Ravnica: City of Guilds is an odd set, though. It makes less sense to look at generally-useful cards because so many deck ideas are bounded by one of the two-color combinations highlighted in the set: Red/White, Blue/Black, Black/Green, and Green/White. Is Skyknight Legionnaire going to show up in a lot of decks, for example? If you're playing Red/White, sure, but it's harder to argue that a Red deck should always splash White for it or vice-versa. Anyway, you get the idea. It's almost as if Ravnica includes four mini-sets to review.
Four mini-sets to review? Now there's an idea...
Building With The Selesnya Conclave
I think part of the reason my last three articles produced so much Message Board response is because there are so many different (and fun) ways to take a Green/White deck now that Ravnica: City of Guilds is here. As I hinted last week, today I'm going to focus on the essential commons, uncommons, and budget rares for Selesnya decks in today's Standard. That's right: I'm discussing all of the cards in Standard appropriate for these decks, not just those found in Ravnica. This makes today a bit shallower in how much I discuss each individual card yet broader in how much deckbuilding ground I'll cover. For those of you who missed my “Paths Not Taken” section last week, today is effectively that section expanded to the nth degree.
Just because I'm a flavorful theme guy, let's start by understanding what kind of philosophy underlies any Conclave deck (my vague sense of how Selesnya Conclave decks are different from generic Green/White decks is in how the deck embodies the guild's ideals). Since we've already done Selesnya Week here at magicthegathering.com, you can get insights into the guild's philosophy from Mark and Aaron. I also like Rei Nakazawa's overview of the guilds. Rei describes the Selesnya Conclave in this way:
The Selesnyan Conclave is best described as a nature-lover's commune, though one populated with gigantic beasts and powerful druids in the hundreds of thousands. Their way of life is a simple one, based on harmony with each other and (what's left of) nature, and they do whatever they can to spread this message across the globe. Directed by the Chorus, a group of ancient dryads, Selesnyans make it their mission in life to sow the seeds of their beliefs wherever they can. However, this also involves defending these seeds wherever they take root, the main reason why they have conflicts with the other guilds.
Though they may seem to be all sweetness and light, a deeper look suggests otherwise. Some citizens think the Conclave is as much of a cult as the Rakdos, and they may not be all that wrong. Every member is a fanatic to the cause, and conformity is not demanded - it's expected as a matter of course. No one is sure whether the Conclave actually brainwashes anyone or not, but many members certainly act like they do.
Nature-loving commune/cult. Convoke, tokens, and helping one another as primary mechanics. Is it sinking in? Are you getting a feel for the whole Selesnya vibe here? Good, because now it's time to talk Selesnya Conclave decks and the foundations that decks are built upon.
My goal today is to outline what cards you want to make sure to obtain if you're making a budget Selesnya deck in today's Standard. I'll break the list into two fundamental types of decks: All-out aggressive decks and grind-it-out control decks. Although this distinction doesn't cover the full gamut of possible strategies--for example, it excludes midgame, aggro-control, and combo decks--it's a good, basic start that anchors the ends of the strategic spectrum. My guess is that outside of combo decks, any deck you make is going to be a derivative of basic aggro or control, mixing and matching elements of each. Once I've gotten these two fundamental ways of looking at the guild out of the way, I'll entertain some more off-beat deck ideas.
Selesnya Conclave Beatdown
Let's start with where I've most recently traveled. If you make aggro decks like the one I built over the past three weeks, you want to have cheap, efficient threats. Your goal is to count to twenty damage as quickly as possible. You don't plan for the late-game because you don't anticipate a late-game existing. Pure beatdown decks are about WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! until all that's left of your opponent is a smoldering crater. In fact, an opponent defeated by a beatdown deck is usually stuttering and asking “It is over? Already?”
If you like slamming an opponent to the floor and want the Selesnya Conclave to help, consider these Standard staples:
Beatdown is first and foremost about creatures, so I'll start there. If your deck is at least half White, you can look no further than Kami of Ancient Law, Lantern Kami, Suntail Hawk, and Veteran Armorer. Lantern Kami and Suntail Hawk are quick, efficient fliers that can usually damage an opponent turn after turn as well as act as convoke enablers when their attack is thwarted. The Kami and Armorer are also quick and efficient yet come with side benefits: The ability to kill enchantments and make your whole Selesnyan army more resilient, respectively. Notice that these creatures all cost one or two mana--Beatdown decks care about these early threats more than any other kind of strategy.
On the Green side of the equation, there's Llanowar Elves, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Shinen of Life's Roar, Scatter the Seeds, and Siege Wurm. Llanowar Elves and Sakura-Tribe Elder act as a combination of quick beats and mana-acceleration all in one (check out my Kamigawa Commons Review for more on the Elder). Shinen of Life's Roar is a card particularly good in creature swarm decks because it can break stalemates, get your attack through an opponent's defenses and--like Veteran Armorer--keep your army alive. Scatter the Seeds isn't technically a creature, but it acts as both an insta-army card as well as a huge enabler of Scion of the Wild, Selesnya Guildmage and cards with convoke. Siege Wurm is neither quick nor efficient, but it is huge, has trample, and plays well with Selesnya mechanics. If it cost seven mana alone it would never get played, yet the Wurm's convoke cost often means that a Selesnya deck can power it out by the fourth or fifth turn.
The only non-creature beatdown staple in Standard is Fists of Ironwood, a card that could easily be considered a creature card. I'll keep it separate from the other cards for this discussion because it also bestows trample, an ability that can get significant on something like Scion of the Wild, Hunted Wumpus, or even Watchwolf.
Now, will Selesnya beatdown decks always use all eleven of these commons? Of course not. If you look at last week's deck, you'll see that I only used four of them. However, if you're experimenting with Selesnya beatdown decks then this list is a good starting point and will often be the foundation of your various ideas. Which you use will be based on your deck's balance between Green and White, your manacurve (and where you have needs in said curve), and the non-common cards in your deck (for example, Fists of Ironwood makes less sense in a deck focused entirely on Overwhelming an opponent with non-pumped 1/1s).
I also don't want to entirely discount other commons you may find yourself using. Cards like Gather Courage, Giant Growth, and Seeds of Strength may end up being all stars in your deck. To my mind, though, these cards are going to complement your deck rather than form the foundation of it. The eleven commons I've outlined above, to me, help form a beatdown deck's foundation, and are likely cards you will find yourself dipping into repeatedly.
Whereas the commons list was dominated by creatures, the uncommons list focuses on creature enhancers: Blanchwood Armor, Moldervine Cloak, Manriki-Gusari, Otherworldly Journey, and Bathe in Light. Blanchwood Armor obviously gets better the more your deck is Green and uses Forests (including Temple Garden). Moldervine Cloak and Manriki-Gusari are both reusable creature-pumpers (the latter is also an anti-Umezawa's Jitte weapon I discussed way back in my Spirit Flames evolution). Neither the Cloak nor Manriki-Gusari rely on your balance between Green and White, which make them probably more generally useful than Blanchwood Armor. Otherworldly Journey is an important card because it can guard against Wrath of God-like effects from an opponent--effects that generally maim Selesnya decks--while not slowing your offense. Bathe in Light is a new favorite of mine in Selesnya beatdown, and one I discussed last week in detail.
On the White side of the equation there is Hand of Honor, Leonin Skyhunter, and Samurai of the Pale Curtain. Dedicated White Weenie decks can use all three, but a Selesnya deck will probably need to be choosy even if it's heavily White. A lot of which to choose relies on what sort of decks you're likely to face. The Skyhunter is the most reliable offense, Hand of Honor can often kill Black decks almost single-handedly, and the Samurai can guard against dredge and reanimation strategies.
