Core Set 2020 is about to hit Standard. We’re heading into the last weekend before the set will shake up the format. So it’s about time to wrap up our series on current Standard. This may be helpful to anyone playing some final tournaments in the days to come. It should also provide the perfect baseline to build upon after the release of M20.
Our study subject this time is Gruul. Members of the Gruul Clan naturally want to smash, not study, but they should take an interest in the following. For some things allow more smashing to be done than others. I’ll be going through the main deck options—found in 85 red-green decks across Grand Prix Kansas City and Grand Prix Taipei—by converted mana cost.
The Best Gruul in Standard, By the Numbers
One Drop in the Bucket
Just imagine turning two of your losses into a win and a draw. The average difference in points between decks with Llanowar Elves and without was a little more than that. This may come as no surprise. Having Elves proved the default, with a playset in roughly five out of six decks.
What didn’t fare well were other 1-drop options, or the one alternative 1-drop option. Indeed, almost everyone who ran Pelt Collector did so instead of, rather than in addition to, Llanowar Elves. Pelt Collector versions averaged a distant 9.6 points.
There were 2.1 copies of Shock per deck …
… and two copies also proved the most successful. Nothing too shocking here.
Two (and a Half) Mana
Here‘s where it begins to get interesting.
Growth-Chamber Guardian was the third most popular nonland card, right after Gruul Spellbreaker and Llanowar Elves. The dearth of detractors that dared to differ doesn’t deliver a definitive declaration. An average across 15 decks remains somewhat suggestive by its very nature. But 19.9 compared to 17 points suggest that Growth-Chamber Guardian might be the most overrated card in all of Gruul.
The reverse was true for Paradise Druid:
The sample size was just as low, but the difference in point output just as high. The 11 players with the full playset in their main deck made an average of 21.9 points.
The 11 main decks with two copies of Kraul Harpooner, in contrast, earned five points fewer per player than those without. Zhur-Taa Goblin made an appearance in 24 main decks and Thorn Lieutenant in 40. Both subgroups’ averages remained roughly on par with Gruul’s overall average, Zhur-Taa Goblin 0.8 points below, Thorn Lieutenant 1.2 points above. Differences between four, three, two, or zero copies of either weren’t meaningful either.
Two Strikes were better than one, three better than two, and four better than three. Meanwhile, any number of Collision // Colossus was just as good as none. The average deck contained 0.46.
Three Mana and a Baby
Gruul Spellbreaker defies analysis because there’s just no control group. 83 of 85 decks contained the maximum number of copies.
Running Goblin Chainwhirler resulted in a dismal average of 11.6 points among the eight players who chose to do so. 12 decks with a single Vivien, Champion of the Wilds averaged a disappointing 13.2. Legion Warboss was way more popular, and more successful, but still relevantly less successful than no Legion Warboss.
Michael Byars took Living Twister to the finals of Grand Prix Kansas City. The other Twister players took a Day 1 exit on 6, 9, 12, and 12 match points.
Domri, Anarch of Bolas showed up as a two-of in 15 decks and as a three-of in 63 decks. Their point averages all remained slightly below par. This leaves seven decks which all performed remarkably well: two decks with zero copies, two decks with one copy, and three decks with four copies. A trend this does make not, unfortunately.
Rekindling Phoenix was the 4-drop of choice. The subgroup running four copies was both the largest at 66 and the most successful at 18.3 points on average. The data regarding the twin minorities on fewer copies as well as on none didn’t yield additional insight.
Let me preface the following by saying that I hope you’ll forgive me for not being completely serious. I simply couldn’t stop myself from including this:
A sample of five players is a joke. Under different circumstances an average of 29 match points, though, would be no joke at all. Out of a massive sample of 85 decks, including literally all the Gruul of Grand Prix Kansas City, only five contained four copies of Nullhide Ferox. These five decks ended up on 21, 21, 31, 36, and 36 points.
There was a trend among the top players toward a bigger top-end. See the relative poor performance of most 3-drops, also see the strong results of Paradise Druid, and look at the following.
The subgroup with exactly seven cards for 5 mana or more was by far the most successful. As far as specifics go, The Immortal Sun, various Gods, Dinosaurs, and planeswalkers showed up too little to derive meaningful data.
There was no clean trend for Skarrgan Hellkite, either. If four copies are ideal, then three copies should be better than none. The fluctuation is worrisome and the sample sizes aren’t perfect. But the Hellkite elite still outperformed the rest of the Gruul field by five full match points.
Sarkhan the Masterless showed up in 53 main decks, albeit without major impact on performance. 32 decks with zero averaged 17.5 points, 30 decks with one or two averaged 18 points, and 23 decks with three copies averaged 16.5 points.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World only made an appearance in 30 decks, but she made her presence felt.
Clearly, there must be some point at which a difference in performance is so large that you would consider even a somewhat small sample sufficient to make a call. I believe we have reached this point.
We have also reached the point where we’ve run out of data. No further cards showed up in enough main decks to allow any kind of statement. Let’s wrap things up with a list based on all of the above.
9 Forest (347) 6 Mountain (343) 4 Stomping Ground 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Llanowar Elves 4 Paradise Druid 2 Thorn Lieutenant 4 Gruul Spellbreaker 4 Nullhide Ferox 4 Rekindling Phoenix 4 Skarrgan Hellkite 2 Shock 4 Lightning Strike 2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas 3 Nissa, Who Shakes the World