Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver Planeswalker Pack…SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

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Here it is.  A week early!  (I bought it at the pre-release, and the SpartanKid also won a copy!)  So we now have two…

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For this unboxing and review…in the interest of saving what little WordPress space I have left, I will just get down to it.

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You get the new foil card “Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver.”  As Bolas cards go, this one is the worst.  To be clear, we now have three Bolas planeswalker cards.  The classic version remains the most iconic and powerful.  There is a new Nicol Bolas, the God Pharoah, and then there’s this.  His mana cost is more or less the same.  He has three relevant abilities.  He might be the worst of the three, but he is still quite significant.  With Intro Packs Planeswalker Packs, the Wizards said they want to give people splashy cards to learn to play with.  If this isn’t splashy, I don’t know what is.

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I assure you…if you’ve read my other reviews of Planeswalker Packs, then you know what unboxing this is like.  It is exactly the same!  There is a plastic bubble and a little black tray.  All of the other contents are in a deck box.  Here is the deck box, posing alongside my FUNKO POP! version of Bolas.

Inside you get two booster packs, two pieces of paper, and the deck sealed in cellophane.

I will go ahead and tell you that I didn’t get any important cards in my two packs.

The two pieces of paper are a guide to playing Magic, and a poster that has strategy for playing this deck.  There is also a handy decklist.

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Now for the cards!IMG_0303

Here are the rares that came with the intro deck.  This makes my fourth copy of the Throne.  Visage of Bolas is new, and I’m certain can only be gotten by purchasing this deck.

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This deck is surprisingly creature-heavy.  Normally, Bolas wants a control deck.  But here are the creatures.  The Wasp of the Bitter End is a card that you can only get in this deck as well, but it notably says “a Nicol Bolas” planeswalker, meaning that it is a card that can work with the other two versions of Bolas.

These creatures represent something else…apparently the story is that Bolas used the plane of Amonkhet to harvest the strongest warriors and make them into “eternals.”

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We get a bunch of basics, and importantly eight fixers.  Cinder Barrens is one of those intro-deck-only cards.  Crypt of the Eternals is a clever new Grixis tri-land.

Which means we have instant and sorcery cards remaining.

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Not a whole lot.  Magma Spray is the most competitive here.  Open Fire is a really bad lightning  Bolt.  Final Reward.  A five drop removal spell.  BOOO.  (AT LEAST it stops players who might be trying to Eternalize or Embalm.)

Playing the deck.

Normally, you would cancel and destroy everything until you could draw and cast Bolas, pretty much for the win.  In a normal constructed deck.

This time, your strategy is a little different.  You are going to play creatures, (I will mention that Aerial Guide is probably the best card for this deck, since it flies and draws you cards.)  You hope to get the Visage of Bolas, which will then get him in your hand pretty much guaranteed, and then you will pretty much guaranteed be able to cast him if you do all of this at the appropriate time.

Now this plan depends on who you are playing against.  Against other intro decks, great!

But in a serious environment, when you fetch up your Bolas, they will know you have him, and either cancel him, hold their kill spell, or do some kind of Thoughtsieze (Liliana) effect and make you discard him.  Visage of Bolas is a four drop, meaning you are probably never going to be able to play him on the same turn that you cast it.  (If that were the case with this deck, we would be talking about turn 12 at least!  Competitive Magic decks want a turn four or five kill.

I think this is a great product to get people interested in playing MTG.  But it is wrong to call it a Standard deck.  It IS.  But it isn’t competitive.  You could just as easily discourage people from playing if they bought this, and then played it in a tournament and find themselves wrecked every game.

I’m not saying it is impossible for you to win a match or two.  But aren’t competitive players going to have a sideboard?  There are now at LEAST three different cheap removal spells for Bolas (the Defeat cycle.)

The packaging is nice.  The box can hold sleeved cards, but has no solution for dice or tokens.  It’s still better than the old intro pack boxes.  I’m still asserting that if they want people to feel like they should play these decks in a tournament, then they should include sleeves.  I played against a newcomer during the sealed tournament this weekend…and how did I know he was a newcomer?  First impression…no sleeves.  Then they way he played reflected that.

I have played four matches using this deck, even a few “mirror matches,” and I just can’t get excited about it.  I do like the new Bolas card, but Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh is better for Standard.  Maybe there is a good way to exploit the specific cards in this deck that only come with this product…like Visage of Bolas.  But you better be able to produce a ton of mana early.  The wasp thing is cool, but I think it better for a Bolas Tribal commander deck.  It’s just going to net you some extra value for playing Bolas.

So I am going to rate this deck at 2/5.  It’s kind of flat.

Now the SpartanKid thinks otherwise.  He believes I am being too harsh, and he likes the idea of an “Eternals” tribal deck.  I will keep you posted about what happens…He might even make a standard deck that riffs on the intro deck.

