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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Oct 11 2016 11:00am
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For years I used to hear people talking about a format named Tribal Wars. Anyone who was playing on Magic Online talked about this and I never wanted to explore what the format actually looks like because the name suggested that the decks consisted of creatures of one tribe and since I'm not really a big fan of creatures (on both sides of the table) I expected that this format would just not be for me. When I discovered Chainsaw Massacre, a 100 card singleton tournament, I couldn't not notice that this tournament is preceded by a tournament named Tribal Apocalypse. I watched one game where Angels fought Shamans and one more game in which white humans fought red humans. I started to wonder what tribes could possibly be good. Angels did not really seem as the best idea for me but Moat and Baneslayer Angel did sound as 'Houston, we have a problem!' for many decks. I tried navigating through the Tribal Apocalypse document on Google to learn a bit about the now not official format. I learned that there is actually a banlist and no sideboard is allowed. Otherwise the deck needs to be Legacy legal and 1/3 of it has to be creatures sharing a type.

Elves, Goblins, Eldrazi and Humans seemed to me as something that should work in Tribal Wars Legacy. Merfolk could possibly be viable as well but since I did not expect prevalence of blue decks, the deck might not be that good as in Legacy. But what else one can build? I simply didn't know. There are many creature types and I don't even know the types of some creatures. I expected Shamans to be good (because Deathrite Shaman, Eternal Witness and Tasigur, the Golden Fang are Shamans for example), Berserkers or Warriors to be playable since they are big and aggressive (my zoo deck is full Berserkers and Warriors), Humans because well there's simply too many of them. Allies is also a creature type that could possibly be powerful but how powerful can be a tribe that can be found in two blocks in a format that is Legacy based? I didn't know so I wanted to find out. I didn't have a deck though yet.

I would expect players to go fast (RG Berserker, Monored Humans, RG Warriors), midrange or big (ramp). I did not expect much of combo nor control even though creature combos do exist. Either way it seemed that creature interaction and combat would be involved and I wanted to avoid that if possible. I did not want to invest in a deck though, at least not before I would figure out what the power level of the format is. So that is how I ended up with playing UR Delver. The Delver shell could possibly play 20 human creatures, 17-18 lands and some combination of disruption and burn spells. Someone suggested I would try Kasparadi's list from previous Tribal Apocalypse events. I know that Kasparadi plays well, I've seen him play Vintage so I expected his deck to be solid. But even just looking at the list I couldn't understand Young Pyromancer in the deck. 20 creatures is a lot for Delver of Secrets as well so I was wondering how this deck can work. One can really try to help Delver flip against decks not running too much removal or play more than 60 cards. I wasn't willing to play more cards so I decided to change my play style a bit to fit the deck more and tweak the deck so I could play with it. I cut Young Pyromancer from the deck along with 2 Snapcaster Mages even though I wanted to cut at least 3. Both cards require a lot of mana and that is something I wanted to avoid. Not to mention that I expected players to play creatures and many are bigger than 1/1 Elementals. This deck is not a Vintage Grixis Therapy deck that can produce a large amount of Elementals, this deck could most probably create a token per turn. So I started wondering what could possibly do well in this format and not totally wreck this deck? I remembered trying Mantis Rider in various decks for Standard and Modern and wondered if I could be able to cast this card in Legacy based format. The card does not really work well with Daze nor 4 Wastelands in the deck but a 3/3 Flying Vigilance Haste body is something I just couldn't say no to. It is an evasive creature that can block power 2 creatures all day. I tried to figure out with what to replace Snapcaster Mage and in the end I settled on Grim Lavamancer, with a relatively high number of fetchlands and instant/sorceries it could possibly do a good job, and a better one than Snapcaster Mage in my opinion. With this deck I tried to play few games, the deck was doing well even though it seems rather fragile. I was also looking to replace the remaining Snapcaster Mages but the card closest to what I wanted cost RR - Ash Zealot - which was already overkill in a 3 color deck running 4 Wastelands.  I did not want to cut in fear of annoying lands - creaturelands, Cavern of Souls, Volrath's Stronghold etc. When playing with this deck and facing the first Tribal Wars decks my brain certainly was overwhelmed by decisions and damage counting. Even though one of the players told me that it is easy to get some free wins with this deck I disagree. UR Delver in Legacy is certainly such a deck but here playing this deck requires a different kind of thinking and playing. 20+18 non-creature spells make Delver of Secrets (the card giving free wins sometimes) quite difficult to flip. Each mistake while playing this deck can be fatal.

