Tricks of the Trade: Commander 2014: Green


Green! Who doesn’t love green? Hitting the ground run­ning with ramp spells and pop­ping out fat, tram­pling crea­tures to ruin your friends’ day! Big mana, big beast­ies, that’s the green way, and it’s immense­ly sat­is­fy­ing. When you sit down again­st a mono­green deck, you know what’s in store, and so it’s no sur­prise that the builder of the Commander 2014 green deck cooked up a steam­ing great bowl of…

…elves trib­al?

Well, points for sub­vert­ing expec­ta­tions at least.

Tribal decks in Commander are dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry. A lot of play­ers try their hand at it, but very few are truly mem­o­rable; Azami and her draw-all-the-cards Wizards, Krenko and his horde1, prob­a­bly a few Boros soldier-themed decks. The major­i­ty will crum­ble from a lack of trib­al sup­port or lack of syn­er­gy, though this is off­set some­what by trib­al enablers like Door of Destinies and Obelisk of Urd. Elves are a rea­son­ably pop­u­lar tribe due to the length of time they’ve been hang­ing around the game, and all the syn­er­gis­tic cards they’ve picked up along the way, but the fact that (absent Rhys the Redeemed) they don’t have the explo­sive poten­tial of Krenko and that indi­vid­u­al elves are gen­er­al­ly rather weak makes them fair­ly under­whelm­ing. Guided by Nature is, oddly for a trib­al deck2, to my mind the least well-crafted of all this years offer­ings. Half the deck has great syn­er­gy amongst itself, but the elf theme tapers out a bit to fill the rest of the slots with good­stuff. Much like Peer Through Time, Guided by Nature feels more like a deckbuilder’s tool­box than a full-blown deck, filled with cards that will be per­fect in anoth­er build. I have a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that this year’s cycle of decks seeks to under­mine the com­mon wis­dom of Commander regard­ing the power lev­els of the colours; red and white both have strong con­tenders with syn­er­gis­tic and well-built offer­ings while blue and green (wide­ly accept­ed as the two most potent Commander colours) have unfo­cused decks that large­ly just jam good cards togeth­er and call it a day. It’s not unplayable by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, and it can win games, but I feel like it’s lack­ing some­thing. I sus­pect the cul­prit is Titania, who real­ly wants to be built around and doesn’t fit the elf theme at all — she ends up pulling focus away from the core of the deck and leav­ing it bent slight­ly out of shape.

As ever, I’ve done what I can to play Guided by Nature with all three poten­tial Commanders in both duel and mul­ti­play­er games. Sometimes I haven’t been able to, but I promise to tell you when that’s the case. Scout’s hon­our.

1

Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury

Duel: 5/10

Multiplayer: 3/10

An elf! With a badass eye­patch! I am des­per­ate­ly try­ing to come up with a Nick Fury joke here3, but fail­ing mis­er­ably. Feel free to write your own and send it in. Answers on a post­card!

Freyalise makes mana dorks at a rate of one per turn. Not exact­ly stun­ning util­i­ty. They are elves, so bonus points for that at least, but as a gen­er­al rule of thumb if your deck wants more mana in a hurry then arti­facts or ramp­ing out addi­tion­al lands are the way to go; those love­ly lit­tle elves are all well and good until some­one drops Damnation and you get to watch half your man­abase go up in smoke. When aim­ing for big mana, for­get the crea­tures – excep­tions are guys like Crypt Ghast or Magus of the Coffers since they can make mana at ridicu­lous­ly high rates rather than a sin­gle addi­tion­al forest per turn – and stick to get­ting out some­thing that isn’t so easy to remove. Nobody real­ly wants to waste their Artifact Blast get­ting rid of your Gilded Lotus when for all they know you’ve got a sneaky Mindslaver in hand, so odds are it will get you an over­all net mana gain.

Still, as I say, they are elves and so that counts for some­thing when the deck wants elves a’plenty to trig­ger other effects. One Llanowar Elves isn’t a great return on your invest­ment of five mana, but if Freyalise sticks around for a while it might end up a net ben­e­fit. Heavy empha­sis on the might.

