Planeshift: Barrage Review (Part 2 of 2)
Christmas Day, and Santa’s been kind. With a mostly quiet house Jimi and I sat down over tea to hash out the last visit to Planeshift, and it was to be a lesson in endurance.
The set had started off with decks of surprising quality- it was purely happenstance that we happened to have reviewed them first, and we could be forgiven for having similar expactations for Scout and Barrage. Alas, we weren’t so lucky- Scout played poorly, and Barrage looked worse. With Jimi piloting the former, I looked to the latter to get there.
After some early Forests on both sides and on the play, I have a promising lead in a turn 2 Fertile Ground which ramps me into a turn 3 Root Greevil. Jimi has a nice spread of lands as well, with a Forest, Mountain, and Geothermal Crevice by turn 3, and a Viashino Grappler to show for her labours.
On turn 4, I Singe the Grappler to clear a path for my Greevil, then follow up with a Horned Kavu (gating the Greevil back to hand) and a Nomadic Elf. Jimi responds with an Amphibious Kavu, then passes back. I keep the pressure on with an attack from the Kavu, then recast the Greevil. Jimi’s now at 15 life, and builds her defenses with a Horned Kavu of her own, gating the Amphibious one.
I send in the Horned Kavu on turn 6, and Jimi blocks with her own. I hate to blow a Magma Burst, but the strat for this deck is to be aggressive early and I need that 3/4 body out of there. Jimi responds with a Singe, and both our Kavus head to the graveyard. On her turn, she recasts the Amphibious Kavu.
Next turn, I attack with both my Elf and the Greevil. Happy to hinder my mana options, Jimi accepts trading the Elf for her Kavu, but the Greevil gets past for 2. One her turn, she plays an Ancient Kavu then passes. I lay down a Thunderscape Familiar, then Jimi gets her first mark of the game when her Ancient Kavu nicks me for 3.
That gives me an opening, though, when I cast the Serpentine Kavu and give it haste, sending it in along with the team. Jimi Magma Bursts the Greevil down, but my Apprentice and Kavu still slice in for 5, taking her to 8. Jimi retaliates with an attack of her own (leaving me at 14), then deploying a Thunderscape Battlemage with kicker to destroy my Fertile Ground. This is painful not because I need the colour fixing, but rather I have a Llanowar Elite in my hand and have been trying to climb to 9 mana to cast him with kicker. Losing that enchantment hurts.
Turn 10, and I’m in for 4 with the Serpentine Kavu. Jimi chumps the Battlemage and takes no damage. I have six mana in play, and with the Familiar I have out I’ve got an endgame strategy, weak as it is: cast and recast the Sparkcaster, using its gating ability to keep returning itself to my hand. This puts Jimi on a four-turn clock. Despite a few late entrants like the Slingshot Goblin and Mirrorwood Treefolk, she ultimately has no answer.
Jimi gets off to a promising enough start here, with two Forests and a Rith’s Grove by turn 3, along with a Thornscape Familiar. Still, I’m able to get some early licks in with a first-turn Thunderscape Apprentice, which is followed by a turn 2 Gaea’s Herald and turn 3 Kavu Recluse.
A Nomadic Elf lends its sword to Jimi’s cause on turn 4, while I keep pushing my critters into the red zone. Jimi’s now at 15 life, and before I end my turn I play an Alpha Kavu and Singe her Thornscape Familiar.
In revenge, Jimi Singes my Apprentice, then swings in with the Elf. A plan developing, I sieze upon the opportunity and gladly trade my Alpha Kavu to kill her mana filter. Aside from the Rith’s Grove, Jimi’s thus far manages only Forests, and I sense a vulnerability I can exploit.
After swinging back in for 3, I Implode her Rith’s Grove and strand her on Green mana. It’s a 12-20 game. A touch on tilt, she manages an Amphibious Kavu and passes. I keep the pressure on with more creatures, adding a Thornscape Familiar and Mogg Sentry to the fray. When my turn next comes and I draw into a Flametongue Kavu to kill her lone defender, swinging in for 6 in the process, Jimi allows herself one more draw before scooping.
A slower start this time, while we both establish our mana bases. Jimi’s is much more stable, while mine is perfectly adequate for this two-colour deck. I manage a turn-2 Thornscape Familiar, and follow it up next turn with another of the Thunderscape variety, using its discount to cheat out a Nomadic Elf.
Now on turn 4, Jimi drops another of her deck’s steaming piles onto the table: Slingshot Goblin. It’s not long for this world, though, as I hit it with Scorching Lava to get it out of my way, letting me swing with the team for 5 (leaving Jimi at 13 after a few early nibbles). A Thunderscape Apprentice comes down, and I pass back to Jimi.
Jimi draws a Zap, and takes the opportunity to use it to kill the Apprentice while he’s still summoning sick and unable to save himself from dying to it. It’s a good play, but all she can manage before passing. I swing in for 4, then drop a Fertile Ground onto a Mountain. I finish by adding a Mogg Sentry. Back to Jimi, her turn 6 is a total blank. Meanwhile, I’m swinging for the fences again, but this time Jimi has a trick- a Rith’s Charm drops a trio of 1/1 Saprolings into play, and she uses them to kill off my Apprentice and Nomadic Elf. Still, enough get through to leave her at 4 life. I play a Horned Kavu, gating and then recasting a Thunderscape Familiar.
Still, she manages to rally a bit with a turn-7 Thornscape Battlemage, whose kicker snipes my Thunderscape Familiar. With her on the ropes, though, I go in with everything the next turn. Jimi takes a gamble and blocks the Mogg, letting the Kavu in and leaving herself at 1 life.
Her turn 8 is a blank, and it looks like she’s circling the drain when I go in on turn 8. Instead, she casts a Fleetfoot Panther (gating her Battlemage), and safely blocks the Kavu. Next turn, she sends in her Panther to take me to 17 from 20, then casts a Sunscape Battlemage. Figuring she’ll use it to chump with, I attack again with my Kavu. Instead, Jimi hits the Panther with Gerrard’s Command, killing my Kavu. I am now creatureless.
Jimi swings hard for 5 on turn 10, then plays a Nomadic Elf followed by a Quirion Explorer. Playing off the top of my library, I topdeck a useless Fertile Ground. In for 8 damage the turn following, Jimi seals the deal with a pair of unkicked Battlemages- the Thornscape and Thunderscape. I draw a land, and scoop. Not a bad result for Scout- stabilising a 1-20 game and killing me in 4 turns.
Thoughts & Analysis
As expected, Barrage is the li’l aggro deck that couldn’t. As always, don’t be fooled by the two wins it was able to pull off. Rather, what’s more important is the manner in which it won. There was no hyper-aggressive storming of the trenches here, though things did manage to come together somewhat in Game Two while Jimi was somewhat hampered by mana. Successful aggro depends upon efficient creatures, and Barrage just doesn’t have enough of them.
What it does have is a lot of cutesy tricks and extraneous baggage that seems to mark many of the cards of this era. A defense of Barrage might be credibly mounted in the following fashion: if you look at the available card pool for this deck, it’s not quite as bad as it looks. My retort would be that while there is merit there- a search for Green and Red critters on Gatherer bears this out- the relative paucity of quality aggro critters means that an aggro deck should not have been attempted. This set shines where it’s natual slower play and intricate mechanics are able to flourish. Trying to cobble together an aggro version of a relatively un-agrro set was probably a misstep.
Hits: The modest burn suite is poor, but solid enough by the standards of the set; good mana curve
Misses: Almost everything else
FINAL GRADE: 2.95/5.00