Gatecrash: Simic Synthesis Review (Part 2 of 2)
Life- not unlike guild warfare in Gatecrash- is about the survival of the fittest, and the Simic have a new trick in their quest for biological perfection. Can they evolve past Sam’s Gruul Goliaths, or will the Gruul show who the real apex predator is?
I’m on the play for our opener, and lead with a Forest which Sam matches with a Mountain. She also has a one-drop in the Foundry Street Denizen, getting out in front early. Back to me, I play a second Forest and pass, while Sam adds a Skarrg Guildmage. This pumps the Denizen for +1/+0, and Sam dutifully turns it sideways for the first blood of the match.
Now turn 3, I’m punished for a greedy keep when I miss my third land drop, having counted on the decks being land-rich. Sam plays another Forest, then adds a Viashino Shanktail. Again the Denizen gets a boost, and again Sam sends it in on the attack. This time, it brings a friend in the Guildmage, and I end the turn at 14 life. Back to me, I catch a break as I draw an Island, then immediately use it to play a Kraken Hatchling. I then add a Forced Adaptation to it and end the turn. Sam attacks with the Viashino and Guldmage for 5. Knowing her deck to be full of tricks- indeed, that’s the Gruul’s modus operandi with bloodrush- I opt to let them through rather than risk the Hatchling before it’s even found its first counter. She then summons a Ghor-Clan Rampager and passes.
Now turn 5, I’m at 9 life and struggling to catch up. The Kraken gets a +1/+1 counter thanks to its aura, but I have no other play. Back to Sam, she sends in the army for lethal. I block her Viashino with my Kraken, and as expected she bloodrushes a Scab-Clan Charger for the kill. I respond with Hindervines, Fogging the whole attack. Chagrined, Sam adds a Verdant Haven to her Mountain and ends her turn.
Next turn, I add a second +1/+1 counter to the Kraken Hatchling, then play a Simic Keyrune. It’s not nearly enough, though, as Sam uses her Guildmage to animate one of her Forests into a 4/4 beater. She turns everything sideways, and I fall beneath the attacking wave.
Sam and I trade opening land drops, though she also manages an opening Arbor Elf– not an encouraging sign. Still, it doesn’t open up any options for her next turn as we both play land and pass (her with a 1-point attack). It’s only on turn 3 that things start to become more interesting, as I bring out a Simic Keyrune while she powers out a Scab-Clan Charger.
Now turn 4, I play an Adaptive Snapjaw for a sizable threat, though Sam coolly responds with a Fire Elemental after attacking in with her Charger for 2. Back to me, I enchant the Snapjaw with Forced Adaptation, then play Unexpected Results. This lands me a Frilled Oculus, triggering evolve on my Snapjaw to give it its first +1/+1 counter on the day. Sam’s not impressed, attacking in with the Fire Elemental. I let it through, and drop to 12. She then adds a Viashino Shanktail and ends her turn.
I have no play on turn 6, other than a land drop and the addition of another +1/+1 counter on the Snapjaw thanks to Forced Adaptation. Sam again comes at me with the Elemental, and this time I block it with the Snapjaw. I thwart the trade with Hindervines, preventing the Elemental’s damage, but Sam then kills off the Snapjaw anyway with a Ground Assault. Back to me, I simply play a Forest and pass, while Sam keeps the pressure up with a 5-point attack behind her Viashino and Charger. I pump my Frilled Oculus after using it to block the Shanktail, and Sam snaps off a bloodrush combat trick from a Skinbrand Goblin for the kill. I end the turn at 10 after Sam adds a Rubblehulk.
Now turn 8, I’m beginning to go on tilt from the relentless parade of land I keep finding atop my library, not for the first time uttering a silent but very profane curse to our Wizards overlords for going overboard on the land content of the decks this time around. I play the Island and pass. Sam sends her posse to put me out of my misery, a whopping 13 points of damage. I chump the Rubblehulk with my Keyrune, going down to 4. She then summons a Foundry Street Denizen. After drawing yet another land, I bow t the inevitable and concede.
I open our final game with a Simic Guildgate, then next turn bring out a Cloudfin Raptor. A turn-3 Frilled Oculus evolves the Raptor, letting it attack in for first blood. After playing nothing but land, Sam then finds a Slaughterhorn to start things off.
Now turn 4, I send in the Raptor to peck away another point of damage. Sam counterattacks for 3, then adds a Ghor-Clan Rampager. Back to me, I next play a Shambleshark, evolving the Raptor once more. I turn it sideways, taking Sam down to 16, then Encrust her freshly-summoned Rampager. Back to Sam, she attacks again with the Slaughterhorn, then adds a Primal Huntbeast.
