Preview: Duel Decks: Venser vs. Koth
It’s got a lot of flavor. If that’s what they were going for, they’ve succeeded admirably.
There are a few ways to look at a Duel Decks products. We can evaluate whether the decks have good cards, or whether they’re fun to play, or whether they accurately reflect their subjects.
You could always rate the packaging, but you don’t get a lot of good playtime out of a foil box. Strictly cards, for us.
Do they have useful cards in them?
Wall of Denial isn’t a bad card. It’s a $1 uncommon with shroud and 8 toughness for three mana. Pretty healthy! But it’s also not exactly hard to find, having just been reprinted in Commander. Galepowder Mage is fun in a cube, but has very few applications in Constructed. The only card in Venser’s deck that’s even remotely competitive and hard-to-acquire is Path to Exile, which will sport new art. It generally goes for between $3-5, and is a solid card in any format, so we have in Path our only real powerhouse in Venser — perhaps moreso than even Venser, himself.
Preordain has new art, too, and it’s competitive (though banned in Modern right now), but it’s not exactly hard to come by. If you’re really attached to Preordain and are pumped for new art though, it’s a drawing point.
From Koth, we have new art on Anger, Plated Geopede, Chartooth Cougar, and Koth, himself. In my opinion, none of them look so impressive that they would make me buy the deck. And Chartooth Cougar was already in the Jace vs. Chandra deck! Does every mono-red planeswalker learn cougar summoning in middle school?
Useful cards, though? Nothing competitive. Journeyer’s Kite is cool in EDH, but none of the of the deck can be considered “chase cards” outside Koth and the alternate art. In all, you could cobble these decks together for about as much as you’ll pay for the new ones, save the new art.
Will they be fun to play?
That, I can’t be sure of until I get my hands on a copy. But the previous Duel Decks we’ve looked into (Knights/Dragons) and (Ajani/Bolas) needed a bit of tweaking to make them shelf-stable. Koth comes with 25 mountains and ways to grab them, but there some huge counter-intuition issues when you have Koth relying on mountains and Lithophage eating them.
As for Venser, he has ways to make creatures unblockable, to go with Venser’s ability to . . . make them unblockable? Venser should just have come with huge creatures, not creatures packing their own evasion, if the idea is to play off their abilties. If the idea is just to reference them, I get it, but that isn’t going to make them good to play against each other. I concede, though, that it might make more sense in practice. Each of the products we’ve reviewed before this had one solid deck and one deck that seemed to make less sense. In this product, Koth at least is strong and single-minded, if a little topheavy on mana and lands for Emblem purposes.
Do the cards reflect the planeswalkers involved?
That said, we do want to see cards that make sense in their respective planeswalker armies. It makes sense for Koth to pack a Lithophage, because it’s a big monster that can be Hasted and that Koth can feed, at least for a while. The Chartooth Cougar also make sense, feeding off his mana or digging him up a mountain. And Venser is the type of guy who would summon creatures that Blink (temporarily exile) other creatures and to make creatures unlockable. The folks in his army do his voodoo well.
This area is where these decks shine; the developers chose squads that reflect their walkers’ best traits. So, flavor-wise, this product is very well designed.
However, the decks are less than impressive, and barely seem to match up to previous Duel Decks products — even Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas, which I just-barely recommended. Venser, Koth, and the alternate-art Path to Exile are clearly the reasons for purchase, here, and will probably pay for the package in themselves, but we could have seen far more cheap fan-favorites from Venser vs. Koth.
The product goes on sale March 30, for $19.99. It’s worth the secret-formula paper it’s printed on, but it would be nice if WotC would utilize their reprinting and art-altering abilities for cards that are harder for us to find, and if the decks would play more cohesively, instead of independent bits that just seem to mirror their subjects.
However, when two planeswalkers go up against each other? The results are unpredictable. I’m counting on WotC, Venser, and, Koth of the Hammer to surprise me.