This primer was written by Xylpher and edited by the archon.page team. The decklist and original primer can be found here.
Why Did I Build This Deck?
This is the second Archon deck that I’ve ever built. I started with 5C Sisay Control, but eventually ended up finding it a bit too demanding after a long day at work. Thus, I decided to build myself a nice, Aggro deck to give my brain some rest. Winota, Joiner of Forces quickly caught my eye and has now become my main deck.
Reasons to Start Gambling With Winota (Or Not)
This deck is a creature-based Aggro deck, which means that you might enjoy it if you like:
- Playing a lot of creatures
- Turning your creatures sideways (sorry, Loyal Warhound, you’re still a good boy)
- Trying to dump your hand on the field as fast as possible
- Having problems with space on your playmat
- Seeing your whole deck every game
- Being able to play more than a match during a round’s time
- Making questionable decisions
- Gambling (cough, cough)
You may not want to try this deck, if you like:
- Playing in your opponent’s turn
- Playing combo-oriented strategies
- Playing long, grindy matches
- Interacting with the opponent a lot
- Playing non-creature cards
The Game Plan
Boros is an excellent colour pairing to build aggressive, creature-based decks that are at their best in a format as fast as Archon, as it offers a powerful combination of efficient creatures and cheap burn and removal spells. Winota fits right into this strategy, as she ends games very quickly and offers a lot of reach and comeback potential in the later turns. Getting just one lucky hit on a trigger can bring you right back into the game if you ever fall behind.
That being said, the deck should also work decently without Winota on the board, as she will be a lightning rod for interaction. To increase her chances of survival, it is very important to pressure the opponent by playing a high number of must-answer threats to bait as much interaction as possible before playing Winota. This is the main reason why this list runs such a high count of creatures and fewer non-creature spells in comparison to other Aggro decks.
The creatures in the deck can be roughly divided into three categories:
Hatebears: creatures that slow the opponent down and force them to spend their interaction to avoid falling behind. Some of the most common hatebears are both versions of Thalia, Drannith Magistrate, Mother of Runes, Giver of Runes, Archon of Emeria, and Aven Mindcensor.
Threats: aggressive creatures that pressure the opponent into removing them to avoid getting killed by a lucky Winota hit later in the game. Some good examples are Earthshaker Khenra, Zurgo Bellstriker, Isamaru, Hound of Konda or Legion Warboss/Goblin Rabblemaster.
Utility Creatures: creatures that also act as removal (Skyclave Apparition, Brutal Cathar), tutors (Recruiter of the guard, Imperial Recruiter, Stoneforge Mystic), or protection from board wipes like Anax, Hardened in the Forge.
As mentioned before, we want to play as many creatures as possible, so only a selection of the best non-creature spells should be put into the deck. This includes efficient removal like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile (whose downsides don’t matter much in the short games that Winota tends to create), as well as cheap burn like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix, which can act both as removal and reach. Abrade is also a nice tech-piece for a metagame with a decent amount of artifacts.
I also recommend running some cheap protection spells like Reverent Mantra and Flawless Maneuver, which stop the opponent’s interaction. Reverent Mantra is particularly versatile, as it can also make your creatures pseudo-unblockable or, since its effect is symmetrical, even get rid of auras and equipment attached to your opponent’s creatures or counter buffs targeting them.
For the Stoneforge Mystic we have 3 targets: Lion Sash (though not a non-creature), Umezawa’s Jitte and Embercleave. Lion Sash is just a good mana sink and good against graveyard reliant strategies and Jitte is just a verversatile card that can help us out of many situations. Embercleave is a little bit more special, as it can put a lot of pressure on the opponent early through the double strike and trample and even if we have to hardcast it, our gameplan allows us to cast it for a reasonable amount of mana. Also remember to play Embercleave after the Winota triggers so it gets even cheaper.
Besides running enough colour fixing to play any of the 1-drops on turn 1, the deck also includes manlands such as Mishra’s Factory, and Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus (both of which have evasion to get more Winota triggers). Since Mutavault is a Human and doesn’t trigger Winota, it isn’t included.
Cavern of Souls is another important piece of the deck. The first and most obvious reason is that naming Humans with it provides fixing and gives a good part of the creatures in the deck protection from counterspells, but in some cases you might want to name other tribes. Warrior is the second most frequent one, and Soldier and Cleric should be kept in mind too, depending on which creatures you want to play and your available mana.
Finally, the two Channel lands from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty are also very powerful because of their flexibility and the fact that their abilities are a lot harder to counter than spells. Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire can be used to remove the opponent’s threats and make their blocks backfire, giving you an important edge in the damage race. Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance’s non-human tokens have haste and can provide some extra Winota triggers in a pinch.
Now we come to the best part, where the deck gets its name from. Do you get Winota to trigger and win the lottery… or not? A quick reminder: you need to attack with a non-human to get a look at the top six cards of our library and put a human creature among them onto the field, tapped and attacking and indestructible. Yes, you read that right, not just attacking: they are indestructible. You can safely put any human into play with a very low risk of them getting removed during that turn, and you want to maximize this. That’s the reason why every card in the deck that costs four or more mana is a Human. The best two hits are Angrath’s Marauders and Blade Historian as they have the highest ceilings (as well as the lowest floors if you end up drawing them), but any free Human will help you get ahead of your opponent.
