Welcome to another edition of Tribal Standard fun and partying!
Can you believe it? I’m starting today with a couple of sidebars. Shocking.
Even though I prefer playing my Ursa Major deck to my AquaBeasts one, AquaBeasts seems to be the clear fan favorite. Folks in the Forums suggested a ton of possible cards for my Green/Blue Beasts deck, also suggesting a ton of cards that could be taken out.
I’ve looked through all of the suggestions, tapped my lip incessantly, and have come to the following changes to AquaBeasts. You may not agree with these changes, but that’s why you should be making your own dang decks. You should also feel free to smack me around with said decks and prove to me why I’m wrong. More on my personal Tribal deck philosophy in a minute, but for now here’s what I’ll try out once Coldsnap is legal:
I like these two guys, but they definitely felt like the weakest Beasts in the chain. Assault Zeppelid was sometimes useful for its trampling flight, but usually anything it could do, a Birds of Paradise or Trygon Predator could do just as well (with Ursapine on the table, ‘natch). Helium Squirter is a bit tougher to drop, but it’s telling that, over nearly fifty games, I never actually searched for it when Protean Hulk died. When I drew and cast it, I found the Squirter useful, but otherwise I could live without it. This signals to me that it’s a fine card to drop.
In the place of these two Beasts comes…
IN: 2 Stampeding Serow
I just loved Stampeding Serow in my Ursa Major deck, so it’s funny that I never tried it here. The fact is that a ton of my Green creatures enjoy bouncing back into my hand, including Indrik Stomphowler, Coiling Oracle, Loaming Shaman, and Carven Caryatid. In a pinch, Birds of Paradise are fairly painless to bounce as well. Here I get back the trample I lost from Assault Zeppelid, which Ursapine appreciates.
Because of Stampeding Serow, the following change also makes sense to me:
This makes me a little nervous, only because I’ve never used less than four copies of Sakura-Tribe Elder in a deck. Still, Coiling Oracle works a lot better with the Serow and the other card I’m adding to the deck…
IN: 3 Perilous Research
Perilous Research was yet another star-studded suggestion from Flawed Paradigm, a.k.a. Rivien Swanson (and check out his new Tribal Bible!). In the Forums, he said, “Insofar as U/G sacrifice outlets…just wait a couple of weeks, and then wave merrily at Perilous Research. In my Guildpact set review, I touted the benefits of Drowned Rusalka as a rare Blue sacrifice outlet, and said it may be useful on that front alone. Well, welcome to Perilous Research, where you can sacrifice any permanent at instant speed and draw two cards for your efforts. Not only does it work well with Protean Hulk or Hatching Plans, or anything else you’d want dead, but alongside Plaxmanta, you have eight cards that say "If I have 1U open, don’t bother targeting my critters for destruction". Fetters? Pillory? Hit? Pfah, I sac and draw two cards in response.”
Booya, baby. I have found a non-creature, non-land card worthy of my deck. Okay, Flawed Paradigm found it, but whatever.
What do I take out in order to get my Beasts doing Research, though? The deck is running on a lean twenty Beasts, which means I need to cut into the non-Beast cards.
Both of these are very, very painful drops. I’ve enjoyed the havoc Kira wreaks on my opponents’ game plans, and Trophy Hunter has swung a lot of games in my favor. I’m objective enough to know that both fall into the “Jay wants to cover all of his bases” camp, though, and that I can probably live without them. Keiga, the Tide Star in a deck solves a lot of potential ills. So does Indrik Stomphowler. So do my other toolbox creatures. I should be fine without Kira and Trophy Hunter.
Some people have suggested I drop Clone, which I still refuse to do for two reasons. First, I have found its Hero’s Demise effect to be critical in more games than I imagined. Dragon Spirits, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Ink-Eyes, Opal-Eye, Seshiro, Sosuke, Kiku, Tibor and Lumia, Kumano, Marrow-Gnawer, Nighteyes, Tolsimir… These are cards that I see often in the Casual Decks room and that can give any deck – including mine – fits. The second reason is that I love Clone and it makes me happier than any other card in the deck except Protean Hulk. Besides, Jay still wants to cover his bases.
