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Kaldheim Updates to Standard Gruul

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Hi everyone!

Last week I was torn between playing Temur Ramp and Jund Sacrifice for my chance to qualify for the Kaldheim Championship. Leading up to last Friday's Satellite Qualifier we saw a rock-paper-scissors that looked like this: Rakdos beats Rogues beats Ramp. The day before I needed to submit a deck, Twitter was gushing over the Sultai Ultimatum strategy that took down a Kaldheim Qualifier the previous weekend.

Here's an example of Sultai Ultimatum:


Since Sultai Ultimatum was going to pick up steam thanks to the social media backing last weekend I decided to move away from Temur Ramp as I would encounter splash damage. Rakdos and Jund Sacrifice are weak to Ramp strategies so that quickly became a bad choice, too. Standard metagames move very quickly in the early weeks so understanding the inner workings is important to succeed.

I was faced with a choice of what deck to play knowing Sultai Ultimatum would be overrepresented. Not only do I want to be able to go under a Ramp deck I need to be favored against tempo and aggressive strategies designed to prey on Sultai Ultimatum. These two decks would ultimately be Mono-Red and Mono-White Aggro.

Last week I discussed my issue with early versions of Gruul Aggro shells- Goldspan Dragon's treasures don't do enough for the deck and is a glorified Questing Beast. My opinion on Gruul changed immediately when I saw a 5-1 decklist featuring Anri Brokenbrow piloted by Domantas Zavadzkis.


Arni Brokenbrow adds another powerful haste threat that costs less than five mana. The activated ability is very effective at closing a game quickly. If I play Lovestruck Beast on turn three and Arni on turn four I can attack for twelve damage.

Haste creatures are powerful in Game 1 because Gruul doesn't have many tools to play the control role. Many pre-board games look like two ships passing in the night. I can see Arni being a stock inclusion in Gruul decks when the metagame is diverse.

I used the list above as inspiration to make a 6-0 run in an SCG Satellite tournament:


My main goal is to play as many haste creatures as possible to combat Ramp decks. Not only do I use the idea of playing Arni, but I also play three Questing Beast. It's hard to fit more haste creatures than this and I have a playset of Embercleave to add additional burst damage.

The case against playing three Questing Beast is it gets blocked by Bonecrusher Giant. My Game 1 plan is to get the opponent dead as quickly as possible. I want to suit up a Questing Beast with Embercleave in the first game so I play more copies of each.

I'm seeing a trend of Green decks playing fewer copies of The Great Henge which makes me want to avoid playing Embereth Shieldbreaker. I also don't want to raise my curve so I added a third Scavenging Ooze and a maindeck Fire Prophecy. A third Scavenging Ooze is uncommon, but I wanted additional respect for graveyard strategies- Rogues and Rakdos. The third Ooze can be a second Fire Prophecy, but I want as many proactive threats as possible in Game 1.

A case for playing Embereth Shieldbreaker as the flex slot in the future is White Weenie's equipment- Maul of the Skyclaves and Sword of the Realms. They also board in Glass Caskets which means Wilt will be overloaded.

I don't respect Valkmira, Protector's Shield because my creatures are beefy and Stomp can turn off the prevention shield. If you don't want to pay the extra mana for Stomp to not be countered it's possible to target yourself or a creature you control.

I typically like to maindeck two copies of The Akroan War, but Sultai Ultimatum is currently too popular. The Akroan War gets worse in the Gruul mirror as the games slow down after board so there is a real cost. If you want to play two The Akroan War in the main I can't fault you and would cut the third Questing Beast.

Reidane, God of the Worthy is already good against Gruul in the first game because it makes Embercleave and The Great Henge more expensive. The Akroan War is another card that can get trapped in your hand. This is also a case to not play a small snow land package while White Weenie is popular.

The curve of this version of Gruul is lower as Arni is taking the place of Goldspan Dragon. If I was forced to play Goldspan Dragon I would need an additional mana source. I'm happy to only need twenty lands.

There may be a fork in the road for Gruul decks. I've seen Gruul play twenty-two lands to make room for up to four Goldspan Dragon that combo with Negate and Disdainful Stroke in the sideboard. I don't like this approach because Goldspan doesn't have any synergies in Game 1. Klothys, planeswalkers, and haste creatures are a strong enough plan against Ramp and Control so I don't need to splash a third color.

Here's an example of Three Color Gruul piloted by Will Krueger in the Kaldheim Qualifier for reference. He did finish 8-1 in the swiss so I can't write it off entirely.


The sideboard is where things get interesting.

Klothys, God of Destiny overperformed. I drew it often in my post board games against Black decks which makes me want to add a third in future events.

The same decks that don't want Klothys on the battlefield like to play a slower game plan which made the mana generation more relevant than I would have suspected. Playing a Henge or Vivian ahead of schedule generates a relevant advantage. There have been multiple games where I made mana with Klothys on turn four, played a Kazandu Mammoth, and broke a Fabled Passage to cast The Great Henge.

