What Happened to Standard Stompy
The Standard meta that ended its run in October was much friendlier to monocolored decks than the current one seems to be. As it turns out, getting access to half the Ravnican Guilds favors multicolor decks, who knew? And among the victims of this new trend is our old friend Steel Leaf Stompy.
We're just one month and a half into the brave new world of GRN Standard, and one thing is already sure: monocolored is not the word anymore. It's obviously not an unexpected development, what with the very set triggering the rotation being one that emphasizes two-color combinations. But some of the monocolored decks from earlier in the year were strong enough that imagining they could survive the passage didn't feel beyond the realms of possibility. One of these in particular was represented by a very powerful three-mana creature from Dominaria, one that didn't seem likely to go away anytime soon. Except, so far, it did.
As I previously discussed, Steel Leaf Champion was one of the centerpieces of a Mono-Green Stompy deck that was doing well in Standard in the months following the release of Dominaria and leading to Guilds of Ravnica. And unlike other key cards such as Rhonas the Indomitable, Scrapheap Scrounger and Heart of Kiran, it wasn't going to be swept away by the upcoming rotation. In fact, in the first weeks of the new world order, he and his pals Thorn Lieutenant, Thrashing Brontodon and Ghalta, Primal Hunger held their ground, gathered new allies and tried to push through, giving birth to lists like this:
Post-Rotation Monogreen Stompy
|23Forest||2Deathgorge Scavenger||2Vivien Reid|
|3Ghalta, Primal Hunger|
|4Steel Leaf Champion|
|3Carnage Tyrant||2Deathgorge Scavenger||1Kraul Harpooner|
|3Prey Upon||1Reclamation Sage||2Ripjaw Raptor|
|2Shapers' Sanctuary||1Vine Mare|
The Aggro Elements
In the new version, Steel Leaf Champion is still there to ensure an explosive turn two following a Llanowar Elves opening, while the legacy of Greenbelt Rampager as secondary turn-one action was picked up by Pelt Collector. The Collector is a very different card than the Rampager, though, being much worse as a late-game draw, but with a nice potential in the early stages of the game, considering the deck is likely to chain creatures that will keep increasing the Collector's body, either by hitting or leaving the battlefield. Thorn Lieutenant is in this sense a strong follow-up to a turn-one Collector, freeing the deck from an over-reliance on Llanowar Elves and playing more like an actual Modern Stompy deck by mimicking the beats and interdependence of Experiment One and Avatar of the Resolute.
And if Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Vine Mare are still around to strengthen the mid-game, the new sheriff in town is certainly Nullhide Ferox. I'm personally of two minds about this guy, seeing it as the card that single-handedly caused the greatest excitement about the prospects of this new Stompy incarnation, then quickly turned them off. It definitely feels powerful and can indeed win games by the sheer impact of its body alone. For all intents and purposes, it's the fast beater I was wishing for as a replacement to what the previous incarnation of the deck was going to lose; but it's also kind of a trap. That hexproof keyword is not actually hexproof, it's just the Frost Titan ability. Which, granted, still makes for a tough carapace to pierce, but it also pushes the Ferox player away from noncreature spells, because shutting off its downside taxes them too much. This results in a more straightforward, almost entirely non-interactive aggro build, one where you just cast body upon body then turn them sideways, without even the luxury of a combat trick to time right. In one word, it's dull.
The Supporting Elements
As I correctly predicted (not that it was a hard a call to make), Vivien Reid is now one of the most successful planeswalkers of this Standard era. She's so effective in everything she does, and with all the strategic and tactical options she brings to the board, she has become the sole noncreature card that most iterations of this Ferox-based archetype can afford to run. Still, you have to make sure not to drop her after the demanding Beast, because that would raise her cost to a whopping seven mana, which is not a very reasonable amount for a deck that doesn't pack any ramp element beyond Llanowar Elves.
