It has been a hot minute (do people still say that?) since I’ve both played a ton of Magic and written an article about the tons of Magic I’ve been playing. Which begs the question — what is the catalyst for such a meaningful yet meaningless event?
Easy. Barkhide Troll.
As the title of this articles suggests, I’m going to tell you everything I know about Mono-Green Aggro in Core Set 2021 Standard. Do I think it’s the best deck in the format? Nope. That honor belongs to something with Breeding Pool and Growth Spiral. But do I believe it’s the best positioned deck in the format given everything that’s going on around it? Yep and I’m going to start by explaining why.
Why Mono-Green Aggro?
With Core Set 2021 Standard (and Ikoria Standard before it) revolving around Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control, everything and everyone has to prepare to beat those two decks. And while both of those decks are Simic-based strategies, they do operate differently because what they’re trying to accomplish is different:
- Temur Reclamation is trying to resolve a large copy of Explosion via Wilderness Reclamation that the opponent can never come back from.
- Bant Ramp/Control is trying to generate a mana advantage before bludgeoning its opponent over the head with its many mythic rares.
Yes, both decks are capable of doing other things — Temur Reclamation can win games via Nightpack Ambusher and Shark Typhoon, Bant Ramp/Control can manage your creatures with Shatter the Sky and Elspeth Conquers Death before winning a game with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, etc — but this is simplification of what both decks are trying to do to demonstrate that once you recognize what the enemy is trying to accomplish, you can figure out the best way(s) to defeat them.
The way that Mono-Green Aggro is trying to defeat both of these decks is by killing each before they’re able to accomplish their main goal. Because if Mono-Green Aggro tried to go blow for blow with Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control, it would get absolutely humiliated due to its lack in card quality alone.
As for precise reasons to be playing Mono-Green Aggro right now, I’ve got plenty of them:
- Sweepers are at an all time low because the Simic-based decks aren’t decks you want sweepers again.
- Shatter the Sky more often than not draws you a card upon resolution, which means it sweeping your battlefield isn’t the end of the game (far from it in fact).
- Ritual of Soot doesn’t kill all of your creatures all of the time, which means it isn’t a reliable sweeper.
- Extinction Event also doesn’t kill all of your creatures all of the time, which means it isn’t a reliable sweeper.
- Ugin, the Spirit Dragon costs eight mana, and… wait for it… doesn’t kill all of your creatures all of the time, which means it isn’t game over upon resolution.
- Jund and Rakdos Sacrifice decks are cutting back on Priest of Forgotten Gods and Claim the Firstborn because they aren’t particularly good against the Simic-based strategies.
There are other reasons to be playing Mono-Green Aggro (like having a good matchup against other opposing aggressive decks) but these are the main ones that matter at this moment.
Lets get the decklist out of the way before breaking all the cards down:
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Pelt Collector
- 4 Barkhide Troll
- 4 Questing Beast
- 4 Wildborn Preserver
- 4 Stonecoil Serpent
- 4 Gemrazer
Simple. Straightforward. A lot of four-ofs because I want to be able to do the same thing every game with the non four-ofs being low-risk, high-ceiling cards that can win a game based off of power level alone ( Vivien, Arkbow Ranger ) or turn a game around in a meaningful way ( Vivien, Ranger’s Guile ). Note that if Core Set 2021 Standard was more varied, my decklist would be as well. But because things are rather finite, my decklist is a reflection of that. Other Mono-Green Aggro decklists that I’ve seen running around have a lot of nonsense in them and I’ll be explaining why I feel that way shortly.
Now that you know the general game plan and have a decklist, let’s break down the cards (the article is titled “Everything I Know” for a reason…):
An obvious inclusion but there are a few things worth pointing out:
- It triggers upon the death of bigger creatures, so playing one pre-combat before attacking with all your creatures (especially when you expect some to die) is important.
- It has trample when it has three or more +1/+1 counters, not when it has four or more power. Those are not one in the same.
- Because its power is, in most cases, based off the number of +1/+1 counters it has, Heartless Act will rarely kill it but it will shrink it in combat to get blocked in combat by something
Play four. Never sideboard it out.
