Tribal Attractions: Dryads
- Gianluca Aicardi
Dryad Tribal is not something you see often – or at all, at least within conventional environments. But it's a creature type that's been emerging from under the radar lately, after adding some marvelous new members for both Modern and Legacy.
Dryads were there since the beginning of time but became a truly noteworthy type only in the latest years. The tribe's first steps into the limelight were both timid and underwhelming, to the point that most players would be barely aware it was even a Magic: The Gathering creature type to begin with.
For a long time, these female tree spirits were almost exclusively used as green filler, some kind of expendable forestwalk creature or other. Before the Modern era, the only one of them that would see some degree of play was Vine Dryad from Mercadian Masques, which was part of a deck that enjoyed not spending any mana to do things. Later, Dryad Arbor would add to Time Spiral block's general groundbreaking approach by uniquely mixing a land type with a creature type.
Sometime prior, the original Ravnica block had established the Selesnya guild leader, Trostani, as a Dryad – or three. Unfortunately, this lore development didn't actually bring any good card to the tribe, still plagued by unplayable fluff like Dryad Sophisticate or Chorus of the Conclave. The first real uptick would come in occasion of our second visit to Ravnica seven years later.
Trostani's first card incarnation was solid if a bit janky: unlike with cards like Verdant Sun's Avatar, your life total doesn't get impacted right away, while the populate activation is expensive, situational, and, for the purpose of this analysis, doesn't really synergize with the rest of the tribe, at least not until recently (more on that later). On the other hand, Dryad Militant is a strictly better Savannah Lions, graced with versatile hybrid mana and a relevant static ability that openly hates spellslinging decks, positioning this little Dryad as the spearhead of a Stompy-like list in Standard and Modern. After that, and despite its origin in Greek mythology, Theros block didn't help the Dryads at all, limiting itself to making them the green Nymphs, as they should be (too bad Nymph hasn't been a very remarkable type so far, so they contribute nothing to their Dryad cousins' cause). Then in the past three years, more playable one-drop Dryads showed up, starting with Eldritch Moon's Gnarlwood Dryad, and leading to Ixalan's Old-Growth Dryads; the former buys the tribe the time it needs to reach the midrange zone, the latter is powerful, yet a bit of a trap, same as most of those early, dangerous plays that hide a built-in tempo advantage for the opponent.
Ixalan block also debuted Tendershoot Dryad, which is more of a Fungus lord but still deserves a shout-out just for the sheer power level she embodies. Finally, we've gone back to Ravnica once again, and this time the Trostani girls outright amazed in their Trostani Discordant form (all their in-fighting galvanized the trio, apparently), and even more impactful was what is likely the most important Dryad in MTG history – Knight of Autumn – whose sideboard-prone versatility managed to carve a niche for herself across all of the formats, up to and including Vintage.
A Dryad's Legacy
Time to see what happens when we put all of these cards together in the same Tribal Wars deck, along with another topical, extremely powerful Dryad that showed up in the most unlikely of places, Battlebond, thus eschewing Modern legality altogether (though Modern Horizons might well rectify that, hopefully).
|4Windswept Heath||4Bramble Sovereign||4Green Sun's Zenith|
|2Verdant Catacombs||4Gnarlwood Dryad||4Swords to Plowshares|
|4Savannah||4Knight of Autumn||2Unbreakable Formation|
|4Sunpetal Grove||4Yavimaya Dryad||2Vivien Reid|
|2Dryad Arbor||3Trostani Discordant|
|2Karakas||3Trostani, Selesnya's Voice|
|1Gaea's Cradle||2Dryad Militant|
Let's review this all-star Dryad lineup in curve order.
CMC 1: As our cheapest Dryads that we actually have to cast, Dryad Militant supplies us with early aggression, while the Horror-related Gnarlwood Dryad provides a crucial form of indirect removal, which translates into board control to make sure we can extend the game until the truly good stuff gets online. It's one of the odd pre-Return to Ravnica playable Dryads, and even if the deck is not really equipped to achieve delirium consistently, its presence as a four-of is key, beating the iffy Old-Growth Dryads by a far margin, but also mana dorks like Loam Dryad or Saruli Caretaker, which appear unnecessarily clunky, and terrible as late draws.
CMC 2: We don't cover this spot at all. Dryad Greenseeker was a possibility, as an early blocker that can occasionally accelerate our digging into the deck, but I don't think it'd be a sharp choice, while Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage is just not good enough, we would be hard-pressed to trade with it against most aggro-oriented tribes that can field more explosive two-drops, so its abilities would be moot early on, outclassed later.
CMC 3: The Zenith into Dryad Arbor opening naturally leads to a turn-two Knight of Autumn, but we can definitely find uses for our Knightly Dryad at each stage of the game. In this same spot, Yavimaya Dryad from Time Spiral is our accelerant of choice, paving the path for a turn-three Trostani Discordant, but also interacting favorably with our secret centerpiece Bramble Sovereign (more on that later), as something you want to duplicate to maximize the amount of unblockable damage we get to inflict, thanks to that cool wording that lets us sneak a Forest into the opponent's side of the table.
CMC 4: And here she is, Battlebond's very own Bramble Sovereign. It's the Dryad with the biggest native power (along with Conclave Naturalists, which could also find a place in the deck as a one-of to fetch via Zenith) and its ability is just nuts, allowing us to duplicate for two mana any subsequent creature that enters the battlefield, including Dryad Arbors and most notably Knight of Autumn. Trostani, Selesnya's Voice's populate ability finds its first in-tribe application here, though it remains mana-intensive; more to the point, Trostani's big butt and lifegain capability are a lifeline against aggro, while its interaction with Karakas offers a safeguard against control.
CMC 5: Even more effective in its partnership with Karakas, Trostani Discordant holds everything together, pumping the team created by Bramble Sovereign, shortening your forestwalking clock (which is very flavorful for Dryads, isn't it?), and in general being the one-card-army Standard players know all too well. And even if it's Legendary, multiple copies of Trostani or their Sovereign-induced token clones never go to waste, since more lifelink companions still get generated each time the Trostani sisters come down to showcase their internal disagreement (which somehow attracts more allies; the flavor is a bit murky here).
Dryads make for a midrange deck with plenty of pizzazz and lively interactions at different junctures. It's theoretically well-positioned to be adapted into Modern, with Karakas as the main non-tribal card that would be sorely missed; however, Bramble Sovereign is currently the one creature that makes the list, even more than the Ravnican stars. Here's hoping Modern Horizons will fix this regrettable situation, as already mentioned. Granted, it's a strong card, but certainly not too strong for Modern.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
Tribal Attractions Archive
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