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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SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review…Chandra Planeswalker Pack

img_9432Now for my second review of the new Planeswalker Packs…Chandra Pyrogenius.

If you read my review of Nissa, Nature’s Artisan Planeswalker Pack, then you know exactly what I am about to unbox!  Only this time flavored with Chandra, the reddest of the planeswalkers.

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You get a different blurb on the back of this one.  It accomplishes the goal of letting you know what the deck is all about.  And it mentions the uniqueness of the cards in this deck.

Things were packaged exactly the same.  In fact my pictures look eerily similar.  Almost like it wasn’t worth wasting WordPress memory…

Here is the Decklist.

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So here’s Chandra herself.  Take in this Jank!  You get a “Shock” as a +2 ability.  Or “Flamelash” as a -3 ability.  For six mana.  The -10 ability is a sweeper, which is of some interest.

The Wizards purposely “nerfed” this card.  It isn’t supposed to be big in Standard and Modern, though it is legal in those formats.  In other words.  They made a janky card on purpose.  BUT WHY?

True story.  The second time I visited a comic book store to shop for MTG cards, I asked the store owner about planeswalker cards.  Not only did he not have any, he said they were expensive to obtain.  And he was right.  Five or six years ago, when I started playing this game, planeswalkers were relatively new, and there weren’t that many even printed yet. (I started playing in tournaments during Dark Ascension, though I wasn’t really that aware of sets and blocks.)  The Wizards are doing a smart thing by printing Dual Decks that contain Planeswalkers, and it is also smart to make Intro Packs that include planeswalkers.  It helps new players feel that they have something nice.  And she is nice and splashy, and foil.  All of the things that the premium cards that were included in the now defunct intro packs generally failed to be.  (other than being foil.)

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Being a “burn” planeswalker, you would think that Chandra’s deck would be loaded up with Lightning Bolts and similar.  Not so much.  Instead, she has lots of creatures.  Chandra has vehicles, while Nissa didn’t.  Some of these cratures are really good.  Fleetwheel Cruiser is awesome right away, and might be the most valuable card in this deck as far as tournament play is concerned.  Speedway Fanatic has Haste, and Gearshift Ace has First Strike…these guys pretty much force players to learn the rules of combat.  Chandra has flyers, something else that Nissa’s deck didn’t have.

Here are the rest of the spells (and lands.)

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Flame Lash, Stone Quarry, Liberating Combustion, and Renegade Firebrand can all only be found here in this deck.  Liberating Combustion lets you tutor out your Chandra, and as I said in Nissa’s review, it serves an important role.  I don’t think Renegade Firebrand is going to matter that much.    But what might matter is Flame Lash, a four-drop instant burn spell that does four damage to a creature or player.  No, it’s not as good as Lightning Bolt.  But this could be an important card in Standard.  Recently Stoke the Flames was very relevant, and it had a similar effect.

HOW DOES THE CHANDRA PLANESWALKER PACK PLAY?

Like Nissa, I have tried this against several decks, and it generally wins.  A good bit actually.  It isn’t anywhere near as good as the Chandra Nalaar Duel Deck that was balanced against Jace.  But against other duel decks, intro decks, and challenge decks, this deck usually wins.  I think MTG has powered down since the Dual Deck anthology decks were printed.  But this deck does fine against anything printed since Return to Ravnica.

I have the opportunity to tell you now that Chandra, Pyromancer has beaten Nissa, Natures Artisan” soundly every time.  The two decks feel like they were meant to be a duel deck balanced against each other.  Maybe I’m just better with Chandra’s deck.  Not sure.  But I haven’t seen Nissa get a win yet when playing against Chandra.  Partly because there is sufficient creature removal in four copies of Flame Lash and in rolling Chandra down. The first striking and vigilance (and flying) creatures in Chandra’s deck are just better than the tramplers in Nissa’s deck.

So I am going to give Chandra a 75/100 as far as this is a playable deck.

I RATE THIS DECK A 5/5!

The Wizards are doing a good thing by printing this as an entry level product.  Planeswalkers have lots of appeal to new players.  Especially in foil.  The deck works well against most pre-constructed decks.  The after-market value of this deck is better than $15 with the inclusion of Fleetwheel Cruiser and Flame Lash.

The SpartanNerd gives Chandra, Pyromaster’s Planeswalker Pack a 5/5.

So do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review…Nissa Planeswalker Pack

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So the age of the SpartanNerd reviewing Intro Packs is over.  Recently, a few intro decks have been fun.  But they were never competitive.  Sometimes I would feel like gambling…Hey lets buy some boosters and see what we get.  A Zendikar Expedition land?  A Kaladesh Masterpiece Invention?  But then I would see that an INTRO DECK came with two boosters, and the certainty of a playable deck, at least at the kitchen table.  And so that’s why Intro decks had alure to me.  Throw in that I get A TON OF HITS off of unboxing and reviewing sealed MTG products, and then you see my motivation.

But too often, the intro deck was a lackluster offering, enjoyable mostly by kids and people learning the basic HOW the game is played.  So is the PLANESWALKER PACK any better?  Did the Wizards of the Coast just UPGRADE the “getting into the game” experience?  I know the guy who can tell you.  Me.  That’s who.

The Intro Pack Planeswalker Pack comes in the box shown above.  Mine was shrinkwrapped with an extra “tough” piece of plastic. around the middle.  I wonder why?

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The back gives us some information about what we are getting, with a little blurb about what the deck is about.  Now if I was a new player, I might be interested in the deck from reading this.  In fact, I saw a new player yesterday purchasing this deck, and he definitely said he was more interested in this than the other intro decks on sale.  (I was at Wal-Mart in line coincidentally close by.)

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I was surprised when I opened the box to find  similar packing strategy to the Commander decks.  There is a big plastic sleeve over a tray.  I like this…it keeps the cards well protected…and this stuff is re-usable.  I don’t use it, but it can be used by people who want to make some effort.

The next thing about made me want to shout exaltations!

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What you are seeing is the contents of the package, all placed into a deck box.  Not just any deck box, but a deck box that is large enough to hold the shrink wrapped deck, two booster packs, and all o the promotional materials.  In short.  The deck box is big enough to hold the deck SLEEVED OUT!

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Here is the Nicol Bolas deck I recently reviewed, sleeved in Dragon Shields.  The sixty cards fit perfectly!

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Besides that nifty box, here are the other contents.  I just throw away the “quick reference guide.”  But this is the kind of thing that should include it.  New players encounter questions as they learn at their kitchen table.  I feel this thing isn’t really adequate compared to experience time at the table.  But it is at least a start.  Other than this we get a nice poster, which includes a decklist.

So on with the review…I spent a little time talking about the Nissa (and Chandra) Intro Deck cards already.  In short, the cards are a little unrealistic for tournament play.  They cost six mana, meaning that in most competititve tournaments a player will be run over before they can play the card.  The cards have minimal upticks…Nissa here gives you three life gain if you plus her…and you get to dig through the top two (WOW) cards to find some lands.  Not much of a payout for six mana.  (Heroes Reunion.  One Green and one White mana.  Instant speed.  Seven life gain.  See what I mean?)  The bottom ability at 12 loyalty is basically over-run.

No, the Nissa won’t be a tournament splash.  But she IS supposedly balanced against Chandra from the other available intro pack.  (Chandra’s top ability is basically Shock.  So Nissa’s three points of life gain can outlast Chandra in a head to head fight.)

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Packed on top in the cellophane wrapped deck are these four rares…

Bristling Hydra…it gets you energy and lets you use energy.  Energy is a tentpole mechanic of the current Kaladesh block.

Aethersquall Ancient…a Leviathon that also gets you energy, and lets you use it to sweep the board.  A pretty incredible card.

And Verdant Crescendo, a card SPECIFICALLY FOR the Nissa, Nature’s Artisan planeswalker.  It even says so.  This is an important addition…the card acts basically as a second and third copy (when you figure the odds.)  It makes it that much more likely to get to play with your “big, splashy card.”  Which is one of the important things about the “planeswalker pack” that is supposed to be better than the “intro pack.”

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Here are the creatures and lands.  All common and uncommon.  Classic wierdo green and blue stuff, with some energy counter usage.  Nissa basically aims to run over her opponent with big creatures, either with trample or flying.  Of more interest is “Woodland Stream,” a mana fixer that can’t be had any other way than purchasing this product…

img_9365Nissa doesn’t use that much other magic other than creatures.  Attune with the Aether is ramp an energy, Apetite for the Unnatural is artifact removal, and Malfunction is creature removal (blue style.)

NOW FOR THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL THING.

You can only get the cards in the picture below by purchasing this product.  And they are all considered STANDARD LEGAL.  Guardian of the Great Conduit is a wonderful creature, who gets better if you control a NISSA planeswalker.  Notice it doesn’t say which one…

Counting the one from this set, there are three two other Nissa cards that are legal in Standard right now.  The Guardian could be a big deal to some people.(Nissa Vital Force, Nissa Voice of Zendikar, and when this Intro pack was released, very briefly Nissa the flip walker)

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The blue-green mana fixing might be important too.  Woodland Stream isn’t as good as Lumbering Falls.  But it COULD be important when things rotate.

HOW DOES THE DECK PERFORM?

I am going to disagree with the vast amount of other product reviewers.  I think this is a terrific product.  And a pretty good casual deck.  I have played it against lots of other decks, and it wins some and loses some.  Loses more often, but still, it isn’t completely lame.  I appreciate Verdant Crescendo alot, in that it makes it possible to get Nissa, though it is a dead card draw later in the game if you already have her out.

I would grade this deck at 60/100 as far as playablity.  I believe a kid out there could walk into a gaming store, buy this deck and play it on Friday Night Magic, lose to a few competitive decks, and maybe gets some wins in the lower rung of the tournament against other new players.

