Casual Fridays #53: The Birds and the Bees…And the Beats

Green is group Magic’s version of campaign finance reform. Everybody who plays has to love it. It’s required. If you go into any local shop, approach the five guys sitting around a table playing casually and shout, "Green mages lick toes!", chances are you will have a situation on your hands. You don’t have to…

Green is group Magic’s version of campaign finance reform. Everybody who plays has to love it. It’s required. If you go into any local shop, approach the five guys sitting around a table playing casually and shout, "Green mages lick Mossdog toes!", chances are you will have a situation on your hands. You don’t have to have green in every deck, of course. But if you never, ever build green decks, or only splash green once in a blue moon just to get a little Hurricane or Tranquility… Well, that’s like bursting into a Buddhist temple and robbing the monks to feed your political campaign, or like chatting by the fireside over cigars with the local oil men over which species of bird you want to take out next. It’s unAmerican.

How did this happen? How did we get to this point of intolerance over unacceptance of a color? Are the creatures THAT tasty in green? Are squirrel tokens THAT cute? Did you-know-who make THAT much of a mark with Secret Force and the PTQ saga? (If green is Magic’s campaign finance reform, would that make him John McCain?)

Who knows? Who cares? Green mages don’t analyze trends. They don’t seek answers. To paraphrase David Price, they present threats. Let your opponent worry about the answers.

Aggression does come relatively naturally to green, partly because the creatures tend to be better (casting cost being equal) than other colors, and partly because with very little creature removal, there is often no choice for the green mage but to put out fatter stuff and hit harder.

So what happens in multiplayer, when Mr. Green tries to kill Ms. White in the Gaea’s Cradle with a beating stick? Ms. Peacock, Professor Plum, and Colonel Mustard all take their shots at the tapped-out Mr. Green, of course. No good.

This is no surprise to most of you. What I hope to do here is provide a mono-green (and ONE artifact!… okay, two, but the second is just for fun) deck that blends control and aggression for a fun multiplayer experience. I call it the Birds and the Bees.

The roots of this deck, from my perspective, lie in part with a green-artifact control deck that Pete built a year or so ago. I described it in an early (that is, Dojo) Casual Fridays-it used Bullwhip, Caltrops, and Watchdog in conjunction with large, green creatures (esp. pro-artifact creatures like Yavimaya Scion) to set up a short-term defense, and then unload on successive players. You couldn’t just build up defense and wait it out, because of the Bullwhip (and the Caltrops). Mother of Runes, which our group loved so much at the time, was useless. With sufficient lifegain to blunt the direct damage assault, Pete’s deck did reasonably well, and made me chuckle every time I thought about a green deck splashing artifacts for a very roundabout creature removal strategy.

When I saw this deck, I flashed back a little further, to when an ex-player named Darren was in the group. Darren had a red-black creatureless deck with Ensnaring Bridges and Null Brooches that used direct damage to win. It had a hard time with more than three opponents, but it was unpredictable enough to make any game interesting.

Ensnaring Bridge to control the pace of attack. Green creatures with artifacts. The two thoughts trickled through my dense skull, staying close to each other but not quite connecting. I pretty much forgot about the Bridge for some time, and even traded down from four to two to get, I think, a Palinchron or somesuch.

Fast forward to about three months ago. I’m flipping through my collection and I see six Killer Bees. SMACK my hand goes to my forehead, because I had just been tooling around with an artifact deck and had been considering the Bridge. I whip through the artifacts stack and my heart falls: I only have two Bridges left. The deck would almost certainly need four.

Again, I forgot about the deck idea. The Bees stayed in their corner of the box, sulking, and the Bridges in another corner. (I have many cards that brood in the corner of my boxes. I suspect that there’s something of a stampede to the corners after I put the lid on. Bundles of perfectly good cards that I don’t have the time or imagination to build a deck around, pushing past each other rudely as they grumble like late-year NBA veterans about how they don’t get enough playing time. No doubt there’s some kind of pecking order, and the closer you are to the middle of my box come midnight, the more you belong in the box to begin with. My two Carnivals of Souls probably don’t even realize there IS a box; to them, the world stretches out for miles on either side, perhaps dropping off an edge eventually like the pre-Columbus Atlantic Ocean. Of course, if they ever tripped over that edge, they’d freefall past every mythical turtle standing on the shell of the one below, playing some spooky-but-stupid carnival music all the way down, until they slammed on the floor (?) of the universe, where the biggest turtle at the bottom of the pile would look at them gravely and mutter, "get back up there in the middle of the f***ing box where you belong.")

A couple of weeks later, Pete sent out an email to our group. He had gathered together some freaky combos, some out of publications like Inquest, others out of his own warped little mind. One of them was – ta da! – Ensnaring Bridge and Killer Bees.

I didn’t know if that was his brainchild or someone else’s, but I was freaked out that someone else had jumped on the idea. (I don’t know why. The possibility of this combo, though certainly NOT all of the deck elements below, has been around since Stronghold.) I immediately hit "reply to all" and screamed, "NO! NO ONE ELSE MAY USE THAT COMBO. I CALLED IT FIRST."

