After a trip back in time to Tempest last week, we’re back with something more familiar and contemporary for this week’s Whispers. Today we’re hearing from reader Steven T. Steven has a request with a slight twist, one that should be familiar with readers of our previous Ertai’s Trickery feature, where we blended several decks together:
I’ve recently started playing Magic: the Gathering. I built myself a Vampire-themed deck by mixing together Reign of Vampirism from M11 core set and Fangs of the Bloodchief from Worldwake. I’ve been trying to find the third vampire precon called Rise of the Vampires (or something like that) so then I can tweak this deck a bit more.
I’ve played with this deck a few times and found that Captivating Vampire doesn’t pull his weight around in comparison to Anowon. However, I attribute this to everyone making sure I didn’t have 5 vampires on the battlefield at one time. Also I was thinking about swapping out the 4x Assassinate for 4x Go For The Throat. I’d like this deck to remain a mono-black. However, I’m happy for people to suggest a secondary colour. I’d like to keep this deck an aggro deck as well, but again i’m happy for other suggestions. Also I only play casually so I’m not really looking for a tournament standard deck.
Here is the preliminary decklist.
Just today we recieved a comment from a new reader on one of the Meddling articles for Magic 2011- Power of Prophecy. Because so many members of the community here are quick to help with great advice no matter how inexperienced the player, I thought I’d go ahead and post it in the open rather than buried back on page 20 where few might see it:
Hi i was thinking about changing the deck quite a bit. I recently started playing MTG with my friends so i’m looking for a non tournament deck atm.
My biggest concern is a friend playing green/black deck based on elves and tokens if I don’t draw the Leviathan fast enough and have enough mana i’m screwed.
Besides i think i’d like to make this deck into one where the main focus is to get Leviathan protect it (with Whispersilk cloth, counter spells) and destroy the enemy with islandwalking/flying creatures. Therefore i was thinking about something like :
2x Harbout Serpent
2x Wall of frost
2x Stormtide Leviathan
2x Aether Adept
2x Cloud Elemental
2x Water or Air Servants
2x Whispersilk Cloack
1x Call to Mind
2x Safe Passage
2x Mind Control
2x Ice Cage
Though i’m still unsure about this since i’m totally new to the game.
I believe scrying would be quite usefull in order to obtain the leviathan and the needed mana for it’s cost but then again i dont know what to drop.
Maybe changing the wall of frost for 2x Crystal ball or Foresee. Or dropping cancels/negates though i really don’t like the idea of not having them. If anyone has some suggestions please post them I’ll be grateful for any advice.
Suggestions for Oscar?
Edit: ‘Retconned’ the title to reflect our new series.
Welcome back to another edition of Ertai’s Meddling, a semi-regular feature which sees us take a preconstructed deck and use it as the basis for deckbuilding a new, enhanced version. For those unfamiliar with the series, the rules of Ertai’s Meddling are simple:
For many, the ‘Intro Packs’ are the first exposure they have to a deck of their own, and the next step is to modify and improve that deck. The designers of each precon deck are well aware of this, and kindly leave us lots of opportunities to tweak them.
Welcome to another installment of Ertai’s Meddling, the occasional series where we take a preconstructed deck and use it to create a new, stronger casual/playable deck. For many, the “intro pack” is their introduction to deckbuilding, taking out cards they don’t like or that don’t seem to work, and replacing them with others from their collection. As always, there are two fundamental rules we’ll observe:
Today’s patient is Stampede of Beasts. A Green/Red deck from Magic 2011, it scored a 3.75/5.0 on account of some glaring weaknesses to the overall deck structure. Here’s the card list as you’d find it tight out of the box:
Today we’ll be making two versions of Stampede. The first will keep it’s colour scheme intact- unlike Reign of Vampirism, the off-colour here is an asset, not a liability. The second iteration of the deck will be full-on mono-Green, trading burn for rulership of the red zone. Let’s get started!
