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December 29, 2011

3

Planar Chaos: Endless March Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Our final look at Planar Chaos sees me up against the deck that started us off- the mono-Blue Ixidor’s Legacy. With Jimi behind it, can Endless March hold its own, or will it fall to morphing and trickery?

Game One

Jimi kicks things off with an Island, while I raise with a Plains into an Icatian Javelineer. Next turn she drops another Island while I attack with my Javelineer, then add a Soltari Priest. She finally establishes some board presence next turn when she plays a morphed creature, face-down and 2/2. Back to me, I add a Lavacore Elemental before swinging in with the Priest- a perfect combo to make sure the Elemental stays flush with time counters.

Now turn 4, Jimi attacks with the morphed creature (referred to here as a “crawler,” which is a word we’ll use going forward), then plays a second one. I follow that with a 7-point attack with the Elemental and Priest. Jimi offers up her freshly-cast crawler (a Coral Trickster) to chump, taking 2 from the unblockable Priest. Next turn she plays yet another morph crawler, while I follow suit with a repeat of the last round- a 7-point swing. This time, Jimi pushes both remaining crawlers in the path of the Elemental, unmorphing one of them to revel a Fathom Seer for the card draw. It’s a desperate act- Jimi’s down to only one Island- but she’s clearly low on options.

With an overfull hand, she tries to force me to discard a card with a turn-6 Piracy Charm, but I counter it with a Dawn Charm. She then goes to end her turn, but I have a trick in mind. I ping her with the Javelineer for 1, then play the Stonecloaker to return the Javelineer to hand (and exile the top critter card in her graveyard for good measure). Normally I wouldn’t bother with such shenanigans for just a Javelineer, but with a Dust Elemental in hand I need the extra body on the battlefield that the ‘Cloaker provides. Over to me, I attack for 5 with the Stonecloaker and Soltari Priest to take Jimi down to 8 life, then replay the Icatian Javelineers. I now have three creatures on the battlefield and enough open mana to cast the Dust Elemental in a pinch should need arise.

Jimi has little to do on turn 7, but playing her third land lets her summon another morphed crawler. At the end of her turn, I flash in the Dust Elemental, then once it’s my turn I send it in to carve off 6 life from her total. Down to 2, she’s done for as I replay my Javelineers and Soltari Priest. She has no answer, and scoops after her next draw.

Game Two

Jimi again has the slow start rather expected from Ixidor’s Legacy, with her first play being a turn-3 crawler. By then I’ve already deployed a turn-2 Mogg War Marshal, though her 2/2 crawler has effectively neutered its ability to get in some early damage. Nevertheless, I pay the echo const on turn 3, drop a Terramorphic Expanse which turns into a Plains, and pass. The game’s first damage arrives on turn 4 at the hands of Jimi’s crawler, at which point she promptly plays a second one. I tap out for Errant Doomsayers and Jhoira’s Timebug– useful, but not especially threatening.

Now turn 5, Jimi sustains the offensive with a 4-point crawler swing, taking me to 14. Back to me, I use the Doomsayers to tap down her remaining crawler, then send in the troops for a 3-point counterattack. I then summon Stormfront Riders, returning the Doomsayers and Timebug to hand and adding a pair of 1/1 Soldier tokens. Next turn, Jimi sends in all three of her 2/2 crawlers. I block one with my Riders, then watch in horror as Jimi Ovinizes the Riders and they die to the crawler. The second I block with my 2/2 Soldiers, looking for the trade. Alas, it unmorphs into a 1/3 Fathom Seer, letting it kill one of my Soldiers and live to tell the tale. The final crawler gets in unblocked. All I can do is replace the Timebug and Doomsayers back onto the battlefield before ending my turn.

Soltari Priest

Jimi keeps the pressure on with a 7-point swing on turn 7, though I slip the noose with the Fog-mode of a Dawn Charm. Alas, all it buys me is time as my turn is a blank, though I do draw a Terramorphic Expanse to finally get me a second source of White mana. Next turn Jimi comes in for 5 after I use the Doomsayers to tap down one of her crawlers. I again look to trade out with tokens as I block one crawler with a 1/1 Solider and 1/1 Goblin- and again am thwarted as it turns out to be a slippery Fathom Seer. I block a second with a Timebug/Mogg War Marshal team, and Jimi assigns the damage to the Timebug (turns out, it was a Brine Elemental). She then ends with a Jodah’s Avenger and passes- bad news. On the upside, I use that second Plains to finally bring forth a Calciderm.

