Flavor of the Month: Strictly Butter

Brandon Amico • August 24, 2023

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We're Crab People Now

Welcome to Flavor of the Month, where we use cards' flavor as a recipe for building decks! Often in this column, we focus on flavor text, but what...okay, hear me out: what if we checked the flavor by eating the cards?

Whatever you do, don't eat the delicious cards, as Gatherer itself will tell you in its rulings. To clarify, I don't mean the literal cards themselves: cardboard and ink are not part of a balanced color pie diet. I'm talking about what's depicted on the cards: a Prize Pigs, an Abundant Harvest... or a Feast of the Unicorn if you're nasty.

We all gotta eat. Even The Gitrog Monster is chowing down.

So, as a combination of my love of both flavor text and puns, I bring you the deck Strictly Butter, inspired by creatures that go well with heaps of butter. It's also a type I've wanted to do something with after seeing the flavor text on Wishcoin Crab: "What wishes do they grant? Mostly pinching-related ones." It's a perfect, sublime bit of silliness, so it naturally has to be in a deck.

That's right, we're going crustacean typal. We're trawling the oceans for food (or at least heading to our local Red Lobster). Or as Charlie Kelly succinctly put it:

 

As for the pun, perhaps a little explanation is in order for some. In Magic, we have the term "Strictly Better," meaning Card A does everything Card B does but with bonus positive effects or at less cost, so Card A is strictly better. Of course, anytime anyone says something is strictly better than something else, Twitter (I refuse to call it X) spits out three reply guys who shout that there are weird corner cases that rarely ever happen in real life and yet make the "strictly" better card a potential liability. Sure, Mana Drain is strictly better than Counterspell these days... unless someone out there is rocking a Yurlok of Scorch Thrash and you risk not being able to spend the mana on your turn. And Scrubland would probably be considered strictly better than Godless Shrine, but what if you're in a Font of Agonies deck? What if you just like your lands coming in tapped 'cause you're a weird little dude? What then, huh?

Ingredients

Do these distinctions of strictly betterness matter? Not really! Not to us, at least. We're going strictly butter, which means every creature we play has to be delicious with butter (with a couple of well-reasoned exceptions). That means we're looking at Crabs, Lobsters, and Homarids.

Well, I'm being told by the angel-winged editor that appears on my right shoulder when I'm writing that the only Lobster in Magic is Rock Lobster, which is silver-bordered and brings more of the B-52's into this article than I'm emotionally prepared to handle, so let's leave it aside. (The devil-winged guy on my left shoulder is telling me to build around Paper Tiger and Scissors Lizard, but we'll put a pin in that for now). Crabs and Homarids it is, then.

In case you're worried that the lessons of your tenth-grade biology class were lost on you, fear not: you're not failing to remember what Homarids are. They don't exist, just like Goblins, Sphinxes, and your childhood friend's uncle who "worked for Nintendo." In Magic, Homarids are sentient Lobster monsters (the name deriving from "Homaridae," a synonym for "Nephropidae," which is the taxonomical family that Lobsters belong to; you can thank me if you're ever on Jeopardy!) that are native to bulk boxes and my own personal nightmares. There are also not too many of them out there, so Crabs are going to have to do the heavy lifting and/or pinching in this deck.

Mechanically, Crabs in Magic's history don't have a ton going on. They're known for having big butts (AKA high toughness) and an inability to speak in falsehoods. Hedron Crab, Iceberg Cancrix, and Ruin Crab have recently begun to give a little typal identity to Crabs, though: milling our opponents.

Even though those are the only Crabs that specifically support these themes, Hedron and Ruin have been impactful enough in competitive 60-card mill decks that, as much as Crabs have a "thing," milling is it. But fortunately, we can teach the other Crabs to use their hard shells like Millstones thanks to our commander for this deck: Phenax, God of Deception. With Phenax, all our Crabs and Homarids tap to mill an opponent at the rate of one card per toughness, and that's a solid gameplan.

Preparation

We are, of course, making a couple exceptions to our "Crabs and Lobsters only" creature typing for this deck. Three, to be exact. First, our commander Phenax is not a Crab, but our chef serving up these steamed and buttered beasts. It stands to reason, then, that we need a diner to partake in Phenax's dishes. Enter Bruvac the Grandiloquent, who we needed to find a way to fit into this deck because his double-milling passive ability is too good not to have. Lucky for us, his art makes it clear he's perusing Phenax's menu of Crabs and Crab accessories, so he's in. Someone's gotta eat these sea bugs, and it certainly won't be me (I'm not a fan of any kind of seafood, truth be told).

Our last typal stretch is Consuming Aberration, who I consider an honorary Crab/Homarid; it's clearly in order Decapoda along with the others based on its art in every printing except the most recent one (seen in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate). Again, we're not bending the rules for no reason: even beyond the fact that it'll probably be the biggest thing on board, his triggered ability makes every spell you cast shred more of your opponents' libraries without any more cost on your end. We like this.

