Selesnya United: The Emperor’s New Groove

Posted in Building on a Budget on November 7, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Last week I introduced the Selesnya United preconstructed deck and set forth to slowly evolve it into a fun, respectable budget deck. After five games against other precons, I made some changes to arrive at this decklist:

Selesnya United v.1.1

Download Arena Decklist

You all flooded last week's Message Boards with suggestions, many of them very good. Although I'm not precisely following any one person's line of thought, you have definitely influenced the cards I'll choose to add and drop throughout today's article. Keep up the good work, and keep chiming in on the Boards.

One card that people keep bringing up is Glare of Subdual. Listen, I agree that the Glare is an awesome card and almost single-handedly makes token decks viable. I also classify it into the “top rare” category, which is a category I shy away from in these experiments. Yes, I added a single copy of Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni to my Ratimation deck, but that was one copy. For Glare to be effective I need three or four copies, and I can't justify that in this column. Thus my task is to make a deck that includes zero Glare of Subdual. Same goes for Loxodon Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, Vinelasher Kudzu, Temple Garden, and any other “chase” rares from Ravnica: City of Guilds. Sorry if this disappoints some folks, but it's the same focus I've had each and every week. Expect a heftier than usual “Adding Money” section next week.

Onward. It's time to try out my new deck and see how it fares against folks in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online...

Game 6: Blue/Black Dimir

His deck was also a modified precon, which would end up being a pattern throughout these next five games (remember that I played these initial games right after Ravnica hit the online store). I came out strong with Watchwolf and Fists of Ironwood. He took three, then double-blocked with Dimir Guildmage and Lurking Informant. I killed the Guildmage and played a Traproot Kami and Selesnya Evangel, followed quickly by a second Evangel and Scatter the Seeds. I now had a mess of creatures, but was stuck on three land with no convoke opportunities in hand. I attacked with a Centaur Safeguard, which killed a blocker. I then found Root-Kin Ally, which got nabbed by Dream Leash. I played Sandsower, tapping my former Ally. Nullmage Shepherd showed up to save the day, getting me back my Ally and letting me put my opponent into chump-blocking mode. He Traumatized me once, but I drew Siege Wurm and the Sandsower tapping was enough to let me cruise in for the victory.

Game 7: Green/Black Golgari

This guy had a pretty basic dredge deck with Mortivores as the big kill card. I mulliganed into a bad hand of Root-Kin Ally, two Fists of Ironwood, and land. I drew and played a second-turn Selesnya Evangel, but mostly I was dying beneath the combined onslaught of an Elves of Deep Shadow, Golgari Guildmage, and Golgari Rotwurm. Eventually I played both Fists and my Ally, followed by Conclave Phalanx to get me back in the game. His Guildmage and my Ally traded in combat, and then we hit a sort of stalemate with him plinking away with a Stinkweed Imp while I made two tokens a turn with my Evangel and Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree. The Imp found Moldervine Cloak and things started to look bad despite the fact that I had something like sixteen creatures on the table. The turn before I was going to die, I topdecked Overwhelm with seven mana open and my opponent could only mutter “dang” and concede.

Game 8: White/Red Beatdown

Oddly, I didn't see any Boros cards in his deck. Instead, my first Selesnya Evangel died to Shock and my second died to Volcanic Hammer while a Rogue Kavu ate into my life in chunks of three. I cast Root-Kin Ally on Turn 6, which died to another Hammer, then a Siege Wurm on Turn 7, which held off his Kavu while two Pegasus Chargers started the assault. I played Selesnya Guildmage and put Fists of Ironwood on it. My opponent channeled a Ghost-Lit Raider to kill it, and in response I made a token. The next turn I attacked with an 8/8 Wurm and three 4/4 Saprolings thanks to Overwhelm. My opponent blocked one token with his Kavu, another with Genju of the Spires, and I died on the next Pegasus attack. It was my turn to mutter “dang.”

Game 9: White/Red Boros

I had a Turn 2 and Turn 3 Watchwolf, which was enough to eat into his life considerably. He double-blocked one of them but I had Gather Courage. Eventually one of my Wolves died to Lightning Helix, but by that time I had Selesnya Guildmage with Fists of Ironwood on it and three 0/1 Traproot Kami. He was attacking me with two Nightguard Patrols until I cast Siege Wurm as a blocker (he also had a Boros Recruit on defense as well as Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion). We stared at each other for a while until I drew a fourth land for Sandsower. Down went his guys, and I tapped my three Kami plus four land for Overwhelm to end the game.

Wow. I may have undervalued Overwhelm in this deck. Same goes with Llanowar Elves. If those Kami had been Elves I could have been doing cool things a lot faster.

Game 10: Monoblack Control

Darn you, Royal Assassin! Even though he had a sea of good cards--Nezumi Shortfang, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Journeyer's Kite, and Nezumi Graverobber, it was a dinky Royal Assassin that kept my deck in check. I attacked with a bunch of tokens for awhile, but I only had three land and if I tried to tap my Watchwolf or Selesnya Guildmage for convoke the Assassin would kill it. I eventually played Conclave Phalanx to stay in the game, but he could attack with Kokusho, kill it with the Assassin, then bring it back with Nighteyes the Desecrator. It didn't take very long for that combination to kill me, despite two Siege Wurms and a Dowsing Shaman in hand.

Okay, that's not a terrible start. The deck is doing fine against other modified preconstructed decks and losing to more polished decks. I can live with that at this stage. Time to make some changes, though. I apologize in advance that this round will be a significant number of changes. Read on to see why...

A Signature Card

As I originally started flipping through all of the options available to me with this deck, I started to panic. “Selesnya” and “convoke” and “little critters” are broad enough themes that can include a variety of beatdown, control, and combo decks alike. Did I want a beatdown deck? A control deck? Something in between? Something straightforward? Something bizarre?

Since I'm fast running out of generic fixes to my deck, it's time I choose a clear path for this deck's evolution. What I realized is that I want a signature card that will define my deck. When I think “signature card,” I often go sifting through the rares bargain bin.

What I found when perusing the list of Standard rares was fascinating. Never mind the obvious, powerful stuff I mentioned before like Loxodon Hierarch, Glare of Subdual, Promise of Bunrei, Yosei, the Morning Star, and Kodama of the North Tree. Those aren't signature cards... they're just good (and expensive, so feh! Who needs them?). I'm talking about Verdant Force, Autochthon Wurm, Marble Titan, Twilight Drover, Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant, Primordial Sage, Beast of Burden, Crown of Convergence, Biorhythm, Ursapine, Seedborn Muse, Hour of Reckoning, and Junkyo Bell. Seriously, think about each of those cards in turn and consider the implications for them in my Green/White deck. Each takes the deck in unique directions, demanding that I use the themes already embedded in Selesnya United differently.

But which signature card to choose? Ironically, it was Fists of Ironwood that decided it for me. The original Selesnya United decklist includes a startling four copies of Fists of Ironwood, but I couldn't help thinking that it was an odd choice for the deck. They're mostly there for token generation, but what are they supposed to enchant that needs trample? Siege Wurm already has trample. After that, about the only good targets are Root-Kin Ally and Scion of the Wild. I didn't like the idea of dropping my four copies of Fists since they seem so central to the preconstructed deck's original design, but I was also having a hard time justifying its existence in a deck focused on 1/1s.

Enter my signature card.

IN: 4 Emperor Crocodile

Emperor Crocodile
It's not as sexy as Twilight Drover or Verdant Force, but I've always liked Emperor Crocodile. I also can't help thinking that the Croc breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ravnica hit the shelves. “Look at all of those yummy tokens!” he must have smiled, followed by some abstract reptilian equivalent of “Yippee!” Emperor Crocodile seems a perfect excuse to keep Fists of Ironwood in the deck. My new 5/5 loves getting trample along with two more creatures to keep it alive. I can also get four of them for less than two copies of Glare.

So, what ways does Emperor Crocodile pull the deck themes? With Fists of Ironwood sticking around, more big bodies will be good. In addition, I need to keep the deck's ability to produce creatures at instant speed high. It means having a deck that can reliably reach four mana is important, even aside from convoke. Most importantly, it means my deck is going to be leaning more towards beatdown and away from control (again, without Glare, this makes some sense). Also important: I now have a muse.

IN: 2 Watchwolf

I might as well pull the band-aid off all at once. I said last week that my deck would include four copies of Green/White's best overall uncommon, so here are the third and fourth copies. I was surprised to find on last week's Message Boards that some folks don't like Watchwolf because they think it doesn't have much to do with little critters or convoke. On the surface that's true, but I have a hard time justifying that an efficient, solid creature, runs against the themes of a creature-based deck. Watchwolf has been great every time I've drawn it, giving my opponent something to deal with or die. The fact that it survives things like Hideous Laughter, Pyroclasm, and Shock is also peachy. For those folks who said Hand of Honor or Samurai of the Pale Curtain are better for two mana: There is no way I can see this deck supporting any creature that costs , at least with the current emphasis on Green.

OUT: 1 Dowsing Shaman

I like the Aura mini-theme of the deck, and I like the idea of recycling Fists of Ironwood again and again. It's a theme that, if expanded, would take up a lot of space in the deck though. I would want more Dowsing Shamans, more Auras like Pollenbright Wings, Blanchwood Armor, and Flickerform, along with creatures like Gate Hound, Bramble Elemental, and an Enchantress or two. These cards combine into a cool deck, but it's a deck pretty far afield from where it stands today. Since Emperor Crocodile is now my signature card, I simply don't have room for the Aura mini-theme aside from Fists of Ironwood.

OUT: 2 Centaur Safeguard

What I like about Centaur Safeguard is that I will almost always have the mana to cast it and that it has three power. After that, my like for it drops off considerably. The Safeguard doesn't survive long enough to be used for convoke (or to keep Emperor Crocodile alive), and its lifegain is nice to have but unspectacular. The fact that Watchwolf costs one mana less frankly makes Centaur Safeguard look pitiful.

OUT: 3 Gather Courage

I understand how tricky and cool Gather Courage can be. I also like what jklauk said on the Boards: “The card makes Watchwolf so much better the turn you cast him. They can't even Char him on their turn 3!” Gather Courage is even better now that I'm dedicated to the trampling goodness of Fists of Ironwood. The problem is that I really need creatures. Lots of creatures. No, more than that. More. Even more. This puts any non-creature cards under huge amounts of scrutiny. A card like Glare of Subdual or Umezawa's Jitte would pass the test as a non-creature card worthy of inclusion. Gather Courage isn't anywhere near the same league, and so I want to drop it for more creatures. (For the record, I consider the Fists of Ironwood a creature card for all intents and purposes)

That's already six cards changed this round, but it will drive me crazy if I don't go back an undo what I did last week...

OUT: 4 Traproot Kami

I'll admit when I make a mistake in these articles, and Traproot Kami was a mistake. If I push the deck into including many more Forests, I lose the ability to cast an early Watchwolf or Selesnya Evangel. Without those extra Forests, Traproot Kami is often too small to effectively block anything, so it's almost exclusively a convoke enabler. Worse, it's a convoke enabler that can't attack on its own or help me cast things like Emperor Crocodile. Without Traproot Kami the deck loses an ability to deal with fliers, but this is something I can address later (for the record, I still don't think Elvish Skysweeper is the answer).

IN: 4 Llanowar Elves

It's the card I should have added last week. Right now the deck has eight critical cards that cost four mana: Emperor Crocodile, Sandsower, and Nullmage Shepherd. None of these cards have convoke, and all can come out a turn earlier with Llanowar Elves. The fact that the Elves can attack when asked to do so is a huge bonus as well. There's still something slightly odd about including Llanowar Elves in a convoke deck, but I almost guarantee that I won't regret it. Starfire the Tainted made this argument on the Boards last week.

Sorry about the retracing of my steps there and the “pulling the band-aid off” with Watchwolf. I don't expect any future changes in this evolution to include as many cards.

