Immortal Gruul is a deck comprised of the most well positioned cards in the current metagame and multiple maindeck copies of The Immortal Sun to stop people going over the top of you via planeswalkers. Our threat suite has the best creatures against Teferi, Time Raveler (Legion Warboss, Gruul Spellbreaker, Paradise Druid, and Skarrgan Hellkite) combined with the best creatures against spot removal and sweepers (Growth Chamber Guardian and Rekindling Phoenix). This diverse, powerful, and well-positioned threat suite means that most decks are going to struggle to effectively answer your pressure- especially when you’re casting all these cards a turn early.
Llanowar Elves powers out these threats ahead of schedule to pressure bigger, slower decks far earlier than they are prepared to answer. Paradise Druid fills out our second playset of manadorks for several key reasons. First and foremost it will always make any color we need, and it will almost always live to see use. Incubation druid can’t always make red and is very easy to remove or undo with tef3 which is a backbreaking tempo swing that essentially removes incubation druid for the remainder of the game. The other big reason is that Paradise Druid can actually get into combat, pairing with Domri, Anarch of Bolas or Spellbreaker or Warboss to pressure the incredibly important 3 mana walkers, and forms an interesting hexproof core with Spellbreaker allowing you to deny your opponent the ability to end step removal spell to cleanly land a threat. If your opponent is clearly waiting to Tyrant’s Scorn, Mortify, or Cast Down your follow-up threat, you can curve Druid into Spellbreaker and just not attack, wasting their mana and forcing them to go into their next turn facing down 6 power with their empty board. Our final mana engine to make up for our low land count is Domri, Anarch of Bolas. Domri is an incredible tool for double spelling early and for getting in removal while deploying late. The fight mode being 0 mana removal is an incredible tempo tool to clear the battlefield and set up these two or three turn kills where your opponent simply can’t answer everything in time.
Immortal Gruul plays a low land count with a lot of additional mana sources because this deck is all about getting traction and running your opponent over with pressure. While you do have a few mana sinks, you can’t really afford to draw too many lands. The Immortal Sun is another threat to accelerate into that grows our battlefield and gives those smaller bodies relevance while also shutting off the primary source of card advantage in the format: planeswalkers. Rounding out our main deck is a playset of GCG (Growth-Chamber Guardian) and five removal spells. GCG gives us additional ways to pressure from hand, gives us resilience against sweepers, and protects us against flood. It’s also incredibly well sized once it’s a 4/4 and that sizing is a big reason why I prefer GCG to Thorn Lieutenant or Direfleet Daredevil. We are looking for pressure and traction; 4/4s help us stick on the board and allow us to swing in for sizeable chunks of damage, enabling the two-turn kills this deck relies on against decks like Command the Dreadhorde.
The removal split may look a little weird but is designed largely for game ones with a small concession to sideboard size in a single maindeck Lava Coil. Two Shocks are there largely for mana efficiency considerations (especially with Domri), and the three two-mana removal spells address opposing early threats while being dead in as few matchups as possible. The one Coil main (instead of a third Shock or Lightning Strike) allows our 75 to have four Coils, six two-mana removal spells for Wildgrowth Walker, and eight removal spells for Runaway Steam-Kin. Lightning Strike is used in the maindeck over additional coils for the flexibility to play on the opponent’s turn and the ability to target planeswalkers. The sideboard full of planeswalkers may look a little odd in an Immortal Sun deck, but the planeswalkers largely aren’t for the same matchups as the Suns.
I will go over the sideboard in more detail in the matchups section, but first I want to give credit where it’s due. FNOOP (Pete Ward) built the original 75 of Immortal Gruul that inspired me to dig so deep into this archetype, and his list is the base from which I tuned this one. The eight dorks, eight fliers, eight three-drops that rock Teferi, and maindeck Suns to combat both flood and planeswalkers just made so much sense as a core the moment I saw the list. I just worked on the deck and its game plans from there. Give Pete some love on Twitter for this awesome archetype; I may have tuned it but he pioneered it.
Why do I think this deck is so good? The deck is incredibly strong against the planeswalker decks, favored against Command the Dreadhorde archetypes, still feels favorable against Monored despite having eight mana dorks, and the one matchup we don’t really want to see (Nexus) has largely fallen off due to all these other decks that are our good matchups. The only deck worse for us than Nexus is Gates, but that deck really fell off. As long as people are trying to outbid each other in these planeswalker wars and keep playing Teferi to keep Nexus down this deck will remain well positioned. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty- the matchups and how to play them.
In: 1 The Immortal Sun, 2 Sorcerous Spyglass
Out: 2 Shock, 1 Lava Coil
This matchup largely plays the same before and after sideboarding. You ramp out threats that dominate their planeswalkers, you play around Clarion in your sequencing, and they really can’t get any traction and you just run away with the game. They can’t really beat a Sun and they have a hard time beating a Rekindling Phoenix. Even if they bounce a Phoenix you can put it right back down and they have to deal with it again or it starts abyssing their walkers or combining with haste threats to 2 turn them. If you see Ixalan’s Binding you can take out a Lightning Strike or two for Thrashing Brontodons.
