Sunday, December 2, 2012

Emergent Archetypes Part 3 - Aggro

Aggro, or beatdown, is the family of decks that are extremely offensive, playing cheap cheatures and spells to close the game as fast as possible. It is essential to have 1 and 2 mana creatures for this archetype to work, and in general, burn, creature improvement and combat tricks help a lot this sort of deck.

A good read on aggro strategy is this article.

RG Aggro

Cube Decklist: RG Aggro
Constructed Decklist: RG Madness
Relative popularity in cube: Common

The most common color pair for beatdown, RG creates consistent and powerful Aggro decks with ease. Green's creatures are inherently efficient at all points of the mana curve, and provide the bulk of cheap and offensive 1 and 2-drops necessary for this strategy. Red's main role is to provide burn that removes early blockers and extends the deck's reach, which is important to kill opponents that managed to stabilize the red zone.

As a general rule, every single card in the deck should work towards winning as quickly as possible. Most cards should be creatures, creating a critical mass that overruns removal and blockers. Besides direct burn, lasting effects that create inevitability have a home here - see Sulfuric Vortex, Manabarbs and Zo-Zu the Punisher.

Creature improvement in the form of equipment and auras add a lot of lasting power to this kind of deck, as well as midrange creatures. Of course, a build without these slower elements will be faster and more lethal to opponents that have had a slow start, but will be also more vulnerable to defense, life gain and mass removal.

Rare Variation: RG Midrange

When RG Aggro gets too slow, that is, does not have enough low curve creatures, it becomes RG Midrange, running bigger creatures and relying more on winning an attrition wars than outrunning the opponent. More expensive burn will work better in this archetype, especially recurrent or X ones. Mass burn will make the aggro matchup easy, but generally, this build is weaker than RG Aggro against control, for not attacking control's biggest weakness - the speed.

R Aggro

Cube Decklist: Rb Aggro
Constructed Decklist: Deadguy Red
Relative popularity in cube: Uncommon

The traditional monored burn deck, or Sligh, also called Red Deck Wins and probably several other names. Fundamentally, this sort of deck goes all-in on the plan of pushing through damage as fast as possible. At the start of the game, it casts cheap creatures like Jackal Pup and starts reducing the opponent's life total to a number low enough to attack with direct burn.

It sounds a lot like RG's plan, but there is a subtle difference. RG usually wins with creatures, with the support from burn spells to clear the way and sometimes takes those last hit points. Monored uses its creatures to help get the opponent's life total within burn range, then throws burn at him. It is a plan that requires more commitment and fails more often, but besides being faster, it is harder to control completely. As long as the opponent doesn't grab the win with a finisher, you'll be topdecking burn.

Some cards reward Sligh for using its burn to control the board, like Genju of the Spires. That creates a dilemma for the player - should I use my burn against the opponent's creatures or hurl it at him? Playing this sort of deck may look easy, but contrary to that general belief, playing it optimally involves a lot of thought, planning and decisions based on probability and knowledge of your own deck.

Rare Variation: R Midrange

Similarly to RG Aggro, if R Aggro doesn't get enough cheap creatures, it'll become Midrange. In this case, there is a fundamental strategy change. Because there will be no creatures to push damage through at the start of the game, the opponent's life total will be out of burn range. The obvious plan in this situation is using that burn to control the board instead and then casting bigger creatures to take the opponent's life in bigger chunks. Annother change in the deck list is the possibility of using expensive burn spells, especially X spells.

Games involving R Midrange have a weird tempo, because the longer the game lasts, the less gas R Midrange will have, but the more dangerous its spells will be. Since like R Aggro it's hard to be completely controlled, it's an even worse problem to control decks that take too long to kill. This build hasn't shown up many times, so it's hard to tell its true potential, but it looks like a good option when red is wide open.

BG Aggro

Cube Decklist: BG Aggro
Constructed Decklist: BG Aggro Rock
Relative popularity in cube: Uncommon

Combining green's good cost-benefit and black's suicidal cheap creatures, BG Aggro offers a lot of raw power, fueled by black's strategical virtues - discard, removal, card advantage. This archetype usually get good results when drafted, but it's tricky to put together, and double costs tend to be a problem. Since it's an aggro deck, there is no room for dedicated mana fixing, so dual lands like Llanowar Wastes are invaluable to smooth draws.

The average BG Aggro deck will ideally curve 1 and 2-drops, use discard to disrupt the opponent's answers and creature removal to remove blockers, play some more cheap creatures to keep pressure, then replenish its forces with a card drawing spell - albeit not necessarily in that order. BG Aggro has more flexibility than other aggro archetypes, making it very close to an Aggro-Control deck, and the exact play pattern may vary depending on the card selection. This flexibility makes it good against control, but hurts its raw power, which leads to a bad midrange matchup.

BR Aggro

Cube Decklist: BR Aggro
Constructed Decklist: BR Zombies
Relative popularity in cube: Uncommon

Being the kings of efficient creature removal, black and red combine to create the aggro that most enjoys keeping the other side of the battlefield board clean and attacking without pesky blockers. With the way clear, the cheap creatures can quickly bring the opponent to 0 life. If he manages to stabilize, this deck can turn to direct damage mode and start throwing burn at the opponent and keep attacking with whatever evaders it has. Discard helps to disrupt the opponent's defenses, and black card drawing can be used to get extra gas. As mentioned in a previous post, card drawing plus burn is a powerful combination.

BR Aggro is great against other aggro decks and creature-based decks in general, and will trade two-for-one frequently, creating card advantage. Against control, its dedicated creature removal becomes dead and frequently even turns on the deck itself because of a Fire Imp or Flametongue Kavu. This matchup can be improved by prioritizing resilient offense such as Genju of the Spires and Lavaclaw Reaches, and prioritizing versatile burn that can be used on both players and creatures.

Rare Variation: BR Aggro-Control

A modified version of BR Aggro would be having less cheap creatures, which is a common problem in red and black, and in those free slots, include more discard and card drawing. This creates a disruptive and more resilient build that works better against control. Offensive discard like Blightning and Blazing Specter fits perfectly, as well as aggro-friendly card drawing like Night's Whisper and Browbeat.

G Aggro

Cube Decklist: G Aggro
Constructed Decklist: Stompy
Relative popularity in cube: Rare

Without access to shenanigans from other colors, a monogreen aggro deck has a very straightforward plan: play a lot of creatures, enchant/equip them, and turn them all sideways. Green has a lot of creatures that are fit to carry this plan, and the best auras and combat tricks, so it's well geared, but it is also an archetype that's hard to force, since any other playing sharing green aggro with you might make it infeasible.

The major advantage of this strategy is consistency. It adds the mana consistency that monocolored decks profit from to the wide range of good green creatures. The curve can't be too low - there simply won't be enough cheap and offensive green creatures to fill a whole deck - but it can (and must) be smooth so that the deck gains momentum quickly and steadily. Equipment and auras are essential to provide lasting power, and combat tricks prevent the deck from becoming too predictable.

G Aggro has a bad matchup against control, and suffers with pinpoint removal, especially the sort that doesn't care about toughness. The compensation is that it outclasses and outraces other aggro and aggro-control archetypes with its pumped up efficient creatures. To improve the control matchup there are only a handful of cards that help effectively. Some do so with tempo control, like Plow Under, others with sheer card advantage, like Hunter's Insight.


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