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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Oct 13 2011 12:16pm
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*** Tribal Apocalypse: Week 40 BE ***

Winners don't use elves. Or they do?

 Hi, everyone. Last week the highly honorable Winter Trabex (aka KaraZolEl) brought back an ancient and long-lost tradition: the Tribal Apocalypse reportage. And now here I am, ready to take it from there. People know me as the OCD guy that's maintaining both the Complete Creature Types Reference Table (with every tribe in the game reduced to some kind of number) and the Hall of Fame page featuring all the accomplished players and creature types we can list so far. (Yeah, those are links, you can safely click on them, that's not rickrolling).

 So, on Saturday, October 8, 2011, our fearless host BlippyTheSlug ran the 40th MTGO Traders-sponsored Tribal Apocalypse event of his era (it all started last January, when Blippy became the third TribAp showrunner after the never forgotten ShardFenix and Flippers_Giraffe, both of whom I salute as well). After 4 rounds of Swiss play, the Top 4 decks have been... 2 elf decks followed by 2 wizard decks. I know, boring. But I can assure you that 1. this is not typical at all (we saw 27 different winning tribes over 40 events after all, and this was just the 4th time an elf deck ended first), and 2. the deck range was way more various than what the Top 4 seem to reflect, including some quite uncommon tribes such as Kobolds, Zuberas, and Plants.

 Anyway, elves. The winning ones were piloted by mihahitlor, a very capable player who thanks to this result became the first one to end first twice in a row. This was also his 4th victory overall (with three different tribes: Elf, Vampire and Assassin), earning him the current 3rd place on the Hall of Fame table. Congrats! Here's the list: 


 Oh well, that's pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? But at least the Umbral Mantle tech hasn't been entirely run into the ground yet, and Concordant Crossroads is a nice touch. Every time I try to use it, I always end with the opponent casting a Novablast Wurm on his turn, or something like that. Guess that's not an issue when your deck can generate 50 trample damage on turn 4.

 The other elf deck that went 4-0 was this one, piloted by newcomer ThyShuffler


 Totally different, eh? I mean, surely Arbor Elf has a nicer art than those hideous Fyndhorn Elves. And Wren's Run Packmaster is a fun card. But c'mon. And I suppose Umbral Mantle is more common than I thought in these builds. On the event forum, mihahitlor himself said that he feels like he should "start playing something else, elves (at least combo builds) don't seem particularly fair against the majority of the decks." And these aren't even actually elfball combo builds, which aim to go infinite with either Ezuri + double Devoted Druid or the more classic Birchlore Rangers/Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel interaction, all fueled by Glimpse of Nature and an occasional, fetched Regal Force, then ending with either a Grapeshot or a hardcasted Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Both the builds above, instead, mainly play like your regular aggro elves, even if they can bring Umbral Mantle for improved pumping shenanigans. The key creature is always Ezuri, who although introduced quite recently, has become the staple card of every elf deck. It's very simple: elves are small creatures that produce lots of mana, Ezuri uses all that mana to make them big and trampling. Good game.

 Here's the thing about elves in Tribal Wars, though. They're terribly linear. We all know there are two different approaches to deckbuilding: the linear one and the modular one (more on that can be found in this MaRo article, where the concept is applied to the design of the cards). Using a linear deckbuilding means picking a card that makes you pick another card that matters for the first one, and so on. Pretty much every elf card of these builds is self-referential, mentioning elves within its text box. Such a linear approach is perfectly legit, of course. It's just that it pushes you to build in the most safe, conservative way. You put in your deck a card that just makes all your other cards better. What could go wrong with that?

 This is just one of the dualisms of the tribal format. It directly leads to one of the big choices one has to make when first try and build a tribal deck: choosing a "classic" tribe or an unusual tribe. The classic tribes are the ones that are supposed to be tribes to begin with, the ones that either exist since the beginning or have been heavily supported within one of the "tribal sets" (such as Legions, Lorwyin, and now Innistrad). The ones with the "lords": Soldier, Merfolk, Zombie, Goblin and, of course, Elf (among many others). To me the issue here is that while these tribes are perfectly fine, even with a linear approach, the risk is that they end up defining the tribal format itself. I see people (and most of the players who approach the format for the first time) that seem to think that Tribal Wars is all about elves and goblins. And they actually are thinking of linear elves and goblins. Of the Elvish Archdruid and Goblin Piledriver type of elves and goblins. The last time I ran an elf deck myself, it was a combo deck and I went 3-0 with it, but the combo didn't involve Ezuri. It was this one:

Dream HallsConfluxDoubling SeasonNicol Bolas, Planeswalker

  Here's the list:


 Yeah, you don't see Elvish Aberration too often in elf builds. But it might be the defining card here. Is this an "aberration" of an elf build? Well, no, it's just that Bolas (or, you know, I) realized that the elves allowed him to bring his evil plan to fruition. Through card advantage and mana fixing, which is something the elves do well, so this is really a deck where the elves do what they do best. Just not following the (trite) aggro route.

 Here's another caveat of mine: people seem to think that Tribal Wars is all about beatdown. All about that turn-1 Goblin Guide. Well, it's not. That's just a way to play the format. It's flexible enough to easily supports all the control, combo, and aggro combinations you can think of. Some tribes aren't supposed to go aggro, and the classic, aggro builds with the lords pumping their minions (or, more frequently, pumping each other) aren't the "purest form" of tribal. If anything, they're just the easiest form. Walls are an extremely successful tribe (more on that below), because they can provide mana acceleration, card drawing and cheap defense. What they can't do is swing for damage (and no, the solution isn't Rolling Stones + Doran, the Siege Tower).

