I know that I don't participate in every theme week, but I really enjoy them when I think that I can do a good job. Sometimes theme weeks give writers the opportunity to do some cool stuff with form; we don't have to generate the ideas, so we can concentrate on execution. This time around, I decided to figure out what the best fat creature is at every power/toughness combination. I started out this article by going through all of Gatherer, looking at every creature – then every creature legal in Vintage – sorted by size. I ran the Vintage filter to cut out the sets like Unhinged... It's a theme week, but this is still Swimming With Sharks.
I thought it would be fun to run down the list of every creature at every size and talk about the best creature at that size. I went back and looked at Mark Rosewater's Fatty, Fatty, Two By Four, and sanded the edges a little bit to animals with five power or more and toughness of three or up. I was actually happy to reference Mark because I wasn't really up enough on my own fatty lore, and felt a little odd talking about 6/1s and even 7/1s (because one on the back side doesn't seem too fat to me). Anyway, how would I have been able to justify Erhnam Djinn over Exalted Angel with any semblance of a straight face? Let's begin.
Well... This one is easy because Krosan Cloudscraper is the only one! That said, he's a good man, and has contributed significantly to a number of top level decks, one archetype in particular.
This weekend is the 2007 Grand Prix – Massachusetts. The above deck was Lucas Glavin's second place Extended monster from the last one, back in 2005.
Glavin's deck hybridized the Cephalid Breakfast and Loop Junktion ("Life") strategies... It turned out that Cephalid Breakfast, which repeatedly targeted Cephalid Illusionist with Nomads En-Kor to "Millstone" one's own deck, and Life, which repeatedly targeted Daru Spiritualist with Nomads en-Kor to make millions of toughness, had a fair bit of crossover. Lucas could therefore make big fatty toughness and sacrifice Daru Spiritualist to Starlit Sanctum to gain a game-winning amount of life orMillstone his whole deck to set up Reanimate or Exhume on Sutured Ghoul with enough fuel to make the Ghoul quickly lethal and hasty with Dragon Breath. Krosan Cloudscraper was an important element, even as a singleton, because when you cram two different combo decks into 60 cards, you sometimes have to force a little more oomph into individual cards (that you'll probably never actually hard cast).
There is only one other available 12/12, and it doesn't have the pedigree of Phyrexian Dreadnought. The best Phyrexian Dreadnought deck was probably Adrian Sullivan's Top 32 deck from Pro Tour Rome:
Dred Panda Roberts - Adrian Sullivan
The combination was any three Phyrexian Dreadnoughts and Pandemoniums (two Pandemoniums and a Dreadnought was 24; one Pandemonium and two Dreadnoughts was the same), with Reanimate pinch-hitting for a second Dreadnought.
This deck was highly innovative in its use of Necropotence to find the combo, a forerunner of every Yawgmoth's Bargain deck, and certainly Trix and the Skull Catapult.
The down side is that the combo doesn't work any more due to the errata on Phyrexian Dreadnought. You can compare the card's original text and Oracle text on Gatherer.
Darksteel Colossus only had to beat two other creatures at its size, but even if competition were a bit tighter, this giant robot would probably have done fine. In fact, Darksteel Colossus has replaced the best creature of all time (who starts at 1/2, as you know) as the default kill condition in Vintage.
At least before the printing of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Darksteel Colossus was a key victory condition in Tooth and Nail decks.
The US Nationals 2004 Top 8 actually had a boat load of Darksteel Colossuses (including winner Craig Krempels), but I chose Kibler's deck because, for the purposes of this card, it had two copies of Darksteel Colossus in the transformative sideboard. This was actually the brainchild of Seth Burn: When you played Tooth and Nail out of the G/W sideboard, two 11/11 giant robots would be there ready for a trample kill.
There is not a soul on 10/10 that you would really want to play.
Lord of Tresserhorn wins by default, but it's not like anyone has ever been clamoring to play him in a Pro Tour-winning deck.
I played against a rogue deck online that used Autochthon Wurm with Nourishing Shoal and Nefarious Lich to draw a ton of cards. That seemed cool.
This card has for some years been a monster in Extended in combination with Erratic Explosion.
Most recently, Shingo Kurihara finished second at Grand Prix – Singapore playing one Erratic Explosion and one Draco. The combination is really simple: Run out Insidious Dreams and discard two cards. Put Draco on top, Erratic Explosion on top of that. Draw Erratic Explosion... Sixteen to the head. Fire // Ice and the opponent's Ravnica duals are there to clean up the last four points.
I suppose Draco was intended for Domain play, but he never caught on there, with everything from Rakavolver to Ordered Migration proving to be more popular kills.
Eater of Days
This card has never been played, to my knowledge, in a top tier deck. He sure is fat, though.
Back when he was the Single Card Strategies columnist, Adrian Sullivan wrote an article on it here.
