I drafted Allies the first time I played with Zendikar as a fun way to jump headfirst into the new drafting format. I've always been the type of guy to draft archetypes rather than good cards. Since then, I've drafted Allies as a subtle half-theme in a lot of Limited decks.
The Ally deck isn't likely to be competitive, but I wanted to make sure that it had enough game to actually be playable in a casual world. I'd like to start by taking a look at all the Ally goodness that Zendikar has to offer.
Kabira Evangel: The Evangel would be quite good if there were more playable white Ally cards. The way Allies' colors and costs are set up right now, however, makes it difficult to properly use this racing tool.
Kazandu Blademaster: This card is amazing. I've even gone so far to include it in a deck that wasn't Ally themed. However, the mana cost is a bit scary. I am not convinced this card has a place in a dedicated Ally deck. Double white is not easily achieved on the second turn in a three-, four-, or five-color deck.
Makindi Shieldmate: In Limited we might be able to get away with playing a few of these, but here in the world of Constructed I don't think this card will be able to stand up to the heat. I need all my cards to do something. Many decks will simply ignore the existence of a Shieldmate and go about their day. I guess the deck will still get its Ally triggers so it isn't absolutely terrible, but it isn't very exciting either. I would like to find something better to do with our three mana.
Ondu Cleric: Ondu Cleric is a pretty good card in Limited decks that need to make the game go long. Unfortunately, this is another card that I don't has a place in the world of Constructed. A lot of the emails I recieve include a lot of life gain in the decks. Life gain is a trap in many ways. A card that cost two mana and deals 5 damage to an opponent would be exceptionally good so a card that cost two and makes you gain 5 life must be good also, right? Wrong! Constructed is not about life gain unless you are playing against red decks all the time. Most games of Constructed are eventually controlled by one player who uses that control to twist a win out of whatever situation he or she is presented with. Life gain delays the inevitable rather than attempting to change the final outcome. If a deck uses some sort of life gain engine to stay alive for some gigantic combo, then it may be correct. But life gain is almost always overvalued in deck construction.
Think about it this way: It's the end of a game where each player has gone back and forth playing equally powerful creatures. One player had the opportunity to play two more spells, each of which gained him 8 life. Now the endgame has begun, and he's sitting at 36 life with no cards in your hand and his opponent has 20 life and two cards in her hand. Do you see how playing those life gain spells actually hurt the player who played them? He spent cards to do something that did not actually affect the board or the outcome of the game.
Sea Gate Loremaster: Here is a card I can get behind, even if it isn't a contender for serious Constructed. Sea Gate Loremaster is the type of card I would like to play with in my casual deck, and it looks like this week's creation will almost certainly be a casual deck. The Loremaster is on my shortlist of hopefuls for the five-drop slot.
Seascape Aerialist: This could be a good sideboard option against green decks that fight fair on the ground. Because this deck is probably going to be a casual creation, I don't the sideboard is a high priority.
Umara Raptor: It starts as a Wind Drake and gets bigger every time another Ally enters the battlefield under my control. In a deck like this I foresee the Umara Raptor growing every turn. Three-power flyers for three mana are quite good. When they grow every turn, they can be even more impressive.
Bala Ged Thief: I really like this card. The same part of me that can't help loving Ravenous Rats cries out out when I see a card like this. Here's the thing about creatures that disrupt as they enter the battlefield—if your opponent ever spends a card to destroy it, you just won a card. Here's how it works. You and your opponent both have seven cards in your hand. You cast Bala Ged Thief, it triggers on entering the battlefield, and your opponent discards a card. Now you and your opponent each have six cards in hand. If your opponent decides to use a removal spell on the Bala Ged Thief, then he or she has five cards in hand. If he or she doesn't use a removal spell, well, then the game shouldn't be too hard to win if you haven't already lost it.
Highland Beserker: An Ally that costs two mana and has 2 power that I can reliably cast? This is very exciting in the context of a multicolored Ally deck.
Kazuul Warlord: Kazuul Warlord is a bona fide house in this deck, although I'm a bit frustrated by the mana cost of five. The two most exciting cards we've seen for this deck are both five drops. I hate to put more than four or five cards that cost five mana in the same deck, but I think I may have to make an exception for this guy.
