Innistrad: Eldritch Onslaught Review (Part 2 of 2)
In our deck review, we found Eldritch Onslaught to be a most intriguing construction in the same wacky and spell-heavy Izzet mould as Mirrodin Besieged’s Mirromancy. This time, rather than abuse a Galvanoth for extra card advantage, the deck wants you to exploit the flashback mechanic. Towards that end, it packs in a number of self-milling options, ways to get your own cards into the graveyard. Each flashback card dumped in this way is a way to expand your options to affect the board state and ensure victory.
To serve as the opposition today, Jimi is playing the Black/Green morbid-based Deathly Dominion. Let’s see how they fare against one another!
Jimi’s on the play to lead us off, and she begins with a Swamp. Over to me, I start with an Island into a Dream Twist, milling three cards (Armored Skaab, Island, and Scourge of Geier Reach). Jimi then adds a Forest, then I play a Mountain and flashback the Twist to mill another three hoping to start stocking the larder with tasty flashback spells early. Although I’m happy to see a – plop into the graveyard, I also lose another Island and a Sturmgeist. Ahh well, that’s the price of power!
It’s now turn 3 and Jimi lands the game’s first creature- a Warpath Ghoul. I Silent Departure it, returning it to her hand, then follow up with a Desperate Ravings to refill my hand a bit (losing a Mountain in the process). Next turn she recasts the Warpath Ghoul, then back to me I play an Armored Skaab for some solid defense. The Skaab’s self-mill adds a Charmbreaker Devils (argh), Cellar Door, and pair of land to my graveyard.
A second Warpath Ghoul touches down on turn 5, though my Skaab holds the first one at bay. I then Grasp of Phantoms one of them to the top of Jimi’s library. Back to Jimi, she summons a- surprise!- Warpath Ghoul after drawing it back from her library and passes. My turn, alas, is a blank.
Turn 7 sees Jimi add a Lumberknot to her Ghoulish army, attacking in for 6 with the Ghouls first. I block one with the Skaab, but the other gets past for 3. At the end of Jimi’s turn I flashback Desperate Ravings, gaining a Think Twice at the cost of an Island. It would seem in playing out her hand Jimi has forgotten about that early Rolling Temblor, but I’m happy to remind her as I flash it back and kill all three of her creatures. I then send in my surviving Skaab to nick her for 1 and pass. Back to Jimi, she plays a Demonmail Hauberk, but has nothing else. I take my deck up a notch with the Burning Vengeance, adding a Curse of the Bloody Tome to boot. I target myself with the Curse, looking forward to seeing tons of flashback spells fall into my graveyard for me to abuse with Burning Vengeance. Jimi’s turns are certainly numbered.
Jimi lands a turn-9 Devouring Swarm which I immediately snipe with Geistflame. Back to me, the Curse mills off a Deranged Assistant and a Think Twice. I flashback the Think Twice to draw a card, sending 2 damage at Jimi from the Vengeance. Next turn Jimi plays a Morkrut Banshee and passes. The Curse mills a Murder of Crows and Mountain, then I play a Desperate Ravings (losing a Mountain) and flash it back (losing another Mountain). I send the 2 damage this time to Jimi’s Banshee, and when I follow by flashing back a Think Twice for another card, I kill off the Banshee as well.
It’s now turn 11 and Jimi’s worries are increasing. She plays a Disciple of Griselbrand, but has nothing else. I’ve got this game in the bag! I see a Ghoulcaller’s Bell and Fortress Crab tumble into the graveyard from the Curse, then kill off the Disciple with a flashbacked Geistflame. Again I shoot Jimi for 2 with the Vengeance damage, and there’s not a thing she can do to stop me. I attack for 1 with the Skaab, and Jimi has a surprise in store- an Ambush Viper forces the trade. It’s no matter- she has no creature to threaten me with, and with my combo engine in place it’s just a matter of time now. Looking to find more things to flashback I play a Dream Twist on myself, milling off two Islands and another Curse of the Bloody Tome.
