4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 3 Unclaimed Territory 1 Gruul Guildgate 9 Forest 2 Mountain 4 Llanowar Elves 4 Pelt Collector 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian 4 Kraul Harpooner 4 Gruul Spellbreaker 4 Steel Leaf Champion 3 Nullhide Ferox 2 Lava Coil 4 Collision/Colossus 4 Thrash/Threat Sideboard 4 Cindervines 2 Vivien Reid 2 Fiery Cannonade 2 Lava Coil 1 Shivan Fire 2 Thorn Lieutenant 1 Vine Mare 1 Mountain
Recently I’ve been enjoying a lot of success playing green-based Gruul, so I thought I’d share a guide to my version of it.
There are two central things going on. First, I’ve transferred to a primarily green mana base, which allows me to play Steel Leaf Champion. This remains a great creature and one of the best ways to exploit a Llanowar Elves or extend a Pelt Collector. I’m quite happy to have it back.
The other thing I am doing is using Thrash // Threat to play creature removal that doesn’t go dead or give me draws without sufficient attack power. A 4/4 Beast with trample for 2GR is a lousy deal, but it is a deal that is going to smash in a lot of heads and keep the train (and Pelt Collector) rolling. It provides strong insurance when you don’t draw other creatures in its place or you find you have more mana than you otherwise need. Its flip side is providing insurance in the form of creature removal. With so many large bodies, this is a 2-mana instant-speed kill spell more often than not, so long as you don’t need it on turn 2. In theory, they can kill your creature in response. In practice, it is easy to set things up so that does not happen.
To combat that, I play two other hybrid solutions to this problem in the form of Collision // Colossus and Kraul Harpooner. While Harpooner is not at its best against red, it is a great creature everywhere else. Playing four copies allows you to have all your 2-drops be green and save sideboard slots at essentially zero cost.
On top of that, I ended up reluctantly playing two copies of Lava Coil in the main as well. This does open you up to being stranded with a useless spell, but I found the utility it currently offers too good to pass up the first two copies. My other bases remain covered.
The mana base has the twin needs to get 1 red mana for various spells and to get triple-green for Steel Leaf Champion. As much as I hate playing Gruul Guildgate, I’ve found the first copy relatively painless and necessary to ensure everything functions smoothly. Unclaimed Territory is great because it casts Gruul Spellbreaker when it needs to and Steel Leaf Champion otherwise. You always name either Elf or Warrior. The risk with four copies is that drawing multiples can interfere with the hybrid spells, and post-board your red casts more spells and thus is a little light. I’m convinced this is within one land of being correct, but I could easily be one land off.
One note on Unclaimed Territory on Magic Arena is that the client will never tap Unclaimed Territory for mana if it has another option, while the correct play is instead to always tap Unclaimed Territory first unless you have a particular reason not to. Thus it is vital to tap the Unclaimed Territory manually and not rely on the auto-tapper.
In addition to best-of-three battles, this is an excellent best-of-one deck as well, in which case I’d run the fourth Unclaimed Territory over Gruul Guildgate since you don’t need to sideboard, or alternatively consider a third Lava Coil since you don’t have to face Nexus of Fate. You do an excellent job of not having dead cards anywhere and playing a solid and reliable game, and you are strong against the mono-color decks that are popular in the format. Your good matchups are quite good, and your poor matchups can still be won.
The deck mostly plays straightforwardly. Use Unclaimed Territory for whichever of Elf or Warrior you need in the short term and count on things working out later. The biggest key is to draw a clean distinction between the matchups against decks with smaller creatures, where you have inevitability, and the decks like Sultai and Esper that can grind you out in a long game. In the first category, putting them under pressure is still valuable, but focus on stabilizing the board while you get your creatures down. Don’t worry too much about making lousy trades when you have to, and things will work out on their own. In the second category, you need to be attacking constantly and putting them under pressure.
The sideboard is about choosing the best tools for each job out there. You don’t ever have lots of bad cards to take out so you’re free to bring in the best possible card in each situation and keep your touch light.
Vivien Reid is the star she’s always been. I tried out Domri a bit and Vivien is clearly better, so only consider a Domri if you want to go heavily into the planeswalker plan and play four.
Thorn Lieutenant is your best 2-drop against red and strong against white. This isn’t the size you want but it is the exact size you need, and the 1/1 you get if they burn it is great at buying you the time to deploy your bigger creatures. Don’t make the mistake of bringing this in whenever Kraul Harpooner is bad. Having fewer 2-drops in the deck is fine, since Llanowar Elves can bridge you past the slot and it’s fine to play a second Pelt Collector on two. Only bring Thorn Lieutenant in when you actively want a 2/3.
Lava Coil and Shivan Fire boost up your answers to Curious Obsession, Drakes, and other problematic creatures. You could have more of these, but I’ve found that unnecessary. It stops being much of an upgrade. If you put in more copies, you’re taking out efficient creatures you love in order to make room, and you’re putting your mana at risk. When you make this move, you swap in the Mountain.
Fiery Cannonade is sufficiently strong against white that I make room for it despite not planning to bring it in against red or blue. You have the space to specialize.
Vine Mare is there because Nullhide Ferox doesn’t play well when you bring in a lot of spells from the board, so you want the option to keep a high end to the curve. This likely is not necessary, as Nullhide Ferox isn’t all that awkward in the end, but I also don’t know what else this slot needs to do.
