From Right Field: Say Hello to Hollywood

Romeo gets by with a little help from his friends today, recruiting both good players and good writers to investigate the wares 9th Edition brings to the table, as well as saying a fond farewell to some old favorites from 8th Edition that recently departed.

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Wildfire, Llanowar Wastes, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. His playtest partners, however, are excellent. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks “set in stone” or “done.” If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

Before I really get into things this week, I want to apologize to the people decrying the loss of the gratuitous cheesecake. I promise to make it up to you.

This is normally the time of year that I look at a set that’s rotating out of Standard and chastise folks for not making better use of cards like, well, Chastise. In this case, it’s Eighth Edition that has made way to for Ninth Edition (hereinafter 9E). Today, I’m going to do things a little different, though. I’ve produced a poll — geez, you’ve got a dirty mind — and asked some friends and acquaintances to answer. The four questions were:

1) Which card will you miss most from 8E?

2) Which card that was in 8E but not in 9E are you happiest to see get the boot?

3) Which card that’s in 9E but wasn’t in 8E are you most looking forward to using? and

4) Which card that’s in 9E do you wish hadn’t been reprinted?

I specifically stayed away from the way-too-open-ended “What card not in 9E do you wish was in 9E?” First, I was afraid that people would pick obviously overpowered cards that Wizards never even considered. “I wish they’d reprinted Necropotence.” Me, too, but they weren’t about to do that. Second, I wanted to stick with the concrete.

Our polled players were: Karl Allen; Bill Bryant; Joe Al-Khazraji; Charles Dykes; Jonathan Patrick; and Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar. I think I have a pretty good spread of talent levels (I got the bottom covered myself) and play styles. (I also asked former Pro Tour player Stacey Allen, but she had a baby in May and, for some reason, hasn’t kept up too much with the changes in the Core set. Go figure.) Let’s meet the folks to whom I gave the poll. (Geez, there you go with that dirty mind.)

Karl Allen: Tennessee State Champ in 2000 and a rogue deck builder in his own right, Karl doesn’t care what he plays as long as it has the chance to win. Karl is married to a woman he doesn’t deserve.

Bill Bryant: One of the best pure Magic players I know. If he wanted to, Bill could play on the Pro Tour. He loves Control decks. Yet, he still has never beaten me with an Opposition deck thanks to the fact that, when he’s playing Opposition, I always seem to have some janky deck that just happens to beat Opposition. (See Standard Bearer, e.g.). Bill is not married because he has way too many options.

Joe Al-Khazraji: Joe also like playing his own decks but is much better at it than I am. Joe is married to a woman he doesn’t deserve.

Charles Dykes: Charles invented Ravager Affinity as far as I’m concerned. He would work Red into a U/W Control deck if he could and, honestly, even if he couldn’t. Charles is married to a woman he doesn’t deserve.

Jonathan Patrick: Jonathan is also a very good player who just got back into tournament Magic a month ago. Jonathan is married to a woman he doesn’t deserve.

Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar: Writes about Magic for some web site somewhere and has his own business. Jay is married to a woman that he doesn’t deserve.

Christopher B. Romeo, J.D.: Chris is the purveyor of cheap Magic decks, mostly out of necessity. He is the worst player on the list. Chris is married to a woman that he doesn’t deserve.

Question 1: Which card will you miss most from 8E?
Karl said he’d miss Plow Under. “It’s one of the few Green cards that’s not a big, stupid creature or something to pump up a big, stupid creature. It actually scared control decks because it could mess up their draws.” This surprised me. I didn’t really have an idea of what I thought he’d miss, but it surely wasn’t P.U. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cast that spell. Not back when Urza’s block was in Standard and certainly not since 8E came into being in 2003.

Bill only answered one of the four, and this wasn’t it. Given his proclivity for Control decks, I suspect that Bill will also miss some sort of Control card like Plow Under, Hammer of Bogardan, or even Mind Sludge.

Joe had an interesting take. “Sage Owl probably, which tells you how weak and uninteresting 8th was overall. Core sets need to be stronger, and I think 9th is a step in the right direction.” I agree with his assessment of the Core sets. While I’m all for digging through the cards to find hidden gems, sometimes it seemed as if Wizards made the Core set less than good on purpose. “If they like 8E, they’ll love this new set because it has much better cards!” There’s no reason that the Core set can’t be chock full o’ goodness. Ninth Edition is, and I’m quite happy about it.

