Old Crustaceans and Dead Guys

Marsh Flitter
Why do we build tribal here at the 75% project? I used to think I knew the answer and it felt to me like it was because it was the easiest way to take a deck in a sustainably “fair” direction and to use synergy for our power rather than by loading up a deck with a ton of good cards. Building tribal started to feel like such an easy and consistent way to build a 75% deck that I stopped doing it for a while because I wasn’t learning anything about building 75%; and, if I don’t learn anything, I can’t teach anyone else anything about it, either. I think with tribal Commander decks coming out soon (I have concluded every article I’ve written for the last month by saying “Hopefully we’ll have some Commander 2017 previews to talk about next week!” and there’s no sign of that coming true anytime soon) I want to revisit the concept of building a 75% tribal deck because there’s a reason other than “it’s really easy” to build a 75% tribal deck and it’s one I didn’t anticipate. Sometimes the deck turns out way better than you anticipated.

Tribal decks have a tendency to be synergistic builds because even when the tribal cards themselves don’t have effects that scale based on the number of tribal creatures or spells you have or have played, there are plenty of artifacts like Coat of Arms and Door of Destinies that do that for you. You don’t have to build all goblins if Krenko, Mob Boss is your commander, but why would you not? Are you helping yourself win if you have Hazoret the Fervent, Avalanche Riders, and Dualcaster Mage in play, tapping Krenko for one goblin at a time? Even if the individual goblins have less impactful effects than those other cards, building up a critical mass of them is how you win. Look at me explaining synergy to a bunch of Commander players. This is stuff we all know and it’s why we like tribal builds. Usually the synergy is so good that we don’t miss the raw power of cards like Consecrated Sphinx or Wurmcoil Engine because the stuff we’re doing on our turns builds on the stuff from the previous turns and ends up even more powerful. Playing a Turntimber Ranger isn’t more powerful than playing a Mycoloth — unless you already have a ton of allies in play, that is.

Sygg, River Cutthroat
Synergy can outpace raw power if you’re left alone long enough to marshal your forces and start stacking effects; but, that can take a minute so you either need to protect your strategy, be left alone or get lucky. Those of us who have played a lot of Commander can usually tell how long it should take to start feeling like our synergistic plays are powerful enough to threaten to take over the game. When your deck starts to perform ahead of the curve and do powerful things before you feel like you should be able, you notice. Sometimes it’s all about finding the right tribe for your nonsense. Frequent Brainstorm Brewery guest and TCG Player writer Douglas Johnson found such a tribe that overperformed. Cards like Bitterblossom, Knacksaw Clique, and Marsh Flitter all combine for an incredibly synergistic tribal deck. You know the tribe I mean, of course. DJ built tribal Rogues.

His deck looks sort of normal when you look at the list, but it’s been overperforming. One reason for this is that while it may look like a hodgepodge of random rogues, they’re all aligned toward a particular goal — getting in. Whereas a deck with a bunch of wizards is going to have all of the different Wizards doing all sorts of other things, Rogues, more so than the faeries deck he could have built with a lot of the same cards, for example, just want to deal damage. If you’re doing that, you’re going to trigger prowl all of the time and you’re going to trigger Sygg, River Cutthroat and keep your hand stocked. DJ says he built the deck half goofing around but I think we may have accidentally stumbled onto a truth about tribal decks that we didn’t realize until now — all tribes aren’t created equal because some tribes commit to a common strategy better than others. When selecting a tribe to build around, make sure that the synergy is more than just scaling some effects (and not even the tribal cards, either) based on the number of times you summon a creature from that tribe. Decks like Reaper King where you just jam a ton of changelings into the deck to trigger your commander seem cool but if you don’t have access to your commander for some reason, you’re going to look really stupid running out a Changeling Berserker for no value. What makes the Rogue deck so good is that every rogue is committed to getting through damage and stealing their stuff (depriving them of blockers and ways to stop you from getting through damage) meaning every rouge you draw is good with all of your Prowl cards and with your Commander. The individual cards you draw are less important than in most decks so you’re not topdecking for an answer, you’re just adding more rogues to the gallery and going to town.

