The Rath Cycle. What do those words instigate into your minds? What if I say "power rares in the Rath Cycle?" Immediately, I’m sure most you start thinking Cursed Scroll, Survival of the Fittest, Living Death, Tradewind Riders, Oath of Druids, Mox Diamond… The list goes on and on. Now, what about when I say "power rares in Nemesis?" Umm… Ascendant Evincar? Erm… Parallax Wave? Ehh… Rootwater Thief? Uhh… Lin Sivvi? Not much else comes to mind. And that brings me to today’s article: power. And many players’ addiction to it.
The Rath Cycle was a set of expansions that brought a new meaning to the word "power" in Magic. The above cards were among many rares (and uncommons and commons) that made the Rath Cycle THE time to be playing Magic. Life couldn’t be better. Don’t like weenies? Cursed Scroll. Don’t like permanents? Tradewind Rider. Like combos? Living Death. Like card advantage? Wall of Blossoms. The Rath Cycle had it all. And, for those who still liked to play with fun decks with powerful creatures, we were supplied with creatures like Verdant Force, Sliver Queen, and Ertai, Wizard Adept.
All of this power wasn’t alone. It had the Mirage cycle to lean on. I started playing Magic around Tempest’s inception into Standard, so I don’t have extensive knowledge of the previous expansions, but Visions was some good I hear.
So, what did all of this power lead to? Addiction. Magic players looked at their Wurm decks and looked at decks like ProsBloom. The proverbial Magic player looked left at the Wurm deck pouting and giving the puppy-lip; he looked right and saw ProsBloom flexing its muscles and promising power. Lip vs. Muscle. Lip goes home quivering. The proverbial Magic player picks up ProsBloom and realizes what it is to have POWER. He wants more power. More, more, MORE! Cursed Scroll… "If I build a deck with lots of quick cards to maximize this card…" BAM! Cursed Stampy/Sligh. Tradewind Rider…" If I mix this with certain utility creatures like Wall of Blossoms and counters…" BAM! Tradewind Control. Mox Diamond… "Do any of my decks need MORE mana?" I’m not getting into this. Not to mention Survival, Death, and other rampant decktypes. Thus, was the proverbial Magic player addicted to power.
I think we can universally agree that addiction is a bad thing. So, what did Wizards do to calm our needs for MORE POWER? Instead of being a stern parent, they satiated our ravenous hunger for Magical dominance. The only way to beat one broken card was to use another broken card in its place. Wizard$ of the Coa$t profited greatly from this, so they were happy. The Magic players got what they wanted, so they were happy.
The set I speak of, of course, is Urza’s Saga. With the introduction of cards like Time Spiral, Gaea’s Cradle, Argothian Enchantress, and Morphling, the Magic community was in full-blown power-addiction. Their craving madness was only fueled by Legacy with Grim Monolith, Avalanche Riders, Rancor, etc. and by Destiny with Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Powder Keg, Masticore, etc. During the four months when all of Tempest through Destiny were legal, Magic players were on a high. A high of mastery over the Magical elements.
This time was a cursed blessing. There was a great variety of decks. Looking at Worlds decks from this time, you see these decks: Buehler Blue, Corrupter Black, Cursed Stampy, Fatty Hatred, Mono Brown, Sped Red, Suicide Oath, and Zvi Bargain. Look at that! No two decks alike. Each is fun to play and very powerful. Among the field, power could only be beaten by power. Take any one of these decks against the current field, and what would happen? The worlds deck would wipe the floor with pretty much anything else out there.
So, was this a good or bad time? That’s not what I’m here to judge. If you’ll remember the title of this article, I’m simply pointing out that many Magic players were/are addicted to power. The time in Standard with the Rath Cycle and the Urza’s Cycle was fun and LOADED with power. But, along with power, came the longing for it.
When the Rath Cycle rotated out and Mercadian Masques was brought into Standard, nearly everybody complained. "Where are the power rares?" was the major questions on everyone’s mind. The answer is simple; there aren’t many/any. The "weakness" of Mercadian Masques and Nemesis are just what the anti-addiction doctor ordered. However, one half of the power cycles is still around: Urza’s block. We still have Masticore, Powder Keg, Treachery, Bargain, Morphling, Wildfire, Cradle, etc. (with a noticeable lack of white cards on that list). "So, what, Oh Analogous One, does this mean?" you ask.
The Masques Cycle is the Nicotine patch of Magic players. The combination of the Masques Cycle with the Urza’s Cycle is a gradual downgrade from permanent godliness to mere mortality. Consider the cycles of Standard as a staircase. At one end, we had the step of Mirage/Rath Cycles. Then, we take a step up to the Rath/Urza’s Cycles. Now, we’re stepping back down to the Urza’s/Masques Cycles and finally, we’ll be at a brilliant floor-level of Masques/Invasion Cycles. This last one, I envision, will be as an inverse of the Rath/Urza’s Cycles. Because as powerful as the Rath/Urza’s Cycles were, Masques/Invasion Cycles will be mediocre. And then will we be addicted to power? Nay, I say, nay!
So, what are my visions for the future? Stampy decks featuring Skyshroud Ridgeback and 2/2’s for 2, black decks featuring 4/4’s for 3 that make you sac a creature to come into play, Ponza decks that are beatable, good ole’ permission decks, and white weenie running rampant. Combo? Bah! The best combo out there will (hopefully!) be Parallax Wave/Wrath of God. Will I be right? Only time will tell. Until then, I’ll be watching the proverbial Magic player become less addicted to power and more willing to use mediocre cards. And, if Urza decides to show up in Prophecy or Invasion and we get another shot of power, we’ll just have to make do with what we have.