 Anyway, enough with the pesky elves, let's talk about Wizards, who are a truly versatile and non-aggro prone tribe. Here's the 3-1 deck by ScionOfJustice:


 It's a combo mill deck, using the neat Basalt Monolith + Power Artifact classic infinite mana combo to fuel the milling mayhem brought by Ambassador Laquatus and Oona, Queen of the Fae. The other wizards are mainly there for card advantage, including the always lovely Azami, Lady of Scrolls. Yes, she's very linear. I never said linear is bad.

 The second Wizard deck was piloted by james mcaliney:


 What could look like a regular Patron Wizard build is actually a very complex, very competent 4-color build using some of the best wizards ever printed, supported by a rich mana base and a strong suite of removals and counterspells. It wins through a combination of disruption (Patron Wizard, Meddling Mage), card advantage (Dark Confidant, Trinket Mage), and sheer badassery (Grim Lavamancer). Great build.

 Finally, a special mention for a deck that this time ended only 5th, but has been ranked among the Top 4 many times, and it's currently haunting the sleep of many players who were unfortunate enough to cross its path. I'm talking about NemesisParadigm (aka PureMTGO writer ArchGenius)'s infamous "Walldrazi" deck.


 If you're wondering why he's not using Emrakul, it's because it's banned in Tribal Apocalypse events (along with some other power cards, including the other two members of the "Trifecta of Doom", Progenitus and Iona, Shield of Emeria). The deck here is at the same time very straightforward (wall ramp into big threats) and very elegant. I especially like the toolbox land suite fetched by Knight of the Reliquary and Primeval Titan. There's a reason if NemesisParadigm is currently number 1 on the Hall of Fame ranking.

 A final mention goes to Malum, who won the 1-tix Endagered Prize running Mystics. The Endangered Prize is awarded each week to the player running the tribe with less available members (all the details of the prize can be found here). That's right, you can win 1 full tix by bringing your Goat tribal deck. What are you waiting for? Just do it!


elves by chiznad at Thu, 10/13/2011 - 13:54
chiznad's picture

elves. how original. i do give props to the elves bolas deck. that is original.

Hey Kuma, keep them rolling by Paul Leicht at Thu, 10/13/2011 - 17:19
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Hey Kuma, keep them rolling :)

Thanks for the support, by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 10/14/2011 - 03:53
Kumagoro42's picture

Thanks for the support, Paul!

And glad you found that deck original, chiznad. Btw, the original version had Lim-Dul's Vaults over the Sylvan Scryings/Tabernacle suite. Also, at some point there was a Boomerang somewhere, so the first Conflux would fetch Conflux, Conflux, Cruel Ultimatum, Cruel Ultimatum, Mystic Snake (which acts as a Force of Will, or it's just pitched and returned to hand by an Ultimatum). The second Conflux would fetch Cruel Ultimatum, Cruel Ultimatum, Doubling Season, Bolas, Boomerang. This way you can drop Bolas, activate his ultimate, bounce him in hand, re-drop him, re-activate his ultimate. But that was really overkill, it was hard somebody had 14 permanents and 14 cards in hands at that point after all those Ultimatums, especially because that might easily be Turn 4. :)

I used Beasts as my Tribe for by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/14/2011 - 08:34
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I used Beasts as my Tribe for my Dreamhalls Conflux deck. Oversized it because 60 cards just didn't fit the pieces needed. I also 4 Cruel but added 1 violent and 1 brilliant ultimatum which performed interestingly. Boomerang is definitely tech and Bolas + Doubling Season is just evil. Your deck is much nicer than mine was (but meaner too). :D

"Nice and Mean", it could be by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 10/14/2011 - 11:07
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"Nice and Mean", it could be the title of a series of articles. (I have another in mind for my own, which I'm writing right now).

I'm actually seeking a way to relocate the Bolas deck to another tribe, because I really don't want to give elves other Hall of Fame points. I need a fast mana-producing tribe, though. Maybe Shamans or Humans. The good thing about those elves was that I can chump block with all of them (except the Urborg one) without any worries. That would often slow down the fast aggro deck enough, and Wrath of God would do nothing against me.

Slivers would work nicely by ArchGenius at Fri, 10/14/2011 - 11:35
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Slivers would work nicely because you have Gemhide Sliver Crystalline Sliver, and 5-color slivers that can be used as Dream Hall fuel.

Of course I'm partial to walls for pure acceleration but they don't really help with getting two blue mana for Dream Halls.

Allies have Harabaz Druid, Jwari Shapeshifter, Bala Ged Thief, and Sea Gate Loremaster which can be quite helpful with combos

Overall, it's quite an interesting deck.

Great Article!

Glad you liked it!I like the by Kumagoro42 at Sat, 10/15/2011 - 10:55
Kumagoro42's picture

Glad you liked it!

I like the Sliver idea, I used to build all sorts of non-tribal decks with a soft sliver base of 4x Gemhide Slivers and 4x Harmonic Slivers (back when Extended was, well, Modern). And I like doing either Slivers or Allies in unconventional, non-aggro mode.