The assignment at hand is a simple one: expound upon traveling to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia site of the upcoming debut of the 2008 Pro Tour season, and discuss the brand new format for said Pro Tour: Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide draft. Let’s just get right to it, shall we?
First and foremost when traveling to Kuala Lumpur: DO NOT BE IN POSSESSION OF ANY TYPE OF ILLEGAL NARCOTIC AT ANY POINT IN TIME ON YOUR TRAVELS!
Do what you want in the ole’ U.S. of A. (or the UK, Belgium, France, Japan…) but the mandatory (MANDATORY) punishment for many drug offenses in Malaysia is DEATH. Not jail, not a fine, not a slap on the wrist, but DEATH. If you’re the type of person who enjoys “letting loose” during professional Magic events, shelve that for once.
Setting that aside, Kuala Lumpur is generally credited as being a diamond in the rough for tourists traveling through Asia, a city in which five star accommodations can be found for less than nearly all other industrialized nations and which hosts one of the world’s best airports. Another bonus for all those lazy Americans who never took the time to learn a second language in school? Colonial rule through 1957 by the Brits has kept the country relatively English-friendly. While portions of Malaysia’s culture might be foreign to you (they REALLY don’t like drugs there), Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur looks to offer most the opportunity to experience an entirely new world unlike any they’ve seen before, including those who’ve traveled to Japan.
Here are a few helpful words of advice. We’ve covered why it’s a bad idea to pursue any Knutsian experiments while in-country. It’s also a law that foreigners must carry their passports on them at all times, and while this is typically standard operating procedure for most travelers abroad, your average Magic player generally isn’t “most travelers abroad.” Rumor has it there are occasionally checkpoints that ask to see your identification, so make sure to keep it on you. It might be a good idea to invest in a money belt if you haven’t already (Google it).
If you’re traveling to the country from any nation which suffers from occasional outbreaks of yellow fever (most notably some African or South American countries), you’re REQUIRED to have a vaccination prior to entering the country. While Kuala Lumpur is a super-industrialized city it is situated in a tropical climate (the average low at this time of year is 70 degrees Fahrenheit) which means mosquitoes which means, potentially, nasty tropical illnesses like malaria. So bring some repellant and make sure it has DEET in it. Finally if you’re up for doing any sightseeing remember: you may REALLY like your Pro Tour: Venice t-shirt from the last time you were at the Pro Tour, but the heads of the city’s most holy sites will likely expect you to wear something a little dressier before touring buildings considered sacred by millions. And for god’s sake, DON’T WEAR WHITE TENNIS SHOES! People will be able to pick you out as a tourist from a mile away, but white tennis shoes are the international sign for “Stupid American!”
Before you go, it’s highly suggested you take a look at this travel guide for a brief history lesson and some suggestions for what to see, where to eat, where to sleep, and how to get around to all of those places. Don’t be a chump and get stuck taking a cab everywhere, as most cabbies refuse to run a meter; learn the public transportation schedules (there’s a handy subway guide at that link) and save yourself time, hassle, and most importantly money. Don’t stay at hostels classified as “Rumah Tampangan,” as those are the types of establishments that usually rent rooms by the hour. Finally, DO relax, enjoy your trip, and make the most out of whatever adventures might come your way while you’re abroad.
With all of that out of the way, let’s move on to LLM, shall we?
Changes to Draft
Faeries was generally heralded as the best archetype in LLL, and Morningtide has done little to change that. In fact, if anything the second set has actually made the archetype STRONGER, with a healthy dosage of powerful Rogue cards that complement the already powerful plethora of Rogues from Lorwyn. In addition, support spells like Noggin Whack and Morsel Theft, as well as enablers like Prickly Boggart and Nightshade Stinger, have definitely pushed the archetype over the top.
Wait, did he just say Nightshade Stinger? That’s a Morningtide card, isn’t it?
What clever readers you are! One of the impressive things those sly dogs at Wizards R&D have managed to do with this set is force us not only to evaluate 150 new cards, but also force us to re-evaluate the cards from Lorwyn which may have new importance in light of the focus on classes. Nightshade Stinger is a great example of this type of card, formerly serving as an also-ran for the Faeries archetype but now a difficult-to-block enabler that turns on the aforementioned Morsel Theft and Noggin Whack, as well as Stinkdrinker Bandit and all the Rogue/Faerie prowl cards. In conjunction with Prickly Boggart, the Stinger creates a lower curve for the UB decks and makes a more aggressive Faeries archetype than we’re used to seeing.
Of course, what R&D giveth they also taketh away, and Faerie/Rogues have one weakness that is easily exploitable: most of the marquee creatures in the archetype are X/1s. To help us take advantage of that, Wizards has added to previous cards like Hurly Burly by giving us Festercreep and Weed-Pruner Poplar. Both represent challenges for the UB deck – UB Faeries/Rogues remain the most powerful archetype, but readily kept in check.
Two other archetypes that gained considerably from Morningtide are Kithkin and Treefolk. The former, which was generally lauded as poor prior to Morningtide, picked up a few key additions, perhaps the most important of which is simply the reinforce mechanic. The addition of that combat trick gives the beatdown-inclined more options, and the more options one has the better prepared they are to gain wiggle room when backed into a tight spot.
The most important Kithkin cards are Swell of Courage, Kithkin Zephyrnaut, Burrenton Bombardier, and Weight of Conscience. The Swell addresses one of the problems Kithkin struggled with in LLL: what happens when your superior 1- and 2-drops are caught up by your opponent’s superior 4-,5-, and 6-drops? Answer: you swarm through for the win or allow yourself to evenly trade your early drops for your opponent’s larger threats.
