Gruul Adventures Deep Dive
- Kristof Prinz
The last few weekends were headlined by a pretty good Gruul performance. Gruul Adventures was also one of the more successful choices in the Arena Open. So let's analyze every card in the deck and its purpose. This way, building and adapting Gruul decks for the coming weeks should be an easier task.
With all of those high-level tournaments behind us and a new month of laddering just begun, constructing a base from which to build the Gruul lists of the future seems useful. I will go through every card played in Gruul and, if possible, compare them to their alternatives head on. We'll start with the core of the deck.
I have yet to see a list that does not include these 29 spells and at least twenty lands. So there's not too many flex slots in the main deck for us to worry about. But first let's take a quick look at these 49 themselves.
The Adventure Package:
Both Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire and Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp are extremly efficient cards. They provide a shot at a two-for-one as well as additional synergy with the rest of the core and some of the cards that can be found in the flex spots, like Embercleave and The Great Henge. Edgewall Innkeeper, while only having eight Adventure buddies, still clears the bar, because it both presents additional ways of accruing card advantage and turns on your Lovestruck Beast's ability to attack. Also, you need some early plays to support your Embercleaves.
The Spell Lands:
Getting to play these eight cards allows you to have a lower land count than a deck like this would usually require. They make you flood out less often, while 28–30 cards that can get played as lands also lead to less screw. In addition Kazandu Mammoth combines very well with our beloved Eldraine artifacts Embercleave and The Great Henge.
We get into a territory of cards that might change now. Brushfire Elemental is not particulary great in the mirror. But as a very efficient aggressive card, specifically in combination with fetch lands like Fabled Passage and Evolving Wilds, it hits for a lot and dodges a lot of potential blockers. Scavenging Ooze is good in multiple kinds of games: in longer games, where it grows beyond measure as well as against black-red graveyard-based decks and against Rogues, where managing your own graveyard is quite valuable. This all tacked onto a servicable card on turn two combines into a great package deal.
I will dicuss possible additions to the two-drop slot after getting through with the core of the deck, but to have some of them is important. You want to be curving out. You want to be hitting hard. These two cards do that.
This card wins a pretty significant number of matches for Gruul Adventures and is one of the backbones of the deck. You want to put this on your Bonecrusher Giants, Lovestruck Beasts, Kazandu Mammoths, and Questing Beasts, but sometimes it's even impressive on a Brushfire Elemental. The only reason why there aren't four in the core is because the card is legendary, drawing multiples just means you get minus one card, and the mana isn't trivial.
You get away with playing, effectively, 28–30 lands because, as mentioned earlier, spell lands help to prevent both screw and flood. They also help mitigating the color problems that arise when you attempt to curve out with both double-red and double-green cards. Fabled Passage is just great, fixing your mana and providing an untapped source if you get to wait on it, and it pumps your Mammoths and Elementals. It even allows you to shuffle your library for Vivien, Monsters' Advocate. Cragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown Pathway goes without discussion, being the only unconditionally untapped dual land available.
The basic lands give you enough sources and targets for your fetch lands, although the exact split on them can vary. Some lists include more than just twenty lands and have space for additional basics that way. The eight-four split is a good starting point because your Mammoths require early double green and you want to play them as creatures fairly often, whereas Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass is a card you like to play as a land early on. Only copies drawn in the late game get used as spells more frequently.
All of this leaves us with eleven main-deck slots that we need to fill out, as well as fifteen sideboard slots to work with.
With his strong run at the first MPL/Rivals League weekend, Rei Sato popularized a version running 22 actual lands. This allows for more consistency regarding curving out, while being able to avoid flooding, because you can just cast the modal double-faced cards as their spell side more often.
Temple of Abandon is not very good but servicable if you can play it on turn one or two. The alternative in Evolving Wilds is worse on those first two turns of the game, because it only provides one color for the rest of the game and doesn't scry, but is a better topdeck because of the deck's landfall creatures. With the reliance on curving out, either tap land is not a very attractive inclusion. I'd suggest adding one Forest. If you want to go for a 22nd land, I'd want one Evolving Wilds, provided you expect a lot of matchups where Brushfire Elemental is good.
Additional Top End
Three Embercleave is likely not enough to close games. Most lists play between five and seven cards that qualify as high end. While Vivien is surely a good card to have access to, I believe that she's not very good in the mirror, which I'd try to base my deck-building decisions on right now. She's quite potent against Rogues, Black-Red Kroxa, and most Yorion decks, but even there she's pretty easy to get rid of. If you do get to untap with her, though, the game probaly ends soon.
