Merfolk Branchwalker is not a good Magic card.
Brad was right.
However, since the rotation of Kaladesh it was been the only
reasonable option as far as green two-drops are concerned. But a certain
Elf Crab Mutant is about to change all of that. Enter Growth-Chamber
Growth-Chamber Guardian provides a medium body in the early game combined
with a steady stream of value. It’s not incredibly large for its mana cost,
but midrange creature decks generally prefer grindy long-term advantage to
immediate impact. Growth-Chamber Guardian amplifies to become a 4/4 which
is an important breakpoint: large enough to attack into a Crackling Drake
or Goblin Chainwhirler and to block an Adanto Vanguard all day.
I think it’s fairly likely that Golgari Midrange will end up playing
Growth-Chamber Guardian. While there’s no guarantee that Golgari Midrange
will remain a top tier deck, I think it’s more likely than not that it
survives in some form.
Growth-Chamber Guardian vs. Wildgrowth Walker
The single factor that could keep Growth-Chamber Guardian from seeing play
in Golgari Midrange is Wildgrowth Walker. Walker is a plan in and of itself
against aggro decks and forces Golgari players to run large numbers of the
mediocre Merfolk Branchwalker, even if Growth-Chamber Guardian is better in
a vacuum. Since Growth-Chamber Guardian almost demands deckbuilders play
the full four copies and both cards are green two-drops, I think playing
Wildgrowth Walker implies excluding Guardian and vice versa.
Luckily, I think new Standard will cause Wildgrowth Walker to gradually
leave decklists anyway. The problem is this: Mono-color decks aren’t
getting many new toys. Wildgrowth Walker primarily exists as an answer to
Boros Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro. Those two decks, with their nearly
mono-colored manabases, do not benefit much from the powerful gold cards Ravnica Allegiance brings to the table. While Boros could splash a
color other than red to get access to a few of the new cards, I doubt that
it would improve the deck very much.
With every other deck getting stronger, I expect Boros Aggro and Mono-Red
to fall in metagame share – standing still while others move forward is never a good place to be in Magic.
At the same time, the currently previewed cards suggest that the newer
aggressive guilds tend more towards midrange.
Bedevil’s restrictive mana cost and inability to go to the face make it a
poor fit for most aggressive decks, while many of Gruul’s best cards cost
three or greater mana, rather than the one or two mana cards that all-in
aggro decks thrive upon. That means that even if Rakdos and Gruul break
into Standard, I doubt it will be in the sort of shell Wildgrowth Walker
Beating Control with Growth-Chamber Guardian
In the slower, more controlling metagame I’m predicting, Growth-Chamber
Guardian is perfect. Its ability activates soon enough to guarantee value
before Kaya’s Wrath. This is critical given that the card will almost
inevitably be the backbone of Esper Control. Against Deafening Clarion,
it’s even better: it ignores the sweeper on the play. On the draw, it will
most often trade one-for-one with Clarion while generating a small mana
In addition, the ability to generate value without casting spells against
control is invaluable. When the blue control player holds up a
counterspell, you can activate the Guardian to make tangible progress while
wasting their mana. This, in turn, forces them to tap out, which allows you
to resolve your best spells at a higher rate.
Growth-Chamber Guardian is also an excellent bait spell. If it resolves,
you can activate it immediately rather than providing them a target for
their counterspell. It if doesn’t, it only costs two mana, so it’s easy to
follow-up with a more expensive threat. The cheap mana cost also makes it
easy to resolve Growth-Chamber Guardian through Quench, our new Mana Leak
replacement. Guardian will also allow you to play around Quench with your
other cards without wasting that mana.
Growth-Chamber Guardian makes cards like Seal Away and Settle the Wreckage
extremely awkward. No one wants to spend a removal spell on a creature that
has already found another copy of itself, but the fact that these spells
only work during the attack step makes that an inevitability. The icing on
the cake is that adapt is instant speed. It’s easy to leave up Vraska’s
Contempt for a Teferi or Niv-Mizzet with Growth-Chamber Guardian around.
If the metagame does move towards slow, grindy decks, here’s what I think
Golgari Midrange might look like:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Druid of the Cowl
- 3 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 3 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 2 Midnight Reaper
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
With Growth-Chamber Guardian acting as a mana sink and less need for
Merfolk Branchwalker, this list can find room for the full eight
mana-creatures. That allows it to play many copies of Karn, Scion of Urza
and cast it on turn 3 with startling consistency.
Turn 3 Karn: Good in all formats!
Karn also allows the deck to make excellent use of Treasure Map out of the
sideboard, a card that has already proven itself a powerful weapon in
Jeskai Control. Karn and Treasure Map are both powerful grindy cards,
well-suited to the world where Guardian ends up being maindeckable.
Ultimately, predicting the metagame of a format that doesn’t yet exist is
an incredibly difficult task. At this point, with so much yet to be
previewed and so few games of the new format played, everything is
uncertain. What I describe here is one path Standard might go down and how
to exploit that path. If everyone continues to play aggro decks in large
numbers, Growth-Chamber Guardian might never make a splash. But a month
from now, you might start to notice aggro decks slowly being replaced by
control decks at the top tables. If that happens, and Golgari Midrange
still exists, then you’ll know that it’s time to keep the growth-chambers