Magic 2012: Grab for Power Review (Part 1 of 2)
It’s been an interesting run through Magic 2012 thus far, and the set has provided us with a few surprises. We had an aggressive Red/Black deck which spiced up the archetype by wholeheartedly embracing the returning bloodthirst mechanic. We’ve had a twist on the classic Red/Green stompy archetype which gave a new twist to old friends, the Spiders. And while the least novel of the three on the whole, Mystical Might did put a ribbon of novelty into the mix with some Illusions tribal flavour. But none of these compare to Grab for Power in terms of doing something that really hasn’t been done before: sending you on a quest.
At least, that’s the flavour spin that Wizards has put on the deck, and when you get right down to it it’s really just a combo deck. But of all the deck archetypes that have developed over time, combo has traditionally been one of the least represented amongst the preconstructed offerings. The quest here involves assembling a trio of relics which- while useful on their own- become monstrously powerful when joined in the company of their counterparts. The first is the Crown of Empires. A colourless “tapper” effect seldom will want for a home (see: Tumble Magnet), but once you’ve assembled the combo the Crown gives you permanent control of your target instead. Next is the Scepter of Empires, which is a colourless pinger which is regrettably limited to striking your opponent. A bit underwhelming on the whole, but it becomes a free Lightning Bolt to the face of your foe once the trio are out together, which will put them on a fairly short clock. Both the Crown and Scepter are uncommon.
The final piece to assemble is the Throne itself, one of the deck’s two rares. A bit expensive to play but cheap to trigger, this gives you a 1/1 Soldier token. Assemble all three pieces and you’ll get five Soldiers instead. While there’s no gameplay synergy between the three abilities, there’s a definite thematic tie-in linking the three, as evidenced in their flavour text. (In case you missed it, we covered the flavour element of Magic 2012 in our previous Entangling Webs review).
The object of Grab for Power then is a simple-seeming one: assemble all three Empires artifacts to take control of the game and defeat your opponent by stealing their creatures, flooding the board with loyal retainers, and smiting them directly from afar. That may be the goal, but it’s the journey we’re especially interested in, and that brings us to the deck.
The Whispers of Power
The cards of Grab for Power can be broadly divided into two camps. The first camp includes the relics as well as ways to find them, and these are the cards we’ll look at first. Let’s begin, though, with this rather sobering thought: there are only five copies of these artifacts in the deck, and only one of the Thrones. Any would-be power-grabber is going to have to answer two questions when piloting this deck. First, how readily can the combo be assembled? And second, how can the deck win if it’s not? On the first score, the comforting news is that there are a number of ways to get what you need, some better than others. On the lower end of the mana cost spectrum, you have ways to dig through your deck. Once you get to the higher end, you’ll be able to search from your library directly.
There are two ways to filter the top of your library. There’s a singleton copy of Ponder, which will let you peek three cards down and net one of them. The other way involves a pair of Merfolk Looters, reusable effects which will let you see two cards each turn. Looting and browsing may be nice, but it’s all the better if we’re allowed to keep the cards we’re looking at. Here, too, you have a spell and creature tandem dedicated to doing precisely that. A Divination lets you draw two cards, while the Azure Mage gives you repeatable card draw and a great way to dump excess mana.
Of course, in the methods above you’re still just relying on dumb luck to turn up what you need, and there will be few situations more frustrating than when you have two of the artifacts in play and are desperately hoping to pull the third. Here’s where you need ‘tutor’ effects, ones that let you search your library for a card and put it into your hand. Once again we see a matched pairing between creature and spell. There’s a Diabolic Tutor, long a staple in Black precon decks and especially useful here. Then there’s the deck’s foil premium rare, the Rune-Scarred Demon, which staples a Diabolic Tutor onto the body of a 6/6 flyer. So in summary, we have nine different cards devoted to helping us find the three artifacts we’re looking for…
What do the rest of them do?
Teetering on the Edge of Oblivion
As any combo player will tell you, the two essential ingredients in a combo deck are ways to put it together, and ways to protect it. As we’ve seen above, the deck devotes nearly 25% of its capacity to cards that either find you the combo, or are the combo. The remainder of the deck, then, is there to ensure your victory- not only to protect you while you’re assembling them, mind, but also to keep you in contention during games where you simply don’t find all three pieces.
