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April 5, 2011

15

Duel Decks- Knights vs Dragons: The Knights Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Enough talk- now that we’ve picked both decks apart and gone through their inner workings, its time to shuffle them up and deal a hand (or three). I’ve decided to pilot the Knights for this first foray into the conflict, while the Dragon deck will be steered by none other than Sam. Sam’s had plenty of experience with massive beaters, and a transition from Green to this Red deck is a pleasant one given the sheer volume of burn. We squared off for the customary three matches, and here are our notes.

Game One

Sam opens with a Skirk Prospector, which she uses to get ahead with an attack on turn 2 after I’ve dropped nothing to dissuade her. I do a little mana-fixing with a Grasslands to get a Plains, but the early game appears to be going Sam’s way. A turn-3 Dragonspeaker Shaman does nothing to dispel the notion, but I manage to land a Loxodon Warhammer. I can chalk up my slow start to the Selesnya Sanctuaries in my hand. I kept with one, then drew a second on turn 2. Until I actually cast something, since I’m on the draw I am prevented from playing one of them, since the land it returns to my hand would put me at eight cards and force an end-of-turn discard. Finally, the Warhammer relieves the pressure on my hand, and I can now play them freely as circumstances dictate.

Now turn 4, Sam sends in her duo for 4 (taking me to 15), then adds a Bloodmark Mentor. I drop a Sanctuary for that all-important second White mana source (returning a Forest), then pass. Next turn Sam swings with the team and gives me a wonderful gift- I use Harm’s Way to prevent the Shaman’s damage, then kill off the Shaman with it. Sam’s on four land, and the Shaman’s cost-reduction ability could have allowed Sam to cast nearly the first Dragon she drew. I’ve never been a fan of effects like Harm’s Way, but every once in awhile you do get to play one in that “best-case-scenario” hat (almost) makes you forget you’re actually playing one. Sam follows this up with a Dragon Fodder and passes. Over to me, I summon my first creature- a White Knight– and lay down my second Sanctuary (pulling back another Forest).

Although deprived of her Shaman, Sam’s not without her tricks as she sacs both Goblins she received with the Fodder tothe Prospector on turn 6, and taps out to summon the mighty Mordant Dragon. I have no answer, instead attacking for 2 with the Knight then playing the Juniper Order Ranger. Next turn Sam attacks with her Dragon, taking me down to 7 life and blasting the Ranger into oblivion. She follows this up with an Armillary Sphere. Over to me, I equip the Loxodon Warhammer onto my White Knight, then play a Knight Exemplar. She’ll be dead almost right away- she’s the only useful target for the Mordant- but she’ll buy my White Knight a round. I swing in with him for 6, which swings the game into a tie at 13 life apiece.

The Knight Exemplar meets her expected fate next turn, turn 8, as Mordie flies in for 7 damage. Sam ends her turn, and I’m back on the attack again, trying to outrace her Dragon. I attack with the Knight and pump him with Sigil Blessing, which puts Sam down to 5 and restores me to 14. I play a Knight of the White Orchid, which means that Sam won’t be able to stop my next round’s attack just by blowing it up with her Dragon. Alas, Sam topdecks an answer- a Cone of Flame– and wipes my board. Without an answer to her Dragon, my defeat is inevitable.

Game Two

I have a much stronger start this go-round. Although I don’t get a turn-1 play outside of land (watching with a groan as Sam lands the Skirk Prospector again), I do have the right mana to deploy a turn-2 White Knight. Sam looks to fix her manabase with an Armillary Sphere and passes.

First blood is drawn on turn 3 as I send the Knight into the red zone, then I follow up by adding a Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers. Sam entrenches her defenses behind a Mudbutton Torchrunner– annoying, but I can’t let it put me off of aggressive play lest she build into her Dragons. I’ll just have to take some losses. I hold the Cavalier back and swing in with the Knight, certain she’ll decline the trade with the more tempting fare of the Cavaliers sitting on the board. She lets it through. I play the Loxodon Warhammer and pass. Next turn, Sam plays a second Torchrunner, and leaves me little choice but to go all in.

