At the Pro Tour, Mardu Vehicles was all the rage. Kids were talking about it. Adults were trying to fit in by using the right vehicle lingo and failing. It was hip, dope, groovy, and lit, all at once. Everyone was telling each other how many Heart of Kiran they played over the weekend in an attempt to be part of the group and be cool. "Yeah dude, I cast like 30 Heart of Kirans in a four-hour span and I woke up the next morning with it crewed facedown in a ditch. Then I went hard again the next night and was jamming Aethersphere Harvester non-stop. I'm surprised I even made it into class today."
Contrarians were saying things like "You'll never catch me playing a Heart of Kiran. I'll be over here casting the much superior Torrential Gearhulk." They were attempting to fit in by going against the trend. The anti-cool kind of cool. They refused to give into societal definitions of what cool was. Well, suffice it to say, it wasn't working, because Mardu was just that freaking sweet and everyone knew it. Well, everyone who was someone, that is.
Fast forward exactly one singular week. Black-Green Constrictor was wound as tight as a snake around a helpless victim. Black-green was the new black. It was spitting hot fire. It was dope AF. Teenagers were walking down the street showing off their best ballista impression. Everyone was out there getting their ballista struts oiled to facilitate that ballista strut. You know, pretty normal, commonplace, everyday stuff going on. People doing the ballista-strut walking down the street happens all the time around here. Maybe not where you live, but it happens here. You've heard the phrase "walking like a ballista down a street." Everyone knows that one. Well, everyone who is someone, that is.
So that's how it all went down. Black-Green Constrictor became the new thing after one week of Mardu Vehicles on top of the world. Now we got kids giving each other snake handshakes, and throwing their hands in the air like they just don't Rishcare. We got Tireless Tracker puns and Ob Nixilis Reignited Farewell Tour Band T-shirts, and Lifecrafter's Bestiary giving half-off on new eyeglasses, and so on and so forth. I know I personally bought my Grim Flayer fanny pack and Mindwrack Demon cargo shorts before they spiked in price. Now I'm the epitome of cool.
Who knows what next week will bring? Maybe we'll see young businesspeople with sharp clothes and nice haircuts walking into a coffee shop to order a sandwich on Saheeli Rye bread. Maybe we'll get our daily dose of news from The Felidar Guardian. Maybe when I'm shopping at my local store I'll see kids T-shirts that say "Torrential Bruce Banner" with a picture of Hulk smashing his fist into a snake.
But at least for now, it's all about that Heeby GB life. Black-Green Constrictor. Snakes and Planes and Planeswalkers. Black-green completely dominated the Grand Prix last weekend in Pittsburgh, and I've spent the better part of the last 17 years of my life conducting thorough market research on these recent events. My findings indicate there are exactly 49 different flavors of black-green. 49 Shades, if you will. Here are some of the top picks in order of how I decided to order them, which was completely at random.
You can split black-green variants into two generic camps – there are aggressive decks and then the more midrange or controlling ones. Of the aggressive decks, there are basically three different styles: Energy, Delirium, and Generic. And then if you go further into Energy, there are multiple variants that are generally delineated by whether they play Attune with Aether and Longtusk Cub or not. Still following? I'm realizing that this is more in-depth and confusing than talking about sub subgenres of music. I've already lost myself somewhere in this paragraph, but thankfully, now I'm found. Peace at last.
The Good: This version of black-green is the most aggressive option of all the variants. Longtusk Cub gets disgusting with Winding Constrictor in play. Every time you would generate energy, you get one extra energy. That means that every hit with Cub generates three energy, as does Attune with Aether. Greenbelt Rampager generates two energy if you have to return it back to hand. Then every time you spend energy on Longtusk Cub, it gets two +1/+1 counters instead of one. With a Greenbelt Rampager in hand, and a Longtusk Cub and Winding Constrictor in play, you can use Greenbelt Rampager repeatedly as G: put two counters on your Longtusk Cub.
This version makes the best use of Winding Constrictor. It abuses Constrictor with both energy and +1/+1 counters in the most ways possible. A Winding Constrictor out of this deck is scarier than it is from any other version of Black Green.
The Bad: This version is very clunky. It plays a low land count and relies on Attune with Aether to hit land drops. The issue with that is that you still do have to spend a mana on Attune, which can oftentimes mess up your curve. It's also the most synergy-driven version of the deck and sometimes you get into situations where the synergy isn't flowing and you're left with a bunch of underpowered cards. I'm talking about situations where you have a Longtusk Cub and no energy, or where you have to pay three green mana over the course of a few turns just to get a 3/4 Greenbelt Rampager into play that might not even affect the board in a meaningful way.
The Verdict: Having tested a bunch with this version of the deck, I found it extremely explosive but inconsistent. Personally, I'd rather play a more consistent version, but if you're just trying to do the most powerful thing and don't care too much about the times where it falls apart and fails, this might be the version for you.
Ryan Hare won the GP with this version. I classify this style under "generic aggro." It's not abusing energy, and it doesn't care about delirium. It's just playing good, old-fashioned black and green cards and throwing them at the opponent until they succumb to the Earthy Grip of durdle green aggro.
