Innistrad: Repel the Dark Review (Part 1 of 2)
In our last review we looked at the Vampires of Innistrad, as represented by their deck Carnival of Blood. Fearsome for certain, but the wary inhabitants of that benighted plane would tell you, however, that they are but one of the many perils that surround them. In the forests the Werewolves prowl, rending the flesh of any so unfortunate as to encounter one. From the dead the Spirits walk, as oftentimes the corpses do on their own accord. There is no Roil and no compleation, but there are no shortages of way to die here. Against any one of these fiends most Humans would stand little chance, but there is something available to the good citizens of the world that can withstand nearly any peril.
Trite as it sounds, there is little strength like strength in numbers, and this is the survival mechanism of the Humans, those who feed most every scourge that assaults them. Werewolves, Vampires, Zombies and Spirits all have their origin in man, and many live off them still. In times past they could rely upon their faith in the Church of Avacyn to keep evil at bay (for the night is dark and full of terrors). Since Avacyn’s disappearance from the world, however, they have increasingly had to rely on far more tangible resources to stay alive- their brawn, and their wits.
Our next visit to the dark plane of Innistrad today brings us to beleagured humanity, standing firm together surrounded by death at every elbow. The Humans of Innistrad have no unique mechanic all their own. Rather, moreso than any other race here they connect with one another through tribal synergies. Although exclusively populated by Vampires, there wasn’t a ton of synergy in Carnival of Blood. Only two cards in that deck exhibited this sort of synergy- Vampiric Fury and the Rakish Heir. In that sense it was flavourfully fitting- the Vampries didn’t care to work together overmuch; each was mainly intent on feasting upon your opponent. The Humans have no such luxury- without a sword or torch or pitchfork at one another’s backs, their flame would be all but snuffed out.
Drive Off the Wicked Things
We begin our review of Repel the Dark fittingly enough with the creatures of the deck, for it it second only to Deathly Dominion in the number of creature cards it contains. Here’s a look at the deck’s creature curve:
With a front-loaded curve with little costing more than three mana, some observations become apparent. First, the deck wants you to aggressively deploy your creatures, and you should have little trouble doing so. The near-absence of high-costed cards in Repel the Dark means you’ll have few opening hands with something fat and heavy clogging it up in the early game. But the other thing to note is in having a lack of a finisher, the deck still needs to provide you with ways to win. Cheap, aggressive curves are often the domain of Red, because Red can use burn to finish the job that its creatures have started. Black can work, too, giving its creatures extra durability by removing defenders through its kill spells. But this deck is White and Green. If there’s a theme to watch here, its how each card makes the others stronger in the deck. You don’t have a number of dedicated finishers not because you don’t need them, but because these are Humans. When the time is right, your champion will emerge.
We begin with your solid portion of one-drops. The most aggressive option here is your Elite Vanguard, a 2/1 vanilla. You also have a pair of Selfless Cathars, 1/1’s that have a sacrifice effect that can pump your entire field. Abilities like this are always welcome on creatures. Drawn early, they can get some damage in. Drawn late, they still can provide a very useful service. Finally, there’s a pair of Avacyn’s Pilgrims for some mana ramping. Although few cards in the deck require more than one of a colour to cast, they still are useful for helping you accelerate your threat deployment.
Next up we have the two-drops, beginning with a pair of Hamlet Captains. Another card that lets your Humans punch above their weight, creatures that attack or block alongside the Captain get an additional +1/+1 bonus. Alas, the Captain excludes himself from the buff, so exert caution when blocking. Twin Jade Mages might strike a slightly discordant note on flavour, but they certainly serve a mechanical purpose within the deck. With buffs that affect all of your creatures, it’s to your great advantage to have as many creatures as you can on the battlefield (note: this runs counter to Constructed wisdom, for you have few ‘sweep’ effects in the preconstructed format). Avacynian Priests help your early defenses by tapping down any non-Human creature on the battlefield, and you’re given two of them. Finally, there’s a trio of Unruly Mobs, the deck’s first potential finishers. They’re a lousy bargain at first- two mana for a 1/1- but the more creatures of yours that die, the bigger they’ll get. Even if you’re in the lead, you’ll generally have enough creatures die to make the Mob worth your while.
Our foil premium rare, the Elder of Laurels, checks in with the three-drops. Slightly inefficient on its own- a 2/3 for three mana (compare that to Cystbearer, for instance), he carries with him a particularly useful ability- reusable pump. Usable at instant speed, this will often make blocking assignments a rather delicate operation for your opponent, knowing that you can easily turn most any block into a trade (or worse). A singleton Benalish Veteran benefits from a buff on the attack, while the Elder Cathar offers a waste-not-want-not approach not unlike the old modular ability. With nearly every creature in the deck a Human, you’ll seldom fail to get the full benefit. The deck’s other rare- Mentor of the Meek– is a brutal card-drawing engine for this deck, and gives you repeatable at-will card drawing for four mana whenever it shares the battlefield with one of your Jade Mages. Then there’s the Fiend Hunter which- like the four-drop Slayer of the Wicked– offers you the prospect of a two-for-one whenever cast. The Hunter will seldom let you down, though the Slayer is quite a bit more conditional.
Finally, at the very top of the curve is a pair of Thraben Purebloods. Although as Hounds they don’t benefit from the full range of synergies the deck has to offer, these reskinned Siege Mastodons will be very hard for your opponent to remove. Besides, what’s man without man’s best friend?
The Power to Fight Back
The noncreature support cards for Repel the Dark continue the deck’s themes of tribal synergy and improvement of the meek. Towards the latter aim you have a playset of equipment. One- the Blazing Torch– is a Zendikar reprint which was a flavour auto-include for Innistrad. The other three follow the pattern of many of the set’s equipment: decent, and strong when wielded by a Human. The Silver-Inlaid Dagger, for instance, gives its bearer +2/+0, but if that bearer is a Human it’s +3/+0 instead. The Sharpened Pitchfork ordinarily only grants first strike, but Humans get an additional +1/+1. And the Butcher’s Cleaver? Rather fittingly, Humans get lifelink in addition to the ordinary power boost.
On a less cheerful note, the removal here is not much improved from what we saw in Carnival of Blood. Bonds of Faith is a very versatile card, giving you some flexibility to respond to the needs of the battlefield. It’s either a Pacifism against the non-Humans, or a aura buff for one of your own. Alas, this does mean that enemy Humans can’t be stopped by the spell, but the pair of Smite the Monstrous the deck contains can help you keep your enemy’s creatures to a more manageable size. Again, however, this is conditional removal and cannot be fully relied upon.
Bramblecrush has the versatility to destroy nearly anything on the battlefield, provided it isn’t a creature. You have the expected combat tricks in a pair of Titanic Growths, as well as a Spare from Evil. Again, against Human enemies it’s far less useful, but most decks you’ll find aren’t quite as tribally dedicated as this one. Finally, a single Overrun can help set up a game-ending alpha strike. All told, here’s what you’re working with:
While Repel the Dark is hardly the first tribal deck that’s crossed our desk, it has a certain amount of novelty in that it revolves around Humans directly- not Soldiers or Wizards or what have you, but simply Humans. The flavour of Innistrad thuis far has been a slam-dunk, and we’re looking forward to seeing this one in action. See you in two days’ time when we return to complete the review after some playtesting!