Magic 2012: Sacred Assault Review (Part 2 of 2)
Our final playtest and review for Magic 2012, and the time has just flown by. With each deck having a very distinctive theme, we’ve really enjoyed pittone one against the other. For our last game, Jimi has accepted the challenge to serve as the opposition, selecting Grab for Power as her deck. Fresh off the deck’s successes in our last review she has every reason for optimism, but I’m angling to see how well Sacred Assault will spoil her dream and claim victory. Here are our game notes.
After getting walloped in the pre-game friendly, I’m on the play for game one. We both play land for our opener, then I play a Griffin Rider on turn 2. For her part, Jimi manages an Azure Mage. Next turn I raise her one Mesa Enchantress, Jimi calls with a Scepter of Empires, the first piece of her combo. She uses it immediately to ping me for 1.
Now turn 4, I place a Divine Favor on my Rider (gaining me 3 life), draw a card off of my Enchantress and swing for 2. Jimi plays a Merfolk Looter and swings back for 2 of her own. Add in the end-of-turn ping and I’m now at 19 life, with Jimi at 18. A turn-5 Assault Griffin ramps the Griffin Rider to a 5/7 bruiser and I send it to attack. Over to Jimi, she triggers the Looter (discarding a Swamp), but has no other play besides another ping from the Scepter.
The Griffin Rider meets its fate with a turn-6 Doom Blade on my turn, and so the aerial damage is limited to 3 from my other Griffin. With Jimi at 10 life, I add a Peregrine Griffin and pass. Jimi plays the Throne of Empires, but it’s too little, too late. I swing for 5 more on turn 7, adding another Assault Griffin to my air force. She has no answer and scoops after one more desperation loot.
It’s Jimi’s turn to be on the play and she leads with a Swamp, while I’m off to an aggressive start with an Elite Vanguard off of a Plains. Still, Jimi’s not far behind as she plays an Azure Mage next, and a Child of Night on turn 3. Meanwhile I begin to stall out, getting in a swing with the Vanguard before holding it back to defend against the lifelinking Child, and missing my third land drop.
Jimi’s on a roll, though, and on turn 4 she unveils the first part of her master plan- the Crown of Empires. Meanwhile, still stuck on two land I topdeck a second Elite Vanguard and play it. Next turn sees Jimi add a Warpath Ghoul. Me? I’m at eight cards in hand and no play, so I discard a Sacred Wolf.
A Belltower Sphinx touches down on turn 6 after Jimi attacks with the Ghoul (I trade it for a Vanguard), but I finally catch a break and draw a Plains. I immediately play my Mesa Enchantress and hope for the best. Jimi plays a Merfolk Looter next turn after attacking for 2 with the Sphinx. I play a Lifelink on my remaining Vanguard as much for the free card off the Enchantress as anything, and thankfully it’s a Forest. At the end of my turn Jimi- perhaps not seeing the value of the Enchantress in my deck, or perhaps just wanting to clear out effective defenders- kills off my Vanguard with a Sorin’s Thirst. This puts her back up to 20, while I am at 16.
Jimi throws a pinch of salt in the wound on turn 8 with a Brink of Disaster on one of my Plains, then attacks in for 4. This puts her up to 22, and me down to 12. Over to me, I play a Forest and a Griffin Sentinel. My land situation has stabilised a bit, though the prospect of losing a Plains thanks to the Brink is of no small concern. I neutralise the Sphinx with a Pacifism, drawing a free card. Next turn Jimi plays a Scepter of Empires, pings me with it, then uses the Crown to tap down the Griffin. This lets her swing in for 4 more, and the score is now 24-7. I’m in some serious trouble, and have precious few answers. Still, the Cudgel Troll I play once it’s my turn is a start, and with Jimi defenseless in the air I nick her for 1 with my vigilant Griffin Sentinel. Not having the mana up to regenerate it, I’m running a bit of a risk here but Jimi’s now playing off the top of her library and I might just get away with it. In addition, I have another Troll in my hand, so even losing this one will avail Jimi little if I can get its replacement out right away.
