Premium Deck Series: Fire & Lightning Review (Part 2 of 2 )
I don’t know who was more excited to roll up the sleeves and get down to playing- me with the new Fire & Lightning deck, filled with one of my favourite archetypes, and Sam with the five-colour critterfest Slivers. They seemed an enticing matchup, for the decks were not balanced against one another in design (the way, say, Duel Decks are) and anything could happen. In Phyrexia vs. The Coalition, Wizards similarly pitted a five-colour deck versus a mono one, and had to build in some restraints to the Phyrexia deck so that it didn’t just win almost every time (as you’d expect a Suicide Black to do).
These constraints- a larger mana curve and disparate win conditions- helped balance both halves of that Duel Deck, but for the Premium decks no such considerations were in place. Indeed, the nature of Slivers and its inherent card economy- where much like Allies each successive card of that type makes all the others stronger- meant that I fully expected to be given a run for my money. Fire & Lightning is more spell-heavy than the typical precon, so I’d have fewer creatures to provide a recurring presence. Slivers is almost entirely made up of creatures. Would I be able to burn through them all and get there, or would I find myself drifting with an empty hand while the swarm of Slivers overran me?
We sat down to find out, and here are our notes.
Sam’s on the play this game, and she trots out an early Plains. I get out a Grim Lavamancer after dropping a Mountain, and pass. Back to Sam, she gets on the board with a Victual Sliver after playing a Forest, but I’ve got the more aggressive turn with my answering Spark Elemental. It swings in for three unblocked, takes Sam down to 17, then promptly dies. It’s hard not to think that a Lightning Bolt might not be better on a one-to-one basis, but its rather academic as Fire & Lightning already packs in a set of ‘Bolts. Plus, it has its uses.
With my defenses open, Sam comes in with her Victual Sliver on turn 3, notching me for 2. She has no other play, so when my turn arrives and I play a Boggart Ram-Gang, I’m able to swing for 4. Sam’s now down to 13 life. Next turn, Sam plays a Terramorphic Expanse and cracks it for a Mountian, but otherwise blanks. Having held her Sliver back in reserve, I don’t attack with the Lavamancer this time, but still go in with the Boggarts for 3 more.
Sam starts to wake up on turn 5, with a Quick Sliver coming down giving her Slivers Flash. She hits for 2 more with the Victual, then goes to pass. At the end of her turn I ‘Bolt her Quick Sliver. In response, Sam Flashes out a Spined Sliver. The Spined Sliver isn’t long for this world, though, as once my turn is underway I drop the Hammer of Bogardan on it, sending it to the gravepile before sending the Boggarts in for another 3.
Turn 6 arrives, and Sam manages to get out her largest Sliver thus far, the mighty Brood Sliver. She attacks with her Victual Sliver, but with my graveyard filled with treats I have no problem activating the Grim Lavamancer to kill it on its way in. Back to me, I tap out to recall the Hammer during my upkeep, drop a Mountain and Chain Lightning the Brood Sliver. Swinging in with the Boggarts and the Lavamancer, Sam’s now down to 3 life and struggling.
Knowing she has no answer to the Hammer, she draws, then scoops.
A good early start for Sam, whose first two turns see her with a Rootbound Crag and Ancient Ziggurat for lands, and a turn-2 Acidic Sliver! I kick off with the all-singing, all-dancing Goblin show by laying down a Mogg Fanatic and Mogg Flunkies. Sam’s turn 3 Necrotic Sliver keeps the pressure mounting. I drop a Teetering Peaks to buff the Fanatic, then send both Goblins into the red zone. Declining to block, Sam takes 6 and is down to 14 life. Not willing to let the Necrotic fella live for Sam to untap, I Lightning Bolt it before passing my turn.
Undaunted, Sam replaces it with a Spectral Sliver after swinging in for 2 with the Acidic. I send the Goblins back in. Though the unbuffed Fanatic is easy prey, the Flunkies won’t attack without friends. Sam predictably blocks the Fanatic with her Spectral Sliver, and just as predictably I sac it and send a point of damage to her face. It’s now 10-18.
