In the Margins — Explosive Vegetation
Currently, there are 24,011 decks in the EDHREC database running Explosive Vegetation and not a single one of them should have it as part of the 99.
Welcome back to In the Margins, a periodic column where I say that 24,000+ decks are doing it wrong, because if there's one thing I've learned about people on the Internet it's that they like having a stranger point out their mistakes. And if you're running Explosive Vegetation you're making a mistake.
Before I tell you how you're wrong, let's take a glance at the card in question. Explosive Vegetation first appeared way back in Onslaught and has been reprinted an additional five times since, most recently in Conspiracy: Take the Crown. For three colorless and a single green mana you can search your library for two basic land cards and put them onto the battlefield tapped.
Have you ever had the problem of running out of weed
Four mana to ramp two lands? What's wrong with that? It seems solid. Ramp is good, too. Decks need ramp. So what's the problem?
For starters, four mana is a rough spot for a ramp spell. The three most popular green commanders on EDHREC all cost four mana (Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder). The three most popular mono-green commanders all cost under four mana as well. That means, absent another ramp spell, you have to choose on turn four to cast Explosive Vegetation or your commander, and in the case of the mono-green commanders you will almost always be casting it after you can cast your commander. Ideally you want your ramp to fall underneath your commander's CMC to keep you from having to make that choice, and with a CMC of four Explosive Vegetation makes that difficult.
Second, four mana is a lot to deal with past the early portions of the game when ramping might not be important. A two-mana ramp spell you top deck on turn nine isn't ideal, but it also isn't going to suck up half your mana pool if you decide to cast it. A four-mana ramp spell, on the other hand, could easily prevent you from doing the thing you want to do that turn. Low cost ramp might not be ideal to draw then, but it doesn't actively hurt you to cast the way a four-mana spell does.
Hopefully that touches on the flaws with Explosive Vegetation. So then it becomes a question of finding alternatives that might be better. Despite what I said about the problems with four mana ramp spells, I'm still going to point out some alternatives at that CMC.
From seed to clone, and the best homegrown
It's just not solid enough given the available options. Let's take a glance at those options.
Skyshroud Claim isn't necessarily a strictly better card at the same CMC. It's not the Disallow to Explosive Vegetation's Cancel, the Coalition Relic to it's Manalith, the Wrath of God to its Day of Judgement. This is primarily because Claim only gets forests where as Veggies can get anything. It gets them untapped though, and it isn't restricted to basics. This means you can grab a Tropical Island and a Bayou, and, in addition to perfectly fixing your mana, the lands come into play untapped allowing you to use them immediately. Not running duals worth a car payment each? Claim will also fetch shocklands, giving you the option to bring one or both in untapped if you pay the life tax. Not running shocks worth the price of a pizza each? Claim will get your three-dollar battlelands that can come into play untapped if you control two or more basics. It will also get your cycling duals from Amonkhet which barring a Amulet of Vigor will always come into play tapped, and it will tutor up Dryad Arbor, Murmuring Bosk, and Sapseep Forest, though the latter seems unlikely.
I'll note Claim has only had one printing way back in Nemesis vs six for Vegetation. A card that old probably isn't sitting in a lot of binders or dollar bins. Additionally, it currently runs you about three dollars on the open market, vs about three cents for Veggies. Both those factors probably account for why it is in about 10,000 less decks. Still, three dollars is nothing for a card that is so radically better at the same casting cost, and if you're running the wrong one you should stop what you're doing and dig through the couch cushions and under the mats in your card until you find enough change to buy a Skyshould Claim.
Ranger's Path is no Skyshroud Claim, but people also seem to think it's no Explosive Vegetation as it only shows up in 3,492 decks. I'm gonna disagree with that latter assessment. Why? Well, though it's not always better it is often better, particularly in mono-green, three or more color decks, or even in allied pair two-color decks. This is because Ranger's Path will get forests with no basic caveat. Sure, they always come into play tapped, but the same is true of Claim. The real selling point here though is that there also is no word 'basic' in front of the word 'forest', meaning that like Claim you can use Path to fetch ABUR duals, shocks, battlelands and Amonkhet cyclers, plus the previously mentioned Dryad Arbor, Murmuring Bosk and Sapseep Forest. In a two-color deck with enemy pairs you don't have access to battlelands or the cyclers, so you might find yourself not able to get quite as diverse a batch of lands, but in almost all other situations short an absolute zero-cost budget deck you should be able to fetch a more expansive array of lands with Path than Veggies.
