After the shipwreck, the Woman travelling from the Brass City and I washed ashore on an unknown Island. We were bruised, exhausted. Nobody else made it. I remember that, looking up, rays of a setting sun would burst through the thick tree line before our eyes, making it so that we could see little further inland than a couple Qabdheh. As troubling as the events were, I recall that I couldn’t help but become mesmerized by the colored light that overtook the beach and sky. It was eerily pleasant. So we laid down in the wet sand for a moment – I couldn’t say for how long. The nightmarish sights vanished off my mind. We wouldn’t talk. And the sea itself was now glowing in a vibrant purple hue, shifting. Oh just how beautiful it was! But there was that odd feeling – That’s when we heard it.
– Sindbad, Seventh and Last Voyage
This primer is intended for players who are looking into picking up or making their own version of Beast Island in Old school 93/94. In this article we’ll cover both deck construction and gameplay. For more insight on the deck creation and its evolution, see these previous posts [1, 2, 3].
1. DECK CONCEPT
This deck stems from an ambition to explore the potential of Guardian Beast beyond the odd singleton slot it is sometimes given in Troll Disco builds. I had a hunch that this card was worthy of seeing more than just fringe play. Moreover, flipping Orbs has got to be one of the most fun things that you can do in Old School. So if flipping one (or more) Chaos Orb every turn sounds like a good time to you, read on.
Though obvious to some, it is worth mentioning the key interaction at the foundation of this deck. Guardian Beast, while untapped, grants indestructibility to all of our non-creature artifacts. Chaos Orb, upon resolution of its ability, destroys both a permanent of your choice as well as itself. After an indestructible Chaos Orb is activated, instead of going to the graveyard, it simply remains tapped on the battlefield, awaiting activation again next turn. A very grindy combo!
On to the build. Although we’ve explored taking this deck both in the dedicated combo direction as well as going for a more controlling build in the past, the subject of this primer will be the following 2021 iteration of Beast Island which ran pretty hot (read: undefeated) at Tundra Wolves Challenge 4. It also won us a couple of monthly tournaments over the course of the year in Montréal’s local Old school league. It is likely the strongest version of this deck to hit a playmat yet:
Beast Island is built to play out as a high velocity artifact prison deck with a top end combo, while also being supported by fairly strong midrange capabilities. The high velocity characteristic is important, and may not be immediately obvious on paper. To anyone that picks up the deck it will be clear that, right out of the gate, the deck can generate massive amounts of mana and card draw through the dynamic duo of Mana Vault and Sage of Lat-Nam on top of all the Power 9 and Wheel effects. This engine enables Beast Island to function on the same power level as many top tier decks.
The velocity that we are therefore able to achieve, coupled with our resource denial plan, translates into increasingly asymmetrical tempo between our opponent and us. It is through this growing asymmetry that we are able to utilize Wheel effects to our advantage and set ourselves up in one (or more) of three common winning positions: locking them out, comboing off, and/or beating them down.
The deck follows and switches between three complementary strategic lines. Playing the deck feels like expertly dancing around, switching between these:
Strategic line #1: Prison
We are trying to deny our opponent resources. Slowing down their game plan gives us the time needed to set up our combo, which is a stronger endgame than many. To this end, Icy Manipulator can play a role at every stage of the game. In the early game, it denies the opponent mana (sometimes entirely). Mid-game, it can deny a key color. Finally, it neutralizes their strongest threat in the late game.
Strategic line #2: Combo
Successfully assembling the Guardian Beast and Chaos Orb combo synergizes with the prison strategy in that it is basically a cumulative, over-the-top version of the same effect: it permanently neutralizes threats and denies mana until it eventually grinds through their entire mana base and board!
Peak Beast Island pilot level is attained when you are able to simultaneously flip an Orb and it’s copy, one in each hand.
Strategic line #3: Midrange
As stated, Beast Island is capable of generating enormous amounts of mana very quickly. Between Balance, Mind Twist, Braingeyser and Wheel effects among others, it is also equipped with many ways to convert this mana advantage into a crushing card advantage. When this occurs, or when we have stabilized the board, it is not uncommon that the correct line of play is to turn the corner and start pounding in with Factories, Beasts and Sages. As unimpressive as 1/2s, 2/2s and 2/4s may seem, there is a degree of inevitability to this sort of aggression backed up by such card advantage and/or by our prison elements.
In fact, Beast Island’s maindeck allows us to take full advantage of those “busted draws”, while its sideboard is constructed in a way that gives us the option to transition into a more midrangey stance post sideboard, as a way of mitigating the effect of hate cards that were brought in against us.
