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Is Greven Too Broken?

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Hello!

I hope you are having a great day today!

Let's look at Commander 2019's Greven, Predator Captain.

Greven, Predator Captain

At first he was my favorite Commander coming out of C19. I was really excited to build a solid mid-range deck around him, and I felt that he could helm a fun throwback style of deck!

But the problem with Greven is, well let's see...

At first, I really enjoyed the idea of a Greven, Predator Captain deck! He's fun, and I built a deck around fun themes like self-sacrifice, some steal and sac stuff from Red, and more. Let me give you my decklist and thoughts like normal, but then throw you a curve ball at the end. All right?

Greven can be fun without a certain dial on him.

Here is what he does:

  1. He's hard to block out of the gate, requiring two dorks to jump in front
  2. He's a 5/5 for 5 mana - solid.
  3. He can sacrifice a dork on attacking, and draw you some cards.
  4. You'll lose life. As you do, you also pump up Greven by an equal amount prior to damage being dealt.

All right, that's Greven's fun time.

However, Greven has a dark dial on him that's not hard to lean into and break.

Let me show you a quick fun build around Greven. If I were to build him in real life, this is what you'd expect.

Now, here's where I went with my first build:

Greven's Sacrificing Good Times | Commander | Abe Sargent


And there's my deck!

It has a few themes in it:

Vengeant Vampire
Homura, Human Ascendant

Cards that you want to sacrifice, like Black Cat, Vengeant Vampire, or Homura, Human Ascendant. Many were cheaper, but I wanted to add some more expensive top end quality as well to the build. These guys are going to really dominate, especially Homura, who can let you fire breathe the guy before sacrificing it, so you draw more cards. It's a lovely card in here!

Vindictive Lich
Hoarding Dragon

Vindictive Lich is great as you'll get four cards to just one life lost, and those death triggers are nasty! They will push a board all over this block! Hoarding Dragon is awesome too, as it's basically an artifact tutor to get a key artifact like Skullclamp from your deck. It's fun as your foe may not want to kill it if you have something powerufl under there, which makes it great Greven fodder!

Judith, the Scourge Diva
Mayhem Devil

This deck also wants triggers! Cards like Mayhem Devil and Judith will gain you value over time. And Judith is one of the best cards in here! You'll draw another card for each dork sacrificed to Greven while she's out, and because she doesn't pump toughness, you'll not have to worry about losing any extra life. Great synergy! And then the death trigger too? Oh my Judith!

Skullclamp

Skullclampplays into a similar space as Judith. Not only will it draw two more cards from the 'clamp on a dying dork that heads to Greven, but I'll get one more card from Greven and lose one fewer life!

Deathgreeter
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled

Deathgreeter is useful as a way to gain life with the many deaths happening and as a useful brake. You'll also have the nasty Ob Nixilis here.

God-Eternal Bontu
Vampiric Rites

You know what else we need? Yup! More Card sacrificing. It's useful for builds like this to have some redundancy built into the card. I also added in things like God-Eternal Bontu who can sacrifice everything you need to send out there, as well as drawing cards. Speaking of drawing more cards, check out Vampiric Rites! You can sacrifice stuff for life and cards, which ain't bad!

Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Exsanguinate

Also, since my deck was losing life in a lot of places, I added in some life gain effects in a few places to act as brakes. I don't want to kill myself with my Greven! That'd be silly. So you can see guys here that'll gain me a lot of like. Kokusho is great here too, as the death-trigger is powerful.

Cavalier of Night

I also tossed in a card from Core Set 2020, Cavalier of Night. The Red Cavalier was weak here, but this? Very strong! Lifelink ain't nothing but good here. It's enters-the-battlefield is fine as you can sacrifice fodder for a nice kill, and you can kill it later to recur something keen like Deathgreeter or Burnished Hart.

Merciless Executioner
Batterhorn

I also added in some useful dorks with higher powers than toughness, so I'd draw more cards and lose fewer life with them getting chewed by my Commander. Plus they are all strong cards that add some useful abilities to my deck.

I leaned into my Red for some stealing effects, that I could then use to sacrifice to Greven:

Zealous Conscripts
Grab the Reins

Cards like these are good in general, since you steal while doing other things. Grab the Reins back just be a backup Fling that sacrifices a key creature at instant speed to harness it's trigger or to steal and sac that dork, but you can also steal a foe, sacrifice a key dork with a trigger like Black Cat to this, and then attack, and kill their dork to draw and enlarge Greven at the same time.

Angrath, the Flame-Chained

Angrath is ideal here, as his +1 is strong, and his -3 to steal something is even better! This deck is much stronger for having Angrath here!

There's my deck!

Now as you can see, I built it in more old-school method of deck-building. It's not the modern Spike aggressive build that kills quickly and unfairly. Sure, I am cognizant of the fact that an unblocked Greven can kill more quickly, and I am running Whispersilk Cloak, Lightning Greaves, and Rogue's Passage here. But there's nothing here I'm running in my builds that's too hard to answer, nor keeps folks from interacting with my deck. This is more of a fun, mid-game or longer take on Greven, that uses his ability to grind cards while also building up my deck's advantages.

But here's real issue with Greven...

I don't think too many folks are going to build him that way.

