Today I’ll talk a little about two strategies that have been gaining popularity lately: Mono Green Aggro and Infect. Why those decks? Because I believe they’ve gained the most out of any deck with M13 and the reprinting of Rancor, which is probably the most important card in the set in terms of how it changes existing decks. Now, you’ve probably read about Rancor decks thousands of times already—it’s not exactly a hard deck to figure out—but I’ve yet to see a version of those decks that I truly like, and they all have flaws that could easily be fixed.
If you’ve played with Rancor in the past, you’ll remember that it was indeed excellent. It’s still good now, but different—previously, it was used more as a two-power haste guy for 1 than anything else, in Stompy decks. Nowadays, green decks are not the same. They’re about 4/4s for three and 8/8s for five, rather than 2/2s for one. That means the “super aggro” function of Rancor is diminished (but still present), and the “giant monster tramples through small defender” function is greatly increased, which in my opinion makes Rancor even better now than it was before. Let’s go through the full uses of Rancor:
• It deals damage quickly as a two-power hasted guy for one.
• It stops chump blocking.
• It lets your smaller guys trade with their big guys if they want to block, making a random body more relevant.
• It gives you value out of your pump spells.
You know what is not a good use for Rancor? GIVING TRAMPLE TO YOUR GEIST OF SAINT TRAFT!
Now, don’t get me wrong—if I have a Rancor, I sure am slamming that on my Geist and attacking for two more. Maybe that’ll even kill their blocking Restoration Angel, but please for the love of God stop using Geist of Saint Traft as an excuse to put Rancor in your decks. Yes, yes, I understand, hexproof and auras are a “combo”, but what does Rancor do for you on Geist? If they can block, they’ll block, and they’ll usually trade anyway, so you get an extra two damage in. If they can’t block, they were dead either way. In a deck with Geist, Spectral Flight is a much better option (and roughly the same as Rancor on Invisible Stalker if that is your thing too).
The first and obvious Rancor deck is Mono-Green. I’ve said before that, “there are three big problems with Mono-Green Aggro—it’s mono, it’s green, and it’s aggro,” and though I still stand by the statement somewhat, the deck is powerful enough right now that it’s worth a try. Here is how I’d build it:
Though it’s a straightforward deck, many details deserve discussion, particularly because of Green Sun’s Zenith (which is a must four-of).
• Arbor Elf or Birds of Paradise? This is, at this point, a guess; Birds is a great Rancor and Sword of War and Peace target, and it blocks and trades with flipped Delvers—but it’s also worse alone and dies to Thundermaw Hellkite, which will apparently be a big card. I think this makes Arbor Elf better overall, so I have three and a Bird to Zenith for in case I need a flier; but it’s certainly possible the format evolves in a way that makes flying attackers/blockers important, which would make Birds a better card.
• Dismember. I want some sort of removal, and most people automatically play Dismember here, but I think Gut Shot is worth debating. Right now, what do I want to Dismember? Restoration Angel is not actually a problem for the deck—the only creature it blocks is a non-enhanced Strangleroot Geist. The way I see it, there are three real targets—[card talrand, sky summoner]Talrand[/card], a Quirion Dryad with backup, and a second Blade Splicer token. For everything else, Gut Shot is better, since being free is invaluable in a deck that curves out, and it does take down Delver and all the mana guys. The fact that it goes to the dome is not irrelevant, and if they know you have Gut Shot in your deck the threat of it will make them play differently sometimes. Just like Birds/Elf, it’s by no means clear to me which one is better, and a 1/1 split might even be interesting, but right now I’ll go with the safe choice of Dismember (though I’m not forgetting Gut Shot!).
• Viridian Corrupter. This guy has one purpose to me—to kill Blade Splicer tokens. One of them is not much of a problem, as it doesn’t stop your main beaters, [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card] and Dungrove Elder. Two of them, however, stop you dead, even if you have a Sword—so I like having this as an out, and I think it’s better than Acidic Slime because when you want to deal with an artifact (Pod, Sword, Golem, Lotus), you want to deal with it now, and six mana is a bit too much to ask for most of the time. Also, with Rancor, you can randomly mise wins off Infect.
