As I live and breathe, the new set is finally out. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a new block. I think it was back at the end of Masques Block. It was boring as heck, and rumors of the new multi-colored theme had me foaming at the mouth. You see I am not your typical pro (former pro?). I love the flavor of the game. Don’t get me wrong; I think function is far more important, but I do love the flavor. One of my favorite flavors in the game is the flavor of multi-colored Magic.
When I found out this was going to be the “flavor” block, I was actually a little nervous. My confidence in R&D had been shaken a little with the last two blocks. They were both new and interesting from a flavor standpoint, and the mechanics were fun from a casual standpoint, but they really hurt competitive play… a lot. As more was revealed about the set, it seemed that the mechanics would be pretty mild. I am glad they didn’t attempt to go overboard. Mechanics like Madness and Affinity are just degenerate, and abilities like Morph just add an element of luck to the game that is fun but not healthy.
If I have said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: Please wait to review sets. It is nice to get first impressions. They can help to guide us. The problem comes when people start reviewing entire sets the day after the prerelease. 99 times out of 100 they have no clue what they are talking about and just want to be the first person to say that X card is good. I think in the early stages it is much more useful to analyze a set on a macro level. Dissecting individual cards for Limited is silly. Doing it for Constructed makes a little more sense as these are cards entering an established metagame and it is easier to see how synergies can come together, but even there I’d likely wait until I got some playtesting under my belt.
So you probably are wondering where I am going with this convoluted introduction. I am going to look at each mechanic, theme and thread in Champions of Kamigawa and how they pertain to both Limited and Constructed.
When determining what works in a given format, you need to figure out the abstract threshold of the effect to cost ratio. In general, that ratio needs to be very large for Constructed. Don’t get me wrong, you want it fairly large for Limited as well, but it is far more important in Constructed. The mitigating factor here is the controlled environment of the synergies in Constructed. This can cause the ratio to increase for certain cards when they are played in constructed. In Limited you can’t always predict the concentration of certain card types. In constructed you have complete control of this. That is where the gap comes from. The gap I am referring to in this case is the set of cards that are good in Constructed, but not in Limited.
These concepts are always difficult to quantify, but early on even making educated guesses is tough. I am going to give you my first impressions of the themes and mechanics.
I find it humorous that a set named Legends had less Legends than this set. This theme, while perhaps not the most relevant is certainly the most conspicuous. This doesn’t come up very often in Limited, as I was proven wrong about the existence of common Legends. The one effect having so many Legends in the set does have (particularly the with the new Legends rule), is that they can make some powerful cards that will have sweeping effects on the game. This tends to be bad for Limited, but time will tell.
This could, however, have a significant impact on Constructed, particularly Block Constructed. Powerful Legends will not only serve their printed purpose, but will also need to be used as removal. If you base your deck around one of these cards you have to be prepared to find an alternate means of winning in a mirror match. This will make sideboarding extremely important if the top deck in the format revolves around a Legend. That may be where your alternate win condition resides. It could be where you keep extra copies of you powerful Legends to prepare for the mirror. The Dragons make for interesting interactions with the new Legends rule. As Ben Bleiweiss pointed out, if you Tooth and Nail two of the Dragons into play you get the effects from them going to the graveyard. If you Tooth out two White Dragons, you get a near Time Stretch. The Black ones can end the game right there, and the Red ones can clear the board.
This mechanic is so cool. This is the best mechanic they have come up with since Kicker. It may be a touch on the powerful side in Limited, but I love it. I used to complain that sets were getting too many playables. Well Champions has a healthy amount of playables, but the synergies in the set I believe make the drafting amazingly skill intensive. If you are drafting Blue/Red, a card like Reach through Mists can become a first pick if you have two Glacial Rays. In the same deck, Lava Spike, which has been likened to Spark Elemental, becomes a highly playable card. If you manage to pick up a Dampen Thought in one of these Arcane decks, you can end the game a lot faster than you may think. I have only tried this archetype once. It worked in Tempest Block, Red/Blue control with less than ten creatures, I hope it will work out here.
