Talking In My Sleep About The Second-Worst Tribe

The Bird Deck does get a wonderful enchantment in the form of Soulcatcher’s Aerie. Admit it: 1/1 dorks are going to die. That’s about all they’re really good for, besides occasionally attacking for single points of damage. But no, dying is their skill! It’s their bad stylish ability. And the Aerie rewards you for having your stupid birds die in horrible, painful fashions. And that’s really what military strategy is all about: Stupid, annoying birds dying in droves.

I came up with this idea when I was walking in the cold. I thought to myself,”Whatever happened to the bird deck?” I remember playing against the bird deck last summer, with a U/G Madness deck my friend lent me. I remember losing to it. I can’t quite remember why I lost to it, which shows how much attention I was paying.

However, clearly Wizards wants us to play with Birds. After all, there are several excellent tribes. Like Beasts, where you use eleven tribal cards. Tops. Or Goblins, which has been tribal since I was a lad. And who could forget Wizards, with such great cards as”That guy that dies to the uncounterable cycling effect of Slice and Dice” and”That other guy that means you can’t splash a damn thing.”

Yeah. Man, tribes are sweet.

Birds are a great idea for a tribe. Let’s take an animal that man has feared for thousands of years. Oh yes. Have you not seen how the Romans feared the common sparrow? Or how the majestic dodo terrified explorers for hundreds of years? You know what really defeated the Nazis? It was ostriches. Big ones – with racing stripes! Ostriches Type-R. Forget weapons of mass destruction, it’s all about the ostriches.

In Magic we call Ostrich Type-R”Hunting Moa.” Yeah dude. And you remember how much you feared the moa beats!

(Note that Hunting Moa is a beast, even though it looks like a bird. This totally destroys my point. It was the Beasts all along! Damn you beasts, stealing all the bird glory! I will have my revenge!)

Oh, man, this really doesn’t kick my k-rad strategy article off on the right foot, now does it? Okay. The idea here is, we make a bird deck. Birds have many advantages, such as:

They all fly. Flying is one of the most over-priced, goofy, misprinted abilities since bands with other. Flying is best when used via Wonder, where”priced as though it were a drawback” 6/6 Wurms leap into the air, soaring over blockers. Birds are not 6/6. And they are not priced as through the creature type was a drawback.

Birds are all small, generally. There are a couple of big ones – but they’re all horribly bad, so we won’t use them. This is good, because it makes deck building much simpler. Simpler decks are good for the people! Like U/G madness. Everyone loves U/G Madness, right? U/G Madness should have been red, that way; it could have been less subtle about its communism.

I hate subtlety. And sarcasm.

Birds all benefit from such amazing tribal cards as Soulcatcher’s Aerie (which rewards you for having your creatures killed), Seaside Haven (which rewards you for killing your creatures), and Keeper of the Nine Gales (which rewards you for playing bad cards).

As you can see, we have a rock solid foundation from which to build a killer, tier 1 deck. Yes. With Kangee, overpriced nonsense, as my witness, we shall kick ass with birds. Let us go over the birds we shall put in our deck. By our, I mean”mine,” because I don’t want to actually play this deck. Keep away from my mad tech.

4 – Suntail Hawk

This guy is just a classic. First, he’s got four feet. So he’s not really so much a bird as flying dog with a beak. A sphinx, of sorts. That’s just classical right there. Nothing more classic in Magic than a sphinx. Yeah.

As a 1/1 for 1 mana, Suntail Hawk isn’t going to be winning any popularity contests. As opposed to the next card that’s going into this deck, he’s just downright rude. He actually attacks for damage, the little bastard. You know what they say about creatures that attack for damage, eh? Yeah, me neither.

4 – Aven Envoy

Now this – this is a real winner of a card. It’s a reprint of Ornithopter. Man, that ‘Hopter was some damn, damn savage beatings. Oh man, it was so unbalanced. Can’t you remember such bitching plays as”turn 1, ‘Hopter, swamp, Unholy Strength” followed by two points straight to the dome on the next turn down Ornithopter road?

With Aven Envoy around, you will need never fear the intense beatings of a turn 1 elf or goblin again. After all, it’s not like you’re going to attack with it.”Aggro,” when it comes to birds, involves defiling your outer garments from twenty feet above.

