Let’s open with a little ditty, shall we?
(Sung to the tune of “Jimmy Crack Corn”)
Lennon gets shot, and I don’t care;
Elvis cacks off, and I don’t care;
But Zappa dies, and then I caaaaare….
The Master’s gone away!
My aunt, who was a reasonable woman, went completely berserk when John Lennon was gunned down in 1983. She cried. She dragged out her black dresses. She wrote poetry, and she wailed in anguish. She even sent flowers to Yoko Ono, which I thought was a bad idea — I mean, sure, things were bad, but encouraging that talentless hack Yoko for ANY reason seemed foolhardy.
And my aunt, a thirty-five year old yuppie, mourned like a harridan.
For a musician?
I could not understand.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t see Lennon’s appeal. John was a talented guy — I loved the Beatles, was less thrilled with his spotty solo career — but when it came down to it all he did was make nice music. And music was an inherently shallow art form.
Music was basically designed as an excuse for young people to get together, and in that sense it works wonderfully. You sing along, you dance, you try to hit on some chicks while you’re dancing… it’s what people have been doing since medieval jongleurs were packin’ em in at the castles. And trying to shoehorn deep philosophy into that sort of venue was like booking Alan Greenspan on“Hee Haw.” It just didn’t work. If your outlook was seriously shaped by music, then you probably could also be moved to tears by Hallmark greeting cards and old Care Bears episodes.
And as I said, my aunt was a reasonable woman.
But for some reason, Lennon had touched her deeply. And his death sounded one final, fatal chord in her soul. For my aunt, a part of her life had just slid into the abyss— and I thought she was an idiot because of that. But I loved her, and thankfully I never said anything to her about it.
Of course, I was only fourteen at the time
So let’s cut to 1987, three years later, when I am in the hospital after my amusingly-botched suicide attempt. (Note to all depressed people: Overdosing on cold medicine is NOT likely to work, and will receive open sniggers from the paramedics in the Emergency Room.) My friends come in to console me, to tell me that my ex-girlfriend is suitably horrified at my desperate act… and then mention, tentatively, that they’ll have to play me a record when I get out.
“Which record?” I ask.
“Suicide Chump,” they say, a little nervous about joking about The Recent Incident.“It’s by a guy called Frank Zappa.”
So of course, it was the first thing I had to hear when I got out of the psych ward.
And the words were a revelation, pretty much summing up everything I had concluded while having my stomach pumped. In one scathingly-sarcastic tune, Zappa managed to tell me that anyone who’d kill themselves over something as trivial as a relationship was an idiot, and that they deserved no sympathy. “Go on ahead and get it over with,” said Zappa.“Find you a bridge and take a jump. Just make sure to get it right the first time… because nothing’s worse than a suicide chump.”
What he said was exactly what I had been thinking… but in some strange way, it was MORE so. My own attempt was foolish, selfish, and worthy of scorn — but the one song both reflected and amplified my own feelings.
There was nothing left to do except buy the album and see if I agreed with the other things he might say.
And in that way, I became a devoted Zappa fan.
Zappa beamed ideas into my mind, said things that I had never heard before. Black nihilism laced with a scorn for all the herd instincts of mankind — hey, Mom and Dad never told me about this. Nor did my friends. Zappa said things I agreed with, gave me viewpoints I hadn’t thought about before— and even when I disagreed with his ideas, as I frequently did, he always made me think. Zappa was like a mentor to me, beaming me ideas across the ether. He changed my life.
So when he died in 1993, suddenly I knew exactly how my aunt felt. Music WAS a shallow artform…
…but not necessarily. Strong ideas could penetrate any medium, and could punch through the shallowness of dance music like a nail through plywood. It just had to happen to me before I could understand.
In a flash, what had seemed shallow and trivial before was a real concern.
Which brings me to Prophecy — and the second half of the song! Now sing along now, still to the tune of“Jimmy Crack Corn” (though this requires knowledge of both verse AND chorus):
Now, Urza’s block is so unfair
Mercadian’s dull, I say who cares
But Prophecy, she has me scared…
Because she hurts the multiplayer!