For our first Ertai’s Meddling deconstruction, we’ve selected the popular M11 deck Reign of Vampirism. As discussed in the deck review, Reign is an intriguing but flawed Black-Green concoction that relies on a particular gimmick (the Captivating Vampire) as its most dangerous win condition. Here are the raw materials we are working with:
Today we’ll be building two versions of Reign of Vampirism- one keeping it a two-colour construction, and the other bringing its darker elements to the fore and stripping it down to be mono-Black. Remember the rules of Ertai’s Meddling: no Rares or Mythics will be added! In addition, we’ll be keeping the core content of the decks intact- we may have some recommendations for cards from other sets, but for the task at hand we’ll only be using M11 cards.
Welcome back! Having dissected the Breath of Fire M11 precon deck in our last post, today we’ll be putting it through its paces before giving it a final grade.
As you’ll recall, the deck was commended for its overall synergy/interactions and mana curve management mainly with regards to its Red spells, but the Blue component felt a bit like a tack-on. To see how the deck performs, I’ll be taking on Sam who’s putting her faith in the Blades of Victory deck.
On the play, Sam starts off with a Plains and passes. I drop a Mountain and do the same, knowing there are few turn 1 plays to be had. Sam’s second Plains opens up a White Knight for her, though, and my only answer is an Island. I’m heartened by the pair of Prodigal Pyromancers in my grip, knowing that the Knight’s days are numbered.
Turn 3 sees Sam dropping a land, then dropping my health by two. I deploy the first Pyromancer, and take another two from the Knight next turn. My plan is delightfully interrupted on turn 4, however, when fortune brings me a Cyclops Gladiator. The second Pyromancer is relegated to the back of the bus as I cast the Gladiator instead. Knowing his days are numbered, Sam smartly sends in the Knight again on turn 5. Tapped out from casting the big fella, and unsure of what tricks Sam might have in store, I opt to take the damage and leave her Knight unblocked. By the middle of turn 5, I’m down to 14 while Sam sits 5 higher (my Pinger coming online making the sole mark against her).
My caution is rewarded as Sam shows an Inspired Charge in response to my declaration of attack and invocation of the Gladiator’s special ability. Left unchecked, this would trade the Knight for the Gladiator, but now I have the mana open for a timely Negate and the Knight promptly circles the drain. Sam has no turn 6 play other than a Swamp, and I continue to work her over with the Gladiator and the Pyromancer (saving the ping for the end of her turns). I take advantage of the lull to drop the second Pyromancer, and I can taste victory.
Not going down without a fight, Sam drops the Vengeful Archon on turn seven. Down to 14 life and with Sam on the back-foot I can afford the damage if she attacks, so I play a Fire Servant without fear. She holds back for defense, and when I untap a Chandra’s Outrage (doubled by the Servant) smokes the Archon from the sky. The Gladiator and Servant close in on the doomed Sam.
Turn 3 sees Sam deploy a Palace Guard, and attacking in with the Veteran-pumped Pridemate. The Veteran’s already nicked me for one, and it’s one of the better nuisance cards in her deck. Trying to stabilise I delay casting the Ember Hauler until turn 3 so I could have the mana available to sac him (losing him to a Doom Blade while tapped out from casting him would be painful).
Things grow increasingly grim on turn 4. Sam comes in again with the Pridemate, and I trade out the Ember Hauler in response to her Infantry Veteran. The slain cat worriors are immediately replaced by a Cloud Crusader, and when play passes to me all I have is an Augury Owl. The Owl helped, though, netting me the Cyclops Gladiator and letting me flush a pair of lands to the bottom.
Sam deploys a second Infantry Veteran on turn 5, with the Cloud Crusader keeping the damage on. Down to 12 life, the realisation of the Owl’s destiny as a chump blocker is fast approaching. I do manage the Gladiator on turn 5 before passing, and Sam keeps the pressure on with a timely Armored Ascension on the Palace Guard (giving it +3/+3 as she’s three Plains in play). The airborne duo of the Crusader and Guard swing in, I chump the Guard with the Owl and she pumps the Crusader twice with her Veterans. I’m down to 8, Sam’s still untouched.
