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The Various Flavors of Standard Black/Green

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Hello everybody!

A few weeks ago, the deck in the center of everybody's attention was Mardu Vehicles, because it dominated the Pro Tour on a scale that can't be seen every day. A week ago, GP Pittsburgh took place and naturally, the Standard metagame moved on to its next phase of the cycle - this time, it was B/G that took over the event, putting five players into the top 8 and in total seventeen players into the top 32. It's quite rare to see the top tables at a GP have more than 50% of a single deck, but when it does happen, I think it deserves closer attention.

To me, the most interesting thing about B/G is that it's not actually just a single deck, but several strategies that overlap, but also have pretty fundamental differences. Usually at this point in Standard, after the PT, the best versions of various archetypes crystalize and we know what the "stock" list is. In the case of Mardu Vehicles, this is pretty much what has already happened: the exact numbers tend to differ from one list to another, but we keep seeing the same core of cards almost in every successful Mardu Vehicles list. However, with black-green, there are at least three different pronounced strategies - B/G Delirium, B/G Energy and B/G midrange - and a whole bunch of individual cards that see play in some lists but don't in others. But which approach is the best? Which cards will prove themselves worth playing in the best versions and which ones will lose popularity? That's what I'd like to find out today.

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Versions:
Aether Revolt (Foil)

B/G Energy

As the name suggests, this is the B/G version that makes some space for cards that produce and utilize energy. One big reason why the energy sub-theme works particularly well with black and green is that with a Winding Constrictor in play, every time you get energy, the Constrictor gives you an extra energy counter. These are the cards that set this archetype apart from the other B/G versions:

Attune with Aether

Greenbelt Rampager

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner

Longtusk Cub

Aether Hub

Aethersphere Harvester (not played by all energy versions)

Aether Hub, Attune with Aether and Greenbelt Rampager are the enablers, while Longtusk Cub with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner are the payoff cards here - and both of them can run away with the game pretty quickly. Longtusk Cub, in particular, can be quite incredible, since with Winding Constrictor, both of its abilities get better: you get three energy counters when you connect and for paying two, the cub gets two +1/+1 counters. And if you throw Greenbelt Rampager into the mix, the combination of these three cards translates into two +1/+1 counters for just a single mana, since the amount of energy is also doubled for the Elephant. So, for example, for just three green, you can give Longtusk Cub +6/+6 permanently (using Longtusk Cub's ability before you recast the Elephant). This little engine is incredible in any creature mirror where board presence matters.

What are the weaknesses of the "energy" approach? Mostly, it doesn't give you too much of an edge against opponents with a lot of removal. Because your engine cards are Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Longtusk Cub, Shock - normally not a card with many targets against B/G - is actually a pretty good removal spell against us. Also, getting the Siphoner picked off by Walking Ballista is pretty annoying. On the other hand, compared to other B/G lists, the energy version can be faster - you have more 2-drops and an early Longtusk Cub or Greenbelt Rampager can apply a lot of pressure. Grim Flayer gets dwarfed by Longtusk Cub on a regular basis.

Grim Flayer
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

B/G Delirium

B/G Delirium was a big player in the pre-ban Standard format and while the current lists share some cards with the older version, the game plan of these two decks is actually completely different. The plan A of the old Delirium decks was to ramp into Emrakul - everything else was marginal. Now, the deck is actually focused on producing big threats from turn 2 to 5 and attacking with creatures that are bigger than anything on the other side of the table. These are the key elements of B/G Delirium:

Grim Flayer

Mindwrack Demon

Ishkanah, Grafwidow

Traverse the Ulvenwald

Evolving Wilds

Liliana, the Last Hope (not all versions play her)

The vast majority of B/G Delirium lists don't run any Grapple with the Past and most don't even have Lilianas, so achieving Delirium is actually not as easy as it might seem. Walking Ballista helps quite a bit, being able to provide both an artifact and a creature in your graveyard when you need it, but unlike the pre-ban Delirium lists, these new builds will sometimes struggle and have Grim Flayers as 2/2s and Traverses as basically Attune with Aether that doesn't give you any energy. That being said, there are certainly advantages this version has. Grim Flayer's trample works very well with stuff that boosts his stats, like Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Verdurous Gearhulk or Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Traverse the Ulvenwald means that in the late game, you're going to have access to four more cards that can turn into Verdurous Gearhulk, likely the most important card in the mirror match. And against Mardu Vehicles, Ishkanah is still one of the best roadblocks you can find. Of all the B/G versions, Delirium has likely the best late game, although it can sometimes provide rather inconsistent draws or be a bit slow out of the gates, with clunky cards like Traverse the Ulvenwald and more comes-into-play tapped lands than other versions, thanks to Evolving Wilds.

