Magic 2012: Illusionary Might Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s a simple truth: some decks are more fun to play than others. Having contributed to Ertai’s Lament for over a year now, I’d hazard to say that I’d put our “unique decks played per day” ratio up against almost anyone. Ours is a constantly adapting task- play four games with a deck, move on to the next. New cards, new mechanics, all of it tackled in the course of an evening’s work for a writeup, then left behind.
To be sure, there are times when it’s felt more duty than privilege, such as when we forced ourselves to sit down and suffer through something like Anthologies. More recently, the novelty of the freshly-reviewed simpleton decks of 7th Edition wasn’t exactly seeing us race to break out the playmats. But on the flip side of the coin, there are times when Jimi and Sam are fighting it out to see who gets to play which deck, and those are the most fun of all.
Since their inception during Mirrodin Besieged, the Event Decks have fallen squarely in the latter camp. Their tightly-focused theme and solid card selection have made them a blast to play. Today we look at the match notes from the first of our two matchups, this one from the perspective of Illusionary Might. As in times previous with the Event Decks, we’re looking at the stock 60 cards, the decks as they would be in the first match pre-sideboarding.
Jimi leads us off with a Swamp and a Viscera Seer, while I take the opportunity to set myself up with a Preordain. The Preordain reveals an Island and a Spined Thopter, and I put both back on top of my library. Next turn Jimi attacks for 1 with the Seer before adding a second. I draw the Thopter and pay 2 life to cheat it out a turn early. I’m not at 17 life, Jimi at 20.
Now turn 3, Jimi attacks with her Seers for 2, then follows up with a Vampire Lacerator. I still have no threats on the board, and I Preordain again to dig for one before momentum turns too far against me. Then it’s back over to Jimi, who suffers a point of damage at the outset from her own Vampire Lacerator. She tries for a Kalastria Highborn which I thwart with a Mana Leak. Jimi then attacks for 4, and when I accept the trade of the Lacerator for my Thopter, Jimi curiously sacs it to the Viscera Seer. When I point out that in doing so, she’ll be leaving my Thopter alive, she indicates that she’s aware of what she’s doing so I put it from my mind. That leaves 2 points in, and I’m now at 13. Over to me, I play a Phantasmal Dragon and pass.
While happy to get a turn-4 Dragon on the board, Jimi has a turn-5 answer with a Dismember, opening up the way for another 2-point attack. Next turn I play a replacement Dragon, while the mana-light Jimi plays a second Dismember to kill it, swings for 2 more and then plays a Vampire Lacerator. Third time’s the charm, right? I play a third Phantasmal Dragon, then pass.
Now turn 7, Jimi again sends in both her Seers for 2. My Dragon kills one of them (she pops it to scry), but the other drops me to 8 life. She ends with a Bloodthrone Vampire and ends turn. Over to me, I attack with both Dragon and Thopter for 6, then summon a Grand Architect. Tapping the Architect for mana lets me tap out for another Spined Thopter before passing. And while next turn I lose a Thopter to a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir, Jimi never finds an answer for the Dragon. After using an Æther Adept to bounce her Gatekeeper, I alpha strike for the win.
The most interesting part of this game came out after we’d finished- as it turns out, we both kept 1-land hands. I had two Preordains, all three Phantasmal Dragons, a Steel Hellkite which never saw play, and an Island- a risky keep with a huge upside. For her part, Jimi kept a Swamp, two Viscera Seers, two Gatekeepers, and a pair of Vampire Lacerators. Not bad!
Again Jimi begins with a Viscera Seer, while this time I get the size advantage with an opening Phantasmal Bear. Next turn Jimi adds a Bloodthrone Vampire, while I drop a Spined Thopter after a 2-point attack. Jimi gets on the board next turn with an attack from the Vampire and Seer, then follows up with a Kalastria Highborn. Meanwhile, I lay down a Grand Architect and tap it to fuel a Spined Thopter.
Now turn 4, Jimi’s side gets a huge boost from a Blade of the Bloodchief, which she then equips to her Highborn. She then swings with the team. I block her Seer with my Thopter (which gets +1/+1 thanks to the Architect), but am content to let the others through. Jimi then sacrifices the blocked Seer to her Bloodthrone Vampire, giving it +2/+2. This also puts a pair of +2/+2 counters on the Highborn thanks to the Blade, and Jimi pays the to trigger the Highborn’s syphon ability. Jimi concludes with a Vampire Lacerator and passes. Over to me, Jimi’s defenselessness leaves her open to a 6-point swingback with my pair of Thopters and Bear, after which I play a Phantasmal Dragon. But it’s just a turn too late. With me at 5 life, Jimi has the right setup to land the telling blow even without taking the field, adding another Seer then using the Bloodthrone to sac her Vampires and the Highborn to convert that to a 2-point syphon.
