Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009): Ears of the Elves Review (Part 2 of 2)
We’re approaching the end of our Duels of the Planeswalkers coverage- have we saved the best for last? Ears of the Elves was a standout performer in our review of the original paper decks, will it be the same here?
I’m on the play for our opener, and lead with an Elvish Eulogist. Sam drops a Swamp and passes. I then attack in for first blood with the Eulogist before Sam seals up the vulnerability with a Drudge Skeletons.
Now turn 3, I attack in again with the Eulogist, safe in the knowledge that Sam won’t block with her defender until she’s got the mana up to regenerate it. I have, however, missed my first land drop. Passing back to Sam, she counterattacks with her Skeletons for 1 then plunks down Megrim. Next turn I again send over the Eulogist to put her at 17- still with only two land in play. Sam pounces, lashing out with a Mind Rot to see off an Elven Riders and Giant Growth from my hand. This time, she keeps the Skeletons at home, but thanks to the enchantment I’m down to 15.
I draw an Elvish Visionary and happily play it on turn 5, but alas I draw a replacement Giant Growth rather than a land. Back to Sam, she summons a Severed Legion and passes. I then topdeck another Visionary and play it, but am again foiled when in lieu of a land I turn up a Gaea’s Herald. Sam carves away at my life total, sending in the Legion for 2. She then Mind Rots me again, and I discard the Herald and Giant Growth. She ends her turn by summoning Drudge Skeletons.
Now turn 7, I draw and pass- still no land. Sam attacks for 2 with the Legion, then plays a Ravenous Rats (I discard an unplayable Elvish Warrior). Finally on turn 8 I draw a Forest, and gleefully play it. Although it’s likely too late to do much good, I then tap out to summon an Elvish Champion, making my other Elves 2/2’s. Sam attacks in again with the Legion, and I’m down to 7 life. She then adds an Abyssal Specter.
I draw and play another Forest on turn 9, then pass. Back to Sam, she attacks in with the Specter and Legions. I destroy the Specter with an Eyeblight’s Ending, going down to 5. Next turn, I simply draw and pass. Sam’s relentless with her Legion, but I’m able to Eyeblight’s Ending that, too. As if to show that two can play at the game, Sam Terrors my Champion in response.
Now turn 11, I bring out a Lys Alana Huntmaster, hoping it can help me build up. Sam doubles down on the offensive, sticking an Unholy Strength on a Drudge Skeletons and sending it in to attack. It’s a useful tactic, since I have to chump with Elves to stay upright. The first to go is a Visionary, who takes it for the team. Back to me, I then summon an Elvish Warrior alongside a Farhaven Elf, giving me another Forest as well as a pair of 1/1 Elf tokens thanks to the Huntmaster. Sam attacks with the Skeletons, and a 1/1 Elf token is shoved in its path.
My turn 13 is a blank, and the other Elf token falls next turn to blunt Sam’s offensive. The next turn follows suit, and this time it’s the Farhaven Elf that lays down its life before the Skeletons.
Things change on turn 15 when I decide to begin applying some pressure of my own. I attack with the Huntmaster and Warrior for 5. Sam blocks the Huntmaster with her other, unenchanted Skeletons, regenerating them to keep them on the table. The Warrior gets in, though, and she’s down to 15 life. It’s nowhere near enough to change her strategy, however, and again she attacks in with the enchanted Skeletons. This time, I offer up the other Visionary. Sam follows by summoning a Sengir Vampire, but I sort it out with another Eyeblight’s Ending (giving me another 1/1 Elf token to boot!). Next turn I attack in again with both, with the same result. Sam summons Ravenous Rats to pluck the last card from my hand, but it’s a Giant Growth that I cast in response onto my 1/1 token to make it a 4/4. Sam attacks out of habit, then chides herself for not simply leaving her buffed-up Skeletons in check for a turn.
Now turn 17, this one’s going long. I draw and play a Gaea’s Herald, happy to have no cards in hand. Sam attacks with the Skeletons, my 1/1 Elf token is on intercept duty. Sam then uses Raise Dead to bring the Sengir Vampire back to her hand. Next turn, I summon a Farhaven Elf and pass, after getting and playing a Forest. Sam then looks to burn me out with a Consume Spirit for 7, forcing me to pop my Eulogist. The Eulogist restores a whopping 11 life to me before the Consume Spirit lands, keeping me above ground. Sam then attacks in with her Vampire and Skeletons. I stop the latter with a Farhaven Elf, but can’t do anything about the Vampire. The end of the turn sees me right back to where I started- 5 life.
A bit of luck on turn 19, however, sees me drawing another Eulogist. I play it and pass. Sam attacks with her undead, and I’m now down to 1 after chump-blocking with the Herald. My next turn is a blank, and Sam is closing in on elusive victory. She attacks in again, and I cast a Giant Growth on my latest 1/1 token to block the Skeletons and live to tell about it. I then have to pop the other Eulogist, gaining a tidy packet of 14 life. I drop to 11 from the Vampire, after which Sam Terrors the Lys Alana Huntmaster. My hopes go with him.
It’s now turn 21, and I play a Forest and pass. Sam attacks with the side, then finishes me off with a massive Consume Spirit.
After trading opening land drops, I lead the second turn with an Elvish Eulogist, a card for which I’ve attained a newfound respect. Sam plays her Drudge Skeletons. My next turn is a blank outside of the land drop, while Sam finds her trusty Severed Legion.
Now turn 4, I’m racing against the discard I’m sure Sam must be holding. I deploy the Lys Alana Huntmaster and pass. Instead, Sam attacks in for 2 with the Legion for the opening salvo, then uses her mana to summon an Abyssal Specter. Back to me, I attack past it with the Huntmaster, then end my turn. Sam’s Specter gets Eyeblighted the moment she commits it to the attack, though there’s little I can do about the Legion. She then summons Ravenous Rats, and I discard an extra land.
Turn 6 sees me summon Elven Riders and passing. Sam attacks in for 2 with the Legion to drop me to 14, then casts Raise Dead to get her Specter back. She ends by summoning another Ravenous Rats, and again I discard a land card. Next turn, I tap out for an Overrun, sending a full twenty points of damage thundering across the board. Sam’s trio of 1/1’s can reduce that to 17- exactly the amount of life she’s got.
Sam leads with a Swamp to kick things off, while I play an Elvish Eulogist off of a Forest. Next turn she adds a second Swamp and passes, while I attack in for a point of damage with the Eulogist before adding another beside it.
Now turn 3, Sam’s hitting her land drops but doing little else. I attack with the pair of Eulogists for 2, then summon a Farhaven Elf. Back to Sam, she deploys her first creature and it’s a good one- the Abyssal Specter. Sadly, it meets the same fate as all the others: Eyeblight’s Ending. This leaves Sam exposed, and I attack in with my trio of Elves to leave her at 14.
A turn-5 Sengir Vampire looks to turn the tables, but I turn them right back with a Coat of Arms. Back to Sam, she tries to thin my hand with a Mind Rot, but draws only a pair of lands. Chagrined, she follows up with a Ravenous Rats, and this time she manages to pry away an Elvish Warrior- my last card in hand. Back to me, I pump up my Elves by playing an Elvish Visionary, and happily draw an Elvish Warrior off the free draw. Delighted, I play that one, too, and now have a board full of 5/5 Elves. Though two are summoning sick, I commit the other three to battle. Sam chumps one with the Rats, but plummets to 4.
Sam’s done and she knows it. She draws her next card, and concedes.
Thoughts & Analysis
Way back when we first started in mid-2010, the paper Duels of the Planeswalkers decks were the very first thing we reviewed. Even then, Ears of the Elves had made an impression.
If you’re going to buy just one of these Duels decks, I’d recommend this one- although a couple others are decent, it just gets worse from here. Well-designed, Ears gives the impression that the designers put the emphasis on making a deck that can hold its own rather than just a deck for “new players,” although the deck is certainly straightforward enough for any skill level to pilot. There seems to be a bit of a tension in making beginner products: you want them easy enough to grasp quickly so the new player won’t get turned off by frustration, but by the same token you want them fun enough to make that new player want to play a second game, and a third, and…
Each of the five Duels of the Planeswalker decks pull off at least that baseline ambition, although to varying degrees of success. A new player will probably enjoy them all. But whereas I would expect that something like the Jace Thoughts of the Wind deck would be retired or broken down into raw cards quite quickly, Ears of the Elves might be fun enough to keep around for awhile, just the way it is.
This time around, the competition is certainly better- we’ve had a lot more fun reviewing the digital versions of the Duels of the Planeswalkers line than we did the physical ones- but even still Ears of the Elves is a towering presence. In our initial review of the deck, I identified both Overrun and Coat of Arms as the two cards that could pivot a game on its axis once played, but I would never have guessed that I’d crush my opponent first with one, then with the other in very short order. One must resist the temptation, though, to rate the deck too highly considering both of these cards appear but once in the deck.
For the times the deck can get set off like a coiled spring there will be others where it just sort of limps along with a collection of small, rather uninspiring creatures, as we saw in Game One. In fairness I was dreadfully mana screwed at the outset, but there aren’t a great many pumping cards or lords contained in the 60, and the deck’s effectiveness really demands thta you find at least one of these. One might sum up the deck, then, by saying ‘solid, with the possibility to be extraordinary.’ With a good removal package backing it up, this might well be the pick of the litter.
Hits: Great tribal deck that stays on-theme and remains competitive; cards like Overrun and Coat of Arms can (and do) win games virtually outright; very good removal package with some excellent card selections
Misses: Deck rather heavily relies on its bombs- fail to find one, and the deck can spend a lot of time playing weenies and durdling
OVERALL SCORE: 4.60