Moving off the Gold Standard

Read Feature Articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, July 2nd – The times, they are a-changin’. With fall’s release of Shards of Alara, Wizards is taking major actions in both the way Magic is released and collected. The game’s really going to get shaken up…

The times, they are a-changin’. With fall’s release of Shards of Alara, Wizards is taking major actions in both the way Magic is released and collected. The game’s really going to get shaken up.

One big change that’s coming with Shards is the shift in the prerelease schedule. Wizards needs to make sure that their hobby shops and retailers are happy, and I imagine that they’ll be content with this scenario. My local shop owner, Eric, sees the same scenario play out season after season after season. When a new Magic set comes out, about six or ten guys jump into cars and drive two hours to the nearest prerelease event. Some of them do well, some score big, and some come home with just a taste of the new product. They show off the new cards, and brag about the game situations that they encountered. All the locals are eager to take a stab at using the new cards.

And then they wait. And wait. A whole week goes by, and the players gather for Friday Night Magic and hang out and have their regular, fun time, and yet everyone’s blathering about the new cards, figuring out how to use them in the heads. And then they have to wait another whole week. At that point, some of them have lost the excitement, thanks to the newest video game or media phenomenon. The long waiting period creates potential to actually lose business.

So moving the prereleases to one week before the general release is a fine idea. When players open up new cards, they should want to start throwing them into decks as soon as possible. Reducing the time players have to hold their powder before laying into their opponents at FNM with spanking new cardboard is good for the game.

Getting rid of the large big releases to help local shops is another big plus. That’s guaranteed to make Eric happy. More players will have access to prerelease tournaments and have more fun. That’s what I call improvement.

But that calendar change doesn’t change the way that we play Magic. There’s a major shift coming with Shards of Alara. Something’s coming that’s going to shape up the market. Something that would be unanticipated if not for Wizards’ frankness. Something mythic.

Mark Rosewater article at the mothership recently talked about some of the changes that are coming with Shards of Alara later this year. Magic will have four regular rarities: common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare. Mythic rares will have orange rarity icons and crop up less frequently as regular rares with gold symbols in the rare slot. He said that rares that would be used in tons of decks as utility staples would remain at the gold rare spot. Mutavault and 10th Edition painlands (Adarkar Wastes, Yavimaya Coast, etc.) were the examples used for gold rares. Planeswalkers and legends would frequently show up in orange as mythic rares.

So what makes up a mythic rare? Mythic rares would show up less often than the regular, gold rares. Maro said that planeswalkers and most legends would fit into the mythic rare slot, since they’re the stuff stories are made of. I figure legendary artifacts and lands would usually have a shot at being mythic rares. Mythic rares should be splashy and have a lot of impact. This doesn’t mean that every Timmy card should be a mythic rare, or that every mythic rare should appeal to Timmy, but I imagine that a lot of the mythic rares will really impress Timmy.

I also imagine that Shards of Alandra’s mythic rares will include a few instants and sorceries to educate the audience as to what should get mythic status in the future.

We know precious little about Shards of Alandra’s cards. But we do have perfect knowledge of the cards produced in the last few sets. Which cards would receive mythic rare or regular rare status if we projected the new rarity model onto the past? Here’s some speculation.

Brion Stoutarm
He’s the poster child for Lorwyn’s giants. With perfectly reasonable stats, lifelink, and a flavorful activated ability, he’s pushing the envelope as far as mana efficiency goes. He has what it takes to be a mythic rare. But given his poster child status for the race, it doesn’t make sense that he should be so hard to find. Poster children are poster children because they’re everywhere.

Verdict: In the middle, leaning towards mythic.

Wydwen, the Biting Gale
While Wydwen’s a quite powerful creature for Limited, she doesn’t quite cut the mustard as a figure of myth and tales. Phantom Monster didn’t make the grade in recent Constructed history with Chronozoa the first time around either. Wydwen couldn’t able to cut it as a figure of legend. She’s a paragon of Faerie elusiveness, but she probably won’t strike fear into the hearts of most opponents. This would be a reasonable example of a non-mythic rare Legend.

Verdict: Non-mythic.

Garruk Wildspeaker
He’s a Planeswalker. The very stuff of Green mana coruscates between his hands as he communes with the wild. Obviously he’d be mythic.

Verdict: Mythic.

A one-card discard spell? This shouldn’t be mythic. I believe it’s a perfectly reasonable candidate for reprinting in a Core Set down the line, though, and since selective discard is so rude and offputting to its victims, I imagine it could be printed as a mythic rare in a Core Set, since selective discard isn’t the most fun mechanic, but in an Expert level expansion? This has to be a regular rare.

Verdict: Non-mythic.

Kavu Titan
This card’s a great application of kicker in Constructed play. It highlights a Block mechanic and found a home in any number of Green decks. This card’s a deckbuilding staple.

Verdict: Non-mythic.

Enduring Ideal
This is the last spell that you can play for the rest of the game? Yeah, that sounds like a mythic rare to me.

Verdict: Mythic.

Okay, enough with the easy ones.

Titan’s Revenge
This card’s brutally powerful in Limited and pretty darned good in many casual Constructed formats. “Argh, he hit me again, and again!” Many kitchen table stories revolve around this card. But the ability’s very typical for Red while highlighting a Block mechanic.

