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June 25, 2013

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012: Apex Predators Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

Published in 1945, George Orwell’s Animal Farm s perhaps best known for the dictum, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Although not his best-known work (that would be 1984), this is a line that has particular resonance for our planeswalker friends. Although introduced one per colour in Lorwyn, some of the original five ‘walkers would play a greater part in the Duels product line than others, and today’s individual is by any measure a back-bencher.

Garruk first featured in the original Duels release in 2009 with Teeth of the Predatorbut like Ajani and Liliana that was the extent of his involvement. None of the three would be given the second deck that Jace and Chandra were, while other coveted slots were allocated to next-gen walkers like Sarkhan Vol and non-walkers like Rhys the Redeemed and Niv-Mizzet. Duels 2012 addressed this imbalance, giving each character a single deck- then changing the formula altogether when it came time to release the expansions. These latter decks were not ties to a specific individual, but rather represented a theme or strategy. Still, Garruk looks much improved this time around, so perhaps all is forgiven?

Violent Earthquakes

Apex Predators Scorecard

“Size does matter.” If there’s any colour that would embrace that as essential to its identity, it would be Green. This time around, though, Garruk’s deck also waves the flag in terms of tactics and strategy. His previous deck was something of a middling midrange deck, and was rather underwhelming on the whole. This time, Garruk is unsparing with the fat- and with good reason.

The deck opens as the previous one did, with a pair of early defensive stalls. This time, instead of Walls of Wood you get the strictly-better Walls of Vines: same power/toughness, but the Vines have reach. The deck’s ramp is somewhat modest, lacking for instance in mana dorks since the Duels platform doesn’t support them. Since acceleration is off the table, that necessitates some stalling for time, and the Walls fulfill that role sufficiently well.

Also filling a role is the mighty Runeclaw Bear. In fact, this deck carries two of them. They’ve long been the go-to standard for an efficient creature, but when paired next to a pair of Garruk’s Companions in a mono-Green deck, they become the two-drop you’ll always feel bad drawing. The Bear is a 2/2 vanilla, while the Companion is a 3/2 trampler. In a mono-Green deck the latter is mightily better, but the fact that you get a pair of each rather than four of the latter gives some indication of an attempt at balancing the decks. Companions, perhaps, are just a little too good in the format.

Vanilla efficiency is further reinforced as we enter the three-drops with a pair of Centaur Coursers. These are solid for their cost, and will often outclass the turn-three plays of the other decks. The remaining creatures in this drop slot are reduced in size, but on the upside both carry special abilities to help advance the cause of the deck. A trio of Borderland Rangers help deliver much-needed mana. Though they don’t ramp you past the requisite one-land-per-turn limit, they do allow for greater consistency at reaching the heights of the deck. The body they leave behind isn’t especially impressive, and often you’ll be happier for the extra land than the creature.

Also here is a trio of Grazing Gladeharts. Originally from Zendikar, we last saw the landfall mechanic in the 2009 Duels of the Planeswalkers’ Rhys the Redeemed deck, Heart of Worlds. These Gladeharts give you a nice steady dollop of lifegain, which not unlike the Walls goes some way to prolong the game. The logic is a simple one: more life leads to longer games leads to more land drops leads to playing your closing fatties leads to winning the game. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way in practice.

The deck starts to go large in the four-drops. Although you have the requisite pair of Giant Spiders, a staple in mono-Green decks to hedge against getting overrun in the air, you also get a pair of Cudgel Trolls. Newly-minted cards for Magic 2010, the Trolls provide a substantial body that is very hard to kill. Finally, there’s a mythic rare from Mirrodin Besieged, Thrun, the Last Troll. This card really shows the premium a legendary mythic can command: an extra point of toughness, uncounterability, and hexproof- though in fairness the Cudgel Troll has a cheaper regeneration activation.

Finally, we arrive at the top of the mana curve, with a whopping eight different creatures that can fit the closer’s role. The first one to mention is Garruk’s Packleader. This card, from Magic 2011, sets up the rest of the deck quite nicely. Green doesn’t often have recourse to card drawing- Harmonize notwithstanding- and this too has a “smoothing” effect on your manabase. Hitting your drop consistently throughout the game is imperative here, and drawing extra cards can only help. As a 4/4 beater, the Packleader’s not too shabby in the red zone, either.

Next up is a pair of Stomper Cubs, an inclusion from Rise of the Eldrazi. These are simple, straightforward beaters whose trample gives their high power an added potency. Thought their 3 toughness doesn’t give them tremendous longevity, you’re almost certain to get your money’s worth. Then there’s the grown-up version, the Terra Stomper. One of the deck’s rares, the full-grown Stomper is a mighty beast for six mana, uncounterable and a full 8/8 trampler. This is a tremendous deal, and its heavy Green component is meaningless in a mono-coloured deck. This is one card that your opponent must answer, lest the game fall into your hands.

Next up is a pair of Craw Wurms, a classic creature from the beginning of the game. Outwith its 6 power it doesn’t offer too much here, but is another substantial beater to turn sideways against your opponent. Finally, there’s the Engulfing Slagwurm, a rare from Scars of Mirrodin. Although not the largest creature in the deck, but it carries an intriguing ability. Any creature that blocks or is blocked by it is destroyed before it can deal combat damage, and you get a dose of lifegain to boot. This doesn’t make it any less chumpable- a problem your tramplers don’t have- but can make things very uncomfortable for your opponent since they can’t gang-block a trade.

Nature's Lore

Nature’s Lore

Every Tree

With so many of the deck’s cards given over to creatures, there’s not a ton left over for the noncreature support suite. It nevertheless manages to hit all the right notes. There’s a trio of Giant Growths for extra fun in the red zone, and given the number of creatures with trample they also double in some capacity as extra direct damage. Meanwhile, a pair of Overruns offer you the ability to close out the game in a single stroke, giving a massive boost and trample across the board.

Next is Nature’s Lore– again two copies- and this completes the ramping suite. Finally, two copies of Zendikar’s Beast Hunt round out the deck, giving you an extra ability to draw cards. In this case, the cards you draw are limited to creatures only, so that won’t help you in the same way that the Packleader will. Still, more cards and more creatures is never a bad thing here.

With this being an off-schedule post, we’ll be back in four days’ time to give a look at how the deck plays out on the battlefield. We’ll be back in two days to complete our review of Realm of Illusion– see you then!

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