Muldrotha never quite got there in Standard, and my principal experience with the card has previously come from being repeatedly and mercilessly crushed by my "friend" Wayne Dillon's mono-permanent Muldrotha Commander deck (now you understand why the word friend is in quotation marks).
While Muldrotha is an expensive and relatively clunky card, it also offers a uniquely powerful effect to a deck that is set up to abuse it. When my friend (no quotation marks this time) Jamin Kauf told me he was working on a Muldrotha list for post-rotation Standard that was full of spicy one-ofs, I had to get a look for myself.
We spent a lot of time tuning and tweaking the deck, going over the quite considerable range of choices available to a Sultai list. Ultimately, we landed on the following list - it has a streamlined curve, a consistent gameplan, and avoids one of the deadly pitfalls a lot of previous Muldrotha decks have fallen into - it can still play a powerful game of Magic without its namesake card.
Many previous drafts of Muldrotha decks consistently displayed the same problem – without a Muldrotha in play, they just didn't "work." As a result, this list takes a different angle. Rather than be all-in on filling up the graveyard, this deck instead looks to contest the board with value-oriented creatures and win a game inch by inch with incremental value, with or without Muldrotha.
Obviously, having a Muldrotha in play is where you want to be, but here's something else to consider – you often don't want to slam your six-drop the turn it can be deployed. Rather, you want to build out your board, trade your creatures off and play Muldrotha when you have access to eight or nine mana so as to be able to cast something from the 'yard immediately in the face of a removal spell.
This deck seeks to walk the line between playing a fair, interactive game with independently powerful cards and making the most of Muldrotha's potentially busted ability. Things like Dead Weight or Ravenous Chupacabra are good examples of cards that allow you to cover both angles. Play them early, slow down your opponent, then recur them in the later stages of the game to slowly but surely lock things up.
The most important thing to remember is this: this is not a purely graveyard-oriented deck. It's a midrange deck with a powerful lategame engine that relies on the graveyard. It's a seemingly small distinction, but an important one in terms of mindset.
A slightly different issue faced when building this deck was how to make sure Llanowar Elves was going to function properly. Needing a minimum of 14 untapped green sources, Llanowar Elves put a lot of pressure on the mana base. The absence of Breeding Pool makes things very difficult, more or less mandating this deck be black-green with a light blue splash.
Ten Forests is a lot, and eats into the mana base very significantly. This deck is a little shaky when it comes to casting things like Ravenous Chupacabra on turn four, but it's not as bad as it seems. Most of the early-game cards are mono-green (casting Assassin's Trophy on turn two isn't the best of ideas), and there are exactly six blue cards in the entire deck.
Are these sacrifices worth the inclusion of Llanowar Elves? Perhaps not, but I'm happy to bet on the Elves here. Mana dorks are, traditionally incredibly powerful and this deck is very mana-hungry indeed. Llanowar Elves is too good not to play. Turn-two Jadelight Ranger? Sign me up.
Quite apart from being super sweet, all the one-ofs in this list are the best-in-class when building a toolbox-esque Muldrotha list. Most of them are flexible, value-driven and fulfill a few different purposes. Orazca Relic ramps to Muldrotha, then cycles for life and a card each turn. Pilfering Imp can tear apart an opposing hand or simply chump-block, as required. Thrashing Brontodon provides a recursive main deck Disenchant, or attacks and blocks as a beefy creature.
Some seem a little off-the wall, so let me explain the rationale. Izoni, Thousand-Eyed is something of an Ishkanah, Grafwidow impersonator, providing an instant army-in-a-can (not to mention the card-draw engine). Journey to Eternity is another way to play the Muldrotha game without being weak to removal spells.
The Mending of Dominaria is probably the weirdest inclusion, seeing as it shuffles away the graveyard altogether – but this is important in drawn-out games where your extra card draw may be flying you a little too close to the sun. Besides, you'll generally get back a ton of lands from the third chapter.
There were, as you can imagine, quite a number of cards that didn't make it to the final list. To forestall the "what about X or y" questions, here is a short run down of what missed out and why.
A souped-up Duress, Thought Erasure also seems perfect in a deck seeking to fill the graveyard with its ability to surveil. The truth of the matter is, however, that it's a considerable downgrade from good old Duress. The mana cost is a real issue. Duress is put to best use when clearing the way for a big threat, typically casting both in the same turn – and Thought Erasure costing two makes that a lot harder. Plus, the eight-and-a-bit blue sources make casting this card on time very difficult indeed.
While the Supplier does an amazing job at stocking the graveyard, it's not good at much else, especially when recurred with Muldrotha. Merfolk Branchwalker is a much better option as it has a real set of stats and relevant ability in the late game. Plus, a lack of untapped black sources make casting the Supplier on turn one a real hassle.
Another concession to the shaky mana base, Siren Stormtamer is not-so-secretly a double-blue card. While great at protecting your Muldrotha, you would need triple-blue to cast Muldrotha, bring back a Stormtamer, and then activate its ability. Siren Stormtamer synergizes well with the deck and provides a very useful ability, but asks too much of the mana base.
Karn, Scion of Urza
Months ago, people were jamming Karn into every single deck they could – even Black-Red Aggro. Slowly but surely, however, everyone realized Karn is at his best in artifact-based decks where his tokens could shine, or in decks that don't have access to better value engines. This deck does, so Karn doesn't make the cut (your wallet will thank you).
Memorial to Genius
Recurring a Memorial to Genius would be bananas and seems amazing in the abstract, but when you think of what it really involves, it's a little more sobering. Drawing two cards for six mana and a land drop across two turns is a little too glacial, even for this deck.
It's difficult to anticipate exactly what the post-rotation format will look like, but it's a safe bet that red or Boros aggro decks will be popular in week one. As a result, the sideboard is heavily loaded with cards that should perform well against little red dudes – extra copies of Dead Weight, as well as a playset of Deathgorge Scavenger (which also protect you from any graveyard shenanigans).
Against aggro decks, look to cut expensive clunkers like The Eldest Reborn or Izoni, and trade off smaller creatures aggressively. Finally, extra Thrashing Brontodons mean you don't have to worry about a rogue artifact or enchantment-based deck popping up, and their secret 3/4 mode is good against fast and slow decks alike.
Slower control decks will struggle through Duress and Negate – which I expect to continue their post-board dominance even after rotation – and bigger or more robust threats like Vraska, Relic Seeker and Arguel's Blood Fast. As there are plenty of dead removal spells to cut down on, having a tight anti-control package is important.
The power level of Muldrotha can't be denied – it's just a matter of getting a game to the point where its ability can take over and the value train can start to pick up some real steam. This deck looks to do exactly that with its cheap, value-focused creatures paving the way for massive game-ending threats. Trading, chump-blocking, deploying removal and having the stage set for Muldrotha in the later turns is all this list seeks to do.
Can it survive the aggressive gauntlet that is the first week of a fresh format? We'll find out soon enough; but even if not, don't count Muldrotha out. With Guilds of Ravnica offering new options like Plaguecrafter and Pilfering Imp – not to mention powerful removal like Assassin's Trophy – the Gravetide may be coming into shore!
- Riley Knight