New Phyrexia: Rot from Within Review (Part 1 of 2)
Expectation can be a powerful thing. At its most fundamental, its a barometer of confidence that assesses the interaction of two things- a subject and its environment- and finds its fruition in their intersection. Will I get the job? Well, that depends- how good of a candidate am I, and what are the company’s needs? How good are the others applying for it? Will Johnny pass his History exam? Now much effort and aptitude has Johnny shown for the subject matter, and how difficult is the test? Will I win tonight at Friday Night Magic? Well, how good is my deck, and what is my meta?
As humans we are constantly in a process of setting and refining expectations. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, as is often apocryphally attributed to Albert Einstein, perhaps then we can define wisdom as the reassessment of expectation in light of new evidence. If that’s so, then we can credit Wizards with a bit of wisdom in their treatment of New Phyrexia’s Event Decks.
Did Into the Breach and Infect & Defile take the world’s FNM’s by storm? Hard to say in the absence of documented evidence, but given how little anecdotal groundswell there has been in that direction, it’s probably safe to say that they didn’t quite live up to their expectations of making their wielder “immediately competitive,” a quote taken directly from the back of the box.
In learning from this, Wizards was presented with three options. First, they could improve the decks to meet their desired outcome. Second, they could decrease expectations. And third- the default option- they could do nothing. It would seem that Wizards has taken the path of the first two. As mentioned in our review of War of Attrition, the decks took what worked the last time- speed- and made it a defining characteristic of both offerings this time. The midgame positioning of Infect & Defile- easily the weaker of the two Mirrodin Besieged decks- has found no successor here. Rather, we’re treated to two decks that acknowledge that a rapid-deployment strategy offers inferior decks the best chance of victory against those of higher quality. One wonders briefly if this realisation condemns the Event Decks to being a pair of aggro decks released every set, but that is a question whose answer won’t be revealed for some time. At present, we have but the two sets’ worth.
Accompanying this pivot in positioning is a tamping down of expectations. Gone is the cocksure swagger of “immediately competitive.” Instead, we’re treated to this gem:
Event Decks let you jump into tournament play with a powerful deck that will give you a fighting chance.
A fighting chance. This shares some notes with Nic Cage’s famous line from the film The Rock (“I’ll do my best”) and Sean Connery’s epic retort.
In fairness, though, this is closer to the truth. Without knowing a meta it’s hard to promise whether one deck or another- outside of the current crop of “tier one” decks- will be ‘immediately competitive,’ so instead you get a ‘fighting chance’ for your $24.95.
And that’s not so bad.
The End of All Life
To help you get there, Rot from Within takes the infect mechanic used by Infect & Defile and hones it down to its purest essence. Forget fancy plays, forget tactical removal, and forget countermagic altogether. Rot from Within offers an all-in, ultra-aggressive platform almost admirably single-minded: get in a single attacker and use pump spells to translate into a quick 10 poison counters.
And that’s it. This deck offers next to nothing else, and it’s a very tantalising strategy in its lethal consistency. Let’s begin by looking at our poison vectors, the creatures.
On the back-end you have a pair of five-drops: Putrefax. Unlike Putrefax’s intro deck, Phyrexian Poison, there are no cute recursive mechanics here to get him out of the graveyard. No Rise from the Grave, and no Corpse Curs. Instead, he’ll be your fire-and-forget finisher.
In truth, though, Rot from Within would rather you never had to play Putrefax, and gives you the tools to orchestrate ridiculous wins out of nowhere as early as turn 2 (unlikely though a turn-2 win would be, its certainly possible).
To begin with, you have a playset of Glistener Elves, your 1-drop infect vector who is a welcome sight in any opening grip. There’s also a pair of Ichorclaw Myr, 1/1 bodies which give your opponent a great incentive to let them through for damage rather than connect with a blocker, and a Blight Mamba as well. The early goal is fast poison counters to get the ball rolling. Blight Mambas make great defenders, but you’ll want to charge ahead with them here- it’s not often you’ll see mono-Green take a page out of Suicide Black’s playbook, but ‘all for the cause’ should be your motto. Punish your opponents for blocking with delicious -1/-1 counters.
