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April 2, 2013

Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 2: Eons of Evil Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

The Hour of Bolas is here at last, and Rhys the Redeemed is in grave trouble. To survive he’ll have to rely on the power of the earth and landfall, but only if Bolas’s exhumed minions don’t destroy him first! To reenact this clash and test Eons of Evil, I’m joined by Jimi.

Game One

Jimi’s on the play for our first game, and opens her account with a Steppe Lynx while I match pace with an early Plague Beetle. Next turn she drops a Forest triggering the Lynx’s landfall, letting her attack in with it for 2. I play a Mountain and counterattack with the less glamourous Beetle.

Now turn 3, Jimi doubles down with an Evolving Wilds, which she immediately cracks for a Plains. This pumps the Lynx up to a 4/5, and in it comes to leave me at 14. I play another Mountain, then attack with the Beetle for 1. I follow that with a Grixis Battlemage, then end the turn. Back to Jimi, she plays a Forest to let the Lynx chew off some more of my life, then brings out a Snapping Creeper. I play a Mountain and pass.

A turn-5 Kor Cartographer fetches up a bonus Plains, giving Jimi another dose of double-landfall. Her Lynx and now-vigilant Creeper turn sideways for 6, and I’m moved to offer up the Beetle to ward off the Lynx. Down to 10, I summon a Merchant of Secrets, putting me up a card in hand. It’s a Wanderer’s Twig, which I then play and crack for a Swamp. Next turn, Jimi summons a Pilgrim’s Eye, keeping up her relentless stream of landfall despite having missed the turn’s regular drop. She then attackd for 6 with the Creeper, Lynx, and Cartographer. I chump the Lynx with the Merchant, and drop to 6. Back to me, I then tap out for a Deathbringer Thoctar.

Now turn 7, Jimi keeps the pressure high as she then adds an Emeria Angel. A following Forest gives her an immediate 1/1 Bird token, but the added presence of the Thoctar stays her hand a turn. Not wasting a moment, I Skeletonize the Angel straightaway on my turn. Jimi responds with a Safe Passage to deny me, so I’m forced to raise with a Terminate. Sadly, I don’t get the 1/1 Skeleton token off the Skeletonize, but at least the aerial threat is solved. That also gives my Thoctar a +1/+1 counter. I pass the turn, then on Jimi’s upkeep when the Safe Passage has worn off I activate the Thoctar. I remove its +1/+1 counter to ping away her Steppe Lynx. Since it dies, that gives the Thoctar a +1/+1 counter so I can do it all over again, and soon Jimi’s Pilgrim’s Eye and 1/1 Bird token are smoldering craters. She replaces them with a Territorial Baloth, then adds a Sunspring Expedition. Over to me, I hardcast a Goliath Sphinx and pass back.

A second Territorial Baloth touches down on turn 9, but Jimi’s in no position to attack even with me on the ropes. I play a Hidden Horror, pitching a useless Blazing Specter, as Jimi’s playing with an empty hand. She counters with a Fledgling Griffin and ends turn. Back to me, I trigger my Battlemage to loot, pitching a Swamp to keep a Plague Beetle. I then summon it and end my turn.

Now turn 11, Jimi’s turn is a blank. Emboldened by the Terror I just drew, I attack with the Sphinx for 8 to leave Jimi at 10. Jimi opens her turn with a Plains, triggering landfall. Her Expedition gets a quest counter, while the newly-aloft Griffin streaks in for 2 to leave me at 4. I loot again at the end of turn, drawing and discarding a Hamletback Goliath which I Zombify at the next opportunity.

Now turn 13, Jimi plays aother Plains, but ships the turn- she just cant find a finisher. I have, however. At the end of her turn, I Terror one of the Baloths, then once my turn rolls around I Terminate the other one. That’s given the Thoctar two more +1/+1 counters, and- crucially- numberical advantage to me. That leaves Jimi exposed, and I alpha strike for the win.

