Last weekend, Andrea Mengucci won the Mythic Invitational! Huge Congratulations to him!
Following the excitement and success of that event, I’m giving my current Standard deck one last airing in what I hope will be an informative guide to the deck. Most of you may know by now that I’ve become rather attached to playing white aggro in Standard. It was one of the more popular choices in the Invitational itself which featured the exclusive Duo Standard format. For me, the deck combines proactive power with fun and the ability to settle games fairly quickly, which is handy when laddering on MTGArena. In this article, I’ll provide a more in-depth guide to the deck; including my opinions on card choices (including the ones that don’t quite make my current 75), how I approach each matchup, and some notes on sideboarding.
Introduction and Primary Strategy
The deck aims to build a formidable battlefield presence as quickly as possible which it then leverages to deal 20 damage to the opponent before they can set up. Over half of the creatures in the deck cost 1 mana, enabling a lot of early pressure on the opponent, and the deck makes use of the Convoke keyword to power out spells ahead of curve or in the same turn that creatures are deployed. These two factors help set up board presences which are able to kill an opponent at near full health in one-two combat steps.
For reference, here is the current list I’m playing – however, I’ll also be providing a more holistic approach to deckbuilding. The list below is by no means the only way to build the deck successfully – keep this in mind when deciding on your 75.
4 Dauntless Bodyguard
4 Skymarcher Aspirant
4 Snubhorn Sentry
2 Adanto Vanguard
4 Tithe Taker
4 Benalish Marshal
4 Venerated Loxodon
4 Legion's Landing
1 Baffling End
4 History of Benalia
1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
4 Conclave Tribunal
4 Tocatli Honor Guard
3 Baffling End
2 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
2 Citywide Bust
2 Shield Mare
You will likely enjoy playing this deck if you are a fan of combat maths. As this is a ‘go-wide’ deck, piloting it successfully not only involves identifying the optimal attacks for the current turn but also planning the deployment of your threats to optimise your attacks on future turns. A big part of the strategy is understanding when it’s better to forego attacks to set up a much better one on subsequent turns; however, equally important is knowing when to make ‘unfavourable’ attacks to get the last few points of damage in.
You will not like this deck if you like to have a wide range of strategic options. The deck plays very linearly and has a similar gameplan in most matchups. Combat is where the deck becomes more complex and requires the choosing of a single line among numerous. Compared to a deck like Sultai Midrange, where you will often find yourself thinking about varied strategic options. For example, whether to develop an aggressive or defensive board presence, hold up removal, delay Hostage Taker a few turns to capture a better threat, which creatures to return with Find. White aggro offers much less flexibility in its potential lines of play.
I will now look at the individual cards you’re likely to see in the current builds of White aggro.
Most decks typically run between 15 and 20 one-drops depending on the expected metagame (more details in the bullets covering each card). My current build runs 16! Once upon a time, the card Savannah Lions was considered a rare and valuable card as it provided one of the best ways to apply early pressure against slower decks. Nowadays, a single white mana normally offers a lot more!
- Daunless Bodyguard: This card’s activated ability is primarily used to protect more important or powerful threats (for example Benalish Marshal), but don’t prioritise its value as a way to protect other creatures over its ability to apply early pressure. Its role as an early beater is a much more important part of the overall strategy 97% of the time. Note also that it is a knight, meaning it can be boosted by the third chapter of History of Benalia. In addition, when attacking into creatures with lifelink, you can sacrifice it before damage is dealt to prevent your opponent from gaining life.
- Healer’s Hawk: This card particularly shines in the mirror match, as it is hard to block in the early game and the lifegain it provides can give you an advantage if the game comes down to a race. The card also helps a bit against green decks that often roadblock your attacks on the ground but are far weaker to aerial assault. Having said this, Kraul Harpooner is very good against this card and has been seeing a bit more play recently.
- Hunted Witness: This card is played for its resilience, particularly against Goblin Chainwhirler. It is also rather good at attacking and blocking in the mirror match as it trades favourably against other X/1s in combat. Otherwise, its lack of evasion and lower damage output put it below most of the other one-drops in the pecking order.
- Legion’s Landing: Probably the most versatile one-drop of the lot. Being able to attack with three creatures and transform into Adanto, the First Fort is something you’re either actively doing or are actively planning on doing later in the game. It even provides a third of the attack-force required to transform itself. Once transformed, the deck can then perpetually deploy pressure/chump blockers at instant speed every turn to win races or provide the last few attackers required to get the last few points of damage in and close out the game.
