If you're attacking in Standard, then there's a good chance you're going to need a plan when attacking isn't too great for you. While we have so many different ways to jam creatures in the red zone, we often skimp on ways to actually push through those last few points when we need it most. The interesting thing about this is the amount of depth this kind of skill has. Every move you make. Inside the game and out. In gameplay and preparation, it can affect your ability to develop this highly underrated skill.
If we're going to get better at attacking, then getting better at understanding our surroundings is a great place to start.
Might sound like a silly question, but asking ourselves who we're attacking is a good barometer of what we should be attacking with. Are we attacking Jeskai decks? U/B Control decks? Shardless Sultai and Sneak and Show decks? If you know you're going to be up against a traditional blue control deck with wraths, one for one removal, expensive counterspells, and a big haymaker finisher (think last season's Sphinx's Revelation decks), then it may be a good idea to go as low to the ground as possible and put the gas pedal all the way down from the get-go, forcing their hand at every single point of the game. If the control decks are more Jund-esque, like the Mardu decks of this season, then it may be a better idea to have some sort of snowball effect that forces a two-for-one situation if not handled immediately. Goblin Rabblemaster is the obvious one here, but Hordeling Outburst is also a great option, as are most token generating spells. Disruption backed up by cheap threats is also effective against these types of decks as well because of how much time they need to set up, and how much they may lean on a particular card to survive. This type of attacking is also good against the previously mentioned traditional blue control deck, but isn't as foolproof as it used to be.
What if you're looking to attack other attackers? Well, this is where the true attacking mages get their chops. Personally, I'm of the "The bigger they are, the harder they fall" mentality. Large attacking creature decks can have a difficult time against a million smaller creatures without an early way of mitigation via their creatures, along with a way to two for one. Many large creature decks have to lean on cards like Polukranos, World Eater, Hornet Queen, and the like to keep things in order, and that still may not be enough. If oversized, undercosted creatures are the target, then going small and wide is a pretty good plan.
On the flip-side, attacking those puny little creatures can be a seemingly daunting task for sure, but not all hope is lost. One of the major hurdles many players, myself included, need to take our focus away from is the "nut draw" of these smaller aggressive decks, especially when you're looking to attack as well. These small creature decks were designed to come out of the gates as fast as possible, and often times, they can stumble out of said gates just as much as they come out in a blazing trail of fire. Can we afford to ignore the games where they come out guns-a-blazing and just focus on the games where they have to work for it? Being as general as possible, that depends on a lot of factors. If small aggro decks are increasing in popularity, and I expect to play against them about twice a tournament, then I'd definitely focus on stymying their onslaught early. If there's a downswing, then I'm more willing to give up those games for more broad sideboard or maindeck options.
All of that said, one of the best ways to defend against the little guys is to find a way to multi-for-one them without hurting your own army. Anger of the Gods is a powerful sweeper in most decks that want a way to fight these decks, but when your attacking deck contains a bunch of 4/4s and 5/5s, it usually directly translates into damage, putting you ahead in the race. Another option is inherent lifegain. Thragtusk is probably one of the most iconic midrange creatures of modern Magic because of how effective it was at every single point of the game. Attacking into it was a losing proposition, and it hit so hard that you had to block it sooner or later. The issue is surviving until then, and there are a couple of ways of going about that. Remember that we aren't really a control deck, but knowing how and when to play the control role is very important. We can overload on removal spells and use our creatures as such, maybe force a two for one situation, and lean on our lifegain threat to switch gears. Another way is to get that card out as quickly as possible. Ramping into it or otherwise "cheating" it into play (reanimation, Elvish Piper/Show and Tell effects) before they can get going is effective as well.
Now that we know who we're attacking, we need to figure out what we're attacking with. Preference is generally a strong factor whenever I decide on card and deck choice, but I think that after a certain point, it becomes a huge trap. It's a pretty huge misconception that you can lean solely on preference and playstyle when making card and deck choices, and that should carry you through a tournament. Well, that just isn't true. I do think it's important to play what you want, how you want, but unless you're already a master at your craft (or at least very good at what you do), then concessions need to be made. If you find that small aggressive decks are your thing, but the best deck involves large attacking creatures and the margin is wide enough where it'll seriously impact your tournament, then I'd take a really good look at the best possible version of my current deck, relative to my playstyle, and be completely honest with myself.
Your playstyle is a supplement, not an excuse. That said, we can look at the characteristics and traits of different methods of turning sideways.
