Harambe is evolving Modern
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Hello all – in case you don’t know me (and why should you), my name is Hans Christian Ljungqvist – Beast_with_2_backs on Magic Online, and I previously popularized the budget Mono-Green Stompy deck piloting it to a top 8 at the 2014 Bazaar of Moxen tournament. If you are familiar with that deck you will probably notice some similarities in the creature package of my newest creation.
I’ve recently had a lot of success with a RUG version of the traditional budget U/G Evolve deck – managing a couple of competitive League 5-0’s. I wanted to share this deck with you all since WotC recently published a decklist of mine.
I’ve been working on and off on an U/G Evolve list for the last year or so, but it was only after the addition of red to the deck that my win rate went above 50% consistently. Below is my latest list – it is still in the early stages of tuning, so the numbers may appear a bit rough. I’ve chosen to name the deck “Harambe“, as it really is, at it’s core, a monkey deck. Basically what we’re trying to do is turn a random assortment of 10 cent commons and uncommons into powerful apes. And as you all know, the most noble and best known ape in recent times has to be Harambe. Also, the Zoo name was already taken.
Harambe Tempo by Hans Christian Ljungqvist
3 reasons why you should play Harambe:
It’s fast! It’s cheap! And it’s a LOT of fun to play – blowing your opponent out with a random collection of draft unplayables appeals to a certain kind of people (not the Lantern kind of people – those are bad people). If you are one of those people – keep reading!
The difference between my list and the more general budget Evolve lists is that I am not trying to build an all-in Evolve deck. This is not the second coming of Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor. Rather it is my attempt at building a tempo/aggro deck in Modern and in my opinion the Evolve/Undying creatures serve that role better than Delver of Secrets. Given that there are no free permission spells like Daze or Force of Will in Modern, playing protect the queen is often a losing proposition, and even a dedicated deck like Grixis Shadow has trouble protecting it’s threats. Harambe has a multitude of threats and Pongify/Hybridization serve as pseudo-threats.
First off – as anyone who has played with the Undying/Evolve creatures are aware, the combination of an Evolve creature + Pongify effect + Young Wolf = 8 power on the board on turn 2. That is one of the main draws to playing the deck – a lot of decks simply can’t keep up with that kind of opener. If you are unfamiliar with the math, I suggest you check out the Evolve primer part about stacking your triggers from Undying + Pongify. In short, you can stack the triggers so that the Evolve trigger from the token goes on the stack first and then the evolve trigger from undying goes on top allowing both to resolve.
The approach to playing the deck is “get ahead – stay ahead”. This approach requires you to be able to get on the board early and interact at relevant levels with your opponent at a mana discount. The playstyle resembles a mix between Zoo and Legacy R/U/G Delver. While it is possible to play Harambe like an aggro deck, I strongly discourage you from doing so – instead try to establish a dominant board presence and force your opponent to respond to it rather than just piling on. Knowing when to smash your own creatures with a Pongify effect and when to smash the opponent’s creatures is the most complex part of playing the deck.
So far so good – now off to the individual card-choices:
These cards all serve as the core Evolve package and I strongly suggest you start off with 4 of each when building the deck. While 8 Pongify effects seem like a lot, experience tells me that you usually won’t be sad to draw one off the top.
These two cards serve as the filler-threats of the deck while still synergizing with the main theme of +1/+1 counters. Narnam Renegade is by itself a decent threat and in my opinion the only viable 4th 1-drop available to the deck. Also with the conspicuous absence of Kird Ape, Narnam Renegade has to play the role of honorary ape. In this deck, Avatar of the Resolute is a powerhouse for only 2 green mana and will frequently enter the battlefield as a 5/4 or bigger, easily trumping what other fair decks have access to for 2 mana. The Avatar’s synergy with the rest of the deck is one of the main reasons to not play Tarmogoyf in the 2-drop slot. The Trample is also quite relevant as Pongify effects allow for instant speed removal of blockers on the Avatar.
These cards serve as your relevant game 1 interaction and are chosen for their flexibility – the sideboard includes more specific answers for different matchups. Vapor Snag, while seemingly a bit underpowered, works well in the situations where you have to smash an opposing creature – bouncing the token allows for a free attack. While spending 2 cards to remove 1 card is not optimal, being a tempo deck with a very fast clock, we can sometimes allow ourselves a 2-for-1 and still maintain a superior board presence. Lightning Bolt also serves the dual role of killing roadblocks and allowing the deck to have a bit of reach to close games out.
This recent addition from Ixalan serves as the most mana-efficient refueling card available in the R/U/G colors. While traditional cantrips aren’t effective enough in this type of deck, Chart a Course‘s rate of 2 cards for 2 mana is a good rate for a tempo deck.
The manabase is currently built to support 3 things.
First of, every single mana source provides green mana. This is a necessity, as 12 of our 1-drops cost green mana. Only 4 of the lands do not produce blue mana, which means that we will almost always have access to Cloudfin Raptor turn 1 if we want it.
Secondly, the deck has 10 fetches – currently tied with Burn for the second highest number of fetches in a Modern deck (Death’s Shadow decks tops that list with 12!). This allows us the luxury of only playing 2 Stomping Ground and means we usually always have a way of triggering Revolt on Narnam Renegade.
The third point is the Dryad Arbor. While traditionally Dryad Arbor serves as Liliana of the Veil protection for creature combo decks like Infect and Bogles, the Dryad Arbor in Harambe serves as a low-cost way to get the engine rolling. It serves as free fodder for Pongify/Hybridization and is able to trigger Cloudfin Raptor on it’s own. While the deck only plays 19 lands, the lack of cantrips means that you will occasionally flood out a bit. Having access to an extra attacker or a surprise blocker is very valuable.
