Oversoul's preliminary report to the Tribal Council (including tier lists and other musings)

Discussion in 'Casual Decks/Variants/Etc' started by Oversoul, Jan 23, 2019.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I apologize for how long this is bound to run. If it helps, rather than reading the whole thing, I encourage you to just skim it and read the parts that are of interest to you. What I’ve done is taken some notes I compiled on a few different occasions and tried to jam the whole thing together into one enormous “report.” Think of its as a presentation by one intrepid investigator (me) to provide some hopefully helpful information to a council (you).

    Last year I wrote an article describing how I might go about “crafting a tribal lowlander format.” This follows that theme, but my goal isn’t to persuade you that my ideas are correct. Quite the opposite: I’m trying to provide a rough outline as a starting point, because I think it’s easier to develop a Magic format once there’s some existing base material to work with. My ideas, the specifics, should be questioned and are probably wrong. I’ll be revisiting them myself and, if all goes well, I’ll look back on this thinking that I was rather naive or poorly informed about some aspects.

    My initial “report” here will comprise an overall evaluation of tribal multiplayer decks in casual games with 60 card decks and at least 20 creatures sharing a selected creature type. Eventually, my hope is that the CPA as a group will hammer out the specifics beyond that. The article I wrote last year advocated for a “Lowlander” deckbuilding restriction. Creatures of the deck’s “tribe” can be included in full playsets, but all other cards besides basic lands are restricted to single copies. And from there I proposed a tentative ban list for some individual cards. I’ll return to those aspects later, perhaps if this thread fosters more discussion. But for now, my report isn’t about those rules. Instead I want to analyze tribes (creature types) in a more broad sense.

    Mooseman raised the possibility of tier-restricted gameplay. The immediate analog that sprang to my own mind was competitive battling in Pokemon video games, but perhaps there are better examples. In Pokemon competitive battles, all pokemon are grouped into tiers, with players being allowed to use any pokemon on their teams that belong to the tier the battle takes place in, or to use any pokemon in lower tiers. Rather than needing to ban tribes outright, more powerful tribes would occupy higher tiers, so players looking to have fun games with more obscure tribes could choose to set a game in a lower tier. It would be perfectly acceptable to bring a deck using a tribe from a low tier into a high-tier game: some might even find that to be an interesting sort of challenge.

    I was interested in what a tier list might look like. I’ve never really seen one for creature types before. So I made a list. And to further stress: I know it’s not perfect. And it accounts for no individual card bans, nor for any deck size beyond 60 cards. I mention the former because a targeted ban on the right individual card could utterly cripple some tribes, and I wanted this to be as broadly applicable as possible. I mention the latter because “tribal” decks have become popular in EDH, but the logistics of a 100-card format would completely reorganize tiers. So none of that. This is just the creature types by themselves, in a vacuum as much as I can envision it, with the assumption that the multiplayer games are probably 4-player pods. Tiers for dueling or for larger player counts would need to be somewhat different.

    When Mooseman mentioned the idea of using competitive tiers, my first thought was that it was a very cool concept, but my second thought was “How many?” And I’m still wondering that. I’ve come up with a list, but to really beat a dead horse here, this is all just a very rough draft to give others a “base” to work with. I suspected that 3 or 4 tiers was probably best, maybe 5. Well, when I actually divided the tribes up, I went with 8. Does 8 sound like too many? I think so. It’s my hope that the CPA as a group could come to a consensus as to how to consolidate these tiers. How many variants do we want here?

    There’s another reason I started with 8. It was very deliberate. The bottom 3 tiers are all bad, representing tribes that don’t really have enough members to function in a tribal format. That’s not to say that the cards themselves are bad. In fact, some of the cards in question are very strong. But a tribal deckbuilding constraint doesn’t allow for one creature by itself to carry an otherwise incomplete tribe.

    The advent of Mistform Ultimus and later the “changeling” mechanic allowed sparsely populated tribes to fill in their ranks. So while there are zero creatures in Magic that say “Caribou” in the type line, technically there are still 21 creatures in the Caribou tribe. So if you wanted to, you could construct a Caribou deck. But that’s silly. I am not trying to argue that players should not be allowed to bring a Caribou deck to a tribal game. I just don’t see much point in the idea. But this might have some relevance for tribes with interesting creatures but too few of them to work with. In the old CPA Tribal games, I once did this myself with the Chimera tribe. This was back in 2006, so there were only 4 total Chimera creatures in the entire game, plus Mistform Ultimus for a total of 5. I used a playset of Mistform Ultimus to bring my Chimera count up to 20 slots. I thought this perfectly reasonable at the time and I still think so (although the Chimera tribe itself has grown a lot since then). Some of the more potent changeling creatures might be good inclusions for tribes that have enough members outside of them to function, but only 2 or 3 that are really good. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule for this and I am not suggesting one. But the practical application is to keep in mind that any of the weak tribes could potentially be bolstered if there are suitable changelings to help them.

    Before I get to the tier list I want to note that this is not meant to be a definitive description of how good a tribal deck is or how fun it is to play. I figure that slightly more than one third of most tribal deck will be manabase on top of the one third tribal deckbuilding requirement. That leaves another third (or a bit less) for support spells. If you have a powerful tribe and mediocre support spells, but I have a lackluster tribe and overpowered support spells, it’s entirely possible that I’d trounce you. Player skill, luck of the draw, multiplayer politicking, and matchup factors all come into play, and a low-tier tribe might indeed win out over a high-tier tribe. But with these tiers, I’m attempting to capture what the tribes themselves have to offer.

    If you think your favorite tribe should be placed higher or lower, tell us that! This is just a tentative start based on my limited experience and observations. Here’s how I broke the tiers down.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    8: Tribes with 0 members (aside from Mistform Ultimus and changelings). These are creature types used for tokens, and some of those tokens are usually only generated by a single card. These tribes could probably be ignored entirely.

    7: Tribes with fewer than 5 members (aside from Mistform Ultimus and changelings). These range from creature types that were only used once to ones that were used four times. They cannot legally be used without throwing in those special “every creature type” cards. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try to build around the members that do exist and fill strategic niches with changelings. More probably, these tribes are dead ends for us.

    6: Tribes with few members and no apparent advantages. As with the previous tiers, this one might as well read “Don’t use this unless you’re a glutton for punishment.”. If WotC printed exactly 5 creatures of a certain type and all 4 out of 5 are bland cards with no real potential, then what’s the point? It’d be technically possible to use these tribes, but I contend that doing so is a deliberate exercise in exploring self-imposed deckbuilding constraints.

    5: This is kind of the first real “bottom” tier. These tribes all have enough members to build some sort of deck. No need for changeling shenanigans. But all of them, as tribes, are visibly deficient in some way. This can happen for various reasons. Sometimes WotC only uses a tribe for one set or block, and the tribe isn’t the main focus of the set or block. So it has “enough” to build a deck, but not a cohesive one. Some tribes only appear in older sets, before creatures got real power creep. Generally the tribes I’ve placed in Tier 5 have enough decent creatures that they are far more viable than the ones I’ve placed in Tier 6. But to compete with higher tiers, you’d need superior support spells. The creatures themselves just don’t offer much of interest.

    4: These tribes are deficient, but they do have some strengths. This is where we start seeing most of the tribes that appeared in CPA Tribal games. These tribes have identity. They have something they can do, something they’re good at. But the reason they’re down here in Tier 4 instead of higher up is that they’re also missing something. Some have too many vanilla creatures and not enough with useful abilities. Some require annoyingly specific deck color configurations in order to be viable. Perhaps the most common flaw is a lack of useful small creatures to help provide a decent mana curve.

    3: Here’s where it gets interesting! There are some more of the familiar tribes from CPA games. All of these tribes have an individual member or two capable of doing something special, something that we can really build around, whether it’s an engine, a strong tribal synergy, a powerful mechanic, or some other advantage. Some of them don’t really have anything too specific, but they can build a decent curve with reasonably valuable creatures.

    2: These are the powerhouses. Here’s where I also anticipate some interesting discussion, in terms of which tribes belong here and which ones should be promoted or demoted, wherever this grouping eventually ends up. These tribes have been given deliberate support from WotC at one time or another, and they have the tools to make up for the deficiencies that plague the lower tiers. Doesn’t mean they’re always strictly advantaged against tribes from lower tiers. But they have readily demonstrable perquisites and any competent player could probably craft a decent tribal deck out of any of these.

    1: The super elite. I’m not committed to a specific number of tribes for this tier. I’m starting with 8 tribes, but the club could be more or less exclusive than that. My intuition is that it should probably consist of somewhere between 5 and 10 tribes. Some of the tribes in Tier 2 could probably hold their own among these heavyweights. But I did want to demarcate the most powerful tribes of all. They constitute a kind of danger zone. Some of them were banned from our old tribal games. To put it in the broadest terms, these tribes all offer tools for decks to quickly deploy large amounts of power.

    Those are my vague interpretations of the tiers as I see them. It’s probable that some of these tiers should be merged and/or split. Especially toward the middle, there’s a lot of variation between tribes within the same tiers, and it seems inevitable that I’ve sorted some tribes together when they’re not really on the same level. Testing would be necessary to make this more robust. But for now, I present my entire list. I’ll go through all 8 tiers, from weakest to strongest, and comment briefly on the tribes in alphabetical order within their tiers (so I’m not ranking the tribes within the tiers, although one could try to do that).
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 8
    These are the tribes made for tokens. They exist because of tokens, so they’re not really tribes in the conventional sense. I don’t see much point in commenting on them individually. They all have no real creatures as members (except, of course, for the universal exceptions). I do find it amusing that Pentavite, Tetravite, and Triskelative all had to be distinct creature types. But whatever.

    Blinkmoth
    Camarid
    Caribou
    Citizen
    Coward
    Deserter
    Germ
    Graveborn
    Orb
    Pentavite
    Pincher
    Prism
    Sand
    Saproling
    Scion
    Serf
    Servo
    Splinter
    Survivor
    Tetravite
    Triskelavite
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 7
    Not much hope for these guys. Again, you’d need to bring in changelings to legally use any of them. I’ll list them all, mostly just for fun, but in a few corner cases someone could actually make a Tier 7 Tribe into a respectable deck.

    Aurochs: Four members between Ice Age and Cold Snap. They do have tribal synergy and it’s actually halfway decent.

    Badger: Four members, three of them green and one of them red. They have no meaningful synergy and I can think of no compelling reason to run this tribe.

    Beeble: Only two members, one in Urza’s Legacy and one in Urza’s Destiny. Mark Rosewater has repeatedly noted that while he tried to make more beeble cards, he was outvoted by a consensus that felt beebles were too silly (hence their appearance in Un-sets). So this tribe will possibly never get any more new members, which pretty much dooms it.

    Brushwagg: One member. No real points of interest.

    Carrier: Four members, all in Urza’s Legacy. Phyrexian creatures that can sacrifice themselves to debuff other creatures. Phyrexian Plaguelord is a good card in other formats, but the tribe doesn’t really support it. Poor outlook.

    Cockatrice: Three members. Two of them cost five mana and one of them costs for mana. Between them, they require three different colors, albeit what is probably the strongest three-color combination. Decent creatures in other formats, but not forming a viable tribe.

    Dreadnought: One member. It’s a big one, but not enough for a deck by itself.

    Eye: Two members. They actually could work together considering their abilities, but they each cost five mana.

    Ferret: One member. In Homelands. Ouch. As CPA members Ferret and DarthFerret are probably well aware, this isn’t a viable tribe.

    Flagbearer: Two members in Apocalypse. They’re support creatures that were never designed with tribal functionality in mind. The creature type was designed specifically to do what it does. No discernable application to Tribal formats.

    Hippo: Four members. No real synergy. At this rate, it’ll be a long time before Hippo Tribal can be a thing.

    Hippogriff: Four members. The main attraction is probably Hushwing Griff, which has some nice combo applications. But the other three creatures in this tribe do nothing to support that.

    Hyena: Three members. In three separate colors! No real hope for this one. They come with such abilities as “can’t block black creatures” and “can’t attack alone.”

    Lamia: One member. And it costs 4BB. Remind me again why WotC can’t spare a creature type for Giant Solifuge to have “Solifuge” as its type?

    Lammasu: Two members. Bulky white flying creatures. No real point in this one.

    Masticore: Three members. They all kinda do similar stuff, so there is a theme going on. But not in a good way.

    Mole: One member. And it’s also a beast, so if you wanted to use it, you could just use a tribe with real support anyway.

    Mongoose: Three members. Wait, what? Karoo Meerkat was changed to be a mongoose in the type line? Do you know what this means? WotC got something right for once!

    Nautilus: Two members. I wouldn’t imagine that they work well together either.

    Noggle: Four members. All in Eventide. All hybrid blue/red. They all have abilities, but no synergy between them. No hope for this tribe unless a return to Shadowmoor happens and they get a lot of attention.

    Orgg: Four members. Which is twice as many orggs as the CPA itself, but still not enough for a reasonable Tribal deck. And no coverage for early turns here.

    Oyster: One member. Too bad it doesn’t work for Tribal, because Giant Oyster is a fun card that locks down and slowly kills tapped creatures.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 7 continued)
    Pangolin: Two members. No tribal synergy and the more interesting one is also a beast anyway.

    Pest: One member. It’s actually a nice offensive creature and if it had a different type it could totally show up in decks.

    Phelddagrif: Two members. Both of them are very cool. It seems like it could just almost be worth it to add changelings and try to make this a deck out of these guys. Maybe if we had just one more real phelddagrif...

