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March 29, 2013

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

by Dredd77

We’re back with another round of Duels of the Planeswalkers, and today I’m joined by Sam. To put Heat of Battle to the test, she’s running Eons of Evil, the deck built for Nicol Bolas. Will Grixis carry the day, or can Chandra seal a victory in fire and ash?

Game One

Sam’s on the play, and opens with an Island off an Evolving Wilds, while I drop a Mountain. Next turn we swap land drops again before passing, then Sam opens her account with a turn-3 Grixis Battlemage. I play another Mountain.

Now turn 4, Sam scores first blood with the Battlemage, then deploys a second. I then summon my first creature, a Canyon Minotaur. Back to Sam, she simply falters my Minotaur with one Battlemage, bopping me with the other for 2 more. Looking to build on her advantage, she then plops down a third Battlemage. To her horror, though, I simply Pyroclasm away the troublesome trio, then fire back with my Minotaur. In a stroke, she is all but undone.

Her turns 4 and 5 are blanks. Meanwhile, I’m hammering in with the Minotaur and throwing Lava Axe after Lava Axe. Though she Terrors the Minotaur before its too late, when she summons a Hidden Horror (pitching an Archdemon of Unx), her fare is sealed. With her at 4 life, there’s a certain poetry in killing her with her own creep thanks to an Act of Treason.

Game Two

Again on the play, Sam opens with a Plague Beetle, after which comes a series of Wanderer’s Twigs that get cracked to fix her three-colour manabase. By the time my trailing Flamekin Spitfire rolls around, I’m down to 18 life.

Now turn 4, Sam drops me to 17 with the Beetle and passes. I counterattack with the Spitfire, and opt to summon a Canyon Minotaur rather than kill off her Beetle with the Spitfire. Sam simply Sever Souls it, going up to 22 life, then attacks over its lifeless body for 1. I return the attack for 1 of my own.

When she comes in on the attack for turn 6, I then tap out to kill the Beetle with my Spitfire, though Sam simply replaces the loss with another Beetle in a hope to keep me delayed. It works- I kill the second Beetle to attack through for another point of damage, then pass the turn. Back to Sam, she summons a Grixis Battlemage and ends her turn. I then bring out a Torch Slinger, kicking it to kill the Battlemage. I then attack in to leave her at 19.

Now turn 8, Sam summons a Merchant of Secrets, drawing a card to replace it in hand. I kill that, too, with the Spitfire, hitting in for 3 with both creeps. I then add a second Spitfire to the table and pass. Sam’s next turn is a blank, after which I hammer in for another 4 points of damage, leaving her at 12. I then add a Fiery Hellhound and pass. With lethal on the board and no answer, Sam scoops.

Game Three

Sam begins once more with a Plague Beetle, which she follows again with a Wanderer’s Twig (snapped for an Island). I follow with my opening play of a Flamekin Spitifre, a card she’s had trouble dealing with.

Now turn 3, Sam and I begin swapping attacks as we had in Game Two, hitting one another like Itchy and Scratchy with a pair of circus mallets. Finally, on turn 6, I’ve found enough mana to kill her Beetle with my Spitfire when she turns it sideways to attack. Back to me, I then counterattack, followed by a Volcanic Hammer to the face. I wouldn’t ordinarily squander burn so, but I have eight cards in hand thanks to missed land drops, and have to play something.

Act of Treason

Act of Treason

Now turn 7, Sam adds a Merchant of Secrets and passes, while I go for a Canyon Minotaur. The play of the game comes next turn, though, when Sam finds her Goliath Sphinx. The thing’s huge, but I’ve got a rather painful answer in hand: Magma Rift + Incinerate. Unfortunately, I’m one land away from pulling it off, and Sam’s no dummy- she lets my Minotaur waltz past unblocked. I have to discard again on turn 8 (a Pyroclasm), after which Sam simply Sever Souls the hapless Minotaur (“Oh no, not agai-urkk”). She bashes in for 9 next turn, and after again filing to find a land I have no answer for the Sphinx and concede.

Thoughts & Analysis

When Sam joined me at the table, she was politely suppressing a yawn, as it was late and close to bedtime. “Don’t worry,” I said reassuringly, “these won’t take long.” Fortunately for Sam’s scholastics the next morning, I was right.

Don’t be misled by the results- that wasn’t a statement of arrogance. Rather, it was an acknowledgement of the experience of playing a Red deck. Win or lose, games tend to go by fairly quickly, because either you have it, or you don’t. Chandra, as it turns out, has it in spades.

Heat of Battle was an interesting departure from the usual mono-Red midrange style of deck long favoured in the preconstructed realm. Such decks often  involve fielding a substantial army that begins picking up around turn 3 (barring the odd customary Goblin Piker variant), and uses burn to help its creeps along and burn out the opponent at the end. This deck tweaks the usual division of resources, throttling back on the creatures while amping up the spells, and it’s a very welcome adjustment. 

Not only that, but for the most part thee are consistently playable cards. While the different between an Incinerate and a Volcanic Hammer may seem vast from a constructed-playable perspective, the fact of the matter is that they are both offer you the same amount of damage for the same amount of mana. Contrast that with the modern-era heavy-removal deck that packs in a ton of it, but seeks to offset this threat density with inconsistency and variety, so that you can’t ever count on getting any particular answer but have to hope the one you find is the one you need (case in point: New Phyrexia’s Feast of Flesh). Heat of Battle has one bona-fide lemon- Ember Shot– but by and large the burn is abundant and top-class. There’s a lot of comfort to be gained in knowing that your creatures only have to do so much, because the burn to finish off your opponent from there is coming.

The main weakness of the deck, consequently, is that its reliance on burn gives it some difficulty in dealing with larger threats. This is Red’s downside for having removal that can also kill an opponent. Black’s cards don’t usually give you that range, but a Doom Blade kills nearly anything, from a 1/1 to a 12/12.

Overall, though, this one was a ton of fun to play, and certainly one of the more memorable Duels of the Planeswalker decks thus far.

Hits: Exemplary burn package; welcome emphasis on spells over creatures; high fun factor

Misses: Weak to dealing with larger threats

OVERALL SCORE: 4.50/5.00

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