I <3 Savannahs

Three-time GP Top 8er Ari Lax never thought he’d say it, but he loves Savannahs! That’s right, green-white decks in Legacy and Modern might be the exact thing these formats are missing.

I’ve always been more of an Underground Sea kind of guy. Give me my Mystical Teachings or Bitterblossoms, and I’m happy. Don’t even get me started on the team up of Brainstorm and Duress. To reference something probably before my time: SCHWING.

It started as a bit of a joke. The deck was even called Green-White Girl Power; surely it can’t be serious.

But game after game my opponents kept falling to random cards. Serra Avenger can’t be cast until turn four? Why are we still playing then? Never mind the fact that a Sworded up Avenger was often just as lethal as Iona.

So, I’ll just say it: Savannahs are awesome. Ever since Wizards decided to make creatures a real card type starting with Shards, just bashing people with Savannahs and guys/gals has become a real thing. It just takes some getting used to from the old world of instants and sorceries.

For those of you just toeing the waters here, try this more blue list to get started.

If you can’t separate yourself from Force of Will, this is your stop. This is just the same New Horizons deck that was tearing up events last year. I’ve even seen the Stifles start to creep back in to the main deck, which honestly isn’t a bad choice now. On top of adding to the Wasteland-Knight package of land disruption and completely colding Hive Mind, they counter Animate Deads, Stoneforge Mystics, Batterskull Germs if necessary, opposing Knight activations, and a whole slew of other useful abilities.

The big reason this deck is even good again is the complete revamping of the threat package. Tarmogoyf, once considered the automatic best creature in the format, is probably the worst win condition in the deck. Every single other threat singlehandedly ends the game while also pushing you ahead in case they find a way to deal with it.

Vendilion Clique is another card I would strongly consider playing in this deck. In the post-Mental Misstep world where you aren’t under quite as much pressure from cheaper creatures, Vendilion Clique has become one of the best threats. On top of all the obvious things, it also gives you an evasive body to Sword up, which is especially important in the G/W mirror if you opt to play something other than Feast and Famine.

Regardless, if your metagame is flooded with combo and U/W, this deck will do well. If things start shifting towards the fair side of things, a shift is in order.

So, why would you cut Force of Will from a blue deck? Beyond the standard talk of not wanting to two for one yourself in blue mirrors that are often attrition based, there is one huge reason.

Green Sun’s Zenith.

In a G/W mirror, everything comes down to trumps. Knight of the Reliquary is the standby, with Knight advantage usually leading to a quick victory. If they have one and you don’t, it’s going to outsize everything you play. If they have more than you, theirs will reach lethal sizes while yours is “just” an 8/8 or 9/9. Equipment is the easy way to break this, providing you with good alternate clocks.

Zenith wins both of those fights. Not only are you running 7-8 Knights to their four and have more accelerators to get yours into play and start activating it first, but you have access to more answers to equipment via Zenith for Pridemage.

The Sylvan Library and Jace split seems strange given how much more raw power Jace has, but the four cost makes the card cumbersome. It is far easier to curve out Noble Hierarch, Stoneforge Mystic, Library plus Batterskull and get almost the same effect you were looking for from a Jace. Library is also far more resilient against certain decks. There is no Bolting it; there are no stranded copies you can’t play because they’d just die to attacks. It just sits there and does the job.

Looking at the counter suite, Mental Misstep does everything you ever want in this deck. Going to Brainstorm into your combo? Try again. Swords to Plowshares my Knight? Not a chance. It’s not like you weren’t winning the fight against their two- and three-drops anyway (bar maybe a Show and Tell).

Daze on the other hand seems loose. Your cards aren’t that fast of a clock, and the rest of your deck wants to be all live cards. On the other hand, Daze rewards you for capitalizing on the partial Time Walk it supplies and gets much better when you can never rip it as a dead card later. I might consider Stifle, but that also has a lot of the same issues due to a large part of its power coming from the land disruption.

Given that, let’s take things a step further.

This deck continuously puts up results in Europe but has seen minimal play over here, and I have no idea why. Europe is usually known as being even more combo heavy, with things like Doomsday Storm actually putting up results, and somehow little green and white dudes keep winning.

One of the reasons is that Mother of Runes is basically unbeatable. Standard players should remember how hard it was to beat an untapped Knight of the Reliquary with a Sejiri Steppe in the deck, and this is the same thing but cheaper. It also brick walls a Knight when you can’t match theirs or forces yours in for lethal. The worst-case scenario is it eats a Swords to Plowshares, which still lets your Knights live.

On the subject of insane cards no one is playing, have any of you cast Scavenging Ooze? In terms of things that win Knight fights, that guy is a beast. For a reasonably low upkeep, it keeps their Knights at 2/2 and lets any of your random dorks win the fight. It also helps solve one of the problem matchups in Reanimator. I expect this guy will start seeing a lot more play in the future. At first glance he is just a Withered Wretch, but even discounting the upgraded ability he gets massively better just by being tutorable.

My gut reaction to this list is that fewer than four Stoneforge Mystic has to be wrong. It is easily the most influential creature in the format for a reason. Not only does it just win the game on its own, it does so in any way you need it to. I’m also not sold on the Birds-Noble split given that Mindcensor carries a Sword in the air, but that might also be partly to pay for Pact of the Titans. I’m also not even sure the one Goyf is necessary. I can’t imagine Zenithing for it often given all the other options.

