Tribal Bible #2 – Something Fishy about Horsing Around with Shamen

And we’re back with the second instalment of Tribal Bible, the most cleverly named series in the history of Magic, as written by the world’s most devastatingly bald… er… handsome writer. Or perhaps a child left to be raised by monkeys in a meth lab. You never can tell.

And we’re back with the second instalment of Tribal Bible, the most cleverly named series in the history of Magic, as written by the world’s most devastatingly bald… er… handsome writer. Or perhaps a child left to be raised by monkeys in a meth lab. You never can tell.

This week, we’re going to start off with Vedalken, a member of what I like to call "challenged" tribes; those which have no members with a native power above two. Typically, this means you can’t rely on winning through combat without putting in a lot of additional effort. Thankfully, this particular tribe doesn’t need or desire to win through combat – Vedalken are tricksy politicos, and it shows. Note that practically all Vedalken are also Wizards, so I specifically did not include enough Wizards to make it legal as a tribal Wizard deck (and thus also avoided including Azami).

Note that, lands aside, the deck has no rares. With some modifications to the manabase, this could be done on a budget. I simply use duals because I happen to have them. If you were to remove them, I’d include a second Aqueduct, and probably run 1 Duskmantle, 2 Aqueduct, 4 Swamp, 3 Chancery, 5 Plains, and 9 Islands.

There’s a secret to this deck that most people won’t catch on to immediately, and if you’re careful, they won’t notice until it’s too late; the real workhorse in the deck, the true all-star, is none other than Tidewater Minion itself. People with laugh at you for playing a Defender, even a 4/4 one. The trick, however, is that they can be used along with Karoos/bouncelands to generate very large Psychic Drains, which can shift you from a losing position to a winning one quickly.

Your early game will consist of attempting to use Vedalken Plotter to exchange one of your non-Duskmantle, non-Karoo lands for any Karoo lands your opponents are using. Or, failing that, if they only have one land in what looks to be an important color, steal it from them and try to give them one it doesn’t look like they can use. You’re Vedalken, you’re vicious. And besides, this tribe needs every underhanded, sneaky trick it can manage.

Also of note is Vigean Graftmage; you want to get his lone spare graft counter on either a Minion or an Entrancer if you can help it. Use your countermagic to protect your Entrancers, since they’re your main path to pulling through in most games. If the game goes on for a while, you may be able to transmute Muddle for Psychic Drain, assisting you in finishing off an opponent.

The good news: Many of your opponents will expect you to try to win through combat. While this is technically possible via Azorius Guildmage’s tapping and swinging with some Tidewaters, it’s not a very likely occurrence. They’ll be tipped off when you play either Duskmantle or your first Entrancer though, so if you can’t play a turn 3 Entrancer via Signet, you probably want to wait until you can protect it with countermagic. Scratch that if you happen to have two in hand.

Azorius Guildmage, of course, is just as much of a house as you might expect. It serves three purposes in this deck; first off, it can function as a tapper of course, and gives you the one measure of board control you have in the deck (and even one is better than none, as we’ll find out in a very special week in the future). Secondly, it is of course capable of playing havoc with opposing activated abilities, especially in a deck capable of generating fierce amounts of mana. Lastly, it can draw heat off of your Entrancers, who are almost guaranteed to be your true win conditions. As such, be willing to let them take a bullet for the team if you have the choice between saving a Guildmage or an Entrancer.

Your biggest strength is surprise factor – while Entrancer could possibly win you the game all on its own, or backed by Tidewaters for multiple uses in a turn, in true Dimir style, your opponent will not be entirely cognizant of your plans until you fire off your first Psychic Drain. It is after this point that your hapless foe will likely recognise the true danger you represent and redouble their efforts for the kill.

The bad news: Your win conditions are few, you’ve but seven counterspells to back them, and a little draw to find them. You will have to stall the game out. You have difficulty with fliers, other than tapping them, and you can’t remove a threat from the board once it hits. Luckily, your most important creatures have four toughness, putting them out of range of Last Gasp or Lightning Helix.

Your creatures are weak, but you’ve got to make them work for you. A lot of them have one power, so they’re not going to fend off too many attackers. Don’t be afraid to use Plotters in particular as part of a gang block, however – once they’ve come into play, they’ve done their job. You get to keep the land you exchanged even if they later get themselves killed.

Your "draw," as it were, is limited to Court Hussar (a Knight, keeping this from being Wizard legal) and transmuting Muddle. If you absolutely must, you could sub out a Drain and a Minion for two Azami to help you find your win conditions more easily.