Jimi draws… and while it’s no removal, it is a Divination, and one that nets her a Doom Blade. She wastes no time in killing off my Troll. Pinging me as usual, I’m now at 6 life. Over to me, I play the second Cudgel Troll after laying down another Plains, which means I’ll have the ability to regenerate this one. I attack in again with my feeble Griffin Sentinel and pass.
Now turn 11, Jimi loots to start her turn and pitches a Swamp from her hand. She then locks down the Griffin Sentinel and Cudgel Troll with a Frost Breath, attacks for 4 and pings me- I’m down to 1 life. With only the Enchantress up to defend and with Jimi’s Crown available to tap down anything I can summon to aid me, I have no option but to throw in the towel.
Due to a delay between playing games two and three and a collective moment of amnesia, Jimi ended up being on the play in the final match.
Jimi has a quiet opener, spending the first two turns developing her manabase before a turn-3 Warpath Ghoul gives her some board presence. Meanwhile, I’ve played a turn-1 Elite Vanguard into a turn-2 Griffin Rider, and when I add a turn-3 Divine Favor to my Vanguard I’m able to swing in for another 3, taking Jimi to 15 and me to 23.
Now turn 4, Jimi adds the Scepter of Empires to her board, then brings me back down to 20 with an attack from the Ghoul. I counterattack with both my creatures for 4, though lose 1 life of my own when Jimi pings me with the Scepter. Still willing to go blow for blow, Jimi sends in the Ghoul again the next turn, but then shores up her defenses with a Reassembling Skeleton. I decide to play aggressively, burning a Pacifism on the Skeleton to get it out of the way for another attack, and we end the turn at 7-15, with me well ahead.
Alas, Jimi is ready with another Reassembling Skeleton on turn 6 to replace the first, though this time she holds her creatures back. My turn is a blank, though of course I do get pinged. Next turn Jimi drops the next piece of her puzzle- the Throne of Empires- though I have a Naturalize in hand and destroy it immediately. For my part, I summon a Cudgel Troll and pass.
Jimi brings out an Azure Mage on turn 8, but it may be too late. Once I add a Spirit Mantle on the Cudgel Troll there’s very little to stand in my way. The Troll pounts in on Jimi, and while she’s able to buy a turn for herself by Doom Blading it, in the end she has nothing to answer it.
Thoughts & Analysis
Overall, while I laud the direction Wizards is going with this latest batch of auras, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the deck. Granted, it’s a vast improvement over the last auracentric deck we’d seen- Rise of the Eldrazi’s Totem Armor, which didn’t get very good reviews here either. It was a clever twist in moving the protection of the aura’s value to the creature rather than on the aura itself, using hexproof and regeneration to ensure successful delivery, but overall the gameplay was perhaps just a bit bland. However clever the aura work might be, at the core of it it’s still just a beaters deck, albeit one that splits its time between the ground and the skies.
It might well be that the only way to truly balance auras is to give them some sort of effect when cast, so that it’s not a total writeoff when its target eats a bullet in response, but the solution here is a fairly limited one. Unlike some of the other decks in Magic 2012, there’s just not a lot of space to work with here that’s as novel and interesting. Clear out the Griffins and go with more hexproof? Or ditch the auras subtheme altogether and built a tribal Griffin deck? Both options will draw the curious, though neither really seems to stand out. About the only thing in Sacred Assault that tickles my inner Johnny is to start with a core of four Mesa Enchantresses, four Arrests, and four Pacifisms, and see what happens from there, but even that doesn’t seem to match the options offered in some of the other decks.
Hits: Hexproof and regeneration creatures finally ‘fix’ the aura-centric theme deck; Griffin air force provides solid ‘Plan B’ for the deck in the event the auras strategy falls flat
Misses: Premium foil rare feels ‘tacked on’ when there was a much more synergistic one available (Dungrove Elder); somewhat light on removal and all creature removal is at sorcery speed
OVERALL SCORE: 3.80/5.00