First, I know you’re all dying to know how I did at the Prophecy prerelease. Well, the news is mixed, but largely good. I roared out of the gate to a 4-1 start — a much more pleasant mirror reflection of my Nemesis record. Since I was a mere match win away from prizes, I kept on fighting, and ended up…4-3. Ugh.
BUT I feel good about how I did. It was really neat to go to an event and steamroll for a little while, especially with my merry band of understated cards — no Avatars, no Winds, no Legendary Spellshapers. I ran a black-blue-red set of modest spells and simply overwhelmed most of my opponents with cheap and efficient creatures. The closest thing I had to a big axe was the Agent of Shauku (1B, 1/1 Mercenary, pay 1B and sack a land to give target creature +2/+0 for the turn). Man, that thing just HACKED people. If you see the Agent and you’re considering black, take it take it take it. I ran 18 lands and never had a problem using the Agent; nor did I ever encounter manascrew. (Well, one game I couldn’t draw an Island to save my life; but that wasn’t why I lost.)
So I made it past new players using bad cards, and new players using good cards, and experienced players using solid cards like me. But you get to 4-1, and pretty much all that’s left is experienced players using golden cards. Boy, does it stink to see your opponent hard-cast an Avatar of Might. My Stinging Barrier pretty much took a dump in its own coral reef when it saw that thing come crashing over. The last round saw me go down to a Power Matrix (and stronger red). And so there you go.
Afterward, a few of us stuck around to do a team draft event. After some initial confusion on format, we did get some good games in. I want to give public thanks to Dave and Ken, whom I play with often at Mirkwood, for making a team with me. We didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but we got in a bit more play and a few more cool cards.
What have we learned about Prophecy so far?
1) IT WILL MAKE A GREAT CASUAL SET. I mean, how can you have those Avatars, Winds, and Legendary Spellshapers and not have a great casual set? Some of this stuff might even be "broken" in multiplayer. But most groups will be able to handle the occasional stress of an Avatar of Woe or Searing Wind, I think. There’s plenty of green beef, blue trickery, black suicide, and red aggression to keep most of us happy. Even white isn’t completely annoying, if you take away the two life-based cards (Blessed Wind life reset isn’t too bad, but as for Celestial Convergence’s seven-turn life clock…do group players really need another reason to hate Congregate?). All in all, Prophecy rounds out the Masques block nicely — and I’ll go ahead and say it really has become the most satisfying block, from a multiplayer perspective.
I can certainly appreciate the mild criticism I’ve seen so far from constructed tourney players that the entire Masques block has kinda whiffed out, for them. I feel badly about that, but as I don’t really speak for those concerns, I plan on sticking to my rosy review. I do find it somewhat annoying that the gee-whiz Prophecy rares can unfairly tip the balance of a limited format — more on that in weeks to come, as my group does some casual limited play with the set.
2) DECKS USING PROPHECY CARDS WILL HAVE TO MANAGE LAND CAREFULLY. In our group, most players run 22-23 land in their 60 card decks. But some of the nastier cards in Prophecy require pitching or sacking land pretty regularly, so I’m expecting to see some of us run 24, 26, even 28 land, even in decks with light or no blue. And how good does Groundskeeper get! In casual arenas, look for cards like Harvest Wurm and Planar Birth to see a bit more play. And also watch for the backlash: cards like Planar Void, or strategies like land destruction, that are built to take out the group’s land-abusers.
3) THE BREAK THIS CARD CONTEST STILL HAS LEGS. No expansion would be complete without its Little Turd cards. Here are my choices for each color:
WHITE — Samite Sanctuary. (2W Enchantment, works like a monger for damage to creatures.) You get to spend your critical third turn giving every player the ability to protect their own creatures from damage — an ability that white typically gets for free with its better creatures. Smooth move, ace.
BLUE — Psychic Theft. (1U Sorcery, steal an instant or sorcery from opponent’s hand and try to play it this turn.) Yes, it looks very powerful at first. And in some sideboards in some tournaments, I am certain it will wreak havoc and/or be tremendously fun. (How about Psychic Thefting someone else’s Psychic Theft?) But half of the cards it targets — that is, INSTANTS — can be played in response to the Theft. Oops! And the sorceries you steal should probably be playable by blue, and also be cheap. Hmmmm…how many cool cheap blue sorceries are there? I mean, recently?
But hey, you get to look at the guy’s hand. I guess.
BLACK — Infernal Genesis. (4BB Enchantment, everybody mills a card on their turn and gets lots of 1/1s if it’s an expensive card.) Hey, look, another card for your Pyromancy deck! Chances are, some players will try to build casual decks out of this using either Bad Moon/Castle/Overrun or (more promisingly) sacrifice strategies. After a few tries, we’ll all give up because there are many cheaper ways black has of making sacrificial lambs.
