Rise of the Eldrazi: Totem Power Review (Part 2 of 2)
As touched on in the deck analysis, we had some doubts about Totem Power from the outset. It seemed reminiscent of Deadspread from Scars of Mirrodin- a deck that highlights a mechanic for its own sake, when that mechanic isn’t particularly well-suited to building a deck around. Totem Armor is an intriguing twist on the periodic attempt to make creature auras playable (typically by mitigating the inherent card disadvantage), but aside from the Kor Spiritdancer and a couple role-player cards, there really didn’t seem all that much distinguishing this deck from just a generic creature deck with a few decent auras.
Knowing that the truth often emerges on the field of battle, I sat down with Sam who opted to meet Totem Power with the Blue/Black Leveler’s Scorn. Here are the results of that matchup.
Sam’s on the play for our first matchup, and after we lay some initial lands she casts a turn 2 See Beyond, followed next turn by Sea Gate Oracle. Turn 3 is also my first play, a Daggerback Basilisk. Sam’s turn 4 is a blank, but with four open mana I’m hesitant to play the Boar Umbra in my hand on the Basilisk, lest I leave myself vulnerable to getting two-for-oned to instant-speed removal. I go in with the Basilisk for 2, drawing first blood.
For turn 5, Sam summons a Skywatcher Adept, which she immediately levels to L1, then swings for 1 with the Oracle. I untap, and draw the Kor Spiritdancer, immediately pleased that I held off on the Boar Umbra. I cast her, and augment her with an Eland Umbra I also have there, buffing her and netting a free card. I swing in for 2 more with the Basilisk.
Sam’s not missed a land drop yet, and it pays off for her with a turn-6 Sphinx of Magosi after attacking with her Adept for 2. I lay the Boar Umbra on the Spiritdancer, and send her in as a 7/13. The Basilisk goes in alongside, and is let through for 2. Sam’s Oracle steps in front of the Spiritdancer.
For turn 7, Sam drops the Venerated Teacher, upping her Adept to L3. She then activates the Sphinx once, giving it a +1/+1 counter and drawing a card. She pushes both into the red zone, and I plummet from 17 life to 6.
I retaliate with the Spiritdancer, but Sam chumps with the Teacher, taking 2 from the Basilisk. She’s down to 12. With an Angel’s Mercy in hand, if Sam slows the pace down and only builds the Sphinx once (or keeps one of her critters at home), I’ve got a chance, but Sam activates the Sphinx twice and swings for 13. Good play, I’ve got no answer.
Although I won’t miss a land drop until turn 9 (!), my first play of the game is a turn 4 Prized Unicorn. By that point, Sam’s managed a Coral Merfolk and Phantasmal Abomination, but I’m not all that concerned. She draws blood for 2 on turns 3 and 4, and it’s a 20-16 game heading into turn 5.
I blank on turn 5, Sam then swings for 2 more and adds a Phantom Warrior to the list. I find a new appreciation for the Unicorn as I realise it’s essentially removal-on-a-stick for any 1-or-2 toughness creature the turn after it’s summoned, and I gladly force the trade for the Warrior. With my deck so removal-light, unblockable things are a terrible nuisance. Sam’s turn 6 play replaces the Warrior with an Enatu Golem, and with another swing of the Merfolk I’m down to 12.
Although a bit mana-flooded here, the upside arrives in the form of a turn 7 Pelakka Wurm. I immediately shoot up to 19 life, almost back where I started. Sam gets out a Sea Gate Oracle, but has nothing else.
Looking to clear out some potential gang-block candidates, I target the Phantasmal Abomination with a Pacifism, which due to the rule on the card forces Sam to instead sacrifice it. That frees up space for the Wurm to work, and I send it in, but Sam surprises me by tighning the belt early and looking to remove it while she still can. She gang-blocks with Wurm anyway, using her Golem, Merfolk, and Oracle, then throws in a Last Kiss to finish the job. The Golem and Merfolk are sent to the boneyard (netting Sam +4 life from the Golem, and she’ll end the turn at 26). I draw a card from the Wurm, and it’s a Mammoth Umbra. I summon a Cudgel Troll, and pass.
