Precon history was made just a few short months ago with the launching of the Event Decks for Mirrodin Besieged. The two had bumped into one another along the fringes every now and again as with decks featuring affinity (Bait & Bludgeon) and monoblack Vampires (Rise of the Vampires), but never before had there been deliberate overlap between the Preconstructed and Standard communities. Before the advent of the Event Decks, the overlap was accidental: an archetype arose in Standard that happened to be featured in a theme or intro deck. "What would happen," Wizards seemed to ask, "if we created preconstructed decks specifically for constructed play?"
It was bold, risky, new ground. Given the need to balance content versus cost, Wizards set a high bar with the following blurb found on the back of each deck:
Event Decks let you enter the world of tournament play knowing you've got a powerful deck designed to let you be immediately competitive. Each Event Deck contains 60 powerful cards and a supplemental 15-card sideboard. Rest assured that each one of these weapons was handpicked to inflict pain upon any opponent who takes you on.
Looking to deliver on that promise first was Into the Breach and Infect & Defile. Containing no mythics and only seven rares, Wizards offered a monored aggro deck in the style of Kuldotha Red, and a blue-green midrange infect in the latter. When we first looked at the decks, we wanted to gauge the level of power they possessed with an eye towards estimating their performance in Standard.
Could they compete? Given their design restrictions, did they still have enough tools to be viable? When your entire raison d'être is predicated upon being "tournament-ready" these are vital considerations.
It wouldn't take long to realize that Wizards had a solid idea on their hands, but that they needed to fine-tune their process: Infect & Defile was not holding its own. The problem was a simple one: the deck simply needed too much time to fire off, and that time gave the opponent too much time too develop their board state. A Hand of the Praetors may look pretty cool in abstract, but when your opponent plays Jace, the Mind Sculptor on their turn, you've got a problem. The deck was also two-colored. Rare-filled manabases are a given if you're playing more than one colour, but what Event Deck (with its seven-rare limit) has the quota room to spend cards on the less-sexy land content? Infect & Defile puts forth a game effort with a pair of Drowned Catacomb, but for the most part you're making do with a playset of Jwar Isle Refuge. Competitive decks ramp the power level up quickly. To beat them with inferior cards, you need to be faster.
Enter New Phyrexia.
Once again, we're treated to a pair of Event Decks which undeniably draw their inspiration from Into the Breach. Gone is the slower, more reactive permission suite. Gone is the two-color construction. And if there's going to be a rare slot spend on a land card, it's going to be something that is a win condition (Inkmoth Nexus) rather than a mana fixer. Enter War of Attrition and Rot from Within. Monowhite and monogreen respectively, these decks are ones designed to have the game well in hand by the midgame. The question is less whether or not they are competitive, because an opening hand of Forest Bear, Forest Bear, Glistener Elf, Groundswell, Groundswell, Mutagenic Growth, and anything else is going to win you the game on the play unless they have a one-drop critter or say, a Spell Pierce. The question now is this: given our second release of Event Decks, what do the they tell us about the future of the product line?
The Swagger has Been Tempered
That bit above about being "immediately competitive?" Gone. See if you can spot the subtle difference in tone between that and the current blurb:
Event Decks let you jump into tournament play with a powerful deck that will give you a fighting chance. Each Standard-legal Event Deck contains 60 cards from a variety of sets and also includes a 15-card sideboard. Rest assured that each one of these weapons was handpicked to inflict pain on every foe.
"Immediately competitive" versus "a fighting chance?"
Midrange is Out
The slower-paced Infect & Defile might well be the last of its kind. It's too slow, too cumbersome, and perhaps just too much of a risk to run when dealing with an uncertain metagame. In truth, there will be plenty of times that Infect & Defile performs as it should as Friday Night Magic (FNM) is the home of the vast, wide open metagame. You'll have Tier 1 competitive decks, sure, but also rogue decks, budget decks, and other sorts of oddball goodness. The problem, though, lies in planning. Optimize a deck for a casual metagame and it will going to crash and burn when it hits a more competitive room, as will the goodwill of the player who just shelled out 25 bucks for the privilege of scrubbing out. Optimize instead for a more competitive environment and you may end up with a deck that can grab a few wins in the challenging room, and simply win even more in the casual. Who could complain? Of the two, only Into the Breach seemed to be the latter. Lesson learned.
Speed is In
As mentioned, Rot from Within is perfectly capable of a turn two or three win, with a good enough start. War of Attrition won't be as explosive, but will often have established a solid board position quickly, one that takes a little speed off the top-end in return for a dose more durability. They're both cut from the same cloth as Into the Breach, looking to maximize their win percentage by striking before the enemy's battle plan has been enacted.
With Event Decks already confirmed for both Magic 2012 and Innistrad, the format appears here to stay. The worry, though, is that we're going to see nothing more than a series of fast aggro decks for each release. The goal was ambitious: make a variety of decks competitive in the Standard environment. But it might well be that the limitations placed on that ambition have painted Wizards into a corner with regards to their archetype choices.
Looking to get a little more insight on the format, I checked in with Jesse Smith. You might know Jesse as @Smi77y on Twitter, a host of The Eh? Team Podcast, and an up-and-coming deckbuilder on his site 60Cards. "With good synergies," he told me, "you can beat a deck with Jace, the Mindscuplter in it, without the bomb mythics."
Alright, that's encouraging! What else?
"Without using mythics, at least currently, aggro is best strategy, and possibly combo with Splinter Twin. Seven different rares? I mean monored and Elves are doable without mythics, as is Splinter Twin. All of these obviously only capable at FNM level. A solid red deck, which would be Goblins or standard burn would be best. Vampires are clearly the best choice for a non-mythic deck on a high competition level though."
It's interesting to note that the one combo Jesse mentioned, Splinter Twin/ Deceiver Exarch, is one that Wizards R&D didn't catch until it began to be played. Is it possible that they'll build a viable combo Event Deck? If the archetype works, it certainly seems possible. At a certain point Wizards is going to want to offer some non-aggro strategies, otherwise the product line will become too stale. Vampires is another intriguing option. With Innistrad speculated to be a "Gothic horror" set, the odds may seem good that we'll see some monoblack aggro as well.
I am still uncertain that Wizards had the right measure for the first set of decks for Mirrodin Besieged, but they have also shown themselves to be a company that adapts as needed demand. The improvement in the New Phyrexia Event Decks shows promise, but the burden now will be to diversify the product range.
Bring on Magic 2012.
Want a copy of War of Attrition all your own? We're giving one away! To enter, simply reply to this article and answer the following:
Have you bought any of the Event Decks? Why or why not?
If so, what are your thoughts?
If not, what would it take (if anything) to get you to invest in one?
As always, you don't need to write the "Great American Novel," just let us know what's on your mind! We'll pick a commenter at random next Wednesday, June 23 2011, and they'll get a brand-new, factory-fresh copy of War of Attrition!