RED — Search for Survivors. (2R Sorcery, take a chance to get a creature card out of your graveyard.) Not the most horrible card in the set by a long shot, and I can see it being fun, but Wizards should leave graveyard recursion to black and green, where it belongs. I like seeing more innovative dynamics that play to each color’s strength, rather than pale imitations of existing dynamics that showcase a color’s weakness.
GREEN — Wow, green has no bad rares. Dual Nature and a couple of others are a bit freaky, but I could see every one of Prophecy’s green rares getting good and fun use in a casual duel or multiplayer game.
So I’ll ratchet down to the uncommons and rail at Snag (3G or pitch a forest to prevent unblocked combat damage), which is Wizards’ latest derivative of Fog, and it drives me nuts that I’ll have yet another version of this card in my collection. Why green got 20 versions of a card that stops creature damage, when the color itself is based on creatures, is a question I guess I will never be able to answer. (And take it from a guy who grew up on Cape Cod: fog never starts over the forest. It typically begins over BODIES OF WATER…and all of you meteorologists who want to write and tell me about the Great Pine Forest Haze of 1896 can go stick your barometers up your low pressure areas.)
ARTIFACT — Keldon Battlewagon (I can’t even bring myself to describe the text on this card). Keldon Battlewagon continues the proud tradition of ridiculously bad artifact creatures that could be perfectly balanced and playable if they would just delete, like, six or seven words from the card text. Five mana, 0/3, trample, tap a creature to raise its power, sure. But like that annoying little Looney Toones mouse side character that continually prattles on and can’t ever be quiet, the rules text on Keldon Battlewagon just KEEPS TALKING…[high-pitched voice here] "and it can’t block and you can only use it once and it will take up valuable space in your deck do you like building decks ’cause if you like building decks you want to stay away from this non-blocking one-shot piece of…". If I want a 0/3 blocker that needs other cards to make it look good, I’ll play Phyrexian Walker for five less mana.
LAND — Rhystic Cave. Not horrific, but I only have two Prophecy lands to play with, here, and the Wintermoon Mesa can at least supply mana without asking permission. Plus, the Cave gets the Parallax award for requiring errata before it was even released.
Looking through the list in my search for bad cards, I gotta say there seem fewer than usual. Or at least, they’re concentrated in the commons and uncommons, like they should be.
Given the Masques’s block obvious nod to the casual player, I plan on talking more about the entire block’s impact on multiplayer in a future article…perhaps our group might even to a "Masques block event" to highlight. If we do, I’ll let you know what we learn.
THE WAR OF COLORS
Last Thursday, I hosted a special color-based event. Here’s how we ran it:
You need ten mages, or use any multiples of five. Each mage, a week or two before the event, picks a color. (Vote, random, whatever.) Make sure all colors are represented evenly. They build a deck (Type I, 60-card minimum, 15-card sideboard, but you can modify any of these parameters) that must pass through a two-stage gauntlet:
STAGE ONE: DUELS. You test the deck as a duel deck through three matches: one with each of the color mage’s ALLIED colors, and the third with a mage in the SAME color. So a black mage would play one match against a blue mage, one against a red mage, and one against another black mage. Reset sideboards with the start of every match.
STAGE TWO: MULTIPLAYER. You test the deck as a group deck through one (or more, if you like) game of "controlled chaos". It’s similar to a hunt in that each mage must target/attack ONLY the two OPPOSING color mages. Sideboarding is allowed for the first game.
So this is where the black mage gets to take a whack at the green and white mages, and vice versa. AFTER your two hated colors are gone, you may turn your attention to either or both of the allied color mages remaining. (Optional aside for multiplayer rules geeks: Our group has pretty complex but well-worked out guidelines, based in the hunt format we play, around non-targeted spells and effects, which are legal but can be stopped by any player. If a player does stop a global spell — say, the blue mage counters Subversion — then the black mage can go after the blue mage. The blue mage still has to wait until the black mage actually takes targeted action at him, but then is free to reciprocate. Get it? Good.)
Essentially, the holders of the best records from each color come together to play in the "championship" multiplayer, and the others play a consolation multiplayer.
If you’re into prizes, you can assign points for each match win, for "winning the color" in stage one, etc. Do what floats your boat.
Deck restrictions, this time around: no artifacts. No lands that do not supply or use the relevant color. (So Faerie Conclave would be okay for blue, but not Stalking Stones.) These two rules worked well and I recommend them.
