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November 11, 2011


Conflux: Esper Air Assault Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

With one of the themes of Conflux being what happens when shards collide with forces inimical to them, you could hardly ask for a better thematic matchup than Esper Air Assault versus Naya Domain. Sam took on the five-colour Naya deck to give my artifacts a run for their money, and here are the results.

Game One

Sam begins on the play, and leads off naturally enough with a Forest. I’m quite happy to play an Arcane Sanctum for my own land drop. Next turn, Sam plays a Plains, then basic landcycles a Sylvan Bounty for a Mountain- next turn she’ll have one of each. For my part, I debut the game’s first creature, a Darklit Gargoyle.

The Gargoyle, sadly, is immediately outclassed by Sam’s menacing turn-3 beater, the Woolly Thoctar– an immediate must-answer threat. Fortunately she’s caught me with an Executioner’s Capsule in hand, and down it comes after a 1-point swing in the sky. When Sam attacks as expected next turn with the Thoctar, I pop the Capsule and solve the game’s first challenge. Alas, I have little time to relax before the next one appears: Matca Rioters, immediately coming down as a 4/4 as Sam’s done a fine job of diversifying her early mana base. All I can manage by way of reply is a Rod of Ruin, but I at least shave another point off her life total with the Gargoyle.

A turn-5 Terramorphic Expanse gives Sam the perfect spread as she cracks it for a Swamp. The now-5/5 Rioters rumble through the red zone and carve off a quarter of my life total. I’ll need an answer, and soon- especially after Sam deploys a Manaforce Mace before passing. My turn 5 is a blank, though I manage an Island. Next turn Sam equips the Mace to the Rioters, thundering in for 10 damage. I shove my Gargoyle in front of them, and they pulp it to buy me some time. At the end of her turn, I ping her with the Rod, a near-meaningless gesture of defiance. I then play another expendable sucker- a Parasitic Strix– and end my turn.

Now turn 7, the Rioters run roughshod over my Strix, then Sam reinforces them in a Kranioceros. Desperate, I play a Faerie Mechanist, which fetches me an Esper Cormorants. Next turn Sam swings with both bruisers, and the Karnioceros gets through for 5. I ping her again as I’ve been doing, and Sam is now at 15 life. Back to me, I play the Cormorants, then basic landcycle a Traumatic Visions for an Island. I have both an Inkwell Leviathan and Magister Sphinx in hand, but I’m just not getting there fast enough. I run out of life the turn after I run out of chump blockers.

Game Two

Again I luck into an opening Arcane Sanctum, hoping it portends more joy this time around than the last, while Sam drops a Forest. While I continue to build up my land, Sam drops a turn-2 Kaleidostone and lands another turn-3 Woolly Thoctar. As before, I have an answer in the form of an Executioner’s Capsule, which I pop to kill it when Sam swings in on turn 4. She then basic landcycles a Sylvan Bounty for a Swamp, which again gives her one of each land type.

Sludge Strider

On turn 5 the game finally diverts from following in the footsteps of the one before when a Sludge Strider hits the table. Sam responds on her turn with a Spore Burst, giving her a quintet of 1/1 Saproling tokens. Next turn I add a Windwright Mage, who gains flying because of the Executioner’s Capsule in my graveyard. She also lets me trigger my Strider’s special ability, so Sam goes down to 19 life while I’m at 21. I decline to attack, and pass turn. Sam for her part plays a Kranioceros and passes.

Now turn 7, Sam exiles the Windwright Mage with a Path to Exile, which not only affords me another basic land but also lets me trigger the Strider again. I then add Vectis Agents and pass, using the Strider’s ability one more time. Over to Sam, she decides she’s given me enough time to build up, and swings with everything for 10. I block and kill a couple Saprolings with my two creatures, but still take 8 to end up at 15, two points lower than Sam.

I attack back on turn 9 for 7 with the Strider and Agents, then summon the Esper Cormorants- again triggering the Strider’s ability to syphon 1 life from Sam, leaving her at 9. I then solve the Kranioceros with a Dehydration and pass. Over to Sam, she takes a breather with a Rampant Growth and a Sylvan Bounty, the latter of which restores her to 17 life. Next turn I attack for 3 with the Cormorants, sailing right over Sam’s defenders. I then add a Parasitic Strix, which not only syphons Sam for 2 on its own as I control a Black permanent, but also triggers the Sludge Strider to symphon one more. I then add the Scornful Æther-Lich, syphoning again. By the time the turn is over, Sam’s down to 10 life, while I sit quite happily at 20. Sam’s response? An Aven Trailblazer.

On turn 11 I send in my infiltration units- the Agents and Lich- using their special abilities to ensure they’re unblockable. I also attack more conventionally with my Cormorants and Strix, and send my Strider in for good measure. It’s a backbreaking play as Sam trades her remaining Saprolings for the all-star Sludge Strider, chumps her Aven to the Cormorants, and goes down to 4 life. I end with a Court Homunculus, and Sam scoops after drawing.

Game Three

Sam’s turn to lead off, and she begins with a Forest off of a Terramorphic Expanse. Next turn she grabs a Mountian by cycling out her Sylvan Bounty, and by turn 3 she’s again springing the Woolly Thoctar on me. I’ve been laying land myself, and while this time I don’t have the Executioner’s Capsule at my disposal, I do have a Remove Soul. That gives Esper Air Assault a perfect three-for-three record of solving one of Sam’s nastiest threats before it ever touches me. For my part, I basic landcycle a Traumatic Visions for a Plains, which I then play before ending my turn.

Now turn 4, Sam fetches an Island off of a second Expanse, then landcycles a second Sylvan Bounty to go get Black. If I’m impressed with Esper’s ability to take care of itself in the early game, I have to also admire the facility with which Sam has managed to get all her basic land types into play. For my part, I use the turn to bring out a Windwright Mage. Next turn, Sam summons Wandering Goblins, then she Paths my Mage at the beginning of my upkeep. I grab a Swamp with a Terramorphic Expanse of my own, then replace the Mage with a Vedalken Outlander.

Scornful Æther-Lich

Sam’s turn 6 is a blank, but mine isn’t. Another Expanse grabs me a Plains, while the Faerie Mechanist snares me an Executioner’s Capsule. I’d ordinarily like to hang onto the Capsule in hand until needed, but with only one source of Black mana in play I don’t want to risk getting caught flat-footed so I go ahead and deploy it. Next turn Sam brings out the Beacon Behemoth, while I add a Parasitic Strix after attacking for 2 with the Mechanist. That puts Sam at 16, with me up to 22.

Sam then adds a Manaforce Mace to the battlefield, then equips it with the Behemoth and attacks in. As expected, I pop the Capsule and kill it. Back to me, I swing for 4 in the sky with my flyers, then add an Esper Cormorants and a Parasitic Strix. With the Capsule gone this second Strix doesn’t grant me a 2-point syphon as I have no other Black permanents in play, but I decide that the pressure in the air is more important than a little extra life at the moment and play it anyway. Sam’s down to 12 life, while I remain unthreatened at 22.

Now turn 9, Sam equips the Mace to the Goblins, giving her 10 power on the board, but it doesn’t matter what she does at this point. Unable to stop my air force from flying over the red zone (or, in the case of the Vedalken Outlander, walking right through it), I swing in with everything for 11 points of damage, then drop and tap a Rod of Ruin for the win.

Thoughts & Analysis

I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Esper Air Assault. As we identified in the deack analysis, it had a major tactical outline of evasive aggression in the sky, aided with a subtheme or artifact synergy, and that’s exactly what it delivered. The interaction between artifacts was unreliable, but when it was there it could make a serious impact. Most notable here was the Sludge Strider, which was singlehandedly responsible in game two for a 12-point swing in our fortunes (six activations). Beyond that you had the Windwright Mage coming in with flying (though Sam never suffered her to live) and the immediate doubling of the Court Homunculus’s power level. While the deck is capable of operating just fine without it, that synergy gives it a few extra percentage points towards victory when played over multiple games- it’s slight, but all upside. This stands in welcome contrast to the more artifact-dependant Esper Artifice from Shards of Alara, which could struggle if it didn’t find the right cards for this strategy.

Executioner's Capsule

The major strategy- taking to the skies- was very effective. To be certain, Sam’s Naya deck was at a bit of a disadvantage, for she has few ways to solve those threats, but Esper Air Assault never needed to rely on dropping its bombs to win- indeed, it’s telling that the only game where I had drawn either one of the deck’s two rares was the game I lost. It’s certainly fair to ask if I might not have had a better outcome had I something more affordable in hand. This applies especially in the case of the ludicrous Inkwell Leviathan, a card which essentially says, “if you’ve managed to stall this long, go ahead and put the game out of its misery already.” Instead, the deck featured a steady stream of decent, affordable fliers which could put the game away, with enough removal and disruption to stall things out on the ground.

The lack of removal certainly is a concern, as you have precious little of it and must really make it count. With a single Executioner’s Capsule and Dehydration, you’ll have to find more creative ways to counter your opponent’s threats. If you’re forced to play on the defensive, the evasiveness of your air force is far less effective, and their relatively smaller size means they won’t last forever. Esper Air Assault, then, is a deck which relies heavily upon momentum. If things are going well, they’ll get better and better, but if you run into difficulties, you may have some trouble recovering.

