Zendikar: Kor Armory Review (Part 2 of 2)
As luck had it, the last deck Sam hadn’t played yet in opposition to the deck I was featuring was Rise of the Vampires, which was the exact deck I played when Sam selected Kor Armory. And so it came to pass that we would be having ourselves a rematch of sorts, mono-White against mono-Black, with each shoe firmly on the other foot. We shuffled, played a friendly to establish play order, and laid into it. Here are our notes.
Sam’s on the play, and she wastes little time with an aggressive opener: a Guul Draz Vampire. Although my hand had one Land more than I’d have liked, nabbing both a Kor Duelist and Trusty Machete in my opening grip sealed the deal, and I open with the Duelist. Passing back to Sam, she lays down another Swamp and deploys the Acolyte of Xathrid, declining to attack with the Vampire. On course, I play the Machete turn 2 and pass.
Sensing trouble, Sam sends in her Guul Draz, taking me to 19 before playing the Vampire Aristocrat. I equip the Machete to the Duelist and hammer down for 6, looking forward to a quick game.
It’s not to be, though, as Sam has a ready answer. Her Feast of Blood snipes the Duelist then swings in for 3, bringing the game to 18-16 in her favour. I grumble, play a Plains, and pass. Sam tags me with the Acolyte for 1 on my way out.
Turn 5 sees Sam bash in for 3 more, then play Zombie Goliath. Laying my fifth land, I breathe a sigh of relief as my Serra Angel comes on-line. But Sam is relentless, sending in her Aristocrat, Vampire, and Goliath. Were I more established with critters I might block the Aristocrat to fish for a 2-for-1, but I can’t afford to lose the Angel. Instead, I block the Guul Draz Vampire, then Sam casts and Kicks a Vampire’s Bite on the Goliath for a massive chunk of life. It’s now 25-2, and I’m in the terrible position of finding myself actually grateful for some lifegain in my hand. Unfortunately, it also means that I can’t cast the Divine Verdict next turn though I’d dearly like to smash the Goliath.
I dutifully untap, play a Plains and the Landbind Ritual (putting me up to 14), swing in with the Angel and pass, but the momentum’s very firmly on Sam’s side.
Sam again sends in the Zombie Goliath and Vampire Aristocrat on the next turn, keeping me on the ropes. Blocking either would cost me my Serra, to I grimace and let them through. To my horror, Sam then taps and plays another Vampire’s Bite with Kicker on the Goliath. By the end of the turn, it’s a 28-5 game, and I’m feeling vaguely ill.
Salvation appears in the form of a Spidersilk Net, though, which I cast and Equip to my Angel to give her the power to profitably block. I swing in with her for 4, and Sam pings me with the Acolyte of Xathrid, a race she’s sure to win.
Turn 8 arrives, and Sam plays a second Acolyte of Xathrid before coming back in with the Zombie/Vampire tag team. I block the Goliath with my Angel, and at last unleash my Divine Verdict upon the Aristocrat, sending both her critters to the graveyard. Sam looks unnervingly confident.
I untap and play a Trusty Machete, Equipping it to the Angel as well, sending her in for 6. Down to 18 life, Sam pings me with an Acolyte. I cast Kor Sanctifiers and pass turn, she draws and passes back.
Next up is Windborne Charge, which allows me to drop the hammer on Sam for 12, leaving her with 6. But it’s all for naught- she double-pings with both Acolytes, leaving me at 1. Then she untaps, draws, and pings me again for the win.
Another promising start sees me with a turn 1 Trusty Machete enabling a turn 2 Kor Skyfisher. Sam’s not resting on her laurels, though, and plays a Guul Draz Vampire into a Child of Night. I draw first blood on turn 3 after sending in my Skyfisher for 2, then playing Kor Sanctifiers to hold the fort. The don’t last long- Sam’s Gatekeeper of Malakir’s Kicker sees them immediately binned, clearing the way for her to swing in with her vampires. The Child’s Lifelink puts her back to 20, and I’m at 17.