Versatility is key
But things don’t always play out as planned. Some threats are bigger than ours, some psycho players include mainboard Dust to Dust and sometimes a Hymn to Tourach leaves you with nothing. In the face of adversity, the versatility of the deck and its components allows us to switch from a relatively weak strategic line (relative to the match-up or situation) into a better suited one.
For example: if our midrange game won’t beat the bigger midrange deck, why not try to kill it with combo? If a combo is unachievable against a wall of countermagic, then beat them down with our rag-tag band of midrange creatures. Even if we aren’t the best deck at any of these individual strategies, our ability to switch from one to another is quite remarkable and is due to the fact that (i.) most of our cards are role players in multiple strategic lines and (ii.) simply because we see so many cards! Thus digging ourselves out of a problematic situation can and will occur, seemingly out of nowhere.
In other words, you can look at Beast Island as being about 33% prison, 33% combo and 33% midrange, yet the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. It has proven to be an incredibly resilient deck.
3. DECK CONSTRUCTION
Mana Vault. It accelerates anything from Icy Manipulators to Beasts and Wheels, but also powers out game ending X-spells. It can be traded for a fresh topdeck after use with Sage of Lat-Nam just like Moxen. The importance of the velocity gained by Sage of Lat-Nam sacrificing mana rocks really shouldn’t be overlooked. Without it, we’re just a deck that’s half mana and sometimes draws nothing but. We will mulligan somewhat aggressively towards mana acceleration and card draw.
Sage of Lat-Nam. He’s instrumental to the engine of the deck, key to reaching the aforementioned velocity by converting used or superfluous artifacts into new cards. He also adds to the deck’s resiliency, virtually protecting all of our artifacts and Factories from removal and hate. Lastly, Sage will go beating down when we need him to and, against hyper-aggro, relevantly is able to trade with many x/1s in the format (not the least of which being Savannah Lions).
Icy Manipulator. It is useful in all strategic lines we hope to pursue. As previously stated, it denies mana and neutralizes threats, but also disrupts combo, is a standalone wincon versus opposing City of Brass, Djinns and Efreets, and will mess with Library of Alexandria. Icy Manipulator is also a great asset when we’re on the backfoot trying to stabilize, and benefits from the protection that Sages and Beasts offer as well.
Copy Artifact. Such good value! Efficiently supercharges any one of our gameplans: it can be Icy Manipulators and Factories #5-8 for Prison and Midrange strategic lines, but also act as Chaos Orbs #2-5 in combo situations. So many tricks with this one, it might be worth a standalone article. We recommand the late game sacrifice-and-retrieve to transform. Anyhow, it’s just sick to have in it the mainboard against Shops.
Guardian Beast. It enables your end-game combo while protecting all of your noncreature artifacts against destruction. Its big butt renders it Bolt-proof and able to block opposing Factories for days, as well as many other aggro creatures. Is also a better beater than it is given credit for. Plus it’s hella sexy, isn’t it? It wouldn’t be our posterboy if it wasn’t.
Chaos Orb. Deals with any truly problematic permanent on the way to setting up the combo, and then it deals with ALL THE PERMANENTS. Given the drawing power that the deck provides, running a single Demonic Tutor is usually sufficient to find the Orb in a timely fashion, but 1 or 2 Transmute Artifacts can also be played. If needed, Regrowth and Recall will retrieve the Orb for us in the late game. Regardless — always be mindful of what zone the Orb is in, and protect it at all times.
Now let us emphasize this: the Orb is only ever going be as reliable as it’s controller’s ability to flip it! Picking up this deck may translate into a harsh reality check, you be warned.
Support cards and flex slots
Many cards are included to the deck for their obvious power level. I won’t waste your time explaining why Balance is a strong card, for example. You go and figure this one out, Timmy.
Then, Disenchant, Divine Offering and Fireball are currently in what could be considered flex slots. In those slots, we used to run 1 Transmute Artifact, 1 Winter Orb and 1 Candelabra of Tawnos in a previous version until we tested out this slightly less combo-oriented (and consequently more versatile, and resilient) iteration. One could also elect to shove some copies of Triskelion in those slots for a splash of robot, among other possibilities.
Two notable omissions are worth mentioning. There is no countermagic whatsoever in the deck. This is because what we usually want to be doing is tapping out, dumping our hand onto the table as fast as magically possible and then cast a Wheel effect to reload. Also, whatever the opponent might be doing, often our best answer is to realize our own game-winning plan, be it locking them out with Icy Manipulators, Orb’ing their board clean or running them over with critters. In other words, the deck starts each match with a fundamentally proactive stance, rather than reactive.
