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Posts from the ‘Duels of the Planeswalkers’ Category

14
Apr

Whispers of the Muse: Henry S’s ‘Predators Trample Underfoot’

Today’s Whispers of the Muse (our community-feedback deckbuilding series) comes to us by way of Henry S, a player relatively new to the game but already keen to try out his brewing skills. In possession of two heavily Green decks, he’s looking to fuse them into one powerful set of 60 cards. Of course, suggestions from outside the card pool never hurt, either! Says Henry,

 

I’m the sort of person that enjoys creating new decks and my next idea is something I’m very unfamiliar with: a trample deck.

I will be basing the the deck on a synergy between Garruk’s Teeth of the Predator and Archenemy: Trample Civilisation Underfoot, both of which, as you know, are green decks excelling at pumping out the fatties. I’m a player that likes speed, so I would the deck to be as quick as is possible.

Combining both of these decks will allow me access to several large creatures (two Molimo, a Vigor, Verdant Force, and Kanahl, Fist of Krosa) but, being that I would like some of my own changes in the deck, I am currently holding a Liege of the Tangle that I would like to put to use, although I’m not sure here to put it or how start the deck in general.

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21
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Ears of the Elves (Part 2 of 2)

In the past two weeks (with a slight diversion to examine our friends the Kor a little more closely), Ertai’s Lament has taken you into the minds of five of the preeminent planeswalkers of our time. We examined the Eyes of Shadow of Liliana Vess, solid Black with a discard suite. We looked at the mayhem that is Chandra Nalaar’s Hands of Flame. And we counted the disappointments in the uninspiring Jace Beleren Thoughts of the Wind and Garruk Wildspeaker Teeth of the Predator decks.

Now it is time to crown our winner of the “Best in Series,” Nissa Revane’s Ears of the Elves.

I didn’t start out thinking I would like this particular deck. I don’t much care for Green, and an Elf tribal deck after I recently made an Elf tribal deck didn’t promise to excite. But having taken all five of the Dules of the Planeswalkers decks apart, this one is clearly the best-designed.

The Deck

Ears packs in 21 creatures, and, like Teeth of the Predator, one of it’s non-creature spells is indeed a creature generator (Elvish Promenade). But instead of falling prey to Teeth’s poorly-executed ambition of trying to ramp, Ears follows a swarm approach with a very tight mana curve. Observe:

3x 1 CMC (converted mana cost)

7x 2 CMC

4x 3 CMC

5x 4 CMC

2x 5 CMC

The three one-drops and seven two-drops means that this deck will very seldom falter coming out of the gate, and can be relied upon to exert an early, steady pressure on opponents. The deck still has plenty of midgame options with the seven 4-5 CMC critters, and no expensive cards to act as a dead draw until lategame, a problem that hampered the Garruk deck.

The non-creature cards were splendidly chosen, not a one of them out of place. A trio of Giant Growths give you the option of a combat trick or extra damage to your opponent at the end of the game; some utility in Naturalize and Nature’s Spiral; token generation with the aforementioned Promenade; and best of all, a minor removal suite with three Eyeblight’s Endings and a pair of dual-purpose Essence Drains!

The problem with any weenie/swarm deck is that it tends to exhaust itself by the midgame and if it isn’t close to a breakthrough by then, chances of victory can rapidly diminish. Red Deck Wins and other mono- or mainly-Red decks compensate by having the option of direct burn spells to get there, but Green possesses few such options.

Luckily, Ears has just that midgame state in mind, and provided several tools to help its pilot slog through the red zone and finish off their foe.

Working With What You Have

Tribal decks are often fun because of all of the synergies and interactions between cards that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. A number of cards in the deck either benefit from or strengthen other cards, allowing the Elvish swarm to ‘punch above its weight’ as the game goes on.

Naturally there’s a “lord” creature in the deck, the Elvish Champion, who gives all Elves +1/+1 (in addition to the situational Forestwalk). But the deck does one better by adding in an Imperious Perfect, who not only gives Elves the same bonus, but (for the easy cost of a single Green mana), taps to add another Elf to the battlefield.

Want even more Elves? The Lys Alana Huntmaster puts one into play every time you cast an Elf spell, which of course you’ll be doing for the remainder of the game quite consistently.

Then, of course, are the cards that care about how many Elves you have in play.

Another Mouth to Feed

The pinnacle card here is the premium foil, Immaculate Magistrate. A 2/2 for three mana (which isn’t great but not terrible, either), she taps to add a number of +1/+1 counters onto one of your creatures equal to the number of Elves you have in play. Simply put, this is one of those “deal with or you die” cards that puts your opponent on a timer.

There are a few other solid Elves in the deck, including a pair of Moonglove Winnowers whose Deathtouch will give an opponent pause for thought. It’s apparent that midgame is endgame for this deck, and it is well-equipped to go that final measure. If tall (a few big Elves with lots of +1/+1 counters) or broad (a large swarm of 1/1′s) won’t do it, the deck’s pair of semi-evasive Elven Riders should do the trick. And of course, the deck’s lone Coat of Arms can just get ridiculous if it comes out.

