Visions: Unnatural Forces Review (Part 2 of 2)
Today we have a go with the Blue/Black Unnatural Forces. Serving as opposition is the mono-White Legion of Glory, fresh off of its own full review and playtest. CanUnnatural Forces recycle its “187 creatures” to keep the red zone clear and take control of the board, or will it fall to White’s phalanx of shock troops?
Jimi’s on the play for our first tilt, and begins with a Plains while I drop an Island. Next she adds another, then follows with a Femeref Healer. Absent a two-drop, I play a second Island and pass.
Now turn 3, Jimi looks to add a Ward of Lights to her Femeref Healer after swnging with it for 1. I’m a little curious as to her motives (though I’d find out in due course), but as a matter of course I Boomerang the Healer in response, both to slow down her pace as well as to destroy the enchantment. Back to me, I miss my first land drop and would dearly love a Swamp, so I go ahead and Impulse to get one and play it. Next turn Jimi plays a Knight of Valor, while I simply add an Island.
Now turn 5, Jimi attacks in with the Knight to put me at 17 life, then returns her Femeref Healer to the battlefield. At the end of her turn I cast Inspiration, when once it’s back to me I deploy a Coral Fighters followed by a Coercion. Jimi’s hand clearly is guiding her to a “create-your-own creature” outcome, with a pair of Favorable Destinies in it as well as a Miraculous Recovery, but with no solid threat of its own. I go ahead and pluck out one of the two Destinies, as shroud isn’t something I want to see a lot of in her deck. Next turn she adds the remaining Destiny to the Knight of Valor and swings for 3. For my part, I return fire for 1 with my Coral Fighters, moving a Jamuraan Lion to the bottom of the library. She prevents the damage, but fortunately the Fighters’ special ability is a blocking trigger, not a combat damage one.
Another 3-point attack leaves me at 11 on turn 7, which Jimi follows with an Infantry Veteran. I again send in the Coral Fighters, and Jimi opts to prevent the damage but let them through (I let her keep a Plains in graitude). Landing my third Swamp, I move to the next phase of my operations by deploying the Necrosavant, a 5/5 beater that is hard to solve. Back to Jimi, she attacks in again with the Knight, which I let through. I rach over and move my spindown counter to 7 after she pumps the Knight with the Infantry Veteran for the extra damage. Back to me, I send in the Necrosavant to bash for 5, though Jimi naturally prevents 1 of this with her Healer. This is the first damage I’ve managed to inflict upon her. Following up, I kill off the Infantry Veteran when I summon a Nekrataal. It’s time to move towards the endgame, and Unnatural Forces still has most of the weapons still in arsenal.
Jimi sees it as a race now, and sends in her Knight on turn 9. I take the damage and go to 4. Back to me, I bounce her Femeref Healer with a Man-o’-War, which means that the Knight of Valor is the only creature left on her side of the table and therefore loses shroud. That lets me hit it with an Ether Well, putting it atop Jimi’s library and sending her aura to the graveyard. I swing with the side for 8, though Jimi reduces this to 3 with a Remedy. With her seeming to be in a drought for creatures, I see no reason to let her return the Knight of Valor and put it on the bottom of her library.
Now turn 10, I use my Vision Charm during her upkeep to turn all of her Plains into Islands, hoping to effectively Silence her for a turn while I press my advantage. It’s doesn’t quite have the desired effect as she still summons a Magma Mine, then charges it with a pressure counter. Back to me, I cast an Impulse looking for something useful (I gain an Enfeeblement), then swing with everything. Jimi’s Magma Mine is popped to kill my Nekrataal, but that still leaves 8 damage she can do nothing about. The Coral Fighters reveal a Plains, and I leave it there.
Next turn she desperately looks to put the brakes on my attack and brings out the Femeref Healer as a chump blocker. Over to me, I use Enfeeblement to clear it out of the way, then swing for the kill. Jimi flashes back a chump blocker for my Necrosavant with her Miraculous Recovery, but it’s all she can do. After drawing her next card, she scoops.
Jimi’s turn-2 Longbow Archer is the game’s first play, followed closely by my Brood of Cockroaches. Next turn she gets off a Ward of Lights (choosing Blue), then swings for 2 with the Archer. I block with my Brood to take no damage, though I lose 1 life at the end of the turn when the Brood returns to my hand. For my part, I simply replay them.
Now turn 4, Jimi takes me to 17 life with another Archer strike, then adds the Jamuraan Lion. I play my second Island, then tap out for the Kukemssa Serpent. Back to Jimi, she next adds a Favorable Destiny to the Archer, letting it turn sideways for 3 damage. Again, I block with the Brood, losing only 1 life instead of 3. For my part, I play Inspiration as a sorcery having missed my land drop, and luck into another Island.
Jimi doubles her offensive efforts on turn 6, sending in both her Archers and the Lion. With the Serpent so limited by its islandhome, I happily offer to make the trade with the Lion- until Jimi’s answering Hope Charm gives the Lion first strike. The Serpent dies, but the Lion lives. Over to me, I then fill by board up with a Flooded Shoreline and Fetid Horror, two land-hogging permanents. Next turn Jimi attacks for 6, dropping me to 7. She then adds another Knight of Valor and passes. I temporarily solve the Lion with a Man-o’-War, then add a Shrieking Drake to return it to hand. Alas, I’m a mana shy of being able to cast it a second time.
