In Development – Raising Vengevines Under a Green Sun

We have a PTQ in our neighborhood this weekend. True to my word, I’ve been testing and prepping two different Extended decks. One is the Immortal Engine, which I talked about here. I’m not going to discuss the other one until next week, except to say that it includes what is likely my favorite creature of all time.

Yeah, that one.

Today, I’m going to present one of the decks I’ve developed to kit out my suite of Standard options. Naturally, in keeping this introduction from being utterly random, this deck includes my favorite primatologist.

Key players

Before I launch into the deck list, I wanted to spend a little time talking about the four most important cards in the deck.

Fauna Shaman

Yes, my favorite creature.

This deck is very much a dedicated Fauna Shaman deck, even more so than other Shaman decks I’ve written about.

As I’ll expand on below, this deck’s plan A is all about sticking a Fauna Shaman, and then vigorously cycling Vengevines into the graveyard, powering up via Squadron Hawks, and smashing face.

Green Sun’s Zenith

The Vengevine-fueled Survival of the Fittest deck that eventually led to Survival’s banning last year took a while to creep onto the scene. If you review the last year of Legacy events, you’ll see early Survival decks that feature four copies of Survival and that look otherwise like oldschool threshold decks. The eventually game-breaker was the realization that you really, really wanted to be able to stick a Survival effect as soon as possible. That led to the spate of peri-pre-banning Survival decks featuring four copies of Survival of the fittest, four copies of Enlightened Tutor, four Fauna Shaman, and some number of Quirion Rangers.

So wouldn’t it be awesome to have more access to Fauna Shaman in a Standard deck?

Enter Green Sun’s Zenith. So far, this has seen play in Valakut decks, but when I saw it my mind immediately went to Legacy Survival and the idea of optimizing my access to that key engine card. I actually tried to build an Extended deck around this idea first, but couldn’t generate anything that was better than my other options. But in Standard, GSZ has done right by me in testing, leading to the deck I’m writing about today.

Squadron Hawk

The Hawk doesn’t require a lot of comment, but it is definitely a key card in the deck. I don’t think I need to elaborate on its qualities here.

Burst Lightning

Remember Burst Lightning?

In building today’s list, I kept finding myself cramped on space. It needs its creatures, it needs a bit of removal, and it needs a modest amount of additional reach.

In reviewing the top Standard lists from Paris, a few things occurred to me.

First, I don’t want my opponents to successfully equip a Sword of Feast and Famine (or, indeed, of any kind) against me.

Second, I don’t want opponents to accelerate past me.

Third, I don’t want to die to fast attackers.

These three problems have one thing in common. Can you spot it?


Yup. Toughness 2 or less.

Pretty much everything I want to kill in Standard right now dies to Burst Lightning.

…and, later on in the game, I can kick it to take out bigger problems and cover more ground in offing my opponent.

Thus, Burst Lightning over Lightning Bolt.

List, Plan, Targets

With those key cards discussed, let’s move on to the list itself, the game plan, and our Zenith targets.

Green Sun Shaman

The game plan

In line with last week’s discussion about offensive deck power, the Plan A for this deck is to stick a Fauna Shaman, and then run through one of any number of pitch sequences with the goal of either swinging with a panoply of Vengevines or crippling the opposing game plan.

There’s no one defined path, of course, since you don’t get to control what’s in your hand when you start getting your Fauna Shaman action going. Very generally, it works like this:

Naturally, the Shaman is a tremendous lightning rod, drawing all sorts of removal. The first Shaman in particular has a very short active life, often eating it before she can even pitch a single Vengevine.

But that’s where the beauty of GSZ comes in, of course. She’s just the first. Instead of immediately defaulting to its plan B, the deck can continue to pursue its plan A by using Zenith to tutor up a backup copy of Fauna Shaman. When I first considered this idea, I was concerned that this might not be sufficiently threatening…but it really, really is. Having an effective eight copies of Fauna Shaman means that the Vengevine and Squadron Hawk engines get turned on in a significantly larger number of games than back when you just had to rely on drawing into your four copies of Fauna Shaman.

This also means that it’s generally worthwhile to hold onto at least one Zenith in hand as a backup plan in case they take out your Shaman, although there are other viable GSZ targets in the deck, as I discuss in the very next section.

For the record, the plan B here is very much “dudes.” While they’re busy trying to stem an unending stream of Fauna Shamans, you cast a Baneslayer Angel and kill them with it. Or you off them with a Raging Ravine. Something along those lines.

Other Suns

…or, rather, other targets for Green Sun’s Zenith.

