The Problem With Green in cEDH

Harvey McGuinness • January 17, 2024

If you look at tournament results for cEDH over the past year, a few things start to stand out. The first is that Blue Farm (the partner pair of Kraum, Ludevic's Opus and Tymna the Weaver) continues to dominate the scene, having nearly double the number of tournament top-16s than the next contender. The second is that Grixis continues to be the shell for many of the best decks in the format. Red's mana (and Underworld Breach), blue's disruption (and Thassa's Oracle), and black's tutors (and Ad Nauseam) are a pile of cards that are all good on their own and great together. The third thing that stands out from the last year's tournament results is that green is falling off the map. 

Good Green Cards

Part of Blue Farm's biggest strength is that the overall card quality of the deck is absurdly high. If you're piloting Blue Farm, you don't really have to play any bad cards. Instead, you're running 98 of the best cards in the format. The best rituals, counterspells, value engines, and combos; that's what makes Blue Farm great. The problem is, when it just comes to ranking good cards in cEDH, green doesn't have many strong contenders.

When you think of the best of green, what comes to mind? Birds of Paradise? Boseiju, Who Endures? Gaea's Cradle? Maybe tutors-to-field: Birthing Pod, Eldritch Evolution, etc? These are all excellent cards, so what's their problem? Well, it comes down to two primary issues: competition and construction.

The competition issue is pretty straightforward: simply put, it means that there are other cards which do a similar effect better. Demonic Tutor might not put a creature straight into play, but it cost one mana less than Eldritch Evolution and doesn't require you to sacrifice a creature. If you build your deck such that you're always going to get the same creature over and over again, then Eldritch Evolution becomes an excellent consideration, but if even if you're constantly searching for creatures, the flexibility of Demonic Tutor is too much to pass up.

Another excellent example of this is Veil of Summer: it's a great card, don't get me wrong, but it's a poor imitation of white's Silence. Card draw is excellent, and the "gotcha" effect of potentially countering a counterspell is worth noting, but there is a lot of interaction that can go on the stack outside of blue. 

The other issue, construction, is a bit trickier. These are cards that can be absolutely insane, but they require a greater degree of focus in order to abuse. The face card for this problem is Gaea's Cradle. Gaea's Cradle can add an absurd amount of mana, is incredibly hard for your opponents to interact with, and has a handful of efficient tutors that allow consistent access. The problem is that you need to be playing a lot of cheap creatures in order to make it work. A deck with Gaea's Cradle but no mana dorks is a deck that is missing out on a lot of potential mana, but mana dorks suffer from the competition issue with things like rituals and rocks, leaving green players in between a rock and a hard place: play a critical mass of only OK cards in order to maximize a few cards, or play a bunch of arguably better cards in their place but miss out on a potentially higher ceiling.

Green Commanders

We've covered the 99, now we need to talk about commanders. First up, the exception to the rule, Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy.

According to tournament result website EDH Top16, the deck with the second-most tournament top 16s is none other than the most green deck in cEDH, Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy. Kinnan is the only deck that has a commander which is dedicated to proactively doing what green wants to do: make a lot of mana, turn after turn. Now, all cEDH lists want to make mana - and fast - but Kinnan sets itself apart by focusing on permanent mana, not rituals. The Grixis shell, be it midrange or turbo, focuses on bursts, rather than consistency. Kinnan makes this trade the opposite way, solving the competition issue by using a commander which immediately doubles the value of the mana dorks we already established were often a little less-than. This, in turn, allows Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy to abuse the cards with construction issues, since the critical mass of low-cost creatures has been met. All in all, regardless of your thoughts on the current viability of the deck, there is something inescapable about the commander itself: if you want to play green, Kinnan is the green deck.

Now that I've sung the praises of Kinnan, it's time to look at how every other deck from EDH Top16's top 10 decks handles green: by barely playing it.

Outside of Kinnan, there are two primary groups of green cEDH decks: Thrasios, Triton Hero partner decks, and five-color piles, such as Najeela, the Blade-Blossom. The first of these groups is the greener of the two, mostly due to the infinite mana outlet which Thrasios presents. These lists are either three or four colors and focus primarily on the tutors-to-field, often due to these decks being sans-black. As such, if you're sitting opposite a Thrasios pilot, you can expect more of the traditional green cards to show up, but even if you see more of them chances are they'll often be the less impactful cards in the course of the game. Thrasios isn't red, but chances are the most dangerous card in any of their lists is Dockside Extortionist.

The second category, five-color piles, are truly green in name only. Najeela and Sisay are both grateful for Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, but beyond that and the best-of-the-best mana dorks, these lists are essentially playing Blue Farm-esque goodstuff piles. Sisay, Weatherlight Captain is a bit more distinct thanks to the pile of legendaries it plays, but Najeela, the Blade-Blossom has converged to something very reminiscent of the rest of the multicolor meta. 

Format Speed

Finally, it's time to talk about something green has no control over but which has contributed significantly to its overall role in the meta: speed.

cEDH is fast. Blisteringly fast. It might not feel that way (four players and storm turns will do that to a game), but, with most games ending around turn four, cEDH falls squarely in the category of fast formats. Sometimes it's faster, with turbo decks running rampant and closing games as early as turn one, and other times things slow down and games average five-plus turns. It's all a matter of competitive saturation: how many players think it's better to speed for the win, or consolidate, foil an opponent's plan, and win after. 

Overall, green tends to favor slower metas. When the defining feature of your color is a mix of turn-delayed mana (you can't tap a dork the turn it comes down) and inefficient-yet-resilient creature combos (Dockside Extortionist + Emiel the Blessed or Temur Sabertooth being among the color's hallmarks), things conspire to benefit players who can sit down for longer games. The cEDH meta, meanwhile, has been less than kind to this style of play historically, partially due to the time constraints of a tournament commander (a whole issue in and of itself) but primarily due to the comparative speed at which red- and/or black-based decks can play. Fortunately, a bevy of value engines have been sent down the pipeline recently, causing a resurgence of midrange play, but whether or not this is enough to save green in the long run has yet to be seen. 

Wrap Up

Unless it's fixing (and ramping) on turn one or presenting a win courtesy of a combo piece like Derevi, the majority of green's best decks have decided to toss the color by the wayside. Most of its best cards have become outclassed by comparable substitutes, and those that haven't are often inefficient without a critical mass of other predominantly green cards. The format is slowing down a little bit, however, and slower metas are often friendly to permanent ramp as well as Thrasios-and-friends, so keep an eye on tournament results in the months to come. Green might not have the best value engines, but it sure can support them.

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.