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From the Ground Up: Green

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As always, the Cube is here, on GoogleDocs.

I spoke a little bit about what I wanted to do with Green in the design column. To summarize, from an overview standpoint, I wanted to introduce a good degree of inevitability and card advantage in Green, but in ways that made sense for the color. I do feel that a basis in creatures makes a lot of sense for Green, but Green is more than just big, dumb men, and I wanted to push that angle and showcase the color overall. With that in mind, I’m going to take a more detailed look at the color. We’ll still start with the tribe: Elves.

For reference, this is the Elf tribe I ended up with: Elvish Archdruid, Elvish Harbinger, Elvish Warrior, Essence Warden, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Fauna Shaman, Fyndhorn Elves, Imperious Perfect, Joraga Treespeaker, Leaf Gilder, Llanowar Elves, Masked Admirers, Nissa's Chosen, Patron of the Wild, Primal Forcemage, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Taunting Elf, Thelonite Hermit, Thornscape Battlemage, Timberwatch Elf, Wren's Run Vanquisher

This list is also slightly misleading. Primal Forcemage is out; I just haven’t decided what to replace him with yet. The current favorite is to put Priest of Titania back in the Cube, but I am still considering a different direction. Other primary options include Bloom Tender, Caller of the Claw, Deranged Hermit, and Elvish Soultiller, but the list goes far beyond that.

Elves, as a whole, caused a huge problem, mainly because there are a lot of good Elves and a good number of directions I could have taken the tribe. I definitely felt that there wouldn’t be an issue with the “tribalness” of the tribe; the main question was what I was going to do with the various slots. In the end, I boiled the card selection down to three things that I wanted to do:

  1. Mana production – Elves are Elves, after all, so I wanted the tribe to have very good mana production.
  2. Aggression – I wanted Elves to have the potential to be a good, aggressive tribe, helping to support the low end of the Green curve.
  3. Card advantage – I also wanted some Elves that could generate card advantage and help control the long game.

Of course, in addition to all of this, I still wanted to try to diversify the number of effects that I had throughout both the color and the tribe.

Let’s start with each of these subcategories:

Mana production – Well, as far as Elves are concerned, there are—How shall I put it?—options. I started this category with Priest of Titania, Elvish Archdruid, and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary as big-mana dudes. Joraga Treespeaker, Llanowar Elves, and Fyndhorn Elves quickly got dropped in as well. I ended up dropping in Elvish Harbinger, too, because it did a number of things. Elvish Harbinger produces non-Green mana and provides card selection (and likely actual advantage) by automatically setting your next draw step. The real problem was that there were so many options. Priest of Titania ended up being cut just because I was short of slots, and I already had the exact same effect represented on Elvish Archdruid. The effect is significantly more powerful on a 2-drop, but Elves, as a tribe, is horribly crunched for space, and I would rather cut Priest of Titania than Elvish Archdruid.

Aggression – The critical thing here was to look for different angles to attack. While Green isn’t as aggressive as Red, I definitely wanted to support Elves swinging—just not as aggressively as Goblins. This is why I ended up with the lords that I did: Imperious Perfect and Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Both of these support aggressive strategies (the Perfect by being a +1/+1 lord; Ezuri through his Overrun ability), but also add value by being sources of card advantage. Perfect is a threat all by itself because of the token-generation, and Ezuri’s ability to Regenerate other Elves is exactly the sort of resiliency I want from my Green.

There are quite a few Elf “lords” that do similar things—like Elvish Champion and Joraga Warcaller—but I just thought that Ezuri was one of the more efficient ways of accomplishing that end.

I added to this a bunch of 2-drops: Elvish Warrior, Wren's Run Vanquisher, Nissa's Chosen, and Leaf Gilder. Leaf Gilder was sort of an experiment over Elvish Archers—a simple 2-mana, 2-power guy with an added benefit. It’s proven to be quite solid, which surprised me. I expected to have to replace it, but it’s been pulling its own weight surprisingly well. I finished off the more aggressive bent by adding Timberwatch Elf (an underrated card if I ever saw one), and Patron of the Wild as more “pump dudes,” which also helps support aggressive strategies. The final touch was obviously Taunting Elf.

