Magic: the Gathering Duel Decks Review: Izzet vs. Golgari

I love the Duel Decks in Magic. It only took Wizards five years to really get into the swing of things. With the new schedule of the fall decks previewing the upcoming big set and the spring ones revisiting planeswalkers from the world before, it’s a great system. But this set is special because it returns us to Ravnica before we, uh, return to Ravnica.

Two Guilds Clash beneath the Streets of Ravnica

The Izzet League, under the ingenious mind of its guildmaster, the dragon Niv-Mizzet, has dabbled, delved, and decoded many mysteries in its insatiable thirst for knowledge. Now the dracomagus seeks to plumb the depths of Ravnica’s undercity. But the Golgari don’t welcome interlopers in their dank, moldy realm.

Under the command of the elvish lich lord Jarad, the Golgari have dwelled in darkness long enough. The Swarm grows restless and its rot farms need fresh corpses. Jarad believes the time is right to teach Niv-Mizzet’s magewrights a lesson: that there is no place for Izzet research in the vicious cycle of life and death.

Suggested ages: 13 and up
Number of players: 2
Playing time: 30 minutes
Contents: 2 decks of 60 cards, two deck boxes, two inserts, two tokens
Retail price: $19.99 at retailers everywhere

I really like the packaging for these sets. They help the two decks feel like a $20 purchase. With these being sold in big box retailers as well; it makes sense that Wizards wants parents to see the value in these as well. But the real sell is the simple fact that this packaging shows off a dragon fighting a zombie!

For people who want excellent, consistent decks out of the box, these aren’t for you. The Duel Decks really are all about giving people a platform to make a new deck or to show a new idea. I love that the decks show how the value of cards can change depending on what you are up against.

Once the packaging is opened and the cards are freed, you end up with two deck boxes themed after each deck (which sadly only fit one, unsleeved 60-card deck each), a great insert outlining how to play each deck, a rules insert and two Saproling Tokens that Golgari may need in battle.

The Izzet deck is a dastardly red-blue engine of chaos. With simple kill conditions like Kiln Fiend and Wee Dragonauts, it is all about casting a bunch of small spells and making a giant attack. Or you can get fancy and try replicating or overloading to really swing the game. But for causal and Commander players, this deck is packed full of beautiful gems just begging to be played with.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is the iconic legend in the Izzet deck and boy does he deserve it. The new art is stunning and the foil works great – especially on the guild symbol. As a card, he’s a great Commander and a perfect key to unlock your inner Johnny.

Five rares are included in this deck too that range the spectrum of solid reprint to why would they ever reprint this?! Galvanoth is a fun card, but no one has really been begging for his return. Prophetic Bolt returns with new art and looks great – this also means you can have it either with original art and old frame, original art new frame or new frame and new art! If you like combining Lightning Blast and Impulse, you’re welcome.

Invoke the Firemind is a flavorful choice that combines Blaze with Braingeyser (though the fact you only get one side is lame). Djinn Illuminatus is a delightfully crazy card for red or blue mages. If he resolves, your next spell can easily end the game. Finally is Sphinx-Bone Wand which should probably be cut from the deck.

In a great surprise, Isochron Scepter is reprinted! I love with Wizards keeps including these Mirrodin block cards in these sets because casual players love them. In the realm of previews, Street Spasm, Izzet Charm and Goblin Electromancer all show up and make me very excited for Return to Ravnica.

For Commanders looking for some new pimp cards, four additional cards get new artwork too! Izzet Chronarch looks like the elder love child of Jaya Ballard and a Tolarian wizard. Izzet Signet is an adorable stained glass pipe cover, while Brainstorm is very unsettling. Fire/Ice returns as well with brand new art specially themed for Izzet mages.

For fans of the modern frame, Force Spike finally has been printed with the new frame not in foil. Quicksilver Dagger is also in the new frame. The lands are all original Ravnica lands and look great – provided you like the cityscape look.

