My Inner Troll: The Musky Taste of Failure

As the matchup analyses show, the deck probably isn’t ready for Tier 1 yet (probably not Tier 4 either), yet in my testing, it did significantly better than I had expected. True, I hadn’t expected much, but the deck’s dainty, little four-card combo was surprisingly easy to assemble and had the advantage of attaining victory with the help of numberless quantities of Bears.

My Inner Troll: The Musky Taste of Failure

Worse than Cowardice

Over a century ago, the great Norwegian novelist, Jonas Lie, posed the psychological question,”Might there not be a little, exciting and incalculable troll concealed somewhere deep within?” This question becomes all the more haunting when one realizes that he spoke not of fun-loving Horned Trolls but, rather, of evil, elemental forces that have the power drive a man to madness and ruin.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that Lie knew what he was talking about. A strange, awesome troll dwells deep within my heart, I’m sure of it. This is the troll that urges me to build decks around bad cards. There’s also a troll that pushes me to watch re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210 (Brandon is so hot!), but for the moment, we’ll leave that one alone.

Now, when I say”bad cards,” I don’t mean merely clunky cards like Worship or Glissa Sunseeker. I mean the real stinkers, cards like Words of Wilding (three Brownie points to whoever saw that one coming). Most of the time, I can fight back the urge to build around bad cards, but occasionally, the inner troll takes over and goes wild. Unfortunately, in my last article, I gave that troll just a little too much temptation by mentioning Words of Wilding in the subject line… So, here we are.

“Words, Words, Words.”

None of enchantments in Onslaught’s Words cycle have had much of an impact on the competitive scene, yet I can safely assure you that Words of Wilding has been even less useful to deck builders than its siblings. Words of Waste? Hello, Geth’s Grimoire! Words of Worship? Zur’s Weirding, here we come! Words of Wind? We love you, Vedalken Archmage! Words of War? Er… It sure makes a splash in Mono-Blue Control! But Words of Wilding? Honestly, since Merfolk Looter rotated out of Standard, Bear tokens haven’t stood a chance.

Well, bless your lucky stars and call me Gregory Peck, because Merfolk Looter has just come roaring back into the metagame on the Fifth Dawn Express. Thought Courier, a pseudo-reprint of the plundering fish we’d all grown to love, is actually superior to its predecessor. If you happen to be playing Ixidor’s Will. Otherwise, the two cards are identical. The implications are clear to see: Words of Wilding, unlike the Tories, lives again!

The basic premise behind the deck is simple enough. Thought Courier is brilliant all on its own, but without Madness and Flashback joining the fun, it represents only card selection, not card advantage. However, when Words of Wilding enters the mix, Thought Courier miraculously transforms into… Card disadvantage! That’s right, if you tap Thought Courier then activate Words of Wilding, you’ll receive a cuddly Bear token for your trouble and will also discard a card from your hand (Absolutely free of charge!). The fun really starts when Intruder Alarm is dropped into the love-fest; this oft-broken Blue enchantment allows you to create as many Bears and discard as many cards as your mana permits. Let’s say you untap with Thought Courier, Words of Wilding, Intruder Alarm, and four lands in play: You’ve just bought yourself four members of the family Ursidae and an empty hand.

Okay, so the empty hand bit doesn’t sound so fun, but when you consider that the Ravager Affinity builds present at Regionals tended to run four copies of Scale of Chiss-Goria, Welding Jar, and Ornithopter (all of which function as little more than mana acceleration), dropping a few cards to pop out mountains of cheap 2/2s no longer seems so bad. Heck, once you’ve unburdened yourself of that pesky hand, all of your former pain becomes but a fond memory that you can think over while shuffling up for the next round. And why will you be shuffling up for the next round? Because you’ll have lost. Alas, in a world of Krark-Clan Ironworks, wrathful gods, and Qumuloxi, teddy bear picnics just aren’t going to cut it. In light of this fact, I present the following:

Wild and Untamed Thing

Combo Pieces and Card Drawing/Selection: 33(!)

