Portal Second Age: Martial Law Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s our final look at Portal Second Age, and I’m keen to go out on a high behind the mono-White Martial Law. Sam comes full circle, cracking into the first deck we reviewed, Green’s Nature’s Assault. Can military discipline hold the line, or will nature overrun the best-laid plans of men?
I’m on the play for our opener, and Sam and I both trade leading land drops. Next turn, I play another, while Sam finds a Bear Cub for the game’s first creature. I’m not far behind, however, when I add an Alaborn Trooper, and Sam’s next turn sees nothing but a land drop.
Now turn 4, I attack for 2 with the Trooper, then follow with an Alabron Veteran after missing my first land drop. Sam doesn’t, and is rewarded with Norwood Riders. Next turn, I tap the Veteran to give my Trooper +2/+2, attacking in with the Trooper for 4. With Sam at 14, I follow with a Wild Griffin. Back to Sam, she sends in the Cub but has nothing else.
On turn 6, I move towards the endgame, casting a Righteous Charge before swinging in with everything for 12. Sam chumps the Veteran with her Riders, taking 8 to drop to 6. Although next turn she bolsters her defense with Norwood Archers, she can’t withstand a second consecutive Righteous Charge. She chumps to stay upright, but concedes after her next draw.
Again we trade early land drops, but this time I find the first creature with an Alaborn Grenadier on turn 2. Next turn Sam equalises with a Bear Cub, while I play a Plains and pass. First blood is drawn on turn 4, when Sam sends the Bear in for 2, letting me counterattack for the same before adding an Alaborn Cavalier.
Now turn 5 with us tied up at 18 life, Sam attacks in again for 2 with the Cub, then adds the grown-up version in the form of a Golden Bear. Undeterred, I attack with both of my creatures, with the Cavalier tapping down the Golden Bear to keep the attack lanes clear. Back to Sam, she sends her Bear pair in to nail for for 6 points of damage, then deploys a second Golden Bear. Undaunted, I send in my meager army for another 4 points of damage, relying on the Cavalier to tap down Sam’s lone Bear defender, then bring out an Angel of Fury.
Now turn 7, Sam simply refreshes her life total with a Natural Spring and passes. I add to my troops with an Volunteer Militia and do the same. Next turn, Sam doubles down with a River Bear and Norwood Ranger, staying pat. I continue our build-up/detente with a Wild Griffin.
Sam brings Norwood Archers on-line on turn 9, then follows with another Norwood Ranger. I summon an Armored Griffin, then dispatch the one obstacle Sam has managed- the Archers- with a Path of Peace. I then attack with the Wild Griffin for 2 and end my turn with Sam back at 20. Sam then continues assembling her zoo with a River Bear, passing her turn. I send in my pair of Griffins for 4, then add a second Armored Griffin.
We’re now in a full-on creature stall, with the red zone too congested for any meaningful entry. Of course, with my air force I’m perfectly positioned to take full advantage, particularly with my vigilant Armored Griffins. Sam deploys a turn-11 Ironhoof Ox, but when I Righteous Charge and swing for 17 in the air with the Griffins and Angel, there’s not a thing she can do about it.
Sam opens with a Norwood Ranger this time, finding a one-drop in her opening grip. I’m right there with her with a Volunteer Militia, then we trade land drops for the next two turns.
Now turn 4, we begin the buildup in earnest. Sam starts with a Wild Ox, after which I summon an Armored Griffin. Next turn sees Sam land the first blow with her Wild Ox, after which she summons an Ironhoof Ox. I counterattack with the Griffin for 2, then summon a Wild Griffin and Alaborn Grenadier. Back to Sam, she hammers in for 7 with her Oxen, then adds a Bear Cub to shore up her defense. I Path to Peace her Ironhoof to put her up to 22 life, but then claw it right back in the skies with my Griffins.
