Magic 2011: Stampede of Beasts Review (Part 2 of 2)
Welcome back to part 2 of our Stampede of Beasts deck review. As seen in our previous entry, Stampede is aptly-named, designed to crank out massive beaters and dominate the red zone, while offering a splash of Red to keep things clear on the ground. It should come as a surprise to precisely no-one that Stampede packs in the most creatures than any other M11 precon, 10% more in fact than the runners-up. Green is the colour that typically gets what it needs done through the beasties, and you’ll find no exception here.
Besides hefty creatures, the other thing Green is commonly associated with is Ramp: the ability to add additional mana sources early to get to a higher level of resource early, and thus put the board in a state of asymmetry. In short, Green likes to play its endgame in the midgame. A look at the mana curve for the deck’s critters should give a clue as to why this is so critical:
As revealing as that is, it doesn’t actually tell the full tale itself. Let’s break out the 5+ category a little more:
Um, I Was Told There’d Be No Math
To illustrate how critical ramp is, let’s take a moment to understand what it means to be a 7-drop. Let’s assume you plunk down a Duskdale Wurm into a generic Green deck that has no ramping ability. You have the customary 40% land in a 60-card deck (24 land cards). On the play, you draw your opening hand: it has three lands and generally looks playable, so you keep it. Ta-daa! You’re all but guaranteed to make a land drop on each of your first three turns:
Turn 1: Land
Turn 2: Land
Turn 3: Land
What about those draws? Since you’re on the play, no card for you on turn 1, but you drew for turns 2 and 3. Since your deck is 40% land, you’ve got a 40% chance to draw one each draw, so in two draws it’s 80% likely that you picked up another land.
Let’s put this another way: you’re unlikely to get a land in one draw; likely to get a land in two draws, and (statistically) certain to get one every three draws. That means by the time turn 4 rolls around, you’re in good shape, but let’s go from there assuming a land drop every three turns.
Turn 4: Land
Turn 5: No land
Turn 6: No Land
Turn 7: Land
Turn 8: No land
Turn 9: No land
See a pattern? If it plays out just like this, you’ll be dropping that seventh land- and ready to launch that Duskdale Wurm into action- on turn 13.
That’s a long time to wait. Most games are already over by then, which means your Wurm was uncastable. And that means you basically mulliganed for free at the start of the game, since you only had six playable cards where your opponent had seven. Not a place you want to be. Now every Magic player knows that you can get a glut (or shortage) of land, and again for simplicity’s sake we made the numbers rounded and easy, so your actual mileage will vary game to game. But seven land drops is a lot to expect without any kind of acceleration.
Quick & Dirty: Here’s a rough and quick rule of thumb to know when you’ll be able to cast something without ramp. Take it’s converted mana cost, subtract three (since you’re assuming you’ll be hitting at least your first three drops), and for each point of CMC left over, it’ll take approximately 2.5 turns after turn three to deploy.
Example: Baneslayer Angel cosys 3WW, total of 5. You should hit your first three drops, so that leaves you needing two more drops (5 – 3 = 2). You can expect to cast your Angel 5 turns later (2 x 2.5 = 5). Actual mileage will vary depending on draw and deck, of course, but it’s a handy rule of thumb.
So Ramp 101 behind us, with the worrying amount of fatties that can clog your hand in Stampede of Beasts, what sort of help is included? The short answer: probably not as much as you’d like. With pairs of Llanowar Elves and Sylvan Rangers, and a singleton Cultivate, that gives us 5 ramp options in the deck (almost 60% of the time, you can expect to have one of these options in your opening hand). By way of comparison, you’re statistically certain (>100%) to have a card that costs 5 or more, which puts you at an early disadvantage.
The Race is On
Okay, the maths section is behind us, promise. It’s good to understand just how a deck is designed to work and why, but for those who just don’t care for numbers (and there are many), the short version is this: Stampede of Beasts has a ton of expensive creatures and is a bit light on ramping into playing them. Since you can’t twiddle your thumbs and wait for all that land to arrive on its own, you have to keep your opponent busy in the meantime.
