Magic 2013: Repeat Performance Review (Part 1 of 2)
Since the advent of the Event Deck for last year’s Mirrodin Besieged, the decks have come under a steady drone of criticism for their content. This is to be expected, for whenever Wizards sticks a fixed group of cards in a box and slaps a pricetag on it, the playing community immediately begin assessing it. Indeed, it’s the very principle that this site was founded upon, and it makes for an engaging and healthy debate. From the outset we’ve held a critical eye on the Event Decks as Wizards fine-tuned the product after launch, watching it go into its mono-coloured aggro phase as a hedge against its rarity caps, and have been delighted to see the growth of the product beyond that. What we haven’t touched on yet aside from a rather general manner is the other charge leveled at the Event Decks: that they are unrepresentative.
This is a very interesting charge, and not an uncommon one in certain quarters of the community. There is an expectation for many that decks released under a set’s banner have a certain amount of interaction with that set, and when that standard isn’t met, it is something of a concern. Let’s look at the content of the game’s first two Event Decks and see what standard was set.
Mirrodin Besieged brought us Into the Breach and Infect & Defile. Into the Breach was a mono-Red deck, and of all fifty-four non-basic-land cards, a full eleven of them displayed the Mirrodin Besieged expansion symbol (20.37%). While Infect & Defile had more non-basic-lands in its arsenal, it was more or less comparable (17.24%). This established a precedent, where players might expect to see about one-fifth of their decks made up of content from the most recent set, keeping the decks new and fresh. And with this as the inaugural release, there was nothing to compare the barometer to.
That changed in New Phyrexia a few months later. Although New Phyrexia would deliver a raft of tournament-level playables, the “new set content” rate actually fell. Infect deck Rot from Within had 16.98% of New Phyrexia content, putting it on par with the least of Mirrodin Besieged, but the Mono-White War of Attrition only had 12.96%. Still, the product’s novelty gave it a fairly blanket pass- if there were rumblings about the poor showing of New Phyrexia in War of Attrition, they weren’t all that loud. That would change with Magic 2012.
Magic 2012 released with two very tightly-themed tribal decks for its Event Deck line of offerings, and general sentiment seemed to indicate a gulf of class going in one direction, and a gulf in content going in the other. Illusionary Might was filled with the new Blue tribe given heavy support in the new core set, stuffed with Phantasmal Bears and Dragons, a money card in the Phantasmal Image, and the Lord of the Unreal to bring it all together. It might not have been perceived to be the competitive equal of its sibling, but its 55.36% “new set rate” set a record that stands even now. If you wanted to get a feel for Magic 2012 in the competitive environment, you could hardly do better.
Illusionary Might, for whatever its shortcomings, was not the problem child of the set, however. That dubious honour went to Vampire Onslaught. With a 12.72% rating, you might be forgiven for thinking that if nothing else, it’s in the same ballpark as War of Attrition. A look at the decklist, though, reveals that over half of its M12 cards are sitting in the sideboard (a playset of Distresses, at that). Compounding the problem was the fact that most of the deck was built using cards from Zendikar block, which was set to rotate out of Standard just a few short months later. What you had in Vampire Onslaught, then, was a deck with a very, very short shelf life indeed.
To some this was no cause for concern, seeing it as a “last farewell” to the popular Zendikar block. To others, however, the notion of a “tribute deck” only reinforced the notion that Event Decks were somewhat disconnected and out of touch with the sets they nominally are released under. Although the deck’s core set content rate is actually not the lowest we’ve seen in the series, Vampire Onslaught may well be the one remembered for it.
Innistrad bounced back with a high-achieving pair of offerings. Hold the Line had an impressive 37.25%, while Deathfed pulled off an even more impressive feat- packing in a 44.23% new set rating while building around an archetype that had found its origin in New Phyrexia. This Birthing Pod-centered deck hit the gamut, and if Vampire Onslaught was the low, surely this deck is a contender for the high. It would be tempting to conclude that the higher percentages hit by Innistrad’s deck were in response to the sharp criticism taken from Magic 2012, but in all likelihood the ink was dry on the Innistrad decklists well before. Additionally, Innistrad was also uncharted territory- this was the first time we’d seen Event Decks tied to the Autumn ‘big set,’ since the line kicked off in the middle set of Scars of Mirrodin block.
Subsequent Innistrad block offerings didn’t stray far from the mark. Dark Ascension gave us Gleeful Flames (22.41%) and Spiraling Doom (20.75%), while Avacyn Restored featured Humanity’s Vengeance (35.19%) and Death’s Encroach (19.61%). If the latter seemed a touch low from its peers, it should be remembered that as a tribal deck, there were only so many Zombies to go around in Avacyn Restored. Tribal wallpaper covers up a magnitude of sins.
This brings us around to the decks of Magic 2013. Beatdown deck Repeat Performance certainly lives up to the name, delivering a solid 36.36% rating. What will be interesting to see, though, is the reception that Sweet Revenge gets. With a cellar-dwelling 8.62%, and most of these being Evolving Wilds, the deck has almost nothing to do with Magic 2013. And like Vampire Onslaught, it builds its strategy from a past block rather than an existing framework. The crucial difference, though, is that Sweet Revenge draws its build-around framework from the block that’s just passed, where Vampire Onslaught went back a year further. When Return to Ravnica hits, Sweet Revenge will still be just as sweet, and therein (we hope) lies all the difference.
