Beatdown: Ground Pounder Review (Part 1)
By the standards of the earlier days of the game, what we have available to us now is enough to make one feel downright spoiled. Not only does each new set carry with it a slate of Intro Packs, but we get two more decks a month or so later when the Event Decks release. There’s not one, but two paired-deck releases per year as the Duel Decks touch down each Autumn and Spring. We’re treated to an annual all-foil deck with the Premium Deck Series, and on top of it all we get a “casual multiplayer” set like Planechase or Commander once a year as well.
Try to imagine a time- one not all that long ago, really- where almost none of these things existed. There were Theme Decks for each set, and had been for a couple of years, but everything else was years distant. Instead, Magic players were given a single yearly release that tried to fill the space that all of them together occupy. Sure 1996 had given us the Rivals Quick Start Set, but this was intended to be more of an introduction to the game rather than any standalone product meant to entice experienced players. That wouldn’t come until 1998 and the launch of Anthologies.
Meant to be a commemoration of the five-year anniversary of the game, Anthologies consisted of a pair of decks comprised of cards from all throughout Magic’s history, but overall it was a fairly poor offering. Still, Wizards liked the “special release” model enough to give it a second go the following year, when it crafted four decks designed for multiplayer play and released the Battle Royale boxed set. Beatdown was released just over a year later.
The concept of Beatdown is as simple and straightforward as the strategy it champions. People like big creatures- so let’s give them two decks packed with ’em! “You know what’s better than beating down opponents with Goblins and Elves?” asks the accompanying booklet. “Beating them down with gigantic Dragons, Wurms, and Djinns. As the folks in Magic R&D would say, DA UNGH!”
The Subject of Countless Nightmares
The opening suite of cards make for some curious choices. There’s the requisite mana ramping with a Llanowar Elves, of course, and you could also make a claim for the Kird Ape. However, it’s a bit harder to justify the Raging Goblin here. Given that the aim of the release is for two opponents to bash each other with massive beaters, a 1/1 with haste only makes sense in multiples. There’s certainly a vulnerability both decks have in the early game as they try and establish their manabase which a fast deck could make hay with. A first-turn Raging Goblin could quite easily pay for itself, but as each side escalate in the creature war it’s about the very last card you’d be happy to draw. The ramping suite- such as it is- gets bolstered in the two-drops with a Quirion Elves.
Things start to get interesting in the three-drop slot. Although here again we only see a trio of creatures, there is a bit more depth to them. The 3/3 Bloodrock Cyclops is still fairly small ball here, but a fine enough body for its cost. The Ball Lightning is essentially burn damage on a stick, a 6/1 trampler with haste. It’s the final option here, though, that’s easy to overlook but may well be one of the deck’s more critical: Woolly Spider. In a vacuum it isn’t all that impressive, a defensive-minded creature in a deck best suited towards aggression. But it’s actually one of the few defensive mechanisms you have tailored towards beting the opposing deck, Aerodoom. As the name implies, Aerodoom looks to rise above the massive beatsticks of Ground Pounder through evasion, so a card like the Spider which can congest the air lanes can prove invaluable.
The deck begins its transition into massive attacking on the four-drops. Red contributes the most here, with four of the deck’s five creatures relying on Mountains for deployment. The Viashino Warrior and Lowland Giant are a pair of vanilla options that make a useful contrast in power/toughness return on mana cost/commitment. This continues with the Talruum Minotaur from Mirage, which costs the same as the Giant, has haste, but in exchange shaves off a single point of power.
The final Red creature here is the Balduvian Horde, a 5/5 beatstick which compensates for its cheap cost by requiring random discard when summoned to the battlefield. A terror in the time of Alliances, the danger is that it can end up a painful punishment if your opponent is ready with the removal. Moving to Green, we find the deck’s foil, black-bordered premium card, Erhnam Djinn. The Djinn’s major drawback- granting forestwalk to an opponent’s creature each turn- is significantly diminished against a skies deck, since the creatures youre facing already come with evasion built-in anyway.
