Magic 2014: Bestial Strength Review (Part 1 of 2)
It might not seem readily apparent, but the Black and Green colour pairing is one of the more common in the Magic core set preconstructed environment. When Magic 2010 came along and standardised the two-colour core set Intro Pack, Death’s Minions was amongst them as a base-Black deck with a splash of Green. It would immediately set a precedent.
You might at least have expected the proportions to flip with the next iteration, but to some surprise Magic 2011 kept the base-Black model with Reign of Vampirism. While the pairing was absent from Magic 2012, it came back the following year with Wild Rush. This time, Green got its comeuppance as Black was relegated to supporting status, and Bestial Strength follows in that same mold to even the ledger.
Where it Grows Strongest
Unsurprisingly, Bestial Strength is a beater deck, one that looks to overwhelm its opponent with the force and fury of its creatures. To best accomplish this, you need two things. First, you need the muscle to accomplish it. Second, you need the ability to deploy that muscle as effectively as you can. In this deck, you get one of those two things.
An Elvish Mystic holds its own as the deck’s lone one-drop. A functional reprint of the classic Llanowar Elves, these have been fueling accelerating deployments since the very dawn of the game. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a miss here. “Mana dorks,” as they’re often called, are a study in diminishing returns. The earlier you play them, the better they are as you can summon fatter creatures before your opponent has the resources in place to effectively deal with them. This is a problem we’ve seen many times- a card a deck really would be happier with four of, having instead to make do with one. As we’ll see, the deck’s fundamental flaw somewhat ironically makes the Mystic a relatively welcome addition most any time its drawn.
Moving to the two-drops, we lead with a pair of Deadly Recluses. This is something of an ersatz removal spell for Green, which seldom has access to such things (though with the advent of fight, that’s been evolving somewhat). Not only can the Recluse take out nearly anything it blocks that doesn’t have first strike, but the 2 toughness gives it some ability to close down weenie creatures and live to tell the tale.
For a little more muscle, you also have recourse to pair of Kalonian Tuskers. These are a new creature to Magic 2014, and have an interesting pedigree. When Watchwolf was released in Ravnica, it pushed the power envelope for what could be done for its cost. The Tusker does exactly the same, but remains entirely in Green. Very few creatures in the game’s history have had that power and toughness for cost, and most of those (like Wren’s Run Vanquisher or Albino Troll) tended to have a drawback. Creatures typically get attention based on what they can do, but less so simply because of what they are. The significance of this card will be overlooked by many who play it, and more’s the pity. Finally, Black offers us a Corpse Hauler, a simple 2/1 creature that can be used to swap places with a creature in your graveyard.
A pair of Rootwalla usher us up a rung to the three-drops. The subject of a call-out in the most recent Mark Rosewater column on the mothership, the Rootwalla was originally from Tempest and hasn’t seen the inside of a core set since Tenth Edition. As with most of the creatures thus far, the deck offers you two. Next is the Brindle Boar, another 2/2 with a special ability. In this case, it can be popped to give you 4 life, just the thing to squeeze a little extra value out of it when it’s about to die.
The final card here is an interesting one, the Advocate of the Beast. A reward for playing a Beast-heavy deck, the Advocate lets you make one of them bigger during each end step. Though most of the deck’s creatures aren’t of that type, a good many of them are. It’s a clever synergistic card, part of a minor subtheme in the set that sees some cards referencing others for greater power (Advocate of the Beast/Marauding Maulhorn and Festering Newt/Bubbling Cauldron/Bogbrew Witch).
It’s with the four-drops, though, that the deck really comes to life with an additional eight options. A pair of Giant Spiders are expected, as is some vanilla muscle in the form of two Rumbling Baloths. Dark Ascension’s Briarpack Alpha finds a swift reprinting here as well, and offers a useful bag of tricks attached to a nice 3/3 body. Finally, there’s a pair of Accursed Spirits. Yet another new card, these are useful against an opponent playing Black, but will be a disappointing draw at most other times. There’s simply too much you can do for four mana to feel good playing a 3/2.
For closing options at the top of the curve, there’s a pair of Woodborn Behemoths and a Garruk’s Horde. The Behemoth is a closer in the classical sense, looking to punish your opponent for the sin of letting you live too long. Once you play your eighth land, this thing doubles in size and gains that all-important trample. The Horde, on the other hand, already has it baked in, and offers a dose of card advantage to go with its solid size. This gives some insight as to the way the reason the deck is structured the way it is. Were there too many cheaper creatures contained within it- or if there were better ramping options- the Horde might throw the balance of the deck off with regards to the set’s other Intro Pack decks.
Symbol of Ferocity
The deck’s second rare comprises the entirety of its noncreature ramping suite, Into the Wilds. This can get you an extra land a turn as early as turn 4, and in a deck that packs in 26 land that’s at least somewhat useful. That said, most of the time it’s going to whiff given the simple numbers of deck construction, so one gets the sense that the card’s converted mana cost is as much in place to delay its implementation as it is a reflection of the relative strength of the card.
Combat tricks and removal comprise much of the remainder of the deck, and this is about what you’d expect to find here. A pair of Giant Growths are de rigeur, but there’s also a copy of Enlarge. Yet another new spell for M14, this essentially combines Might of Oaks with a weaker form of Lure, while adding in trample for good measure. It’s an interesting card with some clever applications. Lastly, there’s another staple effect here in the form of a Fog. Useful on both offense and defense, a miser’s copy isn’t the most welcome sight, but it too has some utility on offer.
For removal, a pair of Doom Blades kick things off. A staple of the core set for every year except M13, these are simple, cheap, and effective. Although it’s weakness against Black decks is obvious, the synergy there with the Accursed Spirit (in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of fashion) is quite welcome.
Plummet kills a flier outright, and for cheap cost, but against ground-based decks its a dead draw. Then there’s Vial of Poison, and here again you get two to play with. This gives any of your creatures deathtouch until end of turn. Although much more useful in a deck with creatures that have first strike, it still offers you a few added ways to remove your opponent’s best creature should opportunity present itself.
The last two cards of the deck are one-off effects. A Mind Rot is another staple effect often thrown in to preconstructed decks, and is reasonably useful even unsupported. Staff of the Wild Magus, meanwhile, is part of a five-card cycle replacing the traditional “lucky charms,” and each deck gets one.
We’ll next be putting the deck into battlefield conditions to see how it holds up. Check back in two days’ time and we’ll have the review’s conclusion.