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This Is Madness - The Evolution of R/B Aggro

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The current Standard format might look quite stale, with B/G Delirium and U/W Flash being the most represented decks tournament after tournament. If you, too, are sick of playing the same matchups over and over again and are looking for new options, I think I do have a viable alternative in store:

RB Aggro - GP Warsaw 2016 *3rd*

Colors
Artifact12
Gold8
Land23
Red17
Converted Mana Cost
111
210
312
44
Type
Artifact4
Artifact Creature8
Basic Land15
Creature12
Instant11
Land8
Sorcery2
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This is the list I piloted to a third place finish at GP Warsaw a few weeks back. It took me a while to put together this guide on the deck, since I was busy preparing for the Team GP and focusing on Unified Modern for the World Magic Cup. However, I have gotten lots of messages asking about the deck and my sideboarding plans, this is probably due to the fact that there still has not been a lot of content about the deck. With GP Denver and GP Madrid coming up, I think this information is still relevant and I would like to share my thoughts on the deck and its current position in the format, and hopefully answer as many of your questions as possible.

The Evolution of the Deck

To understand how I ended up with the list I played at GP Warsaw, we need to go back in time a bit. An early version of R/B Aggro was the deck I played at Pro Tour Honolulu and I have since made quite a few changes to the original list.

For reference, here is my version from the Pro Tour:

RB Aggro - Pro Tour Honolulu 2016

Colors
Artifact17
Gold4
Land23
Red16
Converted Mana Cost
18
214
312
43
Type
Artifact9
Artifact Creature8
Basic Land15
Creature8
Instant8
Land8
Sorcery4
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This should be fairly similar to some of the early R/B Aggro lists that were designed by Gerry Thompson and Michael Majors. I feel like there were a couple of things we got wrong in this list, partly because our understanding of the deck was still lacking, and partly because the metagame had obviously not been too well defined yet. We did have the U/W Flash deck in our testing, but decided against playing it, since we were not expecting as much Marvel and feared the more aggressive decks. Overall, the R/B deck seemed to have a shot in almost any matchup, unfortunately, the Marvel matchup wasn’t great and we ended up doing poorly at the Pro Tour.

Luckily, there was a GP in Providence coming up right after the PT, and now that we were able to make some educated guesses about the expected metagame at the GP, we kept working on the R/B deck and arrived at the following list:

RB Aggro - GP Providence 2016

Colors
Artifact12
Gold7
Land23
Red18
Converted Mana Cost
19
212
312
44
Type
Artifact4
Artifact Creature8
Basic Land15
Creature11
Instant9
Land8
Planeswalker1
Sorcery4
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Bloodhall Priest
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

The biggest change was cutting Fleetwheel Cruiser and replacing it with Bloodhall Priest. Fleetwheel Cruiser kept disappointing and I started referring to it as the Flatwheel Cruiser. Before the PT we were not completely happy with the Cruiser, but believed it had a place in the deck, which was probably again caused by us not fully understanding the deck.

One of the biggest upsides of R/B Aggro is that it can adapt its role and game plan to what the opponent is doing. The deck can play really aggressively, but it can also play a much longer game if needed, or even assume sort of a control role (especially after sideboarding). The problem with Fleetwheel Cruiser was that it could only really play offense and was terrible once you fell behind against the more aggressive decks. Even worse, in some spots you would be crew screw once the first Cruiser attack was not enough.

As soon as we tried Bloodhall Priest things changed. On paper, the Priest isn’t a great Magic card by today’s standards for constructed cards, it’s not much more than a glorified Arrogant Wurm. But as it turned out, Bloodhall Priest was what the deck needed, he was the right man for the job and great at playing different roles. The priest is not much shabbier on offense than a Fleetwheel Cruiser, while at the same time being able to play defense quite respectably, and being great with Smuggler's Copter on turn three. It also synergizes nicely with Bomat Courier and, in conjunction with Lightning Axe, lets you play sort of a flash game of your own against U/W.