Charles can’t believe that they dropped Ensnaring Bridge. “Regardless of the fact that it’s an artifact, the Bridge was Red. Now, I can’t play any mono-Red burn decks because I don’t have a sideboard card to keep the hordes of weenies away.” Jonathan echoed that sentiment. To be honest, I was stunned that Ensnaring Bridge got one vote, let alone two. To each his own, though.

Believe it or not, JMS dropped a second vote for Sage Owl. “Oddly enough, I think it’s Sage Owl. I like comes-into-play creatures, I like Blue Weenie decks, and there were so many decks in which I was happy to use this guy. Blue has such a dearth of good things to do with its bounce now, it’s a shame. I guess there’s Sage Aven as a replacement, but meh.

“Did I just say I would most miss Sage Owl? Freaky.

“I’ll also miss Phyrexian Plaguelord and Hammer of Bogardan but for a different reason. These were two cards I didn’t mind losing to and cards I always wanted to use in decks but never quite got around to it. I like Black Fattie decks, and the Plaguelord is such a tricky trickster of a creature. I also like Red Control decks and cards that promote them. Shard Phoenix, I choose you!”

I pick Two-Headed Dragon. I thought I’d miss Karma because of the sideboard applications for White Weenie decks which are once again very good decks. But, no, it’s the Two-Headed Dragon. I only used it a few times when Masques block was legal. During the entire two years of 8E’s run, I used him once, in a deck that I was pimping right before Mike Flores started touting him as the game-breaker for mono-Red decks. There’s something fun about a big, fat, double-Firebreathing flier that is essentially unblockable and isn’t Legendary. It made me happy.

Question 2: Which card that was in 8E but not in 9E are you happiest to see get the boot?
Karl was blunt. “Okk. Because whenever he’s in a set I try to build decks with him in them, and they never work.” Man, I know that feeling. “They printed it. So, I must be able to build a decent deck around it somehow. Shouldn’t I?”

Karma. I soooooo want to play MBC again,” said Charles. (Yes, I tried to get him to play my KBC MBC deck from last week in KBC, but he wanted to stick with Black Hand.)

The rest of the votes were for the same card. (Again, Bill didn’t answer this one. However, I have no grasp of what he might be glad to see go.) Jonathan, Joe, Jay, and I all voted for Plow Under. “Easy,” Joe said. “Plow Under. This card, coupled with Eternal Witness and Green’s stellar acceleration, made games a chore and turned G/x matchups into who cast the damn thing first. Good riddance.”

JMS was just as forceful. “You know, I was initially happy to see Plow Under come into 8th Edition because of nostalgia. That nostalgia was from a time in which Green sucked, though, and now I can’t get Plow Under out of the room fast enough. Goodbye, and don’t let the door hit your a$$ on the way out.”

I hate that I’m about to write what I’m about to write because I’m also extremely glad the P.U. is gone. However, when a card engenders such strong feelings both pro and con, the R&D folks must have done something right with the card.

Question 3: Which card that’s in 9E but wasn’t in 8E are you most looking forward to using?
I think Jay really likes 9E. “There are so many! Seriously, I think I’m going to love this Core Set. Blinking Spirit, Imaginary Pet, Highway Robber, Mortivore, Kird Ape, Threaten, Flame Wave, Bloodfire Colossus, Magnivore, Shard Phoenix, Thundermare, Kavu Climber, Greater Good, Verdant Force, B00by Trap, Jade Statue, Jester’s Cap, and Thran Golem are the ones that jump off the page at me.

“But if I have to choose one card, I would say Hell’s Caretaker. I never got to use this card. I’m not even sure I knew it existed before I saw the Ninth Edition list. It’s just the sort of card I use in decks, though. A lot of decks. The name and art are cool, too.”

Karl’s glad that Hypnotic Specter is back, but not for any nostalgic or powerful-deck reasons. “I’ve got a bunch left over from the days of Revised.” How utterly common.

Charles and Jonathan were also united on their pick here. As Charles so eloquently put it “PAINLANDS!” Okay, that’s not one card, but I let JMS get away with his laundry list, theses ten are fine with me.