Too many triggers and opponent gaining too much life for me to handle. Having just about a 1 minute more I would have won the match though which was rather surprising. That does not mean that this deck is any good. It certainly isn't on par with other Tribal Wars decks and I won't probably make it work, but I'll try.

After seeing some decks in action I decided to put together a Vampire aristocrat list and Ally aristocrat list to see if either of these decks could possibly work. Both decks had similar ideas. Just play some creatures, sacrifice them, bring them back, sacrifice them again and win. The decks would be prey to UR Delver and Eldrazi Stompy just trampled (literally) through my little creatures. The idea seemed fine but the creatures I had in my decks are too weak to face any kind of (bad) rares and the 'combo' works against decks not changing their life total. It can deal 20 damage more or less but not way more than that and for some reason I was running into decks with quite a lot of life gain. I have to say that it probably is not a bad strategy against other creature decks that try to win via combat. These two decks have also another disadvantage - too many triggers. There were games I was supposed to win actually but I didn't because I couldn't deal with my own triggers or timed out. I would eventually learn to be faster (as I can be fast creating Thopter tokens using Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek engine or killing someone with Necrotic Ooze/Phyrexian Devourer/Triskelion combo) but I decided that it is not worth it because these decks are neither fast nor do anything big. So my journey will continue, but if it will continue I will have to use some tix this time. My commons and uncommons just couldn't deal with a single rare and I learned that removal is something that should not be missing from a deck, but how much is enough (playset seemed not enough)?

When playing with Winter.Wolf and AJ_Impy I saw some very cute and cool decks. Winter.Wolf played with Lizards that reminded me of my attempts at playing SoA Standard and showed me an Allies deck that could be pretty mean if it managed to reach late game. AJ_Impy showed me the power of Vedalken creatures among others. These decks were unique and fun and that sparked my interest in the format.

I tried building few other decks but these were pure aggro decks and I just couldn't play these decks no matter how good or bad they were. My creatures faced other creatures and I had no other way than just go through them. This is why the format never appealed to me in the first place.

Last week I wanted to participate in Tribal Apocalypse but 10 minutes before the tournament I found out that I had to play an Underdog tribe and human certainly is not that. I gave up figuring out what kind of deck I could play so instead I played some limited and tried to efficiently attack. This week though a regular event was to be played so I entered the event with URw Delver (Humans). I wanted to see what the metagame could possibly look like.

Round 1 - Elves
My first hand only contained Grim Lavamancer and bunch of lands so I decided to take a mulligan. Next hand contained Lightning Bolt, Grim Lavamancer, Wasteland, Delver of Secrets, Volcanic Island, Daze. I kept Scalding Tarn on top after I spent some time thinking about it. My opponent started with Bayou and Fyndhorn Elves. I played Delver and let him play. Two Deathrite Shamans followed so I Daze'd the second one. I replayed my dual land and bolted Deathrite Shaman. My opponent obviously did not have any land and put Deathrite Shaman into play with Green Sun's Zenith. So I destroyed his Bayou, played Grim Lavamancer that could start killing some Elves next turn and passed. Another Green Sun's Zenith brought Deathrite Shaman. The new one was bound to die to Grim Lavamancer. I played Monastery Swiftspear and for the first time attacked with my 1/1 Delver and 1/2 newcomer. My opponent then played Birthing Pod that I did not really like but he was down to 13 and I still had quite some life. Delver of Secrets finally transformed after 4 turns so my clock was way faster. I dealt with the remaining Deathrite Shaman while having Force of Will online for something that would come if my opponent wouldn't decide to Pod. He turned his mana dork into Elvish Visionary but I already had lethal damage on the table and in my hand combined so I won.

