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Focus on Forest


Which Mono-Green, Again?

Last week one of the new Core Set 2021 decks I highlighted was a Mono-Green build by EDEL.

This deck featured one new addition from Core Set 2021, and one welcome reprint...

Primal Might
Scavenging Ooze

But this deck's real distinguishing features away from other recent versions of Mono-Green, whether Syr Faren beatdown, giant monsters, or something more exotic, come from War of the Spark and Throne of Eldraine.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World

It's not like Nissa, Who Shakes the World is some kind of - forgive the term - ground-breaking addition to the list of Standard Staples. But it functions quite differently in EDEL's Mono-Green deck than it did in some past favorites.

Think for a moment about some of the decks where we might have liked Nissa, Who Shakes the World over the last twelve months or so...

  • Mono-Green Superfriends - Last summer's Mono-Green deck played creatures... But only about sixteen. Of these, four were focused on mana acceleration at the one or two-mana spot; creatures like Llanowar Elves... I preferred Incubation Druid myself, for the synergy with Karn's Bastion, but most people on Mono-Green Superfriends went with the comparatively fragile - if hexproof - Paradise Druid. Arboreal Grazer is admittedly a great blocker on turn one, but the closest thing to a combat creature in last summer's list was Jadelight Ranger.
  • "Bant Ramp" circa Mythic Championship V - Stanislav Cifka's outstanding "no payoffs" deck from the era of Oko played eighteen creatures... But outside of Hydroid Krasis (whose printed power is in fact zero), they averaged a whopping one-power. Tough to accumulate aggro when you're starting on Gilded Goose and your 7-drop is a burly 2/3.
  • Kvartek's Temur Reclamation from the World Championships - Nine creatures only! And while all of them are potentially offensive wonders - everything from Brazen Borrower's evasion to Uro's inevitability - there are only nine, and one-third of them are Legendary.

That's about how Nissa, Who Shakes the World has been played for the last year or so. Powerful; capable of producing power and toughness out of other resources, but generally at the top of an otherwise creature poor deck that probably leaned hard on mana acceleration... Whether in the form of creatures that actually tap for mana like Llanowar Elves, effects that put more land into play like Growth Spiral or Arboreal Grazer, or permanents with unique mana production effects like Wilderness Reclamation.

Hold on a second, MichaelJ! (I assume you're asking).... What exactly is the point of talking about how many creatures past Nissa decks played?

I'm glad you asked!

The value of Nissa, Who Shakes the World is very different in EDEL's contemporary deck. This - at least to my experience of playing with and increasingly frequently against a deck - is the first meaningful time we've seen Nissa surrounded by creatures. EDEL's deck is about half creatures, and especially so if you think about each Lovestruck Beast as potentially two different pieces of materiel.

That's where the unique value of Nissa, Who Shakes the World in this list is hiding.

In all those historical Superfriends, Ramp, or Reclamation decks, Nissa attacked, sometimes as an afterthought. She was a threat, or presented threats, or turned otherwise boring or excess stuff into threats... But was herself there to make a giant Hydroid Krasis, power up other Planeswalkers, or kill the opponent with a single, enormous, Expansion // Explosion. Her role in a sixty was somewhat bundled in hitting you with a 3/3 Forest... But the potentially four mana you could get out of that Forest in a single turn cycle tended to be why she got picked for some of those truly powerhouse lists.

In a Mono-Green creature deck we see some of the same. To be honest... Getting in for three is probably more meaningful in EDEL's deck than in most other Nissa decks. This is, after all, a Mono-Green strategy primarily about creatures, attacking, and blocking. Those kinds of decks want to draw enough land (but not too much) and kill the opponent before they do something more impressive than simply playing creatures, attacking with them, or when all else fails: hurling one to its doom in front of an oncoming semi-soft lock. Moreover, they tend to be kind of bad against creature sweepers, or anyone who forces them to respect the maturation of each actual full turn cycle. Again, because they mostly attack and block. If for no other reason than Nissa can make a surprise attacker - with haste - (and out of a fifth or sixth land you didn't actually want anyway) she does something meaningfully different for this deck.

