5 Point Plan: A Beginners Guide To Aggro In Magic: The Gathering
Hello again, rapidly-developing Planeswalkers.
I’ve crammed quite a bit of material into the early articles in this series, with the aim of quickly developing your Magic: The Gathering toolkit.
If I’ve done my job right, you should currently be realising that a mental toolbox isn’t quite big enough to hold everything you need to learn… and you should perhaps be looking into mental warehousing instead. There’s a reason why we need Architects of Thought in this game.
For our next chapter, I want to dive just a little deeper into one particular area of the game: Strategic Archetypes.
Don’t be fooled by the fancy phrasing – what I’m talking about are the basic types of gameplan around which a Magic Deck can be built.
There are, depending on whom you talk to, either three or four of these basic gameplans:
- …and sometimes Mid-range
My next few articles are going to examine the key elements of each one, so that by the end, you have a clear idea of what they are, what they aim to do and how you might go about building or playing them in a given format.
Let’s get cracking with our first archetype: Aggro.
1. What is Aggro?
It’s a style of Magic Deck which aims to reduce the opponent’s life total from 20 to 0 as quickly as possible, typically using a swarm of creatures. Simple.
2. What colours is Aggro?
The strategy can be built in a variety of colour combinations although some, like Red, are more strongly associated with aggressive play than others. The various colours bring different tools to an Aggro player:
White is a classic aggressive colour, with White Weenie a strategy which has been deployed in countless different formats. Variations include decks which produce a critical mass of token creatures, or focus on a single tribe such as Kithkin.
Black is a little confused in its aggressive role these days. Historically associated with good aggressive creatures sporting drawbacks, it has more recently been dealt resilient, recurring monsters. Black Aggro is supported by the good removal and discard which are perennial features of the colour.
Red is the most aggressive of all the colours. It has both strong creatures and cards which deal damage directly to the opposing player… even if the opponent can stop Red’s army, they still aren’t safe.
Green has an aggressive side which focuses on big, resilient creatures and pump effects ranging from Giant Growth to Overrun, which help it to close the game by dramatically enhancing its creatures at a pivotal moment. It tends to be a secondary aggressive colour, best when paired with Red or White.
As an aside, arguably the greatest Aggro deck of all time, Affinity, was colourless at its core. While it ran support spells from several colours, the power of the strategy came from its critical mass of artifacts.
The lesson we draw from this is that Aggro can be any colour, given the right conditions, but will usually lean toward Red and White.
3. How does Aggro work?
A successful Aggro deck will tend to follow a few strategic principles.
It will play less expensive spells and less lands
When a deck is aiming to cast threats like Aetherling, or big roadblocks like Thragtusk, it will play lots of lands to ensure that it can draw enough of them to regularly reach 5 – 7 mana.
Aggro wants the opposite to be true. With more spells clustered in the 1-3 mana range, it has the luxury of playing comparatively few lands… which means that it will draw business spells more often, exactly the position a proactive deck wants to be in.
It will start playing the game on turn 1.
Some decks are content to lead off with a tapped dual land, building toward a point in the middle or late game where they will try to make powerful things happen. Aggro doesn’t do this. Aggro wants to start putting the opponent under pressure right away.
It will play cheap creatures, which hit hard
Creatures come in all shapes and sizes; they can be useful for lots of different reasons. Augur of Bolas, for instance, is a very good creature in the right kind of deck.
Aggro doesn’t want that kind of monster. It wants Rakdos Cackler, or Ash Zealot, creatures which will bring pain right away… and it wants to smash your face with them.
It will try to make the games as short as possible
When all your spells are at their best in the early turns of the game – and other strategies play their best Magic later in the game – your best plan is to make sure that the game ends as quickly as possible.
Aggro doesn’t ever want there to be a turn 6 – or a turn 5, if it can be helped. It wants to slam shut the opponent’s window of opportunity so hard that it crushes their fingers.
4. What are Aggro’s weaknesses?
Traditionally, Aggro is vulnerable to a few particular things, although at various times it may be stronger on one axis or another.
Cards like Supreme Verdict tend to be bad news for a deck which wants to vomit creatures onto the table as quickly as possible. Aggro can fall behind on resources very quickly when all its attackers are being destroyed by a single play from the opponent.
When your game plan is damaging your opponent to death, it’s terrible when they gain life, right?
Well, not always. When the other player spends mana and cards just to gain life, without doing anything to stop the aggressive resources you’re using to kill them, they’re generally just prolonging their own agony.
When they do things which improve their board presence, or gain card advantage, whilst also gaining life… that is a different story. Thragtusk and Sphinx’s Revelation are spells which Aggro does not want to see resolve, because they increase the resources an opponent has to fight with whilst providing a comfortable life buffer.
Other creature decks which sport larger monsters can be a problem for Aggro. If they can block your attackers profitably, they’ll be well placed to make the game stretch out… and all of a sudden they have too much mana and superior cards for you to deal with.
Aggro decks tend to be concerned about one resource: the opponent’s life total. They don’t concentrate on card advantage in the same way that other strategies do.
Of course, this means that without many ways to draw extra cards, they are vulnerable to simply running out of spells to play. As an Aggro player, flooding on lands is a terrible experience; fighting an attrition war where you run dry before the opponent is a terrible experience; being forced to mulligan to 5 is a terrible experience.
5. What does a good Aggro deck look like?
Here are a couple of Standard-legal Aggro decks which have done reasonably well in recent months.
All-in auras Red
The first finished 2nd in a Starcity Games Invitational Qualifier (like the kind which will be running at the Mindsports Festival in Cardiff). It’s a high-risk strategy built for speed, cramming as many low cost creatures, auras and burn spells as possible into a library which contains only 20 basic mountains:
I’m not sure if this is the best build of Red Aggro out there, but it does exemplify the all-in nature of very fast Aggro decks. Look at the huge number of plays available for one and two mana, compared to the solitary three-drop in Boros Reckoner.
Hellrider gets more coverage in the four-drop section, but I get the feeling that’s purely out of respect for its ability to make the deck explode into a winning turn without warning; given a closer choice, no deck running 20 lands wants to rely on a four mana spell.
RG Kibler Aggro
Our second deck has a slightly better pedigree: it was Hall-of-Famer Brian Kibler’s favoured strategy for the World Championship earlier this month. This is a Red/Green Aggro deck, which employs bigger creatures, powered out by tiny elves which help the deck to leap ahead on mana.
With this deck, Kibler wants to ‘go bigger’ – a strategy he successfully employed when he won his first Pro Tour, sporting a ‘Zoo’ Aggro deck which employed meatier creatures than the more popular builds and became a favourite against them as a result.
His plan is to play more resilient, harder-hitting creatures than the other aggressive decks in the format, so that he can out-fight them and still have enough oomph to smash through the control decks. Even his removal of choice scales up – an overloaded Mizzium Mortars is nothing to sneeze at. Finally, with Domri Rade, he has a multi-purpose powerhouse which can draw him cards, exploit the beefy bodies on his monsters to fight and kill smaller creatures, or go ultimate and present an almost unbeatable long-game emblem.
This strategy borders on the Midrange side of the spectrum, but still has enough early beaters that I feel safe in classifying it an Aggro deck.
Time to wrap it up
Now you know how one of Magic’s strategic pillars operates… and come next week, you’ll have a handle on Control too.
In the meantime, your homework is to build some aggressive decks and smash them into the faces of your fellow players. Good luck and happy hunting!