Darksteel: Master Blaster Review (Part 1 of 2)
Gen-X quiz time! Imagine for a moment that you’re a young musician in a rock band. You get up on a Saturday morning, head with your friends to your rehearsal space, and begin jamming out to your signature tune. Suddenly, a nearby mirror clouds over, and a sinister figure declares that he’s kidnapping you to a fantasy realm, where you’ll be transformed into cartoon characters and forced to play as his ‘musical slaves… forever!’ It might sound preposterous, but hey, this was the stuff of pop culture television in the early 80’s. The show was Kidd Video, and the villain? Well…
Now fast-forward a year. You’re a survivor in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian Earth. Robbed of your valuables, you stumble through the wasteland and have the fortune to find a human settlement- albeit one rife with treachery and intrigue. You find yourself dragged in to tensions between the ruler of the outpost and the diminutive person responsible for keeping the lights on, alongside his monstrous bodyguard. This film was Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the factions headed by Auntie Entity (the town ruler) and the midget/bodyguard pair were known as…?
Let’s next skip three years ahead. The Nintendo Entertainment System is the most incredible video game system since the revolutionary Atari 2600. You’re a kid who has a pet frog (hey, who doesn’t?) named Fred. One day Fred escapes, and runs into a radioactive chest. He grows to gargantuan size, then falls into a hole in the Earth. Reaching for Fred, you fall in to, only to find yourself next to a souped-up battle tank. Resolving to find the wayward Fred, you mount the tank and head off to battle against radioactive mutants. Any guess on the name of the game?
If you answered “Master Blaster” to each of these, well, you’d be wrong. Just to be tricky, we included Blaster Master as the answer to the third, but you get the general idea. The least deck we’ll be looking at from Darksteel is Master Blaster, and the name carries with it no additional dignity over its previous uses. Indeed, Mirrodin itself ushered in an era of comparatively silly Theme Deck naming conventions. Though some may roll their eyes at the alliteration afforded us by Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash, it’s hard to argue that we were any worse off than with deck names like Sacrifical Bam, Wicked Big, Swarm & Slam, and, yes, Master Blaster.
Is the deck any more serious than its name? Let’s take a look and find out.
When we returned to Mirrodin in Scars of Mirrodin, one of the five Intro Packs was called Relic Breaker– a name which described its role perfectly. It’s not at all uncommon to find that when Wizards pushes certain themes, decks will be offered that look to ‘spoil’ that strategy. In Relic Breaker’s case, that involved artifact-hosing cards like Shatter and Oxidda Scrapmelter, backed up by plenty of burn. For Darksteel, Master Blaster plays a not dissimilar role, though it does so with a few significant differences.
For one thing, Relic Breaker tended to favour aggression, but Master Blaster is happy to give itself time to develop, as evinced by a pair of Steel Walls that lead things off. Like Relic Breaker, there are mana Myr here for acceleration, with a pair of the Iron variety. The similarities naturally don’t end there- both decks show a fondness for expensive spells and effects.
Moving to the three-drops, we find a trio of Krark-Clan Stokers. Three-mana 2/2’s aren’t at all uncommon in Red, which tends to be fairly inefficient with creatures overall. Still, the Stokers have the useful ability of offering up an artifact in exchange for mana. Unlike a deck such as Sacrificial Bam, though, there aren’t layers of synergistic effects that capitalise on this. Instead, what you see is what you get- a way to squeeze some extra mana out of a redundant permanent.
The Krark-Clan Grunt offers another sacrifice effect, pumping it +1/+0 and giving it first strike until end of turn. On a board with even a couple of artifacts this can make the Grunt a late-game threat, since you can always sac the board to give it a sort of ersatz Enrage. Use with care, however, as removal in response can punish such a move. Finally, there’s a Goblin Replica here as well, another 2/2 body with a special ability. In the Replica’s case, this is extra artifact removal for an additional four mana. That’s no bargain, but it’s good to have the flexibility. In a set based on artifacts, you’ll seldom face difficulty trying to find a suitable target for it.
A thick presence of 4-drops gives the deck some staying power in the red zone. The Hematite Golem isn’t especially impressive in the red zone at the outset, being merely a 1/4. That said, the mana sink that its variation on Firebreathing offers will be quite welcome later in the game, when you have more mana than things to do with it. The deck gives you a pair, as well as a couple of Duskworkers. These are rather curious creatures. A four-mana 2/2 isn’t remotely write-home-to-mother exciting, so it needs to have a very strong ability to compensate. Automatic regeneration is fair, but its only valid on the attack. Meanwhile, having to pay three mana for a single point of power is similarly poor, though better than nothing. Altogether it makes for a rather disappointing inclusion- a creature that really wants to be aggressive, but isn’t all that well-equipped to be so for its mana cost.
On the other hand, a pair of Vulshok War Boars are well-equipped for carnage in the red zone. Sure you have to sacrifice an artifact when they come into play, but four-mana 5/5’s are a sexy, sexy thing (see: Balduvian Horde). These are the deck’s largest natural beaters- and make a fine use for one of those Duskworkers.
At the top of the curve we lead off with a trio of Oxidda Golems. Thanks to affinity for Mountains, you’ll always be able to play these for a deep discount in this mono-Red deck. A 3/2 with haste is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Bloodbraid Elf, though of course her value was largely due to cascade. Still, it’s a solid inclusion, and another aggressive option in a deck that’s a bit hungry for them. Then there’s the 5/4 Rustmouth Ogre, which has a saboteur ability to destroy an artifact whenever it deals combat damage to your opponent. This almost surely makes it a must-block option, and while that often means a shortened life expectancy it can also give you the cover to get some of your other creeps in for damage.
Finally, we come to the deck’s first rare, the Gemini Engine. The Engine is a 3/4 that spawns a second attacking 3/4 whenever it’s sent into the red zone. That’s 6 power on the attack over two bodies and is rather strong, though the loss of the token after combat (rather than at the end of your turn) put something of a damper on gleaning extra value from sacrificing it through one of your outlets.
With a total of twenty creatures, that leaves plenty of room for other spells and effects.
Full of Death
The largest component of the deck’s noncreature supporting suite is- thankfully- its burn package. We’ll start on the small end with a pair of Electrostatic Bolts, which are a limited-target Shock. Although unable to hit players, they do make up for this for being even more brutal against artifact creatures, a permanent type that will be in abundant supply. You get two of these, as well as a pair of Barbed Lightnings. These boast the entwine mechanic, letting you choose between two modes for the default casting cost, and paying a little extra for both. In this case, it’s 3 damage to a creature and/or 3 dammage to a player. Although the card suffers greatly when placed alongside Lightning Bolt, the flexibility afforded you through entwine certainly makes that easier to swallow.
Pulse of the Forge is the deck’s second rare, and that simple deals 4 damage to an opponent. The upside, though, is that if your opponent still has more life than you, you get the card back to your hand for another go. At 4 damage a clip, you’ll only get it back so many times before losing it, but it remains a potent weapon in the arsenal and a welcome addition to a very intriguing cycle of cards.
Next up is Fireball, the classic X-spell that returns in Darksteel after an absence. A happy pairing with the Krark-Clan Stokers, this can both burn out creatures as well as take the game from an injured opponent- not a classic for no reason! The final two burn cards bring along a little something extra. Detonate is a reprint from Antiquities, blowing up an artifact as well as dealing damage to its controller. This is clever design, as you’ll sometimes be doing less damage than you’d like because X can’t exceed the casting cost of the target artifact. Then there’s Molten Rain, a more conditional damage vector. Able to destroy an opponent’s land, it tacks on an additional 2 points of damage if that land is nonbasic. With the ‘artifact lands’ in abundance, this too will often find a useful target with ease.
From there we have the customary Red creature-stealing trick in Grab the Reins. Another entwine card, this one lets you take an opposing creature for a one-turn ride. It gets clever with the second option, which is to sacrifice a creature in order to deal damage to an opponent or creature equal to that creature’s power. Alas, timing doesn’t let you use their creature in combat before sacrificing it, so you don’t get the best of both. Still, the fact that it’s an instant means that you can potentially two-for-one your opponent when they attack by stealing one of their attackers to act as a surprise blocker.
Finally, there’s a smattering of artifacts here to round out the deck. A pair of Darksteel Brutes give the deck some additional creature support, as these activate into 2/2 indestructible creatures for three mana. A pair of Pyrite Spellbombs give you a Shock on a stick, but can also be popped to draw a card (Scars of Mirrodin’s Spellbomb cycle would be amended to give you the option to do both). This gives the deck even more burn potential, and you should have little shortage of ways to deal damage across the table.
Next up is the Granite Shard, part of the Shard cycle. Here you get the ability to ping for the cost of a single Red mana, increasing your damage output even further. Finally, there’s a pair of Talons of Pain. These let you build up counters each time you damage your opponent (which should be often), then cash them in to fuel a large X-spell-type burn effect. Although it’s a bit clunky and expensive, it’s still a damage outlet in a deck packed to the brim with them.
Adding to the overall artifact count are some nonbasic lands, three each of Darksteel Citadel and Great Furnace. These are mainly here in support of cards like the Krark-Clan Grunt, which eats artifacts for beneficial effects. Indeed, there’s some opportunity cost here as they in turn lower the effectiveness of the Oxidda Golem, since they cut down on the amount of Mountains you’ll field. Still, having the option to cash in a bunch of land for lethal damage makes the Grunt even more of a threat, and overall this looks to be an exciting deck.
To find out, we’ll be taking it next into battle, and we’ll return in two days with a full write-up. See you then!