The Complete Guide to Mono-Green #1: Introduction and Early Creatures

This five-part, daily article series will examine every even slightly contestable choice for a slot in Standard Mono-Green Decks. The idea is to give you the most options possible in your preparations for Regionals, cover ideas you may not have thought of, and then whittle down the choices to acceptable levels to help you build the best competitive deck possible.

Last year’s world of Onslaught-Mirrodin Standard was not an exciting one for deckbuilders. All of the top decks except for U/W Control centered around a particular mechanic, and were, thus, developed into more or less standardized builds. Mind you, the subtle variations of a few cards could make these decks much better or much worse, but even the most rebellious builds of Goblins, Goblin Bidding, Ravager Affinity, and R/W Slide were pretty conservative.

Today’s Standard is completely different. The biggest decks (Tooth and Nail, Mono-Blue Control, and White Weenie) are all heavily variable. Consider the alternate decklists for Tooth and Nail posted by Rick Rust and Mike Flores recently; their two builds have just 35 cards in common (including land), are just 58% the same. You’ll find similar though perhaps less extreme variance in all of the other major decks. This is also true for Mono-Green.

Now, Mono-Green can mean any number of things, most popularly (if not most successfully) Beacon Blaster (itself insanely customizable). For the purposes of this article series, however, “Mono-Green” will mean what StarCityGames’ Deck Database calls Mono-Green Beats. That is to say, Mono-Green is an entirely (or almost entirely) Green deck that attempts to win by attacking every turn with swarms of small creatures and/or Pokemon-worthy monsters. Many have made the point that these decks can’t properly be called Aggro, but I hesitate to call them Aggro-Control. They are not, in any case, Control. A year ago, I’d had high hopes for the emergence of a Mono-Green Control deck, but anyone who thinks that that archetype is at all viable is fooling herself; Green has plenty of creatures that are great in Control (Pulse of the Tangle, Troll Ascetic, Viridian Zealot) but few actual Control cards (Plow Under and Creeping Mold).

This five-part, daily article series will examine every even slightly contestable choice for a slot in Standard Mono-Green Decks. If I miss a card choice, I apologize, but at the very least, you’ll know that I don’t consider that particular card viable. Since countless other players have, on their own and wholly without my assistance, already tested everything under the sun, I can’t claim to have any truly unique tech. By the same token, when I reference internet personalities here, it’s not because they’re necessarily the prime innovators in the field but because they’re the ones who have been most vocal on StarCityGames. Furthermore, I don’t claim to have personally tested the all of the most far-out card choices; Viridian Joiner, for example, is a creature I haven’t tried out in Mono-Green but have logically eliminated from contention.

There is no single perfect Mono-Green build, but there are certainly some builds that are better than others. If you’ve spent anytime with Mono-Green at all, you realize that the only reason you’re playing it is because it has the potential to dominate Tooth and Nail and Mono-Blue Control. No one plays Mono-Green for the White Weenie matchup. Deckbuilding has to balance recognition of the deck’s core values (Beat Tooth and MUC) and attempts to salvage rounds against Standard’s other most popular decks. It’s helpful that Mono-Green can put up good results against other, less prevalent decks in the format, yet the primary ones will always be on your mind.

The structure for this series will be as follows:

Article 1: Early Creatures

Article 2: Middle and Late Creatures

Article 3: Instants, Sorceries, Artifacts, and Enchantments

Article 4: Splash Cards

Article 5: Analysis and Conclusion

I won’t be covering any cards with casting costs greater than six because, honestly, if you want to get those suckers out, you should be playing Tooth and Nail. I know Thorn Elemental is just groovy with Blanchwood Armor, but please, let sleeping dogs lie. Also, I’ll be listing the creatures by casting cost (lowest to highest). Within the somewhat narrow category of Mono-Green Aggro can be found a number of sub-categories which I’ve creatively named: Green Weenie (more traditional Mono-Green Beats and stranger things like Elves), Medium Green (here, I’d place the tournament-approved decks listed by Dave Meddish), and Big Green (Think the Hulk… Think Costco after Nader‘s elected…).

