Zendikar: Pumped Up Review (Part 1 of 2)
Here’s a kicker- for your opponent. Pay some extra mana when you cast a spell and gain an added effect. Then send out some red Goblins, Elementals, and Minotaurs for a fast and furious assault. Top it off using the haste of the Hellkite Charger, which lets you attack twice!
So begins our introduction to Zendikar’s Red/Blue Pumped Up preconstructed deck, the blurb coming straight off the packaging. As indicated, this particular deck looks to showcase the Kicker mechanic, which made a return in the set. Although we’ve already expressed some disappointment in the Zendikar decks for failing to fully showcase all the set has to offer (Quests and Traps being the most lacking), Pumped Up does at least a passable job with what it’s designed to do, but is lacking in a lot of areas as well.
2,071 Tips for Survival
It’s in the non-creature support cards that Kicker truly has a chance to shine, and at the front of the line is the versatile Burst Lightning. One of those cards that is strictly better than another card (in this case, Shock), this gives you the versatility to upgrade the damage dealt later in the game, and the deck wisely packs in two copies. The burn package is further enhanced by a pair of Spire Barrages and a Fireball. Spire Barrage is an interesting choice- it’s slow and expensive, a 5-cost Sorcery, but has potential for large amounts of damage. The problem with the choice, though, is that it’s optimised in a mono-Red deck, and somewhat limited in impact by having to share space with Islands. One must wonder whether this “throttling” effect in a two-colour deck was intended by the designers to give the deck a solid but not overbearing burn effect, or instead was just an attempt to show off a new spell. Either way, it’s a bit of a poor choice.
While Act of Treason rounds out the set’s Red spells, Blue has a few tricks up its sleeve as well. Into the Roil is a very solid card, and should almost always be cast with the Kicker. Sleep is a bit like Blue’s version of Overrun– a card that with correct positioning can win the game for you. Lastly, one of the deck’s two Rares is here in the form of Rite of Replication.
The Rite seems part of a cycle of Rare cards in the set that basically says, “if someone can’t kill you before you have nine mana available to you, you’ll swing the game.” Each of them- Conqueror’s Pledge, Elemental Appeal, Gigantiform, Rite of Replication and Sadistic Sacrament– have solid effects that can become back-breaking if the kicker can be afforded. And while having such a spell can be useful under the right conditions, it’s virtually wasted in Pumped Up. The deck does not have a single ramp card or effect that allows you to get to the nine mana you’d need to cast this kicked sooner than simply laying down nine land cards. In other words, if you’ve not managed to finish off your opponent by the time you can cast this with Kicker, you might well be doing something wrong (or just playing far too conservatively).
Next, let’s look at the deck’s creatures, which will be your primary win condition in the deck.
Ashes, Dead Man
The first thing to note is that the creatures follow a very solid mana curve, as shown:
Smooth draws should be the norm for the deck, with plenty of early game play options and lessened opportunity for mana screw to completely shut you down, since you’ll only need a few land to at least function at a basic level. The creature selection, though, does leave a little to be desired.
For one, there are a fair number of underwhelming cards here. The sole one-drop, a Raging Goblin, is a nice enough turn 1 play, but gets drastically worse with each round that passes. For a deck that promises a “fast and furious assault,” it’s a head-scratching inclusion as a singleton. The Goblin Piker and Canyon Minotaur are also very bland, mediocre cards.
The good news is, from there it does start to improve. There’s a pair of unblockables (Phantom Warrior and the kickable Aether Figment), a decent presence in the air (two solid 2-power Welkin Terns and a Dragon Whelp), some potential two-for-ones in the pair of Torch Slingers, a Prodigal Pyromancer to snip your opponent’s low-hanging fruit, and lastly a pair of Molten Ravagers. From experience, I like the Ravager: it’s a 4-toughness body that can be a soild and dependable blocker, but also a good way to convert mana to damage.
The last card of the deck, the foil premium rare Hellkite Charger is a superb top-of-the-curve beater with an ability that can quickly end games.
Taken in summation, here’s the full curve of the deck:
Overall, though, the card choice for Pumped Up doesn’t seem especially exciting. While Kicker is a very useful mechanic, will it be enough to sustain what already seems like a fairly mediocre deck? Join us next time when we sleeve it up and put it through its paces!