Planechase 2012: Primordial Hunger Review (Part 1 of 2)
It’s hard to deny that the plane of Alara is experiencing something of a renaissance in Magic at the moment. Although the set is some ways out from the Standard environment now, having been released in 2009-2010, its circled around for a second pass through some of the game’s other outlets. For one thing, Bant’s signature mechanic of exalted has been confirmed to be the ‘returning mechanic’ of Magic 2013. Since Magic 2011, Wizards has dusted off a previously-used mechanic and given it new lease on life, such as M11’s scry (originally from 2004’s Fifth Dawn) and M12’s bloodthirst (an update from Guildpact, released in early 2006).
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the role that Jund is playing in the Planechase 2012 casual multiplayer release. If Savage Auras updates the “creatures and auras” theme we’ve seen appear from time to time, and Night of the Ninja is a port straight out of Kamigawa, that leaves the other two to take their inspiration from Alara. Chaos Reigns embraced the cascade mechanic of Alara Reborn, the block’s final, all-gold-bordered set. The deck we’ll be looking at today has built itself around devour, the signature mechanic of Jund.
Much like the guilds of Ravnica block, Wizards sought to give each of Alara’s five shards a distinct identity by assigning it a particular theme or mechanic. Honourable Bant had exalted, as mentioned above. The vast necroscape of Grixis had unearth, letting the dead come back for one final push. Gargantuan Naya celebrated creatures with a power of 5 or greater, etherium-obsessed Esper had coloured artifacts and artifact creatures. Finally, Jund- hellish, vicious, primordial Jund- got devour, leaving little to the imagination as to how the shard’s inhabitants interacted with one another.
In our previous encounters with devour (reviewing both Primordial Jund and Jund Appetite for War), we’ve remarked upon the incredible card disadvantage that the mechanic can leave you vulnerable to. Play a devour creature, sacrifice three others to it, bask in the glory of some massive creature appearing on your side of the board… and then watch it promptly eat a Doom Blade. Congratulations! You’ve just been four-for-one’d.
The degree to which a devour deck can remain consistently competitive is found in how it manages this element of risk. It does this through the inclusion of cards which offer you creature advantage, such as Mycoloth or Sprouting Thrinax, that can generate more that one creature at a go. Other creatures like the Voracious Dragon have an immediate added effect if you ue devour, ensuring that at a bare minimum you’re not just throwing cards into a hole. It can also maximise return by including creatures like the Hissing Iguanar, which similarly offer some benefit simply by being around to watch the devouring happen. There’s no denying that the mechanic hs a ton of upside, but the measure of the deck is found more in how it manages its downside.
Surprisingly, the honour for having the most creatures doesn’t go to Primordial Hunger- at a whopping 25 bodies, it’s actually one shy of Night of the Ninja- though given the presence of a pair of living weapons in the artifacts list you could make a fine case for declaring Primordial Hunger the victor. Regardless, the deck is absolutely filled with bodies, and approximately one-third of these are the apex predators of the deck. How much nutritional value is found in your other bodies, however, widely varies amongst them.
For instance, your Gluttonous Slime and Hellkite Hatchling don’t get a ton of sustenance from any given creature you offer up to them, both possessing devour 1. Still, there are other reasons they make compelling diners at the table. The Hatchling gains flying and trample if you devoured at least one other body, while the Slime’s flash means that it can be a very unexpected surprise for your opponent, often helping to balance the ledger by letting you bring in a surprise (and typically lethal) blocker.
Moving up a level in the efficiency chain, we find a few devour 2 options.The aforementioned Mycoloth serves as both predator and prey, giving you a sizable body in return for your blood sacrifice while churning out 1/1 Sparoling tokens each of your upkeeps to help fuel the next devour creature. The Thorn-Thrash Viashino is quite a bit more pedestrian, only offering you the possibility of a large beatstick with trample. Finally, the Preyseizer Dragon- one of the deck’s brand new cards- is a repeatable source of damage at your disposal that gets nastier the more creatures its feasted upon.
