Will Vintage Players Survive Survival Aggro

A combination of Bazaar of Baghdad and Survival of the Fittest with the raw power of Hollow Ones and Vengevines has given birth to a new aggro deck that may be funny to play but is very consistent.

Survival of the Fittest

Aggro decks have never really had much space and possibilities in Vintage. This is simply because they were not fast enough to beat combo, control, and MUD decks before being controlled, locked, and ultimately, killed.

The only deck that had some fuel during the past years (aside from lucky runs by Goblins decks) was the "Italian Zoo," a W/R/G deck (like the Italian flag) capable of combining good clocks with solutions against tier decks. It's made up of utilities like Tin Street Hooligan, Scavenging Ooze, Pyrostatic Pillar, Qasali Pridemage, and so on. Among these "intelligent critters," one of the best additions was, and is now definitely, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

The problem with the deck was the classic problem of "non-manipulation": You needed the correct cards in the correct order against the correct matchups. Basically, you had to be lucky with pairings and draws.

However, if you include a constant tutor like Survival of the Fittest and a powerful draw engine like Bazaar of Baghdad, the deck's quality improves.

A New (and Powerful) Madness

An aggro deck with combo moves

In the older Vintage days, Madness archetypes were imported into Eternal formats by Extended formats with a pack of Wild Mongrels, Basking Rootwalla, Arrogant Wurm, Wonder, and counters like Circular Logic, Daze, and Force Of Will.

Forget this!

Our new deck rotates around three efficient and powerful creatures that can come into play for ZERO casting cost, leaving your mana free to cast Survival and other spells. More importantly, you get to run a mana base of only 13-14 lands (aside from Bazaar of Baghdad).

Vengevine Hollow One Basking Rootwalla

Vengevine has Haste, so it's an especially strong addition to your deck because it forces your opponent to consider the possibility of seeing it come into play.

In the actual Vintage metagame, 4/4s, 4/3s, and potentially 3/3s can consistently put pressure on any deck in just a few turns. Here, Survival of the Fittest acts as the perfect director of the orchestra. This enchantment fetches the right creatures at the right time, gives you card advantage, lets you find solutions, or simply swings down opponents to death.

Bazaars Are Not Only for Dredge Decks!

This deck can maximize the power of Bazaar of Baghdad, almost at same the level as Dredge

Imagine starting the game with Bazaar of Baghdad, drawing two cards, and discarding Basking Rootwalla, Hollow One, and Vengevine.

You basically pass the turn with three creatures (a 4/4 and a 4/3 among them), five cards in hand, and your opponent at 16 life. Not bad, right?

Bazaar of Baghdad

Bazaar of Baghdad and Survival of the Fittest are indeed the two cards giving fuel and creating the basis and reason to this deck. Drawing and tutoring cards with minimum investment in terms of mana gives the deck deadly options. At the same time, you are also given the possibility to find solutions both in your maindeck and sideboard. Being able to fully maximize your tools improves your matchups against tier 1 decks.

Choosing the Right Creature Pack

There's a wide range of creatures that the deck can feature around the 12 beaters

Because of the possibility to fetch tools with Survival of the Fittest, you get to play many utilities and are able to make many personal choices without nerfing the deck's shell. Even if you draw a not-so-useful or not-so-fitting card against a particular matchup, you'll always have the possibility to discard it with Bazaar (or with Survival if it's a creature).

Let's start with the basics: Choose three or four mana birds. Depending on your personal taste and expected metagame, you can choose Bird of Paradise or more frequently, choose between Deathrite Shaman and Noble Hierarch.

Deathrite Shaman Noble Hierarch

These are good cards, fundamental to have three mana in your second turn (that means Survival + Activation) or a cheap creature to activate Vengevine if it's in the graveyard. Worst case scenario, these are the three or four creatures to be discarded to Survival.

Another fundamental card for gaining card advantage and for having fuel for Survival and Bazaar is the old Squee, Goblin Nabob that can be played as one or two copies depending on the shell.

Our final must-have is Elvish Spirit Guide. This card is perfect for "unpreviewed" Survival activations and for going over lock elements like Sphere of Resistance or Thorn of Amethyst.

Elvish Spirit Guide

When it comes to tools and metagame calls, our maindeck and sideboard options are abundant and, in my opinion, all viable. As I've already mentioned, your choices will not be constraining, and you can switch strategies during the game thanks to the two activators. Let's see some examples:

Combo/Control Hate:

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Leovold, Emissary of Trest; Spell Queller; Gaddock Teeg

Artifact Hate:

(Manglehorn; Ingot Chewer; Trygon Predato; Kataki, War's Wag; Reclamation Sage

Graveyard/Oath Hate:

Dryad Militant; Containment Priest; Wispmare

Mirror/Evasion tools:

Wonder; Anger; Hooting Mandrills; Phantasmal Image; Fairgrounds Warden

Obviously, your choice of creatures will depend largely on which non-creature tools are featured. Among the common cards played by this archetype are: Stony Silence; Thorn of Amethyst; Ravenous Trap; Mindbreak Trap; Leyline of the Void; Chalice of the Void; Null Rod; Nature's Claim; etc.

