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By: FiniteMTG, Max
Jun 22 2020 12:00pm
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Anecdotal Evidence?

Two years ago, I went on my first heater in MTGO cube with mono-red and mono-white aggro. I practically couldn’t lose. I was hitting one-outers to win after an attack from Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger! I finished that day 14-1.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger


Because it was my first real heater, I assumed it was an anomaly. The trophy leaderboard would look a lot different if relative newcomers to cube like me could rack up four trophies in five drafts, right? I was already infinite on MTGO currency thanks to the great EV (estimated value) of Friendly Sealed, but I couldn’t imagine that Wizards would make going infinite so simple in such a popular event.

Replicable Results

I was wrong. From then on, I’ve been able to maintain a win rate of at least 80% (equivalent to going 3-0 in 2/5 drafts and going 2-1 in the other 3/5) in every Modern, Legacy, and Vintage Cube event. In the last installment of Vintage Cube, I even made a run at reaching 2000 limited rating starting from about 1900, and I made it over halfway there. This all has been possible despite any nerfs to aggro or disparities in the power level of those formats.

Why Should You Care?

If tallying up trophies and playpoints wasn’t reason enough, why should you learn how to draft aggro? It’s worth learning to draft aggro for two main reasons: (1) you know when and how to pivot into aggro if your lane dries up, and (2) you know how to beat both mono-red and mono-white.

General Tenets           

Some players believe that many of these will go without saying, but I find that relatively few players do all these things.

Always play first.  There are formats where the aggro mirror is so attrition-based that drawing first is better, but Modern, Legacy, and Vintage Cubes are not such formats.

Don’t play more than 40 cards in a deck. Yorion, Sky Nomad is not worth it as a companion in aggro decks.

Draft a curve. Aggro wins by spending as much mana and casting as many spells as possible before the opponent has a chance to react.

Don’t play six-drops. Your objective is to win through the application of early pressure. A costly card may be the reprieve your opponent needs to claw back into the game.

Take your time. Just because you’re playing a fast deck doesn’t mean you need to play fast. In fact, you have more time for decision-making because games last fewer turns.

Don’t be afraid to mulligan. One-landers on the play are a no-go. Hands with five or more lands rarely work out. Curving out will win you games where you go down a card.

Alright, now to the interesting stuff.

When to Pivot

One good time to pivot is midway into pack one if you see one of the best cards in an archetype. I consider Hero of Bladehold and Hellrider to be the best finishers in their respective colors and thereby the best signals for their respective archetypes. Archangel Avacyn and Glorybringer are also excellent signposts at the five-mana slot, but be conservative when picking expensive cards. At most, I’ll play two five-drops in my aggressive decks.

Hellrider

Regardless of these individual cards, I believe the best time to pivot into aggro is late in pack one, just after cards start to wheel. If you aren’t drafting aggro but an overwhelming number of aggressive cards are wheeling, consider a switch. These cubes are such that you will end up with a stronger deck after a well-chosen pivot than if you force your way down a lane that isn’t open.

What Can You Wheel?

Because the most common competition for white cards is with blue-based control, removal spells like Swords to Plowshares and Oblivion Ring are high picks for mono-white aggro. Rarely is someone else interested in the scrappy (cheap aggressive) white creatures, meaning you can often wheel them with impunity. However, there are some special creatures for which I make exceptions. For instance, I pick Mother of Runes highly because I consider its effect uniquely powerful, even though Giver of Runes exists.

Oblivion Ring               Mother of Runes

Because mono-red aggro is more popular than mono-white, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of taking Lightning Bolts highly and wheeling the scrappy red creatures. Therefore, I like to take the better scrappy creatures (e.g. Goblin Rabblemaster, which I consider the best red three-drop) highly in pack one. If red seems particularly open by the end of pack one, then I take removal over creatures in packs two and three, just as I would while drafting white.

Paying attention to which cards do and don’t wheel is important both to drafting aggro and deciding whether to pivot into it. To improve this, I would highly recommend autosaving your draft logs. From there, you can analyze signals from a past draft or even open the draft log mid-draft to refresh your memory.