Turn 4 arrives, and I’m back-footed. I play a Kabira Crossroads for a small life bump, the cast and Equip the Trusty Machete to my Skyfisher before passing. Sam plays an Acolyte of Xathrid and passes. I do the mental calculus in my head and decide that I’m in better shape going aggressive given how easily Sam seems to be dealing with my hapless Kor, and swing into the red zone, dropping her to 16. To dissuade her from an attack, I then play a Kor Cartographer. Sam summons a Vampire Nighthawk, then passes.
Topdecking a Pacifism, I put the Nighthawk out of commission and swing in for another 4 with the Machete-wielding Skyfisher- the score is now 12-19. Incensed, Sam goes all in on me with the Vampire, the Child and the Gatekeeper. I trade the Cartographer for the Child and take 3, down to 16.
My next draw is a ray of hope- the Kor Duelist. I’ve plenty of mana, and hatch a plan to use my Skyfisher for attack, then move the Machete to the Duelist as a 3/2 Double Striking blocker, cycling the Machete each turn for maximum utility. I swing in for 4 in the air, then cast the Duelist and attach the Machete to it. With some mana free, Sam pings me with the Acolyte for one as I pass.
Sam then snipes the Kor Duelist with a Feast of Blood for the second time in as many games, putting her life total at 14. She follows up with an attack by her Gatekeeper and Guul Draz Vampire while I’m wide open, casting Vampire’s Bite on the Gatekeeper with Kicker. When the dust settles, Sam’s at a robust 19 life, with me at 9.
Undaunted, I re-Equip the Machete to the Skyfisher and swing in for 4. Sam swings back with the Guul Draz Vampire and Gatekeeper, but I kill the Vampire with Divine Verdict. I cry a little inside when Sam then plays another Guul Draz Vampire, and follows it up with a Mindless Null, but I’m still determined to win. My turn 9 play is a Landbind Ritual (taking me from 7 to 19), then casting Pacifism on her Gatekeeper of Malakir, thinking with my life total high enough I’ll have time to answer her Guul Draz Vampire. I swing in for 4, Sam pings me for 1. 11-18.
For her part, Sam swings in for 3 and passes. I send in the stalwart Skyfisher once more, taking her to 7 then following up with a Kor Hookmaster, targeting the Null. She pings me down to 14 at the end of my turn, then casts Blood Tribute, tapping her Guul Draz Vampire for the Kicker. Just like that, I’m down to 7 life, and her Guul Draz activates, gouging me for three more. With a nice infusion of life from the Tribute, I know the jig is up when her second Acolyte of Xathrid comes out. I have no answer, and die swinging.
Determined to win at least one, I am delighted to see my premium Rare- the Armament Master– in my opening grip. Having had no problem securing Equipment in both the previous two games, I look forward to getting some larger Kor to put Sam at a serious disadvantage.
My opening play is a Land, then pass, while Sam plays one of those nettling Acolytes of Xathrid. My first critter follows, with a Kor Aeronaut hitting the table, and now it’s Sam’s turn to play a Land and pass.
Part of me considers holding onto the Armament Master until Get some Equipment, then playing both as a surprise move, but considering how aggressive Sam’s been playing I decide instead that I need all the help I can get, when I can get it. The Master hits the table after I swing in with my Aeronaut, taking Sam to 18. Pinging me at the end of my turn, Sam then responds with a Vampire Nighthawk, and I suppress a shudder.
My turn 4 play is a poor one, but I have to work with what I’m given. I cast a Kor Cartographer, add a tapped Plains to the battlefield, and pass. Sam swings in with the Nighthawk for 2, then casts a second Nighthawk. Turn 4, and I’m in deep trouble already. The score is 20-17.
The upside of the Cartographer is that it allows me to play a Kabira Crossroads rather than a Plains from hand, and still have enough open mana to cast my Serra Angel. I reach over and adjust my spindown life counter to 19, then pass.
Sam’s not playing around now, though, as she trashes the Angel with a Feast of Blood, which also puts her to 24 life before swinging in with both Nighthawks. The score is now 28-15, and once more I’m feeling the familiar signs of an imminent loss.