Bill weighed in on this one with the card that I expected him to pick: Wildfire. “Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite cards.” Three or so years ago, when Wildfire was in Seventh Edition, Bill went several months without losing a match. His rating must have been near 1900. He was playing a mono-Red Wildfire control deck, and it was, obviously, awesome. I wonder if Shard Phoenix will make it into his new Wildfire deck. . .

Joe echoed Charles and Jonathan. Literally. “Painlands, painlands, painlands. Oh, and Biorhythm.” When I pointed out to Charles that Biorhythm was in 9E, he asked, “Can I change my answer?” No, you can’t.

Me? I’m gonna answer this one a little later because it’s the kind of question that entire months worth of articles are made. I will say this right now, though. I can’t wait to yell “B00by” in a tourney and get away with it. (Honestly, though, I think I’m with Jay on Hell’s Caretaker. Luanne found out how much I liked the art on the 9E version and got the boxtopper version framed for me. It’s right over the computer I use for MTGO. With the Caretaker, Zombify, and the reanimation spells from Kamigawa block sets, you can get some big beasties into play cheap. Yummy.)

Question 4: Which card that’s in 9E do you wish hadn’t been reprinted?
We were all over the board on this one. Joe said “Fishliver Oil. Tastes as good as it plays.” I understand where he’s coming from. It seems like a wasted slot. Will you ever want to use this? Maybe around the kitchen table. Charles, meanwhile, still can get behind the newfound power of White. “Blinding Angel. We hatesssss that Whites Skies deck!!” Sorry, big guy. She’s here to stay. And if I (and probably Jay) have anything to say about it, she’ll be seeing a whole lot more play. Bill and Jonathan just don’t care. Their theory is: I don’t have to play the card.

Karl isn’t a fan of Early Harvest. “The only real use for this is in boring combo decks where the other guy plays with himself for five or ten minutes while you silently wish for death. Your death. His death. It just doesn’t matter. You just want the boredom to end.” Charles takes offense at that and so does his fourth turn Crush of Wurms.

I hate Hypnotic Specter. Yes, I was a big fan of the Abyssal Specter. Random discard is just so wrong. There are so many ways to lose to randomness in this game that there’s no reason to add random discard back into the mix. Mark Rosewater even wrote about how R&D was “dialing back” random discard. I guess by “dialing back,” they meant “reprinting one of the two most-hated random discard spells of all time.” Ugh. The really sad part is that I’ll probably use it, too.

Drawing Concrete Conclusions from a Sample That’s Way Too Small or The Limbaugh Method
Interestingly, no one mentioned that they’d miss Bribery or Birds of Paradise. Oh, wait, that’s right. BoP is back in Ravnica, and it’ll be black-bordered. Hoo-ahh! Of course, that means I won’t get any. (Note to Ben: Please, pick a box that was as good as the Champions box I got. — Thanks, Chris) As for Bribery, I can see why control players wouldn’t miss it as much as Plow Under. While Bribery can often grab a creature that is much more expensive than the cost of Bribery, it can also miss anything significant. For example, against Tooth and Nail, you can grab Darksteel Colossus. Back when Goblins was all the rage, though, what were you going to get? Goblin Sharpshooter? Siege-Gang Commander? Not a great grab. Meanwhile, Plow Under always hit its mark. If it didn’t, that meant that the opponent only had one land or even no lands. If you have P.U. mana while your opponent only has one land (or none), you win. I promise.

Bottom-lining it, though, it seems that people are happier with 9E than they were with 8E. Whether this is because 9E is shiny and new or because there are really more cards that they plan on getting into decks remains to be seen.

Like Cap’n Kirk, I . . . Can’t Help . . . . . My . . . Self
I know. I know. I said I wouldn’t point out the cards from 8E that you missed playing with. I can’t help myself. It’s annoying. It’s what I do.

Abyssal Specter: White and Blue, the “flying” colors, don’t usually get a 2/3 flyer for four mana, unless it has a drawback like Eiganjo Freeriders has. This one replaces the drawback with a benefit: discard. It was a great complement to Nekrataal in the four-mana slot.

Bloodshot Cyclops: What can you do with those critters that are about to die? “Chuck” ’em at something or someone.

