I started looking at playing a beasts deck at States when the first partial spoilers started appearing; I figured that I would end up playing a control deck, but building a fatties deck is always fun. I was just hoping to find a Scragnoth or the like to handle blue control, and some underpriced fatties to handle the Deep Dog variants, and maybe something to add to Compost against mono-black control.
Onslaught doesn’t have a Scragnoth, but it has a lot of the rest.
Jay Schneider starts every new Constructed season with a mono-red Sligh or beatdown deck; Zvi starts with a new version of Turboland. I start with some overpriced fatties build – mainly to get it out of my system.
I started looking at beasts mainly because the spoilers included Contested Cliffs. (And yes, I know there is an error in here, which I’ll talk about later… But this is what the MTG spoiler initially reported):
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
G, T: Choose target Beast you control and target creature an opponent controls. Each creature deals damage equal to its power to the other.
Uncounterable creature removal is a luxury green has never had before, and it could be amazing. For one thing, Caves does not tap the Beast, so you can use it to kill a blocker before attacking. It also kills fliers, annoying tappers, Wizards and Merfolk Looters that never attack or block. In short, it is cheap, reusable”burn” that is only limited by the size of the beasts you have in play.
The fact that green also had Living Wish so it could get whatever beast seemed to fit – as well as a sideboarded Contested Caves to fetch on demand – didn’t hurt. Nor did the fact that the new Disenchant, Naturalize, was green hurt the deck. Now green decks did not have to scoop to Opposition or Ensnaring Bridge. Nonetheless, I didn’t think trying to go mono-green was necessarily worth it; Hibernation is still too good against mono-green. A two-color build was a must.
My first thought for a complementary color was black. I have a long history with G/B Survival and Rock variants, going all the way back to my version of the original Rock in Saga/Masques Type II. Black shines because it gives you a bit of the disruption green lacks, as well as ways to kill regenerators. It also gives you the amazing new Oath of Ghouls – Oversold Cemetery. In Extended, forcing a turn 2 Oath of Ghouls through against blue decks was almost always game. This version is even better, since it is maindeck-worthy; it never provides cards for your opponent – just you.
Black also provides Engineered Plague – which should deal with Wizard, Goblin, and Elf decks. (Provided no one plays the new creature-type hack card, that is.) Black also provides a nice new removal card in Death Pulse. Death Pulse either kills a single creature dead or becomes an uncounterable Afflict. Both options are reasonably solid. Black also provides methods of getting rid of Wonder…And finally, black provides the new Dirge of Dread, which can give all your beasts fear. A bunch of unblockable 4/4s is generally okay.
So, the deck would have certain basics: Beasts, Contested Caves, Duress, Engineered Plague, Death Pulse, Birds of Paradise, and maybe Llanowar Elves. Mana acceleration is important, because casting a big beast on turn 5-6 does nothing if you die to a weenie horde on turn 7. Normally, Birds and Elves would be obvious inclusions, but elves don’t do all that much. Instead, I was looking at Krosan Tuskers. They cycle for 2G, and when they cycle you can search for a basic land and draw a card. Barkhide Maulers also cycle, but they just draw a card. However, the synergy between Oversold Cemetery and cycling beasts is pretty strong: cycle early, replay them later. In extreme circumstances, you can cycle a Mauler every turn to draw more cards.
Other beasts worth looking at included the Wretched Anurid, since a 3/3 on turn 2 is pretty good. The loss of life is a bit of a pain (no pun intended), but you can always kill him off if absolutely necessary. Contested Caves means he trades for a bigger creature, just block, put damage on the stack, then Caves. The Ravenous Baloth is okay, as a 4/4 for four mana, but the lifegain ability is nice against Control Magic/Ray of Command effects, and he becomes amazing with Oversold Cemetery. Finally, Hystrodon, the trampling Ophidian, is another solid beast. Drawing cards is good.
Last but not least, Tribal Unity looked worth testing – although it might be unnecessary with Dirge available and I didn’t have room, and I didn’t test Wirewood Savage for the same reason. Anyway, here’s the decklist I had a week or so before the prerelease:
Okay, at right about this point, I found out that the spoiler was wrong – and that the activation cost of Contested Caves was GR. Contested Caves is very important to this design, but it produces colorless mana. I was not sure I could get all three colors consistently without using the new sacrifice lands… But if I used those, I would thin my deck to the point that I might not be able to cast the big beasts early enough. As a result, I dumped the G/B design.
