New Phyrexia: Feast of Flesh Review (Part 1 of 2)
And so it has come to this. After months of secrecy and veiled ambiguity, we were finally told that in the fateful war for the very world of Mirrodin, the Phyrexians had prevailed. If the first half of Operation: Slow-Roll was a resounding success, it tragically ended with more of a whimper than a bang- a group of French players abused the trust of Wizards of the Coast, and the entire set was leaked right before the start of the official spoiler season.
This was sad news. As it happens, though, there is one heck of an upside- New Phyrexia is a very flashy set and worthy end to the saga that has unfolded since last October. In addition to fleshing out the current crop of mechanics, it added new innovations like Phyrexian mana to the mix, as well as cycles of very strong cards and a slew of epic legends. Of course, after taking everything in, our question is a simple one: how do the intro decks stand up?
The first thing that bears noting is that Wizards has tweaked the traditional deck structure once again. In previous decks, both rares were selected from the set the intro decks belonged to. Open up a Mirrodin Besieged deck, and you’ll find both rares are cards from Mirrodin Besieged. This is no longer the case. In four of New Phyrexia’s five theme decks, the second (non-foil) rare is from Scars of Mirrodin, while Life for Death draws its second from Mirrodin Besieged. This has caused some measure of consternation amongst the player base- are these rares being selected because they make for a better deck? Or are they just throw-ins that do little more than take up space? We’ll be evaluating that question on a deck-by-deck basis, as there is no consistent answer. It is clear, though, that the first deck of the set we’ll be reviewing- Feast of Flesh– probably came out the worst of the lot for this.
Feast of Flesh begins with an engaging premise. Like to kill things? Lots of things? Then this is the deck for you! Its avowed strategy is simple and straightforward- play some beaters, then kill everything that stands between them and your opponent. With you killing most everything in sight, you’ll keep the lanes through the red zone clear for your creatures, and grind your opponent down to dust. Predictably enough, this is a Red/Black construction, and we’ll begin by taking a look at its creatures.
Toil for the Great Work
If your noncreature support has been designed to eradicate the enemy opposition, the creatures of Feast of Flesh have been selected with a similar judiciousness. Not only are they intended to beat on your opponent’s life total by attacking, but many of them carry riders designed to cause even greater injury. Although an efficient notion, the mana curve itself gives some cause for concern:
Don’t be too concerned about the lack of any options here at the 2-drop slot, as there are a slew of noncreature options there that will keep your earliest turns in an efficient frame of mind. Creaturewise, though, you aren’t blessed with a ton of early threats. At the 1-drop slot there are a pair of Furnace Scamps. A simple 1/1 for one mana, the Scamps are the first creature you’ll notice that come with an extra-damage rider. Simply sacrifice it after it gets through for damage, and you can top off your opponent with three more. Since 1/1’s tend to become outclassed fairly quickly, this is a great way to let it go out with a bang, rather than some waiting-game in the backbenches queuing up to fulfil its destiny as a chump-blocker.
Moving to the 3-drops, a pair of Blistergrubs don’t worry about being outclassed by the enemy. Sooner or later something larger is going to hit the table, and that serves them perfectly fine. They’ll offer up a further 2 points of damage to your enemy upon death. Of course, if your opponent is playing Swamps, they might be rather hard to kill (also good). There are in addition a pair of Phyrexian Ragers (trading life loss for a card- an excellent deal), twin Blisterstick Shaman (which can often nab you an early two-for-one, finish off a wounded creature, or just serve up a little extra damage to your opponent). Finally, there’s a repeatable pinger in Magic 2011’s Prodigal Pyromancer. Core set content is generally regarded as filler, but as far as filler goes you could do a lot worse here- repeatable damage is seldom unwelcome.
Speaking of two-for-ones, a pair of Tormentor Exarchs offer you the same deal, being able to kill a 2-toughness creature on the way in (or simply buff one of your own attackers for a little extra damage). The Entomber Exarchs offer a choice of a different sort- retrieve something out of your own graveyard, or take a chance at stillbirthing something out of your opponent’s hand. Either way (assuming the latter doesn’t whiff), you should be up on card advantage (although a Skinrender would not have looked out of place here as well).
