In Praise of Giant Ox


I love Magic: The Gathering but I think I play it incorrectly.

This isn't to say that I'm bad at it. Though truth be told, relative to the amount of Magic I've played, I am pound for pound the worst-performing member of my playgroup. I say I play the game incorrectly because the specific format I'm drawn to is jank draft. Standard metas generally bore me. The big-ticket eternal formats are too insular and cost-prohibitive for my taste. I am spectacularly awful at cube. But I love the sustained build and egalitarian nature of drafting. And something about specifically drafting the dregs of Magic's history, the 17,000 or so outcasts and urchins of our game, speaks to me. Losers love other losers.

I am a crazy cat lady for edge case barely-playables. Case in point: I started really getting into Magic during Kaladesh block. I immediately fell in love with the vehicles. All the vehicles. The flavour, the mechanics, everything. Since the dominant format of my playgroup's meta was Commander, I put together the cheapest, jankiest Vehicles deck I could make, placing Depala, Pilot Exemplar at the helm. That's right, a deck where if you play it right, you'll never win on Commander damage; the only real path to victory is vehicular homicide. Somewhere in that deck's early iterations was science's greatest failure, Lupine Prototype. I love this card. Unless your opponent is in a hurry to dump their hand or you keep Mind Rotting yourself for some reason, Lupine Prototype does less than nothing. Can't attack, can't block.

But boy can it crew.

It's alive! And it can drive!!!

Imagine the anguished howl Dopplering into your nightmares as this Frankenwolf conducts a locomotive into Hell's very heart. A thing of cracked beauty. Lupine Prototype is still one of my favourite gimmick cards; in a Commander deck full of hammers and drills, it was the bent paperclip I used to jimmy open my phone's SIM card slot.

Some people piece their decks together like they're setting rubies onto rings. Some people enjoy playing in such a way that their opponents don't get to play (pillow fort pilots are sadists, do not @ me). I like to see someone MacGyver their way to victory. Any bozo can win with a thunder-bringing Limited bomb like, I don't know, Grave Titan or whatever. But what can you build out of a broken mini-USB cable, a rotisserie chicken carcass, and 44 cents in loose change? And more importantly, can you win with it? At one jank draft I held, I saw a guy piloting a 41-card deck deliver a coup de grâce with a Tormentor's Trident strapped to the hood of an Ovalchase Dragster. A terrible scrapyard unicorn barrelling down the bend for lethal damage. It was, again, a thing of cracked beauty.

Which brings us to Giant Ox, a white two-drop with only two things to its name: an unbreachable hide and a valid driver's licence. I suspect this card was a complete nonentity in its native Limited environment. The Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas branded the beast with a grade of D during the Limited Resources Kaldheim set review. Yeah, D for “dat booty,” I bet. With all due respect, LSV, are we seeing the same stats there? Six toughness! Absolutely nothing in those dollar store packs I'm drafting will get past that absolute diesel dumptruck of an ass if I get it out on turn 2. Never mind those 1/1 flyers I keep hearing about, we're in the land of dreams here. A land of six-mana conditional removal at sorcery speed and vanilla 5/5 six-drop bombs. A land where you can go turn 1 Consulate Dreadnought, turn 2 Giant Ox, and boom, your opponent is down to 13. All my dreaming here is lucid. That stupid bovine grin was too beautiful for the limelight of the Pro Tour, but it is ever welcome at the table near the bulk singles.

Giant Ox is emblematic of my favourite kind of Magic card: absent from high-level play, surprising when resolved, limited in usefulness, and impractical to deal with. Because who in God's name is running Giant Ox? Are you really going to use your Consign to the Pit on a two-drop with zero power and no keywords?

One of my favourite bits of Magic advice comes from a 2012 Manaleak article written by Paul Mclachlan: “The majority of Magic cards that see print aren't very good. It's not your job to prove that the card is bad. It's your job to prove that a card is worth inclusion in your deck.” Every card in the game is good for something, and jank draft is fertile land for creating those instances. The joy of playing with cards unloved by our game's power users is the sense of expanded scope. By lending attention where there isn't usually much of it, the game itself feels new; my sense of play is thus rejuvenated. I love playing incorrectly, so to speak, because the very concept of what a “good card” gets blown up and reassembled. Every jank draft is a chance for a different Giant Ox to have its day.