Saturday, June 29, 2019

Oathbreaker Squirrels





“Squirrel!”

The wise word of a Pixar dog. But also a nickname some friends greeted me with during high school. I fashioned the moniker proudly as it represented my favorite part of Magic: playing my Squirrel deck.


...Then I gave my deck to a local kid, left for college, and haven’t played a Squirrel deck since.

Until now.



Flashback to the Future

“Oh man. I have been ready for this moment since forever. Come on, friends! Let's go grief the universe!”
—Squirrel Girl, Marvel Rising: Part 3




"Back in my day," when I went by "Deranged_One" (Deranged Hermit shoutout!) online, kitchen table decks were different. Sixty-card decks and playing four copies of cards. (Okay, so decks then were also different from when Magic first began. Magic always be changin'.) 


Nowadays, Commander reigns in casual play with 100-card singleton. This makes filling out a deck with the already-meager number of Squirrel cards difficult. So the forest rodents have been hibernating in the shoe boxes since.
But two Squirrel-deck-impacting events happened this year: 



1) Modern Horizons printed Deep Forest Hermit

2) Oathbreaker surged in popularity

Another card added to the Squirrel pool and a breakout sixty-card casual format?

Wrangle the Squirrels! It's time for an Oathbreaker Squirrels deck tech.

Squirrel-Powered Scheme

"I'm sorry. You're just...it's hard to take a swearing squirrel seriously."
—Guy Gardner to B'dg, Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion: Part 1


Illustrated by Even Amundsen

Before diving deep into the nest, here's an Oathbreaker deck list to squirrel away

(Cards in the command zone, land, and multipurpose sections state what roles they play in parentheses for other sections they normally would fall under):


Command Zone (2)
Garruk Wildspeaker (Ramp Later, Squirrel Synergy)
Chatter of the Squirrel (Squirrel Strategy)

Land (24)
12 Snow-Covered Forest
Lotus Field (Ramp Later)
Myriad Landscape (Ramp Later)
Temple of the False God (Ramp Later)
Arch of Orazca (Card Draw)
Mosswort Bridge (Card Draw)
Blast Zone (Removal)
Mystifying Maze (Removal ...ish)
Pendelhaven (Squirrel Protection)
Swarmyard (Squirrel Protection)
Yavimaya Hollow (Squirrel Protection)
Deserted Temple (Squirrel Synergy)
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood (Squirrel Synergy)

Multipurpose (4)
Arbor Elf (Ramp Early, Squirrel Synergy)
Rime Tender (Ramp Early, Squirrel Synergy)
Vivien Reid (Card Draw, Removal, Squirrel Synergy)
Voyaging Satyr (Ramp Early, Squirrel Synergy)

Ramp Early (7)

Into the North
Nature's Lore
Rampant Growth
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Three Visits
Utopia Sprawl
Wild Growth

(Arbor Elf)
(Rime Tender)
(Voyaging Satyr)

Ramp Later (5)
Cultivate
Harrow
Kodama's Reach
Nissa's Pilgrimage
Skyshroud Claim

(Garruk Wildspeaker)
(Lotus Field)
(Myriad Landscape)
(Temple of the False God)

Card Draw (2)
Praetor's Counsel
Sylvan Library

(Arch of Orazca)
(Mosswort Bridge)
(Vivien Reid)

Tutors (5)
Chord of Calling
Finale of Devastation
Green Sun's Zenith
Sylvan Tutor
Worldly Tutor

Removal (3)
Creeping Corrosion
Song of the Dryads
Whirlwind

(Blast Zone)
(Mystifying Maze ...kinda)
(Vivien Reid)

Squirrel Protection (1)
Heroic Intervention

(Pendelhaven)
(Swarmyard)
(Yavimaya Hollow)

Squirrel Strategy (5)
Deep Forest Hermit
Deranged Hermit
Nut Collector
Squirrel Nest
Squirrel Wrangler

(Chatter of the Squirrel)

Squirrel Synergy (2)
Parallel Lives
Doubling Season

(Garruk Wildspeaker)
(Vivien Reid)
(Deserted Temple)
(Oran-Rief, the Vastwood)


Squirrelspeaker

“Squeaky, uh, squeak squeaker ...squeakin’.—Kronk, The Emperor’s New Groove




Choosing an oathbreaker and signature spell combination for Squirrels, I asked myself, “How do I want to win?” Generating infinite Squirrel tokens using Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest? That’s not my Squirrel-y style. I instead want to overrun my opponents with (a reasonable number of) Squirrel tokens swinging sideways.

