Removed From Game – Inside the Intro Packs

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Wednesday, November 19th – Following last week’s backward look at the Theme Decks of old, this week sees shiny wrappings being unwrapped as the Intro Packs take center stage. Is this the missing piece in the quest to find the ultimate teaching tool that’s great for beginners to learn from, and yet won’t drive experienced players mad?

First, a confession. I really don’t know how you’re going to respond to some of my more esoteric choices when it comes to my weekly topic. In a bizarre way, I felt a little shy about sharing my love of the Theme Decks with you. Why? Because, like a much-loved cosy cardigan, I’m well aware that they aren’t especially cool, or hip, or high-powered, or cutting-edge deck technology, and to simply say ‘but they’re fun and an important part of my Magic life’ left me feeling somewhat exposed, especially to those of you who decided to voice in the forums how decidedly Unfun they can be. I was somewhat taken aback therefore to find that so many of you found the time either to voice your opinions there on the forums or to me personally. It may be a cliché, but I never knew that so many people had a special place in their hearts for this part of the Magic product line, even if that special place in their hearts was the part labelled ‘fiery inferno flamepits of Hell.’ So thanks for getting involved, and I hope that whichever side of the line you sit with regard to Theme Decks, you’ll find something of interest in this companion piece, where we delve under the hood of the replacement model, the Intro Packs.

Alright, so let’s see what we get with the Intro Packs. First thing that strikes you immediately is that the packaging is gorgeous, and a near-infinite improvement, aesthetically at least. A display comes with one each of all five Intro Packs, and together they look very impressive. Individually too they shine, literally, since the ‘window’ nature of the front of the pack leads us straight into one of the goodies inside, a foil rare. For Bant, it’s Battlegrace Angel. Esper has Master Of Etherium. Grixis gets Vein Drinker, Jund Flameblast Dragon, and Naya Spearbreaker Behemoth. All look seriously cool, although it’s hard to argue with the two iconic figures, the angel and the dragon, as the winners. As someone pointed out in the forums last week, one problem with the packaging is the absence of deckboxes. For those with limited space, this is indeed a proper chore and a significant retrograde step. However, the packs look so good in their original packaging that I’m seriously tempted to keep them all together in an eye-catching, though admittedly bulky, display. In order to give them a fair crack of the whip, it’s essential to try and see the Packs through the eyes of multiple player groups. Therefore, while I’ll talk about strategy and weak cards and so forth, I’ll also attempt to get the feel of what it must be like when you’re right at the start of your Magic journey and cracking these things open as your window into a new world of gaming. If that leads to apparent contradictions, that’s because I’m giving my multiple personalities free rein to chip in this week.

Let’s start with Bant, since it’s at the front. Once I’ve got my pack open, I’m looking at an ordered deck, lands, and spells in two clumps, a sealed Booster pack and two inserts. Assuming that almost nobody has the self-discipline to wade through the writing stuff first, I set them aside and went straight for the meat of the thing, the deck itself. Initial thoughts weren’t terribly favorable. As an adherent of the Theme Decks, the 41 cards I found myself flicking through felt terribly flimsy and incomplete. In fact, they felt Wrong. Still, mustn’t be prejudiced. (I can feel some of you asking ‘why not?’ but I’m going to bypass that 1000 word detour.) In total, there are 15 different non-land cards in the deck, plus two non-basic lands and 17 basics. In fact, why don’t I just go ahead and give you the list:

Bant Exalted

2 Akrasan Squire
2 Suntail Hawk
2 Knight of the Skyward Eye
1 Sigiled Paladin
2 Steward of Valeron
2 Guardians of Akrasa
2 Wild Griffin
2 Rhox War Monk
1 Knight-Captain of Eos
1 Battlegrace Angel
1 Waveskimmer Aven
2 Pacifism
1 Angelic Benediction
2 Excommunicate
1 Kiss of the Amesha
3 Forest
7 Plains
3 Island
2 Bant Panorama
2 Seaside Citadel