- Rustwing Falcon: Like Hunted Witness, this card matches up very favourably against Goblin Chainwhirler. It also easily blocks Healer’s Hawk. White aggro and Red aggro were expected to make up a significant proportion of the Mythic Invitational’s metagame, and in those matchups the card certainly performs well. Otherwise, its lower damage output and lack of lifelink don’t make it particularly exciting, despite being an evasive threat.
- Skymarcher Aspirant: A Savannah Lions that can take to the skies by the time your opponent has had time to summon some blockers. This is probably one of the more consistently powerful One-drops in the deck. I like to lead with this card over Dauntless Bodyguard on turn one simply because you can then opt to protect the former with the latter, which may be relevant if your opponent simply needs to get rid of the vampire to properly stabilise.
- Snubhorn Sentry: This card has the highest potential damage output among the one-drops and with a couple of anthem effects can be a serious threat. It also survives Cry of the Carnarium and is often a decent blocker. Unfortunately, receiving the city’s blessing is often ‘make or break’ with this card, and so it can underperform against decks that excel at keeping your board presence small via removal.
- Adanto Vanguard: This card’s activated ability makes it a very resilient attacker, often dissuading your opponent from blocking at all. Unfortunately, decks that can produce surplus X/1 blockers or a Goblin Chainwhirler turn this card into a liability.
- Tithe Taker: I initially underestimated this card, but its resilience combined with its ability to hamper any deck that wants to play at instant speed makes it the ‘two-drop of choice’ nowadays. Sometimes you can ‘chump block’ with it to make your next attack step slightly more deadly via the flying spirit token, and its taxing ability affects activated abilities as well as spells, so you can catch out cards like Growth Chamber Guardian, [mtg_card]Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, or Adanto, the First Fort if the opponent isn’t on their toes.
- Benalish Marshal: Glorious Anthem with legs! Playing multiple of these to snowball your battlefield advantage is one of the simplest paths to victory with this deck. The card is particularly good at helping your smaller creatures escape the triggered ability of Goblin Chainwhirler or by mitigating the damage a Cry of the Carnarium can cause (it survives it). Just consider that an advantageous attack can quickly become a suicidal charge if your opponent has the mana to potentially remove it mid-combat! It is also a knight that can receive a boost from History of Benalia.
- History of Benalia: This is one of the best cards in most matchups. The ability to create multiple vigilant bodies boosts both the aggressive and defensive power of the deck. It’s a great way to earn the City’s Blessing and, as mentioned above, the third chapter can boost more than just its own tokens. Bear in mind that there is some incentive for opponents to make said chapter as useless as possible so they may delay their mass removal until both knights are on the table (Don’t let that fool you into thinking they ‘don’t have it’). Vigilant tokens are also particularly useful for pressing the attack AND Convoking a spell in the same turn. One of the more interesting puzzles to solve with this deck is working out how to optimise your turn with respect to this. It might be tempting to get what you think is a ‘free attack’ in, but if the opponent blocks in a way you don’t expect, they might be cutting you off that important Conclave Tribunal or Venerated Loxodon.
- Unbreakable Formation: Having played with this card a bit, I’ve found it to be very polarising. It’s either an absolute gem that allows you to completely crush your opponent into the ground with no hope of recovery, or it is utterly useless because your opponent has already dealt with your battlefield presence. I’m currently not running it in any capacity, as I find that most of the games where it would allow me to crush my opponent, I could’ve won the game without it. While it’s true there are some scenarios where no other card will save you, there are at least twice as many scenarios where it sits unused in your hand, often to your demise. Between the in-built resilience a few of the deck’s creatures, Adanto the First Fort helping to rebuild post-wrath, and with Cry of the Carnarium getting around indestructible, the ‘counters a wrath’ argument is quite weak in my opinion. Having said all this, most of my experience with this deck has been in ‘traditional’ or ‘best of three’. This card may shine more in the ‘best of one’ format!
- Venerated Loxodon: I’m confident in claiming that one of the heuristics of this deck is to always try and play this card on turn three, unless transforming Legion’s Landing is more important in the matchup (Esper Control). I believe that if you have played a one-drop and a two-drop on turns one or two and you have the choice of playing either this card or Benalish Marshal, you want to play this card most of the time. The main exception is when you might want to pressure a Dovin, Grand Arbiter or Kaya, Orzhov Usurper from the opponent when you are on the draw. This may change if War of the Spark unleashes some more Planeswalkers that can be played early and need answering immediately.