Card advantage – I wanted this to matter, but not be a huge deal. The main things here are Fauna Shaman, Masked Admirers, and Thornscape Battlemage, all of which are excellent at generating value. I am considering dropping a fourth creature here as well, which is why Primal Forcemage’s replacement hasn’t been determined. Elvish Soultiller and Caller of the Claw are both excellent sources of card advantage in very Green ways. Caller of the Claw, in particular, I feel is a forgotten creature that is too often left on the sidelines. It’s quite a potent trick.

I do want to talk a little about why Primal Forcemage made it in the Cube to begin with. The card has a very interesting effect that works well with hasty creatures and token-generation. The Haste wasn’t going to be a huge deal, but I wanted to push token-generation in Green. For a while, it worked, but I think that it just wasn’t working as well as I liked. Still, if you’ve seen the combination of Primal Forcemage and Sprout Swarm in action, you understand how potent a wall of 4/4 tokens is. I’ve won games on the back of Forcemage by making it essentially impossible to attack on the ground, especially when the Elf is supported by cards like Squirrel Nest, Briarhorn, and Sprout Swarm. Ironically, Caller of the Claw would make this card much stronger, since putting what would essentially be at least 10 power on the board at instant speed is a pretty strong defensive trick.

Moving on, we have the rest of the creatures – Acidic Slime, Albino Troll, Ambush Viper, Anavolver, Arashi, the Sky Asunder, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Avenger of Zendikar, Birds of Paradise, Blightwidow, Borderland Ranger, Briarhorn, Chameleon Colossus, Changeling Titan, Duskdale Wurm, Eternal Witness, Indrik Stomphowler, Jungle Lion, Kodama of the North Tree, Nantuko Vigilante, Nemata, Grove Guardian, Noble Hierarch, Obstinate Baloth, Ohran Viper, Overgrown Battlement, Penumbra Spider, Penumbra Wurm, Phantom Centaur, Pouncing Jaguar, Ravenous Baloth, Rhox, Scavenging Ooze, Silklash Spider, Simian Grunts, Troll Ascetic, Verdeloth the Ancient, Wall of Blossoms, Wild Dogs, Woodland Sleuth, Yavimaya Dryad, Yavimaya Elder

A big thing I wanted to look at here was resiliency, which I will define as “significantly limiting the number of ways to deal with the creature.” This is an area where I feel Wizards fails at designing Green creatures. There are too many creatures like Festerhide Boar and Kindercatch that are simply “dumb guys.” Those types of creatures are very rarely any good. It is true that, at some point, the power/toughness-to-mana-cost ratio simply gets too high, but you have to reach Tarmogoyf levels for that to really be significant. Since it isn’t feasible to have a bunch of Tarmogoyfs, I focused on resiliency when building my Green threats (particularly my expensive ones). There are a number of types of resiliency, and I will go through them all.

  • High toughness (7+) – There are a few large breaks in toughness, and one of the biggest ones occurs at 7. Anything with 7 or more toughness is very difficult to kill in combat or with direct damage. Sweepers and direct-kill spells are pretty much the only ways to effectively neutralize these creatures. This provides a degree of built-in resilience, since it limits the ways the creature can be dealt with.
  • Protective abilities – This one is obvious. Stuff like Protection from [Color], Shroud, and Regeneration limit the ways you can deal with a creature.
  • Token-generation – Tokens are a great way of having a “creature” that ends up being more resilient to removal and combat. Even if the main creature dies, the tokens it leaves behind tend to give you a good amount of added value, and they are sometimes even threats on their own.