Greater Gargadon has no competition at 9/7, but I'm sure that if it did, this big Beast would do just fine. I guess that Greater Gargaton will be one of the most important creatures at the upcoming Time Spiral Block Constructed Pro Tour.
Akira Asahara, one of our community's strongest deck designers, finished second at Lord of Magic at the end of last year with a clever proto-suspend deck running Greater Gargadon, Ancestral Vision, and Clockspinning to help jack Dragonstorm as well as, you know, power out some pretty impressive cards.
Zvi Mowshowitz says that the biggest problem with Panglacial Wurm is that some poor shmuck will break his seventh land, say a Windswept Heath, to play this guy... and then realize he doesn't have the mana to do so.
8/8 is a rough mana cost. Iconic monster Force of Nature is an 8/8, as is former Tinker lynchpin Phyrexian Colossus. In fact, Phyrexian Colossus, multiple copies, defined the central strategy for Tinker to win against Null Rod. Swing for eight, Tinker the Colossus for another one... It was a hell of a lot better than no plan.
Overall, I am pretty sure that newcomer Spectral Force is the best of the 8/8 crop. He has a foot in each of the other two, but a comparatively tiny mana cost, and he came built with a best friend. Like Greater Gargadon, look for Spectral Force and Scryb Ranger to be key.
The iconic Spectral Force deck is Scryb and Force:
Silvos, Rogue Elemental
Not a lot of competition at 8/5...
Silvos is probably third best in his cycle, which is still pretty good considering their power level. He probably should have been a Pro Tour Champion, but Osyp Lebedowicz won the unwinnable, partly due to luck, partly due to the old Legend Rule.
In Onslaught Block, the Wrath of God equivalent was Akroma's Vengeance. Akroma's Vengeance, although strong, just couldn't beat regeneration.
Crash of Rhinos
No, of course this was never played in a competitive Constructed deck. Chris Pikula once won a Limited PTQ and called it "Crash of Fatties" in his report.
Could there have been any doubt? Monster. Monster!
Sundering Titan was one of the most powerful finishers in Tooth and Nail. Zvi once said that one Okina would have been strictly better than one Forest in the Tooth mirror just because it wasn't a basic!
Everyone's seen Sundering Titan in that context. What about this one?
This deck is from the same Top 8 as Lucas Glavin (above), but obviously has a considerably different focus. The Teen Titans deck uses Artifact Lands as cheat catalysts for its Goblin Welder reanimation theme. With Careful Study, Hapless Researcher, or Intuition, Keith could discard a powerful threat, then exchange it with Great Furnace or Vault of Whispers. The deck got its name from the most powerful of those threats, the quad pack of Sundering Titans. Note that Teen Titans has not a basic land and is essentially immune to its own Titan's collateral damage.
There is considerable competition at 7/7, including Shivan Wurm, Sliver Queen, Thorn Elemental, and Worldgorger Dragon... But Verdant Force is, according to noted fatty expert Jamie Wakefield, "the best fatty ever printed," and even if you don't agree, that wouldn't make any sense at all if Secret Force's namesake isn't the best at just 7/7.
Verdant Force has been a noted component of so many great decks played by so many great players. Godzilla was one of the most important great designs by Alan Comer. Secret Force in Extended locked Mike Turian's 2001 World Championship Top 8. Alan was Hall of Fame 2005, and Mike is probably going to be Hall of Fame 2007 (I'm sure voting for him). However, I picked a deck that used Verdant Force to get a degenerate combo piece banned.
From Gary Wise's Wise Words: Bans:
No more losing the Sligh match up to the stinking die roll. No more playtesting match ups where you take three turns then wait half an hour for your opponent to finish going off. No more turn two Verdant Forces. Or turn one Verdant Forces for that matter. Think I'm joking?
Poor Christopher McGuire. Who? Huh? Never heard of him...
Christopher McGuire is among the thousands who have worked their collective tails off at improving their M:tG-ing to the point where qualifying for the Pro Tour is a realistic possibility. He finally managed to do so for PT-Houston last year, the first major tournament to use the new Extended. I don't know him personally, but I'm sure he sweated over the environment, slaved over numerous decks and finally found one he liked enough to place his trust in for his first PT.
Think about it: You're there, finally, ready to lock horns with Kai, and Jon, and Dirk, Huey, Marco (congrats big guy!) and the rest. You sit down for the players' meeting, seeing all around you the players whose faces until now were mere internet characters at the pinnacle of your passion. Finally, the rules gibberish dispensed, you head over to the pairings and find your name opposite that of one of the true greats, Bob Maher.
You sit down, maintaining your calm, ready to face the great man. PT Champ. Player of the Year. GP Champ. The Golden Boy. Courtney's boy. He arrives at the table; you exchange the usual pleasantries while you try to keep from falling apart in the face of his obvious confidence. The die is rolled and he chooses to play first: you draw seven, and decide to keep, understanding that these are the seven cards with which you'll embark on your PT career.