Facing off against those crazy wizards of the Izzet Guild are the undead Golgari! This black green deck is a bit odd to wrap your head around but I love that Wizards made it so easy to expose new players to non-traditional decks like quasi-Dredge (yes, I know this isn’t a real Dredge deck). If you’re looking for a way to expand your decks, this is a great little starting point.

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord is a brand new commander! This zombie elf is just begging to be built around. His Lhurgofy ability is nice, especially in a deck that actively fills the graveyard. His second ability is amazing thanks to the word “each.” Oh, and he can reanimate himself!

The rares in the deck though are where the real excitement is. Twilight’s Call is an interesting spell that hasn’t been seen in years – and has gotten the new frame treatment! Life from the Loam is a great piece of trade fodder for players who have no interest in Dredge, and for those who want to Dredge away the price is about to go down!

Doomgape is hilariously large (and combos terrifyingly well with Jarad). Gleancrawler gets new artwork and adds an interesting piece of symmetry with the Izzet deck since it and Djinn Illuminatus were both prerelease cards. Finally is a second Dredge card, Golgari Grave-Troll, a card so good he’s banned in modern.

To counter Izzet get Isochron Scepter, Golgari walks away with an Eternal Witness, Dakmor Salvage and TWO copies of Putrefy – with brand new art as well! The Golgari preview cards include Korozda Guildmage and Dreg Mangler.

For new artwork, Golgari Thug returns and seems to have found a hood to wear. Golgari Signet is back and looks to be a piece of wood. Sadistic Hypnotist debuts in the new frame, along with Ghoul’s Feast (go ahead and click, I don’t remember that card either). Feast or Famine is both in the new frame for the first time and gets new art. As a final mirror, Life/Death gets the modern frame again and brand new art.

As far as dueling, both decks have some interesting cards that only really make sense in the middle of the battle. A well placed Magma Spray from Izzet can ruin Golgari, while a lucky dredge filled draw can allow explosive milling with Golgari. In the few games I’ve played, the decks seem fairly well balanced but the near singleton card selection means some games are very swingy, while others can be blowouts.

Then again, that often happens to me at the kitchen table too.

In terms of just the cards, both decks provide a great assortment of staples in various formats. Commander players will love getting legends and alternate art cards, while new players are basically being handed the spells they need to build some Magic’s weirdest decks. This is what Duel Decks should do; inspire people to play more Magic.

Izzet

Lands (24):
Forgotten Cave
10 Island
Izzet Boilerworks
Lonely Sandbar
Mountain
Nivix, Aerie of the FiremindCreatures (15):
Djinn Illuminatus
Galvanoth
Gelectrode
Goblin Electromancer
Izzet Chronarch
Izzet Guildmage
Kiln Fiend
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Ogre Savant
Shrewd Hatchling
Steamcore Weird
Wee Dragonauts
Spells (21):
Brainstorm
Call to Heel
Dissipate
Fire // Ice
Force Spike
Invoke the Firemind
Isochron Scepter
Izzet Charm
Izzet Signet
Magma Spray
Overwhelming Intellect
Prophetic Bolt
Pyromatics
Quicksilver Dagger
Reminisce
Sphinx-Bone Wand
Street Spasm
Thunderheads
Train of Thought
Vacuumelt

Golgari

Lands (24):
Barren Moor
Dakmor Salvage
Forest
Golgari Rot Farm
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
10 Swamp
Tranquil ThicketCreatures (23):
Boneyard Wurm
Brain Weevil
Doomgape
Dreg Mangler
Elves of Deep Shadow
Eternal Witness
Gleancrawler
Golgari Grave-Troll
Golgari Rotwurm
Golgari Thug
Greater Mossdog
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
Korozda Guildmage
Plagued Rusalka
Putrid Leech
Ravenous Rats
Reassembling Skeleton
Sadistic Hypnotist
Shambling Shell
Stingerfling Spider
Stinkweed Imp
Spells (13):
Feast or Famine
Ghoul’s Feast
Golgari Germination
Golgari Signet
Grim Flowering
Life // Death
Life from the Loam
Nightmare Void
Putrefy
Twilight’s Call
Vigor Mortis
Yoke of the Damned