B/G Midrange

The third black-green archetype is the one that's the least focused on any particular sub-theme other than Winding Constrictor and +1/+1 counters, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The downside is that you don't benefit from any particular deep synergy like the two previous archetypes, but the advantages are that your deck is more consistent and also has more space for certain "niche" cards that can be good in the right circumstances. The most common examples of such cards, in no particular order, are:

Sylvan Advocate

Catacomb Sifter

Oath of Nissa

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

Gifted Aetherborn

Tireless Tracker

Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Lifecrafter's Bestiary

Ruinous Path

Blossoming Defense

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Grasp of Darkness

Murder

Some of these cards can also be found in the Delirium or Energy lists, but in general, there's a lot less space in these builds, so it's pretty rare to find more of them there. But with the "midrange" builds, it is quite common to see several cards from this list in a single deck list.

Each card on this list has a certain purpose, so let's have a closer look at some of them.

Gifted Aetherborn is a card that has gained quite some popularity this past weekend and can be found in many B/G lists including the builds with Energy or Delirium. In fact, three out of the five B/G decks in the top 8 of GP Pittsburgh had the Aetherborn in the main deck, with Hunter Cochran going as far as running the full playset. So what is so appealing about this card? Well, it turns out that lifelink is a really good ability to have in a deck that can casually throw +1/+1 counters around the battlefield and deathtouch is really good against giant creatures that Verdurous Gearhulk tends to spawn wherever he goes. The stats are not amazing, but being a 2-drop is key, since it can lead to some pretty great starts. The Energy builds don't need the Aetherborn and I would also be careful about jamming the Aetherborn into decks with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, as the mana base can get pretty tricky then, but I would definitely consider this card in any B/G delirium or midrange list.

Sylvan Advocate is another two-drop that can be considered. Vigilance is also impressive if you can beef the creature up to giant proportions, but I don't really like the Advocate so much now, especially if more people play the Aetherborn, who can attack into the Advocate without any fear on turn three.

Gonti, Lord of Luxury is another way how to gain some advantage in the mirror. A 2/3 deathtouch body is relevant even in the late game, as it can block any monstrous creature coming your way, but the ability to steal the opponent's haymakers is what wins games in the G/B mirror. In particular, I like Gonti in lists with Liliana, the Last Hope - if you run some double-black cards, you might as well play as many as you like and Liliana can rebuy Gonti once he trades with something, giving you a lot of value in the late game. Unfortunately, Gonti is not great against Mardu Vehicles, so how good he really is depends on the amount of Mardu in the metagame.

Lifecrafter's Bestiary also turns out to be bad against Mardu Vehicles (a three-mana artifact that doesn't do anything at all in the short run is close to a mulligan in that matchup), but can win the game against another green-black player and also give you a big edge against all the blue decks. Some of the successful B/G lists in Pittsburgh even run this card in the main deck, which is not something I would suggest, unless you're sure that you're going to play against a sea of B/G.

Ruinous Path - while this is largely a maindeckable card, I think that it is useful the most in games two and three. The best plan Mardu Vehicles can muster against B/G post-board is boarding in a bunch of planeswalkers and Fumigates. With cards like Gideon, Chandra, Ob Nixilis, Heart of Kiran and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, the Mardu deck can progress its board and then annihilate B/G's side of the board with a sweeper. An answer to such a strategy has to be not overloading on creature-removal, but running kill spells that can also hit planeswalkers and / or - of course - having planeswalkers of your own. Ruinous Path is a fairly efficient anti-planeswalker card, although Delirium lists can go one better and have To the Slaughter.

Blossoming Defense is a card that I like the most in the Energy builds, because it helps you protect your cheap but key cards such as Longtusk Cub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. However, I would almost never play more than two and it's even possible that the correct number is just one. Having one-offs like this can confuse the opponent and make them play badly, since they don't know what to play around, but drawing multiples can sometimes harm you rather than help you, because you lack ways how to progress the board.

The question that any player who wants to run black-green in Standard now should be asking is "which version do I want to stick to?" and "what are the niche cards I want to run?". In the current metagame, I think that the Delirium version is the best one, since it performs the best in the black-green mirror match. However, it can be a bit slow against Mardu Vehicles. The Energy build is the most aggressive one of the three, so I would suggest running it if the metagame is vulnerable to a fast clock.

All of the "niche" cards have some purpose, so it really depends on what are you expecting from your opponents. However, one rule that I would always abide by, is not to cut too many cards from the core of the deck, which is Winding Constrictor, Walking Ballista, Verdurous Gearhulk, Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Fatal Push. These are the cards that make the deck tick and if you take out too many, you remove the most powerful element of the archetype. The core engine is the reason why black-green is so dominating right now and will certainly remain a powerful force in Standard until the next rotation in September.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8
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