Twice a year, Wizards releases a Magic sealed product known as Duel Decks. This product contains two premade 60-card decks meant to be able to face each other on a relatively even playing field. The latest of these is Sorin vs. Tibalt, which is meant to simulate the battle these two planeswalkers had to determine who would control the plane of Innistrad. Sorin vs. Tibalt, despite the poor initial impressions of its decklists, is a fairly good entry into the Duel Decks series of products.
Duel Decks: Sorin vs. Tibalt
Magic: The Gathering Sealed Product
Release Date: Friday, March 15th, 2013
To begin my review, here are the decklists that each side has to work with:
Sorin’s Deck: Hunt and Feed
1 Bloodrage Vampire
1 Butcher of Malakir
1 Child of Night
2 Doomed Traveler
2 Duskhunter Bat
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Mausoleum Guard
1 Mesmeric Fiend
1 Phantom General
1 Revenant Patriarch
1 Sengir Vampire
1 Twilight Drover
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sorin’s deck is an alteration on a classic archetype, Black/White tokens, crossed with some classic Orzhov draining shenanigans. This deck is very good at taking control of the game in the mid to late stages, controlling Tibalt’s creatures and putting its own creatures beyond the reach of most of Tibalt’s removal suite via the Bloodthirst mechanic and mass pump effects like Phantom General and Zealous Persecution. If the Sorin player is able to assert control of the game from the faster Tibalt deck, it’s all over. Overall, Sorin’s deck stays on point, guarding itself in the early game and cleaning up the late game.
Tibalt’s Deck: Torment and Agonize
2 Ashmouth Hound
1 Coal Stoker
1 Corpse Connoisseur
1 Gang of Devils
1 Goblin Arsonist
2 Hellspark Elemental
1 Lavaborn Muse
1 Mad Prophet
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Scorched Rusalka
1 Scourge Devil
1 Shambling Remains
1 Skirsdag Cultist
2 Vithian Stinger
1 Blazing Salvo
1 Flame Javelin
1 Strangling Soot
1 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Tibalt’s deck is focused on burn, trying to reduce your opponents’ life total as fast as possible. To this end, there are many burn spells, as well as a good amount of “Do [something cool] unless an opponent pays 5 life,” such as Browbeat or Breaking Point and a collection of creatures that like to attack. Also, there’s a bunch of flashback cards, sacrifice effects, and a resurrection spell. Overall, Tibalt’s deck is kind of a confusing mess, trying to do too many things and failing at all because of it.
As The Developers Intended: Playing the Decks Against Each Other
As with all of the other Duel Decks, these two decks are meant to be able to face each other on a mostly even field. However, as is usual for these products, one of the decks is categorically better. This time, that deck is Sorin’s. In my extensive playtesting of the two decks, Sorin almost always won. Tibalt’s deck is fast with the right start, but it too easily runs out of gas. The problem is that this Duel Decks pits a burn deck against its worse enemy, a lifegain deck. Often, the Tibalt player would pull into an early lead, but run out of gas as the Sorin player begins draining all of Tibalt’s life and landing larger and larger creatures. In this respect, Sorin vs. Tibalt is a failure of design. However, the point of Magic preconstructed decks is not to furnish useful decks right out of the box, but to provide a good amount of cards to use in other formats. In that regard, Sorin vs. Tibalt is a great hit.
Breaking It Down: Cards For Other Formats
Sorin vs. Tibalt, like most duel decks before it, comes with many cards that would be useful in other decks, such as reprints of older or hard to find cards, as well as two Planeswalkers, which are always useful to have around. Now, I’ll go through some of the cards that make this product worth buying.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sorin 2.0, first printed in Dark Ascension, is possibly the most powerful card in this set. Sorin is a great enabler for any sort of creature-based strategy. He can protect himself with his Vampire tokens, and his emblem is deceptively powerful. If you can resolve Sorin and keep him on the field, his creature enhancement abilities will be winning you the game in short order, or at least putting you well on that path.
Field of Souls
Field of Souls is a great reprint from this set. It provides some much-needed insurance for creature based strategies in EDH, where board wipes like Day of Judgement and Black Sun’s Zenith fly about like nobody’s business. It ensures that you’ll still have an army afterward, even if it’s a little bit diminished in power. However, the use of mass pump enchantments can turn a board wipe into a huge mass of flyers capable of taking out your opponents.
Ancient Craving is a great utility card, comparable to Ambition’s Cost and Sign in Blood. While it may not seem so at first glance, trading life for cards is a legitimate way to win a game, and is not to be overlooked. The interesting thing about this card is the fact that this is the first reprint since Starter 1999 and Portal Second Age, neither of which saw large print runs, artificially inflating the prices. Now, anyone can get their hands on this great utility card.
Other Standouts from the Sorin Deck:
Mortify is a great card to get as a part of this deck. Destroying other black creatures has historically been a no-go for black decks, so the ability to destroy a target creature is quite useful. The ability to destroy enchantments on top of that is icing on the cake. In a similar vein, Unmake is a wonderful piece of removal, exiling a problem creature and preventing any graveyard shenanigans. Twilight Drover is a great addition to token-based decks. It’s another insurance policy for aggressive decks, allowing you to replenish creature tokens lost in battle. Also, it has a fun interaction with Ashnod’s Altar, allowing you to chain token creatures and make essentially a spirit token for only one white mana as many times as you want, at instant speed.
Tibalt, The Fiend-Blooded
Tibalt in this set, like in his first printing in Avacyn Restored, is a weak card and a massive flop. His +1 ability often does more harm than good, because of the randomness. I can’t remember the number of times that the random discard caused me to have to discard the card I just drew, the one that would have been able to save me. I predict that we will be seeing many Tibalts in trade binders as people try desperately to find the sucker who wants a Tibalt for their deck. Tibalt was the first two mana Planeswalker card to be printed, and it shows; you get what you pay for.
Hellrider is a great role-player in Tibalt’s deck, and is a strong card in Standard Aggro decks right now as well. At the time of this writing, Hellrider is tied with Sorin the most valuable card in the product. Hellrider is a great addition to any red-based aggro strategies, ensuring that damage is always dealt to the target of an attack. Also, he does silly things if you either give him infect or slap a Quietus Spike on him.
Sulfuric Vortex is a really fun card for burn/suicide decks, preventing the lifegain that can make these startegies null and void, as well as providing a steady stream of damage as you drag your opponent’s life total to hell along with your own. All in all, it’s a great addition to the Tibalt deck, both in and out of its preconstructed form.
Other Standouts from the Tibalt Deck:
Blightning is a perennially useful weapon in the arsenal of the Black/Red player, dealing damage and stripping options from your opponent’s hand. Breaking Point is a great reset button for the Tibalt player, allowing you to kill all the creatures if no one pays the life, which is unlikely if you’ve been able to drag down life totals enough that 6 damage is a hard or impossible price to pay to keep the creatures around. Terminate, on the other hand, is a great kill spell for much the same reason that Mortify is: it hits Black creatures. Also, while it seldom matters, the “no regeneration” clause on Breaking Point and Terminate can also be quite important in ensuring that a creature dies.
In conclusion, Sorin vs. Tibalt, while less powerful than some of its predecessors, is a worthy entry into the series. It provides an interesting, if lopsided, experience right out of the box while also including some fun and useful reprints to use in your Standard, casual, and Commander decks. Sorin vs. Tibalt deserves a solid 4 out of 5. It could have been better, but you’re still getting a great value for your 20 dollars.