A less obvious inclusion but is starting to finally get the respect it deserves:
- If you don’t have a Pelt Collector in your opening hand, you’re playing Stonecoil Serpent on Turn 1 as a 1/1 in most situations. Remember: you’re not a midrange deck so you need to get on the battlefield early and often (especially against decks that contain Teferi, Time Raveler )
- Stonecoil Serpent is the ideal mutate target for Gemrazer. This combination alone is more than enough reason to play a Turn 1 Stonecoil Serpent if you didn’t agree with my previous bulletpoint
- A Castle Garenbrig activation means that Stonecoil Serpent will be a bit bigger than expected (Four lands + Castle Garenbrig = 6/6). It doesn’t come up often but it does matter for completely brick-walling Uro in certain spots.
- Protection from multicolored is relevant versus Teferi, Time Raveler, Hydroid Krasis, Mayhem Devil, Casualties of War, and Uro (among many other things).
- Reach is relevant versus flyers in general but also helps buy time against Demonic Embrace when racing.
- Colorless is relevant versus Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
Play four. Sideboard it out in the mirror and versus Mono-Red Aggro for Lovestruck Beast.
The most generic of creatures but there’s some charm in a generic bozo getting the job done:
- This sounds obvious but don’t underestimate the ability to give Barkhide Troll hexproof. It doesn’t come up a ton but it’s not there for no reason.
- While Stonecoil Serpent is your best mutate target for Gemrazer, Barkhide Troll is no slouch, since it’s a 5/5 with trample that’s hard to kill.
Play four. Rarely sideboard it out. It’s plain as day but not every card has to light the world on fire.
A card I see a lot of people cutting for reasons I don’t quite understand, Wildborn Preserver is good at all stages of the game and is another use for excess mana, something that sets Mono-Green Aggro apart from other aggressive decks in Core Set 2021 Standard:
- Wildborn Preserver having flash means that you can not only pump Pelt Collector at instant speed but also gives you a way to get back onto the battlefield post Shatter the Sky or any other sweeper. You’ll also occasionally eat a small creature that has made its way into the red zone (Example: Cauldron Familiar ).
- Multiple copies of Wildborn Preserver pump each other since it’s an Elf Archer, not a Human.
- Stonecoil Serpent can be played for zero mana, which will trigger Wildborn Preserver and allow you to dump all your mana into it if you’re interested in doing so.
- Wildborn Preserver and Castle Garenbrig are a nonbo, so please be aware.
When I build aggressive decks, I look for cards that are good at all stages of the game and have numerous decision trees (Example: Figure of Destiny). And while Wildborn Preserver isn’t as good as my favorite Kithkin, it’s still plenty good and is something I have no interest in cutting at this time.
The biggest addition to Mono-Green Aggro from Core Set 2021, Scavenging Ooze has pushed this deck from fringe contender to the real deal:
- Before Core Set 2021, Uro was a huge problem. Some players elected to sideboard Soul-Guide Lantern to combat the Elder Giant but that was far too narrow for my tastes. Scavenging Ooze helps to solve the Uro problem in a meaningful way (either eat Uro itself or eat the opponent’s graveyard).
- Scavenging Ooze is as great against opposing aggressive decks as it has always been. It’s nice to see some things never change.
I could say more about how awesome having Scavenging Ooze back is for Mono-Green Aggro, but I’ll let this tweet do the talking for me.
A card that was initially passed over when reviewing Ikoria, Gemrazer is probably the best card with mutate in the set and does a lot for Mono-Green Aggro:
- Core Set 2021 Standard has a lot relevant artifacts and enchantments for Gemrazer to blow up (Wilderness Reclamation, Witch’s Oven, Elspeth Conquers Death, Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Embercleave, Glass Casket).
- Gemrazer changing the casting cost of what you mutate on from less than three to exactly four matters for Eliminate.
- I’ve already spoken about how well Gemrazer works with Stonecoil Serpent and Barkide Troll, but mutating onto Questing Beast gives the positive combination of trample + deathtouch.
