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Lordy, Lordy, Here's a Top 10!

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Priest of Titania
Pretty much everyone who plays Magic has at one point or another built a tribal deck. You found yourself playing against someone else’s tribal deck and decided you wanted to try it out or you just noticed that you had a lot of Goblins and wondered if a deck made up of just Goblins would work.

I build my first Elf deck because of Priest of Titania. The idea of an almost limitless supply of mana was captivating, and I went about building the deck. There is no need for a decklist here; the deck was a horrible failure. The deck ran a multitude of Elves and ways to untap the Priest. What it didn’t run were effective ways to use all that mana and ways to protect my fragile tribe of 1/1s.

For many of us, early problems with tribal decks have done nothing to dampen our love. What instead happens is a further drive to find better cards and build better decks for the various tribes. The lords of various tribes can bring these decks from weak-kneed wannabes to kitchen-table powerhouses, feared by everyone you play with.

In an effort to rank the Top 10 Tribal Lords, I ran into a few of issues. The first issue was the power of the tribe. Elves and Goblins are already pretty strong even without any tribal lord. When considering the lords, do you consider the power of the tribe? With this list, I tried to avoid that as much as possible. What I tried to look at was how the lord made the tribe better. If the improvement was only minimal, the lord didn’t make the cut. Since the bigger tribes tend to be better, their lords have to do even more to improve their tribes, so it was more difficult for, say, a Zombie lord to make the cut than it would be for an Elephant lord.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Another issue involved cards that gave bonuses to creatures of various colors. Balefire Liege is a boon for most creature-based R/W decks. Elesh Norn would help any white tribe you want to build around. In fact, there are so many of these types of creatures (and even other permanents such as Honor of the Pure) that my Top 10 Tribal Lords list would be made up of creatures that never mention a tribe! This didn’t seem right at all, so unless the creature (yes, it must be a creature) offers a benefit to a specific tribe, it is out!

I also decided to exclude creatures that are better by being in a tribe. While I still love the Priest of Titania, she offers nothing to the tribe that surrounds her, only taking the benefits of the multitude. This list only looks at the creatures that do something for other creatures in the tribe.

The lords that offer something a little different were ranked higher. A lord that gives +1/+1 to all Eyes is going to rank lower than another lord that gives them first strike. Lords that provide unique or rare benefits tended to rank higher. Admittedly, a lord that offers protection from Birds is probably not going to make the list over a more generic lord, but I think you’ll understand what I mean when you see the list . . . Although a Scarecrow lord that offered protection from Birds would score some serious style points!

Finally, while I tried to consider each based on what is on the card, I found that my own experiences with various lords swayed my opinion. At least two of the lords on the list are there in part because they have done good work for me or caused me no end of pain.

Honorable Mentions – Armament Master, Verdeloth the Ancient, Horde of Notions, Kinsbaile Cavalier

Horde of Notions
Each of these cards is great with the tribe it’s associated with, but none is good enough to break into the Top 10. The Armament Master can realistically give +6/+6 to other Kors, but in a tribe built around that, you might as well be attacking with the creature that you have Voltroned up.

Verdeloth brings his own tribe with him, but the cost to bring him into play with some Saprolings can be prohibitive and makes him useless in the early game. Horde of Notions is a way to play expensive Elementals in any color, but you need to set up your rainbow before anything happens. Kinsbaile Cavalier (affectionately known as Lebron in my group before he left for the Heat) won me a bunch of games. Double strike is just a dominant ability to give to an entire tribe. However, it’s still not quite good enough to break the Top 10.

10 – Captain of the Watch

Captain of the Watch
A lord that gives +1/+1 and vigilance is not going to be enough to make it to the Top 10. Vigilance is a fine ability, particularly in multiplayer, but it isn’t enough, particularly when the Captain costs 6 mana. Soldiers are going to want this benefit much earlier in the game. The Captain makes the list because she brings three Soldiers with her. For 6 mana, she provides 9 power worth of vigilant creatures, all while pumping the other Soldiers.

I looked at other creatures that either bring tribe members when they enter the battlefield (Deranged Hermit) or can make tribe members (Imperious Perfect and Chainer, Dementia Master). You can consider this spot in the Top 10 the tribe-generator spot! I picked the Captain since she seemed to have something over each of the other options. Deranged Hermit has the echo cost (while that is fine in a combo deck, the point of a Lord is to stick around and keep giving the ability), the Perfect doesn’t offer the tribe more than +1/+1 and another random Elf, and Chainer, while very cool, exiles your entire tribe when he leaves play. When that is the downside, you can be sure that your opponents are going to find a way to make sure he leaves play even if it is just to laugh at you when your entire board disappears.

9 – Reaper King

Reaper King
I was reluctant to include a lord that costs so much and has the color requirements of the Reaper King. Those sort of demands limit when he will make it on the battlefield. So why is he here?

  1. Flavor. The Reaper King is a Scarecrow lord! A freakin’ Scarecrow! Have you read the flavor text?
  2. No other lords can destroy a permanent like the Reaper King can.1 The ability to bounce/blink one of the few members of this tribe will let you dominate the board. When you consider just how sad the Scarecrow tribe is, the Reaper King becomes an essential part of any Scarecrow tribal deck.

