I love Rampage, but sometimes, pseudo-Rampage is even better. The trouble with plain, workaday Rampage is that it always grants creatures toughness as well as power, and as my Uncle Toby Shandy likes to say, “The only thing better than toughness is power, and the only thing better than power is Rabid Elephant.” Once Rampage was retired as a mechanic, Rampage-like effects flourished. Cards like Spined Sliver, Rabid Wolverines, and Gang of Elk improved upon Rampage by including, essentially, Bushido-when-attacking to the mix. If you want to make the most of the idea, try something like this:
When Wolverines Attack
2 Joven’s Ferrets
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Deepwood Wolverine
4 Elvish Berserker
4 Pygmy Troll
4 Sword of Fire and Ice
4 Wolverine Pack
4 Gorilla Berserkers
2 Craw Giant
The deck doesn’t contain a single trick. Even your landlord could play it and not mess up. It’s especially great against players who often say things like, “I never put creatures with evasion in my decks because I feel they run contrary to the interactive spirit of the game.”
Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for creatures without Rampage or pseudo-Rampage. One of the problems with rampaging creatures is that they’re sub-par targets for Alliances’ Bestial Fury, one of Red’s more unusual creature enchantments. I mean, putting Bestial Fury on Craw Giant is overkill, and putting it on Gorilla Berserkers isn’t going to help your quest of finding blockers for the Apes- But placing it on Johtull Wurm from Ice Age? That’s enchanting.
Johtull Wurm (apparently, an adult Fungusaur, judging by the Daniel Gelon’s Alpha art) was, for its time, wonderfully costed, but unlike Craw Giant, it can’t deal with masses of little creatures at all. Unless, of course, it’s taken a dose of Bestial Fury. The same goes for Mirage’s Jungle Wurm which, more so than its Johtull cousin, is strictly anti-Rampage. It’s a bit strange that the color with far and away the most creatures with Rampage and pseudo-Rampage also leads in the anti-Rampage department. The most extreme example of this is Tempest’s Flailing Drake, a creature that gives its opponents Bushido. In Mirage, things get even kookier with Brushwagg indecisively tearing up the scene.
I’ve heard it said that Bushido is the Chub Toad ability, yet despite Chub Toad’s uncanny resemblance to Battle-Mad Ronin, I prefer to see Chub Toad as the first step away from Rampage. This isn’t to say, though, that Ice Age’s Chub Toad was the first creature to have an effect that triggered when it attacked or blocked. Everyone knows about Thicket Basilisk from way back in Alpha (in part because, even today, we call this power the “Basilisk ability”), but many believe that the Basilisk ability only recently migrated to Black with cards like Grotesque Hybrid, Dripping Dead, and Cruel Deceiver. Untrue! In fact, the next Green card after Thicket Basilisk and Cockatrice to feature the Basilisk ability didn’t come along until Ice Age’s multi-colored Kjeldoran Frostbeast, and not until Stronghold’s Lowland Basilisk did Green have another Basilisk all to itself.
Black, however, jumped on the basilisk bandwagon early. In Legends, Black received its first two creatures with the Basilisk ability, Infernal Medusa and Abomination. The only difference between Infernal Medusa and Thicket Basilisk is color. Notwithstanding its two extra points of toughness, Abomination probably isn’t as good of a card as Infernal Medusa, but for me, it symbolizes Black. Perhaps, it’s the Mark Tedin art that does it. If you’ve been with this column from the start, you already know that Tedin is the master of crinkly, gray monsters. But crinkly, pink monsters as well?
Legends was not only the breakout set for Black basilisks; it also heralded far more fantastic combat abilities. The Wretched (hauntingly illustrated by Christopher Rush) took the basilisk idea a step further in a way that would, eventually, be perfected by Krovikan Vampire. Note that, unlike the Vampire, The Wretched needs only to be blocked (though unlike the Vampire, its blocker needs to survive combat) in order to gain control of the blocker. Also from Legends comes one of the most maligned combat abilities of all, that of Aisling Leprechaun. One can only imagine what this Faerie was meant to be used for. I’ve scoured the Legends spoiler and am still clueless.
At least, Aisling Leprechaun’s combat ability is generally neutral. At least, it doesn’t run around giving opposing creatures advantages willy-nilly like Flailing Drake. But in this, Flailing Drake is not alone. When Mirrodin was released, I heard people complaining about the fact that Molder Slug is a Beast and not a Slug, but I’m inclined to believe that Research and Development made it a Beast out of pity. You see, the history of Slugs in Magic is not a proud one. In spite of its amusing Anson Maddocks art, it’s hard to think too kindly of Spitting Slug from The Dark. Granted, a 2/4 at three mana is usually a good deal, but unless its ability is activated, it’s downright awful. The trouble is, although you can’t expect your opponent to always have out an Elvish Ranger for blocking when you’re attacking with your Last-Strike Slug, it only takes a couple of Balduvian Bears to make attacking a losing proposition.
Still, it might not be fair to make fun of Spitting Slug. Spitting Slug has character, and if you have open mana, it’s not all that bad. Not like Giant Slug from Legends. Now, you have to admit that Anson Maddocks is the best when it comes to painting Slugs, but it seems to be a thankless job. In the early era of Magic, Landwalk was much more highly considered than it is today, as is evidenced by cards like Part Water, Fishliver Oil, and Mystic Decree (Strangely, even though Blue decks rarely had many blockers, Islandwalk was particularly popular.). But five mana to force Giant Slug past defenses next turn? I tend to be game for anything, but even I am not building a deck around this card.
No. I mean it this time.