Verdict: Non-mythic.

It’s a legendary artifact which was the MacGuffin Device for two whole blocks. Vorthoses (Vorthi?) would have a fit if this weren’t mythic.

Verdict: Mythic.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Ah, here’s the rub. This is a powerful mana fixer for decks that want tons of Black mana. Rosewater said that mana fixers should be accessible to everyone, and Urborg’s a great mana fixer for multicolor decks that crave Swamps. From the mana fixing perspective, Urborg should be a gold rare.

On the other hand, Yawgmoth’s had the longest stint as the biggest villain throughout Magic history. So would his tomb not be something about which sagas were written? The very moment Urborg hits play, it contaminates every land in play, even your opponent’s, forcing foul energies to permeate the mana stream.

From an economic standpoint, Urborg’s a great card that people will want two or three of. Thanks to legendary status, few deckbuilders in Time Spiral Block Constructed went with the full four Urborgs. This lowers the demand for the card, and having this card in relatively shorter supply wouldn’t bother people all that much. So I think this card would be great as a mythic rare.

Verdict: Mythic.

Cryptic Command
Here’s another tricky one to place. If you’re playing a deck which can comfortably support triple Blue mana, then chances are that you really want this spell. The spell’s ridiculously versatile and comes in handy in so many archetypes. But the power level on this counterspell is so high that it could fairly be printed as a mythic rare. The amount of text on the card is pretty high, and that’s also a factor to keep it in lower circulation. This card could go either way.

Verdict: Probably non-mythic.

Demigod of Revenge
This is a card that is optimally played with four copies in any deck in order to maximize the utility of the triggered reanimation ability. So anyone who’s playing it is going to want four copies. And yet it’s an Avatar, a very noteworthy creature type. Like Dragons or Angels, Avatars do not hit the table without notice. That certainly fits the feel of ‘mythic’ to me. Creatures of such note don’t need to be legends to get the orange symbol. Thankfully, Wizards did us all a favor by increasing the number of Demigods in circulation by selecting it to be the prerelease foil.

If Wizards prints mythic rares as the front card of the new intro packs (or the non-foil rare that’s also part of the preconstructed deck), that can alleviate issues of demand. If Wizards printed a B/R intro pack for Shadowmoor and inserted Demigod of Revenge, that would alleviate the challenge of acquiring four copies.

Verdict: Mythic.

Wrath of God
On one hand, this card’s an absolute staple of control decks. It’s one of the leading reasons to add White to Standard and Extended decks. Every player needs four Wraths, and it’s a card that Wizards probably won’t take out of Core sets. Having this card in perpetual demand as a mythic rare would make new players upset. It’s also important to teach the lesson of overextending into potential blowouts by including mass removal in Limited play. Relegating Wrath to the mythic rare slot encourages thoughtlessly emptying hands of monsters onto the battlefield. Punishing opponents for following rote Limited strategy with mass removal is a good thing. It makes the game more exciting and creates dilemmas.

On the other hand, the idea of the Divine wiping all life off the face of the battlefield is a classic fantasy and mythic trope. The effect’s certainly the stuff of legend. It feels like a mythic rare.

Having tons and tons of Wraths in circulation (every core set plus Portal) also soothes the sting of finding the rare.

Verdict: Non-mythic. Limited play should be trump.

Here’s the last one, which will raise a few eyebrows.

One with Nothing
When people cracked Saviors of Kamigawa packs or looked at the spoiler for the first time, they probably blinked when they saw One with Nothing. After pinching themselves to verify that the card was in fact real, they’d probably say “Boy, I hope I don’t open any of these.” And yet the player base found a niche for putting One with Nothing into decks. This most horrible and janky card actually found a home. But for the vast majority of players who opened a pack and saw One with Nothing, it was a bad experience.

Putting One with Nothing into the mythic rare slot would have been a great idea. People who hate opening this card will be comforted by knowing that the chances of opening it are extremely slim. And the card’s scarcity would also increase its market value by some scant amount, thanks to collectors trying to complete their sets. And when it comes to sheer impact on the game for mana efficiency, One With Nothing does a whole lot for one Black mana.

Having this card at regular rarity as opposed to mythic rarity would make the Magic experience worse. Making One with Nothing a mythic rare improves the overall experience of opening packs. Go figure.

Verdict: Mythic.

As a Limited player first, I’m a little bit worried about the new way of doing business. If Wizards gives mythic rares bonuses across the board in comparison to regular rares, then it increases the amount of luck involved in Limited play. Opening multiple mythic rares gives Sealed players a considerable edge in that scenario. But if all the good rares are in the regular slot, then opening mythic rares isn’t going to be a pleasurable experience at all. And if Wizards manages to put lots of splashy cards into the regular rare and uncommon slots, then the entire problem will be averted. There has to be a happy medium. I trust Wizards to get the formula right.

That’s my stab in the dark. I know I’ll look back at this article with pleasure. Sometimes my predictions are off the mark, and on occasion they’re right on the money. When the first buzz on Champions of Kamigawa came out, I correctly predicted bushido as a mechanic that would be reverse flanking on IRC. I think I have good odds this time around too.

Eli Kaplan
japaneli at hotmail
turboeli on MTGO