Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #70: Origins’ Creature Feature

Every year at Origins, PES holds a casual tournament for prizes – and this year it’s Creature Feature, a format that is all creatures, no spells… And no nonbasic lands. What does the metagame look like for this oddball format, and how can we break it wide open?

It’s getting close to Origins, followed by GenCon. At each of these gaming conventions, Professional Event Services holds large tournaments in some of the more unusual formats. In addition to Type I, Extended, Type II, Bring Your Own Block, and Onslaught Block tourneys, PES is also holding Emperor and Creature Feature tourneys. I wrote about the Emperor tourney last year; this year I’m taking a look at Creature Feature.

My first thoughts when some friends sent me an email talking about Origins and asking about Creature Feature were:

  1. Card advantage is pretty much restricted to graveyard recursion.

  2. Global sweepers and removal should be critical.

  3. Surviving an initial rush will be key – Walls and lands like Desert might help

  4. Explosive decks like Mishra’s Workshop/Metalworker could rock.

I was also thinking that I would probably play a Rock variant, with Wall of Roots and Spiritmonger, but splashing red for Contested Cliffs. Reusable removal, baby! Or something explosive based around Workshops, artifacts, and Goblin Welders.

Then I saw this note on the Origins website:

“Decks and Sideboards contain all creatures! Creatures can be from any Extended-legal set. Prizes will be given out at the completion of the Swiss rounds.”

It’s limited to Extended. That eliminates Wall of Roots, and the whole Triskelion/Welder/Juggernaut/Mishra’s Workshop idea. At that point, the Onslaught Block decks started looking pretty good, as did Diego Ostrovich’s Grand Prix deck. Fast creatures, Gaea’s Cradle, and some elf searchers, plus lots of mana and Masticore for removal looked solid. The Onslaught Block Beasts decks also looked to be winners, with fat creatures and Contested Cliffs for removal.

Then I read the PES website and found this:

“Decks and Sideboards must contain all creatures or basic land! Four of a kind rule still applies, and creatures can be from any Extended-legal set. Players will play a number of Swiss rounds based on attendance. The event is not sanctioned and no finals will be played. Prizes will be given out at the completion of the Swiss rounds.”

Basic lands – just basic lands?!? No Gaea’s Cradle, no Volrath’s Stronghold, no Contested Cliffs, no Kor Haven nor Rath’s Edge? Horrors! Banning non-basic lands eliminates most combo and control decks – the stuff I’m best at building. However, I understand it is possible to build decks with just basic lands and creatures.

No non-basics also means that multicolored decks are going to be difficult, since you cannot use City of Brass, painlands, fetchlands or the like. That’s another problem: I don’t like building mono-colored decks. Still, I understand other people do it. I’ll give it a try. (Note: Origins is in June, meaning that the landcyclers from Scourge will not be legal. Once they are legal, multicolored decks will be a lot easier.) (And alas, it means you can’t play Siege-Gang Commander in your Goblin deck – The Ferrett)

The obvious place to start is the standard speed deck in any format – goblins and burn spells. In this case, it’s just Goblins, plus burn spells disguised as Goblins in the form of Gempalm Incinerator and Mogg Fanatic.

The basic structure should be the current Goblins block decks, but I can add some of the Extended RDW2K elements – namely, Goblin Lackey and Mogg Fanatic. Goblin Cadets and Jackal Pups – two other standards for Extended red decks – won’t work in this format, since everyone will have blockers. As a starting point, I’ll use Tomi Walamies‘ Goblins decklist from Pro Tour: Venice and add my own spin to it.

Creature Feature Goblins

4 Skirk Prospector

4 Goblin Sledder

4 Goblin Piledriver

4 Sparksmith

3 Clickslither

4 Goblin Goon

4 Gempalm Incinerator

3 Goblin Sharpshooter / Rorix

4 Mogg Fanatic

4 Flametongue Kavu

22 Mountain

Obviously, the Shocks have to go thanks to format restrictions, and they are the most obvious place to insert the Mogg Fanatics, which should be key to the mirror (killing Sparky) and other utility creatures like Wellwisher, Llanowar Elves, Peacekeeper, and Birds of Paradise.

I think we also need to find some alternatives to the Menacing Ogres – possibly Rorix or Flametongue Kavu. I suspect that between using the Sparksmith and the opponent’s pressure, your life total may not always be high enough to get counters on the Ogre – but I could be wrong. I would definitely play four Flametongues – they should always have targets in this format. Goblin Sharpshooter should also be good, given the number of creatures that you can sacrifice when needed.

I was very torn about Goblin Lackeys. They are very good turn 1, but are a lot worse once opponents get blockers out. It would require more playtesting than I have time for to resolve that one.

Finally, playing nothing but mountains means you can probably cut some lands – especially if you keep the mana curve low. A low curve would let you cut Prospectors for something like Mogg Flunkies – but keeping them would let you play Rorix or Bloodfire Colossus.

The other speed deck of the format looks like Elves. Here’s the Elves! deck Tammy”Tamachola” Ehrhart used to finish in the top eight at the Magic Online Worlds Qualifier.