4 – Mystic Familiar

At 1/2 for 1W, you’re looking at real winner here. I mean, damn, for an extra mana, you get … +1 toughness over Suntail Hawk. That’s …

Well, it looks even better if you realize it’s +1 power over Aven Envoy. Oh yeah. You need not fear the savage elf beatings with this guy around. You will, on the other hand, fear the savage”beating a bad joke into the ground” while I’m around.

He has the added bonus of getting +1/+1 and protection from black once several of his bird brethren have died horrible screaming deaths. This makes him angry – and if I was a worse player, I’d point out that now you have a super-amazing blocker against Psychatog decks! However, really, I don’t think the Tog deck cares all that much. Seriously. Upheaval, swing, good game. The poor Familiar never had any say in it.

0 – Soulcatcher

I really never got the point of this creature. It’s ability has, granted, won me a few games in Limited, but it seems sort of pointless in the modern day age unless you’re playing against U/G and killing his creatures. Otherwise it’s just the first bird in the line to be Shocked, Smothered, Grim Lavamancered, beaten with a stick, or had rocks thrown at it. Few things truly interest me like an ability which only works if my opponent decides he should let it stay on the board while other creatures are dying.

4 – Soulcatcher’s Aerie

On the other hand, we do get this wonderful enchantment. This is actually the whole reason to play birds. Admit it: 1/1 dorks are going to die. That’s about all they’re really good for, besides occasionally attacking and things relating to that. But no, dying is their skill! It’s their bad stylish ability. And the Aerie rewards you for having your stupid birds die in horrible, painful fashions. And that’s really what military strategy is all about: Stupid, annoying birds dying in droves.

4 – Skyshroud Falcon

Why would I put four of this card in the deck, compared to no Soulcatchers? The simple truth is that Skyshroud Falcon’s ability is much more relevant unless my opponent is smoking crack. And, since I’m playing Birds, I’m definitely cornering the market on crack smoking while playing Magic. Therefore I expect the giant, unstoppable Skyshroud Falcon to storm through the air in a frenzy of death and torment all who oppose him. If not, I’ll just be smoking crack, so who cares? Not me.

2 – Shared Triumph

While Shared Triumph is relatively minor card in the scheme of things, it’s nice to have a consistent way to pump up all your dudes without having to pay two white mana to cast it. While I’ll certainly suggest other two symbol cards, I’m fond of showing a preference towards keeping myself as far away from mana screw as possible. You can probably understand that; I’m of the belief no one likes to be screwed.

3 – Lieutenant Kirtar

Fitting directly into the bird theme, we have Lt. Kirtar. This guy is precisely what the bird deck needs. After all, his entire purpose in life is to go down in a blaze of feathers, bits of beak, and a funny looking stick. Killing himself is what he was made to do, how could you possibly not see just how perfectly he fits into the mighty bird deck? Also, he has two power. This is actually pretty impressive as far as playable birds go.

0 – Aven Trooper

This card will long, long be the target of my hatred. It is probably one of the worst and poorly-designed cards released since Homelands. There is little controversy as to why this card was duped”Pooper Trooper.” For it’s casting cost of 4 mana – which can get you 6/6s in three colors – you receive a 1/2. That really puts the Pooper Trooper into perspective. It’s six times smaller than what it would be in other color. Sure, those cards have drawbacks. Doesn’t this card, in a way, have a drawback?

0 – Keeper of the Nine Gales

Again, we have a creature that has only a single point of power and costs more than one mana. You wanna talk impressive? One power for three mana – that’s impressive. And its huge two toughness is certain to keep it alive when you’re playing against Red, hoboy. Assuming they didn’t use up all their shocks on Aven Envoys.

Yeah, it’s the new Tradewind Rider. Only it has none of the good points of Tradewind, and several bad ones. Let’s simply not play this card.

