Right to Bear Arms

Posted in Feature on May 16, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

If you decide to build a deck around the Judgment sorcery Grizzly Fate, I suggest you do the following:

Sit down at your friend’s dining room table, shuffling your green-sleeved deck and waiting for him to feed you. When he finally sits down, calmly hand him a folded slip of paper that says the following:

"Avoiding or Surviving an Attack", by Scott McMillion
  • Make noise on the trail.
  • Keep a clean camp.
  • Never look a bear in the eyes.
  • If attacked, don't fight, especially if you're alone.
  • Play dead and make no noise if a bear begins to bite or maul you.
  • Exception to above: if a bear attacks your tent, fight as loudly and as hard as you can. This lets the bear know you are not the easy meal he has mistaken you for.
  • Know how to use pepper spray and test the can before setting out for the woods.
  • Do not run from a grizzly bear.
  • Remember, grizzlies can and do climb trees.”

When your friend gives you a quizzical look, shrug and say, “I just thought you should be prepared.”

Oh, come on... don’t you think that would be funny?

It was clear to me the second I saw Grizzly Fate that decks would follow. This card has a lot going for it. Specifically:

  • It is one of only two spells with both flashback and threshold (the other is also in Judgment). This almost automatically makes the card interesting.
  • It makes token creatures, and token creatures are fun.
  • It puts anywhere from two to eight 2/2 creatures into play. Eight. For a single card. With four in a deck I am packing potentially 64/64 worth of bear. That’s a lot of bear.
  • It is an uncommon, and so relatively easy to acquire. More than that, it is in my opinion one of the more intriguing, flavorful, and dynamic uncommons around.
  • It fits into a bear theme deck. To be honest, this last point is the most important reason for me.

For those of you new to Magic and not up on slang, a “bear” is a 2/2 creature for 2 mana. These creatures are called “bears” because of Grizzly Bears, a staple since Magic’s first Alpha release. Enough actual Creature-Bears have existed to make theme decks, but almost by definition they have thus far been generic and vanilla decks. To make bear theme decks interesting before Judgment, you needed to call it a “Pooh” deck and use Drop of Honey and Unyaro Bee Sting or make the ever-popular “Lions and Tigers and Bears... Oh My!” deck.

Plain old bears, though? They have been just plain and old. I care about these things because a) I like making theme decks, and b) “bear” is such a common slang term in Magic that it just screams for a deck built around it.

So for those of you who enjoy creature theme decks, here is a look at bears and how you might take full advantage of the grizzled fate that Judgment has handed you.


As I mentioned, the good news is that you can actually pack a bear deck with bears. Indeed, several of them are “bears”: Grizzly Bears, Balduvian Bears, Bear Cub, and Forest Bear. Even better, all of those cards are commons.

Here's a question: How does Jay even know these cards exist?

Here’s a question: Why is a Bear Cub the same size as a full-grown bear? And have you seen the art on that thing? It just feels like Bear Cub should have been 1/2 for like Woodland Druid. Ah, the wonders of continuity in a game with almost six thousand cards in it.

There are more interesting bears than just “bears.” Striped Bears are cantrip-creatures. Golden Bear is fairly efficient, although it is probably inferior to Razorclaw Bear. The real reason to use the former instead of the latter is that Golden Bear is common, while Razorclaw Bear is a Portal II rare. Similarly, I would rather use Pale Bears over River Bear, but again there is that rare problem. One of my first ever theme decks was a bear deck, and it burned me to no end that I had to trade good cards for Pale Bears.

Finally, two bears stand out at nigh-exceptional. Spectral Bears gives you some actual beef for the same price as a normal “bear,” so they go right into the deck. Werebear is also solid. The real problem with Werebear is that bear decks haven’t really needed mana acceleration and have a difficult time reaching threshold if they stay in theme. Still, Werebear at least has some good bear art, some silly bear flavor text, and is actually a bear, so it belongs in a bear theme deck.