Hunting Wilds is also worth mentioning. It's strictly better than Ranger's Path in that it is the exact same card EXCEPT that it has an optional kicker that lets you turn both forests you put into play into 3/3 green creatures with haste that are still lands. Yet despite being a better Ranger's Path it is in a third less decks, and in excess of 21,000 less than Veggies.
In every situation I'd run Skyshroud Claim over Vegetation, and in most I'd run Hunting Wilds and Ranger's Path at that same CMC before it as well. That gives me at least three other spells I'd run before even considering Veggies. So let's look outside that CMC and see what other options exist.
The easiest thing to look at here is to skip down to 2 CMC. If four mana ramps you two lands into play then that's comparable to two mana ramping you one land. I know that because we covered fractions in third grade math both times I had to take it. Beyond that though not only do the two-cost ramp spells net you the equivalent mana to land advantage, but they have the additional upside of often being useable prior to casting your commander as well as taking up half as many resources late in the game.
In the hills where the trees grow wild
Nature's Lore/Three Visits are both the Skyshroud Claim at the two-drop slot. Both get a forest straight into play untapped so you can get a Savannah and use it immediately, snag a shockland or grab that Murmuring Bosk for perfect Abzan fixing. Despite this, if you combine the two together they're still in half as many decks as Explosive Vegetation. The low numbers are somewhat forgivable for Three Visits as it has only had one printing and it is currently closing in on sixty dollars. Nature's Lore, on the other hand, has had eight printings and is around a dollar. There's even less excuse for that in decks like Omanth, Locus of Mana who want to get lands out and into play able to be tapped ASAP. There's in excess of 200 Omnath decks in the EDHREC archives using Veggies over Nature's Lore, and those people should fix that ASAP.
Farseek is a little trickier to compare as you can't get a forest with it, just a plains, island, swamp or mountain. There's again no basic clause here though so you can fetch all the duals with basic land types. Unfortunately you can't get Dryad Arbor, Murmuring Bosk, or Sapseep Forest, but there are a few other cards you can fetch, many of which are surprisingly relevant: Mistveil Plains (5,852 decks), Moonring Island (660 decks), Leechridden Swamp (2,435 decks), and Madblind Mountain (848 decks).
Rampant Growth is half of Explosive Vegetation at half the cost. So why is that better? Well, it's not exactly. Except it is, for the same reason why Mind Stone is better than Hedron Archive; you can cast it underneath your commander's cost most of the time, and later on in the game if you draw it it doesn't suck up half your available mana. I suppose one can argue that Veggies netting you two lands ramped is a better use of a single card resource than netting one land, but I think the ability to do something on turn two and to have it minimally impact your ability to cast spells later in the game if you top deck it more than makes up for it. Still, it's in over 4,000 less decks, many of which are four-drop commanders that would be castable on turn three if the pilot drew Rampant Growth over Explosive Vegetation. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice is the most popular commander of all time, and a four-drop to boot, and there are 275 decks running Veggies and no Growth. Meren of Clan Nel Toth is the second most popular commander of all time and also a four-drop, and there are 109 decks running Veggies over Growth.
Cycles of weed are constantly grown
Into the North will get you any snow land into play tapped. Note the word "snow", and the lack of the word "basic". So if you want to just use this as another Rampant Growth you'd have to run a couple of snow-covered basics in your deck. Easy enough. At that point all the arguments in favor of Rampant Growth also apply here. Remember how I pointed out that you weren't restricted to basics? Well there are some non-basic snow lands, and some are pretty important in Commander. For starters there's a series of etb tapped dual lands in allied colors. I personally don't think they're worth running, but they exist, and Into the North fetches them. Beyond that though it will get Dark Depths (3,204 decks), Mouth of Ronom (918 decks), and Scrying Sheets (1,862 decks). Being able to snag that Dark Depths in a deck with Vampire Hexmage or a Thespian's Stage can be a game-winning play, and I've personally used it to fetch Mouth of Ronom in mono-green to deal with a problematic creature, and Scrying Sheets in the same deck with a Sylvan Library in play to manipulate my top deck to get a draw as a mana sink. Am I going to always run a few snow lands just to run Into the North? No, but it's worth doing in plenty of situations.
