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June 20, 2011

20

Commander: Heavenly Inferno Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

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.

The Game

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

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lars Ullberg
    Jun 20 2011

    I haven’t thought much of commander before, but after reading this, i’m gonna convince my friends to buy one of those decks! seems like lots of fun.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Varo
    Jun 20 2011

    That seemed to be real fun! As i kept reading, i got the feeling that Jimi was manipulating you both as she wanted, part of her greatest plan.

    I agree with you with the pros and cons of the deck, good commander synergy, but no drawing or recursion engines means you run out of cards too early.

    When i first read Jimi’s commander, it seemed pretty bad to me, but i didn’t realised it could “donate” lands. How naive. Probably the best creature of the match.

    Reply
  3. juzamjedi
    Jun 20 2011

    About Commander rules. The general damage is tracked per general, not per player (I did not know this). This can matter with a card like Ray of Command which is in the RUG deck. I stole someone’s fat/fat Mimeoplasm and attacked another player with it killing him in the process. Oops?

    Reply
  4. Icehawk
    Jun 20 2011

    I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m now even more excited to get my hands on Political Puppets after reading this match up.

    Reply
  5. troacctid
    Jun 20 2011

    I’ll stand by my thoughts from the last post. Kaalia isn’t supported enough and there’s too much chaff. Definitely a fixer-upper.

    Props to Zedruu; she really got rolling this game.

    Reply
  6. Prophylaxis
    Jun 20 2011

    Looks like fun! I laughed when Jimi casted that Arbiter of Knollridge.

    Reply
  7. Conrad
    Jun 20 2011

    Man, I was not expecting that from Political Puppets. Never thought about the insane card advantage it could offer, looks like you’re almost guaranteed to have an answer to anything on the field when you’re drawing four cards a turn. The constant lifegain doesn’t hurt either 😛

    Heavenly Inferno got off to a way faster start than I expected. Though, if you can’t maintain it, I guess that might not be as good as it sounds in this kind of format, would it?

    Reply
    • Jul 5 2011

      As we found, you’re exactly right. If you run out of gas without much in the way of card draw, you’re in for a long game of playing off the top of your library.

      Reply
  8. Jon S
    Jun 20 2011

    I look forward to seeing your analysis on the other 4 decks. AT first blush Commander left me cold(How can having only one card each be fun?) but after going to the Launch party on Saturday and Reading what you have here I’m impressed so far and may look into getting a couple of decks for my wife and I.

    Reply
  9. troacctid
    Jun 20 2011

    Oh, I almost forgot, if you’re liking these reviews, you might also be interested in Zimagic’s reviews of the decks over on Crazy 99. http://togedher.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html

    Reply
  10. Chris
    Jun 21 2011

    To be honest I feel like Political Puppets loses out horrifically if you are only attacking one player. The deck’s clue is right there in the name!

    Reply
  11. Hireling
    Jun 22 2011

    Having played a few games with and against the new Commander decks, I can say that they are all well designed and fun to play. Sadly, I think Heavenly Inferno loses momentum too quickly and is possibly the weakest of the Commander offerings. This deck needs some way to put those valuable creatures back into the deck and a few more ways to protect its commander. This way Kaalia has more heavy hitters to bring out and she can stay on the board longer. To really capitalize on Kaalia’s ability I would add cards that can create extra combat phases such as Hellkite Charger, World at War and Sieze the Day. Then I would improve the selection of Angels, Demons and Dragons as Jay has already stated. Heavenly Inferno is definitely a fixer upper.

    Reply
  12. Nexus
    Jun 24 2011

    promise of power should do nicely here, so will akroma angel of wrath, and and add in a little bit of demonic tutor and i think we will have a winner, That divine vs demonic duel deck was such a good investment. This deck may have some problems but i believe that by introducing a better cast of demons and dragons, this deck has a good shot of being the best.

    Reply
    • Icehawk
      Jun 25 2011

      It really needs Promise of Power, if nothing else for the card draw. Sign in Blood too would work.

      Reply
  13. Jankines
    Jun 24 2011

    I think that Eternal Dragon should probably go into Heavenly Inferno as soon as you get the chance. It can help with mana, has recursion to help you come back from those field-wiping blow-outs, and of course, its a sweet white dragon.

    Reply
  14. Icehawk
    Jun 25 2011

    Has anyone tried out Archangel of Strife? Curious to see how it works in the field. Don’t see many people choosing peace ever.

    In my Political Puppet deck, I’d prefer a Wall of Frost, Air, or Denial with 3 more power vs more toughness. Give them some bite.

    Reply
  15. Jun 26 2011

    Can’t quite tell how you guys used Master Warcraft. Despite being under M.W.’s influence, Jimi shouldn’t have been able to attack Sam, since you were playing only Attack Left? Also, my playgroup had to learn that Master Warcraft is not as good in multiplayer as it seems – you can choose which creatures attack, but not _who_ they attack. If you choose Emrakul to attack, its controller can choose to have it come after you.

    Reply
    • Icehawk
      Jun 26 2011

      I think MW works far better in the Political Puppet deck where there will be a mana incentive to turn those attacks. Also if you time it right, they won’t be an option for them to hit you.

      Reply
    • Icehawk
      Jun 26 2011

      Aim your forced attacks against others I mean.

      Reply
    • Jul 5 2011

      On a very small number of cards, we suspended the Attack Left rule when we thought it unbalanced the card or violated its spirit. A better example might be Ruhan of the Fomori. WIthout the ability to attack ‘randomly,’ he’s quite broken- a 7/7 for only 4 mana. Ruhan’s ability, then, supercedes the Attack Left to give him a bit more balance.

      Reply

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