… and then I woke up.
hat was weird. I don't know where I was last week. Someone suggested that I must've had a terrible bump on the head and that I wasn't really gone. But I did leave you, Johnnies - that's just the trouble. And I tried to get back for days and days. It wasn't a dream - it was a place. And JMS - and Adrian - and Randy - and BDM – and, uh, BDM were there.
Thank goodness I'm home! And this is my column - and you're all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And - Oh, Beedie Em - there's no place like House of Cards.
All this temporal chaos is really playing havoc with my internal chronometer. I should really have that thing looked at. No matter, though, because at last the present returns. Good thing, too, since it's probably my favourite of all the tenses.
Speaking of the present, we're back to our regularly scheduled programming. I'm in charge here, I'm the captain of this vessel. I'm the decider and I've decided that we're going to build some decks for Standard Tribal Wars. What can I say? I love to see different races (and classes) come together and settle their disputes with violence.
Last week, Time Shifted rogue (or is it rapscallion?) Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar gave you a taste of tribal, while the paradigmatically flawed Rivien Swanson has been keeping the tribal flames a-blazin' with his Tribal Bible series over at StarCityGames. In recent weeks, the two gents have marshalled the armies of Birds, Soldiers, Horrors, Snakes, Illusions, Fungi, Vampires, Zombies, and Skeletons. Who could be left? Who could still be itching to test their respective mettles on the field of tribal battle? I have a few ideas.
Let the mettle-testing begin!
The bigger they are, the harder they are to cast
My deckbuilding process is pretty organic. No pesticides for me. In order to “grow” the next couple decks, I had to procure some “magic beans”. At least, that's what the unsolicited email in my spam folder said they were for. The first tribe I'm going to build around is bigger and yet, not as big, as humans. What I mean is that their tribe is much smaller, but as individuals, they're much, much bigger. In this case, size matters.
They're the only tribe that shares its name with two major professional (North American) sports franchises: the Giants. They've certainly come a long way since Ravnica debuted and I first started building decks for the format. My first attempt at a Giant deck was red and white, since that's where the Giants were. This enabled the use of all kinds of cool Boros cards, like Lightning Helix, Sunhome, and the all-powerful Boros Signet. Red and white also happened to contain the only known Giant-related combo: Hammerfist Giant + Light of Sanction. Under normal circumstances, Hammerfist Giant would destroy himself (and most of your team) when he uses his hammerfist, but Light of Sanction prevents all the damage that sources you control would deal to creatures you control. Against some decks, this turns ol' Hammy into a repeatable, one-sided Wrath of God with a Flame Rift thrown in for good measure.
I built it. I played it. I smashed face with it. Sometimes. To win, you basically have to draw all the right cards in the right order. Occasionally, you'd be able to play a fourth-turn Bloodfire Colossus off of two Signets and an Ur-Golem's Eye, but other times you'd “kick things off” with a turn-four Sunhome Enforcer, which somehow wasn't as good.
They Probably Are Giants – Standard Tribal Wars
Yes, that's a Hill Giant. Four of ‘em. Normally, I wouldn't use a vanilla animal unless I was baking a cake that for some reason wanted animals in it. In this case, I didn't have much say in the matter, since at the time, the only R/W Giant sitting on the sidelines was Ninth Edition's Marble Titan. Don't get me wrong. I like ol' Marbles. He rules the schoolyard. Unfortunately, he quite inconveniently hoses the rest of the deck. He's the black sheep of the Giant family, an attention-hog who picks on others his own size (and larger). You'd be much better off slipping him into a weenie deck, something with Knights or Soldiers or one of the other tribes I'm going to look at this week.
That was then; this is now. A lot has changed in Brobdignag since then. Giants made a lot of headway with Coldsnap
(and they really needed it). The Jötun duo (Jötun Owl Keeper
and Jötun Grunt
), with their umlauts and their low mana costs, allow you to shrink the deck's curve significantly. Things get even better with Time Spiral
. There's a quasi-one-drop/Falter
effect (Ivory Giant
), a durable threat (Chronosavant
), and a Wrath on a stick (Desolation Giant
Standard Tribal Wars is tricky because the decks just don't have a lot of room once you fill out the starting lineup card and accommodate their mana requirements. If you play something that doesn't give you a lot of low-cost creature options, you're lucky to have a dozen free slots since you'll have to devote more space to making mana. This makes it important to have creatures that can act like spells, creatures that aren't just vanilla beaters. Since the format is by definition creature-heavy, one good thing about Giants is that they have three “Wrath of Gods”: Hammerfist Giant, Bloodfire Colossus, and the aforementioned Desolation Giant.
With all these new tools, can Giants be a contender? Robby Bullis, aka Redland Jack, certainly thought so. Since Chronosavant complements a reanimation strategy (you'll want to be dumping creatures into your graveyard anyway) and Resurrection enables such a strategy, Robby was all over it like someone who loves Smarties would be all over a Smartie. A turn-one Lightning Axe allows you to get a turn-two Chronosavant, which is about the best time to both skip a turn and have a 5/5 monster in play. There aren't a whole lot of ways to fast-track creatures to your graveyard in R/W, but either of the new Spellshapers (Icatian Crier or Flowstone Channeler) will do the trick. The Crier makes chump-blocker tokens while binning fatties like Bloodfire Colossus. He does a decent job of holding back opposing forces, but I wouldn't hold it against you if you wanted to swap them out for Lightning Helixes or Pyroclasms.
