Magic 2010: We Are Legion Review (Part 1 of 2)
“This set,” proclaimed director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe when announcing Magic 2010, “is Magic at its most pure.” That was no trivial endorsement, but rather the end result of a long and arduous process wherein Magic looked to rediscover a little bit of its soul it had lost along the way. Magic 2010, you see, wasn’t just an innovation- it was a restoration.
In designing the first set of Magic, released in 1993, Richard Garfield mined a great deal of existing fantasy tropes that would resonate with the target audience- fantasy gamers. One tends to speak of Garfield in the same reverential tones that devotees of constitutional law speak about the “wisdom of the framers,” but a great many of his early ideas were very inspired. We are, after all, talking about a game that is poised to enter its third decade of existence. This not only gave the game an immediate familiarity with new players at a time when every player was new, but it also very subtly guided players in learning how to play the game. Even a novice seeing the game for the first time could intuitively understand what the cards were trying to do, even if they didn’t know much about the actual rules of the game and its gameplay. A card like Animate Dead is a great example, because later in its life Wizards determined that it simply didn’t work within the rules of the game and retired it, yet players ‘got’ that you were bringing back a dead creature to fight for you.
By the same token, what new player would know what a Flametongue Kavu did- or even was? Nantuko Husk? Forsythe singled these two out as examples of the non-intuitive drift Magic’s flavour had taken over the years, but they could just as well be any number of hundreds and hundreds of cards. It’s fair to say that without innovating their own fantasy worlds and stories Magic would eventually have died on the vine, but by the same token in moving so far away from the body of common culture that gave the game its original resonance, something of the ‘magic’ that the early game so well captured had been lost. “Over time the core set became a collection of the simplest elegant executions of each facet of the color pie,” he admitted, “but at that point who was supposed to be interested?”
I wanted Magic 2010 (and ideally all future core sets) to meet fantasy fans—those that hadn’t played Magic before—halfway. Those people, those fans of traditional fantasy from sources as disparate as the Lord of the Rings franchise and Harry Potter to the Brothers Grimm and Shakespeare to Dragonology and our own Dungeons & Dragons, all have some preconceived ideas about what fantasy is and how it is represented: what a dragon or an elf or a magic item stands for, what it is capable of, what its relative strength and power is, and whether it is friendly or evil. Magic, on the other hand, has a ton of baggage that potential players are required to assume if they want to experience the game fully—and not just rules, terminology, and strategy, but also set structure, color differentiation, history, and cosmology. I wanted to meet them in the middle. (source)
In our next review we’ll take a look at how this was accomplished- and make no mistake, it was accomplished. Indeed, for the first six months following release, sales of Magic 2010 in the US were up an incredible seventy percent over the previous core set, Tenth Edition. For now, though, let’s dive right in to today’s deck!
Her Sword Sings
Like Nature’s Fury, We Are Legion represents a standard archetype in a somewhat watered-down fashion. Where Nature’s Fury was “Green stompy,” We Are Legion updates White Weenie with a sprinkle of Red. There are a number of different ways you can run a White Weenie build. One is to be hyper-aggressive, focusing on the most efficient creatures White has to offer at the bottom of the mana curve, overwhelming an opponent with a stream of creatures. Another way is to mix in various equipment, sacrificing a touch of up-front speed in exchange for being able to give your creatures longer shelf-lives. Another way to accomplish this objective is to include a mix of flying creatures, typically from the three-drop slot and up. It’s this third class of White Weenie deck that We Are Legion draws its inspiration from.
The deck leads with a classic inclusion, the Elite Vanguard. Once a rare card (then known as Savannah Lions), the Vanguard is a precon staple that is of solid enough quality that it’s even been included in two different Event Decks (Innistrad’s Hold the Line and War of Attrition from New Phyrexia). Although fragile on the back-end, being able to swing for 2 damage on turn 2 is a nicely aggressive play. Going in the other direction, though, is the Soul Warden. Where the Vanguard wants the game to be over quickly, the Soul Warden is optimised the longer it goes on, as she will yield more and more life. Ideally you’d prefer your deck to not sit on the fence about which type of game you’re looking to have, but this being an Intro Pack deck its expected that it would account for either contingency.
Moving up to the two-drops, we have a pair of Silvercoat Lions, the White version of Grizzly Bears. Although Green is the most efficient colour when it comes to creatures, White hangs right in there with it for the early drops, only weakening in efficiency typically around the three-drops. These Lions won’t win any awards for innovation, but they’re a serviceable body and about what you can expect. For a dose of variety, there’s also a Stormfront Pegasus, which is an Elite Vanguard with wings. As the first member of your air force, the 1 toughness on it is much less relevant than it is on the ground, since the Pegasus will evade most defenses.
There’s another flyer in the Griffin Sentinel as we move a rung up the ladder to the three-drops. The Sentinel is weaker on the front-end than the Pegasus, but augments its durable 3 toughness with vigilance. This won’t be the last we see of this combination of abilities in the deck, and having an evasive creature that can both engage on the offense while still being available to repel a counterattack is quite a boon. Adding to the defenses is the Palace Guard, a 1/4 that can block multiple creatures. This is another of the deck’s more defensive-minded creatures, and by the midgame you’ll often be quite happy to congest the ground game so that you can press your advantage in the air.
Towards that end, the deck’s lone creature appears here in the form of a Prodigal Pyromancer. “Pingers” like this originally were in Blue (see: Prodigal Sorcerer), but Wizards eventually shifted that over to Red’s slice of the colour pie. The Pyromancer is strong inclusion, since it can help your Weenie creatures “trade up” when blocked by or blocking larger creatures, while adding a steady stream of damage against your opponent and keeping their board free of x/1’s.
Finally, you get a copy of the Undead Slayer. The Slayer is a misstep here, since it’s ability is only relevant against one of the other four Magic 2010 decks (Death’s Minions), leaving it essentially an overpriced Silvercoat Lion. We’ve written before about our dislike of the protection ability in preconstructed decks because it’s either painfully effective or completely useless, and this is cut from the same cloth. The mercy, at least, is that it hoses Black, which is the colour most able to ‘solve’ creature-based problems. If the Slayer instead exiled Beasts, Elves, and Bears, it would be an exercise in masochism to pilot Nature’s Fury against it.
A pair of Razorfoot Griffins comprise the entirety of the deck’s four-drops, and here’s where White starts to lose some ground to Green in the creature efficiency stakes. Sure the Griffin is evasive, and first strike can be useful- but at the end of the day, you’re still paying four mana for a 2/2 creature. It simply doesn’t have the impact you’re looking for if you’re going to be investing that many resources into it.
The top of the mana curve, though, goes some way to make up for the inefficiencies encountered along the way. First up is a Serra Angel, one of the game’s most iconic of creatures. A 4/4 flier with vigilance for only five mana is an exceptional deal, comparisons to Baneslayer Angel notwithstanding. Make no mistake, she’s the deck’s primary closer, and a must-answer threat for your opponent. You also have a Lightwielder Paladin, the deck’s premium rare card. Also a 4/4, the Paladin’s first strike and larger size give it a good degree of battlefield survivability, while its damage trigger is a painful threat to any deck playing Red or Black. Unlike the Undead Slayer, the Paladin isn’t painful to play when you’re up against an opponent running neither colour, as its still a sizable threat.
Strength of Conviction
Whatever its creature-based shortcomings, the noncreature support suite of We Are Legion is surprisingly strong, with a welcome concentration of removal and combat trickery. First up are a pair of Pacifisms, a frequent sight in White decks. Though they don’t shut down utility creatures, they can turn off an attacker or take a nettlesome blocker out of the equation. Then there’s a copy of Divine Verdict. It’s expensive and conditional, but it does get the job done and more removal is always welcome. Like the Pacifisms, this also leaves utility creatures largely unchecked, since those types of creatures are seldom committed to the red zone until after they have outlived whatever usefulness they provide.
For those creatures, though, you do have some recourse yet. A single copy of Lightning Bolt gives you some burn, a spell that’s largely considered too powerful by modern sensibilities but was brought back for a short encore in Magic 2010 and 2011. Harm’s Way, on the other hand, was a new creation for Magic 2010, though notably outside of Duel Decks: Knights vs Dragons its never seen another printing. Still, the ability to redirect damage can be very useful, and in that sense it’s ersatz burn in White.
For combat tricks, you have a Glorious Charge and a Righteousness. Righteousness is very situational, requiring you to have a blocker to be able to use it. Since only two of your creatures have vigilance, though, this often means you’ll be forfeiting an attack to make it available- an added, hidden cost Interestingly, Righteousness has been around since the beginning of the game and has been a frequent core set reprint- but up until Magic 2010 had always been at rare. The buff from Glorious Charge is quite a bit smaller, but unlike Righteousness it grants its bonus to your entire side- and, critically, can be used on offense.
The last three cards round out the deck with different effects. Lava Axe is another dose of burn to cut down your opponent, while Armored Ascension turns one of your creatures into a powerful evasive beater. Finally, we find the deck’s second rare in Honor of the Pure, an updated version of Crusade introduced in Magic 2010. Unlike Crusade, the boost is limited to your White creatures only, and this is a card you’ll always be glad to draw at any point in the game.
As with each of the five Magic 2010 decks, there’s a single Terramorphic Expanse to help with mana fixing, but otherwise the rest of the deck is all basic land. We’ll take the deck to the table for testing, and report back with our findings!