It all started two years ago.
The pale walls of the auditorium dripped with sweat as the night began to creep skyward. The July 5 PTQ was small, clocking in at under a hundred players, but the competition was no less worthy. Only the players who were determined to clinch that coveted slot had braved their way out of bed.
I hadn't decided to go until the night prior, but, with a few small modifications from the Faeries decklist I made Top 8 with at the Seattle PTQ the week before, I wheeled my way into the finals of the tournament. Only one opponent stood in my way.
Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be easy.
Unlike the last two opponents, who I had dispatched in tight games in the Faeries mirror, I was up against a very different concoction this round. My good friend and opponent for the finals, Cris Pauly, was piloting a strange Shamans deck. He had run straight through a field full of Faeries and Five-Color Control to make his second PTQ finals appearance with his deck in three weeks. His deck was a gigantic question mark. I hadn't tested against it, but I knew he had smashed a bunch of other Faeries players during the tournament.
We sat down to play, Cris got terrible draws, and I handed him another finals loss in two quick, anticlimactic games. I knew that if he had decent draws, I probably would've lost.
I never heard about another Shamans deck anywhere else. It seemed as though I had knocked it off the face of the Earth. But I never forgot it. I never forgot what could have been, but most importantly, I never forgot how I watched him dismantle opponent after opponent.
When it came time to work on Extended, the first place I went were the unexplored linear strategies. You saw what I did with Elementals a few weeks ago – that was just the beginning of the process. After a lot of testing and sifting through the chaff, I have found another uncovered gem in the list of tribal linears.
Let me introduce you to Shamans!
- 4 Bosk Banneret
- 1 Cunning Sparkmage
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Fulminator Mage
- 4 Leaf-Crowned Elder
- 1 Masked Admirers
- 4 Master of the Wild Hunt
- 4 Mul Daya Channelers
- 4 Rage Forger
- 4 Wolf-Skull Shaman
Despite the unconventional look of the deck, it actually packs a lot of power. On the surface, it's an aggressive midrange deck. However, it can play both offense and defensive very well. Let me explain how the deck works.
The Core Strategy
Every nonland card in the maindeck is a creature, and every creature is a Shaman. While this may seem like I'm needlessly pushing the linear too hard, it's actually very important.
Wolf-Skull Shaman and Leaf-Crowned Elder – two of your most powerful cards – want you to find Shamans on top of your library every turn. I tried some non-Shamans, and they didn't work. Every trigger is very important; as-is, you'll hit a little more than half of the time. Kinship is a mechanic rife with variance, and the best way to reduce that variance is to give you the best odds on it.
In addition to the kinship cards, you also have Rage Forger. The overlooked Elemental Shaman is absurdly powerful in this deck and part of the reason why it's worth playing this linear at all. His trigger essentially gives all of your other creatures +2/+2 plus puts your guys out of Volcanic Fallout range.
If that wasn't enough, multiple Forgers generate some of the most absurd draws you can see with a midrange deck. Often, you can kill your opponent out of nowhere by just Fauna Shamaning for a Rage Forger at end of turn than casting a pair of them on your turn. Rage Forger gives you the capacity to take the game out from under your opponent's feet despite playing defense with Wolf-Skull Shamans and Leaf-Crowned Elders the rest of the game.
Of course, you don't always need Rage Forger to steal games.
Yes, Rage Forger is powerful, and yes, your kinship cards are great when maximized. However, the largest strength of this deck might just be how it capitalizes on everyone else's mana base.
People are running a lot of nonbasic lands right now, and this deck depletes those resources while also asking your opponent to deal with your efficient creatures. In a way, this is a land destruction deck masquerading as a Shamans deck. Your four Fulminator Mages are supplemented with a full set of Goblin Ruinblasters out of the sideboard, putting decks like 5-Color Control in a pretty rough spot.
To make your land destruction package even more brutal, Fauna Shaman lets you go find a way to blow up their lands every single turn. A lot of games just end when you cast turn 2 Shaman, turn 3 Fulminator Mage, and then Shaman for another Mage on turn 4.