Eleven different types of bear. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have one of the least interesting foundations for a deck, like, ever. Those creatures aren’t going to keep you playing your theme deck game after game.


Non-creature cards are the way to spruce up a bear deck. Before talking about the no-brainers to include, let me mention two general approaches you might take with a generic bear theme. These approaches aren’t mutually exclusive.

The “Bears Are Mean” approach suggests you should play up how angry and dangerous your bears can become. Cards like Aggressive Urge, Feral Instinct, Ferocity, Overrun, Surge of Strength, and Wild Might turn your sometimes silly 2/2's into raging beasts of white-hot terror. In addition, Call of the Wild, Lure of Prey, etc., can cause a bear to jump out of the bushes and really surprise an opponent. You can argue that Primal Rage has a bear on it, although I personally would rather use Primal Frenzy or Rancor.

The “Bears Live in Forests” approach, meanwhile, focuses on a bear’s dwelling of choice. Barbed Foliage, Dark Heart of the Wood, Deep Wood, Dense Foliage, Familiar Ground, Gift of the Woods, Harmony of Nature, and Nature's Blessing... those spells give some texture to your pack of bears. Heck, even Wall of Wood makes some sense to include under this approach.

Note that at least two cards fit both approaches: Might of Oaks and Sylvan Might.

Two cards, twenty damage.

Before Judgment, you could find only a few crown jewels of bear-dom. The same critter on Primal Rage seems to have made its way to Insist. Since theme decks can use a slanted lens when seeing things, I have decided that for the purposes of a bear theme, Insist has a bear on it rather than a wolverine or rabid hamster. The great use for Insist is as a way to cycle through your deck. Making creatures uncounterable is secondary to having something to do on turn 1 and getting you closer to threshold.

Bearscape, which turns your graveyard into bears (and “bears” for that matter) obviously belongs in a bear deck. What is frustrating about Bearscape is that it works at cross-purposes to both Wearbear and Grizzly Fate. So whereas it probably sat as the centerpiece of bear decks after Odyssey, it now takes a bit of a back seat to Grizzly Fate.

There is also Winter Orb. Those are definitely bears on the art, albeit bears of the “Pale” variety. Winter Orb not only slows down an opponent, it is easy to use in a bear deck that relies on cheap creatures. Winter Orb makes the use of Grizzly Fate challenging, but since Grizzly Fate proves to be the only high-end spell in the deck and we can use Werebear, I don’t think it is too severe a problem.

Finally, Grizzly Fate has arrived and the Theme Gods rejoice. Grizzly Fate gives bear decks something just as scary to cast as Overrun. And now Overrun looks even scarier. Booya.

Below is the kind of bear deck I would probably take to a theme party/tournament. I’ve played with the bear theme in various ways in some other decks and even tried my hand at a Tribes deck. My deep apologies to Stijn van Dongen for probably murdering the Tribes deckbuilding rules.

Judgment is almost here... get out your cans of pepper spray!

Next Week: The Second House of Cards Deck Challenge!


Grizzly Fate

Download Arena Decklist

Bear Necessities

Download Arena Decklist

Bearing Arms

Download Arena Decklist

A Bear's Life

Download Arena Decklist

The Bear Tribe

Download Arena Decklist
Jay may be reached at houseofcards@wizards.com.

Latest Feature Articles


November 15, 2021

Innistrad: Double Feature Product Overview by, Wizards of the Coast

More monsters! More horror! More drafts! More of everything you love about Innistrad arrives January 28, 2022, with Innistrad: Double Feature. Available at your local WPN game store,...

Learn More


November 12, 2021

The Legends of Innistrad: Crimson Vow by, Doug Beyer, Ari Zirulnik, and Grace Fong

We managed to get ahold of the guest list for Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and it's looking kind of wild! We've got faces old and new, fanged and un-fanged, human and . . . uh . . . slime mons...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All