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Grabbing Beasts by Horns

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The letter I!t's been a while since we've used this column to suggested full decks to casual and multiplayer enthusiasts. So I thought I might spend a bit of time in construction mode with my readers. Beast Week, the Week of the Beasts, Seven Days of Nothing but Beasts™ is the perfect opportunity.

TO BEAST OR NOT TO BEAST

There was a time when Beasts were just a silly "catch all" category that seemed to pick up odd bits and ends as part of Wizards of the Coast's effort in the late '90s to consolidate creature types—cards like Pallimud and Fylamarid might have had the creature types "Pallimud" and "Fylamarid" if they'd been printed a year earlier, but now? I figure some dude must have said, "I guess it's just a Beast," and everyone moved on.

In the last few expansions, however—and certainly with Onslaught—Wizards has made an obvious, concerted effort to give the Beast creature type a distinct shape and flavor. Now, instead of being a "boutique" choice when your group plays a "tribal" format, Beasts can be a real powerhouse, right up there with Zombies and Merfolk. (It still has a way to go before it reaches the heights of Slivers or Elves.)

When building a Beast deck in casual formats (or any format really), the question arises: Can your deck go 100 percent Beasts, or are the early turns too bare? After all, most traditional Beasts (especially green ones!) begin at the four slot on the mana curve. How do you fill in the early blanks so you don't start every game effectively at 10 life?

Let's look at a few decks that go the whole hog—er, whole Beast. We'll leave the Wirewood Savage tricks to Jay. (But I do want to take a moment and say that Artificial Evolution on Centaur Glade with a Wirewood Savage out is just amazing beats.)

Your first option for a full-Beast deck that uses a smooth mana curve is to use colors beyond green. Ironically, black and blue (green's nemeses) have a deeper stock of cheap Beasts, including one that can set up an alternate win condition.

Bruising Beasts.deq

The primary trick here is Aether Charge. When played with the Cavern Harpy, it gives you some interesting beatdown potential. There aren't many black or blue Beasts with comes-into-play abilities—Gulf Squid kind of tops the list—but the Charge damage ought to be sufficient. The noncreature spells are quite replaceable. Whatever you have that lets you draw cards, removes creatures, and/or protects the Charge will do fine.

If the Charge goes down, you can always try Scalpelexis—a mill win with that card would be very sweet for a deck based on grunting monsters.

You could try to force Aluren into this deck to set up a repeatable loop of Harpy-Charge beatings to the head. But we'll give green its due over the next few decks.

Of course, most Beast decks want to be red and green, so let's shift to that scheme and try something a bit different from straight beatdown. We can start by adding a color that's notoriously low on Beasts: white. You just have to time it so that your white cards come out late in the game and make use of the fact that you might see many creatures go to your graveyard in the meantime.

Beasts with White Hats.deq

Crater Hellions sweep most boards fairly effectively, and all of your white Beasts are equipped to survive the devastation—Brushhoppers leave the field, Chargers are just tough enough if they stick to defense, the Sabertooth shakes it off, and the Phantom registers a small blip. Wildfire works much like the Hellions, and it will also get a Riftstone Portal into the graveyard so that your remaining lands are that much more effective. Because of the Wildfires and the cards you'll discard to Brushhoppers, I put the land count higher than I usually do. If you're missing any of the rare Beasts (or have only one or two Wildfires), consider putting in a Terravore or Lhurgoyf.

Something I discovered while researching Beasts was that many of the really fun ones are rare. Therefore, I express my regret in advance to those readers who have a hard time acquiring rares—and I assure you that I don't have nearly the collection to construct this beastly concept.

All of these decks may be well and good for well-educated Beasts, but what if you still need to teach your Beasts the alphabet?

Æ IS FOR ÆVARAX

"Æ IS FOR ÆVARAX"

While we're talking about Beasts, I'd like to share a deck that a friend of mine and I designed for the Auction of the People format at this year's Magic Invitational. I'm always bummed that you need Pro Tour points to get on the ballot (would it kill these guys to play a little chaos with yours truly?), so like everyone else, my only chance for Invitational fame and glory is to design a deck that Mark Rosewater and his insane posse will like.

