One of the things that you sometimes need to acknowledge is that a deck you want to succeed may not have the chops to do so. It can simply be that it is outclassed. Or it can simply be that it is not the right time for it. The environments that come into play in Magic can simply be hostile to a pet deck as a result of incidental hate. Sometimes it just isn't as they say in the cards.
Right now that may indeed be the case for two decks that I'm always making in every format I can: mono-green and mono-red.
The appeal to me for mono-green is that the color almost always has some combination of cards that are just incredibly interesting. Take the card Make a Wish—now that is an awesome card. Regrowth effects even those at random (oh Fossil Find) have always been a potent class of spell and here was a card that could give you card advantage and do it! They could even chain into each other! At one point at what was practically an eon ago (not quite) I put together a Make a Wish mono-green deck and jammed it against my co-commentator for this past weekend Patrick Chapin. The deck showed some signs of promise but really at the moment it was doing "not terrible" decks were at a nascent stage. The point at the time was to just push deckbuilding in various directions throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. That deck did not.
Mono-red of all varieties has been a constant for me. Whether it is "just" Burn or it is something closer to the curved control of a deck like Sligh or it is a more aggressive deck like the kinds trailblazed by the Deadguys (most notably PT Champion Dave Price) or even the far more controlling decks like Ponza or other Big Red style decks there is just such a range to the ways that I've had success with red that I know I'm always keeping my eyes open for the next thing.
This doesn't seem to be the moment for either pure red or pure green.
A big part of the problem for each of these decks is a lack of some truly powerhouse cards to push a strategy. Aggressive red decks do not have access to cards like Plated Geopede and Goblin Guide. These were the kinds of cards that really allowed that deck to push damage in a dramatic way. Sad to say but right now Stromkirk Noble and Chandra's Phoenix are not doing it. Green has a similar problem (at least if one wants to stay "pure" whether as an exercise or out of a Jamie Wakefield-like loyalty to the color). Famous red mage of yore Seth Burn gave a quite apropos rant on the state of red recently and the question that comes out of it is a question green mages have been asking for years: "What is it that we're expected to do with this?!"
A certain density of power for those approaches is just gone. On top of that the two decks that are seeming to emerge as the most prominent "Snapcaster/Angel" (Delver or no) and "Esper Control" (involving a wide variety of variants) both naturally have a great many weapons to fight the approaches that are available to these current stepchildren of Magic: green and red.
If we think about the paths that most decks start at if they're trying to be mono-green or -red it generally relies pretty heavily on Stromkirk Noble and Llanowar Elves. There are exceptions certainly but this is where one tends to start. Unfortunately for both of these approaches the environment is hostile to this. Restoration Angel can often trump whatever creatures are running around but on top of that both approaches share the natural pain that comes when Gut Shot (plus Snapcaster Mage plus Restoration Angel) can make mincemeat of each decks' opening lines with Vapor Snag doing a lot to stymie anything that might otherwise get out of hand.
While the current "best deck" does that to these two decks the emergent response deck Esper in its myriad forms crushes in with Day of Judgment (and sometimes Terminus) as well as Doom Blade Lingering Souls and black removal. This presents an entirely different problem and yet it is a reality that must be dealt with.
Is it actually even possible? And what are the incentives to go mono-color anyway? It turns out there are basically two incentives right now:
(There is an argument for Koth too but I actually think that now is not Koth's moment.)
My interest in mono-green was reinvigorated at the SCG Standard Open in Worcester primarily by Jackie Lee. Jackie has had a pretty great year in Magic overall and seeing her with Dungrove Elder sleeved up reminded me how much I love that card. I didn't really get an opportunity to see Jackie's list play out that much but regardless I suddenly found myself fantasizing about attacking for a ton of damage with untargetable creatures.
In a now-archaic Standard this is the mono-green deck I ran with primarily inspired by Khyler Fields and his deck that he played to moderate success in a SCG Standard Open last year. While there were some rough elements to Khyler's deck I updated the list for that shining time you could play Lotus Cobra and Dismember in the same deck. Here's that list:
- 1 Arbor Elf
- 4 Dungrove Elder
- 4 Leatherback Baloth
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Sylvan Ranger
- 4 Vengevine
While there are a number of powerful cards that there is simply no longer access to for the deck (Lotus Cobra? Vengevine?) the card that is the most missed from the deck may be one that surprises you: Overwhelming Stampede. Simply put Stampede was a card that threatened to kill the opponent nearly every time that it resolved.
This deck was performing incredibly well for me with the frustrating exception of Valakut decks which seemingly had all of the weapons to shrug this deck off. Regardless it was an incredible pleasure to play.
In the here and now though those cards are dreams. What are the cards to pay attention to?
