Last week, I talked about an experimental Five-Color Control deck. While I learned a lot in its design, it was not such an overwhelming deck that it would dominate. Quick n’ Toast is a fine strategy, but with a format as seemingly narrow as this one, I thought the time was right to try to build a rogue archetype (not the class, the philosophy) that preys on the field I expected to see.
I have been working on this format with controversial genius Mike Long, a long time friend of mine. Whatever preconceived notions you have about Mike, he is a brilliant Magic player that may have made some inexcusable choices. I know from experience that he is in a different place than he was so many years ago. Believe me, I know firsthand that everyone makes mistakes, sometimes for years at a time.
We set about looking at all the tribes and classes that had not been thoroughly explored. The most interesting we found were Rogues, Warriors, Shaman, Elves, Merfolk, Elementals, and Treefolk. Upon closer examination, we began to work through cross-tribe combinations made possible by the class system. This turned out very fruitful.
By now, everyone is familiar with Merfolk decks that take advantage of Faerie/Wizards like Sower of Temptation, thanks to class enabler Stonybrook Banneret. What about the Shaman class? The strong Shaman tribe cards are mostly comprised of Elementals and Treefolk.
This is interesting as the Treefolk tribe has some great cards, but doesn’t quite make a good sixty… and the Elemental tribe has more than enough cards to fill out a deck, though the Elemental Shamans add a whole different angle to things than traditional Elementals. In addition, there are a few really powerful incentives to playing Shaman, such as Rage Forger and Leaf-Crowned Elder.
My first version was Treefolk-centric, almost acting like a Doran deck with some unusual card choices. Mike went the other route and built a Five-Color Elemental deck with a focus on the Shaman class. The interesting thing was where we overlapped. We were using a lot of the same mana, and all of the tribal enablers. We were also both all about Chameleon Colossus and Rage Forger.
We merged the decks, tuned the result, and arrived at this:
- 2 Cloudthresher
- 2 Doran, the Siege Tower
- 4 Flamekin Harbinger
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Smokebraider
- 4 Bosk Banneret
- 4 Chameleon Colossus
- 4 Leaf-Crowned Elder
- 4 Rage Forger
- 1 Reveillark
- 4 Fulminator Mage
As you can see, we have a lot of Shaman in the deck… thirty, to be exact. As a result, our Leaf-Crowned Elder is insane and will Temporal Aperture us a free card every other turn, not counting when we play a Harbinger to ensure a hit. He is a respectable-sized body to begin with, and is good for holding off the ground. This is especially nice when you look at the Dark Confidant Factor. Every turn he sits in play, the game just slides further and further in your direction.
Sure, sometimes you will miss three times in a row and he will be unimpressive, but it is such an advantage even if he only hits once or twice that he will often be a game-winner all by himself. He is definitely one of the primary reasons to play Shaman.
We tried Wolf-Skull Shaman, thinking it might sort of be like Leaf-Crowned Elders numbers five through eight, but all it did was make us more vulnerable to Firespout. Still, this guy might be worth re-exploring, especially if Faeries grows in popularity relative to Kithkin and Five-Color Control, as that is the match-up in which it shines.
Rage Forger, on the other hand, is a Shaman card with some punch to it. First of all, granting all of the Shaman you have in play +1/+1 counters instead of just a bonus while the Rage Forger is in play is amazing. It makes your deck so much resistant to removal, especially when you take advantage of the Mutavault plus Rage Forger synergy.
The fact that Rage Forger also deals an extra point of damage to your opponent for each attacker you control with a +1/+1 counter on it leads to explosive games. Sometimes you come out so aggressively that the opponent never has a chance to fight back. In many ways, it is like Rage Forger gives your team +2/+1, and even if he dies, they still get +1/+1.
You can see why we are so inclined to skip a draw step to make sure we get more of him. Imagine if we drew two! Also, the fact that he pumps the Flamekin Harbinger that fetched him is huge. For instance, picture this opening: turn 1, Flamekin Harbinger, turn 2 Bosk Banneret, turn 3 Rage Forger plus Nameless Inversion the blocker, attack for 6.
That is only a very moderate draw when you start to consider some of the degenerate draws you are capable of, such as any two mana accelerators, a Harbinger, and two Rage Forgers. Untap with that, and your opponent will be dead.
The Flamekin Harbinger is also very useful as a form of library manipulation. A 1/1 for one is not the worst deal, so it is not like you are straight up spending a card to tutor for what you want, but the ability to get Smokebraider, Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, Reveillark, or Cloudthresher is huge. Heck, just getting Fulminator Mage or Chameleon Colossus at the right time can swing a game, plus if you have a Leaf-Crowned Elder going, it is just the biggest free-roll ever.
The single Smokebraider is unusual, but you have easy access to him with the Flamekin Harbinger, and you don’t usually want him any time other than the first couple of turns. It is possible that we should refocus the deck on maximally taking advantage of him by hybridizing this deck with something like Levy’s offering from Grand Prix: Birmingham, but for now he is merely a role player.
The Bosk Bannerets help power out half our deck, providing a much needed speed boost. They also shine both as defenders from an early Kithkin assault, and as attackers once the Rage Forger or Doran is in effect.
