Building Winding Constrictor For SCG Atlanta

Jadine Klomparens knows a thing or two about Winding Constrictor! See how she’d update her favorite Snake’s surrounding crew with Dominaria cards for SCG Atlanta!

Supposedly Humans have the adaptability market cornered, but in my experience, Snakes can sure give them a run for their money. Well, Winding Constrictor can, at least. I don’t actually know very much about other Snakes. I think they shed their skins, which is basically adapting to their environment, right?

Regardless, the point I’m making is that we’ve seen a lot of different Winding Constrictor decks find success since the printing of Aether Revolt. If I had five dollars for every time someone said Constrictor was dead, I’d have almost as much money as I’ve won by casting Winding Constrictor. For whatever reason, the Constrictor shell has been historically excellent at incorporating new cards and reinventing itself.

I’m not trying to claim that people think Winding Constrictor decks won’t be good in Dominaria Standard. If anyone’s saying that, they aren’t saying it to me. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the Constrictor deck can be torn apart and rebuilt in a completely different form with ease. If we go into Dominaria Standard expecting only minor updates to the Constrictor lists, we’re likely to miss the next big thing.

Constrictor decks have been so successful at adapting because cheap, synergistic creatures make up the core of the deck. Since the cards that we are looking to abuse are cheap, we can adopt pretty much any card we want that comes along. Expensive cards require specific things to be in place to facilitate the effective expenditure of so much mana, while cheap cards are much less restrictive.

Let’s take a look at the new tools that Winding Constrictor decks gain from Dominaria with an open mind. For reference, here’s the current shape of the Sultai Constrictor deck at the tail end of Rivals of Ixalan Standard:

Finally, Mana That Isn’t Awful (Probably)

I’m going to go out on one of those limb things that Snakes don’t have and make the following bold claim: Woodland Cemetery and Hinterland Harbor will be the two most important cards for Winding Constrictor decks in Dominaria.

Let’s be real: the manabase has been the absolute worst part of the Sultai Constrictor deck since Day 1. It has certainly been refined since the first lists I worked with during the Rivals of Ixalan preview season, but casting your spells on time is still something of a struggle. Reliably accessing the three colors of mana you need necessitates a high number of lands with the “enters the battlefield tapped” clause.

These lands were necessary evils in Rivals of Ixalan Standard, evils that I hope to purge from my decklists with the release of Dominaria. The Constrictor deck is very-mana hungry for having such a low average converted mana cost. It wants to use all of its mana nearly every turn and can find ways to do powerful things with excess lands on the battlefield: casting Hadana’s Climb and using the activated ability of Winged Temple of Orazca on the same turn, for instance, maybe even with a use of Hashep Oasis thrown in if we’re super-late in the game. Drawing the tapped lands later in the game was a huge liability.

The stock lists played five tapped lands and wanted even more. The blue mana in the deck was stretched super-thin. There was a time where I thought I couldn’t beat any U/B Control player who thought to prioritize using Field of Ruins on my blue sources rather than saving them for the Winged Temple itself. Luckily for me, this wasn’t a common occurrence, but I was constantly living in fear.

The tapped lands problem was compounded by the fact that even the best lands in the deck, Blooming Marsh and Botanical Sanctum, were effectively tapped lands after Turn 3. Thus you often had trouble casting four- or five-mana spells on-curve, but the more insidious problem was that you played very few untapped blue sources past Turn 3. Games where you had a Hadana’s Climb stuck in your hand were rough because odds were that, even if you did find the blue source you needed, you’d still have to wait another full turn.

I expect Woodland Cemetery and Hinterland Harbor to fix a lot of these problems. The deck was already base green, so playing a large number of Forests to turn these on is completely fine. The deck can support a smaller number of tapped lands, likely two or three, and because Fetid Pools turns on both checklands the hard away, I expect it to be the one that makes the cut. To make room for all this we’ll have to trim down the number of fastlands we’re playing to five or six, but that’s a completely acceptable exchange.

Unfortunately, switching to a Woodland Cemetery / Hinterland Harbor manabase will mean we can no longer freeroll a small quantity of Deserts. An overall leaner and more powerful manabase is certainly worth losing the Deserts, but we still need to be sure we understand exactly what we’re losing. Without them we will be more prone to flooding. This is something to keep in mind while building: we need to either find another mana sink or build our decks with a slightly higher curve to compensate.

But before we figure out exactly what our new manabase should look like, we need to figure out what’s going to change about the rest of the deck. With overall better mana we gain a lot of flexibility in what spells we play. We can delve deeper into our splash color off the back of more sources or raise our curve by the virtue of playing fewer tapped lands. We’re not playing under the same restrictions we were before, and that’s something important to keep in mind as we look at the rest of the goodies Dominaria has for us Winding Constrictor aficionados.

The Llanowar Elves Problem

From the second we found out that Llanowar Elves was going to be reprinted in Dominaria, I started to think about how it could be incorporated into Sultai Constrictor. And, based on the number of messages I’ve received asking me about it, I wasn’t the only one whose mind went there.

Sultai Constrictor looks like a natural fit for Llanowar Elves at first blush, but I’m not so sure. If you were to take the current Sultai Constrictor lists and slot in Llanowar Elves over Servant of the Conduit, you would be making the deck worse, not better. This is strange, as Llanowar Elves is a much more powerful card than Servant, but the truth is that the current form of Sultai Constrictor is very poorly set up to take advantage of the Elves and leans heavily on the energy- and color-fixing that Servant provides.