As for the sideboard cards, the deck is generally quite flexible, so you have a lot of options to choose from. While many of the cards that I have included are meant for fairly good matchups, my approach to sideboarding is often to make decent/even matchups even better postboard rather than try to fix some of the abysmal matchups (Bogles is virtually unwinnable). The only card I would strongly advise against tinkering with is Ancient Grudge, as it is the pillar of postboard strategies against the artifact based tier 1 decks.
Some of you may notice that I include no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is mostly since the relevant cards either hurt us too much (Grafdigger’s Cage) or just don’t do enough in Modern (Surgical Extraction). Apart from that, the graveyard based decks are usually fine matchups – Dredge for instance is easily on of the best matchups, since it turns out that dead creatures block very poorly.
The case against 3-drops
I’m going to spend a few lines explaining why the deck doesn’t play any 3-drops despite a prevalence of powerful cards available in the R/U/G colors. The most obvious choices would probably be Kitchen Finks and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in the sideboard for the grindier matchups and honorary 3-drops like Snapcaster Mage and Hooting Mandrills in the maindeck.
The reasons for not playing the more mana-intensive cards are two-fold. First of all, my core philosophy for the deck is that it should be able to operate off of 2 lands, similar to the Burn deck’s ability to function on only 2 lands. Having only 19 lands with no filtering means that you will often have games where you never see the third land or choose to prioritize a Dryad Arbor over a third shock. Second of all, the deck is a tempo deck that usually doesn’t tap out past turn 2 or 3.
Tapping out for a 3-drop is very dangerous in Modern, as a lot of decks will be able to punish you for it by either winning on the spot or by deploying their more impactful cards. That being said, both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Kitchen Finks are very decent choices for the sideboard, I just firmly believe that cheaper, more targeted cards, can serve the same role. Disclaimer: If your meta includes a lot of B/G/X and Eldrazi Tron it is probably correct to include some number of Dismembers in the maindeck to deal with their threats.
Off to the matchups – I’ve chosen to go through the matchups you’re most likely to run into at your local FNM.
This one can be a bit rough – Affinity has a fast clock and a number of hard-to-deal-with threats. The games are very play/draw dependent, but the key to winning is to continuously apply pressure while trying to deal with their haymakers. Prioritize getting Steel Overseer off the table, as he can really ruin your day. Arcbound Ravager is not the end of the world, as keeping one mana open means your opponent has to respect your ability to interact with a Ravager target. This matchup drastically improves postboard.
Quite positive matchup – we are very fast, even for Modern standards. The Grixis player will have a very hard time punching through, as Harambe blocks exceptionally well due to the Undying creatures and Narnam Renegade. Don’t be afraid to smash a Shadow that has grown too large. Do make sure to finish the game quickly however, as their superior card quality will take over once they get rid of all the air in the deck.
One of the hardest matchups for Harambe – the game revolves around you being able to handle a Chalice of the Void for one. This is almost impossible to do game 1 and is one of the main reasons for including Ancient Grudge in the board. Apart from that, the deck is able to stall the ground quite effectively with big bodies and annoying card like Matter Reshaper.
Very positive matchup – they rely on single target removal, which Pongify effects severely punish. The only card you need to worry about is Anger of the Gods. Otherwise it’s smooth sailing.
Quite positive matchup – the combination of a fast clock and relevant disruption is just what the doctor ordered against the pure combo mages. Prioritize keeping removal up rather than counterspells.
Even matchup – we are faster, but they have a number of incredibly annoying cards like the two Thalias. Don’t get caught off guard by a Reflector Mage – keep a Pongify effect up if you can!
Positive matchup – we goldfish as fast as burn and are quickly able to outmatch their groundbeaters. The only drawback is our manabase, which means you have to fetch carefully in order to not hurt yourself. Postboard a resolved Life Goes On means game over for Burn.
Even to positive matchup – Tron games feel quite lopsided. We either win very fast leaving them with no relevant way to interact or they manage to land a haymaker in time to stem the bleeding. Wurmcoil, Ugin and Oblivion Stone are the real issues here, whereas Karn and Ulamog are usually manageable. Counterspells work wonders postboard.
Negative matchup – Our interaction lines up poorly against Titanshift meaning we are forced to race and overextend. The presence of Anger of the Gods makes life hard for the monkeys. Try to keep a hand that goldfishes turn 4.
Even matchup – our interaction is very relevant, but the deck wouldn’t be a contender if it wasn’t able to grind through a few lightning bolts. Kitchen Finks is also a very annoying card. That being said, the deck has a lot of air and Harambe will punch through eventually, given enough time.
Positive matchup – they are by far the slowest of the controlling decks and their interaction is quite expensive like Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict. Don’t overextend into a Supreme Verdict unless you’re doing it with Undying creatures, but make sure to still keep enough power on the board to be able to pressure their planeswalkers.
Negative matchup – our inability to remove Ensnaring Bridge game 1 means the preboarded games are very lopsided. Postboard we have a lot of interaction but will often have to win two sideboarded games.
Negative to even matchup – Jund and Abzan have a number of annoying cards. While Liliana of the Veil does very little against Harambe (and may even be a liability), Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze present real problems. The Scavenging Ooze needs to die on sight as it invalidates a large part of our gameplan. As for the Goyf, the stage of the game decides how the old Lhurgoyf should be handled. Experience tells me that it is usually correct to smash him and move on, taking the 2-for-1 in stride.
Hope you enjoyed the article. Take the deck for a spin at your next FNM – you might like it 😉