Visions: Savage Stompdown Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s our last foray in Visions as we prepare to move on to the next set, and so far it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. Will Savage Stompdown emulate the excellence of Unnatural Forces, or will be staring at another misfit deck along the lines of Wild-Eyed Frenzy? To find out, Jimi grabbed Unnatural Forces and we set about to battle.
I’m on the play, leading with a Forest and a Mountain. Jimi begins with a pair of Swamps, opening into a Brood of Cockroaches. I close the gap on turn 3, however, when I play a Jungle Troll. I don’t have regeneration mana up, but don’t expect I’d need to against Jimi’s deck and risk the early play. I’m proven right when Jimi simply kills it off with an Enfeeblement then attacks with the Brood.
It’s now turn 4, and my turn is a complete blank without even a land to show for it. Jimi sends in the Brood for another point of damage and passes. Sadly, my next turn also passes without issue, leaving me stuck on three land. Almost as if rubbing it in, Jimi plays an Inspiration at the end of my turn. Once hers rolls around, she attacks for another 1 then follows with a Restless Dead.
I finally draw a Mountain on turn 6 and play it, then pass. Jimi next Impulses on the end of my turn before beginning hers, and she leads by absently summoning a Kukemssa Serpent in her first main phase- a momentary slip that she’ll soon pay for. She then attacks with her Dead and Brood. I flash in a King Cheetah, blocking the Dead and forcing Jimi to use her last Swamp to regenerate it. Down to 16 life, I then kill off her Dead with an Unyaro Bee Sting. Over to Jimi, she simply adds a Waterspout Djinn to her board, the Dead forgotten.
I play a Mountain and pass on turn 8, looking to draw in her Djinn for a lethal Rock Slide. Almost as if sensing danger, Jimi uses a Vision Charm to turn all my Mountains into Islands, then bounces King Cheetah to the top of my library before swinging for 9 with the side. Unable to respond, I go down to 7 life. Next turn I do nothing, again trying to set up a kill on her flying 4/4. As expected, Jimi sends it in on the attack alone, and I crush it with the Slide. She replaces it with a Fetid Horror and passes.
Already well behind, I play a Kyscu Drake on turn 10. Jimi attacks in with her Horror, Brood, and Serpent after popping an Island to turn one of my lands into one. I chump the Horror with my Drake, going down to 2. I summon a Raging Gorilla to buy some time, but Jimi alpha strikes for the win after an Ether Well deals with the Gorilla.
Jimi and I spend our first three turns trading land drops and passes, until I finally break in with a turn-4 Ekundu Cyclops. For her part, Jimi plays a Man-o’-War, bouncing the Cyclops back to hand. Next turn, having played another Forest I instead opt for the Giant Caterpillar, since I can now sacrifice it for a Butterfly if need be. Jimi plays a Kukemssa Serpent, keeping us level. I get ahead on turn 6, though, when I raise her a Spitting Drake while her turn is a full blank.
Or is it? Before I’m able to attack with it on turn 7, Jimi sends it to the bottom of my library with an Ether Well, leaving us again at a standoff. Her turn is again a blank, so next turn I hardcast the Viashivan Dragon. Not to be (far) outdone, Jimi summons a Waterspout Djinn.
Now turn 9, I turn the Dragon sideways and pump it twice, slamming into Jimi for 6. I pass turn, and Jimi adds a Flooded Shoreline. Back to me, I send the Dragon back in, but Jimi- clearly lamenting the Djinn’s stifling effect on mana development- pushes the Djinn in front of it. Although I have the mana to pump it, I decide instead to spend a Feral Instinct in order to get a free card (I have a second copy in hand if I’m in need of it). I then replay the Ekundu Cyclops and pass. For her part, Jimi plays the untroubling Coral Fighters.
On turn 11, my Dragon gets bounced by Jimi’s Flooded Shoreline after I send it in alongside the Cyclops. Jimi then tries to trade out the Cyclops for her Serpent, but the Feral Instinct in hand comes in handy to keep mine up. I then add a Locust Swarm. Over to Jimi, she draws and passes. With momentum learly on my side, I send in the Caterpillar, Cyclops, and Swarm. Jimi Boomerangs the Caterpillar, but I make up some of the lost output with a Hearth Charm giving my attackers +1/+0. I end by recasting the Viashivan Dragon. Back to Jimi, she again draws and passes.
Jimi solves the Dragon on turn 13 with another Ether Well, but that still leaves the Cyclops and Swarm. I send both in, and she chumps the Cyclops with her Coral Fighters. That drops her to 7 life, just enough to be burned out with a Volcanic Geyser.
Another slow build-up sees Jimi’s turn-4 Kukemssa Serpent as the game’s opening body, though I’m right behind with a Jungle Troll. The Troll gets bounced on turn 5, however, when Jimi brings out a Man-o’-War, but hitting my fifth consecutive land drop allows me to bring out the Hulking Cyclops instead.
Jimi takes my Cyclops for a spin on turn 6 with a Ray of Command, pounding in alongside the jellyfish for 7. Still, with nothing to stop the Cyclops I drop her to 15 the very next turn before adding an Ekundu Cyclops and Quirion Elves (naming White). Keeping up the aggressive play, Jimi then Boomerangs my Ekundu Cyclops back to hand, pops an Island to the Kukemssa to turn one of my lands into one to allow the Serpent to attack. That’s another 6 points down, leaving me at 7. I fire right back with my Hulking Cyclops, though, and at 10 life Jimi’s not far behind. I then replay my Ekundu Cyclops and add a Granger Guildmage.