Weight, of course, is the stereotypical White non-removal removal spell, adding another twist to the saga of Pacifism. While it’s a good card for what it does, its inability to hit Planeswalkers and pesky non-creature permanents makes it less valuable than Oblivion Ring, leaving it as a gain from the vantage point of looking at Morningtide in a vacuum but a loss in regards to comparing the draft format to LLL. As for the Bombardier and Zephyrnaut, both give the archetype’s curve some added panache. One can only imagine the type of dreams Mike Turian would be having as a Pro Tour competitor today curving out with Goldmeadow Stalwart into Cenn’s Heir into Zephyrnaut, hitting on the kinship with Bombardier in hand. The mind goes agog at the possibilities, but even when you don’t get the triple Disciple double Shrapnel Blast hand, having a 2/2 flyer that counters your opponent’s tricks or serves as a combat trick itself with a 2/2 that occasionally turns into a mini-Dragon is “just fine.”
–Swell of Courage
-One less pack with Oblivion Ring
As for Treefolk, they picked up a few hits of their own that help to push a previously weak tribe to the forefront of the environment. We’ve already discussed the impact of the Weed-Pruner Poplar, sure to be a solid role-player in the archetype, but the most important pick up is Bosk Banneret. The problem with our arborous friends has always been how expensive they are, often needing pairing alongside Leaf Gilder and Fertile Ground or serving as the second-run race alongside Elves. The Banneret helps to turn that around by universally dropping the cost on your tribe as well as providing a body that’s reasonably difficult to get through on the ground. Consider a start against, say, Kithkin, that looks something like Banneret into Cloudcrown Oak into double Battlewand Oak. Your opponent is unlikely to be getting through, while you’re an untap from going on an earth-shuddering offensive.
One of the cards that benefits most from the Banneret’s cost reduction is not a Treefolk but a Shaman (equipment): Thornbite Staff. Another card that goes a long way against the UB Faeries/Rogues archetype or against the old Merfolk archetype, scenarios that look like this are particularly aggravating for opponents: turn 2 Banneret, turn 3 Staff (costing 1), Woodland Changeling/Bosk Banneret/any Shaman or Changeling for 1 mana equipping Staff for free. While Thornbite isn’t as insane as some pundits originally thought, there are plenty of archetypes which struggle against that type of opening.
Treefolk also benefited from a wealth of powerful rares, but as those are the exception more than the rule we should look at what they lost: a Lorwyn booster filled with cheap removal like Eyeblight’s Ending and Nameless Inversion. Violet Pall and Weed-Pruner don’t make up the difference with their prohibitive mana costs that can be too little too late against aggressive decks, and the archetype is left relying on new forms of acceleration like the Banneret and Blightsoil Druid to “get there.”
-One less pack of Nameless Inversion and
Former standouts Elementals and Merfolk represent the two archetypes that actually got weaker with the injection of Morningtide into the 40-card format. The problem lies in a lack of truly powerful additions to the two decks, combined with the loss of a pack that holds the most powerful cards for the two races.
The card most relevant for Elementals, which will now be harder go get a hold of, is Smokebraider. While Mulldrifter (and to some extent Shriekmaw) are both powerful Elementals in their own right, more powerful than the 1/1, they typically found themselves sniped by whoever opened them and simply splashed into whatever deck wanted to play them. Smokebraider, on the other hand, was the critical cornerstone of the Elementals archetype, powering out the more expensive bodies and overpowering opponents whose cards might be more powerful but more slowly deployed. Brighthearth Banneret does go a small distance towards fixing that by still helping players accelerate, but a universal reduction of one mana is often worse than having two mana of any color you want.
Still, the deck did get a few cards to help cheer it up. Sunflare Shaman provides an aggressively costed two-drop that provides Elementals with a small amount of reach that was previously lacking. Vengeful Firebrand is a spicy number provided you’re in the Elementals/Warriors archetype, and in the uncommon slot Pyroclast Consul is very good. Still, identity crisis cards like Rage Forger, which is an Elemental Shaman instead of Elemental Warrior like most of its classified brethren, weaken the archetype and mean its stock will go down overall.
-One fewer pack of critical Lorwyn Elemental goodness
Finally we come to Merfolk, the race which has fallen the farthest from its lofty perch in LLL. The deck’s only real star from Morningtide is Stonybrook Schoolmaster, and that comes at huge expense. Gone are a full pack of Silvergill Dousers, Stonybrook Anglers, Judge of Currents, and uncommons like Summon the School, Merrow Reejeerey, and Drowner of Secrets. All that, and now having to deal with Weed-Pruner and Festercreep? It is a dark day for the brethren of the Pearl Trident…
Still, we shouldn’t just focus on doom and gloom. Like Kithkin, the deck picked up Swell of Courage and Weight of Conscience (though also at the expense of Oblivion Ring). Stonybrook Schoolmaster has already been mentioned, and the Millfolk strategy picked up Merrow Witsniper and Ink Dissolver, though it will have a harder time stalling to win and is less likely to have Drowner of Secrets. Overall, Merfolk has fallen the most from LLL, picking up little, having much removed, and having other archetypes pick up powerful weapons against it.
–Weight of Conscience
-One less pack of 1,000,000 relevant cards
In one week’s time, the latest Pro Tour will be underway, and players will be enjoying both Kuala Lumpur and a brand new Limited format that challenges their ability to evaluate both the new set the old. Will these forecasts hold true for the format? Time will tell…