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Beamtown Buddies


Mountain Landscape with River Valley and the Prophet Hosea by Gillis van Coninxloo (1585). Ondu Giant by Igor Kieryluk.

I've been hinting for weeks that I wanted to write up a column about The Beamtown Bullies and now that we're about to move on to Baldur's Gate, I'm very happy to be able to share the deck I was able to come up with. The Beamtown Bullies is a really interesting commander and other capable writers have already written about the card, but I think I've got an angle you might not have seen yet. Before I dive into the list I came up with, let's step back and go over what I've got to work with here.

The Beamtown Bullies

This 4/4 Ogre Devil Warrior has a neat ability. He can tap, take a nonlegendary creature out of your graveyard and put it under an opponent's control. It has to be that opponent's turn. The creature gains haste and gets goaded - meaning it must attack each combat if able and attacks an opponent other than you if able. At the beginning of the next end step, the creature gets exiled.

That's all stuff you probably already know if you've been paying any attention to Streets of New Capenna. You know that you can load up your graveyard with mean cards and then give them to people.

Giving people bad gifts in Commander is hilarious. I had a Zedruu, the Greathearted deck for many years. Back before 2017 you only produce colors that matched your commander's color identity. It was all kinds of fun to give someone Celestial Dawn when they weren't in white, locking them out of being able to play their deck. I once gave someone Trenching Steed and then used Mindslaver to sacrifice all of their lands. I get how much fun bad gifts can be if you're playing with people who know you're not really a monster but just sometimes like to play goofy, horrible tricks on your tablemates.

The Beamtown Bullies is the kind of deck that plays into that kind of strategy. It also plays into a very different kind of game: group hug.

Hug is a playstyle where you try to help your tablemates out. You often see commanders like Phelddagrif, Kynaios and Tiro and even Zedruu played as hug decks. Sometimes hug players have actual wincons, but often they just like to sit back and watch their tablemates enjoy playing their decks "on steroids" with extra mana, card draw, and any other benefits the hug player can manage to share with the table.

Today's list is a hug deck but it isn't a group hug deck. I don't play a lot of cards that help everyone at once, but I do aim to help my tablemates out, especially if they've been on a run of bad games or have fallen behind in the current game. I want to help everyone in good time, but I'll pick and choose who I help and I'll skip over anyone who isn't playing nice. The deck has a wincon or two, but ultimately my goal is to help out anyone who is short on mana or cards and to try to make sure the game is an interesting one with twists and turns where nobody gets left too far behind.

Today's list is also what I've come to call a "pivot" deck.

What is a "Pivot" Deck?

We've all played with those friends who never take their foot off the gas.

They are happy to win games all night long, and don't ever consider taking it easy on their tablemates. It's kill or be killed and they might even be found on social media platforms typing out those dreaded and sophmoric words... "Git Gud".

If you're playing cEDH, playing for prizes, or just have a playgroup where the understanding is that every single game is to be played as if your very lives depend upon the outcome, maybe that's normal.

I love when I luck into a good run of games and after those rare nights where I go 3-0 or 4-0, I can ride that good mood for days. I also know that I never want to be thought of as the neighborhood pubstomper and I want everyone else to have fun and win their share of games too. I want my tablemates to feel like their games were fun and they also won games or at least got the chance to see their decks do the things they were built to do. That means my goal isn't to win out every night, but to have a fun, balanced night where some games might see me with something of an uphill battle.

I don't always want to have the best, strongest deck at the table.

If I manage to pull off a win with one of my better decks, I like to "pivot" to a less competitive deck for the next game. The challenge when trying to drop down to a lower powered deck is making sure you're still able to have fun.

Nobody wants to bang out a win and then drop down to some clunker of a deck that's not going to be interesting to play. I want everyone to have a game where their deck does something and maybe even wins, and everyone includes me. Playing a deck that's weak, boring and uninspiring isn't a good plan. I want my "pivot deck" to be the kind of deck that both I and other players look forward to having at the table.

For a while my favorite "pivot deck" was my beast tribal Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma deck. It won a few games, but in general was just a very fair, somewhat aggressive mono-green Beast deck. It was fun and I never, ever felt bad playing it. My next "pivot deck" was a Thantis, the Warweaver turbo fog deck. It was fun because I love playing Fog effects, but in general players didn't enjoy being forced to have to swing with their creatures every turn. It also didn't win much. That's OK, but when a deck feels like it's really never going to get past the finish line I eventually lose interest.

