My version of Steel Leaf Stompy from the Pro Tour was based on the same fundamental idea I bring to most of my decks. I tried not to play the bad cards, and to play more of the good cards.
Ghalta is what the deck is all about, so I played four copies, and then also played Adventurous Impulse to help find Ghalta while smoothing out the mana base. Verdurous Gearhulk provides an alternate route to overwhelming power and provides more big hits for Adventurous Impulse at the cost of very few slots, and is the clear best option that costs 4 or more mana.
This deck is all about producing a lot of power, so cards must either produce power or produce mana that in turn produces power. Adventurous Impulse finds cards that do those things. The only other exception is Blossoming Defense, which is too good not to play.
Here is the list I played at the Pro Tour:
That list made some mistakes.
Manglehorn was an overreaction to the number of Paradoxical Outcome decks I saw on Magic Online combined with its success at Dutch Nationals. I figured that it would be everywhere, and wanted to be sure to crush it. That wasted three sideboard slots. I also gave up entirely on planeswalkers because you can’t get them with Adventurous Impulse and they’re not what the deck is about, plus I was having success online with keeping Verdurous Gearhulk in that slot to pump up Vine Mare and what at the time was Carnage Tyrant. Then I removed Carnage Tyrant for space, and didn’t adjust properly.
I think that I should have removed the fourth Blooming Marsh rather than the fourth Woodland Cemetery, and maybe even should have gone down to six sources if I’m not going to try to cast any black spells. Note that the more sources you remove, the better Woodland Cemetery gets relative to Blooming Marsh. While occasionally bringing back a Scrapheap Scrounger is a big game, the control decks are very heavy on exile effects and having your mana work properly is vital. I’m confident that three is the right number of Hashep Oasis. It does good work, but it can also take you out of games. It cost me a match against Paul Reitzl by forcing a mulligan despite a Llanowar Elves and good curve, when I had only it and Woodland Cemetery against red.
The fourth Verdant Gearhulk is more than you need, even though it’s good to play two of them on your 5- and 6-mana turns. More importantly, you never miss it after sideboard as there’s always something else you want, so it’s taking up space in the Elephant that can be better used.
The three good options for that last slot are then the third Servant of the Conduit, the third Rhonas the Indomitable, or the fourth Adventurous Impulse. Servant is good because you want additional 2-drops in your Elephant in case Scrapheap Scrounger is bad. Rhonas saves you a sideboard slot, and the fourth Impulse is good but risks leaving you drawing multiples when you don’t have time for that. Also, while missing with Adventurous Impulse is very, very hard in game 1, it’s more plausible after sideboard, and the fourth copy makes misses (or partial misses when you can only get a land) substantially more likely. My lean is toward the third Rhonas, unless you’re casting black spells.
This list also wasn’t set up that well for the metagame that showed up. Red-Black was everywhere. You want to be able to play 2-drops that block against them to not fall behind. Scrapheap Scrounger isn’t the worst, and having 3 power is still welcome, but you’d love to have more 2-drops so that you could cut back more on Scroungers. I do still favor Servant of the Conduit over your other 2-drop options, including Greenbelt Rampager, Resilient Khenra, and Thorn Lieutenant, because I expect the Pro Tour was peak Red-Black, especially with the rise of Nexus of Fate.
The big question is Hour of Glory. If you play it, you need to keep at least seven black lands, and have more pull towards Servant of the Conduit as another black source. Black removal is very much not what you want, but it is the only answer to Rhonas, the Indomitable, and it could be argued that he who controls Rhonas wins the mirror. If everyone else has it, it’s hard to not to play it yourself, so I’m going to presume that we also have it. That gives us all the mirror tools, with Adventurous Impulse, four Ghalta, three Rhonas, and all the good removal. You can’t play four Rhonas given how awkward that can be and with the only answer to Rhonas also getting the extra copy out of your hand.
