Wizards Tribal Wars Decks

Posted in Feature on March 8, 2003

By Aaron Forsythe, Content Manager

As the capper for Zombie Week, I'm presenting the sixteen Tribal Wars decks that I and my esteemed colleagues used for last weekend's Wizards Invitational. The subject matter is particularly appropriate for this week's theme because a full one-fourth of us chose Zombies as our tribe, making the undead twice as popular as any other race.

For those unfamiliar with the rules of the format:

That's it! So let's start with a look at the Zombie decks…


B-g Zombies

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Jeff's deck takes its core from what looks to be a popular Onslaught block deck, to which he added luxury features like 4 copies of Living Wish and 8 black-green lands. The key interaction is between Nantuko Husk and Caller of the Claw. Ideally, his deck will deal a few early points of damage by attacking, then cycle Gempalm Polluters and/or activate Shepherd of Rot in the midgame until the "combo" can be pulled off. Dirge of Dread allows the Husk to get by opposing defenses, at which point the whole team gets sacrificed, Caller comes down, and all the tokens get sacrificed as well. A cool trick is to also sacrifice the Caller itself before its triggered ability resolves, netting another 2/2 Bear. The deck can do a ton of damage in a really short period of time, especially if the opponent doesn't see it coming.

Even without the "combo kill," the deck can fight with the best of them. Rotlung Reanimator is one of the format's defining cards, as it makes most trades unfavorable and can allow attacking with reckless abandon in the early game. The deck can also win by just sitting there, either by simply waiting to draw Dirge of Dread, or by killing with Shepherds and Polluters. I saw Jeff win a game against Mike Elliott's Clerics by cycling a Polluter with a massive 25 Zombies in play (thanks to both players' Rotlungs), and all Master Apothecary could do was watch.

B-r Zombies

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Fred is sort of a maverick deckbuilder (you should see what he played in Standard), but he has a gem of a good idea here. Rotlung Reanimator and mass removal (Mutilate or Pyroclasm) can be a devastating combo, although he could have used a few more Zombie Clerics, such as Withered Wretch. The red splash gives him access to cheap removal, which is always a plus in creature fights.

B-r Zombies

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B-r Zombies

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Ramon asked me to build him a black and/or red deck for this part of the event, perhaps using Zombies, and I obliged; the deck he ended up playing was basically my first pass at it. I emailed him the deck and then went back to work on what I thought was the "new hotness," my Angel deck.

Noxious Ghoul

After getting destroyed by Patron Wizard more than once in the Casual Casual room with the Angels, I switched to the Zombie deck for a change of pace, and much to my surprise, I really liked it. It had a great creature curve and some wonderful cheap removal that was fast enough to reliably knock out Voidmage Prodigy before El Patrón would come on line. Terminate, for being of a single purpose, turns out to be one of the most versatile cards in Tribal Wars. I didn't like all the Pyre Zombies, Undead Gladiators, and Gempalm Polluters in the original deck and I ended up taking most of them out for Corpse Harvesters and a bunch of "utility Zombies." Further playtesting showed the Harvesters to not be worth the trouble, but Noxious Ghoul was crazy good. I upped the number of Ghouls from 0 to 1 to 2 to 4 in about an hour's worth of games. They can kill just about anything, including Crimson Acolyte and Obsidian Acolytes, Beloved Chaplain, Ward Sliver, and as many Wellwishers as you please. With two on the board, even Ravenous Baloths will drop like flies. The deck wouldn't have been nearly as good without them.

The last big change came when I was trying to find some better way to break stalemates than Keldon Necropolis. A search revealed Deadapult, and I tried out two copies in place of the often-dead Cover of Darkness. Wow, is Deadapult insane. ": Shock something" is a nice ability to have, and with Reanimators and graveyard recursion, you never run out of fodder. I'm very pleased with the way my deck turned out, and my 3-0 record with it was just what I needed to recover from the previous day's mishaps.



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Including Rose's win in the Finals over Charlie Catino, these two decks went a combined 6-1, showing that Goblins are a force to be reckoned with in any format. I initially thought the deck would be bad, as Goblins tend to prey on metagames in which a certain portion of the decks are creature-light, and in Tribal Wars everyone should have creatures bigger than yours.

