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Jay heads back to his roots.

Return of the Bird Soldier Horror

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The letter I! know, I know... Where's Gottlieb?!?

An increasingly little known fact is that before Building On A Budget, before Into The Aether, before Feature Articles on flavor text writing, I actually cut my teeth writing House of Cards as one of the first magicthegathering.com columnists. Based on my jumping from column to column, you can easily call me the most flighty writer for this website. I like to think of myself as... eclectic.

Thus in true Time Spiral fashion, I'm heading back to my roots and taking over House of Cards for a day. Honestly, I would have liked to see Gottlieb back as well, but apparently being Rules Manager, mastermind supervillain, and Message Boards deity is time-consuming business. The guy's just swamped. At least you got a Magicthegathering.Combos article from him recently.

Since I'm the one who gets to use the Way Back Machine, I decided to turn the dial to my very first mtg.com article. Yes, on January 3rd, 2002, I not only introduced myself to a crop of unsuspecting readers, but also previewed the Torment card Possessed Aven.

This article is about Possessed Aven? Sort of.

Today is my ode to myself writing an ode to Possessed Aven. .

A Love Of Standard, A Love Of Tribal

You see, I have fallen in love with the Standard Tribal format. In fact I recently wrote a whole series of articles on the format for StarCity Games (Remember, people: Eclectic). Now, the full series of articles is clearly top-notch and fascinating, but it would also take an entire day to read. So here's a primer on Standard Tribal...

The rules are straightforward:

  • A third of the cards in your deck must share a creature type.
  • Your deck must be Standard legal (using cards from 9th Edition, Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, Dissension, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, and Timeshifted cards).

Easy, squeezey, right? These two simple rules, surprisingly, provide a format that speaks to many a casual gamer's creativity and imagination. For example, some guy named Chris Millar has also written about the format a fair amount, including decks on such varied “tribes” as Imps, Centaurs, Assassins, Skeletons, Angels, Spirits, Cats, Apes, Elementals, and Elves. You'll also find Nate Heiss, Bennie Smith, and even Mark Gottlieb articles littered with Tribal Wars decks in general and Standard Tribal decks specifically.

Why is the format so fun? I obviously can't answer that for anyone else, but the reasons I enjoy it so much can be summed up like so:

  • I love Standard, mostly because it's dynamic and new-player friendly. “Classic” Tribal Wars is okay, but I get tired of the Onslaught tribes (Goblin, Elf, Zombie, Wizard, Cleric, etc.) bullying my weird tribes, and I like formats that change just as they're hitting a rut.
  • I love creatures. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find me making a deck in any format that doesn't strive to win via creature combat. A whole format based on creature types makes me exceedingly happy.
  • I love themes. I mean, if I can dedicate an entire article to Fallen Empires and submit a creature-themed deck for every single creature type during the 2001 Auction of the People, you know I'm a theme-lover. You also may have heard that I like preconstructed decks. My favorite aspect of Tribal Wars is actually imagining, flavor-wise, a war between tribes.

Yes, I think Standard Tribal is the bee's knees. It's what I play most of the time now when I'm on Magic Online. Feel free to give it a whirl and to look me up online under the name “GoingRogue” (more on the significance of this name at the end of the article). Now that Time Spiral has debuted online and forced Kamigawa Block into Tribal Standard retirement, I have literally dozens of decks with which I'm experimenting.

So what does all of this Tribal man-love have to do with Possessed Aven? Well, if you happen to have clicked on the link to my first article, you also know that Possessed Aven was the second non-legendary creature endowed with three creature types (Aven Windreader was the first). In my article I made quite a stir about it being a Bird Soldier Horror, in fact. What better time than today to try out three distinctly different tribes?

Snow Birds, Revisited

Rimefeather_OwlMy last deck before Time Spiral hit Standard Tribal was based on Birds. More specifically, it was based on Rimefeather Owl, with the basic idea to use Green's mana-acceleration (including Birds of Paradise, a bird), lots of snow permanents (including Frost Raptor, also a bird), to drop an enormous Owl (owls are birds) that could win the game in one or two mighty flaps of its snowy wings (birds have wings) (okay, okay, shutting up now). I decided to see if my new-yet-outdated Birds deck could survive in the post-Time Spiral world of Standard Tribal.

Birds these days have a lot going for them. Nineteen exist in Standard spanning three colors. Blue has the most options, including Rimefeather Owl as a fattie and Frost Raptor as an untargetable flier. Other solid Blue Birds are Thieving Magpie and Stormscape Familiar, with Sage Aven, Aven Fisher, and Crookclaw Transmuter fitting into various random weird decks I could imagine.

White Birds are the next most populous, with Suntail Hawk, Cloudchaser Kestrel, and Beacon Hawk as prime goodies, along with, possibly, Courier Hawk and Duskrider Peregrine. Green pulls up the rear in terms of number, but not quality: Both Birds of Paradise and Hunting Moa should go into any Bird deck using Green.

That's a lot of potential cards with a lot of varied abilities. All Birds except Hunting Moa fly, and Rimefeather Owl gets over a problem for many tribes of having no beefy finisher. Thus all of the pieces are there to be happy--to take wing and fly free, as it were.

