Looking at a Random Card: Grizzly Bears

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

Grizzly Bears: Grizzly Bears! My favorite Magic card overall has come up! Okay, that’s not actually true, but I DO have a soft spot in my heart for the Bears. In a way they can be considered the most basic Magic card – yes, even more basic than the basic lands, because someone who has never heard of the game is more likely to conclude the existence of that concept from looking at the bears than the other way around! In this game, which at its heart is still mostly about creatures, they can be used (and have been, by many authors, including me) to demonstrate the value of a small efficient creature to beginners, although much bigger creatures are available even in the common slot (a 1/1 for 1 mana like Eager Cadet might be more fundamental, but is a bad example since it actually IS as useless as it looks). As soon as a player understands this, he has made the first step towards grasping basic Magic strategy (which will hopefully one day even lead him to realize that Counterspell is in no way overpowered!) On the other hand, people who really believe that playing with Grizzly Bears is less fun than playing with Shahrazad, Coalition Victory or Scrambleverse are probably blind to this great game’s fundamental fascination: Fighting for tempo advantage and card advantage, reacting to an everchanging gamestate, assessing an opponent’s unused options in hand and library, and outplaying your opponent via bluffing and baiting.

Admittedly, Grizzly Bears haven’t been quite good enough for constructed since Magic’s very beginning, and they might well be the most often and most thoroughly obsoleted card in the whole game! However, I do not only believe that every enjoyable limited environment needs a few creatures like them, but also that any constructed environment where attacking with efficient 2-drops is not a viable strategy is seriously flawed. In the very first Magic set, the Bears were seen as a concession to Green being the creature color – Black, Red and White got Scathe Zombies, Gray Ogre and Pearled Unicorn instead (and Blue would have to wait almost 3 years to get even that much) – but nowadays the vanilla 2/2 for 3 mana is rightfully extinct. There’s a difference between those cards and Bears, though: A Gray Ogre will never be usable in any conceivable constructed environment due to the fundamental structure of Magic, but Bears are simply outclassed by better options. There have been many times when red decks would gladly have run a red Grizzly Bears version if it existed, even using clearly inferior cards instead. There’s nothing wrong with the basic design of this card, even though under modern creature standards, it probably belongs more in Red or Blue, with the other colors having superior options.

That said, the time of this specific card should be over, since Green just deserves better nowadays. In my limited environments, I will use Ashcoat Bear, Darkthicket Wolf, Kavu Titan or Nomadic Elf instead as generic options – in more specific environments, there is a plethora of alternatives, including Carapace Forger, Gempalm Strider, Loam Dweller, Wild Mongrel and Woodland Changeling. Regarding the flavor, I can only repeat what I already said about Gang of Elk: I like it if green mages get the occasional real world creature for their armies – in my book, that’s good flavor.

Considering their play value, the Bears would be a typical candidate for a D, but due to their nice flavor, and – more importantly – considering the merits they deserve for their fundamental role in Magic, I give them a D+.

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