Now turn 5, I equip the Warhammer to the Cavaliers and send both of my Knights in to attack. Sam’s Torchrunner duo can kill both of my Knights if she wants to, but she lets the White Knight pass unmolested. Instead, she chumps the Cavaliers, then finishes them off with the Torchrunner’s death-spasm Lightning Bolt. Still, the trample and lifelink of the Cavaliers ensure their death was not in vain, as it’s now a 9-26 game in my favour. At last, it seems the Knights are getting their promised strong start. Sam spends her turn 5 building up land, first popping the Armillary Sphere to grab two Mountains from her library, then landcycling a Fiery Fall for one more. Next turn I equip the Warhammer to the White Knight and attack for 5 (Sam takes it), and follow up with a Leonin Skyhunter. Unfortunately, Sam again shows the Cone of Flame, burning out both Knights and singeing me for 1 (down to 28). She then attacks with her Goblins for 2 more.

Still, I’m far from spent as I summon a Zhalfirin Commander on turn 7. Sam doubles her Goblin population with a Dragon Fodder, then attacks for 1 with the Torchrunner knowing I’d likely let it pass (I do). After I fire off an end-of-turn Heroes’ Reunion (putting me up to 32 life), I begin my turn by girding my Commander with the trusty Warhammer. Sam responds by sacrificing her Torchrunner to her Prospector to kill off the Commander. I respond in turn with a Mighty Leap to save him, but Sam gets the final word by saccing her Goblin tokens to fuel a Bogardan Hellkite. The Hellkite’s 5 points of enters-the-battlefield damage puts the final nail in the coffin of the Commander, and blasts me for the remaining 4. Fair play to Sam. For her next turn, Sam simply attacks with the Dragon and the Prospector, chunking me down to 22 life and beginning a very frustrating sequence of plays. Sam’s at 4 life- close to death, but I struggle to close the gap.

My turn-9 Alaborn Cavalier is greeted by an immediate Seismic Strike. Sam swings for 6.

My turn 10 is spent drawing a useless Edge of Autumn, cycling it, drawing a Treetop Village, playing it, and casting a Spidersilk Armor. Sam swings for another 6, I’m down to 10 life.

On turn 11, I animate the Village, equip my Warhammer to it and send it in to attack. Sam summons a Bogardan Rager to kill it, though I do cut her down to 2 life and jump to 16 from the lifelink. Sam puts me back down to 10, then adds a Bloodmark Mentor.

On turn 12 I play a Juniper Order Ranger. This time, Sam holds back the Dragon as a first-striking defender.

I add a turn-13 Paladin of Prahv (which triggers the Ranger’s counter-adding ability for both my creatures). Neither are especially useful, but they do threaten Sam and can chump her Dragon thanks to the Spidersilk Armor. I’m not the only one with useful enchantments- Sam plays a Captive Flame. Now all her creatures have first strike and firebreathing, and she’s not shy of land this late in the game.

On turn 14, I topdeck the answer I so desperately need. I send in both creatures to attack into Sam’s trio of defenders. She blocks the Ranger with the Hellkite and the Paladin with her Prospectors (pumping it to lethal first strike power). My crreatures, though, aren’t the real threat: Harm’s Way is. I prevent 2 damage to my Ranger, and send it to her face for the win.

Game Three

With a win apiece and two very closely-matched games, we enter the third with a newfound sense of rivalry. Sam starts with a Mountain, while I have a turn-1 play this time, a Caravan Escort. Sam responds with a Fire-Belly Changeling next turn, while I level the Escort (making him a 2/2) before sending him in to attack. Undaunted, Sam swings with the Changeling next round, and declines to pump it in favour of casting the hated Dragonspeaker Shaman. I deploy the Spidersilk Armor to bump the toughness of the Escort, then attack for 2 more.

Now turn 4, Sam swings for 3 against my open defense, then drops the Mordant Dragon. She’s on four land, but the Shaman’s discounting makes up the rest. This time, though, I found myself with removal in my opening grip, killing off her Dragon with Reprisal to clear the path for my Escort. I then summon a pair of Lionheart Mavericks and pass. Next turn Sam attacks with the Changeling again, and I accept her trade for a Maverick. She then replaces it with a Dragon Whelp and passes back. I level the Escort to L3, but the Whelp’s presence means I am forced to bide my time. I end my turn.

