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May 13, 2011

22

New Phyrexia: Devouring Skies Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

Typically, equipment-based theme decks have embraced a weenie/swarm strategy (usually White), looking to overwhelm your opponent early and using equipment to keep your little critters viable even when larger bodies start to come down in the midgame. Mirrodin’s Little Bashers was precisely this sort of deck, built with creatures that optimised when they were equipped. We saw the archetype rear its head again in Zendikar, with Kor Armory. And now with Devouring Skies, we return to the concept- but with a very distinct twist. Rather then going through our enemies… we’re going over them. As the name suggests, this isn’t a weenie deck- it’s a skies one.

What, that’s not enough of a twist for you?

Alright, howabout another. This being a Phyrexian deck, let’s sprinkle a few living weapons in amongst the equipment. Introduced in the middle set, Mirrodin Besieged, the living weapon mechanic has resonated well with players both casual and competitive (see: Batterskull), and might be just the secret ingredient this deck needs to attain victory. Three of the deck’s ten equipment cards have the ability to enter play as beaters themselves- no attachment necessary- and you’ll gain card economy from them by having the equipment part stick around even after the Germ token dies. Notice also that we said ten- unlike the decks named above, Devouring Skies goes whole-hog and floods the deck with gear.

But before we get to those mechanics, let’s begin our analysis of the deck with a look at those creatures who will be carrying all this equipment around: your deck’s beaters.

Observers of a Dying World

Of the deck’s large array of creatures, over half of them have flying. On the low end of the curve we begin with a trio of Hovermyr, nicely-priced packages and good starters for your air force. Remember, this deck is perfectly happy with smaller evasive bodies, because it knows it’s only a matter of time until the equipment starts coming out and beefing them up.

Moving to the mid-grade option, you have a singleton Necrogen Scudder, an aggressively-costed Black flyer. The deck also comes ready with a pair of Impaler Shrikes, 3/1 flyers that have the ability to refill your hand if they happen to get through. An interesting bit of tension there- continue the damage at 3 a turn, or the very tantalising option of three cards. All we can say is that as ever, let circumstance be your guide.

Further lending the deck a bit of card economy is the Darkslick Drake, which replaces itself in your hand once it dies. A pair of Dementia Bats are in a way the opposite of the Impaler Shrikes. It, too, offers tremendous card advantage, but in the opposite direction- sacrificing the Bat will Mind Rot your opponent. These are a little less impressive, though, for a five-mana 2/2 flyer is nothing to feel good about, and the discard ability can be rather conditional. Against an empty-handed opponent, you’re massively overpaying for a very mediocre body.

Finally, we have a pair of Spire Monitors, a little bit better of a creature deal for that five mana, as each is a 3/3 flyer with flash.

Devouring Skies also gives you a few aggressive ground-based options. The foil rare, Phyrexian Ingester, costs seven mana, but comes with removal and pumping built-in. The Mortis Dogs and Kiln Walker both have power bonuses that kick in on the attack, with the Dogs having the added bonus of causing loss of life to your opponent when they die. Lastly, there’s a trio of evasive ground-based beaters in the form of a Neurok Invisimancer and pair of Blind Zealots. Both have added abilities, with the Blind Zealot acting as removal-on-a-stick, and the Invisimancer ensuring one of your creatures can get in for damage without fear of your opponent’s defenders on the turn it comes into play.

Supporting these are a handful of miscellaneous creatures. A pair of Augury Owls are welcome sights early in most any game. Not only are they cheap flyers, but they give you some library filtering as well. The Brass Squire is a touch pricey for a 1/3 body, but its equipment-attaching ability will cause a lot of problems for your enemies. Not only can it save you a ton of mana throughout a game, but it also allows you to swap equipment at instant speed. With even a single piece of it on the board with a Squire untapped, your opponent will have to weigh their blocking options extra carefully.

The deck’s final creature is a miser’s copy of a Silver Myr, for the occasional odd bit of ramp.

World-shaking Power

As mentioned above, Devouring Skies is absolutely packed with equipment on a scale we haven’t really seen before, and the equipment really runs the gamut. You have two relatively inexpensive Copper Carapaces as an early one-drop (albeit one that costs  to equip), and a pair of Viridian Claws for extra attack power.

In a set filled with artifacts and equipment, the inclusion of a pair of costly, mediocre Warlord’s Axes has caused more than a small amount of consternation. Certainly these cumbersome axes would be an early cut for any improvement to the deck, but Wizards deserves a bit of credit for tryign to make the Core Set cards at least feel a little more like they belong in these decks, relative to previous efforts. Then there’s the Argentum Armor, the deck’s second rare and a card from Scars of Mirrodin. In an equipment-heavy deck with access to Brass Squires, it’s not the worst card they might have included, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that there weren’t better options available (though to be fair, Bonehoard’s already been included in Doom Inevitable, and Lashwrithe is a rather poor choice for a second rare here).

That leaves us with a trio of equipment, all of which have the living weapon mechanic. A pair of Sickleslicers come into play as Runeclaw Bears, while the Necropouncer is essentially a Hellspark Elemental without the trample. All three offer the added economy of being in essence a creature that leaves something behind when it dies.

