Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009): Teeth of the Predator Review (Part 1 of 2)
Amongst other innovations and changes to the game, the release of Ninth Edition in 2005 marked the end of an era to the White player. This was the first time that the Circle of Protection had been omitted from the core set. Present since the dawn of the game, this five-card cycle had been a staple part of White’s defensive-minded style, but over time their shortcomings became more apparent.
For one thing, they were highly conditional, and either superb or useless depending on what colours your opponent was playing. They were redundant, meaning if you had one in play you hated seeing another, unless your opponent was packing The Rune of Protection cycle introduced in Urza’s Saga used the cycling mechanic to ameliorate both of these issues, but there was no getting around the simple fact that five of these was a lot of Uncommon space to devote to cards that, in the end, a lot of folks simply weren’t playing. From a design perspective, why tie up all that real estate when a single Story Circle could hit the same notes with a single card?
The Circle cycle came from an era that in many ways was like Magic’s adolescence. Like small children, the colours quarreled and squabbled with one another constantly. Opposing colours seemed like Itchy and Scratchy, but instead of hammers and mallets and wrenches, they were hitting each other over the head with Blue Elemental Blasts, Red Elemental Blasts, Volcanic Eruptions, and Boils. Not to be outdone, Green and Blue went at it with Chokes, Tsunamis, and Acid Rains. Of course, Green was just as engaged with Black, countering each other with Lifeforce and Deathgrip. These sorts of cards, called “colour hosers,” gave early Magic a sort of Rock-Paper-Scissors dimension, where if you had the right hoser against the right opponent, you could blow them out of the game.
Of course, over the passage of time adolescent Magic did some maturing. Colour enmity, while still very much a part of the game, has faded from being a central component of the experience, and the decline of colour hosers reflects that. That isn’t to say they’re gone forever (see: Kor Firewalker), but these days Magic expresses this aspect of the game more thematically than mechanically, and the genesis of the pleaneslakwers has given them ample ability to do precisely that. The distillation of a colour into a single entity gives it both face and personality, and so while we may never see the likes of Lifeforce and Deathgrip again, we can still recreate this philosophical struggle in a product like Duel Decks: Garruk vs Liliana. Indeed, through the stories and the lore we’ve seen Garruk square off with Liliana just as we’ve seen Jace pitted against Chandra, a fitting reminder that the opposition of colours- while less overt than the cards of the past- is still alive and well.
Today we look at the the Green half of this equation, with Garruk Wildspeaker’s deck Teeth of the Predator.
The Horrible Crashing Sound
Green stompy is one of the must basic and enduring of archetypes from the very beginnings of the game, but even still it is not impossible to make a bad build. Only recently we took a look at Nature’s Assault, a beats deck for Portal Second Age that had plenty of fat but- mystifyingly- not a single ramp spell to be found. If you’re employing this strategy, ramp is as core a component as burn is to a Red Goblins deck. Fortunately, Teeth of the Predator doesn’t make the same mistake.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t some opportunity missed, as evidenced by the pair of Walls of Wood. 0/3 defenders, they’re designed to blunt an early creature rush, but laden with creatures itself Teeth shouldn’t be especially concerned. We saw Jace’s Thoughts of the Wind employ some Walls of Spears, and there it’s a perfect fit. Here, we’d have much preferred to see a little extra ramping in the form of Llanowar Elves. Not only would this let us hit the deck’s higher notes- the most expensive creature here costs a full seven mana- but even a pair would let us get a head start as early as turn two, playing a three-drop beater (Trained Armodon) or string a ramp chain together (Civic Wayfinder). It’s a rare miss in an otherwise solid offering.
Next up in the two-drops we find a full playset of the obligatory Grizzly Bears. These won’t win any awards for innovation, but they do exactly what they need to. It’s interesting to see just how solid a value Wizards finds them, since you don’t tend to get much more than this for your two mana. Note, for instance, the Drudge Beetle from Return to Ravnica, whose scavenge cost is set so high as to be almost incidental to the card. The Grizzly Bears may not be world-beaters, but they have certainly stood the test of time from the very dawn of the game.
The deck begins to open up at the three-drops. The aforementioned Trained Armodons, originally from Tempest, offer solid value for money with a 3/3 body. A full playset of Civic Wayfinders give you a crucial dose of land fetching in the very heart of the deck, while Mirrodin offers us a pair of Troll Ascetics. These are noteworthy not only because they are rare, but they also are the originator of the term ‘troll shroud,’ which would eventually go on to be officially keyworded as hexproof. They are excellent options here, and you’ll always be pleased to see them turn up in a draw.
The four-drops consist entirely of a pair of Giant Spiders, defensive-minded options that shore up one of the colour’s more glaring weaknesses- fliers. In the absence of such options, Green typically only has one answer, which is to outrace and pressure the opponent so much that they have to ground their air force and use them on defense. 2 power for four mana isn’t usually all that useful, but the Giant Spider is a role-player and reasonable hedge.
Finally, we arrive at the top of the deck’s mana curve, and the lair of the Wurms. Every creature from here on out- and there are a full eight of them- is a sizable Wurm, one of Green’s finishing options of choice. For five mana, you have four Spined Wurms to choose from. They’re a bit overvalued for five mana, but they’ll be difficult for most opponents to deal with based upon size alone. For one mana more, we find the Craw Wurm, one of the game’s original beatsticks. Still with the same 4-toughness, they’re not impossible to manage, particularly given their lack of trample. Of course, go up just one more mana and we find the deck’s king closer, the Duskdale Wurm. Originally printed in Eventide, this Wurm has it all. Not only does it have a brutal power and toughness at 7/7, but the addition of trample makes it unchumpable. Any of these should be enough to keep your opponent on the back-foot, but if you can drop one after the game should be all but yours.
Nature Simply Provides
The noncrreature support suite for these types of decks tend to the creature-centric, and not without reason. When your only win condition is to smash your opponent over and over, you want as many cards as you can get to help you do precisely that. A pair of Rampant Growths round out your ramp suite, making sure you can bring your biggest threats on-line.
As for creature augments, a full playset of Giant Growths is virtually de rigeur. These are as close to removal as you’re likely to get in Green, outside of the occasional curveball like Beast Within or Lignify. They don’t pinpoint target a threat, but they can turn an unfavourable blocking matchup into a win for your creature, in addition to being able to add in those last few points of damage on your opponent if you manage to slip a creature past their defenses. For a more permanent approach, you also have two Blanchwood Armors, which can be brutal in this mono-Green deck. Finally, you have two infamous closing options in a pair of Overruns, which can single-handedly deliver you a game if you’ve managed to deploy enough creatures.
The last two cards of the deck are the usual throw-in lifegain we often find in Green, with a pair of Natural Springs. These suffer from all the drawbacks of dedicated lifegain, in that they’re a dead draw much of the time when you don’t really need them and don’t do anything directly to turn things around when you do. To be certain, once in awhile you’ll be able to swing in with everything, secure in the comfort that your opponent won’t be able to counterattack and kill you because of the extra buffer of life, but those corner cases aren’t really worth the card slot.
Still, it’s a minor note in what seems to be a solid Green deck overall. We’re headed to the battlefield, and will be back in a couple days with the conclusion to Teeth of the Predator!