In its initial design stages, the deck featured a few more green creatures that seemed as if they might be good candidates for tutoring up via Zeniths. However, as I tested the deck, it became clear that I primarily wanted to use GSZ to enhance access to Fauna Shaman.

In the deck as it stands in today’s article, the only design concession to the Zenith is having Viridian Corrupter as the anti-artifact card of choice in the sideboard. It works slightly against the general win condition of the deck by dint of uselessly having infect…but I figured that if I wanted to kill pesky swords, I wanted to maximize my access to the card I was using to do it.

The other obvious target is Obstinate Baloth – there’s one in the main and three in the sideboard. When you’re facing down a burn-heavy deck, it’s super handy to be able to straight up tutor for 4 life and a big body. I would run Baloth anyway, of course, but it is a target.

Finally, remember that GSZ can tutor up your Birds and Cobras. It’s not an intuitive move, but it can dig you out of a mana hole – especially if you’ve lost access to red or white due to a Tectonic Edge or Spreading Seas.


So, that’s the deck and a little sampling of what we can do with Green Sun’s Zenith. With that all under our belts, let’s take a look at some of my sideboarding suggestions as they stand at the moment. Remembering, of course, that actual sideboarding varies by specific matchup, and they are just guidelines.


The plan – Buy yourself time against explosive Valakut kills via Leyline, and then kill the opponent as quickly as possible via big beats.






In case you were wondering about those Birds in the sideboard, here you go. The entire goal here is to push the opponent back a bit while speeding your kill up. The Sword helps both game plans, simultaneously slowing them down via the discard half and speeding you up via the untap half.

In case the Baloth being removed is counterintuitive, consider that the Valakut combo kill typically involves a great deal of overkill. That is, if they’re going to Valakut you out, an extra four life isn’t going to do anything useful for you – you’d rather have more access to Swords (Mystic), or a big honkin’ Angel killing them and making you harder to kill, 5 points at a time.

U/B Control

The plan – Accelerate out ahead of their disruption and overload them with threats.






The plan here is, at a high level, similar to the Valakut plan. The one standout element this time may be the boarding in of the second Sunblast Angel. Although the hope is to kill the opponent via Fauna Shaman antics before this kind of thing ever matters, or to fly overhead with Baneslayers, it is nonetheless possible that the U/B opponent will stick a Grave Titan and then swing with it. The deck can deal with a smattering of zombies…as long a that zombie factory can be taken out ASAP, either via Sparkmage-Collar (note that the combo is still in the deck post-board) or by dropping a Sunblast after the [card]Grave Titan[/card] has taken a swing at you.

U/R/G Jace

The plan – Disrupt their acceleration and beat down.






The U/R/G Jace archetype relies on the unholy trinity of Jace, Lotus Cobra, and Oracle of Mul Daya to generate its grotesque turns that put you firmly out of the game. Two of the elements in that trinity meet our ‘Toughness less than 3′ benchmark, however, which is a big motivator to keep our Burst Lightnings in the deck. A clutch Burst Lightning to kill a Cobra or remove an Oracle can make all the difference in giving you time to get the Fauna Shaman engine online and take over the game.


The plan – Never let them get a piece of equipment online, and then kill them as usual via Vengevines and friends.






The original inspiration for including Burst Lightning in the list, Caw-Go is a deck that mixes something you’re used to defeating with Vengevines – planeswalkers and Day of Judgments – and the enhanced peskiness of little, equipped beaters. The Bursts help solve that problem, and Viridian Corrupter is there to deal with the real heart of the issue – their copy of Sword of Feast and Famine.

Note that Corrupter should be brought in liberally to deal with annoying equipment – many of these sideboarding notes assume the absence of Swords in certain builds that can have them, so Corrupter makes very few appearances. However, it should come in pretty much any time you need to oppose a Sword.


The plan – Kill their guys, kill their gear, and then win. They’re the beatdown, but not for long.






It may feel weird that we’re siding out our Vengevines here, but they don’t do much for us when the issue is stupid little white creatures and artifacts attacking us with giant pieces of equipment. The general plan here involves getting Sparkmages online as assassins and then sweeping the board with Sunblasts.

Fun fact – it was playing against Quest decks in pre-MBS Standard that drove me to run a second Sunblast in the sideboard in the first place. If the first Sunblast is disheartening, the second one is simply crushing – which is a good place to be when you’re the control deck in the matchup.


The plan – Protect your life total like a cherished possession, and then swing over head for the win.





Once again, we have to bench those poor Vengevines. Notably, we also shed one of our Lotus Cobras, as the Cobra does very little in the Boros matchup other than draw away a smidgin of fire while Steppe Lynxes smash your teeth in. We still want most of our accelerators in case we get lucky and one lives long enough to drop an early Baneslayer onto the battlefield.


