Magic Origins has been out for a while now, and I know some of you have been asking “what happened to Woodland Bellower?”
Well—I’ve been working on it!
My first take on it wasn’t the most competitive, and it took me a while to figure out how to make it as competitive as it could possibly be—which is admittedly only semi-competitive—but the point is to take something sweet and to push it as far as it can go. Not every deck is going to be tier 1, but it doesn’t need to be dominant to be a worthwhile learning experiment.
First, a refresher on the Painter’s Servant + Woodland Bellower combo.
With Painter’s Servant on green, Woodland Bellower can search for ANY creature costing 3 or less of ANY color. This allows you to search up a chain of Phantasmal Images copying Woodland Bellower, culminating in a Hellraiser Goblin giving everything haste. That’s a 32-point damage swing!
Ok, but how is this better than (insert combo deck x)? I realize that this is actually an important question in making this experiment especially worthwhile. The trick is to make this deck shine in its own unique style. The answer to how to do that is surprising.
When we look at this combo, two things are obvious. First, it’s fragile. Lightning Bolt your Painter’s Servant. D’oh! Second, it’s slow. It costs up to 8 mana to make this happen. So this combo is fragile and slow.
Now that we have identified weakness, we can build around it into a strength. If this combo is fragile and slow, the deck itself should be resilient and interactive. This will allow you to drag the game out, get up on cards, and put together the combination multiple times in a longer game.
The specific solution is to go in on Eternal Witness and Primal Command. This combination gives you the resilience AND the interaction. These cards help you grind through Lightning Bolts, set the opponent back, gain life, and find your combo pieces.
Using these cards with Woodland Bellower, you get a pretty good long-game deck that can win without combo’ing. Primal Command finds Woodland Bellower which finds Eternal Witness for Primal Command. It’s a one-card loop that can inevitably beat anyone in a long game without ever even drawing Painter’s Servant.
We still have the problem of being somewhat slow, but that is easily solvable with green ramp. Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise are great because they make blue, but any old Elvish Mystic does a fine job standing in.
I would like some more tricks and disruption, and Tolaria West is a fantastic way to do that with this mana base. You can transmute an extra land for a Pact of Negation to force through your combo, or a Summoner’s Pact to find a Mystic Snake to counter a key spell.
The result is a pretty consistent Simic deck that has a strong mid- and late game. What makes it different from other combo decks is that it’s essentially a green/blue midrange deck that plays its own unique style.
Woodland Bellower Combo
A new approach that I’ve found useful is to map decks on graph with axes ranging from aggro to control and strong cards to strong combos. Woodland Bellower sits at a nice midpoint on the graph. Not really an aggro deck or a late game deck, it certainly uses strong combos but can lean on strong cards as well. What this means is that this deck presents a nice variety of games depending on the matchup.
You might still be identifying “slow” as a weakness and I would have to agree. While the deck can do work in the late game, surviving to get there against a fast creature deck is not the most likely outcome. So for sideboarding I would recommend early-game removal.
If the deck is still too slow for your liking, Lightning Bolt and/or counterspells like Remand could be worked into the main deck. Fragility is no longer a weakness, but speed still is to some degree. This is fixable though.
More generally, this strategy can make better use of a sideboard than many decks. You have Serum Visions to look at extra cards, Eternal Witness to rebuy extra cards, and tutors to dig up toolbox creatures. So when building a sideboard with this deck, an important consideration is how well you can make use of creatures.
Taking these factors into consideration I would recommend a sideboard configured something like what I used. Though I have been influenced by my specific collection, and certain pet cards.
The main lesson here is that being realistic about weakness is important to bringing an idea to its full potential. If I ignored the fact that the combo was fragile and slow, I might have built a fragile and slow deck. But by addressing those problems we can build a resilient and interactive deck that makes the most of Woodland Bellower.
I hope you’ve found this deck crafting experiment informative. Maybe this is the exact perfect deck for you, or maybe my process will help your own deck crafting process. Or maybe these ideas help organize your brain better and that carries over to more efficiency in life. That’s always my hope when brewing with Magic.