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March 23, 2013

Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 2: Heart of Worlds Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

Welcome back as we return to this year’s theme, Duels of the Planeswalkers! When we last looked at the franchise, we reviewed the three decks that comprised the first Expansion Pack, “Duel the Dragon,” which was released in October of 2009. In addition to the new playable decks, the expansion also introduced one of Magic’s great villains to the franchise, as we’ll see later. For now, though, we have the rather odd pairing of a hero from Lorwyn- and a mechanic from Zendikar.

For the first time in the series, we had a playable deck released for an individual that was not a planeswalker. Rhys was a central character in the narrative of Lorwyn, an Elf whose destiny was tied up with that of the plane. With the advent of the age of the planeswalkers, Rhys might well have remained in the dustbin of history, but Wizards had a slight problem. It had been determined that the second Expansion Pack for Duels needed a Green/White deck, and they could come up with no planeswalker that would be a thematic fit.

When asked by the community about the significance of Rhys being used to anchor a Duels deck and whether or not that was a hint that he might become one, creative director Brady Dommermuth had a blunt and candid reply.

The game has really specific needs, so we kinda have to work backward from the deck. The designers decided they needed a GW landfall deck, and obviously there’s no great choice for which character would use that magic.

There will be other nonplaneswalker characters to come; there simply aren’t planeswalker characters for every deck type we want to do.

Other nonplaneswalker characters could have worked, but they all had problems of their own. Any non-Zendikar character feels weird with landfall. Omnath is basically a green mana elemental, so it wouldn’t make sense for it to sling a bunch of white magic. Iona and Linvala would be equally uncomfortable casting a bunch of green spells. And there are no extant planeswalkers aligned with green and white mana.

The other solution would be, ‘Sorry, that means you can’t do a green-white landfall deck.’ But I don’t have the power to make that call. And I don’t think it’s really worth creating new planeswalker characters just to occupy a slot in the DotP ladder. You guys would deem such a character ‘filler’ anyway.

While that means that Rhys remains terrestrially grounded like most any other character in the Magic universe, we nevertheless get to enjoy a very solid Green/White deck that mechanically embraces Zendikar.

Cries of New Prey

Heart of Worlds Scorecard

As a landfall-themed deck, Heart of Worlds has two main thrusts in its creature suite. First, it naturally wants to pack in a number of creatures that feature the mechanic, to get the most value out of every last land drop. Second, to help augment that it also carries a number of cards that help you get land- both to smooth out your land drops every round, as well as in some cases to hit more than one drop in a given turn.

It begins aggressively enough with a Steppe Lynx, which sits comfortably alongside the Plated Geopede as being landfall’s most aggressive early options. The deck gives you a trio of them, so they should be a leading play fairly often. Though they may tend to peter out towards the  endgame as land drops are more precious, it should easily get in for some early strikes past whatever your opponent manages to play. Unlike some other landfall creatures, the Lynx’s +2/+2 stacks. That makes the deck’s two Evolving Wilds particularly useful as an on-board instant speed combat trick or simply for extra damage output.

Moving up to the two-drops, we find a full playset of Fledgling Griffins. Unlike the Lynx, these will never get any bigger no matter how much land you play, but they do have a nifty trick in that they take to the air. Like the Lynx, this makes them more formidable than most things they might run into early in the game, and can also secure you a good lead over your opponent.

Things really begin to blossom for the deck, though, once we transition into our three-drops, and here both prongs of Heart’s strategy are reinforced. Landfall is on offer from both the Grazing Gladehart as well as the Snapping Creeper. The Gladehart offers some useful lifegain on a reasonable body, while the hardy Creeper can attack and still be available to block thanks to vigilance. Worldwake offers us the Pilgrim’s Eye, and Heart packs in a trio of them. Although the 1/1 body isn’t much, it does have flying. Their most important task, though, is to fetch a land to your hand, helping ensure you don’t miss a drop before time. The Farhaven Elf can do one better. Although lacking the evasion of the Eye, the Elf’s fetched land comes directly into play on the battlefield, giving you the possibility of a double-landfall trigger.

A trio of Kor Cartographers mark our move on to the deck’s four-drops, and these serve the same purpose. For one more mana you get a body that’s twice as large, though the land the Cartographer fetches isn’t at your discretion as it is with the Elf. If you’re in dire need for a Forest, the Cartographer can’t do much to help. We also find a pair of Emeria Angels here, solid 3/3 fliers whose landfall trigger fills the sky with 1/1 Bird tokens. The tokens are about as good as they’ll ever get- the deck carries no equipment or instant-speed combat buffs, and has only one aura. Still, if your opponent is vulnerable in the air, they can certainly carve in for a few extra points of damage.

Finally, the deck tops out at three Territorial Baloths. A 4/4 for five mana isn’t the worst deal in Magic, and their landfall bonus is fairly hefty: +2/+2. Though land plays will be dearer towards the ending stages of the game, the abundant mana fixers in the deck should help keep the Baloth pleasantly plump.

Beat Back the Fires of War

Like the rest of the deck itself, the noncreature supporting suite is refreshingly simple and straightforward. Heart of Worlds is a very clean construction as such things go, with few extraneous or filler cards cluttering up the showcased mechanic. A pair of Sunspring Expeditions highlight another use of landfall, employed on an enchantment instead of a creature (we wouldn’t see it affixed to non-permanents until the following Worldwake, where instants and sorceries began employing it as well). The Expedition is not a great card- it gives you a hefty dose of life but little else- but the alternative (Khalni Heart Expedition) is also somewhat conditional. Certainly the ability to be popped for a couple of extra land is highly useful in a deck filled with creatures awaiting such things, but with the average cost of the deck fairly low, the ramping element essentially goes to waste. Rhys would surely love to get his hands on a Rampaging Baloths for this deck, but only Nicol Bolas seems to have the pull to secure the services of a mythic rare card.

Kor Cartographer

Kor Cartographer

That’s not to say that Rhys is left entirely without some clever tricks of his own. Although the Evolving Wilds are an on-board source of instant-speed land, the deck also carries a pair of Harrows. Originally from Tempest, Harrow found its first reprinting in a “colour matters” set (Invasion) where it was used for fixing. While it can serve the same function in Zendikar, it’s also a canny reprint given how it intersects with landfall. A properly-timed Harrow can punish any opponent who can’t stop the charge of your Territorial Baloths, inflating it into a mighty 8/8.

The removal suite isn’t flawless, but it gets a nod for consistency: a trio of Divine Verdicts and two Naturalizes. Like many White removal spells, the Verdicts confine themselves to targets engaging in the red zone, which means that if you’re aggressively going after your opponent you end up losing a turn’s worth of an attack from one of your creatures, as it remains blocked even after you destroy the blocker. Naturalize is a staple precon inclusion, giving you some recourse against artifacts and enchantments.

The deck finishes with a Safe Passage and Nimbus Wings. The Wings are your one creature augment, giving its recipient +1/+2 and flying. Although carrying the usual vulnerabilities of auras, it’s a cheap and effective way to greatly increase the threat level of one of your groundling beaters. Safe Passage, on the other hand, more resembles a one-sided Fog. It’s not cheap, but because your creatures are still free to deal damage, this can occasionally lead to a blowout for your opponent. As often as not, though, if you’re as aggressively attacking as the deck wants you to be, you won’t typically have much left at home to defend with.

Overall, Heart of Worlds is very refreshing, a preconstructed deck that does at least as good a job showcasing landfall as any of Zendikar’s Intro Packs seemed to. Clean and straightforward, this is one we’re looking forward to seeing in battle!

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