Moving into a brand new format, with a brand new set to work with, there are some cards that catch the eye. We're going to move away from white Dwarf Advisors to look into the card that has arguably the most potential in Aether Revolt: Winding Constrictor.
Playing with counters has always been a crowd favorite. Proliferate is one of my personal favorites and since New Phyrexia, I've had this disappointing feeling that's been keeping me up at night, that the mechanic never lived up to its full potential. Well, not that much, but still, proliferate was a wasted opportunity.
Kaladesh kind of brought it back with Animation Module, which pretty much sucked. But now we have Winding Constrictor, something close enough to proliferate to make me happy. It will also make all the Doubling Season Commander enthusiasts happy.
Here's a deck Germain Caillaba, a player from Toulouse, put together using the mighty snake.
4 Winding Constrictor
At the same cost as Grim Flayer, green-black players are going to have to make a choice: delirium or counters. These are two completely different strategies, and while both decks have the same removal suite, they will play very differently.
The deck is built around Winding Constrictor and most of the cards take advantage of its ability. Adding one counter just once is usually worth a card, if the snake survives, it will make every card in your deck much better. It's also great in multiples, since each snake will grant an extra counter every time.
4 Servant of the Conduit
Servant of the Conduit will serve its role as a 2/2 mana accelerator to ramp up to five mana and cast Verdurous Gearhulk. Along with Constrictor, it will provide one more energy counter. It's not extremely relevant since the deck doesn't rely on energy that much (nothing except for the Servant itself), but it's just something to think about.
4 Tireless Tracker
The main source of card advantage of the deck. The mana base is running Evolving Wilds to both trigger the Revolt of Fatal Push and the investigate ability of Tracker. While you'll only get one clue for each land (don't get tricked by these players putting dice on their clue tokens!), Tireless Tracker will get an additional +1/+1 counter every time you sacrifice a clue, which means up to a +4/+4 bonus off an Evolving Wilds given that you have the time and mana.
4 Walking Ballista
Things are starting to get really exciting with Walking Ballista. The Ballista has a tough role to play, filling the shoes of Hangarback Walker as the new all-star artifact. It's doing wonders on its own to take care of critters for very little mana. It gets ugly with the snake: it comes into play with an extra counter on it and cherry on the cake, every time you activate its ability, you get two counters instead of one.
That's not counting the help of both Rishkar and Verdurous Gearhulk that will also give him some more ammos. You can also take out all the counters at any time (to shoot your opponent, for example) to trigger Revolt for Fatal Push.
4 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
One of the strongest combo cards in the deck. Rishkar is already a good source of value, and in the worst case scenario, he's a 3/3 for three mana. Best case scenario, he gives two +2/+2 boons to two of your creatures, a total of four +1/+1 counters (turn two Constrictor, turn three Rishkar gives you a 4/4 and a 4/5 creature on turn three). It doesn't have the versatility of Verdurous Gearhulk, but the value is the same. As for its mana ability, Tireless Tracker can naturally get +1/+1 counters, as can Walking Ballista and, of course, Verdurous Gearhulk, allowing them to tap for mana. The most obvious mana sinks might just be clues to sac to draw cards.
Rishkar is a Legendary, so you can only have one in play at any given time, but that doesn't keep you from playing a second one just to have it give away +1/+1 counters. You'll get to keep the bigger one of them, ditch the new one, a smart way to trigger Revolt if needed.
4 Verdurous Gearhulk
The end of the curve, and it can arrive as soon as turn four thanks to Servant of Conduit and Rishkar. The snake will allow it to distribute up to eight +1/+1 counters, as long as you have four targets. Keep in mind that you only get the extra counter once when you target a creature. Except for Murder and white Enchantments like Stasis Snare, nothing will be able to deal with your Gearhulk, and the trample ability will make quick work of your opponent.
We have a lot removal, with four Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness along with a pair of Murder. This version is heavy on removal spells, meaning it's going to be great against creature-oriented strategies (other black-green decks for example), and not optimal against more control-oriented strategies (like blue-black or Grixis). The latter decks don't have many targets (probably just Torrential Gearhulk), so most of these cards are going to be dead for a while, but it's nothing that can't be solved after board.
Against the other decks, you have answers to most of their threats. If a Saheeli Rai-Felidar Guardian deck is around, you'll be ready. You have enough ways to trigger Fatal Push's Revolt (sac Evolving Wilds, sac Walking Ballista, sac a Tireless Tracker clue) to make it consistent enough in the later game.
