M21 Spotlight: Monogreen Monsters

The popular monocolored archetype didn't encounter too much success in the current Standard rotation so far, but it has lately started to appear in a few tier lists. Will Core Set 2021 finally give the green stompers the additional tools they need to make greater strides in the format?

There are usually two main reasons to go monocolored. The first is to enjoy the smoothest possible mana, losing any headache caused by color screw. The second is to be able to pay very demanding single-color costs consistently, especially those of triple-colored 3-drops that would be nearly impossible to cast on curve otherwise. (A third reason is to maximize devotion to that color, but that's not always an available mechanic, though it is right now in Standard.) In the case of green, and its aggro form in particular, a recent example of a strong motivator to exclude all other colors was still part of the Standard pool until the last rotation: the glorious Steel Leaf Champion from Dominaria. Its counterpart in the present meta is the apparently similar Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig.

steel leaf champion yorvo

These two certainly play the same role on turn three. (The Champion could also count on Llanowar Elves to drop on two; Gilded Goose is not a perfect replacement for that pattern.) The Elf brings more power to the table right away, but the Giant is likely to match it by the time there's an opportunity to attack, and will grow further from there. But there's a big difference in terms of performance, since Yorvo has no evasion whatsoever, and can be easily nullified by, say, a Cauldron Familiar.

This problem has been solved in two steps, by supporting the hammer-wielding lord with appropriate trample-providing follow-ups that are also valuable cards on their own. First came Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, an impactful planeswalker whose mana cost also invites monogreen, and who seems specifically designed to partner with poor trample-less Yorvo. And then Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths included Gemrazer, which could give birth to a huge, semi-unstoppable monstrosity if mutated on top of our living pile of +1/1 counters.

Pre-M21 Monogreen


This brings us to a possible baseline for Monogreen Monsters, the one Core Set 2021 will build upon, hopefully improving it. There are actually two different flavors of monogreen that are making the rounds at the moment, both roughly clocking in at the same power level.

The first is more low to the ground, reminiscent of the Stompy lists of old. It was old-timer Zvi Mowshowitz who came up with and first popularized this version.

Another way to build monogreen skews more toward midrange. In some versions, we can find two copies Vivien, Monsters' Advocate or even The Great Henge as curve-toppers that are able to extend the reach of the archetype, whose notorious weakness has always been running out of gas.

Let's analyze this second version, to detect the essential staples as well as the areas M21 could enhance.

As the earliest available action, the 1-drop Pelt Collector is untouchable. It de facto acts as a 2/2 for 1, and could easily grow to a 4/4 on curve. Similarly, Stonecoil Serpent was a crucial addiction last fall, as it's a scalable threat with topical abilities (it's Teferi-proof!) as well as prime host for Gemrazer.

pelt collector barkhide troll

The 2-drops are more questionable. Growth-Chamber Guardian supplies some built-in card advantage, but of a kind that's expensive to access, and until you do, its effect on the battlefield is minimal. It's mostly meant to combo with Vivien. Flash on Wildborn Preserver is a nice way to dribble mass removal, or occasionally ambush some attacker. But the mana sink ability rarely comes into play early on, and in the late game it's strictly dependent on drawing more gas. Barkhide Troll is solid and becomes virtually hexproof once Vivien has started boosting it. Out of these three, the Troll is the most undemanding, while the Guardian could easily make room for new entries, given that you either play four of them or none at all.

Then we get to the Yorvo into Gemrazer combo. No amount of revenant cats can stop the super-beast — and it even kills a Witch's Oven in the process, or an Anax, or a Wilderness Reclamation. Gemrazer is a good turn three play on a 2/2 Serpent as well, resulting in a 6/6 that can't be killed by Zenith Flare nor blocked by Gruul Spellbreaker, and completely neutralizes Korvold. Yorvo is legendary, so going down to three copies is common, but running the full playset is not unheard of. After all, Serpent and Yorvo are two of the best mutate targets we could hope for. (The same can't be said for Syr Faren from the other list, which is meant as a package deal with the pump spells — possibly resulting in too many slots devoted to a game plan that's pretty easy to disrupt.)

gemrazer vivien

The curve caps at Questing Beast and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, both mythics with undeniable merit. Ram Through by contrast is a flex slot —it's more than just removal, due to the direct damage one of our trampling colossi might deliver by ramming through some poor schmuck along the way; but its correct place might be the sideboard, at least to some extent.

As for the mana base, going monocolored also opens up the opportunity to include utility lands that only generate colorless mana, although in this case it could interfere with Yorvo on curve. Still, a small amount of Mobilized District might be useful, as it's the only creature land currently in the pool. (Zendikar Rising will probably have more of those, but by then there will also be a new rotation to deal with.)

