What’s your favorite card?
Before you answer, let me add a few caveats. I’m not looking for your favorite staple rare, or the topdecked-card-that-helped-you-reach-your-first-top-eight… The card I’m talking about is the one that makes you smile every time you see it. Your irrational love for a particular card, however unplayable it may be.
I have one. What about you?
Of course, you may be one of those po-faced players with no interest in the flavor inherent in the Magic world where we play. To you, the game may be all mathematical formulae and statistical analysis. Well, good luck to you, Professor. Knock yourselves out.
Naturally, when you play tournaments it’s foolish to make sub-standard deck-choices for such spurious a reason as “the card makes me laugh.” Hey, I love the artwork on Need for Speed, but I’d never play it at a Pro Tour. But no matter how high we climb the tournament ladder, we all started at the bottom rung, playing precons for sh**s and giggles on our kitchen tables. We looked at the cards, with their pretty artwork and their fantasy names… and we fell in love.
The card I fell in love with is Mossdog.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the ability is next-to useless. Maybe it’s because I think the artwork is ridiculous. Or maybe it’s because the first time I saw the name of this card, I simply burst out laughing. Let’s face it: it’s a dog… made out of moss!
As the last count, I have seventeen foil Mossdogs. And I’m always on the lookout for more.
My collection is a drop in the ocean, however, to some of my friends. Craig Smith has an unholy pile of Barbed Sextants, and my pal Brian Connelly has over five-hundred Lichenthropes.
Why am I telling you this?
After my last article, I received an email. Aside from a rather insulting denouncement of my skill at Sealed Deck construction (something I’ve never claimed to excel at), the sender chose mock my delight at pulling a foil Cranial Extraction. He signed off with the following line:
“Anyway, be happy with your foil rare like all the other scrubs would be.”
I love this game. I attend as many tournaments as my finances (and my girlfriend) will allow. But if Magic was solely about the matches, I don’t think I’d be prepared to go the distance.
I enjoy playing, but I enjoy the other stuff too.
I enjoy opening boosters, peeling the cards away one by one until I unveil the gold.
I enjoy collecting the cards, filing them in pristine nine-pocket pages, folder after folder of fun.
I enjoy trading cards with other players, and trading insults with my opponents.
I enjoy building wacky decks, reading web-sites, writing and sharing my ideas.
If that makes me a scrub, then I’m a scrub.
But I’m a proud scrub.
After all, there’s more to this game than simply playing.
Here we go again, with another list of cards for your entertainment and perusal.
Call to Glory
Kami of Ancient Law
Kami of the Painted Road
Aura of Domination
2 Floating-Dream Zubera
Kami of Twisted Reflection
2 Lifted by Clouds
Sift Through Sands
Sire of the Storm
Teller of Tales
2 Rend Flesh
2 Soulless Revival
2 Waking Nightmare
Honden of Infinite Rage
Initiate of Blood
Soul of Magma
2 Unearthly Blizzard
Heartbeat of Spring
2 Kashi-Tribe Warriors
Myojin of Life’s Web
Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro
Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
On with the building britches! It’s time to do what Tiggers do best.
You’ve twenty minutes to build your deck: like a salad bar, you only get one visit. So go easy on the onions, and use the tongs provided.
Q: What’s got two legs, and bleeds?
A: Half a dog.
*through the silence, a child starts crying*
Seventy-five cards, full of promise and power. Our deck-sheet is clean, and the morning air is fresh. Around us, people stack their own cards, flashing bombs and smiling. The cardboard surrounds us, and we must build. The pro-tour is our goal.
So what have we got? Anything good?
But maybe not quite good enough.
Before I do a run-down of the guys and gals that showed up for game-day, let’s tackle the notable absences. When gauging a pool of cards, I like to have a small check-list in each colour comprising of the common cards I hope to see. Kamigawa White has three such cards. Sadly, we’ve been stood up by both Cage of Hands and Kabuto Moth. And I bet neither of them call to apologize.
- We do, however, have the uber-cool Fox Samurai called Kitsune Blademaster. What hasn’t been said about this first-striking hardball? He’s a turn 3 goliath, a stout-hearted ally and he’s kind to children and animals.
