Duels of the Planeswalkers: Teeth of the Predator (Part 2 of 2)
As we begin, a note about my opponent, Samantha. Sam is eleven, and has been playing Magic for the better part of a year. She (like all of us!) has a ways to go, but she most certainly is a competent player, and can steal or earn wins with regularity. Outside of the actual teaching of the game, I have never ‘gone easy’ on her or let her win, so when she does some remarkable play (like beating my Naya Allies with her rogue mono-Black in two out of three yesterday), I am remarkably proud.
But as any pilot knows, sometimes it’s the player, sometimes it’s the deck, and sometimes it’s luck. The first one is probably responsible for most losses, but somehow gets blamed the least. The last one is probably responsible for the least losses, yet somehow gets blamed the most. Life is funny like that.
But when Sam took two of three plioting Nissa’s Ears of the Elves against Garruk’s Teeth of the Predator, I felt the answer lie right there in the middle. In this post, we’re going to break down Teeth, and see if it has any real bite. (Sorry, I had to.)
First off, in these analyses you might have noticed that I’m not discussing mana base. Ordinarily in a deck review that’s one of the most vital things to hone in on, but these Duels of the Planeswalker decks are fairly straightforward in that department: basic land only, all but one of them (Ears) is mono-coloured. Jace’s and Liliana’s decks run 25, the others 24. Voila.
Given that, it’s better to look at the actual mana curve each deck is employing, and in Garruk’s case, he’s a little spread out!
One of Green’s solid traits in the Magic colour pie is top-shelf mana ramping. “Ramping,” for those unfamiliar with the term, refers to cards which accelerate your mana production. Green has the ability to reach a ten-mana finish line far faster than any other colour, be it through “mana dorks” (weenie creatures that produce mana, like Llanaowar Elves or Arbor Elves) or spells such as Rampant Growth and Harrow.
There is the odd and occasional bit of ramp in other colours (notably Black’s infamous Dark Ritual, which due to its temporary, one-shot nature is quite fitting thematically), but Green easily tops them all.
Another obvious characteristic of the colour is the creatures it produces. Green tends to get the most “bang for its buck” when it comes to creatures, possessing the lion’s share of “fatties” as well as the most efficient beaters (cheapest cost versus power). Combined, this allows Green to do is to play more dangerous threats, earlier in the game.
Consider the following Zendikar-block play. Turn 1 Forest, Arbor Elf. Turn 2 Forest, Leatherback Baloth. A 4/5 beater on turn two? You’ve just put your opponent on a five-turn clock on your second play of the game.
Bringing This Back to Teeth
So now we have some fundamental questions to ask of the Teeth deck. If it’s playing a fatties strategy, how broad is its mana curve? Does the deck expect you to drop massive critters as its path to victory? If it’s heavy on the back end (lots of expensive spells), does it provide you enough ways to get there earlier through ramp, so that you’re able to cast your endgame spells while your opponent is still playing midgame ones, giving you that vital competitive advantage? And what gaps are in its spellset- what are the weaknesses it’s vulerable to and can do nothing about?
Let’s take a look.
Not surprisingly for a Green deck, Teeth is packed with creature threats- a full 20 of the 36 non-land cards are critters, and one of the spells (Howl of the Night Pack) does nothing but give you a ton of Wolf tokens. It also carries three artifacts, two of which are crap (Wurm’s Tooth, though its inclusion is probably appropriate in a new-player deck as the Duels decks are positioned to be), and the other is quite solid rare (Loxodon Warhammer).
Let’s start with the spells, since for Green these often are there to support the beaters. Teeth runs some things you might expect: three Giant Growths, two Rampant Growths, and two Overruns. It rounds this out with several suboptimal choices: a pair of Urza-block Blanchwood Armors and a Natural Spring. Howl of the Night Pack is conditional- with enough ramping to get there quickly, it can add some serious numbers to your critter army, but the 7-mana pricetag is steep regardless.
The Mana Curve
Let’s look at those Rampant Growths again for a moment. A fine choice, a Growth actually has two beneficial effects. First, yes, it adds a land to the battlefield for you. But at the same time, it also thins out your deck, increasing your chance of drawing a non-land card (because let’s face it, you probably aren’t too keen on that twelfth Forest at the end of the game). But as solid a card as it is, Teeth only gives you two of them, and only the somewhat weak Civic Wayfinders help with land. Mana ramp, then, has a bit of a cameo appearance in Teeth of the Predator, and this doesn’t bode well for the broad mana curve the deck sports.
A “broad” mana curve- as opposed to a “narrow” one- is one that is very spread out over casting costs. A breakdown of this deck’s creatures reveals some cause for concern:
2x One CMC (converted mana cost)
4x Two CMC
7x Three CMC
2x Four CMC
2x Five CMC
2x 6 CMC
2x 7 CMC
From this we see that 35% of the deck’s creatures cost 5+ mana (38% if you include Howl of the Night Pack), in a deck with few ramp options. Troubling! Green, which should be beating on your door early and often, is actually slower than usual in this deck (all the more so because both one-drops are walls).
Any Other Weaknesses?
As the humbling losses to Ears showed me, there is not a blessed thing this deck can do about a pesky utility creature. Sam’s Immaculate Magistrate, once it hit the board, was free to pump her elves to terrifying proportion, and there was no counterthreat I could muster (outside of Vigor) that would give her the slightest pause for thought. The deck’s other rares: Mirrodin’s superb Troll Ascetic, Verdant Force, and Molimo, Maro-Sorceror are nice, but are mainly endgame win conditions in the same vein as the rest of the deck (big, beefy critters or in the Troll’s case, a semi-shrouded regenerator).
The developers acknowledged this weakness of Green in Garruk’s other deck, the Garruk vs. Liliana Duel Deck with the inclusion of two Serrated Arrows. This deck would be far better off if it was given the same option (and an easy replacement for the Wurm’s Tooth).
A point can probably be made that if these decks are indeed intended for beginners to the game, it’s not such a bad thing to give them a taste of the weakensses of each colour as well as the strengths, but like the Jace deck which ironically couldn’t make up its mind, it just doesn’t go far enough to be consistently solid. In that sense, I’d say that Teeth of the Predator will give a new player a much better understanding of Green’s flaws than its strengths, though most new players will probably be perfectly content for awhile drawing the foil Verdant Force.
FINAL RATING: 2/5