Our baseline assumption going into Pro Tour Charleston was/is that G/R will be the most popular deck. The reasons for this are various… Here are some of the most important ones:
1. It’s obvious.
The transition from Heezy Street (one of the best decks in recent memory) to the Gruul beatdown deck in Block is quite straightforward, with Heezy Street losing Kird Ape, yes, but not that much else. Most other competitive Standard decks either can’t be translated at all (Heartbeat), or make the transition from Standard to Block only at great cost in power, card quality, and overall flexibility (Kamielerson).
2. Boys like to dance with the girl what brung them.
Due to the ridiculously easy criteria required to qualify for Charleston (1700 rating or winning a PTQ with fewer rounds than normal per geographic area, that nevertheless qualifies three times the number of players as usual, minimum), this event will have probably the highest number of amateur players ever in the history of the Pro Tour. I got a lot of emails over the season saying things like, “Thanks for posting your G/W deck; we went 4-0 drop,” or, “Man your R/W deck is awesome; we played G/W, R/W, and Vore to a 4-1-drop-Q,” but who knows how ratings-qualified teams accomplished their invitations, statistically, and on a macro level? Going with what we do know of the legendary “little grey and blue boxes,” of the PTQ teams that actually took home envelopes, over 42% qualified playing Heezy Street decks – nearly one in two – and the guys behind those decks are not likely to forget what lands and spells got them to the show, many for the first time. The easy transition from “strong and Pro Tour winning Standard deck” to “nearly-as-strong and poised-to-Pro-Tour-winning Ravnica Block deck” is, again, quite obvious. Moreover, the teams that didn’t qualify with Heezy Street in Team PTQs should still see the viability and synergy of the Green and Red cards, and test, ultimately finding that…
3. It beats everything.
The notion that “Heezy Street beats everything and if you don’t know that you didn’t test” was introduced to me in the second round of the Connecticut PTQ by Ken Krouner. I won Game 1 against their G/R deck, but lost the match; Ken’s team fronted a Ghost Dad deck for no other reason than “it was the only deck that beat Heezy Street,” and I suppose that is as good a reason as any. In small set format, Ravnica Block Gruul not only continues to beat “everything,” but unlike the Standard matchup with Ghost Dad… it actually beats the majority of the B/W decks we tested as well.
Okay, this whole “it beats everything” line is probably a bit of an exaggeration… but the deck comes awfully close. Because of our baseline assumption regarding G/R, my team and our affiliated friends (Jonny’s team, Josh and Osyp’s team, their barns, etc.) hammered everything against this archetype as our “litmus test” deck, generally believing that we would be playing against something like the below G/R, if not G/R itself, during a good number of rounds at least on Day 1. Quite simply, among whatever decks we built with the intention of playing this weekend… How shall I say this… They did not / do not for the most part beat G/R. The deck, obvious and potentially amateurish as it may seem, is a superbly robust archetype that demands notice, and plays superb drill sergeant for the purpose of new deck playtest.
Now, you will see different versions of G/R in the online coverage this weekend: some with more or fewer Moldervine Cloaks, some playing Silhana Ledgewalker over Dryad Sophisticate, and certainly others with more burn cards… but this is the deck that my team tested against most the past couple of weeks. Is it the best deck, or even best version of G/R? Probably not. Again, I try not to put too much of myself into “the other” when playtesting for tournaments, because I am quite eccentric in my card choices and even strategies at times, and instead opted for as direct a translation of Heezy Street to Ravnica Block as I could. All of that said, the fact that what we were calling “the stock G/R” won the majority of its playtest matchups is telling, no?
