Green is undeniably the strongest color in Standard. If you play T2, the odds are, you're playing a green based deck. Everything from Tooth and Nail, Mono Green, Blue Green Control, Black Green Death Cloud, that wierd little RG Kiki-Jiki deck, and even Five Color Green all rely on the core Green engine of mana acceleration and Eternal Witness.
Second only to Green is Blue. The best non-Green creature in the format (Meloku) is Blue. The best creature control spell in the format is an Artifact (Vedalken Shackles), but it only works if you're playing Islands. The card drawing and countermagic of the format are a far cry from what they were even even a few years ago, but so is the beatdown. Hinder looks pretty darn good in a format with no Wild Mongrels or Call of the Herds.
Naturally, people play decks made out of Green cards. They play decks made out of Blue cards. Some people will even play decks made out of Blue cards AND Green cards. Coming out of the vast Apprentice and MWS database on my computer, here are the standardized UG and Mono G decklists. Spoiler'd to save space:
To help explain this matchup, I've enlisted the help of two of my old friends. Paul is a Harvard educated intellectual with a degree in brain surgery, and another in rocket science. He's an absolute control freak, an avid UG fan, and posts in the color blue. The other is named Captain Love. he's a hippy who has been out of work since the 1960s, is in desperate need of a shower and some narcotics. He of course, posts in green.
Dude, I don't need a shower, man, and I've been drug free for at least the last five minutes. Say, do you wanna hit this? Woaah... that was so freakin' groovy!
What my pungent colleague was trying to say is that discussing this matchup is approximately as interesting as watching a Seinfeld rerun on TV. Blue Green Control clearly dominates every other deck in the field, including those halfbreed green things.
Well, now that we're all introduced, why don't we get down to business. Let's talk game one. As a person who plays both decks, I can tell you the critical cards right now: Vedalken Shackles, Meloku, and Rude Awakening for the Blue Green, and Beacon of Creation, Troll Ascetic, and Equipment for the Mono Green. Paul, your thoughts?
Well, the most relevant of the key cards is Meloku, the Clouded Mirror. Aside from being the ugliest looking man you'll ever see (Michael Jackson notwithstanding), he's got plenty of other ways of intimidating an offense. Once he hits play, the Blue Green player should aggressively bounce lands. Remember, your opponent doesn't have mass bounce or removal, so those tokens are more or less permanent. Don't be afraid to bounce all but two or three lands in an emergency. Often meloku comes down and the entire pace of the matchup changes, with the UG player (that's us) suddenly becoming the aggressor, while the tree hugging hippie is forced to play defense.
Vedalken Shackles is very powerful, espescially in multiples. It lets you deal with something you're very weak against: Sword of Fire and Ice. The process is simple. You untap Shackles every turn, and during the opponent's attack phase (before attackers are declared), you steal whatever creature is wearing the sword. This also works with Umezawa's Jitte, Sword of Light and Shadow, or whatever other crap your opponent is using. This trick won't give you control of the equipment, but your opponent won't have an opportunity to re-equip it to a friendly creature before attackers are declared. Shackles is also good if all you're doing is stealing an opponent's Eternal Witness to trade with his Sakura-Tribe Elder. A good trick to look out for is to wait until your opponent is tapped out, then play Shackles, activate it, and steal the opponent's Virdian Zealot. Aside from giving you control of his Zealot, this also lets you untap and use Zealot to Naturalize an opposing equipment. Just don't try this if your opponent has two or more untapped lands, or you'll be sorry.
Rude Awakening really isn't deserving of being called a "critical card" in this matchup. It's just that nasty little threat at the end of the tunnel. Besides, both decks have it.
Groovy, man. You're like, using those big words and stuff. My, like, favorite creature is that three mana dude Troll Ascetic. He looks like my old girlfriend used to look when I was high. Anyways, he only costs three mana, and is immune to those Vedalken bondage toys. He's a lover in bed, and like Rocky, he just can't die. That's important, because most of the green dudes here can't survive a block by Eternal Witness or even Sakura-Tribe Elder.
Helping to correct that blocking problem is the equipment. Sword of Fire and Ice is better than reefers if you want a quick high. It fills your hand to the brinm, and pings away Jushi Apprentice, or just smashes your opponent's life total. A few quick hits from the Sword will let you out card-advantage the blue deck. Now how groovy is that, dude? Umezawa's Jitte takes care of the blockers issue even more directly. Even if you don't hit your opponent, the Jitte gets two counters, which can promptly be removed to kill a Witness, a Tribe Elder, or an Apprentice. With lots of counters, you can kill Meloku, all his illusions, or just get a really friggin' huge Birds of Paradise for the kill. The equipment absolutely makes the deck run, and Green uses the best stuff in Standard.