Her mana engine remains pretty cool, I guess. I do appreciate the fact that if you have a Nissa and they don't, your Scavenging Ooze is probably going to beat their Scavenging Ooze. You can X out a Primal Might to tell the grandkids about; and there aren't a lot better best buddies in a twenty-two basic Forest deck than Stonecoil Serpent.

But none of that is what makes Nissa, Who Shakes the World really - ahem - earth-shattering in this deck versus the ones that came before.

It's the Ultimate!

Shifting Plans in Mono-Green

The nickname Seņor Stompy has existed at least as long as Rogue Elephant and Harvest Wurm locked hands (or trunks-slash-spiked tails) at some mid-1990s State Championships; and small creature Mono-Green decks have flitted in and out of playable tiers off and on for the past twenty-three years.

But for practical purposes, Mono-Green gets interesting around mid-May, when the greatest deck designer of all time, Zvi Mowshowitz, shared his plan for tapping basic Forests, Martians*, and the occasional Artifact Creature all ninety degrees.

Zvi's deck was a super fast super offensive one, combining Syr Faren, the Hengehammer; a couple of Giant Growths; and any g-d 1-drop into a third turn kill. It could play slower games but didn't really prefer to; seeing that it was one of the only viable decks of its micro-era to not take advantage of the short- and long-term card economy opportunities of Lurrus of the Dream-Den and other Companions.

With the radical change in the Companion rule, Zvi's Mono-Green could have theoretically gotten stronger, but the net result seemed instead to be a solidification of midrange decks with lots of removal or card advantage; or weirdly enough, the Yorion maniacs kept playing 80 cards and just added three Yorions to their main decks or something. You'd think StOmPy would get better but it instead just got different.

Rather than focusing on third and fourth turn kills based on Giant Growths... Something that got more difficult against more card advantage or midgame-focused progressive resources; Green, too changed... To something slower and more versatile.

With the coming of M21, we had the all-important addition of Scavenging Ooze. Primal Might I can give or take; in fact I often side three or more out; but Scavenging Ooze kind of singlehandedly explains the shift in the strategy of a deck that retains more than five of Zvi's four-of slots, along with 20+ basic lands.

Basically, the Mowshowitz deck traded the ability to win on turn three with a vastly improved likelihood of winning any games that went five or more turns. Nissa is powerful at the top end, but one of the main things Nissa powers up is that humble Ooze.

Scavenging Ooze is almost certainly going to go down as the most important card from Core Set 2021. It's played in lots of decks (not just Mono-Green), and it utterly dominates a shocking number of matchups. In the mirror, or quasi-mirror (e.g. Gruul) I would recommend trading anything - even multiple cards if you have to - to get rid of the opponent's Scavenging Ooze. If you have the last Scavenging Ooze you're almost certain to win any long games that come down to conventional attacking and blocking. I don't know why I'm still surprised at the number of comebacks from one life I see this card producing. The card seems to reward patience and strategy at an almost preternatural rate.

Having access to lots of g means not only lots of life, but lots of size. If you have an early Ooze or you know you can sandbag one after the trades... Go ahead and trade like crazy. Creature for removal means size. Creature for creature means twice as much size. If you have spare g you can blunt a future Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath even when you're just chomping on Fabled Passages or horribly depressed Mystical Disputes.

The other main thing you will want to do is protect your Scavenging Ooze as much as possible against Rakdos. You might be surprised at what they can accomplish when you tap out on the wrong turn. All of a sudden they have three Witch's Ovens and a Mayhem Devil and your Ooze is dead. A single Scavenging Ooze isn't 100% game over for them, but it contains both the Cauldron Familiar and conventional attack components of their deck all by itself. If they want to give Mayhem Devil deathtouch, it can help you out there, too... As long as you don't tap out.

Because Rakdos decks play cards like Claim the Firstborn the best thing you can usually do is leave up Green mana to prevent the worst of the Priest or Gutterbones nonsense, so just avoid tapping out with Scavenging Ooze in play as much as you can and you'll be way ahead of the Blood Crypt people.

Okay, Ultimate Nissa

I think we were talking about getting Nissa, Who Shakes the World up to eight loyalty?

That is very effective in EDEL's build of this deck!

Basically, you take the twenty-eight creature slots (really thirty-two when you count both sides of Lovestruck Beast) and use them to gum up the battlefield for just a few turns. Trade whatever you have to retain loyalty.

