This week was the first week for Theros. Oh my god! (get it?) The breakout aggro decks were Red Deck Wins, Monowhite Weenie, and Boros Aggro. Each follows a similar game plan, so what I would like to do this week is to analyze the entire Boros Spectrum. At the one extreme we have Red Deck Wins. At the other extreme we have Monowhite Weenie. And in between the two we have various shades of Boros, some with heavier red and others with heavier white, and some with unique subthemes. I'll consider the advantages and disadvantages of five recently successful builds in order to help you decide which version you want to play this weekend.
Let's start at the red side of the spectrum with the deck Philip Bertorelli won SCG Worcester with:
Like most red decks, the goal of the deck is to curve out with creatures, burn out opposing blockers, and finish off the opponent with a few burn spells.
The most surprising aspect of this list to me is the low amount of one-drops. Four copies of Rakdos Cackler is it. Legion Loyalist doesn't fit particularly well in this build because it is less of a swarm deck and won't often cast two creatures in the same turn unless one is Burning-Tree Emissary. I would, however, like to see Firedrinker Satyr in this list. It provides another two-power one-drop body and it also gives the deck a mana sink in the later game. This is especially valuable in a deck such as RDW where one of its biggest drawbacks is not being able to utilize excess lands. In this same vein, I would also consider moving the Hammer of Purphoros to the main.
I haven't been particularly impressed with Magma Jet yet, but it is probably the best card for the job. It will help dig through excess lands in the late game and can get rid of a blocker in the mid-game with some added value. Shock and Lightning Strike are necessary, but if enough people play creature decks with cards like Loxodon Smiter, running some number of Mizzium Mortars in the main may prove better.
Burning Earth is an exceptional sideboard card, especially given the fact that Esper outperformed Azorius amongst the control decks. This is an easy four-of and a strong incentive to play this deck since it can take advantage of the Burning Earth damage better than any other deck.
Now let's look at John Guy's Top 16 deck list from the same event:
This deck has the same general concept as Red Deck Wins. The game plan is to play out early creatures, get rid of blockers, and then burn out the opponent.
The primary difference is that you get some upgraded creatures and some upgraded removal spells, at the cost of slightly worse mana. Boros Charm provides a way to keep your creatures around against an opposing Supreme Verdict while also being able to go to the dome for four damage, which is significantly more than Shock can do. You also get Chained to the Rocks, which is a bit like Mizzium Mortars. It won't be able to Deal Damage to the opponent, but it can get rid of blockers with ease. Chained to the Rocks is especially good in this version of Boros because you run an abundance of Mountains. In a Boros version with a whiter base, Chained to the Rocks becomes less effective since you cannot rely on having a mountain as often.
The sideboard also offers some cards that Red Deck Wins does not have access to. Assemble the Legion is a powerful card against slower strategies that aim to control the board, whether midrange or actual control. Warleader's Helix is another way to deal with cards like Loxodon Smiter for value and also to burn out an opponent. The card is not as good as it was pre-rotation now that Restoration Angel is gone and having an instant speed four-damage spell is not as indispensable. It is still a powerful option though.
Blind Obedience is yet another interesting sideboard option. It excels in midrange matchups by stopping mid-sized creatures that would otherwise brick wall our attacks. It also adds reach in the form of extort, essentially adding a point of damage worth of kicker to every card we draw for the rest of the game. This second ability by itself makes the card worth bringing in against a control deck that runs very few creatures because it's basically worth about four to seven points of damage by the end of the game.
Ross Merriam placed in the Top 16 of the same tournament with a white deck splashing red, essentially a reverse mirror image of the deck we just talked about.
Instead of running more burn spells and Chained to the Rocks, alongside Boros Charm, we see Brave the Elements and Spear of Heliod. These cards help to get our creatures through in combat and to protect them from removal spells or from having to trade in combat. So the white deck is more concerned with keeping its creatures around and winning via attacking. Fortunately it has the extra tools to make that happen.
Between Boros Charm and Brave the Elements, the opponent is going to have a difficult time wiping our board or setting up favorable trades in combat. They also allow us to finish off an opponent despite them being at a pretty high life total. It's not uncommon to get in seven or eight points of early damage and then use a Brave the Elements and a Boros Charm to end things straightaway. Brave, charming… are we talking about a Magic deck or about Brian Kibler?
The one-drops in the deck are also much better than they are in the red base. You get Soldier of the Pantheon, Dryad Militant, and Judge's Familiar. Imposing Sovereign does the first half of what we talked about concerning Blind Obedience, but instead of providing extort for the later game it provides an aggressive body for the early game. The deck also has Daring Skyjek, which is very solid in this deck because we're looking to keep our creatures around and to attack with multiple creatures each turn.