There are a lot of other cards that help get the deck online. Most importantly is the innocent-looking Bosk Banneret. It accelerates all of your spells, allowing plays like a turn 3 Leaf-Crowned Elder or multiple two-drops on turn 3. The 1/3 body is also surprisingly useful in staving off early attacks. In a deck full of four-drops and with plenty of manlands to activate, Banneret saves you a lot of mana and really enables your spells.
When I first did a search for Shamans, Master of the Wild Hunt wasn't a card I expected to be in there. He's a Shaman – which is extremely fortunate for this deck. I started off with just one copy… and then found myself searching for it constantly.
So many decks in this format have a difficult time beating an active Master of the Wild Hunt. She's great against Jund, Faeries, Merfolk, and Doran and can seal the game against something like White Weenie if you get to that point in the game. She quickly eased her way up on the list, slowly taking over the position of Masked Admirers.
Masked Admirers is a great card for this deck. Not only is it a 3/2 body that cantrips and fights through the control deck's long game, but it's extraordinary with Fauna Shaman. You never run out of Fauna Shaman fuel because you can always rebuy Admirers when you cast the creature you searched for. When you're trying to LD your opponent out, this is especially useful.
So why only one? The problem is we can't make our deck a four-dropalooza. Leaf-Crowned Elder and Master of the Wild Hunt are both stronger cards. If you're expecting more 5-Color Control and Faeries than Jund, Merfolk, and other aggressive creature decks, I could see switching back to the Admirers, but otherwise you'll have to make do with just one. I'll still tutor for it if I know the game is going to go long, and it's a fine card to draw on its own.
Finally, we come to Mul Daya Channelers. The Channelers are often the worst creature in the deck (Sparkmage is worse in certain matchups) and are probably the cards I sideboard out most often. However, they're still plenty strong. One of their modes will always be turned on, and, while the mode is random, your fetchlands can help control them.
The largest reason for the Channelers' inclusion is as a curve consideration. Though tempting, you can't just make them Masked Admirers and call it good: if your Banneret gets killed on turn 2, you often need a reasonable three-drop.
When I was trying out the five-color build (more on that later), you had access to Doran, the Siege Tower and potentially Vampire Nighthawk, but in R/G, the only other reasonable choice is Taurean Mauler. Channelers is plenty solid, but don't be afraid to sideboard them out.
The lands this deck gets to run are gorgeous. The two-color mana base is generally smooth, only hiccupping if you end up with the dreaded Fire-Lit Thicket plus Mutavault draw (a necessary evil), and, unlike other midrange decks such as Jund, it's nice to have your mana consistently come up right.
Most importantly, you have access to an astounding eight manlands. Unlike other land destruction strategies which can have problems with the opponent recovering when you're out of land destruction, the manlands ensure you can mop up mana screwed opponents. (The manlands, by the way, are why this deck can't afford to play Ancient Ziggurat.)
The Murmuring Bosk almost never has problems entering the battlefield untapped and has tapped for a black mana to help cast Fulminator Mage many times. The one Reflecting Pool is better than the last Fire-Lit Thicket because it's better to draw Pool plus Thicket than two Thickets. I'd love to play a fourth Verdant Catacombs, but I didn't want to ever run the risk of running out of Forests.
With that all said, there are two ways you can take this deck. If you're willing to lose your manlands and play worse mana and several "enters the battlefield tapped" lands, then you can play a version with Doran (a Shaman!) that can also easily play Vampire Nighthawk, Nameless Inversion, and sideboard Thoughtseize.
I tried both versions and found the manlands too great of a loss for what black provides. You can make the mana in this deck slightly worse with four Bosks and six green fetchlands for just Nameless Inversion and Thoughtseize, but I wasn't happy with the unstable mana. Additionally, Inversion wasn't even that good. There were a few games where killing a creature was nice, but most of the time it wasn't even necessary.
Some of the cards in the sideboard might seem mysterious, so let me clear it all up.
Goblin Ruinblaster is pretty explanatory. The only question you might ask is why not maindeck him. My answer is that he's dead in too many matchups, and you don't want to be stuck with him on the draw against a deck he's not good against.
Cunning Sparkmage is great against a number of decks, including Merfolk, Polymorph, Elves, Faeries, and, if they don't have Honor of the Pure, White Weenie. If there's a Birds of Paradise and Lotus Cobra deck out there somewhere, Sparkmage would be good against them on the play.
