Stampeding Serow: The Antelope Of Destiny

Today, Mono-Green doesn’t have the tools to play Control. Yes, Green has some of the best Control cards in the format – but with neither Desert Twister nor Spike Weaver, the color simply can’t go it alone. Nevertheless, there’s still reason to celebrate Stampeding Wildebeest’s reincarnation as Stampeding Serow… especially when you think about pairing it with Kiki-Jiki in an R/G Mirror Breaker deck.

Maybe it means that I’m a scrubbier than the illegal immigrants who Wal-Mart imports to clean its superstores at night, but my favorite deck of all time is Stupid Green, championed by Seth Burn way back in 1998. I don’t just love the deck because of Spike Weaver, either. (Strange but true! The deck looks like it’s “Timmy,” yet it uses “Spike” cards!) It’s Stampeding Wildebeest that makes the deck tick.

Yet despite including a 5/4 trampler and being Mono-Green, Stupid Green isn’t a real Timmy deck. It isn’t even Aggro; Stupid Green represents the pinnacle of Mono-Green’s Control. What makes the deck so charming is precisely the fact that it is Mono-Green Control, an archetype which God forgot about during Creation.

Today, Mono-Green doesn’t have the tools to play Control. Green has some of the best Control cards in the format – but with neither Desert Twister nor Spike Weaver, the color simply can’t go it alone. Nevertheless, there’s still reason to celebrate Stampeding Wildebeest’s reincarnation as Stampeding Serow.

I’ll resist the urge to rant against the fact that my favorite card has been reprinted as a variety of antelope for no good reason (had Serow been Spirits, it would have been a different matter). Doubtless, some players nearly as hard-headed as myself are going to, for old-time’s sake, attempt to put Stampeding Serow in a Mono-Green deck – but take it from me, a devotee of this most unforgiving of color choices.

Without removal, a Standard-ized Stupid Green will lose to all major decks in the format.

White Weenie and Tooth and Nail will outrace it, MUC will counter Serow’s freshly-bounced companions, B/G Death Cloud will push the Pox button, and Big Red will burn its way into the next fiscal year. Seriously, Stampeding Serow + Eternal Witness is amazing, but those two critters aren’t going to cut it by themselves.

I’m actually a bit embarrassed that it took me so long to figure it out, but as others have already discovered, the best way of using Stampeding Serow is to stop trying to build a new deck for it but, rather, to stuff it into an old one. I mean, of course, R/G Kiki-Jiki. Now, I’ll admit that I overestimated the power of R/G Kiki-Jiki when I wrote about it a while back. As it turns out, R/G Kiki-Jiki hasn’t been making any headlines for quite a while now, so the free-loving Goblin has been co-opted by Tooth and Nail. With the death of Ravager Affinity and all of the narrow decks designed to beat Ravager Affinity, R/G Kiki-Jiki has been a bit like NATO after the end of the Cold War. Creature removal is in vogue again with every Aggro deck in the format (except for mine, of course) overflowing with Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte. Meanwhile, the rise of MUC (which seems to be rapidly abating) means that Kiki-Jiki doesn’t always even get the chance to enter play and engage in a devastating quickie with some inanely evil Green creature. By the same token, Cranial Extraction is something of a downer. It’s that bad, really.

What R/G Kiki-Jiki lacks is an alternative game plan in case the Goblin decides to call it a day and cool off in the graveyard (or the “removed from game” zone, or somewhere near the bottom of your library). This is where Stampeding Serow comes in.

Let’s get one thing straight: Stampeding Serow will rarely be as good to you as Kiki-Jiki will. Every creature that you want to bounce with Stampeding Serow would be better off replicated by Kiki-Jiki, and Stampeding Serow does nothing for fellows with soulshift, sacrifice effects, and comes-into-play abilities. On the other hand, the Beast costs one mana less, doesn’t require triple-red mana, and can beat down better than every four-drop short of Iwamori of the Open Fist. The beatdown point isn’t as pathetic as it sounds since Kiki-Jiki decks have the tendency to set-up locks while having no means of actually winning. Anyway, this is beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether one creature is superior to other; both creatures are fantastic in a properly-designed deck, and you’re increasing your chances of drawing one of them by playing both of them.

