If you read Magic strategy sites on the Internet, chances are you already know that Lorwyn is spreading several tribal themes across different colors: Giants are in White and Red, Merfolk are in Blue and White, Goblins are in Red and Black, and so on. As for Green, the list of tribes that they share obviously includes Elves, as well as Treefolk.
Something other than Beasts was necessary, I guess, to keep this block from simply being a replay of Onslaught. However, Treefolk surprised me. Remember those days back before we started playing PTQs, and all those good times we used to have slinging the Treefolk around the kitchen table? Me neither. In fact, a Gatherer search says that only ten creatures with card type Treefolk were printed before the Modern Age of Magic began*. Personally, I would have preferred Spiders over Treefolk, just because it would have gotten Becker to write again.
The distinctive Treefolk characteristics appear to be a high toughness that’s usually greater than the creature’s power, Forestwalk, and anti-artifact mechanics. There are some exceptions such as Weatherseed Treefolk, but for the most part your typical tree has stats similar to Alpha’s Ironroot Treefolk and abilities similar to Argothian Treefolk from Antiquities or Heartwood Treefolk from Tempest. I could see those cards doing well in Limited, but none of them really suggests a lot of Constructed play.
However, the Wizards R&D still deserve some credit for trying to turn something unimpressive into a plus. Observe this fellow, unofficially spoiled by MTGSalvation.com:
Creature — Treefolk Warrior
Whenever a Forest comes into play under your control, Battlewand Oak gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
Whenever you play a Treefolk spell, Battlewand Oak gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
You couldn’t bribe me to play most of the 3/5 commons that are legal in Constructed … but if I’m paying only three mana for it, you’ve gotten my attention. With Scryb Ranger in the format, this guy could be a decent threat. He wouldn’t make the cut in your average Green/X deck — Troll Ascetic much? Call of the Herd often? — but if I were designing something along the lines of Michael Jacob’s Mono-Green deck from the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals, this card would at least enter the discussion:
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Boreal Druid
4 Scryb Ranger
4 Woodland Changeling
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Battlewand Oak
4 Gaea’s Anthem
4 Might of Old Krosa
2 Stonewood Invocation
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Treetop Village
For those of you who haven’t seen the spoilers, Woodland Changeling has been unofficially spoiled as a 2/2 bear that has all creature types even when it isn’t in play. Obviously this deck will have him pretending to be a Treefolk, thus pumping the Battlewand Oak further. He aims to help solve the big problem with this deck: there simply aren’t enough ways to pump your Treefolk. You have only Forests and Scryb Ranger, which will not be enough a surprising amount of the time.
If there happens to be a cheap instant in Lorwyn with type Treefolk that grants +X/+X (no such card has been spoiled as of this writing), it could adequately fill that Gaea’s Anthem slot and this deck might actually be pretty good. Otherwise, the Changeling and Oak are probably not good enough to make the cut and would be replaced with cards like Groundbreaker or Call of the Herd. Just to beat my point into the ground, though, the Oak is close to being in the deck — much closer than I would have expected from a common with type Treefolk.
Contrast with this card, spoiled by Mark Rosewater last week:
Creature — Treefolk Warrior
Other Treefolk creatures you control get +1/+1.
Other Treefolk and Forests you control are indestructible.
Here lies a fine example of Zvi’s old rule: if you’re paying four mana for something, it had better win the game. This guy is big and rare, but unlike the common 1/3 we just looked at, he wouldn’t enter the discussion on any deck, just about ever.
I understand how Rosewater might have thought this was a “wow” type of card; indestructibility is usually a “wow” effect. However, this guy doesn’t shield himself, so you can bet that whatever shenanigans you might have planned are not going to take place. I wouldn’t even sling a card like this around in a casual game, because in the four- or five-person multiplayer games I was in when I first started playing Magic, someone always showed up with Swords to Plowshares or Terror.
(To be fair, the Protector probably doesn’t shield himself because (a) “lord” creatures never effect themselves, as in the case of Goblin King; and (b) this card would likely be too good, in Limited at least, if he protected himself.)
