Invasion: Blowout Review (Part 1 of 2)
An apparent trend over the course of the development of Magic’s set-based preconstructed decks is the diminishing availability of removal. With the advent of the Intro Pack, the decks tended to revolve around creature combat to a degree higher than their theme deck predecessors. This was something of a worrying development.
Although the general puacity of removal meant that your creatures lived longer, it also meant that your opponent’s did as well. It also tended to give a bit of a ‘dumbed down’ feel to some decks, lacking the diversity and variety of some of the more notable theme decks in days gone by.
That said, over the course of time we’ve seen a very slow but unmistakable return to form from the Intro Packs. Getting closer towards that intersection between complexity and accessibility, we’ve seen some very encouraging signs. The first of these that really stuck out was Mirrodin Besieged’s Mirromancy, a spell-heavy deck packed in a ton of instants and sorceries to combo off of its premium rare, Galvanoth. Though a far cry from the three-creature The Sparkler from Stronghold (the likes of which we are unlikely to ever see again), it was certainly a nod towards decks that weren’t just about ‘turning dudes sideways.’
More good news came in the very next set. New Phyrexia’s Feast of Flesh drew from another theme deck archetype- the Red/Black massive removal deck. Of course, Feast paid a price for its largesse with a very conditional removal suite with little repetition, but the genetic code was unmistakable. Although today’s deck was not the first of its type (that honour goes to Groundbreaker from the Exodus set in 1998), it remains a sterling example of the kind of aggression this colour pairing is capable of- especially when taking advantage of Black’s disruption effects.
Long for a Glorious Death
As evidenced by its aggressively-costed mana curve, Blowout is the very opposite of its sibling decks Spectrum and Heavy Duty, which tend to mature in the mid-to-endgame. Instead, it looks to pack its early turns with a flurry of activity and disruption, setting the tone for the rest of the match. To keep it from exhausting itself early and be unable to close the deal, Blowout also has a large number of mana sinks- places you can put your mana to increase your board position that don’t involve having a card in hand.
For example, the deck’s lone one-drop, the Thunderscape Apprentice, might never see a Forest, but it’s -based life drain is all the special ability it needs. A feeble 1/1 body, it still gives you the ability to be damaging your opponent every turn, even if the red zone is hopelessly bogged down. It’s at the two-drop slot, however, where the deck fully blossoms.
A pair of Shivan Zombies should come as no surprise, given that each of Invasion’s four decks have some representative from this two-mana 2/2 prot-colour cycle. As we’ve stated before, they’re either very mediocre or splendidly effective, depending on what your opponent is playing. A Hate Weaver gives us the next example of a mana sink, letting you wring every last drop of usefulness out of an open mana pool. Although the majority of your creatures are Black, there are more than enough Red and gold-bordered creatures to make it a worthwhile inclusion. It’s in the deck’s final set of two-drops that its insidiousness starts to come into focus: a full playset of Ravenous Rats. On their own, the Rats are fairly lousy, and you’ll often struggle to find a good use for them outside of chump-blocking. However, by the time you get to that point, they’ve already done their grim task of emptying your opponent’s hand of a card. It’s a weak two-for-one… but it’s still a two-for-0ne.
The three-drop slot is equally busy. To begin with, you get a virtual Noah’s Ark of Kavus- two each of the Hooded, Vicious, and Aggressor varities. The Hooded Kavu is a 2/2 that gains fear for a single Black mana. The Vicious Kavu has no such evasion available to it, but it does swell to twice its power on the attack, making it something of a need-to-block. Finally, the Kavu Aggressor is a respectable size on its own- a 3/2- but paying its kicker will give you a 4/3. That makes it a considerably worse deal on the whole, but if you’ve got the mana to spare or draw it late, it can make a difference. The last card here isn’t a Kavu, but rather the mild-mannered 1/1 Cinder Shade. As you’d expect from the ‘Shade’ tribe, it pumps power and toughness for Black mana, but it also lets you pop it for a one-time blast against one of your opponent’s creatures.
