- Strategy: What the tribe wants to do, and how well that would fare in multiplayer.
- Versatility: Can the tribe win in more than one way, or is it restricted to only lockdown or only attacking?
- Individuality: How much are you going to have to commit to the table before your tribe becomes a real threat?
- Recyclability: Can the tribe bring back its members once they fall in battle? Or can they draw you more cards to make up for it once they go?
- Antiquity: Hey, Lorwyn's cool and all, but some of us kids have older cards. What does this tribe's pre-Lorwyn members bring to their gameplan?
With that in mind, let's launch into one of the most beloved tribes of all time:
Tribe #4: Elves
Rating: While the combat phase has always been a tricky way to win in multiplayer (barring some huge finishing creature with evasion or an Overrun effect, both of which the Elves lack innately), the Elf tribe has a lot of built-in card advantage built in that helps it considerably.
Get an Imperious Perfect out there, and you can build your own Elf army without playing another card from your hand. Immaculate Magistrate swells that army, and cards like Elvish Branchbender, Jagged-Scar Archers, and Lys Alana Scarblade take advantage of those tokens.
You're still slightly handicapped by the fact that your guys start out at around 2/2 on average, but the ability to make a lot more of them helps.
The Elves have a couple of options—Eyeblight's Ending is a solid removal spell, and the previously mentioned Elvish Branchbender, Jagged-Scar Archers, and Lys Alana Scarblade can help control the flow of combat for you...
...assuming that you have enough Elves, which is the problem. This would be a very versatile tribe, if they worked consistently. As it is, you can destroy almost anything with flying that looks at you sideways or axe a Darksteel Colossus, assuming you're lucky enough to get everything out. If not, you might be stuck with a piddly 1/1 effect. As such, the Elves can be fairly versatile in theory, but might stick a little in practice.
Also, it should be noted that the Elves of Lorwyn, unlike previous Elves, aren't particularly good at dealing with artifacts. I think that's because they like mirrors too much to smash them.
Ranking: Medium. Shoots to "insane," however, when you factor in older cards.
The good news is that since Elves bring their own armies, you don't particularly need to play a lot of them in order to get the eventual effect. It'll take some time, sure, but you don't have to plop your whole hand down on the table and walk straight into a Damnation. Heck, as noted, one Wren's Run Packmaster is an army by itself.
The Elves aren't particularly good at bringing each other back from the grave, but the power of Masked Admirers—a card that not only draws you more Elves, but can be brought back at a low, low price—would make the Elves noteworthy by itself.
Plus, then you throw in Prowess of the Fair and you don't quite have recycling, but you have the ability to get things back when your real Elves die. That's solid, and bumps it up to a strong medium.
Rating: Medium to high.
Are you kidding? Elves are one of the oldest tribes in existence—they were tribal before tribal was cool. As such, we have a dizzying array of Elves to select from.
Caller of the Claw helps you rebound from any pesky Wrath effects, as do Elvish Soultiller (which gets 'em back into your library), Golgari Guildmage (gets 'em back into play with a sacrifice), or the ever-popular Wirewood Herald, which tutors any Elf to your hand when it dies.
Eladamri, Lord of Leaves is kind of an alternate Elvish Champion, and worth looking into if spot removal's big in your group. Gaea's Herald, on the other hand, is your man if counterspells run rampant. Multani's Acolyte can draw you cards, and Sylvan Messenger can draw you a lot of Elves.
Of course, there's no getting around one of the better Elves for multiplayer—Timberwatch Elf can turn any Elf into a huge finisher. And if you're looking for "huge finisher," Titania's Chosen usually dies pretty early, but I've seen him get up to 15/15 while people were preoccupied with other guys.
Wellwisher can turn any game into a long, drawn-out painful stall as people try to kill you when you're at seventy-billion life.
Let's look at actual Standard decks for a moment—specifically, the Elves deck that won the Star City Games pre-States Standard Open tournament:
That's a deck that could be ported to multiplayer with very little effort. The only cards that are questionable here is Boreal Druid (acceleration isn't quite as important in multiplayer) and Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, which affects only a single player... But even so, this deck would probably still do fairly well, crushing any deck with Forests in it. (And you're slightly more likely to get off that Overrun effect in multiplayer with Garruk—which is good, because you'll probably need it slightly more.)
I'm just moonshining here, but the only change I might make involves couple of Lys Alana Scarblades in place of the Boreal Druids, which gives you a way to control the board in an Elfy way, or perhaps up the count of Masked Admirers to four to aim for the long game. Then again, if your group is token-crazy, there's always piggybacking your way to skyrocketing life totals with Essence Warden....
