Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Makes Rogue Decks So Powerful in Magic?
As of this writing, blue/black rogue tribal decks are dominating the standard meta; what makes them so competitive? Well, they carry two potential win conditions, able to win via both damage (hard to block thanks to numerous flyers) and milling your opponent to inflict a deck-out loss.
Normally, Dimir's blue/black colors prefer a long-term control win, but rogues have surprisingly powerful aggro, arguably even better than red in the Zendikar Rising era—how should you best utilize their ranks? Here's a guide to build your own rogue deck in Magic: The Gathering!
Lurrus of the Dream Den
First, you'll want to choose whether or not you should have Lurrus as your companion. Doing so restricts your deck to permanent spells of cost three or less (we'll cover some things you miss out on later), but gives you a useful companion who can once per turn cast a permanent of cost two or less from your graveyard.
Overall, I favor the Lurrus builds—his graveyard recursion is usually worth missing a few bigger spells—here's what to stock his deck with to quickly overwhelm opponents.
Thieves' Guild Enforcer
TGE is arguably the biggest threat in the deck. Sure, she starts weak at 1/1, but she mills two opposing cards on entry and whenever another rogue enters your field. She also has flash, letting you cast her at instant speed, and gets +2/+1 and deathtouch once an opponent's graveyard has at least eight cards!
This means that a single one-drop creature will soon become a 3/2 deathtoucher who continues to ransack opposing decks as you play more rogues. Definitely run four copies.
Like many cards in the deck, Windrobber has flying, which is part of why rogue aggro is so good—few decks can block him. Windrobber mills an opposing card whenever he deals damage to your opponent, and if your foe's graveyard is at least eight cards full, you can sacrifice him to draw a card.
The sacrifice doesn't require tapping and can be used at instant speed, an excellent response to a board wipe or other removal. With Lurrus, you can also cast Windrobber from your graveyard each turn, then sac him for bonus draws to maintain advantage. Use 3-4 copies.
The one problem here is that Ruin Crab isn't a rogue, so he won't trigger TGE mills. That said, he's super-cheap at one mana, offers a great early-game blocker with 0/3 stats, and mills three opposing cards whenever you play a land!
That's just an amazing way to quickly attain your graveyard bonuses, and you can trigger it twice per turn using the fetch land "Fabled Passage". To get an idea of how good Ruin is, consider that he's strictly better than the highly-rated "Hedron Crab" of previous rotations (who basically did the same thing but was 0/2).
Here's our first two-drop creature, needing one mana of each Dimir color. Thought-Thief has flash, increasing your instant-speed options, rogue synergy, solid 1/3 stats, and gives all your rogues (including himself) +1/+0 while an opponent's graveyard has eight or more cards.
Plus, whenever one or more rogues you control attack, Thought-Thief mills two opposing cards, which in tangent with Ruin Crab and TGE should easily have the eight cards ready on turn two or three.
Note that both Ruin Crab and Thought-Thief have three toughness, putting them safely out of range of many early red removals (like "Stomp" and "Shock").
Drown in the Loch
We've seen several great milling and aggro creatures, but this card is what really devastates foes. Loch either counters a spell or destroys a creature with cost less than or equal to the cards in their graveyard.
With rogue milling, there's almost never a situation where you have Loch ready but can't use it, meaning you've got an instant-speed counterspell or creature-removal, with no other restrictions beyond the graveyard criteria. You definitely want four copies of these.
If you ask me, this is the best black creature removal we've seen in a long time. Though it only works as a sorcery, for just one mana, Thirst destroys a creature/planeswalker of cost two or less, useful against early-game threats and tokens.
Plus, if you kick it for three extra mana, it can hit any creature or planeswalker. If you miss countering an Ugin (or other big planeswalker), Thirst is often your only escape route. I'd run 2-3, depending on your affinity for alternate black removals "Heartless Act" and "Hagra Mauling".
Into the Story
Into the Story costs seven at base price, but when an opponent's graveyard has seven or more cards, its cost diminishes by three, letting you cast it for just four mana. At that discount, it's an amazing instant-speed spell that draws four cards.
That's excellent hand-buffering, and the instant speed lets you wait until the end of your opponent's turn to determine whether you want the draws, to flash in a creature, or need Loch's counterspell prowess.
Useful both with rogues and in blue EDH decks, Story is also one of today's cheaper cards, costing less than one dollar!
Clearwater Pathway/Murkwater Pathway
Another benefit to rogue decks is that their two colors share a Pathway land, which lets you pick either side when you play it. This means rogue decks are almost never color-screwed, as your four Pathways compensate for a lack of islands or swamps as needed. They don't enter tapped or have any other real downside, either.
Other lands to consider include "Temple of Deceit" (enters tapped but gives both colors and scries one) and "Fabled Passage", especially if you're using Ruin Crab.
Agadeem's Awakening/Agadeem, the Undercrypt
Since it isn't a permanent (on its front side, at least), you can and should run Agadeem whether or not you're using Lurrus. Needing 3+X Mana, it returns any number of creatures with different costs X or less from your graveyard to the field, a nice late-game spell to overwhelm foes with a final push.