A turn-6 Drakewing Krasis evolves both my Shambleshark and Raptor, and I leave the former at home while attacking in for 3 with the latter. Down to 13 life, Sam sits pat, but adds a Ripscale Predator to her field. Back to me, I then trot out a Sapphire Drake, evolving my board once more. Pouncing at the opportunity, I then attack with the Shambleshark, Krasis, and Raptor for 11, dealing Sam a crippling blow. Still, summoning her inner Gruul Sam declines to hang back on defense, and instead smashes back for a brutal 14 points of damage behind all four of her beaters. I chump-block her Slaughterhorn with the Oculus, and eat her Huntbeast with my Drake. Still, I take a whopping 10 and drop to 4.
Now turn 8, I draw- what else- a land, then watch in horror as Sam calmly refills her life bar with an 11-point Predator’s Rapport, thanks to the Ripscale Predator. Still, I have enough on-board to get the job done- barely- and I narrowly avoid the sweep thanks to my evolved beaters.
Thoughts & Analysis
One of the strongest intro decks we’ve ever played with is The Adventurers, from Zendikar. This deck was jam-packed with Allies, and contained a powerful and synergistic rare card in the Kazuul Warlord. It seemed effortless to string together a chain of Allies one after the other, each pumping up their predecessors in some fashion before turning sideways for serious impact. In fairness, the deck would whiff sometimes, getting off to a promising start before going nowhere, usually behind those Allies that granted temporary or conditional rather than permanent bonuses such as the Highland Berserker or Tajuru Archer. But a solid core of Allies all gained +1/+1 counters (see: Oran-Rief Survivalist), and these could pick up momentum like a snowball rolling downhill.
When we tested Ethan Fleischer’s Tooth and Claw Intro Pack mockup for the Great Designer Search 2 articles on Quiet Speculation, we found a not dissimilar consistency and power level. As I wrote then:
We began with six tests against Kor Armory (adding an extra three due to Ethan’s preference for the matchup), and if these matches are anything to go by, I’d say the cavemen and their flint-tipped spears are in for a rough go of things. The Potbreaker Bull smashed its fair share of equipment, while the Kor flyers were easy pickings for the Leaping Ornitholestes. Nor could the Kor consistently compete on size or numbers. An optimal sequence for Tooth and Claw often ran something like this: Turn 1 Eohippus gets evolved by a turn 2 Potbreaker Bull and swings for 2. Next turn land a Hulking Sailback (after swinging for 4), which gets evolved by a turn 4 Fecund Maiasaur (swing for 6). Follow that up with a turn 5 Bellowing Tarbosaurus (an early high-power critter cut in the last iteration of the deck) which evolves the whole table and swing for the win. Of course, the Kor didn’t go down quite so easily, but the aggression is clearly evident. Tooth and Claw went 4-2 against the Kor, and the decks felt relatively balanced.
It’s important to remember that the early version of evolve looked only at power rather than at power or toughness, as in the finished model. All the same, it gave us high hopes for a strong showing from the Simic, with dreams of seeing a similar evolutionary curve lead the guild to glory.
What a letdown. Simic Synthesis proved to be little like its evolutionary forebear. For one thing, the tight focus on building up an aggressive head of steam by stringing together evolve triggers was wholly absent. Instead, this felt more like a midrange deck that was happy to evolve a couple of times, but otherwise couldn’t be bothered. Sure I was able to chain together evolutions on three successive turns in the last match, which helped me win the game, but there was a sincle occurrence in game two, and none in either the first game or the friendly. In short, it seemed incidental rather than central, and that was highly disappointing for such a fun mechanic.
Sadly for the deck, it also suffered from some poor card choices. Unexpected Results seemed a complete waste of a rare slot in actual practice. It’s a fun card, but it’s a build-around-me type of card in a very unbuilt-around-it kind of deck. It really wants to have a deck with ridiculously-expensive cards in it that can be had for a relative bargain. Instead, what you get is a card that makes you overpay the majority of the time, in exchange for the prospect of hitting a free land approximately 40% of the time.
Actually, with the land increase this time around, it’s slightly higher, and in this match I was acutely aware of it. I was hitting drops each turn deeper into the games, and by the end drawing yet another land frankly started to really frustrate. I get what Wizards is trying to do and longtime readers know we are supportive of efforts build in to Intro Packs to gently encourage deckbuilding, but this seems a step too far. It’s probably true that mana screw is more frustrating than mana flood, since at least you can play more things in the latter case, but 24-25 lands as a matter of course seems appropriate. More than that seems almost ridiculous. Hopefully, we’ll see this flood recede come the next set.
Hits: The evolve mechanic is a blast to play; deck makes clever use of asymmetrical power/toughness creatures to improve chances of evolving
Misses: Very poor removal; deck is a bit tooclever for its own good, with a high number of cards that are only conditionally useful; evolve mechanic doesn’t get a fair shake with this inconsistent package
OVERALL SCORE: 3.95/5.00