Tolarian Tutor: Learn To Be A Better Aggro Player in Magic: The Gathering

Tolarian Tutor: Learn To Be A Better Aggro Player in Magic: The Gathering


We’ve mentioned before that there’s more to playing aggro decks than just turning creatures sideways and smashing face every turn. There are times when even the most aggressive strategies will need to stop and consider particular nuances in the game or decide on a slightly more subtle tactic. In today’s session, we’ll be taking a look at how to play aggro at a higher level, examining the common pitfalls that many players make and how to avoid them. We’ll also look at how to evaluate board states and cards for this archetype, as well as how to play against the other big deck types: Combo and Control. This is how you become a better aggro player, and this is Tolarian Tutor. The jackpot question you should ask yourself when playing an aggro deck is “How can I use my cards to inflict the most damage on my opponent?” When you’re looking at your hand and sequencing your cards, are you choosing a line of play that optimizes for dealing damage? As tempting as the mantra “Always be attacking” may be, there are times when holding back for a turn or two or only partially attacking might actually benefit your goal of dealing the most damage. Let’s go to an example Let’s say that you’re in the middle of a game and your opponent currently has two 3/3s on board you have three 2/2s And two more 2/2s in your hand. You know you have the mana to play both of them on this turn if you want But for now do you choose to attack with all of your creatures? First of all let’s look at the best blocks our opponent might have in this scenario. If we attack with all of our 2/2s, our opponent will block two of them with their 3/3s, killing two of our creatures. Two damage will go through. If we cast our two 2/2s on our second main phase And our opponent does nothing on their turn, then we’ve set ourselves up for the same scenario again Effectively trading four creatures for four damage. This isn’t a very efficient line of play So, let’s reset and see how we could maximize our damage given the situation. Instead of attacking, let’s assume we play our pair of 2/2s, having a total of five 2/2s on the battlefield under our control On our next turn, we attack with all of our creatures. While our opponent’s two blockers are able to kill two of our creatures We’re still able to get six damage through. Then, assuming they don’t play anything on their turn again, We can get in for another two damage if we attack with all our creatures again. In the same two turns, we’ve doubled the amount of damage we’ve inflicted on our opponent to eight for the same cost of four creatures. Even though we’ve waited a turn to build up our board, we’ve actually come out ahead against our opponent. As basic as it might sound, Analyzing the board state is key in understanding when to play your cards Let’s go to another example, where we’re holding a non-creature spell. In this game, your opponent has a single 4/4 on their side of the board and you have two 2/2s. In your hand, you’re holding a single Giant Growth and you have the mana to play it during combat, after blockers. You’ve decided to attack with everything this turn, But you’re presented with another choice: Should I cast Giant Growth on the creature that’s being blocked thus saving it Or should I cast it on the unblocked creature? If you decide to pump your unblocked creature, you’ll be able to get in for five damage this turn. However, you’re losing a creature and your pump spell, leaving you with fewer resources next turn. If you pump your blocked creature, Then you’ll be able to not only kill your opponent’s blocker and deal two damage this turn, But have both creatures to deal another four next turn, assuming your opponent doesn’t play anything This strategy not only gives you that extra point of damage, But also sets you up in subsequent turns to continue reducing your opponent’s life to zero more effectively Let’s look at another situation where partially attacking or attacking with less than your full board is in fact the best thing to do. The question you should consider when deciding to attack with one or more of your creatures is “What am I risking and what is the possible reward?” One of the best ways of answering this question is to put yourself in your Opponent’s shoes and figure out how they might be able to block, remove, or otherwise diminish the potential damage your attacking creatures might inflict. Another thing to note is whether your creatures have any kind ofevasion or pseudo evasion abilities like flying, indestructible, menace, first strike, or intimidate. These are more difficult to kill and Depending on the state of the board can let your creature attack without any downsides. We often call these “free attacks.” In this example, you’re playing an opponent who controls a vanilla 3/3 creature with no abilities. You, on the other hand, have Thalia, Heretic Cathar, a legendary 3/2 with first strike that reads “Creatures and non-basic lands your opponents control enter the battlefield tapped”, and you also control a 2/3 with no abilities It’s your turn, and you’re entering combat. Because Thalia has first strike, She really incentivizes you to go ahead and attack with her, forcing your opponent into a bad position. If they allow Thalia to go through she deals them three damage right away. If they block her using their 3/3, Thalia will kill their creature during the first strike combat phase, destroying their only blocker. Attacking with your 2/3 and with Thalia this turn gives your opponent the option of