Hug a Tree... a Shy, Voluptuous, Tree...

Posted in Feature on May 31, 2007

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

In Greek mythology, the dryad is a kind of female tree spirit, specifically the nymph of an oak tree. Like the awe-inspiring Pegasus and fearsome Cyclops, the reclusive dryad has found a home in the greater pantheon of fantasy and myth. Dryads are a common feature of C.S. Lewis's Narnian landscape, and the heir to the throne of the West weds a queen of dryad descent in David Eddings's The Belgariad. Of course the dryad lives on in the hearts, hands, and Red Zones of many the modern magician.

Dryad Arbor
For Dryad Week, I decided to analyze the various Magic Dryads and assess their viability in tournament play.

Chorus of the Conclave
Chorus of the Conclave is a bit of a disappointment. Eight mana is a tremendous investment in Constructed tournament play, reserved for automatic game-winners like Bogardan Hellkite or one of the Akroma sisters (and while a minority of decks have paid retail, or at least had the capacity to pay retail for one of these eights, the best versions have almost invariably cheated with some kind of reanimation or storm strategy). It isn't just the cost of Chorus of the Conclave that is disappointing... Like I said, we are willing to pay eight for the right creature, but this band of wood nymphs is only 3/8 and offers a comparatively insignificant special ability. Just compare Chorus of the Conclave to faster and more impressive double-colored-mana guild Legendary Creatures like Ghost Council of Orzhova or Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind to see what some of the other color combinations are banking for their investments.

Dryad Arbor
We opened up (alphabetically) on the most expensive Dryad card, and this one is the cheapest... with no mana cost at all! Dryad Arbor is presumably the loam in which the seed of Dryad Week was planted, being the only Dryad card in Future Sight.

My gut reaction to this card is that I am not a fan. I actually think Dryad Arbor is in many ways weaker than a regular basic Forest. Because it is affected by summoning sickness, it can't tap for a Birds of Paradise on the first turn, and it effectively turns any kind of Shock into a Sinkhole... for half the cost! That said, Dryad Arbor can fill some interesting roles. You can topdeck it late in a game to chump block and keep yourself alive, and some Dredge decks are already running it to speed up Dread Return flashback.

Dryad Sophisticate
The dryads of Greek mythology were a shy lot, generally avoiding contact with anyone but the goddess Artemis. In Magic, Dryads of many stripes have or convey some kind of evasion... Of this brand of Dryad, Dryad Sophisticate is arguably the strongest, having won a Pro Tour as a key four-of.

Mark Herberholz – Heezy Street

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Your 2007 Resident Genius Mark Herberholz first showcased his deck-positioning prowess with Heezy Street. He read the format and built to beat slow, targeted control cards with Scorched Rusalka and Giant Solifuge; Dryad Sophisticate was a key element of Mark's anti-format strategy. Basically everyone had nonbasic lands, meaning that this card was essentially an unblockable curve opportunity: turn-two Dryad, tur- three Moldervine Cloak.

Dryad's Caress
You would never really want to play this in a Constructed tournament. Life gain is fabulous when you tack it to a 4/4 for four (with yet another ability), or when you can kill or neutralize a creature or other threat at the same time, as with Faith's Fetters and Tendrils of Corruption. It is not the best at six mana, though. This card was marginal even in forty-card play, though the "gotcha" of untapping several creatures mid-combat surely won a game at some point or other during Ravnica draft.

Folk of the Pines
What a strange card... Folk of the Pines doesn't look anything like the good Dryads, being both expensive rather than two mana, and essentially irrelevant in terms of her ability.

Heartwood Dryad
Heartwood Dryad
Heartwood Dryad was never a Constructed Tier One player, though she could probably have been if the metagame had bent in a particular way. The ability to block shadow is only as good or better than shadow itself if there is a critical mass of shadow creatures, and though Soltari Priest, Soltari Monk, Dauthi Horror, and Dauthi Slayer were popular during their day, they didn't exactly outnumber everyone else in such a way as to put Heartwood Dryad on the front lines when River Boa was still in print. This card was a fine option for green in Limited play, important even, for containing the innumerable shadow creatures in the more impressive colors.

Ivy Dancer
I've often thought about playing Ivy Dancer in Constructed, but there has never been the right opponent... The card is just too mediocre on its own, being a 1/2 for three mana. Last year, BDM wrote a column about how some strong players were running Ivy Dancer main in Sealed Deck to good effect because the structure of Ravnica Block Limited featured Forests for such a large percentage of the field.

Llanowar Vanguard
Uh... No.

Quirion Dryad
Either the strongest or the second strongest of the Dryads, Quirion Dryad is easily the most decorated, and has contributed to numerous winning decks, most recently Steve Sadin's transformative sideboard from Grand Prix Columbus:

Steven Sadin

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Quirion Dryad was a Grand Prix superstar in 2002, helping Alan Comer, Brian Kibler, Ben Rubin, and numerous others to top finishes in Miracle Grow, and later sickestever.dec. Probably the most impressive run for the card was in the hands of Alexander Witt, who won a Masters grinder and then won the Nice Masters Series itself with his version of sickestever.dec. Ten straight matches gave Witt $25,000!

