Planechase: Elemental Thunder Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s out final visit to the world of Planechase until later this year when the next expansion releases, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing the brand-new cards and other advances the line has made since its release in 2009. To field test our last deck, the Red/Green tribal offering Elemental Mastery, Jimi has enthusiastically volunteered to pilot Strike Force, a deck firmly in her wheelhouse. Here are the notes from the match.
Jimi opens with a Terramorphic Expanse, which is immediately cracked for a Mountain while I play a Mountain of my own and pass. Next adding a Plains, Jimi taps out for a Boros Swiftblade. I play a Forest.
Now turn 3, Jimi attacks in for 2, then plays a Relic of Progenitus. Lured by a hand of bombs- Verdant Force, Blaze, and even a Branching Bolt– I just need to hold on long enough to build up the manabase. I play another Forest, passing turn. Back to Jimi, she swings for another 2, then kicks things up a gear with a Duergar Hedge-Mage. Unconcerned, I drop a Shivan Oasis and deploy a Mask of Memory for later.
Except the idea of ‘later’ gets put on its axis when Jimi adds a turn-5 Glory of Warfare. Thanks to the double strike of the Swiftblade, Jimi’s 4-point attack turns into a 10-point clobbering, dropping me to 6. The first chance I get I kill off the Swiftblade with a Pyrotechnics, but it taps me out. Jimi finishes me off when she plays a Keldon Champion, then swings for my last bit of life.
Punished for a greedy keep, it’s now my turn to be on the play. I open with a Forest which is followed by another, leading into a Mask of Memory on turn 2. Jimi, for her part, gets out a Mountain and a Plains. When turn 3 comes, I miss my first land drop- bad news. Jimi brings out a Hearthfire Hobgoblin to start things moving.
Now turn 4, I topdeck a Terramorphic Expanse, greedily cracking it for a Mountain. Jimi attacks in with the Hobgoblin to put me at 16, then adds a Boros Guildmage. Back to me, I tap out for a Bogardan Firefiend and pass. Undeterred, Jimi attacks with the Guildmage and Hobgoblin. With Jimi having the mana open to give her Guildmage first strike, I opt on the side of caution and chump-block the Hobgoblin, killing it once my Firefiend dies. That puts me at 14 from the Guildmage.
I catch a break when I draw a Smokebraider on turn 6, and waste little time putting it into play. Things get ugly, however, when Jimi next brings out Furnace of Rath before attacking with her Guildmage. Unwilling to lose my Smokebraider, I take the damage (doubled thanks to the Furnace) and am now at 10 life. Back to me, I next play a Flamekin Harbinger, tutoring up a Cinder Elemental to the top of my library. Unfortunately, Jimi’s next play is the Menacing Ogre. We use spindowns to indicate our life total bid, hiding behind our hand before a simultanous reveal. Sadly, both of us have chosen 2, so we both lose life but she still gets the +1/+1 counters. I’m now facing a 5/5 trampler, and it has haste.
As expected, Jimi swings in with both the Ogre and Guildmage. I block the Guildmage with my Harbinger, then flash in Briarhorn, giving it its own +3/+3 bonus to make it a 6/6 to block the Ogre. Sadly, this is when Jimi revelas that she’s been holding a Double Cleave, and the Orge gets the boost. Its first 5 damage (doubled to 10) crush my Briarhorn. Its second 5 damage (doubled to 10) crush me.
Starting the game once more on the play, I waste little time in opening with a Flamekin Harbinger (fetching a Forgotten Ancient to the top of my library). Jimi answers with a Soul Warden. Next turn I attack in for 1 with the Harbinger, then bring out a Smokebraider. Though Jimi goes up +1 life on the exchange, this is a dream start for my deck, all the moreso when Jimi uses her turn to play a Boros Garrison and pass.
Now turn 3, I attack again with the Harbinger before deploying a Rumbling Slum, putting Jimi back up at 20. For her part, she next brings out the Hearthfire Hobgoblin and passes. Next upkeep we each lose 1 life from the Slum, then I play the Forgotten Ancient in my first main phase, so ity can benefit from any instants Jimi plays when I attack with the Slum. My worry was for naught, however, as the Slum casually strolls in for 5 to leave Jimi at 16. Back to her, she plays a Relic of Progenitus, adding a counter on my Ancient in the process.
We both lose another life during my upkeep in turn 5, and I send in both the Slum and my Ancient. Feeling the pinch of two missed land drops, Jimi uses a Captain’s Maneuver for 1 to allow her Hobgoblin to trade out with the Slum. I respond with a Bogardan Rager, pumping up my Ancient with both its combat bonus as well as a third counter, though it does give Jimi a precious point of life off of her Soul Warden. She’s now down to 9, and things are finally going my way. At the end of my turn, Jimi exiles the Slum from my graveyard with the Relic, then passes after adding a Mountain to her manabase.
It’s now turn 6, and I cast Beast Hunt to try and refill my hand. Luck is with me as I hit a Smokebraider and Taurean Mauler, playing the Smokebraider immediately. After swinging with the Rager and Ancient, Jimi’s down to 2 life. Drawing no answer, she quietly concedes the game.
Thoughts & Analysis
It would not be hard to make a case that Strike Force was playing well today, and certainly at least my first loss can be attributable to me taking a questionable keep. Neither of these factors, however, sufficiently explain the periods of pronounced impotence that Elemental Thunder is capable of. With many of its best lines of play not unlocking until you’ve sufficiently developed your manabase and/or lucked into an early Smokebraider, all the fat beaters in the wrold still deal 0 damage from your hand. Like Strike Force, the deck is somewhat creature-light (only 19), and that makes you vulnerable to having to take what you can get sometimes.
That isn’t to say the deck is a poor one. On the contrary, it has creatures for any phase of the game, and beyond the Smokebraider it still has ways to fix its mana: Explosive Vegetation, Rampant Growth, and Fertilid all come to mind. But as seen in the first two games of the match, a failure to launch early can easily doom the deck to a disappointing result, with precious little opportunity for mounting a comeback.
Another thing of note is the deck’s inconsistency in its removal. Like Duel Decks and other premium releases, the Planechase decks deliberately boast very little repetition of cards. The upside to this is obvious- it makes for more dynamic and varied gameplay, and increases the product’s replayability. On the other hand, one secret to sneaking in consistency in a largely singleton list is through employment of analogues. Analogues refer to cards that do similar things to one another. For instance, you might want to include a consistent amount of cheap, instant-speed burn in a deck, but retain the diversity a singleton build affords you. Towards that end, you might end up with a Lightning Bolt, a Shock, a Brimstone Volley, and a Geistflame. Each of these is sufficiently different from one another so that you never have the same game twice (more or less), but any player can still rely on seeing some instant burn during the course of a game. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too?
Unfortunately, Elemental Mastery casts about as wide a net as you can imagine. Assault is cheap damage at sorcery speed, while on the other end of the slow-cast scale you get Pyrotechnics. Branching Bolt is about as good as it gets for instants, while both X-spells (Blaze and Savage Twister) are completely different in their application. Variance and variety is fun, but it loses something when you’re having to fly blind, completely at and mercy of random chance and fickle fate. This is something we’ve seen in all the Planechase decks, but it seems particularly pronounced here, where it’s exacerbated by the central role burn and removal plays by necessity in the Red/Green beats archetype.
Hits: Reasonably stable mana curve, less out of control than some Red/Green offerings we’ve recently reviewed
Misses: Excessive variance in card election offers diversity at expense of some consistency; outwith a couple of synergystic cards, feels more like a “deck of Elementals” than an “Elemental deck”
OVERALL SCORE: 4.00/5.00