|A worthy successor to Battlefield Medic.|
To start with, most cards that benefit from there being a card of a specific creature type under your control only ask for there to be one of that type. The powerful strength of multiples that Onslaught brought us is not present here. In fact, there are only four commons which get better from multiples and only one of them is really comparable to a card of old. Much to Rich Hoaen's delight, that is Silvergill Douser—Battlefield Medic's mutated brother.
What this all means, with regards to the mass effect, is that the power of the tribes this time around have been greatly reduced. Rather it being compulsory for you to have as many of one type as possible, now you just have to have three or four of one type, plus a couple of changelings, to justify playing them. This means that it is much easier to have decks that are essentially non-tribal, with mini-themes operating throughout as cards get played because they are good of themselves and better with the aid of another tribe.
Despite this, there are cards that want you to play as many of a tribe as possible to make them playable in the first place. Alas, almost all of these are uncommons or rares, so you cannot really force a tribe with the hope of picking them up. This is an option, but it might be easier to start with one of these cards and take it from there rather than force. These cards fall into two categories: universal pumpers and cards that are cheaper with aid.
Each tribe has a card that reads "other members of this tribe get +1/+1," and the Giants go one step further and get even bigger with Sunrise Sovereign. However, these are all rare except for the Kithkin, Merfolk and Elvish pumpers. This means that once more, you are going to have to open or get passed one of these early to make realistic and effective use of them.
Most of the tribes have a creature that is undercosted for its strength but costs three more mana if you cannot reveal a member of the same tribe (this of course, as with everything else in the set, includes changeling cards). The problem Limited faces with this cycle is that almost all of them are efficient beaters that, in order to be used effectively, demand around seven other cards of the same race to work as intended.
The Harbingers deserve some attention. You only need a few good targets in your deck to justify playing them, but each Harbinger varies in strength. Not only do you have their individual stats and abilities to take into account, but it is also of critical importance to consider the strength of the cards they fetch and when they fetch them.
Flamekin Harbinger is too small and too early to be very playable without an awesome target as often in the early game you want to draw a land to help you out. This is why the Treefolk Harbinger is more playable as it gets a Forest too; however, I am yet to become his biggest fan as a Wall of Wood is nothing to get excited about. Kithkin Harbinger suffers because aren't too many Kithkin worth tutoring for, and a 1/3 body is not something the normally aggressive Kithkin decks want. Merrow Harbinger is also nothing to get too excited about unless you are playing against a blue mage.
This brings us to the good ones. The Faerie Harbinger is a decent flyer in its own right; the only problem is that most Faeries are not really worth fetching (remember though, it is a may effect and not compulsory). The Boggart Harbinger may not look too exciting, but he can fetch Warren Pilferers or Tarfire and the ability to tutor up removal is very strong. The Elvish Harbinger is perfectly playable in his own right as both an accelerator and a colour enabler, and Nath's Elite is a perfectly curved tutor target. I think my favourite Harbinger belongs to the Giants, though. I like expensive spells and this guy is a 3/4 for five, which is nothing to sniff at, nor anything to write home about. However, he will almost always fetch an on-the-curve fattie. When you have him in your opening grip you know you are not going to run out of gas in the late game, even if all he fetches is the new Craw Wurm, Axegrinder Giant.
There are two further rare cycles which promote tribes. The first are the creatures that all have "champion a [race]." These are all very large, undercosted creatures with neat abilities that will almost certainly win the game if they are not dealt with quickly. However, these will just get snapped up by however plays that colour as they are bound to have enough of that creature type, especially taking changelings into account, without having to go heavily tribal to accommodate them.
The other cycle are the dual lands, which come into play tapped unless you reveal a card of a specific creature type from your hand. These require heavier tribal commitment than normal to be very good, but they will get picked up as a colour fixer by anyone in those colours and as a result will almost always fall on-theme anyway.
Now it's time to take a closer look at each tribe and see which cards promote a heavy tribal nature, much akin to the Onslaught days of old.
There's not much that can really be said about these guys. They are mainly in red and spread thinly throughout the other colours and rarities. An Elemental deck will probably be red-blue-X to abuse Mulldrifters and Æthersnipes. The card that makes the foundation of this deck is Smokebraider. As BDM correctly pointed out, this is very similar to the Vedalken Engineer of old but is much narrower as you will probably be the only player on the table drafting Elementals (rather than artifacts). It allows you to accelerate to the higher costing Elementals (of which there are many) whilst also splashing the more powerful Elementals in other colours.
