Insert Column Name Here – The Success Of 10th Edition

Read The Ferrett every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!The Ferrett opened up some pretty darned strong cards at his release fest, so “strategy” wasn’t as big a part in the games as “luck.” So after some brief discussions on cards in 10th, Ferrett asks a Core question: is it possible to have a really good Core set?

I’m writing this extra-early, a Tuesday for a Sunday deadline, since this weekend is the event you’ve all been waiting for:

Hello, Mr. Potter.

As such, I don’t want to have to spend any time this weekend on mere writing. I intend to have my head buried in a book — and I do mean buried, since with the abundance of jerks who are posting spoilers to ruin it for other people, I won’t be checking email or viewing any Web page until I’ve finished it.

Silly? Absolutely. Harry Potter’s just, you know, a book. Still, it’s a good series, and I don’t mind making time for old friends. I mean hey, there’s no need for me to see the latest Spider-Man movie on opening night, but I’m there for Spidey and I’ll be there for Harry.

I just hope this new Harry’s better than the last Spidey, know what I’m saying?

But that’s this weekend. Last weekend, I attended the 10th Edition Release party at my newest store, The War Zone, since my last store had just closed up shop. It was a small gathering, about twenty people, but mostly friendly.

I don’t have my original card pool on hand (I’m too greedy with the packs, having opened my winnings on the way back home and mixed them up with the originals), but here’s the deck I played:

1 Wrath of God
1 Plague Wind
1 Assassinate
1 Terror
1 Heart of Light
1 Mind Rot

1 Razormane Masticore
1 Ghost Warden
1 Holy Day
1 Holy Strength
1 Steadfast Guard
1 Angelic Wall
1 Dusk Imp
1 Nekrataal
1 Gravedigger
1 Scathe Zombies
1 Spineless Thug
1 Ballista Squad
1 Nantuko Husk
1 Spirit Weaver
1 Soul Warden
1 Wild Griffin
1 Skyhunter Patrol

1 Righteousness (not in the original, but sided in frequently)

Oh, and my other rare in addition to Wrath, Razormane, Plague Wind, and Righteousness was Coat of Arms. Yeah, I pulled pretty well that day. Traaaaade city!

If, as they say, 10th Edition Limited is about card advantage, this deck is reasonably nuts. I went 4-0 pretty easily (even though it was against a kid-filled field — I found an opponent who didn’t realize that Overrun+good Green creatures was a bomb, and I all but commanded him to sideboard that in every game from here on). We split the prizes, natch, but I played for pride in the “quarterfinals” and lost in a final game decided by “Hi, I have Icy Manipulator and Rod of Ruin, and you have no artifact removal.” Wiping out all his guys didn’t really help when my guys stayed tappy-tap-tapped or pingy-ping-pinged.

At one point during the day I mulliganed down to four cards after a one-lander, a no-lander, and a no-lander – and as I did, I said, “If I win this game, I am doing a victory lap around the store.” Well, I got my four cards:

Angelic Wall
Wrath of God

In fact, I did win in a long, pitched battle, and then went for a victory lap… Well, it was a damn big store, so I didn’t quite go all the way around it. Plus, I felt like an idiot, running and cheering in front of people who had no idea what was going on, and then I had to explain it to them. So it was a semi-victory lap.

That said, Wrath and Razormane work wonders, and the occasional (but rare, since it’s mega-pricey) casting of Plague Wind works nicely. But here, have some notes on random cards:

Nantuko Husk.
Way better than I remembered it being in Onslaught, and it was pretty darned good there. It just seems that most of the combat tricks involve making creatures bigger, and I can do that at will with Husk. Yeah, I lose a guy or two, but generally Nantuko Husk is a double-blind; oh, you’ll attack, I’ll block, you have the combat trick, and so do I. Have another trick? Well, I still have the Husk as a backup plan.

I did, however, delay a mostly-inevitable post-Wrath victory by one turn by forgetting the ol’ first-striker trick: Nekrataal damage on the stack, then sacrifice it to Nantuko for those extra two points of victorious damage. It is the little things like these that win games. Fortunately, it didn’t lose me the game.

…that time.

Heart of Light.
I am with Eli Kaplan on this; it turns their guy into a gigantic wall, which can be truly annoying at times if you have to lay it on something with flying. I’m not saying I wouldn’t run it, since it is removal of a sort, but it’s the sort of removal that can backfire in ugly ways. It’s nice not to be beaten, but then you have to beat down, and that can make it a lot harder in the absence of something good and sneaky.

