Dark Ascension: Dark Sacrifice Review (Part 2 of 2)
This is it- our last Dark Ascension playtest, at least until the Event Decks release. The set has seem some interesting inclusions, from the all-star Grave Power to the Zombie-tribal Relentless Dead, and it will be interesting to see how this ranks amongst them. Joining me in the arena is Sam, who is piloting the aforementioned Blue/Green Grave Power. Who will come out on top?
On the play, Sam kicks things off with an Island. I play a Plains, tapping it to bring out my Doomed Traveler, though she raises me when next turn she adds a Dawntreader Elk to the board after a Forest. For my part, I summon an Unruly mob, and my Traveler begins making its peace with itself.
Now turn 3, Sam attacks for 2 then pops the Elk to grab another Island. Down to 18, I counterattack for 2 of my own, then finish with a Night Terrors. Sam’s holding a few choice cards (Æther Adept, Ambush Viper, Chasm Drake, Brindle Boar, and another Elk), and its not the easiest decision. The Drake is my first though, as she’s not able to cast it yet, but I end up exiling the Viper. Next turn Sam plays the other Dawntreader Elk, missing her land drop. I hit mine, and out comes the Galvanic Juggernaut.
Sam pops the Elk on turn 5 to fetch up another Forest, then follows up with a Boneyard Wurm (now a 2/2). Undeterred, I send in the Traveler alongside the Juggernaut, and Sam goes down to 12. I close with a second Doomed Traveler and a Lingering Souls for a pair of 1/1 Spirits and pass. Back to Sam, she stays put, but does add a Chasm Drake. Unable to kill anything, my Juggernaut stays tapped once it’s back to me, but I do reinforce my board with an Unruly Mob and Village Cannibals. Properly reinforced, I send in both Doomed Travelers, and Sam falls to 10 as she lets them pass.
Now turn 7, Sam brings out the Brindle Boar and immediately cracks it open like a bacon piñata, gorging herself on the 4 life it offers. With the Wurm now a 3/3, she decides to swing with it alongside the Drake. It’s not unproductive- she kills off my 1/1 Spirits when I offer them as chumps- but the downside is that my Unruly Mobs are both now 3/3’s as well. She follows up with the Æther Adept, bounging one of my Mobs back to hand. Back to me, I draw and play the Champion of the Parish, which gets a +1/+1 counter when I replay the Unruly Mob. For good measure, I flash Lingering Souls back from my graveyard to give me a pair of 1/1 Spirits, then swing in with everything that isn’t summoning sick- an impressive 12 points of damage. Sam chumps the Juggernaut with her Adept, but the rest pass through unmolested. Sam’s now at 6 life. Driving the point home is the Fiend of the Shadows which ends my turn.
Sorely back-footed, Sam lamely a Tracker’s Instinct, desperate for reinforcements, and pulls a Chasm Drake. I keep the assault up with another attack with the Juggernaut and both Doomed Travelers. Over a barrel, Sam has to start killing them off and does so, trading the plump 5/5 Wurm for the Juggernaut and killing the others with her remaining forces. Innediately, my army swells up with counters all around for the Angry Mobs and Village Cannibals. Although Sam goes fishing again by flashing back the Instincts, I have her on sheer numbers now and she collapses beneath the strain.
Sam opens with a Forest then passes, while I drop a Swamp enabling an Avacyn’s Collar. Next turn Sam matches artifact for artifact as she resolves an Executioner’s Hood. I play an Unruly Mob and pass. Next turn sees Sam with a Dawntreader Elk as I get situated with an Elder Cathar, and we’re well underway!
Now turn 4, Sam attacks for 2 with the Elk. Calling her bluff, I push the Cathar in front of it and, as expected, she opts to sacrifice it for a land rather than take the trade. Back to me, I equip the Collar to the Cathar and swing in for 4 alongside the Mob. Blooded first, Sam goes down to 16. Untapping, she lands the game’s first monster, the 5/5 Hollowhenge Beast. I then add a Village Cannibals and pass.
