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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
May 16 2018 12:00pm
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Is “Tribal” a dirty word in the context of Limited at this point? Look back at the focused tribal blocks: Onslaught was balanced horribly, Lorwyn was insanely complicated, Innistrad was significantly downgraded when Dark Ascension pushed tribal too hard, Shadows over Innistrad was mostly average, and now Ixalan is considered one of the worst Limited formats in recent memory (though it was improved by Rivals of Ixalan). However, tribal is going to be a well WotC goes to forever due to its casual popularity—we’ve seen that most sets have at least one tribe to draft around, and in general it’s one of the easiest decks to build in both Constructed and Limited in an abstract sense (does it have creature type X? If so, put it into the deck). However, Lorwyn became one of the most complex blocks due to an over-reliance of on-board effects (which mostly exist as an initial reaction to the reduction of Comprehension Complexity post-Time Spiral block) and being the first tribal block designed with the combination of race and class in mind (though that wouldn’t be focused on until Morningtide). Thankfully we won’t be worrying about the latter point in this article since the Flashback Favorites format is only triple-Lorwyn, but there’s still plenty to talk about in only the single-set format. Just keep in mind that I won’t be going over the basics, as that was 2016’s Year of Modern Flashbacks article was about.

Understanding Board States:

We aren’t to the craziness of full-Lorwyn block limited, but there is so much stuff going on even in just Lorwyn you can get overwhelmed, especially if you’ve been trained on the simplicity of New World Order. As such, I’ll go through the important parts of the cards on your opponent’s side of the board, with a focus on the commons.

 

Creature Type:

There are a lot of creature types in Lorwyn, but you only care about nine: the eight featured races (Kithkin, Treefolk, Goblins, Merfolk, Elemental, Faerie, Giant, and Elf), as well as Shapeshifter (which always means Changeling in this set, or all of the above).

 

Activated Abilities:

Silvergill Douser is the bane of combat in Lorwyn limited (it’s like a tapper you don’t have to commit to until after attacks), and Stonybrook Angler and Streambed Aquitects are two other important creatures with combat-relevant abilities. In other colors, Dreamspoiler Witches isn’t technically activated but serves a similar purpose (since the Faeries deck seems to always have an instant/Flash creature), Elvish Branchbender produces big creatures out of nowhere, and Kithkin Daggerdare is a really big Infantry Veteran.

 

Playing With Clash:

As I mentioned in my previous Lorwyn article, Clash is such a strange mechanic, as it gives smoothing to both players. Furthermore, unless you’re specifically manipulating your deck with multiple clashes in a row or tricks like Soaring Hope or Gilt-Leaf Seer (which are very mediocre), you’re going to lose (more accurately not win) 40% of your clashes just based on the lands in your deck, no matter how high your curve is (and a high curve means more lands). As such, you should generally be treating Clash cards as if they were slightly weaker than all the “Scry 1” cards we see in current Magic, and occasionally you’ll get some additional upside.

 

Even so, you’ll be seeing a lot of Clash (20 cards have the mechanic, all below rare), and Clash is generally a good mechanic, even though both players benefit. The key is to focus on picking the reasonably efficient creatures (Oaken Brawler, Adder-Staff Boggart, even Paperfin Rascal) and good spells (Lash Out, Whirlpool Whelm) while avoiding the obviously bad cards (Spring Cleaning, Bog Hoodlums) and cards that rely on the clash (Captivating Glance, all the Clash build-arounds), with the exception of Pollen Lullaby in aggressive decks (the “creatures don’t untap” effect is worth only getting a Fog most of the time).

 

Dealing with Low-Quality Cards:

Lorwyn is in an interesting place as it’s the penultimate large set before Shards of Alara brings with it the current paradigm for set size (smaller set size, mythic rares, only 14 non-basic land cards per pack). As such, there is a lot of garbage in this set, and by garbage I don’t mean cards that are situational or sideboard cards, but cards that make you actively cringe like Boggart Forager, Bog Hoodlums, Goldmeadow Dodger, Heal the Scars, Lammastide Weave, and Battle Mastery. When you combine that with all the sideboard cards, niche cards, the lack of artifacts outside of color fixers (seriously, there are no artifact creatures in the set), and cards that are mostly/completely useless outside of their tribe, it can be hard to find playables and puts more pressure on the cards that are always good (bombs, removal, Changelings, and creatures that are raw packages of stats like Cloudcrown Oak). Overall it leads to the same problem we’ve seen in Ixalan: if you don’t find your lane (whether it’s a tribe or something weirder like the Elvish Handservant deck) you aren’t going to do well, and that will probably be made worse by the league format (if you face someone whose table cooperated you’ll do worse than if their table fought over the good tribes).