I do not think you can afford to require black mana otherwise. I wouldn’t mind it on Vraska so much, since it costs 6, but I also see that as worse than Carnage Tyrant and the 5-mana planeswalkers.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship I found to be a worse version of Verdant Gearhulk that also didn’t match with Adventurous Impulse. Aethersphere Harvester was a good addition against red since it matches up well against their cards and the life is very much appreciated, but having too many Vehicles definitely happened a lot and speed is vital, so I’m suspecting that having better 2- drops might be a better use of those slots.
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary is bad. When you bring it in, you give up a full turn in order to try to build up card advantage after that, but even with this in full effect can you win the long game against the control decks? You have no answers to Lyra Dawnbringer or Nicol Bolas, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria trumps Lifecrafter’s Bestiary on its own, as does Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. I don’t want to give up trying to kill them quickly to try to win this slowly. Much better is to drop a 5-mana planeswalker when they cast Settle the Wreckage, Fumigate, or otherwise tap out, or just go for Carnage Tyrant.
I like the Prowling Serpopards a lot as a way to improve against control without making the curve too high, and to set up Vine Mare and further support Rhonas, but that plan is vulnerable to Yahenni’s Expertise or Sweltering Suns. Against white builds, there are enough enchantments that I like Thrashing Brontodon, which means that I have tons of good 3-drops already. Space might be too valuable to use like this.
Assuming I do run Hour of Glory, I would submit this if I did it again:
Red and Red-Black
Your goal is to stabilize the board, then quickly turn around and stomp them to death with giant creatures. Even better is to get them on the defensive from the start, since their deck is terrible on defense. Mulligan slow hands, and focus on a combination of tempo and getting to use Blossoming Defense on their removal spells. The biggest problem is that a lot of their effects do 4 damage, and if they have them, the tempo situation gets steadily worse and they can keep you off Ghalta. Unlicensed Disintegration is always a bad time as well. When you play Verdant Gearhulk, setting up a quick lethal attack is often very important, as is guarding against them playing Abrade or Unlicensed Disintegration. Usually you want the Gearhulk itself at 5/5 or 6/6.
I now sideboard out Verdant Gearhulk. I didn’t do this during online testing, but the Pro Tour experience showed that speed is too important and you are better off relying on a mix of tempo and Ghalta. In total, I’d take out three Verdant Gearhulk and one Scrapheap Scrounger, and bring in two Aethersphere Harvesters and two Nature’s Way. Nature’s Way is a great way to get tempo advantage, with the trample and vigilance often being relevant, and can also take out a Phoenix egg.
While I didn’t do well in this matchup at the Pro Tour, it was quite good online and having seen the deck lists, I faced far more good removal than average. If anything, those counts will need to go down going forward, so things should improve.
The mirror is about power and about Rhonas, and occasionally about flying over with Heart of Kiran. Rhonas or another Ghalta is the only answer to Ghalta, and whoever has the Rhonas/Ghalta advantage is usually unbeatable. Focus on development more than early damage and avoid getting blown out by Blossoming Defense if you need to keep power on the board.
Sideboarding is your chance to get rid of Scrapheap Scrounger. The counterargument is that it is important to play power on turn 2 to ramp into Ghalta, but that is the only useful thing the card does other than crew a Heart of Kiran unless you have a Rhonas you can activate, since there are so many blockers available on the ground with 4 toughness. You then have to cut some mix of Thrashing Brontodon and Blossoming Defense, both of which are often very good but also can be quite mediocre, to fit in all the cards you want. In this build, you want the four removal spells and Vivian Reid, which in small quantities is a better Thrashing Brontodon with upside options. That lets us take out the fourth Brontodon as the fifth card out, or you can take out two if you have a second Vivian available.
This is rough. You can force them to have it, but playing around it is not much of an option, and they have it reasonably often. “It” usually equals some combination of Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage, but they also have a lot of other ways to interfere slowly if you don’t play it fast. I prefer to lose to the sweepers rather than let them in the game without one, as when they do have one they usually have backup that will beat you no matter what you do. Only once you know you’ve won against other hands should you think much about holding back.