Don't expect Delver of Secrets to transform any time soon

The deck did not seem as combo elves so I kept a hand without disruption and without one drops. I had 3 lands being able to produced colored mana and Mantis Rider so I hoped to see what the card can do against Elves. On turn 2 I played Stormchaser Mage and dealt the first damage. My opponent had Llanowar Elves in play and 3 lands. For that he played Birthing Pod, immediately using it which cost him 4 life. My deck was glad to see that. I needed to find something to deal with the tutored Elvish Visionary. So instead of Mantis Rider I played Monastery Swiftspear and Brainstorm. I destroyed the elf and swung. I had Force of Will and 3 blue cards for the first elf showing up. I countered Fauna Shaman pitching Delver and on my turn played another Prowess creature. I played Ponder to make my creatures bigger and found Wasteland and Snapcaster Mage. I destroyed my opponent's Dark Depths and he conceded.

Round 2 - RDW, humans
In the second round I was paired against JokazWild that seems to have affinity for red decks. I mulled to Wasteland, Force of Will, Brainstorm, Daze, Scalding Tarn, Tundra. I put a land on the bottom and awaited my opponent's first play. It was Lightning Berserker that I decided not to counter because I should possibly be able to deal with it later (by blocking it or bolting it). I played Ponder that I top decked to find another Daze, Mantis Rider and a land. I would have to take some damage and then I could land Mantis Rider. The 'some damage' seemed to be too much though so I shuffled Mantis Rider back into the library and tried to find something else. Lava Spike followed from my opponent and I took 2 more damage from the Berserker. Next turn I tried finding a Lightning Bolt but instead I found Force of Will, Snapcaster Mage and Wasteland that I sent swiftly back into my library. Snapcaster Mage simply had to trade with the Berserker. It cost me two Forces of Will and few cards. My opponent played another Berserker so I countered it and then I drew Monastery Swiftspear. It was up to me to deal some damage finally. My 8 life did not seem good but I could play creature after creature and hope my opponent would blank. I played Mantis Rider and attacked with my creatures. My opponent produced Ash Zealot but that was too small for my Mantis Rider. Stormchaser Mage joined my creature. The flying ones attacked and Swiftspear was on defense. Dealing 4 damage per turn I started to feel that I could possibly win. My opponent was obviously flooded so there was chance I would win this game. My opponent put up quite some resistance and even managed to kill Mantis Rider but he was already down to 4. Grim Lavamancer seemed capable of finishing him off but that was not to be as he got destroyed by Fireblast. I was certainly happy that card did not kill me, my life total showed 5. A short staring contest of Stormchaser Mage and Ash Zealot followed. I wanted to be able to block at least 1 hasty creature in order not to die and I could deal lethal if I would manage to trigger prowess. Glad I decided to do it because my opponent drew another Zealot and attacked with both getting me into Bolt range. Next turn though I drew a cantrip and won.

In the following game I faced Monastery Swiftspear that I once again decided to ignore and played Grim Lavamacer that could deal with it next turn. I expected something like Searing Blaze. For that I had Force of Will. My opponent really had it so I countered it and let him deal two damage to me. I then dealt with Swiftspear and played Delver - not the best creature against this deck. Another Searing Blaze followed though killing my Lavamancer. My opponent played his own Lavamancer and let me play. I drew Mantis Rider and tried to find a third land which I found. I killed Lavamancer that threatened both my life total and Delver. Then I was too greedy and attacked with both Delver and Mantis Rider which practically meant I could die in two turns. What I feared and expected happened and I died.