Going wide: If you like boardstates with approximately three million small creatures, ready to swarm your opponent, then cards like Akroan Crusader, Goblin Rabblemaster* Launch the Fleet, Foundry-Street Denizen, and Firedrinker Satyr are all within interest. The great thing about going wide these days is the inherent ability to "stun" a card they're trying to lean on with protection (Gods Willing), Falter effects (Frenzied Goblin), or Lures, ensuring that your little army maintains its ranks throughout the game. This plan is great in a format where everyone is trying to one for one everyone else, and when there's a lot of residual damage going on. Hate for these types of decks can be pretty brutal, but it fluctuates depending on what else is going on, and even if it is present, the amount of reach and recovery that swarm strategies have is really strong. The current decks representing this strategy are Rabble Red/Boss Sligh and Mono-Black Aggro. The various token strategies also fit under this.
Going big: If overwhelming them with numbers isn't your thing, then punching right through them is also an option, utilizing undercosted, oversized, fatty boom booms, in a nutshell. Creatures like Savage Knuckleblade, Polukranos, World Eater, and Stormbreath Dragon are the benchmarks for what a large attacker should look like. When you hit, you hit hard, and while you won't have any obvious advantages in a given metagame, you make up for that with straight up raw power. Attacking with these creatures implies that you're looking to press any deck that tries to sidestep your plan or ignore it completely without attacking, rather than take a defensive stance against it head on. Your ways of pushing damage through are quite a bit different than the decks that attack wide. Instead of going around the obstacles, you quite literally barrel right through them with Fireball effects and haste combined with evasion. Any deck that identifies as "Monsters" is a solid representative of a deck that's trying to attack big, as well as Green Devotion.
Going around: Any deck that is looking to attack as often as possible while also trying to avoid interaction as much as possible. Many aggressive decks would love to avoid unfavorable interaction, but it's inevitable for most. Decks that go around their obstacles aren't hoping they avoid it, they're actively putting in effort to avoid it. This means playing fliers, unblockables, and eschewing removal for bounce spells, burn, or other forms of tempo plays that directly translate into damage. Mono-Blue Devotion of last year is the biggest example of this, and aggressive Jeskai decks are the best example of this in this Standard. These decks are not very strong on the power scale, but they're generally among the best at maintaining a lead and pushing it further once it gains it.
It's worth noting that no matter what form of aggressive strategy you play, you aren't going to be locked into any one of these routes of attack. Your deck will likely feature characteristics of each of these but will be much stronger at one of those than the others.
It's easy for someone not experienced with aggressive decks to oversimplify what's been talked about so far, but when it comes to timing of your attacks and the elements surrounding each attack step, along with in-game timing and out of game timing (which will be talked about later), you'll really begin to see who the real aggro adepts are.
So, what do I mean by when, in a general sense? Well, it's pretty complicated, but developing an understanding of it is crucial in taking that next step. From an in-game perspective there are many factors that contribute to the timing of your attacks, such as the obvious board position, life totals, and resources available. Using the most basic, stripped down example here: if your opponent attacks with a 2/2 into your 3/3 with one green mana open, do you block? What if they have the Giant Growth?
Now, let's think about it from the flip-side. If you're the one with the 2/2, do you leave up Giant Growth mana and attack into the 3/3, even if you don't have the Giant Growth? You could wait a turn and do it if nothing major changes in an attempt to sell your story that you got the Giant Growth that turn. This is what I mean by timing. We're essentially a used car salesman in this scenario, telling our opponent to "buy this car now! It's cheaper than before!", with the car being our attack, and their currency being their life total.
You can time attacks that represent something, and you can also time spells that represent favorable attacks. Let's say I have a Temur Charm in my hand, and not quite enough power on my end to deal lethal via Temur Charm's third mode. One thing you can do (and again, it's very general and will change given the situation) is the opposite of the aforementioned Giant Growth play: playing like you don't have it. Tap out for something seemingly less exciting. Make a play that can potentially get their four power creature to attack. Things like that.
Out of game timing is one of my favorite things to do when in a tough or unfavorable situation. I don't think it's an essential part of attacking, as it's important to get fundamentals down before anything, but it could be useful in a one-in-few situations where you might need to get creative. A good portion of it is a levels mini-game of sorts, but with the integration of your physical presence. I'm of the strong belief that once you physically start motioning toward a card, number of cards, or parts of a boardstate, your play was made. It may not be the play you want to make, but information is absolutely crucial, and every single move you make gives away information. I'm not even really talking about reads or tells, but the organizing cards in your hand when you decide to keep, and the tapping of a number of mana or set of lands, then untapping and going back in the tank. The drawing a Snapcaster Mage and glancing at your graveyard, or even worse, fanning it out. Everything you do around a tournament is part of a story, and it's your job to tell that story as best as possible, both in a given game, and out.
