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By: AJ_Impy, AJ Richardson
Jan 12 2008 10:57am
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Times, they are a-changeling: The Art of Tribal Wars

Welcome back, gentle reader, to the column that strives to look at the Tribal formats through a decidedly skewed lens. We are in the midst of a Tribal block, and at the time of writing, Morningtide looms large upon the horizon, with previews offering us a glimpse of the classy things to come. It has been a momentous few months: The Great Creature Type Update rewrote the book on what tribes were there, then Lorwyn went and made them all playable, thanks to nineteen quirky cards and one keyword. More recently, a new format has been added: Lorwyn Standard Tribal. This is the same as regular standard tribal with one key difference:

Rootgrapple
Eyes of the Wisent
Giant

All of the above are legal tribe members. Instead of 33% creatures which share a creature type, LST features cards which share a creature type. Those of you who know me or who have followed my column as regularily as its irregular output allows, I can't resist an edge case. Is it possible to play a Tribal Wars game without actually running any creatures? As a side note, it has been possible to build a deck that didn't intend to play any creatures since the format began: Bill McQuillan's deck at the first event to ever use the format was a slide/rift cycling deck with only two creatures that needed to be cast. A truly creatureless Tribal deck is something else: at a stroke, your opponent's control cards are blanked whilst yours are completely one-sided. All well and good, but how do you win? Let's look at the Tribals a little more closely.

Tribal breakdown

Token Generators

Elvish Promenade
Eyes of the Wisent
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Hoofprints of the Stag
Militia's Pride
Prowess of the Fair
Rebellion of the Flamekin
Summon the School

Removal

Faerie Trickery
Eyeblight's Ending
Lignify
Bound in Silence
Fodder Launch
Consuming Bonfire
Rootgrapple
Nameless Inversion
Crib Swap
Tarfire
Crush Underfoot
Peppersmoke

Utility

Aquitect's Will
Boggart Birth Rite
Wings of Velis Vel
Shields of Velis Vel
Ego Erasure
Blades of Velis Vel
Surge of Thoughtweft
Merrow Commerce
Boggart Shenanigans
Faerie Tauntings
Favor of the Mighty
Giant's Ire

Some interesting tricks to work with. There are a metric ton of removal effects across all colors, hopefully enough to stymie an opponent who will most likely be playing 20 creatures. For a creatureless deck there are two paths to victory: Token generation and burning your opponent out. For creatureless token generation to work, there are a number of caveats: Your opponent's removal is back in the game and you may struggle to reach your triggering requirements. You can infinitely recur Summon the School with two summons or two Merrow Commerces, but will struggle to do so with less or if one of your tokens die. Prowess of the Fair will only trigger off other Prowesses going to the graveyard. Militia's Pride will need a man land in order to start working, Eyes of the Wisent is opponent-dependent. This leads us to:

  Creatureless Elementals

We have two main token generators: Rebellion of the Flamekin and Hoofprints of the Stag. The first requires clashes, the second cards drawn. Trying to advance both at once is a non-starter: There are two options to that dead end, Hoarder's Greed and Sylvan Echoes. Bear in mind that you'll be under creature assault from the get-go: Hoarder's Greed will kill you much more often than it'll provide a swathe of elementals. Sylvan Echoes triggers off clashes won, and that's something you can't rely on. Instead, we turn our attention to removal. With the token generators in 2 of the 5 'elemental' slots, we see that in terms of mowing down the opposition like a summer lawn, we have Crib Swap, Nameless Inversion and Consuming Bonfire handed to us on a plate. To kindle the rebellion, we need to clash: Both Lash Out and Weed Strangle have just the right combination of taking an enemy creature out of the equation and looking at the top card of your library. That's 20 spot removal cards, but some decks require a more global solution. For that, and to take care of any pesky non-creature permanents our opponent may have, we look to Austere Command and Void. We have a good balance of cheap spells to get rid of the early rush and clash-winning spells to occasionally deal 3 to the face, gain life or give our 3/1 tokens haste before wiping the board. This deck runs more bits of removal than your opponent has creatures, and it needs to. You'll eventually win on the back of flying 4/4s or hasty 3/1s, or die in a blaze of glory, blasting at the swarm as it finally takes you down.

Rebellion of the Flamekin
Token Elementals

Technically elementals

4 Consuming Bonfire
4 Crib Swap
4 Hoofprints of the Stag
4 Nameless Inversion
4 Rebellion of the Flamekin

Clash and burn

4 Weed Strangle
4 Lash Out
4 Void
4 Austere Command

Fundament

4 Battlefield Forge
4 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Swamp
4 Shimmering Grotto
Terramorphic Expanse

Hoofprints of the Stag

 At what point in our negotiations did you convince yourself my goal was to be Faerie?

On to the second school of creatureless tribal: Burning out the opposition. Route one would be Goblins: Fodder Launch, Boggart Birth Rite, Tarfire, Boggart Shenanigans. The problem here is that the only thing you can sacrifice for your MVP Fodder Launch is the Shenanigans, although that hitting the grave is the only thing that'll trigger any other Shenanigans you have. This can be alleviated by Empty the Warrens, but one of the main positives to this approach is rendering the opposition removal completely useless. Giants get off to a good start with Giant's Ire, but that's also where they end, at least until Morningtide. Where does that leave us?

Faerie Tauntings

It leaves us, like a French K...niggit looking down on King Arthur, taunting our opponent to death. Backed up by a suite of Soul Spikes, this deck revolves around getting Faerie Tauntings into play, and then firing of a stream of disruptive instants on our opponent's turn until they're dead. All the bouncing, countering, pinging and suchlike is all well and good, but the deck also needs a reset button. Here, I've used Plague Wind, mainly because I have them, but I'd recommend upgrading to Damnation given that since you have no creatures, the effect is much the same and a heck of a lot cheaper. For a budget option, Final Revels will clear out everything  from the early rush brigades, but isn't really up to scratch against bigger tribes. Kill lifegain creatures with extreme prejudice: It's hard enough depleting twenty life one taunt at a time.

