Magic 2011: Blades of Victory (Part 1 of 2)
Although you’d have to go as far back as Eventide’s Life Drain to find a White/Black preconstructed deck (Shards and Conflux would blend the two with Blue for Esper decks), Blades of Victory seems to like to pretend it’s a White Weenie deck with a “dark little secret.” The back-of-the-box blurb exhorts you to “command an army of knights and soldiers” and wield “righteous power.” While it is true that every creature in the deck is White, how, then, to account for the heavy reliance on Black? With the decklists now spoiled on the ‘mothership,’ we have the opportunity to delve into the deck and see how it’s been crafted.
Here Is Your Army
Like any good White Weenie deck, the path to victory lies in its creatures, and here Blades offers an effective- if somewhat pedestrain- selection of beaters. Let’s take a peek at how it curves out, and at the choices at each particular grouping:
Your early attackers, Blades gives you enough options here that you should reliably be putting on some early pressure. A pair of Elite Vanguards are strong initial plays; the pair of Infantry Veterans less so, but pack some utility for the mid-game that the Vanguards lack. In the 2-drop slots, you have a White Knight (solid), a War Priest of Thune (utility + body), a Silvercoat Lion (yawn) and a pair of Ajani’s Pridemates. The Pridemates here are only marginally better than the Lion, as there are only two ways to gain life in this deck: a singleton Ajani’s Mantra, and Condemn. The latter option, sadly, assumes that you’re using it on your own creature. Doubtless the pair of Pridemates are here as much to showcase something new and novel with the set as any real tactical choice.
There’s a gutshot hole in the curve next:
…and they’re as weak as they look. Palace Guards may have their place, but in an aggressive swarm deck the last thing you want are a pair of dedicated blockers. If you get to the point where they are saving your bacon, you’re likely already stalling out.
The Guards evoke a wee bit of deep-seated nostalgia …but the moment passes quickly and it’s time to move on.
Calling the Cavalry
Rounding out the neat symmetry of the deck are a rather solid tail-end of beaters:
One thing of note here is in the move to restoring the decks to a rightful sixty cards, the designers have tended to use a lot of duplicates. This is a good thing, as it provides a degree of consistency and predictability that a successful deck replies upon. In Blades’ case, that results in pairs of Cloud Crusaders, dreadfully dull Siege Mastodons, and the ever-popular Serra Angels. Of these, only the Angels seem like a legitimate threat for their cost, though some air support in the form of the Crusaders is not unwelcome.
The deck saves its rare slots, though, for two last bombs on the tail end of the curve: Angelic Arbiter (the premium foil rare) and Vengeful Archon. There’s been some murmuring already about the roles of these cards in the EDH format, which makes the deck all the more appealing to that segment.
The Arbiter is a control card- it looks to hamper your opponents’ options during their turn, essentially saying “cast or attack: pick one.” Not only that, but it’s meaty 5/6 body should accelerate the end of the game even without its ability. Able to withstand the premier flyers of the Standard format (Baneslayer Angel, Spinxes, etc), you’re not likely to find a greater airborne threat to the Arbiter in the other precons. A worthy bomb!
The Vengeful Archon is even more robust: 7/7. Add in a very useful damage-redirection ability, and you’ve got a pair of closers that rank right next to Mariano Rivera.
But, of course, in the absence of any acceleration you’ll need to survive a minimum of seven turns to play either, and almost certainly more. Turn 4 is typically the last of the early, reliable land drops, and things slow down quite a bit after this. Interestingly, this fact has only somewhat recently begun to be accounted for in card design (certainly the developers realised it long ago), which accounts for the percieved ‘power creep’ of some cards. Truly, though, in general if you can’t close the deal on your opponent by the time they lay down a seventh land, you can’t complain when the game-enders start rolling out. Only in multiplayer can a game that lasts an hour be reliably called ‘fun.’
So if you won’t be seeing any bombs until late in the game, you’ve got a serious liability in the 3-drop slot, and your early 1- and 2-drop weenies are only good for so long, how is Blades expecting you to ‘get there?’
Therein lies the answer to the question posed at the beginning.
Fade to Black
Pound for pound, Black boasts some of the most effective and efficient removal of all time. White is historically no slouch, but exile-options like Path or O-Ring aren’t available in the format. So what’s a White mage to do? Splash!
Blades of Victory has a solid removal suite that dips into the Black pool for added effectiveness. On its own, White offers Condemn and a pair of Pacifisms, the latter of which are decent if vulnerable solutions. For added punch, Black brings in the iconic Doom Blade, Assassinate, and an intriguing new option, Stabbing Pain. If the goal of the deck’s removal is to remove obstacles to your weenie army as you enter the midgame and the red zone thickens up, Stabbing Pain has some intriguing utility. It can either tap down a solid defender, or kill off an opposing weenie (particularly a utility creature, which often have 1 toughness). It might not be the most solid removal on its own, but it complements the Black options nicely as the other two are similarly conditional (Doom Blade is a dead draw against Black, Assassinate requires the creature to be tapped).
The rest of the noncreature complement consists mainly of Black disruption (Duress, Mind Rot), combat tricks (Mighty Leap, BCSM magnet Safe Passage, Inspired Charge) and creature enhancements (two Armored Ascensions). The aforementioned Ajani’s Mantra and a Warlord’s Axe round out the deck.
In summary, Blades of Victory has the look of a solidly-performing White Weenie deck. Like many preconstructeds it takes a more generalist approach (Black discruption, creature enchantments, some of the combat cleverness and the whole Ajani’s lifegain aspect) to show off aspects of the set, which might weaken the deck somewhat but paradoxically enough adds to their appeal. Much of the enjoyment of the preconstructed products are in the playing of cards you might not normally play, yet having these “weaknesses” balanced against other precons in a set. You certainly wouldn’t take Blades to a Standard tourney and expect to taste much Victory, but if this deck is anything to go by, M11 seems like a very solid step forward for Core Set preconstruction. You could do worse than to buy this just to break it down or modify it.
Join me next time when we give Blades a test drive and see if it lives up to expectations!