Magic 2010: Death’s Minions Review (Part 1 of 2)
Pop quiz! What do the following cards have in common?
If you said “Black creatures,” you’re right. Although printed at different times throughout the games history, these are united by a single, wicked thread of darkness and villainy.
Here’s another one:
“Blue spells?” Great work! Indeed, all three of these are spells of the Blue school of magic, and do very characteristic Blue things like draw you cards, counter summonings, and put your opponent on tilt when you steal their best creature right out from under them.
Okay, one more:
If you said “Green creatures,” you’re correct, but you only get the bronze star this time. If you noticed that all three of these are effectively the same creature, you nailed it!
Now, let’s throw in the twist ending. What do these have in common:
- Dusk Imp
- Dreg Reaver
- Phyrexian Ghoul
- Remove Soul
- Counsel of the Soratami
- Cylian Elf
- Balduvian Bears
- Barbary Apes
To answer that, we need to look at the design philosophy for Magic 2010. As we’ve mentioned, Magic 2010 broke new ground in a number of ways, and perhaps the innovation that most grabbed the attention of the player base was the prospect of new cards. New cards? “That’s right—new content in a core set,” wrote Aaron Forsythe in introducing the new set. “Of the 229 cards in the set that aren’t basic lands, almost half are cards you haven’t seen before. This is a huge, huge departure from how core sets have been handled since before I even started playing the game.”
One of the problems that had faced previous core set designers was the fact that they were dealing only with cards that had already been made. This let them get a general ‘baseline set,’ but didn’t give them the flexibility to really craft a rich environment. With Magic 2010, all rules were out the window from the outset of design. With the move to a yearly format, Wizards could not only sculpt an environment in a single core set, but they could also produce a bridge that worked between blocks. Part of that flexibility meant that R&D was free to create new cards where it made sense to do so. In other cases, they had the liberty to create “functional reprints,” cards which were mechanically identical to previously-published cards, but ‘reskinned’ to make them hew more to the general fantasy tone of the set.
That’s the answer to our last quiz above- every card listed was given a functional reprinting in Magic 2010. Let’s take another look at that list, along with the Magic 2010 reprint:
- Dusk Imp -> Kelinore Bat
- Dreg Reaver -> Zombie Goliath
- Phyrexian Ghoul -> Vampire Aristocrat
- Persuasion -> Mind Control
- Remove Soul -> Essence Scatter
- Counsel of the Soratami -> Divination
- Cylian Elf -> Runeclaw Bear
- Balduvian Bears -> Runeclaw Bear
- Barbary Apes -> Runeclaw Bear
This move was not without some degree of controversy. Although players didn’t mind functional reprinting, they did seem to take exception to the way it was marketed. Forsythe copped to it in article from July, 2009:
Where I do see that we messed up, however, was in our messaging. The “50% new cards” tagline was a bit too literal in hindsight, and we’ll be more careful explaining the set makeup of core sets going forward in a way that doesn’t ultimately lead to disappointment.
…and again a year later:
I don’t regret all the Runeclaw Bear and Essence Scatter “renaming” we did in Magic 2010—each was the correct decision for the game individually. I do regret, however, that we didn’t differentiate between new designs and new names when we presented the amount of new content in Magic 2010, leaving some people feeling like we’d padded the numbers. That wasn’t our intent, and rest assured that when I say “Magic 2011 contains 46% new designs,” that number doesn’t include the very small number of functional reprints in the set.
It was a lesson they took to heart. Down from 20, Magic 2011 had only six of them. Though one might be tempted to conclude that they simply didn’t need to make many more, with the bulk of them made in Magic 2010, more than half of the functional reprints didn’t carry over to Magic 2011. A few that did feature in today’s deck, Death’s Minions.
From Beyond the Gloom
Death’s Minions is not a cheap deck, ceding the early game in favour of greater development over time (somewhat ironically, the exact opposite approach of the Dark Side of the force). Unlike Nature’s Fury, however, you don’t get access to any ramping effects that get you that mana more quickly. That leaves only the natural approach- drawing them a turn at a time off the top of the library (after playing what’s in your opening grip, of course). To accomplish that, it helps to have ways to stall an opponent’s assault and give yourself the time you need.
Towards that end, the deck opens with a Drudge Skeletons. A solid defensive creature, its regeneration allows it to blank an opponent’s strongest nonevasive threat each turn- provided it doesn’t have trample. Add one more mana and deny it the ability to attack, and that gives us the first card in our three-drops, the Wall of Bone. Both of these can help erect a barricade that will give your opponent some difficulty to get through.
Next up in the three-drops is the Warpath Ghoul, a simple 3/2 Zombie. This last fact of the card is relevant considering we also find our first rare here in the Cemetery Reaper. A Zombie “lord,” it gives all of your other Zombie creatures +1/+1. Although less than half of the deck’s dozen creatures are in fact Zombies, the good news here is that the Reaper is quite happy to make his own party if you haven’t managed to deploy some. Sure part of the cost is to exile a creature card from a graveyard, which puts a cap on how often you can use the ability, but the fact that it’s from any graveyard- not just your own- offsets this somewhat.
Finally, to round out the three-drop slot there’s a Looming Shade. Three mana for a 1/1 isn’t a great deal, but being able to pump both power and toughness for each dumped into it makes the Shade relevant until the very end of the game- not bad for a mere 1/1. On the other hand, without devoting resources into it each turn, it’s still just a 1/1. Shades can make for some complicated blocking decisions for an opponent, though, who has to count on how much mana you have available to you when assigning one or more blockers to your Shade, and with enough mana open it becomes a must-block option.
Moving on to the four-drops, we begin with the Howling Banshee. Death’s Minions doesn’t have a lot of range in the air, but the Banshee is a solid 3/3 with an added life loss effect. Though that can sometimes make the Banshee uncastable in some situations, you’ll be able to nick the occasional win simply by summoning it when an opponent is circling the drain. Then there’s the Bog Wraith, which is a little easier to cast but has a much narrower evasion ability. Swampwalk is only good against opponents playing Black, but unlike flying it can’t be blocked. Overall, it’s a fairly underwhelming option here, though the 3/3 body is relevant regardless. Finally there’s a singleton Gravedigger. Originally from Tempest, this Zombie comes along with a free Disentomb.
At the top of the curve is where, not surprisingly, we find the real meat of the deck. A pair of Zombie Goliaths lead us off, not especially showy but a decent-sized beater that can cause an opponent a few headaches. Two more mana gets us the Enormous Baloth, a full-sized 7/7 which can cause even more, though as a non-Black creature it’s a bit more susceptible to removal. Finally, the deck’s premium rare appears in the Nightmare, the only card to ever be the featured rare card in two different decks (it was also in Ninth Edition’s Dead Again). The Nightmare isn’t cheap, but it’s almost always worth it. It’s conceivable- however unlikely- that you could cast this as a 1/1 creature given the number of Forests in the deck, but that would be highly unusual. More often this will be right around a 4/4, making it slightly more-expensive Air Elemental that has the upside of power limited only by the number of Swamps you have in play. Thanks to its evasion, this is your closer par excellence.
Whispers of Power
Another way to effect stall in the red zone is to come prepared with abundant removal, and it’s here moreso than with its creatures that Death’s Minions shines. The deck is well-equipped to handle creature-based threats, beginning with a pair of Doom Blades. These are the staple go-to for removal in Magic 2010, but should you be playing another deck with Black creatures you might appreciate the inclusion of an Assassinate as well. For direct damage, you also have recourse to a Consume Spirit and Tendrils of Corruption. Both play in similar space, but the ability to target an opponent is what gives the former the edge over the latter, even if it is the slower option. Both are good, and you’ll happily draw either. Finally, there’s a single copy of Naturalize for any pesky artifacts or enchantments you might come across.
For disruption, you also get a pair of Mind Rots, a staple of Black discard. Green contributes a Giant Growth here, giving your Black army the benefit of an instant-speed combat trick. Rise from the Grave gives you another creature from amongst any player’s graveyard, while Diabolic Tutor rounds out the deck with the ability to get the card you need when you need it.
Overall, this deck seems fairly mediocre, but the strong removal suite gives it a much-needed jolt of excitement. We’ll see how well it all comes together in the field of battle, then return in two days’ to report on the final results!