Next turn, though, the Gladiator earns his keep, swinging in for 4 and taking out the Crusader. I drop a Chandra’s Spitfire, relieved to have at least one more chump blocker. Turn 7 comes, though, and Sam’s relentless- a Siege Mastodon hits the table. She swings in for another 6 with the pumped Guard, then passes. The end drawing close, I reach over to my library and draw… a Lava Axe.
A widely panned card in the last review, I keenly sense the irony as a flicker goes off above my head and I start running the numbers. Sam’s got the Mastodon to defend, while I have the Gladiator and my turn-2 Piker who’s good fortune has kept him from harm the whole game. I look down at the cards at my hand.
“Lightning Bolt you for three,” I say.
“Okay.” She puts her spindown counter on 13.
“Okay.” She’s down to 8.
“Aaand then I attack with my 7/3 Spitfire, the Goblin, and the Gladiator.”
Sam’s out of tricks. Me on the brink of death… 16 damage in a turn… Chandra’s Spitfire, I think I love you.
Another game, another draw of the Cyclops Gladiator, I haven’t had this much luck since I test-drove Reign of Vampirism and couldn’t shake the Captivating Vampire if I’d tried. Of course, operating on the theory of universal balance, my opening grip also contains the loathsome Goblin Piker, and he’s my turn 2 answer to Sam’s White Knight (admittedly, not much of an answer).
Sam opens up on turn 3, striking with the Knight before dropping down an Elite Vanguard and Ajani’s Pridemate. I answer with a Mountain, and trade off the Piker for the Pridemate the next turn when Sam comes in for 6. She drops down a Warlord’s Axe with a smile, and passes.
At last on turn 4 I have a threat, with the Gladiator touching down for the third time in as many games. Sam plays a Serra Angel. In retrospect I’d later wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t have traded for the Angel, but going in with the Cyclops I murder the Knight instead. The Cyclops does the same to the Vanguard the turn following, but Sam has too many threats. With the Axe on the Angel, I’m dead on turn 6.
Naturally, the Ancient Hellkite sits idly in my hand. One land drop away.
Usually between the deck deconstruction and its playtesting, I’ll find a few things that I didn’t think of before, or that I didn’t notice, or perhaps was a little off about. Seldom has the playtesting gone as smooth as this following an examination of the deck- it did exactly what I expected it to, no more, no less.
For one, the Blue component was almost nonexistent: in three games I cast one Augury Owl. Although in fairness I was never locked out of playing any Red card for want of Mountains, it’s certainly conceivable that it will eventually happen. The Blue is out of place here, and the best retuning of this deck would likely strip it out.
As far as rares go, the Cyclops Gladiator is the hidden gem. It’s almost certain to get out in a timely manner in all but the most land-starved situations (though it is the one card most likely to be screwed by the presence of Islands in the deck), and is an absolute beater when it arrives. It can’t be counted on to consistently play the role it did here (three early appearances in three games, and being a dominating factor in two of them), but is one to watch out for (especially in Limited).
The synergy with the Spitfires also helps make this deck very strong. Another note to those wanting to tinker with Breath, cut some Blue deadweight and add two more. Between the Pyromancers and the burn spells, I had little trouble laying in with some noncombat damage, and the card stole our second match for me. Kiln Fiend was a quick hit when Rise of the Eldrazi came out, as many loved how frighteningly big he could become very quickly, but his problem was the lack of evasion (which explains part of the appeal of Distortion Strike). As a flier, the Spitfire has it built right in.
So overall a strongly consistent deck not without flaws, but of all the decks this is the one I would most recommend to any mage looking to use a precon as the foundation for their own deck, and a fun one to play as-is.
Pros: Strong synergy between cards; solid support for the Spitfires; balanced mana curve and spell types; lots o’ burn
Cons: Blue feels completely out of place and adds little to the deck; Goblin Piker has earned a retirement
FINAL GRADE: 4.2/5.0
Welcome back as we round the bend for the final installment of our Magic 2011 precon deck reviews with Breath of Fire, a Blue/Red aggro deck in support of the devastating Ancient Hellkite. With Scars of Mirrodin some ways off yet, we look forward to delving into Duel Decks, Planechase, precons from other sets, and blasts from the past in the meantime as we head towards October!
