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January 14, 2013

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Morningtide: Warrior’s Code Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

As any good Dungeon Master will tell you, being one can be hard work. Not every DM goes off the script, creating their own worlds or adventures or rules, but even those who use premade adventures still have plenty of work to do to ensure a smooth and well-run adventure session. After all, they have several hours’ worth of their players time in their hands, and more than most anything else a DM can either make or break a gaming session.

One of the most important factors in this is preparation. Whether using a premade module or working from one of their own, a DM need to know the adventure inside and out because nothing in role-playing is ever fully predictable (that’s part of the fun!). The heroes might ignore that ‘titillating rumour about lost treasure’ planted for them in the local tavern. They might turn on the Duke of Wolfportsteadshire, deciding that it serves their interest better to raid the villages rather than protect them. They even might- horror of horrors- manage somehow to slay the Dread Goblin King Torgax, who was supposed appear in the first act taunting the players from the safety of a high-above ledge, and who played a crucial role in the plot in the third act.

In addition, to make everything flow smoothly a DM needs to have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the rules. Many a DM has appreciated having a ‘rules lawyer’ in the party for the occasional obscure rule double-check, but time spent flipping through manuals and rulebooks is time not spent actually playing the game. Taking the players out of the fantasy and back into reality erodes a little of the atmosphere that you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

All this doesn’t even begin to touch the more ‘soft skill’ characteristic types, such as aptitude for storytelling and narrative, and ability to balance the personalities and expectations of players to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time. Given all this, it’s perhaps only natural to ask, what’s in it for them?

It’s true that DM’s don’t get the same game experience as the players, privy to all the adventure has to offer from the (relative) safety of the (optional) DM screen. But that’s not to say that the experience doesn’t have rewards all its own, particularly for those DM’s who flex their creative muscle and weave in adventures or narrative elements of their own creation. Indeed, for these types of DM’s, watching other players explore their work is one of the job’s biggest rewards.

It’s not difficult to imagine that this is very similar to what the creators of Lorwyn/Morningtide felt. Although certainly elements of this are present in every design, there was a little something extra in store during this set, for on the horizon unbeknownst to the players there was a major twist coming. The creative team really pulled out all of the stops for Lorwyn, crafting a world with both depth and breadth- no mere window dressing here. “While the world hasn’t changed much since the Lorwyn set,” wrote Wizards creative Rei Nakazawa about Morningtide at the time, “it’s also so deep that one article can’t really do it justice.”

Nor would it. Wizards would craft article after article after article on the luch and sylvan setting, bringing it to life through their website in ways the previous sets had not been before. It was, after all, a set of tremendous change. It had a new block structure, a large set followed by a single small set. It had a new type of card- the planeswalkers. It was the first world not to have any Humans on it. And as players would soon find out, another large change was coming. Concluded Nakazawa,

In the real world, nothing good lasts forever. Life always gives way to death, and the sun must set eventually. Will this be the case with Lorwyn? Or will its bright skies survive these omens as well? That’s a question for the novels and future sets. For now, take this opportunity to bathe in this world’s warmth while it lasts. Just remember: don’t let your guard down.

We wrap up our look at Mornintide’s Theme Decks with one tribe that certainly doesn’t- the Warriors.

Growling Ferocity

Warrior's Code Scorecard

Warrior’s Code is a deck that revels in its own lack of subtlety. Filled stem to stern with aggressive, attack-minded creatures, this deck is a love letter from Wizards for everyone who just loves to hammer their opponent with creatures.

The opening creature is the Mudbutton Clanger. A humble 1/1 for one mana, kinship allows it to temporarily become a 2/2 if you happen to hit off the mechanic. This is useful, but by and large you should expect your Clanger to be no better than Mons Goblin Raiders much of the time.

From there we find a pair of Elvish Warriors. These are quite strong as a two-mana 2/3, able to shut down or attack past your opponent’s anticipated 2/2. The dedicated Green mana cost, however, does mean that they won’t always be a reliable turn-2 play. Easier to cast- and a second-turn play you’ll be delighted to see every game- is the Bramblewood Paragon. The most recent entry in a powerful cycle of tribal card we’ve seen in the other decks, the Paragon offers an immediate power boost for any Warrior you summon with it in play. In addition, any creature you control that has a +1/+1 counter on it also gets trample, an ability every stompy deck loves. There’s a useful synergy at work here as well, in that the Paragon isn’t the only way to get +1/+1 counters on your creature, making even a late-played Paragon somewhat relevant.

Ambassador Oak

Ambassador Oak

One of these ways is the Brighthearth Banneret, whose reinforce can let you trade the card in for a +1/+1 counter. This makes the card perhaps the best of the cycle, because the cost-reducing Bannerets typically lose effectiveness the later in the game they’re played. With reinforce, a late-drawn Banneret has another option to aid your side, and particularly if you’ve got a Bramblewood Paragon in play. Remember that reinforce can be done at instant speed, meaning in the above scenario if your opponent tries chumping one of your fat beaters with a 1/1, you can give that creature trample as a combat trick- ouch!