The plan – Kill as many vampires as possible and then beat down with a big flyer.






We don’t need to overload on Baloths this time around, and Vengevines are actually reasonably usable against Vampires, absorbing removal and coming back again and again as blockers or attackers (ideally, wearing a Collar).

Linvala may seem like a curious choice here, but keep in mind that she turns off Viscera Seer, which in turn puts a serious damper on the Ravager-esque Highborn reach element of the Vampires deck.

Fauna Shaman, all eight copies

If you’re a fan of the dedicated Fauna Shaman deck and want something that can compete in the current metagame, I recommend giving this one a try – or at the very least knocking any four cards out of your favorite Fauna Shaman deck and popping in Green Sun’s Zenith instead. You’ll be startled at just how much more powerful the deck becomes with that simple, yet profound switch.

That pretty much closes out my engagement with Standard for the week – I’m back to a focus on Extended and an eye toward a metaphorical blue envelope. I’ll check back in with you all next week and let you know how it went.

magic (at) alexandershearer.com
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25 thoughts on “In Development – Raising Vengevines Under a Green Sun”

  1. I have been looking for a WG deck for some time now. Adding red seems intresting. I just wonder why Thrun is not even mentioned in the article.

  2. I’m curious, why did you maindeck the sword of body and mind? You side it out in most of the matchups, and quite a bit of the time you switch it for feast and famine. Might that be a better option in the main?

  3. Really, what is your problem of having a crush on Fauna Shaman and trying to make the deck work? Hate to break the news but Fauna isn’t very good right now and either is this deck. Before I get flamed for ‘you haven’t even tested this pile’, I’d just like to say it is a ‘pile’ and most decks right now will beat it

  4. I just now saw your final comment from last week’s article. I think it’s nice that you responded to so many comments, and if I can still vote for what I want to see next week, I vote for ‘resilience’. This article wasn’t bad by any means, but I’d rather see the companion piece to the previous article, which I thought was quite interesting. Just my two cents.

  5. fauna shaman is probably at its best right now. Best deck in the format is CAW-go and that card can single handedly beat it, and green based beatdown decks have always been good against boros. This might just be the sweetest deck that isn’t common posted on a website in this format so far.

    Cardchoices are obviously strange, but the color combination and GSZ for shaman is something that needs to be happening more often.

  6. 4 green sun’s zenith in a 3 color deck is a little weaksauce. turn 3 tutoring for a fauna shaman into play, into turn 4 discard something, play a squadron hawk, way to slow to race aggro or kill control. And super easy to disrupt. Fauna shaman and green sun’s really shine in decks with mono green creatures with a combo element like valakut or elves, but it here it just doesn’t do much

  7. hey, are you into molecular biology? Nice background of the first picture you have here.

    btw nice article. The deck seems fun to play, but I’m always concerned with dedicated shaman decks. If your opponent happens to have two bolts in hands you are soo screwed

  8. i gotta ask: why no full playset of bops in the main? its a great turn 1 play. especially when you can go turn one bop, turn two cobra, fetchland, sparkmage.

  9. Really like the GSZ! I’ll give it a shot for sure. Love fauna! I like the answers given, too much aggro at my current shop. Tears apart my shaman’s quickly… This should help.

  10. Yah… its seems weird, that u mix up the swords.

    nad yah Fauna shaman is just bad with the tezz beats control or UW Caw-blade

  11. I think you failed to take into account planeswalkers when determining which burn spell to play. It is a HUGE upside to spend 1 mana to kill their Jace they just brainstormed with because you are GW (Lotus Cobra hides red mana nicely). Having to kick a burst just to deal with a 3 loyalty Jace is not what you want to be doing. Tempo is way too important in a situation where a, presumably, control deck is brainstorming. Either they are desperately searching for answers, or they are about to stablize. Either scenario puts you on wanting to be very efficient with your cards and mana. Case in point: at least 2/2 or 3/1 split on bolt/bust. There is a reason Lightning Bolt stopped being printed/

  12. the most important takeaway from this article even if you arent considering this deck is the prevelence of 2 or less toughness threats in this format, cards like smother and inquizition of koizilek when played prevelantly in u/b can totally capitalize on this and is why that deck should not be discounted as a serious threat,
    In therms of the deck, it seems that having mind and body in the deck vs valkut is crucial since milling thier deck will likley snipe out some lands and or valkuts

    Although I am hesitant to put my faith in shaman decks right now, the fact that this deck can effeciently use shaman AND stone forge mystic ( whitch i would test a higher amount of because it provides basically a win condition with squacks without vengevines plan C) makes its threat diversity difficult to answer, I cant just burst all of your threats because then in comes baneslayer and baloth and what about thrun? tutor that up!

