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Modern Tribal Flames

The Modern Tribal Flames archetype first came to prominence when Team ChannelFireball sleeved it up for the 2012 Magic Players Championship.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Modern, 2012 Players Championship

[deck]Main Deck
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Marsh Flats
1 Blood Crypt
1 Temple Garden
1 Steam Vents
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Stomping Ground
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Kird Ape
2 Loam Lion
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Qasali Pridemage
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
4 Path to Exile
Sideboard
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
2 Mana Leak
2 Pyroclasm
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Lingering Souls
1 Shatterstorm
4 Relic of Progenitus[/deck]

Owen Turtenwald, Modern, 2012 Players Championship

[deck]Main Deck
4 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Blood Crypt
1 Steam Vents
1 Temple Garden
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Plains
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Steppe Lynx
3 Tarmogoyf
3 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
4 Path to Exile
Sideboard
4 Mindbreak Trap
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Ranger of Eos
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Geist of Saint Traft[/deck]

The deck largely disappeared from the metagame after the Players Championship, despite new arrivals that drastically impact the archetype. Namely, [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card].

[draft]Deathrite Shaman[/draft]

Tribal Flames can really use every piece of [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]’s buffalo. It’s a deck with upwards of a dozen fetchlands, looking to cast spells of all five colors, and whose game plan revolves around closing out the game with burn to the dome. However, [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] is an accelerant, and shifts the focus of the deck away from running out efficient 1-drops and toward more high-impact 3-drops.

[draft]Geist of Saint Traft
Lingering Souls[/draft]

The deck presents a diverse range of threats, from the size of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], the evasion of [card]Lingering Souls[/card], resiliency of [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and the reach of our burn suite.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I chose the deck for any reason other than the minimal investment required to port my Cube collection into a sleeved 75. I’ve been out of the Constructed game since the Standard Stoneforge Mystic banning, but to my surprise I managed to pilot the deck to a Top 4 finish in my first sanctioned Modern tournament—a local 80-man GPT for the (then) upcoming hometown Grand Prix Antwerp here in Belgium.

I handed the deck off to friend and local Legacy specialist Shaun Pauwels, who tweaked the sideboard and registered the following for the main event:

Shaun Pauwels, Tribal Flames Aggro, GP Antwerp 2013

[deck]Main Deck
4 Arid Mesa
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Marsh Flats
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Temple Garden
1 Stomping Ground
1 Steam Vents
1 Blood Crypt
1 Godless Shrine
1 Breeding Pool
1 Plains
1 Mountain
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Deathrite Shaman
1 Noble Hierarch
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
4 Lingering Souls
2 Path to Exile
1 Elspeth, Knight Errant
Sideboard
2 Path to Exile
2 Remand
2 Molten Rain
2 Wear and Tear
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Sowing Salt
3 Aven Mindcensor
2 Nihil Spellbomb[/deck]

With no byes, Shaun played the opening 11 rounds to a 10–1 start, dropping only three games in the process. The wheels fell off for Shaun upon entering the Feature Match area, but we left the weekend feeling fairly optimistic about the deck.

The deck’s matchups are well suited to the current metagame. With a full complement of 16 removal spells (after sideboarding in the extra [card]Path to Exile[/card]s) and a pair of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, we’re fairly resilient against the prevalent creature-based combo decks Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin. Tron is problematic, and decks like Scapeshift and Storm present unfavorable but thankfully uncommon matchups. Living End, unfortunately, is atrocious for us, as the combination of land destruction and a spell-based route to victory targets our deck’s weaknesses.

Meanwhile, Tribal Flames is fairly evenly matched against Jund and The Rock, favored against UWR Control, and pretty easily shuts down dude-decks like Fish and Death and Taxes.

Mana

Color screw is fairly uncommon with the deck once you learn to prioritize and sequence your land drops correctly. As a general rule of thumb, the safest and most common progression of land drops uses:

Turn 1:
[draft]Temple Garden[/draft]

Turn 2:
[draft]Steam Vents[/draft]

This is primarily motivated by our deck’s gold cards.
[draft]Lightning Helix
Geist of Saint Traft[/draft]

We need both red and blue to be on off-white lands, so fetching [card]Steam Vents[/card] is pretty natural here. This progression allows us to cast all of our 1-drops:

[draft]Steppe Lynx
Deathrite Shaman
Noble Hierarch[/draft]

While still leaving us open to cast a turn 2 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], [card]Lightning Helix[/card], or [card]Lingering Souls[/card].

