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Artifact Deck Tech: Black Red Hyper Aggro Decklist

March 14th, 2019 | jscaliseok


Today, we’re going back. Not to the future, but to a few months ago. I have spoken time and time again on the idea of looking at past archetypes for inspiration when searching for your next deck, and we return to that idea again today. You never know when inspiration will hit, and you never know what cards could strike at the heart of the current Artifact meta. This week’s list adopts that ideal by taking the classic Black/Red shell that was so popular at Artifact's release and making it even more aggressive.

Black Red aggro is not a new combination. However, as we’ve seen before, a few tweaks can go a long way towards changing a deck's identity. This week’s list may seem familiar at first glance, but the more you get into it, the more you realize how different it is from those that came before. While many R/B lists seek to use strong bodies backed up by efficient removal, this list goes all in on the early game. Never has a deck been quite so aggressive, nor has one been so efficient in that aggression.

The Heroes

The five heroes in this list should come as no surprise to anyone who’s played this style of deck before. We get Axe, Phantom Assassin, Legion Commander, Sorla Khan, and Tinker. These five are not just here for their bodies, but for the way their signature cards interact with this style of aggro.

Your number one goal with this list is to push damage. In order to do that well in the current Artifact meta, you need to be able to get out of the gates and overwhelm your opponent before they get their more powerful (and more expensive) cards online. That’s not an easy task, but it is possible with strong removal and cheap, powerful cards.

Axe and Legion Commander pack on quite a bit of pressure and can hold their own in almost any combat. That alone makes them great. However, Duel is the biggest reason Commander is in the deck. The fantastic signature enables you to control the early board and gives you a lot of versatility at all parts of the game. While Berserker’s Call is a strong finisher, it costs quite a bit. Duel is so cheap that you can use it early and often.

The other part of the opening three is Phantom Assassin. She is still the best black hero in the game, and does everything an aggressive deck could ever want. You get a way to clear heroes, a solid source of damage, and a fantastic signature card. Though Coup de Grace costs a lot to play, there is nothing like being able to clear out any opposing hero.

Tinker is a great support option on two levels: his ability and his signature. His ability is a great way to shut down opposing heroes and helps you push wherever you have the most presence. Anytime you have initiative with his ability you can ensure that your opponent never gets properly set up. A lot of games with this deck come down to one or two key turns, and Tinker turns the tide in those key situations.

March of the Machines operates much like Berserker’s Call in that, while expensive, it rapidly ends games. The direct tower damage is fine, but the real reason this is useful is to keep your opponent's smaller units from blocking your way. A lot of slower decks try to get to their end game by gumming up the board. March heads that off in a big way.

Finally, there is Sorla Khan. Though aggressive, she comes in the fourth slot because you need to think about where she’s going to go. Placing her in the correct lane is never easy, but it is vital. The lane she enters is almost always going to be the first one you focus on. This is not a general rule (she does make a great distraction when you want to split your opponent's focus) but for the most part she's here to quickly take down a tower.

Improving Your Towers

Every card in this deck is important, but the two that truly make it work are Assault Ladders and The Oath. These improvements, while a bit different, act in largely the same way. You put one of these in a lane and your opponent has to deal with that part of the board right away. In that way, putting two down in two different lanes often forces your opponent to split their resources. Always look for the plays that make your opponent defend two different lanes at the same time.

There is not too much to say about these improvements. They give you pressure, end the game in a blink, and enable you to push before your opponent can get set. However, The Oath's drawback can hurt if you don't plan for it. Always start with Ladders if you have a choice and be aware of where your black heroes are at all times. The Oath coming down with the proper support is a big issue that can quickly lead to a loss.

Also note that you do not need to drop these improvements right away. It is easy to play them on turn one because you have the mana to do so, but, as your creeps are so cheap, you have a lot of opening plays. It is often best to get board presence through units first and then back them up with the strong improvements. You can also hold off for an extra turn with these and then sneak them into a seemingly weak lane to catch your opponent by surprise.

Ground Patrol

As you can see, there are many creeps scattered throughout this deck. All of them operate in their own way, but the core units focus on getting in the fast damage this list needs to work.

