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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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