Urza’s Saga: The Plague Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s our third clash of four for Urza’s Saga, and this time Sam’s back with Sleeper, a White Weenie variant that makes full use of a range of sleeping enchantments. I’m in with The Plague, which puts all of its eggs in a single Pestilential basket. Which deck will come out ahead?
Im on the play to lead us off, and being with a Polluted Mire. Sam wasts no time with a full-flavoured Plains, enabling an opening Opal Caryatid. Next turn I add a Drifting Meadow and pass, while she plays a Plains. The turn following I’m still in land-laying mode with a Swamp, while Sam finally finds the game’s first creature in a Pegasus Charger.
Now turn 4, I play a Rune of Protection: Black. Sam puts a Serra’s Embrace on the Charger, then turns it sideways for 4. Back to me, I simply Befoul the Pegasus. Sam simply replaces her loss with another Charger, then slaps a Brilliant Halo on it.
Back to me for turn 6, I cycle a Sicken and pull a Disciple of Grace, then end my turn. Sam cycles a Drifting Meadow, then adds a Songstitcher. She attacks in for 3 with the Charger, then summons an Angelic Page. At the end of turn, I Expunge the Charger, though Sam still gets the Halo back to hand. Next turn, I cycle a Drifting Meadow to pull a Swamp, which I play and pass. Sam sticks the Brilliant Halo on her Songstitcher, then swings in with it for 2. That becomes 3 with a buff from the Page, and I’m now down to 10.
I finally find a Pestilence on turn 8, then trigger it for 1. That kills Sam’s Page and puts her to 19, while I duck the damage with my Rune. Over to Sam, she attacks for 2 with the Songstitcher, then to my sorrow Clears the Pestilence. Back to me, I next add an Urza’s Armor, which blunts Sam’s attacks for the next few turns.
We’re both looking for something useful, and the next play of the game comes on turn 13 when I Corrupt Sam directly. Were it not for the Armor I’d have crushed the Songstitcher, but at the present rate I can manage a point of damage per turn. This puts Sam to 11, and gets me back up to 9 life. All Sam can do is attack again for 2, reduced as usual by 1 thanks to the Armor.
Now turn 14, I play a Sanctum Guardian and Blood Vassal, waking up Sam’s Opal Caryatid. Sam attacks in with her newfound Soldier alongside the Songstitcher. I block one with the Guardian, only to see Sam Humble the Guardian in response. I pop the Guardian to prevent the damage from the other, and so end up taking nothing on the turn despite losing my best blocker. With the coast clear of Sam’s sleepers, I play a Voice of Grace and attack for 2 with the Blood Vassal to put Sam at 12. Sam attacks in with her pair of beaters, and this time it’s my turn to turn the Humble into removal as I block her now-0/1 Soldier with my Voice of Grace. I still take 1 point of damage to fall to 7, then Sam smashes my Rune of Protection with a Monk Realist.
Needing cards more than the Rune, I cycle the backup copy in my hand on turn 16, getting an Expunge. I attack in for 2 on Sam to put her at 10, then pass. Sam next tries to stick a Brilliant Halo on a Disciple of Law, but I Expunge it in response to send both cards to the graveyard. Sam finishes up with an attack from the Songstitcher to see me down to 6.
It’s as low as she gets me. With the board more or less stabilised, I’m able to outrace Sam with my creature advantage. She can’t attack with the Songstitcher as Ill fire back with the Vassal and Voice for twice as much damage, so she holds the Songstitcher back to stall for time. Though she plays a turn-17 Opal Titan, it’s the last meaningful play she’ll make. She soon falls to the inevitable as I grind out a very pedestrian victory.
Sam opens up with a Songsticher, then follows on with an Opal Gargoyle and Angelic Page in the next two successive turns. My first play is a Disciple of Grace on turn 3, and by then I’ve taken some early hits to go down to 18. Next turn Sam attacks for 3 with her Gargoyle and Songstitcher backed by the Page, pumping it for 1 with the Page, before adding a Dragon Blood. For my part, I deploy a Pestilence.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t do me a lick of good- Sam’s up on life, and she’s got the board’s best creature in the Gargoyle backed up by Dragon Blood. She uses it to pump the Gargoyle, and hammers in with it and the Songstitcher to drop me to 9. I cycle a Disciple of Grace to find an Opal Acrolith, then trigger the Pestilence for 1 to kill off Sam’s Page and Songstitcher.
