CASUAL FRIDAYS #137: Alpha Males

Lots of stuff I want to talk about this week – some new decks, how Magic players act, my dog, how writers write, my various neuroses – and it all comes back to the Alpha Kavu. Or maybe another card.

To start this week, a quick review of the Alpha Kavu card:

Alpha Kavu


2/2 Creature – Kavu

1G: Target Kavu gets -1/+1 until end of turn.

Lots of stuff I want to talk about this week – some new decks, how Magic players act, my dog, how writers write, my various neuroses – and it all comes back to the Alpha Kavu. Or maybe another card. I dunno. We’ll see at the end where we wrap up.

The first thing I noticed after I spent the first few months with my dog Turquoise is how much of a pack animal humans really are. Hierarchy helps us as much as it helps wolves and their distant relations. Every time we gather, there is a jostle for position. Sometimes the jostle is subtle and perfectly civilized, and even necessary; sometimes less so. (It often depends on how many men are in the room, how many women are in the room, and why the men think the women are there.)

Take, for example, a gathering of Magic players. The trashtalk, the posturing, even the joking – are all ways of establishing a role in the pack. The higher that role, the better. Due to thousands of years of fairly progressive civilization, it’s not really about”getting the woman” for most of us anymore – no one’s anteing up their girlfriend or wife before a round of chaos. But we are certainly vying for roles of leadership and respect. (Just in case that ante idea catches on, perhaps.)

Lest I be accused of hypocrisy. My own multiplayer philosophy – put out strong cards, back them up with stronger threats – reeks of testosterone. I’m gunning for Alpha Male, every card I play. I don’t try to hide that. (Of course, I am pleased to say that every other member of our playgroup is a civilized gentleman who would never stoop to my level.) Whether I win or not is not the only test – though it’s certainly one of them. I’m hoping for impact on the game, for the chance to get my friends to laugh at my jokes, and for the chance to take whatever happens and write about it later in an entertaining way.

It’s all about adding value. I want to see visible evidence that I’m adding value to the game, and to the evening’s entertainment. That’s my howl at the moon, I guess.

Speaking of adding value: Does this deck do anything for anyone out there?


4x Diligent Farmhand

4x Wall of Blossoms

2x Thalakos Seer

4x Wormfang Drake

2x Mystic Snake

4x Masticore

2x Gurzigost

4x Muscle Burst

4x Aether Burst

4x Accumulated Knowledge

2x Spelljack

24x land in green and blue

My first thought here was to give Masticores strong support through cards that got better when in the graveyard. Then the Farmhands came on the heels of the Muscle Bursts, which made at least one other color mandatory. I chose blue, since Accumulated Knowledge best offset the Masticore’s drawback.

Then, for some reason, Gurzigost showed up, accompanied by Wormfang Drake. I think this is what I was thinking (I’m not sure, since I was busy trying to get the dog off of my cards while I was building the deck on the living room floor): The Gurzigost will get the creature cards back into my library, and also provide an eternal solution against mill that would look really funky if you were ever getting toward the bottom of your library and moved around those Accumulated Knowledges. And hey, with the Farmhands thinning your deck, you could eventually remove all lands from your library, and just have a bunch of Accumulated Knowledges and various Bursts cycling through your library and graveyard. Maybe.

Yes, somewhere, some part of my mind told me that drawing more cards would help me defend against milling. And I still think it works, somewhere in there, but I’m not nearly as interested as I used to be in figuring out exactly how.

I still have to come up with an excuse for Wormfang Drake, don’t I? That was because of Mystic Snake, if I remember – I liked the idea of playing the Snake, then the Drake (removing the Snake), then using Aether Burst (removing the Drake, revealing the Snake) as a funky way to counter a spell. That’s kinda it.

Despite the rather startling lack of real thought going into the deck, it did okay in its first team game, putting up enough blockers so that my teammate Carl could do all the real work, and get all the glory.

See? I can be a Beta. Sometimes, you just gotta keep your tail down for the good of the pack.

Let’s go back to that Alpha Kavu (which is another card that wouldn’t look right in that deck above). Its main ability is to lower the offense of another animal (kavu), and raise the defense.