The problem is that the power of Llanowar Elves lies in skipping you from one to three, and Sultai Constrictor is a deck that concentrates its power in its two-drops. Further, the three-drops the deck does play aren’t even desirable follow-ups to a Llanowar Elves. Hadana’s Climb starts putting counters on the creature you want to use for mana and doesn’t build your battlefield out at all. Rishkar, Peema Renegade is fine on Turn 2, but hardly impressive. Jadelight Ranger is probably the best of the threes to cast early and even it is often better later in the game to maximize its card selection. There aren’t other threes in the deck.

At the same time, Sultai Constrictor is making heavy use of every aspect of Servant of the Conduit. There’s a world of difference between a Bristling Hydra that comes down when you already have three energy and one that doesn’t, and it’s virtually impossible to obtain three energy before Bristling Hydra without a Servant. The color fixing should matter less now with the improved Sultai manabase, so we don’t need to worry too much about losing that, but neither should we shrug off the energy loss.

If we want to move forward with a list reminiscent of the Sultai Constrictor deck from Rivals of Ixalan Standard, I don’t think Llanowar Elves has a place. Bristling Hydra is too key a part of that deck, and Servant of the Conduit is too integral in making Bristling Hydra an effective card. Playing both Llanowar Elves and Servant of the Conduit is possible, but without some way of making their bodies relevant, I’m extremely hesitant to play that many mana creatures.

But here’s the thing: I don’t even like Bristling Hydra that much. It’s four mana for a creature that is little more than power and toughness. If the U/B Control deck didn’t exist in the format, I would absolutely have explored versions of the deck that trimmed on or cut Bristling Hydra entirely. Versions without Bristling Hydra are much more suited to playing Llanowar Elves, and it’s possible that making effective use of Llanowar Elves is enough of a power level spike to justify such a variant, U/B Control or no U/B Control. So, what would this deck look like?

The first thing to look into is three-drops that play better with Llanowar Elves, and none play better than Aethersphere Harvester, with no color requirement to punish you for playing Llanowar Elves over Servant of the Conduit and additional energy to replace the energy we lost from Servant. Even better, Harvester is a way to turn Llanowar Elves into a meaningful battlefield presence later in the game. I definitely want to play some number of Aethersphere Harvesters alongside Llanowar Elves.

Past optimizing the three-drop slot, I want to look into how to shift our curve to accommodate Llanowar Elves. Clearly we want a higher quantity of three-drops, but where should they come from? If our ideal curve is one-three and our best cards are our two-drops, the idea of our Turn 3 being two two-drops sounds good to me. I wanted to trim on Bristling Hydra anyway, so going down on four-drops works out perfectly.

I’m also interested in a higher quantity of interactive one-mana spells to better push our early mana advantage on turns where our curve doesn’t work out perfectly. Blossoming Defense plays very well with Llanowar Elves, and Fatal Push isn’t too shabby either. One last note: Verdurous Gearhulk is another clear winner here, both in its ability to make use of the body of Llanowar Elves and to turn Aethersphere Harvester into a game-winning threat.

Here’s the list I would play:

This list is a much better home for Llanowar Elves, but it’s still not perfect. A large number of our three-drops don’t provide immediate battlefield presence and this is still very much a deck that loves its two-drops. Further, we’ve greatly increased our vulnerability to Goblin Chainwhirler, a card I expect to see universal adoption in the red decks going forward.

There are a lot of good things going on in this list, but it’s not all upside. If you’re interested in a more proven list, here’s the Servant of the Conduit-based Sultai Constrictor deck I would run this weekend:

A More Speculative Approach

Llanowar Elves and the new lands are the only cards I’m sure will see play in successful Constrictor lists during Dominaria Standard, but there a couple of other cards I have my eye on.

I threw away my Grand Prix Memphis by playing a variant of Sultai Constrictor that played full playsets of both Merfolk Branchwalker and Scrapheap Scrounger and just absolutely overloaded on two-drops. The idea was that the synergy between the explore mechanic and Scrapheap Scrounger was excellent and gave you another avenue to fight the grindy decks with. This avenue didn’t play very well with Hadana’s Climb, though, and the deck proved to be much worse than the Sultai Constrictor deck we know and love today.

There was something there, however, and I think it’s possible that these new Dominaria cards might make this completely different approach to Winding Constrictor a very real option.

Song of Freyalise sings to me of the Nissa, Voice of Zendikar replacement I have desperately wanted. The card is nowhere near as powerful as Nissa, but giving counters to your entire team gets truly out of hand in combination with Winding Constrictor. If Sagas triggered at beginning of combat, I think Song of Freyalise would be a slam dunk; as it is, the fact that we have to expose the Winding Constrictor for a whole turn cycle makes me merely think that the card has potential.

To maximize Song of Freyalise, we want to play a lot of cheap creatures, and we want to keep them in play. This card plays well with Llanowar Elves, letting us turn our early mana advantage into a dominating mid-game battlefield presence. If we’re in the marker for cheap, sticky creatures, Scrapheap Scrounger sounds absolutely perfect to me, and it being an additional artifact in an archetype that already incidentally plays a large number of artifacts has me excited about Phyrexian Scriptures.

Phyrexian Scriptures is an absolute game-breaker against anything that isn’t control if you get to resolve its second lore ability with two or three artifacts on the battlefield. Well, anything except control and decks that revolve around artifacts. Between those two possibilities, I’m extremely hesitant to maindeck any copies of Scriptures, but I expect having access to them out of the sideboard to be a big selling point of the deck.

Despite having access to the color-fixing of Song of Freyalise, I think this Winding Constrictor variant wants to stick to being pure B/G. It wants to go wide to win the game, and that strategy is hindered by the inconsistent mana of a splash color more than it is helped by the raw power of Hadana’s Climb. If you’re interested in an experimental list, here it is: