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Standard Deck Primer: R/G Monsters

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Today I would like to provide a primer on playing Red/Green Monsters in Standard. This deck has had a string of strong yet underrated finishes, dating back to Brad Nelson at Pro Tour Theros. This has been my favorite choice in Standard for several months now, partly due to the fact that it is incredibly fun to play. Since the release of Born of the Gods the deck has started to pick up some steam as people begin to realize its potential.

Since there is some healthy variation in the high-finishing decklists for this archetype, I would like to provide an analysis of each card on an individual basis. For reference, my current decklist is as follows:

The Core

The backbone of the deck that is present in nearly every build of the archetype includes the following twenty cards:

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Domri Rade

In addition to being an extremely efficient threat, Polukranos is the best answer to Master of Waves. Many decks struggle to interact with Stormbreath Dragon, and even those that can will sometimes just die or take too much damage from it to recover. The monstrous abilities on both are very relevant and help reduce the risk of flood that is inherent to ramp strategies.

Domri Rade is one of the most powerful Standard-legal cards and fits in this deck perfectly. Elvish Mystic enables it as early as turn 2, and Sylvan Caryatid provides decent protection against Mutavault and other small creatures. Against control strategies it will be a card-advantage machine for which they will need to quickly find a Hero’s Downfall or Detention Sphere. Against aggressive strategies, Domri is usually a removal spell that threatens to take over a stalled game and at worst soaks up some damage. It is important to keep the creature count in the deck as high as possible in order to make the +1 ability worth about half of a card, though it does receive some help in the form of Temple of Abandonment and Courser of Kruphix.

The Rest

4 Ghor-Clan Rampager

Few would argue against the power of Ghor-Clan Rampager. There were a few sweet weeks where this deck’s popularity was low and people had forgotten to play around it, often leading to ridiculous blowouts. It’s not always that easy, but even if they are aware of the coming Bloodrush it can make blocking very awkward. You obviously have to be careful against opponents with open mana, but against the sort of decks that have instant-speed removal, Rampager is often good enough as a simple 4-mana creature. It is also your best way to punch through Desecration Demons and Elspeth tokens. It's also worth noting that, even if you don’t have a Rampager in your hand, bluffing one can allow you to sneak through extra damage since the opponent will not want to risk a dangerous block.

2 Scavenging Ooze

Scavenging Ooze is not specifically needed in this deck; it is simply a good card. It can be helpful as another early-game spell just to trade off with creatures that would threaten your Planeswalkers, yet it is a great topdeck in the late game. Your opponent is often incentivized to try to trade off their early creatures for your Ooze, since it threatens to become a brick wall in the late game. This is directly in conflict with the existence of Ghor-Clan Rampager, which can be exiled immediately to get the Ooze going. Ooze becomes worse in multiples since they want to feed on the same things, so 2 copies seems like the perfect amount. Ooze is also a fine mana sink in case of a glut of lands, much like the Monstrous creatures.

2 Courser of Kruphix

This is the new kid on the block, and so far it certainly seems like it deserves its place. It doesn’t pack an aggressive punch on its own, but it gets you to your monsters and fills a sweet spot in the curve that was previously lacking. While it can be quite awkward to let your opponent know that you have a combat trick or a hasty dragon coming on the following turn, it also greatly mitigates the risk of flood and becomes insane when paired with Domri.

3 Xenagos, the Reveler

The non-creature slots in this deck are highly prized since Domri requires the deck to be built in a certain way, but Xenagos has so much raw power that I like including three in the maindeck. Planeswalkers 5-7 mean that opponents relying on Detention Sphere will be overloaded, and it’s an excellent threat to stick against anyone trying to use Supreme Verdict. If left unchecked, it wins a fight against a Desecration Demon. The +1 is occasionally relevant, allowing you to activate monstrous and cast a large spell in the same turn. It also contributes to a critical mass of haste creatures, which can be very helpful against opposing planeswalkers.

