It was the obvious answer to the oh-so-popular Mardu Vehicles that dominated Pro Tour Aether Revolt. We entered the rock, paper, scissors Standard cycle—Jeskai Saheeli somewhat faded away due to its poor matchup against the Vehicles, so it only made sense that Black-Green was going to be perfect for the weekend considering the paper to its rock was Jeskai, and the scissors was Vehicles.
During my week of Magic Online testing to find the best Winding Constrictor list, I played the mirror 3 times in every 5 matches. I was clearly not the only one who had figured out what the best deck to play would be.
I had to choose how I wanted to build my deck. Do I want to have an excellent matchup against Mardu, split the mirror, and lose to control; or be great in the mirror, okay against Vehicles, bad against control? Actually, the answer is that I wanted to have a good matchup against all of these, but that's not really possible, at least according to the many different lists I tested.
I had to pick what type of rock I wanted to be (uh, mineral—sorry Hank).
I played against Simon Nielsen at the Pro Tour and he was on this Black-Green-splash-Harnessed Lightning build of the energy aggro deck. It caught my attention because of how synergistic all of his cards were—I knew this was going to be first deck I wanted to try.
After a little discussion with Simon and games with the deck, I settled on the list above.
When the mana is pristine, this deck works like a charm. Unfortunately, there's a little bit of tension between needing multiple green for Greenbelt Rampager, having to get basic Mountain with Attune, and playing a more aggressive deck in general.
After playing with this deck I recognized its power, but I didn't think splashing red was good in a version with Greenbelt Rampager, so I turned to the green-black build.
This is very similar to what Ken Yukuhiro sleeved up to a 9-1 record at the Pro Tour. Essentially, it just cuts 2 Rishkar in favor of 2 Murder. I did like the Harnessed Lightning build because it got to play 8 of the best removal spells in Standard, and I think those are excellent in a world of Vehicles and Green-Black, so there was no reason for me to not play Murder despite its inefficiency.
Catacomb Sifter performed decently in the other deck and I tried fitting it in here, but couldn't find space—1 Grasp of Darkness/Murder and 1 Walking Ballista would be the first cards I’d look to cut if I were to add 2 Sifters.
My conclusion was that this was definitely a better build to take advantage of Greenbelt Rampager. But by playing a million mirror matches of Green-Black, I found out that the aggressive ones, those with Longtusk Cub and Greenbelt, are worst against slower builds of G/B, the ones that play Tireless Tracker, Servant of the Conduit, Gonti, Lord of Luxury, and Gifted Aetherborn.
The Elephant gets brick-walled quickly, and without Tireless Tracker in your deck, you’re not winning the late game. Your Glint-Sleeve Siphoners are also too much of a liability against Walking Ballistas.
On the other hand, you might be the worse version of Green-Black when they clash, but you have a better Vehicles and control matchup than they do. Greenbelt Rampager and Longtusk Cub are back-breaking as they are gigantic creatures for little investment.
This is where I started getting into the comfort zone. Getting an edge in mirrors was where I wanted to be, even though it meant having a slightly worse Vehicles and control matchup. I really expected a ridiculous amount of the Green-Black menace at the Grand Prix.
I started running out of playtesting time, and I still had a few ideas:
- Testing without red so that I can cast Gifted Aetherborn more consistently (great card in the mirror).
- Cutting Glint-Sleeve Siphoner entirely for no liability in the mirror.
- Trying out Grim Flayer to see if delirium is achievable even without Mindwrack Demon.
- Finding out if Sylvan Advocate is the best 2-drop since it doesn't require any delirium or energy setup.
- Fitting Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in since it was so amazing for me in the green-white deck.
I think I abandoned the red splash a little too quickly because I was excited for these other things I wanted to try. In hindsight, it was a mistake to do so, since I now believe that version would’ve been a little better, but it doesn't mean that what I ended up with was bad.
Gifted Aetherborn was great and I would say this might have been my primary pull toward not splashing.
My adventure with Sylvan Advocate was surprisingly positive. Vigilance was relevant alongside Rishkar’s ability—but then I played a few games with Grim Flayer and I was pleased by how solid it was against all these control decks that people played to fight more traditional builds of Green-Black.
I committed to playing Flayers. Naturally, I added Traverse the Ulvenwald over a few mana sources to add a sorcery to my deck and another delirium payoff. I added Nissa, Voice of Zendikar because I think she's great, and that also added another type to my deck. Finally, I cut a Verdurous Gearhulk, since I figured that I could always fetch those with Traverses.
This is the 75 I registered and ran to a 12-3 record (18th place). I did not play against control at all. I faced two 4c Saheeli decks and a bunch of Vehicles and Green-Black, which made me regret the Grim Flayers. But other than that, I grasped pretty thoroughly how the strategy should be built, and I’m really looking forward to other Standard events.
If I had to play the event again, I would run either the splash red version or cut Grim Flayers and Traverse the Ulvenwald for Sylvan Advocate, 1 more land, a 4th Gearhulk, and a 3rd Rishkar. In the sideboard, add 1 Natural Obsolescence and cut the Noxious Gearhulk.