I want to power down, not power off.

That brings me to this deck. My Thantis deck came apart to let me build The Beamtown Bullies and I did keep a bunch of fogs in the list. I also made a ton of changes.

Playing Politics

My stated goal is to try to help everyone at the table over the course of the game. To do that, I have to get creatures into my graveyard. I also have to work the table. I have to play politics. Playing this deck is all about shaking hands and kissing babies, so to speak.

I start by actually stating my "stated goal".

The problem with doing this is that I then have to follow through. I have to pick and choose who to give creatures to based upon their needs but also their willingness to "play ball". If someone is attacking me, blowing up my stuff, and aiming to take me out first or just make my game more difficult, they'll go on my naughty list and either get nothing or be the last to get a gift. With this deck, you really don't want to be the last one to get a gift.

Playing politics isn't always easy.

You will get players who will just murder you first because you are trying to help their opponents. You will get players who will ignore you because they "don't do politics" or they assume you don't have much to offer but probably won't pose a problem for them. They might be right to have that approach.

You'll also get tables where folks are happy to get the chance to draw a card or even tutor up a land. They might even leave you alone for a while until they have to kill you in order to completely clear the table.

The fun in playing a deck like this lies in trying to figure out how your tablemates think.

Will a player blame you if another tablemate "convinces" you to give them a creature that then acts as removal on one of their things? Will a player swing creatures at you and then expect you to give them a creature from your graveyard, or will they understand that part of the expectation is that you'll get a little less aggro because you're genuinely helping your tablemates. Will they assume you have no wincons and then get surprised or even angry when you're the last one left and you're able to pull a proverbial rabbit out of your hat and play out a wincon?

Every table will be different, and players will even see their feelings about this deck change as they've had a chance to play against it. Ultimately, if you don't like trying to "read" your tablemates and prefer to approach the game as if it were just about the cards and the boardstates, this deck might not be for you.

If you're on board for the kind of gameplay I've been talking about, let's move on to take a look at some of the gifts we'll be giving out.

Beamtown Hugs

So far I've been seeing tablemates' eyes light up when I've been able to fill my graveyard even a little and I start asking if anyone wants anything. My offers are genuine, but the first player to raise their hand does risk missing out on better gifts later.

Sakura-Tribe Elder
Elvish Visionary
Selvala's Enforcer

The best gifts might be creatures that have to be sacrificed in order to use their ability. Sakura-Tribe Elder, Dawntreader Elk and even Fertilid can all fit this description. If you want a land, you'll need to put the creature back into my graveyard so I can give it out again. The creature is goaded, so the table could conspire to let it hit someone and then get exiled just to stop you from giving it to someone else. Those players won't get any more good gifts, but players who play along will probably get more good stuff later in the game.

Elvish Visionary, Satyr Wayfinder and Imperial Recruiter are all variations on the theme of putting a card into your hand. Visionary just draws a card. Satyr Wayfinder will look at the top four cards of your library and you may put a land card from among them into your hand and the rest go into your graveyard. Imperial Recruiter lets you tutor up a creature with 2 or less power. Those first two might be given to anyone, but I would probably try to avoid giving Imperial Recruiter to anyone I suspect of being on a combo deck, as that might hand them the game.

Selvala's Enforcer is possibly the most perfect of these gifts. When Selvala's Enforcer enters the battlefield, you "parley". This means everyone reveals the top card of their library. For each nonland revealed this way, Selvala's Enforcer gets a +1/+1 counter. Then those revealed cards are drawn to hand. I'm also running Jungle Wayfinder, which can let each player tutor a basic land to their hand. If this were a true group hug deck with no interest in playing politics, I would run more cards like those last two. For now, this deck is about making deals and helping specific people more than it is about helping the entire table at once.

Greater Tanuki
Reclamation Sage
Dragon Mage

Some creatures are in the mix just because they're easy to put into the graveyard. Greater Tanuki is a 6/5 with trample, which isn't a bad gift at all, but the fact that I can discard it for two and a green for its channel ability and put a land onto the battlefield is great. I'm running a few creatures that are really easy to put into the bin. Ingot Chewer and Shriekmaw can both be cast for their evoke cost, will give me an ETB removal trigger, and then can be pulled back out with The Beamtown Bullies. Ingot Chewer can chew up an artifact and Shriekmaw can destroy target nonartifact, nonblack creature. I'm also running Bone Shredder, which will also blow up a nonartifact, nonblack creature and has echo. If I don't pay the echo cost, it gets sacrificed and will be available to then give to someone else.