  13. tried it and its really too slow to be able to do anything….and you have too few creature to triger vengevine…mana base is shaky and u need ramp to be able to do something…thus removing some small cost creature from your deck to be able to cast vengevine from your grave..id rather play a mono green elfs deck and triger vengevine with copperhorn and llanowar then try and do it with sunblast and baneslayer…

  14. Rather then splash red to remove the little guys, why not black for Go for the Throat. It answers all your concerns plus handles big threats later on. You wouldnt have acess to sparkmage then, but it wasnt the reason you put red in anyway. This list just seems like a slow version of the good G/W decks out there.

  15. while I agree that the 2 damage burst lightning supplies is enough to deal with most parts of the metagame, I fail to see where the kicker is relevant that a regular lightning bolt wouldn’t be. the only card i can think of would be overgrown battlement, unless I’m forgetting something big your argument for playing burst instead of bolt really isn’t valid.

    I would cut the obstinate baloth and one of the sparkmages from the mainboard in exchange for birds of paradise # 3 and 4, the baloth isn’t doing enough in any matchup in particular to bother mainboarding, and since the deck hinges on the shaman engine working, you shouldn’t bother with multiples of a card you only really use one of.

  16. The biggest reasons I can see not to go WGB is a) you lose you best manland, and b) red removal deals with Planeswalkers better (while white also has creatures with power greater than 3 covered).

    I have to agree with the people who are saying that Lightning Bolt is probably better than Burst Lightning most of the time. It also saves you from someone deciding to equip his sword to a Vampire Nighthawk or Sea Gate Oracle.

    I like the deck, and think that Fauna/Vine are going to keep getting better as more targets become available. Speaking of which, have you considered Phyrexian Revoker? Among other things, naming a Sword with it stalls out their ability to equip it.

  17. Oh, also: have you tested out Bant versions at all? Access to Jace could be pretty sweet. And Trinket Mage + a single Memnite makes for a decent secondary Squadron Hawk.

  18. Thinking more about it, WBG might be good just for the Bloodghasts. They could be good both as something to pitch to the Shaman and as mini-vines that can be easily cast to revive your actual vines.

  19. This seems similar to the old standard Naya.

    But current standard is faster than that standard when midrange decks had good chance.

    If you check an article at dailymtg.com, you’ll see that a standard kuldotha red won an EXTENDED PTQ! (In Mobile, Alabama)

    I guess caw blade, kuldotha and boros are really hard matchups for this deck, but otherwise, it seems like a fun one

  20. Thanks as always for all your comments. As a general response to the most common thread of concern about the deck, it really is fast enough for the format. I may need to write an article describing lines of play for decks like this to see why that seems to be true for me and not for other players. I address this in more detail in the specific comments, but in my experience it’s a very crisp deck that also has significant resilience (a topic for another day!).

    Now, some specific replies:

    @Matt – I haven’t felt the need for Thrun, really. A spell that can’t be countered never temps the opponent to burn a counterspell that would be best held for something else I’m going to cast later. In contrast, opponents do counter Vengevines from time to time, which is fine by me.

    @E.T. – The Sword issue is a bit of indecision, really. I expect my attitude on what lives in the maindeck versus the sideboard may drift with more play. That said, so far I tend to find SoBM more generally flexible than, say, SoFF (in this deck – big caveat there). Still, that may change.

    @Brandon – Fauna Shaman is a powerful card, and it’s one I’m particularly good with. It’s possible that this deck isn’t so hot in your hands, just like I wouldn’t want to have me piloting a Valakut deck for someone (I bet I’d sequence something wrong in there against the RDW or Boros matchups, for example). I agree that in an environment featuring Caw-Go and Valakut, oldschool Fauna Shaman is no good — which is why I didn’t talk about the deck I played at the SCG Open in San Jose in my column, because it was a dumb idea to play a FS deck then. But with GSZ in the mix, it’s powerful again.

    @GRF – I’m going to do that one, but I wanted to push it back a bit because I realized that I didn’t have a good conceptual framework to describe it, which was really the strength (as I saw it) of the offensive power article. I’m working on coming up with that framework now, and I will plan on having that article out either next week or the week after, if things go well.

