Mirage: Jungle Jam Review (Part 2 of 2)
Back into the jungle we go, ready for the final two Mirage decks. Today I’m giving the Griffin-centered Jungle Jam a go, a deck put together by the winner of an MTGO tournament. Putting my deck to the test is Jimi, who has thrown her lot in with the flank-Knights of Ride Like the Wind. Will it be smooth skies ahead, or will my deck be crushed under the thundering trample of hooves?
Jimi opens with a Mountain, with me right behind with a Mountain Valley. Next turn she adds a second Mountain, enabling her to drop Telim’Tor’s Darts. For my part, I use the Valley to nab a Forest, then deploy a Benevolent Unicorn. Jimi’s third turn is a blank, outside of another Mountain, so I press in with the Unicorn for 1 then add Gibbering Hyenas. Jimi pings me to level at the end of the turn with the Darts.
Now turn 4, she’s finally unlocked White with a her first Plains, then picks off my Hyenas with a Spitting Earth. With a trio of Mountains in play, even the Benevolent Unicorn cannot save them, and off to the graveyard they go. She adds a Vigilant Martyr and passes. Back to me, I replace my losses with a second Gibbering Hyenas after bringing Jimi down to 18 with the Unicorn. Next turn they meet the exact same fate- a Spitting Earth. She then girds her Martyr with a Favorable Destiny and turns him sideways for 2. Down to 16, I crack a last-turn Grasslands for another Forest, counterattack with the Unicorn for 1, then add a Teremko Griffin.
Now turn 6, Jimi swings in again with her Martyr for 2. She attempts an Aleatory for a touch of extra damage, but loses the coin flip (hey, it’s not a Martyr for nothing). Down to 14 life and trailing by 3, I look to my feeble Griffin and think, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. An Armor of Thorns and a Ritual of Steel later, and I’m swinging in with a 4/6. Alongside the Unicorn, this drops Jimi to 12. She Darts me for 1 out of spite. Next turn she attacks with her Martyr for another 2 points of damage, then adds a Femeref Knight. I leave the Unicorn behind this time, sending in only the Griffin to drop her to 8. I then add an Ekundu Griffin and pass.
Jimi’s keeping it lose, putting me at 7 life with a 4-point attack on turn 8 before adding a Crimson Roc. Sadly for her, I’ve been holding a Pacifism for just such an occasion, and both of my Griffins carve in on her life total. Adding a Foratog, she draws her card and concedes.
With both decks needing a couple turns to grow a manabase before harvest, the slow start in game two is little surprise. After trading land drops, Jimi leads with a turn-3 Telim’Tor’s Darts while I match with a Jolrael’s Centaur. Next turn she adds a Burning Shield Askari, while I add a Mtenda Griffin after attacking with the Centaur.
Now turn 5, Jimi gets in her first attack, then shores up her defensive liability with a Melesse Spirit– a vital card to have against my deck even if its protection is irrelevant. I add an Armor of Thorns onto my Griffin, making it a 4/4, then attack with both of my creatures. Jimi lets them pass, going down to 12. I follow up with a Gibbering Hyenas and end turn. Next turn Jimi does some creature-tweaking of her own with an Agility on the Spirit, attacking in for 6 with the Spirit and Askari. This puts us level at 12, and she follows with a Searing Spear Askari. Back to me, I give my Griffin yet another boost with the morale-lifting sight of Zuberi, Golden Feather. Swinging with everything for 10, Jimi trades her Searing Spear Askari for my Hyenas, taking the remainder on the chin and setting her spindown to 5.
A turn-7 Blistering Barrier comes a turn or two too late for Jimi, but she refuses to go down without fight. She sends in the side for 6, cutting me in half. When I retaliate next turn, a timely Shadowbane leaves her clinging to life at 2. An Unyaro Griffin i deployed for insurance, and that’s the game won. Jimi draws her next card, then scoops.
Hoping to dodge a sweep, Jimi begins with a turn-1 Mtenda Herder, while I play a Mountain Valley. Next turn she attacks in for 1, while I trade the Valley for a Mountain proper, dropping a Plains beside it and summoning the trusty Benevolent Unicorn.
Now turn 3, Jimi can’t profitably attack so she builds up instead, adding a Femeref Knight and passing. I use my turn on a Rampant Growth, grabbing me another Plains. Next turn Jimi renews her aggression with the Knight, taking me to 17. She then adds Sidar Jabari and passes. Back to me, I land the Sawback Manticore, one of my deck’s two rares and the sole reason for a Mountain appearing in my deck at all.
Jimi’s pressure increases on turn 5 as she attacks in with Sidar Jabari and her Femeref Knight, using Jabari’s combat trigger to tap down my Manticore. I let both through, going down to 13 life. She then tops off with a Crimson Roc and passes. Back to me, I drop a Grasslands, then attack back for 2 with my Manticore to dea my first damage of the game. I next play a Jolrael’s Centaur before ending turn. Back to Jimi, she adds Agility to her Mtenda Herder then adds it to the attack, swinging with everything for 8 and tapping down my Centaur. I take it on the chin, and am now at 5 life. For my part, I counterattack with everything for 5 (a much smaller number, sadly), putting Jimi at 13. I crack my Grassland for a Forest and pass.
