Are you here to deal some damage? Well you came to the right place! This article should serve as a good guide to building and executing fundamental Mono Red Aggro strategies in EDH. In the future I’ll write up more definitive articles on Mono-Red but this should be a good starting point. Here’s a Grenzo, Havoc Raiser decklist (designed by William Yow) to cue you on what I’m talking about:
Structural Benefits of Aggro Decks
There are a lot of aggro decks that don’t require you to ‘waste’ spaces in your deck including very traditional artifact or creature ramp cards like Thran Dynamo or Wood Elves (Just run the over powered mana rocks like Sol Ring and that should be enough as long as your average CMC is low). Instead of running mana development cards we can run cards that generate creatures, push damage or beat an opponent’s combo. I personally like this aspect of deckbuilding because it makes more of your draws impactful as games go longer. Other decks at the table don’t want to draw Thran Dynamo in the later stages of the game. You want damage. So build for it!
Additionally our cards have more direction than our opponents. If we build our deck to have our cards be oriented towards aggro they will work better when we get disrupted. In combo decks if you can isolate cards by themselves you can strip the vast majority of value from them. In aggro decks as long as you are able to push damage into your opponents you are getting what you want (or at least way more value then your opponents want you to have).
Find your splash color
We might be talking about Mono Red Aggro but don’t forget that you can splash for other colors to support your Mono Red strats. This is really true for Tribal decks like Goblins that have tons of good black cards (or commanders like Grenzo, Dungeon Warden ) that can offer huge support options to your Mono Red Strategy. You don’t have to splash but it is a good option to have.
When we run a lot of creatures we are obviously vulnerable to Wrath of God and the entire family of cards similar to this card. You can give your deck ways to combat wrath effects ( Legion’s Initiative as an example) or you can embrace your weakness and plan against wrath effects people may use against you. I personally like to embrace the weaknesses of decks. I think it allows for more realistic deck design. I’m weary of running lots of effects like Legion’s Initiative or other anti-wrath cards because they are rarely good at pushing damage (we don’t want to deviate too much from the goals of our deck).
Have clear objectives when deckbuilding. There are thousands of cards that we can put into our Mono-Red Aggro deck but we want to be specific. Set firm rules before looking at cards to include in your deck and abide by those rules.
But What Rules?
The rules we abide when building our deck make up the strategies we can implement in-game. If we want to build our deck to accommodate burst damage that needs to be an integral part of design. If we are aiming for damage over time then we might have more flexibility and could possibly include more value creatures.
The easiest mistake to make is to include too many value creatures or cards that give you value. While gaining value sounds good if you are including these cards in a aggro deck, the results of including even slightly more value creatures than necessary often leads to failure to push lethal damage onto your opponents. Your opponent’s are trying to combo, control, or aggro you out of the game. You only have a finite amount of time.
Some basic rules could include:
I’m not going to include creatures with CMC greater than 4.
If this card isn’t contributing to pushing damage or stopping a combo then it doesn’t make the deck.
If you’re building a tribal deck (like goblins) you could limit the amount of non-goblins you are running to maximize the effects of cards like Goblin Chieftain.
Make sure that your mana production matches what you are trying to cast. You can run cmc 5 and 6 creatures but know that you’ll be very limited in how many of those you can play if you don’t run any mana rocks.
Lay out your cards so you can visually see how your cmc effects what ways you can curve-out. Because you’ll probably not run a ton of mana development you can play a lot of low costing creatures. It’s good to fill out the lower end of your CMC because it can let you rebuild from a Wrath effect quickly or fill out your curve on any given turn (On turn 4 if you cast a Hanweir Garrison you can cast a 1 drop to spend a total of 4 mana, the average you can probably produce by turn 4 with little to no mana development).
I usually find that the 3 Mana spot on your curve is a good place to have a lot of cards in an aggro deck. This is because on turn 6 and beyond you can start casting multiple 3-Drop creatures. You want to cast the cards in your hand, if you can’t cast the cards in your hand you can’t make big plays and get kills onto your opponents.
Direct Damage, Synergy, Combos and Support Cards
Let’s look at common traits shared by cards in Mono-Red aggro decks and how they can relate to your deckbuilding.
Direct Damage: It can be useful to have elements of direct damage in your deck to assist you in getting kills onto other players. The most notable card in Mono-Red for this purpose is Price of Progress (especially good vs 3-5 color decks).
The benefit to these types of cards that can deal damage is that you can achieve kills that you wouldn’t normally be able to otherwise. The problem is that direct damage effects are usually 1-shot and because of this you need to have a good understanding of what your damage output is relative to your mana curve so you can include the most impactful burn spells. Price of Progress can do a lot of work but if your opponents on are on mono-colored decks it won’t do much at all. Fireball can be great in the late game but is slow and not mana-efficient. Map out your mana curve and figure out when (and why) you need your direct damage, if you think you need it.
