Tribal Bible #6 – I Am Unholier Than Thou, oh Tap Dancing Pants!

Welcome back! I have returned to thee, oh most faithful followers of the Standard Tribal format, and I have finally begun to wash the stench of those awful, awful decks from last week off of me.

[Tribal Bible is a series maintained by Rivien Swanson. Tribal Bible covers a format known either as Tribal Standard, or Standard Tribal, depending on whom you ask. The rules are as they are for Standard, except at least one-third of your deck must consist of creatures that share a type, there are no sideboards, and Umezawa’s Jitte is banned from the format.]

Welcome back! I have returned to thee, oh most faithful followers of the Standard Tribal format, and I have finally begun to wash the stench of those awful, awful decks from last week off of me.

Begin semi-off topic: I’m a fairly decent fan of movies – I watch a good many movies at the cinema, and own a decent collection of them myself. I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan, and I was recently watching Chasing Amy for something like the fifteenth time (and still can’t make it through the ending without crying like a little girl with a skinned knee) and I had an epiphany, while listening to the dialogue.

Without giving away too much of the film’s plot, one of the secondary characters in the film is named Hooper X, and he’s a comic book writer, along with all the main characters. Hooper is in an interesting position; he writes a very aggressive comic and it has an image to maintain. Ergo, in public, Hooper has a very Chris Rock-like attitude; making mock of us white folk and what not, and pointing out how the white man keeps the brotha man down and so forth. Apparently his agents not only endorse the lunatic behaviours he goes through to promote his comic, but in fact insist on it. You’d have to see the movie to understand.

More importantly, however, Hooper X has another quandary; as he says himself, he’s a minority within a minority. Here’s the epiphany; so am I. How can I say that, being a white male? Well, see, I’m a Magic writer. According to Wizards, there’s about six hundred thousand Magic players, or less than one percent of the world population. And within the Magic-playing community, there are about one to two hundred consistent writers at any given time. Suddenly, even the whitest bloke in the world is instantly a social minority – one even smaller, I presume, than Hooper X belongs to. Actually, it gets even worse; I’m a Magic writer for a format only consistently covered by three people, and English to boot, so I’m a minority within a minority within a minority that is within a minority. I’m like a speck of microscopic dust. Is this especially important? No. But for me, it’s an interesting perspective to see things from.

And yet, we’re still on topic here, believe it or not, because for the next two weeks, we’re discussing something very much not a minority – Humans. How will I possibly fill two weeks with decks full of Humans and keep it interesting and fresh? Well, when Mark Rosewater is right, he’s right; restrictions breed creativity. In this case, my restrictions are that first off, as I said last week, I’m done with Kamigawa block. As such, I’m cutting my number of available Humans down vastly. Second, five of the decks will be mono-color… mostly. They will only produce one color of mana, but some of them will be using hybrid mana cards simply because there’s nothing better available.

I’m going to go through the color wheel in alphabetical order, which means this week is Black, Blue, and Green, and next week is Red, White… and a surprise. You’ll see. Some of these decks will be simplistic in nature, others complex. Each plays a bit differently than the rest, which is quite the relief given how boring you might expect a bunch of Humans to be. With that out of the way, I shall make like a Goth at a Marilyn Manson concert, for I am:

This is going to be one of those simple decks I mentioned. Despite the number of weenies in the deck, this generally plays more like a mid-range deck due to the fact that you will probably rely on Chilling Shade or Consume Spirit to finish the game, which is why I’m running twenty-four land here. Normally with a mana curve like this, I’d drop to twenty-two or twenty-three land, but this deck not only tends to rely on big effects to win, there’s a lot of ways to spend three and four mana in this deck.

First, the obligatory review of the roster; Silent Bob is there for the card draw, of course, and to turn sideways across empty boards. The Guildmages are there because they’re better than other options (like the Rogue reject Krovikan Scoundrel) available to mono-Black, non-Kamigawa Humans. Orzhov Guildmage is generally the better of the two simply because he can force damage through when your men can’t swing across safely, which is pretty often since all the Humans are 2/1 or 2/2.

The rest of the cards all work in a bizarre tandem with each other. The thought process went something like this; "I am using Black card draw (this means Phyrexian Arena, Silent Bob, or Phyrexian Etchings), and therefore I need lifegain. In go Feast of Flesh, Douse in Gloom, Consume Spirit, and Highway Robber. All my removal is now damage-based, so in goes Orzhov Euthanist to finish off the big beaters." Having played the deck a good deal, I’m still on the fence about Douse in Gloom. There’s a pretty good chance that it should be the oft-superior Last Gasp, but then I enjoy the lifegain, which is very often relevant to this deck.

