Magic 2011: Breath of Fire Review (Part 2 of 2)
Welcome back! Having dissected the Breath of Fire M11 precon deck in our last post, today we’ll be putting it through its paces before giving it a final grade.
As you’ll recall, the deck was commended for its overall synergy/interactions and mana curve management mainly with regards to its Red spells, but the Blue component felt a bit like a tack-on. To see how the deck performs, I’ll be taking on Sam who’s putting her faith in the Blades of Victory deck.
On the play, Sam starts off with a Plains and passes. I drop a Mountain and do the same, knowing there are few turn 1 plays to be had. Sam’s second Plains opens up a White Knight for her, though, and my only answer is an Island. I’m heartened by the pair of Prodigal Pyromancers in my grip, knowing that the Knight’s days are numbered.
Turn 3 sees Sam dropping a land, then dropping my health by two. I deploy the first Pyromancer, and take another two from the Knight next turn. My plan is delightfully interrupted on turn 4, however, when fortune brings me a Cyclops Gladiator. The second Pyromancer is relegated to the back of the bus as I cast the Gladiator instead. Knowing his days are numbered, Sam smartly sends in the Knight again on turn 5. Tapped out from casting the big fella, and unsure of what tricks Sam might have in store, I opt to take the damage and leave her Knight unblocked. By the middle of turn 5, I’m down to 14 while Sam sits 5 higher (my Pinger coming online making the sole mark against her).
My caution is rewarded as Sam shows an Inspired Charge in response to my declaration of attack and invocation of the Gladiator’s special ability. Left unchecked, this would trade the Knight for the Gladiator, but now I have the mana open for a timely Negate and the Knight promptly circles the drain. Sam has no turn 6 play other than a Swamp, and I continue to work her over with the Gladiator and the Pyromancer (saving the ping for the end of her turns). I take advantage of the lull to drop the second Pyromancer, and I can taste victory.
Not going down without a fight, Sam drops the Vengeful Archon on turn seven. Down to 14 life and with Sam on the back-foot I can afford the damage if she attacks, so I play a Fire Servant without fear. She holds back for defense, and when I untap a Chandra’s Outrage (doubled by the Servant) smokes the Archon from the sky. The Gladiator and Servant close in on the doomed Sam.
Turn 3 sees Sam deploy a Palace Guard, and attacking in with the Veteran-pumped Pridemate. The Veteran’s already nicked me for one, and it’s one of the better nuisance cards in her deck. Trying to stabilise I delay casting the Ember Hauler until turn 3 so I could have the mana available to sac him (losing him to a Doom Blade while tapped out from casting him would be painful).
Things grow increasingly grim on turn 4. Sam comes in again with the Pridemate, and I trade out the Ember Hauler in response to her Infantry Veteran. The slain cat worriors are immediately replaced by a Cloud Crusader, and when play passes to me all I have is an Augury Owl. The Owl helped, though, netting me the Cyclops Gladiator and letting me flush a pair of lands to the bottom.
Sam deploys a second Infantry Veteran on turn 5, with the Cloud Crusader keeping the damage on. Down to 12 life, the realisation of the Owl’s destiny as a chump blocker is fast approaching. I do manage the Gladiator on turn 5 before passing, and Sam keeps the pressure on with a timely Armored Ascension on the Palace Guard (giving it +3/+3 as she’s three Plains in play). The airborne duo of the Crusader and Guard swing in, I chump the Guard with the Owl and she pumps the Crusader twice with her Veterans. I’m down to 8, Sam’s still untouched.
Next turn, though, the Gladiator earns his keep, swinging in for 4 and taking out the Crusader. I drop a Chandra’s Spitfire, relieved to have at least one more chump blocker. Turn 7 comes, though, and Sam’s relentless- a Siege Mastodon hits the table. She swings in for another 6 with the pumped Guard, then passes. The end drawing close, I reach over to my library and draw… a Lava Axe.
A widely panned card in the last review, I keenly sense the irony as a flicker goes off above my head and I start running the numbers. Sam’s got the Mastodon to defend, while I have the Gladiator and my turn-2 Piker who’s good fortune has kept him from harm the whole game. I look down at the cards at my hand.
“Lightning Bolt you for three,” I say.
“Okay.” She puts her spindown counter on 13.
“Okay.” She’s down to 8.
“Aaand then I attack with my 7/3 Spitfire, the Goblin, and the Gladiator.”
Sam’s out of tricks. Me on the brink of death… 16 damage in a turn… Chandra’s Spitfire, I think I love you.
Another game, another draw of the Cyclops Gladiator, I haven’t had this much luck since I test-drove Reign of Vampirism and couldn’t shake the Captivating Vampire if I’d tried. Of course, operating on the theory of universal balance, my opening grip also contains the loathsome Goblin Piker, and he’s my turn 2 answer to Sam’s White Knight (admittedly, not much of an answer).
Sam opens up on turn 3, striking with the Knight before dropping down an Elite Vanguard and Ajani’s Pridemate. I answer with a Mountain, and trade off the Piker for the Pridemate the next turn when Sam comes in for 6. She drops down a Warlord’s Axe with a smile, and passes.
At last on turn 4 I have a threat, with the Gladiator touching down for the third time in as many games. Sam plays a Serra Angel. In retrospect I’d later wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t have traded for the Angel, but going in with the Cyclops I murder the Knight instead. The Cyclops does the same to the Vanguard the turn following, but Sam has too many threats. With the Axe on the Angel, I’m dead on turn 6.
Naturally, the Ancient Hellkite sits idly in my hand. One land drop away.
Usually between the deck deconstruction and its playtesting, I’ll find a few things that I didn’t think of before, or that I didn’t notice, or perhaps was a little off about. Seldom has the playtesting gone as smooth as this following an examination of the deck- it did exactly what I expected it to, no more, no less.
For one, the Blue component was almost nonexistent: in three games I cast one Augury Owl. Although in fairness I was never locked out of playing any Red card for want of Mountains, it’s certainly conceivable that it will eventually happen. The Blue is out of place here, and the best retuning of this deck would likely strip it out.
As far as rares go, the Cyclops Gladiator is the hidden gem. It’s almost certain to get out in a timely manner in all but the most land-starved situations (though it is the one card most likely to be screwed by the presence of Islands in the deck), and is an absolute beater when it arrives. It can’t be counted on to consistently play the role it did here (three early appearances in three games, and being a dominating factor in two of them), but is one to watch out for (especially in Limited).
The synergy with the Spitfires also helps make this deck very strong. Another note to those wanting to tinker with Breath, cut some Blue deadweight and add two more. Between the Pyromancers and the burn spells, I had little trouble laying in with some noncombat damage, and the card stole our second match for me. Kiln Fiend was a quick hit when Rise of the Eldrazi came out, as many loved how frighteningly big he could become very quickly, but his problem was the lack of evasion (which explains part of the appeal of Distortion Strike). As a flier, the Spitfire has it built right in.
So overall a strongly consistent deck not without flaws, but of all the decks this is the one I would most recommend to any mage looking to use a precon as the foundation for their own deck, and a fun one to play as-is.
Pros: Strong synergy between cards; solid support for the Spitfires; balanced mana curve and spell types; lots o’ burn
Cons: Blue feels completely out of place and adds little to the deck; Goblin Piker has earned a retirement
FINAL GRADE: 4.2/5.0