An Unnatural Alliance
Magic 2011 has presented us with three decks which pair opposing colours: Blades of Victory (W/B), Reign of Vampirism (B/G), and Breath of Fire. As reviewed here, Blades had a very successful model: use a creature-based strategy as your primary win condition, and use a splash of a second colour in support of the primary. For Blades, this meant an army of White Weenies with some Black removal to get them through.
Reign of Vampirism, however, had a quite different approach, feeling for all the world like a mono-Black deck that had Green thrust upon it. Sadly, Breath- while well constructed- seems to follow in its footsteps.
Let’s begin with the creatures. Breath seems to focus its attention here in three mana cost slots:
Notice that there are no one-drops and very few four-drops to be found, as we’ll be returning to this later. While the overall power level of the early creatures remains rather minor (approximately two-thirds of the deck are weenie-sized critters), Breath augments this with some flexible utility. The Ember Hauler, for instance, is right on the curve: a 2/2 for two mana, but has the added ability to be sacrificed for two damage. Later in the game when he might not be as useful, he’s still a three-mana Shock. Goblin Tunnelers allow for some damage through on a stalemate (and pair well with the two Chandra’s Spitfires, who can grow in power after they’ve been targeted by the Tunneler for some added damage through).
A pair of Prodigal Pyromancers have a versatile role to play as well- not only do they fill the usual role of the pinger (sniping 1/1’s, finishing off wounded enemy critters, extra damage to your opponent), but they too combo well with the Spitfires. Two Fiery Hellhounds round out the three-drops with some extra muscle.
Moving into the more expensive beaters, the Canyon Minotaur suffers dreadfully from comparison with the Cyclops Gladiator, inferior in almost every way, though that’s the tradeoff from being splashable (like the Minotaur) versus quite dedicated (in the case of the Cyclops). From there we find a pair of Berserkers of Blood Ridge (strictly worse cards than the singleton Stone Golem), a Fire Servant and his cousin, Earth Servant, and lastly the premium rare, Ancient Hellkite. This dragon’s an absolute bomb, but his high casting cost (7) means he’ll be an uncommon occurrence in a deck with no ramp options whatsoever.
Much like Reign was build around its Vampires and you wanted to avoid losing them, you should try and protect your Chandra’s Spitfires here. The most synergistic card in the deck, using Goblin Tunneler to make it unblockable, then pinging your opponent with the Pyromancer and sending it though will probably win more games for you than the Hellkite could ever dream of. Add in additional burn (Ember Haulers, Lightning Bolts et al), and the Spitfire can get frighteningly big very quickly. Try and work the deck around that whenever possible for the best chance of success.
Fair and Balanced
The noncreature spells in the deck are an interesting lot. One nice bit of design in Breath is the cost overlap between creatures and noncreatures. Remember above when we mentioned the holes in the deck at the one- and four-drop slots? Two guesses where the greatest concentration of noncreature spells are to be found. Taken together, the deck is fairly well-balanced, if just a little back-heavy:
The noncreature spells themselves are very well-selected for the most part. The most impressive inclusion is a trio of Lightning Bolts. It’s hard to argue that they’re the most efficient burn card in the environment today, and instead of including some inferior options for the sake of ‘variety,’ the developers of the deck acknowledged the absolute necessity of the card in a burn deck by including this many. Kudos! A Preordain and an Unsummon round out the one-drops, all of which are solid selections that will help when drawn at any stage in the game (quite unlike, say, most one-drop creatures).
The two-drop Negate feels out of place in an aggressive deck. Call to Mind, by contrast, can fetch any number of burn spells and therefore is a solid inclusion. Indeed, the latter is probably the Blue card that most feels at home in this deck, rather than just shuffled in for the sake of a two-colour deck. Some solid burn (three Chandra’s Outrages, a Fireball and two Lava Axes), an Aura (Shiv’s Embrace) and a Foresee round out the deck. I don’t ordinarily care for Lava Axe (an extra Bolt and Outrage would have been preferable), and I care less for it here, where both the Bolt and Outrage would have the same synergy with the Spitfires but give a great deal more flexibility. Considering an extra Lightning Bolt, how much better are two points of damage really, when you are paying four mana more to cast them at Sorcery speed? The only saving grace is if you’re able to get it off while the Fire Servant is out- “catch!” indeed.
