You Lika The Juice? – Growing a Treefolk Deck from the Roots Up

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
I’ve loved Treefolk since I first read about Treebeard as a teenager entranced with Lord of the Rings. I’m thrilled to see them given lots of attention in Magic finally. There seems to be a critical mass of really good Treefolk cards to warrant investigating whether a competitive tribal deck can be made with them.

Interesting days! Lorwyn/Morningtide has Rizzo grumpy and pissed off, and Talen Lee purring like a contented kitty. Sayeth Jamie Wakefield in the forums, “Green is so great right now I just have to return.”

Of course, Jamie was both happy and grumpy, following up by saying, “My one problem… is the focus on Treefolk over elves. A lot of the Treefolk cards could have been made into good elf cards.”

Since Jamie’s been away, I can forgive him for not necessarily realizing that Elves immediately catapulted into Tier 1 in Standard following the release of Lorwyn, and while they are likely hovering around Tier 1.5 currently, they did get some options in Morningtide too. Elf decks have had moments of greatness in the past, and are certainly a very viable deck now; in Extended, there has even been Elf Intruder Alarm decks popping up in Top 8s of recent PTQs. Treefolk have never been a competitive tribe, and in fact have had very few individual Treefolk cards show up in competitive decks before Doran, the Siege Tower hit the scene. I myself have probably given Treefolk more play than most people, playing Weatherseed Treefolk back in the day (in a fairly successful run at Regionals), and recently giving plenty of love to Deadwood Treefolk and Heartwood Storyteller (and Doran too). Deadwood Treefolk has popped up in some Pickles decks, and Heartwood Storyteller has popped up in creature-heavy decks sideboards.

On a side note, while researching this column, ran across Gaea’s Avenger – who’s now a Treefolk! That probably happened a million years ago but I hadn’t had any reason to notice before now…

I’ve loved Treefolk since I first read about Treebeard as a teenager entranced with Lord of the Rings. I’m thrilled to see them given lots of attention in Magic finally. There seems to be a critical mass of really good Treefolk cards to warrant investigating whether a competitive tribal deck can be made with them.

First, let’s weed out the non-Constructed-caliber Treefolk cards: Sheltering Ancient, Black Poplar Shaman, Ambassador Oak (sorry Talen), Oaken Brawler, Bog-Strider Ash, Scarwood Treefolk, Weed-Pruner Poplar, Sentry Oak, Guardian of Cloverdell, Oakgnarl Warrior. A few of these might be a very narrow role-player for a particular need, particularly in Block Constructed, but I think it’s safe to pretty well rule these out. That leaves the following, sorted out by casting cost and including notable changelings:

1 mana (1): Treefolk Harbinger

2 mana (4): Bosk Banneret, Lignify, Nameless Inversion, Woodland Changeling

3 mana (5): Battlewand Oak, Heartwood Storyteller, Doran the Siege Tower, Avian Changeling, Crib Swap

4 mana (6): Dauntless Dourbark, Unstoppable Ash, Cloudcrown Oak, Indomitable Ancients, Leaf-Crowned Elder, Chameleon Colossus

5 mana (8): Fendeep Summoner, Everbark Shaman, Reach of Branches, Rootgrapple, Seedguide Ash, Timber Protector, Cairn Wanderer, Changeling Titan

6 mana (4): Thorntooth Witch, Deadwood Treefolk, Verdeloth the Ancient, Orchard Warden

Obviously the Treefolk aren’t a weenie tribe, neither in size or cost, and there’s not much to do Treefolksy-wise in the first two rounds of the game. When building a Treefolk deck we’re going to need to figure out what to do in the early game. Mana acceleration is an obvious choice for a top-heavy tribal curve, so cards like Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Wall of Roots, and Fertile Ground spring to mind. Another offbeat possibility is Springleaf Drum. Imagine turn 1 Drum, turn 2 Bosk Banneret. Even though you’re “tapped-out” you’ve got a solid 1/3 blocker that could cast Nameless Inversion, or you could go ahead and slap down a Lignify. If early removal becomes necessary in decks to fight off a new Prowling menace in Standard, Springleaf Drum might be a more resilient choice than Birds or Elves.

