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By: Javasci, Robert Johnson
Nov 16 2007 9:48am
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Recently, walkerdog gave PureMTGO two articles about Aggro decks in the classic format.  This is in direct response to the second of those articles, and somewhat to the first of them.

Two reasons NOT to play aggro decks in classic:

Protean Hulk

In article 1, walkerdog presents two decks, Red Deck Wins (or RDW) and Affinity.  In sample games, Red Deck Won on turn four, and Affinity won on turn six.

Flash-Hulk wins on turn two or three (sometimes turn one on the draw, with Gemstone Caverns), often with counter backup (Force of Will, Pact of Negation).  This is referring to my slow list, with absolutely no acceleration (counting Gemstone Caverns as a land drop, not acceleration).

Even a bad flash hand will win by turn three, and anything less will be mulliganed.  Red decks can only hope for that on a god draw, and god draws can be stopped by Force of Will, which every Flash deck worth the tickets spent on it plays.

Everything said above about red decks goes for Affinity and Goblins also.

Now that I have shown the deficiencies in traditional aggro decks, I will show an aggro deck that was and can be viable in classic.

Aggro-Control in Classic
2 Barbarian Ring
3 Chrome Mox
4 Counterspell
4 Flooded Strand
4 Force of Will
Goblin Legionnaire
3 Grim Lavamancer
1 Island
4 Leyline of the Void
Lightning Angel
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Lightning Helix
4 Meddling Mage
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
Steam Vents
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Kataki, War's Wage
3 Pyroblast
3 Swords to Plowshares
4 Trickbind

This deck is called Star-Spangled Slaughter, and was a pet deck of mine before Master's Edition came out.  Before the restrictions, I halfheartedly updated it for Master's.  I have not played it since then, and this is the decklist as it was after that update.

This deck is an example of what an aggro deck needs to be in classic.  Note the bolded cards.  Cards like Samurai of the Pale Curtain and Meddling Mage are the key to a succesful aggro deck because they stop combo.  Magic is often called a game of rock-paper-scissors, or aggro-combo-control.  According to this, combo beats aggro.  Therefore, an aggro deck's main concern should be beating combo.  To do that, it needs disruption.

Affinity does not have disruption.  Goblins does not have disruption.  Zoo, or multicolored aggro, does not have disruption.  Red Deck Wins does not win because it does not have disruption.  Those decks are not viable in classic as long as combo exists.

How to Make a Good Aggro Deck

A good aggro deck must do two things:  It must win quickly (even in the face of disruption), and it must win against combo.

How to win quickly

Winning quickly involves redundancy and efficiency.  Efficiency manifests itself in cards like Lightning Bolt and Savannah Lions, both of which are low-cost and high-effect.  Redundancy involves cards like Lightning Helix to complement Lightning Bolt and Isamaru, Hound of Konda to complement Savannah Lions.  With a redundant deck, you do not need to fear counters, as you have another thread just like the one that was countered.  However, all aggro decks have these, even if the deck's creator did not think about them.  They are that obvious.  The real problem an aggro deckbuilder has to face is beating combo.

How to beat combo

Although an aggro deck can win quickly, any good combo deck can win even more quickly.  In formats like standard, where good combo decks are few and far between, aggro decks need only be concerned with speed and redundancy.  However, in classic, combo decks are the decks to beat.

As mentioned before, to beat combo decks, you must have disruption.

Forms of disruption

Disruption comes in two forms: permanent and instant.  Yes, those refer to the Magic object types.  Permanent disruption is cards like Meddling Mage, which are permanents that have a static ability that shuts off a part of the combo deck's combo.  Instant disruption is cards like Force of Will or Counterspell or even Gilded Light, which are instants that stop the combo as it goes off.  (Note that although a card may be a permanent, a permament like Seht's Tiger, with a comes-into-play ability, counts as instant disruption.)  To beat a combo deck, you must have both of these and a good clock.  (A "clock" in this context is something that gives the opponent a limited time in which to win before you win, like a creature attacking turn after turn unopposed.)  Permanent disruption alone is easily answered by bounce (Chain of Vapor); instant disruption is easily answered by counters (Pact of Negation).  With infinite time, a combo deck can answer both at once and win that turn.

In Conclusion...

The question that was answered by the subjects of this rebuttal was: Which aggro decks are viable in classic?  However, the better question is, "Can an aggro deck be viable in classic?"  The answer is, "No, only aggro-control or aggro-disruption decks can be viable in classic."

An aggro deck can win quickly, but a combo deck will always be quicker.  Aggro cannot beat combo without disruption, which pure aggro decks do not have.  Therefore, pure aggro, like the decks shown in the subjects of this rebuttal, cannot be viable in classic.