The Viashinos return with the Thunder-Thrash Elder, the card with the highest devour value yet printed at devour 3. It doesn’t take much munching for the Elder to grow to mammoth proportions, and as such doesn’t need much care and feeding to become truly frightening in proportion. Indeed, the deck sees fit to give you a pair of them. That said, a new card from Planechase included here could push the limits of devour even higher still. Each of the four decks has a legendary mythic rare, and today’s is Thromok the Insatiable. Thromok has devour X, where X is the number of creatures eaten. Swallow one, and Thromok’s a 1/1. Gobble a pair, and it’s a 4/4. A trio puts him to 9/9, then 16/16 and so on. Sadly, this mighty Hellion doesn’t come equipped with trample, but it still can be a must-answer threat for any opponent.
On Jund, if you’re not the predator, you’re the prey, and so everything else without devour will fall into this category. It stands to reason, though, that some prey is better than others. The Tukatongue Thallid represents a subtheme of creatures here, ones that replace themselves on the battlefield when killed. This helps offset the value loss of devour, since creatures eaten in this way aren’t truly lost (much like undying in that regard). In a similar vein we have a Penumbra Spider, a creature from Time Spiral patterned after a vertical cycle of cards in Apocalypse (Penumbra Bobcat, Kavu, and Wurm). Then we have another of the deck’s new cards, the Brindle Shoat. If the Thallid offers you a total of 2/2 for its one mana, then the Shoat is a proportional doubling- 4/4 for two mana.
The intringuing thing about the card, however, is that the payoff is delayed. This is a creature you want to see devoured, since it comes back as a 3/3. Next, there’s the Mitotic Slime, a creature which came to us from Magic 2011. The Slime is another natural inclusion here, as it replaces itself several times over for the same initial payment. Finally, a Wall of Blossoms takes this equation and stands it on its head. Instead of waiting until it dies to give you value, it replaces itself immediately in your hand by letting you draw a free card.
In a similar vein we find the Beetleback Chief, which doesn’t replace itself when eaten but at least is courteous enough to bring along a few friends to the supper table. Likewise the Nest Invader from Rise of the Eldrazi, which appears alongside a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token (which can also be cashed in for if need be). The last two death-benefit creatures are the Viridian Emissary and Mudbutton Torchrunner. With a pair each of these, the deck almost takes on a toolbox-like approach (like what we saw with the Spiraling Doom Event Deck). Although these don’t replace themselves with creatures, you get some added value out of cards themselves when they die. In that light, the Emissary becomes almost like a Rampant Growth with some added devour contribution- very useful! The Torchrunner doles out 3 points of damage to a creature or player, which also is always welcome.
The last few creatures are ones which can certainly be eaten, but offer the deck some other miscellaneous utility. The Hissing Iguanar is a superb inclusion. With a mechanic based on killing things that has a lot of options for token creatures, the Iguanar can become a legitimate threat all in itself. The Nullmage Advocate, a Judgment reprint, gives you a political weapon at the table. Being able to destroy an artifact or enchantment each turn is quite powerful, but there’s also a ‘soft power’ component of being able to bribe an enemy. With Planechase being a product aimed at multiplayer, a little goodwill at the table can go a long way. Indeed, that sentiment forms the basis for “Group Hug” decks in Commander, which ladle out a stream of gifts and prizes for its opponents along the way.
Speaking of ladling out, the deck’s last creature card, the new Dragonlair Spider, can produce a horde of 1/1 Insect tokens in very short order if your opponents are busying themselves with spells of their own. While the Vorthoses of the world might scratch their head and wonder why a Spider is producing Insect tokens, it’s a very strong inclusion all the same.
Nature Doesn’t Walk
As expected from such a creature-heavy construction, there isn’t a ton of room left over for noncreature support. Still, there are a number of unique and useful effects to be found here that further the deck’s overall aims. For one thing, there’s a copy of Awakening Zone here, an enchantment that gives you a free 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token during each of your upkeeps. Your ability to generate a swarm of token creatures can become a win condition all its own outwith any devour shenanigans thanks to cards like Overrun and Hellion Eruption.
A pair of Flayer Husks bring with them 0/0 Germ tokens, which are more grist for the devour mill. The great thing about living weapons is that they leave the equipment behind for another creature to pick up and use. Your creatures can be further augmented thanks to a Fires of Yavimaya, which provides a passive benefit to every creature you play and can be cashed in when needed in a pinch for a one-time +2/+2 bonus.
Keeping in line with Planechase’s other decks, your burn suite is quite small. This is release that has kept removal to a minimum, which can only help Primordial Hunger get the most value from its predators. To deal with your opponent’s threats, you have a Fiery Conclusion and Fling, both of which require the sacrifice of a creature. There’s also a Warstorm Surge, a card created for Magic 2012, which is expensive to cast but can deliver some brutal damage. As an interesting bit of trivia, the card’s flavour text references the Immersturm, which while still shrouded in mystery was a Planar card in the previous Planechase release.
Finally, a Mark of Mutiny is a bit of Red combat trickery, letting you steal one of your opponents’ creatures and take it for a ride, while the Fractured Powerstone is a new artifact included in each of the set’s four decks. The mana ramping is secondary in nature- this card is here for the ability to interact with the planar die.
There’s also a suite of nonbasic lands here to help grease the gears of the deck and ensure you play the cards you need when you need to. A pair each of Gruul Turf and Kazandu Refuge gives you access to both your deck’s colours, while a Terramorphic Expanse trades out with a basic land of your choosing. Worldwake’s Khalni Garden is one more way to make sure you get fodder for the devour engine, while Skarrg, the Rage Pits offers mana, but more importantly a way to offer trample to your larger creatures, to get around any chump-blocking shenanigans your opponents might try and pull off.
Hard to Douse
As we’ve seen with the Planar cards included with Primordial Hunger, they are a mixed bag overall. Some of them seem quite tailored to the deck, while others will help (or harm) your opponents just as much as they will you. In the former camp, above all others we find Jund, Prahv, Lair of the Ashen Idol and Selesnya Loft Gardens. Jund does exactly what you’d expect, offering devour 5 to any Black, Red, or Green creature. Not only does this lock out decks not holding creatures in those colours, but most other decks won’t have the resources this one will to be able to have a consistent smattering of devour fodder laying about.
Towards that end, we find the Selesnya Loft Gardens. Like a number of the Planes, this one channels an enchantment into Planar form (see: Doubling Season). With you getting double the tokens from every angle, this is certainly one your opponents will look to planeswalk away from in fairly short order. Then there’s Prahv, a more subtle locale. This forces each player into a decision each turn: combat or casting. This doesn’t immediately look like something this deck would benefit from, but given the relative paucity of noncreature spells your usual default is going to be attack anyway. Although this does preclude you from summoning additional creatures, that’s less of a handicap to you than it might be to others, thanks to on-board creature generators like Awakening Zone and Dragonlair Spider.
With that many tokens floating about, you’ll often find Lair of the Ashen Idol punishing your opponents far in excess of the handicap it places upon you. Most anything they lose will have cost them a card, while you’ll be quite happy to offer up a 0/1 Plant or 1/1 Insect.
The remaining cards will generally see you breaking more or less even. Furnace Layer is a purely random discard/life loss effect, which at least gives you some political cover at the table- after all, you didn’t choose the unfortunate player, and sometimes it will be you. Kilnspire District gives you a slight edge in that you’re playing Red, but with plenty of expensive cards in the other decks they’ll seldom struggle to find places to cash it in. The same goes for Orochi Colony, which has a slight edge for players able to get in combat damage. Those with lots of creatures might benefit from getting multiple lands in a turn, but just as often you’ll find the Night of the Ninja’s unblockable creatures delighted at the bonus value. Stensia is much the same, with a different reward. Finally, the deck’s two Phenomena, Reality Shaping and Spatial Merging, put the “chaos” in “chaos Magic.” Since the latter effect will put two Planes onto the battlefield from your planar deck, you might also make a case that the card benefits you more than your opponents, but it largely depends on what you reveal.
Overall this deck seems very much a twin to Savage Auras. Instead of building a large creature up through auras, you’re doing it through devour, but the risks and payoffs run quite parallel. We’ll put the deck into the field to see how it holds its own, and return back in two days to deliver a final verdict.