Of course, the most obvious Bird deck is Blue and White, playing like a weenie deck with Rimefeather backup. It probably adds in Glorious Anthem, Griffin Guide, maybe some equipment, and... and...

Yaaaawwwnnn.. snort! Huh? Wazzat? Oh, sorry. I like creature combat, but if that's all my deck can do I'm pretty uninspired.

Which is exactly the reason I decided to stick with my original idea of using Green for powering out a huge Rimefeather Owl. Hunting Moa only adds to Green's allure, and Blue contains more than enough options to add the rest of my tribe. In fact, I'm most comfortable with this core of a Birds deck:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Frost Raptor
4 Hunting Moa
4 Thieving Magpie
4 Rimefeather Owl

What makes me slightly nervous about this posse is the lack of two-mana creatures and the general molasses feeling I get when looking at them. I also want to make sure that my non-Bird cards are Green enough to justify Birds of Paradise in the deck. After all, if I can't cast a Turn 1 Birds, it isn't much good to me. Finally, I need to take advantage of more than just Birds of Paradise to help me cast Rimefeather Owl. If I'm shunning White's excellent Birds and Stormscape Familiar, I should have a reason.

What's interesting is that as I started adding cards like Coiling Oracle (giving me a much-needed Turn 2 creature) and Wood Elves, my deck took on a different strategy than its pre-Time Spiral counterpart. Suddenly, with Hunting Moa and Plaxmanta in the mix, I had a whole slew of comes-into-play creatures. As a result, Peel from Reality became a major cornerstone of my funky Birds deck. Here is the final decklist as I've been playing it:

The lack of an answer for artifacts and enchantments bothers me a little, but so far hasn't been a huge issue. For awhile I was using Repeal, but I added Wildsize in its place because my 13/13 Owls kept getting blocked by things like 1/1 Pegasus tokens and other nuisances.

Keep in mind that House of Cards has never existed to give you decklists to copy. Instead, it's been a place to tickle your deckbuilding creativity and inspire you to make your own decks. I'd be thrilled to see you post any Birds decks you've crafted in the Message Boards thread for this article. Show me how fun Birds can be.

Beware The Kjeldoran Army

My second tribe today is Soldiers. Let me tell you, if Bird decks have a tendency to err on the side of boring, Soldier decks tend towards absolute narcolepsy. Every Standard Soldier deck on the planet is going to be based in White with Field Marshal as its cornerstone. After that you have the very fun decision to keep the deck Monowhite with cards like Veteran Armorer and Conclave Equenaut or to splash Red for the likes of Boros Swiftblade, Thundersong Trumpeter, Sunhome Enforcer, etc.

When Chris took on Soldiers, he went the White/Red route, using Boros-esque creatures along with Sunforger and Red burn like Char, Volcanic Hammer, and Lightning Helix. He also dropped this little nugget into his article:

Darien, King of Kjeldor could also be very good (“Char you, make two guys.”), although I think the Darien deck wants to be Green and White and use Chord of Calling. Flopping Kjeldoran royalty on to the table with damage on the stack seems like a very, er, cool thing to do. G/W also lets you use Congregation at Dawn and Surging Sentinels.”

Since staring at the Standard Soldiers list doesn't give me any cooler ideas than this, I decided to give Millar's idea a whirl.

My core of Soldiers isn't all that inspiring, but that's because so many obvious and good Soldiers exist in White. The nucleus looks thus:

4 Icatian Javelineers
4 Veteran Armorer
4 Surging Sentinels
4 Field Marshal
3 Nightguard Patrol
1 Oathsworn Giant

Could you argue my choices? Of course you could. Most people are probably comfortable with Javelineers, Armorer, Sentinels, and Field Marshal taking up space, while Nightguard Patrol and Oathsworn Giant are more controversial. My reason for the Patrol is that I figure vigilance is good for a deck relying on Chord of Calling. Oathsworn Giant adds to this idea, but honestly the real reason it's in there is to solidify this deck as a Soldier deck rather than a Human deck.

After my Soldier troupe, it was time for Chord of Calling and Congregation at Dawn. Those who know my deckbuilding proclivities know that I love tutor-based “toolbox” decks. The rest of my time, then, was finding a mix of 1-of creatures I wanted to find with my Green spells. I'm not entirely happy with my choices, but I picked Darien, King of Kjeldor because of Chris' reasoning above (Soldier tokens are also quite spicy with Field Marshal around), Loaming Shaman to handle graveyard-based decks like Zombies, Nullmage Shepherd to handle enchantments and artifacts, Saffi Eriksdotter as a way of saving Darien or Field Marshal, and Loxodon Hierarch and Celestial Crusader because of their overall goodness.

Here's the result:

This configuration of the deck has been...okay. I probably need Silklash Spider and/or Trophy Hunter to combat flying tribes. I'm fairly certain that I'm missing some key and killer piece of the toolbox. I'm not sure that Nightguard Patrol shouldn't be Conclave Equenaut. I'm also not sure I shouldn't succumb to adding the very evil Glare of Subdual. The questions go on and on, which is part of what you sign up for when building a toolbox deck. Decks with tutors and one-of cards tend to, on average, require a lot more tinkering to get right.

