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Breaking Through – Running with Wolves

Don’t worry, there will be no Kevin Costner butt shot anywhere in this article, although, if that really is desired, I know a guy who knows a guy… Instead, we will be looking at a side by side of one of the most popular archetypes in Standard. Both Wolf Run Green and Wolf Run Ramp have risen up to become two of the most played and best performing decks, yet having both around seems kind of strange.

Think back about 6 months to a time when CawBlade, with its [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jaces[/card] and [card stoneforge mystic]Mystics[/card] even, began to break up into multiple archetypes. First, the deck turned to splashing Red for [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] and [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], but once adaptations were made, that deck fell out of favor. Then a Black version rose to popularity, with its hand disruption and better removal, although that too eventually fell by the wayside. Other variants, like Nightshift, or re-popularizing of the Red and Black versions came and went, but throughout it all, and ultimately in the end, CawBlade, just UW CawBlade, proved to be the best version of the best deck and very few CawBladers played anything but.

Shifting to the present, we have a similar dilemma between the two Wolf Run decks. Both decks have something that makes them unique and allows them to attack the metagame from a slightly different angle, but ultimately, they have so many similarities that it would be strange to still have both in existence 2 months from now once people get more time to mess with the archetypes more. So which of the two is better?

I think trying to answer that question, in the open environment that it is set in, will only get you into trouble. You will simply be relying on preference and not any data to back it up. We cannot simply answer which of the two decks is better, but we can begin to dissect the decks a little bit and hopefully arrive a little closer to that answer. So today, we will be doing just that. Here are two sample lists of the decks, taken from GP Brisbane and a recent cash tournament respectively.

Up first, Wolf Run Ramp, as it was the first of its kind and gets the nod due to seniority:

[deck]4 Primeval Titan
4 Viridian Emissary
2 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Thrun the Last Troll
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Garruk Relentless
4 Rampant Growth
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
3 Slagstorm
4 Beast Within
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
8 Forest
3 Mountain
Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Galvanic Blast
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Naturalize
1 Slagstorm
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/deck]

And our comparison specimen comes in the form of Wolf Run Green, which has probably surpassed the original in popularity this past week or two.

[deck]4 Birds of Paradise
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Primeval Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine
4 Dungrove Elder
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Acidic Slime
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Rampant Growth
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
3 Beast Within
2 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Mountain
19 Forest
Sideboard
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Gut Shot
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Acidic Slime
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Beast Within
1 Karn Liberated[/deck]

By any other name…

Now, before we begin to dissect what makes these two lists different, as that is the focus of figuring out which one is potentially better positioned and therefore arguably the better deck, we should first take a look at what makes these two lists similar. After all, if we were to find out that the two lists were not very similar, then they could, and should, coexist as two different strategies. So we need to look at the cards that are shared between the two archetypes, but more importantly we need to pinpoint the strategies of the two and look to see where those overlap. Simply stating that both decks have 4 [card]Primeval Titan[/card] doesn’t do much for us other than tell us that both strategies are ramp, which we can analyze quite easily without that laid out in some type of diagram.

So, both decks are indeed looking to generate a ton of mana and pound that down your throat. While both decks have a full compliment of [card]Rampant Growth[/card], looking to generate mana ramp in the traditional sense, and then some number of [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] next to that, the strategies diverge from there, which we will discuss later.

Both lists also take advantage of the Swiss Army knife that is [card]Beast Within[/card]. Neither list really minds an opposing 3/3 all that much, so the ability to take out [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s, [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card], and Titans alike is certainly a very appealing aspect of the card.

Another common strategy is the use of [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]. Naturally, with that tutor in both lists, they both get to take advantage of a smattering of one-ofs while also more consistently having access to [card]Primeval Titan[/card], which is always an important feature of decks using the Jolly Green Giant. [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] is not the only card that adds consistency to the two decks though, as [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] is a common thread between the two and acts as a sort of [card]Harmonize[/card] or more effect, which is very welcomed from any deck not playing Blue. Together, these two cards give the deck a Black feel through tutoring and a Blue feel through card advantage, although in much smaller doses than either of those colors tend to have of course.

Lastly, both decks look to take advantage of the synergy between [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]. While one list certainly emphasizes this interaction more than the other, it remains a viable end game for both lists and makes fighting the deck(s) much more difficult from an opponent who must be prepared for 6/6s on turn 4 as well as a land that can take over a game in the long run.

Our differences make us special

So, now that we have established just what it is that these two decks share in common, lets get to the important part; what sets them apart. In order for both archetypes to coexist, there needs to be enough in this department to justify them doing just that. In other words, if both archetypes are similar, but one simply has strengths the other doesn’t while being much better positioned in the metagame, it should exist while the other does not. If they both have strengths and good match ups in different areas, but those areas are relatively balanced, then their coexistence is perfectly reasonable.

Dungrove Elder

This is perhaps the biggest difference between the two lists as its implications are so far reaching. Not only does [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] imply that one deck has a three-drop that the other cannot reasonably run, it also means a more vanilla, yet stable, mana base consisting of a lot of Forests.

[card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] is attempting to replace the [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] in the red version, but it can less consistently see that particular troll and it tends to be less of an actual threat against a majority of decks. Consider that [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] can actually go over the top of things like Titans while Thrun is mostly blanked until a [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] enters the mix. [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] provides the deck with 4 additional must answer threats while Thrun only provides the red version with one, removing the redundancy of [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] as it is present in both lists.

The Elder does warp your game plan against specific cards though. For example, lets take a look at [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. On the one hand, Elder can weaken your plan against it, as you naturally saturate your deck with additional creatures, allowing for the sweeper to take advantage of that fact. On the other hand though, your deck also is much more dense in the threat department, specifically when it comes to threats that can single-handedly take over a game, like your Titans and now Elders. This means that as long as you have a [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] out who is of decent size, you shouldn’t need to commit more to the board. Meanwhile, in the red version, they address the Sweeper issue in a different way.

Inkmoth Nexus

This card creates a huge divergent point between the two strategies despite both of them actually utilizing the card. In the Mono Green deck, Inkmoth is almost an after thought. They play the card, but it is almost like they expect it to be plan C or D. the pieces are all there to use the card in the same way that the red version does, but it only comes online through a Titan, and they are less likely to draw a [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] off the top, limiting some interaction with things like Planeswalkers or an opposing [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card].

Meanwhile, over in red land, the deck wants to actively use Nexus as both a threat and a decoy, adding immense pressure to every Titan that hits play and making opposing decks less likely to just play a Planeswalker and be able to optimally use the thing. Nexus out of these decks makes you potentially keep in bad cards after board, like [card]Dismember[/card], just to have the ability to answer the problematic land. Almost any long game against the Ramp version comes down to a deck looking to find enough answers to a Nexus before figuring out a way to win on its own, while the Green version would rather win faster through things like an Elder.

Its about the Journey, not the Destination

One of the more interesting differences between the two classes of decks is the way in which they get to their Titan or Inkmoth end game. On the one hand, you have the red deck, which uses [card]Rampant Growth[/card] and [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card], like the Mono Green version, but then gets slightly more aggressive and protects against [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] by including [card]Viridian Emissary[/card]. The idea of [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] is just another form of [card]Rampant Growth[/card] in this deck, as it is most commonly found with a [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card].

Mono Green on the other hand, really looks to take advantage of the one drop accelerants. They push the Bird/Elf count up to 6 which has quite a few implications. The first is that they are more likely to cast a turn 2 [card]Dungrove Elder[/card], sneaking the win condition under the grasp of countermagic when they are on the play. The second goes back to the exposure to [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. If a Mono Green player is forced to overexpose their ramp, say because they have a land light draw, a sweeper can take out their entire mana base plus any threat they happened to linger around. This argument can also be applied to other types of removal, such as [card]Gut Shot[/card], which is becoming an increasingly popular sideboard card as a result.

Remove that please!

Of course, one of the biggest incentives in choosing a deck that is both RG over a deck that is just Green is the available removal you get to include. Sure, both decks do get to run [card]Beast Within[/card], Dismember, and the aforementioned [card]Gut Shot[/card], but red gets to include its own sweeper, which can be quite handy when it comes to tokens match ups.

Outside of [card]Primeval Titan[/card], the Mono Green deck really lacks in any sort of evasion. Because of this, an Elspeth or [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] can slow your progress down quite a bit. If you had access to [card]Slagstorm[/card] though, that problem becomes more of a boon, as you get to generate card advantage while still connecting with whatever threat you happened to have in play. This mildly translates over into the sideboard as well where you can see the addition of [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] in the red version of the deck.

Match Ups

As we said before, one of the important things to determine how distinct each list is from each other is to identify which match ups are favorable for each. If there is a large overlap between the two, with one deck just having additional good match ups, that deck is clearly better. However if the good match ups for one have some overlap with the other, but are for the most part distinct in nature, then the two decks are more than likely justified in their coexistence.

I have not had the experience with either deck to state with supreme confidence which 3 decks each one matches up best against, so I turned to social media to come up with an answer. The following are the consensus best 3 match ups for each deck:

RG Wolf Run:
Solar Flare
GW Tokens
Tempered Steel

There was a little debate between things like Mono Red or various pod decks taking the spot of the Tempered Steel slot, but the first two were definitely a majority consensus.

Mono Green Wolf Run:
RG Wolf Run
Infect
Solar Flare

Again, there was some debate in some areas, but tallying the votes, this seemed to be the most popular 3 to appear.

Taken at face value, that would imply that while both lists were designed to take advantage of the Solar Flare match up or decks similar to that, the color shift really determines other match ups. Specifically, RG is better against creature oriented aggro decks, likely due to the inclusion of [card]Slagstorm[/card] as we talked about before, while Mono Green is better positioned against decks that play out just a single threat or two as it can manage against those with its scarce removal while putting its own pressure down. Of course, any deck can altar the match up with more dedicated sideboard slots, like edicts out of the sideboard of Infect etc.

Wrap Up

Obviously we cannot just put together some information like this and immediately draw a conclusion, and that was not our goal either. Instead though, we are a little close to understanding the dynamics of these two decks and can add the data from the upcoming weeks to this to really decide our verdict. As of right now, I am leaning in the direction of stating that both decks, while similar, are intended to fight off different portions of the metagame, and are therefore fine in coexistence. One shift in the metagame though, and that could all change. Perhaps Worlds will answer this all for us? Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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