I Ain’t Dun Groving Yet (Modern Magic) – Crucible of Words by Cyrus Bales

Crucible of Words – How do you solve a problem like a Mindsculptor? By Cyrus Bales


Last week I etched out a rough deck in Modern and ran it through a quick series of matches. This week I’ll be doing a similar thing with a different deck, Rock. In a field of aggro decks, Rock can often find its feet well, by playing slightly bigger creatures than the aggro decks, but having more disruption and a stronger late game, allowing it to take over a match. Rock decks often have a balance of threats and disruption that allow them to post pretty fair match ups against most of a field, often leaving the success in the hands of the player rather than dodging bad match ups in a tournament, but this often means they don’t have an “un-losable” match up in the format like most other decks.

By gearing the deck slightly towards beating zoo, the rock list should find itself well situated in the format once the list is tuned. But why did I consider this type of deck? In all honesty, a lot of it came down to Dungrove Elder, a very powerful card that is easily a Hexproof Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer for three mana in this format of Overgrown Tomb, Temple Garden and Murmuring Bosk. A threat like this can often outclass many other threats and turn drawing lands in the mid-late game into less of a hardship, and the hexproof means it is very hard to deal with and can go the distance against control decks. Of course, the classic rock creature from Lorwyn fits perfectly with him, Doran, the Siege Tower, allowing you to make untapped Murmuring Bosks as well as giving some life to Treefolk Harbinger who can fetch you up mana and threats allowing you to avoid the burden of drawing two Doran.

So where do we start, four Dungrove Elder, one Doran, the Siege Tower and some number of Treefolk Harbinger. Whilst running Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows is pretty much mandatory in modern, this deck would struggle to run it and keep its Dungrove big enough, instead; I’m going to try and build the deck to be more resilient to the combo than other decks and then not run it myself. Whilst I confess that decks without Fire-Groves are probably doing it wrong, I think it’s at least worth trying and experimenting without them in this instance.

Obviously there are some auto-includes in a Gbw deck, Tarmogoyf and Path to Exile. A very cost effective threat that fits in the curve, and a catch all removal spell that can be used against Splinter Twin combo decks. Knight of the Reliquary is often a must include, but this deck already has some three drops and in a format where manadorks like Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch are so vulnerable to Fires, it’s not ideal to load up on three drops. Also note that sacrificing forests to find other lands in this deck is much less impressive thanks to Dungrove. This also means the great Qasali Pridemage is out, since two toughness is far too small to matter in this format.

All this leaves us with a gap to fill, we have some Treefolk synergy, but as we all know, aside from what I’ve mentioned there’s not that much worth mentioning, Chameleon Colossus is pretty reasonable though, but isn’t that impressive in the current format. Sapling of Colfenor is expensive to cast, but does have some value, dodging Wrath of God effects and potentially drawing cards, it could be worth some possible inclusion in the 75 cards.

Lastly, the other card I’d like to mention is Reach of Branches, whilst pretty underwhelming on the face of it, being able to tutor up a card that means even your lands give you gas against a control deck can be worth looking into. This card is a tribal instant so you can get a little extra value from your Tarmogoyf as well as a surprise blocker (the first time around anyway), but really it’s a card for the long game against control. However there is one interaction with Reach of Branches that puts it up enough for me to run a singleton, and that’s Liliana of the Veil, who allows the symmetrical discard to be one-sided since you can easily get this card back by just making land drops.

Filling out the removal is simple, Liliana of the Veil gets a lot of value in this deck and can be effective against most decks, Slaughter Pact is a strong card that allows you to respond to Splinter Twin when they suspect you can’t, also allowing you to commit to the board more without fear of their combo. Engineered Explosives is another card that I find very useful, being able to kill more than one card at once can often save you a game, and the extra pump for Tarmogoyf is just a bonus. Other removal includes Doom Blade, Go For the Throat, Putrefy, Maelstrom Pulse and even Shriekmaw has some merit.

There’s clearly no shortage of removal, it’s just a case of finding the right balance that is hard. We also get the strong discard options of Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, Cry of Contrition and Stupor. Again, it’s a case of balance, Inquisition is probably one of the best at the moment, especially with so much aggro, but it hits combo pieces like Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Deceiver Exarch as well. The value discard that gets you ahead in terms of card advantage are probably the next options to take.

Card advantage can become an issue here, so whether we use value creatures like Shriekmaw and Reveillark/Sun Titan or draw spells like Harmonize is also to be determined. There’s even the possibility of a Life from the LoamRaven’s Crime engine.