Again, it's unlikely that you will use all of these cards in your Selesnya beatdown deck. I can almost guarantee that you'll use some of them, however, and they can all be valuable additions to an aggressive Selesnya strategy. Also, just as with the commons my goal was not to generate an exhaustive list of options but instead to highlight what I consider to be the cards you will most often use.
I'm only going to touch on four budget rares available to beatdown decks. Two of these rares--Emperor Crocodile and Scion of the Wild--were such good candidates that I used both of them in last week's deck. During my scores of games with that deck, I haven't found either creature to be a liability (and both are terrific Fists of Ironwood targets).
The last budget rare is Might of Oaks. Selesnya beatdown decks are often going to be putting out more threats than an opponent can reasonably block. All you need is one 1/1 Saproling token to go unblocked in order to tag an opponent with eight damage via Might of Oaks. Needless to say, this makes your army of small creatures somewhat intimidating.
I think my deck last week puts a lot of these basic principles into practice. You can see my choices of color balance, how that affected which cards mentioned today that I used, and how the deck used these cards to never give an opponent an opportunity to breath.
This is as good a time as any to revisit that deck and discuss the names submitted on last week's Message Boards. I couldn't believe how creative people got with a deck that tried to Overwhelm an opponent with Emperor Crocodile, Scion of the Wild, and their tiny friends. Many were quite punny and hilarious (you have to love names like “The Emperor's New Cloves,” “Magic the Scattering,” and “Parsley, Sage, and Stompin' Thyme”).
Here are the names I most enjoyed:
6. Squash (Firecrest)
5. Ironwood Empire (Irian)
4. Saproling Fist (geo_shark)
3. Wild Things (AjaxUD)
The runner-up comes from my own editor, Scott Johns. After I submitted the article he warned me that he wouldn't be able to check the Boards when the article first went up but wanted to submit a name anyway. For a long time, I thought it was going to win, too. His suggested name: Light Green.
The winner comes from MagicTheGatherin, a name that fits the deck themes, is catchy, and generally makes me smile. Deck, I dub thee...
Heh. I still really like how that deck came together.
Selesnya Conclave Control
Now let's look at the other spectrum of deck strategies. Generally speaking, if you make a control deck then you want to have answers for all of your opponent's questions. Drop a creature? Get rid of it. Drop lots of creatures? Get rid of them all. Try this? No. Try that? Sorry. Control decks spend the early and middle parts of the game surviving an opponent's initial onslaught, then they start rolling. In general, the longer the game goes the more it's to the control player's advantage. Control decks use very few win conditions, but usually can ensure that those few conditions will in fact win the game. An opponent beat by a control deck usually has a scarlet-red face and is fuming with frustration.
If you like dominating your opponent over forty turns and want to enlist the Selesnya Conclave, consider these Standard staples:
There are fewer total number of commons available to the Selesnya Conclave for use in a control deck that will show up in deck after deck. Those few are pretty darned good, however.
Second, control decks value defense. Traproot Kami is a defender that can be nearly immovable if you're packing enough Forests, especially given how likely it is that your opponent will also be playing Green. Traproot Kami also tends to support many of the Conclave's core themes. Even better than the Kami, though, is Faith's Fetters, a card that neutralizes any threat, be it attacker, Jitte, Searing Meditation, or an opposing Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree. At the same time, the Fetters give you a much-needed life boost to help you reach a point where you have control of the board. A lot of people suggested to me that I should have added Faith's Fetters to my sideboard last week instead of Devouring Light and in retrospect I agree.
So, the commons here provide a mana and defensive base. Luckily, there are a lot of juicy cards that can build upon this base in the uncommon slot...
The uncommons can also help with mana development in the form of Gift of Estates, and, to a lesser degree, Sensei's Divining Top. The Top does more than smooth mana, of course, since it can find the best of your cards for you especially if you use a lot of shuffle effects in your deck. Enough people have waxed enthusiastic about the Top without me piling on here.
