The answer is yes.
If you dialed back the sands of time from the first appearance of the card Borderland Ranger, you would be hard-pressed to find a deck designer who liked it more and played it (and cards that are basically the same as it) more.
I started off trying to make Knight of the White Orchid work in Reveillark decks. Fieldmist Borderpost, Knight of the White Orchid, get back multiple copies of Knight of the White Orchid. It was okay. Given the work you had to do with Fieldmist Borderpost to set the damn thing up, it seemed to me that I was just going to get more consistent returns out of Borderland Ranger (also conveniently Reveillark eligibly-sized)... Anyway, I was playing Doran, the Siege Tower in my Reveillark deck.
Kind of on a lark (no relation) in a podcast, I started brewing up a Jund Ramp deck. Bloodbraid Elf was the hot new thing, but my deck almost always won with a big Banefire. But it's not like I didn't recognize the power of Bloodbraid Elf.
What Borderland Ranger did at that point was to allow my Jund Ramp deck to trade with Bloodbraid Elf (2/2 blocking 3/2) without a forced loss of card advantage. The free basic Swamp or whatever Borderland Ranger found might not have been on the same order as what the opponent got for free, but again, it allowed me to stay more-or-less even.
But then again...
None of the green three-drops gets played all the time.
Midrange green decks and their neighbors have had their ups and downs since the release of Return to Ravnica, and which three-drop gets played says a lot about what a player wants to do and what he or she expects other people want to do.
What does Borderland Ranger have to say about a mage?
A few months ago, Borderland Ranger could be effectively played in a variety of strategies. I actually thought early on that Borderland Ranger should have been played in greater percentages in G/W/B Reanimator decks. The reason? Reanimator was so powerful relative to the initially successful beatdown decks that I figured that smooth mana progression would be the best thing. Facilitate your mana, get your game on, your game is better than their game—go-time!
Borderland Ranger in the pre-Gatecrash Standard might have been best in a deck like this one:
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Centaur Healer
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 2 Thundermaw Hellkite
Jun Yu wanted to play B, R, W, UU, and GGG. Borderland Ranger was simply at its most relevant in a deck that wanted to hit everything from Garruk, Primal Hunter to Sphinx's Revelation. Though if I had tuned that mana base, there would have very likely have been a second Island in the maindeck and a Swamp in the sideboard for Deathrite Shaman (though that is neither here nor there).
Not every green midrange deck plays white (despite the fact that the other two that we are contrasting are Selesnya branded), but it is pretty clear that Borderland Ranger is near or at its best in decks that play Restoration Angel.
In post-Gatecrash Standard, Borderland Ranger has seen substantially less play as its 2/2 body simply can't keep pace with cards like Boros Elite at 3/3 on one; even though it can trade with a Burning-Tree Emissary, Burning Tree Emissary is both faster and rarely comes alone. Even I have eschewed poor Borderland Ranger in my most recent ramp decks.
Centaur Healer would very typically be seen in G/W/B Reanimator, where it was especially synergistic in Restoration Angel builds. It was also seen in some Bant decks as an effort to slow down the then-dominant Rakdos and Rakdos Red assaults.
From the perspective of a Rakdos Red player, I never really "got" Centaur Healer as a solution. Centaur Healer would draw a Searing Spear and often never block. Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite would go over the top, and Rakdos Cackler would have already done four.
This style of Bant was a wild divergence from the established Nephalia Drownyard splashing Bant that at one point had only four Thragtusks for nonland permanents. Melissa DeTora's Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 deck by comparison had a substantial number of creatures (including, of course, Restoration Angel) and could double up Centaur Healer with Rhox Faithmender.
Loxodon Smiter was big for its size, sure, but not really big enough against another midrange green deck. Two green decks would typically club each other for many turns, and if one of them didn't blow the doors completely over with something like a Bonfire of the Damned (or, I guess, Sphinx's Revelation), even a high value or unusually efficient 3/3 or 4/4 would simply fall behind the self-contained card advantage of a Thragtusk.
Especially during the Top 8 of the Las Vegas Standard Open in December (the one where Jun Yu made Top 8 with his Sphinx's Revelation green), Patrick Sullivan commented that he thought green decks should generally side out their three-drop hitters when facing one another.
Now, there are certain situations where Loxodon Smiter makes strategic sense. In formats with lots of Liliana of the Veil (e.g., Modern), Loxodon Smiter is like a really good Dodecapod. It is built-in fundamental Rakdos's Return resistance. But again? If you are just slamming big green guys against other big green guys, this one isn't the biggest.
