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Commanding a Herd of Enchanted Oxen with Bruse Tarl

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I've never been in a bar fight.

But if the situation arose, I'd know exactly who I'd want by my side, hurling insults like handfuls of popcorn.

"May starving fleas birth a thousand generations on your stubborn hide...!"

Of course, the bit I left off the end of the above quote is "cow," playing into Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder's occupation as a cattle rustler. Though I'm not a fan of the seemingly-random assortment of interplanar legends that sprung up in Outlaws of Thunder Junction, Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher is the rare exception that feels totally fitting in a Western-theme. A native of Zendikar, Bruse Tarl began his Magic career in unassuming fashion. Living a nomadic existence in Goma Fada, the man sought nothing more out of life than to tend oxen. He was bellowing profanities at his herd long before the ole' wild west theme was even a glimmer in the design team's eye. But as curmudgeonly as Bruse can be is on the pasture, he's also a reluctant war hero. During the events of Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, Bruse Tarl led a resistance movement against the Lovecraftian invaders. He even modified his repertoire of insults for the occasion:

"May your horns get lodged in an Eldrazi's bony face, ornery brute!"

A poet, through and through.

Now that Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion are supposedly dead (I'm not 100% convinced you can actually kill Eldritch demigods), and a multiverse-breaching invasion by the New Phyrexians has been quashed, Bruse is ready to leave warfare behind. Whether seeing his beloved homeland ravaged ad nauseum took a toll, or simply because Thunder Junction's new setting provides ample territory for grazing, Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher carried his nomadic lifestyle to a new plane. Zendikar's landscape is scarred with Wastes and remnants of glistening oil, so the untouched spaces of Outlaws of Thunder Junction provide a refreshing opportunity. So much so that each new territory uncovered from the top of your deck rewards you with another member of the herd.

Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher

"What thematic obscenity shall I craft next?"

Upon both entering-the-battlefield and attack, Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher will exile the top card of your library. If he hits real estate, congratulations, your cattle ranch just got a bit bigger. Otherwise, you'll have until the end of your next turn to cast the card before it's gone for good. To help control what cards we exile and when, topdeck manipulation like Sensei's Diving Top and Scroll Rack work even harder than normal. Despite the hoops, our Commander has built-in card advantage, something Boros very much appreciates, as its the color pair that struggles most with extra draw.

Ideally, we'll want to attack with Bruse each turn to keep the cards (or cows) flowing, but because he grants us this ability upon entering play, he'll essentially replace himself even if an opponent immediate removes him. On that note, because our commander has an ETB-ability, blink effects (Ephemerate) not only protect him, but also generate more card advantage.

But there's an issue with running too many blink effects. The 2/2 Ox's Bruse creates upon exiling lands clash with this type of spell. Blinking a token makes it vanish forever, so we'll protect our hoofed army via Phasing (Clever Concealment, Guardian of Faith). Though Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher won't trigger once he phases back in, it's an easy consolation to ensure both rancher and his ranch dodge mass removal. One of our primary win conditions involves a double-striking stampede, meaning both commander and cattle require insurance. Another benefit of phasing is that it'll keep any Equipment or Auras placed onto a creature intact. On that note...

Grim Reaper's Sprint
Angelic Destiny
Madcap Skills

Having a commander that makes their own troops provides the perfect foundation for an Aura subtheme. One downside of auras is how they're useless without a body to enchant, but a steady stream of oxen should help avoid that issue. What's more, because Bruse already gifts his herd double strike, the added stat boost from an aura can grow his oxen into lethal-threats. A single 2/2 Ox enchanted with Madcap Skills and bashes for 10 damage, and don't even get me started on All That Glitters. Another risk of running Auras is their fragility, as any creature killed whilst wearing one puts us down two cards to our opponent's one. To mitigate this, we'll prioritize enchantments that self-recur (Angelic Destiny, Draconic Destiny, The Sound of Drums) or replace themselves (Sticky Fingers, Demonic Ruckus).

White also excels at enchantment recursion, so even Auras that don't come back on their own can be revived later via cards like Mantle of the Ancients, Nomad Mythmaker, Retether, and Unfinished Business. With multiple ways to return enchantments from the graveyard, don't hesitate to pitch auras to Faithless Looting, Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge, Thrilling Discovery, The Celestus, or Elegant Parlor. You'll get back that Eldrazi Conscription without having to worry its 8-mana price tag. We even get an ox to help, as Liberated Livestock provides numerous bodies and instances of recursion in one type-centric package.

And speaking of oxen, the creature type doesn't have the widest support network, so we'll have to recruit some honorary members...

Mirror Entity by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'herd mentality'.

Currently, there are only nineteen creatures with the Ox creature type. Twenty, if you count Restless Bivouac). The majority are Limited players (Holy Cow, Purphoros's Emissary), woefully vanilla (Yoked Ox, Raging Bull), or in the wrong color (Goldenhide Ox, Zodiac Ox). Charging Cinderhorn and Ox of Agonas fit the bill, but they're awfully lonely without buddies. As is often the case with under-supported creature types, it's time to give the Changeling ability a call. Cards Bloodline Pretender, Irregular Cohort, and the bizarrely-thematic Taurean Mauler all benefit from Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher's double strike. As do artificial oxen like Adaptive Automaton and Metallic Mimic, who go the extra mile and buff up their cohorts. Mirror Entity and Maskwood Nexus extend the bovine blessing to entire team, even giving ole' Bruse himself a set of horns. I can't imagine he'd be too happy at the idea of turning into one of the beasts he berates daily...

