Going Rogue: How To, Part 1
Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyway.
Today I simply wanted to share some general rules to keep in mind when Going Rogue, whether with a fresh build of your own, or when choosing one from a silly column like this and others like it. As fun as it is to show up at events with a quirky pile, it stills brings on a case of the feelbads when you bring home an 0-4 record. So let's briefly cover a few fundamentals that will help ensure your craving for creativity has at least some weak semblance of realism attached to it.
Rogue Deck Fundamentals
First things first - what are some key characteristics of a rogue deck? By definition, it's simply something you don't see very often, but let's get a little more granular.
Generally speaking, a rogue deck is not a three-colour goodstuff deck. Any combination of Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang has already been done. Powerful cards rest on their own laurels, and don't stand to benefit much from creative combinations with other powerful cards. When a rogue deck makes its way into competitive status, it is purely a product of skillful deck-crafting.
Therefore, if a rogue deck is going to compete with the big boys, it is going to require some next-level synergy, which is usually going to come in one of the following three forms:
- Winning with an infinite or insta-kill condition. I'm talking about things like Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond, or Forbidden Orchard, Kiora's Follower, Intruder Alarm and Massacre Wurm. Assemble the pieces, execute combo, win game. All formats are loaded with these, some more likely than others. Build a deck that makes one work and you've got yourself a bona fide rogue deck.
- Extreme aggro. Often these are tribal decks that don't get much play, but can still be explosive, or more intricately-crafted decks that take bizarre approaches to tempo-generation like Suicide Zoo. You don't need to have the best cards in the format if you can win before a Splinter Twin can come down.
- Locking out the game with some unique condition, or generating obscene levels of card advantage that are near-impossible to overcome. A good example of that is Lantern of Insight control, ex-Standard variations on Soul Sisters using Underworld Coinsmith, Ajani's Pridemate, Nyx-Fleece Ram, and Return to the Ranks, and a silly current Standard brew that I've shared below.
What makes a rogue deck truly different than Twin, Burn, or Junk (which fit each of the above categories), is that because the overall card power level tends to be considerably lower than top-tier decks, the number of cards that contributes to the overall game plan needs to be taken to a new extreme. That's going to mean things like Deprive instead of Mana Leak, or Thought Scour over Serum Visions; or redundancy in spite of low power-level, like Rotting Rats in a Gravecrawler deck.
Each of these cards stinks on its own, but pair it with Landfall, Delve, or graveyard synergies and now we're talking. Once the little details on each one of your seemingly-weak cards starts complementing the nuances of your other seemingly-weak cards, they start to form viable strategies. To make things better (or worse if you're not paying attention), because they often focus on a somewhat-narrow series of tactics to execute their game plan, they can be especially effective in a meta environment with too much Card X, or even better, not enough Card Y.
Enough jibber-jabber though, let's see what this looks like in action. Today I'm going to break away from my typical Modern-focus and share a Standard list that I actually had a version of featured on DailyMTG a while back. Take a look through this list of mostly unplayable cards and add together the ways they interact to form a deck that is not just functional, but is an absolute control-eater.
Look silly? Well it is, but every piece plays an important role. There's the obvious Morph synergies with Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, and Secret Plans (which form the value engine that makes this deck unbeatable in the long game), but it goes far beyond that. Trail of Mystery makes our 14 evasive threats into fast clocks. Obscuring Aether is an Elvish Mystic in a format without Elvish Mystics, which also lives through Radiant Flames. Stratus Dancer and Hidden Dragonslayer add powerful spell effects in a deck that wants to maximize its creature count. And Den Protector and even Rite of Undoing can help repeat ETB and flip effects for value, or even restock on white cards in hand for Watcher of the Roost.
Speaking of which, the deck also sports significant incidental life gain to recover against aggressive decks, and even has a reliable game plan to executive alongside Sigil of the Empty Throne for decks that actually succeed at keeping your board under control.
While still a far cry from a Tier 1 deck, this is an example of how complementary effects taken to an extreme can turn a pile of mostly non-tournament cards into a reliable 2-2 or better FNM finish, either amusing or infuriating opponents along the way.
The reality is that for every ten rogue decks you make or find, eight or nine are likely to flop (as cool as Riptide Chimera + Fate Foretold might look). I'll do my best to keep a steady stream of reliable winners coming in this column, but do your part too: Try out some crazy ideas, and let me know what works.
In the meantime, have fun, and may the force be with brew.