The Blossoming Of Green Card Advantage

Ahhhh. Now that’s the sound of satisfaction. It’s a good time to be playing green. Back in August, I wrote a column for Star City entitled”Why Green Lacks the Power Cards.” I basically stated my opinion that green was such a weak color because R&D consistently shafted green out of any cards that might generate…

Ahhhh. Now that’s the sound of satisfaction. It’s a good time to be playing green.

Back in August, I wrote a column for Star City entitled”Why Green Lacks the Power Cards.” I basically stated my opinion that green was such a weak color because R&D consistently shafted green out of any cards that might generate card advantage.”Card-Advantage” cards tend to become”Power Cards” in Magic. Just look at some of them – Ancestral Recall, Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Necropotence, Wrath of God, Stroke of Genius, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Balance, Whispers of the Muse. New cards and old, Green is noticeably absent from the list.

But things are starting to change. Slowly but surely, times are a-changin’. Everywhere you look, green card-advantage engines are popping up.

First of all, though, let me urge you away from the Stompy decks that have been gaining all the attention of late. Stompy has been very successful, but it’s basically taking advantage of an environment that’s still relatively unformed. Stompy is fast and consistent, but extremely narrow in the way it wins. A prepared opponent can easily shut the deck down; at the States Championship this year, I figured there would be a lot of Stompy decks in attendance and adjusted my deck and sideboard accordingly. I then swept both of my Stompy opponents. If you want to cross your fingers and hope your opponent is either unprepared for the rush, or hope you can kill him before he draws his answers, then by all means go ahead and play the deck. I, however, shudder at the thought of playing a deck that can so easily be shut down. To me, it’s relying on luck too much, and I’ve found Lady Luck to be a fickle mistress.

But, the beauty of Magic right now is that, thanks to the past couple of expansions, you don’t have to play Stompy if you want to play green!

I used to turn to other colors to complement green; I tended to use green as a base for its solid creatures and mana acceleration, but then I’d have to marry the deck to another color to have access to Magic’s power cards. For instance, in UBC I played Squirrel Prison, which usually relied on blue’s Opposition and Treachery to win the game; the old Survival decks relied on Recurring Nightmare, Oath of Ghouls and Living Death to turn green’s utility into game wins. Even the classic Erhnam’Geddon decks used green for mana and fat, and used white’s power cards to seal the deal.

But now you can’t take a step without almost tripping over all the new green card advantage cards. Card advantage means power, and there’s some power to be harnessed in green right now. Look at the deck I won States with, Blair Witch Green. The deck had some nice card-advantage engines in it – Deranged Hermit, Yavimaya Elder, Groundskeeper, Masticore… even Child of Gaea could generate card advantage, simply by being so fat and difficult for some decks to handle. It could soak up chump blockers like they’re going out of style. It was a fun deck to play and seemed to have plenty of opportunities to top-deck an answer or a game winner.

Going back to my August article, I mentioned a few cards I thought were a good start towards green card advantage. Rancor is actually just a ultra-efficient creature enchancement card that doesn’t generate card dis-advantage, but it’s advantage is often gained by cranking up the threat level of a creature so that you’re killing another creature AND doing damage, too. Weatherseed Treefolk can generate card advantage by soaking up your opponent’s creature kill, either by direct damage, or from blockers. A five power trampler is something that can’t be ignored, and the fact that it’s extremely difficult to permanently kill makes it a potent weapon that demands attention.

Yavimaya Elder is probably the best example of”pure” card advantage for green; at the minimum, it can generate 2 for 1; at it’s best, it can generate 4 for 1. It’s deck thinning potential makes it even better; not only is it a”green Ancestral,” it’s like a green Thawing Glaciers, too. All rolled up in a nice 2/1 package. I am a huge fan of the Elder – I used to think that there could never be a three drop green creature that would be better than my beloved Spike Feeder. Well, I was wrong.

Now, looking at green’s available cards, we find all sorts of great card advantage engines. Take the omnipresent Deranged Hermit, popping up in all sorts of recent Type 2 decks. While I was gushing over the Weatherseed Treefolk, I had completely missed the”other” 5cc fattie from Legacy. Effectively generating five threats with one card is fantastic card advantage, and it has proven useful in many decks, from control to beatdown. I have to say I’ve gotten much more mileage out of my Hermits now as compared to my lovely Treefolk.

Plow Under is an interesting card. It could probably be argued on both sides as to whether it actually generates card advantage, but I think in all reality you’ve got to recognize that it does. I’ve heard people say”I can come back and win after the first Plow Under, but I’ve never won if I’ve been Plowed Under twice.” After playing four of that card at States, I have to concur with the sentiment. The card effectively neutralizes two cards that your opponent plays (the lands), as well as sets them back two draws. The net effect is more subtle than a Time Walk, but can be just as devestating.

Masques comes along and brings some more interesting card advantage engines to the mix. The most obvious, and potentially game-breaking of them all is Collective Unconscious. With green being the creature color, it’s easy to both generate the mana needed to play this card, and enough creatures to net quite a few cards drawn. Back when I wrote my initial article, I described some cards in green as being”sucker punches.” What I meant was, these were cards that encouraged a green mage to potentially harm their chances of winning by investing too many cards on the board and exposing himself to the risk of sweepers netting your opponent often devastating card advantage. I felt the two worst offenders were Priest of Titania and Gaea’s Cradle. Both of these cards get more powerful with more creatures on the board; creatures being the most fragile permanents in the game, overextending yourself can be dangerous. Collective Unconscious effectively neutralizes this drawback by making all creatures on the board into cantrips, and if you’ve created token creatures somehow or are playing with cantrip creatures already, the card advantage is even greater. The more I’ve played around with this card, the more I really like it. It’s one of those cards I thought was great when I first saw it, then came around to the opinion that it wasn’t as good as I thought, and now I’ve come back around again to my first instincts. It’s like a green Necropotence, at least the way Necro used to be played – drop a bunch of threats, empty your hand, then fill your hand back up again. This is a very playable card for green.