Early Creatures

Birds of Paradise

This is clearly Green’s premier early mana accelerator, but Wakefield is right to point out that it’s not Aggro. Obviously, Green Weenie doesn’t need the Birds, and Big Green does need them, but what about Medium Green? The only other Turn 1 accelerants in the format are Chrome Mox and Elvish Pioneer. Chrome Mox is a possibility, especially if you want to play the biggest creatures available. Elvish Pioneer is also intriguing yet fails to produce mana in the long-term. If you plan on splashing a second color, Birds of Paradise is hugely helpful, and if you’ll be playing with equipment (even in Green Weenie) or Fangren Firstborn, these fliers go up in value. Honestly, I can’t see why any non-Weenie deck wouldn’t want Birds of Paradise.

Status: Highly doubtful in Green Weenie and a staple in Medium Green and Big Green.

Elvish Pioneer:

As the glorious Wakefield showed, Elvish Pioneer is superior to Birds of Paradise if you’re aiming for early Blanchwood Armor beats (an enchanted Elvish Pioneer deals four damage on turn 2 whereas an enchanted Bird deals three damage on turn 3.). Beyond this, Elvish Pioneer can attack even if you don’t have Blanchwood Armor or equipment, and the little fellow has synergy with Elvish Champion. It cannot, however, fix mana, and likely as not, it won’t be powering out giant monsters particularly early in the game. If nothing else, it’s one heck of a disappointing draw in the late game.

Status: Excellent in Green Weenie and deck dependent Medium and Big Green.

Hana Kami:

Here are the Arcane spells that Mono-Green might consider running: Kodama’s Might, Kodama’s Reach, and Cranial Extraction. Wear Away isn’t on the list because, if you’re including Hana Kami for Wear Away’s sake, you should probably just play Elvish Scrapper and/or Elvish Lyrist. Hana Kami just isn’t worthwhile here. This is, of course, a bit simplistic. If you have Cranial Extraction in the sideboard and want artifact/enchantment removal in the sideboard, you may well want to play Wear Away over Naturalize. Unfortunately, neither Wear Away nor Naturalize are necessary maindecked, and you’ll look pretty silly if you play Hana Kami without any maindeck Arcane Spells. Kodama’s Might still appears interesting, but as will be discussed later, it is inferior to many of the format’s other creature pump spells.

Status: Unplayable across the board.

Child of Thorns:

There are a few points to be made about this creature. First of all, it’s not half as bad in Constructed as most players think it is. Green has few Standard-worthy Spirits, so if you want to play Kodama of the South Tree, Child of the Thorns is nearly the only smart spiritcraft trigger besides Kodama of the North Tree. Also, if you’re running Slith Predator, Child of Thorns can help punch it through for that essential first attack phase. When considering the alternatives, Child of Thorns can’t get too high of marks, but if you need this type of utility, you should keep it in mind.

Status: Probably not worthwhile across the board. Goes up in value if you’re playing Kodama of the South Tree.

Jukai Messenger:

The logic in favor of Jukai Messenger goes as follows: If you want to play a deck that can beat Tooth and Nail, you want to play some kind non-Elf centric evasion that can be fitted with Blanchwood Armor. Traditionally, this leads you to consider Rushwood Dryad and Slith Predator, both of which are fine creatures if you have pump. However, assuming you also want to run the wonderful Viridian Zealot, you might end up flooding your deck with two-drops (don’t forget Sakura-Tribe Elder). Against White Weenie, your weakest match-up, Jukai Messenger isn’t substantially worse than Rushwood Dryad (sure, the Dryad can kill Isamaru, Hound of Konda, but it still dies to every other attacker), and Rushwood Dryad isn’t substantially better than Jukai Messenger against Tooth (assuming you just want a Blanchwood Armor carrier). This seems like a compelling enough argument for Medium Green and Green Weenie (which might end up playing both Dryad and Messenger). You should still note though that playing Jukai Messenger on turn 1 means that you won’t be playing Blanchwood Armor until turn 3 anyway. Additionally, Green has many interesting one-drops at the moment.

Status: Interesting in non-Elf Green Weenie and Medium Green but probably not ideal. Laughable in Big Green.

