July 14, 2016

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Going Rogue: Green-White Humans

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal, but it often happens anyway.

A few weeks back, we took a look at Craig Wescoe's Mardu Humans list, and tried to make some improvements by integrating Aether Vial as a way to be able to cast creatures and spells swiftly in parallel. That went well, and I've played the deck quite a bit since then, and it continues to perform well.

However, I've since experimented further with the archetype and come to a more aggressive version that is an absolute steamroller against any other fair deck. Allow me to present to you: Green-White Humans.

But First, a Word from Mardu

Before getting into the new build, let me just take a moment to describe the motivation to move on from Mardu:

  • The lands hurt so bad. With Inquisition of Kozilek, Champion of the Parish, and Grim Lavamancer competing for turn 1 action, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Dark Confidant on turn 2, I was almost always fetch-shocking twice in a row. For an interactive deck with poor life gain, this is risky business. Without enemy fastlands (like Blackcleave Cliffs, but for Red-White and Black-White), this deck hurts a lot to get going.
  • The deck plays so low to the ground in mana costs that it's almost too efficient. Land drops beyond the third become completely dead cards, so despite card advantage from Dark Confidant and Abbot of Keral Keep, the deck doesn't survive attrition matches well.
  • If it can't be dealt with by Inquisition or Path to Exile, it's a problem. The deck can't realistically run Thoughtseize, and with a mediocre creature count, it doesn't race bigger unfair decks like Ad Nauseam or Scapeshift very well.
Go away, Abbot of Keral Keep. Go away and never come back.

So basically I found myself asking what could be done with a gentler mana base, if there was something I could do with excess mana, and what was the best way to apply faster pressure.

The Answer? Green-White.

This hits all three nails on the head. First of all, allied colours have terrific mana options, so by focusing primarily in this area, I can cut my early game life loss from six to two or less. Second of all, not only are there some great green Human mana sinks like Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker, but Noble Hierarch contributes to every angle this deck could want to explore. And finally, if it's a swarm we're after, I've heard Collected Company is a good card.

The result has been powerful and fun to play so far, and I'm going to walk you through the deck in roughly the same order than my opponents have been discovering it in.

Turn One:

What a breath of fresh air. With only two colours to care about, the only time I need to give up more than one life point on turn one is if I only have one land in hand, and I need to make sure it can produce either green or white.

Now, you might look at these three and see them all in rabid competition with each other for who gets to go first, and there are certainly situations where aggression is so important that you want to lead with the Champion. But in at least 75% of situations, I've found the right play is to lead with the Vial, as what you lose on turn two is immediately made up for starting just one turn later. This isn't the sort of deck that would rather rush to its three-drops than dump out smaller guys, so a T1 Noble isn't crucial, and leading with the Vial allows you to end turn two with a 2/2 Champion and a Noble ready to start making mana on turn three anyways. Perfect.

Turn Two:

Thanks to the Vial, your second turn will just as often involve a combination of 1-drops as it will an actual two-drop. But because of the creature selection in the list, this is a good thing. None of our three drops are particularly valuable when cast a turn early, and we would rather take advantage of value-laden sequencing with Human triggers. Just like in the Mardu version, Thalia's Lieutenant is a key card and doesn't usually come down this early, but certainly can as part of an aggressive start in the right matchup.

Turn Three:

Okay, I lied, there's a light splash of black, and Anafenza, the Foremost is strong enough as an aggressively-costed big-body Human that can interfere with certain strategies while also continuing our growth theme. She's fine to play here, and will usually be the biggest body on the board.

The best two plays though are either:

  1. To Vial in a Duskwatch Recruiter and pass. Wait for its transform ability to trigger on your opponent's upkeep (Vialing it in doesn't count as casting a spell), then activate its ability before it resolves for some sweet CA and possibly ramp next turn (or if you're playing a control opponent, flash it in on their turn instead, since they're unlikely to play spells on their own turn, and you can force them to use removal before you untap.)
  2. Cast a Tireless Tracker off a Noble Hierarch, then make your land drop for a Clue, ideally with a fetch land that you leave up until they try to kill the Tracker, if you can manage it. This deck generates a lot of clues, if played right.

These two plays are the backbone of the deck's value engine, and you will repeat them throughout the game. Once these extra draws are rolling, the deck becomes incredibly difficult to deal with.

Turn Four Onwards:

Once your Vial is at three, you are in truly excellent shape. It becomes that much easier to extract value out of Tireless Tracker; your Eternal Witnesses recur your previously-foiled plans; and odds are good that you've got many +1/+1 counters floating around now, so a well-timed Abzan Falconer will often just end the game - sometimes as early as this turn if you've had a generous combination of Champions and Lieutenants.

