An Actual Tribal Squirrel Deck in Modern

Mark Rosewater has won yet another uphill battle. One of his many pet projects, the reintroduction of Squirrels in black-bordered Magic, has crossed a crucial milestone with the printing of twelve new cards in Modern Horizons 2. Now Modern has become fertile terrain for the woodland critters to conquer.

squirrel sovereign

The saga of the Squirrels in Magic originates from flavor. When Liege of the Hollows was printed in Weatherlight, it seemed appropriate for an ancient forest spirit to be surrounded by little woodland creatures. The same went for Deranged Hermit, who appeared two years later in Urza's Legacy. It depicts a crazy old man who lives in the woods; of course he's best friends with Squirrels. The following year, Squirrel Wrangler would put the rodents in a more central position, by mentioning them right there in its name (though Squirrel Farm did it first in Unglued). But we still had to wait for the release of Odyssey to see the first couple of creatures bearing the actual type.

liege of the hollows deranged hermit

Krosan Beast and Squirrel Mob were accompanied by a group of other cards that generated Squirrel tokens, some of which were even Constructed playable, like Chatter of the Squirrel and Squirrel Nest. Unfortunately, this sudden bloom didn't mark the beginning of an era for the tribe. In fact, it marked its end.

squirrel mob squirrel nest

During the two decades that followed Odyssey, the creative department, in harsh disagreement with head designer and Squirrel enthusiast Mark Rosewater, deemed the Squirrels too comical for premier sets, essentially preventing new ones from seeing the light of day. They took refuge in the Rosewater-led Un- sets, with occasional reminders of their existence buried in proto-batching like Swarmyard or in supplemental product cards like Acorn Catapult.

Years went by, creative department members hostile to Squirrels left for other positions, and Magic started to be way less selective about what feels "serious" enough for black border. After all, is leading into battle an army of Squirrels really a more far-fetched idea than doing so with Goats or Oxen? How is it that Rabbits and Turtles are acceptable, but Squirrels aren't? These considerations would ultimately lead to the return of the subtype in a Standard set, which occurred when Helica Glider was printed in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. A few sets later, Toski, Bearer of Secrets became the first legendary Squirrel to appear outside of a silver-bordered set. Kaldheim's setting was especially favorable, as Toski is inspired by Ratatoskr from actual Norse mythology, but the Squirrels kept coming: slowly, and then all at once.

helica glider toski, bearer of secrets scurrid colony

Now, Modern Horizons 2 is not a premier set, so all the new Squirrels and Squirrel-related cards it just introduced (as well as the reprint of Squirrel Mob) aren't legal in Standard or Pioneer. This said, Modern is still one step closer to those sets compared to the Eternal formats, so the message seems loud and clear: the Squirrels are back, and they're here to stay. And if that's the case, then it's time to build a Modern deck where the little suckers are front and center.

A Storm in the Trees


Let's start by taking stock of what the format has to offer in terms of Squirrel technology. Out of the three tribal members currently in Standard, only Toski looks Constructed playable. The first Modern Horizons set had Deep Forest Hermit, a callback to Deranged Hermit that could potentially be interesting as a way to put four tokens onto the battlefield at once, for five mana. The anthem effect itself disappears after just two combat phases, though, which isn't ideal. Squirrel Nest was also reprinted there, and that's a solid token generator, if perhaps in need of some degree of build-around, like land untappers.

chatterfang squirrel sovereign

It's clear the lion's share of the deck is going to belong to the Modern Horizons 2 cards. Some of the commons and uncommons that have to do with Squirrels seem designed for Limited, but the very first mythic rare in the tribe's name, Chatterfang, Squirrel General, is a pretty good card. For starters, it's a perfectly reasonable 3/3 three-drop with a form of evasion. And it can turn Squirrels into removal by just spending a single black mana, which combos with Squirrel Sanctuary. Most importantly, Chatterfang essentially doubles any other token generation that happens in its presence.

