Where Are Our Tribal Decks?!

Despite a ton of tribal support, it doesn’t seem like any of it is top tier! How can this be? Jim explores the tribes we have access to to see if one of them is hiding for SCG Philly!

Wizards of the Coast seems to hate tribal decks.

Tribal cards and decks have been a part of Magic since Alpha,
while also being major themes in many sets like Onslaught, Lorwyn, and most recently Ixalan. There have been times
where Standard tribal decks have been extremely pushed (Goblins in Onslaught, Faeries in Lorywn), but lately it has been
quite the opposite.

Aside from Zombies, which was a fantastic and fun tribal deck, tribal decks
have had it very rough lately.

was initially billed as a tribal set, where Dinosaurs, Pirates, Merfolk,
and Vampires battle for supremacy. Aside from a few Dinosaurs here and
there though, the tribes of Ixalan are notably absent from
Standard. We keep getting a few cards of support for certain tribes – a
Goblin Warchief here, an Adeliz, the Cinder Wind there – but it has been
very difficult for any tribal deck to actually break through.

Why is that?

1. Wizards of the Coast Loves Midrange

Wizards just loves midrange decks. Based on how they’ve designed sets for
the last half decade, you’d think they’d be ecstatic if basically every
deck in Standard looked like this:

A dozen of the format’s best mythic rares, a dozen of the format’s best
removal spells, rinse and repeat. These sorts of “Jund” decks have been a
staple in Standard for years, and it’s difficult for a deck full of small
creatures that need to work together to win to beat a monstrous pile of
removal and unbeatable creatures. That’s also to say nothing of…

2. Goblin Chainwhirler (and Walking Ballista)

One of the best cards in the format incidentally murders every 1/1 over and
over again. Playing middling 1/1s that get better as they work together is
a hallmark of tribal decks, but it’s very hard for synergy to trump raw
power if they’re all dying basically for free. Walking Ballista isn’t as
brutal but also has a very similar effect.

It’s hard enough for tribal decks to overcome boatloads of removal, but
Goblin Chainwhirler is just rude.

3. Not Enough Support!

It’s actually quite frustrating to actually try and build a Standard tribal
deck. It reminds me a lot of that scene in Apollo 13 where they have to try
and rig a new filter using basically what garbage is lying around the ship:

There are only twenty unique Goblin cards legal in Standard right now, with
a large majority of them vanilla creatures made for Limited. Things are a
little better for the Ixalan tribes as far as sheer numbers go,
but the truth is the payoffs aren’t really there and the supporting cast is
weak. Despite this, WotC keeps giving us tempting cards that ask us to play
tribal decks…

… and then not giving us any support to play them! It’s like getting a
bunch of cool new toys on Christmas, but not getting any batteries to use


Still, we are Magic players. We have to try. It’s frustrating, but not
impossible, and tribal decks have been poking around behind the scenes for
a while. Let’s take a look at a few and explore their strengths and


Given that Zombies is one of the only

successful tribal decks

in recent memory and many of the cards from that deck are still legal, it
feels like a logical place to start. After all, Liliana’s Mastery, Lord of
the Accursed, and Dread Wanderer are still legal, and Core Set 2019 brought us a few new Zombie toys as well.


Zombies has a lot of recursive creatures that are good against typical
removal spells, as well as a reasonable curve of one, two, and three-drops
that are mostly immune to Goblin Chainwhirler. There’s also a large
critical mass of Lord of Atlantis effects.


In a lot of ways, this new Zombie deck is reminiscent of Merfolk decks in
Legacy; it’s an aggressive pile of okay creatures and lords that looks to
swarm and attack. It doesn’t have many ways to interact or gain card
advantage, it just beats down and hopes. The old GerryT Zombie deck is
reminiscent of Goblin decks in Legacy; it could be aggressive, but was also
excellent at gaining card advantage and battlefield control, making it much
more flexible and adaptable while also being good against other creature


Payoffs that matter.

Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus are payoff cards that make you want to
put a million Zombies in your deck. They scale well, provide card
advantage, and snowball effectively. There needs to be more of a payoff
than a few Lord of Atlantis effects to make me want to put Diregraf Ghoul
in my deck.

Final Verdict:

It’s cool to see Liliana’s Mastery still alive and kicking, but the Zombie
deck feels underpowered in the context of the format.



A version of this deck

went 5-0 in a Magic Online league; this is my suggested update after
playing it.)

Uh… Cats?

That’s not an Ixalan tribe. That’s not an iconic creature type.
What’s the deal?

Well, we somewhat surprisingly got a bit of Cat support in Core Set 2019:

Unexpected, but Leonin Warleader is no joke, and Ajani’s Pridemate has a
bit of a pedigree as well. Holding it all together is perhaps one of the
only and best tribal enablers in Standard, Radiant Destiny.

