Duel Decks- Divine vs Demonic: Divine Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)
Flush off the success of 2008’s Duel Decks: Jace vs Chandra, Wizards alternated back to the “tribe vs tribe” theme that had kicked off the series (Evles vs Goblins) with the April 2009 release of Divine vs Demonic. Featuring some of the all-stars of the Angels and Demons factions, the set pits a mono-White deck versus its mono-Black counterpart. In both cases, the designers have followed a strategy of “large creatures, light ramping.” This balance tends to yield a relatively uneventful early game with things picking up in the mid- to late-game- heavily lopsided games are always possible (this is, after all, Magic: the Gathering), but in general there should be some dynamic interactions between the two decks.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the mono-White Divine. Packing in an impressive fourteen Angels, the question then becomes whether or not the deck sacrificed some playability for flavour. That said, Duel Decks aren’t like your normal preconstructed products, as they’re generally only intended to be balanced against each other. A deck can be nearly unplayable, but if its opposite number is equally so then voila! Balance!
Obviously it is not in Wizards’ interest to develop an unplayable product. Instead, what this means is that in reviewing the Duel Decks, we shouldn’t judge too harshly when we note that there are a higher-than-comfortable number of very expensive spells in the deck if it is a component of the play experience the Duel Deck is trying to foster.
With that said, let’s now turn to Divine and see how the deck has been constructed, starting of course with the creatures.
A Drop of Immortality
Excepting its top-of-curve bombs, Divine manifests itself with admirable consistency. All but one card in the sub-5+ Converted Mana Cost (CMC) category are in pairs, giveing you a reasonably steady play experience game after game. To begin with, here is the curve:
The deck begins, unsurprisingly for White, with a solid array of weenies. Two Icatian Priests compose the one-drops, meaning that while you’ll infrequently have a turn 1 play, you at least will have a use for them whenever they turn up. The pumping ability of the priests redeems them somewhat as a mana sink for later in the game. Indeed, Divine vs Demonic gets a few extra points for ‘redeeming’ the Fallen Empires set (where the Priest hails from) with some choice inclusions.
Holding place for the two-drops are a pair of Angelic Pages, who, like the Priest before them, have an ability that gives them some later-game relevance. Again it’s becoming quite clear that this deck all but surrenders the early game for added punch later. Things begin to pick up in the three-drops, where you have four cards (two each of the Charging Paladin and Venerable Monk).
The Monk is particularly bland- a 2/2 isn’t the most exciting play you’ll want to make on turn 3-4, and the 2 life it bestows hardly seems worth mention. To be fair, the designers of the deck have said that they wanted to include a light lifegain strategy as a sort of “surrogate ramp.” It won’t get you your bombs out any faster, but some added life will often give you an added cushion so that you can get them out at normal speed without dying. The aggressively-minded Charging Paladins are also a way to clog up the midfield more than an actual win condition. For that, you’ll want to look to the air.
From here on out, every last card is an Angel. Coming with both flying as well as an added ability, the five four-drops are hardly bargains for their cost: each is either a 2/2 or 2/3 with wings. Your twin Sustainer of the Realms are the opposite of the Paladin, a conditional card that is optimised when it stays at home to block. The Angelic Protector is a 2/2 body with a somewhat limited bonus, one that actually is more of a benefit against Red (which deals its damage in points) rather than Black (which more often just kills outright). Lastly, your two Serra Advocates are essentially just “doubled Angelic Pages.” Twice the life, twice the ability… but still a 2/2 body for four.
Beyond that, we get into bomb territory, and here is where the deck is at its most exciting. Divine doesn’t play around- the “5+ CMC” is a little misleading, because less than half of these cards actually cost five, with the most expensive being an intimidating nine mana.
Your “cheapies” are the classic Serra Angel (a ‘rare’ here, after her promotion in the 7th Edition) and a pair of Angels of Mercy. The Angels of Mercy support that ribbon of lifegain in the deck but are far inferior to the singleton Serra. Still, you get what you get. The last four cost 6, 7, 8, and 9 respectively: Twilight Shepherd; Luminous Angel; Akroma, Angel of Wrath; and Reya Dawnbringer. Although their abilities widely vary, one fact remains the same: they’re all solid closers who will finish off your opponent in very short order. Akroma in particular will require your Demonic opponent to go through convolutions to engineer her loss- with her Protection from Black, Demonic has to rely on spells that compel you to sacrifice creatures. That’s an important detail. You may be tempted at times to throw away creatures and take risks once you land Akroma, thinking her safe from harm, but it is actually more important than ever to keep a high creature count up when she hits the table. You’ll need the added fodder to throw away when Demonic starts forcing you to sacrifice critters.
So there we have it- a token early game presence that ramps into a somewhat mediocre mid-game, with the hopes of getting you through to the endgame where you can deploy one of your massive beaters in the sky and finish off your foe. While I can’t say it’s the most unique or compelling strategy, it’s worth seeing how well its noncreature array supports it.
The Light of an Angel’s Glance
The short answer? Not especially well. Out of fourteen noncreature cards, you have a grand total of three pieces of removal: two Faith’s Fetters and a Pacifism. When you get one, hold onto it for dear life and only use it against the most deserving of targets.
Beyond that there’s a very welcome pinch of mana ramp (two Marble Diamonds), creature auras (Serra’s Boon– which doubles as very weak removal- and Serra’s Embrace), two enchantments (Righteous Cause and Angelic Benediction), and a host of miscellaneous effects. These vary from the useful (Otherworldly Journey) to the less-than-exciting (Angelsong, Angel’s Feather, and Healing Salve). In our experience, such meandering lists tend to dilute the effectiveness of the deck (but of course, if Demonic is equally meandering…).
Here’s the curve for the entire deck:
All told, we’re a bit suspicious about the deck’s gameplay. Back-heavy decks with unfocused noncreature support tend towards a feast-or-famine approach. Stall on your mana and draw some of the more rubbish cards like Angel’s Feather and you’re bound to be frustrated. At its best, you’ll draw some early critters to clog up the red zone and hope for a little bit of mana flood. With so many critters on the back-end, if Demonic follows the same pattern games will be something of a mana race, which aren’t always the most exciting of matchups (they tend to place more emphasis on luck than better-configured decks).
Still, it remains to be seen how it will play out against Demonic, and if it manages to answer these concerns about its efficacy. Come back in two days, and we’ll find out!