Feeling the Blues
Breath of Fire- like many precons- does suffer some from suboptimal card choices (most notably the Berserkers of Blood Ridge, the Lava Axes, the Minotaur and even the lowly Goblin Piker), but in such times it is important to remember that Wizards is working within certain constraints and that these decks are not designed to be ultracompetitive. On the face of it, for instance, Stone Golem is a comparable to the Berserkers when comparing power/toughness and cost. The Berserkers, however, have the drawback of requiring an attack each turn, even when that attack might be unprofitable. That the Stone Golem is vulnerable to artifact kill is a minor consideration (one Naturalize and one Solemn Offering in the other four precons)- it’s mainly because the Golem is Uncommon. With only 12 Uncommons per deck, a balance does have to be struck.
The greatest sin of Breath, then, is that it feels forced. As mentioned above, there’s only one Blue card in the deck that has any synergy with the Red spells, and that’s Call to Mind. Everything else is simple utility and Scry options. Don’t get me wrong, Scry is fantastic, but it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that the deck could be even faster and more lethal with Blue stripped out of it. As it stands, it feels just a bit too slow and cumbersome to fill the traditional role of the Red deck: strike fast and burn hard.
So the questions remain: Does the utility of the Blue more than compensate for the weakness of splashing it? Is the deck focused enough to do the job? And are the pair of Spitfires enough, or does the deck have a strong win condition on the ground? Join us next time when we take Breath of Fire onto the battlefield, to see how it measures up.
Welcome back to part 2 of our Stampede of Beasts deck review. As seen in our previous entry, Stampede is aptly-named, designed to crank out massive beaters and dominate the red zone, while offering a splash of Red to keep things clear on the ground. It should come as a surprise to precisely no-one that Stampede packs in the most creatures than any other M11 precon, 10% more in fact than the runners-up. Green is the colour that typically gets what it needs done through the beasties, and you’ll find no exception here.
Besides hefty creatures, the other thing Green is commonly associated with is Ramp: the ability to add additional mana sources early to get to a higher level of resource early, and thus put the board in a state of asymmetry. In short, Green likes to play its endgame in the midgame. A look at the mana curve for the deck’s critters should give a clue as to why this is so critical:
As revealing as that is, it doesn’t actually tell the full tale itself. Let’s break out the 5+ category a little more:
Um, I Was Told There’d Be No Math
To illustrate how critical ramp is, let’s take a moment to understand what it means to be a 7-drop. Let’s assume you plunk down a Duskdale Wurm into a generic Green deck that has no ramping ability. You have the customary 40% land in a 60-card deck (24 land cards). On the play, you draw your opening hand: it has three lands and generally looks playable, so you keep it. Ta-daa! You’re all but guaranteed to make a land drop on each of your first three turns:
Turn 1: Land
Turn 2: Land
Turn 3: Land
What about those draws? Since you’re on the play, no card for you on turn 1, but you drew for turns 2 and 3. Since your deck is 40% land, you’ve got a 40% chance to draw one each draw, so in two draws it’s 80% likely that you picked up another land.
Let’s put this another way: you’re unlikely to get a land in one draw; likely to get a land in two draws, and (statistically) certain to get one every three draws. That means by the time turn 4 rolls around, you’re in good shape, but let’s go from there assuming a land drop every three turns.
Turn 4: Land
Turn 5: No land
Turn 6: No Land
Turn 7: Land
Turn 8: No land
Turn 9: No land
See a pattern? If it plays out just like this, you’ll be dropping that seventh land- and ready to launch that Duskdale Wurm into action- on turn 13.
That’s a long time to wait. Most games are already over by then, which means your Wurm was uncastable. And that means you basically mulliganed for free at the start of the game, since you only had six playable cards where your opponent had seven. Not a place you want to be. Now every Magic player knows that you can get a glut (or shortage) of land, and again for simplicity’s sake we made the numbers rounded and easy, so your actual mileage will vary game to game. But seven land drops is a lot to expect without any kind of acceleration.