- 4 Frenzied Goblin
- 4 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 4 Dryad Sophisticate
- 4 Gruul Guildmage
- 4 Rumbling Slum
- 4 Scab-Clan Mauler
- 4 Scorched Rusalka
One of the main departures you might see between this version of G/R and others is the inclusion of Rumbling Slum main over Giant Solifuge. Giant Solifuge is of course an awesome card, but it is far worse in Ravnica Block G/R than Rumbling Slum for a variety of reasons. The most basic is that this deck has a ton of x/1 creatures already, and there is no reason to make the deck worse both against Rolling Spoil and against Orzhov Pontiff. Additionally, we didn’t play any decks, really, that would roll over to a 4/1, and most of the decks we would be willing to play could actually trade with a Solifuge with value. Most importantly, Rumbling Slum is just awesome, not to mention exceedingly difficult to deal with coming down after a flurry of other potent threats has already harried the opponent. Many games you will just run out the Slum on defense and let it ping the opponent to death one point at a time when you have a Scorched Rusalka and sundry other creatures discouraging any sort of a recovered race. Other times you will crash into Cytoplast Root-Kin or Loxodon Hierarch, or even Ghost Council of Orzhova, without fear of losing it. Generally speaking, Juzam Djinn was scary when Swords to Plowshares was legal, and Rumbling Slum shares the drawback rather than penalizing its master. We expect the majority of teams to make the same leap given the strictures of the three-deck environment, and if they don’t, that is just free value for our decks due to the above arguments (not to mention that Giant Solifuge has been contributing to other, non-G/R decks in our potential lineups).
Remember what I said about dancing with the girl what brung you? This deck is, how shall I say, beloved to me. G/W started off as a gauntlet deck for us, but it became quite apparent quite quickly that not only was G/W beating the majority of the decks we ran against it, but that, unlike G/R, it was doing so while actually controlling the variables and strategies of a game rather than just relying on matchup percentage to carry on the numbers (there are many fine decks that win on “deck advantage,” whereas G/W was winning primarily on “strategy superiority.”) At one point in our playtest, Osyp even declared G/W as “the only deck we have that is any good.” Unlike G/R, which impressed us but we didn’t really want to play (but Jon always maintained that we would play if the writing were clearly printed on the wall at the end of several weeks of exhaustive drafto hold ’em sports betting playtest), G/W was the kind of deck that impressed us and brought chocolates home to our mommies, chased our toddler daughters down the hallway and then pelted them with soccer balls (no, no, they like!), didn’t forget to call us on our birthdays, and generally made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside with every 6/6 Loxodon Hierarch, Elephant Ambush-like Tolsimir blocking bloodbath, or post-combat Gleancrawler. Aw, shucks.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Civic Wayfinder
- 1 Gleancrawler
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Selesnya Guildmage
- 1 Tolsimir Wolfblood
- 4 Watchwolf
- 3 Indrik Stomphowler
Any silly talk of how good Rakdos or Azorius or Izzet Guildmages are seems downright idiotic whenever Selesnya Guildmage comes online in a game. Unchecked, he basically wins the game all by himself against control or mid-range strategies… and while he is an aggressive two drop, Selesnya Guildmage isn’t even part of the best opening hands!
It is really difficult to naysay the power of the simple G/W deck after you’ve had a couple of Birds of Paradise into Civic Wayfinder, or Birds of Paradise into Watchwolf and Selesnya Sanctuary two-turn openings. For a ponderous mid-range deck, G/W drips with velocity, and while it can’t, you know, remove a creature from play, the combination of Glare of Subdual, Faith’s Fetters, and Chord of Calling for mid- or post-combat singletons really gives the deck a masquerading quality that belies its hayseed colored roots.
This deck has a lot more permanent defense than you are probably used to seeing in a post-1997 beatdown deck. That is because, whatever deck I was, every time Paul cast an Indrik Stomphowler against me, I lost… So we just kept cramming them in.
