Monday, August 8, 2016

Swarming Elves Starter Deck Preview Impressions

On this merry morning of Monday we were graced with yet another preview of upcoming cards, this time catching a glimpse of the new green Starter Deck, Swarming Elves. One doesn't usually think of elves as "swarming," but this starter deck definitely lives up to its name.

First off, we have the J/Ruler from the deck; Fiethsing, defying stereotypes not only by breaking gender norms and being a powerful female character, but also tearing down RPG cliches by putting on more clothes as she powers up. Truly a ground breaking card, but I don't just mean that sarcastically. On both her Ruler and J-Ruler side, Fiethsing is sporting a brand new mechanic: token creation. Her Ruler side has a hefty Judgment cost of GG3 (5 total) and the now-standard Energize, but also has the ability of putting a 100/100 Wind Elf Resonator token into play whenever you play your second card of the turn. When she flips, she gains a respectable 800/800 body as well as a field-wide buff of 400/400 to all other Elves (which counts her tokens). She keeps her token generating ability, but spawns two instead of one, which are now essentially 500/500 with her first ability. While these only trigger on the second card played, limiting you to 1 or 2 (depending on what side she's on) tokens each turn, they quickly stack up. Her incredibly expensive judgment will probably hamper her a bit, but at least we got some ramp cards (discussed below) to help out, and being green means she has inherent access to Wind-Secluded Refuge, so she can effectively dodge Black Moonbeam (and it kind of synergizes with her playstyle to boot). Probably one of the lolziest things you can do with her is, going second, playing a Turn 1 Gwiber. If you hit your Magic Stone of Gusting Skies (Wind/Light), you can play a free regalia, use your Energize mana to play a 1-drop green Resonator, which hits the 2 card threshold and triggers her giving birth to a token. That's 2 resonators on the field and 1 light mana still up, which is Gwiber's bat signal. Plus, if your Resonator was a mana dork, you still have access to 1 mana on your opponent's turn to Wall of Wind whatever pitiful counterattack they might try to make.

The next two cards we were shown both sport the new Torrent keyword, which is the overall theme of this Starter Deck, and seems to be a big theme for green so far in Lapis Cluster. The first card, Great Holy Sealing Wave, shoves a 2-cost or less Resonator to the bottom of the opponent's deck. If you Torrent it, you can snipe Resonators up to 4 cost. However, this Chant lacks the Quickcast keyword, so it isn't a reactive spell. I doubt it'll see much (if any) play because of this, and it would have been a really cool card otherwise. Zero got a 1-cost Light spell that removes a card from the game at instant speed, and I don't think this card is much different on a functional level. Sure, there are differences, like Zero's card having to wait to hit something that attacks or blocks, giving this card a little more flexibility, but no Quickcast is a HUGE hit. The key to this deck is going to be balancing what you play on your turn with what you cast on the opponent's, to make the most out of Fiethsing's token generating ability, and you'll need a lot of Quickcast to do that.

Speaking of which, we have the second card, Two-Fold Chant. It's essentially Wall of Wind that costs 1 more will, which really isn't that good, but makes up for it with its Torrent ability changing the text to flat-out cancelling a card. While I'm really not happy about more negation in the game (especially now with ramp cards making a comeback), this card certainly opens up some interesting plays.

The other Quickcast we get in the Starter Deck is Whispers from the Wind. For only one green, you reveal the top card of your deck, draw it, and if you play it (or a copy of it) as your next card, it gets cheaper by 1 green. This opens up a lot of interesting combos: Flipping a copy of itself means you can immediately play it again for free and trigger Fiethsing's token factory; flipping a copy of Two-Fold Chant means you can now negate any spell for 1 void will; flipping any of your Resonators means they get cheaper to play that turn, and if you flipped a 1-cost (which the deck contains quite a few of that I'll get to later), you get to play it for free. Combine with this Ratatoskr, who gives all your wind Resonators Quickcast, and you have some shenanigans on the opponent's turn.

Now, with the deck based around playing 2+ cards each turn (and you only getting 1 draw each turn), the next logical conclusion is that you need cards that refill your hand to keep the pain train going, as well as some form of mana ramp to be able to play all of these cards. Well, lucky for us, Force of Will Inc thought the same thing and gave us Hall of the Sages. According to its flavor text, this is the place where Zero and Fiethsing raised Kaguya (something that would never be allowed in Post-Trump America!), and this thing is a tank of a card. It's a 2-cost addition, which seems pretty standard for non-bestowing Additions, and can tap itself to produce any color mana, given you've already played at least 1 card this turn, which counts itself. Free immediate ramp is free. If you go second, you can Energize this onto the field, then use it to play a mana dork and go into your second turn with 4 mana. Yeah, balance! At the cost of 2 mana and tapping it, it can also banish itself and let you draw 1 card, so if your opponent tries to get rid of it, you can just have it replace itself and laugh at your opponent for wasting a removal card.

These two resonators also help solve the issue of needing a constant supply of mana and cards in hand to keep the token factory running. Spirit of Wind, as long as she's the 2nd or more card played this turn, will refund 1 of the mana used to play her. This lets you put a stone up to Quickcast stuff going into your opponent's turn, and she also sports Flying, because screw your opponent! Torrent Elf will let you draw 1 card under the same conditions, and if you look closely enough at his art, you can even see him illegally downloading movies.

Moving past the boring resonators, we get to these two beauties. Christie is a large 1000/1000 body, for only 4 total cost, and will do a Duel of Truth with one of your opponent's J/resonators on-enter, provided she is at least the 2nd card you played during the turn. Being 4 cost might make it difficult to play her and another card in the same turn, but she's a later-game card anyway. Her second ability is pretty meh, paying a green to pump her 200/200 for the turn, but only if Fiethsing is your Ruler. I'd rank it as one of the worst ruler-restricted effects, but I guess FoW didn't want you running her in anything and pumping her to 4000 Power. She can snipe most problematic cards in the game, and is a strong backup card if your token engine stalls or the opponent manages to nuke your field.

Following her is Aria. She has Barrier Black, so she's immune to targeting effects of black cards (i.e. most hard removal), so she's here to stay once she hits the field, unless you're facing blue. She has a blanket 200/200 buff to your field, making your tokens 300/300, or 700/700 once Fiethsing flips. Two 700/700 units each turn for free is... ouch. Sadly, she won't get Fiethsing's 400/400 boost, but that's fine.

Lastly, we have the Lapis versions of Familiar of Holy Wind and Elvish Priest, respectively, which are carbon-copies save for minuscule changes. I really hate that FoW brought these back, as they were severely overplayed when Grimm was legal and only facilitated things like Adombrali spam and free first turn Wall of Winds. As mentioned before, this Starter Deck needs ramp and draw power to keep the engine going, but I really think they could have done a better job. These cards are just going to get thrown into whatever meta abomination arises from this cluster and seeing them will get just as old as it was in Grimm.

That's it for this Starter Deck. Overall, I really like the theme and playstyle they went for here, making the deck pretty technical and less explosive. It'll definitely be playable right out of the box, and can only get better with whatever support Curse of the Frozen Casket has for it. And remember kids, don't let the NSA catch you Torrenting!

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