What we can glean from this as 75% deck-builders is to target tribes that align this way. We want tribes where the creatures are all building toward a common goal, preferably one that synergizes well with our commander. Krenko seems like a good example of this — the goal of each goblin is to fill the board with more goblins which in turn makes Krenko even better. If you never draw a Purphoros, God of the Forge or (more hilariously) a Warp World, you will still threaten a big alpha strike with a heap of Goblins, especially if you have a way to boost their power and toughness. Zombies, on the other hand, tends to run a lot of lords but also a lot of creatures who do ancillary stuff like affecting cards in the graveyard, removing creatures, making them discard, etc. While getting a pile of zombies is good and makes those other creatures better, usually, the exact zombie you draw matters more. Getting Withered Wretch when they have a full mitt or Graveborn Muse when they are threatening a lethal Alpha strike doesn’t help you win. I’m generalizing a bit, but I think it’s important to really look at what a tribal deck’s goals are and pick a tribe where a majority of the creatures are aligned with that goal rather than having effects that do a wide range of things, even if those abilities are powerful. Sure, Patron Wizard is better than Beetleback Chief, but Beetleback Chief helps the deck accomplish its singular goal much better and while both cards are synergistic, Chief fits the deck’s goals better at the expense of raw power. If raw power is what you want, cut that Patron Wizard and jam a Consecrated Sphinx.

DJ’s deck looks like it’s fun to play and he furnished me with a list and some proposed changes he would make after jamming a handful of games.

He literally named the deck “Rogues” — Commander | Douglas Johnson

Memory Plunder
I feel a little dirty trying to trick you into thinking he was playing a faerie deck earlier by mentioning Knacksaw Clique and Bitterblossom, because it turns out those were two of the cards he ultimately told me he’d cut in favor of Memory Plunder and Faerie Macabre. Bitterblossom just isn’t good enough in this deck, which goes to show that you really want creatures that get you toward the deck’s goal rather than cards that are merely powerful.

The deck plays like I mentioned before — getting in there with Rogues to get Prowl triggers and draw cards with Sygg. However, a consequence of playing with Rogues is you are tempted to swipe their stuff. Cards like Thada Adel, Acquisitor and Master Thief, which pop up in a number of my decks already, are at their Roguey best here, swiping your opponents’ stuff and triggering prowl to boot. In a lot of ways, this is one of the most 75% tribal decks ever conceived of and it was conceived of (at first) as a bit of a goof — a way to make a non-traditional tribal deck for fun at a casual table. This deck is no slouch and can even give tuned decks a run for their money by using Memory Plunder, Knowledge Exploitation, Expropriate, and other filthy spells to use their own cards against them in true 75% fashion.

I think we learned a ton about how to build a 75% tribal deck the right way and for the right reasons. Sure, it’s easy to lazily make any deck tribal and say “Well, it’s not OP anymore since we added durdle tribal cards so the deck can only ever aspire to 75%”, but that’s not how I do things and, therefore, neither should you. If we pick a tribe that has a clear goal and include creatures that work toward that goal so the specific creature you draw isn’t that vital, you improve the consistency of the deck and can overcome the raw power of non-synergistic decks even if they have “better” cards (in terms of raw power). I don’t know if that needs to be one of our codified rules, but this is certainly a primer everyone should read before they set out to build 75% Commander (even though DJ didn’t). And just like that, one of the most 75% decks ever was built entirely by accident. I knew there was a reason I keep DJ around. That does it for me. I know I always say this, but hopefully next week we’ll have some Commander 2017 cards to look at. Until next time!

One endnote — savvy beer-drinkers will recognize the title is a reference to Rogue Brewery’s Deadguy and Old Crustacean — two of my favorite brews from Rogue. Dead Guy is a very flavorful maibock and Old Crustacean is a Barleywine and both are excellent. It’s fun to get references!

Commander 2017 is now available for Preorder!