First, the good news: I’m finding Tribal Standard games to be slightly easier to find online. I’m also
seeing lots of different account names playing Tribal, which shows me that people are trying out the format. New folks in
the Forums are making themselves heard, and I’ve received several testimonials that I’ve piqued their interest
and that they intend to try out Tribal Standard soon. These are all mere seeds, but they may yet grow into a robust,
The bad news: I still rarely see more than one or two Tribal Standard games at any time. I think the paragraph above
would balance out my pessimism except that I also notice that not a lot of people are reading my articles. The total
number of Forum views on each thread is small, and in the “rank order” that StarCityGames does at the bottom
of the page, my articles seem to be in the cellar.
Now, it’s hard not to have an ego-based reaction here. I spend hours on each article and it would be nice to
know people are actually taking the time to read them. I also know that Casual/Multiplayer articles are buried on the
StarCityGames page, so the audience is going to be smaller by mere placement. I don’t want either my ego or excuses
to cloud the facts, though: Interest in the topic of Tribal Standard is minuscule. If I felt that my articles were
receiving progressively more hits, I would see reason for hope. My gut tells me the opposite may be true, that Tribal
Standard was a curiosity for a brief moment that’s rapidly losing steam. I hope that the next several weeks prove me
Thankfully, those actually reading my articles are finding them helpful, fun, and are speaking up in the Forums. Last
week produced a good amount of discussion about Coldsnap’s influence, both in general and to my previous decks
specifically. There’s even a Thrull deck for your amusement, so check it out.
In terms of Coldsnap, the big card I seem to have overlooked is Skred, which might fit into both my Goblin and Wizard
deck. I’m sure others will surface, too, as the cardboard and online community sinks their collective teeth into the
new set. Probably sometime before the set’s online release, I’ll revisit what cards I think will get played in
Picking An Underdog
Coldsnap isn’t here until next month, though. I’m not going to wait for a new crop of Yetis and
Humans to make decks when there are so many tribes I have yet to explore. I had committed to looking at a smaller tribe,
and look at a smaller tribe I shall. Let’s limber up and check out the category I’ve called the
“Underdogs,” those tribes trapped just above minimally-legal.
Right now, here are the tribes available as Underdogs: Advisor, Knight, Wurm, Giant, Golem, Insect, Ninja, Plant,
Archer, Scout, Vedalken, Viashino, Zubera, Angel, Cat, Drake, and Illusion. As I said in my first Tribal article, these are small tribes. In
the world of Standard, my guess is that most people in that world would live their whole lives never seeing members of one
of these far-flung communities. If an Underdog tribe raised an army for war, it would be a mythical event.
As I look at the tribes available in this category, I see a bunch of subcategories that either heighten or dampen my
interest. For example, there seem to be what I would call “sub-tribes,” or tribes that are simply consumed by
a larger tribe. Why would I make an Advisor deck when every single Advisor is Human? Why make a Zubera deck when
they’re all Spirits? With the exception of Court Hussar, all Vedalken are Wizards. With the exception of
silly to me, and unnecessarily limiting. Until these tribes are injected with some unique character, I don’t see me
making a deck here.
Three tribes contain creatures too uninteresting for me to touch. Wurms are just big, Green, armless fatties. Scouts
are the opposite; Too tiny to matter without any redeeming qualities around which to build a deck. Drakes are usually
nothing more than Blue vanilla fliers. I have seen one cool Wurm deck online, piloted by GamerLich, which used Greater
Good to fuel his deck. That’s a very clever twist on an otherwise uninteresting bunch of critters. Still, I’m
not tempted to make a Wurm, Scout, or Drake deck.
Two tribes I like a lot are Angels and Illusions. Both of these tribes have enough solid creatures that do interesting
things to fuel my deckbuilding imagination. The only problem, really, is that each will receive a big boost with Coldsnap.
Angels will get Adarkar Valkyrie, one of the most fun cards in the set. Illusions, meanwhile, will get the
which swell the overall number of Illusions). As a result, I don’t see rushing into any Angel or Illusion decks when
in a month I’ll have fun, new deck centerpieces.
That leaves eight tribes out of seventeen to consider seriously. Half of these tribes sound quirky and cool, but
expensive and necessitate including cards like Hill Giant. This is also a tribe looking to Coldsnap for key pieces.
Besides, I ran into Chris Millar online who was working on a Giant deck.
Golems are also expensive, and I’m not quite sure what to do about them except to include Auras, thanks to Thran
Golem. I think there’s a cool Golem deck to be made, but I personally have a hard time figuring out how to do it.
Archers are missing something to reliably give opposing creatures flying (I had high hopes for Soratami Cloud Chariot,
but it only works on my own critters), and without such a trick they’re underpowered. I tried Oathsworn Giant. It
feel like Cats are one card away from contention (I’m not convinced that card is Arctic Nishoba, either).