- Gemrazer has trample and grants whatever it mutates onto trample, meaning that the bonus damage from Ram Through becomes relevant.
- For reasons I will never understand, Gemrazer has reach and grants whatever it mutates onto reach, meaning that you can check/chump something enchanted by Demonic Embrace or Hydroid Krasis
Rarely sideboarded out due to how many decks play artifacts and enchantments, it’s completely nonsensical to me that people have copies of Gemrazer in their sideboard. Either this effect is maindeckable in Core Set 2021 Standard or it isn’t. And given the artifacts and enchantments listed above and how important they are to their respective deck (Example: Wilderness Reclamation’s importance to Temur Reclamation), I think it’s pretty clear that Gemrazer is a card to max out on.
A card with far too much text, Questing Beast is obviously powerful and is a hallmark in any green-based aggressive strategy:
- Haste is the most important aspect of Questing Beast given the two best decks in the format.
- Deathtouch in combination with Ram Through, Primal Might, and Vivien’s second ability is exactly as good as you think it is.
- As mentioned earlier, in combination with Gemrazer, Questing Beast has the positive combination of trample + deathtouch.
I find it humorous that I don’t have much to say about a card that has so much text but some cards don’t need much explanation. Play four, never sideboard it out, and hope to draw it when you’re empty handed.
My removal spell of choice given the texture of Core Set 2021 Standard. If Nightpack Ambusher declines in popularity and aggressive/midrange decks pick up in popularity, I’ll happily move to Primal Might but I don’t think we’re at that point yet:
- Ram Through being an instant matters to get an edge over Nightpack Ambusher, Shark Typhoon tokens, lands made by Nissa, Who Shakes the World on the opponent’s turn, and plenty of other corner case scenarios.
- Mono-Green Aggro doesn’t have a ton of creatures with trample (Stonecoil Serpent, Pelt Collector with three or more +1/+1 counters, anything Gemrazer mutates on to, and anything Viven gives +1/+1 counters to) but it’s important to note those that do so you know which ones will deal excess damage via Ram Through.
- Mono-Green Aggro also doesn’t have a ton of creatures with deathtouch (Questing Beast and Oakhame Adversary) but it’s important to note those that do so you know which ones will always get the job done via Ram Through
Again, Core Set 2021 Standard may evolve into a format where there’s more aggressive/midrange decks or players will move away from Nightpack Ambusher. If that happens, I’ll happily change Ram Through to Primal Might but in the meantime, I hope you Ram Through someone’s creature in response to a large Primal Might for maximum punishment.
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger
She slices. She dices. And she makes games really hard for opponents to win in certain circumstances. Vivien, Arkbow Ranger is a card I wish I could run more of because it has such a high ceiling, but because it isn’t always great against Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control, it’s inappropriate to load up on green’s best four-mana planeswalker (LOL at Garruk, Unleashed):
- Figuring out how to spread out the +1/+1 counters with Vivien is very situation dependent so you won’t find a guide here from me. Just remember that when you activate that ability, the creatures who receive the counters also receive trample until end of turn.
- Vivien’s -2 ability both doesn’t cause your creature to take damage like a traditional fight ability would and it can also target planeswalkers if necessary.
- Vivien’s ultimate rarely comes up, but when it does, you’re likely searching for a Shifting Ceratops to give haste. I’ve tried many times to have a sideboard built around Vivien finding a specific creature for a specific situation and it has always been a waste of time so don’t bother.
Viven is obviously powerful but metagames dictate what is and isn’t appropriate. I imagine the same metagame in which it’s appropriate to switch Ram Through to Primal Might is the same one where more copies of Vivien is ideal, so be prepared to make that change in case that happens.
A fun-of if there ever was one, Ranger’s Guile is a nice card to have access to when players don’t have access to your decklist (Example: Laddering on Arena) as opposed to when they do (Example: SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier) because they’ll play around it accordingly given that it doesn’t cost much to do so. If I were playing in an open decklist tournament, I would swap this out for either one copy of Giant Growth (harder to play around) or Primal Might (a fifth removal spell that has a very high ceiling).