Urza’s block sucks, and I don’t care
Mercadian sucks, and I don’t care
Prophecy sucks, but now I caaaaaare….
‘cause this set’s here to stay!
Like Lennon’s demise, I always viewed DCI bannings as the necessary result of a really stupid environment.
Because I hate tournaments. I could write a whole article for you on how “pro” level tourneys suck the fun out of the game for everyone; how tourneys encourage wretched, antisocial morons to inflict their body odor on everyone within a three-mile radius of your local card shop…
…but since I AM going to write that article someday, I’ll save my breath for now.
But tourneys are for chumps. Always are, always have been. And anyone who really enjoys tournaments after they’ve gotten past the thrill of“Hey! I’ve gotten good at tourney playing!” has something seriously wrong with them.
And so when I watched the hordes of tourney players bitching and moaning about Academy being broken, about Bargain being unstoppable, I smiled a tight little smile and thought:
They’re only getting what they deserve.
Because the only reason those cards were broken is because the greedy bastiges had made a concerted effort to break them —and now they were complaining about R&D?
Go home, little boys.
But now Wizards is slowly beginning to wake up to the power of the casual environment. Wizards is now tossing in cards which experienced tourney players derisively refer to as “kiddie cards”… but the truth is, they’re too dumb to realize that Wizards is starting to print power cards for a different type of game.
The Avatars are large threats that become exponentially easier to cast when more people sit at your table. The Winds are “oops I win” spells; they might as well read,“Spend nine mana: Remove one opponent from the game.”* They’re sheer power.
In other words, given the environment they’re intended to be played in… the cards are damn near broken.
Because multiplayer a different game that requires unique strategies to win… and just like there are cards that no sane person would ever try to put in a Constructed Deck but would be thrilled to find in a Sealed Deck, there are cards that suck elsewhere, but are power cards in multiplayer. If you doubt me, you’ve evidently never seen Congregate played right.**
So now that Wizards is realizing that the casual market may be bigger than the Pro Tour, there’s only one way they can guarantee future sales:
Make more potent multiplayer cards.
And it is my prediction that Wizards will start to print increasingly better cards for the multiplayer until finally they cross the line and a truly broken card enters the fray….
…and unlike in tourney play, where they can ban things, WIZARDS WILL NEVER HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT.
God, I hate them.
So now, much like Yoko Ono, I sympathize — because I too have to deal with broken cards messing up my environment. (Well, maybe not yet. But soon.) Because remember, Timmy has a place in multiplayer. He’s not always the winner, but he’s not exactly an autoloser, either.
Now, am I overreacting? Perhaps. I am known to go nuts for no apparent reason. And yet some of the cards in Prophecy seem made to be broken in MP….
So let’s take a look at the potentially-broken multiplayer cards in Prophecy:
Avatar Of Will: The problem with big, gameswinging creatures in multiplayer is that you usually have to tap to bring them out, rendering you defenseless for a turn. At which point everyone works overtime to either kill you or destroy your creature.
However, the great thing about the Avatars is that with three opponents, SOMEBODY’S gonna be out of cards at some point. And then you can swoop in with a cheap Mahamoti. In other words, you can cast it AND DEFEND IT UNTIL YOU CAN ATTACK. This may make Blue a more playable color in MP. (And incidentally, I checked – doesn’t matter whether they draw cards in response, the state is checked at the time you play the spell.)
Avatar Of Woe: Likewise, with two players in the fray, all you need is about three dead critters apiece to bring this baby out. In four-player, a single (and free) mid-game Massacre will probably fill up the graveyard enough to bring her out. Whoo!
Blessed Wind: My friend David Phifer, who looooooves to see his name in print***, pointed out that this is the perfect anti-Congregate card… because it can reset a player’s life total DOWN to twenty. White is SO annoying at a big table using their Soul Wardens and whatnot to gain ridiculous amounts of life. Now you have a splashable way to deal with it:
White Mage: I have four hundred life! Ha ha ha!
