In Winston Drafts, drafting a RW aggro deck is near the bottom of the list of decks I look to make. It isn’t that the aggressive deck isn’t good when you can make it or that the cube inadequately supports it, but the pool of cards in a Winston Draft is too small to depend on the critical mass of aggro cards to make one possible. For example, when we do a 3 man Winston Draft—which is about as high as I’m personally willing to go with a Winston Draft re: player count—we include 180 cards: 24 of each color, 25 artifact, 20 land, and 15 multicolor. What if the red cards included are all earthquakes, bombs, and 4 drops? What if only Goblin Guide makes it in as a 1 drop? What if we grab Sulfuric Vortex early and never see anything substantial in red after because someone is splashing it? Forcing the aggressive deck is a recipe for disaster.
With that being said, recognizing when the aggressive deck is available is one of the more powerful strategies in Winston. Your opponents will be digging for bombs and high-costed creatures to close out games so you don’t find them, and overall Winston decks tend to side on the slower side. While they’re playing their mana stones and building towards a bigger spell, you have a Jackal Pup out there beating face, and your 4 drops become lethal finishers. What is a good strategy to go with in an 8 man draft becomes an insane threat that only the sickest decks can overcome.
Recently I came into a deck like this. My draft started out kind of lame, with a couple great cards in black and green, and then some underwhelming red cards that didn’t work with my bombs, like Hell’s Thunder, Loyal Cathar, and Accorder Paladin, cards that normall wouldn’t see the light of day in non aggressive decks. Then, in a pack, I saw Vortex, and I thought “if I grab this, maybe I get something else that’ll work.” Then I see Jackal Pup. Yup. Greater Gargadon. YUP. Land Tax. Mother of Runes. Sol Ring. Koth of the Hammer. YUP x 4!
Without further adieu, the decklist:
1x Greater Gargadon
1x Jackal Pup
1x Spikeshot Elder
1x Sol Ring
1x Mother of Runes
1x Land Tax
1x Keldon Marauders
1x Accorder Paladin
1x Soltari Priest
1x Arc Trail
1x Loyal Cathar
1x Journey to Nowhere
1x Mentor of the Meek
1x Manic Vandal
1x Sword of Fire and Ice
1x Mirran Crusader
1x Hell’s Thunder
1x Sulfuric Vortex
1x Koth of the Hammer
1x Avalanche Riders
1x Ajani Vengeant
1x Rishadan Port
1x Mox Jet
Loyal Cathar/Soltari Priest: Without any duals or fetches, WW is really rough. In my opinion, this was probably the weakest part of the deck. I needed to play them because getting your 1 and 2 drops for your aggro decks are so important, but drawing both of them and only having 1 or less plains is seriously awful. With that in mind, they were still nice.
Loyal Cathar is one that isn’t played a lot, but I think highly of it. Getting two creatures out of one cards is a pretty big deal, especially in a deck where you want to get as much value out of your early drops. With equipment like skull clamp or Sword of Fire and Ice available (the latter of which I conveniently never drew, which was nice), I’m either getting 4 cards out of the two bodies or essentially free attacks out of the white side of Cathar before he flips, which is fine if I attack with that zombie since it is all the zombie wants to do anyways. I can understand how you might not want to run him because he doesn’t have first strike or any relevant color protection, but he has removal protection with a back side that is almost always coming back for round two.
I recently heard the MTGO cube was removing the Soltari; if they want to support aggro as an actual thing, this is a mistake. The soltari are the best aggressive beaters in cube, because there are few cards that can block it. Outside of white, there is Dauthi Horror/Marauder and Looter Il-Kor. (Other Soltari exist, but I don’t think they’re good enough.) As long as your opponent doesn’t have a Temporary Isolation-ed creature, it’s free beats, and when they wear a sword, GGs and the next game are soon to follow. Soltari Trooper is the best of the 3 or 4 that are normally run in white because he’s a 2/2 beater with evasion for 1W; that is pretty nice.
