Gatecrash: Rally and Rout Review (Part 1 of 2)
For the most part, the overlap between the competitive world of the Event Deck and the more casual one of the Intro Pack has remained fairly segregated. After all, aside from the set whose banner they are released under, they really don’t have much in common. Intro Packs, aside from being an accessible point of entry for new and returning players, tend to give a fair amount of design space over to showcasing the set’s themes and mechanics. Event Decks, on the other hand, care far less for these things, instead focusing on presenting a valid option in a given competitive environment.
This disparity gives way to some interesting contrasts when looking at those decks that have overlapped in colour as well as set. The very first Event Decks were released in Mirrodin Besieged, and Infect & Defile was the one multicolour offering (the other was mono-Red). As it happened, Mirrodin Besieged also had a Blue/Black Intro Pack, but the decks couldn’t be any more different. Infect & Defile went all in on the infect mechanic, from Plague Myrs to the Phyrexian Vatmother and a supporting cast including Corrupted Conscience and Hand of the Praetors.
Doom Inevitable, meanwhile, confined itself to -1/-1 counters and proliferate, arguably a backbench mechanic for infect. The honour of advancing the Phyrexian’s corruption of Mirrodin was instead given to Path of Blight. This was almost certainly a thematic call, for while White didn’t add a lot to an infect-based strategy, the sight of Phyrexian cards in White had a visceral impact, the sort of jarring, jolting discomfort that the designers were going for. Doom Inevitable had to make do with what was left, but at least was able to offer a feature slot for the new living weapon mechanic.
For the next six releases, overlap was much harder to come by, though there was a near-miss in Innistrad block. Innistrad itself gave us Deathfed, an Event Deck that focused heavily on the joys of plundering your own graveyard for fun and profit. Largely Blue and Green, it featured a splash of Black for flashback cards like Spider Spawning and Forbidden Alchemy. That aside, it used self-millers like Splinterfright and Armored Skaab to stock your larder, and synergistic options like the Boneyard Wurm to take full advantage. When Dark Ascension soon followed, the card pool was there to support an Intro Pack version of the deck in Grave Power, which we found to be an even more entertaining version of the core strategy.
Once Return to Ravnica arrived, however, the parallel design was all but unavoidable thanks to the heavy branding of the Guilds. With the set divided into five different colour-pairs each of which had their own mechanical identity, it made a natural (and inevitable) mould for Wizards to design into. The Golgari and Rakdos were selected as the lucky two to get their own Event Deck, and we were treated to Creep and Conquer and Wrack and Rage, amped-up versions of Golgari Growth and Rakdos Raid. Each guild got a new spin, with the Golgari mixing scavenge with evasive bodies like the Vampire Nighthawk and Daggerdrome Imp. The Rakdos did what they always do- attack aggressively- but bolstered with an array of enablers like the Stonewright and Lightning Mauler.
And so now with Gatecrash, we are treated to two more- the last time we’ll see two Event Decks for a single release. The Simic deck, Thrive and Thrash, broke the trend somewhat by eschewing the guild’s evolve mechanic in lieu of being another generic “good stuff” deck. It’s caught a great deal of stick for doing so, though this does seem a bit curious given that the aim of the product line isn’t to embrace a set’s themes and identity, but rather to produce a comeptitive deck given the available card pool. Luckily, for those wanting a flavour infusion to go with their competitive spirit, the Boros Legion does not disaapoint. Rally and Rout is Boros Battalion on rocket fuel.
Discern Your Skills
As you might expect, Rally and Rout looks to explode off the starter’s gun and flood the board with cheap, aggressive, efficient beaters. Indeed, most of what the deck has on offer can be played within the first two turns, though it does have a few more expensive options to lend a bit more power to the core of the deck. Thanks to the power of battalion, it can scale its aggressiveness with the passage of turns, potentially ‘going big’ as early as turn 3.
It leads with a full playset of Boros Elite. These are as close to a model for the deck archetype itself as you can get, for they start off small but are quickly bolstered by the presence of their teammates. This is a deck that wants to attack every turn, and a 3/3 swinging in early can be a difficult thing to stop. The other playset found at this drop slot, the Doomed Traveler, offers another insight to how the deck intends to operate. Although by itself it’s hardly fearsome, the aptly-named Traveler can die in a suicidal rush to turn on battalion, and you won’t miss a beat the turn following thanks to its replacement 1/1 Spirit token. When we meddled Boros Battaltion for Gathering Magic, we looked to commit a large proportion of our forces to the air, but Rally and Rout instead prefers to go right down the enemy’s throat.
The last card here is our first rare card, the Champion of the Parish. Originally appearing in Innistrad’s Hold the Line Event Deck, the Champion is a natural fit in a deck where early everything you have is a Human. Though he’s much less potent later in the game when you’ve largely exhausted your hand, you’ll never have it all with a one-drop. Instead, look to play this one as soon as you can in order to maximise his growth.
Moving on to the two-drops, we find more of the same. Avacyn Restored brings us the Lightning Mauler, an improved Goblin Piker that brings along haste for himself and a friend thanks to soulbond. Haste is a godsend in a battalion deck, letting you apply more consistent pressure without having to ‘plant seeds’ a turn in advance. Given the cheap cost of the deck’s creatures, its not at all unlikely that you’ll be giving two creatures the ability to attack straightaway with this one card.
Battalion gets another nod here in the Firefist Striker, another two-mana 2/1. The Striker’s main duty is to remove blockers from the combat equation, thanks to a one-time falter effect. Thanks to battalion, it’s an ability that can be used on every attack so long as you’re swinging with three or more bodies, and will force your opponent to have to withhold a second creature if they have any ambitions to defend. Given the deck’s blinding speed, that’s highly likely- few decks have the celerity to want to try and race you.
