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Posts from the ‘Archenemy’ Category

3
Jul

Archenemy: Trample Civilization Underfoot (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back to our review of Trample Civilization Underfoot, the Green/White ‘demented druid’ deck which sees you taking on civilization itself! In Part 1 of the review, we felt that this deck was a strong one with some solid synergies, and today we put it through the paces to see how it held up. Sam confidently took her place behind Bring About the Undead Apocalypse, and as before wanting just to assess the decks themselves, duels were fought without recourse to the Scheme cards.

So does Trample live up to its potential? Let’s find out.

Game One

Having won the draw I’m on the play, and my opening move is a promising one: a Mosswort Bridge that puts a Wickerbough Elder into its hidey-hole. For her part, Sam drops a Barren Moor, and we’re off!

Both our decks (indeed, a commanility it seems shared by all the Archenemy decks) appear to look for slow starts to build a manabase before dropping their bombs, and this is only reinforced when my turn 2 play is a Leaf Gilder, Sam’s a Rakdos Signet.

Things heat up the next turn, though, when a pair of rares make themselves known. I drop a Forgotten Ancient, a relentless token-builder, while Sam plays the Cemetery Reaper, a Zombie Lord. We both look to be laying solid foundations, and it can go either way. My next play is a very interesting card, the Yavimaya Dryad.

As mentioned in Part 1, the Dryad gives you the luxury of choice. It fetches a Forest when it comes into play, but puts it under the control of “target player.” Since she also has Forestwalk, there’s a certain utility in forcing the Forest upon your opponent (though the drawback is equally obvious). I love cards like this, ones that can be referred to as “skill testers” because there’s a judgment call that has to be made when playing them. What’s the greater advantage? A 2/1 unblockable creature? An extra land? The answer depends on the game state at the moment, and as a third-turn play in a manahungry deck facing an oppoent with generous access to removal, the right play here is usually to take the free land drop, and I do. I then attack with my Forgotten Ancient (now a 2/5), and Sam unsurprisingly declines the block.

Sam’s life total takes another two-point hit when she plays Sign in Blood, then she plays a Dregscape Zombie. My Ancient greedily welcomes the additional counters.

The Dryad’s free Forest helps me ramp into a turn 5 Krosan Tusker as the first natural fatty of the game hits the table, and I’m in for another 5 with the Ancient. Sam’s now down to 11. She has a solid rally, however, in the form of the Avatar of Discord. Gleefully eyeing the Shinen of Life’s Roar in my hand, I ready myself for the turn-6 kill.

I untap and Channel the Shinen of Life’s Roar, compelling her defense to focus only on the Dryad, and tap for the alpha strike. Sam’s ready for it, though, and Terminates the growing Ancient. With three blockers (the Avatar, the Dregscape Zombie, and the Reaper) lined up against her, the hapless Dryad explodes, but manages to take the Reaper down with her. When the dust and leaves settle, Sam’s standing at 3 life. I look down at my lands and sigh as I realise I just lost a chance to unhide the Elder under the Mosswort Bridge. Lesson learned.

In desperation, she casts another Sign in Blood, taking her to 1, and it seems to pay off when she draws into another Terminate. I play a Morph (Thelonite Hermit) and tee up again with everything. The Tusker meets the same fate as the Ancient, and the Gilder and Zombie trade. Sam draws even, but must concede the next turn when I unmorph the Hermit and play 4 1/1 Saprolings.

Game Two

I’m faced with an interesting early decision in this game. A solid draw has given me a couple of options. A Wall of Roots on turn 2 would allow me to drop the Forgotten Ancient on turn 3, maximising his early potential. Alternately, an early Watchwolf might put even more early pressure on her in the form of a body, but would not let me play the Ancient until turn 4. After some thought, I go with the Wolf. Although the tension between casting spells and growing the Ancient is a nice dilemma to put her in, the Ancient enters play as a mere 0/3. The turn 2 Watchwolf will be beating her down from turn 3 until dead. Let her deck live too long, and ugly things start popping out of the graveyard.

Sam gets off to a solid start, though, with a turn 2 Rakdos Signet and turn 3 Sign in Blood and Rakdos Guildmage. I draw into a Spider Umbra and stick it on the Wolf for his first attack. I then play a Sakura-Tribe Elder, and pass turn.

Sam throws something horrible away on turn 4 with her Guildmage, and puts a Goblin token into play, turning both the token and the Guildmage sideways. I block/sac the Elder and take 2 damage, happily putting another land on the board. My turn 4 play is, as expected, the Forgotten Ancient.

Sam Signs in Blood next turn and passes, seeing her life dwindle to 8, and is dismayed when I manage to bring out a Hunting Moa and Wall of Roots, attacking for 8 with the bloating Ancient and Watchwolf. Sam pitches another card into the graveyard, using the Guildmage to give the Wolf -2/-2, then trades it with the Guildmage. Sam goes down to 4.

While she tries to bravely battle back, casting an Avatar of Discord and unearthing a Corpse Connoisseur that made its way into the grave earlier, the “Shinen for the Win” strategy gets me there this time.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the scoreboard, the last two games have been something of a struggle for my mana base. Because the deck is so heavily Green, it’s not necessarily crippled by difficulties drawing into White. In the first game, I played my first Plains on the last turn of the game. In Game 2, I came across only one, fortunately in my opening hand. This problem would be much more disabling in the game to come.

Game Three

More utility land openers, when her Barren Moor is met with my Khalni Garden + freebie Plant token. Sam fishes for more options in turn 2 with Sign in Blood, and I drop another Forest. My opening draw looked solid if a little slow, and I was delighted to open with a Path to Exile in hand, figuring a Plains could come along as the game progressed.

Turn 3 sees Sam with an Urborg Syphon-Mage on the board, followed by an Infectious Horror the next. As for me, I’m lamely laying Forests and growing steadily more anxious.

Sam plays the lowly Festering Goblin turn 5, then trips the Syphon-Mage to lifesteal, and I watch in horror as the Avatar of Woe hits the graveyard from her hand. Although I’ve played little, I’m not without options. The Feral Hydra in my hand has been there from the start, but since at time of casting each +1/+1 counter costs one mana, and after casting costs three, I’ve been trying to strike a balance on the best time to cast him. With her Mage and Horror already at work on my life total and the Avatar festering in the grave, I make the call and play a turn 5 4/4 Hydra.

Sam’s pressure is relentless, however, and when she drops Zombify on turn 6 I hear the clock ticking. The good news is that I have yet to miss a land drop. The bad? Not a one of them is a source of White mana.

My Hydra is no impediment to the Avatar, who is able to waltz right past my defenders and cut my life total in half. Contrary to some belief, Green actually does have a strategic response to evasive creatures (Flyers, Forestwalkers, Unblockables, etc). Novice Green mages will frequently worry so much about them (particularly the flyers) that they can fill a decent chunk of their mainboard with answers (Windstorm, Wind Shear, Leaf Arrow, and now M11’s Plummet, for example)- answers which tend to become dead draws when the much-feared flyers aren’t being played against them.

The strategic response for Green, naturally, is pressure. Put enough of it on, and either the ‘Evasives’ won’t kill you before you kill their controller, or they’ll hold them back as blockers and/or chumps. That’s not to say that Flyer-hosers don’t have their place (Plummet in particular is being welcomed for its anti-Baneslayer capabilities), but individual cards are tactical. Playstyle is strategic. It’s important to recognise the difference.

Sadly for me, although I know what’s needed here, I just can’t quite get there. Pathing the Avatar would buy me enough time to wrest momentum from Sam and turn the tables, but the White mana never arrives. I concede after one more draw. The next two cards? Plains. Of course.

Anaylsis

Full disclosure time: I’m not exactly thrilled by Green (it’s my least-liked colour), but I’ll do my best to rate this fairly.

Trample is something of a ‘Plain Jane’ deck. It’s a solid and reliable choice, but not all that sexy. Bring About the Undead Apocalypse had that sexiness built in- cheating out absolute beasts which took the head off your opponent when they resolved. Assemble the Doomsday Machine appealed to one’s sense of cleverness with its many moving parts and interlocking artifacts (although, in fairness, it was hit or miss). Archenemy’s Green/White offering gets the job done, but doesn’t gain many points for style. Although I like the versatility of the paths to victory (Big Dumb Beats ™ and/or Token Swarm), and the cards do work well together, it had a few weaknesses as well.

Onesuch was the land. In Part 1 of the review, I held up as a virtue the tremendous diversity of land in the deck for those looking to buy and integrate the cards into other projects. In actual play, they felt just a shade too clever. There were too many times I pulled out nonbasic land and just wished it was a Plains. Being fair, however, there was certainly some unluck in that- there are a number of ways to tutor up land in the deck, so I wouldn’t give Trample too black a mark on its account.

Although I won’t factor it into my rating of the deck on its own, I should mention here that I took on three friends the other night as the Archenemy, Schemes and all, and this deck was brutal. With Schemes that let you landhunt, others that dump token creatures on your side of the board, the Smash n Swarm was fully online. And unlike with Undead Apocalypse, I didn’t experience any Scheme “misses” where the effect fails to go off (for example, a Scheme that lets you pull from the opposing players’ graveyards is only useful when they actually have a graveyard, so it’s essentially a dead draw early in the game).

In the final analysis, this deck should make Green mages quite happy. The splash of White supports a solid removal suite, and the creature selection is nicely varied and interact well with one another. There are a couple “appear in other precon” type creatures (Krosan Tusker, Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer), but should appeal to those who like their rage against the corrupt, decadent and nature-despoiling world to come on the end of a very, very large stick indeed.

Or a whole bunch of small sticks.

FINAL GRADE: 3.9/5.0

1
Jul

Archenemy: Trample Civilization Underfoot (Part 1 of 2)

Halfway through Archenemy, we’ve assembled a doomsday machine and brought about the undead apocalypse, but one could not be faulted for wondering… what options are there for the more primal-minded? The diabolical, mad-as-a-hatter misanthrope who’d like nothing more than to see cities crumble, roads fall to ruin and fields go to seed?

Well wonder no more, friend, have we got the package for you! 60 cards which would make the Dominarian version of the Earth Liberation Front proud, we have Trample Civilization Underfoot!

Coming as a surprise to no-one, Trample is the most creature-heavy of the four Archenemy decks, possessing only 13 noncreature spells. That said, it’s also a surprisingly well-rounded deck with some intriguing synergies.

Beasts of the Wood

Let’s start with the critters.

The first thing you’ll note is that the deck has a strong beater focus. Every creature in the deck is either Green or multicolour/hybrid, and while there are a number of utility creatures packed in here, Trample seems to have a soft spot reserved for utility critters that can also deliver a beating.

It also gives you a number of tools geared towards ramping up your mana base, a Green specialty, all of which have a body attached to them- no Rampant Growths or Harrows here! Two Walls of Roots act as supplemental mana generators while blunting an early creature rush. A pair of Sakura-Tribe Elders fetch lands, and there’s the token mana dork- in this case, a Leaf Gilder.

Moving past the two-drops, the three-drop area are also similarly focused, but with a twist. The four ramp-creatures in this range have been selected for versatility as much as utility, for in them you get a choice. A pair of Fertilids ask you: what do you need more, a 3/3 body or some lands? The two Yavimaya Dryads offer a similar decision: do you want the Forest they bring with them for mana production? Or would you rather place it under your opponent’s control so that their Forestwalk is guaranteed to matter?

Importantly, Trample tends to favour adding resources in the form of lands versus mana dorks. Indeed, the deck notably sports no one-drop critters, as if telling you immediately to gear up for the long haul as it gives you the tools to make it pay off.

And pay off it does.

Then the Bough Breaks

Upon closer inspection, Trample becomes quite a bit subtler than the general Green strategy of Ramp Up, Cast Fatties, Smash Face. That option’s certainly there, of course, well represented by the Krosan Tusker (who further adds to the land ramp with his Cycling+Basic Land ability); a Pale Recluse (which landcycles too); the stalwart Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer (fresh from pulling duty in the Teeth of the Predator); the Feral Hydra; and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa (who can animate your land and cast an Overrun every turn until your enemy is just a smudge on the forest floor). An impressive list on its own, let’s now turn to the other synergistic win condition the deck offers.

To players who know and love the Avenger of Zendikar and/or are well familiar with the strategy of taking a bunch of free little things, making them bigger, and swarming in for the kill, Trample will seem like deja-vu all over again. Rather than Plant tokens, however, Trample looks to get there with those Fallen Empires favourites, the lowly Saprolings.

The Selesnya Guildmage acts as a splendid mana sink to pop out the little buggers. A Thelonite Hermit not only can conjure up a quartet of them, but acts as a Lord (giving them all +1/+1). A friend to EDH players everywhere, the deck packs in three Legends, and the last one- Verdeloth the Ancient– is the keystone of the Saproling stratagem, acting as both X-many Saproling generator as well as a second Lord. Finally, Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree is an alternate- and harder to eliminate- token generator. If you can’t get there with Big Dumb Beats ™, Trample sets you up for success nonetheless by giving you the swarm option (bolstered by tricks like Kamahl’s Overrun and Shinen of Life’s Roar clearing a path).

And Now, the Best of the Rest

One might reasonably expect the usual suite of Green combat tricks and throwaways to populate the non-creature spells, but here the deck’s designers appear to have been rather canny about trying to shore up most of Green’s weaknesses (for indeed, Trample Civilization Underfoot only really splashes White for utility).

There are answers to flying creatures in the form of Spider Umbra and the M11 “preview card” Plummet, in addition to the Pale Recluse. But more than that, there’s some very solid spot removal in here as well. A single Path to Exile and a pair of Oblivion Rings– top-tier Standard cards all- give Green some very real answers to the customary problems of blockers and- yes- even enemy Planeswalkers.

For those decks relying on them. there’s plenty of artifact and enchantment hate as well. The O-Rings, Wax//Wane, Gleeful Sabotage, and even a pair of Wickerbough Elders amongst the beaters. Add a splash of creature enhancement (the pesky, cockroach-like Rancor, Armadillo Cloak), a wee dram of utility (Primal Command, Harmonize), and- alas- a couple subpar options (Heroes’ Reunion, Fog) round out the list.

Land Ho!

As an added bonus, players perhaps looking for some nonbasic lands for their cube will appreciate the nine this deck is populated with. These range from simple Commons such as Secluded Steppe, Tranquil Thicket, and the slightly-out-of-place Khalni Garden; to mana-fixers and the truly unusual (Graypelt Refuge, Krosan Verge, Nantuko Monastery, Llanowar Reborn); and even to a Rare (Mosswort Bridge). It was a nice touch to see the deck not just come with a string of basic lands and a couple bland “flavour lands.”

All in all, Trample has a very solid feel to it. It’s well-curved, where other Green precons can take on a bit of a “gutshot” feel (here’s some weenies and some fatties, you’ll need to just grip and hold on in between), and having some flexibility with your creature strategy is a welcome break from Big Dumb Beats ™. That it’s a nice collection of cards with a smattering of Lands and Legends is added gravy. It does seem that Wizards has begun keeping an eye out for its EDH community as well, making preconstructed decks have value even when broken down into raw cards.

But having torn the deck apart, the question now becomes… how does it play? Does it give you enough tools to stabilise and begin to ramp? Is there an appreciable impact in basically yielding the first turn every game, having no turn-1 play, or can it make up the lost momentum through speed and size?

Thanks for joining us on the dissection. Come on back in two days’ time, and we’ll have the answer!

29
Jun

Archenemy: Assemble the Doomsday Machine (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back to our Archenemy reviews on Ertai’s Lament! When you last left us, we’d disassembled the Doomsday Machine, and found it a delightfully intricate set of gears and bolts ready to help you take over the world! Eager to put it through it’s paces, I enlisted the help of an equally-eager Sam to pilot Scorch the World With Dragonfire, and see how it held up. With both decks designed with their respective Schemes in mind, it seemed like a fair matchup with both of them having to do without (a bit like subtracting x from both sides of an equation).

Game One

The first game starts out slowly. For me, at least. By turn 4 I’ve managed only an Everflowing Chalice (kicked at the sweet spot- twice) and a spot of mana fixing with a Terramorphic Expanse. Sam, meanwhile, has dropped some fixing of her own- a Gruul Signet– and a Taurean Mauler for an early threat. Sam, who is on the play, starts turn 5 with Fires of Yavimaya.

Thanks to the Chalice, though, I’m able to deploy the Duplicant a turn early, taking care of her threat. Her turn 6 replacement, a Skirk Commando, isn’t near as threatening, and the game begins to pivot as I put down a Fieldmist Borderpost and Master Transmuter.

Sam again looks to threaten next turn, when she summons a Chameleon Colossus, which swings in thanks to the Fires of Yavimaya granting it Haste. I’m down to 11 life with Sam at 20, but I’m liking my board development and have an answer in my hand to the pesky Colossus. I play a Mistvein Borderpost and pass turn.

Turn 8 sees Sam playing a Thran Dynamo. Sam’s been a little lean on the land drops, and this promises to be a help. She swings in again confidently with the Colossus, but it’s time for me to go to work.

I use the Master Transmuter to return the Everflowing Chalice to my hand, and replace it with a free Sundering Titan, which makes short work of her attacking beater. Once my turn rolles around, I exploit the delightful synergy the Chalice offers to the Transmuter, playing it unkicked for free, using the Transmuter to return it to my hand, and playing an Unbender Tine for free. Net mana savings: 3. The Titan continues to make itself known by rumbling into the red zone for 7. Sam’s now at a more reasonable 13, while I’ve stabilised at 11.

The next couple of turns see Sam throwing out chump blockers in the form of a Kilnmouth Dragon, a Furnace Whelp, and a Morphed critter. My Unmake and pair of Agony Warps clear the way and the Titan seals her fate.

Game Two

One piece of advice I often give to newer players is, “beware the deck with too many moving parts.” Even the top-level pros will admit to making multiple mistakes each game, and having too many may-triggers in play can put you at disadvantage with natural human forgetfulness. I could have been given no better reminder of this than in game two.

It started quietly enough, with Sam playing an early Dragon Fodder and Dragonspeaker Shaman, while I laid out a Sun Droplet and Mistvein Borderpost. With Sam again on the play, turn 4 leads off with another Morph creature, while I shore up my position with an Aether Spellbomb and Synod Centurion.

Things take a turn for the worse on turn 5, however, when Sam’s Shaman enables her to cast Ryusei, the Falling Star. Trouble! She’s been coming in with her Goblin tokens and Morphed critter already, and thanks to some drip healing from the Drop, I’m still at 15.

I follow up the Centurion with a Metallurgeon for support, then Sam meets that with the Fires of Yavimaya again before swinging in with the dragon for another 5. I see board control start to slip from my grasp.

Turn 7, Sam plays another Dragon Fodder, looking to stall I trigger the Spellbomb to bounce the dragon. And drip, drip, drip each turn, I’m getting 1 life back from the Drop. I go in with my Centurion and Sam makes an even swap for her four Goblin tokens. I’m able to regenerate the Centurion with the Metallurgeon, but it’s set me back- I’m just the one mana shy of a Sundering Titan. Oh well, next turn it seems…

Sam goes all in the next turn, and I Batwing Brume. Things are looking increasingly dire as Sam and I begin trading blows back and forth, her flyer and my beater. But something small and unnoticed, but eventually critical happens on that eighth turn.

I forget the may trigger on Sun Droplet. Although I catch myself the next turn, I would end up paying quite the price for it.

The rest of the game furiously unfolds. Chandra’s Outrage smokes my Centurion, with me tapped out from casting the Titan. I play another Aether Spellbomb, desperately buying time. A nearly useless Unbender Tine sits out on the battlefield. I’m down to six life, Sam at seven. She brings out a Two-Headed Dragon and comes in with the pair of wyrms. I sacrifice the Spellbomb, bouncing Ryusei, but she gets lethal by sacrificing Fires of Yavimaya for her unblocked Dragon.

The masochist in me compels my hand to reach over to my library and see what I would have drawn next turn, a turn I would have had had I remembered that one turn’s Sun Droplet.

Magister Sphinx. Of course.

Game Three

If game two was a heartbreaker, game three would turn out to be infuriatingly frustrating, and all thanks to one single card.

With both our decks seemingly keyed to early buildup, the first spell cast is Sam’s Dragonspeaker Shaman at the end of turn 3. I groan, but my dread is mitigated by the delight in breaking out an early Skullcage. With a full grip, the ‘Cage goes right to work on Sam, and would for the entire game, a ten-turn timer.

By turn 5, I realise that I’m not going to get very far without a Swamp, as I’ve had consistent drops but all Islands and Plains. I turn some land sideways and trot out the Sorcerer’s Strongbox. Sam’s play? Another early dragon, this one again of the Two-Headed variety.

With the Unmake in grip but with only two Plains out, I’m gagging for the Swamp all the more. I tap two and trigger the Strongbox. I miss the flip. Pass turn.

Next out for Sam is the Taurean Mauler, and her Dragon chews on my leg for four. Me, I’m flipping a coin again. And failing. I’ve now paid eight mana for a card which has affected my board position exactly not one bit, all in the vain hopes of landing a Swamp and turning the tide.

Turn 8, “magic” happens as I luck into a hit on the Strongbox, drawing three cards. Total cost is now 10 mana, and the Memnarch I draw looks like too little, too late. I console myself with a somewhat useless Leonin Abunas.

Desperate for a blocker, I cast a Sanctum Gargoyle, and almost pass on returning the Strongbox to my hand out of spite. Sam, meanwhile, has played Gathan Raiders and keeps attacking (one turn nullified from Batwing Brume).

On turn 9 I draw into my third Plains, and am able to Unmake the Dragon. Next turn, I abandon any pretense of dignity and cast a Dreamstone Hedron with reckless abandon, paying the extra mana to sacrifice it for three cards and tapping myself out in the process. In my hand are Memnarch, Architects of Will and a Magister Sphinx, begging to come off the bench, all needing either just one more mana, or one Black mana (or both).

Chandra’s Outrage blasts the Gargoyle right out of the sky. While we’re even at 6 life (Sam’s damage entitely from the Skullcage whittling away at her, turn after turn), I have no threats and Sam does. The Gargoyle was the last bulwark against her aggression, and when it falls, so do I.

I See Dead People

There’s a postscript to this game that bears mentioning. As Magic players, we’re all familiar with probability and random chance. It’s why you pack four-of something in a deck rather than one-of and a prayer. Certainly, my loss here could be attributed to the lack of a Swamp, and there is certainly some merit there (though there’s seldom one cause for any loss, or even any win for that matter. The next thing I would revisit in breaking down this game would be my opening draw. Was it questionable? Worth shipping, perhaps? Was I overly optimistic about my chances with it? Was it missing a vital element- in this case, a Black mana source- that I was underestimating the necessity of? So many questions, so many opportunities to improve play).

That said, I believe there is still some value in assessing how a deck does in times of famine as well as times of feast. It’s easy to imagine how your deck runs when it runs well (for instance, if the words “first-turn Dark Ritual” have ever come out of your mouth), but it’s equally vital to see it when it does not.

You see, there’s something of a Shyamalan-style twist ending to game three, in that my tri-colour deck had to make do without Swamps. Sam’s two-colour deck? Not a Forest the entire game.

Some decks can handle it. Some decks can’t. It’s worth bearing in mind the next time you sit down to analyse a deck. If I took away access to an entire colour for the first three turns, what would happen?

The first five turns?

The entire game?

Something to consider.

Final Analysis

Doomsday Machine was a humbling reminder of the need to consider false starts and bad draws when assessing a deck. On first blush, it seemed very strong- well curved, a good assortment of cards and some very nasty synergies. Master Transmuter and Everflowing Chalice, for one, are a very wicked pair if they come out together. But these are preconstructed decks- they don’t optimise any particular card by running lots of multiples. Instead, you have to look at what role a particular card is playing (Ryan Spain of Limited Resources has many times when assessing new sets in the podcast spoken of looking for “analogues” in a new card pool. These shows- all of theirs, really- are well worth the time invested even if you don’t play Limited).

Having seven different mana fixers/accelerants is great, but what happens when you have more than enough mana as it is? These are enabler cards- they are never a solution to anything in and of themselves. Nice to draw them early, the last thing you want to see sometimes when you’ve got a pile of Islands and Plains in front of you is the Azorius Signet.

Likewise Sun Droplet and Unbender Tine… these are two cards I was never particularly happy to draw. The bulk of my ire, though, is reserved for the horrid Sorcerer’s Strongbox. Some people might really enjoy the whimsical sense of adventure they get from “luck” and randomness, but I am not one of those. I much prefer predictability and static costs, so that I can plan my turns accordingly. Chasing after this damnable artifact’s trigger felt nearly the functional equivalent of a snipe hunt (in the card’s defense, the average cost paid for drawing three cards is 7 mana + 1 card. I was just “unlucky,” but then that’s more to my point).

In the end, while Doomsday Machine felt strong under the hood, I wasn’t able to detect it’s streakiness until I played it. When it’s on, as it was in game 1, it’s an artificer’s juggernaut (at times, literally). But there’s enough suboptimal draws available in the deck that stringing together just a few of them can be a real setback and lose you games.

Undoubtedly, the Schemes for Archenemy paper over some of that weakness, buying time to level out the game state, but bereft of those the cracks in the engine block become a little more apparent. Fun, but a bit of a roller-coaster!

Final Grade: 3.0/5.0

27
Jun

Archenemy: Assemble the Doomsday Machine (Part 1 of 2)

Weclome back to the next installment of Archenemy! The theme of today’s deck- the assembling of a doomsday device- is not only appropriate flavour-wise for the schemes, but also it is a useful metaphor for understanding how the deck works.

In Bring About the Undead Apocalypse, you had a very straightforward deck design. Support a recursion theme with fatties to dump into your graveyard, ways to get them out into play, and removal to clear the path to your opponent. Machine appears much more intricate, with many more moving parts. Gears in the device, if you will.

A Pleasure, I’m Sure

First, let’s get introduced to the beaters of the deck. Doomsday Machine features- by a healthy margin- the lowest creature count of any of the four Archenemy decks. These tend to form two ‘peaks’ on a graphing of the converted mana cost (CMC) of 4 and 7+, which means you won’t be doing much with them before turn 4.

Here we must look, then, at the intricacy of the selection. Most of the creatures here are pulling double-duty, being beaters in and of themselves but also serving a higher purpose. The Metallurgeon regenerates artifcats, while the Ethersworn Shieldmage can drop a surprise combat trick with Flash and turn combat in your favour.

Your artifacts gain a sort of semi-Shroud when the Leonin Abunas hits the table, and should any fall prey to your enemies, a pair of Sanctum Gargoyles are there to fetch them back. Lastly, the Master Transmuter allows for a few nifty tricks to get your more expensive artifacts into play.

Things get even uglier at the higher end of the curve. The Duplicant exiles a critter as it enters play. The Magister Sphinx can play with your opponent’s life total (or boost yours if things grow dire), the Sundering Titan plays with lands and Memnarch, well, he plays with just about anything.

Now for the Devilish Devices

If you looked at the Sundering Titan above and wondered if it had the potential to go horribly wrong, you needn’t worry overmuch. Doomsday Machine is absolutely stuffed with non-land mana sources, a full seven of them! From the colourless (Everflowing Chalice, Dreamstone Hedron) to the coloured (Signets- Dimir and Azorius, Borderposts- Mistvein and Fieldmist, and a lone Obelisk of Esper), you should have more than enough ramp and mana fixing to ensure a steady flow of plays from start to finish.

A handful of utility artifacts (M11’s Sorcerer’s Strongbox, Sun Droplet, and Lightning Greaves are a few to give you an idea) round out the picture. The cogs of this machine are many and varied…

Besides the Abunas, there are only a smattering of non-artifact spells in Doomsday Machine, and these exist mainly in a supporting role. Spin into Myth, Agony Warp, and Unmake provide some removal of key elements in your opponents’ defenses and must be used sparingly. March of the Machines is a particularly nasty “all-in” finisher, animating all of your artifacts and best used as a surprise marshalling of the forces on your turn.

Multiplayer Play?

That said, unlike with Bring About the Undead Apocalypse, there are few options here that become optimised in multiplayer. The last spell, Batwing Brume, is one such card, but the rest tend to be passive effects that just cast a little broader with more players lined up against you (Lodestone Golem, Skullcage, Thunderstaff). That’s not to say that Machine is a weak or ineffective deck, but that if you didn’t know better you could just about be looking at a regular artifact-heavy preconstructed deck, not unlike Planechase’s Metallic Dreams.

The mana base of the deck seems more than adequate when you take into account the various fixing artifacts, and the path to victory seems clear. That said, it doesn’t look as formidable as Undead Apocalypse, and perhaps just a mite too clever for its own good.

But for the real test, we’ll have to see how it performs. Thanks for joining me today as we dissected the deck, come back in two days’ time and we’ll have the writeups ready to see how well it lived up to the notion of “doomsday!”

25
Jun

Archenemy: Bring About the Undead Apocalypse (Part 2 of 2)

One of my early, sour impressions of the Undead Apocalypse deck was that it- oh the irony!- had a certain recycled feel to it. Early sightings of the Festering Goblin, Twisted Abomination, and Urborg Syphon-Mage harkened back to earlier preconstructed efforts such as the Garruk vs. Liliana Duel Decks and last year’s Planechase deck, Zombie Empire.

It became evident very quickly, however, that this was not the case at all, and that a certain amount of care had gone into the construction of Undead Apocalypse. As noted in our playtest article on the deck, it is structured around a graveyard recursion engine which- when it goes off- can be quite the beast. In this analysis, we’ll be going under the hood, looking at all 60 cards (and not just the ones I happened to draw).

The Dead Walk

Undead Apocalypse is unsurprisingly a creature-heavy deck, but recursive themes tend to warp the traditional assessment of mana-curve. Case in point, this deck packs in a choking eight critters of 6 converted mana cost (CMC) or more. By contrast, there are only an eleven additional beaters at a cheaper cost. But in Undead Apocalypse, this is shrewd deck design. Let’s have a look at the fatties.

Twisted Abomination: Alright, a 5/3 with Regeneration for 6 isn’t hideous, but the Abomination has a nifty little trick in that he Swampcycles. This mitigates the ‘penalty’ incurred for having one of these drawn early. In this deck, pitch it to get a Swamp (which helps in your board development), then when you have resursive spells come online later in the game, you’ve got him sitting in your graveyard just waiting for the coach’s call.

Scion of Darkness: Another brute, he carries an Eldrazi-like CMC of 8. However, like the Abomination, he has a built-in pitch mechanism, as he Cycles for 3. Toss him early for the replacement card, then pull him back later on when it counts.

Avatar of Woe: A true smashmouth beater, the Avatar is a game-ender nearly by herself but with a pricetag to match. She has no way on her own to fall from your hand into your graveyard, but she does have a nifty little incentive package- if there are ten or more creatures total in all graveyards, she only costs  to play. When it’s remembered that Archenemy is a multiplayer format, that incentive becomes all the sweeter!

If You Won’t Go Voluntarily…

The deck also sports other avenues to push your pals into an early grave. The Corpse Connoisseur drags an ally kicking and screaming from your deck and dumps it unceremoniously into your graveyard when cast (and he has Unearth, so he can do it again later).

The Avatar of Discord turns disadvantage on its head when it comes out, ‘forcing’ you to discard two cards to keep it in play. A 5/3 flyer as early as turn 3 can put some serious pressure on your opponent while filling your graveyard for later enjoyment.

Rakdos Guildmage similarly turns vice into virtue, allowing you to pitch cards to give your opponents’ critters -2/-2. The Urborg Syphon-Mage lets you pitch to gain life.

Lastly, the true standby is Zombie Infestation, an Enchantment whose gifts keep on giving, turn after turn. The 2/2 Zombie token it yields is almost an added bonus.

Between the beaters with Cycling and these options above, Undead Apocalypse virtually ensures that you’re going to be cheating something into play before long.

Waste Not, Want Not

As many ways as there are to shove critters into an early grave for later, the deck offers just as many options for dragging them back out again when the time is right. Zombify is as straightforward as it gets, but for those who like their recursion with a ‘twist,’ Torrent of Souls and Beacon of Unrest are present as well. Reanimate is about as inexpensive as it gets, though care must be taken when paying its blood cost.

Several creatures have ways to pull themselves out of the tomb for another shout. Dregscape Zombie, Corpse Conoisseur, and Extractor Demon all have Unearth, while the M11 “preview card” Reassembling Skeleton’s unique mechanic makes it the perfect card to pitch.

And when all else fails or you run out of recursion, Cemetery Reaper and Makeshift Mannequin ensure that little needs be wasted.

But Wait, There’s More

Undead Apocalypse isn’t done there. It gives you the tools to a creature-based victory, and to clear the way to your opponent it also packs a robust removal suite. A pair of Terminates, an Inferno Trap and a Bituminous Blast are all solid spot removers, with the Cascade of the Bit Blast a bit hit-or-miss in the deck (Cascading into a Reanimate when the only critters in your graveyard are a Festering Goblin and an Artisan of Kozilek can make for a rather difficult decision). When you can, pay more for the fixed-damage cards like the Trap and Blast over the Terminates, in case something hits the table later that’s carrying more toughness than 4. You’ll be glad you did.

There’s a moderate sweeper option in Infest, and a potential three-for-one in Incremental Blight (though I’ve found this difficult to reach its full potential, even a two-for-one is solid. Your mileage may vary).

Coming Together

The last thing to look at is how the deck plays in its format, namely multiplayer. Although it has proven valuable to pilot the deck to a one-on-one duel to see how it flows in actual play, it’s clear that the full, dark majesty of the deck comes out when there is more than one victim at the table. Indeed, a great many of the cards in Undead Apocalypse have been obviously selected with this in mind.

Infest sweeps more; Reanimate, Scion of Darkness and Cemetery Reaper have more options (remember, the Reaper can recycle from other graveyards as well); Avatar of Woe is potentially cheaper; and the effects of Infectious Horror and Urborg Syphon-Mage are magnified.

Additionally, included rares Kaervek the Merciless and Extractor Demon are even more filthy the more players there are in play. Kaervek in particular can have a dampening effect when one player realises the spell she’s about to cast could trigger a kill on one of her ally’s best beaters. Delectible!

In Conclusion

Bring About the Undead Apocalypse is a very solidly-constructed deck. It has a strong engine (recursion), plenty of support and a good removal suite to get it through. It doesn’t pack in a lot of utility (there are a pair of Sign in Bloods), but then it really doesn’t need to as so many of the creatures have utility built-in (see: Shriekmaw, the various Mages, etc).

The mana base is solid. It includes the usual string of Swamps and Mountains, a pair of Rakdos Signets and Carnariums. The two Barren Moors give just a pinch of late-game versatility.

Not only that, it’s fun as hell to play. I’m already looking forward to grabbing a few more victims and parking a Scheme deck in front of this one.

Great concept, solid design and construction and a very enjoyable card pool make this an easy pickup. The fact that there are eight rares (as compared to the Duels of the Planeswalker decks which packed six, and the 41-card “Intro Packs” with three- including the random one in the booster pack in each count) makes it an even stronger value.

FINAL GRADE: 4.5/5

23
Jun

Archenemy: Bring About the Undead Apocalypse (Part 1 of 2)

At last, would-be megalomaniacs and world-shattering planeswalkers have cause to rejoice, for Archenemy has released!

Archenemy, the spiritual successor to last year’s Planechase, is a multiplayer variant of Magic that pits one player (the “archenemy”) against a number of other players all working together as a team to bring him or her down. An oversize deck of “Scheme” cards and double starting life help to even the odds for the Archenemy, and each of the four sets contains a 60-card preconstructed deck designed to work in tandem with a particular set of Schemes. Planechase was much the same way- the Planes included in each set worked synergistically with the precon deck.

We begin our analysis of Archenemy with a few caveats. First, although I have every certainty that Archenemy- as it is meant to be played- is a casual blast, Ertai’s Lament is more concerned with the preconstructed decks themsevles rather than the Schemes. So the Schemes- fun as they are- for now stay in the box.

Second, because deck testing works best when facing only one opponent, testing runs with the decks will be one-on-one, with my opponent piloting another Archenemy deck. For this test, I’m working the undead angle, while Jimi has selected the Esper-coloured Assembling the Doomsday Machine.

The idea is to see how the decks themselves rate, outside of the gimmick of the Schemes. To find out, we brewed a pot of tea and sat down at the table for the customary three-game series.

As is further custom, we started with an opening-game “friendly” match to acquaint ourselves with the decks, and Jimi’s Doomsday Machine smokes my zombies. Feeling like I’ve my work cut out for me, we begin the matches.

Game One

I open with a Barren Moor, getting the tap-land out of the way early, but Jimi’s got a play as she drops a Plains and an Aether Spellbomb. Not to be outdone with the clever artifacts, I play a turn 2 Rakdos Signet after dropping a Mountain, then Sign in Blood the following turn to dredge up a few more options.

Still quiet on the other side of the table as I play an Infectious Horror on turn 4, but Jimi has a reply, smirking as the Leonin Abunas touches down.

I look to clear out some weenies from my hand when on my next turn I cast the M11-preview card Reassembling Skeleton alongside a Rakdos Guildmage. Five turns in, and we’re still both at 20. Jimi’s reply is an Unbender Tine.

The real threat comes down on turn 6, when I trot out the Twisted Abomination. This card seems to be a Wizards precon all-star, I know of two special products off the top of my head he’s been seen in (Liliana vs. Garruk Duel Decks, Planechase’s Zombie Empire deck). Although I’m not impressed from a sense of novelty, there’s little denying he gets the job done. When Jimi’s turn 6 play is merely an Obelisk of Esper, then sacrificing her Spellbomb in hopes of topdecking an answer, I start to look for the easy kill.

The next turn, my Horror, Skeleton and Abomination set off for the red zone, and while the Horror falls to the Abumen it does set up the Bituminous Blast that finishes him off. Predictably, I cascade into rubbish- in this case, a Festering Goblin (another Zombie Empire stalwart).

Now at 11 life, Jimi plays a Sanctum Gargoyle, which allows her to return the Spellbomb and replay it. When I come in with the creature force the next round (including a hsty Goblin token from the Rakdos Guildmage), she wisely sacrifices it for it’s second ability, bouncing the Abomination back to my hand.

It’s only a temporary setback, however, and despite getting lucky by popping the M11 Sorcerer’s Strongbox on the first flip, it’s not enough to stem the tide. Game one goes to the undead.

Game Two

Despite having played two games with the deck, I had not seen much of the recursion engine it had promised. As Jimi would come to find out in this epic matchup, however, it was quite an engine indeed!

It starts innocently enough. Land drops for turn 1, Jimi with a Dimir Signet next round. Still nothing from me even as Jimi lays down a March of the Machines, and I begin to worry. Turn 4, Jimi’s out with a Juggernaut, and my response is a Zombie Infestation.

Zombie Infestation? My first look is one of dismay- two cards for a crappy 2/2 Zombie token? I must be a little tired, though, because it takes a moment to sink in- the value of the card is not what you get out, but what it lets you throw away. And with a Torrent of Souls and Avatar of Woe in grip from the outset, the lightbulb finally flickers to life.

Turn 5 arrives, and while Jimi is shy a lot of artifacts at present, she’s got quite the support network for them as the Leonin Abunas drops from her hand. She swings in with the Juggernaut, and just like that I’m at 15.

Knowing the Abunas has to go before I can spot-remove the Juggernaut, I pitch the Avatar and a Swamp I just drew to the Zombie Infestation, putting a 2/2 token n play, then cast Torrent of Souls. Having paid Red mana in casting it, the Avatar comes back with haste and she immediately taps to slay the Abunas (giving a tapped-out Jimi no chance to bounce the Abunas with the Spellbomb).

Jimi untaps and plays a Sun Droplet, then knowing I don’t have enough mana to hardcast her, she bounces the Avatar back to my hand by sacrificing the Spellbomb. Luckily for me, I’ve a Beacon of Unrest in hand, and I again pitch the Avatar and a land to cheat her into play with graveyard recursion. The second Zombie token teams up with its brother to take down the attacking Juggernaut, and all is well in the world again.

Through the Beacon, the Avatar of Woe again returns to the world on my half of turn 6, Jimi gets out a Lodestone Golem the next turn but the Avatar slays it, too. Not done yet, Jimi lays down a Thunderstaff, but I take advantage of the fact that all her artifacts are also creatures (via March of the Machines) to do a little pruning with Incremental Blight. Off to the graveyard with the Sun Droplet and the Staff, and the now-unimpeded Avatar takes a chunk off her life total.

Jimi’s never quite able to recover. Another Spellbomb bounces the Avatar once again, but thanks to a timely Bog Witch I’ve now got the mana to hardcast her. Which I do. She gets there the next turn.

Game Three

Jimi’s laughing because it’s just her luck she’s getting swept for the writeup games after doing so well in the warm-up. I certainly understand the frustration, but it’s important to note that the outcome of the game is only one of the things I’m looking for when I assess decks, and I’m not much worried about winning or losing. No, what I’m more interested in is how the deck works- what it’s designed to do, and how successfully it manages to do it. Wizards’ preconstructed decks aren’t made by throwing a random assortment of cards together (though in the case of the Jace Beleren Thoughts of the Wind deck that came out a couple weeks ago, I’m not entirely convinced). What cards are they playing, and why? What features are being highlighted? What synergies or avenues to victory are present in a deck?

These are the things I’m really concerned about. Consistent performance, which is more than just the outcome of three games. And if we can have some fun along the way, then great!

Game three has a certain resemblance to game two in miniature. I kick things off with a turn 2 Zombie Infestation, then do little until turn 4’s Dregscape Zombie.

For her part, Jimi manages a Synod Sanctum, a Mistvein Borderpost, and then a turn 5 Synod Centurion.

The Centurion gives me a target for the Bit Blast, and my poor luck with Cascade continues as I fall into an Inferno Trap with the only legal target my own critter (needless to say, I choose not to cast it).

Turn 6 brings Jimi a Master Transmuter, while I produce the far more pedestrian Twisted Abomination. But again slow and steady wins the race as the Abomination begins whittling down her life total. Not quite as sexy as the Avatar of Woe, game three ends much the same- a giant black beater grinding Jimi down.

Impressions

One thing was certain at the end of the match- Bring About the Undead Apocalypse had some great synergies. Game two in particular, with the Avatar of Woe coming into play three times, was a showcase match for the deck. But the other two were much less flashy, and certainly benefitted from some bad draws (particularly game one, where Jimi hit a run of land).

Which game, then, was most representative of what Apocalypse has to offer? Is it a solid engine that hit a couple misfires, or was the recursion-palooza of game two the exception rather than the rule?

Thanks for joining me today as I kick off analysis of Archenemy’s decks for the next two weeks or so, with a new update like clockwork every other day. Please join me again on Friday when we break the deck open and go in search of answers!

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