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