Thragtusk, The Polarizer

Thragtusk, The Polarizer


The year was 2012, the mood was boredom, and the solution was to try out this mystical card game that my cousin loved growing up. I bought the green deck because I didn’t know what countering spells felt like yet, which gifted me a janky mass of Hexproof buffaloes and Elves that…made…trees? It also gave me my very first jab at cracking packs. “Nice pull,” said Kirk, my mentor and guide back in the day. “That card is going to be very good for a very long time.” And he was right. Thragtusk, the Polarizer If you made a Venn diagram of cards that Magic players love, hate, and love to hate, Thragtusk would just be on top of the graph, covering the whole thing. It’s a card with a unique history that always garners attention. Once the bane of Standard, Thragtusk has since established itself as a marquee card in the minds of filthy casuals like me and the Spikes at tournament tables alike, for better and for worse. BDM: That’s okay, she’s got more Thragtusks! Sam: Today, I want to explore why Thragtusk is…well…a damn cool Magic card. Psst, hey, Blake Rasmussen: if you’re watching, this is what a preview card video looks like. Let’s start with the name: Thragtusk. Wait, Thrag? Nah, that’s not actually a word, but it sounds like it could be. I did some digging around Rosewater’s Blogatog and found this post: “We’ve joked that the solution to endless names is to name cards, translate them, translate them back into English and use those names. Repeat forever.” Maybe that’s what happened here. In all the European languages, this funky word “thrag” has been stapled on to various translations of tusk, horn, fang, etcetera. Chinese seems to give us a more literal card name: Animal Horn, Tooth, Beast. That works. What’s more is that this isn’t the only Beast with a wonky card title. It seems Wizards likes giving green Beasts in particular some really funny names. Blastoderm, Scragnoth, Brontotherium, Groffskither, Kergadon, Gurzigost, Erithizon, Hundroog, and my personal favorite: Darba. Oh, Darba. But Thragtusk? Yeah, that sounds kick ass. It’s a great name that’s easy to say and again, somehow fits. Whatever “thrag” means, it’s definitely this thing. It didn’t take long for the grinders to sleeve the beast up. LSV previewed the card on ChannelFireball in June 2012 and waved goodbye to Obstinate Baloth in the process. Prior to M13’s release, Delver decks dominated Innistrad Standard and heavily relied on cards like Mana Leak and Vapor Snag to keep the tempo up. Cavern of Souls naming Beast nullified the former, and Thragtusk’s “leaves the battlefield” clause just laughed at Vapor Snag all the way to value town. Avacyn Restored brought another trick to the fold too, which paved the way for midrange decks to dominate the season after New Phyrexia’s rotation. Just as all Standard seasons go, Thragtusk went from “shiny new toy” to “format-warping boogeyman”. Like I said, its predecessor, Obstinate Baloth, was the previous point of comparison, until Thragtusk showed up. It’s like those old lessons on relativity: you throw a cue ball onto an outstretched bedsheet and it rolls around until it finds the center of gravity. That was the Baloth. Then you roll a bowling ball onto the same sheet and watch it all get displaced. Thragtusk was the bowling ball and has remained so since. When Arborback Stomper was previewed in Kaladesh, everyone looked back to Thragtusk to compare. Which brings me to card design. Part of Thragtusk’s legacy is directly related to a few glaring questions regarding its stats. First of all, why so splashable? UW flicker decks could include green sources so easily when Shocks were legal, as both Resto and Thragtusk don’t even double up on color cost. I thought it was unanimous opinion that Thragtusk should’ve really been printed at 3GG, but my Twitter poll shows an almost perfect divide. The Polarizer strikes again. Next, why does it gain you 5 life? Nothing thematically fits here: sure, you can argue that if the 5 drop with 5 power gains you life, it’s sleek if it gains you 5. Only four other monogreen creatures in Magic gain life unconditionally when they enter the battlefield, and none of them justifiably do so. Had Thragtusk cost, say, 3GW, this clause would make much more sense. I called upon TheProxyGuy to mock up a gold Thragtusk, and I think this feels better. Including White wouldn’t have harmed its splash chances in Standard, either. Cube enthusiasts, however, are much less jazzed on the Selesnyatusk. Finally, Thragtusk’s subtle “leave the battlefield” clause was overlooked by new players like me back in M13, but veterans of the game saw the opportunity to exploit it. Thragtusk doesn’t have to die to bring out the beasts Rich Hagon: So now Melissa will run out the Restoration Angel… Sam: hence Restoration Angel’s utility. The explanation for all of these anomalies is found in the shift in design philosophy that occurred around the era of Thragtusk’s printing. Blue tempo and counter spells were at their modern day height, and Thragtusk was specifically printed as an answer to Delver decks. Why does Thragtusk gain you 5 life? Because it’s an answer card. Its design in context is more important than its flavor. Its “leaves the battlefield” trigger was a direct response to Vapor Snag. Since then, R&D has adopted the philosophy of designing “creature as spells” when crafting their cards, ditching effective counterspells in favor of dudes that double as sorceries. Thragtusk became the bane of standard as the format moved into a mid-range meta the same way Siege Rhino did. Khans three-color theme, which enabled Siege Rhino’s pushed stats, were a response to boring devotion decks that dominated the previous season. There’s always a bigger bowling ball. Yet…we still love Thragtusk. With its witty flavor text “always carry two spears” that pays homage to another M13 card Searing Spear and eye-catching artwork by Nils Hamm, Thragtusk has become part of the Magic canon. It is a beloved card that has aged well despite its relaxed mana cost and pushed stats. When the bane of a format slowly shifts out of the center of focus, you tend to forget all the frustration of playing against it, leaving you feeling only nostalgia for the good ole days. But with the release of Modern Masters 2017, players can live the dream of flickering Thragtusks once again. And soon enough, we’ll remember that playing with Thragtusk is awesome, and playing against Thragtusk is g**d*** f****** terrible! Let’s end on a high note. Here’s what Magic Bob Ross has to say about the Polarizer: I always love casting Thragtusks. The best part about Thragtusk is that he comes with a little friend. Even a beast deserves a friend. Thanks for watching. Big thank you to TheProxyGuy! You guys gotta check him out on Twitter. He puts out a bunch of sweet custom card frames for Magic Cards. And he helped out with a couple of those sweet renders. So thank you, Josh. Shout out to: Charles Rubin, Taylor Rogers, Kevin Gilbert. Slowshooter, and Brian Beck! Those guys are my highest-tier Patrons. If you enjoyed this video, come check it out on Patreon. That supports me and helps the show keep goin’ and because of all you guys we got a very special installment of my Magic Art series coming up next and I think it’s going to be two videos. Not quite sure yet but we might have a double feature on John Avon. Alright, that’s it, check out the Patreon page, follow me on Twitter (@RhysticStudies), follow TheProxyGuy on Twitter (@TheProxyGuy) And I’ll see you guys in about two weeks for The Magic Art of John Avon. Cheers!