Tribal By Fire

Posted in Feature on June 20, 2007

By Chris Millar

Hello, fellow humans, and welcome to House of Cards! (You'll have to trust me that the exclamation mark was warranted.) I'm very excited, you see. I haven't done what I'm about to do since way back in 2006. No, I'm not going to send my article in on time (though, by gum, I'm gonna try). I'm going to build a whole column's worth of decks for Standard Tribal Wars!


For fans of tribal decks, I'm sure the wait has been excruciating. Luckily, in the meantime both Online Tech's Frank Karsten and House of Cards alum, Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, have built some fun decks full of humans, elves, wizards, birds, soldiers, and horrors.

Let's see which groups' similarly-shaped and like-minded monsters are eager to do battle this week. Shall we?

Better Safe than Saurian

We might as well start at the bottom, and what could be lower-lying than lizards? Now, lizards is one of those barely-legal tribes, the kind that only recently became large enough to be able to ignore Mistform Ultimus. Right now there are seven Standard-legal lizards: Rootwalla, Golgari Brownscale, Brooding Saurian, Mistform Ultimus, Imperiosaur, and a couple of Molochs. It's impossible to avoid using green, and you wouldn't want to even if you could, since that's where the bulk of (some might say "all") the best lizards reside. I'm particularly fond of the excellently-named Imperiosaur. You can just imagine him raising his snout in the air, tut-tutting all those who stoop to using those uncivilized dual lands. How banal! "I say, old boy, these days I kindly request that I be summoned by nothing but John Avon Forests."

Once we've added the green lizards, there's only one choice left. Do we want to add blue as a secondary colour (for Mistform Asterisk) or red? The blue "lizard" doesn't really help with our mana curve, being another four-drop. In the end, I went with the somewhat unexciting Torpid Moloch over the other red lizard, Overpriced Moloch, whose flavour text, if I'm not mistaken, reads, "Hey, I'm not the one who put a bunch of three-toughness creatures in my deck."

Llanowar Elves and Edge of Autumn speed up your lizard-making by a whole turn, while Loxodon Warhammer and Skarrg, the Rage Pits give your stubby-armed monsters the ability to bust through your opponents' defenses. I generally like to include some mass removal in my tribal wars decks, because there will be no shortage of creatures to eliminate. In this case, I called upon Savage Twister. I topped things off with a couple Harmonizes. Voila:

Terrible Lizards

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The deck is very straightforward, which is probably inevitable when your tribe consists of more-or-less vanilla creatures. The fun comes from the improbable fact that you're playing a lizard deck, rather than some internal wackiness. I was going to try to add some cute Brooding Saurian tricks, but the only thing I could think of involved Yavimaya Dryad and Jedit Ojanen of Efrava. You could play a Dryad and "Donate" a Forest, attack with your existing forestwalkers, and get your Forest back at the end of the turn. Not bad, but probably not worth the space.

Brooding Saurian
While we're on the subject of Brooding Saurian (who I've just now given the nickname Brandy), I'd like to take a little non-tribal detour. You see, I'd almost given up on the poor gal. It's a card that upon first glance seems like it falls under the purview of the Johnny. Then, when you read the card a little more closely and discover the little "non-token" clause, it becomes apparent that this card falls under someone else's purview altogether. Is it just a vanilla beater that can't be Control Magicked? Is it destined to be played alongside Sky Swallower and no one else? I'm happy to report that the answer is, "No!" (You'll have to trust me that the exclamation mark is warranted.)

It's a little late in the game, so maybe you've seen this all before. One way to take advantage of Brooding Saurian's ability is to use creatures with, to borrow a phrase, fractured loyalties. Red and green have many such creatures, like Goblin Cadets, Wild Dogs, Ghazban Ogre (and Ghazban Ogress), and Drooling Ogre. They'll leave you for another mage without even saying goodbye. I guess you can't expect much from a wild dog. Besides these four, you've got old school "faves" like Rogue Skycaptain, who is probably best known for playing the role of Mal in my short-lived Firefly theme deck. And who could forget Starke of Rath, the lovechild of Joven, Chandler, and, uh, Visara the Dreadful? Certainly not the Gatherer card database. With Brandy on board, you can destroy an artifact or creature every turn without fear of reprisals! Last but not least, there's Crag "Craig" Saurian. He's a sensitive lizard, but he and Brandy make a perfect couple.

Let's not limit the takebacks to just creatures. Under normal circumstances, if your Wild Dog or Drooling Ogre hurls a Shuriken at an opposing creature, you won't see it again unless they throw it back at you. Not the case with a Brooding Saurian on the board. I guess the intense brooding creates a magnetic attraction of some kind. That would also explain why I was covered with iron filings throughout high school.