Okay, so let’s get the big complaint out of the way. Is this some kind of sick joke? The best, most complete, thematically interesting and diverse flavor for ages. Five worlds share one fate, etc etc. And you’re telling me that, in the most perfect fit there’s ever been for this product line, we had to end up with TENTH EDITION CARDS?! The thing is, I’m sure we can all work out the reason — it’s a gateway to a wider world of Magic, and Wizards wants to show the new player that Shards of Alara isn’t the only product out there. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to shift base set cards, or turn on players to their availability. But in purely flavor terms, this is ghastly. Pacifism, Suntail Hawk, Wild Griffin — these are not exactly Greatest Hits. Are there no small flyers on the world of Bant? Is there nothing like, let’s say, Oblivion Ring? Well of course there are and there is, and this is a deliberate policy. Understandable though that policy is, it absolutely mocks the flavor of a spectacular world. Care to explain how Suntail Hawk, that well-known Judgment common, ends up in Bant? This idea stomps all over the idea of flavor and spits out its dead husk on the other side. Still, since they’re not called Theme Decks any more, perhaps it’s partly justified. An Intro would indeed Introduce, and why should base set be excluded? Nonetheless, to the many fans of the originals from a thematic or flavor perspective, this is a major blow. Very, very sad.

From here, things get better. It isn’t a secret that Magic’s an incredibly complex game, and one of the complaints levelled by some is that by comparison the Theme Decks were too timid, linear, and simple. To an experienced player, and certainly to a regular Drafter or Extended player, that’s true, but a quick flick through the deck introduces Exalted, Flying, First Strike, Vigilance, Defender, and Lifelink. That’s a very healthy selection for just one deck, and almost all of them have beginner questions linked to them — these aren’t entirely straightforward. Exalted — so if you kill a bunch of my Exalted guys before I attack, does my one attacker still have all those Exalted thingies on it? If you kill my one guy, can I attack with all the rest instead? Vigilance — so I don’t tap to attack. Do I still tap to activate my ability to generate Green mana? Flying — so are flyers just in the air, or can they block ground creatures too? First Strike — so if your monster and my monster both have First Strike, who strikes first? Is it mine, because it’s my turn? Or his, because of this Last In First Out thing? Or both?

Of course, almost all of you reading this know all these answers, but I trust we can all remember a time when these seemed legitimate questions. To me, it feels like there’s a really nice balance been struck between too much information and too little. There’s something new and exciting to discover with lots of the cards, and yet you’re not constantly scurrying for the rulebook. Not that you get a rulebook as such, as we haven’t for many years now. Instead, what feels like the 732nd different approach to teaching the game is included, in the form of a double-sided color sheet that folds up approximately 27 times before revealing its secrets. And what secrets they are. As you know, I have a major interest in the teaching of the game, and have tried umpteen of the assorted official products designed to do this. Whoever put together the rules side of the sheet that goes in the Intro Packs wants a Knighthood. Graphically, it’s a work of art, with your eye drawn to all sorts of interesting new and cool things to discover. If I was 13 and ripping open this, I would be tremendously excited by it. Talk about a journey into a wider world, this is a fantastic achievement, and, as someone correctly said in the forums last week, this is the version of the rules that should be shouted from the rooftops. Genius. For those who like to know about the color pie (which to me feels like something they should be getting from a Mark Rosewater column, since it directly affects their play experience by precisely 0%, at least on the surface) the reverse of the rules insert introduces us to the colors of Magic and what they do. I guess there’s an argument for its inclusion — I want to control everything and so I want to be a Blue mage, which Pack gets me to be a Blue mage? – but this does feel a bit too clever for its own good.

All this is in the margins, of course. What we really need to know is how the decks play. In order to get a feel for this, I enlisted the aid of one of the UK’s top players, Neil Rigby, who has just qualified for Pro Tour: Kyoto. On the downside, this means that he’s probably going to spot plays that lots of beginners wouldn’t, but at least that means we’ll get to see some of the things even relatively simple decks can do in the hands of a good player. We played a best of three across all ten Shard pairing matchups, meaning each deck would face four opponents.