4 Words of Wilding

4 Intruder Alarm

4 Thought Courier

3 Blasting Station

2 Wellwisher

4 Birds of Paradise

2 Vine Trellis

2 Aphetto Alchemist

4 Serum Visions

4 Condescend

Other Spells: 4

3 Ensnaring Bridge

1 Mana Leak

Mana: 23

3 Chrome Mox

11 Forest

9 Island

I told you that troll was an ugly bastard. Don’t let the number of combo pieces scare you off. You only have so many for the sake of consistency and in case something bad happens, and if you know me at all, you’re already aware that any deck I write about is going make bad things happen consistently. The aforementioned triad of Thought Courier/Words of Wilding/Intruder Alarm goes from”cute” to”combo” as quick as you can say”Labour Hemorrhaged in the Council Elections but it Doesn’t Really Matter Because Every Other Party is Either Marginal or Incompetent.” With Birds of Paradise (or Vine Trellis or Aphetto Alchemist/Chrome Mox) in play, your number of Bear tokens becomes infinite, or, more accurately, arbitrarily large. No doubt, the nay-sayers among you are now saying,”Nay! This insaniac has just suggested a four-card combo! Four cards? That’s, like, a third as many cards as the U.K. Independence Party has seats in the European Parliament! And if the world were perfect, U.K.I.P. wouldn’t have any seats in the European Parliament!” Yes, indeed.

Things start looking a teensy bit rosier, however, when the cards in question are actually questioned:

1) Thought Courier, for example, helps seek out the combo in the early game.

2) Although a mana-producing creature is necessary for you to go-off, the deck is home to eight of the critters, and you can take your pick. Also, these creatures are helpful early, before the combo is assembled.

3) Intruder Alarm, while not a shining example of anti-Aggro tech, isn’t hideous at throwing a wrench in the gears of Beatdown strategies which, in today’s Standard, often drop so many creatures in the first few turns of the game that there’s nothing left to untap potential attackers later on.

4) Words of Wilding is completely useless outside the combo. However, if you have multiples in hand, you can always feed one to Thought Courier.

In itself, the Thought Courier/Words of Wilding/Intruder Alarm/Mana Creature combo will often win the game if it’s achieved. That said, Standard holds numerous answers to a billion Bears with summoning sickness, Wrath of God, Akroma’s Vengeance, Infest, Pyroclasm, Starstorm, and Echoing Truth (Yeah, thanks a lot, Krark-Clan Ironworks…) among them. If only there were a way to turn those billion Bears into some kind of useful resource… If that’s what you want, there’s no need to ask twice because by adding just one more card to the combo (that’s five, for those of you who’re too confused to keep count), arbitrarily large amounts of damage or life gain can be yours! Blasting Station (designed, apparently, solely to prevent Ixidor’s Will decks from becoming too powerful) can feast on Bears until it’s sick. Sorry, Blasting Station is already sick. Or if drawn-out wins by decking are more your style, check out Wellwisher. Or or if you’re truly crazed, you can throw all caution to the bears and (by simply adding a sixth card to the combo) deal infinite damage and gain infinite life simultaneously (NB: This strategy is suggested neither by the author nor his inner troll.).

Card Analyses

Blasting Station

Despite costing one more mana than Wellwisher, Blasting Station holds a few advantages over its elvish friend: 1) It’s unaffected by summoning sickness; 2) with Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo decks likely, arbitrarily large amounts of life gain aren’t an assurance of victory because opponents can deal damage in even more arbitrarily large amounts; 3) the artifact can kill opposing creatures in a fix.


Besides the card’s obvious power against elf decks, Wellwisher can set-up the dreaded decking win with the help of Words of Wilding'”never draw a card again” clause. Sadly, this isn’t particularly feasible if you’ve managed (as you often will) to lose Game 1. Also, nervous opponents might waste a removal spell on the creature. After all, who would guess that a deck running Wellwisher would be running only two elf cards?

Birds of Paradise

Don’t try to get too clever; sure, having two mana-producing creatures in play alongside the other combo pieces will give you the possibility for infinite mana, but the combo is complex enough as it is without adding Goblin Cannon.

Aphetto Alchemist

One of the quirkier cards in the deck, Aphetto Alchemist could, conceivably, be replaced by an extra pair of Vine Trellises. When a Chrome Mox, Birds of Paradise, or Vine Trellis is on the board, the wizard can boost mana, but it’s a real gem when doubling the output of a Thought Courier.


If you get lucky, you might even counter a spell with Condescend. Even if you can’t do so, Scry is like London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone: Whether or not it has a party, it has a party. Even the threat of Condescend will slow opposing Combo decks down a notch.