Moving up the scale a notch, we find the nonbasic-land-hosing Trench Wurm, which won’t find too much to gorge on in Invasion’s theme decks but can still make life difficult for your opponent from time to time, as well as another anti-White card. The Phyrexian Slayer is a card which will eat White blockers before they have a chance to even deal combat damage. There’s also a Firescreamer, which is a simple 2/2 body with a free Firebreathing attached.
At the top of the curve, we find a Phyrexian Reaper, the anti-Green equivalent of the Slayer which loses flying but gains an extra point of power/toughness. The Phyrexian Delver– one of the deck’s two rare cards- gives a free Reanimate from your own graveyard once cast, but the fact that it’s mandatory means the Delver might be sitting in your hand uncastable on occasion when you’ve been on the receiving end of a beating. Finally, the Halam Djinn is part of the Djinn cycle, large creatures that shrink a little if they happen to be of the majority colour on the board. A 6-power hasted creature can be a brutal surprise, though, and even as a 4-power ‘toned down’ Djinn it can still be a strong option for six mana.
The noncreature support for Blowout is laudably focused. To complement the Ravenous Rats, you first have a trio of discard spells to hit at your opponent’s hand. Addle is a cheap spell that has an element of guesswork to it. Though it can end in a whiff, played early enough you’ll usually hit paydirt. Added to that pair is a singleton Hypnotic Cloud. For the same cost as the Addle, you get a guaranteed discard, though one of the opponent’s choosing rather than your own. On the upside, however, it has a very nasty kicker which can compel your opponent to discard three cards instead- an effect well worth the total of six mana you’ll need to pull it off.
The burn package is even more impressive. Scorching Lava is a Shock with a bonus- you can pay a kicker, turning it into a slightly weaker Incinerate. If that’s too much burn for your target, you might prefer to simply Zap it instead. Although a touch more expensive, it replaces itself in your hand and is an ideal way to pick off nuisance x/1 utility creatures. You also have recourse to a Smoldering Tar, a very intriguing enchantment. This spell will sit on the board, draining your opponent of 1 life each turn until you’re ready to pop it for its 4 damage. And if you never need to, your opponent’s spindown counter will be descending all the faster.
Of course, there are times when burn just isn’t enough, and when you simply want something written straight into the dead-book. For times like those, you’ll want to use an Annihilate or Agonizing Demise. Each of them kill a nonblack creature, and each comes equipped with a little twist. Like the Zap, the Annihilate cantrips, so you end up with as many cards in hand as you started with when you cast it. The Demise, meanwhile, gives you the option to pay a small kicker to throw a dollop of burn at your opponent’s face.
A couple of X-spells are included as well. Soul Burn is a bit particular with regards to the colours of mana it demands, but the reward of a dose of lifegain can be well worth it. The deck’s other rare card- Ghitu Fire– is a simple one-target X-damage spell, but earns its rarity by giving you the option to play it as an instant instead of a sorcery for just more. Finally, if your opponent is simply flooding the board with beaters and threatening to overwhelm you, the oft-reprinted Breath of Darigaaz acts as a somewhat-customisable mini-Earthquake. Just be careful that you don’t kill off too many of your own creatures, but friendly fire is occasionally unavoidable.
The deck’s last two cards make for a rather unlikely pair. Each a creature aura, Maniacal Rage gives a hardy +2/+2 bonus to whatever its cast upon, although it does lose the ability to block. That should be little hindrance to a deck happy to take some hits if it means getting out in front of its opponent. You also have a single copy of Mourning, a creature-nerfing spell which can be used over and over, so long as you have the mana to pull it back to hand when needed.
A pair of Urborg Volcanoes lead an otherwise quite ordinary land package of Swamps and Mountains, giving you just a little bit of mana fixing when needed. But overall, the deck looks well-positioned to be a real threat to any deck its put up against. We’ll be doing precisely that for our next piece, taking it into the arena and seeing if it performs as well as it looks. See you then!