Fresh Look At Selesnya

Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze Top 8 competitor Andrew Shrout writes how he might go about updating G/W Aggro just in time for SCG Standard Open: New Jersey!

Ever since I wrote The Industry Standard a few weeks ago about my exploits and misadventures with G/W Aggro, people have been asking me how I would update the deck with cards from Born of the Gods. Throughout spoiler season, I was slowly becoming disenchanted with the deck’s dodgy mana base and general inconsistency, so my answer was usually something along the lines of "I wouldn’t."

The more complete answer however was that I recognized that it was going to need a major overhaul and hadn’t spent any time thinking about it due to more pressing concerns, like figuring out Modern for the upcoming Pro Tour. I had audibled to a wildly different strategy in U/W Control in the last week of PTQs and figured that rather than worrying about Standard I would simply stick to that strategy with minimal changes until I returned from Pro Tour Born of the Gods.

This past Saturday at the SCG Standard Open in Nashville I had a poor showing with U/W Control. I like the deck and think it’s very powerful, but it’s mentally taxing. For that reason I have a hard time recommending it for a ten- or eleven-round event like a Standard Open. After going to time twice in the first three rounds, I picked up my second loss in round 5 to eventual Top 8 competitor Kaleb Byrd.

Kaleb dissected my reactive game plan with Voice of Resurgences, Mistcutter Hydras, flashed in Advent of the Wurms, and a blowout Rootborn Defenses. I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. Disgusted with the idea of another five hours of "land go, do nothing" Magic, I dropped and took the opportunity to observe Standard in action to see what sort of changes the new set had actually brought.

In other words, I was gathering the information I would need to return to my roots and start attacking for two again!

To recap, the version of G/W I had used was originally designed by Craig Wescoe to combat the December metagame that was rife with Mono-Blue Devotion and Sphinx’s Revelation control decks. We adopted a package of protection from blue creatures in Skylasher and Mistcutter Hydra to complement a threat base that was largely resistant to U/W’s removal or could be played at instant speed. It was a weird combination of G/W Flash and G/W Hate Bears, but it proved to be a potent deck choice for a while.

The problems that have emerged since then are twofold. First, we quickly figured out that the mana fixing options available in this Standard do not quite support a two-color aggressive deck. G/W Aggro in particular faces immense pressure to hit both of its colors early. Experiment One competed with Soldier of the Pantheon in the one slot. The two-drops nearly all required both colors of mana to be cast, and Banisher Priest’s double white conflicted with Boon Satyr and Advent of the Wurm’s double green at the top end. The deck had deep-seated mana issues, and the simple Band-Aid fix of four Temple of Plentys was not going to be enough to solve them.

The other major concern is that the metagame has been moving on for some time now, as Mono-Blue Devotion has slowly stepped back from the spotlight and Mono-Black Devotion has pushed forward as the clear "best deck." This past weekend, the first in which Born of the Gods was Standard legal, this progression continued to play out. Mono-Blue Devotion may have won the event, but it was considerably underrepresented in the Top 32, with Mono-Black Devotion strategies, U/W/x Control, and even G/R Monsters overshadowing it.

Wescoe’s G/W deck was built specifically to combat a metagame that no longer exists, and it would make little sense to simply add Born of the Gods cards to that preexisting template. If I was going to build G/W Aggro for the new Standard, I would need to start from the ground up.

Pulling back from the protection from blue game plan and attempting to just use the most powerful cards available would be the most sensible place to start. Conveniently, that groundwork has already been done for us by Kaleb Byrd.

This list gets a lot of things right, and of course it is not so far removed from Wescoe’s original template. Kaleb essentially removed the components that were metagame calls designed to beat blue decks and replaced them with metagame calls intended to answer the updates to Mono-Black Devotion that everyone suspected would be the most played deck at the tournament. This means no protection from blue creatures in the main and only a singleton Banisher Priest to combat Master of Waves.

In exchange, we get a deck that is much better equipped to play around universally adopted new black removal spell Bile Blight. The headliner here is Brimaz, King of Oreskos, which is probably the most powerful card in the new set and one that fits right in the G/W Aggro shell. Kaleb complements Brimaz with one Loxodon Smiter, a card I had previous dismissed as "not doing anything useful."

We didn’t need help fending off counters or against untargeted discard, so the Smiter’s abilities weren’t relevant. As it turns out, in a world where -3/-3 is the new normal, that fourth point of toughness becomes an ability all its own, and I expect Loxodon Smiter’s stock to resurge a bit for that reason. Of course, he still has to compete with Brimaz, another four-toughness three-drop with an equally impressive set of abilities.