Most importantly, it is the uncommons that are likely to give a budget Selesnya control deck some semblance of offense. The two Honden--Honden of Life's Web and Honden of Cleansing Fire--serve as both survival and quickly-growing army. If you happen to be using any board-clearing effects like Wrath of God or Final Judgment, these two enchantments alone will often win you the game. So will Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, a land that harkens back to Kjeldoran Output and the decks designed around it. Vitu-Ghazi isn't quite as efficient as Honden of Life's Web at producing tokens, but it can't be countered or destroyed with Naturalize effects and can just as easily win a game post-Wrath.
Another semi-budget rare to consider is Seedborn Muse, a card that can make cards like Vitu-Ghazi, Selesnya Evangel, and Selesnya Guildmage get rapidly out of control. Throw an Orochi Eggwatcher and Soul Warden into the mix and watch the fun.
Finally, a lot of people have mentioned on the Boards that Glare of Subdual costs about the same online as Watchwolf. If you like playing control and can get a set of Glares cheaply, do so. Almost any number of tokens plus the Glare can give you a huge advantage on the table, an advantage that gets even more dramatic when using things like Devouring Light and Faith's Fetters.
As with the beatdown ideas, you won't end up using all of these cards in a single deck. Some control decks will want access to Conclave Phalanx, or Wear Away, or even sometimes Watchwolf. What I've tried to do is Sift through a lot of the noise in the Standard card pool to give you cards that will end up being cornerstones in a wide variety of decks you may want to build. If I use the concepts I've laid out above, I might end up with a deck along these lines:
Other Selesnya Conclave Deck Ideas
Okay, so those are some staples to help you anchor the two ends of the strategic spectrum from beatdown to control. Even mixing and matching those cards, though, there is no way you can cover the vast array of possible Selesnya Conclave decks. Selesnya Evangel and Tolsimir Wolfblood strike me as two cards that neither fit perfectly into pure beatdown nor pure control, yet can make their way into a variety of budget-minded Selesnya decks. Others are hanging around being offended right now too, I'm sure.
Another way to think about deck ideas is to start somewhere besides the speed with which your deck is meant to win. Below are some additional ideas of ways a budget Selesnya deck might start to get formed. This list is by no means comprehensive, and you should think if there are other Selesnya Standard deck ideas you'd like to post on the Message Boards.
Let's start with a focus on mechanics...
Another common suggestion for my deck was Oathsworn Giant. It's true that Vigilance has a natural synergy with the convoke mechanic, allowing your creatures to both attack and help summon a comrade on the same turn. In fact, put the Giant into the same deck as Veteran Armorer, Carven Caryatid, and Traproot Kami, and you can pretty much take as much time as you need to make tokens or summon something scary like Autochthon Wurm (which would have Vigilance!). Again, I'm pretty sure people have tried such a deck, and I want these people to speak up.
It's no secret that I really like my decks to have options. I often shy away from pure beatdown or control strategies because my preferred style of play is to be able to win in a variety of ways depending on the match-up. One the best ways to instill options into a deck is tutors, and a deck built around tutors is often called a “toolbox” deck. What does this have to do with the Selesnya Conclave? Three things: Congregation at Dawn, Chord of Calling, and Time of Need. These three tutors allow a Green/White deck to use a wide variety of creatures that help shut down opposing cards and to respond to whatever's thrown at it.
I liked this idea so much that I built a Selesnya tutor deck and quickly found it to be one of the most fun decks I've played in a long time. It doesn't push the tutor idea to its extreme--and a deck like mine could easily splash other colors--but I'll list the deck I've been playing as a starting point to your own tinkering.
Why are my decks mostly Green? Partly, I guess, because of the mana-fixing that Green affords a two-color deck, and partly because I'm a Green mage at heart.
Okay, with mechanics-based ideas behind me, let me take a look at three tribes that fit well into the broad framework of the Selesnya Conclave...