Brandy and Craig

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The Rainbow Vales don't offer much to the deck, besides cost-free mana-fixing as long as you can get a Brooding Saurian to stick. They might be a cute way to make Dryad Sophisticate unblockable, however.

These are the armies of the night

Bloodshot Trainee
I'll tell you right off the bat that this isn't the best warrior deck you can make, if only because of the simple fact that this one contains four copies of Bloodshot Trainee. It's sort of like a cross between a Hurloon Minotaur and Goka the Unjust, with the power and toughness of the former and the hard-to-use-ability of the latter. For four mana you get a 2/3 creature that basically has a blank text box unless you can pump its power up to four.

But once you do that, look out! Your Bloodshot Trainee almost becomes a one-goblin wrecking crew, a Heavy Ballista with a bit more attitude, a reusable Flametongue Kavu. There are many ways to give the Trainee the requisite +2/+X. Since this is going to be a warrior deck, the first option should probably be Lovisa Coldeyes, lord and master of all she surveys (provided she surveys berserkers, warriors, and barbarians). The second most obvious Trainee-pumper is Loxodon Warhammer. Not only will the 'hammer boost the Trainee's power beyond the threshold, but it also gains you life whenever you shoot down some poor sap. After that, I've decided that the other Trainee-pumpers are going to be enchantments. The first is Undying Rage. I don't know why, but ever since Moldervine Cloak was printed I've been addicted to three-mana auras. The second aura is one of only two that tap for an effect: Flowstone Embrace. (Witch's Mist also taps, but it's not an aura.) You can use the Embrace a number of ways. You can simply enchant an opposing X/2 creature in order to kill it, you can use it to pump your Trainee up to a 4/1 and off an X/4 creature, or you can attack with your Trainee and pump it to 4/1 depending on the blocking situation. One of the cool things about tapping auras, as opposed to auras that grant a tap ability, is that you can use the ability while on the offensive.

The other reason I wanted to use enchantments is because of their synergy with Flaring Flame-Kin. To fill out the warrior roster, I decided to use Keldon Marauders, Goblin Skycutter, and Stingscourger among the many available two drops. Gathan Raiders seems like a no-brainer, being perhaps the best red warrior in Standard. And what would a warrior deck be without the coward-making capabilities of Boldwyr Intimidator?

Coward's End

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I was very tempted to add another colour to this deck, either white or black. I'd add white for Griffin Guide and Retether. Adding black would allow you to augment the hellbent subtheme with Jagged Poppets, Oblivion Crown, and Living End. The latter seems especially good since so many of your warriors have such a short lifespan. With Lovisa giving all of your guys haste, you might be able to recapture a little of that Goblin-Bidding feel.

The Butcher, The Baker, and Hell's Caretaker

At last we come to the end of the line, the end of the road, perhaps the end of life as we know it (or at least the end of this column). The last tribe I'm going to look at should be familiar to those who clicked on the link to Jay's article from The Past Returns Week. They are the horrors, and they've made great strides since we last checked in on them in the days before Planar Chaos.

When I first got into Standard Tribal Wars, it was possible to build a horror deck. The problem was that the mana curve was unavoidably terrible, basically starting at four (for Mindslicer and Hell's Caretaker) and going all the way up to eight (for Mindleech Mass). You had pretty much one option: it was reanimator or nothing. Even several sets later, Jay still found that horrors were very slow. Nowadays, with the printing of some cheaper horrors, you don't have to build a reanimator deck. You know what, though? I'm going to do it anyway.

First off, we've got the anagrammatic and reanimation-enabling Ridged Kusite in the one-slot. Future Sight gave the deck Nihilith, which is essentially a two-drop. Those time counters will come flying off when Mindslicer does its trademark mind-slicing or when you sweep the board clean with Damnation. Fleshwrither is another nifty Future Sight card, and it conveniently fetches Mindslicer, Hell's Caretaker, or Faceless Butcher by way of its transfigure ability. It gets even niftier with a Gleancrawler by its side.

The other new card that gets me excited about this deck is Skirk Ridge Exhumer, the Festering Goblin factory. It does so much! It allows you pitch your fatties into the bin where they can be reanimated. It gives you creatures to sacrifice to Dread Return. It forms a nice one-two punch with Hell's Caretaker. On top of all that, those Festering Goblin tokens happen to be nice little defenders.

The End is Nihilith

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Until next time, have fun with lizards and/or warriors and/or horrors.

Chris Millar

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