While practically everyone else at Mythic Championship VI was playing Food, Javier Domínguez, Martin Müller and I had a different plan in mind. We wanted to beat down with red and green creatures, backed up by Embercleave and an Adventure package. When I told people I was playing Gruul they were shocked, and thought I was joking. This deck is the real deal! I wouldn't have played the deck unless I thought it had a favorable matchup against Food decks, and our results from the tournament help showcase that. I loved playing this deck in Richmond:
The deck wins very quickly, but can also play a bit of a longer game because it has card advantage. All the Adventure cards provide some sort of additional advantage by having a creature stapled to an instant or sorcery, and if you get Edgewall Innkeeper going you really start drawing, like any Adventure deck. Embercleave and Domri's Ambush answer planeswalkers really well, and make it difficult for the opponent to get blockers on the battlefield.
Embercleave is the most important card in the deck, but drawing two is really bad, so we settled on playing three copies. Also, against decks with lots of interaction they do get worse, as it becomes more difficult to have creatures in play to attack the opponent with. Rimrock Knight also means you can attack and represent a combo trick in spots where you don't have Embercleave. We saw in the games how important the creatures that don't have Adventure also are to the deck.
Questing Beast is the best possible creature in the format to hold an Embercleave, and Kraul Harpooner stops the Food decks from having good starts by killing Gilded Goose. Both creatures round out the deck very nicely. In the sideboard the idea is to have as many high impact cards as possible. When Cindervines is good it is actively great. A deck like Temur Reclamation has a lot of trouble with this card. Since Food is so dominant every deck should be focusing their maindeck to be as strong as possible versus those decks, which means you don't need to dedicate many sideboard slots to the Food matchups.
I know that the potential upcoming bannings may completely change the format, but I think the fact we did well with this Gruul deck helps showcase you don't always need to play the best deck. Even in a format that seems to be solved there is some room for innovation. I'm super excited to play more with this deck, and I expect Gruul decks with Embercleave to be major players in Standard for quite some time.
Seth Manfield is a professional Magic player and member of both the Magic Hall of Fame and the 2019 Magic Pro League.
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