Once again, I ask that you post tips, ideas, suggestions, and most importantly your own decklists on the Message Boards. I've had a hard time making Soldiers interesting, and I'd love to see your own crazy creations.

Let's see, in my ode to myself writing an ode to Possessed Aven, I've tackled the Bird tribe and Soldier tribe. What could possibly come next?

The Horror!

The problem with Horrors as a tribe is twofold. First, Horrors tend to be rare, and thus it's an expensive tribe to build around. Ten of the fourteen Horrors are in fact rare, the rest are uncommon. I guess this makes sense--I mean, how horrific can creatures be if they're around all the time?--but it's still a wallet unfriendly tribe. Faceless Butcher, assuming you have some of them left over from Torment drafting, is your one easily-acquired Horror.

The second problem with Horrors is. That. They. Are. Slow. That is, they start at two mana with Hunted Horror (and Danger, Will Robinson! if you're thinking of casting him on the second turn), two Horrors cost three mana, and then the cost starts climbing all the way up to Mindleech Mass. Gleancrawler, Phyrexian Gargantua, Void Maw, Skittering Monstrosity, and Woodwraith Corrupter are all super-spiffy creatures, but if they're in the same deck you can expect a lot of Humans, Elves, Goblins, Fungi, and even Faeries to kick your teeth in. You don't want your teeth kicked in by a Faerie or Fungus, do you?

The news isn't all bad with Horrors, though. Like I said, most of the creatures are prime deck centerpieces, meaning that a Horror deck is likely to be fun no matter how you build it. If you can afford it and figure out a way to survive those early turns, you're in for quite a ride. Horrors are all basically Black, too, which makes the mana base easy.

My own horrific journey began by looking closely at the cheapest Horrors in terms of mana. I rejected Hunted Horror, which really needs a deck built around it, and instead looked at Faceless Devourer, Faceless Butcher, Abyssal Nocturnus, and Mindslicer. There's a nice little interaction between Abyssal Nocturnus and Mindslicer built in there, so I decided to gear my deck towards discard as a basic theme. In came Funeral Charm and Hellhole Rats, then Rakdos Guildmage to lower my mana curve, then I started having fun with my own discard by using Dark Withering (madness), Hell's Caretaker (creature revival, also fun with many of my creatures), and Dread Slag (Look Ma! No cards in hand!). True, my deck avoided a lot of those juicy, high-end Horrors, but this is arguably the most fun deck of today:

I originally played around with Smallpox, but I found that I needed both my creatures and lands too much to play it. Funeral Charm was a nice substitute, since not only is it flexible (and often used to kill one-toughness guys), but it gives me instant-speed discard for Abyssal Horror. I've also made myself discard a few times in order to play Dark Withering for two mana in a pinch.

Actually, this deck has all sorts of hidden surprises that make me smile. Hell's Caretaker can sacrifice Goblin tokens, or Mindslicer when I need it. Hellhole Rats making me discard my last card from hand with Dread Slag on the table for a massive alpha strike... Rakdos Carnarium giving me fodder for Rakdos Guildmage... Dark Withering with Rix Maadi... Faceless Butcher on my own Hellhole Rats... The list goes on and on.

But that's me and my low-end Horror deck. As I said above, you can easily make a Horror deck Monoblack, or Black/Green, or Black/Blue, or three- or four-color. As I also said, I don't feel like I've dipped into anywhere near the most interesting Horrors. Where are the evil Gleancrawler interactions? Where's the Zombify on Mindleech Mass action? Where's the Woodwraith Corrupter-Seedborn Muse combo? Where's the Hunted Horror Horror deck? This is House of Cards, people! Get creative! What have you built that might scare your fellow readers? Post your ideas on the Boards and make Possessed Aven proud!

JMS Is Going Rogue

This opportunity to squeeze into my old House of Cards uniform has been fun. It's also been a nice excuse to showcase my new favorite format, Standard Tribal. In fact, I'd say this “writing Magic articles” thing is something I should do more often.

The truth is that even when I left my post at Building On A Budget, I intended to keep writing periodically. The problem was that it took Scott Johns and me a long time to figure out exactly what a) “periodically” meant, and b) the heck I'd write about. Like I said, I've pretty much run the gamut in terms of Magic topics, and most of the obvious stuff I'd write is already being written well by someone else.

Scott and I have concocted something that I think is pretty cool, which will be a new semi-regular feature called “Going Rogue” (see? now my Magic Online name makes sense). I won't say what it is exactly, but I will say that you'll see my first Going Rogue article soon and that it will showcase a new pet Standard (non-Tribal) deck of mine.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed today's Bird Soldier Horror homage. As I've said repeatedly, please post your feedback, creative card thoughts, and deck ideas in today's Boards thread. I'm playing Standard Tribal all the time and am always up for new deck ideas.

Think hard and have fun,

-jms
(GoingRogue on Magic Online)

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