Tribal Bible #4 – Bird Is The Word at Boot Camp? Elementaly, My Dear Watson!

Rivien continues his excellent Tribal Bible series, presenting decks for the popular Tribal Standard format. Today’s offering? Elementals, Soldiers, and Birds.

There comes a time when a person must come face to face with the way they have chosen to live, with their carefully selected morality, their code of ethics, their identity. In short, there comes a time when all must face the person they have chosen to become. I say chosen because, barring heavy mental imbalance or disturbance, most people are their own creations, as evinced by several celebrities who often re-invent themselves to keep the public eye on them and sate their ravenous egos.

Yes, of course this is relevant. I’m dramatic, not a stark raving loony. Well, I mean, I suppose that’s just my opinion and it really depends on whom you ask but… ah, sod it. There’s no graceful way out of this one.

Welcome to Tribal Bible #4, and this is our second week of Coldsnap related Tribal tomfoolery, before I take a break for a few weeks to focus on some special tribes.

This week, we’re going to start right off with the flavor award winner, where there most certainly is a clearly designated pecking order. I give you:

Welcome to the midrange Bird deck! This deck was, of course, inspired by Rimefeather Owl’s existence, and as such strives to get the Owl as big as tribally possible so that it can smash face. Why only three, then? Well, I don’t especially want one in my opening hand. I want my opening turns to consist of dropping acceleration and Thieving Magpie, to draw into more Birds so I can hold the board.

This deck starts a race as soon as you shuffle it – you’re trying to hold back the opposing hordes with your men, but they’ve all got petite derriers. Not good. That, my friend, is why the Sky Hussy and the Magpie are around; you’re probably going to have to chump a lot, so it helps to draw into more chumps.

The deck consists of twenty-three land, eight mana accelerants, and twenty-nine critters. Sure, I could have put more tricky things in to actually help you maintain control, but after including nine off-tribal critters that all thematically assist you in getting more Birds, I would only have had two slots left anyhow. But by all means, feel free to bluff countermagic, since it will be expected that you have some.

The good news: Aside from your Owl Keeping Jotun Brother, all of your creatures fly. Scrying Sheets can dig up Rimefeather Owl, Frost Raptor, or Coldsteel Heart in addition to your manabase, and if you still need me to tell you how good Sheets is, then you’ve been in a cave for a week or two. Provided you hold it back a few turns, Pride of the Clouds is likely to be an undercosted flying fatty – which is good, because only itself and Rimefeather Owl stand any chance of getting four or more toughness. You’ll rarely have the mana to use its ability; or rather, you’ll have the mana but likely have something more important to spend it on. That said, I’d invest in two tokens anyhow, either from this or he of Jotun, for use with Sky Hussar.

The Bird is a tricksy animal, and as such most of your feather-brained flock can do interesting things. Aside from the aforementioned members, Frost Raptor has his removal-discouraging untargetability, the Fisher is your chump blocker extraordinaire, Sage Aven lets you manipulate your draws, and Aven Windreaver lets you see what your opponent has in store, to more effectively bluff that you can actually do something about whatever they have planned. Well, there is one thing you can do, and that’s casting Aven Cloudchaser to deal with Standard’s many powerful enchantments like Glare of Subdual, Faith’s Fetters, and Phyrexian Etchings.

And this is why the Birds get this week’s flavor award, because the more you play the deck, the more it will establish a pecking order of preferred plays (hooray for alliteration!), not to mention the way you’ll be able to feel things slowly going south for your opponent. *Flawed Paradigm whistles whilst polishing a halo*.

The bad news: Of course, any flying hosers your opponent brought will be at their best and shiniest in this matchup. If we had sideboards in this format, you’d be packing Fetters in case of Silklash Spider all day long. Trophy Hunter could cause you some pain too, since Rimefeather Owl is your only real fattie (Pride will shrink as his subordinates abandon him, unfortunately). You can’t deal with artifacts, but since the major non-Signet one that actually gets played in Standard is banned in this format, that’s a good deal less important. There’s still the occasional Coat of Arms, but hey.