    Rabbit: Three members. I was surprised when I looked this one up. I thought there’d be more. And it turns out that all but one of these are also beasts. So just make your tribe “Beast” instead.

    Reflection: One member. Or perhaps it’s zero? How does this work? Originally, this type was used to mark tokens made by certain enchantments (Spirit Mirror and Pure Reflection). For some strange reason, there’s now an actual card with the type. It’s Aurora of Emrakul. It’s not even a castable card by itself, but shows up when Cryptolith Fragment transforms. Weird.

    Rigger: Two members. This type was used considerably more in Unstable. So it’s a bit of a joke. Moriok Rigger was retroactively given the rigger typing because of Steamflogger Boss, and then Unstable created an entire mechanic to justify the existence of Steamflogger Boss. And really, that’s fine. The set is awesome. Contraptions are awesome. But it doesn’t really matter for our purposes.

    Sable: One member. Vanilla creature. Moving on.

    Sheep: Three members. No synergy. A truly creative and foolhardy deckbuilder might try to do something with Gatebreaker Ram in a deck based around gates, but even that isn’t close to tenable with a Lowlander deckbuilding constraint.

    Spawn: One member. Now, I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too. “But this creature type was used in Rise of the Eldrazi on tokens. That’s what it’s for.” And that’s true! But it was also printed on a regular creature. And of course it was in Legends. And of course the creature is bad.

    Sponge: One member. I didn’t notice just how many incomplete tribes came out of Urza’s Legacy.

    Squid: Four members. This might actually be the most playable tribe in Tier 7. All of them are blue and their abilities might actually matter. Realistically, if you want to win, just throw Chasm Skulker in a Horror deck rather than relying on its far weaker type.

    Squirrel: Two members. Seems odd, but when I think about it, the others were all tokens, and those don’t count. Notably, Squirrel Mob has a potent tribal synergy.

    Starfish: Two members. Both have abilities of interest, but there’s no synergy between them. If that’s not enough of a dealbreaker, they’re also both 0-power creatures.

    Surrakar: Four members. I had no recollection of these things existing, but they do. They’re from Zendikar Block, but they were never revisited during Battle for Zendikar Block. So they’re probably a dead end. On the upside, two of them let you draw cards if you can get them to hit opponents in combat, and drawing cards is good. They’re close to unplayable, but actually not the worst.

    Trilobite: Two members. I did not realize that Electryte was revised to have this type. The card has some niche applications in multiplayer, but the setup can be too elaborate for the payoff. And of course, it’s also a beast.

    Wombat: One member. I once wrote an entire article about Rabid Wombat. Good times. Not a viable tribe, though.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 6
    It’d be foolish to call it impossible, but building a good deck out of these tribes seems unlikely. Some of them might easily be worse than the tribes in Tier 7. If your tribe has two good creatures and two mediocre ones, you might be able to add an appropriate changeling and get a real deck going. Some of these seem to have nothing going for them at all.

    Antelope: With bland abilities and no good coverage for a mana curve, antelope are in a bad spot. They’re too slow and actually kind of small. Best bet is probably to find some combo loop thing for the two identical 5/4 tramplers that bounce other green creatures, but that would be slow and easily disrupted.

    Azra: Probably the worst option for an aggressive black/red deck. Some of the pieces are there. They get a tribal synergy, but it’s not even for themselves, it’s for warriors.

    Egg: There are exactly five of them and they’re spread out across three colors. They’re all 0-power creatures and they don’t really work well together. The main upside would be resilience against board wipes, since most of your creatures would make tokens when they died. I had the notion of some sort of recursion deck, but black and green would be the best colors for creature recursion and those are the two colors that don’t have any eggs. What a mess.

    Leech: They suck. Get it? But seriously, almost half of these are from a cycle of five cards in Invasion and that cycle has not aged well. If black and green got some more decent options this tribe could easily be bumped up a tier. But right now they’re slow and disjointed.

    Nephilim: An awkward five-member tribe. They were the first four-color cards ever and developed some unwarranted mystique around them by the playerbase for that reason. Playing them would entail an effective five-color manabase, but they’re not actually good cards anyway. In the long run, someone would try to make this work in a Tribal format. But in my analysis, they’re not good enough for Tier 5.

    Salamander: Generally, they’re small and don’t really do very much. Not much else to say. You could try to get creative with some of those abilities, but there’s very little intrinsic power there.

    Atog: There are some great magic cards in this tribe and none of them work well with each other. Atogatog ostensibly has a tribal synergy, but it is bad.

    Camel: If Tribal ever becomes dominated by deserts, then camels will become a good tribe. But currently, they’re still inferior.

    Gnome: The main attraction here is Copper Gnomes, which can cheat big artifacts into play. But to use it, you’re stuck filling your deck with some chaff.

    Goat: A couple of mountainwalkers and a couple of hasty creatures. Nothing with real promise. Also, they’re beasts anyway. Just use beasts.

    Gremlin: Currently exclusive to seven red cards in Kaladesh Block and two miscellaneous black cards. No tribal synergy and the only real theme is stuff with destroying artifacts. Sometimes it’s your own and sometimes it’s other people’s artifacts. Doesn’t really work.

    Homarid: Considering how much I remember them from Fallen Empires, I’m surprised at how little there is to work with here. They’re almost all overcosted for their size and their abilities are all over the place.

    Kirin: All but two of these are spirits anyway (just play spirits) and their abilities interact with spirits. So even if these were viable (they’re probably not), they’d be better off in a deck with “Spirit” as the tribe.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 6 continued)
    Manticore: All of these are red and the smallest one costs four mana. No good synergies and they’re just generally outclassed by other red-heavy tribes.

    Monger: Like the Nephilim, this tribe consists entirely of a five-card cycle within a single set. Playing these would require a five-color deck and would produce little in the way of perquisites to justify that. The cards here share a common theme, but it’s not a theme one could actually benefit from.

    Monkey: Another tribe that I found to be surprisingly deficient once I looked it up. In fact, it was almost a Tier 7 tribe, but some intrepid WotC employee noticed that Ravenous Baboons were originally printed as an ape even though baboons are actually monkeys. That brings us up to exactly five monkeys in Magic aside from changelings, Mistform Ultimus, and cards from Un-sets. And those five have no synergy and no real standout advantages.

    Moonfolk: They’re all blue and there are more than enough of them to put together a deck. But the downsides sort of pile on after that. They’re from Kamigawa Block, which was notoriously underpowered. For thematic reasons, they have flying, which adds to their mana costs. But they’re also generally utility creatures, which also adds to their mana costs. Their activated abilities all take the form of “bounce your own lands to do stuff.” And that’s not something that scales well.

    Mystic: A truly bizarre tribe. Didn’t know what I’d find before looking it up, other than Mystic Enforcer, a card that packs a real punch. Well, it turns out there are seven cards here. Two of them are green creatures from Portal Three Kingdoms. Of those, one is the long-forgotten original “hexproof” card and the other is nearly worthless. The remaining mystics are all from Odyssey and all of them are also human nomads. Just use humans or nomads as your tribe! They do all have Threshold abilities and Mystic Enforcer is pretty potent, so there’s potentially a green/white deck to be found here with more power than just about anything else in Tier 6, but I don’t think I could justify putting these guys in Tier 5.

    Ouphe: Some old cards from other types were retroactively placed into this tribe, which helps the tribe, well, not at all. Almost all of these cards are bad. Gilder Bairn and Kitchen Finks are notable exceptions and might actually be enough to make this a contender for being one of the strongest tribes in Tier 5, although actually building a deck around this tribe would be frustrating.

    Ox: There aren’t many of them and they don’t have any synergies. At best, oxen seem to make for a bad white/red deck with the option to run green instead of one of those colors if you wanted to make the deck even weaker. I initially listed them in Tier 4, but bumped them down here on further consideration. There’s almost no reason to consider this tribe.

    Praetor: Two older cards, both printed as avatars, were retroactively added to this tribe when it was created for New Phyrexia. Ebon Praetor is an old favorite of mine, but neither of the old Praetor Avatars is really suited to a Praetor Tribal deck. The newer ones are in five different colors and all of them are legendary. Distributed throughout this list are tribes with no small creatures, where everything costs at least five mana and most of the creatures cost more. They could never be part of a proper mana curve, but they could be used in a different way, such as with mana ramp or reanimation spells. It’s difficult to evaluate their quality as tribes, but I’ve placed them where I think they’d probably go. Praetors are by far the worst of this bunch. I don’t want to underestimate their powerful abilities, but they seem poorly suited to Tribal deckbuilding.

    Slith: Five out of six slith have a double-pip colored mana requirement, each of them in a different color. That’s bad. They’re abilities are weighted entirely toward offense. Some potential once they get going, perhaps if you can make them unblockable and no one is attacking you. But that’s a tall order.

    Slug: Giant Slug was popular in my playgroup way back in the late 90’s. But that doesn’t really have much potential here. None of the slugs seem to work well together. Molder Slug, Morkrut Necropod, and Thermopod would all benefit from some very large-scale creature token generation, but that’s not really a synergy between them. It’s almost the opposite, as the three cards would compete for resources.

    Thalakos: For flavor reasons, the three different clans of shadow creatures from Rath Block each get their own exclusive creature types (originally they were not creature types, but Time Spiral changed that for the other two clans and then this one was later edited to bring it in line with them). It makes sense in the context of the sets/lore, but it severely weakens them for Tribal deckbuilding. Add to that the fact that they can’t block regular creatures, and the shadow creatures are poorly positioned. But the Thalakos have it the worst. They always have. Even with their nigh-unblockability, there’s almost no reason to ever run Thalakos. You’d just get attacked and killed by your opponents.

    Volver: Another “needs all five colors” tribe from a cycle of creatures within one set. The volvers were the original basis for community nicknames for the three-color “wedge” combinations. Even if you can reliably get mana in different color combinations to pay the kickers on the volvers, they really aren’t that impressive. Trying to play them as a tribe is effectively putting a premium on mediocrity.

    Whale: Of course whales don’t get any good one-drops! The tribe is generally stuck. There are only six whales and they don’t form a cohesive deck. Great Whale is known from combo decks, but even if we allowed such cheesiness, Whale Tribal would be an unlikely place to look. I had this tribe in Tier 5, but demoted it for now. A few of the whales have niche uses in solid decks, but they have no synergy with each other and their lack of low mana coverage probably rules them out from competition.

    Worm: A worm deck would need to use at least two colors, specifically black and either blue or green, but probably both. The best worm seems to be Reef Worm, which is ripe for exploitation with recursion. Its main downside is that the other worms to run alongside it are generally bad cards. Spined Fluke is probably playable, but the others are poor choices. Because of Reef Worm, I do suspect that this would be a strong tribe than most of Tier 6, but it’s so hampered by the deficiency of the other worms that I’d be hesitant to place it higher.

    Wraith: There are only five choices here and all of them are reliant on Swampwalk. What’s really demoralizing about this is that wraiths probably wouldn’t even be a particularly good swampwalking tribe. If you’re going to the trouble to set up evasive attackers, you want to get real value out of them. Wraiths do not have that.

    Yeti: Most of these are medium-sized and have modest abilities like “Mountainwalk” or “Can’t be the target of blue or black spells.” They have no creature cheaper than four-drops, and the only really big one is the highly conditional Wittigo. Midrange can be good and I wouldn’t pretend otherwise, but Yeti Tribal looks like it would be the wrong kind of midrange. A successful midrange deck uses creatures that are hyperefficient or have powerful abilities. I don’t see how a yeti deck achieves that.
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 5
    This is where we start seeing real tribes. Some of these turned up in CPA Tribal games. They’re potentially playable. They also have problems. I think one could have fun with these tribes, even though they are kind of weak.

    Aetherborn: Thematically, they’re cool. The aetherborn were a cool idea in the story. But mechanically, they do different things and most aetherborn would be more viable when used in tribes of their other types. For instance, almost half of them are rogues. The others are mostly warriors and assassins. All much stronger tribe choices than Aetherborn. If WotC return to Kaladesh for multiple sets and develop this tribe some more, they could easily climb to a higher tier. Right now, the main standout is Gonti, Lord of Luxury. But that card doesn’t get any support from the other aetherborn and would be better off in a Rogue Tribal deck. They do have a lord (Midnight Entourage) and they do have a kind of theme (+1/+1 counters). So some of the elements of a strong tribal deck are here.

    Ape: Run-of-the-mill red/green beatdown stuff. Apes don’t have many options and they don’t have anything really unique. Not much to say here. There’s an interesting contingent of apes that benefit from you controlling mountains and forests, and that’s easy enough to pull off. Apes seem adequate.

    Barbarian: Limited played a Barbarian Tribal deck in one of our games. And that was a long time ago, when there were fewer cards with the type. I’d thought that there were now a lot of good barbarians, but there are not. Still, the tribe has some benefits. It only needs red and could get a boost from black or green if desired. It has better-than-average potential to clear blockers and finish opponents off. Aside from missing one-drops, it has a reasonable curve. It even gets a lord (Balthor the Stout). Inflexibility hurts this tribe, though.

    Basilisk: Limited options and a mediocre curve. The one redeeming aspect of basilisks is the surfeit of Deathtouch and other creature-killing abilities. It’s enough that opponents will hesitate to attack you, which does have significant value. The bomb is the seven-drop Stone-Tongue Basilisk. But it’s not a tribe that has much staying power. You set it up to kill someone else’s creatures, but then that opponent rebuilds and murders you.

