Saviors of Kamigawa includes a cycle of six yo-yo cards modeled on Stampeding Wildebeest, an old favorite of mine. These yo-yo cards move other cards up and down, and like a yo-yo, it’s all about the tricks. Absent the tricks, yo-yos are pretty damn stupid.
Wildebeests now come in all flavors, and I’ll look at all the tricks that can be done with them. I’ll concentrate on Standard right now, since U.S. Regionals is the next big tourney. Block has nothing worth considering, but I will do one multiplayer deck, just to show how tricky the deck can be if the format has the right cards.
Yes, Standard Wildebeesties equals rats. I’ll look at the advantages, and problems, of the Phillips/Aten mono-Black Rats deck and the Fujita U/B version. But I’ll go color by color, starting with White.
The White wildebeest is Eiganjo Free-Riders, a 3/4 flier for 3W that requires you to bounce White creatures. You get an slightly undercosted creature, and a seven-turn clock. Seven-turn clocks that don’t affect board position are not going to break the current Standard environment, so the deck will live or die on the comes into play abilities* of the creatures you bounce.
So, what do we have? The list starts with Venerable Monk, Staunch Defenders and Angel of Mercy. Zowie. Aven Cloudchaser. Leonin Elder and Leonin Squire. Taj-Nar Swordsmith. Kamigawa adds such gems as Kitsune Dawnblade and Nikko-Onna.
Maybe the next set will have some creatures with interesting comes-into-play abilities. Right now, the Free-Riders have nothing at all to work with. Oh – I guess I missed Myojin of Cleansing Fire. Anyone need me to explain why the Wrath of God Myojin and the White Wildebeest are not a combo?
Didn’t think so.
For a deck that lives and dies by its creatures, white is dead on arrival. Next.
Blue is not much better. Blue’s Wildebeest (Trusted Advisor) is a 1/2 with a marginal effect – making your hand bigger. Spellbook would do that just as well, although having the Advisor bounce himself every turn gives you one more card in hand. So far, I cannot find any deck that can use that ability, much less abuse it.
Blue’s comes-into-play creatures include an overpriced cantrip (Merchant of Secrets), overpriced bounce (Kiri-Onna, Hoverguard Sweepers) and garbage like Wanderguard Sentries. The only potentially abusable effects are Trinket Mage and Sage Owl. Trinket Mage is almost playable (more on that later), but Divining Top is way better than a reusable Sage Owl.
The Red wildebeest is a huge monster with haste, which makes him almost playable by himself. In effect, he is a larger version of Viashino Sandstalkers. However, he is one mana more than Arc-Slogger, and Big Slogs is usually all you need in Red.
Red does not have anything really exciting to abuse in Standard. Bouncing ZoZu the Punisher, then playing your lands and ZoZu would be cute, but “cute” is not the same as “winning.” (In multiplayer, though, it would be just annoying enough to be worth trying, without being enough to get you defenestrated.) Other Red (Standard legal) bounce tricks, like Godo and Vulshok Battlemaster, are just not worth the time or mana.
I’m going to talk about the artifact wildebeest next. Yes, artifacts – Blood Clock is a wildebeest effect. It’s a generic bounce card.
Pardon me while I rant for a moment.
Wizards, why reprint bad rare cards with new names? Blood Clock used to be Umbilicus. It was a marginal card back in the days when creatures that could be bounced included Wall of Blossoms and Man-o’-War. It wasn’t any good then; it is even worse now. Nonetheless, you made a straight reprint – but changed the name.
In the unlikely chance that I would want to play an Umbilicus/Blood Clock deck in standard, I now have to get another playset of Umbilicus (Umbilici? Umbilicususes?), because the name has changed. If I happen to like the artwork or card face of the old Urza’s Saga card, I can’t play them, because the name has changed.