Speaking of fliers, your next defensive weapon comes in the form of the Plated Spider as we now move to the deck’s many five-drops. A 4/4 with reach, unlike the Woolly Spider it’s not just designed for containment, but rather the ability to also kill off some of the threats coming across the table. Exodus contributes the pun-tastic Crashing Boars, another 4/4 with an unusual blocking restriction. So long as your opponent has an untapped creature, the Boars will almost certainly be blocked.
From Tempest we get the Segmented Wurm, another 5/5 body. Although it gains a -1/-1 counter every time your opponent targets it, since most of what they’ll have to target the Wurm (see: Terror, Death Stroke) would simply kill it outright anyway. Lastly, there’s the 6/1 shrouded Deadly Insect and Hulking Cyclops. The Insect is a dicey proposition, as it can easily be traded with one of your opponent’s weaker, outclassed creatures. The Cyclops is a yet another 5/5, with the difference being that it’s not available for blocking duties.
The parade of 5/5’s continues into the six-drops with the classic Shivan Dragon. “It’s easy to see,” writes Mark Rosewater in the Beatdown book, “why o many players love Dragons. Nothing else symbolizes the fantasy genre so completely.” Indeed, he adds that when the game was still in design with Richard Garfield, “when the cards were just slips of paper, Shivan Dragon had a certain mystique.” Not for nothing, when the From the Vaults product line debuted in 2008, Wizards chose to make Dragons its theme. Beyond the awe and appeal, however, lies a card you’ll be happy to see at most any time. As your deck’s only bona fide flier, you’ll be able to fight fire with fire- literally!
Next up is the Shambling Strider, a much less attractive option by comparison. Unlike the Dragon it lacks evasion, and its power pumps at the expense of toughness- and for twice as much mana. Of course, it’s also two levels lower in rarity, but all the same it’s a 5/5 body. The Yavimaya Wurm is a more straightforward proposition, being a 6/4 with trample. If that’s not enough for you, howabout the 8/8 Force of Nature? Another of the game’s iconic powerhouses, like its counterpart Lord of the Pit the Force is a massive body attached to a recurring payment to avoid it damaging you. While it will certainly tie up a sizable portion of resources, it certainly will put your opponent on a very short clock unless dealt with.
The final three beaters here are the Clockwork Beast, Crash of Rhinos, and Scaled Wurm. The Clockwork Beast- another card from the very first days of the game- enters play as a 7/4 and like any clockwork creature must be periodically rewound for optimal performance. The Crash and Wurm, on the other hand, need no such maintenance- but of course, they’ll set you back eight mana apiece.
Tether Souls to the World
As a Red/Green beats deck, there are a few noncreature support cards which are de rigeur for the archetype, namely burn and combat trickery. Reassuringly, the burn suite is fairly solid. The Lightning Bolt comes as little surprise, and as the deck is a singleton construction there’s also a Shock (though we’d have been happier with an Incinerate). Continuing the anti-aircraft defenses, you also have access to a Thunderbolt– recently reprinted in Avacyn Restored. A Sonic Burst costs you an extra card (at random no less!), so you’ll want to be sure what you’re killing with it is worth the cost. You also get a Fireball, and given the length these games are likely to go you’ll have every opportunity to make it a massive one. Indeed, the only disappointing option here is the Lava Axe, since it only targets your opponent rather than any creatures.
Combat tricks are far less represented, with only a single copy of Giant Growth and a Fog to carry the banner for the tactic. Rounding out the support suite is a WIld Growth and Rampant Growth, to help you accelerate the development of your manabase. In addition, the deck also delivers a quartet of nonbasic lands. The Dwarven Ruins and Havenwood Battleground from Fallen Empires can be cashed in for an extra mana in a pinch, while the Slippery Karst and Smoldering Crater offer assistance in the other direction- if drawn when you already have the mana you need, you can then cycle them away for a fresh card.
Overall, the singleton nature of the decks means that games will vary quite considerably from one to the next, but the overall strategy is consistent. To see how successful Ground Pounder is at deploying its massive beatsticks, we’ll be taking it into the field for testing. Next, however, we’ll be looking at the opposition: Aerodoom. See you in two days!