....Unless, of course, you have a playgroup that says, "Hey, Ferrett writes for magicthegathering.com. We should let him get away with testing with badly scrawled proxies to find out how good the new cards are!" And thankfully, I do have that.
So I knew I wanted a deck, and that deck had to meet the following criteria:
- My readers demand recent cards! So it had to be at least 80% cards from the past two years, and the non-new cards had to be easily replaceable.
- It had to try out at least three high-profile multiplayer cards from Lorwyn.
Ah, the danger of being an experimentor. My initial deck idea was weak: Gaddock Teeg and Incarnations. Not exactly a great synergy, though thankfully they're not at cross-purposes.
So with that skeleton, that puts us in white and green. Fortunately, white has one of the best Incarnations, shutting down any direct damage, and green's isn't exactly chicken salad, either. Still, that leaves us with a huge cliff to scale when it comes to our mana curve, leaping from two to six. Thankfully, we have these lovely little mana accelerators in the form of Elves... And with enough Elves, we can throw in the Elvish Harbinger / Wren's Run Packmaster combo referenced in my preview article.
So. I'll need to put in enough Elves for a solid mana development and subtheme... But given that I'll most likely be filled with mana, I should also look for other green monsters that might come in handy. Cloudthresher, another hotly-touted monster from the green fields of Lorwyn, would fit the bill.
Now, my group tends to use older cards that are more powerful—at one point, there were four players with old-school dual lands on the table—so I cheated. I wanted the boost that Priest of Titania, one of the ultimate Elf cards, could bring. Thus, my deck used a few more older cards than it should have, like so:
The good news is that this deck is easily changed up for more recent play—it becomes a little slower, but it's also arguably more stable and much better at thinning your deck of land. As witness!
So I took this deck out for a spin around the block, playing four games on our usual Tuesday shenanigans, and here's what I learned about the cards:
The biggest disappointment of the deck. He may be great in duels, but in multiplayer, he generally serves as enough of an irritant that people attack you to get rid of him, but he doesn't actually stop enough from happening.
Case in point: In the final game, I had Gaddock Teeg out. Jack, that fire-lovin', attack-happy crazyman, was playing his white-red Knights deck, and he had a Sword of Kaldra that he wanted to play. I, on the other hand, had Gaddock Teeg.
His only out was attacking me until I died.
Now, granted, I wasn't necessarily the biggest threat to him. As it turned out, the only card in his hand that he couldn't play was the Sword; he had no problem getting out his other sword—the one of Sword of Light and Shadow—or Blood Knight, or any number of other dudes.
But Gaddock Teeg was like a stone in Jack's shoe; it might not have mattered whether he really needed to play that Sword, but the fact that he couldn't was so vexing that he just wanted not to think about it. And so I was gone.
And I don't blame him. Unfortunately, Gaddock Teeg is the worst kind of obstacle in multiplayer: when he's in your way, he's going to cost you the game, but until then he doesn't do that much. You just know that at some point you're going to need to play the Wrath; better to get him out of the way now.
Likewise, the abundance of removal at the three-mana-or-less level means that Gaddock Teeg dies when almost anyone wants him to, meaning that his fantastic ability reads, "Players must use an additional card before playing any spell that costs four or more mana."
Every time I drew him, I groaned. This may have an application in Constructed decks, or even in Two-Headed Giant decks where you can have one guy abusing it and the other to protecting it... But in Chaos multiplayer? Where anyone can shoot the Teeg?
Ah, if only it was three mana or more. Then....
The Verdict on Gaddock Teeg:
(It didn't help that my proxied version was also a pain in the butt to read. Ah, the problems of playing to write articles....)
The "kill because we don't know it" syndrome aside, Purity was very good—not because of its ability, but because it was a 6/6 flier that could battle dragons with ease. Unfortunately, the Incarnations are sufficiently powerful that they do tend to create team-ups. I didn't get the Purity out when there was a reusable source of damage on the table (it would have been oh so nice to draw it when Jack laid Pyrohemia), but one suspects that rather than watch my life totals climb while theirs dropped, players would have conspired to remove the Purity in response.
The Verdict on Purity:
Definitely worth its slot. Definitely worth considering in my own Earthquake-based deck. Heartless Hidetsugu with this guy could get ridiculously ugly, assuming you can somehow get both out and get them to stick.
