Mirrodin: Little Bashers Review (Part 1 of 2)
The “little bashers” that comprise this deck have a proud lineage that returned- albeit in a cameo form- for Scars of Mirrodin: creatures that are designed to work hand-in-glove with Equipment. The Sunspear Shikari and Kemba, Kha Regent were the lonely representatives in White for a much broader theme present in the original Mirrodin, and the Goblin Gaveleer flew the standard in Red, but that was about it. It wasn’t that the concept was a bad one, but rather that it was sidelined to make way for a new mechanic: metalcraft. White and Red are filled with instances of this keyword, but the Mirrodin we’re visiting takes us back to a time before metalcraft even existed. Creatures had to interact with artifacts is a much more literal sense, and it is that interaction that is the power behind Little Bashers.
Bashers is a straightforward, mono-White weenie-style deck with an Equipment component, and however ridiculous its name it can’t be accused of false advertising: what you see is exactly what you get. Twenty-five creatures, some Equipment, and a splash of noncreature support and you’re off to the races! We’ll begin our review with the “bashers” themselves.
The First to Risk their Lives
Little Bashers has the expected aggressive mana curve. Without a single card in the deck costing more than four mana, the early game is where this deck will do most of its heavy lifting, settign up a fast, steady barrage of weenies that will be punching above their weight thanks to the abundant Equipment you’ll have laying about. Some will fall, sure, and just like the heroic yet ill-equipped Red Army, you’ll pick the weapon out of a fallen soldier’s hands, thrust it into the next of his fellows, and send him headlong towards the enemy. Do this often enough and well enough, and victory should come in short order. Falter, and give your opponent the luxury of time to get established, and you might well find that you lack enough fuel in the tank to make it to the top of the hill. Here’s the creature curve:
Few surprises here! In the one-drop slot you have a pair of more defensively-minded creatures in a pair of Auriok Transfixers. In the mix to lock down an opponent’s artifacts, they’re equally adept at robbing your foe of a useful utility artifact as they are clearing an artifact creature out of the path of your attackers. Aside from them and a pair of Gold Myr, however, most everything else in the deck will be far more offensively-minded.
As you can see, the two-drop slot is heavily loaded- you’ll almost never want for a play on turn 2, and that gives you the right mix to be able to double up summons as early as turn 3 (if you land a mana Myr on turn 2 and hit your third land drop on schedule). The beaters in this slot come in four flavours. The bread and butter are your Leonin Den-Guards, as the deck carries a full playset. As the name implies, they carry a small defensive component with their asymmetrical power/toughness and potential vigilance, but a 2/3 vigilant body is great for both ends of the red zone. The two Auriok Bladewardens might be small in size (1/1), but make good targets for power-boosting equipment thanks to their activated ability. This sort of reusable Giant Growth has proven to be very useful in this sort of deck, because it keeps the brittle Bladewarden out of the red zone while still giving it a very useful role to play.
The Auriok Steelshaper is one of the deck’s two rares, and he has something of a lordling’s ability: equip him, and your Soldiers and Knights get a +1/+1 boost. Since msot of your bashers fall into one of those two subtypes, he’ll never be out of place. The discount on equip costs for all equipment comes in handy as well. Finally, a pair of Leonin Skyhunters give you a cheap air presence early on, and can even act as finishers if the red zone starts to thicken up. Again- great targets for Equipment, which is a cadence you’ll hear repeated over and over in discussing Little Bashers.
The Skyhunters are far from your only evasive options- a trio of Skyhunter Cubs in the three-drop slot are your air-foce-in-waiting. A 2/2, they become 3/3 flyers once equipped, and that’s before any bonuses the Equipment add to them. Two Slith Ascendant not only fly, but each time they successfully damage your opponent in combat, they grow permanently bigger (a feature of the Slith creature type). They’re a bit pricey at three mana for a 1/1, but will be a somewhat conditional play. If your opponent is playing a Skies deck, you might try a different angle in the critical early turns.
The other four three-drops consist of a pair each of the Myr Adapter and Soldier Replica. The Adapters suffer a similar fate as the Slith- they’re 1/1’s for three mana, never a good deal. They’re also Equipment-dependent, and their ability tends towards the greedy side- benefitting from more equipment, they’ll tempt you to overload them. Unless they obtain trample (which they can in this deck), it’s a balance you’ll need to work out on the battlefield. The Soldier Replicas- like many of the replicas both past and present- are narrow, ersatz removal. The upside is that they don’t require tapping to be activated, so they can be used to clear out a nuisome early defender on the spot, should you have five mana available.
