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
Nice overall. My mind has changed when it comes to these two decks. Though I was interested in Venser’s from the start, I look forward to getting them both now.
It says a lot that the deck went 1-2 despite Koth hitting each game and Venser not a once.
I like the complexity of the deck too, but i personally prefer other planeswalker’s decks better than Venser’s. It’s interesting to build a duel deck around its planeswalker, but being a singleton, the plan can fail to deliver what it promises.
I’m going come out and say that “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'” is an unfair comment.
Take the Innistrad block PWs: Liliana, Garruk, and Sorin (thus far). Unlike Venser and Koth, none of them interact with their own board in near the same manner, making any deck featuring one of them to not be able to reach the same level.
I mean, sure, you could give Liliana a recursion theme enabled by her discard, but that’s still not the same direct interaction as with Venser’s blink/unblockable. Madness would be the closest mechanical fit, and it doesn’t fit flavor.
Garruk just has problems as he’s stand alone material. Sorin isn’t much different (though at least he’s not a DFC), despite his emblem.
That isn’t to say I would object to seeing the PWs from Innistrad block appear in a DD set, but it doesn’t feel possible for any one of them to have the same level of deck cohesion. Given the other PWs that do not yet have a deck are all closer to those three, I think that setting Venser’s deck as a metric is no better than setting a goal that can only be achieved through fluke.
You make a compelling point, one I’ve been chewing on for the past day since reading it. It might well be so that less-sexy planeswalkers generate less-sexy interactions. I think, though, that even the less exciting abilities can still be very interactive and nuanced when given the right supporting cast. Were I to do Chandra’s deck again, for instance, the first thing that would come to mind is harnessing her as a bloodthirst enabler. Not entirely fair then, as this was pre-M12 where the mechanic got a refresh and you’d not want to rely so heavily upon a single Ravnican guild, but that’s the general idea. When you play some of the earlier DD’s, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the pw’s and the decks exist somewhat independently.
Look at Garruk. How do you make his builder more interactive? Throw in an Overgrowth or Forbidden Lore, heck even a Squirrel Nest. Something to make it just a shade more than an “untap for extra mana” auto-ability. What about his -1 ability, making 3/3 beasts. Howabout something that cares about the number of creatures you have out, like Scion of the Wild? The only card that comes close in his deck is Overrun, only because it’s sicker beats with more bodies. Lot of room for improvement, even if they might be a bit blander than Venser (which I definitely agree with).
Good point, I appreciate the comment!!
I think Garruk 1’s a bit of a bad example, as he had Wirewood Savage, Ravenous Baloth, and Rude Awakening. Not to say there couldn’t have been more, but at least he had on theme stuff.
Still, I think some of it has to do with the PW design itself; the PWs often labeled “stronger” are PWs that don’t need other, non-land, cards to be effective (Elspeth, Knight Errant has no dependencies, for example), but this reduces their ability to have meaningful decks that interact with them.
With Wizards making a push for the PWs to be the highlights of sets, to me, this signifies a design approach that makes them want to avoid the dependencies on other cards. Venser (and his subsequent deck) could very well have been an experiment in testing player reception to the idea of dependent PWs.
The other issue is that of flavor. I’m not overly familiar with the flavor of most PWs, but there are player issues with ignoring flavor for synergies. Taking my earlier example of Liliana of the Veil, Madness is the better mechanical fit for her. Despite this, recursion/reanimation is the better flavor fit as can be seen in Innistrad/Dark Ascension’s flavor texts. That then presents the issue of drawing the line between them, and while both may “fit” the card or character, which are players going to be more receptive to? Measuring all future deck’s against Venser’s – where two abilities interact with your field directly – runs the very real risk of violating the flavor aspect of a particular PW, and possibly convoluting the deck into an unusable state.
And this is before you even consider how representable a particular PW’s abilities are in game terms.
[+] The removal is astonishingly balanced an on-theme. Venser as a teleportation mage is reflected with all the exiling and bouncing he does (to the hand, en route back to the battlefield, in through enemy lines, or to oblivion!); and still Path to Exile has its consequences despite being unbelievable in other decks. Meanwhile, Oblivion Ring is actually some of the reach Venser has on Koth.
[+] Really great saboteur action, I have to say. I haven’t gotten Venser to sabotage that well yet.
[-] “Who’s the Beatdown?” comes to mind. In these decks, that’s not always clear– it’s not a pair of racing strategies. Venser seems to have been letting critical PPyrosaurs and GGliders through, while keeping cards that don’t deal with them on top of the deck. If Venser gets behind, he needs to chump if necessary, and hold out, scrying precisely to continue this strategy, and also looking for ways to connect with Koth. Sorry about the 3x Koth, too, that can be brutal as a dual threat!
How would you compare Venser’s to Tezzeret’s Duel Deck? It seems they work very similar to each other, relying on the synergies between the cards rather than on specific ‘bombs’.
I can’t help wanting to compare these decks, too. The Tezzeret and Venser DDs are good at showing newer players how fun this game can be through little discoveries. It was a real “lightbulb moment” for me with Tezzeret’s deck the first time I bounced a Contagion Clasp back to my hand with my Esperzoa and replayed it for a fresh -1/-1 counter. I really felt like I’d invented something… which is exactly what the deck designers wanted me to think. 😛 I feel like Venser’s deck is similarly successful in this way, which is a really good thing.
I think the only thing that holds poor Tezz back is his singular focus. Venser has two very different paths to take from that single card, whereas with Tezz you have a “play artifacts, more artifacts, and even more artifacts” theme going. He might suffer by comparison on that level (which, being fair, isn’t his fault), but overall its a good parallel, both have decks built around their walkers. In hindsight I might have overstated the gap between Venser’s deck and the rest of the field by a fuzz- some are quite distant, but Tezz does what Tezz is designed to, and it’s hard to find fault with that.
Thanks for the comment!
Now that I see how this deck works, I’m actually a little more interested. One of the problems I DO see with this deck is that at least in my opinion, it should be a little more on mana curve. I’m disappointed that it lost all 3 games though, I expected more. And Koth getting out 3 times was really unlucky.
During those game, When Koth animates a mountain, it has summoning sickness, so it can’t attack right? Just seems like the three games lost is due to Koth 1st ability.
Only if the Mountain you choose to animate is one you just played this turn. If you animate an earlier Mountain, then no, no summoning sickness, you’re free to tap it for mana or bash in!
And yes, that was hard to stop. Bad luck, really, not often you’ll see a three-for-three appearance of the walkers in these decks!
in my humble opinion the decklists could be better.It like says “i put venser and koth and some other garbage,if you want the planewalkers spent 20$)
To be honest, that’s said every time. It may have less cards in them that alone make you giddy, but no duel deck is going to be perfect. Some will like it. Some will dislike it.