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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- …Nick Fairy? [↩]