Jimi swings for lethal on turn 7, committing everything to the assault for 8 damage, but I tap out in response with a Vitalizing Cascade, giving me 8 life. She adds a Searing Spear Askari. Having bought myself a turn, I then bolster my defenses with a Teremko Griffin, then solve my biggest problem with a Pacifism on Sidar Jabari. Back to Jimi, she adds a Zhalfirin Knight, then swings with the side, eager to close the game out. Her Femeref Knight and my Jolrael’s Centaur meet in a lethal embrace, while her Roc and my Griffin do the same. My Sawback Manticore blocks her Searing Spear Askari, and it’s 2-damage trick snipes off Jimi’s Mtenda Herder. Looking at the ruin of her army, Jimi observes that she probably attacked one turn too early, and she’s almost certainly right. I spend my turn recovering from her attack, doing nothing but staying put.
Now turn 9, Jimi’s in rebuilding mode. Thank to my Manticore, she needs to have numbers on her side to get through, and she starts by adding an Iron Tusk Elephant. My turn is another blank- I’m playing from the top of my library, now, and finding little of use. Next turn she draws and plays a Burning Shield Askari, while I topdeck a Pacifism which slots in nicely atop her Elephant.
It’s her turn for a blank turn on turn 11, and while I draw a strong card- the Nettletooth Djinn– I can’t use it. It’s damage-every-upkeep would be a death sentence, and Jimi could essentially just starve me out of the game. Next turn she keeps piling on the bodies with a Searing Spear Askari, and when my turn is another blank she follows with a Burning Sheild Askari as well. Luckily, I draw a Gibbering Hyenas, avoiding falling too far behind on the creature count.
It’s now turn 14 with no end in sight, though we’re both now playing whatever we can draw. I land a Quirion Elves, and next turn Jimi adds a Zhalfirin Commander. It’s a breakthrough card, as it solves the Manticore problem rather well- she can pump whatever creature I try to kill with the Manticore’s ability and keep it in the hunt. Recognising this, I follow up a Gibbering Hyenas with my desperation card- the Nettletooth Djinn.
Jimi hangs back on turn 16, and my Djinn drops me to 4 on my following upkeep. I have little choice but to attack, so I send the Djinn in alone. Jimi takes the 4, going down to 9. She waits out the next turn, too, and at the end of it I use a Worldly Tutor to go find Zuberi, Golden Feather. Attacking for 4 with the Djinn (having taken another point of damage from it), Jimi lets it pass through her ranks and uses a Shadowbane to duck the damage.
Now turn 18, Jimi plays Telim’Tor’s Darts, riffing on the flavour text’s hilarious appropriateness to my situation. She Darts me down to 2 and passes, content to let me whittle myself down. I attack with Zuberi, Golden Feather alongside the Djinn and Manticore (activating its flying), but its a lost cause as Jimi simply chumps the Djinn without killing it. Although I save myself the indignity of being killed by the Darts with a timely Disenchant, it’s the Djinn that does me in.
Thoughts & Analysis
These Mirage Theme Decks have proven a bit tricky to assess in some regards, as it feels a bit difficult to get a handle on anything cohesive. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled somewhat by Intro pack decks that are brandable (this is the undying deck, this is the Zombie deck, etc), but in large part there’s a certain thematic and mechanical cohesion there we’re just not seeing a lot of in Mirage. To be fair, Ride Like the Wind did a fine job of this with a deck full of flank-Knights, though that deck too lacked a certain excitement. In many regards, it almost feels like these decks were put together with ‘good cards’ that support a loose theme rather than a tight one, and it would seem that’s exactly what they are.
Jungle Jam is the sets “Griffin deck,” but outside of two cards (Zuberi, Golden Feather and the Mtenda Griffin), there’s no tribal synergy here. They’re just a pile of Griffins jammed into a deck with a supporting cast of decent creatures. We’re already looking forward to reviewing Visions to see what could be done with access to a larger card pool.
But all of this might be unfair to hang on Jungle Jam- it’s just a White/Green (splash of Red) combat deck looking to make its mark in the world, and there it does a passable job. Synergy or no, a stack of reasonably-priced fliers can be a difficult threat to manage. The Mirage environment has two things going for it that makes this deck strong here. First, there’s a general lack of targeted removal. We’ve seen over and over in these decks that there’s not a lot of ways to deal with a specific threat outside of the red zone. Jungle Jam can operate in the airways with confidence that it’s got access to more Griffins than its opponent has removal.
Secondly, the environment overall is a bit more slower-paced. As we’ve seen from the mana curves, the Mirage decks really start hopping after turn 3. There’s not a lot of opportunity for an opponent to flood the board with one- and two-drops, gaining overwhelming numerical superiority before the Griffins have a chance to establish themselves. Jimi’s Ride Like the Wind had few plays before turn 3, when the flank-Knights starting trundling off the assembly line. This gives Jam’s evasive creatures some room to take root, and once having done so they were hard to weed out. This latter condition is what makes the inclusion of creature auras stronger than it might ordinarily otherwise be. Given its versatility, Armor of Thorns is a very strong card here, but strapped to the back of a Griffin it became very troublesome for Jimi. It’s a timeless principle, and see see much the same today when people strap Butcher’s Cleavers or Curiosities onto their Invisible Stalkers and get to work. The harder it is to remove a creature, the more value you’ll get out of a creature aura.
Overall, Jungle Jam is a mediocre-feeling deck moulded around a fundamentally sound chassis. If you like oddball tribal decks or combat in the air, you could do worse.
Hits: Griffins well-positioned in environment, and heavy commitment to aerial presence in a removal-light environment makes the Griffin menace a difficult one to solve
Misses: Outwith the Griffin tribal theme, deck has little synergy or even identity (feels a bit generic)
OVERALL SCORE: 3.70/5.00