Generally though, you aim for a medium-to-long game, as your growing Humans and card advantage engines continue to improve your position as the game goes on. With clues and Duskwatch Recruiter keeping your hand full, an active Vial, and Collected Company at your disposal, even a Supreme Verdict is merely just a speed bump at this point. This is really the key advantage to the deck - because our card advantage engines pair us up so favourably against more controlling decks, we don't need to overextend like a traditional aggro deck and risk getting blown out by a sweeper. Just keep drawing cards and the win will come.

Didn't Make the Cut:

It took a little while to refine the main deck, and a few interesting cards came and went along the way. It turns out that Humans are a challenging tribe to choose among, given that there are three times as many of them as any other creature type in Modern.

Warden of the First Tree was initially included as another high-payoff mana sink that could either be a late-game bomb, or be part of an early game assault, but it turns out it just costs too much before it's out of Lightning Bolt range. Meanwhile Knight of the Reliquary gets huge in a deck that's already fetch-heavy to complement Tireless Tracker, and can also tutor Gavony Township - one of the deck's most efficient mana sinks, but it turns out that an otherwise vanilla body isn't particularly well-suited to the deck's overall strategy. And finally Kytheon, Hero of Akros was a short-lived experiment that was meant to convert Human triggers into a no-mana-required value engine, but it turns out that his Planeswalker mode doesn't really generate value the way others do. The card is good, but clearly suited for a more all-in aggressive, probably-mono-white strategy.

Interaction in the Deck:

Rounding out the cards that did make the final list, the deck does sport some interaction, but is somewhat lacking in it overall, leaving it weak to certain opponents such as Infect and Affinity. Four Path to Exiles aren't enough to reliably have an answer for Blighted Agent, and a Gitaxian Probe will often reveal our helplessness. Meanwhile Affinity's flyers can generally end the game faster than we can.

Naturally, we have a sideboard prepared to help alleviate these challenges. But before we dissect the choices I've made so far (the sideboard can probably be more accurately described as in-construction, though), let's take a look at the complete package.

The Deck:

The mainboard is powerful, so the sideboard was designed with somewhat-specific matchups in mind:

  • Affinity: Nature's Claim is a solid catch-all, but flying is the main problem in this deck. Raking Canopy is a trip down memory lane to Lorwyn "Type 2" classics, but does a fantastic job of shutting down both affinity and Restoration Angel combo decks. Two copies might be overdoing it, but it's certainly a potent card when it hits the board. I initially went with Firespout, but found myself dying to Inkmoth Nexus.
  • Infect: The bane of every weakly-interactive deck's existence. An extra Fiend Hunter helps a bit, as does Orzhov Pontiff and of course Spellskite. We might still need something else though, even as simple as a 1-of Murderous Cut. Time will tell.
  • Spell combos: Depending on the specific opponent, any combination of Eidolon of Rhetoric, Spellskite, Thoughtseize, Rest in Peace, or Nevermore will get the job done when drawn. The careful thing to consider here is to not over-dilute the creature base, as in most combo matchups, the best defence is a good offence.
  • Tron: Supreme Verdict might not be a problem, but Wurmcoil Engine and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are (although it's nice that Ugin leaves our Vials alone.) Thoughtseize, Nature's Claim, and Nevermore do some very good work here.
  • Hyper-aggro/burn: Auriok Champion is fantastic (although I don't own any in paper, so I'm actually running Arashin Cleric instead, and it's not half-bad), as are Spellskite, Fiend Hunter, and even Eidolon of Rhetoric if you play first.

The main deck has been nicely tuned to consistently perform, and although the sideboard helps a lot of challenging matchups, it's bound to develop further over time. I would love to hear your feedback on crucial pieces that may improve matters.

Wrapping Up

Actually, before signing off, it's worth noting that there are a few new humans in the upcoming Eldritch Moon release that look potentially interesting for this deck.


The new Thalia is pretty sweet. As a 3/2 first striker, she ambushes very nicely with either Vial or CoCo, and her static ability is absolutely oppressive. The main strike against her is that she dies to a Lightning Bolt, obviously, however she fares well against decks without them, and can completely cripple an opponent unable to answer her. Ramp her out turn 2 and watch how bad your opponents' fetch lands become.

In a very different category, Heron's Grace Champion is a respectable curve topper that gives our board a temporary Crusade-effect while adding some often-needed life gain - and a ton of it all at once. He probably doesn't wind up making the 75 as a result of pairing poorly with both Vial and CoCo, but I could see a 1, or even 2-of being correct in certain meta environments.

Anyways - that's all we've got this week. Sorry the article was so long - this is a deck I'm very excited about and I hope some of you enjoy it as well.

As always, until next time, may the force be with brew.