Huntin' Heads and Takin' Names

Posted in Feature on September 12, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

In discussing the cards for this first week of Onslaught previews, Aaron conceded that I had the “weakest” card. Maybe so, but my card has the coolest name. Thragg? Hystrodon? Puh-lease. Let’s talk about the Headhunter!

Headhunter

I am immensely happy that a card finally has the name Headhunter. Witch Hunter arrived very early in Magic’s lifespan, with Bounty Hunter and Treasure Hunter coming much later. I hadn’t even realized I missed Headhunter until it was sitting there in front of me, and now I wonder how I refrained from outrage all these years without it.

The question is: How do I use Headhunter? I must use it; The name alone compels me to do so. The fact that it’s actually affordable (both in mana cost and as an uncommon) only seals Headhunter’s pudgy, zombie-stealing body into future decks of mine.

Let me break down Headhunter for a moment and tell you what I see in terms of possibilities. I will be talking Type 2 here--the Type 2 where Invasion has left us in its multicolor wake--because when allowed a default, I default to Type 2. Keep in mind, too, that any decks I post are merely thought experiments. Any “real” Type 2 decks will have access to the rest of Onslaught.

To start things off... Why would I want to play Headhunter without morph?

First of all, as I just said, it’s affordable. is reasonable even for a 1/1. Just look at Werebear, Ravenous Rats, Waterfront Bouncer, Mogg Maniac, or Beloved Chaplain as examples of 1/1s for two mana that belong in plenty of decks. Headhunter may not be an offensive powerhouse, but it’s just fine for the price.

Second, if it actually makes it to your opponent, Headhunter can cause some hefty disruption. Ravenous Rats is great because it usually provides a 2-for-1 card advantage--it nabs a card right away via discard and then it requires another card to kill it. Given enough time and a way to remove blockers, Headhunter can turn out to be a much better deal than 2-for-1.

Ah, deck idea: Try Headhunter in combination with other creatures that do cool things when they deal combat damage, using either red burn or blue bounce to get rid of blockers. Intuitively, I like the idea of bounce best since Headhunter can then strip the bounced creatures away from an opponent’s hand. Besides, bounce is a more reliable way than burn to remove potential blockers.

Waltzing By

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Finally, Headhunter is a Cleric. This fact might seem irrelevant now, but trust me that when Onslaught is released you will care a lot about creature types. (as a sidenote, this also may seal Onslaught as my all-time favorite set ever.)

Deck idea: Use Headhunter in a Cleric deck. Unfortunately, Caves of Koilos, Vindicate, Spectral Lynx, Death Grasp, and Gerrard's Verdict will no longer be in Type 2 to spruce up white/black decks. But Master Apothecary and Tainted Field are a fine starting point, and the combination of Headhunter and Confessor is kinda cute.

Unholy

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Okay, so I might find a way to use Headhunter even without morph. But this morph business is even more interesting.

Why would I want to play Headhunter as nameless, colorless, typeless critter?

First off, I’ve already noted that Headhunter is fairly anemic on offense. As a 1/1, he’s also very fragile. Sometimes--usually late in the game--I might want a 2/2, not a 1/1. Or perhaps I see an opportunity to end the game early by taking advantage of a manascrewed opponent. Or maybe my opponent has dropped a Caltrops which would otherwise nullify Headhunter. Whatever the case, sometimes it is nicer to have a beefier creature that can deal and take a bit more damage.

Deck idea: Use Headhunter in a fast, beatdown black deck. Headhunter will serve as disruption in its normal form and can add to the beatdown in its other form. Simple, straightforward, and maybe a little deadly.

Murder, Inc.

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Sorcery (12)
4 Duress 4 Chainer's Edict 4 Rancid Earth
Instant (4)
4 Smother
Enchantment (4)
4 Unholy Strength
Land (22)
22 Swamp
60 Cards

Second, as the above deck at least partially demonstrates, Protection from black is an ability worth noting these days. In fact, Phantom Centaur might be one of the premier creatures in Type 2. Oh, I know that Protection from black doesn’t help against black’s removal like Innocent Blood, Chainer's Edict, and Mutilate. But it does thwart mainstays like Nantuko Shade and Faceless Butcher. When an opponent is using pro-black creatures, it often downright sucks to have a Headhunter on the table. In these cases, a colorless critter sounds pretty good.

Finally, the Odyssey block has turned discarding into a strategy unto itself. Madness, flashback, and threshold have made creatures like Headhunter at best less effective and at worst a liability. If your opponent drops a first turn island followed by Careful Study and a Basking Rootwalla or two, you may just want to keep Headhunter a colorless, boring creature. It’s nice to have the option to do so.

Okay, now the tricky part: Why would I want to pay Headhunter’s morph cost?

The big reason, and it holds true for all morph creatures, is deception. By dropping your nameless 2/2, you make an opponent very nervous whenever that creature attacks, blocks, etc. This “bluffing” is most effective when you use more morph creatures than simply Headhunter. If you have several morph creatures of varying size and ability, every combat situation is a hand-wringing nightmare for your opponent. Using creature removal like Volcanic Hammer is risky for an opponent too, since you might well decide to Morph your 2/2 into a 6/6 Demon as easily as a 1/1 Cleric.

The good news here is that Headhunter’s morph cost is so low that if it does manage to slip by blockers, you can easily morph it into a hand-stealing fat man when your Snapping Thragg might otherwise be mana-tied to its colorless form.

Deck idea: Use lots of morph creatures of varying size to spook opponents.

Sir Morph-a-Lot

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I suppose another benefit of Headhunter specifically is that it can morph to thwart spells like Dark Banishing or surprisingly block creatures like Shadowmage Infiltrator in a pinch. I’m not sure these situations will come up very often, though, and I also don’t think they inspire a deck.

Of course, some ways to use Headhunter are even more straightforward than those I’ve outlined above. For example, it can be one of many pieces of a general discard deck:

Pick and Choose

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Or, as I have already mentioned, it can be part of a million theme decks, such as a theme deck dedicated to The Hunt...

The Hunt

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...or a theme deck built specifically around Headhunter itself...

The Headhunter

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Admittedly, Aaron may be correct that Headhunter lacks the pizzazz of Exalted Angel or Hystrodon. It may not wreak as much combat havoc as Snapping Thragg. It also won’t be quite as surprising as Randy’s card tomorrow (oooo... foreshadowing). But it will hit the table before all of those losers and steal their heads before they can ever get played. Ha ha! Take that!

Mostly, what I hope I have given you is a way to start dissecting creatures with this new morph mechanic, and ways to think about how and when you might use them in decks. If you don’t play theme decks and Headhunter’s name isn’t enough to entice you, you can at least start to see the potential for other morph creatures. If you thought combat math with Wild Mongrel and Psychatog was brain-splitting, welcome to a whole new world of headaches.

Next week: The Onslaught continues!

-j

Jay may be reached at houseofcards@wizards.com.

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