The Trouble with Tribals

Posted in Feature on April 5, 2006

By Chris Millar

Welcome Spikes and other super-competitive types! I've gotta tell you, I've seen the light. I know that two weeks ago I said that I'm a Johnny/Timmy according to the fun test devised by Making Magic columnist and R&D bigwig Mark Rosewater. Unfortunately, Johnny-faithful, that's just not true any more. I've gone over to the dark side. The Spike side. Char is my new favourite card (I'm very excited about its damage-to-cost ratio).

I don't know how other Spikes feel, but sometimes I get bored winning every game I play on Magic Online. It wouldn't be so bad, this constant state of victoriousness, except I win every game in real life, too. Other than my car keys, I haven't lost anything since I was born. You might find that hard to believe, but it's true. I'm a master strategist and tactical genius on par with Admiral Ackbar. It's a trap? Yeah, well, duh.

Winner that I am, I'm not the kind of guy who accidentally clicks through his combat phase after Threaten-ing his opponent's only remaining creature. How embarrassing it must have been for whoever did that! He or she must not be a very good player.

You'd never catch me mana-burning myself to death in the middle of a turn where I got my infinite-mana combo off. Sheesh. Lay off the clicking for a while, you clickaholic!

Ahnuld is sad (honest), there will be no killing machines this week.

Lastly, I've certainly never gotten to the “Choose target” part of playing Consult the Necrosages having completely forgotten which mode I chose a mere half-second earlier. Resulting in forcing me to discard two cards. That's not even a misclick! Someone out there (not me) must be downright terrible at this game. Get an attention span, pal! Or get your doctor to prescribe you one.

All that said, this week I decided to take a break from building super-ultra-powerful tournament-winning decks. For this week, at least, the development of my metagame-warping monstrosities will be put on hiatus. There won't be any finely-honed killing machines. No brutally efficient killing machines, either. Basically, there won't be any killing machines of any kind this week. (I'm saving those for Killing Machine Week.)

Instead, I'm going to focus my attention on a more casual format: Tribal Wars. Luckily, despite being a so-called “casual” format, games of Tribal Wars still have winners and losers. More accurately, these games still have people like me and losers. So it's a format I can really sink my teeth into. Chomp. See? Tribal Wars is delicious.

How about some decks?

We're off to see a wizard of unknown origins …

Since my irreversible conversion to Spike-hood, I've grown to dislike big, dumb “noob” creatures, such as Dragons. Sure they might look cool, with their breath of fire and their stubby little arms. I don't play cards because they are cool. Dragons just cost way too much. I would much prefer a Jackal Pup to a Jackal Dragon. Seriously, other than Keiga, Kokusho, Yosei, Furnace Whelp, Fledgling Dragon, Covetous Dragon, Rathi Dragon, Imperial Hellkite, Kilnmouth Dragon, Rorix Bladewing, Rith, Crosis, Dromar, Dragon Tyrant, Eternal Dragon, Nicol Bolas, Clockwork Dragon, Worldgorger Dragon, Draco, and Two-Headed Dragon, what other Dragons have ever seen play in high-level tournaments? That's right, there's only one: Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.

Azami, Lady of Scrolls
That's probably because Niv-Mizzet is a Wizard. Wizards are for Spikes, plain and simple. Just look at the cards designed by the winners of Magic Invitational. Except for Avalanche Riders, Rootwater Thief, and Solemn Simulacrum, they're all Wizards! Luckily for me, a reader whose email I've inadvertently misplaced (not lost!), sent me a neat, simple, dare I say, elegant combo: Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind + Azami, Lady of Scrolls. With Niv-Mizzet on the table, Azami turns all of your little wizards into little Niv-lings. Draw a card, ping you. Draw a card, ping you. Azami goes from being a Lady of Scrolls, to a Lady of Cursed Scrolls.