I rate this product 5/5.  It is fun, and accomplishes some of what it aims to do.  I’m not sure how format warping the exclusive cards could be, but I don’t think these will matter that much.  In future Planeswalker Packs, who knows what could happen?

So the SpartanNerd rates Nissa, Nature’s Artisan Planeswalker Pack a 5/5.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

(For a review of the similar Chandra Planeswalker Pack, click this link.)

SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review…MTG Eldritch Moon Intro Deck “Shallow Graves”

Sadly, I bought this as an impulse buy while standing in line at Wal-Mart.  The back to school shopping crowd had maybe fifty customers waiting in line at three registers.  While I stood and waited, I thought, (I guess) “I would like some more punishment.  Why not buy and intro pack.”

So was it punishment?  Keep reading!

I chose “Shallow Graves” because it is in the colors Black and Blue.  I am interested in making a zombie deck with my foil Liliana, The Last Hope, and my four copies of Gisa and Geralf.  I have worked at this at home a little bit, but not really tested it out, and didn’t really feel all that inspired with my results.  What I made at home was simply with the cards I owned that fit the theme in Standard right now…the kind of thing I might have made when I first began playing Magic.  I thought maybe opening a pre-constructed Black Blue Zombie deck might let me attack the problem from a different angle.

That said, I also like the foil alternate art Noosegraf Mob card feature.  I own several copies of Noosegraf Mob, from drafts and from pre-release.  In limited it is the kind of card that makes your opponent sweat.  I feel it is probably too slow for standard, but we will see!

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Shallow Graves came in the standard window box intro pack package.  This one was wrapped in tight fitting thick plastic, which I’m sure was meant to deter thievery.

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Here are the contents of the box.  The deck, with the foil Noosegraf Mob, shrink wrapped in a cigarette wrapper.  Two Eldritch Moon booster packs.  A Quick Reference Guide.  (Trash).  And a nice poster with propaganda and a decklist.  Here is the front side of the insert, notably featuring the fantastic art of Liliana.  (The SpartanNerd IS Liliana.  What else COULD I say?)

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So, basically the deck is designed to flood the board with hard casted zombies.  Crypt breaker here is a new card for me.  The “Discard a card” will enable two things…Madness and Delirium.  The card I can’t get out of my head on this is Voldaren Pariah.  Not a zombie, but a powerful black card with madness.  Sacrificing three creatures lets it flip, and forces the opponent to sacrifice three creatures.  So here is at least one way the deck might be improved…if I had more copies of Cryptbreaker, that is.

Noosegraf Mob is so good because he lets you keep a board presence against players trying to control the game.  You are trading six mana for ten power, basically. which is good, but it is all around deterrent.

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Another card I would like to point out is Ghostly Wings…a card that enables a creature to fly, and creates discard for you.  Spontaneous Mutation is a new trick…flash it onto a creature, and slowly bing down that creatures attack power as the game progresses!

So what was in my booster packs? I am trying to save memory space on WordPress, so let me summarize that a little bit.

I opened Ulvenwald Observer.  A lame tree folk.  I won’t waste a picture.  That pack also had Tamiyo’s emblem.  Graf Rats was here too. That card permeates this set.  I’m glad the Wizards wanted to push the meld mechanic so much.

It was the rare on the second pack that caught my attention.  A card I had never seen.

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Cast him from exile.  WOW!  A THREE DROP.  There is a deck here.

So how does “Shallow Graves” play out?

I tested it against a few non-standard decks, and this time I uploaded a copy to image and tried it out against a standard environment.

In short, this deck is unsurprisingly unfit for a tournament.  New players will like casting the foil Noosegraf Mob, if they survive long enough!

The dominant deck in standard, Bant Humans, just is too much for “Shallow Graves.”  But not just that.  Just about ANY constructed deck can take out this pre-con.

I love its flavor…but I would rather save the flavor for Dual Decks and Commander.  The Wizards are rightly retiring this product.  I have reviewed several intro decks as the SpartanNerd.  This one is “meh.”  Lots of points for flavor.  Not so much for function.

This time, my booster packs were geared more towards other decks.  One pack had almost all black and red cards.  So that one would be better for a vampires player.  Vampires, by the way, are pretty good in standard.  A good Olivia Mobilized for War deck can eat up Shallow Graves.  I did get some black and blue Eldrazi with Emerge.  If I really wanted to altar the deck, thinking BIG, I could add those.  So this time thats a plus.

I RATE “SHALLOW GRAVES”  2/5.

The art is good.  The flavor is good, even though that doesn’t really belong here in my opinion.  It is fun.  But it is a loser.  There are possibilities for expansion.  Throw in Kalitas.  Lilian, Heretical Healer, Liliana, the Last Hope, and Prized Amalgam and you have something decent!

The Spartannerd rates his FINAL INTRO DECK 2/5.  DO you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

(There are not going to be any more intro packs.  The Wizards are going to put out “Planeswalker Packs” starting with Kaledesh!)