Easy Being Green

Posted in ARCHIVES - ARTICLES on October 31, 2014

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

One of the things that I love about being green (and keep in mind when I say "being green" I really mean "being Simic" or "being Sultai") is that the color is capable of keeping up with blue when it comes to card drawing. I have two different Commander decks with blue and green in them—Momir Vig, Simic Visionary and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant—and in both decks, the bulk of the card drawing is done by green cards, and usually attached to power and toughness.

Cards like Elvish Visionary, Masked Admirers, Wall of Blossoms, Carven Caryatid, Krosan Tusker, and even the bodiless Harmonize all sit in a box waiting for whatever green Commander deck I might build next. I have been pulling cards for Selvala, Explorer Returned—who is a pretty solid draw engine herself—and it feels good to know you have ways to keep up with colors like black and blue that everyone thinks have cornered the market on drawing cards.

Today's preview card is going to go straight into both of my existing decks and is heading right into the building box for Selvala. It is a great place to sink all that extra mana you get when you start Thousand-Year Elixiring and Seeker of Skybreaking your Commander. Contrary to a popular song sung by a certain frog this card makes green look easy.

I like that this card has two plans. Plan A is to smash with a giant trampling monster. Play Gaea's Cradle; Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; and an assortment of Voyaging Satyr-like creatures and smash through your opponent's puny blockers. You can even go above and beyond the constraints of your mana production with cards like Doubling Season or...and this can get a little bit gross...Kalonian Hydra. A good dedicated green deck would be hard pressed not to get this guy into double-Spindown-counter territory pretty quickly. Keep in mind that the card drawing clause—aka Plan B—is mandatory and there will be some chance of getting decked with a well-timed removal spell by your opponents.

Plan B is really about restocking your hand and catching up in the life totals column. There are no shortage of big dumb green things to smash your opponents with and Lifeblood Hydra may have a better role to play than merely attacking. You may be aiming to kill everyone at the table with a wide attack backed up Craterhoof Behemoth. Finding a way to play and sacrifice your Hydra is going to get you headed in that direction. Look back a couple of months at my preview card for last core set and you will find Life's Legacy, which will let you double up your card drawing with the Hydra. Sinking eight mana into your Hydra—what is that; a mediocre turn four for a green deck in Commander?—will yield you ten cards next turn with Life's Legacy.

Eldrazi Monument is pretty exciting with Lifeblood Hydra. It is a giant indestructible flier with the Monument in play, but you also get to decide when you want to cash in your dice or beads on the Hydra for a fistful of fresh cards and more offerings to your Eldrazi overlords.

What I am really imagining here is somehow "going off" with Lifeblood Hydra, Genesis, and Greater Good. I don't know what combination of cards I am looking to find with those three cards working in concert but I am confident that I will find them.

All I know is that I will need at least three copies of the green Commander deck—and possibly a fourth just to be safe.

Big Z Lands a Big One

Matej Zatlkaj has been playing excellent Magic over the past several seasons with deep runs at multiple Pro Tours, including his second career Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze and a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Theros. It has been enough for him to remain comfortably at Gold in the Pro Player's Club, but with being a regular member of the video coverage team at European Grand Prix these past few seasons, the ability to transform that into Platinum has been challenging.

Matej Zatlkaj, Grand Prix Stockholm champion

The Slovak player joined up with a roster of other Czech and Slovak players and a few other stray Europeans to form The Cabin Crew at the end of last season. The results so far have been impressive. Ivan Floch won Pro Tour Magic 2015 and then went on to make the Top 8 of the first PT this season along with teammate Ondrej Strasky. Zatlkaj just added to the team's resume with the first Grand Prix victory of his career. I was actually surprised to find out that it was only the second Grand Prix Top 8.

"Earlier in my career it was harder to get to events because of my age and I couldn't justify flying to far-away Grand Prix alone," recalled the Grand Prix Stockholm champion. "I did manage to get a few good results over the years but it's been mostly near misses, with I think four GP Top16s within a one year period around 2009–2010. Since coming back into the game competitively it's been pretty hard to juggle doing coverage and playing, so I am trying to choose formats carefully as well as making sure I have time to test for them, which has been a big problem with my work commitments in the past."

Zatlkaj explained that he tries to avoid setting goals in his playing career after getting tripped up by them in the past. His plan for this season is to replace goals with hard work and a focus on the relevant formats.

"As a Gold-level pro, it's nice knowing that I don't have to worry about qualifying for the big stage for the next year. On the other hand," he said of the schedule that took him to Hawaii and then back to Stockholm in the past few weeks, "this autumn, I saw a perfect opportunity to start off the season with a bang with several events that I could chain together to maximize the practice I've been putting in during the weekdays. So basically the plan is to play all but one European GP left in the year to use the Standard knowledge and learn new things about Modern leading up to the next Pro Tour."

Zatlkaj has tinkered about with various European team rosters since he returned to high-level competition at PT Dragon's Maze. The eponymous cabin that The Cabin Crew uses for playtesting has been a fixture for the European community to test, but in the past it was almost exclusively used for Limited. Martin Juza and Frank Karsten were previously with Team ChannelFireball and they would spend time playtesting the draft format with various Czech and Slovak pros, with everyone agreeing to keep their Constructed thoughts to themselves. When both Juza and Karsten decided to look for other team arrangements, The Cabin Crew was born.

"It all seemed to make sense to come together and give it a proper go as a mostly Czech-Slovak team, with some international flavor in Frank (Karsten) and Robin Dolar to give us more depth," said Zatlkaj of the team's origins. "Our first PT as a united team yielded a PT win in Ivan Floch, the second one gave us two team members in the Top 8 and plenty of money finishes, so I would say we are doing really well. I still think we can keep improving our testing process but I think everyone seems energized by our good results, and we have also started working for GPs much closer than before, which is great. The preparation at the cabin is just nonstop Magic, with no distractions, high in the mountains, and a great team spirit."

That preparation led the team into three different Standard decks for the Pro Tour.

"The openness of the format was clearly demonstrated by us choosing three different decks to battle with in Jeskai, Abzan, and Blue-Black Control. The thing that is true about this format is that very few matchups are truly lopsided, so you have a shot of winning any matchup if you choose a well-positioned deck," said Zatlkaj, who skipped GP Los Angeles but paid close attention to the results.

"First thing I did was to message Fabrizio Anteri after seeing him Top 16 with an interesting take on Jeskai to get his thoughts on the format," said Zatlkaj of the adjustments he made for Standard after two major events. "Ondrej Strasky and I also figured out that Jeskai would probably be less popular now after a poor showing at the Grand Prix with the rise of decks such as Mono-Red, Temur and RG Monsters, which we felt were decent matchups for the traditional creature-heavy versions of Jeskai. Brimaz also proved to be a powerhouse in the deck so we just pretty much went back to Yuuya Watanabe's deck, adjusted a few cards, and formed proper sideboard plans for all decks we expected to face. Ondrej managed an 11–4 finish at the GP while another friend went 12–3 with a very similar version."

Matej Zatlkaj's Jeskai—Winner, Grand Prix Stockholm

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I know I will be excited to see how The Cabin Crew fares at upcoming events. You will see multiple members of the team playing during Worlds Week in Nice, including Pro Tour M15 Champion Ivan Floch trying to control the rest of the field in World Championship. As for Zatlkaj, he was already thinking about his next Grand Prix and how to adapt in Standard after his own win.