Interestingly, we might think about Loxodon Smiter as anti-discard, size-for-cost (and Centaur Healer as "anti-red"), but contextually Loxodon Smiter might actually be the better anti-beats. You don't necessarily want to be trading with a Boros Elite with a Healing Salve attached when your blocker can simply walk away, but more telling might be Boros Reckoner. Boros Reckoner can whack Centaur Healer, but Loxodon Smiter can actually trade three-drops—not necessarily what you are looking for in your 4/4 for three, but perhaps a good enough deal when dealing with the actual best three-drop in recent memory.
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 2 Prime Speaker Zegana
- 1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
… Or you can just be an ick-day and not play any three-drop at all in your green deck (unless you count Keyrunes).
That deck is awesome. Like I said last week, if I were you I would just drop everything and go play it.
You may have read on my blog that one reader, Tom Stiteler, did just that and won two (!) win-a-box tournaments at Grand Prix Pittsburgh!
Tom had lots of suggestions borne of his actual tournament success with the strategy. I put together the following modifications based on some of his experiences:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Molten Primordial
- 4 Thragtusk
- 4 Zealous Conscripts
I think you can make an argument about the relative power levels of Falkenrath Aristocrat versus Ghor-Clan Rampager at four, but Tom made the strong argument that Falkenrath Aristocrat pushes the deck's powerhouse haste theme.
Now, one thing that some readers asked about was playing Boros Reckoner in these decks. Both this build and last week's play twenty sources of red or white mana (yes, you sometimes have to name "Wizard" with Cavern of Souls). How many sources do you think you need exactly?
You can actually cast Boros Reckoner on the second turn if you open on a Stomping Ground and one of the eight one-mana accelerators, but you don't really need to play defensive Reckoner on the third turn. The sideboarded version of these decks has tons of Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusks to block and can accelerate with Gruul or Rakdos Keyrunes. You don't need your Reckoner to be there on turn 3 to be relevant in time (you will often have other blockers), but again, sometimes it is out there super quick.
Anyway, some vids with the new build (which is also awesome).
I think this is a classic Zvi Mowshowitz style matchup. If you've studied Zvi's deck design work over the years, you know the man loves mana acceleration, and when he plays creatures, he loves making bigger guys than his opponents.
Simply, we go bigger.
When you are in a situation where either player can buy time (you have Thragtusks, they have Thragtusks and Huntmaster of the Fells), the ability to go super huge over the top (especially after an attrition battle) can give you a huge window to win and, in particular, better possible topdecks.
Remember, the original idea [from last week] was to piggyback on the opponent's big threats and great cards.
And who has bigger and better threat cards than Reanimator?
Result here notwithstanding, I don't think you have a strategic advantage over Reanimator, and certainly not Human Reanimator. You basically have to put pressure on the opponent and keep the pressure on, forcing the opponent to tap into a vulnerable defensive position so that you can piggyback him with your Threaten hasters.
Because if you let the opponent do what they actually want in terms of setup, locking down your stuff with Angel of Serenity (or worse), a 6/4 haste isn't looking that awesome any more.
Control in Standard has its issues.
In particular, we have a situation here where Ramp has Cavern of Souls and Zealous Conscripts (atrocious for planeswalkers). Big creature threats like Obzedat are like any other big creatures—if your opponent plays ball, you can borrow their 5/5 and just kill them.
Mass removal is of course effective against a deck with eight mana Elves and a ton of creatures, but we have really solid resistance due to all the haste as well as the sheer size of our threats. Falkenrath Aristocrat, Thragtusk, and Keyrunes are fundamentally resilient to Wrath effects, and there isn't much you want more post-Wrath than a hasty Semi-Soft-Lock.
Cavern of Souls is best against a deck with an actual dedicated permission suite.
I don't know how good our game plan is if the opponent plays progressively (and we have zero outs to a resolved Lucky Charms end game), but if opponents are going to go the Aurelia route, that is basically the game plan we were built from the start to trump.
Standard has lots of possible strategies. I think that Gruul Ramp topping up on Molten Primordial is a very effective one. The black splash gives you some additional game (like a third color will), but adding a bunch of Overgrown Tombs makes you weaker against beatdown. That is something to consider. Are Falkenrath Aristocrat and Rakdos's Return better against control than the original two-color? Probably. But Staff of Nin alone is still super gas and lets you keep up with Sphinx's Revelation in a different way than Rakdos's Return (though both accomplish that goal).
Have fun stealing your opponent's best thing, smashing him for ten, etc.