Speaking of early removal, keep an eye on Sunlance, a cheap creature kill spell that can knock down even pumped up Prowlers or Faeries. I have a feeling the slowish Treefolk are going to need something like Sunlance and Nameless Inversion to buy enough time to get going. Thankfully, Murmuring Bosk, Brushlands, and Horizon Canopy can all give us turn 1 White or Green mana.

Once we get to three mana we have a big choice. There are two nearly mutually exclusive themes we could build Treefolk around. The first revolves around Doran – getting him into play quickly and beating down with guys who have high toughness; Doran decks did well at Champs and have been making waves in Extended, so this is the route a lot of people will take. This will likely involve a fair number of non-basic lands and/or other mana fixing. Some Treefolk seem tailor-made with Doran in mind, such as Unstoppable Ash and Indominatable Ancients.

The other approach involves “Forest matter,” with Dauntless Dourbark serving as the primary threat, running few if any non-basics (other than maybe the Foresty non-basic Murmuring Bosk). Going this route we’d probably want Battlewand Oak as our three-drop Treefolk. Again, there is a cadre of cards that seem made specifically to support this theme – Everbark Shaman, Reach of Branches, and Seedguide Ash.

The rest we’ll call the “switch-hitters” — Treefolk cards that could work just fine in either approach. I’ll mention a few in particular.

Changelings: Wizards made these specifically to provide support for the tribal themes, and with the holes we have to fill in Treefolk decks these fellows could prove useful. Woodland Changeling seems a bit of a stretch, but testing may find we need a “bear” that’s also a Treefolk. Similarly, we might need a flying Treefolk in the Avian Changeling. Speaking of flying, if we’re packing cheap removal for Prowl decks, Cairn Wanderer can come down as a big flying – and non-Fearful – Treefolk.

Unstoppable Ash: What really appeals here is the trample, especially if Doran is in the house – wowza! He gets considerably more appealing so long as you’ve got some targets to Champion that have a coming into play ability (such as Treefolk Harbinger) or a leaves play ability (like Deadwood Treefolk, which has both!).

Leaf-Crowned Elder: A lot of people have been singing the praises of this card, and I agree that it’s justified. Run out and buy the Shamanism precon at your first opportunity (which also has the awesome Reach of Branches)! Talon mentioned using Scrying Sheets to skim off lands from the top of your deck in an effort to improve your hits with Kinship, and Leaf-Crowned Elder is particularly well suited to such a strategy since if you hit you get to cast your Treefolk or Shaman card for free – so go ahead and Sheets during your upkeep in response to the Kinship trigger!

Chameleon Colossus: The Mono-Black Prowl deck can’t do anything about this guy, so if you can power it out on turn 3 you could very well race them. Outside of that match up, I don’t think Shriekmaw is going to be going away anytime soon which makes this guy a strong maindeck contender. In the Forests Matter Treefolk decks, if you’re really pushing mana acceleration this guy also offers a very nice mana sink.

Timber Protector: Treefolk are slow hitting the field, which makes them strategically vulnerable to aggressive weenie attacks. What punishes aggressive weenie attacks? Wrath of God and Damnation. It so happens that Treefolk colors spread across White and Black, so using those global sweepers is an option. Timber Protector’s “lord” ability is quite nice, but making all your other Treefolk indestructible is pretty awesome (and all you need is to find the other Protector to make them indestructible too). How fantastic would it be to cast Wrath of God to clear away all your opponent’s creatures so you can swing in with your guys all in the same turn?

Fendeep Summoner: This is pretty obviously designed for Limited games, but I’ve been kicking around the idea of using Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth so that you can make any of your opponent’s lands vulnerable to removal. It’s important to note that the animated swamp Treefolk aren’t Black, so they’d be vulnerable to Shriekmaw… and of course they’d be destroyed by Wrath of God or Damnation (since your Timber Protector only makes Treefolk you control indestructible). Scryb Ranger could double your pleasure.

Changeling Titan: Doran decks are going to be able to hit hard with individual Treefolk, but for the Forests Matter Treefolk you might need a little more “oomph” and the Titan can certainly deliver a heckuva punch. Like Unstoppable Ash, you should strongly consider running Treefolk Harbinger and Deadwood Treefolk if you’re running Champions.

