Welcome, one and all! I’m raaabr, and I’ll be your guide for a series of Gladiator deck techs. To begin, let’s start with a dive into my personal favorite deck, and one I think deserves more play: Green-Black Aggro.
What is Green-Black Aggro and How Do I Play It?
Green-Black Aggro (henceforth referred to as GB Aggro) is a creature-based aggressive deck whose game plan revolves around playing threats resistant to removal while using its own removal and hand disruption to clear the way for those threats. It is slower than the fastest Aggro decks, instead favoring a longer term, more resilient strategy. This gives it more endurance in the face of board wipes than other decks, as well as additional avenues to disrupt Combo and Control lists proactively instead of relying on racing them.
Winding Constrictor is what I’d consider one of the face cards of the deck. As a green black deck, a major strength is in the gold cards we have access to. GB Aggro has its fair share of different synergies, and one of the most prominent is the +1/+1 counters subtheme. While there are mild synergy issues with Ammit Eternal, curving a Pelt Collector into a Winding Constrictor is a backbreaking aggressive play. Cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Scavenging Ooze, and Wildborn Preserver also back it up so that you’re dealing a ton of damage quickly, while having bodies that damage based removal will struggle to remove. Despite only having two power, Winding Constrictor can still make profitable attacks thanks to its 3 toughness, which also blanks early attacks from aggressive decks.
Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager is another powerful card and reason to play GB Aggro. While it does not have any form of evasion, this hydra horror has special synergies with other +1/+1 counters and also has the benefit of being remarkably hard to remove. Any non-exile removal will simply result in you having another minimum 3/3 (Barring obvious exceptions like Heartless Act), which makes Grakmaw much more resilient when facing the board wipes that red, black, and white Control decks often employ.
Deathless Knight is, in many people’s eyes, second fiddle to Questing Beast. So why am I discussing Deathless Knight instead? Well, partially it’s because nobody wants to read all of Questing Beasts textbox, but secondly it’s because Deathless Knight is a great example of the many minor synergies in the deck still coming together to support itself in a greater synergistic whole. A 4/2 with haste and no evasion for 4 mana seems pretty underwhelming, but the card is flexible to cast due to its hybrid mana (we don’t run any lands that produce only colorless mana), meaning that you can cast it even if you’ve only drawn lands for one color. On top of that, it has a recursion ability; gaining life. GB Aggro might be an aggressive deck, but it also needs to maintain an eye on the aggressive matchup with faster decks. The deck thus runs plenty of incidental lifegain that makes it easy to trigger Deathless Knights effect. Triggering it once is enough to win the game sometimes, but as long as you are gaining life it continues applying pressure.
Thoughtseize is hands down one of the strongest hand disruption spells ever printed, and it’s available in our format courtesy of Amonkhet Remastered. It provides information, hurts your opponents sequencing, and can take key combo pieces out of the picture. It’s well worth playing, and at one mana, the only time this card isn’t good is when your opponent’s hand is empty, or when you’re staring down an aggressive deck where the life loss can be a significant downside.
To round out our examination of card types this deck plays, we have Sedgemoor Witch. As a 3/2 with menace, it is already of note. Menace is surprisingly hard to deal with for a lot of decks, especially Control decks that only tend to have one blocker on the board at any given time. On top of that, she has Ward – pay three life. Making your opponent pay the cost to target her is very relevant for an aggressive deck. Those two reasons alone would be plenty to play her, but then we get additional upside; whenever you cast or copy instants or sorceries, Magecraft means that you’re creating 1/1 pest tokens to further enhance your board state. Even though the deck doesn’t look to be playing a lot of small spells, it has enough of them (and removal) that simply casting one or two is plenty of value.
This segment will give a brief strategy for playing against each of the main archetypes.
Try to spend your mana developing a board that can block their creatures, while holding up removal to clear threats; you’re favored the longer the games continue thanks to your resilient threats and incidental lifegain.
Disruption and early aggression are key. Many Control decks run wraths, so avoid overcommitting to the board, or prioritize the threats that can recur themselves. Removal is valued much less in this matchup.
The line between Combo and Control is a bit thin, but Combo decks tend to fold faster towards disruption and early aggression. As the game goes later, try to keep in mind your opponent’s win condition; some win conditions are ones your deck has no ability to stop, but others can be influenced.
Do your best to push through damage while using removal to clear their creatures. This is going to be your hardest matchup; their creatures generally outsize yours, and come down early enough to be a hindrance. Focusing on your evasive threats is your best bet.
This deck contains many rares and mythics from a multitude of sets, and I won’t begrudge players feeling a bit priced out on Arena. That said, I am happy to make some suggestions for substitutions for cards that aren’t optimal, but should be easier on your wildcards. These are more along the lines of role-players instead of per card though; the key cards mentioned above can be replaced, but are pretty important to the identity of the deck.
Depending on the meta, you might find yourself playing Duress (Anti-Combo and Control) or Divest (Anti-Aggro and artifact Combo). You don’t want to be playing any of the conditional discard effects that are stapled to creatures, except for Valki, God of Lies; they’re usually too weak in terms of their statline, and are easily removed. Valki avoids this by being a piker who can transform into a more potent threat if drawn later in the game. Cards like Agonizing Remorse are also generally too expensive to be worth it, though a potential tech option in case the meta is very graveyard heavy.
Removal is one of the categories that is most subject to change depending on the meta. Cards like Fatal Push, Cast Down, Flunk, and Blizzard Brawl (If you replace your basics with snow basics) can do work in their own right, depending on the meta.
The key detail on aggressive one-drops is that they should have two power, or some form of evasion (such as deathtouch, menace, etc). Thus, if you’re low on rare wildcards, a card like Grasping Scoundrel would make a suitable (albeit worse) replacement. Vicious Conquistador is also an option.
Replacement cards in this slot should have at least three power, or have two power and some form of evasion. If you’re on a tight budget, Embraal Bruiser could replace a card, or Knight of Malice. Try to avoid double pip two drops; the mana of the deck is not consistent enough to support curving out like that.
As before, three-drops should have evasion and three power, or have four power on attacking. This is one of those areas where this schema begins to break down a bit. The three-drops are probably the point at which value becomes most important. A lot of three-drops in this deck have the capacity to run away with the game by themselves if not answered, and as a result are hard to replace. That said, if you are going to, I would suggest Boreal Outrider, and replacing all basics in the deck with snow lands. The card is somewhat fragile, but it can run away with the game if it doesn’t get removed. Woe Strider is currently part of the New Player Experience, and could serve as a replacement due to Escape allowing it to be cast again.
By this point, we’re getting into creatures that need to end the game quickly. Haste or some form of powerful body are essential. That said, Polukranos, Unchained is part of the New Player Experience, and is a big enough threat to replace one of the cards if you can’t afford the wildcard.
The Five-drop slot is deliberately lean in this deck. Five drops need to end the game when they get dropped, or at least push through a lot of damage by themselves. If you’re really stretching, you could probably play Vampire Sovereign, though most of the time replacing it with a 4 drop is a better course of action.
Writer and Editor for the Gladiator Blog and perpetual Green-Black Aggro player. He has a tendency to get distracted by random digressions about food, especially pizza. Don’t get him started on why you should be playing Witherbloom Command.