From there, it became apparent that the deck would want a lot of Wizards, so I figured I might as well make it for Tribal Wars. What's a Lady of Scrolls without a Scrollkeeper? Minamo Scrollkeeper is a fine man, providing early defense and making sure people pay the fines on their overdue scrolls. I'm looking at you Kird Ape. The card drawing Wizards – Jushi Apprentice, Dimir Guildmage, and Soratami Seer – seem like no-brainers. Niv-Mizzet and Tomoya the Revealer are completely absurd together. Since we're in Red/Blue, I thought I'd try out Goblin Flectomancer. I was very impressed. The mana is tricky, but once he's on the table, your opponent will have to spend at least two cards to kill your important creatures (usually Niv-Mizzet), usually losing another card in the process (due to being Deflected). Ogre Savant is fun, too, and does a passable Man-o'-War impression. The last cards I added were one each of the Blue and Red Hondens. Combined, they're a lot like Niv-Mizzet. In enchantment form.

It's hard out here for an imp

Daggerclaw Imp
Sometimes, after a long, hard day of winning, I like to sit back and unwind by winning some games in a more straightforward fashion. So, when I get tired of obliterating my hapless opponents game after game with my unstoppable combo-decks, I often turn to the beatdown decks. Small evasive creatures, a way to boost them, and some way to clear out blockers. Pretty simple, really. Even someone who loses a lot of games (unlike me) could come up with this formula.

When Guildpact came out, one card that I liked a lot was Daggerclaw Imp. It's not particularly flashy (I mean, it's no Char), but it's a three-power flyer for three mana, which makes it worthy of consideration in Constructed formats. It reminded me a lot of Rishadan Airship (which is almost identical, except in Blue), so I wondered if maybe I could build an aggressive deck based on cheap flyers like the Blue Skies decks of old. During my research, I came across a card that I've always thought was underplayed and which fits right in to the deck: Foul Imp. This had me thinking along tribal lines. Was there an Imp deck in Standard? We've got Foul Imp, Bog Imp, Stinkweed Imp, and Daggerclaw Imp. Not a bad bunch. Meet the new Imps, not at all the same as the old Imps.

The history of Imps in Magic is an interesting one. Originally, Imps were annoying little devils who annoyed your opponent's creatures into attacking you. Cards like Nettling Imp, Norritt, and Maddening Imp used this mechanic. Unfortunately, we were denied the exact taunting methods, because the Imps' flavour text, a series of hilarious “Yo' Momma” jokes, had to be cut due to a lack of space on the cards. After that, Imps spent a long time stinking. I mean, the cards weren't great, but that's not what I mean. Their whole deal was smelling bad. That was their thing, their M.O., their raison d'etre. (See Foul Imp and Putrid Imp.) After that came Chimney Imp - the less said about it, the better. Then Imps went back to stinking for a bit (Stinkweed Imp), until finally becoming a little more menacing and developing daggers for claws (Daggerclaw Imp). I might be a bit off with the timeline, but I told you I like winning, not factual accuracy.

This deck started out as a full-blown Imp deck, but since there weren't enough Imps to make a Tribal Wars deck in Standard, I decided to cut some of them in favour of more appropriate cards. Somewhere along the line, I became enamored with the idea of going turn two Foul Imp, turn three Moldervine Cloak. That's some Dragon-sized beatings. Put the Cloak on a Daggerclaw Imp and you have a flying freakin' Craw Wurm! The Stinkweed Imps became Keening Banshees. Bog Imp got cut for the superior Mourning Thrull. I added a set of Nezumi Cutthroats to increase the number of evasive creatures I could play on turn 2. Shambling Shell is, in my opinion, the most annoying creature in Standard. So I had to include it. It makes combat a mess for your opponent, it pumps your flyers, it protects them from many of the popular removal spells, it Dredges Moldervine Cloaks into the graveyard, and it keeps shambling back for more. Toss in some removal of my own, and I arrived at this:

Sorry, folks. The deck is Standard legal, so no Chimney Imp. Besides, good Spikes like me don't play cards like Chimney Imp. The card is no good! Just look at the power to cost ratio! One power for five mana? It's no Infectious Host, that's for sure. If I'm paying five-mana for a spell, it had better win me the game. So you can forget about it. Don't even think about asking again, because I won't budge and I won't buckle. I'm completely unbuckle-able.

Okay, fine!

I'll play a Chimney Imp. But just one.

Very similar to the first deck (but Tribal!), this one takes advantage of the power of Dredge. With a full graveyard, the Threshold abilities of Cabal Pit and Centaur Garden become active, and your Exoskeletal Armors make your Imps ridiculously big.