Next turn Jimi draws a creature, playing the Hollowhenge Scavenger. I mill off a Merfolk Mesmerist and Harvest Pyre, play a Fortress Crab and pass. Back to Jimi, she plays another Disciple of Griselbrand, then sacrifices it to equip the Scavenger with the Demonmail Hauberk. She then eliminates my Crab with a Prey Upon, forcing a fight between the Crab and Scavenger. With the path now cleared, the Scavenger crashes through the red zone to hit me for 8. Down to 9 life, I’m not terribly worried- after the Curse mills off a pair of Deranged Assistants, I flashback the Grasp of Phantoms on the Scavenger to put it atop Jimi’s library, and send the 2 damage from the Vengeance at Jimi directly. Problem solved!
Right about now, though, I notice something alarming. My once robust library is now down to a handful of cards thanks to the relentless self-milling pogrom I’ve implemented since the start of the game. If I can’t finish Jimi off and soon, I’m going to deck myself for the loss!
It’s now turn 14, and Jimi replays her Scavenger. The Curse mills off an Into the Maw of Hell and a Grasp of Phantoms. I then flashback a Dream Twist (on Jimi this time) and another Grasp of Phantoms to send the Scavenger back to the top of Jimi’s library, sending 4 more damage to Jimi. We’re both now tied at 9. Next turn Jimi replays the Scavenger and passes. I mill off a Mountain and another Merfolk Mesmerist thought the Curse. Then I Dream Twist Jimi, flashing it back to do it again. That takes Jimi down to 7, but its as far as I get. Unable to put a creature on the board for efficient damage, I cranked up the mill engine too much and ended up burning myself in the process. I have to laugh at the irony of it, but it’s a valuable lesson all the same. This deck is dangerously capable of killing itself, and that means that it’s going to take a little more skill to pilot than I originally thought. On to the next game!
Feeling somewhat chastened, I lead off with a Dream Twist and mill off a Mountain, Deranged Assistant, and Harvest Pyre. Jimi plays a Swamp and passes. I then cast a Merfolk Mesmerist, which Jimi matches with a Reassembling Skeleton. I find the Burning Vengeance early this time, playing it on turn 3 while Jimi lands the Devouring Swarm. And just like that, we’re off!
Now turn 4, I Dream Twist myself again through flashback, feeling more cautious about the mill but knowing that I have to find some flashback spells to make the Vengeance efficient. This lets me kill off the Swarm, and I’m happy to see a pair of Desperate Ravings tumble into the graveyard along with an Island. Back to Jimi, she makes up for her first missed land drop with a Rampant Growth, then at the end of her turn I trigger the Mesmerist on myself (milling off a Scourge of Geier Reach and an Island). Next turn I add the mighty Sturmgeist, while Jimi plays a Warpath Ghoul.
Eagerly anticipating the card-drawing windfall awaiting me with my presently-3/3 Sturmgeist, I send it in to attack. Jimi simply shrugs and Doom Blades it. Miffed, I play a Deranged Assistant and end my turn. Back to Jimi, she plays a Devouring Swarm after attacking for 4 with the Ghoul and Skeleton, taking me to 16. At the end of her turn I mill myself agin with the Mesmerist, sending a Murder of Crows and Ghoulcaller’s Bell into the boneyard. Then on my main phase I play a Charmbreaker Devils and pass. Jimi Makes a Wish, getting back a Devouring Swarm and Doom Blade. While the card doesn’t direct her to reveal what she’s Wished back, the fact that she started with only three cards in the graveyard makes it not hard to guess. She attacks for another 2 with the Swarm and passes. I’m down to 14 life.
Now turn 8, the Devils bring a Desperate Ravings back to my hand. I tap the Deranged Assistant for mana (milling a Mountain), then play a Desperate Ravings. This gets me an Island, but I lose my Cellar Door from hand. Then I flash it back, gaining a Grasp of Phantoms and Think Twice while losing a Fortress Crab. After that, I flash the other Desperate Ravings back, losing an Island but gaining an Island and a Gesitflame. The first flashback allowed me to kill off Jimi’s defending Ghoul, the second did the same for the Skeleton, so Jimi has no defense as I attack with my Mesmerist and 12/4 Charmbreaker Devils. Just like that, she goes from a perfect 20 to only 7 life- ouch! Over to Jimi, she plays the returned Doom Blade which she uses to kill off my Devils, but they’ve done their work and die happily. She follows it up by Naturalizing my Burning Vengeance then attacking for 2 with the Devouring Swarm.
