Abeth Edition: In Practice
In the last three sections, I explained the basic principles I would use to construct an ideal basic set, and then I listed the cards and gave a brief synopsis of each. In these next two installments, I will try to explain and defend some of the more controversial choices, and some of the principles involved in their selection.
The Basic Set should have classic rare banner cards that drive sales. These cards are meant to be initially popular, but they may not be later. Or, maybe they will be environment-defining cards. Either way, we are looking for a big splash. Here are the cards I think are the banner cards in this set:
Each of these cards will result in increased sales. However, the Djinns, Angel, Vampire, and Dragon would be old news if this set were printed next, since they’ve all been recently reprinted. That leaves, of this list Clone and Jade Statue. Clone is a classic card, and it would be used heavily in Type Two. (It wasn’t the last time it was legal – The Ferrett, looking to past history) The Jade Statue was barely used in playtesting, because it simply is not as powerful as it used to be in a different environment. There was always something better and more powerful. Maybe it would find a use, though.
There are additional cards which could be considered mini-banner creatures. I feel they would also help sales of the set, and would appeal to players, although not as much as the above cards. They are:
Child of Gaea
Denizen of the Deep
Each of the above creatures is big, or is an Angel. Each should be popular with fans, and drive sales initially. Of the group, several could be playable, with Child of Gaea probably being in the forefront. Denizen of the Deep is a monstrous 11/11 without any disadvantage, and could see play in recursion or combo decks or with Show and Tell. I playtested Thundermare, the Child, and the Angel, but felt each was fine.
I liked Child over the more obvious Force of Nature because it is more playable in a constructed environment. A seven-power creature goes all the way in the same amount of time as an eight-power creature… but the Child is much easier to play, and regenerates. (Why not Verdant Force, which would really bring players out of the woodwork? – The Ferrett)
Phyrexian Colossus is probably better than the Sardian one, as long as Voltaic Key is not in the environment. Thundermare was a popular card when it was first printed, and I imagine people might break out their old cards for some equine love. Delraich could see play as well, although my playtest group couldn’t really come up with a viable way of breaking it in the current environment.
There should also be a couple of old, rare, popular cards that haven’t seen the light since the dawn of time. We have two:
Each of these cards has not seen print since Legends/Unlimited, but they really fit the theme of their colors. As such, they made it past each of the stages of elimination. There were several other cards which did not make the final cuts but came close, like False Orders and Land Equilibrium. However, these two cards are also small banner-like-cards. I expect they would also help initial sales. The Blaze of Glory would quickly fade, ironically, but I believe that Hellfire would have some staying power. There was a White/ Black build with it instead of Wrath that was particularly effective….
Lords and the Like
Another theme was to include a few cards that help out other creatures. These include:
Lord of the Undead
This was really hard to balance, because there were several issues. I think that Lord of Atlantis was just too powerful for its color. I wanted, initially, to include a Lord in each color, but the ones in some colors were ultimately too limited. White, for example, has Daru Warchief, but I wanted to steer clear of the Onslaught block tribal themes. Icatian Lieutenant was a little too limited.
I toyed with a Thrull theme in Black with the Thrull Champion, Tourach’s Gate, Soul Exchange, Blood Pet, Necrite, and Mindstab Thrull in the basic set. But, after I started cutting, it was obvious that I needed to stick with the old Zombie theme. I went with the Lord of the Undead over the Zombie Master, because I felt the Lord was more Constructed worthy without being overly powerful like the Atlantean one. Zombie Master still came close to qualifying though, even with the Undead Lord.
Goblins. Are. Fun. That’s enough said there.
In Green, there were easy choices. The Elvish Champion was a fine keeper. In Red, I wanted another Goblin, and decided that the Wizard would be a nice addition.
I also included two additional cards that deal with creature types:
These cards could easily fit into the “Foil” section, but I want to mention them here. These are ways to stop creature themes in case it got out of hand in tournaments.
There are two basic types of hosers: Those which actually hose, and those which are just nice supplements. We will start with the first:
This is a touchy subject. If they are too good, or not good enough, then an entire environment can be ruined for years. I think that Perish was one such mistake, and we can see Green thriving since it has left. However, hosers like Warmth or Thoughtleech do nothing, and just take up space. I think a hoser should either be a tough card, but nothing that is impossible to deal with, or a nice supplement. Additionally, hosers should have the flavor of their color.
An important note before we begin analysis is to mention that the hosers, as a rule, do not need to be balanced in power. The only thing that matters is that the hoser a card is hosing should be balanced. Blue has Baleful Stare and Hibernation as its hosers, and Hibernation is obviously much more powerful. However, Green’s anti-blue hoser is Choke while Red’s is Sirocco. Sirocco and Baleful Stare are close in power level, while Choke and Hibernation are close in power level, and that’s all that matters in balancing hosers.
White’s hosers are, I believe, the most powerful of the lot. However, White’s hosers do nothing that plenty of commons throughout Magic’s history do not also do. They simply give it to all of their creatures. I like the Absolutes because they just feel more White than, say, Sanctimony or something. Black and Red can both go to the dome, and both have creatures that can’t be blocked by White, allowing for damage to still get through. Plus, Black has No Mercy, which will kill the pro Black guys, and Red has Bedlam, which will allow it to serve.
Blue’s players as mentioned above, are of two power levels. Baleful Stare is a very blue ability but a minor addition to decks – while Hibernation stays, which was kind of controversial. Green can simply replay creatures, and Green gets one of its best anti-blue hosers, too, so I kept it in.
