Abeth Edition, Part 1: The Commons

I have spent over two months constructing, playtesting, and balancing a basic set to see if I can do Wizards one better. So let me explain the principles behind Abeth Edition, how and why I chose the cards, and what rules that Wizards has laid down that I choose to break.

Welcome to my baby. Herein is my very own basic set. This includes a host of cards, all balanced with an eye toward creating a very nice set. I want a set that will be both fun to play as well as one that would make money for Wizards… and I believe that you can do both. I also believe that you can have a basic set that will have more cards see play than the occasional piece of mana.

Now, this is not your normal, misty-eyed set. I have no hidden agendas. I do not want to see my favorite cards reprinted, or to bring back “Days of Yore.” My goal is simple: to create the best, most balanced, legitimate, set. You’ll note that some of my favorite cards — like Scarwood Bandits, Tortured Existence, and Elemental Augury — are not in this set.

I have been playing with these cards, in Limited and a fake Type Two, for years. Yes, you read me correctly. I have been tinkering with this for years. I love continuing to balance the environment, add new cards, and so forth. As such, there have been changes. Some old favorites are brought back, and some classics are gone.

Abeth Edition: The Theory
Wizards was right in making the basic set the introductory set. While Portal was fun and gave me an alternate-art Armageddon, new players should have cards which are legal in some environment. There is nothing like being disqualified from a Friday Night Magic Type Two event for playing Jungle Lion or Ingenious Thief.

However, Wizards needs to recognize that the basic set performs another essential element. It becomes the backbone of the Type Two environment. As such, cards chosen should have an eye towards filling roles in a neutral environment. Newbies can understand “Destroy all lands.” You can have both ease, and power, simultaneously.

I think R&D restricts itself unfairly by putting all rares not immediately reprinted onto the reserve list. Buehler once made an excellent case for taking uncommons and commons from Unlimited off the list. I think that the same case can be made for most other cards on the list. Consider, for example, an older rare – say “Yare.” Now, raise your hand if you would buy Yare for more than a quarter. You in the back, with your hand raised? You’re the one who always gets ripped off in trades. The rest of us think Yare is pure crap. You could use it, maybe in Mirage Limited, but it’s hardly constructed worthy.

So why is Yare on the reserve list? Is somebody holding on to a cache of Yares somewhere, waiting for the day when they become worth, say, a dollar? The only reason somebody trades for Yare is to complete his Ron Spencer collection.

I can understand people wanting to protect Moat, Preacher, and Cursed Scroll. Those cards have value. Yare? Come on now, your Yares would only increase in value by their inclusion in Type 2. The same is true of most cards out there that have been condemned to Type 1.5 and Type 1, but are not good enough for either. Have you seen many Scarwood Hags recently? That’s precisely my point.

In constructing my ideal base set, I will look at every card, except for cards on the reserve list that are frequently played in Extended, Type 1.5 or Type 1. I will try to balance the set for limited play and new players. Available to me is every card ever printed, except for Unglued. This includes Portal, as sometimes you can find the occasional gem there.

I think a base set should have several qualities. Firstly, it should have chase cards that make people want to buy the set. Recent basic sets have had chase cards in big, old-school creatures, which helped it to initially sell. The base set should also have Constructed-quality depth — which, sadly, 7th Edition did not have. This causes sales to drop. 6th was a fairly strong set for Constructed play. Besides Painlands, Birds of Paradise, and City of Brass, what got played out of 7th? A few more rares like Opposition, Earthquake, Wrath of God — and what else? The basic set should be used for more than fixing mana.

8th Edition was barely better, with many slots going to unplayable cards added in from various expansion sets.

I also take issue with the removal of trample, upkeep, and protection from the basic set. While banding probably was too confusing, I don’t think that new players find protection or trample too confusing. However, I have relegated them to uncommons and rares. You will not find a single instance of protection, upkeep, or trample in the commons. It is commons that need to be protected the most. Even Wizards breaks their normal rules in rare and occasionally uncommon spots all of the time.

I have also included the occasional card which makes token creatures. Players need to get used to some of these basic abilities before heading into expansion sets. I don’t believe that Raise the Alarm is that hard to figure out, for example. Beginners need some cards to challenge them and get them used to ideas and concepts. After all, even Portal had the occasional Sorcery which could only be played on your opponent’s turn. I can understand taking out confusing cards, but with cards like Storm Cauldron and Teferi’s Puzzle Box in the basic set, it kind of makes me scratch my head. I mean, if Teferi’s Puzzle Box doesn’t count as confusing, then what does?

While combo elements should be in a basic set, they should be the more generic sort of elements, and not specific like the Puzzle Box. Combo elements that play well with several strategies include Winter Orb, Stasis, Ankh of Mishra, and Armageddon (which I hear goes well with big Green beef). In other words, combo elements should be malleable, and able to fit several archetypes. Static Orb and Storm Cauldron are too limited in scope. In fact, no card should be included that has only the most narrow of uses. Animate Wall/Rolling Stones is an excellent example of this problem. It’s simply too narrow. That’s what expansion sets are for.

I started out by looking at every single Magic card and then selecting any that I thought were basic set worthy. I then looked at the cards carefully, tossing out any redundancies. I went back and chose other cards if needed. Then after assembling an initial list, I started playing online with friends, via apprentice. I have built Type Two-ish decks with this as the basic set, and also the occasional sealed and draft. I needed to get an idea of how the set felt and played.

Remember, any fool can pick his favorite cards and say, “These should be in.” It is a lot harder to try and make a legitimate set. Due to the breadth of this topic, there will be two additional parts to it. In the next part, I will list each card, by commonality and creature, with quick comments afterwards. In the last segment, I intend to discuss card choices, take heat for eliminating cards, and otherwise try to explain why I think this is a strong basic sets.

As was explained last time, I have spent over two months constructing, playtesting, and balancing a basic set. In the last article, I explained some of the most basic principles behind building a basic set, in my opinion, of course. Now the grit. Listed below is every card that made the final cut, with a very brief comment following. In the next article, I defend various choices, discuss principles more in depth, and essentially try to show how this is a strong set.

Abeth Edition: The Cards
8th Edition has 350 cards. 20 of those are basic land. That leaves us with 330 other cards, 110 each of common, uncommon and rare. There are 57 cards of each color, 39 artifacts, and 6 lands. While those proportions might change in my set, there should be the same number of cards in each of the colors.

In any set, the basic foundation begins with the commons. Considering that commons are fairly uncontroversial, we will start here. There are 110 commons. Since we will not have any common artifacts, lands or gold cards, this will be a straight 22 cards per color. We will begin with White:

White Commons, Creatures:
Angelic Wall
Cloudchaser Eagle
Crossbow Infantry
Infantry Veteran
Master Decoy
Pegasus Charger
Razorfoot Griffin
Samite Healer
Standing Troops
Suntail Hawk
Youthful Knight

You really should have half creatures and half spells in the commons. Since the set will be used for both Limited and Constructed play, you want to have cards that are useful in the different sets. White’s flavor is mostly small creatures, defensive creatures, and utility creatures. I finally knocked the number of White creatures to fifteen, and I had to cut four creatures. I wanted two 1/1s, and ultimately settled on the Infantry Veteran and Suntail Hawk as good examples. I also wanted a two-drop with two power, and I chose Youthful Knight. Cloudchaser Eagle, Razorfoot Griffin (or Ekundu Griffin, your choice), and Pegasus Charger were chosen to represent flyers. Crossbow Infantry and Samite Healer are nice utility, while the Master Decoy, Angelic Wall and Standing Troops are representative of defense.

The last group of creatures cut were Venerable Monk, Defender of Law, Tormented Angel, and Angelic Page. Each of those were duplicating something else, so they were cut, but if I had to play fifteen creatures, I would play those four as well.

White Commons, Spells:
Angelic Blessing
Battle Cry
Healing Salve
Hero’s Resolve
Pay No Heed
Raise the Alarm

The biggest change here is that the Circles of Protection have been taken out. To be honest, they weighted down White in limited. Having 25% of your common pool being automatically sideboard hurts the player who drafts White. Additionally, Story Circle’s addition made the CoPs superfluous. This allows for some White abilities to be more fleshed out.

The typical Demystify and Healing Salve are still included. Angelic Blessing was chosen to support the concept of White having flyers. Hero’s Resolve replaces Holy Strength, which brings a little more longevity to a creature enchantment. Creature removal features the classic Pacifism and the newer Topple. Battle Cry and Parapet can pump the defenses of your creatures. Pay No Heed is another prevention spell, Congregate represents massive life gain, and Raise the Alarm has a typical White flavor that has long been missing from the basic set.

Green Commons, Creatures:
Elite Cat Warrior
Giant Spider
Grizzly Bears
Llanowar Elves
Lowland Basilisk
Redwood Treefolk
Stalking Tiger
Village Elder
Whiptail Wurm

The final cut of Green brought us to seventeen creatures. I definitely wanted to keep the Llanowar Elves and as the prime mana producer. I felt I need to keep the Spider, Basilisk, Rootwalla, and Grizzly Bears. That left six open spots. I wanted a big creature and elected to keep the Whiptail Wurm. I liked the Elite Cat Warrior for Forestwalking. Stalking Tiger was a good mid-range card as well. That left three creatures.

I cut the Treetop Rangers and Elvish Ranger quickly because they were not fully in the flavor of Green. I also cut the Cave Tiger and Craw Wurm because they were similar to other creatures that were kept. The Cartographer looked like a solid choice, so I put it in. I decided to keep the Village Elder to represent Green’s utility creatures, and I took out the Rootwater Alligator, which had a similar theme.

With two one-drops, I felt safe pulling out the Elvish Berserker, and leaving in the Redwood Treefolk. This gives Green beef, defense, mana production and utility.

Green Commons, Spells
Commune with Nature
Fertile Ground
Giant Growth
Rampant Growth
Treetop Bracers

I really like the idea of Green focusing more on creatures. One way of doing that is to up the number of creature enhancers in common slots. I made the only flying “hoser” Treetop Bracers, because that is more useful for a creature-oriented theme than, say, Squall or something. I replaced Stream of Life with Nourish, which is just much better. Commune with Nature was a nice addition and feels very Green. I really wanted to bring it in. There are some old standbys here, like Fog, Giant Growth, and Regeneration. Green is a fairly stable color, and I wanted to keep that theme in the commons. Naturalize also shows up as Green’s generic answer to things artificial.

