When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were tangling with the Blue-and-White of the Azorius guild, with a handful of Simic refugees sneaking in. Since the last section was already seven pages, I figured I’d spare you all a wrathful — and I do mean wrathful — analysis of the reaction to the Azorius Guild. I will summarize for those who are really interested:
“You could give people a chocolate-coated Pernicious Deed which dispensed free-thinking and exceptionally available Swedish Lingerie models, and they would still complain about the activation cost.”
This is the nature of card design. Fortunately, these vocal players are not only idiots; they’re also in the minority. Thank god for that. But remember that, next time you see someone saying they can’t see what’s “so bad” about Wrath of Leknif.
On to Black!
Bond of Agony
Fox: I can’t describe just how f***ed up this concept is without getting Talen in trouble for language. So instead, I’m just going to muse that we never see female characters being horrifically tortured. Just saying.
Talen: Curiously, that’s likely because Wizards would get in trouble for that.
Fox: Yay for women’s lib!
Talen: While this card is an “easier” Cabal Therapy, it still shows exactly how little of a perspective on “skill-testing” Mark Rosewater has. You see people missing on Cabal Therapies in actual tournaments? Not often, unless they’ve got literally no knowledge to go on. Much like Cranial Extraction, you’re going to hit most of the time, which makes this cheap, efficient, and a pinpoint way of punishing your opponent drawing cards. I just can’t stand this genre of cards – Duress, Distress, and their ilk are at least honest about what they do.
Oh, and it’s poo. Only use if you really need some more discard in a Black-Red deck and can’t afford the mana cost of Distress (or the financial cost of dual lands).
One last complaint – the name and the flavor text/art have nothing to do with one another.
Fox: Oh, goddammit. Screw you, Black!
Talen: Nice art. The symmetry in the card’s flavor text with the flavor text of Vision Skeins is very cute… though for some reason, I’m once again struck with how Black and Blue, allies, have this very opposite and offensive attitude – Black discards, Blue draws. I suppose, in the end, this powerful pair of mechanics is why Black and Blue were kings of the heap for so long. Anyway. It’s a good effect, it will be played, and I will likely be running these instead of Sink into Takenuma in my peasant aggro decks. Unless Sink proves even better at dealing with control than it has so far. Curiously, I think this card is supposed to summon a flock of geese to attack your opponent’s hand. Or, to use the correct plural term, a skein of geese.
Fox: Yeah, sure, the special effects are absolutely sexy. Boring-looking dudes, though.
Fox: … Ugh.
Talen: PDC beast. This guy is going straight into all my aggro decks at the top of the curve. With Delirium Skeins replacing Sink into Takenuma, I can see a lot of worse things to do than make a 4/3 flier on turn 4 after demolishing my opponent’s hand. He does, however, look awful – his face is too horizontally stretched to really convey menace. He looks comical. Not “darkly comical,” not “evil trying for funny,” he just looks dorky.
Fox: Still, obviously, nobody said imps should be pretty. On the other hand, the flavor text… geez. There is such a thing as a good pun, I’m sure of it…
Talen: Gwar! From what I can see, this thing is kinda like a saber-toothed hyena. Which is Black, for some reason. I’m not going to ask too many questions at this point.
Fox: Hmm. It’s like a baboon-rat-bear.
Talen: And I can’t shake the feeling that its name is an anagram of something rude, or something wanky spelt backwards, like ‘Alucard’.
Fox: “Dark cave”?
Talen: “K Cadaver”?
Talen: “Vera D. Cak?”
Talen: Also, shame he’s not common. But he does fit the tradition now of every post-Watchwolf guild getting a 3/3 for 2.
Enemy of the Guildpact
Talen: Theeeese wouuuuunnnds…. requiiiireee heeeeeeaaalll…
Talen: Wooooormmmms… in my skiiiiiiiin.
Talen: Cheer up, Emo Spirit!
Fox: “I’m not from anywhere, any more…”
Fox: Ooh, yeah, I’ll pay that. Nice sense of motion, particularly considering her name.
Talen: It’s an easy thing to forget sometimes that Red isn’t the only color of chaos. Black is quite chaotic, when one considers a chaotic particle is completely independent and unthinking about others.
Fox: Like you can say that with any authority. Chaotic doesn’t necessarily mean selfish. I mean, it’s entirely possible to be independent while still caring about others. It bothers me that people – and Wizards, if D&D is any indication – associate obedience with altruism or concern with others, when really most people obey the established rules purely out of self-interest, since that allows them to be otherwise unhindered.
Fox: … Marvelous. Not all disgusting. Hey, why is the female emaciated corpse built like a twig while the male emaciated corpse is still built like a freaking barrel?
Talen: I’ve heard it suggested that this art is not just “macabre,” but outright horrifying. I have to say, it’s pretty damn close to the most grotesque thing I’ve ever seen on a Magic card. Sure, I joke about blubbery monsters and the like, but that’s as an artist. As a person, this runs close enough to concepts I can’t quite put my finger on, but nonetheless remember, that it makes me uncomfortable. Hopefully I won’t be playing with this one too much of late.
Fox: Oh, and somebody watched The Ring too many times.
Talen: I’ve heard this compared to Necro… and to be as polite as I can manage, it’s not something I agree with. The thing is, it’s best compared to the much less impressive Greed. While it does have a way of recouping the life loss, Necro mainly only did that through Drain Life effects. Which it usually immediately cashed in for more cards. Necro left you with a handful of cards at end of turn… this explicitly wants your hand as near to naked as you can make it. But that’s all it can do. However, as a consistent discard outlet in this format, it bears some attention, and it might even be used by Syndicate Control (House Guard tutors it up), who can use it to gas up their hand while they’re under a Cloister. Drawing more cards when you’re under a Cloister, however, isn’t exactly amazing tech, though.
Fox: I especially love the flavor text by Evanescence.
Oh, and Dredge was a terrible card. It’s even more terrible when it requires you to pull your pants down and hand your opponent a spanking paddle. Yes, in this metaphor, the freakie dead chick with the stitched-up-lips is a spanking paddle. I’ve been on the internet, I know that this isn’t the weirdest fetish out there.
Fox: This is pretty disgusting any way you look at it, though. I’m still trying to work out exactly what Wizards were trying to achieve with this flavor text. Is there something special about the brew that we’re missing? Reading it just gives me the urge to ask “…and you’re telling me this… why?”
Talen: “Random Darkness.” Given that you sacrifice creatures or lands to draw cards, I’m going to suggest that the lady in question is making her brew out of dead people and dirt. It may be a sign that I’m desensitized as a chef, but I find the dirt part of that slightly more disquieting.
Talen: Oh, I like this guy. I like him a lot.
Even if this guy only goes for Chittering and Relentless Rats, he’s still buying you two cards a turn. He’s burly enough to survive the suite of removal right now. He’s expensive, sure, but he yields you a solid return for that cost. He’s evasive, with not a lot of Black creatures too interested in blocking a four-power man right now. And best of all, he’s got awesome flavor, and really kickass art.
Fox: Ah geez, this again? Guys, rats do not have a particular taste for cheese! It’s just a myth that looked cute in cartoons. Indeed, if you let them eat too much of it, you much the same gastro-intestinal results as with a cat or dog (okay… maybe more with a mouse – rats can live on rubber and plastic if they’re really pushed to it). But the point stands, damnit!
Fox: … And Talen, your wife is a geek.
Seal of Doom
Talen: If I still could play paper Magic, I’d be trading for the Nemesis art versions of these. And still wouldn’t be happy about it. Surely a card with a cool name and solid casual effect like this one deserves a really kickass bit of art, doesn’t it? Oh, and hiya Szadek. We still don’t care about you.
Fox: Once again, we are confronted with a reminder that while most Magic artists can handle shapes, color, perspective, and proportions just fine, drawing a face that doesn’t look like an equine’s ass apparently still presents a problem.
Talen: Nicely designed, I can say. I do wish it’d been common – it would have fit very nicely into pauper, but as it is, I think it’s just going to be elbowed out by better cards in “actual” Constructed magic. It gives you a man who’s huge, provided you don’t mind tapping out for his effect. With an empty hand, that’s actually pretty reasonable.
Fox: I’m liking the art for this one. Nice use of perspective to draw out the real point of the picture, and the image is subtle enough to be appealing. The depiction of the sky is what really does it for me, though – whether it’s supposed to be dawn or late afternoon, it’s really evocative.
