Portal Second Age: Martial Law Review (Part 1 of 2)
When it comes to storytelling, pacing is often as important as having sympathetic characters and a compelling plot. Sometimes it’s better to jump right into the tale; other times, you want to set the table before introducing the hero. Consider Star Wars- the classic first film. The movie opens with a thrilling pursuit as a Corellian corvette (the Tantive IV) is being chased by the Star Destroyer Devastator. In the first scenes of the film, we’re already introduced to the major villain (Darth Vader), as well as some of the more important secondary characters (Princess Leia, C-3PO, and R2D2). It actually isn’t until later in the film that we are introduced to Luke Skywalker, whose transformation from a simple moisture farmer to saviour of the galaxy forms the crux of the original classic trilogy.
Although we certainly wouldn’t equate our coverage of Portal Second Age with the masterpiece that is Star Wars, we have kept with a similar theme in our coverage of the decks. Although the Red, Green, and Blue decks form sixty-percent of the precon content, they encompass the setting of the table. As bit players on the Caliman stage, they provide depth of land and lore, but the real tension and conflict in the world of Portal Second Age is between the heroic kingdom of Alaborn, and the Nightstalker forces of Tojira, the Swamp Queen, deep in the pulsing black heart of Dakmor Swamp.
We’ve seen the world of Caliman, and met its villains in a previous review- although Tojira, the Swamp Queen never made it to the deck (she’s reportedly the Dakmor Sorceress, though as the introductory set contained no legendary creatures we can only assume). For our final deck review, we’ll be looking today at the hero of the tale, the mono-White Martial Law.
Unlike in some of Magic’s other stories of the time, Portal Second Age follows a more contemporary path of presenting a scene with some narrative tension, but stopping short of explicitly laying out the tale in the cards. This was most famously done with the massive Weatherlight Saga, which spanned Tempest block, Masques block, and Invasion block, while being hinted at at the end of Mirage block with Weatherlight. Instead, Portal Second Age has a bit more in common with, say, Zendikar, where the ending and eventual fate of the namesake “elder gods” was never fully detailed. In large part, this is deliberate, letting players carry the story in the direction they’d like to see it. Do the Nightstalkers overrun the noble kingdom of Alaborn? Do the knights and soldiers instead drive them back into the Thran ruins where the Swamp Queen has established her base, and deal them a crippling blow? We’ll never know precisely what the creative team leaned towards, for as it’s been left you could even have the mightly Goblin horde of the mountains swoop down and crush both between them like a hammer meeting anvil- it’s up to you!
What is less interpretative and subjective, however, is the contents of the deck- those are safely and securely set in stone, and are the subject of today’s examination.
The traditional mono-White creature-based strategy has tended to go all-in on cheap, aggressive creatures, more commonly known as “White weenie.” We see this archetype from time to time in the realm of the preconstructed, but often unless it’s in the framework of a tightly-focused Event Deck, it’s often tempered with a more midgame-oriented Skies approach. This gives the strategy something of a hybrid feel- swarm early, then once the red zone is good and congested, it’s time to take to the air to finish things off. In Martial Law’s case, it tempers some of that early aggression with the establishment of a ring of defnese, but at its core the central concept stands.
The deck opens with a pair of Volunteer Militia, simple 1/2’s that are the inverse of the classic Elite Vanguard/Savannah Lions. Given their defensive nature, these present a very solid defense against decks that reply on speed and aggression to carry the day. From there, we find a pair of Temple Acolytes amongst the two-drops, their larger toughness and modest lifegain fortifying this hedge against falling behind to aggro decks. Reinforcing that defensive theme is a pair of Alaborn Grenadiers, 2/2 bodies with vigilance. Although perhaps not as useful as another common White ability, first strike, the vigilance here lets you get in some early attacks without losing defensive effectiveness.
It’s in the three-drops, though, that the deck truly begins to take shape. A trio of Alaborn Troopers continue the great tradition of producing creatures with outsize toughness, while we also find our first air-based threat in a trio of Wild Griffins. Both of these are central to the deck’s themes of establishing control of the ground game before using evasion to deal its damage. We also find the first rare card here in the Alaborn Veteran. The Veteran is a humble 2/2, but he has a very useful trick. Tapping him before combat will give one of your creatures +2/+2 until end of turn. We’ve frequently seen this effect before in cards like the Kjeldoran Elite Guard, and the idea of having White creatures that act as combat support for other creatures has been a staple of the colour. Although the lack of instant speed does diminish its effectiveness somewhat, the availability of evasive options can help turn even a Wild Griffin into an effective closer.
From there, we find some added reinforcement in the skies amongst the deck’s four-drops, as it contains a pair of Armored Griffins. Slightly larger than their Wild cousins, these also bring along the very useful vigilance, again helping to serve two aims within a single card. Meanwhile, the Alaborn Cavalier can help guide your attackers past your opponent’s best blocker. Finally, the very top of the curve gives us our next rare card in the Angel of Fury. The penultimate aerial threat, the Angel gives us 3 power in the air backed again by an outsize toughness of 5. Although the reshuffle ability upon death isn’t very reliable or useful in most cases, it does add a flavourful touch to a creature whose impact on the board will be immediately felt.
For a noncreature support suite, the deck’s cards here are very straightforward and useful. The removal suite pulls off the trick of feeling characteristically White while losing little of their effectiveness, though you have little ability to banish any of your opponent’s creatures until at least turn four. The first card here is Vengeance, which destroys one of your opponent’s creatures so long as that creature is tapped. In the beater-heavy Portal environment, you can often count on the best targets already being tapped from attacking you, but of course the Alaborn Cavalier can help things along if need be. Should your opponent stubbornly refuse to oblige you, such as in the case of a stalemate, you then have a pair of Paths of Peace. These don’t care what state their target is in- tapped or untapped, doesn’t matter. Of course, there’s a drawback to get that sort of flexibility here, which is giving your opponent 4 life. Generally speaking, that should seldom be a real consideration if your neutralising one of their biggest threats, and it’s a useful card to have.
From there we find a pair of “combat tricks” in the form of two Righteous Charges. Like the Monstrous Growths of Nature’s Assault, these lose a great deal of their effectiveness in the fact that they are sorceries, not instants. Still, the ‘trick’ part is still relevant because the Charge impacts your entire army, and it’s a buff to the board that they would not have been anticipating. These are good finishers, helping you get in for lethal damage or simply clear through much of your opponent’s defenses.
The deck’s final card is the third rare, Armageddon. One of the game’s classic spells, Armageddon destroys all lands in play. Given the fairly cheaper cost of much of the deck’s creatures and spells, it’s not a difficult task to break the symmetry of the spell, which is what makes these sorts of sweepers useful. Simply obtain numerical superiority, then nuke the manabases. Alternately, you can sandbag a Plains or two in hand after playing what you need, ensuring yourself a quick restart while hopefully catching your opponent flat-footed. It’s a fun card, but one that should be carefully played.
That’s all for Martial Law, the last of the five decks from Portal Second Age. Much like Luke Skywalker, the deck will be quickly undergoing its baptism by fire, and we’ll be back in two days to assess its performance. See you then!