Wild and Untamed Thing: Why Not to Draft Green

I recently drafted a spectacular Green deck and smashed my opponent’s skulls in relatively short order. After the tournament was over, I got to asking myself, “How the golly did that happen?” This fleeting taste of success with Green gave me the impression that I had done something right. Unfortunately, this was, as I would later learn, wrong.

An Apology from the Author

I received quite a lot of feedback concerning my last article. Much of it was appreciative, but a considerable portion of the e-mails were what must be considered”constructive criticism.” Many of these latter letters pointed out that my writing is deficient in style, distanced from the accepted idiom. Perhaps, Mike Kelly from Vermont put it best when he wrote,”It’s good stuff, man. But I think that you’re really out of touch with the desires of the normal, casual reader of Magic strategy articles, imho.” Also, Danny Rudolphus of Idaho, despite being rather less eloquent than Mike, spoke from the heart in writing,”Everyone here at Grover Cleveland Middle School thinks you suck.” Lest it be said that I do not respond to criticism, I have decided to add some spice to my writing. You’ll find less techno-babble and more vivacity in my new pieces. I’m intent on delivering what the normal, casual reader of Magic strategy articles wants.

You Get a Hit, and Your Mind Goes Ping

A few weeks ago, I had an unfortunate experience on Magic Online.

I drafted a spectacular Green deck. There were no Green bombs; Molder Slug, Troll Ascetic, Fangren Firstborn, and Glissa Sunseeker all stayed home while the Little Piggy went to the market. Even artifact destruction eluded me. Nevertheless, what I windmill-slammed from the digital packs was solid: Some spellbombs and mana myr, a pair of Fangren Hunters, two One Dozen Eyes (Two Dozen Eyes?), a Plated Slagwurm, and Tangle Golem triplets. I also splashed Black for Betrayal of Flesh and Terror, neither of which were ever necessary. Skullclamp made a cameo appearance too, yet it nearly always immediately crumpled to artifact removal. The one occasion on which it survived past my next upkeep, it dug into an entwined One Dozen Eyes (that’s the nut high), but I swear, I was going to win even before I drew those ten extra cards.

You see, the deck was ridiculous. I’d play a couple of lands then go nuts. I hardly even got a chance to say hello to our dear, Dutch friend, Herr Topdecking. Each round, I got a nuts draw and just cleaned up. When the third Tangle Golem came down and started smacking one round, it felt like I had gone mad and begun hoarding nuts in a hollow tree trunk.

After the tournament was over, I got to asking myself,”How the golly did that happen?” This fleeting taste of success with Green gave me the impression that I had done something right. Unfortunately, this was, as I would later learn, wrong.

Rose Tints My World, Keeps Me Safe from My Trouble and Pain

Needless to say, I set about theorizing lickety-split. I was already aware that everyone and his/her uncle/aunt believed Green to be weak in Mirrodin/Mirrodin/Darksteel drafts. James Smee’s curious little article on drafting Green had not yet been published, and Hugh Baroden’s response to Smee’s article was still but a gleam in the milkman’s eye. However, the reason why players believed Green to be bad back then were the same as they are now, as evidenced by the debate in StarCityGames’ forums: It was and is thought that Mirrodin and Darksteel Green have just three awesome commons.

One of these, Fangren Hunter, is present in most halfway-decent Green draft decks, often in multiples. This beast’s impressive stats allow it to take down most non-Green commons in the environment, usually with the added bonus of trample damage. Tangle Golem, though perhaps not quite Green enough for the purist, is, in fact, Greener than most Green creatures, and holds many of the same advantages as Fangren Hunter. Remember, if your opponent has no blockers, attacking with Tangle Golem has exactly the same effect as sending five straight to the dome with Shrapnel Blast. That’s some good. Meanwhile, the other broken common, Deconstruct, can feed ridiculous (it’s such a good descriptive word that I don’t think twice about playing it in multiples) tempo boosts and destroy over half of the permanents in Mirrodin and Darksteel. After these three gas cards, however, Green’s commons plummet downhill faster than Vanilla Ice’s career (token rap reference). Predator’s Strike, Tel-Jilad Exile, Wurmskin Forger, Tel-Jilad Chosen, Tel-Jilad Archers, and Tangle Spider all have their charms, but I’d rather not fill a deck with them.

