Nature and Nurture

Posted in Feature on October 23, 2002

By Ben Bleiweiss

When I first began writing for back in January, Mark and Aaron sent me an email detailing the first few columns we’d be producing. They all centered on Torment previews, and therefore the color black. My first assignment centered around Ichorid and cards with the tombstone symbol, followed by Faceless Butcher and other cards which temporarily removed other cards from the game, an examination of the top five black sets of all time, and a look at Basking Rootwalla and other discard hosers.

Finally given free choice over subject matter, I decided to dedicate each of the next few weeks to exploring a facet of each color in Magic. I dove into blue creature types, anti-white hosers, and one mana cost direct damage spells.

Black, blue, white and red.

And then there was the infamous green column.


Even though I’d qualify that Zoo column as an unqualified disaster, my head was in the right place. When people think of green, they think fatties. They imagine big hulking monstrosities roaring across the forests to smash in your face. Maybe they envision elves protecting the woods, aided by ancient Treefolk and ferocious woodland animals. Either way, green is the color of nature.

Today I’ll be taking a look at the top five green expansions of all time. As with my black set ranking, I’d like to establish a few ground rules before I delve into the cards.

  1. Not everyone will agree with my rankings. That’s fine; these are my opinions. It was very difficult for me to narrow this list down to just five sets, but these are the guns I’m sticking to.
  2. Only expansion sets are up for consideration. This means that all of the basic editions, from Alpha through Seventh Edition are right out. Onslaught also will not be ranked since its power level hasn’t been gauged through actual play yet.
  3. Reprints (such as Rampant Growth) don’t count as much past their initial appearance. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and we’re talking about Mother Nature after all.
  4. Gold cards don’t count at all. I did this in the last set ranking, and I’m sticking to my guns here. Wouldn’t be fair to black to change the rules midstream, would it?
  5. Cards played primarily in constructed, especially those which defined entire deck archetypes, really make up the meat and bones of these rankings. Sorry Anthony, but this isn’t about the multi-players.
  6. Just remember, this isn’t a game of kick-the-Ouphe. Accordingly, send all comments to

Let’s get down to business, shall we?


Urza's Destiny

Cards of Note: compost; elvish piper; Emperor Crocodile; Heart Warden; Pattern of Rebirth; Plow Under; Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary; Splinter; thorn elemental; Yavimaya Elder; yavimaya enchantress.

Why is it number five?: Narrowly edging out Urza’s Legacy, Urza’s Destiny offers up a cornucopia of green creatures and spells. While the cards in this set weren’t environmentally defining cards such as Survival of the Fittest or Oath of Druids from Exodus (which also finishes outside the top five), they filled a ton of different needs for green mages everywhere. From mana acceleration to mana denial and all points in between, Urza’s Destiny is your set.

  • thorn elemental replaced Force of Nature and Verdant Force as fatty of choice for many players. "New trample" removed the blocking option from combat. If thorn elemental wants to deal seven damage, thorn elemental gets to deal seven damage.
  • Amazing mana accelerator Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary enabled green mages to make ridiculous six mana plays on the third turn (tap three forests + tap Rofellos).
  • Pattern of Rebirth was an integral part of a strange combo deck involving Phyrexian Ghoul. Ideally, you’d play a first turn Birds of Paradise, and follow it up with a second turn Ghoul. Then, on your third turn, you’d cast Academy Rector. It’d be sacrificed to the Ghoul (which goes to 4/4), and used to fetch Pattern of Rebirth, which went on the Birds. The Birds in turn feeds the Ghoul (6/6) and brings another Rector into play. That Rector is fed to the Ghoul (8/8), bringing Saproling Burst into play. Then you’d make six 1/1 tokens with the Burst, all of which go to make the Ghoul 20/20. That’s not bad for a third turn play involving three cards (the Bird, the Ghoul, the Rector).
  • As long as you’re playing with Rofellos, why not utterly frustrate your opponent with a third turn Plow Under? Nothing setting your opponent back two turns before they’ve ever had a chance to play the game.
  • Green, not normally known for card drawing, received two gifts. compost remains to this day one of the best sideboard cards against black decks. More important is Yavimaya Elder. This little guy gives four for one card advantage, smoothes out mana bases, and beats down the whole while. What more could you ask for?


Cards of Note: City of Solitude, creeping mold, Elephant Grass, Emerald Charm, Natural Order, Quirion Ranger, River Boa, Stampeding Wildebeests, Uktabi Orangutan, Warthog


Why is it number four?: There’s a reason nobody plays green in Type 1: All of the old green cards rank somewhere in usefulness between Lance and Reflexes. Sure, you might get an occasional Sylvan Library (to use in your blue deck) or Birds of Paradise (to use in your blue deck) or Kird Ape (wait, that’s not green). Never mind. Visions marks the point where green started getting multiple tournament-worthy cards per set.