Call of the Wild: Ever since I saw an original version of this from Weatherlight, I figured someone would find a way to simply abuse it. Sure, it costs 2GG to activate, but Green knows how to make tons of mana. Think about this: for 2GG you can get any creature into play, even a non-Green one. Masticore? Check. Akroma, Angel of Wrath? Right-o. Kokusho, the Evening Star? Hellooooo, nurse! And, yet, no one figured out how to make it work. Not when it was in Sixth Edition and not while it was in Eighth. Maybe in Tenth. . . .

Coastal Piracy: It turns all of your creatures into Thieving Magpies. Heck, it turns all of your Thieving Magpies into, um, two Thieving Magpies. Yes, we couldn’t get it into a deck because…?

Elvish Pioneer: It took Jamie Wakefield returning to the game to show people what this could do. Thank you, Mr. Wakefield. Enjoy the foil Pioneer.

Fallen Angel: Nantuko Husk is a poor substitute for this lovely lady. I had so much fun when Threaten was Standard-legal at the same time as Grab the Reins. Take my opponent’s creature and kill it in order to make my Angel bigger? Fallen Angel, indeed.

Fodder Canon: There is a fact of Magic life. Your creatures will die. Why not make sure they take down another creature on the way? Think about it. How else can a 0/1 Pest take out a 4/4 Beast?

Lhurgoyf: If your creatures are going to die anyway, why not use a guy who’s going to benefit from that?

Merchant of Secrets: Just kidding. *sheesh*

Mind Slash: The thing that I liked about this card was how it allowed you to choose the card, not the opponent. That’s a powerful ability in Magic.

Obliterate: Yes, it blew up all of your stuff, too, but there were ways to make that not mean so much. For example, you could float mana to cast spells after the Obliterate resolved. Or you could run it in a Honden deck.

Phyrexian Plaguelord: Fallen Angel’s earthbound bigger brother, I hope he’s back in Tenth Edition.

Planar Portal: How hard is it to make this work, folks? “Oh, it takes so much mana.” Too bad we didn’t have cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama’s Reach, Chrome Mox, and Talismans to accelerate our mana production.

Rhox / Thorn Elemental / Lone Wolf: Years ago, there was an actual television commercial for Magic. It featured a couple of kids playing a game behind a two-way mirror while developers looked on. Rhox looked on as one kid tried to choose between casting him and, I believe, Port Inspector. “Pick me. I’m unblockable!” Okay, not quite. Still, these guys were close. They didn’t care who got in their way. They just sent it all to the opponent’s head like Green direct damage spells.

Seismic Assault: This card is just so fun. By giving you something to do with extra lands, you can run more lands than you normally might. Each extra land becomes two damage. I’ve been working on a Barrel Down SokenzanSeismic Assault deck that is no longer Standard legal. Too bad, too. Uncounterable damage is A Good Thing.

Spitting Spider: The same turn that your opponent taps out to cast Meloku, you could have followed up with this guy. Once he hits, your opponent isn’t going to make four or five flying tokens per turn, not when you can wipe them all out by sacrificing one land.

Steal Artifact: Forget it. Arcbound Ravager was legal for too long while this was out.

Thieves’ Auction: This was both fun and a skill tester. Add to that the huge effect, and I can’t figure out why someone didn’t get this to work, at least as a sideboard card. What does mono-Red fear? Circle of Protection: Red, for one thing. So, use the Auction, and take it. I don’t get it.

Tundra Wolves: I came close to winning several tourneys with this guy in my maindeck. With him on board, thanks to his first strike, any X/1 creature stays put during combat. Add a Bonesplitter, and most everything stays put. He was a great one-mana complement to Suntail Hawk and, later, Lantern Kami.

Two-Headed Dragon: Mikey F. and I both argued that this was either the best or second-best Red creature in Standard (behind Arc-Slogger), but few people listened. The ones who did were rewarded with big, gaudy wins, often coming from nowhere even when it appeared that they were behind. A 4/4, flying, double-Firebreathing dragon that essentially can’t be blocked will do that for you.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Next week, I start looking at new decks brought on by Ninth Edition. Of course, we only have about six weeks after that before Standard gets a shakeup again. I love this game!

Chris Romeo