Everything else is chaff and best ignored by all but the newbies. Only noobs enjoy Malachite Golem, and it would be cruel to deprive these rapturous newbs of the worst saddle of pork this side of Westphalia. About a month ago, I wanted to personally test the infamous”draft every Groffskithur (a.k.a. The Jolly Green six-mana Hill Giant) you see” strategy, but that would have required more self-possession than I posssess, and unless you’re fully committed to the idea, I don’t suggest picking any Groffskithurs at all. The point is, due to a lack of playable commons, Green-heavy drafters require that an uncommonly small number of fellow drafters share their color.

All of this I figured out fairly quickly, once I set my mind to discovering just how I had drafted that sick deck. Then, it came to me, like a light out of the darkness: My first pick in the first pack had been Fangren Hunter; then, there being no Green, Terror; then, One Dozen Eyes… And it had gone on from there with me grabbing every Green card I came across. Unless the drafters to my left had taken first-pick Molder Slugs, there was no way that they were going to cut me out of Green in the next pack. Furthermore, after I emptied that second pack of Green, it was no surprise that those people to my right passed me three Tangle Golems. After all, Affinity for Forests wouldn’t have done anyone else much good. To my fevered brain, it seemed that the trick to amassing a monstrous Green deck was merely to take the color out of the equation completely for those on my left in the first pack. It was a subtle variant of the”draft every Groffskithur you see” approach. No matter how badly the first pack ended up looking, everything would work itself out from there.

Although color-signalling may be regular drafting procedure, the technique one uses to signal successfully in Mirrodin block is far removed from that of previous blocks. With the abundance of artifacts, it is quite possible to draft in such a way that those to whom you pass have no clue of your colors whatsoever. It is not, though, just a case of there being many good artifacts competing with colored draft picks; every color but Green has an absolute need for artifacts. Red and White have special use for Equipment, while Black and Blue go into raptures over affinity and Nim enablers. Only Green, like the U.S.A., can”go it alone.” Sure, Fangren Hunters enjoy Lightning Greaves (a.k.a. The Boots) and Bonesplitter (a.k.a. The Axe of Death) just as much as the next fellow, but they’re also pretty happy even when they aren’t suited-up. Additionally, due to the surfeit of artifacts, there’s a paucity of Green, and after the first couple of picks, it’s easy to cut off Green entirely for your packs’ recipients, a luxury which other drafters, themselves taking more synergistic colors, cannot afford.

Nonetheless, this logic fails rather consistently in practice. I say”rather” because I once put together a brilliant, jankless Blue deck while attempting to force Green. I don’t feel that this says much in favor of Green, however, and I can’t guarantee that the best way to pull Blue evasion is to pray upon your mother’s grave for Green fat. It comes down to this: Forcing Green in Mirrodin/Mirrodin/Darksteel draft will give you piles. With the use of common sense and fun, fun statistics, I’m going to tell you why.

Your Mission is a Failure, Your Lifestyle’s Too Extreme

Green is a natural splash color. Since its big, dumb creatures trade synergism for all-around alpha-strikeliness they complement any deck that can afford their color commitments. More importantly, Green’s artifact destruction, particularly the uncommon Viridian Shaman and Oxidize, are too tempting for most drafters to pass up, regardless of their base colors. Black/Red decks don’t splash Blue for Neurok Spy because the Blue card’s role – smashing face – is something that both Black and Red can handle on their own. That said, Blue/Black decks can almost always use an opportune Viridian Shaman precisely because Green does what Blue and Black can’t. When Black splashes Blue for Neurok Spy, it’s just dumb; when Black does the same for Oxidize, it’s still dumb, because Oxidize requires Green, not Blue mana. However, once Forests (or, be still my heart, Trees of Taleses) are thrown into the mix, the splash miraculously transforms into tech, a deck’s M.V.P.