blocking and Killing your 2/3 with their 3/3, diminishing your board state and letting their creature survive. Holding back keeps the pressure on your opponent and takes advantage of the free attacks Thalia’s abilities give you. One of the most common mistakes an aggro player will make is Overextending their board into a sweeper, like a Wrath of God or Damnation. Because we want to do as much damage to our opponent as quickly as possible, It’s tempting to dump all of our creatures from our hand Onto the battlefield in a turn, then tap them all to attack given the next opportunity. However, a single sweeper spell can be the Fatal Push for an aggro deck, as it’ll push your advantage back so far that it can often be impossible to rebuild your board state. Being prudent and conservative in how many creatures you play is a key part of being a successful aggro player. Here’s an example. In this game, your opponent has no blockers and has 12 life. You control two creatures, both 2/2s. In your hand, you have another 2/2, and you also have the mana to cast it. At this point, assuming your opponent can’t play anything, You can get in for four damage every turn, putting them on a 3 turn clock. Now, let’s say you played that 2/2 in your hand, and that next turn, your opponent plays Fumigate There’s nothing left on the board, and you don’t have anything in your hand either. You might draw into a few more creatures, but that’s unknown information. If you’d kept that 2/2 in your hand, you’d be able to play it next turn and continue Putting pressure on your opponent. That slight advantage is going to make it easier For you to rebuild and stay on the beat down. What about games were there just aren’t any good attacks? Your opponent has built a veritable wall of creatures or engineered some other scenario Where getting damage in is nigh impossible to do. How can you break through that line? The hard news is that most times, you just can’t. Since you’re racing the clock to get as much damage in as possible in the early game, the smaller, cheaper creatures or spells you play in the late game aren’t going to have much impact on the board. Aggro’s win strategy is so focused that even side boarding in tech like Magmatic Chasm or Atarka’s Command, cards that might break a game stall, could derail you from Winning in the majority of your matchups Ultimately, aggro is all about timing, and being just one beat off could lead to your defeat Card evaluation and deck construction. Based on our first lesson on archetypes, we know that aggro decks want low costed spells and Creatures that can kill our opponents early and often, with a mana curve that tops out around two and three drops Let’s go into a bit more detail now and see how we can better evaluate potentially great aggro cards. Let’s talk about something called ceiling-floor analysis: a great tool for Evaluating cards for any situation is doing a ceiling-floor analysis. The ceiling is the best that a card can actually be; the floor is the worst that a card can perform. Let’s take a look at some cards Price of Progress is an instant for one and a red that reads Price of Progress deals damage to each player equal to twice the number of non-basic lands that player controls It’s played often in legacy and has a pretty wide range between its floor and ceiling Depending on your match up, the best this card might be able to do is 8 to 10 damage. That’s the ceiling. If there aren’t any non-basic lands, it’ll do no damage at all and that’s the floor. On average, Price of Progress will probably deal an average of 4 points when you cast it, which is pretty acceptable for a two cost card. It’s a card you most likely main-deck because of its high ceiling and its versatility. On the other hand, let’s look at Kor Firewalker, a 2/2 for two white that reads “Protection from red. Whenever a player casts a red spell, you may gain one life” It’s often played in modern in aggro versus aggro matchups, offering great utility with its life gain ability. Its ceiling value is pretty high, since in a mirror matchup, You’ll be able to keep Kor Firewalker on the board and gain, life making it harder for your opponent to kill you. However, its floor is pretty low. In other matchups, it’ll simply be a 2/2 for two, which is not optimal for an aggro deck Since its ceiling can only be reached in mirror matchups, Kor Firewalker is a sideboard card, and usually not worth main decking. Any aggro deck, whether in limited or constructed, will want to pick up creatures that are great on the offensive. This means that we don’t want defenders or creatures with large toughness to power ratio. What you do want are creatures that have combat friendly mechanics and abilities. In Amonkhet, creatures with the exert mechanic like Rhet-Crop Spearmaster and Gust Walker were excellent aggro cards, Incentivizing you with abilities like first strike and flying to get damage in. Creatures that look good for aggro But aren’t tend to either not want to attack or force you to expend much-needed resources to keep it alive. For example, Pitiless Vizier is a 4/2 that can be indestructible when you cycle or discard a card. Because you’ll need to keep throwing away cards to keep it alive, Pitiless Vizier can keep you from curving out which is a crucial part of playing aggro Likewise, Anointer Priest seems like an alright two drop which can gain you life And come back from your graveyard. However, its priorities are to gain you life and die so you can bring it back. Though it’s a cheap creature, it’s not good on the offense and should never be in an aggro deck. In general, you’ll want creatures with combat friendly