Over the summer, when Temur Reclamation was dominating Core Set 2021 Standard, I wrote an article outlining everything I knew about Mono-Green Aggro given my success with the archetype on Magic Arena. Once Wilderness Reclamation; Growth Spiral; Teferi, Time Raveler; and Cauldron Familiar were surprise-banned, Sultai Ramp became the best deck in Core Set 2021 Standard, but Mono-Green Aggro was a pretty natural foil to the three-color strategy and I wrote about why.
Now with a rotation taking place alongside the introduction of Zendikar Rising, as well as another surprise Standard banning by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) on Monday, it appears as though Mono-Green Aggro may not only be the best aggro deck in Standard – it looks like it may just be the best deck in Standard overall.
And best of all? I’m not the only person who thinks so!
So what makes Mono-Green Aggro so good in this newest version of Zendikar Rising Standard? The short answer is that green has the most powerful cards in Standard right now. The long answer is what the next few thousands words are for. But the best place to start is going over what Mono-Green Aggro lost as well as what it has gained.
What Mono-Green Lost Via Rotation
Mono-Green Aggro lost a few cards with the rotation of War of the Spark, Ravnica Allegiance, Guilds of Ravnica, and Core Set 2020:
Of these, the biggest loss in my estimation is surprisingly Barkhide Troll, not Pelt Collector. Don’t get it twisted — Pelt Collector was the optimal way to get the game started for Mono-Green during Core Set 2021 Standard but Mono-Green doesn’t lack one-drops. It’s a two-drop that survives Stomp that Mono-Green would love to have access to. And while I know some people have been experimenting with Drowsing Tyrannodon and Destiny Spinner as two-drops that check that box, I currently feel neither are powerful enough to seriously enter the conversation.
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, as powerful as it is, was a planeswalker that was printed at the wrong time. Had Vivien been printed in Core Set 2021, I believe Mono-Green would currently be absurd instead of simply very good given the many creature battles that are taking place in Standard at the moment. It’s a shame Vivien never got to live up to its full potential but it honestly may have been for the best.
As far as Shifting Ceratops and Mobilized District are concerned, both were products of the metagame at the time. Shifting Certaops being uncounterable, having protection from blue, and having four toughness were all integral to its success at cleaning up control decks. Mobilized District worked similarly against control strategies but many players favored Bonders’ Enclave over it, showing how replaceable the creature-land was.
But enough about what the deck lost. Let’s talk about what it gained!
What Mono-Green Gained From Zendikar Rising
Though Mono-Green Aggro lost a few key cards, what it gained from Zendikar Rising cannot be overstated:
Let’s start with the Pelt Collector replacement in Swarm Shambler. I was originally skeptical of this card, as it didn’t strike me as all that powerful, but after playing a few matches with it, I was sold rather quickly. Here’s why:
- You need to get the game started with something. I say this a lot but as an aggro deck, it’s important to just get the game started on Turn 1.
And between Heart’s Desire, Stonecoil Serpent, and Swarm Shambler, you have twelve ways to get the party started.
- It turns on Lovestruck Beast better than anything else. If you’ve played games with Lovestruck Beast, you know how annoying it can be when someone kills your 1/1 before combat to prevent your 5/5 from attacking. Given Swarm Shambler’s text, killing it results in another 1/1 showing up, which allows Lovestruck Beast to do what it does best — get into the red zone.
- Mono-Green plays many creatures with +1/+1 counters. Between Stonecoil Serpent, Scavenging Ooze, creatures cast once The Great Henge is on the battlefield, creatures that hit the battlefield via Turntimber Symbiosis, and Chainweb Aracnir being escaped in sideboard games, it’s a bit surprising how many creatures have +1/+1 counters.
- It’s a great place to mutate Gemrazer. Stonecoil Serpent will always be the best card to mutate Gemrazer onto but Swarm Shambler is no slouch and the fact that it can keep growing gives it some high upside if games stall out a bit.
Moving right along to the DFCs, it won’t surprise you much that Turntimber Symbiosis and Kazandu Mammoth are four-ofs here. In the case of Turntimber Symbiosis, it’s essentially free and has upside in the late-game in the same fashion as Agadeem’s Awakening, Emeria’s Call, and the rest of the mythic DFCs.
As for Kazandu Mammoth, its versatility is its greatest strength. When you need it to be a land, it can be. When you need it to be a creature, it can do that as well. The fact that it becomes a 5/5 on Turn 4 to make The Great Henge cost four mana means you have four additional ways alongside Lovestruck Beast to deploy the legendary artifact ahead of schedule.
Last is the addition of Crawling Barrens, which, much like Mobilized District before it, is a card some people like and others do not. Whether its better or worse than Bonders’ Enclave is still up for debate but I’ve always preferred playing a creature-land if given the opportunity in aggressive strategies.
How About A Decklist?
Well that’s why you’re here isn’t it?
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Stonecoil Serpent
- 4 Gemrazer
- 2 Garruk's Harbinger
- 4 Swarm Shambler
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
Because I’ve done a card-by-card breakdown in the past, I won’t be doing a complete one of those again. Instead, I’m going to share just a few general thoughts about the Zendikar Rising metagame, card choices, and a few other random thoughts since finalizing the deck is still a work in progress.
