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March 27, 2013

Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 2: Heat of Battle Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

There are a number of reasons that people become famous through accomplishment. Sometimes it is for for creating a great work of culture, like an author or actor. Others create something of a much more utilitarian nature, like a scientist or engineer. Still others attain the vaunted perch of fame through an extraordinary deed, a moment or act of heroism. No matter the path, the common thread through these is esteem, the act of having earned the respect of the people. We begin today’s piece by looking at a man who became famous for precisely the opposite reason.

Born in 1921, few would recognise the name Jacob Rodney Cohen, even under his stage name Jack Roy. He ran the gamut of the entertainment industry in a quest for success, from stand-up comedy to singing and even a stint as an acrobatic diver. For all his efforts, though, success proved elusive, and he ended up quitting ‘show business’ to take up the life of a salesman to provide a steady income to his family.

That path paid the bills and kept the lights on, bit it offered little personal fulfillment to a soul that had felt the call of the stage. At the age of 40, he and his wife divorced, and he resolved to make a second crack at entertainment. In reflecting on his first push for success, he realised that he didn’t really have a well-defined image, or what we today might refer to as a ‘shtick’ or ‘brand’ that would let him stand out. He began to craft the persona of the loser, the failure, a man who “don’t get no respect.” And so the world was introduced to Rodney Dangerfield, and Jacob Rodney Cohen build a career on being disrespected- including a rap video in 1983 that was a hit on MTV and a Grammy Award for the album.

If there’s a Planeswalker who embodies the Dangerfield ethos from the original five Lorwyn ‘walkers, it could only be Chandra. If you take the standard of success- the ‘fame through accomplishment’- as the degree of employment in top-level Standard play, Chandra fares poorly when stacked up against the others. Part of this lack of success may be by nature of her colour, as decks that invest heavily in Red often want to have a faster build than a five-mana planeawalker permits.

She was further let down by her next incarnation, Chandra Ablaze. Largely seen as unplayable due to her high mana cost (six), she was redeemed somewhat by Magic 2012’s cut-cost Chandra, the Firebrand. Like Dangerfield, though, toiling in obscurity need not be a permanent state of affairs, as Chandra is the face of the upcoming Magic 2014. One need only check out the trailer for the upcoming Duels of the Planeswalkers release to see her taking her rightful place at center stage. Today we look at her second-ever Duels iteration, the Heat of Battle deck from the second expansion in 2010. Her initial deck, Hands of Flame, was long on creatures with just a little burn to back them up. Today we look at what Red is capable of when you unleash its full fiery potential.

Ruthless Infernos

Heat of Battle Scorecard

Given the amoint of real estate held in trust for the noncreature support suite, the deck’s creatures are fairly lonely lot. Only fourteen cards are present in Heat of Battle that carry a power and toughness, so each of them need to carry their weight here.

We open with a pair of Flamekin Spitfires, two-mana 1/1’s that carry a repeatable ping effect. Of course, it costs a full four mana for each activation, but Heat of Battle is happy to help you find ways to use every last Mountain. If you’re not using them to empower the Spitfire, you can always channel them through the deck’s first three-drop, the Fiery Hellhound. With a full playset at your disposal, you’ll see one of these most games. A natural 2/2, the Hellhound comes automatically equipped with Firebreathing to help you wring every last drip of value out of your mono-Red manabase.

Next up is the Torch Slinger, like many of this expansion’s cards hailing from Zendikar. Another three-mana 2/2, the Slinger lacks the longer-term offensive output of the Hellhound, but trades it for a free Shock when it enters the battlefield when kicked. Though it doesn’t target players, it can still offer up a high-value two-for-one if you can kill off a creature of your opponent’s. The deck offers you three of these, so again it should be a familiar face most games. A three-mana 2/2 isn’t terrible in Red, either.

Moving up to the four-drops, we find a pair of trusty Canyon Minotaurs. One of Red’s stock creatures, this is a very simply and workmanlike 3/3 vanilla creature. The train of plain continues up a notch with twin Fire Elementals, which actually give you quite a bit more in return for the extra Red Mana. None of these are going to be all that exciting to play, but the fun of Heat of Battle isn’t in its exotic, sexy creatures, for few if any would qualify. Instead, the deck’s allure comes in the sheer volume of burn on offer. After you’ve reduced the red zone to a smoldering crater, even homely options like these give you everything you need to mop up the match.