In the deciding game I kept a one lander that though had cantrip, bolt and a creature I could play for 1 mana. While my opponent targeted my Grim Lavamancer I decided to deal with the rest of the creatures that could deal more damage. He was in top deck mode so it was unlikely he would be able to use Grim Lavamancer more than twice (because I would still add 2 cards to his graveyard and he already had 2 there). It was a risk but it would mean my life total would be higher for the upcoming few turns. Unfortunately it also meant I would have to trade my Monastery Swiftspear with Lightning Berserker. Snapcaster Mage would deal with another creature saving me two life. My opponent was putting more and more pressure on me with his creatures but was bound to swing with everything so I played Daze to trigger Prowess and kill Ash Zealot. But then no other creature could die otherwise Lavamancer would finish me off (or any top decked bolt which is something I couldn't do anything). I had/drew enough chump blockers though. Again it was Mantis Rider that shined (even though yes, I could have played a totally different game, could have been safer!)

Round 3 - Restore Balance, Beasts
I was paired down to play against MisterMojoRising. I kept a hand full of creatures not expecting my opponent to play something rather unusual. He started with Terramorphic Expanse so I didn't know what I faced. I played my creatures and attacked with them. Next turn though he played Veinfire Borderpost for its alternate cost and I knew I was screwed. I expected Restore Balance next turn and that is also what happened. I kept one creature in hand though so I just played it hoping it would stick for a while. My opponent then played two Ravenous Baloths which made his life total be totally different from 3 that Magic Online was showing. It also meant that he would have to sacrifice them and cascade into Restore Balance. Monastery Swiftspear, a cantrip and Lightning Bolt managed to deal 11 damage in two turns so I won game 1.

The following hand wasn't what I imagined. I couldn't practically play anything till turn 3 which was pretty bad. I played Ponder to find a less expensive creature and hoped that I could find few more. Stormchaser Mage and Mantis Rider are the creatures I had and I played them because I could survive the first Restore Balance (had Force of Will in hand) thus dealing 8 damage. Next turn I couldn't counter the Balance so my board got totally wiped. My Monastery Swiftspear stared at 'phasing' Anurid which also meant that when next Balance would hit I would have to discard all cards in my hand. I was forced to play Delver of Secrets because that could possibly deal damage if it would transform. Anurid Brushhopper attacked for 5 and I knew another cascade spell would follow. I had no land, no creatures and no cards in hand and had to face even one more of these creatures.

The deciding game hand did not look any better with the exception of Grim Lavamancer. I simply went all in and hoped. I could counter so I simply needed to deal as much damage as I could and keep Mantis Rider in hand so I could finish up after Balance would resolve. My opponent though seemed to have more creatures than Cascade spells in his hand so I managed to win not even needing to counter a second Restore Balance.

Round 4 - Rg Berserkers
Falkenrath Gorger on my opponent's side suggested something heavy red and aggressive. At first I decided to outrace it, since I could bolt and Vapor Snag but I'm not entirely sure if it was the best idea. I changed my opinion this time even though I already calculated that I should indeed win unless Searing Blaze + some haste dude would show up (at that time I did not expect cards like Reckless Bushwhacker or Goblin Bushwhacker). I started trading my cards for my opponent's creatures while dealing some damage with Monastery Swiftspear. I countered two Bushwackers that also meant I would die easily. When my opponent managed to get to 4 mana, he played Bloodbraid Elf. Next turn another Bloodbraid Elf followed and I scooped.

In the following game I decided thus to rather be a control deck. I countered and destroyed what I did not like while playing and attacking with Mantis Riders.

In the deciding game I was put in a worse situation because I was on the draw. My opponent started with Falkenrath Gorger again. He did not have a follow up nor a land so I used Wasteland on his only land and bolted the Vampire. Then I played Mantis Rider while still having active Force of Will and Snapcaster Mage in hand and my opponent conceded.