    @bananapower – I’m a biologist. I wanted something interesting and vaguely “life-y” for the background on the first pic, so I nabbed some random bio imagery. For the curious, it’s a tiny slice of the annotated rice genome. As for the two bolts in hand question…well, that’s why decks have plan Bs (something for GRF’s requested ‘resilience’ article in the future). If they keep burning your Fauna Shamans as you cast them, then eventually you drop a Baneslayer and go to town. Having to naturally draw your powerful creatures is not a crippling downside.

    @Watoo24 – The deck doesn’t need that much speed, by and large. If it had more critical three-drops (like a prior generation Naya deck with Knights and Thoctars) I’d be more inclined to be “all-in” on accelerators. But as it stands, more Birds generally downpowers the deck too much in an environment where you aren’t going to be the fastest deck in town anyway. Notice how I’m actually siding the accelerators _out_ when I face burn-laden aggro decks — they tend to just be crappy early plays that take up space that could be better occupied by solutions for that matchup. That said, I do want to be a little faster in certain cases, which is why there’s that third Bird in the sideboard.

    @Jake2000 – This Fauna Shaman deck takes Caw-Go apart; that was the inspiration in the first place. I admit to a lack of thorough testing against Tezz decks, though; I hadn’t had many games against Tezz when the article went to press, and I’ve been focused on Extended testing since then.

    @bud – You go, dude. 🙂

    @Daxter – It’s a mix of decision elements, though. The pro is being able to take out their 3 loyalty Jace, if (and only if) they decide to brainstorm on the assumption that you won’t have burn. However, in games 2 (and 3) of that matchup that isn’t going to happen…and the ability to take out a four-loyalty Tezz with a kicked Burst is a strength that Bolt lacks. There’s give-or-take, but given that most things I want to burn early have Toughness 2 or less, I’d rather take a minor hit in initial power to have the option for greater power later.

    @MtGCzarno – That’s a great take-away, so thanks for pointing it out. Even if you have no interest in running my quirky take on Fauna Shaman, you really /do/ want to be paying attention to the relativeness tiny-ness of the vast majority of threats you’re facing down in contemporary Standard.

    Incidentally, that’s one of the strengths of this deck — it’s sort of the “Big Zoo” to the metaphorical “Fast Zoo” that the other aggro decks tend to be (and yes, I know none of them are actually Zoo decks…just drawing an analogy to that phenomenon in prior Extended and Legacy).

    @Oli – You trigger Vengevines with Squadron Hawks the vast majority of the time. The backup plan is to trigger with your spare Cobras and Birds. We’re not dealing with cascading into the re-buy here, so there really is a surplus of options for bringing back the Vines.

    @Xragg – I tested both options. The decision to go red hinged on a few factors. First, I really do want direct damage reach — the ability to kill a planeswalker in a critical “vulnerable” turn while they have the ground locked up, or the ability to kill my opponent after taking them down to low life. Second, Raging Ravine is a house, which is a factor people forget a lot of the time.

    @YGK – Tezzeret, a Mirran Crusader wearing either Sword, killing the opponent, etc.

    @Doobs – What would you cut for them? That’s been one of my limiters in having more. Also, they did kind of feel extraneous in testing, but maybe I’m doing it wrong.

    @hodge – I tested Revoker, and I didn’t like it enough of the time to keep it in the deck. In a Fauna Shaman deck the natural inclination is to run Revoker as a silver bullet, but in practice that makes it a short-lived lightning rod and that’s it. I suppose I could run multiples, but then I’m back to trying to cut other options, and I didn’t have cards I wanted to not have where Revoker felt better.

    I haven’t tested Bant variants yet, no.

    @Consistency – Hunh. I have that Kuldotha deck in my testing pool and hadn’t noticed it was essentially Standard-legal (there are 2 Magma Sprays in the sideboard, but that hardly discounts your statement). That said, this deck is actually pretty good against everything except the true Kuldotha combo kill (e.g. “I drop my hand on the table, Rebirth, kicked Bushwhacker, take a billion damage.”). YOu basically throw your low-cost creatures under the bus in the early game to buy you time to stick something big and problematic, such as a Baneslayer.

    Again, Caw-Go is an /easy/ matchup for the deck, and Kuldotha is reasonable. Boros is entirely doable as well.

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  22. Looks like a pretty sweet deck. I played your previous fauna shaman / baneslayer / squadron hawk / vengevine standard list to undefeated finishes at my local FNM for two weeks in a row (then the metagame shifted to have more Valakut, which made it worse), and this one looks pretty sweet as well. I may very well be checking it out.

    Thanks for the list and playing guide.

  23. Hey Alex it was nice to mee tou at the PTQ today, great article decks seems like a solid green white smash your face in deck with a splash of removal (which im a big fan of always)kinda want to try it it out now good read!!!!

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