There is, of course, the whole small butt issue raised earlier, but there’s a limit to how bad that can be. On the bright side, most of your critters do have at least three toughness and dodge the popular mass removal options as such (barring Savage Twister or an actual Wrath effect). If your guys were grounded, I’d make a note of their lowish power too, but their numbers are quite fine for being airborne.

Your win conditions are usually Rimefeather Owl or Pride of the Clouds. Sure, your other guys may contribute here and there, but anyone with significant flying defence will only worry about these big two. As such, you’re vulnerable to Fetters/Pillories, which is precisely why the Cloudchaser is hanging around in this bad boy. Unless you’d die because otherwise, don’t play a Cloudchaser unless it has a target or you’ll be sorry later.

I almost splashed Black for Rime Transfusion, because it’s stupid good on fliers – activating it means only twelve creatures in all of Magic can natively block the enchanted creature. In the end, there just wasn’t room for it and all the other tricks I wanted to include that didn’t muddle my manabase, so it got the cut.

Ah, and now it all comes together. Last week, I said I’d be spending part of my soul to do this, and earlier, I went on the spiel about morality. All for this, the unveiling of the first merciless and truly aggro deck I’ve submitted for the format. Why all the hype, the shenanigans, the chicanery? Because it’s brutal, mind-wrenchingly brutal. It starts fast, hits hard, and generally leaves a smoking crater of a Planeswalker sitting across from you in short order. It’s not really my kind of deck, to be honest. I like having at least some control over the board position, and I like having a chance to at least see what my opponent is playing, but I could not in good faith write an article about Coldsnap tribes and then summarily ignore a tribe provided with two new Lords at the cost of one-third of White’s rare slots. So, without further ado, let’s get ready for:

Yes, even though it’s a brutally aggressive deck, I did let my own controllish tendencies get the best of me and included Fetters, Javelineer, Darien, and Firemane for use in the mid-to-late game. Think of them as a backup plan in case your initial early rush fails. Contrary to what you may believe, though, if your Red sources are holding up, Field Marshal is not the proper turn 3 play… it’s Whip Sergeant. That way, the Field Marshall can not only pump another critter, but can join in the fray via the Haste-granting ability of Whip Sergeant.

Speaking of improper plays, just in case you’ve not seen it said anywhere else, do not, under any circumstances, play the Javelineer first turn. It sounds good, in theory, since the Javelineer will discourage any effort to attack, but for one, you’re the aggressive deck here. You want to be attacking, not discourage the opposition from doing so. Two, if you play it first turn, you’ll be spending all your land drops maintaining the Javelineer, which will end either when you stop making land drops, or your opponent puts out four critters and swings anyhow, overwhelming your poor 1/2 guy.

No, his real importance is in the mid-game, where he can discourage your opponent from blocking and thus get more damage in so you can win.

The good news: Your men are aggressively costed, you still have a decent pinpoint removal suite, and you have a Glorious Anthem on legs putzing around somewhere in your deck to make your guys even more brutally efficient than they already are. I don’t think I need to tell you how stupid Boros Swiftblade gets with a power increase. Whip Sergeant is in over Boros Guildmage because a) it’s a Soldier, b) if the deck is working, your critters will have First Strike anyhow, and c) it gives Haste more cheaply than the Guildmage. Sure, it’s more expensive initially and has lower toughness, but again, you generally expect to be striking first, making toughness a largely irrelevant number.

Should your initial charge fail to get the job done, you’ve got a decent amount of lifegain to help you recover, not to mention to fuel Soldier tokens from King Darien, as well as the air assault of Firemane Angel. Barring very unusual circumstances, you probably won’t ever have the mana to recur her, so be slightly more cautious with her than you might normally be.

