Zendikar: The Adventurers Review (Part 1 of 2)
In October 2009 and to much critical and commercial acclaim, Wizards released the Zendikar expansion, and many credit the set with revitalising interest in the game. With the component mechanics of “Maps, Traps, and Chaps” Zendikar’s setting was designed to be an “Adventure World” theme that stylistically approximates a role-playing game (indeed, head designer Mark Rosewater even likened the Allies to ‘Fighters, Wizards, and Clerics’). Of the five 41-card Intro Pack decks for the set, none quite capture this flavour so much as The Adventurers.
Focusing on one of the three main themes (Allies, or “Chaps”), in this regard The Adventurers is the most successful of the five in capturing Zendikar’s look and feel. One of the things I most enjoy about preconstructed decks for each set is seeing how they showcase the themes and mechanics for that set. It’s a lot of fun knowing I can pick up a Kamagawa-era deck and play with Splice, or a Bant deck from Alara with Exalted. While not necessarily bad products themselves, there was a real opportunity missed by the designers of the Zendikar decks: in total, only two Quests (“Maps”) and not a single Trap were included.
But on the upside as we’ll see, the Allies got the royal treatment with The Adventurers.
Paid by the Axe
The deck follows the same approximate “1/3 spells, 2/3 creatures” formula of the set’s theme decks, but given the inherent synergy of the Ally mechanic, the whole very quickly can become greater than the sum of its parts. Here’s the creature curve, and that’s where we’ll begin our analysis:
As a one-drop Ally would not be seen until Worldwake’s Hada Freeblade (and even then not in this deck’s colours), two-drops are the natural starting point for The Adventurers, and the deck offers four of them. Two Highland Berserkers offer First Strike to the team, while the Ally’s version of a Bear (Oran-Rief Survivalist) gets in some early muscle.
Utility enters the picture in the 3-drop slot, with the deck’s three only non-Ally critters found here: Greenweaver Druid and Borderland Ranger for mana ramp/fixing, and an Awakener Druid as an aggressive option. Otherwise, the Ally slots here are rather ho-hum: Battlecat (the bland Stonework Puma) and the more useful Tajuru Archer. Aside from the splash of burn, the Archer is the deck’s few answers to flyers, so while situational he can at times be vital.
The Adventurers gives little thought to the four-drop slot (Joraga Bard) before exploding on the back-end with no less than five Allies costing five or more mana. In a 41-card deck, this is comparable to a 60-card deck having 7-8 drops at the slot, which is cause for concern. Disregarding cost, the creatures are quite the asset: a pair of Tuktuk Grunts, a Murasa Pyromancer, a Kazuul Warlord (nasty), and the premium rare: Turntimber Ranger.
The strategy, then, is quite unsubtle: play Ally after Ally, letting each one you cast strengthen its fellows, and swing into the red zone. This variation on the classic ‘Beats’ strategy is well-supported by the non-creature cards in the deck.
The Lone Wolf Dies Alone
The support spells may be light in number (only eight), but they are very well-selected. A pair of Giant Growths and Lightning Bolts augment your ground forces nicely, and a little burn can be a game-winner if the ground game stalls out. A Fireball can either thin out your opponent’s defenses or act as a kill on its own. Played correctly, Overrun frequently wins games outright, and The Adventurers will give you plenty of ground fodder to maximise the spell’s efectiveness. These are all fairly straightforward, but we’ll take a moment to examine the last two spells in the deck: Act of Treason and Beast Hunt.
Act of Treason, while not a bad card, is the one spell of the eight that seems most out of place here. Although there are any number of circumstances which could justify the card (“I stole his best creature and killed him with it”), its effectiveness is situational. Additionally, the card solves few problems: the lack of any sacrifice outlets in the deck means that unless it dies in combat, your opponent is getting the creature back after your turn is up. Although it can be a fun one to draw, the deck might better have been surved by another burn option here. I’m not always glad to draw into Act, but I’m almost always happy to draw a Lightning Bolt.
The last card, Beast Hunt, is a very useful inclusion. Don’t be fooled by the fatties on the backend- The Adventurers (and Allies in general) are very much a Weenie-based strategy, and like all Weenie decks there’s the susceptibility to running out of steam early. Allies in part mitigate this by layering effects when each one enters the battlefield, so some of your Allies can “grow” with you, but as often as not you’ll find yourself in the midgame looking to topdeck more creatures to keep the surge going. There’s the other weakness of Weenie tactics- if you can’t outrace your opponent in the early game, they’ll have the chance to stabilise and then get past you. There’s little worse than sitting behind a gaggle of Allies and find your foe just played a creature larger than your best Ally- now you can’t profitably attack (as you’ll lose at least one Ally each round), and you’re praying to draw another Ally so your ones on the table can get bigger. Beast Hunt gives you the ability to ‘refresh’ your hand, and makes perfect sense here. I wouldn’t play it over an Ally, but certainly cast it as early as possible.
Here’s the deck’s curve, fully mapped:
So now we’ve seen how The Adventurers works- Weenie-based compound aggression with a small complement of very capable spells. Join us next time when we take it into the field to see how it performs against another of the Zendikar decks!