OUT: 1 Island
I’ve stared and stared at the decklist, trying to work out another non-Beast card I could miss. I’ve already decided to keep Clone. Carven Caryatid looks like a candidate since it can’t attack, but it can almost single-handedly mess up an aggro deck’s plan and is probably my single best Stampeding Serow buddy. Coiling Oracle, Birds of Paradise, and Sakura-Tribe Elder are too important to the deck running smoothly. Loaming Shaman helps a ton against graveyard-focused decks and can restock my toolbox later in the game. There’s no way I’m taking Keiga, the Tribal Star out of the deck. You could argue that I should be finding room for more Dragons, not less.
All of this leads up to me deciding that I can try twenty-three land instead of twenty-four. At least theoretically, Perilous Research should help me smooth my mana since I’ll be drawing more cards. Will nixing one Elder and one Island be too much for the deck to handle, though? That’s what I’ll find out next week.
One more small change that I think will help the deck:
I like Novijen a lot, but Miren is central to my deck’s strategy. I don’t think I should have more than three colorless sources in a deck with so many wonky mana requirements, so this feels like an easy change to make.
Here’s my new deck:
- 3 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Clone
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 2 Stampeding Serow
- 1 Carven Caryatid
- 1 Ursapine
- 1 Gristleback
- 4 Coiling Oracle
- 4 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Loaming Shaman
- 4 Plaxmanta
- 4 Protean Hulk
- 4 Trygon Predator
Let me know what you think of these changes in the Forums. The one suggested change by Bazaar of Baghdad that I really liked but didn’t include was Gleancrawler. It’s true that Protean Hulk dying to fetch Gleancrawler will draw a lot of concessions. Many of my other cards are good with the ‘Crawler as well. Alas, I don’t see how to make room for it, and it feels like a nice-to-have more than a must-have.
Casual Tribal, Tourney Tribal, And Me
You may have wondered at my target audience for these articles. Since I staunchly refuse to play in Premiere Events, why do I care about using the best cards in my decks? Are these decks “casual” or are they fair game for weekend PEs? These are good questions, so let me clear them up now.
The reasons I don’t play in Premiere Events are twofold. First – and by far the biggest reason – is that I can’t afford the time commitment. For all of my Tribal Standard playing, I am usually only online for thirty to sixty minute stints. My wife, kids, work, and other hobbies prohibit any serious block of time for Magic, and thus by default I avoid tournaments.
The second reason is that tournaments with prizes on the line just plain feel bad for me. I’m all for friendly competition, but I find that formal, competitive play is not always all that friendly. It is, however, always stressful. I play Magic to unwind, not wind up. If a group of friends wanted to organize a Tribal tourney with a pizza on the line, I would be all over it (assuming I could find the time, of course… argh!). When a group of strangers competes for cards and rating points, I’m less interested. My job has plenty of cutthroat competition in it – competition I’ve excelled at, by the way – but I’d rather not drag that vibe into Magic.
Even though I am not a PE Guy, I have an urge to actualize my decks’ potential as much as I can in the limited amount of time I focus on them. I don’t shy away from powerhouse cards like Yosei, the Morning Star. I use four copies of my best cards because I prefer consistency over variety. When I play against a Snake deck in the Casual Decks room, I try to (good-naturedly) smash them. Just because I’m not competing in Premiere Events, I enjoy measuring my decks against tournament decks occasionally as a way of feeling out holes in my strategy. If I ever felt a deck of mine was too un-fun for the Casual room, I wouldn’t think twice about heading over to the Tournament Practice room for games.
