I was able to assem­ble a bit of a cast of char­ac­ters for the Magic Arizona theme deck I men­tioned last week when com­ment­ing about (among other things) solifuges. They inspired me.

These crea­tures are known locally as sun spi­ders; oth­ers might have heard them called camel spi­ders. They acheived demi-​​legendary sta­tus a while ago amid wildly inac­cu­rate claims about the wildlife US forces in Iraq have to face. (The truth is that they do not run at 25 MPH, they don’t scream, they don’t get up to 6″ long and they damned sure don’t jump onto a camel’s belly, anes­thetize it with venom and then chew into it. Solifuges have no venom at all.)

Solifuges are rather fierce-​​looking, and they can behave in an agres­sive fash­ion — since they carry no venom there’s no backup plan if they feel threat­ened. They charge, jaws-​​first, prob­a­bly because what­ever larger ani­mal they’re charg­ing does what humans do too: Back up and try to get clear of the frightening-​​looking lit­tle arthro­pod com­ing right for it.

If you fol­low the descent of arthro­pods to arach­nids, you find that solifuges are actu­ally more closely related to daddy-​​longlegs than they are to spi­ders. This really isn’t that sur­pris­ing since (as men­tioned) solifuges do not enven­o­mate. They also lack the capac­ity for mak­ing silk.

They’re also old — they exist in the Americas as well as in the Middle East. In order for that to hap­pen they would have had to evolve before the American con­ti­nents split off from the Afro-​​Asian land­mass. The old­est known fos­sil spec­i­men is about 300 mil­lion years old, which means these crea­tures existed before dinosaurs (which sur­faced after the Permian extinc­tion some 235 MYA).

We’ve got solifuges in Arizona and they are scary. I pre­fer to leave them alone because they’re a sen­si­ble com­bi­na­tion to avoid with arach­nids: Fast and aggres­sive. They actu­ally bother me more than brown spi­ders do, as I had occa­sion to dis­cover ear­lier this week.

There’s also a crea­ture card in a game I play called Magic: The Gathering known as Giant Solifuge, and I used it as the sig­na­ture card for my Arizona theme deck. Details after the fold.

I’m assum­ing some basic Magic lit­er­acy here. The deck con­tains 20 crea­ture cards, 20 lands and 20 instant cards. The col­ors are red/​green, and in all cases I have play­sets (4 copies) of each card named. There are no basic lands.

We’ll start with the sig­na­ture card, the Giant Solifuge.Giant Solifuge

The card itself has Insect for its crea­ture type, which is wrong, of course; solifuges are arach­nids. However, there’s already a Spider crea­ture type in Magic which has a unique abil­ity to block fly­ing crea­tures even though it does not itself fly (with one excep­tion, which I’ll get to in a moment). For that rea­son WotC had to give it some­thing other than the Spider type. The next clos­est was Insect.

Sigh.

Giant Solifuge costs 4 mana to sum­mon — 2 col­or­less and then 2 of either red or green. That’s a lit­tle expen­sive, but it’s capa­ble of doing up to 4 dam­age, can attack the moment it’s sum­moned, can­not be tar­geted and has tram­ple, which means any dam­age it does to a crea­ture beyond what’s required to kill it will spill over onto the defend­ing player. Nice, actually.

The rea­son for this card’s inclu­sion is obvi­ous; it’s essen­tial to the Arizona flavor.

I would have liked to add a taran­tula of some kind, but there aren’t any avail­able in Magic. Fortunately there’s a close rel­a­tive, the Giant Trap Dooor Spider.Giant Trap Door Spider

This is a Spider crea­ture type, but I believe it’s unique in Magic in that it’s the only spi­der which is not capa­ble of block­ing fly­ing crea­tures. It’s a 2/​3 for 3 mana — 1 col­or­less and one each of red and green. That’s not too shabby, I sup­pose, even though it seems like a short-​​changed spider.

Until, of course, you read its ability.

For another 1 + r + g and a tap, you can remove both Giant Trap Door Spider and a tar­get non-​​flying crea­ture attack­ing you from the game.

Right — it pops out of the ground and sucks down your opponent’s creature.

This is some­times bet­ter than deal­ing lethal dam­age, because there are so many crea­tures now in Magic which are inde­struc­tible — but which aren’t pro­tected from being removed from the game.

While the first card here is aggres­sive and the sec­ond is a kind of pun­ish­ment for aggres­sion, these cards are not by them­selves enough to hold their own against any but a novice oppo­nent. I fleshed out the ranks with cards seem­ingly at odds: A token-​​hoser and a token-​​generator.

The hoser first.Fire Ants

It’s Fire Ants, a 2/​1 that costs 2 col­or­less and 1 red. What’s nice about it, though, is that when you tap it it deals 1 dam­age to each other crea­ture with­out flying.

The dis­ad­van­tage? It’ll kill off other Fire Ants — and, because its abil­ity does not tar­get, it will also kill off any Giant Solifuges that may be in play.

Well, one can­not have every­thing. This would still annoy, say, a thal­lid farmer. And there are enchant­ments (which I might side­board) that give all crea­tures you con­trol +0/+1.

I added Fire Ants because we are get­ting them here; besides, we have red har­vester ants, and those lit­tle bug­gers can really hurt.

