Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 1: Relics of Doom Review (Part 2 of 2)
These are hectic days for us here at Ertai’s Lament! We’ve just concluded our review of the Intro Packs of Gatecrash, after pausing the coverage of Duels of the Planeswalkers’ Expansion Pack 1. While we’re about to kick off coverage of Gatecrash’s Event Decks, we’ve just had the perfect amount of time to squeeze in the final deck for Duels, Relics of Doom. To put the deck to the test, Sam’s joined me behind Mind of Void, Jace’s mill deck.
I’m on the play, and Sam and I both trade land drops for the first two turns before I finally open the game up with a Master of Etherium. For her part, Sam begins with a Memory Erosion, setting up her milling strategy as I start my artifact-based one. Next turn, I summon Bottle Gnomes to pump up the Master, milling two cards from the Erosion in the process. I then swing in for 2 and and the turn. Sam misses her land drop, but she’s still able to deploy a Wall of Air.
Now turn 5, I attack with the Gnomes and Master for 4, though the Master is blocked by Sam’s Wall to cut the damage in half. Sam misses another land drop and passes. Back to me, I attack in again with my pair of creatures, and Sam looks to Condemn the Master. Instead, I Cancel her Condemn, milling off another two cards. Sam then draws and plays an Island, then passes.
Now turn 7, Sam and I simply repeat turn 6, right down to my Canceling her Condemn. This leaves her at 12 life, and she again tries to solve my Master with a Persuasion. I Cancel that, too, milling off even more. Next turn I finally find a Swamp, and triumphantly Terror her Wall. I then summon a Wall of Spears, and by now I’ve milled off a full dozen cards from the Memory Erosion. Still, this pumps up the Master, and I send in both to hammer Sam for 5. Down to 7 life, Sam finally solves the Master with a second attempt at Persuasion, and this time there’s nothing I can do about it.
I attack with the Gnomes on turn 9 for 1, knowing Sam won’t block yet with her 1/1 Master. Back to her, she pumps the Master by adding a Dispeller’s Capsule, then adds an Air Elemental as her deck finally stabilises. My next turn is a blank, and Sam goes on the offensive, attacking for the first time with her Elemental to put me to 16. She then plays a second Elemental and ends her turn.
Now turn 11, I play a Swamp and pass, digging for an answer I know is unlikely to come. Sam swings for 8, then goes up to 13 herself off a Kiss of the Amesha. My next turn is a complete blank, and Sam adds another Dispeller’s Capsule to grow her stolen Master another notch. She turns all three creatures sideways for 11, forcing me to both chump with my Wall of Spears as well as drink my Bottle Gnomes to stay upright. Down to 3 life, I concede after my next draw.
I open the game with an Island, while Sam leads with a Dispeller’s Capsule off a Plains. Next turn, though, I delightedly summon a Glaze Fiend, the linchpin of the deck. Sam drops an Island and passes, so I then go in on the attack with the Fiend after adding a Tidehollow Strix to the board. Sam responds with the gift of time- a Wall of Air.
Now turn 4, I deploy an Onyx Goblet, tilting it sideways to ping Sam directly. I then attack for 4 with my creatures, and Sam blocks the Fiend with the Wall to only take 2. Down to 15, she plays a Plains and passes. Next turn, she smokes my Strix with the Capsule, so all I can do is ping her with the Goblet, as I’ll look to do every turn (go go fourteen-turn clock!). Sam tries for an Air Elemental, but I simply Cancel it away.
I replace my lost Strix on turn 6 with another one, pinging with the Goblet to put her to 13. Sam resolves an Air Elemental. Next turn I send in the Strix alone, knowing its deathtouch will render it somewhat untouchable this early in the game. Instead, Sam simply Condemns it. Not to be outdone, I take advantage of her being largely tapped out by Terroring her Elemental in return. Back to Sam, she plays a Memory Erosion and ends her turn.
