Dark Ascension: Gleeful Flames Review (Part 1 of 2)
Longtime readers might know the interesting path we’ve been tracking with regards to the Event Decks. Designed to be ‘entry level compatible,’ they have been marketed as gateway products to Friday Night Magic. The constraints they face in positioning themselves as such have been well documented here; with a limit of seven rare cards, there’s only just so much a deck can do.
This lesson was picked up by Wizards early, as players overwhelmingly favoured the quick, mono-Red Into the Breach over the slower, more cumbersome two-coloured Infect & Defile. The rationale was simple- speed can cover for a multitude of sins, and the early game was where these Event Decks would have the best chance of success in taking down a deck a few ranks above its pay grade. This generated a problem, whereby the line looked set to hew to a series of mono-coloured aggro decks, which would begin to get a bit thin after awhile (this problem was covered in greater depth here). In successive releases, each colour got its own version of this archetype… and then with a welcome breath of fresh air, along came Innistrad.
Innistrad’s Event Decks represented a couple of firsts. Hold the Line, an aggro-Humans build, was the first mono-coloured deck to repeat a colour (White, which had been used previously by New Phyrexia’s War of Attrition). Even more noteworthy was what Deathfed represented- namely, the first deck since the initial release to dare to blend in more than one colour. While this is an acclaim it can now share with Dark Ascension, with the Black/Green Spiraling Doom, we’ll begin our look at the Event Decks of Dark Ascension with its sibling deck, Gleeful Flames.
Gleeful’s predecessor, Into the Breach, was an Event Deck version of a popular RDW variant of the time, Kuldotha Red. It flooded the board with early, cheap creatures, using burn support to keep the red zone clear as a gaggle of Goblins and other weenies overwhelmed the opponent. The deck packed in a ton of artifacts, ranging from creatures (Ornithopters and Memnites) to equipment (Darksteel Axes) to spell effects (Panic Spellbombs)- a grand total of seventeen of them. This allowed it to reliably trot out a Kuldotha Rebirth, and once established go all-in to win with, say, a Devastating Summons. It wasn’t a bad build, and the deck performed fairly well. Today’s deck, however, takes a rather different approach using the same mono-Red base. Gleeful Flames, you see, has a touch of the combo about it.
Like Into the Breach, Gleeful Flames is absolutely jam-packed at the top of the curve, with nearly everything parking itself in the earliest slot possible. The goal of the deck is as simple as it is straightforward- deal 20 damage as fast as you can- and it leverages every resource towards this end. Much of the damage will be coming from the deck’s generous burn suite, but having a ton of weenies means that the deck’s always going to have something to do, and should be able to start claiming life points from turn 2.
The first member here is the humble Forge Devil. A simple 1/1 body, it has the virtue of pinging a creature for 1 point of damage upon entering the battlefield. This is decent for keeping the early lanes clear, or blunting some of your opponent’s ramp with mana dorks. If you can get a swing or two in with them, then so much the better. Next up in the ranged-damage category we find a Goblin Arsonist. Unlike the Forge Devil, it’s ping can go to creatures or opponents, but it has to die to activate it. As we’ll soon see, that’s no great impediment here.
For ranged, repeatable damage we have to look at the Goblin Fireslinger. It’s axiomatic of the game that weenie/swarm strategies are vulnerable to letting the red zone build up too high for them to profitably cross, with an opponent landing ever-more-imposing creatures as the game goes longer. The Fireslinger remedies this by giving you a touch of reach. It likely won’t do a lot- decks like this tend to fold fairly quickly if they can’t make it to the top of the hill quick enough- but every bit of damage helps out. Finally, we come to the Goblin Gaveleer, a 1/1 with trample that gets a power boost if it’s been handed some equipment. With three such artifacts in the deck, it will come up fairly often though somewhat short of reliably, so it’s best regarded as a bonus when you’re able to execute the extra damage potential of this wee fella.
The deck packs in a playset of each of the one-drops, but for a little more strength to the spine it has a few additional creatures included. A trio of Torch Fiends can help apply a little more offensive pressure with their 2 power, but they also represent your only way to deal with artifacts you might run into at the constructed table, such as the Swords. Lastly, there’s a singleton Hellrider way out by its lonesome in the four-drops. A comparatively beefy 3/3, it does its part to give you some range against your opponent by coming baked-in with a Raid Bombardment– one that doesn’t care about your own creatures’ power. With enough weenies on the board, the Hellrider can set up a game-ending alpha strike no matter how good your opponent’s defenses are.
Aside from the Hellrider, none of the above creatures are going to inspire much in the way of fear from your opponent, being for the most part a collection of easily-dispatched 1/1’s. That’s where the deck’s thunderous burn package comes into play. With a full dozen cards that can blast your opponent’s face for 5 damage, the secret to the game’s win condition is less in the red zone and more in your hand. Take the mighty Goblin Grenade. you should have little problem finding a Goblin ‘volunteer’ for this, esepcially as you enter the midgame and your opponent has managed to raise the defenses. It’s two cards for one effect, but the case can certainly be made that a Goblin standing around taking a smoke break instead of attacking is already (almost) a card lost. This was you can wring another 5 points of damage out of it and feel just fine for the loss.
If you’re not content doing that at sorcery speed, Gleeful Flames quite happily provides a playset of Artillerizes. Although these cost significantly more mana, their speed and undiscriminating palette more than make up for it. Besides, by the time you’re ready to start Artillerizing, you’re unlikely to see a lot of competition for that mana. Finally, we see a third playset of burn, this time with Brimstone Volley. This card is well-positioned to take advantage of your high mortality rate. With most of your creatures bing 1/1, it won’t be all that difficult to engineer the entimely death of one minion or another, in order to get full value out of the Volleys. Although you may be tempted to trim out your opponent’s creatures a bit with your burn, if at all possible you’ll want to direct as much as you can to your opponent. This flies in the face of the usual burn strategy, where you want to conserve it as creature removal and then as a finishing play on a crippled opponent. In Gleeful Flames, the burn itself is what’s designed to criopple your opponent- creature damage in excess of, say, 5 points a game can rightfully be regarded as a bonus.
Creature augments and card draw round out the noncreature support here. You get a single copy of the Curse of Stalked Prey, an Aura Curse that lets your creatures get bigger each time they connect. This won’t do a lot in most games, but if you can manage to drop it on turn 2 you might stand to give yourself a significant head start in your burn-your-opponent-to-the-ground strategy. you also have a trio of Infiltration Lenses. These are a cheap and easy way to put your opponent in the damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don’t bind of deciding which is more harmful to their health- taking a bit of damage by letting them pass, or giving you a couple of cards (and possibly a morbid trigger) by assigning a blocker. Since all you need to resolve are four of your damage spells, you’ll often hope its the latter. But if your opponent doesn’t oblige you, you also have recourse to a couple of Faithless Lootings, to help you burrow through your deck a bit more quickly.
Because it can, Gleeful Flames runs a relatively land-light operation, giving you only twenty-two of them. The bulk of these, as you’d expect, are Mountains, but you do have a couple of extra treats. A trio of Haunted Fengrafs give you the ability to recur a creature at random to your hand, perfect for helping enable another Goblin Grenade or Artillerize, or giving you some recovery mechanism for a board sweep such as Day of Judgment. You also have recourse to the Inkmoth Nexus. While you won’t reliably expect to win with an infect strategy, the Nexus similarly gives you a hedge against having your board wiped out, and can also set up Artillerize or help give you a morbid trigger for the Brimstone Volleys. With so much of the deck being dirt-cheap to play, you have little to fear from using up your expendable lands.
Lead them to their Doom
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Event Deck without a sideboard, and Gleeful Flames give you a number of options against whatever you might face at the tables of your FNM. A pair of Gut Shots and playset of Arc Trails give you a little extra burn. This might seem like overkill, but remember that your big blasts are reserved for your opponent. If you face any kind of swarming strategy, you’ll want to bring in some smaller burn spells to deal with the stream of creatures you’ll be up against. Likewise you have a single Dismember, good for helping to deal with an opponent who relies on a big beatstick rather than a gaggle of smaller ones. This deck is happy to stall for time as best it call, all the better to find those critical burn spells.
A trio of Torpor Orbs also reside here. Good for dealing with any creature that has an enters-the-battlefield trigger, while a trio of Into the Cores can dismantle an opponent who leans too heavily upon artifacts. Finally, a pair of Acts of Treason not only give you a chance to use your opponent’s best creature against them, but they also offer the insult-to-injury potential of stealing something, hitting them in the face with it, then using it to fuel an Artillerize. Now that’s value!
Overall this deck looks like quite a bit of pyromaniacal fun- swarm with early weenies, then start digging for the big blasts to take the game firmly in hand! We’ll be putting it up against its counterpart, Spiraling Doom, but not until we’ve given the second deck a chance under the microscope first. See you then!