The Compendium of Alternate Formats, Entry One: Tribal Wars

There are three formats that deal with playing creatures of the same type – Goblin Wars, Tribal Wars, Creature World, and such. Each of them are different, but they’re all tremendous casual fun; let’s start with a basic overview of the different types, and then I’ll give you a couple of decks, including the surprisingly-potent Spirit deck.

Jimmy ponders the table in front of him. He has five creatures in play, two of which are 1/1 Priests of Titania, two Llanowar Elves, and a Skyshroud Poacher. His opponent, Tyrone, is at six life and has four tapped birds plus an untapped Kangee that gives his birds +2/+2. After surveying the relative positions, Jimmy realizes that he will die the next turn unless he topdecks something phenomenal. He untaps and slowly draws a card from the top of his deck… An Elvish Fury! Jimmy taps three forests and uses the Poacher. Getting a Wellwisher won’t help, so Jimmy goes for a Sylvan Messenger. He gets two forests, a Llanowar Elite and Fyndhorn Elves. He windmill slaps down the two elves and counts his mana from the Priests. Just enough! He attacks with his untapped Llanowar Elves. Kangee blocks one. The other is Furied twice. Jimmy wipes the sweat from his brow as a sigh of relief escapes from his lips. Game one is his!

Hello, and welcome to a new series of articles that will explore various alternate playing formats that you can use. Over the course of a player’s Magic growth, many people begin to grow tired of the same old Magic formats – Type 1, Type 2, Extended. Rinse and repeat. That’s where alternate formats can come in. Some of these formats are radically different, and some resemble regular tournament decks.

Alternate formats bring spark to a Magic night around the table. And you can use these rules for multiplayer, casual, or even local tournaments. That’s the beauty of the game.

There are already sites devoted to listing alternate formats, but the main problem is that they have a tendency to just list the rules of the format and move on. Sometimes a sample decklist or two are provided as well, but they lack is a basic understanding of the metagame and strategy. That is what will distinguish my series.

From the popularity of alternate formats like Peasant and Five-Color, I suspect that a lot of Magic players are looking for something else. That is why I want to create a definitive resource for the Magic player looking for something more.

Different formats have different card pools. Some, like Highlander, are flexible enough that they can have Type 1, Type 2, Type 1.5 and Extended formats. Others are much more exact, like Five Color.

Today’s entry will be the formats that deal with playing creatures of the same type – Goblin Wars, Tribal Wars, Creature World, and such. Let’s start with a basic overview of the different types. Banned lists are included at the end for reference.

Tyrone returned the favor in game two quickly with Jimmy getting a poor draw. In game three, Tyrone looks to be doing the same, dominating from turn 1 with his blue/white bird deck. He was able to force Jimmy into playing most of the creatures from his hand in order to keep up with a Battle Screech. Then Kirtar’s Wrath came down from on high and swept the board. Since then, Keeper of the Nine Gales and its two Suntail Hawk buddies have kept anything else threatening from hitting the board as a Gustcloak Harrier winds its way forward turn after turn to continue to knock Jimmy down. Tyrone plays his topdeck, an Airborne Aid, and Jimmy concedes.

Tribal Wars – Casual Format 3

One of the defining characteristics of alternate formats is that there are often duplicate formats that try and do the same thing. This is one such area. Magic: Online And Ready For Your Money has approved a new casual format called Tribal Wars, so this seemed like a good time to go over the basic philosophies of Tribal Wars. Tribal Wars, like all of this entry’s formats, tries to create a creature-oriented environment where creatures of one type are played.

The Tribal Wars rules are simple – one-third of the deck must be creatures that have a common type. So in a sixty-card deck, you have to have twenty goblins or twenty wizards or twenty elves – whatever. However, because it is on Magic: The Electronic, it also has another important rule: Namely, that only cards from Invasion forward can be used.

Like the other types, Tribal Wars has a banned list for the major creature type hosers.

Tribal Wars is the lightest version of this genre of formats. As such, it might be a good place to start. However, I believe that the format is very open to abuse – namely abuse of the ideas behind the format. With only twenty cards, it would be easy to have a deck that did not emphasize its theme, but merely adhered to the rules of the format without appealing to the spirit.

After defeated Jimmy in round one, Tyrone has drawn a nasty little Zombie deck replete with Lords of the Undead, Zombie Trailblazers, Zombie Master, Deadapult, and other annoying factors. A surprise Wrath won Tyrone round one, but he is struggling mightily in game two as a recurring Maggot Carrier keeps dealing three from a Deadapult and Lord. Birds have to keep jumping in front of a Lava Zombie that’s pounding down. It is only a matter of time before Tyrone’s defense is crumbling, and this time, his opponent is playing around the Wrath.

Goblin Wars

One of the oldest formats in this genre, Goblin Wars tries to overcome the obstacles that Tribal Wars has, but may end up having a larger loophole. There are four basic differences between Goblin Wars and Tribal Wars.

Firstly, GW uses a larger banned list and the original Extended card pool (which is to say The Dark and all sets forward). Of course, that’s easily modified to any other card pool that your play group desires. Play Goblin Wars Type 1, Goblin Wars Type 2, Goblin Wars Mirage Block – whatever. Secondly, GW requires a minimum of thirty creatures of the same type to be played between sideboard and deck. Thirdly, GW has a much more extensive banned list. And lastly, GW allows for a sideboard.

Goblin Wars allows for players to have to dedicate fully half of a sixty-card deck to creatures of one type. With anywhere from twenty to twenty-four lands, that leaves only a few spots for non-creature effects.

However, as mentioned above, Goblin Wars is open to more abuse. First of all, the number of creatures is not based off of the deck’s size. As a deck gets bigger, the creature percentage can change. So an eighty-card deck with thirty creatures has a lot more room for broken cards.

A more egregious issue, however, is with sideboard. You can legally store fifteen creatures in your sideboard and play a deck with only fifteen creatures of one type. That makes for an environment where people can easily circumvent the spirit of the format. Since GW is often used for tournaments, this is quite an issue.

After defeating his bird-oriented opponent in round two, Elizabeth and her Zombie deck have moved on to round three where only three undefeated decks await. Elizabeth has drawn another undefeated opponent with a Dragon Deck. She gets a good start before Dragon Whelps make way for Shivan Dragons and such. Elizabeth and her Zombies fall in game one. Then She mounts a furious assault in game two before a heretofore unknown Breath of Darigaaz clears the board. Then Zirilian of the Claw hits the board… And after a few attacks, Elizabeth dies a grisly death.

Creature World

Creature World uses the same banned list as Goblin Wars. It’s also Type 1.5, so you can use cards older than The Dark. However, it is a format that tries to shore up some holes.

Firstly, it requires that half of the deck be used for creatures of one type. Typically, that means thirty cards in a sixty-card deck – like Goblin Wars intended. There is no sideboard in Creature World.

Additionally, all non-lands must adhere to the spirit of the creature type used, and must be able to be defended if challenged. Therefore, a bird deck could not use Wrath of God. But it could use Kirtar’s Wrath (since Kirtar is a bird). A cleric deck could use Wrath of God. Soldier decks might argue for Rout. But every card used must fit the creature theme.

It’s interesting to point out that almost every deck that meets the requirements of Creature World is also a Goblin Wars deck by default. It would also be a Tribal Wars deck, except for the card pool and banned list.

After manhandling the Zombie deck and its master, Ben moves to round five and faces the other undefeated deck. Piloted by a handsome blond boy wearing a loud shirt and of Norwegian decent, this deck is highly unusual. As Spirits begin to build, the dragon deck starts putting out the big guns. But they are countered by Remove Soul, destroyed by Afterlife, or bounced back to the hand with Tradewind Rider. Soon, a horde of 2/2 first striking flying spirits ends the game, mercifully. Prepared for the control in the second game, Ben begins more cautiously – trying to draw out counters and Afterlifes. He slaps down Zirilian around some counters, but the creature is Afterlifed before it can do anything. A Shivan makes it out and begins to serve, but a Phantom Flock blocks for a few turns as the opponent swings back with smaller flyers. By the time the Phantom Flock dies, Ben is down to six and needs to play defensively. Unfortunately, his opponent has amassed too much of a force, and he dies shortly thereafter.

Predicting the Metagame

The metagame of any alternate format becomes more defined the more people play. But this is a format where you can predict the metagame with accuracy – you know that it is always going to have creatures and lots of them. Therefore, cards that help against creatures are going to be useful.

And creatures are going to need to attack to win – mostly at least. So something like Caltrops, Powerstone Minefield, Moat, and Arboria might help. Suppose a line of Prodigal Sorcerors sits behind powerful cards like those and wins the game! That would be a metagamed deck.

Creature stalemates appear to be more likely. As such, you can rely upon the need for flyers, shadow creatures, and other evasion-oriented creatures. And creatures can be anything from small aggro decks to big mean best-like decks.

So you can accurately predict the metagame before ever playing in it with great exactness.

One ruling that you will want to check on ahead of time is to find out whether the lords will be counted as honorary members of their tribe. Do Goblin King or Elvish Champion count as their respective races? Some might want to say yes – others no. But that ruling could easily change the metagame.

Having made it into the finals, Abe and his unusual Spirit deck have caused quite a stir. He ends up facing an elf deck that made it into the Top 8 and into the finals from there. Piloted by a guy named Jimmy. While the elf deck made its way through some good matchups, the Spirit deck is simply not a good matchup. In the first game, Abe gets three consecutive Cloud Spirits and then Afterlifes the Poacher as his Air Force swings hard. In game two a more defensive Abe stalls the ground with a pair of Blinking Spirits as he waits for the good cards to come. A Poacher is countered by a Remove Soul. Soon, a Tradewind Rider arrives, followed by a Phantom Nomad. Creatures start getting bounced back, and as more spirits arrive to the scene, the elves watch as blue and white spirits fly overhead to rend Jimmy’s soul from his body.

Building Some Decks

In case you couldn’t tell, I prefer Creature World myself; it holds its players true to the idea of creature decks. Therefore, the decks I will build and present will abide by CW rules. Additionally, these decks will also be GW compliant (except for one cards in the Spirits deck) and would be TW if it had a larger card pool.

S-P-I-R-I-T Spirit! Let’s Hear It!

4 Tradewind Rider

4 Windborn Muse

4 Cloud Spirit

4 Sky Spirit

4 Thunder Spirit

4 Blinking Spirit

2 Phantom Flock

4 Phantom Nomad

4 Afterlife

4 Remove Soul

4 Tundra

4 Adarkar Wastes

7 Plains

7 Island

Obviously an attempt at a control deck, S-P-I-R-I-T tries to slow down an opponent and start bouncing creatures. Eventually, you want to swing with a decent sized aerial force. Note that the Thunder Spirits are from Legends, and thus technically exclude the above deck from Goblin Wars formats. You can easily replace them with any number of moderately-priced spirits if you so choose.

The creatures have been chosen largely to help slow down an opponent. First-strike flyers, the Propaganda Muse, and Blinking Spirit all can slow an assault while waiting for Afterlifes, Tradewind Riders, and Remove Souls to come online. This is obviously a metagamed deck that is designed to control the board and then move to victory in a creature-heavy environment.

