Steel Leaf Champion Will Now Beat You

With the Guilds of Ravnica set in full view, Ari Lax thinks the world should be worrying about a triple color mana cost creature, just not the one they were thinking of! Check out how Ari’s attacking the format, literally!

A couple weeks ago, I told you [card name="Goblin Chainwhirler"]Goblin Chainwhirler[/card] would just keep
beating you

. Now that I’ve seen all of Guilds of Ravnica, I’m going to take a
preemptive win there. My core message was right.

But I might be a bit off some precise details.

I still think Goblin Chainwhirler is better than every multicolored payoff
in Guilds of Ravnica bar Assassin’s Trophy. It just isn’t strictly
better the way it was with Kaladesh. The Goblin Chainwhirler
alternatives at three mana are close enough I can envision a red aggro deck
that moves away from making triple red.

Steel Leaf Champion is a different story. There just isn’t another green
card that stacks up to Steel Leaf Champion. Or honestly any other card in

Or any reason to build a green proactive deck that can’t cast Steel Leaf

Stock Green and Stock Flaws

At their core, we know exactly what these green decks are going to be
doing. I want to start by making the dumbest possible list of the deck. Add
about forty green idiots to a bit over twenty lands and there you go.

As is, this deck is not good. What is missing that we could ask a second
color for?

There isn’t a way to mitigate flood beyond Merfolk Branchwalker. Well, I
guess Steel Leaf Champion and Nullhide Ferox kinda count as they hit hard
enough to win games if you’re down multiple cards. Vivien Reid is going to
be a big player because she can solo win a game in a similar way.

There’s a lot of two-power creatures with Pelt Collector and not a lot of
green creatures better than vanilla 3/2 for two mana.

There’s no ramp redundancy to our Llanowar Elves dying. We’re playing very
on-curve without it.

What are other decks doing we need to beat?

There are no anti-sweeper measures in this deck beyond not casting all your
spells, which then loses to spot removal.

There’s no answer to a bigger threat beyond throw more fat at it and hope
they die. Even worse, they often kill your best card and you die horribly
while you can’t do the same.

If your aggro opponent can handle a 5/4, you can be undercut in
non-Llanowar Elves games. It’s harder without Ahn-Crop Crasher but

You make big things, but any deck that grows incrementally can overwhelm
you. This is especially true if their main concern is removal breaking
apart their engine as you just have none right now. To be fair, Steel Leaf
Champion has text, and these decks have the same removal plus great cards
issue as you do, and no one can handle that many meetings of Ghalta, Primal
Hunger and their face, but this is an angle to watch.

So, we ask the guilds what they have to offer us.

Steel Leaf Selesnya

The first Steel Leaf Champion list I presented in my Chainwhirler article
was Selesnya, but that was barely twenty cards into Guilds of Ravnica previews. There’s a lot more we can do now.

Notable fixing overlap: Conclave Cavalier is a Knight, and so is Steel Leaf
Champion. GGG into GGWW is relatively attainable.

Multiple army-in-a-can style cards were revealed, allowing you to more
profitably slowly run stuff into sweepers or overgrow spot answers plus
threats, or just brick wall an assault.

Oh yeah, this card. And that card. Let’s rework that early version.

This solves none of the issues I had with Pelt Collector, so let’s just
ditch that. Emmara, Soul of the Accord isn’t a three-power two-drop, and
Knight of Autumn enters the battlefield as a 2/1. If you were to go with
cards that actually interact fine with Pelt Collector, you would get to the
mono-green list but with Assure and Conclave Cavalier and maybe Emmara over
Thorn Lieutenant. Nice splash for a double white four-drop.

I want to start from this list from Emma’s Militia Bugler article
last week
and come at it backwards. What if we had Steel Leaf Champion instead of
Benalish Marshal and Llanowar Elves instead of nothing?