I like the mana base in this deck, though if I'm committed to running the full set of Mutavaults, I may consider taking out Precinct Captain since we do not want to play Temple of Triumph on the first turn if we have a one-drop. For instance, our hand is: Plains, Temple of Triumph, Mutavault, Precinct Captain, Soldier of the Pantheon, and no more lands. We want to lead with the Soldier and follow it up with a two-drop or a tapped land and another one drop. The Precinct Captain only has 15 sources to cast it and we need to draw two of them. This will happen the majority of the time, but the question is whether the cost of sometimes getting bottlenecked by the Captain/Mutavault nombo is worth the upside of being able to go crazy with a sweet Spear of Heliod, Precinct Captain, Mutavault draw. I'm not sure of the answer just yet, but that's the critical point to consider.
Out of the board you get Glare of Heresy for the mirror match and for anyone relying too heavily on Detention Sphere. This card can prove important depending on how the metagame shapes up and whether Craig Wescoe is in the tournament.
Now let's consider the extreme white end of the spectrum:
We lose Boros Charm and don't gain any spell to replace it with. Instead we have slightly better mana and more creatures. The higher creature account allows us to trigger battalion more reliably, but the loss of Boros Charm also makes us more vulnerable to mass removal – particularly Supreme Verdict.
We can also more reliably cast Precinct Captain on the second turn to follow up our first turn one-drop play since we have 19 lands instead of 15 that allow us to do this. This makes Spear of Heliod even better.
Given the ability to generate battalion more reliably, the deck takes advantage of this by playing Boros Elite and Frontline Medic in addition to the Daring Skyjek. Heliod, God of the Sun is a nice curve-topper that helps to fix the hole created by the loss of Boros Charm. Heliod is indestructible, so it survives most mass removal spells, and it also is able to generate an army by itself over the course of a few turns. This allows the deck to recover from a mass removal spell instead of essentially countering it with the Boros Charm as the Boros decks are able to do. It's unclear which is better since Boros Charm forces us to keep mana open while Heliod allows us to tap out and deploy a threat. And we also have slightly better mana.
As for the sideboard, we no longer have access to Burning Earth, which could prove fairly costly if Esper decks continue to be popular and/or if Jund midrange increases in popularity. Fiendslayer Paladin out of the board is a great answer to the red decks that are currently so popular, and it works especially well with Heliod, God of the Sun's vigilance-granting bonus.
Another alternate direction you can go with Boros is to play auras, as Theo Manley did recently to take down one of the first max point Standard events with Theros. Here is the list he used:
Probably my favorite part about this deck is how good Ethereal Armor is in it. Madcap Skills, Spear of Heliod, and Heliod, God of the Sun himself (in addition to the other Ethereal Armors) all buff the ethereal creature. I suspect Boros Charm's double strike mode comes up more frequently in this build than in any other Boros build as well. Of course the drawback of playing auras is still present, namely that you open yourself up to getting two-for-one'd by a removal spell. This is especially true for instant-speed removal spells. For sorcery-speed ones, or if the opponent is tapped out, you can at least get one attack worth of value out of the aura. This essentially amounts to targeting the opponent with a burn spell, a play not uncommon for regular Boros decks. And of course if they don't have the removal spell, you end up way ahead.
Between Soldier of the Pantheon, Fiendslayer Paladin, and Heliod, God of the Sun, the deck actually has a reasonable amount of targets for the auras that are not easy to kill. None of the creatures are hexproof per se, but depending on the context, you can often manufacture functional hexproof with at least one of the above mentioned creatures. For what it's worth, I would also run a Mountain in this deck over the thirteenth Plains, given that we have eight main deck red cards and more in the board.
So today we talked about five different decks along the Boros Continuum, from monowhite to Boros to monored. I would personally be inclined to go with one of the three decks that is further to the white side of the spectrum (I know, Shocker, right?), but results seem to indicate that the red base is at least as strong right now. Between Boros Charm and Brave the Elements, the white base has enough tools to protect its creatures and to force through damage to close out games. The red base gives up these big game Cryptic Command type cards in favor of more burn spells and haste creatures. White also has better one-drops. Whichever route you decide to take, if you're looking to go aggro, choosing something along the Boros Spectrum seems to be the best place to go right now.
Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to Jeff Bergren and the Gaming Goat for hosting me at their sixty-player Theros Release Sealed Deck event this past Friday night. It was a blast and everyone had a great time. I ended up winning the event with a Boros deck featuring tons of heroic creatures and combat tricks. I'm looking forward to doing the next one with them.
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