The wrinkle in my “I try to make my decks as good as possible” plan is that I also make my decks from the full spectrum of available tribes. So far I’ve made Spirit, Druid, Goblin, Samurai, Wizard, Insect, and Beast decks. When I start to optimize some of them, like Spirits and Goblins, the gap between my deck and a true “tournament” decks is fairly small. When I tackle something like Insects or Druids, the tools aren’t there to compete with the big boys so the gaps are larger. These quirky decks are as good as I can make them, but they’re mostly casual because the tribe inherently doesn’t posses the tools necessary to compete. Oh, I’d like them to give tournament decks a scare, but I don’t hold any delusions that they would survive five rounds of a Premiere Event.
This is all to say that the distinctions between “serious” and “casual” are often blurred in this column. Consider my decks “seriously casual,” if you want. Also remember that the only reason I’m writing about these decks is to entertain you and get you excited about the Tribal Standard format. They aren’t meant to be copied, but instead are meant to inspire your own creativity. That’s one reason why I bounce around from big to small tribes – I want to get a large, diverse population of people excited about the format. I want anyone who might think Tribal Standard is fun to hop online and start making decks. If I have one impossible dream for Magic as a whole, it’s that a higher percentage of players would make their own decks.
Tribes of Five… Sakes Alive!
Anyway, it would be easy for me to spin endless tangents here. The reason I just went on a “tourney versus casual” soliloquy is because the only Tribal category I have yet to tackle is the Tribes of Five. These are the tribes who only have five creatures to their name, so any deck with them is going to use every single one.
To be clear: Tribes of Five decks are casual. They are not meant for tournament consumption unless it’s as a lark.
Tribes of Five are so casual, in fact, that Chris Millar has already tackled many of them. First, he made a Dowsing Shaman-focused Centaur deck, although in reality he spent quite a bit of time playing a Black/Green Imps deck online, complete with Moldervine Cloak and other creature-pumpers. Then he made a Black/White Assassin deck. Next up were the ever-popular Skeletons, at which point Chris got tired of Tribes of Five and moved on to his own unique take of Soldiers, Angels, and Spirits.
Where does this leave me? I don’t see any reason to rehash Centaurs, Assassins, Imps, or Skeletons. I also don’t see the need to try Thrulls after Flawed Paradigm gave it such a valiant effort in the Forums a few weeks ago. I’m left with half of the Tribes of Five list: Avatars, Kirin, Lizard, Lord, and Nephilim. Which to choose for a deck this week?
One feature of Tribes of Five from now until time immemorial is that they will contain a certain number of “five-color cycles,” or one card in each color. Kirin are the best current example of a five-color cycle tribe. These are tough tribes to build around, and Kirin are made even tougher by the fact that they each have a double-colored mana requirement. Ick. No Kirin deck for me.
Lords are similar, and are a silly tribe to build around unless you have Artificial Evolution-type effects. I think there’s a bit of conceptual difficulty with Lords as well, since Lord of the Undead is a Lord, whereas Godo, Bandit Warlord; Konda, Lord of Eiganjo; Juro Pitlord; and Szadek, Lord of Secrets are not. Maybe it has to do with the legendary status, but whatever the case I just don’t feel good about the Lords tribe and their silly membership requirements. No Lord deck for me either.
Nephilim is a five-color tribe, but I’ve actually seen several cool Nephilim decks online. What turns me off of Nephilim is partly the cost of the deck (all rare land plus all rare creatures) and partly that I’ve seen them done by other people. No Nephilim deck from me either, although I’d be happy if someone posted their Nephilim deck in the Forums.
That leaves either Lizards or Avatars. My instincts tell me that Avatars are untenable and that Lizards would be fun. Let’s see… Rootwalla is great. Golgari Brownscale is also solid. Lizards are going to be awesome! Let’s see… What else is in there… Deathgazer. Hmm. Okay, Black/Green is cool, even if that’s not the best creature. Whiptail Moloch. Well, the three colors stink but it sorta kinda has synergy with my Green Lizards if I squint. Finally, there’s Torpid Moloch.
Nope. I’m not going to be making a Lizards deck.
What does that leave me, though? Avatars? They’re probably several colors and hugely expensive. I mean, let’s run down the Standard-legal Avatars…
See? I mean, he’s HUGE, in both stats and cost. That’s terrific and all, but I can’t see ever surviving long enough for him to stick that pointy little hand of his into anyone’s eye.
