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November 2, 2010

3

Rise of the Eldrazi: Levelers’ Glory Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

In 2007, Wizards did something that they had not done in a decade’s time and tinkered with the block structure of a set (not counting the 2006 follow-up set to 1995’s Ice Age). Rather than hew to the norm- one large set followed by two smaller expansions- the Lorwyn block was laid out two halves, each with a large set and follow-up small set (Lorwyn/Morningtide and Shadowmoor/Eventide). A mere two years later, Wizards decided to do it again.

Rather than be a second “normal expansion,” Rise of the Eldrazi was designed from the ground-up as a standalone set. Certainly it retianed its thematic and story-arc links to Zendikar and Worldwake, but it was meant to be drafted alone. Additionally, it would have new machanics. No more Landfall, Traps, Allies, Quests or Kickers. Instead, a new slate of abilities were revealed: Annihilator, Rebound, Totem Armor and… Level Up.

The concept of “Levelers” descended from a card in Eventide called Figure of Destiny. Although it worked very differently in terms of mechanics, thematically it was the same: a creature which became progressively and permanently better with additional mana spent on developing it. Indeed, so central was this mechanic to the set that two different preconstructed decks used it as a basis: the White/Blue Leveler’s Glory, and the Blue/Black Leveler’s Scorn.

We begin our exploration of Rise with a look at the former. The blurb on the back of the box for the deck has this to say about its strategy:

This deck is packed with cheap creatures that come in handy for quick wins…

As we’ll see, this is a bit of a creative stretch.

Guarded Tongues and Quick Defenses

First of all, there are 14 creatures in the deck, and ten noncreature spells. If this means that 58% of the non-land cards in Leveler’s Glory are creatures, it’s hard to say it’s “packed” with them. But that bit of semantics is hardly the worst of the deck’s offenses. Before we dig further, let’s pull up the deck’s curve:

A well-balanced curve, but perhaps not one optimised for “quick wins.” With near-equal emphasis on the early and mid-game, the singleton Student of Warfare is probably the only reliable path to a fast, aggressive victory- if anything that’s a 1-in-41 draw can be considered “reliable.”

It’s not that Leveler’s Glory is a bad deck, per se. Rather, it seems to be positioned as a weenie/swarm strategy in theory, but is rather more generalist in practice. Let’s take a look at the deck’s different hats.

White Weenie: Again, a turn 1 Student of Warfare can be devastating if you draw some early Plains. That said, he’s far less dangerous in a two-color deck, where even when he’s a turn-one play the Leveler’s Glory player might not have the right land to optimise him.  The two-drop Glory Seeker– far less sexy in comparison- is an efficient bear in White, and would contribute to this strategy even if it brings nothing more than a body to the table. One might also make a case for the Affa Guard Hound, who is less efficient (a 2/2 for three mana) but serves double duty as a combat trick. Lastly, the pair of Caravan Escorts are essentially a variant on the Glory Seeker with a more expensive cost. To get a 2/2 out of the Escorts you’re paying three mana rather than two, but the tradeoff is a much higher top end. This is frequently a function of Level Up critters- slightly weaker early with a great deal of potential.

Blue/White Skies: A frequent darling strat of the draft table, Blue/White Skies is a very effective combination for the Blue/White colours. Whereas evasion is its strong suit, the same cannot be said for speed. Skies combines elements of both control and aggro for an effective middle ground, but you’ll get few “quick wins” here. Contributing to this tactic are the Snapping Drake and pair of Makindi Griffins.

 

Defensive: If anything screams out as being the very opposite of aggression it is defensive cards such as Wall of Frost, Hedron-Field Purists, and Soulbound Guardians (the latter almost inexpicably the top card in the curve, a slot usually reserved for “bombs”).

 

 

Levelers: Less of a strategy and more of a theme, it nevertheless bears mention as it can appear to be something of a strategy in its own right: get out some cheap critters and “game the system” to accelerate their development, getting more bang for your buck. In addition to the aforementioned levellers (Hedron-Field Purists, Caravan Excort, Student of Warfare), the deck includes a Venerated Teacher for “level ramp.”

That leaves two creatures as “homeless,” not really adding to any of the aforementioned strategies. First you have a Lone Missionary, which might appear to belong to the White Weenie path at first blush. But for a somewhat marginal lifegain the Missionary forfeits a point of toughness and is therefore an easy trade for your opponent to trade out with some leftover 1/1 or other. Increasingly, Magic is carving out a tactical niche for lifegain (see: Ajani’s Pridemate, Felidar Sovereign, the ‘Soul Sisters’ deck), but lifegain is generally at odds with Weenie/Swarm. Weenie/Swarm tends to be a more “all-in” strategy (which is why the most enduring decks of this path tend to be Red, which excels at trading future options of payoffs now). Aggressive decks tend to benefit little from extending the game, which is essentially the purpose of lifegain. The Lone Missionary is a poor fit.

The other offender is the rather perplexing inclusion of an Alluring Siren. The Siren is a fun card that has some strategic purpose, but seems an odd fit here. First of all, under what circumstances is the Siren optimised? Answer: when you use her to bring over a utility creature or some other nuisance to be killed by your defenders. But what does this assume?

A. That you have a creature that can profitably trade with and/or kill the offending critter, and

B. That you’re not using this creature to attack.

So what, exactly, does the deck think its going to accomplish with the Siren that justifies her inclusion? That you’ll lock a critter down with the Wall of Frost? Kill it with the Soulbound Guardians? Clear a path for your mid-size critters to get in for damage? “Optimise” your Luminous Wake by enchanting some opposing weenie and getting net life each round? In any of these cases, the Siren is trying to straddle two horses, and you might be tempted to think that the deck is enough of a muddle already so it just might actually work. For our money, we’d prefer another efficient attacker. You know, for those “quick wins.”

So it would seem that the deck’s creatures take something of a “jack of all trades, master of none” approach which seldom results in reliable wins. Let’s next take a look at the noncreature spells, to see if we can uncover a few more clues as to what exactly this deck considers its win conditions.

Something Sparkly Will Do

The sad fact is, there’s little more focus in the ten noncreature spells than there are in the creatures- though aggro probably benefits the most. Its removal suite is entirely Blue, which is to say that its somewhat lacklustre: an Unsummon, two Narcolepsies, and a Domestication. Aggro is further bolstered by the singleton Sleep, which can often be a game-winner all on its own with enough creatures in support of it.

But what of the other half? Control welcomes the inclusion of a Negate and See Beyond, but that still leaves a Fleeting Distraction (nearly worthless, and that’s considering that it cantrips); a Luminious Wake (too fluffy for aggro, and does nothing to remove a harmful blocker); and an Angel’s Mercy (again, a dismally disappointing top-of-curve card). Here’s the combined curve:

Regrettably, it seems the deck from top to bottom is a rather motley and mediocre smash-up of strategies. Precons work best when they focus on a single strategy, even if the cards selected for the purpose aren’t necessarily the best ones for the task (due to rarity considerations, etc). When they’re at their worst is when they have a poorly-defined concept of what they are trying to execute, or a vision that is not substantiated by the card selection. Leveler’s Glory is clearly in the latter camp, but is it the exception or the rule for the Rise of the Eldrazi?

Come find out in two days’ time when we take it onto the battlefield!

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