The most efficient way to do this is to provide you with the framework of stock creature deck with solid noncreature support, with an emphasis on being able to congest the red zone and keep your enemies at bay. Here are the deck’s mana curves, to give an indication of where the deck concentrates its attention:
As you can see, there is a heavy emphasis on the early-to-midgame stage. Although one-drops are scarce, the heavy concentration of two-drops tells you that the deck is especially active on land drops two, three, and four- four in particular because it means you can now play two cards in one turn. This ability to establish yourself early will prove especially helpful in buying you the time you need to locate the trio of relics.
At the two-drop spot, if you’re looking to stall the game you could scarcely do worse than the Reassembling Skeleton. A repeatable chump blocker, you’ll be able to bring it back again and again to absorb hits meant for you. Next to the Skeletons you have the Child of Night, a cheap lifelink creature that can help pad your life total, as lifegain is another common tactic designed to give you the luxury of extra time.
Moving on to the three-drops, we find an early finisher in the form of the Devouring Swarm. A 2/1 flyer with a sacrifice effect, each sacrifice doesn’t gain you a lot (only +1/+1), but if unblocked you can sac your board to it to finish off a gravely wounded opponent. Besides the Swarm you have the humble Warpath Ghoul, a 3/2 body with no special abilities. As Wizards have fine-tuned what goes into their intro decks, the three-of has become the new four-of. From their perspective, leaving the playset unfulfilled gives players an immediate angle to improve their deck, which requires the acquisition of additional product. From ours, it tells us what cards R&D thought was particularly useful to a given deck. The Warpath Ghoul is a creature right in the sweet spot of Grab for Power, a three-drop that can get in for some aggressive damage, or hang back and keep an opponent’s weenies at bay.
From there we find a single Gravedigger for casualty recovery and a Drifting Shade. The Shade is particularly useful, for while it does demand a heavy investment of mana, its flexibility makes it just the attacker or defender you need in the moment- the only limitation is how much land you have in play. Unfortunately, such creatures don’t tend to do as well in split-colour decks, so you’ll find the ceiling on the Shade is somewhat reduced from what you might otherwise expect.
Finally, at the high end of the curve we have a pair of Zombie Goliaths, which are essentially just jumped up Warpath Ghouls, and twin Belltower Sphinxes. It’s the durable back-end and flying of the Sphinx that’s of interest here- the milling ability has neither interaction nor support from the rest of the deck.
Steel Won’t Protect You
Happily, Grab for Power has a reasonably sturdy removal package to help you mitigate the threats your opponent will be assembling while you’re busy digging for artifacts. Right off the bat we find a trio of Doom Blades, which are just what’s needed unless you’re facing Black. Although hobbled, you’re not completely blunted against even a mono-Black deck with the inclusion of a Sorin’s Thirst and the painfully mediocre Brink of Disaster. Finally, there’s a singleton Frost Breath, which is a charmingly versatile card. Equally useful on offense (to remove pesky blockers) and defense (to lock down their two best strikers), it even shuts down their harder-to-reach utility creatures. Finally, there’s a miser’s copy of Disentomb to help soften the blow of your casualties.
Before concluding, there is one last question we haven’t really addressed in the deck yet, and that is this: what happens if one of my artifacts gets destroyed? The answer to that is really quite simple: pray it wasn’t your Throne (since you have backup copies of each of the others in the deck), or hope you draw your Buried Ruin. Grab for Power is the only deck of the five for Magic 2012 that carries a nonbasic land (you’ll notice that Terramorphic Expanse/Evolving Wilds didn’t get reprinted), and it’s virtually custom-tailored for this very purpose. Other than that, it’s the Achilles’ Heel of the deck: smash the artifacts, and the Grab for Power pilot must immediately fall back on plan B. There aren’t a ton of answers for artifacts in the M12 precon environment, but there may be some at your kitchen table.
Forewarned is forearmed.