The other piece of technology came from my roommate Serafin Wellinger. Serafin decided to embrace his jet lag and just never really adapted his sleeping schedule. While this substantially lowered the quality of my own sleep, there was also something useful that came out of one of his late-night testing sessions. It was his idea to add Chandra, Torch of Defiance to the sideboard to have some more staying power against the control decks we expected to show up after a control on control final at the Pro Tour. On Friday before GP Providence, we decided to add a single copy of Chandra to the maindeck to hedge against control. At that point we didn’t fully understand how good she was in the B/G Delirium matchup. The Mountain in the sideboard was supposed to come in against the decks we brought in Chandra, but in retrospective that was probably a mistake and not really needed.

The final update we made was adjusting the manabase by removing the Aether Hubs and replacing them with Smoldering Marsh. Originally we were scared of having too many of our lands enter the battlefield tapped when trying to curve out, but as it turns out, Aether Hub was terrible when you had to play a longer game with recurring Scrapheap Scroungers.

After facing some unexpected matchups in day two of GP Providence, losing the last round and failing to cash, I was pretty disappointed, but still believed in the deck and the direction we had taken it in. Fortunately, there was yet another Standard GP right around the corner.

Now that the metagame had become quite stale, I expected to basically face either U/W Flash or G/B Delirium every single round at GP Warsaw, with maybe the occasional Mardu Vehicles deck showing up. Based on these assumptions, I made a few last-minute changes and submitted the list you can find at the beginning of the article.

Incendiary Flow kept disappointing and did not line up well against the threats the other decks were presenting. While it was nice to have some additional reach in the deck, it was only really good against Scrapheap Scrounger, and it being sorcery speed often prevented you from interacting effectively with U/W Flash. Lightning Axe just played this role much better, killing Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, Archangel Avacyn and Spell Queller for the low cost of R, while turning your Fiery Tempers into Lightning Bolts.

I was really happy with these changes and how the deck turned out, especially the Lightning Axes overperformed and left me wondering if there should have been four copies between maindeck and sideboard. This R/B build worked smoothly and I finished in first place after the swiss, only losing to the aggro version of B/G Delirium. Unfortunately, my streak ended in the semis, losing a supposedly favorable matchup against U/W Flash in somewhat anticlimactic fashion. 

As a side note, I would like to share a ridiculous and somewhat funny story involving a friend of mine who managed to get a game loss in round three and then again in round four of the GP.

For some reason he wanted to use his trusty pink sleeves, unfortunately for him, these turned out to not be opaque enough and he received a game loss because his Archangel Avacyn could be seen through the back of his sleeves.
Quite upset about his own oversight, he tried to fix his mistake in the best possible way, which involved buying checklist cards from a reputable dealer, despite me telling him to just use the sleeves that were provided for free by the TO.

Still quite tilted, he hastily filled out the checklist cards and failed to notice that he was sold an already marked checklist, until his round four opponent pointed out that he just played an Archangel Avacyn / Westvale Abbey split-flip card...

Anyway, now that there are two more Standard GPs coming up, I want to share some tips and tricks on how to play the deck, as well as some matchup and sideboarding advice.

Bomat Courier
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure to always reevaluate your role in any given game and matchup. The deck is somewhat misunderstood by a lot of players, who believe it to be one of the most aggressive decks in the format. For example Mardu Vehicles is a much more aggressive and linear deck to me. I would say that R/B Aggro can be aggressive if needed, but one of the main selling points of the deck is that it can switch roles quickly and play a more grindier game, and even assume a control role in some matchups. These transitions can make the deck more difficult to play than it might seem at first glance, not only can you drastically change your role after sideboard for any given matchup, but you can also do this in game.
  • Bomat Courier and Bloodhall Priest combine quite nicely and allow you to always get a Bloodhall Priest trigger when discarding it to a Bomat Courier. Since discarding your hand is a cost, you will get a madness trigger before you get back the cards exiled with Bomat Courier, you will then be able to play the Priest and get a trigger while still hellbent.
  • When you mulligan and have to scry with a Bomat Courier in hand, you need to consider the option of leaving the card on top to exile it with Bomat Courier. If there is a spell on top and you are looking for lands, it might be correct to leave it on top to be exiled, as having the information of what spell is hidden under your Bomat Courier can come in handy later in the game
  • If you scry a land to the top make sure to not attack with Bomat Courier on your first turn when on the play, since that leads to a not so desired result.
  • Correctly managing your Smuggler's Copter can be tricky. When facing an opponent with untapped lands and a potential removal spell, it can often be right to not crew your copter and deny them the opportunity to get rid of it.
  • Discarding the correct cards to Smuggler's Copter is tough, make sure you don’t discard too hastily. I have definitely cost myself a few games by discarding the wrong cards.
  • Against U/W Flash you sometimes want to play a spell in your first main phase if you control a Smuggler's Copter and are holding a Fiery Temper. This way, if they decide to play Spell Queller, you can instantly get rid of it with a madnessed Fiery Temper in combat. You might also get more information about if they are holding a Stasis Snare and can then decide to not crew the Copter
  • In some corner cases, you might want to discard a land to Lightning Axe instead of madnessing a Fiery Temper, as this can help you with being hellbent sooner.
  • Don’t forget to sacrifice your Scrapheap Scrounger to Pia’s ability when it gets targeted by an exiling effect such as Stasis Snare.
  • You do not need a creature to target with Key to the City in order to activate it. I have already seen multiple players not activate their key, believing they needed a target.