Now turn 6, Sam keeps the pressure up with the Gargoyle, using the Dragon Blood to make it a 4/4. I’m now down to 5 and needing an answer. I rip a Disenchant and pick off the Dragon Blood to buy me a turn, then cycle a Disciple of Grace before attacking back for 1 of my own. Alas, Sam takes the game when she puts a Brilliant Halo on the Gargoyle, letting her swing in for lethal.
After dueling land drops, my opening play of the game is a second-turn Disciple of Grace, while Sam matches with an Opal Gargoyle. Next turn I turn the Disciple sideways for 1, while Sam then deploys a Songstitcher. She next tries to put a Brilliant Halo on it, forcing me to Expunge it in response just to get rid of the annoying enchantment.
Now turn 4, I attack in for 1 and pass. Sam plays an Angelic Page. Next turn, however, I take command of the game with a Pestilence, triggering it once to kill her Page. I then wait for it to be destroyed…. but instead, Sam plays a Dragon Blood. She has no answer, and I’m prepared to take full advantage.
I attack in with the Disciple for another point on turn 6, putting Sam to 15. She plays an Opal Caryatid, and at the end of her turn I trigger the Pestilence for 3. This drops her to 12, me to 16. Next turn I send the Disciple back into the red zone for another point of damage, whittling Sam away. She blunts the Disciple with a Pacifism, but is left at 8 life when I trigger the Pestilence for another 3.
Now turn 8, I pass without incident while Sam manages a Voice of Grace. It’s a great find, but she still goes down to 5 at the end of her turn when I again activate the Pestilence with all of my Swamps. My turn 9 is another blank. When Sam tries to Serra’s Embrace on the Voice, I simply Disenchant it to take only 2, then trigger the Pestilence again. With Sam at 2 and me at 5, I ride the Pestilence to victory next turn.
Thoughts & Analysis
If there’s an environment where a single enchantment-centered deck can work, it’s safe to say that Urza’s Saga isn’t necessarily it. Sleeper carries a Disenchant and a pair of Clears, in addition to a pair of Monk Realists. Tombstone? You’re looking at a trio of Disenchants. Heck, even in The Plague you’ve got some enchantment removal in the form of a couple of Disenchants. In fact, the only deck without consistent access to answers for Pestilence is Special Delivery, and even then it can still clear the board with a Hush or punish you with Hidden Ancients.
With most decks defaulting to creature deployment/creature removal, the Urza’s Saga is a welcome- if at times frustrating- break from the usual, and this deck above all epitomises that shift thanks to its primary win condition. As you can see, against decks which come equipped to deal with enchantments it can be quite vulnerable, but if you’re playing against decks which take enchantments for granted (most other sets) The Plague can be downright cruel.
As such, though, it’s a bit complicated to evaluate The Plague, since it’s not entirely fair to hold its own environment against it. While it’s easy to get the sense that later sets had their decks more or less balanced against each other, Theme Decks from these earliest releases don’t necessarily carry that same sense. Instead, they feel like they were balanced towards an approximately equitable power level, but certain decks can absolutely hose others if up against the right opponent. For instance, you don’t see the same levels of inclusion of creatures with protection as you once did, for these can be especially swingy.
That said, you don’t want to give The Plague a free pass either, since it’s a fairly fragile house of cards. Inclusions like Urza’s Armor can stall a game, but they only delay the inevitable. If you can’t find your Pestilence- and keep it in play- your chances of winning drop precipitously.
The value, then, of The Plague is dependent upon your meta moreso than most decks, but was a blast to play overall. It’s fragility lands it in the class of decks we call “feast or famine,” meaning that for those games where you absolutely run the show with your deck doing what you wanted (game three), you’ll have other games- and likely more of them- where you dig for an answer and die sifting sand (game two). It’s a blast to play, but if your opponents are ready for you then you’ll soon be reaching for another deck.
Hits: Another exciting unorthodox deck from Urza’s Saga, the deck is a lot of fun when you can line up its mechanic; removal solid for the level of the environment
Misses: Overreliance on a single card as its primary win condition is novel, but terribly fragile gainst the right opposition
OVERALL SCORE: 4.25/5.00
Sounds like a lot of fun. I don’t think I’d mind playing this one too much.
“If there’s an environment where a single enchantment-centered deck can work, it’s safe to say that Urza’s Saga isn’t necessarily it.”
To be fair, it did give us Enchantress, still a core piece in one of my favourite Legacy decks.
I’m reading this as Theros, the next enchantment focused set is being released. Urza’s block was a good enchantment focused block, but was overshadowed by the broken artifacts of the era. Theros has more enchantments, but nothing like “The Plague” can be built from it. I appreciate the novel design of “The Plague” more as a result.