A small respite becomes available on turn 6 when I mise a Pacifism, and put one of the Nighthawks out of commission. I then swing in with my Angel and the Cartographer for 6. Sam pings me again with the Acolyte at the end of my turn.
Denied the use of one Nighthawk, Sam now swings in with the other and adds a Vampire’s Bite to it for 5 damage, putting her up to 27 life and me down to 9. Turn 7 I swing in again for another 6 in an attempt to race, Sam comes back with a Gatekeeper of Malakir with Kicker, claiming the life of my Cartographer and swinging in for another 2 with her Nighthawk.
At last! Turn 8’s draw sees me with a lowly Explorer’s Scope in hand, but I’m delighted to finally land some Equipment. I cast it and attach it to my Armament Master, but Sam responds with a Hideous End. It’s a backbreaker, and one that’s cemented when Sam gets out the Malakir Bloodwitch on her turn. I’m unable to recover, and by the time I’m dead ,thanks to the Bloodwitch, the Nighthawk and another Bite, Sam’s life total is in the upper 30’s.
For Sam, it’s a sweep.
I taught Sam how to play Magic, and despite taking three losses in a row I had one of those “proud instructor” moments after this game. The timing of her Hideous End was perhaps not the most strategic play, but with some cushion of life it was the perfect mind-game play to break her opponent’s spirit.
“When did you draw that End?” I asked her.
“I’d saved it from my opening draw,” she said, adding that she was waiting for me to deploy Equipment before casting it. Brutal!
I couldn’t have been prouder- well done, Sam!
Perhaps the very first conclusion I can draw here is that Rise of the Vampires owns Kor Armory’s soul. When I played Rise, I swept Sam playing the Kor. And when the roles were reversed, Sam handily swept me in turn. Part of that can be explained by the difficulty the deck has in dealing with the Malakir Bloodwitch, which is Rise’s premium Rare. But that still leaves another 40 cards, and Kor Armory just didn’t seem up to the task.
Too often, I found the deck disappointing when I needed it to come up with an answer. You’ll see in no game where I cast Landbind Ritual did the spell give me just enough “time to win.” That sort of thinking is the trap that lifegain often lulls us into, that somehow we just need a few extra life points and our trap will snap shut, delivering victory at our deserving feet.
Unless your strategy involves actually using your life total as a weapon (see: Ajani Goldmane, Felidar Sovereign, or even the recent ‘Soul Sisters’ decklists), if you can’t get it done with 20 life you’ll not consistently get it done with 25. Both times I played Landbind, it was a huge swing, restoring more than half my life. And each time, I’d have desperately traded it early for a Day of Judgment (or, more realistically, a Pacifism or Divine Verdict). Life gain is one of the great false hopes in the world of Magic, and for those who’d prefer a graphical representation of what is meant by this, please click here.
Now that’s not to say that life gain is bad, only that on its own it solves exactly 0 problems.
And problems I had! Sam’s deck bullied around mine in every way possible. She had more and better creatures, ready removal, and spells that directly supported her objective. Although most of my Creatures were solid, I still had to make do with nearly-useless Kor Cartographers (at four mana!) in two different games, and there’s a world of difference between the Armament Master and the Malakir Bloodwitch.
As for removal, Kor Armory’s suite is paltry: two Pacifisms and a Divine Verdict. That’s it. It needed a lot more to get the job done. As we wrote in our initial review:
So there you have it, a gamble of a deck that packs in some solid Creature consturction with flawed and shaky spell support.
Nothing we saw here this evening changes our earlier conclusion. If anything, it only strengthens it. Kor Armory is a solidly-themed Tribal deck, but not one worth playing unless you intend to make some badly-needed adjustments (4x Condemn is a great place to start).
Hits: Very tightly-themed Tribal deck; Kor have some strong creatures with versatility; very good creature selection
Misses: Terrible removal package; spell selection overall quite underwhelming; too light on Artifacts to be built around the Armament Master
FINAL GRADE: 3.25/5.0