The Beautiful Struggle: The Green Trap Revisited

Mark once wrote about the perils of falling into the Green Trap. Are the Green cards blinding prospective Sealed Deck spellslingers, luring them onto the rocks of a losing record? And how do the Green cards fare now Dissension is in the Sealed mix? Limited Champs are just around the corner, and Pro Tour Qualifiers for Kobe loom large… just how should we value Green in today’s Limited game?

A while back I wrote an article called The Green Trap, talking about how one should take care not to get suckered into playing Green in Ravnica/Guildpact Sealed Deck events. You should play Green if you open good Green cards, obviously, but my point was that you should not be thinking that medium-sized creatures plus mana fixing equals “good Green cards.”

As always, people took my advice to heart. From the forums of that article:

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to go in Sealed is Green fat plus the good stuff of some other color combo.”

“Green has good, good cards.”

“Green is in every deck these days for a reason, and that’s because you need beef.”
Martin Dingler, who, by ignoring me, reduced himself to merely winning a Grand Prix.

Well, since RGD Sealed season is coming up, and because I am a glutton for punishment, I thought I’d return to this theme again. The difference between the last article and now is that last time, you might have had the option of not going Green; I would see the occasional URB or WUB decks at Sealed PTQs. I’m not sure that’s true anymore.

Of course, nobody is ever “forced” to play anything. The Sealed Deck format offered a lot of choices even before we were playing in the gold-card block, and now you can play just about any color combination under the sun. At Grand Prix: Richmond, Jim Ferriaolo opened Mortify, Putrefy, and Golgari Rotwurm, yet he later told me he wasn’t sure he should have been Green/White/Black. However, it seems that Green is virtually forced now, for a few reasons.

Fatty Fatty Boom Boom

Obviously, the first and foremost reason to play Green is the fat, fat booty; as always, running the Forests gives you the most buttock for your buck.

Siege Wurm, Streetbreaker Wurm, Ghor-Clan Savage, and Cytospawn Shambler are the biggest commons you’ll want to open. Any one of these almost always encourages me to run Green, regardless of the quality of the rest of the Green in the card pool. Golgari Rotwurm is close, but not quite on a par with his brethren because of the mana requirements (not just in casting cost, but also for activations; you’d like it if the Rotwurm established a threat to sacrifice multiple guys for the win, thus forcing the opponent to make blocks he would not otherwise make).

Bramble Elemental is nice, especially since there are quality enchantments at common in each set of the block, but it’s definitely possible that you could be stuck running him as a vanilla 4/4, which I hate. Yes, 4/4 for five mana is perfectly acceptable, but you’d be surprised how often the double-color in the mana cost will put a cramp in your style (remember, I’m talking about Sealed Deck here; I have no problems with a vanilla Bramble in draft, because I have better control over how Green my card pool will be). I have similar problems with running an off-color Gruul Nodorog, since you’re paying an extra colorless mana for your vanilla 4/4.

Paint By Numbers

In a perfect world, you’d end up with a Sealed Deck that looks just like a draft deck. So, drawing from what we’ve seen in Prague and Toronto, one might think it nice to open a nice G/R/U deck with some Graft and Bloodthirst. I disagree, which probably means that G/R/U is the way you want to go.

Personally, I would like to open great Selesnya cards. The reason for this is that the distribution of cards in the booster packs — fifteen cards split among three guilds — just doesn’t give you too many cards in each color, or in each guild. As an example, while “testing” for this article, I opened a RGD Sealed pool with only one gold card each in Gruul and Orzhov (you’ll get to see the whole pool a little later on). Opening good Selesnya is the best way to get both the terrific Green mana-fixing and to get a lot of cards out of two guilds in one of the boosters (Simic and Azorius in Dissension, obv). G/R/U gives you two Guildpact guilds also, but Dissension is the deeper and more powerful set, so G/W/U (splashing Black for removal as needs be) is a nice way to go.

Another thing to look for when you open are the various combos and synergies that exist in the block. Everybody knows about Dowsing Shaman plus Seal of Fire/Doom, and Shambling Shell plus graft, but others include…

Shambling Shell plus Eidolons
The Shell is the only gold common with dredge, ergo it’s the best card with which to abuse Eidolons (especially since it’s on-color with two of the best Eidolons). Seems obvious, I know, but it’s better to get mocked for pointing out the obvious than for overlooking it.

Infiltrator’s Magemark plus any enchantment (and I do mean any enchantment)
Questionable or bad Auras, such as Blessing of the Nephilim or Street Savvy, are a lot more likely to make it if they could potentially also grant unblockability, which is a powerhouse ability in Sealed.

Psychotic Fury tricks
Obviously Wee Dragonauts is the dream, as Nick Eisel tells us. However, I’ve also seen it work wonders in draft by allowing guys like Mourning Thrull or Centaur Safeguard to win fights that might otherwise result in trades or losses. If the Fury can help mediocre creatures in draft, imagine what it can do for mediocre Sealed pools; even if your multicolored creature count is low it can be “cycled” on opposing men post-combat.