Elvish Lyrist:

So, it’s fine utility, but what enchantments are dangerous to you? Opposing Blanchwood Armor, Hondens (including Honden of Infinite Rage), and Night of Souls’ Betrayal. The last of these two will kill off Elvish Lyrist before it gets a chance to sacrifice itself, and the first of these is a minor enough threat at the moment to relegate enchantment-removing utility to the multi-tasking Viridian Zealot.

Status: Small degree of playability in Elf-based Green Weenie but not useful elsewhere.

Elvish Scrapper:

Far more interesting than its enchantment-hating cousin, Elvish Scrapper should find a place in all Green Weenie decks. Medium and Big Green won’t want too many one-drops though, and Elvish Scrapper already competes with Birds of Paradise and Elvish Pioneer. If you’re playing with artifacts (and, thus, not playing with Molder Slug), a full set of Elvish Scrappers might not be a bad idea. If you’re running Molder Slug, you probably don’t want more than a handful of Elvish Scrappers in your deck. The fact that this Elf is plagued by summoning sickness in a world full of Umezawa’s Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice is unfortunate; still, the creature can tie up Vedalken Shackles for eternity.

Status: Necessary in Elf-based Green Weenie, most likely a four-of in other Green Weenie builds, and Molder Slug-dependent in Medium and Big Green. In any case, packing a bit extra removal can’t hurt.

Gaea’s Herald:

There was a time when I liked Gaea’s Herald in Mono-Green, but the card is far too narrow. It’s fabulous against MUC, yet I want multi-use answers from the sideboard, and this creature does nothing against your biggest fear in that matchup, Bribery. Also, as a two-drop, it competes with the more versatile Matsu-Tribe Sniper post-sideboarding. True, I’d rather have the Herald than the Sniper against MUC, but which one would I rather have against White Weenie?

Status: An outside contender in Elf-based Green Weenie and not worth considering elsewhere.

Matsu-Tribe Sniper

This certainly isn’t a card I’m happy playing, but it might be your best sideboard option against White Weenie. After the first few turns of the game, you should be able to deal with White Weenie’s ground creatures, but all the Molder Slugs in the world won’t help you against a Skyhunter Skirmisher that’s equipped with Sword of Fire and Ice the turn the artifact enters play. Of course, if you splash for Black or Red, you have plenty of other options, but it’s unwise to place all of your answers to your worst match-up in a splash color. Matsu-Tribe Sniper should probably come in against MUC to shut-down Keiga, the Tide Star. The “doesn’t untap” effect could also buy you a turn against Tooth and Nail.

Status: Unfortunate but possibly necessary sideboard choice due to White Weenie. If you have a better suggestion, I’d be happy to hear it.

Canopy Spider:

Not nearly as good as Matsu-Tribe Sniper.

Status: Unplayable across the board.

Sakura-Tribe Elder:

This Snake is probably even more controversial than Birds of Paradise at the moment. We all know that Sakura-Tribe Elder is a great card; it thins the library, pumps Blanchwood Armor and Beacon of Creation, provides removal-resistant mana fixing and acceleration, helps shuffle away Sensei’s Diving Top, and is a fantastic chump blocker. Sadly, unlike Birds of Paradise and Elvish Pioneer, it has no synergy with Fangren Firstborn, competes with a bevy of possible two-drops, and will never accelerate Blanchwood Armor into play (depending on your deck’s build, it might be unwise to play Blanchwood Armor on Birds of Paradise or Elvish Pioneer anyway). If you’re playing with lots of big creatures or Beacon of Creation, you definitely want Sakura-Tribe Elder. The same is true if you want to splash a second color. You know something? You do want to splash a second color. Forget about how much it dilutes your deck’s Aggro power.

Status: Sakura-Tribe Elder is a necessity in all decks except for Green Weenie.

