Arena Review: Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters

My love of Duel Decks isn’t a well kept secret. I know, it sounds absurd to say that I love these little pre-constructed decks that draw across the planes of Magic, but I really do love them! With the September releases acting as a preview for the upcoming set, Heroes vs. Monsters is a good, old-fashioned battle of giant creatures. While Sorin vs. Tibalt soured on me as time went on (well, mostly just Tibalt – even I can’t get him to work), Izzet vs. Golgari are both intact in my deck box because they’re so much fun!

Suggested Ages: 13+
Suggested Players: 2 players
Contents:

  • Two ready-to-play 60-card decks
  • Two deck boxes
  • Two creature tokens
  • A strategy insert
  • A Magic “Learn to Play” guide

Retail price: $19.99 available at Amazon.com

Duel Decks is a series of decks that Wizards releases biannually in the spring and fall. In the spring, they are based around a duel of two planeswalkers from the previous block, while in the fall they act as a preview of the upcoming fall release. In the case of Heroes vs. Monsters, both decks are drawing a great amount of inspiration from the upcoming Theros set.

In the box are two decks specially made to fight each other, each with a premium card (Sun Titan and Polukranos, World Eater), along with two deck boxes, a rules insert and a special feature about the decks themselves.

First up is Heroes. This red-white deck is about a low mana curve with some late-game bombs. It aims for speed, but can run out of gas a bit too quickly for my liking. Like all the Duel Decks, it has a near singleton construction that allows the games to play like limited. It’s fun, and more importantly, gives the decks a starting point for slightly experienced players to tweak and edit the deck to their liking.

The Boros deck has a bit of a Voltron experience to it. A handful of auras allow smaller creatures to get bigger (and the opposing deck has few ways to hinder it). As preparation for Theros, it’s a nice way to get an auras-matter subtheme going. It’s a solid deck, but some obvious cards like Dawnstrike Paladin and Smite the Monstrous are dying to be replaced.

But when looking at these decks, I always look at three categories: new cards, notable reprints, new artwork and new to the modern border.

With Theros on the horizon, Heroes shows off a new legendary creature: Anax and Cymede! This red-white human solider debuts a new ability word, Heroic (which reminds me of a better version of Radiance that doesn’t make me hate everyone). Anax and Cymede is a solid creature on his and her own being a 3/2 with first strike and vigilant. They will hold the ground without any issues for several turns and then late game inspire your army to overrun your opponents with a well-targeted spell! I like cards that are good early game and late game, and Anax and Cymede do both.

On the less exciting side of new cards is Cavalry Pegasus. A weird human lord (in a way), Cavalry Pegasus is a solid common. Granting your whole team flight, when attacking at least, is a strong ability but this deck has a handful of non-humans in the deck that can make this fall flat.

The last new card from Theros is a red aura, Ordeal of Purphoros. What do you get when you combine incremental growth, explosions and lightning bolts? Evidently this uncommon! Ordeal of Purphoros is a lot of fun but is begging to be abused with some old fashion aura-abusers. Auratog will love this, along with any other card that allows you to sacrifice permanents or enchantments.

For reprints that got me to look up, Figure of Destiny is one of the best one-drops ever made, still and as long as Wizards keeps printing him, I’ll keep buying them. Nobilis of War is fun, but I wish Wizards would give us the Lieges again. Kamahl, Pit Fighter is a fun legendary that is starting to show his age. Winds of Rath is a neat Wrath variant out of Tempest, but it is in the modern frame for the first time. Condemn is a nice inclusion but has been printed into oblivion lately. Magma Jet is just a great burn spell.

For new artwork, Sun Titan has a new set of ancient Greece themed armor and looks stunning in foil (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s an incredible six drop). Griffin Guide is free from Dominaria and Time Spiral with some new art… that doesn’t look much like a magical griffin. Miraculous Recovery is in the modern frame for a first and gets new artwork! Pyrokinesis is in the same boat and looks pretty good, but seeing it without Jaya’s quote takes away some of the fun. Gustcloak Sentinel is also in the modern frame for the first time, but I’m not sure anyone cares.

Opposing the heroes is a group of giant monsters who will eventually destroy the world. Key word being eventually. This red-green deck certainly doesn’t evoke the classic  decks of old like Fires of Yavimaya – it is slow. But once it gets going, it drops bomb after bomb and keeps the pressure on.

Polukranos, World Eater is the big preview card of the set. This legendary hydra is impressive! A 5/5 for 2GG puts Blastoderm to shame, but the new ability Monstrosity is where things get interesting. Polukranos isn’t kidding when he calls himself the world eater because for XXG, he eats everything! Being able to have targeted removal in mono-green is terrifying.

Satyr Hedonist is the second preview card in the deck. I’m not sure on the flavor of this card (the satyr explodes, right?) but bursts of mana are always appreciated and allows it to act as a quasi-Manamorphose.

Destructive Revelry is a fine piece of artifact and enchantment removal. While I love Hull Breach, the instant speed combined with a free Shock make this a great tool.

Troll Ascetic was once a great and powerful creature, but is now showing some age. Deus of Calamity is a massive creature that crushes all in his path. Conquering Manticore is kind of boring, but a 5/5 flyer with built-in Threaten is nice. Crater Hellion is in the modern frame for the first time and still a fantastic board sweeper. Skarrgan Firebird is a pet card of mine since I love Phoenixes, but unless he’s blood thirsty, he isn’t good. Kavu Predator is a still a weird card for multiplayer that begs for abuse.

Orcish Lumberjack returns with new artwork that feels very Warcraft-y to me (and amazingly, this isn’t the first time it’s been printed in the modern frame). I still have fond memories of sacrificing a forest to cast Ball Lighting on turn 2 with this guy. Regrowth has the art from DotP2014, along with being in the modern frame for the first time not in foil. Beast Within has new artwork (which is really weird looking), but it is still an amazing card. Fires of Yavimaya has new art, which feels wrong to me. Then again, it being in the new frame feels wrong to me.

Shower of Sparks appears in the new frame for the first time! And Dragon Blood doesn’t look like it is white anymore!

If that wasn’t enough, both decks include one token card! A griffin and beast are included and they look just fine, but getting tokens with Magic backs is weird. The deck boxes still annoy me since they only hold unsleeved decks.

Having taken both decks for test drives, I like the concept of the two of them. Heroes is your classic sligh-archetype with a dash of Voltron, while Monsters teaches about short bursts of mana to get ahead with massive bombs. Neither deck is insanely powerful and they feel evenly matched. An early Pyroclasm can blow out Heroes, while Monsters can easily be defeated by its own mana curve. But when they aren’t fighting each other, that is when the cracks begin to show.

But what I really love about these two decks is the fact that they are White-Red and Green-Red! As a Naya player at heart, this is full of so many fun little toys for WGR mages everywhere. So you Dimir can look elsewhere!

Pros
$20 for two solid decks!
MONSTERS SMASH!
Solid learning experiences
Amazing preview cards

Cons
Magic only has three colors, right?
Stupid deck boxes
Smashing is the only path to victory
Need serious augmenting for the kitchen table