Mirrodin Besieged: Mirromancy Review (Part 1 of 2)
One of the landmark early theme decks released for 1998’s Stronghold was so staggeringly different from the precon decks of today that it’s almost hard to imagine a deck like it being produced for the modern game. The Sparkler was a Red/Blue deck best remembered for one defining characteristic- within its box you found a Mogg Fanatic, a Wall of Tears, a Wall of Razors… and nothing more. A grand total of three creatures. Of course, that left plenty of room for the burn (Lightning Blast, Shock), countermagic (Power Sink, Spell Blast) and general chicanery (Reins of Power, Intruder Alarm) and everything else. It was a bold and daring move, and created a very memorable and exciting deck.
It’s difficult to say whether or not you could get away with such a departure form the norm in today’s environment. Creatures in particular have come a long way since Tempest/Stronghold, and The Sparkler would certainly be under noticeably more pressure from the beefier modern beater. Most preconstructed decks have fallen into the familiar, comforting pattern of creature base with noncreature support. This formula is so entrenched in design that when a deck comes along that challenges it- even slightly- it’s a genuine occasion.
While a high point for the game, Zendikar block was a real low point for the preconstructed scene. Suboptimal card selection, the lame 41-card deck format, and overreliance on Core Set inclusions marred what should have been a strong assortment of offerings. As we noted in the Scars of Mirrodin deck reviews, Wizards seems to have recognised some of the shortcomings from previous sets, and set about to address them. The decks of Scars were surprisingly strong and consistent- no Friday Night Magic powerhouses, of course, but decks that represented their set and mechanics well, and evoked the feel and themes of Scars of Mirrodin. From artifact love to artifact hate, from infect to proliferate to the tribal Myr, the decks- while hit and miss- were a very solid success, and augered well for the developments of the future.
And so we begin our review of the highly anticipated Mirrodin Besieged with a modern deck boasting a rather retro feel, Mirromancy. For while you’ll not see the like of The Sparkler again, Mirromancy is a distant descendant, a construction where spells matter just as much as creatures. And no matter how the deck plays out (as we’ll soon find out), this development in and of itself is welcome.
Aid in This Struggle
Mirromancy’s creatures are not the most overwhelming lot of beaters you’ll find, but the deck attepts to have a certain utility with regards to their selection. Unsurprisingly, the curve begins with a trio of mana Myr- two Iron and a Silver– for some always-useful ramp options. The deck has no shortage of end-game card options and indeed includes an X-spell as one of its Rares, so extra mana will seldome be wasted here. Beyond that, it boasts a fairly consistent curve:
Although indulging in a fondness for those with special abilities in the midgame, as we’ll see there are still solid options at the end of the curve.
In your three-drop slot you have pairings of Blisterstick Shaman, Koth’s Couriers and Neurok Commandos. The Shaman is not a great steal at three mana, for his frail 2/1 body dies to almost anything. His upside is that he pings for a point of damage upon entering the battlefield, which is just the ticket for dealing with nuisance utility creatures like Embersmiths. The Neurok Commando is the latest iteration of the iconic Thieving Magpie, a card archetype which has its adherents. The shroud is a mixed bag here, for it prevents you from using spells and effects to help make blocking the Commando more difficult. Like the Shaman, the one toughness means that it is quite frail, and later in the game an opponent might well find a new use for that old mana Myr that’s just been sitting around when you swing in with the Commando.
Finally we have the Koth’s Courier. A solid option against Green decks, the Courier is not as exciting without Forests to traipse through, though it bears mentioning that in the set’s creature format, three toughness can block a lot of things. The Courier has a part to play, and can serve as a passable defender while you try and assemble the other moving parts of your deck.
From there things get a little bit more durable. The pair of Peace Striders aren’t much to get worked up over, but a 3/3 for four colourless is a solid deal when you toss in a dollop of lifegain. The two Ogre Resisters are stronger still, adding a point of power in exchange for the demands of coloured mana. And while we frown on the inclusion of Magic 2011 cards here, the singleton Fire Servant is a welcome addition in a deck that contains a delightful eight sources of instant or sorcery damage in Red.