I draw a Think Twice on turn 9 and cast it, drawing another Think Twice. I tap the Deranged Assistant (milling a Fortress Crab), cast the second Think Twice and happily draw another Burning Vengeance (which I immediately play). I attack for 1 with the Mesmerist and pass. Back to Jimi, she returns the Reassembling Skeleton and attacks for 2 with the Swarm. At the end of her turn I Geistflame her for 1, taking her to 5 life.
Back to me, I flashback a Think Twice, sending 2 more damage Jimi’s way. Then I flash the Geistflame back for the other 3, taking the game.
Jimi and I spend the first turn laying land, and the first play of the game is my turn-2 Cellar Door. Next turn I add an Armored Skaab (milling off a Curse of the Bloody Tome, a Sturmgeist, a Desperate Ravings, and a Dream Twist), but it’s not until turn 4 that Jimi finds her first play, a Lumberknot. As it happens, my turn 4 is a blank.
Now turn 5, Jimi plays the Reassembling Skeleton, while at the end of her turn I trigger the Cellar Door and hit a Fortress Crab to give me a 2/2 Zombie. I attack for 2 with it, then play a Deranged Assistant before ending my turn. Next turn sees Jimi counterattack with the Skeleton for 1, letting me go back in with the Zombie for another 2 once it’s back to me. I then use the Deranged Assistant for mana and a mill (losing a Mountain) which allows me to cast the Pitchburn Devils. It’s now a 16-19 game with me having a slight lead.
Jimi adds to her board position with a turn-7 Devouring Swarm. Back to me, I go all in with the Pitchburn Devils, Deranged Assistant, Armored Skaab, and 2/2 Zombie. Jimi blocks the Devils with her Reassembling Skeleton, and opts to trade her Devouring Swarm for my Zombie token. That still leaves 2 damage through. With three creatures dying, Jimi’s Lumberknot is now a 4/4 which allows her to use a Prey Upon to have it kill off my Devils. Still, that does let me throw 3 more damage at Jimi, so she ends up at 11 overall. I then add a Murder of Crows and pass. Back to Jimi, she comes in with the Lumberknot and Skeleton (which she reassembled at the end of my turn), putting me at 14 life. She follows it up by playing a Hollowhenge Scavenger and passes. Over to me, the Scavenger doesn’t stand a chance as I send it Into the Maw of Hell, taking one of Jimi’s Forests along with it. The downside is that the Lumberknot is now a rather difficult-to-manage 5/5, but on the upside the Murder of Crows triggers and allows me to loot. I draw a Burning Vengeance, then pitch a Rolling Temblor. Finally I send in the Crows to peck Jimi for 4 and pass.
Jimi takes advantage of the opening in my defenses to mount an attack of her own with the Lumberknot and Skeleton. Their unimpeded attack hits me for 6 to leave me at 12 life. She then adds a Hollowhenge Scavenger and passes. Back to me, I swing in with the Crows for another 4, and that’s game. I play the Burning Vengeance I drew from the Crows, then flashback Dream Twist and Desperate Ravings, sending all 4 damage at Jimi for lethal.
Thoughts & Analysis
Eldritch Onslaught far and away has been the most fun of Innistrad’s decks to date. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s something about a deck that doesn’t do all of its work in the red zone that is terribly appealing. Far too many of the Intro Pack decks have been variations of beath-with-creatures, support-with-spells, and to find one that breaks the mould and hearkens back to the Theme Deck days is well worth a look.
This deck takes a simple mechanical theme- flashback- and supports it in two primary ways. First, the milling engine- while not robust enough to serve as a consistent win condition on its own- does a terrific job at keeping your graveyard well-stocked. Indeed, it’s strong enough that if you’re not careful, you can deck yourself out of the game as I did in Game One. Secondly, Burning Vengeance is a perfectly-positioned card for the mechanic it supports.
Red often seems to get an enchantment which has the primary purpose of rewarding you for taking advantage of that mechanic through extra damage. The two we mentioned in the previous review are classic examples of this. Worldwake’s Rumbling Aftershocks tacked on extra damage every time you cast a (multi-)kicked spell, while Rage Extractor did much the same for Phyrexian mana in New Phyrexia. Rumbling Aftershocks was a terrible spell. With a converted mana cost of five mana, it was simply too expensive to be worth it. By the time you got it out, you’d likely already expended a few of your kickable cards, leaving less fuel for the eventual fire.
