Get into the Gruul
- Sancho Napora
What should Green-Red do in your cube? Sometimes when constructing a limited environment for drafting Magic it is worth giving the obvious choice a try. And since the dawn of Magic the guild known as Gruul has proven quite good at producing lots of mana and casting very big spells with a casting cost of X.
The anarchic and loosely federated Gruul guild is notoriously known for taking a stand against all that is ordered and civilized. Gruul is the guild of the chaos created by nature and individuality, finding its own way around rigid rules and regulations or smashing through them and trampling over them, as an always unpredictable and often very creative destructive force. As such Gruul is also very idiosyncratic when it comes to choosing how to implement it as an archetype in any given cube. You can go for the low-to-the-ground aggro approach of elves and goblins, you can risk a salty playgroup with the many available land destruction spells in the two colors, and you can even device a way to make Storm the strategy of Gruul. In this article I make the case for creating a destructive Gruul force by combining Green's ramping powers with Red's ability to always be on curve using spells with X in the casting cost. Let's dive straight in.
Making the Gruul and Elvish Picks
Any player drafting a deck that includes Green will naturally be picking good selection of the green ramp spells and in any case, it makes sense to include quite a good portion of ramp in that color in your limited environment, because ramp is one of the major reasons to be in Green. Elves are a great choice for this since they combine ramp with a body and because they also by themselves represent an interesting aggro strategy with its own tribal synergies. The classic here is of course Llanowar Elves, the original mana dork providing a jump from turn one to turn three since the dawn of Magic – and a chump blocker later on. Llanowar Elves is also a card that has been printed in nearly forty versions with five different illustrations giving you lots of options when it comes to customizing and pimping your cube to suit your taste.
Birds of Paradise will always be a popular pick for a 1 CMC ramp creature but including it does forfeit any elf tribal synergy (that may even make monogreen viable to draft in your cube). Other one-drop Elves could be Llanowar impersonators such as Elvish Mystic and Fyndhorn Elves, while Arbor Elf, Heritage Druid and Joraga Treespeaker each put their own spin on the theme. At the two-drop slot Priest of Titania is a given for cubes housing many Elves. Heart Warden is great for the early game and you can sacrifice it later in the game, when cards may be the resource you are looking for. Quirion Elves and Druid of the Anima will probably have a harder time making the cut, and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary have several factors working against him when it comes to being an auto-include. His cost of two green mana is one problem, and for some the major obstacle to making him a part of their cube will be his ever-rising cost due to the fact that he is on the Reserve List: Rofellos is currently priced at 21,95 € (cheapest English near mint for sale on Cardmarked at the time of writing) and rising. Above 2 CMC ramp might be a somewhat questionable, but you could consider Civic Wayfinder, Elvish Archdruid and Wood Elves. Playing all those mana-producing Elves, the instant Vitalize may also work in your cube doubling as ramp and a combat trick.
Gruul Balls of Fire
Putting all your elves in one basket or having all your ramp on a stick (i.e. in the form of creatures) is risky business and leaves the Gruul player very vulnerable to board wipes such as Wrath of God. Ramp can also be achieved more permanently with spells that let you put extra lands into play. Among sorceries nothing says ramp more than Rampant Growth and even though Search for Tomorrow does not have ramp in its name ramp surely is its game. One Green card stands above the rest and no listing of ramp spells would be complete without Channel, the ultimate turn skipper and one of only two green cards on the restricted list in the Vintage format (along with another famous ramp card Fastbond) and banned in every other major format. I will leave it up to each cube builder to decide whether Channel is a fair card in a limited environment. It can win games early on, but it will quite often be a dead card too. And it is of course a real gamble, if your cube includes cards such as Force of Will designed to pull teeth out of the good old Channel / Fireball combo.
Animist Awakening lets you ramp into … eh, more ramp for some added silliness and really big stuff, but by then you should be able to use your mana for getting in some serious damage. So, with a ramp well build it is time to aim it somewhere and begin the countdown to liftoff.
Gruul Unlimited - There's No Limit
The same year Magic was first released, a popular song was released. This song loudly and frequently espoused the notion that there's no limit and playing Gruul embodies this notion. Including an assortment of spells with X in the casting cost as payoffs for the ramp provided by Elves and other spells will often let you curve out beautifully even when a game goes on for long. When other decks have little use for excess mana in a long-drawn duel when they end up having more than enough mana to pay for their most expensive spells, Gruul with X costed finishers just keep building up to a bigger finale with every land drop you make and every elf you cast. And with enough X-spells the player drafting the archetype won't have to save all the goodies for finishing the game. A Forest and a Llanowar Elf on turn one followed by another forest and Rofellos on turn two lets you burn away a Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn three by playing a Mountain and a red X damage spell – even if the feared and pricey planeswalker has used his +2 ability.
As touched upon in the previous section, Red's history of direct damage spells with an X in the casting cost goes all the way back to the heyday of Eurodance, Doom and Jurassic Park – or ABUR (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited and Revised) as the less verbose would have it. A quarter of a century's accumulated arsenal of Fireballs, Bane Fires, Comet Storms and whatnots should give more than enough burning Xs to choose from for even the more picky cube builder looking for Red finishers to include. And most can be had for a few cents on the secondary market. But not all finishers have to be Red or come in the form of fire. Gruul can rear its head in many ways – and some of those have many heads.
Heads and Heads and Heads and Shoulders Above the Rest
In Green and among the Gruul gold cards you get to choose from a good dozen of creature finishers with X in their casting cost, which at least may make the cut in cubes of a lower power level: The Hydras. While this apparently icon creature type may be a bit more flashy than effective, they do fit really well into the theme of letting Gruul always curve out – and thematically Hydras are pretty Gruul too. The biggest problem here is of course the lack of trample as a common ability for Hydras, even though there are several fixes for this – Kessig Wolf Run, Mage Slayer and of course Siege Behemoth come to mind even if the last one should be enough of a finisher in and of itself if cast in a limited game. Among other problems with having spells with X in the casting cost among the finishers makes for example Genesis Hydra and Bloodbraid Elf quite useless in the color pair.
But what do you think? As always, I am very interested in which archetype you, the reader, have chosen for a color pair, if you have built your cube around guild archetypes. Have you tried "Ramp to X" or is your take on Gruul altogether different? And do you have any good suggestions for cards to include when using elves to ramp into big finishers in your limited environment. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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