Magic Online gets a lot of things wrong, but it’s important to acknowledge when WotC does things very right. With Amonkhet, we got to play day-after-prerelease events on Magic Online, which is is easily the best change since Leagues! Even if you don’t play Magic Online, this change is a huge positive, because it lets writers like me explore sets sooner and start talking about what really matters—the new cards. I’ve already drafted quite a bit and feel comfortable enough to start talking in-depth about a Draft archetype. Normally this would have to wait until a couple weeks after the Pro Tour. I hope this change is a permanent one because it is a real game-changer.
When I set first comes out, I like to try as many cards and strategies as possible. I still get pulled down certain paths more often because of my play style and card evaluations. As a result, I’ve drafted U/W zero times so far, whereas I’ve drafted U/G ramp give times. Well that’s if you count this deck as U/G (it’s a base U/G ramp deck at its core, I promise):
I mostly just wanted to include this picture because the deck was so sweet. Also, I want to show that you can go really deep in Amonkhet. This is one extreme of the format, while 14- to 15-land aggro decks full of 1-drops are on the other. I think both are viable, and that makes me extremely happy.
But even though U/G is my most drafted deck, I can’t write a primer on it yet because I haven’t found a consistently successful path to drafting it. Mostly this is due to the wide range of options the deck has, and also because the fast decks of the format are super punishing and I’m still learning the best ways to ramp while staying alive. Hopefully I’ll have a good breakdown of the archetype before the format is over, because wow the deck is sweet.
With that out of the way, I want to dive deep on G/B. The deck has a variety of themes, but it is clearly the -1/-1 counter archetype. It's funny that G/B in Aether Revolt was also counter-focused, but was all about +1/+1 counters. Changing from pumping to shrinking lends some familiarity, while assuring a very different drafting experience.
How to Get in the Deck
It’s nice when the gold uncommon of a given archetype is powerful enough to pull you into it. Decimator Beetle does exactly that for G/B. Some gold cards like Honored Crop-Captain are good, but aren’t really worth taking until you know you’ll be drafting that color pair because the opportunity cost of passing a good playable isn’t worth the upside of potentially playing the gold card. By contrast, Decimator Beetle actually is worth that risk, and thus any time I have an early start with either a black card or green card, I’ll be happy to pick up a Decimator Beetle in the hopes of ending up G/B. This is even more true of green because there are abundant ways to splash in green decks. I like taking the Beetle first out of many packs, which is a resounding endorsement for a gold card, though I prefer taking both Cartouche of Strength and Final Reward over it pick 1 pack 1.
Other Key Cards
Soulstinger just keeps going up in my pick order. It stabilizes a board where you’re losing to a non-flying creature almost by itself, can get a 2-for-1, and is great at blocking when your opponent has combat tricks, since the -1/-1 counters still matter after the pump wears off.
On top of that, Soulstinger has some nice combos in G/B, the easiest of which is with Doomed Dissenter. Simply pile your counters on there and end up with a 2/2 and 4/5. I love that 5 toughness survives Electrify, which is one of the best common removal spells.
Another great combo is with Nest of Scarabs. I thought the two worked well together but never realized how well until playing with them. First off, you get 2 Scarabs right away, but it’s the extra Scarabs you get when Soulstinger dies that really sell me. On top of all that Soulstinger acts as a great -1/-1 counter sink and I’ve even put 5 total counters on it before to kill something big. Imagine getting 10 Scarabs off that interaction! That’s definitely game-winning.
From the cards I’ve listed so far, you can see how many of the synergies are based around black commons and uncommons. Most of my G/B decks have been heavier black with a green splash. That’s not to say the opposite can’t happen, but G/B encourages a grindy style deck and the black cards work toward that goal more effectively. A heavier green deck will be more aggressive and instead focus on big creatures that put -1/-1 counters on smaller creatures to create giant threats ahead of the curve. These decks will have cards like Exemplar of Strength, Defiant Greatmaw, and Crocodile of the Crossing do a lot heavy lifting. Heavier green decks will also naturally be more aggressive thanks to the common exert creatures Hooded Brawler and Bitterblade Warrior.