I'm running a bunch of removal options, as my chances of winning definitely go up if I'm helping players clean up problem permanents. Reclamation Sage and Caustic Caterpillar can blow up an artifact or an enchantment. Acidic Slime can too, but it can also blow up a land. Caustic Caterpillar is another example of a gift that has to be sacrificed in order to be used. The only problem with cards like the Caterpillar and Fertilid is that their activation requires green, which will force me to pay attention to who can actually use a potential gift.

Dragon Mage will have each player discard their hand and draw seven cards if it does combat damage. Since I want cards in my graveyard, this is another great fit for Beamtown Bullies. I'm running a decent number of creatures that will help me self-mill. Balustrade Spy will have target player reveal cards until they reveal a land and then put those cards into the graveyard. Hermit Druid is an all-star in this list. He can tap for a green mana to have me reveal cards until I reveal a basic land and then put the land in my hand and the rest of the cards into my graveyard.

This deck is definitely trying to do a lot of things, in part because that makes it much more interesting. If I were ONLY running creatures that provided card draw or that tutored lands, it would be more predictable and probably less fun to play.

Beamtown Slugs

I'm not talking about shell-less gastropods you find in your garden. I'm talking about slugging it out on the battlefield. To round this deck out, I've added combat tricks to all of the card draw, removal, and other shenanigans I put into this deck.

I want to be able to find a player who hasn't won a game in a while and give them a creature that will let them swing in with their army and put a tablemate in a world of hurt.

There are lots of creatures I could be running for this purpose, from End-Raze Forerunners and Pathbreaker Ibex to big daddy Craterhoof Behemoth. The problem is that I don't want to be kingmaking. I don't want to just hand someone a win for having a lot of creatures. I want them to mostly use their own cards to inflict the damage, but I want to help them get through blockers.

A "lure" effect is an effect that forces all of an opponent's creatures to block one creature. When combined with creatures that present a lethal threat, they can be very powerful.

Taunting Elf
Prized Unicorn
Shinen of Life's Roar

Either remove an incoming Taunting Elf and block the way you want to block, find a way to prevent combat damage, or you're going to be taking a lot of damage. There are a pair of unicorns in the deck - Noble Quarry and Prized Unicorn - that also force all of the defending player's creatures to block it. Shinen of Life's Roar goes a step further, allowing me to pay four and discard it to force all creatures to block target creature this turn. Once I've used Shinen's channel ability to put it into my graveyard it will be ready to get pulled back out on an opponent's turn to help them get their attackers through.

The best thing about these "lure" effect creatures is that they will probably die because they'll get blocked and killed. If my Taunting Elf is blown up before damage, that's fine too as it will be back in my graveyard. If it gets exiled with a Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, or some other exile spell, it's no worse than if the creature lived to the end step and got exiled because of the delayed trigger from when The Beamtown Bullies put it into play.

I could easily see a real "slug" deck built around The Beamtown Bullies with as many creature-based combat tricks put into the 99 as possible. It might even be fun, but I'm hoping my more nuanced approach will let me live a little longer in games. My goal is to try to make it to the last two and then hope to get lucky with a wincon.

How We Win

There are lots of The Beamtown Bullies lists out there, and lots of them share the same wincons. I'm sure I'm not breaking new ground with this list. If something works, it works.

I don't just want to make it to the last two players. I also want to have some chance of winning. For me, that means I want to be able to dodge a few lethal strikes from whichever opponent is able to send an alpha strike my way. That means I'm playing Fogs.

Spore Frog
Haze Frog
Constant Mists

Spore Frog is useless as a gift because I'd have to give it to the active player and they'll never want to fog their own combat. It's still a good card and a nice way to prevent folks from swinging at me or trying to kill the whole table at once with combat damage. I can give myself a very good chance of making it to the last two players if someone has landed a combo but has to go to combat to win. I might even save the table if I decide I'm in the mood to do so.

Where Spore Frog falls short, Haze Frog is suddenly playable in a deck like Beamtown Bullies. It costs a full five mana but it has flash and when it enters the battlefield it prevents all combat damage that other creatures would deal this turn. That's not a "may" ability, so I can cheat it into play on an opponent's turn under their control and fog their combat.