Your win conditions are almost certainly Psychic Drain and Vedalken Entrancer. Again, it is technically possible to win through combat, but the way the deck is built alongside the weak stats of your men make this probably more difficult than actually milling them out. Of the decks I’ve done so far, this is the one that’s required the most thinking to pull off wins, and there is little glory in doing so. The wins I have managed have often come with derogatory comments about being lucky, so be prepared to face that as well. Admittedly, there is probably a degree of truth to such comments, although it’s at least as likely that your opponent underestimated the power of one of your threats (especially Tidewater) and thusly misplayed because of it.

Our next tribe for this week is entirely the opposite; it lives in the red zone, and it dies in the red zone, but hopefully not before killing your opponent while it’s in for some tea and mayhem. Note that at the time of constructing this particular deck, I was somehow unaware of Chris Millar’s version, which Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar pointed out to me. I was surprised, because I generally read Millar’s articles and had, in fact, perused the one in question. I’m not sure how I missed the list, but it will be useful to contrast with the one I came up with. His version can be found here.

Obviously, Chris and I used the same Centaurs, but there’s not much choice there since there’s only five Centaurs in Standard to use. Both of us saw fit to include some off-tribal creatures; in his case, he picked four Llanowar Elves, whereas I went with three Gristleback. He chose mana acceleration, while I wanted to use an early threat. His deck also has a slightly lower mana curve than mine, and runs two less lands and no Karoo – but he also ends up with mana acceleration and fixing in the form of Utopia Sprawl, so we end up close to equal in actual mana production capabilities.

Both of us saw fit to include four Seal of Fire, because it’s frankly just an obvious inclusion with Dowsing Shaman. Here’s where we split paths, though; Chris’s enchantment selection seems to focus entirely on using Dowsing Shaman to return his auras to his hand; he selects Galvanic Arcs and Riot Spikes, cards which require re-use to get the most out of them. I, on the other hand, chose several auras that serve the primary purpose of making my own men more dangerous. The fact that I can return and re-use them with Shaman is relevant, but it’s not the focus of my deck. Generally, all of my creatures have three or more power – I want to be turning them sideways, and not for cute magic tricks.

The good news: Your men are big, and angry, and most of them have big butts. Al Ghor-Clan Savage, who may or may not have invented the Internet, is an utter pain to kill through damage if Thirsted. Do not be afraid to use Seal of Fire to trigger either his Bloodthirst, or that of Gristleback. Once your men have come out to play, your auras can carry the day. Beastmaster’s Magemark is there to be innocuous. Its own ability is rarely relevant, since it relies on your opponent to trigger it without a Lure effect. However, if you can plop it on something, your opponents are unlikely to single it out for removal, and generally won’t kill the creature it’s on unless they already intended to kill it.

As such, it can be utterly devastating if you follow on a later turn by dropping two (or more!) auras on your guys, who suddenly have an additional +1/+1 on top of the benefits of the aura they’re given. Shielding Plax can prepare a target for receiving multiple auras as well as drawing you a card, Galvanic Arc functions as removal and First Strike, alongside Fencer’s Magemark, generally giving you a mess of 3-5 power First Strikers, which are very difficult to take out in combat.

The MVP is, of course, Moldervine Cloak. It keeps coming back for more, turns an unenchanted horse-man into an instant threat, a threat into a total beating, and a total beating into World War III. It paints your house, does your laundry, pimps your ride, wins the lotto, files your taxes, shines your shoes, and occasionally gives a critter +3/+3.

One thing the deck was wanting for was Fists of Ironwood to recur for tokens and trample, but as I couldn’t find room for it, I was much appeased with Skarrg as a replacement; it’s already a recursive source of trample, and for what amounts to three mana a turn instead of five. Sure, you don’t get the tokens, but so it goes.

Note that Loaming Shaman is capable of restocking your deck if you start running low on threats, or foiling Dredge and graveyard based strategies. Don’t be afraid to play one out turn 3 to begin laying the beats, but try to hold any extras back in case there’s a job only they can do amongst your men. Of course, this also means they can send Sosuke’s Summons to the zone the opponent least wants it in; their deck.

The bad news: Well, son, it’s a deck full of men that turn sideways and thus is vulnerable to all the restrictions that entails. Wrath effects hurt you, Ghostly Prison annoys you, lifegain can push the game beyond where you’re likely to be able to finish them off, Fetters and Pillory are absolutely bloody frustrating to you, and there’s the worry of someone with bigger, badder men.

While your creatures are good on their own, they rely on auras to make them truly over the top. As such, be prepared to get two-for-one’d a lot due to instant speed removal. Luckily, your tribe by nature shrugs off a lot of removal based on toughness; only Loaming Shaman, Centaur Safeguard, and possibly Gristleback by default worry about Pyroclasm or Hideous Laughter, and dying is listed in Safeguard’s resume as a talent. The other half of the entrants in your talent contest, on the other hand, have four-plus toughness, and thus shrug off Gasp, Helix, and in Al Ghor’s case, Char.

