You Lika The Juice? – The State of Green, Worldwake Edition

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Friday, January 29th – Once upon a time, Jamie Wakefield was the most visible and vocal advocate for Green in Magic, but I was always shouting right along behind him. Now that he’s moved on from Magic, I often feel a responsibility to provide feedback to the guys who make the cards on how well they’re standing by the color Green from the perspective of the fans who play the cards.

As I was writing this week’s column, I was shocked to find the complete Worldwake spoiler available on MTG Salvation. Already!? I thought, a little shocked. Then I started laughing to myself… as if five days before the prerelease was too early to have a complete spoiler. It wasn’t that long ago that nearly complete spoilers were out a week, 10 days, or even earlier! I’ve just gotten so used to Wizards having such a clamp down on their information that I figured we wouldn’t see a complete spoiler until the day before the prerelease.

My intention this week was to finally get around to doing another EDH deck doctor, but in light of Worldwake being completely spoiled, I imagine a lot of people (myself included) will be combing the internet reading set reviews and trying to figure out for themselves how the brave new world of Magic will shake out in the aftermath of the latest new expansion. A lot of writers will be doing complete set reviews, but I’ve tried of late to be a bit more focused in my review of new sets, to try and provide a different perspective on judging the new cards. Besides, I can’t really hold a candle to a lot of the premium guys when it comes to digesting and evaluating an entire new set!

So what’s my slant? I guess the column’s title pretty much gives it away. Once upon a time, Jamie Wakefield was the most visible and vocal advocate for Green in Magic, but I was always shouting right along behind him. Now that he’s moved on from Magic, I often feel a responsibility to provide feedback to the guys who make the cards on how well they’re standing by the color Green from the perspective of the fans who play the cards. Green has definitely come a long way, and I think it would be silly to even suggest that Green is the “worst” color in Magic anymore—but Green spent many, many, many years with that distinction, and I think a lot of why the color suffered in power has been infused into what some designers still think is Green flavor and function. I imagine it’s a peculiar challenge to make a card feel Green and not suck, and so I think standing up from time to time and looking at Green cards with a critical outside eye is useful and necessary.

Before I get into my evaluation of what I’d like to see in Green cards from each set, let’s go over what Wizards R&D views as Green’s flavor and function, as articulated by Mark Rosewater way back in 2002 – which brings to mind, perhaps an update is in order, Mark?

From It’s Not Easy Being Green:

“…Green’s ultimate goal is growth. Green would be happiest in a world where nature has been allowed to run rampant.

“The growth theme runs rampant throughout Green. Green has the ability to temporarily enlarge its creatures… [and] can permanently enlarge creatures… In addition, Green’s growth is seen through its token generators… Green also has many creatures like Maro or Terravore that naturally grow over time. Green’s growth can also be seen in its ability to speed the amount land/mana available to the player… Mechanically, Green overwhelms the opponent by constantly producing more and more resources and thus more and more threats.”

“…Green is the “creature color.” This is reflected numerous ways in the game. First, Green has more creatures than any other color… Green also has proportionately larger creatures, especially at common. Most importantly, Green has the most efficient creatures from a mana standpoint.”

“The downside to Green’s way of life is that it relies completely on its instinct to gauge danger. Green is fundamentally trusting. With subtlety, its enemies can exploit this naivety to its own ends.

“This plays into Green’s greatest weakness, its inability to deal with creatures. Green has no qualms with destroying artificial things. It will blow up artifacts or enchantments. It will even sever opponent’s ties to their mana by destroying their land. But it just cannot bring itself to destroy the opponent’s creatures. There are a few exceptions, but in general, Green does not kill other living things.”

Okay, now on with Worldwake Green! The grades I hand out are entirely subjective, based on how I feel about Green’s strengths in each category relative to what I expect out of Green, or how it compares to other colors. I’m sure others will have their own opinions, and I definitely hope to hear them in the forums.

Efficient Creatures? Grade: B
Green is known as the color of efficient creatures, though I also think Wizards has weakened Green’s position quite a bit by making efficient creatures readily available in all the other colors. For instance, you could argue Green has the best one-drop in the format with Noble Hierarch, but there could be cases to be made for Steppe Lynx and Goblin Guide. Further up the mana curve, I don’t think anyone could argue that the most efficient creature at five mana is Green, it’s white and it’s warping Standard and impacting a lot of other formats too.

Arbor Elf
One of Green’s greatest strengths is the ability to play a permanent source of mana acceleration on turn 1, and Arbor Elf represents another bow in that quiver. While I would rank Arbor Elf on the bottom of a heap of good one-drops like Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, and Llanowar Elf because of the restrictive nature of its ability, if you play it in a deck with a lot of Forests it’s as good as Llanowar Elf with some added potential depending on what other cards you’re running. If your Forests produce more than one Green mana (for instance, if a Keeper of Progenitus is in play) then he’s better than Llanowar, and if you’ve enchanted your Forest with an Aura for some effect (i.e. Squirrel Nest) you can double your fun. Basically, this is a more restrictive Ley Druid, but as a 1/1 for one (as opposed to a 1/1 for three), I expect Arbor Elf to see more play than Ley Druid ever did.

Leatherback Baloth
This card represents the apex for sheer vanilla creature efficiency at three mana. Vanilla creatures rarely make the grade in Constructed decks, but if they’re pushed hard enough they can certainly make an impact (see Watchwolf). When it comes to killing this creature with damage, your opponent will likely have to muster a lot more mana and cards than a three mana creature would generally warrant, especially if you power this out on turn 2 like Green is able to do very easily.

There are other creatures that I feel are efficient too, but I’ve got them listed in other categories below. Overall, I think Green scored above average on the efficient creature scale.

Card Advantage? Grade B+
Since Magic is a battle of resources, players looking to win games will look long and hard at ways to achieve card advantage. Green is often lacking in this department so it’s important to find and evaluate the gems we do find.

Bestial Menace
At first blush, you can evaluate this card as 6 power and 6 toughness in creatures for five mana, which is certainly efficient if not spectacular in today’s Magic world. What does make this spectacular is that the 6/6 is divided between three different creatures, making it much more resilient than a singular 6/6 with no inherent protections would otherwise be outside of damage-dealing board sweepers. In a metagame where Oran-Rief the Vastwood and Ajani Goldmane are quite playable, making three separate creatures with one spell is triply useful. The fact that the creatures are all different gives a bonus resilience to the otherwise awesome Maelstrom Pulse.

Wolfbriar Elemental
While I doubt you’d ever want play this as a 4/4 for four mana, it’s nice to have that option if you’re having mana issues. At five mana it’s comparable to Bestial Menace, six power and toughness for five mana, but you’re not locked in there. For six mana you’re getting eight power and toughness, for seven mana you’re getting ten, and so on. The beauty of Wolfbriar Elemental is that it takes one of Green’s great strengths—Green mana production—and turns it directly into card advantage in the form of threats on the board. People are obviously going to compare this to Ant Queen, which doesn’t require the mana upfront to make the dudes, but then again only makes little 1/1 dudes. 2/2s seem to make so much bigger difference on the board, so I’m leaning towards Wolfbriar Elemental, though I can see Green big-mana decks perhaps playing two of each.

While I’d love to see the return of Harmonize, I can’t argue with these two high-quality sources of card advantage. Green gets high marks here because you generally don’t expect much for Green on the card-advantage front. I’m especially happy to see the added Wolf tokens, which further strengthens one of Green’s best cards, Master of the Wild Hunt.

Cleverness? Grade D
Magic at it’s best is an interactive game, where each player acts and reacts to each other in surprising and fun ways. Each player’s turn consists of phases where each player gets a chance to play spells or abilities, and it’s that give and take that really makes Magic such a great experience. My biggest beef with the way Wizards has made Green — and continues to make Green — is how they mostly lock the color into the main phase. Most of Green’s exciting cards are creatures, and you usually cast creatures during your own main phase. Green will sometimes have kick-ass sorceries, but again that’s only during your own main phase. Every other color is given good cards that interact with your opponent at instant speed, which lets you fully engage with your opponent no matter what phase it is or who’s turn it is. Green’s instants are usually limited to combat tricks, which are inherently clunky because they require you have creatures in play that you want to attack or block with, and sometimes that doesn’t always work out. And again, combat tricks happen during the main phase.

I’ll put my obligatory link to Chad Ellis article Why Clever is Better Than Power here, because he nails my point so well that it’s hard for me to improve upon it.

