Archenemy: Bring About the Undead Apocalypse (Part 1 of 2)
At last, would-be megalomaniacs and world-shattering planeswalkers have cause to rejoice, for Archenemy has released!
Archenemy, the spiritual successor to last year’s Planechase, is a multiplayer variant of Magic that pits one player (the “archenemy”) against a number of other players all working together as a team to bring him or her down. An oversize deck of “Scheme” cards and double starting life help to even the odds for the Archenemy, and each of the four sets contains a 60-card preconstructed deck designed to work in tandem with a particular set of Schemes. Planechase was much the same way- the Planes included in each set worked synergistically with the precon deck.
We begin our analysis of Archenemy with a few caveats. First, although I have every certainty that Archenemy- as it is meant to be played- is a casual blast, Ertai’s Lament is more concerned with the preconstructed decks themsevles rather than the Schemes. So the Schemes- fun as they are- for now stay in the box.
Second, because deck testing works best when facing only one opponent, testing runs with the decks will be one-on-one, with my opponent piloting another Archenemy deck. For this test, I’m working the undead angle, while Jimi has selected the Esper-coloured Assembling the Doomsday Machine.
The idea is to see how the decks themselves rate, outside of the gimmick of the Schemes. To find out, we brewed a pot of tea and sat down at the table for the customary three-game series.
As is further custom, we started with an opening-game “friendly” match to acquaint ourselves with the decks, and Jimi’s Doomsday Machine smokes my zombies. Feeling like I’ve my work cut out for me, we begin the matches.
I open with a Barren Moor, getting the tap-land out of the way early, but Jimi’s got a play as she drops a Plains and an Aether Spellbomb. Not to be outdone with the clever artifacts, I play a turn 2 Rakdos Signet after dropping a Mountain, then Sign in Blood the following turn to dredge up a few more options.
I look to clear out some weenies from my hand when on my next turn I cast the M11-preview card Reassembling Skeleton alongside a Rakdos Guildmage. Five turns in, and we’re still both at 20. Jimi’s reply is an Unbender Tine.
The real threat comes down on turn 6, when I trot out the Twisted Abomination. This card seems to be a Wizards precon all-star, I know of two special products off the top of my head he’s been seen in (Liliana vs. Garruk Duel Decks, Planechase’s Zombie Empire deck). Although I’m not impressed from a sense of novelty, there’s little denying he gets the job done. When Jimi’s turn 6 play is merely an Obelisk of Esper, then sacrificing her Spellbomb in hopes of topdecking an answer, I start to look for the easy kill.
The next turn, my Horror, Skeleton and Abomination set off for the red zone, and while the Horror falls to the Abumen it does set up the Bituminous Blast that finishes him off. Predictably, I cascade into rubbish- in this case, a Festering Goblin (another Zombie Empire stalwart).
Now at 11 life, Jimi plays a Sanctum Gargoyle, which allows her to return the Spellbomb and replay it. When I come in with the creature force the next round (including a hsty Goblin token from the Rakdos Guildmage), she wisely sacrifices it for it’s second ability, bouncing the Abomination back to my hand.
It’s only a temporary setback, however, and despite getting lucky by popping the M11 Sorcerer’s Strongbox on the first flip, it’s not enough to stem the tide. Game one goes to the undead.
Despite having played two games with the deck, I had not seen much of the recursion engine it had promised. As Jimi would come to find out in this epic matchup, however, it was quite an engine indeed!
It starts innocently enough. Land drops for turn 1, Jimi with a Dimir Signet next round. Still nothing from me even as Jimi lays down a March of the Machines, and I begin to worry. Turn 4, Jimi’s out with a Juggernaut, and my response is a Zombie Infestation.
Zombie Infestation? My first look is one of dismay- two cards for a crappy 2/2 Zombie token? I must be a little tired, though, because it takes a moment to sink in- the value of the card is not what you get out, but what it lets you throw away. And with a Torrent of Souls and Avatar of Woe in grip from the outset, the lightbulb finally flickers to life.
Turn 5 arrives, and while Jimi is shy a lot of artifacts at present, she’s got quite the support network for them as the Leonin Abunas drops from her hand. She swings in with the Juggernaut, and just like that I’m at 15.
Knowing the Abunas has to go before I can spot-remove the Juggernaut, I pitch the Avatar and a Swamp I just drew to the Zombie Infestation, putting a 2/2 token n play, then cast Torrent of Souls. Having paid Red mana in casting it, the Avatar comes back with haste and she immediately taps to slay the Abunas (giving a tapped-out Jimi no chance to bounce the Abunas with the Spellbomb).
Jimi untaps and plays a Sun Droplet, then knowing I don’t have enough mana to hardcast her, she bounces the Avatar back to my hand by sacrificing the Spellbomb. Luckily for me, I’ve a Beacon of Unrest in hand, and I again pitch the Avatar and a land to cheat her into play with graveyard recursion. The second Zombie token teams up with its brother to take down the attacking Juggernaut, and all is well in the world again.
Through the Beacon, the Avatar of Woe again returns to the world on my half of turn 6, Jimi gets out a Lodestone Golem the next turn but the Avatar slays it, too. Not done yet, Jimi lays down a Thunderstaff, but I take advantage of the fact that all her artifacts are also creatures (via March of the Machines) to do a little pruning with Incremental Blight. Off to the graveyard with the Sun Droplet and the Staff, and the now-unimpeded Avatar takes a chunk off her life total.
Jimi’s never quite able to recover. Another Spellbomb bounces the Avatar once again, but thanks to a timely Bog Witch I’ve now got the mana to hardcast her. Which I do. She gets there the next turn.
Jimi’s laughing because it’s just her luck she’s getting swept for the writeup games after doing so well in the warm-up. I certainly understand the frustration, but it’s important to note that the outcome of the game is only one of the things I’m looking for when I assess decks, and I’m not much worried about winning or losing. No, what I’m more interested in is how the deck works- what it’s designed to do, and how successfully it manages to do it. Wizards’ preconstructed decks aren’t made by throwing a random assortment of cards together (though in the case of the Jace Beleren Thoughts of the Wind deck that came out a couple weeks ago, I’m not entirely convinced). What cards are they playing, and why? What features are being highlighted? What synergies or avenues to victory are present in a deck?
These are the things I’m really concerned about. Consistent performance, which is more than just the outcome of three games. And if we can have some fun along the way, then great!
Game three has a certain resemblance to game two in miniature. I kick things off with a turn 2 Zombie Infestation, then do little until turn 4’s Dregscape Zombie.
The Centurion gives me a target for the Bit Blast, and my poor luck with Cascade continues as I fall into an Inferno Trap with the only legal target my own critter (needless to say, I choose not to cast it).
Turn 6 brings Jimi a Master Transmuter, while I produce the far more pedestrian Twisted Abomination. But again slow and steady wins the race as the Abomination begins whittling down her life total. Not quite as sexy as the Avatar of Woe, game three ends much the same- a giant black beater grinding Jimi down.
One thing was certain at the end of the match- Bring About the Undead Apocalypse had some great synergies. Game two in particular, with the Avatar of Woe coming into play three times, was a showcase match for the deck. But the other two were much less flashy, and certainly benefitted from some bad draws (particularly game one, where Jimi hit a run of land).
Which game, then, was most representative of what Apocalypse has to offer? Is it a solid engine that hit a couple misfires, or was the recursion-palooza of game two the exception rather than the rule?
Thanks for joining me today as I kick off analysis of Archenemy’s decks for the next two weeks or so, with a new update like clockwork every other day. Please join me again on Friday when we break the deck open and go in search of answers!