Getting into Magic can be a chicken-and-egg situation: you can’t play without a deck, but how do you build a deck without knowing what any cards do? The upcoming Jumpstart set solves this issue in a fun and natural way, meaning this might be the best product ever for teaching new players!
Jumpstart gives curious first-timers their titular boost by cleverly cutting deck-building out of the sealed experience. Just open two of these themed booster packs, mash them together, and you have a deck, lands and all! These decks feature powerful synergies, key themes, and just enough mechanical complexity to excite without overwhelming.
And at the end of it all, a new player will have the nexus of their first deck, complete with a strong mechanical identity. This sense of ownership can compel players deeper into Magic — but how should they begin expanding their deck? With this piece, I’m going to offer some advice on that, starting with perhaps the most popular and intuitive deck theme for new Magic players: tribal decks!
EVERYBODY’S GOT A TYPE
“Tribal” is a bit of unofficial Magic jargon, used to describe decks which focus on a particular creature type. Every creature card has one or more creature types, which denote exactly what sort of fantasy beast or skilled combatant it is. For example, Magic has hundreds of cards featuring different kinds of goblins with different looks, abilities and names, all united by the creature type “goblin.” And of course, when you summon the card “Goblin King” to grant your goblins +1/+1 stats, it applies to all of them! You’ve got a good goblin tribal deck going there!
You can build a tribal deck simply by collecting all the cards that depict creatures of your chosen type. Even a brand-new player can make effective guesses as to which cards might work well together, which is why tribal decks have always been popular with beginners! These decks also have simple, rewarding gameplay — usually, every card makes the rest of the tribe stronger, which can quickly overwhelm unprepared opponents. (For more information on tribal deck gameplay, you can read my piece on how to play an aggro deck.)
Over a third of the randomly-themed boosters in Jumpstart focus on tribes, giving players a good cross-section of the game’s most enduring and iconic creature types…plus a couple of curveballs. For each featured creature type, I’ll highlight the most affordable cards you can grab from outside Jumpstart to quickly expand and empower your tribe, one or two more expensive “goal cards” you can upgrade to in time, and the best choice for your tribal Commander if you want to take them into that popular casual format!
Angels are the iconic tribe of white magic, featured on that color’s best creature cards for 27 years. They almost always fly, and many have powerful defensive abilities to reflect their compassionate divinity. They are a rare choice for tribal decks because almost no angel costs less than three mana, and they tend to be designed as leaders, not rank and file creatures. It can be challenging to survive long enough to start summoning your angels, but luckily, white has some of the best defensive tools in the game!
Quick expansion: Herald of War, Segovian Angel, Bishop of Wings, Linvala, the Preserver, Sunblast Angel, Deathless Angel, Twilight Shepherd, Adarkar Valkyrie, Reya Dawnbringer, Defy Death, Bruna, the Fading Light, Worship
The “cat” type is very flexible in its definition. Over the course of Magic’s history, it’s covered big predatory cats like lions and tigers, anthropomorphic cat-people of varying sorts, catlike demons and beasts, and actual house-cats! Cats most often appear in green and white; although the Jumpstart pack sticks to green cards, I’d recommend building a two-color version when you expand it. Mechanically, many cards create cat creature tokens, allowing you to assemble a large army; some cats also reward you for buffing them with equipment cards.
Quick expansion: King of the Pride, Kaheera, the Orphanguard, Pride Sovereign, Regal Caracal, Jazal Goldmane, Leonin Warleader, White Sun’s Zenith, Qasali Pridemage, Qasali Slingers, Fleecemane Lion, Bronzehide Lion, Adorned Pouncer
Tribal commander: Arahbo, Roar of the World
Coming to you from a land before time, it’s the terrifying thunder lizards! Dinosaurs were only added to Magic recently, as they are not really a staple of high fantasy (that’s what dragons are for!). But Dinosaurs have since made their mark as the biggest, baddest land-bound creatures in red and green decks. Their strategy is brute force, with a small amount of utility that takes advantage of the dinos’ high power stat. Some dinosaurs are balanced around the enrage mechanic, which gives additional effects when they survive taking damage.
Quick expansion: Yidaro, Wandering Monster, Keruga, the Macrosage, Ripjaw Raptor, Knight of the Stampede, Atzocan Seer, Otopec Huntmaster, Thunderherd Migration, Marauding Raptor, Priest of the Wakening Sun, Forerunner of the Empire, Regisaur Alpha, Quartzwood Crasher, Temur Battle Rage, Winds of Qal Sisma
A wise man once said: “Dragons are the dinosaurs of the sky. And of red, specifically… but also all the other colors from time to time.”
Dragons have become a catch-all tribe for large, powerful creatures. Five-color tribal dragon decks are popular, but that sort of strategy can be expensive to support, as it requires many rare lands as well as the dragons themselves. A red dragon deck will feature lots of direct damage as well as the “firebreathing” ability, which allows you to spend mana for a temporary increase in your dragon’s power!
