You Lika The Juice? – How I Love/Hate Fauna Shaman

Friday, August 20th – Last week I got to play Standard for the first time in a month or so, with my first stab at a Fauna Shaman deck. I played a little EDH too, which gives me a little bit to talk about for everyone… so come on in!

Last week I got to play Standard for the first time in a month or so, with my first stab at a Fauna Shaman deck. I played a little EDH too, which gives me a little bit to talk about for everyone… so come on in!

When Future Sight came out, I got to interview Mark Rosewater about the set for Scrye magazine, and one of the things I asked him about was the Magus cycle of enchantment effects that appeared on creatures. He mentioned that the enchantment effects were tricky compared to the artifact effects done before, since the tap effects would be slowed down due to the inherent summoning sickness of the creatures. Enchantments don’t tap to activate, so there was some trickiness in getting them to line up without having them just be crazy good. Here are a few enchantment effects he mentioned that didn’t make the cut: Necro, Opalescence, Stasis, and Survival of the Fittest. Rosewater mentioned Magus of Survival was so good because you could immediately tutor for a backup copy if you needed, so it got shelved, and Magus of the Vineyard eventually got the nod (and eventually got nerfed with the mana burn rule going away).

I have to say, hearing that Magus of Survival got considered but failed to make the cut, I was doubly shocked to see Fauna Shaman show up in Magic 2011. And doubly thrilled!

Survival of the Fittest was one of the few Green cards back in the day that was truly an engine to be feared, and it completely played into one of the themes I love the most in Magic – creatures that do cool things other than just beat down. Of course, back in the day, creatures were so much more fragile and removal so much more robust that I ended up stepping across the aisle to Green’s enemy color Black in order to recoup the inevitable mass casualties, and quickly joined quite a few other Magicians in playing base Green/Black with Survival of the Fittest and Black graveyard recursion. Living Death and Recurring Nightmare were the popular kids, and I made use of them too, but my favorite card to include was a surprisingly good gem called Oath of Ghouls, which was cheap enough to slide out there under the counterspells that were so heavily played in my area, and it just crushed my opponents. Here’s one decklist from an old tournament report circa August, 1998:

Dancing Dead Things

4 Oath of Ghouls
3 Survival of the Fittest
3 Living Death
3 Ebony Charm
2 Recurring Nightmare
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Wall of Roots
3 Wall of Blossoms
3 Spike Feeder
2 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Mindless Automaton
1 Spike Weaver
1 Cloudchaser Eagle
1 Coffin Queen
1 Crypt Rat
1 Shard Phoenix
1 Fallen Angel
1 Spirit of the Night
3 City of Brass
6 Swamp
14 Forest

3 Emerald Charm
2 Gaea’s Blessing
2 Nekrataal
1 Cloudchaser Eagle
2 Thrull Surgeon
2 Harbinger of Night
2 Stromgald Cabal
1 Scragnoth

It wasn’t as explosive as the Living Death decks (such as 5Ckastle) from that era, but it was chock full of reusable utility along with slow and steady card advantage that would snatch inevitability and grind out victory. I had a ball with this deck!

Now, Fauna Shaman is certainly making a big splash for its ability to tutor up answer cards and silver bullets, and it combines nicely with the already insane Vengevine to get “free” tutoring while also getting “free” Vengevines into play. But I think folks have been neglecting the ability to put stuff in the graveyard for profit outside of Vengevine, and it had me thinking back to Recurring Nightmare. To me, when you’re pulling cards for your Fauna Shaman deck, after the Shamans you pull your Vengevines, then you pull your Lotus Cobras, and then once you decide on white for your deck you go for Sun Titans.

That’s Titans. With an ‘s’ on the end. I’ve seen a few people toss in a single Sun Titan as a tutor target, but I think that’s being overly optimistic. If at all possible, people are going to try and kill Fauna Shaman, which is why it’s quite possible that when you draw and cast Sun Titan, you likely will have a Fauna Shaman in the graveyard.