Klothys is often a creature because plenty of my threats have two Gruul mana pips. This is often a downside because it can then be swept by Extinction Event and Shadows' Verdict, but it's another reason I can get away with three copies. I want an early Klothys on the battlefield against Black control, Rakdos, and Rogues. This is a large enough share of the metagame I think it warrants a third.

Watch out for Throne of Death's activated ability of exiling a creature in your graveyard to draw a card; this can fizzle Klothys's drain. There's a balance to strike between exiling opposing creatures in the graveyard to play around this while keeping material for your scavenging Oozes. It's low-hanging fruit to go after enchantments as Tymaret Calls the Dead can exile them.

Rakdos and Rogues play a strategy that almost guarantees lands going to the graveyard so I can reliably get mana. Control decks and Sultai Ultimatum requires Fabled Passage to go to the graveyard from either player.

Ox of Agonas has fallen short. I like having creatures with escape for the Rogues matchup, but nowhere else. There's a chance I use my own graveyard to fuel Klothys which makes escaping more difficult in non-Rogues matchups. Since Rogues will mill so many cards a single escape spell in the sideboard makes a big impact.

I often find myself stranded with threats in hand against control because deploying them all at once leaves me vulnerable to sweepers. There aren't enough times I want to trade in my hand for three cards to justify more than one Ox. I would rather play a third Scavenging Ooze and a third Klothys before I register a second Ox in future events.

Phoenix of Ash used to be my anti-control threat with escape. I no longer like this creature because it's easily answered by the Black control decks. Extinction Event and Shadows' Verdict are problematic and Phoenix doesn't hit hard out of the gate. Arni is better at this point in the curve.

Toski, Bearer of Secrets is an option against control. This can be a good sideboard card in later weeks, but Sultai Ultimatum asks Gruul to play threats that evade their sweepers and also race. You will get punished for fumbling around accruing card advantage as an Ultimatum will end the game on the spot. I also predict a rising of Crippling Fear to combat White Weenie and Toski gets caught in the crossfire.

I'm playing Wilt over Masked Vandal in the sideboard as an answer to artifacts and enchantments. I want to destroy Maul of the Skyclaves, Embercleave, The Great Henge, and The Akroan War. All of these threats are better to interact with at instant speed.

I had a game where I was facing Masked Vandal with Scavenging Ooze on the battlefield keeping graveyards clear. Most Green decks play at least two Oozes and they aren't boarded out in Green mirrors. The one upside of Masked Vandal is it can be tutored with Vivian, but I don't think I would search for it often enough to justify playing.

Mono-Green Food is currently not popular because it lines up poorly against Ramp and Rogues. It's the only matchup I want to play three The Akroan War after sideboard because it becomes weaker in Gruul mirrors as both players cut haste creatures. There's also a chance I don't even want a third The Akroan War when Food is more prevalent because of Vorinclex. I'm very satisfied with two copies in the seventy-five.

Soul Sear is my preferred anti-Green interaction because it delays The Great Henge in a meaningful way. I can cast a preemptive The Akroan War, but it will likely mean the opponent gets their creature back after the third chapter. I have fewer ways to interact with The Great Henge than in the past.

Soul Sear also turns off indestructible against White Weenie; a relevant interaction against Selfless Savior and Seasoned Hallowblade.

I watched many players board in Soul Sear against Yorion decks. Don't do this. If your goal is to interact with Yorion you're better off with more copies of Embercleave in your deck after sideboard. It's even worse against Esper Doom because of Elspeth Conquers Death and Elspeth's Nightmare.

Despite being unimpressed with Goldspan Dragon there are games in Green mirrors I need to have a four damage spell to kill it which Soul Sear will come in handy. It's also worth considering making Vivien tokens with reach to play around potential Goldspan Dragons. In the past vigilance was the default because The Akroan War cannot damage them.

It's worth considering a split of Scorching Dragonfire and Fire Prophecy. I maindeck Fire Prophecy because it's more versatile against an unknown opponent. There is room in the sideboard for Scorching Dragonfire because Anax and Phoenix of Ash are in Mono-Red. Rogues cares about creatures being in the graveyard for Lurrus and Agadeem's Awakening.

I made some updates after the Satellite and used the following list to finish 7-2 in the Kaldheim Qualifier; good for 13th place on tiebreaks in a cut to top twelve. Overall a solid finish with 347 players.


I was happy with every card in the deck. One of my losses was to the 75 card mirror using my sideboard guide. Can't complain. The other loss was to White Weenie where I stumbled in both games. This was Gabriel Silva, the winner of the event.

Now that we have covered the card choices let's get to the sideboard guide!

Gruul Mirror

I have found those who are less experienced in the Gruul mirror often leave in Brushfire Elemental. At this point every Gruul author has said to cut them and I will say it again.

