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Budget Magic: Skeleton Tribal (Standard)

Nǐ hǎo, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! If there's one thing I've learned from playing Commander with Richard, it's that Skeletons are secretly the best tribe in Magic, but nobody ever plays them, for some reason. Well, today, we're going to put this knowledge to the test in Standard with Skeleton Tribal! Skeletal Swarming is clearly a really powerful card, and while it is the centerpiece of our deck, we're not just a generic Golgari deck with Skeletal Swarming. Backing up the enchantment are Skeleton lord Death-Priest of Myrkul, Moss-Pit Skeleton and Masked Vandal to fill out our Skeleton curve, and Faceless Haven as a Skeleton land in our mana base! Can Skeletons compete in Standard on a $100 / 15 rare + mythic budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Skeleton Tribal

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The Deck

Skeleton Tribal is a tribal-based sacrifice deck. While our main goal is to play as many Skeletons as possible and use them to beat our opponent down after pumping them with Skeletal Swarming and Death-Priest of Myrkul, we also have a sacrifice-sub theme featuring cards like Shambling Ghast, Eyetwitch, Deadly Dispute, and Village Rites that both helps to ramp us into Skeletal Swarming and also takes advantage of the fact that both Swarming and Death-Priest care about creatures dying. 


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Skeletal Swarming is—by far—the best and most important card in our deck, working like a pseudo-Skeleton Coat of Arms that also gives trample and makes a Skeleton or two on our end step. It can win the game all by itself—over the course of a couple of turns, it's pretty easy to end up with four 4/1 trampling Skeletons, with more coming each turn. But it's even more powerful in our deck since it works with any Skeleton, not just the Skeleton tokens it makes. 

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Death-Priest of Myrkul is basically a backup, much worse version of Skeletal Swarming, pumping our Skeletons (and also Shambling Ghast since it's a Zombie) and making a 1/1 Skeleton token on our end step for the cost of one mana, assuming a creature died during our turn. The biggest problem with Skeleton Tribal is that there just aren't that many Skeletons in Standard. So even though Death-Priest of Myrkul isn't super powerful, it's more than worthy of a slot in our deck since we don't really have many other options for adding Skeletons to the battlefield.

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Rounding out our Skeleton package are three more tribe members. Moss-Pit Skeleton is probably the best literal Skeleton in Standard, giving us a Grizzly Bears on Turn 2 and a 5/5 for five later in the game, thanks to kicker. While it's not quite good enough for most decks, it's solid in our deck since both Death-Priest of Myrkul and Skeletal Swarming can grow it. Masked Vandal technically is a Skeleton and gives us a main-deck answer to Esika's Chariot and Ranger Class, which is pretty important in our current Standard format dominated by Izzet and Mono-Green. Finally, Faceless Haven gives us a Skeleton creatureland, and it's pretty insane with Skeletal Swarming. A 4/3 creature land is good, but in our deck, Faceless Haven often ends up as something like a 8/3 or 10/3 with trample!

Other Creatures

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As for our non-Skeleton creatures, we most have a bunch of ramp to help us get to Skeletal Swarming faster as well as sacrifice effects to draw us cards and trigger Swarming and Death-Priest. The most explosive start our deck can get involves playing a Shambling Ghast on Turn 1 and sacrificing it to Deadly Dispute on Turn 2, giving us two cards and two Treasures. With a land drop the next turn, this allows us to play Skeletal Swarming on Turn 3, which is incredibly powerful. Village Rites is basically a one-of backup to Deadly Dispute that doesn't give us the Treasure, while Eyetwitch gives us a backup one-drop to sacrifice, with the upside of snagging a lesson like Environmental Sciences, Containment Breach, Necrotic Fumes, or Mascot Exhibition from our sideboard. 

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Speaking of ramp, we also have Prosperous Innkeeper and Tangled Florahedron to help get Skeletal Swarming on the battlefield as quickly as possible. Prosperous Innkeeper is also pretty solid once we get Skeletal Swarming or Death-Priest of Myrkul on the battlefield, giving us a source of incidental lifegain as our Skeleton tokens enter the battlefield, which is especially strong against aggro. Meanwhile, Tangled Florahedron is technically counted as a land in our deck, which makes it a bit of a free-roll. 


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One of the biggest upsides of being Golgari is that we get a really strong suite of removal spells. Binding the Old Gods is pretty absurd, killing anything for four mana, which gives us a main-deck answer to everything from Lolth, Spider Queen to Esika's Chariot to Ranger Class. Often, the final deathtouch lore counter is mostly a throw-away, but it's great in our deck. Giving our Skeletal Swarming–pumped Skeletons deathtouch combines really well with the trample of Skeletal Swarming, allowing us to get in a massive attack, even though blockers. Infernal Grasp gives us a way to interact with creatures at instant speed. Meanwhile, Deadly Brew is one of my favorite sleeper cards for the new Standard. While a sorcery-speed edict for both players doesn't seem that exciting, being able to Regrowth a permanent is super powerful, allowing us to get back copies of Skeletal Swarming that get countered or do strange value-y loops by sacrificing an Eyetwitch to tutor up a lesson and getting back another Eyetwitch to do it again the next turn. 