Gemrazer Is Still Very Good
Did Lucky Clover get banned? It sure did. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other artifacts or enchantments to blow up:
I’m sure I missed a few but my point is simple — just because one key artifact got banned doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of artifacts and enchantments to blow up with Gemrazer. Toss in the fact that it powers up some of your creatures in a meaningful way, grants trample for Ram Through, and has reach to block flyers, it’s pretty clear to me that Gemrazer is still easily a four-of in the maindeck of Mono-Green Aggro.
Garruk’s Harbinger Is Very Well Positioned
With a lot of attention turning towards Stomp and black removal spells such as Eliminate, Heartless Act, and Bloodchief’s Thirst to contain aggressive strategies, there’s almost no better threat to be playing right now than Garruk’s Harbinger. And if it were only a 4/3 for 1GG with hexproof from black, I’d be happy with it. But instead, it has an incredibly relevant line of text that allows you to continue to snowball your advantage.
Rakdos Midrange has some serious problems with Garruk’s Harbinger right now but it’s not the only deck that struggles. Because white is so poor as a control color right now, decks like Abzan Midrange and Dimir Control also don’t like facing my new favorite 4/3. And if white removal like Banishing Light and Elspeth Conquers Death picks up? Well there’s that whole Gemrazer thing I talked about earlier…
How Good Is Garruk, Unleashed?
I’ve been getting this question a lot and my answer continues to be “I’m unsure.” In games where you’re ahead, it feels like no other card pushes you further ahead while simultaneously giving your opponent no chance to catch back up (besides Embercleave I guess). In games where you’re behind, it feels like a blank Magic card disguised as a planeswalker; a four-mana 3/3 isn’t gonna cut it in this economy when you’re getting your ass kicked by the cards WotC has made in 2020.
I’m still giving this a shot because it’s worth testing new cards but I’ve mostly found it to be good on the play and poor on the draw.
Where’s Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate?
On the bench for now. I was initially playing it in the sideboard over Elder Gargaroth but I wanted to give the 6/6 Beast a try as the “five-mana threat in sideboard games that needs to be answered ASAP.” The biggest problem I found with Vivien is that, much like Garruk, a 3/3 isn’t that impressive and given that it only goes up to four loyalty after its first activation (unlike the absurd six loyalty that Nissa, Who Shakes the World went to), it’s just not that durable.
Have I won games with Vivien? For sure. But very few of those games felt like it was because it was exactly Vivien instead of something else. Therefore, it’s time to try something else and thus far, Elder Gargaroth has impressed.
Scavenging Ooze Is Busted
Remember when I said this…?
Well somehow it’s better now than it was then. Some could argue that I’m prone to hyperbole but it’s in your best interest to take this statement seriously:
I feel this way for a lot of different reasons:
- Against Rakdos Midrange, controlling/containing Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Magmatic Channeler is of the utmost importance. No card does it better. And don’t forget that with one +1/+1 counter, you dodge both Stomp and Heartless Act (their primary removal spells at this time).
- Against Dimir Rogues, they mill creatures into your graveyard for you to feed on. But ignoring that, you’re also able to control to some extent the number of cards in your graveyard to lessen the impact of Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, Drown in the Loch, and Into the Story, as well as the type of cards in your graveyard for Nighthawk Scavenger.
- Against Mono-Red Aggro, an unchecked Scavenging Ooze wins you the game. Straight up.
- In the Mono-Green mirror, a lot of trading takes place given the sizing of the creatures being the same (example: Lovestruck Beast is a 5/5, not a 5/6, so they run into each other a lot). No card cleans up after all the trading better.
A better way to explain Scavenging Ooze is this. When it first showed up, it was immediately Legacy-playable in various Maverick decks. When it was reprinted in Magic 2014 it was immediately good in both Standard and Modern. And now, in a Standard format that just got powered down and is centering itself around attacking, blocking, killing creatures, and, most importantly, not ramping, I am having difficulty thinking of a card I’d want more.
Did I Mention That Green Has Other Busted Cards?
Seriously, check out what cards are being played in this deck:
- Primal Might and Ram Through are incredible removal spells, with Ram Through somehow being better than Howl from Beyond + Fireball.
- Stonecoil Serpent is good at all stages of the game; has a ton of relevant keywords (trample, reach, and protection from multicolored); and plays incredibly with Gemrazer to take it out of range of Stomp, Heartless Act, Eliminate, and an unkicked Bloodchief’s Thirst.
- Lovestruck Beast is a low-to-the-ground aggro deck’s nightmare and makes mulliganing easier since it’s two cards in one.
- You get to play the ultimate creature breaker in The Great Henge. If you untap with that thing, it’s basically impossible for any creature deck to race you and it’s incredibly difficult for any midrange or control deck to attrition you.
- Garruk Harbinger’s might be the best-positioned three-drop in all of Standard right now.
- You get to play eight DFCs that, as spells, have relevant text over the course of the game.
- Your sideboard is full of incredibly powerful cards like Chainweb Aracnir VS Dimir Rogues, Elder Gargaroth against opposing creature decks, and Questing Beast against stuff (the card is way too powerful not to see play).
Mono-Green Aggro is no longer a metagame deck to catch the best deck in the format like Temur Reclamation or Sultai Ramp off-guard. This is a deck with great mana, incredibly powerful cards, and what I’d argue is the best card in the format.
Prepare accordingly. Or else.