Fighting the Finals: Defeating Red Aggro and Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact

Posted in Event Coverage on August 8, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

The finals of Pro Tour Magic Origins was a showdown between the two breakout decks of the format: Red Aggro, with Abbot of Keral Keep and other efficient ways to turn every bit of turn into lethal damage, and Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact that put Hangarback Walker and more onto the map.

Joel Larsson’s Red Aggro

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Mike Sigrist’s Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact

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To say that these two decks were in the spotlight would be an understatement: Both decks were played by large teams, consistently filling the feature match stage. As the biggest known quantities among the new decks to appear in Standard, just how could players fight back against the rising tide of Mountains and Thopter tokens?

David Ochoa shared one battlepland.

David Ochoa was one of the many mainstays of the Pro Tour in attendance at Grand Prix San Diego.

“You can fight monored generally by killing their creatures,” he explained. “All they’ll have left is burn spells. The important thing is to make sure their creatures don’t get in for damage. That’s how they’ll kill you. Leaning on a creature dealing more than three damage is what they rely on so they don’t have to draw as many burn spells. If you’ve given the playing against red and you have the option to kill one of their creatures you should. If they don’t have any creatures at all that’s really good. When you can do that and progress the game and get to the point where both players are making land drops you should generally beat them with your more expensive spells. They’ll have more impact.

“It’s why being on the play is so huge: All their creatures are one mana,” Ochoa continued. “If they start they’ll play a creature while you do nothing on the first turn, and they get ahead by a landslide. That’s the general rule: Kill creatures first, then worry about their burn later. Don’t even worry about trying to play your creatures. Just worry about killing theirs.”

Is that all there is to beat back against beatdowns? “There are other ways. Life gain, or lowering your curve to be more interactive. Matt Sperling brought in Fleecemane Lion,” Ochoa said, talking about No. 20-ranked Matt Sperling’s Top 8 loss against No. 11-ranked Joel Larrson playing red aggro in the semifinals of Pro Tour Magic Origins. “They’re good because they come in faster and are big. Duress is okay but not the best. It depends on what creatures they have. Generally, cheap creatures and removal is the way to go, with life gain like Nylea’s Disciple too.”

Anyone playing Mountains this weekend will should have considered what other decks will try to do to trump them. What can the red decks do to fight past what’s coming their way? Ochoa had the answer. “The red deck can also try and slow down and bring in something tricky like Avaricious Dragon or Outpost Siege, something that lets them creep ahead in attrition matches.”

Another player that’s spent the past few weeks iterating on Standard is No. 19-ranked Josh Utter-Leyton. As a player known for testing and tuning decks across formats, Utter-Leyton would know what makes the deck he played at the Pro Tour – Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact – work and, therefore, what would make it fail.

No. 19-ranked Josh Utter-Leyton had already seen the best decks in the format. He also knew what could beat them.

“If you can kill an Ensoul Artifact target for two mana that’s all you need to do,” he said. “The good cards are very good in the deck but the bad cards are bad – like Chief of the Foundry. You need a lot in play for the Chief to be as good as something like Mantis Rider. Basically, if you’re able to pick apart their good cards they’ll be left without a deck. If you can answer Ensoul Artifact and Ghostfire Blade you’ll be set.”

So what fights the deck? Utter-Leyton was confident in the backbreaking answers. “Unravel the Æther, Reclamation Sage, Revoke Existence – anything that removes and artifact is going to be good,” he said. “Ones that exile or shuffle the target in will be better than destroy since you don’t want to be dead to Ensoul Artifact on Darksteel Citadel. Dromoka's Command is also one of the best cards against that deck.”

So if there’s so much sideboards coming, what can the deck do to try and survive? “One thing I tried with the deck is putting Mantis Riders in it,” Utter-Leyton explained. “If you can take out some of the cards like Chief of the Foundry – keeping your engine pieces like Ensoul Artifact and Ghostfire Blade – to put in some cards that answer what your opponent is trying to do to beat you out of the sideboard you can have a good deck.”

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