"What's the most powerful and/or gamebreaking card you can cast with a mono-green Commander deck?"
That's what I asked on Twitter the other day, to which I received a variety of responses (these aren't all of them, I've tried to cull some of the duplicates):
@kevinan: I have elves built, and Omnath has ALWAYS been insanity.
@BoltTheBird: Praetor's Council.
@the_toMatto: Greater fucking Good.
@acadapt: I personally enjoy Hall of Gemstones on a table full of multicolor generals.
A fair bit of consensus out there: Tooth and Nail, Genesis Wave, Praetor's Council, [card Primeval Titan]Prime Time[/card], and Eldrazi. This makes sense; a big format requires big hits to win it and these tend to be pretty big hits.
I've been struggling with putting together the an optimal competitive green list for a while. I think there's general consensus about what's on the top of the curve, but what I want to know is what are the best plays you can make at every point in the curve.
My mind is a terrible thing to taste.
So here I go, the best things you can play in a mono-green deck for their mana cost. And I'm talking the "Best of the Best of the Best." For the purpose of this exercise I'm going to assume the commander is either Azusa, Lost but Seeking or Omnath, Locus of Mana, to emphasise the strategy of consistent ramp into powerful plays.
I'm going to intentionally try to differtiate the issue of "Turn 1 play" and "1 CMC Card". I want to understand the optimal play in the early game, or as Mike Flores, who I don't know on an intense and personal basis, would put it, 'Phase 1', and I want that to be particularly associated with mono-green.
The Best Turn 1, 1 CMC or Less Spells
Here we go.
- Sol Ring: Sol Ring is the definitive Turn 1 Play, allowing for an immediate play into a 2 CMC mana-stone, Grim Monolith, or Sensei's Divining Top + Skullclamp (yes, I've done this). For any deck this is probably the most powerful play of all.
- Sensei's Divining Top / Mirri's Guile: The Top is certainly the better card, but their are so similar that I'll discuss them together. The ability these two cards give to sculpt turns and ensure constant land-drops continue is invaluable. Top can defend itself by hopping onto the top of the library, but Mirri's Guile is usually underrated and ignored, much to the detriment of opponents. Both are fine Turn 1 plays as they allow for a consistent game plan in later turns.
- Exploration / Burgeoning: Again, not quite the same card, but depending on the number of players you're up against, Burgeoning can sometimes be the better card (the more players, the better Burgeoning gets). Both are limited by the number of lands you can get into your hands, so cards they find extra lands become far better with these in play.
- Mana Vault / Mana Crypt: In a mono-green deck I'm actually happier to play cards that get land into play than run mana-artifacts, but if you're going to run them, these are two of the best. If you can play them early to enable broken land-ramp plays, then all the better.
- Mox Diamond / Chrome Mox / Mox Opal: As above, I'd rather be ramping to lands than ramping to artifacts in a mono-green deck, but these can certainly give you the jump-start you need, Mox Diamond in particular.
- Crop Rotation: It's a simple spell, but might be perfect to find the land you really wanted, whether that be Gaea's Cradle or Ancient Tomb, depending on your strategy. Not as good as some of the other cards on the list, however.
- Expedition Map: Like Crop Rotation, this will find you the card you really want... later. Unlike the other powerful cards on this, it's slow, but the tutor effect for any land is not to be ignored.
- Joraga Treespeaker: A fantastic 'ramp spell', it suffers from being a creature. However it does allow you to easily present 5 mana on turn 3, which is where any consistent green ramp deck wants to be.
- Birds of Paradise / Llanowar Elf: As basic creature ramp they'll usually survive a turn to be useful in Commander, but as a general rule I give creatures no more than 3 rounds of play before they end up in the graveyard. I'd rather be casting Sol Ring, but who wouldn't?
Other Turn 1, 1 CMC or Less Cards
Worldly Tutor / Sylvan Tutor: On Turn 1 your targets are pretty limited. Birds of Paradise, Joraga Treespeaker, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Fauna Shaman make the grade, but not much else. They'll certainly make it into the deck, but aren't great Turn 1 plays, unless you plan on comboing out somehow with Heritage Druid.
Skullclamp, Candelabra of Tawnos and Aether Vial are also fine 1 CMC cards, they're probably not what you want to be playing on Turn 1 in a deck designed to ramp to maximum power. In a dedicated Elf, deck, however, they may be perfect.
I realize that several of the Turn 1 plays means you'll have 2, 3 or possibly 4 mana on Turn 2, so I'm going sort each of those out individually. Try to bear with my flimsy premise as I slog through the horror of fondling green cards.
Of course, if you've used a Mox, you may be able to play these on Turn 1, which is all the better, but as sorting these into any type of logical fashion is killing me, you'll have to read about them in the order I choose.
The Best Turn 2, 2 CMC Spells
- Earthcraft: A very powerful play in the right deck, you need to be running either Squirrel Nest (and combo out Turn 3/4) or Gaea's Cradle + tokens/elves. If that's your strategy, it's probably one of the most powerful plays you can make. If not, it's a do-nothing enchantment.
- Rampant Growth / Explore: Rampant Growth is a classic, in a sense, and it does exactly what you want it to do, in terms of ramping out. It's not flashy, but it gets the job done. Explore, on the other hand, is a little more situational. It will allow you to play a non-basic land, but only if you have it in hand (or draw into it). I think in a Ramp deck you'll want to play both, but it's hard to say which is better in Commander. Certainly Explore feels better in Constructed, where you can draw into more Explores, but the singleton nature of Commander prevents this flow.
