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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jan 23 2019 12:00pm
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When we got Ravnica Allegiance on Magic Online I decided to buy some cards for several Standard decks and mess around with them. Neither of the decks seemed as something I'd bring to a competitive event with one exception, Gruul Stompy. Since that deck can be a little bit boring and might end up not withstanding a well formed metagame I added blue to try to see if the deck would suffer from that addition or not. Before I could see if blue could bring something good for the deck I needed to see what are the best cards the Gruul deck could run. This article will talk about Gruul Stompy built on the Ravnica Allegiance card - Rhythm of the Wild. Before I start there is a need for a little bit of introduction.

The shape of Standard is yet to be determined and that is why my evaluation of cards may be off and that is something we will found out very soon (after the first big competitive event). Cards can't be really evaluated in vacuum. There always needs to be a context. For example if I'd ask: 'Is Opt a good card?'. The answer would most probably depend on whether you are a Vintage player or a Standard one. As a Vintage player I'd answer no, since we have Ancestral Recall, Ponder and Preordain. In Standard though cantrips are rare and good ones even more rare. In the context of Standard my answer to that question would be an immediate 'yes'. The current context for my cards is my vision of Standard which can turn out to be wrong (or not) so I will tell you how my deckbuilding process used to look like in the past and I will use the upcoming format as an example. When I used to build decks I started with anything that came to my mind, played bunch of games and started seeing which decks performed well on their own. Then I started playing these decks against each other and in the end tuned these decks against how my vision of the metagame would look like. This brought very good results but involved several people and a lot of time that I do not have - the first competitive events also happen sooner than what it used to be in the past. In this case the decks I'd start with are Gruul Stompy, Mardu Humans, Mono Red Aggro (Rakdos), Bant Turbofog. Usually the initial decks are on the aggressive spectrum because they tend to show us how fast the format can be and how much time slower decks have to stabilize. The first three decks I mentioned are very fast and are actually very efficient and that is why I think the format will be fast in general, at least at the beginning. After I would have figured out the best aggro archetypes I'd move onto more midrange decks, followed by ramp, control and combo. Midrange in this case would be Golgari value, Temur value/synergy/combo, Mardu control or Esper Control. Ramp would be most likely in Jund or Temur colors, control would be Esper, Bant (I haven't thought of combo much). The reason why control decks come last (before last) is that they need to be configured to fight a specific metagame.

Ravnica Allegiance brought us many different cards and the ones that are the most visible are either very aggressive or build around cards. The aggressive cards will be the ones we'll probably see first, followed by the build around cards that will either become very good or fail to be that good. Examples of cards that can be hit or miss are Dovin, Grand Arbiter or Wilderness Reclamation. During the pre-Ravnica Allegiance Standard we got to see a lot of creature heavy decks and decks built around enchantments.

After this short introduction I can start talking about the card that caught my interest the moment I saw it for the first time - Rhythm of the Wild. The initial thought was 'Oh, Fires of Yavimaya'. Rhythm of the Wild has the same mana cost, it costs 1GR and is also an enchantment. It gives creatures Riot which is far better than the +2/+2 one shot effect of Fires. Rhythm of the Wild is a huge upgrade because it gives us a choice (+1/+1 counter or haste), has an ability that stacks and has one more effect written on it - Creature spells you control can't be countered. I suspect we'll see a lot of it in Standard (at some point). This card allows other decks than just White or Boros Weenie to beat down and decks running Rhythm will be casting really big creatures.

Rhythm of the Wild can find its home in different decks starting with the obvious Gruul Stompy. Since Ravnica Allegiance brought another batch of shocklands we can easily splash red (or green) for Rhythm or splash another color that fits the Stompy theme. For example there can be a green Elves deck featuring Rhythm of the Wild or there can be a red Goblin deck featuring the Rhythm or even Merfolk deck, Gruul as I mentioned earlier, Jund or Temur deck. Adding a third color will make the deck slower but it can make it more resilient to some decks or allow for another path to victory (and it will make it worse against Turbofog). The decks don't necessary need to be aggressive, they can even be value decks and time will tell which decks will be better. It is possible that we'll see both of these archetypes but at different stages of the format (aggressive first, midrange decks later).

At first I wanted to talk about my specific versions of decks I played with but when I started talking about these with other people online it all came down to single card discussions and the vision of how Standard will look like. I have to say that the opinions of different players differed a lot and players were incapable of giving me a reason why Gruul Spellbreaker is better than let's say Jadelight Ranger. Here is my take on the cards I ran or considered to run in my decks. I'll be talking about Gruul deck that tries to win via aggression which is currently considered the strongest version of a Rhythm deck. This means I won't be talking about cards that would be featured in an Elf deck, Vannifar deck or a Goblins deck etc.

