Last week I wrote about the “Best Two-Drops of All-Time,” which you can check out here. The article was a blast to research, put together, and discuss with the readers via the comments and social media. I’ve never participated in a Rap Battle before but I’m pretty sure I got served by a Young Pyromancer fan on Twitter.
One area where I think the article was a little confusing to some readers was that it jumped from a discussion of Bears, into a discussion of two-drops, and ended with a Bear-less Top 8:
None of those cards were bears. :/
— Skyler (@SkylerAshby) May 30, 2019
I can certainly appreciate how a reader expecting an article about Bears would feel like their expectations were subverted. Today, I want to make it right and give the Bears their due treatment.
DOES IT BEAR REPEATING?
I tend to play fast and loose with my magical definitions and terminology. While I recognize there are times when rigid definitions are important, I’ve mostly found that if the other person can make sense of the jargon and the ideas get across, then it’s all good.
Technically, a Bear is a 2/2 for 2 and is a homage to the mighty Grizzly Bear:
Some comments pointed out that in order to qualify as a Bear a creature must cost exactly one colorless and one colored mana and have exactly 2/2 base stats. I believe this definition is technically correct, which is typically the best kind of correct.
Do these Bear?
Some readers said they did, and others argued they didn’t.
Personally, I don’t see a functional difference between even 2/2 and 2/1 creatures in terms of the role they play in a deck. Cheap. Efficient. Applies Pressure. Bear me.
Since different players subscribe to variable levels of rigidity to what does or doesn’t count as a Bear, I decided to make a couple of different Top 8 lists to celebrate the various types of Bears:
Today’s article will feature 24 different Bears of varying levels of Bear-ness and so there will be no room for honorable mentions. I’ll be counting on the comment section to round out that department. So, if I missed a Cub or two that you think should have made the list, let’s chat it out in the comments.
Top 8 GRIZZLY BEARS
Let’s start with a list for Bear Purists.
A staple of the Modern “Hate Bear” deck, Leonin Arbiter denies the opponent access to searching their library. In concert with “forced search” cards like Path to Exile and Ghost Quarter, Arbiter enables some extremely potent and advantageous synergies. In addition to making some already great cards into astounding ones (by denying an opponent the ability to search) Arbiter is adept at making amazing cards extremely inefficient. Opposing fetchlands and tutors become liabilities against Arbiter.
Wild Mongrel was once one of the most terrifying creatures in the game and a centerpiece of Blue-Green Madness, a mainstay of tournament play across all formats. While power creep has turned the card from wild to mild over the years, it is still a popular enabler for Madness decks in Pauper. Still, you can’t argue with results and Wild Mongrel won a lot.
Few things are more delightful (or, obnoxious if you are on the other side!) than repeatedly tutoring the library, and Fauna Shaman is a rare example of a Modern card that does so.
Not only does Fauna Shaman “find” creatures, but it also does work by putting creatures with graveyard synergy, such as Vengevine or Squee, into the graveyard where they can further generate value. The card is a little bit slow for the currently super-high octane Modern format but it sees fringe play, where it is known to generate some truly astounding sequences!
Ethersworn Canonist has made a name for itself as a sideboard hate bear. It’s a highly effective counter to Storm-based combo, as well as Xerox decks that churn cheap draw spells.
While most Canonist play happens via the sideboard, I’ve often teamed it up with Erayo to generate an effective prison lock.
Duskwatch + Collected Company was a wrecking ball combination in Standard. Part of what makes Recruiter such a compelling card is that it threatens to transform into an oversized, mana-reducing threat early, but can also net copious amounts of card advantage later.
It might seem bold to put a card that hasn’t been released onto an all-time list, but the card is an insane game-changer for all formats. It could easily end up topping this list in a year or two. While all colors have access to Null Rod in eternal formats, Collector Ouphe brings the effect to green decks in Modern, which should help put Mox Opal decks in their place.
I typically use the phrase “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore…” To refer to busted cards, but in this case they did!
Containment Priest has been an eternal format staple since it was first released in Commander 2014 and punishes opponents who look to “cheat” monsters onto the battlefield. I was a little shocked we didn’t see this card in Modern Horizons, since it’s such an effective foil to the Qasali Pridemage and Dredge decks running roughshod over the format since last autumn. I guess they are saving some hotness for Modern Horizons 2 (at least I hope so!).
