Stronghold: Call of the Kor (Part 2 of 2)
As you’ll last recall, I was rather taken with the Call of the Kor, the W/B preconstructed from Stronghold. I was impressed by the synergistic engine it appeared to have when I took the deck apart: you had a number of en-Kor creatures, each of whom could redirect damage for free to other creatures you control, as well as useful places to put that damage (token creatures, prot-creatures, or regenerators).
But if there’s one truth to life it’s that there is no substitute for experience, and to that end I sat down with Sam and challenged her to three games with the en-Kor. For her part, Sam piloted another Stronghold precon, mono-Black discard-themed Migraine.
As it turned out, we both were hampered by land this round. I had a bit too much of it, and she had only three Swamps down by game’s end. Hard to say which is worse, sometimes, but as it turned out Migraine didn’t seem to mind a bit.
She came out of the gates racing and never slowed down. A turn 2 Foul Imp. Turn 3 a shadowy Dauthi Horror. Another Foul Imp followed the next turn. By turn five she had me on the ropes, with three evasive creatures in full attack while I only had managed Nomads en-Kor and a Spirit en-Kor.
She Dark Banished the Spirit immediately to clear the air for her Imps, and I desperately tried to fish the Spirit out of the graveyard with a Gravedigger, but couldn’t get them both into play on the same turn. A turn 6 Rabid Rats was just for show, and I crumpled under the weight of the Imps and Horror.
As I shuffled my deck, I determined that the game before had been a fluke. There was enough early action in Call to put up a credible defense, even if I did lack any creatures with Shadow.
But you could hardly tell in this game, as my first play was a turn 3 Skeleton Scavengers, which she promptly disposed of with a well-timed Diabolic Edict. Meanwhile she had the “fluke” ready for replay, with a turn 1 Pit Imp and turn 2 Dauthi Horror, just like before.
Turn 4 sees me put out another lone creature, the bold Knight of Dawn. Sam has no immediate answer while he is vulnerable (his activated protection costs WW), and lays down a Hornet Cannon instead. Next turn the Knight starts working on her life total, though I hold back two Plains for the prot in a pinch.
It was the right call- she came in with a Dark Banishing the turn after (lucky break for me she forgot the protection), but she’s again working me over with evasive creatures, including cannon hornet tokens. She drops a second Foul Imp on turn 6, I trade a freshly-played Cloudchaser Eagle for the one she attacks with.
Things come to a head on turn 8. Needing a land drop, I have about a 1:3 chance to win the game with an Endless Scream sitting pretty in my hand and her coming in for lethal the next turn. I reach over to my library, and flip up…
I play Endless Scream anyway, tap out to pump it and swing in with an en-Kor, bringing her to 1. She finishes me off next round.
The final game was easily the most illustrative to me of the power level of cards in the old sets versus the modern. I went first and was able to get out early with a Nomads en-Kor. She answers on turn 2 with another of those wretched Foul Imps, which as it turns out was something of an ironic foreshadowing for the game to come.
Turns 3-6 are a buildup. I get out a Darkling Stalker and Endless Scream my Nomads. She lays down a rash of discard, starting with a Megrim, then a Bottomless Pit and a Mind Peel. It’s been an aggressive attacking game for each of us, and my enchanted Nomads have whittled her down to 7 life. I’m not much better off, at 8 life from the Imp and some Megrim damage.
But on turn 6 the game locks up.
As an older control player who’s returned to the game, one thing I don’t see much of these days are effects that radically alter the game state. Cards with far-reaching lockdown-style effects that force you into an entirely new strategy just to deal with the effect. Who can forget Stasis, one of the earliest and best? Winter Orb, anyone?
The Rath Cycle certainly had it’s share, and Migraine employs two of them, Ensnaring Bridge and Portcullis. On turn 6, the Bridge hit the table. Playing around the Bottomless Pit/Megim, I had no cards in hand. Sam had one, which allowed my (unenchanted) Nomads en-Kor to go in for one the following turn, bringing her to 6 life. Sam quickly grapsed the implications, and emptied her hand.
We spent the next fifteen turns or so (I stopped counting after awhile) topdecking back and forth. Her empty hand meant that no creatures- neither hers nor mine- could attack (she had no one-power creatures out to exploit). She played into two more Megrims, and the creatures piled up on my side of the table, our armies straining at the leash to attack but prevented from doing anything more than sneering and leering at one another from across the Bridge. She Coerced my empty hand, and dropped the odd Dark Ritual to no effect just to keep her hand clear.
On turn 13, she drew into a Foul Imp and had to play it, for by now I had enough 1-power creatures in play (including the Darkling Stalker I’d brought back with a Gravedigger earlier in the turn) that I could whittle down her dwindling total a little more with just one successful attack. She was now at four life.