2 – Commander Eesha

As cards go, the Eesha is pretty much top of the bird world. She can’t be blocked, in combat, she takes on Wurms and lives to speak of it, she’s sassy with a touch of classy. She also has a monstrous two power for four mana, which entirely defeats the purpose of being in an aggro deck – but we’ll run her since she can’t be blocked and unblockable is cool. Much cooler than Keeper of the Nine gales and his powerhouse”woo-woo I’ll bounce a Mongrel, using up my whole attack force” abilities.

4 – Battle Screech

Probably the only actual powerful card in the whole deck, four mana and a single untapped white creature gets you a string of four 1/1s to power up Aerie, be powered up by triumph and aerie, or to just generally beat on your opponent’s face with. Considering this is generally mana effective and actually utilizes white’s strengths – that is, mass pump – this is probably by far and away the best white card to come out of Judgment.

2 – Cunning Wish

Generally I wouldn’t put this card into an aggro deck, but it helps fix some of the more likely problems in the deck and works alright at shoring up those weaknesses by fetching what you’ll need in the late game. So whatever; Wish goes in. It’s also good and splashable.

4 – Deep Analysis

It’s unusual to dump a big pile of card drawing into a weenie deck – but on the other hand, this is a bird deck we’re talking about. If you fill your hand up, you’re likely to dump out a mad amount of cards in the following turns, since everything is so cheap and easily cast. I mean, we’re playing Aven Envoy for a reason, and it’s not because it’s able to block lootin’ an’ pillagin’ Llanowar Elves with impunity. No seriously, it’s not there to block 1/1s.

Dammit. It is. You got me.

This gives up 37 cards. Now, normally I’d go to 38 spells, but I think I’ll plop down some cycling land within the deck. They fit nicely into it, since a lot of the time I’ll draw into something I can cast, and the deck doesn’t necessarily intend to beat my opponent out on the first couple of turns through mad bird beatings. In all honesty, while this may be an aggro deck, the plan is to generally overwhelm them with pure numbers or the ridiculous size that the Aerie can make our envoys. This is not a very good plan when you’re playing creatures who total sum of power isn’t over the Wurm tokens a U/G deck is likely to cast, but I don’t think I’ve ever said I was building this deck because it was a good idea.

According to ratio math, we should have at least six sources of blue mana and seventeen sources of white mana. Now, if you look that, and think it’s weird, it’s because you’re not supposed to use ratio math to make any sort of decision. This isn’t a democracy

However, it’s a good starting point. Sans dual lands, we would probably go a pretty solid sixteen sources of white and seven sources of blue. That’s sixteen plains and seven islands if we weren’t going to use cycling lands, but we’ll go with fifteen plains, a Secluded Steppe, 6 islands and a Lonely Sandbar. We then start adding dual lands. We’ll go with four Flooded Strand, three Adarkar Wastes, and two Skycloud Expanse. This we’ll split as such, then:

8 Plains

1 Secluded Steppe

4 Flooded Strand

3 Adarkar Wastes

2 Skycloud Expanse

1 Lonely Sandbar

2 Island

One of the huge advantages of allied mana bases in this day and age is the fact that they’re solid as a rock without even adding City of Brass, which is a nice touch. Given how completely lacking seriousness this deck is, though, throwing in the next land – the Seaside Haven – may simply come off as adding stupid jank that we would do well in being punched in the face over. But still, two Seaside Havens going in!

This is our completed main deck list. And oh God, it’s a smoker. By smoker, I mean bone. Yay!

//NAME: Bird poo

4 Suntail Hawk

4 Mystic Familiar

4 Soulcatcher’s Aerie

4 Skyshroud Falcon

2 Shared Triumph

4 Battle Screech

3 Lieutenant Kirtar

2 Commander Eesha

4 Aven Envoy

2 Cunning Wish

4 Deep Analysis

2 Seaside Haven

2 Island

1 Lonely Sandbar

2 Skycloud Expanse

3 Adarkar Wastes

4 Flooded Strand

1 Secluded Steppe

8 Plains

This is literally one of the worst decks I’ve bothered to assemble in a long time – and it’s funny how it performed even worse than I expected. Let’s go over the faults.

Aven Envoy:

This card is, without a doubt, simply stupid. There’s honestly not use or anything good about this card. It’s impressive in the sense that it’s completely horrible and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Pay no heed to the fact it’s a bird, a soldier, or the fact it flies – it’s completely stupid and whoever came up with it wasn’t considering things at all.

