Magic 2013: Depths of Power Review (Part 1 of 2)
With its release in July of 2009, Magic 2010 revolutionised the Core Set format. For the first time since Alpha/Beta, you had a Core Set that didn’t consist entirely of reprints, but rather intorduced entirely new cards to the Magic landscape. In addition, the biennial release schedule was changed over to an annual one, allowing Wizards greater ability to tune and adjust the Standard metagame as well as keep players’ appetites whetted. It was a risky approach, but with the luxury of hindsight and history we can see that it has well paid off.
Perhaps lost in the shadow of this period of innovation was the previous Core Set, Tenth Edition.
Released two years prior, Tenth Edition left its own mark on the Core Set design philosophy. Perhaps the most radical break with the past was that after years of Core Set cards being white-bordered, Wizards returned to the much more popular black border used in all expansions. It was also a larger set- all core sets for the previous decade (since 5th Edition) had contained 350 cards. Tenth Edition upped the ante and packed in another 33 cards. One final innovation was that for the first time, legendary creatures were included in a Core Set.
These weren’t new creatures, of course. Instead, Wizards chose ten iconic legends from previous expansions that played well in the set, such as Mirri, Cat Warrior from Exodus (1998) to Phage the Untouchable from Legions (2003). To round things out, they threw in Legacy Weapon, a legendary artifact. Unsurprisingly, each of the five monochromatic Theme Decks for the set embraced one of the legends. Thus, you’d find a mono-White deck called Cho-Manno’s Resolve, or the Green deck Molimo’s Might. The idea gave the set some much-needed flavour, but as the Core Set was rebooted the idea of including legendary personalities was scrapped.
That is, until now.
Seen in that light, Magic 2013 is the right mix of the old and the new. Legendary creatures are back and headlining preconstructed decks, hearkening back to Tenth Edition. But unlike those bygone days, these are a cycle of completely new legends, one for each colour. Today’s subject is Talrand, Sky Summoner. A Merfolk Wizard from the plane of Shandalar, the setting of the old MicroProse Magic: the Gathering game.
Why Be Content
Tenth Edition isn’t the only set that comes to mind when looking at Depths of Power. The deck’s construction also echoes the classic Mirromancy from Mirrodin Besieged, in that it’s strategy revolves around the playing of instants and sorceries. Indeed, breaking from the customary formula of approximately two-thirds creatures, one-third noncreatues, this deck cuts its aspect right down the middle. In short, play lots of spells while deploying creatures that synergise with that strategy, and you’ll be able to outpace your opponent. Let’s look first at the creature support.
The first thing we notice is the presence of a solid defense. Decks like this that rely on incremental card advantage often need some time to get going, and Depths of Power makes sure you have the tools needed to hold off any early rush. A trio of Kraken Hatchlings form your first line of defense. Sturdy and cheap, they are superb for clotting up the red zone nicely. You also have a Fog Bank, a reprint from way back in Urza’s Saga that was last dusted off for reprinting for Commander. Impossible to kill in combat, the Fog Bank supplements the Hatchlings nicely, and would be one to consider adding more of if you tinkered with the deck. For what it does, you’ll find none better here.
The deck’s remaining two-drop is the Augur of Bolas. The Augur is part of a trio of new creatures in M13 that represent the minions of the set’s arch-fiend nemesis, Nicol Bolas. Two of the three are represented here- the third, Disciple of Bolas, is in Black. Each of these offers the opportunity for card advantage, with the Augur giving you the chance to replace him in your hand. With a deck properly optimised for instants and sorceries (as this one is), you’ll often hit paydirt with the reveal.
More card advantage is offered in the three-drops as we find a pair of Scroll Thieves. A new card introduced in Magic 2011, it sat on the bench for the following set but has been recalled for duty. It does a fine enough job here. Although a 1/3 with no evasion doesn’t seem like a reliable beater, you can often force it through by presenting bigger threats attacking alongside it. As we’ll see, the deck has a few other tricks in mind for getting its creatures in for damage. Here you also get a trio of Wind Drakes, giving the deck its first taste of aerial aggression. It won’t be the last.
In the four-drops, we find more card advantage offered by the Archaeomancer, which returns an instant or sorcery card from the graveyard to hand when summoned. Back in 1998′s Exodus, we found a pair of creatures that had a similar effect. The Anarchist, in Red, brought back a sorcery card, while the Scrivener in Blue did the same for instants (and interrupts, which were a card type at the time until they became merged with instants). Both were 2/2 bodies that cost five mana to play. The new Archaeomancer has come some distance since then. Although a bit more mana-intensive (note the in the casting cost) and slightly less aggressive on the front-end, the Archaeomancer is superior on the whole thanks to its expanded range of card types that it can return, and its lessened cost overall. The deck gives you a pair of them.