Sakura-Tribe Elder is the one creature I'm going to list here. There are plenty of Wood Elves-esque bodies that fetch a land, but it's hard to do an apples to apples comparison. Since worst case Steve is almost always a Rampant Growth it's worth mentioning. If you'd run Rampant Growth over Veggies, and I would, then you'd run Steve too. Even so, in the top three most popular mono-green decks on EDH rec there are nearly 250 running the generally worse four-drop over two-drop body.
One strange footnote here is Steve's lack of inclusion in some tribal decks. As a snake shaman I'd think he would slot into all builds of either tribe, yet there are eleven snake tribal decks running Veggies and no Elder, something especially odd given there are only 79 snakes in the entirety of magic, and nine shaman tribe decks missing him. Even stranger is the fact that Steve was included in the pre-con of Kaseto, Orochi Archmage, the premiere (if there is such a thing) snake tribal commander. That means that three players removed him from their deck and inserted Explosive Vegetation. I'm at a loss to explain that other than they're trying to hurt me, personally.
Last we'll look at the three drops. These change up the math in a way that's much more difficult to quantify. They only ramp you one land, but they can also help you hit a land drop you might have missed that turn. They also fall beneath the curve of your commander more frequently than Veggies and they feel less burdensome on your mana if you draw one late game. I'm not going to 100% say you should run these instead, but I think they're worth considering in a lot of situations
Somebody give me the razor to cut groves
Cultivate/Kodama's Reach both fetch you a basic land to play tapped, and another to hand. Both cost one less to cast, but they also ramp one less. So why run them? Well, it's hard to mathematically point to a specific reason, but for me personally they feel more consistent. Three mana is fairly reasonable to hit in an opening hand, either via land or a combination of land/rocks/dorks/etc. Three mana in an opening hand means a Cultivate or Kodama's Reach is guarenteed castable on turn 3 or even sooner, and that ramps you a land and sets up your next land drop even if you draw no other land sources. Four is much trickier to start with in an opening hand, meaning if you keep a three mana hand you need to hope to hit something on your subsequent draws. Obviously the colors your play make a difference here. Being able to Brainstorm or Ponder down if you have blue, or draw down with Night's Whisper or Sign in Blood in black or Tormenting Voice in red might make it easier to find that fourth source, but in Selesnya for example there just aren't many options to get you there.
Nissa's Pilgrimage gets basic forests, one to hand and one to play tapped, but you have the option to get a third if you meet the requirements for spell mastery. The fact that you have to get forest, and basics at that is a hinderance in decks of three more colors, and it's not great in two-color decks, either. In mono-green though, you're just getting forests no matter what you do, and Nissa's Pilgrimage gives you the option to put two of them into your hand in addition to the one into play. That's pretty solid upside, especially in a deck like Azusa, Lost But Seeking who is a pair of Explorations from the command zone. Even so, we have 64 Azusa decks in the database running Veggies and not Pilgrimage, and 120 Mina and Denn, Wildborn decks doing the same.
Far Wanderings lets you ramp a single basic for three mana. That's not great. It's the threshold that make it interesting; if you have seven or more cards in your graveyard you can ramp three basic lands for three mana. That's outstanding. And what do you know, green in conjunction with black has a handfull of commanders very interested in putting their own cards in the graveyard. The previously mentioned Meren of Clan Nel Toth, as well as Karador, Ghost Chieftain, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Tasigur, the Golden Fang are all notorious graveyard-matters commanders, as is the upcoming Muldrotha, the Gravetide.
Primal Growth lets you ramp a basic untapped for three mana. However, if you pay the kicker cost of sacrificing a creature you get to tutor up two basics untapped. That's pretty great, and it's even greater if you're running a deck that actively wants to put bodies into the yard, or a deck that makes an extraneous amount of tokens. I'm not running Primal Growth in every deck, but it's absolutely getting slotted in over Explosive Vegetation in something like Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper. We've got 52 Sek'Kuar pilots who don't agree with me however.
Growing my crops with the rays of the sun
If you’re still running Explosive Vegetation odds are one of these options will work a little better for you, and over time a bunch of little betters adds up to a lot better. There's just too many options above to keep running Veggies, and that's just the non-rocks, non-enchantments and non-dork ramp options. Between those and the cards listed above, as well as the downsides of four-mana ramp, I'm really struggling to find a reason Explosive Vegetation should have a home in your list. If you've got an argument for it though I'd love to hear it. Leave a comment below and make your case, or just leave a compliment about my piercing blue eyes and prose reminiscent of a younger, more virile Hemingway.
Until next time, I'm Dana and I'll see you In the Margins.