This is the tale of how I was inspired by promising rogue deck from the Star City Games Open and how I developed the deck to a point where it became a great source of success on Magic Online. There isn’t much life left in the current Standard, but if you’re playing in the MOCS, I can’t recommend this deck enough.
My last many months have been filled with endless hours of scouring over books and preparing myself for my exams for my Masters, leaving me scant little time to do the kind of Magic writing I wanted to do. It seems somehow fitting, given what’s been going on with the game and with my relation to the game that I should return from a self-imposed hiatus on writing by starting off with some thoughts on one of my very first decks that made any waves.
Well over a decade ago, Mirage was a new set, and I was looking for a card that would belong in a mono-green Thawing Glaciers deck I’d been working on in Type 2 (the name for Standard back then). The older version of the deck had had some surprising success versus Necro, the defacto best deck in the format, but had real weakness to pretty much any deck that included white mana. This was a problem because, after Necro, the most popular successful decks were all white decks.
As the format shifted around, with the release of Mirage, a new deck emerged, Florida Orb, which massively abused Mystical and Enlightened Tutor, making Howling Mines and Zuran Orb/Balance the combo it would endlessly repeat. The deck was insane, crippling Necro decks, as well as most other decks. Playing endless hours against one of its local pilots (eventual Hall of Famer Bob Maher), I’d discovered that with a slight shift of cards, my old Thawing Glaciers deck could actual fight the deck very well, albeit by weakening itself against Necro.
One of the key cards for this deck I would call ‘Green Machine’ was Uktabi Wildcats, an utterly huge body at the time, particularly in a deck with Thawing Glaciers; remember, this was an era when Serra Angel was considered a Big Creature, so the Wildcats represented a potentially incredibly large creature.
This deck did pretty well for me, making several PTQ Top 16s for me, a few Top 8s for others, and after Wizards of the Coast abolished the Restricted List in Type 2, I would update the deck for the first State Championship that year, making Top 8, and solidifying my love of Sylvan Library, Thawing Glaciers, and Gaea’s Blessing. Uktabi Wildcats was still a part of this list, continuing to serve the function of Huge Fattie.
Here is that ancient list:
Green Machine would influence deckbuilding a little bit, with Trinity Green partially inspired by its legacy. As for the Wildcats, they reprinted it at some point, but there was never really a deck for the card again. It was simply being outclassed by other cards, and I had mentally relegated Uktabi Wildcats to the dustbin of history. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw my beloved Wildcats updated in the form of Dungrove Elder, a card that, for the most part, represents a functional improvement on the original (the most likely exception being its ability to survive combat).
Enter Khyler Fields
I looked at the card and tried to imagine what to do with it, but I couldn’t really find a home for the card in a field so populated by Caw-Blade and other killer decks. A short while later, though, I received my first wave of excitement when Khyler Fields unveiled a Dungrove Elder deck at the StarCityGames.com Open in Pittsburgh. The deck wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it definitely stoked the imagination. Out of the 408 competitors, Khyler Fields finished 25th.
The list didn’t look correct to me in thinking about what it was that the deck was accomplishing. Something was wrong with the list, I thought, but I needed some time to think about what it might be. Watching Khyler play, you could see that he wasn’t a seasoned veteran, and yet he kept winning against most of his opponents, finishing one point out of the Top 8, with zero byes.
I interviewed him and talked with him about his list. As best as I can recall, here is what Khyler played.
Once you accept the idea that Dungrove Elder is powerful, you can then move on to the question of “what do you do with it?” This isn’t exactly an easy question because the only thing you definitely know is that you’re going to be playing Forests. A lot of them.
Khyler’s approach was to go big. He runs Explore and Primeval Titan as a means to make the Dungrove Elder particularly big. In addition, he drops in some Omnath, Locus of Mana as another means to take advantage of the potential glut in mana. Avenger of Zendikar serves a similar purpose, coming out to change the battlefield and then having a powerful way to make extraneous land drops into something threatening.
There is a very strange thing about this mono-green list that did, in some ways, remind me of Green Machine: it could interact with the opponent’s board. Four Beast Within and two Dismember make for a lot of maindeck interaction with the opponent. Add into that Acidic Slime and Green Sun’s Zenith, and you really do have a lot of interaction. Now there is a slight caveat to this, as I’m not 100% certain that Khyler played Acidic Slime, but I am reasonably certain he did. Further, my notes make it unclear whether there were two or three Dismember, so he could have played a little more on creature handling. Regardless of the specific numbers, one of the things that comes out of this, though, is that he was a mono-green deck fully capable of interacting with a deck like Splinter Twin.