Updating the Deck

Moving forward I would suggest something along these lines:

RB Aggro Updated

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I have not made any drastic changes to the deck and most of the maindeck card choices should be quite self-explanatory by now, but if you have any questions regarding card choices please let me know in the comments.

A copy of Chandra has again been moved to the maindeck as a hedge against G/B Delirium, and Pick the Brain has been added to the sideboard to combat the new R/G Marvel deck.

If you are expecting more GB Delirium than UW Flash, I could see running even more Chandras maindeck again, going as far as removing all Bloodhall Priests.

Cards I’m Not Playing

Instead of going over the cards in the maindeck, I would like to briefly discuss a few of the cards that might look like solid additions to the deck and my reasoning for not running them.

Matchups and Sideboarding

Sideboarding is challenging in this Standard format, since, despite there being few tier 1 decks, lots of the lists differ slightly and people approach matchups differently. So please make sure to adapt your sideboarding plans to what is working for you and the specific configuration of your opponent's deck. Too many times I see people make the mistake of blindly copying a sideboard and sideboarding plans, and not adapting to how their opponent is sideboarding.

The sideboarding plans I am providing are for my most recent list. As I have not yet played as many games with this new configuration, feel free to deviate as you see fit.

Spell Queller
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

U/W Flash

I believe this to be a favorable matchup, just make sure you do not walk into their Archangel Avacyn or Spell Queller. The games against U/W flash can play out in a variety of ways and are also depending on how they sideboard, this is quite a tricky matchup to play, so make sure you get in enough practice games. Again, the R/B deck can play an aggressive role in the matchup, but it doesn’t have to. You you can play an instant speed game almost as well as they can, so try to be patient and time your spells optimally.

In: 1 Incendiary Flow, 1 Transgress the Mind, 1 Lightning Axe

Out: 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, 2 Bomat Courier

At GP Warsaw I always sideboarded very lightly against U/W Flash, since the main deck is already supposed to be quite well setup for the matchup. Depending on your opponent’s sideboard plan you might want to bring in more copies of Incendiary Flow or Transgress the Mind, especially if they are on the angel plan with Gisela and are trying to become more controlling.

The problem is that in some games the U/W deck will be the aggressor, while other games can be drawn out and end with a topdeck war, for these reasons I am not a fan of Transgress the Mind, it’s easy to end up in situations where the card doesn’t do anything, and the R/B deck is well-equipped to directly deal with U/W’s threats on the battlefield.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

B/G Delirium

The pre-board game against B/G is quite challenging and I think R/B is slightly disadvantaged, but post-board things improve a lot, mainly because you get to bring in Chandra, the Pest Controller. Ishkanah and her army of spiders are good at holding the fort, but if there is one thing they don’t like it’s attacking. Chandra’s presence changes the whole dynamic of the game by forcing the Delirium deck to go on offense. This can either allow you to defend Chandra, or opens your opponent up to counter attacks.

In: 1 Key to the City, 3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, 1 Incendiary Flow, 2 Transgress the Mind

Out: 4 Fiery Temper, 3 Bloodhall Priest

Chandra has always overperformed in this matchup, though having the full four copies post-board might be a bit excessive and your B/G opponent’s will now be more prepared for the Chandra plan and won’t be caught off-guard

I prefer Incendiary Flow over Fiery Temper, it allows you to kill their turn two Grim Flayer, which is the most scary opening the B/G deck can present, and I have sometimes brought in both copies of Incendiary Flow before I went up to four copies of Chandra.