Call of the Wilds

scavenging ooze

Enter Core Set 2021. What does monogreen get from it? We can immediately dismiss the colorless cards, as there aren't a lot of them in the set, and none fit our goals. (I doubt Sparkhunter Masticore will be relevant to the point that we can stomach the card disadvantage it demands.) We're particularly looking for 2-drops, since that's where our base list has the most replaceable slots. Do we have a strong one in M21?

Oh, yes. Oh boy, do we ever. Scavenging Ooze is, hands down, one of the ten best green creatures of all time, and its reprint is absolutely perfect for us. It's a graveyard fighter in an environment where that's significant — Bye, Cauldron Familiar! Bye, Uro! Bye, Kroxa! — plus it grows bigger and it gains life. Despite looking like a sideboard card, it's effective enough that it's been used in the main before, sometimes as a vice-{c=Tarmogoyf. So we can go ahead and replace the entire set of Growth-Chamber Guardian, maybe looking to later swap one Ooze for the fourth Troll, if the frequency of graveyard interaction in the metagame should subside.

Scavenging Ooze garruk's harbinger

The second creature from M21 we're interested in is part of Garruk's vertical cycle. Garruk's Harbinger is not a slam-dunk as a 3-drop — that boltable toughness stings a bit — but it hits hard enough, and the potential card advantage is quite alluring for a deck that otherwise packs none. Plus the protection from black targeted removal may come up once in a while, especially with the new Eliminate and the returning Grasp of Darkness looking appealing in black lists.

Speaking of appeal, and of card advantage, I maintain Garruk's Uprising could make a lot of sense in this deck, playing a role analogous to the one Lifecrafter's Bestiary used to play when Aether Revolt was in Standard. Bestiary was primarily used to avoid losing momentum against control decks, so Uprising might merely end up a sideboard card; but I think it could warrant some testing in the main. We run twelve creatures that naturally boast power 4, and all the others can grow up to be, either through Vivien's boosting or by themselves. And giving trample to Yorvo et al. remains the name of the game. To accommodate two Harbinger and two Uprising, I'd push Ram Through to the side, where I also made room for some of the reprinted protective spells, namely Heroic Intervention and Ranger's Guile. (Too bad the latter is not Blossoming Defense, or we could even talk of main-deck inclusion.)

garruk's uprising heroic intervention

As for the man himself, Garruk, Unleashed doesn't compare favorably with 4-mana Vivien, so while she's still in the format, I can't see the big guy ever taking her place. His plus provides roughly the same advantage as Vivien's — actually, one more point of power — but the boost is temporary and can't be spread between separate targets. And his minus puts a vanilla token on the board, which is less situational than Vivien's creature-dependent removal, but also vastly more underwhelming. This said, there's room in the sideboard to try out a copy of the restored Wildspeaker, for matchups that feel slow enough for the ultimate to be achieved.

Here's the draft for a revamped monogreen list in the Core Set 2021 meta.

We should also address the mythic elephant (Beast) in the room. Elder Gargaroth has all the markings of a great card, but not for this deck, or not until Teferi, Time Raveler rotates. It really lines up badly against him. Most permanents do, but a 5-mana investment should guarantee to stick around more often than what a Gargaroth would end up doing, at least if left on its own. It could be more effective in a Gruul list that's capable of giving it haste, via Rhythm of the Wild or Domri, Chaos Bringer, or maybe even Footfall Crater.

elder gargaroth

And since I mentioned rotation, it's worth noting how this deck is only going to lose two major cards next fall, Pelt Collector and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. While the latter could turn into Garruk with only a limited amount of pain, the former is harder to substitute. Rght now we would have to resort to something like Gingerbrute. But Zendikar Rising will have Elves, so it might be able to solve the issue.

All in all, if you are, like me, very into the most Timmy/Tammy of colors, monogreen can be a rewarding build to attempt. Green players choose Gruul for pure aggro, Golgari for midrange, Simic for ramp, and Selesnya for going wide. But if it's fun we're after, it's always going to be monogreen.

garruk's harbinger

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1 Comment

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vimcc(22.06.2020 09:24)

Nice article! I would love to see a similar article about mono green ramp. I think that with the cards coming in the next set: Ooze, Ugin, Solemn Simulacrum... There is a mono green-colorless deck that could make it, with Karn and Nissa at the heart of the deck, having access to very powerful artifacts like Tormod's Crypt, Sorcerus spyglass, Cage to disrrupt control decks and Nissa mana to overcome aggro decks. Can't wait to try it out! Cheers!