Black has a very stale pair with Slay and Execute. Again, I wanted Black’s kill to feel better than its normal kill, so they are free. These are the only two cantrips in the set. I constantly used them as sideboard cards, though, so I suspect that they’d continue to see play. I was initially considering Virtue’s Ruin and Perish though, so be glad I toned it down.
Red sees the return of a classic in Flashfires. Popping land is very Red. So is dealing damage, and Sirocco will see play. Sirocco could be boarded a bunch versus Blue control, and was is easier to get past a counter wall than Boil, so I put it in. I did like the synergy of Boil and Flashfires though, and Boil almost made the cut.
Green sees one of its most potent anti-blue cards reprinted in Choke. ‘Nuff said there, because Thoughtleech was definitely not cutting it for me. Compost stays in as a perfectly fine card. There is a rare card for Green, reprinted as a “Foil” which many might think of as a Blue hoser, so I will mention it here in passing – City of Solitude.
After knocking down hosers, there are minor, lesser hosers. There was no specific attempt to balance all of these. Here, then, are these hosers:
These were all uncommons and rares, so no real attempt at balancing with other cards was felt to be necessary. Of them, you will note that only Green has two creatures, as Green should express itself through creatures. All of these have some “hosing” aspect to them, but none are hosers.
One quick note, though. After some playtesting, I wanted a Red creature with protection from White. I wanted one to run through and deal some damage through Absolute Law protection. While Wildfire Emissary was a very strong choice, I needed a good White creature as well. I ultimately decided on the Goblin Wizard, as he filled two spots one as a Goblin enabler and another as a Pro White enabler. However, Wildfire Emissary is probably the card I most wish I could have fit in that I didn’t.
I felt that White’s anti- Black card, Absolute Grace, was better than Execute by enough that I didn’t include an extra anti- Black creature in White. It is a hole, and I recognize that. But I think it is a warranted one. I wanted Black to have some edge, somewhere.
Yet, note that White has Voice of All. This gives White a generic hoser for any color, including itself.
While I knew it would not be popular, I wanted both Birds of Paradise and City of Brass out. They were just a little too good at what they did. I do not think that the tools in the basic set should be so good, that there can never be a mana fixer better than them printed in an expansion set. I found the existence of Birds to be a limiting factor on choosing what cards to include. The backbone for a 5cG deck still exists with Utopia Tree, Joiner Adept, and Fertile Ground.
The City was a closer call. In the end, I felt that it was just a little too good for its ability. A land that taps for all five colors should not be so good that people are playing it in a two-color deck – and people were doing that with City. I had to take it out. Instead, Gemstone Mine is reprinted, and in an uncommon slot to boot.
The good news is that all ten painlands are reprinted. This will allow people to play any two-color combination with greater ease. I think the printing of the off-color painlands was long overdue, and I know that lots of players look for them in future basic sets.
There are also a few artifact sources of mana. The Diamonds are reprinted, as is Mana Prism. Mind Stone and Lotus Blossom also could see some play. I wanted to include some artifact choices without hiding a Wildfire deck in the set. As such, I steered clear of cards like Thran Dynamo.
I feel that the basic set should include some “In Case of Emergency” cards. Ideally, most of these cards will never see play. They exist as a foil to a certain strategy, in case it gets out of hand. The goal here is to have a toolbox capable of dealing with any degeneracies that might develop. The existence of these cards should help to keep any environment fresh, and they should reward the skillful player, instead of the rock-paper-scissor metagame matchups used so often:
City of Solitude
Rule of Law
Each of these cards will help to alleviate various issues or strategies. There were, of course, several cards that ultimately did not make the cut, including a Red non-basic land hate card. But I wanted as many of these solutions to be colorless as possible, so that any deck had an option to use it. Of those that could be used by anybody, Dust Bowl is the only land.
Cursed Totem and Null Rod may seem the most obvious. Juntu Stakes and Meekstone help versus various sized creatures. Look at Bubble Matrix as an equalizer of combat if beef runs amok.
Then we have the others. I liked Spiritual Focus over Dodecapod – but in retrospect, maybe including the ‘Pod would have been the right move, so anybody could use it. Still, stopping discard feels White, just like stopping land destruction has always been White. Shatterstorm is a classic, hosing graveyards is traditionally Black, and we already covered the creature type killers.
That leaves City of Solitude, a choice which will, I am sure, generate a lot of heat. Let me tell you why City of Solitude is included.
Because it is not Defense Grid.
Initially, I was testing Defense Grid. But, testing showed that tons of decks used the Grid in my new environment. If you were combo, you sometimes benefited from it main. White weenie, Black speed, Sligh, Goblin decks, Elfball decks…. every non-control deck I tried resulted in Defense Grid seeing play in the boards.
I had to take out the Grid. But I wanted something that said, “You may not do stuff now.” Enter City of Solitude. In a way, City is worse than Defense Grid, and yet, it can be so much better. Plus, only one color has access to it. Since these were used almost exclusively to stop Blue, playing it in Green felt right. This also gave Blue a potential answer. With the Grid, it could be played on turn 2, before any sort of counterspelling mana came online. However, with a three-drop, Mana Leak should be available to Blue players as a possible solution.
In testing, the City helped the elf-ball deck and a janky combo deck I built played them main. But it was not nearly the pain Defense Grid was. So if you don’t like City, imagine how bad the place could have been, and breathe that sigh of relief.