Duel Decks- Venser vs Koth: Venser’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)
We’ve now given both constructions from Duel Decks: Venser vs Koth the once-over, and now it’s time to see how they play out. Joining me at the table is Jimi, all to happy to play Koth’s role as mono-Red and Boros decks are her specialty. We noted that Venser’s deck is filled with lots of little synergies…will it be enough to turn aside the wrath of the hammer?
It’s a slow start for both sides as Jimi and I trade land drops. She gets a stream of Mountains on the play, while I drop two successive Sejiri Refuges into an Island for a turn-3 Slith Strider. With no play from Jimi yet forthcoming, my Slith skitters across the red zone on turn 4 for the game’s opening bit of damage- getting a +1/+1 counter for its troubles.
Now turn 5, Jimi stops my nascent momentum dead in its tracks with a Geyser Glider. Back to me, I open with a New Benalia (opting to keep Cache Raiders on top of my library). Then I deploy a Minamo Sightbender, a key to unlocking Jimi’s defense. She follows up with a Pilgrim’s Eye, letting her find a land to hit her drop. That, in turn, triggers the Glider’s landfall, and over it comes for 4 to put me at 18. Next turn I use the Sightbender to ensure that Jimi can’t block my Slith, sending it in for 2 and giving it a second +1/+1 counter at the end of combat. I follow up with another Slith Strider.
Despite the threat on the table, Jimi boldly deploys Koth of the Hammer on turn 7, immediately triggering his builder to make one of her Mountains a 4/4. She turns all three creatures sideways, hammering me for 9. Battered but not yet beaten, I open my turn by putting a Steel of the Godhead on my bigger Slith. Jimi takes the opportunity to snipe off the smaller one with a Searing Blaze, nipping the threat in the bud, but I rescue it with a Whitemane Lion. I then send the first Slith in on Koth, deavling the 4 damage needed to see him off. The Minamo Sightbender- his services unneeded- heads over to take a nick off of Jimi as well.
Still, Jimi’s confident in her deck, and on turn 8 she plays another Pilgrim’s Eye to hit her drop, then attacks with the first one and the Glider for 5, flying right above my held-back-for-chump-detail Lion. Now firmly in burn range, I know time’s not on my side. I attack for 4 with the Slith Strider, then deploy a Windreaver to tie up the air lanes. It’s all for naught, however, as Jimi’s holding a fatal Jaws of Stone.
I keep a very oddball opening hand this time- four land, a Path to Exile, an Oblivion Ring, and a Steel of the Godhead. Although deeply tempted to ship it, I’m just as curious to see where it might lead the deck. In an aggro deck, a creatureless hand is an auto-ship, but I have the luxury of being in playtest mode of a slower construction. Why not?
Things go fine the first two turns, with Jimi also seemingly absent of any quick options. My chancer’s keep seems rewarded when I draw and deploy a turn-3 Scroll Thief. For her part, Jimi plays a Pilgrim’s Eye to get herself another Mountain. Next turn I add a Flood Plain, then put the Steel of the Godhead on my Thief. It swings in for 2, and grabs me another card. Back to Jimi, she plays a Mountain, swings for 1 with the Eye, and ends her turn.
Now turn 5, Jimi solves the Thief once and for all with a Seismic Strike. Back to the drawing board, I crack my Flood Plain for an Island and pass. Over to Jimi, she plays a fifth Mountain, then brings out Koth of the Hammer. Animating a Mountain for his builder, she comes in for 5 damage, dropping me to 14. Next turn I play New Benalia, letting me scry for 1. Happily, there’s another Scroll Thief atop my library, so I leave it there, using my turn to Oblivion Ring Jimi’s Koth. Back to her, she plays a Cosi’s Ravager, attacking for 1 with the Eye.
The Scroll Thief comes down on turn 7. Meanwhile, Jimi drops a Mountain to ping me for 1 off the Ravager’s landfall trigger. She then nukes my hapless Scroll Thief with a 3-point Searing Blaze, putting me at 6. She attacks for 3 with the Ravager and Pilgrim’s Eye, and I’m now on death’s door. Back to me, I shore up my ground vulnerability with a Cache Raiders and pass. Jimi has me in checkmate as she plays a Mountain (-1 damage) and swings with her team. Thanks to Cosi’s Ravager, my Path to Exile weighs heavily in my hand, illustrating in a moment’s detail some of the intricacy of this particular Duel Deck release.
On the play for our final match, Jimi and I translate first-turn land drops into turn-2 Minamo Sightbenders and Pygmy Pyrosaurs. I get in a 1-point attack on turn 3, while Jimi returns the favour before deploying Vulshok Battlegear. Trouble.
I can do nothing but attack on turn 4. I’ve got a solid hand that has everything I’d like except for one thing- Plains. With a Cryptic Annelid in hand, though, I’m comfortable enough with the draw, but need to buy a little time thanks to Jimi’s quick start. I send in the Sightbender for a point of damage and end turn having missed my first land drop. Back to Jimi, she equips the Battlegear onto the Pyrosaurus, then attacks for 4 to leave me at 15. She follows up with a Wayfarer’s Bauble.
Now turn 5, I attack again for 1, while Jimi comes all in with the Pyrosaur, snorting fire all the while. It slams me for 9 as she taps out to pump it, and I’m down to 6. I finally hit my fourth Island next turn, which lets me find a Plains off of the Crytpic Annelid’s massive scrying capability. But is it too late? Jimi turns the Pyrosaur sideways, and I offer up the Annelid as a chump.She then summons a Lithophage and passes.
Gratefully drawing the Plains, I next solve the Pyrosaur with an Oblivion Ring. The 7/7 Lithophage is a tempting target, but if I can chump it long enough eventually she’ll have to sacrifice it to keep it from Armageddoning her. Back to her, she loses a Mountain but repalces it from her hand. She then plays Koth of the Hammer, animating one of her Mountains to swing in for 11. I chump the Lithophage with my Sightbender, taking 4 from the Mountain to go to 2 life.
Now turn 8, I tap out to deploy a Slith Strider and Angelic Shield. Jimi loses a Mountain, and this time she can’t replace it. Undaunted, she animates another one with Koth and goes for an alpha strike. I chump her Mountain with my Slith, popping my enchantment to return the Lithophage to hand.
My next turn is a blank, though I have some tricks in hand. it’s all academic, though, as Jimi goes ultimate with Koth, tapping Mountains to finish me off.
Thoughts & Analysis
Venser fans take heart, the pregame friendly was a lot more competitive, and with a happier ending to boot. Any judgment I have on Venser’s deck as a result of the games played is tempered too by an understanding of what I opted to keep- no creatures in Game Two, no Plains in game three. Luckily for the Blue-and-White planeswalker, competitive performance is a second-strata criteria for judgment, as it must be with so small a sample size (and besides, three games, three Koths is simply vulgar). What we’re really looking for is how well the deck functions and comes together.
On that basis, Venser hits a home run. Although personal preference is what it is and your mileage may vary, I found Venser’s deck to be the best Duel Deck construction I’ve ever played. If you’re a fan of intricate deckwork as I am, there’s a lot here to love.
One of the first things you discover as you play the deck is just how filled it is with little interactions. You get a sense of this in reviewing the decklist, but until you’ve managed to actually get a few games in you’re unlikely to notice them all. There’s a real charge that comes when you land that Cache Raiders, realising that the Soaring Seacliff you’ve been holding onto just got a ton better. This is a great deck for novice players, for once they start to string little combos together they’re likely to really begin enjoying the game and it’s not going to be fatal for them not to see them all. In that sense, it reminds me in a way of one of my favourite books, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, where you knew there were in-jokes and subtle references on most every page- the riddle was trying to catch them.
Venser’s deck also raised the bar on the entire format in how well it’s moulded to its planeswalker, and this is likely to be the deck’s enduring achievement. Future decks will either be crafted similarly, or you’ll be reading in our reviews how they “don’t quite fit as well as Venser’s did.” While many seemed underwhelemd by the deck’s card selection, much of that seems to be from a collector’s standpoint. In terms of gameplay and a deck of 60 cards really feeling like something purpose-built, this is one that will be hard to beat.
Hits: Tremendous synergy between cards; well-defined, overarching strategy and tactics guide the deck’s gameplay despite being largely singleton in format; this consistent-strategy but varied card pool make each game quite a bit different while still retaining the same clever interactivity
Misses: Deck has tendency to get bogged down in a bit too much self-indulgence at the expense of effective play
OVERALL SCORE: 4.80/5.00