For many, Masters Edition is a chance to play with old cards that they can no longer afford. But for people like me, it’s a chance to bore you with the tales of how I used to play that card back in my day, when I also wore an onion on my belt, as was the fashion at the time.
That’s right; Masters Edition is geezer-tastic. And I suspect the Internet will rapidly come alive with old, shambling Magic players shuffling out of their graves to tell you about the time that they beat a guy with forty Black Lotuses and twenty Fireballs using nothing more than an Angry Mob and a Paralyze.
I, of course, am no different. I cracked the decks for the Release Party, and I’ll not only tell you what I think is good in Limited, but I too will bore you with tales of cards I used to love!
Here’s what I got:
- 1 Shivan Hellkite
- 1 Craw Wurm
- 1 Brothers of Fire
- 1 Benalish Hero
- 1 Apprentice Wizard
- 1 Stone Giant
- 1 Scryb Sprites
- 1 Phantom Monster
- 1 Onulet
- 1 Giant Tortoise
- 1 Giant Spider
- 1 Bog Wraith
- 1 Mountain Yeti
- 1 Wild Griffin
- 1 Walking Wall
- 2 Hungry Mist
- 1 Juzam Djinn
- 1 Lord of the Undead
- 1 Enormous Baloth
- 1 Thorn Thallid
- 1 Mindstab Thrull
- 1 Goblin Chirurgeon
- 1 Basal Thrull
- 1 Skyhunter Skirmisher
- 1 Dross Crocodile
- 1 Lumengrid Warden
- 1 Yavimaya Enchantress
- 1 Aven Cloudchaser
- 1 Festering Goblin
- 1 Icatian Lieutenant
- 1 Derelor
- 1 Chub Toad
- 1 Polar Kraken
- 1 Hyalopterous Lemure
- 1 Duct Crawler
- 1 Cloud Sprite
- 1 Crookshank Kobolds
- 1 Shield Sphere
- 1 Lightning Bolt
- 1 Death Ward
- 2 Animate Wall
- 1 Incinerate
- 1 Remove Soul
- 1 Moat
- 1 Holy Day
- 1 Uncontrollable Anger
- 1 Distress
- 1 Counsel of the Soratami
- 1 Naturalize
- 1 Exile
- 1 Lim-Dul's Vault
- 1 Bestial Fury
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Breeding Pit
- 1 Hydroblast
- 1 Holy Light
- 1 Dust to Dust
- 1 Artifact Blast
- 1 Dwarven Catapult
- 1 Word of Undoing
- 1 Hymn of Rebirth
- 1 Cone of Flame
- 1 Sift
- 1 Overgrowth
- 1 Reviving Dose
See, you kids don’t understand. When Magic first came out, it was so incredibly hot that you couldn’t find the cards. It’s hard to imagine these days, since you walk into stores and they have piles of Coldsnap packs stacked to the ceiling. But when I first started Magic, this was the most common conversation you’d have with your card dealer:
“So. The truck come in yet?”
“Yup. And two kids bought all of the sixteen packs we got and then ran away giggling.”
“Okay. I’ll check back in an hour.”
Seriously. I’d say that when I began playing, I had about a 30% hit ratio of finding cards for sale. Thank God there was a card store across from where I worked, and every day I walked over to see what they had — and if I hit paydirt, then by God I’d buy everything I could afford, and then run back to the store to tell my Magic-playing friends, “HOLY CRAP! THEY HAVE STARTER DECKS! GET THEM NOW!”
And — I am not making this up — they would immediately take their fifteen-minute break to run over and get the cards, only to find that they were usually gone.
Wanna know how hot Magic cards really were? I knew not one, but several people who had good Red decks but they didn’t have enough Mountains to play them.
Back in my day, we couldn’t even find enough land!
So even though Moat was a card that I should have been able to buy, I never found one. Whenever I saw them, they went for the exorbitant price of $5.00 in a singles case (and that was in 1994 dollars, which adjusted for inflation would be approximately $10,000 now), and who the hell would pay $5.00 for a Magic card? That’s crazy talk. I mean, sure, you’d trade one of those crappy Sol Rings to get a real card like Frankenstein’s Monster, but a Moat?
No, I kept hunting. And never found one.
Now I own one… And it’s too bad I probably can’t play it.
The White we have here — see? I told you I’d get to strategy eventually — is weak overall, with some standout cards. Obviously, Moat shuts down a lot of strategies. Death Ward is a surprisingly effective combat trick, though slightly lowered in quality thanks to the array of old-school “destroy” effects lurking about, the most common of which is Incinerate. And Exile, well, there’s nothing better than watching someone put a Bestial Furied Dragon Engine’s trigger on the stack and pumping it to ten before Exiling it.
Still no Swords to Plowshares, though. That thing’s all over our multiplayer games, and lemme tell you — it’s worth spending $15.00 to get a set of them for casual games. No, really.
Holy Light was a staple way of killing The Elf Deck back in the day (yes, they had Elf Decks even then), but it’s not quite as good if you’re not heavily in White. And considering the creatures here are all tiny and not particularly combat-worthy, I’ll pass.
Honest admission: I played with it a lot back in the day. I played probably fifty, sixty games where it came up. And I still don’t know what the hell banding does. Back in my day, we just used to shrug and pray. “This guy lives, this guy dies. You’re hosed.” And because there were no judges, online or otherwise, we just assumed the other guy knew what he was talking about.
Back in my day.
You know what I love about Phantom Monster? It’s positive proof that Wizards loved Blue way too much in the early days. Let’s see, a four-mana Hill Giant, for the same price, that flies? In the color that’s supposed to have weak creatures?
Pull the other one, Mr. Garfield. G’wan.
Arcane Denial is one of the classic multiplayer counterspells, generally used as a pseudo-political foil. “Oh, sure, I’m countering that spell that would kill me,” you’d say. “But you’re getting two cards! Kind of as a bonus! That’s cool, right? You’re not mad?”
“No,” they’d mutter quietly. “I’m still going to kill you.”
“Ah,” you’d reply. “Anyone for tennis?”
Seriously, though Arcane Denial isn’t a bad counterspell — it is a hard counter, which means that it stops what it hits, which isn’t bad for two mana. The trick is to use it only when you’re pretty sure it’s the worst spell in the guy’s deck. I mean, if you counter a Lightning Bolt only to have him draw and cast a Phage the Untouchable, well, you’re kinda screwed. But if you do it in the reverse order, it’s okay.
I don’t know whether it’s a solid playable, though. I like it. That doesn’t make it good, though. (But Eli Kaplan likes it, and he’s better than I am, so maybe you wanna listen to him.)
Otherwise, what we have here is a bunch of very solid combat tricks and defenders. We have the drop-me-early, don’t-worry-about-x-2s-for-awhile Lumengrid, and the even better Giant Tortoise. And we have an amped-up Unsummon in the form of Word of Undoing, and a kills-Red-things-dead-spell, and some great card drawing…
Phantom Monster aside, we have nothing that actually attacks. But that’s what other colors are for, if I recall correctly.
Oh, and Hydroblast? That and Pyroblast were darned annoying, and I was really glad to see them go. Pyroblasts were so good they went into every Red casual deck, because some idiot always played something Blue. And Hydroblasts, likewise. I’m a little vexed they’ve returned, honestly.
Apprentice Wizard, incidentally, is not a great card. But he can, left untouched, catapult you into those high-end spells that you’ve been longing to cast, or leave mana open for other counterspells. You can cut him sometimes, but he’s better than you’d think.
No, that’s not a typo. My Black ends, artificially, at the “M”s. Bizarre.
Juzam Djinn? There’s another card I was never able to find. It went for thirty bucks back in the days of scrambling for Mountains, and it was awesome. Who the heck could beat a turn 2 5/5 off a Dark Ritual? Too much, man.
The only reason Juzam didn’t rule the whole world was because there weren’t enough of them. Or so we surmised. We certainly didn’t know anyone who had any.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, Juzam Djinn was not exactly a crappy card, but not entirely a powerhouse, either. Sure, a turn 2 Djinn was awesome, but a Drudge Skeletons could hold it off indefinitely, and Swords to Plowshares or Unsummon or any number of things would do it. Wizards tried for years to print “fixed” versions of the Juzam (like Phyrexian Scuta) before realizing that an early vanilla 5/5? Not that big a threat.
Now I own one. But the thrill is gone. It’s kinda like going back to your high school reunion to find that the prom queen wants to make out with you, but she’s twenty years older after a bad boob job. I mean, you’ll take it, but it’s not the same.
Oh, and you should know that a Lemure, in D&D parlance, is an ooze demon made up of the lowest level of tortured souls. But the artist on Hyalepterous Lemure didn’t know that, so he painted a lemur. This is back in the days when Wizards basically said, “Here’s a card name, paint whatever the hell you feel like,” and we got crap like Stasis.
I like to think that the art department was created thanks to Hyalopterous Lemure, myself.
Breeding Pit was a thrillsville combo back in the day with Lord of the Pit, and we all tried to make some sort of B/W Breeding Pit/Lord of the Pit/Circle of Protection: Black deck that would kill everyone. It never worked. Tying up your Black mana with the Breeding Pit meant that you couldn’t cast Lord of the Pit, and someone always had the Disenchant to hose you. Not worth it, man.
Basal Thrull just exists to show you how much better Slivers are than Thrulls. Though Mindstab Thrull was just as irritating back in the day as they are now, and just as hard to get through — though since we didn’t know anything about good decks, there were whole strategies devoted to “Getting the Mindstab through.” It may, however, rank as one of my favorite card arts of all time — now that’s pain.
Oh, yeah, the Black. It’s okay. It has good creatures, but no removal — and the double-Black in everything requires that you stick very heavily to Black. That’s probably not we want to do, but hey! We’re still wandering down Memory Lane here! Don’t interrupt!
Okay, let me say this: It was a good thing that Wizards stopped printing Lightning Bolt. Say what you will, but the formula for Magic looks something like this:
A one-mana spell removes X invested mana.
Make that ratio too big on average, and it starts getting ludicrously weighted towards Red. Which is to say that if Green invests two mana, on average, for a Grizzly Bears, having a one-mana Shock take out the Bears isn’t an awful thing for Green. But most people don’t play Grizzly Bears — they play creatures with abilities, so really that one-mana Shock generally removes three to four mana worth of creature, hitting something like an Aven Cloudchaser or a Mindstab Thrull.
So what you have is a one-mana spell that, barring some counter-trick, effectively trumps anything up to three mana, and sometimes four.
With Lightning Bolt, however, doing three damage with one mana means that any creature under five mana is pretty much useless. Sure, you have the occasional spikes in the curve like Juzam Djinn that can absorb a Bolt without blinking…. But mostly, you’re going to nail Kavu Climbers and Hungry Mists and Hyalopterous Lemurs by the dozen. Your opponents have to cast six-mana spells like Craw Wurms before your one-mana spell won’t chump them.
In other words, the more efficient the burn, the worse creatures get…. And the more people start turning to pure control decks. This is bad. It’s also why Swords to Plowshares hit the out-of-print stack.
That said, you will take my damned Lightning Bolts from my fingers when they are cold and dead. They’re that good.
As for Dwarven Catapult, I don’t know. I played Red because it had a lot of burn and the Shivan Hellkite, but for every time I wiped out someone’s army of x/1s with a colossal Catapult, I had two times where I was facing three x/3s and could do nothing.
I think the Catapult is playable because it is removal, but it will sit dead in your hand. The best time to use it is when your opponent has one creature, so I’d either think of this as a card to seal the deal (your opponent has nothing on the board and if he casts something big you’ll Catapult it) or in the early game to be burned on turn 4.
Is Brothers of Fire good? I dunno. I’m giving them the nod for now in Limited, since they can ping effectively. Expensive, though. I could well be wrong on this.
Ah, Green. We have GIGANTIC DANGED MEN. And Naturalize. And nothing else.
Hungry Mist might be good in Limited. It hasn’t ever attacked me yet in the handful of Limited games I’ve played with Masters, which is about on a par for the course in terms of what happened back in the day when my casual pals tried to play this sucker. But who knows? That is an impressive power. That ties up all your Green mana. And is vulnerable to any Shock-style effect. And doesn’t trample.
Okay, you got me. I don’t like it.
Obligatory old guy reference: “Chub Toad” is an anagram of “Bad Touch.” You learn these things when you play the game for years. Also, “Hyalopterous Lemure” is an anagram of “Trap Larry Emorhal,” who was a guy who accidentally locked himself in the closet once at Wizards headquarters while fleeing from a bat.
See? Us old guys have wisdom.
The Green here strategywise is simple: either we go for a top-end hope of GIGANTIC DANGED MEN and hope to heck they’ll servce as finishers, or we don’t. I don’t know that I will.
More anagrams: Onulets == Soul Net. Wasn’t Wizards clever? But dang, I loved Onulet – when it died, I got some life back! No, I didn’t have some way to endlessly recurse it for more life. No, I didn’t have any plans for doing anything with that life. This was back in the days before we had strategy or deckbuilding skills. We were just happy to watch stuff die. And that’s the way we liked it.
I’m not sure about Shield Sphere. It’s nice, but I never actually want to block with it. More testing is needed, and it may well slide off the edge here since I’m not picturing this as an awesome draw in the late game. Walking Wall, though pricier, is arguably better and certainly beefier.
Hymn of Rebirth is, obviously, pretty dang nuts.
By the way, I did not crack it, but back in the day we thought Thawing Glaciers was a pretty stupid card. It was really complex, and it didn’t seem to do anything aside from getting land, and who the hell needed that? Then one day a pro told us in an article in InQuest that you could do amazing things with this card, and we thought that pro was full of crap. Because that’s the way pros were, then: all of them were liars and lousy players. We hated them. Boy, what jerks.
I thought those old rivalries had died down, and then Evan got on the Magic Invitational ballot and won. Turns out that no, that never really went away.
Anyway, I decided that I’d rather have White’s awesome removal than Green’s top-end beef, especially given how many “destroy you” effects seem to be in the format. I could be wrong. Here’s what I went with:
1 Apprentice Wizard
1 Arcane Denial
1 Aven Cloudchaser
1 Brothers of Fire
1 Cone of Flame
1 Counsel of the Soratami
1 Death Ward
1 Dwarven Catapult
1 Giant Tortoise
1 Goblin Chirurgeon
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Lumengrid Warden
1 Mountain Yeti
1 Phantom Monster
1 Remove Soul
1 Shivan Hellkite
1 Stone Giant
1 Walking Wall
1 Word of Undoing
A strong case could be made for a larger White splash to throw in Moat, but I thought I was tempting the Mana Gods enough as it was with this concoction. (I did side it in a few times.)
A confession: Walking Wall was originally Shield Sphere until I realized how much I hated Shield Sphere in this deck. I have enough 0/x men in here, thankyouverymuch. Though I need the artifact creatures because the mana is so awful.
How’d it do? Well, I stomped on the first three matches, going 7-2 in games. Then I got mana-screwed in the fourth match, which is something you don’t want to see in this deck — it needs titanic amounts of mana, and is prone to stumbling. It stumbled, and I died. Oops. (I probably should have mulliganed better.)
In the fifth match, I had a guy who was making some seriously weird plays. He Terrored my Phantom Monster when it was the only guy on the board after an exchange of ugly creature destruction, and he was at twenty life and down to three cards in hand.
I didn’t grok where he was coming from, so I did my usual sniff test and looked at his rating. Was he so good I just didn’t get his strategy, or so bad I could write him off?
1890? What the hell is an 1890 guy doing in a release league?
Oh yeah. Hoping to steal games from suckers like me.
The second game, I threw away. I suspected he had Terror in his hand, but I didn’t have a counter to it — having used up my Arcane Denial to stop his Phage the Untouchable — and I figured that I might as well go for it. If he didn’t have the Terror, I won the game.
As it turns out, that was the wrong move. I was actually the control deck, not the aggro deck…. And not only did he have the Terror, he had been waiting for me to tap out so he could plunk down his Mahamoti Djinn. I’d had a Remove Soul in hand; if I’d forced him to cast it, we would have been in an even position where I could have possibly maneuvered into winning. As it was, he countered my attempt to Catapult his guy a turn or two later, and that was it. GG.
3-2, with one game lost to manascrew and the other due to poor play. Not great. But fun.
The Weekly Plug Bug
Tanner’s party is still ongoing on Home on the Strange — and while last week we saw some of the strange characters who permeate Tanner’s circle of friends, then saw perhaps one of the strangest Internet-fueled drinking games ever.
Or have we? This new series is called “Drinking Games,” and there’s something for everyone this week. Check it out.