Duel Decks- Izzet vs Golgari: Izzet’s Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)
We might think it an act of the most extraordinary genius, but the Izzet would tell you it was quite simple, really. Combining their knowledge of interdimensional conduitotics with brainwave impulsion neuropathy and rigging up an compulse impeller to a hyperstatic mana battery, they were able to reach across the very fabric of time and space. Their goal was simple and singular: to manipulate events to ensure that their guild was given a sequential, double-dose of coverage on Ertai’s Lament.
Clearly, their plan has paid off, for no sooner have we finished with our review of Izzet Gizmometry than we get to jump right back in with the latest Duel Decks release. In Izzet vs Golgari, we get a second look at the guild, and an opportunity to see what form they might take when given virtually unfettered access to the entire pool of Magic cards rather than just narrow confinement to Ravnica block.
Now, in fairness, we should point out that ‘unfettered access’ refers to sets rather than quantity of cards, for the product still has to conform to the allotted ration of rarity, but it will be exciting to see what they’ll be able to do. The Izzet have always been an instants-and-sorceries-matter guild, a natural (and inevitable) outcome of the pairing of Blue and Red. As we saw in Izzet Gizmometry, these types of cards were the primary method through which the Izzet impose their will on the universe. The deck had comparatively few creatures, and instead sought to establish a sort of soft control on the board through low-grade burn spells, abundant bounce, and a generous dollop of countermagic. A primary theme of the deck was that of card advantage, either through outright card drawing spells or through the use of their replicate mechanic to generate multiple cards’ worth of effects using up only a single card (again, genius at work!).
As we prepare for the full and glorious arrival of Izzet 2.0 next month’s Return to Ravnica, we might call today’s offering Izzet 1.5. A look through the cards shows that many of the same elements are present here as we saw in Izzet Gizmometry, but as we’ll see there are a raft of other options as well.
Feed on the Outpouring of Energy
Izzet Gizmometry was certainly not a creature-based deck, boasting a grand total of only nine cards with a power and toughness associated with them. This left room for the remaining twenty-six to be largely instants and sorceries, with the odd enchantment thrown in for good measure. The creatures-to-spells ratio, then, was set at 1 : 2.89. The Duel Deck cuts that almost exactly in half (1 : 1.4), which gives a clear indication of the deck’s direction without even having looked at a card.
The deck begins with that old standby, the Izzet Guildmage. As we noted in Gizmometry, thanks to the replicate mechanic much of the Guildmage’s job was actually done by the cards already, leaving him only able to offer effective doubling on a relatively small number of options. Good news for Guildmage fans, as here he’ll be finding plenty to copy! We also find our first Return to Ravnica “preview” card here in the Goblin Electromancer. A sort of “Medallion with legs,” the Electromancer shaves down the casting cost for all of your instants and sorceries.
Gizmometry did much of its best work with the Wee Dragonauts, creatures whose battlefield effectiveness grew each time you did things the deck already wanted to do. We find the same option at work here in the pair of Kiln Fiends, reprints from Rise of the Eldrazi. Although they lack the Dragonauts’ evasion, this is somewhat offset with a larger power boost. Chain a few spells together, and they can grow to truly frightening proportion- something your opponent is sure to consider when determining how many resources to commit to an attack, and how many to hold back in defense.
Moving up to our three-drops, we see another familiar face in the Gelectrode. One of the original deck’s all-stars, the Gelectrode gives you potentially devastating pinging power- and again, genius-level incremental card advantage. The real power of the Gelectrode is often in the suppressive effect it has on the board. Since a double-ping is only one instant or sorcery away and your deck is packed with them, 2-toughness creatures have a way of lingering in your opponent’s hand rather than on the battlefield. In our playtests, it was a very difficult option to face for the Orzhov, whose deck had a lot of smaller options. Though the Golgari will be bringing the fat, they too have a number of victim-sized creatures the Gelectrode will be happy to introduce itself to.
Also here are the aforementioned Wee Dragonauts, doing everything they did in the original deck. If you’ve not played with them before, don’t let their ‘wee’ size fool you- this card is one of your deck’s closers. Evasion is the key to their ability to repeatedly get in for success, since the Izzet have plenty of ways to keep the air lanes free either through bounce or burn. It doesn’t take too many hits at 3 or even 5 power to put your opponent to bed.
Next we find some new faces at the four-drops. The Shrewd Hatchling is a bring-along from Eventide, which like the Wee Dragonauts goes from an unimpressive size to closer status when you cast things. The difference, though, is that the Hatchling does this permanently. It shouldn’t take long for this to reach 6/6 stature, especially with a number of multicolour options in the deck which will remove counters at double the pace. There’s also a Steamcore Weird here. The Weird is from Guildpact, but it wasn’t a card included in Gizmometry. It serves a dual purpose- a bit of burn that leaves a defensive-minded body behind on the battlefield. With their noncreature spells taking center stage, the Izzet are quite happy to hide behind some meat shields to continue their work uninterrupted.
Lastly, we find a number of genuine fatties at the very top of the curve. The Djinn Illuminatus is a very solid 3/5 flier, and in addition it gives all of your instants and sorceries the Izzet guild mechanic replicate. Though a number of your spells already carry that keyword, there are a few cards in the deck which can become truly bonkers with this fellow in play (see: Magma Spray, Izzet Charm). Happily, we also find a Galvanoth here. The Galvanoth, anchor of the Izzet’s spiritual descendant from Mirrodin Besieged, Mirromancy, gives you the exciting prospect of a free spell every upkeep.
Although far less impressive of a body, our old friend the Izzet Chronarch makes an appearance here as well. Like the Steamcore Weird, the Chronarch is perhaps best viewed as a spell with a body rather than a body with a spell, in this case the return of an instant or sorcery to hand from the graveyard. A similar view can be adopted for the Ogre Savant, who brings along a free Unsummon. This is one of the less-exciting options here, since even with the built-in tempo play it’s rather overpriced for what it offers you. Even the bounce effect isn’t a full feature, since the Savant lacks flash. Still, given the Savant’s recent reprinting in Duel Decks: Ajani vs Nicol Bolas, Wizards seems to feel the Savant fills a particular need or niche.
The last creature card is none other than the Izzet’s original mastermind, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. Already a solid body as a 4/4 with flying, the “dracogenius” is also able to dish out pings whenever you draw a card. Given how often that is as an Izzet, it won’t be at all unusual for you to see him throw Lightning Bolts‘ or even a Lava Axe’s worth of damage over the course of a turn. A fitting closer, then, and not at all unaffordable at the mana cost.
Between Knowledge and Flame
In the review for Izzet Gizmometry, we identified four different tactics that the deck employed with its noncreature package: burn, bounce, counters, and card draw. Those are all here, but with some intriguing and next-level twists.
Burn is represented with a quartet of spells that let you sling some damage across the board. Fire // Ice deals 2 points damage distributed however you like, while it’s Ice side taps down a permanent and even replaces itself in your hand. Shards of Alara’s Magma Spray removes creatures from the game entirely, which is just the remedy for the recursive Golgari, whose creatures have a tendency of not staying dead.
A pair of Pyromatics are another familiar holdover. Although they might be one of the least-efficient burn spells ever printed, becoming a worse deal with every replicate, it still offers a range of damage that is a welcome addition to the arsenal. Finally, we find the board-clearing Street Spasm, the Izzet preview card from Return to Ravnica. This uses the new overload mechanic, which lets you turn a single-target spell into a broad spectrum barrage.
The bounce suite sees a bit of a drawdown on first blush, with only a couple of dedicated cards. Vacuumelt is another familiar face, whose replicate lets you knock back as many targets as you have mana for. The other card, Call to Heel, has an intriguing side-effect of letting the bounced creature’s controller draw a card. This makes it somewhat less appealing to use as a tempo play against your opponent, but offers some attractive value as a way to save one of your own creatures from imminent demise.
For counters, you’ve got a Dissipate and a Force Spike. The Dissipate is another card custom-tailored to hinder the Golgari, since it removes its target from the game rather than dumping them int the graveyard, where they often are just as useful. Frce Spike is a harder card to justify, given how often you’ll be wishing you drew something more useful instead. Like Mana Leak, these sorts of counters strike a peculiar balance- to get the most use out of them, you need to give yourself the best chance to draw them early where they’ll do the most good. By the same token, doing so makes you more likely to draw them later when they’re much less useful. Singleton inclusions like this are always worrying becase they happily satisfy the latter condition, but ignore the former.
Lastly, for card draw you have a Brainstorm and Train of Thought. Again we see a callback to Izzet Gizmometry in the Train of Thought, another replicate effect that, like Pyromatics, trades versatility for being an exercise in diminishing returns (compare with Mind Spring, for example, where Train is only a better deal if you are ‘buying’ a single card). Brainstorm, on the other hand, is a powerful classic of the type, and will be s welcome sight at any point in the game.
Here’s where the Izzet’s spells begin to become truly interesting- the crossovers. In Gizmometry most of the seplls fell neatly within their respective buckets, but the Duel Decks iteration gives you a number of options that can do two or more things on the same card. Take, for example, Invoke the Firemind. A Red/Blue X-spell, this lets you either draw a number of cards or deal out a torrent of single-target damage, putting it in both the burn and the card drawing categories. The new Izzet Charm gives you the customary three options to choose from- countermagic, burn, or card drawing!
Let’s say, though, that rather than choosing one type of spell, you’d like to get more than one on the same card. Not a problem! Overwhelming Intellect offers you both countermagic and card drawing, and though it comes with a steep pricetag this is exactly the sort of card you’ll want to have for later on in the game, giving yourself the best chance to reap a ton of cards. Then there’s Prophetic Bolt, which blends both card draw and burn. Along with a slate of creatures that have a higher level of interaction with the deck, this bleedover suite represents another significant advancement in the guild’s precon construction from its first offering.
As before, we have a few remaining cards that defy classification. Thunderheads is back, again taking the stage as an effective aggression countermeasure, particularly later in the game when you can dump more mana into its replication. Reminisce gives you the ability to shuffle a player’s graveyard into their library, and can be a nuke against your graveyard-loving Golgari opponent. Quicksilver Dagger is a reprint from Apocalyse, and turns any of your creatures into a miniature Niv-Mizzet.
A trio of artifacts round out the remainder of the deck. There’s the requisite Signet, of course, as well as an Isochron Scepter and Sphinx-Bone Wand. The Scepter has been the enabler of many the abusive play- try it with Silence or Abeyance sometime- and has a few useful applications here (Izzet Charm perhaps being the best). The Sphinx-Bone Wand is another contribution from Rise of the Eldrazi, and while it’s ridiculously expensive it also can close out games on its own. All are intriguing options that offer the deck a great deal of replay value and variety.
For nonbasic land, you have the usual throw-ins like Onslaught cycling lands (Lonely Sandbar, Forgotten Cave) as well as the expected Izzet contributions like the Boilerworks and Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind. Altogether, this looks like one of the most intriguing Duel Decks offerings in some time, and we can’t wait to get behind the deck and play it. Before we do, however, we’ll next be taking a look at another guild, one some ways below the surface of Ravnica…