Now turn 9, Jimi plays a Desert, then I tap down her last morph crawler with the Doomspeakers. In a clumsy attempt at a bluff, Jimi attacks with the Avenger unaugmented, rather than dropping it to a 3/3 shadow or 2/2 with shadow and double strike for maximum damage output. I chump it with a 1/1 token. Thwarted, she plays a 5/5 Tidewalker and passes. I remove a time counter from the Calciderm, draw a card, and pass.

Jimi starts sending in the Jodah’s Avenger like she means it on turn 10, going for the 2/2 shadow/double strike configuration. We go back and forth for another turn, but in the end I can’t solve the Avenger and thus can’t win.

Game Three

Jimi’s turn-3 crawler is the opening play of the game, though with me on the play we’ve both hit all of our first three land drops. I play the Mogg War Marshal on turn 4, then use it and its 1/1 Goblin buddy to block Jimi’s crawler when she attacks with it on turn 4. Caught off-guard, Jimi decides to stick with the aggressive posture that did so well for her last game as she Pongifies her own crawler (a Fathom Seer, naturally). The 3/3 Ape easily dispatches both of my blockers, though the War Marshal replaces himself as he dies. Jimi the follows up with a Dream Stalker, returning an Island to hand.

Now turn 5, I blow up one of Jimi’s remaining two Islands with Avalanche Riders. Back to Jimi, she replays the Island she returned with the Dream Stalker (bringing her back up to two lands in play), then sends in the Ape to hit me for 3. My turn 6 is essentially spent playing the echo cost of the Riders, and I play nothing else. Back to Jimi, she attacks for 3 more with the Ape before adding a Riptide Pilferer.

My turn 7 is another blank, and I’m stuck on four land. Fortunately Jimi’s not in much better shape herself, but she has the 3/3 Ape to do her talking for her. She attacks with it again, and this time I flash in a Whitemane Lion to return the Riders to hand, then use the Lion and the 1/1 Goblin to force a trade on her Ape. Not so fast, says Jimi- she Ovinizes the Lion, letting her Ape kill both of my blockers. I get my revenge, though, when next turn I resummon the Avalanche Riders and pick off another Island. Down to two land, all Jimi can do is work with what she’s got, and the Ape predictably enough lumbers in for 3 more to leave me at 11.

I pay the exorbitant echo cost for the Riders on turn 9, then pass. Jimi attacks with the Ape but this time I’m ready. I block with the Riders, then pump them with Brute Force. I’d actually wanted to save the Force for later, but I need an answer for that Ape. With an overfull hand, Jimi discards a Fledgling Mawcor and ends her turn. Back to me, I get a small life bump when I trot out the Aven Riftwatcher, going back up to 13. Jimi summons a Coral Trickster by way of response.

It’s now turn 11 and we both realise this one is going long. I remove a time counter from the Riftwatcher, then summon a Lavacore Elemental. As expected, the Riftwatcher is then sent on the attack for 2- my first dose of offensive damage this game. That gives my Elemental another time counter, and I end turn. Jimi plays a third Island, then trots out a morph crawler. Next turn I remove a time counter from both the Aven and Elemental, leaving them with one apiece before I send them charging into the red zone. Jimi chump blocks the Elemental with the Pilferer, but still take 2 in the air. Then I play the Stormfront Riders, returning the Aven and all-star Avalanche Riders back to hand, an act which not only gains me a pair of 1/1 Soliders but also heals me for 2 thanks to the Riftwatcher. Now back up to 15 life, Jimi and I are in a virtual dead heat. For Jimi’s part, she plays an Island and a face-up Riptide Pilferer.

Lavacore Elemental

Down come the Avalanche Riders to blow up a third land on turn 13. I tap down her Coral Trickster with the Errant Doomsayers just to try and head off any funny gang-blocking business that might hamper my Lavacore Elemental, then send the Elemental and Riders in for 9. Jimi chumps the Elemental with the Pilferer as expected, but still takes 4 from the Riders. I then add a second Errant Doomsayers and pass, feeling the momentum of the game now firmly behind me. Back to Jimi, she plays a 3/3 Tidewalker, hoping to hold off the Elemental for a turn.

