Rise of the Eldrazi: Totem Power Review (Part 1 of 2)
Ahh, enchantments… what a long and sorrowful tale they tell. Ever the bridesmaids, and quite seldom the bride, it is a sad commentary on the state of the permanent that it’s rather big news when one makes Constructed play (see: Eldrazi Conscription). Far more useful in limited where their glaring weakness is somewhat reduced, they nevertheless magnify the risk-versus-reward element prevalent in the game. Their effects are often quite solid, but generally not quite enough to outweigh the vulnerability they leave their player with to being two-for-oned in response to their casting.
Very early on the player base came to this realisation, and Wizards has tried many times to offset their inherent risk of card disadvantage. Some have been splendid successes (see: Rancor), but for the most part they’re considered largely unplayable. But Wizards’ R&D keeps trying, and for Rise of the Eldrazi they came up with a new iteration: Totem Armor.
Although you’re still vulnerable to being two-for-oned with instant-speed removal, if Totem Armor sticks then it frequently can take some of the sting out of creature destruction by having the aura ‘take one for the team’ and go to the graveyard alone, leaving the creature behind. The Green/White Totem Power seeks to showcase this feature, but is it feasible? Scars’ Deadpsread deck showed us that not every mechanic is worth wrapping an entire deck around, and one has to wonder if this isn’t a similar case. After all, Totem Power only packs in four such auras…beyond that, does it have any sort of theme or focus, or is it just some jumble of mediocre beats and removal?
Let’s take a look at the deck to find out, beginning with the creatures.
Unfortunately, an examination of the creatures does not seem to give much reason to suspect there’s a deeper purpose at work here. To be fair, the deck does include a Kor Spiritdancer, a Prized Unicorn and a Daggerback Basilisk, which are three creatures that stand to gain the most by being placed under a totem armor. The Kor Spiritdancer’s mechanic demands auras, but Totem Armor on the other two permit a second use of a very useful ability that typically kills them in the process. For purposes of combat, an Umbra’d Unicorn is almost as good as casting Sleep.
From there, things seem to decline. In the early game, there’s an Ornithopter and a Soul’s Attendant. The ‘Thopter is a very odd inclusion. Certainly it goes well with an Umbra, but are we to understand that there was some difficulty in finding a decent, inexpensive flyer in White? The ‘Thopter virtually requires a second card (an aura) to advance your win condition- the only alternative is the Gigantomancer (more on him later).
The Soul’s Attendant is another misfit pick. There’s not a card in the deck that cares about life totals and lifegain, and given the expensive top-end of the deck even a Llanowar Elves would have contributed more. The only role this card seems best suited to is punishing the players of the two decks that reply on Eldrazi Spawn generation, but even that is hit-or-miss.
The Kor Spiritdancer is one of the deck’s novelties, though like the Ornithopter above she needs a little help to do any damage. Remember that in addition to your Umbras, she’ll let you draw a card off the pair of Pacifisms too. She’s situational, but should work well here with almost 15% of the deck being auras. The pair of Elvish Visionaries are decent enough as well, letting you dig faster through your library for those auras, and also being ripe ‘converts’ for the Gigantomancer later in the game.
The three-drops slot is somewhat confounding, however, as it packs in the exact same “defense package” that Eldrazi Arisen does: two Sporecap Spiders and a Daggerback Basilisk. Eldrazi Arisen needed this to blunt any early assault while it worked on ramping into an actual Eldrazi. The mind boggles trying to thing what this deck needs it for. They’re not terrible creatures, but they work better on defense than offense and this deck will suffer for it. Fast creatures boosted by auras would have certainly been the better strategy.
Moving on, we have a Cudgel Troll and Prized Unicorn at the four-drop. The Unicorn we discussed above, and the Troll is solid. Regenerating creatures are especially nuisome in environments that lack ways to prevent regeneration. This is one of them- don’t ever fail to hold onto at least one Green mana source unless you’re prepared to lose your Troll when playing against decks with Black or Red in them.
