Tribal Attractions: The Spirit of Christmas
- Gianluca Aicardi
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas tribal! What's better to get in a proper festive spirit than to actually build a Spirit deck? One that will be dreaming of a white and red-nosed finisher and where green grows the lifegaining mistletoe.
Which Magic colors are the Christmas colors? To me, it feels pretty easy to determine. Black is the easiest to eliminate, as it's the color of darkness, fear and decay, and these aren't very Christmassy. Plus, there's nothing festive that's painted in black at Christmas, except maybe Krampus (and Zwarte Piet, but that's not something we really want to remind anybody of). Blue is for water and for things that are cold and cerebral, not warm and emotional. That sentiment evokes red, so that's certainly one of our colors. Red feels like Christmas because it suggests bright lights, decorations, the fire of a hearth, and, well, a Santa Claus suit. White signifies purity and snow (I know there's no snow during Christmas in the Southern hemisphere, but all this iconography comes from Northern Europe anyway, so bear with me here). Finally, green makes the tree, of course.
All of this is pointing us toward a Naya deck. And you know what, there's actually a Naya-aligned creature that's always reminded me of Christmas, one that comes from the winter wonderland of Coldsnap.
A Festive Spirit
I don't know why exactly Tamanoa brings Christmas to my mind. Maybe it's the art, which is sort of a cross between some early Christian painting and a Christmas card. Or maybe it's the hieratic pose combined with the shiny, golden aura of the figure. Or the fact that it's a well-intentioned guy (it gives you life) but also loud and slightly chaotic (you need to cause some damage first).
Anyway, Tamanoa will be the centerpiece for our tribal deck, which is therefore bound to be a Spirit build, since that's the only subtype our shimmering friend has got. So immediately comes to mind a fellow Spirit with a similar and even more powerful triggered ability.
These two together are already giving us a pretty good idea of where the deck is going. We want to curve from Tamanoa into Balefire Liege, turning the former into a 4/6, then follow both up with either any white or red spell (Tamanoa itself is both) or with damage-dealing noncreature spells. So, the ideal play here is a spell that's simultaneously:
- not a creature
- dealing damage
Do you see what I see? A helix, a helix, dancing in the night!
Man, with both our enablers out, a single Lightning Helix plus cascading triggers will amount to six damage and nine life! Since Tamanoa doesn't care about colors, but the Liege does, I guess the deck will be mostly Boros, only splashing green for our three-drop. Specifically, we want spells that satisfy both of Liege's triggers, like the Helix does. Boros has a lot of good options for damage-dealing spells, and at this point we might well remain within the Modern pool, as I can't imagine really needing anything that predates the first Ravnica block. That's the block that provides the best companion card for Tamanoa: Searing Meditation.
Thanks to Searing Meditation, you can cast Lightning Helix, get some life, then pay two to do more damage, which will trigger Tamanoa's lifegaining, triggering in turn Meditation again. It's a bit mana-intensive, and it's the kind of permanent that does nothing the turn you drop them, a problem only partially mitigated by the Liege triggering upon casting it. A similar enchantment that works well with Tamanoa is Manabarbs, but I like Meditation better because it's more tactical, more Liege-oriented, and also more thematic: Christmas calls more for meditating than for doing whatever Manabarbs is supposed to represent (probably something that happens when Chandra and Nissa get really excited together). Same goes for Pyrohemia, I guess, but you can keep these in mind for your own Tamanoa brew.
A spell that we really want was just added to the Boros arsenal through Guilds of Ravnica. Deafening Clarion is a sensible sweeper that double-triggers the Liege, potentially generates tons of life via Tamanoa, and doesn't kill either of our guys. And it's a very noisy trumpet, so it's festive!
Guilds of Ravnica also contained one of the best spot removals ever printed in Boros colors, Justice Strike, but that doesn't play into Tamanoa's strengths because it doesn't deal damage directly, the affected creature does. So I'll go with the versatility of Response // Resurgence instead, and also an underrated spell from Alara Reborn, Intimidation Bolt. It's a bit expensive for a three-damage bolt, but the preemptive Fog-like effect is nice. Aurelia's Fury is even more flexible, but requires more mana in average, and I don't know that Aurelia has really anything to do with our theme here – not that intimidating people does, but the sight of Aurelia getting angry feels un-Christmaslike.
Lastly, we want our very important lords to survive as long as possible, so a couple Boros Charm are warranted. Plus, they can easily turn from a defensive play into a finishing blow.
Which brings us to the Spirit team. One that I'm positive I want on board is Selfless Spirit. It protects its bigger brothers and is a 3/2 flyer for two mana if a Liege is around. Plus, it's actually selfless. How flavorful is that in a Christmas deck?
The thing is, we don't have many more Boros Spirits other than Tamanoa and Balefire Liege. In fact, there's just one other, Eventide's Nobilis of War, but it's not a very good five-drop in this deck. Or at all. Since green is a splash, and red is not a very Spirit-friendly color, I'm prepared to have most of the remaining tribal component in white. I mean, the most relevant red Spirit is probably Simian Spirit Guide, and it could maybe make some sense to accelerate into the Liege, but what's the ghost of an ape doing in this deck? Eidolon of the Great Revel has more thematic resonance, and some strategic synergy, but I'm not fully convinced (it would be a good sideboard options if we built a sideboard, though). I kinda like Glitterfang, instead. It's a way to trigger the Liege aggressively every turn for a very cheap cost (sort of the opposite of what Blinking Spirit would be doing), and it escapes Deafening Clarion. Plus it has "glitter" in its name. Glitter is festive!
Our battleplan is survival until enough Liege triggers can seal the deal, so we should focus on things that keep us and our key Spirits alive. Moonlit Strider counters any spot removal aimed at the Liege, but it's too expensive and less impactful than Selfless Spirit. Spirit of the Hearth is thematic and powerful, but also asks us to raise our curve, in a deck that won't have any meaningful way to ramp. Kami of False Hope is Fog, and we could find some way to recur it, but "false hope"? That's not Christmassy at all! (Now, Emissary of Hope would fit better, if it weren't such a terrible card).
All in all, I think Wall of Reverence is a good card for us. It defends marvelously, gives us even more life, and fits the theme just fine. Windborn Muse could be useful too, but so far every Spirit in the deck either resists a Clarion or doesn't care, while the Muse would just sadly succumb to it.
We have Selfless Spirit, though, whose job description includes self-sacrifice, and Remorseful Cleric is a similar card we could maindeck to disrupt graveyard shenanigans (and because Christmas is a time when even priests should take a hard look at themselves). And given that every Christmas tree needs a decorative angel, a singleton Angel of Flight Alabaster seems welcome here, even if she doesn't look like she's in a very cheerful mood.
But speaking of trees, I briefly wondered if Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit could have made the cut, as she does combo with Glitterfang after all. Then I realized she would just put her counters onto the bouncy little Spirit itself, which would be of very little use.
A Ghost-Story of Christmas
So here's our merry list:
|4Arid Mesa||1Angel of Flight Alabaster||2Boros Charm|
|3Battlefield Forge||4Balefire Liege||2Intimidation Bolt|
|3Clifftop Retreat||3Glitterfang||4Lightning Helix|
|3Inspiring Vantage||2Remorseful Cleric||2Response // Resurgence|
|1Mountain||4Selfless Spirit||4Deafening Clarion|
|2Sacred Foundry||3Wall of Reverence|
And this is how you build a fully functional, fun-based, holidays-inspired deck. I'm pretty sure nobody would ever use black for Christmas-themed cards.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
Tribal Attractions Archive
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