Murasa Pyromancer: Every guy that enters the battlefield under your control acts like a Shriekmaw that can target black creatures. It may be pricey at six mana, but this type of effect is worth the investment.
Tuktuk Grunts: Things that cost five mana are flat-out banned from this deck unless they somehow automatically win the game or something.
Joraga Bard: This does not seem too impressive to me. It should probably be left on the sidelines.
Oran-Rief Survivalist: I like this guy a lot as an efficient beater. It is certainly better than Highland Beserker, and I was pretty excited about that guy. Highland Beserker did have the advantage of being red, though. Green does not seem to be the best color for our Ally deck, so a powerful two-drop like Oran-Rief Survivalist may have to sit out.
Tajuru Archer: This one doesn't warrant play unless all your friends have decks with a ton of flying creatures.
Turntimber Ranger: In my opinion, this is the third most exciting Ally, behind Sea Gate Loremaster and Kazuul Warlod. Unfortunately, I'm already making this deck very clunky with five- and six-drops. Combine these expensive cards with a lot of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, and this deck may awkwardly pass turns that it might actually want to do something.
I try to keep some type of curve intact the best I can, and I end up with this deck list:
I played the deck casually against some of my friends that are new to Magic. I didn't do very well with the deck but really enjoyed playing with it once the cogs were in place. Remember, this is a casual deck. It is not designed to win, it is designed specifically for having fun (which, incidentally, is not synonomous with winning.)
I really wanted to try Call to Heel in this deck. I wanted to play with Call to Heel in a Constructed deck, but never really had a proper excuse. This card isn't as good now, though, because the Magic 2010 rules removed the "damage on the stack" trick. I decided it would probably be better if it were just another removal spell.
I found myself short on lands a lot of the time, too. The curve of this deck looks pretty ugly to me. I did the math, and you will have around four lands by your fifth turn on the play and about five lands on the draw. I don't want to eye out the deck and assume that 24 lands is the right number without doing the math. It is absolutely imperative that this deck hit its first five land drops. This is imperative not only for the purpose of winning, but also so you get to play your awesome five-drop monster and start going bonkers. I think the list needs at least two more lands.
My friends and I decided to get a three-way game of Magic going before our other friends came over to play a game of Risk.
I won the die roll and chose to go second. I needed to mulligan my first hand and was told to just take seven by my friends. The second hand was no good either, and I was again told to take seven. I kept Crumbling Necropolis, Akoum Refuge, Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Murasa Pyromancer, Bala Ged Thief. Normally I wouldn't keep a hand like this, but I had already mulliganed twice and I didn't want to keep my friends (who don't mulligan unless they have all or no land) waiting.
Mike was going first and led with a Virulent Sliver. I drew an Umara Raptor, played my Crumbling Necropolis, and passed the turn. Dave cast a Flying Men and passed it over to Mike. Mike played a City of Brass, cast a Sinew Sliver, and attacked me down to 18. (One poison counter ....) I drew a Sea Gate Loremaster, played my Akoum Refuge, and passed it over to Dave. Dave attacked me with the Flying Men, played another Island and passed it over to Mike. Mike attempted to cast a Hibernation Sliver, but Dave had a Counterspell at the ready. Ben thought for a moment and cast a second Virulent Sliver before attacking me for 4. (Five poison counters) I drew another Umara Raptor, cast it, and passed the turn to Dave. Dave played a third land, attacked Ben for 1, and passed the turn. Dave cast a Nameless Inversion on my Umara Raptor and killed me with poison counters.
Side note: Killing me with poison counters is a favorite pastime of my friends. I have frequently caught my friends playing casual decks with 14 copies of Virulent Sliver just so they can poison me.
The game went on for a bit and, despite a timely Evacuation, Ben eventually lost to the Slivers.
There are definitely other ways to go about building an Ally deck, I thought this list made the most sense. Once Worldwake is released there will probably be a lot more in the way of realistic curves and synergies to work with. I hope to have a chance to show you how the deck works once the Allies get kicking. If any of you have a good Ally deck, I would love to see it. Send me some emails with your favorite new Standard deck lists and I'll be happy to take a look at them.