• Thrun, the Last Troll. Thrun is great! I’m not sure why people don’t play him more; he is an awesome card on his own and gets even better with Rancor, killing everything and never dying. He also happens to have a body that gets through 3/3 tokens and Restoration Angel, so I’m not sure what else you could ask for. [card yeva, nature's herald]Yeva[/card] is also an interesting card, and it has a sort of “built-in protection from Phantasmal Image” that Thrun doesn’t (you at least get an attack in before they kill her), but in a Dismember world I’d rather just have the hexproof guy. If I had more room, I’d play a Yeva or two, since I’m not opposed to having more 4/4s for four, but I don’t know what to cut—so she stays out. You could have a 2/1 split to GSZ for, but I like her because she is a solid card, not because her ability is super special, and if you have to Zenith for her she loses half of her appeal (flash), so I don’t think she’s worth it just for that—but it does keep them guessing if you ever pass with four open mana, and that is appealing.
• Sword of War and Peace. The biggest contender here is Revenge of the Hunted, and I don’t think it’s a close call. If you told me I’d be able to miracle Revenge every time, I’d be in—but at six mana it’s just not worth the effort to get blown up by Vapor Snag. I even run more hexproof guys than most, and I still don’t think it’s worth it. Sword is consistently better, and for every blowout game you’ll get by topdecking Revenge at the right time, you’re missing two where you go land, Elf, play Sword and they’re just dead (though Birds is much better in this scenario). Also, for all you geniuses out there running Sword of Body and Mind and Sword of Feast and Famine, that doesn’t work with Rancor, so duh.
• Champion of Lambholt and Ulvenwald Tracker. those are my bullets, and I think they’re both worth it because they do very unique stuff, are cheap enough to tutor for at will and are fine cards if you draw them. Champion is specifically nice with Rancor and Wolfir Silverheart, and another way to get past Blade Splicer tokens.
• No Predator Ooze. I’m not really a big Ooze fan; it’s great with Rancor, but so is every card in your deck. I don’t think he’s horrible and you can certainly play him; but for one mana more, I’d rather just have Thrun, which is as good as indestructible—plus, he can’t be Vapor Snagged, Mana Leaked or [card oblivion ring]O-Ringed[/card]. Thrun makes for worse nut-draws, but is a more consistent card.
You actually have good sideboard cards, an unusual feature in a mono-green deck. Both Spiders are excellent (in fact, I wish I could make room for a Stingerfling Spider in the main). Silklash Spider is a better card to draw, but having access to both is better than having two of one, and if you can only afford one then I’d rather it be Stingerfling, since it kills a [card thundermaw hellkite]Hellkite[/card] dead, as opposed to blocking it and getting [card galvanic blast]Blasted[/card] away.
[card melira, sylvok outcast]Melira[/card] will definitely be a one-of for me if I play this deck, since I think Infect is actually powerful now, and the upside is huge for only one slot.
For green mirrors, there are tons of options—more Trackers seem good versus any removal-light deck, and Primordial Hydra seems pretty unbeatable in the Mono-Green mirror. Beast Within is also a possibility (which incidentally kills Primordial Hydra… oh well, unbeatable no longer), and it’s cute that you can target your own Rancor if you have to at basically no cost (or if you want to reset it).
Thragtusk is great against any deck with red, or if you find yourself having to grind them out too badly, Triumph of Ferocity and both planeswalkers are good against control. Finally, you have Ground Seal and Phyrexian Metamorph if you’re worried about reanimator strategies.
The next deck I like is the Infect deck, and Rancor does much, much more for this deck than for any other. The reason it’s so good is not only that it has “double strike”, but also that people will rush to trade with your guys, since they hit for so much—and Rancor makes sure you’re getting through even if they do. What’s more, it improves all your pump spells by a lot, since whereas previously you were using a pump spell to save a guy, you’re now getting full value of the power bonus—i.e., if I attack with Glistener Elf and you block with Snapcaster Mage, I [card mutagenic growth]Growth[/card] and save it; but if it has Rancor on it then not only do I save it, I also get to hit you with the extra two power. Plus, Inkmoth Nexus and Rancor by themselves are a turn five kill—t2 attack for 1, t3 for 4, and 5 attack for 3, they’re dead, you used three lands and a spell. Could have mulliganed to two.
