A Green Mage’s Lament

Bennie Smith examines today’s Standard metagame and notices something weird… it’s dominated by blue decks! Again! Why does blue keep returning to the top?

The other day on Facebook, a friend posted up deck archetypes that showed up for the local Grand Prix Trial, and then later they posted the Top 4 decks: G/W Tokens vs. Wolf Run, and Mono-White Humans vs. U/W Humans. My reply?


Another friend responded:

“So four different decks in the top 4 is “yawn” worthy? Seems diverse…”

Diverse? I guess technically it is… and yet—for me—Innistrad Standard has gelled into a format that I find very unexciting, not least of which because there seems to be a dearth of good green decks and a rather oppressive presence of blue decks.

Yeah, yeah, I know—the few Spikes among my readers are probably bristling at this statement, either that or rolling their eyes. If I want to win tournaments, why would I limit myself to wanting to play green decks and then whine about it when green seems to pretty much suck these days?

Well… because I want to play green decks that don’t suck. I always have. I love playing green cards, especially green permanents that stick around and do cool stuff. I thought that Birthing Pod would be my salvation—I mean, that card is freaking awesome and a card that is right up my alley. And yet Birthing Pod just can’t seem to find a decent place in the metagame.

Right now, the only good “green” decks are Wolf Run Ramp and Township Tokens, and neither of them really feels like a green deck.

Wolf Run Ramp might be appealing if we didn’t just go through a really oppressive time with Primeval Titan ramp combo before back when it was all about Valakut. Wolf Ramp isn’t quite as silly and linear, but it’s still basically ramping into a lethal combo. Personally, I hate ramp strategies because they tend to be so narrow and somewhat vulnerable to answers. When I look at Wolf Run Ramp, all I see are ramp cards, removal, and combo. Even the occasional Garruk, Primal Hunters are there mostly to draw into more ramp cards, removal, and combo.

Township Tokens is a weenie token deck that basically just splashes green for Gavony Township and green’s one-drop mana accelerators, and it seems to be the weaker of the weenie beatdown strategies out there.

Let’s take a look at the card summary for what’s being played in Innistrad Standard, removing basic and mana-fixing lands from the equation.

1. Inkmoth Nexus

Not surprising, this awesome colorless utility land + win condition goes in so many different decks.

2. Mana Leak

Blue counterspell, one of the most effective answers in the game.

3. Oblivion Ring

White removal, and one of the most effective answers in the game.

4. Snapcaster Mage

An insanely overpowered creature making gigantic waves in all formats. Oh, in blue.

5. Wurmcoil Engine

Colorless titan is really good.

6. Birds of Paradise

Ah, good ol’ Birds! Good ol’ boring Birds, providing ramp for the Ramp combo decks, and acceleration for the Tier 2 weenie token decks.

7. Solemn Simulacrum

Colorless ramp which steps on green’s color pie toes a bit, ameliorated a bit by mostly just being played in green ramp strategies.

8, 9, 10. Doom Blade, Dismember, Day of Judgment

Good removal spells are good.

11. Kessig Wolf Run

Combo kill piece.

12, 13. Think Twice, Forbidden Alchemy

Instant-speed card draw/card selection, in blue.

14. Acidic Slime

Ah, finally we get to some real green goodness way down here at 14th!

15. Phantasmal Image

Just the best Clone variant ever printed (in blue of course).

16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Primeval Titan, Rampant Growth, Green Sun’s Zenith, Viridian Emissary

Here’s a big cluster of green stuff, but it’s all ramp or combo pieces. Even Green Sun’s Zenith is only in decks to ramp or find combo pieces.

Once you dig further, things start to look a little better, but yeah—you gotta dig deep.

Let’s look at Standard another way.

Top 8 decks from the most recent Standard big event, the SCG Open in Atlanta this past weekend:

1st place—U/W Delver Aggro w/equipment

2nd place—U/W Humans

3rd place—Wolf Run Ramp

4th place—U/w Illusions

5th place—U/W Delver Aggro

6th place—U/W Delver Aggro

7th place—U/W/B Control (Solar Flare)

8th place—U/B/Red Control (Grixis Control)

What drives me nuts about this is blue all over the place, not only in the control decks (to be expected) but in the aggro decks. Yes, part of my disgruntlement has to do with blue constantly getting the goods. Yes, blue got all the best cards for years and years since the beginning of the game, but that was supposed to be changing some years ago, with people in WotC finally getting it—other colors need areas to shine, other than being the color the bad players played. They pulled back on the power of counterspells and card drawing and started making creatures better. The color pie got an overhaul, and things got shifted around. Things began to start to get in better balance. People started even talking about having a time when blue would be the worst color in Standard.

