I started writing this article at the time Horizons started being spoiled, the idea being to write about why Horizons Changelings were not tribal support and build into the notion of tribal identity in a world of homogenised creatures and bland design. And I was going to base it all around the spoiled card Unsettled Mariner.
But by the time I did that, Hogaak was ruining Modern and I hadn’t written anything about Modern being obliterated for short term hype. Then there was the upcoming B&R announcement and I didn’t know then how that was going to pan out. Other commentators all had their pet cards they wanted banned but, in honesty, no one knew what was coming. Could they really ban a newly printed card? #freeferocidon. I was trying to write something that would remain relevant beyond the next spoiler season of the latest set. So, I didn’t write any jokes about the decline of Modern because I didn’t want to commit to a course of action for which there was no logical or long-term financial justification.
This is a very difficult time in MTG history to comment informatively, comedic or otherwise. From the Hasbro-eBay-store-gate to the toothbrush fiasco, it is hard now to make jokes wilder and more unbelievable than the truth.
And if I had said to you at the start of the year that Modern Horizons – the set aimed squarely at fixing the format, the set with such powerful cards it would skip Standard and go directly into Modern – would contain more tribal support for Squirrels than it would for Spirits, Elves or Merfolk combined, you’d tell me to stop talking to trees. But it did and I haven’t.
With Modern being over-run with nonsense like Neoform, Hogaak Bridge-less-Vine, Phoenix and Tron, Legacy being a simple race to who can Wrenn-and-Six-and-Wastelands and Vintage has descended into who can cast Mycosynth Lattice first, or that unassuming Uncommon Planeswalker – Narset, Parter of Fun Games. You might, as a tribal player be looking for something of a palette cleanser.
If you like fair creature decks that look to turn things sideways and stomp, right now is the best time to play Standard.
M20 is the most impactful Core Set I can remember printed, incorporating Legacy reprints and powerful on-tribe Planeswalkers. If you don’t know which creature type to name when entering a game of Magic, here are the best cards (and tribes) from M20.
If Andrea Mengucci is reaching Mythic with a tribal vampire list, you know it’s a good time to be a Tribal player. Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is a problem, straight outta Innistrad. In banning Bridge from Below they cited that the card impacted future design space and meant its banning would allow more creative graveyard interactions in future sets (yay!).
Sorin is actually very similar. Don’t trip, I’m not saying it should get the ban, but hear me out: any Vampire they now print that is 4 mana or more could potentially wreak havoc. Imagine if a functional reprint of Griselbrand was, for set design, best suited to be a Vampire? Sorin could Sneak and Show it into play as early as turn two with no deck design costs.
Right now, Andrea’s list and others, exploit the two biggest creatures we have in Standard – Champion of Dusk or The Haunt of Hightower. Neither are truly exciting, but the dream hand lands you with a 4/4 on turn three that’s immune to Ritual of Soot and nets you three cards. That’s pretty explosive for the fairest of formats.
At the other end of the mana curve, Knight of the Ebon Legion looks pushed, extraordinarily so in the weary eyes of an old tribal mage. Usually, we’re left to make do with embarrassingly over-costed creatures with the justification that it’s “on tribe”. Yet, Salvager of Secrets, this is not. At 1 mana it threatens opponents’ life early. Follow it up with an Adanto Vanguard and you can even arbitrarily pay life to trigger Knight, if you need it. Knight even has late game purpose as a mana sink, capable of singlehandedly being a threat or an effective blocker thanks to deathtouch.
The rest of the Vampire deck is full of solid options, from format defining removal (Vraska’s Contempt, Ixalan’s Binding, Cast Down, depending on meta and build-needs) to grindy cards that help keep threat density against control matchups (Dusk Legion Zealot and Adanto, the First Fort). Adanto Vanguard and Skymarcher Aspirant have already proved themselves in Mono White as excellent aggro plays, now you can follow them up with Legion Lieutenant and really sink your teeth into your opponents.
Ripjaw Raptor already seemed like a ridiculous card to me. Mono Red has been an unwavering threat since Hazoret and Bomat Courier – my merfolk and I have had to have therapy for Birmingham GP 2018. And in the face of that, a 4/5 that draws a card every time its damaged, seems like a card that should be seeing more play than it does. Commune with Dinosaurs is a Dinosaur Ancient Stirrings – on some commentators list as ban-worthy at the last B&R announcement. This can go get enormous threats and no I’m not talking about everyone’s favourite Limited meme, Colossal Dreadmaw. I mean Ghalta, a 12/12 for 2 mana and the Slippery Bogle Carnage Tyrant. All these cards seem to me to be just waiting to find a deck. Then M20 brought all the tools.
Firstly, Veil of Summer reminds me of my first Core Set with Autumn Veil which I bought in a mystery box of 100 green cards for £4 off eBay. But unlike the latter, the former is low-key a very special card and its impact on all formats is already seeing foil prices spike. Being able to counter counterspells, block removal and give you personal hexproof, at a vital moment, all while cantripping for one mana, can’t be overstated.
Following that up is Shifting Ceratops and Maurading Raptor. Both of which are extremely pushed. Ceraptops is a 4 mana 5/4 that can’t be countered and comes with protection from Blue. It’s activated ability can make it a 5 mana 5/4 with haste, or less rashly, at the right time it can have trample to push through damage. Or alternatively, can sit back and crush even the biggest blue fliers, of which there are a plethora:
The Raptor meanwhile is an extremely efficient Enrage enabler (kind of Dinosaurs’ thing) that accidentally ties you in a weird combo-draw with Polyraptor.
Then Wizards forgot how to balance card design for a moment and created Rotting Regisaur. Or perhaps they didn’t. You see a 7/6 for 3 mana might seem good, but I think we are all coming to realise that big dumb creatures do not win games. Seven power still needs three attacks for lethal, and it can be easily killed for 1-4 mana directly. A board sweep will see you lose even more card disadvantage thanks to its upkeep trigger. It can also be countered or chump blocked endlessly by 1/1s. Buuut, anything can be made to sound bad when you use facts. We’re in a post-truth world and this is after all, Dino stompy. So get out my way!
The reason to play Jund Dinosaurs right now is that, despite appearing a tribe for Timmy’s, they are in truth a tribe with a high card quality pool similar to a Midrange deck, but with enrage (aka Dinosaur synergy). Cards like Runic Armasaur, Carnage Tyrant and Thrashing Brontodon either have utility, card advantage or are enormous threats. This tribe reminds me of “Jund does Eldrazi Tron” for their similarities in body size and abilities.
Not to mention that Dinosaurs gets Rampaging Ferocidon in the new Historic Format, which could help persuade some people to spend their Rares in that direction over the coming weeks.
I’ll lay my cards on the table (pun fully intended), I wrote off Elementals because they were obviously being given good cards and support in M20 and Tribal decks shouldn’t be so easy. We’re used to finding tiny morsels to eek out a niche living from in each set; slowly piecing together cards on-tribe with enough card quality to make them even marginally competitive. Elementals here seem to be similar (in a bad way) to Faeries in Lorwyn – simply handed to us on a silver platter.
Want proof? Leafkin Druid, Risen Reef, Omnath, Cavalier of Thorns and Chandra are all from M20. What’s left from that list is a handful of mana dork elves and Nissa, Who Shakes the World which happens to turn all your lands into 3/3 Elementals. Hydroid Krasis and Mass Manipulation seem lifted from elsewhere and are simply enabled by Risen Reef that seems tailor-made specifically for Omnath.
I’m not bitter, I’m just not used to having a tribal deck handed over to me by Wizards so freely. In fairness, M20 seems to have helped several of the other tribes reach competitive playability just months before their rotation. I’m not cynical, just very happy to be in a moment when so many tribes (let’s not forget Gruul Goblins/Super Friends, which gained the Legacy staple Goblin Ringleader) appear to be at peak power in Standard and look set to dominate the first short period of Historic: a brand new format with so much to look forward to. What a time, to be alive… and playing Unclaimed Territory.