I already talked about Rhythm of the Wild so here is the breakdown of creatures, followed by noncreature spells, sorted by type and mana cost.

Llanowar Elves

When I saw that Llanowar Elves got reprinted I was very surprised. Wizards was giving us different kinds of mana dorks that cost 2 mana which made it impossible to play a powerful 3 mana spell on turn 2. When we got this reprint we also got a bunch of good 3 drops that we wanted to cast on turn 2 and Rhythm of the Wild is certainly one of the cards.

Pelt Collector

This creature is not new and Standard players most probably have seen this card grow very fast in a green stompy deck. Rhythm decks can easily make this creature a 4/4 Trample. It is a target that many players are trying to get rid of as soon as it hits the table (always nice to see an opponent cast Lava Coil targeting my Collector a turn before I cast Rekindling Phoenix). Pelt Collector works nicely with Riot since it isn't a trigger and the creature enters with the counters on it already. While I think this card is good, I often failed to play it because I had to use up all my mana sources to cast something else. Another two drop in the deck would be more efficient when it comes to spending mana effectively.

Growth-Chamber Guardian

This creature can find another copy of itself when a +1/+1 counter is placed on it which is a very strong ability. Not only it allows to find another threat after the board is wiped but it can also be used to put way more pressure on the opponent in one turn.

Merfolk Branchwalker

Merfolk Branchwalker is a card that is somewhere on the aggressive to midrange spectrum. It can be a 3/2 attacker or a 2/1 attacker that filters the library. The effect itself is good and when Rhythm is around it can become 4/3 for 2 mana. I tried playing this card in Temur versions but even there the card was rather clunky since the single explore trigger wasn't enough and it didn't ensure me with a +1/+1 counter when I needed it. In a deck that would want to profit from black or blue and be more of a grindy deck, this card could be good enough as a two drop. In decks that try to be either very aggressive or explosive, it's not a good choice.

Kraul Harpooner

Another green two drop is Kraul Harpooner and I'm not sure how much play it actually saw in the past Standard. 3/2 body for 2 mana would be good on its own but this creature has even two abilities. It has Reach which may sometimes be relevant. The second ability pumps the creature, it gives it +X/+0 where X is the number of creatures in your graveyard, then the creature can fight (already chosen) a creature with flying you don't control. I used to get wrecked by this creature in limited and was similarly torturing my opponents with it. Most of the time this creature was a good removal. In a Rhythm deck though this card can become deadly. The pump effect usually meant that we could kill a creature with higher toughness. When we give Haste to the Harpooner though, it can swing for a big amount of damage late game. Since control decks will want to wipe our board there will often be the window to play that one creature that can swing for lethal. Kraul Harpooner can be that creature. The creature didn't perform that great for me though in my initial testing which may be also because I haven't run into that many control decks. The ones I played against I had to beat as fast as possible, any creature with Rhythm post board wipe was good enough to finish my opponent off. The fight ability is one I never used because I always valued the body more than getting rid of Spawn of Mayhem or Rekindling Phoenix (for one turn). Note also that the deck running flyers (Izzet/Grixis Drakes) is not viable in this initial aggressive metagame. There might be new decks that will feature flyers though and will only make the card better.

Zhur-Taa Goblin

When I was looking for a replacement of Kraul Harpooner I came across Zhur-Taa Goblin. I didn't like the creature at all at first but when I was on Hadana's Climb version of the deck I chose this as my preferred two drop. This is a 2/2 with Riot which makes it a 3/3 body or a 2/2 Haste creature (doesn't happen often). With Rhythm in play it is a 4/4 body which is good and a 3/3 Hasty body. There are burn spells that deal 2 damage and 3 at instant speed and the Goblin can avoid them unlike the Harpooner.

Growth-Chamber Guardian

Growth-Chamber Guardian is another new card from Ravnica Allegiance and it is a very good card. It is a 2/2 for two but it has Adapt 2. It also says that whenever a counter is placed on the creature you can search your library for another card named Growth-Chamber Guardian and put it in your hand. When there is Rhythm around this means you can get all the copies you can manage to play with your mana or just have an additional copy in your hand when things go south.