(Why am I down on the Boreal Druid? Unless heavy mana acceleration ramps you straight into something that wins the game like an Akroma, Angel of Wrath or a Tooth and Nail, it's usually a slot that would be better used on strength. Four acceleration slots are fine to speed the deck up a bit, but seven's a little much.)
Otherwise, this is surprisingly solid as a midrange beatdown deck for multiplayer. Well done.
Tribe #5: Treefolk
They make large, unstoppable Treefolk and then attack. Not much more to it than that.
Rating: While the giants were big, they did have some other things going for 'em. Unfortunately, "big" is almost all the Treefolk have in their favor. In fact, the best Treefolk—which would almost unquestionably be Doran, the Siege Tower—doesn't really play friendly with his mates, requiring three colors and not giving much of an advantage to the Treefolk in general.
(Turning a 3/4 into a 4/4 or a 5/7 into a 7/7? Not nearly the boost that turning an 0/5 Wall of Roots into a 5/5 blocker gets you.)
Alas, this makes Treefolk a bit of an uphill climb in Lorwyn. (Get it? Climb? Tree? Oh, never mind.)
Well, there is the quasi-removal spell Lignify, which sounds awesome but then leaves your opponent with a blocker than can be tough to get through. It's better than being smashed with, say, Numot, the Devastator, but not by much. (Though as Brian David-Marshall notes, the nice thing is that the creature is still legendary and retains its name, so a Lignified Numot will still destroy any freshly played Numots thanks to the legend rule.)
Rootgrapple is also an excellent (if slightly expensive) instant-speed, non-critter removal spell that vaniquishes planeswalkers at a touch.
So they can clear the way for combat. A little.
As is usual with large men, one Dauntless Dourbark or Oakgnarl Warrior is a force to be reckoned with. Thus, you don't have to play too many of them at once—although since they work in tandem, their ideal number is about three or four if you're worried about global removal of some sort. (If you're not concerned about global removal, then every tribe's ideal number is "infinite.")
Rating: Medium to high.
You'd think that the Treefolk, being green and made of paper themselves, would be big on recycling. But as it turns out, once they go to the graveyard, they take the eternal dirt nap.
Rating: Low, but brought higher once you bring in Deadwood Treefolk.
The Treefolk have been around for a long time, but haven't gotten much love from Wizards until now. There are a few, but most of them are vanilla dudes (like Ironroot Treefolk) or guys with marginal effects (such as Treefolk Mystic).
Deadwood Treefolk, on the other hand, definitely ups the recyclability factor, bringing back not one but two guys and serving as a respectable wall until he fades away. And Weatherseed Treefolk is an old classic that comes back whenever he dies (not unlike Weatherseed Totem).
Heartwood Treefolk has evasion that might prove worthy in a standoff—Forestwalk. But Magnigoth Treefolk can walk in all five basic lands, assuming you have the right set of basic lands out. (Unfortunately, it's a lot harder to do that with basic lands.)
Nemata, Grove Guardian is perhaps one of the greatest non-Treefolk-boosting Treefolk in existence. I've won a lot of games with her in my time, but usually when I was piloting Saproling decks. Still, considering that she's a Wren's Run Packmaster without the champion and with the ability to turn her entire army into gigantic finishers, who cares?
Oh, did I forget to mention the greatest ancient Treefolk of 'em all? Oh, well, just hang on a moment, he's comin'.
Considering that the Treefolk thrive on Forests, it seems a little silly to throw Doran in when we're looking to max out on those basic lands. I like Doran, but he seems standoffish, almost as though he's afraid to mix it up with his brothers.
Plus, we have a quasi-combo deck waiting in the wings. Can we forget the ever-popular enchantment—if by "popular," you mean "almost forgotten although it was just printed"—Life and Limb?
It's a pretty simple strategy: in the early game, use Rampant Growth, Treefolk Harbinger, and Hunting Wilds to fetch as many Forests out of your deck as you can. Then play Life and Limb to turn all of your Saproling Tokens into Forests (hopefully putting them under the protection of Timber Protector so you don't lose all your land to a stray Pyroclasm), and start churning out tokens with Verdant Embrace, Sprout Swarm, and of course Verdeloth his bad self. (Verdeloth is Some Good, baby.)
When you turn out tokens, things will get larger. Dauntless Dourbark will become a gigantic trampler, and Battlewand Oak can become a surprise killer if your opponent doesn't know that you have Sprout Swarm in hand. ("You don't block Battlewand Oak? I'll Sprout Swarm three times with buyback; now thanks to Life and Limb, three Forests just came into play—he's an 7/9. Eat oak, chum!")
