So far I’ve drafted a number of different iterations of the Gruul guild in SSS, and I’ve only been truly happy with one style of deck. I’ve had the balls-to-the-wall aggressive builds with multiple Mudbrawler Cohorts, Tattermunge Maniacs, and burn. I’ve had plenty of mid-range builds that just had guys and removal. None of these decks did particularly well, and certainly not better than 2-1. You can still draft GR that way if you choose, but personally I believe the best way to approach the archetype is with a Mana Ramp mindset.
Before I dive into this article, I want to mention that I plan on covering the other non-standard archetype in the format next week: the Mill deck. I could probably write about it this week but I want to try to draft it at least one more time to try out some cards I’ve been thinking about. So look forward to that next week, as I think it’s an interesting strategy in the format and no other archetypes really want the cards that are good in the deck.
Drafting the Deck
This deck functions similarly to the Gun archetype I talked about last week in that it’s essentially a combo deck. This time around the combo pieces are much more redundant, and you won’t really fail to get there if no “Guns” are opened like you would in that deck. The general plan is to start casting large monsters much earlier than normal thanks to the great acceleration options in the common slot of this set.
The first thing you should know about drafting this style is that Mana Ramping / Acceleration is the most important thing in the deck after something like Burn Trail or Puncture Bolt. You’ll have plenty of chances to pick up large men in the later picks so you should be taking the acceleration over everything but bombs and removal.
This guy is by far the best option in the archetype. He enables a five-drop on turn 3, which is nearly impossible to beat if you’re on the play and continue to follow it up with big guys. If I felt that there was a decent chance I’d end up in GR I’d be perfectly happy first-picking this card.
Farhaven Elf & Scuttlemutt
These are essentially the same card in the archetype, though the Elf is probably better because it doesn’t have to live to provide mana. The fixing will be largely irrelevant since I rarely find myself splashing in this archetype, but I suppose it’s just gravy if you do have a card you want to splash.
I wish there was more to say in this section because this is really what makes the archetype tick. Just know that you’re likely not taking Devoted Druid highly enough and should be perfectly happy first-picking it in these colors.
This guy is the reason I started experimenting with this type of strategy in the first place. The idea, of course, being that if you can fire him into play early you can attack for nine on the following turn and your opponent will soon be in chump-block mode. When I realized that Roughshod Mentor is in the Uncommon slot and “just another big guy” in most archetypes, I was instantly excited about comboing him with Foxfire Oak.
I don’t think you could possibly have enough of these in a good GR deck with plenty of acceleration. Casting this off Devoted Druid on turn 3 is just sick as it will also be powered up. It’s still pretty strong if you have to wait a turn and play it off one of the other accelerators. One of the keys to figuring out this color combination was optimalizing this Cohort, and I believe the only way to do that is to take accelerators highly.
You probably won’t have this guy in your deck too often because everybody is taking him highly and you have to take lots of other stuff over him. When you do manage to get one, you’ll see that it’s even scarier when you can cast it before turn 5. Oh, and this should be game over every time if you hook it up with a Runes of the Deus.
Again, I think other archetypes (like The Gun, for instance) will be prioritizing this card, and so it won’t be super common in your good GR builds. When you do have it, it’s still a very strong fatty that is immune to Wither and can help in the rare situation where you splash a card.
This card is for those drafts where there just weren’t many big men opened. Nobody seems to take Foxfire Oak highly so I’m able to grab it late in this archetype. Sometimes there just aren’t enough fatties going around, and you’ll be forced to play this vanilla goof. He can combo with some of the other cards in the archetype, and he is both colors so it’s not the end of the world if you have to play one. It’s certainly no Oakgnarl Warrior, and that guy wasn’t even very impressive.
This isn’t a fatty so much as it’s a good creature to accelerate to. This can also pick off and annoying evasion guy, which is GR’s biggest weakness. I definitely wouldn’t pick this as highly as Puncture Bolt, Burn Trail, or mana acceleration in this deck, but it’s nice to have one.
This guy is much worse than Crabapple because the deck wants to be attacking. He’s still acceptable if you’re low on five-drops.
This is an archetype where I think you always want one of this card in the maindeck. One of the glaring holes in the archetype is that it can have trouble with Auras, since it doesn’t have bounce or something like Gloomlance. You’ll also just find yourself scooping to Steel of the Godhead or Shield of the Oversoul if you don’t have this card (or a ton of removal).
Runes of the Deus
I hate how clunky this card is, but it will still win some games on its own. I don’t normally get excited about having this, like I would with one of the cheaper Auras. I think a lot of the problem is that it’s hard to get Scuzzback Marauders, and a lot of the good creatures in this archetype are mono-colored.
The biggest hole in the GR archetype is difficulty dealing with fliers. Often you’ll get a good start but just get killed by evasion and cards like Niveous Wisps. The UW archetype is definitely a difficult matchup, and you need cards like the Gloomwidow to really have a chance.
This is another card I want at least one of in my sideboard for the same reasons I mentioned above. Being able to pick off a Thistledown Duo or other key flier can go a long way towards turning a game in your favor. Raking Canopy is also an excellent sideboard card for this archetype, and can completely win games for you against the right deck.
I definitely like this card in the archetype, I’m just not sure how much yet. The thing is that a lot of the GR guys in this format are just huge, and the opponent is usually forced to race rather than block anyway. Still, this is Falter that can sometimes go Hurly Burly, so I’m not unhappy to play one.
While I like this in BR, I’m not really a fan here. A lot of the cards in the archetype are just Green, and also you’ll be tapping out a lot more which lessens his effectiveness.
I have a feeling this card could be one of the underrated gems in this archetype. The only problem again is that you end up tapping out a lot and this will only be good in the late game. So I guess the question is whether the surprise value is worth hanging onto it for a few extra turns and not drawing the new card. In a lot of cases I think this will be worth it because it can totally screw up combat math or turn a race in your favor.
This guy has been pretty decent from what I’ve seen. He fits the plan of the archetype, which is to start attacking with big guys earlier than normal, but unfortunately he just dies to Power of Fire, Scar, and Cultbrand Cinder. Overall, he’s playable but not amazing.
There are a lot of cards I didn’t mention here because I’m trying to avoid overlapping whenever possible. Tattermunge Duo, for instance, is a higher pick in BR than in this archetype simply because you want to be ramping with your three-drops. Forestwalk will only be relevant so often, and most of the cards won’t pump him up. Sootstoke Kindler is another card that really doesn’t have much value in GR, unless you get multiple Scuzzback Marauders or something similar to haste up. Barkshell Blessing is a card I tend to avoid in these colors because I want my spells to do more than just a simple Gather Courage.
Here’s my best GR draft to date:
3 Devoted Druid
Power of Fire
2 Farhaven Elf
2 Crabapple Cohort
3 Foxfire Oak
This draft was before people started realizing how good Devoted Druid was, which explains how I was able to get three copies. Most of the decks I’ve drafted haven’t been this smooth but I wanted to give the ideal example of what you’re aiming for in the archetype. Nothing really fancy, just get those fatties into play as quickly as possible. It’s worth noting too that sometimes you get a couple of Power of Fires early and end up in this deck and in that case you have to start taking Pili-Pala early and mix the two archetypes together. The most important thing in these colors is to prioritize the fixing and not to dilute your deck with cards like Intimidator Initiate or Bloodstoke Kindler.
Next week I’ll take a look at the Mill archetype.