- Conclave Tribunal: Should I spend my turn adding to my board or removing my opponent’s threat? Why not both! This all-purpose removal spell comes at a very flexible cost as every one-drop deployed that turn can contribute a Mana towards the enchantment’s cost via Convoke. In spite of this, you will frequently find yourself tapping four Plains to prevent your opponent from blocking properly and attacking with all your creatures. It also deals with troublesome enemy threats that either aren’t destined for or are unable to block, such as Runaway Steam-Kin, Experimental Frenzy, Wilderness Reclamation, and Planeswalkers.
Typically, these cards feature a lot more in the sideboards of similar decks than in their maindecks. Here I’ll discuss the functions of them post-sideboard and provide examples of when I sideboard them in during my discussion of matchups.
- Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants: This card provides the deck with the ability to create or consolidate pressure on the opponent, with all three abilities being highly relevant to the deck’s core strategy of winning through a strong battlefield presence. Ajani is particularly effective against midrange and control decks. One tip I have concerning this card is to not worry so much about getting to the ultimate. If I have Ajani on board and another in hand, quite often it’s correct to activate the first one before playing a second one to allow a second activation in the same turn to apply maximum pressure.
- Baffling End: Efficient removal for troublemakers like Wildgrowth Walker, Runaway Steam-Kin, Tempest Djinn, Enigma Drake, Benalish Marshall, Goblin Chainwhirler, Gruul Spellbreaker, or any creature with a Curious Obsession. More frequently the deck has advantageous attacks, but there are a number of creatures that prevent effective attacks or accelerate the opponent’s game plan far too well. Therefore, having the tools to address these kinds of threats is very important. Remember, the opponent can never get their creature back, being rewarded with only a 3/3 dinosaur token upon removing the enchantment. This makes them much less inclined to destroy it relative to Conclave Tribunal. From my experience, the risk of being ‘blown out’ by a 3/3 token mid-combat is extremely low.
- Demystify: If Wilderness Reclamation did not exist, I’m not sure if this would be in the sideboard. Its a tool used almost exclusively against decks running Reclamation, as the difference between them operating with and without it is huge. You can perhaps sideboard one copy in the mirror match as both players will have up to 12 enchantments in the maindeck post-board, but this is a marginal tactic as curving out as effectively as possible is still a bigger priority.
- Tocatli Honor Guard: I love creatures that have ‘enters the battlefield’ triggers, and so do a lot of other decks in the format. Having a threat that can both attack and (against white aggro) block, while simultaneously disrupting most hands from a deck like Sultai midrange, is incredibly valuable. I also find it quite useful against red aggro as it neuters both Viashino Pyromancer and Goblin Chainwhirler. There’s a minor ‘non-bo’ with Venerated Loxodon (although you can still Convoke it out, it just won’t give your Convokers +1/+1), but this is a small price to pay. Just remember that a 1/3 isn’t great at pressuring the opponent so you can’t rely on it to win the game all by itself. You still need to execute with the primary plan of curving out and applying the beatdown.
Other cards I have sideboarded
- Citywide Bust: This is something I’ve been trying more recently on MTGArena as a result of facing a lot more green-based midrange decks. I’ve found it particularly good against decks running Growth Chamber Guardian, as those strategies are incentivised to adapt the 2/2s into 4/4s, fetch a new 2/2, and do it again to roadblock you as quickly as possible.
- Lyra Dawnbringer: Initially included as a trump card in the mirror and against red aggro, I found my experiences with this card to be mixed. On one hand, it bailed me out of some situations in which no other card could have saved me – this was mainly in games where both players had expended most of their resources by turn five. On the other hand, sometimes it didn’t even matter – by the time I had the mana to cast her, either I had already won or I had already lost.
- Moment of Triumph: Another card I tried, pretty much just for the matchup against red aggro. I had this genius plan that against red decks I could get almost a three-for-one with this card when they pointed two burn spells at my clutch Loxodon, or that I would be able to protect Benalish Marshal for only a single mana. It worked a little, but ultimately I didn’t feel that such ‘blowouts’ were really making the difference in the matchup or were something I could set up frequently enough. For example, other cards really weren’t worth trying to ‘protect,’ so its efficacy revolved around drawing this card AND either Benalish Marshal and/or Venerated Loxodon AND having a mana spare.
