Growing Again

So, I was going to make another video this week, but the spoiling of a card in Magic 2013 set me on another path. I wanted to write about it because I feel that it’s a card that will overall be ignored during spoiler season, but this card has a long, proven tournament pedigree. In addition, it’s also a card that is very near and dear to my heart:

Quirion Dryad

The Grow deck has long been one of my favorite archetypes, and now that Dryad is Standard-legal again, I have to take a look at it again. While I do not believe Grow will be good for very long, I do think that it might have to tools to succeed in the current environment.

For reference:

"Miracle Grow by Alan Comer (Ninth at Grand Prix: Las Vegas ’01)"

This is an archetype that has had quite a bit of success in both Vintage and Extended, and is overall among the most fun archetypes I’ve ever played. It is also clearly the best use of Quirion Dryad. So, what are we looking at with the Grow strategy?

Grow centers around the following idea:

Play a bunch of cheap or free spells to grow your Dryad. Many of these spells should be cantrips or draw spells to allow you to power through your deck at an incredible rate. The strategy centers around killing with card volume and not card quality.

Tactically, what was important to Miracle Grow’s success?

  • Pitch counters (Daze, Force of Will) – These were important because they were able to protect a Dryad while the controller was tapped out.
  • Brainstorm, Curiosity, Gush These cards were important for providing card selection and card volume on the cheap, thus allowing Miracle Grow to cast a huge volume of spells over the course of the game.
  • Winter Orb This card was able to greatly disrupt opposing strategies and give Miracle Grow the time necessary to kill its opponents.

Obviously, many of these components are things we don’t have access to in a modern Standard environment, but I do believe that the fundamental idea behind the deck can be replicated.

How do we replicate the central tenants of Grow, though? The answer is Phyrexian mana. I believe that it is possible to replicate the basic ideas behind what Grow is trying to do by taking advantage of Phyrexian mana spells. So, how do we proceed?

The first thing is to build a list of cards that are good in the archetype. Let’s break down what we can find in Standard right now:

Now, let’s go about assembling an initial draft. I think a R/U/G take is interesting, and it’s also more befitting the name Miracle Grow.

There is, of course, another build to potentially explore. Above, I took a look at a R/U/G build, but what about a Bant build? White has a lot to offer a deck like this, especially in the form of ways of recovering life lost to various Phyrexian mana spells. White also presents Restoration Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, and Moorland Haunt as cards that have proven themselves to be strong in the current environment.

However, the real question when looking at a Bant list is: What does Dryad give you over a standard configuration of W/U Delver? Why would you want to add green and weaken the mana base? Does what you gain in card power or quality overcome what you lose in consistency? Overall, I think the answer is “no.” But why?

Restoration Angel
Consider the strong threats in the Bant colors: Geist of Saint Traft, Blade Splicer, Restoration Angel, Sigarda, Host of Herons, Thragtusk. These cards and more exist in the middle of the curve. If you add things such as the new Ajani, Caller of the Pride, you end up with a deck that seems much better suited to take advantage of hexproof, Rancor, and Birds of Paradise/Avacyn's Pilgrim/Arbor Elf than a deck that is well suited to take advantage of Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, and Gitaxian Probe.

Sure, you could add green to existing W/U Delver lists, but what does it give you? The mana would probably be fairly unstable, and the only real gain is Rancor. Rancor is nice, but I don’t think Delver actually needs it. It doesn’t enhance Geist of Saint Traft’s survivability, although it does help Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel. Who knows? Maybe Delver with Rancor is a thing, but I’m not actually sure it’s superior to the Swords Delver already has. The key thing to remember when exploring new decks is to ask yourself, “What are the advantages I am gaining by occupying this strategic and tactical space?”

So, what do we gain by playing a deck like this?

Delver of Secrets
  • Speed – The Miracle Grow archetype is capable of generating a large Dryad faster than many decks can keep up with. Sure, Doom Blade and its ilk are present, but there are defenses against such threats. Miracle Grow is easily capable of outpacing “normal” power and toughness extremely quickly, making its creatures very threatening
  • Delver of Secrets In a deck like this, Delver of Secrets is at its best. In Legacy, R/U/G Delver typically runs twenty-eight to twenty-nine cards which that Delver of Secrets to transform. The above list has twenty-seven and may be able to squeeze in one or two more. Needless to say, Delver of Secrets will very often be a 1-mana 3/2 flyer. For reference, typical W/U Delver lists in Standard hang around the twenty mark for instants and sorceries.
  • Virtual card advantage – The deck’s low land count—combined with high card-selection ability—will allow the deck to make maximum use of its cards, pitching extra lands and finding spells that will impact the board and game state.
  • RancorRancor is undoubtedly a powerful card. Having access to it is good.

The list and the idea are, of course, untested, but I do believe that there is some potential in exploring it. The real question lies in whether the deck’s internal synergies are enough to overcome the various difficulties the format presents. Are Miracle Grow’s threats simply too fragile for a modern metagame? Can you no longer rely on having a Dryad sit in play for multiple turns? Is it viable to take such a strategy and line of play?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but if you are looking for something different, maybe this is a place to start. I hope you never become satisfied leaving things the way they are and are always willing to explore new decks. Who knows? Maybe you’ll break the format, and even if you don’t, at least you had fun with something different.

Chingsung Chang
Conelead most everywhere and on MTGO
Khan32k5 at gmail dot com