Tribal Attractions: A Halloween Horror Story

Happy Halloween! The boundary with the Otherworld is at its thinnest! Time to appease those mischievous spirits, lest they give us bad draws all year long! Let's do it with some sympathetic magic, by building a cool, spooky casual deck using the most holiday-appropriate of all the tribes.

Magic: The Gathering is large and contains multitudes, including its fair share of horror tropes. We have ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves and witches (though the latter never became a creature type). Not to mention an entire setting, Innistrad, based on a top-down horror-inspired design. We literally have Frankenstein's Monster and a Ghost Ship!

Frankenstein's Monster Ghost Ship
These references have become a bit more subtle lately.

So, if you want to "dress" your deck for Halloween, you'll truly find an embarrassment of riches. Or you can go, as I did, with the simplest solution: the tribe that is named after the concept itself.

Cosmic Horror
Too bad this one has no Lovecraftian flavor whatsoever. Also, it, you know, sucks.

Let's build a horror-themed tribal deck with Horrors! It'll be casual of course, but not relentlessly so. To make it at least marginally competitive, we'll have to look into the finest Horror creatures available. The tribe is very old and pretty large, coming to encompass every "deviant" variation of other subtypes; whenever a creature has something "wrong" that makes it scarier than usual, it gets the Horror type. They also come in every color, but for our purposes, we want to stay in black, as I don't think Balefire Liege or Bruna, the Fading Light make for good Halloween flair. But even if we restrict our choices to black Horrors only, we'll find there's still a whole lot of them. On the other hand, once we've gone mono-black, it becomes easier to identify the indisputable top option at our disposal, the very pinnacle of Magic's Horrors.

Phyrexian Obliterator
Phyrexian Obliterator, I choose you!

With the Obliterator as our centerpiece, we naturally cascade into several other choices. First of all, we want our Phyrexian bogeyman to not simply wait for the opponent to desperately throw some blocker in front of it, or to kill it with a double Lightning Bolt (pro tip: they won't). Played straight, Phyrexian Obliterator is just an unblockable beater that has to be dispatched in a way that doesn't involve damage. But we're eviler than that, and we want it to actually obliterate the opponent's permanents. A sure way to accomplish that is to have the Obliterator fight the opponent's creatures. This means a green splash for Prey Upon or Pounce (or a red splash for Pit Fight, but I don't think red will be useful for the deck otherwise; green might). A good color-independent alternative is Triangle of War, but I'm not sure we want to be in Legacy just yet.

Prey Upon Pounce Triangle of War
Plus, a triangle does not feel especially spooky.

Secondarily, we want our Obliterator to not be dispatched in the mentioned way that doesn't involve damage – or at all, unless those two Lightning Bolts actually happen (pro tip: they won't). To this end, the Horror tribe gives us the perfect teammate: Spellskite. It also provides a system to fetch the Obliterator directly onto the battlefield with Fleshwrither, but I think that's too clunky, you first have to cast a completely underwhelming black Hill Giant, then activate it at sorcery speed for three further mana. There's a reason transfigure has never been brought back… so far.

Spellskite Fleshwrither
You can Fleshwrither into Gravedigger, rinse, repeat. Not exactly Primal Command and Eternal Witness, uh?

Another thing the Obliterator may suggest is to increase its power, in order to make its clock faster and force a block that might result in an even worse fate. Some cheap equipment like Bonesplitter might do, since our f(r)iend already has trample to boost its threat factor. Also, we certainly want to drop an Obliterator onto the board as quickly as possible, but I'm not keen on using green mana dorks or land fetchers, as they don't fit the theme very well. Harrow could actually be appropriate (Halloween originates from harvest festivals, after all), but it just ensures we hit Obliterator mana on turn four, so it doesn't really accelerate us into it. Dark Ritual certainly does, so this might be the first instance where we admit we do want to be in Legacy – clearly the deck is not designed to operate within a proper Legacy meta, but I'm confident it could hold its own in Legacy Tribal Wars.

Harrow Dark Ritual
One is more horror-related than the other.

Time to fill our other tribal slots, then. Four Obliterators might be a given, four Spellskites might be too many, considering the little mechanical Horror does nothing else except protecting its larger tribesmate. The same equipment we use on the Obliterator can help giving Spellskite some modicum of offensive power, though. A good card to bridge the gap in the curve between these two Horrors is Phyrexian Rager, the tribe's Elvish Visionary. It's unimpressive stats-wise – just a freaking Gray Ogre – but it kindly replaces itself, getting us close to draw into our finishers.