A small delay between games and a mix-up permits Jimi to begin on the play for the third and final game, and she opens as ever with a Swamp into a Viscera Seer. I have nothing but an Island. Next turn she adds a Bloodthrone Vampire after a 1-point attack, while I land an onboard presence with a Spined Thopter (paying two life for the Phyrexian mana).
Now turn 3, Jimi brings out the Pawn of Ulamog after a 2-point attack, while I fly back over for 2 damage of my own and play another Spined Thopter. Next turn Jimi lands a Verdant Catacombs (fetching a Swamp), then attacks in again for 2. With me damaged, she gets full value from the following Vampire Outcasts thanks to their bloodthirst. For my part, I bring out a Phantasmal Dragon after attacking in the air with both Thopters for 4.
A turn-5 Gatekeeper of Malakir with kicker sees off one of my Thopters, then Jimi attacks with her Seer, Pawn, and Bloodthrone Vampire. I block the Bloodthrone with my Dragon, thinking that even if she forces a trade I’ll still come out ahead in value. Jimi obliges, popping first her Seer to the Vampire (+2/+2). This gives her a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token from the Pawn, which the Bloodthrone Vampire then gobbles up (+4/+4), then she pops the Pawn itself (+6/+6) to not only kill my Dragon, but live to tell the tale. Of course, at no small cost! Losing the Pawn did give her one remaining 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token, and with her work done she passes after playing a replacement Viscera Seer. Over to me, I repalce my Dragon with another one.
Next turn Jimi swings with the team, and I opt to block and kill her Vampire Outcasts with the Dragon (though it gives her +4 life thanks to their lifelink). The rest get through for impact, leaving me at 9 life. Back to me, I play 2 life to bring out the Porcelain Legionnaire, then send the Dragon in to drop Jimi to 12 life. Jimi’s turn 7 is a blank, but emboldened I swing with both Dragon and Thopter for 7. back to Jimi for turn 8, she scrys by sacrificing her Spawn token, then plays a Vampire Nighthawk to buy some time. I simply Mind Control the Nighthawk and kill her with the Dragon.
Thoughts & Analysis
There is something oddly compelling to many about the concept of the glass cannon- simply talk to any Mage in World of Warcraft to see what makes them tick. So it is with Illusionary Might. The deck is packed with high-value cards like the Bears and Dragons, but they are as brittle and fragile as can be. Something as simple as an Arc Trail can rob you of 10-power’s worth of creatures for as little as two mana. And if they get a repeatable targeter, like a pinger or tapper, you’re just about done for. And yet the allure remains- can I kill them before they have time to exploit my vulnerability?
Unfortunately, Illusionary Might seems to miss a little opportunity to make itself more formidable by including only one copy of Lord of the Unreal. It’s hard to point to a single design error here as the culprit- the only readily-available scapegoat is the Precursor Golem, and even that has its uses. But there seems to be a more inherent weakness in the deck, and that is in a rather vague focus.
Multiple themes in a deck is not something we haven’t seen before. We often point to the Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs The Coalition’s Phyrexian deck as a textbook example of where thematic diversity has been deliberately implemented to slow a deck down (lest a tightly-scripted suicide Black strategy should dominate its five-colour companion). We also praised the Magic 2012 Intro Packs for cannily weaving together a couple strands of differing themes in each pack, to give the nascent deckbuilder a few places to start from. But in a product as finished at these Event Decks are meant to be, it feels like something of a misstep to split the deck’s attention.
On the one hand, you have an Illusion-based theme which takes advantage of that aggressively-costed tribe. The Dragons, the Bears, a Phantasmal Image and the Lord of the Unreal all combine to make speed into a weapon.
Then you have a Grand Architect ramp strategy designed to bring big artifact creatures into play. Sure you have the Precursor Golem and Steel Hellkite for closers, but that’s really about it. While there is some overlap- the Architect if nothing else pumps up all your Blue creatures- it doesn’t feel quite as focused as some of the other Event Deck offerings. Compared to the synergies present within Vampire Outcasts, it comes up all the more lacking.
If you like the element of risk in glass cannon strategies, you’ll get the most out of this deck. Those looking for more controllable outcomes might wish to look elsewhere. Against decks with heavy removal or targetting (such as a sideboarded Vampire Outcasts), Illusionary Might can get pasted.
Hits: Tribal Illusion theme novel and fun; deck capable of overwhelming a slower opponent early with aggressively-costed critters
Misses: Has gaping vulnerability which can be exploited; not as tightly-focused as some other Event decks, splitting its attentions somewhat between two themes; Precursor Golem is a bit stale now as a rare after being contained in New Phyrexia’s Artful Destruction Intro Pack.
OVERALL SCORE: 4.25/5.00