The worst facet is that it’s blue. Blue is the secondary color and it’s a lot less likely I’ll drop a blue on turn 1 than a white.

Soulcatcher’s Aerie:

Before Onslaught, I was somewhat impartial to this card. I’d seen it perform fairly well. Unsurprising, Naturalize makes this card so completely not worth using it’s again, quite humorous. Remember, Aerie does nothing until your birds have died their painful deaths. And after you drop more birds, your opponent will simply remove the Aerie. Often during combat, resulting in further dead birds.

Skyshroud Falcon:

Paying more than 1 mana for a combat related creature with a single power and a single toughness is simply asking for scorn. It’s really unfortunate there is a whole class of birds that fall into this category: The Falcon, Skywing Aven, Mystic Familiar, Gustcloak Harrier, Gustcloak Skirmisher, and so on. In fact, leading into…

Commander Eesha:

Four mana is a lot. Four mana requires effects that shake up the game and shake up your opponent. Eesha, on the other hand, is so painfully irrelevant due to her casting cost comparison to her power/toughness that it’s quite humorous. She really doesn’t do much of anything. Look at how many of the attackers she’s likely to block and kill in U/G: Zero. It’s unfortunate for White that all the instances of”Protection from Creatures” turned out to be oft unplayable. I am liking Beloved Chaplain a lot more than this sassy mama.

Now, this was definitely a theme deck made for yoks. It won its first game – but after that, the various faults in the deck kept it down. It loses horrible post sideboarding. Building a deck around a lot of 1/1 dorks of the same type is just asking Engineered Plague to show up. Let’s not mention how good a plan it is to trade three cards to make a super-bird-crusade, only to have it crushed by an errant Naturalize. Nah.

Beginning from this analysis we can surmise that Birds, as a tribe, are woefully underpowered… But this is not true. In fact many of these cards are quite powerful in and of themselves, but the general disarray of theme and the obvious tactical weaknesses of the cards, as I’ve discussed, shows through. Individual cards within vacuum are reasonably powerful, however, the overall synergy of the deck is not that high. Certain component cards fit more into controllish builds, like Keeper of the Nine Gales, while cards like Suntail Hawk are more aggressive and built around attacking. Without a bird that reads”Birds don’t tap to attack,” you aren’t really going anywhere fast.

In other words, Birds are victim of splintered design philosophy.

Let us begin the production of a”serious” bird deck, then. First, let’s take a look at the”good” bird cards.

4 Suntail Hawk

Battle Screech

Lieutenant Kirtar

Of these three, only Battle Screech is really a big deal. Screech, in combination with Glorious Anthem or Divine Sacrament, turns into a beating. Now, sure, it would be better with Soulcatcher’s Aerie except for the whole”two cards to be equal to Anthem, three to be equal to Sacrament, four to be …” you get the idea. We don’t have the birds to go that way, anyways.

4 Cloudreach Cavalry

Every instinct in me says that this is a bad card. Why is this a bad card? Because it loses too much for you to not have a bird in play. If you swing with the Cavalry and the Bird, and both are blocked, losing the bird will almost inevitably mean losing the Cavalry as well. Thus you’re forced to keep the bird at home, which reduces the aggressiveness of the deck.

2 Mystic Familiar

Not exactly the best card in the world, it does add another bird to the deck, which will help get the Cloudreach Cavalry off the ground. It is also not as vulnerable to Engineered Plague as many of the other bird choices one might take, such as Skywing Aven – which can be helpful when it comes to madness and incarnations.

4 Glorious Anthem

2 Glory

I would really love to put Divine Sacrament in my white decks; it would make me quite happy. However, time and time again I get screwed over for using it. Mongrel is one of the deck’s foils, and Mongrel getting bigger is no good for anyone on the biting end of the Mongrel. Glory is a support card that can help hold down the fort from attackers while forcing your attackers through. It also makes Cloudreach Cavalry a lot better by keeping blockers from killing your birds.

