Oath of the Gatewatch: Vicious Cycle Review (Part 2 of 2)
Departing the benighted plane of Innistrad for a moment, we’re back at the besieged one of Zendikar. When we last looked at Vicious Cycle, we found a sacrifice-style deck with some intriguing synergies. Of course, what looks good on paper doesn’t always play well, so we’re put it to the test. Joining me is Phil, piloting Concerted Effort, the White/Green support deck.
Phil and I swap land drops for the opening turn, with him fielding a Forest and me hitting a Swamp off of a Fertile Thicket for next turn. Back to Phil, he summons the game’s first creature in the Oran-Rief Invoker, while I match with a Stalking Drone.
Now turn 3, Phil adds a Joraga Auxiliary, while I tutor up my first Wastes with Natural Connection. Back to Phil, he neutralizes the Drone with an Isolation Zone hoping for some early beats, and in response I Altar’s Reap it. He swings for 4, and I’m down to 16. I replace my loss with a Netcaster Spider.
Phil continues to deploy creatures on turn 5, bringing out a Steppe Glider. I counter with a Null Caller. Back to Phil, he casts Allied Reinforcements before summoning a Makindi Aeronaut, and his board is looking fairly solid. Especially after my turn 6 consists of nothing but a Blisterpod.
Now turn 7, Phil uses the Auxiliary’s ability to support his fliers, then sends the 3/5 Steppe Glider in above the red zone. I respond first by killing the nettlesome Auxiliary with a Grasp of Darkness, then kill the onrushing Glider by blocking with the Spider- and burning a Vines of the Recluse to seal the deal. Back to me, I play an Essence Depleter and end the turn.
Next turn, Phil uses his Oran-Rief Invoker and steady stream of mana drops to pump itself up into a 7/7 trampler, which romps across the red zone and drops me to 9. At the end of turn, I use the Depleter to syphon a life back off of Phil. An Oblivion Strike solves the Invoker, so I won’t have to see that particular problem again.
Now turn 9, Phil replaces his loss with a Kor Castigator, and I activate the Depleter at the end of his turn to make it an 11-18 game in his favor. Needing to get some momentum going, I then attack in with my Spider and Null Caller for 4. Phil trades his Castigator for the Spider, and gang-blocks the Null Caller with his Knight Ally tokens, losing one in the process. I then summon a Baloth Null, returning my Spider and Stalking Drone to hand.
A turn-10 Iona’s Blessing on his Makindi Aeronaut helps Phil connect for 4 in the air, dropping me to 7. I counterattack for 4 with the Null, taking Phil to 14 life, then recast my Netcaster Spider and Stalking Drone. Phil’s next turn is a holding blank, at the end of which I activate my Essence Depleter. I then kill off the buffed Makindi Aeronaut with Bone Splinters, sacrificing the Blisterpod (which immediately replaces itself on the battlefield). I then turn the field sideways, rolling in for 10 points of damage, rocking Phil’s life total. His counterattack can’t kill me, and, drawing nothing, he concedes the field.
The mighty Blisterpod returns as my first play of the game on turn 1, following Phil’s opening land drop. He follows with a Makindi Aeronaut to level things up, and I turn an Evolving Wilds into a Swamp.
Phil’s turn-3 attack opens his account, nicking me for 1, and he follows with a Joraga Auxiliary. My turn is a blank, save for the vital land drop. Back to Phil, he strengthens his troops with a Shoulder to Shoulder, giving each a +1/+1 counter, then swings with the pair for 5. I let them pass, going down to 14. I retaliate with my Blisterpod for a comparatively puny 1 point of damage, then add a Rot Shambler. A Bone Splinters claims the life of my Blisterpod, which replaces itself with a 1/1 Eldrazi Scion, as well as Phil’s Auxiliary. This also grows the Rot Shambler to the tune of a +1/+1 counter, so not a bad round overall.
Now turn 5, Phil swings in for 2 with his Aeronaut, then adds a Kor Castigator. I counterattack with the Scion for 1, then drop a Null Caller. Back to Phil, he summons a Saddleback Lagac, supporting both his Aeronaut and Castigator. He then turns his Aeronaut sideways for 3, leaving me at 9 life. I send in the Scion for 1 more point, then bring out a Seed Guardian.
A turn-7 Isolation Zone neutralizes the Guardian straightaway, and Phil gamely wicks away 3 more life in the air. Things are looking grim. I attack once more with the Scion to take Phil to 16, then offer it up to another Bone Splinters to kill the Aeronaut. That adds another +1/+1 counter to the Shambler, which is now a 3/3.