Okay, end of rant. I looked back through my archives to see if I had ever written about an Umbilicus deck. I did, once, when I talked about a deck built around Transcendence and Hidden Retreat. That article built decks around the worst cards from every expansion then in print – and the article then went on to describe a better, non-Umbilicus method of building a Transcendence deck.
In theory, you could abuse a Blood Clock deck by bouncing free cards while forcing your opponents to halt their development. Cards like Chrome Mox and Pentad Prism could, in theory, allow for a turn 2 Blood Clock, but even with the turn 2 Blood Clock, the opponent could simply pay the 2 life for a couple turns, then kill you. Blood Clock needs a solid win condition to back up the Clock, and I can’t think of anything that isn’t just better without the Clock. Admittedly, Engineered Explosives would fit such a deck nicely, but even that is not enough.
Bad rare indeed. Let’s move on to Green.
Stampeding Serow is a straight, albeit renamed, reprint of Stampeding Wildebeest. It is still a fat trampler. What is less clear is whether Green has the cards to bounce today.
Years ago, Stampeding Wildebeest decks bounced spikes and Wall of Blossoms. Wall of Blossoms was card advantage and a solid blocker, and cost 1G. Spike Feeders cost 1GG and were either lifegain or a means of pumping up the Wildebeest. Wall of Roots was free mana. Spike Weaver was a perpetual fog machine, and was also a spike. Spike tricks made combat a lot more fun (for the player with the spikes.)
The point is that today’s Green decks don’t have plentiful, cheap Green creatures with great comes-into-play abilities. It does have one great creature – Eternal Witness – but Witness is only good if you already have cards in the graveyard.
Setting aside the bad comes into play abilities (like Hunted Wumpus, Primal Force and Iwamori), here’s what green has to play with: Elvish Pioneer, Haru-Onna, Iname as One, Karstoderm, Myojin of Life’s Web, Sekki, Seasons’ Guide, Tornado Elemental, Viridian Shaman, Wood Elves and Wurmskin Forger. Other than Elvish Pioneers, there is nothing I could conceivably want to play that doesn’t cost at least three mana.
At present, Stampeding Serow could see play in MGA decks. It is somewhat useful to bounce Wood Elves – but I’m not completely happy doing that. MGA is an aggro deck. I also am less than pleased when Kudora Red decks play Flamebreak (post sideboard), and I end up losing my weenies, then pick up my surviving fattie. Iwamori, at least, never comes crawling back to my hand just because his friends have all left play.
I can also bounce my Birds – and Sensei’s Divining Top means that I can use my Birds’ mana when I bounce them. Still, I don’t like bouncing creatures in an aggro deck. On the flip side, casting Serow does spare you the pain of a Meloku or Ink-Eyes appearing for free. (Worse yet, a Kuro, Pitlord. It’s Regionals. Someone will be playing Reanimator, no matter how bad it is.)
I have been playtesting MGA with and without Serows, and I have to admit I don’t have a firm answer. Once in a while Serow is great. Once in a while it sucks. That part of why the format is interesting – the decks vary. Even Red decks come in lots of flavors, and playing against the Chrome Mox / Slith Firewalker versions and the Kudora decks with Solemns and Shrapnel Blast are completely different. It is going to come down to what you end up playing against. I hope you guess well.
Okay, on to the good decks. The Black Wildebeest – Skull Collector – is a cheap 3/3 regenerator. More importantly, he returns two creatures with useful and relevant comes-into-play abilities, namely Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats. The decks get even better with Aether Vial, which allows you to lock opposing decks by playing a rat during their draw step, thus denying them anything but instant cards.
Here’s the Black Rats deck, based on the Phillip/Aten framework:
First, Pithing Needle: Pithing Needle is solid, but Distress off Mox is often better. The point of the deck is to destroy their hand and lock them, or beat with creatures, or both. In such cases, it is better to remove a threat like Arc-Slogger from the hand than to simply prevent activations. Pithing Needle is only great against Sensei’s Top, and you should already be beating them if they are dumping mana into Top activations.