A turn-6 Bloodmark Mentor changes things up a bit, and it only gets worse when Sam girds the Whelp with a Claws of Valakut. She swings for 7, and I chump it with the remaining Maverick. Next turn I fully level the Escort, which is now a 5/6 body with reach. This now puts the both of us in board stallout, as we’ve both depleted our hands and neither have a profitable attack. We’ve been reduced instead to playing off the top of our library, as can occasionally happen.

Turn 7: Blanks for both.

Turn 8: Sam’s blank, I draw and play Plover Knights. This breaks the stall a bit, as I now have two creatures that can trade out for her Whelp, which is Sam’s only real threat.

Turn 9: Sam reestablishes détente by killing my Caravan Escort with a 7-point Jaws of Stone, with the overkill point thrown at me instead (taking me to 15). With only one creature that can trade for the Whelp, we’re right back to a stall. I play a Zhalfirin Commander and pass.

Turn 10: Blanks for both (though I do play a Plains)

Turn 11: Sam plays and pops an Armillary Sphere, giving her more land to drop. I play a Knotvine Paladin.

Turn 12: We both drop land.

Turn 13: Sam lands a Skirk Prospector. I look to break the stall with an Alaborn Cavalier, which can tap down Sam’s mighty Whelp. Buuuut…

Turn 14: Sam adds a Henge Guardian, which would eat the Cavalier. Stall reestablished. I play a Steward of Valeron.

Things finally snap on turn 15. Sam misplays, attacking with her Guardian. I block it with my Steward of Valeron, using the Zhalfirin Commander’s pump-ability to bloat the Steward, killing the Henge. Sam facepalms as she realises she didn’t account for the Commander’s intervention and passes. I pounce, swinging with everything. We both have a ton of land by this point, so I know I can work some favourable outcomes through the Commander alone. The Alaborn Cavalier taps down her best defender (the Whelp), leaving her feeble ground troops to get in the way. Plus my Steward’s vigilance ensures I’ll still have a chump-blocker back to get in front of her retaliatory Whelp, if it comes. In a nice bit of synergy, I note that the Steward’s vigilance also lets it add to the power of the Knotvine Paladin.

Still, Sam’s far from vulnerable. That last card in her hand turns out to be a Bogardan Rager, which she flashes onto the battlefield. It’s +4/+0 ETB-ability is placed on her Dragonspeaker Shaman, making it a 6/2 first striker (thanks to the Mentor). Sam declares that her Shaman will block the Commander, her Prospector will chump the Knotvine Paladin, and her newly-summoned Rager will get in front of the Alaborn Cavalier.

I have enough land for four pumps with the Commander, and have two creatures in peril. I can save either the Commander or the Cavalier, but not both. It’s a painful dilemma- the ability to use all that land to pump my Knights versus the ability to lock down that Dragon Whelp as a defender. After going into the tank, I opt to save the Crusader and let my noble Zhalfirin Commander die. Sam drops down to 9 life from 14, and rather than use the last two pumps to add to the incoming damage I leave the land open. Post-combat, I replace my loss with a Juniper Order Ranger.

Sam’s turn 16 is a blank. As in the last game, I draw a useless Edge of Autumn, cycle it, and draw a Treetop Village (which I play). As I declare my attack phase, Sam snipes off the Alaborn Cavalier with a freshly-drawn Punishing Fire, forcing me to abort a massive attack. Instead, I settle for sending in the Plover Knights, a win-win for me (3 damage if unblocked, or a trade with the Whelp). She opts to take the damage and goes down to 6.

Back to Sam, she mises a Breath of Darigaaz and nearly sweeps the board. My Plover is left alive, but tapped from attacking. And I have nothing to get in the way of her Dragon Whelp. Thanks to the Claws of Valakut and her baker’s-dozen Mountains, Sam’s attack for 15 is exactly enough to kill me.

Thoughts & Analysis

Counting our traditional pre-writeup friendly, both the Dragons and the Knights ended up going 2-2 on the day, a perfect split. Further adding to the sense of balance is that none of the games were lopsided blowouts, and most were right down to the wire. Hats off to Wizards for making what might well be one of the best-balanced Duel Decks yet. Of course, balance is only one measure of quality in the product, albeit a crucial one. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a repeating loop of beatings.