I wasn’t sure about this card, since it seemed really situational: I didn’t want to be blocking in most cases, and it did bupkiss outside of that. But as it turns out, I was used to the evasion-packed worlds of Ravnica and Time Spiral, where it seems that someone is always finding a way to creep above, below, or sideways past my defending armies; 10th Edition just seems to have a lot more places where “Blocking” is the only way to get rid of something. As such, Righteousness really does do the trick more often than not, though I’m still not sure if I’d maindeck it.

That said, trumping a Might of Oaks with a Righteousness with this dialogue:

“He’s feeling mighty.”

“Well, she’s feeling righteous.”

…was particularly satisfying.

Holy Day.
I wouldn’t normally maindeck this, but this is a deck based on tempo and card advantage: I throw out a lot of little guys, and if I can’t swarm them, then I try to get them to overcommit and clear the board. As such, Holy Day allowed me to win a few tempo races that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and frustrated at least one opponent to putting one other guy down to absolutely kill me fo’sho next turn. (He didn’t. I had Mr. Wrath in hand.)

Plague Wind.
Really, it’s good but not that good. Even in the slower format, it’s still pretty darned expensive. I’m not saying not to run it if you’re in Black, since when it works it kills…. But don’t let it draw you down the ebon path by its power alone.

Play it if you have good Black cards to pair with it. Otherwise, leave it be.

(That said, it’s still good in multiplayer. You know how it is.)

The whole 10th Edition format felt incredibly simple to me, which is as I suppose it should be. It had some depth to it, but generally it felt like I was playing with Tinker Toys.

There was, however, one tremendously fun game I did witness:

On the one side, Mobilization. Lots of Mobilization, in a game that had gone to the point where there were so many tokens out that the guy had run out of sideboard cards to use face-down. Plus, he had Beacon of Immortality.

On the other side, dude with Soul Warden, and Pariah+Heart of Light on a wall.

It came down to the Beacon. Nobody was winning through combat that game, and Pariah+Heart of Light dude eventually realized that he didn’t have enough answers to not get decked, and so he conceded. Nasty.

(Plus, the guy with the Mobilization? Had a total Crabman ‘fro. It was truly awe-inspiring to watch that hair.)

That said, even though I didn’t like my 10th Experience all that much, I have to ask the question: Who is 10th Edition for?

It’s an interesting quandary. See, I used to buy cards for Waldenbooks — at one point, if you saw a Magic or a Pokemon card down at the mall bookstore, I put it there. And I bought a lot of Core 6th Edition, because I thought, hey, it’s Core, it’ll sell.

It really didn’t. As it turns out, the advanced players wanted the newest cards, not reprints, and the beginner players didn’t know enough to go, “Hey, I need Core cards! I’ll buy only these, and not these Mercadian Masques cards!” So you wound up with a set that didn’t impress the old guards and wasn’t flashy enough to rope in all the beginners.

In other words, you got Core if you wanted the staple cards and didn’t have enough of collection to have them already. (It doesn’t help that Standard decks are usually around 90% block cards, assuming you exclude the basic lands.)

Wizards has been trying like hell to re-brand the Core Set to make it something that people will purchase. 9th Edition was playing on the tenth anniversary nostalgia, reprinting a lot of old cards in the hopes that nerds would buy old crap with new art; to a large extent, it sorta-worked.

What worked more was Magic Online. There are a lot of casual players out there who want the Core cards, and the best way to get them is to draft the Core sets. This, in turn, attracts the pros, who like beating up on n00bies who are looking for cards, and as such there’s a brisk trade in Core drafting online, if not in real life.

The amazing Mr. Ben Bleiweiss (he’s getting married, send good wishes!) puts it bluntly in his article on the value of 10th Edition Singles:

Base sets are an interesting animal, because they fall outside the normal scheme of Magic releases.

1) Every card in Tenth Edition is a reprint. Sure, some of the cards are obscure (Loyal Sentry, from Starter ’99) and some haven’t seen print in years (Aura of Silence, from Weatherlight). This reduces the number of Tenth Edition cards in circulation, because players who normally crack packs/boxes/cases to obtain new cards are less inclined to do so for a set that offers them little to nothing new.

2) Tenth Edition Booster Draft isn’t going to be widely pushed as a tournament format, at least offline. It will be played on Magic Online due to the convenience of being able to find eight people at once who want to Tenth Edition Draft, but most players in the physical world will be playing Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight drafts, or the upcoming Lorwyn drafts just down the road. This will also limit the number of Tenth Edition cards coming into circulation.

3) The primary customers for base sets, traditionally, are those who are just getting into the game, or players who do not have a very extensive collection. These players skew very casual, and are more likely to play in local playgroups, and less likely to show up for Friday Night Magic or PTQs. This also means that their Tenth Edition cards will tend to stay out of the circulation (via trade) to the general public.