It’s worth not­ing, too, that this card sort of works in com­bi­na­tion with the token-​​generator I men­tioned: Saber Ants.Saber Ants

This is a 2/​3 for 3 col­or­less and 1 green with an inter­est­ing abil­ity. Whenever it’s dealt dam­age, you put that many 1/​1 green Insect crea­ture tokens into play. So if you have, say, 3 Saber Ants in play along with a Fire Ants, and you tap the Fire Ants, you’ll end up cre­at­ing 3 1/​1 crea­tures on your side.

Of course, if you use the ants to block a crea­ture, you’ll get tokens too, and if your oppo­nent is fool­ish enough to charge you with a huge crea­ture that lacks tram­ple, you’ll end up with a swarm in exchange for one card.

Saber Ants is kind of a slide away from the basic Arizona fla­vor — but we do have a lot of dif­fer­ent ant types here, and they sure do seem to spon­ta­neously repro­duce sometimes.

The ants aren’t what you call a fin­isher; they’re annoy­ing but not capa­ble of read­ily doing lethal dam­age. For that we have a com­bi­na­tion com­prised of the final crea­ture and the first instant.

The crea­ture is Giant Dustwasp (there aren’t many wasp crea­tures in Magic — and the scor­pi­ons are either black or arti­fact, and none of them are very impres­sive). This is a 3/​3 flyer for 3 + 2 green, but it also has sus­pend 4 for 1 + g. In the­ory, then, it could come into play just a turn later than it might any­way while you, pre­sum­ably, use your mana for other things as the turns proceed.Giant Dustwasp

I chose the Giant Dustwasp because it was the clos­est thing I could find to the paper wasp. We have them — and they really hurt.

A 3/​3 flyer isn’t bad all by itself, but in com­bi­na­tion with Blazing Shoal it could be pretty nasty.

This is an instant that costs 2 red + X, and it gives one tar­get crea­ture +X/+0 until the turn’s end. Blazing Shoal isn’t close to much of any­thing we have in Arizona — but it makes more sense to me, fla­vor­wise, than a Firebreathing or Crown of Flames would.

Add that to a wasp that gets through an opponent’s defenses, and the game could well be over pretty fast.

I get a lit­tle fur­ther from the Arizona fla­vor with the rest of the instants. I need some util­ity and there’s not a lot of American desert theme to good, solid cards.

Such as Krosan Grip, for instance, a stupidly-​​good spot removal card for just 1 mana more than Naturalize. Shweet. To that add Moment’s Peace, a nice damage-​​reducer with flash­back, Repopulate for crea­ture recur­sion and Krosan Reclamation for gen­eral recur­sion and we’ve rounded out all the non-​​creature spells.Desert

This leaves the lands. I wrote ear­lier that I don’t have any basic lands; I don’t use them in this deck. Colored mana comes instead from Karplusan Forest, Highland Weald and Shivan Oasis, which cover a lot of our geog­ra­phy. After all, we have oases in the form of ripar­ian areas; we have forests which yield thorny patches and we even have snow in places like Flagstaff.

Colorless mana comes from Desert, which has a nice sec­ondary effect. It can be tapped to deal 1 dam­age to any one tar­get attack­ing crea­ture at the end of the com­bat step, which could be enough to fin­ish some­thing off.

Desert was included for obvi­ous reasons.

For the last I have variably-​​colored mana com­ing from Meteor Crater.Meteor Crater

This one taps to add 1 mana of any color from per­ma­nents you con­trol to your mana pool, so after a Solifuge is in play, for instance, it’ll make either red or green mana.

Not too shabby and, like Desert, included for self-​​explanatory reasons.

I do not expect this deck to play par­tic­u­larly fast. It has no mana accel­er­a­tion, no tutor­ing and no spe­cific recur­sion. Its mass removal is really good only against very weak crea­tures, its spot removal is lim­ited to arti­facts and enchant­ments, and its fin­isher is combo-​​dependent.

It pun­ishes aggres­sion via Desert and the spi­der, it’s got some defen­sive charm with the Saber Ants, and it might have enough recur­sion to keep itself in play pro­vided I don’t take a lot of dam­age. I could end up just chis­el­ing some oppo­nents away to nothing.

I think the strat­egy for this deck will be to play it defense-​​heavy early, using its crea­tures to block and let­ting them be killed off, with occa­sional dips into Krosan Grip and Moment’s Peace as nec­es­sary — then using Repopulate to bring the crea­tures back later in the game and skew­ing more offensive/​aggressive with the solifuges and wasps, using the spi­ders to wholly elim­i­nate the worst threats. The spi­ders can deal with big tram­plers, but with only one fly­ing crea­ture type and a lot of anti-​​ground crea­ture effects, this deck’s clear­est weak­ness is against some­thing that uses, say, a lot of birds.

I’ve got some very well-​​constructed decks (such as my block-​​constructed Boros deck) against which this wouldn’t stand a chance, and I know quite a few play­ers who would flat­ten this thing in a dozen turns or less. Still, I’m look­ing for­ward to play­ing it. I’ll make sure to let you know how it does.

UPDATE: It plays for shit, which I expected. It’s slow and clunky. On the plus side, it really does have good fla­vor, and is fun to play if you’re an Arizonan.

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