Then it's time for game 2.
"Gary, you missed a detail or two"
Here's that chunk: Bob, playing Angry Hermit (the one with Sutured Ghoul, not the old Blastoderm deck), kept his hand, played a land and pitched another, casting Mox Diamond. He then cast Entomb, retrieved Verdant Force, and Reanimated it. Welcome to the PT kid.
How upset would you be? You've been reading for years how this is a game of skill, and while yes, there's a luck element inherent in the random draw, more often than not, the former should play out. Now, you've left the fish behind to swim with the sharks; you're ready to beat up on the big boys, and before you've even taken a turn, you're facing down a 7/7 player and a bunch of his 1/1 barns. How are you supposed to feel about the game after that?
Pretty bad. That's why this had to happen. Extended had gotten too fast. The turns after the third didn't matter because half the time they didn't exist, and frankly, that's not what this game, at least my game, is supposed to be about.
"It's sort of like chess, but you get to choose your pieces." That's the crux of how I describe Magic to interested parties who have never had the pleasure of the game. You're supposed to be afforded the opportunity to outmaneuver your opponent, not only through superior deck building, but superior play as well. In the locking of wills that is Magic, one should be able to outthink the man, woman or child seated across from them. That notion was a lost one in the Extended of August 31st.
Now though, Entomb is gone. No more Verdant Forces, no more Akromas, no more Nishobas, Visaras or Multanis. The legends count for New Orleans just got chopped down by 80% because this one little, seemingly insignificant card is gone. Is that a good thing? Well, the kiddies may be a little disappointed to see fewer of their favorites featured in the Sideboard coverage of the event, but the good news is their favorite players may actually have a say in whether or not they win. Seems like a positive to me.
Houston 2002 was Bob's first individual Pro Tour back from his short suspension (he had already made Top 4 on teams and won a Grand Prix), and he was playing like the Maher of old. Even Kai said he wouldn't be able to keep up with the resurgent Maher for Player of the Year (Bob was previously Player of the Year in 1999-2000), even though Kai was Kai and he ended up doing just fine when all was said and done (though 2002-2003 would be his final Play of the Year title).
There is a lot of talk about who the third best player of all time is. Obviously Jonny and Kai are one and two (or two and one, depending on who you ask), but who is third? The ingenious Nassif? The master tactician Tsumura? Could it be our own "the Pro," Mr. Back-to-Back himself, Raph Levy? If you ask me, number three is still Bob. Bob had an ironclad mental game, the kind that has not been seen since the glory days of Finkel, Chapin, and Long. Bob could switch from stoic and silent to jovial and disarming with the blink of an eye. He was convincing and (usually) tight such that Zvi Mowshowitz (another probable 2007 Hall of Fame inductee) modeled his play style as "What Would Bob Maher Do?" And just last week, Jonny said that "No one ever made the wrong play with more confidence than Bob." All that said, the reason I think Bob is so awesome, and stands up still against really impressive current players like Kenji, is that we judge the legend of the hero by the quality of his enemies. When Bob was the best player – specifically best Constructed player – in the world, bouncing Extended Grand Prix Top 8 to Extended Pro Tour win to Grand Prix win to Worlds Top 8 to Player of the Year – the reigning World Champion was Kai. When Bob lost in that 2000 mirror match finals, his opponent was Jon.
Blah blah blah. Back to fatties.
7/6, 7/5, 7/4, 7/3
Besides the inflexible 7/6 option of Cosmic Larva, I'd have to rate these as "not a soul."
No big finishes for this guy, but he has been played and might see play in some variant of Beasts, Bests, or Gruul in some future Extended.
Bosh, Iron Golem
It's hard to turn down a giant robot with a Pro Tour win under his belt.
Pro Tour New Orleans: George W. Bosh
Rickard Osterberg actually named his deck after Bosh. Though some sources list this as "Stax" after the Vintage Goblin Welder deck, it was known on the Pro Tour as George W. Bosh. The power level on this deck was absurd, and it was a key catalyst for the Extended banning of Tinker and other overpowered cards. There are a dozen great things you can do with George W. Bosh, from recurring Mindslavers to infinite Tangle Wires, but to get an idea of how likely it is to win a match... What are the chances your Extended deck of choice can beat Lightning Greaves on a Platinum Angel in Game 1?
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
I confess. I didn't actually look. I just assume that Akroma is the best, more significant than Spiritmonger, Mystic Enforcer, Dromar the Banisher, Rith the Awakener, or other standout 6/6s (Chapin says that Akroma is just the best white creature of all time).
