Act of Aggression: Philosophy of Aggression
By John-Marc Ormechea
While doing a little bit of scientific studying for the Cosmological Argument I came upon something that reminded me of one shortcoming of a lot of aggressive decks.
The Cosmological Argument goes like this:
1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
2. The Universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore the Universe has a cause.
While I am not arguing with my readers with the idea of a creator and the logical impossibilities of “infinity” I can rephrase the argument to suit my aggressive needs.
The Aggressive Cosmological Argument goes like this:
1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
2. Your opponent has gone to a zero or negative life total and lost the game.
3. Your opponent's loss had a cause.
Sure, it isn't as nice sounding as the regular Cosmological Argument but the idea is the same.
Either way, we know that your opponent went from twenty to zero life points… somehow. There was a cause for that. I can prove it using one of the same arguments I use for the regular cosmological argument.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
I won’t go into a ton of detail about the science behind it, but here is a brief summary:
In a natural thermodynamic process, there is an increase in the sum of the entropies of the participating systems. Or to use an analogy besides an aggro deck, a car cannot move forward without gas fueling it. Interesting stuff scientifically, and with very interesting philosophical implications, not just with creation, but with cars, and even Magic: the Gathering deck building.
Your opponent who lost the game lost because of a reason.
They may have lost twenty points of life, they may not have been able to draw a card, they may have received ten poison counters. In any case, we know that they were not always in a losing position. While I would love to talk about the philosophy of deck building, and use countless scientific analogies, the second law of thermodynamics is enough for us to focus on.
If we lose a game, it is because our participating systems fizzled out and no longer did their job. Our car stopped moving. I am going to look at solving that problem for aggro, which means that I want cards that don't just do damage, but also focus on making it so I can continue to do damage, until I reach the end of my opponent's life.
“Gas” in aggro comes in two different forms:
1. Direct Damage: Any type of spell that deals any amount of damage right at your opponent's life total.
2. Creature Damage: Damage dealt by creatures, and are generally reusable with a few exceptions.
Some creatures have the ability to do direct damage. While their bodies are not usually the most impressive for soaking up damage the duality is nice when you are playing against another aggro player, and can block or hit them for a point or two. So now that we have established that our opponent's end result has a cause, we need to address where that cause came from. We have four areas to think about at all times, and some of us are better at this than others. We have the battlefield, where all of our cards that are not an Instant or Sorcery end up residing for an uncertain amount of time. We have our hand, the place where we hold the cards that we are hoping to play. We have our graveyard, this is normally where things go to die; a spell played, a creature destroyed, a fetchland cracked. This is the home of the afterlife. Lastly we have our library; this is where we house all of our cards before a game even begins. This is our playbook, our strategy guide.
This may seem obvious to both veteran Magic players and rookies alike. These are things that we often look at, but we don't always take stock of all the information that is being presented.
A graveyard, which coincidentally is next to the battlefield, can give you a lot of information some of you may not have always respected as you should. Together they tell you what is left in your library. Your hand is a hidden resource which is also used while thinking of the cards you have yet to draw. Now take into account that we have all of that information, and now think what could happen if we could manipulate that information. What if we could better the odds of what we would draw, or place on the battlefield, or what if we could use the cards in our graveyard more than once? What if we could come close to doing those things? The answer is we could steer the games we play the way we want more often.
Most often, this is most present in the first game of the match. Sideboards make things more complicated for you as an aggro player, but thankfully you also are able to sideboard and make things more complicated for your opponent as well.
Now before we talk about creatures and spells we need to talk about something even more important than that. We need to talk mana. Mana is the main resource we have to cast spells. We are so dependent on it that a majority of us have at least a third of our deck comprised of lands, both basic and non-basic, as well as other lands that only look for more lands. Clearly this is a way to make sure that we have the fuel our “car” needs to drive forward.
Fetch lands are one of the best tools a very aggressively inclined player can utilize. Sure, landfall triggers on cards like Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede are a great place to start, but even more important, at least to me, is that we are able to not only get the colors of mana we need for our spells early game, but we are also playing one land and ripping another land from our library. The more lands we take away, the more creatures and spells we are able to draw, and consequently able to play. Fetch lands are a very important part of our cause.
Next we have direct damage:
Spells that deal direct damage are usually pretty flexible when it comes to choosing between targeting a creature or the opposing player. There are a few cards that will only say target creature or only target player, but a majority of the time we really want to see target creature or player, or target creature and player. Conjunctions are not only awesome for throwback educational tools like Schoolhouse Rock, but Magic cards as well.
Conjunction Junction, what's your function?
Hopefully this and that, or this or that… but not just that.
Creatures are my favorite way of dealing damage to my opponent. They are more likely to connect more than once in a great majority of cases, and they say to your opponent, deal with me or we are going to keep advancing on your life total.
Creatures are not just the win condition in aggro decks, but also one of the most popular decks in Modern: Splinter Twin.
I want to play a lot of creatures in a short amount of time to advance toward the goal of having my opponent reach zero hit points.
Splinter Twin decks are more sly when it comes to their approach to putting an army on the field. They will try to control the board as much as possible and try to ensure they are in a position to protect their combo, before causing a “Big Bang” of creatures on the board. What I want to show you by using both the aggro example and combo example is that they may play differently, but their overall goal is the same: Overwhelm the opponent with a large number of problems they have trouble dealing with.
The secret of propelling ourselves forward is by looking at other aggro decks or aggro control decks that do just that. They understand the second law of thermodynamics more than other decks. While I am looking at piloting something like this at my local modern FNMs, I will be looking to various formats from various time periods for a variety of examples.
- J Ormechea
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