Now, adding Stampeding Serow to R/G Kiki-Jiki necessitates a number of significant changes in the deck. To start with, the much-vaunted Kiki-Jiki + Rootrunner combo looks less inviting than before, and Viridian Zealot/Hearth Kami are no longer infinitely better than Viridian Shaman. The increased possibility of getting Eternal Witness to come into play each turn also means that it might be worthwhile to put more high power instants and sorceries in the deck. These issues are more complex than they first appear however.

Sean McKeown recently wrote an excellent article on post-Saviors Standard, and in it, he devoted quite a lot of space to Stampeding Serow. He suggests holding on to Rootrunner because Serow + Rootrunner + Eternal Witness offers a secondary means of achieving the soft lock, albeit a prohibitively expensive one (nine mana per turn). There’s a lot going for this point of view – not least of which is the fact that Rootrunner is already powerful in the deck if only because of its interaction with Kiki-Jiki.

But what I don’t like about Rootrunner is that it seems unpleasantly redundant if you’re also playing Plow Under. Clearly, Kiki-Jiki + Eternal Witness + Plow Under is both more expensive and more difficult to assemble than Kiki-Jiki + Rootrunner, but Rootrunner is only really fantastic if you have Kiki-Jiki around. Against Tooth and Nail, Plow Under can do some real damage, yet Rootrunner will rarely set your opponent back more than a turn if you don’t have the soft lock. Both Plow Under and Rootrunner have their advantages – and strangely enough, I think the choice between the two comes down to how many soulshift-able Spirits you’re playing.

Here’s a rather staid version of post-Saviors’ R/G Kiki-Jiki:

(Note: You could just as easily replace the Grab the Reins with Plow Under.)

You’ll note that Stampeding Serow is the only card from Saviors in the deck. It could be that I just haven’t had enough time to fool around with different variations, but for this sort of non-thematic R/G Kiki-Jiki build, I can’t see what else would fit.

Despite all that discussion a few paragraphs ago, I’m not sure that Plow Under or Rootrunner are necessities in R/G Kiki-Jiki’s maindeck. If there’s a lot of Tooth and Nail in the metagame, Plow Under is undoubtedly preferable, since Grab the Reins does very little against Tooth and Nail unless you’re in the unlikely position of having gotten off to a very fast start and have left seven mana open on the turn that your opponent entwines for Kiki-Jiki + Sundering Titan. Plow Under is also preferable against MUC although Grab the Reins isn’t totally pointless here.

The real trouble is that against Big Red, Mono-Green, White Weenie, MBC – and heck, just about every other deck around except for B/G Death CloudGrab the Reins is spectacular. Kiki-Jiki/Serow + Eternal Witness + Grab the Reins is laughably mana-intensive and not a soft lock, yet it’s something even better than a soft lock: It’s a game-winner. Whereas Plow Under is merely a “never a dead card”-card, Grab the Reins gets you out of those embarrassing situations that R/G Kiki-Jiki all-too-often finds itself in. A soft lock won’t do you much good if your opponent has already played her Kokusho, the Evening Star or Keiga, the Tide Star.

The instant doesn’t really require the entwine cost anyway. In the late-game, if both Kiki-Jiki and Stampeding Serow are in play, it’s often a smart idea to just forget about card advantage and play beatdown by replicating the Serow. When doing this, you might as well just Fling the Serow token for five damage before it dies of natural causes.

Now, despite my having prayed for years for the reprinting of Stampeding Wildebeest, the Green card that made my heart go pitter-patter (like coins tinkling into the pockets of Hasbro executives) when I saw the Saviors spoiler was Elder Pine of Jukai – and it’s this Spirit, not Haru-Onna, that I imagine teaming up with Stampeding Serow. Even though Elder Pine of Jukai competes with a large number of excellent and Serow-friendly Green three-drops, it truly is one of the most powerful creatures in the new set.

