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So You Want to Beat Junk?

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Last week I talked about when and how you should switch decks. It was one of my best articles in my opinion, so if you have not read it yet, do that first. In the article I talked briefly about the new Aristocrats deck. From writing that article, testing the deck, and using the process I described in the article, I decided to switch to that deck just a couple days before the Maryland PTQ I was planning to go to.

The Pro Tour: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Pittsburgh Magic Crew. It’s two day mission: To explore strange new formats, to seek out new technology, and to boldly qualify for the Pro Tour.

The Aristocrats – Act 2

PTQ Report

In Baltimore, I went 5-2 with the above list. Instead of a detailed round-by-round analysis, I'll cover the inner workings of the deck in the following section.

Of the two losses, one was in my control and the other was not. I actually lost a match to Wolf Run Bant, which should be an awesome matchup. Game one went like this: I try to play something and he counters it. This happens over and over until eventually he wins with a Restoration Angel plus Kessig Wolf Run. When I was sideboarding I thought it was a deck like UWR Flash but with green mana. Even though I sideboarded completely wrong, I was able to win game two.

In game three I sideboarded into the deck I should have at first, which would have worked if I hadn't misunderstood how Blood Artist and Cartel Aristocrat work together. I tried to stack the triggers in an intricate manner so that he wouldn’t kill me. Since I was unable to sacrifice them the way I wanted, my previous attack with Thundermaw Hellkite left me dead on board.

My other loss was to Mono Red splashing green. Game one he had the sickest draw I’ve ever seen and killed me on turn three. Since I didn’t draw Blasphemous Act, I died without doing much at all. Game two, I stabilized by using some intricate blocking and then playing Boros Reckoner. Game three, my no-removal hand died to Stromkirk Noble + Volcanic Strength. Even though I was very frustrated, there was nothing I could have done that would have changed the outcome. I did beat two other similar decks on the day and while I was disappointed to lose, winning that match two out of three times is good.

Here is the list of decks I played against.

  • Mono Red splashing green 2-0
  • Mirror 2-1
  • Wolf Run Bant 1-2
  • Mono Red 2-1
  • Mono Red splashing green 1-2
  • Opponent's Scoop 2-0
  • Junk Reanimator 2-0

This is not the best sampling of the metagame for sure. Three of the seven rounds I had to play against one of my worst matchups. To come out with two wins should leave me in a great place to top eight. Unfortunately, I accumulated that other loss from counters basically locking me out. Also, I did have a free win because my opponent obtained a second loss and left the event.

Deck Analysis

For the rest of this article I'm going to systematically analyze the deck for what I think are its strengths and weaknesses. At the end, I'll talk about what changes may be merited.

Strengths

1. The deck interacts favorably with the metagame in a number of ways.

What makes this deck so good? Your combo of Boros Reckoner plus Blasphemous Act will beat any Thragtusk deck every time. Junk Reanimator specifically has no way to interact with this combination of cards. They are just dead if you draw both.

Jund, Junk, Bant and Naya Midrange are all easy matchups for this deck. If you just cast the creatures and spells you were normally going to play and then Blasphemous Act, they die. In addition, these decks are extremely vulnerable to Blood Artist plus either of the aristocrats. You will attack and deal them some damage, and then if you have a sacrifice outlet the Blood Artist triggers will kill them. If you have Boros Reckoner, Blood Artist, and Blasphemous Act, you don’t even need to deal them any damage before you kill them. Because of these interactions, this deck is able to come back from bleak-looking board states better than any deck I’ve ever played.

2. There is a large amount of synergy between its cards.

In addition to the obvious interactions of the three cards described above, there are a number of synergies that come up frequently. Sometimes you will be forced to Blasphemous Act before you can find a Boros Reckoner. In these situations you usually have one or both aristocrats. Niether of them should die to your board wipe spell, whether through protection from red or indestructibility.

Setting up favorable blocks is one of the most important aspects of this deck. Against any aggressive deck except the mirror, you want Doomed Traveler and Cartel Aristocrat. These two cards stop early aggression quite well. If they have a 3/3 Flinthoof Boar (or any 3/3 for that matter), you can sacrifice Doomed Traveler before declare blockers to give protection from green, then double-block to kill the boar and have your Cartel Aristocrat survive. This is important because if you block differently, killing the boar can prove difficult sometimes.

Skirsdag High Priest is an extremely challenging card to play. It also varies in power level depending on what other cards you have drawn each game. If you can set up a board state that allows you to create a 5/5 token on turn three or four, most decks cannot beat that line of play. Sometimes you need to be willing to chump block or block a one-toughness guy though.