Protection from Your Deck

Between mono-red, mono-white, and mono-green, there are plenty of mono-color decks around. Equipping a sword that effectively gives a creature protection from an opponent’s entire deck is often gamebreaking. Only one sword gives protection from two of these monochromatic decks: Sword of War and Peace. Although people often say this sword is the worst, it gives the most relevant protection in the main deck. As far as triggers go, Sword of Fire and Ice is generically best and Sword of Light and Shadow is surprisingly potent against control, but triggers rarely win games outright the way protection does.

Sword of War and Peace

What Belongs in the Sideboard?

Along the same lines as swords, Giver of Runes is no substitute for Mom, but “Stepmom” can still steal games by effectively making a creature unblockable against a mono-color deck. A second point of toughness and protection from colorless come in handy, too! I’ve recently found that this card always deserves a main deck slot in mono-white.

Land Tax

“Landcestral Recall” is one of the most powerful cards in mono-white… on the draw. But on the play, I’ve found Land Tax to be a straight-up mulligan. If you’re missing land drops on the play, either you’ve developed your board enough to win or it’s already too late. I always start Land Tax on the sidelines, then cut a land for it if I won the game. Just remember to switch it back out for a land if you lose the next game!

Criminally Underrated Cards

Outpost Siege

As far as I’m aware, Outpost Siege is not a modal card. I’ve neither chosen the Dragons mode nor have I seen anyone else choose it. While not modal, Outpost Siege is a powerful, reliable form of card advantage for mono-red. It’s a tough card type to interact with and it provides inevitability. I’m never disappointed to wheel or maindeck an Outpost Siege, and I always board it in against the controlling decks.

People love to hate on Brightling. I’ve heard it called the worst card in the cube. I’ve heard someone say it’s straight out of an Arena welcome deck. In fact, I might be the only person on the internet to come to its defense. Let’s look at what it can be:

A 5-1 lifelink that wins races Baneslayer style.

A 0-6 (or tougher) that blocks Thragtusks and the like indefinitely.

And most importantly, a boomerang back to the hand in the event of a Wrath of God.

I don’t claim Brightling is the best three-drop in mono-white. I do claim it is a totally serviceable card that over-performs relative to what most people expect of it.

Tangle Wire

Last but not least is a diamond in the rough. You laughed at it once, didn’t you? But now that it has its day in the sun, who’s the one tapping all their permanents, and who’s the one attacking for lethal?

Tangle Wire is a pet card of mine. It is cheaper (and better by far) than Armageddon/Ravages of War. It is colorless, so it fits into either aggro deck. It appears to be a symmetrical card but inherently breaks its own symmetry. Finally—and yes, I say this knowing it could be the hill I die on—it can bring about more tempo than Time Walk. And yet, it often wheels. Let’s break it down.

There are a few steps to a good Tangle Wire:

(1) flooding the board with cheap permanents before you play it, (2) knowing how to stack the fading and tapping triggers, and (3) knowing it’s a freeroll to tap any equipment and the Wire itself.

1. While Tangle Wire is in play, you either want to develop your board as much as possible or push as much damage as possible. Think Spectral Procession into Tangle Wire for the former. Think Goblin Rabblemaster into Tangle Wire for the latter.

2. Triggers resolve opposite the order that they are put onto the stack. Put the tap trigger onto the stack first so it will resolve after the fading trigger. This is also an important concept for Hero of Bladehold.

3. You should be tapping (and planning your Wires around tapping) noncreature artifacts like swords, Jitte, and Tangle Wire itself. This is a great way to break the symmetry even more.

Tangle Wire is one of the best cards against midrange and control. It saddens me to say, but there are also times when it isn’t at its best. It’s not spectacular versus mono-green, which can dump enough mana dorks to mitigate the damage. It’s also not great against aggro—specifically on the draw. I still think it’s worth running against aggro on the play.

New Cards

The power level has seemed higher than ever in a few recent sets, so it’s unsurprising that a few of the cards that trickle into the cube could be mainstays.

It may not be beat out Hero of Bladehold or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as one of the top two white four-drops, but I think Luminous Broodmoth secures its spot as number three. The moth is a decent evasive body that can combo with enters-the-battlefield triggers while giving white more protection against wraths. I prefer it to the angels—namely Restoration Angel, Emeria Angel, and Sublime Archangel.

Thanks to the companion rule change, most companions haven’t done too much damage in the current installment of Legacy Cube. Obosh, on the other hand, has done quite a bit of damage—twice as much, to be precise. Despite being sub-Glorybringer and likely sub-Thundermaw Hellkite, the card is a strong, spicy addition to the cube. It may be possible to companion this in red, but I would never try: two-drops and four-drops are simply too important.