If you were hoping for much else to help get your equipped flyers through, you’re bound to be disappointed. Aside from the Argentum Armor, Blind Zealots, and Phyrexian Ingester, the only way you’re killing off an enemy creature is with the deck’s generous removal suite: one Doom Blade. A pair of Vapor Snags do offer some temporary respite, and is an elegantly-designed take on the classic Unsummon.

And that’s the deck! Simple and straightforward, this is very much a case of what you see is what you get. Is it enough to defeat its contemporaries? We’ll find out next time as we take it into combat, and report back with the results.

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Prophylaxis
    May 13 2011

    Why’d you put the Brass Squire in your noncreature paragraph?

    Nevertheless, I’m actually not impressed with this deck – Fliers + Equipment is good and all, but Phyrexian Ingester for me is a poor choice for the premium rare. Chancellor of the Spires is a very cool looking creature and a flier.

    Reply
    • May 13 2011

      He’s in the creature one too, but you’re right- I linked his second mention, not his first. Whoops! Keen eye.

      Reply
  2. Hireling
    May 13 2011

    I have to agree with Prophylaxis. The Ingester, while awesome, should definitely have been skipped in favor for the blue chancellor. If the deck insists on running ground bound creatures in a skies strategy then it should at least have included Bladed Pinions or Skinwings. Complaints aside, I love skies and I love equipment. At the very least this has inspired me to build my own skies/equipment deck. I’m probably going to swap black for white to get some more cheap fliers.

    Reply
    • Icehawk
      May 13 2011

      Like Alara’s Ultimatums. I really agree the chancellor should be in this deck. Heck, all 5 should be in 1 of the decks. Just a little flavor thing. Help you feel like you’re taking sides with one of the factions and duking it out.

      Reply
      • Prophylaxis
        May 15 2011

        “All five” would probably be a miss with Clarion Ultimatum…

        Reply
  3. Ben
    May 13 2011

    This was the other deck I was thinking of buying, just for the devourer, which is a little weird in the deck but provides some nice removal, especially when combo’ed with the vapor snags (at the cost of a life).

    However, I still might, just to get the living weapons, since I’m still not sure what I want to do with all the living weapons I’ve ended up with.

    Reply
  4. troacctid
    May 13 2011

    A lot of clunkiness here. Most of the cards are pretty slow. Could be a lot more cohesive.

    Reply
  5. Aaron McPherson
    May 13 2011

    So far, these intro decks are leaving me cold. If the purpose is to teach new players how to build decks, why oh why don’t they put in more removal? I also don’t like the idea of the second rare not being from the newest set; isn’t the idea to show off the new hotness?
    I’m looking forward to the Life For Death deck, because it looked pretty cool in the previous playthroughs. It would be nice if you could explain the ratings a little more; specifically, if you think the fun factor outweighs the card choices.

    Reply
    • May 15 2011

      Some great questions, Aaron! Let’s see if I can give worthy answers…

      1. “If the purpose is to teach new players how to build decks, why oh why don’t they put in more removal?”

      There are a number of likely reasons for this. For one, removal is one of those things that least needs to be shown to a new player, in that it’s amongst the most obvious things they’d want to change on their own. If one Doom Blade is good, a new player might soon reason, then adding three more is great!

      Another focus is fun factor- and this is a bit more contentious. Time and again WotC have discussed how players losing their creatures outside of combat is potentially “unfun” for the newer player. By choking back the removal to just a few pieces, it allows the players to spend a lot of time deliberating their decisions in the red zone, and gives greater weight to creature combat. This normalises the variance of the games in an effort to decrease the likelihood of massively unpleasant ‘blowout’ games.

      Finally, there’s plenty of precedent here in the Limited environment, where removal isn’t always abundant but is always prized highly. Limited is an extremely healthy format, so it’s not hard to see how Wizards might extrapolate this into the precon format.

      If there’s one thing we take issue with most modern decks on, its removal- it’s one of the very first things we evaluate with each deck.

      2. “I also don’t like the idea of the second rare not being from the newest set; isn’t the idea to show off the new hotness?”

      We were initially of the same opinion, but as we’ve assessed the list more closely, we’ve come to feel that playability trumps rare set selection. In other words, if grabbing a second rare from an earlier set (in the same block) makes the deck more cohesive, then go for it! Intro Decks are only now starting to come out of the desert they’ve been in more or less since the birth of the product. The 60-card Theme Decks took risks and made some of the most memorable precons on offer. You’ll likely never see a deck again like Stronghold’s “The Sparkler”, which had only three creatures in it- or some of the other really intriguing and out-there creations which gave such variety to the medium. For two whole blocks the decks were largely “beat on them, beat on them some more.”

      The decks of Scars of Mirrodin block seem to be recapturing some of that old spirit, and are huge improvements over Zendikar block’s offerings. If opening up the card pool to earlier sets in the same block help in that aim, how could we be opposed?

