Tribal Thriftiness #103 – Joining The Ranks

SCG Open Richmond!

Friday, February 19th – Worldwake’s Join The Ranks gives Ally decks what it was missing: flexibility. Dave covers the new Allies in Worldwake and builds two decks around the power of Join The Ranks.

There’s so many Magical things going on for me nowadays. Worldwake came out. I’m playing a bunch of Friday Night Magic. And I have an Extended PTQ coming up at the end of the month. And luckily I have no snow to prevent me from hitting all these tournaments – well, not yet anyway. I should shut up about the snow. Don’t want to jinx myself. But this week, I’d like to focus on a card that I think helps push Allies into an actual reasonable deck choice for budget players: Join The Ranks.

I’ve written before about Allies in TT #87 – Allied Powers, and the focus then was on multicolor decks sporting the reliable Allies from Zendikar. At that point in time, we didn’t have any way to really use the Allies with the more interesting enters-the-battlefield abilities, simply because there was no variety to when we could use them – we were stuck with “during our main phase” and there was no variety. Now, with Worldwake and the introduction of Join the Ranks, we have some more flexibility and more options for building Ally decks. Allies like Bala Ged Thief and Kabira Evangel, who were restricted to sorcery-speed in Zendikar, now can influence combat and perform their duly appointed tasks mid-opponent-turn and make for a little more complex and involved game state. Plus you can now grow your Allies at instant-speed, pushing in extra damage or changing combat math to your advantage.

It’s not just Join The Ranks, though. We also have some new Ally toys to check out.

The Good

Hada Freeblade: We could have used all the White Allies back in Zendikar and forced the issue of mono-White, since Kazandu Blademaster is probably the best of the bunch, but it wasn’t beneficial for two reasons: one, we would have been stuck with subpar “sorcery-speed” Ally abilities, and B, we didn’t have a decent enough curve to exploit the aggressiveness that you would expect from a 2/2 that can be a 3/3 on turn 3 and a 4/4 or better on turn 4. No matter how great Ondu Cleric is in Sealed, he’s not exactly causing heart palpitations in a mono-White aggro Ally deck. Hada Freeblade not only adds an effective one-drop into the mix, but a cheap way to grow your other growing Allies.

Talus Paladin: While a four-drop isn’t exactly exciting to what should be a fast deck, a couple at the top of the curve allows for an incredible alpha strike that is less likely to leave you open to defeat on the backside. The fact that he’s a 3/4 out of the gate isn’t bad either.

Jwari Shapeshifter: With all these low-casting-cost drops, a Blue-White Ally deck doesn’t need to rely on the vanilla Oran-Rief Survivalist to fill out the curve. Even if it’s just copying Kazandu Blademaster, Jwari Shapeshifter helps to maintain pressure at a very reasonable cost. And he helps anchor an Ally-based mill deck using this next guy…

Halimar Excavator: Much like the way the growing Allies get more powerful the more you can keep on the board, Halimar Excavator also scales nicely the more Allies you can keep in play. The real trick will be keeping him in play, although if you paired him up Hedron Crab, you could probably overload their targeted removal and give yourself a number of mill outlets that rely on different triggers. The more, the merrier, and the easier to keep triggering them.

Akoum Battlesinger: The last of the red hot Allies is this little guy. So much better than Highland Berserker for two reasons: Haste, which means that she reaps the benefit of her own ability on the first go-round, and the reusable nature of the Goblin Bushwhacker-like pump.

Join The Ranks: As mentioned earlier, this card actually allows Allies to have a number of good combat tricks, from pumping the self-growing guys all the way to activating enters-the-battlefield abilities (like Kabira Evangel) when the benefit is highest.

The Bad

Bojuka Brigand: Honestly, I don’t mind this guy. He’s really no worse than Oran-Rief Survivalist, although that annoyingly-Black quality of being unable to block confuses me. What exactly is Black about not being able to block? Are they cowards? Or are they just stubborn, surly, and unwilling to do what you tell them to do? I guess that second one does sound kinda Black. Or like an eight-year-old.

Graypelt Hunter: If Graypelt Hunter gave all your Allies trample, he’d be insane. As is, he’s probably decent in a top-heavy Green Ally deck, but we have a 3/3 Exalted Trample guy on the same casting cost (Rhox Charger), so it would have to have a lot of Allies to ensure he’d be better than a “regular” 4/4.

Harabaz Druid: It doesn’t escape me that, by himself, he’s a somewhat-less-resilient Utopia Tree, and that he scales with a couple of Ally buddies. The problem is, there’s really no way to exploit the mana in a deck that would be built with the number of Allies you’d need to actually, REALLY, starting generating mana. By the time you’re tapping Harabaz Druid for four or five mana, you have three or four other Allies on the board, and you should be attacking for plenty and not relying on some wacky mana combo.

