Commander: Heavenly Inferno Review (Part 2 of 2)
After a thorough reading of the rules insert for Commander, we’re ready to undertake our first game. We’ve got our playmats out with the oversize foils denoting the Command Zone, and a ton of dice. Our 99’s are shuffled, and we’ve rolled both for seating placement as well as ‘initiative’ (who plays first, clockwise from there). As mentioned in our disclaimer in the deck analysis, we’ll be using an attack-left/defend-right model in an attempt to strike a balance between using the cards as they were intended without creating a lopsided and brief review due to gang-ups- a compromise with only three of us available.
For the match, Sam’s taken Devour for Power while Jimi’s gravitated towards Political Puppets. Here are the notes from our match.
It’s a rough start as Sam mulls down to 5 cards, while Jimi’s down to 6. Sam starts us off with a Tranquil Thicket, and we’re underway! Jimi and I play successive Evolving Wilds, looking to develop our early manabase. She pops hers for a Mountain, while mine gets cashed in for a Swamp. Next turn Sam only has land to play, while Jimi leads with an Armillary Sphere and I land the game’s first creature with a Mother of Runes. Back to Sam, she and Jimi lay land and pass while I look to break the game open with a Rakdos Signet into Lightning Greaves. I add the Greaves to the Mother and send her in for a point of damage on Sam.
Sam sees the danger in the card and solves her with a turn-4 Fleshbag Marauder, sending both cards to the grave. Jimi takes advantage of the moment to summon her commander, Zedruu the Greathearted. I then bring mine out- Kaalia of the Vast– and add Lightning Greaves to her. I send her in on the attack, and her triggered ability brings along a friend (in this case, a Dread Cacodemon). The pair hit hard for 10 damage, and Sam’s looking suddenly quite nervous.
Now turn 5, Sam plays a Tribute to the Wild to try to slow me down, claiming my Rakdos Signet. Jimi greatly shores up her defenses with a Wall of Denial, then adds Lightning Greaves to the board and equips them to her commander. Zedruu is sent in to attack me, and I’m at 38 life. Over to me, I begin with a Zoetic Cavern. I send in both Kaalia and the Cacodemon, adding a Fallen Angel for a total of 13 damage. Sam’s at 16 and fading fast. Desperate to stabilise, she casts a turn-6 Syphon Flesh. I am forced to sacrifice my Fallen Angel, and Jimi’s Wall of Denial heads for the graveyard, giving Sam a pair of 2/2 Zombies. Over to Jimi, she plays a Vedalken Plotter, swapping Islands with Sam. And so Jimi has offloaded her first permanent of the game, an ability which would soon see her obtain a crushing card advantage over subsequent turns thanks to Zedruu. She hits me again with her commander for 2 and passes. I repeat my attack from the last round, adding in Bladewing the Risen. Jimi intercedes with a Pollen Lullaby, neutralising my damage, and chooses Sam to clash with. They each reveal the top card of their library- both cost 4, a tie.
Sam finally goes for her commander on turn 7, copying the Fleshbag Marauder for The Mimeoplasm’s base, and my Fallen Angel for the bonus. This sees her end up with a 6/5 beater, though I take advantage of the crowded field to snap off a Congregate in response, netting 14 life and taking me to 50. Over to Jimi next, she gains her life and draws a card thanks to Zedruu, attacks me with her commander for 2, then adds a Windborn Muse before passing. I keep the pressure on Sam with another all-in attack. Sam offers up a double-block trade for the Cacodemon, sacrificing a 2/2 Zombie token as well as her 6/5 Mimeoplasm. Kaalia still gets in, though, reducing her to 14.
Now turn 8, Sam now looks to Syphon minds instead of flesh. She gets to draw two cards while Jimi and I each pitch one (a False Prophet and Evincar’s Justice, respectively). Jimi plays a Jötun Grunt and attacks me for 4 (down to 44). I send in Kallia for 2 more, but have nothing else. And so after 8 turns, Sam is gravely injured while Jimi and I are each above 40 points. Because of Zedruu, Jimi’s drawing two cards to our one, though, and has a steadily-improving board situation. Sam and I are still looking for board presence- me to regain it, and Sam to attain it.
