New Phyrexia: War of Attrition Review (Part 2 of 2)
With the reviews written and the stage set, it is time to pit Event Deck versus Event Deck and see how they play against one another. As we saw, both decks have embraced a speed-kills mentality. To crib a little Thomas Hobbes, every indication points to these matches being nasty, brutish, and short. One controvertial decision we made during the last round of Event Deck playestings (for Mirrodin Besieged) was to forego a sideboard, and we’ll be repeating that choice here. Although sideboards are indisputably a critical element of constructed play, there are two reasons for our decision. First, as precon players we’re perfectly happy to see how the ‘stock 60’ stands up- we’re looking for overall performance of the deck moreso that how it manages to outmaneuver a specific opponent. A worry here is that one player might skew results by happening to draw a couple of their sideboard options and gaining considerable advantage. This is the point of a sideboard at the constructed tables, of course… but perhaps a little less so here, when we want to see how the list stands up on its own.
The second reason is unfamiliarity with the concept. If Event Decks are to be the gateway to competitive play, they’re going to need to do a better job of coaching players on how to manage a sideboard. Because of the level of skill it requires in making decisions- both what to put in, and perhaps more critically what to take out– there is a high level of intimidation factor. Not all in the Ertai’s Lament crew are as comfortable with the concept, and so setting the sideboards aside is the better option.
There is a minority opinion here (read: mine) that holds that sideboards are actually part of the deck, and that a thorough testing should include them. It’s something we’re working on with our skill levels, and I should expect that by the next set of Event Deck reviews, we’ll have full integration for testing purposes.
Until then, we can only hope that you’ll enjoy our review of the stock decks, and on that basis get an idea of what they are capable of right out of the box. Here are the game notes from our matchup.
Jimi, on the play and piloting Rot from Within, opens with a Forest and passes, while I manage only a Plains. She next drops a Glistener Elf, freshly-drawn, while my turn-2 counter is a Porcelain Legionnaire (paying 2 life for the privilege). That second Forest of Jimi’s would prove to be her last land drop of the game, while I would never miss a one.
An Ichorclaw Myr is added on turn 3, but with my Legionnaire holding down the fort Jimi passes without offense. I seize the initiative and attack with it for 3, then play a second Legionnaire. Jimi’s turn 4 is a blank and it’s looking like she’s going to get rolled on this one. I attack for 3 more with a Legionnaire, then play a Puresteel Paladin and a Stoneforge Mystic (tutoring up a Sword of Vengeance).
Jimi in desperation hurls her troops at me on turn 5. Feeling in little danger, I block the Elf with my Legionnaire and let the Myr pass through.
A terrible mistake.
With the Myr unblocked, Jimi plays two Groundswells and a Mutagenic Growth, making the Myr a 7/7. With seven poison counters, that’s the equivalent of a fourteen-point strike, and had she managed to play a land it would have stolen her the game. The lesson I immediately realise is a simple one- you cannot afford to let Rot from Within hit you, not even once. It would affect my play in some unusual ways for the rest of the match.
With Jimi still at 12 life, there’s still some work to be done. I play Kemba, Kha Regent, then activate the Stoneforge Mystic to play the Sword of Vengeance at a slight discount. The third artifact I have in play, the Paladin’s metalcraft activates and I can now equip the Sword for free. To Kemba, of course. This lets me swing with Kemba, a Legionnaire, and the Paladin for 9, leaving Jimi at 3. She untaps, draws, and scoops.
Jimi starts things off right with a turn-1 Glistener Elf, while I only have a Darksteel Axe to lead off with. I cringe when Jimi sends the Elf in next turn, but she’s only holding a Mutagenic Growth- three poison counters for me. She then taps out to play an Ichorclaw Myr and passes. Back to me, I look to stabilise with a Porcelain Legionnaire (for 2 life) and pass back.
Jimi lands a third Forest on turn 3, then sends in both beaters. The Legionnaire picks off the Elf, but the Myr gets through with a Primal Bellow. I’m now up to seven poison counters. Back to me, I add a Leonin Skyhunter. A second Ichorclaw Myr touches down at the far side of the table next turn, but Jimi declines an attack. I play a Stoneforge Mystic, tutoring up a Flayer Husk. That’s right, a Flayer Husk. Not the first thing that comes to might when you think of the awesome fetching power of the Mystic, but it’s the only living weapon that I can tutor up and still play it this turn. Given my experience against Rot last turn, I’d prefer an extra blocker now rather than something better in the event of an attack. This frees up my Skyhunter to head into the red zone, offering my first damage of the game and leaving Jimi at 16 (she’d self-inflicted the first two paying for Phyrexian mana on turn 2).
Jimi’s turn 5 is a blank, though she does manage a Forest. Over to me, I add Dread Statuary to my manabase, then play an Elite Vanguard. I then equip my Darksteel Axe to the Skyhunter and swing for 4, and would continue to hack away until Jimi runs out of life. I’d solve an Ichorclaw Myr with a Leonin Relic-Warder, while she Green Sun’s Zenith’d up a Viridian Corrupter to smash my Porcelain Legionnaire, but victory was to be mine.
A turn-1 Glistener Elf leads off, while I manage a Flayer Husk. Jimi adds a second Elf on turn 2 but declines the attack, so I add a Leonin Skyhunter, keeping that critical creature parity which puts Jimi’s deck at disadvantage. Next turn she attacks with both Elves, both of which I block. The Husk trades with one Elf, and Jimi burns a Mutagenic Growth to kill off my Skyhunter and save her Elf. She adds an Ichorclaw Myr- bad news. I’m able to replace my losses with another Leonin Skyhunter, but she’s now ahead on the creature count.
