Initial Thoughts On The 8th Edition Rotation

I’ve already seen people howling about the loss of Counterspell as a sign that Wizards is still hell-bent on making blue the worst color in Magic. I don’t think blue is in that bad shape. It’s just not the blue you’re used to, and that’s a good thing.

I kinda feel sorry for Wizards. I mean, they put so much work and energy into carefully building up anticipation and excitement for their product releases… And then that subversive collective of genius pitbulls, mtgnews.com‘s rumors forum, blows the house down with a full 8th/Core Set Spoiler. Assuming the list is correct (and not having been privy to an official spoiler yet, I cannot confirm or deny, but it does seem legit), I do have some initial thoughts that I thought I’d toss into the swirling waters that are sure to be boiling with opinion and reflex right about now.

My overall impression is that this is a very strong Core Set with plenty of thought behind it. While there are a few inclusions that I’m inclined to shake my fist and gnash my teeth at (Rolling Stones and Fugitive Wizard?), by and large the set looks good, maybe even great.

The Loss Of Staples Like Counterspell And The Ice Age Painlands

The nice thing about rotation of the base set is that it often shakes up the environment in interesting ways, but at the same time there are also cards repeated enough that we have come to regard them as staples. Llanowar Elves was the first of those staples we knew we’d be losing, but I don’t think I’m the only one surprised at both Counterspell and the five Ice Age Painlands leaving the set.

After thinking about it some, and reading some other folks’ reaction, I think I’ve concluded this is a good thing for the game assuming one thing – the removal of these staples was done in order to allow R&D to create variants that are as good or nearly as good in the expansions without wrecking Type 2.

For instance, I’ve long suspected that the reason we haven’t seen anything like Fyndhorn Elves in any expansion set in years is because it would give Type 2 the possibility of running twelve one-drop mana creatures, and that kind of acceleration can drastically impact the metagame. The really good counterspells in Invasion block coupled with Counterspell made Type 2 probably more controlling than R&D would have liked. Randy Buehler has already said that they want to keep making really good lands in the expansion sets, so losing the painlands makes sense, making sure than color fixing isn’t made too easy.

Assume for a minute that Mirrodin will include a cycle of five dual lands that function as painlands but”count” as two basic lands and can be fetched by things like landcycling (this is something R&D has hinted at doing at some point, I believe). If the Ice Age painlands were available too, that would allow us to run two-color decks chock-full of double-colored mana spells with no problem, and three-color (allied) decks with little issues. I think it’s safe to say that Wizards wants multicolor decks to be possible, but not too easy as a counterbalance to the narrow but mana consistent monocolor decks.

Color Hosers

Karma. Sanctimony. Hibernation. Wrath of Marit Lage. Eastern Paladin. Western Paladin. Boil. Flashfires. Choke. Spreading Algae. Some of these are quite powerful, and their whole existence in the set is rather surprising. I was thinking there might not be any color hosers of any worth at all!

In Adjusting the Nozzle: How Powerful Should The Hose Be?, Randy Buehler said,”We still print playable color hosers, but Slay is no Perish and Stern Judge is no Karma (while it may look like Karma, you’ve got to keep in mind how good black is at killing enchantments – and how good black is at killing creatures)… The game does need some incentives for people not to play mono-color decks, but the game does not need Hydroblast.”

His followup article reiterates the idea:”R&D has pretty much agreed on our general strategy for the hosers in Eighth: They should be flavorful and demonstrate the basic friendly color/enemy color structure of Magic. They should be powerful enough such that in casual play they give you an answer to that annoying friend who keeps beating up on you with his mono-color deck. Thirdly, we don’t want them to be so good that they mess up tournament-constructed play. We’re fine if they are good enough to show up in tournaments, but we want the game to remain interesting even after one player has drawn one of his sideboard cards.”

So then we have Karma, Choke, Boil and Hibernation show up. What the heck happened?

While I loathe color hosers in general – I’m a much bigger fans of color”enablers” like Carpet of Flowers that gives you some benefit from your opponent playing a certain color or strategy, rather than shutting theirs down – I decided to really try and think about what R&D is trying to do here. One idea that struck me as likely is the existence of powerful color hosers enables them to create really powerful monocolor cards, pushing the edge of degeneracy like they did with Torment black, secure in the knowledge that there are hosers to keep them in check. That idea makes accepting the existence of the hosers a little easier, but I will certainly look forward to reading Randy’s explanation on this seeming reversal of policy.

