Magic 2013: Mob Rule Review (Part 1 of 2)
One of the interesting facets of the five new legends introduced in Magic 2013 is the degree to which they represent a build-around-me archetype. This stands in fairly stark contrast to what has come before, namely the legend-led Theme Decks of Tenth Edition, and certainly represents a deeper integration of gameplay and strategy.
Eleven legends from Magic’s past were brought back in Tenth Edition, which we’ve previously noted as being the first Core Set to feature the legendary supertype. For their selections, Magic brought back iconic creatures that played well in a setting-neutral environment, and their respective Theme Decks tend to illustrate this. Consider, for instance, Arcanis’s Guile, the mono-Blue deck featuring Arcanis the Omnipotent. Popular for his ability to draw you cards- lots and lots of cards- there’s little in the deck proper that synergises with either of Arcanis’s abilities. Instead, you simply have a “good card” nested in a deck with a generic strategy of churning through its library to find you control implements and closers. The same can be said for Cho-Manno, Kamahl, and the rest.
This isn’t to say that these were bad decks. Rather, it’s invoked to provide contrast to the more nuanced offerings we’re seeing this time around. With the exception of Yeva, Nature’s Herald (with flash on creatures good anytime), none of the new legends in Magic 2013 can be just thrown into a “good stuff” deck. Instead, whatever quality they have on their own is more than amplified by building around them. Take Odric, Master Tactician, the foil in our last playtest. Being able to decide how/if your opponent blocks is of obvious value, but he needs three other creatures in play to do it. Thus, one is rewarded for playing a creature-heavy deck with abundant token generation, to make sure that as soon as you land him you’ll be able to capitalise on everything he brings to the table. Similarly, Talrand, Sky Summoner demands lots of non-creature support, and Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis cries out for more exalted triggers to make sure he survives each turn of combat.
None of these are quite as parasitic as the subject of today’s review, Krenko, Mob Boss. A Goblin of Ravnican origin, on his own Krenko is fairly underwhelming- tapping to create a single 1/1 Goblin token is fine, but probably not what you were hoping for for four mana even if he would then go on to create two tokens the turn following. But in a deck filled with Goblins? Now that’s a plan worth looking at!
The Burning Impulse to Destroy
Howevermuch Krenko screams out “tribal,” it turns out that that function isn’t really supported in Magic 2013 to any great degree, but you certainly have your share of options in a deck that packs in just under 50% Goblin content while inspiring thoughts of how you could make the deck even more focused.
Things start out well enough with a trio of Goblin Arsonists, your only one-drop in the deck and carrying that all-important Goblin creature type. They’re not the most impressive creatures in the deck, but as we’ve seen before that extra point of death-trigger damage has any number of uses, from finishing off a wounded enemy to holding an opponent’s more fragile creatures hostage (such as the many 1-toughness exalted bodies we saw in Sole Domination). We find a further two Goblins in the two-drops in the Mogg Flunkies. The Flunkies are about as anti-exalted as you’ll find here, not that Krenko will be losing much sleep over it when the Flunkies help establish early board dominance. Despite the drawback, the Flunkies have seen much top-level play since the time of their introduction in Stronghold, and make a welcome return in Magic 2013 (in addition to a cameo appearance in Premium Deck Series: Fire & Lightning).
The two-drop rung also brings us a few non-Goblin options in the Torch Fiend, Flinthoof Boar, and Dragon Hatchling. The Fiend is a bring-back from Dark Ascension, bumped up to uncommon to reflect the positioning of artifacts in a Core Set (less in number, but a bit higher in power). This gives the artifacts room to breathe in Limited play, but here it’s simply an out for anything your opponent might land given that each of the five Intro Pack decks has its respective member of the Rings of Shandalar cycle. The Flinthoof Boar too is part of a cycle, creatures that get a small boost if you’re playing with a particular allied colour in the same deck. Finally, half of your air force appears here in a pair of Dragon Hatchlings. Magic has been looking for a “pocket Dragon” card for some time (sorry, Nalathni Dragon, you cost too much and do too little). Although the Hatchling requires a mana investment to do even the slightest bit of a damage, it’s a great mana sink for any point in the game thanks to its evasion.
