After playing each of the precons, I have to say that Nature of the Beast impressed me the least. Which isn’t to say the deck is bad; far from it, in fact. Marath had more than its fair share of wins against the other sealed decks, losing half the time to Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and having a good showing against the others.
Nature of the Beast is an unapologetic toolbox that rewards ramp and generally has a care-not approach to the ‘general tax’. Direct damage, boosting other creatures, or the ‘sacrifice outlet’ ability of churning out tokens of all shapes and sizes makes Marath formidable: if you have a large enough Marath, you can deal direct damage to enemy threats or players. To make matters worse, having a ‘large enough Marath’ is a simple matter of paying its cost again to produce a ‘Marath-sized’ token, and then casting Marath for the next increment of size. Marath could also easily general-damage players out if they had run out of gas.
In a lot of ways, Marath is super-appealing; anyone who has payed 10-12 mana for an Invasion or Planar Chaos dragon (like Intet, the Dreamer) knows the pain of their static numbers, and how they are not especially worthwhile after the third cast or so (‘I pay twelve for a 6/6 Intet, get through to the redzone, pay out another three, and cast a Time Stretch from the top of my library… or I could just pay ten for Time Stretch.’) Marath completely sidesteps by ‘always’ being worth the mana cost. Further, Marath shuts out some experiences newer players can find upsetting: your opponent just threw a Consuming Vapors at you? Pay one, peel off a counter, make a 1/1 elementlet, and watch your opponent’s value evaporate. Facing an Eldrazi annihilator trigger? Make a bunch of elementlets and stall away.
There are other flexibilities as well: in at least one of the precon games, I had the misfortune of facing a tabled Sphinx of the Steel Wind against Marath while not holding any removal (that protection from red and green is clutch!) Fortunately, I was able to flip out an Archangel from Mosswort Bridge, and then beef it up to win against the Sphinx. Against a Prossh player, I was able to win by simply constantly dealing direct damage to the player and recasting Marath.
Perhaps what makes Nature of the Beast so playable out of the box is some of the reprints and new additions.
Contested Cliffs – This card was pretty much the all-star. Who has land destruction in the sealed decks? Basically no one (well, this deck does, I guess). Who is a beast? Most of the creatures in this deck are, and perhaps most importantly, Marath is weirdly a beast, despite acting most like an elemental. Once you were rolling this out, most players would have been fairly powerless against you (except those token generating Prossh players.)
Warstorm Surge & Where Ancients Tread – Given that this deck is largely a pile of huge creatures, Warstorm Surge promises a great deal of mileage. I think a fairly large amount of internet ink has been spilled over the one-sided Pandemonium, but it’s important to note that Marath has extra options with this one: generating tokens with Marath allows them to do damage when they come into play. Where Ancients Tread is largely a weak duplicate of Warstorm Surge, but it’s still there for consistency purposes.
Tempt with Discovery – Of all the tempting offer cards, the decision to accept or reject the offer was the least cut and dried with this one. If the caster is behind, you can give them a lift while paying yourself, but that doesn’t always mean things are going to go your way. Players who have missed land drops or are otherwise behind often have a fist full of horrible threats, and a generally untarnished life total (at least in the arenas I play in.) If a player is ahead, it’s awfully tempting to get another land and just let the Tempt with Discovery player have more, but that might quickly put them into the ‘crazy plays’ range, while you’re only up a land and not quite there. More than anything, if you’ve ever played Reap and Sow to find your Gaea’s Cradle (or, if you’re more economical like me) or your Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, this is just as good, only it promises to be better depending on how much math the other players do (or, perhaps, just how they’re feeling).
Mystic Barrier – Part of me doesn’t like that this card can be used to force a well-off player to beat up a mana-screwed neighbour. Another part of me rejoices at the possibility of not being ganged up on if I’ve won the last two games. Yet a third part of me loathes that it might protect someone you later assess to be a dire threat (especially decks resembling non-creature-based combo). Mostly, I like that this card narrows some kinds of threat assessments; you can only realistically do something to a neighbor of your choice, so the other players are cut out of your ‘who to attack’ equation, and perhaps more importantly, your ‘who needs to stay behind and block’ thought process. I suppose I also take a certain amount of glee in noting that if someone plays Craterhoof Behemoth or Overwhelming Stampede, they can kill exactly one player.
On the not so formidable side:
Witch Hunt – I’m not a fan of chaos cards in general. I like a certain amount of control in my games, and I don’t generally get the urge to force people to play randomly, and if I do, that desire does not last long enough for me to build a deck in a spreadsheet, let alone at a table with sleeves. Some chaos cards are interesting, because they’re manipulable or asymmetric in some way; Warp World is exciting if you happen to have fifty token creatures in play while everyone else is at ten permanents. Possibility Storm is exciting if you have a way of manipulating your library with a permanent (like Scroll Rack, let’s say). Witch Hunt is not one of these things; the only attractive feature is the first sentence, and the remainder is simply boring. It would not even make the cut in Zedruu, who could give it back immediately (because then, the gifting goat wouldn’t be gaining any life, would she?).
From the Ashes – The not-quite-Ruination turned my head when it was spoiled. More Rules Committee-oriented people might have thought that it was an apology for the now-ubiquitous copies of Ruination that no one I know plays (because if you’re willing to go that far, you might as well cycle a Decree of Annihilation or cast the latter half of Boom/Bust). What’s this card’s strength? It’s the most polite way of saying “don’t play such a greedy mana base”, and its power is mostly self-regulating in that if a player has an excellent mana base but has managed their costs in deck construction, it will be fairly low impact. In its defense, the ‘fresh’ land comes into play untapped, opening some interesting lines of play involving floated mana, and this precon does have Avenger of Zendikar and Rampaging Baloths, so there’s at least the opportunity to cast a pretend-Scapeshift and hit a bunch of landfall triggers.
Naya Soulbeast – Honestly, once we hit the eight-mana range, whatever we hit better be good. The bar is already quite high: Craterhoof Behemoth is a table-crusher, Akroma and Avacyn are game closers, and Avatar of Slaughter can be cast if you’re really bored with the game you’re playing. This guy? You have to remember that each player has a significant number of converted mana cost zero cards in their deck. Specifically, I’m talking about lands. Yeah, you can flip some crazy cards, or even manipulate your own crazy Naya Soulbeast with Sylvan Library or Mirri’s Guile, but at the end of the day, you blew eight mana for a derpy beater that is just subpar for cost. Perhaps I’m bitter that when I cast him, he was a 3/3, but the truth of the matter is, he’s awful unless you’re very lucky.