People bemoan bombs in Limited. They claim that it removes a measure of skill from the game. Well it does. I can’t deny that. In fact, I have been told by an R&D employee that the reason they make bombs is so bad players can occasionally beat good players. If the same people won each and every time, the tournament scene would die out, or so the theory goes. I think it would just encourage practice. I am not here to argue the merits and drawbacks of bombs. I am here to tell all of you bomb haters that Mirrodin is the block for you.
Let’s take a look back at the history of bombs. For our purposes here, I am only going to look at the modern era (Mirage and forward). This was the time when sets were being made with Limited in mind. Ironically, the biggest bomb in this block was a common. Empyrial Armor for Weatherlight was the defining card. It was a common in a small set, and it was indeed the most powerful. It was so powerful that there were rumors that the DCI was considering banning it in Limited play. Enchantment removal was light in this format and Creature removal was mostly geared toward the toughness of the creature. Answers existed, but this card was completely unforgiving if you cast it on a flier in the early game.
Tempest Block you saw cards like Tradewind Rider, Torture Chamber, Spike Weaver, Cursed Scroll, and Rolling Thunder. The beauty of this block was its speed. Often times the game would be over too quickly for bombs to matter. Players today may think that this caused a luck-based format, but combat math, skilled drafting, and deck construction were as important in this block as they ever were. By the time Stronghold was released, control decks sporting no more than six creatures were as powerful as the beatdown decks sporting no more than fourteen land. The control decks had counters, removal and bounce, the beatdown decks got the job done. I think to this day Tempest Block was the most perfect Limited block of all time.
Urza’s Block was a disaster in the beginning. When Saga first came out, the format was absurd. You would have six Black drafters, and those would be the six best decks at the table. The bombs were over powered, and there was no real way to deal with them. Three rare Wrath effects I can think of off the top of my head (Crater Hellion, Wildfire, and Catastrophe), powerful creatures not easily stopped (Lightning Dragon and Herald of Serra), creature enchantments powerful enough to effectively end the game (Gaea’s Embrace, et al.), and artifacts that got you card advantage for minimal investment (Temporal Aperture). Right before Legacy came out, a beatdown deck emerged. It was called 4×4. It involved drafting four one-drops, four two-drops, four three-drops, and four four-drops. You would fill out the rest of the deck with creature kill and pump spells. This was a Red/Green deck and served players like Steve OMS, Hashim Bello and Jon Finkel well at Pro Tour LA when Steve won (though Steve drafted mono-Black in the top 8). This deck also worked at a quick kill in order to bear the bombs.
Masques Block may have been a boring block, but when Mercadian Masques first came out, it was not bomb-driven. In fact the only real bomb was Power Matrix. There were several other cards in the set that could swing the game, but Power Matrix was by far the toughest to deal with, and the fact that it required no mana to activate made it all the more brutal. This format, while boring, wasn’t degenerate until Prophecy. For the first time since Weatherlight, there was a common that was the most powerful card in the block. Troubled Healer made it nearly impossible to win once it hit the other side of the table. This card, coupled with the weakness of the rest of the block, made for an unhealthy format.
Invasion Block was the polar opposite of Masques. It was absurdly fun, but the cards were insanely powerful. This wasn’t a big deal in the beginning. In triple Invasion the beatdown decks were fluid and there were many of them. It was a regular occurrence that efficiency beat out power in both drafting and gameplay. However as more sets came out and drafting only two or even only three colors became tougher, the gameplay got clunkier and the bombs started flexing their muscles. Large creatures and game-swinging effects became more viable, and once out, these bombs were hard to deal with. Even if you had an answer in your hand, a bad mana draw would see you go down in flames.
Odyssey Block was a return to normalcy. This block had its bombs for sure, but there were viable beatdown strategies and control strategies. The control strategies had tools to deal with both the beatdown decks and the bombs in the format, but a well-drafted beatdown deck could overcome most obstacles. The Blue-Green aggro control deck had game vs. everything. This block is likely my second favorite after Tempest (and no, not just because it was the format I had the most success in).
Onslaught Block was the format where bombs mattered most. Never was there a format that had this many powerful rares. In Onslaught alone, we counted over fifty rares that were more powerful than the vast majority of commons in their color. This was not only bad for gameplay, but it was also bad for the draft. It encouraged color switching and hate drafting, both which make for an awkward draft. There were tons of Wrath effects, more huge swingy creatures than I can count, and card advantage was so plentiful it was almost irrelevant. This is my vote for worst draft block of the modern era (just so you don’t think I am biased my, Grand Prix top 8 was in triple Onslaught).
Mirrodin is right up there with my favorite blocks. The drafts are interesting, there are a variety of decks, there is skill in the gameplay, and most of all the bombs aren’t too bomby. This block offers us both an aggressive beatdown deck, and a multitude of answers. I consider bombs cards that end the game within a turn or two of being cast, or a powerful card that is nearly impossible to deal with. The problem with many of the powerful cards in this set is that they are artifacts. Well, in this block being an artifact is a drawback when you talk about bombs – every deck will have a way to deal with it, it is just that simple.
All that needs to exist for bombs to be weak are powerful control cards and a solid beatdown deck. Both of these exist in Mirrodin block, so your bombs will be, on average, weaker. For the record here is a list of those cards I consider bombs:
I am still unsure if this belongs above Grab the Reins, but it sure feels like it does. This is possibly the most power Wrath effect in Limited history. The best part about this card is that it is so hard to play around in this format, since decks are so creature light. Another bonus of the creature light format is that you don’t telegraph this card as much when you hold back.
Grab the Reins
This card is a very close second at worst. I once made a top 8 in a PTQ only entwining this card once, and it was still my MVP by a significant margin. Killing two creatures in this format is huge. I am sure you are sick of hearing this, but the creature light nature of this format makes each creature an important commodity, losing two is devastating.
This card obviously falls into the”hard to deal with” category rather than the”win in one or two turns.” This guy makes Equipment good, this guy kills almost anything in combat and lives to tell, this guy will search you out, find you, and absolutely, positively, will not stop until you are dead.
Wow, I love this guy. If you get to attack with him, you win the game. I have never seen this not be true, but with a 3/4 body, rest assured if for some reason your opponent doesn’t die on the next turn, he will soon enough.
I cannot tell a lie, this card has fallen a bit in my estimation. But is it still a hard creature to deal with and has an incredibly swingy effect. A 4/6 for five is enough to make this guy awesome; his ability makes him a bomb.
I see this card misplayed a lot by average players. Bad players have this gut reaction to always go to the face with this card. Most of the time, this is the right play, but I see tons of mid-level players getting cute and splitting it all over the place. Sure, there are times when splitting it is correct, but those times are few and far between.
Like the Ascetic, this falls into the”hard to deal with” category. They usually can’t attack you while you can feel free to get in the red zone with reckless abandon. Don’t get me started on instants. This card is nothing but the real deal.
This card can be downright absurd. There aren’t many cards you should be taking over this one. Between this card and the Swords, I have half a mind to start liking Equipment. Okay, I’m kidding.
Sword of Fire and Ice / Sword of Light and Shadow
These cards do way too much for me not to say they are awesome. The way Equipment cards looked in Mirrodin, you would have paid the same price for any one of the nine abilities on these cards.
So now that you know that bombs aren’t that important in this format, what do you do with this information? Well, when a format is low on bombs it makes synergy extremely important. You want to make your deck efficient. Having a good curve, and focus on making all aspects of your deck work as cohesively as possible. Earlier this week, Antonino spoke about cards having different valuations when your deck is bad. This is also true with different styles of deck. If you have a deck with many artifacts, you need to take the Vedalken Engineer over the Spire Golem. In other decks, the Golem is a no-brainer.
It also makes hate drafting even less important than it was. Hate drafting was always absurd because of the incredibly low odds of playing against the person with the card, and the odds of him drawing it, and the odds of it determining the game. Well when bombs are less likely to determine a game, then these odds drop even farther.
When bombs rule the Earth, a level of skill is removed from the game. Be happy that we are in a time and format where bombs are weak and few in number.