May 20, 2013
An Avacyn Restored Intro Pack Review
Guest article by Neil
I watched a group of kids learn magic this year. They don't have a lot of money to spend on the game, and they don't play competitively. About half of the decks they play are intro packs. A few of them have Event decks, most of which beat the intro pack decks pretty consistently. Some of them try their hand at making decks from scratch, but most don't have the card pool and experience needed to build a deck that functions really well. After watching them over the last few months, and playing with them at times (bringing some of my less powerful eclectic decks), I've become enamored with the intro packs.
Any experienced magic player will tell you that intro packs are a waste of money. Well, they're half-right. It would be a waste of their money. When you compare the cards to a $13 group of hand-selected singles, it's pretty clear. For that price you could get one of the following:
1) One fairly powerful mythic/rare. 2) A playset of very functional rares (Dungeon Geists for example). 3) A playset of the best 3 uncommons in a new set (Lingering souls, Strangleroot Geist, Diregraf Captain). 4) A playset of every common you could ever possibly want to play from a new set.
Instead, you get two rares usually worth no more than a dollar each - with a few exceptions (Blade Splicer, Stromkirk Noble, and Champion of the Parish have all appeared in intro packs), a handful of uncommons, filled out with commons that fit the theme, or at least the color. So, why buy intro packs?
Well, first off, intro packs aren't marketed to experienced players. After all that's why they're called intro packs. When I started playing Magic, my options were booster packs and starter packs. A starter pack had 60 cards - 45 random and 15 lands. If you tried to start playing with one starter, you would be playing a 5-color directionless deck that would be lucky to play a creature by turn 4. Of course, you could buy two, then use the 4 strongest colors to build two decks that at least had a decent chance of playing spells consistently. Now, for less than the price of two starters, new players can be guaranteed a playable two-color deck with a proper mix of creatures, spells, and land.
Intro packs introduce more than the game, however. They introduce the set. When a new mechanic or theme is introduced in a set, an intro pack is created to introduce the idea and give new and casual players - the kind that don't have an RSS feed for spoilers and search forums for deck ideas - ideas on how to use it. After seeing a couple of the Dark Ascension intro packs, I decided to go all out for Avacyn Restored and buy the full set of 5. Intro decks aren't going to hold up to constructed decks, so I decided to test them against each other. I played each deck 3 times against each other deck. Below are my thoughts on each deck and how it fared.
This aggressive human deck has some crazy explosive potential. The theme showcased in Fiery Dawn is enter-the-battlefield abilities. Goldnight Commander, Kruin Striker, and Thatcher Revolt have some mighty fine synergy going. A surprise Thatcher Revolt, Zealous Conscripts, or Kessig Malcontent can steal games that look to be heading the wrong way. The deck can even handle diverse threats from the opponent with Devout Chaplain, Manic Vandal, Pacifism, and a little burn. The deck felt as strong as the record showed against the competition, and the losses were usually due to bad draws that leaned to far onto the high side of the mana curve.
Angelic Might (Green/White): 7-5
As the name suggests, Angelic Might showcases many of the angels in Avacyn Restored. As close as an intro pack can get to a ramp deck, the goal of Angelic Might is to use Rampant Growth and Borderland Ranger to fetch land, making it possible to play - in an intro pack context - some pretty big bombs. Multiple large flyers are not easy to deal with in the intro meta-game, so when the cards fall right the deck can be pretty powerful. When the ramp doesn't hit, however, the deck feels very weak. A little bit of life gain from Cathedral Sanctifiers and Seraphs of Dawn help delay death, but there aren't many win conditions other than big honkin' angels.
Bound by Strength (Blue/Green): 6-6
Bound by Strength shows of the new soulbond mechanic in a big way. It includes many of the most interesting soulbond cards (Wolfir Silverheart, Tandem Lookout, Deadeye Navigator, and Wingcrafter to name a few). Although the record was not impressive, the deck felt strong. More importantly, it was fun to play. There are constantly decisions to be made, since it isn't always in your best interest to immediately pair two creatures. Synergistic pairs are everywhere and often flow in the play pattern, such as Wingcrafter and Tandem Lookout (on turns 1 and 2), Trusted Forcemage and Druid's Familiar (Turns 3 and 4), and Wolfir Silverheart with Pathbreaker Wurm (Turns 5 and 6). Soulbond does create a little more sensitivity to removal, but there are so many creatures in this deck, finding a replacement bond is rarely a problem. The main issue the deck had was handling fliers. Two wingcrafters and a Geist Trapper don't do the trick consistently enough. A little removal couldn't hurt either.
The idea of slaughterhouse is to kill a lot of creatures, even your own, and take advantage of it. Blood Artist, Harvester of Souls, and Havengul Vampire are all ready to take advantage of death. Undying creatures like Butcher Ghoul, Evernight Shade, and Demonlord of Ashmouth are ready to die and keep fighting. Even creatures requiring sacrifices such as the Demonlord or Demonic Taskmaster are less daunting when your sacrificed creatures come back stronger or produce positive effects upon death. Reassembling Skeleton produces some crazy good combos in this deck at times, especially with the Bloodflow Connoisseur or any of the big guns that require sacrifices. It was when these combos landed that the deck really worked. At other times it seemed to misfire. Any number of combos could be built around, but in the deck as it stands, they just aren't consistent enough.
Solitary Fiends (Blue/Black) 4-8
To contrast the soulbond mechanic for the good guys, Avacyn restored brought a lone wolf flavor to the bad guys. The problem with Solitary Fiends is that it is not committed to its theme. Only three creatures benefit from being solitary (2 Fettergeists and one Revenant) and they are only really supported by three enchantments (Demonic Rising, Homicidal Seclusion, and Predators Gambit). The deck is filled out with very questionable creature choices. I can't figure out if Havengul Skaab's ability is supposed to be a drawback or a bonus, but for six mana is pretty much stinks. The deck has some blue bounce and freeze tapping along with one doom blade which provide a little control, but unfortunately there isn't much endgame potential to work toward. When Demonic Rising or Homicidal Seclusion came into play, the deck was competitive, but as each was a 1-of, that was not often enough.
Playing thirty games with intro packs was a little frustrating at times. Some cards keep coming up that I wished I could cut. The cards that really worked needed to come up more often. It was a great introduction to Avacyn Restored, though. I really saw the potential of Red/White humans. In fact, I will probably build around the Fiery Dawn deck and make it more viable in a constructed environment. Bound by Strength is a fun deck to play as well, but I will probably use the more impressive soulbond creatures in other decks.
Do you enjoy playing draft games? If so, you might like intro pack games. The power level and coherence of the decks are very similar. Sure, you won't get any real bombs in an intro pack, but bombs throw off the balance in drafts anyway. You still get two very usable rares. Experienced players are going to get frustrated played an unmodified intro deck, but I could envision an intro deck league in which each player starts with an intro pack and is allowed a limited number of modifications. Limits could be set on maximum card price, total price of new cards, and/or number of cards changed. Alternatively, players could only pull new cards from a limited pool of booster packs. A persistent league in which each player gets a new booster per session and players could trade within their league pool would be pretty fun as well.
Also, if you see a new player eyeing intro packs in your local game store or the card aisle at Wal-Mart or Target, find out how they play and help them make choices. If they are learning the game with other new players, don't steer them away - they are who intro packs are made for. Just point them to one of the good decks. Playing a well put together deck, even at a low power level, will help them learn how to make their own.
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