Commander Showdown — Titania vs The Gitrog Monster
Let Me Tell You a Story
I dropped a Rampaging Baloths and began to recreate the army, but the board was again wiped.
Undeterred, I changed tactics. I plopped out a Centaur Vinecrasher, then attempted to cast a Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord to sacrifice the Centaur and drain life from my opponents. In response, the Centaur was destroyed, and my graveyard was exiled the next turn.
By this time, my graveyard had begun to shape up again, so I began churning out tokens with a Worm Harvest. I managed to take down one opponent with these tokens, but the other two immediately set out a handful of pillowfort enchantments like Sphere of Safety to impede my swarm.
Finally, sick of all this, I cast Exsanguinate for 20+, because Gitrog, as a land-based deck, incidentally gets you tons and tons of mana.
The Gitrog Monster is one of the slipperiest commanders I've ever played, with many paths to victory. Its predecessor, Titania, Protector of Argoth is a fine inclusion in any Gitrog Monster deck, but also stands as a unique and enticing commander in her own right. Titania offers a unique and wild strategy, one that requires you to hover on a razor's edge and take big risks to produce an enormous amount of power.
These are easily two of my favorite commanders of all time, and since they have a handful of new goodies from Hour of Devastation, I think it's about time we gave them a proper Commander Showdown--Titania, Protector of Argoth vs The Gitrog Monster!
These commanders are admittedly quite dissimilar. One is mono-green, the other is Golgari (green-black). One produces tokens, while the other draws cards. Still, there's one thing they both have in common, a thing that separates them from all other commanders in the game: they like watching your lands die.
Whenever Titania, Protector of Argoth witnesses an act of deforestation, she summons a 5/3 green Elemental token to fight alongside you. To get the ball rolling, she also Restores a dead land from your graveyard when she enters the battlefield. This makes her one of, if not the only, mono-colored commander decks that plays fetchlands like Evolving Wilds and Windswept Heath.
Meanwhile, The Gitrog Monster boasts an enormous 6/6 deathtouching body and demands a tribute of one land during each of your upkeeps. In exchange, it lets you play an additional land per turn and, better yet, draws you a card whenever one or more lands hit your graveyard from anywhere. Whether a land is discarded from your hand or milled from your library, Gitrog will still draw you a card for it. Keep in mind, however, that milling six lands from your library will only draw you one card, per Gitrog's wording.
Drawing cards and making tokens are two very different payoffs for dead lands, but the core gameplan is the same for both commanders: tilling that soil. Both Titania and Gitrog like to sow their seeds, grow their fields, and rotate their crops in and out of play constantly. When their land-death triggers are combined with landfall abilities, such as the famous Avenger of Zendikar or the wild Rampaging Baloths, nature's wrath quickly takes root on the battlefield.
Alright, enough theory. Let's look at some data.
The Venn Diagram
A quick way to get to know our commanders a little better is by examining their Top and Signature Cards here on EDHREC. I've put together a Venn Daigram to look through these main cards and see which cards Titania and Gitrog have in common. Here are the results:
Okay, stop. There's something wrong with this list. Something huge. Ramunap Excavator shows up in Gitrog's column, not in the “Both” column. Not to sound too much like Lemongrab from Adventure Time, but this is unacceptable.
Ramunap Excavator is the most beautiful and glorious card in the entire set of Hour of Devastation. Am I biased because I love graveyards and lands more than anything else in Magic: the Gathering? Yes. Will I let that stop me from heaping praise upon this card? Absolutely not. Crucible of Worlds can finally be tutored up with a Green Sun's Zenith and I'm ecstatic about it. Ramunap Excavator provides players who don't have $70 to spend on an artifact from Fifth Dawn an excellent budget replacement. This is a "Magus of the Crucible," and it's absolute perfection.
Yet despite its delicious ability and 3,000,000% synergy with Titania, it's not in her Top Cards. In fact, at time of writing, it doesn't show up on her EDHREC page at all. What's that about?
The answer is, frankly, that Titania's a little old. EDHREC pulls decklists from lots of different websites, but most Titania decks were built three years ago, when she was released in Commander 2014. If those decklists haven't been updated to include Ramunap Excavator, it won't show up on her EDHREC page. Make no mistake, the Excavator belongs in her 99. It just might take a while before players get around to updating their lists online.
Alright, I'm done with my tangent about a single card. What about the other forty-three cards in the Venn Diagram?
To start, I should actually point out that this Venn Diagram is a little deceptive. Many of the cards in each commander's individual column are actually very popular in the other's deck as well. For example, Burgeoning and Sylvan Scrying show up in Gitrog's column, but not Titania's, even though they show up in 49% and 48% of Titania decks, respectively. Similarly, Titania's Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds are obvious includes for a Gitrog deck, they just show up as more unique and prominent on Titania's page because she's mono-colored. Zuran Orb is another example, only in Titania's column but at 45% popularity for Gitrog. Many of the cards in these columns should actually be in the “Both” category, but they just barely missed the cut.