Beyond that, we have two main cases. The first is hitting additional land drops. In doing so, we have to consider the following:

1) We need additional red sources to allow us to cast multiple burn spells in a single turn.
2) In order to use [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] to flashback a burn spell, we need a non-Steam Vents red source.
3) [card elspeth, knight-errant]Elspeth[/card], should we draw her, costs double-white.
4) At some point we need a black source. We only have two in our deck, but our endgame often relies on access to black. If possible, save fetches that can grab either [card]Godless Shrine[/card] or [card]Blood Crypt[/card] for your third land drop.

[draft]Godless Shrine
Blood Crypt
Deathrite Shaman
Lingering Souls
Tribal Flames[/draft]

5) [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]. We can operate at full power off of just three (or sometimes even two) lands. Playing a fourth land can do more harm than good in some matchups.
6) [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]. It can be tempting to crack fetchlands on end step to save damage, especially with no on-board Lynx, but we do win games by holding fetches and topdecking [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]es.

The flip side is being stuck on two lands. We can win off of two lands, but doing so can require some guesswork. The deck presents some unique mana puzzles, but in general our goal is to figure out how to get four colors with the two lands available. Most often, this involves omitting either blue or black, depending on your opener.

Blue

[draft]Snapcaster Mage
Geist of Saint Traft[/draft]

Black

[draft]Deathrite Shaman
Lingering Souls[/draft]

There aren’t really any excuses for making mana errors in tournament play, so goldfish your openers until you feel comfortable. This deck spends a lot of time cracking fetches and searching for singleton shocklands, so as always, Travis Woo’s advice on shuffling applies. “Crack, fetch, take 3, [card]Temple Garden[/card] untapped, [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], go,” while searching for our land will become muscle memory soon enough.

Card Considerations

[draft]Steppe Lynx[/draft]

It’s true, I’ve fetishized this card in my own Cube design, and admittedly [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] can be a bit of a turd out there. He’s also a bit anti-synergistic with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]. Consider an opener with the following cards:

[draft]Steppe Lynx
Deathrite Shaman
Tarmogoyf
Geist of Saint Traft[/draft]

We have to choose between the [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] into [card tarmogoyf]’Goyf[/card] line and the [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] into [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card] line. Yet despite the awkwardness, [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] can singlehandedly put opponents into burn range. It’s not a perfect fit, but in lieu of any [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]s, the Lynx proved to be the most effective option.

As an aside, I did briefly test a more spell-heavy build that tried to use [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], but even with upwards of 20 spells in the deck, Delver felt pretty iffy.

[draft]Thoughtseize[/draft]

I originally overlooked [card]Thoughtseize[/card] for sideboard inclusion, out of concern for life total management. Yes, we sometimes do 9 damage to ourselves by turn 3, but in the matchups where we would bring in [card]Thoughtseize[/card], our life total doesn’t matter anyway.

The other argument against [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is that it complicates our mana, as black tends to sit lowest on our color priority list. If looking to run the deck, I’d try to find room for [card]Thoughtseize[/card] in the board.

[draft]Destructive Revelry[/draft] [card]Destructive Revelry[/card] is a pretty perfect fit for the deck, as RG matches our natural [card]Temple Garden[/card] into [card]Steam Vents[/card] mana progression, and the damage most certainly matters. Shaun opted to run [card]Wear // Tear[/card] for a slight bump in the Hexproof matchup, but I don’t know if that call is correct.

[draft]Might of Alara[/draft]

I originally ran a miser’s [card]Might of Alara[/card] in the main deck, in hopes that it would operate as a one-mana [card]Lava Axe[/card]. After dozens of test matches, I found that I was using it nearly exclusively as a removal spell. Sure, there were cute tricks like flashing in a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], targeting [card]Might of Alara[/card], and eating an attacking [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], but mostly I was sacrificing damage by including it. Instead of removing a blocker before combat and swinging into the red zone, I would simply pump my guy after blockers and do no damage.