Sadly for her, Jimi’s turn 8 is a complete blank. She stalls me, however, when she uses Vision Charm during my upkeep to turn my Forests into Islands. I snap off a quick Feral Instinct in response, targeting my Ekundu Cyclops. Not only does this get me a free card, but it also ensures that Jimi can’t try and trade it out with her Kukemssa Serpent. I attack with both Cyclopes, and Jimi chumps the larger attacker with her Man-o’-War. taking 4 down to 6. At the end of my turn, she then casts Inspiration to set herself up.
Now turn 9, Jimi brings out a Fetid Horror, and I flash in King Cheetah at the end of her turn. Over to me, I take advantage of Jimi’s gamble with the Horror and Unyaro Bee Sting it out, since she has no Swamps open to her. She repsonds tit-for-tat by Boomeranging my Hulking Cyclops back to my hand. I then attack with King Cheetah and Ekundu Cyclops. Jimi has no choice but to block with her Serpent, and pushes it in front of the Cyclops. I then use the first strike ability of the Granger Guildmage (powered up with White mana from the Quirion Elves) to make the block a one-sided affair.
Next turn Jimi picks off poor King Cheetah with an Enfeeblement, then summons a Waterspout Djinn. Back to me, I attack in with my Quirion Elves and Ekundu Cyclops, compelling Jimi to block the latter with her Djinn. This costs my my Cyclops, of course, but lets me finish hers off with the Granger Guildmage. The Elves get into drop Jimi to 2 life, then I replace my losses with a pair of Raging Gorillas. Jimi draws nothing, and scoops.
Thoughts & Analysis
One of the things I enjoy most about our pre-game friendly is that not only does it allow us to get a feel for the decks before playing them for a write-up, but it also lets me take questionable keeps off of the opening draw and see what I can learn from them. In this case, I kept a two-land hand which had some midrange drops, and learned how easy it is for this deck to punish you. I didn’t draw a third land for a few turns, and fell behind with frightening rapidity.
Certainly this being a game of variance that is possible to any deck, but Savage Stompdown’s construction leaves you quite vulnerable to the vagaries of chance. It’s not unusual for stompy decks to have swollen, distended mana curves as they try to pack in a lot of more expensive creatures. Indeed, this is part of the strategy- it wants to play medium when you play lean, and play fat when you play medium, staying ahead of you in the creature curve all the while.
This strategy works, so long as you have the infrastructure to support it, and by that we mean one thing: ramping. Mana ramping fulfills to crucial and related roles in a stompy deck. First, it ensures that your early turns have an even distribution of mana. A hand full of fat gives you few tactical options to impact the game, so aggressive beater decks need to spend that time wisely in resource development. The other is acceleration- going above and beyond what is normally available. For instance, let’s look at the following sequence of play:
Turn 1: Forest
Turn 2: Mountain, Quirion Elves
Turn 3: Forest
This means we can cast a four-drop creature as early as turn 3, and a five-drop on turn 4 if we get another land. This sort of acceleration is critical, and can even help overcome bad starts.
Turn 1: Forest
Turn 2: Mountain, Quirion Elves
Turn 3: (missed land drop)
This scenario is far from optimal, but thanks to our Elves we’re still at least keeping pace with our opponent, even if our optimal strategy calls for us to start to pull away from them in pace of development.
To do this consistently and effectively, of course, you need to include a number of ramp cards in excess of four, maximising your chances of finding one in your opening draw. In light of that, let’s see what ramp options we have for Savage Stompdown:
2 Quirion Elves
That’s it. It’s a bit like trying to power an SUV off of a go-kart engine, and is the deck’s biggest failing. It says something about the deck that I got excited finding four lands in my opening hand, when in a better-build deck I might consider shipping that (as presumably I’d have also drawn some ramp). With such an opening I was able to dominate the game (this was Game Two), but this is one of Vision’s letdowns. We had high expectations after an early look at Legion of Glory and Unnatural Forces, but both this deck as well as Wild-Eyed Frenzy have seemed to be much less impressive. Although there is obvious improvement from Mirage’s decks, we’re hopeful that the progress we’ve seen here in Visions carries further into the decks of Weatherlight- our final destination for Project Mirage Block. Overall, Savage Stompdown has every chance of living up to its name, with an arsenal of solid creatures and some non-creature threats, but the word chance is especially relevant there. Be prepared to mulligan aggressively, as the jungle is not forgiving of the weak.
Hits: Decent amount of direct damage (some in Green, no less) to help clear off enemy creatures; ability of the Volcanic Geyser to reach across the table is especially helpful to the deck; two-card Drake combo (for Viashivan Dragon) is much more attainable than the three-card Spirit of the Night one
Misses: The deck puts you in the difficult situation of spiking the back end of the mana curve with fat, but then giving you few ways to reliably get there outside of land drops
OVERALL SCORE: 3.90/5.00
Maybe I missed something, but doesn’t Rock Slide only hit creatures without flying rendering it useless against the djinn?
Right you are, and well spotted. You’re the first to catch that error, and win the No-Prize! Meanwhile, I’ll be facepalming over in the corner…