Untested Grunt and Bronze Legionnaire act as your starter package, providing a cheap beater right out of the gates. Four damage is a lot, and it builds up after a few turns. Though Legionnaire is better due to the armor, both of these cards are how you want to kick things off. Just do what you can to put them down into an open space where they can start hitting as soon as possible.

Beyond the 4/2's for two, we also have Stonehall Elite and Oglodi Vandal. These creeps are a bit beefier than their cheaper counterparts, but they largely do the same thing. The difference is that Stonehall Elite can grow out of control in just a few turns, while the Vandal always gives you guaranteed damage. As Vandal is direct tower damage, he is a creep you can hold back until the later stages of the game after forcing your opponent to use AOE or put up a wall.

Finally, there are also two Mercenary Exiles. This deck excels at going wide, but it never hurts to build up a big unit and go tall. If you have a solid amount of gold, these cards can ruin your opponent's day out of nowhere. They also do a great job of forcing out removal. While your opponent might want to deal with your improvements, they also need to be aware of the creep that can suddenly pour on damage. Try to drop these into your weaker lanes when possible.

Going Wider

Where the above creeps focus on packing an individual punch, Disciple of Nevermore and Legion Standard Bearer give you more universal buffs that you can use to complement your improvement package. Disciple's drawback is easily mitigated by the damage output it creates, while Standard Bearer is a hard-to-kill creep that spreads out its buff across multiple threats.

These cards are simply The Oath and Assault Ladders put into bodies. Disciple acts as ladders, where Standard Bearer is a more focused Oath with no drawback. These slots are not entirely vital to the deck's success, but they provide some much-needed redundancy that any good Artifact deck needs. Consistent draws are key for this style of build, and that is what you have here.

The one important note about these two cards is that they can be interacted with much more easily than improvements. Always keep that in mind when choosing how and when to stack them with something like Assault Ladders. You may want to run them out before ladders to get an extra buff, but it is often better to use up or test out your opponent's removal first.

Black Support

Red exists in this deck to provide strong creeps, fast damage, and big-bodied heroes. Though black does some of that, it mainly functions here as support of the red bodies. The final two cards in the main deck, Tyler Estate Censor and Gank, are perfect examples of that.

Gank, besides being one of the best removal spells in Artifact, is a top choice for Oath decks because it helps get around the improvement's drawback. Normally, once you run out the three drop, you're locked out from interacting with your opponent in that lane. Gank helps your other heroes jump in and clear the way or save your units in a big way. Even without that use, being able to kill heroes across lanes for four is a fantastic deal.

The Censor is perhaps the most important non-aggressive card in this list. As mentioned, you want to go as fast as possible. That means getting to your opponent's towers before they can move up their curve. Quick damage does a great job of that, but another way to keep them off their big spells is crippling their mana. Stopping decks like Blue from getting to AOE for one turn is typically all you need to close out a game. As a bonus, this is another "must kill" card that your opponent needs to think about when deciding how to play their limited removal spells.

The Items

The item package in this is pretty standard fare for the current Artifact meta. It seems most decks, with the exception of gold lists, want their items to be cheap and effective. Revtel Signet Ring has completely replaced Traveler's Cloak as the low end health-buff, while Blink Dagger continues to dominate across all games. These two items are extremely strong and need to be here.

Jasper Daggers and Demagicking Maul are both one-of tech options that could easily be replaced or tweaked depending on what decks you face the most. You can run a 2-0 split of these as well. These are not the most exciting items in the world, but they have effects that you want to see every game. They also help fill out the gold curve nicely.

Phase Boots are another current Artifact standard. Being able to move your heroes around a lane is a strong effect in all decks, but it is especially important here. Not only do the boots enable you to move your heroes into positions where they can attack unfettered, but it also keeps them out of harm's way. You need to be able to play a lot of cards in this deck, and that cannot happen if your heroes die left and right. Moving them away from strong creeps is always important.


Red Black is a solid deck that has been around since day one. Even so, this particular build is unlike anything I've seen before. In that way, it is another example of how it is always possible to innovate no matter how stale or familiar something seems. This list took the idea of aggression and pumped it up to a hundred with great success. That is not always going to be the way to win games, but it is a great place to start.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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