For an introductory deck, the Ears is surprisingly well-rounded, in in contrast to some of the other Duels of the Planeswalker decks. Even Green’s usual Achilles’ Heel- flying creatures- have answers in either the splashed-Black removal or in Jagged-Scar Archers, while avoiding the usual conditional problems that can plague Green’s anti-flying options (dead draws if you foe isn’t playing many flying critters).

Final Thoughts

If you’re going to buy just one of these Duels decks, I’d recommend this one- although a couple others are decent, it just gets worse from here. Well-designed, Ears gives the impression that the designers put the emphasis on making a deck that can hold its own rather than just a deck for “new players,” although the deck is certainly straightforward enough for any skill level to pilot. There seems to be a bit of a tension in making beginner products: you want them easy enough to grasp quickly so the new player won’t get turned off by frustration, but by the same token you want them fun enough to make that new player want to play a second game, and a third, and…

Each of the five Duels of the Planeswalker decks pull off at least that baseline ambition, although to varying degrees of success. A new player will probably enjoy them all. But whereas I would expect that something like the Jace Thoughts of the Wind deck would be retired or broken down into raw cards quite quickly, Ears of the Elves might be fun enough to keep around for awhile, just the way it is.

FINAL GRADE: 4.75/5

Lastly

Thanks for journeying with us on this inaugural voyage of discovery through the Duels of the Planeswalkers and the founding of this weblog. With Archenemy freshly released and M11 rounding the bend, there will be no shortage of preconstructed product to review, and we’re going to be quite busy!

Here and there we’ll also be walking the halls of time as we did with the Call of the Kor, and review preconstructed decks and intro packs from previous sets of Magic. It’s a wide-open multiverse out there, with many the plane to walk before we’re done!

19
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Ears of the Elves (Part 1 of 2)

The little one is taunting me, hitting me where she knows it hurts.

“You know what’s been winning you games lately?” she asked, looking over a grip of cards.

“What?”

“The Wurm’s Tooth.”

“Shut up.”

“You know it’s true, don’t deny it.”

“Shut up.”

Of course, I couldn’t deny it, throughout the course of testing these Duels of the Planeswalker decks, the pair of  ubiquitous two-drop life-gainer artifact present in each has come in handy a few times. Although Sam was winding me up because she knows I hate them, she also was engaging in a little of what’s known as “BCSM,” or “best-case scenario mentality.”

(Note: I’ve heard this in reference to MtG on the top-notch podcast Limited Resources. If it’s a general term and not a coining of Ryan and Marshall, I’ve not come across it elsewhere.)

We’ve all been guilty of it before, looking at some card and conjuring up optimal scenarios for it each of which reinforces the misguided notion that it’s a “good card.”

Harmless?

A good example of this might be ROE’s Harmless Assault. It’s a White Fog-effect. For four mana. Oh, but it’s a solid card!

> It only prevents damage by attacking creatures, so your own creatures can kill some of theirs!

> If played against an aggressive opponent, it could leave them vulnerable to a game-ending counterattack!

If, if, if… Indeed, a good rule of thumb might be that the more ifs (and the more elabourate those ifs)you have to use to rationalise the value of a card, the more you are engaging in BSCM.

Here’s another way to look at it.

Harmless Assault: If you are attacked and if you have untapped defenders and if those defenders have enough power to kill attackers (in other words, they aren’t 0-power walls) and if you have left four mana open… then Harmless Assault is a good card! Or if you have an aggressive opponent and if that opponent goes all-in with all or most of their creatures and if that opponent is low enough on life that one swing-in will kill them and if you have left four mana open… then Harmless Assault is a good card!

By way of contrast:

Path to Exile: If the opponent has a creature you’d like to get rid of and if you aren’t giving them net advantage by the free land-drop… then Path is a good card. (Net advantage means that the positive effect of exiling their creature is greater than the negative effect of them getting to tutor a basic land out of their library and put it into play.)

But to beat on poor ol’ Harmless Assault just a little more, you can often counter BCSM by looking at the costs and drawbacks of a particular card. What is the cost of Harmless Assault?

> Four mana (two White and 2)

> A card (this is an oft-overlooked cost)

> The number of turns the card sat dead in your hand, when perhaps a different card might have turned the game in your favour

> Any turns you didn’t make a play you could have because you were holding open four mana for the Harmless Assault waiting for an attack that didn’t come (or wasn’t ‘good enough’ to use the spell on)

Stepping away from the blackboard and getting back to the Duels of the Planeswalkers, in this particular case she did have a point. It’s a mite harder to take issue with the life-gainers when both decks are Green!

Enter Nissa Revane

Show of hands: who knew that the harsh Elven Planeswalker, Nissa Revane, thought that secretly dabbling in Black magic was the ticket to ensuring Elven supremacy after visiting the elves of Lorwyn? I’m a moderate Vorthos, and I had no idea that the Ears of the Elves deck was anything other than mono-Green. I’ll admit it had struck me as curious that there would be no White deck released in this preconstructed set, and two of Green. Making one of them a two-coloured deck makes a bit more sense.