In a devoted Spirit deck, if you have Elder Pine of Jukai and Sensei’s Divining Top on the table, you won’t be drawing another land card for the rest of the game. (I mean that in the good way.) Never again will you miss a land drop. Never again will Loam Dweller cry over the fact that, practically speaking, it’s nothing more than a Grizzly Bear, only less cuddly.

This isn’t primarily about mana acceleration, though. If you have some shuffle effects in your deck (heck, you should still be playing at least Sakura-Tribe Elder) this is the best kind of deck thinning short of Mana Severance. And did I mention Sensei’s Divining Top? Seriously, it may be because Elder Pine of Jukai is common, possesses a toughness of one, and has the ill-fated word “Jukai” in its name…. but whatever the reason, this Spirit has been massively under-salivated-upon by the masses. The fact that Elder Pine of Jukai also has Soulshift 2 is just guf.

For a mere three mana, we get the best creature-based card drawing since Arcanis, the Omnipotent. Having out two Elder Pines of Jukai at the same time means that, over the course of a game, it’s possible to draw every land card from your deck. Seismic Assault was made for cards like this.

For the sake of my fragile ego that desperately wants to avoid a battering in the forums, however, I won’t describe a Seismic Assault deck. It’s still Stampeding Serow that’s on my mind. There’s no immediate synergy between Elder Pine of Jukai and Stampeding Serow, although one can make some arguments for Kiki-Jiki and Elder Pine of Jukai being chummy (soulshift and double-Pine yumminess come to mind). By bouncing Spirits with Serow, though, you can keep the Elder Pine of Jukai engine humming.

It’s also possible to set up a clever soulshift chain of Rootrunner > Elder Pine of Jukai > Hana Kami. Hana Kami itself appears to be a perfect fit in any spiritual Kiki-Jiki deck, and there’s probably some way of making the little guy work, but I haven’t figured it out yet. In this deck, it’s essential to run Kiki-Jiki, Stampeding Serow, Elder Pine of Jukai, and Eternal Witness in large numbers. There just isn’t room for many arcane spells, and neither Green nor Red have particularly powerful ones. Blind with Anger is terrible in the current Standard metagame, as most every extremely dangerous creature you’ll meet (other than Arc-Slogger) is legendary.

While I feel that Elder Pine of Jukai has been gracelessly ignored, the infinitely-worse Haru-onna has been collecting plaudits like it’s Rudy Guiliani… and a tragedy has just occurred. If I feel that even Eternal Witness is a bit too pricey to be bouncing every turn with Stampeding Serow, you can imagine my aghastfulness at the thought of treating Haru-onna like a trumped-up Wall of Blossoms. Unlike Haru-onna, Wall of Blossoms was actually useful in combat and didn’t hog deck slots that could have been devoted to, say, 5/4 tramplers essential to your strategy. If you really want to draw cards that badly, build a U/G Serow deck that abuses (Altered for Political Correctness: “graciously reaps the benefits of”) Sire of the Storm.

Yuki-Onna is a far better than card than Haru-onna, and I can imagine it getting some play in Block – but so long as we have access to Green and are playing Stampeding Serow, Viridian Shaman is an all-around better choice, regardless of its failure to trigger Elder Pine of Jukai.

Here’s an example of a deck that uses Elder Pine of Jukai:

I’m fairly certain that this build is weaker than the previous, non-thematic R/G Kiki-Jiki deck I offered. Testing shows what you probably already guessed: Against Aggro and Tooth and Nail, this deck has less game than a pen-reared calf on a veal farm. This deck is more useful against Control, where the resiliency brought about by soulshift is excellent.

I have to admit, though, that I haven’t had the opportunity to test this as much as I’d like, and Spiritual R/G Kiki-Jiki is very far removed theoretically from its non-Spiritual relations. It’s unlikely, then, that I’ve come up with one of the better builds possible – but I’d love to hear some ideas in the forums about how to improve the deck.

I have nothing more to add, so I’ll save you the trouble of reading a closing paragraph.


Adam Grydehøj

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