Quick & Dirty: Here’s a rough and quick rule of thumb to know when you’ll be able to cast something without ramp. Take it’s converted mana cost, subtract three (since you’re assuming you’ll be hitting at least your first three drops), and for each point of CMC left over, it’ll take approximately 2.5 turns after turn three to deploy.
Example: Baneslayer Angel cosys 3WW, total of 5. You should hit your first three drops, so that leaves you needing two more drops (5 – 3 = 2). You can expect to cast your Angel 5 turns later (2 x 2.5 = 5). Actual mileage will vary depending on draw and deck, of course, but it’s a handy rule of thumb.
So Ramp 101 behind us, with the worrying amount of fatties that can clog your hand in Stampede of Beasts, what sort of help is included? The short answer: probably not as much as you’d like. With pairs of Llanowar Elves and Sylvan Rangers, and a singleton Cultivate, that gives us 5 ramp options in the deck (almost 60% of the time, you can expect to have one of these options in your opening hand). By way of comparison, you’re statistically certain (>100%) to have a card that costs 5 or more, which puts you at an early disadvantage.
The Race is On
Okay, the maths section is behind us, promise. It’s good to understand just how a deck is designed to work and why, but for those who just don’t care for numbers (and there are many), the short version is this: Stampede of Beasts has a ton of expensive creatures and is a bit light on ramping into playing them. Since you can’t twiddle your thumbs and wait for all that land to arrive on its own, you have to keep your opponent busy in the meantime.
Luckily, Stampede has a variety of ways to do this. There’s a splash of burn in the form of a Fireball, a Lightning Bolt and a Chandra’s Temper Tantrum- one of each, mind, so make them count. Extra bonus points if you manage to string together Act of Treason and Fling, stealing an opponent’s beastie, attacking with it, then using it for one last bit of kindness. The Plummet will eilinate a flier, the two Giant Growths pull their customarily varied duty here (add damage, kill a blocker/attacker, or avoid burn). Back to Nature, being Instant, can often be cast to your advantage in combat, and is good utility at any time. There’s a burn finisher included in the form of Lava Axe, and additional critter utility with a Whispersilk Cloak.
The crowning gem, though, is the foil premium: Overwhelming Stampede. Decried by some as a less-potent replacement for the unreprinted Overrun, it’s an easy spell to sell short but can be an absolute beating when used properly (comparable to Might of the Masses vs Giant Growth in that regard). Rather than a flat +3/+3, Overwhelming Stampede gives a bonus equal to the power of your strongest creature. This can be brutal (if you’ve got that Duskdale Wurm out, all your attackers basically get Might of Oaks + Trample), but carries some risk. If you’ve got a 7/7 ready to lead a charge of 2/2’s and 1/1’s, and your opponent responds to this spell by Doom Blading your fattie, when Overwhelming Stampede resolves you’re looking at a much-less-desirable +2/+2.
By the same token, though, get that Wurm out and Giant Growth it before casting this, and your opponent will be praying for a Fog or it’s lights out.
Back to the Forest
All that is well and good, but there’s hardly enough there to make a dent on its own without some creatures thickening up the middle. Looking again at the beasts of the wood, we see a decent (if somewhat ordinary) selection of critters in the deck.
In addition to your Sylvan Rangers, two Runeclaw Bears round out the two-drop slot. Boring and eminently disposable, things do pick up somewhat from there. A pair of Awakener Druids let you trade risk of losing land for threat and damage, and are best played no earlier than turn 4 (so that the Forest you choose to animate isn’t summoning sick or tapped). A lone Sacred Wolf is a a novelty with it’s ‘troll shroud’ (partial Shroud named after this guy), but a 3/1 is too fragile to last long and probably is best used to trade with a comparable beater on your opponent’s side of the table.
The 4-drop slots are split between Giant Spiders and Prized Unicorns. I’ve seldom cared for the Unicorns, finding their ability conditional and too weak for their cost, but the Giant Spiders are prizes here. In a deck that wouldn’t mind a little time to get its mana together, the Spider offers a very solid body and answer to smaller fliers. Next, though, is when things get truly interesting.