A land with some upside but nowhere near as much as Castle Lotchwain, Castle Vantress, or Castle Embereth, Castle Garenbrig is a nice land to have access to. I’d say the first two copies are free but don’t want anymore past that.
- As mentioned earlier, Castle Garenbrig works favorably with Stonecoil Serpent and Scavenging Ooze but not with Wildborn Preserver.
- Six mana is a fairly sweet spot because it gives you the opportunity to play a four-mana spell (Questing Beast, Shifting Ceratops) and a two-mana spell (Barkhide Troll, Scavenging Ooze) in the same turn. This doesn’t come up a ton but it’s nice when it does.
Why am I not playing four copies like other people are? Because if I look at an opening hand with two copies of Castle Garenbrig and no other lands, the things I will scream aloud while clicking “Mulligan” will not be fit for public consumption. Further, Castle Garenbrig doesn’t do enough for this deck to warrant four copies like it does for other decks in other formats (Example: Putting a Primeval Titan onto the battlefield on Turn 3).
Stop being greedy and put more lands that always enter the battlefield untapped into your aggro deck.
Far from the best creature-land Magic has ever seen, the first copy of Mobilized District is free while the second is as close to free as you’ll get (especially if you’re not playing Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig). If you’ve played with one creature-land, you’ve played with them all. Mobilized District is just something that gives you another option and is generally at its best against midrange and control decks than it is against aggressive ones.
25 Lands? In An Aggro Deck?
Before getting to the sideboard cards, now’s a great time to talk about why I’m playing 25 lands. Most of the lists that are popping up all over Twitter have 24 lands and it makes me cringe every time I see it. Even when I played in Players Tour Online 2, I had the 25th land in the sideboard (which was a mistake and I should have just started it but was under the gun deckbuilding wise).
Mono-Green Aggro is an incredibly mana hungry deck that cannot afford to miss its third or fourth land drop. Further, Mono-Green Aggro is a deck that doesn’t play any manipulation whatsoever — you won’t find any copies of Opt, Omen of the Sea, or even Light Up the Stage to help smooth out your early-game. And when the two best decks in the format, Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control, are as powerful as they are, if you hiccup against them, they will absolutely destroy you with their superior card quality.
Fortunately, besides curving out and casting its spells on time, Mono-Green Aggro has a lot of uses for its mana:
- Dumping excess mana into making a large Stonecoil Serpent
- Activating Scavenging Ooze
- Dumping excess mana into Wildborn Preserver’s trigger
- Activating Barkhide Troll
- Playing a spell and leaving up mana for Ram Through
- Activating Mobilized District
- Dumping excess mana into a large Primal Might
There have been plenty of times where I hope to draw land five, six, or even seven because I just need the mana do be able to do additional things during my turn. That’s not something a deck like Mono-Red Aggro would ever say, and while the new takes on Mono-Black Aggro don’t mind drawing a few more lands, they don’t have a ton of mana sinks past Knight of the Ebon Legion.
The first time you keep a two-lander and brick on your third land (which means you lose the game immediately BTW), just remember this conversation.
Simple. Straightforward. Just like the maindeck. Here’s a quick rundown:
In the matchups it’s good, it’s very good (Example: Mono-Red Aggro) and in the matchps it’s bad, it’s absolutely heinous (Example: Jund Sacrifice). If the metagame moves more towards aggressive and midrange shells, I’ll happily move Lovestruck Beast to the maindeck but much like with Primal Might and more copies of Vivien, I don’t feel like we’re there yet.
- The Human token made from Heart’s Desire cannot be mutated onto by Gemrazer.
- When you sideboard Lovestruck Beast in, you need to keep a fairly high density of one-drops in your deck to ensure that it can attack. This seems elementary but it’s worth noting.
- Lovestruck Beast likes to be the last thing you cast when you have Pelt Collector going since it can bring it up to a 5/5 when very little else in your deck can do that.