Ensnaring Bridge

This is the card that will force opposing Aggro decks to keep in their otherwise useless artifact destruction spells for Game 2. By mid-game, your hand will rarely have many cards in it thanks to Thought Courier. This card will frequently be sided-out, yet keep in mind that it is very rarely useless.

Chrome Mox

Most Combo decks want to wait to cast Chrome Mox until their fundamental turns. For our purposes though, first turn Vine Trellis or Thought Courier are handy enough. Despite the deck’s huge number of three-drops, it requires very little mana to run, and Chrome Mox’s early boost will frequently get the job done. Additionally, Chrome Mox’s inherent card disadvantage is not much of a problem in a deck featuring Ensnaring Bridge and Thought Courier/Words of Wilding, both of which prefer that you have no cards in hand. This mana artifact is like the Liberal Democrats: No one is happy about supporting, but sometimes, the alternatives are even worse.

The Sideboard

4 Oxidize and 4 Tel-Jilad Justice

It might be a mistake to have no artifact removal in the maindeck despite running Green, but large numbers of anti-artifact hate decks can be expected, and notwithstanding this deck’s ability to convert useless cards into new cards, I’d rather run counterspells. Krark-Clan Ironworks is particularly tricky inasmuch as Myr Incubator turns Echoing Truth into a sideboard superstar. Unfortunately, Echoing Truth is good against little else.

2 Mana Leak

Considering the fragility of Thought Courier and your mana-producing creatures, MWC and U/W Control have the abilities to whistle on down the road with the win while you’re still struggling to get a single Bear token into play. Mana Leak won’t stop the whistling altogether, but it’ll, at least, delay it.

4 Plow Under

Yet more ammunition to use against MWC and U/W Control. If nothing else, Plow Under is almost guaranteed to draw out your opponent’s counterspells.

1 Ensnaring Bridge

Do you have any idea how well this deck fares against Goblins in the late-game? Neither do I since the deck has never survived to the late-game against Goblins. Honestly, you don’t have a chance in Hekla against Goblins, but it feels nice to pretend that you have answers in the sideboard. If it survives long enough, Ensnaring Bridge also causes headaches for R/G Beasts.

Matchup Analyses

I’ll rate these matchups under the following, unscientific system: Horrendous (Nearly unwinnable. Aside from making a deal with Thatcher, you’re toast.), Unfavorable (You are more likely to lose than to win.), Fair (It can go either way. Jabbering incessantly about how you’ve always voted for the Greens but how they never win general elections anyway and isn’t that incredibly annoying I mean if they could reside in 10 Downing Street just ONCE you’d be happy…That helps.), Favorable (You are more likely to win than to lose.), Excellent (If you lose, blame it on”bottom-decking.” ).

Ravager Affinity (without Counterspell)

Sideboarding: -4 Condescend, -2 Wellwisher, -1 Mana Leak, -1 Ensnaring Bridge, +4 Oxidize, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice

Wellwisher just doesn’t gain you life quickly enough outside the combo to be of use here. Pre-sideboarding, Condescend will be better than you might imagine as Ravager Affinity tends to drop piles of useless trinkets on the board prior to tapping out for a Myr Enforcer. Blasting Station can put some work in as a Disciple of the Vault eliminator. In Game 2, your eight pieces of artifact removal help while your opponent is unlikely to have thought of stocking her sideboard with Words of Wilding hosers before the start of the tournament.

Pre-Sideboarding: Unfavorable. Post-Sideboarding: Favorable.

Ravager Affinity (with Counterspell)

Sideboarding: -4 Condescend, -2 Wellwisher, -1 Blasting Station, -1 Mana Leak, -1 Aphetto Alchemist, +4 Oxidize, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Opposing counterspells will either disrupt your combo or slow it down sufficiently to allow giant Blue fliers to kill you. Post-sideboarding, things just get worse. The matchup is not entirely hopeless, however, as Ensnaring Bridge might steal you occasional wins.

Pre-Sideboarding: Unfavorable. Post-Sideboarding: Unfavorable.


