Mirage: Ride Like the Wind Review (Part 1 of 2)
In August of 2005, an offer was extended to the Magic community from Wizards of the Coast that was unlike anything that had been seen before. Indeed, this offer was just one part of a tremendous initiative which would mark a sea change to Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO), the digital platform of the game that had been launched just only three years before. Although something we take for granted now, when MTGO launched with Invasion the thought was to become current with sets as they released- moving forward, not back.
That all changed in 2005 when Bennie Smith- then a feature writer for the mothership (and now a Commander columnist on Star City Games)- was chosen to announce big news– for the first time, MTGO would be reprinting a set from Magic’s distant past. The pilot for this feature was going back to the game’s first set which complied with the modern block format, and had been specifically balanced with both Constructed and Limited play in mind: 1996’s Mirage.
Given that the Theme Decks were a part of the MTGO experience, that left the question of what to do about a set that was one year too early to have them (they launched in 1997 with Tempest). To fill this void, Wizards came up with an answer every bit as groundbreaking as the announcement of Mirage on the digital platform itself: they were going to look to the community. Consistent with other Magic sets there were to be four decks, and each was going to come from a different souce. One deck would be developed by Wizards R&D itself, as any other Theme Deck had been. Another would be turned over to Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, another writer for the mothership at the time whose coulmn frequently featured preconstructed Magic.
That left two decks that would be almost completely decided by the general public at large, subject to editorial review by Wizards R&D. For one of these, Wizards staged an MTGO tournament which had a grand prize of working with R&D to craft the deck, won by Markus Pettersson. The final deck was crowdsourced: a series of polls on the mothership let readers sculpt the final outcome of the deck. The experiment was clearly a success- after all, we’re talking about Mirage block precons here, and of course we’ll begin at the beginning with the first set.
Today’s deck is the first of these, the one that was designed by Wizards. Welcome to Ride Like the Wind.
Immaculate and Sharp
Ride Like the Wind is a bit of an odd bird. A Boros-coloured creature-heavy deck, it’s a bit unbalanced in its card distribution. For one thing, note the complete lack of two-drop creatures. That one wee mana is critical, as they are far more aggressive than three-drops by virtue of being able to be “doubled up” much more quickly to get that crucial critical mass of creatures on the board. (By “doubled up,” we mean that you can typically deploy two two-drop creatures in a single turn as early as turn four, while you can’t do the same with the three-drops until at least two turns later.) Tactically speaking, in this sort of build you’d much prefer a flood of two-drop beaters backed up my three-drop non-creature support.
Here’s another sobering thought: all of those creatures, with only one exception, are 2/2’s. Indeed, the biggest offensive threat you’ll find in this deck is a 3/3 flyer at the top of your curve, serving as the deck’s closer. It’s very much a Boros-aggro deck in slow motion, but it does have a saving grace: flanking.
Flanking is one of the set’s defining mechanics, giving its creates a leg up in combat. That is how Ride Like the Wind balances the scale- yes, the bulk of your army are three-mana 2/2’s… but they can kill a 2/2 and live to tell the tale, and can even trade out with a 3/3. By punching above their weight, they set up difficult defnesive situations for your opponent, who much now reassess their defensive strategy. The idea of the deck, then, is a simple one- ride your cavalry to victory through the red zone.
The deck begins with a quartet of one-drop cards to get things started on the right foot. The Mtenda Herder, as a 1/1 with flanking, is quite aggressive, delightfully so considering its slot. Recognising the power of the early beater that can’t be easily dispatched, the deck smartly packs in a trio. You also have a Vigilant Martyr, another 1/1 with a couple of useful abilities. It can be popped to save one of your prized creatures from death, and for an extra influx of White mana can actually counter a spell… that… uh… targets an enchantment. Considering you only have three enchantments in the deck (creature auras all), we might have been a bit hasty to call this second ability “useful,” but you’ll certainly have opportunity for the first. That alone makes sure that the Vigilant Martyr isn’t the worst thing you can draw later in the game.
Moving up to our three-drops, we find a very consistent package. To begin with, there are three copies of each of four different Knights, each of which has a different activated ability. White brings us the Zhalfirin Knight (first strike) and the Femeref version (vigilance), while Red offers the Burning Shield Askari (also first strike) and the Searing Spear Askari (can’t be blocked by less than two creatures). These four beaters will account for a significant proportion of your offensive output, and their modularity makes them quite consistent. This aggressive nucleus, in turn, is supported by a pair of Zhalfirin Commanders, who follow the same formula with an activated ability that lets them pump Knights (including themselves). The final two cards in this grouping strike a bit of a discordant note as they are defenders- Blistering Barrier. Although the idea is a fine one, giving you an answer to any fat attacker, you might well prefer to have more offensive power to kill your enemy before they land that fatty.
The first of the deck’s two rare legendary creatures appear in the four-drop slot in the person of Sidar Jabari. Another 2/2 flanking Knight with an ability, this one isn’t activated but rather always in effect. Being able to tap down an opponent’s strongest defender each attack is a very useful one, giving your already-confounded opponent another defensive headache to consider. Moving up to the top of the curve, we find his counterpart Telim’Tor (a deliberate anagram, by the way, of “Mr. Toilet”. You guessed it- a 2/2 Knight with flanking, Telim’Tor gives your attacking creatures a very nifty +1/+1 bonus. Between the different activated abilities and the generals’ static ones, this deck has a delightfully wicked combat sense.
From there we find some strong closing options in the Iron Tusk Elephant, a 3/3 trampler that’s a touch too small to be considered too threatening at the endgame, but the other two cards exist to put the deck over the top, especially if the red zone has become congested. Both the Crimson Roc and Melesse Spirit give you some aerial options, and the Spirit can give a Black-focused deck nightmares. The Roc’s ability is squandered- you really don’t want to have to resort to blocking with it to get the most out of the card, but it does give you some utility if you find yourself vulnerable after an attack.
Light Destroys Shadow
Despite there being plenty of good removal to choose from (Pacifism, Incinerate), Ride like the Wind unfortunately offers you none of it. In fairness, you do get a couple of Spitting Earths, but they are somewhat limited by their inability to damage your opponent. That function is served by a pair of very mediocre Telim’Tor’s Darts. Artifacts like this are often printed to give abilities to other colours that they don’t ordinarily have recourse to, and typically those cards are somewhat suboptimal to ensure balance. Why they’re in a deck with Mountains is difficult to say, but even if included just to add a little flavour to the deck a single copy would have sufficed.
Next we move on to the auras and combat tricks. For the former we find Agility, a cheap Red enchantment that gives a creature +1/+1 and flanking. This might seem a bit redundant given that most of the deck already carries that ability, but the good news here is that multiple instances of this keyword stack. Put it on a creature with flanking, and voila! Double-flanking! Moving to White, we find a pair of Favorable Destinies, a somewhat wonky card that gives a passive power/toughness boost and conditionally grants shroud.
Finally we come to the combat tricks, a virtual given in any White/Red deck. Alarum untaps a single nonattacking creature, giving a hefty stat boost to the surprise defender. Aleatory is even less exciting, giving a single creature a +1/+1 bonus if you happen to win a coin flip, but the fact that it cantrips (the old-fashioned way, during the next turn’s upkeep) makes it not completely horrible. Finally, there’s a Shadowbane, a White damage-prevension spell that has a conditional Black-hating clause for a little extra bump of life.
Overall, Ride like the Wind seems like a solidly-constructed and fun little combat deck, but of course we’ll reserve final judgment until we’ve had a chance to see it in the field. We’ll put it through its paces, render a verdict and be back in two days to report!