For us at Ertai’s Lament, we have long regarded Intro Packs and Theme Decks to be the “museum pieces” of each set, highlighting that set’s cards and themes. A Dark Ascension Intro Pack that was almost exclusively made up of Innistrad cards, for example, would be a very poor specimen indeed. That said, we feel that Event Decks are more indicative of a Standard environment at the time of release, and regard with some curiosity the application of the “museum pieces” criteria to the Event Deck product line. In fairness, though, there’s an argument to be made that a $25 deck should be playable for longer than three months. No deck can be immune to rotation, but some are more easily ‘updated’ to stay compliant within the archetype than others. In the case of the Vampires, support for the tribe tended to bottom out once Zendikar block left circulation, and that was the end of the line for Vampire Onslaught. Will we perhaps oneday see a precon deck themed for the Modern format? Only time will tell. Until then, we have our Standard models to look forward to, and today we begin with a Repeat Performance.
The Reach of Danger
Repeat Performance answers a simple and fundamental question: what would you get if you piled in all the value cards you could find in Green and White, and fused it to the frame of an aggressive beatdown deck? It’s an intriguing construction, not least because the last time we saw an Event Deck lead with Green it was in a very narrow niche (infect).
Few would contest that removal cards are some of the most important in the game. Being able to effectively solve the threats your opponent deploys is an integral part of a successful deck. Canny players have occasionally turned this to their advantage by running a very small number of hard-to-kill beaters, turning an opponent’s kill cards into dead draws (see: Grixis Control with a Sphinx of Jwar Isle). Repeat Performance turns this tactic on its head, looking to field so many threats that trying to defeat it with kill spells takes on an aspect of punching sand. Put another way: there are more damn crows than there are damn bullets. And not only is the deck packed with threats, but… its threats bring threats.
It opens with a staggering glut of ramp, a full ten one-drops that accelerate your manabase. These are so crucial to the explosiveness of the deck that if you manage to defy statistical certainty and find an opening grip absent one, the strategy insert suggests you ship the hand. Playsets of Llanowar Elves and Avacyn’s Pilgrims supply the Green and White mana in equal measure, while a pair of Arbor Elves tilt the balance slightly in Green’s favour. All of them are crucial.
Because the deck fully expects you to spend your opening turn on a “mana dork,” it doesn’t bother with trifles like two-drops, since your second-turn play will be a three-drop. Nevertheless, you do find a pair of Elvish Visionaries here as a little added insurance. Since they replace themselves in your hand with a card, there are some interactions the deck offers that make them a valuable member of the team, such as with a Roaring Primadox.
It’s the three-drops that really start bringing the wood to your opponents. Every card here is a “value card,” giving you incremental card advantage to outrace your opponent. Want a spare Soldier token to go with a 2/2 first striker? A trio of Attended Knights await your orders. Want something a wee bit bigger? Howabout a Golem with a Blade Splicer? Need land? You have three Borderland Rangers. Meanwhile, a Fiend Hunter gives you a two-for-one and the Mwonvuli Beast Tracker rigs your next draw.
Moving up to the four-drops, we begin with a Stonehorn Dignitary, a solid creature which also blunts your opponent’s offensive plans. From there, we find some combo-type cards with the aforementioned Roaring Primadox and a Glimmerpoint Stag. All of the aforementioned two-and-three drops leave something behind them, so when you bounce/recast them or simply just flicker them with the Stag, you pull even further ahead.
The rest of the creatures fill out the top of the mana curve- and these, too serve as grist for the advantage engine. The Acidic Slime blows things up, while the Sunblast Angel can blow a lot of things up- if you time it right. The Brutalizer Exarch pulls double duty, allowing you to either tutor up a needed creature or solve an opponent’s noncreature threat. A Stingerfling Spider kills an opposing flier, and Magic 2013′s value darling Thragtusk can offer doses of lifegain and 3/3 Beasts.
With such a formidable string of beats, you hardly need to designate a “closer” but you might well nominate the final creature, the Geist-Honored Monk- for the role. Not only is her power and toughness equal to the number of creatures you have in play, but she brings along a pair of 1/1 flying Spirits as well making her a viable flicker target as well.
The traditional enemy of creature decks are sweepers, and the present Standard environment has the usual dose of them. Let’s not forget, Magic 2013 brought back Mutilate, though it remains to be seen how much play it will see thanks to its heavy reliance on abundant Swamps. Still, with its focus on value and incremental card advantage, Repeat Performance has some baked-in resilience. By the time they die, most of your creatures will have done a lot more than simply occupy real estate in the red zone.
Storm Clouds Bow
With as much space is allocated to the creature contingent, there’s little space remaining for noncreature support. Indeed, the deck solves most of its problems through its creatures’ enters-the-battlefield triggers. Towards that end, even the meager support here is creature-focused. There is a single copy of Green Sun’s Zenith, letting you use the deck like a toolbox to find the creature you need when you need it. Similarly, you have four copies of Lead the Stampede to keep your hand flush with options. But that’s it, that’s the deck, aside from a pair of Razorverge Thickets for mana fixing and the sideboard.
Thunder of the Soul
As it should, the deck’s sideboard shores it up against specific threats. A trio of Cloudshifts both help you dodge removal while giving you more options for flickering your value creatures, while some Dismembers- virtually de rigeur these days- gives you some spot removal of your own. Facing burn and aggro on the ground? Kemba’s Skyguards can help you manage both, while giving you some evasive power to retaliate with. Three War Priests of Thune can keep opposing enchantments in check, while a playset of Oblivion Rings offer answers for just about anything that hinders you.
Magic 2013′s Event Decks certainly excite on the basis of novelty, but as always a deck is only as good as it performs. We’ll be taking the deck into battle to put it through its paces, but first we’ll be looking at the other Event Deck in two days’ time.