7th Edition: Armada Review (Part 1 of 2)
Look to the North, look to the East, look to the West and South
On all horizons storm clouds loom and roll across the sky
So sang the crust punk band Amebix in 1985, but they might just as well have been singing about 2001’s Core Set release, 7th Edition. Although generally not well-regarded by today’s standards, the 7th Edition did have within it a surprising amount of innovation, some of which the like has not been seen since. Every card in the set was granted new art, the first time this had been done since the beginning of the game.
Further, every card included was given new art, to maintain a fresh and distinct visual style. Foil cards were now introduced to the Core Set format, and these were printed with black borders. And finally, the cards were pinned to a very loose and open-ended storyline involving the Paladins of each of the four cardinal directions. This was as much appropriation of existing lore as new innovation, as the Northern Paladin had been around since Alpha and his Southern ally had found a home in Weatherlight. Both of these were White creatures which hosed White’s enemy colours, Black and Red. To even the odds, Wizards then printed the Phyrexian Eastern and Western Paladin in Urza’s Saga, Black creatures which did the same for their enemies. Naturally, each Paladin was given updated art to rebrand them for this new setting.
There was one, last innovation in 7th Edition which for our purposes is perhaps the most important of all: it was the first Core Set to feature theme decks. A staple ever since, the five theme decks from 7th each adhere to a very simple formula. First, they’re mono-coloured, to give the target audience- new players- a sense of each colour’s philosophy, feel, and capabilities. Second, they were all 40-card constructions, which seemed to be the format of choice for entry-level products. For Armada, this means a host of White weenies- no creature possesses a higher power than 2- many with tap-abilities for added utility, along wth some support cards to beck them up. We’ll begin first with the deck’s army, for an army is precisely what it resembles.
Twang. You’re Dead.
Soldiers, Knights, and Clerics make up the bulk of this man’s army, with a few of the usual twists thrown in for good measure (one each of a Spirit, Griffin, and Angel). A look at the deck’s creature curve illustrates the game plan quite clearly:
Take command of the board with a blitz of cheap creatures in the early game- the classic White Weenie strategy. Often this sort of tactic is susceptible to stalling, for once the first 3/3 hits the board most every creature in the deck is in peril. Fortunately, Armada has a number of solutions to be found in its utility creatures. We’ll divide the deck’s creatures into these two camps- aggression and support.
Aggression: The curve begins with a pair of otherwise unremarkable 1/1’s, the Eager Cadets. Against slower decks you might get in a couple shots with them, but they’re otherwise about as useless as they sound. Next on the curve are pair of Knight Errants, 2/2’s for two mana- and nothing else. Much more sexy are the Longbow Archers, for while they share the same concerted mana cost as the Knights, they have first strike and reach. The first strike in particular is about as good as it gets in this army- with power-pumping effects from the supporting cast, they may well stick around for quite awhile when their less stout brethren have perished.
Beyond that we have a pair of Standing Troops, who pull double-duty on offense and defense thanks to their vigilance. Their 1/4 bodies aren’t very intimidating- unlike their updated version Priests of Norn– but they still can give you a touch of offense without exposing yourself to a counterattack. Finally, there’s the first member of your rather palty air force, a Razorfoot Griffin.
Support: There are three ways Armada provides to make your rather unimpressive creature force punch above its weight, which it must do to stay competitive if you’re unable to put yourself in a dominating board position early. The first way is to make a particular creature tougher than it actually is. Since we’re not in Green, we won’t have access to Giant Growths, but the Angelic Page and Serra Advocate both can pump at instant speed each turn. The second option is to prevent damage. If your 2/2 is about to be blocked by theirs, you can gain advantage by keeping your creature alive while theirs dies. Towards this end, we have a pair of Samite Healers as well as one of the deck’s two rares, the Master Healer.
The third and final method- less preferable in some ways than the other two- is to do extra damage to an enemy combatant. If you can ping for a point of damage, then that 2/2 of yours that’s getting blocked by their 3/3 can at least take their enemy with it. The fact that you still trade cards makes this less desirable, but there are two upsides. First, killing the expensive with the cheap is a surefire way to gain tempo advantage. Second, these damage-dealers can also pick off small unblocked attackers and defenders before they ever deal damage. The ability comes in two sizes: Crossbow Infantry and Heavy Ballista.
Of course, the real support your army needs isn’t going to be found in its creatures, but rather in the complement of instants and enchantments that help your army to triumph.
The Courage of Others
The noncreature spells here are as straightforward as the warriors they support. The first and in many ways most vital group is removal. You have few options here, so be sure to use them wisely. A pair of Pacifisms will be more than sufficient to take care of a nettlesome defender or unmanageable attacker, but be sure to use them most judiciously. A Disenchant does the same for an artifact or enchantment.
To boost your creatures themselves you’re given a pair of Serra’s Embraces and a Glorious Anthem. The Embraces are very strong and well worth the cost, and if your enemy has no way to deal with fliers they can turn even the weakest of your Soliders into a closer. The Anthem, meanwhile, boosts your entire board. There’s also a Spirit Link here, but this is considerably weaker- the lifegain is not especially useful (prolonged games decrease your odds of winning, and it does nothing for you when you’re ahead), and the card in itself does nothing to make its target more formidable in battle. Finally, for some added damage prevention there’s a pair of Healing Salves (only use these on yourself in case of emergency).
And that’s all there is! After a string of more complicated affairs, the decks of 7th Edition are almost charmingly quaint. The deck fields Weenies to attack you, pumpers and effects to keep them up, and that’s it- what you see is what you get. We’ll take the deck to battle, and return in two days’ time. See you then!