Now turn 8, I play a Leonin Scimitar (milling two), then equip it to my Fiend. Sam’s answering Kiss of the Amesha puts her back to 18 life, giving her two cards more to boot. Back to me, I then Terror her Wall to expose her, summon a Wall of Spears (milling four between them), then attack for 3 with the Fiend. For her part, Sam plays a Plains and passes.
With the air lanes clear and my Fiend equipped with the Scimitar, I can start doing routine damage each turn in the red zone. I send in the Fiend on turn 10 and follow with a ping off the Goblet, putting Sam to 13. She plays an Island. I then summon another Wall of Spears- almost completely useless here except for the fact that it’s an artifact- then attack for another 3. Following that with the Goblet, Sam’s now at 9 life, though I’m continuing to mill cards with every cast. She doubles down on this with a second Memory Erosion, and now I’m going to have to be a bit more careful.
Now turn 12, I attack and ping for 2. Sam’s turn is a blank. Back to me, I try for an Ornithopter, but Sam is compelled to Dream Fracture it, though I still am on the hook for milling four. Again I attack with the Fiend and ping with the Goblet for 2, and she’s down to 5 life. She finally draws an answer in a Dispeller’s Capsule.
The Capsule claims my Fiend when I attack with it on turn 14, though that does leave the matter of the Goblet. I trigger it, and Sam’s down to 4. Her next turn is another blank outwith a land drop, and I Goblet her again next turn. She answers with a Traumatize, milling my library for a full thirteen cards.
Now turn 16, I have Sam within my sights if she can’t find another answer. I Goblet her down to 2, while she plays another Memory Erosion. I Goblet her to 1, with only a dozen cards left in the library. She draws and, finding nothing, concedes the game.
Sam and I both find Islands to open the game up on the first turn, after which we double down with a pair more. I find the first play of the game behind a Howling Mine, but sadly it’s one that always benefits the opponent first.
Happily drawing her extra card, Sam plays a Plains and a Memory Erosion. I play a third Island. Back to Sam, she plays an Island as well before ending turn, while I play a second Howling Mine (milling two).
Now turn 5, Sam plays a Plains and passes, discarding an Island and Plains to get back to seven in hand. I play a third Howling Mine, milling two cards to do so, then add a Glaze Fiend to mill two more. Back to Sam, she summons a Wall of Air, then follows with a Disepller’s Capsule- a strong turn against my deck. She then discards an Island and ends her turn. Back to me, I Terror the Wall, then play a Glaze Fiend, Fountain of Youth, and Leonin Scimitar. Equipping the Scimitar to the Fiend, I send it in to carve a 7-point slice off of Sam’s life total, though the turn has left me eight cards less in the library.
Sam doubles down on turn 7, coolly playing another Memory Erosion and Dispeller’s Capsule, discarding a Plains at the end of turn. I mill four cards after playing an Onyx Goblet, and a further four after adding Bottle Gnomes. Still, this lets me swing in for 5 with the pair of Fiends, though Sam soaks up the larger one with her Capsule to go down to 11. I ping her with the Goblet for 1 more, then equip the Scimitar to my remaining Fiend before passing. Over to Sam, she then turns the screw with a Traumatize, seeing off seven cards from the library. With two Erosions in play, I’m on very thin ice. She discards a pair of Counterbores and sends the turn over to me.
It’s as good as game. I play a Glaze Fiend, milling away the rest of my library, then another with nothing left to mill. Altogether I can muster up 7 damage, 3 short of Sam’s life total of 10… but then, she’s got the mana up for her Capsule. Checkmate.
Thoughts & Analysis
Sometimes there are bad decks… and other times, there are just bad matchups. The feeling I took from Relics of Doom was that it was more the latter than the former, though that doesn’t let Relics off the hook entirely. Let’s first look at how the matchup played out.