We’ve gotten some good “clever” Green spells before: Summoning Trap is a great recent example, and going further back are gems like Cloudthresher and Chord of Calling. I had hopes that we’d get another clever card or two in Worldwake, but unfortunately there aren’t any. Slingbow Trap might have gotten there if the trap discount wasn’t tied purely to black fliers. Nature’s Claim (which I talk about below) and the fact that Green regularly gets shafted in the Cleverness department keeps Worldwake from being a total failure on the Cleverness scale.

Green Power in the Cycles? Grade: C+
It’s often telling to look at the various cross-color cycles in a set to see where the colors rank within the cycle (such as Cryptic Command compared to the other Commands in the cycle).

I was rather shocked that Green took a beating on the landfall trail in Worldwake. While there are some high-quality landfall cards in Worldwake, Green didn’t get outside of Avenger of Zendikar (which I talk about in the Fun section below). I’m still a bit dazed… perhaps the spoiler is wrong? There’s gotta be something more!

Between Oran-Rief Survivalist and Turntimber Ranger, I had hopes that a Green-based Ally deck might be a potentially good strategy once Worldwake added more quality cards to the mix. Harabaz Druid is costed correctly for its effect, but man I can’t see a 0/1 for two mana making the grade. Vastwood Animist? Blah. Overall, I’m disappointed in “the creature color” Allies.

Strength of the Tajuru
I was expecting to see a cycle of rare/mythic multikicker cards with splashy effects, but they’re only in three colors. Of them all, I’d say Strength of the Tajuru is definitely the weak one. Sure, it’s an instant (which is surprising and welcome), but adding a couple +1/+1 counters to a creature has limited utility unless you’re playing a casual deck with Persist guys or Spikes. The flexibility afforded with multikicker is incredibly expensive, and again is tied to having multiple creatures in play and all that implies. Of course, Green also gets arguably the best one, Wolfbriar Elemental (which I talked about above).

Khalni Garden
Of the new spell-lands, I’d put Khalni Garden square in the middle behind the insane (and blue) Halimar Depths and the ridiculously efficient hoser Bojuka Bog.

Raging Ravine
Of the manlands, Raging Ravine is obviously one of the better ones (but not the best), while Stirring Wildwood is one of the worst. On a side note, I really think all of these lands are awesome for both solidifying two-color mana bases and for replacing the 10th edition duals in those decks without enough basic lands in them.

The Zendikon cycle was obviously made for Limited so I won’t add that to the overall grade (though I can grumble that the blue one seems vastly better than the others). Overall, I think Green falls dead in the middle of the pack in terms of Green power in the cycles that matter for constructed, with a slight lean towards above average due to the quality of Wolfbriar Elemental and Raging Ravine.

Tournament Impact? Grade B
What many players wonder when looking at a new set, which cards are going to have an impact on constructed tournament decks? Many of the ones I mention above will certainly make the grade, and here are a few more.

Lots of people have commented on this card and I’ve yet to see anyone who isn’t excited about it. I’m excited about it too; ‘nuff said.

Joraga Warcaller
I was a little cold on this card when I first saw it until I realized it functioned as a basic elf lord when it was a 2/2 for three mana. At that cost it’s a bad Elvish Archdruid, so its power comes from kicking it further, being a double-lord 3/3 for five mana, a triple-lord 4/4 for seven mana. At that point we’re in Coat of Arms territory—Warcaller’s not symmetrical, but it can be killed by any number of creature kill spells, but Coat of Arms can’t attack. In the end, I think it’s better than Coat of Arms in an Elf deck, but not by much. I’d probably play 1-2 of these as Archdruids #5 and #6. Ultimately, it feels like Warcaller could have been pushed just a little bit further.

Nature’s Claim
I’d say that shaving off a mana from Naturalize is well worth 4 life for your opponent, and typically super-efficient answers will see tournament play. The one small problem I have is that I can’t remember the last time actually played Naturalize. If I want someway to destroy enchantments or artifacts, I’m reaching for Qasali Pridemage or Acidic Slime. I don’t see this immediately seeing play, but it’s undoubtedly a card people will be glad to have available at some point in time.

I initially just had this in the Fun Cards section below, because eight mana is a huge amount to pay for a card in a tournament deck. However, there are ways to cheat out expensive creatures whether it’s Summoning Trap into an Iona, or someone trying out a reanimation strategy, and if what you need is some way to handle problem (non-creature) permanents while also being a threat, it’s hard to argue against trying out Terastodon.

Between some of the cards mentioned before and Explore here in this section (and possibly some of the other ones), I expect Worldwake Green to make itself immediately known in post-Worldwake constructed decks, though it won’t be shaking things up on its own.