3 Mizzium Mortars

This is just another in the long list of “split” cards that has modes for the early game and late game. It is great at picking off an early Pack Rat or taking out three of them. It can clear Elspeth or Master of Waves tokens if you don’t have a Polukranos, and it makes people playing Blood Baron of Vizkopa feel silly. As mentioned earlier, non-creature cards are kept to a minimum in this deck, but the ability to protect your Planeswalkers and your life total when you don’t have a fast start is invaluable.

2 Flesh // Blood

I actually play 3 copies of this card when I play local tournaments, just because it is the most fun card in the deck. It combos with Ghor-Clan Rampager to deal 16 damage to an opponent out of nowhere who has conveniently already taken 4 damage from your Stormbreath Dragon. If they’ve played a shock-land and don’t block your Polukranos, they can simply die on turn 4. When you don’t get the combo, it is still useful as another removal spell and counts as a haste creature of sorts when you are racing.

This card is also the reason for the inclusion of 2 Blood Crypts in the deck, as sometimes you will find yourself able to fuse the Flesh half of the card. Sylvan Caryatid gives you 4 free sources of black mana, and it tends to stay in play due to hexproof. I have not yet experimented with the manabase since the release of Born of the Gods. It is quite possible that Temple of Malice is more desirable. This deck values the scry effect very highly, though it is also very hungry for mana in the early turns. This is something I’ll be testing in the coming weeks.

Flesh // Blood tends to get sideboarded out against opponents who have lots of instant-speed removal, though if I haven’t revealed it to them yet I may keep at least 1 copy in since it can win games out of nowhere. This might become less relevant if it starts showing up in more decklists, but until recently people have largely ignored the card.

Sideboard

4 Mistcutter Hydra

This card gives us a lot of percentage points against Mono Blue Devotion and U/W/x control decks. Mono Blue is forced to race it or chump block with Mutavault, and against control it contributes to the gameplan of making their removal awkward and grinding them out with incremental damage.

1 Mizzium Mortars

It’s the best at what it does, and in some matchups you just want as many as you can get.

1 Arbor Colossus

I haven’t actually cast this card very many times yet, but it’s there as a way to increase threat density against Thoughtseize decks that is also effective against Desecration Demon.

2 Destructive Revelry

This card is worth bringing in against any Detention Sphere deck. Typically it is not a good idea to dilute your aggression with narrow reactive cards, but resolving Destructive Revelry can greatly disrupt your opponent's math. Additionally, they often have a few copies of Pithing Needle, which would otherwise be extremely good against your Planeswalkers.

2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed

I probably have too many cards geared towards beating control decks, but honestly, this card usually just means game over when it hits.

1 Hammer of Purphoros

Another card that is very effective in grindy matchups. You never want to see multiples though, so 1 copy is plenty.

2 Wasteland Viper

I see a lot of players running Shock in their sideboard, but this card is a much better speed bump. It contributes to both of Domri’s abilities, it can trade up for larger creatures, and it can even attack. The Bloodrush is rarely relevant since your opponents are already playing with Rampager in mind, but it can occasionally do nasty things with a Polukranos.

2 Flames of the Firebrand

This card was better when White Weenie was more popular, but it is still effective against several decks. It is less powerful than Anger of the Gods, but you don’t want to board out your mana creatures in the matchups where you want this effect.

Notable cards that I’m not playing

Mutavault

Many lists run 2 copies of Mutavault. To be honest I don’t know whether zero, one, or two of these is best. I tend to err on the side of being able to cast my spells, especially since this deck has so many built-in ways to reduce the effects of flooding. This deck prefers to go way over the top of opposing strategies rather than grinding it out with a 2/2. However, I will be experimenting with one copy of Mutavault in the coming weeks as I tweak the manabase with Temple of Malice.