Attack of the Little Green/Red Men

Another Guildpact card that caught my attention was Feral Animist. After releasing Feral Thallid, Feral Deceiver, Feral Shadow, Feral Throwback, Feral Lightning, I figured the least they could do was to make a Feral Animist. The most spiritual of all the goblins, the Animist believes that ordinary objects, as well as animate beings, have a soul. Everything is conscious to the animist, from rocks and trees, to oversized novelty wolf hands. This fellow is not to be confused with the Feral Animalist, who believes that humans are merely animals with no spiritual nature and who is indifferent to all but the physical appetites, like eating, drinking, and playing Magic Online. Also do not confuse the Animist with the Feral Anime-ist, who rabidly collects Duel Masters cards and foams at the mouth while watching Sailor Moon cartoons. They're totally different things.

With its ability to effectively double its power, Feral Animist is reminiscent of the formerly-restricted Vintage card, Berserk. Unlike Berserk, however, to double the Animist's power, you need three times as much mana. Without the aid of any other cards, three mana will get you a power increase of two, going from two to four. A second activation will get you an eight-power creature. To be honest, that really isn't too exciting. For six mana, Feral Animist gets +6/+0? That's the same as Firebreathing (albeit with less strict mana requirements), and nobody's oohing-and-ahhing about Sandstone Warrior (except maybe his mother).

The thing is, creature pump as simple as Giant Growth, combined with the ability to double its power, makes Feral Animist a whopping 10/4. Over. And. Out. With seven mana and a Giant Growth, Feral Animist swings for twenty! Better yet, with a Blazing Shoal (removing an eight-mana card), you would only need to use the Animist's ability once to deal twenty.

Does that get your rabble roused?

I quickly threw together a deck, with Feral Animist, Tin Street Hooligan, Frenzied Goblin, and some other Gruul cards. After a few rounds of testing, I discovered that with all the one-toughness creatures, the deck would just roll over, fetch a stick, shake a paw, and die to cards like Electrolyze. Or Darkblast. Or Night of Souls' Betrayal. Or Tibor (What a jerk! Lumia was cool, though). Or Gelectrode. Or Plagued Rusalka. You get the picture. It wasn't pretty. It was the opposite of that. It was un-pretty. As a result, I added a full set of Goblin Kings, and replaced the Giant Growths with the more expensive, but more reliable, Moldervine Cloak. It's just so good.

Rabble-Rouser is another card that can pump up Feral Animist for little cost, and it makes another nice target for Blazing Shoal. Kiki-Jiki, on the other hand, is great for pitching to Blazing Shoal (the same goes for Patron of the Akki), but is also good for making extra copies of Feral Animist, Goblin King, and Frenzied Goblin, depending on the situation.

Sword of the Paruns
A few other cards I considered include equipment like No-Dachi, Sword of the Paruns, and Sunforger (which would, of course, require a White splash). Kiki-Jiki, while no Parun by any means, really likes their sword. Kiki-Jiki makes a Hasty token, untaps with the Sword, and makes another Hasty token, both of which get +2/+0! Sweet! All the deck would need is some Siege-Gang Commanders to make lots of tokens and Goblin Warchiefs to give them all Haste. Nah. That's an obvious noob deck.

If you have some, I'd try out Invigorate, one of the alternate-play-cost spells from Mercadian Masques. If you control a Forest, you can play it for zero mana if you have an opponent gain three life. Playing it this way would normally net you +1 damage, but with the Animist's ability to double its power, it makes the life-gain much less relevant.

One thing I noticed was that this is very close to being a Shaman deck, on top of being a Goblin deck, since Feral Animist, Rabble-Rouser, and Kiki-Jiki are all Shamans. If you wanted to go that route, it would be a pretty simple. Just straight-up substitute the Tin Street Hooligans and Goblin Kings for something like Sakura-Tribe Elders and Viridian Shamans. Maybe add a few copies of Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro, the de facto Shaman Lord. The card I'd be most excited about adding to the deck is Skarrgan Skybreaker, who gets along very well with Kiki-Jiki. If you left Standard, Spikeshot Goblin is a natural inclusion for either deck, being a Goblin Shaman whose ability keys off its power.

Until next time, do or do not, there is no tribal.

Chris Millar

(Warning: May contain nuts, and/or sarcasm.)

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