What did I tell you? A second color, and just as costly. This walking Cow Skull doesn’t even have the decency to keep seven toughness. On the upside, I can sacrifice him or Excruciator to kill any eight-mana creature on the table, including each other. Sigh.
Wait, now I’m getting interested. Excruciator and Sanguine Praetor are gigantic, and if they die they each deal seven damage to my opponent. Heck, the Praetor has a built-in mechanism to kill them if I need it. That’s cool. I also like that this guy has haste, even if he’s not quite as beefy as his Avatarian compatriots. So far I’ve got a Red/Black deck, which is a perfect color combination for reanimation. Yes, I can see it now: Dump fatties into graveyard, reanimate fatties, attack, sacrifice fatties for the win. Now if only I had some way to discard stuff into my graveyard…
Lo! It’s all coming together! Avatar of Discord’s drawback actually fits into my plan perfectly. Instead of acting as a card disadvantage engine, she fuels my strategy. The fact that she’s a five-power flier is like frosting with those little crunchy sprinkles in it. Also, I’m sticking with Red/Black. Man, this deck is going to be awesome. What’s the fifth Avatar?
(insert sound of a needle scraping across vinyl)
Er. Hmm. Uh… Well. It’s Green. In fact, it has double-Green mana requirements, making it Very Green. It gets bigger the more creatures I have on the table, and it looks like I’m planning to have only one or two out at a time. One of these Avatars is not like the other, and it’s definitely the Scion. Couldn’t I just use Rakdos Guildmage instead? Or, better yet, couldn’t I just wait a few weeks for Coldsnap so I could include this guy?
Look at it and cry for its beauty. Herald of Leshrac is perfect for an Avatar deck in Standard Tribal. Oh, sure, it only starts life as a 2/4 for seven mana, but it steals land while other Avatars are smashing face. Those land, by the way, can be used to actually cast Avatars instead of reanimate them. By the time he dies because of an inability to pay its upkeep cost, it’s become huge for some Stalking Vengeance action. Herald of Leshrac is what those other four Avatars deserve, not Scion of the Wild (I’m trying not to be greedy and wish for Scion of Darkness or Avatar of Fury).
So, for today, every time I say “Scion of the Wild,” pretend I’m saying “Herald of Leshrac.” You can either do this ironically, chuckling at how much better the Herald would be than the Scion each time, or you can just assume the Scion is a temporary stopgap until the Herald is available. Whichever, I fully plan to drop Scion like a wild potato for Herald of Leshrac on August 14th.
Shield your eyes. This may not be pretty.
Decklist, Avatar of Fat
With a deck that starts:
I have three concerns. My first concern is reanimation, since waiting around until I get to seven or eight mana sounds like suicide. Since I’m using Green anyway, Vigor Mortis is probably by best reanimation spell. Ideally, I guess the plan is to play Avatar of Discord on the third turn, dropping a big Avatar into the graveyard to be reanimated on Turn 4. Zombify is a nice analogue to Vigor Mortis, so I’ll put it into the deck as well. Everything else – Debtors’ Knell, Hell’s Caretaker, Nighteyes the Desecrator, and Stir the Grave – is probably too slow for my deck. Debtors’ Knell would be great, actually, but my deck is already molasses.
Will I have enough discard outlets to get my creatures into the graveyard? Avatar of Discord is my big discard machine, and I’ll use Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace and Rakdos Carnarium as well. After that we’ll have to see what happens. I’d like to fit in something like Rakdos Guildmage, but I’m not sure if there will be room given that I’ve only addressed one concern of three.
My second concern is survival. Assuming my Turn 3 and 4 reanimation plan doesn’t actually happen, I’m looking at frantically trying to get my fatties into play while fending off my opponent’s onslaught. Probably the easiest and most straightforward card to use is Pyroclasm, which kills only the useless Scion of the Wild. Kindle the Carnage is a fun idea, but I think in practice it will hit land or my reanimation spells too often. I like the idea of Seal of Doom, which can sit on the table giving its rattlesnake warning while I tap out in later turns.