Beasty Beasty Beast Beast

4 Blastoderm

4 Branchsnap Lorian

4 Ravenous Baloth

4 Silt Crawler

4 Snarling Undorak

2 Hystrodon

4 Aquamoeba

4 Riptide Mangler

4 Wirewood Savage

2 Overrun

4 Tropical Island

4 Yavimaya Coast

4 Island

12 Forest

This deck tries to also metagame a bit. Expecting more creature decks to be fast, this deck will try and stuff the smaller creatures. It has a lot of creatures starting at the two drop and does not have a lot of expensive fat. The most expensive creature is Hystrodon, which has morph; otherwise, it’s a four-drop. The idea of the deck is to play creatures quickly that will outpace little goblins, zombies, and such. It will have problems with evasion and regenerators. The Overrun should get you past the latter, but the former you’ll just have to outpace.

And you can outpace an evasion deck with the Ravenous Baloth. I went with blue as the off color because it had a pair of excellent two drops. They can help shore up a quick attack and the Mangler will always be as big as your biggest non-Blastoderm creature.

The Savages give you card advantage and should help you find those Overruns more quickly. And you can hide the Hystrodons in a cloud of Branchsnap Lorians and Undoraks, if need be.

Keebler Beats

4 Priest of Titania

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Fyndhorn Elves

4 Llanowar Elite

4 Deranged Hermit

2 Stonewood Invoker

4 Sylvan Messenger

2 Timberwatch Elves

2 Wellwisher

4 Skyshroud Poacher

3 Elvish Fury

23 Forests

This deck wants to make some quick mana and then begin to beat down either through the casting of a big nasty Elite, or by using the Poacher as a sort of (small) Swiss army knife to get Hermits, Wellwishers or Timberwatch Elves. It can also get Messengers when you run out of good targets, or if they don’t apply. This deck starts out slower than others, but can rally forces so quickly that it hopes to overwhelm opponents.

Goblin War Cry

4 Goblin Lackey

4 Goblin Balloon Brigade

4 Mogg Fanatic

4 Goblin Piledriver

2 Goblin Mutant

4 Goblin Ringleader

2 Arms Dealer

4 Gempalm Incinerator

2 Goblin Taskmaster

4 Goblin Grenade

1 Goblin Warrens

1 Goblin Bombardment

3 Goblin Shrine

17 Mountains

4 Goblin Burrows

With an environment termed Goblin Wars, how could you not expect a goblin deck?

You might prefer Rishadan Ports to the Goblin Burrows, but in a fast environment like this one, I fear that the Port would do little other than be an annoying colorless land. This deck has ways of dealing that last little damage after it stalls with the Bombardment and Grenades. With Shrines and Balloon Brigades, it can even sail over some armies. The Arms Dealer and Incinerator can help clear out a path – it’s nice to have creatures that work as removal. And we have a couple of Mutants to carry through some armies.

You might want to experiment with Mogg Infestation. It’s very rare that a creature type could qualify for a Wrath-effect, so it may be worth playing. If Goblin King is allowed as an honorary goblin, it could go in. You could also substitute Kings for the Shrines, but I prefer the harder to destroy Shrines.

You have fourteen one-drops, so this deck puts on quick pressure. It does not follow that up with any two drops, however, except for the Piledriver. However, you can keep playing one drops. You might also want to try Goblin Patrol, since you have few two drops to slow down.

Concluding Remarks

And that should give you some ideas for a Tribal/Goblin/Creature deck. This type of alternate format is among the more popular – and I expect that there are others out there that I am unaware of. The fact that they are not listed above is merely a sign of my own ignorance, and I apologize.

The very concept of playing with thematic decks revolving around a creature type is quite exhilarating. I recommend it to all.

Until later,

Abe Sargent

The Banned Lists

Tribal Wars (www.wizards.com)

Circle of Solace

Engineered Plague

Endemic Plague

Tsabo’s Decree

Peer Pressure

Unnatural Selection

Goblin Wars/Creature World (www.e-league.com)

An-Zerrin Ruins

Brass Herald

Coat of Arms

Crown of Ascension

Crown of Fury

Crown of Suspicion

Dark Ritual

Engineered Plague


Maze of Ith


Shared Triumph

Steely Resolve

Suleiman’s Legacy

Survival of the Fittest

Tivadar’s Crusade

Tsabo’s Decree