The Kitchen Table: Return Of Bear Beats, Commander Style

In this week’s article, Abe revisits a casual deck from his past and updates it into a Commander version for you to enjoy. Check it out!

I have a confession to make. I have a timeless affectation for small utility creatures like Acidic Slime, Mulldrifter, Eternal Witness, and Solemn Simulacrum. It’s really more of a condition. I adore these little guys that can! They are the foundation of decks all over the casual landscape.

I was once playing my superlative Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy (2,700 cards and counting, all Highlander style), and I had out a Crystal Shard, Ninja of the Deep Hours, and Thornscape Battlemage. I was downright abusing the Battlemage via bounces with the Ninja and Shard and just having the time of my life. When I stated aloud how much I loved this style of play, it resonated with me. I would later build a five-color deck with 120 cards called Bear Beats built almost exclusively with small creatures that rock the block. (You can find the original decklist here.)

The deck often buried foes under waves of card advantage, not from Staff of Nin or Thought Reflection effects but simply via the collected weight of Nekrataal and Thunderscape Battlemage. Each snowflake is light and barely noticeable until enough pile onto your roof to collapse it. In a similar vein, enough triggers would cause a severe card-advantage headache in your foes.

Bear Beats became one of my iconic decks. People loved to grab it at the kitchen table, and it impacted a few local decks to this day—I still know a gentleman with a Horde of Notions Commander deck inspired by Bear Beats.

Bear Beats was never designed to work with a singleton environment, but the translation seems easy enough. Therefore, I have built a remake of Bear Beats around all five colors. It’s time for the small fry to dominate the table. Presenting Bear Beats Beats!

Reaper King
Abe Sargent
Test deck on 12-19-2013
Magic Card Back

When choosing my commander, there are a lot of five-color options, but few have any value at all in a deck like this. Many are tribal (Horde of Notions; Atogatog, Karona, False God; Sliver Legion). The handful left include the wacky (Cromat), difficult to cast (Progenitus) and substandard (Child of Alara). So Reaper King makes it easy to drop and provide a body. It’s just a 6/6 vanilla creature that can hit for damage after the path is cleared by our bears. In this deck that’s sufficient.

So the deck works by having a giant percentage of creatures—much more so than others. Then it uses those creatures for everything: recursion, removal of anything, card drawing, and more.

In my first pass I had 71 cards in the deck, which is just a bit too much. 59 of those were creatures, so I needed to massage that number a bit here and there. While cute, the overly expensive kickers suggested that I pull Nightscape Battlemage. Ditto Heartstabber Mosquito. Yes, it’s one of my original cards in the deck, but the expensive echo means that Ghitu Slinger is pulled. See also: Yavimaya Granger. I also yanked Geist-Honored Monk.

Those were easy cuts, but the last few hurt. Every creature left did something important. I pulled Nantuko Vigilante. It was a great tool to tutor for and answer things like Torpor Orb, but it lacked synergy with the rest of the deck. It was hard to eliminate. Next were Shadowmage Infiltrator and Lu Xun, Scholar General. My original deck had a few bodies that swung for cards. They also helped trigger the large amount of ninjutsu the deck rocked, but this one had just three creatures. So they were pulled as well. That left me 63 nonlands, and I ended my cuts.

Because the deck focuses so much on creatures, it has to get the noncreatures right. Living Death is an emergency stopgap to sweep the board and/or to reload a ton of triggers from all of your dorks. Both work well. I already mentioned the value of Crystal Shard and Erratic Portal above. Just tap some mana and you can bounce any of your creatures back to your hand for another go. You can use this to bounce opposing creatures when someone taps down, so it has other uses (such as saving a creature from targeted removal or from dying in combat).

Survival of the Fittest is great in this deck at finding the right card for the right time. It can yield any trigger the deck needs whenever you want it. Faith’s Reward gives the deck a way to fight against mass removal and another way to cause a bunch of triggers. Retribution of the Meek gives another removal spell that steers clear of your own guys. (See also: Meekstone) Cards like Aura Shards; Cloudstone Curio; and Venser, the Sojourner have established pedigrees with this sort of deck.