I shall taunt you a second time!

Unfaerie

4 Ego Erasure
4 Faerie Tauntings
4 Faerie Trickery
4 Nameless Inversion
4 Peppersmoke

One-sided support

4 Soul Spike
4 Evacuation
4 Plague Wind
4 Ancestral Vision

Ring sweet Ring

8 Island
8 Swamp
4 Underground River
4 Shimmering Grotto

Fear the Kobolds

Turning our attention away from the strange world of Lorwyn Tribal Standard, let's have a look at some of the oddities now available in Tribal Classic. Back in the day, on Magic: the Gathering Interactive Encyclopedia (The computer program which bridged the time between Shandalar and M:tGO), one of my favourite decks featured a bunch of little red men cheaper, and weaker, than goblins. For the princely sum of zero mana, you got a 0/1 red guy. They really came into their own alongside a pack of Kobold Taskmasters, but times have changed. The Taskmasters are now themselves Kobolds: get enough of them together and they can almost be dangerous. Although Rohgaah of Kher Keep isn't yet around, there are several new Kobolds, a lot bigger than 0/1, ready to leap into the fray...

Kher Keep
Fortune favours the Kobold

0/1 for 0

4 Crookshank Kobolds
4 Kobold Taskmaster
4 Cairn Wanderer
4 Changeling Berserker
4 Fire-Belly Changeling

Utility

4 Ghitu Firebreathing
4 Thunderstaff
4 Void
4 Hit/Run

Yapping Dog Territory

4 Kher Keep
8 Mountain
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Blood Crypt

Crookshank Kobolds
 Believe it or not, this deck can actually win: For that matter, it nearly took the top place in a 5-man Free for all, having claimed the first victim. The trick is getting your cheap guys out quickly, either by dropping the free ones or using Kher Keep, and backing them up with the means to make them effective. Ghitu Firebreathing can make your expendables able to trade far above their weight and then pop back to your hand for the next hapless dog-lizard thing. Void and the Hit part of the split card helps to keep the way clear, whilst the Run part, alongside your taskmasters and the Thunderstaff, makes sure your little guys can actually be useful. There is no more humiliating way to deliver the beatdown than through a horde of 0/1 creatures.

Release the Kraken!

From 0/1 to 11/11, this tribe has just as much old school flavor as the last one, but lies at the complete opposite end of the scale. There are three non-changeling Kraken online, with the cheapest starting at eight mana, or three mana and nine turns/opponent spells. They're damned near unstoppable:Two of them can't be blocked, whilst the third shares combat statistics with Darksteel Colossus. We can pay for them through Wayfarer's Bauble, High Tide and Gauntlet of Power, and we round out the tribe with two of the more tricksy of Lorwyn's Ultimi Alumni, Shapesharer and Amoeboid Changeling. Between them, these two 1/1 Kraken have a number of tricks up their sleeve, the least of which is borrowing the unstoppable form of their bigger brethren for a quick kill. Between them, you have a permanent Cytoshape on the table, without the non-Legendary clause. Use the Amoeboid to make the next biggest threat a Shapeshifter (and everything else), then share the legendary shape and the consequences. If there's a creature whose power and toughness are set when coming into play, such as Graft creatures, Spikes or Primal Plasma-types,  you can use them to wipe out all other opposing creatures, quite possibly earning a few 'wait, what just happened?' along the way. We round out the deck with a pair of Evacuation, both as a delaying tactic and because Deep-Sea Kraken loves it when your opponent replays his army.

Polar Kraken
Tidal Kraken
Deep-Sea Kraken
Shapesharer
Amoeboid Changeling
Krayken or Krahken?

High cost of the Sea

24 Island
2 High Tide
4 Wayfarer's Bauble
4 Gauntlet of Power

One that got away

2 Evacuation
4 AEther Burst

Hello Beastie.

4 Deep-Sea Kraken
4 Polar Kraken
4 Tidal Kraken
4 Amoeboid Changeling
4 Shapesharer

So there we have it. Changelings enabling a tribal format with no creatures, providing solid bodies for a tribe of ephemeral weaklings and early drops for an outsize bunch of whales. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are the glue which takes the format to crazier and crazier constructions, the cement which can hold together even the loosest of tribes or most insane deck ideas.  Until next time, may all your Masters Edition packs hold foil Force of Wills.

0 Comments

Not actually a mistake... by AJ_Impy at Mon, 01/14/2008 - 14:48
AJ_Impy's picture

Tidal Kraken has been a Monster in the past, but Kraken is an acceptable creature type again nowadays. Whilst in 8th Edition it was a monster, currently, it's a Kraken, having been updated during the Grand Creature Type Update. Always be careful looking at the type lines of offline cards, as they're not the best indicators of what the creature may have been errataed to.

by _Shaddai_ (not verified) at Mon, 01/14/2008 - 11:08
_Shaddai_'s picture

The only thing about this I see, is that in your last part. Tidal Kraken's creature type is actually "Monster" not "Kraken". Though it's weird, you would have to have another 4 changelings in deck in order to have a tribal legal Kraken deck. Good article otherwise, I don't play much tribal myself, but odd tribes could be fun.

by Lord Erman at Sat, 01/12/2008 - 13:43
Lord Erman's picture

I truely missed reading your articles AJ. As always, great work and creativity at its finest. Well done.