You are packing most of your answers to Curious Obsession up front in the main deck, and have far more power than they do. If they don’t stick a Curious Obsession quickly, or tempo you out right away with Tempest Djinn, they are toast. Even when they do stick Curious Obsession, often they get run over anyway. You have a lot of trampling power and they take a while to finish you off. Sometimes it is better not to fight against the Curious Obsession when they have exactly 1 open mana, and that would let them get ahead if they have the Dive Down or Spell Pierce. By casting a Steel Leaf Champion or Gruul Spellbreaker instead, you put them behind. If they tap out to try and catch up, you kill off the offending creature then. If they hold mana indefinitely, keep not testing their defenses, and they’ll likely die before they can use all those extra cards.
All you want to do with your sideboard is shore up your removal count, adding two Lava Coil, a Shivan Fire, and a Mountain. You would get some benefit from more copies of Shivan Fire, but they’d put your mana at risk.
The game is over quickly and you don’t need that much power—plus they’re good at chump blocking—so you can safely pull Nullhide Ferox to make way for your spells.
Things happen too fast for Vivien Reid to be worth it. Plus, what are you going to take out?
In theory, they can win long games with their 4-drops. In practice this is quite rare. Your creatures do not often give them enough time to get the Experimental Frenzy engine working at full power. The sheer size of your creatures is overwhelming. They have a reasonable plan for one or two big creatures, but not this many. When you lose, it is usually because you are burned out quickly, or because you were exposed to Goblin Chainwhirler or otherwise had mana issues.
Thus, you go up a land to ensure this does not happen, and that you can use your Llanowar Elves in combat when necessary. No reason to take risks.
Your sideboard plan is to bring in your cheap removal to keep pace and guard against Rekindling Phoenix, and supplement that with the wall that is Thorn Lieutenant. Large creatures remain your friends. While Colossus often does good work in the first game to counter removal or win a combat, you don’t need it, so it comes out entirely.
White can beat you by swarming, or white can beat you by pumping its team and competing on power. That second job is hard even when you don’t have removal for Benalish Marshal. When using removal or deploying Threat, think about whether Benalish Marshal would put you in danger of falling behind on power. If it would, consider saving your removal if you have an alternative play.
Sideboarding is again straightforward. Here you have an all-star in Fiery Cannonade, which also moves you away from Kraul Harpooner even more than you would otherwise, so you’re happy to have Thorn Lieutenant. The exact mix of what you take out can vary, and depends on which creatures you think are in their mix. Collision // Colossus ends up having a lot of good uses, but definitely isn’t necessary.
Time is not on your side. You have a strong window where your creatures are large and they have little to compete with. Given time, they will grind you into dust. Thus, you must push your advantage and keep the pressure on. Damage to you is mostly irrelevant. If it isn’t, you have already lost. Contain Wildgrowth Walker when you can, then push for a win around turn 6 or 7. If they gain some life and make a 3/5 or 4/6 that’s often fine, so long as you have Colossus to push through it, but Thrash is always preferred. Holding up Thrash for Hostage Taker can become important later, as getting the creature back versus them casting it is a huge swing. In addition to wins where you run them over, there are also games where their deck fails to have a meaningful high end, so make sure you win those games when they are handed to you. If you have the board dominated, think about how best to play around Finality.
At first I thought this matchup was quite bad. I still don’t love it, but I find myself winning more than my fair share of games.
Sideboarding again means putting in Lava Coil since efficient answers to Wildgrowth Walker are as important as ever. You are actively happy with Collision // Colossus since it takes out Hydroid Krasis or sometimes Thief of Sanity while also smashing as a combat trick. I’ve had success swapping out Nullhide Ferox for Vivien Reid, since they have a lot of chump blocking ability and the ability to pay 2 extra mana, and you are strong at stalling the ground.
Having the insurance of Threat (and Kraul Harpooner) lets you board without fear of Lyra Dawnbringer or Thief of Sanity. They can bring them in if they want to, but you’ll always have answers available without having to dedicate cards. No need to consider keeping Lava Coil or Collision // Colossus, so you have six cards to bring in. I’m fine bringing in Cindervines as a way to avoid walking into Kaya’s Wrath too much and to give them another angle to worry about.
Follow general anti-sweeper beatdown procedures of forcing them to have it and then forcing them to have it again. If they do have it multiple times, good on them.
If you know of a great card for this matchup in particular, even if it does literal nothing everywhere else, it would be worth making room.
Nexus of Fate
Take the games where they stumble. It’s reasonably common. Your sideboard gives you six ways to be a thorn in their side in addition to your pressure. You’re often facing enough creatures after board that even with Thrash you can consider more answers.
Nullhide Ferox interferes with your best cards. If they put in creatures, they are good at chump blocking it, and if they don’t, you don’t need it. It’s safe to pull a few copies and keep two copies of Collision // Colossus for killing Krasis and pushing through Biogenic Ooze and friends. If you see them heavily on the creature plan, you can even have Lava Coil, because if they go with their plan A, you will have more power than you actually need to force them quickly onto Root Snare. If I knew for sure they had no creatures, I would go up one land.
Play good Magic! Your cards are good—theirs are good. Lava Coil is obviously strong since it kills things that cost 3 mana and hits hard. Vivien Reid has a lot of potential. Kraul Harpooner goes dead quickly, so that seems like it should come out. Your curve is going up a bit, so I’d like to add a land, but I hate every cut, and both players playing out their hands and seeing who has more power isn’t that uncommon. For now I’m still trimming the Forest for the Mountain, but close to trimming Collision // Colossus (a.k.a. Colossus) instead.