Sulfuric Vortex: This is the best red card. Vortex is a narrow card, but red mostly wants to beat face anyways, so as the “face” of the color, Vortex is head and shoulders above the rest. While symmetrical abilities seem bad, you have to remember that you deck is made to deal a lot of damage to your opponent very quickly; 2 damage going both ways is not a problem if you’re at 16 and your opponent is at 8, especially when they get the first hit of it. And while gaining life is not always relevant, stopping troublesome cards like Batterskull and Wall of Reverence before they get cranking can be the difference between winning and losing the game. If there is ever a reason to jump into red, Sulfuric Vortex is it.
Sol Ring: I don’t like this card in aggressive deck. Lemme rephrase—it’s not that I don’t like it, and I would just about always take it over anything else if I knew I was making an aggressive deck, but it’s not as good in this decks. My issue is that there are a lot of aggressive cards that are heavy in the mana symbols—WW, RR, RW, R, W, 1RR, 1WW, etc—that there are some situations that do you nothing. If I’m holding Hell’s Thunder and Mirran Crusader in my hand with a plains, mountain, and Sol Ring in play, the Sol Ring has dont nothing to truly advance my board.
But before you dismiss me as the worst ever, let me emphasize something: SOL RING IS STILL INSANELY GOOD IN THIS DECK! It is just not the be-all-end-all it is in other decks, especially since part of the gas I could be generating is lands off of land tax, which does nothing, and if I draw Mox, Port and Sol Ring as my only mana sources, then I can’t cast anything at all. This is not me saying that I wouldn’t play this deck, but if it was between Sol Ring and Sulfuric Vortex/Goblin Guide in an 8-man draft and I was in the third pack already deep in red, it’s not so easy of a choice for me. I’d rather the cards that deal damage than the artifact mana that, of the hand is right, I’ll be able to abuse.
Land Tax: This is a Land Tax deck. As you can see, with eight other spells castable on turn one and six more on turn two, my deck has no problem operating with 2 or fewer lands. While I’m clearing out my hand and playing my cheap spells, my opponent is holding off so I don’t draw more lands to thin out my deck and make later plays where I can equip and cast other spells. Land Tax is one of the worst late-draws this deck can have, but like Library, opening with a Land Tax is a good way to get on the move to Winning Town, USA.
Dismember: “You’re willing to pay 4 life to give something -5-5? What if you can’t afford to do that?” If I can’t afford to pay 4 life at any point with this deck, then I am in serious trouble. All this deck wants to do is kill you before turn 5 or 6, and paying 1 and 4 life to remove just about any creature is a price I’ll happily play. Dismember is one of, if not the, best piece of removal your aggro deck can have. -5-5 gets past indestructability, and any deck can pay a colorless mana. If I know I’m drafting an aggressive deck in a 4-8 man pack draft and I see Dismember, I’ll grab it higher than a lot of other cards my deck will want. Sure, I want my Jackal Pups and Spikeshot Elders, but it’s more likely those cards are going to wheel than Dismember. Phyrexian mana is so broken, and while 2 life is pretty fair in a lot of formats, aggressive decks in cube laugh each instance off. As an added bonus I had Mox Jet, which could help lessen the pain if it really became a problem.
Mentor of the Meek: This is a card that not a lot of cubes run, but I think it’s great in terms of gaining value for your aggressive creatures and token themes. In my deck, there are 8 other creatures that have power 2 or less, with one them producing another guy after death. (Cathar.) While Meek is not always going to get me a card, that extra 2 to 3 pieces of gas can be enough to get that Firebolt or Ajani Vengeant out of my deck and seal the victory. Plus, Mentor and attack and wear a Skullclamp without dying, allowing me to get in there for extra damage off a card primarily used for card advantage in colors that can’t afford that luxury typically.
I went 1-1 with the deck, but the match I lost was extremely close. If you have any questions about card choices, leaving a comment in the…uh…comments section, and thank you for reading!