Dark Ascension: Relentless Dead Review (Part 2 of 2)
We’re excited to return to the world of Innistrad after a few months’ break, once again immersing oursevles in the heavy flavour and top-down design of the set. What better way to kick thins off than with a duel between two our our favourite archetypes? With me being Relentless Dead, I’ll be up against Sam, who’s opted for the Red/Green Monstrous Surprise.
I open our match with a Swamp, while Sam trumps me with a Young Wolf off of her answering Forest. I’m not far behind, however, as I then unveil a Screeching Skaab, milling off a Swamp and a Corpse Lunge for no real benefit. Back to Sam, she drops a Strangleroot Geist, then convincingly demonstrates who the beatdown is going to be by swinging in for the game’s first damage to put me at 17.
Still, I’m able to pull myself up to meet her attack when I return fire, deploying a Diregraf Captain to let my Skaab hit back for 3 of its own. When Sam attacks in again for another 3, I use my Captain to block and kill the Young Wolf, going down to 15. The Wolf dies, but returns to the battlefield untapped with a +1/+1 counter for its troubles thanks to the new undying mechanic. I add a second Screeching Skaab on turn 4, and Sam takes the opportunity to give the same treatment to her Pyreheart Wolf by chumping the Skaab (which survives thanks to the Captain’s bonus). When her Pyreheart returns with undying, I kill it for good with a Dead Weight. Back to Sam, she turns her Young Wolf and Strangleroot Geist sideways, and I’m left at 11 life.
Now turn 5, I counterattack with my Captain and the pair of Skaabs for 8. Sam responds by Flinging her Geist at my Captain, so in the end I’m only hitting half as hard to put her at 13. This is bad. Back to Sam, she smashes in for another 5, then adds an Orchard Spirit and Goblin Arsonist, the latter of which is a particularly good solution to my pair of Skaabs. I sit tight for my turn 6, then Sam Wild Hungers the Orchard Spirit to leave me at 1 life. Unable to draw a solution to the Spirit, I scoop.
After an opening turn spent acquiring real estate, I begin with a second-turn Screeeching Skaab, sending a Moan of the Unhallowed and Farbog Boneflinger to a premature burial. Sam’s turn is a regrettable blank, especially after she’s already mulled down to six cards, and I press my advantage with a 2-point attack off the Skaab the turn following. Finally Sam manages to land something, a Pyreheart Wolf. At the end of her turn, I cast Forbidden Alchemy to score a Dead Weight.
Now turn 4, it’s my turn to stall out as I miss my first land drop. Back to Sam, she swings in unopposed with her Wolf, then adds to the pack with a Russet Wolves. I miss my next land drop as well, and have nothing to play. The momentum has shifted back to Sam, and she sends both Wolves in to gnaw on me for 4. She then adds a Young Wolf for some lupine variety, but at the end of her turn I manage to snag a Ghoulraiser with another Forbidden Alchemy.
Drawing a Swamp on turn 6, I’m now able to start adding to my board position. I exile a Screeching Skaab from my library to trot out the beefy Makeshift Mauler and pass. Sam gently applies the brakes, only attacking with her Young and Pyreheart Wolves thanks to their evasion/undying abilities. She then uses Prey Upon to trade her Pyreheart for my Screeching Skaab. While hers returns stronger than before, mine simply stays, well, dead. But her triumph is short-lived, for once it’s back to me I simply move to kill off the Pyreheart with the Dead Weight. In a move she’ll shortly come to regret, Sam decides to stay aggressive, using Fling to wring out 2 more points of damage from her ill-fated Wolf and put me down to 13 life. I then tap out to deploy a Diregraf Captain, letting me swing for 5 with the Makeshift Mauler. Sam takes it on the chin, dropping her spindown counter to a more reasonable 13. She then adds a Nearheath Stalker and passes after another 4-point swing. I end the turn at 7 life.
Now turn 8, I keep the pressure on with a 5-point Mauler counterattack. Sam chumps it with her Stalker, pleased to see it come back even bigger than before. To keep it at bay, I then add an Abattoir Ghoul. For her part, Sam sends in the Young Wolf as a sacrificial offering, which the Abattoir Ghoul gleefully accepts. Of course, it comes back as a 2/2, but that’s still manageable. On the upside, I go up to 8 life. Next turn I ramp up the offense by sending the Ghoul in with the Mauler. Sam gang-blocks the Ghoul with her Stalker and Russet Wolves, and I opt to kill off the Stalker in the trade. Thanks to the Captain, Sam loses a life when my Zombie dies, which when added to the damage from the Mauler puts her at 7 life. Thanks to the Ghoul’s killing blow, I’m now back up to a more comfortable 10. I follow up with the Ghoulraiser, which nets me a Farbog Boneflinger from the boneyard. Back to Sam, she adds another Nearheath Stalker, then Rampant Growths for a Mountain. She’s been fine for land, but a little extra never hurts.
The Mauler slams back in on turn 10, and Sam again looks to gang-block her way out of trouble with the Wolves and a Stalker. I kill the Russets, but the Mauler finally crashes to the ground. That costs Sam a life from the Captian, and with her at 6 I cast Endless Ranks of the Dead. Sam thins my Zombie count when she attacks back for 7. I trade my Ghoulraiser for her Stalker, still letting 2 through while Sam takes 1 more from the Captain. My heart sinks when she then trots out her premium rare, Flayer of the Hatebound, which was brutal in our pre-match friendly.
Down to one Zombie, I get nothing off the Endless Ranks of the Dead, but look to remedy that by playing a pair of Black Cats next. Sam’s playing off the top of her library, so their random discard isn’t much of a threat, but every body helps. Back to Sam, she attacks with the Young Wolf, and I offer up a Cat as a chump. My caution is rewarded when Sam then plays a follow-up Orchard Spirit, which is hard for my creatures to defend against. Still, the loss of the Cat puts Sam down to 4 life- this is going to be a close one at the death.
My work is rewarded on turn 11 when my two Zombies on the field help spawn another from the Endless Ranks of the Dead, which comes to life as a 3/3. I add a second Zombie token with a Reap the Seagraf, but hang back with my creatures. Sam’s Orchard Spirit dances past them to put me at 6 life, but I get another pair of Zombie tokens next turn as the tribe finally starts to do what it’s designed to- relentless waves of undeath. I cast a Farbog Boneflinger to snipe the nettlesome Orchard Spirit, then alpha strike in with the team for the win.
It’s Sam’s turn to be on the play, and she starts with a Forest followed by a Mountain. I get both my types into play as well, and am rewarded with a turn-2 Walking Corpse. Sam’s not far behind with a turn-3 Pyreheart Wolf, but when I drop an answering Diregraf Captain my Corpse is released to start bashing in for 3. Although Sam fires back with the Wolf on turn 4 for 1, her Russet Wolves aren’t enough to halt my offense as the Corpse shambles back in to leave her at 14.
Now turn 5, Sam deploys a Strangleroot Geist and immediately turns it sideways. I keep the pressure on with the Walking Corpse to the tune of 3 more damage, but Sam chumps it with her Pyreheart Wolf to let it come back with a counter thanks to its undying. I tap out for an Abattoir Ghoul and pass. Next turn Sam looks to take the game by the scruff of the neck when she resolves a Gutter Grime. At first this has me hesitant, as killing off too many of her creatures might backfire in the long run thanks to the enchantment, but when I draw a second Diregraf Captain the game seems mine to lose. Playing it first, I then attack in for 9 with the Ghoul and Corpse duo. Sam blocks the Corpse with her Geist and Russet Wolves to ensure a trade. I opt to assign the damage to the Wolves, which once dead will be staying down. Still, Sam pays a steep price, losing 2 life from the Captains to go down to 8, though she gets some consolation from the grime counter she gets to put on Gutter Grime, and the free 1/1 Ooze it generates.
She further enhances her board position on turn 7 with a Rage Thrower, then sends in the Geist for another 2. Down to 15, I send in the Abattoir Ghoul alone, and Sam as expected trades long-term growth for short-term protection by chumping with her 1/1 Ooze token. The Thrower then nails me for another 2, though that’s offset by half from the Ghoul’s lifegain. I end my turn by summoning the Farbog Boneflinger, who despite his cost has been a fairly consistent and useful card for me. I direct his projectile at Sam’s Rage Thrower, and it leaves behind a single 2/2 Ooze.
Sam’s now caught on the back-foot, and she knows it. Her turn-8 Skirsdag Cultist is a case of too little, too late, though it shows some of her deck’s potential if she could get out the Thrower, the Cultist, and the Gutter Grime and stabilise the board. She attacks for 2 with the Geist, but it’s a token gesture. I fire back for 9 with the Ghoul and Boneflinger. Sam is forced to chump the Ghoul with her Ooze counter, and goes down to 4. I then seal the deal with another Abattoir Ghoul followed by a Dead Weight to kill off her Cultist. The 3/3 Ooze she gets is little consolation, and she scoops after drawing on turn 9.
Thoughts & Analysis
Relentless Dead does its tribe tremendous justice and was a ton of fun to play. Indeed, unless there’s a massive spike in quality this is a sure contender for one of the top five decks in Innistrad block. Mechanically, there isn’t much going on here outwith the sample of flashback and the “Skaab mechanic,” but overall the pieces fit together well enough to breathe some variety into your stereotypical combat deck. And while it’s hard to pinpoint precisely why, there’s a certain element of enjoyment that comes with a deck wrapped tightly around a particular theme.
That isn’t to say that the deck is without its shortcomings. Chief amongst these is its removal package. Contrary to the perception of some, Blue actually has a solid range of options for removal, even if most of them are tempo-based and temporary (see: bounce) rather than the more permanent solutions seen in Black and Red. Here we find our “magic number” is 2/2. Most of the deck’s removal stops being as effective there, as you’ll need to chain the Dead Weights or Farbog Boneflingers with some combat interactivity if you’re trying to kill anything larger- though, being fair to the Dead Weights, you can use them to shrink something larger if it comes down to it. That leaves the Corpse Lunge as the only card capable of dealing with bigger beaters, though its limit of 6 (if you exile a Skaab Goliath in the casting). In essence, this is another instance of a deck that will be doing the bulk of its work in the red zone.
That goal is greatly aided by the deck’s undeniable all-star card, Diregraf Captain. The Captain cycle (Diregraf, Drokskol, Stromkirk, and Immerwolf) are a massive gift to the tribal player, each bringing a great deal to the table for their respective tribes for a mere three mana- and at uncommon, no less. And while there will be times where you’re held up from playing one of your Skaabs due to lack of a creature card in your graveyard, the deck is constructed well enough that you shouldn’t experience that all that often even with the lack of a sacrifice outlet. After all, with all the upside that comes with a well-stocked graveyard, you won’t feel nearly as bad throwing some expendable (non-token) Zombie at your opponent’s trenchwork.
On the whole, this deck is excellent value for dollar if you’re looking for a great Intro pack experience from the new set.
Hits: Zombie tribe well-represented with a solid assortment of creatures and cards; although the deck begs for a full playset, two Diregraf Captains give it a tremendous power boost
Misses: Lackluster removal suite only partly explained away by the deck’s current environment (Innistrad block); there’s a bit too much chaff at the more expensive end of the scale (M12’s Zombie Goliath, for instance, and even Endless Ranks of the Dead- while perfectly fitting and thematically appropriate- is less exciting in practice than it otherwise appears)
OVERALL SCORE: 4.65/5.00