So the SpartanNerd rates Nicol Bolas, The Deceiver Planeswalker Pack 2/5.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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Archenemy: Nicol Bolas. SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

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Long time no blog.  Sorry, Hub City Geeks.

But I’m back with a treat!  As you can see, for Father’s Day I got the Archenemy Nicol Bolas set!  And I am unboxing it for you today!

The top image is the front of the box.  Nice artwork.  And you know you are getting something nice!  Mine was actually slightly cheaper, as the Tangled Web in Spartanburg is holding a sale…everything 15% off!

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The back has some inspiring words, and a picture of some of the content.

Opening the box, you are greeted with this.  I was a little puzzled at first.

Also, note that upon removing the cellophane and the price tag along with it, you can see some information.  Ages 13+, 2-4 players, and 30+ minutes.

What I’m telling you and showing you is that this is the first really successfully executed MTG all-in-one board game style set!  While there is Arena of the Planeswalkers, which is “Heroscape” with Magic characters, Archemeny: Nicol Bolas retains the gameplay of Magic the Gathering.  And just like any dedicated board game, there is some setup.

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IMG_0112I was confused by the big white thing.  What that is is an envelope, and it contained the four deckboxes, which you will have to assemble.

IMG_0134Adding to the board game feel of the set, you also get a special life counter, which can go up to 100.  This is the “Commander’s Arsenal” style of counter, that hasn’t been released in a long time.  (Incidentally, if you get the Commander’s Anthology,” you get four of these.  I won’t be getting that product and reviewing it, however.)

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The first pack of cards I opened were the scheme cards, of course!  These cards are the same size as the Planes from Planechase.  I am showing you the front and the back…I really like the design.  And the back is almost like, “What if Magic the Gathering came out this year?”  This might be what the card backs would look like.  The front features more of that Egyptian style art, and a device resembling the “Talon Gates.”  (Apparently, Nicol Bolas was one of the first planeswalkers, and the gates are a trophy remaining from the first planeswalker duel on Dominaria.)

 

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The scheme cards are loaded with flavor.  And I think there also may be some spoiler content from the upcoming “Hour of Devastation” set.  Check out “A Reckoning Approaches.”  Is that Razeketh on the card?

The Included Decks

Next I will unbox each deck and show you a picture of the rares.  I will also point out the important commons and uncommons.  All of these cards are reprints.

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OK.  First let me say I am disappointed that these aren’t foil planeswalkers.  AT LEAST BOLAS SHOULD BE FOIL.

And while we’re at it, why didn’t they give us an oversize Nicol Bolas as well?

OK.  Rant over.  Let’s look at the tokens first.

They are double sided.  One image shows one side.  The other shows the same cards flipped.

It seems we should be making lots of horrors, zombies, and soldiers.

Now for Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker‘s deck.

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Wow.  This is a lot of rares!  And so many things fly.  Blood Tyrant…That guy’s a winner! Don’t have what you need?  Prognostic Sphinx will get you there.   Here is a needed reprint of Dreadbore. I almost think Harvester of Souls is a little boring at this point.  How many times has that been reprinted?  Icefall Regent was recently a big deal in standard.  Archfiend of Depravity has been there…but never really shined.  Bolas is a three color card, and it’s good that we get Dragonskull Summit, a buddy land.

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Here are the commons and uncommons.  Lightning Bolt.  YES.  Doom Blade.  YES!  Extract from Darkness has been fun in commander.  Slave of Bolas.  This is my first “upgrade.”  I picked up a foil over my recent vacation.

Because Bolas is a three color character, you get some mana rocks that help you fix your colors.  And you get these lands, notably Crumbling Necropolis.

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Each of the Planeswalkers in this set are pretty good, but Bolas is the most satisfying.  Still, he costs a ton to play.  Luckily, his deck helps get him out a little earlier with certain cards.

Gideon Jura  ‘s deck

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These are some all-stars in white!  (well, maybe not Aegis Angel and Lightwielder Paladin.)  As I looked at these rares…I knew them right away.  In the case of Fiendslayer Paladin, that guy was incredible in Theros/M15 standard.  Sun Titan.  Need we say more?  Odric Master Tactician is so good he right out finishes regular matches of Magic if he hits the board with some friends.

Gideon Jura is an OK card.  There are certainly better versions of Gideon out there.  But this version is good and balanced for this set.  -2 the Gideon to remove some of Bolas pesky fliers.

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These cards are also pretty good, with excoriate exiling tapped cards.  Fencing Ace was the title of my deck back in Theros/Ravnica standard.  Pairing him with Fiendslayer is great.  The Flickerwisp…It turns out that Bolas can steal your planeswalkers pretty easy using the scheme cards.  But Flickerwisp says “return to the battlefield under its OWNERS’s control.”  Which is just sick.  Bolas can steal your Chandra, and you can just steal her back!