Game Two

Jimi again opens with her Lynx, and again I follow with the Beetle. Landfall lets her get in for 2 next turn, while I counterattack for 1 before deploying- and cracking- a Wanderer’s Twig for an Island. Back to Jimi, she then has some land shenanigans of her own as she plays a Forest and Harrows. This gives the Lynx triple-landfall, and Jimi doesn’t waste a moment in hammering me down to 12. Over to me, I play the Island, then bring out another Wanderer’s Twig after sending over the Beetle. 

Grixis Battlemage

Grixis Battlemage

Now turn 4, Jimi plays an Evolving Wilds, cracking it for a Plains. I’ve had quite enough, and am forced to Terminate the bloated Lynx as it bounds across the red zone. Undaunted, Jimi simply replaces her loss with an Emeria Angel. At the end of her turn, I snap the Twig for a Swamp. Back to me, I play an Evolving WIlds of my own, which gets cracked for an Island. After summoning a Grixis Battlemage, I pass the turn back. A Forest gives Jimi her first 1/1 Bird token, and in comes the Angel for 3. She then plays a Pilgrim’s Eye to fetch a land to hand and ends her turn. Down to 9 life, I use the Battlemage to find the Hamletback Goliath, which immediately and gratefully goes to the graveyard. I’ve got the Zombify, though, and back it comes to the battlefield.

Now turn 6, Jimi plays a Forest to give her another Bird, then attacks for 5 with her air force. Down to 4, I throw a Hail Mary with the Battlemage and draw nothing. I concede the game.

Game Three

I begin the game with a Wanderer’s Twig, while Jimi leads with a Sunspring Expedition. Next turn I crack the Twig for an Island, playing another one to replace it. Jimi’s Forest gives her a quest counter on the Expedition, and she passes.

Now turn 3, I throw away a perfectly good Plague Beetle to land a Hidden Horror. It’s a card designed to be a pitch outlet for soon-to-be-reanimated fatties, but Jimi’s slow start has given me an opportunity to be the beatdown, and I take it. All Jimi can manage is a Fledgling Griffin and another counter on her enchantment. Back to me, I attack with the Horror for 4 and pass after cracking the Twig for a Mountain (which I play). Jimi plays a Farhaven Elf, grabbing then playing a Plains. This gives her the third quest counter on the Expedition, so she sacs it for 8 life. She then attacks in the air with the Griffin for 2 and ends her turn.

A turn-5 Evolving Wilds gives me another Swamp, and I send in the Horror once more to leave Jimi back at 20. She then enchants her Elf with Nimbus Wings, swinging in for 4 with her air force. Down to 14, I summon a Merchant of Secrets, drawing another card. I turn the Horror sideways, and end the turn. Jimi plays a Plains, triggering landfall. This lets her counterattack for 4 of her own, putting us in a race. She then adds a Snapping Creeper, letting her pull ahead.

Now turn 7, I keep the Horror at home as I’ve fallen behind in the creature rush. Another Merchant of Secrets puts me up another card, and I then add a Grixis Battlemage. Back to Jimi, a Forest triggers landfall once more, and she attacks for 4 more in the air. Just like that, I find myself at 6 life. Back to me, I use the Battlemage to loot, and am rewarded when I draw and pitch an Archdemon of Unx. It comes right back out one Zombify later, and I’ve managed to seal the gap in my defenses. Jimi’s undeterred, and attacks in with her air force after a Harrow. I block the Elf with the Archdemon, and Jimi smites it with a Divine Verdict. The Griffin gets in for damage, and I’m down to 4.

It’s desperate days for me on turn 9, but another use of the Battlemage finds me a second Zombify, which I use to reanimate the Archdemon (pitching a Swamp). Jimi misses her land drop for only the second time all game, and sends in the Elf. I know it’s a trap, but at 4 life I must take the bait. Sure enough, she’s got a second Divine Verdict for my hapless Archdemon- but at least I take no more damage. Next turn I topdeck a Goliath Sphinx and summon it after looting with the Battlemage (pitching a Wanderer’s Twig). Jimi’s content to build up, letting her landfall go to waste as she summons another Fledgling Griffin alongside a Territorial Baloth.