We’ve already seen that Bant functions ostensibly as a kind of White Weenie deck, building up towards some high-end flyers. Without getting into a debate about what constitutes Removal, it has two in the form of Pacifism, two bits of tempo-removal in Excommunicate, and card draw from Kiss of the Amesha. Clearly this deck will win when it can achieve critical mass of Exalted, without which it has a lot of pretty unexciting cards. Let’s look at the other four decks:

Esper Artifice

2 Etherium Sculptor
2 Tidehollow Strix
1 Esper Battlemage
1 Master of Etherium
2 Windwright Mage
1 Sanctum Gargoyle
1 Filigree Sages
2 Tower Gargoyle
2 Cloudheath Drake
1 Sharding Sphinx
1 Courier’s Capsule
1 Onyx Goblet
2 Executioner’s Capsule
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Marble Chalice
1 Tidings
1 Obelisk of Esper
3 Plains
7 Island
3 Swamp
2 Arcane Sanctum
2 Esper Panorama

17 different cards fill out the Esper deck. Flying, Deathtouch, Lifelink, and Vigilance are included, and the deck has a massive card draw spell in (10th Ed) Tidings. It has four removal spells, depending on the opponent, a monster rare in Sharding Sphinx, and plenty of flyers. Much as the Bant deck felt primarily like a White Weenie deck, so the Esper deck feels essentially a Blue flyers deck. The only conspicuous absence is any kind of countermagic, but we know that many players, especially at the start, like to be able to cast their spells unmolested, which explains the omission.

Grixis Undead

1 Dregscape Zombie
1 Vithian Stinger
1 Hidden Horror
1 Blood Cultist
2 Kederekt Creeper
1 Fleshbag Marauder
1 Gravedigger
2 Incurable Ogre
2 Fire-Field Ogre
1 Dreg Reaver
1 Vein Drinker
1 Bone Splinters
2 Terror
2 Agony Warp
2 Blightning
1 Obelisk of Grixis
1 Essence Drain
1 Cruel Ultimatum
3 Island
7 Swamp
3 Mountain
2 Crumbling Necropolis
2 Grixis Panorama

With the most unique cards, at 18, Grixis showcases Unearth, Deathtouch, and First Strike as the keywords. It also highlights the role of pingers, mana acceleration and fixing via the Obelisk, plus the first clear-cut example of a two-for-one via Agony Warp. Worryingly/excitingly, it also has Cruel Ultimatum. Excitingly, because utterly destroying somebody with a spell this splashy is going to be awesome fun. Worryingly, because it’s going to be awesome fun once, or maybe even twice, and then it’s going to become very irritating, and almost certainly end a bunch of games that were proving quite interesting. We’ll see.

Primordial Jund

2 Goblin Piker
2 Goblin Deathraiders
1 Rip-Clan Crasher
2 Jund Battlemage
1 Thunder-Thrash Elder
2 Hissing Iguanar
2 Sprouting Thrinax
2 Thorn-Thrash Viashino
1 Mycoloth
2 Carrion Thrash
1 Flameblast Dragon
2 Shock
2 Dragon Fodder
1 Resounding Thunder
1 Obelisk of Jund
3 Forest
7 Mountain
3 Swamp
2 Jund Panorama
2 Savage Lands

This is perhaps the deck that feels least like its primary color. Red decks either feature a ton or removal or a bucketload of speedy creatures, and this features neither. In that sense, it’s almost like a bad Sealed pool, where you had to play a bunch of sub-optimal Red men in order to access your removal and bomb rare. That’s not a criticism by the way, just an observation. Shock is a tournament staple, but I’m struggling to visualise the conversation where Erik Lauer — the genius in R&D who designed all the Intro decks — sits down and says, ‘but guys, I just can’t make it work without Goblin Piker’… Trample, Haste, Devour, Cycling and Flying come into play with this one, and it doesn’t have the ball-breaking effect of a Cruel Ultimatum, although Flameblast Dragon might only need to untap once to end things.

Finally, we have the Naya deck:

Naya Behemoths

2 Wild Nacatl
2 Cylian Elf
2 Druid of the Anima
1 Naya Battlemage
2 Woolly Thoctar
1 Mosstodon
2 Rakeclaw Gargantuan
1 Cavern Thoctar
1 Bull Cerodon
1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
2 Giant Growth
1 Naturalize
2 Rampant Growth
2 Gift of the Gargantuan
1 Titanic Ultimatum
1 Blaze
3 Mountain
7 Forest
3 Plains
2 Jungle Shrine
2 Naya Panorama

The influence of 10th Edition is most pronounced here, with mana acceleration via Rampant Growth, pump spell Giant Growth, and a big finisher in X spell Blaze. Trample, First Strike, Vigilance, Haste, and Trample are all present, as is an Ultimatum, which might have the same problem as its Cruel cousin. At least with Titanic it’s possible that it doesn’t outright decide the game, as without creatures it does nothing. However, in a field with minimal removal, that’s a situation that’s hard to foresee.

Five Shards then, and ten matchups to work out whether the horrendous mish-mash of competing interests has prevented Mr. Lauer from providing a worthy successor to the Theme Decks. Here’s the results:

Set 1 — Bant versus Esper. 1-2. In Game 1, Suntail Hawk and subsequently Wild Griffin used Exalted to defeat a mana-flooded Esper. Against a Bant color screw, double Windwright Mage equalised. Only the decider was a decent game. Exalted plus Battlegrace Angel looked to have settled things in Bants favor, but Filigree Sages, Esper Battlemage and Tower Gargoyle just managed to keep the Esper head above water, before finally dealing with the Angel. After that, Sharding Sphinx was able to take control and generate a critical number of flyers.

Set 2 — Bant versus Grixis. 0-2. Bant fell to 0-2 after a proper kicking from Grixis. In the first, an Exalted Suntail Hawk was no match for a combination of double Agony Warp and a series of Unearths. Although Bant came back into it somewhat with Kiss Of The Amesha, Cruel Ultimatum ended things in abrupt fashion. Game 2 was a total blowout. Excommunicate could only delay a Blood Cultist from becoming active, and against a slew of 1 toughness monsters that got out of hand quickly. When it was joined by another pinger in Vithian Stinger, Bant was done.

Set 3 — Bant versus Jund. 2-0. At last Bant got on the scoreboard. Tempo and curve were highlights of the opener, with monsters on turn 1, 2, and 3, backed up by the two Excommunicates. Things weren’t any better for Jund in the second, as a turn 3 Rhox War Monk proved a real problem, and Kiss Of The Amesha proved to generate enough cards to put Bant over the top.

Set 4 — Bant versus Naya. 1-2. After two disappointing matches (from a neutral perspective), the final Bant matchup was good fun. Clinging on desperately in the first, Bant found Kiss Of The Amesha to buy some time, and after a series of chump blocks found the Pacifism to leave Naya threatless. As Naya drew late-game land, Bant was finally able to establish an Exalted position, and won a few turns later. The second game fell entirely to mana screw, as Bant couldn’t find any Blue mana whilst drawing all his Blue spells. In the decider, Naya took control early with Woolly Thoctar — and if you think 5/4 is good in Sealed and Draft, just think how enormous it looks in Intro World — and then demonstrated the power of ‘5 matters’ by casting Mosstodon. Without it, the Thoctar could have been comfortably dealt with for multiple turns while Bant looked to find Battlegrace Angel, but with the chump blocks now still being Trampled over, it was quickly done.

