Dragon’s Maze: Strength of Selesnya Review (Part 1 of 2)
In late February of 2011, a new product appeared on the shelves of many friendly, local gaming stores. A new preconstructed product, the Event Decks were aimed at players wishing to get involved in competitive gameplay. They contained seven rare cards, and were available in two flavours- “Kuldotha Red” and Infect. Foor the first time since the product’s debut, we’ve now witnessed a change in the product line.
In some ways, perhaps, it was inevitable. You can’t please ’em all, the saying goes, and the Event Decks sometimes seemed to please even less. Often a release would find the demand for one deck greatly outstripping the other, and this hit the retailers particularly hard. Since the decks had to be ordered in equal proportion, the less-desirable deck would act as a fairly expensive dust collector on the shelf.
Enter Dragon’s Maze, and with it the announcement of a significant structural change. Henceforth, decreed Wizards, there would be but one Event Deck per set. To offset the loss of variety, however, each Event Deck would carry three more rares. This solved the problem of disparate demand, since now there was only one deck to choose from. We put it to the Ertai’s Lament community to gauge their reaction, and it surprised even us:
Still, we’ll take the optimistic route and be glad that there’s still at least an Event Deck to review, even as we toast our shiny friends long gone with the Premium Deck Series.
Conformity Can Be Beautiful
Although on the face of it Strength of Selesnya is surprisingly creature-light, looks can be deceiving. Built to take full advantage of the populate mechanic, many of the creatures you’ll be playing are tokens from an instant or sorcery rather than a more traditional summons. As such, we’ll be looking at those cards side-by side as we ascent the deck’s mana curve.
At the lowest point, we find a pair of one-drop Doomed Travelers. These have been mainstays for a number of preconstructed decks, most recently Duel Decks: Sorin vs Tibalt. Although you’ll seldom want to waste a populate trigger on the 1/1 Spirit the Traveler provides once he’s been dealt with, it’s a reasonable option on its own here just for the value of two (sequential) bodies in one.
From there the deck begins to blossom almost immediately in the two-drops. A playset of Call of the Conclave– the updated version of Watchwolf– leads us off here. Two-mana 3/3’s are likely to be larger than most anything your opponent will be playing, and should begin to put the pressure on immediately. There’s also a pair of Vitu-Ghazi Guildmages, your populate-on-a-stick combo engine. In addition to being able to offer you additional token creatures, the Guildmage can also generate them for you. That said, it costs six mana to do so, so this is more of a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option if the deck’s plays aren’t going your way.
Moving on to the three-drops, we find a rare from Avacyn Restored, the Champion of Lambholt. One of the class of creatures that starts out small and grows when a certain condition is met, the Champion rewards you for adding creature to the battlefield lots and lots of creatures. That wouldn’t be much of an offer if that was all she did, but she also has a board-wide ability that makes it much, much harder for your attacking force to be blocked. It doesn’t take but a counter or two for many defenders to suddenly become worthless doorstops, and opponents hoping to chump-block the worst of your force with small, past-their-sell-by-date creeps might be in for a shock.
By the same token (ha!), the Wayfaring Temple also rewards you for playing lots of creatures in a much more immediate way by drawing its power and toughness from the number of creatures you’ve fielded. Just like the Champion, it also brings along a nifty trick, populating whenever it deals combat damage to an opponent. Though it lacks the trample that would mark it as a truly must-answer threat, it can offer quite a body for its three mana investment. Though this does steer you to play a strategy that leaves you more vulnerable than some to board-sweepers, the populate mechanic itself offers some proof against a complete blowout.
Finally, there’s a trio of Lingering Souls here. A frequent sight in Standard, the tokens this produces- like that of the Doomed Traveler- aren’t all-stars in the deck, but do fill a viable role (especially when the Intangible Virtues begin appearing). Thanks to the inclusion of a Godless Shrine and Swamp in the manabase (alongside a playset of Evolving Wilds), you should generally be able to expect to flashback the card for a second go.
For four-drops, we have an Advent of the Wurm and Odric, Master Tactician. Odric is a rare from Magic 2013 that seems unlikely to see a reprint for the next core set, giving him a fairly narrow shelf life. Like the Champion of Lambholt, his inclusion is designed to get maximal value of out of your attacking creatures by interfering with your opponent’s ability to successfully mount a defense. In this case, his battalion-esque trigger can leave your opponent entirely defenseless, or ensure a swift death for some of the most obnoxious blockers by giving them unfavourable assignments.