      3. “It would be nice if you could explain the ratings a little more; specifically, if you think the fun factor outweighs the card choices.”

      We could (and perhaps should) write an entire piece about the ratings, but in short we rate on a 100-point scale, then divide by 20 to bring the numbers down to a 5-point scale. Fun is a large factor, but very subjective, as everyone likes different playstyles. For example, I don’t like Green or White decks all that much. How can I rate a Green stompy deck in a way that will resonate with someone who loves them?

      I do this by asking what the deck is trying to accomplish, and then seeing how well it does it with the cards it’s selected. That’s what I tend to give the most weight to. Other factors include removal, mana curve, and consistency. Because if a stompy player can consistently smash face with their fatties, then they’re probably having a lot of fun with that Green deck, even if I wasn’t quite so taken with it when I played it myself- and it can get a fair rating.

      We’ve been brainstorming for awhile on building a “report card” format for grading which would be a lot more comprehensive, but that’s some ways off yet.

      Reply
  6. web8970
    May 13 2011

    Is the purpose of the decks to get new players hungry for more or to showcase the highlights of the new set? I guess it’s a bit of both.

    However, for a UB deck, this one is rather disappointing. While the premium rare is able to remove a key creature from the battle field, it’s rather slow due to its cost. I’m unsure whether this card is that appealing.

    And for the strategy part … building an army of large fliers through equipment is nice but it is definitely not specific Phyrexian and nothing you would expect from that combination of colors. As mentioned, I’d rather leave this battle plan to UW.

    So, enough whining done, I’d love to see this deck on the winning side anyway 🙂

    Reply
  7. Varo
    May 14 2011

    Doesn’t seem too much of a UB to me, there’s almost not removal at all. I don’t really know if the living weapons are good or not, i want to see them in the second part of the review.

    But there are some cards that catch my eye: the impaler shrikes, the invisimancer and the blind zealots. I think they’re all pretty solid overall.

    Reply
  8. Stric9
    May 14 2011

    I played in a Scars/New Phyrexia draft last night and the block doesn’t have much of an answer for fliers so that means this precon might do reasonably well against its peers. Or maybe I’m just a terrible drafter. I think that’s true actually.

    Also, I won that fat pack and I only got a Phyrexian Crusader and no mythics. Well, I made up for it last night by trading that and a Psychosis Crawler I pulled for an Inferno Titan, a Drowned Catacomb, and a Roil Elemental that I needed for “The Sparkler.” I think I came out on top.

    Reply
  9. web8970
    May 15 2011

    Giving a thought to the two rares in this deck, what alternatives would there have been? For equipment we would have had Darksteel Plate (disappointingly underpowered), Strata Scythe (which fits best in a monocolored deck) and Livewire Lash (rather misplaced due to feeling red as anything). Nim Deathmantle would have been the only other alternative to the Armor, providing evasion and a boost … But having the Brass Squire present, Argentum Armor is quite a good choice.

    Well … I hardly see any alternative for the Ingester, either. Given the set’s rares in U and B, there would have been the Phyrexian Metamorph as a brilliant support for the strategy … if it weren’t for it’s Phyrexian mana cost. Obviously, the WR deck was reserved for showcasing this mechanic. Other spells such as Praetor’s Grasp or Psychic Surgery seem too clunky to be appealing for beginners, so what would have been left are the two Chancellors. While the black one seems to be made for multiplayer matches, it’s blue counterpart does not feel any better or worse than the ingester …

    So, given the facts, it may be considered idle reflecting on the rares. The options were limited and – hard to say – what we have here is all we can get. However, the upside is: we have room for improvement 🙂

    Reply
  10. Jon
    May 15 2011

    I really dont think Chancellor should be in here, or at least not in place of Ingester. Ingestor is very solid, and chancellor of the spires is really not that good of a card, es

    Reply
  11. Ryknow041
    May 15 2011

    Overall I like the Phyrexian-ness of this deck, but I agree with others in that the creature base in this is weirdly chosen and over-expensive. I think Nim Deathmantle would make a good addition to this deck. I’d like to do something like taking the the Deadspread deck and combining it with this one for maximum UB flying deadliness.

    Reply
  12. Rob
    May 21 2011

    The removal suite is awful, but I can see a lot of utility coming from all that equipment. I know they usually don’t put 4 of anything in the decks, but an extra brass squire would have been nice.

    I’m loving the armor though. Have your squire put that on a creature for you and SWING!

    Reply
  13. Jasen
    Jun 15 2011

    I bought this deck and I have to say that it needs quite a bit of tweaking to make it workable for me and against the decks I play against.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. New Phyrexia: Devouring Skies Review (Part 2 of 2) « Ertai's Lament
  2. New Phyrexia: Life for Death Review (Part 2 of 2) « Ertai's Lament
  3. Whispers of the Muse: Steve S’s “Mystical Might” (Magic 2012) « Ertai's Lament
  4. 2010-11 Precon Championships: Make Your Predictions! « Ertai's Lament
  5. 2010-11 Precon Championships: Nagle Division (Part 1 of 2) « Ertai's Lament

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