Make sure to not run your Smuggler's Copter into Grasp of Darkness if you can avoid it.

Some people like cutting Bomat Courier, and I can totally see that, he’s terrible against Liliana, the Last Hope, at the same time I want to keep my one-drop count high to ensure you curve out more often and the Courier synergizes nicely with the rest of the deck. You could try removing some Bomat Couriers when on the draw and add more copies of Transgress the Mind.

Mardu and RW Vehicles

This matchup can go either way and a lot depends on how aggressive of a draw they get. If you find yourself on the back foot against an army of Scrapheap Scroungers it will be tough to recover. Now that they now about Bloodhall Priest you will also get fewer madness blowouts. Overall I still prefer R/B over Mardu due to its better mana base and the reach it offers.

In: 2 Incendiary Flow, 1 Lightning Axe, 3 Weaver of Lightning

Out: 1 Key to the City, 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, 4 Scrapheap Scrounger

After sideboard you are trying to assume a control role. Their most annoying cards can be Gideon, Ally of Zendikar if you have no way of pressuring it, and Scrapheap Scrounger if you can’t find an Incendiary Flow to exile it.

Try to assess how they sideboarded and then reevaluate Weaver of Lightning’s effectiveness for game three, since against some opponents you would rather leave Weaver on the sidelines.

Aetherworks Marvel
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

R/G Aetherworks Marvel

This is one of the more difficult matchups you can face. Your clock isn’t fast enough and if they get an average draw you will quite often find yourself making such questionable plays as sacrificing your board to Pia Nalaar and discarding your hand to a Bomat Courier.

That being said, most of the time they have to resolve an Emrakul in a timely fashion in order to win, and with a good draw you can still steal a game here or there, and Marvel also has this habit of sometimes just bricking.

In: 4 Transgress the Mind, 1 Pick the Brain, 1 Key to the City, 1 Incendiary Flow
Out: 3 Lightning Axe, 4 Fiery Temper

The matchup improves slightly post-board, though now there is a higher chance that they get to wreck you board with Kozilek's Return.

Make sure to time your Transgress the Mind for the turn before they can cast Aetherworks Marvel.

Control Variants (Jeskai, U/B, Grixis)

Control decks should generally be slightly favorable matchups, since you are presenting different types of threats (some of them with built in recursion) and you do have a decent amount of reach, though you do also have a few dead cards pre-board.

In: 3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, 4 Transgress the Mind

Out: 3 Lightning Axe, 1 Bloodhall Priest, 1 Incendiary Flow, 1 Key to the City, 1 Fiery Temper

I am not completely sure what the correct cards to sideboard out are. The idea is that the burn spells are not great unless you already have them at a low life total and you do not want to draw too many of them.

Make sure that you tailor your removal suite to the number of creatures you see them running. (Thing in the Ice in addition to Torrential Gearhulk)

The Position of R/B Aggro in the Current Metagame

I still like R/B quite a lot in a metagame dominated by U/W Flash and G/B Delirium, however, with the ascent of R/G Marvel, I’m not sure I can fully recommend the deck for the GP weekend.

A lot of it depends on how quickly you think people will adapt to the latest MTGO developments, and how many players you expect to show up with Aetherworks Marvel decks. If you believe the paper metagame to be lagging slightly behind the MTGO metagame then R/B might still be a fine choice.

Thanks for reading and good luck,

Andreas

About Andreas Ganz

Andreas Ganz
Andreas Ganz

Andreas is a Swiss Magic player, who has been playing Magic since 1995, and began playing tournaments in 2002. He's intrigued by the competition that comes with high level tournament play. Some of his "magical accomplishments" include:

  • 155 lifetime Pro Points
  • Pro Players Club Silver level
  • Winner GP Charlotte 2016
  • 3rd GP Warsaw 2016
  • Top 8 Team GP Washington D.C. 2016
  • Top 16 GP Vienna 2013
  • Top 16 GP Brisbane 2011
  • National Champion 2010
  • Top 4 Teams Worlds 2010
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