Pro Tour Nice Masters: Miracle Gro

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This deck had only 14 lands, but believe it or not, that was four more than Alan Comer's original nonwhite design. The numerous cheap manipulation cards like Sleight of Hand and Land Grant, plus the ability to cheat with Werebear, Daze, and Gush gave the Miracle Grow family just enough land to play their zero-, one-, and two-mana spells while the opponent flopped around under Winter Orb.

Rime Dryad
Obviously Rime Dryad was not going to knock over any metagames concurrent with Necropotence, but... Nah, still no. It's interesting, actually, because on the numbers, Rime Dryad is almost better than Savannah Lions. Almost. Power is just so much more important than toughness on a cheap creature because the goal in Magic is to knock the opponent from 20 to 0 as quickly as possible, not present a slightly oversized blocker for a cost.

Rushwood Dryad
This card was popular in one style of aggressive green deck during the heyday of Tooth and Nail. Never "the best" deck, the aggressive green decks had the ability to weather the Red Decks of the day with superior size on the ground, and oops their ways to winning against Tooth with the second-turn Dryad / third-turn Blanchood Armor sequence. Zodiac Monkey replaced Rushwood Dryad in Standard, but has never seen the same level of popularity... possibly because there is no longer a dominant Tooth and Nail deck; Dryad Sophisticate has largely blanked this style of creature just because so many opponents have nonbasic lands (versus just Forests).

Rushwood Legate
Rushwood Legate was a popular anti-blue sideboard card in especially the low-mana StOmPy decks of about 2000-2001. These decks typically played as few as nine lands and went for explosive threats, pressuring the opponent to react to a massive amount of power.

Ben Rubin

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Ben's "Ten Land Green" deck is a good example of the style; he played the metagame a little, with a maindeck Rushwood Dryad, obviously expecting to see some number of Islands in the first game.

Shanodin Dryads
Shanodin Dryads
I remember playing this card back in the summer of 1994, when I didn't know any better. It turns out that ten and more years later, other players would be swinging with Jukai Messengers—essentially the same as Shanodin Dryads for the purpose of beating Tooth and Nail—just because it was a good target for Blanchwood Armor. This only works if the metagame plays out a certain way and there is a clear dominant deck that you want to hate, and it only works for the Dryad team when that deck has Forests.

At the risk of stealing a measure of Matt's Vorthos thunder, I prefer the Seventh Edition picture to Shanodin Dryads and also the Shanodin Dryads and Shanodin Dryads reissues... It has the best plasticity, movement, and trees.

Believe it or not, this card was played in serious Constructed Magic! By a Pro Tour Champion! In the Affinity-dominated realm of Mirrodin Block Constructed, Nicolai Herzog gambled on playing against artifact lands... and won! He didn't actually win a match, going 0-3 to a trio of Red Decks, but his bet on Tanglewalker still made sense.

Nicolai Herzog

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Though Nico wasn't ultimately successful with the build, his Tanglewalker deck is one of the first to attempt to play Sword of Fire and Ice, which makes triple losses to Red Decks a mite ironic...

Transluminant just got stuck in a bad block (and by "bad" I mean "great"). In another age, this card would probably have amounted to more than a Limited staple, but up against Watchwolf, Transluminant will lose the battle for the coveted two-drop spot almost every time.

Unseen Walker
I actually played her in 1997, in the local Mirage / Visions Arena League, which I won. It didn't actually have anything to do with Unseen Walker, though in terms of Vorthos mark-outs, I've always given this card the thumbs up for drapery and subtlety.

Vine Dryad
See Ben Rubin's Ten Land Green, above. Vine Dryad was strong in StOmPy as it could both play extra damage in the early game (helping Wild Dogs to attack early), or cheat on Rancor. For example, going second, Vine Dryad gave its masters a positively Gemstone Caverns opportunity to play a creature during the opponent's upkeep. Then, on the StOmPy player's first turn, he could cruise in for three, often unblockable, damage!

Willow Dryad
Third time's the charm on the Vorthos comments... Sorry Matt! I promise not to steal any more of your action this week, Dryad Week! Willow Dryad might in fact be my favorite of all the Dryad art, which is no surprise coming from D. Alexander Gregory, the artist behind great pieces like Femeref Enchantress and Gifts Ungiven. This one is subtle and foreboding at the same time, like the Willow Dryad is going to pop out of the trees and get ya... for one. But you can't block her! Unless you aren't green.

As for playability, Willow Dryad is the exact same as Shanodin Dryads, meaning she probably isn't good enough on the merits, but could be a role player in the right deck, given the right expected opponents. Slap a Moldervine Cloak on her, and she'll beat up Tooth and Nail.

Wormwood Dryad
Marginal in Limited. Highly unlikely in Constructed. Compare against...

Yavimaya Dryad
Yavimaya Dryad
One of the newest Dryads, Yavimaya Dryad is already on the short list, probably around third behind Pro Tour–winning Sophisticate and Grand Prix and Masters-winning Quirion. Yavimaya Dryad will almost certainly prove to be a big earner; she has already locked up some nice Champs-level titles, and she has the two-drops covered on overall strength... but you'd expect that given the mana cost differential. This card has replaced standbys like Wood Elves and Civic Wayfinder in Glare decks, and is highly flexible both on offense and as a potential chump blocker that ramps resource development at the same time. Obviously highly playable, Yavimaya Dryad seems like a fine nymph to finish up our look at Dryad Week.

Next Week: The Annual Regionals Primer!

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