He's not wrong by walkerdog at Sat, 11/24/2007 - 12:18
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I agree with most of what Java is saying here.  Flash is awesome.  Probably the best deck right now, due to not being overplayed.  In a perfect meta, it's one of the top 3 decks in any field.  Right now is a perfect time to play it, as it can beat the slower aggro decks.  However, if it gains popularity, then it will worsen (the same as with most decks), as it has to start packing "bad" cards to fight mirror-matchs, leylines are always present, and control and thresh can be stronger decks.  Anyways, I like flash a lot, it's just that I play a lot've aggro (I like turning guys sideways).

Full Metagame by iceage4life at Sat, 11/17/2007 - 18:06
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So you're saying aggro decks are bad because in some theortical metagame they would loose to combo?  With Magic it is best to talk about the here and now.  Also if you want an aggro deck that beats combo look no futher than Suicide Black (or Deadguy Ale).

re: Full Metagame by Javasci at Sat, 11/17/2007 - 20:25
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The Full Metagame is not just any theoretical metagame, it's what the metagame "should" be, as much as anything can be what the metagame "should" be.  The current metagame is less "real" than the full metagame, even though it's what exists.  Metagame decks, or decks that win by exploiting the popular decks as opposed to their own strength, are considered "bad" decks even though they win.  Similar with Red Deck Wins and other straight aggro decks as long as Flash remains legal (which I hear is forever).

Oh yeah by iceage4life at Sat, 11/17/2007 - 12:57
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One other question if pure aggro decks are not viable how did burn win the last Classic PE?

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Many of you are correct in that aggro decks can win tournaments.  In a full classic metagame, which would have plenty of combo, they would not be viable.  What we have is not said full classic metagame.

My other point that stands is that walkerdog did not adress combo at all in his article.  He claims (if I interpret correctly) that aggro decks are good.  They are not.  They cannot be good unless they run enough disruption to stop combo.  Winning does not make a deck good, winning against a range of good decks makes a deck good.  Aggro decks cannot be good if they cannot beat good combo.

Re: Flash Errata by Javasci at Fri, 11/16/2007 - 12:49
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Basic Land: They changed that long before Protean Hulk came out, sometime in Urza's Block.  Academy Rector was the culprit there.

Flash became a dominant deck in Classic because they recently, due to their new policy on power level errata, changed it back.  They never have and, according to their policy, never will re-errata it, thus the combo will always work.  They have restricted flash, however, but the deck still wins.

Numbers by iceage4life at Sat, 11/17/2007 - 12:54
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One person in a 28 person event playing Flash and maybe 3 or 4 more people playing ether Desire or Ideal does not mean you shouldn't play aggro.  If there was alot of combo being run then you might not want to run aggro.

P.S. Second most numerous deck in GP Columbus t8 (GP Flash)?  Suicide Black.  Pretty sure that counts as aggro.

P.P.S.  Wouldn't a Threshold list be better for aggro-control than a "half-hearted" update? 

P.P.P.S. Who said none of those decks have disruption?  You've never seen Affinity cast a Cabal Therapy after board?  Never seen zoo cast Orim's Chant or Pyrostatic Pillar?  Those decks might not have MD disruption and might not have much but to say they have no disruption is incorrect.

Combo baby by hamtastic at Fri, 11/16/2007 - 14:52
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Combo... sweet sweet combo.

Not exactly combo, but Ichorid has a combo kill of turn 2/3 without disruption.

Desire/Tendrils can also go off very early, and once it gets lotus petal in a few months it will be a strong contender for sure.

Flash Errata, by Basic Land at Fri, 11/16/2007 - 12:33
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I don’t play classic, but didn’t they change the ruling on Flash to where the Protean Hulk Flash combo doesn’t work anymore.  That’s just what I heard. No more 0 1st, 2nd, or 3rd turn wins for the deck anymore.

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 11/16/2007 - 10:20
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This article is elitist and wholly incorrect.  Affinity decks, Burn decks, Zoo, Black/White agro, and various mid range decks have won and placed numerous top 8's in both sanctioned Ques and PRE's.   Are they viable? Well, yes.  Decks that make top 8 more than once is practically the definition of viable.  

  Often times, "good" players will play the metagame gamble and run something that has an auto loss. Sure, red Deck wins has an impossible game against flash, but that doesn't mean it can't beat up the rest of the field. I think both articles could have emphasized strengths and weaknesses of archetype selection.

He did mention something that bears knowing- if you want to snuff combo, U/x Agro is a logical choice.  Classic's best anti-combo artillery comes from those two colors. 

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