Rant of Valakut: A Different Shade of Green

Back during the release of Commander 2014 and the mono-coloured preconstructed decks, I was looking to put together a new deck. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to make, but I was seriously considering something based around one of the new legendary creatures that was being printed. I already had a mono-white deck, mono-red and mono-black decks, so it was going to either be a blue or a green deck, for the sake of variety. The blue generals weren’t inspiring me, so I thought I should look at the green ones.

I hadn’t ever built a mono-green deck before, and the few that I had seen were all very similar: the deck would spend the first few turns playing extra lands, then by about turn 4 or 6 they would start dropping giant threats each turn until they were either eliminated or they won. I knew that I wanted to do something different with my deck, in part because my red/green deck with Stonebrow, Krosan Hero was very similar to these ‘ramp‘ decks already, but also because I played against that kind of deck quite often.

Looking at what cards I would even consider using for a green commander deck, it seemed like I would have a hard time avoiding the mana-ramp strategy, which was initially disheartening. If my deck consisted of the same cards as every other green deck it wouldn’t feel like my own, and if my deck didn’t feel unique I would be very disappointed. Thankfully, before abandoning the idea of a green deck altogether, I saw Titania, Protector of Argoth. Here was something different; as soon as I saw her I started thinking about the sorts of cards I could include, and how the deck would function. I had my new commander.

The general plan for the deck seemed quite straight-forward, albeit unconventional; I would need to get a bunch of lands into play and then, instead of playing big monsters, I would sacrifice my lands for various effects. With Titania in play I would get a 5/3 creature token each time a land went to my graveyard, and she herself could get back a useful land from my graveyard. The deck came together pretty quickly, and now, after a few years of tinkering, here is what I have:

 

The first thing I looked for when putting this deck together was ways I of sacrificing my lands. If I couldn’t do that with enough different cards, then the deck just wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, some of the cards I wanted to include weren’t allowed in a mono-green deck, such as Aggressive Mining and Squandered Resources. All was not lost, though; the preconstructed commander 2014 deck had a couple of decent options, namely Harrow and Sylvan Safekeeper; it wasn’t much, but it was a place to start.

Looking through my collection, I did manage to find a few other good options. My first inclusion was an artifact called Arcane Spyglass. I had been looking for a home for this card for quite a while, and it never seemed like the right fit. Its ability to remove three charge counters to draw a card always looked tempting, but I could never seem to make the card work. sacrificing three lands to get enough counters was too high a price, and even sacrificing one land and then proliferating to get the rest was too clunky. Considering that my goal was to sacrifice lands, drawing a card and getting that charge counter seemed like a nice means to that end.

Zuran Orb was, of course, an obvious inclusion. For those unfamiliar with this notorious card, the Orb is perhaps the best way to sacrifice lands ever printed. It can be used repeatedly at no cost, and it itself is even free to cast! The life you gain with it is useful, but it is entirely secondary to its true purpose of generating 5/3 creatures with Titania. This little artifact should always be a priority target for anyone playing against it, especially when it is used in this deck.

World Breaker was added to the deck well after it was first built, but it fits remarkably well. First, it exiles an artifact, creature or land when you cast it, and second, it is a large creature that can block fliers. This would probably be good enough on its own, but what really sold me was its activated ability. That’s right, you sacrifice a land to get the World Breaker back from your graveyard; how perfect is that? The deck was already running a some colourless mana sources, so with the inclusion of a single Wastes to ensure that I would always have access to a colourless source, the big Eldrazi found his way into the deck.

One of the latest additions to the deck has quickly become one of my favourites: Spitting Spider. I didn’t even know this creature existed until stumbling across it recently, but it fits the deck perfectly. It is a green creature, so it can be found with the likes of Green Sun’s Zenith or Brutalizer Exarch, and it is a manaless way to sacrifice my lands. What’s more, it is a way to deal with problematic flying creatures. If it isn’t apparent already, fliers have been an ongoing issue for this deck, so much so in fact, I even went so far as to include a copy of Squall Line just to deal with them. Between cards like the Line, World Breaker and Spitting Spider, I’m at least feeling a bit safer these days.