That said, Knights didn’t entirely feel as fun as the Dragons seemed to be. That the Knights were capable of fast starts- and would suffer without them- was expected. That the Dragons could get some even faster early damage in was a pleasant surprise. But in creating an environment which rewarded the Dragons player for enduring an early beating by making their Dragons rather hard to remove, it introduces an element of frustration into the dynamic. In only one of the three games here was I able to spot-remove a Dragon (via Reprisal), and the deck didn’t perform quite as fast as I’d hoped it would.

Part of this is a consequence of the Knights’ mana base. The modern-era balance tends to be between speed and versatility (the early Duals gave you the best of both, and boast a pricetag to match). Want any basic land you need? A Terramorphic Expanse will find it for you, but you’ll lose a turn as it enters the battlefield tapped. The Grasslands that come in the Knights’ deck get you either a Plains or a Forest untapped, but the Grasslands themselves enter play tapped- go figure. Witness also the pair of Selesnyan Sanctuaries- they give you an ‘extra’ mana, but with the drawback of not only entering play tapped, but bouncing a land back to your hand.

All this utility comes at a cost: higher versatility means slower speed. But as it turns out, speed is much more valued to this deck than versatility is. Green mana is required for only a handful of cards (eight, to be specific), and then only one Green mana is needed. On the other hand, not only is the rest White, but much of it is heavy White: ten different cards demand two White mana in the casting cost. A full 25% of the lands in the Knights deck enter play tapped while generally offering minimal benefit. It’s the right idea, erhaps, but this is the wrong deck for it. These lands are less of a “versatility bump” and likely more of a brake on speed, ensuring that the Knights don’t go too fast in the early game. While effective at doing so, that adds to the frustration. At times the deck feels like you’ve been given the keys to a Porsche, but told you can’t leave third gear.

The selection of Knights is very solid, with a fair amount of synergy and overlap to allow players to make connections between cards. On that element, this was definitely a hit.

Hits: Good creature selection, with some synergies between cards

Misses: Frustratingly poor removal; mana base acts as a brake on speed

OVERALL SCORE: 4.25/5.00

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Icehawk
    Apr 5 2011

    Interesting. Going to have to read through this again. Though I’m not too surprised.

    Why they put Grasslands in is beyond me. Though the idea of knights riding on a grassland I guess is thematic. Still a stinker of a card.

    The lands need lots of work in this deck. Almost pure P&F would be better than the mixute of non-basics thrown in. Well a pair of the one that produces GW mana is fine. I’ll keep it in.

    There’s some removal, but it’s tricky removal like Harm’s Way. It’s not a use when you want one like Doom Blade.

    Overall I like the deck. It needs serious work, but I like it. Both decks feel like they’re being held back in their own way. Would be fun to see a meddling of both and see how they do. Time to break out my little collection.

    Reply
    • troacctid
      Apr 5 2011

      Grasslands is basically an Elfhame Palace that has synergy with Knight of the Reliquary.

      Reply
      • Icehawk
        Apr 5 2011

        I know that, but Terramorphic Expanse or any number of alternatives I would been better overall. Those don’t come into play tapped, so you can use it’s effect that turn and feed kotr too. Any of them would have worked fine for this deck. This one just slows you down a turn and limits what you can grab more. Probably good choice for EDH decks though…

        Actually for this deck, I think Evolving Wilds would have worked better overall. Better fit for the theme. Just a personal preference.

        Reply
        • troacctid
          Apr 5 2011

          Grasslands is better here because it’s a chance to reprint Grasslands, which is a card that needs more love in general. Old Mirage cards like the fetches are pretty hard to find. Plus, it looks great in the new card frame. Yeah, it could be Terramorphic, but Terramorphic’s been reprinted a gazillion and a half times already. Grasslands is a cool older card to revisit for a change.

          Reply
          • Icehawk
            Apr 5 2011

            True. So true.

            Reply
        • Apr 5 2011

          Good point about being able to force an early trigger on KotR, but really they’re both pretty bad. TE or EW comes into play untapped, and fetches a land that comes into play tapped. Grasslands fetches a land that gets to come into play untapped, but is itself entering the battlefield tapped. Given the choice, I’d pull all of them out and work the mixture of Plains and Forests. I didn’t even like the Selesnya ones because they can actively hinder your mana development in the early game, as we saw in one of the matchups.