Fun tribes, these four, but either I’m not quite ready for them or they’re not quite ready for me.
That leaves four tribes, any one of which would make for a deck I’d enjoy playing. My reasons for not choosing
deck, and partly because I’m tired of Ninjas in Standard.
I like the Knights currently available, but I’m not terribly interested in making a White Weenie deck right now.
Like Angels and Illusions, maybe I’ll revisit Knights once Black ones are around thanks to Coldsnap.
If I hadn’t seen over a dozen Plant decks online already, I would definitely be making one. Since Plants seem
commonplace online, I’m turning to the only tribe left:
Making A Pest Of Myself
Like Cats and Plants, Insects have four strong cards that hang together well. They are:
Solifuge win games almost single-handedly in my Bloody Goblins deck. A Mono-Red deck can likely remove blockers more
easily than an Insect deck, but I still think this guy is awesome even if all he does is remove a creature and deal a
couple points of damage.
Grave-Shell Scarab – It’s a 4/4 body that can block, kick ass, and never die. An undying beatstick is
always welcome, especially when I also have the option of effectively cycling it for one.
Nantuko Husk – The Husk is obviously a strong creature, but it needs support to become a powerhouse. Looking
at the other Insects on this list, I don’t see that kind of support other than the cool synergy with Gleancrawler.
If I can find room for a token-producer in my non-Insect slots, that would help Nantuko Husk immensely.
Gleancrawler – Six mana for a 6/6 trampler is great, but it’s that other ability I really enjoy.
Self-sacrificial abilities like, say, Grave-Shell Scarab, get silly quickly, or if I happen to have a sacrificial outlet
words, my other three Insects love them some Gleancrawler.
Four goodies, to be sure, but I saw four goodies on the Cat list before screeching to a halt. The remaining Insect
completely outside of my established colors of Black and Green. There are so many recent Insects I would love to use –
Insects is very top-heavy on mana and thus slow. Mortipede is just another top-heavy, slow addition to my deck without
awkward. If my deck is humming, I suppose it provides an every-other-turn challenge for my opponent with Gleancrawler on
the table (activate, attack, recast it the next turn), but that also sounds clunky. Still, it’s better than anything
else I’m seeing in my options.
As an aside, why are Standard’s Insects so huge? I realize that these are only the Insects that a planeswalker
I’m making an Insect deck and can’t find anything reasonable under three mana just seems wrong.
The nucleus of my deck is:
Not bad, but as I said, the mana requirements there hurt my eyes. Assuming twenty-four land, that leaves me sixteen
cards to try to make this nucleus functional.
My first concern is mana, and I would like to have as many creatures as possible to feed Nantuko Husk. The two best
could use Elves of Deep Shadow instead of Birds, but I’ve found flying is often relevant in chump-blocking
scenarios. I also would like to avoid damaging myself when possible since my deck looks s… l… o… w.
twenty-four land, four Birds, and four Elders, I’m sure as heck hoping that I can handle the mana for a deck that
tops out at six mana. Still, I’ll be watching my games closely to see if I’m too slow to compete.
I suppose it’s a requirement that all Standard Green/Black decks add Putrefy. Artifacts aren’t nearly as
problematic as they used to be, but it’s still too powerful and versatile a spell for three mana to exclude.
Holy bajeezus… I only have one card left! This has been my experience with Tribal Wars decks; the whole deckbuilding
This means I have holes to fill in my deck, and possibly too many for a single card slot.
Here is the list of contenders for that final spot in my Insect deck. Luckily there are only – gulp! – twelve
cards I’m seriously considering.
It’s easy to forget that Bottle Gnomes is currently Standard-legal because it hasn’t appeared in any
tournament decks and because Gnomes are a non-legal tribe. If my deck is slow, though, it provides an easy-to-cast life
pad while slowing down my opponent’s attack. There’s sexy synergy with Gleancrawler, as well. Unfortunately,
Speaking of defense, there are few creatures as stout in Standard Tribal as Carven Caryatid. Three mana for a cantrip
2/5 defender is something I could often pull off Turn 2 thanks to Birds of Paradise, and the Caryatid falls into my
primary color. Later in the game, it’s good Husk food or can set up a Husk-Gleancrawler cycle to draw cards.
Crime / Punishment
The allure here is versatility. Punishment provides a catch-all solution – albeit an expensive and slow one – while
Crime is devastating at random times. My deck can easily splash White thanks to Birds and Elder, so the third color
isn’t a barrier. The real question is whether this card helps my deck survive at all or whether it’s yet
another expensive bomb. Still, I like Crime / Punishment’s effects a lot more than Bound / Determined’s for my
It’s an early body, and once my deck is humming both abilities should be relevant. I’m just not sure how
much either ability adds to my deck. After all, my creatures are big enough without +1/+1 counters and they can often come
back into play without the Guildmage. Redundancy isn’t a bad thing for a deck to possess, but I wonder if big
critters and reanimation are the features of my deck that deserve duplication.
deck that Grave Pact wouldn’t devastate.