Really? Have we ever gotten to that point? I keep waiting for it.

It’s bad enough when blue keeps getting the best cards in a cycle (see the ridiculous Cryptic Command) or really good creatures (Faeries) that just happened to synergize perfectly with all the strong instants they get or the most overpowered, dominant planeswalker ever created.

Now we’ve got blue with some of the best weenies in the game: Delver of Secrets, Phantasmal Bear, Phantasmal Image, Snapcaster Mage. Some of these blue creatures are shaking up Eternal formats!

Blue’s even stolen troll-shroud, officially named hexproof. Of the seven cards with hexproof in Innistrad, two are actually played in Constructed: Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft. Green gets Lumberknot. Lumberknot? Are you kidding me?

Look at things another way. Let’s think about the best spells you can play in the game right now up the mana curve, with special attention to blue and green.

At one mana? Birds of Paradise is pretty decent, but even the decks playing it right now typically just run one copy to tutor up with Green Sun’s Zenith. Township Tokens runs a full boat of Birds (along with backup copies of Birds), but that deck is Tier 2 and not making much of a dent in the metagame. No, Birds are pretty ineffective because everyone is running cheap small spot removal to mow down all the blue weenies! No, at one mana you want to be casting Delver, or Ponder, or Gitaxian Probe (sometimes for zero mana), or Phantasmal Bear. Even Vapor Snag is getting played.

At two mana? For green we got Rampant Growth, maybe Viridian Emissary and a brief flirtation with Mayor of Avabruck that didn’t last long. For blue we’ve got Snapcaster Mage, Mana Leak, Phantasmal Image, Invisible Stalker, Lord of the Unreal, Think Twice. Even Disperse and Merfolk Looter are getting some love.

At three mana? Beast Within—one of the best green noncreature spells ever printed—gets a little bit of play. Daybreak Ranger, like the Mayor, got a brief look before getting discarded. Dungrove Elder got a little longer moment to shine but has certainly fallen out of favor because there’s still not enough reason to play mono-Forests.  Blue has the amazing Forbidden Alchemy, Geist of Saint Traft, and to a lesser extent Dissipate. Blue also has Grand Architect, Trinket Mage and Treasure Mage, and Skaab Ruinator, which aren’t making much of a splash right now but are all really powerful cards that have broken through before.

At four mana? Green’s got Birthing Pod, a card I love but no one but Reid Duke seems to be able to win with it. Garruk Relentless is pretty amazing, and Thrun, the Last Troll gets a little bit of love sometimes. Blue’s got Phyrexian Metamorph, which is awesome… and that’s about it. So, at four mana, green wins basically on the back of a planeswalker edging one of the best Clone variants ever printed.

At five mana? Green’s got the sweet Acidic Slime and the awesome Garruk, Primal Hunter (which is tricky playing in the same deck with Garruk Relentless). Blue’s got… nothing. Hooray! Total victory!

So, on the head-to-head, blue is kicking green’s ass until turn 4, when we can maybe start to turn things around. That is, unless we’re already so far behind that the counterspell for our great hope crushes our dreams and we die to a horde of Insect Humans and Illusions. Wait a minute… I thought blue was supposed to be the color of the long game?

Look, I know some of why green is so weak right now is because of Innistrad’s top-down design. A big portion of green’s goodie bucket is wrapped up in Werewolves, which are incredibly flavorful but just really weak in Constructed. This is on the heels of much of green’s goodies in Scars block being tied up with Infect cards that underperformed. I could swallow the ebb of good green cards better if I weren’t seeing Islands gleefully being played in both aggro and control decks at the top tables.

When the hell is blue’s power going to ebb? I’m still waiting.