Therefore, it’s important to ensure both that you get as many Winota triggers as you can and that you have a good chance of finding Humans with them. This means that the deck needs a high density of Human creatures, but that shouldn’t be hard to accomplish. There are many Humans that produce non-Human tokens, such as Seasoned Pyromancer or Geist-Honored Monk, which makes them good both for triggering Winota and as targets for said triggers. The tokens they provide are also useful as chump-blockers and to replenish your board if you need to sacrifice some of your attackers when your opponent has blockers of their own.
Using a hypergeometric calculator, we can find the chance of hitting at least one of the 20 Humans in the deck off Winota’s triggers on turn 4, which is the earliest you will usually play her. The odds won’t change much if you are on the play or on the draw. Let’s say you are on the play and have drawn 10 cards overall (7 for the starting hand and one each for turns 2, 3, and 4). On average, you should have drawn 2 Humans , leaving 18 Humans among the 89 cards remaining in the deck. Using the aforementioned calculator (Population Size = 89; Sample Size = 6; Success in Population = 18; Success in Sample = 1), gives you a chance of around 75% of finding at least one Human in the top 6 cards, and this is a pretty pessimistic scenario where you didn’t activate any fetchlands or tutored anything before. This is a pretty good success rate that you can’t really improve all that much, since you also need non-Human creatures to trigger Winota. In general, it’s better to have some triggers that miss rather than reducing the overall amount of triggers that you get. There’s only so much you can do to maximize your chances and, in the end, it’s all a lottery.
When it comes to the deck’s matchups, there are many where Winota is favoured, and only a few where it really struggles.
Linear decks that aren’t crammed with highly cost-efficient interaction will have a harder time against Winota, as you will usually be faster than them. Examples:
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer: this deck struggles having enough burn to stop your Winota triggers while also having enough reach to finish the game. On top of that, you run some cards that completely wreck their plans, like Sanctifier en-Vec or Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder.
Combo decks, like Inalla, Archmage Ritualist: due to the amount of hatebears in your list, they will have a hard time developing their own game plans while also keeping your threats in check.
On the other hand, lists running lots of interaction or enchantments like Humility and Ghostly Prison/Propaganda will be tougher to win against. Humility in particular is almost unbeatable, as it completely stops Winota’s triggers, makes your threats tiny, and protects itself from stuff like Skyclave Apparition. Luckily, that card isn’t very frequently played, so you shouldn’t worry too much about it unless people are consistently running it in your local meta.
Ludevic-based tempo decks are also really tough matchups, as they have enough interaction to shut down Winota’s game plan without running out of cards due to Ludevic’s ability. He’s also a really hard blocker to get through, since many of your creatures have only 1 toughness.
Depending on your local meta, you might want to make some changes to this deck so it isn’t as all-in as it is right now, allowing it to play longer games. In this case, some good inclusions would be cards like Parallax Wave; and some more interactive creatures like Tithe Taker, Cliffside Rescuer, and Elite Spellbinder. If you have to race a lot in your local meta, adding Shadowspear into the Stoneforge package could be nice for the extra lifegain.
On the other hand, cards like Memnite, Angrath’s Marauder, Bomat Courier and Legion Loyalist would probably not make the cut in those lists, since their downsides would outweigh their lower impact over longer games. Memnite isn’t as good when speed isn’t your number one priority, and Angrath’s Marauder is a horrible topdeck. Bomat Courier‘s stats and effect just would not make the cut due to it being so fragile and it might not even replace itself. Legion Loyalist should be the card you cut last out of these, as it’s really good in some matchups (like Tevesh or Sai decks) where the opponent has lots of small (token) blockers.
Upgrades / Downgrades
The only upgrade I have in mind right now, is Rick, Steadfast Leader, but I will wait until its in-multiverse version gets printed. On the other hand, there are some options if you’d like to build this deck on a budget.
In this case, the easiest would be to downgrade the manabase a little, as you can survive replacing the Plateau and the fetchlands with more basics. You can also use non-snow-covered basics if you need to, as the only reason to choose them over normal basics is On Thin Ice, which can be replaced with Chained to the Rocks. Additionally, Cavern of Souls, Wasteland, and Inkmoth Nexus, while powerful, can also be cut to significantly bring down the total price of the deck.
Making cuts on the creature department is a little harder, since all the expensive ones are also very powerful. That being said, you should be fine without Ragavan, Grand Abolisher, Recruiter of the Guard, and Seasoned Pyromancer, as they are by far the priciest of the lot. If you can only afford one of them, you should probably prioritize the Seasoned Pyromancer, as its price/power ratio is by far the best. Some good replacements for the other three would be Hope of Ghirapur instead of Ragavan, Pia and Kiran Nalaar instead of Recruiter, and Phyrexian Revoker instead of Grand Abolisher.
Finally, and while the deck doesn’t play many non-creature spells, there are still a couple of pricier ones that you can do away with. Flawless Maneuver is really good but it can be replaced with Boros Charm and, while casting Winota a turn earlier is extremely powerful, Lotus Petal can be switched for an extra creature like Gingerbrute or some extra interaction like Chain Lightning. Avoid adding a different mana rock in its place, as you really don’t want to lose tempo by casting one that costs mana.