Worldwake: Brute Force Review (Part 1 of 2)
One of our oft-repeated problem with Zendikar’s preconstructed decks has been that the core set content was far too high- when close to half your cards are from Magic 2010, it’s a bit harder to get a feel for how Zendikar’s supposed to feel. Our other major complain was that the set’s mechanics were underrepresented. There was landfall to be certain, and Allies were championed in The Adventurers, but traps and quests were so absent as to be scarcely recognisable as a theme, let alone a major one.
In some ways, Worldwake addressed these imbalances, as we’ll see in Brute Force, a Red/Green beats deck and our last stop in the world of Worldwake, though it would not be until Scars of Mirrodin that a very visible break in the set’s funadamental composition became evident.
An Iron-Strong Bond
Moreso than most, Brute Force’s creature curve is a rather poor representation of what the deck actually does:
On the face of it, we appear to be looking at a deck optimised for the midgame, which frequently means that longer games can find its creatures quickly outclassed- especially if there’s a heavier component of utility creature available. However, when nearly 40% of your creatures have multikicker options, such conclusions can only be considered premature.
Three of these are of your straightforward “critter gets bigger” variety. A Skitter of Lizards, for instance, is a strictly better Raging Goblin, as unlike his tribal friend he has the ability to grow if played later in the game. The same applies for the Runeclaw Bear multikicker variant, Gnarlid Pack.
An observation included in our Flyover review bears revisiting here. There is a natural tendency to want to hoard multikicker critters until we can get “full value” out of them, rather than playing them unkicked. It’s important to remember that the flexibility these creatures offers comes at a price, and that cost is paid in efficiency. Let’s look at the Skitter of Lizards first.
Unkicked: 1 power-per-mana (PPM)
Kicked once: 0.67 PPM
Kicked twice: 0.60 PPM
Kicked three times: 0.57 PPM
Next, howabout that Gnarlid Pack?
Unkicked: 1 power-per-mana (PPM)
Kicked once: 0.75 PPM
Kicked twice: 0.67 PPM
Kicked three times: 0.63 PPM
The hypothetical “creature curve” most folks gauge new creatures on when assessing them (rightly or wrongly) is 1.0 PPM, so that tells you that- from this perspective- the longer you wait to cast them, the worse they are. This is true, but it must be weighted against a seperate fact that was not relevant for Flyover’s beaters: creatures without evasion are outclassed faster than creatures with it. Playtesting showed that dropping an unkicked Apex Hawks early was often the correct play. Circumstances will not be so kind to the Skitter of Lizards, who will often be nearly useless beginning turn 3.
There’s no right answer to this- you must play your multikicker creatures as circumstances permit, and strike that balance between having them underperform… and having them in your hand when you die. This speaks well to the decpetive elegance of the mechanic- multikicker is a far more subtle and skill-testing ability than it might at first appear.
Our last two creatures in this category belong to that other class of multikicker critters: ones that do extra stuff when you multikick them. Whether you kick your Wolfbriar Elemental five times or zero times, its PPM will always remain the same: 1.0, a 4/4 for four mana. Of course, if paying for a 2/2 Wolf token is a good deal (and it is!), it stands to reason that the more times you can pay it, the better a deal the transaction becomes. Alternately, if you’re just looking at straight burn damage, you could do worse than the Deathforge Shaman’s offer: Shocks to the face of your foe for the going rate of apiece. This isn’t quite as good a deal as the Elemental’s, but not for nothing the Elemental is one of your two rares and the Shaman, well, isn’t.
All in all, this begins to paint a picture of a deck with some existential tension within itself: beats decks want to win hard and relatively quickly. Why else would you be playing a 9/9 bruiser if you didn’t want to close the game out once it landed? By the same token, a lot of your cards are pulling you to go long. You almost begin to see elements of control appearing here: force the game to go long, then once you have the proper mana base let the deck “go off” and pound your opponent with an unrelenting stream of beats.
Certainly the deck is equipped for this. There’s the aforementioned 9/9 bruiser, Terastodon, which can bring along a trio of little elephant buddies with him. The versatility here is fantastic, as you can easily trade a trio of your lands for tokens, or in a pinch you can even destroy an opponent’s noncreature threat- a land, an enchantment- even a Planeswalker!
Eight mana is no mean feat, so the inclusion of a Greenweaver Druid and pair of Borderland Rangers are perfect here. From there you have a gaggle of midrange threats- Goblin Roughrider, Leatherback Baloth, and the obligatory Giant Spider, plus an early novelty in the form of the Grappler Spider.
From the creature side, the deck appears rather thoughtfully assembled. Of course, creatures often live or die on the support they get, so let’s next look and see how the deck backs them up.
Get a Little More for Your Mana
Chandra may have appreciated consumer retail value, but she was no economist- five mana for Rumbling Aftershocks is no bargain, and indeed it problably penalises Brute Force more than it helps it. You’ll occasionally get some value out of its multikicker provision, but more often you’ll be drawing it in your opening hand or early in the game, and staring at it for a good long time.
The good news is that the rest of the support is somewhat solid, and far more reasonably priced. There’s a gaping hole where the removal should be, consisting entirely of a pair of Lightning Bolts, but beats decks have an advantage over swarm strategies in that their creatures tend to do the outclassing. In other words, if a 3/3 is the biggest thing you’ve got, you are absolutely dependant upon removal to clear the path and get your critters through. On the other hand, if you’re the guy playing 4/4’s and 5/5’s, your creatures in a sense are the removal. Thats’ not to let Brute Force off the hook complete- far from it- but it does illustrate that the lack of a real burn package here is somewhat mitigated by the threats you’ll be deploying onto the board.
An Overrun, two Giant Growths and a Canopy Cover are just the sort of cards you’d want in a beats deck, while Act of Treason is always a solid surprise tactic. Whether it be to get in some extra damage with their main beater or just to remove a particularly nettlesome defender, you’ll seldom be at a loss to put it to good use.
Finally, the pair of Vastwood Zendikons are pricey, but twin Craw Wurms aren’t a bad tradeoff later in the game to keep the pressure on. Unfortunately, that clogs up the back-end of the deck, which means you’re going to have plenty of games where you’ve essentially mulliganed yourself from the get-go, so this must be taken into account. Here’s how the final mana curve for the deck shakes out:
In an otherwise soundly-constructed deck, will that precipitously heavy back-end provide too much of a handicap? Join us next time when we take the deck into battle and find out for ourselves!