Sideboarding: -2 Wellwisher, -1 Aphetto Alchemist, +1 Ensnaring Bridge, +2 Mana Leak

I’m wary of labeling this matchup Horrendous because, sometimes, Ensnaring Bridge or Words of Wilding (even outside the combo) will save you. This”sometimes” is very rare. Goblin Piledriver and Goblin Sharpshooter are no friends of yours either. Don’t use your counterspells sparingly; it’s always possible that your opponent will run out of steam.

Pre-Sideboarding: Horrendous. Post-Sideboarding: Horrendous.

Goblin Bidding

Sideboarding: -2 Wellwisher, -1 Aphetto Alchemist, +1 Ensnaring Bridge, +2 Mana Leak

Happily, Patriarch’s Bidding is not a huge problem; this is because you’ll only rarely be able to send opposing goblins to the graveyard. Seriously, however, this deck’s slower speed compared with mono-Red Goblins gives you more of a chance. Not much more of a chance, but more of one.

Pre-Sideboarding: Horrendous. Post-Sideboarding: Horrendous.

Tooth/Elf and Nail

Sideboarding: -3 Blasting Station, -2 Wellwisher, -1 Aphetto Alchemist, +4 Plow Under, +2 Mana Leak

See, it’s not all bad news. Most Tooth and Nail decks will run only Duplicant for creature removal, and this card is hardly imposing when it’s taking out Thought Courier. Tooth and Nail’s inability to deal with infinite Bear tokens takes away the need for Blasting Station and Wellwisher. Though the latter might gain you some life against Elf and Nail varieties, this is rarely important. Post-sideboarding, your combination of counterpsells and Plow Unders should help the matchup immensely. Although Ensnaring Bridge might seem an obvious choice against a deck that routinely attacks with 11/11 tramplers, most Tooth and Nail builds have so much built-in artifact destruction as to make the card just”good” instead of”great.” Goblin Sharpshooter out of the sideboard is a possibility, but you ought to already be countering every Tooth and Nail your opponent casts. Incidentally, if your opponent achieves the Leonin Abunas/Platinum Angel lock, you’re out of luck; at best, you can draw the game.

Pre-Sideboarding: Fair. Post-Sideboarding: Excellent.

Black/Green Cemetery

Sideboarding: -3 Ensnaring Bridge, -2 Wellwisher, -1 Blasting Station, +4 Plow Under, +2 Mana Leak

Although B/G Cemetery is a Control deck, it’s not really designed to control the kind of deck you’re playing. Pre-sideboarding, creature destruction will give you trouble, but you really ought to save Condescend for Death Cloud. Post-sideboarding, Death Cloud is less of a threat, and you can focus your counterspells on creature removal and Oversold Cemetery. Since the banning of Skullclamp, B/G Cemetery has become considerably weaker against decks that are unwilling to attack into its creatures with comes-into-play effects. Watch out, however, for Viridian Zealot.

Pre-Sideboarding: Favorable. Post-Sideboarding: Favorable.

Mono-White Control

Sideboarding: -3 Serum Visions, -3 Ensnaring Bridge, -2 Wellwisher, -2 Aphetto Alchemist, +4 Plow Under, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice, +2 Mana Leak

Pre-sideboarding, try not to put your essential Thought Couriers in the way of mass removal unless you have back-up copies in hand. MWC’s slowness is to your benefit here, and you can often afford to take your time setting up, particularly as the overall speed of today’s Standard has decreased the popularity of Akroma’s Vengeance. Post-sideboarding, your deck becomes so completely Control, it might as well change its name to The Clash. Plow Under works wonders for making your conditional counterspells effective. Tel-Jilad Justice is sided-in for one reason only: Damping Matrix. Bluntly, it’s nearly impossible for you to win with Damping Matrix on the table. Nevertheless, if the Bringer of the White Dawn/Mindslaver combo becomes popular, Damping Matrix might just fall out of use.

Pre-Sideboarding: Favorable. Post-Sideboarding: Favorable.

Blue/White Control

Sideboarding: -3 Serum Visions, -3 Ensnaring Bridge, -2 Wellwisher, -2 Aphetto Alchemist, +4 Plow Under, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice, +2 Mana Leak

Although you sideboard for this matchup the same as that against MWC, U/W Control is considerably more difficult to deal with. Opposing counterspells are difficult for your mana-tight deck to maneuver around, especially after Wrath of God has killed off your mana-producing creatures. Post-sideboarding, you gain some power, but your opponent does as well.