There will be metagames where Lovestuck Beast is fantastic but I don’t think it’s one where Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control are the decks to beat.
Arguably the best card you can have in your sideboard in green mirrors, Oakhame Adversary is as straightforward as it comes. Is it better than The Great Henge in green mirrors? Honestly, I’m unsure and that uncertainty is what will cause me to give The Great Henge a second look given that Mono-Green Aggro is starting to get a bit of positive press.
I’ve got no real bulletpoints for you here. Oakhame Adversary has deathtouch so the same deathtouch notes that apply to Questing Beast apply here. It is a bummer that this Elf Warrior has two power because that means it can’t trade with Questing Beast when on defense but so it goes.
Your best sideboard card by a mile and is one of the main reasons to be playing Mono-Green Aggro in the first place, Shifting Ceratops is baaaaad news for Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control. That said, it’s not like they’re without answers to the card:
- Aether Gust (while it’s on the stack)
- Nightpack Ambusher (trades with it or creates enough Wolf tokens to double block it)
- Storm’s Wrath (kills it outright)
- Scorching Dragonfire/Flame Sweep + Expansion (this has happened more than I care to admit)
- Aether Gust (while it’s on the stack)
- Shatter the Sky and Elspeth Conquers Death (kills it outright)
- Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse and Nissa, Who Shakes the World (can create enough Cat tokens or animate enough lands to double block it)
That all said, these aren’t a ton of answers or they can be difficult to assemble because it’s not like you as a Mono-Green Aggro player aren’t doing anything else leading up to Shifty C showing up. Sideboard it in with confidence against all Simic-based strategies.
Originally copies of Prey Upon, Primal Might is strictly better (it’s rare that I ever use that term) than Prey Upon and there are certainly metagames where it’s better than Ram Through. The reason for Prey Upon’s inclusion in the sideboard during Ikoria Standard was solely to manage Priest of Forgotten Gods with the benefit of also being able to kill Runaway Steam-Kin and other annoying creatures in general.
Primal Might clearly has a very high ceiling but don’t be afraid to just cast it for a single green mana ala Prey Upon. You don’t get extra match win points for the best Primal Might but I guess Twitter screenshots and clout are undervalued by yours truly.
Cards I’m Not Playing
There’s a few cards I see running around that I see people playing that range from “It’s not the right metagame for that card” to “There is no right metagame for that card.” Let’s discuss!
Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig
It’s big, which means it survives Scorching Dragonfire. But if you’re paying attention, there are less and less copies of Scorching Dragonfire running around. And honestly, that’s really the only appeal of playing Yorvo in my eyes. Yes, it’s really good to mutate on with Gemrazer (look how big it is!) but that doesn’t come up much. And with the advent of Primal Might, it’s not hard for opposing green decks to kill it.
Don’t play it.
I’ve always hated cards like Heroic Intervention because players always think of the ceiling and never the floor. Yes, Heroic Intervention can one-up Shatter the Sky, Storm’s Wrath, and Ritual of Soot (lets just ignore Extinction Event or Ugin. the Spirit Dragon shall we?). But, as mentioned earlier, the decks that would play those cards can’t really afford to do so due to the shape of the metagame. Further, and let me say this really loud for the people in the back…
Those cards aren’t that hard to beat anyway!
Learn how to sequence your creatures and you’ll be laughing off Shatter the Sky and Storm’s Wrath in no time. I promise you that it’s not that hard and I’ve more or less made a (mediocre) career out of playing around and against much more powerful sweepers with aggressive decks of this nature.
Be better than playing with Heroic Intervention.
Everyone is trying to make fetch happen with Kraul Harpooner. Yes, you look really smart when you gun down a Gilded Goose. But then you realize that one top deck plays Gilded Goose (Jund Sacrifice) and it doesn’t need it to function. So where exactly is a 3/2 that doesn’t have trample, deathtouch, the ability to give itself hexproof, the ability to grow itself when you play a creature, or the ability to decimate graveyards actually good?
Barkhide Troll has already decided to occupy the “I’m a generic bozo” slot and its grasp on that slot isn’t slipping any time soon.
