Drafting Green Aggro
I’m not here trying to convince you that Green is awesome in Zendikar draft, because it isn’t. But it is much better than people are giving it credit for, and if you know how to draft the color well, you are at a huge advantage over people who don’t. I’m not recommending that you go into a draft looking to draft Green, but if the color is open (as it so often is), look to capitalize on it.
I’ve found (unsurprisingly, I suppose) that drafting very aggressive and almost mono-Green decks is the best way to take advantage of the color being underdrafted. There are certainly other ways to profitably draft Green cards, but today I’m focusing specifically on the archetype that has been the most successful for me.
Here’s what I’ve found to be the key to drafting Green in this format: draft two drops. Draft lots and lots of two drops. Earth shattering, I know, since that’s also the key to drafting most any deck in this format, but that’s not how Green is most often drafted, so it needed to be said. You want to play a dude on turn two, you want to play a two drop on turn three (after all, the three drops are no better than the two drops), and you want to play two guys turn four. You don’t want a traditional mana curve; you want nothing but two mana creatures and spells that keep your dorks turning sideways every single turn.
Grazing Gladehart*, Harrow, Oran-Rief Recluse, Mold Shambler, Territorial Baloth, and Vastwood Gorger all suck. You will be stuck playing some of these, but they aren’t going to be very good for you. Make sure you approach drafting the archetype with the mindset that these are all slot #22 quality. Obviously, you can draft decks where these cards are good, but the more focused you can make your deck on aggression, the worse these cards are, and the better your deck will be.
*Okay, so Gladehart is still pretty good, but I wanted to really get the point across that it is much worse than it is in your typical Green deck, and is not a premium common for you. The rest all actually do suck.
That leaves you with quite a problem: you aren’t interested in playing the vast majority of Green’s commons. Like I said, Green is not an awesome color, and its commons are incredibly shallow with regards to what you are looking for. If you are competing with other drafters for the few commons you do want, you are going to be in serious trouble. Fortunately, most Green drafters will prefer Grazing Gladeharts and Harrows to the cards you most want, so you won’t necessarily be competing with them despite sharing a color.
The only exciting Green commons are Oran-Rief Survivalist and Timbermaw Larva. At the second tier of cards you are looking for, you have Adventuring Gear, [card Nissas Chosen]Nissa’s Chosen[/card], Grazing Gladehart, and Vines of Vastwood, roughly in that order.
As Survivalist is the biggest draw to Green, you will often find yourself with multiples early on when in Green, and it will be rare to not end up with multiples by the end of the draft. While you aren’t exactly looking to draft an “Ally deck”, Allies are usually going to be a fairly strong sub-theme in Green decks due to Survivalist.
Stonework Puma is quite good. The three drops available to you are not very impressive, so it ends up filling a mostly empty spot on your curve. As just an off-color morph, it would not be much worse than a Grizzly Bear, and would often make the cut on those merits alone. Throw in blocking Intimidators, a highly relevant bonus, and you have a solid playable even with no other Allies. When it looks like you are heading towards a fairly heavy Ally theme, you should make picking up Pumas a priority. Your Survivalists will thank you.
How well the other colors complement the Ally theme is a big part of how well they complement Green as a whole. White brings nothing to the table in terms of common Allies, as you are an aggressive deck first and an Ally deck second. Blue offers the other best common Ally, Umara Raptor (man is that hard for me to type correctly), but it is both the only common Blue Ally, and a popular early pick, so you aren’t likely to collect all that many Allies in Blue. If you can get multiple Survivalists and Raptors, then of course by all means go crazy, just don’t go into Blue expecting reliable Survivalist support. Black also only has one common Ally, and Nimana Sell-Sword is no Raptor (but
who what is?). Though it’s much easier to collect many Sell-Swords, it’s easy to end up glutted with four drops in Green/Black, and just another sizeable ground guy for four does a poor job of complementing your offerings in Green. Red is where you really want to be to maximize your Survivalists. You get two good Allies at common, Highland Beserker and Tuktuk Grunts, both of which are not high picks but are quite good for you (not to even mention the best pair of uncommon and rare Allies in Murasa Pyromancer and Kazuul Warlord). The more Survivalists you have, the more you want to be drafting Red.