All four of the Pyroclasm effects are for Elves and White Weenie. While they will sometimes kill your creatures, you can try and sculpt your plays around them. Often, they will hurt your opponent much more than they will hurt you. I prefer Pyroclasm to Firespout because two damage kills fewer of your creatures and costs less. I wanted one of these effects to be tutorable with Fauna Shaman, which is why there aren't just four Pyroclasms.
One very close matchup is the Wargate Scapeshift deck. Usually you're just a turn off from killing them. I tried Tunnel Ignus as an answer, but the problem is that they're already bringing in Firespout for you anyway, so you can't really productively use Ignus. Instead, I decided to take a different approach.
None of the Scapeshift decks have enough Mountains to trigger Valakut off of Scapeshift; they all rely on Prismatic Omen. As a result, if you can just put on pressure and then hold Back to Nature for when they go off; they can't kill you.
Back to Nature beats multiple Omens, which is why I have it over Nature's Claim. Keep in mind that the Valakut triggers check on resolution, so you can force them to go off and find all their Valakuts and then kill the Omen in response. Obviously they can float mana to Mana Leak or Cryptic Command, but usually you can play around the former, and they can't float an extra four for the latter.
5 Color Control
This is a great matchup. Your land destruction really puts them in a tight spot, and you have a lot of ways to get card advantage from a single creature. Watch out for Wurmcoil Engine; though sometimes you can set up board states with Rage Forger where you can profitably attack into it.
I sideboard out Master of the Wild Hunt here because you're sideboarding in another set of four-drops. I would also rather have Channelers as part of my curve because they get in under Cryptic Command.
On the play:
On the draw:
-2 Leaf-Crowned elder, -1 Mul Daya Channelers
It's tempting to bring in Back to Nature or Sylvok Replica, but all you can kill is Bitterblossom, and they're too unreliable. Additionally, I find Bitterblossom really isn't that crucial in this matchup. It gives them inevitability if the game goes long, but often you can just ignore it and force them to put Bitterblossom in forcefield mode.
On the play, you're the aggressor and can try to blow up their lands. They're going to be on the back foot and constantly trying to deal with your plays. On the draw, that usually doesn't work out as well; you don't need a bunch of four-drop Ruinblasters clogging your hand.
This is a great matchup. I find the only times you lose is when they have the Leech into Boggart Ram-Gang draw, and you have nothing. You can also lose to Demigods in the long game, but you can play for a land destruction plan to help make sure they can't deploy them. Master of the Wild Hunt is one of your best cards in this matchup.
Most of the lists I've been playing against don't have many nonbasic lands outside of Valakut. However, I have seen a few that pack plenty of manlands. If you face one of those, cut the last Master, the Admirers, and two Channelers for four Ruinblasters.
This is a hard matchup. Play well, and use your manlands to play around Cryptic Command wisely. The first time you get them with Back to Nature should be easy as they won't expect it, but if there's a game three after that, they may play a little differently.
I find Sparkmage a little on the weak side here because of Honor of the Pure and 2/2 Knights. However, he's better than Mage or Admirers in this matchup and worth bringing in.
This is a hard matchup. If they're on the play and have a fast draw, you'll likely get rolled. Don't be afraid to blow your Pyroclasms early if you need to. Honor of the Pure makes them worse the longer the game goes on, and often you just need to buy a little bit of time to get your engines online.
If they have EldraziMonument, you're going to want that Sylvok Replica in over a third Channelers as well.
It's hard to race them, so you're pretty much going to have to play the control game and kill off their creatures as you try and set up a Fauna Shaman. Once you have their board wiped and can start finding some Sparkmages or Masters then they can't really win, but it's all about stabilizing to reach that point. Sometimes they'll have draws you can't beat, but after sideboarding the matchup feels favorable.
Similar to Elves, you just need to stabilize. The only major difference is that Master of the Wild Hunt is better here than against Elves; if they don't immediately Path it, then they'll start slipping too far behind. Because they can't Primal Command you back like Elves can and are a little slower, Merfolk is fairly even game one and becomes much better after sideboarding.
As you're playing this deck, there are other cards I have noted and tried. Depending on your metagame, you may want to switch around the deck a little to include some of these.
