The Chump Block – Fauna Shaman Examined

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010Friday, July 9th – I haven’t been this excited for a set since Time Spiral block. I am a man who is easily impressed by nostalgia – one of the many reasons why Pogs make a common cameo in a vast majority of my jokes – and there are plenty of cards in M11 that pluck that particular heartstrings of mine.

A quick bit of self-indulgence before we begin yet another article that is bound to be more or less extraordinarily self-indulgent anyway: I ended up third playing in this weekend’s PTQ here in Chicago. I again chose to rock out to Grixis, whose card-of-the-day this go-round happened to be Inquisition of Kozilek, which I HIGHLY recommend. I’m not sure how much longer Grixis can weather the storm, as the almost certain ubiquity of Obstinate Baloth is likely to make the deck much more awkward, with its Sedraxis Specters and Blightnings. Perhaps the Baloth is really a blessing in disguise, as I imagine Jund is going to be taking some major hits from M11. Whatever. That’s a whole other article.

I swept the swiss and could have definitely won the whole thing, when I ended up taking (what I feel to be) such a silly risk my semifinals match. Even as I was making the game-losing decision, the little man inside my brain was shouting at me “You’re being too greedy,” to which I lowered my sunglasses, looked him coolly in the eye, and responded “only losers don’t take unnecessary risks.” And then I promptly lost. My opponent — A GIRL! (note: not really a big deal) — got moderately lucky to have won that game drawing Bolt, Bolt, but I certainly put her in a position to do so by Earthquaking myself to 6.

M11 has been (barring any bizarre surprises) completely spoiled, and I am sitting here in my chair quivering with excitement. What an awesome looking set! While I may not be very pleased about either of Wizard’s decisions with regard to upcoming core sets — jamming them full with brand new cards and making them appear each year as opposed to having a year in between — if they continue onward with sets that seem to be of such caliber, than I will gladly accept that in return.

I haven’t been this excited for a set since Time Spiral block. I am a man who is easily impressed by nostalgia — one of the many reasons why Pogs make a common cameo in a vast majority of my jokes — and there are plenty of cards in M11 that pluck that particular heartstrings of mine. While their names may not be as blatantly referential as many of Time Spiral’s callbacks, most of the rares that I’ve really liked so far have evoked a response along the lines of, “It’s like ____, only ____!” I don’t think many of these cards will be as powerful as their originals, but doesn’t stop me from salivating over everything I touch and pawing furiously at my computer screen.

One of the most commendable aspects of M11 is the subtle implementation of mythics in this set. I use the word “subtle” because several of the recent sets have felt like being smashed over the head with a mythic sized ball-peen hammer. I’m sorry, Vengevine and Lotus Cobra, but you are simply not what I signed up for when I agreed to this new policy. Unlike Rise of the Eldrazi, which makes me want to throw every non-mythic rare that I open into a bubbling pit of acid, the card quality of the rares and mythics are (by and large) balanced. Wizards has done an amazing job of making their mythics not only FEEL definitely mythical, but they’ve also kept their promise of relegating utility cards to the rare-slot. Most of the mythics, too, feel particularly balanced for their cost. All of the titans are incredible powerhouses, there’s no argument there, but exactly how good will they turn out to be? I think powerful enough to see them in decks, but not so powerful that every archetype is going to want or need to play them.

The rares, too, are for the most part awesome. While there are some duds (Green Leyline, can you ever win?), I actively want to go out and open boxes of this set and collect playsets of these rares, because they all look so fun and unique and powerful and interesting. I feel this good relationship between mythics and regular rares is going to make the card prices much less of a dramatic disparity than it has in the recent past, and opening this set will be much more of a profitable adventure. This is what a set should look like, Wizards. Thank you.

Moving on.

If you don’t like decks that have a lot of one-ofs, then you should probably just leave right now.

There are specific types of decks that I like to play, and while it’s not a 100% requirement that decks I prefer need to fall into these categories, I am generally drawn to them like an extremely sexy moth to a flame. I like decks that have lots of one-ofs. Perhaps its because I enjoy playing games that don’t degenerate into the same old pattern time after time; perhaps it’s because I feel like it’s harder for my opponent to put me on a card if I run a dozen different answers; or perhaps it’s because I love the feeling of drawing that one random card in your deck that wins you the game from almost certain defeat, and as you rise out of your seat with a triumphant bellow emanating from your lungs, you fling the card shuriken-style into your opponent’s eyes. The ensuing lawsuits are well worth it.
I also love to play “one-card combo” decks. Open the Vaults? Yes. Pyromancer Ascension? Yes. While I don’t think that these decks are necessarily always the best, I like to build them and see what they can do, especially early in the season when people aren’t usually ready for them.

The card that I pick for favorite-and-also-most-powerful card from the new set fits the bill on both of these accounts: Fauna Shaman. Survival of the Fittest is one of my all-time favorite cards, and while we can all agree that Fauna Shaman is no Survival, its ability is nonetheless still an extraordinarily powerful one. I think that, perhaps even a year ago, this card wouldn’t be nearly as busted as there really wasn’t anything around to abuse it. With the introduction of Vengevine into the mix, however, we have insane potential on our hands. You can discard a Vengevine to – get this – GO GET ANOTHER VENGEVINE! I don’t feign to be the only person who realizes this, but I definitely feel it deserves as much mention as possible, as it is bound to make a huge impact on Standard as we know it.