Incidentally, the whole problem with this deck is that one removal spell can kill you. A Naturalize on Life and Limb can send your whole plan catapulting into the graveyard. Hence, if Standard's not your game, you might want to think about dipping a block back and fetching Privileged Position to help protect your strategy.
There's also one other danger here, as discovered by reader Martin H. He was emailing me to tell me about his usage of The Rabbit Move when in fact he was facing a deck that was doing this very Life and Limb strategy. But I'll let him tell you what he did:
It's my go. I play possum, do nothing, pretend to punch my deck off the table, and whinge about having played a grand total of about five cards all game, woe is me. My friend with the Verdant Forces decides to leave me alone for a turn; I seem mostly harmless, and I've had a rough trot in the first twenty turns or so.
It's my go. I topdeck... Acidic Soil.
He's dead. I'm alive and at 3 life. The other six at the table spend the next five minutes laughing until they're crying, and then shake my hand.
I suspect the Rabbit Move won't be working again for me for a while, unfortunately, as my playgroup now has a COMPLETE mistrust of my topdecking skills!
Say it with me, class: BWAH HAH HAH.
Tribe #6: Elementals
Strategy, Versatility, Individuality, Recyclability, Antiquity
Unfortunately for the Elementals, there really isn't a clear strategy; they're kind of a tribe, but they're scattered throughout the colors without nearly as clear a focus. The main theme, however, is "red guys that do stuff," followed by a bunch of evokers, followed by a bunch of the potent Incarnations.
Thus, it's kind of hard to pull them together into a coherent theme, or even to judge them properly. They're not so much a tribe as a stitch-together, and I can't really say for sure.
Hence, they're out of the ranking system... Even, sadly, the "antiquity" section, since I can't discuss how newer Elementals work with older Elementals when they're all so darned independent. (Come on, you know you want to build an Ageless One deck.) But that won't stop me from trying to build a deck!
Something that will never ever work.
[Time passes, and hopefully nothing good gets killed in the meantime.]
"During my next turn, I'll use this mana from Smokebraider to use Incandescent Soulstoke to put Hostility from my hand into play. Pandemonium triggers, letting Hostility do 6 damage to your face—oh, wait, no, 7, because the Soulstoke pumps Hostility."
"After that trigger resolves, I'll retain priority and play Molten Disaster for four with split second. Since you can't respond to that before it resolves, the replacement effect of Hostility makes... oh, I dunno... four 3/1—sorry, make that 4/2—tokens for each player."
"Yeah... About that...."
"I'll use Pandemonium to deal 16 damage to each of you, and then attack with my hasty tokens. GG!"
Is that likely? Of course not! Someone's going to see something coming, and will pop your Incandescent Soulstokelong before you can do anything. Or someone will just Eyeblight's Ending the Hostility when you don't draw the Molten Disaster with it. Or someone will Disenchant the Pandemonium before the Hostility comes into play.
But this is the sort of deck that makes Johnny dream, my friend.
(Incidentally, while it would be nice if Hostility's replacement effect turned Pandemonium damage into creatures into more damage for an infinite loop, that doesn't work because Hostility says "If a spell you control would deal damage...." Alas, neither Pandemonium nor the creature dealing the damage is currently a spell. You'll have to settle for just hitting someone for 6 in the face.)
The odds of this happening are catastrophically unlikely. In fact, that's what I'm naming this deck:
Oh, it's never going to happen. But we can hope that one day, we'll have the kind of play we'll be boasting about at tournaments for years to come.....
I should add that other crazy plays can happen as a result of Hostility. Take my friend Ian, for example. Last Tuesday, he was playing his Elemental deck and played Hostility. Someone else Mimeofactured it.
Well, Ian didn't like that. He's a very Hostile man. So he used Grab the Reins to steal the Mimeofactured Hostility for a turn. Then he played Sizzle, creating twelve 3/1 hasty tokens (3 per opponent—remember, only one Hostility can replace a given point of damage) on top of the two Hostilities and whatever else he had at the time.
I'll quote Ian: "Winzzor! Everyone else just gave up en masse."
We can also dream of a deck that involves abusing Shriekmaw's comes-into-play ability with Changeling Berserker, Nova Elemental, and Dread Return, and then mopping up with a truly impressive Cairn Wanderer... But I'll leave that exercise to you.
Next week: The last of the tribes!