Technically, this hits the Militia Bugler numbers Emma outlined in her
article, but that’s counting Llanowar Elves as a good hit. It’s fine, but
not amazing. An irresponsible part of me wants to slip in a Shalai or two,
but I also want to not pay 2W for a 2/3 vigilance that doesn’t draw me a

I quickly came to the conclusion that outside of Steel Leaf Champion draws
I wasn’t beating people to death very well, so I went extremely
value-focused with Champion as a nut draw to steal games.

Looking at the seven issues I was trying to solve, I’m happy with how this
approaches a lot of them.

  • Good five and six-drops are there to cast if you flood.
  • Without Pelt Collector, you can ignore three-power two-drops.
  • The curve glutting on twos and threes makes unreliable ramping less
  • You have Conclave Tribunal for any high-power threat.
  • The white lifegain and three-toughness blockers handle people going
    under your deck.

What you’re missing is a way to go over the top of opposing decks. Ghalta,
Primal Hunger is an option, but I like the tried and true creature mirror
breaker of just Wrath them. Or in this case Cleansing Nova, because Settle
the Wreckage gets bricked by them just playing around it or having Shalai.
This then lets you play Lyra Dawnbringer as the hammer-style finisher as it
has less ground to make up. I just wish these and Vivien Reid weren’t all

Steel Leaf Golgari

Golgari I have big plans for. Unlike Selesnya, I think you can play Steel
Leaf Champion in Golgari on multiple levels from hard aggro and true

All of this rides on the backbone of almost everything you could want just
being an Elf. Nice.

So, from the bottom up, Golgari Aggro.

This is about as straightforward as it gets without playing 23 forests. The
only spice is emphasizing Deathgorge Scavenger with more graveyard filler.
Assassin’s Trophy covers things Thrashing Brontodon would kill, so you can
choose other options.

Let’s go down the checklist.

  • You can trim on lands with Glowspore Shaman, so flood is less of an
    issue. You still struggle a bit on this front compared to the high
    card velocity Selesnya list.
  • Glowspore Shaman is a good three-power two-drop.
  • Lack of ramp redundancy is still a bit of an issue I’m not sure how
    to solve. The best cards are still three and four-drops, and other
    ramp sucks.
  • The black cards are all powerful anti-sweeper effects, whether
    they’re discard or Midnight Reaper.
  • Opposing threats die to Assassin’s Trophy or Ravenous Chupacabra,
    which can be cast with the help of well-placed Unclaimed Territory
  • I don’t know how well Plague Mare covers small ball opponents, but
    you can add Moment of Craving if you need a bit of help.
  • You must hope the removal plus Ghatla, Primal Hunger lets you break
    through people trying to build something bigger than green
    creatures, but it’s probably fine.

Let’s have a bit more fun with it.

There’s one creature that comes close to hitting as hard as Steel Leaf
Champion. Charnel Troll is a brick house, but it has a real cost of
operation. The enablers aren’t great either. I’m hoping Merfolk
Branchwalker and Glowspore Shaman can fuel that, as it doesn’t take a lot
of hits to close out with a growing Troll.

You may recognize this as the previous list with Charnel Troll as the
three-drop. Fortunately for Charnel Troll, there aren’t other undergrowth
cards and the exile tension doesn’t come up. Unfortunately, the reason
other undergrowth cards aren’t around is the enablers are sparse.

Cool. If you want to just bash heads in, play this deck from day one and
figure out how to fiddle with the lands.

I want something with a little more flex and push.

Both Brad Nelson,
Golgari Bro-Dude
, and Gerry Thompson, P
eople’s Hero and Responsible Good Mana Adult
, really like The Eldest Reborn.

Like I said in closing last week
after regaling a Crackling Drake from the same cycle, let’s try my pet card
from the set and pair The Eldest Reborn. Golgari Findbroker it as a
mini-loop for a powerful lategame engine that will bury other midrange

This deck feels like it’s getting somewhere. If anything, it isn’t quite a
Steel Leaf Champion deck, but more a durdle midrange deck that uses Steel
Leaf Champion as a way to dunk on people who aren’t ready. Very few of the
concerns I had about the other lists exist there. It’s The Rock decks of my
childhood teleported forward fifteen years, only we can do way better than
Troll Ascetic or Ravenous Baloth.

