Preface: I rounded up the homies for an unboxing game Thursday. I read @SwordsToPlow’s basic review of easy upgrades , read @thatbonvieguy’s very spikey review for @CommanderCast and dismissed his frustration as being a symptom of not “getting” real EDH (spoiler, he was right, I’m a judgmental Interneter sometimes), and got really amped. Then #MtGC13 happened and “yeah so these are…cards, I guess,” was uttered several times.
Let’s just say my play-by-play notes look a lot like this:
T1: Tap lands for everyone except the Sol Ring guy.
T2-4: Nothing important happens, somebody casts Marath, Jeleva player wishes he had picked Nekusar.
T5: Tempting offers tempt! Lands.
T6: A titan and some bad removal.
T8: Derevi gets flashed in again and the Oloro player is at 50.
T25: Flooooooood. Everybody is still at like 20.
These decks seem balanced-ish, with Derevi’s cheapness making her the most effective commander for precon games and Oloro’s two life per turn putting a target on that player’s head. So before digging into any upgrades, I suggest you go read Sean’s article from last week. Despite people in the comments saying they routinely run 39+ lands and plus ramp/rocks (neither anecdotal evidence, nor data, nor the opinions of tons of experienced EDH players who I respect support that approach), Sean’s comments offer super simple improvements to these decks.
So, Prossh, Skyraider of the precon box.
New Cards That Make Power Hungry Spicy (or Not)
–Fell Shepherd ended up feeling like a trap. You have to draw a perfect mix of good creatures and dorks with ETB value to make his sacrifice effect not a huge punch in your own face. Sacrificing two decent creatures to kill a 3/3 just felt bad, but the magical Christmasland dream of using it to clear blocks and then recur your team lives on.
-I didn’t actually get to cast a Curse, but I enjoyed making a Zombie every turn with other people’s curses.
-I actively didn’t cast Primal Vigor because Marath would have immediately abused it the best and crushed us, which isn’t surprising for a symmetrical effect coming out of a 0/1 tokens deck.
–Widespread Panic also only came up the one game in which I also had the Panorama and a Terramorphic in hand, so I didn’t see the upside to dealing with that. But this card could be fun in the format for sure.
-I never activated Opal Palace, but a three-turn kill with Prossh is nothing to scoff at in these answer-light decks.
Reprints Worth Some Amount of Weight in Salt
-Loved the P3K reprints. Loved them. There aren’t a ton of cards getting played in EDH that I’ve never seen resolve before, so that was super fun for me (I don’t cube with ballers much.)
-I also liked personal pet cards like Deathbringer Thoctar and Goblin Sharpshooter. They weren’t easy to get leverage for max value in the precon because it didn’t make enough teeny dorks, but they are still cool.
–Inferno Titan is a titan. It felt like it. I’m not against these decks having good cards, but that was a must answer threat that quickly took over the games I cast it. Great balance work there, WotC…
-On the other hand, we really, realllllly didn’t need more copies of the chargelands. Those are the reprints I think are really stupid. Also, Capricious Efreet. I get why people who like the card do, but I don’t agree with its inclusion, taking up a rare slot, in a deck that wasn’t actually built to benefit from your permanents randomly dying.
Prossh And What The Deck Wants To Do
I thought the list looked okay before playing it. After jamming a few games against the other precons, the best thing to do is casting Prossh. This could be because he’s three things in one neat container: a token maker, a free sacrifice outlet, and a decent attacker.
Making tokens is cute if you get to untap and swing or if you have a way to profit from dorks, but there are obviously better ‘army in a can’ cards, so this is a secondary benefit of Prossh. The free sac outlet is a great build-around ability, but again, not the main way to maximize Prossh as he plays out of the box. The real play in preconland is swinging and pumping. Sadly, reducing him to just this use means he’s worse than a Shivan Dragon most of the time; you only get one shot to use your Kobolds and you don’t have a lot of other ways to get lots of guys onto the board or steal dudes that you want to sacrifice.
So he’s very synergy-reliant to be effective, because you have to get value out of all three abilities to make him good. This is quite a liability compared to something like the Invasion-block dragons that come with an extra native point of power for the same cost. You either draw the few cards that really power him up or your deck plays out like any Jund deck, where you draw the wrong half of your cards and Prossh is just an over-costed flyer with minimal upside. Nonetheless, I liked him. Seven bodies for six mana and a 5/5 flyer once the dust settles is a fun bargain.
Does Power Hungry Do That (or Anything) Out of the Box?
Like I said, powering out a Prossh is good. Most of the other strategies the precon flirts with…not so much. I disliked the weird, situational sweepers like Plague Boiler; cards like Spine of Ish Sah that had virtually no synergy, because they often cost more for the same immediate effect in exchange for having the potential for lots of synergy (but the precons aren’t build to deliver that synergy); and the presence of too many sacrifice enablers or cards that cared about sacrificing combined with too few cards that created meat for the grinder.
The precon includes nods to all the three main strategies – sacrificing, making tokens/recursive dudes/attacking with monsters – as well as some “good” cards. But the routes to those strategies were mainly frustrating. For example, Scarland Thrinax is a free sacrifice outlet, providing redundancy for when you don’t have Prossh. But really, the deck isn’t built to profit just from things dying, so the extra sac outlet just felt like a wasted slot, even though sacrificing in response to a Pyroclasm effect (such as Incendiary Command) does feel pretty good.
Sadly, the other angles (such as getting value from a free sacrifice outlet) were underdeveloped. I did get to have some fun with Endless Cockroaches and Stronghold Assassin, but when you’re also drawing to 39 lands and guys like Walker of the Grove, your plans B and C are pretty absent. This makes me quite happy they included so few tuck effects in the precons this time around.
The games played out predictably, but that was fine because casting Prossh is pretty fun by itself. Run out a ramp or fixing effect, play a few dorks until you get to six mana, swing for the fences. Refill, recover, repeat.
I recognize that at least half my criticisms boil down to bad cards taking up the slots that should be used to develop synergies and themes more thoroughly. In light of the fact that the C13 precons are basically the intro decks of EDH (as opposed to the event decks that are designed to be fun and functional right out of the box), that main complaint might be a bit pointless. And it shouldn’t detract from anyone’s excitement about the precons themselves. They are great products for anybody on the newer side of Magic or the format.
The unboxing game was a fine experience, and if I were to play again I would work much harder to squeeze every ounce of value out of on-board resources to protect worthwhile cards in hand, because as with all the decks, Power Hungry lacks staying power due to its anemic seven through nine drops and lack of good mana sinks (the only things that could justify 39 lands and five or six ramp slots).
Check back for the next installments on the C13 precons, as we’ll walk through stage one (basic switches worth about $10 in total value) and stage two (assuming a reasonable collection but not huge spends) upgrades for all the precons.