Disarm, and put on the defensive. Alphas do it all the time. And Magic players do it constantly, all over the Internet.

As much as I need to check some magicthegathering.com and other sites’ message boards so that I can keep track of what a portion of my audience wants and needs, I am finding myself less and less enchanted with this particular Internet innovation. When looking through any message board on any Magic site, I could learn as much (and have more fun) watching the Discovery channel when they show juvenile predators marking territory:

“First post!” = “I peed here first!”

“Second post!” = “I peed here next!”

“An incomprehensible ramble using horrific grammar, pretentious tone, and way too many words to express a fairly simple idea.” = “By sheer volume and odor of urine, I hope to dissuade any further peeing at this location.”

“A rejoinder that copiously excerpts the last post.” = “Ha ha, didn’t work. We all still pee here.”

And so on. I can literally feel the minutes of my life getting sucked away as I read more of these. Like I said – if it wasn’t necessary to do my job well, I wouldn’t do it all. It’s really, really hard to find an intelligent, sustained discussion on a Magic topic out there. If it weren’t for my reader emails (which, bless you all, are oases of poise and intelligence), I’d give up looking entirely.

There are exceptions, of course – that’s what’s so frustrating, since if there weren’t any gems out there, I could stop digging and go build more decks, or train my dog to exchange the two Lord of the Rings DVDs in the player so that I could switch from the special features to the movie without getting up. The conversations about possible Onslaught cards (by the way, don’t ask) can be fun when they’re focused on why they might be real or not; and the more reasonable comments about issues like Birds vs. Elves and Type I revitalization are valuable for what they say about us as players and fans of a great game.

But mostly, it’s just peeing.

So all this is leading up to an appeal: For the sake of writers like me, who try hard to sift through discussions and find topics of interest to readers, could the vast majority of you, y’know, lower your tails from time to time? Use fewer words and less rhetoric to make your point. You’ll sound more mature, more people will read and remember you stuff, and you may even get the attention of Wizards with your uncanny ability to impart amazing wisdom in a few, precious words. Maybe you’ll even get a girl to email you and tell you how cool she thinks you are. (Unlikely, but I’ll dangle all the carrots I can.) Thanks.

In the spirit of my plea, I’ll cut the rant short now and offer a deck more in tune with that Alpha philosophy I was talking about earlier:


4x Nantuko Shade

4x Dauthi Slayer

4x Hypnotic Specter

2x Vampire Hounds

4x Shambling Swarm

2x Glory

2x Bloodsucking Stalker

4x Dark Ritual

4x Hypochondria

4x Vindicate

2x Miraculous Recovery

24x black and/or white mana-lands

What I wanted to create here was a sustainable black rush army with occasional white protection. I hope it will be a showcase for just how good Glory and Hypochondria can get in group – protecting fragile black creatures, giving them favorable combat matchups, and pushing them through for the win. Hypochondria also happens to buy you time against the occasional pro-black creature, and diverts the simpler burn spells.

The deck has many rares (and would have more, if I wasn’t using Sarcomancy elsewhere), but the only ones you truly need are Glory and Vindicate. You could replace the Shades, Specters, Swarms, and Stalkers with stuff like more Vampiric Hounds, black pump knights, Erg Raiders, Sanguine Guard, Knight of Dusk, Phyrexian Ghoul, Crypt Creeper, Hidden Horror, Phyrexian Rager, Flesh Reaver, Gravedigger, and even older edition Sengir Vampires.

The Shambling Swarms are tricky because with no other creatures on the board, you must target your own troops if they die. This is why the deck does not feature Terror or Swords to Plowshares. Of course, if Glory can give your army protection from black, you’re okay. Then again, if Glory was available, how did your Swarm die in the first place?

The Vampiric Hounds are nice because of their instant discard capability. (They would look pretty terrific in a green-black deck that took full advantage of madness cards like Basking Rootwalla and Arrogant Wurm.) In the midst of combat, you can drop Glory into your graveyard and (for 2W) give your now-larger dogs and the rest of your creatures protection from the color of your choice.

Hmmm, Vampiric Hounds. Pack of dogs. Feels like a wrap to the article.


Anthony Alongi

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