I think that these are the three main avenues of threat resiliency available to Green, and I used these quite a bit during my threat selection. Token-generation is a form of both threat resiliency and card advantage. What I mean by “threat resiliency” is the ability of the main threat to either be difficult to deal with or leave something behind immediately, with no additional investment when it is dealt with. This is why something like Eternal Witness is not a resilient threat. It is card advantage, but if the 2/1 part is dealt with, nothing is left behind. Eternal Witness is a good card—don’t get me wrong—but it is not a resilient threat. Compare this to, say, Protean Hulk, which leaves creatures behind on the board even if you deal with it, thus making it a resilient threat in addition to card advantage. These two things do not necessarily go together, but they frequently do.

Token-generation is a good example of this. A card like Avenger of Zendikar is very capable of leaving behind Plant tokens, which are still threats even after the main creature has departed. Even in their 0/1 Plant form, it is possible for the tokens to be threatening (Glorious Anthem, Overrun, etc.), and thus, we see some threat resiliency there. Token-generation, of course, has the ability to generate card advantage by trading mana and tokens for cards, but it is also an avenue for the all-important threat resiliency.

Nothing to see here, move on – Acidic Slime, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Birds of Paradise, Borderland Ranger, Chameleon Colossus, Eternal Witness, Jungle Lion, Indrik Stomphowler, Noble Hierarch, Obstinate Baloth, Pouncing Jaguar, Troll Ascetic, Wall of Blossoms, Wild Dogs, Yavimaya Elder

Fat – Avenger of Zendikar, Changeling Titan, Duskdale Wurm, Kodama of the North Tree, Nemata, Grove Guardian, Penumbra Wurm, Rhox, Verdeloth the Ancient

The biggest thing to note here is that all of the fatties have some form of built-in resilience. Changeling Titan and Duskdale Wurm have 7 toughness, and the former also protects one of your other dudes from removal. Kodama of the North Tree has Shroud; Rhox has Regeneration; Penumbra Wurm leaves behind a copy; and Verdeloth, Avenger, and Nemata generate tokens. They are all relatively resilient threats, and that is what I wanted out of my fat. Duskdale Wurm is really more of a placeholder, though, until I find a specific type of card I like.

Resilient midrange threats – Albino Troll, Penumbra Spider, Phantom Centaur

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. I wanted some resilient midrange threats, and these qualify. The options in Green are actually thinner than I would like, and these are some of my favorites.

Card-advantage dudes – Arashi, the Sky Asunder, Nantuko Vigilante Ohran Viper, Silklash Spider, Woodland Sleuth

Arashi and Silklash Spider handle the same thing—flyer control. They are both very good at controlling the skies. Both creatures are nearly unbeatable if they stick around against skies decks, and they are threats that have to be dealt with, or they will generate a win all by themselves through card advantage. A particularly vivid example I remember involved my winning a game in which I literally drew only two spells (not counting Signets): Silklash Spider and Whispersilk Cloak. I won because all but one creature in my opponent’s deck flew, and thus the Spider simply took everything down all by itself, backed by my Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree. These two creatures provide card advantage and archetype control all at the same time.

The other three are just good-value creatures, which is exactly the sort of thing I want from Green. Considering Green as a color, I think that card advantage should be deeply ingrained in the color mechanically, but it should be card advantage over time. The big reason for this is from looking at nature and the natural world. Consider something like a devastating forest fire: While the forest might be dead and destroyed temporarily, given time, all that will be regrown and recovered, and this is the sort of thing I want to represent. Green should have a lot of slow but consistent value, representing its ability to sort of creep forward on all fronts.

For the most part, I think that Wizards hasn’t done a good job of doing this, although they are getting better. I think that threat resiliency and card advantage through things like token-generation and triggered abilities need to be a larger part of Green’s arsenal. They fit flavorfully very well with the color, and they are definitely needed mechanically to keep up with the rest of the colors.