Red Commons, Creatures
Balduvian Barbarians
Ekundu Cyclops
Frost Ogre
Goblin Chariot
Goblin Commando
Goblin Raider
Goblin Tinkerer
Lightning Elemental
Raging Goblin

Red’s common creature needed an overhaul, I thought. Red needs a couple of creatures that have haste, and I keep the three from 7th. Frostling is the second one-drop for Red. I included it both for flavor and for power. Other additions included Goblin Commando, a 2/2 for 4R that deals two to a creature, and Frost Ogre as your high-end creature. Another two-drop, Fireslinger, is added, and Ekundu Cyclops replaces Hill Giant. These additions flesh out Red more, I think.

Red Commons, Spells
Crack the Earth
Heat Ray
Lava Axe
Maniacal Rage
Screaming Fury
Stone Rain
Trumpet Blast
Volcanic Hammer

If you have played 7th draft, then you know that Red gets a lot of burn in the common slots. I wanted to tone that down some. Red should have removal, but it shouldn’t be able to burn its opponents out in draft with regularity. So I substituted other forms of creature control. Practically all of Red’s common spells blow up something, which is in flavor. So I added a few spells that continue that flavor. I narrowed my list to thirteen cards, and then took out Granite Grip and Lightning Blast. The remaining list includes Blood Frenzy, Trumpet Blast, and Heat Ray as new cards. Heat Ray can take out the big creatures that Lightning Blast was taking out, and Screaming Fury substitutes for Granite Grip as a more flavorful Red effect. Maniacal Rage and Crack the Earth round out the selection of commons.

Black Commons, Creatures
Agent of Shauku
Blood Pet
Bog Raiders
Carrion Feeder
Disease Carriers
Drudge Skeletons
Fledgling Djinn
Hollow Dogs
Ravenous Rats
Razortooth Rats

This selection adds Carrion Feeder to Blood Pet as the one-drops. Fledging Djinn gives Black an aggressive creature that’s in flavor. Bog Raiders replaces Scathe Zombies. Ravenous Rats should be a popular addition. Disease Carriers and Agent of Shauku are nice utility additions. This is similar to the 7th Edition creature base, because I think they had a few good choices there.

Black Commons, Spells
Consume Spirit
Dark Banishing
Feast of the Unicorn
Mind Rot
Raise Dead
Vicious Hunger

The big news here is that Consume Spirit replaces Corrupt. The Black commons needed a more powerful card. Dark Banishing returns. Enfeeblement is brought back as well. Coercion and Mind Rot play the parts of hand destruction. Feast of the Unicorn is a powerful creature enhancer, while Fear returns as the other creature enchantment. Skulltap represents one way Black achieves power — through sacrifice. Toss in Vicious Hunger for Black-oriented damage.

Blue Commons, Creatures
Coastal Hornclaw
Hammerhead Shark
Man o’-War
Manta Riders
Merfolk Traders
Minamo Sightbender
Rootwater Commando
Sage Owl
Sea Monster
Tidal Warrior
Whiptongue Frog

I decided to ignore the Wizards’ policy on merfolk. While I was perfectly willing to follow new policies on a variety of cards and ideas, I am standing my ground with merfolk. Sea-based creatures that can walk on land make perfect sense for Blue just like mountain-based creatures make sense for Red.

Even with the addition of merfolk, no other color needed as much of an overhaul as Blue’s creatures. Many of the ones currently being played are not in the flavor of the color. Here, we have the two one drops — Manta Riders and Tidal Warrior. Tidal Warrior fits in nicely with some of the other creatures. Historically, Blue has Islandhome creatures, and we sort of continue that theme here with the Hammerhead Shark and Sea Monster. Plus, we add an islandwalker with Rootwater Commando. In flying, the Hornclaw adds a price to a decent body. Sage Owl and Man-o’-War add useful comes into play abilities. Toss in Minamo Sightbender as a more powerful way to make an unblockable creature. The Traders and Frog round out the color. I really miss the Wind Drake, and it was my twelfth creature. I would have kept it in, but there were too many 2/2s for 2U, and it was cut.

Blue Commons, Spells
Phantom Wings
Mana Leak
Remove Soul
Robe of Mirrors
Sleight of Hand
Phantasmal Terrain

There are a few interesting commons added for Blue. Phantom Wings is vastly superior to Flight, and adds to Blue’s bounce effects. Another addition for bounce is Repel. Robe of Mirrors gives us a basic creature enchantment that’s needed. Mana Leak, Phantasmal Terrain, Sleight of Hand, Twiddle, Remove Soul, Boomerang, and Inspiration all return. Dehydration also helps Blue keep up with the common removal in other colors, especially necessary for common play. Intervene is put in as a solid counterspell for Limited. Blue’s common spells have been historically weak for Limited play.

Next up: The Uncommons