With so many synergies in this deck, there are always triggers happening that you need to remember. Forgetting any of them can mean the difference between winning and losing. Every Blood Artist trigger is important. Every creature you cast is important because that is one less mana you need for Blasphemous Act, one more activation of Cartel Aristocrat, or one more +1/+1 counter for Falkenrath Aristocrat. The deck works together like an intricate machine so you have to be careful not to waste your resources.

3. It contains many cards that are hard to play around.

I’ve covered this somewhat but it is important to remember. If you topdeck a Blood Artist when you have a way to sacrifice your creatures, they might just die that turn. The same can be said about the other parts of your combo. In addition, you have some cards that drastically change the board state. Sorin for example, can make an emblem the first turn he is played. Doubling the power all of your flyers have is always a surprise for opponents. Zealous Conscripts stealing one of their creatures can cripple many opponents especially when you can usually sacrifice it post-combat. Even little things like a Tragic Slip you can turn on or Falkenrath Aristocrat having haste can be problematic. There are so many angles of attack with this deck that it is hard for any opponent to prepare for them all.

4. The flexible sideboard options can completely change matchups.

Part of the strength of the sideboard lies in the fact that three colors gives you access to over half the legal cardpool. There are specifically potent cards you can bring in depending on the matchup. Against many decks I was bringing in ten cards from the sideboard. The cards currently in the sideboard function well against more than one deck. A great example of this is Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Not only is he good against control strategies like Esper Control, he is also quite good against other aggressive decks like Naya Blitz.

Weaknesses

1. The deck relies almost entirely on one toughness creatures.

Electrickery, Curse of Deaths Hold and Bonfire of the Damned are all terrifying cards for a deck like this. Sometimes they aren’t enough because with a Blood Artist in play, it can be lethal to play one of those cards. They present a large threat to the majority of the deck though. In the PTQ, I tried to play around these cards as much as possible but I found it hard to do so and still try to win the game. If you are having trouble beating the Aristocrats, I would look to one of these cards for help.

2. Awkward draws happen more often because the deck relies on synergy.

Throughout the games I’ve played with this deck, it is apparent that sometimes you do not draw the right cards for the situation. This is true for many decks, but more highlighted in this deck. There were times when all I needed was either of the aristocrats in order to win the game, but without them I could not win. Drawing too many expensive spells can mean a loss against an aggressive deck as well.

3. Weak aggressive matchup despite a number of good cards against them.

Many players have figured this out and most of them are still confused about why it is true. When a deck has Doomed Traveler, Cartel Aristocrat, Boros Reckoner and Blasphemous Act, it should presumably have an amazing aggro matchup. It seems like that should be true, but honestly it doesn’t play out that way.

I think the aggro match is so sketchy because so many cards in the deck are horrible against them. The aggro deck has a huge advantage against you because it is almost like you are mulliganing to five every game. If you have too many dead cards, they just overrun you with all of their cheap guys. It is hard to put into words what makes the matchup so unfavorable, but it is not great. With that being said, it is very winnable. If you draw most of the cards that are good against them, you won’t have many problems beating them. Additionally, if you keep a hand that you should always keep in the dark, your game one could be over in five minutes because those cards were all dead against aggro.

Improvements

So how can we fix the deck's weaknesses?

I would think that most of the time having one-toughness creatures in game one won’t be a problem. What we can do is address the issue in the sideboard. Right now, I have three five-mana creatures that are good replacements for some of the one-toughness creatures should that need arise. The other thing to remember is that you usually have some time to set up before the creature’s one-toughness becomes a liability.

The second and third weaknesses go together a little bit. Because this deck is capable of some awkward draws, that adds to the inability to beat aggro. My thought to fix the aggro matches was to change the maindeck up to try to beat more aggro decks game one. The midrange matchups are already so good that we can afford to play fewer cards that are good against them.

The Aristocrats – Act 2

This version is only two cards different, but cutting a Lingering Souls and Zealous Conscripts for the fourth Blasphemous Act and a second Sorin, Lord of Innistrad seems like a great deal of help. Even though it may seem counterintuitive, make sure you side out the Falkenrath Aristocrats against aggro because they are not well positioned at all. I would even like to fit an Electrickery maindeck but I also don't want to cut any more cards. Small changes to your deck like this can swing matchups so don't underestimate them.

Next week, I will most likely be diving right into Dragon's Maze cards so make sure you don't miss that one.

Until next time,

Unleash the Aristocratic Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com

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