Innistrad: Deathfed Review (Part 2 of 2)
This time the tables are turned, and it’s time to pilot Deathfed into battle against Jimi, whose Hold the Line taps into her favourite archetype- White Weenie. Would we see a repeat of the deck’s struggles last time, or would I lead Deathfed to greater glory?
Jimi leads us off, easing out a Silver-Inlaid Dagger on her first turn, while I drop a Llanowar Elves off a Forest on mine. Jimi’s next turn is a blank, while I add a second Llanowar Elves and Mulch. The Mulch gives me another Forest, but more importantly throws a Splinterfright, Boneyard Wurm, and Spider Spawning into the graveyard, which is exactly what Deathfed wants to do. Not a bad start! I play a second Elves and pass.
Now turn 3, Jimi deploys her first creature- a Doomed Traveler– but she’s also missed land drop so she can’t equip it with the Dagger. Still, she gets a momentary breather when my turn is a blank. Back to her, she swings with the Traveler, then taps out for an Accorder Paladin. First blood is drawn, and I’m down to 19. For my part, I play a Forbidden Alchemy, pitching a Mulch, Viridian Emissary, and Llanowar Elves in favour of keeping a Boneyard Wurm, which I then play as a 4/4.
Jimi solves the Wurm immediately with a turn-5 Bonds of Faith, then swings in with both of her creatures. I block the Paladin with my Elves- always a risk with the brittle 3/1- but still manage to take 2 off the Traveler thanks to battle cry. Over to me, I unleash the
Kraken Wurm by blasting the Bonds with an Acidic Slime, and the now 6/6 Wurm slithers through the red zone alongside my surviving Elves and drops Jimi to 13. Jimi looks to stabilise her board with an Elite Inquisitor, attacking in again with the Traveler and waiting for me to finally kill it. Down to 16 life, I add an Armored Skaab, playing it during my first main phase in the hopes of seeing more creatures milled off. Alas, no luck this time- four straight lands. Still, I send in the Wurm for 6, and Jimi’s now at 7.
The Silver-Inlaid Dagger finally sees some action on turn 7, as poor Jimi has been having to make do with only two Plains. The newly-equipped Inquisitor swings in for 5, putting me at 11. Back to me, I play another Armored Skaab, getting lucky this time as another Skaab and an Emissary fall into the graveyard alongside a land and Ratchet Bomb. My growing Wurm swings in on the attack and gets chumped by the aptly-named Doomed Traveler, giving Jimi a 1/1 Spirit token for next round’s chumping action. I follow with a Viridian Emissary and pass. Jimi taps out to deploy a Champion of the Parish, then immediately triggers his bonus by following up with a Gideon’s Lawkeeper. She then attacks in with the vigilant Inquisitor, and I offer up my Emissary to get an overdue Swamp. Back to me, I swing in with the massive Wurm and claim the 1/1 Spirit token. Then I flash back the Spider Spawning that fell into my graveyard, granting me 8 1/1 Spider tokens.
Now turn 9, Jimi finally draws a third Plains, and it lets her bring out a Fiend Hunter to exile my Wurm. Her Champion of the Parish gets a second +1/+1 counter, and she attacks in with the Inquisitor for 5. I could easily chump it with a Spider, but I’d prefer to keep every one alive that I can- I might only get one big swing if Jimi starts coming to life off of more land. Having a Gnaw to the Bone in hand doesn’t hurt, either, so I happily drop to 6 life. Back to me, I flash back a Forbidden Alchemy, flushing a pair of Islands and a Green Sun’s Zenith but keeping a Bonehoard. Over to Jimi, she adds another counter to her Champion by adding an Elite Vanguard to her board, then hits the turbo boost with an Honor of the Pure. She then attacks with the Champion and Inquisitor, and I trade out my Slime for her Champion. The Inqusitor gets chumped by the Elves, and at the end of her turn I play a Gnaw to the Bone to go back up to 26 life.
And that’s where things move towards their inexorable conclusion. I add the Bonehoard and another Boneyard Wurm, and begin to threaten my Spider tokens as chump blockers. Meanwhile, Jimi can only lock down the Bonehoard each round, and the Wurm chews up her defenders one at a time. Having to tie up one of her Plains for the Lawkeeper also chokes her a bit, and a couple turns later she scoops.