This is 23 cards. We have the core of the deck and are left with making the decisions on how to discard the Glory and whether or not to go into blue. Blue, if we are using madness, gives up the benefit of being able to use Circular Logic. Merfolk Looter will help the deck keep birds on the table as well as making various cards functionally superior. Looting into Logic is good times. We then need to make a choice as to our second madness outlet. Being in White-Blue, this offers us the following cards:

Skywing Aven

This was rather solid in draft, but the 1 toughness makes it too vulnerable to engineered plague and other small arms removal. The three mana for a 2/1 doesn’t help much either, regardless of its Blinking Spirit-style ability. I gave it thought, but it doesn’t quite do it for me.

Patrol Hound

I’m ambivalent here. As a madness/Glory activator it does the job fine, but the discard ability has no real benefits to me or my team. First strike is an ability your opponent goes into combat planning on you using, and he won’t engage unless he knows he can beat it or can commit the resources. Put one way, you don’t need to discard a card to feel the benefit of first strike. Put another way, the first strike isn’t going to help unless your opponent is throwing something away or can outfox the hound, at which point discarding a card is not going to accomplish anything for you.

Vengeful Dreams

I’m a big fan of this card. Yes, in a lot of situations it’s strictly worse than Wrath of God, but in some situations it’s a lot better – for example, when facing down Rotlung Reanimators. The problem here is that Dreams doesn’t have the support cards here to make it really work – namely, Weathered Wayfarer. It doesn’t let us trigger Circular Logic either, but the inability to use the card for serious advantage is quite adverse.

Tireless Tribe

This is ultimately the card I’m going to go with. It’s cheap, and its ability is actually generally relevant.

This adds on:

4 Merfolk Looter

4 Circular Logic

4 Tireless Tribe

Lastly I’m going to add a pair of Whipcorders, to give the deck a little bit more speed in the early game. This sets me to 37 spells and 23 land. I’m not using a lot of blue, so I’m not going to get too funky with my mana base in regards to cycling lands.

4 Adarkar Wastes

4 Flooded Strand

1 Island

1 Brushland

4 Windswept Heath

9 Plains

The fetchlands are added to allow the deck to sideboard in Compost, which is generally a bit help against Tog, Aggro-Black and mono-black control. It won’t win you the game, but it will make it a lot harder for them to beat you easily.

Early, pre-testing sideboard to go with the deck:

4 Compost

1 Forest

2 Envelop

3 Ray of Revelation

1 Cleansing Meditation

3 Intrepid Hero

1 Disenchant

I gave the deck a few runs but I immediately hit the bird problem: Cloudreach Cavalry is relying on a tribe that simply doesn’t cope with combat very well. Birds die. A lot. And I can’t put the sort of depth of birds into the deck that would manage to keep them going, since there aren’t enough birds good enough to be put in the deck. If you have a bird, the Cavalry is really powerful; problem is, without birds it’s simply a 1/1. If Cloudreach cavalry had been 2/2 for 1W and then gotten +1/+1 and flying for having a bird, I’d be a lot more partial to this card. Dropping down to a 1/1 if the birds leave, for whatever reason, makes the tempo loss from your birds dying a lot worse.

So, funny jibes at the deck aside, I have to conclude that while the”bird deck” has many powerful cards, too many of its strategies are simply too vulnerable to disruption. Be it the innate card disadvantage or simply the abundance of highly effective, incidental anti-bird cards, this is not a good deck choice or a good place to work from.

I’d rather get back to working on my normal White Weenie decks, if you don’t mind me.

If I were to make a suggestion to Wizards, I would imply that a 2/1 for two bird would help the deck’s aggression, and a bird that makes your enchantments more difficult to removal – for example, 2/3 for 1WW with”Your enchantments may not be the target of spells or abilities” would help patch up some of the serious problems in this tribe. Beyond that, Wizards has to either give up the cost of the Soltari and admit that evasion on weenies isn’t going to snap the metagame in half – or that frankly, birds aren’t likely to ever make a splash. It’s bad enough that White has a serious multiple-personality disorder when it comes to have Soldiers and Clerics, which really wrecks a lot of white’s better cards and messes up White Weenie in Standard… But throwing another, even worse tribe on top just doesn’t help sell cards.

Next week I’ll write something about a serious deck or two.

Peace be with you,