Consequently, the rest of the support comes, by necessity, in creature form. Thrashing Brontodon remains the go-to guy for dealing with artifacts and enchantments (Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin and the white exilers are still rampant, and now there's also Experimental Frenzy to contend with), and it's better main deck material than Reclamation Sage. Kraul Harpooner is the closest thing to creature removal the deck is able to run, and while it can occasionally get rid of some annoying flyer, it's situational enough to only show up in the starting sixty in virtue of its excellent cost/body ratio, which makes it ideal to grow a two-powered Pelt Collector further.
Deathgorge Scavenger was extremely underrated in the previous Standard meta, despite the many potential targets it had there, and I'm glad that it's now being played more, even if it's mostly as a sideboard option to hate on Jump-start cards and Phoenixes, but the graveyard is still relevant enough in the meta to warrant a main deck role for the little Dinosaur. Its body is the same as the Harpooner for one mana more, but it can boost itself and gain life, so it's a nice multi-purpose business what it's proposing. This said, the slots it occupies can easily be given over to Jadelight Ranger, who might be less interactive but can occasionally turn into card advantage and helps with the land drops.
As possible alternative options, Territorial Allosaurus is underplayed, but its six-mana routine to kill a creature doesn't feel very efficient, even if it can take down Lyra Dawnbringer and Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice more assuredly than the Harpooner.
The Land Base
With Hashep Oasis gone, and Memorial to Unity not particularly worth the tapland toothache, we're left with just plain old basic Forests. As before, running nongreen sources is an iffy proposition due to Steel Leaf Champion's stern requirement.
As for splashes, the moment Scrapheap Scrounger ceased to be a factor, there was no immediate urge to branch into black anymore, though such a splash was going to be tested as a way to play at least Assassin's Trophy and Find // Finality. But that's the root of the problem right there. As simplistic as this deck's strategy has become, being banal never stopped powerful builds to thrive in the past. But as soon as the Golgari siren (and to a lesser extent, the Selesnya one) started its call, why resist?
What Went Wrong
This is the thing, nothing went inherently wrong with this build. It's solid and can lead to scary plays that are hard to come back from even for dedicated control decks. It's just that the GRN meta naturally produced a similar yet superior archetype in Golgari Midrange. It's not even a matter of supremacy in direct confrontations. The Golgari list that currently leads the meta curves into a four-mana Ravenous Chupacabra, which is not a very good answer to a deck that curves into a four-mana Nullhide Ferox. But it's just a more dynamic and interactive build, continually accessing the deck with its ten to twelve exploration guys, directly fighting high-pressure decks with Wildgrowth Walker (a card that requires a very specific setup to deliver) and dominating the late-game with finishers like Carnage Tyrant and Doom Whisperer. It also allows access to and provides a good home for both Vraska, Golgari Queen and Vraska, Relic Seeker, while still running the density of creatures that makes Vivien Reid a powerhouse.
Monogreen Stompy, as it is now, has too little interaction, largely due to Nullhide Ferox's interference. Vivien Reid might be able to engineer a win out of a ground-based standstill, but the Golgari and Dimir Demons, the Selesnya and Boros Angels, and the Izzet Drakes and Dragons bypass its defenses, and the Harpooner alone is too high-variance to work as a solution the way the Chupacabra mostly does. Even more importantly, Golgari has multiple ways to achieve card advantage via draw or recursion, and more value creatures, whereas Stompy is populated almost entirely by pure beaters.
The loss of Rhonas the Indomitable and the artifacts is not even the issue here; Blossoming Defense is probably the card that this deck misses more, but even if it were still around, Nullhide Ferox would make it much less appealing. And for better or for worse, the Ferox remains the chief reason to play this deck at this stage; it is a frightening card for the opponent to face, and Ghalta still drops fast and furious on its heels. Only, even more than before, the meta is requesting a degree of flexibility that our Stompy just doesn't have. And no, in the end Impervious Greatwurm, unsurprisingly, didn't help.
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