The next turn I hit a spot of luck and drew Evincar’s Justice. A two-damage mini-Pestlience was just what the doctor ordered! A buyback spell, I just needed to cast it twice to win! I counted out my land and stopped… I was exactly one land short. Having to use it or lose it to the Bottomless Pit, I cast it and swept her board. For the first time in three games, the en-Kor engine was working as intended as I redirected all damage to the Darkling Stalker and regenerated it. Only the hapless Gravedigger went shrieking into the abyss. We each adjusted our spindown counters, her at 2 life, me at 6.
And here’s where it got interesting. Sam had three Megims out and the Bottomless Pit. I still had a sizable force of 1-power critters and she with no defenders. Like a game of Russian Roulette, if I drew a card and was unable to play it, I’d lose it to the Pit next round and take lethal from the Megrims.
If Sam drew so much as a single card herself that she couldn’t dispose of, it would trip the Bridge to permit my 1-power critters to come roaring in for the kill. There was exactly one spell left in my deck that would kill me in this manner if I drew it: Smite, which had conditional targetting (if no creaturs can attack, then there are no ‘taget blocked creatures’, right?). I had no idea if Sam had any such spells in her own dwindling library, or if this would come down to decking for the win.
Seven turns later, Sam draws a Foul Imp. Game over.
Playing against the Ensnaring Bridge was really quite interesting. When she first played it, I was filled with nostalgia for the card (I’ve always preferred creature-light decks) and missed the days when effects like that were more commonly printed. But by the end of the game, after a score of turns spent doing nothing, I realised two things:
1. That for kitchen-table Magic, they were incredibly fun! Having the two of us race with the game hinging on the first uncastable card was a blast, and one of those hilarious situations that can arise in the game that are talked about long afterwards.
2. For any other format, it was a disaster. Sitting at my FNM drafting or playing Type II, one eye is always on the timeclock and I dislike it when games end in draws for no reason other than “running out of time.” (I think this is especially punitive to Control archetypes, but that’s a rant for another time). Cards like this have the potential to greatly elongate games, perhaps even to the detriment of the opponent who is stuck in a rather unenjoyable game state.
What went wrong? It’s always hard to tell in only three games exactly how a given deck works, but of course who wants to sit through fifteen match reports? The format (three games) is kept deliberately reduced, to see how a deck does under normal playing conditions (because unless it’s one of your ‘main’ playing decks, most players won’t feel the compulsion to stress-test a casual deck).
It would be easy to blame land for the first one. I was flooded, and her deck was perfectly able to cope on that draw with mana-screw. But after awhile, I did begin to notice a few things.
1. Colour bias. A fair proportion of Call of the Kor’s spells are heavily colour-dependent, with almost 1/3rd needing two mana of one colour. With nothing needing more than two of either White or Black, I’d eventually get to play anything I needed to with sufficient time, but found myself hamstrung early waiting for a second Swamp to let me play Black removal (Enfeeblement, Death Stroke, even Evincar’s Justice) or some of my better White creatures (Warrior en-Kor, Lancers en-Kor, Knight of Dawn). I lost one of my early Knights because I simply didn’t have enough White mana to cast him and protect him on the same turn, and got caught taking my chances.
And perhaps it’s a bit of a nitpick, but were there no other regenerating creatures that could be used in lieu of Darkling Stalker? It’s a pump-creature in a deck where Swamps are in the minority, and thus has something of a throttled development in play.
2. Does the deck really need three Endless Screams? At no point in the games would I have passed up the opportunity to trade them in on-the-spot for Diabolic Edicts. Note to self: concern over two-for-ones with Auras is not overblown, 11-year-old adversary made me pay every time on hit the table. Not once in three games did this three-of make any appreciable impact.
3. Curious choices. This is the fate of all pre-cons, it seems, the occasional ‘fancy’ choice to show off some card, usually a Rare. In this case, Skeleton Scavengers and even Screeching Harpy, both overcosted for the role they play in this deck (regenerating damage soaks).
Overall, Call of the Kor was a resonable outing, nothing exceptionally fun or sexy but still a decent showcase of what life was like in Rath. The damage-redirection engine is fun but seems harder to get moving than it might appear at first blush. Some weak card choices can be a little frustrating at times.
FINAL GRADE: 2.5/5
Note to readers
You might notice a slight change in the format of the posts- namely, the links to cards no longer takes you to the Gatherer page, but rather to an image of the card referenced. This was done because Wordpess preview viewer actually does a decent job of showing off the card when you hover over the link, whereas previewing the Gatherer page didn’t let you see the card at a readable size unless you clicked through. All for convenience, let me know if you like this better.
Also, presently I link the name of a card on the first instance of it’s mention only. If it is preferable that I link to the card each time it is mentioned, let me know that as well.
As always, thanks for reading!