Creature Feature Elves!

4 Birchlore Rangers

4 Bloodline Shaman

2 Caller of the Claw

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Taunting Elf

4 Timberwatch Elf

3 Tribal Forcemage

4 Wellwisher

4 Wirewood Herald

4 Wirewood Hivemaster

4 Seeker of Skybreak

19 Forest

Obviously, the Wirewood Pride is illegal, and gets the heave. Wirewood Lodge is also banned. Seeker of Skybreak can fill the gap, and provides another method of untapping a Timberwatch, Bloodline Shaman, or Wellwisher.

This deck seems vulnerable to fast decks packing removal (like Goblins), but it is very fast once it gets going. Taunting Elf, backed by Timberwatches, is a house.

Moving to Extended adds some Elves to the mix, but I’m not sure what really belongs. Deranged Hermit and Skyshroud Poacher are both good, but way too slow for this deck. The deck would love to have Masticore and Priests of Titania, but that calls for changing the mana curve. The deck is pretty good as played – and although Tammy had access to cards like Elvish Archers and so forth, note that she passed on them.

The Birchlore Rangers have seemed very situational to me, but they do help with explosive starts – and explosive starts are how this deck wins. So, I think I would play the deck as above, with Seekers replacing Wirewood Pride, plus three forests and one Patron of the Wild replacing the Wirewood Lodges. The theory is that eliminating the colorless mana means I can go down a land – maybe even two – but I would have to test that. I replaced the last land with another Bloodline Shaman, but Voice of the Woods or the elf recruiter could also fill the bill.

Sideboard cards are simple: Elvish Champion against anything green. Silklash Spider if you need to stop fliers or fat. Masticore for removal. Voice of the Woods is gimmicky, but it gets past small regenerators like River Boa.

Other fast deck options don’t seem as interesting. Stompy lost too much with the rotation of Mirage block, and Rancor, unfortunately, is not a creature. Suicide Black was never that good without Dark Ritual or Hatred. Phyrexian Negator is Suicide’s best card, and it is pretty bad when every other deck runs chump blockers. Even Shadow decks don’t seem very good without Bad Moon, Crusade, Armadillo Cloak, or Rancor.

White has two very interesting options, and could do very well in the format. First, white has a creatures with protection from the entire format (technically, protection from creatures – but since that is the format…) Secondly, white has the only real card advantage deck in the format – and I’ll talk about that later.

White could build a deck around Benevolent Chaplain – it blocks nearly everything and is really tough to kill. (Offhand, the only method of removing it are Ascendant Evincar, Noxious Ghoul, and Bane of the Living – none of which are cheap, so fast decks may crush anything running those cards.) Actually, there is a deck running the Chaplain already – Master A.

Creature Feature Master A

4 Beloved Chaplain

4 Mother of Runes

4 Exalted Angel

4 Longbow Archer

4 Master Apothecary

2 Commander Eesha

4 Soul Warden

4 Whipcorder

2 Jareth, Leonine Titan

4 Voice of All

2 Atalya, Samite Master

22 Plains

Some changes to the Type 2 decklist are necessary. Battle Screech and Glorious Anthem are illegal. Nova Cleric can leave, since the environment doesn’t have enchantments; Commander Eesha is a possible replacement, but you probably don’t want to run four copies of a legend unless it immediately wins you the game.

I’m not sure about Weathered Wayfarer. Early on you should be using your mana to cast creatures. Later on, you will probably have about the same number of lands as your opponent. Mother of Runes seems like a solid cleric to fill the bill.

Soul Warden could also be an option – if it lives more than a turn or two. Teroh’s Faithful might be better in the long run – or possibly a sideboard card. Noxious Ghoul really hurts if everything you have is a 1/1 or 1/2.

Diving Griffin – or other creatures that don’t tap to attack or have first strike – might fill the mana curve out. Voice of All is another strong option – it will have protection from most opposing decks. Coalition Honor Guard seems okay, especially if you have Mother of Runes. It stops most removal, except a Sparkie backed by a lot of Goblins and Flametongue – and it sure does a number on Timberwatch Elf. It’s marginal, though, if people are playing a bunch of Flametongues, so I would probably keep it in the sideboard.

Mageta, the Lion is a reusable Wrath of God. I’m just not sure how useful he is. False Prophet is in the same boat. It seems likely that you will have other creatures in play.

Crimson Acolyte is solid, either maindeck or sideboard, as an answer to red decks. (At the very least, it beats Foothill Guide.) Intrepid Hero helps against decks with big creatures. True Believer stops decks that throw creatures at your head. The trick is finding room in the sideboard

For finishers, you have Blinding Angel, Exalted Angel, Jareth, Leonine Titan, and Commander Eesha.

Blue decks are in a bit of a bind, since they have very little card drawing, countering, or creature-stealing in pure creature form. It is possible a deck could do well with things like Glacial Wall and Fog Bank to slow beats, some fast fliers, sneaky stuff like Dominating Licid and maybe some pingers for removal, but that does not seem all that strong. Blue should be the card drawing and card advantage deck, but I don’t think it can make it, even with Thieving Magpie.

