In this article I’ll talk about a bunch of aspects you have to pay attention to in order to draft and build the best fast decks in any Limited format. There’ll be heavy comparison to Constructed, because deck composition is so different between the two format types, and I find that those differences trip people of every skill level up time and again.
Why are Aggro Decks so Different in Limited?
Draft is a 90% midrange format — even the faster decks are mostly a style of midrange deck. That’s because aggressive decks in Constructed are fundamentally different in their plan and aims. These decks are designed to beat opponents before their decks really come online because later on, they’re often outgunned. They always have a low curve to have consistently more powerful early game than their opponents, so their best cards need to be cheap. If they’re not ahead and their opponent isn’t weakened enough to win soon, that’s usually a loss.
Oftentimes, if you play against a more dedicated Limited aggro deck, they’ll be out of gas by the time your deck is really coming online. From there, they won’t have the tools to finish you because those just aren’t readily available in the packs. It’s not easy to topdeck out of a bad situation in your deck of much weaker topdecks before your opponent kills you.
You also don’t need to win as quickly. The things your opponents are doing later on generally aren’t so powerful that you have to be that worried. The main advantage of being faster in Limited is that you can play the same game as them later, while still ahead and needing to do less work to finish them. Far more games reach the late game than in Constructed — in most games, you’ll survive to turn 7 and sometimes far longer.
What’s a Beatdown deck?
Fast decks that present in a midrangey way exist in Constructed too, referred to as aggro midrange or midrange beatdown. So I prefer to call the draft versions beatdown decks instead of aggressive decks, because the distinction is very important.
Fast draft decks tend to do stuff like try to suit up a big creature with Equipment, or go wide and eventually have enough creatures to get around your opponents’ stuff. The fundamental difference is that it isn’t about stopping your opponent from enacting their game plan — you want their game plan to be unable to overcome your advantage, which is a hallmark of a midrange deck.
Most fast draft decks are adept at playing from behind and will often need to — curve-outs just aren’t as consistent, and it’s not uncommon at all to miss a point on your curve. Luckily, draft decks often don’t have a hard time clawing their way back because their opponent usually hasn’t snowballed the game massively into their favor. If you are able to stabilize then all you’re behind on is life total.
There aren’t nearly so many snowbally cards that can produce two or three cards worth of value. Fast decks still have expensive cards and ways to gain an advantage later on, even if not necessarily as much as slower decks. And sure, aggressive decks in Constructed can do that too — with cards like Experimental Frenzy or boarding in Planeswalkers — but it’s still not their primary game plan to be in the late game for long.
You should mulligan less than half the time in Limited as Constructed, because being down a card matters a lot more. A great strength of beatdown decks is that stumbling a little or not having as perfect a curve doesn’t matter as much as in a dedicated aggro deck.
Dedicated Aggro Decks
Constructed decks get to select the most efficient and aggressive cards in the available card pool, the real cream of the crop. In Limited, you’re selecting from a much narrower pool, so it’s hard to get enough good 1 and 2 drops, and it’s hard to get enough reach: the ability to finish off weakened opponents quickly. Instead, you generally have to rely on creatures and stuff that only works if you have creatures — obviously this means tricks but removal spells too since you need creatures to push damage with them.
It’s still possible to be a dedicated aggressive deck in the right Draft environment or if you get the right deck. An example of this is the red decks in Kaladesh Remastered where available at common were: above-curve evasive 2 drops like Aether Chaser, 3 drops that could apply a lot of pressure, and more burn and removal than usual to clear the way. In those decks, you would play fewer lands (a hallmark of an aggressive deck) and you wouldn’t have as much high end or care about value as much.
Still, that’s rare. Forcing dedicated aggro in formats where the tools aren’t there or in the wrong drafts will often result in decks that are inconsistent or weak. Just curving out with 2 mana 2/2s won’t put you in the driver’s seat immediately, even assuming you do draw well enough/get enough early game to go 2 drop → 3 drop → 4 drop.
Building Aggro and Beatdown Decks in Draft
It’s worth noting that this article’s advice for aggro decks usually applies to beatdown decks too, just to a lesser extent. When drafted well, they have great early game and staying power — the best of both worlds, aggro and midrange, being less focused actually being a benefit. They often get to be of a higher overall quality because you’re not including medium cards for the sake of the theme or forcing down your curve as much.
When drafting a fresh format, your picks shouldn’t be designed to put you into an aggressive deck, because you just want to be taking the best cards rather than pigeonholing yourself into a deck type. Your expectation should be that you’re going to end up in one of those 90% midrange decks, and if you get the cards to play aggro or control then so be it.
Good early game is still a high pick, because any deck can capitalize on fast early starts — even slower midrange decks often find themselves ahead against a weaker draw.
The Importance of 2 Drops
Formats where 2 drops are the cream of the crop tend to be the best ones to draft dedicated aggro in. The reason being that there are very rarely good 1 drops available (or at least enough of them), so that’s the earliest point on the curve to seize the initiative.
2 drops with evasion stay relevant later on and don’t get stonewalled as easily, while a random 2 mana 2/2 will inevitably get stopped by a 2/3 or 3/3 rather quickly. 2 drops with snowball potential or that are overstated put you ahead more and faster, and are harder to ultimately answer.
Cards with snowball potential tend to produce value through on attacks or damage triggers, so you get a more tangible advantage from being ahead than simply damage. This happens all the time in Constructed (Werewolf Pack Leader and Luminarch Aspirant both being great examples), but is much rarer in Draft. The snowball potential has to be realistic — a card like Unruly Mob has it, but in practice isn’t actually very good because it takes too long, and you have to jump through too many hoops.
You’ll still have to fill out your curve with weaker 2 drops, since you want loads in a dedicated aggro deck, but chances are you’ll be much more successful if the card pool offers you 2 drops with these features.
Not the mechanic! Reach refers to the ability of fast decks to close out the game; finish off their weakened opponent. Often in Constructed, aggro decks have lots of it in the form of burn or stuff like Maul of the Skyclaves or Embercleave – these cards are built to obliterate board stalls.
It’s much harder and rarer in Limited — you often have to resort to cards like Voldaren Stinger, Dawnhart Mentor or Pack’s Betrayal, which are much more situational. Some sets have it much better, have actual burn spells or cards like Cosmotronic Wave. Even then you’re not going to have loads of them, and you don’t want many cards that are only good in board stalls, or you’ll make your curveouts that much less consistent.
Evasive creatures can do the job, but they give your opponent a lot of time to respond, and they can just have their own fliers or have two creatures to stop your Menace. Having many evasive creatures is a way around this, but they’re often understated and less impressive on curve than their ground counterparts.
If you can’t establish a dominating early game presence, you’re not an aggro deck, and you’re more vulnerable to being raced or outsized — fliers decks are not dedicated aggro decks. See further discussion here.
Combat Tricks as Reach
In Constructed, tricks see next to no play, but aggro and beatdown decks in Limited often need some number. If you don’t have them, then your smaller creatures will have to stay home a lot, so they have a much smaller window to help you win the game.
This is in itself a weakness because tricks are risky and situational. They rely on you having creatures, are bad in multiples, your opponent can blow them out with instant speed removal, and oftentimes they’re not good enough — e.g., you can’t attack a 3/3 into a 6/6 with a +2/+2 trick.
A Limited aggro deck has to have either tricks or removal to stop your creatures from getting outsized, and it’s hard to get enough removal spells to replace them totally. The problem then is that aggro decks need lots of creatures — you need several to curve out — so you end up playing a bunch of cards that make your curve less consistent.
Tricks are much worse as reach than removal. Just getting rid of the blocker is much better than killing it and losing the damage you would have dealt, and you need to get stuff through for tricks to deal direct damage.
Beatdown decks need tricks less, since they can afford to not be pushing damage every turn, but you still need ways to get your creatures through or there’s no point in having them. Green decks often simply rely on having bigger creatures and removal spells; that’s a very common beatdown strategy.
The Removal Problem
In dedicated aggro decks, removal isn’t as good as you might think, though it’s certainly much better than relying on combat tricks. It’s the same thing as tricks — you can only have so many slots dedicated to noncreatures. You really want to cast your removal late in aggro, because it’s much more impactful after you develop your creatures. Unconditional removal bails you out against bad case scenarios such as bombs or when your opponent puts equips/auras on a creature, but you don’t need many expensive ones to guard against that.
If you’re just casting removal spells and not pushing damage, that’s a really bad sign because you’re just prolonging the game. You haven’t developed the board or gained an advantage, and your opponent now has the opportunity to just play another creature. Remember that non-aggro opponent probably has more late game than you do/can use their mana better on turns 6 and 7.