Thorn of Amethyst: If you expect a lot of Pyromancer Ascension and Scapeshift decks with less ramp, these are a possibility over the Ruinblasters. They're just as good against 5-Color Control, while being useless against Jund and Faeries. Of course, unlike the Ruinblasters, they're not a Shaman.
Vexing Shusher: I don't think Shusher is that great, mostly because the spells you want to resolve the most are tempo-based, meaning you won't have the extra mana to spend on his activation. Additionally, he's just a 2/2, and most decks with countermagic have plenty of ways to deal with a 2/2. With all that said, he's worth keeping in mind.
Dragonmaster Outcast: I tried it and never got him to work. However, if you want to play the long game against Jund or 5-Color Control, you can play one or two of him. Holding onto a single copy and deploying it on turn 6 can swing the entire game.
Vithian Renegades: This card is extremely powerful but just a little narrow. If you expect the Tempered Steel deck to be popular, pack plenty of these guys. I haven't seen very much of it on Magic Online, but it put up great numbers at Worlds. This kind of card can allow you to easily punch through their strategy.
Lightning Crafter: I tried one of these over a Master for a while and wasn't impressed. However, it does have the ability to end the game fast and shut down a beatdown offense. It's something to consider as a one-of if you want to lock a game up against midrange.
Bloodbraid Elf : Yes, it is strange to play an R/G beatdown deck without the cascading Elf, but he doesn't fit here. His cost isn't reduced by Banneret, he's not a Shaman for your triggers, and your suite of four-drops is already plenty strong.
Tips and Tricks
This is a surprisingly complex deck with a lot of card interactions you may not be used to. After all, when was the last time you took out your Rage Forgers or cast a card with kinship? Before leaving you to try the deck out on your own, I want to provide a few notes on how some of the cards work together so you don't miss anything while you play.
- With four mana, you can activate Mutavault and cast Rage Forger to give the tapped Mutavault a +1/+1 counter.
- When you cast Rage Forger, you can wait until it has resolved and its triggered ability is on the stack to activate your Mutavault to help you play around Mana Leak.
- The counters on Raging Ravine are +1/+1 counters, meaning Rage Forger's second ability will trigger and deal an extra damage if a Raging Ravine that already had a counter on it attacks. Note that this only works if the Ravine had a counter on it prior to being declared as an attacker.
- Wolf-Skull Shaman tokens are Wolves, meaning they will be tapped for Master of the Wild Hunt's ability.
- Similarly, Mutavault is also a Wolf. You can activate it and use the Master's ability to deal extra damage.
- When you have a Wolf-Skull Shaman and a Leaf-Crowned Elder on the battlefield, make sure to order the triggers so you peak with the Wolf-Skull Shaman first. If you do it the other way around and the Elder casts the creature leaving a land on top, you won't get a Wolf.
- You can activate Verdant Catacombs or Fauna Shaman between two kinship triggers to try and shuffle a Shaman to the top if you see a land with the first kinship trigger.
- Similarly, you can use Verdant Catacombs to shuffle between a kinship trigger and your draw step to change the card you're going to draw.
- You can still pay the kicker cost of a Goblin Ruinblaster you cast off of Leaf-Crowned Elder.
Shamans! has several good matchups among popular decks right now. With the quick beatdown decks like White Weenie in hiding, I think it's the perfect time for a deck like this to make its mark. I know Wargate is picking up in popularity, and you may need to sideboard a couple more cards for it if others begin to adopt an enchantment removal plan. But, matchups aside, on top of everything else, the deck is really fun to play. Consider it for the upcoming PTQ season, and give it a try on Magic Online.
I'm very excited for the Nagoya PTQs and have been brewing like crazy. I'll continue to bring you the good decks I find among the heaps of bad ones I build. Sometimes I end up with the deckbuilder “morning after” when I boot up my laptop and find decklists that try to cast Hada Freeblade into Oona's Blackguard staring back at me, but it's true what they say: for every forty bad decks, there is one that shows promise. I'll try to keep you guys as up to date as I can throughout the PTQ season.
If you have any comments, feel free to post in the forums, send me an e-mail at Gavintriesagain at gmail dot com, or send me a tweet @GavinVerhey. Have a great time testing the wonderful format of Extended, and I'll talk to you soon!