Green Sleeves

Today Valeriy focuses on green-based Standard brews including G/W, Jund, and more for all of you out there looking to play with the creature-rich color this weekend at SCG Open Series: Indianapolis.

Hello! New Standard is in full swing, complete with a new deck that made the finals of the SCG Standard Open in Providence, and it’s still the perfect time to brew. A good part of unexplored space thus far is a variety of green-based decks, so I’m going to look at different shades of green today. I still have no dedication to any one deck in the new format and am enjoying its diversity and countless opportunities.

Thragtusk and Farseek are the two best mono-colored green cards in Standard. Yes, splashing green for Farseek is a harsh reality, not a joke from M13 Limited. While Thragtusk is unquestionably powerful, Farseek doesn’t give you power but allows you to stabilize and play real threats faster instead. The Keyrunes, Chromatic Lantern, and Vessel of Endless Rest do the same, but spending your third turn on acceleration is the perfect way to give aggressive decks a window to blow you out—especially if you didn’t have a strong turn 2 play.

There are six three-colored combinations with green, and they are not equal (in terms of mana base consistency). Ten Innistrad/core set lands help to build whatever we want, but only five shocklands heavily restrict the designer’s work, especially in aggressive decks. Any shockland allows associated Inn/core set lands to be untapped, but it’s tricky to balance mana in order to provide turn 2 Farseek, so your mana should include a significant amount of unconditionally untapped lands and support early green regardless of your actual amount of green spells.

  • G/W/B (Junk) — Two shocklands, both green. Ideal for a green-based deck and the only realistic base for four-colored mana. That’s also where options start and end if you play Arbor Elf.
  • G/B/R (Jund) and G/W/U (Bant) — Two shocklands, green and non-Green. Solid mana but requires some work to meet requirements of all colors (read: U/W/R is better home for Jace, Architect of Thought than Bant).
  • G/R/W (Naya) and BUG — One green shockland. Potential problems with both splashed colors so multiple compromises between mana and card quality are expected.
  • RUG — One non-green shockland. Basics Forests are required for a reasonable mana base.

An example of the "worst" mana base: RUG.

4 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
3 Hinterland Harbor
4 Rootbound Crag
6 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Island

These 24 lands contain thirteen green sources, twelve blue, and thirteen red. Our imaginary red cards are Pillar of Flame and Mizzium Mortars, which must be cast as early as possible (while important blue cards probably have UU in their cost). There are eleven non-green lands, and each hand with two Inn/core set lands and spells is unable to provide Farseek or Mizzium Mortars on turn 2.

Compare this to Junk’s mana base:

4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Forest
1 Gavony Township

There are eighteen green sources, twelve white, and nine black—less Inn/core set lands and more two-land combinations to power a turn 2 Farseek. Note that there are only ten lands to support turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim, so there should be at least seven basic Forests if you use them. Moreover, Junk allows playing powerful colorless lands, which significantly improves the deck.

Another important factor in deckbuilding is removal, both ours and our opponent’s. The most popular cheap removal spells are Pillar of Flame and Mizzium Mortars, so early creatures should have three toughness and later ones should have five. That’s why Villagers of Estwald is superior to Huntmaster of the Fells—it’s cheaper and doesn’t die to removal, even Selesnya Charm, which is underestimated right now.

Shockingly, there are no three-toughness two-mana green creatures (aside from the green/white Call of the Conclave), so Strangleroot Geist and Lotleth Troll are only reliable options aside from complete skipping the slot. The next step is the predictable lack of five-toughness creatures among three-mana ones. Therefore, there are two ways to build a green deck: pick the most aggressive creatures or the most reliable ones. Junk and Naya go to the first route, Bant, RUG, and BUG use the send, and Jund can be built both ways.

Unquestionable creatures for Jund are Olivia Voldaren, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Thragtusk. The difference between "fast" and "heavy" Jund is whether you have cheap creatures to provide additional pressure or your own planeswalkers to fight opposing ones. Remember when the most popular definition of Vraska the Unseen was "will see play to fight Jace?" This very moment is now. Creatures to look at are Wolfir Avenger, Strangleroot Geist, Vampire Nighthawk, and Dreg Mangler. Personally, I prefer Dreg Mangler to Strangleroot Geist, so my attempts on both versions of Jund are following:

Note the important thing: all the good removal in Jund colors is sorcery speed, so even if we have Wolfir Avenger, there is no way to imitate white decks with their amazing ability to keep mana open to answer whatever the opponent has and just smash with Restoration Angel if there is nothing to answer. Our only way to utilize mana is a "combo" of Wolfir and Olivia Voldaren, so some copies of Tragic Slip and Abrupt Decay would be useful despite the fact that these cards constantly underperform. I’m also trying a singleton of Auger Spree and have been partially satisfied with results.