There are some interesting goodies, though. Gitrog's column is full of black cards Titania can't touch, but there are several green cards in that column too, cards she could run, but doesn't. One of them is Hour of Promise, but we can probably discount that card for the same reasons as Ramunap Excavator. It's a great way to ramp and search for nonbasic lands, which Gitrog surely uses to find a Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combo. Hour of Promise may not find that kind of combo for Titania, but finding nonbasics is a powerful ability, so Titania probably still wants to play it, and in enough time, I think Titania lists online will update to include it in the 99.
Centaur Vinecrasher is the most intriguing omission from Titania's column. It's a green card that cares about lands in graveyards—it fits the bill perfectly, right? Yet it only sees play in 17% of Titania decks. This is a pretty strong signal about the nature (heh) of Titania's playstyle; she doesn't want one giant creature, even if it can keep coming back. She's singularly committed to creating an army that goes wide, not tall.
In fact, for further proof of this, we should take a look at her average decklist. Obviously it won't be completely accurate because it will lack the wonderful and magnificent perfection known as Ramunap Excavator, but let's take a look anyway. If you like, you can mentally replace your least favorite card in her average decklist with our Excavator friend.
Average Titania Deck
Parallel Lives? Craterhoof Behemoth? Oh yeah, this is an all-in token deck for sure. It's even more all-in than most all-in decks, because you have to eviscerate your own mana base to do it. However, the real takeaway from this decklist is its speed. Now, Titania isn't a turn-three-win deck. That's not what I mean by ‘speed'. I'm referring to her ability to produce an insane number of creature tokens in the blink of an eye. Her surprise factor. After several turns of ramping and ramping with spells like Skyshroud Claim and Boundless Realms, Titania could easily have fifteen lands on the battlefield while other players only have six. Then, in a single turn, she can hit the battlefield with a Scapeshift and a Sylvan Safekeeper, and BAM! Thirty tokens. Drop a Concordant Crossroads and it's all over for your opponents. Most token decks, like Rhys the Redeemed, have to build up their forces over time. That's certainly something Titania can do as well, but she can also create an entire army out of thin air, giving her the explosive element of surprise.
All Hail the Hypno-Toad
Alright, we've neglected our frog friend for far too long, and he demands tribute in the form of deck analysis. Looking back at the Venn Diagram, we see a lot of cycling lands (Ash Barrens, Tranquil Thicket, etc.) in the frog's column that don't show up for Titania. Titania doesn't play cycling lands, not even in her average decklist. This fact again reinforces the observation about her speedy style; she doesn't want to revive a measly tapped land from the graveyard, she wants to revive a fetchland, and start making tokens right away! For the Gitrog, however, cycling lands are solid gold, because each discarded land draws you two cards, not one. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of those new deserts like Desert of the Glorified show up in future Gitrog lists.
As we saw in the Venn Diagram, Titania does have some Top and Signature Cards that The Gitrog Monster isn't as interested in, such as Scapeshift. No matter how many lands you sacrifice, you'd still only draw one card. There's a theme in her column that doesn't appear in Gitrog's, though, one that I find especially curious: Reclamation Sage, Terastodon, Beast Within, Acidic Slime, and Song of the Dryads. These are great removal spells, but they don't rank very high on Gitrog's page. In fact, if we look at Gitrog's average decklist, only two of these five removal spells show up: Beast Within and Acidic Slime.
Average Gitrog Deck
I have a few theories about this. First, since Titania is mono-green, she loses access to certain forms of removal spells, which makes the removal she can play much more important. Gitrog has two colors, giving it access not only to artifact and enchantment destruction, but creature destruction as well. Since Gitrog has more versatile removal, it can exchange a Reclamation Sage slot in the 99 for an instant like Putrefy. This seems to be the only creature removal spell in Gitrog's average deck, though, so that can't be the only explanation.
The second theory is that Titania is confined to a single win condition: combat. Most decks are, frankly, but especially token decks. A single Ghostly Prison can absolutely ruin her chances of victory, particularly if she's sacrificed all of her lands. This puts enchantment removal at a premium in her deck. Gitrog, however, is less constrained. As I mentioned at the start of this article, Gitrog is capable of winning without combat damage.
For example, Gitrog is a great combo engine, particularly by abusing Skirge Familiar. Repeatedly discarding and dredging a card like Dakmor Salvage to the Skirge's ability nets draws you a ton of cards and puts nearly your entire library in your graveyard. From there, some players turn to a Necrotic Ooze combo (which anyone who's encountered a Hermit Druid deck will know all too well.) Others prefer to use a card that will reshuffle their graveyard into their library, such as Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. Since Skirge Familiar gives you mana for each card you discard, and Kozilek resets your library, you can endlessly loop through your deck to create infinite mana, then dump it all into a huge Torment of Hailfire to close out the game.
If combo isn't your style, there are still lots of other paths to victory. Repeatedly sacrificing Centaur Vinecrasher to Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord's ability is one such path. Ob Nixilis, the Fallen is another way to avoid combat entirely and force your opponents to lose life instead.