Rage Extractor was a significant improvement in cost; while it had the same converted mana cost, the ability to pay life to get it out a little earlier is a huge help. However, there is a tension between the Extractor and the very spells it was designed to support. Phyrexian mana was designed to offer two benefits to the caster: speed and flexibility. Being able to pay for some (or all) of a spell’s cost with life not only got it out quicker, but it also would allow decks to play off-colour cards. So here you have the crux of this natural negative synergy- Phyrexian mana cards want to be fast, but Rage Extractor is only maximally effective when you conserve them.
Enter Burning Vengeance. Unlike those mentioned above, Burning Vengeance wants you to play your cards as the only place they’re relevant is in the graveyard, waiting to be replayed with flashback. This time, there’s zero drag pressuring you to hold them in your hand until you can get maximum value from them, and the flashback cards in this deck have few instances where you’ll feel the need to hang onto them ‘for the right moment.’ Geistflame and Rolling Temblor both certainly will want to be strategically played, but you can dump Think Twice the very moment you have two mana doing nothing at the end of an opponent’s turn. And to top it all off, Burning Vengeance is significantly cheaper at three mana. Of course, the tradeoff is that it does a fixed amount- 2 damage- rather than the variable scale which can go quite a bit higher.
On the whole Eldritch Onslaught works, and its a blast. If there’s a flaw, its somewhat ironically in the very lack of creatures that makes it so exciting. With few big beaters, you’re at risk for losing them to the relentless self-milling the deck encourages you to do. Again in Game One, I couldn’t seem to muster up an ofensive threat, as they kept winding up milled away. That’s just variance, though- remember, you’d have the same effect if they were simply on the bottom of your library unplayed.
Hits: Flashback is a great mechanic, and the deck supports it very well; Burning Vengeance is the right card to build around here; solid defensive set-up buys you time to set up your mill engine
Misses: Win condition a bit shaky and conditional; not a good choice for players who enjoy a heavy creature component
OVERALL SCORE: 4.70/5.00
Make a Wish doesn’t tell you to reveal the returned cards cuz it doesn’t have to. The cards are never hidden. The graveyard is a public zone–you’re not allowed to conceal what you get back with it.
That’s a good point, and the way we presented it here probably stems from the flavour with which we enact it. She shuffled the cards and laid them out on the table, then I pointed to two of them. Thanks for the clarification!
Great writeup Jay! Nice to see this precon get a review and some playtime. I bought this myself at the Innistrad prerelease on a lark since it was the only thing left of the shelf. I was also surprised by its theme. I’ve yet to pilot it myself but I’ve already started to meddle with it. Probably should play it first before mucking with it, but I couldn’t resist.
I made these changes:
-1 Cellar Door
-2 Merfolk Mesmerist
-1 Fortress Crab
-1 Pitchburn Devils
-1 Into the Maw of Hell
Adding from my smallish collection of Innistrad cards staying in U/R:
+1 Sulfur Falls
+1 Geist Flame
+2 Laboratory Maniac
+1 Makeshift Mauler
+1 Charmbreaker Devils
+1 Back from the Brink
I wanted an extra win con with Laboratory Maniac so you can mill away. If he hits the graveyard once, you’ve got another shot to draw, if that fails use Back from the Brink to copy it whenever the time is right. Once in play you could also use your Silent Departures and Grasp of Phantoms to give him some protection on the field.
While I like Into the Maw of Hell I don’t like it not having Flashback so I swapped it for Back from the Brink which also doesn’t Flashback, but it does give all my creatures flashback. I think this is a good boost to this deck, the ability to actually use the creatures that hit the graveyard is nice. That is if you can get it to your hand and on the board.
There seems to be a fine line to walk in changing this deck without changing its flavor completely. I guess I’ve already muddled it some. Creatures aren’t the focus here, however I’m not sure tossing the majority of them away on the regular without benefit sits well with me. Adding creatures that have an exile requirement to cast like Makeshift Mauler, Stitched Drake, Skaab Ruinator, and Skaab Goliath is more to my liking.
Lots will change I’m sure. This is in no way a spectacular upgrade just an enthusiastic initial meddling that I wanted to post.
I really hope that down the line you give this an official Meddling. I’d love to see the results.