Lessons Learned from Rogue Decks

I spent this week testing a bunch of rogue decks to further explore the format and its possibilities before narrowing down my testing for the upcoming Mythic Championship in Cleveland. I wanted to see if I could find any diamonds in the rough, or if not, learn why these decks couldn’t quite hack it. A lot of decks simply were lacking on raw power or consistency, but there were several common trends across these decks that will inform the way I address building and tuning decks in this standard metagame.

Every deck needs answers, even if those answers are temporary

A recurring theme I came across was that no matter how synergistic or aggressive a deck was, no matter how good the endgame of a deck was, it always always needed a way to answer opposing threats. Not being able to kill drakes, or Hostage Taker, or planeswalkers quickly ruined a deck for me no matter how sweet it seemed otherwise. A lot of decks will simply kill you for not interacting with their threats, and even “mopey” decks like Esper Control and Sultai Krasis will bury you for not interacting with the likes of Wildgrowth Walker, Thief of Sanity, Vivien Reid, and Teferi. However, a lesson learned near the end of my testing was that answers need not be permanent. If you have a good way to close the game out, you can lean on cards like Exclusion Mage or Incongruity or Quench to delay or temporarily keep opposing threats off the board. This is especially important to consider when trying to trim or cut a color in these 3 color decks in order to make them leaner and faster. Simic Climb in particular was impressive because while losing access to Cast Down is a big issue, gaining the ability to cast Frilled Mystic was incredible against the archetypes designed to go over the top of traditional Sultai. This tradeoff is enabled by playing a full set of Incubation//Incongruity and a number of interactive creatures in the form of Exclusion Mage, Frilled Mystic, and Kraul Harpooner alongside Hadana’s Climb as a way to quickly close the game.

Decks without card advantage or filtering cannot afford to play narrow cards

The biggest strike against several decks I tested like WB Angels was that they had narrowly powerful cards, but no way to line them up. Lyra is miserable against Esper Control and Sultai, Adanto Vanguard is an embarrassment against aggressive decks, Tocatli Honor Guard is incredible against Sultai and woefully understatted elsewhere. These decks simply cannot compete in a format with this many things that need answering. You cannot fight Wilderness Reclamation, Esper Control, Sultai Krasis, Mono Blue Aggro, Mono Red, Mono White Aggro, and Izzet Drakes by bringing a random set of tools from your toolbox and hoping that the cards you drew are the right ones for the matchup. Decks like Esper Control, Sultai Krasis, and Izzet Drakes get to play a pile of powerful cards because they see more of their deck each game and some of their most powerful cards are incredibly flexible. Angels strategies and Monsters strategies are simply not going to see as much of their deck and rely on the cards they drew naturally to win the game. Notably this is why many of the Gruul decks have become very linearly aggressive, including Collision//Colossus and Lightning Strike as the removal spells of choice, both of which can be converted directly into damage. You simply can’t afford to draw Cast Down or Lava Coil against Wilderness Reclamation or Esper, and you can’t afford to draw Tocatli Honor Guard or Rhythm of the Wild against the aggressive decks. When the format is this wide, your deck gets stretched thin to cover it all. Your cards either need to be flexible, or you need to see more of them.

Planeswalkers matter. Pressure them or kill them.

This may sound obvious, but it became very apparent as I tested more decks against the likes of Teferi, Vivien, and even Karn. If you don’t have a multi-body battlefield presence able to attack into these walkers to pressure them or prevent them from being deployed, you must have some way to directly remove planeswalkers. Decks that deploy 1 big threat a turn need to be able to answer a Teferi or Vivien that otherwise lands, activates, and then untaps. It really doesn’t matter if the opposing deck is Elves, Esper, Big Red of some variant, or anything else. These planeswalkers generate an incredible amount of resources and are often answers themselves. Decks like Esper Midrange, Angels, Monsters, and even Bant can struggle to remove a resolved planeswalker and cannot pressure planeswalkers to the same degree as other decks, and it is often a critical flaw for these decks against Esper Control in particular. Thief of Sanity requires slightly different and less narrow answers, but also falls into this category as an honorary planeswalker that can simply run away with games if left unchecked.

This standard format has an incredible amount of options, so don’t think for a second that these lessons only apply to rogue decks. You can use these insights when tuning and tweaking the top decks in the format as well, making sure when you adjust your deck that you can still address all of these points. If you include a bunch of Cast Down in Sultai to beat Mono Blue and Izzet Drakes, make sure you include more ways to dig through your deck. If you’re playing Chromium in Esper, make sure you have ways to hit your lands and make sure Chromium doesn’t rot in your hand. If you have multiple Essence Capture in Mono Blue, make sure you’re playing the full set of Opt and maybe some Chart a Course. I’m very much looking forward to this weekend’s events, as we will get to pull a lot of data from 2 SCG events, a Magic Online MCQ on Saturday, and a MOCS event on Sunday. Good luck to those participating!

If you have any questions or comments, as always you can reach out to me in the comments here or on twitter @yoman_5, where I’ve posted individual threads on several of the decks I tested this week. 

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