 

The important part is to stay open early to find your lane and hope no one else moves in. While the obvious way to stay open is to pick a colorless card, most of them are awful (Moonglove Extract and the Vivid lands are the only ones that are close, even counting the rares), your best choices are a good removal spell (Lash Out, Oblivion Ring, and Eyeblight's Ending are the top common ones) or a Changeling. Each color has two or three viable decks it can go into (a tribe or something like the Elvish Handservant deck that fills the color combos that don’t have a tribe), and if you focus on cross-tribe cards like Silvergill Douser or Caterwauling Boggart you’re more likely to play your first couple of picks. Of course, you can just open a bomb and force your lane, especially if it’s a flexible bomb like a Planeswalker or Command, and the deck full of good stuff (also known as 5-Color Elementals) does exist here thanks to all the high-powered generic cards like the Evoke Elementals and the Vivid lands, and it’s fine if you don’t get run over by the linear decks.

 

Tribes:

Merfolk (Blue/White):

Merfolk is one of the highest variance tribes: the ceiling is very high if you get your Drowner of Secrets and/or Summon the School engines going, but virtually all of the good cards require other Merfolk to be playable. You should only end up here if you see Drowner of Secrets or Summon the School early (but preferably not first pick in case someone else tries to force the tribe) unless you want to run a bunch of Deeptread Merrows and Paperfin Rascals. Even if you get there, you need to be able to protect your creatures to grind out your advantages, and it’s difficult to get enough spells while playing enough Merfolk and other good cards like Mulldrifter.

 

Faeries (Black/Blue):

While Faeries has a clear theme, “play things on your opponent’s turn” is a lot broader than just playing Faeries. Dreamspoiler Witches and Glen Elendra Pranksters don’t require the spells to be Faeries to trigger, while cards like Pestermite and Thieving Sprite are good on their own. One warning though: this is probably the most difficult deck to play, so unless you’re experienced with the tribe (it isn’t that much different than the old Standard/current Modern deck, just without the bigger threats unless you open the right rares) you shouldn’t be trying this on your first draft of the format.

 

Goblins (Black/Red):

While the focus of Goblins is on the recursion aspects, that hides all the removal in the color pair, especially all the ones that are tied to Goblins. Sure, everyone will take Tarfire, but cards like Hornet Harasser and Mudbutton Torchrunner are much better in Goblins than the average deck (to say nothing of the explicitly tribal Tar Pitcher. When you combine that with all the great recursion and aggressive creatures like Adder-Staff Boggart and Facevaulter (remember, creatures still aren’t great in this era) this is one of the easiest decks to draft, even if you don’t go full build-around with Boggart Shenanigans (which is also an option).

 

Kithkin (Mono-White):

How much deeper can I go into the strategy of White Weenie? Kithkin is even more brain-dead than the average white aggro deck, as the power curve is relatively flat (Goldmeadow Dodger is a still a one mana 1/1 with bad evasion, while Knight of Meadowgrain is just a very efficient creature) and your instant-speed tricks are the relatively low impact Surge of Thoughtweft and Triclopean Sight. Kithkin would get a massive power boost in Morningtide, but since we aren’t there yet I’d stay away from the archetype.

 

Elves (Green/Black):

How well-known is the knowledge that Elves are overpowered in Lorwyn based on raw card quality? When you get so many Elves for free with Imperious Perfect and Lys Alana Huntmaster as well as immunity to the best common removal spell (Eyeblight's Ending), it’s easy to see that after playing the format a couple times. Of course, that means that the tribe will probably be overdrafted, but the nicest thing is that while a lot of the cards count your Elves, they’re still good if you aren’t completely committed to the color (as long as you avoid cards like Prowess of the Fair and Elvish Promenade). As such, multiple players can end up as Elves, which wouldn’t be a problem in a normal draft, but hurts more in a league where you might be paired with someone who got the only Elf deck at their table.

 

Giants (Red/White):

If you remember how decent Giants were in the original Modern Masters (back when it was the original oddball theme), bring down your expectations a bit. The problem is that the truly great Giants (Cloudgoat Ranger and Thundercloud Shaman) don’t need to be in a Giant deck to be good, and as you would expect the combo is hurt by its curve—you can’t start at 4 in a format with Elves and Goblins. Yes, Stinkdrinker Daredevil and Changelings are supposed to help with that, but the former is fragile and the latter are desired by everyone. Furthermore, other than Cloudgoat Ranger the white Giants are awful, so there’s basically no reason for this archetype to exist. If you’re getting good Giants look at the RG Elvish Handservant deck I’ll talk about in a bit.

