Avacyn Restored: Slaughterhouse Review (Part 2 of 2)
Thus far in our reviews it’s been the heroic side of Innistrad, with the Humans and Angels striking back and the inhabitants working together to repel the evil that had them driven to the very brink of extinction. Today’s deck serves as a reminder that the scary things of the night haven’t gone away. To act as foil, Sam has eagerly volunteered, selecting Angelic Might to try and thwart my sinister plans.
I’m on the play for our leadoff game (having been absolutely trounced in the friendly), and am looking for the deck to redeem itself. I lead with a Mountain and Goblin Arsonist, while Sam replies with a Plains and Gideon’s Lawkeeper. Back to me, I swing in for 1 on the attack then follow with a Butcher Ghoul. Sam, meanwhile, steadies her defense with an Angelic Wall.
Now turn 3, I send in the Ghoul and Arsonist to attack. Sam blocks one with the Wall and goes to 18. I then follow with a Demonic Taskmaster, right on curve and ready for mayhem. For Sam’s part, she Rampant Growths for a Plains, but having hit all of her land drops thus far she has enough for the Lawkeeper to keep my Taskmaster at bay. Back to me, Sam taps it down as expected after I sacrifice the Arsonist to it. On the upside, its point of damage takes the Taskmaster with it. So far, so good! I attack in with the Ghoul, and Sam blocks it with her Wall. I play a Soulcage Fiend and pass. She then follows on with a Seraph of Dawn.
For my turn 5 offering to the Taskmaster, off goes the Butcher Ghoul. Thanks to undying, however, it comes back even stronger than before. I then place an Unhallowed Pact on her Seraph, swinging in for 4 with the unfettered Taskmaster. Down to 4 life, Sam reacts by counterattacking with her Seraph for 2, going back up to 16 life while dropping me to 18. She then follows with a Voice of the Provinces, giving her an Angel as well as a 1/1 Human token. Back to me, the Butcher Ghoul is again offered to the Taskmaster, and this time there is no coming back. I attack in for 3 with the Fiend, just to keep up a good habit. Sam blocks with the Wall. Once her turn arrives, she plays a Goldnight Redeemer to gain another 8 life, then swings with her Voice. I accept the trade for my Taskmaster, and both depart the battlefield.
Now turn 7, the game is slipping away from me. I play a Barter in Blood to trim things back a bit, losing my Soulcage Fiend while forcing Sam to sac her 1/1 Human and the Wall. The Fiend’s death tax kicks in, lopping 3 off of each of our life totals, and my turn is done. Sam plays a Triumph of Ferocity as a prelude to a 6-point attack with both Angels, taking me down to 9 life. Back to me, I play a Scroll of Griselbrand and pop it. I have no Demons in play to maximise it, but with Sam holding only one card the temptation is too great. Paydirt- an Oblivion Ring tumbles to the graveyard unused. Back to Sam, her Triumph lets her draw another card, and her 6-point swing puts me on the verge of death.
My turn-9 Grave Exchange is my last hurrah, a desperate bid to cling to life. Sam is forced to sac her 4/4 Redeemer rather than her 2/4 Seraph, as the latter is enchanted with the Pact. Or, at least, it should have bought me a turn. Sam topdecks Bladed Bracers for that final, lethal third point of damage and the game is done.
So close, and yet so far. I could see what my deck was trying to do, but Sam’s deck punishes you once it gets to its Angel-level manabase. This time around it’s Sam with the game’s first creature, a turn-1 Cathedral Sanctifier. I follow with a Butcher Ghoul, while Sam then adds a Scroll of Avacyn. My third turn, lamentably, is a blank, without even a land drop to show for it. Meanwhile, Sam takes full advantage by attacking for 1 with the Sanctifier before returning it to hand with an Emancipation Angel. I’d given some thought to taking the trade on the swing, but with a pair of Bone Splinters in my hand and mana screw looming, I decided instead I’d prefer to leave it alone.
Now turn 4, I again draw a blank. Sam swings for 3 with the Angel, then replays the Sanctifier to go up to 26 life. Next turn I still miss a land, and am now up to 8 cards in hand. Rather than discard, I decide to solve her Angel with the first of my Bone Splinters, offering up the Ghoul in sacrifice. In response, Sam triggers her Scroll of Avacyn, drawing a card and another chunk of life to go to 31. Back to her, Sam plays Defy Death to return her Emancipation Angel to play with a +1/+1 counter, returning the Sanctifier to hand once more.
Again I snuff out the Angel with a Bone Splinters on turn 6, killing off my Butcher Ghoul for the last time. Stuck on two land, I’ve got nothing else to do and pass. Back to Sam, she replays the Sanctifier to go to 34 life, then follows with Gideon’s Lawkeeper and a Borderland Ranger (snaring a Forest). I draw yet another non-land card, and discard my Gang of Devils to get down to seven cards in hand. Sam attacks for 4 with her weenie army, dropping me to 12. She then plays a Voice of the Provinces and passes.
Now turn 8, I finally get a third land as I draw a Mountain, but the game is beyond saving. Still, I play a Soulcage Fiend and pass. Sam taps it down to set up a 7-point attack, then deploys another Borderland Ranger (this time for a Plains). The Swamp I draw is little consolation. Though it enables a Havengul Vampire, I can’t stop enough incoming damage to hang on.
I catch a bit of a break this time, watching with diabolic glee as Sam ships down to six cards. Opening with a Hunted Ghoul, Sam is quick with the reply- a Cathedral Sanctifier. We trade 1-point swings on turn 2, with Sam adding the annoying Angelic Wall before passing.
Now turn 3, I attack anyway and let Sam block the Ghoul. I then follow with a Soulcage Fiend. Sam, however, finds herself nicely on-curve with a Borderland Ranger, fetching up a Plains. Back to me, I hope for a land as I draw, as I’ve hit my first three drops and am holding the Demonlord of Ashmouth. No such luck- I miss my land drop and must content myself with a Bloodflow Connoisseur. Sam, meanwhile, hits her drop and proceeds to swing in for 2 with the Ranger before summoning an Emancipation Angel. She pulls the Cathedral Sanctifier back to hand and passes.
I swing in with the Fiend on turn 5, though Sam harmlessly blocks it with her Wall. I then add a Butcher Ghoul to my board and end turn. Over to Sam, she leads with a Seraph Sanctuary, then swings in for 5 with the Ranger and Angel. Down to 12, I watch her next summon the Herald of War and pass, gaining another point of life off the Sanctuary. Luckily, I’m holding Bone Splinters, so after offering up my Butcher Ghoul (which returns thanks to undying), her Herald plummets from the sky. Although I drew land, the downside of the play is that it delays the arrival of the Demonlord. I then attack in my Ghoul and Connoisseur for 2 and pass. Sam wastes little time, coming in for another 5 damage begind the Angel and Ranger. I trade out my Ghoul for the latter, taking only 3 in the air. The Angel parade continues as Sam brings out one of the Serra variety and ends turn.
Now turn 7, I can finally play my Demonlord which- in an alternate universe- I might have played on turn 4, exiling the Soulcage Fiend I can ill-afford to have die on me. Passing to Sam, she quite happily exiles it with an Oblivion Ring, poetically Defangs my Connoisseur, and sends in the troops to leave me at 2. A broken man, I draw and scoop.
Thoughts & Analysis
Sad to say, Slaughterhouse more than lived up to its name, just not in the way that I might have hoped or expected. Although time certainly favoured the Angel deck, rife as it is with bombs, it should also have given me plenty of time to set up sacrifice shenanigans. We compared the deck in the first half of the review to Coldsnap’s Beyond the Grave, but if you gave Beyond the Grave the kind of time Slaughterhouse had today, it would have absolutely punished its opponent. Instead, the only punishment today’s deck meted out was to its pilot. This is the most disappointing deck we’ve reviewed in recent memory, not least because the sort of tricks and interactions it promised are amongst my favourite.
So what went wrong, so horribly, horribly wrong? Well, even disregarding Game Two, where I never had a chance thank to the brutal mana screw, the deck just never seemed to find its legs. Sometimes I found that I had a board full of fodder cards, but nothing that cared all that much whether they lived or died. Other times I drew my larger creatures, but because of the steep mana curve I just couldn’t cast them. When I hit that sweet middle spot- an early Demonlord of Ashmouth, for example (which could have been even earlier with a touch more luck on my side), or a quick Demonic Taskmaster, the deck showed a glimpse of what it was capable of doing. Alas, those moments didn’t happen all that often. Cut the top of the curve, and expand that aggressive middle and you’ve got a much more promising offering.
I also found at times that there was a bit too much competition for resources. Having a Demonic Taskmaster and pair of Bone Splinters in hand is fantastic, but only if you get off to a rocking start with a Butcher Ghoul or two. Other times, you’re rationing out what you can afford to lose and when. That shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but there needs to be more passive bonuses for doing what the deck wants you to do. Put another way, things need to die- and everything needs to get a taste- not just one creature. Cards like Blood Artist or Havengul Vampire go a long way towards this. Consider for a moment the Innistrad deck Repel the Dark with its Unruly Mobs. In that case, the Mobs weren’t the end in themselves, but rather a card that not only rewarded you for what it wanted you to do naturally (aggressive play), but also gave you some extra bit of resource for a longer game when the board stalled. Suddenly less-profitable attacks could be a little more appealing, because you weren’t throwing away creatures just to get in a few more points of damage on your opponent. That element is present in Slaughterhouse, but not as much as is needed.
Overall, unless Solitary Fiends really tanks it, Slaughterhouse gets the nod for the worst of the litter. That isn’t to say that there isn’t tons of room for improvement, but we have to take the decks as they are rather than how we wish them to be.
Hits: Deck has the potential for frightening aggression with an early Demonic Taskmaster or Demonlord of Ashmouth; some quality synergies between cards
Misses: Bloated mana curve throws a wrench in the gears of what could be a quality sacrifice engine; balance between creatures that want to die, those that want to kill them, and ones that passively benefit from this seems off
OVERALL SCORE: 3.50/5.00