Our Crabs and Homarids are here for more than just toughness-milling with Phenax, of course. There are some fun little weirdos in our midst, like Vexing Scuttler and Mirrorshell Crab, and a couple of Water-types that very clearly inform your opponents that they had better not play f****ng green: Homarid Shaman and especially King Crab. Honestly, the pettiness King Crab feels for green creatures is something I aspire to. Some fun and fittingly petty flavor text on that guy, as well.

We're running snow lands as opposed to regular Islands and Swamps because we're plating up Viscerid Drone and Iceberg Cancrix, and also as a "gotcha!" to that player who snapped up a newly-cheap-thanks-to-a-reprint Extraplanar Lens and is trying to get around the symmetrical downside by playing snow basics. We all know that trick by now!

With Phenax out (and he will probably stay out most of the time, at least in enchantment form, thanks to the built-in indestructibility), Horseshoe Crab just reads "U: Target player mills three cards." That can stack up over time, and many opponents are going to feel pretty silly sending a Swords to Plowshares at your lowly Horseshoe Crab, so they probably just won't.

One of the cards in this deck with the highest ceiling and the ability to snowball a game is Uchuulon. This Crab (yes!) starts making copies not on your upkeep, as you might assume, but on your end step. That means by the next go around we have two Crab Ooze Horrors to start tapping to mill (they also block well in a pinch and can get to beatdown mode surprisingly fast), and then four the next time around, then eight, sixteen, and so on. Like a Scute Swarm in slow motion. Unless a player removes the first one at instant speed or wipes the board, they will start doubling every go-around the table as long as there are creatures in your opponents' bins (and thanks to our milling, there should be!). With each of them milling for four each go around, we'll make short work of our opponents' libraries.

There's really only one thing on the menu when your opponents play against this build, and it's their own deck. In their graveyard. So in addition to plenty of Crabs and Homarids to do the milling, we want cards that either lop off more of our opponents' 99 or help us stay alive and in the game until we can finish the job.

While Tasha's Hideous Laughter exiles rather than filling graveyards, it's hard to get a better rate for library removal at three mana. Maddening Cacophony and Fractured Sanity help flesh out our non-Crab mill package, in case our Crabs start getting fished out by opponents (hey, that's why we have Shore Up, which pulls double duty untapping our Crabs to mill again while also keeping them around). Speaking of untapping, did someone say Intruder Alarm? No? Well, I just did. It's just about the best thing we can have on the board when we're full up on Crabs; every creature that joins the battlefield, our own and our multiple opponents', gets everyone another round of Phenax-induced Crab-milling.

There are a few Crab-flavored cards that aren't actually Crabs, too. Surprising no one, we're running Crab Umbra and Scuttletide, but have you heard of Aether Barrier or Tidal Control before? I hadn't, but they make decent fits here, and Tidal Control actually has my attention as a pretty brutal way to shut down all green and red action on the board. It's any spell, not just creatures, of that color, and anyone at the table can pay to stop them, in mana or life! We won't be able to use it for more than a couple of turns in this deck, but in other decks I'm already scheming a way to blink it and reset that cumulative upkeep so it sticks around...

We will need to keep the cards flowing, of course; good thing that's what blue's been doing best since Alpha's Ancestral Recall. Conveniently for us, Visions of Beyond more or less functions as Ancestral Recall in this deck. And Jace, the Perfected Mind has Recall on a minus 2 ability and can capsize an opponent's deck with enough loyalty stored up.

Court of Cunning will help us draw cards and mill our opponents, and thanks to our Crabs being excellent blockers, we should keep the monarch for some time. Engulf the Shore, Aetherize, and a bit of countermagic should keep the mid-game from getting out of hand until it's finally Mill-er Time (crap, we're almost at the end of this article and I only now thought of using the pun "It's Mill-er Time"? I am off my game, clearly).

That's the plan! Pretty straightforward, but crustaceans aren't known for their long-windedness. I'm honestly pretty excited about this deck if only for the opportunity for some very novel plays: I think taking out an opponent's fresh The Ur-Dragon before combat with a puny little Viscerid Drone is one of the funniest things you can do in Magic: the Gathering.

Yield

Strictly Butter

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Wishing for More Pinches Wishes

That's it for this trip to Legal Sea Foods, and as someone who actually really dislikes eating anything that lives under the ocean (honestly, it's a hellscape down there, and crustaceans are just ocean insects that you couldn't pay me enough to eat), I'm relieved to be back on dry land. Join us next time for another flavorful build, and in the meantime hit me up on social media or in the comments below and tell me about what you thought of this deck, or what creature type would be better with butter, or how you can't believe we did a whole deck based on a pun. It won't be the last time, I'll bet. Until then, be well.



Brandon has been playing Magic since Odyssey back in 2001. When he's not slinging cardboard, he works as a freelance copywriter and is an accomplished poet with a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowship. His literary work can be found at brandonamico.com.