As I make the maindeck more proactive and better against Sultai Ultimatum I need more modifications in the post-board Gruul games. My sideboard is deliberately tailored to have enough cards to substitute all of the haste creatures. As I board out so many creatures I wouldn't want more than two Embercleave.

The mirror is very intricate. If you jam your threats every turn it won't end well. Beware of Stomping your own creatures to counter their Stomps. It might be correct to hold on casting a 2-drop to play around Stomp.

Don't let the opponent keep a high-powered creature if you can avoid it as a quick The Great Henge can end things quickly especially now that most Gruul lists don't maindeck Embereth Shieldbreaker.

The timing of casting Edgewall Innkeeper is a judgement call. If the situation allows, I would rather hold it until I get a guaranteed card. The single damage won't be relevant enough times to justify running it out. If you wait a long time to cast it there's a chance The Great Henge can do it for you and get an extra card for your trouble.

Consider playing Kazandu Mammoth on turn three to hold creatures in the adventure zone in case you draw Edgewall Innkeeper later in the game. It's also important to not walk your Mammoth into a Fire Prophecy as simply casting Lovestruck Beast may waste the opponent's mana.

A large Scavenging Ooze may seem unbeatable, but remember just about any Shatterskull Smashing in the late game will kill it. I also wouldn't want to grow the Ooze too large and have it stolen by The Akroan War. I don't like Klothys in the post-board mirror because Ooze will stop the trigger.

If the board is empty make sure you aren't going to lose to Vivien. Soul Sear can deal damage to planeswalkers as well as the single Scorching Dragonfire.

I could probably write an entire article on the mirror as I think it's very fun and interactive.

Rogues

Questing Beast can be stolen by Lullmage's Domination and blocked by Thieves' Guild Enforcer. It's a much weaker threat without the full suite of Embercleave which get worse as the opponent boards in more creature removal. All of these things can be said about Arni except he costs one less mana. This single mana is important as it means deploying all of my threats as quickly as possible and even leaving up mana for Scavenging Ooze.

The Great Henge forces you to draw cards when non-token creatures enter the battlefield so this may be a liability. Cut them.

Klothys can help deal twenty damage to the opponent quickly, but it can also help deploy more threats. Since plenty of cards go to your graveyard it's a reliable source of mana.

Don't worry if Klothys becomes animated because the only downside is getting stolen by Lullmage's Domination. Three Scavenging Ooze will fizzle their triggers. I beat Rogues in the Kaldheim Qualifier with the single Ox in my sideboard. The Ox sat in the graveyard while Klothys did the heavy lifting.

Sultai Ultimatum

The post board game plan is the same- get them dead as quickly as possible. The tiny detail that changed is you now accomplish this with sticky threats that evade sweepers and spot removal.

There aren't many cards to board out because the abundance of haste threats is for this matchup.

Embercleave is weaker after board in every matchup. I recently decided to leave in three because the opponent can tap low to ramp with Cultivate instead of interacting with creatures.

Ooze is basically just a 2/2 for two mana as most of their removal exiles. It's not a terrible threat as it can be cast early. If I were to board in the lone Ox of Agonas in this matchup I would cut the third Ooze, but I want to pressure their life total.

I will run out Edgewall Innkeeper more aggressively with Klothys in hand because it encourages interaction to get cards in the graveyard. This can also help Ooze become more threatening.

Mono-Red

The adventure creatures sway the favorability of the matchup. Mulligan sketchy hands as this Mono-Red deck is quite powerful and you can recoup cards with Lovestruck Beast and Bonecrusher Giant.

Remember that Wilt is able to destroy Anax. I kill Anax when the opponent is tapped out more often because of Rimrock Knight/Boulder Crush pumping it to get an extra token.

Haste creatures and burst damage isn't effective in this matchup; Red has taken the aggressive role as it wins faster than Gruul on average.

I play Edgewall Innkeeper more aggressively as the extra cards will not matter in most games. If the opponent uses their early turns to interact with your creatures it's a good exchange.

Soul Sear seems slow, but I need ways to kill Torbran and Goldspan Dragon.

Rakdos

This is the best matchup for Klothys as it not only keeps graveyards in check, but makes it hard for the opponent to deal enough damage.

If you animate your Klothys beware of The Akroan War and Claim the Firstborn.

Vivien and The Great Henge are very powerful in the matchup as they are looking to remove all of your threats. You are still the aggressor in the matchup after sideboard, but in a more specific way.

White Weenie

The haste creatures are worse post board as the opponent will board in Glass Caskets to slow down the game. My main strategy is similar to Gruul- control the board, land a Vivien, and don't get cheesed out by equipment.

That's all I have for today. Give this version of Gruul a spin and remember the metagame is still churning so use this article to take the deck further. White Weenie has a chance to be popular this weekend if the hive mind doesn't think packing extra removal isn't enough to keep it at bay.

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle

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