Best Card to Start an Aggro Draft?

Earlier I mentioned that I rate Hero of Bladehold and Hellrider as the best finishers in their respective archetypes. However, it stands to reason that the best first pick to play either mono-red or mono-white aggro would be able to fit into either deck. Let’s meet our contestants:

Figure of Destiny Umezawa's Jitte

These cards are all great in mono-red and mono-white, to the extent that I would play all of them in any aggro deck and would even be happy playing multiples of them in those decks. Figure is very nice, but it has the least raw power of the three and as such, often wheels. Jitte is amazing, but it’s much more potent against creature decks than against control. And the winner is…

Copter. It’s completely dumb. It survives sorcery-speed interaction like wraths and planeswalkers. It is an incomparably fast and evasive clock. It provides coveted card filtering for no added cost. It even fills a hole many aggro decks have in the two-drop slot. Smuggler's Copter is the card I’m happiest to first-pick when forcing aggro, and I’m even happier whenever I manage to pick it up late.

How to Beat Mono-Red

Mono-red is a blazingly fast deck. Although few of its key cards have enters-the-battlefield abilities, many of them do have haste. What mono-red lacks in resilience, it makes up for in sheer damage. If your life total is low, your fight against mono-red isn’t done after clearing the board. While your opponent is likely at 20 life, you may be just a couple burn spells away from losing the game. How can you defeat the red menace?

 

Goblin Guide

First and foremost is cheap interaction. You don’t necessarily need a wrath to beat mono-red if your opponent never had a formidable board presence. Killing the burn player’s turn one Goblin Guide or similar is step one to winning the game.

Kitchen Finks

Another way to beat mono-red is with swords. The swords with protection from white gain life (as do a couple other great options like Kitchen Finks), and the swords with protection from red… well, make creatures unkillable. You’ll have to watch out for a burn spell in response to the equip, not to mention cards like Abrade and (Embereth Shieldbreaker), but swords can go a long way in the matchup.

Baneslayer Angel

Finally, creatures with high toughness can prove difficult for mono-red. Because mono-red players seldom maindeck cards like (Lava Coil) and Mizzium Mortars, creatures with toughness four or greater like Brimaz, King of Oreskos often demand two burn spells. The combination of high toughness and lifegain make Baneslayer Angel and Batterskull a couple of the best cards against mono-red. But even a great threat on turn five can be too slow against mono-red if you don’t have the early interaction to back it up!

How to Beat Mono-White

Mono-white is the least-drafted ultra-powerful deck. Although it’s half a step slower than mono-red, several creatures get immediate value with their strong enters-the-battlefield abilities. Apart from the transformation of Archangel Avacyn, the color possesses no direct damage. However, its plentiful and versatile removal can answer almost any permanent, thereby clearing the way for lethal attacks. Where are the cracks in the armor of mono-white?

The cop-out answer for a creature-centric archetype is Wrath of God and friends. However, mono-white is unexpectedly resilient against wraths. Selfless Spirit turns mass removal into spot removal. Tithe Taker rebuilds after a wrath, and Hallowed Spiritkeeper rebuilds something fierce. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can slow them down, and Ranger-Captain of Eos can take them off the table… before they even hit the table. It’ll take more than a wrath to beat mono-white.

Llanowar Elves

The other fast archetypes can sometimes beat mono-white in a race. The fastest goldfish kills in the cube belong to mono-red and mono-green. Much of the white removal is suited to answering a large blocker, not cards like Goblin Guide or Llanowar Elves. Winning the die roll and playing as the aggressor can steal matches against mono-white.

Thrun, the Last Troll

The best cards against mono-white (and mono-red, for that matter) have hexproof. Thrun, the Last Troll and Carnage Tyrant are absolute houses against aggro. They’re nearly impossible to kill and extremely difficult to beat without evasion. There aren’t many cards in these cubes with hexproof, but the creatures with it will be as brutal against aggro as they are in regular limited.

Wrap Up

I hope you found my first article informative! Feel free to let me know what you think. You can find my content on YouTube here.

You can join my Discord where we plan custom drafts here

Thanks for reading and happy cubing!

Max / FiniteMTG