TODO: Play Izzet vs Golgari.
There are many joys that come with this job, one of which is peeking at Magic's future before the rest of the world. Having spent several years with my nose pressed up against the glass, shielding my eyes from the glare, trying to be the first one to spot something new—to now stand behind the glass and cheerfully wave to the players on the outside—it's a bit trippy to think about.
So when one of my main tasks after getting back from the World Magic Cup was to sit around with various people in the company and play Magic, well, let's just say it didn't suck.
The games were, of course, centered around our upcoming Duel Decks: Izzet vs Golgari, featuring what are two of the most popular guilds from the plane of Ravnica. And in these decks there are six new cards from Return to Ravnica, so herein I get to introduce you all to some new cards from this fall's set.
You might have already seen our first card: Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. He's the Golgari guild leader, and someone you'll hear more about next week in our second Return to Ravnica Planeswalker's Guide.
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord | Art by Svetlin Velinov
As you'll see in the upcoming games, Jarad is quite the bomb. When I wasn't playing him, I was playing around him almost constantly—praying that I had a Dissipate in hand and mana untapped when my opponent played him, or I had the Reminisce to shuffle my opponent's graveyard into his or her library—otherwise I was likely going to lose that game.
If you want to discuss this on Twitter, be sure to use the #MTGIVG hashtag.
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius | Art by Svetlin Velinov
My games around the office began with my
nemesis boss Mark Purvis. Mark's our Senior Brand Manager and my boss, so after I joined Wizards I showed proper respect by losing repeatedly to him, such that it was like five months into my employment before I finally managed to beat him.
With decks in hand, we sat down and did battle. I had the Izzet deck and he had the Golgari deck. Our first game was fairly straightforward, with uninteresting play until I managed to play Niv-Mizzet and then cast Quicksilver Dagger on him to improve his tap ability.
The Izzet deck is all about utilizing instants and sorceries to great effect, especially making use of the new Return to Ravnica mechanic, overload. Now, some of you might remember the first Great Designer Search, which had Ken Nagle as a participant; in fact, overload is his mechanic from that contest, which he called "dispersion" in Episode 2. What it does, well... rather than tell you, let me show you with a new Izzet card in Return to Ravnica: Street Spasm!
I managed to drop an overloaded Street Spasm on Mark during our second game, clearing his board. Now, admittedly, his deck was quick to reload by his casting Eternal Witness and retrieving Jarad. But, considering I had killed four of his creatures with the Spasm, I managed to get the win in both of our games.
I talked a lot with Mark about his thoughts on the deck and the cards and he said something which really rang true to me. "Some new players might be confused by the Golgari deck because Golgari wants cards in the [grave]yard." And he's right. Using the graveyard as a resource, while not completely unfamiliar with Innistrad's reuse of flashback and the dredge-esque willingness to mill ourselves with Thought Scour or other cards, is not intuitive.
Putrify | New Art by Clint Cearley
So for new players, the idea that the "right" play is often, but not always, to forgo their draw step and instead dredge back something from their 'yard is not always apparent. Mark made excellent use of the decks' Nightmare Void as a way of clearing out my hand of threats and growing his graveyard in true Golgari fashion.
Another notable play from my games with Mark was being able to cast Overwhelming Intellect when Mark cast Doomgape. That felt good. Real good.
Putrify | New Art by Chase Stone
After my win over Mark, I happened to make my way down to R&D and cunningly trapped Sam into some games with the decks. Despite him being in R&D, he wasn't intimately familiar with the decks and was surprised by a number of cards that came up in our games. Like my games with Mark, I was left wielding Izzet and Stoddard took Golgari.
Sam's an intern for R&D, working as a developer on a number of upcoming projects. He wrote for me once upon a time, and will in the near future as an occasional contributor to DailyMTG. So getting to sit down and play against him was a great deal of fun as we chatted about the deck, Return to Ravnica, and even Magic in general.
Life // Death | New Art by Ryan Barger
It was against Stod that I first got to taste the joy that is Dissipating Jarad. His eyes got wide, he sputtered in shock, and he grinned as his game just got a little harder. "Like whoa," he said as I made the play.
To my chagrin, though, he proceeded to use Dreg Mangler to great effect in bashing me in the face until I managed to recover.
It's a three-mana 3/3 that lets you scavenge for 5 when it dies. Scavenge is the new mechanic in Return to Ravnica for Golgari, and it basically reads as a variation on flashback. With this creature in the graveyard, you spend five mana and exile it to put +1/+1 counters on a creature equal to the creature's power. You can only do it as a sorcery, so it isn't a combat trick, but it is still very relevant in its ability to make your creatures bigger.
The trick in these two decks, though, is that Izzet has a number of ways to bounce creatures, such that they lose their counters and need to be cast again.
In our second game, Sam Stoddard steamrolled me in epic fashion to beat me by using Jarad's creature-sacrificing mechanic to deal me lethal after an attack. It was brutal and one I'll leave unrecounted for fear of errant blood spatter appearing on screen.
So there I was at 1–1, having wielded the Izzet deck both times. Time to switch it up against my good friend Brian. Brian is an assistant brand manager and also the brand manager who oversees Latin America. Brian and I play games all the time, from games on our phones to a weekly lunch gathering for board gaming.
So with an extra half hour we shuffle up and prepare for battle. This time, I was battling with the Golgari deck and he had Izzet. So I was shifting gears to playing with green and black.