You (Weaselling hard): Gosh, I guess I have no other option but to try to whittle you down. I attack for forty, like I have done for the past sixteen turns.
White Mage: I suck up the damage!
You: I guess that makes you a“sucker”, White Mage, because now I Blessed Wind you back down to twenty life!
White Mage: Hey.
You: Ha ha! You never saw that coming, did you, White Mage? MWAH ha ha! Die, White Mage! DIE, evil life-gaining tablehogger! EAT MY FORTY POINTS!
White Mage: In response, I Reverse Damage. Twice.
White Mage: At the end of your turn, I Congregate again.
Mageta The Lion: While not necessarily the greatest critter in the world, a walking Wrath has some possibility for extending combo decks, which generally have problems with a triple-creature rush. A little expensive, though.
Reveille Squad: G’wan, attack me. I know I attacked you last round, but I’m sitting here defenseless! All of my creatures except for one are untapped! G’wan.
Diving Griffin: Flying, nontapping creatures are Some Good in a multiplayer game. Especially when they’re reasonably-costed, which this is.
Nakaya Shade: You may laugh, but it’s the only Rhystic card worth playing. A real cheap critter that gets +1/+1 for each black pumped into it unless your opponent plays two is not a bad deal– especially since they have to pay two for each one YOU play, which means that ideally they either have to team up or you can outrace them. Late-game, when there’s a lot of mana hanging about, this could be a useful weenie.
Plague Wind: One-sided Wrath = good. Expensive cost = bad. Could be a real game-swinger, though, under a deck built around it.
Inflame: Okay, I Pyroclasm, then I Tremor. Now I Inflame. Is there anything left on the board? Say, my big flying Dragon is? Great! Not the best of combos, but it definitely can work if you start building around it. Also great for wiping out the enemy after some board skirmish that you weren’t involved in. (“Whew, we barely survived that all-out attack with our creatures intact! Only the biggest critters lived!” “Inflame.” “Argh!”)
Living Terrain: Infinitely disposable thanks to the it’s a land!/it’s an enchantment! / it’s a creature bit… but it definitely has the advantage of surprise. I think of it as a four-cc spelldrawer. If your opponent has any counters or removal, he’s going to bring them out for this, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
But don’t get me wrong – some of the Prophecy cards just plain suck:
Avatar Of Hope: If you’re down to three in a multiplayer game, you’re already dead if they want you to be. Might work if it was 5.
Denying Wind: It’s good. Real good. Once. But it only affects one player, and after you bring this baby out everybody is going to start paying EXTRA attention to how much mana you have, or what enchantments you’re casting. Once you hit six or throw out that Dream Halls, everyone’s coming after your knees with a baseball bat.
All the Rhystic cards: Just like the Avatars become easier to play in a multiplayer game, the Rhystic cards increasingly suck as more people hit the table. SOMEBODY will pay the mana, just to watch your creatures die or to help you discard. I wouldn’t use these to wipe my dog. (Well, maybe Rhystic Study.)
Avatar Of Fury: Again, a nice trick. Once. But there are ways to prevent the Avatar from coming out, mainly by keeping an eye on your lands – and most decks can hold steady at six mana until they have an answer for a big flying thing.
Latulla, Keldon Overseer: The most potent MP ability of all the Legendary Spellshapers, but this is just TOO big a target. The guys might ignore a huge Dragon because everyone has ways to deal with flyers, but Latulla can take everyone out in a couple of turns. People will gang up. Not good, unless you can bring out other threats to match her or a Cho-Mamma to protect her.
Snag. Who the heck made THIS dreck?
NEXT WEEK: The Ferrett Cleans Out His Closet
* — Well, except the White ones. But white’s already strong enough in multiplayer, so thank God.
** — I actually had a guy tell me that his group limited Congregate to 20 lifegain at once because it was too annoying. Strangely enough, this was the guy who was emailing me to ask why I sometimes had been decked with a 70-card library (which I have), because his games never ran that long.
*** — Hi, David!