I suspect that this mechanic is a little underpowered for Type Two (at least for the next year) and up, but for Block Constructed I could see an Arcane deck being quite powerful. Dampen Thought isn’t quite as powerful in Constructed, as you need to activate it so many more times. What could work are the “Through” cards. To tell you the truth, I think The Unspeakable is a little underpowered. Peer through Depths is awesome; Reach through Mists is decent; Sift through Sands is weak. Whether I am spending eight mana or casting these three cards in concert for six mana, I wish I was getting a little more out of The Unspeakable. That being said, in an arcane deck where you are likely to be playing Peer and Reach anyway, it may be worth adding Sift and one copy of The Unspeakable. It will be interesting to see how a Constructed Arcane deck would come together.
Meh. That is all I really have to say about this ability in Limited. It is good, don’t get me wrong. A creature with Bushido is better in a fight than one without, but there is nothing very exciting about it. My main problem with abilities that trigger on blocking is that there is so little blocking in Limited. That being said, it discourages attacking and blocking and that could be quite useful in both control and aggressive decks.
Now if you thought there was a dearth of blocking in Limited, you should check out Constructed. My get tells me Bushido will be nearly useless in Constructed. There just isn’t enough interactive combat in most constructed formats for this ability to make a big difference.
Soulshift is card advantage right? Card advantage is good right? Yes, of course both of these statements are true, but they are also misleading. The added cost to cards with Soulshift normally isn’t worth it. Look at Venerable Kumo. We have a joke going around Albany that goes a little something like this, “Hey! If you could have a 4/3 for four or a 2/3 for five, what would it be?” Neither ability on that creature is exciting enough to make him cost five for a 2/3. Tel-Jilad Archers cost the same amount, were light years better, and were still only playable. Now Spirits are a horse of a different color. Since Nick scooped me and let the cat out of the bag, I want to show my support for Devouring Greed. I think if anything Nick underrated this card. I think it is a near bomb, but it is still early so we’ll see. Devouring Rage is definitely good as well. The fact that it is an instant can make for interesting interactions with Zuberas in combat.
I don’t expect these aspects of the set to enter into Constructed that much, but it is possible that Devouring Greed is so good that it may impact the format. I know I will try it as it is my pet card for this set. Soulshift may be slightly better in Constructed, since creatures die more often and you have a lot more control over the cards in your deck.
There are only five of these guys, but in a draft format that includes three of the set, you can pick up quite a few. The problem arises with where to pick the early ones. If you are at a table that knows their value and everyone is taking them early, no one will wind up exploiting them. If you are at a table where they are undervalued, you can wait until later to pick then up. In either case, I think the plan is to take the powerful commons early, and feel things out in pack 1. If you get two good ones in pack one, the next few move way up in value. They are all good enough to play unless you are mono-White. The White one is the weakest, but still playable, since he still bolsters the others.
I don’t think these guys will turn out to be useful in Constructed unless Devouring Greed really is good in sixty-card formats. I don’t think that will happen with two quality, cheap counterspells in the format though. They are interesting with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, but I don’t think that level of interesting is enough to focus on.
Samurai, Rats, and Snakes
I am sure that the ancient samurai in Japan would be pleased that they were lumped in with rats and snakes. These themes haven’t yet jumped out at me in either Limited or Constructed. That doesn’t mean that they should be overlooked. If you pick up an early rare that helps these (or Nagao, Bound by Honor), don’t be afraid to make these the themes of your decks. Also minor themes like these are often set up in the first set, then developed in later sets.
It is pretty impressive to think that R&D puts all these themes into large expansions. Even small expansions have their themes and mechanics. Even when they come out with themes that don’t work, like tribal in Constructed (apologies to goblins and a small nod to elves) or overpowered mechanics like Buyback in Limited, Madness in Constructed or Affinity in both, the wheels are always spinning and they continue to keep the game fresh. Do I miss the old days? Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could draft Tempest/Stronghold/Exodus. Would I trade what Magic is for what it was? Never. I wouldn’t miss the old days if the game weren’t constantly changing. I don’t miss the old days, because I don’t like what I have now. I miss the old days because I have that feeling I will never get it back. Don’t ever regret picking up your first card. There isn’t a better hobby in the world.