Is Aggro the Answer?

Posted in Event Coverage on May 22, 2016

By Hallie Santo

Magic players love puzzles, and the most common problem we try to solve when approaching a new format is "How quickly can I win the game?" As such, aggressive decks have always accounted for a large share of the Modern metagame, but those decks are as varied as the people who play them. Want to attack with lots of creatures? Try Zoo. How about making one creature so large that it's nearly impossible for your opponent to deal with it? Infect might be your speed. Don't want to bother attacking at all? There's always Burn. Dozens of aggressive decks have a home in Modern, and they all seem especially well-positioned now that Ancestral Vision and Nahiri, the Harbinger are drawing more players toward control.

This weekend, well-known Twitch streamer Kenji "NumotTheNummy" Egashira decided that giving his opponents ten poison counters was easier than dealing twenty damage. Egashira was a longtime Splinter Twin aficionado and fell out of the Modern loop after the deck's titular card was banned in January, but found his way back in when an Infect deck fell into his lap.

Kenji "NumotTheNummy" Egashira

"My friend Robin Alberg collects four of every Modern staple, so I asked her if I could borrow a deck, and Infect didn't overlap with what she wanted to play," he says. "It was really a matter of convenience."

Once he started practicing with the deck on Magic Online, Egashira found that Infect suited his playstyle, and he says he would still choose to play it this weekend even if he had access to any deck in Modern.

"I really like attacking with creatures," he says. "I like all-in aggressive strategies and using countermagic to protect your creatures." The Infect decks of today and the Splinter Twin decks of yesteryear both fit that description perfectly.

Egashira also got plenty of sideboarding tips from Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon, who brought Infect to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. He packed some Dismembers and Twisted Images for Spellskite, one of the most common countermeasures against his deck, but he also came prepared to face Affinity. He says he beat the artifact-heavy deck twice earlier today, but had a tough match against Naya Zoo.

"In Game 1, my opponent played a Turn 1 Wild Nacatl, and I cast a Gitaxian Probe, sacrificed a fetch land, and played a Glistener Elf," he says. "Then, on Turn 2, he played two Burning-Tree Emissaries and a Reckless Bushwhacker. He did the same thing in Game 2, except he lead off with a Goblin Guide instead."

Egashira's fellow streamer Athena "Elantris" Huey is hoping for those sorts of explosive starts today, as she's chosen to do battle with Naya Zoo (or "Zootopia", as she lives to call it). Huey also took a break from Modern after her Amulet Bloom deck lost one of its key pieces to a ban, and she felt dissatisfied with her other favorite decks, Grishoalbrand and R/G Tron. She wanted a more consistent way to pressure her opponent, so she chose to sleeve up a horde of tiny creatures.

Huey felt that Zoo was a better choice for the weekend than some of the other aggressive decks in the format. "It's more consistent than Burn," she says, "and Affinity comes and goes." More than anything, she wanted a deck that was linear and which gave her plenty of time to make a handful of difficult play decisions.

Huey worked with her fiancé, Hall of Famer Eric Froehlich, to practice for the event and devise a sideboard plan, and she took a broader approach to sideboarding than Egashira.

Athena "Elantris" Huey

"It can be hard to make a sideboard guide for Modern, just because there are so many different decks in the format," she says. "You have to be flexible and focus on beating certain types of decks."

When it comes to beating opposing aggro decks, Huey concedes that there is a bit of luck involved, but she had a positive attitude about the tournament. "I'm just going to try to put myself in a good position to win each game," she says.

Seven-time Grand Prix Top 8'er Matt Nass came prepared with a brew that he thought was well-positioned in a field of aggro decks. While many Modern players sleeved up copies of Nahiri, the Harbinger this weekend, Nass had two other Standard-legal Planeswalkers by his side. His G/W Tokens deck features Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, but the similarities to the deck's Standard counterpart end there. Nass's deck contains ten one-drop mana accelerators (Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, and Avacyn's Pilgrim), which he uses to power out tokens and Planeswalkers. He has token-creators like Spectral Procession, Lingering Souls, and Raise the Alarm at his disposal, plus Gavony Township, a powerful utility land which can beef up his army of tiny creatures.

Matt Nass

Nass is enamored with Nissa and claims the card is underplayed in both Standard and Modern. "A Turn 2 Nissa is very powerful in Modern," he claims. "You just activate her first ability and your opponent can't kill her with a Lightning Bolt." He's less enthused about Gideon, and has considered experimenting with other four-mana Planeswalkers, like Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Ajani Vengeant.

Nass's best match-ups are against fair decks, like Jund and Abzan, but his sideboard plan makes him a favorite against other aggro match-ups. He won two three-game sets against Burn and Infect after losing Game 1 each time. Infect, Burn, and Zoo certainly have staying power, and if Nass continues on his winning streak, aggro players may be convinced to try a new deck in Modern.

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