Here’s where I ended up to begin testing with:


4 Dungrove Elder
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Treefolk Harbinger
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Doran, The Siege Tower
1 Reach of Branches
1 Sun Titan
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Cry of Contrition
4 Path to Exile
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Slaughter Pact
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacomb
3 Overgrown Tomb
3 Temple Garden
1 Murmuring Bosk
6 Forest
1 Plains
1 Swamp

Loam Lion is something this deck would like, but Wild Nacatl has made it rather irrelevant, at least the Harbinger can swing for three with Doran and at least offer a trade with the Nacatl, and the value of tutoring your next draw makes it worth playing more than Loam Lion.

I then loaded up the Cockatrice and played a few games:


I win the die roll and keep a hand with Path to Exile, Temple Garden, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Misty Rainforest, 2 Cry of Contrition and an Engineered Explosives. Whilst it didn’t have much gas, it felt good enough to keep most opposing decks down for a while. I make a Sakura-Tribe Elder and he has a board of Grove of the Burnwillows and Steam Vents, I untap and cast Cry of Contrition, he responds by using Punishing Fire on my creature to stop the haunt, then proceeds to pitch hit second Punishing Fire to the Cry of Contrition. It would seem I was not doing well at this point.

I find a Treefolk Harbinger and set up to draw a Dungrove Elder next turn, but his Vendilion Clique sends it to the bottom of my library drawing me another Path to Exile. I continue to make land drops whilst sitting behind a Harbinger, my Engineered Explosives and Cry of Contrition team up to make him discard two cards, another Clique and a Spell Snare. My opponent is behind me on lands but counters my Tarmogoyf. I continue to draw lands whilst getting hit by Punishing Fire. I draw a Reach of Branches to start making guys, but he has two Lightning Bolt and his Fires to finish me off at this point. I finish the game with 8 lands and nothing but Path to Exiles in hand.

My draws could have been better this game, and your opponent having double Groves and double Fires is usually a recipe for failure, if I had known what my opponent was playing, I would have mulliganned into more pressure. My threats are difficult for his deck to deal with, but he has more card advantage to combat that, I think this match up relies on sticking a Dungrove Elder who his only real out to it is racing.


My opponent wins the die roll and begins with a Noble Hierarch, I fetch a shock-land and Inquisition him, seeing Magma Jet, Rhox War Monk, Qasali Pridemage, a land and a Tarmogoyf. I take the Rhox War Monk. He makes Tarmogoyf and swings with his Hierarch, I respond on my turn with a Sakura-Tribe Elder. His turn involves Magma Jetting my creature to pump his Goyf for a big swing thanks to Qasali Pridemage, however I now have the mana to pay for Slaughter Pact next turn so I can stop the damage.

In my turn, I pay for the Pact and drop a Treefolk Harbinger to find a Dungrove Elder that will be 5/5 after I play my land the next turn. He Path to Exiles my Harbinger, so I choose not to search so I can still draw into my Dungrove Elder. I take four and untap, dropping a 5/5 hexproof guy, I have Cry of Contrition in hand, and he’s out of cards and on 12 life. Two turns of him drawing land and me with removal in hand, the game ends with me on eight life as any creature he plays has to chump my massive man by this point.

In the time old tradition of Rock, I played slightly bigger creatures and disruption to get there and it worked well. I had to fetch an untapped shock-land at one point that cost me a lot of life that could have been a risk, but I needed to make the Treefolk Harbinger. A heavier suite of burn in his deck/hand could have lost me that game, but in terms of creature battles, as long as they don’t make a Wild Nacatl, you are going to be ahead.


I played a lot against some non-tier 1 decks as is the way with Cockatrice, but the deck managed to smash them all quite consistently, from black white discard, to the land destruction deck that drew four Bloodbraid Elf. I feel the deck performed quite well in my couple of days of playing, Reach of Branches was a surprise all-star that saved me games and won me them as well. The number of threats in the deck does feel a little light, and whilst Treefolk Harbinger was alright, I feel I am running too many, so cutting one for another Doran might be an option, giving me an additional threat.

Card advantage wise, I feel I do miss the power of Harmonize, although Reach of Branches often provided a useful engine in the later game which arrived quicker thanks to Sakura-Tribe Elder, and even without Liliana was really strong. I didn’t cast the Sun Titan in my testing, but the theory behind it is sound. Cry of Contrition was wildly variable, from insanely good, to pointless, largely due to an opponent’s Punishing Fire. Liliana was another card I never really used much, aside from drawing two copies of her with only one black source available thanks to some land destruction and a Leonin ArbiterAven Mindcensor tag team.


Whilst this deck has promise, it is held back by two things really, Wild Nacatl, and the Punishing Fire combo. Both of these cards however are the overarching dominating players of the format, and with a potential alteration to the Banned list coming on the 20th of December, they may well not be in the format much longer. This would allow the option of Loam Lion to be much stronger, and cards like the manadorks and Qasali Pridemage become playable again, if that happens, I suspect this deck to be pretty strong once tuned.

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing.



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