Less than a year ago we saw a similar thing going on, but the focus was Jace, the Mind Sculptor. As I pointed out pre-banning, we had Control Jace decks, Combo Jace decks, Midrange Jace decks, and Aggro Jace decks. Yes, Jace needed to go, but there is still an underlying problem, one where blue continuously gets cards that are at least a little too good.

Pre-banning, there were a lot of Magic pundits who exclaimed that it was the most exciting and diverse Standard format in years. Sure, every good deck had to run Jace but look at all the variety of Jace decks!

Flash forward to Innistrad Standard as it has matured. Those same Magic pundits are hailing the format as exciting and diverse, the best in years! Sure, nearly every good deck has to run blue, but look at all the variety of blue decks! And sure, if you’re a Spike who just loves winning, why not pick one of the top blue decks and have a ball with it? Magic punditry tends to skew pretty heavily towards Spikes… but there are those of us out there like me, whom I’ve always called “casually competitive” who like to play something off the beaten (blue) path and at least have some shot at taking down an FNM or Top 8ing a larger event.

Folks like me, we look at how Innistrad Standard has shaped up… and we yawn. Or we shake our fist at the perpetual blue menace.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that balance to the colors needs to be considered even for top-down design. The Werewolf cards are an amazing realization of flavor into game mechanics, yet they are just weak for Constructed. Having to wait so long for the card to have an impact—a wait that can often be controlled by your opponent—means that they could have—should have—really been pushed. I can’t help but wonder and wish the Mayor had been printed as a 2/2 with flash… or that Daybreak Ranger was a 2/3 creature with reach, its tap ability, and a truly terrifying 5/5 body on the flip side. Would that have broken Standard? It’s clear that transform cards are something we aren’t going to see very often, and it pains me that, despite all the ones green was given, the one that will likely live on in other formats… is blue: Delver of Secrets. f*ck me.

I used to write a semi-regular feature I called “The State of Green” after each set because, for years and years and years, green really sucked, and I had some really strong ideas about what could be done to fix it. Each set I’d comb through it, see what green got, what green didn’t get, and how the other colors or artifacts stepped on or stole from green. I finally stopped after doing the M11 edition because I got a lot of comments from people saying that said green was no longer the suckiest color and that I should stop with the complaining. Fair enough. But something needs to be said that, while all the other colors ebb and flow in power as is natural and perfectly acceptable, why is it that blue constantly errs on the side of being too good? Maybe I should start doing “The State of Blue” where I start a discussion each set how blue gets the best goodies yet again?

What do you think about Innistrad Standard? Do you think it’s as exciting and diverse as the Spike cheerleaders would have us believe? Or are you as sick to death of all the blue decks as I am?


As I was finishing up this rant, Dark Ascension previews started hitting the internet. I was pleasantly surprised by the card Strangleroot Geist, which seems to be the best two-drop green card we’ve seen since Fauna Shaman! For two mana you get a 2/1 that comes back as a 3/2 when it dies. This is pretty awesome and gives me that Kitchen Finks vibe as a creature that’s great both on offense and defense, something that makes my midrange heart sing.

Wait, what is that other ability—haste? In green? On an uncommon?

I remember when Vengevine was printed and how upset I was that this four-of staple green card was a mythic and how expensive and difficult it was going to be to acquire a playset. Part of how its rarity was justified was that it had haste, something green just doesn’t get. But here it is… on an uncommon. Sweet! While I still wish that flash would be a keyword that cropped up on more green cards, hasty green creatures are nearly as good. If Strangleroot Geist were a rare (or, god forbid, a mythic) then I’d shrug off the haste as a fluke, but as an uncommon… I can’t help but wonder if there’s been a little color pie shifting in green’s direction?

There are even four chances that we might get some really powerful Werewolves: according to the Dark Ascension checklist, there’s Wolfbitten Captive at one mana, Scorned Villager at two, Lambholt Elder at three, and Huntmaster of the Fells at four. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Dark Ascension might give green some powerful plays in the early turns of the game… and hope to god that maybe we’ll be spared from another handful of insane blue cards.

If you’re laughing at me right now, know that I’m laughing at myself as well. Still, the optimist in me always pops up and hopes that, maybe this time, Lucy will let me finally kick that football.


Take care,


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

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