A Few Words on Mana-Fixing

“I was doing my mana, and I was like, ‘I think I need nine Green sources.’ [author name="Jon Finkel"]Jon Finkel[/author] looked at me … when he was done with my mana, I had two Forests! He was like, ‘I can’t believe you thought you needed nine’ … I had two Forests in a deck with two Experiment Kraj!”
Mike Flores, from the Top8Magic podcasts.

Back when there was a Green Trap, it was usually the mana-fixing cards that led most players into it. The intention of avoiding land- and color-screw will tempt many a victim during any Limited PTQ season. However, in the “power versus consistency” debate, I’ll always come down on the side of power, and I think you should too, because the punchline is actually this: according to the podcast, Flores went 2-1 with the “Two Kraj and two Forests” deck.

Now, this is not to say you don’t make any sacrifices at the altar of consistency — after all, not everyone goes around with five-color decks, running every single bomb they opened — but, as in the Flores and Finkel example, sometimes people try to make their mana a lot more consistent than it needs to be. My point is simple: you want to fix your mana, but the more cards you include to do so, the weaker your deck gets.

Accept no substitutes: the common Green fixers you want to open in each pack are Civic Wayfinder, Silhana Starfletcher, and Utopia Sprawl. Elves of Deep Shadow are obviously terrific if you are G/B, which happens often in Sealed, and they help convoke out Siege Wurm, but they are just a 1/1 creature. Farseek fetches your color of choice, but it’s not a creature, it’s slower than Utopia Sprawl, and you’d be surprised how often you wish you could get a Forest with it.

Remember that running bouncelands in which one (or sometimes both!) of the colors is not useful to you still counts as mana fixing. The very reason why the bouncelands are so good is that drawing one guarantees two mana drops, meaning that the bounceland pretty much reads, “Draw a card.” So, while you might not want to go buck-wild on the off-color bouncelands —unless you want someone to make fun of you — the fact that they are off-color does not negate the “Draw a card” effect, meaning I would prefer to have an off-color bounceland over, say, Farseek.

Interlude: Why Does Tim Aten Rock So Hard?

Because this is what he likes to do, Alex Majlaton (he of the second-place finish at GP: Charlotte) went on Magic Online and assembled the eleven-Karoo deck from the aforementioned Aten article out of spare commons and uncommons from past drafts. He played some games with it (I don’t know against whom; maybe some of his clan members’ recent draft decks?), obviously mulliganing for basic land, and reports that the deck is actually stone cold awesome. Even Aten’s jokes are better at Limited than the rest of us!

Turning Tricks

Combat pumps are good, derf. Don’t get the impression that I’m saying otherwise. However, it’s important to remember that unless your opponent dies a self-inflicted death — say, he makes a triple-block while you are holding Gaze of the Gorgon — a pump spell is really just the Green equivalent of a Last Gasp. You play it intending to trade a non-creature card for one of the opponent’s creatures, while you still have creatures left over to pressure the opponent with. With that in mind, Wildsize is almost always the pump spell of choice, being a cantrip and all.

Gather Courage is nothing spectacular, save for the fact that it is often played for “free,” making it a good trick that opponents will not expect. Gaze is playable — as I mentioned in Fun With Ravnica Limited, when playing Sealed Deck I almost always trade Gaze for a creature with a silver or gold expansion symbol — but skilled opponents can read you for it and play around it.

Personally, I would rather have Carom in my deck than every pump save Wildsize. It’s a cheaper cantrip, it’s almost always a two-for-one and sometimes even better, and it can serve as removal for troublesome one-butts like Minister of Impediments and Rakdos Ickspitter. Combat pumps are nice, but I’ll take a combat trick that can play multiple roles over your generic +X/+X any day.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a Sealed pool I purchased and opened as a form of testing for this article. Feel free to experiment with it and post your builds in the forums:

To be honest, I’m still not sure how I build this one. It has that rare problem of having too many awesome cards and synergies. Vulturous Zombie, Shambling Shell, and the two Guildmages seem like auto-includes, but from there it’s not clear where to go. White gives an Auratouched Mage package that can be abused with the Simic Guildmage; Red offers an Ogre Savant, an Eidolon to go with your Shell, and some potential combos with Djinn Illuminatus (if you copy Fiery Conclusion, you don’t have to sac multiple creatures); there’s also the Red/White/Green axis of decent gold creatures who go well with your lone bounceland.

Finally, as I put the finishing touches on this article, I find that D.C.-area player Brad Taulbee has made Top 8 at Grand Prix: Toronto. I mention this not because Brad is always asking me to name-drop him in a column, but because Brad’s draft style is known to be a little… eccentric. In Kamigawa Block many a joke was made regarding Brad’s love for the Green and Red Myojins, although just as often he drafted Blue/Red Arcane control decks with fewer than ten creatures. Anyone who has drafted with Brad since the release of Ravnica will tell you that the four bouncelands he had in his Top 8 deck is actually on the low end for him; in a recent six-man draft he had eight Karoos in his five-color deck.

My point is that Brad 6-0’ed Day 2 at Toronto, and it’s not his first money finish at a Limited GP either, as he took 10th at GP: Columbus. In the end, if you can back it up with your play, even the most eccentric Limited strategies can be winners.

Until next time, here’s hoping you open Simic Sky Swallower.


Mark Young