Mining The Crystal Quarry: What Does Wizards Want Us To Learn From 8th Edition?

I am one of the people who thought that Counterspell was not overpowered. Too many of you whined about control. I think that you whined because you couldn’t adapt, and you were too in love with your little fatties to try to adapt. Well, guess what? Control is more than just blue counters. I’m going to feel really good when I start using other control methods to kill you precious fatties.

Based off the mtgnews spoiler, I want to examine 8th edition and how it’s going to impact casual play. Competitive play be damned – so this means that the loss of Counterspell and Disenchant, among other staples, will be a factor in this discussion, but because by and large, casual games tend to be Type 1 (with or without the restricted list, which is another issue altogether) and thus, decks will still have access to the”old” color wheel. Moreover, this is based solely on a preliminary spoiler. When it’s released, if cards change significantly, I’ll want to address this topic again. With that in mind, let’s take a look-see…

Wizards of the Coast’s line about the Core set is that it teaches new players basic concepts about Magic, and as a result, tends to leave”complicated” concepts out of the base set. However, I must say that Wizards definitely does a good job making base sets – especially recent ones – for new players, who have absolutely no idea how the game works.

What are these lessons? And more importantly, what are the changes to the syllabus that Wizards is pushing with this and recent sets?

The Trends:

White has the best weenies.

Moist poignantly illustrated by the return of Savannah Lions, small white creatures will bring the pain much more quickly and more efficiently than others. For one mana, white will get you a good creature with a good ability. It may not get you size – that’s green’s schtick – but it will get you abilities.

White has life gain.

Peach Garden Oath (which could completely use a better name) (No way! It rules! – The Ferrett), Healing Salve, and Venerable Monk all illustrate the point that White can boost your life totals. It can keep you further from the dreaded zero life and blunt the sharp edge of attack phases.

White has damage prevention.

Seen most noticeably on Master Healer, White can protect your creatures from damage relatively easily, from Master Healer to Healing Salve. In a similar vein, it can protect you from said damage, or provide a similar effect by increasing creatures’ toughness.

White can destroy enchantments cheaply.

It used to be able to do more, but Demystify is one of the cheapest enchantment kill cards out there. White likes its rules – and since the worst rulebreakers are usually enchantments, White can eliminate them with ease.

Green will give you the most size for your mana.

Consider Enormous Baloth to Vizzerdrix. For the same amount of mana, you get a 7/7 with Green, 6/6 for Blue. Green is the color of large creatures.

Green will give you mana.

Green also provides long-term mana acceleration, be it by playing extra lands, getting mana from permanents, or making your lands produce more mana.

Green can manipulate (but not necessarily destroy) lands.

Evidenced by Plow Under, Choke, and land-searching cards, Green makes the most of its lands by making more mana, slowing down enemy lands – or, in the case of Spreading Algae, even destroying them. Red is still the king, but the forces of nature can easily turn wrathful too.

Green can destroy enchantments or artifacts easily.

See Naturalize. If it’s unnatural, Green can get rid of it. Part of applying that flavor comes in enchantments and artifact destruction.

Blue is still the color of flight.

White gets many fliers, and even the powerful Blinding Angel and Serra Angel. But overall, blue is still the color that grants or gains flying at the least cost. Consider Flight and the many birds in 8th Edition.

Blue can counter spells.

While the venerable Counterspell is no longer in play, Blue does not just live in the main phase. Despite a lack of removal for permanents in play, Blue can keep them out of play period, by way of counters – something that still belongs almost exclusively to Blue.

Blue can draw cards.

Consider Ambition’s Cost, a black sorcery for 3B, that requires an additional payment of three life to draw three cards. Blue can do the same for 2UU, which is, for all intents and purposes, almost the same as 3B without the life payment.

Blue steals your permanents.

Confiscate, Bribery, and Steal Artifact illustrate this point perfectly. Though the recent Threaten points to temporary theft moving to red, permanent (or at least long-term) theft is still in Blue. It’s a strange way to remove creatures, but it certainly illustrates itself clearly.

Red is the king of direct damage.

No other color comes close to being able to say,”do X damage” as well as red does. From Shock to Blaze, red can deal damage like no other color, with very few conditions, and cheaper than any other color.

Red can destroy lands.

Boil and Flashfires illustrate this. Wizards R&D has stated that land destruction spells won’t get much better than Stone Rain. Blood Moon renders non-basic lands useless. Need I say more?

Red can hinder blocking.

Panic Attack and cheap wall destruction means that against red, specialized blocking may not mean all that much.

Black kills stuff.

Dark Banishing. Nekrataal. Plague Wind. Even its hosers are designed to kill creatures. It’s too much fun. A few mana answers anything with toughness; short and sweet.

Black manipulates the graveyard.

Be it reanimation in the form of Zombify or recursion via Gravedigger and Raise Dead, Black makes the most use of cards in the ‘yard. In a base set, and to avoid degenerate combos, most of the cards focus on getting back creature cards – but that means if you can put something in the graveyard, when you’re using Black, chances are good that you’ll get a shot at using it again.

Black can force discards.

Coercion (which displaces Duress and Ostracize), Mind Sludge, and others means that Black can most proactively disrupt an opponent’s grip. Holding a counter for the potential bomb? Coercion rips it right out. It gets worse with Persecute. Ravenous Rats serves double duty.

Black sacrifices resources for advantage.

Phyrexian Arena, Ambition’s Cost, Serpent Warrior. Life or creatures for cards, larger creatures, or any number of things outside the base set, Black can dip into any mechanic if the cost is right. Tutoring for anything (see Diabolic Tutor) pays a card and mana to search for what you need. If you’re not afraid of the dark, Black will get you what you need.