Set 5 — Jund versus Naya. 2-0. Although Naya stuck on the three land from its opening hand, we still saw some nice synergy between Hissing Iguanar and Sprouting Thrinax. Game 2 was one of the best of the night. Naya opened up with Turn 1 Wild Nacatl, attacked for 2 on Turn 2 and made the other Nacatl. Adding the third color of mana meant Naya attacking for 6 on Turn 3, and then adding Woolly Thoctar, the perfect start. Only one thing could realistically save Jund, and it found Sprouting Thrinax, trading with a Wild Nacatl, taking another 8 damage, but creating 3 1/1s. A second Thrinax barely managed to complete the stabilisation, before comedy rare Mycoloth came down, and began to turn out 2 tokens a turn. That turned out to be sufficient, in a really entertaining game that showed curve, aggression, last ditch defence, and a turning of the tide. Great Magic.

Set 6 — Esper versus Naya. 0-2. Naya moved to 2-1 with one match to play, having given Esper a real kicking. Game 1 showed what happens when you can give all your men First Strike and Trample, thanks to Rakeclaw Gargantuan and Mosstodon. Game 2 showed one of the possible problems with leaving foolish Rares in the decks, especially when there are only 41 cards, rather than the 60 of the Theme Decks. The second game was really well poised, and it appeared to have developed into a major creature stall, with each player looking to gain an edge. Next turn, the Naya player attacked for 40 First Strike, Trample and Lifelink damage, courtesy of Titanic Ultimatum. I reiterate, in and of itself this was fun, and makes for quite a good story, and shows some of the extremes that can occur in the game. That didn’t stop the fact that we were tussling hard to gain an advantage, and then, bang, we were shuffling our decks. Not sure what the answer is to this conundrum, since you do want players to feel the thrill of raw power, but I do think this kind of blowout ultimately contributes to less replayability. ‘Oh, not those two again, you just draw your Titanic Ultimatum and win.’

Set 7 — Grixis versus Naya. 1-2. Naya rounded out its campaign with an interesting match that could have ended thoroughly differently in at least two of the three games. In the first, a quick Naya start of Wild Nacatl plus backup led to an eventual Blaze for the final few points. Naya looked certain to sweep the match, with a dominant board position in game 2 featuring a ton of big men, reinforced with the foil Spearbreaker Behemoth. An attack for a gajillion damage was thwarted by a combination of Agony Warp and judicious blocking, and the barely-breathing Grixis deck was able to swing back for an unlikely win. Agony Warp, what a beating. From there, Grixis powered ahead in the decider, blunting early pressure from the Naya weenies, and taking overwhelming control of the board as Naya drew land after land after land after… Blaze for 9. GG.

Set 8 — Grixis versus Esper. 0-2. One of the worst of the ten sets, though not through any particular fault of the decks. In the first, mana issues saw Grixis trying to fight without all options, and flyers quickly dispatched it. In the second, Esper again came out of the blocks quickly, and with Grixis finding both Terrors in hand completely useless, it struggled to gain a foothold. And what sealed the win? God help us all, the Chalice combo, of Marble Chalice and Onyx Goblet. Yes, just two entire cards turning into Drain Life for 1. Nobody could call this underpowered, surely…

Set 9 — Grixis versus Jund. 2-0. Grixis evened its record at 2-2 with a comprehensive win here. Dregscape Zombie led to Hidden Horror, and with two pieces of removal — which is one more than you tend to see in a typical game! – plus judicious use of Unearth, Jund was never in it. That wasn’t true in the second game, where Dragon Fodder tokens and other overmatched men turned into a 22/22 Thunder-Thrash Viashino. That might have been bad news on the following turn, but by then Grixis had cast Cruel Ultimatum. Tee hee. In all seriousness, I have to recognise that for the Ultimatum caster (me) this was probably the highlight of the evening, but I’m not so sure Neil enjoyed it terribly. I guess on balance the memorableness of the Ultimatums make them passable inclusions, and Cruel is certainly a card you won’t forget for a while.

