1.3.03 - Onslaught for Peasants
Wow, itís been awhile! Since I was last at Pojo writing the Through the Portal column I had a run as the RPG Editor over at http://www.gameplayersnetwork.com/Game Players Network and I have also been helping get set for next yearís GameFest Milwaukee convention as well as doing the usual rounds of school, jobs, and girlfriend (not to mention the pre-Gen Con kidney stone incident which forced me to play the Master of Peasant Magic tournament on more pain killers than any human should ever have to take and remain conscious). But now I am excited to be back writing about Peasant Magic for Pojo. I had intended the column to deal with both the casual and tournament strains of the format but when I recently did a search for PEZ on google I was staggered by the large number of conventions, stores, and leagues that now run Peasant tournaments so I will make sure that all my future articles focus on the competitive environment.
For those that have yet to get all the details about Peasant Magic (aka PEZ) Pojo has a great archive of decks as well as links, and now I will be writing regular columns about the format as well. In Peasant Magic decks are limited to 5 Uncommons and no Rares so most decks are cheap and easy to put together. All sets, that include rarity values, are legal, including Unglued and Portal, so 90% of any players card collection is playable. In the case of cards with multiple rarity values (ex. Crypt Rats were printed as Commons but were reprinted as Uncommons) the most common level is used. As some may remember, around Ice Age many of the expansions used confusing rarity indicators such as U1 and C2. The first letter designated the sheet that the card was printed on and the second number indicates the number of times the card was printed on that sheet. PEZ only looks at the rarity level of the sheet so, even though, a U1 card appears as infrequently as most Rares it would be considered an Uncommon in PEZ. With every article I will include a short summation of the format as I have done here. Get used to it but I promise it will be shorter and more concise in the future.
Anyway, now that we have gotten the preliminaries out of the way itís time to focus on what this article is really about - Onslaught. While this article isnít exactly timely (sorry, but I was busy learning about Norse Mythology), it is, as far as I know, the only PEZ article which focuses fully on Onslaught so I will make every effort to be as complete as possible. I will start with a general discussion of the mechanics of the set followed with top picks for each color and I will supplement the article with theme decks on the PEZ deck archives posted over the next few weeks. My next article will focus on Astral Slide decks since I believe that these decks deserve a space all their own so look for this article next week.
Overall, Onslaught was a little disappointing from a PEZ standpoint. Simply put there just isnít a lot in here that really adds to the format. The reason is that the two mechanics introduced here basically add to a cardís utility at an increased casting cost. In a fast format like PEZ that just isnít a good deal for most deck designs.
Cycling is the better of the two abilities from my point of view. Although it is recycled from Urzaís WotC finally did it right: with different cycle costs and effects activated by cycling. Even so, most Cycling cards remain over costed for the effect they generate although they provide greater utility because situation specific cards will never be dead in your hand and colors which lack drawing power now have at least a minimal access to these benefits. Hopefully we will see more Cycling cards in the future since the pool is still so limited.
The 4 cycle symbion Enchantments may prove to be the greatest catalyst for change in PEZ of the whole set. Astral Slide has already impacted all the other Magic formats and, as I will argue in next weekís article, the same may be possible in PEZ. Also, Johnny Lai (soon to be Esq.) has posted a Lightning Rift deck on the Yahoo Message Board which has some real potential. I will be reprinting it in the next article with a few changes as well.As a fairly weak creature Enchantment, Withering Hex, doesnít deserve one of the precious 5 Uncommon slots in any PEZ deck. Finally, Invigorating Boon may have some use in Spike decks (except for the fact that the Spikes you want to have extra counters are all Uncommons as well) and possibly in a Phantom based deck although it is too slow for most aggressive Green builds.
