Duel Decks- Blessed vs Cursed: Blessed Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)
While most of the research I do comes from articles on the internet or firsthand experience, every now and then a little firsthand research goes a long way. The latest entry in the Duel Decks series has tweaked the expected pattern, established in 2012, where you have a Spring planeswalker-based product followed by an Autumn theme-based one.
With the change to the block structure that began with Battle for Zendikar, it appears that the Duel Decks were themselves caught up in the roil.
Duel Decks: Blessed vs Cursed marks two thematic releases in a row, following Duel Decks: Zendikar vs Eldrazi in August of 2015. What to make of this? When Wizards last tweaked the release pattern, they announced the change and explained the rationale for it (having a thematic release in the Autumn allowed for them to tease the upcoming block’s first set).
Enter Blogatog. For those unfamiliar this is head designer Mark Rosewater’s Tumblr account where he pitches questions from the Magic community. So I asked, and lo and behold.
That’s right, folks, hard-hitting journalism from Ertai’s Lament!
WIth that mystery solved, let’s turn to another one: with our reviews concluding that the Zendikar deck was ill-equipped to deal with the Edlrazi, are the mortals of Innistrad any better off?
They Stand for Me
Although the bulk of the deck’s creature curve is found in the three-drops, with a paucity of two-drops, the deck is nevertheless more than happy to offer some quick starts due to a sizable number of solid opening cards. The best of the bunch is the Champion of the Parish, a superb opening play given how much he’ll bulk up on your successive turns. Most of the deck’s creatures are Humans, though Blessed falls far short of the classic tribal deck you’d see built around the Champion when Innistrad was Standard legal. Seeing this in your opening grip is a sure herald of good things to come.
Next up is another stalwart of the era, the Doomed Traveler. White’s version of the Tukatongue Thallid, it replaces itself with a 1/1 Spirit when it dies. Although this hints at sacrificial shenanigans, here it’s simply a value card: two bodies for one mana, albeit not at the same time. That isn’t to say that the deck doesn’t have some tricks in store for your opponent, as our next two cards- the Cathedral Sanctifier and Nephalia Smuggler– gamely illustrate.
The Sanctifier offers a dose of lifegain when she enters the battlefield, while the Smuggler is a reusable flicker source. While using the Smuggler to repeatedly flicker the Sanctifier for lots of life has some appeal, you’ll find the deck packs even more attractive options from card draw to removal. It’s also a great way to reset some of your cards’ soulbond.
The final one-drop comes in the form of a pair of Topplegeists, preview cards from the upcoming Shadows. These are surprisingly strong uncommons, tacking two special abilities onto your standard 1/1 flyer. This is a solid tempo card that would be right at home in a White Weenie deck, since the ability to tap down an opposing creature is just the kind of thing a swarm deck likes to see. Blessed isn’t that deck, but that isn’t to say that the Topplegeist isn’t helpful. And with its madness ability, you can lock down an opponent’s best attacker each turn once you’ve hit the madness threshold.
Moving up to two-drops, we find another pair of familiar faces in the Thraben Heretic and Moorland Inquisitor. Both 2/2’s, the former exiles creatures cards from graveyards, offering an answer to Cursed cards ranging from Gravecrawler to Dread Return, Stitched Drake to Moan of the Unhallowed. The Inquisitor is much less interesting, with its mana-sink activatable first strike. Useful, but not all that great.
If the two-drops are a bit of a letdown, we start the next rung of the ladder with a bang: the Geist of Saint Traft. The Giest was an all-star mythic of his day, a difficult-to-deal-with threat thanks to hexproof. Of course, he had a number of tools back then to help his survivability (see: Honor of the Pure, Sword of Feast and Famine), so he won’t be quite the shining star of the deck. That doesn’t mean he won’t put in a shift.
Duel Decks often have more in common with a Commander deck than they do a constructed deck. Constructed decks look to maximize the chances for a set number of strategies or interactions. In short, you want ‘Thing X’ to happen, and to do so as often and reliably as possible. Duel Decks are more like singleton decks, where sometimes synergies will line up and you’ll surge ahead, and other times they won’t, or other interactions will pop up instead.
If you manage to get the Geist out while you have a Sharpened Pitchfork in play, you’ll have much better odds of keeping him around awhile. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if he’s insta-trade-bait for your opponent. Remember too that flicker effects like the aforementioned Nephalia Smuggler can yank your Geist back from a bad block, leaving the Angel to hammer in from the air.
Next up is the Captain of the Mists, a 2/3 Twiddle on a stick that can be used more than once per round under the right circumstances. This gives you additional chances to disrupt the Cursed player’s offensive/defensive strategies. Fiend Hunter is very strong, being at least temporary removal. It’s also worth noting that there’s a way to make the Hunter’s removal permanent, though it involves jumping through some hoops. In Blessed’s case, you’ll need to use the deck’s flickering abilities (for example, Momentary Blink, or Nephalia Smuggler + Emancipation Angel).
The Angel gives you a second chance for enters-the-battlefield (ETB) effects, though unlike a flicker do you have to repay for the card you returned to hand to get the benefit. She also leaves behind a solid evasive body. While the Tandem Lookout takes advantage of Avacyn Restored’s soulbond ability to grant itself and another creature the benefits of Curiosity, the rest of the two-drops feel a bit like the average fare from a night of Innistrad Limited.