Even though we aren't trying to be a G/R Aggro deck that doesn't mean we can't look to those decks for lessons. One thing that seems to be incredibly commonplace is the existence of Sword of War and Peace in multiples. While Sword is no Overwhelming Stampede in terms of the amount of damage it can produce it can still pack quite a wallop and it seems like a great card to almost immediately include. Ditto for Strangleroot Geist. Once we head down that path choosing to include Phyrexian Metamorph also just seems to make sense. After that mana from Llanowar Elves (and friends). Where do we go from there? What is it we're casting aside from Dungrove Elder and the cards we're borrowing from G/R?
Where I'm at is still a work in progress and while I don't think this deck is ready for the prime time since M13 will not rotate any of these cards out—that distinction belongs to the next main set—it could serve as a starting point. And other than that it is simply fun.
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 4 Dungrove Elder
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Predator Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
This deck eschews a few card choices that have become incredibly common for green-based aggressive decks. You will see no Wolfir Avenger for example. Instead the deck accelerates into the three-drops of Borderland Ranger Predator Ooze Daybreak Ranger Phyrexian Metamorph ("3") Sword of War and Peace and of course Dungrove Elder. What I was finding overall was that Wolfir Avenger was simply being dominated by either Predator Ooze or Borderland Ranger. The aggressive stance of the Wolfir was great but it didn't seem to be turning games around and it was wildly eating up my mana turn after turn against controlling elements from other decks. In those instances the indestructible nature of Predator Ooze regardless of how slow it was was really showing its value. Against everyone the quiet card advantage of Borderland Ranger was proving powerful particularly on one simply measure: reducing the late-game mana flood that would sometimes be so very frustrating. Ooze in addition is just an absolute killer against other aggressive decks only dying to Dismember and Edict effects.
For a time Ranger's Guile was one of the cards I kept finding myself going to but eventually I ended up moving over to Apostle's Blessing not only for its ability to kill a Phantasmal Image but also for its ability to potentially let a Dungrove Elder swing through for the kill. The added benefit of being able to protect a Sword was upon occasion something that happened but was generally quite rare. Ultimately though the card was a response to the frustrations of an untimely Vapor Snag ruining one's day.
Ulvenwald Tracker Daybreak Ranger and Dismember serve as the removal package with an occasional assist by Phyrexian Metamorph on legends. It could be that the deck could benefit from Prey Upon but I'm not certain that is the correct direction for the deck though it may indeed be correct.
Hexproof seems like a particularly powerful ability right now and regeneration is not completely marginal against Day of Judgment. Now seems like it may very well be the time for maindeck Thrun though there are simply so many Clone effects right now that running more than one would be a little ambitious. You can always Green Sun's Zenith for four if you have a pressing need for the card.
Several cards aside from Avenger are noteworthy in their absence. At the five no Acidic Slime no Bellowing Tanglewurm and no Wolfir Silverheart—all of these cards seem too expensive as a six-drop via Green Sun's Zenith unless you are playing against very particular opponents. Bellowing Tanglewurm is the only one of these three not making an appearance in the sideboard. I'm just not certain that that card is as necessary once Apostle's Blessing joins up with Sword of War and Peace.
Ultimately this deck is still a brew; albeit one that has glimmers of something powerful going on just under the surface. This may simply not be its time. I'm curious to see what cards might find their way into the mix. (I'm talking to you Thragtusk…)
Oh my poor beloved mono-red. What are we to do with you?
I remember when I first saw Goblin Guide and my jaw dropped at the sheer aggressive potential of the card. Unfortunately these days we simply are working with a lot less power. What are poor people like Patrick Sullivan and I to do?!
Seachrome Coast is the card I've been spending most of my time with lately in Standard but my heart lies up past the hills and into the mountains. And so it was the other day when I was playing in a 10th Anniversary Gold Queue on Magic Online I saw a mono-red deck and it inspired me to re-attack the archetype.
I'm not hugely confident with the deck yet and I've played as of this writing less than ten matches with it. Despite that I think the deck is solid. I don't know if it is good enough to be a contender but I'm pleased with some of the initial results even if I wasn't so struck by the deck that I plan on unsleeving my Coasts.
Here is where I'm at:
I feel quite a bit better about the maindeck than the sideboard. The main while still probably needing some massaging at least feels really solid. The sideboard at this point is still a hodgepodge and isn't something I at all feel like I can have any confidence in. Consider it an experiment in progress.
