Oath of the Gatewatch: Desperate Stand Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s game time! I’ve been keen to put Desperate Stand through its paces following the disappointment from Battle for Zendikar, and at last I’ve got my chance. Standing between me and glorious White/Black victory is Phil, who’s going for the surge angle with Surge of Resistance. Can cohort carry the day?
Phil’s on the play for the opener, leading with a Mountain while I come back with a Plains. He then summons the game’s first creature with a Stormchaser Mage off an Island, swinging in for 1 point of early damage thanks to haste. Back to me, I swap life totals with Phil thanks to a Kalastria Healer.
Now turn 3, Phil adds a Reckless Bushwhacker, attacking once for to tie it up. I bring out a Cliffside Lookout and Ondu War Cleric, going up to 21 and dropping Phil to 17 thanks to the Healer’s passive drain effect. An Umara Entangler joins the ranks across the table next turn, with Phil sending in the Mage for another scratch of damage. I claw it back with the Healer after summoning a Vampire Envoy as the creature build-up continues.
Phil brings out a Windrider Patrol on turn 5, and attacks once more with the Mage to bring me down to 20. However, at the end of his turn, I tap the Cleric and Envoy for cohort, gaining 3 more life. Once my turn properly arrives, I add a Spawnbinder Mage, triggering another drain from the Healer. It’s now 24-15 in my favor, and I haven’t put so much as a toe into the red zone.
Now turn 6, Phil uses Ugin’s Insight to scry 5, then refills his hand. Emboldened, he comes at me for 4 in the air with the Patrol, connecting for damage and triggering another scry. At the end of the turn I trigger cohort once again for lifegain, and end at 23. Back to me, I summon the mighty Munda’s Vanguard, a real value option with so many creatures in play.
Next turn, though, Phil strikes back. He casts Containment Membrane on the Ondu War Cleric, then plays a second one for its cheaper surge cost to similarly enchant my Spawnbinder Mage. I respond by activating the Mage (tapping it and the Vanguard) to tap down his Patrol. Not yet finished, the fresh-to-the-field Vanguard then gets nuked with a surged Boulder Salvo, after which Phil comes in for 9 thanks to some prowess bonuses on his Entangler and Stormchaser Mage. That draws us nearly level, with me up by a sole point at 15. For my part, I play an Evolving Wilds, crack it for a Swamp, and pass. Not exactly a thunderous riposte.
Phil keeps the momentum going on turn 8 with a Jwar Isle Avenger, then turns the Windrider Patrol sideways into the red zone. I kill it with Smite the Monstrous, and the turn ends. Back to me, I add a Blighted Fen to my ample mana base, then summon a Zulaport Chainmage. The resultant drain from the Healer leaves the score at 16-13 to the good.
Now turn 9, Phil summons a second Jwar Isle Avenger, after which he surges out a Goblin Freerunner. He swings in for 4 with the first Avenger and Stormchaser Mage, and I block the Avenger with my Envoy to take just the 1 off the Mage. My turn, sadly, is a blank, and it increasingly appears my deck is running out of gas while Phil’s continues with momentum.
As if to underline the point, Phil comes in for 7 on turn 10, swinging with both Avengers and the Mage. I block one Avenger with my Envoy, taking 3 in the exchange. At the end of the turn, I activate the cohort of the Zulaport Chainmage, nicking 2 off of Phil’s life total. Perhaps I have a way through after all, if I can hold out a little longer. My next turn, sadly, is another blank.
Next turn, Phil summons another Stormchaser Mage, then attacks for 7 with the same outcome as before. It’s now even at 9 life apiece, and is something of a race. Phil needs to beat me on the ground before I manage to drain his life from a distance. I claw a touch of it back when I summon a Vampire Envoy, but Phil raises the stakes the turn following with a Goblin Freerunner. He then swings for 11 behind the pairs of Mages and Avengers, along with the Freerunner. I block what I can, trading out my Lookout and War Cleric for his Freerunner, and manage to prevent most of the damage. At the end of his turn, I use the Zulaport Chainmage/Vampire Envoy combination to move his life total down, and mine up. Back to me, I summon an Expedition Envoy and pass.
Now turn 13, Phil again surges across the red zone. This time, though, I’ve got a trick- a Dazzling Reflection that lets me turn a trade into a one-sided kill. He’s not able to break through my defenses for the kill, and succumbs to the Chainmage’s relentless wounding.
With Phil opting to be on the draw, I open with a Plains while he begins with a Mountain into a Lavastep Raider. I drop a Swamp and pass, while Phil follows an Island with an attack for first blood, taking me to 19.
I find my first creature on turn 3, however, when the solid Drana’s Emissary arrives, but Phil doubles his deployment with a second Raider. Next turn, I drain 1 from Phil with the Emissary, then go wide with a Kor Scythemaster and Expedition Envoy. For Phil’s part, he plays Pyromancer’s Assault and passes.
Now turn 5, I drain again during my upkeep, then attack for 5 with the Kor and Emissary. Phil falls to 13, and I add a Vampire Envoy. Back to Phil, he solves the Kor with a Containment Membrane. Next turn, I swing for 3 in the air before adding a Cliffside Lookout, ending the turn with the life totals 22-9 in my favor. The deck’s coming together quite well, and all Phil manages is a Comparative Analysis to hit his land drop.
Now turn 7, I go for the throat with my Emissary and Envoys, going up a life thanks to the Vampire Envoy becoming tapped, and giving the team +1/+1 from the Cliffside Lookout for good measure. Phil gang-blocks my Expedition Envoy with his Raiders for the trade, dropping to 3 life. On the ropes, he manages to strike back with Rolling Thunder, nuking my Emissary and Lookout and hitting me for 1. Back to me, I’m within striking distance of a win, and I send in the Vampire Envoy. Phil’s down to 2 life, and I’m at 24. I then play Allied Reinforcements and pass. Back to Phil, he summons a Goblin Freerunner, then surges a Boulder Salvo to kill the Vampire Envoy. That triggers his Pyromancer’s Assault, letting him kill one of my 2/2 tokens from the Reinforcements. Phil’s clearly not going down without a fight.
A turn-9 attack from the remaining Knight draws the trade from his Freerunner, but I surprise Phil with a Dazzling Reflection to save the Knight. Phil solves the Knight on his turn with a Roiling Waters, drawing two more cards in the process. All I need to win is a creature to connect, and next turn I find one in the Malakir Soothsayer. Phil’s quick with an answer, though, as he plays a second Pyromancer’s Assault, which lets him surge a Jwar Isle Avenger. That triggers both Assaults, and he sends that damage to destroy the Soothsayer.
Now turn 11, I bring out a Drana’s Chosen. Phil sacrifices his Blighted Gorge to kill it. He then plays a Reckless Bushwhacker, swinging in for 5 to drop me to 21. I draw nothing and pass, and Phil sees momentum swing his way. He summons a Windrider Patrol, attacking in again.
A turn-13 Munda’s Vanguard is helpful, but Phil has made quite the comeback. He plays an Umara Entangler, then surges the Tyrant of Valakut. Throwing the 4 damage from his Assaults my way, he hammers in for 9 more points of damage. Down to 3 life, I draw nothing and scoop, just 2 points of life from the win.
Phil and I swap opening-turn land drops, then next turn he leads with an Umara Entangler which I match with a Kor Castigator. Phil Expedites the Entangler to cycle the card and boost prowess, connecting for an early 3. I counter for 3, adding a Serene Steward.
Now turn 4, Phil brings out a Goblin Freerunner. I swing again with the Castigator, which Phil swaps for his Entangler. I replace my loss with a Spawnbinder Mage and end the turn. Back to Phil, he swings for 3 with the Freerunner, then adds a Jwar Isle Avenger. I tap the Avenger on my turn, playing a Kor Entanglers to clear a path through the red zone before sending in my beaters for 4. With Phil down to 13, it’s neck and neck.
Phil adds to his army on turn 6 with a Cloud Manta, then locks down my Mage with a Containment Membrane. The Freerunner and Avenger turn sideways, slashing across the red zone for 6 to leave me at 8. Back to me, I deploy Munda’s Vanguard.
Next turn, Phil continues the stream of beaters with a Goblin Freerunner, then comes in for 9 on the attack. My Vanguard trades for his veteran Freerunner, teaming up with my Entanglers to get the job done. Nevertheless, I fall to 2 life. Drawing nothing, I bow to the inevitable and scoop.
Thoughts & Analysis
These two decks turned out to be fairly evenly matched, and this writeup was one of the more fun and memorable ones of the set thus far. We’re commonly asked if the outcome of the matches has any bearing on the final rating of the deck, and the answer is typically “not really.” What we look for is how the deck functions and works more than whatever result it marked up. No cycle of five Intro Packs in a set is perfectly balanced against the other five, there are always some better and some worse matchups. It’s hardly sporting to rate the deck contingent upon performance when that performance can vary based upon whatever deck it happens to go up against.
Of course, it would be facile to deny that there’s a certain correlation between outcomes and grades, if only because a deck that “works” tends to post better results, and one that doesn’t tends to be less successful. But then there are cases like Desperate Stand, which lost two of the three but always felt like it was in with a shot. Indeed, the second game it took Phil right down to 2 life with buckets to spare, only to see Phil mount a spectacular fightback and claim the match. Perhaps I did run out of gas, but it felt more like normal Magic variance rather than a shortcoming of the deck design. There were cards I could have drawn (or cards Phil might not have drawn) that would have cemented the win and the match.
Overall, the deck represented a massive improvement from the White/Black deck in Battle for Zendikar, Call for Blood. It has a stronger fundamental base, feeling more at-home playing conventional Magic than the turtle-and-snipe Call’s combo engine. Call seemed to want to go too deeply into its synergies and interactions at the expense of being able to work as a fairly conventional Magic deck, while Desperate Stand struck a more favorable balance.
On the downside, it still has some of the difficulties in removing opposing creatures effectively. There were a number of times in the match where I might have liked to have been more aggressive, but the matchup just wasn’t favorable. A little more removal might have tipped the scales a touch more. In addition, the cohort mechanic is useful, but it also takes some of your creatures out of the equation- if they’re tapping for cohort, they’re probably not attacking. Newer players in particular may struggle with finding a properly aggressive balance between attacking and using the activated ability.
But overall, this was a fun deck to play, and surely one of the gems of the set.
Hits: Strikes a better balance between combo-style interactions and basic fundamentals than its predecessor; some great synergies present while not going as all-in on them making the deck more reliable to play while still maintaining a fun character
Misses: Removal somewhat lacking for a high-creature deck; cohort is a somewhat skill-testing mechanic that can blunt the offense
OVERALL SCORE: 4.50/5.00