In Defense Of R&D And Onslaught

Don’t you just love the guys who speak for”us?” Doesn’t it make you feel snug and secure at night knowing that you don’t need to express your opinion – heck, you don’t even really need to think – when there’s people out there who speak for Most of Us. And apparently, we all think Onslaught sucks. Or do we?

“As usual, we have [an Onslaught] spoiler a couple of weeks before the prerelease… As usual, most of us hate it.” – Mark Acheson

Don’t you just love the guys who speak for”us?” Doesn’t it make you feel snug and secure at night knowing that you don’t need to express your opinion – heck, you don’t even really need to think – when there’s people out there who speak for Most of Us.

Now, I’ve had a long history of taking R&D to task for various and sundry issues, and I think it’s important for them to know that most of us are very passionate about this game and really care about its future. But one thing that really pisses me off is the knee-jerk slamming of every new set that seems to be so trendy and cool.

Especially before they even hold the damn cards in their hand and play with them!

“Oh, this set sucks! There’s nothing as good as Fact or FictionGrinning Demon is no Juzam…”


What prompted me to write this was Mark Acheson’s article”The Problem with R&D: An Onslaught Review.” Now I have nothing against Mark personally; he’s probably a very nice guy who’s also passionate about this game we both love. But Mark’s article is stereotypical of a disorder I call Premature Set Slam (PSS). I think it’s a syndrome that’s bred by our overly pessimistic society; we simply expect the worst in people right off the bat. Couple that with human nature’s resistance to change and its almost inevitable that PSS sets in.

But I’m here to encourage you away from the baser human instincts.

Patience. Breathe. Now…

Change your perspective. The cup is half-full. Try to look at the good things Onslaught brings to the world of Magic.

“The problem is R&D’s reliance on themes.”

Mark seems to think that set themes are somehow bad, problematic, and symptomatic of R&D’s failings in producing good sets. But I submit that set themes as good for the game. Invasion’s focus on gold cards and multicolored decks pushed the game into new areas. Prior to Invasion, Magic strongly encouraged monocolored decks and most gold cards were positively atrocious. Invasion block changed our way of looking at deckbuilding, expanding our approaches to building good decks. It will be interesting to see how multicolor Invasion-heavy decks compete with the more monochromatic themes of Masques and Urza block in the new Extended. The clash of two differing schools of deckbuilding will probably make Extended quite exciting.

Mark also hates the graveyard themes of Odyssey block… But I see it as yet another way that R&D expanded our Magical horizons. Prior to Odyssey, we rarely used our graveyard as a resource and almost never cared about what was in our opponent’s graveyard. Along with that,”graveyard control” was an idea rarely seen beyond a few sideboard cards when reanimation strategies were strong. Odyssey changed all that, and while I hate to use the narrow terms”good” or”bad” to describe its impact on the game, I think no one can deny that it certainly expanded our Magical worldview. I personally think expanding our game is a good thing – and if anything R&D deserves a ton of credit for constantly coming up with new and fresh spins for Magic cards.

Think about just how many cards have been produced in the nine of so years Magic has been out there; the weight of the past is staggering.

“You don’t play red, you play goblins; you don’t play white, you play soldiers.”

Not surprisingly, Mark is also pissed off about the heavy Tribal theme of Onslaught… But again, I think Tribal enhances our game by expanding what we pay attention to when looking at our own and our opponent’s cards. To borrow from Magicthegathering.com’s catch phrase, it’s a good thing that”Race Matters” in Onslaught. In a lot of ways, the Tribal theme captures the spirit of the game that first ensnared most of us into Magic. Fireballs and Elves and Terror were played for their cool flavor, not because one did X damage and one accelerated our mana and one was creature control. Early sets like Fallen Empires tried to encourage creature theme decks, but the cards to support creature themes could not compete with the pure power cards available. Creature themes have thus been relegated (more or less) to the realm of the casual or beginning players. The more competitive of us have migrated away from flavor and moved towards the nuts and bolts approach to the game. What are the absolute best cards to use in this deck configuration? Not very flavorful, certainly.

But Onslaught aims to change all that. And why is that a bad thing? Why should my good red deck not also be a goblin deck? The beauty of Tribal is that it encourages thorough deckbuilders to re-evaluate previous and future creatures by looking at their type. How many Clerics are in 7th edition? How many Beasts are in Odyssey block? Do you know? Should you care that Intrepid Hero is a Soldier? Tribal enhances and expands our game much like the previous major themes.

Lastly, Mark expresses his misgivings that the Onslaught sac/fetch lands are rare and that this is also a bad thing, since everyone is going to want to have a full set of four copies of each. I agree that the lands will be in great demand, but I personally think this is good for the game. One complaint I heard most often from Odyssey block draft was that the good rares you could win were few and far between, and some of this was because the filter lands were so generally poor (along with a greater-than-normal quantity of complete chaff in the rare slots – I mean, c’mon, Mudhole?!). Having five lands that every competitive player is going to want to have four of gives them great value and encourages booster pack consumption, both for booster draft and pure sales. I see that, too, as a Good Thing.

In closing, I just want to encourage you all to resist the siren’s call of pessimism; avoid PSS and look to those who succumb to it with pity because it’s certainly easy to fall into that rut. Instead, try and look at Onslaught with an open mind, look for the Good Things the set brings to our game. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how good the set really is and how much it expands our Magical worldview.