Jimi leads off with a Doomed Traveler to get things started, then plays a second one after attacking on turn 2. I play my first creature of the game- a Viridian Emissary- and when Jimi drops a turn-3 Honor of the Pure, I know I’ve got my work cut out for me. Naturally, Jimi swings in for 4 with the Travelers, and I accept a trade with my Emissary. The flying Spirit will be harder to deal with, but when you’re taking 4 a turn you don’t have the luxury of time. This way I get a spot of ramp in the bargain, and head off to find a Swamp. Over to me, I draw some breathing room with an Armored Skaab, milling four land to the graveyard.
Now turn 4, Jimi attacks in for 2 with her Spirit, then plays an Elite Inquisitor. I land a Bonehoard, a mere 2/2 at present. Next turn Jimi attacks with the Inquisitor and Spirit for 5, and I’m down to 6. I play Mulch and watch a trio of critters fall into the graveyard (a Llanowar Elves and pair of Skaabs), gaining a Forest. I then play an Elves and pass. With my Bonehoard now a 5/5, the Mulch surely bought me some time.
Jimi attacks again on turn 6, this time with her Spirit and Doomed Traveler. The latter bumps against my Skaab, but the Spirit puts me to 4. She then adds a Mirran Crusader and passes. Back to me, I land a skin-of-my-teeth Spider Spawning, and the four Spiders will preserve me from the Spirit. Next turn Jimi attacks again with the Doomed Traveler, but holds the rest of her army back as we enter a sort of detente. I play a Boneyard Wurm, which comes down as a 4/4.
A turn-8 Fiend Hunter sees off the Wurm, and with my turn a blank Jimi follows up next turn with a Champion of the Parish. My turn 9 goes much the same as my turn 8 did.
The final pillar of my defense falls on turn 10 when Jimi exiles the Bonehoard with an Oblivion Ring. The Mirran Crusader can only be blocked by the Skaab, and it buys me exactly one turn. I scoop shortly thereafter.
Now it’s my turn to be on the play, and I begin with a Forest. Jimi lands an opening Elite Vanguard, but I’m heartened somewhat when next turn I manage a Merfolk Looter. Back to Jimi, she gets the first attack off with the Vanguard, then adds a Doomed Traveler and Gideon’s Lawkeeper.
Now turn 3, my Looter lands me a Splinterfright, for which I discard a Forest. I then play a Llanowar Elves and pass. Jimi taps down the Elves with her Lawkeeper, enabling a 3-point attack. Back to me, I loot and pitch a Mulch as I’ve already one in hand. I cast it, and am rewarded with a Forest (which I play) and three creatures in the graveyard, an Acidic Slime and pair of Elves. The bonus land lets me deploy the Splinterfright, which is born as a 3/3. Alas, Jimi’s ready with an Oblivion Ring, and away goes the Splinterfright almost as soon as it’s played. That lets her swing in with the side, taking me down to 11 life.
My Looter swamps out lands in my hand, pulling in an Island and seeing off a surplus Forest. I then play a Bonehoard which lands as a 3/3 and pass. Jimi’s not giving me so much as an inch, however, and exiles my Germ token with her Fiend Hunter. She then attacks for another 4 damage, but makes the mistake of attacking with her Lawkeeper. I happily trade it out for an Elves, and my Bonehoard now gives a +5/+5 bonus.
Now turn 6, I play a Forbidden Alchemy, passing on a couple of Mulches and a Viridian Emissary in favour of a Boneyard Wurm, which I then play- a 5/5. Back to Jimi, she topdecks an Oblivion Ring and takes care of my Bonehoard once and for all. She then plays an Elite Vanguard. At the end of her turn, I loot a Viridian Emissary, keeping it and pitching a Forest. Next turn, I loot and pitch a Swamp, playing the Emissary. Back to Jimi, she attacks with her Traveler and I accept the trade for my Emissary. Each of us get a little post-mortem bomus, her a 1/1 Spirit and me a Forest.
On turn 8 I loot into an Armored Skaab, pitching a Forest for the right to keep it. I then play the Skaab, which mills away a Forest, Ratchet Bomb, Bonehoard, and Merfolk Looter, but this lets me attack for 7 with the Wurm. Jimi takes it, going down to 13. I then play a second Boneyard Wurm and pass. Jimi attacks with her 1/1 Spirit to put me to 7, but has no other play and passes.
Now turn 9, I play another Skaab which adds two more creatures to my graveyard alongside a land and a Forbidden Alchemy. My now-9/9 Wurms swing in, forcing Jimi to chump her Hunter and Vanguard. At this point, the writing is very much on the wall, and a turn-9 Accorder Paladin is really a few turns too late- especially when I play a third enormous Boneyard Wurm. Jimi chumps her board out, then concedes.
Thoughts & Analysis
In our playtest article for Hold the Line, I made mention of a gift deck I built for Jimi that was mono-White Weenie with some midgame presence, and she and I played a few games with it with me playing Deathfed as foil. It was my first experience with this deck, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. I would usually be able to blunt an early demise, and the deck proved quite capable of stalling to keep itself alive- a few fat creatures and hordes of 1/2 Spiders will do that. It seemed less capable of actually turning the corner on her deck and scoring a win.
That said, Jimi’s deck was designed for power, and was packed with rares and mythics. I resolved to hold judgment until I saw it up against Hold the Line, knowing that it seemed to be a less-powerful version of the same archetype. That’s not to say that Hold the Line is weak, but I felt that I’d have a better chance of seeing Deathfed strut its stuff if given just a little more breathing room, and as the matches here attest to, I was right. If there’s a conclusion to be drawn about its struggles against Jimi’s Standard-legal deck, they are beyond the scope of this review (though that said, Event Decks are supposed to be competitive in a Standard environment).
Given a little time and space to develop, I expected to find Deathfed much to my liking. It is, as a few of our readers mentioned in earlier comments, a fairly non-interactive deck, which I tend to enjoy playing from time to time. It essentially looks to erect a wall around itself with efficient blockers and chumpers, fill up its graveyard through milling, discard, and attrition, then close the game out either on the back of a massive beater or two (like the Boneyard Wurm or Bonehoard), or swarm in with a gaggle of Spider tokens. And if you can combo off with a giant Bonehoard equipped to your singleton Birds of Paradise, then so much the better.
Having played a number of games with it, I can now draw two conclusions about Deathfed. First, it has a good chance of at least hanging in there against most decks, given how well it can stall. And once it manages that, it’s odds begin to climb. In other words, its rather effective at what it does, though it’s certainly more than capable of lousy starts. The other conclusion I drew was a little more surprising- despite having every reason to like this kind of deck, I really didn’t find the theme all that compelling or interesting. Deathfed suffers from a somewhat pedestrian feeling. Fat creatures at bargain prices are fun, but with so much of what you’re doing geared towards that rather singular aim, it does start to feel a bit tedious.
When we reviewed Eldritch Onslaught, we found another deck that happily saw off a bunch of cards to its graveyard through self-milling effects. Because of the high concentration of flashback cards in the deck, even something as dull as a Dream Twist became as exciting as drawing a free card- you never knew what you were going to hit, but the odds were good that you’d be hitting something! Deathfed’s endless rote of Mulch, Armored Skaab, Viridian Emissary et al just didn’t have that same fun element, and even in other games when I’d played a Green Sun’s Zenith and got to go hunting for any critter in the deck, I almost felt like I had to stifle a yawn in the process.
In short, it has a decent strategy which it executes well, but it’s not the deck for everyone.
Hits: Crop of creatures well-positioned to take advantage of deck’s central theme; consistently manages to stock your graveyard most games, giving you considerable advantage
Misses: All-in creature-based strategy has some weakness to removal, and truly offensive-minded creatures are outnumbered by enablers; with some cards that care about creatures in your graveyard and others that care about all graveyards, along with flashback cards, the deck has a higher than usual complexity factor which won’t work for all players
OVERALL SCORE: 4.15/5.00