Aggro decks have had a place in magic for almost as long as the game has existed. From the original Jackal Pup and Savannah Lions decks of the 90s and 00s all the way up to today’s Ragavan and Thalia decks, aggro decks have been the primary bar that any Canlander brew has to clear before being tournament viable. If your deck just loses to a turn one Goblin Guide then your deck is no good. These decks are often called the ‘Fun Police’ for a reason, any slow or fragile gameplan can be entirely forced out of our format because that is the type of deck that aggro exploits. The prevalence of aggro decks can warp the deckbuilding choices of all archetypes in a meta around it.
Aggro decks come in several flavours and span all five colours (Although some colours are better at it than others). Here are some examples that represent the texture of aggro in Canadian Highlander:
RDW is the purest form of the aggro deck, its only goal is to get its opponent from 20 to 0 in as few turns as possible. It values efficiency above all else, this is not the place to look for cute synergies or value engines; this is just a mean killing machine. This deck plays all the most efficient one and two mana red creatures with the curve generally stopping at a few premium three drops. It is at its best when it curves out with five creatures in play on turn three, beats its opponent down to 5 life and then sends a Price of Progress to the face to finish the job. It plays a frighteningly low number of lands (With many of them able to provide additional reach) and nearly every Shock variant to all but guarantee that every topdeck pushes more damage. It is a deceptively complex deck to pilot, with decisions about whether to Bolt your opponent’s blocker or face being make-or-break.
Medium Red is RDW’s chunkier younger brother. Instead of relying on pure efficiency and density of burn spells it focuses on impactful three, four and five-drop creatures accelerated out ahead of schedule with the likes of Ancient Tomb, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring etc. Given that the deck has access to far better reach than RDW it plays only the most premium burn spells, it rarely has an issue closing out the game. Once it gets ahead it’s difficult to stop the snowball. This increase in resilience and reach does come at a price, If you don’t draw your fast mana it can be difficult to outrace combo and you become a midrange deck without the threat quality that they typically enjoy. This can make mulligan decisions difficult but even so (Some pilots advocate for simply mulliganing until you find fast mana), the opportunity for a turn two Glorybringer is hard to pass up when choosing your deck.
Once it was just a weird offshoot of white weenie but it has had a meteoric rise in popularity recently. It is the deck that has arguably benefited most from the last few years of set releases; two new rule of law creatures, two new premium Fiend Hunters, the two best Initiative creatures and pretty much every white creature printed in Midnight Hunt have juiced up this archetype to be both ruthlessly aggressive with a suite of hatebears that makes any combo player tremble in fear. It has a lot of versatility being able to grind with disruptive creatures and an equipment package or play the tempo game with some of the best spot removal and protection spells. Recently it has also morphed into a human tribal deck, utilising cards like Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant to capitalise on a feature that has been present in the deck since its inception. This deck’s recent tournament success has thoroughly cemented it as one of the top decks in the format.
Mono-Black is the dark horse of aggro decks, the underdog that strikes fear in the hearts of inexperienced opponents. The ultimate Mono-Black start is Swamp, Black Lotus, cast four one drops and watch your opponent sink down in their chair. The appeal of Mono-Black is that even though it lacks the reach of mono-red it can grind better than almost any other aggro deck. It is stacked full of recursive threats like Bloodghast which means is very rarely runs out of momentum and the suite of hand attack it runs can also demolish a combo deck’s gameplan. It is also one of the aggro decks least likely to be beaten by four toughness, the deck plays several ‘Doom Blade’ effects and many of its best threats have flying. The above rate creatures generally come at the cost of life which makes it a little vulnerable to other aggressive strategies but again many of your best threats have Lifelink. The Mono-Black (Sometimes called ‘Suicide Black’) gameplan hangs on a knife edge. Either you beat your opponent to a pulp or you lose to your own Dark Confidant. Its the deck that embodies the mantra ‘Greatness at any cost’.
Monsters is also a deck that has had a massive uptick in success in recent years. It combines many of the best things about medium red, accelerating out three and four drops early with sol mana, with the best unpointed mana accelerants in the game, mana dorks. Along with a slew of aggressively statted creatures (the three mana 4/4s are a standout) you get access to two of the best Planeswalkers ever printed in Wrenn and Six and Minsc & Boo that really increase the versatility compared to Medium Red. Alongside D&T, Monsters benefits from having a very strong linear gameplan with the capacity to grind into the lategame when necessary. This is another deck that has benefitted a lot from recent designs, cards like Migloz, Maze Crusher and Mawloc push the boundaries of how much board presence you can squeeze out for a reasonable mana cost. The green tutors are also a huge boon that allow you to find the perfect threat for every scenario but failing that, topdecking a Shivan Devastator is sure to do the job.
Goblins is aggro deck that can win out of nowhere, the deck that you only feel safe against until the pilot gives you the handshake. Goblins is unique among the examples I’ve given in that it is also a strong synergy deck, it does have some efficient creatures but the power of Goblins’ beatdown strategy is in its lords and other enhancers like Sparksmith and Krenko, Mob Boss. It can pivot its gameplan on a whim, one moment it’s beating you down with a wide board and then suddenly it sacrifices it to Sling-Gang Lieutenant for lethal. Another strength of the deck is that is also a hidden combo deck; the Conspicuous Snoop and Persist combos are easily enabled by a multitude of tutors like Gobin Recruiter. The Rakdos version tends to lean more aggressive and the Jund version tends to lean into the combos more.
There are also dozens of other less popular but still viable aggro decks like Battlebots, RW Equipment, UR/G Blitz, Black Mould, Medium Green, Domain Zoo, Tokens etc.
One of the main appeals of aggro decks in Canlander is how good their matchup is into combo. They tend to have the perfect balance of intense pressure on the life total and incidental disruption to their opponent’s gameplan. The red aggro decks especially also have an excellent matchup into creature combo, the ability for cards like Pyrokenesis and Fury to clean up mana dorks can be backbreaking.
Aggro decks have also traditionally had a pretty good matchup into control decks. However (I’ll dive into this in greater detail in a later article), with the evolution of modern control moving towards UR/x control/midrange with access to the same excellent red sweepers; the matchup has become significantly more even. Decks like D&T and GR Monsters also benefit hugely from their Intiative creatures which modern control can frequently cleanly answer with its evasive blue threats.
Aggro decks have also traditionally had a relatively poor matchup into midrange. When your deck is comprised of mostly two or three power creatures, something as simple as a level 3 Hexdrinker, Questing Beast or Courser of Kruphix can stop it in its tracks, especially when accelerated out with fast mana. However, in the initiative era, the ability to go wide and send in some sacrificial tokens to take the Initaitve and keep it has thoroughly improved the matchup for low to the ground decks.
Ultimately Aggro decks have been a mainstay of the format since its inception and likely will always have a place at the top tables. ‘Bolt you for lethal?’ will echo through local game stores around the world for decades to come.