Premium Deck Series: Fire & Lightning Review (Part 1 of 2)
A year ago, Wizards of the Coast released to some fanfare a new product line, the Premium Deck Series. Consisting of an all-foil theme deck, it was aimed at a very interesting segment of the market: casual players with an interest in pimp cards. Its Slivers tribal theme had zero Standard appeal however attractive the cards, but there was a welcome audience amongst the cube set who frequently enjoy using foils, foreign cards and alternate printings (promo, textless, etc) to make their creations stand out.
If Slivers fell far short of being an overwhelming success (you can still find them quite easily today for around $20), it was perhaps a failure in scope than it was in concept. Like most tribes, the Slivers have their adherents within the Magic community, but they are far fewer than say the Goblins or Elves. Having found that the right premium cards can command a large markup (see: From the Vaults), they returned to the drawing board and came up with an answer: don’t go deep, go broad.
The result is Fire & Lightning, a release that seems to have greatly improved upon its predecessor. Not only do you have a more open-ended (or, in R&D’s parlance “less parasitic”) set of 60 cards, for a great many players play with burn spells, but it also had cards more closely tailored to the cares of the collectors. Foil Jackal Pups, Figures of Destiny, Chain Lightnings and Jaya Ballards are in a much better position to move boxes than a gaggle of Slivers. And although not necessarily relevant for our area of concern, the cards are gorgeous. Even the red card frames pop! And if players rightly felt that Wizards missed an opportunity by not offering a 10-sided Poison counter die with the Scars of Mirrodin Fat Packs, Fire & Lightning has attended even to that minor detail: it’s 20-sided ‘Spindown” life counter is made of a translucent red plastic that almost seems to glow from within.
But enough of the bedazzlement- we’re here to review Fire & Lightning as a deck, and so we shall.
Smoldering Long After Extinguished
Unsurprisingly, a glance at the deck’s mana curve for creatures shows it aggressively constructed:
Half of the one-drops are Tempst-block stalwarts, with a pair each of Jackal Pups and Mogg Fanatics. Mogg Fanatics were a terror of the battlefield for some time until Wizards removed damage from the stack. No longer could they take down something twice their size, they now are a rather bland critter with a somewhat minor benefit- likely included as much for nostalgia as anything else. A search of other one-drop Commons yield other, rather solid choices: Goblin Bushwhacker, Flamekin Brawler, or even Intimidator Initiate.
Another in the slot with a very storied pedigree is the Pup, which featured prominently in Sligh decks of its time. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘Sligh,’ it refers to Red Deck Wins’s antecedent, a mono-Red aggro deck that in some ways revolutionised the game of its time (you can read more here). Reprinted here with new art, they are a very solid choice for the all-in mage. Rounding out the early plays are a pair of Spark Elementals (hasty damage), a Grim Lavamancer (reusable damage) and the ancestor of Rise of the Eldrazi’s Level Up critters, Figure of Destiny (from Weenie to closer).
Moving into the two-drops, the hyperaggression continues with a Hellspark Elemental and pair of Keldon Marauders. A little more permanent is the Mogg Flunkies duo, which are a huge bargain at the expense of a conditional payoff. Already Fire & Lightning seeks to be king of the early-game, but it still holds quite a punch for the mid-game transition. There’s still some flash-bang damage with the Ball Lightning and Boggart Ram-Gang, but here the focus starts to shift into more indirect and reusable damage sources, ways to ‘get there’ when things start to thicken in the red zone. Singletons Vulshok Sorcerer and Cinder Pyromancer offer alternate takes on the pinger/Tim dynamic, and proto-Planeswalker Jaya Ballard, Task Mage turns any card in your hand into an Incinerate.
From there, the deck offers two top-of-curve options in a Keldon Champion and Fire Servant. The Keldon Champion’s enters-the-battlefield ability coupled with its Haste gives you all its benefits up front, even if you elect not to pay its Echo and keep it around for good in a pinch. The Fire Servant’s ability- doubling the damage from your Instants or Sorceries- is rather sexy, though by the time you’re able to cast it you’ll likely have depleted your hand of much of its burn. Still, with as much burn as the deck has available, there are worse things to play.
The Threat of Power
A full one-quarter of the deck are noncreature spells, and you’ll seldom be very far away from drawing more burn- all but three of these are direct damage. Most of it comes in the versatile “target creature or player” form: four Lightning Bolts, Chain Lightning, Fireblast, Fireball, and the reusable Hammer of Bogardan. An additional two burn spells are a bit more conditional- Thunderbolt and Flames of the Blood Hand, while a further two damage your opponent directly depending on their manner of play (Sudden Impact and Price of Progress).
Here’s the deck’s combined mana curve, which again reinforces its front-loaded approach:
The strategy for playing the deck, then, is as simple as it is obvious. Get out ahead early with a fast creature rush, using burn to clear a path through your opponent’s defenders. Keep the pressure on with aggressive play, and if you’re not able to close down your opponent early, you still have options. With so much burn at your fingertips, you’ll often find your oppoent within ‘burn range’ once they dip into single-digits life. Use the range the burn affords you to finish them off, while engaging your transitional creatures for reusable efficiency (your pingers, Jaya, etc).
A small array of nonbasic land helps support this approach. Two Teetering Peaks bolster the power of one of your attackers (though Smoldering Spires would have been preferable), while the Ghitu Encampment gives you another body on the battlefield. Barbarian Ring gives you a little more mid-game reach with an added burn source, though beware the negative synergy with the Grim Lavamancer.
One off-note struck by the deck is that it carries too many land cards, with 25 in the deck. Mono-coloured aggro decks heavily skewed towards the cheaper drops don’t need to run with this rich a mixture, and you may find yourself drawing a Mountain rather than that last Lightning Bolt needed to finish off your foe a trifle more than you’d prefer. It’s a curious ratio- were they really so worried that you’d not be able to power into your Fire Servant in time? That your single, solitary X-spell could use a little extra gas?
Still, if that’s amongst the worst that can be said for the deck, it’s not doing too badly. We’ll next be taking the deck into the field for a trio of games against Slivers, which should make for a most compelling matchup. See you then!