Artisan Brewery: Marisi the Tiger King

Hey all you cool cats and kittens, and welcome back to Artisan Brewery! This time, we've been inspired by one of the newest pop-culture sensations sweeping the globe during quarantine: Tiger King on Netflix! For those of you who haven't seen it yet, or don't plan to, the show is about a (highly unique) man who goes by the name Joe Exotic, and owned his own private zoo. He proceeds to get himself into various legal and ethical troubles, eventually ruining his business, going bankrupt, and being arrested for murder for hire. I genuinely cannot explain the appeal of this show, but it was like a train wreck that was both horrific, and oddly entertaining.

We're using this as an opportunity to deep dive into a completely different take on deck building: using real world themes and card effigies representing people in our motif. We're going to start the deck by picking out key cards that represent various characters in the show, ultimately fleshing out our unique subject, before we finish it off in a more traditional deck building fashion. You don't have to be a Tiger King fan to enjoy what we're doing here; the process could easily be used for Star Wars, Avengers, or any other pop-culture reference you want to base your theme on.

Main Characters

For this deck, we'll also be doing the same color combination as our recent deck under the Scrabble condition, but with more of a tribal theme. As the show's name suggests, the zoo that Joe Exotic ran mostly featured big cats, and tigers more than the rest. That being said, this deck will go in a Cat creature type tribal, with Marisi, Breaker of the Coil at the helm. Marisi commands attention on the table, no matter what our opponents will be playing, and this is a good representation of our main character, Joe Exotic. Additionally, Marisi's goad mechanic play's prefect with Joe's personality — who literally goaded friends and foes around him on a constant basis.

Another pivotal figure in this unreal story is Joe's ultimate rival and nemesis, Carole Baskin. She is the opposite of Joe in almost every way, being a very vocal supporter of animal rights, and highly opposed to private ownership of exotic animals. She was Joe's archnemesis because of their difference of opinion on private animal ownership, as well as the fact that she sued him for slander due to a series of internet videos he made accusing her of killing her husband. The card we're going to use to represent Carole is Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, because much like that lich Carole Baskin, Mirri restricts other people's ability to function as they wish.

Joe didn't run his zoo alone; he heavily relied on his head zookeeper, John Reinke, in the day to day operations of the facility. They worked together for a large number of years, and were very close friends as well as coworkers. However, when Joe was arrested and put on trial, John wasn't quite able to help him in any meaningful way, though not for lack of effort. His willingness to help, but underwhelming result, is reminiscent of Jedit Ojanen of Efrava. While Jedit can be powerful in a multiplayer format, due to the increased chances of someone playing forests, his ability to only create one token per turn doesn't have a lot of stopping power. Coupling that with the fact that these same tokens are within easy kill range of something like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite makes it not quite as effective as we'd like it to be.

An interesting part of the show was that Joe wasn't the only private zoo owner mentioned, though he was certainly the most charismatic. A man named Bhagavan "Doc" Antle owned a zoo in South Carolina, and was often contacted by Joe Exotic for advice and general conversation. There were some stark differences between the two, the most prominent of which is their sense of business; Doc ran his zoo (and is still running it) with a much clearer head for business, turning it into a profitable venture whereas Joe's was destined to ruin him (more on that later). For the sake of this show, we could think of him as a secondary king, or prince, etc. of big cat facilities. Keeping that in mind, his representative in the deck is Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Much like Doc, Brimaz brings a lot of other cats into the equation, generating more overall strength, albeit still being prone to some of the same weaknesses as Jedit.

In addition to the zoo, Joe also attempted a reality show based on his life and the general day-to-day operations of his facility. These aspirations all came crashing down when the building all of the footage was stored in (as well as housing alligators owned by Michael Jackson) was burned to the ground with no additional copies. The man behind the camera and production was named Rick Kirkham, who was also featured heavily in the documentary as an interview subject. He was full of stories about Joe, whether it be his silly antics, his polygamist marriages, or his brash manner and harsh temper. The most accurate representation we can put into this deck is hands-down Keeper of Fables, which is conveniently one of our better sources of card advantage at the same time.

One of the sadder moments in the show features the accidental death of Joe's first husband, Travis. This was a moment in Joe's life that changed him profoundly, even according to those close to him. It didn't take long for Joe to find a new love, however; this time, a man named Dillon Passage. They met, and married after three months, in a ceremony to which Joe invited Travis's mother, Dillon's mother, and almost no one else. Dillon has been very supportive of Joe, even during his trial and eventual conviction and sentencing, so it seems Joe made a good choice in him. We're representing Dillon via Felidar Cub as it's one of the youngest cats available, and we could always use some efficient enchantment removal, especially when attached to a source of damage that can trigger Marisi's ability.