Incubation Druid

When I saw 'Add three mana' written on a card that doesn't cost 5 mana I made sure to buy a set of it. There may be three point of views on the card and depending on that you will either want to run 4 copies, 2 or zero. One point of view is that you simply look at the card as another mana producing creature that you need to accelerate into your Nullhide Feroxes or Rekindling Phoenixes. Second one is that you look at the card as an integral part of the deck that is needed in order to make the deck explosive (while still keeping in mind that if that doesn't work, it still produces one mana and does not necessarily fix your mana). Since I wasn't really looking for a deck just playing creatures on a curve I decided for the second point of view and I'm not really sure if it is too clunky, not worth it, ok or actually good. It feels great to cast Ravager Wurm on turn 4 though! Nonetheless the correct option may also be running zero of them and just play creatures on natural curve. The Druid is not a good attacker after all.


Gruul Spellbreaker

The three drop I originally put in my deck was Gruul Spellbreaker. It has Riot, Trample and when it is your turn, you and Gruul Spellbreaker have Hexproof. The important word is 'you' because it stops cards like Settle the Wreckage. The threats in this format we can play in a Rhythm deck are very resilient and even if the board gets wiped it is easy to put a lot of pressure on our opponent again (especially if we have Growth-Chamber Guardian in hand). I didn't get to see this card shine but I can imagine why people value it highly.

Jadelight Ranger

Jadelight Ranger is one of my favorite creatures and that is maybe the reason why it found its way into one of my decks. It has Explore, Explore which allows to filter library and have 1-2 counters available on it. This is the creature I used the most to flip Hadana's Climb with. In general I wasn't dissatisfied with this creature in my deck even if it drew me two lands. It doesn't beat down the same way Steel Leaf Champion or Gruul Spellbreaker does but can be more easily cast and we might see this card in Merfolk builds or other decks that will seek more value than aggression.

Steel Leaf Champion

This creature is an Elf which is relevant in an Elf deck. Otherwise this is the biggest of the 3 drops there are - 5/4. A hasty 5/4 or 6/5 body for 3 mana when Rhythm is around is huge. The mana cost might have been a problem pre-Allegiance but now that we have access to Stomping Ground the card can be easily cast even in a 2 colored deck. Running the Champion will restrict deckbuilding a bit though. For example Rekindling Phoenix is another card that requires a lot of colored sources (especially when we want to be able to cast it on turn 3 sometimes). If we would to run both cards in the same deck our mana base would have the need for another green-red dual land apart from Stomping Ground and Rootbound Crag. (if the term colored source confuses you, you can check out my article about mana base).

Nullhide Ferox

A 6/6 body for 4 mana? That is certainly of similar quality as Steel Leaf Champion and this creature will most likely be run alongside it. It also has several abilities which may seem a bit awkward. It has Hexproof and it says that you can't cast noncreature spells. These abilities can be blanked by either player paying 2 mana. The Ferox has one more ability that I don't see relevant in Standard - if an opponent's spell or ability causes you to discard Nullhide Ferox you put it into play.

Surprisingly some of the players on early Rakdos Theater decks were playing Vicious Rumors instead of Sovereign's Bite and I got to discard my Ferox!

Rekindling Phoenix

A deck that won't be running Steel Leaf Champion (or will, but then it will most likely feature some Gruul Guildgates) will have access to red cards with double red in its mana cost. One of them is Rekindling Phoenix. It is a 4/3 Flyer that needs to be removed from the game or it will come back (unless it eats two removal spells in one turn). At first I ran Rekindling Phoenixes only in a Vannifar deck because it is the best target to turn into a 5-drop which was in my case Skarrgan Hellkite, Biogenic Ooze or Siege-Gang Commander if I wanted to go further and get Ravager Wurm into play. The Phoenix flies and is able to deal damage when the board gets stalled with ground creatures but it can also be a good blocker for creatures that can't be dealt with. The Phoenix was the wild card of my deck and after this rather strange but often good performance I decided to introduce it into the more aggressive Gruul builds instead of or alongside Nullhide Ferox (depending on where my curve ended - if the curve ended on cmc 6 I didn't play Ferox).

Biogenic Ooze

When playing with the Vannifar deck I found out that I often have a lot of mana I don't spend later in the game and I started wondering how I could make use of it. Skarrgan Hellkite was the card I played initially but I never really got to use its pinging ability because I usually killed my opponent with the hasty dragon. When the board was stalled what I needed were more creatures. The Hellkite was unable to deal with bigger threats and that is why I also remembered how spectacularly I died to Biogenic Ooze in a game of limited. This Ooze brings another Ooze into play, if it survives till the end of your turn it puts +1/+1 counter on each Ooze (you control). Two 3/3 creatures for 5 mana is ok already and if you can create more Oozes it becomes very good. It is the best mana sink I found and I was surprised how well the card performed. Will it see play in Allegiance Standard?