My final concern is mana acceleration. Here I basically have to decide my deck’s philosophy. Am I only interested in graveyard reanimation? If so, then I need to use any remaining slots for discard outlets and up my total number of reanimation effects. Do I want a shot at actually casting my fatties? If so, how big a shot do I want relative to reanimation?
Just because I like versatility, I’m going to give myself a sprinkle of mana acceleration. I’m not going crazy and including a full suite of Rakdos Signet, Seething Song, Spectral Searchlight, and Ur-Golem’s Eye. In fact, I think I only have room for one of these options and so will go for Rakdos Signet. Rakdos Carnarium will help a bit too.
My deck looks like so:
Tribal Standard deck
Based on the version number, you see that this isn’t actually my first draft of this deck. I’ve been tinkering with it. I tried out Rakdos Guildmage (Pyroclasm and Rakdos Signet were more valuable). I’ve tried everything from two to four Zombify (seven total reanimation feels right in playtesting). I even tried Kindle the Carnage briefly (never could use it effectively). Without Herald of Leshrac, this was zeroing in on my best effort.
I find I win about half of my games in the Casual Decks room. If my opponent brings a tournament deck, I shrivel and die. Like I said: Tribes of Five are casual fair.
I’m going to pick a handful of games to write logs on. These aren’t sorted, just the games I played after I decided to take notes. I figured it had been awhile since I’ve included game logs and I know some people love them. Also, this is a fairly tricky deck to play so it might help to see it in action. Here goes…
Game 1: Black/Red Rats
He played two Ravenous Rats, but I didn’t have anything juicy to discard. Instead I was fiddling around with getting three Rakdos Carnarium onto the table. I finally played Pyroclasm when he dropped Nezumi Cutthroat. His third Ravenous Rats had me dump Sanguine Praetor, which I revived with Vigor Mortis before he killed it with Wrecking Ball. Hellhole Rats nabbed a land, and I was forced into a second Pyroclasm. I cast and attacked with Stalking Vengeance, while another Hellhole Rats hit the table. We traded blows until he used two Last Gasps to kill my guy. I played Avatar of Discord, discarding my last two cards in hand, and he killed it with Hit. That was the game as the Rats killed me on their next attack.
Game 2: Red/Green Shamans
Now here’s the hand I should have had against Rats: Zombify, two Vigor Mortis, Excruciator, Stalking Vengeance, and two land. He played Rakdos Guildmage, Orochi Leafcaller, and Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro while I dropped Seal of Doom to kill Sachi. Rix Maadi helped me get rid of Excruciator, which I revived with Zombify. I then discarded Stalking Vengeance, using Overgrown Tomb to fuel Vigor Mortis. I was now on the attack, and my opponent started chump-blocking in earnest. Two Frostwielders died, and finally a mass block offed my Excruciator. I did my seven damage, then played another Vigor Mortis. He still had Rakdos Guildmage with a ton of mana, so he may have been able to chump-block all day with tokens. I drew Pyroclasm, though, and that was game.
Game 3: White/Blue/Black Clerics
Thanks to Rakdos Carnarium, I was able to discard Stalking Vengeance on the second turn. Vigor Mortis brought it back to smack him for six while he was bouncing Venerable Monk back to his hand with Ninja of the Deep Hours. He then played Soul Warden and Highway Robber, while I cast a second Vengeance and attacked for eleven. He blocked one Vengeance, then saddled it with Faith’s Fetters on his next turn. Grrr. I was at eight life, but thankfully had enough mana to play Sanguine Praetor. If he had a second Fetters while I was tapped out I would probably die, but he didn’t. The turn passed to me and I sacrificed my Praetor for fourteen damage and the win.
