Happy New Year to everyone, and to kick off the cleanr slate each year brings we have a new Whispers of the Muse. If you’re a new reader to Ertai’s Lament, Whispers is a deckbuilding advice column for folks who are looking to base their decks off of a precon. What makes the column so fun is that the answers don’t come from one place, but rather throughout the readership of the site. Call it “the wisdom of the masses,” call it “crowdsourcing,” it’s a great opportunity for folks to put their minds together and come up with a winning deck!
So, here we are… the fires of war have been extinguished by the icy breath of death… all the battle cries that have planted the seed of hope into the hearts of those who charged forward have faded into a melancholic silence… all those artfully crafted weapons were exposed to decay just like the courage of those wielding them.
The plague of Phyrexia has come over Mirrodin- it has consumed another world leaving us speechless to a scenario that we explore in New Phyrexia. As corruption has spread, innovation has declined. Phyrexia’s tools for victory are fear, doubt, infiltration, and defiling what is good and noble. How do you fight an enemy that does not attack your house but your very heart? Not your home but your hope?
With the set behind us and the Event Decks about to be complete, we’re on the verge of leaving New Phyrexia for quite some time. Fitting, then, we’d go out with a bang and not a whimper, with two no-holds-barred aggressive options in War of Attrition and Rot from Within.
I sat down across from Jimi to give the deck a proper field test. Here are the notes from this final engagement.
Expectation can be a powerful thing. At its most fundamental, its a barometer of confidence that assesses the interaction of two things- a subject and its environment- and finds its fruition in their intersection. Will I get the job? Well, that depends- how good of a candidate am I, and what are the company’s needs? How good are the others applying for it? Will Johnny pass his History exam? Now much effort and aptitude has Johnny shown for the subject matter, and how difficult is the test? Will I win tonight at Friday Night Magic? Well, how good is my deck, and what is my meta?
As humans we are constantly in a process of setting and refining expectations. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, as is often apocryphally attributed to Albert Einstein, perhaps then we can define wisdom as the reassessment of expectation in light of new evidence. If that’s so, then we can credit Wizards with a bit of wisdom in their treatment of New Phyrexia’s Event Decks.
Did Into the Breach and Infect & Defile take the world’s FNM’s by storm? Hard to say in the absence of documented evidence, but given how little anecdotal groundswell there has been in that direction, it’s probably safe to say that they didn’t quite live up to their expectations of making their wielder “immediately competitive,” a quote taken directly from the back of the box.
In learning from this, Wizards was presented with three options. First, they could improve the decks to meet their desired outcome. Second, they could decrease expectations. And third- the default option- they could do nothing. It would seem that Wizards has taken the path of the first two. As mentioned in our review of War of Attrition, the decks took what worked the last time- speed- and made it a defining characteristic of both offerings this time. The midgame positioning of Infect & Defile- easily the weaker of the two Mirrodin Besieged decks- has found no successor here. Rather, we’re treated to two decks that acknowledge that a rapid-deployment strategy offers inferior decks the best chance of victory against those of higher quality. One wonders briefly if this realisation condemns the Event Decks to being a pair of aggro decks released every set, but that is a question whose answer won’t be revealed for some time. At present, we have but the two sets’ worth.
Accompanying this pivot in positioning is a tamping down of expectations. Gone is the cocksure swagger of “immediately competitive.” Instead, we’re treated to this gem:
Event Decks let you jump into tournament play with a powerful deck that will give you a fighting chance.
With the reviews written and the stage set, it is time to pit Event Deck versus Event Deck and see how they play against one another. As we saw, both decks have embraced a speed-kills mentality. To crib a little Thomas Hobbes, every indication points to these matches being nasty, brutish, and short. One controvertial decision we made during the last round of Event Deck playestings (for Mirrodin Besieged) was to forego a sideboard, and we’ll be repeating that choice here. Although sideboards are indisputably a critical element of constructed play, there are two reasons for our decision. First, as precon players we’re perfectly happy to see how the ‘stock 60’ stands up- we’re looking for overall performance of the deck moreso that how it manages to outmaneuver a specific opponent. A worry here is that one player might skew results by happening to draw a couple of their sideboard options and gaining considerable advantage. This is the point of a sideboard at the constructed tables, of course… but perhaps a little less so here, when we want to see how the list stands up on its own.
The second reason is unfamiliarity with the concept. If Event Decks are to be the gateway to competitive play, they’re going to need to do a better job of coaching players on how to manage a sideboard. Because of the level of skill it requires in making decisions- both what to put in, and perhaps more critically what to take out– there is a high level of intimidation factor. Not all in the Ertai’s Lament crew are as comfortable with the concept, and so setting the sideboards aside is the better option.
There is a minority opinion here (read: mine) that holds that sideboards are actually part of the deck, and that a thorough testing should include them. It’s something we’re working on with our skill levels, and I should expect that by the next set of Event Deck reviews, we’ll have full integration for testing purposes.
Until then, we can only hope that you’ll enjoy our review of the stock decks, and on that basis get an idea of what they are capable of right out of the box. Here are the game notes from our matchup.
The story of the Stoneforge Mystic is a story about patience as a virtue. Released in 2010’s Worldwake expansion, she was recognised by many for her card advantage and tutoring, but in the environment she was born into, this wasn’t very exciting. Luis Scott Vargas of Channel Fireball- noted for his set reviews (and dreadful punnery)- spoke with the voice of many when he said that she was “unlikely to make a splash in Standard.” And he was right… for a little while.
Then came word that the next block was a return to Mirrodin, and with the artifact pool about to get a huge boost, canny minds thought back to this belle-of-the-ball-to-be still waiting for her chance in the spotlight. The actual release of Scars of Mirrodin brought even more around, and slowly her price started to move. According to the Black Lotus Project, which tracks price trending for Magic cards, 19 October 2010 was the day that Stoneforge Mystic became a débutante. Long languishing as an inexpensive rare, she crested $5 in value for the first time after some nine months in waiting and slowly began climbing as more people gave her a look.
Then things changed overnight- as they can- with a Pro Tour. The Caw-Go deck, which Brian Kiber had played to no small notice in Worlds the previous December had been given a gift in Mirrodin Besieged: the Sword of Feast and Famine. With the Stoneforge Mystic perfectly positioned to take advantage of this new mythic equipment, Ben Stark’s upgraded “CawBlade” list took him top honours at Pro Tour Paris in mid-February. Over the course of that weekend, whispers and mentions leaked out that saw the Mystic crest $8 in value. By two weeks after the event- with the full decklists spoiled- she was already on her way to $12 and climbing fast. She would soon reach her zenith at over $18 and become one of the Standard environment’s most sought-after cards.
Not bad for a wee slip of a thing from nomadic paths of the Kor, no? And while the story of the Stoneforge Mystic is not the story of War of Attrition, you could not tell the story of War of Attrition without it. According to Wizards Director of R&D Aaron Forsythe, Stoneforge Mystic was $4 when the deck was shipped off to the printers. It is the Mystic’s rise to prominence which has given this latest round of Event Decks the commanding attention denied the first two.
With New Phyrexia having been fully reviewed here on Ertai’s Lament, it’s time to take a look at the block as a whole. Join us for this week’s Magic Beyond the Box, our weekly precon-themed feature over at Quiet Speculation, as we pick the top five Intro Decks- you might be surprised at what makes the list!
Finally, we’ve arrived at the final game for New Phyrexia. We’ve seen a Phyrexian mana-based deck, a tribal Golem deck, a removal deck, and a skies/equipment deck all represent the block, at last it’s time for the infect/proliferate. Ever bold, Jimi selects the tribal deck- Artful Destruction– to serve as opposition, and after a few shuffles and a die roll, we’re off!
In a sense, much of the entire block has lead up to this deck. Breaking custom by including two full-bore mechanics in a single construction, Ravaging Swarm is something of an endcap for all of Scars block. From the very beginning, infect and proliferate were designed to work in tandem to ensure the steady death of your enemy. Get some poison counters out there, then proliferate your way to victory. Of course, insofar as intro decks are concerned, it didn’t quite pan out that way.
From the initial set, Deadspread was designated as ‘the proliferate deck.’ Relatively weak on its own, it nevertheless hinted at the promise that was possible with the mechanic. Meanwhile, infect was highlighted in the somewhat pedestrian Phyrexian Poison. In keeping with what we knew of the Phyrexians at the time, both decks carried a Black component, while Deadspread paired with Blue and Phyrexian Poison with Green.
Things became a bit more of a muddle with Mirrodin Besieged. Infect took a straightforward if unusual path, dropping the Black and picking up White for Path of Blight. Meanwhile, proliferate was cobbled together with the new living weapon mechanic and baked into Doom Inevitable, a deck that more or less ‘splashed’ proliferate on only a trio of cards: Steady Progress, Contagion Clasp, and Spread the Sickness. Not exactly a shining moment of glory for the mechanic, sadly.
But like two star-crossed lovers who start at opposite ends of the ballroom and dance toward one another, the climactic moment of reunion is upon us. Infect and proliferate have had their time apart.
Now it’s time to see what they’re capable of together.
At last, one of the set’s most anticipated intro decks shakes off its plastic casing and gets shuffled up in the field of battle. The flagship deck for the Phyrexian mana mechanic, Life for Death promises to be a deck quite unlike most any we’ve seen before. Boldly standing in its way is Jimi, who has opted to pilot the Devouring Skies deck. Will its air force and living weaponry have what it takes to put this Boros deck to rest?