Beatdown: Aerodoom Review (Part 2 of 2)
We had a great time testing the Beatdown boxed set from the Ground Pounder perspective, but will it hold up just as well when the tables are turned? To find out, I challenged Sam to a duel, and here are the results.
On the play, Sam kicks things off with a Slippery Karst, while I trail with a Swamp. She next adds a Rampant Growth to fetch a Mountain after laying one down, while I diversify my manabase to cast a Diabolic Vision.
Now turn 3, Sam’s ramping pays off with an Erhnam Djinn. Back to me, though, I bring out a Fog Elemental. It’s not enough to stop the Djinn, but it’s solid enough in its own right to establish a defensive presence. Next turn, after giving my Elemental forestewalk and playing a Dwarven Ruins, Sam swings in for 4 with the Djinn then follows with a Woolly Spider. Needing to catch up, I use my Dark Ritual next turn to help bring out my Vigilant Drake before passing.
Sam misses her first land drop on turn 5, but has enough to bring out her Thundering Giant. It joins the Djinn in swinging in for 8, but I gang block my Drake and Elemental to take out the Djinn. Though Sam puts the damage on the Drake, the Elemental dies thanks to having been declared a blocker. Down to 12 life, I bring the lost Elemental back to hand with Gravedigger, helping make up for the value I lost in double-blocking. Next turn, Sam swings for 6 with the Giant and Spider, compelling me to chump the Zombie to save 4 damage. Back to me, I Brainstorm to grab a land then replay the Fog Elemental.
Unwilling to risk the Giant, Sam sends in the Spider. I don’t take the bait, but it’s actually a set-up all its own. With me down to 8 life, Sam taps out for a lethal Fireball. I have no defense.
I lead off with a Remote Isle for our second match, but have no play outside of land until a turn-3 Coercion lets me pluck a Thundering Giant from hand. In the meantime, Sam’s opened with a Wild Growth, fetched a Mountain off of a Rampant Growth, and stands in good stead with her manabase. Indeed, the only other nonland card in her hand when I hit it with the Coercion is a Viashino Warrior, which dutifully comes down in turn 3.
A turn-6 Sengir Vampire signals my intentions to take this one quite clearly, though Sam tries to one-up me with a Clockwork Beast. I send in the Vampire for my first bit of offensive damage, putting Sam to 16, then add a Clockwork Avian. Back to Sam, she swings with the Beast, Goblin, and Warrior for 12. I let the Warrior pass, trade Clockworks, and let my Whale munch on her Goblin, going down to 12 life.
Now turn 8, I swing in again with the Vampire, drawing us level on life. Sam’s turn is a blank, and I press the attack. Though Sam manages to crisp the Whale with a Fireball, my final swing with the Vampire leaves her at 2- well within range of a Drain Life for the win.
Sam comes right out of the gate for our closing game, opening with Llanowar Elves on turn 1 followed by Quirion Elves the very next turn. Unfortunately for her, she’s also stuck on two Forests, so the Elves aren’t pulling her ahead so much as breaking her even. A third-turn Raging Goblin adds to the attacks, and by the end of turn 4- after a Wild Growth- I’m down to 14 life.
Although I’ve hit every land drop, I don’t have anything quite on the level of Sam’s small opening-game suite of creatures. I open with a turn-4 Wayward Soul, though Sam plays a Clockwork Beast the very next turn. Alas, my turn 5 is a blank.
Now turn 6, Sam turns the Beast sideways and swings in for 7. I chump it with the Wayward Soul, eschewing the opportunity to return it to the top of my library. I’d like the card back, but I’m not willing to trade a draw for it. Sam next tries to add a Viashino Warrior, though I respond with a Counterspell. What Im really after is a Swamp, as I’ve managed to play one and have a Death Stroke in hand. At the end of turn, I cast Impulse, keeping a Clockwork Avian t the expense of an Island, a Mahamoti Djinn (too expensive), and Diabolic Vision. Luckily, I find one on my next draw and am able to kill off her Clockwork Beast.
Still, Sam’s got plenty of dorks left, and she attacks with them for 3 on turn 7 to put me at 11. For my part, I play a Giant Crab wth a sigh of relief. It’s short-lived, however, as she next adds a Segmented Wurm. I deploy my Clockwork Avian and pass right back.