Running zero Strip Mine is another controversial call, but all three tournaments (spanning both restricted and unrestricted Strip Mine environments) were won this way. Here is an attempt at an explanation. What Strip Mine does, Icy Manipulators do as well and can usually be accelerated out on turn 1 or 2 off Mana Vaults and Moxen. Manipulators, however, are way more versatile and synergistic with the rest of the deck. Painting a broader picture, we’re also playing a game of cumulative resources while denying our opponent’s. That’s what we capitalize on. Manipulators will help grind that gap wider over time. Moreover: our mana base is greedy as hell, so the colorless land slot is REALLY taxing if we want to deploy this gameplan in optimal form. This is not to say that Strip Mine cannot be fit in. It’s rather saying that the deck certainly works fine without. Which is quite cool for switching around formats without a care, by the way! But I digress…
4. METAGAME CONSIDERATIONS
After a generally favorable first game, the greatest challenge to piloting Beast Island is — by far — to overcome hurtful hate cards that are brought out of the sideboard. Think of it this way: City in a Bottle and Energy Flux are some of the most common and crippling hate cards, and they both kick the combo that we’ve built around in the nuts. Fortunately, we’ve found ways to play around these, but any Beast Island pilot should be aware that these cards are coming for them, and that they will sting.
So, a couple of principles are driving the sideboard construction. One: we will be trying to mitigate said hate cards. Two: with all this hate targeting our main gameplan, further diversifying our angles of attack is the preferred tactic. Those are the main reasons for including alternative win conditions. This should be taken into account on top of normal sideboard construction considerations regarding the expected field, etc.
City in a Bottle. For one, City in a Bottle throws a huge wrench in the gears of this deck; it completely stops the combo as well as wrecks our mana base (our access to splash colors, specifically). But with these answers and tricks, it’s still possible to win through it:
- Obviously: mainboard Disenchant, Divine Offering and Chaos Orb destroy it;
- Mainboard playset of Copy Artifact destroys it too! When the copy resolves, they both “see” each other and trigger, destroying one another. Yup, you read that right! 
- If City in a Bottle is expected post sideboard, we can rely less or even not at all on the combo — boarding out 3 to 4 Guardian Beasts;
- If we go that route, we will necessarily lean further into the midrange strategic line of play, but we should also board in more alternative win conditions. For example: Fireball as well as the full playset of Control Magic, assuming that we’re up against creatures.
Energy Flux. Likewise, Energy Flux messes up with us pretty bad since we run so many artifacts. It doesn’t affect the combo whatsoever, but it slows our engine down considerably. However once again, we have tricks up our sleeve!
- Both Disenchant and Chaos Orb in the mainboard destroy it;
- Sage of Lat-Nam allows us to sacrifice artifacts that are locked down by Flux (and in response to its trigger) to draw fresh cards;
- It is not so bad to sacrifice a used Mana Vault anyways. It’s also an option to slowroll our mana rocks and use them in a timely manner as a ritual of sorts;
- We can also turn to the midrange strategic line of play and use our Copy Artifacts on Mishra’s Factory, getting value out of Copy Artifact without having to pay any tax;
- Also board in Red Elemental Blasts and more copies of Disenchant. One could increase the number of copies of those cards in the sideboard if playing in a Flux heavy metagame.
Tier match-ups and sideboarding cues
Prevalent hate calls for some bait-and-switch sideboard shenanigans. Therefore, with the fairly high number of cards that we often want to board in, either we can cut some of the cards that we know are being targeted by said hate or rather — and especially when there’s no clear cut — it can be correct, in our experience, to cut back on a bit of this and that. Thus the following sample boarding strategies (suggestions, really) often reflect such baiting-and-switching. Then, if what’s coming in is often quite clear, what’s coming out is also oftentimes quite a mess. But it’s okay! Imagine the opponent who is trying to predict what we’re up to.
Match-up: U/W/R Aggro a.k.a Lion-Dib-Bolt
Against most aggro and Burn decks, Beast Island often has the bigger midrange game and also benefits from a combo finish. This means that we will go over the top of them if we stay alive long enough. To ensure so, we suggest trading Sage of Lat-Nam with Savannah Lions on sight. Guardian Beast will be put on blocking duty, guarding our life total, which will be replenished by Divine Offering. In such match-ups, Fireballs should be considered mass removal spells and Balance will obviously be MVP. Verdict: Slightly favored. Cues:
Preferred strategic lines: Midrange into combo, pre and post sideboard. Sample boarding. IN: 2x Blue Elemental Blast, 4x Control Magic, 1x Divine Offering, 1x Fireball, 1x Red Elemental Blast. OUT: 1x Copy Artifact, 1x Disenchant, 2x Guardian Beast, 2x Icy Manipulator, 2x Mana Vault (we are not “getting under” them any time soon, nor are we trying anyway), 1x Wheel of Fortune (don’t refill a Burn player’s hand back up).