I'm also running a handful of old-fashioned fog spells. Fog, Constant Mists, Moment's Peace, Respite, Darkness and Arachnogenesis all made the cut. These cards are meant to buy me the time to hopefully draw into something I can use to come out on top. If I run out of Fogs, or if my Fog simply gets countered, I'll probably be out of luck. I'm unlikely to assemble some ridiculous boardstate, though my "lure" creatures could help me push enough damage through if the only other player is at a low life total.

One possible threat is the recently printed Plant Beast Cultivator Colossus. It has a power and toughness equal to the number of lands on my battlefield. Swinging in with a Prized Unicorn alongside it should let me deal a good chunk of damage. When it enters the battlefield I get to put a land from my hand onto the battlefield, draw a card and then do that again and again until I'm out of lands. I've already seen a game where I dropped seven or eight lands from this ability, helped out by a few bounce lands I happened to draw into. I am running Abundance, which works with Cultivator Colossus to put all of the lands in my library onto the battlefield.

Rise of the Dark Realms
Mortal Combat

Another possible wincon is a card like Rise of the Dark Realms. This sorcery puts all creature cards from all graveyards onto the battlefield under my control. I have no idea if this will win me any games, but in the right scenario it could definitely position me to be a problem. It doesn't give my creatures haste, and my results will vary based on how many players are left and what their graveyards look like.

If I've got a relatively full graveyard, I do still have the dream of landing a Mortal Combat victory. I haven't pulled it off yet, but I got agonizingly close the other day with this deck. On your upkeep if you have twenty creatures in the bin and you control Mortal Combat, you'll win the game. My fog spells might help me pull off this plan, as attempts to solve the Mortal Combat threat by just killing me before my upkeep may well fail if I'm able to prevent combat damage.

The last card in my short "wincon" list is Leveler. Anyone who has read up on The Beamtown Bullies already knows this card. It's an artifact creature that will remove the controlling player's library from the game when it enters the battlefield. You use The Beamtown Bullies to put Leveler into play during an opponent's upkeep before they draw for turn and you hope they don't have some clever way to cheat out a Laboratory Maniac or Thassa's Oracle in response. Chances are very good that they won't have an answer and this nasty little gift will win you the game.

I already owned a copy of Leveler, but if I didn't, I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to buy one. It gives me a way to win, but it has to be in my graveyard and The Beamtown Bullies has to be out so I can use its activated ability. I am running Corpse Connoisseur and Vile Emtomber as ways to set up that game winning play, and I'll do well to keep those cards in my hand for as long as possible. I might give them to an opponent, but I'll need to be careful. There are a lot of graveyard decks that can win once the right cards have been put into the bin. I don't want to just hand someone the win if I can avoid it.

To help to somewhat reliably get a wincon on the field, I'm running Tireless Tracker, which could be used to return Corpse Connoisseur or Entomber so that I can set up for that win. I'm also running Riftsweeper so if Leveler is exiled I might still be able to get it back and use it. I should have Eternal Witness in this list, but I don't.

Seedborn Muse
Homeward Path
Ashnod's Altar

I do have Seedborn Muse, which would let me use The Beamtown Bullies on every opponent's turn. I'm also running Ashnod's Altar and Homeward Path. The former is a sacrifice outlet and the latter is a land that can let me steal back a creature I've given to an opponent. I am definitely tempted to add in more sacrifice outlets and nonbasic land tutors so that I can reliably give creatures to opponents, get them back and bin them to use again. That sort of loop would be once per turn cycle without a Seedborn Muse, but I might also add in other ways to untap my commander.

Beamtown Buddies

You might think it strange that I'm willing to run some powerful and even nasty wincons in a deck that seems to want to play a semi-hug strategy. If I hit those wincons too often, I can guarantee it will backfire on me and tablemates will not want to get into the "give a gift" game. They'll figure I'm just trying to trick them into letting me live until there are only two players left. I am, but my gifts are also genuine and the deck is every bit as much about helping my tablemates as it is about trying to win.

I have already played this deck a few times and in one of the games I was able to hit that Leveler wincon. It felt great, but I know the player whose library I exiled won't forget and the next time they play against this list they might just try to kill me first. Of course, this was also a player who, earlier in the game, used Teferi's Puzzle Box and Narset, Parter of Veils to strip everyone's hands, so they may have gotten what they deserved.

