Playtest Pod #4 (Winner = Grixis Unearth)

This pod pits a couple decks built with a modified version of my original take on this block and a couple decks built with the new version. The first match was one of the best in this set so far. WU Artifacts got Gwafa Hazid into play early on, which was the perfect foil to the Grixis Unearth deck, which had a lot of death effects. WU made it such that creatures would never leave the battlefield, though it came at the cost of the opponent constantly drawing new cards. Grixis was stuck on land and had a Jund card in hand (?!), but was still getting a little bit of damage through each turn because Gwafa Hazid was always tapped. Grixis eventually started drawing its signature removal spells, clearing the board of threats and keeping itself in the game. WU got a Yoked Plowbeast down, tossed a couple pieces of equipment onto it, and swung for 6, getting Grixis down to 2 life. It looked like it would win on the next turn, since the Yoked Plowbeast could block Grixis's only threat. However, Blightning got the final damage through for Grixis. Great game! The next game was also pretty solid, if a bit more straightforward. My RG Beatdown deck went against guest drafter FleishDawg's Naya deck. I'm not sure what if any synergies the latter was trying to play upon, but it had no problem with its mana in this first game and had cards to play on every early turn. RG had manafixing that it didn't need and not enough threats or responses, so it began to get behind. However, Blitz Hellion got a quick 7 damage in, and Banefire was in hand, ready to bring the Naya deck down to just 4 life. Unfortunately, Naya had too much on the board and overwhelmed RG on the next turn for the win. The losers of the previous matches faced off for the next match. WU Artifacts took it slow, getting a bunch of utility artifacts into play while RG Beatdown seemed to be doing not much of anything. Unfortunately, this approach meant that it couldn't do anything about Hell's Thunder and was behind when RG's permanent threats started coming down. Furthermore, I realized one of the flaws of the WU Artifacts deck is that it doesn't really have any major threats, so drawing cards isn't as valuable. It also doesn't seem to have a lot of answers...but yay it has lots of artifacts. RG got its Rockslide Elemental into play and quickly built it up to a 3/3 (with first strike). WU let a little too much damage through, "not realizing" a Soul's Fire would come down to finish it off. Between the winners, the Grixis Unearth deck managed to outlast Naya's initial onslaught of powerful 2-drops. Cards didn't quite come out in the right order for Grixis, which makes me think its got a lot more potential than it showed even in this match. Its array of death effects kept it in the game, and it eventually was able to overwhelm Naya's smaller creatures with its army of bigger threats for the win. The final two matches pitted the two decks from the older version of this set against each other and then the two from the newer version against each other. The former match was pretty much exactly what you'd expect for the Grixis gameplan. It spent its first couple turn fixing its mana and then started playing badass cards that outclassed the stuff already on the board from RG Beatdown. Its removal cleared away threats, and Unearth brought back its Viscera Dragger for some quick additional damage right at the end of the game. Apart from that one maneuver, this felt like a somewhat controlling midrange deck. The final match (WU Artifacts vs. FleishDawg's Naya deck) was another by-the-books game for the winner. WU pleasingly had plenty of artifact synergies going and managed to pull off some repeated ETB abilities via Esperzoa. Meanwhile, Naya was stuck on mana, as you'd expect in a multicolor deck. WU was getting damage through and looked like it might get its first win, but suddenly Naya got its mana together and a Woolly Thoctar was on the battlefield. This card suddenly put WU on a 4-turn clock, and then Naya beefed it up with some equipment. WU managed to remove it, but Naya's Branching Bolt gave it a 2-for-1, clearing the path for some final damage and the win.

Update on Recent Design Revisions

I've taken two passes at this, neither of which revealed the intricate design I've found with other sets, but when taken together, they show there's perhaps more to this set than meets the eye. My initial pass hewed fairly closely to the block's themes in proportion to how you'd find them in the original set: fixing was there but not plentiful, and the mechanical themes of each shard made themselves known but were not super deep. I did up the fixing a bit the first time around, which allowed for an interesting tension between 4/5-color decks lacking in synergy but filled with powerful cards and the more typical 3-color decks. However, since the themes weren't all that deep, I never quite felt like these decks were all that different; they all just tried to staple together some decent cards, some decks using multicolor mana to do the job, while others used synergy and staying on color. Subthemes I thought were in the set never really came through, and even the major themes (e.g., Exalted) seemed more like flavoring (i.e., There was no "Exalted deck"). My initial design approach was based on how I'd seen things work with Invasion and (Dragons of) Tarkir. However, the former block came out before they'd tried to bake specific archetypes into sets, and the latter didn't have a lot of wiggle room due to its smaller card pool. With my disappointments in mind, I went back into the sizeable Alara card pool and started to find some answers. I removed half the commons in my set and doubled up on the rest, allowing me to focus the set on stronger cards and hit upon the mechanical themes more consistently. I eliminated any attempt at subthemes (e.g., WU Flying), though looking through the new set it looks like there are still some in there to be discovered (e.g., WU Flying). I amped up the fixing to a full sixth of the set and dropped the multicolor section to just a third. Mechanical themes for each shard now get about the same amount of support as they do in Kaladesh, which similarly focused on just five shards/wedges rather than gunning for archetypes in each color pair. Unlike Kaladesh, the interplay between these mechanical themes is much more limited, because the original design had the designers come up with each shard's identity in isolation from one another. Nonetheless, I'm hoping my new version is an improvement, with more distinct decks and hopefully some surprising spaces to discover in the nooks and crannies between shards.

Minor Tweaks

Feral Hydra > Ooze GardenHellspark Elemental > Scourge Devil

Multicolor Uncommon Tweaks

Reborn Hope > Sigil CaptainMind Funeral > Illusory Demon

Ultimatum Cycle --> Monocolor Rares

The Ultimatum cycle is powerful but way too expensive to see play here. I also wanted to cut back a smidge on the multicolor, so I am swapping them out for some monocolor rares.
Clarion Ultimatum > Cradle of VitalityBrilliant Ultimatum > Covenant of MindsCruel Ultimatum > Cunning LethemancerViolent Ultimatum > Flameblast DragonTitanic Ultimatum > Feral Hydra

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