Appreciation: Nine Things That Make Me Happy

Sam Black is feeling the love! Today he shares his happiness about everything from Skittering Surveyor’s flavor text to No Banned List Modern at SCG CON!

I can get pretty excited about Magic. Sometimes I have to rein that in to avoid getting carried away with an idea that’s sweeter than it is good (Dominaria is really forcing me to acknowledge that I’m a Johnny who occasionally pretends to be a Spike to make a living, or to be taken seriously, or something).

Lately, I’ve been thinking that I should try to be more positive as a rule in life in general. I almost started this with a complaint about negativity, but, see, that’s how they get you. Today, I’m going to try to stay complaint free. This will just be a list of things in Magic, and especially Dominaria, that make me happy.

1. First and Foremost, Spider Friends

This adorable all-star of Dominaria Limited obviously deserves a nickname, especially given its six-syllable given name, but I’ve seen some debate about what to call it. Well, I’d like to make the case for my nickname, Spider Friend.

“Like a cross between a spider and a spyglass, but friendlier.”

When I read that flavor text, I immediately took a picture of the card and sent it to my partner Lex, whose taste is possibly better expressed through that precise sentence than anything else I can think of, so I may be a little biased, but that’s some delightful, top-tier, high-quality flavor text.

And it’s so perfect for the card. This thing is a helper. It makes your deck work. Most creatures are there to make life worse for your opponent, but this one only trivially does that. Its purpose is clearly just to make your life better.

So how great is it that, to my mind, it also happens to be the best common creature in Dominaria Limited? Think about it: the most powerful common creature is a friendly helper that makes your deck work better instead of threatening your opponent. How could that not say great things about the format?

For those of you who haven’t played a lot of Dominaria Limited, or maybe are otherwise convinced of the majesty of our Spider overlords, let me explain why this card is so great in this format: it does just enough of everything. There are good and important gold cards, and a lot of splashable common removal, so decks will often be two colors and a splash, which this card makes much easier to pull off.

It’s a historic card, which matters for several decks, and its stats are perfect to hold off Saprolings. Extra lands are more useful than normal because of kicker. Kicker makes it more like a land in the mid-game and is worth almost as much as a random card. This is a format where Divination shines and this provides the same amount of value, but without falling as far behind on the battlefield, especially since there’s playable Equipment to help get more value out of the body.

Anyway, on top of all that, this flavor text is really just a tribute to the fantastic art.

2. Sagas

Yeah, I know, not the first time I’ve written about these, and my newfound love is well-documented, but I’m still shocked by the extent to which these hit it out of the park. They’re fantastic reminders/refreshers/introductions to the incredible history of the flavor for Magic’s “early years” (roughly the first half of its existence?). It’s a great way to tell players what things they’re missing that they can go research if they want to know more about the flavor history, and even if they don’t, the cards themselves often provide something of a brief synopsis through their mechanics.

Some of them are incredibly simple, but still delightfully flavorful, like The Antiquities War, which makes it clear that this had a Cold War feel with a lot of buildup and no direct conflict; it’s a war that starts by just adding cards to your hand and not impacting the battlefield at all, but then in the end, they just weaponized everything and went to town.

This tapestry-like Saga illustrates the Ghitu creation myth, but really, no context is needed to get the idea of some tremors (mirroring the card Tremor), then a buildup of energy, and an eruption.

On its face, this is a sweet value card that can lead to a big finish or a lot more value or a game ending combo turn, but I love that it’s in a set with cards like Nature’s Spiral and Blink of an Eye that let you just get endlessly grindy with it, even in Limited. It’s just a such a perfect Johnny card, allowing many different styles of build around. This card has layers.

I don’t even know what we did to deserve The Mending of Dominaria in the same set as The Mirari Conjecture, but I know I haven’t gotten to durdle this hard in Limited since Runic Repetition met Memory’s Journey.

