Two months ago, I placed 2nd at an SCG IQ running mono-red aggro in Standard. Since then, it has been Modern, Modern, and yet more Modern, but my last PTQ was this weekend (it didn’t go well), so now I turn my attention again to Standard.

I have paid almost no attention to Standard since January so it’s interesting to see what has changed with the addition of Gatecrash.

There were essentially three aggro options at the time of the IQ: red, red/black, or black/red. Red was king of the aggro matchup and had blisteringly fast draws to punish all the greedy mana bases being played. Red/black was almost the same, but sacrificed a little mana consistency for [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]. Black/red was the more attrition-based deck that could win a long game, thanks to endless recursion of Zombie-like threats, making it more likely to beat the mid-range/control decks, but was slower and thus lost to the other two.

Looking at the meta now, a lot has changed in aggro land.

Zombies appear to be almost extinct. Yes they are still played, but they really aren’t putting up results. Why? Because Gatecrash made aggro even faster!

[draft]Burning-Tree Emissary[/draft]

With a full set of shocklands now available, decks can go with whatever color combinations they like. This allows you to play the best cards possible in your deck.

You can look at all the cards in Standard and ask, “what allows me to build the most aggressive deck?” Then play those cards. The more colors you add, the more likely you are to choke on mana, which you can’t afford when your game plan extends to about 6 turns. You choose your number of colors to determine where you land on the spectrum of power vs. consistency.

With all colors available, what do you end up running?

As I hinted earlier, aggro decks are now all about [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. Why? Simply put, it allows you to power out more guys faster. You now also have [card]Stomping Ground[/card] to make the mana easy.

This card is proving so good at filling your board up quickly that it is making its presence felt in Modern aggro, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. If it’s good enough in Modern, it’s good enough for Standard.

This card, I’m pretty certain, is the reason Zombies has dropped off. Before, you had to choose speed or recursion, and it was a fairly even tossup over which was better. However, the fast decks got faster with recursion staying the same. The drop-off in Zombie-based success is hardly surprising when you think about it like that.

Green has some other nice cards for an aggressive deck. I wondered if [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card] might get into Standard at some point, but the mana wasn’t there until Gatecrash. We also have [card]Rancor[/card], which I always enjoy in a deck that turns guys sideways.

Decks that stay in just GR can go in one of two directions: Either more green, which results in bigger decks with [card]Gyre Sage[/card] and [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card], or more red, for a faster draw with [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] and [card]Ash Zealot[/card].

RG Aggro

[deck]4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Flinthoof Boar
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Rancor
3 Searing Spear
11 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground[/deck]

GR Aggro

[deck]4 Arbor Elf
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Experiment One
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Gyre Sage
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Domri Rade
3 Increasing Savagery
2 Mizzium Mortars
8 Forest
5 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground[/deck]

Interestingly, I can find very few GR lists making use of [card]Experiment One[/card]. I called this card the new [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] in Modern, thanks to [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] and [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]. It is super scary with Burning-Tree to power it up quickly, and yet almost untouched in Standard despite the same engine being available. I know it has seen some play, but where has it gone?

I Want More Colors!

If you want to go for the more powerful builds you can go in one of two directions–Jund or Naya. Both are eminently viable at the moment, so it’s pretty much personal preference. Let’s take a look at what each color brings to the table:

White

White essentially brings Humans into the picture. UW Humans was a sweet deck many months back, with [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] being its best turn one play. Champion is still legal, and luckily enough [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] is a Human.

The mana is a little greedy (white turn one into G/R G/R on turn two), but with all the shocklands and [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], this is not an unreasonable demand on your mana base. Gatecrash has also given the deck [card]Boros Elite[/card], which can provide some blisteringly fast games, and [card]Frontline Medic[/card] which is good against other creature decks on the attack and stops those annoying [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]s from resolving so easily.

Weirdly, the Naya decks run [card]Experiment One[/card], even though the straight GR decks aren’t, despite having fewer creatures to power it up.