Luckily, Stampede has a variety of ways to do this. There’s a splash of burn in the form of a Fireball, a Lightning Bolt and a Chandra’s Temper Tantrum– one of each, mind, so make them count. Extra bonus points if you manage to string together Act of Treason and Fling, stealing an opponent’s beastie, attacking with it, then using it for one last bit of kindness. The Plummet will eilinate a flier, the two Giant Growths pull their customarily varied duty here (add damage, kill a blocker/attacker, or avoid burn). Back to Nature, being Instant, can often be cast to your advantage in combat, and is good utility at any time. There’s a burn finisher included in the form of Lava Axe, and additional critter utility with a Whispersilk Cloak.
The crowning gem, though, is the foil premium: Overwhelming Stampede. Decried by some as a less-potent replacement for the unreprinted Overrun, it’s an easy spell to sell short but can be an absolute beating when used properly (comparable to Might of the Masses vs Giant Growth in that regard). Rather than a flat +3/+3, Overwhelming Stampede gives a bonus equal to the power of your strongest creature. This can be brutal (if you’ve got that Duskdale Wurm out, all your attackers basically get Might of Oaks + Trample), but carries some risk. If you’ve got a 7/7 ready to lead a charge of 2/2’s and 1/1’s, and your opponent responds to this spell by Doom Blading your fattie, when Overwhelming Stampede resolves you’re looking at a much-less-desirable +2/+2.
By the same token, though, get that Wurm out and Giant Growth it before casting this, and your opponent will be praying for a Fog or it’s lights out.
Back to the Forest
All that is well and good, but there’s hardly enough there to make a dent on its own without some creatures thickening up the middle. Looking again at the beasts of the wood, we see a decent (if somewhat ordinary) selection of critters in the deck.
In addition to your Sylvan Rangers, two Runeclaw Bears round out the two-drop slot. Boring and eminently disposable, things do pick up somewhat from there. A pair of Awakener Druids let you trade risk of losing land for threat and damage, and are best played no earlier than turn 4 (so that the Forest you choose to animate isn’t summoning sick or tapped). A lone Sacred Wolf is a a novelty with it’s ‘troll shroud’ (partial Shroud named after this guy), but a 3/1 is too fragile to last long and probably is best used to trade with a comparable beater on your opponent’s side of the table.
The 4-drop slots are split between Giant Spiders and Prized Unicorns. I’ve seldom cared for the Unicorns, finding their ability conditional and too weak for their cost, but the Giant Spiders are prizes here. In a deck that wouldn’t mind a little time to get its mana together, the Spider offers a very solid body and answer to smaller fliers. Next, though, is when things get truly interesting.
Once you’re at your 5th land drop, the deck has a tendency to speed up. With half your creatures having (or attainable in the case of the de-mythic’ed Protean Hydra) 3 power or more, you should have little difficulty drawing into some bonus cards courtesy of the two Garruk’s Packleaders in the deck. Do what you can to maximize this ability- like holding out on casting that Wolf- and you’ll thank yourself later. Extra draws are indispensable for not only digging through your library for answers, but also for getting those critical land drops!
Of course, if you’ve managed to get to the endgame (preferably during midgame), Stampede of Beasts makes it well worth your while! The vanilla Spined Wurm is just a hint of what else is in store: trampling brutes like the Duskdale and Yavimaya Wurm, a Greater Basilisk, and of course that Protean Hydra. There’s not much that will manage to stand for long against these, and the upside to having multiple copies is that you can lose the occasional pet to a Doom Blade or Condemn and still have plenty of gas in the tank.
For those that revel in throwing about massive creatures and smashing face with them, Stampede of Beasts is the deck for you. There are plenty of options to keep you busy in the early and midgame, and the deck does hold its own against the other M11 preconstructeds. If it’s your cup of tea, it’s worth considering.
Pros: Decent assortment of noncreature spells give some flexibility; massive beaters end the game very quickly when unleashed; deck has coherent strategy and focus
Cons: Huge spike in the mana curve at the back-end means you essentially start the game with 6 cards; mana ramp suite a little underwhelming; Prized Unicorn and Runeclaw Bears stale and overused; would take a Lightning Bolt over a Lava Axe most any day
FINAL GRADE: 3.75/5.0