    Bat: BigBlue played a Bat Tribal deck in one of our games. Bats have a decent mana curve to them except the quality of bats drops off pretty steeply toward the top of the curve. For cheap black flying creatures, bats are fine. But there’s no tribal synergy and no strong abilities. For whatever reason, bats are mostly common cards with a few uncommons thrown in and no rares. That’s probably why they just don’t have anything special to close out games.

    Bear: Killer Joe played a Bear Tribal deck in one of our games. One of the defining characteristics of bears in Magic is that the tribe gets a bunch of 2/2 vanilla creatures costing 1G, echoing the original Grizzly Bears. However, this thematic tribute is almost totally unhelpful for Tribal decks. 2/2 vanilla creatures tend not to win games very much. A few bears do depart from this formula and so you gets some that are a bit bigger, but not much. Definitely a weak tribe. Bears do get a boost from Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma. If I were to try to make bears work, I’d build around that card.

    Crab: I played a Crab Tribal deck in one of our games. Unfortunately, crabs have gained little since then. They’re a moderately effective defensive tribe in blue, so if you’re using them, you’re trying to set up tricks of some sort. In my case, I attempted to exploit Chromeshell Crab. That’s probably still one of the best options for crabs even now.

    Dauthi: While not quite as deplorably weak as the Thalakos, Dauthi run into the same problem. You’re essentially saying, “I can’t block any of you guys, and you guys can’t block me.” That sort of thing can work in multiplayer games, but it’s tricky to pull off and can require highly specific deck construction considerations, which the shadow clans from Rath Block don’t necessarily provide. But black has a lot of creature-killing and can make opponents think twice about attacking you. A Dauthi Tribal deck could use that to pick weakened opponents off.

    Efreet: Compared to their cousins, the djinn, efreets get the short end of the stick. A few of the individual members of this tribe have been quite successful in other formats, but they have little in common and the tribe as a whole doesn’t offer anything particularly useful. I’ve used Rainbow Efreet and Serendib Efreet extensively in my own decks, but I don’t see a way for Efreet Tribal to achieve a comfortable power level.

    Elk: Not to beat a dead elk, but this is another tribe with poor coverage along the lower end of the mana curve. Tier 5 has several of those. If you let your opponents get a head start by using creature types that include strong one-drops and two-drops, you’re going to be in trouble. However, cards like Glimmerpoint Stag and Heliod’s Emissary could let and Elk Tribal deck pick off an otherwise protected opponent. And it’s easy enough for Stampeding Elk Herd to give your whole team Trample. I don’t think that’s enough to make Elk a good choice, but they do have some decent options.

    Fish: It seems like lots of sets have had fish in them, but actually, there are only 36 cards with it on the type line. And the majority of those are bad. But a few of them are reasonably costed and a few have useful abilities. I could see a blue control deck running fish as its tribe.

    Hag: There are two older cards in this tribe, but the ones you’d actually want to use would all be from Eventide. They form a modest base for a white/black/green midrange deck. While such a deck isn’t going to be running the table easily, it does present a threat opponents must consider. No tribal synergies or anything, but in a properly designed deck, one wouldn’t need them. It’s not the worst tribe in Tier 5 and it’s not the best either. Bland, but reasonable.

    Harpy: While harpies are mostly weak and there are only eight of them, the tribe does have a few benefits. It has an almost reasonable curve and it always has access to flying blockers. That alone wouldn’t be enough to warrant inclusion in Tier 5. But it does get one other thing. Harpy Tribal features a creature that is among the best for looping engines and combos, Cavern Harpy. The card is also a beast and, as has been said about other tribes, a Beast Tribal deck would be better. But Cavern Harpy shenanigans could easily fit into a Harpy Tribal deck too. Without exploiting Cavern Harpy, the quality of the tribe overall possibly drops into Tier 6.

    Hellion: Early game, this tribe is vulnerable. Its saving grace is that it has multiple creatures with abilities that deal damage to all creatures. A Crater Hellion or Caldera Hellion that hits the board quickly could potentially wipe out all of your opponents’ creatures. It’s not versatile, but I suspect that there are just enough hellions in Magic to pull it off.

    Horse: There are a bunch of horses and almost all of them are bad. Horses don’t really have a cohesive identity in Magic, but you could probably pick and choose the best one and fit them into a deck of some sort. Crested Sunmare does provide a tribal synergy.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 5 Continued)
    Imp: There are some good imps, but unfortunately, nearly all of them are on the low end of the mana curve. The tribe falls apart in a midrange setting, where most other tribes outscale it. WotC rarely print imps above three-drops and most of the ones they do print above that point are exceptionally weak. Imp Tribal could make niche use of abilities that force opponents’ creatures to attack, but then you’re playing a tribe that’s weak, even weaker on defense, and using some of your resources to force people to attack you. Not good. There’s one exception to all of this. Skirge Familiar is a combo enabler. This has nothing to do with the other imps at all, but the option is there. I think I let that fact sway my opinion and I placed Imp Tribal in Tier 4, but I’m demoting it to Tier 5 for now.

    Incarnation: This is a weird one. The old incarnations all shared the theme of doing stuff from your graveyard. The new ones shuffle themselves into your library when they go into your graveyard from anywhere. And finally there’s Personal Incarnation, which wasn’t in this tribe originally but was added to it because it has “Incarnation” in its name. Trying to play this tribe in a conventional manner is doomed. But the old (do stuff from graveyard) incarnations are quite good and have some nice combos, and the new ones are all extremely powerful, but uncomfortably expensive. The two don’t really play well together, so you’re stuck with a five color deck. It’s not ideal, not even close. But once such a deck gets going, it’s got a lot of power.

    Lhurgoyf: I had a Lhurgoyf Tribal deck ready to go for one of our Tribal games, but the game was cancelled. Lhurgoyfs all benefit from stuff being in graveyards. That sounds exploitable, but the problem is that Lhurgoyfs benefit from different things being in those graveyard. I focused on creatures and lands myself. There are only eight of these, so options are severely limited.

    Lizard: Lots of options and nothing that stands out as uniquely special. Lizards are one of those tribes you’d think should work, and then you go through the list of what creatures are there and it’s mostly bland, mediocre stuff. Most lizards aren’t even that bad! They’re just not anything that really empowers a deck in a deep, constructed format. If I tried to build a Lizard Tribal deck, it’d probably be black/red/green and use Sprouting Thrinax with some sort of recursion engine. But that’s me. LIke I said, lots of options here.

    Metathran: Although the nature of the metathran as a race (artificially engineered by Urza to operate the salvaged equipment of the extinct Thran) is well-established in the lore, the designers at the time did not make this a creature type. There are only eight cards in this tribe and they have no real synergy. The metathran do have a kind of theme of evasion, but not enough to work with. I’ve always liked them (ever since I opened up Metathran Soldier in a booster pack all those years ago) and I’d be among the first to root for them, but I don’t think it could work.

    Mutant: Most mutants would be better off put to use in the tribe of their other creature type, whatever that might be. And when I say “most” really mean “all.” The tribe itself has enough creatures in it, but not ones that work well together. Mostly. The determined Mutant Tribal player would probably have to set up some engine with Experiment Kraj. That just might work. Such a deck would have few advantages over an Ooze Tribal deck, though.

    Nightmare: The problem with nightmares is that most of them are from Torment and Judgment, where they follow a general formula of showing up and taking something away, but then giving it back once they die. A few of them, individually, are useful in duels. Trying to use a whole bunch of them in multiplayer just means you’ll slow some people down and then they’ll kill your stuff to get their own stuff back. This is not good.

    Nightstalker: Over twenty years ago, I saw someone activate Urborg Panther’s second ability. I’ve been wanting to do that myself ever since, and yet I’ve still never done it. Sadly, it’s not a combo that’s aged well, even even in Tribal gameplay it’s probably too clunky. There aren’t many nightstalkers and the ones added by Portal Second Age (seven out of the twelve) don’t contribute much to the tribe’s potency. They have a lousy curve and power creep has outclassed them. But dammit, that Urborg Panther’s second ability is so cool.

    Nymph: Shanodin Dryads was originally printed as a nymph, before later dryad cards used “Dryad” on the type line. So now it’s both. The other nymphs are all from Theros and Journey into Nyx (and one in a Commander product). There aren’t really any good small ones or really big ones, so the tribe is stuck in a dubious position. The small number of these cards and their approximately even color distribution badly constrain options.

    Octopus: A surprisingly heavyweight tribe. I’ve never met an octopus bigger than me, but I guess I just haven’t explored enough of the multiverse. If octopuses (don’t even start with me on what the hell the correct plural is) had any coverage at lower mana costs, they might be a decent tribe for lower tiers. But when the cheapest octopus is Giant Octopus at 3U (and it’s also the smallest one, somehow), they’re too slow.

    Serpent: WotC have given us multiple tribes full of overcosted blue sea monsters, and serpents just might be the worst of them. Most serpents are older cards and the trend for the older serpents was to give them the ability formerly known as “Islandhome.” It’s a bad ability and that’s why new cards don’t have it. The one thing Serpent Tribal would have going for it would be sheer bulk. Serpents run big. There’s even an 11/11. If the other players would just sit around and wait for you to catch up, serpents could win.

    Siren: A tribe of blue flying creatures too sparsely populated to give proper coverage across a range of sizes. The good sirens are mostly pirates anyway, so there’s a better tribe for them. The value of sirens in combat is relatively low, but there is some hope for them. A few of them are themed around forcing creatures to attack, something that could be exploited in a tuned multiplayer deck. And Hypnotic Siren could be used in some sort of combo to repeatedly steal creatures.

    Spellshaper: As with masticores, this tribe suffers from the difficulty that part of the identity of the creature type revolves around you discarding cards. Some individual spellshapers are fine creatures to be using, but you don’t want a deck full of them! You do get lots of choices within this tribe and you could take a deck in myriad directions. I’m just not convinced that any of those directions are good. Well, you’re probably not winning skirmishes on the battlefield. So maybe Mageta the Lion?

    Turtle: Because creatures that get designed as turtles tend to be defensively oriented, the tribe as a whole does have some strength in that direction. And there have actually been enough turtles to cover a mana curve. Other tribes have superior creatures to play defense with in the first place, but turtles do have the basics and maybe Turtle Tribal is viable.

    Unicorn: Unicorns are a common fantasy trope and are usually written as having great magical power and such. Well, our unicorns in this game are puny and mostly useless. Trying to play Unicorn Tribal means using small white creatures with disjointed abilities and no discernable upside. The two green unicorns both have Lure-like abilities, which could allow a deckbuilder to plan on getting some other creature past unblocked. But none of the other unicorns themselves help with that.

    Wolverine: If wolverines had any two-drops, that’d help. Overall, they’re lackluster, but they’re not appallingly bad. Red/green creatures that become more dangerous when blocked is kind of a theme and indirect synergy. One could potentially build around this. I almost relegated wolverines to Tier 5 because there’s essentially no flexibility here. There are only six wolverines and none of them have anything really special. No utility, no evasion, nothing really big. But red/green beatdown with the right support cards is a threat with any small creatures, and ones that come with built-in “block me at your own peril” abilities do provide a tangible bonus. So wolverines are OK, but they probably get outclassed by other tribes.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 4
    The difference between Tier 4 and Tier 5 might be a bit hazy, but I do think I perceive a jump in power level here. Maybe some of the tribes here can’t quite hold a candle to the others and maybe I’m underrating some of the ones I relegated to Tier 5. I’m thinking that if we do set up a modal format type of thing where only tribes below certain tiers are allowed, then the weakest option should be one that includes these tribes (and anything in the tiers beneath them). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    Advisor: Because of our CPA Tribal games, I took an interest in obscure creature types and in the potential for using unusual types as “tribes” long before I compiled this report. And I’ve observed that there’s a kind of loose coalition of other experienced players who also follow creature type matters like I do. Some of them are even more into it. And among creature type, um, enthusiasts, the notion of “Advisor Tribal” seems to be a kind of gimmicky open secret. When most players think of tribes, they first think of the regular staple “races” like elves or dragons. And after that, they might move on to “classes” like wizards or rogues. Normal players, sane players, would never jump immediately to “advisors.” There aren’t any cards with “advisors matter” effects. But it just so happens that WotC have, for what I assume are 100% flavor reasons and nothing consciously related to gameplay mechanics, made loads of great creatures that fall into this tribe. They’ve also retroactively made some older cards into advisors. What’s a Tribal Advisor deck look like? I’m not sure. There are 54 of them and most don’t pass muster. It’s probably white/blue/black, but other color schemes could work.

    Archer: For whatever reason, I’ve mentally always been critical of this tribe. Forget if this topic ever came up at the CPA. It’s a weird hodgepodge of “creatures printed with bows in their artwork” and while that does make some sense, I am unfairly biased against them. Objectively evaluating archers is tricky because the idea of what a bow-wielding creature does mechanically in the game has varied with set designs. Dealing damage to attacking or blocking creatures is a common theme, but so is dealing damage to flying creatures. Some deal damage to opponents. First strike, which should be an obvious choice for the concept, is extremely rare, and perhaps that’s the source of my frustration with archers. I’m tentatively assigning the tribe to Tier 4 because it seems to have a critical mass of creatures that can disrupt, harass, damage, and kill other creatures without directly engaging in combat, and that’s useful.

