Tribal decks are a staple of the Magic: The Gathering Modern format and have been for years. Merfolk, Elves, Goblins, and of course Humans are all solid tribal decks for Modern. However, there have been several cards recently printed that specifically hate on tribal decks for no apparent reason. Let’s check out Witch’s Vengeance and Plague Engineer.
Witch’s Vengeance and Plague Engineer
Witch’s Vengeance (coming soon in Throne of Eldraine) and Plague Engineer are both brutal against tribal decks. Plague Engineer’s constant -1/-1 ability wrecks Goblins and Elves. Merfolk and Humans can deal with it a little better, but it’s still a disgusting card against them.
Witch’s Vengeance is even more egregious. For just 3 black mana, you can wipe all but the biggest Human and Elf boards out of existence without hurting your creatures. A one-sided board wipe that hoses specifically tribal decks is not something anyone wanted or needed.
Why are these cards bad?
It’s not really that these cards are bad; it’s that they’re too good at hurting one specific kind of deck that didn’t need to be hurt. Elves, Humans, Goblins, etc. aren’t exactly taking over any metagame. Humans is the premier aggro deck in Modern, but it’s sort of fallen off lately due to the rise of Jund.
Tribal decks are, by nature, very “fair” decks. They play creatures, attack and block, and aren’t really looking to combo or cheat on mana much. Their whole goal is amassing enough creatures to take advantage of tribal synergies. These decks can be fast, but rarely are they “broken.” In short, they aren’t doing anything to warrant such strong hate.
So why were Plague Engineer and Witch’s Vengeance printed?
WotC’s first and foremost priority is balancing Standard. Eldraine has a heavy Knight theme, so Witch’s Vengeance is probably a preemptive measure to keep Knights from being too strong. So Standard will be balanced, but tribal players in eternal formats are a bit out of luck here.
Plague Engineer was printed in Modern Horizons as a nod to the card Engineered Plague. Modern Horizons had a cool Shapeshifter theme in it alongside multiple small tribal themes, so Engineer was a solid card in that limited format. However, once more, it’s a brutal card that Tribal players in eternal formats now have to suffer through.
It’s worth noting that both these cards are solid even against non-tribal decks. Just killing a single creature with Engineer and then trading with its deathtouch ability is an inherent 2-for-1, which is never bad.
It sucks to be someone who likes tribal decks right now, and it probably won’t get much better after Witch’s Vengeance releases with Throne of Eldraine. Luckily, Modern tends to evolve and change over time despite strong hate cards. Affinity is still playable despite Stony Silence. Burn is still playable despite Leyline of Sanctity. Dredge is still playable despite Rest in Peace. This just means that if someone really wants to beat up on the fair tribal decks in Modern, they can now.