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July 21, 2010

3

Magic 2011: Stampede of Beasts Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

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?

Game One

On the draw, I’m off to a roaring start with a turn 1 Llanowar Elves, follwed by a Sylvan Ranger (fetching a Forest) and Awakener Druid, swinging in for 4 with my animated land.

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.

Game Two

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.

Alas, her Foresee comes up with an answer, and her six-point Fireball (doubled to twelve due to the Servant) ends any hope of a rally.

Game Three

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.

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