Fun Cards? Grade: A-
Of course, not everyone who purchases Worldwake is looking for the hot new Standard tech card, so let’s not overlook the value of fun cards aimed at the more casual crowd.

Avenger of Zendikar
I initially thought this guy was good enough for Constructed decks, and he might surprise us yet, but now I’ve come to my senses in realizing this card is aimed squarely to the Johnnies out there who are even now scheming up ways to kill people with 0/1 plant tokens. He’s going to be hell on wheels if he survives long enough for you to untap and then play another land… and maybe, if you’re lucky, then tapping Knight of the Reliquary to fetch-up a sac land to sac, giving your five or six plants three +1/+1 tokens.

Omnath, Locus of Mana
I talked about Omnath for EDH last week and laid out my case for why this guy is a ton of fun, so I won’t repeat myself here. Still looking forward to playing Omnath!

Quest for Renewal
Multiplayers already know the power of Seedborn Muse, and while Quest for Renewal isn’t nearly as powerful, it’s also a lot less vulnerable to the mass creature removal that’s typically played in multiplayer, and not so threatening as to immediately draw someone’s enchantment removal spell. It’s also incredibly cheap to cast and easy to turn on with just a few attacks with a couple creatures (or guys that tap), and once it’s turned on your creatures all have pseudo-vigilance and are much less vulnerable to tap-down effects, and of course your guys with tap effects can go nuts (whether or not they’re Green).

Overall, I think there are going to be a good number of fun Green staples for casual players to enjoy in Worldwake.

Stepping on Green’s Toes? Grade: C-
One part of evaluating Green in a new set is whether or not other colors push into Green’s color pie territory. Lately, it’s been interesting to realize that, if you want mana acceleration, you have to go with Green outside of a very few exceptions (notably in white). That’s a potent theme for Green to pretty much own, and certainly contributes to its power. Worldwake takes a lead pipe to Green’s knees by opening up mana acceleration to any color combination that wants it with Everflowing Chalice, which effectively re-writes Green’s advantage from mana acceleration, to colored mana acceleration. While Everflowing Chalice may be unexciting, it is incredibly good and it’s existence definitely takes away from Green’s strengths.

Then there’s the curious case of Pilgrim’s Eye. While no one seems to be saying much about it yet, offering up Borderland Ranger to any color that needs that effect without forcing into Green isn’t insignificant. Sure, a 1/1 is much smaller than a 2/2, but most of the time Borderland Ranger was a chump blocker that helped you fix your mana anyway, and Pilgrim’s Eye does that one better by also chumping fliers.

Lastly, there’s Smother, an efficient way of killing early creatures, and Green tends to play a lot of those. Insult to injury, Smother cares not a whit about regeneration ability, something that a lot of us speculated might be something Green would be getting more of with the replacement of Wrath of God with Day of Judgment. Green gets no regenerators in Worldwake; in fact there’s no regeneration available at all. This strikes me as a bit of lost opportunity, but perhaps it couldn’t be helped in a small expansion followup set.

So What’s the State of Worldwake Green? Final Grade: B-
Averaging all the grades with nothing weighted, this is what I get. Which feels right to me—while there are plenty of cards I’m looking forward to in Worldwake—including lots in other colors—there aren’t too many in Green that really excite me and are motivating me to build new decks. Which I find a bit surprising in a set so heavily influenced by Ken Nagle—I think I was expecting more cleverness and more Green power in the themes and cycles. I was hoping to be driven into a deckbuilding frenzy from Worldwake Green, but instead I’m just looking at tinkering around the edges of already existing Green tournament decks, while picking up singles for my EDH stock.

What do you think of Worldwake Green? Let us know in the forums! I’d also like to hear how you like my criteria for grading, and is something that you’d find thought-provoking for each set, to evaluate “The State of Green?”

Take care…


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

New to EDH? Be sure to check out my EDH Primer, part 1, part 2, and part 3 — recently highly recommended by the crew from the Monday Night Magic podcast!

My current EDH decks:
Jacques Le Vert (lots of legends, good stuff)
Tibor and Lumia (copy copy copy copy)
Baron Sengir (Evile Vampires!)
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (huge creatures, big mana spells)
Sharuum, the Hegemon (Kaldra Lives!)
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (DRAGONS, RAHRRR!!)