The Elder Cathar has a death trigger that can offer one or two +1/+1 counters to another of your creatures, giving you added value from its 2/2 body, and the deck gives you a pair of them. The Chapel Geist is a straightforward 2/3 in the air, while the Village Bell-Ringer is a nifty little trick that can let you get the jump on your attacking opponent if they think you’re tapped out. The Bell-Ringer is also noteworthy in that it has 4 toughness, making it one of the four toughest creatures in the deck. This isn’t a deck that’s going to be doing heavy blocking.
The four-drop slot is nearly as thin as the two-drop one was, consisting of just a trio of creatures. The Tower Geist is another aerial body, though you’re not going to be entirely delighted to get a 2/2 for four mana. Still, the Geist replaces itself in your hand with the best card of the top two of your library, which more than makes up the difference. The aforementioned Mist Raven is the same size, but throws in an Unsummon effect for a two-for-one.
Finally, there’s the Slayer of the Wicked, another two-for-one value card that spells bad news for your opponent. With all but four of their creatures either Zombies or Vampires (and with two copies of Moan of the Unhallowed), you’ll always have a target for the Slayer’s ETB ability. This becomes a “killer combo” when paired with the Nephalia Smuggler, one of those card interactions you often see randomly happen in Duel Decks games that give you a “zip strip” to victory when the right things line up.
The top of the curve has a number of creature options- only one or two of which could be considered a closer. The Dearly Departed are your biggest creature, a full 5/5, which has flying to boot. It also has a rider that gives your freshly-cast Humans a +1/+1 counter. This isn’t as good as it sounds, since you’re unlikely to be casting loads of Humans past turn 6 (as contrasted with Champion of the Parish), but there’s always the Tower Geist.
Or if you’re on the draw and it appears in your opening grip, skipping your first land drop to discard it, perhaps? Hmm…
Goldnight Redeemer is essentially a Serra Angel that drops the vigilance for lifegain, which is about as exciting as it sounds. Still, 4 power in the air is welcome here, given the smaller size of so much of your available forces. The Gryff Vanguard lets you draw a free card, but again you’re paying a premium for a smaller creature. Still, it’s another combo option with the Nephalia Smuggler, who increasingly is shaping up to be one of the more critical components to the deck.
The Voice of the Provinces is a 6-mana 3/3 flyer that brings along a 1/1 token, and even put together you’re not often going to be feeling all that great about paying six mana for them. Spectral Gateguards soulbond to give vigilance, but again the higher price isn’t a lot to get excited about. Since many of your creatures are ill-suited to block anyway, vigilance isn’t as useful here as it could be.
Between Existence and Oblivion
As is expected for a deck that likes to engage its creatures for a bit of trickery, there isn’t a lot going on in the noncreature support. Indeed, you have a few options to make even more creatures, through Gather the Townsfolk and Increasing Devotion. The latter spell can make an obscene amount of 1/1 Humans if cast from flashback, which can help turn the tide in a mad rush to break a deadlock. Gather, on the other hand, helps pad out that thin two-drop slot.
Momentary Blink and Eerie Interlude are your flicker-spell options. The Blink is single-target, but can be used a second time thanks to flashback. The Interlude, however, blinks any number of them. While it’s important to remember that if you flicker a token creature you’re essentially killing it (don’t do that), all those permanent creatures with ETB effects make perfect targets. If time is no concern, wait until you’ve declared them as blockers for maximum effect, since you’ll effectively be casting Fog on anything you block.
Two Rebukes and the bi-modal Bonds of Faith are the entirely of your removal suite, and they’re not the best in show. That means that to reliably overcome the horrors of your opponent in the red zone, you’re going to need to make the most of cards like Topplegeist to give you momentary, rather than permanent, advantage. If you draw actual removal, it may often be best to save it for something truly menacing, like the Harvester of Souls. This deck isn’t fast enough to completely overrun your opponent by turn 5, so you’ll need to prepare for a longer match.
As mentioned earlier, you also have some Equipment to increase the effectiveness of your beaters in the form of a Sharpened Pitchfork (first strike and probable power/toughness boost) and Butcher’s Cleaver (power boost and probable lifelink). Since many of your creatures have fairly underwhelming stats, these can go a long way.
Finally, there’s a copy of Pore Over the Pages, another Shadows over Innistrad preview card. This is a really interesting card that has a faint echo of the broken and ill-fated rewind (“free spells”) mechanic way back in 1998’s Urza’s Saga, but unlike that mechanic it doesn’t let you untap a number of lands equal to the converted mana cost of the spell, but rather just two. In an environment where you have nonbasic lands that can tap for more than one mana, this becomes abusable, but here it serves more as a simple threshold marker for when you can play this card. It puts you up two cards with a modest selection element, and will be a welcome bit of extra gas in the tank when the end of the game approaches.
The deck’s nonbasic suite is fairly simple and straightforward. A playset of Tranquil Coves give you a touch of mana diversity, and a singleton Seraph Sanctuary is more of a ‘cute’ inclusion that ties into the ‘occasional synergies’ Duel Deck philosophy discussed earlier. With only three Angels in the deck, you won’t be reaping a bountiful harvest here, but you can still feel clever wringing a bit extra out of it with either flicker/Angel shenanigans or if you get Geist of Saint Traft out at the same time.
Overall, the deck looks intriguing with its interactions, but less convincing as a red zone threat. I’ve got some reservations about that effectiveness largely given the smaller size of most of the host and lack of speed, which usually can even the odds a bit in favor of the weenies. However, there’s no better assessment tool than actually playing a deck, so we’ll be taking this into battle and return with a final verdict.