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January 22, 2012

Invasion: Spectrum Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Taking nothing away from the other three decks of Invasion, this is the playtest we’ve most anticipated. Whenever you stake out a challenging proposition- in this case, a five-colour theme deck- there’s always a little extra interest in seeing if it lives up to its ambitions. To put the deck to the test, Sam is piloting Dismissal, the Dimir-coloured disruption deck.

Game One

Leading us off for our opener, Sam starts with a Salt Marsh while I match with a Forest. Next turn she adds a Swamp, while I see her Swamp and raise her a Thornscape Apprentice. Back to Sam, she then follows with a Phyrexian Infiltrator– bad news. Hoping to draw a block with a surprise in hand, I attack with the Apprentice, but Sam lets it through. I immediately kick myself, as having it hang back to block would have been the better ploy. Still, first blood is mine as Sam goes down to 19.

Now turn 4, Sam attacks in with the Infiltrator for 2, and with only two Forests and a Swamp in play I miss my first land drop. Next turn she summons an Urborg Emissary, paying the kicker to return my Apprentice to hand. Another 2-point attack puts me at 16. My turn comes and goes without production, though now with eight cards in hand at the end of my turn I am compelled to pitch a Yavimaya Barbarian.

Sam attacks with the Emissary and Infiltrator on turn 6. I block the Infiltrator, then cast Wax to kill it off. Sam ponders triggering the swap ability (which would give her my Apprentice), but she lets it die instead to play a kicked Faerie Squadron. Nevertheless, taking 3 from the Emissary drops me to 13. Sadly, my turn again passes without issue. Next turn, Sam attacks for 6 with the Emissary and Squadron. I offer my Apprentice in trade for the Emissary, but the flying Squadron puts me to 10. I draw a card, again going to eight in hand, then discard a second Yavimaya Barbarian.

A Hate Weaver blessedly arrives on turn 8, letting Sam turn the 6-point attack into an 8-point one. Down to 2 life, I draw and scoop.

Game Two

Now on the play, I lead with a Thornscape Apprentice off a Forest, while Sam again opens with the Salt Marsh. Next turn I attack for 1, then add a second Apprentice to the board after laying down a Mountain. For her part, Sam lands a Ravenous Rats, and I very begrudgingly pitch an Ordered Migration into the graveyard.

Now turn 3, I play a Forest and pass, while Sam adds a Swamp and the Hate Weaver. Back to me, I keep the creature train rolling with a Voracious Cobra. Sam drops an Island and passes.

Things start to pick up on turn 5 when Sam blasts the Cobra with an Agonizing Demise. I replace it with a Quirion Trailblazer, fetching up a Plains to give me four different basic land types in play. Over to Sam, she uses Cursed Flesh to pick off one of my Apprentices, attacks for 1 with the Rats (pumping it for 1 with the Hate Weaver once I let it pass), then plays a Dream Thrush. Next turn, the Cobra returns when I draw another one. Over to Sam, I tap her Thrush with my Apprentice before she can attack with it, heading off any potential attack. She uses the time to play a kicked Faerie Squadron, however, so all I really managed was to stall for a turn.

Yavimaya Barbarian

My first real break of the game comes on turn 7 when I tap out to land a Halam Djinn. While the Cobra counts as Red for the purposes of its colour-counting, it also counts as Green, giving me one more Green permanent than a Red one and letting it attack with the full 6 power. Sam deliberates, then adjusts her spindown die to 13. Back to her, she swings for 4 in the sky, pumping with the Hate Weaver for one more. She then follows up with a kicked Duskwalker, which is grave news. Down to 13 life, I realise my only hope of winning is to keep the pressure on, so I attack with the Djinn again on turn 8. Sam chumps with her Ravenous Rats. I tap out again for a Sabertooth Nishoba and pass.

Sam comes in with nearly everything on turn 8- the Thrush, the Faeries, and the Duskwalker- carving 9 points off my life total. In desperation, I go all on on the counterattack for 15, though Sam’s in no real danger. She coolly Recoils my Halam Djinn, taking the rest to drop to 6. I can’t win, and we both know it. I start picking up my cards.

Game Three

I know I’m in trouble when I mulligan to 6 at the outset, leading off with a Forest which Sam matches with a Swamp. Next turn I play a Nomadic Elf off of an Island, while Sam plays one of her own to land a Dream Thrush. Playing another Forest on turn 3, I then add a Yavimaya Barbarian after attacking for 2, filtering mana through the Elf to get the . Sam fires back with her Thrush in the air, then plays a Ravenous Rats. It’s painful to do so, but I throw a Plains into the graveyard. She adds a Nightscape Apprentice and passes.