    Archon: The cheapest archons are five-drops. But what sets this tribe apart from “only big creatures” tribes in the lower tiers is that the creatures have a nice, flexible color balance and abilities powerful enough to completely dominate a game once the tribe gets going. An Archon Tribal deck has to be white, but could also include black, green, or blue. The demand for colored mana is high enough that ramping into these heavy-hitters would be difficult, but even that’s not out of the question. I don’t know if Archon Tribal is really viable, but I figured I’ve got to place it in Tier 4 because the Tier 5 tribes are all so weak that a deck reanimating or otherwise cheating out a couple of archons would easily dominate.

    Assembly-Worker: There are only five of these. I originally relegated them to Tier 6, and their lack of options makes me think they shouldn’t be all the way up here in Tier 4. However, Mishra’s Self-Replicator is a powerful card for an artifact-heavy deck, and the other creatures in the tribe are probably good enough to support it. I don’t want to overrate Mishra’s Self-Replicator, but the card’s power is explosive and a perfect fit for an artifact-based strategy, something that should not be underestimated.

    Berserker: Because it’s a kind of inconsistent flavor-based tribe, it’s hard to pin berserkers down and get at how they’d function. There’s no real tribal synergy, but the creatures in the tribe almost always share a common theme of constantly attacking. Haste, First strike, Dash, Bloodthirst, Rampage, and even “attacks each combat if able.” That’s along with a suite of unique aggressively-oriented abilities. They’ve got the resources to have a strong mana curve. They also have some individual creatures with stellar potential, like Flame-Kin Zealot and Vial Smasher the Fierce.

    Boar: This one surprises me, but it’s also a new and untested development. Boar Tribal would ordinarily not outclass other generic red/green beatdown tribal setups. The factor that makes me think boars are Tier 4 material and not chaff belonging to a lower tier is that the tribe now has two creatures with Overrun-like abilities. We already had Decimator of the Provinces (albeit not for that long in the grand scheme of things). And now there’s the brand new End-Raze Forerunners. With some mana ramp and perhaps some sort of token generation engine, complemented by some of the more efficient boars available to pitch in, a Boar Tribal deck could make a late-game blitz and kill everyone else at the table in a single combat step, especially if there’s been a lot of fighting already.

    Bringer: Spiderman played a Bringer Tribal deck in one of our games. There are only five of these and they’re a cycle from the same set, requiring a five-color deck with no real flexibility. Also, they all cost more than five mana, although that can be mitigated if one has access to all five colors of mana. As the players in Tribal Game 3 found out, once a couple of bringers hit the board and stick, their abilities can dominate the game. The concept appears to have been a one-off and it’s curious that WotC didn’t put bringers into an existing creature type. So as the competition gets stronger, bringers might be in trouble. Still, I’m not convinced that Spiderman demonstrated the tribe at the height of its power. Some of the more disruptive and defensively valuable changelings could help the tribe more than Mistform Ultimus, and options for rainbow mana have also grown. I worry that I rank one odd polychromatic five-member tribe too low because it seems untenable (Nephilim) and another more highly because I’ve seen it succeed (Bringer). But trying to evaluate the cards from different angles, I’m still tentatively placing Bringer Tribal here.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 4 Continued)
    Centaur: DarthFerret played a Centaur Tribal deck in one of our games. Most centaurs are smaller, but the tribe also contains some surprisingly beefy options that wouldn’t quite be relevant in most other formats. Centaurs can come in fast and keep curving into bigger drops, which is simply too good for the way I’ve currently defined Tier 5. I haven’t given much thought to the details of a Centaur Tribal deck, and it’s possible I’m missing some perquisites that should place them in Tier 3. I feel like I’ve seen Centaur Tribal in action somewhere, at some local game store, but apparently wasn’t memorable.

    Cephalid: I mentally associate this tribe with Cephalid Illusionist and self-milling combo kills, which really isn’t what Tribal is about, so that should not factor into my analysis. There aren’t that many of these (15 of them) and all but one cephalid is from Odyssey Block. The upside the tribe has that raises it to Tier 4 is that some of the utility abilities (Cephalid Illusionist combo kills notwithstanding) in this tribe are useful and interact well in various combos.

    Chimera: I played a Chimera Tribal deck in one of our games. Back then, according to the way I’ve set up the tier list, the tribe would have been in Tier 7 by default, which would be slightly misleading because even though there were only four of them, all four had tribal synergy. That’s changed in the intervening years. WotC have printed more chimeras. None of the new ones have tribal synergies, but they do provide more options. Chimeras have gained a lot since I played them, but the competition has also gotten more powerful.

    Crocodile: Another tribe with mediocre coverage for a mana curve, but this one has some rather potent midrange stuff. Crocodile Tribal doesn’t offer much that would incline me to try it, but the overall quality of the creatures is sound. I’m somewhat tempted to demote them to Tier 5 for the simple lack of having anything special to warrant running them as a tribe. Notably, the tribe isn’t demanding on colored mana, mostly tends toward black/green, and can also support blue. That has little to do with what the creatures themselves offer, but it’s an excellent range for a color distribution, as flexible blue/black/green offers the most coverage for good support cards out of any three color setup.

    Cyclops: It’s hard to evaluate tribes with highly aggressive mechanics incorporated into their thematic identities. We’re focusing on multiplayer and a tribe that necessarily acts on the offensive in order to get value out of its creatures puts itself in a vulnerable position. This tribe compounds that problem by lacking coverage at low mana costs. No one-drops or two-drops at all. After your opponents are already using you as a punching bag, it’s not really advantageous to be using creatures with abilities like “Haste” and “Attacks each combat if able.” Somewhat uncomfortably, the two best defensive three-drops for Cyclops Tribal are blue (one of them can be cast with only red mana), while the rest of the tribe is primarily red with some black and green. I suspect that there aren’t quite enough good cyclops to pull off a robust Cyclops Tribal deck, but the tribe does have some high-damage stuff and some easily accessible combos could accentuate that.

    Devil: The original devil card was black, but all others are red. The tribe does have enough variety to build a mana curve and the ones on the high end have useful abilities. So although Devil Tribal doesn’t seem to be popular anywhere I’ve seen, it seems fine. The likeliest themes would probably be a deck with burn spells and Charmbreaker Devils or some sort of black/red recursion engine with Flayer of the Hatebound.

    Djinn: WotC have the notion (slightly wrongheaded, in my view) that each color should have certain signature recurring tribes, appearing constantly in sets. They’ve waffled on which tribes to do this with and the ones that they’ve been most consistent with are, understandably, some of the strongest tribes. It seems like they kind of dislike the prominent use of djinn as a creature type, but they never quite abandon it altogether. Other tribes that have been cropping up since 1993 are usually pretty good. Djinn Tribal is remarkably unfortunate compared to similar tribes. A lot of djinn are essentially vanilla fliers (or worse). They have poor coverage on the low end of the mana curve, but could mitigate that with Old Man of the Sea. A playset will only set you back $1,000 or so at this time. Still, if you survive and can catch up, some of the expensive djinn cards (above six mana) could carry a game.

    Drake: For the most part, drakes are smaller than dragons and mostly blue. But there are enough larger drakes that building a curve is easy, and there are multiple viable options for color and overall strategy, so long as one of the colors is blue. Some drakes have a sort of “steed” theme going on and give other creatures flying, which doesn’t really apply to Tribal formats. But others can get boosts to power or can boost the power of your creatures. A simple deck that tries to have aerial superiority isn’t out of the question for this tribe. I personally have a soft spot for Iridescent Drake, an old favorite of mine. Repeatedly bouncing and replaying Gilded Drake would be dominant in some matchups.

    Drone: This is one of the quirkiest tribes. I list it here on the basis that eldrazi would occupy a higher tier. There are also enough non-eldrazi drones to build a Tribal deck, but they’re so bad that such a tribe would not be worthy of Tier 4. Realistically, I think if you’re building a Drone Tribal deck, all of your creatures are probably eldrazi anyway. But you could technically name “Drone” as your tribe. Weird.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 4 Continued)
    Elder: Possibly the cheesiest tribe in existence. The creature type “Elder” was obviously not put on cards with Tribal formats in mind. It’s a flavor thing for ancient, distinguished monsters. Every single elder creature is legendary. Currently, the tribe comprises fifteen dragons, one demon, and six dinosaurs. There’s no practical reason to use it over any of those three actual tribes. But I put it in Tier 4 because hypothetically, someone could build a deck based around cheating big creatures onto the battlefield, and elders are generally well-suited to this purpose. Elder Tribal would have no coverage at all at low mana costs. I already considered the concept of deck all-in on big creatures for a few other tribes. Elders wouldn’t be my first choice if I were to try this, but it does offer some advantages.

    Fox: For some reason, foxes became associated with white in Magic, unlike other forest creatures. Not sure if it’s because Arctic Fox started the trend or if it’s because Kamigawa Block independently chose to use white as the color for its fox-people (kitsune). Foxes have gotten almost no support outside of Kamigawa Block, and so they’re a pretty weak tribe. I’ve tentatively placed them in Tier 4 because, looking through the list of foxes, the tribe’s available legendaries are actually pretty good and the minor synergies involved should give the deck some defensive capability. Fox Tribal could make for a reasonable disruptive white deck.

    Frog: Spiderman played a Frog Tribal deck in one of our games. There’s never been a cohesive theme for frogs, and WotC doesn’t print that many of them. Standout individual cards include the resilient Anurid Brushhopper, the sometimes free Frogmite, the fog machine Spore Frog, and everyone’s favorite commander (The Gitrog Monster). Sadly, most frogs are mediocre (many are vanilla). But there are some upsides. The tribe fits into what I contend to be one of the best color schemes (blue, black, and green). Spore Frog is one of the best one-drops a Tribal deck could hope for. And with options like Haze Frog and Omnibian, this tribe has some impressive defensive capability.

    Gargoyle: Mooseman played a Gargoyle Tribal deck in one of our games. Probably by coincidence, the game developed such that his main competition was coming from my red dragons, and he happened to be playing white gargoyles, some of which had protection from red. Good for him, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the tribe in a more general sense. What do gargoyles have to offer? Well, the most obvious answer is flying blockers. A Gargoyle Tribal deck isn’t set up to run the table in one turn or to smash through each opponent in succession. What it can do is provide a robust base of defensive creatures for a white-heavy control deck. Adding blue or incorporating a heavy artifact theme would also complement Gargoyle Tribal. These guys don’t look great at first, but I suspect that they’re actually rather strong.

    God: A while back, I toyed with the concept of God Tribal, although I never actually played such a deck in a real game. This tribe presents unique challenges. Not only is every creature in the tribe legendary, but nearly all of them have mechanical restrictions on when they can be used in combat. The tradeoff is size and resilience. Nearly all gods are indestructible and the three that aren’t have a clause that if they die, they go back to your hand at the end of the turn. So if you survive long enough to deploy your army and to satisfy the conditions to make them usable creatures, you’ve got a massive advantage. The problem is getting to that point.

    Gorgon: The unifying theme of gorgons is killing creatures. All but two gorgons have some ability that helps them to kill other creatures, usually Deathtouch. For that reason, they’re formidable in combat and present a significant deterrent to opponents that would attack you. For coverage, they scale well toward the high end, with such bombs as Sisters of Stone Death and Visara the Dreadful. But there’s only one good three-drop gorgon and no one-drops or two-drops at all. Gorgon Tribal looks respectable, but it is arguably one-dimensional and could (inadvertently?) be counterpicked by an opponent.

    Homunculus: I hesitantly rate this tribe as belonging in Tier 4, largely on the assumption that utility creatures are nice to have and the tribe includes some. The homunculus creature type has a bit of an identity crisis, with some creatures focused on evading blockers and others that are all defense and no offense. In theory, one could mix and match to get the best of both worlds, but I’m not seeing a strong assortment on either front. Still, there are utility abilities and some synergy with casting instants and sorceries. Homunculi might provide an adequate shell for a deck that greatly emphasizes its support spells rather than the strength of its tribe on the battlefield.

    Hound: Probably better in duels than in multiplayer. Hounds are a nice mana curve on the low end and most of their abilities are combat-focused (such as gaining extra power when attacking). They’re relatively strong on offense and can manage some blocking, although it’s not playing to their strength. But they have very little utility and would struggle to finish off multiple opponents. Hound Tribal seems like it’d be prone to finishing off one or two players, especially weakened ones, but ultimately losing once tribes with bigger, more versatile creatures gain momentum.

    Jackal: I find this one irksome. WotC originally printed one creature with this on the type line, then correctly consolidated the type into “Hound” for Jackal Pup, which makes perfect sense. Well, the people who designed Portal Three Kingdoms didn’t get the memo on that, but no one cared. And by the time M10 introduced another jackal, all jackals were hounds. Why wouldn’t they be? Hound Tribal is underutilized anyway. I’ve already made my opinions on the ridiculous “Egyptian” flavor of Amonkhet Block known, but a minor issue I didn’t mention in that rant was that because they decided they needed jackal-people, they brought the type back and took the old jackals, including the ones that had always been hounds, out of the Hound tribe. While I do not think that losing Dauthi Jackal or Jackal Familiar realistically weakens Hount Tribal, the decision is still stupid. And this means the silly jackal-people (khenra is the official name of the race) from Amonkhet aren’t hounds. Splitting the tribes up in that sense really does weaken both. In my own generalized analysis, Jackal Tribal probably has about the same offensive potential as Hound Tribal and also about the same lack of defensive potential. If that’s right, it’s uncanny. But it’s probably wrong anyway.

