Let’s start with a confession. Sometimes, when I’m thinking about what to write, I have literally no idea quite what I’m getting myself into. When I first realised that I wanted to do a Time Spiral retrospective there was no concept of this vast, sprawling multi-part homage that it has become. At best, I thought there might be a couple of weeks’ worth of reminiscences. I suppose in hindsight I really should have known better. Magic is a game of quite staggering depth, and when you consider that I’ve confined myself to talking almost exclusively with the realms of Standard, Block Constructed, and Extended, with only the occasional forage into the Limited ranks, and a barely acknowledged nod to the Eternal formats (only because I don’t feel qualified to comment on them), it’s become apparent to me at least that we could spend months together going over past glories. Perhaps one day when I finally getting around to writing the definitive history of the game…
Anyway, as I’ve found stories to tell over the last few weeks, and discovered that there are literally hundreds of cards that I still haven’t found room to talk about, the decision to reduce the number of cards being printed each year is certainly no cause for concern. Indeed, it’s possible that more of the ‘marginal’ cards will find a home, and in 2010 when I embark upon what will doubtless be another weighty Rotation Retrospective showcasing the two years of Shards there will be every bit as much innovation, drama and excitement as this largest-of-all Standard rotations.
But all the Shards stories are still unwritten, even those from the Prerelease, 24 hours away at the time of writing. The stretch of sand may be getting smaller, but the footprints will be just as momentous as before.
Which gazing into the future brings me neatly to our last port of call from the past, Future Sight. Maybe it was the fact that I was in Yokohama at the time of the Future Sight Pre-Release. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t play full-block Draft much online. Maybe I was totally focused on Block Constructed for that Pro Tour and lost interest subsequently. Or maybe I just like familiarity and find a constant stream of newness to be disconcerting. Whatever the reason, I found Future Sight hard to like. I guess it ultimately felt like what it was, a massive slew of ideas designed to tease and titillate without necessarily promising a payoff, or at least giving no hint when that payoff might come. I’m not sure how my comments on individual cards are going to come out, but I wanted you to know in advance that my gut feelings were less charitable towards FS than other sets that are rotating out. With all that said, I still have a sizeable number of cards to talk about, so let’s go to it.
I said I had a bundle of cards to talk about, and I do. It’s just that only one of them is white, Aven Mindcensor. This got lots of people excited in advance, holding out the promise of an answer to Dragonstorm decks at a time when many would have sold their grandmothers for such an answer. The Mindcensor had Flash, which was good, but didn’t have Shroud, which wasn’t. Most of the time it was able to stave off a kill first time around, but that didn’t always mean a game win. One of the more forgotten aspects of the Storm decks was that they weren’t altogether a case of drop-your-trousers-have-I-won-yet? Instead, they were able to generate a second crack at the combo, sometimes with irritating speed following the initial setback. Then we start talking about the times when a Bogardan Hellkite was in the top four cards, dealt one damage to the Aven Mindcensor on its way to smashing face, and then went about the business of getting the rest unimpeded. All in all, this wasn’t the answer, but any port in a storm.
Just the one Blue card to talk about as well. Kidding. There was plenty of interest in the Blue spells, starting with a really interesting twist on countermagic, Delay. Now some of you can probably imagine that there are certain words that are frowned upon here at StarCityGames.com. Words with which no family website should sully their pages. You know the kind of thing. Now if I was in the Editor’s chair I’d probably add some more cursewords, like ‘White,’ ‘Green,’ ‘Black,’ and most importantly ‘Red.’ But there’s one word that I occasionally try to slip in undetected, and now’s my chance to use it with impunity. Except I won’t. I’ll simply tell you that here in England there was an intense little sub-market in finding this charming little counterspell in foreign languages, specifically French. I find this surprising, as who wants a world with French Delays cluttering up the place? Still, each to their own. As to the actual value of Delay, it varied nicely in much the same way that a Rune Snag or Memory Lapse or Mana Leak might. Sometimes it was more than enough, as you watched the crucial spell sitting on the sidelines for the rest of the game. Sometimes it guaranteed success, as you Delayed their Delay, and when their Delay was no longer Delayed it had already been Delayed by Delay, and being Delay Delayed, fizzled. And then there were the times when your opponent sacrificed a bunch of useless lands to bring Greater Gargadon to the party, and your Delay simply read ‘sacrifice some more.’ All in all this was a smashing card that kept everyone interested in its outcome, and gave hope to the Blue-haters.
Of course, the counterspell that really wowed the community was Pact Of Negation. Although at first glance the ability to hardcounter with no mana up brought back the days of Force Of Will, the reality was somewhat different. Setting aside the numerous games at every level that were lost by the failure to follow instructions, i.e. pay the upkeep, the large cost on the backswing meant that Blue mages were severely compromised on the following turn. In fact, finding one of your spells Pacted was one of the key signs that your Blue opponent was heading into trouble, and that one more push could topple the edifice of control. On a psychological level, being able to tap out and still retain a vestige of control was massive for Blue players, while everyone else adapted to the idea that a buy now pay later counterspell was in the environment. The Pacts in general were simply begging for stories to be written about them, but none to my mind comes much better than Jelger Wiegersma’s exploits in Pro Tour: Hollywood, where he used the one Pact Of Negation out of his Sideboard to counter a Cryptic Command that would have tapped all his attackers down. He won that turn. Hmm, okay, that’s good but not a spectacular story, where’s the catch? Jelger’s deck was mono Green. There wasn’t a single Blue source anywhere in his 75. He absolutely could not pay the upkeep ever. He didn’t need to. What a belting card.
The best of the rest in Blue is almost certainly Venser, Shaper Savant. It did so many jobs for so many players that it really felt like a one-stop shop for Blue merchants at times, and Remi Fortier certainly has reason to be thankful, since the straight-up counterspell part of the card took him over the line at Pro Tour: Valencia, and if you’re in any doubt as to the power of the card, remember that Valencia was Extended. Two more Blue cards made it into Dredge decks, Bonded Fetch and Narcomoeba. The Fetch is a good example of a card where one word makes all the difference, in this case the word being ‘haste,’ without which it would surely have been unplayable. As for Narcomoeba, this was a neatly designed card that allowed Dread Returns aplenty in Block, where Bridge From Below was doing its thing. That just leaves yet another Split Second spell, Take Possession. Admittedly this wasn’t a massively powerful card on the Constructed scene, although it did see some play in sideboards at the height of the ‘draw-go’ period of Block Constructed. In Sealed play it was obviously great, but the story that makes it in here concerns a savagely delicious tale of woe. Since you’ve just read the words ‘savagely delicious tale of woe,’ it will I think not surprise you to learn that this tale also involves a Pact, in this case Slaughter Pact. To set the scene, my good friend Matt was coming off a PTQ weekend in which he neglected to pay for his Slaughter Pact on two occasions, the first in the Swiss, and the second in the semi-final (yes, you can almost qualify for the Pro Tour here in Britain by repeatedly not knowing what to do with Pacts. Bradford, one week on Saturday, that’s all I’m saying.) God bless him, Matt knew he’d been a bit naughty, and the following week he made sure he took advantage of the new rule that allowed you to stick some kind of reminder on top of your deck to avoid non-payment issues. There is no way he will forget ever again. He casts Slaughter Pact, which his Blue-casting opponent allows to resolve. His opponent lays Urborg, Tomb Of Yawgmoth, sending Matt’s copy to the graveyard. Now Matt has just one Swamp as his only Black source to pay the upkeep. His opponent taps seven mana, and Takes Possession of the Swamp, before passing the turn. GG.
As you know, I’m very interested in the psychological impact that some cards have on the game that aren’t necessarily merited by their actual gaming impact. I’m talking about cards that sometimes panic opponents into playing differently than they actually need to based on the threat the card provides. Although perhaps not a killer example, Gaddock Teeg will do. Oh no, big spells and X spells can’t be played, disaster. Eventually people started treating him like the two-toughness body that he is, spent a Rift Bolt on obliterating him, and moved about their Combo business. Although nowhere near Mr. Teeg in outright power (and I don’t mean of the /toughness variety) Augur Of Skulls had an oddly powerful psychological effect on games. Somehow the whole idea of Discard seems to bring some players out in a rash, a kind of resigned acceptance that life isn’t fair. This psychological pressure also applies to some degree to Countermagic and Burn, but almost never to Aggro creatures or huge fatties. For some reason, many of us feel, when we’ve been overwhelmed in four turns, ‘oh well, on we go’ and move on with hope and expectation of turning it around. But against Discard, there’s something potently debilitating about watching your entire hand disintegrate into the bin, before seeing your life total dribble away behind The Rack. What made the Augur particularly interesting was that it essentially had Suspend 1, since you almost never blocked with it the turn after it arrived. Instead, it sat there, waiting to mess with your hand, and crucially allowing your opponent to then compound the problem with yet more Thoughtseize/Extirpate/Stupor action, or even another Augur. Let’s be clear, Mind Rot is basically rubbish. Waiting a turn before the Augur does what it’s supposed to is rubbish. Drawing it late is rubbish. But a Turn 2 Augur Of Skulls made more people slump in their chairs than it had any legitimate right to.