There are times when Hymn to Tourach and Hyppies tear our hand apart, there’s no denying that. But Beast Island is usually able to stabilize off just a couple of cards and recover because it has the most impactful topdecks and a combo finish. Yes, Juzam is a scary mofo, but we’re kind of glad to see it at the same time — a really confusing feeling: eight virtual copies of Icy Manipulators will not only stop it in it’s tracks, it might even lead to bleeding the opponent dry! Moreover, if they play Juzam, they likely won’t side in City in a Bottle. It’s Underworld Dreams that is actually the scarier threat as it interferes with our engine. Remove on sight, although unless we are Wheel’ing into it like a noob, we will likely kill them before it kills us anyways. Verdict: Slightly favored.
Preferred strategic lines: Prison into Combo, pre and post sideboard. Sample boarding. IN: 1x Disenchant, 4x Control Magic, 1x Fireball. OUT: 1x Copy Artifact, 1x Guardian Beast, 1x Mana Vault, 1x Manipulator, 1x Mind Twist (like some other decks, MonoBlack tends to dump their hand out, so Mind Twist has diminishing returns. It is a tough cut, but we’ve had success making this questionable choice), 1x Sage of Lat-Nam.
Some would believe that Shops is a bad match-up for Beast Island. Well, they’d be wrong. Basically, as soon as their first Trike or Su-Chi hits the board, they’re enabling our own Copy Artifacts, so we actually benefit from a cheaper copy! Then everything becomes chaos, but really boils down to a game of Manipulator stacks, whatever aggression spills over, and if we are able to lock them or assemble the combo in time to take over. With the full set of Divine Offering on top of Disenchant and Balance, post sideboard games are certainly fair, but we let go of some of our velocity for a more answer-based approach. Verdict: Fair match-up.
Preferred strategic lines: Prison into Combo, pre sideboard. Midrange post sideboard. Sample boarding. IN: 4x Control Magic, 1x Disenchant, 3x Divine Offering, 1x Fireball, 2x Red Elemental Blast. OUT: 3x Guardian Beast, 3x Mana Vault, 1x Mind Twist, 3x Sage of Lat-Nam, 1x Wheel of Fortune.
Match-up: Troll Disco
The fairest match-up of them all: Troll Disco. To start with, our Guardian Beasts partly negate their Nevinyrral’s Disk activations, taking a huge edge away from them and forcing them to play fair. If they don’t burn us out, Beast Island has the stronger endgame with the combo. Still, Beasts usually don’t stick around for long. For post sideboard games we will both side in heaps of answers. We will trade blow for blow. To get the upper hand, we need to plan ahead and play the long game. Be prepared for things to get extremely grindy. Verdict: Fair match-up.
Preferred strategic lines: Prison into Combo, pre sideboard. Midrange into Combo, post sideboard. Sample boarding. IN: 4x Blue Elemental Blast, 4x Control Magic, 1x Divine Offering, 1x Fireball. OUT: 1x Copy Artifact, 1x Disenchant, 1x Icy Manipulator, 2x Guardian Beast, 2x Mana Vault, 1x Mind Twist (vs. the Hymn version of Troll Disco, NOT against the Counterspell version), 1x Sage of Lat-Nam, 1x Wheel of Fortune.
Atog to Beast Island is an intricate match-up where their own prison elements, burn spells and Atog “combo” kill (i.e. out of nowhere) need to be meticulously navigated. It is admittedly tricky to run our engine while simultaneously staying under Black Vise and missing land drops because of Ankh of Mishra. However all it takes to neutralize an Atog is a single Icy Manipulator. Once we have stabilized, we can start grinding away and eventually get on top of them with the combo. Post sideboard games are similar to Shops’ insofar as we will give up velocity for answers, and therefore play a more midrangey game. Blue Elemental Blasts and Divine Offerings come in very handy. Verdict: Slightly unfavored.
Preferred strategic lines: Prison into Combo, pre sideboard. Midrange into Combo, post sideboard. Sample boarding. IN: 4x Blue Elemental Blast, 1x Disenchant, 3x Divine Offering, 4x Control Magic. OUT: 3x Mana Vault, 2x Sage of Lat-Nam, 2x Icy Manipulator, 1x Timetwister, 1x Wheel of Fortune; 2x Guardian Beast and 1x Regrowth (as, if they play City in a Bottle and/or Blood Moon, we’ll lose access to green. Note: Keep Blue Elemental Blast up for against Blood Moon as much as possible.)