3. Standard Before the Pro Tour

How great is Standard right now? Okay, maybe it looks a lot greater from where I’m sitting than the coverage makes it look, but the coverage doesn’t even make it look bad. What I mean is, there are some big, flashy mythics that showed up and changed the way Standard looked and played. This set made an impact and a serious one.

Like, we didn’t just add some cards to the best decks. We more or less completely threw them out. Where are Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God? What happened to God-Pharaoh’s Gift? Are the decks we’re seeing now the future of Standard?

And it’s that last question I love. Before the Pro Tour, it feels like everyone could be missing anything. There are so many weird and powerful new cards and interactions to explore. I’m starting to get serious about testing Standard now that I’ve finished my first two Limited GPs for this format, and all I’m doing is building and trying brew after brew.

Last night I realized that my U/G The Mirari Conjecture deck only had three Baral, Chief of Compliance and two Walking Ballistas to win the game, and that’s kind of enough but feels a little low, so what did I do? I added Gaea’s Blessing. Do I look like I’m trying to finish a match? Come on, seriously, why would I want to stop going off with The Mirari Conjecture?

After the Pro Tour, it feels like people have probably already found everything, and that might not be true, but the illusion is somewhat discouraging. Maybe there should be more time between a set release and the Pro Tour.

4. Humans in Modern

After Humans, already the most played deck in the last Modern Pro Tour and a known deck to beat, finished first and second in this season’s Magic Online quarterly tournament…thing…however it is they name that stuff, the point is it’s a pretty important tournament. Also, congrats to Kenji Tsumura, because if you’re not excited to see him play in the Magic Online Championships next year, you probably weren’t following coverage thirteen years ago.

It’s pretty clear that Humans is good. Great? I don’t know, but the real question is when you start calling it oppressive.

I’m inclined to say the answer is never. If Humans is the best deck, you just smile and move on, and accept that the format is in a good place. I mean, it’s a creature deck, right? What more could you want? It plays normal, fair Magic; it’s vulnerable to removal; it features a reasonable number of decisions with sequencing and how to use cards like Kitesail Freebooter, Reflector Mage, Meddling Mage, and Phantasmal Image, so it’s interactive and there’s play to it; and none of the cards are blatantly busted on the surface.

All that said, this is an aggro prison deck. It establishes a fast clock while preventing your opponent from doing anything. Its closest analog is probably Shops in Vintage, a deck with weird lands good at casting precisely the spells in that deck but very bad at casting a lot of other spells (heavily restricting the options for changing the deck), that clocks the opponent quickly while removing a lot of their options.

That makes it a hard deck to beat. If you identify cards that are good against it, you must find a way to cast them through Kitesail Freebooter, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Meddling Mage. But seriously, what card from this deck can you justify banning? Aether Vial? I certainly hope not. Thalia? Isn’t that the kind of check on Storm you want in the format?

For what it’s worth, if something does need to go, the most objectively broken card in the deck is the clear card to ban, which is good, because the deck could continue to exist and play out exactly the same, but it would be maybe just enough weaker to be at the right power level. The card I’d ban, if anything, is Horizon Canopy. When you have a two-land strong enough that one-color decks want to play it, that’s probably a sign that the card is a little over the top.

5. Lich’s Mastery

Have I mentioned that these things are really in no particular order, beyond Skittering Surveyor rightly going first, like it should in most packs?

Lich’s Mastery is incredibly sweet. It’s a weird-looking build-around that’s extremely hard to evaluate in Limited and Constructed, with enough support to be tempting in both and some really weird play patterns. When should you be picking Lich’s Mastery in Draft? How much to you want to warp your draft around it?

I mean, this isn’t a card for the faint of heart. Maybe you should only take it if you just happen to already have a black deck with several ways to gain life or maybe you’re more like me and, when you draft this set, you just want to feel something explore all the sweet options that are possible.

Anyway, after you figure out what deck with this card is supposed to look like, and if you manage to actually assemble that piece by piece during a draft, you still have the challenge of trying to figure out when and whether to cast it in a game when you draw it. Yeah, that’s right, it’s a six-mana build-around that you want to have on the battlefield to make the synergies work, but that you sometimes don’t even want to cast when you can, and I still think it’s a pretty good card. Is there something wrong with me? I hope not.

6. Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain

Lately I’ve been exploring the joys of Turn 4 Jhoira, Mox Amber, Turn 5 Karn’s Temporal Sundering, and is there really anything more I need to say to express how delightful this card is?

I mean, it’s pretty sweet that so many different things are historic. You can build a dedicated artifact deck, or a legendary creature deck, or a Saga deck, or a combination of any of those (and, yes, I’ve done all of those) around the card. Even now, just glancing at the card again, I’m inspired by another new deck I want to try. This card has so much potential, and it’s so fun to go off with. If this card’s not on your radar, well, you’re probably more of a Spike than I am.

7. SCG CON’s Unusual Formats

Did the bosses tell me to write this one? Are you just reading an advertisement now? Have I gone full shill?

Nah, I mean, if you want a look behind the curtain, I’ve been writing here for a long time and for the vast majority, there was little to no direction. In the last few months, maybe the last year or something, the editors or content managers have actually provided some management, which is nice, just to let us know what kinds of things people are reading about and interested in at the moment, stuff like, “Hey guys, no one’s reading about Standard right now because nothing new is happening, maybe focus on Modern unless you’ve broken it.”

Anyway, this week we were given permission to start writing about Vintage, Pauper, and No Banned List Modern, since people might start thinking about those formats in preparation for SCG CON, and, look, if you think I know anything about those formats, you may not really be in touch with how playing professional Magic works. As much as I’d love to know a lot about every format, it’s really hard to have time for the ones that aren’t used in GPs and PTs, so I know next to nothing about any of them.

But I do know that it’s pretty sweet that SCG is experimenting with running a Pauper tournament in paper. I mean, I’m under the impression this a popular format on Magic Online with something of a healthy community of players. If nothing else, as a Pauper player, I imagine it would be pretty sweet to finally get to play in a tournament where you can easily chat with the other players about this format you’ve only really played from the comfort of your own home before.

Paper Vintage tournaments are always sweet to watch, even if almost no one can afford them, just because I have enough nostalgia around the old cards that I just like seeing Power 9 on the battlefield.

And No Banned List Modern…this tournament feels like a community service. Like, yeah, most of those banned cards clearly shouldn’t have been printed, but given that they were, it’s probably worth knowing just how bad it would be if people could play with them. Maybe the results will somehow inform future unbanning decisions, or at the very least, answer questions people have: “Just how busted was this card?” or “Why exactly can’t we do that?”

8. Card Box Hotels

If you were wondering if I could shill any harder, how about an explicit product recommendation? Anyway, I recently learned that these exist and they seem like by far the best way to store large collections, so it seems like an important PSA that this is a thing.

It’s a box, maybe around three rows high and four across for holding one-row card boxes, which allows extremely compact card storage while letting your easily slide out a single box to get at any given card you need without trying to move any super-heavy boxes with several rows and makes for easier stacking than anything else I’ve seen. It’s like an affordable cardboard version of a library card catalog.

9. Ghitu Chronicler

Without feeling at all out of place in the color pie (Recoup, Past in Flames, Surreal Memoir), this card changes and redefines how red plays in Limited. I was recently playing a game of Limited against a R/W deck, which I assumed meant I want playing against an aggro deck because my opponent was R/W, but it turned out he was actually playing a bunch of Shivan Fires and Blessed Lights with three Ghitu Chroniclers, some legendary creatures, and Jaya’s Immolating Inferno, and he crushed my B/G creature deck in the late-game.

The first time I tried drafting R/G, I just assumed I’d be drafting an aggro deck, but that cards I saw quickly made me realize that’s not what was happening, that kicker was the name of the game, and that I’d want a lot of mana and big effects. Six mana for a 1/3 and a Relearn may not look like much, but this is the kind of card that defines Dominaria Limited, and, as someone who appreciates Cubes that try to push red players to do something other than select the cheapest spell out of every pack, I’m absolutely into it.