The Good: All of the cards in this version are kind of just "best in slot" creatures. They are just the most powerful creatures at those mana costs, which means that you're not drawing low-powered drivel later in the game. Sylvan Advocate is pretty good on turn two and turn six, for example. Oath of Nissa is a great way to bridge the gap in a 24-land deck with a bunch of five-drops. It facilitates hitting early land drops, while also serving a useful purpose of keeping the gas flowing later in the game. In that regard, it is superior to something like Attune with Aether and Traverse the Ulvenwald that are limited in use or restrictive.
The Bad: Not having a lot of internal synergy can also be a bad thing. This version can be really mopey. Drawing a bunch of Winding Constrictors and Sylvan Advocates without other synergy-driven cards means you've got a bunch of 2/3 creatures in play just chilling. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is sometimes the best card in the deck and at other times the worst card in the deck, providing an unnecessary level of variance.
The Verdict: I think this is the best version of the deck. I've been working on it for a few days now, and I don't want to brag too much, but I went 5-0 in my last two leagues with my version of this deck, so I'm kind of a big deal. That's 10 match wins in a row, which is more than I've had over the past two months of premier level play combined. Here's my current list.
Another breed of aggressive black-green decks are the delirium variety. Popularized by Brennan DeCandio who won the very first SCG Open of the format with a delirium-induced aggro build, this version has managed to hang on in the format, somehow, someway. Why won't it just die? Please, someone end this.
The Good: This deck plays the most mythics of any version. Need I say more? Sometimes it's possible to win matches of Magic by just playing a mythic as often as you physically can and letting them do all the work. I'm not above it, personally.
This deck is the most powerful version of any of the Black-Green Aggro decks. Grim Flayer and Mindwrack Demon are abstractly powerful cards, and trample is a really useful ability when you're throwing +1/+1 counters around. This version is like the massive boxer who winds up for a giant punch. If you get in the way of the punch, then BAM! Lights out.
The Bad: This deck is by far the slowest version and it is very vulnerable to cards like Unlicensed Disintegration. You spend all this work getting delirium for Grim Flayer and then they blast that punk out of existence and go upstairs for three in the process and you're wondering where it all went wrong. Mindwrack Demon often deals you four damage and can't swing past an Aethersphere Harvester without help.
The Verdict: I think this version is great in mirror matches. Usually in mirror matches, the deck that goes slightly bigger than the other deck is the best positioned and this deck does that. However, I think this deck is worse against non black-green decks than the other versions. I used to be a Flayer lover but now I'm a Flayer hater.
This is a version of energy aggro that eschews cards like Longtusk Cub and Greenbelt Rampager and instead uses Servant of the Conduit to facilitate bigger cards like Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Now that is one magnificently luxurious dude.
The Good: When they don't kill your Servant of the Conduit, you get to do awesome things like play multiple two-drops on turn three or cast Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Verdurous Gearhulk ahead of the curve. The minor energy theme of this deck allows you to use Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Aethersphere Harvester to great extent.
The Bad: Sometimes they do kill your Servant of the Conduit. My experience at GP Pittsburgh was that they did kill it. A lot. And I was sad. This is the lowest-powered version of the deck, which I found out firsthand when I did nothing quite frequently and died.
The Verdict: See title.
Now we're starting to transition into more of a midrange or control version of black-green instead of the more aggressively slanted versions. I'm not sure about this whole splashing for Metallic Rebuke in the sideboard thing, but Ben Rubin is kind of a mad-scientist genius when it comes to these things, so I wouldn't knock it until I tried it.
The Good: These more midrange delirium builds should have a good matchup against other black-green decks as well as Mardu decks. Liliana, the Last Hope is good against Toolcraft Exemplars and Veteran Motorists as well as Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Walking Ballista. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is still a powerful card, especially when you can cast it many times over the course of the game.
The Bad: I think this deck would be a completely dominant force in Standard if it wasn't for the Saheeli Rai-Felidar Guardian combo. This sorcery-speed deck full of expensive creatures and planeswalkers doesn't match up very well against the combo. As long as people continue to play versions of the combo – and I can't imagine that people plan on stopping anytime soon – then this deck will always have a natural predator.
Verdict: This feels like a great metagame deck to use whenever people aren't playing Jeskai or Four-Color Copycat decks very much.
There are also a lot of other versions of black-green that are basically variants on the above versions of the deck. There are so many viable options for two and three-drops in this deck. For the two-drop slot, you could play Grim Flayer, Longtusk Cub, Scrapheap Scrounger, Winding Constrictor, Walking Ballista, Servant of the Conduit, Sylvan Advocate, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Gifted Aetherborn, etc. For three-drops, you have access to cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Tireless Tracker, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Catacomb Sifter, Aethersphere Harvester and more. Then you have options for how you want to fill out the rest of the main deck, with cards like Mindwrack Demon or Gonti, Lord of Luxury if you want more four-drops, and a variety of removal and deck selection options as well.
That's not even touching on the sideboard, which also has a plethora of cards that can fit into the deck. Even just looking at artifact removal alone, you can play Natural State, Natural Obsolescence or Appetite for the Unnatural. You can attack control decks with Lifecrafter's Bestiary, Distended Mindbender, or planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited.
Black-green is one of the deepest color combinations in Standard, and the sheer number of versions of the deck is a testament to how deep and powerful this combination is. I hope this article helps to make some sense of the different variations of the deck, but I only really touched the tip of the iceberg here. There is so much more to learn about the archetype, and you can find me grinding out Magic Online eague after league uncovering the secrets of the Golgari. I will master it, or die trying.
- Brian Braun-Duin