June 09, 2015

Fable of Tree and Owl

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The only creature on my side of the table was a Jötun Owl Keeper.

Two glass beads sat on top of the card—markers designed to track the cumulative upkeep cost I'd have to pay once my turn came back around. I picked up the beads and held them in my open palm, my mind wandering deep into the world of the game. For a moment, I pictured them as large and beautiful barn owls, their talons sharp enough to rend bone, their feathers the color of new-fallen snow.

That's when disaster struck.

Brian—my nominal ally in a four-player game that was nearing the hour mark—cast Lignify on my Jötun Owl Keeper. "Really?" I sighed, running my hands through my hair. "You don't want to take out Emma's Dragon? You'd rather deprive me of my hard-earned owls?"

He shrugged. "I've seen what your deck can do with a few small flyers. Plus, you have a tree friend now. That's kind of sweet, right?"

I shot Brian a sarcastic smile before staring back at my board. Would my Owl Keeper enjoy his new life as a Treefolk? I figured he would. When you dedicate yourself to the care and maintenance of avian life, there are worse fates.

I played a handful of spells over the following few turns, but I couldn't keep from falling behind. As my opponents traded haymakers, I emptied my hand in order to stay alive. The one thing I refused to do was let my Treefolk die. "His story isn't done yet," I said, defiantly rolling my life die down to 16, then 14, then 12.

I was at 2 when my patience was rewarded. After drawing for my turn, I grinned and began slowly tapping my lands. "Kozilek?" Brian asked me as my mana base kept turning sideways. "Comet Storm? Fireball? It's not Martial Coup, is it?"

Once I reached twelve mana, I plopped Argentum Armor on the table. "Equip?" I asked. No one had any responses, so I gave my 0/4 Treefolk one of the most powerful pieces of Equipment in the game. All of a sudden, my Lignifyed Owl Keeper had the ability to destroy any permanent on the table in a single attack.

"Coming at you, Brian," I said, sending my Treefolk into the red zone.

"You're destroying the Lignify with your armor, right?" He asked, nervously thumbing the Mirari's Wake that was allowing him to dictate the pace of the game, and play three or four spells each turn.

"Of course not," I said. "This Jötun Owl Keeper? He's embraced his fate. He was scared about being a Treefolk at first, but he likes it now. He gets to hang out with his owl friends and no one has to pay any cumulative upkeep. It's the life he's always dreamed of."

My Jötun Owl Keeper's suit of armor destroyed Brian's Mirari's Wake, and his life total went from 16 down to 10. Unfortunately for me, it was too little, too late. I was eliminated before my next upkeep, and Brian claimed victory a few turns later.

I may have lost that game of Magic, but I'd call the experience a win. I'll never forget the day when one my Jötun Owl Keepers got to take a heroic journey of his own.

My Favorite Flavor

Welcome to week one of My Favorite Flavor! My name is Chas Andres, and this is my new column. Every Tuesday, we're going to explore the flavorful side of deck building and game play. I've you've ever tried to build the ultimate Octopus deck, agonized over whether or not Silkwing Scout should make the cut in your Ravnica Cube, wondered what picks Garruk would make in a draft, or spent hours debating which basic lands are the best, this is the column for you.

Silkwing Scout | Art by Rebecca Guay

I kicked off My Favorite Flavor with my Jötun Owl Keeper story because it does a good job of showing what I think is so special about Magic's flavor. With just three cards, printed years apart, I was able to experience an evocative little narrative in the middle of an otherwise normal game. How cool is that?

What can you expect out of My Favorite Flavor? It'll vary from week to week, but my goal will always be to have fun while exploring an aspect of the game beyond power, toughness, casting cost, and rules text. I won't restrict our journey to any one format, so I might propose an FNM-ready Standard deck focusing on Ojutai and his brood one week and a wonky Goblin brew featuring cards from Tempest block the next. I love playing Commander, too, so we'll make regular forays into the world of hundred-card deck building as well.

