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April 15, 2012

Weatherlight: Dead and Alive Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Sam takes a turn at the table to see if she can take down Dead and Alive, the graveyard-based Theme Deck from the graveyard-based Weatherlight. Before her lies Air Forces, a Blue/White skies deck with a difference- lots of tricksy utility and surprise creatures. Will it be enough to send my mono-Black deck to a more permanent rest?

Game One

Disaster strikes early as Sam sees her hand size shrink to six after flushing a dreadful opening grip, but she’s determined not to let that stop her. We spend the first two turns trading land drops before she finally opens up the creature war with a Serrated Biskelion. Back to me, I tap out for a Buried Alive, sending a Sewer Rats, Mischievous Poltergeist, and Morinfen tumbling into my graveyard.

Now turn 4, Sam attacks in for 2 to score the first hit of the match, then follows up with a Fog Elemental. For my part, I establish my first creature on the board with a Shadow Rider, then pass back to Sam. Likely thinking she’s got me wrong-footed, Sam opts to send in her Fog Elemental next turn, dropping me down to 14. This forces her to sacrifice it, but for the moment she seems to feel it’s done some good. She next plays a Sage Owl, and after restructuring the top four cards of her library she wraps things up with an Ophidian. Back to me, I send the Rider in on the attack, then use Necromancy to bring Morinfen back from the dead. Certainly now Sam is wishing she’d kept hold of the Elemental, but it’s too late.

Sam’s turn 6 is a blank, and after paying 1 life to Morinfen for his cumulative upkeep, I swing in for 8 with the Rider and Morinfen. Sam activates her Biskelion to give the Rider a -1/-1 counter, but still takes 7 to drop to 10 life. I then tap out to deploy Infernal Tribute and a Fallen Askari. Back to Sam, she adds a Heavy Ballista, but has no other play. Going down to 11 life during my upkeep, I next use a Nektrataal to snipe off Sam’s Sage Owl, denying her the ability to use it as a chump blocker. I attack again with the Rider/Morinfen tandem, and Sam is forced to chump with her Biskelion (though not before offering up one more -1/-1 counter for the Rider). That’s enough for Sam, however, and next turn when she draws nothing she concedes the game.

Game Two

When a Crypt Rats happily greets me in my opening grip, I decide on the spot that I’m going to see if I can lure Sam in to overcommitting before delivering a blowout. With a nice, healthy stream of land I watch and wait. A turn-2 Sage Owl is expected, but a turn-3 Fog Elemental is slightly irksome since it pushes back the trigger point where I go ahead and play the Rats- not to mention that since she’ll see it coming, she’ll certainly swing with it.

Shattered Crypt

Undaunted, I keep riding it out as she plays a turn-4 Mistmoon Griffin, then adds a Heavy Ballista on turn 5. Probably a turn too late, I spring the trap and land the Rats. As expected, I’m on the receiving end of a 9-point beating next turn, though I at least get to savour the satisfaction of wiping the board with my Rats. Except things don’t quite go as planned- the Fog Elemental expires at end of combat (which I’m happy to permit, as it means I have to pump less damage through the Rat and I’m already dwindling), but is returned to play thanks to the Griffin. Not only that, but Sam regenerates her Heavy Ballista with a Debt of Loyalty, and I realise that the trap has been turned on me thanks to my greed. With Sam at 17 life and me at 3, I’ve got a huge and unexpected hill to climb.

When Sam goes to stick an Empyrial Armor on her Fog Elemental, I’m ready with the Dark Banishing to kill it with my last three mana, but Sam gets the last word: Disrupt.

Game Three

Suitably chastened I decide against a Rats-based strategy this time even though I again find them in my opening hand. Instead, I opt to go aggressive this time and lead with a turn-2 Fallen Askari. While Sam plays land and passes, I keep the pressure mounting with a Fledgling Djinn.

Now turn 4, Sam’s done nothing but build her manabase, and while my Djinn is needling me for a point I’m managing to swing in on Sam for 4 before playing a Necratog. Once again, Sam’s deck shows its capable of turning the tables on its attacker as she flashes in a Benalish Knight at the end of my turn, and enchants it with Empyrial Armor on hers. With five cards in hand, I suddenly have to content with a 7/7 first striking Knight- and am I ever grateful I passed on the Rat trap! Sam turns it sideways, and the race is on!

Now turn 5, I go down to 11 thanks to the upkeep cost of my Djinn, then play a Shadow Rider after putting Sam down to 10 life with my attackers. Back to Sam, she draws a card and holds it, letting her come in with the 8/8 Knight. I chump it with my Necratog, then Sam plays the land she drew. She ends with a Serrated Biskelion.

Next turn I do down to 10 life, then attack with everything I have. Sam lets it through, going down to 3. This time, the field is mine as I outrace her, tapping out to play both a Crypt Rats and Barrow Ghoul. Sam wasn’t counting on two creatures, one of which is able to burn her out from across the table. She can kill it with the Biskelion, but she’ll need to do it before my next untap phase leaving her without its services as a blocker. In short: checkmate.

Thoughts & Analysis

Three different games, and three different approaches. The opening game took a page straight out of the reanimation playbook, and had Sam not played the accursed Fog Elemental, I’d have wrapped it up even sooner with Morinfen. As it was, the Buried Alive/Necromancy tandem can make for some very sticky wickets for any opponent to have to deal with.

In the second game, I tried to bait Sam out to overcommitting on the board, and while it happened to backfire this time Crypt Rats is similarly capable of holding your opponent over a barrel (see: the endgame of Game Three). The problem with the Rats is that they cost about one mana too much to be a really effective ambush tool. Unlike a Wrath effect, this is a board-sweeper that will often be telegraphed well in advance of it hitting. This gave Sam the chance to get the mot mileage out of her Fog Elemental, and ultimately my playing the strategy out too long cost me the game- lesson learned.

Nekrataal

Finally, I took a straight-up aggro posture for the closer, and found that the deck was quite accommodating in doing so. With some relatively inexpensive but difficult-to-deal-with bodies (thanks to evasion and flanking), Dead and Alive has the resources to establish a solid board presence early, even without such ‘cheats’ as the Barrow Ghoul or Hidden Horror. The firt of these, however, reveals an interesting wrinkle to the deck: Dead and Alive has a deceptive mana curve. There are a few cards included here which despite looking aggressively-costed in the mana curve, actually can’t be played until much later. The Barrow Ghoul and Circling Vultures can be played almost right away, but only if you don’t care to keep them as a long-term proposition (or often, even for a single turn). Cards like Zombie Scavengers and Necratog don’t come into their own until you’ve started stocking the larder, no matter how early you’ve deployed them. The Nekrataal, on the other hand, exhibits its own natural drag as you look to find the optimal target for it, and make no mistake, Drain Life is an X-spell that costs a  minimum of three mana to do anything at all.

Still, with a paucity of actual rapid aggression in the environment, Dead and Alive should be able to reliably deliver the time you need to get established, though of course that’s no guarantor of victory. In doing so, it offers a fun and engaging deck with multiple lines of play that has much more of a modern Theme Deck feel than many of its cohabitants in Mirage Block. This is one of the winners.

Hits: Solid removal package, including a pair of Drain Lifes for additional cross-table reach; good diversity in lines of play without feeling like a singleton-heavy Duel Deck; does a great job of illustrating the set’s graveyard focus

Misses: Slower than it looks, the wrong series of draws can leave you paralysed against your opponent with few effective options available to you if you haven’t managed to stock the graveyard

OVERALL SCORE: 4.50/5.00

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Read more from Mirage Block, Weatherlight

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