Scavenging Ooze was one pick away from landing on my “All-Time Best Two-Drops” (where I believe it would have fit right in). On a list of best “Grizzly Bears,” Ooze is a slam dunk GOAT. I have played this card in every format from Vintage to Standard and it is consistently amazing. It’s a great card, but also a fun card to play–which is a difficult balance to strike!
Top 8 “Knight Bears”
What a long strange trip it’s been for Puresteel Paladin! The card is even reasonable if you are playing it “the fair way.” Stats alone make this a considerable addition to any Equipment-based deck.
The “unfair way” takes the card from fluff to rough! Paradoxical Outcome has helped transform this unassuming Bear into a formidable combo piece with a supporting cast of 0-cost equipment.
I named the category after these plucky Paladins, and so I’ve gotta give them some love on the list.
Fact: Knights have been outclassed after 25+ years of expansions. However, they are the original +EV two drop creature. To this day they remain a fixture of Old School Magic.
While most of Eladamri’s glory days are behind him, I’ve certainly had this card played against me out of Elves sideboards in Legacy. A niche card, but also potentially cool tech that can catch an opponent off guard.
The Merfolk are strong in the Knight Bear department and there were four separate entries I considered for Top 8. The Harbinger is one of the two that made my list. A unique and powerful creature that allows a tribal theme to interact with the board without having to dilute the number of Merfolk creature spells in the deck.
While Merfolk Tribal has taken a backseat to Humans, if your opponent is playing Fish, you know this creature is likely in the mix!
I’ve been a huge fan of Relentless Dead since the first time I saw it. The card is such a Stat Ball in the sense that it has a ton of abilities for a small cost.
The card was amazing in Standard Mono-Black Zombies; and, despite not being a premier strategy in Modern I typically do alright whenever I sleeve up Mono-Black Zombies (in no small part because the card is amazing). I think Relentless Dead is a premium case of an insane card without the proper supporting cast in Modern.
I also considered Gatekeeper of Malakir for the spot but felt like it was a bit of a cheater pick since the magic comes when you pay BBB with the kicker!
Of all the “Knight Bears,” Kor Firewalker is he one I’ve cast the most! It’s an outrageously effective sideboard card against red decks, where it’s as close to a “free win” as it gets. If they don’t draw a Path, GG.
We can also add Master of the Pearl Trident to the list, since its functionally the same card (and is actually slightly better!). I’m giving the nod to Lord of Atlantis based on the history. The Merfolk tribe did fine for itself long before Master came around, in large part because the Lord of Atlantis has always been around to lead his fishy friends.
It’s interesting that the design (dating back to Beta) of double-colored mana for a 2/2 that gives all other creatures of the same type +1/+1 has essentially become the baseline template for new and current lords in the modern era.
It should be no surprise to see Eidolon in the top spot. The card is a staple of Modern red decks and shortens the game in a unique and effective way by punishing the opponent for casting cheap spells and trying to interact early.
Eidolon is also an amazing sideboard card against decks that are looking to play a bunch of spells while trying to ignore an opponent’s creatures. As a longtime Storm player, I can say that this is a truly terrifying bear!
I’ve saved the most fun ones for last! Multicolor cards always tend to be fan favorites, and for good reason, they tend to be both amazing and flavorful.
Goblin Electromancer is a unique and effective “Bear” in the sense that it typically helps combo decks such as Storm in Modern or Izzet Phoenix in Standard. Generally, the card is at its best and most effective in strategies that are trying to spam as many cheap spells as possible.
As a Storm fan, I’ve certainly had my share of fun with this creature over the years. While 95% of the utility of this card is associated with the cost reduction ability, I’m always a fan of using Electromancer to bring some “Modest Beats.”
I must admit the Multicolor Bear List was by far the most competitive, and there are lots of cards that I’m hoping the readers will bring to the discussions in the comments. Tidehollow Sculler has gotten a lot of play, across a wide range of decks, over the years.
While the card now competes with Kitesail Freebooter for competitive play, I’m still about paying respect to a card that has done a lot of work for a long time. In addition to being a great rate, the card is also a Zombie and counts as an artifact. Altogether, it’s a unique blend of neat abilities mish-mashed onto a great Bear!