The Lessons

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Our lesson package is pretty straightforward: Environmental Sciences to hit our land drops, Necrotic Fumes for more removal, and Mascot Exhibition as another finisher. I did want to mention Containment Breach briefly. In the video, you probably noticed that Basic Conjuration was in the Containment Breach slot. That was a mistake on my part. I meant to play Containment Breach but accidentally added the wrong three-mana green lesson and didn't realize it until I was almost done recording. Basic Conjuration is fine but not especially exciting in our deck since we don't have many strong creatures to dig for, while Containment Breach is pretty awesome since it can kill both Esika's Chariot and Ranger Class

Playing the Deck

The most important thing to realize about playing Skeleton Tribal is that Skeletal Swarming is our best card by a huge, huge amount. While we don't need to mulligan into oblivion to find it, we really want to see it in our opening hand, and trying to play around counters to get it to resolve is essential. With a Skeletal Swarming on the battlefield, Skeleton Tribal is legit. Without Skeletal Swarming, it can sometimes be underwhelming since cards like Moss-Pit Skeleton and Death-Priest of Myrkul aren't that great without the extra boost the enchantment provides. 

As I mentioned before, the nut draw for Skeleton Tribal is playing Shambling Ghast on Turn 1, sacrificing it to Deadly Dispute on Turn 2, and playing Skeletal Swarming on Turn 3. When this happens, it's really hard to lose unless our opponent randomly has a way to kill the Skeletal Swarming. Left unchecked, the enchantment usually runs away with the game in two or three turns and is almost impossible to stop with creature removal since the Skeleton tokens just keep coming. 

As far as our sideboard, we have a plan for the two best decks in the format. Against Izzet, we take out Masked Vandal and typically trim some copies of Death-Priest of Myrkul (since it gets sniped by things like Frost Bite and Cinderclasm) to bring in all three copies of Duress and Go Blank, with the idea being we can attack our opponent's hand, use Go Blank to exile flashback spells like Memory Deluge, and hopefully resolve a Skeletal Swarming to win the game. Against creature aggro decks like Mono-Green and Mono-White, we can bring in more removal like Bloodchief's Thirst, Infernal Grasp, and Crippling Fear, while typically trimming cards like Deadly Brew, Village Rites, and Eyetwitch


All in all, we finished 3-2 with Skeleton Tribal, which is a pretty decent record, especially for a budget deck, and doubly so considering that our loss to Dimir Control was incredibly close. The deck felt surprisingly solid considering Skeletons aren't exactly know to be a powerhouse tribe. Skeletal Swarming itself was pretty insane, but we also managed to pick up some wins even when we didn't draw it, which was pretty impressive. 

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck now that we've played some matches with it, the big one is adding Containment Breach to our sideboard lesson plan. Otherwise, I think I'd run the deck back as-is.

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So, should you play Skeleton Tribal in Standard? I think the deck is pretty legitimate for a budget deck. We managed to go 1-1 against Izzet, and we easily could have won against Dimir Control to finish 4-1. A couple more good Skeletons in Innistrad: Crimson Vow would go a long way toward powering up the deck. Even a couple more mediocre Skeletons would help, considering the only Skeleton in our colors that we aren't playing is Clattering Skeletons. If you like janky tribes that can actually win a decent number of games, are looking for a new budget deck to play in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard, or just want something spooky to play this Halloween season, Skeleton Tribal might be the perfect Standard budget deck for you!

Non-Budget Upgrades

Upgrading Skeleton Tribal is tricky. Adding cards like Esika's Chariot or Wrenn and Seven would add raw power to the deck, but neither card really works with our Skeleton Tribal theme. You could probably build a Golgari Midrange deck that included those cards and also Skeletal Swarming, but it wouldn't really be Skeleton Tribal. As such, assuming the goal is to remain Skeleton Tribal, most of the upgrades would happen around the edges, like adding a copy or two of Soul Shatter to the sideboard. Otherwise, there really isn't a whole lot to do to upgrade the deck, at least yet. Hopefully, we'll get some new additions to the archetype in Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

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Getting Skeleton Tribal down to just $37 (and seven total rares / mythics on Arena) is pretty easy: all we need to do is change the mana base by dropping our Pathway, Faceless Haven, and snow-covered lands for Evolving Wilds, Witherbloom Campus, and normal basics. Losing out on Faceless Haven hurts—it's one of the most powerful cards in the deck—but otherwise, the mana should still be pretty functional even with these changes, and the rest of the deck is exactly the same as the one we played for the video!


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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