The deck does give you one unconventional option at the top of the curve in the Inferno Elemental. A six-mana 4/4, the Elemental blasts any creature it tangles with for 3 damage before combat damage is dealt. Although it doesn’t stop it from trading with a fellow 4/4, it does make it immune to being ‘traded up’ for a pair of 2/2’s, for instance. It also means that it can trade itself out for an opponent’s 7/7. It’s an interesting card, and one that can give your opponent some trouble in the red zone.

‘Toast’

The remaining twenty-two cards in the deck are occupied by a single Act of Treason and burn. That’s right, twenty-one different burn spells, making this likely the most burn-loaded deck we’ve seen to date. Although some are clearly better than others, they are burn spells from most every walk of life to be found here. Your opponent is never going to have to worry whether or not you’re holding the burn… because you’re always going to be holding the burn. They can take some comfort in the knowledge that if their creature is alive, it’s simply because in your magnanimity you have allowed it to be so.

We jest, of course, but the arsenal at your fingertips here is clearly awe-inspiring. First up are a playset of Incinerates. First printed in Ice Age, Incinerate has occasionally been reprinted but has tended to play the poor sister to the eternal struggle between Lightning Bolt and Shock. Even if regarded as a more expensive Bolt (with a seldom-necessary anti-regeneration clause attached), it is flattered tremendously by the inclusion of a set of Volcanic Hammers. Same cost, but the Hammers offer (marginally) less and, sadly, do it at sorcery speed. These were Portal’s version of direct damage, but made the jump to ‘the big leagues’ in 7th Edition and remained a Core Set staple for a few years from there. Still, burn is burn, and the Hammers will surely have their uses.

Torch Slinger

Torch Slinger

Next up is a pair of Pyroclasms, another card which had its origin back in Ice Age. The Pyroclasms blast every creature on the board for 2, and while mot of your creatures are vulnerable to this as well, you can punish any opponent who over-commits troops to the table. Then once you’ve cleared out some breathing space, you can begin deploying your own creatures to fill the void. It’s a solid card, and sweepers of any kind are relatively rare in the precon world.

Our next card comes from Zendikar, and it is single-target removal. Although it requires the offering of a land, Magma Rift deals a whopping 5 damage for only three mana, which should be enough to solve all but the stoutest of problems on the battlefield. For a more open-ended solution, you also get a trio of Heat Rays. Originally from Urza’s Saga, Heat Ray was one of the clever reprints put together for Rise of the Eldrazi. Because R&D didn’t want to punish players for aiming high and summoning the massive namesake creatures, the set’s removal tended towards the expensive. Heat Ray was brought back, since it could kill Eldrazi but only if you had a ton of land in play. Similarly, Vendetta was brought back from Mercadian Masques, under the principle that it might only cost one mana, but if you use it to kill an Eldrazi you’d better have a ton of life. Here it’s perfectly serviceable, and a useful inclusion.

For the same cost, but slower speed, you also have an X-spell that will let you target an opponent. This makes Blaze tremendously useful, both for killing troublesome creatures too large for your cheaper burn spells, as well as finishing off a crippled opponent. Not for nothing you only get one Blaze, and three Heat Rays- the game doesn’t want you burning out your opponent that easily. That said, you do get a trio of Lava Axes, giving you a fixed 5 damage for five mana.

Finally, we come to the very worst card in the deck: Judgment’s Ember Shot. The traditional premium for a card that replaces itself in your hand is Symbol_2_mana, leaving most players scratching their head as to why this one costs seven mana for a cantripping Lightning Bolt. A look at the reader comments on Gatherer offers little insight, but much humour:

Red doesn’t get too many cantrips… But this is like saying that you don’t get to drive Porsches very much so here’s the steering wheel and you owe me 20 grand. -ClockworkSwordfish

This card isn’t bad at all. If you have 6 Goblin Electromancers on the battlefield, it’s like a lightningbolt, AND you get to draw a card! -martianshark

I LOVE this card. Totally going to run it in a mono-red control with Surreal Memoir, get some card advantage goin ON yo. -Maraxas-of-Keld

THE most embarrassing way to die from a burn deck. Of course your opponent should be equally embarrassed to run it. -jsttu

Aaand on a more serious note…

Hilariously, this card is solid in duels of the planeswalkers 2009. -metalevolence

While it’s true that Red seldom gets much in the way of cantrips, there is some precedent set with Zap. That makes the casting cost of this card hard to explain, but it’s hard to complain overmuch when you have so many other cards to work with here.

Join us next time when we return from the field and give Heat of Battle its stress test and summary. See you then!

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