Goblins pop up again in the three-drops with the Arms Dealer and Rummaging Goblin, both of which are amongst the more useful options in the deck. The Arms Dealer turns any Goblin into a virtual Goblin Grenade, and even at its worst can be seen as a five-mana burn spell to solve a particularly obnoxious creature on the other side of the table. The Rummaging Goblin reflects the spread of “looting” (drawing a card at the expense of a card) into Red. Although initially Red retained the same action order as Blue (see: Faithless Looting), colour pie differentiation has led to Red having to pitch a card first, then drawing one to replace it. “The idea,” says developer Zac Hill, “was that red would do it more impulsively, saying “I don’t want this” and seeing what happens. This in contrast to the very strategic-feeling blue method of considering all your options and ditching what you feel you need the least.” Finally, you get a bit of muscle in the Reckless Brute. They won’t last long (1 toughness), but can be timed right to do the most damage thanks to their haste.
Mob Rule keeps the beats going well into the four-drops with a collection of special-ability bodies. The Bladetusk Boar sets no records as a 3/2, but its intimidate can make it much more difficult to deal with. The Goblin Battle Jester rewards you for playing Red spells with a repeatable Falter-type effect. One of the weaknesses of decks playing a lot of small creatures is that they become much less relevant as the game progresses. You’ll seldom be thrilled to turn over a Goblin Arsonist on turn 8, but with the Jester you can be rewarded by saving up a few cheap spells to enable one last alpha strike right through your opponent’s defenses.
The other half of your air force is here with a pair of Furnace Whelps. We’ve seen these before in some of the premium products like Duel Decks, Commander, and Archenemy as it fills a Dragon’s role at a commonality slot that doesn’t ordinarily see many Dragons. Like the Whelp, it’s a great place to stuff the extra mana you’ll frequently have from turn to turn later in the game, and unlike the Whelp it’s an offensive threat even without being pumped. Lastly, we come across Krenko, Mob Boss. One surprising thing about Krenko is that he’s one of the deck’s bigger beaters on his own as a 3/3. Still, the special ability he brings to the table ensures that he’ll be seeing less combat than he otherwise might. Fortunately, the deck packs in a pair of closers in the form of Fire Elementals to do his dirty work while he assembles his mob. A classic reprint from the earliest days of the game, the Elemental was last seen in 7th Edition and makes its triumphant return here- at common.
Death, Shiny Sharp
The abundant noncreature support of Mob Rule neatly divides into four categories. The first of these, quite naturally, is burn. There’s plenty of it to go around, but unlike in decks past it’s offset by a higher-than-usual cost. Both of Chandra’s signature cards, Flames of the Firebrand and Chandra’s Fury, offer a healthy dollop of burn that comes with an equally healthy pricetag. The Mirage classic Volcanic Geyser is back as well, giving you the opportunity to deal a massive blast of burn at instant speed.
Burn in combat decks as a rule pulls double duty, removing obstacles out of the way of your most efficient damage avenues (creatures), then finishing off a wounded opponent to claim the win. Should you not have quite enough burn to keep the lanes clear and let your beaters get in for damage, you’ve got plenty of combat tricks to keep your opponent off-balance. Although Giant Growth is now a thing of the past, it’s been replaced by Titanic Growth which offers a smidge more efficacy at an increased cost (sound familiar?). Trumpet Blast gives a massive power boost to your attackers, and can steal games on its own. Kindled Fury, on the other hand, is ersatz removal, letting your creature walk away from a clash that might otherwise have ended in a trade. Finally, if all else is lost there’s a copy of Serpent’s Gift here, which turns any block into a potential trade no matter the size disparity of the combatants. It’s an expensive way to do things as you are almost certain to two-for-one yourself, but you can rig up some fun shenanigans with Goblin Arsonist or Arms Dealer.
Next up are the creature augments. Like the other decks in the series, there is a representative from the Shandalar Ring cycle in the Ring of Valkas. Thanks to Red’s slice of colour pie, this one’s a bit different than the others since haste is only useful on the first turn a creature comes into play, while the rest are gifts that continue to give. That said, you’ll have no shortage of uses for haste, so this might be a Ring that gets passed about a few times on the battlefield. Originally from Weatherlight, Fervor is back and will do the Ring’s job en masse. Finally, Cleaver Riot is another card that can set you up for a game-ending attack, giving all of your creatures double strike. As a sorcery, your opponents will see it coming, but there won’t always be much they can do about it.
Finally, a last pair of summons clocks in with Krenko’s Command, a re-skinned Dragon Fodder from Shards of Alara. As we saw with Odric’s Path to Victory, token-making cards tend to punch above their weight in this set.
Throw in an Evolving Wilds, some Forests, and Mountains, and you’ve got yourself a deck! We’ll be putting it through its paces, then reporting back with the final outcome. See you then!