A truly fast tribe is a big threat, as your removal here is more limited than in Chris’s version, so it’s a bigger concern, but on the other hand, this version includes more Hulk-Smash goodness.

Your win conditions are pretty much any of your critters. They all turn sideways for respectable amounts of damage, and Skarrg can force them through. You’ve got a good shot at a long game too, with being able to extend your own life by sacrificing those doomed to die anyhow into Miren’s waiting and eager maw. If necessary, you can also win through recursion of Seal of Fire and/or Galvanic Arc (say, if your opponent has Blazing Archon out). That’s the advantage of being the beatdown – a higher threat count.

Finally for this week, we come to Shamen, but I didn’t want to go in the Sachi-into-a-large-X-spell route, partially because that’s a vulnerable strategy relying on a single legend with little in the way of protecting her, but also because it’s kind of cheesy, and not in the good cheesecake kind of way. Instead, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I chose an even more vulnerable Shaman to build around… but it’s all in the name of fun, right?

Figure it out yet? That’s right, the deck’s focus is on Stormscale Anarch – everything in the deck except Anarch itself and your lands is multicoloured, and thus potentially four damage to any target if pitched. Speaking of pitching cards, Rakdos Guildmage can better your odds of discarding a gold card by pitching your lands to be used as removal spells. And let us not discuss the vicious synergy between Stormscale Anarch and Shambling Shell – guaranteed to put all but the most stalwart opponents on a very short clock.

My biggest regret here is that Pillar of the Paruns cannot be used to pay for the activated abilities of any of your creatures, which is why the deck runs two as opposed to four (and why it runs basic land at all, to be honest). Wrecking Ball and Putrefy can be used to remove anything four damage won’t, or of course via the aid of Anarch can dome the opponent for four.

You are again challenged in the combat step due to most of your creatures having low native power, but your Guildmages can assist on that front; Golgari Guildmage can pass out +1/+1 counters, Gruul Guildmage can give out temporary pumps, and Rakdos Guildmage can pump out sacrificial lambs to be sent forth to destroy. Note also that Shambling Shell can assist the Golgari Guildmage in his task if he’s not being actively used to fuel Stormscale-assist pain.

The good news: You have a deluge of threats, everything in your deck serves at least two purposes, often potentially more. The Guildmages have their abilities to serve you with, so open mana is always a frightening prospect for your opponent, Solifuge can be a threat which is astoundingly difficult to deal with in a deck featuring gobs of board control crawling out of the woodwork, anything can be used as food for Rakdos Guildmage, and most everything for Stormscale Anarch. Wild Cantor can double as mana acceleration, Putrefy as artifact destruction, and Wrecking Ball can be used to pop a Karoo.

Further, practically all of your creatures are capable of serving some function outside of combat, be it Rakdos’s removal, Golgari’s creature exchanging, Gruul’s going to the dome, or Shell’s ability to enlarge. You would be hard-pressed to construct a deck with more removal or usefulness than this particular pile. Again, the last deck for the week is the winner for flavor; all this destruction and ruination is very much in tune with the represented guilds, and it’s quite sensible that all these Shamen can channel mana into magical effects. As a side note, it’s interesting to note that no two creatures in here have exactly the same types. Five different races gather to perform their shamanic rituals, and the only other Human in the deck is a Druid, not a Shaman, whereas the second Zombie is a Plant.

The bad news: And here it comes – every single last one of your creatures is natively vulnerable to both Hideous Laughter and Pyroclasm. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. As such, be very careful in how you deploy your threats, and try to keep a Shambling Shell on the board whenever you can, until you’re using them to fuel an Anarch’s explosive spells.

Further, in can be difficult to decide how to assign your resources – you need to keep cards in hand to fuel both Anarch and Rakdos Guildmage, lands in play to fuel all your abilities, and it can be difficult to decide whether to remove a blocker, or if it’s time to just start sending everything you have to the dome. While this, as such, is probably not as strong as the Sachi-X-spell plan, I hope you’ll agree that this is much more fun and interesting.

Your win conditions are… well… every single card in your deck. Let me repeat that; every single card in your deck can function to win you the game. Anything can be pitched to Anarch for two or four damage, land can be sac’d to Gruul Guildmage for two, and all of your men can, of course, turn sideways. If there were ever such a thing as an overabundance of threats, this deck would be unquestionably guilty to the highest degree. In much the way that no card is truly useless because they can all feed Wild Mongrel, no card in this deck is ever dead, because they can all be discarded to some end or another to further your chances at victory.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this week’s offerings, and as always, comments are welcome in the forums. With any luck, this week had something for everyone; the budget minded, the pure beatdown specialist, the combo enthusiast, or the tricksy control player.

Signing off,
Rivien Swanson
flawedparadigm at gmaSPAMSUCKSil dot com
Flawed Paradigm on MTGO
GodOfAtheism just about everywhere else.