At the top end of the curve we have a rather expensive pair of Lumengrid Gargoyles as closers. Don’t let the pricetag throw you- these two are very much worth the slot here as 4/4’s in the air are quite difficult to deal with. Given the abundant sources of removal here, unless you’ve completely squandered them there should be little difficulty in clearing an air lane for them to operate in against all but the most skies-intensive deck. You don’t want to draw them early, but you do want to draw them.
Finally, that brings us to Galvanoth. No bargain at five mana for a 3/3, the Galvanoth nevertheless possess a very intriguing ability- the prospect of a free instant or sorcery every upkeep. In a deck where over half of the nonland cards fall into that category, there’s the potential for some very solid card advantage here if deployed early enough. It’s been noted that there exists a fundamental incompatability between Galvanoth and Red Sun’s Zenith, as casting the Zenith through Galvanoth would deal no damage. While that’s true, closer inspection of the wording notes that the two cards mesh just fine. There are two crucial distinctions at work here. First, Galvanoth lets you look at rather than reveal. Second, the play-for-free ability is a may ability. If you see Red Sun’s Zenith through Galvanoth, you need do nothing but simply put it back on your library and draw it when your draw step arrives. The ability is all-upside.
Naturally, the Galvanoth needs a deck to be built around him to maximise his utility. Next, we’ll examine the noncreature cards.
Flame Doesn’t Kneel
There is not a single artifact or enchantment in all the rest of the deck- indeed, they’re all either sorceries or instants, and can be broadly divided into four categories.
First, there’s the glorious burn suite. Long accustomed to decks with just a smattering of it, to find so much crammed in here is a weclome treat. You have your bolt-style burn in a Lightning Bolt and two Arc Trails; a pair of Lava Axes for damage to your opponent; a couple of curveballs in the landkilling Melt Terrain and anti-Infect card Burn the Impure; and crowning them all the new Disintegrate, Red Sun’s Zenith.
Of these, Lava Axe is perhaps the most tired. There are so many other solid burn spells available that these two beg to be cut. Their saving graces- such as they are- come from the potential for massive damage through the Fire Servant, or paying their bloated cost for free through Galvanoth. The others, however, are very solid inclusions, though your mileage may vary on the more niche-focus cards like Burn the Impure.
Delightfully, the removal doesn’t end there. There’s a miser’s copy of Crush for some artifact smashing, and a pair of Quicksilver Geysers. Like the Lava Axes, the Geysers carry a high pricetag, but unlike Unsummon they’re not limited to creatures. Whether used for a tempo advantage by clearing out a couple of your opponents’ most expensive cards, setting up a lane through the red zone, or even bringing back one of your own creatures to be recast free from -1/-1 counters, the versatility is certainly there.
Next up we have library and card-drawing shenanigans, and Magic 2011 gets its turn on the catwalk here. Two Call to Minds, two Foresees and a Preordain give you plenty of ways to refill your hand and improve card quality. That the set contains so much M11 is something of a disappointment, but to be fair this is the most integrated inclusion found in the block thus far. These cards feel like ones you’d want in this deck if you were making it from scratch.
Finally, we have some combat trickery with a Turn the Tide, a Rally the Forces, and a Sleep. Turn the Tide is rubbish here, as you’d much rather something to incapacitate instead of temporarily blunt, but Rally the Forces can be a solid finishing move with enough creatures on the board. Sleep is a gem of a spell, and is virtually a win condition all its own in the later game.
Here’s what the combined mana curve for the deck looks like:
Although not without some reservations regarding some card selections as well as the Magic 2011 content, it’s been a little while since we’ve been this excited to play a preconstructed deck. The harkening back to The Sparkler after so many creature-centric offerings is very promising, but we won’t know until we sleeve it up and take it for a spin whether or not the deck actually works. Join us in two days’ time to find out!