Welcome back to our daily Deck-a-thon. Yesterday we looked at using an old Ice Age rare to flesh out a modern day concept. Today we look at a completely different type of deck.
I was recently playing an opponent during our casual Friday Night gathering with Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy. I was serving with a Ninja of the Deep Hours with a Crystal Shard in play. I then drew one of my all time favorite creatures: Thornscape Battlemage. I tossed down the Battlemage, killing an opposing creature and artifact, then popped it back to my hand with the Shard. I was having a grand time, and told my opponent that this was the way I liked to play.
“This is the way I like to play.”
Saying that phrase really resonated with me. The following week I decided to build a casual multiplayer deck that revolved around that sort of creature. I initially called it my Thornscape Battlemage deck, because I knew that I wanted Thornscape. Quickly I moved and called it Battlemage Beats as I tossed in more of the creatures. However, I eventually decided on Bear Beats as the theme. Here is the deck that I have built.
4 Thornscape Battlemage
4 Thunderscape Battlemage
2 Sunscape Battlemage
2 Cackling Fiend
4 Avalanche Riders
2 Bone Shredder
4 Eternal Witness
4 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Cloudchaser Eagle
2 Ravenous Baboons
1 Nantuko Vigilante
1 Highway Robber
4 Phyrexian Rager
4 Ghitu Slinger
3 Solemn Simulacrum *
4 Yavimaya Granger
4 Throat Slitter
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
3 Shadowmage Infiltrator *
1 Kiki-jiki, Mirror Breaker
2 Erratic Portal
3 Living Death
1 Recurring Nightmare *
2 Survival of the Fittest *
1 Meekstone *
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
37 Basic Lands
Before we begin looking at card choices, I want to talk briefly about the decksize. There are 120 cards in the deck. I like playing above size decks for a variety of reasons. First, it helps to hamstring me a bit, which is good since I’m typically a better player than my play group. Second, it allows me to include more options. Third, it plays a bit differently each time. And last, it looks nice. Some deck concepts are larger than 60 cards. That’s okay. For this deck, I wanted to play a bunch of creatures with CIP abilities and I wanted to flesh out that idea.
There are 82 non-land cards in the deck. Of those 82, 71 of them are creatures. You will draw creatures, and you’ll draw lots. During multiplayer games, I frequently had five, six or seven creatures down early.
Any cards marked with an asterisk were limited by how many cards I owned or were in other decks. I only own one Meekstone, for example. I also only own a pair of Portcullis, but I wanted to play two, so I didn’t mark that. If I had more cards, I would play more Survivals, another Living Death, another Infiltrator and Simulacrum, and at least one more Recurring Nightmare.
To be perfectly honest, the Survivals feel a bit like cheating. If you want to use your deck like a toolbox, but you don’t want to run Survival, you can try Citunal Flute or Imperial Recruiter.
One controversial decision that I made was to include Ophidian and Shadowmage Infiltrator. In a creature-based deck, I like having creature based card drawing. They don’t fit the theme perfectly, but they are great cards to have, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
I love the ninjutsu creatures in this deck. They allow you to reuse a creature’s ability, act as a surprise, and have nifty abilities to boot. The Ninja adds to the card drawing creatures available while the Throat Slitter is a nice adjunct to the Nekrataals, Bone Shredders, and more. Remember that you can activate an Ophidian, draw a card, then ninjutsu out a creature to hit for damage and an ability. Your opponent may not expect that.
I like to have ample answers to problems. If a problematic creature comes to play, this deck has several answers. Slingers and Thornscape Battlemagi can Shock a creature. Nekrataals and Bone Splitters can off the occasional non-Black creature, with a bit of help from Throat Slitters. Sunscape Battlemagi can even take out a flyer. Between these options, there should be something that works for almost any opposing creature. In case you don’t draw an answer, or in the rare case when you don’t have one (like an Iridescent Angel or a Darksteel Colossus), you can always play Living Death, which requires a sacrifice of all creatures in play.
Man-o’-War can be used for tempo, to bounce a creature with a key ability, or offensively to remove a blocker. Having a Man-o’-war played every turn can give you the time you need to swing with a few bears.
Eternal Witness is almost strictly worse in this deck than Gravedigger. Gravedigger is splashable and returns 71 of 82 spells. The one thing you want to use the Witness for is to get early with a Survival. If an opponent pops the Survival, you just play a Witness, recur the Survival, and keep going.
You’ll note that this deck does not abuse Survival much. There’s no Squee, Goblin Nabob or Krovikan Horror. I don’t run anything other than utility creatures in the deck, so it makes sense to have a quick, cheap way of fetching them out of my deck. That’s all it is. There are some tricks, however. The “Survival as much as possible getting a nice fat graveyard and then playing Living Death” trick still works pretty well.
I like casting Living Death and taking out a land with a Riders, Shocking something with a Slinger, bouncing a creature with a Man-o’-war, and popping an opponent’s artifact with an Uktabi Orangutan. I find that to be lots of fun.
There’s a whole article in me on Portcullis tricks. My favorite though is this: If there are more than two creatures in play, toss down something like an Avalanche Riders. The triggers go on the stack. It gets removed from the game, but the land still goes. When the Portcullis leaves play, you get the Riders back in play, and you get another triggered ability. I love to stick a Slinger or two under it when my opponent is at a low life. If they pop the Portcullis, you can kill them, so it stays.
Like a said, I have a zillion Portcullis tricks. With so many 187 tricks, you can easily be the only one with creatures in play after getting as assist from the Portcullis. It also does wonders with a Living Death and Uktabi Orangutan.
Erratic Portal will let you reuse creatures for cheap. Kiki-Jiki does some abusable things with 187 creatures. Cloudchaser Eagle and Nantuko Vigilante are emergency cards. Cackling Fiend hits all of your opponents. Ravenous Baboons are a nice adjunct land removal creature. One copy of Highway Robbers gives you lifegain and loss of life if it’s necessary, like killing someone behind a Worship.
Other ideas that I had for the deck include Raven Familiar, Thieving Magpie, more Battlemagi, one big hitter, like Akroma, Worldly Tutor, Eladamri’s Call, Academy Rector, Yavimaya Elder, Keldon Vandals, Flametongue Kavu, Artic Merfolk, Shrieking Drake, Monk Idealist, Karmic Guide, Otherworldly Journey, Retribution of the Meek, Tariff, and Curfew.
It’s fun to swing with bears. Sure, you’ll have the occasional 1/3, 2/1 or even 1/1 in there, but this is really all about the bear beats.
Good luck with the deck!