Now turn 11, I trigger the Battlemage for another loot, drawing a Hidden Horror at the cost of a Swamp. I then summon it, tossing away another useless Plague Beetle. The math doesn’t favour me, though- Jimi’s only one land away from victory. Although she doesn’t draw it, she draws a card that’s just as good- the Kor Cartographer. One landfall trigger later, victory is hers.

Thoughts & Analysis

Reanimator decks are veritable poster children for the deck type we frequently refer to as “feast or famine.” If the deck finds the right combination of cards, it can be well-nigh unstoppable. Failing that, though, it tends to struggle against organised opposition, especially any opposition that’s able to bring early pressure to bear. In that regard, reanimation is not unlike the more traditional ramp deck, though there’s seldom a middle ground. You pull it off, or you don’t.

Reanimation strategies don’t tend to see a lot of preconstruction representation. This is often due to the fact that the creatures reanimator decks covet for their necromantic resuscitation usually congregate around the rare end of the spectrum- look no further than the deck list for Premium Deck Series: Graveborn for a stark reminder of the price of power. In most precon decks, there’s a certain quota for rarity. Sure you could make a deck that brings back common beaters, but any necromancer worth his or her bone dust seldom wants to set their sights so low. Why settle for a mere Craw Wurm when you can just as easily have a Craw Giant? When colour and mana cost is no impediment, it’s time to dream big.

Eons of Evil does precisely that, with a murderous lineup of nasty closers. From those seen today, like the Goliath Sphinx and Archdemon of Unx, to those yet unplayed such as the Flameblast Dragon and Xathrid Demon, a full seven cards in the deck play the finisher’s role. That’s a fair amount, only slightly less than the ratio in Graveborn. When looking at this strategy, though, there are two more components to consider. First, how do you get your fatties into the yard? Second, once in there, how do you get them out?

It’s here that the deck struggles a bit. To use Graveborn as a benchmark, there were thirteen different ways to get cards from hand to the graveyard, letting you consistently move the choicest cards from hand to graveyard with relative ease while still adding value to the board. Eons of Evil doesn’t even get halfway there, with only six: a playset of Grixis Battlemages and two Hidden Horrors. The latter as a three-mana 4/4 is a superb choice, and unsurprisingly has a presence in both decks. The Battlemages are acceptable, but they are a touch slow. The optimal play sees you pitching a fatty no later than turn 3, then using Zombify to cheat it out on turn 4. Because the Battlemage costs three, and a further one more mana to activate, you can’t pitch your fatty and cast Zombify on the same turn. Since the deck has no independent sources of mana, you can’t ramp into this play either. This is not insignificant- the Battlemages are the deck’s primary discard outlet.

So we’ve established that the deck is strong with reanimation targets, but less effective at transferring them to the yard. How does it do in reanimating them? Sadly, little better. Graveborn had eleven recursive spells to enable this, while Eons of Evil has only three Zombifies fit for purpose. It’s certainly unfair to hold Eons of Evil up to the standard of a Premium Deck Series construction, but it does help to illustrate how far off that standard it is. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad deck, however. I enjoyed playing the deck, even as some of the visible cracks were a bit frustrating, such as when I had two of the three recursive elements and couldn’t find the missing piece. It certainly kept the deck competitive, though, and our games felt like they were a fairly even matchup. The deck’s removal was sufficient, and there weren’t a lot of outright misses with card selection. The Plague Beetles were probably the weakest of the lot, doing very little to justify the use of a card. I’d have been happier seeing even a humble Drudge Skeleton or two, something that could let the deck stall for a bit of time to find its combo pieces. Overall, though, it was nice to see an uncommon archetype get its day in the sun. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Hits: Very robust suite of reanimation targets, including a treat at mythic rarity; good removal, including a sweeper in Earthquake

Misses: Recursion mechanism is a bit clunky and underwhelming. Given that this is the deck’s raison d’etre, it’s a serious vulnerability

OVERALL SCORE: 4.00/5.00

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