While there are a number of good creatures and artifacts that sacrifice lands, one thing I quickly realized when building this deck was that the best way to get lands in your graveyard is to use the lands themselves. Evolving Wilds, for instance, would normally be pointless in a mono-coloured deck, but it synergizes extremely well with Titania, Protector of Argoth; it can be sacrificed to find a Forest (or the Wastes), retrieved with Titania, then sacrificed again for a second land and a 5/3 creature token. The preconstructed decks from 2014 had several lands that could sacrifice themselves, such as Ghost Quarter, Crystal Vein, and Havenwood Battleground. One of my favourites, however, was Jungle Basin. Normally, you would want to keep an untapped Forest in play when you play the Basin, but with Titania in play you might rather let the Basin go to the graveyard and get the free creature token instead.

With the recent release of Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, there were several new deserts that had sacrifice abilities. Grasping Dunes, for instance, was nice to include, not because its ability is all that strong in commander (it isn’t), but because it only costs 1 mana to activate and sacrifice. This makes it one of the more mana-efficient options out there. It being a desert also means that it synergizes well with other desert-matters cards, like Shefet Monitor and Hour of Promise. Grasping Dunes is not the most interesting of the new deserts, though; there are two others that I feel are more worthy of note: Hashep Oasis and Dunes of the Dead.

Hashep Oasis provides a repeatable sacrifice effect with a surprisingly relevant ability. providing +3/+3 to a creature, even if it is only as a sorcery, allows for some attacks that would normally be ill-advised. Making a 1/1 creature into a 4/4 is suddenly a lot more threatening! As a side note, Scavenger Grounds might also be worth considering for the deck, especially in a format where graveyard interaction is so powerful, but I have not added it yet. My concern is that it would exile my own graveyard, negating the recursion this deck aims to do. Perhaps that is worth it, though, especially given how rare it is to find a land that can sacrifice another land. Rath’s Edge can only get you so far, after all!

Even rarer than lands that sacrifice other lands are ones with abilities that trigger when they hit the graveyard. There really have been only three such lands ever printed: Flagstones of Trokair, Gods’ Eye, Gate to the Reikai, and Dunes of the Dead. Flagstones cannot be used in a mono-green commander deck, but the other two are intriguing. They both provide some much welcomed token generation in conjunction with any of this deck’s sacrifice outlets, though I will admit that I have yet to add Gods’ Eye to the deck. Another oversight, it seems. Dunes of the Dead fits better in the deck, since it synergizes with all of the desert-matters cards, but what really makes Dunes of the Dead and Gods’ Eye stand out is that they can be sacrificed to pay for some effect, and they generate a token at no additional cost. Hm… I really should add that other land, shouldn’t I?

Still, with all that said, the best card in the deck might actually be Gargoyle Castle, of all things. While it isn’t a desert, and its activated ability does cost a significant amount of mana, the Castle has proven its worth time and again. The 3/4 flying token it creates is actually surprisingly powerful, and with the deck’s ability to get back its lands, there is potential to create a small air force of gargoyles by sacrificing the land over and over again. A token that size can block and trade with quite a number of creatures, and when used offensively it packs a decent punch. Pumping it up with something like Hashep Oasis is also not out of the realm of possibilities. Moreover, it is yet one more way of addressing the flying nuisance that is so ubiquitous in commander.

I could go on about some of the stranger  cards in the deck, like Waiting in the Weeds, Scute Mob, and all of the Landfall cards, but I think I’ve ranted enough for today. Please let me know what you think of the deck, and if you have any suggestions. Clearly there are some cards I should include, but did I miss any? Are there any cards in the deck you think I should cut?

As always, I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

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