Now as has become apparent on this site, assessing a deck has two stages: going through the deck and breaking it down, and actually taking it out into the field in playing it. I have not, however, found a preferable order for doing so, and for Ears of the Elves I decided I’d pilot it first then see where it did and did not work.

And for the most part… it worked rather well! Sam, my opponent in this test-drive, was behind the wheels of Teeth of the Predator, the Garruk Wildspeaker deck.

Game One

Having won the roll, Sam jumps out with a first-turn Wall of Wood, and answers my resulting silence with a turn 2 Runeclaw Bear. I counter with an Elvish Warrior, and we head into turn 3.

Not willing to let go of the value of the bear that easily, Sam drops Blanchwood Armor on it, and swings in for 5. My response is… the mighty Wurm’s Tooth. I have an Eyeblight’s Ending in my had just begging for a Swamp to use it.

Turn 4, and Sam drops a second Runeclaw Bear (when one’s just not enough), and Rampant Growths for some of that famous Green acceleration. Although I still don’t pull a Swamp, I do drop down an Immaculate Magistrate, a card well worth the cost in the rounds to come.

Still no Swamp on turn 5, and led by the enchanted Bear my life is now at 9. I’ve yet to push a critter into the red zone, so Sam’s still at 20. I did manage to finish off the Bear with a blocker, some free counters from the Magistrate, and a Giant Growth, and the board has started to stall.

On turn six, though, my luck begins to change. Not only to I pull a Swamp, but I also plunk down Elven Riders onto the table. Sam threatens with Vigor the next turn, but at last I’m able to unleash my Eyeblight and back into the library it goes. Sam never threatens again as I bring in a second set of Elven Riders and keep pumping them with the Magistrate. On turn 9 I swing in for 20 and it’s done.

Game Two

More early love for Grizzly Bears as Sam drops a Runeclaw on turns 2 and 3. Me? Forests and (of course) the Wurm’s Tooth. By the end of turn 3 I’m ‘stabilising’ my board position with a mighty 1/1 Elvish Eulogist, but luck into the Immaculate Magistrate on turn 4. Meanwhile, Sam’s brought a Trained Armodon online, and by turn six has worked me down to 12 life. Again, she’s as yet untouched.

Once more, though, I’ve managed to squeeze out the Elven Riders, and after Essence Draining a Wall of Wood she’s trotted out, I’m able to get there with the Riders pumped up by the Magistrate. She scoops on turn 8.

Game Three

Another slow start, four lands are in play before the first creature hits the table, and fortunately it’s mine- an Elvish Visionary. Things are looking typically rampy as she pulls out a Civic Wayfinder and I respond with a Greenweaver Druid on turn 3.

Turn 4 brings another play of Runeclaw Bears from Sam, and I reply by laying down Jagged-Scar Archers. The middle thickening, she has no play the next turn and all I can muster is another Elvish Visionary. Turn 6, however, is when my back begins to break.

Sam drops down Vigor, and I have no response. Next turn, Molimo, Maro-Sorceror appears. Protected by Vigor, her Bears and Wayfinder are whittling me down and when even chump-blocking will make them stronger, I have no answer.

Things are looking desperate until turn 8, when I lay down… yes, another Wurm’s Tooth. Sam’s Troll Ascetic is merely decorative as I face down my doom and scoop with as much dignity as I can muster.

What Went Wrong?

On the balance, I can’t say there was much. Vigor is a hard card to answer in Ears, as we’ll see in the next post breaking down the deck. But on balance, I think it’s fairer to ask of Ears of the Elves, what went right?

See you then!

17
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Teeth of the Predator (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back!

As we begin, a note about my opponent, Samantha. Sam is eleven, and has been playing Magic for the better part of a year. She (like all of us!) has a ways to go, but she most certainly is a competent player, and can steal or earn wins with regularity. Outside of the actual teaching of the game, I have never ‘gone easy’ on her or let her win, so when she does some remarkable play (like beating my Naya Allies with her rogue mono-Black in two out of three yesterday), I am remarkably proud.

But as any pilot knows, sometimes it’s the player, sometimes it’s the deck, and sometimes it’s luck. The first one is probably responsible for most losses, but somehow gets blamed the least. The last one is probably responsible for the least losses, yet somehow gets blamed the most. Life is funny like that.

But when Sam took two of three plioting Nissa’s Ears of the Elves against Garruk’s Teeth of the Predator, I felt the answer lie right there in the middle. In this post, we’re going to break down Teeth, and see if it has any real bite. (Sorry, I had to.)

First off, in these analyses you might have noticed that I’m not discussing mana base. Ordinarily in a deck review that’s one of the most vital things to hone in on, but these Duels of the Planeswalker decks are fairly straightforward in that department: basic land only, all but one of them (Ears) is mono-coloured. Jace’s and Liliana’s decks run 25, the others 24. Voila.

Given that, it’s better to look at the actual mana curve each deck is employing, and in Garruk’s case, he’s a little spread out!

Mana Ramping

One of Green’s solid traits in the Magic colour pie is top-shelf mana ramping. “Ramping,” for those unfamiliar with the term, refers to cards which accelerate your mana production. Green has the ability to reach a ten-mana finish line far faster than any other colour, be it through “mana dorks” (weenie creatures that produce mana, like Llanaowar Elves or Arbor Elves) or spells such as Rampant Growth and Harrow.

There is the odd and occasional bit of ramp in other colours (notably Black’s infamous Dark Ritual, which due to its temporary, one-shot nature is quite fitting thematically), but Green easily tops them all.

Another obvious characteristic of the colour is the creatures it produces. Green tends to get the most “bang for its buck” when it comes to creatures, possessing the lion’s share of “fatties” as well as the most efficient beaters (cheapest cost versus power). Combined, this allows Green to do is to play more dangerous threats, earlier in the game.

Consider the following Zendikar-block play. Turn 1 Forest, Arbor Elf. Turn 2 Forest, Leatherback Baloth. A 4/5 beater on turn two? You’ve just put your opponent on a five-turn clock on your second play of the game.

Bringing This Back to Teeth

So now we have some fundamental questions to ask of the Teeth deck. If it’s playing a fatties strategy, how broad is its mana curve? Does the deck expect you to drop massive critters as its path to victory? If it’s heavy on the back end (lots of expensive spells), does it provide you enough ways to get there earlier through ramp, so that you’re able to cast your endgame spells while your opponent is still playing midgame ones, giving you that vital competitive advantage? And what gaps are in its spellset- what are the weaknesses it’s vulerable to and can do nothing about?

Let’s take a look.

Not surprisingly for a Green deck, Teeth is packed with creature threats- a full 20 of the 36 non-land cards are critters, and one of the spells (Howl of the Night Pack) does nothing but give you a ton of Wolf tokens. It also carries three artifacts, two of which are crap (Wurm’s Tooth, though its inclusion is probably appropriate in a new-player deck as the Duels decks are positioned to be), and the other is quite solid rare (Loxodon Warhammer).

Let’s start with the spells, since for Green these often are there to support the beaters. Teeth runs some things you might expect: three Giant Growths, two Rampant Growths, and two Overruns. It rounds this out with several suboptimal choices: a pair of Urza-block Blanchwood Armors and a Natural Spring. Howl of the Night Pack is conditional- with enough ramping to get there quickly, it can add some serious numbers to your critter army, but the 7-mana pricetag is steep regardless.

The Mana Curve

Let’s look at those Rampant Growths again for a moment. A fine choice, a Growth actually has two beneficial effects.  First, yes, it adds a land to the battlefield for you. But at the same time, it also thins out your deck, increasing your chance of drawing a non-land card (because let’s face it, you probably aren’t too keen on that twelfth Forest at the end of the game). But as solid a card as it is, Teeth only gives you two of them, and only the somewhat weak Civic Wayfinders help with land. Mana ramp, then, has a bit of a cameo appearance in Teeth of the Predator, and this doesn’t bode well for the broad mana curve the deck sports.

A “broad” mana curve- as opposed to a “narrow” one- is one that is very spread out over casting costs. A breakdown of this deck’s creatures reveals some cause for concern:

2x One CMC (converted mana cost)

4x Two CMC

7x Three CMC

2x Four CMC

2x Five CMC

2x 6 CMC

2x 7 CMC

1×8 CMC

From this we see that 35% of the deck’s creatures cost 5+ mana (38% if you include Howl of the Night Pack), in a deck with few ramp options. Troubling! Green, which should be beating on your door early and often, is actually slower than usual in this deck (all the more so because both one-drops are walls).

Any Other Weaknesses?

As the humbling losses to Ears showed me, there is not a blessed thing this deck can do about a pesky utility creature. Sam’s Immaculate Magistrate, once it hit the board, was free to pump her elves to terrifying proportion, and there was no counterthreat I could muster (outside of Vigor) that would give her the slightest pause for thought. The deck’s other rares: Mirrodin’s superb Troll Ascetic, Verdant Force, and Molimo, Maro-Sorceror are nice, but are mainly endgame win conditions in the same vein as the rest of the deck (big, beefy critters or in the Troll’s case, a semi-shrouded regenerator).

The developers acknowledged this weakness of Green in Garruk’s other deck, the Garruk vs. Liliana Duel Deck with the inclusion of two Serrated Arrows. This deck would be far better off if it was given the same option (and an easy replacement for the Wurm’s Tooth).

A point can probably be made that if these decks are indeed intended for beginners to the game, it’s not such a bad thing to give them a taste of the weakensses of each colour as well as the strengths, but like the Jace deck which ironically couldn’t make up its mind, it just doesn’t go far enough to be consistently solid. In that sense, I’d say that Teeth of the Predator will give a new player a much better understanding of Green’s flaws than its strengths, though most new players will probably be perfectly content for awhile drawing the foil Verdant Force.

FINAL RATING: 2/5

16
Jun

Review of ‘Teeth of the Predator’ by Kelly Reid

In a bit of serendipidous timing, Kelly Reid of the MtG financial blog Quiet Speculation presents his vidcast review of Teeth of the Predator.

Kelly takes a different approach, assessing the deck from a collector’s standpoint rather than getting into the playability and composition of it. In any event, it’s well worth a watch:

http://www.quietspeculation.com/2010/06/video-review-of-garruks-dotp-deck.html

While you’re there, have a look around- his is easily one of the better weblogs on Magic.

15
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Teeth of the Predator (Part 1 of 2)

Garruk has an unusual bit of competition in the Duels of the Planeswalkers set, which is to say that he is one of the two Green-based decks available (somewhat curiously, no White deck was made). To find out how Garruk’s Teeth of the Predator deck stacks up in comparison, I sat down with Sam to pair the two off against one another. Would the Wildspeaker pack enough punch to overcome Nissa’s Ears of the Elves?

Game One

Sam’s on the play to begin, and drops a Forest and an Elvish Eulogist to start the tribal ball rolling. And while there’s nothing tribal about the Wall of Wood, I’m happy enough to get it out early as my opening play. We drop nothing but land on turn 2, and on turn 3 I finally have a threat: Trained Armodon.

Fear him.

As we enter turn 4, Sam is looking good with three Forests and a Swamp, and taps to play the Lys Alana Huntmaster. I go in with my Armodon for 3 and trot out a distinctly unsexy Giant Spider, who is freshly celebrating news that he’ll be reprinted in Magic 2011.

Not to be outdone (feh), the Moonglove Winnower enters the battlefield on turn 5, which generates an Elf token from the Huntmaster. Meanwhile, Big Dumb Beats(tm) roll on with me turning five Forests sideways and laying down a Spined Wurm.

It’s now decision time.

In my hand I have a sixth Forest, a Howl of the Night Pack and an Overrun. The Howl costs a whopping seven mana, which means I’ll get seven 2/2 Wolf tokens for casting it, but also means I’m going to have to delay my attack at least a couple more turns fishing for that elusive seventh Forest. This could, statistically, take up to three turns, which means no swarm until turn 8 because I want every body I can get for the Overrun.

Against some decks, those few extra turns might not be troubling, but having played with Ears I know how big the deck can get in a hurry, and she proves my point on turn 6 with Jagged-Scar Archers, a robust now 6/6 Elf who promises only to get bigger.

Telling myself that I’m taking the smart play over the pretty play, I cast the Overrun and go all in with the Armodon, the Spider, and the Wurm. When the dust settles, the Spider Stands alone, but her Elves are much reduced in number (including the Archers) and Sam stands at 8 life. I’m still at 20.

I eventually do draw that seventh forst, on turn 9, and drop the Howl. Her Immaculate Magistrate makes a cameo at the end, but the wolves finish their good work in short order.

Game Two

This one’s ugly. Sam opens up again with the Elvish Eulogist, and gets in an early attack before I lay a defender on turn 2 (Runeclaw Bear). She adds Gaea’s Herald next, while I have to make do with a Wurm’s Tooth. Not the worst position to be in, but it all goes pear-shaped when she drops the Lys Alana Huntmaster on turn 4, the Immaculate Magistrate on turn 5, and Elvish Promenade on turn 6.

My plays? Giant Spider. Blanchwood Armor. Natural Spring. Rubbish.

Sam sends increasingly massive elves to pummel me until I die.

It doesn’t take long.

Game 3

An epic contest, the tiebreaker. History repeats itself in the opening as Sam plays an Elvish Eulogist and I answer with a Runeclaw Bear. Turn 3 brings me a Civic Wayfinder (and another Forest to hand), and the Bear starts going to work in the red zone. When Sam lays the Immaculate Magistrate in turn 4, though, I start to sweat.

Sam wastes no time in establishing board dominance as she drops a pair of Elven Riders on turns 5-6, and I have no answer to the problem at hand until I topdeck Vigor on turn 7. Vigor! If there was one card in my deck that would laugh in the face of massive elves, it is this one, and I send the Bears and a Spined Wurm I cast on turn 5 into the red knowing she’ll be loathe to block (but can’t afford not to).

Sam takes the 2 from the Bears but blocks the Wurm with some riders, and the Wurm becomes 11/10. Now it’s Sam’s turn for a conumdrum, as she’s got an Eyeblight’s Ending in grip and two tempting targets. She makes the right play, though, when she kills Vigor, and I see my dreams of an evening’s victory slowly begin to circle the bowl.

I still go in with Vigor’s legacy, the massive Wurm, and she blocks with her Elvish Riders. A pair (!) of Giant Growths later, my Wurm is resting with Vigor in the graveyard and her elves are celebrating with mulberry wine.

Sam’s Moonglove Winnower in turn 8 is decorative, as she gets there with the Riders.

Thoughts

Nissa was right! Dabbling in Black magic certainly has given her Elves an edge, and the beasts and fauna of the wood that heed Garruk’s call can only hang their heads in shame.

What went wrong?

Join me Thursday as I deconstruct Teeth of the Predator, and uncover some fundamental (and fatal) flaws in its composition.

13
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Hands of Flame (Part 2 of 2)

From Sligh to RDW, mono-red burn has tended to follow a similar design philosophy, and Hands of Flame is no exception. This deck is packed with small, aggressive creatures, says the strategy insert. However, before assessing this deck it might be useful to spend a moment understanding the design philosophy of these preconstructeds.

Duels of the Planeswalkers was essentially designed as an arcade game ‘version’ of Magic, and so these decks “inspired by” the arcade game, should be viewed through that prism. Intermediate and advanced Red players of the (official) game may be well acquainted with the Philosophy of Fire and what it takes for Red to ‘get there’ (hint: speed kills), but when Hands of Flame claims to be “packed with small, aggressive creatures,” it means something slightly different:

0 1-drop creatures

5 2-drop creatures

5 3-drop creatures

8 4-drop creatures (!)

4 5+ drop creatures

And what’s more, almost half (10/22) of these are vanilla critters. If your collection is a little short on Hill Giants, Hands of Flame packs a full playset!

On the Upside

It’s easy to nitpick some of the card selection, though, so let’s next take a look at where this deck works best- its rares.

Hands really delivers the goods here. The premium foil is Kamahl, Pit Fighter who is a beast in this Duels environment. His critter counterpart is the Shivan Dragon, which, while long since ecliped by better scaly flying options for his mana cost, is still a simple yet iconic beater and a well-placed power card for the newer player these decks cater to. Banefire adds a third X-mana burn to the suite, Rage Reflection acknowledges the preeminent place melee has in this deck’s strategy, and knowing how I was nostalgic for Tempest block cards, I can only gaze with an approving eye at the inclusion of Furnace of Rath.

The Uncommons are generally solid if less sexy, though two of them make me baulk. First is Dragon’s Claw- it seems to be that each of these decks will include two of these barmy life-gainer artifacts (which, to be fair, newer players often gravitate toward). The other is even less comprehensible.

On the Other Hand…

I once bought a bulk collection from some fella in the parking lot of a grocery store, which felt about as dodgy as it sounds, and although not wanting to disappoint the little one I bought them, I was a bit underwhelmed with the cards. In particular was a Mons’s Goblin Raiders which had a gold star for an expansion symbol. Surely, I noted in horror, that card couldn’t possibly have been printed at that rarity, and I immediately gave it to Sam so that I might never have to gaze upon it again.

And while I’ve since learned that that was indeed a misprint, I get a similar queasy feeling when I regard the Earth Elemental at Uncommon. He’s a 4/5. For 3RR. That’s it. No powers or handy special abilities. Just longer-than-average flavour text. I’m not that familiar with Tenth Edition, but I can only speculate that this must have been a decision based on Limited, if they wanted to decrease the frequency with which a 4/5 body appears at the table. That’s the only reason that makes sense, otherwise it just makes my head hurt.

As for the non-creature cards, some burn and a couple of very Red tricks (the once-Black now-Red Enrage, and Act of Treason) round out the deck quite nicely for creature support.

FINAL GRADE: Like all grades for these Decks, it should be stressed that it’s relative to the Duels sets… matched against other, normal Magic preconstructed decks you’d probably drop a point from the grade, but I like what they did with Red here, and it did flow well in playtesting. 3.75/5

11
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Hands of Flame (Part 1 of 2)

Okay, true confession time. The snarky reviewer in me was almost hoping that this deck, Chandra Nalaar’s Hands of Flame inspired by the Duels of the Planeswalkers game, would be as much a bomb as the Jace deck, so that I could say the best part of it was the Bogardan Hellkite I opened in the M10 pack included in the box.

Alas, although one Hellkite richer, it was not to be. As it turned out, Hands was quite a different experience. My opponent for the runthrough was Sam, who was piloting the soon-to-be-reviewed Nissa Revane Ears of the Elves deck. We settled in this afternoon for the usual three games.

Game One

Sam was off to a good start dropping the Elvish Eulogist and Gaea’s Herald on her first couple of turns. I could only respond with a Bloodmark Mentor, but he quickly proved to be quite an investment when on turn 4 I dropped a Lightning Elemental. Often at 4/1 just a kill spell in a creature form, with the first strike granted by the Mentor he was suddenly a force. I followed up with a Cinder Pyromancer on turn 3, where all she had to show was a Wurm’s Tooth.

Sam’s Immaculate Magistrate and Elvish Champion dropped in turns 5-6 weren’t enough to save her as I struck again and again with the Elemental, taking her to 7. The Pyromancer was the hero of the day as I cast Incinerate, pinged her, Shock, and pinged her again for the game.

Game Two

As we’ll see in the forthcoming deck analysis post, Hands of Flame is a bit lacking in the opening game and this was no exception. Fortunately, Sam had no better luck and the first turn went by with us each dropping land. She played a Wurm’s Tooth on turn 2, I matched with a Goblin Piker. Goblin Sky Raider joined the fight the next turn, while Sam had no play until turn 5′s Immaculate Magistrate (which fell prey to an Incinerate). Meanwhile Hands is smashing face with the Goblins and a Hill Giant friend, while Bloodmark Mentor looks on.

This time, though, she’s able to snuff out the Mentor so he might trouble her no more, but the tide of red is too great to staunch when a Lightning Elemental is added and all she’s managed are Elven Riders. A quick Shock seals the deal.

Game Three

Once again, no openers but land, but a turn 2 Piker is deja vu all over again. Her first play comes with turn 3′s Greenweaver Druid, while I drop a second Piker. Any resemblance to the two games previous ends here, however, as the middle ground quickly becomes thickened up with creatures. Lys Alana Huntmaster, Talara’s Battalion and an elf token bolster her position considerably on turn 4, and my only response is to Blaze the Huntmaster.

An Earth Elemental reveals itself on turn 5, and shortly after Sam responds with an Elvish Visionary and Moonglove Winnower. Next turn brings me a Lightning Elemental, the last creature I’ll summon until turn 11. Meanwhile she’s bringing out a Gaea’s Herald, Elven Riders, an Elvish Warrior, and Elvish Visionary.

The detente ends on turn 11, though, when I mise a Shivan Dragon. The Furnace of Rath I drop the next turn spells lights out for Sam and her elves as the Dragon rages in for 18.

All in all, I’m far more satisfied with Hands of Flame than I was with Thoughts of the Wind. Although it suffers from the same build design, as we’ll see, this type of deck just seems to work better in Red, where you have a burn suite rather than countermagic and can more directly take charge of the battlefield with generally suboptimal forces in your favour.

Join me next time when I look under the hood of Hands of Flame, to see what works… and what doesnt. Thanks for reading!

4
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Thoughts of the Wind (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I broke down the new Duels of the Planeswalkers preconstructed deck, Thoughts of the Wind, and found a few flaws in its design. “While other decks rely on direct aggression and confrontation,” the blurb reads, “this deck prefers a more elusive approach.” Was I wrong? Did I underestimate its “elusive approach?”

To find out, I challenged Sam to three duels… with her piloting the Liliana Vess “Eyes of Shadow” deck.

Here’s how we did.

Game 1

Winning the roll, I opened with a Cloud Sprite, Sam returns with The Rack. Next turn I pass while she plays a Demon’s Horn, slipping it in behind The Rack (“Too embarrassing,” she said.) Meanwhile, I’m going in with my Sprites every chance I get.

She tries to drop out a Severed Legion, I Essence Scatter it. She drops a Drudge Skeleton, I don’t respond. By turn 5, the turn she Terrors my Sprites, she’s only at 19 life thanks to that miserable Horn.

She follows up her Terror the next turn with a Mind Rot, my turn like so many of them with this deck being “draw-go.” Another Drudge on turn 7. I play the next ferocious creature in my arsenal: the mighty Wall of Spears. She Mind Rots again, I Cancel. She drops an Abyssal Specter, I Essence Scatter. She tries to drop- of all things- an Unholy Strength on her Drudges, I Unsummon it in response. I’m into turn 12 before I actually replace the threat I lost on turn 5, playing a Thieving Magpie.

Sam Terrors it.

Both of us by this point are looking for the exit. She’s too polite to say so, but I can tell that deep inside, Sam’s wishing she was able to trot out one of her own decks rather than the precons. For my part, I can’t say I blame her.

A Dusk Imp comes out. I Mind Spring for 5. She kills off my Spears with a Consume Spirit, and keeps whittling away my life with the couple of creatures she has in play. It’s a race to get there. I drop another Magpies, followed up with a Cloud Sprite. She tries another Consuming Spirit on the birds, but I have the Boomerang. Next turn I replay the Magpies and add a Phantom Warrior for good measure. She Terrors that, too, but I replace it with an Air Elemental and am ruling the skies with my admittedly lacklustre army. When she plays Underworld Dreams, I know it’s gonna be close. I need something… but what?

I go to draw my next card. What is on top of the deck? What is on top of the deck?? Oh it’s Kraken’s Eye! Oh my God! Oh my God!!

Alright, so maybe it’s not the topdeck of the century. But curse this deck for making that hideous card one I’m actually happy to see… this once. Sam plays her last-ditch blocker, a Crowd of Cinders, I Mind Control it and romp through for the win.

Game 2

If you thought “Game 1″ was a long read, you ought to have tried playing it. Thoughts of the Wind has been colossally underwhelming on my first pilot, but I still had hope that despite my bleak assessment, it would provide some amusement. “This is the first time I’ve ever been mored of Magic,” she noted as she finished shuffling her deck.

Sam and I drop a land for the first turn, then she plays the Rats, Drudge Skeletons, and the Severed Legion in short order after that. All I manage is a Phantom Warrior and an Essence Scatter against her Abyssal Specter. Her deck’s creature engine is flowing well: Sengir Vampire, more rats, a Dusk Imp, and still more rats. I manage to get out a Snapping Drake and Cloud Sprite, which I use to trade for the Vampire. She Terrors my Warrior, and swarms for the kill.

Congratulations, Jace, you just got spanked by my eleven-year-old stepdaughter.

Game 3

This game was the only of the three that ended up resembling fun for the either of us. I get out a Cloud Sprite and Wall of Spears early. She’s out with the Demon’s Horn and a Megrim. I sneer and slap down a Snapping Drake. She sneers back and lives the dream with a Mind Rot followed by The Rack.

I take a gamble and play a Thieving Magpie- now down to one card in hand- to try and build my hand back up and give me some options while doing so. Obviously having something against birds tonight, she’s ready with the Terror in response. But my Cloud Sprite is still earning its keep, flying in turn after turn uncontested.

It would do so for the rest of the game. Sure she was mana flooded, I think she missed her first land drop around turn 12. But what options she had were spent putting out bigger fires, like another Terror for a Snapping Drake. The miserable Demon’s Horn was good for a few life here and there, but the Sprite was relentless. “I can’t believe you’re gonna kill me with faeries,” she mumbled at one point as I flew in for still another single point of damage.

This was the first game of the three when the Blue deck did what Blue decks do best, which is establish control of the battlefield. Crowd of Cinders: Scattered. Consuming Spirit: Counterbored. Ascendent Evincar: Scattered. The best she managed was Rats with Unholy Strength (R.W.U.S., anyone?) On her last draw, looking for a miracle herself, she reached for the card, looked at it, and slumped her head down. “Why this, out of all things?”

A second Demon’s Horn.

The faerie got there.

Analysis

In the end, I suspect that Thoughts of the Wind will rank amongst the very least-played preconstructed I own. For creature-based aggro it’s weak, and the control is lacklustre, indeed precisely as I had supposed when I broke it down in my last post. I had hope then, but having piloted it I can think of little redeeming about the deck: it’s dreadful dull.

Liliana’s Eyes of Shadow deck at least has a Black discard theme to keep it hopping, and is light fun to play. It builds around a nice theme and does a good job backing it up with support. Not so this one- it lacks any semblance of focus. Unless, like me, you’re a collector, I’d urge you to save your money on this one.

FINAL GRADE:  1/5

4
Jun

Duels of the Planeswalkers: Thoughts of the Wind (Part 1 of 2)

“I hate this deck,” muttered Jimi, shuffling in between games 2 and 3 yesterday. Ultimately handed three losses in a row, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Why surely Jace- the “most powerful card in Standard,” deserves a better Planeswalkers deck, and I resolved to get to the bottom of things. Was it bad draws, bad plays… or is Thoughts of the Wind just a bad deck?

I sat down and pulled the deck apart.

Thoughts runs a surprising sixteen creatures. It looks to get in some early damage with a playset of one-drop Cloud Sprites, takes the day off on two-drops (perhaps expecting you to Negate or Essence Scatter?), underwhelms on three-drops with a pair of Wall of Spears and a single, lonely Phantom Warrior, and really starts kicking in the four-to-six-drop range.

3x Snapping Drake

2x Thieving Magpie (obviously in for card advantage, because one power for four mana frightens precisely no-one)

2x Air Elemental

1x Mahamoti Djinn (despite being the foil rare in the set, he’s a pretty unsexy 5/6 vanilla)

1x Denizen of the Deep

So obviously, Thoughts asks you to hold down the fort a bit with some disruption while you build from gnats to beats, skipping right over the middle. I wasn’t impressed with either of the deck’s heavies- having a vanilla critter as your premium foil is a bit underwhelming (for the same cost I’d gladly trade a point of toughness for Shroud), and Blue has plenty of ways to turn the Denizen’s drawback (return each other creature you control to its owner’s hand) into a benefit with comes-into-play-effect critters. This deck runs precisely none of those, and given the presence of a Mind Control in the deck, it’s an even greater liability.

So the obvious question becomes, if Thoughts isn’t asking you to go aggressive on your second through fourth land drop, what is it expecting you to do, particularly on that creatureless second turn?

Umm, no… countering his two-drop with my own gives me nothing in the way of tempo advantage. I’d rather save these for something that hurts them to lose. Same goes for Negate and Cancel.

Again, same problem as with the counters. There are probably better uses for this one down the road a bit.

Seriously?

Granted, the deck’s later-game options are delicious: Mind Spring, Mind Control, Evacuation

Counterbore on the other hand seems to have been included in a fit of irrational exuberance for countermagic. Lobotomizing another player usually has its greatest effectiveness in Constructed play, where running three-ofs and four-ofs are much more common than in these preconstructed decks. Not the best choice by the design team.

So from the first pass, this deck seems a little flawed. It wants to saddle two horses by having elements of both aggro and control, and ends up doing neither especially well. What Blue mage would squeal in delight topdecking a Cloud Sprite late in the game?

Of course, it’s one thing to poke about the deck at liesure, and entirely another still to see how it holds up under fire. Join me on my next post, where I’ll be taking Thoughts of the Wind on a little test drive. See you then!

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