Why is Surging Sentinels not in use? I tried them, I really did. Thing is, without deck-thinning, Ripple almost never works. As such, White and Red are the two colors that are least able to make any decent use of it. Compare Surging Sentinels to Nightguard Patrol – the former will occasionally get you a second (or, if luck is practically humping your leg, a third or fourth) guy for free, and by "occasionally," I mean "about fifteen percent of the time, tops." Meanwhile, the latter is always going to have Vigilance and often be 3/2, making him decent at holding the ground all by himself.

The bad news: Pyroclasm, barring an active Field Marshall or two Veteran Armorers, is going to join hands with Hideous Laughter and generally make your life miserable. Wrath effects are bad times, because you’re unlikely to be able to rebuild the momentum of your initial charge. Playing your six-drops can be tricky without any acceleration and only two Karoo, but I dare not risk any further Karoo shenanigans as they’re too likely to cut into the initial charge of the deck, which is where its strength lies. While you can technically finish an opponent with CJ Helix, you don’t have any other burn to rely on to get the job done if you muff it the first time.

Now, this being a truly aggressive deck, I’m going to do this last section a bit differently.

Your ideal goldfish is turn 2 Boros Swiftblade; turn 3 Whip Sergeant, swing for two, opponent at 18; turn 4 Field Marshall and haste it, swing for nine, opponent at 9; with turn 5 being irrelevant other than re-swinging. Chances are this isn’t going to happen very often, so your optimal turn 5 is probably going to be more along the lines of Boros Swiftblade and Kjeldoran Javelineer, hasting the Swiftblade if you’re still on four mana, or both if you made your fifth land drop. Hasted Field Marshall and unhasted Javelineer works too. Note that Veteran Armorer, Helix, Fetters, Nightguard Patrol, and your six-drops never figure into your optimal plans – those are in case you need to go on the defensive and hold your ground while hoping to top more gas than the opponent.

Note also the Legendary lands only work with Darien, preventing two damage and giving him First Strike (he’s not a Soldier himself, so he doesn’t get it from Field Marshall), but that’s fine since Firemane Angel, your other non-Soldier, has First Strike natively anyhow. Still, I’ve found them worth the inclusion.

The last deck for this week is feast or famine. This is something of a shame, because I’ve been hinting at this deck for awhile in the forums. It’s an exciting deck overall and quite fun to play. Moreover, everyone and their sister has done some version of this tribe, but insofar as I know, I’m the first to talk about this color combination. That’s why it’s such a shame this deck is so random – you’re at the mercy of whatever mechanism is doing your shuffling, because this deck plays entirely differently based on how it draws. Now the same might be said of any deck, but it’s particularly swingy in this deck. Why, you ask? Why, that’s;

This deck is (such a) crap (shoot). It’s fun though. Roll the dice, see if you assemble the Urzatron. If you don’t, Flaring Flame-Kin is about your only prayer. If you do, a whole world of options opens up. Deepfire Elemental becomes ridiculousness incarnate, Lightning Serpent grows fangs of magnitude, you can actually maybe cast Living Inferno, or use Greater Stone Spirit’s actual activated ability. Playing the deck is like stumbling through a dark room at midnight, trying to find a missing contact. Assembling the Urzatron is the equivalent of someone putting the light on; it makes your task a lot easier.

One thing to definitely not overlook is Rime Transfusion; I mentioned it in passing earlier, but this card is really quite stupidly good. It’s like Unholy Strength went and got completely out of its gourd on alcohol and then had some unholy bastard lovechild with Fear (the Aura, not the keyword… well, not that there’s much of a difference…), and then someone hyped up the baby on a bunch of steroids, because I think you’ll find that the evasion granted by Rime Infusion is generally far superior to Fear. It’s actually a lot like Shadow, since just about the same number of critters can realistically block someone under the effects of Rime’s activated ability. Except, unlike Shadow, this evasion is generally possessed by a 6/5 Firebreather with Trample. Ow. Ignussssss burrrrrrrnssssss.

