Tribal Thriftiness #22 – Green With Envy

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Thursday, May 8th – Dave started playing Magic back when people weren’t afraid to eat their steaks raw, weren’t afraid to travel to exotic countries, and stayed away from namby-pamby combo decks. Okay, it was the nineties, but it was still a simpler time – a time when a guy could go into FNM and play Mono-Green and be feared…

I started playing Magic back when Tempest had just come out. Like all young novice Magic players, I went through my Timmy phase, even though I would have been twenty-five at the time. I still have a deep-seated love for big creatures – especially the Green ones.

My first tournament was somewhere in the woods of New Jersey. It was being held on the same day as a PTQ or maybe even a Pre-Release, which was odd, but there were still a handful of people playing. I played Stompy and came in third. I wonder if that decklist ever made it up into Usenet anywhere …

Ha! Here it is. The Internetz, they are a wonderful thing.

Stompy, played by Dave Meeson in 1998

4 Llanowar Elves
2 Wall of Roots

4 Jolrael’s Centaur
4 River Boa
4 Rogue Elephant
4 Trained Armodon
3 Harvest Wurm
3 Pincher Beetles

4 Giant Growth
2 Overrun
3 Creeping Mold

4 Winter Orb

17 Forest

Was I the original innovator of Gnarled Mass technology, seen here in its more-elephantine form of Trained Armodon? Well, I don’t know about that. I think I just thought 3/3 for three mana was pretty good. Wall of Roots is somewhat counter-productive to all the attacking this deck wanted to do … but never mind! Also note that it’s 58 cards, and I’m pretty sure I played Muscle Sliver, but whatever. Everyone’s allowed a little poetic license now and then, especially on the Internetz.

I never lost the love for Mono-Green decks. At New Jersey States in 1999, here’s what I played.

4 Albino Troll
4 River Boa
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Pouncing Jaguar
2 Wild Dogs
2 Squallmonger
2 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Elvish Lyrist
2 Masticore

4 Giant Growth
4 Rancor
3 Plow Under
3 Crop Rotation

14 Forest
4 Treetop Village
2 Gaea’s Cradle
1 Yavimaya Hollow

The first decklist had 58 cards; this one has 61. That’s Jamie Wakefield fault. I was a faithful minion in the Cult of Wakefield at that time. I probably still am. Although … now looking at that list, it’s far too few lands for a Wakefield-approved deck. Still, I went 3-3 with the deck, ended up in 40th place, and it’s the first tournament listed in my Constructed Ratings History. I made 10 points!

Mono-Green was great from a budget standpoint, and these decks are from when I was really on a budget. I hadn’t started my career yet, I was waiting tables in an Applebee’s – and so you can see that the number of rares is really limited. I think I actually borrowed the Cradles, to boot. But Green aggro was a good choice because the creatures were always that little bit bigger than the guys on the other side of the table. In a day and age with 1/1 Faerie Rogue tokens and 1/1 Elf Warrior tokens, I think I’d like to go back to making 3/3’s for three.

Shadowmoor is really what got me thinking about it. At the Pre-Release, I drafted a Mono-Blue fliers deck, and I was shocked how easy Shadowmoor makes playing a single color. At the Release Party this weekend, I seriously toyed with playing a number of single colors before remembering that I should maximize my creature base, which necessitated a second color. The hybrid mana means that a single-color player has a lot of choices to pick from – more than from a regular set. I think MaRo covered that in one of his articles during Shadowmoor previews: In a normal set, any one color gets only 20% of all colored cards; in Shadowmoor, it’s 30% (10% monocolored, plus 10% for each of the hybrids).

One of the important things about Mono-Green specifically and about beatdown decks in general is to have a good curve. Take a look at the decks I listed above. While not spectacular in terms of money cards, they both follow the curve principle, letting you maximize your mana every turn. The creature base of the first deck: 8x 1cc, 9x 2cc, 11x 3cc; the second deck: 12x 1cc, 8x 2cc, 2x 3cc, 4x 4cc.

In the one casting-cost slot:

Llanowar Elves: Due to the low casting cost of most of the guys in the deck, Mono-Green aggro decks tend to run low on land. Llanowar Elves not only ensure that you can make your two- and three-drops if you’re light on land, but also accelerate you into those three-drops on the second turn. He attacks in a pinch as well, just in case you’ve got nothing to do with his mana.

Magus of the Vineyard: I don’t consider him a beatdown creature, but I wanted to mention him as another possibility for mana-ramping. With the proper mana sink for the mid-game, he can push out an unrealistic army quite quickly. The only problem is that he may turn into a liability by giving your opponents the mana as well, allowing Elves to match you, or Reveillark to get going early, or just pushing your opponent closer to sweeping the board.

Tattermunge Maniac: As an aggressive deck, we definitely want early attackers. Old Stompy decks used Wild Dogs, Pouncing Jaguar, and Ghazban Ogre as a one-casting-cost, two-power attacker. The Maniac is better than all these guys because (a) there are no worries about him defecting to the dark side and (b) there’s no impact to your development next turn.

Uktabi Drake: It’s hard to classify Uktabi Drake as a true 1cc creature, seeing as how you can’t play it on turn 1. Does the haste and flying make up for that? And if so, how do you categorize it? Do you count it as a 2cc? A 3cc? As a 3cc, it definitely loses out to some of the more powerful cards down the list.

There are 1cc guys that need other cards to be good – Elvish Berserker and Scuzzback Scrapper, for instance, really want some sort of pump effect to take full advantage of their keywords, while Virulent Sliver wants more Slivers.

At two mana:

Boreal Centaur: Consider him a 3/3 with a one-mana upkeep, and he goes from looking like a Grizzly Bear to a contender. Green aggro thrives on creatures that have higher power than casting cost, and by turn 4 or 5, it’s increasingly likely that you’ll have that extra mana available.

Elvish Warrior: Still wins the fights with most other 2cc creatures.

Kavu Predator: There’s quite a bit of lifegain out in Standard right now. Primal Command sees play, and the “gain 7 life” option is a popular one; Loxodon Warhammer is still around as well. And now with Kitchen Finks coming in to the format, it’s possible that a Kavu Predator could pretty big. The problem is that you really have no idea going in whether he’ll be ginormous … or just a 2/2. Maybe in the sideboard.

Mire Boa: So, River Boa was definitely good enough to see play. They both have a relevant evasion ability (Islandwalk let you sneak by Steel Golems in Blue control decks; Swampwalk gets you through against current Faerie and Elf decks), they both still regenerate, and they both are 2/1’s for 2 mana. Was River Boa (then) that much better than Mire Boa (now)? I don’t think so. Especially when you consider that most control decks use Desert for defense against small creatures, which Mire Boa easily zips past with the right amount of mana. Quicksand is still in 10th Edition, though, and is still the bane of Boas everywhere.

Safehold Elite: A Grizzly Bear by any other name, but still that little bit sweeter, as he comes back from mass removal. Providing yourself with mass removal protection has always been one of aggro’s biggest problems; in the past, Green got cards like Caller of the Claw to try and make up for the focus on Magic’s most easily-removed resource. Persist seems like a great mechanic in this type of deck, letting your guys come back for another round of attacking.

Sheltering Ancient: A 5/5 trampler for two mana is hard to pass up – especially for a deck that will not only have other things to do at 2 mana should your opponent not have a creature. The only downside is that it’s cumulative, which means eventually you’re building something that’s going to be bigger than your guys. Mono-Green doesn’t exactly have removal spells at its disposal. There’s no Unyaro Bee Sting in this format. That being said, as long as you’re willing to treat him as a two- or three-turn investment, he might be worth it.

Wren’s Run Vanquisher: The only question about the Vanquisher will be how reliably we can cast her for two mana. Obviously a 3/3 deathtouch is a great deal at two mana – at five mana, not so much.

I’m purposefully staying away from the tribal guys, except in cases where they’re ridiculously good even without the tribal interaction. Guys like Wolf-Skull Shaman and Bramblewood Paragon are great when surrounded by like-minded (or like-typed) individuals, but I’m trying not to be pinned down by the tribal mechanics for this deck.

At three mana:

Boggart Ram Gang: A 3/3 for three mana certainly seems to be the usual “going rate” for Green these days; Wizards went from the 1GG Gnarled Mass to the 2G Nessian Courser as the standard in 10th. So what do we get for the extra color “requirement”? Haste? Sounds good. Wither too? Okay, I’m sold. I like that 3-power attacker on turn 2 – it’s why I played Rogue Elephant. I also like that this guy will eventually batter his way through a Wall of Roots. I always had problems with those.

Gloomwidow: Well, Rishadan Airship was good enough to see play in Masques-era Blue Skies decks, and the thought process is “who cares about your blocking restrictions if you don’t plan on actually blocking anyway?” Well, the problem is that if you pay no attention to the blocking ability on Gloomwidow, there’s no reason to play it over Nessian Courser.

Groundbreaker: The Green Ball Lightning never really saw much love, but I think he’s still pretty good. Six power of trample is going to be hard to stop early in the game, guaranteeing that your opponent is going to take some damage from your one-shot guy. And thanks to his lack of popularity, he’s yours for the bargain-basement price of $2.50.

Hunting Moa: At the very least, even without another creature on the board, he’s a 4/3 for three mana and the upkeep echo cost. His counters also help out with another three-casting-cost creature down the page a bit.

Kitchen Finks: Okay, down the page one entry. Kitchen Finks are great – I don’t think there’s any secret about that any more. The 3/2 body is acceptable for three mana, and the lifegain is certainly a nice perk. Once again, the Persist mechanic pushes him over the edge. And with the right number of +1/+1 counters around, the Finks could come back for more than just one extra attack.

Pincher Beetles: Well, they brought them back in 10th Edition, and I love them. Yes, they trade with everything on the planet, but if your opponent has no blockers and is relying on targeted removal to protect her, then Pincher Beetles will hit for quite a bit before the world gets blown up.

The supporting cast:

Creature pump is a necessity. The old standby, Giant Growth, is still around – and they reprinted Overrun in 10th Edition. A slump in popularity has also seen Stonewood Invocation fall to the reasonable price of $2.50. That’s all fine and dandy, but what about disruption? Both of the decks listed above had an element of disruption, albeit small. The only option that I could find would be Thorn of Amethyst ($2.50), but that only hurts your opponent if he isn’t playing creatures – which, unfortunately, most decks are centered around nowadays.

And so, I present to you, TT’s first legitimate contender deck:

Rare Cost Summary:
Groundbreaker ($2.50 x 4 = $10.00)
Stonewood Invocation ($2.50 x 2 = $5.00)

I’m not sure where the Spike Feeders came from. I was thinking about Hunting Moa and the +1/+1 counters and resetting Persist and then I realized, hey, I know a guy who’s all about the +1/+1 counters! So I squeezed in two. Creeping Mold is kind of a “break glass in case of emergencies” card, but there’s more artifact / enchantment removal in the sideboard.

Oh! The sideboard: 4 Thorn of Amethyst, 4 Firespout, 3 Krosan Grip, 2 Gleeful Sabotage, 2 Undecided

This deck is built. It’s going into the hands of a friend of mine in the next FNM, so next week I’ll have some more insight into matchups, sideboarding, what those last two sideboard cards are, and whether or not the deck is competitive enough to run at FNM.

Until then…