Planeshift: Comeback Review (Part 2 of 2)
Eager to play our first game of Planeshift, I have little problem calling Sam to the battlefield with the prospect of piloting the Red/Green Barrage. We’ve all been playing a ton of games with modern-era decks as late, working our way towards a winner for the 2009-10 Preconstructed Championships, so we’re excited at the opportunity to take some classic decks for a spin. I’m behind Comback, and here are our match notes.
Sam leads off with a Forest, putting it to immediate use to trot out a Thornscape Apprentice. I’m equally aggressive, landing a Faerie Squadron (unkicked, of course) off my Island. Back to Sam, it’s a Mountain and a Nomadic Elf, while I add a Tidal Visionary after drawing first blood with the Faeries.
Next turn Sam has nothing to play, but does come in for 2 with her weenies. I tap the Island for mana, then play Dromar’s Cavern, returning the Island to hand. Tapping out, I lay down a Planeswalker’s Scorn for a dose of control, then turn it over to Sam. I hold back from the attack, seeing if I can dissuade Sam from attacking and risking a trade for a useful mana filterer. Sam then drops a Fertile Ground on her Mountain, and ignores my attempt at detente, coming in for 2 more. After swinging in with the Faeries for another point, I deploy the Cavern Harpy, returning my Visionary to hand.
Turn 5, and the creatures keep coming. Sam gets out a Thunderscape Familiar, and swings for 2. I attack for 3 with my Faeries and Harpy, then trigger the Scorn. I’m in luck! I reveal a Flametongue Kavu from her hand, dealing 4 damage to her Thornscape Familiar, more then enough to kill it. Its’s a 15-14 game.
Sam keeps up the attack, coming in for 2 more the turn following. She then blasts my Dromor’s Cavern with Implode, a most nettlesome play. I return fire for 3, then engage the Scorn again. Revealing the Flametongue Kavu again, Sam’s Nomadic Elf heads for the graveyard.
Things begin to escalate on turn 7 when Sam summons a Sparkcaster, pinging me for 1 point and returning her Apprentice to hand. She then replays the Apprentice. Hoping to snipe the Sparky, I trigger the Scorn, but whiff when she reveals a Scorching Lava, not doing enough damage to kill it. I’ve enjoyed the kills it’s gotten so far, but paying four mana for no effect is still painful. I console myself by attacking with the Faeries, and the game is tied at 11.
At last Sam casts the Flametongue Kavu, and she kills my poor Faeries with it’s enters-the-battlefield blast. She then follows that up with an attack by the Sparkcaster, and I block with the Cavern Harpy, paying 1 life and unsummoning it back to my hand after declaring it as a blocker. For my part, I cast a Hunting Drake, and use its ability to put the Sparkcaster on top of Sam’s library.
Now turn 9, Sam attacks with the Flametongue Kavu, and I get punished for sloppy play. Happy to trade out the Kavu for my Drake, I declare it as a blocker, only to have Sam engage the Apprentice to give the Kavu first strike. I grumble as I put it in the graveyard, but I’ve none but myself to blame. I console myself when I manage to reveal Sparky to kill the Kavu when I engage the Scorn on my turn. I then drop a Sisay’s Ingenuity on the Tidal Visionary just to cantrip the card.
Sam resummons the Sparkcaster on turn 10, and I’m hit for another point of damage. I then drop a Plains, cast a pair of Stormscape Familiars and deploy a Marsh Crocodile at a spiffy discount. I pitch a Mana Cylix, Sam reluctantly places Scorching Lava into her graveyard.
Next turn, she casts Battery and places a 3/3 creature token into play, but declines to attack. I play a Silver Drake (returning a Familiar), then recast the Familiar.
Another Flametongue Kavu comes out on turn 12, and kills my Marsh Croc. I try and reassert the stalemate by killing the Kavu, triggering my Planeswalker’s Scorn once my turn rolls around, but I whiff again with an Explosive Growth. Back to Sam, she brings out a Horned Kavu, returning the Flametongue to hand, then recasts the Flametongue to kill my Drake. Closing for the kill, she swings in with Sparky and the 3/3 token. I chump Sparky with my Tidal Visionary, but the token takes me down to 6.
I try and stabilise with another Silver Drake (returning a Familiar) and a Cavern Harpy, but it’s not enough. Next turn Sam rolls in with everything, and has enough to get the job done.
On the play, I land another turn 1 Faerie Squadron, then pass back to Sam. Just land for her, I then nick her with the Faeries for 1 and end my second turn. This time, she’s on the board with a Gaea’s Herald. Still, I get in with the Faeries on turn 3, then summon a Cavern Harpy.
Sam tries to claw back some momentum with an Alpha Kavu. Back to me on turn 4, I swing in for 2 with the Harpy then replay the Faeries I’d returned when I played the Harpy. For her part, Sam manages to land a Thornscape Apprentice, and attacks for 2 with her Kavu. I’m now at 18 life.
With Sam defenseless in the air, I send in the Faeries and Harpy and tag her for 3, then summon Guard Dogs. She gets off the much-hated Sparkcaster (returning her Familiar), then passes back to me. I’m in for 3 more before I summon a Waterspout Elemental. With momentum clearly on my side, Sam’s resummoned Thornscape Apprentice is too little, too late.
She manages to blunt my attack on turn 8 when she Singes the Harpy, forcing me to recall it to hand and play 1 life, but she still takes 4 from my attack. Then I close with a Phyrexian Bloodstock, and pass back to her. She manages to Implode my Coastal Tower, but it’s all the fight that’s left in her. My attack takes her to 2 the next turn, and she scoops after drawing nothing to help.
