Black and green. While the pair may not have songs written about it, when it comes to Magic, people definitely rock out to the two. They always look so delightful next to each other—the best creatures a format has to offer with the best removal to break parity. And control decks? We always have some kind of discard spell to take care of them, right?
Well, as enticing as it looks on paper, it always has some flaw in gameplay. Sometimes, the problem is simply that the deck fights against itself with polarized answers to the metagame. You have your discard spells and hexproof guys against control and your removal and mana creatures against aggro—but what happens when you draw the discard spells and hexproof stuff against aggro?
Other times, the deck just lacks card advantage. It looks to 1-for-1 and then follow up with a threat, but if there are any answers for that threat, the deck will fail to capitalize on the tempo it created with all of the early resource trading.
And still other times the format is simply too degenerate for the rock deck to keep up. The combo decks are too fast or too resilient, for example. Or perhaps the rock deck lacks a sweeper to beat overpowering aggressive decks, such as Affinity, when it first debuted.
When I first looked at black/green for Standard, I definitely started in that same place. I looked at the removal and the planeswalkers. I looked at [card]Thoughtseize[/card]—one of the best midrange cards ever printed. I tried rock in that form. I added white to turn it into Junk, which I wrote about recently. I added blue to add countermagic and card advantage in BUG, but that didn’t impress me.
I set aside the idea of any rock-esque deck for a while and turned my attention to Legacy and Modern. Then, some discussions with a few friends at Grand Prix D.C. got me excited about some black/green strategy again. The key though, was that this time we weren’t talking about rock.
The initial idea was a Junk deck that abused graveyard recursion to annoy opponents with [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] or [card blood baron of vizkopa]Blood Baron[/card]. The idea was sound enough to get me interested, but as I started to build the deck, my excitement waned. The deck just looked like another rock deck. If it didn’t draw its mana or enablers, the deck failed. But as I explored various options for the deck, another direction looked promising.
The idea was to make the deck less a reanimator strategy and more one that used its graveyard as a resource—a tool. Some reanimating would probably be involved, but that would not be the sole function of the deck. I went through Gatherer and discovered that there are quite a few ‘Goyfs in Standard. Some check your opponent’s graveyard, which is a whole different story—but a lot also care about your own.
[card]Nemesis of Mortals[/card] meant that the deck was not even too big on the curve, and [card]Nighthowler[/card] gives it a lot of versatility and resilience you would not expect. As I tested, I realized that in order to maximize creature density to help a deck like this, lands would often turn into mana creatures. My final list ended up with only 19 lands in it and yet it had 33 mana sources. Here is what I played in Albuquerque:
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
2 Voyaging Satyr
3 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
2 Shadowborn Demon
4 Nemesis of Mortals
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Commune with the Gods
4 Drown in Filth
2 Whip of Erebos
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Golgari Charm
3 Lifebane Zombie
2 Shadowborn Demon
2 Gift of Orzhova
1 Deadbridge Chant
1 Nylea’s Disciple[/deck]
I’ll give you a second to read a few of those auto-cards. Sometimes, the devil is in the details. Read [card]Drown in Filth[/card] a second time and maybe you will see what I am talking about.
This is where the deck ended up, but it is certainly not where it began. Throughout the week, I have a bunch of videos going up that cover tuning this deck from its genesis until the version you see above. I had a lot of fun exploring the deck, and was quite surprised by the results. That said, I didn’t want to just turn everything over to the videos. Some of the things I discovered along the way to this final list were pretty interesting.
For example, early on, I was running cards like [card]Rescue from the Underworld[/card]. I assumed, like most people would, that a graveyard deck like this would be a good shell to bring back big and powerful guys like [card]Abhorrent Overlord[/card] or [card]Angel of Serenity[/card]. I quickly discovered that the threats you were producing were already as big and scary as most things you can reanimate, without having to go through an additional step of comboing off to get them to work.
[draft]jarad, golgari lich lord[/draft]
A 7/7 Jarad in play might not have the same enters-the-battlefield effect that [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] does, but both are must-answer threats that will win the game in short order if left unchecked. Reanimator requires filling your graveyard and then piecing together a reanimation spell with a fatty out of the ‘yard. This particular deck asks for the graveyard fill and not a whole lot more to get going. This left me more room for other synergy cards.
Instead, I really got to focus on the graveyard. Those [card]Drown in Filth[/card]s were a late addition to the deck for example. Sure, they can be a bit unruly at times, just as [card]Mulch[/card], [card]Grisly Salvage[/card], and [card]Commune with the Gods[/card] all can be. Whenever you are relying on [card]Impulse[/card] to set up the ‘yard and your hand, there is some variance.
Sometimes you will dump 4 guys into the ‘yard on turn 2 and follow that up with a pair of [card]Nemesis of Mortals[/card] on turn 3. Other times, as happened to me in my feature match in Albuquerque, you will [card]Commune with the Gods[/card] and then cast [card]Drown in Filth[/card], amounting to zero total lands in the ‘yard and leaving a [card]Master of Waves[/card] to do his will. It’s Magic. It’s variance. It happens. But you need to be prepared for the swings.
The sideboard is a little unresolved as of yet. I had some plans with these cards, as you will see in the videos that accompany this, but I could have done some better mapping. For example, I knew that one of my weaker game 1 matchups is Esper due to [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and [card elspeth, sun’s champion]Elspeth[/card], namely. I could win, but it was always close. So, to help out, I wanted a robust sideboard against control. My plan was to bring in the following cards:
3 Golgari Charm
1 Varolz, the Scar Striped
1 Deadbridge Chant[/draft]
The plan was sound. Cards like Drown in Filth were essentially dead anyway, and I didn’t really want [card]Shadowborn Demon[/card] to be eating my own guys without much upside. I could shave a single mana creature due to lowering my curve a bit, but that still only left me with seven things to take out. This was probably the matchup I put the most sideboard prep into, and I didn’t even have matching numbers coming in and going out? Ugh.
That is certainly one issue with condensed testing. I played a lot with this deck over the week, but I had only thought to even try it out a week ago. This meant that while I could do things like make sure my main deck was pretty solid (and I think it was), my sideboard was still going to have some guesswork as I simply could not test against everything enough to formulate water-tight plans against them.
I think the cards I played in my sideboard were all very solid and I wouldn’t mind running them again, but some of the numbers were never double-checked, so I had a few extra things for some matchups and not enough cards for others. Against Mono-Blue for example, my plan was to bring in two copies of [card]Shadowborn Demon[/card], which is really strong against them. I was not even sure what to take out for those two cards, mind you.
Then, I played against the matchup four consecutive times to open the Grand Prix, and wish I had packed more hate for them. If I had 4 or 5 cards to bring in, maybe I sweep those matches instead of splitting them. I had my sideboard ready to fight everything a little and Esper a lot, but perhaps I needed to be more prepared against other decks as well.
Another area that I want to further explore before Dallas in a few weeks is the mana base. I like 19 lands and 14 mana creatures a lot, but perhaps a scry land or two should be in there, or maybe a [card]Golgari Guildgate[/card] is just the thing. In fact, I switched from [card]Axebane Guardian[/card]s to [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card]s with only a handful of games to test them. While similar, those two cards do have important differences as well, and it might have tweaked my mana just enough to cause some noticeable problems. I can’t be certain, but the time crunch hurt me.
I do intend to continue working on this deck for Dallas though. My performance in Grand Prix Albuquerque came off worse than I would have liked, but the deck cannot be blamed for everything there:
In round 5 on camera, I played pretty badly. First, in game one I made an attack to play around [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card], when most lists run maybe one or two in the main, if any at all. This lost me a [card]Nighthowler[/card] that would have added a ton of pressure to the board when I was later racing with [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]. The attack was correctly aligned with what I wanted to do, but I think I should have just played as though he didn’t have it.
Then, in game 3, I kept a pretty bad hand. I had the information to tell me it was a bad hand, but I didn’t do anything about it.
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
I knew the Demon was one of my best cards in the matchup, but look at that hand. No black mana, no graveyard enablers, no mana acceleration, and two cards with double black in their costs. My opponent had already mulliganed to 5 even, so I had no excuse.
Later in that game, I would make a bad block on a [card]Mutavault[/card], forgetting that it was pumped by [card]Master of Waves[/card]. It was a foolish mistake, and on camera looked bad, but it really had very little to do with the outcome of that game. If things had gone correctly, I would triple-block Mutavault with 3 [card]Elvish Mystic[/card]s to get a second land into the ‘yard for my pair of [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]s to hit double black with. I still had nothing but Forests in play, mind you.
At that point, I could have gotten rid of all the lands in graveyards to play [card]Shadowborn Demon[/card] and kill [card]Master of Waves[/card]. I would then be left with a Demon eating my Shamans for the next two turns, with no access to black mana and two copies of Jarad in my hand, my opponent still at full life, and with a Thassa, among other things, in play. I still lose that game. I lose it in both scenarios, because I kept a bad hand.
My play improved as the day went on, but Magic is still Magic and things happen. Bad times to mulligans or whiffs on key spells put me out of the tournament during my win-and-in for Day Two.
There are a lot of lessons, some learned the hard way, that you will get from the videos, so definitely check those out if you are interested in the deck at all. Some things I learned along the way that were cemented at this Grand Prix though:
• Opening hands are very important, and the deck is quite forgiving to mulligans—so when in doubt, ship it.
• 1-drops are important for optimal openings. Any hand without a 1-drop is going to be much slower and clunkier due to the way it cascades. A 1-drop one turn one allows you to Commune or Salvage for another 1-drop on turn two and still have the mana to cast it. This means 5 mana on turn three and an enabled graveyard.
• Enablers are also important in opening hands. I would rather see a hand of 3x [card]Grisly Salvage[/card], [card]Drown in Filth[/card], [card]Elvish Mystic[/card], and 2 lands than I would want to see the any of my big creatures in those 4 slots. Opening hands without a single enabler need a good reason to keep.
• When boarding, keep your creature count in mind. If you drop too low, say below 24, your deck might have some issues. It is possible that there should just be more creatures as it is.
As I have mentioned a bunch by now, check out the videos for a more in-depth look. I plan to work on the sideboard this week, and will post a new one with a guide somewhere in my next article. The deck is a lot of fun and very powerful, as long as no one wishes that we [card]rest in peace[/card]. Thanks for reading!
Don’t miss Conley’s Rogue’s Gallery with BG Dredge!