What has changed? Veteran players will note the following shifts:

  • Tapping is shared between White and Blue.

  • Untapping belongs mainly to Blue now.

  • Blue creatures suck more than ever.

  • Wizards are the new Blue marquee race.

  • It’s getting easier for black to kill black creatures.

  • Pinging has moved to Red.

  • Howl from Beyond is now Red (Enrage)

The Vanilla Chaff

In every set, there are going to be chaff cards – cards that should never be played (and won’t be) unless there’s some bizarre theme, cards that are just too weak for normal logic. It’s a beautiful thing, though, that we need not fear opening a Vizzerdrix in our packs ever again. The Starter game policy is a good one, in my opinion. Let’s go through a quick rundown of the vanilla creatures:

What’s the trend with these creatures? They’re almost all vanilla, with some having tacked-on abilities on an unimpressive body. The only thing that keeps them from sheer obscurity is their creature type… And even then, they are made obsolete by other cards. Moreover, these other cards are easily accessed because of the rarity of their replacements, by and large.

The concept of a”Gray Ogre” is an important one to teach, though I’m not sure if it’s really necessary anymore. The comparison has been in existence for years, and the concept is a simple enough one to grasp that most players know to try to get the best out of their creatures. Some improvements include Honorable Scout or Honor Guard for Eager Cadet, Imagecrafter for Fugitive Wizard, Storm Crow and Dream Thrush for Sea Eagle, Bog Raiders for Scathe Zombies, Ancient Kavu for Hill Giant, Suq’Ata Lancer for Goblin Chariot, and Wild Mongrel and Stonewood Invoker for Grizzly Bears.

It should be noted that there are no”strictly superior” options for Plague Beetle and Norwood Ranger, mainly because there isn’t another Swampwalker for 1/1 at 1CC, and there isn’t another elf that’s bigger than 1/2 for G (unlike Squire, which can be compared unfavorably to Devoted Caretaker). There is, however, a reason to play these creatures, though – although it’s a rare one. It’s highlighted in the current Onslaught block: Tribal. Even then, you need to choose which would be best for you. These are good, simple creatures to start learning with.

Consider the following spells:

Demystify, Sacred Nectar, Dehydration, Flight, Index, Mind Bend, Fear, Mind Rot, Blaze, Lava Axe, Reflexes, Shatter, Crystal Rod, Iron Star, Ivory Cup, Throne of Bone, Wooden Sphere

In Type 1, the hundreds of spells available means that some spells are going to be obsolete or underpowered. All the spells above are such spells. Demystify is known as Wane, and is paired with Wax. In and of itself, Demystify is a chump of a spell. Ray of Revelation is available as well, at one more mana, but is also available twice. Why is this card too weak? Quite simply, it’s because this card doesn’t do enough. The same is true for all the other spells. These cards have been made obsolete, and they just don’t do enough. The same can be said of many other spells, but this is not as evident as in the Core set and other base sets.

But let’s get to the meat and potatoes: The reprints! This is the biggest source of controversy in any set – but most of all, this one, because of the choices previewed in the buildup to 8th Edition’s release.

Counterspell Is Gone?

One of the biggest controversies around 8th edition is the M.I.A. status of Counterspell. Seeing as I mentioned in a previous article that counterspells are not all-powerful. I will make my personal statement here: Quit your whining.

It didn’t change 8th Edition’s card face, it didn’t change the choice of Birds of Paradise over Llanowar Elves, and it won’t change the loss of Counterspells (unfortunately).

I am one of the people who thinks that Counterspell is not overpowered. Too many of you whined about control. I think that you whined because you couldn’t adapt, and you were too in love with your little fatties to try to adapt. Well, guess what? Control is more than just blue counters. I’m going to feel really good when I start using other control methods to kill your precious fatties.* What next, ban Dark Banishing and print Swat? Balancing the color wheel doesn’t mean dumbing down the powerful color; it should mean bringing the other colors up to snuff.

Disenchant Moving To Green?

So white has damage prevention to it exclusively now. No more Fog, but now we have Holy Day. Wonderful. Make an even weaker color weaker. First, they print Stabilizer (which neuters Astral Slide) and now they neuter white artifact removal. Larger creatures (even at middle casting costs) will make the weenies obsolete.

What was the one thing white going for it? What does it have now? Yep.

The largest reasonably-costed white creature is Serra Angel (and no, Avatar of Hope is too expensive). Hopefully, other creatures in the sets to come will supplement this, because enchantments that give small creatures +1/+1 is hardly viable, and healing is the worst way to go in Magic.

I’m Going To Say This Very Briefly: Power Hosers Are BACK!

Woo hoo! Here come the mindless sideboarding. I tease, of course, seeing as black got the weakest of the hosers. However, I personally think that they’re mostly going to go unused with the exception of Hibernation, since the hosers generally aren’t an answer to most deck’s weaknesses – which tend to be to strategies and not individual colors. (Hah – The Ferrett)

Just some personal notes: the following reprints caused me to jump for joy.

Why? The Core Set, as an introductory set of cards, needs incentive for some of the longer-but-not-so-new people to buy it. Moreover, it needs some flash for the newer players to buy it. These reprints make a great resource – a chance for newer players to collect some of the older cards, as well as a few of the latest set’s standouts.

John A. Liu

True story: In my search to look up cards, I’ve run across this card. It’s real. I swear.

Fear… The Corrupt Eunuchs.

* – Meet my good friends, Royal Assassin and Dark Banishing.