His deck is strange, to be sure, but there are two cards in particular that are a little bit stranger than the rest: Omnath, Locus of Mana and Overwhelming Stampede. After talking with him extensively about the cards, I became pretty convinced just to try them out. I’m particularly glad that I did.
Omnath is a fairly innocuous card, really supplying a potentially ridiculously huge creature for a fairly small investment. I asked Khyler about why there were three copies, and he told me it was because the deck would often end up putting one in play, only to have it die immediately, if it didn’t just take over the game. The subsequent Omnath, on the other hand, would re-ask the question, presenting the same problem. This Omnath represented another potential threat to back up Dungrove Elder, which he only played three copies of because early in the game it would tend to be smaller than he liked.
Overwhelming Stampede was the other card that seemed worth noting, as I’d never seen it in another deck. Khyler didn’t say much when I asked him about it but just smiled and said that it was good.
I knew I had to try out the deck.
Success Spawns Imitation
I went into brainstorm mode and started putting together a version of the deck pretty much immediately. After my work with Larry Swasey on BluManji, I felt pretty confident that the deck deserved to have the combination of one-mana creature with Lotus Cobra. I didn’t have the Garruk, Primal Hunter online, and so I made do, fitting in the mana acceleration I wanted, vetoing Explore/Battlement, and shifting some cards around to take advantage of what I was doing.
The initial results were fairly powerful, but underwhelming. Still, there was something to the basic roots of the deck. I was running four Dungrove Elder and three Omnath, Locus of Mana, but I really wanted to have yet more to do on turn two. I’d taken to sideboarding Leatherback Baloth in against Red, largely inspired by Rashad Miller’s take on Elves sideboarding. After some success with that in the main, I decided to copy Rashad’s sideboarding plan even more, adding in Vengevine, and taking a cue from Andrew Temple’s Aggro-Elves by including them even though I wasn’t even using Fauna Shaman. At this point, the deck was becoming very aggressive and really starting to gel, and some of the awkward elements of the deck were starting to become clearer.
It wasn’t surprising to me to see that my fellow commentator Ari Lax was also working on the deck. Here is what he took to the TCGPlayer Championship, finishing in the Top 16.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 3 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Dungrove Elder
This list was remarkably similar to where I was at. I still didn’t own all of the Garruk, Primal Hunter on MODO (I only had one), but it looked like Ari had done much the same that I had, merging the concept of the deck with the concepts of a Fauna/Vengevine deck. I had the Fauna Shamans, but what I’d done had moved the deck into a more aggressive build with Leatherback Baloth and Overwhelming Stampede.
This aggressive stance had been slowly pushing me away from Beast Within, which just seemed to blunt the idea of attacking for the win. Ari’s build reinforced to me the real need to find some more Garruks but also made me want to try out Fauna Shaman. It didn’t take me very long to decide that I didn’t think that I was getting enough traction from Fauna Shaman for it to be worth it. What it basically boiled down to was that I was simply killing people too often for it to be a card that I wanted to spend the time on.
But I was also still struggling with very awkward draws, based almost entirely on questions of mana. One of the things that really stuck out for me, looking at Ari’s list, was this little guy:
As soon as I saw it, my mind whirred. Here was a way to supply sufficient Forests to the deck to make the Dungrove Elder more powerful, and yet not simply be pure mana flood. Here was a way to power up my Overwhelming Stampede, a card that was already more than proving itself. Here was a way to make the Vengevines more resilient. Here was a way to stave off defeat from the most aggressive decks, even if you were only chumping. I started with two, quickly went to three, and then jumped up to four, and I’ve never looked back. The card was so good in conjunction with Overwhelming Stampede, I caught myself deciding to go up in my count of Stampedes to three.
After losing a match early in the TCGPlayer Championships to a midrange version of the deck closer to Khyler Fields’s initial list, Gerry Thompson did some public brewing with the idea, seeding in my mind the potential value of Sword of War and Peace and also including Thrun. I experimented a little with Thrun, eventually discarding it, but Sword found a permanent home in the deck.
