Onslaught: Celestial Assault Review (Part 2 of 2)
We’re ready for our next look at the world of Onslaught through its Theme Decks. Up today is the White/Blue Celestial Assault, which takes advantage of the Gustcloak mechanic to preserve creatures where they’re most vulnerable-in combat. Sam’s ready to put the deck to the test, and has the tribal set’s version of the joker in the deck: Bait & Switch.
Sam and I trade land drops for the first two turns before one of us lands a play- Sam’s turn-3 Mistform Dreamer. For my part, I morph an Ironfist Crusher. Next turn, Sam attacks in the air with the Dreamer for 2, while I counterattack with the morph for the same. I then add a Gustcloak Sentinel, my opening Gustcloak of the match.
Now turn 5, Sam again flies in for 2 to leave me at 16. I deploy a Gustcloak Savior to keep my troops protected, then send in my beaters for 5 to pull ahead in the race. Next turn, Sam plays a second Mistform Dreamer and passes. For my part, I send all three creatures into the red zone for 8. Sam blocks my morph with a Dreamer, only to see me unmorph it for the rout. With her down to 7 life, I then add a Gustcloak Runner and pass.
Now turn 7, Sam turns her remaining Dreamer into a Soldier, then sacrifices it to an Endemic Plague, wiping my board. It’s a brutal play, one that resets the now-creatureless board. Luckily, I topdeck an Ascending Aven and play it immediately. Next turn, Sam rips a Fallen Cleric to reestablish herself. I then carve in for 3 in the air with the Aven, leaving Sam at 4. Next I play a Daru Cavalier to hold down the fort, searching my library for the deck’s other copy and putting it into hand.
Sam’s turn 9 is a blank, but in fact she’s just waiting for my upkeep when she casts Feeding Frenzy to give my Aven -1/-1, which then makes it eligible for a Swat to bat it out of the sky. All I can do is send in my Cavalier, and Sam gambles on letting it pass. It’s a mistake, as victory is just an Inspirit away.
Sam opens the game with a Barren Moor, which I match with an Island. Next turn, she adds a Boneknitter while I only have a Plains. She attacks in for 1 on turn 3 with the Zombie, then doubles down with a Mistform Wall. Back to me, I drop down a morphed Ascending Aven.
Now turn 4, Sam then deploys a Cabal Slaver and Imagecrafter. I morph a second Ascending Aven and pass the turn right back. Sam then morphs something of her own and passes. I continue the buildup with a Dive Bomber.
Now turn 6, Sam morphs another creature, while I add a Seaside Haven and Pearlspear Courier. Back to Sam, she then attacks in with both her morphs, and I gamble on letting them through. Sam then flips one over to reveal a Mistform Shrieker, turns it into a Goblin with the Imagecrafter to get the Cabal Slaver power, and drops me to 14. Forced now to discard a card, I throw away an Island. For my part, my turn is a blank.
On the upside, so is Sam’s turn 8, and she holds pat. Over to me, I swing in with the Dive Bomber, girding it with the Pearlspear Courier’s +2/+2 bonus. She blocks with the Mistform Dreamer, making it a Zombie and regenerating it with the Boneknitter. I chastise myself for missing an on-board play, then summon a Daru Cavalier. After fetching a replacement copy for my hand, I end my turn.
Next turn, Sam plays an Island and passes. I simply play my other Daru Cavalier. Back to Sam, she then plays a Ghosthelm Courier. I next try to take her Shrieker out of the equation with a Sandskin. Sam responds using the Imagecrafter to make one of her other creatures a Wizard, giving her a total of three- and enough to effectively counter my Sandskin with an Ixidor’s Will as I don’t have six mana free. Thwarted, I go ahead and unmorph an Ascending Aven, then use a Piety Charm to give all my creatures vigilance. This lets me turn the lot sideways for 13, and aside from blocking a Cavalier with her wall, they all get through. This puts Sam down to 9.
Now turn 11, Sam taps her Courier to boost her Shrieker, making it a 5/5. Over to me, I play a Screaming Seahawk, searching my library for another. Sam’s turn 12 is a blank, while I simply continue building up my forces with the other Seahawk.
Both of us draw and pass on turn 13, while Sam finds an Information Dealer on turn 14. At the end of her turn, I pop a Seahawk to my Seaside Haven to draw a card, needing that more than a 2/2 Bird. I draw a Mage’s Guile, which I then cycle away to draw… a Plains. back to me, I draw another card and pass.
Now turn 15, Sam adds a Mistform Stalker. Back to me, I unmorph the other Aven and swing in with my air force for 12. Sam blocks my Dive Bomber with her 5/5 Shrieker, and an Ascending Aven with her Mistform Stalker. I use Inspirit to pump the Bomber, making it a 6/8. Sam then taps her Imagecrafter to make the Shrieker a Zombie, letting her regenerate it with the Boneknitter. Still, five damage gets through from the other Aven and Seahawk, putting her down to 4. At the end of turn, Sam then activates her Information Dealer to dig deeper into her library for an answer.