Sam starts to stabilise on turn 9 with a Golgari Signet leading into a Lhurgoyf (which enters as a robust 6/7). At the end of Sam’s turn, Jimi uses Zedruu to donate a Plains to me, the first land I’ve seen since turn 5. Untapping, Jimi now has a “Zedruu Count” of 2 (number of her permanents controlled by another player). She attacks me for 8 (down to 36), then Repulses the Lhurgoyf out of apparent spite. Back to me, all I can do is continue to whittle Sam down in 2-point chunks. Now at 10 life, she’s on a 5-turn clock and vulnerable to an explosive ending if I draw an Angel, Demon, or Dragon.
A turn-10 Simic Signet and Wonder give Sam a little bit of breathing room, as she can now trade off with Kaalia should I keep up the attacks. Meanwhile, Jimi’s poised to deliver continued beatings to me, so once it’s over to her I use Master Warcraft to try and finish Sam off. Jimi’s team is able to pound Sam for 8, but that’s 2 shy of lethal. Then Jimi blows the game wide open with an Arbiter of Knollridge. Just like that Sam goes from 2 life to 46, and I want to cry. I draw a Plains, play it, and pass. Next turn Sam replays the Lhurgoyf, which is now only a 4/5 thanks to Jimi’s continuing upkeep on the Jötun Grunt. She plays a Sign in Blood for some extra cards and ends her turn. After her free life and cards (she’s up to 48 life now), she lays down a Prophetic Prism and swings with the side for 13. I’m now at 33 life, with 12 points of commander damage. Back to me, I play a main-phase Return to Dust, exiling Jimi’s Lightning Greaves and Sam’s Golgari Signet.
Now turn 12, Sam again pads the hand with a Fact or Fiction, having Jimi divide the piles. Jimi places Brawn in one pile, and four basic land in the other. Sam takes the creature. At the end of Sam’s turn, Jimi casts Oblation on her Grunt as she’s reached the end of being able to pay for its cumulative upkeep. Now taking her turn proper, Jimi lays down a Sol Ring and Azorius Guildmage before attacking me for 9 more damage. She passes turn, and I cast the fittingly-named Angel of Despair. Jimi quashes that with a well-timed Spell Crumple. Back around to Sam, she brings out Szadek, Lord of Secrets, then girds him with a Vow of Wildness. Although useful as ersatz removal, Sam prefers giving Szadek the trample he needs to get his damage in. Passing to Jimi, I’m subjected to another 10-point attack which leaves me at 14 life. She then casts Death by Dragons, opting to exclude Sam from the Dragon-token giveaway, and concludes by laying down a Soul Snare. In no mood for gratitude, I eliminate her tapper- the Azorius Guildmage- with a well-placed Wrecking Ball.
Although now out of imminent danger, Sam’s still not taking any chances with my creatures as she places a Vow of Malice on my 5/5 Dragon token. She then takes a small chunk out of Jimi with Wonder and Brawn, reducing her to 47. Jimi plays a morphed creature then follows up with Nin, the Pain Artist. My turn is a tragic blank. Next turn Sam attacks with Brawn and Wonder again, but this time Jimi offers up blocks to kill the pair of them. Sam follows up with a Mortivore, and at the end of turn Jimi donates another Island to Sam before casting Brainstorm. Over to her, Jimi now has a “Zedruu Count” of 3. She unmorphs a Chromeshell Crab, exchanging her Crab for Sam’s Szadek. She sends my Dragon token on a Journey to Nowhere, then adds a Vow of Lightning on Zedruu. She swings in hard against me for 11, and at 3 life I’m now on the verge of death. She drives the point home with a Punishing Fire to my face. Back to me, knowing I’m dead I opt to go out with a bang. I attack Sam with Kaalia, bringing in Malfegor with three cards in hand. With Sam’s board consisting of only three creatures, her board is wiped. The creature-rich Jimi has the luxury of choice, opting to pluck away Szadek, Nin, and the Windborn Muse.