There are two ways to build this deck—mono-green and G/x. The main issue in mono-green is that I want two-drops. Ichorclaw Myr is a great two-drop, but I also want [card viridian corrupter]Corrupter[/card]. This is a very Corrupter-friendly format, and Blade Splicer is an actual problem since it survives all your pump spells, except for Titanic Growth (though Myr + any Growth or [card cathedral of war]Cathedral[/card] already kills it). Right now, I think you can afford to play some Corrupters if you want, and if they happen to have no targets and you happen to have a Myr in play, well, that sucks. The main advantage of going mono-green is that you have access to a full four Cathedral of War with no remorse, and I think that card is insane in Infect. You also have no problem casting your spells. The build I like best goes for full speed:
20 lands might be a little on the lighter side, but the most expensive card in the deck is effectively Inkmoth Nexus, and there are two [card gitaxian probe]Probes[/card], so I think it’s enough. Probe is just a great card overall; it’s a deck that wants the information badly (so you know if you commit or not, and in what order), and doesn’t really want to play anything else, so it wants “less” than 60 cards.
Gut Shot is the perfect card with Wild Defiance—it’s a free pump, much like Mutagenic Growth, and it also gets blockers out of the way. I’d like a third Probe, which would make me more comfortable with 20 lands, but at this point you need to cut another pump spell, and I’m not sure that is right. [card blessings of nature]Blessing[/card] is better than Ranger’s Guile in a deck with four Defiances, since if you’re already pumping them this much you’d rather have the option to make your guys unblockable. If you want to play Corrupters, then I’d focus less on Defiance and build it like this:
The other options are G/x; those get better two-drops and something else of your choice, and miss out on consistency/Cathedrals. You also have to play more lands just for mana purposes, which isn’t great. Red offers nothing, so it’s out. Black offers [card plague stinger]Stinger[/card] and removal if you want, which I don’t think you do, since if you did you’d be playing Dismember. Blue offers Blighted Agent, which is awesome, and then Ponder if you want, but lacks access to a second dual, which makes the mana really awkward. Ironically, the one color I have not seen paired with Green yet is the one I think is the most powerful: white. White offers Lost Leonin and the new [card ajani, caller of the pride]Ajani[/card], which is bonkers with Infect dudes. The first ability works x2 with Infect, and the second ability gives them quadruple strike and a way to get past blockers—if you have a 1/1 and a Titanic Growth, that’s the full 10. It also leads to more turn three kills than Defiance, since they can’t actually block the guy the turn you play it. None of the t3 kills are particularly likely to happen, but none of them is astronomically unlikely either:
-T2 Guy -> t3 Ajani + 2 Growths
-T1 Elf -> t2 Rancor, Cathedral -> t3 Ajani
-T1 Elf -> t2 Cathedral -> t3 Ajani + Growth
-T1 Cathedral -> t2 Lost Leonin -> t3 Ajani + Growth
Once you get to turn four, Ajani plus a guy, plus anything will generally be enough to kill them on the spot. Every draw that involves Cathedral plus a Growth is also immune to Gut Shot, since they have to do it before the exalted triggers (though of course they could just Gut Shot as soon as you play the guy, making you spend your Growth, but that’s not necessarily bad for you. In my experience most people can’t resist “getting” you, so they wait, even if it’s obviously bad). I have not actually played with a white version, so this is a rough draft to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’d be somewhat like this:
Again, 23 lands is a lot, but 7 of them are “spells”, and I think you need the colors. I’d rather play Cathedral and Nexus over anything else, even if I don’t need the colorless mana half the time. You could cut another Blight Mamba for another land or another Probe, I’d not be opposed to it.
Well, that is about that. I don’t know if those decks are actually better than Pod and Delver, but I think both are powerful enough that they’re worth playing with and tuning more, so give them a try! See you next week,