Now turn 4, I tutor up a Mountain with a Quirion Trailblazer, attacking for another 2 with my Barbarian to leave Sam at 16. Back to Sam, she pecks at me for 1 with the Bird, then adds the nettlesome Hate Weaver. Next turn I deploy my Voracious Cobra, which thus far has failed to live up to expectations. After getting pecked again for 1, I watch Sam add a kicked Duskwalker and begin to fear the worst.

Still, I’ve got plenty in the tank, and my 4-point attack on turn 6 proves it as the Cobra and Barbarian thunder through the red zone. I then use Assault to snipe off the Hate Weaver and pass. Over to Sam, she returns fire with a 4-point attack of her own behind the evasive Thrush and Duskwalker tandem to put me at 13. She then uses the Nightscape Apprentice to return the Ravenous Rats to the top of her library before spending the rest of her mana for a Stalking Assassin.

Topdecking a Forest on turn 7 lets me tap out to play a kicked Probe, again leaning on the Nomadic Elf for some filtering. It’s not going to do much, as my hand is otherwise empty and Sam’s got the Rats coming again, but I’m hoping to pick off something good out of her hand when I empty it. Sam is forced to pitch her Recoil, while I draw junk- two lands and a Fertile Ground– none of which I’ll ultimately get to keep after the Rats come back down. The Barbarian is then sent in on the attack for 2, and Sam is now halfway there- 10 life. Sure enough, she plonks down the Rats (being cheeky I kept a Swamp for just this purpose), then attacks for 4 more to put me at 9.

Now turn 8, Sam taps my Cobra with her Assassin to kick things off for the turn, though I don’t have much to offer anyway when I swing for 2 more with the Barbarian. Untapping, Sam’s then able to kill the Cobra with the Assassin’s other ability, and I’m down a creature. She attacks for the usual 4, then puts a Cursed Flesh on the Barbarian to neuter it. My next turn is another blank, and it’s my death knell. Sam attacks with the Thrush and Duskweaver, and while I blast the Bird for spite with a Malice, I’m really just circling the drain.

Thoughts & Analysis

One of the earliest practices we had at Ertai’s Lament was to review decks out of sequence. For instance, we’d pick some decks for review on a whim, or lead with the playtest and follow with a deck breakdown. Although we are now comitted to reviewing sets in block order, covering last year’s Domain gave us a lot of a lot of food for thought in assessing the merits of Spectrum.

Ordered Migration

Being in the second set in Invasion block, Domain was a great improvement over its predecessor. It had the same objective- pilot a five-colour base-Green deck to victory on the back of cards which drew their strength from your basic land diversity, but it did it leagues better. It’s almost as if- as we alluded to in the deck analysis- Wizards wasn’t 100% on board with the domain mechanic, and hedged their bets by splitting the deck’s focus between domain activation/effects and straightforward fat beaters to make use of all the ramping the deck does anyway. Although the instinct is to posit that there simply weren’t enough domain cards in the first set to sustain the strategy, and it would need to wait until the first expansion to flesh out, a look at Gatherer gives us cards like Worldly Counsel, Exotic Curse, Kavu Scout, and even Strength of Unity at common, waiting to be picked for the team. Rather than having cards that we want to play later (once we have all five lands in play) but can play earlier in a pinch for a little less output, we get cards we simply can’t cast at all until the manabase is fleshed out. That’s a noticeable lack of versatility, as sometimes casting a domain card for less than maximum output can still net you value.

Although I don’t feel fully that Spectrum gave a fair accounting of itself here, they were certainly a trio of games that were hard to find much enjoyment in. In the first game, I was mana screwed- two Forests and a Swamp. Mana screw happens- you can’t avoid it, though you can mitigate some of its risks (fors instance, by playing a mono-coloured deck). Note in our playtest review of Heavy Duty, we had a game where I was able to pull it off with only three land in play. Not so here- when you get mana screwed, you’re really screwed. The prospects of a recovery- outwith, say, lucking into a Fertile Ground- are fairly minimal.

In Games Two and Three, I had very little ability to deal with what Sam was playing due to the rather miserly and cumbersome removal package the deck contains. I don’t think at any time in the trio of games was the prospect of victory close at hand. That isn’t to say the deck can’t get it done- I did win our pre-game friendly commandingly on the back of an Ordered Migration. But on the whole, I would have to say that the deck is fairly disappointing.

Up until now, we’ve really enjoyed the five-colour decks we’ve played. This one is probably one to skip.

Hits: Solid ramping/fixing suite helps make the five-colour dream a reality

Misses: Timidity in going all-in on the domain mechanic- instead piling in fatties to bloat the back-end of the mana curve- throttles the deck

OVERALL SCORE: 3.60/5.00

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