Dark Ritual and Mana Vault are banned in Extended. And, I think, they needed to be. Because of them, ultra-accelerated decks are dominating one of the most interesting environments ever. Mana Vault rotated out of Type II, as it was too powerful– giving each color access to a virtual Dark Ritual, but the bona fide Dark Ritual remained, by virtue of its presence in standalone expansions.
There were five original three for one cards, in Alpha/Beta: Dark Ritual, Giant Growth, Healing Salve, Lightning Bolt and the ubiquitous Ancestral Recall– one in each color. They are the same, from a design standpoint. One mana for a“three-of” effect. But…
Two of these cards are not like the others,
Two of these cards do not belong.
Can you tell which cards aren’t like the others
By the time we finish our song?
Did you guess which cards were not like the others?
Did you guess which cards do not belong?
If you guessed Dark Ritual and Ancestral Recall,
Then you’re absolutely…
Yeah, I love me some Sesame Street. Jim Henson is my hero.
With Healing Salve, Giant Growth and Lightning Bolt, you get what you get– they are very straightforward cards. Ancestral and Ritual are a little more abstract, though– they give you additional resources with which to work, rather than a concrete effect on the game.
Ancestral Recall is only as good as the rest of the cards in your deck. Dark Ritual is only as good as the spell you cast with it. It follows hence that Ancestral Recall is garbage if the other 56 cards in your deck are basic lands, and Dark Ritual is pretty worthless if you’re playing Bog Imps and Phyrexian Drivers.
But, of course, no one plays decks like those. People play decks with Good Cards. When a player is using Dark Ritual, it is almost guaranteed that he or she is using a particular card that makes Ritual incredible. Which cards make Dark Ritual incredible?
Hypnotic Spectre, Hatred, Phyrexian Negator, Yawgmoth’s Something or Others and Necropotence.
There are a bunch of other, ancillary plays that are fearsome with Ritual, like Sarco/Sarco/Carnophage, and Duress/Skittering Skirge. These, however, take a back seat to broken the Ritual shenanigans.
Let’s talk Type II. You know what concerns me most, when an opponent is playing Dark Ritual? Urza’s Destiny. Every time I see a Swamp, I know what is coming. I cringe. It’s either a Negator or Yawgmoth’s Something or Others.
Have you seen Phyrexian Negator? That card is AMAZING. It is the perfect example of why Urza’s Destiny is the worst set for Magic.
With Dark Ritual, Negator is a first turn 5/5 creature. It has a piffling drawback– which is only important if your opponent is playing one color– and is holding one of three cards in his or her hand (Cave-In, Shock or Seal of Fire).
Most people don’t remember it– but, once upon a time, Dingus Egg was restricted. Din-gus Freak-ing Egg. Only one per deck. Do you know why?
Because only two of the five colors could remove it from play. Red’s Shatter and White’s Disenchant (yeah, along with Nevinyrral’s Disk) were the only cards that destroyed an artifact.
So now, you have Phyrexian Negator, which only one color can remove, before taking damage, which is totally legal and comes out MUCH faster than a crappy Dingus Egg. It’s so fast, in fact, that blue usually can’t beat Ritual/Negator.
Or, a better example: Juzam Djinn. He’s a beast. 5/5 for 2BB, does a point to you every turn. Comes out turn two, with a Ritual. It’s SO GOOD, that it costs the same as power nine-type cards.
But, yet, in today’s Type II, I’d MUCH rather have a Phyrexian Negator than a Juzam Djinn. Juzam Djinn just doesn’t scare me as much. A Nightwind Glider shuts down Juzam. Treachery, Arrest, Masticore, River Boa, Albino Troll, Spawning Pool, Phyrexian Plaguelord, Light of Day–
There are a ton of cards that would stop Juzam before he killed me. Negator, though– it’s a little trickier. He’s too fast– and he tramples.
I’d rather face a deck with four Juzams than four Negators. Isn’t that amazing? That’s how good Urza’s Destiny is.
Look at the set… here are just a few of the cards that come to mind:
Academy Rector, Opalescence, Replenish, Donate, Iridescent Drake, Opposition, Treachery, Bubbling Muck, Phyrexian Negator, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Masticore, Metalworker.
Hey, folks– this is just the unbalanced/breakable cards! There are plenty of plain ol’ good cards, too! Powder Keg, Plow Under and all the rest.
But seriously, look at that list. Each of those cards is designed to bring about one of three scenarios:
1) Quickest draw in the West. Turn four beatdown wins.
2) Prison– lock‘em up soft, keep your opponent out of the game with counters.
3) COMBO-O-O-o-o! Turn three kills! Turn two kills! Let’s win, whenever we want!
By far, the worst card in Urza’s Destiny is Donate. It is flawed, by design. There is absolutely no non-combo use for this card.
The only way to use Donate is in combo with another card, by definition. Using it to your advantage entails playing a deck designed to Donate Card X to your opponent for the win. Thus far, only one card has been powerful enough to Donate– Illusions of Grandeur.
Look at the list, though– see how many cards on it are combo cards? My god, man, this set is just asking for combo-mania!
Here is the problem with R&D (specifically Mark Rosewater), excerpted from issue 6.3 of Scrye:
Our Question:“Which color got the most useful/powerful cards [in Urza’s Destiny]?”
Mark Rosewater:“Black got the most powerful spell (Yawgmoth’s Bargain), but I think white is going to prove to be the big winner. My best post-Urza’s Destiny deck is mono-white (well, almost mono-white, it does have two Yawgmoth’s Bargains in it).”
What we’re talking about here is a basic white weenie deck, with 2x Yawgmoth’s Bargain, 4x Academy Rector and several ways to kill the Rector (Claws, Warrior en-Kor, Phyrexian Tower, etc). Because of Scent of Jasmine and Soul Warden, this deck functioned like white weenie on steroids. Once Bargain entered play, you would be able to cast tons of creatures and, eventually, run your opponent over with them.
Do you see the problem here? Mark Rosewater, the designer of Urza’s Destiny, thought that Yawgmoth’s Bargain, possibly the most broken combo card ever printed, would be best used in a white weenie deck!
Now, I won’t sermonize about how any idiot should see the Bargain combo– because most idiots (including myself) had to be told about it, before saying“oh. That’s pretty good.”
I feel, though, that were I to play Magic for a living, as R&D supposedly does, that I would become good at catching these things. That’s your job!
Which begs the question, who approved Urza’s Destiny?
This set is a travesty of everything that playtesting is supposed to do. Creatures better than Juzam, combo cards that make Prosbloom seem like Draw-Go. Urza’s Destiny is a playground for cards that give a player additional resources.
Like Dark Ritual.
Really, a year ago, did you hear anyone complaining about it?
Ritual/Stupor. That’s SO UNFAIR!
We’ve lost a perfectly playable card, because of Urza’s Destiny.
Eic – www.starcitygames.com
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine
“When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or rain?
When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
That will be ere the set of sun.
Macbeth, Act I, Scene 1, William Shakespeare”
-Should have been the flavor text on Dark Ritual.