Honing the Deck
Honing a deck is always a process defined entirely by empiricism. You can’t get romantic about what a deck “ought” to be doing. You have to wed yourself to the results. You can’t marry yourself to any specific instance of results, but instead have to take the wider view and see just what it is that is working, and even what is working, but working less well. Somewhere in there, you’re going to find yourself slicing and dicing cards that you never expected to. As it stands, this deck is crushing Splinter Twin and U/B Control. It is good against Red decks, Pod decks, and against Caw-Blade. It is a dog to Valakut and swarming decks like Tempered Steel or Elves.
Here is where I am today:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Arbor Elf
- 4 Leatherback Baloth
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Sylvan Ranger
- 4 Dungrove Elder
Lately, a lot of writers have been eschewing the card-by-card analysis, but with a deck as unusual as this, I do think that there is a real value to going into the details of card selection; there simply isn’t as much that is obvious when you’re talking about a rogue deck like this one.
The acceleration package here is certainly worth noting. Arbor Elf was something I’d been contemplating, but was suggested by old-school player Ronny Serio as I talked about the way that the deck worked. With the inclusion of Leatherback Baloth, having more 1CCs seemed like a good thing to push into the deck. I started at one, pushed up to two, and then scaled back to one and ended up happy there. The Elves were better than Birds because you really do want to be able to attack, and the one damage here or there can add up. 1CC acceleration into Lotus Cobra can make some busted games (a la Mythic), and sometimes you win just on the back of that.
The “land” package, complete with 4 Sylvan Rangers, adds up to “27” land. This is a lot of slots, but with Vengevine and Dungrove Elder, there really is a tension between having a sufficient amount of land and having a sufficient amount of creatures. Ultimately, the thing that makes this card work is that it can bridge both sides of this tension, as well as carry a Sword and power up an Overwhelming Stampede. The existence of Sylvan Ranger also helps make the minor black splash in the deck really work, primarily in helping the sideboard, but also in dulling the pain of Dismember.
Two Tectonic Edges are as many as I feel the deck can support without overly hurting the Forest requirement the deck has; they could be cut, but I have found them useful enough that I accept the ways that they and the Swamp cut into the power of Forests.
This is the aggressive shell of the deck. Dungrove Elder and Leatherback Baloth play on opposite sides of the deck timeline. Baloth is generally better on turn 2 or against minimal resistance, where Dungrove Elder is usually better on turn 3 (if you aren’t already on the defensive) or later, or against resistance.
Vengevine helps give the deck extra resilience against creature kill and also serves as another solid beater. Leatherback Baloth is shockingly good in Standard right now, at least if you can drop him on turn 2. He’s just so much bigger than most things that he utterly changes the way that games go.
Overwhelming Stampede is a card that I’m so glad that Khyler had in his initial build, as it has been so incredibly powerful. Often, at its worst, it is +4/+4 and trample to everything, powered up by a Baloth or Vengevine, but when you have a Dungrove Elder, it can be even more ridiculously huge.
For a very long time, the deck had had access to one Omnath, Locus of Mana, and it could easily get insane in the deck, giving you access to ridiculous Hail Mary kills. Garruk, Primal Hunter serves as a strange kind of mixture of either brute power or resilience. I almost never end up ultimating with Garruk, but instead often pop it off immediately for a ton of cards or up it once for a Beast and then use its minus ability for a ton of cards. Against most opponents, Garruk serves as a lightning rod that is attached to a Beast and a Concentrate (or Harmonize) or better.
Green Sun’s Zenith is slow, but it is also versatile. Initially, I had had four copies of this card, and I just kept cutting it down, little by little. Drawing two was often just a little bit too slow. By the time I got down to one copy, I actually was quite fine with it, basically because it gave the deck a little bit of flexibility without too much cost in time, giving a +1 to the counts of all of the creatures. It is better to have six Llanowar, and five Ranger, Elder, Baloth, and Vengevine, and after board to have access to four Baloth and two Acidic Slime. Playing around with slots, going up to two Zenith was just slightly frustrating whenever you drew a second; you are basically too aggressive for the extra copy.
This is a critical card in the deck. Dismember is just such efficient removal, and yet it dodges Misstep and can often dodge other removal as well. Between Lotus Cobra and the nine ways to have a Swamp in play, you can often dull the pain on the card, which can be important at times. About the only decks against which Dismember is weak are the near-creatureless decks and against Red on any turn after turn 2. This leaves much of the metagame susceptible to the card and gives your mono-green deck some real ability to interact with the board, which seems crucially important in this metagame.
