I’ve been a little bummed about my lackluster contributions to Hipsters’ Limited theorycrafting during this season of play. It’s not for lack of wanting to—rather, it’s just for a lack of winning. If you are not winning, how can you expect to really help guide people through a format?

In M15 I was winning. I finished that format with a 62% win record in draft (and a little bit of sealed)—my best since Born of the Gods, also a 62% season. But Khans hasn’t been working out so quite so well: Right now I’m at a win percentage of just 47%, by far my worst since I began tracking my stats a few years ago.

What happened? Well, Khans is hard. M15 was definitely simpler (although I don’t know if that necessarily translates to “easier,” since if a format is easier, that means it’s equally easier for everyone). The most recent Core Set also rewarded a play style I prefer in Limited, which is basically to smash face and ask questions later. I loved me some Gruul decks in M15, and it’s not a coincidence that I ranked Hammerhand a lot higher than many people.

Khans, meanwhile, has frustrated my efforts to crack it. I think I have figured out one reason why:

It’s hard to draft a strong Khans aggro deck, one that punishes the five- or even three-color decks and “keeps them honest.”

More accurately, it’s not that it’s hard to draft a strong aggro deck—in fact, I did that just last night, in Team Draft League, at The Uncommons, an away stadium for my team. I stayed disciplined with my picks, and ended up with a very streamlined Izzet deck featuring a number of ways to break board stalls/push through the final points of damage, including a Trumpet Blast, two Crippling Chills, and two Barrage of Boulders (with approximately seven ways to trigger the ferocious kicker on Barrage).

Here’s the deck:

Izzet Aggro

Creatures (14)
Dragon-Style Twins
Jeering Instigator
Scion of Glaciers
Bloodfire Expert
Jeskai Windscout
Glacial Stalker
Jeskai Elder
Summit Elder
Whirlwind Adept
Mardu Heart-Piercer
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Riverwheel Aerialists

Spells (9)
Barrage of Boulders
Crippling Chill
Arrow Storm
Master the Way
Trumpet Blast
Bring Low
Singing Bell Strike
Lands (17)

Sideboard (6)
Disdainful Stroke
Thornwood Falls
Temur Banner
Snowhorn Rider
Icefeather Aven

Looking back on it, I still really like this deck. I would have loved to have had a Force Away, perhaps instead of the Singing Bell Strike (which I almost always boarded out for the Disdainful Stroke), and another low-drop or two, ideally a Monastery Swiftspear and another Jeskai Elder. I would have even settled for a Leaping Master.

As you can see, I had a small Temur package in my board, but I just didn’t think I had the fixing or the incentive to fuck up my mana for the Icefeather Aven and the Snowhorn Rider. This might have been wrong, though, given that I could have cast both creatures for their morph cost w/o any worries as to hitting my green sources. What do you guys think?

Anyway, in R1 my deck did what it was supposed to do, and I overcame Zach O.’s army of Longshot Squads. But in R2 my deck faltered against Bert’s walls, big butts, and Sultai synergies. At one point I thought I had the game locked up when I drew a Barrage of Boulders with a Scion of Glaciers on the battlefield (and enough mana to both pump to four power and cast the Barrage).

Here it’s possible I misplayed, as Bert had a ton of open mana, and ended up semi-neutering my Barrage by Murderous Cutting my pumped Scion in response to the Barrage.

In R3 my deck got stuck on three mana in G1 and was (less dramatically) constrained on mana in G2, and I lost to Alex’s … I kind of forget what he was even playing, that’s how much I was not in the game. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that I just got unlucky in that I only played Dragon-Style Twins once, which immediately ate a Bring Low; never saw Jeering Instigator; and never was able to cast Riverwheel Aerialists.

So anyway: Why doesn’t Khans aggro work? For a few reasons:

1) Everyone has virtually unlimited 2/2s

Most of the time, your opponent will not *want* to trade his or her morphs with your morphs or two-drops. But if they do decide they want or need to, they can. In most formats, an opponent typically has to respond to an aggro deck with sideboard choices after a G1 face-smashing, but in Khans it’s like you are already pre-sideboarded against aggro! All you have to do is do different things with your morphs (i.e., block with them), and your aggro opponent will run him- or herself out of gas.

2) Some of aggro’s traditionally best color pairs aren’t great in this set

Remember U/W Skies? How about Rakdos Aggro? They aren’t really evident in Khans. The reason why is that this is a wedge set, and so there are no allied-color gold cards to help fuel these beat-down-y strategies. Sure, Boros can be strong and BW Warriors can be *very* strong, but it doesn’t change the fact that some of aggro’s all-time greatest hits are hobbled in this set.

3) Board stalls are common, and the cards that break them are clunky

Basically at the common level we are talking about Barrage of Boulders, Rush of Battle, and Trumpet Blast. It’s criminal that Rush of Battle is a sorcery in this set, when we just recently had more-or-less an instant-speed version in M15 set that arguably needed it less. Barrage of Boulders isn’t all that great as a maindeck spell unless you are reliably getting a four-power ferocious trigger—and aggro decks aren’t typically known for four-power attackers; Bloodfire Expert is probably your best bet in this case, and s/he is very fragile. And Trumpet Blast, while probably the best of these, still really wants three colors (Mardu) and a flipped-up Ponyback Brigade at five mana to maximize its utility, which of course is not historically (three colors and five mana) where an aggro deck wants to be.

The solution to all this (for me, at least) is of course to just get with the program, draft durdly three-or-more-color decks, and learn to love our new, slow-ass Limited masters. Or maybe just draft better? I dunno. All of the above is just an attempt at theorycrafting, as I try to make sense of my losing streak and figure out how I can fix it.

Then again, hey—sometimes you just lose. As I was telling my team last night, Magic is a hard game, and somebody’s got to lose. All of our matches were close-ish, and my team did sweep the first round before going 1-2 in the second and losing in the last round by being swept back, 0-3.

And variance will get ya. I was on a heater for a while this spring and summer, winning a Born of the Gods PTQ and crushing some M15 draft both before and at the Pro Tour, so it’s unsurprising that I’m experiencing a bit of a correction, as they say in the language of the markets. All I have to do is keep cool and un-tilted, keep learning, keep playing and having fun—and I am! Despite my losses I really am enjoying Khans and all its multi-color goodness … and I do still want to crack the aggro code.

Speaking of … Maybe the *real* key is Molting Snakeskin. I’ll let you guys know how *that* turns out.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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