Innovations – Prerelease Weekend and Breaking Legacy

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Monday, September 28th – After a weekend of new cards, good times, and priceless treasures, Patrick Chapin is in a reflective mood. First, he speaks his mind about the bombshell news concerning the Vintage repacks, before moving on to consider Legacy in the face of the recent unbannings.


Talk about a wild weekend. I am going to talk a little about the amazing Zendikar prerelease weekend with Unity Games down in Atlanta, but I also want to talk about the new Legacy. There have been some changes to the banned and restricted list, and one may be a mistake. Gimme half an article of “just talk,” and I will ship some sick lists. Deal?

Let’s start with this past weekend. Buzz started building rapidly as reports were circulating of a Candelabra of Tawnos being opened in a Zendikar booster pack. There was a similar claim for an Ancestral Recall, but no one believed that guy, as the claim was just too outrageous. There was photographic evidence, but of course that evidence only proved that the person probably had possession of a Candelabra of Tawnos at that point.

I don’t want to get into specific names, as some people have already received a great deal of publicity, for breaking the rules, and this is not something that I think should be rewarded. There may be people who “owe an apology” to that store owner for their attacks on him in the MTGSalvation.com Forums, but personally, I think that when people enter into a contract that specifically forbids them from opening Zendikar product before a certain time, and then they do it anyway… well, those people owe an apology to every honest store keeper and tournament organizer in the world that did not open boxes of product illegally. (Man, I am going to get some hate mail after this article…)

Don’t get me wrong. I am a practical man, and I know “how it is,” but I think that it is definitely crossing the line to publicly announce that you are breaking the rules and have all this information to share. The problem I have with this is not even the fact that he broke the rules, so much as the fact that this is heavily encouraging tons of other people to break the rules in the future, so they can be that guy. Keep some perspective.

Anyway, rumors started flying (you can imagine the Tweeting), and by midnight on Thursday I know for sure that they are true. The details are still unknown, but the gist is that Wizards of the Coast has randomly inserted repacked Vintage cards into booster packs at a rate of about 1 in 750 or so (this is the information I have so far). There are maybe 90 different cards packed, and some (such as Black Lotus) are probably rarer than others (such as Bayou). The cards are not reprints, but rather some of the reserves from the WotC Vault. They are legal for the formats in which they are already played, but not for Limited, Standard, or Extended. If you open them, you keep them, regardless of drafting or sealed swaps.

Obviously, this is pretty wild news. Is this the greatest thing ever? Is this the end of Magic? A Black Lotus in a booster pack?

The long and the short of it is that I am actually pretty bored with this entire gimmick, despite it being only days old. I am not complaining. It is fine. I mean, it is not a bad thing. I am just saying it is not actually as big a thing as it seems, and I think it is a little disappointing in a few ways.

First of all, it helped build a bigger buzz. But the set was already sold out, and the second print run probably won’t have the “Priceless Treasure” repacks. I get that the decision was probably made before M10 was released, and Magic was looking like it needed a boost.

WotC probably didn’t realize they already had such a winner on their hands, but it is disappointing to have burned this much equity on Zendikar. I mean, enemy fetchlands? That alone sold out the set. For what it is worth, by the way, I have come to really appreciate the printing of enemy fetchlands in Zendikar. It is annoying that we couldn’t have even one season without them in Extended, but they are actually good for the game in a lot of areas, and I like the way they play with the cards in Zendikar. If you are ever going to print them, this is the place.

Next of all, Lotus Cobra, Warren Instigator, Mindbreak Trap, Ob Nixilis, Iona Shield of Emeria, and the Planeswalkers make for a lot of really good Mythic Rares. I don’t have a problem with this, per se, though that is a lot of stretches for Mythics. I mean, if it was just Lotus Cobra or just Mindbreak Trap, that would be better. Still, I think it will be fine. It is just that is a pretty big bomb to drop at the same time as enemy fetchlands. We have finally embraced the true four rarities system.

Zendikar just happens to be an awesome set. The cards are good. The flavor is great. The drafts, the games, they are all a ton of fun. There are a lot of great “build around me” cards (Quests, Ascensions, Landfall, strange rares). There are fun game states (like reading your opponent for a trap and playing around it). The Limited format seems good. I like the implications for Constructed. I like the impact it will have on Standard and Extended (that it is more than just fetchlands). I also like that it makes an impact on Vintage and Legacy. That is sweet.

The point of all this is that Zendikar is a home run set, and people realize this. The set would sell like crazy without this gimmick; in fact, it did. The thing about packing Moxen and Ancestral into packs as super rare Spectral Tiger golden lotto tickets is that you can only do it once.

To me, it is like playing Team Sealed. There, you have three people who have to build three decks out of twelve packs. You decide that the guy with two Baneslayer Angels, three Serra Angels, and Four Pacifisms, needs the Mind Control in his deck more than the Mono Blue Horned Turtle deck. Don’t you think that is overkill? Wizards has some amount of “coolness equity” built up (and the ability to generate more, no question), but sticking Power 9 cards in packs burns a lot of equity in the short run, and for what?

Why not do this for the set that follows Zendikar? You know, the one with NO enemy fetchlands? I am not saying they won’t have something bigger or better planned for the next set. I am just saying this was a huge jump that might not have been needed. It is not that big a deal, though. I have confidence in the current squad over at WotC. Aside from knowing how good they are at what they do, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that they are doing things right.

I love Magic. A lot. I play a lot. I think about it a lot. It is a huge part of my life when it comes to experiences that resonate with me.

Part of what I love about Magic is that there are so many different types of experiences; deck, tournaments, formats, games, combos, mechanics, etc. I like experiencing as many as possible. When I get a wide variety of experiences in Magic, I hold onto the best of them, thinking about them a disproportionate amount.

I have opened every single Mythic Rare in M10. That is not that crazy, but I have the experience of having opened every single card possible in M10. Every one. I know what it feels like to open a Baneslayer Angel, or anything else. Not only will I never open all the Priceless Treasures, I might never open one. Opening one at all is almost a hundred times as unlikely as opening a Mythic Rare.

I am not saying that it is a problem that a card or cards this rare exist, and I totally get that they are a free bonus. I am just sharing my experience (not a complaint), which is that I feel a sadness and disappointment that there are so many things I will never experience. In the event that I ever do randomly open a “Priceless Treasure,” will it even be that worth it? I mean, I have no doubt that it would be totally awesome to open a Time Walk, but how does it feel to open Mana Vault? How about Lion’s Eye Diamond? Mox Diamond? Obviously it is a “free bonus,” but it is not really free. There is always a cost.

I don’t want this to come across as a complaint (“oh no, WotC has stuffed hundred dollar bills into packs, and not everyone gets one, wah-wah…”). I am just pointing out an experience in which I know I am not alone. Yeah, I know, I am a whiney brat. I am just sharing my feelings. I would think that is what I should do, since presumably people who don’t want to know my opinions don’t read my articles.

This is not actually that significant an event, because there are no new Power cards printed. The market won’t change, the game isn’t any different, and the vast majority of people will never see a difference. The ones that do will probably find a super-super-super-super-super-super rare card that is probably not even worth as much as a foil Misty Rainforest.

Think about that for a moment. There is an average of about one Priceless Treasure per twenty boxes. There are about twenty foil rares per twenty boxes. So Priceless Treasures are twenty times as rare? Well, not all Priceless Treasures are equally valuable, plus there are more different types of them than rares.

That means that you are probably about forty times as likely to open a foil Misty Rainforest than a Savannah. The thing is, that is one lotto I don’t want to win. Give me the foil Misty Rainforest! Obviously they don’t occupy the same slot. I am just saying that if Magic is going to have Spectral Tigers, it seems better to have them all be “winners.” Not “merely good.” How many people do you think are even going to open Black Lotus anyway? Ten? Twenty? Thirty?

Anyway, I have already spent too long on this topic. Long story short:

1. Yes, Wizards is playing with fire, but at least they were smart about it “this time.”
2. You are correct that this promotion matters much less than people thought it might.
3. This is not the end of Magic (Magic is doing better than ever).
4. This will not continue.
5. This may have added 8.3 cents per pack in “EV,” but look around. Packs cost a lot more than an extra 8.3 cents apiece.
6. I am not a huge fan of this promotion in the micro, but I would much rather WotC do these kinds of experiments than not. Plus, it gets more Power into circulation, rather than sitting in the Vault (a VERY good thing).
7. Nothing is free.
8. Zendikar is awesome.
9. “Priceless Treasures” matter very little in the big picture.
10. I know this will not be a popular opinion, but my favorite consequence of this promotion is that it helps soften people up to WotC expanding its money-printing powers. I am all about WotC using their powers, but understand that sometimes you have to warm people up to the idea. For instance, Mythics sucked in Shards in order to soften people up for sets to come, like Zendikar. Now they repack Ancestral Recalls and Time Walks for free as a surprise bonus, to soften people up for things to come.

It is not always going to be politically feasible to tell everyone why they are doing what they are doing, but the truth is that WotC is a business. They’re doing what they can to be a profitable business first and foremost, but the fact also remains that WotC has made a great deal of their success on making a product that greatly enriches the lives of millions, and that the people who make it truly care passionately about the gamers and the Magic culture.

WotC may not always be straightforward about their plans, but they are honestly doing what they believe is best for the game. Magic is their golden goose. Do you think they are not going to take the utmost care with it? They are going to make mistakes, but just remember, they are on our side.

The prerelease was awesome. I am so glad that this set lives up to the hype. It is not just a collection of super-rare money cards and golden ticket lottos. It is actually a ton of fun. It is a sweet Limited format. There are a ton of good Constructed cards. The artwork is great. The mechanics play well. Allies are a little disappointing in execution, but on the whole, the set works.

The sealed format seemed much better than M10 as a sealed format, but I suppose that is to be expected. I like M10 draft, and I was pleased to find that I immediately liked Zendikar draft even more.

I did one draft this weekend, ending up with a W/r deck

A Zendikar booster draft deck, by Patrick Chapin

3 Journey to Nowhere
1 Kor Skyfisher
1 Pitfall Trap
1 Bold Defense
3 Kor Sanctifier
4 Kor Cartographer
2 Pillarfield Ox
2 Caravan Hurda

3 Burst Lightning
1 Inferno Trap

2 Expedition Map
1 Carnage Altar

1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
4 Mountain
11 Plains

Sometimes I had a little trouble closing, but I ended up splitting the finals. It was definitely a lot of fun. The format seems like there are a lot of cool ways to draft a deck, and I am very excited to play it in the months to come.

Some of the elements of gameplay that I really appreciated were:

– Traps. It was very satisfying to successfully play around a trap I realized they were setting. It was also very satisfying to trick an opponent into springing a trap they were not going to spring. Finally, I lost to a trap I could have played around, had I realized it. Though I lost, it made me like the format more, as I could have won had I realized that I needed to get the read on my opponent for the trap, or even just that perhaps I should have played around it anyway.

– Landfall. I love that there is so much more strategy to every land that you would play, rather than just seventeen blanks in your deck at some point. Plus, people seem to love to play these wrong over and over.

-Quests. I love the word “may.”

-Kicker. I love two-for-ones and the possibility of them. It is great that every color has access to card advantage, not just Blue.

Okay, so the prerelease was awesome. I had a blast. The format looks great. Tell us something we don’t know. After all, who reads Innovations for the Limited articles?

Let’s break a format. Vintage? Nah, not today, though here is The Deck I have been testing and enjoying.

It is not perfect, but I think it is better than Tezz, Stax, Dredge, Long, or random Tarmogoyf decks.

The format in question for breaking today is Legacy. Lost in the excitement of Zendikar, there was a quiet announcement that the Legacy Banned List would no longer feature Metalworker, Dream Halls, and Entomb. Let’s examine the potential implications of each of these changes.

First, Metalworker is just a guy that taps for a million if you agree to play with a bad deck. It seems so unlikely that this guy will be a problem at all. What is the worst someone could do? Stick some Staff of Dominations and Metalworkers and you have a potential two-card combo that goes infinite. Is this busted? Well, it involves playing a Metalworker deck and untapping with Metalworker in play. Hermit Druid is still banned, so maybe this is a problem. What is the difference?

Aside from Hermit Druid only costing two instead of three the main problem is that Hermit Druid is a one-card combo. You just tap him and he “tutors” the rest of your combo with protection. Metalworker needs set-up and help. For these reasons, I think that Metalworker will not dominate, though it is a good card and will see play.

Next, Dream Halls, the poster child for really bad cards that is/was banned/restricted out of fear. Now that WotC has pulled the trigger and unbanned it, what does this mean?

I think it is fairly academic to demonstrate that one does not Dream Halls “fair” for the same reasons one does not Aluren or Pandemonium “fair.” Dream Halls has always been a “play it and win” kind of card, so let’s look at what a Dream Halls deck might look like:

First, this build can be compared to Flash, as JP Meyer of Team Meandeck has written:

Dream Halls = Flash

Conflux = Protean Hulk

Grozoth = Summoner’s Pact

Searing Wind = Body Double, Reveillark, Carrion Feeder, Mogg Fanatic

From this perspective, you may think you are just paying five mana for Flash, instead of two, which is bad but not totally out of the question. That is pretty bad, but on top of that, your Flash is sorcery speed. And, when you play it, your opponent’s spells can now be played for zero, so if he has even a Disenchant (let alone a Krosan Grip), you could be kold.

The Flash comparison isn’t really fair, though, since Flash is banned. Let’s compare the combo to Aluren.

Dream Halls < Aluren

Conflux < Imperial Recruiter

Grozoth < Intuition/Raven's Familiar

Searing Winds < Cavern Harpy/Man-o'-war/Dream Stalker/Spike Feeder

It is not close. Aluren wins head to head in every area, and the problem is that Aluren is not exactly a powerhouse in Legacy these days. It is for this reason that I think Dream Halls will see almost no play.

If we are going to play dead cards in our combo deck, let’s cut to the chase. Entomb plus Necromancy or Footsteps of the Goryo is a much better combo than Dream Halls could ever aspire to be.

Here is what I used to gunsling in Atlanta (I took no losses):

I actually tried Chrome Moxen for a bit, but was disappointed with them and removed them. I have been discussing Entomb decks with Legacy masters Doug Linn and Mike Herbig, and the rest of Team Meandeck, and I agree that this strategy seems to have some very compelling strengths. We came up with remarkably similar builds, making me think that many people will find this deck, and fast. This might not be the way to build it, but it is a pretty logical way, and regardless, some build of Entomb should be tier 1.

What is the difference between this and Dream Halls, or even Aluren?

First, the combo costs 1+3, instead of 5. That is actually a lot less than 1 mana less, since you can turn 1 Entomb, turn 2 Mystical for Dark Ritual if you are in a hurry. Plus, it is easy to Brainstorm or Ponder turn 1, Thoughtseize or Therapy turn 2 plus Entomb. Then kill turn 3.

That is a much more natural line of play than things like counting on Ancient Tomb to power out the turn 4 Dream Halls.

Next of all, Entomb and Necromancy are both instants. The Footsteps of the Goryo is added to give Mystical Tutor a way to get both halves of the combo, but the fact that the deck combos at instant speed (and wins on the spot, not during the attack phase) is a very powerful feature.

Add to this that you have a Tutor that gets both halves of your combo for one mana. Dream Halls needs Lim-Dul’s Vault, a much tougher tool to take advantage of, and a slower one.

Your combo is far more compact, featuring fewer dead cards. Even Carrion Feeder and Bile Urchin can be used for Cabal Therapy, and Body Double, Body Snatcher, Reveillark, and Protean Hulk are much better at “the backup plan” than Conflux, Grozoth, and Searing Winds.

On top of this, the combo pieces are individually good. I mean, if you need to, you can cash your Entomb in for a Night’s Whisper, by fetching Deep Analysis. This play is very, very strong. I mean, imagine if you could convert extra Dream Halls into Night’s Whispers! In fact, if there is a lot of land destruction in your area, you can even stick a Life from the Loam in the main deck. Entomb is a VERY strong card. You even get Ancient Grudge out of the sideboard, and Roar of the Wurm if you want it.

What about the Necromancy half? Well, Necromancy is a fine back-up plan on its own. You know you can Thoughtseize or Therapy or Force of Will anything from a Tarmogoyf to a Trygon Predator to a Dark Confidant, then mainphase Necromancy it. If you don’t play it as an Instant, it stays in play and you just get their guy. Necromancy is a very reasonable effect for three mana in its own right, and even in your deck, you have ways to end up with guys in the yard outside of Entomb, though obviously you don‘t have that many good targets. I mean, there is nothing wrong with giving yourself Therapy if you have Hulk in your hand.

So that is my take on Legacy, as of the latest unbannings. It may look like the format has a new and exciting deck, but the dirty truth is that this is just another Brainstorm/Force of Will deck. Still, it seems totally amazing, and I continue to enjoy casting Brainstorm and Force of Will in a format that is supposedly “defined by Tarmogoyf.” (Right, because obviously it is the Hypnotic Specter that is the problem, not the Dark Ritual or the Necropotence, heh).

Legacy is good times, and I highly recommend you give this beast a shot. Props to Meandeck for the chats on the subject. Thanks again to everyone who came out to the Unity Games Prerelease in Atlanta… talk about a good time. Props to WotC for one of the most surprising weekends in memory.

Life is good! Next stop… Pro Tour: Austin!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

PS: Take what I wrote about the inserts with a grain of salt, since you know damn well I am doing a victory lap if I open a Time Walk. If I am ever in a draft with anyone that busts something insane, I am sure the good times will make it all worthwhile. Happy treasure hunting!