Now turn 9, Sam finds her second Mountain at last with a Rampant Growth, attacking for 5 with the Wurm. I gang block with the Crab and Avian, and Sam chooses to send the latter off to its final repose. I replace it during my turn with a Skittering Skirge, leaving the mana open to Power Sink Sam’s next-turn Crash of Rhinos- bullet dodged! Back to me, I swing for 6 with both creatures, then use a Dark Ritual to play a Blizzard Elemental. I could play the Elemental without the Ritual, though it would tap me out and leave my critical Crab exposed. This kills the Skirge, but it’s a small price to pay.
Alas, Sam’s mana development has come along after her faulty start, and on turn 11 she Fireballs me to the face for 7, leaving me at 4. I attack in with the Elemental for 5 damage of my own, with the mana up to untap it if need be. Alas, the need never arises- next turn Sam finishes me off with a Sonic Burst.
Thoughts & Analysis
Here on Ertai’s Lament, we’ve reviewed a number of products that were designed to stand against one another, to varying degrees and with equally varying degrees of success. Intro Packs and precons may have a few silver bullets against one another within the same set, but in general each of them has at least an odds-on chance of emerging victorious from a duel. Even moreso, Duel Decks are tuned to check and balance one another and provide a particular gameplay experience- for instance, note the inconsistent construction of the mono-Black Phyrexian deck in Phyrexia vs The Coalition, designed to give its five-colour opponent a fighting chance.
On the other hand, Premium Deck Series decks are intended to stand alone. If they balance well with another of the line, it’s more by coincidence than design. Event Decks, too, are tuned to a particular version of the Standard metagame rather than each other. This seems counterintuitive- you’d expect something meant to be competitive in Standard would square off more or less evenly with the other deck in a particular release, but Event Decks tend to either be watered-down, budget versions of existing archetypes, or rogue builds designed to catch a particular meta off guard. Then, too, there’s the issue of sideboarding.
When we went in-depth on the Anthologies release, we found that it satisfied balance at the expense of gameplay. The cards seemed to be put together with little concept of the overall deck, and as much from a cookie-cut template (three of these drops, four of those drops, etc) as anything else. Indeed, each deck seemed to be a version of the other, but just done up with a different colour palette. As such, it’s the least exciting product we’ve reviewed to date. Also from that era was Deckmasters: Garfield vs Finkel, but that’s a hard one to quantify as it contains two decks built by each individual participant. Needless to say, when we started considering Beatdown, we weren’t all that hopeful for a set that struck the right balance between balance and playability.
Now two playtests in, we’re ready to call it: Beatdown is good, and surprisingly so. For one thing, there’s the sheer fun factor that we discussed in the last writeup for Ground Pounder. Being able to turn fat beaters sideways speaks to the inner Timmy in all of us. I might prefer my decks more intricate and with a core that doesn’t rely on the red zone, but even I had a blast rolling up the sleeves and just smashing face. In that regard, the deck absolutely delivers on the promise offered by Richard Garfield in the included booklet’s foreward:
Nothing says Magic to me like big creatures. Don’t get me wrong- I like weenie swarms, I like countering, I like combos, I like burn- but big creatures are the soul of the game.
Beyond just that, though, R&D did a fine job crafting a product with a fine balance between both halves. Much of this is because it’s an artificial ecosystem, a biodome of sorts. Although the two decks don’t mirror one another to the extent that Anthologies felt like it had to do, they both have similar characteristics. Both have a deeply depressed early mana curve and a modest midgame, and both are packed full at the end with fat. There are some minor symmetries- see the inclusion of Leviathan on the one side and Force of Nature on the other- but overall within this framework they’re permitted to be as different as they can.
It’s this homogeniety in the mana curve that gives them that added feeling of equality. A deck which had generous helpings of creatures at all three major points of the game (early, mid, and late) could pair off against another deck so constructed, yet still feel tremendously different if one drew its early threats while one kept drawing closers. With the lion’s share of creatures here of the expensive variety, both decks- assuming an approximately equal level of mana development- would come on-line at roughly the same time. And with both decks peaking late rather than early, the chances of one deck being completely dead from a shortage of mana are somewhat reduced- there’s going to be the luxury of a little extra time to find the lands you need.
Overall, Aerodoom played much like Ground Pounder, though a bit more controlling and less aggressive. The counterbalance between combat tricks and burn versus killspell and counters gives each deck a very distinctive flavour. Definitely an impressive release, all the moreso given its era.
Hits: Superb balance, some of the bet balance across two decks that we’ve yet reviewed; does not sacrifice fun or playability to achieve that balance; heavy evasion theme is a delightful offset to the fatter, heavier Ground Pounder
Misses: Uncertain if occasional success with Leviathan will make up for all the times you’re upset to draw it
OVERALL SCORE: 4.4/5.00