Gruul Adventures Standard Deck Guide
Hello dear people, the October Zendikar Rising League Weekend is just behind us and you know what that means: People will try and find the decks that performed the best, since it’s what the best players in the world decided to play!
As you can see in these two infographics, both the Rivals League and the MPL have Dimir Rogues and Azorius Blink as their 2 most popular decks. Both archetypes fill more than 50% of the metagame, so clearly they are considered as the decks to beat in the format. Luckily for us, there is a deck that beats both of these archetypes and it’s the one that will save us from the non-stop midrange grind. It also had one of the best performing records when it was all said and done.
I’m not gonna lie, I was very skeptical of Gruul at first. A lot of things didn’t make sense to me when I saw a lot of lists recently: Why are so many people playing Stonecoil Serpent when it’s so bad against Skyclave Apparition and Bloodchief’s Thirst? How come people still want 4 Gemrazers when Lucky Clover is banned? Did people forget that Questing Beast exist? And why is Evolving Wilds in my aggro deck that wants to curve out! All of that didn’t make much sense to me and I thought I was missing something. I then saw that I wasn’t the only one thinking this when I looked at Martin Juza’s list for the weekend – and it’s the one that heavily inspired the list you’re seeing right now.
Adventures have been in Standard for a while now and they have pretty much always seen play whenever they have been introduced. As an aggressive deck you will therefore still have some grinding power, and that is a luxury that you don’t often get. I’ve said countless times now that Edgewall Innkeeper is better than Llanowar Elf in these decks for a reason. In this specific version with Kazandu Mammoth and Brushfire Elemental it’s even more important to draw some additional cards so you can keep playing lands. That was one weakness that Gruul Adventures before Zendikar had – Innkeeper meant that you could draw more gas, but it also meant that you would draw way more lands than you needed without any actual use.
Huge thanks to Martin Juza for the base list and DoggertQBones for helping me brainstorm!
Why Gruul and why now?
Gruul has the perfect tools to deal with Dimir Rogues, the most popular deck right now. Rogues need a while to get going and the fast Gruul starts are always troublesome for them, even though they got a lot of good removal. We just play a lot of cheap must-answer threats so it’s tough for them to keep up.
But that’s not all! Many people, myself included, believed that aggressive decks were not playable right now because the Yorion decks just remove your creatures infinitely while having a lot of blockers in the form of Omen of the Sun and The Birth of Meletis. Brushfire Elemental, Questing Beast and Embercleave attack these decks from a different angle though, since these are really good against small blockers.
Gruul will also always have a decent matchup against other creature based decks, since Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beasts are absolute powerhouses there.
Card Choices: What I play
4 Edgewall Innkeeper: We don’t have to talk too much about Innkeeper anymore. This card is the reason why Adventures is a deck really and having so much power stacked on a 1-drop is crazy good, even in a format with Bloodchief’s Thirst. Try to play this in spots where you immediately draw a card of it before they can kill it. And please, for the love of god, do not cut any of these from your main 60 cards.
1 Primal Might: This is one of the few differences that I have from Juza’s list. I wanted to have a little bit more removal, since Gruul will be a lot more popular now after this weekend, and you’ll want a bit more for sure. I want to be as proactive as possible in game 1 so I don’t want too many, but you could add more if you wanted and maybe cut Robber of the Rich.
4 Rimrock Knight: There has been a lot of hate against Rimmie-Jimmie, and I don’t really get why. 2 mana 3/1’s aren’t great, but this is usually a “free” Shock in the face and it synergizes well with Embercleave. Most importantly though, it’s a 2-drop that triggers your Innkeeper and that’s just such a strong curve to have. It also punches through 3 toughness, which is important against Bonecrusher Giant and Soaring Thought-Thief. I like having 12 cards that trigger Innkeeper, and even though I board this out a lot, it’s a proactive card that’s usually good in game 1.
2 Robber of the Rich: Robber is not the best right now, since it dies to Bonecrusher Giant and gets brickwalled by Thought-Thief or Birth of Meletis. It’s still a very strong 2-drop, so I would probably never cut all 4, and there are some spots where this just carries the game with the stolen cards.
2 Scavenging Ooze: I’ve said it a million times now, but I’ll do it again: Scavenging Ooze is one of the strongest 2-drops in Magic, period. It’s a 2-drop that’s relevant in almost any stage of the game, so it’s also good against almost any deck. On top of that it’s one of the best cards against Rogues, so we should definitely play some copies. It’s not an adventure and it can be bad to draw multiples sometimes, so I like having 2.