I’m very impressed with the combination of explore and Golgari Findkeeper.
You just end up plus cardboard along the way regardless of what happens,
and even Jadelight Ranger comes in under a perfect curve out. Honestly,
true midrange decks like this or the Naya Monsters deck I played back in Rivals of Ixalan Standard are the only places I’ve felt Jadelight
Ranger has properly performed. Both the cards and the body as an attacker
or blocker matter a ton, and this deck’s graveyard interaction uses all
parts of the Merfolk.

The only question is what you do with that cardboard to make it into more
relevant effects? I’m also a little short on interaction.

in the most begrudging way possible
, Vraska, Golgari Queen makes the cut here. I still remained unconvinced it
actually does anything, even if it kinda does the two things I want it to

One thing that opens up that four mana slot is moving to Assassin’s Trophy
down the curve from Vraska’s Contempt. Last season, decks like this would
be overloaded with four-drops both on the threat and answer side, but
Assassin’s Trophy opens up decks to overload on Karn, Scion of Urza,
Golgari Findkeeper, and who knows what? I started with Ravenous Chupacabra,
but I wanted to minimize my double black commitments for game 1s.

Other Weird Ideas

Golgari and Selesnya are the very obvious options, but that shouldn’t be
the end of our exploration. Even if they aren’t obvious, the other colors
and larger sets are worth a quick peek.

Unfortunately, I think three colors is right on out. Even if you base it on
Abzan with both green shocklands I don’t think splitting your colors does
anything but make it harder for you to cast spells you’re splashing for. I
would love to go Sultai and pair Hostage Taker with these cards, but again
I don’t think the mana works out.

Blue is unexciting. Negate versus Duress isn’t a big difference. Again, I
find myself coming back to Warkite Marauder, but that alone isn’t worth a

I think the one final angle that interests me for Steel Leaf Champion is
the G/R Dinosaurs deck. Gerry
covered it in a deck dump a couple weeks back
, so here’s a refresher on that list.

The mana here isn’t good enough to support a significant amount of red, so
in the end it’s going to look a lot like this or the baseline green deck
with some Dinosaur themes. Some quick notes for improvement, rather than
changing six cards and replacing the deck credit with my own name:

Gruul Guildgate has to become Timber Gorge. I also expect 24 lands to be a
bit too many with four Commune with Dinosaurs and eight ramp effects.

Unclaimed Territory and a shockland make it easy to splash a Dinosaur or
Elf in black or white. Or Druids possibly, as that lines up with Llanowar
Elves. Sadly, the only one I found I kinda want is Tetzimoc, Primal Death,
and that doesn’t line up well Unclaimed Territory for black mana.

I like Drover of the Mighty as a ninth or tenth ramp spell over Thrashing
Brontodon. Drover notably attacks as a 3/3 and fixes for red.

Pelt Collector is pretty good here. It has some weird trigger upside here
too. Drover of the Mighty enters the battlefield and dies as a 3/3 if you
control a Dinosaur, which triggers it. Regisaur Alpha triggers can be
stacked to jump it from a 2/2 to a 4/4. Just resolve the make a Dinosaur
first, then the smaller than a 3/3 trigger resolves first and the smaller
than 4/4 trigger from the start finally resolves.

Unlike the other green decks, I really like Ghalta, Primal Hunger here.
Just curving it after a Regisaur Alpha requires minimal investment and
kills decks that fell behind super fast.

Nullhide Ferox is almost certainly in the sideboard and triggers Sarkhan’s

Overall I expect the G/R Dinosaur deck to be a fringe player for now, but
Regisaur Alpha only has a few months to wait until it has a real chance at
the spotlight in Gruul.


For a card with such a restrictive mana cost, it’s shocking how much you
can do with Steel Leaf Champion. It’s just such a good rate, attacks so
well it can carry games on its own regardless of the rest of your plans,
and pairs too well with Llanowar Elves, another one of the best cards in
the format.

Once you come close to being able to cast the card, it’s really hard to
have a good reason to not just make it happen.