Part One: The Primeval Forest
“Things do not change. We change.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden
My first encounter with green mana was an offering from a Verduran Enchantress. This taste of paradise was contrary to my nature, to my obsession with dark magic and rusted metal relics, but her emerald eyes captivated me. The temptation was too great not to succumb, and the floral sapidity was as sweet as salvation on my trembling lips.
As it filled my lungs, she filled my dreams. As it swam through my blood, she danced with my desires. I lost all correspondence with my gritty, jagged world of metal and violence, and let myself listen to the nuances of its song. She was teaching me of the serenity of nature. I was learning the savagery of the cosmos.
I was standing at the threshold of a pristine and alien world. In the pale light of the Argothian forest, I severed the connection to my past, present, and future. My heart was thunder in a silent landscape, and I could see nothing beyond her encompassing stare. I held my breath and closed my eyes. I needed to be free. To step outside myself. To unravel the threads of my being. And when I did I could step outside myself. I could reach beyond the confines of my worldly form. I could hear murmurs from afar.
It began as the buzzing of insects. I imagined the wings of Scryb Sprites and Argothian Pixies. But slowly it grew closer. It took form. Overlapping whispers and echoes. Discordant. Slowly evolving into words, faint in form. Undefined by my inability to comprehend. I felt like I was spinning, like I had fallen from orbit only to drift through endless nothingness. I struggled to make sense of their message in vain. I began to doubt they were meant for me to hear. I surrendered. I accepted my defeat. And in letting go I remembered only her eyes. Her piercing gaze. And as I was once again encompassed by her presence, I came to understand.
“The forest whispers my name,” I spoke, my voice resonating through the vastness of the tree strewn terrain.
She answered my declaration with laughter. It hung in the air like music. Seductive. Serene. I wanted to be consumed. To live inside of it. I opened my eyes. She was reaching for me. Ready to lead me into her world. My feet were planted. I did not belong. She was taking me too far from home. Too far from the safety of my darkness. But I could not deny her. Restraint was fleeting and gave way to wanting. So I reached out. I took her hand. And I followed her into the forest.
I have spent countless hours in the woods since that day. I routinely draw the green mana from the land and into my body. She taught me to spin enchantments, and now I worship at the naked altars in the heart of the Fyndhorn Wilds. It was still not my world, but when I let myself dance in its mist, I could harmonize with it and forget about the trappings of my earthly enslavement. I have made repeated pilgrimages to show my devotion. Nothing will ever compare to that first visit. To the first Verduran touch. To the first taste of the Llanowar Leaf. But I am never left wanting when I stand alone in the woods.
Welcome back to the Underground.
Are you ready?
Time to fire up the Green Mana Battery and explore our Primal Nature. We will explore the forests of old, focusing not only on Oldschool Magic but specifically on Mono Green and its unappreciated beauty in the primitive landscape. We will become Disciples of the Wooden Sphere. And while we will not venture into uncharted realms the journey will be unlike those before. This is not your everyday stroll through the woods.
So drink up. Take another hit from the battery and join me as we depart the Adventurer’s Guildhouse. It is time to take on the knightly task of finding the Rainbow Vale. But like all great journeys, the true story will rest in the enchanted places we stumble through along the way.
Part Two: Finding the Heart in the Darkness
“”….his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by the heavens I tell you, it had gone mad.” – Joseph Conrad, Hearts of Darkness
Our first stop will be the Hall of Gemstone. We will glimpse into its wonder and examine the passionate art of American Oldschool. It has much to offer, but we must refrain from getting lost in its complexity and focus on a single stone. We will bear witness to the work of the malachite craftsman known as @studderingdave.
Meditate with me.
I learned to listen to the buzz of nature from the forest itself. Now I sit listening to the virtual buzz of the internet, but what I am seeking is the pulse of the MTG Underground. And I have found it. With just a casual suggestion that I wanted to transmogrify the digital flesh of our world into this project, I have summoned the fiercest and finest.
First and foremost, my friend David offered up well-sculpted presentation of love. It was obvious from the start that he was more entrenched in our work than I was, and there was much to learn from him. He was kind enough to offer up an intimate glimpse and discussion of his weapon.
Librarian: When did you start playing magic?