If there is a fatty to take Verdant Force's title as the best of the bunch, this is it. Akroma is both fast (in the right deck) and inexorable (in most every deck). She is most impressive when hard cast, though. She was central in the reformulation of the Legend Rule.
There are some fine fatties on 6/5, including two different World Champions.
Who wins? How can you pick between Brian Selden, a great if unsung player, a fine World Champion with a great deck... and Kai Budde, quite possibly the best player of all time, playing frankly a middling deck? Which 6/5 flies away with all the gold?
I had no choice but to pick the 6/5 that has absolutely no World Championship titles.
Rorix, unlike either of the other 6/5 contenders, has versatility on his side, as well as two sets of wings. Rorix was played at the top end of Onslaught Block Goblins decks, and was a staple reanimation target for graveyard decks.
You hand it to the right Resident Genius, and Rorix can even play crazy combo!
Tsuyoshi Fujita / Sneaky Go
Kodama of the North Tree
This one was not even close. "North Side," as we gaijin like to call him, has contributed to numerous top tier decks. Here's one that was okay:
I know you can't equip Umezawa's Jitte to North Side, but nobody's perfect.
The next best option was Razia, Boros Archangel, who has some pedigree as a Vintage threat but nothing on the Pro Tour or in premiere events.
I really liked Laquatus's Champion in Standard Mono-Black Control circa 2003 as an answer to Compost. The MBC deck of that era defaulted to Corrupt kill, and was aces against both creatures and control... but as a default had no chance against a second-turn Compost. Enter Laquatus's Champion. The unkillable 6/3 was a brilliant threat, a super blocker, and most importantly, played well with Corrupt. None of its many up-sides caused Compost to notice any shenanigans were up.
Most people had Oli winning this Pro Tour on paper... But Ken Ho's one Tarnished Citadel proved just too strategic.
Blazing Archon and especially Patron of the Kitsune are fine men, but I think that for best body at 5/6, you have to give it to "Fat Moti." Mahamoti Djinn was always popular over the counters at gaming stores and in the kitchen table metagame, but didn't hit his stride in serious Magic until about 1997 when he first began to appear in the sideboards of "Dallas Type II" blue-white and blue-red PTQ decks. About the same time, Erik Lauer innovated the Big Blue archetype with four Mahamoti Djinns... and the rest is history.
Mahamoti Djinn is a great finisher for control, but his role in Magic strategic history is richer than that. Before there was Keiga... Well this should be obvious, right? Mahamoti Djinn predated Keiga in the abstract, but he also predated Keiga strategically in the abstract. Lauer was tapping for Fat Moti with Force of Will in his hand in '97, and Zvi and Scott Johns were taking advantage of 5/6 versus 5/5 by tapping out for it against the measly 5/5 Blastoderm by US Nationals 2001.
There are all manner of deserving 5/5 creatures. The unstoppable Keiga, World Champion Yosei, and all manner of Blastoderm and Juzam Djinn variants populate the size. How do you pick?
I chose to go with what was cheapest.
Of course what was cheapest were Sheltering Ancient and Tempting Wurm (eligible, but not exactly very good). Negator was next up, and happened to have a superb reputation. Following is an excuse to paste my favorite deck list:
Here's a trivia question: If Ponza is like Sligh but with horrible uncastable spells, and can only win in the mirror match (and even then only half the time), how can you win with Ponza?
Answer: You play B/U/W Ponza of course!
Angel was one of the most targeted / hated decks ever, second only to High Tide in its era (though it would probably pale next to Affinity three years later). The deck was devastating and impossible to ignore. Taking advantage of the unequal vigor injected into multicolored cards, Angel could deplete the opponent's hand with Gerrard's Verdict, bury him in Fact or Fiction and Yawgmoth's Agenda, or lock the ground with wee warriors.
The Ponza quip comes from Angel's 7-8 "Stone Rains," Vindicate and Recoil, which were much better than Stone Rain, of course. Invasion Block was a lot like Ravnica Block, with a multicolored theme, but the dual lands were strictly worse... four mana land destruction spells were good enough in Charleston! Desolation Angel played cleanup, both Wildfire and finishing "Dragon" for the deck. I know it seems counterproductive to waste cards on mana denial one-for-ones when your plan is to Armageddon everything, but pinning one color – say blue – was not difficult, so the Ponza aspect could be used early to validate Desolation Angel later.
There were many fine candidates at 5/4, including mirror-breaking Lumbering Satyr; format-breaking Stampeding Wildebeests; the ubiquitous Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni; and the defining newcomer Brine Elemental. None of them, in my opinion, are or were good enough to move Desolation Angel from her perch in the murky sky.
There are some other potential standouts, including Twisted Abomination, Weatherseed Treefolk, and Skizzik (a participant in the only 14-0 Swiss performance in Pro Tour history), but which one of these has been on the banned and restricted list?
Honorable Mention: Phantom Centaur (2/0)