In: 1 The Immortal Sun, 2 Sorcerous Spyglass
Out: 2 Shock, 1 Lava Coil
Very similar to the above but Dovin is a bit better against us and so is Kaya’s Wrath. However without Sarkhan they have very little closing speed and we can insulate against Liliana with Phoenix and mana dorks. You can similarly swap in Brontodons for Lightning Strikes if you see Binding. See the Esper Control section for more discussion on playing around Kaya’s Wrath and Oath of Kaya, the primary removal options for these decks.
4c Command the Dreadhorde
In: 3 Lava Coil, 1 The Immortal Sun, 2 Sarkhan, the Masterless
Out: 2 Shock, 4 Legion Warboss
This matchup plays a bit oddly. You can still run them over, but the real trick is making their Command really bad. Setting up 2 turn kills in the air while keeping them off Wildgrowth is the key. Nothing they can bring back besides Teferi, Time Raveler can stop your air force and bringing things back costs life. A note about Teferi in this matchup is that he can’t actually threaten anything with his plus in this deck besides Command, so feel free to just redeploy if he bounced a Phoenix or similar and ignore him until he’s relevant again. The single best card they have against you is Massacre Girl. While she’s trending down in numbers, play around her if you can. Spyglass is actually not very good here because they have Teferi, Vraska, Golgari Queen, and Thrashing Brontodon, and you want to make their plays awkward, not yours.
Sultai “Dreadhorde” Midrange
In: 3 Lava Coil, 2 Chandra, Fire Artisan, 2 Sarkhan, the Masterless, 2 Vivien Reid
Out: 2 The Immortal Sun, 4 Legion Warboss, 2 Shock, 1 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
This deck may play copies of Command the Dreadhorde but don’t let it fool you. This isn’t a planeswalkers deck. Sun doesn’t dunk them the way you want it to and Spyglass is again a liability. You simply can’t afford to draw these cards against their Hostage Taker/Hydroid Krasis hands and without your own planeswalkers you will be buried in good old mid-range value. The way to beat this is your own competing value to back up your superior pressure. Vivien, Chandra, and Sarkhan allow you to fight through Massacre Girl, Hostage Taker, and Krasis while your fliers pressure their life total and their planeswalkers to make sure they can’t profitably Command. If you’re wondering how to tell this list apart from the 4c versions the main giveaways besides the obvious white-producing lands in game 1 are non-forest basics, Krasis, and Hostage Taker, but if you see multiple pieces of spot removal that usually also means they don’t have Teferi.
In: 2 Sarkhan, the Masterless, 1 Mountain, 3 Lava Coil, 2 Thrashing Brontodon
Out: 4 Legion Warboss, 2 The Immortal Sun, 2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
This matchup is about getting online and then closing the door. You cannot play a super long game here, they will burn you out. Once you can clock back do so quickly and make sure to double check your combat math both ways for about 2 turn cycles. It’s worth a little extra time here to make sure you can attack correctly, because being a turn late on your attacks (or giving your opponent even 1 really good attack) can be incredibly punishing. Earlier on with this deck I was sideboarding out two Paradise Druid instead of the two Domri, but I’ve found both cards can be very weak to Goblin Chainwhirler and Paradise Druid allowing you to get out your RR spells a turn early with consistency is just more valuable in the matchup than dodging Chainwhirler a little bit more often. Your best angles here are 4/4s and flyers and for those you need your mana online asap.
In: 3 Lava Coil, 2 Thrashing Brontodon, 2 Sarkhan, the Masterless, 1 Mountain
Out: 4 Legion Warboss, 2 The Immortal Sun, 2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
Your goal is to just deploy as fast possible. T2 GCG is at its best here, as a stream of 4/4s will stop most of their starts. Don’t be afraid to strategically trade dorks to prevent convoked Venerated Loxodons or early Legion’s Landing flips. Gideon Blackblade is a huge beating and it is usually worth taking a big swing back to clear him out because you’ll often be stuck double chumping otherwise.
In: 2 Chandra, Fire Artisan, 2 Vivien Reid, 2 Sorcerous Spyglass, 1 Mountain
Out: 2 Shock, 2 Lightning Strike, 2 The Immortal Sun, 1 Lava Coil
Once again this is a matchup where the planeswalkers outperform Sun, especially because planeswalkers can rebuild sooner from fewer resources when they attack your hand. Chandra and Vivien drown them in cards when powered out earlier, and they each provide additional angles of attack with their ultimates. Vivien also gives us Lyra insurance alongside Domri. Try to make sure GCG can adapt where possible unless it getting removed opens the way for a Hellkite or similar haymaker. You can often clear the way by playing GCG and making them mainphase an Oath or other removal spell to clear it before you can activate, and that lets you land a Phoenix or planeswalker cleanly to get an immense amount of traction and/or pressure. Play around Kaya’s Wrath by holding Hellkite for last and keeping a copy of GCG or Warboss in hand to rebuild immediately after. Make their cards awkward, and punish their mana early.