    Jellyfish: While this is a sparsely populated tribe with no one small creatures and no really big creatures, it does have some unusual advantages to make up for that. For some bizarre reason, like half of the jellyfish in Magic have Flying. I remember people joking about a Wall of Ice having Firebreathing or being killed by Terror when I was younger, but come on, this is super weird. And it’s these strange flying jellyfish that I think make the tribe a viable inclusion in Tier 4. All of the ones with “Gomazoa” in the name are good defensive creatures. That alone means we’ve got a potential base for a blue control deck. And if that were all, I’d at least consider this a potential Tier 4 tribe. But they’ve also got Esperzoa, an excellent creature for artifact-based combos.

    Juggernaut: Like most people, I initially thought of the card named Juggernaut. But WotC retroactively applied the type to old artifact creatures with siege engines in their artwork, so there is some variety in the abilities of the tribe. Some of the most appealing ones are offensively focused (they can’t block or they attack each combat if able). I’m guessing Tier 4 on this tribe because it has some mana efficient creatures for their stats and they’re all colorless artifacts. Some of the other dedicated artifact creature tribes are superior, but it’s important not to underestimate tribes consisting of artifact creatures. They have no specific color demands and can synergize with powerful support spells that have artifact-based mechanics.

    Kraken: I was critical in my analysis of serpents as a tribe and krakens share some of their problems. However, the worst of those deficiencies are not shared by krakens. While Kraken Tribal would have been completely unviable for a long time, WotC have been kind to the tribe in recent years. Theros Block gave krakens some nice options, and although I think it’s dangerously slow, Kraken Tribal could function with the right support spells.
  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 4 Continued)
    Leviathan: Of the sea monster tribes, this one has the most potent individual members. Does that translate to the best Tribal performance? I’m not sure. My instinct from simply looking at the cards is that leviathans pack the most punch once they get a lot of lands out, but krakens have an easier time getting there in the first place. One is probably better than the other, but they both seem like Tier 4 material. Too slow to be truly competitive. Both are leagues better than serpents.

    Licid: All licids are from Rath Block and we’ll probably never get another licid again. WotC uses other mechanics for enchantments that are also creatures, and this one is presumably relegated to the realm of history. So, this tribe is severely constrained. There are only twelve of them, distributed across all five colors (blue gets an extra one for some reason and one of them is an artifact). They’re not that efficient and some of them have aged poorly relative to cards with similar effects. Frankly, licids are mostly mediocre and there’s a reason almost no one uses them anymore in any setting, even in casual play. Despite all of that, I think they’re at least Tier 4 and possibly higher. Licids would be weak for duels, but they’re extremely flexible in multiplayer politics. Boost the creatures belonging to the players that help you. If you’re attacked, block and then activate your licids to remove them from combat, weakening your opponent’s creatures. Steal the biggest creature on the board. You’re playing a dangerous game, but isn’t that the point?

    Mercenary: Those who were active during the release of Mercadian Masques Block might remember one of the glaring issues in set design from that time. The storyline included a theme of a war between mercenaries and rebels on Mercadia. The cards for the rebels were mostly white and the cards for mercenaries were mostly black. Both tribes included a vertical cycle of cards that could pull other members of the tribe directly from the library and put them onto the battlefield. But the numbers on these activated abilities ran in different directions. So with rebels you could play the one with CMC 1, activate it for 3 to find the one with CMC 2, activate for 4 to find the one with CMC 3, and so on, climbing up to bigger rebels. Mercenaries were the other way around. They could only find ones that were smaller than themselves. This difference meant that rebels were powerful and mercenaries were weak. And while Rebel Tribal is indubitably stronger than Mercenary Tribal, those mercenaries are still good enough for Tier 4.

    Minion: This is a strange tribe reserved almost entirely for black creatures and only applied in certain sets for the most part, with a bunch of oddballs thrown into some other sets. But they are black. The only exception is Tidewater Minion from Ravnica, which was printed as an elemental but later given “Minion” as a second creature type because of its name. In terms of their traits, these guys are all over the place and have no cohesive theme. I’m a simple man and I like simply tribes that to do simple things like “kill all of my opponents.” Minion Tribal is a mess and I’ve got to try to set aside my own biases, to get into the head of someone who sees tribal deckbuilding as a delightfully intricate puzzle. And my tentative assessment is that minions have enough tools to work with that they’re at least Tier 4. They’re rather cost-effective and they have lots of ways to selectively punish specific opponents, which is useful in multiplayer.

    Naga: This is a relatively new tribe, first appearing in Khans of Tarkir. So far, they’ve only shown up in two blocks. Not a promising start. They are associated with the Sultai clan from Tarkir and therefore get a potent three-color combination, which is mildly helpful. I don’t want to stress that too much because some two-color combinations are more reliable anyway and some of the other three-color combinations demonstrate versatility that is comparable to blue/black/green. Also, it matters less in our 60-card format than it does in EDH (where color identity is locked based on one’s Commander and where one needs to fill slots in a 100-card deck with no duplicates other than basic lands). For all my criticism of Amonkhet Block, the average quality of the creatures in those sets is actually pretty good. And if I can put my disappointment aside for a few minutes, it’s apparent that this puts Naga Tribal in a better spot than the tribes that were only used in a few older sets instead of a few newer ones. They get a decent mana curve, some utility creatures, the potential to hold their own in combat, and some combo synergies that could be built around. They might even be Tier 3.

    Ninja: Thematically, ninjas have a pretty strong identity through their special ability, Ninjutsu. And some of them are very good. It’s possible that ninjas should be moved up a tier for that reason. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them or even that there aren’t enough of them. But through sheer coincidence (I assume), the design of the Ninjutsu ability works with the Law of Inverse Ninja Strength (if you’re up against one ninja, he’s an unstoppable fighting force; if you’re up against an army of ninjas, they’re pushovers). Ninjas work best when paired with cheap, evasive creatures. But the Tribal deckbuilding constraint means that you fill your deck with ninjas, and so you’ve got little room for the cards that actually work well with ninjas. That being said, I’ve seen some decks in Legacy with upwards of a dozen slots dedicated to ninjas. Maype a full twenty-ninja deck could work in a multiplayer format?

    Nomad: While this is an underdeveloped tribe and has no theme or dedicated synergies, it’s still probably Tier 4. A surprising number of good white cards have either been printed with the Nomad creature type in Odyssey Block and Onslaught Block. In blocks that were particular about creature types and emphasized other types, this is a little strange. They took a type haphazardly used for a few red creatures (mostly Ghitu) and suddenly started slapping it only some of the white creatures that were already part of other tribes anyway. I have no idea what was going on with nomads and I can’t remember ever hearing anyone talk about this. But the payoff is that Nomad Tribal gets some strong options for standout individual cards. Stuff like Nomad Decoy, Tireless Tribe, and Weathered Wayfarer. I don’t think there’s enough for Nomad Tribal to compete with the sorts of tribes that I place in Tier 3, but it gets better coverage along the low end of the mana curve than most of Tier 4.

    Ogre: Some creature types are fantasy staples that get reused a lot in Magic sets, but which don’t really have a strong thematic identity nailed down when it comes to card design. WotC has never fully decided what to emphasize with ogres. They’re big and strong, so they’re not going to be 1/1 creatures. But they’re not as huge as dragons or giants, so they’re probably not 6/6 either. Somewhere in between, then. And they’re known for brutality and violence, so probably not white or blue. But should they emphasize wildness and therefore be green? Should they emphasize destructive tendencies and therefore be red? Should they portray ogres as evil and therefore black? It seems that they can’t decide. They’ve usually settled on red, but for some sets turned that around and made ogres black. They’ve also been making them bigger lately. Kamigawa Block used a synergy between ogres and demons. That’s of some interest for Tribal formats, but most of the cards in question are weak anyway. I’m unsure of what Ogre Tribal would look like. Some powerful build-around cards, but poor defensive coverage, at least at first.

    Ooze: If you want a Magic card to be a vanilla creature or something that mostly just attacks and blocks, you probably want it to be a dude with a sword or whatever. Or maybe some animal like a wolf or a bear. A designer isn’t going to fill some generic combat creature slot with a creature and make that creature an ooze. It’s psychological. Something has to have a mechanical reason to be an ooze, some trait that showcases its oozy nature. Consequently, all oozes in Magic do something. Generally, that means they either grow bigger over time or they have an ability that destroys stuff (because they’re corrosive). That combination is potentially useful on its own, but we’ve also got oozes that copy abilities from other creatures (emphasizing the protean nature of an ooze creature). Cards like Necrotic Ooze and The Mimeoplasm are notorious for their use in EDH combo decks. The tribe has sufficient coverage for offensive and defensive combat at most stages of the game, protecting itself while trying to combo off or threatening opponents with a more conventional combat phase kill.
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 4 Continued)
    Pegasus: I mentioned the “steed” problem for drakes. Pegasus Tribal runs into the same problem. Good creatures, but meant to support other creatures and not meant for tribal synergies. But pegasi (pegasuses?) have the problem even worse than drakes and have fewer options. To make matters worse, they’re smaller. They have the makings of a deficient tribe. But I don’t want to underestimate the potential of efficient flying creatures in a white deck. Throw in some Glorious Anthem effects and it’s conceivable that you could go over blockers and beat opponents down. I imagine such a deck would be fast enough to trounce most of the tribes in Tier 5, so I’m going with Tier 4. For now.

    Processor: Every processor is also an eldrazi. The tribe strikes me as inferior to drones, but its usage would be different. All of the creatures in this tribe interact with opponents’ exiled cards. So the spells in a Processor Tribal deck would utilize that. The problem I think you’d run into for this is that the abilities of processors are mostly EtB triggers and are mostly not that good. You could jump through the hoops of exiling a bunch of stuff, but then you’re still just gettin reasonably efficient midrange cards. Processors have bad mana curve and, despite being eldrazi, don’t scale all that well.

    Scorpion: There are only ten scorpions so far. They’re mostly small. They tend to have Deathtouch or other creature-killing abilities. But right now there just aren’t enough good ones and they don’t really build up to anything powerful. Scorpions are fine for setting up early blockers as obstacles, but they fall behind in midrange gameplay. I’d placed them in Tier 3, but then I went to write their blurb and realized that all of the good scorpions except for the one-drop are four-drops. They just don’t have what they need to be a strong tribe.

    Shade: There’s a strong mechanical theme associated with this creature type. Unfortunately, it’s one that doesn’t fit well into Tribal formats at all. While they mix it up and use other abilities, most shades borrow the activated ability from the original Frozen Shade. The ability is fine and some of the individual reinterpretations on Frozen Shade are pretty good (Nantuko Shade, Nirkana Revenant, Dread Shade, Deepwood Legate). But not together! No matter how much black mana you’re ramping into, it doesn’t make sense to invest in a board of creatures that are dependent on your mana to achieve reasonably combat stats. Simply put, shades scale poorly with increasing numbers of creatures. I can’t think of a way around this, but the best of the individual creatures are too good for me to demote Shade Tribal to Tier 5. Maybe.

    Soltari: I’ve talked about the shadow creature problem twice already. The Soltari are the least bad victims of this problem. Putting the three clans in three different tiers feels a bit weird, but there are some notable differences. The Thalakos are slow and don’t do much damage. The Dauthi hit a bit harder and synergize with more powerful offensive tools. The Soltari are about as fast as the Dauthi offensively, but have more utility and are in a better color for protecting the player from attacks. I’m contemplating demoting the Soltari to Tier 5 anyway, but I do want to highlight the difference.

    Specter: Mooseman played a Specter Tribal deck in one of our games. It didn’t go well for him. With one rather unimportant exception (Dread Specter), all specters have offensively focused abilities and flying. Mostly, they make opponents discard cards. While having both flying and abilities that trigger on dealing combat damage to opponents is a decent offensive package to put on a single creature, it tends to mean that these guys are overcosted for their size. And that means a deck with poor defensive capability. So although there are enough good specters to put together a Specter Tribal deck, I’m inclined to put them in Tier 4 because one would be entirely reliant on support cards to survive against multiple opponents.

    Thrull: Spiderman played a Thrull Tribal deck in one of our games. I have a soft spot for thrulls and I really do want them to be Tier 3, but I am trying to guard against my bias on this one and I’m thinking they’re probably Tier 4. They have some token generation and Thrull Champion can boost those tokens. They’re capable of some cool tricks, but when I look for things that would let them compete with other tribes on the battlefield, it’s not looking good. Support for the tribe since Fallen Empires has been sporadic, and their new members in recent sets haven’t helped much.
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 3
    Ideally, I think I’d split this tier between the tier above it and the tier below it. This would involve renumbering, but setting that aside, I mean that some of these tribes might fit into Tier 4 and some might fit into Tier 2. I did not do that to start off because I wanted to err on the side of being more granular, and then discussion and revision could take the form of consolidation rather than needing to create new categories. As we’ll get to, the tribes in Tier 2 are indisputably strong. Any monkey could make a deck out of them. Not to overuse the word, but the tribes in Tier 4 are deficient. They fall short. They don’t have the scope of tools seen in the likes of Tier 2. And so Tier 3 is a kind of middle ground. Below this tier, I might find myself thinking, “Hey, these guys could work if we do this…” but here’s where it noticeably shifts away from that because of course these tribes work. We’ve crossed the inflection point. We’re leaving behind “probably too weak” and “might be a fun challenge to try and put a deck together with these.” Tier 3 tribes pack a punch.

