Weatherlight: Gatecrasher Review (Part 1 of 2)
What better place to end our trip through the Theme Decks of Mirage block than in the jungle? It’s been a long trek through the sultry, buzzing, chattering jungles of Jamuraa these past couple of months, and at last we’re about to come out the other side. These decks occupy a unique place in the landscape of Magic: the Gathering. It’s not that we haven’t seen exclusive, Magic: the Gathering Online-only decks before- indeed as recently as last year Wizards held a contest to design an MTGO-only release of Phyrexians vs Mirrans, and they have also released a pair of “Legacy Theme Decks.” But this was the first- and notably last- time you saw preconstructed decks released for a set that didn’t initially launch with them in paper form.
The Weatherlight decks themselves are shrouded in something of a mystery. The Mirage quartet were rolled out amidst tremendous pomp and fanfare. An MTGO competition offered one lucky winner the prospect to have a hand in designing one of them, while another was created by the Magic-playting community through a series of online polls on the mothership over the course of several weeks. They were given box mockups and full flavour descriptions, in every way giving them the attention that all paper Theme Deck releases get. And while the Theme Decks for Visions were all developed in-house, Wizards gave them the same launch treatment.
The sound of crickets chirping. There are no box mockups, and not even a write-up for the deck in evidence. To be fair, it’s entirely possible that such a write-up was presented when the decks were available for purchase on MTGO, but given the obsessive tendency for the Magic community to save every scrap and sliver of information Wizards releases (a blessing for us historian-minded types), the complete absence of any record of such is at the very least a bit of a puzzle.
Absent any guidance or indication from Wizards, we are of course obliged to use the evidence of our own experience in putting these decks in their proper context. One thing is clear- the Weatherlight quartet has been a tremendous improvement over the preceding decks. To what degree this is simply a consequence of the third set of a block having a larger card pool to draw from is difficult to gauge, but we didn’t find the expected jump in quality in the Visions decks that we’d have expected on that basis. The average rating of the Visions decks (3.93) was actually lower than Mirage (3.99), but it should be noted in fairness that the variance for Visions was higher. Put another way, Visions’ decks were improved overall, but the combined score suffered somewhat for the poorly-rated Wild-Eyed Frenzy (3.40).
We need no such qualification with Weatherlight, which sits at an average rating of a respectable 4.37, three decks in. Unless Gatecrasher, today’s deck and our final subject of Project Mirage Block, is a complete bomb in every way, Weatherlight should see smooth sailing ahead when compared to its predecessors. Overall, we’ve really enjoyed deep diving into a single block, and walk away having learned quite a bit. Before jumping into the deck, we’d like to take a moment here to again thank the project’s sponsor, Don of Don’s Magic and Sundry, for his generous support- without which this would not have been possible. A lot of times site sponsorships are purely commercial transactions- X amount of dollars for Y amount of “impressions.” It’s not every day in the community that you find someone who gets involved at this level, and if you’re in the market for some cards, we’d encourage you to head over to The Sundry and let Don know you’ve enjoyed the ride!
And now, let’s hit that last 60!
The Warmth of Compassion
Gatecrasher is our second consecutive Green/Red burns-n-beats deck in Mirage Block. The previous deck, Visions’ Savage Stompdown, generally failed to impress, in lrge part due to its bloated mana curve and curious insistence on running virtually nothing in its ramping suite (a pair of Quirion Elves). We’ll be paying particular attention to both of these factors as we make our way through the deck to see if Weatherlight has learned from the failings of what has come before.
Like Savage Stompdown, the Granger Guildmage comprises the lone one-drop creature. In a curious wrinkle, while it doubles up the number of copies (from one to two), there actually is no mechanism in the deck by which you can make full use of what the Guildmage has to offer. At least in the Visions model you had the Quirion Elves to get you the White mana you need to activate first strike, but alas Gatecrasher will have to make do with a limited ping ability.
The two-drop slot is filled exclusively with Walls of Roots, a welcome sight considering the problems we’ll be facing in paying for our spells and effects. Already we’re ahead of Savage Stompdown, and it spoils little to reveal that we’ve still some ramping options open to us in the deck’s noncreature support. In addition to assisting us develop our manabase, the 5-toughness Wall of Roots can impede quite a bit of damage. Red/Green beats decks are at their best when they can ramp fast enough to be playing their late-game cards in the midgame, but on occasions where that transition isn’t as smooth as you’d like, stalling the game a bit to hit that last critical land is a fine substitute. Nothing says “stall” quite so well as a 0/5 with defender.
Good news for aggro fans- the beats begin in earnest with the deck’s three-drops. First up is a trio of Llanowar Sentinels, a 2/3 body with a useful summon-allies mechanic baked right in. This gives the Sentinel some deployment flexibility. Play it early and alone if you need a solid body on the battlefield, or play it later in the game when you have access to more mana, and get numbers on your side. You also get a pair of one-ofs in this slot with the Uktabi Orangutan and Bogardan Firefiend. The Orangutan is there to help put the damper on any artifacts your opponent might be playing, while the Bogardan Firefiend is the Perilous Myr of its day- a creature often more annoying dead than alive.