Of course he’s great, but where? What gets pulled?
I’m not convinced on Phyrexian Arena versus Night’s Whisper either. Dropping Shortfang is a strike against the late game. Phyrexian Arena is more of a later game card. Night’s Whispers gets a few cards, quickly – Arena gets more, more slowly. In the mirror match, something that seems more likely as the deck becomes more popular, Night’s Whisper breaks opposing Rat/Vial locks.
Tomb of Urami
It has won me games. It is a 5/5 black flier. YMMV
The deck has a lot mini-combos. Shizo and Ink Eyes. Aether Vial, Skull Collector and a Rat. Two and three card combos that work better together, but the deck doesn’t run four copies of each card. Diabolic Tutor is the other concession to a long game. It also serves as a second copy of the legendary lands.
Playtest, Playtest. It can only help. In my case, whenever I begin to settle on a build, I modify other decks in the gauntlet, and all my builds change again.
I have spent more time fiddling around with Tsuyoshi Fujita’s U/B Rats deck. It runs Trinket Mage, which can fetch Aether Vial or Pithing Needle, as well as some counter magic. It also runs Annul, which is surprisingly good right now. My only problem is that it seems to stall at times, but that could be operator error.
The main changes to Fujita’s deck are 1) replacing Rend Flesh with Nekrataals, 2) replacing Vedalken Masterminds with Skull Collectors, and 3) messing with the mana. Nekrataals are better with the Skull Collector bouncing, and because Regionals should be more creature-heavy than the invitational. Masterminds are okay, but both the double Blue and the one toughness caused some problems. The mana needed tweaking, because the Skull Collector means a shift to more black.
The one-off Pithing Needle makes a lot more sense with Trinket Mages to fetch it. Ditto Engineered Explosives, but the Explosives wreck a lot of this deck’s permanents. Explosives might belong in the sideboard. Thought Courier might be better off as Thirst for Knowledge – keeping a 1/1 alive is hard.
The deck is okay, if not brilliant, against everything except Kuroda Red. I am truly sick of getting a Rats lock, only to have my opponent draw instants and brain me with them.
The U/B version is much more consistent at getting the Rats / Vial lock in place, but it does not do as good a job at the early game as the mono-Black version. U/B seems better able to handle randomness, since it has bounce and so forth, but not sure it is quite reliable enough. I just wish I had a good idea for an extra finisher to slip in there. I think the deck is almost there, but needs something to take it to tier one. I’m not sure if that something it a great evasion creature or better play on my part.
Enough Regionals – I want to finish with a multiplayer wildebeests deck. That’s pretty easy to do: play three each of the Stampeding Serows and Stampeding Wildebeasts, four Wall of Blossoms, four Wall of Roots (they provide mana without tapping – useful in multiplayer), Eternal Witnesses, some Spike Weavers, Spike Feeders, an Uktabi Orangutan / Viridian Shaman / Wood Ripper, some Wood Elves, a Blastoderm or two, a couple Phantom Centaurs, maybe some Rancors, and Living Wish. Play Caller of the Claw if your opponents play mass removal, and Living Wish to fetch Viridian Zealots and any other utility creatures (e.g. Genesis, Silklash Spider, Molder Slug, Autumn Willow, Masticore, etc.) in the sideboard.
Since I have the cards, I would also include Gargantuan Gorillas, Snow-Covered Forests and a Cartographer. I would also play some Wastelands to go with the bouncing Cartographer, and I would probably include the Maze of Ith / Argothian Elder / Goblin Cannon combo, just because.
It is pretty easy to tune the deck to have answers to whatever your multiplayer group likes to play, but you will have to tune it – so no decklist.
I have to get back to testing for Regionals.
*Technically, leaves play abilities could also be considered, but nearly everything triggers on cards going to the graveyard, not merely leaving play.
** Yes, I’m taking them out of order. I’m saving the best for last.