The idea is to have creature tools alongside quick and even temporary solutions, so you can face other decks during the few turns that you need to beat your opponents down with Hollow Ones and Vengevines – sounds like a decent plan!

The Brews

Depending on the amount of blue, decks can range from pure aggro to aggro-control

As I've said earlier in this article, this deck has its starting points in: 17-18 lands (4 Bazaars of Baghdad, 5-6 fetch lands, and some dual lands depending on the colors, generally BUG or Bant); in-color Moxes; 3-4 mana birds; 4 Survivals of the Fittest; 12 beaters; and the various tools/metagame calls previously listed.

Squee, Goblin Nabob

Even if Survival Aggro brews can differ quite a lot in terms of card choices, the deck's strategy remains the same: a quick Bazaar and Survival, some beast, and some tool able to slowdown the opponent's plan just in time for you to kill him.

  1. Thalia's Silence

This decklist has a solid and clean shell with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Stony Silence against tier 1 archetypes. It made Top 8 at the 2018 Eternal Weekend in Pittsburgh, PA alongside 381 players.

As you can see, this version plays five Moxes and three Elvish Spirit Guides (but only one Deathrite Shaman). It has the precise and declared aim to put a Survival of the Fittest, a Stony Silence, or a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben into play in the first turn. Its sideboard goes towards the same direction.

This is the classic build you want for big events where you expect to find decks of every kind and you don't know what to expect from your opponents.

  1. Leovold and Friends

This brew is particularly strong against card-drawing decks and against removals, gaining a decisive card advantage thanks to Leovold, Emissary of Trest.

This version is more control-oriented playing nine counterspells (4 Force of Will, 4 Mental Misstep, 1 Flusterstorm, so it's a kind of aggro-control. It also features two Assassin's Trophy in the sideboard, making it a good deck if you want possible solutions to every threat.

  1. Red Splash

This version adds a red splash with Goblin Cratermaker and Ingot Chewer in the maindeck and Ancient Grudge and a pair of Pyroblasts in the sideboard.

Cratermaker and Chewer are good tools, so I don't see the splash of red as a bad addition. You can also hardcast Squee, Goblin Nabob for the win!

Conclusion: The Pros and Cons

A funny yet competitive deck with two powerful engines

Playtesting Survival Aggro or Vengeful Survival is a real blast in terms of fun. There are many insane plays you can do thanks to the strong interactions of the deck.

Hollow One and Vengevine are really good finishers and the deck still suffers from graveyard hate but not like Dredge.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Stony Silence are efficient and cheap hosers against tier decks. The blue version also gives more control-oriented players the possibility to play a less aggro brew.

Let's pick up the key advantages and PROS of this archetype:

  • Its raw power is quick and devastating; it is perfect redundancy at its core.
  • It can adapt to the preferences of every player (from aggro-combo shells to control shapes).
  • The two engines of the deck (Bazaar of Baghdad and Survival of the Fittest) are not easy to remove/stop.
  • The deck runs with a low amount of mana, making space for more spells.
  • The deck can face whatever metagame with its series of efficient solutions.
Stony Silence

However, here are its CONS:

  • Every deck with graveyard hate (because of Dredge) can be effective against Survival Aggro.
  • Without a first-turn Noble Hierarch or Deathrite Shaman, the mana base can prove to be fragile.
  • The "pure aggro" version without a first-turn Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can be weak against combo decks.
  • The deck may not be difficult to play, but it can be difficult to master.

In the end, I think that this deck is highly satisfactory and fun.

The good thing about this deck is that you can play it without facing impossible matchups or no-out situations.

The best part is how the deck can't be stopped simply with a single card, like Null Rod for Paradoxical Outcome or Pithing Needle for Bazaar of Baghdad, because you have beasts, survival, and other stuff.

Finally, in all sincerity, winning Vintage with an aggro deck is a true satisfaction that you wouldn't want to miss!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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stsung(24.01.2019 01:59)

Vintage can deal with it and I'm saying that as a Xerox player that cries when it sees t1 Bazaar into some Vengevines/Rootwalla/Hollow One. This deck is fun and very complex one, one needs to understand the meta well to be able to tune the deck correctly. It seems that the numbers of Mentor players are waning which also means this deck loses some of its power since the other primary matchups are more like 55/45 post-board (with game 1s not being that great, even though not bad). The deck certainly has nuts draws that are (almost) impossible to stop. Many Xerox decks nowadays run Wastelands along with Strip Mine which makes a bit difference. We always have more graveyard hate for dredge and also more removal due to creature decks being more popular which makes the matchup a bit better (even though still horrible)
I haven't seen much of Oath lately both online and in paper events. At least in paper it used to be a very popular deck choice making Survival good... Now it seems people decided to run Shops in order to deal with Shops rather than trying their luck with any variant of Oath (sad story).
That's at least how I view things. Anyway the deck is certainly fun and something any vintage player should try because it can really make the brain go into overdrive. (especially those that don't play other formats... Like modern/standard).

Jaded(23.01.2019 11:15)

Have been following this idea for a while and now SaffronOlive played it also for his first ever Vintage League. Such a fun pile, would definitely be my go to besides Dredge at the moment

turbo15(21.01.2019 20:01)

Great Article! This was a good read.