On turn two I got to drop Korozda Guildmage, the new Golgari mage from Return to Ravnica. I passed the turn and on Trunk's second turn he dropped a second mana and cast Izzet Charm against it. "It seemed like a good idea," he said to me, smiling.
That's right, each guild gets a charm and a new guildmage. One of each is on display in this duel deck for you to play with. The Korozda Guildmage is really strong, especially the second ability that lets you generate token creatures. And Izzet Charm is also quite a good spell, and, according to some in R&D, Constructed playable. In all the games I played I used all three of its different options to great effect.
It's so good.
Gleancrawler | New Art by Jeremy Jarvis
Brian's games against me went a lot like that interplay I glossed over. I did something. Brian did something better. I managed to hold on for a while in both games but he won in the end. In the second game, I sat at 1, fighting for my life, until he landed a Wee Dragonauts; I had no answers to his vicious flyer.
Sadly, I sat at 1–2, but I still had one more card to exhibit for you all, so I went looking for one more match in hopes of getting to reveal the last new card in the decks.
During our games our conversations varied, from talking about Duel Decks in general to talking about the performance of Latin America at the recent World Magic Cup. Brian's a great guy, upbeat and always in a good mood—even when I (usually) beat him at Magic. For that reason I take my losses with a smile and just enjoy the game.
Prophetic Bolt | New Art by Slawomir Maniak
Robert is one of the guys who works in our Game Support department who you might not know, but who is invaluable to the game. You'll learn more about him in a few weeks when I take a look at that department and three guys who help make Magic Online run.
Sitting down with Robert, I knew I was in for a fight; he's a good player and I have a losing record against him across all formats and games. So I handed him the Izzet deck and I took up the Golgari deck.
First game, he started slow and I managed to get a running start to work him down. On turn three, with the desire to get my dredge engine running, I used my Plagued Rusalka and sacrificed my Golgari Thug, which then caused me to kill my Rusalka with the -1/-1 since Robert didn't have any creatures. I did it on purpose because I had a Boneyard Wurm in hand and could dredge with the Thug next turn.
Golgari Thug | New Art by Johann Bodin
The play worked and I quickly filled my graveyard until, on turn six I tried to cast Jarad and ran smack dab into Robert's Overwhelming Intellect. He drew four cards and, despite me having a lead in life and trying to get him down, he sat at 2 life and was beginning to stabilize.
I used Jarad's ability and sacrificed a Forest and Swamp, two of my five lands (one of which was a Golgari Rot Farm) to bring Jarad back to hand. Then I cast Jarad and he stuck. Thinking I was about to be able to swing in for the kill, Robert on his turn cast Reminisce to shuffle my graveyard away and thus weaken Jarad, and then overloaded Street Spasm to kill my board. Ugh.
Then Robert got his engine going with a Brainstorm that pulled Goblin Electromancer into play.
The Electromancer is definitely stronger in the early game as a way to help you cast your spells for cheap, but it has a definite impact as it gives the Izzet deck that much more mana to play with. It doesn't make Replicate costs any cheaper but it doesn't need to; they've got plenty of ways to do crazy things.
With Electromancer on his board, Robert was able to quickly lock me down, bouncing my guy with a replicated Vacuumelt and bouncing his own Izzet Chronarch, which allowed him to get back Brainstorm. I was able to get a Putrefy off to kill his Electromancer, but in retrospect I might have wanted to hold that for a later threat.
Izzet Chronarch | New Art by Steven Belledin
As if having Robert stabilize at 2 life wasn't enough, he got his draw engine cranked to 11 by putting Train of Thought on his Isochron Scepter and drawing three, four, five cards a turn with his unused mana.
I never recovered and was consumed by his Shrewd Hatchling and friends.
Game 2 saw me mulligan away a hand of five lands and two late-game spells. I briefly considered the horrendous play of passing my first and second turn to force a discard for Dakmor Salvage in hopes of getting my dredge engine going, but I wisely chose not to and threw the hand back. My second hand was much better, with three lands and a handful of dredge creatures.
Robert's hand was much better, with counters and draw spells to get him up and running. My turn-four Jarad was Dissipated and while I was dredging for my Life from the Loam, it was never "critical mass" in terms of quality.
Brainstorm | New Art by Willian Murai
When Niv-Mizzet landed against me, I knew I was in trouble. I cast my Stingerfling Spider targeting Niv-Mizzet, but Robert played Call to Heel to save it. He then attacked with his Shrewd Hatchling, allowing me to block with the Spider. Next turn, when he cast Niv-Mizzet again, I realized I had Twilight's Call in hand, which would allow me put my Spider into play again next turn. I did it and hoped he didn't have a counter; thankfully he didn't and I was able to kill Niv-Mizzet. But it was still too little, too late. I never reached critical mass and Robert had his draw engine online, causing me to continually fall behind as his hand filled with better and better creatures.
I feel like the decks each have two levels of play—you can play either of them in a straightforward and linear fashion, but they both have enough depth and strategy to allow players to play an almost completely different game as they delve into the decks' deeper mechanics and strategies.
Duel Decks: Izzet vs Golgari comes out September 7, with an MSRP of $19.99; and with what's inside, that's a great value!
Duel Decks: Izzet vs Golgari
Duel Decks: Izzet vs Golgari