Now turn 7, Sam keeps the pressure up with her Wild Ox for 3, dropping me to 7 life. She then adds a River Bear and passes. I swing in again in the air with my Griffin tandem, leaving Sam at 14. One Alaborn Trooper later, and my turn has run its course. Sam sits tight next turn, using a Natural Spring to boost her life total back up to 22. Again I take off a 4-point chunk with the Griffins, and am faced with a difficult decision- to Armageddon or not to Armageddon? Thus far it’s felt like a bad call. Sam and I both have creatures with midrange costs, but on a power/toughness level hers are better than mine (mine have evasion, so it’s a push). To make land-nuking viable, I need to be in a position of advantage. I run through the creature math in my head, paying particular attention to Sam’s pair of 3/3’s. I can gang-block one of them with the Volunteer Militia and Alaborn Trooper, losing only one, and alongside my vigilant Armored Griffin that pushes my decision. I tape the fateful four mana, and blast our manabases to kingdom come.
Now turn 9, Sam draws and plays a Forest. I do the same with a Plains, then attack for 4 in the air. Next turn Sam draws a nonland card and passes. Again I carve into her for 4, drawing and playing another Plains. Down to 10 life, Sam finds a second Forest on turn 11, then plays Monstrous Growth on her Wild Ox, attacking with it alongside the River Bear. This upsets my delicate combat math a bit, since if Sam attacked with her 3/3’s I’d gang-block one of them and let the other through. I can’t go that now, since I’m at 7 life- I must deal with the super-sized Ox. I end up chumping it with the hapless Volunteer Militia, who could never have imagined that this is what they were volunteering for. I block the Bear with a tandem of the Trooper and Grenadier, and Sam kills off the Trooper. This slows my attack, though, as I hold the Wild Griffin back for defense, attacking only with the Armored one for 2 more.
Now turn 12, Sam draws and passes. Having drawn a Wild Griffin, I strike in again for 4 with both Griffins, then summon the freshly-drawn one to replace the one that just attacked. Back to Sam, she Monstrous Growths again, sending in the massive Ox and Bear Cub. My defenses start to crumble as I offer the Grenadier as a chump and take 2 from the Bear, but it matters little. Sam can’t stop everything in time to finish me off, and again she loses to the Alaborn air force.
Thoughts & Analysis
If The Nightstalkers was the top of the pack, and Spellweaver the next one down, I’d rate this one right in Spellweaver territory. Like the other decks in the Portal Second Age series, it takes a simple concept- bog down the ground game and win in the air- and pushes it with respectable effectiveness. There was simply too much in the air for Sam to deal with, an ages-old weakness of the colour Green. The one time she did manage to find something capable of dealing with my aerial attack- the Norwood Ranger- I had removal at the ready.
On the whole, Martial Law is simple, fun, and effective. Since you’re typically getting weenie-size bodies at midrange prices, there is a susceptibility to simply being outclassed by an opponent fielding lots of creatures, which is how Sam was able to defeat me in our pregame friendly (for the curious, you can usually tell who won the friendly by looking at who’s on the play in the first game).
Like The Nightstalkers, the deck breaks the monotony of a creature stream by giving many of them special abilities, which was one of our biggest knocks on the vanilla-laden Red and Green decks. The result is an introductory deck that has enough going on so that it avoids feeling purely like an introductory deck. A common method to teach a new player the game is to cobble together a “tutorial deck” with vanilla creatures and a few staple supporting spells, and it’s a method that works well enough to illustrate the fundamental mechanics of the game. For the veteran or instructor, though, it’s typically not the most riveting play experience. Portal Second Age has shown enough diversity overall to give three of the decks some level of interest, and that seems fair. On the other hand, not for nothing Portal (and Portal Second Age) was a commercial failure, and ended up being canceled due to sluggish sales.
In our next series of articles, we’ll be looking at the introductory method that finally did succeed- beyond even the hopes of Wizards. But for now, we’ll be bidding adieu to Portal Second Age, and the world of Caliman.
Hits: High concentration of creatures on a reasonable mana curve means you seldom have to struggle to field some defense; air package does a great job of acting as an aggregated closer; reasonable removal package
Misses: Paying midrange prices for small creatures can leave you vulnerable to simply being outraced by decks with a high focus on creature-based threats
OVERALL SCORE: 4.00/5.00