Blue: Down But Not Out

I’ve already seen people howling about the loss of Counterspell as a sign that Wizards is still hell-bent on making blue the worst color in Magic. While I addressed my thought about the specific rotation of Counterspell out of the Core Set above, I don’t think blue is in that bad shape. It’s just not the blue you’re used to, and that’s a good thing. Blue has for too long been the very best color in the game, having almost exclusive control over all things”clever” in the game (instants, card-drawing, Counterspell, bounce).

Chad Ellis wrote an excellent article about blue’s cleverness, and while I agreed with Chad that I’d rather see the other colors more clever rather than blue less clever, I can accept blue sinking down to the level of the other colors as an alternate. This is all part of the plan, and I don’t think it means that we’re entering an era where BLUE SUX! for the next two years. I think it means we’re just going to have to get used to playing it differently. Blue, welcome to the main phase, where the other colors live! There are plenty of interesting and potentially powerful blue spells to try out in this new age.

Thumbs Up!

There are some really cool cards making an appearance in the Core Set, and I’ll give my brief thoughts on some of them:

Blinding Angel: Wow; White’s Angel armada just gets more and more powerful.

Savannah Lions: This knocked my socks off, I’m darn glad to see ’em, and I think they will prove to be just fine in the new Type 2 environment. Maybe they really are going to revive White Weenie?

Balance of Power: I dunno if anyone has noticed this, but coupled with strong bounce (and the base set now includes Cowardice, Boomerang, and Temporal Adept) this could really yield some serious card and tempo advantage

Curiosity: If ever there’s a blue weenie deck in our future, this will surely be a part of it. Could be a nice part of a WW/u deck

Invisibility: Sure, it’s a sucky creature enchantment – but so long as it’s not a rare why not? This hasn’t been around since Unlimited, and I have four of them so I’m ready for them to maybe be okay in the right deck (paging Phage the Untouchable to the front desk).

Mind Bend: With Silver joining White, can Sleight Knight be far behind?

Spiketail Hatchling: A Force Spike that swings is very cool.

Trade Routes: Wow – welcome back!

Zur’s Weirding: A weird card I’ve dabbled with some before – and with really good lifegain steadily making a comeback, this could be in interesting lock card

Grave Pact: With cards like Carrion Feeder, this could be rather ugly.

Lord of the Undead: Zombies keep pushing the edge of Tier 1, could this take it to the next level?

Phyrexian Arena: We love you, Arena… We’re just not sure if you’ll see much play once Torment rotates.

Phyrexian Plaguelord: Also an old favorite, could we be seeing the return of the Rock? I mean, this guy is The Original Rock! And Green still does a good job at producing lots of little token creatures…

Royal Assassin: The Royale With Cheese is back! Kudos for this really cool reprint!

Underworld Dreams: Another really cool reprint!

Ravenous Rats and Vicious Hunger: Two really solid workmanlike black cards that I’m glad to see in the base set.

Furnace of Rath: The environment may be just slow enough for this to matter. Another cool reprint.

Guerilla Tactics: A big blow to black hand destruction – yowza!

Hammer of Bogardan: Wow, this is a fantastic reprint and a wonderful staple for red. Well done!

Lava Hounds: This was decent enough back in Tempest days, and it could be solid once/if the Goblin tribe falters after Onslaught rotates.

Mogg Sentry: A very solid goblin; it was better when Counterspell was around, of course, but might still be good.

Rukh Egg: Another really cool reprint that goes right into a B/r Carrion Feeder/Nantuko Husk/Fallen Angel deck.

Viashino Sandstalker: A solid workman red card.

Fecundity: I’ve abused this mightily in both group game decks and Extended; this has always been a good anti-removal card that I’m certainly happy to see again.

Hunted Wumpus: I’ve never been a big fan of this card, but I guess it’s good to see it back

Plow Under: Woo hoo! One of my all-time favorite green cards, instrumental for winning me Virginia State Championship back in the early 1800’s. Mad props and high-fives for its return!

Skull of Orm: A fave from a long time ago. I’m not sure if it will really do much, but it’s certainly a cool reprint.

Thumbs Down

Surprisingly, there’s not much here that I’m upset about. I’m sad to see Duress go, and half of me is sad to see Early Harvest leave before it has a chance to break open Storm and Mischievous Quanar. Other cards I’m going to miss are Breath of Life, Earthquake, Hurricane, Pariah, Pillage, Reprisal, Seeker of Skybreak, Sleight of Hand, Stronghold Assassin, and Wildfire. See you guys in Extended!

I have to say with the introduction of Scourge and 8th Edition into Type 2, if Mirrodin is as cool then States ought to be a blast!