Advent of the Wurm is much simpler. This Dragon’s Maze rare simply gives you another creature token, but what a token it is! A 5/5 trampler, this is one of your top-shelf populate target, second only to that granted by the Grove of the Guardian in terms of size- and perhaps better thanks to trample over vigilance.
The deck’s final creature here is the Geist-Honored Monk. Like the Doomed Traveler, she’s a familiar sight to the preconstructed eye, first appearing as the second rare in Innistrad’s Spectral Legions before an encore turn in Magic 2013’s Repeat Performance Event Deck. Here she seems almost custom-built for purpose, drawing her power and toughness from the number of creatures you’ve fielded while bringing along a couple tokens herself.
Finally, Increasing Devotion offers a gaggle of 1/1 Human tokens. Like the other cards in the Increasing cycle, you get an added effect when cast through flashback- in this case, enough Human tokens to field a platoon.
Potential for an Army
Taken together, that totals seventeen cards devoted to creatures or creature tokens, a figure which goes up to twenty-one when we tack in a full playset of Wake the Reflections. We’ve seen populate on spells before as a rider, but this Dragon’s Maze card offers us a one-mana occurrence of the keyword on a card that does nothing else.
If we fancy a little trickery to go with it, we can also lump in the trio of Rootborn Defenses here as well. This is a lot more conditional, because you’ve got two hoops to jump through. First, you naturally need to have a creature token worth populating. Second, you need a scenario whereby granting your creatures indestrictibility is a worthwhile play. That’s narrower than it seems, so don’t be afraid to cast it for partial value if the situation calls for it.
Growing Ranks is an enchantment that also is dedicated to the cause, giving you a free populate each upkeep. It won’t always be pleasant to pay four mana on an enchantment that does absolutely nothing when it hits the table, but played early enough it can give you a substantial creature advantage.
The remaining cards that flesh out the deck offer you a variety of effects. Parallel Lives doubles your creature token creation. Like Growing Ranks, it does nothing immediately, but of course the prospect of gaining twenty Humans off of an Increasing Devotion is an alluring one. Even without an Intangible Virtue or two on the battlefield, that can win you a game almost outright.
Speaking of, you get a full playset of the Virtues in the deck, and unlike the aforementioned enchantments these can do something the moment they hit the board. What’s more, they’re cheap and cumulative, which means that if your opponent lacks any kind of enchantment control, they can find themselves very quickly outsized on the battleifled. For the more personal touch, you also get a pair of Rancors, the classic recursive Green aura.
Finally, a playset of Selesnya Charms round out the deck. All three modes are useful here, either as a combat trick, removal (if somewhat narrow), or token generation, and it would have been surprising not to find these here. The overall picture the deck paints is that it really wants to do one thing, but do it especially well. your mileage may vary at the Friday Night Magic level, but this is certainly the deck that Selesnya Surge wants to grow up to be.
The Subtleties of Combat
The deck’s sideboard seems largely equipped to deal with other aggressive, attack-minded opposition. A playset of Centaur Healers gives you an on-curve 3/3 with a dollop of lifegain to go alongside it, while Druid’s Deliverance is a Fog variant that packs along an extra populate rider. If you find yourself up against a beater deck that is happy to trade blows with you, you could do worse than to blank them for a turn while adding a free token creature as an instant-speed ambush blocker.
A playset of Pacifisms let you remove blockers from the path of your beaters, or shut down their most threatening offensive options. Rogue’s Passage tackles gridlock in a different way, enabling one of your creatures to become unblockable and slip right through the enemy defenses. Finally, in the deck’s one non-creature-centric option, a trio of Sundering Growths lets you resolve artifact or enchantment-based threats, while squeezing in one more populate.
For the land suite, there’s a fairly decent complement of nonbasics here. We’ve already touched upon the Godless Shrine and Swamp in order to flashback Lingering Souls, as well as a playset of Evolving Wilds to help do the same. Naturally, you get a set of Selesnya Guildgates as well for some added mana fixing, and finally there’s a Grove of the Guardian. The premium rare foil from Selesnya Surge, this offers the prospect of an 8/8, vigilant creature token- all the better to populate!
Next up, we’ll take the deck into battle and see how it stacks up. Check back in in two days’ time, and we’ll present the final verdict as we conclude our coverage of Dragon’s Maze.