The next to last pivotal character we'll address with their own card is also one of the most controversial aside from Joe himself, and Carole. Due to the lawsuit leveled against him and his zoo by Carole, it looked as though Joe was finished with absolutely no chance of recovery; enter Jeff Lowe. Jeff had a penchant for showing off his money (which turned out to be nonexistent), and was a very charismatic and convincing con man. Joe and Jeff met in the middle of the lawsuit, and Jeff came up with an idea to bail Joe out: Joe would sell Jeff the zoo, and Jeff could reopen it under his own name, leaving Joe to still make the decisions (spoiler alert: Jeff lied). Joe soon discovered that Jeff was not rich, had almost not real money to his name, and simply conned Joe out of the zoo. As such, the most appropriate card we could put in as this character would be Alms Collector, due to the innate ability to use our opponents resources to our own advantage, and draw a non-zero amount of anger in the process.

Joe was arrested on multiple charges, some of animal cruelty due to his treatment of his larger animals, but the most serious was a charge of attempted murder-for-hire. His target was Carole Baskin, and he paid $3,000 for a man named Allen Glover to be the one who did it. Allen, however, got cold feet, took the money, and ran. The fact that money was actually given to him enabled Allen's statement to the FBI to be enough to be able to arrest Joe, but Allen had to be willing to risk sacrificing his own freedom to put Joe away. Due to his willingness to sacrifice himself, Blistering Firecat is his representative in the deck. It has a very high power level, but only for a short time due to its end step trigger. However, with its Morph ability, we can make fairly versatile use from it. It becomes a surprisingly strong blocker, or a blatantly strong attacker whenever we need it, and let's face it, there's always use for a strong attacker.

Supporting Cast

While we're finished with the more central characters, there are other ways to represent the spirit and idea of the show. For example, we should take into account how Joe's presence — or even his existence — impacted those he interacted with directly, or those who simply happened to be nearby. This was a man who ran for president in the 2016 American election, and upon realizing he didn't have a snowball's chance in heck, decided to run for governor of his home state of Oklahoma. This was also a man who had a fake country music singing career, by producing music videos where he's lip syncing to songs performed by a completely different band (including one showing his version of what happened to Carole's dead husband). This is a man who clearly left echoes of himself on everyone around him, and for some people, left their lives in molten ruin. We can safely say that Molten Echoes is a fairly solid representation, both by name and by abilities. His ability to leave a little piece of himself inside everyone he met is very similar to the creatures bringing in their own token copies, and definitely leaves an impact in how our opponents view our side of the table.

Arguably, the two most defining aspects of the show are Joe's eccentricities, and a wide distribution of ill will towards Carole Baskin. From Joe, to his employees, even to the ex-wife and children of her deceased husband, Carole drew an astonishing amount of hate towards herself. In fact, that might be the one thing that each main character aside from herself and her current husband shared with one another. Since that's so clear as a theme through the course of the entire show, Shared Animosity seems like a slam dunk for a fit into this deck. Not only does it unite our attacking Cat creatures in the same way Joe and his friends/husbands/employees were against Carole, but it can become an overwhelming boost when coupled with something like Door of Destinies.

Speaking of Joe's eccentricities, Giant Spectacle seems like another slam dunk for this deck. It's not as widely powerful as Shared Animosity, but we'd be hard pressed to find better words to describe Joe's personality, or desire for the spotlight. And from the standpoint of power level, it makes it easier for a creature to deal damage to an opponent, thus allowing us to goad their creatures. Putting it on a creature like Marisi's Twinclaws makes it even better, as the double strike makes the enchanted creature even more impressive.

As mentioned above, one of the things that led to Jeff Lowe being able to take over the zoo was the lawsuit Carole had leveled against him over the music video. The amount of the settlement that they were pushing for was so high, neither Joe, nor the zoo, would have been able to financially recover. The attempted settlement was monthly as well, so it was almost a tithe to Carole and her lawyers. A Smothering Tithe , if you will. That's right, this fantastic source of ramp makes an appearance, because there are few cards that better serve our theme, and our deck's needs simultaneously. In a similar fashion, Path to Exile is a solid removal card that defines the downfall Joe experienced, ending with a twenty-plus year prison sentence.