The real card advantage deck is white. It has Rebels.

Here’s a sample Rebel decklist:

4 Ramosian Sergeant

3 Ramosian Lieutenant

3 Defiant Falcon

3 Lin Sivvi

4 Whipcorder

4 Steadfast Guard

1 Reveille Squad

2 Thermal Glider

1 Nightwind Glider

2 Defiant Vanguard

1 Rebel Informer

1 Lightbringer

1 Lawbringer

1 Cho Manno, Revolutionary

1 Rappelling Scouts

4 Beloved Chaplain

24 Plains

Rebel decks are very solid, and a pain to play against. The Beloved Chaplain ties up opponents until you can get the deck rolling. This may be one of the best decks in the format, and I would definitely consider it if I didn’t hate Rebels so much. The one good point is that a Goblins deck with FTK might have enough removal to crush Rebels – if it can get around the pro-red dudes and Cho Manno, that is.

For the real Timmies out there, there’s a deck I don’t quite think works, but would be great if it did. I’m talking about The Claw, designed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle. The problem is finding alternatives to Explosive Vegetation, which is key. The alternatives are few and far between – and unfortunately don’t include Wall of Roots, which would really help the deck. The best you have is Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and Yavimaya Elders, and maybe Vine Trellis or Skyshroud Elves. FTKs would have to replace Starstorm. This seems too slow, but if you live long enough the deck could power out dragon after dragon – and a big Kilnmouth Dragon is well nigh invulnerable in this format.

The previous decks mention Yavimaya Elders and Birds of Paradise; any true multicolored decks in Creature Feature will have to be built around these guys. The next card on the list has to be a Wall – either Wall of Blossoms or Vine Trellis. Wall of Blossoms is almost always better. Finally, Genesis combines nicely with Elders. So here’s the start:

14 Forests

8 Splash lands

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Yavimaya Elders

4 Wall of Blossoms

1 Genesis

That’s thirty-nine cards, leaving twenty-one to complete the deck. Cards like Masticore, Silvos, and Verdant Force could fit in any base green deck. The second color should not have too many one-drops and should avoid double and triple colored mana, since you are less likely to get those colors early on.

If your second color is red, you can play FTK, Shivan Wurm, Embermage Goblin, Ancient Hydra, Shard Phoenix, one or two Shivan Hellkites, and even Crater Hellion if absolutely required. I would consider Horned Kavus as well, both for fast defenses (if you can find the red), and to bounce and reuse FTKs.

If your second color is white, you can get some combat tricks with Fleetfoot Panther, the amazing Beloved Chaplain, some fat with Phantom Nishoba and Sabertooth Nishoba, and utility creatures like Intrepid Hero. You also get access to Steel Leaf Paladin (yuck) and Akroma, Angel of Wrath, if you can get the triple-white mana to cast her. Exalted Angel is probably better, and doable.

If your second color is blue, you can play Masticore, Wonder, Mahamoti Djinn, Glacial Wall, and Wormfang Drake. You could also play some fragile card drawers, and some marginal tricks like Dominating Licid. With a heavier commitment to blue, you could play Stinging Barrier and Tidal Kraken. That said, I cannot see playing blue here.

If your second color is black, you get much better options. Bone Shredder is reusable removal, if you can get Genesis in the graveyard. Nekrataal is both removal and first strike, but the double-black could be a problem. (That, and the fact that he’s not legal in Extended yet.) Bane of the Living is the best board sweeper available, if you can get the double-black easily enough. Spiritmonger is big and scary. Plaguebearer is great weenie control, if it lives. Phyrexian Plaguelord can be amazing once Verdant Force tokens become abundant. Finally, in this format, multiple Avatars of Woe should be very playable, since everyone will have creatures. Wall of Souls is a great stopper, but getting black mana early could be a problem. Visara is another solid black card.

I have a strong liking for green-black, so that’s my first inclination. Here’s a starting decklist:

14 Forests

8 Swamps

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Yavimaya Elders

4 Wall of Blossoms

3 Wall of Souls

2 Spike Feeder

2 Genesis

3 Bone Shredder

3 Bane of the Living

3 Spiritmonger

2 Silvos, Rogue Elemental (Maybe three Silvos, two Spiritmongers?)

3 Avatar of Woe

1 Visara the Dreadful


4 Silklash Spider

4 Broodhatch Nantuko (versus Goblins, etc.)

3 Crypt Creeper (or Withered Wretch, but I shouldn’t have to remove many cards)

3 Spike Weaver

1 Masticore

It needs more tweaking, and actual playtesting, but it seems like a start.

I’m going to call it quits now, although I haven’t even considered Zombies, nor tried to actually build a blue deck. Soldiers also look like a good option, although they would be much better with Daru Warchief. An elf deck build to generate mana, and something to do with it like Masticore, Nemata, or Flamewave Invoker could also work. Maybe next time.