Pattern Recognition #195 - A New Set - Tribes

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


13 May 2021


Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.

This week, as promised, I will be further developing the themes and concepts behind my self-developed set, and to that end this week's subject is Tribal. But before I get into what Tribes I want to use in this set, I need to explain some background material and design sachems and choices to go along with them.

While I've touched upon the subject of Tribal before, and that was post number 7, good Urza that was a long time ago. Regardless, Tribal sets are those sets that are focused around creature types, only a few, and have creatures with the same type synergize well, be it directly or indirectly. Lords, creatures that give bonuses to all other creatures that share a type, are a common aspect of this, but not the be-all, end all of it.

To build a Tribal set is to inherently build a set focused around its creatures. And while that is certainly a good thing as by the numbers, creatures tend to be a definitive plurality of card types, you cannot simply design a set, slap a creature type or two onto everything and call it a 'Tribal set'.

Tribal sets often go hand in hand with colour identity in the same set, the two methods of distinguishing mechanics and themes going well hand in hand in order to generate unity. Look at the Onslaught Block for an example of Clerics being . Or Lorwyn and how Goblins were .

So Tribal and colours work out when they synergize, and that actually leads into the next point.

How do Tribal effects affect Draft and Sealed?

I know that Wizards is pivoting away from those formats as driving sales, pushing through towards higher value singles and 'bling', but for me? For my design? I have to account for the possibility of people actually wanting to draft the set, and how that works out.

I'm going to skip over a LOT of information here, and just present to you the conclusion as I don't want to get too bogged down in the minutia of the details, but there's a reason why Wizards pushes two-colour uncommons and calls them the Draft Archetypes. When you draft, 24 packs for 8 people, you have to look at the distribution of colours across the packs. And if you try to draft a mono-colured deck? Well, it's very difficult. Not impossible, but quite difficult. So, Wizards likes to incorporate multi-coloured themes so that when you run out of cards in your chosen colour to draft, you can pick up a second colour and have it work together, or even sometimes a third where you get two colours supporting a central one.

To that end, I'm going to build a Tribal Set with five colour pairings, and one associated Tribe for each. Each Tribe will be 'Class' in nature, and not "Race", so no Elves, no Dwarves, but things like Artificer or Wizard are on the table.

Each of the five groups needs to be thematically appropriate, and evenly distributed. So that means either Enemy Pairs or Ally Pairs, and each Tribe has to be in those colours. For now though, nothing new. I want to reuse existing Tribes in order to maintain cohesion withing the greater Magic legacy, and to have a fall back in case I need to, or want to reprint some older card that has a relevant tribe or tribal effect.

But that's enough lollygagging. You've all wanted to see what I've chosen to anchor my set on, right? Well, let's get to it.


This one took a bit of work to finally nail down, and in a way, its origins came about when I was looking at this set as a Shard styled set, rather than an Ally Colour Set. I was looking for something to fit in the Esper - the section of the colour pie - and nothing was really striking a cord with me. So, while I was playing Arena, I broke out my mono- Control deck and found myself playing Ayara, First of Locthwain, and there it was.


And then it clicked!

You see, one of the archetypes of the Wild West, especially as you look at Spanish California, is the corrupt, or perhaps even noble Noble, the person in charge. Once I made the connection, I instantly jumped to an iconic character. Don Diego de la Vega. Now, while I obviously can't actually have him in the set, thanks in part to real-life legal issues, if I want to have a 'good' side to the Nobles, this character would be the face of it.

It was easy enough to drop the from the archetype as Throne of Eldraine as the Noble subtype was limited to the Legendaries of the set for the most part, aside from Charming Prince and Beloved Princess. I can have Major and Minor nobility here, perhaps even theme it as a glut of landless nobles out to sake their claims...? But that's for another day.

On the flipside, an evil noble is practically a dime a dozen, and nothing stands out amongst the others as an iconic character to draw inspiration from. But that's alright, that just leaves me with a blank canvas to work from.

The Nobility in this setting are the vanguard, or rather the elite of 'Civilization' back home, they represent the long reach of distant powers all out to get their share of this frontier. As they represent the knowledge that the people under their care are those that will be doing the actual work of breaking this new place into their designs, but on the other hand, they do not care about the 'little people', or the other factions in play. Either they will fall in line or they will not, and can be disregarded at their leisure. Or perhaps they do care in their own way, but it is more academic than heartfelt, the recognition that they cannot do this alone and that their most successful plans will incorporate the others, rather than being dismissive of them.

Moving on.


What is the Wild West without bandits, Highway Robbers (yes, that's a card)? These masses of enemies are common enough foes that their presence is all but given in the genre. Sometimes, they are the protagonists, sometimes they are the antagonists, but in the end, they are only out for themselves.

If de la Vega is going to be my iconic Noble, then I find myself drawn to the easy example of Henry McCarty. This infamous Outlaw of the Wild West encapsulated the who creed of Live Fast, Die Young, and if Kaladesh hadn't taken those cards names I would totally use them in this set. But alas, they use Energy counters, and that's not going into the set.

