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April 25, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad: Angelic Fury Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

We’ve arrived at the last of the five Intro Pack decks for Shadows over Innistrad, the Boros-colored Angelic Fury. Thus far, we’ve seen three mechanic-centered decks, with Unearthed Secrets (Clue tokens and investigate), Vampiric Thirst (madness), and Horrific Visions (delirium). The fourth deck, Ghostly Tide, was tribal Spirits, which leaves Angelic Fury as a bit of a conundrum.

For one thing, despite the name there’s not much angelic about the deck. You’d never confuse this deck for one from Avacyn Restored, a set based around Angels as a tribal component of its identity. Rather, you get a premium rare Angel, and… that’s it.

Instead, as we’ll see, what we find is perhaps the least focused of the five Intro Packs. Writing for Channel Fireball, Neal Oliver states of the Red/White draft archetype:

WR is the one enemy color pair that is all about efficiency. The WR creatures themselves aren’t all that impressive but put on a ton of pressure with support spells

It’s going to have to do.

SOI_Angelic

A Wildfire Untamed

The deck opens with a pair of Stern Constables. A great fit for madness and/or delirium decks, those mechanics mitigate the steep cost of activation for a relatively minor effect. In this deck, there’s absolutely no way to turn that cost into an upside, so not only are you devoting a creature to the task, but you’re going down a card to boot. There will be a few times where having the on-board option will help you get through some extra damage, but largely you’ll find few times this looks attractive.

If the one-drop option here is poor, you at least have lots of choices for two-drops. First up is the Ember-Eye Wolf, a 1/2 with haste that has a form of Firebreathing. Ordinarily Firebreathing lets you get +1/+0 for each mana pumped through it, but for whatever reason the Wolf opts to give you +2/+0 for every two mana instead. It’s a decent card, one you’ll be happy to see on turn 2 on the attack, and can scale with the game as you play more land. The deck gives you two of them.

A trio of Devilthorn Foxes provide some early muscle, although at the expense of their staying power. They’re hit hard for a 2-drop, but they’ll trade with anything.That won’t go entirely to waste if you’ve managed to play the last two-drop creature, the Unruly Mob.

A reprint from the original Innistrad, the Mob (somewhat controversially) retained the same artwork as the original card. While Aaron Forsythe had mentioned that this was done deliberately to provide continuity, some did feel it was a bit “lazy.” Regardless, the Unruly Mob is a decent inclusion having synergy with at least a few other cards here, from the aforementioned Foxes to the Runaway Carriage.

A pair of Howlpack Wolves ushers us in to the three-drops. These are surprisingly robust for Red, a color not known for having much in the way of efficiency. The blocking restriction is fairly minimal, and there between these and the Ember-Eye Wolves, you’ll often be able to ignore it.

Next up is a trio of Cathar’s Companions. Although they have the same power and toughness as the Devilthorn Foxes, they also have a nifty little trick. Simply cast a noncreature spell, and they gain indestructible. This is particularly useful in an ambush situation, such as when your opponent has opted to block it and ends up losing their own creature instead.

Moving on to the four-drops, we open with the Runaway Carriage. A four-mana 5/6 with trample, you only get one use of the card since it gets sacrificed at the end of any turn where it attacks or blocks. That’s quite flavorful, but it’s also an odd design. Why so much toughness? After all, if it’s dying anyway once it enters combat, the only real purpose a high toughness serves is to prevent it from being stopped early by a creature with first strike, or to stop damage getting through from a trample creature. We’ve seen these sorts of Ball Lightning style cards before, recently with Magic 2012’s Crumbling Colossus, but the Carriage seems somewhat curiously positioned.

Then there’s the Pyre Hound, a creature that comes from the similar design philosophy of creatures like the Kiln Fiend from Rise of the Eldrazi. While reinforcing Red’s love of instants and sorceries, the Hound’s bonuses are permanent. Played early enough, you can reasonably expect the card to grow as big as the Runaway Carriage- and without having to sacrifice it at the end of combat.