          Reply
          • Icehawk
            Apr 5 2011

            I agree. The Selenyas I have to try out. I kind of liked having a pair/set of Boros Garrison in my Boros deck.

            The rest I agree. Grass, Terra, or EW all aren’t really needed for a dual color deck. Especially one like this that’s so front heavy.

            Reply
  2. Morn
    Apr 5 2011

    I like this product, but yeah. I think I’d almost rather have seen Knights monowhite than white-green. It may be recent, and it may have been a prerelease card, but Hero of Bladehold would have made a fine mythic. The soldiers it leads into battle could have been considered the “squires” of the deck without actually using that old card. The only problem is that Dragons might not stand a chance against a fast, monowhite Knight deck, so, there’s that.

    Reply
    • Icehawk
      Apr 5 2011

      Accorder Paladin would have been an interesting alternative and generally a easier for this dragon deck to kill. Or even Cloud Crusader for later on in the game. Plenty of options out there.

      Reply
  3. troacctid
    Apr 5 2011

    The dragon deck would be pretty miserable to play if the Knights deck were loaded up with straight spot removal spells. “I play a dragon! Oh, I guess it dies. I play another dragon! Oh, okay, that one dies too. Fine, here’s another dragon! …Dammit.” It’s much more fun and satisfying to fight them in combat with cards like Plover Knights, Spidersilk Armor, Mighty Leap, etc. To quote the deck description, “You have many more creatures than your opponent and they are generally better in combat, so frequent attacks to bloody the battlefield will allow you to conserve your few removal spells.”

    As an example, if you’d saved your Harm’s Way in the first game, you could have countered the Cone of Flame later on and probably won that game. She already had a Skirk Prospector and what, four cards in her hand? And you have zero pressure on the board, so it’s not like you can expect to kill her before she gets to six, and you don’t even know if she has a dragon at all. Her best answer to Warhammer on a first striker is a burn spell, and Harm’s Way takes away that out. It’s all about careful play, no?

    Reply
    • Apr 5 2011

      Too much assumed knowledge, though- hindsight is that great granter of clear vision, is it not? 😀

      In truth, it’s hard to say. Who’s to say she wouldn’t have burned it out with something worse, as she certainly has worse in the deck, which means my Harm’s Way does nothing and I die with it wishing I’d used it when I had the chance. So much of her deck is expensive, that the Shaman can be a real problem. You’re right to point out my stalled board development… alas, its a condition thattypically would only worsen, not improve as both decks go into the longer game. Plays that favour longer games will frequently do the Knights a disservice. It’s not quite “all-in Red,” of course, dumping your hand in two turns, but it does have that aggressive component.

      And in a deck with nine Dragons, I’d have to say that the odds are pretty good that she’ll have one by that stage of the game. The likelihood of her not having one is small enough that to play to it would only handicap my chance of success.

      C’est la guerre, non?

      Reply
      • troacctid
        Apr 5 2011

        But since she already has four lands and a Prospector in play, the acceleration is borderline irrelevant.

        Reply
    • Apr 5 2011

      Unfinished thought… I definitely agree about the lack of spot removal adding to balance. But we have to remember that balance doesn’t translate directly into ‘fun.’ To be fair, there may be many who enjoy the gameplay of the Knights. Something a little more interactive might have been something like a Pacifism. Good removal for the Knights, yes, but doesn’t stop activated abilities and still allows the Dragons player to sac the Pacified beastie to the devouring Dragon. Sometimes it’s the small things…

      Reply
    • web8970
      Apr 6 2011

      Good point on the lacking removal there.
      However, I do not fully agree. A Swords to Plowhares or a Condemn, respectilvey would contribute to White’s Flavor while adding tension to the game.
      On the other side, the dragons could be able to slow down the Knight’s development by using Shocks or Bolts to remove almost any early threat.

      Isn’t the deck about fun and leading the epic battle? And this is not set up before both sides deployed their troops. So taking it to the late game would really be an element of excitement.

      Reply

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