Who’s the beat down?
Who is the beat down? Is it you? The leader of your magic friend group that insists you go to every tournament on the face of the planet? The waitress at the TGIFridays you keep returning to for some reason? Is it your opponent?
Who is the beat down?
In any given game of magic, the two players assume a role. Which role you are is defined by the answer to the question: Who is the beat down? What I mean by this is that there is usually one person playing an attacking role while the other person defends. The aggressor is trying to win the game before the other achieves their goal. The defender is trying to put up a large enough defense quick enough to survive the aggression and put into action their own plan.
If you are playing Zoo in Modern and your opponent is playing Storm, you are the beat down. It is your goal to win the game of magic as quickly as possible, because if you do not kill your opponent quickly, they will combo off and win the match. Ever have your opponent at 3 life and you die to a grapeshot for 25? Probably should have fetched a sacred foundry turn 2 to ensure you had enough red sources to cast that lightning bolt rotting in your hand. Was the 2 life worth it?
If you have chosen to play a creature based aggressive deck in standard, you will almost always assume the role of the beat down. If you have chosen to play a control deck, such as the Jeskai Flash deck that took second at the Pro Tour, you are usually not the beat down. Instead, your goal is to survive the game long enough to have your larger impact spells take over the game and kill your opponent. A good general guideline is to think long term. Is your opponent’s late game better than your own? Then it is time to step on the gas pedal and end it quickly. You could find yourself in the beat down role as a control player if you are playing against a ramp deck that is going to go way over the top of your late game.
In standard, there are a couple of combo type decks. Aetherworks Marvel based decks are trying to cast a huge Eldrazi on turn four. Metalwork Colossus decks are trying to put multiple cheap costed or free 10/10 creatures into play as fast as possible. Aetherflux Reservoir is trying to cast a bunch of cheerios (a zero mana artifact that does nothing but act as a free spell) multiple times in a turn. Largely, these decks will take on the defensive role until they can assert their plan. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me, don’t kill me… Emrakul You, Good Game.
This role is not always consistent from the start of the game until the end. Say you have sleeved up Rakdos Aggro to play in a Standard FNM. In round 1 you find yourself playing against a Boros Vehicles deck. Throughout the course of each game, you could transition from being the aggressor to being on the defensive and back multiple times. If they are ahead of you on the board, then maybe you should focus on not dying until you build up a better board state. You have a swarm of Nerd Apes (Inventors Apprentice) to their Smugglers Copter without a pilot? I think turning everything sideways is in order.
Knowing your role in any given match will give you an advantage. Whether it’s because you know to hold up a removal spell instead of casting a creature, or leaving a creature back to block even though you have a good attack, knowing your role will help you make those choices. And the more correct choices you make, the better your chances of winning the match.
Whenever I am in a spot where I am unsure of what my role is, I usually default to being the aggressor. This may be the wrong choice half the time, but it is a personal comfort pick.
Currently in Standard, I am playing this Rakdos Aggro deck:
2 Fleetwheel Cruiser
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Lightning Axe
3 Weaver of Lightning
1 Smoldering Marsh
2 Bloodhall Priest
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
I have a slew of cards I want to try in the board, but as you can see, the maindeck is VERY aggressive. In game 1 of any match, the goal is to assume the role of the beat down and maintain it until you are sideboarding after being up a quick 1-0. Unfortunately, it is not possible to be the beat down every game, especially on the draw against other creature based decks.
The sideboard I have constructed hopes to help in that regard. Extra removal spells? Check. Big threats that go over the top of other aggressive decks? Check. The land is necessary since my maindeck only has 22 lands and it is very difficult to cast spells with CMC 4 on only 22 lands. These are spells that have flexibility is many matchups, but are especially helpful when you have to assume the defensive role. The goal is to survive the early game, turn the corner and return to the comfort zone. The role of turning creatures sideways and aiming burn spells at my opponents face. The danger zone.
I am the beat down.