The Elvish cards that promote togetherness and probably world peace to boot are nothing to write home to your mom about. Elvish Branchbender turns from a rather unexciting land-enhancing Gray Ogre into a slightly unexciting one. Lys Alana Huntmaster is a Hill Giant with a nifty ability that is better than it looks, as you can normally squeeze at least one activation out of it. Jagged-Scar Archers is very powerful and only really needs two other Elves to rule the sky. It is also worth noting that Imperious Perfect is a bomb that can soon spiral out of control and need not force you into Elves, as it is powerful enough by itself.
As an archetype, these guys are small and annoying and will need to be backed up by some serious removal and tricks to stay ahead. However, they are the archetype I'd like to explore the most as I like this degree of trickery in Limited. Spellstutter Sprite has the potential to get out of hand with enough changelings and comrades, especially when combined with Familiar's Ruse. I like Thieving Sprite. It seems like a better Ravenous Rats as it leaves you with a body that can be annoying rather than just another chump blocker. Between the two of them, the tricks, and the Merfolk aid of Silvergill Douser, I think they have a lot of potential. Another crucial aspect is that two of blue's staple creatures, Pestermite and Sentinels of Glen Elendra, are Faeries that will get played by themselves to help promote the archetype.
It might be possible to go all-in on Giants using Stinkdrinker Daredevil to provide both some needed early defence and acceleration. Being this focused on Giants would mean that Blind-Spot Giant becomes a lot better, although he is not that exciting. Crush Underfoot becomes an excellent addition to this strategy, although you should be careful that your opponent won't two-for-one you by killing your only Giant in response. All in all, I think that Giants will be more of a sub-theme within red and red-white decks, rather than a common draft strategy. Although is should be noted that Thundercloud Shaman is a bit of a bomb with or without comrades.
I'd call them boggarts, but they're Goblins, plain and simple. There aren't too many cards that aren't rare that are going to make you want to draft Goblins. Getting a Goblin back with Warren Pilferers makes an already great cad even better (especially if you return another Pilferer...), but you are going to pick him highly anyway, regardless of whether you are Goblins or not. Fodder Launcher is the biggest attraction to Goblins for me. This card is ridiculous and will probably go quite late, as I suspect Goblins won't be drafted too highly. The game swing this card causes should not be underrated.
There is almost nothing holding the Kithkin together. Cenn's Heir is far too feeble to generate an archetype, and Wellgabber Apothecary is similarly overcosted and under-achieving. That's all I really have to say about Kithkin.
This is the tribe that I've heard spoken about the most. In fact, when I asked what other pros thought the best tribe was, this was the unanimous answer. I think it's because there are two commons that make other Merfolk better, rather than having to resort to uncommons and rares. Silvergill Douser is an awesome card and, much like Saltfield Recluse, will dominate the combat phase until it gets killed. Streambed Aquitects are efficiently costed and with a great effect. They are essentially 3/4 guys on defence whilst your blue flyers swing above. White offers a couple of interesting cards (I refuse to mention Wellgabber Apothecary in more than passing). Summon the School is a card that I am wary about, but once you get it going, I think it might be good enough to win you the game by itself. Harpoon Sniper is a very strong card within the Merfolk archetype and should be snapped up highly (especially as I think that white-blue is a strong archetype with lots of good flyers, enough removal and solid defence).
Battlewand Oak is a powerful card in its own right in a heavy green deck, and I can see it attacking for five often enough to make it worth considering. Black Poplar Shaman's regeneration ability is too expensive, but if you have some of the powerful Treefolk rares that you want to protect, then he might be worth considering. Thorntooth Witch is the strongest reason for taking a Treefolk over another card purely for tribal reasons, as it is a monster that will dominate the game if you still have some gas left in the tank because you accelerated into it.
Upon reflection, I think that Lorwyn is going to be a great Limited environment, where most decks will be full of little combos that make cards slightly better than normal. It is because of all these miscellaneous interactions that changelings are an absolute priority and should be drafted as highly as possible. I am worried that, much like colour screw, games will often be decided when one person's deck comes together whilst the other player draws all the wrong halves. To compensate for this, it might be worth being as focused as possible to both maximise the interactions and minimise the chance of malfunctioning.
Missed the Prerelease, or just hungry for more? Check out Lorwyn Release Events October 12-14 to play with Lorwyn cards as soon as they go on sale.