I’ve already mentioned Slaughter Pact, a tremendous addition to Constructed formats, quite apart from potential comedy value. I’ve also briefly touched on Bridge From Below, a strange card that did precisely nothing while it was in play (other than be a target for a Disenchant effect for someone who has never played the game before I suppose) but a bucketload of game-warping stuff if it was in the bin, and Dredge was just made for getting Bridges into the bin. Bridge decks were phenomenally powerful, and Mogg Fanatic got an enormous boost in popularity due to its ability to counter the Bridge threat. Sometimes unique cards in Magic do almost nothing (Evermind springs to, er, mind), but the Bridge was every bit as powerful as the hype suggested it would be. A massive card.
Talking of massive, we find Korlash, Heir To Backblade, who turned out to be a legitimate finisher in black control decks in Block, not entirely surprising when cards like Tendrils Of Corruption were busy keeping the game going long, allowing you to get a ton of Swamps into play, and regenerating Korlash if things got tough. Given that he didn’t have evasion, he made a slightly atypical Closer, but when your opponent has nothing in the way, and they frequently didn’t, he was a real short clock. A card that did have evasion and also finished games in a hurry was Tombstalker, which took advantage of the Delve mechanic to turn up a lot quicker than the opposition wanted. 5/5 flyers for three mana turn out to be quite efficient, and in Block Constructed there was usually plenty of fuel to get the cost down to cheap-as-chips proportions. Looking back at Black, it’s no surprise that the graveyard features heavily. The Augur sends cards there, Slaughter Pact sends creatures there, Bridge From Below triggers from there, Tombstalker removes cards from there, and Korlash tends to send anything that gets in its way there, so inevitably there’s a graveyard connection for my last black card, Yixlid Jailer. I have a wry smile on my face as I tell you once more of the hope that surrounded this card as the Savior From Dredge. I actually heard people say out loud that four Yixlid Jailer in the sideboard would scupper Dredge. Since we’re almost at the end of this epic series, let me take this opportunity to definitively tell you what Sideboard was required to positively actually nailed-on seal the deal beat Dredge:
4 maindeck Leyline Of The Void
4 Withered Wretch
4 Yixlid Jailer
4 Tormod’s Crypt
1 opponent mulligans to 3
1 59 card opponent decklist
1 very hard punch in the face
That was how to beat Dredge. Anything less was leaving things to chance.
Not so much on the Red front. I have two niche cards, a ‘what happened there?’ card, and one legitimate heavyweight, which I’ll be amazed if it takes you more than two seconds to think of. We’ll save that until last, but don’t get impatient, there isn’t that long to wait. Like I said, it’s a short list. The first niche card was Gathan Raiders. It had just enough interesting things going on with it to make it into Block Constructed as part of a mid-range mono-Red deck, that often included such delights as Mogg War Marshal, Word Of Seizing, and Greater Gargadon. It had great synergy with Fiery Temper, especially when the Temper was your last card in hand, and it lived in a Standard world where going Hellbent was a great idea if you had Demonfire in your deck. Bizarrely, the Raiders also made it as far as the World Championships in 2007, when a very peculiar mono-Red deck turned up in the hands of, you guessed it, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. That deck also included the Red standout from Future Sight for very good reasons. Still can’t think of it? Shame on you. Well, you’ll just have to wait while I mention the other niche card, Pyromancer’s Swath. This first came to prominence in the Aussie Storm decks, and it basically read, ‘target moderately rubbish Limited spell named Grapeshot becomes game-winning Standard kill card.’ That’s because the Swath turned one point of damage from Grapeshot into three, every single time.
Now the card that comes under the heading of ‘what happened there?’ is Molten Disaster. One of my primary rules for being better at Magic, before he vanished to his bikini-strewn island paradise, was to listen very carefully to what Craig Jones said. Sure, he’s my friend, but he genuinely talked a ferocious amount of sense when it came to Magic, and you could do a lot worse than go read some of his archived works on this very site. Man, he really knew his stuff. So, when he indicated significant interest in the Molten Disaster, it seemed like a good plan to take note. And nothing happened. Split Second was one of the most defining aspects of multiple Formats, and for only a single Red mana that’s what Molten Disaster had, and still nothing happened. It felt like it should have been a real backbreaker against all those Block Constructed control decks, and it just wasn’t. Was this a case of yet another good card without a home, or wasn’t it much of a card to begin with? Either way, it was a great disappointment not to see a card with a name that always reminds me of my wife’s cooking.