Luckily, Garruk Wildspeaker’s ultimate is exactly the effect of Overrun. Additionally, his +1 loyalty ability synergizes with Squirrel Nest and helps cast key mana-intensive spells.

There’s a problem, though. Garruk’s +1 ability is so good that he quickly becomes targeted by other players. His first ability doesn’t provide a way to protect himself from attackers. The second one creates Beast tokens, but that runs counter to Squirrels and lowers loyalty. This is where the signature spell comes into play.

There are only two sorceries (and zero instants) in Magic that create Squirrel tokens. One of them is Chatter of the Squirrel and costs one mana. When you curve into a Garruk hitting the table, you can immediately untap two lands. Then you have enough to cast Chatter of the Squirrel, creating a blocker for Garruk! 

A Chatter of the Squirrel signature spell both plays defense for a Garruk oathbreaker and advances your Squirrel strategy.


Gameplays with Squirrels

“It’s me manifesto. All of us hermits have one.”
—Mr. Plays With Squirrels, Boy Meets World Season 7 Episode 16


When building a Squirrel deck, I had some decisions to make. To make sure my games end up within the Squirrel-y spirit, I followed these rules:
  • No “technically a Squirrel” creatures. I'm looking at you, changelings. Modern Horizons' Birthing Boughs looks mighty tempting with its ability to repeatedly churn out tokens. But even though the game rules recognizes changelings as Squirrels, the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed spirit isn't there. The only non-Squirrel creatures to play in this deck are ones promoting the Squirrel strategy.
  • No silver-bordered Squirrel cards. Look, I don't want anyone to have to make accommodations on behalf of my furry friends. I want to bring a totally-serious legal Oathbreaker deck to the table with those Narset Windfall decks. Chittering doom, while not in silver-bordered form, shall come for my opponents through sick deck builds and gameplay. With that said, I'm totally OK with playing against your silver-bordered decks. I mean, *gestures to Squirrel deck*
  • No winning via means other than Squirrel attacks. As mentioned earlier, I don't want to combo out with Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest. But the same goes for any other cards that'd steer the gameplay away from the goal. Strong synergies are fine as long as I'm sending green tokens into the red zone. And by green tokens, I mean they can't be Saprolings. No matter how much of callback Thelonite Hermit is.
  • No stealing the spotlight from Squirrels. There are cards that totally help the Squirrel strategy but cause a weird behavior to happen. Specifically, some cards that refer to creature type. For example, Heirloom Blade can help your Hermits and friends-of-Squirrels find each other. But the card would bring attention to "Elf" and "Druid" for its effect. I only want to keep saying, "Squirrels" over and over!
So this does mean one thing for Garruk Wildspeaker. While some oaths break, one line must never be crossed: never create a 3/3 green Beast creature token. Even if it's a matter of life or death (in an Oathbreaker game - not real life). Because betraying the Squirrel cause is the real loss.

Form of the Squirrel

“You see that sheen on the fur? The glint in their eyes? Top quality. These are the real deal.”
—Squirrel Dealer

Illustrated by Bram Sels


Here's a breakdown of categories of cards found in the Squirrel deck and what role they serve:

Ramp

The best cards for your Squirrel strategy are on the higher end of the mana curve. Due to this, the early turns are devoted to ramping up quickly.

Of the different ways to ramp, the most synergistic ones involve untapping, enchanting, or fetching lands. This means no mana rocks or mana dorks that simply add mana to your mana pool. Garruk and other untappers love targeting enchanted lands. Extra lands fetched from the deck are eventually re-used for a Squirrel Wrangler endgame.

Tutors

I’m normally against including tutors in my decks for the sake of experiencing gameplay variety. However, there are too few powerful Squirrel cards to fill out a deck with. If no tutors are used, the variance can result in a lackluster chittering presence. Employing tutors helps opponents experience the excitement of being trampled by forest rodents.

