Life After Urza

This PTQ season I have been shamefully out of touch with the Magic scene. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to play in any PTQs, it’s just that there have been so many other things to do this summer. It doesn’t help when the nearest PTQ season is three to four hours away; I guess…

This PTQ season I have been shamefully out of touch with the Magic scene. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to play in any PTQs, it’s just that there have been so many other things to do this summer. It doesn’t help when the nearest PTQ season is three to four hours away; I guess I’ve been spoiled having at least one or two qualifiers right here in Richmond. If there had been one at Mike Long’s shop in Charlottesville, I probably would have been happy to make the hour drive. But having to get up at 4 a.m. to make it to a qualifier has become less and less appealing. Sorry, Pete, but that four-hour trip to Roanoke is a killer! I wonder if the Magic players in Southwest Virginia realize how lucky they are to have such a Magic giant in Star City out there in the backwoods of the state, while right here in the state capital tournament Magic has gone stale.

Now I’m not saying Richmond Magic is dead, mind you. It’s just taken a different form. We usually have enough people to run Friday Night Magic tournaments every Friday, and the overwhelming favorite format is Draft. The only Constructed format that anyone here seems to be interested in is Group Game Constructed. The format has been so popular (with pickup games of six to eight players spontaneously occurring on any given night) that Total Access Games finally decided to hold a group game "tournament" of sorts, with a foil Serra Angel being given away as a prize. This was held last Saturday night at 7 p.m.; eighteen people showed up and sat together at a long table. It was basically a free-for-all, with global spells affecting everyone and any player being able to target any other player with spells or effects. The only restriction was that creature combat was restricted to "combat zones" of four to five people each. Creatures in a particular zone could only attack players in the same zone. Once a combat zone had dropped to three or less people, the zone was collapsed and the players divided randomly into the other zones. Eight hours later the game was called, with six people still in. One of them, I’m pleased to report, was me. I somehow survived despite my deck basically doing nothing the entire game. I didn’t draw any of my key cards or combinations, except for one Survival of the Fittest on my third turn, which got used once before being Disenchanted. Even the Squee I pitched to it got removed from the game with an Honor the Fallen before I could get it back. I did pull out some tricks, dealt some damage, and played politics. I had to burn a Vitalizing Winds to save my Groundskeeper and my Elvish Farmer from random death as an opponent decided to use up his mana through his Flowstone Overseer. I flashed him my Reflect Damage spell that I let him know I didn’t use on him when he had previously cast a Price of Progress. He did the math, and, grateful for my restraint, left my poor critters alone. A little while later, I finessed a Balance that left everyone with no creatures and no hand, yet I somehow ended up with a Weatherseed Treefolk on the board. Winding Canyon is a beautiful thing, folks! That Treefolk ended up nearly going to distance towards eliminating one last person before time was called, taking him from forty-something to eight before he topdecked an answer. I followed up with a Fireball and, another player’s Torch later, there was only six of us standing. Since he was the one who played the Balance, you shouldn’t feel too bad for him.

Though the hour of Survivor I watched last night was all I’d seen of the summer phenomenon, I was familiar enough with the rules of the game to make the comparison to group game Magic. You make alliances, play politics, but in the end you’ve got to betray them to win the game. Being good at group game Magic takes a depth of social skill that raises the game from its dueling roots. There’s more drama and emotion in these big throw downs, enough to make for great stories to be told later on. While interest in tournament Magic waxes and wanes around here, the endlessly diverse group game dynamic remains eternal.

The impending release of Invasion has piqued my interest in tournament Magic again, and while it’s early yet to speculate about the impact of the new set on Constructed play, we can sneak a preview into the possibilities by looking at what cards we know WILL and WILL NOT be available to us. What might life after Urza’s block look like?

For a hint of the future, let’s first just look at the top Type 2 decks today. Let’s look at the Worlds decks. The reek of Urza’s block positively overwhelms the format. Tinker, Angry Hermit, Replenish, Control Blue; all of these decks either exist due to, or rely heavily on, cards from Urza’s block. Masques block cards basically play a supporting role and rarely stand up as the "power cards" in the deck. Except for a Blastoderm here, a Tanglewire there, the Parallax Enchantments and the free counterspells, it’s hard to believe that there’s an entire pool of cards as big as the Masques block out there to add to your decks. You can’t really blame the designers of the top decks – why shoot a BB gun when you’ve got tanks at your disposal? But the biggest impact of the Type 2 rotation this fall will be the loss of the power cards in the Urza block.

Into the void steps the Masques Block decks, quite lackluster in comparison. Yet when you look over these decks and remark about how underpowered the cards generally are, you’ve got to ask yourself, "How can 6th edition cards spruce these decks up?"

Yes, folks. 6th edition. Remember those cards? I think the greatest thing about the coming rotation of Urza’s block is that 6th edition cards will be good again. Just think about it; when you wanted to throw in a five casting cost blue creature in today’s Type 2, you reached for Morphling. What’s better than Superman? In Masques block, the biggest flying fat are Stronghold Zeppelins and Troublesome Spirits; not exactly ideal, but the best that Masques can muster. So how good would Air Elemental be in that format? Is the much ignored, bland blue fattie finally going to get his day in the sun? Wizards axed the beloved Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire from the basic set to ensure that blue would have the premier five-drop 4/4 flier, so that sunny day may have finally come.