 

Treefolk (Green/black):

If you treat Treefolk as mono-green splashing Thorntooth Witch and removal you’ll do a lot better than if you try to go full-Abzan (as impractical as that is with only four non-green Treefolk). Treefolk wins because of pure efficiency from cards like Battlewand Oak and Cloudcrown Oak and because Treefolk Harbinger is by far the best of the cycle (as it is decent on its own in an aggro format and gets you efficient creatures, a bomb like Timber Protector or Thorntooth Witch, or a land depending on what you need). You can’t be competing with anyone, but Treefolk is a sleeper in the format.

 

Elementals (Mono-Red):

Since the five-color Elemental archetype is basically “play good cards” and not much else, I’ll focus on the red Elementals here. While Smokebraider is clearly a powerful card and the activated abilities theme of the tribe is interesting (as shown by my attempts to shove Ceaseless Searblades into my old Modern Masters 2 designs), the problem is that there isn’t much to do with the tricks other than play a bunch of creatures that try to be aggressive? Yes, turning six mana into eight with Soulbright Flamekin is nice upside on a two mana 2/1 that grants evasion, but when the best place to put it is Flamekin Spitfire you have problems (though the Spitfire is still fine). You just don’t have enough good cards when three of your creatures (including two uncommons) are one-mana creatures that don’t impact the board (Flamekin Brawler, Flamekin Bladewhirl, Flamekin Harbinger).

 

Other Color Pairs:

Red/Green: Elvish Handservant Giants

As I mentioned in the Giants section, most of the playable Giants are red, so why not try them in a different color? Elvish Handservant may not seem like much, but when you go two-drop Changeling (which both red and green have) into Blind-Spot Giant, you have one of the best aggressive curves in the format, especially when you top it off with a Giant's Ire or two (which also triggers the Handservant). Also notice that Elvish Handservant triggers on any player’s Giants, including their Changelings, which is a nice bonus. Of course, this deck only really works if you get a lot of Elvish Handservants so you can’t be fighting people, and your backup plan of RW Giants isn’t great, so start with Changelings and Lash Outs and see if your Elvish Handservants and Stinkdrinker Bandits table (and conversely, this isn’t an awful place to go if Elves dry up).

 

Green/White: Diluted Kithkin

Yes, Kithkin was supposed to be GW, but other than giving us Gaddock Teeg we got nothing. Furthermore, since GW was a “supported” color pair, the main cross-tribe card is the bad Guardian of Cloverdell (unless you count Elvish Handservant, which you shouldn’t). Stay far away.

 

White/Black: (Quillslinger Boggart) Kithkin

If you’re going to splash any color in Kithkin, the removal-heavy black is a decent choice, and Quill-Slinger Boggart isn’t an awful way to get those last points of damage (and again, it triggers on all players’ Kithkin, including their Changelings). The problem is that ability is on a four-mana 3/2, and while that isn’t a completely awful rate for the time in black, I don’t think it fits well at all in a Kithkin deck. However, the key is that you aren’t spending real picks on them as no one else wants the card (except Goblins as a sideboard against Kithkin I guess). As such, I’d pick a couple if you’re already in WB, but would keep them in the board for slow matchups where a Kithkin rush isn’t good enough.

 

Blue/Red: Boggart Sprite-Chaser Faeries

The Elvish Handservant deck got a lot of press back in the day, but I’m surprised Boggart Sprite-Chaser went completely under the radar. Obviously a one-drop that can grow to 4/4 or more relatively easily is both powerful and flashy, but a 2/3 flier for two also seems very powerful in blue Faerie decks. This deck seems like the perfect tempo deck: cheap fliers, burn that can hit players and creatures that serve as finishers like Glarewielder. One problem is that you’re all over the place in terms of tribes, which puts a lot of pressure on your Changelings and Pestermites to power up the Boggart Sprite-Chaser, but again, that means you can focus on picking burn and Mulldrifters early and pick the aggressive creatures late. I wouldn’t put it in the top tier of decks by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a nice counterpoint to the “Lorwyn is about tribes and bombs” narrative.

 

Green/Blue: Clash 5-Color Elementals

Green and blue are tied for the most clash cards, but as I discussed above clash isn’t something you should build around. Heck, even if you were to build around it GU wouldn’t be the color to do it in, as your only payoff is Sylvan Echoes, which both does nothing unless you win the clash and would only draw you into more bad Clash cards! There aren’t any cross-tribe cards I could see, but instead I’d use these as the base for the five-color deck: Fertile Ground is a great fixer, and the main reason you want to go five-color is to give you an excuse to pick a ton of Mulldrifters without the pressure of Faerie/Merfolk density.

 

Conclusion:

Another Flashback format done! As I mentioned in my last article, we’re coming up on a long stretch of them, and hopefully I can keep up (which is why it’s nice that I can pre-write most of them). It doesn’t appear that the TBD format is something I care about, so the next time you see me will probably be for the upcoming Kamigawa Flashback format (unless Announcement Day finally pops up and gives us the theme of the fall Masters set). See you then!

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter