Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 3: Root of the Firemind Review (Part 1 of 2)
When you consider the flavour text of cards in Magic, some tend to stick in the mind more than others. Sometimes they’re profound, such as with Double Negative:
They feared each other for their differences but were absolutely terrified at their similarities.
…or Intruder Alarm:
One footstep among many is silent. One footstep alone is deafening.
Other times they’re comedic, as with Raging Goblin:
He raged at the world, at his family, at his life. But mostly he just raged.
…or Goblin Lackey:
At the first sign of enemy scouts, Jula grinned and strapped on his diplomacy helmet.
The “Love Song of Night and Day” from Mirage/Visions is frequently invoked as some of the best ever penned for a card, a beautiful poem delivered in small pices across a number of different cards. Others go for the opposite extreme, being memorable for eliciting groans as with Werebear:
He exercises his right to bear arms.
But no list of the most memorable would be complete without the gem from the original Niv-Mizet, the Firemind:
To those who haven’t seen it before, it is something of a puzzle. But it’s ‘solution’ gives some insight into the character of the leader of the Izzet guild, a character well on display from today’s deck Root of the Firemind. Expansion Pack 2 paved the way with Heart of Worlds, the first deck to be built around a non-planeswalker character. For all his powers- and they are vast indeed- Niv-Mizzet cannot traverse the planes. Despite that, there are a lot of things he can do, and we see many of them in today’s deck.
An Explosion Within
Root of the Firemind taps into a very common Blue/Red archetype- spells.dec. This strategy takes advangate of the area of greatest overlap between these two colours, packing in both instants and sorceries as well as creatures that synergise with them. You might get there in the traditional manner of creatures in the red zone… but with a twist.
For instance, consider the mighty Kiln Fiend. A staple of its type from Rise of the Eldrazi, the Fiend gets substantially bigger with each instant or sorcery you cast. It isn’t terribly intimidating in its natural state, but this is a deck packed with spells. The ability to turn even a bit of burn into a combat trick will surely weigh on your opponent’s mind when evaluating blocking options. The card is not without weakness, though, as its 2 toughness doesn’t give it a great deal of durability. Still, it is a card central to the core concept of Root of the Firemind, apparent in the fact that the deck gives you a full playset.
Moving on to the three-drops, we find a pair of Gelectrodes. These come to us by way of the set that introduced the Izzet, Guildpact. A pure pinger, their 0-power means that you’ll have little cause to risk them in the red zone. Instead, these can set up a steady drip of damage as they reset each time you cast an instant or sorcery. Next up we find a pair of Bladetusk Boars. Unike the Gelectrodes, these are built for pure combat, and can be difficult for an opponent to block thanks to their intimidate. Alas, if your opponent is playing Red or artifact creatures, these become a whole lot less sexy as a four-mana 3/2.
In those cases, you’d be better served by a capable air force, and a pair of Sky Ruin Drakes serve just fine. They’re not offensive powerhouses thanks to a very lopsided power/toughness, but 2 power is serviceable. Meanwhile, 5 toughness will be able to block most of what your opponent tries to send your way, so if you’re caught on the back-foot and need to try and stabilise the board they can do a job for you there as well. Another defensive option is the singleton Mnemonic Wall. Another import from Rise of the Eldrazi, this leaves behind a 0/4 body though the real reason you’ll usually play it is the opportunity to retrieve a spell from your graveyard.
The deck’s closer comes in the form of the Sphinx of Magosi. The heavy Blue commitment shouldn’t be too much trouble considering that the very earliest you could play this would be turn 6, but it’s also a bit Blue-hungry with its activated ability. Still, drawing a card for three mana is very good, and as a 6/6 (and growing) it will need to be dealt with very quickly by an opponent.
With a total of only a dozen creatures, Root of the Firemind turns the traditional 24/12 ratio on its head. That gives it an abundance of noncreature options, and as we’ll see it makes generous use of them.
As you might expect from Blue and Red, this deck is densely packed with both burn and countermagic. For counters, we get a full playset of Cancels, the “fixed” Counterspell originally introduced in Time Spiral. These are your strings-free counter, able to stop virtually anything that doesn’t come with a “cannot be countered” rider. You also have a pair of Deprives, which are a touch cheaper but have the drawback of returning a land to your hand. In the Zendikar environment, getting land back could easily be turned to your advantage, either by giving you another crack at landfall or letting you recycle one of the “spell lands” like Halimar Depths. Here, however, it’s purely a drawback, though not necessarily a crippling one.
Worldwake brought us our final bit of countermagic in the form of Dispel, recently reprinted in Return to Ravnica. This one costs a fraction of what the others do, but it is limited to fratricidally heading off its own kind- instants. With a total of eight counters in the deck, you’ll not only often have denial within your grip, but you’ll also ‘train’ your opponent to play around it which can benefit you even when you don’t.
If Cancel is our staple counter, as evidenced by the fact that we get a full four copies, then Burst Lightning likewise is the deck’s go-to burn card. This Zendikar card, which is an improved Shock, is just as useful when drawn late as early, as it can swell to double the damage output. It’s not cheap to do so, but later in the game you’ll typically have more mana than you know what to do with- especially if you’re in the habit of keeping some open for counters.
A pair of the classic Lightning Bolts remind us of the true power of a single Red mana, bolstering our instant-speed burn package. Not to be outdone, sorceries bring us some very solid effects as well. Worldwake’s Chain Reaction is a conditional board-sweeper, brutal against weenie/swarm opposition- though somewhat less useful against control decks that field only one or two closers. We also get a pair of Blazes for some open-ended X-spell goodness. Blaze was introduced in Portal, and was a simplified version of the X-spells of its day (Fireball, Disintegrate, et al). It’s not as versatile as those others even for the same cost, but on the upside the only limit to its damage output is the amount of mana you have to spend on it.
Root of the Firemind has some added removal with a pair each of Shatter and Into the Roil. Shatter is the classic artifact-killer, and so its usefulness can vary based on what your opponent is playing. No artifacts makes it a dead draw, but it can be very useful otherwise. Into the Roil, on the other hand, is a temporary solution, but a nicely-costed one that can replace itself in your hand for only two more mana. It can return nearly anything outwith land, and a classic Blue answer to on-board problems is to bounce it then counter it when the opponent tries a replay.
Finally, there’s a touch of combat trickery with Disorient and Sleep. An M10 creation that has never since been reprinted, Disorient is fairly underwhelming, blunting one creature’s offensive power for four mana. That’s the same cost as Sleep, which can be a game-winner. As the deck is light on creatures this isn’t quite as effective as it can be, but in addition to shutting down your opponent’s defenses you can also simply use it to buy yourself the luxury of time. The deck carries two, so its something you’ll often see.
Overall this looks like a worthy addition to the pantheon of Izzet preconstructed decks, and we’ll next be taking it into the field to see how well it holds up!