Pennant Winner – Standard Tribal Wars
In one particularly long, drawn-out game against Jack345's Insect deck, I had three Sunhome Enforcers, an Ivory Giant, a Chronosavant, and Oathsworn Giant holding off his Gleancrawlers and Grave-Shell Scarabs. In the meantime, I was slowly being poisoned to death by a Swamp Mosquito. A turn before I could reanimate my second Ivory Giant, tap down his guys, and swing for the win, he played Hex, killing six of my Giants with one blow. Unbelievable!
Time Spiral is a boon even for non-R/W Giant decks. Cyclopean Giant and Helldozer provide you with some incentive to make a B/x Giant deck, while Durkwood Tracker and the Time Shifted Craw “Daddy” Giant join Guildpact's Skarrgan Skybreaker in the Green Giant club. Heck, they even get Sprout.
Faerie, faerie, quite contrary
Giants are quite intimidating. They're big and mean and destructive. One of them has a hammer for a fist, for crying out loud! Another one has blood … that's on fire! There's probably a Giant out there with a socket-wrench for a leg. Made of magma. You can't make this stuff up. By contrast, the tribe I'm going to look at next is full of delicate little creatures with wings of silk.
Ah, Faeries. Right off the bat you know you're in trouble when you've been illustrated by Rebecca Guay. By contrast, if, say, Wayne England has got your illustration covered, you're pretty much guaranteed to have horns and scales and a power that at least trumps that of a squirrel.
Way back in September, if you recall, while I was in the process of previewing the
funnest most fun multiplayer card in Time Spiral, I tried to reassure dedicated Green mages that there would be plenty of “tricksy” cards in the set for them. One of the cards that I had in mind when I wrote that was the Master to Spectral Force's Blaster, Scryb Ranger. It's a Scryb Sprite! It's a Quirion Ranger! Buy now and get Protection from Blue and Flash and, like, a tote bag while supplies last! (Offer void everywhere.)
What kind of “tricks” can this faerie perform? Well, for starters, it can effectively make mana, if you have a Birds of Paradise in play and/or you're going to miss your land-drop for the turn. You can also untap the Faerie Lord, Sprite Noble, and give all of your flying guys +2/+0. You can play offense and defense with the same creature as well. The best such creature is probably Ohran Viper. It's an evasive two-drop, so you can follow it up with a turn-three Moldervine Cloak for some serious Faerie beatings.
The rest of the starting five include Surveilling Sprite, Silkwing Scout, and Diamond Faerie. Only Wizened Snitches and Wee Dragonauts didn't make the team. Sorry guys! To fill out the rest of the roster, I turned to the Simic's own Trygon Predator and Plaxmanta, a Naturalize that gets pumped up by Sprite Noble and an answer to opposing removal spells.
Faeries Wear Cloaks – Standard Tribal Wars
Budget players will probably want to forgo the Ohran Vipers, as awesome as they are, in favour of something that won't break the bank. If you want to maintain a certain level of snowiness, I'd recommend Frost Raptor. It's common, it gets pumped by both Diamond Faerie and Sprite Noble, and it shrugs off removal like so many, uh, loose-fitting shoulder accessories.
You can't see the forest for the tree nymphs
You know what? I'm already sick of faeries. Sure they're cute little flying weenies, sure they look snazzy all gussied-up in their watercolour ensembles, but they're just so obvious. Let's try something a little further off the beaten path. How about ground faeries, aka Dryads! They're much more down to earth.
With the addition of Yavimaya Dryad and Wormwood Dryad, the tribe not only gets two new recruits, bumping the non-Ultimus team members up to six, but it also gets a more reasonable mana curve. Before Time Spiral, you'd go 2, 2, 3, 8. That's Transluminant, Dryad Sophisticate, Ivy Dancer, and Chorus of the Conclave, who threw everything out of whack. Luckily, the new guys throw everything back into whack.
is especially cool in a Dryad deck. Since everyone but Transluminant
has some kind of landwalking or landwalk-granting ability, the pain of accelerating your opponent's mana by giving them a Forest is lessened. By searching out an Overgrown Tomb
, say, and putting it into play under your opponent's control, you make all of your Forestwalkers unblockable, you make Dryad Sophisticate
unblockable, and you can make Wormwood Dryad
unblockable in two different ways!
To further the Forestwalking theme, I decided to use an old favourite: Gaea's Liege. Just as everyone had a “Thallid Guy” in their group, I'm pretty sure most people who played in the olden days knew someone who played Gaea's Liege, usually alongside Instill Energy and Aspect of Wolf. While Aspect of Wolf is no longer around, we now have the better-in-just-about-every-way Blanchwood Armor (which is a nice thing to play on unblockable creatures and involves much less accounting than its forebear).
Scryb Ranger does many of the same things in this deck as it did in the Faerie deck. It also allows you to get double use out of Ivy Dancer and Gaea's Liege, which can be pretty devastating against a non-green deck. Indrik Stomphowler is a nice utility creature, a Naturalize on a Durkwood Boar-sized stick, that also happens to be a one of the only decent targets for Ivy Dancer's ability (since so many of your guys can Forestwalk already).
Great Forest Spirit – Standard Tribal Wars
Until next time, get your tribal on!