- His sky-bound cohort, the Mothrider Samurai, is also present in this pool. At Samurai school, this guy dropped the First-Strike class in favor of the Moth-Pilot course. It paid off in style, though we need to spend an extra mana to make him see play. The extra mana is probably used to buy a bagful of nectar for the moth’s dinner.
- At two mana, we have Neil of Cleansing, a.k.a Kami of Ancient Law. A 2/2 for two is never shabby, but this guy also has a relevant ability. With a valiant effort of self-sacrifice, he takes down enchantments faster than R&D can say “White must be destroyed.”
- Konda’s Hatamoto is a serviceable blocker, made more powerful with a Legendary Samurai at his side. On his picture, he looks very upset. Perhaps he’s chafing his nipples under all that heavy armour.
- The four-mana slot also includes the Kitsune Healer. Such cards are legacies from Magic of old, and perfectly playable. However, the second ability of this healer is to prevent all damage to a legend. What is it with White guys and legends? This guy has sworn to protect them, the Hatamoto fights poorly unless one is with him… White is a truly sycophantic color. Bunch o’ pansies.
- I presume that Wizards, like a number of large companies, implements random drug-testing on their staff. If they don’t they should certainly look into it, starting with whatever weirdo did the art on Harsh Deceiver. In fact, the art in this set has a Fear and Loathing feel to it, whatever the card you look at. As for the guy himself… meh. He’s capable of blocking a Blademaster, but he’s hardly Hugh Hefner.
- Shining a light for all poor cards, we have the Lantern Kami. On turn one, he’ll guarantee you five damage. Other than that, he’s strictly filler… unless you have multiple spirit/arcane triggers.
- Another brown-noser of a card is the Pious Kitsune. He doesn’t dish up the real goods unless his mate Eight-and-a-half Tails comes out to play. I wish these creatures would learn to stand on their own two feet.
- Kami of the Painted Road. What the HELL is the art on this card about? I’ve woke up screaming to visions less bizarre than that. As for is ability… while it’s powerful, it’s hardly awe-inspiring. I suppose he’d see play if the build warranted.
- And tagging on behind like the snotty kid everyone hated, we have Silent-Chant Zubera. Given a choice between playing this in my deck, or chopping off one of my fingers… I’d play him in my deck. He may be rubbish, but I’m not stupid.
On the whole, the guys are pleasant enough. Of course, as with all things, if the guys excel, the spells are lacking.
- Firstly, we have Call to Glory. Situational at best, I think this card should be christened Call to Bore-Me, as I’m sick of seeing it in my pools.
- Blessed Breath is a card I’ve undervalued in the past, but it has a myriad of uses and is splicable to boot. A fine edition to the arsenal of trickery.
While the guys are playable, the White in this pool ain’t particularly inspiring. There’s nothing here to make me rip off my clothes, put my underpants on my head and run screaming down the High Street yelling “don’t trust the monkeys.”
Which of course, is a bonus.
Especially since the court-order.
The first thing I do with the Blue cards is check for Teller of Tales.
Actually, that’s the second thing I do. The first thing I do is don the rubber gloves, pick the cards up with the tongs and cleanse them in anti-scum disinfectant. I don’t want to contract the Pompous Blue Mage Disease, after all.
So, do we have Teller of Tales? We do.
Therefore, we must check the other Blue creatures too.
- Teller of Tales has his six-mana mate, the decent Sire of the Storm. The extra mana required for his spirit trigger effect is well worth the investment. Turn 5 Teller, turn 6 Sire, and it’s Goodnight Irene.
- Soratami Seer is another five-mana flyer. While he has a decent ability, the lack of a point of power makes him a little less juicy than his respected brethren. However, his trick of turning excess land into gold late-game is a trick that’s worth turning.
- Down at the shallow-end of the pool, we have double Floating-Dream Zubera. He blocks, he mocks and he wears odd socks. He’s by far the best of the little Zebras, netting you a card when he dies, and maybe more if you’re lucky. He truly is a floating dream of a card. I had a floating dream the other night, by the way. In it, I floated past Keira Knightley’s bathroom window. When I woke up, I was under a tent.