Regisaur Alpha

One of the creatures I considered running was Regisaur Alpha. It brings into play a 3/3 Haste Dinosaur token. With Rhythm in play Alpha can attack as well immediately or become bigger to avoid cards like Lava Coil. The card gives other Dinosaurs haste so if Rhythm isn't around and we are on Dinosaur heavy build it can be good. The card never did what I needed when I was playing with it though and I cut it even from the decks featuring Ghalta, Primal Hunger.

Skarrgan Hellkite
A 5 mana dragon with a good ability is a card to consider for constructed. In the past we had Thundermaw Hellkite which could tap Baneslayer Angel and go past it, we also had Stormbreath Dragon which could be named 'the Elspeth, Sun's Champion killer (ironically it died as often to Elspeth as it killed her)'. The question is if Skarrgan Hellkite will join the ranks of these two Dragons. I opened it in my first sealed pool and that is why I put it in my deck (when I saw the price in tix I wasn't very enthusiast about buying it). In the end I replaced the Hellkite with more Rekindling Phoenixes and dropped it altogether because there were other higher mana cost creatures I wanted to try (see below).

Ravager Wurm

There has been a lot of talk about this card. I saw that many people were very excited about the card and I wondered how good the card actually is. When I was going through the spoiler it didn't really interest me much, I did not even remember the card existed the next day. Since it was a 2 tix card I decided to give it a try and put 2 and later more copies in the deck to see how it performs. Mana cost 6 is already high and if I want to be casting this creature it should do something crippling for the opponent. This creature can fight another creature which is a good ability (since this deck won't most likely play much of removal in noncreature form), it can also destroy a land with an activated ability that isn't a mana ability. That is an effect I fancied more often than I would want to admit. On the other hand the lands in question entered into play in the form of an enchantment and I already was prepared for that (I started with 4 Reclamation Sages in my previous decks and changed it to Vivien Reid later). I also had times during which I simply couldn't cast the card. I either cast the card on turn 4 or 5 or it was stranded in my hand until I died. The card didn't prove good enough to me.

Carnage Tyrant

I put Carnage Tyrant in my deck as a creature that is big, has Trample and Hexproof. Rhythm of the Wild makes all creature uncounterable so that particular ability of the Tyrant is no longer needed. The card performed well for me (better than Ravager Wurm or Regisaur Alpha) but is rather expensive. If you want to be casting Carnage Tyrants you'll need to be on 4x Incubation Druid plan and some players may consider this a liability.

Ghalta, Primal Hunger

When thinking about something big that can just trample through opponent's creatures I thought of Carnage Tyrant at first. After I stared at a board full of 5 power Humans against my very few 5/5s I knew that I should probably look for something even bigger than 7/6. Ghalta came to my mind. Any of the Gruul decks can have a really big power on the table early and casting Ghalta often costs just GG. With Rhythm of the Wild in play, it is a 12/12 Trample, Haste creature and might be worth including in the deck.

As you can see there are actually plenty of creatures we can choose from. We can go for a more streamlined version that will be playing creatures on a curve. This deck will want to play less expensive creatures and end the curve at converted mana cost 5. This version of the deck will be less prone to losing when it loses Rhythm of the Wild. I suspect there will be a lot of enchantment hate and we might even get to see Knight of Autumn being played. The other version of this deck can take advantage of Incubation Druid and run more expensive creatures (5 and 6 drops). The problem is that the deck relies more on Rhythm of the Wild which can make it crumble (usually it means losing a turn) and certainly will make it less consistent. The deck can be very explosive though and many decks will find it very hard to keep up.

Either of these decks won't run a high number of noncreature spells but there might be some to consider to run.

One of the cards I was missing the most was Lava Coil. There were some creatures that I really needed to deal with. On the other hand most of the time I didn't want a removal spell in my hand. I put Lava Coil in my sideboard and started looking for a different card I could play main deck. I found Thrash/Threat. It requires a creature in play with high enough power but that is something the deck usually has (otherwise it's doomed anyway). When testing this card I found out that I don't usually play it to proactively get rid of something (unless it a creature like Vannifar) but rather play it reactively when my opponent tries to kill one of my creatures. The Threat part of the card seems ok even when it can't take advantage of Rhythm of the Wild. I seldom cast it this way but since I can choose what I want to do with the card it's good enough to play main deck unlike Lava Coil that seemed to be stranded in my hand more often than not.

