Weatherlight: Air Forces Review (Part 1 of 2)
In our last installment of Project Mirage Block, we looked at the story of Jamuraa that was spun around the framework of cards provided by the Menagerie set. It was a story of intrigue and betrayal in the wake of the mysterious disappearance of the planeswalker, Teferi, that set the continent at war. Kaervek is in his ascendancy, having swayed Jolrael to his cause and trapped Mangara in an Amber Prison. He is well on the path of achieving his ultimate ambition- mastery over all of Jamuraa.
As Visions unfolds, we move forward a year later with Kaervek on the verge of victory. Jolrael, however, has been shaking off the fog that has blinded her to Kaervek’s true nature, and realises that he is looking to enslave and despoil the entire continent, something she cannot permit. Just then, she detects another flux of energy from where Teferi’s island was located before it vanished, and it is Teferi returned! With the delicate attention needed to preserve the very time stream he had damaged, Teferi can offer little aid in the physical world. But perhaps he can reach out through the world of dreams, and send visions to those that could help defeat Kaervek.
Soon Jamuraa’s leaders, heroes, and minds began receiving guidance from these visions. Four in particular felt a compulsion urging them to head to Kipamu, the capital city of Zhalfir. The prophetess Asmira. The warrior Rashida Scalebane. The solider Sidar Jabari. The storyteller Hakim. Together they were tasked with freeing Mangara from his prison, an act which would turn the tide against Kaervek, and headed for the Mwonvuli jungle where he had been imprisoned. This was a mission of the greatest urgency, and repeated encounters with Kaervek’s forces slowed their progress to a stall. Should Kaervek discover their mission and return to Mwonvuli himself, their plans would end in failure.
If visions had gotten them this far, however, visions would see them through. As it happened, a flying ship had been in flight overhead and sustained some light damage from a dragon attack. In need of repair, its Zhalfiran captain Sisay received a mysterious vision to put down nearby and so crossed paths with the four and their soldiers. Guided by a fate far greater than coincidence, Sisay needed little convincing to lend her ship- and her arm- to their cause. They boarded the Weatherlight, and arrived in Mwonvuli within a day. The climactic battle to free Mangara was ferocious, and although Asmira was able to free Managara from his prison, the wounds she sustained from the leader of its guardians, Purraj of Urborg, cost her her life. Her martyrdom was not in vain, however, as the forces of good were able to rally around Managara, and clean up what remained behind after Managara managed to defeat Kaervek and seal him within the Amber Prison.
But as one story ended, so began another. For Sisay, you see, wasn’t ‘just in the area’ when she encountered the four heroes of Jamuraa, but indeed she had been on a quest of her own: for the collection of artifacts together known as the Legacy.
As the name suggests, Air Forces stands squarely in the archetype of Blue/White Skies, although it also borrows some of its ground game from a White Soliders model as well. One thing to note is just how much the deck leans on Weatherlight cards- the deck is almost entirely drawn from them. Tactically, the deck looks to secure the ground in the early game, then close the deal with a massive aerial presence backed by countermagic. It has little early-game presence, with almost no options on the ground until turn 3- the sole exception being a Sage Owl, a tiny flier whose greatest benefit is allowing you to reorder the top four cards of your library.
Beyond that, however, the options increase exponentially. First up is the Benalish Knight. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a creature so much as it is a removal spell that leaves a body behind. You’re not looking for quick, aggressive wins here, but rather control and incremental advantage. Wait until your opponent swings in with their 2/2 to flash these in wherever possible. The Man-o’-War too should be reserved for when it is most useful. Being able to bounce your opponent’s best creature is vastly more important to the deck’s strategic aims than simply bringing another 2/2 body onto the battlefield.
Things get trickier when we move next to the Vodalian Illusionist, like the Knight another three-of card in the deck. With a small mana investment, the Illusionist can phase out any creature on the board. This has a number of applications, such as Fogging your opponent’s best attacker (declare a blocker, then phase it out before damage is dealt) or depriving them of their best defender. It also has one corner interaction with another of the deck’s three-drops, the Fog Elemental. Ordinarily, this 4/4 for three mana can be used but once in combat, dying at the end of the engagement. WIth an Illusionist in play, however, you can phase it out after damage is dealt but before the end of combat, letting it live to fight again and again.
The Serrated Biskelion is essentially an animated Serrated Arrows, and indeed is best regarded in that light. Like a number of the deck’s other creatures, this is as much a spell that leaves a body behind as it is a body with a spell-like effect. Many players, particularly early in their playing careers tend to get attached to creatures and hate to see them die. This pitfall can keep you from seeing the true value of the Biskelion, whose ability can be activated at instant speed. Also a three-of here is the Ophidian, the deck’s card-drawing engine. Although later cards (like the Thieving Magpie) tend to draw cards in addition to doing damage, the Ophidian gives you an either/or option. This might seem like a no-brainer, but towards the end of the game if you can get the ophidian to hit you might prefer the damage. If you’d prefer a more direct route to dealing a point of damage, look no further than the last card in the three-drops, the Suq’Ata Firewalker. A 0/1 pinger, it has the added benefit of being immune to Red spells and effects.
That alone should tell you that you’re not dealing with your ordinary combat deck, but rather one with some depth and nuance. As we move into the four-drops, we continue to see creatures that carry spell-like effects as their primary function. The Heavy Ballista as a 2/3 is no bargain for four mana, but the damage it can deal to attacking or blocking creatures makes up the difference. The deck carries two, and if you manage to get both in play some very good things will start to happen.
From this point out, the rest of the deck is airborne. The Mistmoon Griffin is similarly no steal at four mana, but the potential card advantage it offers is superb- not least because it puts the creature card into play, not just back in your hand. The Waterspout Djinn is a card we’ve seen before in earlier Mirage block decks, with good reason- it’s a solid investment at four mana. Youll just want to be sure you’ve played all the mana you need to play before casting it, because once its in play you’ll never grow your manabase until it’s dead. Luckily, you have the option of not paying the toll on the Djinn and simply letting it die, which may not seem palatable but does prevent you from getting hosed by an opportunistic Pacifism.
At the very top of the curve we find the first of the deck’s two rares, the Alabaster Dragon. Although upon first blush a Dragon that never hits your graveyard seems appealing, the only thing worth looking at here is that it’s a 4/4 body in the air, overcosted as it is. Having it recur back into your library will be relevant in only every once in a great while. Most of the time, whether it’s in your library or your graveyard, it’s gone and not coming back (indeed, a pity that even your Mistmoon Griffin can’t save it). For that cost, it would be valuable only if it returned to your hand. Even still, you can be content overpaying for some creatures if they have solid board impact, and this is one of them. Another is the last creature card in the deck, the Cloud Djinn. A full mana more than an Air Elemental for only a single point of power more (and a blocking restriction tacked on to boot!), the Cloud Djinn interestingly enough saw near-simultaneous release in June of 1997 in both Weatherlight as well as Portal (as the Cloud Dragon). Still, it suffers from comparison to the Mahamoti Djinn, though again one shouldn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Even at six mana, this is a card that will win games.
Break Your Concentration
Once you’ve managed to establish some congestion on the ground and superiority in the air, Air Forces gives you some added means of prolonging that dominance. For one thing, you’ve got a substantial countermagic suite here that can help deflect any removal your opponent directs towards your closers. Disrupt is a very narrow card, but by necessity a one-mana cantrip must be. You lose little by having it in your deck, for even if you’re not always able to make the best use of it it still cycles for half the customary rate. Memory Lapse counters anything quite easily, but is balanced by the fact that whatever you countered you’ll be seeing again in a turn. However inconvenient that might seem, the time you buy in using it can sometimes be enough to prepare for what your opponent’s going to have return to them. If you’d simply prefer it didn’t return at all, you also have a Dissipate and Power Sink, both from Mirage. Either of these will put it safely beyond reach, either in the graveyard or out of the game.
The deck’s removal suite is a bit light- a pair of Pacifisms- but you also have a couple of unusual creature-stealing options. Debt of Loyalty– the deck’s other rare- lets you save a creature from certain demise, and in return it pledges its service to you- at least until its next death, whenever that might be. You also have a copy of Abduction, a slightly different take on Control Magic. Ordinarily, enchantments that steal your opponent’s creatures don’t give them back to your opponent when the creature in question dies, but Abduction does. That said, this unusual clause can be used in your favour- if your opponent has nothing worth stealing (a weenie deck, for instance), you might consider simply playing it on one of your own creatures as a sort of ersatz regeneration effect.
The final cards here are Empyrial Armor and Impulse. Empyrial Armor is a creature aura that can pump one of your creatures into a potentially massive form, giving it +7/+7 if you’re playing with a full hand. Of course, this is something of a trap- you might be tempted to slow the pace of your play to maximise the bonus, but this will often mean that you’re not doing much else of consequence. Still, this deck is reactive enough that the Armor is a reasonable fit here- with plenty of countermagic and cards like the Benalish Knight, you’ll generally have at least a few cards in hand, Impulse is a solid card quality filter, changing places with the best card amongst the top four of your library for only two mana, helping you get the card you need when you need it.
Overall Air Forces puts a very intriguing twist on the traditional skies deck, and it’s one we’re keen to try. We’ll give the deck a trial run and return to render a final verdict in two days’ time. See you then!