A Field Guide to Thoctars

Posted in Serious Fun on April 21, 2009

By Kelly Digges

Oh, hello! Thanks for joining me.

I'm here in the Alaran jungle, formerly part of the shard of Naya—and still home to the legendary wild thoctar.

Thoctars are solitary creatures renowned for their ferocity and size. Worshiped by the Nayans as living gods and summoned by planeswalkers to fight on countless worlds, these gentle creatures live rich, complex lives deep in the jungles of the newly reformed Alara.

Lately, natives of this area—those who haven't fled—have reported brief sightings of a new thoctar species. Any thoctar sighting is a treat, of course, but I'd give my left arm to be the first to document a new breed of these majestic animals. Hopefully not literally, ha ha ha!

Let's see what we can see, shall we?

Gorgeous! What a handsome specimen. Don't get too close, though—those tusks are sharp!

This adolescent male woolly thoctar is giving us a great view of the thick coat that gives the species its name. Planar researchers aren't sure what prompted a creature of Naya's lush forest to develop such dense fur. Is it to frustrate parasites? To shield themselves from one another's tusks during mating displays? Nayan "godtouchers," who commune with such beasts, report that the fur of the woolly thoctar is soft and water-repellant—but I think I'll pass on trying to shear one, ha ha ha!

All right, big fellow. Easy there. We're moving on now.

This is our lucky day! I know, it looks like an ordinary cave. But caves like this one are often home to the most elusive members of the thoctar family. And if we're very, very lucky—

—ah yes! There we are!

Doesn't this beauty look angry! And with reason—no one should ever get this close to a dangerous wild thoctar.

In addition to their signature habitat, you can identify cavern thoctars by their glowing red eyes, their lack of thick hair or wool, and their aggressive territoriality. This adult female probably has a litter of kits in the back of that cave. Small wonder her hackles are up! (The hackles, of course, are visible to either side of her dorsal crest. Gorgeous!)

Moving on, you'll notice the jungle here is getting a bit thicker and darker. Likely we're headed into what used to be Jund. But with the former shards now rejoined as the plane of Alara, animals—and people—from any of the five shards might be found just about anywhere.

Shhhh—Hear that?

Everything just got quiet. No birds. No insects. Not even any goblins. That silence is the sound of something just out of sight—something dangerous.

Now ... now it sounds like something's moving around. There's some kind of scuffle, goblins maybe, and—screaming? Lots and lots of ... screaming. Oh ... dear.

Yes! This is it! This is our new species! And what a lovely creature she is, too.

Note the larger than usual size, the thick armor plating, the, ah, the scraps of rotting flesh that indicate that it's ... actually ... a zombie thoctar of some kind. That's somewhat worrying.

As you can see, this beautiful ... abomination ... is, ah, headed right for us! Ha ha ha, I said I didn't mean that left arm thing literally! No, wait, I—AUUUGH!

Well, that was educational, wasn't it? Let's see what all the fuss was about!

That ... is ... bonkers. Now, it's not the biggest creature in Alara Reborn by a long shot—at least, not to begin with. Having seen Scavenger Drakes attack for 30, I can certainly attest that this sort of ability can make a creature absolutely huge.

On the other hand, I don't think Deathbringer Thoctar is going to get that big most of the time. Scavenger Drake doesn't have an ability that lets you take counters off of it, and it's that ability that makes Deathbringer Thoctar a force to be reckoned with at a big table.

As it turns out, when you combine this ...

... with this ...

... you get something that acts more like ... this:

Goblin Sharpshooter is a fine, fine card for most multiplayer tables, and Deathbringer Thoctar is—with apologies to the little nutcase with the machine gun—way better than Goblin Sharpshooter in just about any context I can think of. Pretty much the only exceptions are situations where you have red mana but not black, or three mana but not six, or a deck that cares about Goblins but not Zombies or Beasts. And honestly, even in that third case, I might still rather have Deathbringer Thoctar.

Goblin Sharpshooter is always a vulnerable 1/1—Deathbringer Thoctar starts at 3/3 and grows from there. Goblin Sharpshooter has to deal damage right away to get a benefit when things die—Deathbringer Thoctar stores up the damage for later. Goblin Sharpshooter interacts with untap effects, I guess—Deathbringer Thoctar has a whole host of +1/+1 counter and power-matters effects to play with.

Given that it deals with +1/+1 counters and creatures going to the graveyard, Deathbringer Thoctar will fit well into any Jund-based devour deck. Any time you devour something, the Thoctar gets counters. And if you build your deck, as I did last week, to deal specifically with +1/+1 counters, the Thoctar can play along perfectly. That said, this is not exclusively a Jund card.

In terms of flavor, Deathbringer Thoctar spans all three of the former shards that feature red mana—it's a thoctar from Naya that got zombified in (or by mages from) Grixis and now prowls what was once Jund.

In terms of mechanics, it's a one-beast wrecking crew that will dominate just about any table. Dragon Broodmother, from last week, changes the shape of a multiplayer game by spitting out an army. Deathbringer Thoctar will change the course of the game by killing armies. As soon as there's even one counter on this thing, the massacre begins. Pesky 1/1s got you down? Pew pew pew! Creatures hitting the graveyard en masse anyway? Nom nom nom. Plenty of counters, but nothing that needs killing? Clonk, take 12.