At one point we tested this deck against, and beside, the newer U/G/W Ghazi decks with Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Supply / Demand, and so on, and found that the original G/W version is unquestionably superior in every way. In the head to head matchup, G/W humiliated U/G/W continually on the strength of having “more stuff,” rather than just more manipulation and finesse; it won on more City-Trees, more Glare removal… and remember that comment on Stomphowlers? Try thinking that your Supply / Demand for Glare of Subdual is good after Paul “wastes” a Stomphowler on your Azorius Signet only to find that he is gripping Chord of Calling and that he plays more than one Stomphowler (unlike you). It didn’t make much sense because we were actually quite excited about porting U/G/W after reading Nick Eisel Regionals report, but I guess without Patron of the Kitsune, the deck misses some essential something in moving to Block that the core G/W doesn’t, even though it loses Yosei, Miren, Shining Shoal… and the all-important (or at least fundamentally backbreaking) Nikko-Onna Spirit engine… I guess Faith’s Fetters just goes a long way. Sometimes on the heels of Three Stupid Elephants ™, the U/G/W deck couldn’t even beat G/R.
This, of course, brings us to the matchup itself.
Because of my strict “us versus them” approach to playtesting, and the fact that we largely considered G/W “the other,” it just never came up to pit G/W against G/R. Besides maybe a four-game set against BDM on MTGO one night, we never did any hardcore Green-on-Green violence (well, this Green on that Green, anyway), simply assuming G/W would be the victor. The sets herein were an attempt by Steve and myself to correct that, in the case that we wanted to play G/W in Charleston.
In the first set of duels, G/W is piloted by Our Hero, also known as Michael J. Flores. The villain in our contest is my teammate, the incomparable Steve Sadin, known by some as “the best player at Finkel draft” (apologies to Manning and, um, Finkel), and to the digital universe as Cagemail.
The Duels, Part the First:
Steve has a Dryad Sophisticate, but I open on basic, basic, basic, and Civic Wayfinder, so he gets no value. By the time I have to play a City-Tree or Selesnya Sanctuary or whatever, there is already a Glare of Subdual in play.
I mulligan into lands but no Green. I play a lone Faith’s Fetters only, which is not enough to win (obviously), but worse as Steve has a Scorched Rusalka… If I drew Green anywhere in the first three turns I would easily have won on speed bumps, as my hand at the end of the game was all creatures, two more Fetters and a Glare of Subdual.
For a simple deck with little in the department of what you would call true card drawing, G/W often plays with tremendous velocity. This game I open on Birds of Paradise into Selesnya Guildmage plus Selesnya Sanctuary and I don’t really think that I can lose. Steve answers with Sophisticate plus Moldervine Cloak for five, but I have the Glare ready and don’t miss any drops… As Tsuyoshi would say “easy win.”
I keep a one-land hand on the draw because I have Birds into Civic Wayfinder, and actually mise into the Loxodon Hierarch. I hold down Steve’s offense with the aforementioned 4/4, and slow the game to a crawl with a Faith’s Fetters… I set up Gleancrawler and Selesnya Guildmage into a mid-combat Chord for Tolsimir (the bloodbath), but Steve scoops before I can show him the alpha strike.
I keep a sketchy hand with Birds of Paradise and only one land… but two Watchwolves, Selesnya Guildmage, and Civic Wayfinder. This particular “speculative” hand doesn’t pan out, because my second land doesn’t show up until about turn 6. Even with the reasonable plays to that point I get face-planted, which is disappointing as my remaining cards are two Faith’s Fetters and a Glare of Subdual… Not sure if the keep was right or not (with any second land I pretty much explode via Wayfinder).
I keep another dodgy hand of all Forests for lands, but it turns out all right because Steve’s offense is slow, based primarily on a Sophisticate. The hand pans out solely because my Birds of Paradise lives, and I therefore end up winning in an ostensible blowout on the back of multiple Fetters and Hierarchs.
This particular dodgy hand was a Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree and Selesnya Sanctuary for lands, but on the play it seemed fine… my guys were multiple Watchwolves and a Selesnya Guildmage, so I knew I’d have action. Steve ended up beating me up with a Guildmage, Burning-Tree Shaman, and Rumbling Slum but it was only because I never drew another land… I lost with all the four mana hits in hand (multiple Hierarchs, Fetters, and the all-important Glare).