Rouges also have, thanks to Zendikar Rising, good Tribal support in these two colours at this point, and let me be honest with you all here, leaning on that support to help direct the direction of this Tribe and how they interact with their colours will be part and parcel of the development process.

There's no shame in getting a helping hand from the past. Just don't over do it, and don't insult your predecessors. Unless it's Jace Beleren. Insult him all you want. That's just the natural order of the world.

Rouges in this setting should be in the vein of large groups under the leadership of a Bandit King, that way I can conjoin the Nobles and the Rouges with if need be. This organizational structure is very flimsy as despite banding together for mutual protection, there is still a large degree of autonomy and 'Every Man for Himself' in the Tribe. It takes a grand force of will, a great Charisma to keep things in check, to make sure that the other rogues are not getting in each others way, and pointed at the real prize. Whatever that may be.


This one was probably the second hardest to fit into a tribal slot as pre-existing tribes in these colours tend more toward the Race, rather than the Class. Orc. Minotaur. Devil. Demon. That sort of thing. In the end, I went back to Eldraine and the more recent Strixhaven, where all 26 known Warlocks are all in , meaning I will be expanding this into a new colour! Huzzuh! I mean, yeah sure, Warlocks are supposed to be the iconic spell casting class for , but as we'll see with the next selection, this isn't an obstacle.

Now, real life doesn't include Warlocks, so I'm going to have to start being crafty here.

Well that and admitting to doing things I do a lot around here if only to keep things flowing and that is to pull concepts out of my ass. At least my ass is a Smart Ass!

Anyway, the Warlocks in this setting are going to be individuals, rugged and free, with the concept of "F-You, Got Mine!" as their fundamental concept. You know, like Angrath, the Flame-Chained and how he was a protagonist for these colours. For a given value of Protagonist, mind you.

For these guys, there is at this time, no solid concept for a leader, so I will either develop one in time as a result of bottom-up mechanics, or I will get a flash of inspiration at some point for a character. Or perhaps because of this idea that every person is for themselves, something shared with 's Rouges, then the leadership position will be taken up by a group rather than any individual.

The Warlocks are those who are objecting to any sort of development to this new land. There are resources here that can be taken or earned, and they are willing to do that for them. Of course, while this may sound evil or at least violent, in this concept of mine, I want to emphasize that for them, this is a reciprocal relationship. To them, if you've earned something legitimately, then they will respect you and yours - as long as you do them the favor of respecting them and theirs. They can be the best friend you'll ever have, but cross them, and they will be your worst enemy.

Honestly, this is the weakest Tribal concept I have at this point, and I'm hoping that as I develop the themes going forward, I can shore these guys up. In fact, I do have one option in my back pocket to work with, but I'll see if it pans out on paper first.


Another easy choice, Shamans already have a colossal Two Hundred and Ninety Four examples in the game so far. Of course, with all that choice, there's not a lot of internal synergy at this point. They are the 'generic' spell casting class of , but because of their more emotional and spiritual magic style in contrast to 's Wizards, they are also found in . This is why I can totally use Warlocks in !

Anyway, Shaman Tribal needs to be a case where we are looking at the raw and undiluted power of nature's magic. Shamans in these colours are the people who are looking at all these Nobles, and Rouges and Warlocks and going "What are you doing? This is my lawn! Get off!" These are the ones who are going to be objecting in their own ways to what everyone else is doing, not because they are right or wrong, but because in their eyes, no one else is taking care of land or nature.

These people should not be rejecting these new people, but rather trying to educate them, or reform them as the case may be, into being more considerate of the world around them, trying to live and exist and grow in conjunction with, and rather than in defiance of nature.

Their leader will be ...

Oh great Urza, I wanted to avoid this.

Look, I want to not do a disservice to the Native Peoples of North America (or which other term you prefer), and that means accepting that I know nothing of what these people were like, their relations to the places they lived and their neighbors.

The Shamans of this set cannot and MUST NOT be a pastiche of such cultures and peoples. They have to have their own identity and as such, I'm going to lay out my Anti-Tribe to help me keep away from making this mistake.

No Elves.

That's right, in order to avoid having Elves and Shamans in as part of the "We're here to defend the natural world!" faction, I'm going to excise Elves from the set. It's not like anyone will miss them.

Shamans will be willing to help and save others, as long as they understand that this is not just them acting, but also as an extension of the world around them. They have the carrot and the stick. Which you want is up to you and your actions.

Which brings us to the last.


Look, I know, I know. If Mark Rosewater is reading this going "Hey, this guy knows what he's taking about, let's hire him!", then I just lost his endorsement. So let me explain my logic here, and why I went with this Class in this colour pairing.

So, Rebels. I've talked about them before, and the problems they have. Namely, just how linear a deck that uses them is, and how the ability to fetch specific cards with the creature type - including Changelings now - can cause problems for a format that becomes stale.

So first thing is first. My Rebels will not have the Rebel Recruitment mechanic. I can't, as it's not the creature type itself that's the problem, but the recruiter. Now sure, print a card call Rebel Recruiter that is along the lines of Kithkin Harbinger or Forerunner of the Empire. These are effects that work in Modern Magic, and don't break the game over its knee.

