Aggro, control, combo. The three pillars of Magic deckbuilding. Perhaps ramp has replaced combo in modern Standard formats, and midrange is now a legitimate player, but these three are still the basic building blocks of the eternal formats. Yet it is not the pure examplars of those archetypes that are the most exciting — the hybrids of these styles have always made for the most interesting decklists. The control deck with a combo finish. The aggro-control deck that deploys a cheap threat and tries to control the board just long enough to ride it to victory. And the rarest of all: the aggro-combo deck.
The aggro-combo archetype requires having an aggressive creature-based strategy that is highly synergistic and employs a “combo”-like feature to either finish the game or serve as an engine for the deck. Historically, affinity was the most powerful example of this. You could just beat down with Frogmites carrying Cranial Plating, but if you stalled out then you could rely upon Arcbound Ravager + Disciple of the Vault to close out the game. Any aggro deck worth its salt has a Plan B, something to give it reach in case the Plan A of attacking falls short. In conventional decks that may just be burn spells or perhaps a planeswalker, but the aggro-combo deck certainly has the most fun in concocting a Plan B.
The most popular aggro-combo deck in Standard formats of recent years was The Aristocrats. Named for its namesake creatures Falkenrath Aristocrat and Cartel Aristocrat, the deck takes early aggression and backs it up with a Disciple-worthy finishing maneuver, using Blood Artist in conjunction with sacrifice outlets to close out the game. The other threats, modest though they seem, are extremely resilient to removal, and may even be improved by sacrificing them off, as with Doomed Traveler. A popular later iteration of the deck, known as The Aristocrats Act Two, added a second combo-kill with Blasphemous Act + Boros Reckoner.
There have been a few attempts to port this deck into Modern, and the most successful appears to be a list I adopted from a StarCity Games Premier IQ tournament in Edison, New Jersey, last fall. I started with the decklist used by Shan-Chun Chen in that tournament, and adjusted the sideboard. Anger of the Gods, with it’s more difficult 1RR cost justified only in Zoo-heavy metagames, became Pyroclasm. Pyroclasm feels better on the draw against Affinity, for example. Firespout is an option too, but in some cases I might want all my Spirit tokens to die to create Blood Artist triggers. I also replaced Combust with the new Rending Volley, and Auriok Champion with a Kor Firewalker.
It is possible that the new Liliana, Heretical Healer would fit well in this deck, but as she is newly released online I did not have the chance to acquire her and test that possibility.
Here’s the list I’ll be piloting in today’s videos:
Modern Aristocrats by RexDart
I will be heading to GenCon in Indianapolis this week. Originally this was going to be a joint venture with my wife, but her new job prevents her from getting the time off, so it’s now gonna be a joint venture with another MTG player. Pastimes Games out of the Chicagoland area is running a ton of MTG events all four days of the convention, so I suspect I’ll get my fill of any format I like.
The big event, for me, will be Vintage. Although Vintage Champs is no longer held at GenCon, I know some big names from Magic‘s history may still be there, and I hope to bump into a few of them. This will be my first time playing sanctioned no-proxy paper Vintage since 1997, so I’m very excited, even if the events won’t have the luster they had before the unfortunate migration of Eternal Champs to Philadelphia.
I have two Vintage events I plan to attend on Thursday and Friday, and a Star Wars CCG sealed deck event on Saturday that I nabbed the last slot for in pre-registration. In the spare time, I plan to play a fair bit of Modern and perhaps some Legacy — will I dust off the UB Tezzeret Deck, or try to put something new together on the fly? I also plan on picking up another piece of Power 9 while I’m there.
So join me in a couple weeks for a roundup of GenCon tournaments, maybe some sweet pictures of Vintage cards, probably some nice pictures of people dressed up as anime characters I don’t recognize, and almost certainly my lamentations about being stuck in a massive convention center with thirty thousand people.