But you can also play it as a land that provides black mana, giving the choice of entering tapped or paying three life to enter untapped. Three's a lot, but since rogue decks are pretty aggressive, the lifeloss rarely matters. You definitely want this card, but maybe not four copies; try 2-3.
This concludes the must-haves for the build, but we still have several more potential inclusions to consider.
Just pricey enough that you can't use him with Lurrus, Scavenger is an enormous threat thanks to his rogue subtype, flying, deathtouch, and lifelink. He starts at 1/3, but gets +1/+0 for each card type in your opponent's graveyard.
Of course, you'll be milling their deck like crazy, so it's not at all uncommon to see Scavenger skyrocket to 7 or more power, meaning a single hit from him can often win the game. Just note that unlike many of the theme's creatures, he doesn't have flash, so you'll need to cast him on your main phase.
As a creature, Borrower is a 3/1 flash rogue who can only block flying creatures, but in this aggro deck, you're rarely blocking anyway. More than that, you can first cast him into exile with "Petty Theft" to bounce any opposing permanent back to hand. From there, you can cast his creature form.
Borrower's main advantage is his two-for-one removal/creature bundle, and don't overlook his offense; boosted by Thought-Thief, he can easily hit for at least four.
Slitherwisp doesn't work with Lurrus and sadly isn't a rogue. Even so, a copy or two prove useful, offering solid 3/2 stats, flash, and letting you draw a card and have opponents lose one life whenever you cast another spell with flash.
Of course, almost every rogue in your deck (not to mention other copies of Slitherwisp) will trigger the effect, and since it works just by casting them, you still get the benefits even if your spell is countered.
Zareth San, the Trickster
Probably the biggest incentive not to use Lurrus, flashing in Zareth requires five mana, but you shouldn't be playing him that way—instead, you can return an unblocked rogue to your hand to play Zareth tapped and attacking for just four.
Not only does this slightly discount him, it's too late for opponents to block, deadly since he plays any permanent from their graveyard for free when he deals direct damage! Yep, you can easily steal "Ugin the Spirit Dragon", "Shark Typhoon", or any other big permanent your opponent is unlucky enough to have milled.
And you'll get more permanents on future turns if Zareth can hit again, just remember that without flying or deathtouch, opponents are going to block him if able, though his 4/4 stats are usually sturdy enough to win the exchange.
Here's a spell that works well for players leaning more towards the milling than the aggro potential of the deck. On entry, Tutelage draws and discards a card, and whenever you draw, it has opponents mill twice.
This means that you're effectively getting at least two mills per turn, and far more with other draw effects (combined with Into the Story, Tutelage mills eight cards in addition to your turn's regular two!).
Of One Mind
Into the Story may be the deck's best draw engine, but this is a close second. Mind draws two cards for three mana, a fair if not overwhelming bargain. However, if you control both a human and a non-human, it discounts itself by two, down to one mana!
One mana for two draws is fantastic, and it's pretty easy to attain since rogue decks are about evenly split between humans and non-humans (TGE and Thought-Thief are human, Windrobber and Crab aren't).
Domination costs three less to cast while an opponent's graveyard has at least eight cards, gaining control of a creature with cost X. With fast milling, this basically means you can steal a creature of three or less for just three mana, especially useful against foes boosted by auras or "Stonecoil Serpent" (whose reach and multi-color protection can stall your aggro).
Just remember that even with the discount active, you'll need at least three blue mana, so carefully consider which sides of the Pathways you're utilizing.
Negate has long been one of the game's best counterspells, thwarting any non-creature for just two. Of course, your opponent's reliance on non-creatures depends on their theme, which is why you might want this sideboarded until you know it'll be useful. But in its element, there's no better check against costly spells like "Genesis Ultimatum" or "Storm's Wrath".
Here's another situational yet mighty counterspell. Dispute negates a spell unless its owner pays three extra mana, which they usually just don't have, Plus, when it targets a blue spell, it costs one mana instead of three, giving you an enormous resource advantage.
Sidedeck it to unleash on fellow blue players; Dispute's incredibly useful in mirror matches against other rogue decks.
I would whole-heartedly recommend this spell if only he were a rogue, but even outside the tribe, Gargoyle works well with the theme. For his low cost, he's a terrific 5/4 flyer, but he can't block unless you have four or more cards in hand and can't attack unless the defending player has at least seven cards in graveyard.
You know the drill by now—with rogue milling, it's practically guaranteed Gargoyle can attack as soon as summoning sickness fades. He can also tap to have each player mill a card, helpful when you're closer to a mill win than an aggro one.
Rogue Deck Matchups
Thing about rogues is, there's almost no bad matchup for them. With "Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath" banned, the downside of stockpiling your opponent's graveyard rarely matters outside of Rakdos colors. Perhaps the next best check against rogues is "Yorion, Sky Nomad", since his companion effect has decks start with 80 cards (and thus take longer to mill), but even he often falls to rogue aggro.
Part of the issue is a lack of anti-mill spells; "Gaea's Blessing" could really save green decks, but it's not in rotation, the closest we have is blue's "Midnight Clock", and that takes too much time to reliably use. So enjoy the unique aggro/mill combo of rogues while it lasts, and I'll see you at our next MTG review!
© 2021 Jeremy Gill