This year, the theme was Standard-legal alphabet decks, which I thought was swell. So I enlisted my friend Todd Petit in a quest for linguistic legerdemain, and together we scoured the alphabet, made up Excel spreadsheets, and did a whole bunch of other nonsense to come up with something original and workable in a letter we'd both love.

When that didn't work, we resorted to a cheap trick. "What about Æ?" I asked during one particularly frustrated silence. "That would be original. I'll bet no one else is doing Æ."

"That's stupid," Todd sneered supportively. "Æ isn't a letter. I'm not even sure we're pronouncing it right. And there are only six qualifying cards, anyway. Six times four is twenty-four. What are you going to do with the ten slots you have left, Mr. Bigshot Magic Writer?"

Stunned by my friend's ærithematic prowess, æmazed by his fairly vindictive (ælbeit fictional) næme-calling, and left with no æasy ænswers, I watered down my creative idea faster than an action-movie screenwriter. "Okay, what if we just use as many Æ's as we can, round out the deck with A's, and then just make up a spiffy title that will make our ingenuity in focusing around a unique letter obvious, even to someone like Mark Rosewater?"

"Done and done," Todd replied. "Whadda we got to work with?"

It didn't take us long to realize that there are a lot of Beasts in A, and that one of the Æ cards is Æther Charge. From there, the deck built itself, and we were able to use all the Æ cards except for one (Tainted Æther, which just seemed too much of a stretch given the deck's colors and theme). Our memory has faded a bit but what's below should be pretty close to what we submitted. We capped it with a deck name that manages to insult the memories of both Dr. Seuss and Daniel Webster, which is no small feat.

"Æ Is for Ævarax"

Take a moment, if you will, to really look at that decklist. Yeah, it's three colors with a lousy fixer. But setting color considerations aside for a convenient moment, that mana curve is smoother than the belly on Voidmage Prodigy.

In any case, it's the Invitational, not the World Championship! Look at all the clever tricks you can do.

  • Aether Charge, for starters, works off all of those lovely A-list Beasts.
  • All of these Beasts survive Aether Flash. (Hold your horses on the Saprolings. we'll get there.)
  • How good is Avarax? You play one, deal damage through the Charge, find your next one, and swing away.
  • Aether Rift keeps the pressure on—and with Aquamoeba (a Beast!) in play, you can dictate a poor situation for your opponent by keeping nothing but creature cards in your hand. (Phone conversation on deck construction day: "We're breaking Aether Rift with a single letter!" "No, we're not—but it's still hilarious!")
  • Anurid Scavengers retrieve the noncreatures you pitch to the Aether Rift or Aquamoeba, as well as your Archaeological Digs (and you will need those Digs!)
  • Anurid Swarmsnapper is a beating against all the lame Bird and Goblin decks we knew would be out there. The "Two-Headed Frog" rocks their worlds, and everyone knows it!
  • Artifact Mutation was a metagame call—as players stretched their alphabet decks into several colors, we figured decent artifacts would be a refuge for them. (We certainly wished we could find one or two artifacts in our letter!)
  • Aether Mutation can serve as tempo as your Beasts beat down or can return an Ashen Firebeast to your hand (we suppose) while you get eight Saprolings. Aether Burst can also play a dual role, especially with Aether Charge or Aether Rift out.
  • Ashen Firebeast—finishes the job Aether Flash starts.
  • Anger is not a Beast, but it speeds up your army and works well with the Aether Rift and Aquamoeba. It also dies nicely to the Aether Flash.
  • Speaking of Aether Flash. If you're worried that your Saprolings will get burned to little crisps for no gain, worry less with Aether Charge on the board and Artificial Evolution in your hand. In response to your Artifact Mutation, simply cast the signature Onslaught card on the Mutation, changing "Saproling" to "Beast." With a mere five not-really-Saprolings, you will deal lethal damage through the Aether Charge. Easy as pie!

Now obviously, some of these interactions are unlikely. But there are enough likely ones that we were really looking forward to seeing some of the world's best players muck around with them and laugh.

*Sigh.* Well, there's always next year . . . for all of us. In the meantime, keep your experimental Beasts well learned and well fed!


Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.
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