.

The manabase: Most of the cards are pretty standard. Playing Hero of Oxid Ridge, you want just a little more Red than normal so that you can cast him reliably when you need to, hence the one Mountain. It doesn’t seem like much but that one Mountain really does make a difference. You don’t want more than one though because drawing them early in the game can result in you not being able to cast the rest of your creatures. Also, I think six fetchlands is the right number for this deck. You want to reliably recur the Bloodghasts and have plenty of sacrifice triggers to use as well. With six fetches, you should have at least one in most games.

The Sideboard: I will provide some general guidelines for you to mold your deck for your specific metagame. If you build the sideboard yourself, you are more likely to side correctly than if you just try to follow word for word what someone tells you to do.

Demon of Death's Gate: Valakut still has no outs to this card. Literally if you play this on turn two, three, or four, they cannot possibly win the game. If you think you will play against Valakut, don’t leave home without them.

Pyroclasm: It might seem an odd choice, but a necessary one if you expect a lot of Kuldotha Red. Trust me, there will be a lot of Red decks with the new tournament ready preconstructed decks. It happens to also be pretty good against just about every aggro deck out there if you sideboard into a more controlling deck. If you can’t bring yourself to sideboard Pyroclasm in an aggro deck you can still board Arc Trail. It won’t be nearly as good but Arc Trail is still amazing.

Dark Tutelage: I never liked to run Dark Tutelage maindeck because against an Aggro deck, you'll usually just lose if you play it. Against a Control deck like the previously dominant Blue-Black Control though, it was amazing. Usually I sided this card in with Duress to completely wreck Control.

Crush/Manic Vandals: I have been amazed at how good Crush has been for me. It’s cheap and an instant. It is great against equipment and any Tezzeret deck you happen to play against. Manic Vandals are also great and remind me of the [card Gatekeeper of Malakir]Gatekeepers[/card]. Be careful not to raise your curve too much or dilute the deck too much with artifact removal though because you risk not being able to win the game if you do so.

Skinrender: If you have extra spots, Skinrender is a beating against any Aggro deck. I would never have more than two in the sideboard though because four mana is a lot for this deck.

Act of Treason/Mark of Mutiny: This type of card that steals your opponents creatures is great against titans and other huge monsters. I have found it unnecessary in my sideboard for a few weeks now but in the right metagame I could see adding them back in.

Here are a couple points about playing this deck. The most important thing to remember is that it is based on tempo. The plays you make should be designed to keep disrupting your opponent while making sure the game stays under your control. If your opponent taps out for a creature, play your Gatekeeper to get it out of the way and force through more damage. If you did not have an Inquisition to take their early creature, use your removal to get rid of it early so you can continue to attack. In most matches you want to be the aggressive deck but you can easily switch gears to a more controlling deck depending on your draw and also quite easily after sideboard.

The second most important thing about this deck is practice and experience. Get familiar with this deck before you take it to a tournament. You need to make sure not to miss any triggers with Viscera Seer, Boodghast, or Highborn and the more practice you get playing the deck the easier this will be.

With Inquisiton of Kozilek maindeck and a properly built sideboard, no match up in Standard is unwinnable. CawBlade, the best deck in Standard, is actually a good matchup. Games against CawBlade where you have the Inquisition are greatly in your favor, and they usually rely on top decking another creature just for them to have a shot at winning the game. The games where you do not have an early Inquisition are really a fight though, so be prepared. Sometimes you win those games, sometimes you lose them, but you always have a shot. However, even if you don’t have the hand hate, if you can untap and Gatekeeper their creature, usually that puts them too far behind to beat you. I have had multiple CawBlade opponents tell me that Gatekeeper is the card they are most afraid of in Standard because it is so bad for them.

All of the ramp decks like Valakut, RUG, and BUG play out pretty much the same. You want to kill or stop their early mana acceleration while keeping pressure on them by attacking. Set yourself up so that if they get their big threat on the board, you can just win by sacrificing your creatures to Seer and draining with Highborn.

Against any aggro deck, you want to kill as many of their creatures as you can while still playing your creatures. This deck has a low mana curve for a reason. Make sure to take advantage of being able to play your creature and kill one of theirs all in the same turn. By practicing with this deck, you will learn how to switch between being the Aggro and the Control when you need to. The only aggressive deck that you always are the control deck against is Kuldotha Red. They are much faster than you are so you need to control the game as much as you can. Don’t hesitate to trade with their early creatures. They do not have much removal and your Bloodghast will usually win you the game. Against any aggro deck the most important thing to remember is that the life gain from Kalastria Highborn will likely win you the game so make sure you always have mana available to pay for her ability.

Vampires built and played correctly can be a real threat in this metagame. Your opponents have likely not played against such a disruptive build of this deck that can also end the game quickly so they most likely won’t be prepared for you. Feel free to message me in the forums if you have any questions and have fun beating down with some bloodsuckers.

Don’t forget to come get some financial information next week, as I will be back over on the financial side. I’m sure I will be writing about more sweet Standard decks in the future, so if you liked this article let me know. Also, if you thought there was room to improve, feel free to pass that along as well. I am always open to constructive criticism or topic suggestions.

Mike Lanigan

Twitter: mtgJedi

7 thoughts on “A New Type of Aggro

  1. This deck idea looks and sounds like a lot of fun. I think I'll go and test this thing out. Also, would Black Sun's Zenith be another sideboard option? Having your own board sweeper/sac trigger in case the aforementioned DoJ doesn't show?

  2. I like the list, and I might be convinced to put this together for the GP. The lack of Spreading Seas in the format really benefits Vamps, as it was really painful before.

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