David: I started during Unlimited. My first deck was green. There was overwhelming disdain for green even back then. My friends who showed me the game collectively dumped their green cards on me so I could learn, and inadvertently created a Moss Monster.
Librarian: Excellent. When did you first start the revival? When did you first taste the Oldschool poison?
David: Sometime in 2013, as I found the spirit of EDH fading, and Oldschool not only gave me the desire to play again, but it gave me a taste of the early days in a way EDH never could. It was perfect.
Librarian: What is your favorite green card?
David: Berserk. It was the first “chase” card I ever traded for during the old days. It meant more to me than an Ancestral Recall ever could.
Librarian: So now you have the capacity to build whatever you like. Why mono green?
David: Mono green often gets dismissed in just about any format. Every color has its iconic mono colored build, but green’s “ramp and fat” style is underrepresented. And oldschool lets green explore its identity.
Librarian: A few of the cards that you play I have not considered. Fastbond for instance. I have also had reservations about Giant growth, which I understand enables your use of berserk. Most interesting to me are the pair of Titana’s Songs in the sideboard. Tell me about them.
David: Fastbond has some broken lines. As a one of it can enable the multiple land opener into an early Erhnam the way power does in other builds. Giant growth is a personal favorite behind Berserk. The synergy is the stuff my childhood dreams were made of. Titania’s Song is a work around to powered decks that also disables big artifacts. I have a variant of “machine green” that utilizes prison pieces in a green shell with Song as the finisher. If you have not tried it out you should.
Librarian: I will. One last question. What is your best Desert Twister story?
David: I played a game in which my opponent and I were both at low life totals. I had an Elvish archers on board, but he played a Desert off the top of his deck. It was a stand off and we were both trying to draw into something. My library gave me the answer I needed. I drew and cast the Desert Twister to destroy his Desert! The archers finished him off and we were able to laugh about the flavor of the game.
Part Three: Chasing Pendelhaven
“I hear that strange melody that only you can speak to me” –Deadboy and the Elephantmen Heart of Green
I returned to the Adventurer’s Guildhouse late one night after a heavy commune with nature. There was a lone traveler at the bar in an otherwise empty hall. I pulled up a stool beside his gaunt figure, bent and beaten, and I glanced at his beer while waiting to order my own.
“Jacques Le Vert,” he said solemnly.
“Excuse me?” I asked, the distortion in my head bending his voice in unorthodox ways.
“My name is Jacques,” he repeated.
“I am the Librarian.”
“Have a drink with me,” he requested.
I obliged. The spirits flowed freely as we spoke at length on many subjects. Jacques was troubled by the life he was leading. He was on his way home to try and find himself, or some purpose. He was looking for a reason to go on, or to settle down. The life as a wandering soldier left him empty. He was drinking away the sins of the sword and the ravages of war.
The existential crisis that was tearing him apart was pouring from his mouth when it was not slamming back another drink. Years of internal conflict left him weary. Weak. Worn out. The cause he took up so many years ago, to fight for those who were too weak to lift a sword, had become an empty shell of mercenary work to cover the costly nights of drinkng it all away.
But that night was different.
“I am going to lay down my sword,” he said as he slapped me hard on the back of the shoulders. “I am going to devote my life to protecting my homeland.”
“Where is that?” I asked curiously, drunkenly thinking about my Plateau of Leng on the outskirts of the Forsaken Wastes.
“Pendelhaven. Not too far from here. Home of the oldest tree in Llanowar.”
“The oldest tree?”
“Yes,” he reiterated. “If you have never seen it, you should abandon whatever it is you are doing in these parts and come with me. It will change your life.”
So there I was.
Following Jacques le Vert into the woods.
When I decided to craft my Mono Green deck, I decided I wanted to build around my fascination with Pendelhaven. It was going to be a powerless, relatively budget project but I wanted to see if it could keep up or overpower established archetypes with sheer numbers. This likely meant thirty or more creatures.
Fortunately for me, I was given a list by Greg Kraigher, famous for his Tron Shops list that he crushed me with at the Eternal Weekend Oldschool Event. It gave me direction and understanding. I worked my way from his finely tuned composition into a more budget friendly approach. His build contained a Library of Alexandria, Black Lotus and Mox Emerald which I replaced with basic forests. After tampering with the mix of creatures, I replaced one with a second Sylvan Library, and the Chaos Orb with a Desert Twister. While these are clearly not ways to make the deck stronger, they did allow me to complete it and get to playing some games.