This one? Not so much. It is a trampler, which is always nice, but what it does to all of your other creatures makes it so much of a threat that it causes panic in the streets. I got it out twice, and people worked overtime to bring me down because of it.
The effect is potentially devastating, but you'd really need to build a deck that abused its power. Just throwing it into a deck means that other people will note your deathtouchy Wolves, do the math, and kill you before you can be a threat.
The Verdict on Vigor:
Strong, but splashy. There needs to be some measurement of the "heat-drawn-to-actual-impact" factor. I'll have to think of an animal to name it after, too. The Rooster Factor? The Cat Factor? The Kangaroo Factor? The Emu?
There are a lot of Elves. But they mostly either a) make tokens, b) make mana, c) make things bigger, or d) destroy artifacts/enchantments. None of those are bad per se, but compare that to the power of fetching a Nekrataal and you'll see the problem. You can get an Elf, but often what I was looking so desperately for was removal, and the Elves just shrugged.
That said, the Elvish Harbinger topdeck meant that I came close to winning a lot of post-Wrath wars. And he does make the deck much more consistent, even if you have to wait a full turn to fetch your guy (barring some funky shenanigans with Sensei's Divining Top or any number of "get the top card of your library into your hand" effects).
He's good; the problem lies with the tribe, not the card.
(...Actually, you CAN fetch removal. But read on.)
The Verdict on Elvish Harbinger:
Worthwhile. Note to Wizards: Print better Elves.
Wren's Run Packmaster
Surprisingly good.... on defense. The wealth of Wolf tokens made it difficult for anyone to attack if they didn't have anything that flew; oh, sure, they could pop the Packmaster, but a 2/2 chumper is still a 2/2 chumper. And sure enough, within a few turns I had amassed quite the army.
On offense, the 2/2 guys were respectable, but not impressive. That, however, was a problem with the deck and not the Packmaster itself. A core weakness of the deck made it a little dangerous to send the boys out and irritate people. (I'll get to that in a bit.)
The Verdict on Wren's Run Packmaster:
Excellent. But don't play it with just a single guy out. People's hands were twitching at the thought of card advantage.
I got to play it only once, and it was countered. But the mana was surprisingly achievable (at least in this deck), and the fear in the eyes of the other players was well worth it. The only problem with Cloudthresher is that I didn't have more of him (or a way to fetch him on command).
The Verdict on Cloudthresher:
More testing is needed, but bumping it to four would have shored up this deck's main weakness.
Heal the Scars
This was a pure "Hey, let's test this stuff out" addition, even though it was at odds with Gaddock Teeg's ability. I knew it was a really, really pricey combat trick at four mana—but at the same time, lifegain's a solid ability in multiplayer, and I thought I might swing a race by regenerating something that had become arbitrarily huge, gaining life even if it wasn't benefiting my creature.
As it turns out, I never got the chance. The one time I did have it in hand and could play it, there was a Triskelion / Mephidross Vampire going off, and there was nothing I could do about that. The rest of the time, that four-mana cost was punishing, meaning that I could play Vigor or protect my 2/1 priest of Titania, but not both.
The Verdict on Heal the Scars:
Not worth it. As I'd suspected, really, but sometimes you gotta swing.
At three mana it's at the upper end of what you'd be willing to pay for removal, but if you're playing with a group that's not quite as power-packed as we are, that might not be an issue.
I said earlier (and erroneously) that the problem with the Elves is that they can't fetch removal. Well, here's your removal. Go get it with Elvish Harbinger! (Or go fetch Nameless Inversion / Eyeblight's Ending if you
decide to go green-black.) The only problem is that you'll have to wait a turn to get it, and that turn might be too late.
The Verdict on Crib Swap:
The Deck Overall
The deck played in four games, and won none of them. Part of that is because the deck hates me. I mulliganed in all four games, going down to six twice (multiplayer games now have a "one free mulligan" rule by default). And that wasn't a simple "mulligan a two-land hand"—no, every hand I threw back consisted of a single land, and nothing more. Admittedly, 22 lands is light, but eight mulligans to get a pair of lands? Woof.
Some of the games flatly weren't winnable. For example, there was the one game where Josh played first-turn Black Vise and Welding Jar, then Howling Mine—a classic combo that could have been taken care of by my Nullmage Shepherd, which I had in hand.
(Why Nullmage? Reusability. Certainly, it could be argued I should go with 2 Viridian Shaman, 1 Nullmage, or 1 and 2; it wouldn't have changed this game, though, as you'd soon see.)