This list could be tuned up with faster mana and better cards. You could go full "slug" and add more combat tricks. You could go group hug and add in creatures like Tempting Wurm that will let everyone drop any number of artifact, creature, enchantment and/or land cards onto the battlefield.

There are a lot of ways to build The Beamtown Bullies and I hope my take on this deck got you thinking about how you might build it. I love fog spells and I love combat tricks and "lure" effects, so the idea of making deals, playing politics and occasionally sneaking out a win seemed like it would be entertaining. So far it's been just that, and it even managed to win a game.

Early Results and Revisions

This deck has been fun, but it does feel a little weird to want to preface a game with an explanation of what my deck is trying to do. It's worth it, and pre-game conversations are actually a great thing to do, but I always feel like I'm trying to sell my opponents something. If anyone doesn't want to "play ball" and doesn't want gifts, that's fine. I don't blame them at all, but I will end up doing more "kingmaking" than I'd like by leaving someone out of my deck's game plan.

Some of my decks are very stable and see little change, but this list has already seen changes and will probably keep evolving. After playing it a few times recently, one of the guys in the EDH League I run had some cards he thought would work well in the deck. I ended up taking out three Signets and adding in Lurking Predators, Yurlok of Scorch Thrash and Ziatora, the Incinerator.

Lurking Predators
Yurlok of Scorch Thrash
Ziatora, the Incinerator

Lurking Predators will have me reveal the top card of my library whenever an opponent casts a spell. If the revealed card is a creature, it goes onto the battlefield. In a deck that runs nearly 40 creatures, that's great. In a deck that runs Leveler, that's also a huge risk. Lurking Predators could easily lose me my library and the game by forcing me to put my Leveler onto the field, but I'll run that risk until it happens. Then we'll have a good laugh (at my expense) and I'll swap Lurking Predators out. I am running so many creatures that for now I think it's worth the risk. The tension at the table with everyone knowing I might hit my Leveler will be delightful, and it will be hilarious when the worst case scenario eventually happens. Of course, I could always play it safe if I reveal a noncreature by leaving it on top, but where's the fun in that?

Yurlok of Scorch Thrash reintroduces mana burn, which could easily kill a tablemate who found a way to make infinite mana but didn't have a mana outlet. Chances I'll be able to do that aren't that high, but I'll keep Yurlok in the list with the hope that I'll be able to live that dream at some point.

Ziatora, the Incinerator gives me a sacrifice outlet, a source of Treasure and a way to push out a little damage. It's just a fantastic card for this deck, synergizing with what my deck is trying to do. Giving someone a flying 6/6 isn't that bad either, even if it can't sacrifice itself on the end step to put it back in my graveyard.

Final Thoughts

I may have trotted out a staple card for this deck in Leveler, but I also think I've managed to put my own stamp on this build. It isn't meant to overpower tables. It isn't meant to hand anyone the game. It's meant to create an interesting and engaging game unlike what most of my other decks will ever give me. It's the quintessential "pivot" deck, meant to be played when I'm not looking to crush a table. Sometimes that's the first game of the night if I'm in the mood to start at a low power level and move up in subsequent games. Sometimes that's going to be the game after I had a lucky or unbalanced win where I know I'll feel like a bully if I keep overpowering tables as the night goes on. My decks aren't all super powerful, but you never know when you'll blow the doors off a table and find yourself apologizing for what wasn't a very fun game for anyone but you. It happens, and having a fairer, funner deck to pivot to is how I like to roll.

I expect this deck to lose plenty of games. I absolutely don't assume that a winning deck is going to win all night long, but I like to mix things up. I try to balance out power levels over the course of an evening by switching up decks rather than by obsessing over having every game be as balanced as possible. I think that's an admirable goal, but might be a bit of a fool's errand. There are too many variables to ever guarantee a single game will be balanced and fun for everyone, so I aim to spread out power levels over a series of games.

The fact that there are so many different ways to build The Beamtown Bullies means that I'll be able to modify "Beamtown Buddies" to have different wincons and strategies if the current plan grows stale. I do have a Tempting Wurm in my rare binder. I haven't the foggiest idea how, when or why I got it, but I just checked and it's sitting there waiting to get put into a list. This might be the deck, but I want to play the current version a bit first before I decide to make it any more or any less huggy.

That's all I've got for today. I'll be moving on to Baldur's Gate next. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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