Synergy: Most decks in EDH have synergy. Some of it may be direct like Grenzo Dungeon Warden’s ability to flip creatures from the bottom of your deck. If you build your deck to fit a particular style then it can benefit from synergistic cards. When building around synergy think of it as just another rule you are applying to yourself in deckbuilding. If that rule doesn’t gel right with the rest of your deck then its probably not worth running.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do too many fancy interactions.
Combos: Combos are a heavy part of EDH. It’s not unusual for aggro decks to run combo effects. This type of deckbuilding is really well implemented when the combo effects (isolated individually) can also push the main goal of the deck: damage. While it may not be super-easy to search up these combos it is good to be able to occasionally threaten the combos.
A good example of this is how Dualcaster Mage and Twinflame effects interact in This Zada deck tech. Another example of a combo you could implement similar to this is Breath of Fury alongside Hanweir Garrison and a haste enabler (you enchant another random creature and as long as you have an opponent you can attack freely you can make infinite attack steps by attaching the enchantment to a token made off of the Hanweir Garrison). Both cards individually can push damage on their own and are not dead individually.
Support Cards: We don’t want to stray away from our aggro-beat face plan, but support cards can share similar roles that combo cards do in our deck. We want cards that can consistently interact with other cards in our deck to deliver the aggro we need. Just like the combo cards we can include in our deck these support cards need to be decent when people try to isolate them. These support cards can be flexible like Outpost Siege (card advantage over time or wrath insurance) or can be more controlling in nature, such as Five-Alarm Fire (controlled damage to players or creatures). It can be a trap to include too many support cards in your deck that don’t do much on their own. Make sure you balance them well with the creatures in your deck.
Combo is a very large part of EDH and needs to be respected.. Thankfully there are cards that can deny our opponents their combos while not terribly deterring from our aggro plans. These cards can be as simple as Lightning Bolt (this card kills a very large amount of combo centric creatures in EDH) or Relic of Progenitus (can deny our opponents graveyards and cantrip a card at low cost). You probably want to run a small amount of combo-hate. The amount you run will vary based on your personal preference and how much combo is in your meta but if you start around 5-8 cards you can edit your deck to get it to a spot to where you are getting just enough access to hate cards.
5-8 might sound like a lot of cards but if these cards play into our strategy ( Lightning Bolt can push damage or deny a creature) then it won’t really feel like you are diverting a lot of slots to fight off combo. The trick is to find cards that can deny combo and still let you accomplish your goals if you really need them too.
So you’ve made your Aggro deck. What now? Time to play some games and figure out ways you can improve your play or the structure of your deck. Here are some sub-categories to discuss when thinking about who to kill first at a table.
First thing’s first: life totals can be totally relevant or irelevant based on gamestate, how fast the game is going, and what the win cons of each deck are. It is generally a good idea to try to map out each game (using your starting hand as a loose map) and try to plan how you will sequence your kills.
Against combo you have to realize that combo players are not dead until they are dead (aka 0 life). So when you leave combo opponents alive you could be dramatically increasing the odds of getting rolled by a combo. I personally like to eliminate the combo decks first.
It can be easier to leave control decks alive until the end but these decks are usually the ones most likely to run Wrath of God effects, so tread lightly. The reason why I feel like it is usually easier to leave control decks until the end to kill is because control decks usually take the longest time to assemble their win condition. I usually try to take these decks out first or second.
The Aggro VS Aggro matchup is usually a race and life totals matter a lot. Measuring out when you can get the kill onto your opponent can also be difficult when removal or wraths from your opponents can sideline you and/or your opponent. On the flipside the other Aggro deck at the table can be very helpful in helping you eliminate other players.
Don’t Split Damage
Splitting damage is only good when your opponent can block attacking creatures easily for value. When I say split damage I mean taking all your attackers and dividing the damage between your opponents. This sounds political but it does not serve your win conditions. You need to identify the player most likely to combo/win the game against you and eliminate that player. Splitting damage gives this player several more turns to achieve their goal against you. If people feel offended by you attacking them say “This is my deck’s goal, and I’m trying to win.” and move on.
Know when to trade in combat
Your opponents will be really reluctant to block with their high-value creatures especially if they need those creatures to combo. Trading a 2/2 with a Oracle of Mul Daya is a fantastic trade on your end.
Attacking with your creatures before wraths are cast is also crucial. The more you play with your deck the more you will get a game sense of when other players might be trying to set up a good wrath. Your creatures won’t last forever. Don’t be afraid to attack and loose creatures in order to achieve the damage you want onto your opponents before wraths are cast.
Make Your Cuts Critical
If you are finding that creatures are underperforming or support cards/combo cards are not delivering you deck damage then you need to be critical and make cuts. Mono-Red has good options and there are tons of aggressive creatures you can include in your deck. Spend some time on Gatherer in the advanced search section and you can find tailored solutions to what your deck is trying to do.