The thing that made me want to play this deck was Stonewright which seemed like a great way to use excess mana to good effect. It particularly shines in combination with the many ways that the deck might have access to evasion. With a flooded hand Stonewright can do an incredible amount of damage if unopposed. Should it make friends with a Spikeshot Elder the extra mana is just so scary. The value I see in Stonewright comes down to two things: giving the red deck the opportunity to get in even one Firebreathing hit (and hoping that it makes the damage go over the top) and adding a reasonable extra one drop to give you ten one-drop one-power creatures ("yay"). Oh how the mighty have fallen…
Shrine of Burning Rage is one of the big incentives to play mono-red as opposed to the more in vogue version of a red-based aggressive deck right now G/R Aggro. Shrine is impressive in its ability to deliver a huge wallop. Backing it up is a large amount of burn.
The thirteen burn spells represent a mix that I've experimented with to approach the current environment. Like Darwin Kastle who might deserve credit for reintroducing the world to red last year with the successes he saw groundbreaking this deck I run a fair number of one casting cost burn spells. While I prefer the instant speed of Galvanic Blast given the amount of undying lying around Pillar of Flame gets the nod over Blast for my seventh one cost burn. After that though my choices might seem a little unusual. In this seemingly creature heavy format Arc Trail is a solid choice especially because it works so well with Chandra's Phoenix and Stromkirk Noble either clearing the way or killing a creature and returning the Phoenix. At the same time oftentimes you really want to be just doming your opponent and Arc Trail is not particularly effective at this job.
Thunderbolt is a card I've had a hate/hate relationship with ever since it was printed way back in Weatherlight. For the most part what it really boils down to is that the card often works like an inefficient Lava Spike. In looking how red is playing though I think this is actually the moment for Thunderbolt: you often are interested in just going to the dome and the second "mode" of the card is solid: kill an Angel or and Insect. After some initial testing I am pleased with how it is working out.
Thunderous Wrath is another interesting card. I started out with four and quickly dropped that number down. Eventually I found myself wondering if I needed to play Faithless Looting in the deck as Thunderous Wrath was just clogging up my hands and shockingly I found myself having turns where using the miracle of a Thunderous Wrath looked like a mistake and yet not using it would clog my hand. Faithless Looting was a potential answer to that: a way to build up the Shrine and a way to clear out the Thunderous Wraths. Still I hated Faithless Looting; doing nothing to the board or my opponent's life total is not something I want to be doing in red. After some experimenting I ended up finding that one Reforge the Soul had the ability to get rid of Thunderous Wrath in a late game and refuel my hand. On the odd chances that it was stuck in my hand it was often a real possibility to find five mana later and Faithless Looting could get rid of it as well. In the end I found myself drifting to a 1/1/1 Looting/Reforge/Thunderous and was actually really happy how that played out.
Finally the slight touch of white in the list is something that I've been very pleased by. Apostle's Blessing is basically a direct answer to a single Vapor Snag but it can also do some work stopping a Doom Blade or other removal spell. In a pinch there are moments that you can use the card aggressively to just go for a single unblockable creature and I've absolutely used it to save a Shrine of Burning Rage from an untimely Divine Offering. With all of this going for it you might wonder why there aren't more of them in the maindeck. The answer is simply that you cannot afford to dedicate very much space in a deck like this to cards that aren't actively helping create a kill. One Faithless Looting and one Apostle's Blessing is the utter limit in my opinion.
The three Clifftop Retreat give you the chance to cast a Blessing without paying life and in my experience for the past few years a tightly curved deck like this need nineteen basic lands for the dual-drawback of the Clifftop Retreat style decks to be practically non-existent. If you are squeamish about the Retreats just cut them for Mountains. Should you be the kind of person who will try to find room for Dismember in the board I'd suggest replacing them with Dragonskull Summit; the whole point of running this kind of land is that oftentimes the Phyrexian mana cost is a real thing and nullifying the life loss can be important.
I truly don't think that this is the time to sleeve up a mono-green or mono-red deck should you be hoping to win a SCG Standard Open. Something is just missing from both of them. That being said I don't know about you but sometimes I just need to be playing one of these two styles of decks if only for the sheer pleasure of it. With that thought in mind I offer these two decks realizing that this is not their moment in a more competitive universe.
Looking forward to M13 there are already a few cards that I could see sneaking their way into either deck. At this point I'm not hopeful for either deck being a big player though until M12 and Scars Block rotate. I still plan on playing both of these decks in the new months on Magic Online when I need a break from Seachrome Coast.
It's been a pleasure returning to regular writing here for SCG. Magic is such a rich topic and there is always so much to talk about. If you think there is something I should be writing about let me know in the comments or go to my Facebook page and tell me about it. I'm always looking for an article idea and I'm open to writing about nearly anything.
I'm going to be in Detroit until the end of the week and then you can find me in Chicago fighting with Seachrome Coasts for a PTQ slot in Chicago. Wish me luck.
Until next week