Scars of Mirrodin: Relic Breaker Review (Part 1 of 2)
Welcome to the final review of the Scars of Mirrodin intro packs! So far we’re explored the tribal-based Myr deck, a Proliferate-based strategy, a healthy dose of Infect, and the Metalcraft mechanic. The predominant theme here is obvious- Artifacts- and wouldn’t you know it but Wizards has included a solution to all these problems. And that solution comes in the form of the Relic Breaker deck, tapping the bash-n-burn strategy so well suited to a Green/Red combination.
While that is the deck’s greatest strength, in some ways it is also going to be its greatest weakness. The other four decks of the set are largely self-contained affairs in that they don’t much care what your opponent is playing. Sure, Deadspread would like you to have critters, and you probably will, but generally they will perform the same regardless of the opposition before them.
Not so with Relic Breaker. So much of its effectiveness hinges on a single question: is my opponent playing lots of artifacts? It’s not an unreasonable assumption in the midst of an “Artifact block,” but may well hinder its effectiveness in a broader setting (versus an M11 precon, for instance). That said, let’s see what’s on offer here and how reliant the deck is on facing down artifacts, and we’ll begin with the beaters.
Screaming Metal and Molten Blood
Still, you get a powerful bang for your buck so long as your opponent is cooperatively laying out some artifacts for you to smash. The twin Sylvok Replica offer a solidly defensive body with the ability to trade for an artifact or enchantment, which is wonderfully versatile. Two Oxidda Scrapmelters blast an artifact on the way in, but you’ll want to note the absence of a “may” clause on the card’s wording- the Scrapmelter will just as happily munch on one of your own. An Acid Web Spider (with a “may” clause) snipes a piece of Equipment, and the premium rare Hoard-Smelter Dragon is an artificer’s nightmare- a repeatable source of artifact hate that gets a temporary boost each time it gobbles one up. And just like that, you have 10% of the deck being creatures that can destroy artifacts- potent stuff!
For variety, there’s a pair of Barrage Ogres, who let you sac your own artifacts to get in a little more damage. Although the Shock-on-a-stick is nice, they probably don’t justify their heavy casting cost- you don’t have all that many artifacts to offer up to it, though it is a nice way to convert an early Myr into later effect.
Lastly, there are two Molder Beasts. These stout fellows don’t care whose artifact was destroyed, only that one was. Doing for artifact smashing what the Kiln Fiend did for instants and sorceries, the Molder Beast adds Trample on top of that. At the same cost (though easier to cast), these are probably a better buy for your mana than the Barrage Ogres (albeit a slightly more conditional one), and they go quite well with the four Replicas in this deck.
From there we move on to the critters who have no interest or interaction with artifacts. You have a pinger in the form of the Prodigal Pyromancer, Cunning Sparkmage’s slower older brother. Two Vulshok Replicas provide you with a little extra burn reach, though make sure you don’t fall into the trap of believing the “Incinerate on a Stick” nonsense that this card has been described as- it only affects target players. (I made this mistake here, and was quite embarrassed when it was later pointed out to me.)
Twin Vulshok Heartstokers offer a “bear-with-a-bonus,” granting one of your critters +2/+0 until end of turn (yawn), but our final two critters offer far beefier bodies: the Cudgel Troll and pair of Flameborn Hellions. The Hellions can close games out of nothwere with their high power and Haste, but costing as much as the Dragon it will be awhile to get there.
As an aside, the Flameborn Hellion’s flavour text was pilloried this week in a hilarious article by Geordie Tait which you can find here. Well worth a diversion!
Fill the Air with Doom
Although off-put by the high casting cost, Relic Breaker does present us with a very utilitarian mix of creatures with which to do battle. We have mana ramp, artifact hate and burn effects, all attached to bodies, so it is with some interest that we turn now to the non-creature spells and see how well those bodies are supported.
Although it’s been hit-or-miss, the more solidly-focused non-creature support offered by the Scars of Mirrodin decks has been quite refreshing, and Relic Breaker does not disappoint. Smash-n-burn is solidly supported here, though with some caveats.
First, removal is somewhat conditional and stronger against artifact creatures than non-artifact ones (no surprise there). Not only do you have access to a Fireball, twin Arc Trails and a Turn to Slag, but the deck also stuffs in a pair of Shatters, just in case your critters aren’t getting it done. There’s also a pair of Untamed Mights, which essentially sub in for both burn or removal, depending on whether or not you’re targeting a blocked creature or not.
You also have recourse to a few artifacts of your own. There are two Spellbombs present (1 Panic, 1 Horizon), which produce a marginal effect but cantrip, and a solitary piece of Equipment. The Barbed Battlegear will be a welcome addition for the aggressively-minded, and it occupies the relatively-neglected three-drop slot in the deck.
The final two cards are a pair of Green enchantments: Asceticism and Viridian Revel. The Revel is a swing-for-the-fences type of card: either its a home run (your opponent is playing two or more artifacts), or a pop-up fly (your opponent, well, isn’t). Green and Red love any chance they can get to draw extra cards, and since Relic Breaker is already mortgaging the house on the fact that everyone else is playing a ton of artifacts, it is a solid inclusion here.
Asceticism is a Green player’s dream card, one that turns every bit of non-burn removal in their opponent’s deck into blanks until it is dealt with. Considering how few ways to “deal with it” are found in the other precons (Myr of Mirrodin has Revoke Existence and Metalcraft can Disperse it temporarily), you can be confident that once this thing hits the table, it’s staying there.
If there is a weakness to be found here, it is in the high mana curve, which we’ve actually coded as Red in the overall deck:
Unfortunately, there’s just not enough mana ramp available here to justify clogging up the back-end so heavily. The pilot of Relic Breaker should be prepared for aggressive mulliganing and playing the waiting game, trading its modest removal for time until the mana base is sufficiently established. The deck is simply going to give you more unplayable opening draws than any of the other decks in Scars of Mirrodin.
You might have the luxury of time against Deadspread, but remember that even Deadspread is looking to establish board control of its own. Metalcraft– provided it doesn’t have an explosive opening as it can sometimes get- may mirror your strategy here (bide time for a massive build-up), but Relic Breaker’s abumdant artifact hate should give it the edge.
Faster decks like Myr of Mirrodin and Phyrexian Poison, however, will often eat your lunch. Essentially, this deck appears very match-up dependant, and given its very contingent nature that should come as little surprise.
Join us in two days’ time when we take Relic Breaker into battle, and see if we can’t smash it up!