Rushwood Dryad:

Dave Meddish is right about this one. If anything, he underestimates Rushwood Dryad’s power against Tooth and Nail because he doesn’t want to run Blanchwood Armor. Consider the following: Play Rushwood Dryad on turn 2; enchant it on turn 3, and attack for five; attack for six on turn 4; and attack for seven on turn 5. If you’re on the play, that’s eighteen points of unblockable damage before Tooth and Nail typically can cast its namesake spell. Furthermore, since that scenario takes no acceleration into account, you have plenty of other cards with which to deal those last two damage. Rushwood Dryad is pretty bad against the rest of the field though. As noted before, it can’t kill even a single non-canine attacker (and even Tundra Wolves can rip it up) from White Weenie. If Tooth and Nail is incredibly unpopular in your area, don’t play Rushwood Dryad. Or better yet, play Tooth and Nail instead of Mono-Green. Obviously, if you want to push some kind of Elf-theme, Rushwood Dryad is unhelpful. Finally, note that a smart Tooth and Nail player will render an Armored Rushwood Dryad blockable after resolving Tooth and Nail by killing off her own forests with Sundering Titan + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker.

Status: Assuming you’re playing Blanchwood Armor, an excellent card in all non-Elf decks. You should, by the way, play Blanchwood Armor.

Slith Predator:

Slith Predator serves as a pseudo-Rushwood Dryad against non-Green decks. It’s pretty useless without pump or Blanchwood Armor however. Let’s look at the Tooth and Nail scenario again: Play Slith Predator on turn 2; enchant it on turn 3, and attack for four; attack for six on turn 4; and attack for eight on turn 5. That’s still eighteen points of damage. Obviously, Slith Predator could be blocked by Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder, or (worse) Vine Trellis somewhere along the way to slow things down, yet even against Tooth and Nail, Slith Predator is nearly as good as Rushwood Dryad if you have Blanchwood Armor. This, incidentally, is why you might, in some parallel universe, consider playing Jukai Messenger in place of Rushwood Dryad if you’re lacking space for two-drops and really want to kick Tooth and Nail in the crotch. Slith Predator, however, is practically useless if you have no means of pumping it up. In case you haven’t noticed, Blachwood Armor is a terribly important card for all Mono-Green builds.

Status: Slith Predator is great in non-Elf Mono-Green decks with sufficient pump backup.

Joiner Adept:

The appeal here is undeniable. Joiner Adept will obviously do more attacking than Birds of Paradise, and if you want to use it to replace Sakura-Tribe Elder, it could tempt you to splash for multiple colors. The problem here is that the acceleration of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Birds of Paradise is what makes these creatures excellent. It won’t do you a lot of good splashing Black for Cranial Extraction if you can’t play the spell before your opponent plays Bribery or Tooth and Nail. There are far better two-drops. It is, at least, an Elf.

Status: Could be interesting in Elf-based decks that want to splash but doesn’t want to play Birds of Paradise; at the very least, it’s a two-power two-drop with a useful ability. Elsewhere, it shouldn’t warrant a second glance.

Viridian Zealot:

I simply can’t understand why Viridian Zealot still isn’t getting the respect it deserves. Even in thoroughly two-color decks, it’s one of the most universally useful Green creatures in the history of the game. Not necessarily one of the most dominating, but definitely one of the most useful. Viridian Zealot has the right power for its casting cost, can remove artifacts and enchantments the turn it comes into play, and can remove artifacts and enchantments.

Status: Staple in every Mono-Green build.

Loam Dweller:

The only reason we’re even looking at Loam Dwelling is because Kodama of the South Tree is so tempting and bears are so rare in today’s Green. This isn’t reason enough to play Loam Dweller. Against White Weenie, the matchup always in the back of our minds, Loam Dweller’s superiority over Rushwood Dryad comes down to this: It can kill Tundra Wolves (God, no!) and requires multiple Jitte counters to kill. Ouch.

Status: Don’t play this card unless you’re pursuing a heavy Spirit theme or expect to see a lot of one-power, non-flying, non-Tundra Wolves, non-Green blockers.

Humble Budoka:

This bear is barely better than Loam Dweller. Playing Humble Budoka for the MUC match-up is probably a bit of overkill, especially because these Monks will force you to drop a set of Tooth-killing two-drops from your list. They have no synergy whatsoever with Blanchwood Armor and equipment although I’ll grant that they’re kind of cool with Fangren Firstborn.

Come again tomorrow. Please?


Adam Grydehøj

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