- Shield Mare: Instead of Lyra or Moment, I’m currently on this card for the red matchup and I’m liking it the most. The fact that it is unblockable as well as providing an instant buffer for your health total really makes it very powerful against red decks. The opponent is incentivised to get rid of it quickly, and this will usually net you 3 more life which will almost always be relevant in the matchup.
I’m confident that the red splash has died out. Heroic Reinforcements is a very solid addition to the core plan, but considering we’re only able to realistically play eight red sources in a deck with only twenty lands, I’m unsure about how reliably it can be cast on turn four to great effect. Moreover, I’m skeptical of it even being necessary given that the deck can often function very well with only three lands in play. Finally, I’ve found Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants to be very consistent, and the deck doesn’t want to overload on four-drops. Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Experimental Frenzy were good sideboard options at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. However, the printing of Mortify now makes Frenzy much more ‘answerable’ by control decks, and Aurelia may fly but I feel she’s a bit slower, easier to remove, and probably only does the same amount of damage as Ajani can by pumping creatures.
The printing of Hallowed Fountain has made the blue splash a possibility. I personally am not a huge fan of the blue splash at the moment, having played both Azorius and mono-white aggro. I find having blue mana at the right time with only 8-9 blue sources a bit of a liability, and I dislike sideboarding an Island when Benalish Marshal is so important to the deck. I think an even stronger argument is the fact that countermagic works against the proactive nature of the deck. You can’t realistically hold up mana for counterspells on turns two and three, as you want to spend these turns developing your board. This limits their effectiveness against cards like Cry of the Carnarium and Kaya’s Wrath. One card I think that countermagic works really well against is Finality, but that’s because it costs six mana. Deputy of Detention can be quite good in the mirror and against token decks, but in any other situation, I’d rather have Conclave Tribunal because you can deploy it in the same turn as your creature-based threats.
In this section, I’ve kept things snappy and to the point by focussing on what I think the most important elements in the most common matchups in Standard are. Considering my approach to sideboarding, I’ve chosen to comment on what cards I think are bad in each matchup and what sideboard cards I think are good, rather than writing a ‘sideboard guide.’ This is to help you even if you’re not playing my exact list. I generally think it’s more important for players to understand the reasons for making certain choices when approaching a matchup or when sideboarding than to simply ‘follow instructions,’ and I hope to articulate this here.
- What’s important in this matchup?: Transform Legions Landing! This is a bit of a nightmare scenario for the opponent, as they have no ways to deal with a land that continues to churn out threats. Cry of the Carnarium is probably their strongest card against you. Unfortunately, I think you often have to play into it and hope they don’t have it on turn three. By not doing so, you probably don’t apply sufficient pressure fast enough, allowing them time to set up. Kaya’s Wrath is at least a bit more expensive and Adanto Vanguard and Tithe Taker can mitigate its effectiveness.
- Sideboarding: I’m not a fan of Snubhorn Sentry as the opponent should be very good at taking you off of ten permanents, and while that is going on the Sentry creature is doing no damage. In addition, you want to shave your creatures that only have one power. Any copies of Baffling End are useless, but you want to keep Conclave Tribunal as they routinely board in Kaya or Lyra Dawnbringer which will need answering. You mostly sideboard in Ajani. If you run countermagic you should bring it in. I bring in some copies of Tocatli Honor Guard with my build as I want to cut all the Snubhorn Sentries. Honor Guard incidentally turns off Hostage Taker, which they will sideboard against you.
- What’s important in this matchup?: Cast Venerated Loxodon! At four toughness this card cannot be outright killed by any of their removal and can block all their creatures. It will also protect your X/1s from Goblin Chainwhirler and will often be the card that puts you in the driving seat. If the opponent is able to use the Chainwhirler to add to their board and eliminate yours at the same time you’ll be playing from behind for the whole game! Sometimes, if they use their removal spells on your X/1s to get their Viashino Pyromancers through, it’s a sign they do not have the Goblin. However, they will be interested in taking you off of a turn three Loxodon, so if they are on the draw they might shoot down your creatures on turns one or two anyway.
- Sideboarding: I want to cut down on the X/1s so usually these are the first to go. I cut Dauntless Bodyguard last as it can trade with Ghitu Lavarunner and potentially protect a Benalish Marshal. You want to trim some Legion’s Landing first as, while lifelink is good, they are quite good at preventing you from attacking with three creatures, so you will likely only ever get a 1/1 lifelink creature for your mana. Baffling End is very important to stop their two biggest creature threats, Runaway Steam-Kin and Goblin Chainwhirler. Some builds will bring in Rekindling Phoenix as well, but at least you have Conclave Tribunal. Tocatli Honor Guard mitigates Chainwhirler and Viashino Pyromancer. Despite Honor Guard also putting a damper on Loxodon and Shield Mare, I still think it’s important to have some two drops after cutting Adanto Vanguard and Tithe Taker.
