Sacrifice Aggro (or “Aristocrats”) is one of those historically cool archetypes of Standard. Almost every set has some sort of card that makes people excited that the deck is coming back! The reality doesn’t always live up to the hype, but the combination of Priest of Forgotten Gods and Judith, the Scourge Diva has been able to do some serious work since Ravnica Allegiance. Their supporting cast has changed a few times, most recently to accommodate the curious cat-oven engine from Throne of Eldraine.
COOKING WITH JUDITH
Builds of this archetype are going to fall somewhere between aggro, midrange and engine/combo in focus. How you build your deck depends on your personal preference, but the cat-oven engine does push current lists strongly to focus on combo.
Cauldron Familiar is the latest in a long line of otherwise-underwhelming one- and two-mana creatures played by Judith Priest. However, with one or more Witch’s Ovens in play, it becomes a sticky blocker that threatens to drain opponents to death! The more Ovens you have in play, the more you can power up your engine; Judith and Mayhem Devil help, too. This gives the deck a potent alternate game plan for when we can’t get the vulnerable Priest online.
Being an engine deck means that our individual cards are weaker alone. Just compare the Familiar to Gilded Goose, currently Standard’s leading one-drop. But anytime we can get a couple of cards onto the battlefield together, we should be doing serious damage.
DEVIL MAKE CRY
So, the game plan is set: Play cheap creatures and attack when we can while setting up our Priest or cat-oven engines, then whittle their remaining life away. I’ll quickly evaluate some of the available card choices.
We need 8-12 one-drops to start getting on the board ASAP.
Our best turn-one play. Two power is a massive advantage in a metagame dominated by Gilded Goose, and the recursion ability combats our biggest problem: running out of gas.
The best aggressive one-drop in Standard. The pump ability allows it to trade with Questing Beast, but our desire to put multiple engine pieces into play ASAP means we can’t leverage it as much as other decks.
Not many players consider this one, but it’s a great fit. When we just need a one-drop to sacrifice, it’s not much worse than the Familiar. But it can also scale with available mana, making it one of our few good top-decks in the late-game. And in control match-ups where our main-deck Claim the Firstborn lacks targets, you can use them to give a 4/4 or 5/5 Serpent haste for a surprise attack!
TWO- AND THREE-DROPS
For just a bit more mana, we get creatures that actively add value to our engine – or at least generate multiple bodies to feed it efficiently.
The ultimate feast-or-famine card. 50% of the time, your opponents will deal with this card before you get to untap with it. 20% of the time, it will sit alone on the board and feel terrible. 30% of the time, it will force the opponent to concede. This card thrives in creature-dominated metagames; if ramped-out token-generating Planeswalkers give way to more linear creature decks, Priest can be a must-answer turn two threat.
The main arguments against this card are that it’s slow and high-risk. In theory, it’s valuable insurance against hitting a string of non-creature draws. In practice, you play a one-drop on turn one, Priest on turn two, and Invasion on turn three – meaning our return on this card is a 1/1 on turn four. But, as with Stonecoil Serpent, any card that potentially gives us a 6/6 body can help us with our scaling problems.
A 2/2 flyer is actually one of our better attackers, and the ability to invest more mana to return relevant cards to our hand is one we value highly. Being slow and unable to block means four copies is probably too many, but I’d suggest playing a couple main.
Two bodies in one card is sometimes a godsend and sometimes very mediocre. If you find Dreadhorde Invasion too hit-or-miss, this is a good replacement. Remember to sacrifice the token first in most scenarios, as getting an extra body next time you draw a Reaver is more valuable than upgrading a 1/1 to a 2/2.
This has a decent body (especially on the defensive) and performs the extremely valuable task of helping us weather the effects of sweepers. We’re forced to commit multiple creatures to the board in order for our game plan to work, so the ability to refill our hand when our creatures die is crucial.
Outside of our sacrifice outlets, this is our most essential engine card. Adds value to cat-oven, Priest, Bontu, and Chandra. On top of that, a three-mana 3/3 is practically a heavyweight compared to the rest of our board presence.
In aggressive builds, this does more work than Mayhem Devil, but the spotlight drifted away from this Diva when Oko and Field of the Dead made fast beatdown less viable. The ping effect is not as potent on Judith as it is on Mayhem Devil, but it’s still important in getting through attacks that wouldn’t normally work and pushing us over the line.
Decent alone if not pressured; amazing in combination with Priest, Oven, Devil or Judith. Main considerations are double-red cost and how bad we are at protecting her with blockers, but having spells for her -2 also matters.
FOUR-DROPS AND UP
The Forbidden Zone! We don’t really want to play more than a couple of these, but sometimes you need a high-impact draw to go over the top.
A de facto replacement for Spawn in many lists. Its mana cost can be a real drawback, but haste means it will almost always get SOME value before it inevitably turns into an elk. Might be a sideboard card for midrange match-ups.
Bontu will sometimes let us win the game instantly if we resolve it with Devil in play. Without Devil, you can usually sacrifice all but two lands, as well as any spare creatures (or food tokens, or Invasions), then refill your hand. Play one or two.
Non-creature spells don’t directly support our main plan of sacrificing creatures, but it can be good to have a few in your deck. These spells are always good to have in your sideboard, but try not to swap out too many creatures for them. I would advise a minimum of 26 creatures or token-creators at 3 CMC or lower for this archetype.
This is more palatable to main-deck than Duress, and hitting Hydroid Krasis is important in this meta. Since cat-oven builds consist of very small creatures and can take a while to win, taking out big threats like Questing Beast can sometimes be as important as discarding a sweeper.
Taking the two- or three-drop off an aggro deck, hitting them with it, then sacrificing it is a game-winning play and justifies having some number of these in the main deck. At worst, you can target your own creature to untap it and grant haste. Otherwise, hold onto them till you have a sacrifice outlet, like Priest or Oven, so you can dispose of their creature.
We rarely want to spend our whole turn on removal, so having this at two mana is perfect. It’s most effective at removing Planeswalkers so we aren’t forced to swing at them with our creatures. Bedevil and Murderous Rider replace it in slower midrange builds.
Since our cards rely on each other for their power, the decisions of which to include in a given list are intertwined; changing one card can mean changing the whole curve. I’ll provide a list I’ve been playing recently, but I encourage those interested in this deck to explore lists from players like Emma Handy or MCV competitor Miguel Da Cruz Simões. I’ll also put a few other lists up on my Twitter (@AWanderingBard) to show some very different ways to build Aristocrats! I hope you all enjoy unlocking the potential of this unorthodox aggro-combo archetype.
B/R Aristocats Decklist
3 Cauldron Familiar
4 Stonecoil Serpent
2 Order of Midnight
4 Priest of Forgotten Gods
2 Judith, the Scourge Diva
4 Mayhem Devil
3 Midnight Reaper
1 God-Eternal Bontu
4 Witch’s Oven
4 Drill Bit
2 Claim the Firstborn
4 Blood Crypt
3 Castle Locthwain
2 Fabled Passage
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.