A turn-16 Oblivion Stone seems to give Sam something of a safety net, but it’s the only play she’s got. Looking to keep me alive a little longer as a distraction, Sam pops the Stone and cleanses the board- everything that’s not a land heads either for the graveyard or the Command Zone. This provokes Jimi, who then starts rebuilding immediately. She starts with a Wall of Omens, summons a Plumeveil, plays Vision Skein for more cards, and ends with a Ghostly Prison. With 55 life, Jimi is sitting pretty even still. Back to me, I manage a lowly Orzhov Signet and pass.
Next turn, Sam plays Patron of the Nezumi which has flying and trample thanks to the Incarnations (Wonder and Brawn) in her graveyard. Over to Jimi, she wastes little time in hitching back up to the gravy train, resummoning Zedruu the Greathearted. She then follows up with a Murmurs from Beyond, showing me a Fellwar Stone, Gomazoa, and Mountain. I kick the Stone to the graveyard, she claims the other two to hand. She then plays the Gomazoa and passes. Now my turn, I send Akroma, Angel of Fury out as a morph, still two Red mana sources shy of ever casting her. Turn 18 sees Sam attack Jimi with the Patron of the Nezumi, taking Jimi down to 49. She plays Cultivate and passes. Jimi plays a Rapacious One, puts a Prison Term on my morphling, then attacks me with Zedruu for lethal. Luckily I’ve holding a Terminate, and back to the Command Zone she goes.
Sam shows every sign of rebuilding as she deploys a turn-19 Damia, Sage of Stone, who promises to give her card drawing on par with Jimi’s vulgar windfall. She carves into Jimi for another 6, then plays a Dimir Signet to end the turn. Jimi replays Zedruu with little land to spare, then kills me with the Rapacious One.
Jimi’s close to wrapping up the game, she just doesn’t know it yet. Sam does an admirable job retooling her board state, returning Szadek to play courtesy of Stitch Together, then adding a Nezumi Graverobber and Vorosh, the Hunter for good measure. It comes to naught next turn when Jimi puts Sam in the grip of a soft lock after playing Martyr’s Bond. Those five 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn tokens she received when she took me out of the game get popped for mana, forcing Sam to sacrifice all five of her creatures. Jimi then attacks with a couple creatures- including the Rapacious One- and without a way to deal with the Martyr’s Bond Sam soon gets ground to dust.
Thoughts & Analysis
By the time of this writing we’ve nor played close to five games of Commander, and it has to be said- the format is the real deal. While we always enjoy the regular precons, it’s hard to remember when we’ve had quite this much fun with it, particularly with multiplayer. Although there’s a little extra bureaucracy that comes with keeping track of Commander damage that was a touch confusing at first, we quickly grasped the concept and it was simple from there.
Heavenly Inferno was a lot of fun to play, but it’s not hard to being to see an all-in theme to the deck. Getting extra beaters out with Kaalia can be absolutely brutal- witness the Dread Cacodemon I was swinging in with on turn 4- but it can also leave you overcommitted and vulnerable to being stranded after a board wipe. For most of the game I sat in full envy of Jimi’s card drawing, knowing I’d depleted my hand and had little way to refill it. Heavenly Inferno can handle creature threats, but it’s a very limited tank of gas. Once you’ve run out your cards, you’re rather stuck playing from the top of your library. That’s never fun in any match, and especially so here.
As to be expected from any preconstructed product, there’s no shortage of room for improvement. Playing this deck makes me itch to fire up Gatherer and start researching Demons and Dragons to replace the rather paltry suite found here. It’s always a good sign when a deck gets you fired up to improve it and build upon it rather than scrap it for spare parts. Overall, though, this is exactly what you’d expect from a Commander version of a Red/Black deck- an all-in gamble that can pay off handsomely when it works, and leave you stranded when it fizzles.
Hits: Good tribal synergy crowned by the deck’s commander, Kaalia of the Vast; superb removal and burn package
Misses: Vulnerable to running out of steam with no consistent way to refuel
OVERALL SCORE: 4.30/5.00