Elves are Green's poster children for small, quick hordes of creatures and Elvish Champion can be a killer in the Green-heavy world of Standard today. It just so happens that a lot of really good Selesnya cards like Llanowar Elves, Selesnya Guildmage, Viridian Shaman, Selesnya Evangel, Selesnya Sagittars, and Tolsimir Wolfblood happen to be Elves. Like Snakes, I think the deck is mostly going to be Green, but in this case I think you want to splash White for the Guildmage, Evangel, and maybe some combat tricks like Bathe in Light.
Also considered the “Kamigawa tribe,” Green/White Spirits already had access to Kami of Ancient Law, Shinen of Life's Roar, Waxmane Baku, Kodama's Reach, Spiritual Visit, Forked-Branch Garami, Gnarled Mass, Loam Dweller, Elder Pine of Jukai, Haru-Onna, Lantern Kami, Unchecked Growth, and Hana Kami, to name a few. Ravnica, City of Guilds brings its own brand of Spirits in the form of Transluminant, Twilight Drover, Carven Caryatid, Sandsower, and Primordial Sage, among others. Put these together with Promise of Bunrei and maybe Long-Forgotten Gohei, stir, and have a token-creating, soulshifting blast.
I'm going to highlight two quirky budget rares because they've been discussed so much on the Boards over the last three weeks. The first is Doubling Season, which people argued was a worthy addition to my Selesnya United evolution. The thing about Doubling Season is that it's expensive for an effect that essentially allows you to do more of what you were already doing. To justify the cost, you really need to aim at abusing Doubling Season. This requires a deck dedicated to producing tokens and/or counters on creatures, and when Doubling Season hits the table it should essentially be “game over” for an opponent. Anything less is unsatisfying. Think combo. Think engines. Think explosion. Think, for example, something involving Orochi Hatchery and Seedborn Muse and... and... and something scary after that.
Fun With Colors
Finally, it's worth stretching your brain to think of deck ideas that don't necessarily conform to the colors of Green/White yet that embody the Selesnya Conclave themes. Monogreen is easy since you can make a token/convoke deck without relying on White. As I said earlier, my Selesnyan decks tend to lean heavily on Green anyway. What about a Monowhite deck, though, with Conclave Equenaut, Conclave Phalanx, Veteran Armorer, and Oathsworn Giant? What about a convoke and token deck using Green and another color (a Green/Red deck showed up on the Boards two weeks ago)? What about splashing a third or fourth color for Path of Anger's Flame, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, or Dance of Shadows? Look for cards that either rely on a lot of creatures or a lot of life and go from there.
So ends my survey course in the Selesnya Conclave for today's Standard. In some ways this article was less satisfying because I could spend less time on each card and why it's important. In other ways this article should have sparked more deck ideas than my previous “budget review” articles. If there will be similar looks at the other guilds, it will be because of your feedback to today's article. Speak up on the Boards to let me know whether you liked this sort of review, and what, if anything, you'd like me to do differently in the future.
Speaking of the other guilds...
From the most populous, visible guild in all of Ravnica to by far the least visible and understood. The votes are in:
|Which Guild do you want Jay to tackle next?|
House Dimir, here I come! Remember that this time around I decided to base my deck evolution on a single budget rare a la what I did with Blood Clock. I've tried to pick cards that are both interesting and cheap to obtain (no Dimir Cutpurse, Dimir Doppelganger, or Glimpse the Unthinkable). I've also tried to pick cards that don't lead me to a primarily reanimation strategy (which I've done a lot recently and will likely come up again with the Golgari) or a primarily milling strategy (which relies on rares like Glimpse the Unthinkable and Traumatize). The result is a list of cards that may surprise you and have you scratching your head about what the heck they have to do with House Dimir. Just remember: Those Dimir folks are tricksy.
Whichever card you choose, I'll start with four copies in my Standard deck, make the deck Blue/Black, and go from there. Enjoy!
Think hard and have fun,