Within a few nights of having this assembled I was able to grind some games against a few locals and explore the inner workings of it while drinking Malort with my brother. I had moderate success on all fronts, mostly only losing to games where my opponent began with a first turn Juzam Djinn or a well timed Serra Angel. The swarm was largely too much for Deadguy Ale and traded blows well with Red Green Zoo.
Thirty two main deck creatures proved to be a strategy that many foes were not prepared to handle. The Army of Pendelhaven proved problematic when squaring off with other creatures, both the bolstering power of Wyluli Wolf as well as the banding trickery of the more feral Timber Wolves. The Pixies rendered factories and Juggernauts impotent, and the Sylvan Libraries fueled the ranks with their resourcefulness.
But do not let me lead you astray.
This is not the greatest construction of the competitive world.
This is a casual deck, filthy and glorious.
If you cannot understand why you would choose this path, knowing that it is as likely to lead you to maddening isolation in the dark heart of the woods as it is to victory, I can only wonder how you have found your way this deep into the MTG Underground. Green Mana is not a lifestyle for everyone, but for those who choose to Hail the Leaf there is no greater way to peace and prosperity.
When I met Jacques le Vert that night, I saw a man down on his luck. A man crushed by the weight of his own existence. A man drinking away the better hours of his bitter life. But once I followed him into the woods, into the heart of Llanowar, I saw a different man altogether. I saw a man returning home from a long journey. I saw care where before there was only callousness. I saw delight instead of dolor. I saw a peaceful hero instead of a tired mercenary.
So tonight, as I sit here drinking my whiskey, I toast to the memory of Jacques le Vert. He will forever resonate in my blood and memory. For it was he that taught me that when our eyes are busy passing judgment, they are distracted from our search for reverence. He showed me that in the pursuit of Pendelhaven we can find ourselves.
Part Four: Selections from the Sylvan Library
The longing for nature does not remove our desire for knowledge. The forests of our immediate surroundings share many similarities with those in the far reaches of distant lands, but no two trees are the same. It would drive the wisest among us mad to pursue an understanding of all things, to expect to touch every branch in a single lifetime.
So when we long for forests too distant to reach by foot, we find ourselves at the threshold of the Sylvan Library. In the pages sculpted from devotion to green mana, we find glimpses into worlds far beyond our reach as if they were blossoming at our fingertips. It is here, in the sacred halls of the Library, that I will show you the majesty of the primeval forest. I offer you not only a deck from the depths of Oldschool Magic. I offer you the prized and personal weapon of the legendary Magnus De Laval.
“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.” –Emily Carroll
.There are significant differences in the ideology that goes into crafting this sort of weapon. Coming from a less desolate and war torn landscape, Magnus hails from a world that restricts Strip Mine to keep it from ravaging the landscape and turning nature into little more than a memory.
But that will not hold him back. He is packing three Ice Storms to show his enemies he is not fucking around. And in the revelry of Gaea’s Touch he has brought the Howling Mines and Relic Barriers he learned to love when he worked in the unforgiving power plants of Urza. Here in the woods, he has not become a Ley Druid. It is Survival of the Fittest. Primal Order. It may be his love of nature that drew him into the woods, but it is the malevolent coils of the Craw Wurm that keep him from escaping.
It is easy to see this is not a weapon honed for efficiency. The most obnoxious of observers will point out there are more practical threats than the expensive and overbearing Wurm we all marveled at in our primitive understanding of magic. But remember, foolish children of the underground, before you go mocking Craw Wurms, make sure you have a Safe Haven in which you can hide.
This is magic at its finest. This is homage to our roots.
Part Five: Usurping Ancestral Recall
“Y’all know me, still the same efreet but I been low-key
Hated on by most these genies with no lamp, no wishes and no green
No legacy, King Suleiman won’t even fuck with me
Mad at me cause they misprinted my face on a revised serendib efreet”
-Ifh-Biff Efreet “Forgot about Ifh”
Wandering out of the library and into Havenwood Battlegrounds, I would like to show you the secret garden of Danny Friedman who is known to some of you from his blog, Understanding Ancestral Recall, others as a vintage curmudgeon, and to me as one of the finest people magic has allowed me to intersect. He is an active promoter of Oldschool Magic in the Chicago area, and his group, the The Lords of the Pit are the natural rival to the Librarians of Leng or at least will be once I expand my gang to properly challenge their obscene dominance of a Midwest scene lacking in proper gang warfare.