I looked at building the deck using green and red. It loses the early disruption that Duress can bring, and loses the ability to kill regenerators. However, the ability to use Contested Caves before blockers are declared partially makes up for that. Red also has the additional attraction of Aether Charge; this enchantment turns every beast cast into a Scorching Missile – that’s pretty good!
It also costs five mana, which is really expensive for something that requires you to resolve future spells for it to have any effect.
The other advantage is that you can run burn in a red deck, and have Burning Wish to get other useful spells, like Epicenter, Earthquake, Hurricane, Pillage, Creeping Mold, Threaten or Pyroclasm… Or even silliness like Crush of Wurms. You also get an interesting selection of red beasts, including Tephraderm, Avarax, the very expensive Shaleskin Bruiser and Petravark, Petradon, Longhorn Firebeast, Goretusk Firebeast, Ember Beast, Chainflinger, Barbarian Outcast, Ashen Firebeast, Trained Orgg, and Thoughtbound Primoc. You can even run Anger, although the deck does not have any ways to discard him.
Green/red just does not seem to have the synergy that the green/black deck did. It does have a marginally better mana curve, and the ability to use a lot of G/R lands (Karplusan Forest, Mossfire Valley, even one or two of the new G/R sac lands.) Although green/red is usually a good option for a new environment, I would think this would need a lot of tuning. Here’s my current decklist.
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Ember Beast (cheap, but will the drawback kill m?) or Avarax (overpriced card advantage?)
4 Thoughtbound Primoc
2 Krosan Beast
3 Snarling Undorak
I’m not really happy with this build at all. Aether Charge seems clunky and too slow, but it could fit in the spot for Wave, but part of me wants to add Wild Mongrels and Fiery Temper and just dump the beasts. Part of me wants to play around with Aether Charge and Longhorn Firebeasts (take four – want to pay five more?), and then find a way to get Oversold Cemetery back in. None of these ideas seem all that solid.
So much of this deck relies on synergy, but the synergy only works when specific cards are in play together. Ember Beast is probably good, since the deck runs about twenty-nine creatures, but it relies on either another creature or Caves or it’s useless. Aether Charge relies on resolving several beasts after the charge has resolved – meaning you would either still have cards in hand after turn 4-5, or would topdeck well. By comparison, the G/B deck used cycling beasts, knowing that the Cemetery would eventually arrive; it did not require the Cemetery to be in play when you cycled them.
Too bad Contested Caves has red in the activation cost.
Okay, a final option: red/green, but splash black for Oversold Cemetery. That means a couple Swamps in the mix, to find with a cycled Tusker or a sac land. Green needs to be a common color, for Birds and for cycling the Tusker. Red needs to appear, but maybe not immediately. Duress probably goes (at least to the sideboard) since the deck won’t consistently produce black early. Death Pulse, with the double black in the casting cost, is also gone. Here’s what’s left:
The mana may need adjusting, and it might make sense to run a Grand Coliseum in the sideboard to fetch with Living Wish. I would like more than fifteen green mana sources, but I’m not sure what to change. With only the Birds as one-drops, Grand Coliseums may work better than Cities of Brass.
The loss of Wretched Anurid left a hole in the mana curve and made getting run over fast a lot more likely. The Wall partially solves that problem, while providing both a cantrip and another body in the graveyard for Oversold Cemetery.
I know I am overly fond of the Wishes, but they can find such great answers (and stupid pet tricks) at times. Here’s a great late game trick: Living Wish for Pardic Miner and get him into play, along with Oversold Cemetery and enough bodies in the ground. Then Burning Wish for Epicenter and do an Armageddon. After that, sacrifice the Miner on each of your opponent’s turns and bring him back on yours. Your opponent will never get to play a land. Epicenter is clearly worth a sideboard slot – the deck can easily become a fattie-Geddon deck when appropriate. Whether the Pardic Miner is worth a slot is a bigger question. Probably not, but it does demonstrate the style points the Wishes can provide.
So that’s the Beast Deck for states. Okay, I got that out of my system.