I just came home from my second prerelease event; this time it was Battle for Zendikar and at the first time I was at Magic: Origins prerelease. I had fun though I am suffering from a never-ending flu. As I only have experience on these two sanctioned events I cannot help but to compare the two. I might add that I have nowhere near as much experience on Magic: the Gathering as Aki has and I take the whole game anyway pretty differently.
Today we got together with Lauri and played some (eight, total) games with the newest Duel Decks, Elspeth vs. Kiora. Who won? We’ll get back to that.
First up, Elspeth, with her all monowhite, somewhat soldier tribal deck full of creatures that mostly just attack, although quite a few of them are too cowardly to go through with their attack much of the time.
The rares besides Elspeth herself are Captain of the Watch, Decree of Justice, Dictate of Heliod, Gustcloak Savior and Precinct Captain, Elspeth being the only one of any value of these. There’s also a Mother of Runes, which is uncommon, but popular in Legacy and thus is worth something. There’s new art on Elspeth, Mother of Runes, and Decree of Justice.
Kiora’s deck is about card draw, ramp and then playing a huge threat.
The rares (again, besides Kiora herself) are Inkwell Leviathan, Plasm Capture, Scourge of Fleets, Simic Sky Swallower, and Whelming Wave. There’s new are on Kiora, Explore, and Temple of the False God.
There’s also two tokens for each deck. Soldiers for Elspeth and Krakens for Kiora. I don’t know who’s idea this was, but it feels kind of inadequate. Elspeth produces three tokens herself per turn and then there’s a number of other things doing the same, as well as Decree of Justice producing angels. Couldn’t they add a few more soldiers in there? Two is helpful, because you can always add dice to them to show how many tapped ones and untapped ones there are, but still, why not the great token sets similar to the ones in the Commander 2014 products. There weren’t even emblems here, even though both planeswalkers produce them.
And why bother with the deck boxes? Do they have some sort of customer feedback that someone actually uses them? I thought they had finally awoken into the world of sleeves with Modern Event Deck (which had sleeves included), but apparently not so. With sleeves on, the cards simply won’t fit into the box, so its not at all useful for this purpose, although I used to use similar boxes for storing extra lands and such back in the day.
As I said before, we played eight games, and the end result was 5-3 in favor of Elspeth (and more importantly, 6-2 in favor of myself). The overall feeling was that something needed to go wrong for Elspeth for Kiora to win.
Kiora’s deck is pretty good at attacking. Plenty of fliers and a few tricks which are hard for your opponent to play around. There isn’t much removal, only Celestial Flare and of course Elspeth, but they are quite efficient, as Elspeth can take care of all the important threats quite easily and often Kiora can’t attack with more than one creature just to play around it, so Flare will take down something big.
Elspeth herself is quite oppressive (as six mana spells often should be, but not necessarily in such a casual environment). Kiora doesn’t really have anything against it. Well, there’s actually three things that can deal with it: Plasm Capture, which is easily played around due to its high casting cost and deep color requirements, a small enough Nimbus Swimmer, but Elspeth has quite a few fliers on her side to block, and a timely Scourge of the Fleets, which is the best answer, but your window of opportunity is pretty short, as you need to be able to deal enough damage on that one turn, and you probably don’t have any of your other fatties to do it with. Of course, you can always hope the opponent plays poorly…
Kiora on the other hand isn’t very impressive in this deck. She’s good at either slowing down the opponent somewhat or doing some quick doing a little more ramping, but she’s not a big finisher in this context, unless the stars go absolutely right.
… and for Kiora’s deck, they never seem to. Its too inconsistent. We didn’t really see color screw in any of the games (although mulligans were taken in fear of it), but with the little fixing this deck has, it has to be a problem in way too many games. Also, there’s too many moving parts. To win, you need to get your fatties in quick, but you don’t have enough ramp to do it consistently, and if you do find the ramp, you only have six fatties in the deck to win the game. Then you have some defensive creatures, but they often compete with the ramp and are also not really big enough to do more than stem the bleeding a little. And even if all the pieces fall into place, there’s a good chance Elspeth’s forces are too big for your precious fatty to matter. That Simic Sky Swallower can’t really attack if there are too many things attacking you consistently, but you can’t win either by having it stand back. Sure, Aetherize and such will help, but you don’t have too many of them in your deck.
Elspeth’s deck is just that much better at accumulating an early advantage and then riding through to victory with it. Kiora has some outs, but the consistency of the other deck is overwhelming in larger number of games. It also has some components I really don’t like. Plasm Capture is a powerful card, but if you leave your mana open to cast it, you are not doing anything to further your board and you’ll probably lose because of it. In some parallel dimension someone must have gotten away with it and cast a huge Nimbus Swimmer on the next turn, but that won’t happen very often.
Buy this if you need the two planeswalkers and enough of the other cards. New commander players will surely find useful cards here. Don’t buy this to have something you can come back to over and over again. Its actually pretty fun despite balance problems, but not that fun.
Overall, it doesn’t really feel like a duel of these planeswalkers. I guess Elspeth’s deck is very Elspethy (although I’m not sure about all the Gustcloakers), but Kiora’s deck is just a bunch of stuff with a few elements that seem Kiora-ish. You won’t be seeing the planeswalkers themselves too often, which is a good thing, because Elspeth will just win the game, if you can cast it.