I pulled up the list of 6th edition cards and looked them over for cards that would work well in MBC decks – and I was surprised at how many good and interesting cards there were! So while you wait for the spoiler lists to coalesce for Invasion, you might want to spend some time going over 6th edition cards. Here’s a few nuggets that I think might make a splash after the upcoming rotation:

WRATH OF GOD – How good can a white Control deck be with twelve Wraths? Along with the return of Lin-Sivvi to endlessly recur 2/2 grizzlies like Kjeldoran Outposts of old, this could be one of the defining decks of the environment.

TRAINED ARMODON – Everybody has been falling all over themselves over the power of Silt Crawlers; Armodons do the 3/3 trick with no drawbacks at all. With twelve three-drop 3/3’s available to green-based decks, it ain’t exactly Stompy, but it’s got some stomp to it.

BROWSE – What’s a blue mage to do for card drawing? Having to wean themselves off Whispers of the Muse first, and then Stroke of Genius, they’re not going to be initially be happy with Browse. But take another look. With the new free counterspells, you can tap out to Browse and find that counter you need. Digging five deep and choosing the best card for the situation is going to be good in the new format.

ARMAGEDDON – If the MBC block is any indication, the future of Type 2 is going to be mana hungry. If a deck hates Rising Waters, it’s really going to hate a ‘Geddon. And you can’t Disenchant it. The catchphrase "Geddon early, ‘Geddon often" might be heard in strategy articles again.

DESERTION – People are starting to love the power of Bribery; Desertion can often be better, netting you actual card advantage. Oh, and it can also just counter a spell in a pinch.

FOG ELEMENTAL – Flying Blue Beats decks from MBC have got to love the damage-dealing abilities of the Fog Elemental, especially when you mix in bounce to negate his self-destructive tendencies.

THE DIAMONDS – Anyone I ever saw playing the Ramos parts in MBC wished they were Diamonds instead. I expect the Ramos parts to hit the dustbin section of tradebooks as soon as the MBC season is over. Take any MBC deck, simply swap out Ramos pieces and replace them with Diamonds, and the deck is immediately better. Mana acceleration is likely to be key to the new environment.

STRANDS OF NIGHT – This is one of those cards that has always ALMOST been worth playing, except that there’s always been much better graveyard recursion available. Well, those days are over. Strands of Night might be the best graveyard recursion left. The good news is that with the Urza Block’s exit, graveyard hosers are practically non-existent.

DIMINISHING RETURNS – Four mana to fill your hand looks like a pretty good deal now. Who cares that you might tap out when we’ve got lots of free counterspells now? You can even make its symmetry helpful to you when combined with the bounce that’s available for blue; this spells seems to be a perfect complement to blue’s bouncy spellshapers.

GREED – In the beginning there was a card in Legends called Greed, and no one cared. Then they made it better and called it Necropotence and released it in Ice Age, and the masses flocked to it. Then they reprinted Greed in 4th edition, and no one cared, so they pulled it and reprinted Necro in 5th – and the people rejoiced in its evil power. So the powers that be created an even more powerful card-drawer in Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and the people were drunk with power. Soon all that will be gone and we’ll be left with Greed again. Maybe now the environment will be slow enough that it might actually see play. Or maybe not…

HULKING CYCLOPS – It’s big. Really big. And it can’t block. Who cares! Red decks seem to be sliding towards large, cost-efficient monsters backed with utility and burn. The Cyclops seems to be a pretty good bargain for those kind of decks.

SOLDEVI SAGE – I don’t think the Sage is going to get the respect it may very well deserve until the right deck is built for it. I hope someone builds it if I can’t get a good configuration. I imagine a deck revolving around Groundskeeper and maybe Squee. Tapping to draw three cards is good, and if we can blunt or nullify the drawback of discarding a card and sacrificing two lands, we might have something here.

NECROSAVANT – Some folks have been extolling the virtues of Coffin Puppets in MBC; the Black Hammer is probably even better, and, again, with the lack of decent graveyard hosers this monster’s stock should rise. Plus he’s got great artwork and great flavor text.

BIRDS OF PARADISE, LLANOWAR ELVES – I don’t know about you, but I’ve really missed being able to play a turn 1 mana accelerator. Especially with all the powerful three casting cost 3/3 monsters available to green, being able to generate three mana on turn 2 has got to be amazing.

It’s been fun looking over what’s in 6th edition and "rediscovering" some cards that might become good again. So, while you’re twiddling your thumbs in the wake of MBC awaiting the spoilers for Invasion to hit, take a stroll through 6th edition again. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Next week, I’ll be going over the top MBC decks and seeing how they change with 6th edition in the mix. See ya then!

What’s that?

What about the foil Serra Angel? Well, the six of us are squaring off in a free-for-all soon to see who walks away with it. Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it went.

Bennie Smith