Now turn 8, Phil continues his stream of beaters with a Relief Captain, supporting the Castigator and Lagac. Both get sent into the red zone for lethal damage, forcing a response. I first exile the Blisterpod out of my graveyard with the Null Caller, netting me a 2/2 Zombie token. I block the Lagac with the Zombie for the trade, then pair my Shambler and Null Caller to take out the Castigator. The Caller takes the brunt of the hit, and when the dust settles I’ve taken no damage and my Shambler is now a 5/5. For my part, I counterattack with the Shambler to put Phil to 11, then add a Carrier Thrall.
Next turn, Phil deploys a Cliffside Lookout, then attacks in for 3 with the Castigator. I offer up the Thrall in trade, getting another Scion and growing the Shambler. Allied Reinforcements comes next, and I pop off a Natural Connection at the end of his turn for another land. We’ve missed as many drops as we’ve hit this game, with Phil and I both having to contend with a somewhat mana-light environment, so every little helps. Back to me, I swing in with the Rot Shambler for 6, and Phil chumps it with a Knight Ally token. I then summon a Dread Defiler, a massive Eldrazi beater, and pass.
Now turn 10, Phil brings out an Expedition Raptor, supporting his other 2/2 Knight Ally token and the Cliffside Lookout. Back to me, I go in hard for 12 with my Defiler and Shambler, looking to press my advantage as the tides of war have clearly shifted. Phil chumps the pair with his Knight Ally and Raptor. I play a Seed Guardian, and end the turn.
Next turn, Phil replaces some of his losses with a Kor Sky Climber. I again turn my two largest creatures sideways for 12. Phil nukes the Defiler with an Immolating Glare, and in response I pop a Scion to help activate the Defiler’s special ability, exiling my Null Caller to force Phil to lose 2 life. He chumps the Shambler with the newly-arrived Sky Climber.
But Phil can’t long withstand the onslaught of the Rot Shambler. I ride the card to victory over the next couple of turns as he fails to find an answer for it, and cannot mount a counterattack. He runs out of blockers, and concedes defeat.
Thoughts & Analysis
Imagine a deck filled with X/X for X creatures. You’d land 1/1’s on turn 1, 2/2’s on turn 2, 4/4’s on turn 4, and so on (basically, a bunch of Endless Ones). Each creature stands entirely on its own, not interacting with any other creature in any way. There’s a high degree of consistency here, a consistency that extends to the power level of the deck.
Combo-style decks are the exact opposite of that. They field elements that might on their own be less strong than our Endless Ones in the example above, but when put together can have a synergy that makes them even more powerful. I’ve often referred to a pure combo deck as “feast of famine,” since if you don’t hit your combo you’re usually dead, but Vicious Cycle is not a pure combo deck. Instead, it seeks to strike a middle ground between the two, filled with cards that are solid on their own, but can interact with each other and punch above their weight.
In this case, that design works. We saw that in the second game above most clearly with the growth of the Rot Shambler. I’d cast it on Turn 4, and over the course of the game it swelled to many times that size- and ended up winning me the match. As often as not, this growth was self-determined rather than just when I happened to lose creatures to attrition in the red zone. This made a perfect fit for Bone Splinters, a card that on its own seems bad because- despite its cheap cost- you’re essentially trading two cards to deal with one.
It also is the perfect fit for Blisterpod, a creature that might seem like the Tukatongue Thallid but arguably has more in common with the undying mechanic, in that what comes back the second time around is actually better than its first incarnation. In this case, that’s because the resultant 1/1 Scion token you get back can be sacrificed at-will for mana, which again taps into that “death matters” synergy of the deck.
Vicious Cycle does all this, while still maintaining a high degree of flavor as one of the set’s “Eldrazi decks.” While it might be less than ideal for players not comfortable sacrificing their own permanents- this is a mindset many newer players in particular often bring with them to the game- it’s an important tolerance to develop. Having an Intro Pack deck that explores this element of the game is a terrific inclusion, and I always like to see deviations from the “bash in with creatures and cast a couple spells” decks that tend to be the modern day default norm.
Hits: Great interactions and synergies between cards; numerous mana sinks means you often have lots to do with mana in the mid-to-late game when you might not be playing a card each turn; great introduction to realizing few assets in Magic are indispensable
Misses: Removal somewhat weak; like any interactive/synergy deck, getting the wrong elements can lead to underwhelming power level
OVERALL SCORE: 4.70/5.00