Gatecrash offers a few more options here. The Sunhome Guildmage is another of the delightful combos-in-a-box that the cycle has been delivering. In this case, you get the ability to make 1/1 bodies ready to attack straightaway combined with the ability to pump your side +1/+0. Both are useful at different times, with the Soldier token generation being as good a place as any to start sticking mana in later in the game if you need a few extra bodies on the battlefield. Speaking of mana sinks, there’s also the Truefire Paladin, a vigilant body that can both pump its power as well as gain first strike. Unlike the Guildmage, the Paladin is very comfortable wading into the thick of combat, and given how quickly this deck can run out of cards in hand having places to use your mid-game mana is welcome.
Two more rares round out the slot here in the Ash Zealot and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The Zealot is a ‘silver bullet’ card, evidenced by the fact that it’s an answer for problems not found in her set. Instead, she’s a pressure-release valve for Innistrad block, a hedge against flashback and Snapcaster Mages gone wild. As a two-mana 2/2 with haste and first strike, shes just fine even if her other condition never comes up, and it’s a bonus if it does. Thalia, on the other hand, has a more pronounced effect on any board by taxing all noncreature spells. Most of what you have here are creatures, and even your noncreature cards are cheap, so her effect on you will be negligible. On your opponent, however, she can prove most disruptive by delaying some of their best cards by a turn or more.
A trio of Skyknight Legionnaires transition us into the deck’s three-drops. These were good in the original Ravnica, where they first saw print, and are only improved the second time around thanks to how well flying, hasted creatures play with battatlion. You’ll seldom be disappointed to draw her, as she’s one of the deck’s few evasive options. There’s also a Silverblade Paladin here, another card from Avacyn Restored. The Paladin’s soulbond gives him and his partner double strike, and while we’ve seen nothing here with a power above 2, the extra damage is always helpful. With cards like the Boros Elite or the Champion of the Parish that can gain power, it’s all the better. Of course, if you happen to pair it with your Spark Trooper, the deck’s final creature, so much the better! A whopping 6/1, the Trooper presents a version of the classic Red staple Ball Lightning, but with a twist of White giving it lifelink. That’s a ton of damage- and a ton of life.
Compassion and Mercy
The noncreature support suite for Rally and Rout is fairly small, giving most of the deck over for creatures. Still, there are some very solid options here in the usual flavours. There’s plenty of burn with a playset of Pillars of Flame alongside a trio of Searing Spears. Neither of these are particularly good at killing off larger threats you may face, but the deck’s philosophy is that if you’re facing creatures so large that you can’t just go around them, you’re probably already on your way to losing. These are the right size to deal with the early threats you may face, and both can be pointed at your opponent’s face to finish the job once you get their life total low enough.
Next up is another token-maker in Gather the Townsfolk. Battalion is so critical to the deck’s success that it doesn’t want you to have to go so much as a turn without it that you don’t have to, thus the inclusion of token generators like the Doomed Traveler and Sunhome Guildmage. Gather the Townsfolk usually won’t be anything exciting, a pair of 1/1’s for two mana, though every once in awhile fateful hour will let you overcommit your attacking forces safe in the knowledge that an army of defensive chumps is just a casting away. Finally, there’s a pair of Boros Charms. One of the very best of the cycle, the Boros version does everything you need it to for a weenie/swarm strategy, from augmenting a creature with double strike to letting your army swing in laughing in the face of death (indestructibility) to burning out a crippled foe with a Lava Axe Lite. This should be a playset, but you can’t expect Wizards to give away the most coveted cards cheaply in an Event Deck.
Before moving on to the sideboard, we next want to take a quick look at the deck’s manabase, as there are a few nonbasics deserving of a mention. First up is a trio of Boros Guildgates. There’s a fine line here between hel and hunder, and the Guildgates probably fall on the wrong side of it. Though the deck is very colour-intensive when it comes to mana, the Guildgates actually add an element of drag on the deck’s speed. These are almost certainly a teaser for the next card, the Clifftop Retreat. A rare from Innistrad, the Retreat can tap for either and doesn’t slow you down the way the Guildgates will. Anyone looking to build from this deck as a base will surely need to sort out the Guildgates, for this is a deck that more than most any other really, desperately needs to hit its land drops in those crucial early turns.
The last land here is one from Avacyn Restored, the Slayers’ Stronghold. The Stronghold is a fine mana sink, particularly as a haste enabler. The power bonus and vigilance are welcome as well, making this a useful singleton. Given the need for early colour this has a touch of negative synergy, but as a one-of the upside should well outweigh the loss of speed.
The sideboard for Rally and Rout is packed with extra removal and burn, to let you tailor the deck against your opposition. Electrickery is there to help keep an opponent’s weenie-based ambitions in check, as nothing can stall the deck quite like meeting equal-sized opposition across the table. Skullcrack can help answer an opponent’s Thragtusk or lifegain shenanigans, which can be a difficult obstacle for a rush deck to overcome. Thunderous Wrath is a miracle spell from Avacyn Restored that packs a brutal punch if played off the reveal, while two Oblivion Rings offer all-around removal at an affordable cost.
Next is a pair of Bonds of Faith. These pull double-duty, acting as non-Human creature removal as well as a beneficial aura to help pump one of your creatures if you find the opportunity makes such a play optimal. Finally, there’s a trio of War Priests of Thune. These are a hedge against decks that use enchantments to disrupt you, like Detention Sphere or Blind Obedience.
That’s all for now. When we return, we’ll be back to complete our review of Thrive and Thrash, as we pit the decks against one another to see how they hold up.