Quick expansion: Slumbering Dragon, Dragon Egg, Crucible of Fire, Dragon’s Hoard, Dragon Tempest, Scourge of Valkas, Thunderbreak Regent, Knollspine Dragon, Dragon Mage, Dragon Roost, Form of the Dragon
The pointy-eared ones are one of the game’s OG tribes, and perhaps its most consistently represented. Inextricably linked with the color green, Elves are also strongly associated with making mana thanks to one of Magic’s iconic creatures, Llanowar Elves. Elf tribal strategies have won many tournaments, and with so many elves available, you can build powerful decks in a number of different flavors. Ironically, despite the common Tolkien-inspired image of elves as an elite but diminishing race, Magic’s elves are famous for their vast and rapidly-expanding numbers.
Quick expansion: Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Elvish Clancaller, Ambush Commander, Imperious Perfect, Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, Timberwatch Elf, Immaculate Magistrate, Cultivator of Blades, Elvish Branchbender, Sylvan Offering, Hunting Triad, Lys Alana Huntmaster, Elvish Guidance, Wellwisher, Reclamation Sage, Viridian Shaman, Beast Whisperer, Primordial Sage
Goblins — alongside elves, zombies and the (mysteriously absent) merfolk — are one of the first tribes to appear in Magic. But perhaps even more than those others, goblins have come to define the character of their color. Their cynical, slapstick violence and self-defeating antics are now synonymous with red and most things red is good at. Many in number but short in lifespan, goblins are a literal blast to play.
Quick expansion: Goblin King, Goblin Trashmaster, Quest for the Goblin Lord, Goblin Bushwhacker, Reckless Bushwhacker, Patron of the Akki, Goblin Lookout, Goblin Pyromancer, Goblin Offensive, Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician, Goblin Warrens, Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin, Goblin Matron, Siege-Gang Commander, Skirk Fire Marshal, Goblin Grenade, Arms Dealer, Goblin War Strike, Gempalm Incinerator
Minotaurs are a real underdog tribal choice, with only a fraction of the support available to elf or goblin decks. For the first two decades of Magic, the tribe was mostly a joke, but when Theros explored Greek mythology, there was finally a chance to make some serious minotaur representation. This aggressive, medium-sized tribe has been a favorite of red and black players ever since.
Quick expansion: Anaba Spirit Crafter, Ragemonger, Kragma Warcaller, Felhide Petrifier, Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion, Fanatic of Mogis, Deathbellow War Cry, Boros Reckoner, Tahngarth, Talruum Hero, Glint-Horn Buccaneer, Lord of Shatterskull Pass, Ferocity of the Wilds, Larceny
Pirates have appeared in Magic only occasionally, but have a strong identity based around reckless aggression, betrayal, treasure, and theft. This lands them in Grixis colors (Blue, Black, and Red) and offers a game plan that’s somewhere between straightforward beatdown and a tricky tempo/flash strategy. No matter what, they’re always aggressive, as evidenced by their use of the raid mechanic to reward declaring attacks every turn.
Quick expansion: Siren Stormtamer, Dire Fleet Daredevil, Cloud Pirates, Dire Fleet Poisoner, Warkite Marauder, Captain Lannery Storm, Fathom Fleet Captain, Protean Raider, Kitesail Freebooter, Captivating Crew, Ruin Raider, Crafty Cutpurse, Daring Saboteur, Forerunner of the Coalition, Dreamcaller Siren, Dire Fleet Captain, Dire Fleet Neckbreaker, Daring Buccaneer, Brineborn Cutthroat, Rigging Runner, Admiral’s Order, Lookout’s Dispersal, Raiders’ Wake, Fell Flagship, Fiery Cannonade, Buccaneer’s Bravado, Pirate’s Cutlass
Tribal Commander: Admiral Beckett Brass
Rogues are functionally similar to pirates, and they tend to occupy the same mechanical roles in story settings where pirates don’t fit. They are also usually in Grixis colors, but with a heavier emphasis on black. Their signature mechanic, prowl, allows rogues to deal damage with cheap, hard to block creatures while confusing enemy plans with spells. One could easily combine the similar tribes of rogues, pirates and ninjas (not in Jumpstart) to create a synergistically sneaky multi-tribal deck.
Quick expansion: Cloak and Dagger, Stinkdrinker Bandit, Frogtosser Banneret, Weirding Shaman, Boggart Mob, Marsh Flitter, Auntie’s Snitch, Whirler Rogue, Deathcult Rogue, Violet Pall, Notion Thief, Ghostly Pilferer, Earwig Squad, Looter il-Kor, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden, Faerie Macabre, Keeper of Keys, Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive, Fortune Thief, Grimoire Thief, Invisible Stalker, Inkfathom Infiltrator
Spirits have an interesting history in Magic. They’re usually flying creatures with some sort of intangibility or afterlife effect. In Kamigawa block we saw spirits in all five colors, representing the animistic kami of that world with a strong graveyard theme. It’s only in the decade or so since Innistrad that spirits have become one of the premier tribal decks in tournaments: a Blue-White deck that flies over creatures and heavily disrupts enemy removal. Many of its creatures can be played at instant speed.
