This week, I’m going to focus on a list similar to Zen Takahashi’s deck from the Top 8 of New Zealand Nationals. His was a mono-black deck playing red for just Lightning Strike and Hazoret the Fervent in the main deck. This aggro deck leveraged the fact that many non-Ramunap Red decks are foregoing main deck sweepers and 1-mana removal spells in favor of more powerful and flexible removal spells. What opening does this create in the metagame?

With a lack of Magma Sprays in red decks right now, resilient threats that can be brought back from the graveyard gain value. Dread Wanderer is still Standard legal! The Zombies deck may have rotated, but the Wanderer is still a great threat that can continue to come back from the graveyard and cause headaches. Similarly, Scrapheap Scrounger is also still Standard legal, and still a more-than-potent threat in a metagame teeming with small token creatures and black removal spells like Fatal Push. These two resilient threats are the core to the mono-black aggro shells, as they allow the decks to apply early and potent pressure, but also stay on the battlefield in 8-12 turn games.

Zen and his testing team went far beyond the mono-black aggro lists that were practically templates when Ixalan released. What they brought to the table is smart and innovative. They saw a metagame adapting away from removal spells like Abrade and Magma Spray and toward removal spells like Harnessed Lightning and Fatal Push. This opens the door to attack with high-toughness creatures, small 1-cost creatures, and artifacts. Their group managed to find a way to include all of these elements. Bomat Courier and Night Market Lookout join Dread Wanderer in the 1-mana slot, and both of these creatures are solid, but the Night Market Lookout does much more damage than first anticipated.

I expect Lookout to maybe deal 5 damage if played on turn 1. I’d look to get 1-3 damage out of any Night Market Lookouts played after that. Most decks, however, don’t have more than 9 removal spells right now. Compare this to the threats in the deck, and combine that with the fact that there are the full 4 Aethersphere Harvesters to crew, and Night Market Lookout begins to look like it can deal much more damage. The Harvesters are a real threat and they manage to transform the Night Market Lookouts from a 1/1 that drains the opponent for 1 damage into a ticking time bomb. I tried adding Vicious Conquistador to the deck, but the staying power wasn’t enough to compare to the Lookout except against Ramunap Red.

The last card that really made this deck stand out to me was the use of Yahenni, Undying Partisan. First, there are the combos with Scrounger and Wanderer to continually get indestructible, but the creature itself frequently grows out of control and taxes exiling removal like Vraska’s Contempt and Cast Out from the enemy. When combined with the sideboard strategy of Bontu’s Last Reckoning, the power of Yahenni looks really great against any energy and tokens strategies as it allows you to blow up all the enemy creatures and make a 5/5-or-larger indestructible creature.

Rakdos Aggro

The minor energy subtheme in the deck allows Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to also do some lifting. The 2-power menace creatures for 2 are more powerful than they look. My next guess would be that if there are 1-2 more aggressive black Pirates, we could see Fathom Fleet Captain and a 12-Pirate deck, but for now, I think we’re 1-2 Pirates away.

Siphoner does everything you want, drawing cards and dealing damage. One problem I have experienced with this card is the management of your hand size. When playing Ramunap Red, you don’t have a way to draw extra cards into your hand. Thus, it’s just a puzzle of how many spells/lands you’ve played and turn count to play and attack with Hazoret.

On the play, if you play 1-2-3-Hazoret, you have two cards in your hand and cannot attack the turn you play it. As a result, you’re not being effective with your haste creature in this case. You need to double-spell once on the play (turn 2 or 3) to attack with your Hazoret. On the draw, you need to double-spell twice or wait until turn 5 to attack with Hazoret. With Siphoner, there are some spots where you will have the energy to draw a card and choose not to. Those circumstances are usually when you have exactly a Hazoret as the last card in your hand and don’t want to possibly draw two spells that turn. Otherwise, I still suggest drawing a card a large portion of the time, but realize that drawing extra cards is not a complete freeroll in this deck as it is in basically any other deck playing with the Siphoner.

One of the concerns this deck can have is the lack of “big” removal. I shaved the Unlicensed Disintegration from the sideboard in favor of more tokens hate (Rampaging Ferocidon). If the opponent happens to stick a 5-mana or larger creature, it’s difficult to fight back. Thus, I’d expect something like a God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck to be difficult to compete with if that starts picking up in popularity again, as the 5-mana creatures that are 4/4s cannot be removed by any of your maindeck removal. If that becomes more popular, consider switching out the Ferocidons for Abrade or the Contempts, depending on your exact configuration.

I’ll be back later this week to battle with some Rakdos aggro! Be on the Lookout for that, as I expect the games to be really exciting and a tactical battle, so we’ll see if I can replicate the success that I had with Abzan Tokens!