As you know, I’m sucker for flexibility and the ability to deal with whatever my opponent throws at me.
Faith’s Fetters makes me unusually happy, for example. If I don’t use my last slot to combat artifacts and
common wisdom would suggest using Naturalize, I’m also a sucker for avoiding dead cards in my hand. Indrik
Stomphowler is always a useful card and sometimes a game-winner. Five mana makes me wince, of course.
As I said, it’s a lot safer to play maindeck Last Gasp in Tribal Standard than regular Standard. I’m
wracking my brain, but I can’t think of a single deck against which this card would be useless. The question,
really, is whether my precious last card should go to spot removal when I already have Putrefy in the deck.
It’s quick and a heavyweight when put into a deck that can generate five to ten mana. The fact that I can
sweeter with Nighteyes the Desecrator on the table, which is another point in its favor.
Believe it or not, I’ve never used Plague Boiler in a deck. This is mostly because I’ve been writing
“Building On A Budget” since Ravnica debuted, but it still feels odd. Reset buttons are great, especially when
your fat creatures show up after the world has gone “BOOM!” and/or your creatures can rise up from
the grave. I have both advantages in my deck. Of course, using Plague Boiler would make me want to use either Golgari
to be a real pain to do anything but tap out while my deck swings into action. Seal of Doom can sit there while I’m
whether or not spot removal is what I want for my last card slot, and there’s also the question of how many decks
I’ll face with all-Black creatures. If the answers are “yes” and “not many,” then I think
Like Punishment, Swallowing Plague is slow defense for my slow deck. The good news is that it’s a double whammy
defense thanks to the lifegain, and – as I’ve said repeatedly today – it’s unlikely to be a dead card against
any Tribal deck. My gut tells me that Crime / Punishment is not only more versatile but also able to handle a larger
number of threats, but I’ve been on the receiving end of too many game-swinging Plagues to overlook it.
If I care about bigger creatures and reanimation, then Golgari Guildmage is preferable because it is easier to cast,
get the nod over Vigor Mortis. I mention it here because it’s a spell that makes me immeasurably happy and that I
try to fit into all manner of Black/Green decks.
hesitancy about Grave Pact links directly to its mana cost, which is tough on its own much less in a deck already plagued
by wonky mana. Is my deck too slow with Grave Pact in it, especially with no lifegain? Is the Pact’s effect
debilitating enough to counterbalance my deck’s lack of enchantment removal?
At least theoretically, I feel reasonably sure that yes, my deck is slow, but the mana-acceleration can give me big
bodies to defend against all but the most aggressive of decks. As for the lack of enchantment removal, I’m trying to
decide what enchantments cripple me. Normally I think about what my deck would do if my opponent dropped Worship (note
that I’ve only seen one Tribal deck – a White/Blue Knight deck – ever actually play Worship against me). Thanks to
outgun Glare of Subdual without multiple Pacts, but that’s the only enchantment that comes immediately to mind that
cripples me. On the other hand, I can imagine a whole host of decks I’ve faced that would wilt before Grave Pact. So
okay. I’ll give the Pact a try and see what happens.
What would you choose? Are there cards you would consider that I haven’t put on my list? Is my logic faulty? Is
Grave Pact suicide? Speak up in the Forums and let me know how you would have built (or have built) an Insect deck. For
me, here is where I landed:
The deck’s name is what it is because I’ve started thinking of the deck as “grave-related
insects,” which to me are maggots. Every time I look at the name, I think “Ew.”
Tokens, Tokens, Everywhere
I was really ready for this deck to flop. The individual cards are powerful, but they’re all so expensive and I
just can’t tell how well they hang together. This, as they say, is why we play.
One of the things I’ve become self-conscious of recently is that people can’t seem to replicate the
results of my decks. My many preconstructed experiments at mtg.com ended with impressive winning percentages, and yet
people have consistently e-mailed me to let me know that their experience with my decks has been sub-par. An easy answer
is that I’m an überplayer, but I know that’s false. I think I’m better than the average online
Casual Decks player, but am I really that much better than my audience? That doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure
quite why I seem to gel with decks of my own creation, but I definitely, positively don’t doctor my results or gloss
over losses. What you see in my game logs is what happened to the best of my notes.
I say this because the next ten games are ridiculous.