The Beast gets moving on turn 6, and Sam wisely equips it with the Executioner’s Hood before attacking, assuring a smooth path through my defenses. Down to 15 life with little answer for the Beast, I offer the Elder Cathar up for an Altar’s Reap. In addition to the two cards, the Mob and Cannibals each get a +1/+1 counter, and I use the Cathar’s death-effect to add two more counters to the Cannibals. As if that wasn’t enough profit from a single death, the Collar yields a 1/1 Spirit token to boot. Seeing an opening in Sam’s defenses, I send in the Mob, Cannibals, and Spirit for 8, but Sam’s ready with an Ambush Viper to trade out for my 5/5 Cannibals. With Sam at 13 life, I then add a Galvanic Juggernaut, equipping the Collar to it to get around its untap drawback- a vigilant Juggernaut demands no sacrifice to perform each turn.
Sam swings in with the Beast on turn 7, and I give real thought to trading the Juggernaut out for it, since as an artifact creature it’s the only eligible blocker I have. At 15 life, though, I’m thinking I can race, and I can always make the trade later if the board stalls, right? Wrong. Sam follows with a Chasm Drake post-combat, and my heart sinks- the only thing harder to kill on the baord than a 5/5 intimidator is one that also attacks in the air. Determined to ground the Beast through offensive pressure, I send in the Spirit, Juggernaut, and Mob again for 9, putting Sam at 4 life. I then cast Unburial Rites to bring back the Cannibals and pass.
Now turn 8, Sam sets the race back in her favour by bouncing my Juggernaut with an Æther Adept. She swings for 8 with the Drake/Beast tandem and leaves me clinging to life at 2. She follows with a Moon Heron, and the cause is lost. After my next draw, I concede.
With the match split at one win apiece, it’s down to this final game to decide a winner. I’m on the play and begin with a Selfless Cathar, then attack on turn 2 for 1 when Sam hasn’t managed a defense. That’s quickly remedied, however, as she drops an Armored Skaab, sending two creatures from her library to the graveyard.
Now turn 3, I don’t have a lot of early options but still hit at Sam’s hand with a Night Terrors. This one’s an easy choice- though she does have an Ambush Viper and Boneyard Wurm, it’s the Splinterfright that needs to go. For her part, Sam attacks with the Skaab for 1, then adds the now-2/2 Boneyard Wurm to the board and passes. Next turn I deploy a Doomed Traveler and pass. Sam swings for 2 with her Wurm, and I look to take care of it early by gang-blocking with both of my creatures. All three die, but I at least get the consolation prize of a 1/1 Spirit off the Traveler.
Now turn 5, I play a second Night Terrors to take a scalpel to the Viper, noting that Sam’s drawn an Æther Adept in the meantime. I send in my Spirit to ding her for a point and pass. Sam comes back in for another 2 to leave me at 15, then ends with a Chasm Drake. Still, all is not lost as I’ve a few offensive threats of my own beginning with a Galvanic Juggernaut, a card which has been strong in the deck, but things start to become worrisome when Sam drops a Wreath of Geists on the Drake to let it swing in for 6, taking me to 9 life.
Unwilling to go down without a fight I send the Juggernaut and Spirit on a turn-7 attack for 6 of my own, leaving Sam at 13. I then follow up with my ace in the hole, the Skirsdag Flayer. I have no Humans on the board, but there’s an Elgaud Inquisitor in hand and I have the mana to summon him. Still, doing so would tip Sam off that the Flayer can be active, so I instead just pass my turn. Sam simply fires back with her creatures, putting me inches from death at 2. I spring the trap on turn 8, playing the Inquisitor before feeding him to the Flayer to pick off Sam’s Chasm Drake. This not only gives me a moment’s respite from the attacks, but grants me a 1/1 Spirit token creature as well as untaps the Juggernaut. I then send the old Spirit and Juggernaut in on the attack, cutting Sam down to 7 life. It’s a close one! For her part, Sam plays an Armored Skaab (milling off two creatures, one of which was her top card- the Ghoultree). With little answer for what’s in the air and unable to find a permanent solution, Sam settles for bouncing one of my Spirits back to hand with the Æther Adept, sending it off into the void.
Salvation arrives on turn 9 when I draw a Gather the Townsfolk, whose fateful hour will happily keep my Flayer in work for some time to come. I immediately pick one unfortunate townie to go have a chat with the Flayer, and as a result Sam’s Adept has a happy accident somewhere. This again untaps the Juggernaut, which is send into the red zone alongside the remaining 1/1 Spirit. The Juggernaut grinds a Skaab to a meaty paste, while the Spirit puts Sam to 6. Down to one Skaab left and knowing what’s coming next, Sam attacks with the Skaab. Just to be safe, I go ahead and chump it with another Human.
Now turn 10, I draw an Unruly Mob, playing it immediately. I then use the Flayer and another unfortunate citizen to destroy Sam’s Skaab. This gives the Mob its first +1/+1 counter, and untaps the Juggernaut, letting me send in an 8-point onslaught with the Spirit, the last two Humans and the Juggernaut. Sam solves the latter with an Ambush Viper, but takes 3 from the remining attackers. At 3 life, she draws her next card, and scoops.
Thoughts & Analysis
Dark Sacrifice is a fairly unreliable creature, but it does have a lot of things going for it if you can get them to work. In that sense, it’s very much one of those decks we characterise as “feast or famine.” With only two removal spells (Death’s Caress), and weak ones at that, the game can really turn on whether or not you manage to find your Skirsdag Flayer. As we saw in Game Three, that took the game by the scruff of the neck and ended up stealing it for me, though to be fair the Gather the Townsfolk was critical as by then I’d run out of Humans to sacrifice. Self-sacrifice can be a difficult theme to pull off- too much fodder with no outlet (or too much outlet with no fodder) can spell doom for the deck, but if you manage to find both parts in sufficient measure, the deck can go off frighteningly well. Not for nothing other, similar efforts from Wizards (Coldsnap’s Beyond the Grave, Mirrodin’s Sacrificial Bam) are amongst the highest-rated decks we’ve covered. Dark Sacrifice is not without its problems, but it’s one heck of a ride to play.
One of the deck’s most fun aspects is one that should appeal to the inner sadist in all of us (because, hey, you’re playing a deck dedicating to sacrificing Humans after all), which is its ability to set up damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t checkmate scenarios for your opponent, who then has to go into the tank and try to figure out which option is the lesser evil: blocking or letting through, defending or attacking. We saw this in the ending turns of Game One, when I had landed a couple of Unruly Mobs and a Village Cannibals, and at 6 life Sam had to face down the unhappy prospect of a pair of attacking Doomed Travelers. There won’t be too many times where you’ve scared to kill a 1/1, but that scenario would certainly rank highly. You might note a certain similarity with the undying mechanic in that regard.
In our pre-match friendly, Sam and I had one of our best games in all of Dark Ascension, and it was a pity we don’t record friendlies. Grave Power wwas churning creatures into its graveyard, and we’d hit something of a board stall after a ton of back-and-forth attacks. She was not only able to refill her hand to seven cards from one (via Grim Flowering), but went from single-digit life to high-20’s one two different occasions thanks to a Gnaw to the Bone. For my part, I found a winning partnership in an Elgaud Inquisitor and Demonmail Hauberk, and stayed in the high-20’s myself for a number of turns with the ability to pull him back out after dying with the Unburial Rites. Point being, there are a lot of little interactions in this deck, and it will take playing it a few times to find them all. It’s a good thing, then, that it’s fun enough not to feel a chore.
In the final counting this deck won’t rate as highly as the Coldnap and Mirrodin ones mentioned above, given the fact that it clearly feels like it’s a powerful strategy that’s been hobbled for the sake of balance. Looking at two cards alone- Gather the Townsfolk and Skirsdag Flayer, there’s plenty of tightening up that can be done to amp its power level, especially when you carve out some of the trash like the Disciple of Griselbrand. Grab a Skirsdag High Priest or two and let the fun really begin.
Hits: Superb synergy between its token creatures, sac outlets, and tied-in beneficial effects; the challenge of setting up a “soft lock” effect is a lot of fun, putting your opponent in a no-win situation; given the Innistrad/Dark Ascension environment, there’s a lot of support for the theme and support for the deck
Misses: Removal suite is dreadful- the deck begs for some Tragic Slips; a number of the cards in the list are suboptimal (upside: they are also easily replaced to make way for better); feast or famine, the deck relies heavily on getting a certain combination of cards in play to be successful
OVERALL SCORE: 4.60/5.00