8 – Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
On my first pass with this list, Haakon did not make the cut. Other than Black Knight and the new Knight of Infamy, how many other black Knights could there be? Would Haakon be a decent lord if most of the Knights were white? Getting multiple copies of him provides you with nothing extra, and you have to put him into your graveyard before you can do anything with him.

When Daryl suggested I take a second look at Haakon, I discovered there were thirty-two different black Knights! Admittedly, most of them are not too exciting, but there are options. In spite of the strikes against him, the ability to play Knights out of your graveyard is amazing. Your opponents’ removal spells become limited to exile spells, and you cast your Knights again and again.

7 – Diregraf Captain

Diregraf Captain
The Diregraf Captain is a lord that takes advantage of the strengths of his tribe. A Zombie tribe is likely to become quite large with Zombie tokens. Giving those tokens a +1/+1 bonus counts for a sizeable advantage when you have five, ten, or even fifteen Zombies on the battlefield. Zombies also tend to die well. They don’t tend to have protection or anything that stops them from dying. The Captain just encourages you to throw your Zombies at a wall. Even the ones that die trying still offer something to the effort.

Part of why this made the list is the benefit in multiplayer. While one player may be unassailable by your Zombies, you can always attack someone else. Any dead Zombies can do their damage to the unassailable player. This also works well on defense. It may not be as good as a Fling, but doing it repeatedly is a significant benefit.

After going over two legendary lords, it is important to mention that the Diregraf Captain is not legendary, so you can have two of them out at once. Bigger Zombies and more life loss is just another reason this card is on the list.

6 – Undead Warchief

Undead Warchief
All of the Scourge Warchiefs reduce the casting cost of their respective tribes. You realize just how much better +2/+1 is when you see that the other four Warchiefs offer +1/+2, haste, 2-mana regeneration, or the ability to change its creature type. When you look at the sale-price ability and the +2/+1 bonus, the Undead Warchief makes it into the Top 10.

The warning I will give involves a game from a while ago in which an opponent cast Pyroclasm. Most of my Zombies were 4/3s thanks to the Undead Warchiefs bonus. When the Warchief died to the Pyroclasm, most of my Zombies followed once they lost the bonus. With this guy, all-in is the best way to go. Besides, the second Undead Warchief only costs 1bb and makes both Warchiefs into 5/3s.

The third Warchief only costs bb . . . 

5 – Death Baron

Death Baron
I know the list is becoming Zombie-heavy, but stick with me here. While the Diregraf Captain capitalizes on what Zombies do well, the Death Baron improves on their limitation. Adding deathtouch simply means that opponents’ creatures are going to die. Without deathtouch, the Zombies were too small to deal with the really problematic creatures. With deathtouch, everything falls.

One of the reasons I put the Baron higher on the list is that he helps two tribes: Skeletons and Zombies. Not many lords do that, and none do it as well as Death Baron.

4 – Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Ezuri, Renegade Leader
When a lord gives his tribe an instant-speed Overrun whenever it wants it, you tend to sit up and take notice. Ezuri only costs 3 mana for a tribe that produces mana more easily than any other. A combat step with Ezuri and a handful of mana can mean the Elves are suddenly huge or that you can regenerate almost all of them. There isn’t a limit on the Overrun ability either; if you have 10 mana, you could run it out twice. It also makes determining how to attack the Elf tribe difficult since Ezuri can give all the Elves +3/+3 when defending (or more if you have that much mana available).

Ezuri’s main drawback is his size and inability to regenerate himself, but when your upside is so high, the downside just doesn’t seem so bad!

3 – Lord of the Unreal

Lord of the Unreal
Any lord that offered hexproof to its tribe would be solid. Hexproof has proven to be among the most annoying abilities for a creature since they become so difficult to kill. Lord of the Unreal gives that and +1/+1 and only costs 2 mana for a 2/2!

The best part for this lord—and part of the reason it rated so highly on the list—is the tribe. Modern-day Illusions have generally been aggressively costed creatures that die when they are targeted. Lord of the Unreal takes the primary vulnerability of the tribe and eliminates it. Older Illusions have interesting abilities that benefit from hexproof as well.

Much like Ezuri before him, Lord of the Unreal does not receive the benefit of hexproof. This is a more serious problem for Illusions than it is for Elves since you have to do more than simply target an Elf to get rid of it. In spite of that, the Lord takes the Illusions from a tribe that simply doesn’t work to a tribe that can be a contender at your kitchen table.

2 – Knight Exemplar

Knight Exemplar
You only need to keep two things in mind with Knight Exemplar:

  1. It is not a legend. If you have two of them out, they give each other the bonuses.
  2. Indestructible

Hexproof is amazing. Casting creatures from your graveyard is awesome. Overrun is a winner. Indestructibility is simply the best any lord offers. Until a lord starts giving all members of its tribe annihilate, nothing will beat indestructibility.

1 – Slivers!

Sliver Overlord
The picture is the Sliver Overlord, but this isn’t his spot alone. Slivers are at their essence a tribe of lords, all giving each other abilities. This tribe demonstrates why you do not let a group of lords, all pumping the same tribe, on the battlefield at the same time. I am lucky to play in a group that had Sliver decks and that moved away from them. Too many times, the games either just ran out of control or the Slivers were pounded into oblivion.

So, who did I miss or overrate?

Bruce Richard




1 Although it is very possible that I’ve missed one. Let me know in the comments.

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