    Artificer: This tribe was one of the ones that got a massive boost from the “Grand Creature Type Update.” Lorwyn Block adopted a model of creature types having, where appropriate, distinct race/class categories. So WotC went back and changed a bunch of old cards. For instance, Sage of Lat-Nam originally had “Summon Sage” on its type line. But in the new system, they deleted the “sage” creature type and gave the card “human” for its race and “artificer” for its class. A bunch of old cards that were “creatures with abilities that use artifacts in some way” became members of this tribe. And in the years since, we’ve also gotten some new ones. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’re probably already aware that artifacts in Magic can be extremely powerful. The advantage of Artificer Tribal is that it’s packed with creatures that squeeze even more use out of artifacts.

    Assassin: DarthFerret played an Assassin Tribal deck in one of our games. The tribe has gotten considerably more depth since then. Assassins probably function best in a blue/black control deck. Your opponents will see that you’re running blue/black control and that you are able to pick off their creatures, so you’ll paint a target on your own head. Still, it’s definitely viable. I initially had these guys in Tier 4, but reviewing the versatility available in the tribe, I’m moving them to Tier 3.

    Avatar: BigBlue played an Avatar Tribal deck in one of our games. My poor crabs. Yeah, he won that one. The tribe has gained a lot since then. Theorizing a deck now is a bit tricky. My suspicion is that Avatar Tribal needs good support spells to shore up its weaknesses and help it really shine, but the size and strong abilities of avatars could make that worthwhile.

    Dryad: At this rate, Dryad Tribal is gunning for Tier 2 status. It was already pretty good, but recent sets have given it some great tools. The most obvious deficiencies are a lack of tribal synergies and a disjointed suite of abilities, with no dominant theme to latch onto for building around the tribe. But Dryad Tribal makes up for those downsides in spades. It has a great mana curve, can easily support color splashes, can disrupt opponents, can utilize evasion, and is better poised than just about anything in Tier 3 to go wide filling the board with various creatures and tokens.

    Elephant: Spiderman played an Elephant Tribal deck in one of our games. Intuitively, elephants would be a bunch of big creatures and you might think you’d see me saying the same old statement about the tribe’s lack of early creature drops. Nope. Elephants tend to be 3/3 for some reason, and some of them are pretty cheap to cast. That fact wasn’t lost on Spiderman. His deck performed appreciably, and elephants have only gotten better since then.

    Fungus: Spiderman played a Fungus Tribal deck in one of our games. The Tribal Games Version 1 Administration thread incorrectly lists the tribe as “Thallid” but I (eventually) corrected that in the Version 2 thread. The creature type for those cards is and always has been fungus. Back when Spidey built his “Thallid” deck, Ravnica Block was still relatively new. Well, the creature type is heavily used by the Golgari on that world, and WotC keep churning out new Ravnica-based sets, so Fungus Tribal has gotten even better. The main selling point to this tribe remains the same. Fungus Tribal can make lots and lots of saproling tokens and then use them to do stuff. It can be a little slow and it doesn’t result in lots of huge creatures without considerable support, but it has its advantages.

    Griffin: I played a Griffin Tribal deck in one of our games. Frankly, I think it’s a little silly that WotC haven’t given this tribe more support. I’ve spoken up about this in the past and I won’t dwell on it here. I’ve actually toyed with Griffin Tribal apart from our games here as a kind of pet project in my casual decks. Teremko Griffin was (from what I remember) the first Magic card I ever saw, before I even learned to play the game. Griffins are cool. I hope to play griffins again some day. Griffin Tribal has a range of white flying creatures at different sizes and with decent abilities. It could be described as the poor man’s Angel Tribal (not specifically in the financial sense, but in terms of power level, although the financial aspect probably hold true as well). Everything griffins do, angels do better. And not just a little bit better. Angels utterly outclass griffins at every turn. Griffins don’t have a lot of abilities outside of combat, so the plan is generally to boost them with Glorious Anthem effects, fly over everyone’s heads, and pick opponents off one by one. Vigilance helps with that. Also, Griffin Canyon is a thing.

    Kavu: A lot of tribes could reasonably used for simple red/green beatdown decks, but Kavu Tribal is one of the better choices for it. Kavu do get some tribal synergies and some utility abilities, but mostly they do damage. An interesting standout card in this tribe is Kavu Predator, which has some oddball combos of its own. Kavu aren’t the fastest and they do get outscaled late game by a lot of tribes, which really holds them back from Tier 2. They they can hit hard and they work well with clearing blockers out of the way.

    Kithkin: Spiderman played a Kithkin Tribal deck in one of our games. He won too. The tribe comes from the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor double-feature block, and Kithkin really benefit from that because it was the strongest-ever string of sets for tribal synergies and focus. The tribes that got emphasis in those sets are almost all strong enough to do well in our Tribal games. There’s nothing really that unique or distinctive here. The creature type is just excellent for the stereotypical “White Weenie” archetype. They particularly excel at boosting each other, at having advantages against big creatures, and at disabling or harming opposing creatures. This makes them a formidable threat against almost anything. The tribe hasn’t really gotten much in the way of new tools with new sets, and it’d be a shaky inclusion in Tier 2. But I suspect it has what it needs to hold its own against most of the competition. Calling it Tier 3 for now, but it’s got to be near the top of the tier. If WotC ever returns to Lorwyn, then Kithkin Tribal could easily climb a tier.

    Kor: I built a Kor Tribal deck in preparation for one of our games. I didn’t end up using it, but my impressions from testing back then would probably place the tribe in Tier 3. And if I had any doubts, there are a lot more Kor than there were back then. Generally, the cards in this tribe are a hodgepodge of Rath Block, Mercadian Masques Block, Time Spiral Block, Zendikar Block, and Battle for Zendikar Block. Basically, the race was introduced in Rath and came to Dominaria through Rath, but it was stated that they’d been imported to Rath from another plane, which later turned out to be Zendikar. The old Kor specialize in damage redirection and aren’t good for much else, but their printings in Zendikar-based sets have given the tribe considerable depth. Standout individual cards include Nomads en-Kor, Stoneforge Mystic, Shaman en-Kor, Kor Spiritdancer, and Kor Skyfisher. A Kor Tribal deck is bound to include some of those.
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 3 Continued)
    Minotaur: While it never showed up in any of the main series of Tribal games we played at the CPA, Minotaur Tribal did make an appearance in the long-forgotten Two-Headed Giant series. I only remember that it exists because I rediscovered the 2HG games while writing a frontpage article last year (still the most recent article as of right now). Limited piloted the deck and pitched in a bit while my goblins murdered poor Spiderman and Darthferret. To be clear, this happened twice. Minotaur Tribal showed up in two games. I have no recollection of the structure, whether the deck was edited between games. But the tribe is technically undefeated in our games. Anyway, I can’t tell if the designers at WotC just love minotaurs so much that they’ve deliberately pushed Minotaur Tribal to be viable or if their hamfisted “market research” makes them think players love minotaurs so much that they need to be shoehorned into every set now. Egyptian-themed set? Put a bunch of minotaurs in it—they’re in mythology or something. Mesoamerican-themed set with merfolk and vampires and a world that has no native minotaurs on it? Bring in a minotaur planeswalker! Minotaurs, minotaurs, minotaurs. For years this would have been a weak tribe. But with all of the new minotaurs coming out, it seems inevitable that the tribe will eventually climb to Tier 2. Eventually. But my evaluation as of right now is that the cows aren’t there yet. Their mana curve is tightly clustered around the three-drop and four-drop spots. The color distribution here means you really need red, but your other colors constrain somewhat which of the good multicolored minotaurs you use. They also get outscaled by tribes with big creatures. Don’t underestimate them. Minotaur Tribal is potent enough relative to the rest of Tier 3 that it packs an impressive punch.

    Monk: I’ve almost never actually thought about these guys as a tribe. At first, they weren’t one. Kamigawa Block introduced the creature type and then a bunch of old clerics (and Whirling Dervish) were changed to monks. But the type has never really had tribal support and doesn’t have any overall themes except the ones that came up as mechanics in sets where a specific faction was portrayed as being like a monastic order. Mostly, that means the Jeskai clan from Tarkir. Monks tend not to cost a lot of mana, but they do get some bigger guys (like Rhox War Monk). Several of them have excellent abilities and the tribe could be taken in a lot of directions. With the huge, glaring exception of humans, Monk Tribal has a lot of advantages over the constituent “race” types that get representation in the “class.” So it could be worth looking into, especially if a couple of the individual creatures in this tribe are appealing to you.

    Myr: BigBlue played a Myr Tribal deck in one of our games. With one exception, myr are colorless artifacts. They often tap for mana and they get good coverage on the lower end of the mana curve. Back when BigBlue built his deck, there was no Scars of Mirrodin Block. The tribe has only gotten stronger since. Options for Myr Tribal are variable, depending on support spells, particularly artifacts. This is one of the Tier 3 tribes that could hold its own against Tier 2 tribes.

    Orc: Spiderman played an Orc Tribal deck in one of our games. While his deck was probably fine, the game did kind of showcase the difference between Tier 2 tribes and Tier 3 tribes. The rest of us, playing tribes that I’d now place in Tier 2, built up board presences that quickly overwhelmed what orcs could do. Spidey’s biggest impact on the game really came from his support spells. However, orcs have gotten a bit better since then. However, the tribe is in a very awkward spot because a lot of their new cards push them into black/red, a role that Minotaur Tribal can perform better. Orcs do build up an army faster than minotaurs, but the difference isn’t too severe for multiplayer games. I think orcs are probably a bit of a weak inclusion in Tier 3, but they do have the potential to churn out medium-sized creatures consistently, which has some value.

    Phoenix: It seems like every new set has a new phoenix, but actually, there are only twenty of them. The unifying theme with phoenixes is that they come back from death. Also, they fly. They are heavy one red mana and tend to be mana-inefficient in general. Phoenix Tribal is slow and there’s not really a great way to counteract that. But having a bunch of creatures that will just come back anyway if your opponents kill them does make you a somewhat difficult target.

    Pilot: Other than one (bad) card, all of these are from Kaladesh Block. There are only eight and you’re probably running most of the white/red ones. So if you like to keep thing simple, that’s the good news. Your creatures in your deck are essentially locked in. The deck builds itself. Throw in some vehicles and a manabase and you’re done. The big problem with Pilot Tribal is that a vehicle-based deck doesn’t really call for a full twenty slots taken up by pilots. It’s off-balanced. If the tribe gets more options in the future, which seems likely, a Pilot Tribal deck could be interesting. Currently, it just doesn’t seem worthwhile, although it’s certainly powerful enough for Tier 3.

    Plant: Limited played a Plant Tribal deck in one of our games. Insert obligatory statement about how it was a long time ago and the tribe has more options now. I haven’t really looked into Plant Tribal, but a cursory examination makes it seem like it could create a decent deck in either black/green or white/green.

    Rhino: Magic has both regular rhinos and a race of rhino people known as “rhox.” Both can go into this tribe, so it’s surprisingly robust. Lousy coverage on the lower end of the mana curve, but rhinos have enough strong three-drops to live with that. Rhino Tribal is white and green with a splash for at least one more color. Which color, though? All three choices contribute their own advantages.

    Samurai: I have little experience with samurai from my own side of the table, but I’ve played against them on several occasions. Their main ability is Bushido, which can make them remarkably efficient on the battlefield. If one is able to successfully play to the tribe’s strengths, Samurai Tribal can be quite strong. But samurai have little to offer if someone else is doing something powerful to take you out.

    Satyr: I am reluctantly placing Satyr Tribal in Tier 3. But I just don’t think I can justify it, not really. The tribe’s coverage on the high end of the mana curve is bad. They don’t really get any creatures that take over the game and they have no tribal synergies. Satyrs are small and are generally outclassed by other types. Most of the relevant satyrs are from Theros Block, which was somewhat underpowered. The creatures themselves are weak. The one saving grace of this tribe is that it has unusually potent interactions with certain support spells. A good Satyr Tribal deck is probably based around either Satyr Firedancer, Setessan Oathsworn, or both. Satyr Enchanter is another potential build-around.

    Scarecrow: Spiderman played a Scarecrow Tribal deck in one of our games. While it’s not the strangest tribe, it is a definite oddball and evaluating it against other tribes is tricky. Usually I give some healthy respect to tribes filled with artifact creatures. But part of the reason for that is the openness when it comes to the color distribution of support spells. A Scarecrow Tribal deck is probably based around Reaper King, which makes it five colors. You could do without Reaper King, but the card is a heavy-hitter with a tribal synergy. Well, Scarecrow Tribal has some options and has a pretty good mana curve. Scarecrows establish a board presence quickly and scale well into late game. They have some unique tricks, like Painter’s Servant. Don’t underestimate them.

    Scout: All of the cards in this tribe that interest me seem like they’d be better off when used in tribes corresponding to their other types. For instance, Veteran Explorer is a human and a soldier, both of which are much stronger tribes. Scouts tend to be small. Although the tribe is an old one, a lot of creatures in the tribe were originally printed as something else and were retconned to be scouts. The rubric that WotC seemed to use here was that creatures with names including the words “scout,” “explorer,” “ranger,” or “trailblazer” should be included in this tribe. While it’s definitely disjointed, there’s a kind of accidental theme going on. WotC tries to convey the notion of a creature that is a scout/explorer/ranger/whatever by having it do stuff with lands or mana. Same reason they named that mechanic from Ixalan “Explore.” Throw a bunch of mana ramp dudes into the same deck, and there’s some potential to do powerful stuff. So what if your creatures are small? Sling some twenty-point Fireballs and win.
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 3 Continued)
    Skeleton: I played a Skeleton Tribal deck in one of our games. What can I say? I like skeletons. I was quickly and mercilessly beaten to death, but Mooseman was playing a superior tribe. Skeletons are probably OK. They don’t have a lot going for them. Some of them can regenerate and other ones can come back from your graveyard. I maintain that they could be a decent tribe. Some day, I’ll try again.