Another event with high impact on his plans was the fire that burned down the building containing Michael Jackson's alligators, as well as the documentary footage Rick Kirkham had been building up. This was one of the tipping points that made it so easy for Joe to see Jeff Lowe as a way out of his troubles once the lawsuit was in negotiations. Rick gave up on the documentary after that, as there was no way he could recover the project as a producer/director, but Joe (who was at one point suspected of starting the fire, but there was no proof so nothing came of that) felt the desire to persevere and rebuild, deciding that there was nothing to do but Grow from the Ashes to build for the future. We need sources of ramp for this deck anyway, and this is a very good representation of Joe's attempts to make his business successful once more.

As we've seen, there were a lot of key events that led to his troubles overrunning him: a fire, a massive lawsuit, being conned by people, and more. But the source of these events was something a bit more personal to Joe. It was also the thing that led him to pursue two failed political campaigns, and thinking he could get away with hiring someone to murder his arch-nemesis, Carole: sheer, unadulterated arrogance. Tragic, isn't it? That's right, our next spell is our first board wipe, Tragic Arrogance. The flavor match with this particular card is probably the highest in the entire deck, as the similarity of Joe thinking he was untouchable until all his own actions and machinations caught up with him, and Gideon attempting to kill a god and thus getting his friends killed and ruining all the work he'd put into building their skills and reputation.

The final thematic addition to the deck shares a few similarities with Tragic Arrogance; for example, it's another board wipe, and it also expresses a key part of Joe's feelings toward Carole. Akroma's Vengeance is the penultimate card to show Joe's pure hatred of Carole, especially after her lawsuit pushed him to Jeff Lowe, leading to even deeper ruin. After all was said and done, he wanted nothing more than to bring down Carole and everything she stood for, up to the point he was willing to pay someone to kill her. If that's not an expression of vengeance, nothing is. This card, partnered with Tragic Arrogance and Austere Command, comprise our sweeping removal suite as well.

Filling out the Deck

Now that we've gotten the thematic portion of the deck all squared away, we have a significant portion of the deck to fill out. Fortunately for us, there's a wide swath of cards that fit into our build very well. Some of the more notable ones would be anthem effects from creatures, like our companion Kaheera, the Orphanguard, King of the Pride, Regal Caracal, and Leonin Armorguard. There are also cards like Pride Sovereign, that can take advantage of the fact that we're playing this particular tribe.

We can run some cards that take advantage of our large creature count, such as Mana Echoes, or Descendants' Path, both of which allow us to more easily play further creatures. Then there's Kindred Charge, which helps us overrun our opponents, as well as Nacatl Hunt-Pride, which forces our opponents to have a harder time blocking our attacks. Effects like those of Camaraderie or Ajani, the Greathearted give a nice boost of power for those same attacks, making it harder to lose our creatures in combat steps with our opponents.

In regards to ramp, we have multiple sources, some of which allow us more mana or lands, and some of which just allow us to cheat costs a tad. For the former, standards like Cultivate, Zendikar Resurgent, and Explosive Vegetation run very well alongside Grow from the Ashes, as well as a new card in the form of Migration Path, and for the latter, Mana Echoes and Herald's Horn serve our needs very smoothly. Thankfully, our overall mana curve isn't terribly high, so we're able to cast a decent amount of our deck without having to stress too much about mana, but a card like Mirari's Wake is always welcome in a deck that can run it, and gives us an additional anthem effect. Right beside the mana, we have card draw and card advantage in the form of Zendikar Resurgant, Herald's Horn (sometimes, anyway), and some one-shot spells like Reforge the Soul, and Shamanic Revelation.

Last but not least we have our removal options spread between creature, and non creature removal. Some cards, like Austere Command, Tragic Arrogance, and Akroma's Vengeance suit both of those needs at once, but we also have some that do just one or the other. For creatures, we have cards like Path to Exile, and Swords to Plowshares, but for non-creature, we want to run something like Return to Nature, Qasali Pridemage, or Return to Dust, each of which can hit more than one type of target, as well as being fairly low costed on mana.

That about wraps it up for this edition of Artisan Brewery! I hope all you cool cats and kittens enjoyed this crazy journey as much as I did, and feel free to take a look at the full list below. I'd absolutely love to see your opinions and comments. Til next time!

Marisi the Tiger King
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Late to the article, but I like the premise, using real world event as deck theme. What would the next story be?
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