One thing I wouldn’t mind seeing make the shift overseas is Mental Misstep in these decks. The difference between having four copies of a hate bear and having four Zeniths and one copy is very noticeable against combo, and this helps fill in some of that gap. While this blurs the line between this and the Forceless Bant decks even more, I think cutting Brainstorm lets you add a ton of utility in the mana base and tutor shell that it isn’t out of the question. Part of the reason the pure W/G deck is good is that all of its cards are solid threats, meaning there are fewer bricks to ship with a Brainstorm, and the card quality gained by one is much less. The mana also isn’t great given that the blue threats are all being “splashed” while costing UU. Then again, adding Mental Misstep and legendary or planeswalker threats shifts things back over to the conditional cards side, so it may just be an all-or-nothing swap.

So, what is the next step of inbreeding to beat the fair deck mirror?

I would be remiss not to include one combo deck, and I assure you this is not a joke. Elves putting up results in events is not some random fluke. If your opponent is playing Stoneforge Mystic, you are going to demolish them. You simply have too many powerful angles of attack for their answer suite. Between the combo, Chord for Mirror Entity, Wirewood Hivemaster making a million tokens, and just basic Symbiote shenanigans, they just don’t have enough removal to answer all of your threats. Eventually one just sticks, and the game ends.

My list does not play Green Sun’s Zenith for a reason. While it is better on two to set up the kill, Chord is often cheaper mid-combo off Symbiotes and Insects and the trick value of the card is very strong. Making a Symbiote in response to removal or jamming an end of turn Mirror Entity is backbreaking.

My list does not play Priest of Titania or Elvish Archdruid for a reason. Both are marginally better at setting up a fast combo, but that is rarely the goal. The decks you need to race are Zoo and combo. The former is going to just kill the guy and ruin your mana investment. The latter you are completely cold to regardless. All the other combo decks are showing up to the fight with discard and counters. Your backup is being a beatdown deck. Hivemaster lets you go long against the fair decks and eventually trump them.

My list does not play Emrakul in the main for a reason. Drawing him is miserable. I would rather win with Mirror Entity and have Ezuri as the effective second copy that also lets a single attacker get in for lethal. You still want it out of the board for a couple specific matchups, notably Enchantress, so it might be worth a slot there. If you are actually that scared of Moat, then I guess it is fine, but that is the only reason to have the card main, and you could have the same effect most of the time with a Harmonic Sliver.

My list does not play Vengevine, but I could easily be wrong here. This card lets you free roll wins against the plan of “I’ll just Wrath of God or Engineered Explosives them,” which could otherwise be a huge problem.

Mortarpod is in the board there just so you can beat a Blazing Archon or Peacekeeper.

Thoughtseize is just a prayer to beat other combo decks and is there over Cabal Therapy, as your goal is to just hit once and buy the time to combo, as opposed to having to sacrifice board presence to hit if the first one misses. It could be more specific if you knew exactly what combo you were going to face: Angel’s Grace against Hive Mind, more Crypts or Faerie Macabres against graveyard decks, or Thorn of Amethyst or Gaddock Teeg against Storm.

Proclamation of Rebirth is the tech card against Zoo, letting you instantly rebuild a previously burned down board. It might be better off as Absolute Law or a similar effect, but I like the fact Proclamation is also good against Wraths.

To be completely fair, this is definitely a deck people can adapt to. In addition to just jamming a million Explosives and Wraths, the Stoneforge decks can often make things difficult if they have access to Jitte and a Green Sword to force their creature through a Symbiote that would otherwise just bounce the blocking Elf and stop them from amassing counters. That said, it definitely has the power to back up the surprise factor unlike a lot of the rogue combo decks.

My recent fling with green-white lands has extended past Legacy to the world of Temple Gardens. While Standard really isn’t a place you can play green-white between the legions of Sworded up Hawks and the millions of Deceiver Exarch tokens, Modern is about the right pace. If you can out muscle Zoo with Knights and have interaction with 12Post, you can easily just get there. Take a look at the deck Kurtis Droge piloted to a win at a recent Modern 2k.

This was a bit of a backpack brew, as in Kurtis pored over my cards and threw something together before the event started. Normally his brews are a bit too wild for me to condone (i.e. Squadron Hawk fueled Chrome Moxes in Legacy with Martyr of Sands), but this one has the skeptic seal of approval. It’s definitely rough around the edges, but the shell is very solid.

Let’s start with the obvious: Spell Snare doesn’t seem as great as it did when the format was first announced. It doesn’t hit anything in the combo decks bar Peer Through Depths, only hits random accelerators in the 12Post deck, and is just mediocre against Zoo. There are also zero Remands, which can’t be right.

Beyond that, there are a few more things to try. I had zero Kitchen Finks on me at the time, but some number should be in the deck. War Monk was a reasonable replacement and is likely better if you are concerned about Punishing Fire, but if the primary issue is just Zoo, then I would switch to the Ouphes. Venser, Shaper Savant might be on the expensive side, but it helps a lot against Primeval Titans, both by hitting lands and just being used in the normal Time Walk manner. Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Garruk, Primal Hunter were two cards that were testing well as trumps in the G/W matches that could also find their way in somewhere. Hero of Bladehold is also the real deal when it comes to high end clocks. He still kills people just as dead as in Standard or Block.

And let’s not even begin on the sideboard. It could literally be anything. I would likely start with some Ethersworn Canonists for the cascade combo decks like Living End and go from there. You likely need a bit more against Post and Zoo, but those shouldn’t be hard to fix.

Things are changing in older formats. No longer are combo decks oppressively powerful. People doing fair things can come out and play. Concepts such as threat density are starting to matter beyond just having enough to actually win a game. Green Sun’s Zenith, Noble Hierarch, Knight of the Reliquary; welcome to a new world.

Go go Savannahs :)

Ari Lax
@armlx on Twitter