In the past green-red based monster decks used Domri Rade or Xenagos, the Reveler. Domri could draw a creature card, kill a creature or even get to the ultimate ability. Xenagos was spawning a 2/2 haste token or could give you enough mana to make the Monstrous ability of Polukranos, World Eater devastating. In the upcoming Standard we will have access to Domri, Chaos Bringer that can find two creatures and put them into our hand or can gives us mana and Riot to the creature we cast with that mana. Both abilities are very good but I have my doubts about Domri in the Gruul decks. Domri is a good card but it is a bit odd to run a high number of Rhythm of the Wild and Domri in one deck. The deck doesn't really need both so I could see a 3 Domri/2 Rhythm split. This could be a good way how to avoid enchantment removal if by a chance people would find the need to main deck it.

The other card that I'm fallbacking to is Vivien Reid. The card deals with the two things I always needed to deal and that is flyers and enchantments. The card costs 1 mana more which is actually a big issue and finds only 1 creature unlike Domri. I don't think we'll see much of Vivien Reid in these kind of decks main deck but she might be a good addition to the sideboard (depending on how the metagame would look like). Vivien Reid is very good in midrange decks though so if we will see the rise of Rhythm midrange decks she may find home there.

The last card that found its way into my deck was Hadana's Climb (if I omit sideboard cards). When people saw that I play both Rhythm of the Wild and Hadama's Climb they usually told me that I'm crazy and that I don't need both. I originally had Hadana's Climb in the sideboard but I was boarding it way more often than I expected. The card may seem redundant but it gives a creature evasion and can win the game in one single swing. My decks weren't the really aggressive kind and this is something that gave me more ways how to put counters on my creatures and it also gave me a alternative win condition. The land can transform in one turn which makes it avoid enchantment removal that Rhythm doesn't avoid. In decks that operate because there are +1/+1 counters around this card can be a really good addition to the deck.

With or without Rhythm we can build many variants of decks that can take advantage of +1/+1 counters. The Gruul Stompy deck is the most straightforward version. Elves may get popular too, they were playable in the current Standard but they needed a little bit of something to make them competitive enough. I feel that they got the tools now (even though one of the creatures the deck needed is not an Elf but one oversized boar). I believe that there will be different kinds of Temur decks or even Simic decks that can take advantage of Rhythm of the Wild. There are very good blue cards worth playing and the question is where they will find their home. There is a lot of potential in Prime Speaker Vannifar, but there is also Hydroid Krasis which can be huge soon, draws cards and also gains life. It may be the end of the curve in an aggressive deck but can also be a good card for Temur Ramp/Midrange or even control deck. When I was playing with some strange Temur builds I also played with Zegana, Utopian Speaker. The card may seem bad at first glance, but many players underestimated the card in both limited and constructed. This might be because they do not know what the card does or what to expect of either format. It means though that we might find a deck where this card will be good. I believe that the upcoming Standard will show us variety of decks and archetypes. There might be interesting cycles because Turbofog deck is one of the decks that can work in this format. Many decks have a really bad matchup with it and that is why we may see Standard cycling a lot. Anyway I don't know how the format will evolve but I was glad I bought some new cards with which I could play and enjoy playing against various decks like Mardu Humans, Theater decks either aggro or literally burn, Merfolk, Elves, Goblins but also Temur Ramp with Star of Extinction, Vannifar decks, Bant Turbofog and Esper Control. The good thing about Rhythm of the Wild is also that it made Teferi, Hero of Dominaria (or any other planeswalker) weaker, control players will have to find at least one more different win condition.

Thanks for reading
S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)


I still stand by my opinion by JXClaytor at Wed, 01/30/2019 - 23:11
JXClaytor's picture

I still stand by my opinion that Rhythm is the best card in the set.

I'm probably wrong though.

The card itself is very good. by stsung at Thu, 01/31/2019 - 08:51
stsung's picture

The card itself is very good. I just don't think that Gruul alone is good enough for it. After some testing it seemed to me that all the three color decks I tried were better or at least they had the upper hand over Gruul and some of my salty opponents certainly had that feeling and had to share it with me. Some decks profit from Rhythm better than others but playing without Rhythm is also a possibility. All depends on how the metagame will turn out to be. At some point the card can be really good and at others it may be more of a liability since it takes time to cast it and it may be a target for Enchantment removal...of which we might see a lot.
I had far better results with Rhythm in my deck when I used that as an enabler for stuff that needs counters or haste (vannifar decks for example, or naya with with some annoying angels and knight of autumn)
When I was playing Standard with new cards a thought came to my mind - Crushing Canopy might be one of the best removal spells in Standard. While I laughed at that idea, there was some truth as well. I decided to run Vivien Reid instead instead because she's seriously overpowered and does what both modes of Crushing Canopy it didn't change the fact that Crushing Canopy would be a very good choice for someone who wasn't ready to pay 20 tix for Vivien.
(I'd say the best card is Skewer the Critics, lol and I'd try to avoid it as much as I can)