Quick expansion: Mausoleum Wanderer, Drogskol Captain, Supreme Phantom, Tallowisp, Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens, Hanged Executioner, Field of Souls, Geist-Honored Monk, Angel of Flight Alabaster, Benevolent Offering, Spectral Procession, Long-Forgotten Gohei, Promise of Bunrei, Sire of the Storm, Twilight Drover, Drogskol Reaver, Eidolon of Countless Battles, Remorseful Cleric, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Soulherder, Kami of False Hope, Empyrean Eagle, Bygone Bishop, Dungeon Geists, Favorable Winds, Moorland Haunt
This one’s a little tricky – there’s no one tribe for sea monsters in Magic, but huge Leviathans, Serpents, Krakens and Fish have been a staple of blue decks since the very beginning. If blue decks are prone to playing the long game, then the massive sea monster rising from beneath the Islands is their classic endgame threat. Despite their different types, the game often attempts to treat these creatures as one tribe with the awkward text “Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses and Serpents” as seen on Whelming Wave and similar cards.
Quick expansion: Ominous Seas, Nadir Kraken, Crush of Tentacles, Deep-Sea Kraken, Shipbreaker Kraken, Ichthyomorphosis, Sea-Dasher Octopus, Serpent of Yawning Depths, Lorthos, the Tidemaker, Kiora Bests the Sea God, Elder Deep-Fiend, Tidal Kraken, Stormtide Leviathan, Gyruda, Doom of Depths, Mesmerizing Benthid, Inkwell Leviathan, Scourge of Fleets, Tromokratis, Striped Riverwinder, Kraken Hatchling, Flood of Tears, River’s Rebuke
Vampires are one of the most popular and powerful tribes you can play in Magic, although they haven’t had the long-term tournament success of elves, goblins and others. In the early years of the game, vampires were black’s answer to angels or dragons or sea monsters — huge creatures that could end the game on their own. Over time, this role started to go more to demons, and vampires began to share the role of black’s “small creature tribe” with zombies. Vampires focus on draining life and resources from opponents, as opposed to zombie decks which feature a lot of reanimation. Many vampires cross over into White and Red as well.
Quick expansion: Sanctum Seeker, Cordial Vampire, Blade of the Bloodchief, Champion of Dusk, Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, Malakir Bloodwitch, Bloodtracker, Indulgent Aristocrat, Feast of Blood, Vengeant Vampire, Vampire Hexmage, Bloodthirsty Aerialist, Urge to Feed, Defiant Bloodlord, Vampire Nighthawk, Call the Bloodline, Bishop of the Bloodstained, Knight of the Ebon Legion, Butcher of Malakir, Necropolis Regent, Ascendant Evincar
Yep, walls. This unlikely tribe is a favorite among Magic players for a number of reasons — the biggest one is the comedy of ambushing someone with a pile of bricks! Wall-type creatures have the defender ability, which makes them unable to attack, and they usually have zero power. However, they provide great defense and surprisingly good utility, and there are a number of sneaky ways to make walls “attack” using their massive toughness stats, often wiping opponents out.
Quick expansion: Perimeter Captain, Wall of Omens, Stalwart Shield-Bearers, Solar Tide, Wall of Shards, Wall of Stolen Identity, Animate Wall, Glyph of Delusion, Soulsworn Jury, Wall of Roots, Axebane Guardian, Wakestone Gargoyle, Ludevic’s Test Subject, Wall of Denial, Necropolis, Manor Gargoyle, Fortified Area, High Alert, Mnemonic Wall, Drift of Phantasms, Wall of Reverence, Sunscape Familiar, Golden Guardian, Woolly Razorback, Warded Battlements, Wall of Mulch, Huatli, the Sun’s Heart, Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive, Tower Defense
Tribal commander: Arcades, the Strategist
Wizards are one of my favorite tribes in Magic. Instead of the common tribal themes of “make lots of creatures” or “make every creature stronger,” most wizard tribal cards focus on utility. Teams of wizards work together to create powerful “spells,” and individual wizards’ powers are enhanced in the presence of their arcane brethren. It’s a creature-based way to play a traditionally blue gameplan — and you can still beat down with some buff battlemages to finish the job!
Quick expansion: Sage of Fables, Docent of Perfection, Riptide Director, Naru Meha, Master Wizard, Stonybrook Banneret, Galecaster Colossus, Supreme Inquisitor, Naban, Dean of Iteration, Vedalken Aethermage, Psychic Trance, Sage’s Dousing, Gempalm Sorceror, Information Dealer, Inspired Sprite, Nameless One, Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor, Aphetto Grifter, Thalakos Deceiver, Siren Stormtamer, Kaho, Minamo Historian, Fatestitcher, Sower of Temptation, Beguiler of Wills, Aphetto Alchemist, Willbreaker, Faces of the Past, Dramatic Reversal, Riptide Chronologist
FINDING YOUR TRIBE
Hopefully you have a better sense of how the themes presented in Jumpstart’s tribal boosters reflect the broader possibilities of a themed Magic deck. All of the “quick expansion” cards I listed are available for about $2 at most, so you don’t even need to break the bank to get started. Good luck — and if you want any more specific advice, you can always reach out to me on Twitter.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.