Tempest: Deep Freeze Review (part 2 of 2)
Reviewing Deep Freeze was a wonderful exercise in nostalgia for a deck and set that I have very fond memories of. If there was one thing that could top that, though, it was actually playing a game from that vintage set. Sam cracked open The Swarm, a Green-White creature-heavy deck, and we set about to recreating 1997 on our kitchen table. Here are our game notes.
I’m on the play and drop an Island, then pass as Sam plays a Forest. Another Island, another pass, but Sam has a turn 2 play in the form of a Muscle Sliver. I have a couple 3-drop critters in hand, but figure I’ll stymie Sam for a turn’s development and Time Ebb the Sliver back on top of her library. Sam re-draws the Sliver, but opts to play her Rootwalla instead.
I’m able to equalise on turn 4 despite missing a land drop, casting a Horned Turtle. It’s a sign of how things have changed since then that the difference between the Turtle and a Kraken Hatchling is for one mere point of power. Sam swings in with the Rootwalla and open mana, so I decline the block. She pumps, and I take 4. Then she re-plays the Muscle Sliver, and passes.
I draw into what will be my fourth and final land, a Plains, and lay it down on the table, then deploy a Soltari Lancer. Sam responds by swinging in again with the Rootwalla for 4, then adding a Trained Armodon to the field. Things are starting to become worrisome.
I swing in with the Lancer to nick Sam for 2, and put Gaseous Form on her Rootwalla to shut it up, but Sam barely notices. She casts a second Muscle Sliver (making them both 3/3), swings in with the existing Sliver and Armodon (I block one with the Turtle), then plays Pincher Beetles before passing. It would seem her deck is quite appropriately named, and I’m finding myself falling well behind. I’m at 9 life now, Sam has twice that.
Turn 7 sees me going in with the Lancer again (a process I’d repeat until the end of the game), then trimming down Sam’s army a bit by blasting a Muscle Sliver with Repentance. Sam’s looking to finish me off, with a second Pincher Beetles and Skyshroud Elf hitting the table. She swings in with the Sliver and Armodon pair, I block one and am down to 7 life.
Almost too late, I draw into a Master Decoy– where were you four turns ago? The Lancer does his bit, and I pass. For her part, Sam’s flooding the board as another Trained Armodon is summoned. For those keeping score at home, that’s two Armodons, two Beetles, a Sliver and an Elf. If you’re not sure what’s coming next turn, here’s a hint: it rhymes with “fun.”
A better start this time, as I land a Master Decoy of my own on turn 2, and Sam matches with an early Skyshroud Elf. I swing in for 1 on turn 3, then summon a Wind Drake. Sam manages another of the Trained Armodons before passing. I try my hand at the Time Ebb again, this time for something slightly more expensive, and follow it up by pushing both critters into the red zone. Sam’s now at 16 life. On her turn, she casts a Ranger en-Vec and comes in for a nick with the Elf, taking me to 19.
The Ranger being something of a nuisance, I Pacify it, and swing in for another 3. Undaunted, Sam responds with a Rootwalla and second Trained Armodon. Her army is growing, but with nothing in the air I’m free to swing in with my Drake, which I do on turn 6 before summoning a Soltari Lancer. I pass to Sam and tap down her Rootwalla, leaving her only the Armodon to attack with. She obliges, and I’m at 16.
I attack for 4 more on turn 7 with the Drake/Lancer evasiveness duo, then eliminate the Rootwalla altogether with Repentance. The momentum’s on the other side of the table this game, and after Sam lays a land and passes, I chop her down again to 3 life, tapping her Armodon. She vainly plays a Soltari Trooper, and on my turn I tap it, too, leaving the way clear for my Drake and Lancer to go lethal.
I haven’t had a game play out like this one did in a long, long time. I haven’t played with Tempest era in a long, long time either. I wonder if that’s coincidence.
In the final game of the matchup, we both get off to relatively quiet starts, laying Land and passing. Sam’s turn 3 Trained Armodon is the first spell of any kind from either of us, and I follow up with the Horned Turtle.
Turn 4 comes, and with it another of Sam’s Rangers en-Vec. I drop a Plains, and Pacify the Armodon, encouraged by the steady land drops I seem to be getting this game. Sam turns things on their side, though, with a turn 5 Aluren, and the Dismiss in my hand stays there from lack of mana. This is uncharted territory, and I have a very bad feeling that it’s going to make things go South for my creature-light deck in a hurry. Sam swings with the Ranger, I block with the Turtle, then Sam plays a free Master Decoy and passes. What pests those are for me! I have no real way to remove it, because Pacifism/Gaseous Form does nothing to solve it’s special ability, and it’s asymmetrical power/toughness renders it essentially immune to Repentance. I grimace, play a Plains, and pass, opting to keep mana free for a counter rather than risk a play at this point.