No matter. Sparksmith and Goblin Sharpshooter can make mincemeat out of just about anything the opponent plays. Both decks have at least 12 burn spells to boot, and thusly own the early game. Worth's deck packed four Blistering Firecats for the death blow, whereas Bill had two Goblin Goons and a handful of Reckless Charges for big damage. Threaten--quickly turning into a darling of Standard play--also gave Bill's deck extra punch.

Both decks would probably have benefited from a full corps of Goblin Grapplers; cheap provoke is a great ability in creature fights. In any event, if you want to build a really good Tribal deck, it has to be able to handle little red men.


U-b-w Wizards

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In my limited testing, Wizard decks were either feast or famine. Sometimes they'd get the Hapless Researcher/Voidmage Prodigy/Patron Wizard draw and lock you out of the game on turn three. Other times they'd play a bunch of awful creatures and get run over. But Charlie plugged most of the deck's holes with the dreaded Opposition/Static Orb combo.

Now, even if the opponent gets creatures down, Opposition can keep them tied up until the Orb completes the lock. With very few decks playing artifact or enchantment removal, such a lock can be difficult--if not impossible--to break. Six permission spells (and three Wishes) take care of things Meddling Mage, the Prodigy, and the Patron can't handle, and Shadowmage Infiltrator keeps the cards flowing. Budde, Pikula, Finkel… that's a lot of Magic Invitationalist cards! As the finals against Rose proved, the biggest hole in the deck now is a weakness to Goblins. Cheap burn can prevent the lock from coming down, and an active Sparksmith is doom for the little Wizards. But no deck is perfect.

Even though the deck is very good, Charlie will be the first to say that it isn't all that fun. Locking up the game is generally frowned upon in casual formats, so if you play this online, be prepared for some derisive remarks.



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In this format, Beast decks generally start out with Krosan Tusker, Ravenous Baloth, and Contested Cliffs. Then, if the player owns Anurid Brushhoppers and/or Phantom Nishobas, white is added. Randy takes it a step farther, adding a fourth color to his mana base for perhaps the best Beast of all, Spiritmonger.

Other than the powerhouse regenerator, Buehler's deck is pretty straightforward. Play huge guys, use mass removal (Earthquake or Starstorm) for the opponents' miniscule nuisances, and use the Cliffs to clean up. And with access to all five colors and a jam-packed collection, Living Wish was the ultimate silver bullet tutor.

4cCycling Beasts

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Quill did a nice job of coming up with an oddball deck within the rules with his cycling Beasts number. There are only eight "real" Beasts--four Baloths and four Brushhoppers--in the deck; the other 12 are part of his stock of 26 cycling cards, which he used to enable both Astral Slide and Lightning Rift. He was forced to add blue for the Primoc Escapees because both Hundroog and Macetail Hystrodon proved too cumbersome with their cycling costs of 3.

Both Rift and Slide are real headaches for creature decks in general, and it was no different in Tribal Wars.


W-B Clerics

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Elliott's Cleric deck does what all good Cleric decks should -- combine the awesome power of Master Apothecary and Rotlung Reanimator, all for the low, low cost of an unstable mana base. The main punch is the Rotlung/Wrath of God combo, from which most decks cannot recover, although Cabal Archon, Scion of Darkness, and even Beloved Chaplain can win games on their own. And between Worship and Master Apothecary, killing Elliott was often a pipe dream. The presence of Death Wish in Elliott's deck emphasizes just how powerful that cycle of cards is in casual play. Clerics will be a main player in Tribal Wars for a long, long time.

B-U Combo Clerics

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The fact that Doyle's deck contains the minimum number of Clerics, as well as four Deep Analysis and four Diabolic Tutor, hints at its sinister nature. It is, at its heart, a combo deck, using Artificial Evolution, Rotlung Reanimator, another Cleric, and either Nantuko Husk or Cabal Archon for the kill. By using the Evolution to change all instances of "Zombie" to "Cleric" on the Reanimator, John could create a loop in which a dying Cleric would produce a 2/2 Cleric token, which would also create a 2/2 Cleric token when it died, etc., etc., etc. As cool as it sounds, it was quite difficult to pull off.

Two other cards in his deck are worth mentioning. Crown of Suspicion can take down a whole tribe in one fell swoop, especially those like Wizards or Elves with smaller creatures. And Dead Ringers--a card that was incredibly unreliable in the Invasion block limited format--should have no trouble finding two identically-colored targets in Tribal Wars.