I think Vivien can be a main-deck consideration mostly if you play less additional creatures and lean toward more interaction, which makes all of the possible top end somewhat worse, because everything's here reliant on creatures. Both of our beloved Throne of Eldraine artifacts are also how you win most mirror games. These two as well as being on the play are the biggest predicting factors for the outcome of both preboard and a good chunk of postboard games. Because the Gruul colors do not give you access to good removal against specifically Lovestruck Beast, being on the draw is rough.
This is part of the reason why I think you need to have four Embercleave. This way you can sometimes kill opponents even if they resolve The Great Henge on turn four. Additional ways to shore up a bit on the draw I'll discuss further down. My picks for the main deck right now would be two copies of The Great Henge, four Embercleave, and zero to one Vivien. It is reasonable to bring in some Viviens in the mirror on the play to snowball games, but she's too difficult to keep alive for a turn on the draw. If you decide to include cheap interaction and that you want a seventh top-end card main, including one Vivien is probaly fine though.
Here we have some tension. Questing Beast was longtime stock in Gruul, but with more people trying to remove your creatures, losing it to manainefficient removal like Heartless Act is quite the issue, as is more people playing The Akroan War, because it stealing your Questing Beast guarantees them a two-for-one. Questing Beast excels against slower decks that sometimes tap out in their turn, namely Yorion, Sky Nomad decks or Temur Ramp, but is only servicable in other matchups. The Akroan War is very bad when it's bad, sometimes being nearly a blank piece of cardboard. But being as strong in the mirror as it is, which is quite strong, it still remains a consideration.
I'd lean toward not playing any Questings Beasts at the moment. But then you need to be careful to have your sideboard numbers compensate for the lack of things to beat your opponent down with if they go over the top of you.
These options clash a bit with the next couple of cards I want to look at, which include cheap interaction like Scorching Dragonfire as those are also maindeckable, but let's look at them individually first. Scavenging Ooze number three or even four have a couple or problems: They are not great in multiples, they always trade against Bloodchief's Thirst, and they can be a bit slow. On the other hand, they are great against any strategy with Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and useful against both Rogues and Cycling. In addition they're nice with The Great Henge, because they do not only enable it in slightly longer games but are also your only two-drop that you can immediately play off of that card. With Ooze also being a great topdeck in longer mirror games, I'd lean toward playing three for now.
Rimrock Knight // Boulder Rush has another set of issues: It's quite bad against Lovestruck Beast, because of both the 1/1 and the 5/5 body, the sometimes early double red can be a problem, and it's a heinous card on the draw against aggressively slanted decks. It's upsides are the synergy with Edgewall Innkeeper, most prominently the turn one Innkeeper into turn two Rimrock Knight on the play is quite potent. The 3/1 body is also decent against slower decks, because it packs a lot of punch. The combat trick is servicable and can help ramp out a The Great Henge, although that came up seldom in my time with it. I'd lean toward not playing Rimrock Knight for now.
You want to round out the deck with some of these. Fire Prophecy and Scorching Dragonfire do very similar things, so comparing them seems logical. Dragonfire's abilty to hit planeswalkers is neat but oftentimes irrelevant, the exile clause is not though. There's Elspeth Conquers Death's third chapter, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and a few others that spring to mind. Fire Prophecy on the other hand allows you to get rid of excess copies of Embercleave or other cards in your hand not suited for your situation, as well as putting the creatures destroyed in the graveyard, which can help grow your Scavenging Ooze. If the exile clause becomes more relevant again, I'd go with Dragonfire, and I believe it to be the better sideboard card. But Prophecy allowing you to sculpt your hand according to the matchup and hand seems valuable to me, which is why I'd use it to fill my main-deck slots for cheap interaction.
Primal Might I don't like a lot. It's bad against instant-speed removal, specifically against black, and it's largely bad on the draw in the mirror. Instead I'd opt for just playing The Akroan War as both cards don't stop The Great Henge from coming down early and The Akroan War seems more meaningful in the mirror, which is supposedly where Primal Might would be best anyway.
Stonecoil Serpent + Gemrazer
These two are largely a package, but you occasionally see a stray Stonecoil Serpent without a Gemrazer. Gemrazer without Serpent lacks good things to mutate onto, the only decent target being Scavenging Ooze, and while destroying artifacts and enchantments is useful, it does not seem relevant enough for me to include it currently. This is subject to change though.
Stonecoil Serpent is another story. It is a curve filler and not bad at that job, but unfortunately it does not line up well against a host of currently played removal, namely Glass Casket, Skyclave Apparition, and Bloodchief's Thirst, just to name a few, while not having relevant keywords for the mirror. I'd pass.