To give you a glimpse of the Banneret’s power, just picture playing one on turn 2. Your opponent foolishly taps out to make Bitterblossom. You punish him with a turn 3 Leaf-Crowned Elder or Chameleon Colossus. Anyone who has played Stonybrook Banneret can tell you how sick these guys are, particularly when you are able to play two spells in one turn and save two mana.
Doran, the Siege Tower is a hard-hitting clock, but the mana is not set up perfectly for him. We have nine lands that don’t actually help play him, and none of the mana accelerators assist us. As a result, we are only running two, despite how hard he hits and how much of an influence he begins to exert immediately.
It was only recently that I took out the Treefolk Harbingers that were fighting side by side with their Flamekin brethren. They were useful, especially at fetching Doran, but I am currently of the opinion that you can only afford to skip so many draws, and the Treefolk Harbinger may be able to get land but he can’t get any of the bullets, so for now he is out.
Fulminator Mage is an important disruptive element. Aside from just being on tribe and on class, he is a proactive form of disruption against control decks as well as a fantastic defender against aggressive decks. Playing your Fulminator correctly is one of the key skills this deck requires.
You have to be very mindful of when to merely Stone Rain, particularly against Five-Color Control and Windbrisk Heights, as well as when to attack, stack damage, then sacrifice your Mage to keep them off Cryptic Command. Against Faeries, it is often worth simply bashing every turn, leaving the Mage in play as a clock that you can cash in at your leisure to keep them off Command, one that also makes it harder for them to Mistbind Clique.
Chameleon Colossus is one of the premier threats in this format, and this deck takes great advantage of him. He is easily accelerated out, and he works with all your tribal cards. He is an extraordinarily good clock, difficult to handle, solid on defense, and he doesn’t require you to commit more to the board as he can handle the game all by himself.
One of the great battles you will have to fight is the classic Cryptic Command versus Chameleon Colossus struggle. You may have sneaked your Colossus in play via a Banneret or a Fulminator Mage, but they still have the Command, so you have to be careful of if and when you pump your guy. Sometimes you can’t afford to lose the tempo of tapping out and having it Commanded. Other times you just want to draw the Command out of your opponent’s hand. When you are in this situation, the key is to imagine how the game will play out if your opponent has a Command. What if you pump it? What if you don’t?
Speaking of fighting Cryptic Command, it is important to remember that sometimes when you are in a strong position on the board, it is better to attack first, then cast your spell so that the opponent cannot counter your spell and tap your team, or worse yet, bounce your primary attacker. If you attack first, your opponent may still bounce your big guy when countering your spell, but at least you got in an extra four damage.
There is a 3-1 split in favor of Nameless Inversion over Shriekmaw, as we have just found it to be the better weapon in combat on account of being an instant, which is just so important when fighting the Thistledown Liege, Wizened Cenn, Scion of Oona, Mutavault, and a Makeshift Mannequin of a Horde of Notions (or whatever). It is still worth using one Shriekmaw, though, as you have four Flamekin Harbingers, and sometimes a Shriekmaw is the best target.
The Reveillark is a tactical weapon that gives you a great tutor target against sweepers, particularly from Five-Color Control decks. Horde of Notions is also a possibility, though I have had better success with the Reveillark.
The Cloudthreshers have obvious applications against Faeries, but are also good against the rest of the field. Against Kithkin, it can be so important to keep Spectral Procession tokens in check, and a surprise blocker for a Cloudgoat Ranger can save the day. Against Five-Color Control, it is a powerful threat that must be answered quickly that can be tutored for and then played on the opponent’s endstep, so as to make it immune for a turn to sorcery speed removal. Also, sometimes it can be game-winning to attack with a Colossus which they then try to block with Mannequined Mulldrifter, and thus your Thresher can punch through a quick six to ten damage.
The manabase is fairly straightforward. The one point I guess I should mention is that the Mutavaults have been spectacular, so even though it is tempting to cut down on them for more colored mana, just try them first and see how useful they are against sweepers and with Rage Forger.
Here are some basic sideboard plans to get you started:
+2 Cloudthresher, +1 Wispmare, +1 Nameless Inversion, maybe +1 Shriekmaw if they have Sower of Temptation.
-Possibly some amount of Leaf-Crowned Elders and Bosk Bannerets, as they will have many Shriekmaws and probably Sowers.
+4 Firespout, +1 Cloudthresher, +2 Shriekmaw, +1 Nameless Inversion, +1 Wispmare, +2 Masked Admirers
– 4 Flamekin Harbinger, -1 Smokebraider, -4 Rage Forger, -1 Bosk Bannerette, -1 Reveillark
How long will this strategy have a leg up on the competition? It is hard to say, but there is still time to push this deck before the format adjusts. This is hardly the end-all solution to this format, but it is a great deck for now.
There is still a lot of room to explore this concept. Should it have more of an elemental theme? Should it ditch White and use a dual land manabase instead of a Vivid one? Are there more non-Shaman spells that should be used? Does Wolf-Skull Shaman need to go back? So many questions that can only be answered in time…
I am heading to Indianapolis in a few days for the Grand Prix, and to start work on a “special project.” Wish me luck!