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September 23, 2010

4

Anthologies: Green/White Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

It all might seem rather quaint now, but in 1998 Wizards of the Coast released a boxed set in commemoration of the five year anniversary of the game of Magic. Designed to showcase cards from each set, it was filled with spells and creatures from Alpha to Urza’s Saga and contained two 60-card preconstructed decks: Green/White, and Black/Red. Blue mages who like to complain that design works against them can no doubt take heart at their own absence here.

These days it’s a bit diffcult to find at reasonable cost, but students of the history of the game will perhaps derive as much enjoyment of the book that comes with the set as from the decks. Nevertheless, we here at Ertai’s Lament like to put on our time-travelling cap from time to time and fling ourselves back through time to some of the earlier sets, and getting our hands on Anthologies proved well-nigh irrestistable.

We’ll begin with a look at the Green/White deck, see how it’s put together and at some of its interactions and mechanics. Two things to note as we begin: first, that the rules of Magic were slightly different then from now, and we’ll be assessing it through a contemporary lens. Second, the set was plagued with misprints amongst the cards. In this deck, the casting costs of Armored Pegasus, Samite Healer and Warrior’s Honor were incorrect on the card, and Mirri, Cat Warrior woke up to find she’d had a point of toughness erroneously shaved off (and adding insult to injury, was mislabeled as a Common instead of a Rare!).

A Shield of Light

Being by design a reprinted cross-section of Magic sets, it should come as little surprise that there seems little unifying theme connecting the various creatures included in the deck. That said, it would seem that the designers tried to stick to some approximation of a White Weenie strategy with a generous splash of Green (especially on the back end). This is a little unnerving- the aggressive White Weenie approach relies on rapid deployment of cheap, fast beaters to overwhelm an opponent before they are able to establish board presence. Mixing in a second colour is something of a gamble: it will dilute the speed of the deck and slow it down some, but on the flipside Green will have more to contribute in the mid- and end-game with its traditionally larger Creatures. Let’s take a look and see what each slot gives us, starting with the map of the deck’s Creature curve:

In the one-drop slot, we have a bit of a mixed bag. Infantry Veteran is by himself a fairly weak 1/1, but his augmenting ability at least preserves some value throughout the game and is a nice early draw (though a much less sexy later one). The Llanowar Elves provide classic Green ramp and fixing in the deck, though like the Veteran their being a one-of in the deck means they’ll be an unwelcome draw about as often as a welcome one. Icatian Javelineers should be seen as essentially a “kill target 1/1 critter and chump block” card, and has some possibilities, but the worst offender of the lot are the Scavenger Folk. Considering the opposing Black/Red deck packs a grand total of two Artifacts, the poor Folk are a dreadful inclusion (granted, one Artifact is the reset button Nevinyrral’s Disk). Rare will be the times you are excited to draw any one of these four, but they are all at least niche role-players.

We have much more to be excited about in the 2-drops. First we have a trio of Knights- White Knight, Youthful Knight, and Order of the White Shield– offering us early First Strike capability in the red zone. First Strike is at its best when facing down Weenies, particularly Red and Black ones who aren’t well known for their toughness-increasing effects. That two of the Knights boast Protection from Black in addition is a serious bonus, as they’ll be almost guaranteed to draw the burn out of the Black/Red player’s hands.

Some evasiveness is added in the form of the Armored Pegasus and Freewind Falcon, with the Falcon getting a slight edge due to his Protection from Red. There’s not a lot to say about the Canopy Spider, whose proto-Reach ability and asymmetrical power/toughness clearly assign it a blocking role, nor the underwhelming Samite Healer, neither of which do much to support an aggressive role.

There wasn’t much to write home about with regards to 1995’s Homelands set, but the superb Spectral Bears find a very welcome place here. The Black/Red deck boasts plenty of Black permanents to eliminate the Bears’ drawback, and a 3/3 for two mana (especially back then) in this matchup is an absolute monster bargain.

The deck continues its containment of the battlefield with First Strike bodies in the 3-drop range. Led by Mirri, Cat Warrior, you also have the evasive Pegasus Charger, a regenerating Ranger en-Vec and the superlative Benalish Knight. The Knight is a superb inclusion, as his proto-Flash ability coupled with First Strike means the card will have often ‘paid for itself’ upon casting into a block.

In keeping with the “semi-fast” critter selection, we have a Combat Medic (decent except for the 0 power) and a Woolly Spider to slow things down a little (that’s not meant in a good way, mind). Unlike the Samite Healer, though, the Combat Medic’s ability to prevent multiple points of damage keeps it from being entirely terrible.

With the shining bright spots in the 2- and 3-drop slots, things seem to slide back down to mediocrity in the 4-drop. The Erhnam Djinn is a splendidly aggressive card. Don’t make the mistake of thinking his drawback is dreadful- if you’re swinging in with a cheap 4/5 every turn and giving your opponent’s 1/1 or 2/2 Forestwalk, one of two things is happening: you’re either taking 1-2 points of damage a round (a perfectly fair trade for bashing in with 4 power), or they are holding their dork or weenie back to chump with and you’re not taking any damage at all. For the novice player, it will take some acclimation to get past the Djinn’s apparent downside, but the effort will usually be well worth it.