For Sam’s part, she Unsummons the Troll, then stays on the attack coming in for 1. Passing back to me, I proceed to make a dreadful mistake. It’s now turn 9 and I have eight mana available to me. I figure I’ll go ahead and get the Gigantomancer in my hand out onto the board, even though I won’t have enough mana left over to activate his ability to save his own hide if Sam hits him with damage. The only direct damage spell she has in the deck is Last Kiss, and she’s already burned one. I decide to chance it, and play him and an Ornithopter from my hand and pass.
What I’d forgotten was the presence of a singleton Domestication, which Sam promptly uses to thieve my Gigantomancer. Had I waited for one more land drop, I’d have been able to activate it in response to make him a 7/7, breaking the spell’s hold on him (or, more likely, simply not had Sam cast it on him in the first place if he could activate). It’s a solid coup for Sam, who buffs her Sea Gate Oracle to a 7/7 and sends him in. I’m down to 11 life.
Vexed, I drop my Kor Spiritdancer, but use the Mammoth Umbra I was going to put on the Kor and cast it on the Gigantomancer instead, looking to amp his power to break Domesticate. Sam breaks my back with a timely Negate. Adding insult to injury, her turn 10 play is Telepathy. I take some consolation that she somehow manages to overlook my Righteousness as she makes her Oracle a 7/7 and swings in again. My righteous Ornithopter gobbles him up and Sam has a /facepalm moment. Still, with her board position she can easily afford one or two of those.
For turn 11, I lay a Spider Umbra on my Ornithopter, then swing in for 1. With Sam at 25 life, I follow up with the Cudgel Troll and pass. Sam’s turn is a blank, and it’s back to me.
On turn 14, I draw an Eland Umbra and put it on the Spiritdancer. Of all the Umbras this one’s the worst, and I’d beg for a Hyena Umbra right about now. I swing in with my Spiritdacer, Spider, Troll and Ornithopter. Sam blocks the Troll with her Wall, and neuters the Ornithopter for the turn with Fleeting Distraction, drawing a card for her troubles. She follows up with a Skywatcher Adept, taking it to L1.
The game is effectively over, but I’m stubborn. Turn 15 sees me play a Boar Umbra on my Spiritdancer. With the Eland Umbra, she’s now 7/13- just the right size for going back on the attack against Sam’s 7/7 Oracle. Sam Doom Blades her, dropping off the Eland Umbra and making her a mere 5/7. I stifle a few choice words and play a Soul’s Attendant, then pass. A terrible realisation siezes me in that moment, that I should have tried placing the Boar Umbra on the Gigantomancer to break Domestication. Sure, she could have then Doom Bladed it to remove the Totem Armor, but I would have liked to have given her the opportunity to make a mistake and overlook it. There’s no way it would have stuck back on my side of the board with removal in her hand, but at least she would not have managed to hold onto it. But it’s a thought that’s arrived too late.
Sam uses turn 16 on the offense, making her Adept a 7/7 and sending it in. I chump with the Ornithopter, which lives but loses its Spider Umbra. She plays Sphinx of Magosi, and passes. My turn’s a blank, then Sam activates the Sphinx and casts an Echo Mage. I take the +1 life from the Soul’s Attendant for the Mage (I overlooked it for the Sphinx), and manage to chump myself alive for one more turn, but the writing’s on the wall. I scoop.
After two turns of land-only for the both of us, I lead off turn 3 with a Sporecap Spider, while Sam manages a Coral Merfolk. Next turn I attack with the Spider for 1, then play a second Spider and an Ornithopter. So far, so good. For her part, Sam manages to bring out the Phantasmal Abomination.
Right on schedule, I have an Umbra to play on turn 5, and I augment the Ornithopter with the Mammoth variety, swinging in for 3. Sam replies with a Skywatcher Adept and Wall of Bone.