Fortunately for you fiendish devotees of my endless slander, he was kind enough to share his Oldschool Green deck with me, in spite of our inevitable clash for turf dominance. And while Danny is predominantly a Blue Wizard, he cannot help but gush with excitement when offering up the finest haze that Chicago Green Mana can offer.
The most striking difference from all the other decks we have explored is the presence of the typically forgotten and subtly powerful serpentine threat: Naf’s Asp.
Just look at that mean motherfucker. Full of venom. Void of fear. A mess of text but an elegance of scales, this is perhaps the most fascinating one mana green threat printed before the era of power creep ruined my interest in playing creatures in magic. But the ability of the asp is unlike any other. You have until the beginning of your next draw step to pay the mana. You may pay it immediately, or during your upkeep, but once you draw your card for the turn, you lose the life. Ali from Cairo cannot save you from the venom of Nafs asp, but tapping your desert for mana instead of murdering the snake for biting you could save your life.
The other takeaway from Danny’s deck is Lifeforce. The power of hate in oldschool magic is strong, and Lifeforce, with its weird art and malicious intent, is one of the strongest. Never mind that black has no way to deal with enchantments. For two green mana, an abundant resource in the forests of Dominaria, you get to counter any black spell. And you can do it as often as your opponent can attempt to cast his evil magic.
By now, if our adventure through the forests of old has not made you want to summon Scryb Sprites or study at the Sylvan Library, nothing will. If you do not hear the howl of the Wyluli Wolf or know the true name of the Ifh-Biff Efreet, perhaps Green Mana is not your drug of choice. I pass no judgment, but I will pass no peace pipe either. There are four other colors and an assortment of artifacts that may better suit your needs.
Part Six: The Perpetual Haze of Eladmri’s Vineyard
We have explored Oldschool Mono Green at length today in the MTG Underground. But I would like to take a toke and and take a moment to recognize the compelling force behind building this deck and sharing the work of others with the same passion. The MTG Underground is a community above all else, and the hope of my visit with you today is to not only highlight members of the community and their work, but to also help you understand that there is a place for everyone here, regardless of their tastes.
My decision to build a series of budget Oldschool decks was driven by the desire to expand my local scene. We are a small, dedicated group, but the most frequent roadblock for most players is the lack of a deck or the notion that they must own a full set of power or a vast array of obscure, expensive cards to play. While I constantly refute this, the decks that I typically pilot suggest that my words are empty and the true spirit of the format lies beyond their reach.
So not only did I decide to design some decks that proved otherwise, but I also decided to double down and build them. The idea was to assemble a handful of budget decks that were fun to play, capable of winning games, and drenched in the flavor of Oldschool Magic. If people were interested but hesitant to commit, I would have a range of options to help them get their feet wet.
At this point, I received a brilliant suggestion from my virtual cohort @MasonsMTGDeals. I would build a literal Library of Leng, a selection of decks that compete well enough against each other as well as some of the established archetypes of the format. For anyone who desires to attend an MTG Underground event, the decks are available to check out. By presenting a Library Card (any copy of Library of Leng) anyone can check out a deck from the library. Their card will be signed, dated, and held until the end of the event, when it will be returned as the deck is checked back in to the library.
This idea is still in its infancy, but I have completed four decks so far and have two more in the works. It is a living project at the mercy of my resources, but so far it has proven to be easier than I could have hoped to get started. It requires implementing numerous revised and Collector’s Edition cards (for which I have developed a strong appreciation) as well as expanding my collection far beyond the comfortable three hundred cards I prefer, but it is a worthy sacrifice for the cause.
It is a living project that currently has four completed decks and two more in the works. It requires that I own a greater number of cards, but it is a worthy sacrifice for the purpose of growing the community.
After all, the MTG Underground is all about Love, above any Law. So fuck the constraints. If I must own more than a thousand cards to indoctrinate the curious observer into a full fledged disciple of the underground, then all past rules be damned. The cause is greater than its casualties.
Love Not Law,