The SpartanKid made an observation…cards from Amonkhet have the Amonkhet expansion symbol.  But cards from other places get a special Archenemy symbol…

(I thought of this because of the Aerial Responder, even though he has the Archenemy symbol.  Somehow that triggered my memory, maybe because he is in Kaladesh?)

Chandra, Pyromaster‘s deck

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Dualcaster Mage, Grim Lavamancer, and Inferno Titan.  These cards are terrific!  I don’t know if Dualcaster made a splash in Vintage or not, but this was one of the predictions when it was first printed in Commander 2015.  This is my first copy of Grim Lavamancer…he is a staple in the Modern burn archetype.

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Hammerhand and Coordinated Assault help your guys get through.  Searing Spear…this is NOT LIGHTNING BOLT.  Chandra now has at least three pre-constructed decks, and none of them have the best burn spell in them.  That said, Searing Spear isn’t bad, it just can’t outpace Lightning Bolt.  Volcanic Geyser.  Why not just include Fireball?  The geyser has the advantage of being an instant, but it is one red slower.

Chandra’s card is one of the best Chandras they ever printed..  Seeing that she has NINE DIFFERENT CARDS, that’s saying something.  But a great many of those are not really tournament playable.  This one is a contender.

Nissa, Worldwaker‘s deck

IMG_0126Gavin Verhey, who was the lead designer on this set, proclaimed in the now famous preview duel on the Mothership website, said that Nissa’s deck could do the best with a long game.  And that may be because this is a two color deck, while the other two are mono colored.

She does have more resilient threats, but it takes longer for anything to get going.  If Bolas sweeps the board and Thragtusk is there, you at least get a beast in his place.  Forgotten Ancient can get out of hand really fast, (He was recently included in the Atraxa Commander deck.)  Oran-Rief Hydra is big to start with, and just gets bigger.

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Additionally, this deck can draw cards more easily, and Vision Skeins is incredible in a four player game.  (Of course, Bolas gets to draw also.)

The Nissa card here is the best of the three Gatewatch planeswalkers.  She pays for herself the turn she comes out.  She makes lands into man-lands.  And ultimateing her can be GG, if Bolas doesn’t sweep the board on the next turn.

PLAYING THIS SET.

I just got it yesterday!  But there has been some playing here in the SpartanNerd Household.  Last night me and the SpartanKid sleeved up Gideon and Bolas and had a traditional one-on-one.  The funny thing is, that worked pretty good.  It was a cute match, where each side would gain an advantage one after the other.  But eventually, Bolas overpowered him.

Today, I ran the Gatewatch myself against the SpartanKid, who played Bolas as Archenemy.  This match lasted about 70 minutes.  It seemed everytime I would get some traction, the scheme cards would undercut my progress.  That big splashy spell every turn really makes this a special set.  But it is also HARD.

Eventually Bolas accumulated enough flyers to just start picking planeswalkers off one at a time.  And what do you do when all you draw is pump spells while you have no creatures?  The last man standing was Nissa, and two Turntimber Basilisks, and two Fertilids.  Nissa had a ton of lands as well.  Bolas had the abovementioned flyers, but all were tapped, making death inevitable.  But I wasn’t going down without a fight.  He had three walking threats.  I landfalled the basilisks several times by using the Fertilid’s ability.  And at least removed the threats on the ground.  But it was a loss next turn.  Bolas scheme card even made me lose life before the defeat! (The Mighty Will Fall)

This was a fun time, and it could only be more fun with more players.  I will have to keep you posted here on SpartanNerd.com about future matchups.

SO WHAT DOES THE SPARTANNERD RATE ARCHENEMY:NICOL BOLAS?

It’s a terrific product, and the Board Game feel of it is very nice.  Check it out.

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Here is my Archenemy packed up and ready to play.  But believe it or not, I had just put the top back on it and shook it around.  The tray inside is perfect for keeping this set contained.  Even the life counter has a well designed spot in the set.  I haven’t sleeved the tokens or the schemes, but they fit nicely in their original spot underneath the deck box un-sleeved.

So this is a well designed package.  Well designed experience.

And I COULD take for instance, the Grim Lavamancer to a tournament to play.  And that is one of the rewarding things about collecting the sealed products the way I do, at least for Modern.  Some of the included cards here are very nice.

I wish the Planeswalkers were foil.  That is one of my complaints.  You pay $59.99 for a MTG product, there better be some foils.  Because these are all alternate art cards, they won’t be printed in foils unless the Wizards decide to reprint them in the future somehow.  You could get foil regular printing but that shouldn’t feel necessary.

The decks included are tailored for multiplayer matches, and so that is one of the narrow focus things about the set.  But you could play any decks against Bolas you wanted to, I suppose.

So I am going to rate this product a 4/5, knowing that my opinion will change the more I play the set.

Do you agree or disagree with the SpartanNerd’s rating of 4/5?  Let me know in the comments!