Turn 5, Sam untaps and draws and is hit with a Sudden Impact for 4. She plays an Amoeboid Changeling after swinging in for 5: both Slivers, with one of them pumped by the Spectral ability. Back over to me, I manage a Vulshok Sorcerer as an attacking companion for the Flunkies. We’re both in tight spots, though mine’s the tighter- I can’t seem to manage a creature of substance to help the Flunkies overcome their shyness, and don’t have the resources to turtle and let the Sorceror ping for the win. I send both in, and Sam trades out her Changeling for my pinger. Still, the Flunkes cut her in half, and I’m one ‘Bolt away from a second win.
Sam starts to catch up on turn 6, firing both Slivers into the red zone to hit me for 6 before trotting out a Metallic Sliver. Down to 7 life and nearly doomed, I summon Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, though I know it’s futile. Sam sees it, too, and she sacs her Metallic Sliver to kill Jaya. Still, by forcing Sam to use the two mana to do it, I’ve confined her to doing 6 damage this turn rather than 7, and bought myself a round.
Topdecking a Keldon Marauders, I take Sam from 3 to 2, but it’s not the solution I need. Sam untaps and sacs her Spectral Sliver for 2 damage to me, taking the win. A close one!
Fortune has smiled upon me as I draw my opening grip and behold the scintillating beauty within: a trio of Mountains driving a Jackal Pup, Lightning Bolt, Grim Lavamancer, and Pillage. I look up at Sam and try to keep the cackle out of my voice, “I’ll keep this.”
On the play, the Jackal Pup comes out first. Sam manages a Forest, then passes. I draw a second Pup, and trot him out beside the Grim Lavamancer after scoring 2 against her with the first Pup. Sam plays a Swamp, then summons a Muscle Sliver.
Sending both Pups in for 4, Sam declines to block and is now at 14 life. Knowing the deck has more Forests than anything else, I opt to Pillage her Swamp to keep her off any of the annoying sac-Slivers that bedeviled me last game. With a visible grimace, Sam replaces it with a Plains and passes.
I ratchet the tension up on turn 4 with a Ball Lightning, sending it in alongside my Pups. Sam swaps her Muscle Sliver for a Pup (damaging me for 2 in the process), taking 8 and dropping her to 6. Desperate for aid, Sam brings forth a Necrotic Sliver.
Starting turn 5, I send in my remaining Jackal Pup, seeing if Sam will take the bait. If she blocks, I use the Lavamancer to kill her Sliver and she buys herself a turn. She lets the Pup through, though, and the trap is sprung. The Pup takes her to 4, the Lavamancer to 2, and I finish her off with the Lightning Bolt.
Thoughts & Analysis
There isn’t a lot to analyse here, as this is a deck almost completely devoid of intricacy- what you see is what you get, and what you get is a ton of burn. There’s something liberating in knowing you can fling burn away at your opponent’s critters to clear an attack path, securely in the comfort that you’ll be drawing more and more as the game goes on.
Wit hRed being the colour most inclined to sacrifice efficiency for the here-and-now, Red decks have a susceptibility to running out of steam after an early rush. Canny opponents know that if they can just weather the storm up-front and hang on out of “burn range,” the momentum will swing back towards them and they may prevail. Credit Fire & Lightning for includng cards like Jaya Ballard and Hammer of Bogardan that can give you that last little push you need to close out a game that runs long. Although I ended up losing in Game Two, I was just a topdeck away from a win. That’s some consolation.
Is the deck worth $35, though? That’s an individual call. I’m no great adherent to foil cards, but you could do a lot worse than these. As mentioned in the first part of this review, they are aesthetically stunning. Unlike the Slivers deck, the card choices aren’t parasitic, either- most will find something to go into their casual deck or draft cube- about the only player who won’t find their money’s worth here is the Standard die-hard (a Fire Servant, Fireball, Reverberate, and playset of Lightning Bolts might be a bit too paltry for $35, however gorgeous the foil). EDH players in particular may rejoice at how little repetition there is in the deck- it gets its consistency from card analogues (different cards that do very similar things) rather than multiple copies.
Hits: Stunning card appearance with beautiful foils; great and diverse card selection will appeal to a wide cross-section of the game; Wizards learned their lesson from Slivers and made a deck with much broader appeal; solid and aggressive mana curve; peerless removal suite
Misses: $35 price point for what is, in the end, just 60 cards might not appeal to everyone; land mixture a bit too rich, could run on leaner for greater spell output
OVERALL GRADE: 4.60/5.00