Another point is that Rakdos-colored cards are better than mono-black ones. I tried to build a fast green-black deck with better creatures than Zombies has, but list constantly came to the state of being simply worse than Jund, so I gave up.

Maindeck differences are -8 cheap creatures, +1 land (and adjusted mana), +1 Keyrune, +4 planeswalkers, +1 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Zealous Conscripts. The second build is more powerful but is vulnerable to opposing fast starts, and the sideboard Vampire Nighthawk and Rolling Temblor are mandatory tools to improve the situation. Red sweepers are the only way to beat white decks, with Rolling Temblor as the best weapon against the troublesome Geist of Saint Traft.

Golgari Charm in both sideboards is a nod towards Esper Tokens, which I believe will be the next big direction in metagame’s evolution. Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue still don’t have a home, but they have a very good chance to find it with Kevin Jones‘ recent Top 16 at SCG Standard Open: Providence. I’m surprised with the lack of Drogskol Captain and… Okay, you’ve caught the idea, and I’m returning to my own topic. Speaking about Marc Blesso’s SCG Standard Open: Providence winning deck, Golgari Charm deals with Virtue, Spirits, and, importantly, mana dorks, preventing Junk from outracing Jund.

Which version of Jund is better right now? Looking at the recent success of blue control decks, I’d play the heavier version with Vraska the Unseen. Aggressive decks are still an issue, but an adjusted removal package would definitely help to keep them far from your life total. I personally prefer being aggressive myself, but it seems that G/W/x has more potential in this field.

The key point of G/W/x is that G/W’s set of creatures is superior to other colors’ options, so the third color is splashed mostly for late game removal. Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars are miles ahead of black’s options, so G/W/B is a good shell for Reanimator style decks and four-colored creations while G/W and Naya are suitable for pure aggression.

I dislike having the full eight mana dorks because their presence leads to losses in long games. Moreover, Arbor Elf isn’t really good in G/W and Naya, so the second list even contains a miser’s Farseek. The main advantage of these lists is the insane interaction between Restoration Angel and ETB creatures (namely Thragtusk and Huntmaster of the Fells). Restoration Angel is just that good even though it’s unable to beat Olivia Voldaren by herself. Actually, Olivia Voldaren is the reason to have Selesnya Charm maindeck; the Vampire grows infinite very fast, and there’s no way to hit her with direct damage removal, so Selesnya Charm with its ability to kill Olivia Voldaren, Thragtusk (partially), and Angel of Serenity is exactly where a G/W/x deck wants to be.

Despite playing red, Naya has no way to play an early Pillar of Flame, so Centaur Healer and Knight of Glory are its weapons of choice against Zombies. G/W/x decks are powerful when allowed to cast fatties every turn, and stalling for one or two turns is often enough to beat brain suckers. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is useful against Zombies too (as a cheap first striker), but she’s primarily part of game plan against any sort of control deck. Thalia is very annoying and gives you enough time to fight Terminus while being the perfect aggressive creature by herself.

Another creature I want to highlight is Sigarda, Host of Herons. She’s an improved version of Thragtusk in many matchups. Her 5/5 hexproof flying body races opponents easily, outclasses Falkenrath Aristocrat in many situations, etc., etc. She doesn’t solve the Olivia Voldaren problem alone, but she puts the opponent into awkward situation when combined with Selesnya Charm. You can find additional musings about Sigarda in Phil Blechman’s Bant video deck tech from SCG Standard Open: Providence here (around 2:10).

Phil’s deck is an interesting approach to Bant. While most decks evolve around U/W Control and splash for Thragtusk, Phil utilized one of the most powerful creatures in Standard: Geist of Saint Traft. Like many remnants of Scars-Innistrad Standard, Geist is homeless these days and is outclassed a bit by stronger green creatures. However, there are still some ways to explore his potential, and I’d start here with focusing Phil’s idea:

This deck is concentrated on what its purpose pre-board is and has more answers to fatties, which are primary problems with this version. As for Bant Control decks, I don’t really like them because of their weakness to Zombies. Team SCG Blue splashed red for only one card—Pillar of Flame—and Bant has nothing to substitute it. Yes, there is Centaur Healer, but he’s nowhere near to Kitchen Finks, so if you want it to beat aggro you’d better choose another deck. The closest Pillar of Flame analogue in Bant colors is Azorius Charm, so I’d try to make an exchange for it in the U/W/R winning list from the SCG Standard Open in Cincinnati. Luckily, Philip Minichino has already done my job and piloted the deck to 9th place in Providence.