The Ugly

Agadeem Occultist: It only targets your opponent, which means that it relies on your opponent to HAVE creatures (which isn’t that far of a stretch in Standard), and that your opponent have creatures worth stealing compared to the other Allies that you’re casting to power up the Occultist. Let’s face it: if you have four other Allies AND a way to kill your opponent’s Baneslayer Angel, you’re probably already well on the way to victory.

Tuktuk Scrapper: The lack of solid artifacts in Standard right now relegate him to the shelf. We may revisit him depending on the artifacts in Rise of the Eldrazi, and he should be kept as a possible addition when the big fall set arrives.

Vastwood Animist: The Animist suffers from the same scaling issue that the Occultist does – by the time you can use his ability for something impressive, your army should already be pretty impressive on its own without the animated land.

Blinded By The Ally-Te

No, I don’t have MaRo’s gift for puns. Having done two multicolor Ally decks in TT #83, I wanted to focus on different builds in this article. The first is, of course, the Mono-White Aggro build. Worldwake gives us some new toys AND improves the Allies from Zendikar.

4 Kazandu Blademaster
4 Hada Freeblade
4 Kabira Evangel
4 Kor Firewalker
4 Elite Vanguard
3 Talus Paladin

4 Join the Ranks
4 Path to Exile
4 Honor of the Pure
2 Oblivion Ring

3 Sejiri Steppe
2 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
18 Plains

Rare Cost Summary:
Kabira Evangel ($0.99 x 4 = $3.96)
Honor of the Pure ($4.99 x 4 = $19.96)
Emeria, the Sky Ruin ($2.25 x 2 = $4.50)

Nineteen Ally cards is, I think, enough to reliably grow your growing Allies, which is an awkward sentence to say the least. There’s no reason to fluff out the deck, trying to force in crummy Allies like Ondu Cleric just for the sake of “More Allies,” when we have really good, independently good White Weenie creatures like Kor Firewalker and Elite Vanguard to fill out the ranks. Perhaps the most shocking part of this exercise is that Honor of the Pure is five bucks. Five bucks! If that’s not an incentive for budget players to consider White Weenie, then I don’t know what is. The rest of the deck is pretty standard – removal in the form of Path and a pair of O-Rings, and Emeria to provide a little additional card advantage in the late game.

Rares You Could Add, If You Had Them: I imagine you could add fetchlands into the manabase to perform additional thinning, but it’s not like you have any landfall guys that would benefit from it. Some White Weenie lists I’ve seen have been running Eldrazi Monument ($7.99) as another pump, and you do have expendable Ally tokens who have already done their job by pumping up a Freeblade.

Blue Allies Are Comin’ My Way

4 Kazandu Blademaster
4 Hada Freeblade
4 Jwari Shapeshifter
4 Umara Raptor
4 Deft Duelist
2 Sea Gate Loremaster

4 Join the Ranks
4 Negate
4 Path to Exile
2 Mysteries of the Deep

4 Sejiri Refuge
4 Terramorphic Expanse
9 Island
7 Plains

Rare Cost Summary:
Jwari Shapeshifter ($2.99 x 4 = $11.96)
Sea Gate Loremaster ($0.59 x 2 = $1.18)

What I like about adding Blue into the mix is that it gives you some evasion by adding the flying Umara Raptor. He also makes a great target for Jwari Shapeshifter. It also gives us access to the great Deft Duelist, as well as some nice card drawing and a hopeful answer to the mass removal that weenie decks always hate to see.

Rares You Could Add, If You Had Them: I think you could try Celestial Colonnade in the manabase – having a large flyer in the midgame to support your large ground-pounders seems nice, and I’m betting those Umara Raptors will see a lot of removal aimed at their beaks. Glacial Fortress would be another option, allowing you the best chance to cast Blademaster or Duelist on turn 2.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you run a base-Green 5-color Ally deck, relying on the power of Harabaz Druid and just running every good Ally? How about Red/White in the style of Boros Bushwhacker, going ahead and putting Kazuul Warlord at the top of his food chain? A second set’s worth of Allies has expanded the potential of the tribe, and Join The Ranks is probably at the center of every Ally deck. Time to fall in line.

Next Week

With another string of PTQs on the horizon, we’ll head back into Extended for a couple of weeks. I like my Extended deck choice, and it’s actually comparably inexpensive – probably because it has no ninety-dollar Tarmogoyfs anywhere near it. But more on that next week!

Until then…


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