Duel Decks- Knights vs Dragons: The Dragons Review (Part 2 of 2)
In our last review, I piloted the Knights to what felt to be a fairly well-matched tilt against the Dragons, but of course I felt I could only render full judgment when I had the chance to play things from the other side of the field. This worked out well as White Weenie is one of Jimi’s preferred archetypes (the other being Boros), and the Knights deck is right up her alley. We put the baby to rest, brewed up a kettle of tea and got down to the business of killing one another with cardboard. Here are the notes from this final engagement.
I’m on the play, and start out with an excellent one-drop: the mighty Cinder Wall, which will buy me some precious development time against the Knights. Jimi’s turn is an encouraging blank (a Plains, nothing more). Next turn I cast a perfectly-timed Armillary Sphere, while Jimi lands a threat of her own in the form of a Knight of Cliffhaven.
Next turn I drop a third Mountain and crack the Sphere to fetch two more. Jimi can’t attack into my Wall, so she contents herself with summoning a White Knight and passes. Next turn I hit my fourth land drop and everything falls into place- a Mordant Dragon powered out by a Seething Song. Caught between the hammer and the anvil, there’s little Jimi can do withnout some sort of combat trick or removal, and she doesn’t seem to have either. She tries deploying a Knight Exemplar and leveling her Knight of Cliffhaven for a couple turns, but the Mordant Dragon chews something up every turn. I play a Mudbutton Torchrunner on turn 5 which gets devoured by my Voracious Dragon, and the resulting damage kills off the White Knight and sends some Jimi’s way.
Jimi finally draws a trick much too late- a turn 7 Mighty Leap that just lets her chump block for another turn. It’s a turn she won’t live to see- as my Dragons pound her to 5 life, I finish her off with a Jaws of Stone.
This time it’s Jimi’s turn for a strong opener as she plops down a Caravan Escort right out of the gate. She swings with it on turns 2 and 3, and by the end of it I’m at 17 life and her Escort is at Level 2. For my part, I’ve dropped Mountains but little else until a turn-3 Mudbutton Torchrunner.
Now turn 4, Jimi attacks with her Escort and is surprised when I take the trade with my Torchrunner. They both head for the graveyard and Jimi conjures up a replacement- the Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers. As luck has it, I’ve a replacement of my own- another Mudbutton Torchrunner, and I place him out onto the battlefield. Next turn Jimi gets a free swing as she lays down a Sejiri Steppe, giving her Cavaliers protection from Red. They waltz right past my Goblin and drop me to 14 life. Jimi plays a Steward of Valeron and ends her turn. Back to me, I play my first Dragon- a Whelp– and pass back.
A turn-6 Benalish Lancer with kicker is a real problem, but one I have a ready answer to. With a Punishing Fire and Ghostfire for burn, and a Temporary Insanity I’ve no shortage of answers. I decide on the fly that I’ll do some Insanity shenanigans to deal with her creatures and send in my Whelp, pumping it once (leaving four mana up for the Insanity) and taking Jimi to 17. Next turn Jimi attacks with the Lancer, the Cavaliers and the Steward as expected, and I realise with horror that I didn’t fully catch the graveyard clause on Insanity. With only one card in it- a Mudbutton Torchrunner- the spell is useless to me. Kicking myself, I decide I’ll have to block with the Torchrunner instead, and follow it up with a Punishing Fire to finish it off after directing the Goblin’s death-damage to it.
Sadly, Jimi’s got a ready answer in the form of a Test of Faith, preventing the 3 damage and leaving her with a 7/7 first-striker. I glance down at my mana, and am exactly 1 Mountain shy of being able to respond with Ghostfire/Punishing Fire to kill the Lancer in response- the one Red mana I used to pump my Whelp. It’s the backbreaking play of the game, as the next couple turns see me throing up chump blockers and being whittled down to nothing. Score one for the Knights.
My third run-out starts about the same as my first- a turn-2 Armillary Sphere which gets cracked on turn 3. Jimi eases out a first-turn Caravan Escort, second-turn Knotvine Paladin, and third-turn Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers. By the end of turn 3 I’m already down to 15 life.
Now turn 4, I manage my first roadblock with a Dragon Whelp. Jimi swings with the team on her turn, and I can’t chance a trick just yet- I let them all through for 7 more damage. Turn 5 arrives and I drop a Claws of Valakut on the Whelp- finally, a real deterrent! Still, with me on the ropes Jimi won’t back down. She adds a Knight Exemplar to the board, forcing my hand- I respond with a Punishing Fire on the Knotvine Paladin to kill it while I have the chance. With her Cavaliers now indestructible, she sends them in for 4 damage. Blocking them would kill my Whelp, so I’m forced to eat it. Down to 4.