Stop trying to make fetch happen.
The Great Henge
Speaking of trying to make fetch happen, what’s the deal with everyone loving this card? People do know that Temur Reclamation and Bant Ramp/Control are the best decks in the format right? So the idea of trying to resolve The Great Henge (hello Aether Gust!) let alone it staying on the battlefield (hello Teferi, Time Raveler and Elspeth Conquers Death!) are laughable.
If you want to sideboard The Great Henge for non Simic-based matchups, I’m happy to entertain that idea but given that Breeding Pool, Growth Spiral, and friends aren’t going anywhere any time soon, maindecking this card is utter nonsense.
How Do You Beat Aether Gust?
Ah yes. The elephant in the room. With Aether Gust being a viable (and arguably very good!) maindeck card in Core Set 2021 Standard, how can one possibly play a green-based aggro deck?
Here’s a question for you — would you not play an aggro deck if Doom Blade were legal? What if that Doom Blade didn’t actually kill your creature, but instead gave you the option of it dying (putting it on the bottom of your deck) or drawing it again (putting it on top of your deck)?
Personally, Doom Blade being legal would never stop me from playing an aggro deck but a Doom Blade that gives me an option certainly isn’t going to stop me from playing an aggro deck. Does playing against Aether Gust take some practice playing against? It sure does. You know what else takes some practice playing against?
I’ve been the Content Coordinator for this website for seven years. I know the real reason you’re here. You’re not fooling anyone.
VS Temur Reclamation
It’s all beatdowns all the time here. If you’re playing in an open decklist tournament and want to cut the Ranger’s Guile, feel free. Additionally, if you opponent doesn’t have access to Nightpack Ambusher, you have no reason to leave in Ram Through. You can attempt to play around everything (Aether Gust, Petty Theft, Nightpack Ambusher, Shark Typhoon tokens, various counterspells, etc) but that takes a lot of practice. I win this matchup more than I lose it but I also guess wrong sometimes. Practice makes perfect.
VS Bant Ramp/Control
Play a creature every turn and make them have it every step of the way. If they go, good for them. If not, they’re super dead. You’re sideboarding in Lovestruck Beast here because you want to get started on Turn 1 every game and this increases your one-drops from eight to twelve.
Jolrael has changed the calculus on Ram Through a little bit but I’ve been able to swarm around it well enough thus far. Your milage may vary.
VS Jund/Rakos Sacrifice
Three additional removal spells bring you up to seven to manage Priest of Forgotten Gods and Mayhem Devil, Gemrazer not only blows up Witch’s Oven but also makes your creature impossible to take with Claim the Firstborn, Scavenging Ooze does a nice job of managing Cauldron Familiar and Woe Strider, and your creatures are simply better than theirs stat-wise. It can be tough at times but if players continue to scale back on Priest and Claim, things only get easier.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
Lovestuck Beast has always been an ace versus Mono-Red Aggro and that doesn’t change here, while Stonecoil Serpent is too small often enough to be ideal. Gemrazer does a nice job of cleaning up Anax and Embercleave and if you get to untap with Vivien, things are fairly easy. Seven remove spells after sideboard means you should be able to manage Runaway Steam-Kin and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell easily enough.
VS Mono-Green Aggro
If your opponent has access to The Great Henge, leave in Gemrazer because the Legendary Artifact is worth killing. Stonecoil Serpent leaves since it’s not outclassing anything until the late-game and games don’t traditionally play that way (and it can get blown up by Gemrazer). Oakhame Adversary is a two-drop in this matchup so you can side a few of yours out as a result (sorry Barkhide Troll). Past that, things are kinda random and it just depends on who draws better.
Sleeve Up The Green Machine
Whelp there it is! Mono-Green Aggro in all its Core Set 2021 Standard glory! Some people prefer to cast Growth Spiral with their two mana. I prefer Barkhide Troll. And while we may be in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and global racial movement (#BlackLivesMatter), there’s comfort in knowing that, for me at least, some things never change.