- At three mana, we have the Kami of Twisted Reflection, another card from the El Bizarro School of Art. He’s a 2/2 for three that has a decent ability, and is fine in a heavy-Blue deck.
- Rounding out the guys, we have the sub-par Hisoka’s Guard. If I were Hisoka, I’d want a beefy 5/5 trampler as my guard, not some poncey 1/1 wizard in a dress.
So the guys are nice, especially at the top-end of the flying curve. We do miss a few mid-range flyers, such as Soratami Mirror-Guard, but the presence of Teller and Sire give us a healthy nudge in the Blue direction.
Unfortunately, the support cards are no great shakes. Yes, we have the fabulous Mystic Restraints… but the rest are poor. As I hate talking about the strengths of poor cards (unless I’m explaining my Constructed deck-choices), I’ll list the Blue bumpf and give you a five-word review on their decency. It’ll speed us along to the rest of the article, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a bonus.
- Lifted by Clouds: Play this card! It’s rubbish!
- Psychic Puppetry: Pinocchio becomes a real boy.
- Sift Through Sands: Ugly as a smashed crab.
- Hisoka’s Defiance: Bearded mage splashed with milk.
- Eerie Procession: Bizarre mobile above baby’s cradle.
- Dampen Thought: Heavy Metal rots the brain.
- Aura of Domination: Aura of Domination? My arse!
In summary, we have decent flyers, decent small-stuff, no mid-game, and one combat trick.
Blue seems passable, if only for the flying breeze-blocks.
U/W is already looking playable, but we’ll need a splash. Preferably in one of the removal colors. And of course, I’m sure that the Green cards will be a factor, rearing their ugly heads once we think we’ve settled on a build.
Let’s check out the removal:
Fan-tastic. Black looks like it’s packing heat. Sure, there’s no Befoul, or Pull Under… but we can deal with most things with two Rend Flesh and one Rend Spirit.
Examining the other support spells, we see that things are pretty rosy in the garden of Death…
- For a start we have double Soulless Revival. This card helps decks with low creature counts, and brings back guys with sacrifice effects for a further spin of the wheel.
- As the double-card theme continues, we present two Waking Nightmares. This discard spell is fine, if you like that sort of thing. Personally, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole. Of course, in my youthful alcoholic stupors I’ve touched plenty of things (and people) I wouldn’t usually touch. Believe me, I’ve woken up lying next to some genuine Waking Nightmares.
- Oni Possession: sorry folks, even though the ability is mental… I think this one should stay at home. Unless you’re playing a barrage of Zubera, then the “sacrifice a creature” option will soon become unbearable. That said, I love this card. Why? Because the artwork is amazing.
The Black removal is a contender for splash-power. However, if Black delivers the goods in the creature department, we may upgrade him from Business to First Class. He’ll like that. He gets a free cup of tea.
- The best, best best guy we have is the Black-intense Wicked Abuna. Unchecked, coupled with removal, this guy will chomp down on opponents like Tyson on Holyfield.
- Coming in second, we have the Cursed Ronin. Frankly, the Black creatures must be appalling if Cursed Ronnie is the second-best we have to offer. He’s passable in a samurai deck, or a heavy-black build. Sadly, the depth of guys points to a mere Black splash, therefore Ronnie is deficient.
- Ashen-Skin Zubera is alright. His discard ability isn’t terrible, and he trades with a Nezumi Cutthroat. If you must, you must. Just don’t expect fireworks.
- Deathcurse Ogre, the six-mana evasion-free 3/3 pile of turgid offal, should never see play unless you’re part of a bizarre scam of match-throwing involving Wizards, the Dalai Lama, Bobby McFerrin and the Saudi royal family. Of course, Star City and I would like to distance ourselves from such tawdry affairs.
The Black removal is playable. The Black guys are terrible.
A splash, then? Okay.
Maybe Red will throw some fire into the ring…
In the last pool, we finally had a decent selection of playable Red cards. Usually, there is a distinct lack of creatures in the flame camp, but pool eight delivered the goods in style.
Sadly, pool nine pours water on the desire of the noble Red mage.