"May bloodflies empty your veins and turn you into a dried leather sack, cow!"

... but karmic irony is more than worth it to make him a more effective attacker, as he'll more often get to utilize his trigger without fear of dying in combat. Plus, our general now hits for 8 damage on his own. Seeing as our deck is already full of auras to push those stats even higher, victory via commander damage is a real possibility.

What other win conditions lie in the '99? Let's take a deeper look.

Bruse Tarl, Commander of Enchanted Oxen | Commander | Matthew Lotti

Card Display


Ranch Hands

Verge Rangers
Three Dog, Galaxy News DJ
Baldin, Century Herdmaster

Rustlin' cattle isn't a one-man job, so Bruse employs many a supporting player to assist with the herd. Verge Rangers helps hit our land drops whilst offering a glimpse at the top of our library to better plan for Bruse's ETB/attack trigger. Keeper of the Accord and Claim Jumper also assists with lands, especially in response to our opponents ramping, with the Keeper also providing Soldiers to outfit with auras when oxen are scarce. Token troops, be they bovine or otherwise, can be effectively protected by Guardian of Faith without losing their enchantments. Or their lives.

Next, we move onto to Aura support. Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice and Kellan, the Fae-Blooded act as tutors. Our deck's spot-removal is enchantment based, so Kellan is useful for shutting down enemy commanders by grabbing Darksteel Mutation or Prison Term. For recursion, Nomad Mythmaker and Cass, Hand of Vengeance help bring back any auras lost when our creatures fall. Koll, the Forgemaster also provides recursion, but via sending the enchanted creatures back to our hands rather than the auras they were wearing. This doesn't apply to Ox tokens, but Koll makes up for it by giving them a +1/+1 bonus. Finally, Archon of the Wild Rose and Three Dog, Galaxy News DJ act as win conditions in the late game, providing massive stats boosts across much of the team.

Baldin, Century Herdmaster also provides a late-game win condition, though without the need for auras. Because Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher provides card advantage, our hand size will often be larger usual in the late game. We're incentivized to play those exiled cards from atop the deck, otherwise we lose them at the end of the next turn. With a hefty hand size, Baldin, Century Herdmaster provides an incredible stats boost across our entire board. The 'toughness-matters' theme is of little importance, as most of our creatures have the same (or greater) toughness as their power, and even among those that don't, the pump offered by Baldin will more than make up for it when attacking.

Enchantment Support

Three Dreams
Breath of Fury
Songbirds' Blessing

Among our auras, many recur themselves (Angelic Destiny, Draconic Destiny, The Sound of Drums, Gryff's Boon, Gift of Immortality), but even among those that don't, we've plenty of ways to get them back (Unfinished Business, Mantle of the Ancients, Retether). Piling a revived auras onto a single Ox might be enough to end the game on its own, but because our Commander wants to attack often, combat-multipliers like Breath of Fury, Response // Resurgence and Grim Reaper's Sprint enable us to take out multiple opponents to be in a single turn.

Varying game states call for a wide variety of tools, so even more enchantment tutors are brought in via Three Dreams, Open the Armory, and Axgard Armory. Powering up our oxen is Plan A, but our menu of tutor options is versatile. We can find everything from card advantage (Songbirds' Blessing, Sage's Reverie), to removal (Ossification, Darksteel Mutation, Prison Term), and even mana-production (Sticky Fingers). This also synergizes with our mass-removal, as the more creatures we're able to enchant, the more survivors Winds of Rath leaves behind.

Breath of Fury by Kev Walker

This is actually a depiction of Black Friday at any given retailer

Finally, our deck is incredibly budget-friendly, with only Sensei's Diving Top and Scroll Rack coming in above $20, though Sacred Foundry, Arid Mesa, and Spectator Seating are getting close. Though it hurts to lose topdeck manipulation - not in high supply among White/Red - we can substitute more aura-synergy to make up for it. Flickerform provides a way to protect Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher and net more ETB triggers. Umbra Mystic provides further defense, effectively turning each aura into shield-counter. If you're in the market for power-boosts, look to Idolized, Helm of the Gods, Scourge of the Nobilis, and Thunderous Might. Akki Battle Squad and Feather, Radiant Arbiter further drive damage output, multiplying the combat phases and aura count.

Flickerform
Scourge of the Nobilis
Akki Battle Squad

Here's hoping Bruse Tarl, Roving Rancher and his herd of one-two punch oxen firmly stake their claim on the combat zone. With even mild support, a single 2/2 grows from cow to colossus. And our deck makes multiples. What's more, if the first wave of taurine terrors fall, we've ample means to get their enchanted arsenal back for a second assault. Or, if we're adding extra combat steps, a third. Or forth.

Thanks for reading, best of luck fording that river.

-Matt-

@Intrepid_Tautog


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