Here is how Greven will likely be built:

Phyrexian Soulgorger
Rotting Regisaur

Black, Red, and colorless have a number of these early costing cards that suck, but have a high power/toughness. Imagine if you dropped the Soulgorger, and then swung with Greven. You are now having a leader with +8 power and drawing 8 cards and losing 8 life. Even without anything else, you are probably killing in one more hit. And since you just drew 8 cards, you probably have enough cards to break things open very quickly.

Sword of Feast and Famine
Aggravated Assault
Combat Celebrant
Seize the Day

This is also a great place for fast ways of attacking multiple times. Various Relentless Assaults can net you two triggers to build Greven to a lethal commander damage level of face-punchery. There are also a few ways to untap you're your lands as well, like Sword of Feast or Famine, although that may wind up being a little too slow for where I'm going. I know.

Ancient Tomb
Mana Crypt

Lotus Petal
Mox Diamond
Dark Ritual

What's really going to make Greven nasty is to accelerate his arrival as quickly as you can, before someone can summon more than one dork for defense. Remember that he'll skate on by a single dork. They need two to tangle. In addition to the common Sol Ring, these are strong ways to add fast mana. They also will wield you mana and cards after you draw a fistful of cards. Stuff like Mox Diamond and Lotus Petals are free ways to keep the engine purring long enough to kill.

Hatred
Tainted Strike

There are some other cards too. Tainted Strike can kill someone in one turn, and Greven only needs to rock 9 power to do so - which is easy to set up. While Hatred is on flavor, it's also nasty, as the life lost to Hatred will do double work. You only need to pay 8 life to have a 21/21 Greven. You can pay enough life to win even if it's countered. One of the few ways of stopping won't even work.

Here let me give you a non-perfect, but strong opening for Greven.

Assume the following - I have one average, not amazing critter to kill, one two-mana accelerant, and one equipment with haste.

Turn one - Land. Sol Ring, Greaves.

Turn two - Land. Something like Hazoret the Fervent.

Turn three - Land. Drop Greven. Equip. Swig and eat Hazoret. Swing. Draw 5 cards, lose four life, punch for 9 commander damage. Drop any mana accelerants that you can and may have drawn.

On the next turn, you'll have a spare land to do for sure. You will have drawn your starting 7 cards, 4 from your turns, and 5 from Hazoret, so you have seen 16 cards in your deck. You'll likely have at least one Hatred or Tainted Strike or something you can kill with, but you won't even need it.

You could easily drop the Phyrexian Soulgourger for three mana, and then swing and eat it. You are dealing 13 + 9 Commander damage for 23, so someone just died. You just drew 8 cards and still have 3 mana plus whatever accelerants you drew into. You could easily drop mana, cast a Relentless Assault effect, untap, drop another cheap dork that gets you into lethal range, and kill another foe. It won't matter that you dealt at least 12 damage plus the damage from others to yourself if your foes are dead. Also, note that there are ways you could win even faster!

Ancient Tomb taps for two mana and damage too, so Greven gets bigger. You could miss a Mana Crypt flip, or leave Mana Vault untapped after dropping it early. You could add in City of Brass, Sulfurous Springs, and lean on pain lands for your colored mana. You could drop a shock land or use a fetch land into a Shock Duel on the same turn for three life lost. You could pay three mana to Hall of the Bandit Lord to pump and give it haste. If your mana accelerant was a Mana Crypt instead of a Sol Ring, then you may have dealt more damage, and the same is true with many other effects.

Fire Covenant
Treasonous Ogre

Fire Covenant is nasty as you can cast it for three mana, pay enough life to kill all other creatures, and win with lethal Commander damage on that turn as well! You can pay life for Treasonous Ogre and make mana and kill with Greven in one hit very quickly.

In fact, you could kill on the 2nd turn with an Ogre easily:

Turn one - Land, Sol Ring, Swiftfoot Boots Greaves

Turn two - Land, Ogre. If that land was an Ancient Tomb or if you have something like Lotus Petal or something. Pay 16 life for enough mana for Greven. Cast. Pay three mana for Boots. Equip. Greven is a 24 powered dorwk. Swing. Kill someone.

That also works with a single Dark Ritual effect as well for the Ogre and one Black mana for Greven post-play. I also used a Boots instead of Greaves to show that you could have redundancy in your various effects.

The problem with Greven is that he creates a game-winningly powerful reward for doing something Magic has designed as negative. Life loss has been designed as the negative part of cheap effects, or powerful ones, like Ancient Tomb or Fire Covenant. By using any life loss to pump Greven, you reward any player who runs the nastiest and most powerful cards ever printed, because their disadvantage is now an advantage.

Wizards, I've pointed this out before. And I'm not the only one. You just keep creating these Spike-laden monstrosities and I'm not sure that you care. But I do.

You could have removed the first clause, and then just made it part of the latter, the +X/+0 and was only a part of the triggered ability and not a permanent life-loss boost. Why would you ever want to do that?

You don't even need the power boost. Greven without the power boost still sacrifices dorks for loads of cards and causes you life loss, which would still be good! You don't even need that to have a useful, functional, leader for your deck. You could still swing, and draw a lot of cards for some life loss, without any need for the power boost. That Greven would still have been the most powerful leader from Commander 2019!

Why do this at all?

Given the heavily Spike-ish metagame in Commander these days that has become the default, which of these do you think is more likely to be played? The first version? Or the one that can kill on the 3rd or 4th turn with a lot of reliability?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!