Phyrexian Rager
There's no horror like a Phyrexian horror.

And now I just realized something: once we established we are in Legacy and we have some green mana already floating around, we may as well use Birthing Pod. This way the Rager will literally get us closer to the Obliterator – one Pod activation closer! Which reminds me that Horror includes a couple of strong "enters the battlefield" triggers in Ravenous Chupacabra and Slum Reaper. Perfect to Pod into.

Birthing Pod Ravenous Chupacabra Slum Reaper
That's a neat package.

Both of those cost four mana, like the Obliterator, so we'll need a larger platform at CMC 3 for the Pod to launch from. Eternal Scourge feels like a good one to sacrifice, if we include some way to exile it from the graveyard to get it back. Too bad we won't be able to double splash for Moorland Haunt!

Eternal Scourge Moorland Haunt
Damn! This would have been a good combo AND some great Halloween flavor!

The tribe has actually one member that could send a dead Eternal Scourge to the exile zone, Makeshift Mauler; but I doubt we'd want to splash blue for that one. Or for Ongoing Investigation, for that matter. We can use Murderous Cut as removal, thus occasionally delving through some Scourge cadaver, but I'd like to have some way to consistently recur the Scourge. After some musing, Fungal Plots looked like a good way to exploit the green splash we're already going to have to contain the Pod's loss of life, something Fungal Plots also does.

Fungal Plots
And the fungi are autumnal, so they fit the theme well enough. Also, they might be from Yuggoth.

All the deck's lands could easily be Swamps, which would hint at Cabal Coffers, but I don't think we'll need to generate large amounts of mana (same reason why, at the opposite end of the ramp spectrum, I wouldn't care for thematically mismatched Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, despite the four black symbols on the Obliterator, or rather because of them, as I'd hate to awkwardly miss a black source by turn four). There isn't any mana dump of any sort in the deck so far, and I don't particularly like any of the more expensive Horrors, like Hypnox or Devouring Strossus. I do like one of their other intersections with the Nightmare tribe, though, and that's Mesmeric Fiend. Admittedly, it doesn't play well with the Pod, but it could provide crucial disruption to protect the Obliterator, and Spellskite is in turn able to protect the Fiend. Along these lines, Phyrexian Revoker is another solid option, but it's more of a sideboard card, and I'm building for Tribal Wars, so there will be no sideboard. Also, it's not spooky enough, looks like an antagonist from the Cars franchise.

Hypnox Mesmeric Fiend
How much of a nightmare are we going to have here?

To cap it all off, I wanted at least one five-drop to have something the Pod can find starting from a Chupacabra. I already had fun with Voldaren Pariah in one of my Vampire decks, and she's a Horror too, with a powerful transform trigger that this deck could achieve by sacrificing residual Ravagers and Chupacabras, Saproling tokens, or the always eager-to-die Eternal Scourge.

Voldaren Pariah
And she also looks like a sexy Halloween costume that, wait, that's not a costume!

Finally, I've always liked Creakwood Liege, which simultaneously pumps the Obliterators, as long as everything else, including the Saprolings, while also providing more stuff to sacrifice to the Pariah – or just to attack with. At this point there was no much room left for equipment (there goes my pipe dream of equipping Inquisitor's Flail on the Obliterator), so I just included one singleton Ghostfire Blade (a g-g-g-ghostfire!), which interacts brilliantly with both Spellskite and Eternal Scourge.

Creakwood Liege
This guy seems really Halloween-friendly. It creates worms!

The Case of the Crawling Horrors in the Green Meadow

So, here's our spooky list:

Now we're only missing one card, which is the real reason we ended up in Legacy. You know what it is. You waited for it. You saw it coming since the beginning of the article.

All Hallow's Eve
Happy Samhain!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

Tribal Attractions Archive

  1. Angels
  2. Sphinges
  3. Demons
  4. Hydras
  5. Dragons
  6. Vampires

Do you want to play Tribal? Come join the free Tribal Wars tournament on MTGO every Saturday at 5 PM UTC. Modern Tribal Wars is on the third week of each month (the pool for the first and the fourth week is Legacy, for the second week is Standard). The Discord channel is here.


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