Now turn 14, I let the Avalanche Riders go, needing the mana for other things, and give them a hero’s farewell. Instead, I use Timecrafting to remove all time counters from the Tidewalker, killing it, then tap down Jimi’s crawler and Trickster with my Doomsayers. This helps clear out some of the chaff for the Elemental and Riders, forcing Jimi to offer up the Dream Stalker to hold off the Elemental. Over to her, she plays another crawler and passes.

I go for the throat at last on turn 15 when I attack for 9 with my Elemental and Riders. Although Jimi looks to trade out her crawler and Coral Trickster for the Elemental, it’s a moot point. The Riders are unblocked, and backed with a Fatal Frenzy are all I need to take the game.

Thoughts & Analysis

The three games we played for the deck’s review give a fairly good indication of what you might expect from Endless March. With gimmick-filled decks such as these, you usually can do quite well if you manage to assemble the engine- in this case, using and abusing gating creatures and returns-to-hand or leaves-play effects. That said, if you have a hard time assembling the core cards the deck needs to go off, you’ll typically flounder.

In Game One I was able to burn Jimi down in eight turns thanks to aggressive interactions between the Soltari Priest and Lavacore Elemental, then stitch things up with the Dust Elemental. So far so good, right? But in Game Two I was stuck with all the janky or awkward cards the deck packs in, like the Timebug, Doomsayers, and even Mogg War Marshal. Only sheer perseverence allowed me to drop Jimi to half her life total, but there was little doubt throughout the game what the outcome was likely to be.

In some ways, Game Three was the most illustrative. To be sure, victory can cover up a lot of sins, but if you take anything away from that third game, take away the fact that it took me eleven turns to land my first point of damage, while I kept getting my head done in by a 3/3 Ape token. Fortunately, I was able to string along successive castings of Avalanche Riders to keep Jimi’s resource base low- it’s certainly fair to say that the game might have had a very different outcome if I was chaining, say, Mogg War Marshals instead.

This is what we often refer to as a “feast-or-famine” deck, one that is ordinarily weak but under certain conditions becomes unusually powerful. We often see this with combo-style decks, which muddle about trying to get their combo pieces together so they can ‘go off’ and snatch the game. In cases like that, we have to assess the deck in two different lights. How does it play under ‘feast’ conditions, and how does it play the rest of the time?

The good news here is that the gating engine of Endless March works well enough once you’re able to take advantage of it. There are enough cards in the deck that have beneficial effects when they enter and/or leave play, and an adequate number of ways to gate them. The problem more lies in the fact that in ‘famine’ mode, Endless March really is quite bland. The unspoken question here is, is it worth putting up with the mediocre gameplay of the deck to be able to enjoy it when it comes together? In this case, that answer is probably not. For such deferred gratification to work, it needs to have an extra component of fun when everything comes together. Gating, while making for some clever card interactions, just doesn’t seem to be enough to really carry a deck that’s interesting for more than a couple run-throughs. When looked at next to the rest of Planar Chaos, this looks a bit more like one of the comparatively pedestrian Time Spiral decks.

One final note- reader Scorium had a great comment that should be taken on board when considering the deck. As he put it:

When playing this deck, its very important to remember that damage on the stack existed when the precon was made. All of the gating creatures with flash have some good trick on their sleeve: when a creature you control is about to die with damage on the stack, return it to the hand killing the other creature and make effectively a 2 for 1. Without it, the deck may look underpowered.

While that won’t add much in the rating department as we play under current rules, it’s certainly a fair point to consider.

Hits: Solid mechanical core that has the feel of a combo deck; good synergies with cards such as evasive creatures and Lavacore Elemental

Misses: Deck’s payoff somewhat underwhelming, and not especially worth the amount of games when you’ll be struggling to assemble the deck’s gating engine

OVERALL SCORE: 3.75/5.00

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. stric9
    Dec 29 2011

    The review certainly showed the power of land destruction if nothing else. I miss Stone Rain.

    Reply
    • Dec 29 2011

      So do I. That and Rain of Tears. There’s a Nemesis precon which is devoted to landkill, and although it’s a ways off I’m looking forward to piloting that one already…

      Reply

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