Match-up: The Deck
Our worst match-up: The Deck. But then, it’s pretty much a bad match-up to every non-burn deck out there, isn’t it? I guess that’s what being the boogeyman of the format means! The Deck basically always has a hard answer to whatever it is that we’re trying to do. Perhaps our sideboard could be re-tooled to better deal with them. However it seems reasonable to let this (tier zero) match-up slide and rather have game against pretty much the rest of the field. Or in other words, we haven’t really cracked this one open yet… Verdict: Unfavored.
Preferred strategic line: Go and grab the strongest alcoholic beverage available before even sitting down in front of them.
Anyways, these were general guidelines, based on my personal experience with Beast Island, aimed at getting YOU started with the deck. Feel free to pick it up, tweak it as you like and, by all means, further experiment! In my humble opinion, Beast Island can be a very strong deck. Results may be a bit swingy at first, but the experience is certainly worth it — it is fun as hell! Beyond great gameplay, once a dedicated pilot masters the intricacies of Beast Island, they will be rewarded with highly satisfying wins.
In the end, I would like to acknowledge the help of Laurence « Icatian Trout » Boulanger and Jeff « Munich » Pickelman in the writing of this primer, as well as fellow Montréal Tundra Wolves members for putting Beast Island through the wringer over the years. Without me running into mainboard copies of City in a Bottle and Energy Flux left and right, the journey and the end result just wouldn’t have been the same.
One thought on “A PRIMER TO BEAST ISLAND”
Some hot questions I’ve been asked after releasing the primer and that I will answer here as a F.A.Q. of sort. Seems to me like a cool way of keeping the momentum going & conversation open with the bunch of players that I see picking Beast Island up! Keep ’em coming, I’ll be glad to answer them.
1. What does “midrange” mean? In my understanding, “midrange” is a two-step strategy: you start by finding answers for early problems and only then do you commit to offense. Since you spend the first couple turns answering stuff, that’s why midrange creatures are typically medium size (and up).
It’s a different strategy than aggro which would read: offense first (so, smaller creatures), then deal with problems along the way — or simply “answer” them by killing the opponent. And of course both of these differ from a combo strategy, which relies on setting up a combination of cards that creates an unsurmountable advantage for the opponent. In my understanding, Prison is pretty closely tied to combo; it relies on the exact same principle albeit in a slower version, as it relies on incremental denial of ressources rather than “going off” at one time.
2. How does piloting Beast Island in a midrange fashion differ from playing it in prison fashion? In a prison strategic line of play, Guardian Beast will remain untapped at all times to protect your lock pieces. Perhaps you’ll Copy Artifact a third Manipulator because you perceived that the opponent is stumbling on mana and you want to deny it further. You will then keep adding pressure (play the prison) as long as you can maintain some sort of lock. Then you will eventually draw into a big card advantage spell (Geyser, Mind Twist) or a Tutor to assemble the combo. At this point it’s really tough for the opponent to break out, let alone recover.
That’s when you’ve pretty much solved the problems that were faced in the early game (so step 1 of midrange theory is behind us), therefore it’s about time to “turn the corner” and commit to offense. Unless you’re very confident you might not attack with all Beasts right away. But when you’ve constricted their mana base enough, you can usually cut them off all red or white mana to prevent Disenchant and Shatter anyways. Then you go all out stomping with Beasts, Factories and Sages. If you draw another Copy Artifact, you might elect to copy a Mishra’s Factory at this point to add to the beatdown. You are now midrange-ing.
3. Isn’t copying Jayemdae Tome enough to keep up with The Deck? We have copied Tomes before. It’s cool as we’re able to play the card advantage game with them. However that doesn’t change that all they have is hard answers to everything that we are trying to proactively achieve. In other words, we can have as many cards as them, they still have hard answers to everything.
We’ve actually beat The Deck in one tournament, but we had skewed the sideboard rather far into Burn-based alternate win conditions. It felt good then. Bait them to sideboard in artifact hate, while we switch to Burn alternate win conditions. Our Wheel effects – already strong against them as they lose all footing – were much optimized. If I recall well, we went up to 3x Fireballs and 4x Psionic Blasts in the sideboard. Also we probably needed access to the full set of Red Elemental Blasts to back the Fireballs up against their countermagic.
For slightly improving the match-up against The Deck, is it worth letting go of the rather clear advantage that we currently have against pretty much all creature-based decks, with the full set of Control Magic? Well some more legwork is clearly required to answer this, that’s why it would be relevant to have a bunch of Beast Island players out there, testing alongside I, and why I wrote this primer in the first place!