Here is the deck now:

Selesnya United v.1.2

Download Arena Decklist

After such a dramatic shift, the hope is that my deck is performing at least noticeably better.

Game 11: Green/Black Beatdown

Selesnya Guildmage
He had Llanowar Elves and Wood Elves to my Watchwolf, Scatter the Seeds tokens, and Root-Kin Ally. Iwamori of the Open Fist hit on his side while Rend Flesh killed my Ally. I then played Emperor Crocodile and Conclave Phalanx to bring my life up to twenty-seven. My Crocodile traded with Iwamori, which paved the way for me to start the token beatdown. He cast Viridian Shaman to help stem the bleeding, but I cast another Scatter the Seeds and Selesnya Guildmage and that was game. My life was still twenty-seven when the smoke cleared.

Game 12: Green/White Selesnya

I played Llanowar Elves, Selesnya Evangel, Selesnya Evangel. My opponent played Selesnya Evangel, Selesnya Evangel, then said “this game might take awhile.” Indeed it did. I got in a few hits with a quick Siege Wurm, then we stalled out with token and creature madness. I played three Emperor Crocodiles. He played two Veteran Armorers and a Selesnya Guildmage. After many, many turns, he played Glorious Anthem, and suddenly the game opened up before me. I played Conclave Phalanx to boost my life into the upper thirties, then made myself look as vulnerable as possible. He took the bait and started his assault with 2/4 tokens. I blocked with my 5/5s, took damage down to the teens, then untapped, played Overwhelm, and stomped him to negative forty-four life. Wheee!

Game 13: Green/White/Red Spirit/Arcane

I got a nice start with two Llanowar Elves and Root-Kin Ally to my opponent's Petalmane Baku and Waxmane Baku. They kept attacking and I kept letting them since I was building my army. Down came Watchwolf. Down came another Root-Kin Ally. Down came Selesnya Evangel. Down came Fists of Ironwood on an Ally. Pow, pow, pow went my critters on the attack while my opponent looked on helplessly. I lost my Evangel to Glacial Ray and a few tokens to blockers, but otherwise it was a slaughter.

Game 14: Black/Blue Discard

His deck was mostly built around Megrim, with Ravenous Rats, Mindslicer, Mortivore, and tricky Dimir stuff. For awhile--a long while--he kept me in check with Peel from Reality, a pair of Cruel Edicts, and a pair of Rats. Eventually I got a Watchwolf with Fists of Ironwood, Scatter the Seeds, and the killer: Vitu-Ghazi the City-Tree. We arrived at a situation where he had both Rats, a Hunted Horror, and two Mindslicers while I had about fifteen tokens, two 3/3 Centaur tokens, a Siege Wurm, and my trampling Watchwolf. “Why don't you attack?” my opponent asked. I untapped, drew a Sandsower, and replied “Because I was waiting for something like this.” With both of us in topdeck mode, my opponent conceded.

Game 15: Black/Green Control

My second-turn Watchwolf died to Putrefy, as did my fourth-turn Nullmage Shepherd. His Distress nabbed Root-Kin Ally, which I thought was a mistake since he could have taken Scatter the Seeds instead. I made tokens, a topdecked Siege Wurm followed, and I was off to the races. The next turn I played Watchwolf and Emperor Crocodile. My opponent Recollected a Putrefy, but I had too much offense coming his way. It was a brutal, and brutally-short, game.

A Token For Your Thoughts

Well, that's all working out nicely. I'm benefiting from the fact that Ravnica is new online and so everyone's decks are unpolished. The deck isn't quite fast enough and can't seem to decide whether it wants short or long games. Still, it's starting to feel better to play.

Right now I'm still seeing more cards I want to add than cards I want to drop. That probably signals that the changes are going to start getting painful.

IN: 2 Scatter the Seeds

Scatter the Seeds
If the deck has an engine that makes it run, that engine includes Fists of Ironwood and Scatter the Seeds. I love that Scatter is an instant, and I love how smoothly my deck runs after I've cast it. Scatter the Seeds enables convoke, it keeps Emperor Crocodile alive, it makes my life soar, and more often than not gives me a bunch of disposable guys to throw past blockers. I would be really surprised if a true token deck of any kind doesn't pack four of these guys.