This design philosophy is reflected in my personal card selection for Green. There’s a lot of general value, threat resiliency, and slow card advantage scattered throughout Green, and I think that this should be the mechanical focus of the color.

The rest – Ambush Viper, Anavolver, Blightwidow, Briarhorn, Overgrown Battlement, Ravenous Baloth, Scavenging Ooze, Simian Grunts, Yavimaya Dryad

Ambush Viper I wanted a creature that is very likely to trade profitably; Ambush Viper fits the bill.

Anavolver Same as before.

Blightwidow This was originally Giant Spider. What I really wanted was a defensive Spider that was very good at holding down the fort. I changed it to Blightwidow because I didn’t really want people attacking with the creature, but I also didn’t want it to actually have Defender. The change to Blightwidow makes the creature stronger defensively and weaker offensively, which is exactly what I want.

Briarhorn I love Giant Growth effects on men, and it’s surprisingly underrepresented in Green. This is just a really good, flexible card overall.

Overgrown Battlement I wanted at least two good defensive Walls in the non-Red colors, and this is the second one for Green (Wall of Blossoms is the first). The purpose of these slots is to help control the aggro deck, which is a part of the overall goal of format balance.

Ravenous Baloth Just more good value. I wanted the Baloth-style creature to be prevalent in Green, so I went with this. If they print another good Baloth-style dude, this will likely be replaced.

Scavenging Ooze Some graveyard control is nice, and this is the best piece yet in Green.

Simian Grunts I like Flash on Green creatures. I think it’s underused. This is also reasonably costed for its size.

Yavimaya Dryad This ended up making the cut over Sakura-Tribe Elder because I thought that I had enough early acceleration already. This is more of a midgame card, and the ability to give your opponent a Forest so that you can Forestwalk over is definitely relevant. There was some incentive to include Elvish Champion with this card, as well, although I decided against it. This may still get switched to STE at some point. The M10 rules change was not kind to Steve.

Spells – Beast Attack, Beast Within, Bramblecrush, Constant Mists, Creeping Mold, Deep Reconnaissance, Desert Twister, Elephant Guide, Fertile Ground, Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Giant Growth, Gift of the Gargantuan, Gilt-Leaf Ambush, Green Sun's Zenith, Harmonize, Harrow, Hurricane, Incremental Growth, Krosan Grip, Moment's Peace, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Naturalize, Night Soil, Overrun, Overwhelming Stampede, Predator's Strike, Prey Upon, Primal Command, Rampant Growth, Rancor, Regrowth, Rude Awakening, Snake Umbra, Spidery Grasp, Sprout Swarm, Squirrel Nest, Stonewood Invocation, Survival of the Fittest, Windstorm, Worldly Tutor

Noncreature permanent removal – Beast Within, Bramblecrush, Creeping Mold, Desert Twister, Krosan Grip, Naturalize

This is something that Green is very good at, and I wanted to represent that by having an efficient suite of answers to noncreature permanents. Desert Twister made it in initially because it was the only card that dealt with all permanents (therefore including planeswalkers). Beast Within and Bramblecrush have since been printed, but Twister has proven to still be effective, so I left it in. I’m okay with it killing creatures because it makes sense flavorfully, but it’s not overpowered mechanically, since Twister is at 6 mana. The rest of these were basically selected for efficiency.

Mana-fixing/acceleration – Deep Reconnaissance, Fertile Ground, Harrow, Rampant Growth

I wanted a little bit of noncreature mana-acceleration as well. Four pieces felt about right, and I went with some of the more efficient options. Deep Reconnaissance is actually an effect I really like. The Flashback gives it a lot of added value, since the main casting brings you to four lands, and the Flashback costs only 5. The card can basically get you to 6 mana by itself, which is quite nice. I think the other three require little explanation.