Naya Aggro

[deck]4 Boros Elite
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Experiment One
4 Flinthoof Boar
3 Frontline Medic
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Mayor of Avabruck
4 Giant Growth
4 Rancor
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden[/deck]

Black

Ah, Jund. My very favorite color combination.

Black gives you access to better removal—the above list includes [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and [card]Dreadbore[/card]. Of course by not running burn as your removal, you don’t have the option to point it at your opponent’s face instead.

Creature-wise, the main gain is [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], which is still oh so good. I love hasty, 4-power fliers. Oh, and did I mention that [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] is a Human yet?

Once again, we see [card]Experiment One[/card]. I really don’t understand why the GR decks aren’t playing it. Maybe someone else can shed some light in this area. I prefer this deck’s ability to power up the little 1/1 compared to the Naya deck. With an Emissary, he should easily be a 3/3 on turn two.

Jund Aggro

[deck]4 Burning-Tree Emissary
3 Dreg Mangler
4 Experiment One
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Mogg Flunkies
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Dreadbore
2 Searing Spear
4 Blood Crypt
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
2 Woodland Cemetery[/deck]

So that’s the aggro landscape. It’s pretty much all about [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card], and then you build whatever you like around him.

However, I have noticed something interesting.

I come back to Standard with the fresh eyes of someone who has been away from the format for a while. I was looking over the top lists from the latest SCG Open event, and everyone was abusing the graveyard.

Many of the best performing lists were either Esper-based control lists, with cards such as [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Lingering Souls[/card], or decks based around [card]Unburial Rites[/card]. The green/red-based aggro decks had a much poorer showing than normal.

If this meta shift is maintained, I think Zombies could become a good choice again.

While Zombies will lose to the more aggressive creature decks, it has a better long game against control. More importantly, I think it could afford to run main deck [card]Ground Seal[/card]s. I really rate this card highly at the moment, but without a shell like Zombies, it isn’t seeing play.

Why would Zombies play it?

It doesn’t affect the Zombie deck since [card]Gravecrawler[/card] can still be cast from the graveyard and [card]Geralf’s Messengers[/card] can still undie. However, it does stop the value Esper is generating from the graveyard, and prevents the combo decks from doing their thing.

I flicked through the lists from this weekend and was shocked at the paucity of graveyard hate. Even sideboards were only showing one or two pieces of hate. The decks [card]Ground Seal[/card] hates on can’t afford to run graveyard hate that does affect Zombies, since it also hits them.

Further, I think Zombies could afford to maindeck it because they are playing a longer game. This means the time spent to cast it rather than two more creatures won’t lose so much tempo that it costs you the match. The fact that it cantrips makes it a more tempting main deck proposition than an effect like [card]Rest in Peace[/card] (obviously not for Zombies), which if it is dead is a wasted card. The more other aggro decks drop off, the more graveyard hate will become relevant, and the fewer bad matchups Zombies will have.

Because of [card]Ground Seal[/card], I would be tempted to run BG Zombies with [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and [card]Dreg Mangler[/card], with a possible splash for [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]. I tend to value consistency over power, so here’s a BG list off the top of my head.

[deck]4 Blood Artist
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Dreg Mangler
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gravecrawler
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Lotleth Troll
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Ground Seal
1 Murder
2 Tragic Slip
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Overgrown Tomb
12 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery[/deck]

There is nothing new here, but Magic is rarely about new decks. It’s about remembering old decks and choosing what it right for the meta. For Zombies, that time could be soon. I might go with a split of two [card]Ground Seal[/card]s main and two in the sideboard if I wanted to hedge my bets, but given I didn’t list sideboards today, I wanted to make the point about including all of them somewhere in the 75 clear.

If I were to play aggro at a tournament next week, I think I would play Naya. I really like the aggressive power this deck can provide. RG is a close second, but I would shy away from Jund. It’s just not fast enough for my liking. I haven’t tested my theory about Zombies yet, but if you do have a tourney coming up, I would definitely try to find some time to test it out. Let me know how you find it @onionpixie on Twitter, and I’ll see you next week.