In: 2 Chandra, Fire Artisan, 2 Vivien Reid, 2 Sarkhan, the Masterless, 2 Lava Coil
Out: 4 Legion Warboss, 2 The Immortal Sun, 2 Shock
This is the other Esper attrition matchup, but here Warboss is often blanked by all their tokens and 2/3s. Many people have asked me why I don’t keep in any shocks despite their reasonable targets, and the answer is that I simply cannot afford to have removal that doesn’t answer Hostage Taker or Deputy of Detention. Strike gets the nod over coil for the instant speed in the face of these two cards, but I don’t want too many and Domri can function as additional removal, as can Vivien. Many Esper players will bring in Moment of Craving and Cry of the Carnarium against us expecting us to leave in Warboss, but realistically we’re happy if they expend full cards dealing with mana dorks and almost everything else dodges these cards. As against the other Esper, try to make sure GCG can adapt where possible unless it getting removed opens the way for a Hellkite or similar haymaker. Speaking of Hellkite, it should often be a 5/5 here to dodge Enter the God-Eternals unless haste allows you to clear a planeswalker or set up a 2-turn lethal. This matchup is about traction and attrition. You have bigger bodies and haymakers but they have fewer bad topdecks.
In: 2 Lava Coil
Out: 2 The Immortal Sun
There’s not a lot to say here because I’ve found the best plan against them is to aggressively go after their mana dorks, and once you’ve done that the game is a really unexciting beatdown. Their cards simply cost too much mana to keep up if you deny their dorks.
Nexus of Fate
In: 2 Sorcerous Spyglass, 2 Thrashing Brontodon, 1 Vivien Reid
Out: 2 Shock, 2 Lightning Strike, 1 Lava Coil
This matchup is really bad, and I’m still messing with these plans, I’ve also experimented with leaving in the burn and taking out Phoenixes, sometimes adding Chandra as a way around Root Snare. Without the Cindervines this matchup is much harder, and part of the reason Immortal Gruul is so well positioned is because Nexus is so poorly positioned. At the moment the plan is go fast and mulligan slow hands, because their goldfish speed is faster than our slow hands.
In: 3 Lava Coil, 2 Sarkhan the Masterless, 1 Mountain
Out: 2 Immortal Sun, 2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas, 2 Lightning Strike
This matchup can be a bit volatile because your draws against each other can line up really well or really poorly, but they don’t have a whole lot of ways to deal with a bunch of 4/4s so that’s our main plan. Go big, fast. The Mountain comes in just like in other matchups where we can’t rely on our dorks surviving and value our expensive RR spells.
In: 2 Chandra, Fire Artisan, 2 Vivien Reid, 2 Skarhan, the Masterless, 1 Mountain
Out: 2 Shock, 2 Lightning Strike, 1 Lava Coil, 2 Immortal Sun
This is really a straight attrition matchup, but you have a significant edge in traction and pressure. Planeswalkers are much better into Bedevil than Immortal Sun, and Spyglass is too low impact. The game plan here is to keep 2-3 attackers in play all the time to make Nicol Bolas as bad as possible, and add extra threats as you can, playing around Ritual of soot where possible. Grixis doesn’t have a whole lot of options in any given turn, so it’s relatively easy to figure out what they have and just play both sides of the table.
In: 3 Lava Coil, 2 Sarkhan, the Masterless, 2 Vivien Reid, 1 Mountain
Out: 4 Legion Warboss, 2 Shock, 2 Immortal Sun
The final question: What do I do when other people also pick up on Gruul’s positioning in the meta? The mirror in my experience is a lot of jockeying for airspace to protect a planeswalker, and if you can get a lead in Phoenix wars then you are significantly advantaged. Domri fights and 5/5 Dragons can help pull ahead in this aspect, and as a result, Vivien is quite powerful here. Her ability to pull ahead in the air and take down opposing fliers is much stronger than what Chandra can offer, and Chandra relies on you already being advantaged on the board and is *really* bad into opposing Spellbreakers. Warboss simply gets brick walled and outscaled too fast in this matchup, and having the 8 dorks and GCG over the usual 4 dorks and Thorn Lieutenant or Zhur-Taa Goblin here is a large edge.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this second longform primer for WAR standard. These deep dives take a lot to write, but ultimately are quite enjoyable for me as well. Is this project something people would like to see continue over the remainder of the format and into the next set? Are there specific archetypes you would like primed, or would you prefer that I continue to write about whatever is best positioned? Please let me know what you’d like to see either here in the comments or on Twitter! You can also follow me on Twitch for live gameplay and discussion. Good luck, have fun, and thanks for reading!
Adam “yoman5” Hernandez is an up-and-coming pro player, recently earning an invite to MC Cleveland with a top 8 finish at GP Milwaukee. He has a strong focus on figuring out key aspects of decks, matches, and gameplay, digging past the what to figure out the why. In addition to his written content, Adam regularly streams on Twitch.