Set 10 — Jund versus Esper. 1-2. Jund took advantage in the first as Esper once again found out the hard way that two Executioner’s Capsule = no removal. An Esper Battlemage with flying backup took the advantage in the middle duel, with the Chalice combo finishing things once more, before a comprehensive mana malfunction for Jund finished the evening in unspectacular fashion.

The results then:

Esper 3-1
Naya 3-1
Grixis 2-2
Bant 1-3
Jund 1-3

Looking back across the whole range of matches, 19 duels produced something interesting, even if they were one-sided, while at least 8 were really entertaining, swinging back and forth, engaging both players with minimal frustration about playing ‘underpowered’ decks. Indeed, they don’t feel underpowered at all, much less so than many of the Theme Decks. Even the decks that did badly could look back on games where they had performed really well and with cool stories to tell. Only five of the 24 duels were simply rubbish, and I suspect that’s about par for the course with most forms of the game.

So now came the acid test. One of the big reasons for downsizing to 41 was the idea that players could start to build their decks, using the booster provided. Now if ever there was an opportunity for this idea to work, it’s in a set like Shards, where all the decks are three colors. For the purposes of this exercise, we ‘played dumb’ and tried to imagine we didn’t have access to years of experience. In that sense, the comments below are how we imagine things might have gone had we been ripping open a booster for the first time, or at least with minimal experience.

Bant — The Bant booster had six cards that might make it into the deck. Excommunicate would be a third copy, so if you liked it, that idea just got better. Jungle Weaver is expensive but has cycling, enabling you to get your spells quicker if you don’t want to wait to cast it. Soul’s Grace looks pretty rubbish, but is easy to cast. Outrider Of Jess is another Exalted guy. Oblivion Ring is clearly powerful, as seen elsewhere in the Intro decks, so is an awesome addition. Sigiled Paladin is clearly really good for Bant, and although it’s in the right colors, Filigree Sages does nothing useful. And the Rare? Something good please? Ad Nauseam. Now that’s clearly neither use nor ornament in the Bant deck, but instead it sends a new player off in an entirely different direction. What deck would that be good in? Care to swap etc etc.

Esper — Courier’s Capsule proved really good, so who wouldn’t want a second? Angelsong has cycling, Blister Beetle is partial (at least) removal, Sunseed Nurturer gets me going quicker, and the Rare? Oh helloooooo. Battlegrace Angel. See, you’re going to be really excited to rip that after seeing how good it can be, but if you’re the Bant opener, that Ad Nauseam seems a lot less exciting.

Grixis — The Grixis booster turned out to be awesome. Hissing Iguanar, Agony Warp, Blister Beetle, Fleshbag Marauder, and Thunder-Thrash Viashino. And the Rare was pretty spectacular too — Flameblast Dragon. Now this begs the question hinted at above. Is it good to create ‘winners and losers’ in the booster process? There’s little doubt that both Esper and Grixis have significantly bolstered themselves compared to Bant who, truthfully, just got an Oblivion Ring and a Sigiled Paladin. Hmm.

Jund — Fully eight cards come into consideration from the Jund booster. Soul’s Might and Undead Leotau are interesting, while the other six all seem very powerful — Magma Spray (removal), Skeletonize (removal), Blood Cultist (potential removal), Mosstodon (fatty) and (here we go again) the Rare slot, filled with, wait for it, Violent Ultimatum. How lucky.

Naya — It’s pretty clear that Naya would have to go some to keep pace with Esper Grixis and Jund, all of whom had amazing Rares. Most of the booster was unexciting, with Hissing Iguanar, Obelisk of Naya, Sangrite Surge, and Oblivion Ring being the best of the bunch. And then the Rare? Godsire. Unbelievable. Although not actually unbelievable of course, since there are plenty of Rares that would have made nice additions to the deck. Still, four out of five added super-powerful spells.


