I love attacking, putting pressure on my opponents and forcing them to react. Mike Tyson once said: “Everyone has a plan until I punch them in the face.” In Magic it’s the same thing. Everyone wants to take time to set up their game plan, so by putting pressure on their life total it’s not as easy for them to take a lot of early turns to do so. Every experienced Magic player has a plan to deal with an aggressive strategy, so it’s my responsibility as an aggressive player to have a plan to counteract theirs. The issue with linear aggressive decks like “mono red “is that you can’t adjust your strategy very much post sideboard, so if your opponent has a solid sideboard plan for you then there’s not much you can do about it. The last couple of years I have adopted a deck building style that has explosive starts, but has enough sustainability that it can go longer and hang with mid-range decks with similar card quality. Let me show you what I mean with my new Standard Selesnya brew:
2 Blossoming Sands
1 Mana Confluence
4 Temple of Plenty
1 Temple of Malady
4 Windswept Heath
1 Valorous Stance
1 Banishing Light
3 End Hostilities
2 Reclamation Sage
3 Glare of Heresy
2 Arbor Colossus
3 Mistcutter Hydra
As you can see we are playing the best three aggressive cards in our colours, Warden of the First Tree, Fleecemane Lion, and Brimaz, King of Oreskos. On the other end of the spectrum we have the four best mid to late games cards our colours have to offer in Mastery of the Unseen, Whisperwood Elemental, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Bridge those cards with some mana ramp and the best removal we have access to and you have the most durable and flexible aggressive deck in the format. The most common question I get asked is “why no four drops?” Although we don’t have any cards that cost four mana, we certainly have lots to do on turn four. You can activate Mystery of the Unseen, level up Warden of the First Tree or just ramp into a 5 or 6 drop. I feel all the cards at 3 and 5 are more important to our deck than anything we have access to at 4. We also have ten 1 or 2 mana cards that perform great in the late game, mana sinks if you will. Let’s get into the cards, and their roles in the deck.
The next Jeskai Ascendancy? perhaps…
The Mana Ramp
A concession to playing a large number of 5 and 6 mana spells is that you need mana ramp. I found six mana dorks to be the right number in the deck, as we function best with one by turn 2 but we want to avoid flooding on them too often. Although Courser of Kruphix isn’t necessarily mana ramp, he does help us hit our land drops to cast our expensive cards. It’s also nice to be able to see the top card when Mastery of the Unseen is in play so you can fix your draws a little bit if you want.
I started with 4 Valorous Stance as the versatility of protecting your guys and killing theirs is so good. I changed one to a single Banishing Light so we had an out to problematic permanents game 1. If you feel like you need one more removal spell main deck then I would cut an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion for the second Banishing Light, but be conscious that you will become more vulnerable to Stormbreath Dragon as a result.
These cards tend to pull you ahead in the mid-game, most midrange games coming down to who draws more Whisperwood Elementals. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes can pull you far ahead if you have established an early board presence by making all your creatures bigger than your opponent’s. Most importantly it will win those grindy games where you are trading card for card with your opponent. Lastly, we come to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. When I first built the deck she over performed, but now with the all the Whisperwood Elementals being played she is not quite as good. She’s still a necessary evil due to our weakness to Stormbreath Dragon, but I wouldn’t fault you for moving one to the sideboard.
These three cards are the reason the deck wins so much. And that is for one simple reason: they are good at any point of the game. The big thing I learned was if you have other things to play, then do that and don’t sink mana into these cards unless you are afraid of board sweepers. You will start to notice a trend, if you play this way, that your opponents will ignore these three cards to deal with your “bigger” threats. Once your opponent is hellbent, or when you feel there’s a safe opening, you can start investing mana into these three cards. You never want to invest 5 mana into the monstrous ability of Fleecemane Lion when your opponent is representing Lightning Strike and you could do other things with your mana. For Warden of the First Tree there are some scenarios where you spend mana early on leveling it up if you feel it’s safe. Getting it to level 2 then playing an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and giving it three counters is pretty backbreaking. Also remember that you can activate the third ability of Warden of the First Tree more than once. I have won many games with a 13/13 trampling lifelinker.
I am not one to have a set sideboarding plan, as not every build or player of an archetype is the same. I do follow four golden rules though:
1. Against control I want constant pressure on the board without overextending.
2. If they are faster than you, lower your curve.
3. If they go wider then you, control them.
4. If they have a problematic card for you, board in all available answers.
I will have a video ready next week to post. If you can’t wait until then check out the archives on my twitch channel.
Until next time,