The Rest

B-R Legends Reanimator

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Mark chose his deck from a pile of submissions solicited for in one of his columns, and he chose a good one. Black-red reanimator is a popular deck in the Online Standard environment, and even though this one can't fit Anger or Doomed Necromancer, it can still get out some beef in a hurry. I know--I was on the wrong end of a turn-5 Patriarch's Bidding for Kamahl, Pit Fighter, Visara, and Rorix.

Sickening Dreams plays a wonderful role in the deck, killing all the enemy's early plays while dumping huge Legends in the bin. But Patriarch's Bidding can be little weird in this format because you will almost always be bringing the entirety of the opposing casualties back with your Legends. Normally that isn't a problem because your guys are so much better, but it is possible to get swarmed later in the game.

Because red and black have so many decent Legends, it is often possible to win just by playing the creatures. If anyone other than Mark played the deck, I'd say that Tsabo Tavoc should have replaced Molimo Maro-Sorcerer for playability's sake, but Mark needed to have a Maro in the deck.

W-u Soldiers

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Richard's self-built Soldier deck may not be perfectly tuned, but it worked well, and it is very telling about the creator's approach to the game: he prefers utility and variation in play as opposed to streamlined "min-maxed" monstrosities.

The array of Soldiers he chose each pose different problems for different decks, and the support cards all can be equally problematic. I'm sure people were blindsided by Wrath of God, Opposition, or Worship seemingly out of left field.

U-W Birds

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Like Richard, Alan tried to metagame the format by including Exclude in his deck, and went a step further with four copies of Repulse. Twelve Birds with some sort of protection, as well as four Thieving Magpies, provide the bulk of the offense.

I have to believe that Comer could have tuned this a little better had he known he'd be playing in the event for longer than a day, but the core of the deck hints at interesting possibilities.

G-W Cats

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Before seeing Del's decklist, I had no idea how many good Cats there were, nor how many of them were white and/or green. Most of her creatures are very hard to deal with in straight combat, and Shared Triumph and Armadillo Cloak only make things worse. Krosan Vorine with Armadillo Cloak on it is a wonder to behold.

The deck can also sandbag it for Wrath of God quite well; Noble Panther's first strike and Spectral Lynx's regeneration can force opponents to over commit. Plus, Penumbra Bobcat can play the Rotlung Reanimator role by replacing itself when the Wrath hits.

G-W Spirits

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Tyler's deck had one goal in mind: abuse Judgment's Phantom mechanic. His cadre of creatures is hard enough to kill via damage to begin with, and Shared Triumph makes it impossible. Elephant Guide can also make any one Phantom invincible, and Seedborn Muse--also a Spirit--insures that the spectral crew can play "O" and "D" simultaneously.

The "eight-pack" of mana accelerators gives Tyler's deck the ability to deploy the troops at breakneck speed, and the ubiquitous Living Wish fills in any gaps.

Here are the records for the Tribal Wars portion of the Wizards Invitational. You can watch replays of all the matches on Magic Online if you so desire. (Download the client here if you don't already have it.)

Aaron Forsythe Zombies 3-0
Charlie Catino Wizards 3-0
Worth Wollpert Goblins 3-0
Bill Rose Goblins 2-1
Jeff Donais Zombies 2-1
Mark Rosewater Legends 2-1
Mike Elliott Clerics 2-1
Richard Garfield Soldiers 2-1
Tyler Bielman Spirits 2-1
Alan Comer Birds 1-2
Bill McQuillan Beasts 1-2
Randy Buehler Beasts 1-2
Del Laugel Cats 0-3
Fred Royal Zombies 0-3
John Doyle Clerics 0-3
Ramon Arjona Zombies 0-3

Tribal Wars is a fun and exciting format, and hopefully you can use this information as a starting point for your own great Tribal decks, either online or in "real life." None of us made an Elf deck or a Sliver deck, for example--there has to be good versions of those decks out there somewhere! And I'm sure there are great Dragon or Cephalid decks to be made! Or Illusions, or Dwarves, or… you get the picture!

*: The original rules as set forth by R&D called for "20 creatures that share a type," but 20 Wizards proved easy to hide in a 245-card Battle of Wits deck.Send questions and comments to editor@wizards.com.

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