Once you’re at your 5th land drop, the deck has a tendency to speed up. With half your creatures having (or attainable in the case of the de-mythic’ed Protean Hydra) 3 power or more, you should have little difficulty drawing into some bonus cards courtesy of the two Garruk’s Packleaders in the deck. Do what you can to maximize this ability- like holding out on casting that Wolf- and you’ll thank yourself later. Extra draws are indispensable for not only digging through your library for answers, but also for getting those critical land drops!
Of course, if you’ve managed to get to the endgame (preferably during midgame), Stampede of Beasts makes it well worth your while! The vanilla Spined Wurm is just a hint of what else is in store: trampling brutes like the Duskdale and Yavimaya Wurm, a Greater Basilisk, and of course that Protean Hydra. There’s not much that will manage to stand for long against these, and the upside to having multiple copies is that you can lose the occasional pet to a Doom Blade or Condemn and still have plenty of gas in the tank.
For those that revel in throwing about massive creatures and smashing face with them, Stampede of Beasts is the deck for you. There are plenty of options to keep you busy in the early and midgame, and the deck does hold its own against the other M11 preconstructeds. If it’s your cup of tea, it’s worth considering.
Pros: Decent assortment of noncreature spells give some flexibility; massive beaters end the game very quickly when unleashed; deck has coherent strategy and focus
Cons: Huge spike in the mana curve at the back-end means you essentially start the game with 6 cards; mana ramp suite a little underwhelming; Prized Unicorn and Runeclaw Bears stale and overused; would take a Lightning Bolt over a Lava Axe most any day
FINAL GRADE: 3.75/5.0
Emerging from Vampire Weekend, we’re back and ready to take on the second-to-last of the M11 preconstructeds, Stampede of Beasts. This Red/Green Burn & Beats deck looks impressive, and intriguingly sports the only premium foil rare that is not a creature.
To see how it faces against real competition, I challenged Jimi to the customary three games, and she selected the Red/Blue Breath of Fire deck. A push on the burn aspects, would my Green stompers or her Blue manipulation be the deciding factor?
Jimi’s start is a little less steady. She manages an early Goblin Tunneler, then Preordains into a turn 4 Chandra’s Spitfire. It looks like I have her on the back-foot, though, and I eye the options in my hand. The most attractive one is the foil, Overwhelming Stampede. If she’s not able to increase her creature count, a quick strike could be devastating. But I also have a few creatures I wouldn’t mind getting out to participate, a Protean Hydra foremost amongst them. The longer I wait, laying out my beasties, the deadlier the strike, but the greater her chance to blunt the attack.
The Hydra comes down turn 4, and I opt on turn 5 to go for a freshly-drawn Garruk’s Packleader, all the better as Jimi dismisses the Hydra with a Chandra’s Outrage at end-of-turn. By turn 6 I decide it’s time and cast the Stampede, ready to swing in for lethal (her Chandra’s Spitfire has been coming in on the attack, and thus can’t block those last few points of damage).
Jimi, however, has other ideas. A pair of Lightning Bolts in response take out the Elves and the Druid, leaving the now 8/8 Packleader charging in alone. The attack is blunted, but it still cuts her in half down to 8 life. I’m at 17.
As is often the case in a splendid game of Magic, the tides turn and now Jimi’s the one with the momentum. She keeps coming in with the Spitfire, and summons a Fire Servant and Cyclops Gladiator to assist. I manage a solid defensive play, a Greater Basilisk, which should dissuade her from any funny ideas with that Cyclops. The extra card from the Packleader is gravy.
Undeterred, Jimi swings with the Cyclops, invoking its “arena” type ability to trade it for the card-drawing Packleader. A timely Giant Growth in response keeps my Packleader safe as her very surprised Gladiator makes his way to the bench. In a moralebreaker of a moment, Jimi consoles herself by casting Ancient Hellkite… which immediately draws a Plummet.
I send the Basilisk alone into the red zone the turn after, and Jimi shows she’s not quite ready to get rid of her newly-cast Berserkers of Blood Ridge just yet by letting it through. The Goblin doesn’t get “volunteered” either because it’s the only thing getting her Spitfire past a Giant Spider I’ve managed to drop. It’s all the opening I need, though, as I tap 5 and show Lava Axe.
