Scars of Mirrodin: Deadspread Review (Part 2 of 2)
They say evil turns upon itself, and that was very much evident as Sam and I selected our decks to do battle. For my part, I’d be piloting the Blue/Black Proliferating Deadspread. Opposite me at the table was the Green/Black Phyrexian Poison. When last we left Deadspread, we were admiring the intricate beauty of Proliferate, but very concerned that the deck had few tools to defend itself early. Would they be enough, or would I end the evening choking on poison? Here are the notes to our field testing.
Sam begins on the play, and primes the pump with a Swamp. I follow suit but have an early option- a Fume Spitter, and I’m off to the races. The next turn Sam prodices her early threat- a Plague Stinger, and I’m comforted that I have her bug in my pocket with the Spitter’s sacrifice ability. I swing in with the Spitter for 1, play a Silver Myr and pass.
By turn 3, Sam’s showing some momentum- her Stinger is joined by the Ichor Rats, and just like that my poison count (PC) is at 1. She swings in with the Stinger, and doubles it to 2. For my part, I go in again with the Spitter, knowing she’s unlikely to trade, and take her down to 18. It seems altogether less impressive, somehow. Still, the Rats have given Sam a poison counter as well, and against Deadspread that’s a potential win condition in itself.
Turn 4 arrives, and Sam misplays her cards. Although she’s worked on breaking the habit, on occasion she’ll needlessly cast a critter before attacking, and here she deploys a Corpse Cur. When she swings in with both beaters. I pop the Spitter to kill the Rats, but the Stinger strikes home (+1 PC, 3 total). Had she waited, she could bring the Rats back to hand with the Cur, but it serves as a reminder to her about the best time to play certain cards (of course, we all make mistakes).
For my turn, I hear the Proliferation engine chuffing to life as I tap two mana and cast a Thrummingbird, but I have no follow-up play and pass back to Sam.
Having learned her lesson, Sam swings in with her critters before casting the turn 5 Contagious Nim. I Doom Blade the Cur, but the Stinger strikes again (+1 PC, 4). Stuck on three land, I can only play a useless Maritime Guard.
Back to Sam, she deploys the Bladed Pinions, and Equips them to her Nim. She swings in with both the Nim and the Stinger, and this time I opt to trade the ‘Bird for the bug. The Nim draws blood, and I’m at 6 poison counters. Sam is comparatively robust with 18 life (and one poison counter).
Putting the Maritime Guard to use, I sent it into the red zone to take Sam to 17, then cast the Sky-Eel School. The School has an enters-the-battlefield looting ability, and I draw Necrogen Censer, opting to pitch a worthless Harbor Serpent from my hand (I’m land-light this game).
Sam keeps the pressure on, attacking again with the Nim on turn 7 (+2 PC, 8). Things are looking grim indeed. A turn 7 Trigon of Thought feels like too little, too late, but it still manages to draw some hate from Sam in the form of a turn 8 Slice in Twain (I use it in response, and pull a Skinrender). The Skinrender never hits the battlefield- Sam’s turn 9 Putrefax carries her to victory.
In our review of Phyrexian Poison, we said this:
Putrefax who? Hand of the Praetors owns this deck
If I was haunted by these words now, I would soon be choking on them.
An uneventful turn 1 starts us off, as we each lay a Land and pass, but turn 2 sees us both right out of the gate with Myr. Mine is Leaden, some welcome mana ramp in a mana-hungry deck. Sam drops the very efficient Ichorclaw.
Grating as it is, a Sorcerer’s Strongbox is my best turn 3 play, while Sam swings in with the Ichorclaw (+1 PC, 1) before playing a Cystbearer. Turn 4 I pop the Strongbox and it hits, drawing me three cards. I play a Swamp and a Silver Myr, and am now in a good place with my mana base at least. Sam ratchets up the aggression with a Tangle Angler after swinging in with both critters (+3 PC, 4).
The mana’s paid off, though, as I stabilise my board position with a turn 5 Harbor Serpent. Sad that it’s come to this, but it’s blessedly welcome. My Serpent earns his keep as Sam plays a Forest then passes. No attack.
A turn 6 Sky-Eel School nets me a Moriok Reaver (pitching a Swamp), and I play a Fume Spitter for some extra defense. Sam gets out the Bladed Pinions once more, sticks them on her Cystbearer and flies it in. I sac my Spitter, making her Cystbearer a 1/2, then block with my School. The Cystbearer dies, but the School gets a -1/-1 counter. Because the Cystbearer had First Strike, I could not have pulled it off without the Spitter, and I consider it a good exchange.
Next turn, I cast the Moriok Reaver, swinging in first with my bruised Sky-Eel School for 2. First blood on Sam, she’s at 18. Back to her, she sticks the Pinions on the Tangle Angler and attacks. With no blockers available, she goes for the aggressive play with a Giant Growth, which draws my Doom Blade in response. She puts the Angler in her graveyard with visible irritation.
Finally able to get some payback, I go in with the Reaver and School for 5. Into the mid-game with only four poison counters, I know the tide has started to turn as Sam’s deck starts to run out of momentum. Sam swings in with her Ichorclaw Myr after equipping it with the Bladed Pinions (+1 pc, 5). Back to me, I swing in again for 5, taking Sam to 8, and ending with a cast of the Culling Dais.
Sam’s hardly finished, though. She Assassinates my Reaver, forcing me to respond by sacrificing it to the Dais. Then, she taps again and Assassinates the School, leaving me with only my Myr and the landlocked Serpent as company.
By turn 10, despite the setback the tables seem to have turned, with me in the aggro role and Sam as control. I swing in with both Myr, and Sam trades the Silver one for her Ichorclaw. She’s now at 7 life and looking a little uncomfortable. Passing to her, she draws… and breaks into a big grin. Hand of the Praetors! Although she’s similarly creatureless, the Hand is a great place to start rebuilding. She passes back, and I sacrifice the Leaden Myr to the Culling Dais at the end of her turn.
A bit desperate, I play a Maritime Guard, whom I promptly offer up to the greater good on the Dais. I then sac the Dais itself to draw three cards, and as luck has it, one of them is the Carnifex Demon. Huzzah! Even better, I have just enough mana to play him.
For her part, Sam plays a Cystbearer (giving me one more poison counter due to the Hand’s special ability), sticks the Pinions on it and ends her turn.
Untapping, I go for the win, and trigger the Demon’s ability twice, adding two -1/-1 counters to everything else on the board. My Harbor Serpent is now a 3/3. Sam’s Hand of the Praetors dies, and her Cystbearer is now a 0/1. I finish the job with a Twisted Image, making the ‘Bearer a 1/0 instead as it joins its Lord in the graveyard. I then swing in for 6 with the fully enfurled Demon. Sam draws… and scoops.
Another uneventful turn 1 sees Sam and I each laying down Swamps and passing, and our turn 2 is little different- though I do manage a Leaden Myr. Sam gets out her first offensive threat turn 3 with the Ichor Rats, putting us each up a poison counter. I swing in for 1 with my Myr, then follow up with a Moriok Reaver, pleased to get out some early threats for a change.
Turn 4, and Sam trots out the Strider Harness, which she Equips to the Rats before pushing them into the red zone. I accept the trade with my Reaver, getting a feel for the pacing of the deck and knowing I just need to hold out in the beginning. I cast the trusty Culling Dais and swing in for one more, then play a Maritime Guard. Sam ups the ante, though, casting Carrion Call at the end of my turn.
She follows this up with Putrefax, attaches the Harness to it, and swings in with it and the two 1/1 Insects. I’m faced with a touch decision: block and kill an Insect and take 7 poison counters, or soak up some Putrefax damage and take 5 instead. I’ve got a solid hand- Contagion Clasp, Instill Infection and a Steady Progress, and opt to chump Putrefax since I can manage her bugs on my own. I’m now up to 6 counters.
Going into damage-control mode, I cast Contagion Clasp and kill one of her bugs. Passing back to Sam, she casts Rise from the Grave… and out pops Putrefax. I can Twisted Image it, but it will still carry just enough damage to kill me. I begin to gather up my cards.
Thoughts & Analysis
If I were compelled to sum up Deadpread in one word, it would be this: disappointment. Black and Blue is a very solid colour combination, and Proliferate a superb mechanic. But having played the deck out, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Proliferate just isn’t strong enough to carry a deck on its own. It feels more like a supporting theme than one that is effective in a starring role. It’s a bit of a tragedy, then, that the poison deck has no Proliferate, and the Proliferate deck has no poison! They work so well together, but we can hope that they come together in Mirrodin Beseiged.
Of the two, poison is by far the stronger. The problem with Proliferate is that while it can begin working for you as early as turn 3 (with an attacking Thrummingbird), you’re seldom going to have enough counters that soon to make it worthwhile. Even when you do with this deck, the high cost of the mechanic (4 mana) makes it a very slow-n’-steady strategy that is susceptible to being overrun. In none of the three games here did it ever seem to come together. It’s just too clunky and unweildly at its cost.
This might have been balanced out had the deck given you some better stalling tactics to keep your opponent tied down until your mechanic comes on-line, but the options here are terrible. Moriok Reaver? Maritime Guard? These might actually be worth something in greater numbers, junk that they are, but the deck leaves you with quite the vulnerability in defense.
Intricate strategies are a most welcome break from the usual formula of Big Dumb Beats ™. It’s a shame that Deadspread doesn’t deliver on its promise.
Hits: A few standout cards here include Thrummingbird, Skinrender, and Carnifex Demon; Proliferate is a mechanic with a lot of promise
Misses: Proliferate inadequate to build a deck around (though you should be alright in multiplayer with it); some bad card choices including only one spot remover (Doom Blade); cheap options in the deck are bad, and all components of your win condition engine are rather expensive; Sorcerer’s Strongbox
FINAL GRADE: 3.25/5.00