Along with Collective Unconscious comes a card that seems to be its perfect complement – Spontaneous Generation. First of all, a quick aside – the Saprolings on that picture look absolutely ferocious! I’ve always loved Saproling tokens since the days of Fallen Empires, but I don’t think you could ever call saproling tokens something to be much feared unless they were accumulating quickly under a Verdant Force or two. The art on S.G., however… yikes! Those are some hungry-looking carnivorous plants! But back to the game itself… Generation can generate some nice card advantage if your deck either tends to hold a fair number of cards in hand, or you’ve got some card drawing built in. Cards like Yavimaya Elder seem to be a perfect complement to Spontaneous Generation. I think it’s a mistake to try and set up a”combo” with Spontaneous Generation and Collective Unconscious, because both cards are conditionally effective, and sometimes can be downright bad. For instance, drawing a Collective Unconscious isn’t going to do you much good the turn after a Thrashing Wumpus or Wrath of God sweeps the board, and Spontaneous Generation isn’t going to be very helpful if you’re hand has been picked apart by Duress and Persecute. I think Spontaneous Generation works best as a support card added to a deck that just naturally has a good hand size most of the game.

There’s another card advantage card of sorts that may work even better in tandem with Collective Unconscious, and that card is Natural Affinity. This card has tickled my imagination since I first saw it, and I’m still trying to figure out a way to best use it. As a cheap instant, it really adds an interesting weapon to green’s arsenal, allowing you to really screw up battlefield math. Do you think the threat of a Giant Growth messes with an opponent trying to figure out the best way to attack? What about the threat of three or four extra 2/2 blockers popping up out of nowhere? With some creature mana, you can even add creatures for an attack, though you want to be careful that you’re not giving your opponent too many blockers at the same time. But keep in mind that, turning all lands into creatures, you’re now making lands vulnerable to creature destruction, which you can turn to your advantage. Blow up all lands with a Powder Keg, Nevinyrral’s Disk or a two point Earthquake. Blow up several of your opponent’s lands with a Masticore or a Plaguebearer. Natural Affinity can supercharge your Gaea’s Cradle to give you enough mana to cast Collective Unconscious (for a lot!) or to fuel your other fiendish plans. The great thing to remember is that Affinity is an instant and can create nasty surprises for your opponent, and nasty surprises can often lead to card advantage.

Saber Ants are a particular favorite of mine, and I played with three in the sideboard of Blair Witch Green. These critters are absolute nightmares for anyone relying on red removal, especially coupled with regeneration. Do you cast Wildfire when your opponent has a Saber Ants and a Yavimaya Hollow on the board? A favorite trick of mine was to ping my Ants for two points during each player’s turn with my Masticore to generate four ants. Jamie Wakefield mentioned in his States report casting a Might of Oaks on his opponent’s creature that was blocking his Ants in order to generate 7 extra ant tokens! Holy token mania, Batman! Saber Ants is one of those cards that makes straight-forward creature enhancers like Giant Growth, Invigorate and Might of Oaks into real tricky cards, the stuff of great strategy.

Howling Wolf is interesting, too. I know most people are dismissing it, but think back a couple years ago when Wakefield and some others were trying to make Naturepotence work. Some folks were running Striped Bears for its cantrip effect; Howling Wolf costs the same to cast and is effectively a triple cantrip the first time you cast it. Coupled with cards that like a fat hand, and Howling Wolf might be something to consider. Perhaps its casting cost is a little high, but green has plenty of fast mana, and if we dip into the realm of Extended, there is Emerald Medallion. Just a thought.

Masques also has what I’ll call”Tier 2″ card advantage engines; these cards would probably be looked at a little more closely if green hadn’t gotten so many other good cards. Still, they may be interesting to look at in certain circumstances. Take Caustic Wasp for example; a 1/1 flier for 3 mana is not unreasonable for green. Its evasion lends its secondary ability of destroying artifacts if it deals combat damage some potency. If you anticipate an environment thick with artifacts, and have some pretty decent mana acceleration (Birds, Elves, Cradles), four of these in the sideboard might not be a bad idea. Uktabi Orangutan’ single use is often insufficient to handle the vast amount of artifacts these decks can sometimes produce. Clear the Land might be interesting in a land-heavy deck, and could really hose an opponent’s combo deck if key parts of the combo are removed from the game. Combine with Memory Lapse and Portent for great fun. Foster has the potential of being a new sort of Oath of Druids, though until there’s some decent graveyard-to-deck recursion in Type 2, it’s probably limited to combo or Extended. Last but not least, the mighty Groundskeeper can net some serious card advantage against land destruction decks, and coupled with its ability to counteract effects that can put lands in the graveyard (Crop Rotation, Masticore, Dawnstrider and other spellshapers) Groundskeeper is a sleeper that I anticipate to catch on slowly but surely as time passes.

Blair Witch Green gives a great base for a Standard Green deck, and I look forward to playing variants of it in type 2 tournaments to come. The card advantage engines in it make all the difference, giving me confidence in the deck not to fail me when I need it most. I really want to make a green-based deck for the upcoming Extended season, so I look forward to playtesting to see what we can dig up. Looking over the PTQ’s for New York in the upcoming months, I see lots of events that I should be able to attend. I anticipate being able to play in 6 or 7 of them, which will undoubtedly be the largest number I’ve been able to go to in a given qualifier season. Unless I Q in the first one or two, of course!

So dig into the meaty cards green has and give up the lure of Stompy; you’ll find card advantage is a lot of fun!

Bennie Smith