Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 1: Cries of Rage Review (Part 1 of 2)
When you’ve been particular places, that you know you’ve never been before, sang Iron Maiden in 1986, can you be sure? The subject of the song- indeed, its very title- is deja vu, a feeling that we’ll perhaps be getting acquainted with today as we look at the next deck in Expansion Pack 1 for Duels of the Planeswalkers.
Before we even look at the decklist, the first clue comes to us in the write-up for the deck from Wizards.
With his latest deck, the savage Sarkhan Vol takes a break from his draconic focus to remind everyone that his warrior-like nature is more than enough to overwhelm most opposition.
Hmmm… Warrior-like… where have we seen that recently? Indeed, if imitation be the sincerest form of flattery, then Morningtide’s Warrior’s Code must be feeling very flattered itself right about now, because the core of Cries of Rage takes more than a few pages out of its playbook. It’s worth taking a moment here to recap what that deck was doing, to see what this one is up to. It’s not just the similarities that are telling- we can also learn a thing or two from the differences.
Warrior’s Code was a tribal Warrior deck, released in February of 2008. Although the preceding large set, Lorwyn, was also tribal in nature, Wizards led with race-based tribal before using Morningtide to introduce a further layer of development: class. Although we’d seen Race + Class creature categorisation implemented in wide scale five years earlier with Mirrodin, this was Wizards’ opportunity to solidify the convention and they took it.
As you might expect, the deck was packed with Warriors and cards that cared about them, drawn from the different races of Lorwyn. Comparing the decklist to Cries of Rage, we see certain selections jump out immediately. The telltale one is Bramblewood Paragon, one of the strongest cards in either deck and a tribal all-star for the Warrior tribe. One of a large creature’s susceptibilities is to being stalled in the red zone by chump blocking. Sure, you’re killing a creature each turn, but you’re opponent’s life total remans untouched while they continue to dig for an answer. Not only does the Paragon boost every subsequent Warrior you play with a +1/+1 counter, but it also gives the all-important trample to any creature carrying one. This approach does require a bit of build-up; it’s not a Code of Arms or an Overrun where you simply drop it and the game pivots on an axis. That said, you’ll seldom be happier than to find a Paragon in your opening grip.
The “Cries of Rage” deck is red and green, meaning an emphasis on damage, size, and aggression. Pummel other Planeswalkers until they submit to your will or they fall to oblivion.
Let’s see how he intends to do just that.
The Angriest of Giants
Warrior’s Code was aggressively-costed right out of the gate, with a pair of one-drops and three-drops bracketing in a full seven two-drops. If anything, Cries of Rage doubles down on the early plays by playing twice as many, letting some of the air out of the back of the deck that so defined its Morningtide predecessor (twelve four- and five-plus-drops). As we’ve often noted, a concentration of two-drops is especially aggressive over three-drops, because it offers you the ability to play two creatures a turn as early as turn four (and earlier, if you have any accelerants like Llanowar Elves). When you see a deck as heavy in the slot as this one, you have a pretty good idea of how it intends to cross the finish line.
Notably, it also leaves out one-drops, preferring to give it more presence in the midgame than on turn 1. The problem with one-drops is that they’re usually fairly low in on the power scale, making up for that by being rapid to deploy (think Raging Goblin here). That’s the classic one-drop conundrum: you need to play them early to be effective, you need to carry a lot of them in the deck to reliably play them early, and that all but assures you of lousy drops later in the game when a one-drop is the very last thing you want to see. Cries of Rage strikes a more balanced approach to its aggression.
We begin with the much-vaunted Bramblewood Paragon, the cream of the two-drop crop. Like Warrior’s Code, the deck gives you enough to be useful but stopping well short of the playset the deck craves. With two in the deck you lose quite a bit of consistency, though it’s not hard to see this as a move to keep the deck balanced in a collection of Warriors. Continuing the parallel between the old and the new, there’s also some Elvish Warriors here- this time, a full playset. These have no abilities of their own, but simply represent a solid value for mana. As a 2/3, they’re free to attack past much of what your opponent might be playing in the early game.
The Warriors continue with a playset of Goblin Pikers. These are much more pedestrian affairs, weighing in as mere 2/1’s. Still, when taken as a part of the whole it’s useful to have a queue of Warriors at the outset ready to break onto the board, and the Piker isn’t the worst card you could play. For a bit more spice, though, you finally have a playset of Rip-Clan Crashers. 2/2’s with haste, these are very useful here at most any point in the game. Although a 2/2 isn’t all that exciting when drawn late, the ability to attack the same turn as it enters play gives it a surprise factor that can be relevant at any point. Overall, the deck has a very promising core here.
The three-drop slot is scantly populated, consisting only of a pair of Mudbutton Torchrunners. These Warriors, which weren’t in the original Morningtide deck (though their Clanger tribesmates were), are brittle 1/1’s that you actually want to have killed, since it gives you a free Lightning Bolt. This isn’t something you’ll be able to do at will, since the deck carries no sacrifice outlets to hasten things along, but an unwillingness to trigger the Torchrunner way well see your opponent opt to accept the niggle of damage each turn.
Another familiar face appears in the four-drops in the form of the Cloudcrown Oak. Again we find a card which doubles its presence from the old deck to the new, as you get a full playset of these as well. They’re not spectacular, essentially a slight improvement on a Giant Spider in return for being a little harder to cast, but they can help keep the skies guarded if you’re up against a deck that takes to the air. 4 toughness can also be a little difficult to kill without gang-blocking. As with the Pikers, they fill a role.
From there we get to the very top of the deck’s mana curve. The first card here is the Axegrinder Giant, a Red version of the classic Craw Wurm. Warrior’s Code packed one, so in keeping with the pattern this time we get two. They’re another unsexy vanilla beater, but 6 power is difficult to ignore. For one more mana, though, you get the mighty Oakgnarl Warrior, a much better buy. Though they’re slightly less sharp at 5 power, they’re much harder to kill, have trample, and can both attack and defend thanks to vigilance. If you needed an example of how much further your mana goes in Green than Red with creatures, this is a fine instance. Still, either of these can help you move the game towards a very swift conclusion.
The Power it Unleashes
The noncreature support suite for Cries of Rage is admirably focused, with everything falling very neatly into one of two categories. The first of these is removal. This being a Red/Green deck, of course, that largely comes from burn, though the burn suite is somewhat clunky. The pair of Incinerates are the best of the lot, being both quick and versatile. There’s also a pair of Jagged Lightnings, uncommons from Urza’s Saga. While these have twice the killpower of an Incinerate, they cost more than twice as much and do their business at sorcery speed. Furthermore, they can’t hit your opponent, only your opponent’s creatures.
You have the opposite problem with the final burn card here, the classic Lava Axe. Though reasonably priced for the damage output, the Axe lacks the flexibility and speed the deck likes to be able to rely upon. These are late-game finishers, nothing more, and useful for when you’re able to get right to the very edge of winning but can’t get anything through the red zone. Still, it’s hard to think they’re a better bet than another two Incinerates. As is de rigeur for these sorts of decks, you also have a pair of Naturalizes.
The other half of the equation is the creature augments, where we find the remaining four cards. Two of these are another Green staple: Giant Growth. The other two are Sangrite Surges, sorceries from Shards of Alara that give one creature a massive boost. Unless you’ve got a straight line to your opponent, though, these usually do little more than hand one of your creatures a sign that says “chump block me.” That makes is a roundabout form of removal, though it costs you an attack to use it. For six mana, there’s probably a list of other, more useful effects you’d like to see here.
Overall, though, it’s a nicely-focused version of Warrior’s Code, one that dispenses with a lot of the goofy variety of the earlier deck in return for offering the archetype a bit more of what it really needs. Although Lava Axes are rather underwhelming, for instance, they’re a fair bit better than the original deck’s options of Release the Ants and Roar of the Crowd. And by trimming the overall average cost of the deck, we can dispense with fixing options like Recross the Paths. This is a more streamlined, purer form of the archetype Warrior’s Code was adopting, unsurprising given the freedom and flexibility to draw upon a substantially larger pool of cards. Does the deck work, though? That we won’t find out until we get a chance to test it. That’s next.