Her –2 abil­i­ty is equal­ly aver­age, a use­ful effect to be sure but hard­ly one worth drop­ping five mana for. Repeatedly being able to Naturalize with­out the use of an Isochron Sceptre is good and all, but ide­al­ly it’s some­thing you want to do at instant speed to shut down par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty com­bos. If a Krenko play­er drops Coat of Arms and Fervor dur­ing their turn before tap­ping Krenko for a bundle o’goblins, poor Freyalise will be left feel­ing pret­ty impo­tent as the wall of crea­tures comes at her. Not to men­tion that Naturalize isn’t even the auto-include it once was — now that we’ve got inde­struc­tible enchant­ment Gods run­ning around the for­mat you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter off run­ning Deglamer and Unravel the Aether for when your green deck needs to make enchant­ments go bye-bye.

The ulti­mate is the redeem­ing fea­ture of the card. Green isn’t skilled at draw­ings cards, com­ing in third place above red and white but miles behind blue and black, and being able to do so with­out sac­c­ing crea­tures is value town. Having the num­ber of cards drawn be tied to the num­ber of green crea­tures is a solid choice in a deck that packs so many teenie-tiny crea­tures (remem­ber, Freyalise’s mana dorks are also green crea­tures) and will gen­er­al­ly net you a refu­elled hand of cards when acti­vat­ed. It’s cheap enough to be acti­vat­ed in just a few short turns, too, so that’s anoth­er point in favour. Reliable, recurrable card draw in mono­green shores up a weak­ness of the colour, though hav­ing to dur­dle around mak­ing large­ly worth­less mana dorks for a few turns first makes it an avenue best suit­ed to patient play­ers, which is rather at odds with the way mono­green play­ers usu­al­ly approach the game. Sure, you can wait around a few turns, but on the other hand you could play a 20/20 crea­ture with tram­ple and start punch­ing.

2

Titania, Protector of Argoth

Duel: 2/10

Multiplayer: 1/10

Totally Not An Elf.

If you’ll allow me to wan­der off-topic for a sec­ond, Titania is real­ly pow­er­ful. As in “poten­tial­ly bro­ken as hell” pow­er­ful. When built around she can vomit out tokens as fast as you can destroy your own lands, which is pret­ty damn quick­ly. Going all-in on a Titania build may be a one-trick-pony, but that pony has a hell of a kick. A deck opti­mised around sac­ri­ficing and recur­ring lands to drop free crea­tures has the poten­tial to throw pow­er­ful hay­mak­ers before oppo­nents are real­ly able to deal with them.

Guided by Nature, how­ev­er, is not that deck.

As pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed, Guided By Nature is attempt­ing to be an elf trib­al deck with a sub­the­me of destroy­ing its own lands. This is pulling it into two dif­fer­ent direc­tions – the one where the deck ramps mana for more elves & Overrun style effects, and the one where the deck is con­stant­ly tak­ing blows to its tempo by destroy­ing lands and replac­ing them with tapped basics. From my own play­ing expe­ri­ence, with Titania at the helm Guided by Nature always reach­es what I like to call the Pack Rat Tipping Point. Back when monoblack devo­tion was big in Standard, I ran the typ­i­cal Erebos/Gary/Pack Rat style deck to great suc­cess. One thing I noticed invari­ably hap­pen­ing was that at some point in the early turns (assum­ing a decent open­ing hand) there would come a point at which I had to decide whether or not to go all-in on dis­card­ing cards for more Pack Rat copies and become the beat­down deck or keep going with the orig­i­nal devotion-based strat­e­gy. Playing Guided by Nature is a lot like that, with the crunch usu­al­ly occur­ring when you have to decide between a hand­ful of value you’d like to put into play or sac­c­ing a land, trad­ing mana for a 5/3 token. If you take the safe path Titania begins to feel most­ly cer­e­mo­ni­al, as nobody will both­er destroy­ing your lands for you with her on the field, where­as the riskier path leaves the deck extreme­ly vul­ner­a­ble to a sin­gle board wipe.

