Duel Decks- Zendikar vs Eldrazi: Eldrazi Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)
The Eldrazi deck did quite well in the matchup when we reviewed the Zendikar counterpart. How well will it stand on its own when it gets its turn in the spotlight? Phil once again joins me to playtest, and we put the planar menace through its paces and complete our review of the release.
I open up with a Swamp, while Phil matches with a Forest. I follow with a Mind Stone, and dutifully Phil deploys a Khalni Heart Expedition. Our turn 3, however, isn’t so eventful- the only play is my Rocky Tar Pit, as Phil misses a land drop.
Now turn 4, I sacrifice the Pit for a Mountain, then adds an Emrakul’s Hatcher. Phil follows with a Grazing Gladehart. Next turn, I swing for 3 with the Hatcher, claiming first blood. I then pop the Eldrazi Spawn tokens the Hatcher had brought along with it, and deploy the Artisan of Kozilek. Phil somewhat meekly lays down a Plains, collects his 2 life from the Gladehart’s landfall trigger, and ends his turn.
My titans rumble in on turn 6 for 13 points of damage as the beatings begin. Phil taps two Plains for mana before sacrificing them for the Artisan’s annihilator, using the mana to flash in an Affa Guard Hound to block the Hatcher. With my adversary down to 9 life, I follow with a Forerunner of Slaughter and Dominator Drone, wounding Phil even further. Back to Phil, his next Plains lets him pop the Expedition, clawing back some of the life lost in the exchange.
Now turn 7, I send in the side for 19 to press the advantage. Phil throws away another two lands as he circles the drain. A Retreat to Kazandu while he’s at death’s door avails him little, though Phil survives the assault by chumping, the game is in hand as he scoops.
Phil’s on the play for the rematch, and opens with a Caravan Escort followed by the Khalni Heart Expedition on the following turn before an opening attack. Although I’ve landed a Mountain and Akoum Refuge, I don’t have anything castable- yet.
A second Escort touches down on turn 3, then he levels up the first Escort before attacking for 2 more. Back to me, I pick off the more dangerous Escort with a dedicated Forked Bolt. Back to Phil, he drops a Graypelt Refuge followed by a Stonework Puma, attacking for 1 with the remaining Escort to take me to 17. For my part, I Read the Bones, shipping both an It that Betrays and land to the bottom of the deck before drawing.
Now turn 5, Phil pops the Expedition for a couple more land, then deploys a Joraga Bard. He swings for 3 with the Puma and Escort, with the former benefitting from the Bard’s vigilance. I’m now at 12, and summon my first creature in the form of an Emrakul’s Hatcher. Over to Phil, he one-ups me easily with the Avenger of Zendikar after another Graypelt Refuge- and he’s hit his land drop every turn and then some. The Avenger is surrounded by eight 0/1 Plant tokens- a formidable force! However, I’m ready with the answer as I Induce Despair, revealing an Ulamog’s Crusher from my hand to crush the Avenger, leaving the Plant tokens orphaned and adrift. I then summon a Forerunner of Slaughter and end the turn.
Now turn 7, Phil rebounds with a Makindi Griffin, then levels up the Escort twice before passing. I eat three Spawn to pump out the Crusher. Phil follows by leveling up the Escort three more times, completing its transformation into a 5/5 first striker. I send in the Crusher, and Phil offers up Plant tokens to the annihilation and one more for the chump block. I then deploy a Runed Servitor and Dominator Drone, finally bringing Phil back down to 20 life.
Next turn, Phil adds a Tajuru Archer to his force, then attacks with his Griffin and Escort. I shove the poort Servitor in front of the onrushing Escort, letting us each draw a card, then Phil follows with a Grazing Gladehart. Back to me, history repeats as I send in the Crusher, and Phil’s down another trio of Plants.
Now turn 10, Phil shores up his line with a Graypelt Hunter, then swings again for 7. I gang-block to trade the Escort for my Forerunner of Slaughter and Dominator Drone- both of us overlooking, alas, the fact that the Escort now has first strike in a misplay (but one that ultimately won’t matter, as we’ll see in a moment). The Griffin nicks in for its 2, though, and I am left at 8 life. Back to me, I Consume the Meek, nuking much of the board. Phil loses his Archer, his tokens, his Hunter, and the Puma. With the coast clear, my Crusher sails in for 8, forcing Phil to sacrifice two more lands. He’s now at 12.