3 Liliana, the Last Hope
Liliana doesn't interact with Winding Constrictor in the "proliferate" aspect of the game. Her most common job, aside from shrinking your opponent's creatures, is to bring back Walking Ballista. It makes the math very complicated for your opponent when they're facing both cards on the board as it give you a ton of options.
3 Evolving Wilds
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Hissing Quagmire
Nothing surprising here. Just note that Hissing Quagmire is a little better now that you can sometimes pump it. A 4/4 creature land has a tendency to be threatening on the other side of the board.
Another fellow Toulouse player and GP Seville 2015 Top 8 competitor Alexandre Habert had a little more aggressive a take on the Snake deck.
This version is running a lot less removal but relies on combinations around Nissa, Voice of Zendikar.
4 Lambholt Pacifist
Lambholt Pacifist is the most efficient creature at its cost and the deck packs a lot of ways to have it attack or just be useful. The most common way is probably to pump it with a Rishkar, Gearhulk or Nissa. You can always pump any of your two-power creatures with Blossoming Defense to allow the Pacifist to attack (that's the hidden mode of the Pacifist that everybody seems to forget about, it doesn't have to have four power itself; any of your creatures can turn it on with four power), but that's probably not the best way to do it.
In case you can't pump it to attack, it will still be around to pilot Heart of Kiran.
4 Heart of Kiran
Speaking of which, if you're looking for a good shell to play Heart of Kiran, search no more. This deck will offer you enough three-power creatures to pilot the Heart, but also a cheap Planeswalker to use for it. It doesn't particularly combo with anything in the deck, it's just a good flying beater and blocker for two mana. Thanks to it being legendary, you can also use a second copy to trigger Revolt if needed.
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
The main difference between this deck and the first. Nissa works the same way as the other +1/+1 counter enablers. Along with the snake, it will give two counters to each creature in addition to its other jobs: making plants and piloting Heart of Kiran.
With Nissa, it's going to be much easier to pump Hissing Quagmires as no extra mana is needed compared to playing Rishkar or Gearhulk.
With less removal, the deck is a lot more oriented to beat down. But you can be even more aggressive with this shell.
Here's a third list concocted by teammate Eliott Boussaud that takes advantage of the extra energy provided by Winding Snake.
Whenever you play Greenbelt Rampager, Servant of the Conduit, Attune with Aether, Aether Hub, connect with Longtusk Cub, you get an extra energy counter thanks to Winding Snake.
All this effort is to turn Greenbelt Rampager into an easy-to-cast beast (you'll have the two energy counters more easily), and more importantly, turn your Longtusk Cub into a huge beater. For every one Energy counter you get, you get a permanent +2/+2 boost on Longtusk Cub as you'll benefit from the extra Energy counter and the extra +1/+1 counter.
But the combination between the three cards doesn't stop there. Whenever you play a Rampager and can't pay for it, it bounces back to your hand and you get two Energy counters, that you can use to pump the Cub (so two +1/+1 counters every time). You can repeat as many times as you have green mana available (Rishkar will help in that manner).
Keep in mind that if you have two Energy available, you'll have to pay for the Rampager's requirements. So if you want to durdle around with it for a bit, make sure you use the Energy to the Cub before the Rampager enters the battlefield.
As for the rest, this deck has no removal or any kind of interaction with your opponent, so it will be weaker to combo-oriented decks.
Whether you play a more controlling version with a ton of removal or a more aggressive version, the decks will work with or without the Winding Constrictor. Sure, drawing it enables your nut draw just like Wild Mongrel or Bitterblossom used to in Blue-Green Madness and Faeries (sorry if you don't get these references, sometimes they just pop up in my mind out of nowhere!), but the decks will be just fine without it. The synergy between the other cards is strong enough so you can win without your key card.
These were just three of many ways you could build a deck with Winding Constrictor and all three decks can be tweaked to become more competitive. There are a lot of other options out there that you might want to try, and many players have found success doing so.
This article was written last week before the SCG Tournaments took place. With the winner of the Open playing yet another version of Black-Green and two other players with different versions, we are now certain that the shell is solid and could be worked around.
That version has a lot of things in common with the first list in this article: the Winding Constrictor alongside Rishkar and Verdurous Gearhulk and a high number of removal spells. It focuses more on the delirium aspect of Green-Black with Grim Flayer, Mindwrack Demon and Traverse the Ulvenwald which are all powerful and efficient spells instead of Servant of the Conduit and Liliana, the Last Hope.
Servant of the Conduit allows you to play a Gearhulk one turn earlier and stay one step ahead and Lilliana allows you to get the Gearhulk after it gets killed. If the format turns out to be all about Verdurous Gearhulk, that could be your edge.
- Raphael Levy