So in short, there will be many, many fewer Tenth Edition singles floating out there than, say, Future Sight. This makes it harder to obtain the cards that are in Tenth Edition…

(Wanna read the rest of Ben’s thoughts? Well, get Premium, chum!)

Now we have a set that is, quite honestly, the best Core set I’ve ever seen. As a casual player, I can tell you that there are a lot of awesome cards here, and they’ve done their best to trim the repeato-cards out of the lineup: Okay, okay, I can see the need for Circle of Protection in the set (it’s good for beginners to know that such things exist, and the “I COP everything!” is one of the first strategies every newbie tries)… But do we need ten slots in every core set devoted to the obligatory “I gain life when I cast a spell of this color” and “I have a Circle of this color!”? The thrill of opening your first COP ever is completely quenched by the time you open the fourth of the color you need, then decays into ugly resentment.

There are a lot of massively good cards for Casual play, and some strong tournament competition.

But here’s the question: Is it good enough?

You advanced players are never going to be drawn to Core. It’s too simple, and while it’s a nice aperitif to cleanse the palate between endless Time Spiral draftings, it feels kinda vanilla. There’s not just the complex interactions that your Magical tastebuds are used to.

The beginning players, well…. I don’t know that they’ll be drawn to it, either. As I said, most of the action is in the expansion sets; go to any FNM and you’ll see drafts of the expansions, or Standard and its usual array of expansion-riffic cards. The casual scene’s a little more stagnant, since it’s not driven by tournaments, but the concept of “a set of reprints” usually does not encourage people to purchase things. It doesn’t sound new.

The problem is, of course, that Wizards has to keep the Core Set in print. There has to be some place for beginners to hop on, because otherwise the scene dries up. Most people learn from their friends, true, but some of those friends start by hearing about this “Magic” thing and buying that first Core Set.

But if you make the Core Set too hard, then people won’t get it. People will pick up, say, a Nacatl War-Pride (shudder) and get into endless arguments about what it should do… Arguments that are really hard to decide when you don’t honestly know what happens when you give something protection from a color in response to an instant.

(Remember, just by coming to SCG to get your Magic strategy, you are a freakish aberration in the statistical field of all players. Most Magic players have never heard of StarCityGames.com, nor would they get the idea of reading strategy articles. They live in a world where Traumatize is the best possible card you could hope to open, and maybe they play some Standard from time to time, but mostly it’s casual. Veeeery casual.)

At the same time, you’re trying to make it sexy for older players. You want the cool, splashy cards in there — the fun stuff that people will go, “Wow, I want that powerful card!” But at the same time, the older players probably have enough cards and/or will be smart enough to just purchase them as singles from, say, a reputable Magic site.

The fascinating question is whether there can be a successful Core set. You can try some stuff, like:

  • Reprinting really obscure cards like Loyal Sentry in the hopes that experienced players will purchase packs to get them… But again, you have the whole “singles” issue, since most players won’t burn through a million packs containing eternally boring cards like Angel of Mercy and Canopy Spider to get that one item.
  • Maybe making a Core set of all new cards, which they tried with Portal to not much success because everything was too simple, or making them all complex new cards, which probably wouldn’t go over too well.
  • Tying the Core set into some sort of screwed-up Draft format (Hey, it’s Lorwyn, Morningtide, and Core Set! Awesome!) to sell packs. But I have a feeling that would go over the same way that Coldsnap drafts did; yeah, we’ll do it for our shot at the Tour, but our hearts (and our casual side draft money) aren’t really in it.
  • Making a season-long event out of it, with multiple Core Set tournaments, and… What’s that? They’re trying that now with Summer of Magic? Oh yeah. Well, I guess we’ll see how that goes.

The question is, can you make a successful set that serves two masters — the introductory set that can be truly useful to Joe Never-Played-It, and Joe Pro? My gut says no.

I think the Core Set is always going to be Wizards’ broccoli; an unpleasant thing that’s necessary for your greater health. They can gussy it up, but the whole need to keep things on a level that people who’ve stumbled across the game by accident can understand will hold it down.

That’s not a bad thing. But it also means, as they say in the biz, that Core Set is probably about as close to a loss leader as Wizards gets with Magic cards.

Then again, you guys have some creative ideas. If you’ve got suggestions as to how the Core Set could be a best-seller, I’d love to hear ‘em. (And, I bet, so would Wizards.)

The Weekly Plug Bug
This week on Home on the Strange: Well, we’re all reading Harry Potter.

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy