Duel Decks- Divine vs Demonic: Demonic Review (Part 2 of 2)
After a less-than-satisfactory performance in our last playtest, the Demonic hordes would take to the field one last time in a clash against their hated foes, the Angels of Divine. Under new leadership, would they at last assume their rightful place of dominance in the multiverse, or would the heavenly host flush them like so much offal back to the hells they spawned from? We played the customary three matches to find out.
On the play, Jimi drops a first-turn Plains and passes. I play a Swamp, then drop a Dark Ritual into a Soot Imp for some early nuisance factor. The Imp is no great shakes, but I figure he’ll probably get in five points of damage by his ability alone and that justifies the cost using a card to cheat him out. Jimi, however, has an elegant solution- she plays an Angel’s Feather, and now she’ll be almost breaking even (only artifacts will trigger the life loss without resultant life gain). Back to me, I swing in with my Imp, then follow up with an Abyssal Gatekeeper.
Turn 3 sees Jimi bring out her first creature, an Icatian Priest. Having msised my third land drop, I opt to go all-in and back my fastest horse by placing an Unholy Strength on the Imp. I swing in for 3, taking Jimi to 15. Again Jimi finds an elegant answer, and layers my Soot Imp with a Serra’s Boon, effectively neutralising the Unholy Strength.
Drawing no land on turn 4 and desperate, I sigh as I blow a Demonic Tutor on fetching a Swamp. After putting it into play, I settle for going in again with the Imp for 1, then passing.
Jimi’s hitting her stride by turn 5 with an Angel of Mercy coming down, bumping her up to 17 life. With few options, I have to get a little creative and tap out to cast a 1-point Consume Spirit on the Priest. It seems a waste of a spell, but I’m doing whatever I can to tread water, knowing every round I don’t get land victory just tilts that much more in favour of Jimi. I have a Cruel Edict in hand, and with luck she’ll cast something juicy and have to choose between that and the Angel. Either way, I buy more time.
Alas, Jimi doesn’t cooperate, and instead plays a Venerable Monk, perfectly worthless fodder for an Edict. The life bump takes her up to 19, and she swings in for 3 with the Angel. I’m down to 18.
Desperate to find a gambit that’ll stick, I send both my critters in on Jimi. She opts to block and kill the Gatekeeper, and sacrifices the Monk as a consequence. I pop my somewhat worthless Imp, then follow it up with the Edict to claim her Angel. I’m not in a very good spot, but for the moment we’re in a stall with no creatures on the board.
I catch a break on turn 7, when Jimi’s turn is a near-blank (she plays a land and passes). I play a Demon’s Jester for my part, then turn it back over to her. Jimi then lands a Serra Advocate (gaining 1 life from the early Angel’s Feather, now producing without the Soot Imp there to check it). It’s a 19-18 game. Back to me, I swing in for 2 with the Jester, then cast a second one. Jimi one-ups me with a Twilight Shepherd on turn 9, and I feel the game start to slip further away. I get off a Promise of Power to draw five cards (losing 5 life in the process), and at least now have a few more options.
Jimi takes me from 13 life to 6 the next turn, sending her Shepherd into the red zone and pumping it with the Advocate. I opt to gamble with an Oni Possession on a Jester, then send it across for 5. To make sure I’m protected at home, I drop a Soot Imp before passing. The loss of 2 more life hurts, but staring at a Corrupt in hand has made me a little more fearless.
Jimi forces my hand, though, when she drops her other Icatian Priest before sending in both flyers. If I let even the smaller Adovate through, the Priest could pump it for lethal. Sadly, I have to chump with both my Foul Imp and spare Jester. And with only the enchanted Jester left, I have to sac it due to the Oni Possession’s upkeep. I’m now creatureless once more. I get some satisfaction from Corrupting the Icatian Priest (in case I mise a Barter in Blood), taking me back to 11 life.
Jimi’s turn 12 Reya Dawnbringer is more or less formality, though. She swings in for 7, taking me to 4. I draw nothing, and scoop.
A slow start to game two, with Jimi’s turn-3 Charging Paladin the first play of the game. With me on the play, I follow up with a turn-4 Dusk Imp, while Jimi continues the tit-for-tat with an Angelic Page (after drawing first blood with the Paladin).
Turn 5 arrives, and I again opt for early aggression with my Unholy Strength, enchanting the Imp and swinging hard for 4. I then cast Breeding Pit and pass, putting a 0/1 Thrull token into play. Jimi returns fire with the Page-pumped Paladin, taking me to 15, then raising her own life total to 19 with an Angel of Mercy.
My turn 6 is a blank (draw, Swamp, pass), but at least I get another Thrull token out of it . Jimi has no such worry, swinging in with her Angel of Mercy, pumping it with the Page, then summoning a second Angel of Mercy. It’s now 22-11, favouring Jimi.
Feeling the familiar tug of momentum slipping away, I immediately cycle away the Barren Moor I draw (getting a Swamp in return). I then cast Barter in Blood to calm things down a litte. I sac two Thrulls, Jimi loses an Angel of Mercy and her Angelic Page. Not a bad deal. I put another Thrull into play, and pass.
Jimi keeps the pressure on, hitting me with her Paladin for 2, following it up with a Twilight Shepherd. Unnerved, I use a Dark Ritual to get out a Corrupt (I’m one land light of the six needed), killing the Shepherd. It returns due to Persist, but I figure I’ll have an easier go of it as a 4/4 than a 5/5. Now at 15 life, I generate another Thrull and pass back to Jimi, who comes in swinging with the Paladin and Shepherd. I chump out the Dusk Imp, taking two from the Paladin. Jimi then follows up with an Angelic Page, then passes.
Turn 9, and I refill my hand with Promise of Power. It’s a gamble, taking me to 8 life, but I’m in dire need of options. I place a third Trull onto the battlefield, and pass. Jimi continues her assault, pushing the Paladin and Angel of Mercy into the red zone. I chump a Thrull to the Paladin, but the Angel gets through for four (after being pumped by the Page). I’m down to 4 life.
I left the Breeding Pit die on turn 10 to free up the mana, then play a Demon’s Horn, Abyssal Gatekeeper, and Soot Imp. The Horn puts me up to a whopping 6 life, but I’m feeling better protected. That’s when Jimi plays a Righteous Cause, attacking with her Paladin and Angel of Mercy. I chump with the Gatekeeper, and each of us have to offer up a critter. Jimi loses the Page, unsurprisingly I kill off a Thrull. It’s now a 23-2 game.
I buy some time on turn 11, hitting Jimi’s Twilight Shepherd for 8 and putting me back to 11 life. Jimi swings back with the Paladin (I take it), then drops a Serra Angel. Casting the Angel drops her to 22 life (from the Soot Imp), and she passes.
I’m hoping for a comeback on turn 12 as I play a Fallen Angel and Daggerclaw Imp (gaining 2 life from the Horn), but Jimi wastes no time in Pacifying the Angel. She then swings with the Serra Angel, hitting me for 4 and gaining her 1 life from her enchantment.
Though dismayed by the loss of the Angel, I topdeck a Reiver Demon and have enough to cast it. Wiping Jimi’s board, I then charge in with my Imps for 4 (even as Jimi gets 2 back from the Cause). Jimi’s now at 20, and on a three-turn clock.
Jimi then topdecks Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Turns out my clock is even shorter still, alas.
Desperate for redemption, I keep a 2-land hand that has both an Overeager Apprentice and a Dark Ritual in it, knowing if I do get land-starved I can always power something big out in a pinch. Leading off with a Barren Moor, I pass over to Jimi who matches with a Plains. Dropping my second land into play on turn 2, I briefly contemplate using the Ritual to squeeze out an early Demon’s Jester, big as I haven’t had much luck with that play in the past, I simply pass instead. My caution is rewarded when Jimi plays a trade-capable Angelic Page.
Back to me, my turn 3 is a complete blank- not even a land to play. Jimi swings in with the Page, then follows up by putting a second Page on the board. Once more I’m feeling that the Divine deck, which is the slower of the two, is actually outpacing me. Drawing into a Swamp on turn 4, I deploy the Apprentice, just in case. Back to Jimi, she swings in with one Page, pumping it with the other. I’m at 17 life.
I finally play something with a little bite on turn 5 in the form of a Soot Imp. Although he won’t be blocking unless things get dramtically worse, he’ll give me a little bit of range. I send the Apprentice into the red zone, taking Jimi to 19. Jimi then swings back for 2, and passes. I may have caught a break- her land situation is looking on pace with mine.
Next turn, I draw another Swamp and waste no time in getting out the Demon’s Jester, which should hold the attack of the Pages in abeyance. Seizing the opportunity, I send in both my weenies to take a 2-point bite out of Jimi. It’s a 17-15 game.
Jimi throws a curve with a turn-6 Sustainer of the Realm, a blocker capable of killing any of my critters and walking away just fine. Her life drops to 16 courtesy of the Soot Imp, but she makes up for it by dropping me to 13 with the Pages. I contemplate a trade, but let it through. I’ve a few things in hand I’m working towards, involving a Breeding Pit and a Barter in Blood, and I’ve got a Dark Banishing to boot in case something drastic hits the table. I can afford to lose a little life.
Unfortunately, my turn 7 is a complete blank, and back to Jimi she puts Faith’s Fetters on my Jester, going up to 19 life in the bargain. Facing the prospect of getting swung in on for 4 a turn, time to get things moving. Jimi attacks with both the Sustainer as well as a Page. I burn the Banishing on the Sustainer, and she pumps her Page with the other Page to hit me for 2. Back to me, I tap out for a Breeding Pit, and swing back for 2 with my Imp and Apprentice, then put a 0/1 Thrull token into play before ending my turn. Dropping her fifth land, Jimi taps out for a Serra Angel (losing 1 life from the Imp), then attacks again. I’m now at 9 life.
Unable to afford the luxury of card economy, I let the Pit lapse without paying for it- four mana and a card for a 0/1 Thrull token, but desperation makes fools of us all. I then drop a Swamp and a Fallen Angel. Jimi has a busy turn- she sends her Angel on an Otherworldly Journey, a probable misplay that gives me a sliver of breathing room, then puts down a Marble Diamond. Thanks to ol’ Sootie, she loses 2 life for the privilege, and is down to 14. She sends in the Page again, perhaps to bluff, but I snap it up with the Fallen Angel- and just like that’s she’s put the noose around her own neck.
Jimi’s called bluff has left her with two critters, and I pounce with a Barter in Blood. She loses both her remaining Page and the Serra, while all I lose is the over-priced Thrull token and the useless Demon’s Jester. I then swing in for 5 with the Imp, the Angel and the Apprentice. It’s now tied, 9-9. Just to be safe, I use my remaining mana for a Duress, and whittle away her Serra’s Embrace. She has a Luminous Angel in hand, a Healing Salve… not much more. Jimi’s turn 10 is a wash (she drops a land), and passing back to me I go for the throat.
Going into the tank for a moment, I realise I have just enough on the board and in hand to win, and having seen her hand I know I’m in little peril of being thwarted. I send in the Fallen Angel, sacrificing both my Imp and Apprentice to her for added damage. Coming in for 7, she indeed burns her Salve and only takes 4. She’s down to 5 life- exactly the number of Swamps I have in play now- and with the Barren Moor I tap out to cast Corrupt.
Thoughts & Analysis
Although I much prefer Demonic to Divine, it’s mainly due to my own natural colour preference than anything particular to either deck- they’re both somewhat equal in mediocrity. One of the complaints I’ve heard about Magic 2011 is that it’s Limited/draft format feels too much like it’s decided on who gets to their bombs faster- most of what precedes it feels like prelude rather than actual game. I’ve had that thought in mind as I’ve piloted both decks.
There is a certain element of casual fun to that approach, and indeed if neither player gets a bomb out the early and mid-game does matter (our Game 3 was a fine example of this). Those games can be rather fun. But one can be excused for feeling perhaps just a little cheated when a timely Akroma or Reiver Demon steals a game single-handedly, which they can most certainly do. This to us reeks of excessive variance, which doesn’t make for the most skillful play.
After a thorough review of both decks, though, I would conclude that the designers got this one right. The balance is very solid, and both decks are fairly bomb-dependant. Contrary to expectation, Divine does have some measure of success early on- it’s just not necessarily consistent. As has been mentioned occasionally here, when we sit down to play three games for review, we actually play four– one to “break the ice,” and get a feel for the decks, then the three we actually write up. Once in awhile, that “icebreaker” game produces something worth mention.
In this case, I had a monster start against Jimi opening off on the play. My opening hand showed me a pair of Dark Rituals, an Unholy Strength, an Abyssal Specter, Breeding Pit and pair of Swamps. First turn Ritual, Ritual, Specter and Unholy Strength gave me a 4/3 flyer destined to stitch the game up almost by himself by causing Jimi to get pilloried on discard. Indeed I won, but only on turn 9, after Jimi had quickly stabilised then four-for-oned me with a Faith’s Fetters. It was a photo finish, and a blast of a game that dispelled a notion or two about Divine.
There’s little critical to be said about Demonic that wasn’t already said about Divine. If you like a very casual, “bombs-n-bears” approach to the game or are perhaps enamoured of its theme, then you won’t go wrong with this release. If you tend to look to minimise variance and prefer consistency in your game, you may want to give it a miss.
Hits: Good selection of flavourful cards that do a great job in conveying the deck’s theme; the new Lord of the Pit has amazing art and looks fantastic in foil; reasonably well-balanced against its counterpart
Misses: Removal suite on both sides of the aisle is lacking; early plays tend to feel inconsequential when most of the deciding factors are the huge bombs both decks carry; games heavily variant (this could be a ‘hit’ for some)
FINAL GRADE: 3.90/5.00