IN: 3 Selesnya Guildmage

This is another one of those cards that has mixed support on the Message Boards. Some people say he's faboo. Others say that he's mostly just a Grizzly Bears with abilities that are too expensive. I am definitely of the “faboo” mindset. My opinion is helped partly by the inclusion of Llanowar Elves, but even without the Elves I just don't see a downside to Selesnya Guildmage. His first ability generates tokens at instant speed. His second ability--by far the more relevant in my opinion--makes all of my tokens lethal. He's aggressive and aggressively costed. And, most impressively of all for my budget deck sans Temple Garden and Brushland, I will always be able to cast him. Sign me up!

OUT: 1 Dryad's Caress

The good news is that I will almost always receive the enhanced ability of untapping my creatures. The very existence of Dryad's Caress in the decklist had me seriously pondering a Seedborn Muse deck. Unfortunately, it does too little for six mana and goes against the aggressive nature that my deck is starting to develop. I really wish it had convoke, too, since six mana is asking a lot from my deck. Dryad's Caress is, without a doubt, the easiest card to drop at this point.

OUT: 2 Selesnya Evangel

Selesnya Evangel is much more difficult to drop. Some people will wonder why I'm adding three copies of Selesnya Guildmage yet dropping Selesnya Evangel. My answer is that I'm dropping the Evangel precisely to make room for the Guildmage. Let me examine the ways that Selesnya Evangel suffers by comparison: The Evangel can only produce one token a turn and taps two potential attackers to do it. The Evangel is a 1/2 for two mana. The Evangel costs the same as Watchwolf in a deck with little mana-fixing. Those are three pretty harsh indictments.

Again--and I don't meant to bore you by repeating myself so often--without the benefit of Temple Garden, Brushland, and Birds of Paradise, I want to limit the number of gold cards as much as possible. Watchwolf passes the threshold test and fits the beatdown style I'm crafting. So does Tolsimir Wolfblood (who also costs enough to make the mana less salient). The world would be a different place with access to all of the Green and White mana I wanted whenever I wanted it. As it is, I'm focusing on the best cards for the right mana, and Selesnya Evangel is on the outside looking in.

OUT: 2 Root-Kin Ally

For some reason, Root-Kin Ally really bugs me. I know that my opponents get scared when I cast him, but I always see him as a bit of a liability. His 3/3 body is fairly vulnerable the turn I cast him (or whenever I tap out), and I'm often just as well off attacking with my tokens as tapping them for the Ally's ability. He just strikes me as sort of underwhelming for a creature that costs one less than Siege Wurm. I think I'd rather have Llanowar Behemoth despite its lack of convoke, and right now I don't see room for the Behemoth in my deck (though it's a cool idea).

My deck now looks like so:

Selesnya United v.1.3

Download Arena Decklist

It occurs to me that I need to fix the land soon. The deck is emphasizing Green more and more and yet still almost half of the land produces White mana. I'm still not sold on Selesnya Sanctuary, and I am absolutely sold on Vitu-Ghazi. Otherwise, I feel like the deck is coming along nicely. Let's see if my games bear that sentiment out...

Game 16: Black/Green Reanimator

I got a quick Llanowar Elves and Watchwolf to his Sakura-Tribe Elder. I enchanted my Wolf with Fists of Ironwood, then cast another Elf. For a turn I worried he might have Hideous Laughter, but he stalled on three land and instead played Umezawa's Jitte. After two attacks from my 3/3 trampler and four 1/1s, my opponent failed to draw a fourth land and conceded. He showed me a hand of two Kokusho, the Evening Stars and two Hell's Caretakers.

Game 17: Black/Green Control

Plague Boiler
This game was as fun as it was short. I played a first-turn Llanowar Elves, then a second-turn Scion of the Wild. My opponent played Carven Caryatid. I put Fists of Ironwood on my Scion, then another Fists on my Elves and trampled over with my 6/6. He responded with Plague Boiler, then used Darkblast on my Elves. I dropped Emperor Crocodile and attacked for ten. The Boiler could only get two counters while I swarmed my opponent with tokens and fat.