This card is the only real oddball in the list, logic wise, but it is based largely on the needs to balance out a full 75-card list between the main and the board. Up until very recently, this card was an Omnath, Locus of Mana, and I was very, very happy with that slot, particularly with the single Green Sun’s Zenith to go and fetch it when you needed it. Omnath was a ninth threatening three-drop and sometimes could set up a ridiculous Overwhelming Stampede.
However, after extensive testing against Valakut, it seemed clear that I wanted another card that was really powerful in that matchup, and sideboarded Sword of War and Peace was a card that was definitely performing well. The Sword was also powerful against Caw-Blade and various varieties of mono-red. Even when you went to a deck like U/B Control, the Sword actually performed quite well, turning everything into a potential threat.
Ultimately, though, I had a 16-card sideboard, and I didn’t really want to cut anything. With Sword seeming as the most potent card I could add into my main deck to change how the equations went and Omnath seeming like the least critical card in the old main, I switched them around and have been happy ever since. The only real drawback to running Sword main is that sometimes it encourages people to bring in artifact kill for game two when they might not otherwise.
An extra Sword is useful against Valakut, Caw-Blade, Red decks, and U/B Control, either because it provides protection from the deck or because it presents a big threat. The singleton Basilisk Collar is there as a potential life gain card against the aggressive decks and also as a means to turn your random dorks into assassins against big creatures (like those supplied by Hawkward when they are pumped up with Tempered Steel).
Obstinate Baloth is a great lifegain card against the aggressive decks as well, though it is also a useful card against U/B control since it can dodge Consume the Meek, and it can be a fair card to board in against Sword of Feast and Famine, though you often don’t want the full set against decks that only have that card.
Memoricide is the lone true black in the main and board, and it is primarily there as a means to fight Valakut. I had tried out Torpor Orb but really wasn’t getting enough value out of it. Getting rid of all of the Primeval Titans really goes a long way towards making Valakut a deck that simply isn’t overwhelmingly scary any longer. Memoricide is also useful against Splinter Twin and Pyromancer Ascension.
The Nature’s Claim, Spellskite, and Acidic Slime all fulfill the “answers” portion of the sideboard. Slime isn’t generally good enough for Splinter Twin, but it is great as a means to tear down an Oblivion Ring, Sword, or artifact creature. Nature’s Claim comes in against Splinter
Finally, the lone Overwhelming Stampede is there for matchups that are a pure race. Typically, this is only Valakut, as you can expect that many of the other decks like this are not a pure race, since they will be picking off your creatures at the same time. A fourth- or fifth-turn Overwhelming Stampede is often game against Valakut, even if they already have out a Primeval Titan.
Birthing Pod (all variants):
As I said earlier, parallel to all of this, Gerry Thompson, still smarting from his defeat in the TCGPlayer Championship from a more controlling version of a Dungrove Elder deck, much closer to Khyler Fields’s build, posted this brew a short while later:
- 4 Solemn Simulacrum
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 2 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 4 Dungrove Elder
After having succumbed to the power of Overwhelming Stampede, this kind of build felt like a step back to me. It did add in the intriguing question of where the deck could go once Stampede rotated out. I definitely think there are elements here that remind me of the ways in which Green Machine was successful so long ago, and there might be a way to take this after Innistrad changes the world. (One quick quibble: this deck is not “Dungrove Aggro,” but closer to Midrange by a long shotâ€”Cultivate Aggro?)
Once Overwhelming Stampede rotates out, something closer to this GerryT build does strike me as the way to go. Overwhelming Stampede is going to be joined by Leatherback Baloth, Vengevine, and Lotus Cobra, among other things, and so the heart of this deck is going to be wrenched out. If the deck does have a life closer to a Green Machine style deck, I have a feeling it is going to include Bramblecrush and other Innistrad cards, but that is a story for another day…
I know that I’m excited to be writing regularly again. If you have any topics that you’d like me to write about, be sure to let me know at my Facebook page, and I’ll keep these ideas in mind as I’m selecting a next topic to write about. The game is so deep that there is simply so much to write about when it comes to Magic, so I’m happy to try to direct more of it to what you are interested in. So make sure to let me know.
Until next time,