I'll be honest: I didn't look too closely at the implications of Rhythm of the Wild when previews for Ravnica Allegiance started getting heavy last week. I was caught up in a Modern and Legacy mindset, thinking about cards like Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Sphinx of Foresight, and Electrodominance in the context of Magic's more powered up formats. The biggest cards of interest to me for Standard were Growth Spiral and Wilderness Reclamation for creating a Bant Nexus deck to prey on unsuspecting opponents. Even then, I decided to leave the Bant brewing up to my friends and colleagues Marcus Luong and Rob Pisano, trusting that they would have a lot of fun figuring out the best way to abuse Nexus of Fate.
At MagicFest Oakland this past weekend, though, an offhand remark by Jarvis Yu got the wheels turning in my head about a more aggressive take on Standard.
"Rhythm of the Wild means that you can get multiple instances of riot, which stack. I think that's way better than the original Fires of Yavimaya."
Can't be countered? Massive, hasty monsters? Sign me up for a quick beatdown plan with that kind of offer!
Nearly twenty years ago, Zvi Mowshowitz wrote an article series called "My Fires" that laid down the meticulous details of every part of his Fires of Yavimaya deck from Pro Tour Chicago, from Karplusan Forest to Two-Headed Dragon. Times have changed since Invasion was released, but if Fires of Yavimaya could be worth ten thousand words, surely the far better Rhythm of the Wild is worth at least an article about how to properly maximize its power. After all, Rhythm of the Wild offers haste when you need to deal damage quickly, and +1/+1 counters when you need to size up to create an impregnable battlefield. That kind of choice is incredibly powerful.
So what do we make of it?
We start, of course, with the only remaining legal member of Standard who came along from times of yore with this Fires of Yavimaya upgrade. Llanowar Elves will continue to cast this busted enchantment on turn 2 just as it did so long ago. Though I'm not astonished at the lack of Llanowar Elves in most Golgari lists lately, as the card doesn't quite curve out properly with Wildgrowth Walker and offers a poor lategame topdeck, its power is much more in line with Rhythm of the Wild and a Gruul Monsters-style deck than grindy Golgari. Llanowar Elves will be a huge cog in Standard, but it's simply taken a bit more in the way of powerful three-mana payoffs to really bring out that role.
From that point, we have a key choice. Do we want to commit to a heavy green manabase and obtain the powerful payoff of Steel Leaf Champion, or would we prefer to go more middle-of-the-road with some number of Mountains and more double-red spells available to us? Skarrgan Hellkite or Steel Leaf Champion? It seems possible but greedy to try and fit both into a deck with only Rootbound Crag and Stomping Ground to stitch things together. Are we going to be the Mono-Green Aggro deck from last format with just ten red sources for Rhythm of the Wild, or will we be a more middle-of-the-road Gruul deck? And, crucially, which two-drop do we prefer: Thorn Lieutenant or Zhur-Taa Goblin? Or is there something even better? (Hint: There is.)
Regardless, Nullhide Ferox and Kraul Harpooner deserve consideration in this deck as holdovers from the first Mono-Green Aggro sketches of last year. Can you imagine bashing an opponent with a hasty Ferox on turn 3? Or punching down a 2/4 Crackling Drake with your new 4/3 Kraul Harpooner? Undergrowth on the Harpooner, specifically, works wonders with the haste granted from riot. A topdecked 7/2 haste creature on turn 6 or 7 is often going to pull a game across the finish line even as an opponent is starting to gain control. Of course, we'll also be playing Gruul Spellbreaker, and we'll likely want Ghalta, Primal Hunger to come down and smack an opponent for twelve hasty trampling damage sometime in the middle turns. And yes, as our supplementary one-drop creature we'll probably go straight to Pelt Collector as a creature that can quickly size up to 4/4 or larger, especially with errant +1/+1 counters flying around from all the rioting going on.
Oh, and one more thing. Legion Warboss. We have Llanowar Elves to power out our new Goblin Rabblemaster on turn 2 consistently, despite not having synergy between the tokens and Rhythm of the Wild. I'm willing to consider any incentives to lean away from the heavy green commitment for Steel Leaf Champion and embrace red, and a standalone army-producer might be something we're interested in.
But if we are interested in incredible synergy with Rhythm of the Wild, yes, there is something better. We need look no further than Growth-Chamber Guardian.
Read it carefully.
If you cast a Growth-Chamber Guardian and riot it up to a 3/3, you immediately find another one. You can chain together all your Guardians very quickly for only two mana a pop and recover from a sweeper. Or, if you have spare mana, you can simply give your Guardian haste and immediately adapt it up to a 4/4, chaining 4/4 haste creatures out of your deck every turn until your opponent concedes. This is not a format conducive to surviving an aggro rush and then winning at your leisure after the opponent is all gassed out. This format will have very resilient threats, threats that replace themselves and make traditional removal look silly.