I think looking at Fauna Shaman and expecting him to kick the tempo of a deck up a notch is a little too ambitious. Yes, while you can indeed get the nut draw and discard multiple Vengevines over the first several turns, that’s not really where his power is going to shine. The draw of this little guy is that he makes any Naya or Bant (or Junk, for that matter) deck much more powerful late game. Especially while we still have Shards of Alara still in the mix, Rangers of Eos and Bloodbraid Elves become insane when you get to cast them every turn which, if you’re playing cards like Ranger of Eos or Squadron Hawk, you should be able to do, as your hand is always stocked with fodder. Making a top-decked Birds of Paradise suddenly turn into something like six extra cards is a hard prospect to pass up.

I’m hesitant to post a decklist as I feel like anything I throw up there will look like a sloppy mess. I honestly haven’t done any testing with this card, so everything I say is pure speculation. Take this list with a grain of salt. While I think that he would go well being ported into any existing Naya, Bant, or Junk deck, I don’t really think it’s terribly creative to shove four new cards into a deck a go “TA-DA!” even if it does happen to be extraordinarily powerful. I highly suggest you try him out in your current lists to see how he fares; however, in lieu of those options, I wanted to come up with something entirely new. It’s actually just a revamping of an older list, one that sadly didn’t really receive much attention, but that I always thought showed a lot of promise. Alright. Here goes nothing.

4 Birds of Paradise
3 Noble Hierarch
4 Fauna Shaman
4 Vengevine
2 Lotus Cobra
3 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Bloodbraid Elf
2 Ranger of Eos
3 Sedraxis Specter
2 Cunning Sparkmage
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Baneslayer Angel
1 Linvala, Keeper of Secrets
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Scute Mob
1 Sun Titan

4 Ancient Ziggurat
4 Verdant Catacomb
1 Misty Rainforest
3 Raging Ravine
1 Stirring Wildwood
1 Swamp
1 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Forest

3 Obstinate Baloth
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Perimeter Captain
2 Rhox War Monk
4 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Tidehollow Sculler
3 Acidic Slime

This deck is trying to do one thing: play dudes. The fact that there are only creatures in the maindeck means we get to play with one of the more powerful lands out there right now, in the form of Ancient Ziggurat. The AZ is largely underappreciated with the wide selection of manlands that one may choose from, but it allows a deck like this to be possible. We have 13 turn 1 sources of Green mana, meaning that we are almost assuredly going to be able to drop a mana dude onto the table, which in turn will help us ramp into one of the sexier creatures in the deck. I’ll be the first to admit it: the manabase is a mess. But until a more solid maindeck gets nailed down, something like this will have to do.

So why these creatures? I think a vast majority should be obvious. Rangers, Bloodbraids, Vengevines, mana accelerators… these guys are no strangers to the Standard stage these days. They provide the needed card advantage and, more importantly, tempo that a deck comprised of mostly creatures needs to win. So what’s with these other guys?

Sedraxis Specter is a card that originally inspired me to build this monstrosity. He works SO WELL with Fauna Shaman, it’s almost unfair. You, admittedly, might find him a bit hard to cast at times, which is fine, as he is just about the best discard choice you can have if your opponent has relatively few cards in hand. I like the idea of getting value out of the creatures you’ve discarded, so this guy provides a nice alternative if you happen to have not drawn your Vengevines. I’ve complemented him with Tidehollow Sculler, another gem that’s seen better days, and being able to quickly neuter an opponent’s hand alongside the Specter means that your all-creature deck is not as vulnerable to every trick in the book as most. Sculler also does a great job of double checking to make sure that there are no surprises (read: Obstinate Baloth or Vengevine) before you bash in with a Specter.

As for the other random dudes? Frankly, they are just guys that I figured would be good in a variety of matchups. Getting Blightninged? Go search up a Baloth yourself. Facing Mythic? Grab Linvala. I actually think that Sun Titan is the worst of the titans (feel free to fire a barrage of hate at how much of an idiot I am), as you normally have to be sure you have something you actually WANT to be in the graveyard in order for him to be useful. In this deck, though, you can be almost assured that you will be grabbing something that you like, as you are literally putting it there yourself with Fauna Shaman. If your Fauna Shaman dies, hey, you can also get it back!

I chose to not run Knight of the Reliquary in the deck, which may raise some eyebrows and may also be a mistake. The Knight becomes infinitely less useful when you don’t have many Forests or Plains, and there’s not really any lands that particularly need searching up, nor is there a desperate need for acceleration in a deck that’s primarily three-drops, but who knows. He’s such a powerful card even in a vacuum that maybe he warrants a spot… AS A ONE-OF! In all seriousness, though, I think what puts me decidedly on the side of no-Knight is that Sejiri Steppe is just much too hard to fit into the manabase for me to want to run it.

As for the sideboard, Ancient Ziggurat somewhat ties ones hands with regard to choices. I’ve tried to keep them primarily creatures, as you can plainly see, but certainly there is room for such a powerful spell as Maelstrom Pulse. Perhaps I’m overly wary of RDW at the moment, but I have been playing against it non-stop online, and it definitely showed up en masse to the PTQ in Chicago. M11 might deal it a crushing blow, what with Obstinate Baloth and the White Leyline, so I actually don’t foresee it being able to compete as strongly as it used to, but that’s invariably what always happens. People always have the tools to beat Deck X, so no one plays it, so no one boards hate for it anymore, and then someone plays it and crushes everyone.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. I’d love to hear your advice on the deck. What random creature would you throw in, and why? Bloodghast? Sporecap Spider? Maelstrom Angel and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? Feel free to e-mail me and/or post in the forums.

Thanks for reading…

Zach Jesse
Zoochz on MTGO
[email protected]