Does my deck look reasonable?
Maybe, but I wouldn’t be caught dead registering a basic Forest in my deck.
Haters are going to hate. And Goblin Chainwhirler’s going to kill Llanowar Elves. Nevertheless, I found the courage to register some basic Forests and posted a 12-3 record at GP Los Angeles this past weekend. Here’s the list:
While I finished a match shy of Top 8, I was happy with how my deck came together. I believe that it shores up a number of weaknesses in this metagame for the Green Stompy archetype. If you have an RPTQ or Standard event coming up, I’d recommend you give this a try. I’ll walk you through my testing process and some tips on playing this list.
Are we going to build a busted deck for Los Angeles?
I kind of gave up on that a while ago.
Going in, I had little experience with this Standard format after being focused on Legacy for the last Pro Tour. So while I knew that R/B and Teferi decks were pretty oppressive toward brews, I still felt the urge to do a little exploration. A brief recap:
• U/B Gate to the Afterlife: The Gate is an old personal favorite and Stitcher’s Supplier is a really exciting new way to load up the graveyard. I quickly discovered that the field was excellent at interacting with the Gate plan and being so predictable was a huge liability.
• G/U/b Gate to the Afterlife: I experimented with fairer green-based Gate decks, but found that my Gates were lacking impact as I could not find a green creature that gave enough impact the turn I activated the Gate but were still good when cast. Pelakka Wurm at 7 was expensive and awkwardly costed, the same as eternalizing Champion of Wits or hard casting God-Pharaoh’s Gift.
• Various Sai Decks: This was Whirler Virtuoso combo all over again. Having spent a lot of time with Matt Nass working on Whirler Virtuoso decks, it was the same story. The payoff was awesome when you draw the 3-drop creature, but terrible when you don’t.
• Mono-Red One-Drops: Ben Weitz built a pretty spicy deck with 24 one-drop creatures and The Flame of Keld. 20 of them could even survive Goblin Chainwhirler! Ultimately, I found that the deck lacked early punch. Fanatical Firebrand and Ghitu Lavarunner did not hit hard enough to get your opponent in burn range.
• Vampire Knight Tribal: I wanted to play a History of Benalia deck, but one that could win without drawing the namesake card. I knew that the core the world had settled on of Knight of Grace/Knight of Malice had fallen well short. I noticed that Legion Lieutenant was a Vampire Knight and a ton of the Vampires in Standard were also Knights. Wow. Unfortunately, Matt Nass stopped me from playing a game with this deck. He claimed it was because it looked ridiculously terrible, but I bet he just wanted to save it for Worlds next month, so watch out.
After those, I started trying stock Ghalta green lists. I knew that green beatdown was a powerful aggressive approach to the format. I knew that control and fog might be tricky in game 1, but in my experience testing G/U Gate, I felt confident. Solid beatdowns with timely Negates would carry me post-board. So why wasn’t this deck considered top tier? What was the missing piece to push it over the top? What if the problem was Ghalta?
For a minute, I was a believer in Ghalta, too. The card definitely has moments where it’s able to go well over the top of midgame roadblocks like Rekindling Phoenix or The Scarab God. You do need a plan there, but the format has too much creature removal for you to rely on Ghalta to be castable in a timely manner. Even if you do stick it, almost every deck can remove it. This puts pressure on you to protect your investment with cards like Blossoming Defense. The problem was that I was finding this card to be a trap as well.
Blossoming Defense is a really appealing card. It gives you a feeling of great security whenever you draw it. Yet, with durable cards like Rhonas and Vine Mare in the green decks, I found that I was often not needing it to protect a creature. The +2/+2 part of the card in combat was not coming up much either. Of course, you’ll also just draw the card sometimes and have no real threat in play at all! So I concluded that while it’s objectively a really strong card, it was not right to play over another threat.
With those cuts on my mind and time running short I came across Bobby Fortanely’s PTQ winning green-blue deck. I liked the look of what was going on and found that I agreed with a lot of the choices.
Admittedly, I did not play any games with Cartouche of Knowledge, but I saw the appeal. I could imagine it doing tremendous work to help Vine Mares fly over some of the format’s pesky blockers, but it did not satisfy my biggest issue. It did not beat Rekindling Phoenix. While I wanted to beat the whole field, I knew that I absolutely needed to have a good plan against R/B and that Rekindling Phoenix was a stone-cold Green Stompy killer. Enter Walking Ballista.
It did not take me many games to be sold on the Ballista. I knew from playing CFB’s infamous U/G Karn deck how amazing the Ballista/Gearhulk combo could be versus R/B. In this deck, the bar was lower. I really just needed the Ballista to kill the Phoenix’s “egg.” To sweeten the deal, you can grab Ballista with Adventurous Impulse.
Now, you could just play more copies of something like Commit, but in a beatdown deck, each spell or spell-like effect over a threat is typically a big cost on your attacking capabilities. The cost on Ballista is much lower since Ballista can attack, is a powerful combo with Verdurous Gearhulk, and Adventurous Impulse helps you find it when you need it.
Is Metamorphic Alteration a Joke?
