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Act Of Aggression: Philosophy Of Aggression

By J Ormechea on 1/2/2015 Category: Forum>Magic: the Gathering>Articles>Competitive Constructed
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.

Legacy Elves

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Legacy Elves is a good example of a deck that keeps the gas coming. We have a ton of card draw, we have a lot of mana coming out very fast, we have creatures coming down quickly, a good degree of deck thinning, and we have an overwhelming finisher in the form of Craterhoof Behemoth. This deck also has some main board slots dedicated to otherwise sideboard tech, which I feel is a bit risky but not unpardonable with such a diverse format as Legacy.

While I will not go into specifics of how the deck operates, I will tell you it’s worth a good search if you are at all interested. I have faced Elves quite a few times in different formats. The speed in which an Elves player can fill the board is intimidating. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to play against aggro Elves, and it will take a few games you ought to have to figure it out.

White Weenie is pretty shallow when it comes to how winning is accomplished, and has minimal interaction with an opponent. Elves is even more shallow, with some variations having no interaction with an opponent at all.

Next one of my favorite combo decks, and it only has seven creatures!

Legacy Reanimator 2

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Reanimator isn’t concerned with your feelings, or much of anything besides pitching a creature to the graveyard and bringing it back out to play. This is done by manipulating the top of the deck, drawing extra cards, and Entomb-ing the desired creature. It is very straightforward and very dangerous. This version has a back-up plan of Show and Tell, which is generally going to go very well for them, unless their opponent drops an Emrakul.

So while this is not an aggro deck it still follows the same principal of the second law. It still makes sure to get everything together to explode forward before it can be taken down.

Next a Modern deck that has lost a bit of popularity, but is still a good example:

Modern Storm 3

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Storm is a deck that keeps drawing cards and keeps casting spells that draw more cards and produce more mana. While I prefer Empty the Warrens as a finisher, Grapeshot does a nice job too, especially with one or two activated Pyromaster Ascensions on the field.

Both Storm and Elves are a good example of what playing this type of deck can mean. This shows that when we have the energy needed we will keep expanding at a rapid enough rate to destroy our opponent. However, if these decks do not hit their stride early enough or falter at some point when they are trying to “go big or go home”, they will burn out. The entropies of the participating systems will result in their failure. Reanimator is another good example of the pieces working together, and can produce their win result just as quickly, if not even faster. However, it is almost even more fragile in some ways when we think about what makes it work. It has to bring creatures back from the graveyard. If it cannot do that it will not win, which is one of the reasons that Show and Tell is so important.

What all of these decks do, though, is show how powerful harnessing that energy really is. One thing to mention is that a lot of explosive decks are either aggro, aggro/combo, or combo. Everything else is closer to mid-range or control.

Some decks like Modern Merfolk do a good job of showing a balance between control and rapid expansion. Death and Taxes is also another good example of doing this. Both of them are a nice aggro/control balance, where they want to suffocate the opponent instead of punching them repeatedly to the face. Only after they have stalled your game plan will they be pummeling away.

I don't mention this because I am going to go over slower versions as well (I have written quite a bit about decks like this in the past), but because it shows the sharp contrast in the game plan.

There is a big difference between being aggressive and reactive, and a moderate. In general I prefer aggressive, but only if I feel like I have a decent understanding of the expected metagame. If I am not sure what I will be facing, I am more likely to play something like Merfolk or Death and Taxes, as the moderate stance will keep me well positioned against a wide variety of decks. An important thing to remember though is that no matter what you are playing the same principal applies. If we run out of gas we are going to come to a halt. For aggressive players, that means we are running out of creatures, or burn spells, and our opponent has stalled us enough that we will lose. For the control player, if they do not keep a decent amount of control in the early game, they are not going to survive into the late game. The combo player has to protect their combo to go unhindered or they will not be able to “go off.” Remember this is only in game one as well. When we approach game two we have to be ready to face added resistance to our indomitable spirit. Sometimes we will be able to add in cards that add additional reach towards our opponent’s game plan, and other times we will have to make a slight compromise and change gears, even if it’s just a little.

After testing some of my Modern Mardu shenanigans, I feel like I am getting close to doing to being able to take on a broader metagame while still being very aggressive.

Here is what I have so far:

The Second Law of Thermo Dynamics

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So far in practice games this has been performing well against a wide variety of decks. I have yet to take the time and say play fifty or more games against every major contender, but my ideas have been proving useful. The more I play it, the more confident I become. All of the things I could want that move my game plan forward are here. I have creatures that will turn sideways again and again, I have burn spells that can remove creatures or hit my opponent. I have cards like Boros Charm that just serve so many purposes. I am still a fan of Honor of the Pure in a token type strategy, but my go-to buffer is no longer present thanks to the combination of both Student of Warfare and Figure of Destiny. Early game presence combined with mid and late game potential has proved to be very rewarding when it comes to the win percentage.

Overall I am happy with the application of the second law when it comes to Magic: the Gathering, as well as areas of my life. If you want something to keep happening, be it change, or a state of being, keep putting energy into it. Do not be the cause of the entropies in your own life, whether that be your job, a goal, or your personal life. Keep putting all you have into accomplishing what you set your mind to.

Thank you all for reading.