Finally, Inspiring Captain is a solid 3/3 with a one-shot enters-the-battlefield ability of giving your creatures +1/+1. Like so many of the cards in this deck, this gets a “decent, but not great” rating. This is the second deck of the set that seems to be filled with mediocrity, the other being Ghostly TideIndeed, for a deck named Angelic Fury, we’ve been treated to a litter of Foxes, Hounds, and Wolves- with only the deck’s premium rare, Flameblade Angel– to reinforce the theme.

As foil rares go in this Intro Pack cycle, this is a middle of the road. An evasive 4/4 for six mana is okay, but even with its conditional ability you’d still probably be better off with a Shivan Dragon. When you look at your premium rare card and long for a Shivan Dragon instead, it’s not a great sign.

Bitter Scorn

As if perhaps making up for a knowingly lackluster creature complement, the removal suite clocks in at a fairly impressive eight cards. Even then, though, they aren’t as straightforward as you might hope.

Lightning Axe is amongst the simplest of the bunch, being 5 points of damage to a target creature at instant speed. It’s also quite costly, though- either six mana, or a discarded card and one mana. This latter option makes it a superb madness enabler, but again that’s not a theme of this deck. You get two copies.

Angelic Purge works off a similar principle, requiring the sacrifice of a permanent in addition to its casting cost. In most cases, the sacrificed permanent will be a land, and in the later stages of the game when the Purge might be most handy, that’s not a terrible sacrifice to have to make. As an added bonus, it exiles the target, and can hit a wide number of card types.

For the rest, though, you’ll have to jump through a few hoops. Inner Struggle, an updated take on Repentance, works best against creatures whose power is equal to or greater than its toughness. Dissension in the Ranks could almost read “destroy your opponent’s second-best creature,” but with the tantalizing possibility of mutually assured destruction. Even at its worst, it still leaves the surviving creature(s) weakened in the face of your attackers.

Finally, for more targeted anti-blocker shenanigans, you have two copies of Nahiri’s Machinations. This is an odd pairing of two completely different effects, both of which are combat-relevant. First, one of your creatures gains indestructible each turn until the end of the turn. That’s a great way to get extra use out of some of your more ill-fated cards like the Devilthorn Fox. If that wasn’t enough, you also can channel damage directly to a blocking creature. This can ensure they don’t survive combat or, with enough mana, kill them before damage is dealt. That won’t let your attacking creature through (too late for that), but it can save them from dying or, if they have trample, let all of their damage through.

From there, it’s the customary mixed bag of effects. Magmatic Chasm stops all non-flying creature from blocking for a turn, a great way to set up a game-winning alpha strike. The Murderer’s Axe offers a solid +2/+2 bonus, though again this is a discard outlet card that feels like a bad fit in a deck without madness/delirium. 

Some extra creature options come in the form of Dance with Devils and the deck’s second rare, Devils’ Playground. Each of these let you put 1/1 Devils onto the battlefield with a death trigger of a single point of damage at a creature or player. Dance with Devils makes two of them and at instant speed. Devils’ Playground gives you twice as many Devils (with a bulk discount, no less), but at a slower speed.

Finally, Rush of Adrenaline is a combat trick offering a stat boost and trample, to help push through some surprise damage. And Gryff’s Boon is an aura that gives a modest power boost and evasion, which looks to make up for the traditional card disadvantage of auras by being castable from the graveyard.

Overall, this is a very odd and underwhelming Intro Pack deck. Ghostly Tide wasn’t all that impressive either, but you could at least point to a tribal theme that gave it a unified feel. Here, it’s difficult to find the threat that binds a bunch of random cards together, and it’s difficult to recall a modern-era deck that felt this disjointed and thrown-together. Angelically named with only a single Angel to field. Discard-outlet cards with no beneficial discard/graveyard mechanics. Your biggest creature gets used in combat once before being sacrificed. It’s a strange brew, but we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve had a chance to take it into battle. Perhaps there’s some spine of competence that’s eluding measure until we can see how it actually performs.

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