The 2018 World Championship, the most important tournament I’ll ever play
in, is quickly approaching. While I’ll be the least accomplished player in
attendance, I plan to be the most prepared. That has meant long days of
Magic Online, and I’ve come away from that testing with a few treasure
chests and a good sense for some of the top archetypes in Standard. Today
I’d like to take you through a primer of Mono-Green Aggro, the archetype I
played at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary and one that’s teeming with raw power.
Although my list was far from perfect, I managed to finish the Pro Tour
with an individual record of 9-5.
At its core, Mono-Green Aggro is a simple deck; you’re trying to leverage
the power of some of the most pushed creatures in Standard while protecting
them with the most efficient counterspell in the format in Blossoming
Defense. The gameplay portion of Mono-Green can be as straightforward as
deploying your resilient threats on curve to overwhelm your opponent, but,
in my opinion, building your deck is where the real challenge with
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 3 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
- 3 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
- 3 Thrashing Brontodon
- 4 Steel Leaf Champion
When building Mono-Green in Standard, the first choice is what, if any,
additional colors you will include. If Bant Nexus becomes a dominant force
in Standard, you’ll likely be forced into choosing blue to gain access to
counterspells, which I’ve found to be the best way to give yourself any
amount of game in the matchup. Fortunately for Mono-Green players, I don’t
think that is the case yet. With that in mind, I’ve stuck to splashing
black, dipping into the color primarily for the unbelievably powerful
Scrapheap Scrounger. In many ways, I think Scrounger is the perfect card
for Mono-Green as simply being a three-power two-drop enables a powerful
curve that can result in a turn 4 Ghalta, Primal Hunger. However, the more
important dimension that the two-drop provides is resilience. With Heart of
Kiran, Rhonas, the Indomitable, and Ghalta all depending on having power on
the battlefield, it can punish opponents whose plan revolves entirely
around keeping your battlefield clear.
One card that’s noticeably absent from the list above is Thorn Lieutenant.
At face value, the resiliency and lategame flexibility of a mana-sink seems
powerful, but Thorn Lieutenant is a card with remarkably little impact on
the battlefield. While the ability to generate card advantage against
removal spells looks appealing, it’s important to look at the extra body
you receive. A one-power Elf cannot crew Heart of Kiran, requires two pumps
from Rhonas to allow the God to attack, and doesn’t apply a meaningful
clock on an empty battlefield.
Remember, Mono-Green is an aggressive deck first, and if you look at the
number of relevant creatures Thorn Lieutenant can attack through, it’s
embarrassingly low. More importantly, Mono-Green isn’t lacking in mana
sinks. Both Hashep Oasis and Rhonas can help mitigate flood, which results
in even fewer situations where you actually want to activate Thorn
Lieutenant’s ability. Simply put, Thorn Lieutenant isn’t impactful enough
to warrant a spot in a metagame that isn’t dominated by very low to the
ground mono-red decks, the one matchup where a resilient 2/3 body shines.
The creature I’ve opted for instead is Servant of the Conduit. While it’s
unassuming, there are a few excellent synergies Servant provides. What I
believe to be the most important aspect of Servant is the ability to curve
it into a three-drop with the mana to protect your new investment with
Blossoming Defense. Servant also allows your Greenbelt Rampagers to
immediately enter the battlefield, which can oddly give the deck a kind of
go-wide approach that has stolen me some games while on the play. Finally,
it can add a new dimension to how your sideboard games can play out. With a
higher density of mana creatures, you can use multiple mana accelerants to
cast a five-mana planeswalker on turn 3, something that consistently buries
your opponents before the game has even begun.
With the extra mana accelerants, I found my maindeck wanting another
expensive, impactful creature. After a bit of searching, I arrived at
Verdurous Gearhulk. It does almost everything Mono-Green wants: provides an
extra avenue to turn your accelerants into meaningful threats, makes
attacking with Rhonas almost guaranteed, and provides the vast majority of
power needed to get Ghalta onto the battlefield. Vine Mare also benefits
greatly from counters given by Gearhulk, and this is an excellent
combination to allow your Vine Mare to survive traditional hate cards like
Torrential Gearhulk or various black and red sweepers.
How To Sideboard
VS R/B Aggro
I consider a favorable matchup against R/B Aggro to be one of the main
draws to playing Mono-Green Aggro in the current Standard format. Your
advantage in the matchup comes from your wealth of four-toughness
creatures. The raw stat advantage of your creatures allows you to dominate
the battlefield, pressure your opponent’s life total, and tax the limited
four plus damage removal your R/B Aggro opponent will have. The primary
causes for concern, however, are Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer. The
best way to combat these threats is to immediately exile them with Hour of
Glory or use a Blossoming Defense to either counter timely exert triggers
or push through damage against a blocking Phoenix.
Nissa, Vital Force was instrumental for most of my match wins against R/B
Aggro at the Pro Tour. Many times, my opponents were forced to trade
multiple burn spells for one animated forest, an exchange that quickly
drained them of all their resources. Shapers’ Sanctuary provides similar
protection against the expected control plan from R/B Aggro, but with the
additional advantage of filling the hole in the curve created by the
must-cut Llanowar Elves.
VS Mono-Green Aggro
The mirror is very simple, as everything revolves around Ghalta and Rhonas.
These creatures provide overwhelming stats or an indestructible body, and
every other creature pales in comparison. Some games will grind to a halt,
as neither player finds these haymakers, but having aerial superiority with
Heart of Kiran can be enough to steal the game. The biggest way to improve
your win percentage in the mirror is to mulligan aggressively. Hands that
curve Scrapheap Scrounger into Thrashing Brontodon may look fine but will
almost never be powerful enough to be converted into game wins.
Nissa is not a card that excels against your opponents’ best draws, but she
gives you the ability to both rebuy your Ghaltas that die in combat and
create creatures that will outclass many of the mediocre creatures your
opponent won’t be able to sideboard out. When the mirror is a larger
percentage of the metagame, consider the fourth copy of both Rhonas and
Ghalta in the sideboard.
VS Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome
Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome is a matchup I consider to be quite
favorable. Because they’re lacking in ways to interact with your creatures
once they hit the battlefield, you’ll have free rein to deploy Ghalta as
soon as possible. Steel Leaf Champion and Rhonas also make threats that are
unblockable or make chump blocking with Thopter tokens impractical. When
you roll in maindeck disruption with the disenchant ability of Thrashing
Brontodon, you have all of the ingredients for a positive matchup.
In the sideboard games, you must try and strike the balance of keeping your
opponent’s battlefield under control while applying pressure. That is why
the third Hour of Glory stays in the sideboard, as you really want to snipe
the first Sai, Master Thopterist from your opponent, but flooding on the
effect can cost you games. Sorcerous Spyglass is a consideration, as it
gives you the ability to shut off Karn, Scion of Urza (which is a
problematic card), but is too narrow for my taste.
VS Bant Nexus
Here it is, the matchup that feels so hopeless it makes me consider
abandoning Mono-Green entirely. Besides the ability to disenchant a stray
Gift of Paradise or Search for Azcanta, you have no meaningful interaction.
You’re effectively a goldfish giving your opponent an ample amount of time
to set up their defenses. I’ve tried fixing the matchup with a stack of
discard spells, but it has proven difficult to both find the time to cast
the interactive spells and have the ability to sufficiently pressure your
opponent’s life total.
The most realistic thing you can do against Bant Nexus is try and assemble
the quickest kill possible and hope they run out of fogs. If you can pair
the pressure with a timely disenchant or Sorcerous Spyglass, you’ll have a
chance. It’s important not to get lazy and overattack into a Settle the
Wreckage if you can avoid it.
VS Grixis Midrange
Another one of your more difficult matchups, Grixis has the ability to play
a wealth of excellent removal, counterspells, and threats that all line up
well against green. This interaction can make you unable to cast Ghalta,
enable Rhonas to attack, or even have the creatures required to crew Heart
of Kiran. While Mono-Green has some excellent sideboard options,
highlighted by Vine Mare, you need to be prepared to play around sweepers
like Yahenni’s Expertise or Hour of Devastation that any prepared Grixis
opponent will surely have access to.
I’ve found the most challenging aspect of these games to be playing around
your opponents’ countermagic. Taking turns to cast non-creature threats
like Heart of Kiran can allow you to advance your gameplan and burn your
opponent for holding up Essence Scatter. If you can continue to play this
way, eventually the coast should become clear to land a Vine Mare that you
can ride to victory.
VS Esper Control
Esper Control is a deck that has burst to the forefront of the format off
the back of a great Bant Nexus and R/B Aggro matchup. While I haven’t
played against it as much as the other decks listed above, I believe the
matchup should be reasonable.
Shapers’ Sanctuary is a consideration, but your opponent countering all
your relevant creatures instead of using removal makes it too much of a
risk in my opinion. The general gameplan is to apply enough pressure to
your opponent to prompt them into tapping low. Use that window to resolve a
planeswalker or Vine Mare and the games tend to snowball from that point.
One thing to think about is if you can afford to lose a Vine Mare to
Torrential Gearhulk when attacking into six open mana.
Ultimately, I think Mono-Green Aggro is an excellent choice in the near
future as the format adjusts to be more hostile to your natural predator,
Bant Nexus. Standard is a volatile format and the answers you need will
change on a week-to-week basis. So, instead, I propose leaning on the raw
power of Llanowar Elves and company to put your opponents to the test.
You’ll be surprised at how often they’ll fail.