The deck dips a bit on the three-drops, offering only a pair of Winnower Patrols here. Although the Mudbutton Clanger was a fairly underwhelming use of the mechanic, the bonus the Patrol gets from kinship is in the form of permanent +1/+1 counters. A three-mana 3/2 isn’t bad, and this is a card that promises to only get better the more Warriors you find.

The deck really opens up with the four-drops, for its here that it can begin to flaunt its strategy of fat. First up is a pair of Ambassador Oaks, 3/3 Treefolk Warriors that bring along a 1/1 Elf Warrior token. Incidental 1/1 creatures aren’t always useful- though they’re never entirely useless, either. The question usually is how they are used, since their ability to serve as an attacker is diminished after the earliest stages of the game. As it happens, you’ve got a few ways to make the token useful here, not least of which is to offer it up to Unstoppable Ash.

The Unstoppable Ash, the deck’s first rare card, takes advantage of the champion mechanic to deliver a 5/5 to you for only four mana. Although in this case offering up the token means you won’t get it back if you lose your Ash (tokens, unlike actual cards, essentially disappear if exiled), it won’t put you down a card, either. As a creature, the Ash is very strong, not only giving you 5 power with trample, but also substantially pumping up your offense. This lets you commit forces you might otherwise lose to the assault, knowing they’ll be much harder for your opponent to kill.

Next up is the Cloudcrown Oak, another Treefolk Warrior that you get two copies of. Essentially a Giant Spider variant, the Cloudcrown Oak gives you an extra point of toughness in return for being slightly harder to cast. The final creatures here are Red ones, and we find the deck’s other rare here as well in the Boldwyr Heavyweights. Our first true Giant, the Heavyweights are absolutely massive- 8/8 tramplers– with an interesting drawback that explains their cheap cost. The idea here, of course, is that no matter what your opponent chooses, it won’t be as good as the Heavyweights, but it is certainly not a strategy without its risks.

Finally, you get a pair of Changeling Berserkers, a 5-power body with haste. These too use the champion advantage to essentially ‘upgrade’ an existing creature, the ability to be a surprise attacker with a high power makes the Berserker very useful here. Again losing an existing creature is generally no small cost, but it certainly can make good second purpose out of a Mudbutton Clanger you’ve got just standing about.

We find even more Giants at the very top of the mana curve, with the final four creatures all from that tribe. We open with a pair of Lunk Errants, 4/4’s that have a nifty bonus if they attack alone. This brings to mind similar later efforts such as exalted from Shards of Alara (later reused in Magic 2013) as well as the “loner” mechanic from Avacyn Restored. Used here it’s a tidy, self-contained bonus that doesn’t compromise too much of your attacking power if you violate its condition. Speaking of foreshadowing, we also find a Boldwyr Intimidator here. This card was originally printed in Future Sight with the “new frame,” and is a solid inclusion in the deck. Although seven mana is no pittance, with every creature in the deck a Warrior you’ll get much more mileage out of it than in the Future Sight environment. Finally, there’s an Axegrinder Giant, a simple Craw Wurm reskinned in Red.

Spark a Warrior’s Rage

As you’d expect from this creature-centric offering, much of the noncreature complement involves cards that support its creatures in ways both permanent and nonpermanent. For combat trickery, we first find a pair of Kindled Furies, which give your creature a slight power boost as well as the all-important first strike. Another way to turn combat to your advantage is to accept a trade of creatures that really isn’t, which is an option that Heal the Scars gives you by saving your creature from the brink of death while theirs completes its journey to the graveyard. Rounding out the instants is a Fistful of Force, a Giant Growth variant that uses clash to offer an even more substantial benefit.

Incremental Growth

Incremental Growth

For a more permanent boost, the deck offers you an Incremental Growth, giving three of your creatures some +1/+1 counters. Obviously a perfect companion to the Bramblewood Paragon, this can dramatically upsize your army. There’s also a trio of Obsidian Battle-Axes, which offer a +2/+1 bonus and haste. Like the other pieces of tribal equipment we’ve seen thus far, this equips for free to a Warrior, making it an essentially free way to give your creatures haste turn after turn after turn, as the Battle-Axe continually changes hands.

Despite the presence of Mountains in the deck, Warrior’s Code is surprisingly light on burn. Release the Ants gives you a way to ping a creature or player, returning to your hand only if you win a clash. That makes the card very situational, since you can’t reliably expect to get more than 1 point of damage out of it. The deck gives you a pair. For a more sturdy amount of damage, you also have access to a Roar of the Crowd. This sorcery dishes a charge of burn equal to the number of permanents you control of a particular type (pro tip: choose “Warrior”).

Finally, there’s a pair of Recross the Paths, offering a dose of mana ramp important for being able to deploy the deck’s most expensive threats.

That’s all we have for Warrior’s Code. We’ll be back in two days to deliver a verdict after we’ve had a chance to see the Warriors in action!

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