Fox: And ew, my god, that’s disgusting. KevKevKevKevKev… what’s up with that? It that photo-manip? Ye gods, did Spellfire teach us nothing?
Talen: Aaaand, because Black, on its own, encapsulates a rather small niche of cards this set, we give you bonus — colorless cards! Or are they!?
Fox: JOHN AVON DREW A GOOD LAND!
Talen: *monocle* No!
Fox: … Sarcasm doesn’t come across well enough in text, does it…
Talen: No, no it doesn’t. Moving on?
Fox: Holy expletive I want this in foil.
Talen: Another from the top-notch art team. Rob Alexander this time – and ’tis quite pretty stuff. For a depraved dungeon of hate and pain, it’s gorgeous.
Talen: Rob Alexander again. And a nice one. Not so sure these will see play, though – who wants to pay two life just for the right to use their mana? This thing is clearly a tempo-killer, and I expect you can do a victory lap whenever you see an opponent drop one of these into play on turn 1 – even moreso if they put it into play untapped. They just gave you a free shock, thank you very much – and that, my friends, is called card advantage.
Fox: Ahhhh… once again, the new dual lands are just too sexy for words. The U/G fade is definitely one of the best-looking of the bunch, too – not to mention the guild symbol. Much like the foil Platinum Angel, I get the feeling there are some real players who are going to be dreadfully offended when I wind up hoarding these in an art folder.
Talen: I think we contractually have to mention Spawnbroker here. Myself, I’m just wondering what kind of person builds this thing – consider the kind of deviants you’d be trying to lure in with this kind of trick. “Hmm, if only there was some way to capitalize on Mr. Kos’s love of metallic women with elaborate bondage thematics…”
Fox: Whoever made this card deserves a punch in the crotch, from the horrible pun right down to they way the artist somehow made a primitive clockwork device look like a whore. Look at it – she has metal boobies. She has a little metal ponytail. Her hands are even permanently stuck in “indignant slap” position… And the mechanics! Hey look – it’s like in the old cartoons, where the characters are cleverly distracted by the ugliest freaking psuedo-woman device you can imagine, then it comically blows up in their faces! Hyuck!
Yeah. I’m really angry about this – you noticed? *spit* There’s no place for stupid cards like this in a supposedly mature game. If there is, there bloody shouldn’t be.
Fox: Oh, yeah, nice vat. So anyway, about White being a color full of sheep…
Fox: Nice vat.
Talen: It says “double.” Timmy’s eyes light up.
Fox: Hmmm… I dunno. The cost is pretty steep just to get the counter in the first place. I guess that’s to stop other colors from finding it an appealing splash, but still… I’d rather just see colored mana in the activation cost.
Talen: All told, it’s 5GU for two +1/+1 counters. Which is, yes, not very saucy. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a creature who already has those counters – like our friend the Root-Kin or Shambler – it’s 5GU to change Shambler from a 6/6 to a 14/14. I think that’s pretty reasonable.
Fox: Meh. I could just play a 7/7 for 5GU.
Talen: Quite likely.
Talen: Hype! Special! Legacy! Strip Mine! Wasteland! Total Bomb! Overhyped! Way Not Worth It! Threshold And Goblins Are Fine! Banned In Three Weeks!
That should fill in your Dissension Set Review Bingo scorecard several times over.
Fox: Is this the first unaffiliated (like, with a guild) nonbasic land in Ravnica block? I’m just curious – where is it supposed to be? Is “quarter” supposed to imply that it’s a whole big section of the city, like a merchant’s quarter or whatever? I’ll be waiting to see if this gets mentioned in Wizards’ flavor articles…
Talen: I think this is in Prague somewhere.
Fox: Okay… I’m assuming it’s just that the art’s too small for a good look, because I would swear that’s a woman pulling out her own intestine.
Talen: I’m sticking with that assumption, too
Fox: Well, it sure looks pretty. Overall, I would have preferred the world described in this flavor text to the world we’re actually getting cards from. But hey, so would most of the Gruul.