Jitte >> Meloku
Beacon of Creation is a whore. But it's a good whore, unlike that hippie hater Richard Nixon, and his secret ally Vietnam Johnson. Aside from Jushi Apprentice and that 2/4 crossdresser, all the UG blockers have one power. You can totally take out an entire army worth of guys just by attacking into them. It gives you a play around Vedalken Shackles, letting you power past the fancy handcuffs with sheer numbers. In an absolute emergency, you can use them as blockers. But you're not likely to do that at all.
Well, thank you. That was quite informative. The counterstrategies are quite simple. From the Blue Green side of things, you want to try and prevent Troll Ascetic from resolving with your permission until you can manage him with a Meloku. This Meloku managing can be as early as turn 4; keep that in mind. It's not so awful if a Jitte or a Sword resolves, and espescially not if you're holding an Oxidize in hand. Echoing Truth is a real powerhouse against Beacon of Creation, and an active Jushi Apprentice can quickly put the game out of reach.
From the green side of things, the counterstrategy is Viridian Zealot. The aforementioned Equipment is one of the main strategies of green, and it is also the only effective way to counteract Meloku short of splashing Blue for a Moonfolk Legend yourself. Viridian Zealot, however, is quite good against the always annoying reusable control magic, just so long as you keep two mana open to use him. A well placed Zealot can put a wrinkle in the opposing defensive strategy and buy you enough time to go lethal.
Let's talk sideboarding. What do you bring in, what do you bring out, and why? Captain, we'll start with you.
Well, it's really ungroovy drawing a Plow Under when Mr. Educated over there has got the Blue drag queen in play, so I take them out. I want to bring in five total cards, so I also pulled a Wood Elves, since they are the least threatening of the remaining stuff. I bring in three Cranial Extractions and two Wear Aways.
Cranial brainkiller reminds me of this movie I saw once called Total Recall. You just like, totally rewrite the other guy's brain. I like to make my opponent "forget" to bring along Meloku. It's the most dangerous card he's got, and one of the biggest threats to my deck as a whole. After that, it depends on the situation. If I'm pounding him with Insects, I'll kill the Echoing Truths. If he's got tons of lands, I'll pull Rude Awakening. The card is so radically flexible. You adjust it to what you're afraid of. Wear Away is to kill Vedalken Shackles. If the other dude brings them out in game two, put Wear Aways back to the sideboard, and bring in Cranial Extraction and Wood Elves.
Well, I like to bring in Cranial Extractions when possible. Generally, I will remove three plow unders, but if I suspect my opponent is going overboard on additonal artifact removal, I will instead take out my Vedalken Shackles. Pulling Shackles is a very dangerous stategy, because it forces me to place a bigger defensive burden on my Melokus. I'm likely to Extraction for his Extractions if removing Shackles, but otherwise it depends on what I'm most afraid of. I'm not likely to Extract Beacon of Creation if I've got an Echoing Truth in hand, for example. Generally I will Extraction the equipment first, then either Beacon of Creation or Troll Ascetic.
Well thank you both. It's worthwhile to note that the Defense Grids in the mono green sideboard stay in the sideboard for this matchup. With only 8 total counterspells (and 4 of them Mana Leaks) permission is not a significant enough factor in this matchup to warrant the inclusion of Defense Grid. Countermagic is so unimportant that some Blue Green players have suggested boarding out Mana Leaks in favor of Naturalize (or other artifact removal), but this is not a strategy I personally will endorse unless you aren't using any maindecked artifact removal.
Overall, of the exact two decklists provided above, the Mono Green has a slight edge. That said, there are several different versions of Mono G and UG, and I haven't even touched on some of them (like the green aggro with Iwaromi and Karstoderm, or the UG beats with Jens and Sword of Fire and Ice). If you expect this matchup to be of unusual significance locally, be sure and tech out for it! UG can get a much better win percentage merely by adding in a fourth Meloku and/or extra artifact removal. Mono Green can tech out by using extra Viridian Zealots to give Shackles an extra difficult time, as well as by playing some of the larger beatsticks, like Kodama of the North Tree. Whatever you chose to play, good luck, and happy hunting.
And a special shout to Cyan for doing 4 hours of testing, 2 days in a row!