The other somewhat unusual addition to this list are the three copies of God’s Willing, and even they are somewhat reflective of the new face of Mono-Black Devotion. When there are more Bile Blights, there are conversely fewer Devour Fleshes, which greatly decreases your chances of leaving up Gods Willing to protect your threat only to have it removed by a spell that doesn’t care about protection from black.

I like Kaleb’s list quite a bit, and it’s pretty close to how I would have updated my previous list to include Brimaz. However, it doesn’t actually solve the deck’s original problem, which is the excessive number of mulligans and risky keeps required to make it through a ten-round tournament with access to both green and white mana. Since better mana fixing options don’t appear to be on the horizon, ultimately the solution to this problem is going to end up being adjusting the threats to skew the mana base in the direction of one of our colors. For example, this is the version of G/W I was playing on Magic Online two weeks ago:

Despite playing several different cards, the difference in how the deck functions ends up being rather small. Soldier of the Pantheon becomes Dryad Militant, essentially trading two somewhat useful abilities for one useless one and the ability to be cast with a Forest. Fleecemane Lion / Call of the Conclave becomes Kalonian Tusker, which is a Fleecemane with no monstrous ability that can be cast without a Plains. Sylvan Caryatid was a minor concession to the aggro-heavy Magic Online metagame, but aside from that one addition, this list is basically identical to my previous G/W build but with a greater capacity to cast its spells due to the adjusted number of basic lands.

This is all well and good, and if someone had asked me two weeks ago how to build G/W Aggro, this is the list I would have shown them. But it’s a brave new world now, and we have a new metagame to build for and perhaps more pertinently a new feline overlord to try to support. When asked during spoiler season if I thought Brimaz belonged in G/W, I of course said yes but that I felt the deck would need to be restructured a little to support him. Consider this:

At this point we are moving further and further away from the original "hate bears and flash guys" design, but in the exchange we end up much better positioned to combat Mono-Black Devotion and get a sturdier mana base to support new powerhouse Brimaz. Of course, to pull this off we have broken the cardinal rule of Selesnya:

Thou Shalt Not Register Fewer Than Four Copies of Advent of the Wurm!

Advent used to be the big draw to the archetype. But it’s starting to look like Brimaz is at a comparable power level, and a few months from now I may look back at this list and feel foolish for not suggesting a fourth copy of it. I still couldn’t bring myself to cut Advent completely though.

In the previous iteration of the deck, most of the card choices stemmed from a desire to support your best card, which was Advent of the Wurm. To that end, you wanted additional flash and haste threats to bolster your capacity to attack out of nowhere. With this new W/G build, we attempt the same trick with a new lynchpin. Cards like Imposing Sovereign, Spear of Heliod, and Brave the Elements are all intended to allow Brimaz to accumulate Cat Soldiers and keep pushing through damage with them.

In Nashville, I played Brimaz in the sideboard of my U/W Control deck, and I found that while Brimaz himself was a reliable beater the extra 1/1 token always seemed to run right into a blocker and not affect the board at all. Basically, imagine if every turn mighty Mufasa rushes off to fight the enemy while stupid little Simba says, "Let’s go to the elephant graveyard, Dad!" and then promptly falls off a cliff and dies. With better support systems like Selesnya Charm in place, I’m hoping that little Simba can make some more 1/1 friends and actually do something useful in this shell.

I’d be remiss to not also mention that we can take G/W in a totally new direction by splashing a third color. In Nashville, I was very impressed with the Bant deck that Ryan Hipp took to a Top 32 finish, essentially using Detention Sphere and Ephara, God of the Polis to support his beaters. His particular variant doesn’t seem like it solves the original issue of being unable to reliably cast your spells, but it takes a step in the right direction by gearing the deck a little higher and making fewer early demands on the mana base.

Ephara combines really well with the Selesnya shell. You have a steady stream of threats on your own turn, but you also have access to eight fantastic flash threats in Selesnya Charm and Advent of the Wurm, so Ephara could easily be drawing you two extras every turn cycle once she gets going. I particularly enjoy that if your opponent kills Voice of Resurgence on their own turn it will make a token to trigger Ephara on your upkeep. I’m interested in exploring a more midrange version of the deck to take advantage of these synergies, and my starting point looks something like this:

This isn’t exactly G/W Aggro anymore, and that’s okay. I could see this deck going in any number of directions and possibly into Prime Speaker Zegana territory, which is an exciting prospect. As much as I love attacking for two, I enjoy drawing a new hand a whole lot more. Unfortunately, such experiments are going to have to wait a few weeks while I jet off to Europe and play a "nonrotating Constructed format."