I’m none-too-worried about that Exemplar, as I have an answer for it as well: Seismic Strike. Now all Jimi has is the Cavaliers on her side of the board, and my boosted, first-striking Whelp is all the deterrent I need. Nevertheless, in case she adds more I play a Cinder Wall and pass. My respite is to be short-lived. Jimi untaps, then summons a Silver Knight and a Kabira Vindicator. I have few options in hand, but the Temporary Insanity has reappeared. That will solve the Knight as I can steal her Vindicator (a 2/4) with my three cards in the graveyard.
My turn 7 is a blank, and I pass back with a sense of anticipation. Jimi’s dialed in, though, and does something I didn’t foresee- she levels up her Vindicator twice, giving all of her other creatures +1/+1 and- even worse- making the Vindicator’s power 3- I can’t steal him now. The Silver Knight pounds in unblockably for 3, and I’m now at 1 life. If I don’t find a card that I can get into my graveyard for cheap (to again enable my Insanity), it’s all over.
Luckily, I do, topdecking a Dragon Fodder. I cast it immediately, adding two 1/1 Goblin tokens to my board and- more importantly- a crucial fourth card into my graveyard. I pass back to Jimi and wait, ready to pounce. Once again, though, Jimi deviates from the script as she plays and equips the Loxodon Warhammer onto her Silver Knight on turn 8. From her perspective it’s a touch of overkill, but there really isn’t anywhere else to put it that makes sense, as my Dragon Whelp is an 8/3 pumpable first-striker. In other worse, certain death.
In comes the Silver Knight, and I steal the Vindicator with Temporary Insanity. Robbed of the Vindicator’s buff, the 6/3 Knight now becomes a 5/2, and even with the first strike it dies to the Vindicator. One problem solved, but I’m not out of the woods yet.
For my turn, I swing with the Dragon Whelp for 9, taking Jimi to 16. Despite getting me down to the very edge of death, Jimi’s fate is sealed when I then follow up with a Kilnmouth Dragon, which becomes an 8/8 as I reveal for the amplify the Henge Guardian that’s been camped out in my hand. Death comes as it should- on leathery wings and fiery breath.
Thoughts & Analysis
After the games here, the ones in the previous review, and one’s we’ve had that we haven’t written up, I do have to conclude that the balance in these two decks appears to be superb. Although I’m well aware of notable opinions to the contrary, part of me has to think that by now, Wizards more or less knows what it’s doing with these decks. In previous products, balance wasn’t necessarily the weakest point, but rather how that balance was achieved. As we explored in Anthologies, the very worst way is often making two decks that are mirrors of one another, as was done in the very beginning with Anthologies. There was some of this later in Elves vs Goblins, but in that product there was enough tribal differentiation to cover up the fact that both decks were essentially weenie/swarms. In Phyrexia vs The Coalition, the designers slowed the potentially explosive growth of the mono-Black Phyrexian deck by layering it with several discordant strategies that had little overlap. And as it happens, the same tactic was done to keep the Knights under control (as explained in the previous column, it was done through the mana base).
Knights vs Dragons also shows some growth and maturity in the design process on the matter of interaction- both decks had lots of little features that played off one another. In the friendly game played prior to the ones done for review, I had a diabolically wicked time putting Jimi into positions where she had to block with her Knight of Meadowgrain, but each time she did I cackled and returned my Punishing Fire to hand. Mighty Leaps counter the Dragon’s domination of evasive flyers; Claws of Valakut counter the Knights’ near-monopoly on first strike; Knights get a prot-Knight while the Dragons get a couple tricks to kill it; and on it goes.
Just as important are the interactions between cards within the same deck. I had a very satisfied feeling when I was able to sacrifice a Mudbutton Torchrunner to the Voracious Dragon, just as Jimi’s deck becomes a virtual wall once the lightning-rod Knight Exemplar hits the table. Both within and without, these decks seem to have a number of little synergies that make for very entertaining games. And entertaining they were- the goal of making no two games play out alike was easily accomplished here, as each took on a very distinct feeling.
On a personal level, we seem to have found our decks. I enjoyed the Dragons deck- the feeling of starting on a timer and needing to stall out until my win condition came on-line is a feeling most control players are quite familiar (and even comfortable) with- I love the challenge of getting established before it’s too late, then battling back. For Jimi, getting a swarm of Knights early and sending them into the red zone to chunk me away a few points at a time was very comforting for her, and she really enjoyed what the deck offered. Overall, it’s our considered opinion that Knights vs Dragons is one of the best Duel Decks products released to date.
Hits: An enormous amount of burn, and quite a variety of it; few duds with the Dragons- the designers did well withing the rarity constraints; deck play a lot of fun and interacts well with the Knights deck; first time I’ve seen a creature with protection work in a precon (usually they’re a fun-killer)
Misses: With so many expensive cards, the deck is vulnerable to bad draws and forcing mulligans
FINAL SCORE: 4.50/5.00