I know that a lot of you didn't expect me to make a beatdown deck, but it occurs to me that this is how the token deck is going to be effective without access to Glare of Subdual. They can't play board-sweepers or scary Dragons if they're dead, right?

The next three games are cases in point.

Game 18: Black/Blue Dimir

My opponent dropped Wicked Akuba, which made me mistakenly think it was an aggressive deck. I played defensively at first, casting Llanowar Elves, Fists of Ironwood, Scatter the Seeds, Llanowar Elves, Fists of Ironwood, then Conclave Phalanx. I would have played a Siege Wurm, but it got Distressed out of my hand. Anyway, sitting at thirty life I was the target of Glimpse the Unthinkable and decided there was no time like the present to start attacking. After two waves of attack and several spins of a Sensei's Divining Top, my opponent conceded.

Game 19: Monogreen Fatties

I played Selesnya Guildmage, then enchanted it with Fists of Ironwood. My opponent played two Wood Elves and a Matsu-Tribe Sniper on defense, but I think he forgot about my Guildmage's ability when he tried to block and I pumped my guys. His side of the table died while my forces lived. After that, it was a massacre. I played Emperor Crocodile and put another Fists of Ironwood on it. My opponent tried Rootbreaker Wurm and blocked my Guildmage. I pumped my dudes to take him to two life, and on the next turn had another Guildmage. Even without the second Guildmage I could have tromped in for the win, but it was a nice demonstration to me that my deck hadn't yet run out of gas.

Game 20: Green/White/Black Good Stuff

I kid you not, at one point my opponent had a Selesnya Sanctuary on his side of the table and I had a trampling Watchwolf, two Llanowar Elves, two Saproling tokens, a Selesnya Guildmage, and four land. Eventually my opponent also had four land, a Birds of Paradise, Loxodon Hierarch, and Elves of Deep Shadow but it was way too little and way too late. I ended the game with Siege Wurm and Conclave Phalanx in hand, both of which I could have cast but felt unnecessary. My opponent showed me a hand of Putrefy, Gleancrawler, and another Hierarch. I don't think I was going to win a long game against his deck no matter how many tokens I made, so I'm glad I won fast.

So. Where am I?

  • Fists of Ironwood and Emperor Crocodile are the nucleus of my deck.
  • The deck is getting faster and more focused, though it still can get a lot better.
  • The deck still has a gaping weakness to board-sweepers, but I seem to be avoiding decks with board-sweepers in them (or winning too fast for my opponents to play them).
  • I still worry about fliers, but so far I've avoided them as well.
  • My deck probably curls up and dies to an equipped Umezawa's Jitte.
  • My land base needs work.

This last point I can at least address before signing off today. The other points, well... Your thoughts on the Boards are much appreciated.

OUT: 2 Selesnya Sanctuary

If I was playing Vinelasher Kudzu, I would really like these two copies. As it is, Selesnya Sanctuary is too slow to help my mana development. On the second and third turn I want to be casting threats rather than putting a land into play tapped and returning another to my hand. I'm thankful whenever one of my opponents forgets that the Sanctuary produces two mana instead of one, but that's a pretty minor point in its favor.

Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
IN: 1 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

As people on the Boards have attested, this is one spiffy land. It's probably the one answer I have to board-sweeping effects and is terrific in games that drag on for a long time. The only problem--and it's a significant one--is that it produces only colorless mana on its own. This makes Vitu-Ghazi almost a spell rather than a land, and I'm reluctant until I do some more testing about increasing the total number above two copies.

IN: 3 Forest

OUT: 2 Plains

As I said, the White part of the deck is diminishing, while the Green part is taking center stage. I can never get too low on the Plains while Watchwolf is still in the deck, but the danger of finding all White mana sources while having a bunch of Green cards trapped in hand is rising. I'll try the 14-8 land split to see how I like it.

Here is the deck I'll start playing next week:

Selesnya United v.1.4

Download Arena Decklist

Speak up on the Boards! I'm anxious to hear your thoughts.


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