The point is, Gitrog is less worried about removal spells because it has a more variable playstyle, giving it some wiggle room. Titania, on the other hand, needs to make sure the coast is absolutely clear before she pulls the trigger on her strategy. If you like the versatility Gitrog can offer, then this adult-sized Chub Toad is probably a good way to go. If you like a little bit of risk and can never have enough tokens, Titania's your gal.
Cards to Consider
Alright, before we wrap up, I just want to touch on a few cards that aren't very popular for these commanders, but should definitely see more play.
- Natural Affinity. I can see why players won't always run this card. Titania likes to be proactive, not reactive. Natural Affinity is too good to pass up, though. If an opponent attempts to wrath the board, this plucky little instant will take everyone's lands down with them. After the dust has settled, you'll be left with a heap of Elementals on an empty board, and your opponents won't have any mana left to stop you.
- Triumph of the Hordes. There's no better spell to end the game with an army. Instead of requiring eight Elementals to take out an opponent, you now only need two. Some folks don't like infect, but you're taking enormous risks in this deck by sacrificing your own resources, so I'd say you deserve a gross card or two.
- Kavu Lair. This card helps your opponents, but barely. It's unlikely that they'll be creating as many large creatures as you.
- Glacial Chasm. You should never forget about the lands, especially in decks dedicated to land shenanigans. To that end, you should absolutely play Glacial Chasm. Sacrificing a land when it enters the battlefield is a bonus for you, not a drawback. Even better, it keeps everyone off your back while you prepare your strategy. The Chasm even prevents noncombat damage, which can save your life against direct-damage dealers like Mizzix of the Izmagnus. Plus, if the cumulative upkeep ever becomes too much to pay, you can just ditch the land and revive it with your commander's enter-the-battlefield ability, resetting the age counters.
- Natural Balance. This one's swingy, but I enjoy it. This card resets everyone's land count to five, kind of like a green, land-centric version of Balance. Late in the game, this can take out a lot of your opponents' resources, hampering their ability to disrupt your strategy. Better yet, if you float some mana and sacrifice all of your lands before you cast this spell, it can actually go and fetch you lands, putting you back up from zero to five. They even enter the battlefield untapped!
The Gitrog Monster
- Psychosis Crawler. I don't know about you, but my Gitrog deck draws a lot of cards. This can be another win condition if you're able to keep it alive.
- Horn of Greed should definitely see more play than just 27% of Gitrog decks. Don't be too afraid of symmetrical effects. I promise no one else will play as many lands as you.
- Alhammarret's Archive. Did I mention how many cards Gitrog likes to draw?
- Petrified Field is excellent insurance. If someone takes out your Cabal Coffers, this is a great way to get it right back, and draw a card in the process.
- Stone-Seeder Hierophant. This is a budget version of Lotus Cobra and it's arguably even more powerful. Untapping Cabal Coffers over and over is definitely the dream, but even untapping Temple of the False God a few times is a huge mana boost.
One Last Thing...
Hour of Devastation gave both of these commanders some great new toys, and I hope online lists get updated soon so those cards can be represented properly here on EDHREC. I actually preordered five Ramunap Excavators even though I only have two decks that want to run it. That's just how enamored with this card I am. Was this entire article just a ruse so I could discuss my new favorite card? Maybe. Still, I hope you got something out of it.
In many Commander Showdowns, it's often the case that one commander can play the other in their 99. This is true for Titania, Protector of Argoth, who slots perfectly into a Gitrog deck. Plus, with Gitrog's 1,000+ decks to Titania's 372, it's pretty clear that there's a more popular choice out there. It would be reductive, however, to simply state that Titania goes into a Gitrog deck, case closed. She has her own strategy, and her own strengths. Powerhouse cards like Scapeshift are better for her than Gitrog, for example. In fact, she's even capable of combos The Gitrog Monster can't access, and as a reward for those of you who read through the entire article, I think I'll mention one here in the closing paragraphs.
That's right, it's a Food Chain combo, and it's pretty sick. With Titania on the battlefield, sacrifice Command Beacon and hold priority. Don't let the ability resolve just yet! Titania will see a land hit the graveyard and grant you a 5/3 Elemental. Then you'll want to exile her to your Food Chain, netting you six mana and putting her back in the Command Zone. Now you can let the Command Beacon ability resolve, putting Titania back into your hand. Cast her again with the mana from Food Chain, and return Command Beacon to the battlefield. Voila! Lather, rinse, repeat, and you've got yourself infinite Elementals and infinite mana. Gitrog has a lot of combos, but that's one it certainly can't pull off.
As is always the case, you should play to your passions. If you like tokens, protect Argoth. If you like drawing cards, run out that Gitrog. I'm not here to tell you that one commander is better than the other. I'm here to show you how their strategies differ and how awesome they both are. Play what you prefer. There are no wrong choices here.
Well, I suppose there's one wrong choice: not playing Ramunap Excavator. It's just so beautiful.
Alright, that'll do it for this week. Which commander would you prefer to play? Which commanders would you like to see in a Commander Showdown in the future? Let me know!
Till next time!