Sideboarding

Hexproof

Out
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile[/draft]

In

2 [card]Wear // Tear[/card]

UWR Control

Out
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile
Noble Hierarch[/draft]

In
[draft]Molten Rain
Molten Rain
Sowing Salt[/draft]

If the opponent is running [card]Restoration Angel[/card], perhaps consider leaving in Paths, but the matchup is fairly favorable either way.

The Rock, Junk, and Jund

Out
[draft]Snapcaster Mage
Snapcaster Mage[/draft]

In
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile[/draft] [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] is often stymied by on-board [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]s and [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]s, and we could use more answers for opposing [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s. Playing properly against Liliana is important here, as to not leave openings for your Geists to get edicted.

Scapeshift

Out
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Snapcaster Mage
Noble Hierarch[/draft]

In
[draft]Remand
Remand
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Mindcensor
Molten Rain
Molten Rain
Sowing Salt[/draft]

Unlike the old iterations of the deck that ran [card]Loam Lion[/card] and [card]Kird Ape[/card], our [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card], and [card]Lingering Souls[/card] configuration is exceptionally weak to Scapeshift’s maindeck [card]Pyroclasm[/card]s. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] would certainly have utility here.

GR Tron

Out
[draft]Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lightning Helix
Lightning Helix
Lightning Helix
Lightning Helix[/draft]

In
[draft]Molten Rain
Molten Rain
Sowing Salt
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Mindcensor
Remand
Remand[/draft] [card]Lightning Helix[/card] is extremely inefficient here, as it kills nothing on their board and is just a slow, costly [card]Lava Spike[/card] more often than not. Tron is a difficult matchup, and wins on the draw are very unlikely. I have an even 3–3 tournament record against Tron, but I’m going to chalk that up to small sample size.

Affinity

Out
[draft]Noble Hierarch
Geist of Saint Traft
Geist of Saint Traft
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Snapcaster Mage[/draft]

In
[draft]Ancient Grudge
Path to Exile
Path to Exile[/draft] And 2 [card]Wear // Tear[/card]

After sideboarding we’re looking at 19 removal spells and a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. The keys to this matchup are containing [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card] and not getting blown out by [card]Spell Pierce[/card]. [card]Lightning Helix[/card] tends to tip the race math in our favor.

Birthing Pod

Out
[draft]Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Snapcaster Mage
Snapcaster Mage[/draft]

In
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile
Ancient Grudge
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Mindcensor[/draft]

The biggest key to this matchup is knowledge of the opposing deck’s capabilities. You have 12 pieces of instant-speed removal to disrupt their combo. Pod clogs the board and can’t really beat you without an infinite combo. My main playtest partner is a Pod player, and over the course of dozens of test matches the scales tipped from mostly losing to mostly winning. There’s no substitute for experience here.

Splinter Twin

Out
[draft]Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls[/draft]

In
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile[/draft] And 2 [card]Wear // Tear[/card]

Living End

Out
[draft]Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls[/draft]

In
[draft]Remand
Remand
Nihil Spellbomb
Nihil Spellbomb[/draft]

This is the only matchup where we are using the graveyard hate, and since we could use [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s elsewhere, perhaps we should adjust accordingly.

Fish, Death and Taxes

Out
[draft]Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls[/draft]

In
[draft]Path to Exile
Path to Exile[/draft]

Conclusions

There aren’t many places in Magic where you can pack your deck with five colors and 5-damage burn spells, all while beating face with an army of Lhurgoyfs, Clerics, Shamans, Spirits, and Cats. Tribal Flames feels pretty well situated in a creature or control-heavy metagame, but will struggle against a field of Living End, Scapeshift, Tron, and other assorted combo decks. With access to all five colors, the sideboard is extremely customizable, and there’s certainly room for improvements if you’re the tuning type.

“[card]Tribal Flames[/card] you for 5, [card lightning bolt]Bolt[/card] you for 3, activate [card deathrite shaman]Deathrite[/card] exiling Bolt. Game 2?”

Jason’s Cube Site – http://riptidelab.com/

Discussion

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