I mull to five and play a Grey Ogre. Blah blah blah.
This one it didn’t really matter what Steve played. I basically had trump at every drop. I had the Bird into Guildmage opening with Selesnya Sanctuary, into Loxodon Hierarch, into Faith’s Fetters… and another Faith’s Fetters, into Tolsimir, which probably wasn’t even necessary because I was so far ahead.
I open on Birds into Civic Wayfinder to slow down Steve’s opening with Dryad Sophisticate, then follow up with Loxodon Hierarch. Steve plays a Moldervine Cloak to go over the top, and then another. So I am forced to play Faith’s Fetters for the three-for-one. A blowout.
The 6-4 finish was actually a bit disappointing despite the overall favorable numbers on the matchup. However, I learned a great deal from the set: the G/W deck basically loses to G/R only on horrible mana draws, meaning that in this matchup, G/W may gain value by being more aggressive on the mulligans.
The best cards were Glare, Birds of Paradise, Watchwolf, and then Loxodon Hierarch (no offense to Hierarch, of course)… It’s just that Glare is usually a scoop, Birds of Paradise contributes to the best early game draws, and Watchwolf snuffs the initiative of G/R’s best opening (one-drop into Scab-Clan Mauler). Loxodon Hierarch is mostly good at clogging the board mid-game, and is only marginally better than Faith’s Fetters, and even then only because of Scorched Rusalka, really (Fetters is much better against any potentially troublesome Moldervine Cloak draw).
The Duels, Part the Second:
Given the outcome of the first ten game set, we elected to swap decks and also change over the version of G/R we were testing. Different G/R decks have different strengths and weaknesses, and considering the effectiveness of Glare of Subdual in this matchup, we decided to cash in some inherent card power for resilience to Glare from the G/R side. Here is a deck that I’m sure makes Pselus much happier to read about:
- 4 Frenzied Goblin
- 4 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 4 Rumbling Slum
- 4 Scab-Clan Mauler
- 4 Scorched Rusalka
- 4 Silhana Ledgewalker
Silhana Ledgewalker in the abstract is just a much worse creature than Dryad Sophisticate. It has half the power and it is far easier to block for most of the decks we considered for the Pro Tour (basically all of them, except for G/W, can block the Ledgewalker without a problem); moreover, it is a laughable “threat” in the absence of Moldervine Cloak whereas Dryad Sophisticate remains an aggressive and likely-to-get-her-money threat. We upped the Cloaks to four copies given the re-centralization towards Silhana Ledgewalker, and changed the burn cards, removing Gruul Guildmage.
Due to the emphasis on the difficult-to-beat Moldervine Cloak and addition of the Glare-proof Silhana Ledgewalker, I posited before the matchup that this version of G/R is essentially the closest the archetype can come to a nightmare for G/W without actually branching out into arcane Glare-removing Elephant-slayers like Pure / Simple. Note that we never really considered Giant Solifuge for G/R even in the alternate version (though I would be more than willing to play that card main or side elsewhere) because it is just not very good. In this matchup, for example, you would be lucky to make Solifuge into a one-time packet of three damage, spending four main phase mana to do so, and this isn’t even a deck with Rolling Spoil or Carven Caryatid. In Standard it is obviously a different story due to the speed of Heartbeat and to a lesser degree URzaTron and its cousins, but in Block, decks rely less on removal and more on creature combat, and in any case, the format seems rife with exactly the kinds of cards that limit the value of Solifuge in G/R, so the quick-but-fragile Insect is just a less useful way to win than the so-called Shambling City (the R/W deck says thank you, by the way).