I racked my brain trying to figure out what kind of deck I would even think about putting the Timber Protector into, and I couldn’t really do it. For example, consider this deck that made Top 8 of this year’s MSS Championships in the hands of Peter Montalbano:
3 Llanowar Reborn
4 Breeding Pool
2 Treetop Village
4 Yavimaya Coast
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
3 Stampeding Wildebeests
2 Brine Elemental
3 Mystic Snake
4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
2 Carven Caryatid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Wall of Roots
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Coiling Oracle
4 Heartwood Storyteller
3 Chord of Calling
2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2 Carven Caryatid
4 Spike Feeder
4 Scryb Ranger
1 Brine Elemental
I wondered if the Tenth Edition card Citanul Flute might serve as adequate Chord of Calling substitute, so that this sort of deck might still work after all of its Ravnica Block cards rotate out. I can hear you spraying your soda all over your monitor and yelling “Citanul Flute?!” out there, but you have to understand how I work when it comes to deck design: very few cards or ideas are ruled out until they are proven to be bad (and no, you can’t prove a card/idea bad just by saying in a forum post, “that sucks”).
Those maindeck Heartwood Storytellers got me thinking about a Treefolk theme: Deadwood Treefolk seems like a fine card for a deck which is almost entirely creature-based, and you knew that Vesuvan Shapeshifter becomes an exact copy of the creature including creature type, right? I figured that the Timber Protector’s inherent badness could be overcome by having it as a one-of Flute target.
To be honest, I don’t want to show you the resulting deck. It’s embarrassing. (Embarrassing decks are often a by-product of the “very few things are ruled out” strategy.) To steal a turn of phrase from Geordie Tait, if you were to give my “Decks” folder an enema, then that list would be where you’d stick the hose. The main problem is that even if you have the time to play and activate Citanul Flute — and Mister T pities the fool who thinks he has that kind of time — you’ll never want a 4/6 ground-pounder who makes other guys big and tough. You’ll want a guy who wins the game with his ownself, such as Arcanis the Omnipotent or some beefy flier. Finding Timber Protector so he can speak for the trees just ain’t gonna cut it.
If Rosewater wanted to give us a “wow” card, why not give us the 5/5 for three mana that enhances the team? Just sayin’, this heavily-muscled fellow spoiled last Friday by Devin Low is obviously ridiculous:
Doran, the Siege Tower
Legendary Creature — Treefolk Shaman
Each creature assigns combat damage equal to its toughness rather than its power.
With Doran in the picture, suddenly tons of Treefolk get better. Scarwood Treefolk? Fights like a Juzam Djinn. Deadwood Treefolk becomes the Raise Dead dragon. Heartwood Storyteller was usually around more for his ability than his attacking power, but with Doran both are highly relevant.
Of course, a 5/5 for three mana** doesn’t need to make anybody better, not if he’s getting in there by himself. Doran’s casting cost isn’t even that much of a barrier to getting in there; we have Urborg, Terramorphic Expanse, and a relevant deck from Block season that combined all of Doran’s colors to good effect:
- 4 Stupor
- 4 Funeral Charm
- 4 Chromatic Star
- 4 Smallpox
- 3 Temporal Isolation
- 2 Tendrils of Corruption
- 3 Slaughter Pact
Note the similarities with the B/G Rack deck that won Japanese Nationals, which showed me a pretty clear path:
3 Chromatic Star
4 Augur of Skulls
3 Doran, the Siege-Tower
4 Hypnotic Specter
4 Funeral Charm
4 The Rack
4 Horizon Canopy
2 Llanowar Wastes
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Treetop Village
3 Urborg, Tomb Of Yawgmoth
3 Gaddock Teeg
3 Psychotic Episode
3 Slaughter Pact
3 Krosan Grip
I wrote down this deck before Rosewater’s article this past Monday, when he spoiled Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, a Green/Black legend that has better synergy with The Rack than Doran and doesn’t require a third color. Of course, Nath also costs five and Doran doesn’t. That’s pretty powerful evidence to prefer the Treefolk…
Wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
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* The “Modern Age,” a term that I first heard from Mike Flores and Brian David-Marshall on the top8magic podcast, refers to Invasion and all sets afterward. Basically, it divides the history of Magic at the time when Randy Buehler and other Magic pros were hired by Wizards of the Coast.
** Yes, yes, he’s not actually 5/5. Until Merfolk Thaumaturgist starts seeing Constructed play, though, I feel pretty safe calling Doran a 5/5.