Even outside of Allies, Red makes the best pairing for aggressive Green. What you most want out of your support color is removal, and while Black’s is better, Red’s is more what you are looking for: it all costs a single colored mana. It will also be more plentiful, as few drafters will want Magma Rift as much as you do. (This is not to say that it is a high pick for you, but just that you are reasonably happy playing it, whereas in most decks it’s not very good.)
Of course, the best complement to Green is often just more Green, as the other big draw to the color is Timbermaw Larva. Maximizing that one is much simpler: draft Green cards. When you’re in Green, you should be looking to play as many Forests as possible from very early on, with the expectation of picking up several Timbermaw Larva even before you have them. This manifests itself in more ways than just preferring Green cards to cards in other colors. For example, if you’re in Green, you want to have a mana base that easily casts turn two Nissa’s Chosen anyway, so you can rate the card almost as if it cost a Green and a colorless.
Adventuring Gear is awesome here. Remember, you want basically nothing but two drops and spells that keep your two drops profitably attacking. Gear curves out perfectly alongside two drops. It’s not just the turn one Gear, turn two guy, turn three equip plus two drop draw, though that is obviously insane when it comes up. It’s more that Gear easily slots into most any curve, and adds a ton of damage for its very cheap cost. Gear is often adding more than two damage per land. If it takes away a profitable block from your opponent, like a Kraken Hatchling versus your Geared up Nissa’s Chosen, it’s adding four damage. Whether it’s a Kraken Hatchling or an Oran-Rief Recluse or any random two drop or whatever else, such situations are not pipe-dreams; they occur turn after turn, game after game. You don’t have any evasion in Green, so making sure your opponent can’t effectively block your creatures is of utmost importance. If you don’t go out of your way to make all your crappy dudes relevant, you can’t expect that they will be, and Adventuring Gear is the very best on-color common for this role. Bottom line is I want an Adventuring Gear every single game. I want to ensure having one bad enough that I’m willing to pick it very highly, and I’m willing to risk drawing multiples, as awkward as that can be.
Savage Silhouette is a bad Adventuring Gear, but it can fill the same role well enough. If you are short on pump effects, happily pick these up and play them. The same goes for Goblin War Paint when in Red, which I like slightly more than Silhouette. In this archetype the haste is not just an occasional bonus but is usually good for four damage. The turn four two-drop plus War Paint is quite strong, and quite common.
Take Nissa’s Chosen over Grazing Gladehart. You need to be pretty committed to a very aggressive base Green deck to make this pick, but when you are, barring unusual curve considerations, Chosen is better for you.
I play Vines of Vastwood more without kicker than with, though it’s close. As just a pump spell, it is solid, and you want to be playing it, but it gets really exciting masquerading as a Negate. Sometimes you get to live the dream and counter a bomb like Gigantiform or Rite of Replication, but even realistically just protecting a big Survivalist or Timbermaw Larva is easily game-winning. Because it’s the unkicked side of Vines that is most attractive, it is better than Primal Bellow even in mono-Green, despite being worse as a combat trick (costs one more – the pump size is largely irrelevant for creatures battling) and significantly worse as a burn spell.
Hedron Scrabbler will make your deck more often that it won’t. It attacks as a bear most of the time, and that is what you want to be doing. Scrabbler is an easy way to make sure you are never lacking for two drops (or “playables” for that matter).
The takeaway from this article should be a simple yet effective formula to drafting Green: two drops, more two drops, Timbermaw Larva, and roughly five spells that make your two drops bigger. This is not a formula you would expect to be successful in most formats, but it seems to do the trick in Zendikar draft. The format decentivizes blocking well enough that you can consistently get through with random dorks turn after turn, with little support, which is pretty atypical. Until next time, enjoy Choosing to Scrabble to Survive your pod.