An interesting observation: after boarding in Centaur Healers, the deck works like Reanimator without the ability to use Unburial Rites but with blue planeswalkers instead. Bant Reanimator decks usually splash red for Faithless Looting and removal, but splashing blue would also work even though it’s more complicated due to UU in mana costs. It seems that graveyard hate is close to its peak right now, and effort to dodge it will be rewarded.

The next two options are both non-white and only have one shockland for their mana bases. This also means that these color combinations have only one guild to support them with powerful multicolored cards, which is a bad sign. In fact, both RUG and BUG seem to be worse versions of Jund due to their lack of Rakdos cards, especially Olivia Voldaren and Dreadbore. Blue is fine as it has Snapcaster Mage along with planeswalkers, but today’s Standard is more about raw power than cute and tricky interactions—and these decks are nowhere near both Jund and U/W/R Control. I tried to build both decks but was never satisfied. Nevertheless, here are my most successful attempts, and I appreciate any critiques and advice.

Jace and Tamiyo partially solve the problem of the deck lacking threats, providing some trouble by themselves and helping to survive until you draw anything aggressive, but everyone is prepared for them these days so they’re not as effective as intended. I also tried completely different and much more aggressive cores for both RUG and BUG, but they were just worse than Zombies.

Highlights of this list are Forbidden Alchemy and Evil Twin. Black removal is situational, so Alchemy is extremely helpful in finding exact thing needed right now. However, we should just wait for Gatecrash and combine Forbidden Alchemy with some sweet Dimir cards in an Esper Control core. Evil Twin is a poor reminder about the awesomeness of Phantasmal Image. Twin is much worse but is still useful against any sort of Reanimator and Geist of Saint Traft (which is hard to deal with in U/B) decks.

That’s all about non-optimal options, and I’m moving on to G/W/B (Junk). This combination deserves its own article or articles because of its depth and variability. I mentioned earlier that splashing black into G/W Aggro isn’t interesting, so the most popular option is Reanimator powered by the absurd usefulness of Grisly Salvage—like Dan Jordan list from the Top 8 of SCG Standard Open: Providence.

Seven mana dorks ensure that the deck is able to play both fast combo before sideboard and midrange-style "Thragtusk into Restoration Angel" in case of graveyard hate.

Reanimator is not the only interesting G/W/B option. The previous format saw the occasional Junk Walkers decks with Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Garruk Relentless, and the Selesnya guild mechanic is still unexplored even though it has the largest potential to see Constructed play among all five. Marc Blesso recently crushed SCG Standard Open: Providence with a Junk Midrange deck featuring Intangible Virtue but without any card with populate in his 75.

The deck has fifteen token generators with Sorin’s emblem among them, but it’s still a common Junk Thragtusk midrange deck at its core (and lacks Restoration Angel). What’s restricting token decks? There are eleven populate cards in the set, with only two or three of them being close to maindeck playable in Standard, and only Call of the Conclave is Constructed playable along with four cards that create 3/3 Centaur tokens. Looking at token-producing cards that are good by themselves, I start crying for Blade Splicer… Okay, all these cards (except for Lingering Souls) cost four or more, so it’s extremely hard to provide an early game with such a deck—the reason to play eight mana dorks and build Marc Blesso’s exact deck.

How about old B/W tokens? With the rotation of Honor of the Pure and presence of Favorable Winds, there is no reason to splash Lingering Souls for Gavony Township instead, so the imaginary fast tokens deck would rather be Esper and still lacks cheap token generators like Gather the Townsfolk. Moreover, white-based tokens still need Godless Shrine to be stable. Returning to Selesnya, I’d like to play two copies of Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice in the sideboard to provide enough life gain against fast decks and occasionally populate Thragtusk’s Beasts, or maybe I’d adopt one copy instead of Armada Wurm as Garruk, the Veil-Cursed’s target. The mighty Wurm is my personal disappointment; it seems to be just worse than I expected and constantly loses in comparison with Angel of Serenity and Sigarda, Host of Herons.

That’s all about green-based decks for today. The field is obviously wider than any article could cover, so let’s keep brewing!

Valeriy Shunkov