My caution pays off- Sam attempts to Disenchant the Pacifism on her Armodon, and my Dismiss is at the ready. She consoles herself by tapping my Turtle with the Decoy and swinging in for 2. I then solve the Ranger problem with another Pacifism, and pass back.
Another of Sam’s Rares hits the table on turn 7: the Elven Warhounds. Any worry I have about the card, though, is mitigated when I topdeck a Legacy’s Allure. At worst, I can nab the ‘Hounds myself if I had to, in just a couple more turns. Sam taps my blocker again on turn 8, and takes me down to 16 life with the Warhounds.
I mise another solution off the top of my library instead, and put an end to the Warhounds with Repentance. I pass back to Sam, who tries another tack: a lone Soltari Trooper. My deck, well-stocked with answers, has one for it as well: Gaseous Form. Despite the initial anxiety with the Aluren I feel I’ve stabilised the board, and now need to start drawing into a couple threats.
Here, though, the game enters a sort of drought I am rather unaccustomed to seeing in today’s game, but remember from times long gone. Sam and I both, having run out of threats, now can do little but hope to rip one. Part of it is the heavy control nature of my deck- with 16 removal spells and counters, it’s heavily reactive with only 8 beaters of its own. I cast the Gaseous Form on that Soltari Trooper of Sam’s on turn 9. Skipping turns where we did nothing but draw-go, here’s how the rest of the game unfolded.
Turn 12: Sam casts a Master Decoy. I counter it with Spell Blast.
Turn 13: Sam Pacifies my Horned Turtle. I decide to save the Counterspell in my hand for a worse surprise, and take a couple hits from the decoy before getting another potential blocker and relegating her Decoy to defensive play.
Turn 14: I cast a Wind Drake. Sam Needle Storms it the turn following.
Turn 15: I cast a Soltari Lancer.
Turn 16: Sam’s eyes are starting to glaze over. She swings in with her Armodon and Decoy. My Legacy’s Allure- now overflowing with counters- is sac’d and I take ownership of the Armodon. The Decoy still gets in for 1.
Turn 17: Sam Pacifies her own Armodon, which I’d taken control of. She attacks for 1 with the Decoy, taking me to 12. On my turn, I play a Cloudchaser Eagle and disenchant the Pacifism, swinging back over with the Armodon. She’s at 14.
Turn 18: Sam’s ready to try anything to break a stalemate that might well favour my defensive play. She sends in the Decoy. With the Eagle as blocker, she’s either bluffing or holding a combat trick. I declare the Eagle as blocker, she responds with an Elvish Fury. Which I Counterspell. Bye-bye Decoy.
Turn 20: I have two more Counterspells and an Invulnerability in hand. Fortunately, Sam’s failed charge on turn 18 means my forces have been free to go it. I even Counterspell a lowly Muscle Sliver just to keep her board clear, and before long I’ve got her bludgeoned to death with her own Armodon.
Thoughts & Analysis
At the time we reviewed Deep Freeze, we had intended it to be for later release following the then-upcoming set Scars of Mirrodin (it should come as little surprise that we often have features in draft form “in the tank” ahead of time, not just to plan ahead but also to react to events outside the game such as the birth of our son Liam this past Monday). A pleasant surprise, then, that Scars appeared to be a departure from the quality level of decks we’d seen from Zendikar block and before, where ‘showcasing” tended to take a priority higher than deck effectiveness. Many of the precon decks do a great job of showing off different cards in the set. If taken too far- with too many singletons and divergent strategies- they risk becoming unfun (M10, I’m looking at you here).
In that sense, Scars is something of a spiritual descendant from Tempest, where consistency is achieved through minimising variance and we’re not presented with two or three spells each from a number of different win conditions. There’s flexibility, and then there’s dissonance. Deep Freeze by today’s standard almost has the look of a constructed deck. With precons traditionally having filled a somewhat ambiguous role in that grey area between constructed and limited, this isn’t a bad thing. The pendulum has been too far one one side for a little too long. Scars isn’t perfect, but it’s absolutely a few steps in the right direction.
As a deck, Deep Freeze did everything it needed to, and for the most part did it well.
Hits: Fantastic consistency very refreshing compared to the modern age; level and quality of removal sets something of a standard (and from a U/W deck no less)
Misses: Creature quality not entirely overwhelming; games can tend to run long due to emphasis on control over resolution
FINAL GRADE: 4.6/5.0