Soldiers stand on either side of the battlefield awaiting the order to charge. Enemies lock eyes and grip their weapons. The tension hangs thick like morning fog. Win or lose, the price will be measured in buckets of blood. Two commanders stand apart and calculate what this war will. One of them reaches out their hand, and prepares to speak,
“Ok, well I guess it’s your turn Fred.”
No matter how you dress it up, stalemates are boring. The problem with amassing armies in a multiplayer environment is that if swing to push through some damage, you leave yourself open to severe retaliation. If long standoffs are not your cup of tea, you need to find ways to get damage through to your opponents at a lower risk. Green is good at pounding through because of all the great Overrun variants. But how do you force through attackers when you aren’t playing green?
Red is a bit odd in terms of dealing damage. As a color, it really wants to win by bashing and burning. However, red doesn’t have many tools to make sure that the damage it so desperately needs to deal gets through. Many of the weapons Red does have are either half measures or double-edged swords. One example of that is Goblin War Drums. If you are in a perfect stalemate, it says that at least half of your stuff is getting through. Sadly, your opponent will get to choose what half so it may not be as effective as you would like.
If you are playing Rakdos and want to stick with a poison/wither theme, one of my favorite cards for shutting down opponents is Kulrath Knight. This takes either a very particular playgroup or a heavy commitment to a theme. Committing to a theme is rarely a bad idea, but that requirement does limit the card’s usefulness.
For strict effectiveness, the only two red cards I can think of that are worth their weight are Archetype of Aggression and War Cadence. Archetype of aggression is straightforward. We should be glad that WOTC really wanted to give green hexproof, since trample is not usually a Red-enchantment mechanic. War Cadence is an underplayed diamond of a card. This will almost always make your team unblockable, so you can sneak through damage while waiting to alpha strike.
White is the combat trick color. Most of the ways it has available to to bust through for damage involve manipulating a small number of creatures at a time with something like Detain or a selective board reset like Austere Command. Because individual white creatures commonly come with built in evasion abilities, I have a long-time love of Concerted Effort to grant evasion to the rest of the team.
Since the individual cards are built on combat tricks, it won’t surprise anyone that white’s versions of Overrun also take advantage of the combat phase. Master Warcraft, Odric, Master tactician and Gideon Jura allow you to leave an opponent essentially wide open. In multiplayer, Master Warcraft can make your Sunforger into a win condition when you force opponents to kill each other while leaving their flanks open to assault.
White’s simplest way of breaking through for damage is by granting color protection. Nine-and-a-half Tails commander players have already figured this one out, but I rarely see the other cards played. Brave the Elements[/cards] may not see a lot of play because it is a one-time use, but [card]Glory can be a wonderful way to win combats both while attacking and defending.
For a color that isn’t exactly known for its aggressiveness, blue has a surprising variety of ways to force through combat damage. I suppose it just goes along with the control aspect of the color as a whole: tap, bounce, and flying (finishers). It can use cards that are traditionally thought as protection spells like Sleep and Cryptic Command to tap down blockers and go for a not-so-subtle face punch.
Blue and White are both known for having plenty of flyers, but Blue is lucky enough to have the ability to grant flying. There are many cards that do this, including Archetype of Imagination, Frostwind Invoker, Levitation, Wonder, and Stormcaller’s Boon. Flying is less useful if all your opponents are already playing a bunch of flyers. However, it also allows you to play Moat effects, which are pretty sweet if you like making pillow forts.
Blue’s greatest attribute for pushing through damage is the ability to make creatures unblockable. Unblockable is the truest form of evasion, meaning blue doesn’t need to send nearly as much power to get the same amount of damage through. There are many ways to achieve this including but not limited to, Sun Quan, Lord of Wu, Deepchannel Mentor, Thasa, God of the Sea, and Venser, the Sojourner.
Black is nearly a one-trick pony when it comes to evasion. Basically, you either go with Intimidate or with artifacts and built in evasion. You have some decent options in Vela, The Night Clad, Dance of Shadows, Intimidation, Dread Charge, and Hideous Visage. For the most part, you will have to rely on killing your opponents’ creatures to get your damage through.
In black and red you have limited choices, meaning you will probably look for colorless routes to evasion. Artifacts are an easy way for any color to squeeze through damage. On an individual creature basis, equipment can grant evasion and boost your creatures. Whispersilk Cloak, Nim Deathmantle(it does everything!), and Swords of X and Y are all choices that can be easily slotted into many aggressive decks.
If you are trying to push through your entire team, you have fewer options and they all involve taking to the skies. Eldrazi Monument, Skyshaper and last but the opposite of least Akroma’s Memorial. The Memorial is an easy slot into decks looking for extra evasion and trying to win combat wars. It’s a little pricy, but for most aggro decks that lay down a horde of critters, it is worth the dollar and mana cost.
I guess the moral of the story is, when you build a deck that relies on combat damage make sure to include ways to get past defenders. Combat math can get pretty intensive, and not having to account for the number of blockers makes it a lot easier. If you have any suggestions for granting evasion to creatures, please include them in the comments.
I am still available for deck advice for anyone that asks. Just email swordstoplow(at)gmail.com and I will try to get back to you as soon as possible. If you would like to see anything discussed in an article you can email me there or just pester me on Twitter @swordstoplow.