Boon Satyr

Three copies of this card were included in Jonathan Habel’s winning list from St. Louis last weekend. It is certainly a powerful card, and I included it in my initial builds of the deck. However, I dislike how it occupies some of the same territory as Ghor-Clan Rampager, and I don’t like it better than any of the cards in my maindeck.

Xenagos, God of Revels

I do plan to experiment with this card a a one-of, though I think it is bad. The creature clause is irrelevant, since if you have that much devotion on the table your opponent is pretty dead anyway. The ability is just a situational effect that replicates a different creature, so why not just have a different creature in the first place?

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

This card is often a one-of, and it’s not a terrible choice. However, this deck already does a fine job at going over the top once it gets enough mana, but unlike the other cards in this deck it doesn’t do anything before you get to that point.

Fanatic of Xenagos

This card does not fit in this type of strategy. It is aggressively costed, but I’d look to play this card in a deck sporting Burning-Tree Emissary before putting it in a midrange deck.

Plummet

This card sees some play in sideboards as an answer to Desecration Demon and Nightveil Specter, though I believe that they should be boarding some number of Specters out after game 1. Mono Black is the toughest matchup for this deck, largely due to the threat of dying to a Demon while they deal with your initial threats. However, this card is too situational for my tastes. Death from above is only one of the ways to lose to Mono Black. It is very easy to lose to a Pack Rat if you do not keep in Mortars. With Mortars in your deck, you can just accept the fact that sometimes you have to 2-for-1 yourself against a Demon. Sometimes, though, you will just have enough small creatures to race it or a Rampager to brute force through it. Suffice it to say that it is a tight matchup.

Chandra, Pyromaster

I initially had this card in my sideboard, and I certainly love the card after having played with it in Modern. However, I just found that I never wanted to board it in. It was fine against control just because it is a Planeswalker, but we have plenty of other cards that are more effective.

Dreadbore and other black cards

Cedric Phillips has recently been championing a more Jund-y version of this deck as a way to address the Demon problem. I think that this weakens the power level of the deck, but I will be experimenting with it.

Please feel free to voice all of your thoughts, disagreements or criticisms in the comments. I’m hoping to provide some videos with this deck in the near future, so be on the lookout for that!

Mike Schuller
@BlackLotusGo on twitter

10 thoughts on “Standard Deck Primer: R/G Monsters

    1. It’s certainly possible that you are right, since it is an incredible card. However, I believe that there’s an argument to be made for 2 or 3 copies, since it’s poor in multiples.

      It’s also somewhat weaker in this particular build, since the emphasis is on Rampager and Flesh//Blood which greatly benefit from hidden information.

      What would you cut for Coursers and/or black cards?

  1. Obzedat can also be a problem if your opening isn’t fast enough – it’s big enough to make blocking awkward and pretty good in a race. Add in the 1-of whip that is popular in Ester midrange builds and it’s very hard to beat.

    I’ve been trying the June build lately – it probably has an edge in the mirror but doesn’t look better elsewhere…

    1. I haven’t ran into many Obzedats lately, but if they’re running that instead of Blood Baron you can take out Mortars and increase your threat density. There are plenty of cards in the deck that can tangle with Obzedat or ignore it completely.

      Whip could be problematic in some games, but if they are running other targets for Destructive Revelry you can hedge against it.

  2. I think you are dead wrong on Xenagod. Once resolved, practically all of your threats are relevant this turn, not next turn.

    2/2 tokens swing for 4, he synergizes well with Domri’s -2 (in 2nd main), a 10/10 hasty polukranos is incredible, and having 5 devotion’s worth of other permanents resolved isn’t exactly incredibly unlikely in a deck running polukranos, stormbreath, caryatid, and two mana symbol walkers.

    There are plenty of times where you could have a domri and a caryatid down. If Xenagos is also on the board, then you can resolve a stormbreath and swing for 14 (8 flying, 6 indestructible) or resolve a polukranos and swing for 16.

