In constructed formats, aggro is always a top competing archetype. It’s simple, offensive, and most importantly it’s fast. An aggro deck is meant to wallop a midrange or control strategy before they have time to set up or respond with removal. The Aggro player is the independent variable in the binary of constructed; they act first and the opponent then responds accordingly, making them the dependent variable. This being said, Aggro can be one of the hardest archetypes to adapt into Commander, because one mana two/ones don’t do anything in commander.
In constructed, that same creature swings for a tenth of your opponent’s life total, hence why it can be played. Like the last installment of Commander Kerfuffle, I will detail cards that work for the strategy in constructed, and why they don’t transition well in Commander. We’ll keep this simple as well by using the archetype-defining cards of Modern for the different aspects of Aggro. We will use “Wild Nacatl” to represent the low mana curve, “Death’s Shadow” to represent the offensive capabilities, and “Goblin Guide” to represent the speed factor. However, unlike the Control “Archetech”, Aggro fairs well in Commander due to the natural aggressiveness of the format, if not for a few important details. This article is a testament to the resilience of the archetype, and a true Triumph of Aggro.
Wild Nacatl is an auto-include in any modern Zoo strategy, and a commands a dominating presence in the modern format. A one-mana one power and toughness creature is laughable at best, but having a mountain and/or a plains each gives the ferocious feline plus one on both ends. This creates an absurdly costed value creature because the likelihood of having both of those two lands on turn two is almost guaranteed in modern with the amount of fetchlands that are played along shocklands that will satisfy both of those requirements by turn two when the cat can go on the offensive. A three power and three toughness creature for one mana is very strong, but this is only due to the life totals in modern being twenty. If we take the Nacatl over to Commander, that same value is now rendered useless. With the Nacatl having less than eight percent of the starting life total on just one opponent, the Nacatl now has less than two percent of killing potential in a five-player game. This drastically lowers the value of the Nacatl in a game of Commander versus Modern. Modern is a binary format, meaning that you have one opponent to worry about and form your game plan around; Commander is a political and multifaceted format that values quick decisions like Modern, but also thinking of the impact that your permanent will have on the status of the table. A vanilla (no relevant keywords I.E. Flying, Trample, Vigilance etc…) three power and toughness beater is par for the course in a battle of attrition with a singular opponent, but Commander values a more intuitive approach. Much like Control, the permanents that you bring to the table need to press the advantage.
Death’s Shadow has taken the world by storm and the meta by force. At face value, this creature seems to be unplayable chaff that even the spiciest brewer would not consider, however upon further review we see quite the opposite. An impossibly large thirteen power and toughness for one black mana, with a severe drawback of receiving a negative to both ends equal to you life total. This means that your life needs to be low in order to properly pilot the deck without fear of failure. Most strategies in Modern employ the use of spells that also draw from your life total, including “Thoughtseize” and using fetch lands combined with shocks entering untapped to not only fix your land drops, but keep your life total low to the ground to ensure the largest Shadow possible. This is easily achieved in modern, again by use of the relatively low life total, however the Commander life total of forty creates an impossible barrier to overcome by itself. To be able to have less than thirteen life in Commander is not something that you want to achieve. With creatures that can attack for one hit kills, having your life that low is dangerous and bordering on the irresponsible.
There is only one niche strategy in which the Shadow would be employed, and that is when,”Varolz, the Scar-Striped” is at the helm. Without getting too technical, he gives all of the creatures in your graveyard “Scavenge”, where you can pay their CMC (Converted Mana Cost) to place a plus one power and toughness counter to a creature you control equal to the power of the creature with scavenge. This means that in this instance, you can place thirteen counters on a creature that you control, only due to Death’s Shadow’s ludicrous power and toughness. Having been said, cards like this don’t transfer well to Commander.
Speed is important in any format, however nowhere else is this greater exemplified than Modern Zoo. Goblin Guide is a two power and toughness creature with haste that upon attacking makes the defending player reveal the top card of their library, and if it is a land, it is put into their hand, if not it stays. This is great for three reasons. First, it is a one mana two power and toughness creature. The aggressive power provides an early clock against your opponent’s life total and resource. Second, it has haste. This is huge in a format as fast and greedy as modern, as it allows you to go on the offensive as soon as possible. Third, it provides card advantage. While there is a possibility for your opponent to draw cards (That’s bad) it also lets you know what they either are or are about to draw (That’s good). All of these things considered, this card is unplayable in Commander. A one-mana creature in Commander should not be attacking immediately, as all that does is paint a massive target on your head, and for multiple reasons. Nobody likes to arbitrarily be deemed the first to be attacked, and if your playgroup is as aggressive as mine, they won’t forget that. So while sure, you may have a decent creature on turn one, the person you attacked is more likely to start hating you out of the game and persuading your cross-tables to do the same. Moreover, the card does nothing to advance your board presence, and obtaining card information is not worth getting ousted
Aggro doesn’t change much, but it diversifies itself into a few different groups. Among others are two paths that find a lot of success: Voltron and Tokens. Voltron strategies slap a bunch of equipment and enchantments onto one or only a few creatures and swings in for glory, whereas the token strategy uses a massive army of creature tokens to overwhelm your opponents. Both are effective, and they are more geared toward Commander.
These two Commanders are built for the all-in aspects of voltron. Akiri is cheap, has relevant keywords, but most importantly is that she is a walking Cranial Plating in the fact that she adds to her power for each artifact you control. In addition, she is in Boris colors, which aren’t good at much, but they are good at combat. Uril has the same general theme, except with auras instead of equipment. What makes this style of aggression so much more palatable to Commander is that you have a reliable source of aggression: Your Commander. Decks that build around the Commander to lead in waves of aggression will oftentimes have a better chance of success than those that have a commander that does more. For instance, I can kill someone faster with Akiri than I can with Gisela. Gisela is a much better Commander as far as raw power is concerned, but Akiri is so much faster. That is what Commander is looking for: Speed beyond speed. Taking too long to set up your game plan spells disaster, especially in a strategy that values early game aggression.
This is my token generation Commander. I built Rith as a Control deck, complete with removal and tempo to keep me ahead, however, Rith’s ability creates more tokens than a devoted token strategy. Being able to have that sizable of an army makes up for the deck only running fourteen creature cards, including the Commander. While still being a Control deck, I can be more aggressive than the Aggro deck, purely because of the number of tokens that Rith produces, which gives me the edge.
All in all, Aggro fairs well in Commander, however, the meta changes from value one drops to thoroughly planning out your strategy of attrition. I don’t have much else to say about the archetype, mainly because I don’t like it. It’s too all-in for me to play very often, and I oftentimes find myself not wanting to go on the aggressive very much. That’s not what the style wants, you should ALWAYS be attacking, and never give your opponent’s an inch. Victory by attrition, and a true Triumph of Aggro.
Parker “Constructed Pork” McDonald