Whether they accepted my dibs-based logic, or didn’t have the cards, or simply didn’t want to hear me whine any more, no one in the group built around the combo. Feeling time running out, I immediately acquired two more Ensnaring Bridges and put together the following deck:


4x Killer Bees
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Deepwood Drummer
3x Bottle Gnomes
3x Vine Trellis
2x Phyrexian Walker
2x Scavenger Folk
1x Mindless Automaton
(23 creatures)

4x Ensnaring Bridge
4x Tranquil Grove
2x Seal of Strength
2x Hurricane
1x Regrowth
1x Reclaim
(14 other spells)

19x Forest
2x Slippery Karst
1x Yavimaya Hollow
1x Gaea’s Cradle
(23 land)

There are five things you should make sure you realize about this deck.

1) The Deck Is Cheap In Terms Of Casting Cost.
Only one card costs four mana (the Automaton, which is highly optional, but I love that I can finally use it). Your job is to play out all of the cards in your hand – rather unintuitive with the possibility of Wrath of God or Armageddon, I know, but every once in a while I get tired of dancing around that garbage; this is the deck I play when I’m like that. Recovery with this deck is relatively easy because of the low-cost spells, and because you can use Regrowth or Reclaim to slip a key card out of your graveyard in a pinch.

I admit to a certain fragility in the face of relentless control. Enough Savage Twisters, Evacuations, and/or Thrashing Wumpi, and you will have a hard time. I have considered adding another Automaton or two and other Reclaim (or Revive) or two, just to make finding and retaining solutions easier. But I’m not at that point yet.

2) The Deck Is Moderately Expensive In Terms Of Dollars.
The Bees are high-end uncommons (as are the Uktabi Orangutans I’m thinking of using to replace the Scavenger Folk), and the Birds of Paradise are rather elusive rares. Use as many as you have and fill in the gaps with Llanowar Elves. (But the elves don’t give you that same 0/1 avian goodness that can get pumped by a Deepwood Drummer on the attack!)

Ensnaring Bridge, Tranquil Grove, and Hurricane (in some expansions) are all rares, so you may not have four. You need four Bridges. (You pitch extras to the Drummers.) You don’t need four Groves: Any generic enchantment whacker will do nicely enough. I just happen to be in love with Tranquil Grove right now.

Hurricanes seem counterintuitive because of the Birds and Bees, but bear in mind you can often one or more of them alive with smart mana management. They are valuable closers and if I had to replace them, I would do so with another green source of damage, like Storm Seeker. I suppose you could splash red and throw in Fireballs or Earthquakes.

3) It’s Important To Have The Pump On The Board.
To hell with surprises. Forget what you know about Giant Growth, Invigorate, Might of Oaks. You don’t WANT cards sitting in your hand. So all the pump is out there-the Drummers, the Seals of Strength, the Bees themselves. Don’t worry about having enough power to hit everyone: if you have less than ten opponents, you can win. (I did just that with nine opponents last week. Remember, you’re not responsible for killing EVERYONE, just the survivors.)

Having pump on the board is slightly less optimal than surprises, but it does have "warn away" value in the early game. (I.e., "You really want to attack me when I have a Birds of Paradise and a Seal of Strength on the board? Huh? You want your creature to be the first to have its ass kicked by a colorful bird?")

4) The Board Control Can Be Amazingly Efficient.
I have been surprised by just how dominant the Bridge and the Grove can be. The Bridge lasts longer than you might think-not everyone playing wants to attack. The Grove can last forever, if you use it wisely. ("Geez, I’m sorry I had to get rid of that Crusade of yours, and I waited as long as I could, but you saw that Subversion! How could I let that happen to us?")

One of the tensions you will have in playing this deck is knowing when to lay down the Bridge. You don’t have to play out your whole hand if you don’t have the Bridge out, of course. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to wait a while, see a few Disenchants and Counterspells fly by, keep a Trellis and Bird out just to make sure you don’t get smacked, and then lay down the Bridge once you have the Bees, Drummer, and Gnomes to back it up.

5) I Lied About The Seals Of Strength.
I didn’t have extras at the time I built the deck and put in War Dances instead. I’ve since freed up the Seals, but I keep forgetting to replace the very sub-optimal Dances. How much of a loser do I feel like when I drop a War Dance on turn one? Try it and ride the wave of satisfaction, dude. (Think tidal pool.) When I finally do remember them, I’ll try to find room for four. They shouldn’t get in the way of a Grove, too often.

I might also try to find room for Spike Feeders (the Gnomes are probably replaceable, but we’ve got a rash of Fear-abilitied black creatures in our group so I might wait a week or two on that). Not only do they give life, but they can pump… an opponent’s creature, that is, so it can’t attack under the Bridge.

COMING SOON: The prodigal Wishmonger deck. And maybe, just maybe, a new Break this Card contest.

Anthony Alongi
[email protected]