    Snake: Mooseman and Turgy both played Snake Tribal decks in our games. While Snake Tribal lost on both occasions, it did account for itself pretty well. One loss was against a Tier 2 tribe and the other against a Tier 1 tribe. There are some good snakes and they come in a range of sizes. There are ones with utility abilities and ones that are good in combat. There are now multiple snakes that draw inspiration from the original Ophidian (but they’re better), which means snakes have an unusual propensity to let you draw cards. Drawing cards is good.

    Sphinx: I touched on a point of interest here when I evaluated Djinn Tribal. WotC has the notion that each color should get recurring signature tribes. The big, beefy creature type associated with each color is supposed to be that color’s “iconic” creature type. The term never caught on with the playerbase, so then WotC proceeded to name a set “Iconic Masters” and were apparently baffled when players thought the word would mean what the players would use it for (cards that have established reputations and become icons) instead of the set trying to make “iconic” creature types a thing. Well, not all “iconic” types are equal. Two of them have been pretty well-established from the beginning of the game. Two others go way back but were not as consistently applied. And the worst of the bunch is the blue “iconic.” While recent sets have been pushing sphinxes, they haven’t come close to catching up. Still, they do get some excellent big creatures, like Consecrated Sphinx and Sharuum the Hegemon. Sphinx Tribal is a perfect example of a tribe that starts out slow and vulnerable, but can outclass other tribes if the game runs long.

    Spider: Spiderman has done Spider Tribal on two occasions in our games. And that’s kind of fitting, isn’t it? They were no match for my Goblin Tribal deck, of course. But he did win the other one. A lot of spiders have Reach, which isn’t amazing but it does confer some advantage. Worth noting that some of the prominent tribes in Tier 3 and even in Tier 2 are filled with flying creatures. If we had a couple of good one-drop spiders (there are none), this tribe would be a candidate for Tier 2. Spiders tend to have high toughness for their mana cost (which is strange because spiders in real life are not very tough and are easy to squish). They’re pretty good in combat, but get paltry tribal synergies. Spider Tribal could get better if it ever gets some real focus. But it’s already got some nice features. The legendary spiders are both great for multiplayer formats, although using them would entail pushing the deck into black/red/green colors.

    Spike: I almost forgot to mention, Spiderman played Spike Tribal in two of the Two-Headed Giant games. It did not work out at that time, but those games were forever ago and I forget what the rules even were for them. I made a bunch of goblins and killed people. Pretty uneventful. Notably, Limited was packing Cursed Totem to prevent Spiderman from using Spike Weaver to keep my goblins from killing him. WotC tried to make Spike Tribal a viable concept when they first printed these cards. They even built in counterplay with Spike Cannibal in Exodus just in case spikes were actually good. Since then, the tribe has gained one member. Just one. That was because Time Spiral was a throwback set. We’re not likely to get more. Doesn’t leave much to work with. Spike Tribal is slow and will presumably continue to fall behind as the competition gets more new tools. That’s the bad. Now for the good. Spike Weaver is amazing. More importantly, the tribe is powered by +1/+1 counters and there are way more good cards to put those onto creatures than what we had to work with in 1998. Watch out for Doubling Season!

    Thopter: There are only twelve of these. They curve nicely, but don’t build up into anything really powerful. All of them can be played and used without any particular colors of mana. They all have Flying, for what that’s worth. My usual statement about artifact creature tribes being intrinsically flexible holds true here. And Thopter Squadron is a potential build-around. Looking at the twelve printed creatures in the tribe doesn’t tell the full story here. There’s an arsenal of non-thopter cards that make thopter tokens, and those could be used with tribal synergies (including Thopter Squadron).

    Troll: DarthFerret played a Troll Tribal deck in one of our games. Trolls tend to be able to regenerate and they can get pretty big. DarthFerret had to drop from the game. And of course, some more great trolls have been printed since then. In fact, I’d say that the best trolls weren’t around back then. Troll Tribal isn’t particularly fast, is a bit mana hungry, and it is vulnerable against evasive attackers, combos, non-targeting “bury” effects (like Wrath of God), and some other stuff. But it has resilient creatures that can hit hard. If you really like trolls and you’re feeling cheesy, try to one-shot opponents with Mossbridge Troll.

    Viashino: Before I looked them up, I thought to myself, “Well, this race is from Shiv on Dominaria and they aren’t getting much representation anymore. So they’re probably falling by the wayside.” I forgot that there are also viashino on Ravnica (WotC’s favorite plane) and Alara. There are evensome brand new viashino in Ravnica Allegiance. Viashino have a decent base for an aggressive red tribe. They’d outclass orcs except they have no one-drops. Viashino Tribal is a bit too mana-intensive for it to win an all-out war on the battlefield against most of the tribes in Tier 3, but the tribe does have some creatures with unusual abilities and could focus on those, which might make it more viable.

    Weird: I couldn’t remember anything for this one and before I looked it up I assumed it was going into a low tier. There are only seven of them, which is usually a bad sign. But looking at the details? This tribe is fine. Build around Gelectrode, throw in some support cards that make sense with the other cheap weirds (you’re going to need Blistercoil Weird). It’s probably not broken, but it could compete with Tier 3 stuff. Cast lots of instants and sorceries. Lift your spear as you might lift your glass, and toast your enemy (note: do not actually use Scorching Spear in your deck).

    Werewolf: A lot of the transforming werewolves are awkward for multiplayer. The tribe has a lot of variance. If all goes well, you outclass other similar red/green beatdown tribes. If your werewolves transform back when you need them not to, you could be the weakest player at the table. A resourceful player with a meticulously selected suite of support spells could probably squeeze a lot of value out of this tribe. I personally view it as a distasteful gamble, but that’s my bias talking. The potential is there for werewolves and they don’t really belong in the lower tiers.

    Wolf: If WotC had the foresight to consolidate werewolves with other wolves, this tribe might be vying for Tier 2. There are even tribal synergy cards that say “wolf or werewolf” on them. It’s like WotC went halfway to making the right decision. Anyway, wolves are pretty good. Wolf Tribal has a working mana curve and scales reasonably into midgame. Silverfur Partisan is amazing and worth running as a buildaround card. A lot of cards make wolf tokens. Although it hadn’t occurred to me until just now, Wolf Tribal makes for a better use of the “Heroic” concept from Theros Block than any tribe with the actual mechanic printed on the cards. So load up on those support spells that target your own creatures.

    Zubera: This tribe has been the subject of some discussion at the CPA. Some former CPA members had Zubera decks, including Gizmo and Captain Caveman. I forget why, but I actually built a Zubera deck for Kamigawa Block Constructed (on the Apprentice software, not in real life) and I still have a decklist saved on my computer. Of course, there have been no new Zubera since Kamigawa Block, so the tribe has not gained as much as (most of) the competition. That will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. While a Tier 4 placement seems probably correct, given the color distribution and general weakness of the tribe, I hesitate to dismiss a creature type that’s effectively 100% tribal synergy.
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tier 2
    All of these tribes should be familiar to experienced players. They’ve had extensive support at one time or another. When you think “casual tribal deck” these are the creature types that spring to mind. Often, these types have been used with tribal synergies in tournament formats. Almost all of them have shown up as tribes in EDH decks. These tribes are strong. While some of the Tier 3 tribes can compete with them, I tried to be strict about the cutoff here. Only the tribes I thought of as being able to compete at a high level have been included in Tier 2. These tribes are fast. A well-built deck can and will run the table in a multiplayer Tribal game against unprepared players.

    Ally: Mooseman played an Ally Tribal deck in one of our games. He very nearly won and definitely demonstrated some of the tribe’s power. But really, allies can do a lot. These guys are all about tribal synergy. They have tons of abilities and can produce flexible decks where no card is ever a dead draw. This is one of the best tribes for most of the three-color combinations and could extend into our-color or five-color easily. Ally Tribal has the tools to handle just about anything.

    Angel: I played an Angel Tribal deck in one of our games. Dominated it. The one critical weakness of angels is that their low drops generally aren’t very strong. I’d hesitate to include a tribe with no one-drops in Tier 2, because your opponents can easily get ahead of you on the board during crucial turns. It’s worse than that, though. Angels have generally lackluster two-drops and, depending on what colors you run, not a lot of good three-drop options either. They don’t get their real bombs until they have four or more mana. And for almost any other tribe, that’d probably be a dealbreaker. But angels have so many other amazing advantages that those weaknesses are cancelled out. They could be one of the better tribes in Tier 2, in fact. Gamebreaking abilities on mana-efficient creatures. WotC honed in on angels as the white “iconic” tribe, and it shows.

    Beast: BigBlue played a Beast Tribal deck in our first Tribal game at the CPA. His deck actually came out with some powerful creatures on the board fairly quickly, but he suffered some setbacks through the actions of the other players and was eliminated. Beast Tribal has gained probably a couple hundred creatures since then. It’d a big, big tribe with lots of options, and some good ones that aren’t even green. No telling exactly how it fares nowadays compared to the other Tier 2 tribes, but it’s a solid tribe with myriad options.

    Bird: BigBlue played a Bird Tribal deck in one of our games. He put up a good fight, but fell. I played a Bird Tribal deck in one of the Two-Headed Giant games, but the game was abandoned because Limited disappeared and DarthFerret was busy at the time. As for Bird Tribal today? It’s got plenty of great coverage in white and blue, although splashing a third color could be an option. Birds have gotten some great one-drop and two-drop creatures. Depending on your preferences, this is a tribe that could either lean toward aggro or lean toward control. It excels in both roles.

    Cat: Spiderman played Cat Tribal in two of our games (winning one and losing another) and Mooseman played Cat Tribal in one of our games. It’s only been relatively recently that Cat Tribal has gotten some good tribal synergies, but really, this type has enough great cards that it doesn’t need them. Cat Tribal gets useful creature cards from every color except blue. My guess is that white/red/green is the best fit. There’s a specific race of cat-people in Magic called “leonin.” They have a significant equipment theme. To unlock the value of Cat Tribal, you’re probably making tokens or using powerful equipment. Maybe both. Cats are fast and versatile. They were pretty good already, but the past few years have been a boon for them.

    Cleric: BigBlue and I both played Cleric Tribal in the same game (I won). And later, DarthFerret played them in the “Highlander special” game, which he won. Both wins were from infinite combos, but don’t let that distort your view of clerics. They’re a fine tribe with plenty of great abilities. Cleric Tribal is so versatile that it can go in almost any direction you’d like.

    Demon: This has become the black “iconic” tribe. While it’s far more powerful than Sphinx Tribal, it falls short of the power of Angel Tribal. Demons can be strong. They get some really cool abilities. For a couple of years in the mid-90’s, WotC backed away from including demons in the game because they were afraid of some religious backlash (parodied in Unglued with the card Infernal Spawn of Evil). But I don’t think that gap affects the tribe much. The bigger problem is that WotC have been inconsistent on the identity of demons. Their mechanics are all over the place. Too many of the really powerful ones have exorbitant mana costs. A lot of demons require sacrifices, so the tribe is partially dependent on recursion or on token generation to achieve its full potential. The upside is that said full potential is very, um, full. Once multiple big demons with useful abilities are on the board, the game is all but over. Demons don’t just pack a punch. They pack what might be the strongest punch of all. It’s a matter of getting there and not being interrupted.

    Dinosaur: Much of this tribe’s strength comes from Ixalan Block. While dinosaurs are not a new creature type, they had no focus originally and were, for many years, taken out of the game. Ixalan Block brought them back. While it’s not a power-packed block, this does confer a kind of advantage. Set design has evolved over the years and WotC have, in newer sets, pushed tribal synergies harder. While some old sets gave other tribes the most powerful tools they have, that was often incidental. Other than the brief peak in the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor double block, it’s been the sets over the past few years that offer comparatively more tools for direct tribal theme decks in most formats. Pirates got a huge boost in Ixalan Block. But Dinosaur Tribal is perhaps the biggest recent success story. One could build a respectable Dinosaur Tribal deck with nothing but lands, dinosaurs, and cards that have the word “dinosaur” somewhere one them. It would probably not be optimal, but it could work. I suspect that such a deck might even outcompete a lot of the tribes in Tier 3. Although it may seem counterintuitive, Dinosaur Tribal gets an excellent mana curve. And the big guys get really big. It may be near the bottom of Tier 2, but I do think it’s worthy of the competition.

    Dragon: I played a Dragon Tribal deck in one of our games. I think I botched my deck design somewhat, but could easily have won under other circumstances. Spiderman’s Fungus deck disrupted my potential Kokusho kill with Night Soil, and Mooseman just happened to have enough gargoyles with Protection from Red to get past my blockers. Dragons occupy a remarkable and unique position in this tier list, and in the format as a whole. While almost any tribe in Tier 2 has considerable options, there are two completely distinct styles of Dragon Tribal, and it’s not obvious which one is better. The dragon creature type is the red “iconic.” WotC uses this as the beefy creature type of choice for red, and most sets have some dragon in the range of four-drop to seven-drop that’s a pretty good card. Some have more than one. Throw in a bit of mana acceleration and you can fly over opponents’ heads and kill them with bigger creatures than the ones they’ve got. That simple concept formed the basis for the “Dragon Stompy” archetype in Legacy. But WotC also like to make dragon-heavy sets and use dragons a lot in the lore. Starting with the original elder dragons in Legends, on multiple occasions they’ve done five-card cycles of dragons spread across the entire color pie. One could build Dragon Tribal with no particular focus on red and instead use the type as the ultimate “cheat big creatures into play” tribe. It’s even possible to hybridize the two approaches.
  19. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 2 Continued)
    Druid: Mooseman played a Druid Tribal deck in one of our games. His deck never really got going in that game. Bad beats. Nearly all good druids are either elves or humans. Use Druid Tribal and you get the best of both worlds? I don’t know. Not really. Many druids tap for mana, untap lands, or use their abilities to dig up lands. This is the ultimate mana dork tribe. And that leads to one important question. What’s the payoff? If have no idea! Plenty of options, but the prospective Druid Tribal deckbuilder will have to work that out.