And with an exquisite link for the ages, talking of Craig Jones, few players have more reason to be grateful for the standout Red card of the set, Magus Of The Moon. We’ve talked before about the magi being a mixed bag, but from Block, through Standard, to Extended and beyond into Legacy, the 2/2 that turned $20 bills into $0.01 Mountains was outstanding. For Craig, one down in the GB Nationals finals of 2007 against Stuart Wright, nothing came sweeter than a succession of turn 3 destroyers that more or less involved Stuart sweeping up his permanents as the Magus came into play. Oh yes, you can add 4 Magus Of The Moon to the beating Dredge sideboard too. I’ll choose my words carefully here, since there’s an innocuous-looking 0/1 just around the corner, but I think Magus Of The Moon is my candidate for the most important card in the set. Not necessarily the best per se, but almost certainly the card that outright decided more games than any other.
Since we’ve just left Red with a Magus, let’s hit Green with one, this time the Magus Of The Vineyard. Eladamri’s Vineyard was a card simply begging to be abused, at a time when there were plenty of decks that had high counts of individual colored mana, and very little generic to pump the GG into on their main phase. As previously discussed, putting a body onto these abilities was much more likely to be a drawback rather than a benefit, and it took a touch of Irish insanity to finally find a home for this Magus, when Stewart Shinkins piloted mono-Green aggro successfully across Block and Standard formats at the tail end of the summer, with 11th place at Grand Prix: Rimini the highlight. Next up is a card that was entirely about the Metagame, Riftsweeper. Here’s a list of cards you might reasonably have expected to see in Block or Standard play that a Riftsweeper could deal with:
Aeon Chroinicler, Ancestral Vision, Detritivore, Epochrasite, Greater Gargadon, Lotus Bloom, Rift Bolt, Riftwing Cloudskate, Search For Tomorrow.
You can also, if you’re feeling contrary, add Delay to the list, and a few corner case additions too. Fact is, the list I’ve given was sometimes more than enough to justify a Sideboard slot. Meanwhile, our next card didn’t really get a look-in during Block, made next to no impact on Standard, briefly hovered around the edges of Extended, did nothing in Legacy, and yet was one of the most important cards in the set. Got it? Yes, Summoner’s Pact, a card that comfortably made it into the hallowed ranks of Vintage by virtue of everyone’s favorite Vintage mana cost, zero. I won’t insult you by pretending that I know the full ins and outs of how good it was in that most insane of formats, but I do seem to recall that it led to assorted Bannings and Restrictions. For more, Uncle Menendian’s your guy.
That leaves one more Green guy to mention, a card that Nick Lovett, 3rd placed man from Worlds 2006, managed to purchase a full playset of for $5. By my reckoning, that’s one of the best individual deals I’ve ever heard of. And all this for a zero power creature. The best two-drop ever? I would argue, as members of R&D do if pushed, that Tarmogoyf was quite acceptably balanced, and that for all its potential massive stats, It. Was. A. Creature. And creatures die all the time in Magic. They die to Terror, they die to Slaughter Pact, they get Pacified, they get Threatened and sacrificed to Greater Gargadons, you understand the gist, they die. And Tarmogoyf died. Repeatedly. If you wanted to be picky, the awkward part about Tarmogoyf wasn’t how gigantically powerful it could become, but that extra point of toughness. It wasn’t so much that it made them harder to kill, but it did mean that one Tarmogoyf per side was a stalemate where the board wouldn’t clear via a trade. They just sat and stared at each other for a bit, which was dull. Although the Extended community is extensive, I’m fairly certain that it’s smaller than the Standard crowd, and I’m also fairly certain that Tarmogoyf is a card that won’t be terribly mourned when it rotates out, since whether you owned four or not, they were a chore to play against, and I’m not entirely sure they were that much fun to play with. My abiding memory of the card, having watched literally hundreds of matches with them in play, is the number of times you waited while the two players muttered to each other, ‘instant, creature, land, sorcery, 4/5, oh and tribal, 5/6.’ Can’t say I’m sorry to see it go.