You say there’s no 6/5 Trampling Firebreather in the deck? Well, no, there isn’t, but Flaring Flame-Kin certainly becomes one with Rime Transfusion laying serenely atop it. As I said, without the Urzatron, he’s your main man. If you don’t believe me, ask JMS, he’s seen it in action from the wrong end of the table. Actually, you can ask Jay about most of my decks, since he generally gets to see them being tested long before I write about them.

The good news: You’re probably going to dominate the game; it’s just a matter of when. When Deepfire Elemental gets online backed by the Urzatron, when you get Lightning Serpent and Urzatron, when you get Demonfire and Urzatron, when you can extend your vitality by firing off a giant Swallowing Plague thanks to Urzatron… yeah, Urzatron figures heavily in this deck.

There’s another good plan, though, and that involves just playing a couple of guys, and at any time you have the board advantage, sealing it with Flame-Kin War Scout. Think of it as Standstill; only play it if you’re in a position where if no one plays anything else, you’re likely to win. Learn to judge when this is, because Living Inferno is your only creature that can natively survive you misjudging this moment. Thankfully, like most of your men, Flame-Kin War Scout comes equipped with a large enough butt to matter, keeping you out of the range of most non-Char removal that considers toughness.

In all honestly, it’s probably not the most efficient Elemental deck one could do; I suspect that other colors might pull off some more impressive things, but it is quite the thrill ride in this case. Do pay attention to your Snow mana, though. It can be at times difficult to leave one open for Rime Transfusion, but often also vitally important. I caution you to generally hold Rimes for Flaring Flame-Kin. While it is a good card on its own, I think, Flaring is just improved so much by it – becoming your second biggest body in the deck, ignoring the Firebreathing – that it’s worth waiting to put the two together in almost every situation.

The bad news: You’re probably going to dominate the game; it’s just a matter of when. When Deepfire Elemental gets online backed by the Urzatron, when you get Lightning Serpent and Urzatron, when you get Demonfire and Urzatron, when you can extend your vitality by firing off a giant Swallowing Plague thanks to Urzatron… yeah, Urzatron figures heavily in this deck.

Looks familiar, no? Well, that’s just how it is. You’ll be spending a lot of time trying and hoping to assemble the Urzatron. As stated above, you’ve certainly got a chance without the entire set, but everything becomes drastically better with it assembled.

Your manabase is against you, too, in that it demands RR and BB from you in a deck short on colored mana sources, ignoring the fact that you probably want even more Red for the Firebreathing and Stonehands effects from your critters. I suppose you could cut Swallowing Plague for something else to ease up your mana a little, but it’s hard to ignore something with so much potential swinginess that it can put you back into a game your opponent was sure they’d win. Plus, Plague is something of a pet card of mine, so I find it hard to cut. It ends up in most every Black deck I run that has any acceleration at all.

Your win condition is typically either Flaring Flame-Kin beatdown, Deepfire Elemental controlling the board alongside Flame-Kin War Scout to clear a path for your burning beatsticks, or a very large and unfair X spell along the lines of Demonfire or Lightning Serpent. Well, all those contribute. Your real win condition here is luck, plain and simple. About the only way to make a more luck-requiring deck in this format is to find some way to slip Djinn Illuminatus, Karplusan Minotaur, and Stitch in Time all in the same deck (which can be neither Minotaur nor Djinn tribal, since both are three member tribes). One of you is obsessive enough to try this. Get to it and get back to me with results, would you? It sounds like a hoot. And I’m not just saying that because I did Birds this week.

Stay tuned next week when we explore a mystical fascination with the number five, and some very… "special" tribes. Plus, I’m likely to flame myself halfway into oblivion, which ought to be fun to watch in a "it wasn’t funny, but gee there was a lot of blood" sort of way.

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