- What’s important in this matchup?: Curve out better than the opponent! This is easier said than done, and quite hard on the draw. Just remember, early pressure or transforming Legion’s Landing is a lot less important than building a stronger board. Save your Conclave Tribunal for the opponent’s Benalish Marshal if you can. If you run Unbreakable Formation, you have a real stalemate breaker if both of you have curved out well. Otherwise, it’s likely decided by superior aerial assault. If your opponent is playing Azorius be careful of Deputy of Detention.
- Sideboarding: Adanto Vanguard doesn’t attack very well into the opposing 1/1s. If you’re not running that card you probably can trim on Tithe Takers. Again, you want to bring in Baffling End. The best target is Benalish Marshal but sometimes you’ll need to handle a Snubhorn Sentry if your opponent has ascended before you!
- What’s important in this matchup?: Wildgrowth Walker is a very annoying card for this deck to fight through and Finality is also very powerful. Unfortunately, the former helps them survive long enough to cast the latter. Try and keep your fliers alive, as in the mid-late game the opponent will be effectively setting up a board that can’t easily be attacked on the ground.
- Sideboarding: I don’t like Conclave Tribunal. This card is often too slow for Wildgrowth Walker and can be killed by Vivien Reid, so I definitely cut on these. Again, you want to trim on One-drops as they are of limited use against the explore merfolk in the early turns. Dauntless Bodyguard is less useful than you’d think as it won’t stop Vraska’s Contempt, Hostage Taker, and Finality. To help you, Tocatli Honor Guard, Baffling End, and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants are all great and each contribute to shutting down the deck. In essence, the first two help stop Wildgrowth Walker and more, and Ajani has the potential to put some of your bigger threats out of range of Finality or return threats from the graveyard after the opponent has invested their removal.
- What’s important in this matchup?: Tithe Taker allows you to play the game on ‘easy mode’ as it prevents the opponent from holding up Dive Down, Merfolk Trickster, or Countermagic as easily. Playing around the appropriate countermagic is essential in the matchup; for example, even if it’s holistically ‘better’ to deploy History of Benalia on turn three, if they have a single mana up, it’s often better to play around Spell Pierce and play a creature threat instead. Try and remove any copies of Tempest Djinn as soon as possible.
- Sideboarding: Adanto Vanguard again doesn’t attack well into their creatures, so it gets the boot. If you’re not playing this card then you might want to trim on some of the one-drops, particularly if they can’t at least trade with a flashed-in Merfolk Trickster, as this is one way they can prevent you from going wide enough. You want to bring in Baffling End to hit any of their creatures, particularly Tempest Djinn, or whichever one is enchanted with Curious Obsession.
- What’s important in this matchup?: This is pretty much a race. Can you deal twenty damage in the face of the odd Root Snare before they can reach seven mana and prevent you from ever having another turn with Nexus of Fate. So it’s simply a matter of optimising attacks around speed rather than battlefield presence and keeping them off Wilderness Reclamation with Conclave Tribunal. They are very removal-light, but they do run Blink of an Eye, so watch out for this.
- Sideboarding: In my build, I can cut Baffling End and a Snubhorn Sentry for two copies of Demystify. If you’re splashing blue, this is where countermagic can really shine, but you’ll need to take out more cards, probably by shaving on your one-drops that do the least damage in the early turns. Annoyingly, they sideboard cards like Murmuring Mystic and Biogenic Ooze, but other than taxing your Conclave Tribunals, you don’t have the tools to answer these cards anyways.
I will be back next week with more Commander. I’m really excited to unveil a Mono-black and Mono-red deck that will make ramptastic green decks and drawtastic blue decks eat their words! More competitive articles will come in the wake of War of the Spark which will undoubtedly shake things up (I hope)!
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154, feel free to hit me up with any of your thoughts! I’ll also be at Magic Fest London later this month, Mythic Championship Qualifiers, and other large competitive events like Axion Now’s Mega Modern and Legacy Masters throughout the year in the UK.
As always, thanks for reading, good luck, and have fun in your next event!