Finally, we come to the top of the creature curve. Here we find the Stomper Cub and Nema Siltlurker, a pair of substantial bodies to batter your opponent with. The Cub is easily the stronger of the two with Trample, though it will tend to die more quickly than the oppositely-asymmetrical Siltlurker. That makes it a more tempting target for a Totem Armor. The Siltlurker is regrettably underwhelming.
Finally, at the very peak are the Gigantomancer and Pelakka Wurm. The Wurm is a gem of a card- a 7/7 Trampler for seven mana that nets you seven life and a card on the way out- what more could you want? The in its casting cost is little cause for concern- the more expensive a creature is, the less prohibitive strong colour requirements can be. To optimise a Leatherback Baloth, for example, you need to have played nothing but Forests or Green mana sources for each of your first three turns (exclusing ramp and colour fixing here, just speaking on a general level). To have a 100% hit rate for your drops like that requires you to be almost exclusively Green. Not so for the Wurm- all it’s asking is that about half of your lands be Forests (three out of seven).
The premium rare Gigantomancer rounds out the deck with a staggering ability- turning any of your critters (including himself) into temporary 7/7’s. Almost insultingly expensive in a deck with zero ramp, he’s essentially is a one-turn clock for your opponent- a virtual “I win” button- but you’re far likelier to win or die with him in your hand as you are with him on the battlefield. Don’t forget you’ll need a ninth mana source to permit him to protect himself if you’re playing against decks with direct damage capabilities.
Of course, this is a creature-based deck, but not a deck about creatures. The real stars of the show are the Umbras.
The Strength of Conviction
As mentioned earlier, the deck packs in a playset of Umbras, of the Boar, Eland, Spider, and Mammoth varieties. Of the four, the Green are the better- more impact for less mana. Eland Umbra does nothing to increase your offense, and considering Hyena Umbra is at the same rarity level it is a very poor choice.
Supplementing the deck’s threats is a rather poor removal suite- only two Pacifisms and a Righteousness. Ordinarily we tend to frown on the reactive nature of Righteousness, but there are enough dorks in this deck to all but ensure you’ll have somebody standing around doing nothing once attacking becomes unprofitable. You shouldn’t have too much trouble scoring a kill with it.
Finally, that brings us to our pair of four-mana instants: Angel’s Mercy and Harmless Assault. These are such dreadful selections for this deck that the word ‘sabotage’ is almost invoked. By way of contrast, consider how much better the deck would perform if you added even a pair of Divine Verdicts (another four-mana common instant). Our opinions on gratuitous lifegain by now should be a matter of record, but a word about Harmless Assault may be in order for those dreaming of a massive one-sided blowout.
Harmless Assault is a textbook “best-case-scenario” card. The thought of your enemy’s creatures smashing headling into yours, only to be massacred instead as you cast Harmless Assault is a compelling one, but sometimes it helps to break down the elements of the scenario which make it so compelling.
First, you’re going to need a good amount of creatures, enough to slaughter your opponent’s best attackers.
Second, you need to be doing absolutely nothing with them until the “magic moment” arrives. That’s right, no attacking. No damaging your opponent. No winning the game.
Third, you’re going to need to keep four mana open. No casting your Umbras, no summoning better creatures to really deal with the threat.
Fourth, your opponent needs to attack.
If any of these conditions fail to materialise (and remember, if you’ve been attacking the whole time and slow up to prepare your ambush, don’t be surprised if a canny opponent doesn’t take the bait), you’ve more or less just wasted most of a turn.
Another way to consider the spell is this: it’s a dead draw when momentum is on your side (and that’s often the last time you’d want a dead draw).
All in all, it’s rather difficult to be impressed with Totem Power. With its core mechanic tied in to an inherently vulnerable strategy (creature auras), you might be forgiven for thinking that the deck might be a little tighter to compensate. Instead, we have a hodge-podge of creatures and a mixed bag of spells.
Still, we always leave room for surprises and interactions that might not become apparent until the deck takes the field. Stick with us, and we’ll have a playtest review for you in two days!