Now turn 8, Jimi attacks for 5 with the Knight of Valor and her Longbow Archer. I block the Archer with my Horror, pumping it twice to make it a 3/4 in the hops that both creatures would bump off of each other. Alas, Jimi’s got a Warrior’s Honor to kill my Horror, while the oncoming Knight gets a damage boost as well to put me at 4 life. I finally kill her Archer with my Nekrataal next turn, but have no other play open.
The Lion returns on turn 9 as Jimi sends her Knight of Valor thundering in for 2 more damage, forcing me to chump with my Drake. Back to me, I use the Flooded Shoreline to return the Nekrataal to hand, then recast him to kill off Jimi’s Knight. During the upkeep of her next turn, I use the Vision Charm to change her Plains to Swamps, looking again to stall her. Unfortunately for me, she draws a Plains and plays it, using it to cast a Favorable Destiny on the Lion. She then plays the dreaded Magma Mine, putting a pressure counter on it. The Lion attacks in for 4, forcing me to chump the Nekrataal I was hoping to recur with the Flooded Shoreline. With the Magma Mine threatening my low life total, I have one hope left: Zombie Mob. With five creatures in my graveyard, it’s an impressive 7/5. Alas, Jimi is holding a Retribution of the Meek, and that’s game. I scoop after my next draw.
Jimi wastes little time in the final game deploying her Magma Mine, dropping it on her first draw after I landed an Island and passed. Next turn I tap out for Restless Dead, while she deploys a Femeref Healer.
Now turn 3, I attack for 1 with the Dead to get things started, then play Coercion. Her hand has a Zhalfirin Commander and Knight of Valor for creatures, a Plains, and a Retribution of the Meek. Were mine a faster deck, I might consider chancing some early advantage by denying her land, but in a game expected to go long I wouldn’t see much return from that choice. Instead, I compel the discard of the Zhalfirin Commander. After she returns fire with the Healer, she then adds the Knight of Valor to the battlefield.
On turn 4 I hit my land drop, enabling a Fetid Horror. Back to Jimi, she attacks with her Knight, then adds a second one. Next turn I send in the Horror, pumping it three times after she declines to block it. Jimi shaves off a point with her Healer, dropping down to 16 as a consequence. She then enchants one of the Knights with a Favorable Destiny, sending them both in for 5.
Down to 12 life, my turn 6 is a lamentable blank, though I do manage another Swamp. Jimi decides to send in only her enchanted Knight this time, as I’ve held back my Shade but can’t profitably block the bigger Knight with it due to a lack of enough Swamps. Back to me, I pick off Jimi’s Healer with a Funeral Charm, the play a Brood of Cockroaches. Next I pick off her unenchanted Knight with a Nekrataal, and as my turn is up Jimi taps out to add a pressure counter to her Magma Mine. For her part, Jimi attacks for another 3, forcing me to chump with my Brood of Cockroaches. They come back to hand at the end of turn, and I go down to 8 life.
Now turn 8, I swing in with my Nekrataal, Horror, and Restless Dead. Jimi takes it on the chin, and I pump the Horror another three times to leave her at 9. It’s a gamble- she could trade out for the Magma Mine, but I’ve the sneaking suspicion she’s holding the Mine for lethal end-of-game direct damage and won’t use it on a creature (yet). I then deploy a Kukemssa Serpent and pass, just as Jimi adds another pressure counter. Back to her, she picks off my Serpent with her Retribution of the Meek, then adds Femeref Scouts after another 3-point attack with her Knight to put me at 5.
Next turn I bounce the Scouts with a Man-o’-War, letting me send in the ground troops for another 4 damage (pumping the Horror twice to make it 6). This leaves Jimi at 3 life, and in some trouble. She replays the Scouts, then passes. Next turn I look for an alpha strike with all four of my creatures. Jimi blocks the Horror with her Scouts (I pump to kill it), eats my Nekrataal with her Knight of Valor, pops the Mine to pick off the Man-o’-War, and takes only 1 from the Brood. Back to her, she adds an Infantry Veteran and passes.
Now turn 11, I’ve got the answer in hand. I play Flooded Shoreline, using my last two Islands to bounce her Veteran to hand. With no chump blocker left to soak up Horror damage, she falls to my immediate attack.
Thoughts & Analysis
Not for the first time, I found myself marveling at how much more like a theme deck the Visions decks felt over their Mirage predecessors. Unnatural Forces is a bona-fide, fully-formed force. From the heavy disruption suite with cards that bounce permanents to hand and then Coerce them to the graveyard, to the delightful synergies with enters-the-battlefield-effect creatures and the ways of getting them back to hand, from top to bottom this is a deck with a solid game play and very strong execution. Not only that, but it was a lot of fun to play.
If the deck has any shortcomings, it is in the area of permanent removal. This deck would have appreciated a Dark Banishing or two. Sure geting out the Nekrataal, then using Flooded Shoreline or Shrieking Drake to recast it is a brutal tactic, but with only a single Nekrataal and pair of Man-o’-Wars, you won’t always see these combo pieces assembling reliably. Nevertheless, there’s tremendous economy of space here, with few wasted slots and lots of interplay between cards. Indeed, many of these small synergistic interactions might go overlooked until you see them in play for the first time, like solving a creature threat permanently with Ether Well followed by a Coral Fighters attack. Those more instricate and varied lines of play put this deck well ahead of the more straightforward and pedestrian Mirage ones.
Overall this might just be the best deck of the set, and we can only hope it’s a sign of things to come.
Hits: Very strong disruption suite keeps your opponent off-balance for much of the game; large number of cards that synergise well with one another make for very engaging gameplay
Misses: Permanent solutions to problems often require a bit of orchestration
OVERALL SCORE: 4.25