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November 17, 2012

Portal Second Age: Nature’s Assault Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

We’re back with another round of Portal Second Age action, and this time I’m piloting the mono-Green Nature’s Assault. Sam’s selected The Nightstalkers, based around the cruel and wicked denizens of Dakmor Swamp. Can the forces of nature see it through?

Game One

Sam and I trade land drop after land drop, such that the first actual play doesn’t come until the tail end of turn four when she drops a Prowling Nightstalker. Next turn, I follow suit with a Norwood Riders, which are dispatched immediately with an answering Predatory Nightstalker. This clears the way for the Prowling Nightstalker, and Sam scores first blood.

Now turn 6, I replace my loss with a Wild Ox and pass. Sam turns her troops sideways for 5 to put me at 13, She follows with a Prowling Nightstalker. Next turn, I drop a pair of Norwood Rangers, then augment my Ox with a Monstrous Growth before sending it in for 7 to put Sam at 13. Back to Sam, she swings with her trio of Nightstalkers for 7 of her own. I gang-block the Predatory one with my Rangers, in effect forcing a one-for-one trade.

A turn-8 Ironhoof Ox gives me another desperately-needed body, after which I swing with the Wild Ox for 3 unopposed. Sam counterattacks for 4, then summons a Lurking Nightstalker and Nightstalker Engine. Next turn, an Alluring Scent on the remaining Norwood Ranger to distract Sam’s newly-aquired defenders. A Monstrous Growth on my Ironhoof Ox lets me send in the side for lethal as Nature’s Assalt claims its first victory.

Game Two

Sam and I again trade opening land drops, but this time she gets off the blocks a turn sooner with a turn-3 Raiding Nightstalker which is followed by a Prowling one after an opening attack. I finally find a creature with an answering River Bear. Sam bluffs a turn-5 attack for 2 more, after which she adds a Raiding Nightstalker. Down to 16, I counterattack with the Bear for 3 before adding a Norwood Archers.

Now turn 6, Sam Cruel Edicts me, forcing me to sacrifice my poor Bear. She then attacks for 2 with her Prowling Nightstalker. Back to me, I send in my Archers for 3. Sam gang-blocks with her Raiding Nightstalkers to force a one-for-one trade. Losing the Archers, I replace them with an Ironhoof Ox and pass. Next turn, my Ox falls to a Predatory Nightstalker, after which Sam sends in the troops for 4 to leave me at 10. I play a Norwood Archers and pass.

Now turn 8, Sam sends in the Predatory and Prowling Nightstalkers for 5. I trade my Archers for the Predatory Nightstalker, going down to 7. Sam then plays an Ancient Craving to draw a trio of cards. She plays a Lurking Nightstalker and passes. Back to me, I play a Norwood Riders, playing creatures just to stay alive. The Riders eat a Hand of Death, and with my defenses open Sam sends in everything for a lethal alpha strike.

Ironhoof Ox

Game Three

Once more we’re both a bit quicker off the mark, and things get going as early as turn two when I lead with a Bear Cub which Sam answers with a Lurking Nightstalker. Next turn, I Monstrous Growth the Bear and send it in for 6. It seems a waste, but I’m quickly finding that sorcery-speed “combat tricks” are often best employed for sure damage. Sam, down to 14, responds with a 3-point attack of her own followed by a Raiding Nightstalker.

Now turn 4, my turn is a blank, but Sam pounces with an attack with both her beaters. I trade my Cub for her Lurking, and go down to 15. Next turn, I replace my loss with a River Bear, while Sam adds another Prowling Nightstalker.

I look to turn the corner on turn 6 with a Sylvan Basilisk, after which Sam sends in her Prowling Nightstalker for 2, to leave me at 13. She then adds a second Prowling Nightstalker, and ends her turn. Back to me, I attack for 2 with the Basilisk to put Sam to 12, then follow with a Golden Bear. Sam sends both of her Prowling Nightstalkers in for 4, then uses a Brutal Nightstalker to weed my hand of a card- a Natural Spring.