Game 4: Black/Green Zombies
I’m not sure I played this one correctly. I again discarded on the second turn, this time an Excruciator. On the third turn Avatar of Discard added Stalking Vengeance and Scion of the Wild to my graveyard. Vigor Mortis popped my Vengeance into play for a big attack. My opponent was forced to block my Avatar with his Vulturous Zombie (and still received five damage thanks to Vengeance). Zombify revived Excruciator while my opponent played Helldozer. Here’s where I’m not sure of my decisions. Do I attack with both creatures, forcing him to block and kill my Vengeance while Excruciator drops him to two life, or do I attack with just the Excruciator and leave my Vengeance and his Helldozer alive? I chose the latter, hoping he would chump with his Dozer. He didn’t, and instead at two life killed my Vengeance with Putrefy and played Nantuko Husk. With the Putrefy in hand, whatever I did might not have mattered. Anyway, I attacked, he double-blocked, and his Husk survived. Fists of Ironwood followed, then another Vulturous Zombie, then another Helldozer. I died with him sitting on two life.
Game 5: Mono-Red Goblins
He started off with Goblin Cohort and Akki Raider, then Viashino Sandstalker. Uh oh. I, meanwhile, dropped a second-turn Excruciator into my graveyard. Pyroclasm cleared his dudes, and the Sandstalker hit me down to six life before I could Zombify my big guy. There we stood for a few turns, each of us playing land. He played another Raider while I played Avatar of Discord, dumping Scion of the Wild and Sanguine Praetor. Volcanic Hammer killed my Avatar, and on the next turn I Zombified my Praetor. He played Seal of Fire. I cast Vigor Mortis on my Stalking Vengeance, attacked, and sacrificed my Excruciator for the win.
Game 6: White/Red Soldiers
He came out of the gate swinging, with Veteran Armorer and two Thundersong Trumpeters. I played Avatar of Discord, dropping Sanguine Praetor and Scion of the Wild. Of course Lightning Helix killed my Avatar, and my opponent played a Boros Recruit. I tried to kill his Armorer with Seal of Doom, but he had Bathe in Light. Zombify allowed my Praetor to make an appearance, but he could just attack with everything and then use his last card – a second Helix – to kill me. We played twice more, me winning the second easily and the third game coming down to a play error on his part giving me the game.
So it goes with this deck. Most games – both wins and losses – are close. Sometimes Excruciator and my other fatties can overwhelm an opponent. Sometimes I’m a turn too late. So much has to go right for this deck to win that I think it’s pretty much doomed to inconsistency. I need discard plus a creature plus reanimation, or Pyroclasm plus mana acceleration plus a creature. I need an opponent to not kill any of my land. I need an opponent to be playing damage-based removal instead of Putrefy or Mortify. Etc. etc. etc. It’s a fun deck, to be sure, but it’s a deck that either explodes in a blaze of fireworks or puffs some smoke and dies.
One tweak I made after these six games was taking out Seal of Doom for Ryusei, the Falling Star. There are too many Black creatures that make the Seal annoying, and Ryusei – while slow – just plain works better with the rest of my deck and fills in admirably when I have six mana but can’t quite reach seven. Here’s the revised decklist:
Tribal Standard deck
I’d still like to try the deck with Herald of Leshrac instead of Scion of the Wild. I have a hard time judging the impact of the Herald on my games because it and Scion are such completely different cards with such completely different effects. In theory, though, I think the deck should have a lot more synergy with Herald of Leshrac and scare a few more people.
Any ideas on my Avatar deck? Have you made one of your own you’d like to share? Am I missing an obvious card to make my deck a contender? Speak up in the Forums and let me know!
For now, both my Tribe of Five journey and my eighth Tribal Standard article have come to an end. I’ve got at least two more articles in my system, and expect a lot of Coldsnap since it becomes available online August 14th. This also may mean I hold off on an article next week as I let Coldsnap seep into my consciousness (although, we’ve heard that one before from me). In the meantime, keep letting me know what you do and don’t like about these articles in the Forums!
No, I never tire of saying that.
Think hard and have fun,
(currently StudentDriver on Magic Online)