Beyond those basic musings, here are a couple different angles that come to mind with Deathbringer Thoctar.

    Case Study #1: Á la Carte

Have a deck with red and black mana in it? Odds are Deathbringer Thoctar would be a fine addition to the team. There are certainly decks it's going to fit better in than others, but this is one Zombie Beast I'd like to have on my team pretty much any time I can cast it.

    Case Study #2: Sacrifices Must Be Made

In this scenario, you stock your deck with lots of cards that make sure lots of creatures are going to the graveyard. That could mean effects such as Barter in Blood, Death Cloud, Grave Pact, Fleshbag Marauder, or Malfegor that force everyone to sacrifice creatures. It probably also means other ways of sacrificing creatures—Nantuko Husk or its relatives, perhaps Fallen Ideal for the Thoctar itself, Plagued Rusalka, or maybe something old school like Goblin Bombardment or Tooth and Claw. Greater Gargadon is a monster in its own right, and something like Carrion Feeder or Scarland Thrinax could be an additional hook for a +1/+1 counter theme—as could devour creatures, of course.

In this scenario, you'll probably also want plenty of creatures to sacrifice, so Genesis Chamber, Mogg War Marshal, Goblin Assault, and other token generators such as Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper and Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician start to look pretty good (just as they did last week; in fact, with a dash of black, last week's deck would love to bring in Deathbringer Thoctar).

Spitebellows seems fun with the Thoctar, which can effectively hold the 6/1 hostage, to be "popped" at any time and almost certainly take something with it. And as long as we're killing lots of creatures, well, we might as well bring Goblin Sharpshooter along, too, right?

    Case Study #3: Tireless Tribal

Deathbringer Thoctar is a Zombie. This is a great creature type to have, especially on a creature that wants things to die. Boneknitter can keep the zombie thoctar from getting dead, and Gravespawn Sovereign can make sure it doesn't stay that way. Undead Warchief makes it cheaper and bigger, which really can't be bad, and Noxious Ghoul finds a kindred spirit in its quest to kill everybody.

But by far the most exciting Zombie helper is Death Baron. Go on, think about it. Deathbringer Thoctar becomes Deathtoucher Thoctar, essentially now saying, "Remove a +1/+1 counter from Deathbringer Thoctar: Destroy target creature. Put a +1/+1 counter on Deathbringer Thoctar." Pew pew pew indeed.

Deathbringer Thoctar is also a Beast, and while that doesn't seem especially helpful, I can see randomly sticking Contested Cliffs in a black-red-green deck that includes it. I suppose I just like the idea of having a giant zombie thoctar stomp on opposing creatures while getting even bigger.

Weirdly, I can think of a few other tribal decks that would happily welcome Deathbringer Thoctar as an honorary member. It's easy to imagine a Goblin deck featuring it, either instead of or in addition to Goblin Sharpshooter, as Goblin decks seem to spend a lot of time putting lots of creatures into play and killing them again. Similarly, modern Elf decks are heavily engaged in the cycle of life, with numerous tokens and often some number of sacrifice outlets. Immaculate Magistrate would be pretty interesting there too, especially alongside Wirewood Symbiote.

    Case Study #4: Count on Counters

If you want, and particularly if you're willing to stretch to other colors, you can really go nuts with the +1/+1 counters. Doubling Season once again goes great here, letting you "get ahead" on counters, as does Gilder Bairn. One-shot counter sources like Hunting Triad and Shape of the Wiitigo can give you a burst of damage output, and repeatable effects like Cradle of Vitality or Shambling Shell can help you build up over time. (For fun with Cradle of Vitality, try giving your Thoctar lifelink somehow.)

Unlike its robot predecessor Triskelion, Deathbringer Thoctar doesn't start with any +1/+1 counters to get things rolling. That makes things with graft, such as Llanowar Reborn, Cytospawn Shambler, or Helium Squirter attractive.

Forgotten Ancient is absolutely awesome in conjunction with Deathbringer Thoctar, and Vigor, weirdly, allows Deathbringer Thoctar to "donate" counters to any of your other creatures or go infinite with Doubling Season. (Remove a counter to damage itself, which instead puts a counter on it, which instead puts two counters on it. Whee!)

Speaking of infinite—and with the understanding that we are getting into territory where you may get four-letter words rather than accolades—Deathbringer Thoctar can step in for Triskelion in pairing with Mephidross Vampire. Every time the Thoctar (or Trike) deals damage, it gets a counter, so it can deal more damage ... repeat until everyone is dead.

    (Pre)Release the Hounds!

The Prerelease is this weekend, and I highly recommend finding one near you (perhaps with the handy store locator). Not only will you get a foil alternate-art Dragon Broodmother, but I can almost guarantee you'll have a good time, and you'll also get your hands on Alara Reborn nearly a week before it shows up in stores.

I'll be gunslinging at the Seattle Prerelease (which—Seattleites take note—is not at its usual location), so if you're there, come on by to sling spells or just tell me what you think of the set.

Above all, have fun!

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