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Constrictor FAQ and Matchup Guide

I've always liked G/B Snake because of its efficient threats and the color combination's strong sideboard options, but until Dominaria it had two major issues that kept it at the edge of Tier 1. First, it had a soft Turn 1, often ending up with wasted mana. Second, it wasn't threat dense enough, or the threats didn't replace themselves well enough, so that if your synergy was ever disrupted, even at a 1 to 1 rate, you'd often be left with a board of garbage or flood out. Adventurous Impulse, Llanowar Elves, Jadelight Ranger, and Ravenous Chupacabra have all complemented the strategy beautifully, and the deck has become stronger and more aggressive while losing little of its original synergy. This build has been successful for me so far.

Decklist

4 Adventurous Impulse
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Walking Ballista
4 Winding Constrictor
4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
2 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Jadelight Ranger
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
4 Ravenous Chupacabra
4 Verdurous Gearhulk
4 Aether Hub
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Blooming Marsh
7 Forest
3 Swamp

1 Aethersphere Harvester
3 Duress
2 Fatal Push
3 Lifecrafter's Bestiary
2 Nissa, Vital Force
2 Shapers' Sanctuary
2 Vraska, Relic Seeker

FAQ:

4 Chupacabras seems like a lot. Also, wouldn't Vraska's Contempt be good to kill Teferi, Scarab God, Pheonix, and Hazoret?

The most distinctive feature of this build is its exchanging the versatility of Vraska's Contempt for the additional value and efficiency of maximum Chupacabras and other creatures. I've tried to streamline the deck, maximizing aggressive potential at the same time as increasing threat density. The result is a core engine that's fundamentally very strong: despite having ample mana sources and ways to engage opposing creature decks, you almost always curve out well and have plenty of gas. This is at the expense of being able to answer a greater range of threats. Not having Contempt expands an entire avenue that it's easy to lose along – running into an incontestable problem permanent.  

So far I've found this trade off to be worth it. First, the most dangerous of these threats are currently underplayed. Second, it's easier than you'd expect to go around or over these threats - they're only really dangerous when the opponent is already far ahead, which isn't so easy when your deck is so good at gaining and keeping the initiative. Third, this configuration maximizes the utility of your Adventurous Impulses. Fourth, your deck is must better in the situations when you're not up against one of these specific threats, which remains a huge percentage of decks and board states.

Is Jadelight Ranger better than Thrashing Brontodon?

Jadelight Ranger has a lot going for it. The filtering ability is especially valuable in a deck that alternately wants to get to 5 mana on time or to keep finding synergy cards; its stats are up to par for an aggressive curve; and it's another card that receives a Winding Constrictor bonus. The advantages of Brontodon are that it gives some additional maneuverability vs U/W game 1, being able to kill a Search for Azcanta or Seal Away in response to a Settle the Wreckage; it has 4 toughness vs Red decks; and it has splash utility against otherwise dangerous fringe decks such as God Pharaoh's Gift.

Keeping with this build's priority on fundamentals, I favor Jadelight Ranger for its effective card advantage gains and for its additional point of power.

Actually, I'll speak more strongly. I think Jadelight is much better, because its ability is not just a perk, it's a lifesaver when you need it most - when you need to hit your land drops or to hit spells.

Is Llanowar Elves necessary given the popularity of Chainwhirler?

The argument here is that Llanowar Elves is too much of a liability – a sort of automatic mulligan – against a 4-of in the most popular deck in the field, and the deck's 2-drops are better than its 3-drops anyway. Is it possible to construct the deck such that Llanowar Elves are replaced with more valuable threats instead? I'd say no. Elves is too far above the curve in terms of accelerating you to an advantage that can quickly be consolidated. This deck has plenty to do with its mana, and having 4 mana on turn 3 is especially valuable to drop two threats at once. And even against Chainwhirler decks, you'll get value out of the Elf before it dies, especially if you're on the play.

Is Adventurous Impulse really that good?

Yes, this card is fantastic. Not only does it pivot between being a land and a creature depending on your hand, it also intensifies the deck's synergy by acting as a 5th Constrictor, Ballista, Siphoner, etc.

No Ifnir Deadlands?

Damage is very significant against the biggest matchup; you depend on basic lands to have your Woodland Cemetaries enter the battlefield untapped; and, post-Impulse, the deck floods less than previous versions. This isn't worth it.

Is it acceptable, when resolving Ravenous Chupacabra, to use the card as a spatula to 'flip' the opponent's creature directly into the graveyard?

No this is considered to be unsportsmanlike.