This applies to beatdown decks to some extent, but playing more expensive spells and value generation helps alleviate it. It’s a spectrum, rather than black and white — look at the specifics of your deck, and consider how much you’re trying to push damage vs prolong the game.
In general, what this means is you shouldn’t keep picking the fourth expensive, clunky, or situational removal spell over a decent creature, even if it’s usually very good. Treat non-efficient removal spells as though they have diminishing returns, and take the more efficient removal really highly. Being able to go 2 mana removal spell + 2 drop on turn 4 is much more likely to happen in your deck than a midrange deck, and can be devastating.
Situational removal in general is worse in aggro decks, because you don’t want to just wait around for the right moment.
When removal is expensive, treat it as though it occupies that point on your curve. It’s not a big deal when it costs 3, since you can just double spell on turn 6, but double spelling with a 5 drop is really hard, and double spelling is the easiest way to gain a huge advantage early.
One advantage aggro decks have is that they probably won’t have as many 5s as a beatdown deck, so they can afford to have more 5 drop removal spells to fill that slot.
In Sealed, it’s harder to build faster decks but also more rewarding if your pool allows it – it’s unlikely that you’ll get enough good 2 drops, but your opponents won’t have them either. If you get to use your mana well at the start of the game and your opponent doesn’t, that’s a huge boon for any fast deck.
Countering Fast Decks
If fast decks commonly present in a different way from Constructed, countering it is different too. When playing against a fast deck, you’ll have time to enact your gameplan, and that gameplan just has to be good enough.
In Constructed, you would board in dedicated sideboard cards or even main deck them sometimes; you would build your slower decks to counteract faster strategies. It’s a good idea to do some of that in draft too, but you don’t need to warp your deck to the same degree.
There aren’t the same mechanisms to come back as in Constructed, like sweepers. So having a good early curve to survive is important, but you don’t want to play weak cards. The goal is to preserve the strength of your deck while making your early draws more consistent and powerful.
The Dangers of Overcompensating
In a faster format like Core Set 2021, people would cut a lot of the value and late game from their decks to play random 2 drops and dedicated blockers because, well, the format’s fast. Or people over-sideboard in every format, bringing all their 2 drops in and remove all their high end.
If you go too far, the result is you end up playing an unfocused and mediocre fast deck. You don’t have the payoff and still have all the weaknesses – you no longer have the value and greater card quality to beat the other fast deck, and you’re now vulnerable to them outgrinding you. This new deck’s gameplan isn’t as good at attacking, so it’s much harder to get a big advantage early. In other words, you’re playing not to lose rather than to win.
Another problem is that defensive creatures don’t combine well. In games where you draw several1/3s and 0/4s, it’s very hard to then turn around and start attacking. Almost every deck in Limited needs to win through damage, since alternate wincons like mill aren’t available in most formats. Even then, you can loop Devious Coverups or play five or six Merfolk Secretkeepers in Throne of Eldraine, but often it’s pretty hard to get the right deck.
The point is you need to have a way to convert all those cards you invested early into a win later — sometimes you can have a million card draw spells to recoup the disadvantage, but then you’re drawing more 0/4s and 1/3s. It’s a fine balance to strike, that takes practice and testing.
The Better Approach
It’s obviously a good idea to bring in some more early game, but you need to first assess how fast their deck really is. The faster, the more you compensate.
The early game you should look for in slower decks is stuff like Hard Evidence or Beloved Beggar. These are good at stopping early aggression while remaining solid draws later, and combine better than other defensive early game. Even so, you still can’t afford to go overboard — you need a solid curve like any other deck.
Generally just having really efficient cards is another fantastic way to beat aggro, but you need to consider how much the good case for them will come up. You might only want one copy of Portable Hole in your maindeck and then board in a couple more in the right matchup. You really don’t want to be stuck with them in your hand against slower decks. Play for the field, use sideboarding to shore things up, but always preserve quality and consistency.
Some of this is obviously format-dependent — if you’re playing a really fast format, then yes, playing for the field will mean having a lot more 2s and taking efficient cards at a really big premium. Green decks can often beat aggro decks naturally by outsizing them, so building in a stompy beatdown kind of way can often counter them and preserve your fast draws.
For the most part, you just have to approach fast matchups the same way as you approach any other draft game — make it part of your whole skillset, not something special you do.
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