For two colours without a smidge of ramp between them, a full half-dozen top-of-curve beaters is a touch greedy. The Scoria Elemental is rubbish, pure and simple. A 6/1 without haste gives your opponent plenty of time to line up a simple chump-blocker, and for five mana you’d like something perhaps a little stronger than a body that trades out for a redundant mana Myr (it’s something of an irony that aggressively-lopsided critters like this make superb defensive threats, though that’s not something this deck wants). The Caustic Hound is a double-Blistergrub without the swampwalk, though it comes at a very high price tag as well. Naturally, you get two. For one more mana than the Scoria Elemental you get a Craw Wurm in Red via twin Flameborn Virons, a much hefiter body at 6/4.
Finally, at the very top of the curve is the Chancellor of the Dross. The three-Black requirement isn’t entirely dreadful, and given the slight imbalance favouring Swamps in the deck you should usually have the right mix once you reach seven mana. Should you get there, though, you’ll be richly rewarded- a 6/6 flying, lifelinking beater should both wrap up the game and put victory well out of reach of your opponent all at the same time. As an added bonus, those times you draw the Chancellor in your opening grip you’ll have a tidy little six-point life swing to greet you.
So that, then, is your bench of beaters- a rank and file of creatures that not only can work on your opponent’s life total in the red zone, but also punish your opponent for killing them. Of course, the deck’s very premise is predicated upon your ability to remove obstacles in your path, and a handful of Blisterstick Shaman and Tormentor Exarchs aren’t quite enough. Let’s next look at the noncreature support, and see if the deck lives up to its ambitions.
Cleanse the Incompleat
The good news is that, while being perhaps a bit awkwardly-rendered, the removal and burn suites of Feast of Flesh are some of the strongest in recent memory. There’s a single occurrence of focused discard in Despise, and two cards that let you fetch creatures out of your graveyard and back to hand (Disentomb and Morbid Plunder, one each). As it happens, the ability to salvage from the dead comes in handy here.
This being a Phyrexian deck, it would hardly do to have a nice, tidy little cluster of pinpoint removal. No, the removal here is loud! Messy! Bombastic! There are both scalpels and chainsaws aplenty, and collateral damage is all part of the game. Indeed, your creatures should consider themselves blessedly fortunate to live through the end of the match, for there are endless ways to die here. Perhaps one of them gets offered up for a Fling. There are two chances in the deck to give a creature its date with destiny on the back of an Artillerize, smashing in for five damage. Perhaps one will be offered up to fuel an Ichor Explosion if you need to reset the board, or maybe it just happened to get caught up in a Whipflare (note: every last creature card in the deck is nonartifact). Fortunately, with so many of your creatures adding an extra splash of damage upon death, it’s much less painful to offer them up to sacrifice.
Of course, there are times when there will be no substitute for finesse, say the culling of a particularly nettlesome defender, and you’ve options aplenty here as well. Twin Geth’s Verdicts offer up an untargeted Edict effect that tacks on a little extra damage and- while a little unwieldly- is an option of choice against any creature with protection from Black or Red. Go for the Throat is targeted, but limited only to nonartifacts. A pair of Parasitic Implants trade speed for a dose of utility- your opponent gets to hang onto the creature for one more turn, but once the spell cooks off and kills its host, you get a 1/1 Myr token for your troubles. A two-for-one, sure, but probably a bit too clumsy to serve the deck well. There’s also an Enslave, which lets you not only remove your opponent’s best creature from the field, but then you get to add it to yours… in addition to a nice, steady drip…drip…drip of damage.
The final options are also somewhat clumsy. Two Shrines of Burning Rage build up with charge counters and then can be cracked to deliver a blast to a creature or player. With only 14 Red spells in the deck, it’s something of a puzzling inclusion. Even more puzzling is the deck’s second rare, Tower of Calamities. Already bad enough as it is, in a deck with no ramping options or any way to accelerate mana it’s almost cruelly criminal to include it. It’s a near-complete waste of a rare slot, and will more often leave you disappointed rather than cackling with wicked delight. The entire purpose of this deck is designed around steady, efficient damage. Although 12 damage a blast is nothing to sneeze at, if you haven’t managed to already put yourself in a winning position by the time you’ve eked out that much mana, it’s probably not going to be enough to seal the deal. It will steal the odd game for you now and again, but that doesn’t make it earn its slot in the deck- especially as a rare.
Despite that misstep, the deck does have the makings of a very fun construction to play. It’s refreshing to see so much space devoted to creaturekill, a stark contrast to many of the recent intro pack decks that have been on offer. This one should have little difficulty in getting its hands dirty. Join us in two days’ time when we take the deck into battle and see how it performs!