- Gaea's Touch: Exploration / Burgeoning again, with an ability to get a 1-time mana boost. It's has the restriction of only playing basic Forests, which is a little awkward, and the casting costs is GG, so you're not casting it off a Sol Ring any time soon, but it's still a fine Turn 2 play.
- Grim Monolith: If you're going to go down the artifact-ramp route, there's few better plays than this. Sure, you don't get to muck about with Power Artifact in a mono-green deck, but the one-shot ramp ability is unquestionably good, especially if it ramps you into enough mana to do it again. And again. And again.
- Sakura-Tribe Elder: The little guy isn't the Constructed powerhouse he once was since damage is no longer on the stack, but as a recurring, sacrificial little dude who finds you the Forests you need, he's not half bad at all.
- Oath of Druids: Arguably the most powerful 2 CMC play in mono-green (the next card is what you'll argue about) the symmetrical nature of the card is not to be ignored. Worse in a multiplayer game, fantastic in 1-on-1 (especially when combined with Forbidden Orchard and backed up by Defense of the Heart), it prefers you to be playing early ramps sorceries and artifacts over creatures.
- Survival of the Fittest: Another excessively powerful 2 CMC card. It's not taking you as quickly down the ramp plan, but the ability to tutor for the exact right creature every turn is stupidly good. Built around, you'll also have enough graveyard recursion through cards such as Masked Admirers and Genesis to make the card truly abusable. You can go find your early ramp, then reach back into your graveyard for your game-ending bombs. Casting this and Oath of Druids on Turn 2, thanks to Sol Ring, is near unbeatable.
- Sylvan Library: The last of the amazing 2 CMC enchantments, Sylvan Library allows for some fantastic card draw and library manipulation. You generally need the card advantage to keep up with the blue decks, and as such will want to include it in any green deck.
- Emerald Medallion: It may not seem as great as a simple mana stone, but over time Emerald Medallion will save a lot more than 1 mana per turn. If you can put this in play on Turn 1 off Sol Ring, then you can play Oath and Survival on Turn 2 while still having 2 colorless mana up. That's pretty crazy, and therefore pushes the card from good to great.
Other Turn 2, 2 CMC Spells
Fellwar Stone / Every 2-Drop Mana Artifact Ever: Probably not as good as a Rampant Growth, or even a Sakura-Tribe Elder. Lands have a way of sticking around that artifacts don't. There's so much artifact hate in the format that manabases that rely on them can really get blown out. There's far less land destruction, and as such I'd rather place my ability to ramp in the hands of lands over artifacts in mono-Green. Journeyer's Kite is much slower than the rest of our options, but it does provide a level of consistency that's lacking amongst other routes, and provides a constent source of card advantage in the long run.
Wall of Roots is nice, yes, and can be a temporary blocker, but you'd rather just have another land in play.
Lightning Greaves does not achieve the end of early, consistent ramp, but it does, however, protect a specific line of play with Omnath. You'll certainly run it, but you may not want to be playing it on Turn 2.
As for Fauna Shaman, it's no Survival of the Fittest, even though it acts as a level of redundancy for that broken enchantment. Melira, Sylvok Outcast is also a 2CMC card for comboing out. Her combos generally require more setup, and running her out on Turn 2 is more often than not a lesser option.
The Best Turn 2, 3 CMC Spells
Other Turn 2, 3 CMC Cards
There are so many interesting 3 drops that make a great green deck but aren't necessarily what we want to be doing in the early game. Elvish Archdruid is a great option for ramping out with Elves, but that's not where this deck is headed.
As corner cases go, Ohran Viper and Splinterfright are excellent creatures, but aren't pointing towards the ramp you want, and are more a beat downy/controlly/combo-y effect, if that makes any sense at all (seriously, what type of card is Splinterfright if not all three archtypes?). Farhaven Elf is another good creature + ramp spell and shouldn't be dismissed, especially if we have ways to abuse the enter-the-battlefield ability.
Far Wanderings and Journey of Discovery are certainly good card, but are best played on Turns 3-5 when you have 6 mana up, or significant number of cards in the graveyard, which is unlikely on Turn 2. Harrow is an interesting spell, but you're only really ramping up a single land (and really opening yourself up to a counter-magic blow-out), so it seems safer to stick with Cultivate and Kodama's Reach.
Realms Uncharted makes for an interesting play, if going down the Crucible of Worlds / Life from the Loam route, which could easily have a lot of synergy with Splinterfright (as Life From The Loam helps dredge for Splinterfright action, and Crucible helps recur the lands as well).
Then there are other utility permanents, such as Overwhelming Instinct, Oblivion Stone, and Fecundity, but they are better coming down once you have a board presence established, rather than on Turn 2.
Viridian Joiner / Umbral Mantle is a fine infinite-mana combo in the 3 CMC slot, and certainly one to consider if you're using the 'big' X-Spells. However you'd want to play them together in the same turn, so a Turn 2 play with zero protection is pretty much out.
Horn of Greed is an intersting case. It's probably best abused in a mono-green deck, but is a symetrical effect that your opponents can also take advantage of.
In an effort to make this readable, my long-suffering editor has insisted I split this series up, so next week I'll be discussing the best Turn 2, 4 CMC Spells, and then get onto Turn 3.
That's right, we haven't even reached Turn 3 yet.
Until next week.