Even worse, Green’s particular, historic strength – powerful creatures – has, in Mirrodin and Darksteel, bled into other colors’ common and uncommon slots. No non-Green commons in Onslaught block could stand up to their Green counterparts; nowadays, Fangren Hunter will often be paired against an affinity deck sporting Myr Enforcer and Quicksilver Behemoth, both of which, at the very least, trade while blocking. Gone are the good old days when a Blue player would send whole legions of wizardly, random dorks to the chumping block in the face of a lone, swinging Hundroog. In the Mirrodin universe, Green creatures are still relatively big-butted, yet this is only because there are so many Nim scampering around.

Boring Techno-Babble

It’s worse than you think. If you draft Green because you believe that its creatures are more efficient than those of other colors, you’re still in the Onslaught mindset. I’ve done the math for you, comparing Mirrodin’s and Darksteel’s Green common creatures with those of Blue, traditionally the color with the weakest creatures. Included in the calculations are the Mirrodin Golems and Replicas for both colors and the affinity for artifacts creatures for Blue. Regarding the latter, both Blue and Artifact, I haven’t assumed a devoted affinity deck, just a deck that runs a decent number of artifacts. For example, in my calculations, Myr Enforcer and Quicksilver Behemoth cost five mana, not seven.

When you play a common Green creature, you will, spend an average of 4.23 mana for 2.69 points of power and toughness; that’s 0.64 points of power and toughness per mana spent on your beatstick. Blue commons, on the other hand, cost an average of 3.41 mana and have an average power of 2.17 and toughness of 2.5; in other words, for each mana you spend, you get 0.63 points of power and 0.73 points of toughness. Between the two colors, the difference in efficiency of power is negligible, and Blue is far ahead of Green in efficiency of toughness. Green may be the color of absolute wrecking, but it doesn’t wreck more cheaply than the other colors, just more absolutely.

Interestingly, it’s also no longer true that Green has more creatures than its competitors. Drafting Green back in Onslaught didn’t ensure a good deck, but it meant that you’d never be left out in the cold either. That was some good. Because creatures, both good and bad, form the backbones of Limited decks, Green has, historically, been a safe color in draft. Now, however, the strong presence of artifacts in the Mirrodin block card pool requires that a disproportionate number of colored spells be instants and sorceries as opposed to creatures. Therefore, Mirrodin Green has, proportionally, 8% fewer creatures than Odyssey Green did and 23% fewer than were present in Onslaught. Whereas Onslaught Green contained seventeen creatures to Onslaught Blue’s eleven, Mirrodin’s Blue and Green (including their respective colored artifacts) stand equal at nine creatures each.

More Exciting Revelations

So far, I’ve only considered Green commons, and it’s certainly true that Green has a number of hot uncommons to fool around with. The best of these are Creeping Mold, One Dozen Eyes, Trolls of Tel-Jilad, Viridian Shaman, Oxidize, Tanglewalker, and Karstoderm. Tanglewalker deserves special praise as it wins you games you have no business winning and tends to orbit the draft tables far too long. If your opponent plays artifact lands and sees Tanglewalker in game one, he or she will side out those lands for games two and three, probably to his or her deck’s detriment. Yet powerful though Green’s uncommons may be, are they really any better than what the other colors have on offer? White, generally thought to be the worst draft color after Green, brings to the table Altar’s Light, Auriok Bladewarden, Leonin Skyhunter, Soul Nova, Slith Ascendent, Purge, Emissary of Hope, Leonin Battlemage, and Stir the Pride. You’ll see that White receives just one less piece of artifact removal than Green, even if we count Soul Nova and Purge as only one half of a removal spell each. Similarly, I would never choose the best Green uncommons over those of Red, Blue, or Black.