Fogs – Constant Mists, Moment's Peace

Fog was definitely an effect I wanted in Green, and I wanted good Fogs, as well. I decided that quality was more important than quantity, since I didn’t want Fogs showing up all over the place. Thus, I went with what I felt were the two best Green Fogs. The annoyance factor of Constant Mists also doesn’t bother me, but I like Stasis-based decks and Stax, so take that for what it’s worth. If that bothers you, there are other Fog effects that you can run. Even so, buying it back by sacrificing a land is a real cost, and that does add up very quickly.

Flyer control – Hurricane, Windstorm

This was another quality-over-quantity decision. There really aren’t a lot of good Green cards that also happen to deal with flyers (a Green weakness and a very Green theme as well), so I decided on the quality over quantity approach. Both of these cards are role-players, but if they are good against you, they are very good against you.

Auras – Elephant Guide, Rancor, Snake Umbra

All three of these Auras negate the “Aura disadvantage” problem pretty well. Snake Umbra can also provide a good bit of card advantage, which pushed it over the edge of other cards competing for tight slots.

Card advantage – Beast Attack, Gift of the Gargantuan, Green Sun's Zenith, Harmonize, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Night Soil, Primal Command, Regrowth, Sprout Swarm, Squirrel Nest, Survival of the Fittest

I wanted token-generation to be a big part of Green’s card advantage, and so Sprout Swarm, Squirrel Nest, and Beast Attack made it in. Night Soil was added because it is also a form of graveyard control, which is something I knew I wanted more of eventually. I didn’t have room for Necrogenesis, so I went with its less powerful brother.

Also—as I said earlier—I want Green’s card advantage to be an incremental type of deal, thus the inclusion of spells like Gift of the Gargantuan, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Primal Command, Regrowth, and Survival of the Fittest. They do not generate large amounts of card advantage at once; they generally require time to do their jobs. Harmonize is actually not a spell I like from a design standpoint, but it works and is efficient, so it ended up getting included as well.

The rest – Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Giant Growth, Gilt-Leaf Ambush, Incremental Growth, Overrun, Overwhelming Stampede, Predator's Strike, Prey Upon, Rude Awakening, Spidery Grasp, Stonewood Invocation, Worldly Tutor

Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk, Primal HunterPlaneswalkers. ’Nuff said.

Giant Growth, Incremental Growth, Predator’s Strike, Stonewood Invocation, Spidery GraspThese are all pump effects that interact from a slightly different angle. Giant Growth is the basic one, Predator's Strike gives Trample (the most relevant ability on a pump effect, in my opinion), Incremental Growth uses counters, and Stonewood Invocation gives Shroud and has Split Second. Spidery Grasp is the final one I ended up including because of its efficiency and the fact that it gives Reach. I like the different angles that all these pump spells come from, because they give players a wide variety of tactical options.

Gilt-Leaf Ambush This is more of a value spell than anything else. Of course, it is capable of generating card advantage by blocking and killing two creatures, but it normally is just a Master's Call in Green with the Clash. The fact that it makes Elves is important, obviously. I still frequently end up playing it because it generates good value—even if you can’t take huge advantage of the tribal nature of the card.

Overrun, Overwhelming StampedeThis effect is very Green, but 5 mana is about the most I want to pay for it. I included both of these as standards. Part of me would like to see a third effect like this, but I’m not a huge fan of Tromp the Domains or the Infect one. Maybe they’ll print another one I like.

Prey UponGreen removal. ’Nuff said.

Rude Awakening I said I wanted some inevitability in Green. This is the best Green inevitability spell. I would like a second one, but I am not really a fan of Tooth and Nail. I have considered dropping One Dozen Eyes in, but I just think that card isn’t efficient enough in its non-Entwined form.

Worldly Tutor I think this is pretty much expected at this point.

Next week, I want to talk a bit about format design and the various pressures associated with it. I’ll discuss how you will be pulled in a variety of different directions and how you need to respect all of those pressures to create a balanced environment.

Until next time,

Chingsung Chang

Conelead most everywhere and on MTGO

Khan32k5 at gmail dot com

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