As we move into the four-drop top of the mana curve, we see a familiar dynamic on steroids in the Loxodon Punisher, the deck’s other rare. Like the Myr Adapter, he’s a bad deal (a 2/2) that gets a cumulative bonus for each equip. As a quick aside, we’ll mention here the noted podcast Limited Resources, when evaluating new cards, apply what they call the “vanilla test.” Disregarding any and all special abilities, is the creature a good deal for its cost? If yes, then the abilities are something of a bonus. If no, then you have to take a close look at the abilities and see if they’re relevant. The Punisher is a great example of this, because he’ll require a little effort to actually be “good.” Given that the deck carries eight Equipment, chances are good that you’ll have something around when he arrives on-scene, but the inherent tension in Little Bashers is that everyone wants Equipment, but there’s only so much of it to go around. If you have too many cards that are “bad when unequipped/really good when equipped,” that might work out well for one or two of them, but then you’re left with an army of runts and overpriced gadabouts.
The final two cards are a limited tutor in Taj-Nar Swordsmith, and one last flyer in the Skyhunter Patrol. The Patrol is very straightforward- a 2/3 flying first-striker, nothing revolutionary there. The Swordsmith bears further notice, however, as he answers two problems you’ll often see in aggressive decks. First, aggressive decks typically peak early, meaning that you’ve got a lot of mana sitting around doing nothing towards the later stages of the game. The Swordsmith gives you a very useful fetch, essentially letting you cast an Equipment from anywhere in your library.
The other problem the Swordsmith addresses is momentum. The downside of peaking early is that you start to lose ground once the opponent clings on long enough to drop midgame answers to your early-game threats. The card advantage offered by the Swordsmith gives you a little extra dose in the tank, to enable your conditional bashers to upgrade to their “equipped version” sooner and get in for the last bits of damage needed. Aggro players know that the tipping point of their success or failure is usually indivated on the first turn when they pass without attacking. The Swordsmith can well delay that moment, and help get you there. An excellent card for this deck.
Pain and Atonement
The bulk of the noncreature support, as you might have guessed, is in its Equipment. Aside from those, it has two cards for creature removal (Arrest), some artifact/enchantment hate in the form of a pair of Altar’s Lights, and one combat trick (Roar of the Kha). As is often the case with such decks, you’ll be expected to do the bulk of your removing through creature combat.
The Equipment runs the gamut from the simple to the intricate. Twin Leonin Scimitars are cheap to play and equip, and similarly the bonus they grant is minimal. The Bonesplitters are almost identical, but gives +2/+0 instead of +1/+1. The minor bonuses can help, but the biggest benefit to these four cards are simply the fact that they’re Equipment.
Your final four are all singletons. The Viridian Longbow turns any creature into a pinger. The guide insert that comes with the deck extols the virtue of chaining pings to kill off bigger creatures, but to be frank if you’re blowing 6-9 mana and tapping down 2-3 creatures to deal three points of damage, if that damage isn’t finishing off your opponent then you’ve probably already lost. It’s a cute trick, but won’t often be useful. Where the Longbow will shine is in targeting utility dorks. These creatures tend to have a toughness in the 1-2 range, and aren’t often committed to battle by your opponent, making them very difficult to kill (Green decks have the same problem). The Longbow passed from a Soldier or two might be just the ticket here.
The Fireshrieker grants double strike, while the Loxodon Warhammer– an uncommon in Mirrodin since promoted to a rare in all subsequent printings of the card- offers up trample and lifelink. Finally, the Banshee’s Blade starts out useless (and expensive), but is a good one to use on even your smaller evasive creatures. If they can get in a few times before being neutralised, building up charge counters all the while- you can then put the sword in the hands of one of your ground creatures and start thinning out the opposition by forcing chump-blocks. Because it costs four mana to do almost nothing (except simply be an Equipment), it won’t always be a card you’re particularly happy to draw- especially when behind or stalled.
That’s all we have for Little Bashers today- an aggressive slice of mono-White Weenie with a twist. In our next feature, we’ll be back to assess the deck after taking it into battle.