Sam was playing Mind of Void, a deck that has one glaring weakness in its vulnerability to the early-game rush- not unlike the Death Star’s small thermal exhaust port. Strike it there, and the whole deck collapses, but otherwise it’s a fairly powerful juggernaut of milling and decking, with a backup strategy of smashing in with evasive closers. What did this mean for poor Tezz? Well, first, Tezz isn’t really equipped to strike hard early. With a deck centered around pumping up Glaze Fiends by playing a chain of artifacts, this is more of a strategy that sees its foundations lain early before fulminating later on.
Unfortunately, that “later on” is when Jace’s deck starts to come on-line, and there’s not much recourse in Relics against a milling engine and fat creatures. The playset of Terrors certainly helps, but against the likes of Memory Erosion and Traumatize Tezz can only hope for a Cancel. Alas, those Cancels might well be spoken for already, with the deck’s own conditional plan reliant on protection from Dispeller’s Capsules. The tables really only were turned once in the match, when I was able to play the one card type Sam was weakest against, the Onyx Goblet. A resolved non-creature threat, she could do little but watch as it pinged her each turn, hoping to draw a Capsule. Beyond that, though, her late-game cards were better than my late-game cards, and I was fighting an uphill battle.
Another example of this was with the Howling Mines. I managed to find one early in our pre-game friendly, and drawing the extra card a turn tended to help Sam much more than it did me. Sure it was nice to dig through for more of my options, but for Sam it was the opportunity to hit her land drops with much greater consistency. Once she found five, I was in trouble, and it kept her flush with counters and removal. When in game three I had the option, I actually looked at the card as a dead draw in my opener, but decided to roll the dice and go for it. It turned out to be a serendipitous decision as I found two more, and while we both benefited from an extra three cards a turn, Sam was discarding while I was able to hold onto everything, giving me tremendous card advantage. That, of course, doesn’t win games outright, since I was also playing into her mill strategy and did eventually lose the game.
So… highly asymmetrical matchup. But aside from that, how did Relics of Doom do? I’d have to give it a fairly mediocre rating. The underlying concept was sound enough- play Glaze Fiends and a raft of cheap artifacts, and hammer in with grow-your-own closers. This did well enough for burst damage, but the deck foundered on two fronts. First, many of the deck’s trinkets just weren’t all that great on their own, and it was hard to escape the feeling that their greatest asset was a low casting cost (Fountain of Youth, I’m looking at you). Secondly, the tactic could provide great burst damage, but it left itself spent after that- either you closed the deal or you didn’t- and generally it was the latter. +2/+2 per artifact just isn’t quite explosive enough to get the job done, and a consistent 2/3 every turn is no better.
What could have helped? For one thing, improved card drawing would have been nice. If the deck is focused on bursts, help set it up by giving it more spiky increases in cards rather than the relatively flat one-per-turn afforded you by the Mines- which also help your opponent. A Sign in Blood effect would have been fine enough, but taking advantage of Black’s ability to trade life for cards would have given the deck a real combo-type feel such as with, say, an Infernal Contract.
Secondly, a better backup plan would have done more to give the deck a better negotiating position at the table. The singleton Master of Etherium gives a glimpse of precisely this, letting you boost your side at a stroke while giving you a potentially substantial beater. But confined to one card with no duplicates in the deck, this makes the backup plan even more fragile and unreliable than the primary. Sadly for Tezzeret, games aren’t won on ambition alone, and while the supporting cast of counters and removal is passable, it too maintains something of a bare minimum level of effectiveness. While on the whole we can only laud the attempt to make an unorthodox deck for Duels of the Planeswalkers, this one doesn’t quite get it done.
Hits: Superb artifact-based synergy, with almost every card in the deck an artifact of some kind; capable of explosive damage with the right draw, but that combo is too fragile and conditional, relying on multiple cards
Misses: Reward for getting the deck’s ducks in a row is out of proportion for the labour required to pull it off; lack of a relaible and consistent back-up strategy
OVERALL SCORE: 3.75