And boy does she make me pay. She attacks with both of her beaters. I’m able to pick off the Elf with my Skyhunter (giving the Leonin a -1/-1 counter), but the Myr gets right on through. A Groundswell and Mutagenic Growth later, I’m sporting a whopping 7 poison counters- another murderous strike from Rot from Within. Back to me, I play a Stoneforge Mystic, tutoring up a Skinwing. I equip the Flayer Husk to my Skyhunter (making it effectively a 2/2 once again), and pass.
Jimi’s turn 5 is a blank. Back to me, I use the Mystic to cheat out the Skinwing, then send the Ichorclaw Myr on a Journey to Nowhere. With the coast clear, I conclude with a 3-point attack. Next turn Jimi plays an Overgrown Battlement, but it’s all she’s got. I play a Dread Statuary, then swing in for 4 more with my air force. We’ve hit the pivot point where I’ve stabilised and Jimi’s petered out, and we both know it. She’s able to manage a Blight Mamba, but I deploy another chumper in the form of a Flayer Husk and she ends up scooping.
Thoughts & Analysis
Later in the day, when we’d switched decks to do the playtest review for Rot from Within and play another round of games with them, I asked Jimi- who’s been known to enjoy a little White weenie now and then when she’s not playing Boros- what she thought of War of Attrition. The answer- “a bit boring”- was telling. It’s not that the deck is a bad one, but perhaps it suffers just a bit from association.
While both decks value quick aggression, they do it in completely different ways. War of Attrition looks for incremental advantage. You start off with aggressive one-drops like Elite Vanguard and Kor Duelist to lay a foundation, then have a raft of value-added cards to chose from from there. The Stoneforge Mystic offers immediate card advantage with her tutoring. The Puresteel Paladin helps you accelerate the deployment of Equipment once his metalcraft switch is flipped. Living weapons give you both a creature and Equipment in once package. Even the Porcelain Legionnaire offers incremental advantage- in return for a small dose of life, you’re getting a three-drop out on turn 2.
Rot from Within, on the other hand, puts all of its eggs in one basket, looking for a single, explosive attack to take the game in one fell swoop. The approach will break your heart more often than not, but when it goes off it’s glorious. It’s hard to compete with that kind of rush.
But it’s unfair to judge one deck by the other- it should stand or fall on its own merits, and War of Attrition’s merits are solid. It does what it does quite well, delivering a strong, aggressive board presence in the early part of the game, hoping to overwhelm your opponent. There are three drawbacks with a Weenie/swarm strategy that are worth mentioning here.
1. You run out of steam quickly. With so many inexpensive cards, you tend to go through them quickly in the course of flooding the battlefield for numberical superiority.
2. Your creatures get outclassed. Most of your creatures are on the lower end of the scale with regards to their power and toughness. Every single creature in War of Attrition with the exception of Kemba, Kha Regent have a toughness of 2 or 1. Once an opponent can stabilise the board with creatures of their own and the game enters the middle phase, they’ll often be able to turn the tide once they lay down their first 3/3. This is especially true if you lack removal or evasion. War of Attrition only has a playset of Journeys to Nowhere, so it’s a bit lacking here, though its flyers and first strikers can help pick up the slack.
3. You’re crippled by mass removal. A single Pyroclasm or Wrath-effect can absolutely ruin a Weenie/swarm player’s game plan. Although the traditional strategy- “hold a creature or two in your hand”- has merit, it’s not always enough to restart and rebuild the momentum you’ve lost.
What’s interesting about War of Attrition is the way that it’s been designed to answer these weaknesses. In the same order,
1. You’re given tools for card advantage. The Puresteel Paladin lets you draw a card every time you play an Equipment, and with nine in the deck you’ll usually benefit from this whenever the Paladin is deployed. Kemba, Kha Regent gives you virtual card advantage in the form of 2/2 Cat tokens whenever she’s equipped. The Leonin Relic-Warder can two-for-one your opponent when it enters the battlefield. The Stoneforge Mystic can tutor up Equipment when she’s played. These are all relatively minor effects compared to what you might find, say, in Blue, but little advantages have a way of snowballing in Magic- look at the success of the Jund deck in the previous Standard season, which relied on incremental advantage.
2. Your creatures get better with time. Perhaps not as dramatically as a Scute Mob, of course, but there are tools in the deck to let you avoid being outclassed by bigger and better creatures in the red zone. First and foremost is the presence of so much Equipment, and the living weapon mechanic lets these cards pull double-duty: first as beaters, then as augments for your other creatures. The Bonehoard lives for the later game, when the bodies have had a chance to pile up like cordwood. And the Kor Duelist gets a massive upgrade the moment you slap some Equipment on him.
3. Living weapons offer faster wipe-recovery. While the rest of the creatures trundle off to the graveyard after a wipe, your living weapons stick around. The Germs animating them might be dead, but any creature you subsequently play will have the advantage of extra gear laying about. The Bonehoard is especially brutal here, as your opponent might actually find themselves in worse shape if your next play is the evasive Leonin Skyhunter or army-in-a-box Kemba.
None of these solutions are fully effective, slam-dunk counters to their respective problems. They’re all moderate, conditional responses, but the fact that you have any at all lends the deck a great deal more resilience than your customary White weenie. As its name suggestions, here are 75 cards well prepared for a war of attrition.
Hits: Has solid answers for problems typically faced by the archetype; highly aggressive curve means you’ll seldom be at a loss to play something in the early game; rare selection is excellent and provides great synergy for the deck; very coherent strategy
Misses: Removal suite is light (though it attempts to remedy this a bit in the sideboard); insert does a poor job of coaching with the sideboard: “Your sideboard is largely packed with answers to specific opposing threats: Revoke Existence for artifact-based strategies, Celestial Purge for red or black decks, and so on.” And so on? Really?
OVERALL SCORE: 4.65/5.00