Card Draw

Because many of the nonlands are ramp spells or other supporting cards, card draw is less effective. Card draw is still good to have, but it’s best on multi-purpose and/or synergistic cards.

For example, Arch of Orazca fills out a land slot yet synergizes with Hermits. Sylvan Library was already powerful, but even better with shuffling from tutors and ramp.

Lastly, Praetor’s Counsel is the best kind of “card draw” for this deck. It’s a late-game card, which is when your key cards might be in the graveyard. Casting this will refresh your hand with virtual redundancies in your Squirrel strategy.

Removal and Squirrel Protection

Heroic Intervention helps keep your Squirrels alive while Swarmyard and Yavimaya Hollow pitch to do what they can as well. As for removal...

All these Squirrels yet none of them can block a single flier?

WHIRLWIND THE BOARD.

Opponents have all these artifacts, yet you don’t have any in your deck?

CORROSION THE BOARD.

Lastly, Vivien Reid and Song of the Dryads are great targeted removal for any problematic opposition.


Squirrel Cards and Synergizes-with-Squirrels Cards

Not all Squirrel cards are up to snuff. Each of Deep Forest Hermit and Deranged Hermit create a powerful board state. Conversely, Squirrel Mob is conditional upon two things to be great: gaining trample and already having lots of Squirrels. Even though there's already slim pickings for Squirrel cards, the tutors and deck-thinning ramp help create consistency.

For synergy, Parallel Lives and Doubling Season really beef up your Squirrel production. And as soon as Squirrel Nest enters the battlefield, Garruk and friends can untap that enchanted land.

Squirrel Strategy

One fateful night, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they rose.
—Chittering Doom




Many decks need a game plan. Even Squirrels. It's how you'll ensure you'll have a board state that makes you cackle maniacally. The first few turns will be crucial for your endgame.

Here's how it should go:


Turn One and Turn Two

There's a high number of ramp cards in the deck that cost either one or two mana. It’s crucial to cast one of these during the first or second turn of the game. This is to support a turn-three Garruk.

Turn Three

Cast Garruk and untap two lands with his +1 ability. From here, if you need to protect Garruk, you can cast Chatter of the Squirrel. Bonus if the remaining untapped land is a Swarmyard or Pendelhaven to help dissuade attackers.



Turn Four and Beyond

By now, you’ll have access to six or more mana. Enough to cast a Hermit, Nut Collector, Parallel Lives, Doubling Season, Vivien Reid, etc. You can also start casting more-expensive ramp to build out your Squirrel Wrangler endgame.



Killer Plays

There’s a couple of powerful plays to look out for:
1) Turn Two Garruk

There's a slim chance you can cast a second-turn Garruk:


Turn one:
Play a Pendelhaven or Snow-Covered Forest
Cast an Arbor Elf.

Turn two: 
Play a second land, a Pendelhaven or Snow-Covered Forest
Cast a Wild Growth or Utopia Sprawl on an untapped Forest
With Arbor Elf and the enchanted Forest, add four mana to your mana pool.
Cast Garruk


From here, still on your second turn, you’re able to +1 Garruk to untap both lands. That’ll give you three more mana to cast a heavier ramp spell, Sylvan Library, etc. What a start!
2) Hermit of Devastation

Look out for when you might be able to reach twelve mana for casting Finale of Devastation. Even with an empty board, you’re able to turn the game around or end it. Once you cast Finale with X as 10, find a Hermit. You’ll end up with at least five creatures that are at least 11/11 tramplers with haste!

Acorn-y Punchline

"Until then, may you play your next squirrel with a grin on your face."
—Mark Rosewater, "Squirrel of My Dreams"



That's all I got for today. Thanks for reading! 

The games of Oathbreaker facilitating a return to playing a deck of Squirrels brought me nostalgic joy. Whether it's your first time or rejoining the furry friends, I hope the Squirrels also make your table smile.

Let me know if this article moves or inspires you to play with Squirrels: I'm @bradleyrose on Twitter! If you end up heading over to CardKingdom.com to buy some Squirrel cards, could you do me a favor? Leave a comment saying it was 'cause you read this article!

Until next time, may the defeat of your opponents be aptly described by Squirrel Wrangler’s flavor text.

2 comments:

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