So why Shade? He’s off-tribal. It’s disgraceful, I know, but Humans generally need to look for at least a little outside support because they tend to share two traits; small size, and no evasion. This is not a formula for success in any known format not including Fireblast, Incinerate, and Lightning Bolt.

Why only one Scrying Sheet? Paranoia, really. It’s just to ensure that all my Consumes fire off for maximum damage. Chances are I’d be better off biting the bullet and putting in a second or third Sheets, but then again, I rarely have free mana in this deck, between the extra draw and/or Orzhov Guildmage.

The good news: You’ve got a deck full of cheap men, all with useful abilities, lots of removal that doubles as lifegain, a draw engine, and a large flying beater. This isn’t news to anyone so far. The more subtle aspects of the deck include the discard from Dimir Guildmage, and the Haunt ability of Euthanist. Sadly, I couldn’t make room for a decent sacrifice outlet to trigger the Haunt at more useful times than usual, at least not without lowering my removal suite to a lower number than I like to have in Black.

All of your creatures either natively have two power (the Humans), or can increase their power (the Shade), so you’re not quite a total laughing stock combat wise. A wall of bears can be a fairly effective defence. Not enviable, but decent. I admit, the temptation to include some Frost Marshes in here for Dimir Guildmage was awesome, but I made my bed of restrictions and I’m going to lie in it. You are, of course, free to do without my self-imposed restrictions and go hog wild.

The bad news: Well, you’re Admiral Asshat, and command the Kindling Army of Pyroclasm Bait. Everything you have natively dies to Pyroclasm/Hideous Laughter (just because I’m done with Kamigawa Block doesn’t mean everyone else is). Furthermore, you’re in mono-Black, which means Hand of Honor, Paladin En-Vec, and White Shield Crusader are all bad times for you. Plus, you natively have no way of dealing with either artifacts or enchantments, so good luck with that.

That aside, you’ll have to be creative with your removal. Early on you can only kill x/1s and x/2s, although as the game goes on, you’ll have enough mana to Feast or Douse the same turn you play a Euthanist, not to mention Feast will get increasingly better with each one played. Interestingly, this is a lot of cooperation to expect out of Black cards, which means this is kind of the anti-flavor deck of the week. I’m not sure if there’s an opposite prize for that, but there you have it.

Your win conditions are usually Chilling Shade or Consume Spirit, so you have to protect the Shade, since it’s a good deal more consistent. How do you protect it, you ask, without counterspells? Well, one bright side is that while most of your creatures are just bears, their abilities usually demand the opponent find answers to them or suffer a loss. As such, if you hold Shade until six mana or so, when you can pump it out of Helix/Gasp range, chances are your opponent will have used most of their removal on Guildmages, Silent Bob, or Highway Robbers. Another possible inclusion in the deck here is Coercion (or Distress, if you’re clinging to Kamigawa block) to check the opposing hand for any removal prior to dropping the Shade down.

Lastly, this deck has only five rares, four of which are Silent Bob himself, and thus can be an interesting diversion for the budget-minded fans of the format.

You might think that, given my lamenting of Black’s available Humans that I’d be a little depressed going into Blue, but the fact is I’m quite a bit happier with this deck. Unlike Black Humans, what Blue Humans (not the Blue Man Group, I don’t think, but I can’t be sure) make up for what they lack in size with excellent control abilities. In fact, I’m so giddy about this deck, I could engage in a bit of:

And yes, I actually can tap dance. Growing up, I always wanted to be either a writer or an actor and thusly trained to do both, but as an adult, I’ve found a happy blend in stand-up comedy, which allows me to do both so long as I continue to write my own material (and unless I’m cast in a major motion picture some day, that will always be the case), and so I am content.

This is the deck that inspired JMS’s recent sojourn into Bird territory, as described here. As you can see, I was lucky to produce the 12/12 Owl that eventually served as both gravedigger and muse to Jay. The Owl is again the finisher a Human tribal needs – large and evasive.

