Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rith vs. Hazezon

Rith, the Awakener
I had an interesting experience recently while helping a friend build, test, and tune a new commander deck.

We came up with a Rith the Awakener deck with lots of token-themed cards. Problem was, it just wasn't coming together. The deck would durdle a little, play Rith, durdle around trying to make tokens, and then die without accomplishing much of anything.

We played a lot of games, but there just wasn't a cohesive gameplan. It was just durdle, durdle, durdle, die. Rith the Awakener seemed like she'd be a lot of fun in theory, but when the cards were down, she was clunky, slow, unreliable, and generally underpowered. It was a struggle trying to connect with her, and even if she got a hit in, she might maybe make five or six 1/1s. Then next turn she might make another ten, and then next turn, they might be able to attack and maybe get in some damage. But all this time she's tapping mana at sorcery speed and spending a lot of tempo to accomplish something that a single board sweeper could easily wipe out, and every single turn you're crossing your fingers and praying to untap unmolested.

On top of this, Rith's deck lacked an identity. It was supposedly a token deck, but it felt more like a pile of random cards. In fairness, it was a pile of random cards, but it was a pile without any guiding synergies or anything like that, and neither of us could think of a way to make it come together.

So I floated the idea of swapping the commander out for Hazezon Tamar, and instantly the synergies became clear. Ramp into lots of lands! Play Hazezon! Get lots of tokens all at once! Profit! Cathars' Crusade? Yes please! In the Web of War? Absolutely! Boundless Realms? Of course! Predator Dragon? Don't mind if I do! Confusion in the Ranks? Okay, now that's just ridiculous! But in a good way! Maybe toss in some flicker effects like Cloudshift and Otherworldly Journey. Sarkhan Vol would be sweet. And so on.

Hazezon TamarSee, I've played a lot of Rhys the Redeemed, and since Rith doubles your tokens too, I expected them to have some similarities. But it turns out Rith coming down so much later and having to jump through so many more hoops for a weaker effect is, uh, kind of a big deal.

Part of why Rith is supposed to be good is her 6/6 flying body. The problem with this is that the token deck doesn't care about the 6/6 flying body. It cares about the tokens. Why are we mucking around with dragons? We've got all these, like, Overruns and stuff all waiting to fire! Give us our tokens already! Rith requires a lot of setup--protecting her so she can attack, making sure she gets a hit in, making sure there are enough permanents in play to get a decent amount of saprolings--to get the same effect that Hazezon Tamar gives you all by himself, no hoop-jumping necessary. With Hazezon, the deck isn't running out its commander with fingers crossed. It's running out its commander and knowing it's making 7+ tokens. The solid, reliable effect provides a sturdier core to build around than the awkward, clunky flyer.

We made the swap, added a handful of new cards to synergize, and played a couple more test games. Hazezon played much better than Rith. Every time he came down, he was advancing the deck's gameplan and impacting the board--where previously the commander might as well have been a Mahamoti Djinn.

Anyway, that's my story of the day. It's disappointing when a cool-looking creature like Rith turns out to be underwhelming, but on the other hand, it's always satisfying when a creature from eighteen years ago--back in the days where all the creatures were jank--still holds up as a powerful and fun card today!

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