This plays into the whole idea of removal overload that’s been a hallmark of decks I build in this era of progressively better creatures, and it typically goes like this: Turn 1, Noble Hierarch. You’ve got to kill it if you can, or bad things will happen. You killed it? Okay, turn 2 Lotus Cobra. Can you kill it? Okay, turn 3 Knight of the Reliquary. Can you kill that? Okay, here comes Vengevine… did you save your Path to Exile for it? Okay, how about Baneslayer Angel… and then comes a Titan to add to the mix. Sun Titan plays into this strategy so well because, not only is it such an awesome, “Answer Me Immediately” kind of card, but when he enters the battlefield you get to get back one of those awesome cards on which your opponent previously spent removal.

Fauna Shaman is one of those cards that will just take over a game if left unchecked, so you’ve got to expect it to die. Sun Titan brings her back and, like a great big brother, declares “NO—you want to deal with her? You deal with ME first!”

Of course, once you lay out your Shamans, Vengevines, Cobras, Titans, and let’s face it, gotta have Knights of the Reliquary, deck space starts to get pretty darn tight, and that’s not even dipping into a third color yet! If you go Naya colors, that immediately demands Bloodbraid Elf and some number of Cunning Sparkmages and then what are you left with?

For my first venture back into post-M11 Standard, I wanted to go a different route. Some of you might remember a metagame deck I cooked up after ROE was released that was Black and Green and featured Vampire Hexmage as a Planeswalker-killing machine (the Vexvine deck from Stoopid Jace). When Fauna Shaman was spoiled, Michael Rooks pointed out that the card would fit perfectly into that deck, so for my Fauna Shaman/Sun Titan deck I decided to dip into black for some of that action:

I really, really wanted to have Birds of Paradise in this deck, but I ended up cutting them for Walls of Omens because I was worried about dying to beatdown before I got a chance to do any Fauna Shaman shenanigans. Considering all I played against was Esper and Pyromancer’s Ascension, that was a bad call.

By the way, Vampire Hexmage ain’t a bad card against Pyromancer’s Ascension (nor is tutoring up a Bojuka Bog). Just saying.

I just spent 1,200 words talking about how much I love Fauna Shaman… so where’s the hate part? Well, it’s just that there are so many creature cards I want to shove in a Fauna Shaman deck that I can’t include everything I want, even bleeding over into the sideboard! I mean, laying out the cards and figuring out what stays and what gets cut is such agony. Seriously.

So last Friday, unfortunately, only eight souls mustered out for FNM, so it was three brief Swiss rounds and cut to the finals. I beat one Esper deck, beat Pyromancer’s Ascension, lost to the other Esper deck, and then got crushed by that Esper deck again in the finals. I certainly didn’t have my deck configured to handle Esper Control, with Baneslayer Angels and Sphinxes of Jwar Isle laughing at my Vengevine shenanigans. One bit of tech I used back when Basilisk Collar first came out that seems like a good answer would be Scattershot Archer, which would be perfect as a one-of in a Fauna Shaman deck. Any other ideas are welcome!

If I end up going the Naya route, one thing I want to try is putting Mark of Asylum in the maindeck and running Devastating Force – c’mon, how much of a beating would that be? Mark of Asylum is such a great techy card, I loved pairing it up with Master of the Wild Hunt, and it could be loads of fun with Cyclops Gladiator as well, but those four-drops aren’t nearly as individually good as Vengevine and Bloodbraid Elf. So many cards, so few card slots…

Despite getting blown out in the finals, it was nice to nab a foily Krosan Grip that will immediately go into one of my Green-based EDH decks.