Can you smell what the rock is cooking? Grim Flayer can! I played a ton of delirium-based Rock decks while Grim Flayer was Standard-legal, which was in no small part correlated to this potent two-drop packing a mega-punch! The ability to quickly self-mill a bunch of cards (and types) into the graveyard makes Flayer a terrifying two-drop to face down without a removal spell at hand. The card continues to be a commonly utilized option in Modern.
Qasali Pridemage has been a staple across all formats for years. I’ve even played it a fair amount in Vintage (which is saying something about a bear!). The card also has some historical significance in the sense that it was one of the first “hate cards” that was genetically good enough to see main deck play. One of the big problems beatdown decks faced back in the day was a vulnerability to problematic artifacts and enchantments like Moat, Isochron Scepter, or Umezawa’s Jitte. There were few viable ways to answer these absolutely game-warping permanents without main deck narrow (and potentially dead draws) like Disenchant.
Pridemage was a game-changing design because it was a fine creature on its own but gave various aggressive decks a way to deal with other card types in pre-sideboarded games. While the card sees considerably less play now than it did in the past (as a result of better options having been printed since), Qasali Pridemage is still a powerful option.
Gaddock Teeg is such a unique and powerful Bear. There are few things better than simply not allowing an opponent to cast their spells, and Teeg does this in spades. It’s effective at combating the types of spells that tend to punish the creature decks most likely to play it. Mass removal like Wrath of God, busted card draw like Fact or Fiction, and combo win conditions like Tendrils of Agony are all negated with a Kithkin Advisor on the battlefield.
The Selesnya clan has been absolutely dominating the list thus far, which makes sense considering green and white have traditionally had strong Bears!
Voice of Resurgence is one of my favorite cards of all time. I find everything about the card striking and interesting, from the type of weird game play it fosters right down to the amazing artwork. I built and played so many bad decks (and a handful of great ones!) while this card was in Standard because I liked it so much. It’s still a fixture of various Collected Company decks in Modern and a useful sideboard tool for other strategies. Voice of Resurgence doesn’t specifically fit anywhere in Modern but continues to see play by sheer force of stats.
The Chris Pikula Invitational design ranks second on my list of multicolored Bears. While the card has never been a dominant lynchpin, it’s always quietly played a role. Historically, it’s tended to be a sideboard card against combo decks. During Alara Block, I played a control deck that was built around playing Ardent Plea and cascading into either Spreading Seas or Wall of Omens. The plan after sideboard against combo decks was to board out the other 2-drops and bring in 4 Meddling Mage (which essentially allowed me to play 8 Pikulas!). It was pretty mean.
Today, Meddling Mage continues to be a staple in Humans. Alongside its new buddy Kitesail Freebooter, the card is extremely effective at disrupting an opponent’s key cards just long enough for the beatdown to end the game.
“I would have combo’d you out if it wasn’t for that Meddling Mage!”
I could make compelling arguments for why the Top 3 might deserve to be #1, but I ultimately decided on Crystalline Sliver.
First, the card was a dominant tournament staple for a long time during its day. Counter Slivers was a force. Crystalline is clearly busted in half. I mean, can you imagine how good any lord that gave all creatures of a shared type shroud would be in Modern? Crystalline Human, for example? I can’t imagine a more obnoxious card, and yet this is what Crystalline Sliver was and still is!
Secondly, Crystalline Sliver is a defining card at the kitchen table. Sliver decks are undeniably cool, fun, flavorful and beloved by fans of the game the world over. There is no Sliver more likely to make a friend want to flip the table more than Crystalline.
Lastly, with the new crop of insanely strong Slivers in Modern Horizons, I think there is real potential for a Silver revival. It may not be Tier 1, but it will certainly be able to kick some butt! I’m getting excited just thinking about brewing one up!
Top 8: A Beary Nice List
Let’s put them all together!
All things considered, this would be how I would rank the combined list of “Bears” in Magic.
Bears have always been part of the fabric of the game with varying degrees of impact and influence. However you choose to qualify a Bear, hopefully there was a list here that wasn’t too hot or too cold. If there is a Bear of any category that you want to show some love for, let me know!