Powerful tokens and (minor) land recur­sion are both nice, but the­mat­i­cal­ly out of synch with the rest of the deck. Properly built around, Titania can over­come such prob­lems by reassem­bling her army rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly, but in Guided by Nature the nec­es­sary effects are a lit­tle too thin on the ground. More often than not the end result is a frus­trat­ing loss, beat­en out of the game despite a hand filled with use­ful cards.

3

Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Duel: 6/10

Multiplayer: 3/10

Here come the elves! Ezuri is a per­fect fit for a trib­al deck, capa­ble of both res­cu­ing dying fel­lows or pump­ing them up into the dan­ger zone. While his sec­ondary abil­i­ty is a lit­tle expen­sive it can still make for some sur­prise attacks, throw­ing a bat­tal­ion of for­mer­ly weedy mana dorks into an alpha strike.

Unfortunately he’s let down by the con­ces­sions the deck has made to Titania; one of the major upsides to elf trib­al is that by and large elves don’t real­ly cost a lot to put into play. They come down fast and thanks to Ezuri they hit hard too. Any deck using small crea­tures lives or dies on tempo, and Guided by Nature too often falls behind thanks the vari­ety of sac-lands the deck packs in an attempt to give Titania a way to trig­ger. Evolving Wilds in a mono deck should not be a thing. Evolving Wilds in monogreen is blas­phe­my. That Guided by Nature not only includes it but pairs it up with Terramorphic Expanse is down­right offen­sive.

In most cases, when Ezuri was pilot­ing the deck things worked out OK-ish, since it only real­ly needs a few elves on board for things to kick off. It never real­ly excelled though, as there were so many dead draws when I want­ed Joraga Warcaller or Timberwatch Elf to push through some dam­age but instead topdecked Wolfcaller’s Howl or, God for­bid, Harrow. I can sure­ly see the idea behind his inclu­sion but the theme feels abort­ed – given free reign over the con­struc­tion I’d have replaced the bulk of the sac-lands with basic forests and hauled out the major­i­ty of non-elf crea­tures. An impor­tant thing to remem­ber about trib­al decks is that they tend to be all or noth­ing. Go elf or go home. When your deck depends on the syn­er­gy between elf cards to win, any card you draw that isn’t an elf isn’t real­ly going to advance you very much. For some rea­son the deck takes a brief detour into wolf tokens, which don’t fit into the over­all strat­e­gy and seem to be includ­ed only because of Wren’s Run Packmaster. That’s not good trib­al. Ezuri needs elves to be good, and sadly there are just too many gaps in the strat­e­gy where elves have been replaced with some­thing else.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Guided by Nature is a fan­tas­tic pur­chase as a value pro­duct, stuffed with use­ful and inter­est­ing cards to build with, but as a deck it’s a flop. I’m sure it will be fun to dis­as­sem­ble and rework into a prop­er elf trib­al deck, but out of the box it’s lack­ing in focus and can’t main­tain any real sense of con­sis­ten­cy. Join me next time for my per­son­al favourite, Sworn to Darkness, black’s offer­ing for the year. Have fun!

Notes:
  1. I ran this deck for quite a while, as homage to one of the first decks I ever built. A 60-card monored mon­ster that spat out gob­lins fast enough to over­whelm just about any­thing you put in front of it and drop Massive Raid on any play­er it couldn’t just tram­ple over. Good times, but the EDH vari­ant never lived up to its lega­cy – games run longer and removal is more preva­lent, not to men­tion that fast cheap aggro is quick­ly out­gunned in any mul­ti­play­er match-up, so before too long I found that Krenko more often than not ate a Doom Blade as soon as he hit the board. It’s prob­a­bly for the best. []
  2. Tribal decks thrive on syn­er­gy between the cards – a trib­al deck that just runs a bunch of Merfolk isn’t much of a deck unless it also runs cards to buff/improve Merfolk. When only half the cards in a trib­al deck are serv­ing the theme, can the deck truly be called a trib­al deck? A ques­tion for the philoso­phers to pon­der. []
  3. …Nick Fairy? []

Tom Dawson

About Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson is, in no particular order; a two-time Olympic bronze medallist (synchronised swimming), ancestrally Atlantean, a compulsive liar, the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 and the inventor of the cordless drill. His fondest wish is that someday he’ll get paid for writing stuff like this.