Here we also find the aforementioned Talrand, Sky Summoner. Like the Archaeomancer, this four-mana 2/2 isn’t a creature you summon for his body. Instead, it’s what he brings to the table that makes him so useful. With every instant or sorcery cast, Talrand gives you a 2/2 token with flying. That’s superb value, and can pivot a game quite quickly in your favour if you manage to chain a few triggers together.
Moving up to the apex of the mana curve, we find a few other useful options. For one, the final piece of Bolas’s diabolical trio makes itself known in the guise of the Mindclaw Shaman. Like its co-conspirator, the Augur of Bolas, the Shaman gives you the opportunity for card advantage, but in a particularly nasty way. Woe betide any opponent caught with an instant or sorcery in their hand when this guy touches down, making decks that rely on combat tricks perhaps a little nervous when facing down Depths of Power. Of course, a good instant can be cast in response to deny you, but gone is gone after all.
Some aquatic-themed beaters round out the creature suite. You get a Harbor Serpent, introduced in Magic 2011 and present every year since. Although the “five Islands” clause is a bit of a drawback, it’s immediately satisfied if you manage to bring the Stormtide Leviathan into play. It isn’t often you find rares making an appearance in different Intro Packs/Theme Decks- the Nightmare in Ninth Edition’s Dead Again that came back for an encore in Magic 2010′s Death’s Minions comes to mind- but we’ve seen the Leviathan before in Magic 2011′s Power of Prophecy. Whatever misgivings one might have are certainly brief- the Leviathan offers quite a bit to the deck. In addition to being an automatic enabler for the Harbor Serpent, the Leviathan also locks down creatures without flying or islandwalk. In a deck that’s busy decorating the skies with Drakes, you could hardly ask for better- not to mention the fact that an unblockable 8/8 creature is going to close games out quite quickly on its own.
Spread Onto the Wind
The noncreature complement of the deck is both broad and varied, but as you might expect it focuses mainly on instants and sorceries. Not entirely, however- you also find a pair of artifacts here. The Elixir of Immortality grants you a stout draught of life while recycling all of your expended cards back into your library for a second lease on life. With the amount of card drawing the deck is capable of, you have a very fair chance of seeing them again. Meanwhile, the Ring of Evos Isle offers activateable hexproof as well as increasing growth to the Blue creature lucky enough to wear one. Part of a five-card cycle that’s new to the set, the Ring is an excellent fit here and welcome for its cost.
The remaining sixteen cards are all instants or sorceries. The removal suite is fairly solid. You get a trio of Searing Spears, which are the new “fixed” Lightning Bolt/Incinerate. If that’s not enough, a Turn to Slag (freshly reprinted from Scars of Mirrodin) deals 5 damage, and again offers a touch of potential card advantage by offering the promise of a two-for-one if your opponent is playing with equipment. You also have a bit of bounce in an Unsummon, and straightforward artifact removal in Smelt.
Countermagic gets a sniff with the next three cards. There’s one copy each of the two “halves” of the old Counterspell, Essence Scatter and Negate. You also get a copy of one of Magic 2013′s more noteworthy reprints, Rewind. Originally from Urza’s Saga (though it’s been twice reprinted in earlier Core Sets), the card features Urza’s Saga’s broken “free” mechanic, where if you have enough mana to play for something you get an instant rebate of lands. Although most cards with the mechanic are likely never to see print again, explains Mark Rosewater:
Well, it turns out that reactive free spells aren’t nearly as problematic as proactive ones, because you don’t control when you can use it. Cloud of Faeries got cast when you needed the mana. Rewind often can’t be cast when you need the mana. This makes it safe enough, it turns out, that we can print it today. (Also, we make a lot fewer lands that can tap for more than one mana.)
Although it took a season off in Magic 2012, Sleep has made a most welcome return. Often a close-out-the-game card, it can also be used to buy time in a pinch when needed. The remaining cards are all new to the set. Hydrosurge is a combat trick that nerfs a creature’s power, while Talrand’s Invocation is a summoning spell disguising itself as a sorcery. Four power of evasion for four mana is a superb deal, and these are very strong. Finally, you get the whimsically-named Switcheroo, the replacement for Mind Control in the set. Rather than borrowing a creature from your opponent, Switcheroo lets you keep it- with the caveat that you have to offer something in return. Of course, nobody says this has to be a fair trade…
Overall, this looks like an exciting deck and a worthy successor to some of the spell-heavy decks of the past. We’re very much looking forward to taking it into battle, and will be back in two days with the results!