Hits: Solid aerial theme gives your deck dependable combat presence; artifact-synergy subtheme adds to the power level of the deck without taking away from it if the right pieces aren’t assembled

Misses: Weak removal package means you’ll have little way to deal with pesky noncombatant/utility creatures; Inkwell Leviathan is a dreadful inclusion and almost as good as a dead draw most games

OVERALL SCORE: 4.40/5.00

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 11 2011

    I wonder if Sam might have done better in Game Two if she had exiled the Sludge Strider instead. My immediate thought is that she would have been better off. Overall though, Sam’s skills are coming along quite nicely! Kudos on playing the deck so well.

  2. Nov 11 2011

    [+] It was impressive victories, because that Naya Domain is outright scary. Regardless of rares, it can put some ridiculous creatures on the table at most times and STILL have Path ready. Surviving such threats is an amazement in it’s own right. It stopped what needed to be stopped and kept getting better and better.

    [+] In tactical dogfights, it’s so nice to have that evasion. I may have underestimated its racing ability because when grouped up, there can be some good races if you have something to guard as well.

    [-] Honestly, the removal felt like some kind of wild luck to be pulled off. I’m somehow surprised you saw all three pieces despite using a 41 card deck. Needless to say it was tantamount in not getting blown out, but it paints a picture of a crux the deck needs to see in order to establish momentum.

  3. Dalmion
    Nov 11 2011

    I was thinking on how to best improve a friend of mine to Magic earlier today, when something hit me.

    Intro Decks have several uses; like improving your collection, giving you an idea to build upon, or giving you the cards needed to shape a themed deck. But I think their most important trait is being able to introduce new Magic players to the game without overwhelming them.

    Most Intro Decks can be classified as Aggro-decks, easy-to-understand decks that relies mostly, if not entirely, on creatures as their win conditions.

    With m12 Wizards released Grab for Power, an actual combo deck. To my knowledge the first Intro Deck with a game-winning combo.

    I think most people agree that the Magic tactics in their most basic form comes down to aggro, control, or combo. The same terms which are also used as the fundamentals of the infamous Metagame Clock. So where are the control decks?

    I don’t think counter magic is too complicated for new players, and neither does WotC as some Intro Decks include Negates, (which I find harder to explain than Cancel.) Wizards even kept reprinting, the mostly unwanted, Cancel without putting them into any Intro Decks! (That i know of.)

    Why is it that we have no Intro Decks that introduces new players to the idea of control, one of the core parts of the game? What introduction to blue is complete without some solid counter magic?
    I imagine that the perfect Core-set release of Intro Decks would include a slow deck with three Cancels, maybe a couple of Negates and some late game fatties.

    • Dalmion
      Nov 11 2011

      “I was thinking on how to best introduce* a friend of mine to Magic earlier today…”
      Added that part after writing everything else, and lost my train of thoughts writing that sentence.

    • Nov 12 2011

      Have to agree… To be honest, I sometimes argue Control is the easiest deck to get into and be effective with. You don’t need a ton of rare lands because you aren’t really worried about your diversified mana turn 1. You don’t need many creatures because you just need the 6 or so bombs that win you the game. And removal is not a high-priced commodity.

      Now the most popular ways about going about these factors certainly dip into expense, historically, but there are ALWAYS alternatives to duals, bombs, and planeswalkers.

      So you teach them to stop the right stuff at the right time and just play bombs and win with them, and they’re set. It doesn’t matter what an opponent’s card costs when it gets hit by Dissipate.

      • Dalmion
        Nov 12 2011

        I can’t really think of a good reason as to why WotC have chosen not to make any Control Intro Decks.

        Yes, counter magic is able to stop expensive cards, but you won’t be seeing many of those at the Intro Deck level of play. Balancing shouldn’t be too much of a problem either; as Intro/Theme Decks in the past, with a lot of removal, have been hurting for creatures to make up for a decent removal suite.

        When I was new to the game, I spent the first couple of months trying to figure out what kind of decks I preferred to play, and neither of the two intro decks I bought fit my style at the time. I had heard about slower Control Decks and wanted to try them, but my lacking collection, with a single Negate as the only counterspell, prevented that.

        I eventually found out about the Deck Builder’s Toolkit, and with it I got the tools required to build a starter level control deck. There was only two problems:

        1. I had never built a deck from scratch before: I got to experience how much harder it is to put 60 cards together, and make it work, than it is to just improve on the preconstructed Intro Decks.

        2. I had no idea about how a control deck was supposed to work, except for containing some counter magic and Islands.

        I can’t help but think that it would have been easier for me to understand the intricacy of blue magic, and the tools required for it, if there had been some Control Intro Deck out at the time when I began playing.

        The big fat flier ,that undoubtedly would have come with the deck, wouldn’t have hurt either.


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