Of the remaining three in slot- Giant Spider, Gorilla Chieftain, and- worst of all- Carnivorous Plant, perhaps the less said the better. They are mediocre, non-aggressive options at a cost which makes them very unappealing draws. With an aggressive deck, by the mid- to late-game you should be wanting draws that will finish off a wounded opponent. Carnivorous Plant that is certainly not.

There’s some light at the end of the tunnel with the game’s solid closer, Serra Angel. Although she’s been overshadowed in recent years by Angels from Akroma to Baneslayer, she was the first and, for a long time, the best.

Admit No Shadow

The mixed Creature package is complemented by an equally mixed spell selection. To begin with, the removal suite is almost nonexistent: singleton copies of Swords to Plowshares, Pacifism, Disenchant, Serrated Arrows and a very hazardous Hurricane.

The Hurricane is a risky gambit in a deck so laden with Flying creatures. Not only are there the ones discussed above, but the deck also somewhat inexplicably contains not one but two methods to generate a mass of “Pegasus Tokens.” Sacred Mesa is probably the better of the two, as it provides a renewable resource at minimal cost. Pegasus Stampede, with a Buyback cost of sacrificing a land, is a slightly more bitter pill to swallow. Still, they both provide a method to clutter the skies with evasive Weenies. And if you can work around them, the Hurricane can also be a game-ending X-Spell if you happen to be ahead of your opponent in life and within closing range with your mana pool, as it damages both players as well.

The deck provides a couple of combat tricks in Warrior’s Honor and Giant Growth to keep your opponent off-balance, and the Overrun can be a game-ender all its own, though with  in its casting cost it will sometimes prove an elusive cast.

The last two cards fall under the cartegory of ‘Miscellany.’ A Jalum Tome gives some ‘looting’ ability to the deck and is a welcome addition to help filter quality draws. The Armageddon, though, while a classic White spell, is seriously out of place here.

On its own, Armageddon is about as conditional a spell as they come. It only ever wants to be cast if you’re at a solid advantage on the board and want to ‘freeze things in place’ as they are (for instance, if you had solid defenses up and an unblockable critter out). That will happen sometimes, but not enough to consider adding an Armageddon as a good use of a card- for every game it ‘seals the deal,’ you’ll have others where it sat in your hand useless, when another card would be far more welcome.

Traditionally, players of massive, symmetrically board-changing spells have sought to mitigate the drawback in some fashion, so that while both players are hurt, the opponent is hurt far worse. For Armageddon, the most common ‘workaround’ has been through non-Land sources of mana. Have a bunch of Artifacts or mana dorks in play after an Armageddon, and you can go on casting while your opponent is stuck. This means that while before you would only cast Armageddon when you had a win condition in place, now you could cast it even when you were slightly behind, knowing that you’d make up the ground and pull ahead of your opponent because your diversity of mana sources allowed you to keep on going (almost) as if nothing had happened, while they have to painstakingly rebuild their mana base. The more non-Land mana sources you had in play, the more liberal you could be with when to nuke the Lands.

That said, Green/White Anthologies has exactly one piece of non-Land mana: remember that single Llanowar Elves? This resigns Armageddon to be dreadfully situational, which is not the kind of card you want in an aggressive deck where every draw is crucial.

All told, the deck’s overall curve is much the same:

As an endnote on the deck’s construction, it packs in a foursome of nonbasic lands for variety: two ‘cycling lands’ in Drifting Meadow and Slippery Karst, a Brushland and the legendary Pendelhaven to give those early 1/1’s a little more staying power.

What’s interesting to note is that looking at the state of the game then and now, there’s been little change in the role of the preconstructed deck, where ‘fun’ and ‘variety’ are just as important design concepts as ‘consistency’ and ‘competitiveness.’ If the Black/Red deck is equally varied in card quality, well, then deck quality and ‘competitiveness’ need not be a consideration as balance has been achieved. From this initial look at the deck, it seems that they’ll be most enjoyable to play from a position of nostalgia. Although the cards are all white-bordered, these were from the card set at the very beginnings of the game (back when I first played).

Given that personal quality, although it would be a difficult product to recommend to the modern Magic player, it should make for an interesting matchup. Join us next time when we head over to the other side of the ring, and have a look at the oppostion: Black/Red!

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. troacctid
    Sep 24 2010

    You don’t need nonland mana sources to make good use of Armageddon. You just need to have a favorable board position. If you can get out a Serra Angel or Ernham Djinn–or even just a few smaller creatures that can win a race–while the black/red deck is behind, Armageddon makes it very hard for them to catch up.

    If I recall, back in the day, Armageddon was famously known for pairing with Ernham Djinn as “Ernhamgeddon”.

    Reply
    • Sep 24 2010

      Too right, as you’ll see in our playtest writeup tomorrow. But you’ll find in the dreadful Anthologies decks, “favourable board position” itself can be very conditional, and so it’s probably not worth the slot it occupies in the deck.

      That said, most of the cards in it aren’t worth their slot. Armageddon does have two things going for it, though: it’s actually powerful, and fun as hell to cast!

      Reply

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