Unlike the previous two, this game starts out a bit slow. By turn 5 Sam’s managed a Gaea’s Herald and Mogg Jailer. For my part, I’ve hit my land drops, but have nothing to show for it. Sadly, Sam’s hit all of hers, too, and on turn 5 she brings out the Sparkcaster (returning the Jailer). By the end of her turn I’m already at 15 life. I look to stabilise when I summon a Waterspout Elemental, but it falls prey to Sam’s summoned Flametongue Kavu immediately after. Sam swings in for 6, and I’m down to 9.
Desperate to have something stick, I play a turn 6 Vodalian Merchant (drawing a Swamp and pitching a Hunting Drake), then play a turn 7 Marsh Crocodile after Sam blanks her turn. The Croc sees me both return and pitch my Vodalian Mage- everything in my hand is just too vital at the moment. Sam chucks an Alpha Kavu.
Sam retaliates with a barrage of critters the turn following, with an unkicked Llanowar Elite, Mogg Jailer, and Kavu Recluse. She then puts on the pressure, attacking with her Sparkcaster and Flametongue Kavu. I trade the Croc for Sparky, but the Kavu’s in for 4. I’m in trouble.
Fortunately, I’m not without options, and I next cast a Stormscape Battlemage with kicker, killing Sam’s Flametongue Kavu. Sam draws, then passes, another merciful blank. Desperate for some cushion, I then play an Honorable Scout, netting 4 life from Sam’s two Red critters. I’m back up to 9, and am closing in on a nasty combo to lock down the board- I just need a little time and more mana.
Sam blanks again for turn 10, and I take full advantage. I trot out a Sawtooth Loon, pulling back my Battlemage. I draw two cards, keep a Coastal Tower that appears, but flush away a Harpy and a Croc. I have another Harpy in hand, but the Croc I just can’t see coming out- every last card in hand is critical, and I can’t afford to pitch a one.
After still another quiet turn from Sam, who only manages a Thornscape Familiar, I recast the Battlemage with kicker and kill off the Familiar. All she can manage the next turn is Fires of Yavimaya, but now I’ve got the mana I need. I cast the Cavern Harpy, returning the Battlemage back to hand, then recast the Battlemage. Again, paying the Black kicker lets me snipe off her Kavu Recluse, and the combo lock is drawing tight. I’ll be able to pull the Harpy back to hand each round, and in the same turn I can unsummon and recast the Battlemage. Essentially, my combo trades 1 life to destroy a critter, a bargain of a price. Meanwhile, now secure on the board I’m starting to send in my Loon, nicking her for 2, then adding in the Harpy. Each turn swinging in for 4, recalling and recasting the Harpy, and recalling/recasting the Battlemage. After getting one more land drop, I even start paying the White kicker, adding 3 life a round.
The most she can manage is a small act of defiance, casting a Horned Kavu to return her Llanowar Elite to hand, recasting them with kicker and sending them in with Haste from her enchantment. She then sacs the Fires to add +2/+2 to the Elite, knocking me for 8. By this point, that takes me down to 9, and she has no answers.
Thoughts & Analysis
It seems the modern era’s preconstructed deck (“intro pack”) has strayed some distance from this model, and more’s the pity. The generic formula is creature base + spell support + mechanical theme and voila! You have a deck. Perhaps I’m just waxing nostalgic for the old days, but they just seem to take fewer chances than they have in the past. That’s not to say the ol’ beatdown model is foreign to earlier theme decks, but on occasion you’d find a deck like Comeback which was somewhat unconventional in its approach.
The premise of this deck is quite simple- toggle between gating and enters-the-battlefield critters to have a stream of spell-like effects, and it seemed to work quite well. The Harpy/Battlemage combo, while requiring 8 mana to pull off each turn, was particularly insidious, especially against Sam’s creature-based deck. But it still frequently presented me with options and avenues. I might just as easily have tried to keep recurring the Croc, using a discard-based control to keep Sam’s options limited. Or pulled myself out of the bing by bouncing between the Honorable Scout and the Sawtooth Loon. With the Harpy, a one-off combo can become a repeating cycle.
If there are weaknesses, it is those common to this sort of intricate controllish strategy- namely, a weakness against aggro. The deck has few defensive options to keep it alive in the early-to-mid transition, but I’m not so sure I object. Having synergies between the different cards seemed to aid the deck better.
Hits: Well-constructed theme that is highly supported by card choices; strong synergies between cards; ample mana base development through solid nonbasic lands; Cavern Harpy is the turbo boost of the deck (synergy with Ravenous Rats is absolutely filthy)
Misses: Vulnerable to early rushes, has few answers until mid-game
FINAL GRADE: 4.6/5.0
There are still precons out there that function on synergy. Assemble The Doomsday Machine is a good example, with all sorts of crazy shenanigans to do with cards like Unbender Tine and Master Transmuter. Tezzeret’s deck has some similar things going on as well.
Interesting aside… when I spoke of successful precon characteristics in last week’s Magic Beyond the Box on QuietSpeculation.com, I used ‘Metallic Dreams’ as an example of exceptional synergy. Note that the one I listed and the two you name here… all three are artifact-based.
It’s not that hard to find synergies with artifacts … ever since and especially since the Mirrodin block they have had a tradition of “crazy shenanigans” with counters, either +1/+1 or charge ones …
Another family of synergies would be tapping/untapping in WU decks such as seen in the recently reviewed Azorious precon. And there’s the Merfolk deck of Lorwyn that displays an even stronger commitment to this theme. It would be quite fun reviewing this one and the mentioned WU-tapping in general. What remembers me of the fact that we already had a review of Tempest’s Deep Freeze applying a similar tactic …