It's also not a format where Teferi can run wild, at least compared to previous ones. Planeswalkers and haste creatures exist in a very interesting equilibrium, where the more prevalent haste is, the worse and worse Planeswalkers become. We saw this with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. We'll see it again with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Rhythm of the Wild.
The big picture issues on my mind with this very straightforward (and likely very powerful) beatdown deck are a difficulty removing must-kill creatures without dipping into too many noncreature spells and diluting the effectiveness of Nullhide Ferox and Rhythm of the Wild. After all, losing to multiple Benalish Marshals or a Curious Obsession on a Siren Stormtamer is never a fun experience. My kingdom for a Heart-Piercer Manticore!
As such, I'm looking at cards like Goblin Cratermaker, Territorial Allosaurus, or even Atzocan Archer (I know) to offer some sort of interaction without having to dip into noncreature spells. Obviously Thrashing Brontodon is wonderful here to interact with troublesome permanents like Wilderness Reclamation or Gift of Paradise.
Of course, we are permitted to play Vivien Reid or Domri, Chaos Bringer instead of Nullhide Ferox or in the sideboard to swap in for the big 6/6, but my instinct is that Rhythm of the Wild is worth a lot of commitment, and as the only noncreature spell in the deck, it offers the largest benefit.
Here's where I'm currently at with "My Rhythm," and I hope Zvi enjoys the homage even after all these years:
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Kraul Harpooner
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Nullhide Ferox
- 4 Pelt Collector
- 4 Steel Leaf Champion
- 2 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
We're just running an all-in beatdown plan, the hell with the consequences. It's the Gruul way. The sideboard is hoping to catch some folks on Mono-Blue Aggro with a heavy dose of removal in Reclamation Sage and Thrashing Brontodon for the Curious Obsession. Atzocan Archer and Cratermaker combine with Kraul Harpooner to clean up the miniature flyers and do great work against Boros Aggro as well. For fighting Bant Nexus decks, we're relying on the Disenchant creatures to prevent them from gaining a massive mana advantage, and our hasty monsters to kill Teferi before he gets too out of control.
Of course, straight Gruul isn't necessarily the only way to play with Rhythm of the Wild. We live in a world where a deck can confidently play the following manabase:
With eleven ways to cast a turn 1 Llanowar Elves and a full thirteen blue and red sources, this manabase offers a high level of consistency for a Temur deck that wants to play a handful of counterspells (and is willing to give up Steel Leaf Champion and Nullhide Ferox to do so!)
Jund, Temur, and Naya are all options on the table, and each brings with it some strengths and weaknesses.
Temur offers a smattering of countermagic; Jund offers discard and Judith, the Scourge Diva (which does help with the "no removal in an all-creature deck" problem); and Naya...well, Naya offers a few Dinosaurs from Ixalan, topping out with Zacama, Primal Calamity, I suppose!
But no, it's not Zacama bringing us to think about Dinosaurs as a serious shell for Rhythm of the Wild. One of the benefits of playing Dinosaurs is getting to play with additional mana accelerators like Drover of the Mighty and topping out with Carnage Tyrant. What's scarier than a Carnage Tyrant on turn 4? A Carnage Tyrant with haste on turn 4! Combining two mana accelerators with a Rhythm of the Wild means your opponent may be biting the dust to a big Dinosaur very, very early in the game.
Unfortunately, there's not a huge amount of synergy between the best Dinosaurs and Rhythm of the Wild, as Regisaur Alpha and Charging Monstrosaur already make for a lot of haste, and the creatures are already massive enough to run over basically anything an opponent could put in their way. This is very non-intuitive when comparing Rhythm of the Wild with Fires of Yavimaya, which was at its best when combined with big creatures like Two-Headed Dragon and Blastoderm. Sure, Ghalta still loves a bit of haste now and then, but the difference between a 12/12 and a 13/13 is negligible, and Regisaur Alpha already provides Ghalta with everything she needs to get to business right away.
No, if we're going to maximize this enchantment, it will be with the lower-end Gruul creatures, possibly in concert with Judith, the Scourge Diva. Sideboard Duress and associated disruptive creatures also offer a lot more real interaction for control than we might otherwise get, and provided you can massage the manabase appropriately, Ravenous Chupacabra offers the best Flametongue Kavu we're going to see for this type of deck in contemporary Standard.
For such a deck, it behooves us to wait and see what else Rakdos is going to offer us to combine with Rhythm of the Wild, but Ari Lax has a
It's entirely possible that Rhythm of the Wild ends up being the most impactful card in Standard from Ravnica Allegiance. Giving your entire team the better of haste or a Glorious Anthem effect as you see fit is just an impressive return from a three-mana enchantment, and the fact that they work well in multiples is icing on the cake. I look forward to a more layered collection of aggressive decks in new Standard now that Boros isn't the only guild beating down.