Magic 2013: Sole Domination Review (Part 2 of 2)
First introduced in 2008’s Shards of Alara, the exalted mechanic has been dusted off and given a fresh coat of paint! Now moved into the “religious” colours of White and Black, we’re about to find out how it actually plays out. For opposition, Sam’s back at the table with the White/Blue Path to Victory.
Sam’s on the play for our opener, and she begins with a Chronomaton off of her first Plains, while I simply lay a Swamp and pass. Next turn she adds a Silvercoat Lion after a 1-point attack, though I look to stabilise with a Walking Corpse.
Now turn 3, Sam fearlessly sends in the Lion anyway, and I decline the block. She then summons an Attended Knight, placing a 1/1 Soldier token next to it on the battlefield. In danger of slipping behind, I’m quite happy to field a Guardians of Akrasa. Next turn Sam attacks for a further four with her Lion and Knight. I block the Lion with my Guardians, going down to 15. She then brings out the Griffin Protector, but I’m ready to turn the corner when I deploy a Vampire Nighthawk . At the end of my turn, Sam then charges up the Chronomaton with a +1/+1 counter.
I go down to 12 on turn 5 when Sam summons a Courtly Provocateur, pumping up the Griffin which then turns sideways for 3. Sam’s rocked back on her heels, though, when I tap out to summon a Knight of Glory and Knight of Infamy, letting me attack for 5 with the lifelinking Nighthawk thanks to the trio of exalted triggers on the board. This cuts Sam to 15, and puts me right back up to 17. Next turn after summoning an Ajani’s Sunstriker, Sam uses her Provocateur to compel my Knight of Infamy to block, sending in her Chronomaton to trade. With the Knight’s protection from White, it was a serious thorn in her side and she’s done well to see it off. The Griffin also comes in, hitting for 3 in the air. Down to 14, I lay down a Blood Reckoning. Sam stalls for a turn with a Downpour, tapping my Knight, Nighthawk, and Corpse.
A Captain’s Call on turn 7 gives Sam a trio of 1/1 Soldiers, after which she attacks in with the pumped-up Griffin and Sunstriker. This triggers the Blood Reckoning for 2, but then she gains it back with the Sunstriker (blocked by the Guardians). The Griffin smashes for 5 unblocked, and I’m left at 9. Back to me, I play a Ring of Xathrid, which is then equipped to the Nighthawk. Next I attack for 4 with it, putting me now 2 above Sam at 13. Sam uses her Provocateur to trade a 1/1 Soldier token for my Knight of Glory, then drops a 9/9 Crusader of Odric. She passes, and the Ring on the Nighthawk offers up its first +1/+1 counter. Then I add a Servant of Nefarox and Walking Corpse, sending in the Nighthawk for another 5. Sam’s now down to her last 5 life, with me almost back to full at 18.
By now Sam’s position is almost a checkmate. At 4 life she can hardly afford to attack en masse, and with my growing Nighthawk she can’t afford not to. She circles the drain until at last, on turn 10, she scoops.
Sam once again leads with an opening Chronomaton off of a Plains, and follows with an Ajani’s Sunstriker after swinging in for 1. My second-turn Knight of Infamy is my opening play, and when Sam plunks down a Silvercoat Lion the following turn I answer with a Ring of Xathrid. At the end of my turn, Sam charges up the Chronomaton.
Now turn 4, a Captain’s Call gives her another trio of 1/1 Soldiers, but again I manage to find the Vampire Nighthawk. No bonus points for guessing how this one’s going to go. Sam lands a Healer of the Pride next turn and passes, while I equip the Ring to the Nighthawk, drop a Knight of Glory, and send the Nighthawk in for 4. Again at the end of the turn, Sam adds a +1/+1 counter to the Chronomaton.
Sam then plays a second Chronomaton on turn 6, clawing back 2 life thanks to the Healer. She sends the larger Chronomaton in for 3, resetting me to 20. After adding a +1/+1 counter from the Ring and deploying a Servant of Nefarox, the Nighthawk hammers in for 6. Sam’s down to 12, while I’m up at 26. Next turn she gets another 2 life added from casting an Arctic Aven, then counterattacks for 4 with her artifact creatures. I hammer back for 7 with the Nighthawk, having added another counter to it during my upkeep. Sam chumps with the Aven, activating its lifelink for a dose of 3 life.
Now turn 8, Sam gets a further 2 life from playing an Ajani’s Sunstriker, then attacks in with her Chronomatons, the first Sunstriker, the Lion and the Soldier tokens. My Knight of Infamy blocks and kills the Sunstriker, but the rest get through to leave me at 19. It’s a fine attack, but when I add another counter to my Nighthawk then follow with an Aven Squire, I’m hitting back for 9. It’s downhill the rest of the way- Sam just can’t outrace my Nighthawk.
She plays a turn 9 Crusader of Odric (as a 10/10), but it simply draws a Pacifism. Once again, Sam finds her position untenable, and concedes on turn 10.
This time it’s me with the opening play of the game, landing a Tormented Soul after Sam leads with a Plains. She bounces right back with an Ajani’s Sunstriker next turn, while I get a Walking Corpse after attacking with the Soul for 1.
Sam next plays her Ring of Thune, equipping it to the Sunstriker before passing. For my part, I play a Servant of Nefarox, letting the Soul slip past Sam’s defenses for 2. Next turn a Healer of the Pride arrives, with the Sunstriker getting a +1/+1 counter from the Ring. I play Mark of the Vampire on the Tormented Soul, and turn it sideways for another four. It’s now a 13-24 game, and it looks to be going much the same as the ones previous.
Now turn 5, the now-4/4 Sunstriker is sent to attack. I gang-block it with my Walking Corpse and Servant, killing it off. Sam then replaces it with another (going up 2 life from the Healer), then gives it the Ring. Without a Ring of my own to keep my creature growing, I’m on a leaner race with Sam and opt to Murder her Sunstriker to prevent the lifegain from buying her time for an answer. Swinging for 3, Sam goes back down to 16. Next turn, she replaces the fallen Sunstriker with an Attended Knight, which gives her 4 life thanks to the token Soldier it brings alongside. Sam’s now back at 20 life, and equips the Ring to the Knight. I respond with a Duskmantle Prowler, letting my Soul swing in for a further 4 damage.
Sam’s Attended Knight gets its first +1/+1 counter on turn 7, and in it comes for 3 to leave me at 28. Back to me, I drop an Angelic Benediction to keep the stream of exalted permanents coming, and attack for 5 with the unblockable Soul. Sam’s down to 11, and seems to be playing ‘cockroach Magic’- she’s almost impossible to kill. Next turn she counterattacks for 6 with her Knight and Healer, then goes big with Odric, Master Tactician. Determined to outrace her, I play a Guardians of Akrasa and carve another 6 points of life off her spindown.
Again Sam’s deck shows distressing resilience as she next summons a Captain of the Watch. Alongside the three token creatures, this gives her another 8-life lifeline from the Healer, going right back up to 15. Sam then attacks with Odric, a Soldier token, her Attended Knight, and her Healer. Since she gets to determine blockers thanks to Odric, she has her Healer kill off my Prowler, my Guardians fall to the Knight, and the Soldier token and Odric hammer me for 6, since both get buffed by the Captain. I’m still at 27, but the game has changed right on its axis. For my part, I play a Duty-Bound Dead and attack for 5, cutting Sam down to 10.
Now turn 10, Sam simply sends in the side for 23 damage- no blocking allowed. She follows with a Serra Angel and passes. I play a Knight of Infamy, allowing my Soul to connect for 6. With Sam at 4 and me at 15, I then summon a Duskhunter Bat. Realising the situation is hopeless, I then concede- with Sam squeaking by at 2 life.
Thoughts & Analysis
“I’m writing Wizards,” said Sam as we were shuffling up for game three. “Your deck is broken.” I laughed it off, but tried to have the good grace not to wind her up as she was already starting to tilt after three games in a row of brutal exalted-powered domination (the ‘friendly’ that started things off was just as one-sided). When I pointed out to her at the end of the match that she’d taken the last game from me and broken the sweep, she agreed that her deck had done what it needed to do, but that “it took both rares to do it, and even then I barely won.” I conceded the point, even as I was saddened that I just missed the opportunity to kill an opponent with a Duskhunter Bat.
Although time will tell if the deck is as dominant from its class as the classic breakout deck was, Zendikar’s The Adventurers. To this day that deck still brings back memories of lopsided games and general frustration, being a deck that was a pure joy to play but a nightmare to play against.
I was intrigued as to the reason the deck had done so well, and resolved to do a little more digging. We noted in the first part of the review that Wizards had upped the frequency of the signature mechanic in the deck when compared to the two decks that featured it in Alara Block. Both Bant Exalted and Bant on the March made heavy use of it, but when pressed Sam didn’t recall either being so oppressive. Could the 25% increase in exalted creatures explain what was going on? Or was there something we weren’t seeing going on as well?
As it happens, exalted 2.0 got more than one upgrade this time around. In the first Bant deck, Bant Exalted, the average converted mana cost (CMC) of an exalted creature was an even 3.00. Certainly it was capable of quicker starts, boasting a pair of Akrasan Squires, but in general it could take some time to get things moving. Rather than speed up, things were even slower in Conflux. Bant might have been “on the march,” but it was surely taking its time with an average CMC of 3.42. Not only that, but as previously noted it actually fielded one less creature with the ability than its predecessor. Applying the same lens to Sole Domination reveals a startling statistic- this time around, the mechanic got a 10% speed boost, yielding an average CMC of 2.71. Not only are Sole Domination’s exalted creatures more plentiful, but they’re also cheaper to play. Combine that with the attack vectors provided like the Vampire Nighthawk and Tormented Soul, and it’s not hard to see why the deck did what it did.
In fairness, it has its vulnerabilities- a deck with a pinger would tear this to shreds thanks to the fragile back-end of many of the creatures. But overall, it’s an incredibly efficient and dominant construction, and does justice and more to the return of the exalted mechanic. Aspiring deckbuilders will have a good head start here with this as a base, being able to throw in added goodies like Cathedral of War. In addition, Avacyn Restored introduced an “evil works alone” subtheme to the set, as highlighted in the Solitary Fiends deck with cards like Homicidal Seclusion. Sadly, Solitary Fiends didn’t come together as well as it wanted to, but a look back at our review reveals this gem:
Misses: “Solo beater” strategy is novel in concept but poorly supported in execution- at least with exalted if they killed your lone attacker, you could just attack with something else for the attack bonus
Overall, Sole Domination is well put-together. It hits its notes quite well, and has a very solid supporting cast. I was never at a loss for my defining mechanic, and it was always able to keep me supplied with hard-to-block options to take full advantage. In the previous Bant decks, getting something with evasion to carry the triggered combat buffs was something of a bonus- here, it seems to be the norm. Strong contended for best in class, but of course we’ll be reserving our judgment until we’ve seen them all in action.
Hits: Exalted gets a radical upgrade here, appearing both in greater numbers and for cheaper cost; superb attack vectors ensure that you won’t be ‘wasting’ the buff on a ground-based beater that’s just going to get chumped until the end of time
Misses: Deck doesn’t solve mechanic’s core problem of putting all eggs in one basket- a single piece of instant-speed removal can act in essence like a Fog
OVERALL SCORE: 4.85/5.00