From there we have a trio of Rot Wolves for some added card advantage, and again we see the theme repeated- block at your own risk. Three Viridian Corrupters round out your infect beaters suite, and are of particular threat against enemies that rely upon artifacts. Your deck packs only one artifact and it’s a crucial one, so have a care that you don’t trip over your own feet with the Corrupters.
Lastly, Rot from Within gives you some defense in the form of a playset of Overgrown Battlements, acting both as solid defenders as well as a source of mana ramp.
Sympathy is for Weaklings
So there we have the strategy of Rot from Within in a nutshell- give your opponents few good options for blocking and strike quickly to get some poison counters in on them. This sets up the second half of your very simple plan: send your opponent to oblivion by massively pumping your attacker. Towards that end, the deck maindecks a full twelve pump spells- and sideboards another four! This gives your deck a very front-heavy appearance:
The pump spells are the usual variation on a theme, and you’re given a full playset of each. Groundswells key off of landfall to double the power/toughness boost, and +4/+4 is no joke. Mutagenic Growth is a little weaker, but more than makes up for it by the ability to pay for the spell in its entirety with life instead of mana. Finally, Primal Bellow won’t achieve parity with Giant Growth any sooner than turn 3, but will be your later-game pumper of choice.
The last few options round out what is a tightly focused deck. A miser’s copy of Contagion Clasp acts as a touch of spot removal, but more importantly gives you a mana sink later in the game when your hand is empty, and finish off a damaged opponent. A playset of Carrion Calls offer up a pair of 1/1 infecting Insect creature tokens. Although we didn’t care for these in Phyrexian Poison, they make much more sense here. With recourse to so many pumping spells, sometimes all you need to win is to simply outnumber your opponent’s creatures. Carrion Call- although a bit pricey- will go a long way towards achieving that end.
Finally, a singleton Green Sun’s Zenith lets you fetch the right creature at the right time, which will most often be either a Viridian Corrupter or Putrefax. Just to give you that much more of a leg up, the deck also packs an Inkmoth Nexus, offering you an evasive infector which can be difficult to deal with.
Domination by the Strongest
The sideboard of Rot from Within is a bit more hodgepodge than was War of Attrition’s, but offers tools to face a number of different problems.
Unnatural Predation (2): If you’re finding that your enemy has a large number of chump blockers or defenders that prevent you from getting through, you might consider subbing these in in place of some of your other pump. Although the bonus is less, it grants trample, which can make all the difference.
Vines of Vastwood (2): This doesn’t make the maindeck because it’s twice as expensive as your other pump, but it has a very solid purpose here. One of the problems with pump spells is that- like creature auras- they can leave you vulnerable to being two-for-oned if your opponent hits your critter with a kill spell after you pump it. Vines gives you some protection against decks with spot removal.
Contagion Clasp (3): This is useful in two ways. First, if you’re playing against an aggressive deck with a lot of cheap creatures, the extra Clasps can act as ersatz removal. Second, if you’re against a deck that manages to consistently stall out the board by the midgame (see: control), upping the frequency of Clasps will give you a better chance of proliferating your way to a win.
Melira, Sylvok Outcast (1): A hoser, in case your enemy is also playing an infect strategy
Pistus Strike (1): If you’re playing a skies deck, you might consider adding this in to deal with a particularly nasty flyer. A miser’s copy is so inconsistent, though, you might be better off with trying to keep the pressure on and forcing your opponent to use those flyers for defense
Viridian Corrupter (1): To round out the set in case your opponent is playing heavily with artifacts
Trigon of Infestation (3): Hard to see a home for these expensive generators, they do have some aid to offer in wipe recovery against decks that run it.
Obstinate Baloth (2): What- exactly- does this card solve? The last time these were given serious Constructed consideration was as a possible hose to Jund’s Blightning. Hint to Wizards: explaining the reasoning behind a couple of cards in the sideboard, then saying “the rest of your sideboard consists of specific answers to specific problems” without even defining those problems is a cop-out. What’s this proof against? Mind Sludge?
Regardless, the deck looks well-constructed and a lot of fun to play. We’ll be taking it into battle against War of Attrition for our next two posts- once as the hero and once as the villain- and will deliver a final thoughts and analysis before rendering an overall score. See you then!