    Dwarf: The favorite tribe of large men everywhere. Seriously, I’ve found that if I walk into a game store and there are people playing D&D or something and there’s a guy who’s like 6’5” tall, there’s a 100% chance that his character is a dwarf. What’s up with that? Anyway, Mooseman played Dwarf Tribal in one of our games. He blew up the board with Apocalypse, then I recovered from it faster than he could and won. Dwarf Tribal has some great tools to work with. Considering their popularity, dwarves probably should be good. The problem in Magic is that WotC have awkwardly changed their minds repeatedly about dwarves. Besides the “iconic” debacle, WotC has the notion of “characteristic” tribes. Not big, monstrous creatures, but tribes of regular humanoid dudes to be the staple creature type for each color. Most “characteristic” tribes are actually Tier 1, because they’ve been given enormous amounts of support. WotC envisioned dwarves as red because red mana comes from mountains and dwarves are traditionally associated with mountains, mines, tunnels, etc. But they already made goblins the “characteristic” tribe for red. So early dwarves were highly specialized, with most of them being red utility creatures. Then in Odyssey Block, when they tried to change the tribes up, they emphasized Dwarf Tribal. Dwarves got a huge boost from Odyssey Block, but WotC promptly went right back to Goblin Tribal for red, so dwarves fell by the wayside. For Shadowmoor Block, they decided that dwarves were good fit for white/red, but so much else was going on with other tribes that the new dwarf concept didn’t get much support. The main world for doing white/red stuff was Ravnica with the Boros Legion, and that didn’t have dwarves. And so along came Kaladesh Block. WotC had not successfully pinned down a white “characteristic” tribe and experimented with giving dwarves a new white color identity. Although I really liked the Kaladesh dwarves, the experiment seems to have been abandoned. Still, the culmination of all of this is that Dwarf Tribal has enough good cards in white/red to make a solid Tier 2 deck.

    Elemental: DarthFerret played an Elemental Tribal deck in one of our games. He very nearly won, but was done in by a Patron Wizard. Elementals get some cards in all five colors, but the majority of the good ones are in blue/red/green. I’d probably drop white and black to focus on those colors. This would also give an Elemental Tribal deck access to Animar, Soul of Elements. Elemental Tribal gets a strong mana curve. Elementals get some tribal synergies and some of them offer especially powerful abilities with support spells. There are a few hundred elementals, so I won’t try to narrow down which ones would be best in a deck.

    Giant: Limited played a Giant Tribal deck in one of our games. This was before Lorwyn Block gave the tribe a substantial boost. I remember that Al0ysiusHWWW once organized a small in-house Limited event (some sort of draft, but I forget the rules), which Giant Tribal won. For obvious reasons, giants get only spotty coverage on the lower end of the mana curve. But they’re great with big creatures. Once you start deploying cards with “Titan” in their names, your opponents had better have some powerful answers.

    Golem: Spiderman played a Golem Tribal deck in one of our games. His deck seemed strong enough to potentially win. He was eliminated when BigBlue made a copy of Spiderman’s massive Beast of Burden, then forced all of Spiderman’s creatures to block his Torchling, striking the webslinger down in one shot with a copy of his own guy. As has been noted multiple times in this list, tribes filled with artifact creatures have some inherent advantages that can be exploited. Well, this is easily the second-best tribe for an all artifact creature deck. Golems can become big and can become numerous. Perhaps most enticingly, they can do both at the same time. While Golem Tribal doesn’t get a good curve, it’s one of the tribes that doesn’t really need it. You’re playing artifact mana ramping anyway and will easily catch up, even against the tribes in Tier 2.

    Hydra: Spiderman played a Hydra Tribal deck in one of our games. He helpfully played Heartbeat of Spring so that I could kill him faster. Later, WotC would decide to make hydras the green “iconic” type. I suspect it’s still not as good of a tribe as the one they were essentially using for the role before, but decided they did not like (wurms). Still, at least Hydra Tribal is better than Sphinx Tribal. Good enough for Tier 2? Well, the tribe scales absurdly well with any kind of mana ramp support. Presumably, that’s why Spiderman was using Heartbeat of Spring. This does leave the player fairly vulnerable in the early turns. And the defensive coverage of red/green, the two best colors for Hydra Tribal, is mediocre. Trying to mentally weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, I am tentatively placing the tribe in Tier 2. And if it’s close, the relatively new role of the tribe as “iconic” ensures that more good hydras should be printed in the near future.

    Illusion: Mooseman and Limited both played Illusion Tribal decks in the same game. Mooseman won. Spiderman played an Illusion Tribal deck in one of the Two-Headed Giant games, but that game went on hiatus. I don’t know if Illusion Tribal is actually good enough to be Tier 2. The tribe gets an interesting mix of efficient creatures (like Phantasmal Bear, etc.), utility creatures (like Somnophore), creatures that are hard to deal with (like Zephid), and creatures that help with drawing cards (like Toothy, Imaginary Friend). It’s got a nice mana curve and some heavy-hitters (like Ixidron). This is one of the better tribes for a tricky blue deck, but it does seem like it’s probably outclassed by some of the other tribes in Tier 2.

    Insect: Limited played an Insect Tribal deck in one of our games. I actually don’t think I’ve seen Insect Tribal in action since then, but several of the individual standout cards in the tribe are popular. Insects get strong coverage on the lower end of the mana curve, which makes sense. Rather strangely, they keep going and have some really big creatures too. Insects appear in all colors, but black/green is where most of the good ones are found. Due to utter stupidity, this tribe contains Giant Solifuge. Annoying, but probably not that important. While there’s no definitive tribal theme, insects do have a minor token generation theme going on. They’re really quite good at it, which makes me suspect that they should be Tier 2.

    Knight: There aren’t many good one-drop knights, but the two-drop and three-drop spots are loaded. Knights have nice combat abilities like Vigilance, First strike, and Flanking, Protection from stuff. There are a few tribal synergies too. The big drawback with knights is that most of the good ones have double colored mana requirements. Get around that demand for specific colors of mana and you’ve got a formidable tribe. All five colors have their own contributions to offer Knight Tribal. White gets the most depth, followed by red and black, but really there are a lot of options with knights.

    Kobold: I know, I know. I’m silly. This is a mistake. There are only seven creatures in this tribe and three of them are zero-drop creatures with no power and no abilities. A couple of tribal synergies aren’t going to make kobolds into a powerhouse. Or are they? Kobolds have gotten some unexpected support in recent years from new printings like Kher Keep and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. No matter how silly it looks, this is a flexible tribe that can easily deploy a dominant force on the battlefield. Or just sacrifice all of those cheap creatures for some big combo. Either way, Kobold Tribal is not to be underestimated.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    (Tier 2 Continued)
    Pirate: Ahoy there, ye scurvy dogs. Pirates be the finest tribe that ever sailed the seven seas. And if any landlubbin’ fools doubt it, I’ll gut them and make them walk the plank. In days of yore, pirates enjoyed no special advantages. The seas were rough and even the bravest of buccaneers was no match for all manner of bilge rats and other creatures. Pirates were almost entirely blue. But avast, what’s this? It’s Ixalan Block on the horizon, introducing black pirates and red pirates. Now they can truly kidnap and ravage and not give a hoot. Yo ho!

    Rat: Spiderman played a Rat Tribal deck (designed by Limited) in one of our games. Rats have had a tribal synergy since the beginning, but it wasn’t until Kamigawa Block that the pieces came together in a promising way. Many of the best options available to Rat Tribal are the same now as they were then, but there have been some upgrades. Pack Rat is an especially powerful card. Typhoid Rats may provide the trib’s best one-drop. Burglar Rat is an upgrade to Ravenous Rats. Perhaps most importantly, Rat Colony allows a Rat Tribal deck to wield the threat of a huge bomb that could take an opponent out in one hit.

    Rebel: Rebels were infamously so strong that Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero was banned from Masques Block Constructed to weaken the unstoppable tribal archetype. Of course, that was long ago. New additions to the tribe do still synergize with Lin Sivvi, but that’s gone from being thought of as broken to being thought of as a potentially interesting little trick. Mostly, Rebel Tribal is similar to what it’s always been. And fortunately, that’s still pretty good.

    Rogue: This tribe didn’t exist at first, and even when it first showed up, it was irrelevant for a few years. Morningtide suddenly and dramatically pushed Rogue Tribal. The combination of potent tribal synergy, retroactive assignment of old creatures to the tribe, and the steady accumulation of new rogues in Magic has enabled this once obscure creature type to claim Tier 2 status. Rogues specialize in getting through unblocked and at using this to do other things. Rogues have some great individual cards. This tribe could be taken in several directions and some of them would be pretty scary.

    Shaman: Mooseman played a Shaman Tribal deck in one of our games (but then I exploded and killed everyone). It was not a tribe I’d given any thought to before. Another one that got a boost from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Blocks. WotC took the type seriously and there are now hundreds of shamans, well over 300 and counting. Their abilities are diverse and they fit all over the mana curve. Probably every active member of the CPA could build a Shaman Tribal deck and we’d wind up with an entirely distinct deck for each person.

    Shapeshifter: BigBlue played a Shapeshifter Tribal deck in one of our games and his deck was impressive. He nearly took over the game, but misplayed a bit and was the victim of Mooseman’s surprise Apocalypse, ultimately dying to my wurms. Shapeshifter Tribal is highly unusual in how much of its power comes from what its opponents are doing. If you get the opportunity to copy the right creatures and you can deal with the originals, you’re well on your way to winning.

    Sliver: Many of us, myself included, probably suspect that Sliver Tribal is close to being Tier 1. Mythosx played Sliver Tribal in the first three CPA Tribal games. He didn’t win any of them, but his deck was kind of silly anyway. Also, some of the new slivers that didn’t exist back then are extremely strong. I mentioned that Ally Tribal is a good place to look for a deck that’s three to five colors. Sliver Tribal probably surpasses it in that category. It’s kind of obvious, but the upside to this creature type is that almost all of the creatures in it have abilities based on tribal synergy. It’s the nearly 100% tribal synergy tribe. There’s a balance to be struck for colored mana usage. In duels I’d probably advocate for a three-color deck, but multiplayer might benefit more from going five-color. This is one of those tribes where you probably stack your deck with well over the necessary number of slots dedicated to your tribe. The more slivers you get on the board, the crazier it becomes. If Sliver Tribal isn’t Tier 1, it’s got to be one of the closest tribes.

    Soldier: DarthFerret and I both played Soldier Tribal decks in our games. On both occasions, the Soldier Tribal deck did put up a decent performance, but was taken down by Spiderman. He’s what we call a soldier-Killer. Anyway, soldiers are among the most populous tribes. You probably want white as one of your colors for deckbuilding, but maybe other color combinations would work instead. We’re talking over 600 different creatures here. Soldier Tribal has depth, perhaps moreso than any other tribe I’ve listed so far. The thing about white is that unlike the other colors, it hasn’t really had an established “race” creature type as its “characteristic” tribe, so some sets have made soldiers the default tribe for white. Other colors have some great soldiers too, but white is where they get the best tribal synergies.

    Spirit: I played a Spirit Tribal deck in one of our games. I won. What took most of us by surprise about that game was that no one else had ever picked spirits before me in our tribal games. Limited did play a Spirit Tribal deck in a Two-Headed Giant game with me as is partner (piloting a Bird Tribal deck), but the game went on permanent hiatus. Kamigawa Block was packed with tribal synergies for this creature type, and there was a lot to work with. This was before Innistrad Block introduced its own tribal synergies. While the ones in Kamigawa Block are more numerous, sometimes quality beats quantity. The potential I saw in spirits was for a defensively oriented tribe, capitalizing on cards like Windborn Muse and Tradewind Rider. I suspect that Spirit Tribal is still one of the best defensive options for a more controlling deck in multiplayer tribal gameplay. And that’s probably still the approach I’d want to take in building an updated Spirit Tribal deck. But Innistrad Block did give us the tools to make a different kind of Spirit Tribal deck, one focused on aggression instead. I suspect that a spirit-based control deck, particularly in either white/blue/green or white/blue/black, is the way to go.

    Treefolk: Turgy22 played a Treefolk Tribal deck in one of our game. He got off to the most impressive start in the game and made himself a target, but still managed to demonstrate the inherent power of this tribe. I have no idea why treefolk and plants are different tribes. Seems like a waste. Well, there are more treefolk anyway and they also get the better cards. These guys specialize in being hard to kill and in beating your face in. This tribe is slightly deficient on the lower end of the mana curve, but gets some compensation for that. The sole treefolk one-drop is probably one of the best tribal one-drops in the entire game. It’s even better than anything in some of the Tier 1 tribes. Treefolk Harbinger is superb. Lorwyn/Shadowmoor was great for treefolk. They haven’t gained a whole lot since then.

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