This first trial night, we allowed color hosers. Yes, there are some downright nasty ones — white can just hose red hard with Conversion, and about the only thing the red mage can hope for is two Ghitu Encampments and an Anarchy — but our group is typically looking for times when they can play these little-used cards, and this was a good one. It made the group game a bit shorter than it had to be, but we could always have played more. If we do this again, we may disallow color hosers and see how that plays out, too.
Here’s how the evening went:
Representing the black mages, Pete and Carl.
Representing the blue mages, Theo and Jake.
Representing the white mages, Bill and Gary.
Representing the green mages, Dave and Toim.
Representing the red mages, Ben and me.
Unfortunately, Jake got sick that night, but we muddled through the schedule by using proxy players.
Highlights from the duel stage:
* Ben plays Pete first round. The match goes to three games and takes something like a total of five minutes. (It includes a first-turn Sengir Vampire for Pete that Ben never draws the solution to.) I LOVE black and red!
* Carl plays me second round. He’s playing a more controlling black than Pete — Hymn to Tourach, heavy creature removal, followed by Dirtwater Wraith, etc. I’m sure there are Drain Lifes in there, too, though I never see them. The second game, he removes, makes me discard, or forces me to play as instant: four Shocks, four Viashino Sandstalkers, two Fireblasts, a Ghitu Encampment, and two Ball Lightnings. My graveyard is ENORMOUS by the tenth turn — and red mages hate games that last that long, anyway. My remaining Get-You Encampments finally get him, at the end…but it was easily the most fun duel he or I played that night. I LOVE black and red!
* Bill plays Gary last round. The match goes to one and a half games and is finally called for time. I HATE white! (I took a digital photograph of the table halfway through the game. The table was COVERED with cards. Begging for an Anarchy like you wouldn’t believe.)
* Ben plays me last round. Red on red: the burn match. He hoses me twice, playing more efficient red burn than I’ve got (and I kept tapping out before his Chain Lightning…hey, look, the first Rhystic spell!), and even beating me with only ONE land. Not as embarrassing as if I had been playing blue, but not pleasant, either. I did enjoy playing my German Ball Lighning and screaming "KUGELBLITZ!"…twice…and my end-of-game draw proved both times that I was one turn away from the win. Talk about your nuanced wins!
The championship game featured Dave for green, Bill for white, Ben for red, Carl for black, and Theo for blue. (Theo, untypically, backed into the championship round in most ignominious fashion, by losing all of his matches but simply being the only blue mage present.) Pete, Gary, Toim, and I muddled around in a consolation chaos, casting the occasional longing glance at the winners’ table.
I did get a running report of what happened. From the ever-bitter Theo:
I play last. Great. The green mage (Dave) plays a turn one ridgeback. Super. I play a Mind Bomb dropping the table all to 17. Dave untaps. Rancors his Ridgeback. Twice. Hits me for 6. I’m at 11. At this point I stare at the power 3 I have drawn (ancestral recall, time walk, timetwister) and they mock me. We’re worth $500.00 and you’re still gonna get killed! Dave later drops a Lifeforce (GG: Counter Black spell) and holds his mana to keep Carl at bay while Carl also does nothing. Meanwhile Bill, playing white has a fairly poor draw and isn’t doing much with his Soltari Foot Soldier. I have a Sea Sprite (1/1 Flying, Pro Red) which is directing all of Ben’s (red) efforts towards Bill. So Ben waxes Bill with little annoying red creatures, then turns his fire my way. I die about a turn after white mage is gone. Dave and Carl are still doing their stall dance and Ben reloads. (Neither Carl or Dave can do ANYTHING to Ben because of the host who made some lame rules about not targeting allied colors.) So Ben gets all the time he needs and basically dispatches the winner of the green-black battle with not too much trouble. Carl did put up a great fight against Ben, but in the end "Smart" burn won out.
How sorry was I that the blue and white mages were the first two off the table? Not horribly.
Note for the record that we don’t typically play with power nine cards; but Ben and Theo do dip into old favorites now and again for special formats like this. It keeps the group on our toes, and as you can see, Dave’s three common cards totaling about thirty cents (Ridgeback, Rancor, Rancor) were more than enough to dispatch Theo’s three super-rares. Oh, and the two Tradewind Riders he had in his hand were useless, too.
Does Magic need fixing? No. It just needs more multiplayer games!
COMING SOON: I’m due to pitch you all some more multiplayer deck ideas and plays. We’ll be looking at the end of the Manipulative Ant Freaks, and the amazing exploits of the super-team recursive fading dudes deck. Also, I’ll be starting up a new deck soon that I think I’d like to share with everyone, and get feedback on.
A reminder that the current Break this Card contest is still on — we are taking on Mana Cache! Send entries, comments, whatever you like to [email protected] You have until June 16 to dazzle the casual play community.