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January 18, 2016

Battle for Zendikar: Call of Blood Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Although we are going to be pivoting into the Oath of the Gatewatch decks, we did get in some playtesting in the lead up to that set and some reviews to pass a final judgment on. Call of Blood didn’t cover itself in glory when Phil last piloted it. Will it have better luck today?

For today’s match, Phil selected the Blue/Green Swarming Instinct.

Game One

Phil and I swap land drops for the first two turns, before he breaks the ice with a Call the Scions, giving him a pair of Eldrazi Scions. I play a Nirkana Assassin and pass. Next turn, he sacrifices a Scion for a colorless mana, then plays the Eyeless Watcher (giving him two more Scions). I match with a Shadow Glider, though one card behind as I had to mulligan at the start of the game.

Now turn 5, Phil adds to his Scion pool with another Call the Scions, though first blood is mine as I send in the Glider for 2 before playing another Nirkana Assassin. I’m in a decent place, but his ramping has me worried.

Next turn, Phil drops a Skyline Cascade, targeting my Glider. He pops another Scion to fuel another Eyeless Watcher, giving him a further two Scions. For my part, I send in an Assassin for 2, taking Phil to 16. Back to Phil, he taps out and pops four Scions, dropping the Breaker of Armies onto the table. The race is on, and when my turn comes around again all I can do is swing for 4 to leave him at 12.

Now turn 8, Phil taps down my remaining Assassin with Adverse Conditions, clearing the path through the red zone. This lets him swing with the team for 14. All I can do is feebly play a Mortuary Mire and pass.

Back to Phil, he pops three of his Scions and taps out to summon a second Breaker of Armies, sending in his forces once more. I cast Tandem Tactics, activating deathtouch on the Assassins, and while his Breaker falls, so does my side. I take 2 from the Watchers, but end the turn where I began, at 6. I’m not able to mount a defense against his other Breaker, and am soon crushed beneath it.

Game Two

I’m on the play, and we swap land drops in the first turn before the game begins to take off. My sec0nd-turn Zulaport Cutthroat is matched by his Tide Drifter, and while I do nick in for 1 on turn 3, Phil follows with a Skyline Cascade as a roadblock.

Now turn 4, I summon a Kitesail Scout, which gets matched by a Blisterpod. Back to me, I attack for another point of damage to take Phil to 18, then add a Stone Haven Medic. This, alas, gets countered by a Spell Shrivel, and off to the exile zone it goes. For his part, Phil adds a Hedron Archive, then swings in for 1 of his own with the Blisterpod.

I drop a land and pass after attacking for 1 with the Scout on turn 6, while Phil pulls ahead with a second Blisterpod and a Kozilek’s Channeler. Next turn, I kill off the Channeler with a Demon’s Grasp to slow down the ramp, and fire in once more for another point of damage. Phil responds by adding an Eldrazi Skyspawner and Pilgrim’s Eye to the battlefield, letting him pull up a Forest.

Now turn 8, I summon a Courier Griffin, going up to 21 life. Phil refills his hand by sacrificing the Hedron Archive, then plays the now-familiar Call the Scions. My next turn is a blank, but Phil continues building up with an Incubator Drone.

I’m delighted to bring a Bloodbond Vampire to bear in turn 10, as I’m beginning to fall behind. Phil plays another Call the Scions, sacrificing one of the Scion tokens to fuel Adverse Conditions. This lets him tap down my Vampire and Griffin, and he swings in for 6. Next turn I add a Kalastria Nightwatch, which Phil promptly Scours from Existence.

Finally, on turn 12, I find a bomb: my Defiant Bloodlord. With me still in a precarious position, our next few turns see us in a state of détente. On turn 15 I play another Kalastria Nightwatch, but things take a turn for the worse when Phil lands Desolation Twin. The titans have finally arrived.

Now turn 16, I play a Plains and pass. Phil casts Titan’s Presence, revealing an Incubator Drone, to exile my Zulaport Cutthroat before adding another Incubator Drone. He then swings in for 20 with both mammoth Edlrazi. I offer up a pair of chump-blockers in the form of the Scout and Griffin.

Next turn, a Dutiful Return lets me recast the pair, and in going up 2 life from the Griffin Phil also suffers 2 points of life loss from the Bloodlord. Phil targets the offender, blasting my Bloodlord from the air with an Unnatural Aggression, then alpha strikes for the win.

Thoughts & Analysis

When I analyzed the deck itself, it seemed to have a lot of promise. A good number of the cards worked together in a synergistic mesh, playing with life gain and life loss while building up momentum towards an inevitable victory. We always try to be mindful of the smaller sample size we employ when we playtest these decks, but Call of Blood was a dog on both sides of the table (it was the opposition deck in our review of Eldrazi Assault).

Where did this deck go so wrong?

Moreso in play than at first blush, this deck seemed to hew to the “feast of famine” model we often see with combo-style decks. In this type of deck, if you get the right pieces in play you’ll be punching well above your weight- but woe betide pilots when those pieces are still hiding in the library. A deck can minimize that swinginess by having some consistent options available, but I never seemed to find either enough threats or enough answers.

Of particular nuisance was the pair of Dutiful Returns. Although getting two cards for the cost of one is a nice little slice of advantage, having them sit in my hand waiting to be useful was frustrating at times where I really needed something I could drop that would change the game.

After all, isn’t the counter to build-up Eldrazi supposed to be the ability to apply pressure in the early-to-mid transition?

Not here, it seems.

Hits: Great frame of a synergistic lifegain/life loss Black/White deck; Defiant Bloodlord a pricey but flavorful closer

Misses: Not enough threats of its own- most of the deck’s creatures have 2 power or less (but many priced at 3 mana); lack of a real standalone spine and consistency makes this deck a gamble

FINAL SCORE: 3.75/5.00

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