Today I feel like building a tribal deck. And stop, I know what you’re gonna say… “But Dan, this is a budget column. Doesn’t a tribal deck require all sorts of expensive cards like Aether Vial, Mutavault, or Goblin Guide?”
And I see why you’re confused. You think we’re building one of those tier 1 tribal decks. Well, once again I went to our noble readership, and asked them to pick a focus for our deck today from a number of pre-set options. This time the winner was Shaman tribal. No Goblins. No Merfolk. Not even Slivers. A near second-place was Elemental, so we’re going to build a Shaman deck with a little Elemental garnish thrown in for presentation. You could try to build an expensive Shaman/Elemental deck, and you might be able to do it. But you’d definitely have to try. We should have no problem sticking well within our budget.
“But Dan, that doesn’t make sense. ‘Shaman’ is a role a person takes within a tribe, not a tribal affiliation in and of itse—” okay, you have to stop interrupting. Super-rude.
The first thing we need for a tribal deck is a lord. The creature who buffs up the other members of his tribe, and sets the synergy ball rolling. And in a Shaman deck, that’s a real easy choice, because we’ve only got one. Fortunately, it’s a doozy.
Rage Forger doesn’t have the static +1/+1 effect you normally see on a tribal lord… instead he only affects the creatures who are already out when he hits the table. This has an upside and a downside. The downside is obvious: if you drop another Shaman the following turn, it doesn’t get a bonus. But because his buff takes the form of counters, the creatures who do have the bonus keep it even if the Rage Forger dies. So it’s a give and take.
However, that’s not the only thing Rage Forger does. He also acts as a Hellrider for three mana, which is nothing to sneeze at all on its own. When you drop a Rage Forger, it has an immediate effect on that turn’s combat step, both by buffing up your creatures, and by giving them a little extra oomph when they attack.
But one lord doesn’t make a deck. We’re going to need to poke around and see what other Shaman cards we can find to work in a tribal, synergistic setting.
Almost every card in this deck is going to be a creature. More to the point, almost every creature in this deck is going to be a Shaman. Put those facts together, account for lands, and Wolf-Skull Shaman will generate you a 2/2 token about 60% of the time.
If all you get out of this card is a pair of 2/2s for two mana, he did his job. He provided a solid amount of value for what you invested, and might well have demanded that your opponent had two separate answers. And the longer your opponent doesn’t have an answer, the more value Wolf-Skull Shaman provides.
This one is pretty straightforward. A good amount of our strategy relies on keeping a Rage Forger around for at least one attack. Flamekin Harbinger tutors up more Rage Forgers. And fun bonus, it’s a Shaman, so it gets the bonus from the Rage Forger when you cast it.
It can also tutor for any other Elementals you might have in your deck, and I don’t know, let’s see if that might be relevant later?
This is pretty much the same principle as the Wolf-Skull Shaman. When you reveal a card at the beginning of your upkeep, you’ve got about a 60% chance of casting it for free and drawing through to the card below. Good old pure card advantage, and on a body that gives the deck a little beef.
Now I keep saying “almost every card” and “about 60%.” This is because we’ve got a couple non-Shaman pieces of tech worth bringing up.
Earlier I mentioned a little splash of Elemental in our otherwise Shamanic brew. And here you go. Chandra’s Spitfire isn’t a Shaman, but it does have some outright awesome synergy with Rage Forger. Attack with… let’s say three creatures. Rage Forger’s ability pings your opponent three separate times before combat damage is dealt. Chandra’s Spitfire gets +9/+0. In the air.
Have I mentioned already that you have about a 60% chance that your next card is a creature? I feel like that might have come up once or twice. Well, in a deck like this, Domri’s roll-up ability acts like a damage-free Phyrexian Arena. Chances are way better than not that you’ll be drawing a card. His roll-down provides the deck with some much-needed removal, and his ultimate is always going to be a game-winner.
I am hesitant to recommend a Planeswalker in this column, because it’s exactly the kind of card that shoots up to an obscene price at a moment’s notice. Domri, however, seems safe. He requires an extremely creature-heavy deck to be of use, and even creature-heavy strategies in Modern use lots of other spells for removal, draw, or hand disruption.
Other than that, this is one of those decks where we could honestly spend a couple columns in a row discussing the purpose of each individual card. But that sounds tedious; lets just say that if a card has a spot in the rest of the deck, it’s because it’s a Shaman with a useful ability. Sometimes one that synergizes with other cards (like Mul Daya Channelers with Flamekin Harbinger) or just on that’s useful on its own (like Essence Warden). Even the sideboard is filled with on-tribe creatures that target tier 1 decks.
Complete and Utter Sham
Play this deck like an aggro deck. The way tribal strategies work is that the more creatures you get out, the better the creatures become. As an almost all-creature deck you’ll be particularly vulnerable to wrath effects, so if you get nailed by one, use your Harbingers and your Domris to get back in the game. But on a good draw, you’ll steamroll your opponent before wraths can even be an issue.