The Finished Main Deck
This leaves us with the following main deck as I'd register it right now:
We do need a few things in there. We need some kind of graveyard hate, to have tools against Rakdos, Rogues, and maybe Cycling. We'll need some cards with escape to deal with Rogues, which is a matchup where game one is usually quite tough. We need some way to deal with artifacts and maybe enchantments, because Embercleave and The Great Henge are huge problems. We want some additional cheap interaction too, for when being on the draw in the mirror but also against other aggressive decks like Monored or Rogues.
Additional Scavenging Oozes have the problem I already discussed when talking about them in the main deck. The fourth Ooze is still reasonable but not stellar. Both artifacts seem rather lacking. Soul-Guide Lantern doesn't even do anything versus Drown in the Loch and while Tormod's Crypt does that, it lacks a bit of punch, as I would not want to board it against black-red selfmill decks, for whom I do want to have tools to attack their graveyard.
Fortunately we do have access to Klothys, God of Destiny, and this card is so good that it takes away all of our worries. Both blue-black and black-red have very little tools to get rid of it, the only played one the horrendous Pharika's Libation, and it both hoses their strategies, while also being a threat in its own right. If Rogues and Kroxa decks dip in popularity I could see only playing two copies, but for now I'd just play three, because while legendary, if this card stays on the battlefield, you are likely winning in those two matchups. It's also a useful inclusion if people play Blue-Black Gandalf, meaning a control version light on win conditions.
Fortunately we do not have to play Chainweb Aracnir. Not only is it only a useful card against Rogues, it's not even particulary great there because of Lullmage's Domination and company. Both Phoenix of Ash and Ox of Agonas have additional utility aside from playing against Rogues. Ox helps a lot in pretty much every grindy matchup, whereas Phoenix helps you against decks where you need to race, which is mostly the Temur Ramp deck. With the Ox being as powerful as it is, I'd just play three to four Ox and no other escape cards, except if your sideboard numbers need a Phoenix for the ramp matchup, then you can reasonably run three Ox and one Phoenix. Don't play less than three Oxen!
Additional Top End:
There's no space in the sideboard for The Great Henge in regard to the main deck I suggested, but if you do not have two Henges main, make sure to have two in your 75. The card is very good in the mirror.
Against Rogues and also some other decks the Eldraine artifacts are not the perfect axis to fight upon. Tto ensure having some top end, I like filling some sideboard slots with Vivien, Monsters' Advocate to have two to three available postboard.
If you do decide to play Gemrazer, you probaly don't need those. Otherwise your sideboard should likely have around two copies of ways to handle Eldraine artifacts. I like Wilt over the other options, because it can destroy The Akroan War, Doom Foretold, and Embercleave at instant speed, all at reasonable rates. I haven't played with Thrashing Brontodon in this Standard yet, but it seems a bit too clunky.
Additional Cheap Interaction:
Soul Sear gets rid of Baneslayer Angel out of Esper Doom and can hit Yorion, Sky Nomad in a pinch, while being reasonable against Lovestruck Beast and nice against Wicked Wolf. I like one copy for utility. And while I think Fire Prophecy is the better main-deck card, I believe having a split in the 75 is useful and therefore think Scorching Dragonfire deserves some sideboard slots.
I'll only shortly go over other cards some people play or could play. While I think all of these are roleplayers and can be useful, they're also quite narrow.
The Akroan War is a good sideboard card, I'm sure you want at least two copies in the 75. But with the suggested list having two in the main deck, I think you can opt out of adding additional copies. It is very good in the mirror, but outside of that only okay and sometimes even bad.
Questing Beast is useful if you need to get your opponent dead as soon as possible, but as people will likely have more cheap interaction postboard rather than less, I'd be reluctant to include any copies of this in my sideboard. It remains a fine main-deck card though.
Ranger's Guile is a useful tool against Lullmage's Domination but at best okayish everywhere else. Already having Klothys, God of Destiny and Ox of Agonas in the sideboard for the Rogues matchup, I do not think you're in dire need for a card this specific.
Heroic Intervention is useful in face of Shatter the Sky, but people also play Extinction Event. I'd rather force my opponent to cast a sweeper and will deploy a planeswalker or Ox after it than try to keep two mana up all the time.
With all of this being said, my current sideboard would look like this:
The fourth Ox as well as the second Vivien are the slots I'm least sure on. Adapt these as necessary for your expected metagame. I could see those slots also just getting used to shore up the matchup against slower decks with help from a haste creature like Robber of the Rich or Rimrock Knight // Boulder Rush.
I hope I could help you in the process of finding the best Gruul list. Stay safe!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.