Going over the roster, we have an army of stone cold muthas; the entire Rimewind Cult puts in appearances, from the cheap but oh-so-effective Taskmage, all the way up to the leader, Heidar. Along for the ride are Martyr of Frost – an early beater, late chump blocker, and potentially a pretty powerful counterspell effect as early as turn two and as late as the game progresses. Honestly, in as many games as I’ve played this, there’s only been one change: I swapped the numbers between Survivor of the Unseen, which I underestimated, and Rimewind Cryomancer, which I overestimated. It’s not that the Cryomancer is in any way a bad card, it’s just that in this deck, she’s better at turning sideways than pretending to be Azorius Guildmage (who may well be a better card overall, since she can do both, but Rimewind is in for flavor reasons).

This deck actually wins the flavor award of the week; note that not only is the entire Rimewind Cult present, leader and all, but every card in the deck except Martyr of Frost has at least three letters of "Rimewind" in it. How’s that for snazzy? Rewind goes so far as to use only letters from the word Rimewind. Furthermore, there’s something very poetic about this cult summoning the giant Snow Bird as a win condition, a creature powered by their very own cold magic.

Speaking of Martyr of Frost, he’s very much the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of the deck, not only missing out on the Rimewind games, but being the one creature in the deck who doesn’t benefit from Magewright’s Stone. That’s okay, though, because you’ll always find a willing target for that seemingly harmless artifact.

The good news: All your board control are belong to us. You have eight tappers maindeck, Magewright’s Stone to get multiple uses out of whichever is most relevant at the time, plus you have the ability later to counter activated abilities, spells, and bounce permanents. If you can survive the early game and make consistent land drops, you’re in extremely good shape. Keep in mind Rimewind Taskmage targets permanents, not creatures, and can also untap things, so he’s incredibly versatile, capable of impersonating Voltaic Key, Icy Manipulator, and Rishadan Port amongst others, usually starting turn 4. Not bad for a two-mana dude.

For the most part, I am running Counterbalance blind. This may seem silly or even stupid to some of you, but since it’s managed to save Heidar twice and my other creatures several times (not to mention myself at least once), I find it a valuable inclusion. Note I said for the most part; there’s some interesting times ahead.

In a deck like this, I can’t say enough good about Survivor of the Unseen. The first thing to understand about this card is that you can tap it in response to its cumulative upkeep trigger and get at least one draw out of it for the initial three mana you spent on it. This holds true every turn, so barring removal, you can always get one more draw than you "paid" for, if you’re willing to do it during your upkeep. Note that each draw consists of two cards, and that afterwards you can put a card on top of your deck. If you intend to pay the upkeep for the Survivor, then I suggest holding off on drawing during your upkeep for just this reason; because it can set up a Counterbalance for you and get you a mana-free counter at instant speed. I’ve come to understand over the last thirteen years that mana-free counterspell effects are often considered somewhat better than Mudhole.

The best part? Given a Magewright’s Stone or two, the Survivor that wasn’t voted off of the island can chew through your library in a hurry, setting up Counterbalances, making for huge X’s on Martyr of Frost’s ability, finding your Rune Snags, Heidars, Owls, and all the socks you’ve lost in the drier over the years.

To top it all off, Rewind is excellent in this deck, since you’ve usually got some creature ready and willing to spend spare mana to do some magic tricks.

The bad news: Well, of course, being Human, most of your guys are small, and non-evasive. You’re really dependant on hitting four land drops; all your Rimewind creatures dislike the Daystar and won’t come out to play if it’s keeping your snow permanents from accumulating. Artifacts and Enchantments are your biggest worry here; most of your control comes in the form of tapping, and most Artifacts and Enchantments couldn’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys less if you tap them. As such, you’ll probably want to hold counters for these or removal spells. Opposing creatures that can be targeted by abilities are usually just bad jokes in your presence.

On the bright side, that’s pretty much the end of the bad news. You are, after all, playing Blue, the God of Magic Colors. (And yet, I’m still a Black mage; I’m either a fool, stubborn, or non-competitive… you make the call.)

Your win conditions are usually Magewright’s Stone and your opponent conceding. You could, in fact, probably cut Rimefeather Owl from the deck altogether. See, what tends to happen is you eventually draw a couple of Magewright’s Stones, drop them into play, and then proceed to use some combination of Rimewind Taskmage and Heidar to shut off all your opponent’s lands, barring them from playing any non-instant spells, which you can potentially counter with up to eleven effects, or via Counterbalance for free. Understandably, once an opponent realises this, they will generally concede the game prior to you bouncing/tapping every permanent they ever lay. This being a control deck, however, as long as you establish control, you can win with anything; I’ve done it with Cryomancer/Martyr of Frost beats, even.