An important thing to note is that while Silhana Ledgewalker is weaker in the abstract than other two drops, its inclusion gives G/R an additional layer of “busted draw” capability. In testing, G/R is most fearsome on the one-drop-into-Scab-Clan two-turn opening, but Ledgewalker plus Cloak is nearly as strong. The “stock G/R” discussed previously has to use Moldervine Cloak very strategically, waiting for the opponent to tap out, or applying it to a Rumbling Slum in order to weather Savage Twister. In this deck, you can just play Ledgewalker and apply Cloak without fear of a removal spell.
For the second set, I played G/R and Steve switched to the favored G/W.
I mulligan on the draw to Frenzied Goblin into Burning-Tree Shaman. Even with the Shaman in play I’m creamed to Glare and a Gleancrawler.
I have the good aggressive draw with one-drops into Scab-Clan Mauler, but Steve just plays a Watchwolf and stalls the board into all his manipulation cards… Civic Wayfinder and Chord take control of the board, and Glare seals it.
I win this one. Steve comments that if he were on the play he would have won, at which point we realize that I stole the play. Oh well, not giving it back. I had the awesome aggressive draw into Scab-Clan and Moldervine Cloak, and Steve just had two 2/2s.
Both of us mulligan and I have one of those hands that says, “I hope you don’t have Glare or Faith’s Fetters” all over it…
Turn 1 Scorched Rusalka
Turn 3 Cloak
Turn 4 Rumbling Slum…
Steve answers with turn 1 Birds of Paradise into Civic Wayfinder into Watchwolf and Indrik Stomphowler for my Cloak… and then he gets to Glare and it’s a blowout.
We reset the play / draw. All I have is basically a 5/5, and Steve has a faster draw with Watchwolf, Watchwolf, Loxodon Hierarch, and Faith’s Fetters for my Slum… A blowout.
This was a highly interactive game where either player could have won, meaning with one more turn I would have won. Steve has three Watchwolves and three Hierarchs, but I opened on Frenzied Goblin into Scab-Clan Mauler to get early tempo control. Going into the mid-game I had Scorched Rusalka and two Ledgewalkers, which were the only resistance to Steve’s Glare seen in any game… Basically I got to the point where Steve was tapping down my non-Silhana creatures and I was getting in for two and I would win with Rusalka on an untap… but remember those three 3/3s and three 4/4s? Not so friendly when Glare is also there for him.
Finally Silhana Ledgewalker plus Moldervine Cloak showed up… and it was pretty meaningless. Steve answered with Loxodon Hierarch and the race actually favored him. He followed up with Seed Spark and Indrik Stomphowler, forcing me to Dredge a couple of times, wasting all my mana.
Steve had four freaking stupid elephants… So obviously I won. It was basically some crazy brawl that came down to my getting the last few points in with a pair of Silhana Ledgewalkers. Ultimately they were much worse than Dryad Sophisticate would have been, because of being lame 1/1 creatures instead of aggressive 2/1 creatures, and I probably only ultimately won because Steve didn’t have the Glare for once.
I have Frenzied Goblin, Ledgewalker, and Cloak, but it only looks close. Steve has Watchwolf into Loxodon Hierarch, Seed Sparks my Cloak to slow me down, and ultimately draws into Tolsimir and Glare. I set Steve up to put him dead to Char, but fail to draw it.
My draw isn’t good, but Steve mulligans into a manascrew. I’ll take it!
Silhana Ledgewalker was generally worse than Dryad Sophisticate would have been in the same spots. It’s possible that Steve played better than I did with G/W in the first set, or that he just got better mana draws. In any case, the matchup is quite clearly in favor of G/W.
Have you ever dated a girl who is smart and funny and likes you and has her own money and insists on paying sometimes? No? Hrm. Try to follow along anyway. Imagine, if you will, dating a girl who is smart and funny, possibly a bit cute, and inexplicably likes you, and so on. That girl is G/W. Now imagine a girl with a great ass who walks by, winks, and slips you her number. That is the Loxodon Hierarch problem. I love G/W, but… It doesn’t look like we’re playing it at this point (blame Finkel).