Top 2 - Shaman Pod
There was a top 2 play off and it was me against The_Sensei, a regular at Chainsaw Massacre. Because of this the Chainsaw Massacre event was postponed. I kept a hand that seemed ok but was not necessarily the most aggressive one. My opponent started with Green Sun's Zenith fetching Dryad Arbor. Next turn I Daze'd his Sakura-Tribe Elder. He played Stirring Wildwood then which made me a bit uneasy because that is a card through which none of my creatures can go. I knew that I ran 4 Wastelands though. I continued swinging with Monastery Swiftspear while my opponent was developing his board a bit. When he reached 5 sources he played Shriekmaw that I decided to let resolve. I would need a different creature as an attacker though. Shriekmaw in play did not bother me since I could bolt it whenever I wanted. After two Ponders played I had 3 creatures in hand and Force of Will. I just needed Wasteland to show up. I countered (Master of the Hunt) because that would totally wreck my board and kill me later and continued looking for Wasteland. In the meantime I was dealt quite a lot of damage by The_Sensei's creatures. A Brainstorm played a bit later found Mantis Rider and Wasteland so I did not fear much from my opponent in top deck mode even though many cards could be a problem. Birthing Pod was a card I certainly feared during the whole game and was saving my Force for it.

This was the first deck that seemed to pack many removal spells, I've seen at least 3. I certainly feared this deck.

In the following game I just kept a hand full of disruption and Wasteland. My opponent started with Bayou, Green Sun's Zenith fetching Dryad Arbor. I countered my opponent's second Green Sun's Zenith and noticed that he missed a land drop. I played a Grim Lavamancer that I wanted to protect because it would deal with Dryad Arbor and I had Wasteland for Bayou. My opponent tried killing Grim Lavamancer with an evoked Shriekmaw but my Daze said simply 'no'. He conceded so he could play his first round of 100 Card Singleton.

After the tournament I was glad I could just relax a bit. The games were intense as Michelle_Wong likes to say. Variance was kind to me in this tournament and helped me win games I could have easily lost due to misjudging the situation if my opponent would have top decked better. I learned that the format's decks can be very powerful and can range from the most strange tribe one has never heard of (Noggle) to a well-established tribe in other formats (Eldrazi). After seeing Restore Balance and Birthing Pod in action I can certainly see that there is way more stuff one can do with creatures. While my attempt at making a Rally the Ancestor deck relatively failed it is not the only direction I can go so I will try to look deeper into this and maybe one day show up at another Tribal Apocalypse event again.

I'd like to thank AJ and Paul for showing me this format before I entered the event and _Kumagoro_ for keeping this format alive. It certainly allows for brewing and very interesting decks which is very nice. So if you like creatures and building very strange decks try this format out. You won't regret it.

Thank you for reading, I'm stsung on Magic Online and you can follow me on Twitter at stsungjp.


Excellent read. It was a by AJ_Impy at Tue, 10/11/2016 - 12:16
AJ_Impy's picture

Excellent read. It was a pleasure playing with you, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with the next time you choose to play the format. :)

I am so glad you jumped into by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/14/2016 - 02:45
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I am so glad you jumped into the apocalypse and dominated (as I knew you would). The format is fun and broken and full of weird and interesting interactions. Hope to see you take the prize often.

Excellent analysis of a first by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 10/14/2016 - 09:38
Kumagoro42's picture

Excellent analysis of a first approach to Tribal Wars!

I see you've realized Tribal Apocalypse doesn't have a very definite meta. This is due to the extreme variance in the format (and if you like combo, you can look up the decks by Bazaar of Baghdad and Chamale, for instance. Aluren and manaless Dredge are not just viable but very powerful in the format, due to them being somehow creature-based to begin with). But it's also caused by the fact that the player base is not entirely composed by Spikes. A large part of the players don't come to the tournament looking for the deck with which to win more easily and assuredly. Some of them seek the deck they have more fun with, or the most outrageous interaction, or the most obscure tribe. Hence the Noggles, or AJ's lists. Why did AJ play Pilot last week? Simply because now he could!