Next turn I chip 3 more life away with my vigiland Ornithoper, and Sam’s at 13 life. She returns with a Sphinx of Magosi, and as a precaution at the end of turn I burn excess mana for an Angel’s Mercy, taking me to 27. A topdecked Pacifism takes care of her Sphinx, though lamentably it still is able to act as a card-drawing engine for her. Again the Ornithopter presses the attack, dealing 3 more damage.
For her turn 7, Sam activates the Sphinx for the card draw, then raises her Adept to L1 before passing. I have an uneventful turn 8, taking Sam down to 7 with the ‘Thopter, then passing. Now Sam’s drawn an answer, and again it’s that frustrating Domestication. She steals my Ornithopter, then swings in with the Adept. I wonder if it’s a trick, but instead it’s an oversight- my two Spiders gobble him up.
Over to me for turn 9, I blank it and pass. Over to Sam, she swings in with the stolen Ornithopter, but it’s a bluff as I block with my Spider and she has no response. She does, however, bring out the Hada Spy Patrol, which she promptly levels to L1. I trot out an Elvish Visionary, while Sam follws up with an Enatu Golem. Just like that, the board’s restocked!
Now on turn 11, I’ve missed only two land drops and thus have a land free when I lay down my Gigantomancer- no way I’m risking the same mistake twice, even if she’s already used her Domestication. Sam draws another card off the neutered Sphinx, then swings in for 2 with the Patrol after leveling it to L2. I’m down to 25 life.
A slight misplay from Sam allows me to respond by pumping my Spiders and the Visionary to 7/7’s when she Doom Blades my Gigantomancer on my turn rather than at the end of hers, and I make her pay by sending all three charging into the red zone after placing a Boar Umbra on my stolen Ornitopter (making it unchumpable and breaking Domestication at the end of her next turn). She blocks one 7/7 Spider with the Enatu Golem, killing it and netting her 4 life. The Ornithopter and the other Spider bounce off one another, while she chumps the Visionary with her Abomination. No damage gets through, but she does lose two defenders.
Back to Sam, she plays Telepathy (making me reveal my one-card hand, Eland Umbra), then draws a card from the Sphinx and levels the Patrol to L3. Sending in the Patrol and the Ornithopter, she slams me for 9 damage, but by way of consolation Domestication breaks at the end of her turn and I get my Ornithopter back. Sam stalls for another turn, but never recovers.
Thoughts & Analysis
Sadly, I can only conclude that our initial insticts and impressions with Totem Power were on the mark. The deck was solidly disappointing all the way through. Despite some of my problems being self-inflicted due to play mistakes, the deck just didn’t have any solid, consistent threats or answers. Removal was a laugh, and drawing an early Gigantomancer was effectively mulliganing. I could be consoled on the latter part if the deck had a ramp strategy, but somewhat inexplicably someone at Wizards greenlighted an 8-casting-cost rare and opted not to give us any assistance in getting it out.
This is probably due to the slower nature of the decks themselves. The other decks we’ve reviewed thus far have tended to be slower, and Rise of the Eldrazi is a slower environment (especially in contrast to the blisteringly-quick Zendikar). But that’s really a poor excuse- playing something deliberately throttled to this extent is simply unfun. I’m not advocating that they should have included a playset of Rampant Growths here, but if there’s ramp in Eldrazi Arisen for its expensive ‘Battlecruisers,’ there’s little excuse for not having it here.
Hits: Gigantomancer has cool art that looks great in foil (Chippy ftw)
Misses: Deplorable removal suite; should have opted for Hyena Umbra over Eland; Gigantomancer inclusion not worth giganto-cost; little synergy with Totem Armor; better cheap flying options in White without resorting to Ornithopter; Angel’s Mercy and Harmless Assault are expensive spells that do nothing to further the deck’s needs
FINAL GRADE: 2.75/5.00