Usually the conversion rate between a full card and a single loyalty is in favor of the card... But not necessarily here. If you have the option, give up a card like Barkhide Troll (which is theoretically so much more than a 3/3) rather than a 3/3 land. What you want to do is get to eight loyalty with at least one awakened land still on your team, so you can get some value out of indestructible afterward.

But it hardly matters. This is the rare deck where you can literally draw 15+ cards with Nissa. It has four more basic Forests than Mono-Green Superfriends!

I confess that in the PTQ I won last year, I lost a game in Top 8 after successfully firing off my Nissa Ultimate. But I don't think that will happen overmuch here. This deck has very little air. If you rip all the Forests out of your deck you are going to be pulling all big spells, every turn. Or Pelt Collectors, I guess.

But that's really the thing. Use your creatures to protect Nissa; fire off the Ultimate; keep one or two 3/3 basic Forests and you're very often inevitable already.

Assorted Things I Have Found Actually Playing This Deck That I Would LIke to Share with Y'all

  • Ranger's Guile - The most common sideboard card comes in for Primal Might more than almost any other swap. Though non intuitive, it can benefit you to play off-curve even against a blistering Mono-Red. Use Ranger's Guile to protect against Bonecrusher Giant! Less because you want to keep the creature (although keeping a Scavenging Ooze can be gaaaaame), but because making a Stomp or Petty Theft miss is one of the most deflating plays you can make against decks with these Adventures. One of the easiest ways to lose to Mono-Red is to just fall behind three Bonecrusher Giants and Ranger's Guile both prevents one from showing up and preserves a creature with one carefully saved g.
  • Gemrazer - It's usually too late if they are already working you with Embercleave, but getting a hit in on Anax before he gets completely out of hand can be a real difference-maker. Mono-Red often doesn't care what creatures it has, or how big they are. Their sheer number of attackers will fuel Embercleave or Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. If your big plan is to hide behind Lovestruck Beast and Scavenging Ooze, going wide is their intuitive path to one-upmanship. Cutting that off can buy you vital time to draw The Great Henge or start working that Ooze.
  • The Great Henge - Surprisingly I have found The Great Henge to be the most broadly strategic card in the entire seventy-five. It's this odd, but situationally unbeatable, three-four combo with Lovestruck Beast that is great in the mirror; but resolving it against Growth Spiral decks is also good. Mono-Red can't really kill a Lovestruck Beast and they certainly can't stop you from casting The Great Henge the next turn if you have a fourth land. It's such a good combination you should often forego casting Heart's Desire in favor of getting 5/5 and 9-drop online against them. Resolving The Great Henge against Temur Adventures - a deck that usually buries poor Mono-Green in card advantage - is one of the main ways you can keep pace. Yes, they can still make you look very silly with Petty Theft; but if they don't? You're at least in the game. Consequently, I'm toying with just siding the other two copies. It does in fact seem strange to sideboard a 9-drop, but I've had enough experience with "this hand is one Lovestruck Beast away from unbeatable" to think tinkering is worth a Wildcard or two. The Great Henge gives you staying power and immediate board position. It can give you a 3/3 Stonecoil Serpent or 4/4 Troll the turn you tap out! Be really, really, careful about a 3/3 Scavenging Ooze in that spot, though.

I have relatively few opinions about Elder Gargaroth; and I'm still on the fence about 1) siding Pelt Collector out in the mirror and / or bringing in Oakhame Adversary in any matchup by the mirror (or quasi-mirror, like Gruul). I've ground out Sultai with Adversaries but I assume the opponent was laughing at me even while I was drawing into Ranger's Guiles to deflect away the world's saddest Casualties of War; but it didn't seem right. Gargaroth seems low powered in the matchups that are about Cavalier of Thorns or Adventures two-for-ones; and feels slow when you actually need life points or more blockers. I tend to win when I cast it, but never in spectacular fashion. Because you need to put it in harm's way to get any benefit, you'll usually just get a two-for-one and keep an Elephant or something. Which is something.

What I am not on the fence on is this build, though (aside from toying with those extra copies of The Great Henge). PAULOCABRAL just made Top 8 of the most recent Standard Showcase with same seventy-five.



    *You know, Little Green Men

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