My other major goal of My Favorite Flavor is to explore fun new ways of playing Magic. We'll create Cubes designed to capture the essence of Theros and Tarkir. We'll build our own duel decks and battle them against each other. I'll introduce you to Flavor Draft, a format where flavor-based arbitration dictate the rules of the game. We'll explore Stipulation Drafts and Sealed Deck pools where I give myself flavor-based goals or a Planeswalker persona to take on before the first pack is opened. We'll dive in the worlds of Planechase and Vanguard in an attempt to create new ways to approach multiplayer, based on everyone's favorite characters and settings.

One of the things I love most about Magic flavor is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. Sometimes, it's fun to devour the latest installment of Uncharted Realms and build decks based on the mythic rareal figures present in Magic's rich lore. Other times, I just want to make the bear-iest Bear deck possible or see what happens when I put all of the cards that look like they'd fit in on a spaceship into one deck. I'll be exploring both sides of that spectrum in My Favorite Flavor, and I expect there to be plenty of shenanigans happening alongside the more 'serious' articles.

The world, as they say, is our oyster.

A Flock Of Seagulls

What kind of deck might you come across in My Favorite Flavor? Well, in honor of my beloved Jötun Owl Keeper, let's put together a sample deck that's strictly for the birds.

Unlike most Tribal Bird decks, I'm going to declare bird-like people to be off-limits. As much as I love Aven Brigadier and Lieutenant Kirtar, they don't belong in the same deck as actual birds like Thieving Magpie and community favorite, Storm Crow. How would they even communicate?

Aven Brigadier | Art by Greg Staples

Soraya the Falconer is free to help us out, though. Her oracle text changed 'Falcon' to 'Bird,' so I'm guessing she's learned how to train all sorts of avian creatures in the years since Homelands was released. She'll be a big help.

Bird Tribal was a supported archetype back in the Odyssey and Onslaught days. That gives us access to some very powerful support cards like Soulcatchers' Aerie, Airborne Aid, and Battle Screech. The Squadron Hawks are also happy to fight for our team, and I'm pretty sure they'll enjoy being given Banding by Soraya. It'll help them learn how to fight in an even more formidable squadron.

I generally like to add some solid Equipment to any deck I build around small flying creatures, but unfortunately for us, most pieces of Equipment are just too big for birds to carry. One option is to stock the deck with copies of Supply-Line Cranes (they're clearly able to handle a sword) but my favorite solution is simply to add a couple of Basilisk Collars. They're made from the fangs of dead Basilisks, so they should be tiny enough for even our smallest birds to handle. Throw one on a creature with first strike, like Steeple Roc, and you have a pretty unstoppable blocker, too.

I also think it's worth including a copy of Paradise Mantle. Our deck needs all of the white and blue mana it can get for Jötun Owl Keeper, so we're not going to be able to include Birds of Paradise, Magic's most iconic bird. Lucky for us, the mantle will allow any of our birds to take on that role.

Here's the build I'm going with for now:

The Bird's The Word

This is a pretty top-heavy version of the deck, and it's important to watch your curve when you've got to pay for Jötun Owl Keeper's cumulative upkeep on a fairly regular basis. As long as your opening hand has a Squadron Hawk in it, though, you should be set on two-drops for the rest of the game.

Be sure to use the Ice Age art for Swords to Plowshares if you can. This is the most important spell in the deck, and the Ice Age version features a perfectly on-flavor painting of woman's sword transforming into a dove.

When it comes to basic lands, both Champions of Kamigawa Plains #290 and Mirage Plains A feature birds in the art. On the blue side of things, Rise of the Eldrazi Island #234 has a really nice flock of birds in it. There are some prominent hedrons in the art, though, so if you'd prefer not to have your battle take place on Zendikar, you could opt for Ice Age Island C. It has a seagull in the foreground.

If you find yourself enjoying the Dovescape subgame (everything is birds!!), I suggest adding a few copies of an X spell like Braingeyser or Override. These cards may not technically be on-flavor, but paying X to make X birds certainly fits the spirit of the deck.

That's all for this week! If you have any deck ideas or suggestions for flavor-based formats you'd like me to try out, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @ChasAndres or email me at candres@gmail.com.



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