March 16, 2019

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Adventures in Standard: Aggro vs. Control

As Standard has improved over the last few years, we’ve seen a wide range of decks emerge. But even as big as some of these have grown, according to mtgdecks.net, even the most popular only represents about 10% of the meta. But no matter how wide the variety of popular decks becomes, one thing remains true: Aggro and Control will always be well represented. Even now, these two archetypes remain two of the top four decks making the rounds at tournaments, and two of the more popular (and winningest) decks in the format.

Aggro

Aggro is usually a deck style that comes out strong, attacks with direct damage quickly, and never relents. There are currently a few ways to build this, but when you look at the most popular and successful strategies, mono-red decks often do it best. Hence why the Mono-Red Aggro strategy is usually called, “Red Deck Wins.”

Mikey Coppola’s Mono-Red Aggro: SCG Standard IQ Pensacola, 3/9/2019, 2nd Place

Creatures (18)
Fanatical Firebrand
Ghitu Lavarunner
Runaway Steam-Kin
Viashino Pyromancer
Goblin Chainwhirler

Spells (22)
Shock
Lightning Strike
Light Up the Stage
Risk Factor
Skewer the Critics
Wizard’s Lightning

Enchantments (1)
The Flame of Keld

Lands (19)
19 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Mountain
Banefire
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Lava Coil
Fight With Fire
Goblin Chainwhirler
Risk Factor

That said, Standard is just about the healthiest it’s been in several years which means that there’s many ways to play Aggro. Other popular ways to play it include Gruul, Rakdos, and Mono-Blue deck styles. However, Mono-Red remains popular due to its ease of play and its lower price point compared to other deck styles.

Control

Control, on the other hand, is almost the complete opposite of aggro. Where aggro burns the opponent down as quickly as possible, Control has quite the toolbox when it comes to winning matches. It’s goal is to slow your opponent down by either removing permanents from the battlefield or preventing them from reaching play entirely. This can be achieved with counterspells and by speeding up your game by drawing cards on the cheap; two things Mono-Blue does expertly. While Esper may be seeing a lot of really effective control suites currently, Mono-Blue is making a resurgence with a great Control package.

Andy Peters’ Mono-Blue Tempo, MTGO Standard Competitive, 3/11/2019, 1st Place

Creatures (17)
Merfolk Trickster
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Pteramander
Siren Stormtamer
Tempest Djinn

Spells (20)
Dive Down
Essence Capture
Negate
Opt
Spell Pierce
Wizard’s Retort
Chart a Course
Entrancing Melody

Enchantments (4)
Curious Obsession

Lands (19)
19 Island

Sideboard (15)
Deep Freeze
Disdainful Stroke
Entrancing Melody
Essence Capture
Island
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Negate
Surge Mare

The great thing about Control in Standard is that there are good options for a nice control package across all colours. There’s a lot of flexibility with the current meta, with Esper in particular doing well for itself. Mono-Blue is a great starting point because it’s currently fairly cheap to get into and it’s a great test of your ability as a player.

It’s difficult to say if one archetype is better, but in the last few years Aggro has been winning more tournaments and events than Control. Even so, that’s not to say your Control deck can’t beat Aggro in direct matchups. You could even and mix the two, like with my deck that’s been performing well in the local meta:

Only the Bad Die Young

Lands (24)
Island
Mountain
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls

Gold (7)
Crackling Drake
  Ionize

Blue (9)
Blink of an Eye
Opt
Search for Azcanta

Red (20)
Electrostatic Field
Guttersnipe
Light Up the Stage
Lightning Strike
Shock
Skewer the Critics

Sideboard (15)
Cancel
Ionize
Search for Azcanta
Thousand-Year Storm
Wee Dragonauts

While still mostly an Aggro deck, there’s a small Control package that has helped me get to my win condition in Crackling Drake. The recent addition of Search for Azcanta did me a lot of favours. Whenever I dump an instant or sorcery I don’t need, it makes my drakes more powerful. It’s a win-win situation, and a small miracle that I stumbled upon it because I initially ignored the card due to its high cost.

Exploring things like this is exactly why I love Standard right now. It gives people like myself the ability to be creative and attach to archetypes that they normally wouldn’t have, before, whether you choose Control, Aggro, or something else entirely.