First off, here’s a quick checklist of all the things I believe were features of the Theme Decks:

The Power of Removal
Husbanding Removal
Card Advantage
Power Rares
Mana Management
Set Mechanics
A Forgiving Environment
No Stupid Rules
Signposts to Block
Signposts to Higher Constructed
Changing Card Values
Narrow Cards
Leading You Onward

All the above are broadly positive attributes, and here were a few of the negatives from last week:

Weak Cards
Blowout Rares
Teaching Bad Habits

Hybrid Format
Diminishing Returns

These are just to jog your memory. For a full explanation, click here.

So what has changed, and what has stayed the same? In a set like Shards, mana issues are going to play more of a role than usual, and the fact that every deck has an identical 7/3/3/2/2 manabase recognises that this isn’t ideal. That said, while mana issues weren’t much over the norm, mana management was a definite skill at the forefront of things, far removed from, for example, the five mono-colored offerings from 10th Edition, which are streamlined but offer nothing in the way of mana management. These decks all felt more Limited than past Theme Decks, where you could see your way clearly towards a much better version of the decks, possibly taking them to a Constructed level of some kind. Here, the only deck that instinctively felt like it was showing you what a ‘grown-up’ deck could be was Esper, with all its intricate chicanery and subtle advantage, running rings round opposing decks with Esper Battlemage and Filigree Sages, or Courier’s Capsule and Sanctum Gargoyle etc. Narrow cards were much less in evidence here, with, from memory, only Executioner’s Capsule and Terror turning out to be essentially without targets, and that for good reason, rather than your authentically narrow cards like Shadowfeed. For the most part, you could play your spells with a reasonable expectation of them being useful. As I’ve already indicated, I feel the packaging is a significant upgrade, while the question of blowout Rares remains very much alive. Inherently, creatures are not ‘unfair.’ They almost all have a way to kill them before they kill you, leaving you feeling that you at least have an ‘out’ in dealing with them. In a format deliberately devoid of countermagic, I suspect Titanic and Cruel ultimatums will quickly lose their shiny appeal, especially given that 41-card deck size. Add in the addition, on this purely anecdotal evidence, of 4 additional powerful Rares across the five decks, and that feels like a proper problem that’s going to damage replayability.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been. Whatever you call them, Theme/Intro Decks are never going to please everyone. They are underpowered. They do feature some decidedly unexciting cards. They’re a bastardized concept pulled in dozens of different directions, often directly competing with each other — make the games fair and balanced, give everyone super-Rares is just one example of a ‘Non-bo’ as my friend Dave calls them. Another would be ‘make them really flavorful of Alara, and then pepper them with utterly out of place 10th Edition cards.’ To me, the real test for the Intro packs is twofold. First, how will the smaller sets look? The law of diminishing returns already indicates we’ll be given more Shards of Alara when Conflux is what we want, and both of those when the block gets completed next May. That’s always been true of Theme Decks too. But what will they look like a year from now, when a new block comes along without five such clear-cut decks to make, and with far fewer cards to come out of that random booster, assuming we’re not in multi-color land forever?

I so want to bring you an epic conclusion, a bottom line that you can take away with you. I want to say ‘these are an abomination’ or ‘hallelujah, we’re saved!’ but I can’t do either. Inevitably I suppose, I’m left telling you that the strangest piece of the Magic puzzle, the misfit that nobody actually admits to liking yet remains strangely attached to, is still that mishmash of fun, discovery, flavor, marketing, power and weakness that they’ve always been. I think it’s probably time for me to stop my collection that dates back to Tempest, because even with, or in fact precisely because of, the added booster, these no longer feel like the same thing as before. I won’t be running the Scourge Theme Decks against Bant Exalted for example, with or without booster additions. But that isn’t the point. I think they’re no longer meant for me, and those of you who said how much you enjoyed running block against block, holding Theme Deck championships and wallowing in the flavor and nostalgia.

I think they’re meant to do what they now say on the tin, Introduce people to Magic. And for that, I think they probably do just fine. And now if you’ll excuse me Mr. Shards, it’s time for some hot Judgment on Mirrodin action.

Until next time, as ever… thanks for reading.