And speaking of EDH… I promised last week that I would reveal why I’ve been scrounging for Relentless Rats these past few weeks. Well, about a month ago as I was sorting through my cards I ran across Bone-Gnawer and started contemplating him as a general. He actually seemed pretty awesome if you could find enough decent singleton rats to run in the deck, but a quick search for rats didn’t look too promising, unless…

Relentless Rats. Hmm. While Relentless Rats certainly violates the spirit of Elder Dragon Highlander, I don’t think a deck featuring Relentless Rats would violate the spirit of the format, which is all about having fun. I seemed to recall even hearing an “official” RC ruling that Relentless Rats were legal for the format, and double-checked. Sure enough, on a thread specifically asking that question, I found this:

The RC has discussed it and for the time being thinks that multiple [Relentless] Rats is okay. We reserve the right to change our minds down the road.
Sheldon, August 2009

To me, making a Relentless Rats EDH deck just sounded like an incredibly fun and cool challenge. I mean, sure, Relentless Rats in multiples can get scary, but really they’re just severely underpowered Slivers. And I only personally owned six Relentless Rats. So I sent out the call… and man, did you deliver! Quite a few of you sent me your copies of Relentless Rats, and my man Carl Wilt sent 24 of them! I am humbled by all of your generosity and extend my thanks.

Okay, so I got the Relentless Rats… how do I make a great Relentless Rats deck? While I’m not sure a great one is possible, I managed to cobble this one together for my first run and it didn’t do too badly:

1 Marrow-Gnawer
1 Skullclamp
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Swarm of Rats
1 Thornbite Staff
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Konda’s Banner
1 Nezumi Shortfang
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Crypt Rats
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Crystal Ball
1 Door of Destinies
1 Night Dealings
1 Cauldron of Souls
1 Patriarch’s Bidding
1 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
1 Throat Slitter
1 Black Market
1 Thrumming Stone
1 Coat of Arms
1 Ratcatcher
1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
1 Patron of the Nezumi
41 Relentless Rats
1 Mutavault
1 Swarmyard
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Strip Mine
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Phyrexian Tower
1 Leechridden Swamp
1 Winding Canyons
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
1 Crypt of Agadeem
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Mystifying Maze
23 Swamp

Check out the Thornbite Staff / Marrow-Gnawer synergy for infinite rats! I can’t imagine anyone allowing me to get away with it but I figured I’d go for the gusto at least once. The Thrumming Stone might be going a little too over the top, but my hunch is that I’d only get a couple free rats from the Ripple effect before whiffing, in which case it’ll be fun and not obnoxious. I’ll keep a close eye on it though. And let me say I love finally putting Swarmyard to good use!

There is definitely a lot I want to do to improve the deck; I can certainly use things like Sensei’s Divining Top, Scroll Rack, and Journeyer’s Kite, along with some raw card drawing like Memory Jar and Urza’s Blueprints. I ended up dying once I ran out of gas and drew dead a few turns. Still, I did manage to kill two people in our six-player game from three attacks with huge Relentless Rats with fear!

There are some other Rats I’d like to add to the mix that I wasn’t able to put my hands on yet: Kuro’s Taken, Nezumi Graverobber, Rats of Rath, Skullsnatcher, and Pestilence Rats.

Tommy suggested I foil out the deck, so each time I cast a rat card after the first one I could say “Rats—foiled again!” While I would totally love to do this, I think acquiring foil Relentless Rats would prove to be quite a bit more difficult than acquiring the regular ones. Maybe I’ll shoot for foiling the non-Relentless Rats rat cards for now—I’ve already got the promo foil Ink-Eyes in here.

As you read this, I’ll be spending my last day at the beach with my kids, and hopefully I haven’t gotten too sunburned in the process. The curse of not being fair-haired is to sometimes not take the sunshine seriously enough, but I’m going to be packing plenty of sunscreen for me as well as the kids. Man, are we already on the downhill side of August? The summer sure has been flying by.

Take care…


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

New to EDH? Be sure to check out my EDH Primer, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

My current EDH decks:
Bone-Gnawer (RATS!)
Phelddagrif (carrots & sticks)
Tsabo Tavoc (Red & Black nastiness)
Reki, the History of Kamigawa (more legends than you can shake a stick at)
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade (brain-eating zombies, Commander)