Nothing in your deck is especially bad, since there are enchantments to kill and removal spells to counter with Blossoming Defense. I go down to two copies of Ghalta, since you’re bringing in a bunch of expensive stuff that doesn’t enable them. They have answers in Seal Away and Cast Out on top of the sweepers, and they force overcommits to the board. I also cut a Verdant Gearhulk for curve reasons. Five cards are coming in, two planeswalkers, the Prowling Serpopard, and the two Carnage Tyrants, so two others need to be trimmed. Depending on their build, I’d favor one Blossoming Defense and one Thrashing Brontodon to avoid too much of any one thing. I like having all three Rhonas, despite the risk of being stranded with it, because it defends against Fumigate and the pumping can be a way around Settle the Wreckage, but I’m not confident that this is right.
Blue-Black or Nicol Bolas Control
Vine Mare plus Carnage Tyrant is where you want to be, and you want to back it up with Verdant Gearhulk. Setting it up with Prowling Serpopard is a great way to upset their plans when they sit back on an early counter, and this is the place I miss the second copy the most, but as noted it exposes you to Yahenni’s Expertise. Because of Expertise, it’s good to prioritize being able to defend the Vine Mares this way, for if they live none of their creatures are good at blocking except Torrential Gearhulk, which Verdant Gearhulk beats.
Thrashing Brontodon is a bad creature here, so that’s an easy four cuts, and when you up the curve and face removal you can trim Ghalta and Rhonas both down to two copies. That’s seven down, and you want to bring in six hexproof creatures, the Prowling Serpopard, and likely Nissa, Vital Force. The last cut is unclear. One candidate is the third Heart of Kiran if they seem heavy on removal, as it runs into Fatal Push a lot and other times they kill everything that can crew it.
Inspiring Statuary is vital to their deck. That’s where you, by default, aim your Brontodons, plus of course Aetherflux Reservoir. Sometimes their deck will look amazing, and other times it will do actual nothing or close to it. Keep an eye out for Baral’s Expertise and try to have Blossoming Defense ready that turn. Keep turning your creatures sideways and hope they die.
This is again a slot where nothing is bad. You definitely bring in the Vivian Reid and the Prowling Serpopard. The question I went back and forth on was Vine Mare. It’s bad against Sai, but it blocks Baral’s Expertise, so the first few are likely better than your alternatives. Blossoming Defense is good against their four or five targeted effects and sometimes takes out Sai, but you can’t afford four copies so I take one out and sometimes two. You actively want three Rhonas to give out trample against the Thopters, and Verdant Gearhulk is good to get more trample and give you some reach. I’ve taken to going down to three Ghalta to buy a slot.
Nexus of Fate
Your deck is a clock plus four Thrashing Brontodon, and that’s it. Force the Fog effects as quickly as you can, and aggressively sacrifice Brontodon to interfere with what you can. Take out their planeswalkers aggressively and hope that they don’t have it. Nothing available in green seems like it would matter much, so if you want to improve the matchup you’d need to sideboard in Duress. In the meantime, grab everything that speeds up the clock plus Vivian Reid, cut Blossoming Defense, and hope for the best.
They can’t stand up to you for long without Gift, and even with Gift they usually need multiple triggers. Keep an eye on how close they are to getting there, and hold up Brontodon if you can once they get close, but mostly focus on overrunning them efficiently and force them to have it quickly. In my experience they aren’t reliable enough given how fast you make their board collapse.
Your sideboard doesn’t offer anything here other than Vine Mare against black versions, but that seems fine. What you cut depends on their colors and build.
Green is a solid deck with a lot of power. When things line up well, it will be a strong deck. Adventurous Impulse seems to me like an upgrade, as I also find the creatures to be strong relative to planeswalkers or Vehicles, but if we moved more into a Nexus of Fate world where we were loading up on spells, we’d have to go back to 23 lands and no Adventurous Impulse. One of the two slots would become the third Servant of the Conduit to help with the black for Duress, with the last one up in the air.