Nonetheless, I still wanted a little more anti-Phoenix tech in the 75, which brings me to Metamorphic Alteration. Rekindling Phoenix is a really hard card for green-blue to answer. I knew the answer needed to be a permanent due to the grindy nature of R/B, so a bounce spell was suboptimal. I couldn’t kill Phoenix with a fight spell and some of the blue Auras would still let the Phoenix block. I considered Deep Freeze since it removes the death ability, but 3 mana seemed high for the narrow effect. Then I came across the Alteration.
I remembered that my teammates had tried it in Sai decks as a way to answer Ghalta by turning it into an Ornihopter or Thopter. I determined that if it only cost 2 mana, I was totally okay with Rekindling Phoenix becoming a Soul-Scar Mage, Llanowar Elves, or a Resilient Khenra. I can attack through those cards. That’s to say nothing of the Ballista combo. If you have a Ballista in play, Alteration turns it into a Walking Ballista and it immediately dies as a 0/0. It doesn’t copy the counters, only the stats and abilities. Sweet, right? I realized that Alteration could also turn a lame mana creature of mine into a “haste” Ghalta in the mirror. Unfortunately, I ran out of time before I could test it. But with so many possible ways to use the card and at only 2 mana, I took the intuitive leap of faith and registered a single copy.
I would bet you hear again from Metamorphic Alteration. It has the potential to have a huge-tempo effect on games. Think about it. For 2 mana, your creature token could become a 6-mana creature, or conversely your opponent’s 6-mana card becomes a virtual 0-drop. Also, as a blue card that can interact with a creature in play it gets graded on a curve as the color does not get strong non-counterspell removal for creatures.
So how did all this theory bear out under the harsh scrutiny of the GP competition? Surprisingly well. I started off 7-0 before losing to a pair of turn-3 Ghaltas in the green mirror. While I still don’t like Ghalta, that card is seriously messed up in the mirror with little to no creature removal.
On Day 2, I overpowered Esper Control before playing an absolutely wild camera match versus a U/W Sram deck that you can see here.
I was not expecting to see Novice Knight in Los Angeles outside the M19 Limited events in the side event area, but it seemed like some smart tech for the Auras archetype.
My two losses on Day 2 were to Ben Friedman on U/B Midrange and Larry Li on R/B. My record against red decks was 3-1, and I felt that my deck acquitted itself well overall during the weekend in that matchup. Let’s walk through how I sideboarded versus the popular decks in the format.
Sideboarding with a deck like this with basically mono-threats is really hard. You don’t get the easy plan to just cut “bricks.” The biggest mistake you can make is to bring in a card that ends up being less effective as just another threat.
R/B typically sides in a bunch more cards that kill big creatures, but their post-board deck often is clunky at using its mana. The plan I have liked best is to maximize my mana advantage by cutting the Impulses so that I can get under their control plan. The basic goal is to get as many creatures into play with 5 toughness as fast as possible to minimize the impact Phoenix, Chandra, Glorybringer and Cut have on your board. I prefer to maximize fast starts with Llanowar Elves and don’t like cutting it just because they have Goblin Chainwhirlers in their deck. I don’t like Brontodon here as they typically are not very aggressive post-board. The ability to block small creatures and blow up Heart of Kiran matters little in the outcome.
Here Brontodon is good as it punishes their reliance on 3 damage effects to push small creatures through. They typically don’t have Phoenix so I feel more comfortable having less late-game power and try to stall the game more. It’s fine here to lead on Greenbelt Rampager on turn 1 over Llanowar Elves as a curve of turn-2 Rampager into a turn-3 Steel Leaf means that you are definitely presenting a pesky blocker on turn 2 and turn 3.
Pre-board is really bad, but post-board swings hugely in your favor. Here you play the “fish” game, meaning that you deploy cheap threats rather than hold up counters for the key cards. The key is to save your counters for basically only Teferi, Settle the Wreckage, or Nexus of Fate. Countering a Fog when you aren’t locked to win on the spot is a risky play since they can cast a second fog in response and follow that up with a Teferi or Nexus that is the critical spell to counter. Vivien Reid is a flexible Stone Rain effect on Gift of Paradise or Search for Azcanta and also gives you a plan against a sideboarded Settle the Wreckage or Lyra Dawnbringer.
I don’t have the games to back this plan up, but the basic logic is that they are so about Teferi that having lots of cards to interact with it and other key spells is good. Gearhulk seems tough to play since they have lots of counters that trade favorably on mana.
The key here is to stick Vine Mare. The second key is to pump Vine Mare so that Torrential Gearhulk can’t block it effectively. I don’t think the sideboard I played is terribly useful in this matchup and is an area to improve moving forward. The 4th Vine Mare is the first place to start.
I think Green-Blue Stompy is a great choice moving forward. The deck has a lot of close sequencing decisions that will reward practice and familiarity with the matchups. In particular, I would focus your energy on testing post-sideboard games and plans. If you have any questions, ask in the comments below. And if you have an RPTQ coming up, best of luck and may your opponents never draw Chainwhirler.