    1. It’s possible that you are right, but I believe that Xenagod makes you win the games you are already going to win even harder and does not do much in games where you need help. It is fantastic to attack for 10 with Polukranos and 8 with Stormbreath, sure, but it’s also fantastic to attack for 5 and 4 with them. Additionally, my argument is that you are likely winning any game where you have 7 devotion on the board anyway, since this deck’s permanents tend to be better than other decks’ permanents.

      1. I like xenagod into kalonian hydra. A12/12 hasty trampler is a nice drop at any point in the game. As for cost & devotion, if you can’t ramp out a 5 drop by turn 4 at the latest in rg, that’s sad. I think bte & ntkthos are necessary. I’ve had quite a few games where I’m dropping a huge mistcutter on turn 2 or 3. I also like bow of nylea as a one-of. Versatile, but mostly useful for deathtouch. Instants like fall of the hammer or mutant’s prey turn even an elvish mystic into an assassin

  3. I love your insight on Plummit, Chandra, Garruk, and Xenagod. However, I think 3 courser is the right amount. I still think I like shock over flames, and wasteland viper is cute but can’t block fliers

    1) What are your thoughts on Unravel the Aether vs. Destructive revelry? To me, being able to hit gods seems better than dealing 2, which is more necessary for an aggro deck to not miss a beat.

    2) Boon satyr seems more necessary when you are going with the flesh build, where you may want some redundancy with Ghor-Clan

    3) How about a Bow of Nylea in the sideboard? It seems strong against burn, where it can kill phoenixes and gain you 3 life a turn. Maybe against Mono U where they have small fliers. Also, you can monstrous polukranos after you attack so it could take part of wasteland viper’s role

    4) Is 8 mana guys and 24 land too many? I’ve seen many builds where it’s been 7 mana guys or 23 lands.

    5) Is mono blue enough of a matchup problem to run 1 of the Mistcutter main?

    6) How do you feel about Armed//Dangerous for the aggro mirror? Stronger but riskier than flesh/blood

    1. I have actually been leaning in the direction of 3 Courser as well. Flames is definitely one of the looser cards in the sideboard, but I consider Wasteland Viper to be filling the role of Shock. You typically don’t need to change many cards against aggressive decks, and there’s not really any matchup where Shock is going to be better.

      1) This is a fair consideration. I was thinking that typically you only bring in Revelry against Detention Sphere decks (or fringe cases where you’ve seen cards like Whip, Pithing Needle, etc), but if some versions start playing Ephara then this would be much better. I suppose you could come up with a sideboarding plan where you bring it in against Thassa since it can also hit Bident.

      2) What’s the cut?

      3) I wouldn’t really want Bow over any other card, especially against Mono Blue. If Burn becomes a larger part of the metagame then it could be worth consideration.

      4) I mentioned this in the article, but I prefer to err a bit on the side of being able to cast spells. This deck cares very much about curving out with accelerant -> fatty -> fatty. In the non- mono black non-UW control matchups, you are behind in the games where you don’t have an accelerant. So many cards in the deck help mitigate the downsides of flooding such as Temples, overload, fusing Flesh, and activating monstrous. On the flip side, if you miss your fourth mana you will just be twiddling your thumbs.

      5) I’ve seen others mention that mono blue is a bad matchup, but I’m not sure what they’re doing wrong because I’ve always found it very favorable, even pre-board. The games you lose can be due to a fast Cloudfin Raptor draw, a fast Master of Waves that you can’t Polukranos/Mortars, or you lose a close race against Thassa. The first two can typically be contained by limiting devotion/damage with Mortars/Domri/etc, and like I mentioned above it’s possible that Unravel the Aether can help with the Thassa games.

      6) The problem with Armed/Dangerous is that you have to already be ahead in order to cast it. Flesh/Blood can act as a simple Doom Blade while you are grappling for board presence.

      1. Also in regards to #5, Mono Blue might be weaker than it was pre-BNG due to losing some percentage points in the Mono Black matchup due to Bile Blight.

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