Matchup Guide:

R(x):

I win this matchup much more often than I lose, but it's an interesting advantaged matchup insofar as it involves many very close games, and also many games where you'll just get rolled. I think the reason you edge out so many close games is because of how well this deck functions as an aggro deck in its own right, how quickly Gearhulk can turn corners especially with a Ballista or Harvester, and how poorly the current builds of Red are at closing out games.

The biggest vulnerability in game one is, of course, Chainwhirler, which hits 8-12 of your creatures if you count Ballistas, not to mention weak Branchwalkers. There's also the unfortunate interaction between Soul-Scar Mage and Winding Constrictor. It's not as bad as it sounds. There's a lot you can do to minimize the effectiveness of the first Chainwhirler – which should always be on your mind – with smart sequencing and calculated risks.

Remember to be Glorybringer-conscious with your Gearhulks, and to be judicious about when you put Harvester at risk, gauging whether you're up against an Abrade, a Disintegration, or Soul-Scar fueled counters.

-4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
-1 Jadelight Ranger
+2 Fatal Push
+1 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Shapers' Sanctuary

After board, the liability eases up. I actually find the biggest pain to be Soul-Scar Mage, always threatening a board wipe, and not Glorybringer or Pheonix, so the Fatal Pushes are a great mana-efficient add. Glorybringer and Pheonix are only really problematic in multiples or succession. I find that Glorybringer and Chandra, as well, are overrated in terms of their effectiveness in this matchup; without an overwhelming start, they generally just play out like expensive removal spells.

U/W:

The creatureless build has become standard. It's not a great matchup Game 1. You don't have enough maneuverability – you're pretty much just playing guys and doing your best to push through a Wrath or two before things get too far gone. Still, it's competitive, and the decisions you make against potential Settles and Fumigates matter a great deal. Keep forcing them to have mass removal while minimizing exposure, paying particular attention to clues that reveal what they have, since this will allow you to safely extend. For example, if they're actively removing or countering your creatures, it's likely they don't have Fumigate.

-1 Swamp
-1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
-2 Aethersphere Harvester
-2 Verdurous Gearhulk
-4 Ravenous Chupacabra
+3 Lifecrafter's Bestiary
+3 Duress
+2 Vraska, Relic Seeker
+2 Nissa, Vital Force

Post-sideboard is much better. Duress is incredible in this matchup because their cards, while powerful, are narrow, and can be played around if they're known. It's also a way to ruin their Settle plans before you attack. Be sure to play it with purpose, not just because you have the mana. Vraska is a very important addition to the SB here because it allows you to board out Chupacabra without having to depend on Ballista alone to avoid getting blown out by a few sideboarded creatures. I'd expect any competent U/W player to bring in a few creatures after SB, less with the expectation of surprising you and more to capitalize on your having to make room for anti-Control cards.

G/B:

-2 Merfolk Branchwalker
-2 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Fatal Push
+2 Shapers' Sanctuary

This matchup isn't grindy. The player whose synergy gets off the ground tends to just stomp the other. For that reason, typical mirror match “go bigger” strategies don't really apply, and I don't think Bestiary is fast enough. I'd play more Fatal Pushes if I had them, but Shapers' is still better than the more irrelevant bodies.

G(x):

This is a strong matchup. They can't disrupt your synergy and Chupacabra is a big headache. Stay conscious of keeping them off of Ghalta.

-2 Aethersphere Harvester
-2 Merfolk Branchwalker
+2 Fatal Push
+2 Vraska, Relic Seeker

U/B:

Most people assume this is a bad matchup but it usually plays out fine. I prefer it to U/W game 1 because you don't need to worry about overextending except for potential Torrential Gearhulks. Our big vulnerability is the lack of a clean answer to Scarab God. This means that you can easily lose to removal, removal, removal, Scarab God. A Scarab God onto a messy board isn't so bad; besides bouncing it with Chupacabra, you can fly over, use Gearhulk to make blocks hard, or finish it off with a bigger Ballista.

-2 Merfolk Branchwalker
-1 Verdurous Gearhulk
-2 Aethersphere Harvester
+3 Lifecrafter's Bestiary
+2 Vraska, Relic Seeker

Vraskas are important here as additional ways to bounce Scarab God.

B(x):

This is a tough matchup game one, and a strong matchup post-sideboard. Bestiary and Sanctuary are nightmares for them.

-1 Aether Hub
-2 Merfolk Branchwalker
-2 Aethersphere Harvester
-2 Verdurous Gearhulk
+3 Lifecrafter's Bestiary
+2 Shapers' Sanctuary
+2 Vraska, Relic Seeker