Game 1: Black/Red Rats
Grave Pact. He played his own Husk, and when I blocked it with mine, he sacrificed the second Rats, so I sacrificed my
Husk to kill his via Pact. I then drew and played a second Husk. He played Nezumi Graverobber, but for some reason removed
my dead Husk instead of my dead Scarab. The next turn I dredged, played, and sacrificed my Scarab, drawing a card and
killing his Rat. The Scarab came back on my next turn, followed my Gleancrawler. My opponent groused about not having a
ability by killing it with my last card in hand: Putrefy. On the next turn my Scarab stomped in for the win. He showed me
(Wow that game log is confusing, even to me)
Game 2: Boros Humans
kill anything, so when I dropped Grave Pact I was forced to sacrifice my Husk right away to stay alive. Another Husk and
Mortipede cleared his side of the table, but he got in one hit with a 4/2 Loxodon Hammer-wielding Armorer. Boros
Swiftblade showed up, so I used my last card in hand–Putrefy–to kill it. He played his last card the following turn,
another Swiftblade. I was at four life and had one turn to draw something useful. I drew Llanowar Wastes, and that was
Game 3: Green/Black Spirits
some blockers, then played a second one to bring the first back. I did that twice more to whittle down his forces, but he
thankfully his fist full of eight cards held no answers for him. I won at one life.
Game 4: Mono-White Foxes
with two Pious Kitsune. Up, up, up his life climbed, all the way to one-hundred and forty. He had one less card in his
library, though, so I was seeing if he would get nervous and start attacking. Sure enough, he charged in with his
Blademaster and Samurai. I couldn’t believe my luck. I blocked the Pale Curtain with Giant Solifuge, and I could
almost hear the “Awwww… Hell” echo in my opponent’s skull. The Samurai died, and immediately my two
himself as well, clearing his side of the table of creatures. After that I started attacking for twenty a turn,
sacrificing a Grave-Shell Scarab whenever my opponent dropped a creature. Down, down, down his life dropped until I won.
Game 5: White/Black/Red Thrulls
later, I had won.
Game 6: Black/Red Rats
and pretty soon my Black fatties outgunned his little guys.
Game 7: Green/Red Warriors
happening. Thankfully, Putrefy killed Sosuke the turn after it came into play. Chalk this game up to the power of Grave
Pit-Skulk, and a second Sosuke, but I was able to kill them all thanks to the Pact. Most of all, I was getting a lot of
two-for-ones as my creatures died taking down his blockers. The card advantage was too much for my opponent, and one
activation from a Mortipede put him out of his misery. I won at eighteen life.
Game 8: Black/Blue Horrors
Comedy Al brought a very cool deck. As far as I can tell, it was mostly built around Abyssal Nocturnus and discard
Al to block with both his Broker and a second Nocturnus. After that my two Scarabs went all the way. A late Vigor Mortis
on his discarded Gleancrawler showed me another trick from Al’s deck. Unfortunately, it was too late to save him.
Game 9: Green/White Spirits
Solifuge with his Petalmane. I knocked him to two life, then played Mortipede. My opponent tapped out for Oyobi, Who
Splits the Heavens, but it was too little too late as my Insects swarmed in for the win.
Game 10: Blue/Red Wizards
and my big guys started the attack. My second Pact was Remanded, but the combination of my Scarab, Nantuko Husk (first
nothing. He played two chump-blockers in a row for my Scarab, but when he finally topdecked land I was able to attack for
the win at four life.
Flawed Paradigm showed up to watch this game, and while I had Husk and Pact on the table asked, “Do you have
token producers in that deck? You should fit them in somehow.” I answered, “For what? Putrefy? Pact? Birds?
reasoning was that if Grave Pact is working, I never need other creature removal. I agreed that artifacts didn’t
currently scare me, and that it might be worth a shot.
9-1 is a fantastic start, but I have to admit that I got lucky. Many of my opponent’s decks were quirky or
suboptimal even for the Casual Decks room, and many of my opponents made game-changing mistakes. Above all, the deck felt
clunky. I knew I was holding Nantuko Husk back from greatness, but I didn’t realize how fully I would feel it during
games. The deck was as slow as I feared, and did almost nothing early to stave off my opponent’s attack.
I found that sometimes Fertile Imagination was useless in hand and Scatter was always welcome. As a result, I ended up
with this deck:
My conclusion after twenty odd games and a very high winning percentage: Grave Pact is silly in Tribal Wars. Any Black
deck that can use it, should, and this deck can take advantage of it more than most.
Of course, I want to know what you think of the deck, what your own Insect decks look like, and where you
think I went astray. Coldsnap has exactly zero Insects in it, but if there are other Black or Green cards you think might
fit, I’d be happy to think about them. In other words, you should speak up in the Forums and give me some feedback.
“Pop,” a.k.a. Future Sight, has officially begun its first wave of names and flavor text writing. As a
result, I’m taking a brief hiatus from my Tribal Standard articles. When I get a writing break, I’ll jump into
a bigger tribe and start exploring. In the meantime, speak up in the Forums and, if you haven’t yet, try out
Think hard and have fun,
(Currently StudentDriver on Magic Online)