4 Brushfire Elemental: This card is very strong right now, because it ignores a lot of blockers (Birth of Meletis, Ruin Crab, Soaring Thought-Thief). Usually it’s a 2 mana 3/3 with haste, so what’s not to like about it? This cheeky elemental is also part of your nut-draw, where you curve double Brushfire into Fabled Passage, which is 10 damage on turn 3. This card is also the reason why people started adding Evolving Wilds – I’ll explain later why I think that that’s horrible.
4 Shatterskull Smashing: This land is a blessing because it gives us the opportunity to have more removal in our deck without using non-land slots. Aggressive decks usually don’t like cards that don’t massage your opponent’s face, so having this without actually spending a slot is nice. There is not much cost in playing this, so just play all 4.
4 Bonecrusher Giant: This is one of the best cards right now in Standard, and it also happens to be an Adventure card for Innkeeper! Remember what I said about Shatterskull Smashing? Well Bonecrusher Giant is also removal, that doesn’t cost us too much since it’s going to be a creature, too. Much like our next card, you should always play all 4.
4 Lovestruck Beast: This is such a powerhouse of a card and back in the Temur Reclamation times people used to side this in against aggressive decks – that’s how good it was. This hits hard and makes your board wide, helping Embercleave. That’s already good enough to play all 4, but this being an Adventure card just means that this is a perfect fit.
4 Kazandu Mammoth: Now this is a tapped land that I’m not unhappy to play. This elephant hits for a lot and it makes this deck more mulligan-resistant, since you can keep way more hands that lack some lands. If you count Kazandu Mammoth as a land, we play 28 lands – that’s usually horrible in aggressive decks. But here, it’s actually great: It allows us to play more lands, making Brushfire Elemental more reliable, while also mitigating flood, since we can always play this if we have enough. It’s a great card and has impressed me a lot, even though I hate tapped lands usually.
3 Questing Beast: As already mentioned in my opener, I find the lack of Questing Beast disturbing. This card is an evasive threat with haste and it’s almost impossible to print more text onto a card. I know that it’s bad against Bonecrusher and Lovestruck Beast, but I truly believe that it would still be a mistake to cut all copies – the card is just that good. I don’t want to play 4 because it’s legendary.
4 Embercleave: Believe in the Cleave! I think if you want your aggressive deck to work, you need to have at least 3 copies of this. I like having 4 because you want this in every game, especially now that people play a lot of blockers (Yorion decks).
Card Choices: What I don’t play
Akoum Hellhound: Even though we only have 8 1-drops (I count Lovestruck Beast as a 1- and 3-drop), I don’t want to play a card that does absolutely nothing if we don’t have a land. Brushfire Elemental at least hits for 1 and enables Lovestruck Beast. The biggest reason to not play this is the poor mana base and having 1-drops with different colors will be too stressful, so I wouldn’t play this.
Kargan Intimidator: We got enough 2-drops, this doesn’t have Adventure, and even Mono-Red isn’t happy to play this, so I’ll pass.
Evolving Wilds: Listen, I understand that this helps your Brushfire Elemental to go off. But do you really want to have another tapped land in your deck that already struggles with a poor mana base? It’s also bad when you want to curve out until turn 5 post-board with Vivien, Monster’s Advocate. This is a limited card and I refuse to put it into my Constructed Aggro-decks.
Anax, Hardened in the Forge: I would love to play this actually, but we already have a lot of 3’s and they are more important since they are our Adventure cards. It’s also a double-red card which messes with our mana base again.
Redcap Melee: This is a great sideboard card, but right now I don’t see much reason to run it. If you face more Gruul or Mono-Red in the future, you could alwasy add some.
Chainweb Aracnir: This used to be a tech against Rogues, but a lot of versions don’t even play Merfolk Windrobber anymore and it’s just weak for 5 mana, even though it’s “for free” when they mill it. Our other Escape cards are much better.
Heroic Intervention: In theory, this is great against Shatter the Sky. In practice, it’s almost impossible to hold up mana without slowing down your own game plan and it’s not great against many decks. In Historic you have got some Llanowar Elves for some mana boost, but in Standard I would keep my hands off it.
Ranger’s Guile: I actually love this card, but I think that our deck is already resilient against removal since we got a lot of hasty creatures (that speaks against Heroic Intervention, too). We also draw more cards with Edgewall Innkeeper, which helps in that regard, too.
Garruk, Unleashed: I always thought this Planeswalker was quite underwhelming, and trample is not super important right now.