- Perhaps the only true playable among the Red menace is the not-awful Frostwielder. She pings, and stands at a mighty 2/2, but in the Pinger Hall of Fame, she’s not even fit to be a cleaner. If you strain your ears when you cast her, you’ll just make out the derisory giggles of Mr. Spikeshot and Mr. Sparksmith, laughing and pointing from the bleachers.
- Next we have Initiate of Blood, another 2/2 for four mana. He is also a pinger, but this time his ability is pretty situational. He’s nice when flipped… but flipping him could be tricky. He combos well with the Red Honden, of course… but then again, so does any creature capable of attacking.
- Up at five mana, we have the Sokenzan Bruiser and Soul of Magma. Neither of these cards is wonderful, but each has a place. The Bruiser may see play from the sideboard, and the Soul may see play in the Mental Ward.
- Four mana will buy us a 1/1 flippable guy. Akki Lavarunner is poor. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Each night, I shed a silent tear for the demise of my goblin buddies. Don’t worry, I whisper to the breeze, your time will return again…
- See that Ronin over there? The one with the big stick and the washboard armour? He’s battle-mad, he is! Seriously, don’t bother with this guy. Have you nothing better to do than waste your time on this guy? Go read a book or something.
The Red guys are pensionable, as bloody usual. Sometimes, I think Red is Kumano, Ryusei… or nothing.
Spell-wise, do we fair any better?
Yes we do.
- Straight in at the top spot is Glacial Ray! I spoke to Ray this morning, and he said how thrilled he was to make the top of the Red Common chart. He’d like to dedicate his success to his fans, and he’ll be in the parking-lot to sign autographs later.
- At three mana, we have the immensely playable Honden of Infinite Rage. It’s reusable removal, it aids in a stall, and it is difficult to destroy (especially in game one). It’s also a shrine of Infinite Rage. That’s infinite rage, kids. Think of the most rage possible, then double it, and double it again. Then add some more rage, and it still wouldn’t be as ragesome as this Honden. Infinite rage… that must be tiring.
Here’s a little Pro Tour story for you, folks. At my first PT, Houston 2002, I was playing a version of Red Deck Wins. Early on day two, I faced a Deranged Hermit/Terravore deck. My Polish opponent was friendly, but my little Red guys spanked him in game one before he (or I) knew what was happening. Game two saw my opponent lay a turn 1 Absolute Law, winning two turns later with a 22/22 trampling Terravore. So we go to the sideboard for game three.
I gaze at my options. There are many, but none spring immediately to mind.
“Hmm,” I ponder, rifling the famous fifteen. “My opponent wins by smashing face with a massive guy. The guy’s size increases with the amount of land in his graveyard… what shall I board in?”
Finally, I made a decision.
“No, I won’t bother boarding in my Ensnaring Bridges. I think I’ll board in my Stone Rains.”
Instead on bringing in cards that stop my opponent attacking with his massive monster, I bring in cards that make the threat bigger.
Worst. Sideboarding. Evar.
Of course, game three saw my opponent stall on one land. I destroyed it on turn 3 and screamed to victory.
Remember kids: always board in your LD when you know your opponent will be land-screwed.
Erm, yeah. Don’t play LD in Limited, unless you see some wacky rare land that needs killing.
- Lava Spike? No. It’s rubbish. I don’t care how many Glacial Rays you have, the splice trick just ain’t all that.
- Sideswipe is far too situational. It will sit in your hand more often than not. However, just once I’d love to win a game by sideswiping my opponent’s Lava Spike back onto himself.
- Unearthly Blizzard, the falter-boy, is a card I wouldn’t religiously ignore. I wouldn’t usually play it, but it can mise wins for sub-powered decks. The phrase itself is a little bizarre: Unearthly Blizzard? What’s that, some sort of Space Blizzard? A massive downpour of Moon-Snow?
- Unnatural Speed is terrible, although I myself have shown tremendous bursts of Unnatural Speed, especially when rushing to the toilet after a Lamb Vindaloo.
- Yamabushi’s Storm is borderline removal. In a removal-light deck, it’s not too bad. And it’s fine when coming from the sideboard against a deck full of x/1s.