Gold and Artifact
I do enjoy it when a card gets a deck named after it, because it leaves you in no doubt what it was all about. Take Glittering Wish, for example. It turned out that the deck Glittering Wish Control was a control deck where you used Glittering Wish to find assorted toolbox answers out of your super-diverse Sideboard. This was one of those flavor of the month decks when players were eagerly searching around for ways to avoid playing 73 consecutive rounds of Mystical Teachings mirror match, in much the same way that the Wild Pair Slivers deck also attracted players simply because it didn’t run Teferi and friends. Speaking of Control, Coalition Relic fitted right into the whole please-can-I-have-all-the-mana-in-the-world decks, while Epochrasite was another niche card that pretty much looked like it had more potential than it managed to realize in the cold light of Sanctioned play.
Graven Cairns didn’t do much other than point the way towards other lands of the future, since not many decks were in a position to benefit from it. That wasn’t the case with Grove Of The Burnwillows, where the apparent drawback was definitely turned into a considerable virtue within the Kavu Predator deck. There were times where players chose to actively burn for one at end of turn, just to get another counter onto their trampler, and that deck was strong enough to feature fairly deep into Pro Tour: Hollywood in the hands of Your Move Games Hall Of Famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty. Horizon Canopy had a place in Block, and also in Standard Kithkin decks featuring Gaddock Teeg. Dakmor Salvage had to wait a while before taking center stage, but most of you with more than a passing interest in deck design will be aware of the Seismic Swans deck brought to our attention by the Innovator Patrick Chapin. Less headline-grabbing, but still thoroughly useful, was Keldon Megaliths. This was another of those marginal cards that sat there for many turns before delivering the coup de grace, and I actually think Red will miss the Megaliths more than you might initially suppose.
I said at the outset in the interests of full disclosure that I wasn’t a massive fan of the set, and I guess that’s still true. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised how many cards had neat stories attached and/or fond memories and/or powerful parts of the Metagame to relate. Given that, let’s take a look at what we might want to keep from Future Sight.
Augur Of Skulls
Bridge From Below
Grove Of The Burnwillows
Magus Of The Moon
Pact Of Negation
River Of Tears
Venser, Shaper Savant
Now generally I’ve been noticing that the budgeting for these sets hasn’t been too bad, and with a bit of judicious pruning can seem quite viable. I’m not going to lie to you, this lot costs money. The list as it stands is hovering at or near the, wait for it, $400 mark, and that’s no small outlay. Of course Tarmogoyf adds well over a hundred bucks to the tally, but I confess I hadn’t realized quite how dear the Pact Of Negation was. That’s a lot of No for your money, and Magus Of The Moon is another $40 for a playset. If ever there was a time to have friends with a shared set of Goyfs, this is it. Nonetheless, even with shavings and savings, this is what your essentials looks like:
Augur Of Skulls
Bridge From Below
Grove Of The Burnwillows
Magus Of The Moon
Pact Of Negation
River Of Tears
Venser, Shaper Savant
You know what? If you can find some cheap boxes of Future Sight, you could do worse than crack them open. Turns out there’s some serious money in them thar boosters.
Well, we’ve made it, and I suspect my hands and your eyes can feel every one of the almost 25,000 words that have gone into this Rotation Retrospective. It’s one thing to know and pay lip service to the idea that Magic is a game of stupendous depth and variety, but it still takes your breath away when seen this close. Every week, when I’ve come to look at what to keep hold of, I’ve found cards in the set that I haven’t mentioned in the article that there are stories attached to or decks that they’ve made an appearance in, or games that they were critical in swinging. Even the cards that I never found or heard a use for, it turns out that some of you had (thanks for all the Curse Of The Cabal stories). In a year’s time I’ll be back again, trying to pull everything together from the four sets that have made up the Lorwyn year.
Much nearer than that, I’ll be doing something a little different next week. One year ago, I wrote an article called ‘How To Read Your Lorwyn Spoiler,’ which wasn’t so much a guide to the cards themselves, but what to look for when you saw the setlist for yourselves. This year, I’m going to do something similar, but with a twist. It occurred to me that if we could peer into the future by a full twelve months and apply all the carefully won knowledge about Shards, how infinitely further ahead we’d be than we are now, with a million and one mistakes still waiting to happen. So, next week I’ll be looking at what we learned about the cards in Lorwyn, and how much of that we could have gleaned from the spoiler if we knew how to read it ‘properly.’ If I do it right (and, yeah I know, what are the chances?) you’ll maybe look at Shards just a little bit differently, and hopefully in the way that some of the best Limited and Constructed minds view it. In any case, it should be an informative (and shorter) ride!
As ever, thanks for reading.