Pre-Sideboarding: Unfavorable. Post-Sideboarding: Unfavorable.

Red/White Slide

Sideboarding: Sideboarding: -3 Serum Visions, -3 Ensnaring Bridge, -2 Wellwisher, -2 Aphetto Alchemist, +4 Plow Under, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice, +2 Mana Leak

With even more creature removal than MWC, it shouldn’t be surprising that R/W Slide is a difficult matchup. Game 1 depends much on your draw. Post-sideboarding, you gain access to more counterspells, but your opponent will probably be able to bring in Pyroclasm from the sideboard. If you expect much R/W Slide in your region, consider replacing Tel-Jilad Justice with Naturalize.

Pre-Sideboarding: Horrendous. Post-Sideboarding: Unfavorable.

Red/Green Beasts

Sideboarding: -2 Wellwisher, -1 Serum Visions, +2 Mana Leak, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Though Electrostatic Bolt and Contested Cliffs can be problematic, R/G Beasts is not a major threat. Your counterspells ought to be able to keep some of the larger monsters from ripping you up, and Ensnaring Bridge, if not quickly dealt with, will keep your opponent fuming impotently throughout her uneventful attack phases.

Pre-Sideboarding: Favorable. Post-Sideboarding: Favorable.

Krark-Clan Ironworks

Sideboarding: -3 Serum Visions, -3 Ensnaring Bridge, -2 Wellwisher, -2 Aphetto Alchemist, +4 Oxidize, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice, +2 Mana Leak

The matchup is all about counterspells. Post-sideboarding, you have artifact destruction to slow down the opposing Combo, but your counterspells are still key. Sometimes, the erratic Ironworks combo won’t show up at, and other times, opposing combo pieces will simply outnumber your counterspells. Luckily, your opponent will have few methods of disrupting your own combo.

Pre-Sideboarding: Fair. Post-Sideboarding: Fair.

Endless Whispers/Leveler

Sideboarding: -2 Wellwisher, +2 Mana Leak.

Cast Words of Wilding. Don’t cast creatures.

Pre-Sideboarding: Excellent. Post-Sideboarding: Excellent.

Worrery of Wilding

This deck still doesn’t exist, although I imagine that, if it did, your deck would win.

Pre-Sideboarding: Unknown. Post-Sideboarding: Unknown.

“What is the Matter, My Lord?”

Well, I hope my troll’s happy now. As the matchup analyses show, the deck probably isn’t ready for Tier 1 yet (probably not Tier 4 either), yet in my testing, it did significantly better than I had expected. True, I hadn’t expected much, but the deck’s dainty, little four-card combo was surprisingly easy to assemble and had the advantage of – unlike Krark-Clan Ironworks which wins by creating thirty-or-so Myrs – attaining victory with the help of numberless quantities of Bears. I mean, Bears. They aren’t Squirrels, true, but we can’t have everything. Or maybe, we can have everything: It’s worth noting that, if you already own a playset of Birds of Paradise, this deck can be bought for less than it costs to purchase the allegiance of politician-cum-quack, Robert Kilroy-Silk.

In closing, remember that, so long as you realize you’re going to lose a game of Magic, you ought to set your mind to losing stylishly. Which is to say: If you’re the kind of person who goes to a tournament for the fun of it, knowing full well that the 0-X bracket is your ineluctable destiny, why not play an intriguing deck? Mind you, it doesn’t have to involve Bear tokens, but Ravager Affinity and Goblins are inexcusable. You might get the chance to steal some wins from top-level opponents playing solid, metagame-defined decks who just haven’t taken the time to study”the Bear matchup.” At the very least, everyone will blame your eventual losses on”that nutty deck” you played, and you’ll leave the tournament with your reputation (though not your DCI rating) intact.”Far better,” as Cicero once said,”to be reputed insane because you tried to win with Words of Wilding than to be seen as a poor player.” This is, honestly, beside the point: I mean, just think of it, an arbitrarily large number of bears!

Adam Grydehøj

[email protected]

P.S. All you Type 1 players out there had better watch your backs. I’ve just learned that my old friend, the redoubtable J.V. Noriega has, at long last, returned to the Magic fold. If I know J.V. like I know J.V. (and you can bet that I know J.V.), you have highly skilled, innovative deck builder on your hands.