Let's go back to that 2/2 versus 3/3 situation. If you're the one with the 3/3, does your plan change if I snap-attack with the 2/2? What makes me so confident in my attack? Is that Giant Growth really there? Is it worth the trade to you? If I'm that confident in this attack, then what if the trade may be more worth it to me than it is to you? Does it matter to you that much at that point of the game? Think about it for a second, all of these questions being asked are stemming from the fact that I didn't hesitate to make a seemingly unfavorable attack, and this is one of the more straightforward situations!
What about if I go into the tank with that same 2/2, then decide to attack when I come out of it? Why would I go into the tank for so long? Am I thinking about that Giant Growth, coming to the conclusion that it is, in fact, worth trading it for your creature? That's assuming that I even have Giant Growth in the first place, of course. The interesting thing about this is that every single time something like this would happen, the answer will likely be different. Not every player will look at the situation the same way, and those same players will likely evaluate differently based on who they're playing against as well, and we aren't even counting the variables, such as what cards are in your hand, what could be in their hand, deck contents, and even the format! While I'm not advocating trying to be some sort of Jedi master all the time, I do think that taking notice of these kinds of things can be helpful when trying to deduce things about your opponent and prevent your opponent from deducing things about you.
"Where" is probably the most obscure of the bunch, but it is something many players, especially and specifically myself, wind up losing value points of damage. When planeswalkers are thrown into the mix, specifically those that mitigate damage (Kiora, the Crashing Wave, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Elspeth, Sun's Champion), it can be difficult to evaluate how to navigate through them. Cards like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver can create this huge trap that makes it look much more effective than it actually is, but it can turn out pretty tame if you evaluate accordingly. Can we ignore the planeswalker if we can further keep the resource strain going? Do we check the planeswalker to limit the options available? Do we just kill it to keep it from spiraling out of control?
I played against Abzan Midrange at the Standard Open in Worcester, as Temur Aggro, and my opponent had an Elspeth on six and six tokens back, along with a Siege Rhino. My opponent was at fifteen life, and I had a Goblin Rabblemaster, an Elvish Mystic, and three Goblin tokens, with only a Temur Charm in hand. I decide to cast Temur Charm and attack my opponent. I couldn't beat another Seige Rhino, and attacking Elspeth still puts me in a poor position to actually win the race. I need to draw Crater's Claws or another Temur Charm and hope they don't have another Rhino. An example of limiting a planeswalker's options is attacking a Sorin with two loyalty down to one, with enough damage to make his first ability not very relevant, as well as giving sufficient pressure. Another example is forcing an Elspeth to three loyalty, making the option of using the second ability to kill your larger creatures unfavorable at best, all things assumed. This is more preferred than just killing it because, well, you get more damage to your opponent. You attempt the sleeper hold, rather than the Stone Cold Stunner. Of course, the tried and true plan of "kill them" is always solid. You run the risk of letting those planeswalkers run loose and stabilizing if they have a follow up, but maximizing your damage may be the more important thing at that point in time.
As with anything, it's always extremely important to have a reason for each and every decision you make when making your attacks. While your decisions will often be easy (as with many decks you'll play) the important ones will matter a whole lot more throughout the course of a given game, and you'll usually not have as many chances to make up for those missed opportunities. We don't have a Sphinx's Revelation or Bonfire of the Damned type effect to consistently bail us out of these situations when we draw them, and with creatures getting better and better, it's more important than ever to work on maximizing every bit of each and every combat. Your answer to the why may not be a great, or even a good one, but it will do you much, much better than no reason at all.
On the other hand, it's also important to ask why our opponent is doing what they're doing. Why did they not attack with that creature? Are they on the backpedal? If so, can we take advantage of that? Why is our opponent willing to take this big hit by swinging for a small amount of damage? Maybe they're going to follow up with Wingmate Roc? Or, if I have a Rabblemaster, have Abzan Charm as a backup removal spell? It's always good to ask why, and often times, you'll have a solid guess as to what's going on in the game (and your opponent's head).
While a lot of this can be pretty exhaustive, I hope that this helps bring more depth to my understanding of attacking for those still learning the ways of this Standard format, whether you're the one attacking or the one being attacked. How we evaluate different combat scenarios and different ways to maximize damage output is something to really take in, as there's a lot more going on in that red zone than many may want you to think. Developing an understanding of the ins and outs of the vast attacking options out there will help you in almost every aspect of your game, and I'm sure that this is merely scratching the surface on what we can do when it comes to going on the offensive.
*Goblin Rabblemaster fits in almost every category mentioned due to its unique abilities and is a prime consideration in any of these shells if it contains red.