abilities like flying, First strike, menace, and haste to get as many of those free attacks as possible. If we have to rank some of those abilities (say you’re deciding between creatures during a draft), a general order would be Flying is greater than menace or intimidate, which is greater than first strike, which is greater than haste, which is greater than trample Of course, adjust as you need to for your meta or play group Of course, our creatures usually need to be backed up by non-creature spells to both boost and support our overall strategy. However, there are some spells and equipment we should look out for in particular for aggro decks. If you’re playing an aggro deck with a lot of smaller creatures, than enchantments, Equipment and artifacts that provide a power toughness boost can help level up your board as the game progresses. For example, Honed Khopesh is an equipment for one that equips for one and gives your creature a +1/+1 boost It’s low costed enough to easily get onto the field and on an attacking creature and is versatile enough to re-equip when you need to Pirate’s Cutlass is another equipment that can be cast for three and equipped for free to a Pirate or to another creature type for two mana. Giving your creature +2/+1 can turn it into a threat that needs To be dealt with and help it scale to deal with late-game blockers. An aggro deck that tends to curve a bit higher will rely more on non-creature aura spells that can give you card advantage or evasion. Cartouche of Knowledge from Amonkhet gives both, Drawing you a card and giving your creature +1/+1 and flying. One with the Wind from Ixalan is also useful, giving a creature +2/+2 and flying. By pumping and giving evasion, enchantment auras like this will help you get in that extra damage in order to win. Of course, combat tricks are always useful in aggro decks to score that additional point of damage or deal with the problematic board state. Cards like Mighty Leap, Slash of Talons, and Crash the Ramparts fall into this category, Instants that can really pull the game to a quick conclusion When we play aggro, we want to be able to hit our very early low curve immediately and often, Which means we will most likely be playing at most two colors. More than that and we’ll run into problems if we miss a color or a land drop. For example, mono red burn decks have almost always been a Competitive staple in modern and legacy and have remained thanks to its simple one color land base. While more colors can give us more options, the focused nature of aggro makes the possible risks less than ideal. Now that we know how to play aggro in a more sophisticated fashion, let’s take a look at some of the matchups we can plan for against other archetypes. When dealing with a control deck, always keep in mind two things. One: Are they going to play sweepers? If so, remember what we said earlier. Stay conservative. Don’t play out your hand more than you need to to keep the pressure on. Two: Are they going to play counter spells or bounce? Just keep putting your creatures on the board and attacking if so. Hold on to your burn spells and again, stay conservative. That way, when they do counter something, you have an arsenal to just hit them directly in the face. Spells like Lava Spike, Lightning Bolt, Magma Spray, and Boros Charm. They can’t counter everything you do, so being able to hit them with five to six spells over the course of the game Along with creature damage will finish them off. What about aggro versus combo? Well, the simple answer for an aggro deck in this matchup is FINISH THEM! Because combo decks need time to find their pieces, You need to kill them as fast as possible before they can go off. Use everything in your arsenal to do so and do so quickly. Ah, the mirror match. In this race, you’ll want to employ as much card advantage as possible. The more cards you have, the more damage you can push through with either burn spells or creatures to play. Expect to be using two-for-one trades with your opponent with more creatures Combat tricks and enchantment auras being the main way you’ll do this. For example, when the Atarka Red was in Standard, It used spells like Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst to populate the board with 1/1 Goblin tokens. Using Outpost Siege, it could draw more cards to keep the board big and the pressure on. Now, you’ll want to save your burn spells for Creatures instead of your opponent’s face, clearing the board so that you can eventually Alpha Strike your way to victory. There are some exceptions where if neither you nor your opponent are playing many Creatures, it may be better to just point all of your burn spells at your opponent. However, be sure to measure your clock versus your opponent’s clock, because it’s very likely that they will be doing the same thing to you. I think you’re now on the road to becoming a better aggro player Remember the key points from today’s lesson including Optimizing damage, card evaluation and deck construction from an aggro lens, how to handle matchups against the other big archetypes, both control and combo, as well as how to deal with a mirror match. Oh! This is Tolarian Community College. I’m the professor. Our professional consultant is my own tutor Emma Handy. Michelle Rapp as our script supervisor, and remember It’s not about winning individual games of magic. It’s about getting better, win or lose. Oh, hello! Do you like Tolarian Tutor and want to see this series continue? What about other programs here at Tolarian Community College? Do you feel they have value to you? 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