Karstoderm is fun, but wouldn’t you rather rip Vulshok War Boar? Or Domineer instead of Oxidize? Or Murderous Spoils instead of Trolls of Tel-Jilad? The 187ing Viridian Shaman is a real workhorse, yet unlike Grab the Reins, Crystal Shard, and Betrayal of Flesh, it rarely causes your opponents to scoop. Green may be underdrafted, but that does not mean that its virgin spoils (tee-hee-hee) are superior to the other colors’ leftovers.

Protection from artifacts (unique to Green, barring Needlebug) has a number of uses. In the early game, Tel-Jilad Chosen can sneak packages of damage through an opponent’s defenses, giving late-game fatties like Fangren Hunter some breathing room. As the game wears on, however, your opponent will usually put a non-artifact blocker into play, relegating protection from artifacts creatures to the status of very good walls. Walls are not always bad, and Tel-Jilad Archers is just the kind of wall that Green wants, so you should, hypothetically, not feel too poorly about drafting them. The reason why Tel-Jilad Outrider is so much worse than Tel-Jilad Chosen and Tel-Jilad Archers is that it comes online too late to be an offensive threat yet, is too expensive to sit around all day blocking golems. It is worth noting that there are only four common artifacts in Mirrodin and Darksteel that Tel-Jilad Outrider can kill that Tel-Jilad Chosen cannot. Beyond all this, you will encounter problems if you run even the better protection from artifacts creatures. If you’re playing a Green-heavy deck, lack of draft choices will probably push you to pick sub-par Equipment higher than usual, and for obvious reasons, protection from artifacts creatures and Equipment are uneasy bedfellows (kinky!).

Similarly, if your deck has a strong second color, you will be looking to supplement that color with synergistic Equipment or pseudo-Eequipment (for example, Tooth of Chiss-Goria and Dragon Blood), and it’s rarely a good idea to pander to your secondary color when it means giving the rest of your deck the raspberry. Thus, for all their inherent usefulness, protection from artifacts creatures tend toward anti-synergism and you should be wary of playing more than a couple of them. Considering that three of the thirteen Green common creatures in Mirrodin and Darksteel have this protection, it’s also clear that it is difficult to build a Green-heavy deck without them.

Though Green’s traditional splendours have been dealt out willy-nilly amongst the other colors, Green has received little in return. True, a drafter intent on forcing Green has a variety of artifact flyers to choose from, but these are all viciously overcosted. Even an otherwise perfect Green deck cowers in fear of the eventual match-up against a Blue or White evasion deck; if Somber Hoverguard or Skyhunter Patrol work their way into play, you either have to mise a Tangle Spider, or that’s game. We hates the flying Cat Knightses, don’t we, Precious? It’s not even funny. Honestly, this has gone too far.

Nevertheless, Green does have one unique advantage over its fellow colors. Combat trickery pops up across the spectrum, so that’s not it. What can Green, irrefutably, do more efficiently than any other color in Mirrodin block? That’s right: Green can destroy enchantments. True, White has access to Altar’s Light and Echoing Calm, but Green gets dudes/bodies who/that do the same thing while leaving open the possibility for card advantage. Sweet! Elf Replica (a.k.a. The Mutilator) is nothing if not a Demystify that’s also a man. If you have an Elf Replica on the table, the Arrest that your opponent is holding might as well read”destroy target Elf Replica,” because that’s all that’s going to happen if it’s cast. Ka-ching! Give another point to the Green Team!

This leads me to an admittedly digressive question that I’d love to see answered in the forums: If Elf Replica (Demystify on a stick) is equipped with Vulshok Morningstar (which looks like a stick), does the conglomeration become a stick on a stick? And if so, where does Demystify go? Is it a stick on a stick stacked with Demystify? Sometimes, I just can’t figure out this newfangled, popular style of writing. Moving on…

So, Elf Replica… That’s some unimaginably huge benefit.

Oh, never mind. What I’ve been trying to say all along is that it’s a terrible idea to force Green in Mirrodin/Mirrodin/Darksteel draft. By all means, be opportunistic, but don’t try to make the color do anything it would be ashamed of the next morning. There’s some good advice for you, in my humble opinion.

Adam Grydehøj

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