Monastery Swiftspear
24, Apr, 24

Unexpected Gruul Deck Becomes Unstoppable Thanks to Thunder Junction!

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Article at a Glance

Since the release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, the Pioneer metagame has received a major shakeup. Pillage the Bog has helped Niv to Light reach new heights, while Kaervek, the Punisher has contributed to mono-black Waste Not‘s recent rise in popularity. A new mono-blue Training Grounds shell emerged as well, utilizing a playset of Harrier Strix of all cards.

Perhaps the largest shift in the metagame has occurred thanks to the printing of Slickshot Show-Off. This card is a multi-format staple. Modern Prowess decks have been flourishing since its printing, and red aggressive shells have begun dominating Pioneer. The best of these red beatdown strategies, at least early on, appears to be none other than Gruul aggro.

Gruul aggro won a recent Magic Online Pioneer Challenge, and it has the necessary tools to win the vast majority of matchups out there. This deck features multiple new Thunder Junction cards, each of which make the deck even better. Let’s take a closer look at what this deck is trying to accomplish and how these new cards play a pivotal role in the deck’s success.

Prowess Threats

Monastery Swiftspear

At its core, this deck is very similar to a typical Prowess strategy. Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear are elite one-drops that help give this deck a very aggressive slant. Meanwhile, Slickshot Show-Off proved to be the missing two-drop this shell desperately needed. Now, the deck has a higher density of must-kill threats, which is incredibly important in a format defined by cheap removal spells.

Kumano Faces Kakkazan also makes an appearance and is essential to the archetype. Much like traditional mono-red decks, Kumano is an excellent turn one play. By turn three, the card has dealt the opponent one damage, pumped your turn two play, and transformed into a 2/2 with Haste.

In this scenario, the card looks incredible. The only case in which the card looks worse is when you topdeck it late, but in this deck, that is hardly an issue. The fact is, Kumano fills the role of a Creature in the early game while helping pump your Prowess Creatures later.

In a similar manner, Questing Druid is a solid threat in its own right but is also an elite card advantage source at the same time. Outside of Swiftspear, Soul-Scar Mage, and Slickshot Show-Off, every other card in the deck is capable of giving these Creatures a power boost. This adds a nice element of consistency to the deck’s strong gameplan.

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Red Aggro and Heroic Overlap

Monstrous Rage

The rest of the deck is made up of efficient non-Creature spells to help grow your squad. Some of them, like Play with Fire, have been staples of mono-red aggro decks in Pioneer for quite some time. Playing green even opens the door for you to utilize Atarka’s Command, which can add a ton of extra damage out of nowhere.

On top of that, this deck also borrows a lot of ideas from typical Boros Heroic strategies. Monstrous Rage is an incredible pump spell in this deck. Giving Trample to Slickshot Show-Off for the rest of the game is a huge boon and makes blocking nearly impossible for the opponent. Audacity and Demonic Ruckus, while not Instants, are still quite strong for the same reason.

Of course, the weakness of these cards is that if your opponent can remove the threat you target right away, you get blown out. Fortunately, you aren’t always just out of luck if your opponent leaves up Fatal Push. Boros Heroic decks generally make use of Loran’s Escape and Gods Willing as protection spells, and while this deck doesn’t have access to white mana, green provides a similar effect in Blossoming Defense. Blossoming Defense doubles as a protection spell and a pump spell, making it quite a scary card to play against.

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Gruul’s Sudden Emergence

Slickshot Show-Off | Outlaws of Thunder Junction

At first, it may seem a bit strange that the printing of Slickshot Show-Off would be enough to cement Gruul as one of the top decks in the format. After all, Boros Heroic was already putting up solid results. So, what makes this deck so threatening?

First and foremost, this deck has an easier time fighting through removal than Boros Heroic. Even with Monstrous Rage in the mix, this deck doesn’t run the risk of putting all its eggs in one basket. One of the issues with Boros Heroic is that, even if you control multiple copies of Favored Hoplite and Illuminator Virtuoso, your pump spells will only grow the Creature you target. As such, if your opponent successfully removes the Creature you sink your resources into, your other Creatures may not be prepared to brawl.

On the flip side, Gruul aggro is quite different. All of your Creatures can collectively grow at will with any non-Creature spell (or red spell in the case of Questing Druid). This makes combat a nightmare for your opponent to navigate, while simultaneously making it easier to push through damage.

Additionally, Questing Druid’s presence cannot be overstated. The value it generates at such little cost makes it a premier inclusion and a big reason to play green as a support color over any other. Add in Pick Your Poison as a sideboard answer to Vein Ripper and beyond, and Gruul starts looking better and better.

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Strengths and Weaknesses

Thoughtseize

Gruul’s domination in recent tournaments definitely showcases its ability to win against other tier one strategies. This deck is extremely fast. It can easily race past Niv to Light and Lotus Field combo. Questing Druid is excellent in attrition-based matchups like Izzet Phoenix, as is Magebane Lizard out of the sideboard.

Where things get a lot trickier is against decks with lots of removal and hand disruption. Mono-black midrange shells, for example, come equipped with Thoughtseize and Duress to strip you of your important resources. From there Fatal Push and Sheoldred’s Edict can keep your battlefield clear, while Sheoldred, the Apocalypse can shut the door in short order.

Still, even in these types of matchups, Slickshot Show-Off can win games out of nowhere. You can Plot the card on turn two, wait until you have Blossoming Defense at the ready or the opponent taps low on mana, and cast it with all your mana available when you feel comfortable. As a Hasty threat, your opponents will always have to fear it as a potential topdeck.

It’s truly incredible how many archetypes Slickshot Show-Off has provided new life to. Whether you’re looking to play Standard, Pioneer, or Modern, make sure you have this card on your radar. Take this as your warning: this powerhouse isn’t going anywhere, so make sure you’re prepared to fight it.

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