A turn-11 Territorial Baloth helps Phil rebuild his shattered troops, but when I drop the Butcher of Malakir he’s in big trouble. The Crusher swings in for another 8, Phil sacs another couple of land, and chumps the Eldrazi titan with his Bard. Next turn, he summons a Kabira Vindicator, then attacks for 4 with the Baloth. I shove my Hatcher in front of it. Back to me, I then kick a Heartstabber Mosquito to kill off the Baloth, attacking again with the Crusher. Two more lands gone, Phil chumps quietly with the Hunter.
A turn-13 Explorer’s Scope gets equipped to the Griffin. I attack again with the Crusher, and the Scope joins a land in the graveyard thanks to annihilator. He chump-blocks with the Vindicator. I summon a Bloodrite Evoker, and pass.
Next turn, Phil finds another body in the Stirring Wildwood, but is a spent force. After the next Crusher onslaught, blocked by his Griffin, he concedes to the inevitable.
Thoughts & Analysis
I was a big fan of the original Rise of the Eldrazi environment. The feel, the flavor, but also much of that was how the game itself was actually shifted to make the whole thing work. In Magic’s earliest days, bigger often seemed better. Who wants to play Mons’s Goblin Raiders when you could hammer your opponent with a Craw Wurm?
It took a little doing to realize that there was a certain disadvantage in putting so many eggs in one basket. Tap out for that Shivan Dragon, and if your opponent was holding a Terror it was an exercise in frustration. Of course, that didn’t stop Shivan Dragons from being quite popular because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like doing loads of damage to their opponent. They weren’t always going to be holding removal, and there really wasn’t a lot of it to go around anyway.
Modern-day Magic, of course, is quite different, but some of the fundamental questions are the same. Who would want to invest loads of resources into an Eldrazi titan, say, if Doom Blades were everywhere? So to make this work, the environment must be carefully managed. I’ve often discussed the changes to Rise of the Eldrazi, but by the same token a Duel Deck gives you the perfect microcosm to work in if you’re designing a play experience.
Ideally, you’d like any two given players of equal skill to be able to split their games faily evenly over the long term. I’m not convinced that that aspect of Duel Decks: Zendikar vs Eldrazi was done well. The Eldrazi deck ran the show both times we’ve played with it, so it seems there’s an inherent superiority to its design over its counterpart.
It’s also a lot more fun to play. There’s a visceral joy that comes from turning a titan sideways, rolling in for an obscene amount of damage. It’s shaped the psychographic known as “Timmy” from the early days of the game, and helped make Rise of the Eldrazi a very successful set (having an amazing Limited environment didn’t hurt, either).
Indeed, if you missed playing in Rise of the Eldrazi and wanted to get a sense of what “Battlecruiser Magic” was like, I’d recommend this deck over the two Eldrazi-themed Intro Packs from the set, Invading Spawn and Eldrazi Arisen. In our reviews here they received passing marks, but were not without issues:
These decks simply abdicated their responsibility to shepherd you in good shape into the game space where you could begin dropping your bombs.
In other words, they were vulnerable in the early-to-mid-game transition and could be blown out before hitting their stride. This deck is a lot more punchy all the way through, and the payoffs at the end really deliver. Of course, given the thematic diversity on display here, if you’re of a purist’s bent you might opt instead for one of the Eldrazi-themed decks from Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch. Still, for a self-contained environment, this one was a lot of fun.
Hits: Good ramping options to help ease into casting larger creatures; solid if minimal removal- enough to deal with Zendikar’s worst threats; fun to play, great Battlecruiser Magic
Misses: Lopsided mana curve means lots of starts playing with (effectively) less than seven cards in hand; vulnerable to bad draws (imaging drawing a string of your most expensive cards early in the game)
OVERALL SCORE: 4.55/5.00
Wow, that second game! It looked like everything was going right for the Zendikar deck…until you crushed it anyway. Another illustration of the power imbalance between the decks that you caught when reviewing the Zendikar side.
I wonder if it was a design choice to make it an uphill battle for the zendikar deck. Duel Decks are meant to be balanced and all, but I could see an argument for this.
Could you do a series on Commander 2015?
I don’t have a definite timeframe yet, but they’re precons which means they will definitely be done!