But then, for whatever reason (and losing 3 life a turn himself), Jack decided to play Blood Moon, nerfing my Savannah and Selesnya Sanctuary and hosing pretty much everyone else in the process, ensuring that nobody could apply enough pressure to Josh to take him out in time.
Okay, so I had no green mana except for the one Forest I had in hand, but I did have Rofellos. I'd use Rofellos to get the Shepherd out, then I could conceivably play the Multani's Acolyte to get the Elvish Harbinger out, then destroy the Jar and then the Vise.
Then Cat, 'cause she had no other plays and was bored, played Breath of Darigaaz, killing every creature on the board. Apparently, the other players had decided that Josh should win that game. Not a thrill, but whatcha gonna do?
(Incidentally, Josh did win. Handily.)
There was the game where, as mentioned, Jack was vexed by my Gaddock Teeg and kept attacking me. I went down to 7 before I could stabilize, then got hacked by a shadow knight of some sort, and by then I was vulnerable to Josh's pingers. Boom.
Then there was the game where my first Elvish Harbinger was countered, my second Elvish Harbinger was countered, my Wren's Run Packmaster (I believe) was countered, and my Cloudthresher was countered... all by Josh. He lost that game thanks to me being particularly vindictive (even as other players fought to keep him in the game by killing an attacking Vigorbefore damage went on the stack), but even given that abundance of countering the deck still consistently put threats on the table. That was an excellent test.
The other game was a long, hard-fought battle between Jack's black-white-green Teneb, the Harvester deck, Josh's white-blue Tallowisp deck, Cat's borrowed black-green Tooth and Nail deck, and Ian's blue-black Doppelganger control deck. That was a lot of control and a lot of big creatures, and it took a while for everything to settle out.
But there was a pattern here. See, aside from Cloudthresher and Purity, I had absolutely no defense against fliers. And Crib Swap is a good card, but I can only use it three times (and that's if I draw all three).
So what happened was that people saw the Wren's Run Packmaster (or Vigor) and decided to whack me for a few in the air while they still could. I'd take 4 damage here and 3 damage there from just being the only man vulnerable, and by the time I stabilized I was down to around 6 life. While I usually had a pretty full grip by then (I almost always had a Crib Swap), being at 6 life meant that one combat trick killed me. If Purity or Cloudthresher went down, a single hit from a dragon took me out.
Every time I lost the game at 6 or less life, and I lost it due to some tiny effect that I could have weathered with a bit more life. This meant that the deck's concept wasn't bad, it just needed more defense.
The first thing to go was obviously Gaddock Teeg. As a Kithkin, he wasn't particularly Elf-friendly in this deck, and as noted, he draws people's attention in unwanted ways. But what goes in?
In a post-game analysis, Josh was shilling for Aven Riftwatcher as the gap-filler of choice. It gets you 4 life, and it blocks in the air. Me? I'm not so certain; it goes away all too quickly, and I don't have a way to fetch it back when it dies. (Too bad Eternal Witness is a Human Shaman.) It'd stall some attacks, but not all.
Or, if I wanted to put in something at the high end, Arbiter of Knollridge looks really funny. But that's a card that assumes that a) I'm going to be at the lowest life (it's a dead draw if I'm in the catbird seat), and b) that the other players will be so grateful for their new life totals that they'll attack someone else. (Also, someone could just kill me in response to me playing it.) Hence, while it's definitely a consideration, I'm going to hold off on this. (Reverse the Sands, while also tempting, is mega-expensive in this deck.)
There could be another option here; I'm sure someone will mention something awesome in the forums.
The deck also needs to have four Crib Swaps, and the Heal the Scars can go. We should also think about, perhaps, abandoning the "recent cards" issue to put in Caller of the Claw, which is a fetchable Elf that would have been brutal in response to Damnation.
Also, I'm not sure about Vigor. It usually didn't help as much as I'd liked, even as the trample was pretty nice. And Multani's Acolyte wasn't particularly great in this deck; I might want to slow down the game and go for the Civic Wayfinder plan to thin the deck and make my future threats much more reasonable.
That might still not be as resilient as we'd like it, but it's definitely a start... and again, it's easily adaptable for more recent cards. But what do you think? Sound off in the forums!
Missed the Prerelease, or just hungry for more? Check out Lorwyn Release Events October 12-14 to play with Lorwyn cards as soon as they go on sale.