Innistrad: Deathly Dominion Review (Part 2 of 2)
Can the Humans of Repel the Dark withstand the death-obsessed fiends of Deathly Dominion? Jimi and I aim to find out, and see how the morbid mechanic plays out in the heat of the moment. Will I be able to crank out massive bruisers against which to prayer can withstand? Or will Jimi’s Humans come together and drive back the dark after all? To find out, we sat down for our usual three games, and here are the notes.
Jimi’s on the play and leads off with a Plains, while I drop a Forest. Next turn she’s right on curve with an Unruly Mob, while I play a second Forest. Not willing to sit back and let me develop, Jimi uses Bonds of Faith on the Mob and swings for 3. Alas, I flash in an Ambush Viper and take the two-for-one trade. Back to me, it’s a third Forest and a pass.
Now turn 4, Jimi replaces the poor Mob with a Benalish Veteran, while I get on the board with a Lumberknot. Next turn she adds a Butcher’s Cleaver, then swings for 3. This time the attack connects, and I’m reduced to 17 life. For my part, I shore up my defenses with a Festerhide Boar as my deck starts creaking to life. Still, I’m off Black and am desperate for a Swamp.
The Cleaver is equipped to the Veteran on turn 6, and Jimi turns him sideways for 6. I offer the trade for my Boar, but Jimi’s Spare from Evil makes it a one-sided loss. The lifelink from the Cleaver puts her up to 26, and she passes turn. With little else to do, I Make a Wish to return the Viper and Boar. Next turn Jimi attacks again for 6, putting her at 32 and me at 11. I replay the Boar and pass.
A turn-8 Fiend Hunter exiles my Boar, and again the Veteran charges into the red zone. Over to me, I draw a Naturalize, and with 8 cards in hand I have to play something, so I use it at sorcery speed and kill off the hated Cleaver. Next turn Jimi presses her advantage with the Veteran, and I flash in the Viper to trade with it. Jimi follows up with a Jade Mage and ends her turn. Over to me, I kill off the Jade Mage with a Prey Upon, using my 4/4 Lumberknot as my champion. The Mage’s death makes it a 5/5, and it’s now large enough to turn from defender to aggressor.
With Jimi’s turn 10 a blank, I attack in with the Lumberknot for 5, dropping Jimi to 33 life. I then play a Woodland Sleuth to man my defneses and pass. Over to Jimi, she plays a Hamlet Captain. I go in for another 5, keeping the Sleuth back.
But Jimi has the answer on turn 12. She attacks with both the Hunter and Captain. One gets blocked, the other gets a Titanic Growth for the win.
I keep a greedy hand with goodies like Doom Blade and Typhoid Rats, only without a Swamp. Still, Deathly Dominion has a number of ramp and fetch options, so I figure I’ll manage to get what I need soon enough. The good news is that I’m right- my first play of the game- a Caravan Vigil– nets me the Swamp I need. The bad news is that it’s my turn-5 play. Meanwhile Jimi’s led off with an Avacynian Priest, made her bigger with a Bonds of Faith, and brought me down to 14 life in addition to deploying a turn-4 Butcher’s Cleaver.
The Caravan Vigil’s Swamp allows me to try and buy some time with a Devouring Swarm, but Jimi is undeterred. She equips the Cleaver to her Priest and attacks for 6. Again the brutal lifelink gain makes it a 26-8 game, and all I can do is play a second Devouring Swarm. When the Priest comes in for another attack, I look to make a two-for-one trade of both Swarms for the Priest, but again Spare from Evil makes me pay a terrible price. She follows up with the Elder of Laurels and ends her turn.
Back to me, I play a Reassembling Skeleton, but I know I’m doomed. As expected, the mighty Priest needs do little more than tap down the Skeleton, and Jimi grinds me down with the Elder.
With mana problems in both of the previous games, I’m pleased to see a strong assortment in my opening hand- two Forests and a Swamp. Still, the deck has a weakness in this matchup- the Humans are fairly quick, and Deathly Dominion is the slowest of the lot. I race to deploy a turn-5 Festerhide Boar. In the meantime, Jimi has landed a turn-1 Selfless Cathar, turn-2 Unruly Mob, turn-3 Sharpened Pitchfork, and turn-4 Unruly Mob (and equipped the Pitchfork to the first Mob).
I’m down to 13 life as I being turn 5, but the Boar should buy me some time. Over to Jimi, she attacks with both the Cathar and the unequipped Mob. I block the Mob to kill it with the Boar, but the Cathar slips through to nick me for 1. The death of the first Mob gives the second a +1/+1 counter, and Jimi adds a Hamlet Captain before passing.
Now turn 6, Jimi has 3 cards in hand and we’ve got a very weak stalemate, so I play a Brain Weevil and sacrifice it immediately. Jimi pitches a Spare from Evil and Jade Mage, so it seems worth the effort. Back to Jimi, she plays the dreaded Butcher’s Cleaver and passes. next turn, I use Prey Upon to trade out my Boar for her Mob. It’s a disadvantageous trade, two-for-one’ing myself, but I can see that the game is all but lost as it is. If Jimi simply held the Mob back and equipped and swung in with her Captain, the result would be the same- and the Mob would get bigger if we equalised or she popped the Selfless Cathar. As expected, Jimi puts the Cleaver in the hand of the Captain, and just like that it’s a 26-6 game.
My turn-8 Hollowhenge Scavenger looks to stall for more time, but Jimi is ready with the Bonds of Faith. Now defenseless, I can only watch as she sends her troops into the red zone for the alpha strike.
Thoughts & Analysis
We’ve one more deck to go, but it’d be hard to dethrone Deathly Dominion as the worst of Innistrad’s Intro Pack decks. It’s not just that the deck is slow- with the right tools that’s not a death sentence, and let’s not overlook the fact that it has eleven two-drops. What we saw here was not the deck at its finest- and it did win the pre-game friendly we play before every writeup match.
That said, we shouldn’t let the deck off the hook entirely. It has a number of expensive cards, and even cheaper options like the Devouring Swarm (and to a lesser extent, the Lumberknot) are still heavily colour-committed. Even if you have three lands out, its no guarantee you can summon the Swarm unless two of them are Swamps.
Morbid is also a bit of an awkward mechanic to build around. In one sense, it’s deceptive in the same way metalcraft is- it seems easy until your fortunes rely upon it. “Three artifacts? No problem!” “Things die all the time!” Well, not exactly… To be sure, creatures frequently die in Magic, but orchestrating it- and being in a position to take advantage- is not as easy as you might think. Consider a card like the Festerhide Boar. Throw a Dead Weight onto something to trigger morbid and that’s a five-mana play. The only way around this scenario is either to use a sacrifice outlet- which are inconsistent- or to rely upon creature combat, which can be unreliable- especially when your opponent knows what you’re up to. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of a small-creature presence here, cards which can serve as sacrificial fodder. A Jade Mage might have been ideal, but it found its way to Repel the Dark instead. And unlike Eldritch Onslaught, you don’t have a solid defensive corps of creatures to hide behind and stall for time.
As seems to be the norm here, removal is at a premium. With access to M12’s pool of cards, you still only have access to a single Doom Blade, and nearly everything else is more conditional still. Prey Upon depends entirely on the quality of creatures you’ve managed to deploy- and the size of the ones you want to kill. Dead Weight really only kills weenies, although it can be useful to take some of the power level off of larger beaters. The Morkrut Banshee will kill most anything with her -4/-4 ability… buuut there is that morbid thing to worry about. Overall, its hard to avoid comparisons to Scars of Mirrodin’s Deadspread, where the primary mechanic (proliferate) just wasn’t enough to carry the deck. It feels the same with morbid.
Hits: Solid ramp support helps take the edge off of the expensive cards; stronger removal package than some Innistrad decks
Misses: Removal package a bit clunky with some of its options; morbid mechanic useful, but a bit underwhelming to base a deck around
OVERALL SCORE: 3.45/5.00