There is a middle ground where you have a more color-balanced deck, which functions as a traditional midrange deck. This hasn’t been my Draft experience, but it may end up being pretty common just due to the color breakdown of the packs. Regardless of the type of G/B deck, one green card that will impress every time is Quarry Hauler. This card is a powerful addition to any green deck, but especially to G/B. The ability to pile on extra counters on your opponent’s creature or remove your own is quite nice. A 4/3 body for 4 is nothing to sneeze at either. The combination with Soulstinger can lend a lot of flexibility to how your board lines up with your opponent’s. Sometimes you might want to remove a counter to rumble better, and other times you might actually want to add a counter to your own Soulstinger.
G/B’s plan is twofold. Get giant creatures down, but first prevent your opponent from killing you. I’ve found that it is quite good at doing both, but you need the right mix of cards. The big creatures are pretty easy to pull off because green packs a multitude of creatures that are quite a bit larger than what the other colors get. Most nongreen creatures top out around 3/3, but green has access to Colossapede, Greater Sandwurm, and Scaled Behemoth at uncommon. All the creatures are capable of 2- or 3-for-1s simply because they require so many blocking creatures just to trade. The disadvantage is that they are expensive and clunky at times. Here’s where the not dying part comes in.
I’m happy to first pick Cartouche of Strength and Final Reward. Amonkhet has a good number of bombs, but most of them are creatures you can interact with. Good removal is actually quite scarce in the format, and you have to dedicate your early picks to premium removal when you can. The good news is the low curve creatures are usually manageable simply by blocking. A card like Giant Spider can provide long-term virtual card advantage in this format, so you won’t need to use your sparse removal early just to stay alive. Green is naturally weak to flying creatures, and Giant Spider provides a good wall versus any opposing air force. It blocks every single common flying creature effectively and is even decent against many of the uncommons. Enigma Drake is one of the few good flyers that attacks through it, but even that takes time.
In G/B I like having a Stinging Shot main. G/B is so good at stalling the ground that it should eventually find a way to grind past a ground stall. This means it just needs to live long enough to do so. Stinging Shot helps solve that problem, and the fact that it cycles really makes it a perfect inclusion. I’ve killed my fair share of flying creatures in game 1, and it is almost always a game-winning play. Even when your opponent has a pump spell, Stinging Shot uses -1/-1 counters, which means it will almost always have an impact when you cast it.
Once you have big creatures in play and aren’t dying to flying creatures you need to eventually win the game. If you take too long to start forcing bad trades on your opponent’s end, you could give them time to draw a key bomb or board stall breaker that you can’t handle. It’s important to have over-the-top threats like Greater Sandwurm for this reason that can attack through a board stall. Other options are single-card plans like Destined // Lead, which lets you win on the spot given a big enough board. You have to be careful with trick-based strategies like this though, because they can turn from game-winning plays to game-losing plays if your opponent can break it up with an exile effect or bounce spell after you attack with everything.
The final path to victory is inevitability through resources. This plan is mostly an extension of your big green creatures functioning as 2-for-1s, but is furthered by black’s Raise Dead effects. Wander in Death is perfectly suited for G/B, and I think 2 is really the perfect number since you can cycle an early one away. Gravedigger is also fantastic, and both cards get better thanks to all the cycling creatures in Amonkhet. In some sets, a card like Gravedigger might just rot in your hand in a game that has turned into a race where neither player is trading off creatures. That will happen far less frequently now that you can pick up a cycled Sandwurm or Horror of the Broken Lands. What’s even better is that those early cycles helped find enough lands to then cast these powerful creatures post-Gravedigger!
Example and Wrap-up
I want to end today’s article with an example deck. It’s representative of the base-black version of G/B that I’ve discussed, but I know I’ll have heavier green versions in the future. I’m happy I can dig deep enough into the format to really explore the intricacies of the various archetypes this early in the set’s life cycle. Amonkhet also fuels this depth on the cards themselves. There’s a variety of viable strategies and plenty of nuance within each archetype. For now, I’ll leave you with this picture—a tribute to the great Soulstinger, and all the Snakes that come with it.