I recently won the Grand Prix Orlando PTQ with G/U Stompy. If you like Bogles in Modern or playing a Delver-like game against control and combo, then this is the deck for you. It turns out that Vine Mare combined with Cartouche of Knowledge can win without the opponent being able to interact at all. Those who have played triple-Ixalan Draft know all about Jade Guardian plus One with the Wind. Big thanks to Zachary Kiihne for brewing and iterating on this deck with me.
Fundamental Game Plan
This deck is all about aggressively mulliganing to your explosive starts. Turn-1 Elf, and turn-2 Rhonas or Steel Leaf Champion is what you’re looking for. From there, leverage your mana advantage, evasion, or Gearhulks to push damage through.
I have the following rules for seven-card hands in game 1 against an unknown opponent:
Any hand without a clear payoff is a mulligan.
Payoff here means any of the following:
- Steel Leaf Champion or Rhonas
- Two mana dorks plus Verdurous Gearhulk
- Two Adventurous Impulse (one Impulse does not count)
Any five-land hand is a mulligan (yes, even Llanowar Elf plus Steel Leaf Champion on the play. Exception: you know you’re playing against Mono-Blue Storm).
On the draw, any hand that has zero spells to play before a turn-3 Steel Leaf Champion is a mulligan.
On 6 cards, you keep basically anything functional. But because this deck has particular cards that are much more impactful than its median card, this aggressive mulligan strategy means that many of your opening hands will be powerful. Think of it like aggressively mulliganing for Stoneforge Mystic with Caw-Blade.
Deck Building Choices
4 Verdurous Gearhulk
Verdurous Gearhulk presents a fast clock against combo and control, lets Vine Mare go to town, and helps make multiple 5-toughness creatures against R/B Aggro. It takes the slot usually used for Ghalta. It’s difficult for opponents to answer the board it creates in an up-tempo manner.
0 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Ghalta has several issues. It’s hard to play in games you’re not already ahead, it can’t come down fast enough to dodge both counterspells and removal against control, and it doesn’t matter against Turbo Fog.
4 Vine Mare, 3 Cartouche of Knowledge
This is the standout of the deck. Cartouche doesn’t even always need to go on Vine Mare, but when it does, it feels good. Cartouche has a low marginal cost in matchups where it isn’t impactful because it cycles versus control and combo. It’s a house versus other creature decks.
The subtle importance of Cartouche is that it makes a 4-toughness creature like Greenbelt Rampager or Steel Leaf Champion into a 5-toughness creature against R/B, which is difficult to answer. Most of their removal deals 4 damage. Vine Mare also meets the 4 power condition on Rhonas in a way that’s hard to stop, even if your opponent shrinks Vine Mare once with Soul-Scar Mage and Goblin Chainwhirler.
4 Servant of the Conduit
The full eight mana Elves in this deck means that between a turn-1 Llanowar Elf and a turn-2 Servant of the Conduit, one of them usually lives. This curves nicely into draws like Vine Mare on turn 3 and Gearhulk on turn 4.
2 Thorn Lieutenant
These are the 59th and 60th cards in the deck. I want more 2-drops to block early against red, and that trade up tempo against their removal. They fulfill their role, but are often the first cards boarded out in other matchups. Thorn Lieutenant gets the nod over Resilient Khenra because there are no Ghaltas.
0 Blossoming Defense
This might be the biggest sticking point for those looking at the deck, but I have several reasons for it. Gearhulk means that you care less about each individual card. People play around Blossoming Defense, but the land count is light and this deck can’t really afford to take a turn off deploying threats to wait until it can hold up Defense, and it usually doesn’t have the lands to play a threat plus Blossoming Defense even if it waits.
1 Hashep Oasis
This G/U Stompy deck has one fewer land than many G/B Stompy decks, as well as Aether Hub. This means that you have to tap what lands you do have many times, making Hashep Oasis particularly painful. G/U needs blue mana to cast actual blue spells from its hand in a reasonable time frame, while G/B only wants black eventually in game 1 for returning Scrapheap Scrounger. Therefore, I want to keep the Forest count high for Hinterland Harbor.
As a final point about Hashep Oasis, being able to occasionally push lethal one turn sooner matters somewhat less in this deck than it does in G/B Stompy, particularly against control and combo, because this deck has counterspells.
While I made these cards choices because I want to maximize my probability of winning, the lack of Ghaltas makes this deck quite budget friendly for anyone who wants to try it out.
It wouldn’t be a Bobby Fortanely article without an extensive sideboard guide. Here are my sideboard plans and matchup thoughts for the 13 most popular decks in Standard.
If you take nothing else from this article, remember to prioritize creating 5-toughness creatures whenever possible. Between Cut // Ribbons, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glorybringer, and the 4 power on Rekindling Phoenix, 5 toughness is a critical breakpoint for R/B.
Speaking of Rekindling Phoenix, it is the best card in the matchup by a wide margin. In game 1, you have to hope to swarm past it or draw a main-deck Commit. Post-board, just hope they don’t draw two Phoenix.
Some readers may be confused by the lack of bringing in Aethersphere Harvester, as it’s a good “answer” to Phoenix. The core issue with this matchup is that Stompy is the beatdown. The R/B player will typically board in four to six expensive cards like Phoenix, Chandra, and Glorybringer. You need to be able to capitalize on them missing their fourth land drop by attempting to win as fast as possible. Cards that stall a Phoenix without pushing damage are not desirable, which is why Harvester doesn’t come in. Furthermore, blocking is not a good place in the matchup, and very few other relevant cards in the deck are answered by Abrade up-tempo.
It took me a while to come to this sideboard plan. I found that I was winning most of my game 1s and losing my post-board games, where I was boarding in cards like Sorcerous Spyglass (for Heart of Kiran and Chandra) and Aethersphere Harvester. Keep it lean, mulligan aggressively, and be the beatdown.
Out versus black splash
In versus no black splash
In versus black splash
Here I’ll discuss the mirror against non-blue variants, which I’ve tested the most. This matchup is where Cartouche of Knowledge shines the brightest. Rhonas is great, but flying Rhonas is better. In post-board games, a typical play is Aethersphere Harvester, and put four counters on it with Verdurous Gearhulk. If you do this, your opponent is usually dead.
Servant of the Conduit works overtime in this matchup, giving you four more mana dorks than most opposing builds. This opens up an interesting additional route to victory. That is, you can dump all of the cards in your hand faster than they can. Often there will be a ground stall, but this means that you can Commit a haymaker from the opponent, and then cast Memory when you have zero or one cards in hand, while your opponent often has four. Post-Memory, you can continue to leverage your mana advantage by dumping your hand quickly a second time.
Vine Mare is a house in this matchup, getting past Nicol Bolas and The Scarab God. I like Vivien Reid as an answer to Nicol Bolas and Torrential Gearhulk up-tempo. Even on the draw, you can typically plummet Nicol Bolas on turn 4 since one of your eight mana dorks will live. A one-of sideboard Hour of Devastation is somewhat common, but only play around this if you can truly afford to. Largely, this is a matchup where you just jam as hard as possible with Vine Mare.
This matchup is about playing the Delver role. That is, playing some cheap threats and then disrupting the plays of Sai, Karn, Paradoxical Outcome, or Baral’s Expertise. Steel Leaf Champion is unblockable by their entire deck except Karn’s Construct tokens, which in turn can’t block if Steel Leaf Champion is wearing a Cartouche of Knowledge. In this matchup, Verdurous Gearhulk should usually dump all four counters on Steel Leaf Champion, since your other creatures will rarely connect for damage through Sai and his Thopter army.
This is a tough but winnable matchup. Don’t put too many threats on the board at once unless you can protect them with countermagic. Rhonas’s pump ability allows you to force Settle the Wreckage while committing minimal creatures to the red zone. Thrashing Brontodon should usually be played out only when the opponent has an enchantment removal spell already in play, or on the turn you want to stop an opposing Torrential Gearhulk from blocking.
Unlike the R/B Aggro matchup, this matchup is one where your role is firmly control, so cards like Aethersphere Harvester come in.
This matchup was the one that I faced the most in testing online, and the one I feel most confident about. If Turbo Fog becomes the most popular deck, G/U Stompy is the deck to beat up on it. Post-board, I will mulligan any seven-card hand that does not contain a Negate, Sorcerous Spyglass, or Commit // Memory. The way the matchup plays out, you present lethal every turn starting on turn 5. From there, you can typically Negate a Fog on a critical turn when they’re forced to tap low for a card advantage card like a Cleansing Nova/Settle the Wreckage or Teferi, or otherwise they’ll eventually run out of Fogs. I will typically let any Fog immediately resolve if my opponent is capable of casting another Fog.
As a combo aficionado, let me tell you that Turbo Fog has some base failure rate. Regarding game 1, it is still occasionally winnable. Furthermore, if you draw Commit in game 1, you’re a massive favorite to win.
PTQ Tournament Report
- 1-0 Grixis Dragons 2-1
- 2-0 R/b Aggro 2-1
- 3-0 Esper Control 2-0
- 4-0 Mostly Mono-Red 2-1
- 5-0 R/b Aggro 2-0
- Cut to Top 8, 2nd seed
- 6-0 Turbo Fog 2-1
- 7-0 R/b Aggro 2-1
- 8-0 R/b Aggro 2-0
With that, I qualified for my first Pro Tour. This has been a life goal of mine for several years. I’ve attended a total of 35 Grand Prix and amassed a total of 35 lifetime Pro Points, all in pursuit of qualifying for my first Pro Tour. My final turn before qualifying might have contained much less uncertainty than other turns, since I was attacking with 14 power worth of hexproof Vine Mare into a single creature that couldn’t block. Still, the emotional release that happened when my finals opponent extended the hand was just as powerful as I imagined it would be.
Tips and Tricks
Balancing Servant of the Conduit and Greenbelt Rampager can be tricky. Often, you want at least one energy left after resolving a Greenbelt Ramapager so that Servant’s mana ability can make mana for Verdurous Gearhulk. Therefore, a common line starting from zero energy is playing Greenbelt Rampager, then Servant of the Conduit, then Greenbelt Rampager again.
Llanowar Elf on turn 1 is great, but missing that, deciding between Greenbelt Rampager and Adventurous Impulse can be tricky. I will typically lead on Rampager only if I already have a 3-drop and the lands to cast it, as all of the 3-drops are much more correlated with winning the game than a 3/4 on turn 2.
When deciding between playing Rhonas or Steel Leaf Champion, I will typically go for Steel Leaf Champion. Exceptions are when you know your follow-up creature can’t die, you want to blank a sorcery-speed removal spell for a turn that would otherwise kill Steel Leaf Champion, or you want to get Rhonas in versus control under counterspells. I will also typically lead with Rhonas post-board if I have a fourth mana source and Blossoming Defense versus removal decks to make sure both stick.
My only recommended changes are that the second and third copies of Aethersphere Harvester in the sideboard can probably go. Going into the weekend, I thought I wanted them for R/B, but after playing in the GP, I realized that I should have a different game plan. That means they largely only come in for the mirror, which has experienced a sharp downtick since Turbo Fog’s PT debut. U/W Control is the only deck I’m not excited to face among the eight most popular decks, and those slots could be better used improving the matchup.