As it happens, I have another in hand, and cast it on turn 8 to go back up to 17. I then attack for 2 with my Basilisk, and Sam chumps with a Raiding Nightstalker. For Sam’s part, she attacks for 4 with her Prowling Nightstalkers, easily avoiding my defense. She then casts Cruel Edict, compelling me to retire my River Bear before she then goes a step further by adding a Dakmor Bat. Back to me, I swing for 6 with my Basilisk and Golden Bear. Sam chumps the Basilisk with her Bat, then offers her Brutal Nightstalker in trade for my Bear. I replace the loss with a Norwood Riders and pass. Sam again keeps the pressure on with her Prowlers, putting me again down to 9 life. Then she summons a Nightstalker Engine, a 4/3.

Now turn 10, I hammer in with my Riders and Basilisk. Sam trades her Engine for my Riders, then chumps the Basilisk with a Raiding Nightstalker. I then bring out an Ironhoof Ox and pass the turn. Back to Sam, she drops me to 5 with her evasive Nightstalker duo, then adds another of the Abyssal variety. In a race, I counterattack for 6 with both of my creatures, cutting Sam in half before I add a River Bear. Sam counterattacks for 4 more with her Prowling Nightstalkers to leave me at 1. Unable to get through for lethal or solve her attackers, I draw my card and concede defeat.

Thoughts & Analysis

It should be said that while I enjoy playing all sorts of Magic, Green stompy is an archetype I don’t find myself employing all that often. Even still, even I could recognise quite quickly the flaws present in Nature’s Assault. In short, there were two glaring weaknesses to the deck that kept it wll mired in the realms of mediocrity.

First, while the deck was packed with creatures it had precious few that were immediate game-changers. The deck seemed to rely on being able to steadily bring threats on-line with solid consistency- essentially outracing by outgunning. The idea seemed to be that as long as it could deploy a beater that was larger than an opponent’s each turn, sooner or later the attrition rate would turn favourable and allow Nature’s Assault to pull ahead. This is reasonably sound in theory, but seemed somewhat lackluster in practice. For one thing, with most creatures solidly in the midrange in terms of cost, you were seldom doing more than one thing a turn. Usually, that ‘thing’ was in the form of a 3/3 creature- solid, but not world-beating. Even a common Barbtooth Wurm– with the proper support- would have given the deck the ability to play it its colour’s strengths.

Meanwhile, opponents with tempo plays (like the Brutal Nightstalker), evasive options, and even removal could let themselves pull ahead. I found myself feeling outraced by Sam’s Nightstalkers even though pound for pound mine were the beefier creatures. There also isn’t a single “bomb” in the deck that punishes an opponent for letting you go long. Let the Nightstalkers stick around too long, and you risk them finding a Return of the Nightstalkers. Goblin Fire could cripple you with a well-timed Wildfire. Nature’s Assault? Here, have another 3/3.

Second, and the real killer, is the absence of any ramp whatsoever. This is a glaring omission, since that line of play is so integral to Green’s identity. Green plays with fat so well because it can bring it on-line much quicker than other colours, but here it was entirely absent. As mentioned in the first half of the review, it’s not as if there wasn’t a Green ramping card in Portal Second Age. Indeed, it’s at common! But alas, the designers cut out any hope of ramping into fatties, and instead gave a solid midrange deck. This seems a bit ill-at-odds with the strengths of Green.

Overall, this was one of the more disappointing efforts we’ve seen from Portal Second Age. There’s a high quantity of uninspiring or just plain vanilla creatures, and aside from a single combo (Sylvan Basilisk + Alluring Scent), there’s little to recommend it. Overall, it just never felt like the deck left third gear.

Hits: Once you hit the midgame, the deck should consistently keep you in creatures

Misses: Lack of any solid finishing options outwith numerical advantage; no ramping suite is a massive missed opportunity to play to Green’s strengths

OVERALL SCORE: 3.25/5.00

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