I’d love to splash the Red from this pool. The Honden and the Ray are prime candidates for inclusion. And the Initiate of Blood raises in value when the Honden hits downtown Kamigawa.
Red splash? Black splash?
Bed splash? Sack splash?
What would you splash, Sam-I-Am?
Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?
Dr. Seuss in full effect.
Rounding off the colored cards, we have glorious Green. I’ve steered clear of some strong Green cards in previous pools, much to everyone’s astonishment. Will this selection of Green spells produce emerald gems of playability?
- Let’s get this over with. You do not play the Myojin. Sure, he’s an 8/8 indestructible guy… but his ability is diabolical, and he costs all the mana in the world. Trade it to a small child.
- At the much more manageable mana-cost of four, we have both Bart and Lisa. Sosuke, Son of Seshiro is a fine slithery snake, pumping power and giving his followers Basilisk qualities. Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro is another matter entirely. She turns shamans into mana machines, but at 1/3 for four, she’s not exactly beefy. I suppose she leaves the heavy lifting to her brother.
- Four mana also gives us the fine Feral Deceiver. A 3/2 for four is playable enough, but his ability to become a 5/4 trampler makes the Deceiver stronger than Geoff Capes.
- The two-drop slot has three candidates. The Soilshaper is getting the votes of a number of people at the moment, but I’m a little hesitant. I’ve not seen him played, and I’ve never played him myself. Is he worth the effort?
- Aside the Soilshaper stands the Humble Budoka. I like all my two-mana guys to have at least two power, and the Budoka doesn’t disappoint. He can’t be targeted by any means, therefore he’s hard to kill. He’s also hard to protect. I think I’d play with him, even if he does spend his time praying to piles of elephant dung.
- Rounding out the two-drop is the Dripping-Tongue Zubera. Dripping Tongue, long and flicking, snuffling and snouting in moist crevices, licking and lurking and gobbling… what a hideous image. I myself wouldn’t play with him, as I’m afeard of getting drooled on when I pick up the card.
- Three mana gives us the Matsu-Tribe Decoy. He acts as a half-effective Taunting Elf, but he can clear the way for flyers and similar. Also, he combos well with Sosuke. I hate him, of course. I mean, look at him. He’s a snake with a bloody bow and arrow! And cross-gartered boots! Jesus weeps when he sees things like this.
- Climbing the mana hill, we find a pair of Kashi-Tribe Warriors. A 2/4 for five mana had better be good, and while the ability is serviceable, it hardly knocks my socks off. You should be thankful it doesn’t, actually. I’d hate you to be exposed to the gnarled talons I laughingly refer to as “feet.”
- At the summit, we have the mish-mash of weirdness that is Vine Kami. Like Emile Heskey when he played for Liverpool, he simply doesn’t do enough to warrant such an expensive price tag. And he probably falls over a lot.
The Green beef is a little thin, sadly. There are some standouts, but even Sosuke looks sub-par in this low-snake pool. How about the spells?
- Heartbeat of Spring is a constructed card. And not a very good one at that. If I was running the Myojin, I may play the Heartbeat for a laugh. A turn 5 indestructible 8/8 guy would make me cry real tears of mirth.
- Kodama’s Reach: The last time I mentioned this card, I also passed a comment that my friend and team-mate Craig Smith thinks that it’s rubbish. I now issue a full and frank apology, as he’s threatened to pull out all my pubic hair if I don’t. Apparently, Craig Smith thinks the card is okay for Limited, but rubbish for Constructed. There we go, Mr. Smith. I hope that sets the record straight. For the record, I think the spell is fabulous for Limited. Play it if you can.
- Serpent Skin is growing on me. Not literally, you understand: that’d be sick. No, I think the card has its place, even if the threat of two-for-one card disadvantage looms large at every corner. And it’s always nice to see artwork involving balding men. Solidarity in our ranks is appreciated. I’m sure Ted will back me up on this. [I think Craig meant “beat me up” there, but I’ll leave it for now. – Knut, who has more hair than Bleiweiss, The Ferrett, and Craiggers combined]
- