Why Vivien, Arkbow Ranger May Mark The Return of Mono-Green In Core Set 2020 Standard

Core Set 2020 brings a whole host of new planeswalkers to the Standard party, and Wyatt Darby knows just what to do with Vivien, Arkbow Ranger!

It’s that time of year again. With Core Set 2020 preview season well underway, I’d like to talk today about a card that’s brimming with Standard potential: Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. While the newest incarnation of Vivien isn’t perfect, I believe that she has the power to overcome these deficiencies and see a healthy amount of play.

To begin, we should evaluate each of her three abilities:

[+1]: Distribute two +1/+1 counters among up to two target creatures. They gain trample until end of turn.

We saw a similar ability on Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants last year but Vivien thoroughly outclasses Ajani here in a couple of ways. Allowing players the ability to dump both counters on one creature makes it easier for Vivien to consistently produce an additional two power every turn, where Ajani’s power could be mitigated if your opponent could reduce you down to one creature.

The more important upgrade, though, is Vivien being able to grant your creatures Trample. In some formats this keyword wouldn’t be of much relevance, but in a Standard format that’s flush with Hero of Precinct One tokens that Trample can give you the critical reach needed to finish off the problematic planeswalkers that currently define the format. There’s no shortage of creatures that get much stronger when paired with this +1, but here are a few that jumped to my mind immediately:

Nullhide Ferox Ripjaw Raptor Steel Leaf Champion God-Eternal Rhonas
Growth-Chamber Guardian Vine Mare Gigantosaurus Impervious Greatwurm

I may have gone off into the deep end a bit for those last few, but there are still a wealth of already-good creatures that become great when paired with Vivien.

Next up is her -3 ability:

[-3]: Target creature you control deals damage equal to its power to target creature or planeswalker.

Unless Standard changes drastically with the release of Core Set 2020, Vivien having the ability to enter the battlefield and immediately remove an opposing planeswalker is massive. Unfortunately, unlike some stalwarts of the current format like Nissa, Who Shakes the World, you need some amount of presence on the battlefield to have access to a productive downtick right away. This pushes me to want to pair resilient creatures with Vivien whenever possible, maximizing our access to this “punch” ability.

What excites me is the ability to pair Vivien with Domri, Anarch of Bolas. Doing so allows you to bring a reasonable density of removal while minimizing the number of functionally-dead cards you can draw against control. Both planeswalkers push you in the same direction, playing large creatures to produce the most consistent fights you can, and there’s no shortage of excellent options there in Standard.

Finally, we have an ultimate that functions as a Wish:

[-5]: You may choose a creature card you own from outside the game, reveal it, and put it into your hand.

This ability packs a ton of flexibility into any deck that’s playing Vivien, and it does a lot of work to make up for the lack of traditional card advantage in the other two abilities. What I mean by this is that finding the perfect tool for any situation can be worth more than a random card or two off the top of the deck. The natural next question is, what’s the best and tightest toolbox you can assemble in Standard?

To some extent this is going to depend on the metagame, but there are a few cards I suspect will consistently go hand-in-hand with Vivien over the next few months. Carnage Tyrant isn’t rampaging over the metagame like it used to, but the combination of a pile of stats and Hexproof is still capable of winning games all by itself. Shifting Ceratops is another powerful addition, as a five-power haster is an ideal tool to kill an upticked Teferi of either variety. I would also expect Naturalize effects like Reclamation Sage or Thrashing Brontodon to come up enough to warrant a spot, and the newly-reprinted Loaming Shaman even introduces some graveyard hate to the mix.

I’ve talked a bit about all the wonderful things Vivien can do, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention what she lacks. If your opponent can keep the battlefield clear, Vivien is a zero in terms of real impact on the table. This leaves a full turn where your four-mana investment is vulnerable before the ultimate is available, and I suspect this is something that will be exploited at least some amount of the time. The decks that rose to the top of War of the Spark Standard were built to consistently remove exposed planeswalkers, so the pressure is on us to remain at least at parity.

Another cost you pay when putting Vivien into your deck is a tax on your manabase. Triple green isn’t a trivial cost, and it could punish you for playing double-costed cards of another color in your deck. You can mitigate the issue by playing Paradise Druid or additional dual lands like Rugged Highlands, but I think a conservative approach to mana requirements seems best.

With all these things in mind, here is the first shell I’d like to try Vivien in:

I’ve made some changes from current Gruul lists to accommodate the additional planeswalkers. Beyond the previously-mentioned manafixing, Paradise Druid can frequently become a real threat with the help of Domri and Vivien’s stat boosts. To solve the problem of running out of threats to pump, Nissa takes the role of top-end finisher away from Skarrgan Hellkite. This change heavily punishes your opponent for trying to beat you with one-for-one removal, and it does great work to keep your planeswalkers protected.

Truthfully, I’m not sure if Steel Leaf Champion still meets the bar as a playable creature. While being weak to Teferi, Time Raveler is a major strike, the large Elf Knight still brickwalls aggo and provides a potent clock against the slower part of the Standard spectrum. Legion Warboss is an option should you want to go wide, and Thrashing Brontodon is always an option even though it is unexciting.

While the exact numbers and threats will change as the metagame ebbs and flows, there’s some real power in the newest Green planeswalker. Whether in Gruul or other aggressive Green strategies, I look forward to seeing how the Arkbow Ranger is utilized in the upcoming release of Core Set 2020.