Secret Force

Download Arena Decklist
Sorcery (11)
4 Creeping Mold 4 Natural Order 3 Overrun
Land (3)
3 Gaea's Cradle
Other (19)
16 Forests 3 Wastelands
60 Cards


Cards of Note: Abundance, Albino Troll, Argothian Enchantress, blanchwood armor, Carpet of Flowers, elvish lyrist, Exploration, Fecundity, fertile ground, Gaea's Cradle, Gaea's Embrace, Hush, Pouncing Jaguar, Priest of Titania, Symbiosis, Wild Dogs

Urza's Saga

Why is it number three?: Urza’s Saga plays like a greatest hits collection for green’s one and two drop slots. Shall we take a peek?

  • Stomp stomp stompy! This mono-green deck sports almost all one drops. Pouncing Jaguar, Wild Dogs, and elvish lyrist all fit snugly into the mana curve.
  • Priest of Titania was so good with Elves that it had to be stricken from Onslaught. Elf-Ball was a deck that took advantage of the Priest and Gaea's Cradle to deliver truly massive (read: 10+ damage) Fireballs starting on turn four.
  • Exploration found a home in Zvi Mowshowitz’s Turbo Land deck:

Turbo Land: Plan B

Download Arena Decklist
  • fertile ground, mainstay of the five color Invasion block, first made an appearance in the decidedly less manariffic Urza block. More importantly at the time was the card-drawing Argothian Enchantress, and the spectacular 3/3 regenerator known as Albino Troll. What do all three have in common? Their mana cost, of course.


Cards of Note: Aluren, Choke, Earthcraft, Eladamri's Vineyard, Elvish Fury, harrow, Muscle Sliver, overrun, rampant growth (reprint), Reap, Recycle, Root Maze, Rootwalla, Scragnoth, trained armodon, tranquility (reprint), Verdant Force, Winter's Grasp.

Why is it number two?: Verdant Force. The best Giant Growth ever. The best mana diversifiers. Not one, but two engine cards. What more could you want from a green set?

  • Verdant Force. He’s big, he’s mean, he’s green, and he’s here to kick your butt. Not only does he bring his big bad self to the party, but he brings along friends each and every turn. There’s nothing better than a party guest who brings along his own salad.
  • overrun. No other card has made horrible Gray Ogres so good in sealed deck and draft. Your creatures become huge and trampling. All of them. Your opponent becomes flattened and dead. All of him.
  • Want mana diversification? Try harrow, which makes its first triumphant appearance as an uncommon in Tempest. Later it’d be deemed important enough to become common just in time for Invasion.
  • Perish appears in this set, and goes down in history as the single harshest hoser ever. Choke comes somewhere near the top of that list, shutting down many a blue player. Scragnoth furthered the mad-on green had for la agua.
  • Earthcraft got itself banned in Standard and Extended for being too good in conjunction with many an infinite mana combo, especially when combined with Fertile Ground. Good thing too, because it is obscene being able to make infinite squirrel tokens with Squirrel Nest. Please, exterminate squirrel tokens.
  • Aluren, the second combo engine card green received in this set, still sees play to this day. Look for Aluren decks to see play at Pro Tour - Houston in a couple of weeks.


Cards of Note: Bearscape, Beast Attack, Call of the Herd, Chatter of the Squirrel, Diligent Farmhand, Druid Lyrist, Ground Seal, Holistic Wisdom, Krosan Beast, Moment's Peace, Muscle Burst, Nantuko Shrine, Nimble Mongoose, Overrun (reprint), Rites of Spring, Roar of the Wurm, Spellbane Centaur, Squirrel Nest, Sylvan Might, Terravore, Werebear, Wild Mongrel.

Why is it number one?: Did you see the list right above? Twenty-three constructed-worthy cards for green in one set! Some people cry that green has gotten the shaft, that green isn’t powerful enough, and that green hasn’t gotten any good cards.


Cry me a river, because green has been steadily getting the goods ever since Jamie Wakefield made a federal case out of the weakness of green. Odyssey marks the first time that green got the most good cards in one base set.

  • Flashback token creatures gave green a way to garner card advantage without having to sacrifice beatdown time. Call of the Herd led this charge, and was closely followed by Roar of the Wurm, Beast Attack, and Chatter of the Squirrel.
  • Speaking of Squirrels, they finally came of their own in Odyssey. Aside from the aforementioned Chatter, there was the über-creature generator Squirrel Nest and the hugely thresholded Krosan Beast.
  • Speaking of threshold, Werebear did something that hadn’t been done before in Magic: it replaced Llanowar Elves. You see, there’s a long history of two-drop Elves in previous blocks which just weren’t quite good enough to justify an extra colorless mana. This time around, the promise of a 4/4 body in the late game more than made up for the slight loss of early mana acceleration.
  • Terravore and Nimble Mongoose found a home in a deck known as Balancing Tings, which combined the power of sacrifice lands from Invasion with Balancing Act from Odyssey. In between the two were the only actual kill cards in the deck, the ‘Vore and the ‘Goose.
  • Bearscape: A way to turn all your old spells into new creatures. Holistic Wisdom: A way to turn all new spells into old spells. Remember kids, nature loves people who find ways to recycle.
  • And lastly, I’ll just leave you with the best bear ever. It’s a Hound, it’s a ridiculous madness, threshold and flashback enabler, and it very nearly can’t be killed. Wild Mongrel.

Next week: The winner of the Create-Your-Own-Column contest.

Ben may be reached at

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