I’ve been a huge advocate for Portcullis for a long time. As long as there are two critters out, every creature that arrives at the table is immediately exiled. Then when the Portcullis is broken open out pop all of the creatures. This essentially gives you double triggers. You can use it at the right time to lock down further creatures, and eventually someone will pop it in order to pull all of their creatures out of it. After a quick Volrath’s Stronghold, it was time to look at the other stuff.

I included three creatures that are not on theme but help the deck. Fauna Shaman does its best Survival impression, while Prophet of Kruphix is downright naughty. Mentor of the Meek will help to draw a lot of cards over time considering how small most of your bodies are.

Now let’s move to the meat of the deck: the various 187 bodies and the creatures that play with them. (187 is an old nickname for creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers that were introduced in Visions—I still like to pull it out occasionally.)

While not all of the creatures are bears (clocking in at 2/2 on the power/toughness scale), enough are to make it a fun theme of the deck. Some of my favorite flexible creatures for the kitchen table are Battlemage cycle from Planeshift and the honorary one from Planar Chaos. With double kickers in other colors, they can be a bit rough to always make work, but their double triggers give you a strong amount of versatility to address various issues.

For example, take Sunscape Battlemage, which is often overlooked. It can kick to destroy a flyer and to draw two cards. You can do one, the other, or both as you have the mana and need. The best is Thornscape Battlemage, which is just a five-mana dork with both kickers and destroys both an artifact and Shocks something on arrival. To this day I have a severe man crush on it.

But the Battlemagi aren’t the only flexible cards here. I pushed removal since few noncreature card in the deck destroy stuff. For example, we can destroy flyers with Stingerfling Spider and Sunscape Battlemage. There are quite a number of flyers running around, so this is not as crazy as it might seem. The black kicker on Stormscape Battlemage can kill a dude. I also included classics such as Shriekmaw, Nekrataal, and Bone Shredder to destroy nonblack stuff. I even have some burn in the Thornscape baby and Murderous Redcap. If you look, you’ll notice other creature removal effects here and there too. (And Sower of Temptation will outright steal the creature in question for a while, so it has some interesting uses as well.)

That leads to the destruction of artifacts and enchantments. Thunderscape and Thornscape provide death outlets, as does another kicker friend in Kor Sanctifiers. Commander essential Acidic Slime makes an appearance and don’t forget the recursiveness of Absolver Thrull. It can haunt a creature that dies to take out another enchantment. (We can also blow up lands with Ravenous Baboons and Avalanche Riders.)

After that I looked at some ninjutsu love. Obviously Ninja of the Deep Hours and Throat Slitter made the cut since they were in the first version. Swinging with a 2/2 unblocked creature that turns into a smash-trigger Ninja is cool. Not only do you get a keen trigger (like drawing a card or killing a dude), but you can also replay the bounced creature for yet one more trigger. I looked at other options and eventually decided that just Okiba-Gang Shinobi was good enough to make the cut.

Not only was its discard trigger pretty saucy, but I added in the "everybody discard" triggers of Liliana’s Shade and Cackling Fiend. Normal discard triggers like Ravenous Rats just don’t have enough spice. I thought about adding something to it a la Hellhole Rats or something. But it still just wasn’t enough to sell me. I wanted mass discard.

I added a nice recursion aspect to the deck. Between Gravedigger, Entomber Exarch, and Eternal Witness on one side and the downright nasty Karmic Guide, Puppeteer Clique, and Phyrexian Delver on the other, we have some decent options. We can pull back the dead. I like using Survival of the Fittest for Eternal Witness first so I will Survive on if it’s broken by a Naturalize.

I don’t want to turn this into a list of every card in here, so I’ll let you look and see some of the other cards included. We have mana makers, epic Commander staples, and fun options.

Cards I considered included Ink-Eyes, Kor Cartographer, Stonecloaker, Mindclaw Shaman, Liliana’s Shade, Loaming Shaman, Ondu Giant, Oran-Rief Recluse, Marsh Flitter, Mist Raven, and a few others here and there.

You could run a Commander version of Bear Beats and just focus on three colors or so in order to smooth mana issues and concerns. Perhaps Bant would benefit from Roon as its general. I once built a 60-card Jund deck for folks that would work well as a Commander deck too—the great green cards combined with the removal-heavy black and red ones seem nice.

I hope that you found something fun in the deck. A lot of casual players love their ETB triggers, and this pushes it to the logical extreme (and does so in a really compelling way). What changes would you make to the deck?