Oh, a note on the manabase; I only actually own 19 Snow-Covered Islands, otherwise I might cut a Sheets for one. I’m not entirely sure, I’d have to test to be certain, but I thought I’d let you people privileged with twenty or more Snowy Islands be informed of such.

I really have nothing clever to segue this one, but then, that’s fine. It’s Green, and Green isn’t known for clever.

For those who only started playing recently, Pants is a slang term we use for Auras, originally coined as I recall for Hero’s Resolve (known as "Fat Pants"). This deck is just full of Pants, so that’s the name you’re getting, and you’ll like it. Green, in my opinion, which has no truck with humility whatsoever, was hit the hardest by losing its Kamigawa block cousins, particularly the many decent Monks that were available. I’m going to regret not having started the entire Tribal Bible series a week earlier than I did, simply because I would have enjoyed doing a Monk deck, but perhaps I can redeem myself later.

That said, let’s look over the applicants; Skarrgan Pit-Skulk may seem like a bad card, and not much of a one-drop. Well, there’s two reason he’s in. First off, your preferred one drop is Utopia Sprawl since this deck is almost entirely three drops, and as such you start the game turn 2 instead of 3 if you spend your first turn Sprawling around. Second, in the absence of Silhana Ledgewalker, Skulk wears a Cloak quite well, becoming a 4/4 or 5/5 which can’t be blocked by creatures of lesser power.

Gruul Guildmage was selected as anti-burn tech for your creatures, able to shield them for the low, low cost of four mana. It’s not the best ability in the game, but it’s there, and all the other Green Guildmages are Elves. I suppose you could technically run Simic Initiate, Wild Cantor, Martyr of Spores, or Gatherer of Graces, but honestly… Cantor’s the most appealing of the bunch to me, and that’s a bad sign. Simic Initiate rarely does anything useful even in a Graft deck, and so is basically useless here. Unlike the Blue deck, your draw is more limited and your cards lend themselves to being played out rather than held back, so the Martyr is less useful than one would hope, and you have better critters to put auras on than the Gatherer, so Gruul Guildmage is about as good as it gets. As I said, Green was hit the hardest by the soon-to-be rotation; Jukai Messenger would have been incredible here, or Dosan himself.

The Enchantresses speak for themselves; one draws cards, the other becomes a huge monster, needing only Fists of Ironwood to become an immediate and massive threat mid-to-late game. Trophy Hunter is in as your token flying defence, because Silklash Spider isn’t Human. Derf. While I won’t deny the possibility for other colors, I am almost certain I will revisit this deck post-Time Spiral and see if I can’t do something more interesting than a straight Enchantress deck.

The good news: It’s an Enchantress deck; you play a bunch of guys, put pants on them, and swing for the fences. You’re capable of producing monstrous threats a good deal larger than most opposing critters or burn are likely to be able to deal with. Quantum physics this is not, Yoda says. The Verduran Enchantress is one of my favorite cards of all time, simply because it occasionally lets Green live up to the expectations Wizards places on it for being #2 at draw (although in practise, Black is usually much better at it, despite supposedly being #3).

Sadly, this deck is greatly diminished by being mono-color. There’s a lot of good that would come of adding either White or Blue to the deck, but alas it is not to be. For what it’s worth, though, there’s a low six rares in here, so it’s not a huge investment of a deck either.

The bad news: Your most important creature is 0/2, and in fact all of your creatures are basically terrible without pants, and most of them can die to a Shock in response to putting pants on them. Admittedly, eight of your pairs of pants are likely to give at least +3/+3 for three mana, so if you manage to survive the risk, you’ve got an early beast on your hands. It does help that half of those pants are self-recursive in exchange for a mere two cards off of the top of your library.

Really, I apologise for this deck being so utterly bland. Ugh. I feel cheated. Don’t get me wrong, the deck’s fun in the way that turning huge men made cheaply is fun, but it’s just not interesting to discuss.

Your win condition is usually Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, due to the pseudo-unblockability it receives when its power is high enough. Other than that, your best shot is trying to goad the opponent into a game state where they’ve only barely got enough creatures from dying, and then using Mouth of Ronom to remove one of them and swing through for the win. Sorry, this is Green, that’s about as clever as we get in these parts.

Next week, the Million (Hu)Man March continues!

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