Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009): Hands of Flame Review (Part 2 of 2)
Chandra and Jace. Garruk and Liliana. Thanks to the stories and the repestive Duel Deck releases, these opposite pairs feel like natural foils for one another, and today we’ll be opening the next chapter in that saga. As it happens, Sam has selected Jace Beleren’s Thoughts of the Wind to serve as opposition. Can he lock down the battlefield, or will Chandra’s fire prove unquenchable after all?
Sam begins with an Island, while I key a Raging Goblin off of my opening Mountain and send it screaming across the red zone for first blood. Next turn, Sam again drops land and passes; I do the same, but get in another point of Goblin damage.
Now turn 3, Sam plays a third Island. I attack in with the Raging Goblin to put her to 17, then add a Goblin Sky Raider. Finally, Sam breaks her streak with a turn-4 Snapping Drake. It looks to keep my forces at bay, but I keep the momentum going with an answering Goblin King. That buffs both my my Goblins +1/+1, and I send them in to attack for 4.
Down to 13 life already, Sam attacks with the Drake for 3. Back to me, she begins by Unsummoning my Goblin King. That suits me just fine, as I replace the lost output with a Lightning Elemental. Attacking for 6, I nearly cut Sam in half. Back to her, she adds a Cloud Sprite and passes. I then set up my attack by Incinerating the Drake, but Sam is ready with a Cancel to thwart me. That frees me up, though, to safely replay the Goblin King before turning my ragtag army sideways for lethal. Sam accepts the Drake/Elemental trade, taking 4 damage from the Goblins to arrive well within burn range at 3.
Now turn 7, all Sam can do is flounder for time, which is exactly what the Wall of Spears she plays does. I simply go above it with the 2/3 Sky Raider, then play a second Raider. Unable to solve that many threats, Sam concedes after her next draw.
After opening land drops, I break the ice with a second-turn Raging Goblin, freshly drawn. Sam does nothing next turn, so I attack with it and then add a Goblin Sky Raider. Once more she finds her early footing behind a fourth-turn Snapping Drake, which sputters my attack. I simply play an answering Hill Giant and pass.
Now turn 5, Sam swings in for 3 with the Drake before reinforcing her defense with a Wall of Spears. I send in the Giant and Sky Raider for 4 to put her to 14, then double down with a second Hill Giant. It’s an interesting decision tree, since I’m also holding a Goblin King and Incinerate in hand and could easily try and go more aggressive, but instead I opt for the fat instead of the speed. Back to Sam, she plays another Wall of Spears and this time the Drake stays put. I next deploy the Goblin King, then swing with the Sky Raider and Giants. After Unsummoning the King, Sam’s Drake snaps up my hapless Goblin. She gets the better of that exchange, but when she tries to gang-block a Giant with a pair of her Walls to kill it, things don’t go so well. I Incinerate one instead, so she ends up losing both.
Sam again tries her luck on offense on turn 7 with the Drake, putting me down to 14. She looks exposed, but the reason becomes apparent when she Deluges my side during my upkeep. It’s a painful misplay, since I summon a Lightning Elemental and swing in for 4. Unable to face down my band of creatures after they untap next turn, she again concedes defeat after one more draw.
Sam’s turn-4 Cloud Sprite is her first permanent, and I’m well ahead on that score with an opening Raging Goblin and runner-up Goblin Piker. Still, that doesn’t means she’s been idle, as my poor Flamewave Invoker found to his detriment when she Remove Soul‘ed him. Still, the Sprite can only watch as my attackers scurry beneath it, and when I summon a turn-4 Goblin Sky Raider, Sam’s already down to 12.
Now turn 5, Sam draws and passes. I attack for 4, and she opts to chump the Sky Raider with her Sprite to buy some time. I simply add a Piker and pass. Next turn she again plays the draw-go game, and I swing in with the troops for 6. Sam Unsummons a Piker, and only goes down to 5. I replay the Piker and pass.
It’s desperate days for Sam as she stoops to using Persuasion on a Piker, but what choice does she have? I send in everything anyway, and she trades ‘her’ Piker for mine. A surprise 2-point Enrage on the Sky Raider leaves Sam hanging by a 1-life thread. As seems to be the norm today, she draws a card, looks at it, and begins packing hers up. She dies with a pair of Negates in hand.
Thoughts & Analysis
We’re not sure if it’s because of the decks themselves, or if we’re just coming out of a Portal-induced hangover, but the Duels of the Planeswalker decks were a ton of fun to play. Although Sam wasn’t fond of her fate and couldn’t find enough creatures to keep herself propped up, Chandra’s deck worked like a charm.
Part of it was the creature distribution. With eight creatures in the one-to-two-drop range, and another eight in the threes and fours, it boasts a fair amount of consistency in bringing threats on-line. I had no problems keeping the pressure mounting with every turn, as I went from Raging Goblins to Pikers to Sky Raiders to Hill Giants without any real interruption. Some of these cards aren’t the sexiest in the world- indeed, the poor Piker is our token mascot for explaining why Wizards puts suboptimal cards in the precons (Goblin Piker looks fine until you see a Goblin Shortcutter, goes the reasoning, and voila! Trading one for the other is your first taste of deckbuilding.). That said, they are solid role-players, and they play their role well.
Furthermore, the burn suite was rock solid. Although I didn’t draw into a ton of it, having a trio of Shocks and Incinerates gave the deck tremendous ability to stay dominant in the early game, since 2 and 3 damage will shove aside most threats at that stage in the game. I didn’t even miss not having any Lightning Bolts, as these did everything I needed them to do.
One of the things we’re excited to watch as we begin exploring the world of Duels of the Planeswalkers is how the different Planeswalkers’ decks change and evolve over time. This deck does have a fairly “establishment” or standardised feel to it, but for what it does it’s just about right.
Hits: Does a great job illustrating what Red is about to the new player playing Duels; solid burn package filled with some of the best kind of burn- simple and direct; very tidy mana curve keeps the threats rolling off the assembly line
Misses: As the ‘first’ deck for Chandra, this one does tend to feel a little plain or generic
OVERALL SCORE: 4.30/5.00