In addition, by adding more creatures to this creature type, I can expand upon and give more power to Legacy and Commander decks that run them, which is a good thing given the inevitable Command Pre-con that will be built up from this set as well.

Rebels are not a broken or busted Tribe. They had one bad deal thanks to Mercadian Masques, and yes, even in in Time Spiral. But that shouldn't be a cause to end the whole thing, rather an acceptance that not having Rebels in Aether Revolt was a mistake, one that can be corrected here.

But how can I possibly justify Rebels in of all things? Well, I think that's easy. By first recognizing that the vast majority of the population in my setting aren't going to be fighting. They are going to be living and let living for the most part, but with all these other factions out there, who is going to step up and defend them?

These are the Rebels. Those who raise arms not because they are rebelling against the authority of the Nobles (because they are), the criminal Rouges (who need to be beaten back), the aggressive Warlocks (who may not be that aggressive), or the naturalist Shamans (who don't understand what's going on). Think of these Rebels as less the American South, and rather the Alliance to Restore the Republic from Star Wars.

The Rebels are all about their community, something comprehensively in and defending it no matter what society thinks of them. They have the backs of their friends and family, and it goes both ways. Of course, this does go both ways, and everyone else is looking at these dangerous lunatics who have no apparent purpose or goal beyond "status quo" and wonder how anything will get done around here.

These will be the five core Tribes of my set - which still needs a name, and at this point, I'm almost tempted to break out a Random Name Generator and start using that. Each of them needs to be presented in-card as having positive and negatives to them, so as to not make a set with obvious good guys or bad guys. When it comes to the Lore, a lot of that will be needed to help make it work.4

Each Tribe will also require something mechanical to help bind it together, either a returning or new mechanic, and while you can build sets with smaller numbers of mechanics, they tend to be less ... distinctive than others. And it's not like I have to Keyword everything.

But all this is in the future.

So please, give me your thoughts, and join me next week when I talk about a different subject.

Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #194 - Shroud, Hexproof and Ward The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #196 - Domain

vortical42 says... #1

Loving this series so far. I can't wait to see where it goes.

As far as the tribes go, for some reason the notion of having G/W as the 'rebel' tribe just doesn't quite line up. I can see the idea behind it, but the word 'Rebel' is always going to conjure up notions of resistance to authority that just don't feel very 'white'.

I have a crazy idea that could solve the problem, and I'm curious what you think. What if the tribe of 'nobility' and 'civilization' was moved from U/W to G/W? These are the people bringing order to the frontier. Part of that order means taming the natural forces, or eliminating them if they can't be controlled. It sets up a natural conflict with the Shamans that is more about conflicting ideas than good and evil.

In addition to being the home for nobles, you now also have room to include other sub-themes as well. Soldiers, Knights, Paladins could all be at home here. The classic character of the honorable (or perhaps not) sherriff would fit right in.

So what to do with U/W then? There is another archetype in those colors that also shows up in weird west settings: the artificer. Adversity is the mother of invention, so imagine all the crazy gadgets a setting like this could inspire.

What do you think?

May 13, 2021 2:35 p.m.

rotimislaw says... #2

I'll attempt to disagree that can't be bond with 'rebel' thing, vortical42 :)

To me, emphases order and lawfulness. When the authorities abuse their power, natural reaction should be to protect the weak and restrain the justice. Quite rebel to confront the authority, isn't it?

If that doesn't convince you, let me point out that nearly 5/6 of Rebel creature subtypes in Magic so far was

Having said that, I like your idea of 'rebels' too. And I'm curious on what berryjon thinks of it.

BTW, thanks for article berryjon, as always entertaining & educational!

May 14, 2021 5:42 a.m.

rotimislaw says... #3

* 'nobles'

Sorry, can't edit my comment

May 14, 2021 5:46 a.m.

legendofa says... #4

Can I put in a thought for Scout for the tribe? Are you writing these as you develop in real time, or are you writing in the past?

Either way, Scouts have a similar position to Shamans at this point--lots of representation, little tribal cohesiveness beyond a vague ramp/lands matter idea. They're heavily in , but cards like Scout's Warning and Selvala, Explorer Returned give precedence for . They're working for the good of the community, finding safe places to settle and expand their influence. This fits into the Wild West idea--exploring and taming the frontierlands, or claiming the land through the idea of manifest destiny for a somewhat harsher presence.

May 14, 2021 2:57 p.m.

legendofa says... #5

After a little bit of research

55 Scouts

36 Scouts

19 Scouts

18 Scouts

6 Scouts

May 14, 2021 3:08 p.m.

berryjon says... #6

There's room to grow and change, that's for sure. I am not ignoring any of you at all.

May 14, 2021 7:59 p.m.

LaShrew says... #7

Your inclusion of Rebels go me thinking that a better fit for might just be the Mercenary. The gun for hire is a Western staple and they would easily fit that rugged and free, "F-You, Got Mine!" concept.

There are only 41 Mercenaries with 32 in , 6 in , 2 in , and 1 in . There are no Legendary Mercenaries and they have not received any real support since the Masques block.

May 17, 2021 12:32 p.m.

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