Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009): Eyes of Shadow Review (Part 2 of 2)
Move over Chandra, now it’s Liliana’s turn to cut loose! I’m taking Eyes of Shadow for a spin today, but it looks like Sam is keen to throw a wet blanket over the party. She’s setting up behind Sarkhan Vol’s deck, Scales of Fury. Will mono-Black impose its will on the game, or will Liliana be taught the value of diversity?
Sam’s on the play, and we both exchange opening Swamp drops. Next turn Sam adds a Forest, while I open my account with a Drudge Skeletons. Next turn Sam brings out a Civic Wayfinder and passes, while I one-up her with a Severed Legion.
Now turn 4, Sam turns her Wayfinder sideways for the game’s first bit of damage, after which she brings out a pair of Goblins with Dragon Fodder. For my part, I set up the first bit of infrastructure with a Megrim, attacking in for 2 with the Legion. Sam raises the stakes with a 4-point swing with her Wayfinder and Goblins. I block and kill one of the Goblins, regenerating my Skeletons but taking 3 to go to 15. I retaliate with my Legion, then bring out a second Skeletons.
Now turn 6, Sam draws, plays a Swamp, and passes. I summon Ravenous Rats, forcing the first discard of the day. Sam pitches a useless Terror, but takes 2 damage from the Megrim. She takes a further 2 when I follow up with the Severed Legion, and sets her life counter at 12. She draws me level, though, when she blasts me with a Blightning, giving me a taste of my deck’s own medicine. I discard a Raise Dead and Final Revels, and once it’s back to me all I can do is attack for 2.
I get Blightninged a second time on turn 8. It’s more painful this time, seeing me discard a Consume Spirit and Vampire Nighthawk– my last two cards in hand. Still, I have the board advantage, and attack once more with my relentless Legion to put Sam at 8. Back to her, she plays a Rampant Growth and Dragon Fodder, but has nothing else. I attack for 2 more with my unblockable beater, then another Ravenous Rats sees her go down to 4 as she discards another Terror.
Sam’s turn 10 Furnace Whelp comes far too late to make any impact as I have her on a very fast clock now. When she draws nothing on turn 11, she concedes the game.
After swapping opening land drops, Sam plays a turn-2 Rampant Growth to pull ahead in the manabase department. She now has one of each of her three colours, and that’s dangerous. I play a Ravenous Rats, seeing off a Dragon Fodder from Sam’s hand.
Now turn 3, Sam taps one of each and plays a Sprouting Thrinax. That will be difficult to deal with and I have no immediate answer, but I do some damage control by Mind Rotting Sam’s hand to scare off two more cards (a Forest and a Plague Beetle). Next turn Sam doubles up with a Furnace Whelp after swinging for 3 with the Thrinax, but I manage to stabilise behind an Abyssal Specter.
Now turn 5, Sam fires in with both barrels, pumping the Whelp twice after I decline the block. Down to 10 life, I counterattack with the Specter (Sam discards a Forest), then replace the hole in my defense with a Sengir Vampire. Next turn, Sam sends in only the Whelp, hoping perhaps to force a trade. Instead, I take the damage, which goes up to 4 after she pumps it. She then summons a Plague Beetle and passes. This time I send in the Vampire for 4, taking her down to 14, before summoning Drudge Skeletons and ending my turn.
Sam sends in the Beetle alongside the Whelp on turn 7, and this time I accept the trade of the Specter for the Whelp. There’s not much I can do about the Beetle, though. She then follows up with a Blightning, and I have to discard a pair of Severed Legions. Although I end up finding a Nightmare, there’s nothing I can do to stop Sam. She topdecks an Incinerate and finishes me off directly.
Again we swap land drops for our first time, after which I summon Drudge Skeletons and Sam counters with Dragon Fodder. With a cruel smile, I then slap a Megrim down on the table. Sam quietly plays a Forest and passes.
Now turn 4, I follow up with an Abyssal Specter, a virtual dream start for Liliana. I only get to savour it for a moment, though, as Sam finds an Incinerate with my Specter’s name on it (“Phil,” for the curious). This lets her attack in with her Goblin tokens for the game’s first bit of damage, after which she doubles her Goblin population with a second Dragon Fodder. Next turn, I retaliate with a Ravenous Rats. Sam pitches a useless Terror, and takes 2 from the Megrim. I then follow with a Mind Rot. This hurts much worse, as evidenced by the discard of a Blightning and Violent Ultimatum. Down to 14 life, Sam then swings with the team for 4 to draw us level. She ends by Naturalizing the Megrim.
Now turn 6, I attack for 1 with the Rats, then summon a Severed Legion. Back to Sam, she again attacks with the Goblin pack. I block with the Drudge Skeletons, this time with the mana up to regenerate them. I take 3 to go down to 11, then see Sam follow with a Sprouting Thrinax. Next turn I add another Drudge Skeletons and pass. Sam, meanwhile, sticks a Dragon Whelp, and that’s a problem.
My turn 8 is a blank, while Sam swings in for 4 in the air with the Whelp. Going for broke, I play a pair of Unholy Strengths on the Legion, which has been neutered by the presence of the Thrinax. I turn it sideways for 6. Sam takes it on the chin, but not before Naturalizing one of the auras. She takes only 4 instead, going down to 9. Next turn, she simply swings for another 4 in the air. Down to 3 life, I find nothing to help me deal with the Whelp and scoop.
Thoughts & Analysis
I have to be careful here and temper some of my enthusiasm, as this deck capitalises on what has historically been my favourite deck archetype- discard. On the other hand, having run it throughout most of my Magic-playing career, I suppose that might put me in fine stead to give it a worthy assessment. In short, this is one of the most fun preconstructed decks I’ve played in recent memory.
That’s not to say it’s without its flaws- there are plenty which we’ll get to shortly- but overall it’s another finely-constructed introductory deck that does a great job of showcasing one particular aspect of Black. As we move through these Duels of the Planeswalker decks, particularly this first generation of them, it’s important to bear in mind the target audience for them. Duels of the Planeswalkers was intended to help reach a new audience, one that might not be otherwise familiar with the game. For that reason, certain factors surely weighed heavily in deck construction, such as:
What is the central theme of each colour, and how does the deck reinforce and illustrate that?
Does the deck consistently hit the notes of its theme, so that even after a couple games the player has been able to get a sense of them?
Is the deck reasonably effective at the critical stages of the game (the definition of ‘critical’ being subjective to each deck)?
In short, Wizards wants a new player to be able to quickly grasp what’s going on with the game, and understand at least a little bit about the different colours. Few are the players who don’t find affinity at least with one particular colour, so in order to foster that attachment it is crucial that the colours ‘explain’ what they do in a clear and graspable fashion. In addition, Duels of the Planeswalkers has a bit of a time constraint. It can’t assume that a new player is going to want to play twenty games the first time it logs on, so it must ensure that there’s enough revealed early on to entice the player to want to explore and experience more of what the game has to offer. This is done largely through both card choice and consistency. A Duel Decks-style offering, filled with singletons and the occasional two-of, might offer too much of a good thing all at once. That risks confusing and overwhelming our would-be planeswalker.
Those of us with a deeper understanding of the game similarly appreciate how important consistency is, and so far it’s been very apparent in both decks we’re playtested. You have critical cards, and you are able to find them. For Chandra, that was early atackers and burn. For Liliana, we instead looked for discard and control-minded creatures to pop up with comforting regularity, and were not disappointed.
For one thing, the deck was very good at establishing a defensive presence on the battlefield. I had little trouble finding the Drudge Skeletons I needed to keep some of the pressure off the deck, thanks to the inclusion of a full playset. Additionally, each game played out with similar dependability for discard effects like Ravenous Rats and Mind Rot. Finally, much of my heavy lifting was done by Severed Legions, the difficult-to-block 2/2. While I lost game two by the slimmest of margins, it was helpful to see how well the closers chosen can do their work.
As for weaknesses, the further you get away from the deck’s core, the worse the cards tended to get. I was never happy to find an Unholy Strength, because it represents too much of a commitment to a single creature. I’d have much preferred to come up with a bit more removal for those precious card slots. That brings us to the next knock on the deck. Too often it felt like the only way I could solve a threat was to keep it off the board in the first place. Sam’s Furnace Whelp, for instance, was allowed to glide in unopposed. I had two Unholy Strengths in hand, and could only imagine how the game might have gone differently if one of them was a Terror.
Finally, there were more than a few loosely-filled slots here in the noncreature suite. Since most of the deck’s creatures are disposable and interchangeable (lose one Skeleton, summon another), and are designed to buy you time to set up your control, it seems odd to worry about any that don’t survive. To be certain this doesn’t apply to your closers like the Nightmare or Sengir Vampire, but nobody should feel happy salvaging a Drudge Skeletons with a Raise Dead. Most creatures aren’t worth the effort to recover, making Raise Dead a “what if” card that sits in your hand useless until something worth reclaiming dies. I’d much rather have something a little more proactive.
Underworld Dreams is another such card. This is an example of one that sounds great, but under the cold light of day doesn’t quite stack up. Let’s go with a best-case scenario, that I was able to deploy it each turn on turn 3. That means in this match it would passively done around 6.33 points of damage each game. If we’re using the standard set by the Philosophy of Fire where each card should do 3 points of damage, hey, not bad, it does the work of two cards. The problem here is that you won’t be reliably drawing this early, and drawing it late can offer a very feel-bad experience. If the deck is set up to allow shenanigans that trigger it- like Sign in Blood– it starts to be more usefully positioned, but here it’s simply a source of drip damage. Not terrible, but another early cut.
Still, it starts to feel like I’m picking nits here, as the deck does very well on its own overall.
Hits: Very good discard suite that is well-supported by the card selection; nice to see an introductory Black deck offering this as its central strategy; solid control mechanisms in place with evasive creatures and a large finisher
Misses: Some of the noncreature selection leaves something to be desired; removal suite somewhat poor, making the deck vulnerable to threats an opponent can resolve
OVERALL SCORE: 4.30