Morph really lacks any redeeming features in PEZ. Morph is useful for 3 primary reasons. First, it is a way to get around counters. Second, it is useful for tricks and surprises. Lastly, Morph cards help smooth out Mana issues in multicolored decks. On the first point most PEZ decks could care less since Counterspells are fairly rare in PEZ. While Blue might have the single most powerful deck in PEZ, the ProsTides combo, Blue control is very fragile in an aggro environment without key Rares. The limited card selection, and the quality of that card selection, also hurts the use of Morph for combat tricks. All the best trick Morph cards are Rares (like Blistering Firecat) and these tricks really only work well if you have a selection of different Morph cards. After all, if I know your deck only has 4 copies of a single Morph card I will always know exactly what that face down creature is so I can foil your plans. The ability of Morph to aid multicolored decks really isnít a consideration in most other formats except Limited. In PEZ it becomes an issue because multi-lands are almost all Uncommons or Rares so they donít fit in most PEZ decks. However, the fact that Morph cards start out over costed, and in most cases Morphing the card just makes this worse, means that it still isnít much of a help.
The Tribal cards are really neat for casual players and there are some possibilities among them for tournament level cards. The downside, of course, is that they are best used in situations where your whole deck revolves around the given theme and when your deck building is constrained by a specific theme you are often forced to take sup-optimal picks to retain coherency. Obviously a more specific discussion will take place in the Theme deck posts to be made latter. Of all the Tribes, Elves and Goblins are already viable PEZ decks (Through Elf Ball, Elvish Unity, and Geeba Sligh), Beasts donít get enough Tribal help in Onslaught from the Uncommon and Common selection, Wizards are way to expensive and fragile except for the 1 drop off color wizards which suffer from the lack of non-basic lands, Zombies are a possibility because the cards they pick up here are very strong, and Clerics and Soldiers may be viable since White Weenie is a strong PEZ archetype.
The reintroduction of the Charms is another nice addition to the Onslaught series. In the past, many of the Charms have been decent in decks and sideboards, especially in Green decks. These new Charms provide the same benefits, they are cheap and are useful in a variety of game situations even if their overall effect is relatively weak. Unfortunately, the fact that one of the three abilities in each of the new Charms is a Tribal ability makes them weaker than their predecessors for most decks.
Blackís Misery Charm is really pretty weak as two of the three effects are only useful in specific game situations. Itís third effect, loss of 2 life, is also very weak. Even in a Cleric deck this card is probably of limited utility.
Trickery Charm has some potential since it is the only Charm in the set that has all three effects without Tribal limitations. As an instant, granting Flight is a decent effect and frequently useful although many Blue creatures already have the ability. Changing creature type may not come up in most games but donít forget that this can be effective with cards like Walls, to allow them to attack, and it also can be used if your opponent is playing a theme deck. Lastly, sorting the top cards of your library is minor but potentially useful in the right circumstances and if the card is useful for nothing else in your current game you can use this ability.
Vitality Charm is nothing to sneeze at (well not as far as the power of Charms goes). The 1/1 creature may not sound like much but donít forget that it is played as an Instant. That means that it can effectively have Haste if cast at the end of an opponentís turn or that it can be creature removal if cast during the attack phase. +1/+1 and Trample is nice and an additional pump card is never a bad thing for Green decks, with most creatures this can solve Shock or Lightning Bolt woes. If the last effect regenerated an Elf instead of a Beast it would be awesome but even so it is still good since Krosan Tusker is a beast and a good addition to many Green decks these days. Donít forget the second ability of adding Trample is also a boost for Tusker inclusive decks.
Fever Charmís abilities of pump and haste are both decent but I would always rather draw a Reckless Charge for my decks. The ability to Bolt a Wizard is weak since, as stated frequently in this article, Wizards in PEZ suck although ping decks do have a certain popularity.
The final Charm, Piety Charm is really quite charming. Creature Enchantments in PEZ are very dangerous if only because Empyrial Armor is one. When I also have the option of attacking without tapping I am very pleased with this cardís uses. Also, most White Weenie decks include a few soldiers with the Soltari as notable examples so even the cardís Tribal effect is useful especially since pump is relatively rare in White.
Next we have the Chain cards. These cards all require a careful read and good decision making in game to be effective and the use of the Chains is better left to advanced players. The problem with all of the Chains (except Greenís) is that, as Uncommons which are a limited resource in PEZ, they tend to be weaker than comparable commons except when you can get the opponent to start the Chain going. Of course, in most games a player should assume that his opponent has considered the effects of the Chain spell when it is played so it is often best to not fall into the trap.
Chain of Smog has a lot of potential in quick Black decks, Madness decks, and recursion decks. It is a cheap and efficient card with a drawback that is easy to turn into an advantage or to at least negate. Without the Chain starting, however, it is too weak to warrant use in most builds as I would rather have Hymn to Tourach.
Chain of Vapor could find use in Control decks as a very strong Bounce card since you will likely have few non-lands in play and it is very efficient. However, Bounce probably doesnít deserve space as an Uncommon unless it is mass removal like Washout. I have toyed with it in permanent heavy ĎTog builds where I always target myself (unless I use it to prevent an early win by my opponent). By using this method I can pump the ĎTog quickly because the Vapor fills my hand and graveyard with all my other permanents (such as Nighscape Familiar and Rhystic Deluge/Flood), however, this build seems to be weak compared to the standard builds.
Chain of Acid is clearly the best of all the Vapor spells. In a Stompy deck you have mana-acceleration in the form of elves so loss of lands affects you very little and, unless you play Briar Shield or Sol Ring, your only non-creature card is likely to be Rancor. This card is better than Creeping Mold for these decks but probably not as good as the all-round Desert Twister although the 2 turn speed advantage of the Chain may make it comparable.
Chain of Plasma has too much potential to back fire for most Red builds. In a Sligh/Deadguy Red deck there are already two counts against its inclusion. Your hand plays out fast so you probably canít restart the chain very well and your deck relies on Creatures to deal a lot of itís licks. In Burn it may have potential because it turns every card in your hand into a Lightning Bolt, as long as you are ahead on life this card is a winner especially if the opponent is foolish enough to push it into the chain. The only problem here is that Burn, a deck I will discuss in a future article, has two cards that are automatic for the Uncommon slot: Browbeat and Breath of Darigaaz (now possibly Slice and Dice). Both of these are superior to the inclusion of the Chain.
The weakest Chain is Whiteís Chain of Silence. Any number of Commons have a similar if not strictly better effect (Prismatic Strands anybody?) And the basic effect itself is weak and rarely useful. Doesnít fit in any deck builds as far as Iím concerned.
The Crowns are also all very interesting. All are common and any mass effect is very good especially since PEZ lacks many of the standard spells that would fall in this category. Even though they only affect a single Creature Type at a time this can be used to your advantage in many situations and if the effect is kept in mind when designing your deck.
My favorite has got to be Crown of Suspicion. Since it acts both as mass removal and as pump it is doubly good. Many Suicide builds include cards like Maggot Therapy or Phyrexian Boon to make their creatures pack more of a punch and as spot removal. By filling this role and providing even more flexibility I expect to see this card make the cut in many future decks.
Crown of Ascension would be good since Evasion, especially in creature heavy environments like PEZ, is always beneficial. The only problem is that most Blue creatures that would make it into a deck already have Flying. This means the card is best used in a Green Blue Madness deck although those lack a strong Tribal component and probably pack Wonder which would make this card redundant.
Crown of Vigor is another form of Green pump. It may be useful in Elf decks where Stench of Decay will terrorize you all game long but without the addition of Trample this card is weak as an offensive force. Probably not even near the top choice for Green pump spells.
Crown of Fury has an edge over the other pump Crown if only because it grants First Strike. In Sligh/Deadguy Red builds where creatures pave the way early this card puts your opponent in a difficult spot. If they block, chances are that they can kill whatever creature is attacking since Red Creatures tend to be a little short on the back. With this card they have to wonder whether or not youíll pop it and kill a bunch of other blockers or if they donít Block will you pop it, take the extra damage, and then burn them out for the win. This could definitely see play although Iím sure Reckless Charge and Arcane Teachings will still be strong (or decks will ignore all these cards for an extra burn spell or two).
The worst Crown of the set has got to be Crown of Awe. With all the other cards that can grant protection why do you need this one? Would you rather have an Acolyte in the deck since it can always swing for 1? I really have to question the worth of this card and I think WotC could have done better with a White Crown that had the ability ďReduce all damage dealt to enchanted creature by 1: Sac. this, Reduce all damage dealt to creatures you control by 1 until end of turnĒ. Still, with the prevalence of both Red and Black it may see play in sideboards.
Last but not least are the Avatarís, poor choices for most decks but Timmy Power Gamer would love these guys and they are a casual players dream: Cool, Powerful, and Fun to play with.
Soulless One is pretty decent since his Power/Toughness are likely to be the highest of all the Avatars in the set. Without Trample or Fear, however, those number may not mean all that much in the game, still a strong theme card.
Wizards and Morph suck in PEZ and Nameless One has both, what a waste, maybe salvageable if he had flying but no good for any deck. Even outside of PEZ, Wizard theme decks probably donít need a beat down creature like this.
Heedless One has Trample which is awesome but Elves are weak and if you do have enough Elves to make this Avatar a danger then wouldnít you rather have Overrun?
Reckless one could prove interesting with Haste, a surprise finisher, but for all that he is just another creature and just like Elves, Goblins have a hard time staying alive on the playing field. Even worse, the best Goblins are sac. creatures (like Mogg Fanatic) and this just destroys any synergy no matter how reckless you are.
Of all the Avatars, Doubtless one is probably the best. Clerics are good at staying alive and what they lack, big power numbers, is made up for with this guy. Even better, the Doubtless Oneís life gain ability is the strongest of any of the Avatarís. Definitely worth a nod in Cleric decks unless you are going with a Black and White version in which case sacrificing your Clerics means the Avatar will remain puny until the end of his (short) life.
Well, the Charms, Chains, Crowns and Avatars (oh my!) got me started on card by card analysis, though I spent more time than planed on them. As promised above, I will refocus my attention and start the color by color analysis here.
As with most sets, we are offered few non-basic lands. The Red and White Tribal pump lands are too weak to be considered in an Uncommon slot. Maybe if Goblin Barrows added Haste as well it would be worth it, strike that it would be worth it, but it doesnít so the point is moot. Seaside Haven is a very good possibility for Bird decks as it both draws cards and fuels the Aerie. In PEZ, any Haven trades with either an Aerie or a Battel Screech and may not be worth, although I would include the Haven over the Screech. The Starlit Sanctum also has potential in theme deck builds but PEZ is not kind to two color builds and Cabal Archon is preferable in the Uncommon slot for these decks. The most potential from these lands may come from Wirewood Lodge. This is the perfect land for Elf Ball decks and deserves the slot without hesitation for these builds.
The cycle lands are not good for 90% of PEZ decks since they come into play tapped which is a great way to lose Tempo. Some players may feel that the inclusion of 1-3 may be a good idea for mid to late game but, while they do have a point, they should just wait until thatís all they have in their opening hand. Some decks may get use out of them, however, and in decks built around Astral Slide or Lightning Rift I would argue that these are better than the older cycle lands when one needs to make a choice between the two.
Artifacts are easy since there are no Uncommons here. I will briefly beg WotC that they should produce more Common and Uncommon artifacts since even those with minor effects can be fun to work with and make draft choices a little more interesting (just look at Squeeís Toy). Too bad they probably donít read my articles ;)
Black only has two real Uncommon considerations: Shadeís Breath and Infest. In PEZ, mass removal is rare. One of the most used cards is Allianceís Stench of Decay which gives all non-artifact creatures -1/-1. Infest on the other hand gives all creatures -2/-2. Which is better? I would have to say that because Stench of Decay is an Instant as opposed to a Sorcery that the stench is a better card. This is also because the artifact rider on the Stench doesnít really come into play since the most played artifact creature, Yoatian Soldier, has 4 on the backside. Also the Stench is a common so it leaves the Uncommons Slot free and Massacre is strictly better as well. Shadeís Breath is more interesting since it makes an excellent finishing card as long as you can get one attacker through, not hard with shadow creatures and a good assortment of early drops. Im Suicide Black builds it may be a very good card, however Iím not sure that it beats out the Uncommon cards that are currently the staple in Black decks.
Black does, however, pick up a number of good commons. Crown of Suspicion was already mentioned. Just like Shadeís Breath, Dirge of Dread is a possible choices for a finisher card, something to break the creature stalemate. Probably a good choice but if I were designing an aggressive deck I would want every card to focus on winning not what to do if I was losing.
The best for Black in this set are the Common Creatures. Festering Goblin is a wonderful 1 drop, not near as good as Mogg Fanatic, although he does play a similar role. Nantuko Husk is a reprint of Phyrexian Ghoul and is as good - actually exactly the same. This is a powerful card that is often overlooked in decks. Shepherd of Rot is a personal favorite. His ability to tap for a loss of life is a way around an early CoP and an additional way to whittle the opponent into range for the kill, in many games he will deal out far more damage than if he were a simple 2/2 creature, the average for his Casting Cost. Last but not least is the Wretched Anurid. 3/3 for 2 is always good. His drawback is pretty bad in PEZ where over half of the field is likely to be dropping a large number of creatures. He is, however, bigger than most creatures your opponent will play and I would be more than happy to take him in my deck any day.
__________________ : The complete list of Blue Uncommons that I am excited about. There is nothing in the list that is either game breaking or cheap enough to justify itís effect. As a matter of fact, with the exception of Force of Will, Propaganda, and Washout, Blue doesnít have very many strong Uncommons in PEZ.
Blue doesnít score many Commons either. Airborne Aid is a no-brainer in Bird decks but not a 4 of card by any means. Chocking Tethers does have possibilities, however it seems as if it would fit best in Blue Green Tempo decks and would be used most often for its Cycle effect.
Centaur Glade is an exciting Uncommon for Green. The fact is that the majority of PEZ creatures top out at 3/3 except for a few select cards like Blastoderm. With Elves and other acceleration a good deck can probably pump out a couple 3/3 per turn and even if you canít, an extra creature each turn is easy on your hand and good for your game. A very viable card and especially good against the Black match up where it negates removal to some extent while applying pressure.
In the Commons department, Green doesnít have a lot of over powered cards but it does have a good assortment of well rounded picks. The Birchlore Rangers are a good mana fix for Elf Ball decks since they power both the Priest of Titania and provide the necessary Red mana for the Fireball. Elvish Guidance might also serve in an Elf Ball deck to gain even more acceleration and would definitely see play in my Elf Ball builds if I played cheese.
Krosan Tusker is a good all around pick for many decks, especially those that use a low land count or have multiple colors. Uncycled he is over costed but bigger than most creatures the opponent will drop. Cycled, he is a solid well costed card.
A creature that cannot be considered good is Leery Fogbeast. I mention it only because I think it would be a very interesting addition to anyoneís casual play Venom deck.
Naturalize is obviously good, just as Disenchant is, but most Green decks will prefer to rely on Elvish Lyrist and Scavenger Folk because they are bodies and can swing.
I think people are too excited about the Wellwisher. Sure, it can be a great Life boost but, as I have said before, Elves are fragile and the decks that use a lot of Elves want a quick win where Life points donít make much of a difference. Wirewood Herald is a nice choice to get around the fact that Elves die early but, again, most Elf decks will be looking for other abilities from their pointy eared minions but at least he is useful to find those other guys for you. Finally, Wirewood Pride is an interesting finishing card, but suffers from the same problem as the other Elf Tribe cards and is probably bettered by Overrun.
Slice and Dice is a gem for Red, and as good if not better than Breath of Darigaaz. A nice solid card and in PEZ many games can be turned around even when cycling the card. Unfortunately, it is the only real great Uncommon for Red in the set.
Of the Red Commons, both Brightstone Ritual and Skirk Prospector suggest a possible new type of Deadguy Red build. With these cards and X spells the focus would be to beat down on your opponent early and then drop a Fireball or Disintegrate for the win with the extra mana these cards can provide. The downside to this type of build is that it is an all or nothing proposition which is easily thwarted by a number of spells. It also only seems to clean the game up about a turn early, when it goes off. Probably not good enough for a breakout deck. These decks may also run Goblin Taskmaster as a less efficient means to the same end. As a 1/1 for 1 with a semi-useful ability he may appear in traditional Sligh as well.
Goblin Sledder is a real standout card. Most Red decks already include Mogg Raider and this reprint will allow them to include 4 more. With both the Prospector and the Sledder sacrificing your goblins, another interesting deck may focus on these guys early and use No Rest for The Wicked so you donít lose any advantage, just something to think about.
A card that is getting a lot of discussion, both good and bad, is Sparksmith. Yes, he hurts you but he is a goblin and no one forces you to use his ability. This is a very strong card, although not a 4 of, and should be in most Sligh builds. Remember that it doesnít matter if you win with 1 life or 20 so long as you win the game. I believe that this is the best Common for Red in the set.
Last but not least is Wave of Indifference. Like Dirge of Dread this card is a game breaker but I would rather build my deck to win without it rather than to build a deck that needs it to win, maybe a sideboard card against decks that can handle your creature rush.
White has one card that catches the eye. Righteous Cause is the new Orimís Prayer. The old Humility/Orimís Prayer decks were perfect for this type of environment. Unfortunately, as it stands now, the Cause is over costed and I canít quite identify the rest of the combo to get us where the old deck was. Going Black/White with Blackís various strength diminishing enchantments as well as Dark Ritual for mana acceleration and Serrated Arrows may be a start but I fear such a deck is too weak and slow overall.
For Commons, Renewed Faith is a very strong card for most decks. In general, I dissuade people from running life gaining spells. The effect is fine if itís on a stick or if itís a large gain, like Congregate, but I almost always argue that itís just not worth the spot it takes from a Ďbusinessí card. With Renewed Faith you can cycle it so it doesnít really take away a draw that could be a business card and you still get a small life gain. Also, straight casting the spell generates a 6 point swing which is enough to make the gain meaningful. Itís a card I wouldnít hesitate to add to a deck although I would hardly call it an automatic addition to my future builds.
The End . . . Almost
Well, in my judgement (damn! Wrong set for a good pun), Black came out ahead of the other colors on the simple strength of its creatures. Red and Green were a close second for pretty much the same reason although Green is definitely third place since itís creatures are better suited to specific deck designs. White is the fourth place player picking up only two real good spells: Astral Slide which will be discussed next week and Renewed Faith. Blue is the worst with almost nothing that real shines.
As a closing, let me say how very excited I am to write for Pojo again. The amount of e-mail I received when I wrote here before was a great joy and I hope I was able to help all those who wrote to me. I look forward to helping players again and answering questions about my articles but let me say that PEZ is my speciality (as is helping new players get into the game and deal with parents). I keep a cursory examination of other formats just so I donít miss any exciting evolutions but I am by no means an expert on these formats anymore. I will do my best to help if you write with questions (and I always love rules questions although I am not a judge) but remember that better answers may come from players and writers who specialize in these areas or from posting on the Pojo message boards where others can learn from your questions. Speaking of which, for those who remember my dedication to the message boards here at Pojo I am sorry to say that I will not have time to provide as much assistance there as I did in the past.
I look forward to my next article and the posting of my theme decks (make sure to check out the Zombie deck - dubbed ď3 weeks after suicideĒ, and Geeba Sligh both of which are tournament worthy) on the deck archives page, I hope you do too!
Jason Chapman - firstname.lastname@example.org
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