Things thicken up even further as we climb into four-drop territory, which was where Savage Stompdown became especially greedy. Here you have a solid half-dozen cards, all of them quite useful in their own way. The Striped Bears is the weakest of the lot at 2/2, but has the upside of replacing itself in your hand when cast. The Uktabi Efreet is far more substantial, weighing in at a hefty 5/4. Of course, for four mana you have to expect some kind of drawback, and the Efreet brings that along in the form of cumulative upkeep. By the same token, the 5/4 trampling Stampeding Wildebeests have a ‘drawback’ of an altogether different sort- you have to Unsummon a Green creature of yours each turn. Of course, this drawback can easily be turned into an advantage. Return a depleted Wall of Roots to reset it to its full 0/5 state. Bring back an Uktabi Efreet to start its cumulative upkeep back at a more manageable level, or the Bears for another free card. Perhaps your opponent is reliant upon several artifacts, and the Orangutan will get a chance to smash them all. You can even return a Llanowar Sentinel later in the game, giving you another chance at plucking another one or two out of your library- you have a ton of possibilities!
By contrast, the Redwood Treefolk– 3/6’s without any special abilities or drawbacks- almost seem tame by comparison as we move to the top of the mana curve. You get two of them, and while they’re not the sexiest beaters their 6 toughness will ensure that they’re hard to kill outside of straightforward creature kill like Dark Banishing. Next are the Arctic Wolves, three copies’ worth. A sort of hybrid between the Uktabi Efreet and Striped Bears, they’re a 4/5 body that replaces itself with a card but has a somewhat steep cumulative upkeep. Fortunately, by the time you let them die off they’ve likely done the bulk of their work.
Next there’s the Llanowar Behemoth, a 4/4 which turns every crreture on the board into a pump. This is a great way to give a second use to your early creatures which can no longer profitably engage in combat, and the Behemoth can get frighteningly large right out of the chute if you’ve managed to assemble even a reasonably-sized army. But if you want ‘colossal’ virtually right out of the box, we end our section on creatures with both of the deck’s rares. The Aboroth is a massive, 9/9 titan that starts shrinking even before it can launch its first attack. Thanks to its cumulative upkeep, it becomes an 8/8, a 6/6, and a 3/3 before disappearing altogether, though of course you can always use a Stampeding Wildebeests to reset it. That brings us to Maraxus of Keld, leader of the Sawtooth Ogres and minor villain in the Weatherlight saga. Although no Sawtooth Ogres are included here, their leader is more than sufficient to get the job done. Maraxus will almost certainly be a 6/6 when he lands, making him a very economical purchase in Red. Of course, quite often he’ll be considerably larger, and will be a must-solve creature for your opponent.
Pook! Pook! Pook!
The noncreature support package assembled here is very fundamental, without a lot of tricks or gimmickry. The first thing we look for here is its ramping suite, and to our immense relief we do find a trio of Rampant Growths. Combined with the Walls of Roots, we should consistently be able to smooth out our mana development and help us deploy our bombs on the curve.
From there we also find a very pleasing burn/removal package. We begin here with Incinerate, your only instant-speed removal card. Use them carefully, as you only have a pair to draw upon. Next up is your blowout-in-a-box card, Cone of Flame. Another two-of in the deck, with a bit of luck you can often take out two or even three of your opponent’s creatures. It doesn’t come cheaply, but if you can hit the trifecta it can be well worth it. For the less discriminating palette you also have a single copy of Savage Twister, which can be used to clear off the weaker creatures on the board, giving your larger attackers more room to work in. Alternately, if things don’t go your way, it can break the back of your opponent by sweeping the board and give you some breathing room. Since it doesn’t touch your own life total (unlike, say, Earthquake), you can cast it at any time you can gain advantage from it.
If you prefer your X-spell burn to be a little more precise, you also have recourse to a single Kaervek’s Torch, a card which has consistently appeared throughout Mirage’s decks. Great for clearing a large creature out of the red zone or polishing off your opponent, the card gives you tremendous reach. Finally, you also get a miser’s copy of Creeping Mold, useful for taking out permanents that your burn suite cannot touch.
The last of the deck is found in some creature augments. Fire Whip turns any creature it enchants into a pinger, and can be popped as needed for an additional point of damage. Dragon Mask, on the other hand, gives a flat +2/+2 bonus until the end of turn, with the caveat that it returns that creature to hand at the end of the turn. As we’ve seen with the Stampeding Wildebeests, this deck often is quite happy to do precisely that, and again we find a card with a drawback turned into something of an advantage.
For our final piece in Project Mirage Block, we’ll be taking the deck into combat against another of its Weatherlight bretheren to see how it holds up. Join us in two days’ time when we report back on its performance, give it a final score and wrap up the Project!