There's also a budget component. Many Tribal Apocalypse players (as it's the case with PRE players in general) don't own cards like Force of Will or Wasteland, so they just don't use them. In my weekly report I publish the prices of the featured decks, and a few of the most successful ones are worth $10 or less.

Anyway, thanks for this article! Hope it'll bring more interest to Legacy Tribal Wars and to see you again soon in the #TRIBAL room!

Thanks for the comment. I by stsung at Fri, 10/14/2016 - 11:27
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Thanks for the comment. I think that primarily people should play with a deck they like. I know that this is not often the case in Magic since many people just want to win and try any tier 1 deck they think is the best (talking about the environment I play in and grew up, many of those players are at PT Honolulu right now.)

But I learned through a different game that playing with a deck one is not comfortable with is very bad. It was Legend of the Five Rings TCG that I used to play (at the highest level, like Top 8 placing well at GPs, if you'd want to compare it with Magic). It is a game that showed me that I really cannot play an aggro deck. Just taking all my personalities ('creatures') I just couldn't attack and pretend that I have something that could win me a battle. So I ended up playing either combo-control or a switch deck (control that could switch to being aggro if needed). After this experience with this game I started to look for decks I like in Magic. I realized that since Lorwyn the game changed so much that it does not even allow me to play the decks I used to like (draw go control) and that I spent a too long time playing with decks I dislike (Jund).

It is difficult to find players that like the game, like to explore and build fun decks meant for fun while maintaining a high level of play (which as you guys noticed is one of my conditions to having fun). That is why I was so surprised to find you guys, Tribal Wars players, and well other people around puremtgo and gatherling. You guys are passionate about the game, like deckbuilding and play for fun and that is something I don't see in my area. Even when I was playing on Magic Online prior to writing for this site or knowing about PREs. I was often the person playing strange decks and called names because I played my own decks instead of some PT/SCG/GP top decks and seriously I'm sick of that as well.

I would gladly go 0:5 in your tournament but first I need to find a deck I would like because I already tried some decks that I even considered fine for me as a pilot but I dislike them. I really want to build a spider deck since I love Ishkanah. I have a decklist in mind, but I'm way too lazy to buy the cards for it. But since I already have Ishkanahs it should not be such a problem. The problem I have with Tribal Wars is that it really is creature heavy and it does not allow me to have control over what I do. Aluren and Dredge are decks that do not really speak to me and it would be more of suffering for me to play with it. I could play Kiki pod for example though because that gives a lot of control over the game (and value) and has a win condition that does not require going through combat each turn. Playing Dredge/Self-mill zombies that could win with Ghoultree dealing 20 damage with the help of Artful Dodge or Spiders with Spider Spawning and Ishkanah could qualify for a deck I would like and could possibly play because they somehow cheat the 'going through regular combat' part.

I apologize for the long post. I'm very glad I decided to try Tribal Wars and will hopefully get back to the format when I have the time for it. Hope you guys will be my opponents so I can try the ideas I have in mind (just poke me so I actually buy the cards...)

Take this as a thank you to all of you. You have a great community here and great content.

I, for one, am among those by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 10/14/2016 - 17:51
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I, for one, am among those who consider deckbuilding a feat with its own merit. Deckbuilding for deckbuilding's sake. It's like creating a work of art, it doesn't need to have a purpose, no? Of course, to evaluate the resulting list, you want to prove that it actually works, that it's able to do what it's supposed to do, but that doesn't necessarily mean it can win tournaments.

That Spider idea sounds fun to me! Ishkanah also gets her own prize (you can read about it at the bottom of my articles). Hope to see you run her someday.