In a game with very few missed land drops, Jimi gets out early with another Goblin Tunneler, while I redeploy an early Sylvan Ranger. I’ve got a loaded hand with a couple expensive Wurms, so the land fetch is even more critical than the Elf. She attacks with the Goblin on turn 2, and I take the trade.
Turn 3 sees Jimi lay out a Prodigal Pyromancer, the first of a consistent stream of bad news to come. Looking at the fatties in my hand, knowing that the first crop of land drops are much easier than the last few, I make a calculated gamble, casting Nature’s Spiral to bring back the Ranger. She’ll die again to the pinger, but fetch me another crucial Forest.
It plays out exactly as anticipated, but meanwhile Jimi’s brought an Ember Hauler online, and follows it up with a turn 5 Fire Servant. Trouble. My gamble pays off, though, when I am able to squeeze out a Spined Wurm in response. It seems like too little too late when the Servant is granted Shiv’s Embrace the next turn, and swings in for 6. I answer with an attack of my own for 5, then drop a second Sylvan Ranger for the land, desperate to offload one of the other two Wurms now lolling about in hand.
A timely Back to Nature strips off the Embrace, and I’m brought down to ten. I have no answers in my hand and little to work with on the board, so I try a desperate ploy with an Act of Treason knowing my Wurm can hold off the Servant (but not answer it). I opt to take her Ember Hauler, hoping she’d overlook it’s sac ability and could then use it to snipe her pinger. She’s wise, though, and offs it in response, throwing the two damage my way. It’s not quite the waste it appears, because with my life total dwindling and defenses nearly nonexistent, it’s been a profitable attacker.
A quick aside.
Back in 2002, Wizards held an invitational face-off game of Magic that would tie in with a promotional product. Each contestant had to build their deck on a predefined set of criteria (including how many of each rarity, and which sets were legal to draw from), then would play a best-of-three to see who would come out ahead. On the one hand you had Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic. On the other was Jon Finkel, still widely regarded as the best player to ever play the game.
Much hype and ado was made of this clash, including the Deckmasters: Garfield vs Finkel boxed set (a nice historical pickup if you can find one at a reasonable cost), and while Finkel was given a slight edge as favourite, all expected a rollicking back-and-forth contest between two Magic luminaries.
The result was anything but.
Finkel took the first game in part to Garfield making two timing errors (causing him to joke, “Shouldn’t we be playing by the rules as I made them?”). The second ended the match with a whimper rather than a bang… Garfield was mana-screwed the entire match, and Finkel’s Balduvian Horde smashed face, and again, and again, and… Game over. For those who appreciate irony it was perhaps the best possible outcome, but in general it seemed very anticlimactic (not least Finkel, who said that for the first time he was “honestly unhappy” that his opponent met such an end).
But this is Magic, and such things are a built-in, unavoidable part of the game. While Jimi and I are hardly a Finkel or Garfield, that’s how our third game ends as well. I run out an early Llanowar Elves, followed by a Giant Spider a turn 4 Awakener Druid, and begin my attack. Jimi’s first play of the game is a turn 4 Foresee. A Fiery Hellhound and Lightning Bolt (on the Druid) are the happy outcome, but a Duskdale Wurm lands and begins going to work. Eventually she has to chump her Hellhound and the subsequent Berserkers of Blood Ridge, and the Wurm relentlessly gets there.
Fizzle, not bang.
But again, such games are a not unimportant part of Magic, and while less glamourous than a full-on contest (with its own box set commemorative release), still yield valuable information. Had I been playing a slow control deck, Jimi might have had the added time she needed to draw into some win conditions. As it stands, the explosive power of Stampede of Beasts saw her off in short order.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this playthrough of Stampede of Beasts as much as we enjoyed experiencing it. Beasts is a fun deck, though prone to some awkward situations and worthy of further examination. Join us next time when we tear the deck down to its fundamental building blocks and see what it was designed to do, and how consistently it can do it.