Thorntooth Witch: Here’s another obvious Limited card that I think could be a role player for certain constructed metagames. Post-Wrath or Damnation, playing one of these could pretty much lock a weenie deck out of the remainder of the game. Might be a solid bullet to fetch up with Harbinger.

Orchard Warden: This is pretty expensive, but its got a solid body and will likely net you an insurmountable life advantage after just a few Treefolk spells. I’m thinking Reach of Branches with one of these in play is just impossible for aggressive decks to overcome.

Okay, so these are the tools we have to work with, and some thoughts on what to use them for. How do we best put them together? For the first deck I’d like to build off an existing deck, Mike Flores‘ “Poorlash” Dauntless Dourbark deck that saw some Top 8 success in last year’s Champs.

Dourbark and Verdeloth certainly give the deck a Treefolk feel, and there’s Scrying Sheets in the deck for Kinship shenanigans. I know Flores would probably cringe if he saw me take a hacksaw to his creation but let’s do it anyway.

Timber Protector over Gauntlet of Power: Both give your dudes +1/+1, but Timber Protector plays nice with your Treefolk themes.

Leaf-Crowned Elder over Masked Admirers: With Search for Tomorrow, Into the North, and Scrying Sheets, there is some serious mana-thinning going on, which makes Leaf-Crown’s Kinship more likely to hit. I increased the Sheets count to push this.

Bosk Banneret over Wall of Roots: Using your mana for Scrying Sheets, being able to play your Treefolk at a discount should be helpful. Plus, the guy can get in there for 1 (or more) if need be.

Reach of Branches and Orchard Warden over Verdeloth and Sprout Swarm: cutting Gauntlet of Power makes Verdeloth much less attractive, so I decided to add this element to really push inevitability.

Battlewand Oak over Ohran Viper and Garruk Wildspeaker: this turns all of your Searches and Into the North (sometimes) into Giant Growths, not to mention any Treefolk you play. If your opponent makes the mistake of not leaving back blockers, this guy can help end the game in a hurry.

Okay, now let’s see what a Treefolk deck looks like that focuses on smashing face with Doran.

Turn 1 Birds gives us the lovely possibility of a turn 2 Doran, which is an absolute beating. Alternatively, we can use turn 1 Treefolk Harbinger to fetch up another Murming Bosk to get the mana right, or to go get your Doran. Indominatable Ancients is kinda goofy as a two-power vanilla creature, but that 10 toughness can weather the worst a Tarmogoyf can possibly dish out, and once a Doran hits play, that’s some serious beatings. A couple Unstoppable Ashes help pile on the Doran beatdown, with Harbingers and a Deadwood Treefolk ready to go under the Champion for the team. I like Cairn Wanderer in here as a mize or something to tutor up in the later game. A Bird in the graveyard (and you know Birds die quick) gives it flying, and Unstoppable Ash would give it trample. I decided to put Profane Commands in here for the ability to give Doran and Indominatable Ancient Fear since they can be chump blocked all day long – and of course the Profane Commands are just awesome anyway.

Lastly, lets take a look at a Wrath-o-Matic Treefolk deck to take on the weenie hordes.

Epochrasite, Saffi Eriksdotter, Phyrexian Totem, Masked Admirers, Treetop Village, Reach of Branches: who’s afraid of global removal? Squeezing in all this stuff forces us to pull back on the Treefolk theme, so I added 3 Summoner’s Pact to increase the chances of getting two Timber Protectors in play that can protect themselves, as well as any Dorans or Reach tokens you may have in play too.

(Note: if Tom LaPille is reading, first – congrats on winning the Q for PT Hollywood and second – feel free to help smooth out my mana mix, ‘cause I’m sure it could use it!)

Coming full circle – Talen, high five on the Morningtide goodies, I’m thrilled too. Rizzo, take a look at the Damn Treefolk deck, that might blow up your skirt since it’s not quite so heavy on the Treefolk tribal themes. And Jamie – come down from your Elven trees and become the trees. It feels good!

I hope I’ve given some of you food for thought, and eagerly look forward to testing these decks out and hearing back from people who are also interested in exploring Treefolk in the post-Morningtide environment.

Take care,


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com