We also have Squirrel Sovereign as a functional two-mana anthem lord, following the blueprint of uncommon tribal cards like Merfolk Mistbinder, Legion Lieutenant, and Inspiring Veteran, but even easier to cast being monocolored. The plan here seems to involve going wide by creating a large number of tokens, then boosting them to strike for lethal—a well-tried strategy with plenty of precedents. The most intriguing card in this scenario might just be Chatterstorm, then. Can we really take the storm route with Squirrels? Let's find out.

All right, the answer to that question is: no, we can't really go storm with Squirrels. Mostly because storm in Modern requires not just to play red, which we could easily splash, but to run cards that can be cast exclusively for red mana. In fact, aside from a win condition, a storm deck is made of three distinct components: cantrips, to keep casting spells without emptying our hand; rituals, to generate extra mana while still adding to the storm count; and ideally a way to access the graveyard so after the first wave of spells we'll have another. Now, green has access to cheap cantrips; in fact, this list still includes two of them in the form of classic "free" storm enabler Manamorphose and Strixhaven's latest addition Charge Through.

We could even consider running Gaea's Will in lieu of recursion effects like Past in Flames or Underworld Breach, even if the suspend mechanic telegraphs exactly when we're going to try and combo off. Alas, four turns are generally too many to wait for, so it's only going to work if we suspend Gaea's Will very early on. Regardless, the real problem is that Modern's choice suite of mana boosters amounts to Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual, and both generate all-red mana, which we won't have enough ways to fully exploit.

manamorphose chatterstorm

It's too bad, because Chatterstorm is a viable storm finisher, almost on the same level as Empty the Warrens. Granted, the reduced casting cost wouldn't be very relevant in a regular storm deck, whereas the halving of the token production would necessitate a storm count twice as high as the one this kind of build usually aims for. On the other hand, if we go off with Chatterstorm while fearless Squirrel leader Chatterfang is on the battlefield, we'll have our rodents catch up with the Goblins' superior birth rate.

And the thing is, we don't need to go all in on the storm plan. A traditional storm deck is very focused because it doesn't have any other avenue to victory. But the Squirrels have plenty of plan-B options. Casting Chatterstorm with a storm count of three is entirely within the realm of possibility, and that'll generate eight tokens with Chatterfang around. Both Squirrel Sovereign and Sylvan Anthem double their power, while Toski puts the connective capabilities of such a wide team to good use, replenishing our hand in the midgame. On top of that, Squirrel Mob can go tall instead, benefiting from the occasional Charge Through.

squirrel sanctuary verdant command

Squirrel Sanctuary is a secondary source of tokens that synergizes better with Chatterstorm than the older Squirrel Nest, since it only costs one mana and can combine with Chatterfang to be replayed more than once during the turn we're storming off. Verdant Command creates two Squirrels for two mana, with additional value attached. The last Squirrel card we're running is Ravenous Squirrel, another one-drop for storm purposes as well as another creature capable of generating card advantage while also providing more synergy with Chatterfang. It's going tall while the General throws our more expendable troops at our enemies. The only rare Squirrel card that didn't fit the deck is the artifact Chitterspitter, which felt a bit too costly and slow to get going, but it's certainly a consideration for the more grindy matchups against control.

In the end, the list has the advantage of a strong curve and packs an unexpected amount of cool interactions. It could be a good way to prove to your buddies at FNM that Squirrels are a legitimate threat that should be taken seriously.

Chatterfang, Squirrel General

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Liuxing(08.08.2021 01:03)

I would have played nested shambler to synergize with chatterfang, it doubles the tokens that you sacrifice.

Stego88(14.06.2021 11:57)

Hello Gianluca,

I think Squirrel Sanctuary won't harmonize with Chatterfang as well as you think, because it says "nontoken creature". :-)
So you had to sacrifice your "normal" squirrels to trigger its bounce effect, hadn't you?

Regards Stego88 (Stefan)

CyberDevil(14.06.2021 17:39)

Stego88 I think he wants to kill stuff using the ability, and that would bounce the Sanctuary back

zonno21(16.06.2021 10:15)(Edited: 16.06.2021 10:15)


It needs a non-token creature you control to die, so the killing off would have to involve killing your own squirrels with -X/-X, which wouldn't be the best of ideas...