Radiant Destiny helps with the Goblin Chainwhirler problem as well as
making Walking Ballista not nearly as devastating. Having an anthem effect
that can’t be hit by Abrade or Lightning Strike is a nice bonus, and the
power and toughness boost plays nicely with lifelink.


The top end cards are great! Regal Caracal already has a strong history of
being a good sideboard card, but is great when being used as a lord /
Siege-Gang Commander and alongside Pride Sovereign both cards allow the
deck to go wide rather quickly. Leonin Warleader is also a must-answer
threat, and overall the deck does a good job at building a battlefield
presence rather quickly.


The top end is great, but the early drops kinda suck.

Leonin Vanguard is barely passable and a huge liability against Goblin
Chainwhirler, with Sacred Cat also barely crossing into the realm of
playability. Adorned Pouncer is a nice mana sink later in the game, but in
the all important early turns has the same problems as the other
one-toughness creatures and doesn’t scale well into the midgame.

The deck is also very light on removal, making cards like Glorybringer and
The Scarab God difficult to overcome.


Better one-drops!

The early turns can be rough, and if you’re on the draw facing down a turn
two Steel Leaf Champion you may never get off the ground before you die.
The lack of good removal further exacerbates this problem. If we fall
behind, it’s hard to catch back up.

Final Verdict:

This deck was pleasantly surprising, but the vulnerability to Goblin
Chainwhirler and the other good red cards is worrisome.


The U/R Wizards deck hasn’t changed a ton since
the last time I wrote about it
, but did gain an important new tool from Core Set 2019:

Viashino Pyromancer is a great two-drop for the deck, replacing the very
lackluster Spellweaver Eternal. Viashino Pyromancer fills the all important
two-drop slot, gets in some incidental damage, and ups your Wizard count to
reasonable levels. At its heart, U/R Wizards is a burn deck and Viashino
Pyromancer fits right in.


Wizard’s Lightning is a fantastic Magic card, and U/R Wizards is capable of
some absurdly fast kills. The evasion from Adeliz, the Cinder Wind and
Riddleform is also very nice for getting across those last few points.


The fear here is that we’re just a worse Mono-Red Aggro deck. We trade off
the ability for insanely explosive turns with the possibility for very
awkward hands and are really just barely on the edge of having enough
creatures/Wizards in our deck. We’re also soft to very large creatures.


Like most of the tribal decks we’re discussing today, there needs to be
more reasons to actually want to fill your deck with Wizards. Our only
“tribal payoffs” are Adeliz, the Cinder Wind (which is almost good enough
by herself) and the ability to play Wizard’s Lightning in our deck. It’s a
Wizard deck, but it often just feels like a U/R Prowess deck.


U/R Wizards still feels like it has legs and an extra leg up on control
decks as an aggressive red deck that gets to sideboard Negate and possibly
Spell Pierce.


This is the kind of “tribal” deck WotC seems to like: a bunch of good rate
rares and mythics with one or two small tribal synergies.

In reality, this is more of a “big creatures + Sarkhan’s Unsealing” deck
than a Dinosaurs deck, but it’s the closest we’ve been getting to seeing
tribal effects succeed in Standard so we’re taking a look at it.


Dinosaurs have had the most success of any of the Ixalan tribes by a mile,
because most of the good ones just get there on rate alone. Cards like
Diregraf Ghoul and Leonin Vanguard aren’t getting the job done without some
serious help, but Carnage Tyrant, Regisaur Alpha, and the absurdly silly
Gigantosaurus can do most of the heavy lifting themselves. You don’t have
to worry about the individual power level of your cards.


This deck is essentially just a pile of big, dumb idiots. You’re very
reliant on Llanowar Elves and Drover the of Mighty, and while Sarkhan’s
Unsealing is powerful, it does require a setup turn than can be
backbreaking if you’re already behind.


More reason to actually play Dinosaurs? Drover of the Mighty may not even
be better than Servant of the Conduit because of Goblin Chainwhirler, and
while Regisaur Alpha is good, its actual Dinosaur synergy isn’t really that
important. Getting to play Commune with Dinosaurs is nice, but this is
mostly just a pile of big monsters.


Usually decks are either vulnerable to Goblin Chainwhirler (because they go
wide) or Vraska’s Contempt (because they go big), not both. Well, this deck
manages to be bad against both. There’s some powerful stuff happening here,
but it feels unwieldy.

Not Quite There

It’s a tough world out there for tribal decks.

The themes are present, but they aren’t fully developed. There are payoffs,
but not necessarily enough to make you want to pack your deck with
creatures of a certain type. Come on WotC! Stop giving us cool tribal cards
and not enough ways to actually play with them!

There’s some hope though. Going wide is a good plan against decks with a
lot of spot removal and not a lot of mass removal, and decks like
Mono-Green Aggro don’t actually play removal, which can let your synergies
work unopposed.

Is it where we want to be? It’s hard to be sure, but I’m going to keep

Bonus Decklists for the Brave: