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January 24, 2013

Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 1: Cries of Rage Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Two planeswalkers tied up in the strands of Nicol Bolas will be having it out today, and only one will emerge triumphant. Will it be Sarkhan Vol, whose Cries of Rage is undergoing the scrutiny of the battlefield? Or will it be Tezzeret, whose Relics of Doom will be putting it to the test? With Sam across from me at the table, we’re about to find out.

Game One

Sam’s on the play for our next match of Expansion Pack 1, and leads with an Island while I follow with a Mountain. Next turn she sticks a Glaze Fiend and passes, while I summon a Rip-Clan Crasher and attack in straightaway for 2. Next turn Sam deploys an Ornithopter and Wall of Spears, pumping up her Fiend to counterattack for 4. Thwarted by the Wall, I can only summon an Elvish Warrior and end my turn.

Now turn 4, Sam summons a second Glaze Fiend, which pumps the first one up for another 2 points of damage. Back to me, I’m forced into build-up mode, adding a Rip-Clan Crasher and Goblin Piker. Sam follows with a Howling Mine, then adds a Leonin Scimitar. She equips the latter to one of her Fiends, and both streak across the red zone to hammer me for 9. Down to 5 life, I play a Mountain and pass.

Sam’s run out of artifacts for the moment, so she can only get in for damage with the equipped Fiend. I Naturalize it on the attack, killing it and taking no damage. Back to me, I Incinerate her Wall of Spears, letting me send my ragtag army over for 8 damage of my own. With Sam’s nose now bloodied too, I add a Cloudcrown Oak and pass. For Sam’s part, she replaces it with another Wall of Spears. The Glaze Fiend stays at home. Undeterred, I send all four of my Warriors across, holding the Oak back for defense. Sam’s Wall claims the life of one of my Crashers, while her Ornithopter chumps the other. That halves the incoming damage, leaving her at 8 life.

Now turn 8, Sam plays a Swamp and passes. I keep the pressure on with another assault, this time for 6. Sam kills the other Crasher with the Wall of Spears, taking 4. I then replace my losses with an Elvish Warrior and Axegrinder Giant. Sam’s down, but far from out- she then adds a Bottle Gnomes and Alpha Myr to the table, swinging for lethal with the Glaze Fiend. This time, it’s me who does the chumping, offering up my Cloudcrown Oak to stay upright. Over to me, I counterattack with everything. Facing a total of 12 damage, Sam’s compelled to block the Giant with her Gnomes, sacrificing them for 3 life after the block. The Wall of Spears kills my Goblin Piker, while an Elvish Warrior claims the Alpha Myr. For all that, Sam takes only 2 damage, and ends the turn at 5 life thanks to the restorative powers of the Gnomes.

Sadly, it’s for naught as her next turn is a blank. I finish her off when I use a Jagged Lightning to clear away her Wall of Spears and Glaze Fiend, and alpha strike for the win.

Game Two

After opening land drops, Sam begins the game with a Leonin Scimitar, while I open with a Goblin Piker. Next turn, though, Sam’s back right behind a trusty Wall of Spears, while I play a Mountain and pass. Sam uses her next turn to equip the Scimitar to the Wall, while I add a Cloudcrown Oak.

Elvish Warrior

Elvish Warrior

Now turn 5, Sam draws and passes straightaway. I attack with the Oak, and Sam moves to block with her Wall. This forces my hand, playing a Jagged Lightning to kill the Wall. Since it targets two creatures, I’m also forced to blast my own Piker, but it seems worth it to prevent Sam from having too much time to build up. Her next turn is another blank, so I double down on the Oak with a Sangrite Surge.  That gets a reaction-  Sam taps three land and shows the Cancel. Still, the Oak scores first blood, dropping Sam to 17. Next turn, Sam is again content to draw and pass, desperately fishing for her first Swamp. After attacking with my Oak, I add an Elvish Warrior and end my turn.

A turn-8 Howling Mine promises to help Sam develop her board, if it doesn’t help me too much along the way. After drawing two cards, I attack with the Oak and Warrior for 5, leaving Sam at 9. I then summon two more Elvish Warriors and a Goblin Piker before ending my turn. Sam finally finds her Swamp, but well too late to do much good. Over to me, I play a Rip-Clan Crasher, drawing a second Cancel. I then attack in with the team. After Sam Terrors my Oak, that buys her a turn as she clings to life at 1. Drawing nothing, she scoops.

Game Three

Looking to avoid the broom, Sam opens her account with a turn-2 Glaze Fiend, which I answer with a Rip-Clan Crasher and 2-point swing. Back to Sam, she adds a Tidehollow Strix, countering in the air with her Fiend to draw us level. Meanwhile, I escalate the ground game with a second Crasher, turning both sideways for 4. Sam accepts the damage.

Now turn 4, Sam summons a second Strix, then adds a Howling Mine. This pumps up her Glaze Fiend again, and again we’re level on life at 14. Back to me, I press on with my Crashers, and Sam’s down to 10. Next turn, Sam has no artifacts to play, rendering the Glaze Fiend inert. She instead attacks with both Strixes for 4, putting me at 10. At the end of her turn, I Naturalize her Fiend. I then follow up with another 4-point attack with the Crashers, pulling ahead in the race before summoning a Cloudcrown Oak.

That’s a problem for Sam, but she’s got a problem for me: a turn-6 Sharding Sphinx. She attacks with both Strixes once more, and I trade one out for my Oak. The other connects, giving her a 1/1 Thopter token thanks to the Sphinx. Back to me, I send in the Crashers for another 4. Sam blocks one with her Sphinx, the other with her 1/1 Thopter token. I Naturalize the Sphinx in response. It’s a clumsy play, but I’d been hoping she might take the hit so I could burn her out with a Lava Axe. Without enough mana to play that now thanks to the Naturalize, I instead summon a Bramblewood Paragon and pass.

Now turn 7, Sam adds a Bottle Gnomes and ends her turn. I press the advantage, attacking in for 6. Sam blocks a Rip-Clan Crasher with the Gnomes, popping them for 3 life and going down to 2. I follow with an Axegrinder Giant. Again Sam needs an answer, and again she comes up empty.

Thoughts & Analysis

Some decks are very sexy. They do what they’re trying to accomplish with style and intricacy, whether it be from a number of subtle interactions or from one giant combination of cards. Others, however, are more like a big blunt object, battering your opponent, and that’s where Cries of Rage lies (fittingly enough). There’s not a lot of trickiness going on here- the creatures are largely straightforward, as are the supporting effects like Incinerate and Giant Growth. That isn’t in any way to say that one is better to the other- as always, these are a matter of personal preference. What I like most about Cries of Rage is that, quite simply, the deck works, and works well.

Sangrite Surge

Sangrite Surge

In large part, this is down to solid planning and execution. “At each mana cost,” says Wizards, “your creatures should simply be better than your opponent’s.” While that won’t always be the case, what is certain is that with its high concentration of early plays (a whopping fourteen two-drop creatures), the deck will be delightfully consistent. And so it was in the playtest, with each game seeing me flood the board with two-drops from Goblin Piker to the superb Rip-Clan Crasher. Although Sam was able to hide behind Walls of Spears, which are a serious impediment to the deck, the collection of burn and removal was more than enough to see the deck through.

Also welcome is the fact that Cries of Rage is a theme deck, though this isn’t necessarily obvious at first blush. Every creature in the deck is a Warrior, and while that has little relevance to the way the deck plays out, it does factor in with the inclusion of one card, the all-star Bramblewood Paragon. The deck loses nothing if you don’t happen to find one in the course of a game, but there will be times where that’s your turn-2 play, and then watch out, your opponent is in for a wild ride. That’s a strong synergy, and a good value add for a deck that’s positioned to be a point of entry for the game itself. A large number of decks that rely upon such combos tend to be “feast of famine” decks- strong if you draw the right cards, weak if you don’t. The Paragon here is all upside, as the deck thrums along just find without her.

Overall, this is a very sturdy construction. It’s not without its flaws, but they tend to me quibbles more with card selection than any structural issues. We’d rather more direct burn, for example, over the more cumbersome and pricey Lava Axe. Sangrite Surge is powerful, for another, but at sorcery speed it’s usually just going to be an invitation to chump. In that sense it’s a bit like ersatz removal, but we might prefer the surprise and simplicity of another combat pump spell like Giant Growth. Still, for fans of beatdown in the red zone, there’s a lot here to like.

Hits: Strong creature curve, with very dependable population of two-drops; good removal package; Warrior subtheme with Bramblewood Paragon gives the deck occasional bursts of raw power

Misses: Some sub-optimal card choices, primarily in the noncreature support suite; deck’s reliance on small creatures means it can get bogged down against a deck playing strong defense or larger creatures

OVERALL SCORE: 4.25/5.00

Note: Duels of the Planeswalker fans, don’t worry- we’ll be circling back to tackle Relics of Doom and complete our review of Expansion Pack 1. Next up, though, are the decks of Gatecrash, and we hope you enjoy!

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