Novijen, Heart of Progress
Talen: More Simic Stuff! And wow, it’s hard to get the activation ability much cheaper, is it? This is a real sweet ability when you use token creation; even a lowly Verdant Force starts making bears, and it can be used with Graft creatures, or, heaven forbid, men like Deranged Hermit. A slight kicker, for a +1/+1 counter, and not really worth it if you’re making one creature — but also not bad at all if that’s all you were going to do with your turn. If you make two, however, then it’s very saucy. If you play a pair of bears, and activate this, that’s seven mana for a pair of 3/3s – a pretty reasonable deal, things being considered.
And that’s just doing things the simple way — there are other “cute” options on hand, like Ghostway, or token producing creatures like Ulasht, the Hate Seed. Oh, and of course, like so much Simic stuff, it’s dumb with Doubling Season.
It does look a little cysty, unfortunately.
Fox: Yep, this one I have to pay.
Pillar of the Paruns
Talen: Meh. My only hope is that the Dimir Signet is visible/invisible on the foil version of this card.
Fox: I… did not read that as “Pillar of the Paruns” at first glance, is all I can say.
Prahv, Spires of Order
Talen: “Wah, it costs seven to use, wwaaaaah, Vitu Ghazi is better, waaaah, it’s got a silly name.”
Crybabies. These lands come into play untapped, tap for mana sans pain, and this one certainly has an ability that, going long, will exasperate an opponent. You just want to get there – and this is an answer in the vein of the eternally irritating Genju of the Fields that will force an over-committal to the board in order to get damage through. Consider that this land counters a burn spell, or negates a creature in combat every turn. It’s not useful in the early game? Well, boo hoo! Are you ticked that Yosei can’t be played on turn 2 as well?
Fox: Ah, another card from the Guild of Hyrule! Unlike most of the land, though, this one is tremendously boring, art-wise. I guess it suits the guild for it to be a little stark, and the artist was probably going for a rigid feel for that very reason – but that could be done without taking away from the art’s visual impact? Surely something worthy of the title “Spires of Order” should be majestic and imposing. With such a mundane structure and such bland colors at such a boring angle, this is just… uninspiring.
Fox: Damn. Damn the littered corpses of undeserving animals. Damn my stupid Selesnya hippie dislike of the littered corpses of undeserving animals. Damn John Avon. This card is gorgeous.
Fox: (Oh hey, I’m all emo and blasphemous. Can I join the Rakdos?)
Talen: Shouldn’t it tap to creature 1/1 flying yellow Canary tokens?
Talen: Crazy bondage mistress seeks over-investment in bad cards for regular meetings. Seriously. She’s a loony.
Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
Talen: Rix Maadi sounds like Dangeresque’s lothario informant.
Also, control decks be warned. This card is going to be a serious problem for you. If a deck can get an opening that features a disruption spell, a threat, and this, you’re going to be basically spending the rest of the game with a hand roughly the same size as the one you had when this hits. A very solid ability for an uncommon, and a remarkably useful tool. In Extended, it might even see a home in Madness-Threshold decks that want to finally get to use Fiery Temper.
Simic Growth Chamber
Fox: John Avon and lands. I hear that combo won Worlds this year.
Talen: Hooray, Pure can kill an artifact. Have your trivia cookie. It’s probably going to be like the Mistform Ultimus, and be a far too common answer to a trivia question.
Fox: I like this card. The overall neutral color of the artwork works well with the concept, the shadow of the alcove frames the figure nicely, and the construction of the creature looks extremely cool – this is a golem with a sense of presence. All in all, more great John Avon work.
Talen: So what do we have at the end of all this? Well, the highlights of the Black and colorless cards are, to me, Rix Maadi, for its insane control-squeezing ability, Ratcatcher for his ability to accrue a deck around him, and Delirium Skeins, which is going to ruin many a sketchy hand’s day as early as turn 2.
One use of Skeins, which I didn’t touch on immediately, was its potential as a Dredge enabler. A lot of the time, building dredge decks, I found myself bereft of a way to start it off; my hand would be mediocre, with support spells and lands, but no card that would hop merrily into the ‘yard to start the chain off.
Hellbent and Dredge have at least one piece of synergy — with Dredge, you’re most likely only seeing one card a turn. If you’re only going to play what you draw, why not make sure that what you draw is as good as it can be?
For this reason, I expect to try and shoehorn some Red into my Dredge decks, for Crypt Champions and Rix Maadi — with the Skeins to enable both strategies at once.
Talen and Fox