Turntimber Symbiosis: This one was a tough one, since it’s not a bad card and it’s “for free”, just like Shatterskull Smashing. The reason why I didn’t want to add this is because I don’t want too many lands that tax my life total, and Shatterskull Smashing is the better land of these 2. You also don’t have too many targets with this anyway, so paying 7 mana is usually not great and it will probably never win you the game.
The Great Henge: This card is absolutely strong, but I just don’t think we need it. And if you don’t need it, then you shouldn’t play a clunky card that has the risk of rotting in your hand. If you want to play it grindy, Vivien is much better because it doesn’t require your board to survive. I think the Great Henge is a good card, but just not in Gruul. I wouldn’t be mad if you wanted to play it, though.
Klothys, God of Destiny: Look, Klothys isn’t bad, but it’s also not great. It’s a solid card against Rogues, but I hate cards that do nothing when they enter the battlefield and it doesn’t even impact the board. I know that players like Crokeyz love this card, but I think that it’s overrated, even though it’s not played much.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+4 Scorching Dragonfire||-4 Embercleave|
|+3 Phoenix of Ash||-3 Questing Beast|
|+3 Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate||-2 Robber of the Rich|
|+1 Scavenging Ooze||-2 Rimrock Knight|
|+1 Ox of Agonas||-1 Primal Might|
If you have some work to do or some emails to answer, you can do that while beating Rogues. This is by far our best matchup and it gets even better post-board. Scorching Dragonfire is great because they answer every threat that your opponent brings. Phoenix of Ash and Ox of Agonas punish them for milling you. Scavenging Ooze helps in that regard on top of exiling their Cling to Dust. Vivien helps you grind in the late game and it’s really tough for them to beat it when it resolves.
I like cutting Embercleave because we are not dependent on it – and it creates scenarios where you have to make poor attacks into their flash threats. They also got too many good answers for Questing Beast. Primal Might is Sorcery speed and we already add Dragonfires as extra removal. Rimrock Knight isn’t great when you want to out grind your opponent, but it helps you pressure early and unlike Robber of the Rich, this doesn’t get brickwalled by Soaring Thought-Thief. I don’t like bringing Garruk’s Harbinger in, which looks weird, but it gets blocked by their creatures a lot and it still gets hit by Lullmages Domination.
Another great matchup for us, since our threats go around blockers well. It’s a bit awkward to have Vivien’s and Embercleaves in your deck, but Robber isn’t great either. You can’t steal cards that actually benefit you and it’s bad against Birth of Meletis. I like Vivien against decks with sweepers, even though they have Elspeth Conquers Death (ECD). You have a lot of good targets for ECD already anyway and you sort of “oversaturate” their good targets, where they need more ECD’s than you have threats. I dislike Phoenix even though it’s great against sweepers here, because it’s laughingly bad against Glass Casket and Skyclave Apparition. Other than that, it’s still a great matchup and many things need to go right for the Yorion player to win.
Gruul Adventures (Mirror)
|+4 Scorching Dragonfire||-2 Embercleave|
|+3 Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate||-3 Questing Beast|
|+1 Scavenging Ooze||-4 Rimrock Knight|
|+1 Primal Might|
The player that casts Embercleave first usually wins, but not always! It’s important that you calculate these turns 4 or 5 very well. Most players just mindlessly slam the Embercleave without realizing that they could die on the backswing against the opponent’s Embercleave. Always keep the cost of Embercleave in mind and try to reduce their board early as much as possible to not run into it early.
I like boarding all the removals and the last Scavenging Ooze in to replace Rimrock Knight. A card that can never block is often a liability in these matchups, even though it’s great with Innkeeper. Vivien is great in these matchups with more removal: When your opponent boards in more removal, it’s crucial to have cards that give you some form of card advantage so you can take over the game when the dust settles. I like boarding some Embercleaves out because of that reason, too, as your opponent and you, as well, will be interacting with each other much more. It’s also awkward with Vivien. This is always a head-to-head race, so calculate your turns accordingly.
This matchup is almost a free win. Board out Primal Might and get another hasty creature in, but don’t overboard as the matchup is already great.
This matchup can be tough, as the big bad Wicked Wolf is pretty good against us. It eats Questing Beast for free so I like cutting them. Even though Phoenixes are bad against Skyclave and Glass Casket, we need a replacement for Questing Beast and this is able to fly over their massive blockers. You are still faster overall and their deck can be quite clunky, so I’m confident that this shouldn’t be too bad.
|+4 Scorching Dragonfire||-2 Kazandu Mammoth|
|+3 Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate||-2 Robber of the Rich|
|+2 Garruk’s Harbinger||-4 Rimrock Knight|
|+1 Scavenging Ooze||-1 Primal Might|
This is our worst matchup. They play so much removal that you can barely keep up with your Innkeepers. You also have no good answer to Kroxa when they kill your Scavenging Ooze. Vivien is important so you can keep up with their tons of removal. Garruk’s Harbinger can be really strong if you keep Mire Triton off the battlefield. I like cutting Robber of the Rich and Rimrock knight because they are horrible against Tymaret Calls the Dead, Mire Triton and Bonecrusher Giant. Primal Might isn’t great because you need your creatures to be alive to cast it, and this will happen rarely!
Scavenging Ooze is probably your best card, so play accordingly and don’t run it into Bonecrusher Giant or Heartless Act if you can. Don’t forget that you can cast Scorching Dragonfire on Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger before it becomes sacrificed, because it will still die this turn and exile itself.
|+3 Phoenix of Ash||-2 Embercleave|
|+3 Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate||-2 Scavenging Ooze|
|+2 Garruk’s Harbinger||-3 Rimrock Knight|
|-1 Primal Might|
Against typical control decks like these, you want your deck to have these two things: A lot of haste and Planeswalkers. We cut Embercleave because it can be a liability when they try to kill your whole board. Scavenging Ooze can be great later but it’s also not great because they can kill it easily and it doesn’t have haste. Be careful of their Extinction Event and you should be fine.
|+2 Scorching Dragonfire||-3 Questing Beast|
|+3 Phoenix of Ash||-4 Rimrock Knight|
|+3 Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate||-1 Primal Might|
Well, weirdly enough, no one is playing this deck right now. I know that it’s not great into Yorion, but I always thought that this deck is a very strong one so I’m surprised that absolutely no one played it this weekend. This is great for us since it’s a bad matchup for us otherwise. They got huge blockers and good removal and they have the ability to outgrind us easily. Vivien and Phoenix are good against a lot of removal, as already explained before.
They also don’t have many ways to deal with flyers otherwise and the games tend to go long, so that’s nice. Questing Beast is not great when they have plenty of good answers and Lovestruck Beast to block it all too well.
Mulligan, Keep and Sequencing
Question 1: You kept this hand in the mirror on the draw and your opponent played Edgewall Innkeeper on turn 1. Do you play your own Innkeeper and risk losing it to Bonecrusher Giant? Would you trade your own Edgewall Innkeeper for theirs?
Answer: Our hand is much more about the Landfall Aggro plan. Because of that reason I would run my Innkeeper into a potential Bonecrusher Giant even if we don’t get any value off of it to draw that one out before it can hit Brushfire Elemental. I would always trade with our opponent’s Innkeeper. We don’t know their hand and they could have Adventure creatures, whereas ours doesn’t have a single one yet. But – if they attack us on turn 2 with their Innkeeper even though we have ours out – I wouldn’t block. Them attacking would imply that they don’t have an Adventure creature themselves because they would not willingly trade it otherwise. Like that your Innkeeper can always draw a Scorching Dragonfire on itself which would make it less likely that your Brushfire Elemental or Kazandu Mammoth die to it.
Question 2: We are on the play in game 1. Do you keep? If yes, how do you sequence your first turns?
Answer: I would always keep this, but this hand is pretty awkward with the double Embercleave and the tapped Kazandu Mammoth. I think the correct line is this: Cast Heart’s Desire turn 1, play Brushfire Elemental turn 2 and hope to hit an untapped source by turn 3. If you don’t then you can at least always play the tapped Mammoth and pump your Brushfire Elemental.
With 2 Embercleave’s it’s important to have as many creatures as possible, so I want to have the full value of Lovestruck Beast. This could be different when you didn’t have Embercleave – so be careful. These early turn sequences are the most important.
Question 3: We are on the draw in game 1. Keep or Not?
Answer: Keep. You have 3 turns to find another land, that’s plenty of time. If you happen to draw any land, even if it’s a non-red source, you’re still having the great start of Innkeeper into Lovestruck Beast. It’s not the best hand ever, but I would always keep it on the draw – and probably also on the play, although this is much more debatable.
Who said that aggro is dead? Gruul is amazing right now and if I would’ve played the Zendikar Championship Qualifier this weekend (I couldn’t since I’ve already won one, sorry for bragging) I would play Gruuuul for suuuur. Thank you for reading, and as always, leave some comments to tell me about what you liked and disliked; and don’t forget to check out my Twitter or Twitch If you want to see what I’m up to these days.
Have a great week my wizards and until next time!