Sam’s turn 16 is another blank. I let my Pearlspear Courier untap during my turn, hoping to give it some flexibility in driving home lethal damage. I then attack with the Aven, the Seahawk, and the Dive Bomber for 7. Instead, Sam Smothers the Courier, then blocks my Aven with her 5/5 Shrieker. She uses a Trickery Charm to give her remaining morph flying, elevating it to block and trade with my Dive Bomber. Instead, I simply pop it to my Haven to cash in for a card, and Sam goes down to 2. At the end of turn, she uses her Imagecrafter and Mistforms to make three more Wizards, letting her dig for 5.
Now turn 17 in the kind of marathon game these older decks can sometimes produce, Sam deploys another Mistform Stalker. At the end of her turn I cycle a Sunfire Balm, but find nothing useful- my next turn is a blank. Sam keeps digging with her Dealer at the end of my turn, and finally finds a solution.
Making three of her creatures Soldiers, she then uses Peer Pressure on turn 18 to steal my Daru Cavaliers. At a stroke she renders both of my Unified Strikes in hand as useless as the land cards that clutter it. With my defenses now gutted, she swings in with nearly everything for 14. I chump with my Seahawk to block Sam’s 5/5, popping it to the Haven after the block. I don’t find anything useful, though, and scoop.
Sam and I again trade early land drops, then I open turn 3 with a Gustcloak Harrier while Sam deploys a Mistform Wall. Next turn, I attack in for 2 with the Harrier, and Sam lets it past. I then play a Daru Cavalier, fetching its kin from my library to replace it in hand. Sam drops a Lonely Sandbar and Mistform Dreamer, then ends her turn.
Now turn 5, I attack with both beaters for 4. Sam blocks the Cavalier with the Wall, and a Piety Charm pumps it up for the kill. With Sam down to 16, I play the second Daru Cavalier and pass. Back to Sam, she summons a Cabal Slaver, attacking in for 2 with the Dreamer. Unblocked, she turns it into a Goblin to get the Slaver’s tribal bonus and force a discard out of me. I pitch a Plains after setting my life counter to 18. Next turn I send in the team for 6, putting Sam at 10. Back to Sam, she again tries to hammer at my hand with the Mistform Dreamer on the attack, but Inspirit gives me a surprise blocker in the form of the Harrier, which kills the Dreamer. Chagrined, she replaces it with another Dreamer.
Now turn 7, I again turn my trio sideways for 6, but Sam Smothers the Harrier. In response, I sacrifice it to the recently-played Seaside Haven for a free card. The Cavaliers get in for damage, and the game is looking very one-sided. Back to Sam, she cycles a Lonely Sandbar, then plays a Mistform Wall. Next, she enchants the Wall with a Crown of Suspicion. Next turn, I press the attack with the Cavaliers, and Sam has little option but to risk the block. I’m holding another Piety Charm, though, so the second Wall goes the way of the first. I then add a Screaming Seahawk, fetching a replacement from the library. Sam stalls for time with a Fallen Cleric.
On turn 9, I am back up to three bodies hammering in. Sam trades her Dreamer for my Seahawk, and chumps both Cavaliers with her Goblin and Cleric. I play the other Seahawk and pass. Too far behind, Sam draws and scoops.
Thoughts & Analysis
Given the centrality of the Gustcloak mechanic and how well it augments an aggressive strategy, I suppose I was taken of the opinion that despite the relative paucity of creatures the deck would still seek to do a lot of attacking. Although it certainly did that in parts, I wasn’t prepared for just how swingy that aspect of its game could be. Get a number of creatures out on-curve as I did in the Game Three rout, and it can overwhelm with its evasion. Other times, though, you end up with a hand full of spells and are desperate to put bodies onto the battlefield.
In fairness, a look at Gatherer tells us that there weren’t a lot of options to work with, with the set only containing five different Gustcloak creatures (one rare, two uncommon, and two common). It would be a very unusual Theme Deck that stacked in a ton of these at the expense of deck variety, though here and there we’ve seen similar done (see the recently-reviewed Ninja decks of Betrayers of Kamigawa for examples of such ‘making do’). At its heard, Celestial Assault really wanted to be a mono-White deck in the mould of Little Bashers or Way of the Warrior. Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be.
That said, there was probably more that could have been done with the deck outwith Blue, such as with White’s frequent aggro partner Red. Instead, poor Red got saddled with the clunky and cumbersome Devastation, and the Gustcloaks were left well short of their mechanical potential.
On the whole, this deck really wanted to be something else, but ended up as something of a muddle between mono-White and Blue/White midrange. It would be a great basis for deckbuilding, but as a deck itself it could certainly be better.
Hits: Gustcloak mechanic is an aggro player’s dream, letting weenie creatures attack for the duration of the game without fear of falling in combat
Misses: Not enough creatures to put up a reliable offensive; could use added Gustcloak creatures (went entire games without seeing any); poor removal suite that lacks any Pacifisms at all and burned a rare slot on Oblation; too many noncreature spells with conditional usage means that you hand can grow a bit stale over the course of a game
OVERALL SCORE: 3.75/5.00
Note: We’ll be pausing our Onslaught coverage here as we, uh… return to Return to Ravnica, beginning our coverage of the two new Event Decks released for the set! Onslaught fans, fear not- we’ll pick right back up where we left off after both Event Decks have had their passes.