Avacyn Restored: Bound by Strength Review (Part 2 of 2)
To represent the inhabitants of Innistrad inspired by Avacyn’s return and coming together to defeat their monstrous foes, Wizards has given us the soulbond mechanic and a 60 cards to showcase it. A deck comprised almost entirely of creatures and land, can Bound by Strength live up to its name? To find out, Jimi grabbed Solitary Fiends and sat down at the table to do battle.
Jimi’s on the play for our opener, and she leads with an Island. I get the jump with a Llanowar Elves off of my opening Forest. Back to her, she plays a second Island, then summons an Alchemist’s Apprentice. I play an Island of my own and pass.
Now turn 3, Jimi swings with her Apprentice for 1 before adding a Fettergeist, a prime example of her deck’s cheap, solitary fat. I play a Latch Seeker, then Jimi pops the Apprentice for a free card at the end of my turn. Back to her, she attacks for 3 to put me at 16. She passes, and after I untap she taps down my Seeker with a Crippling Chill. That still leaves my Elves up, and I turn them sideways for my first bit of damage.
Jimi attacks in again with the Fettergeist on turn 5, and I’m now at 13. Back to me, my Seeker stays tapped this turn, but I do manage an Elgaud Shieldmate, my first soulbond creature. With better things to come in my hand, I decline to bond her with my Elves or Seeker. I attack in again with the Elves and pass. Back to Jimi, she attacks for 3 and passes. She then decides to take care of business with a Peel from Reality (plucking back my Seeker as well as her ‘Geist) followed by a Doom Blade on the Shieldmate. I lamely attack with my Elves for a third point of damage, then summon a Vorstclaw.
Now turn 7, Jimi untaps, draws, and passes. Once my upkeep arrives, she Frost Breaths my creatures to slow me further. Undeterred, I play a Pathbreaker Wurm and soulbond it to the Vorstclaw. Jimi replays the Fettergeist, but it’s not nearly so impressive as it was early on. Next turn I attack with the Wurm (the Vorstclaw still locked down), dropping Jimi to 11. I then replay the Latch Seeker, then play a Trusted Forcemage to bond to the Seeker.
Jimi attacks in again on turn 9, and I’m now at 7 life. She then plays Into the Void on my Vorstclaw and Wurm, taking both of my biggest bruisers off the table. It’s a good stall, but the damage has been done. I play a Nightshade Peddler (soulbonding with my Elves), then turn my Forcemage, Seeker, and Elves sideways. The pair of Joint Assaults in my hand make sure that Jimi doesn’t get back up.
Jimi and I spend the opening turn trading land drops, a trend which she continues into turn 2 until I break the streak with a mighty Runeclaw Bear. Still, Jimi’s right back in the game with a third-turn Triumph of Cruelty. That gives me the perfect opening, however, as I drop a Tandem Lookout onto the table, soulbonding it with the Bears and swinging in for 2 and a free card.
Now turn 4, Jimi bounces my Bear back to hand with a Mist Raven, then passes turn. I spend mine replaying it, but am not willing to risk Jimi making a trade with her Raven so pass without incident. Of course, this means that Jimi’s Triumph of Cruelty triggers during her upkeep, compelling me to discard an Island. She then sends in the Raven for 2, following up with a Tormentor’s Trident. It’s not her best play, as it opens me up to swinging in for 4 (and two cards) once it’s back to me. I then drop a Wolfir Silverheart and pass.
At risk of falling behind, Jimi plays a turn-6 Renegade Demon and passes after swinging with the Raven. For my part, I play an Elgaud Shieldmate, soulbonding it to the Silverheart. This lets me attack with it for 8, plunging Jimi down to 6 life. I then play a Wingcrafter and pass. Over to Jimi, she equips the Trident to the Demon and braces for impact. It’s worse than she thought, however, as I cast Overrun. She’s got a Doom Blade, but it won’t stop enough damage coming in.
Each of us hoping to get third-time-lucky, Jimi and I again trade off opening land drops before I add a turn-2 Runeclaw Bear to the mix. Next turn Jimi plays her Fettergeist, while I bond a Trusted Forcemage to the Bear to wind up with a pair of 3/3’s.
Things pick up on turn 4 when Jimi enchants her Fettergeist with a Predator’s Gambit and swings for 5. Once I untap, she next freezes my Forcemage with a Crippling Chill, netting her a card in the process. I attack for 3 with the Bear to put Jimi at 17, then follow on with a Druid’s Familiar.
Now turn 5, Jimi simply attacks in with the Fettergeist, and just like that I’m half dead. Over to me, Jimi keeps the pressure on by freezing my Bear and Familiar with a Frost Breath. I can do nothing, and so pass. Back to her, she then attacks for another 5 before playing Triumph of Cruelty. At the end of her turn, I flash in a Wolfir Avenger, bonding it with the Familiar.
That sets up a 10-point swing as I attack with my Avenger and the Trusted Forcemage backed by a Joint Assault, though since they aren’t bonded together I don’t full use of the card. Still, it’s an act of defiance, and the only act I have. Unable to solve her Fettergeist, I scoop at the end of turn.
Thoughts & Analysis
Playing Bound by Strength was an interesting experience- some of it anticipated, some of it not. Some of my lessons learned include:
This format is slower. We saw the first hints of this with the Angel-heavy Angelic Might, which happily stalled for time in order to get its bombs deployed onto the battlefield. At the time, we weren’t certain if the lack of speed was a consequence of the deck’s design or more indicative of the wider format, but having now played with four different decks (two for review, and two in opposition), we can safely declare that Avacyn Restored is a slower, more nuanced format overall. Both decks seemed to need to luxury of time to get sorted out before we could really begin taking the fight to the enemy. This was more pronounced in Angelic Might, by virtue of the fact that its earliest drops were stall-minded. Bound by Strength’s early plays just happen to be smaller, but still capable of dealing some damage. Although we’re reserving judgment for another look at the aggressive Boros/Humans Fiery Dawn, the continuing comparisons to Rise of the Eldrazi are justified.
Everything happens in the red zone. As we expected, this deck heavily favours creature combat. There are very few noncreature spells on offer, though we did find Joint Assault to be a particularly brutal card when drawn. Like all good base-Green combat decks, there is an Overrun effect to take games outright as we saw in Game Two. In short, though is a deck for the red zone enthusiast- despite the mechanical shenanigans, at the end of the day this deck is all about turning bodies sideways.
Soulbond works. I’m no fan of creature combat myself, but credit has to go to soulbond for managing to make it seem fresh, fun, and exciting. I really enjoyed trying to find the optimal pairings for each soulbond creature. Though there isn’t much room for trickery, there is some with the singleton copy of Wolfir Avenger whose flash can make for an ambush pairing. One thing I did notice throughout is that I had little difficulty making pairs. With so many creatures with the ability, I wasn’t expecting problems, and it was nice to see than my mash-ups rolled off the assemble line at a fairly consistent pace.
Hits: Soublond mechanic breaks a new innovative twist to creature combat; large creature population means you’ll seldom want for bodies on the battlefield
Misses: High mana curve, however, can make for some congested early hands; removal is virtually nonexistent
OVERALL SCORE: 4.50/5.50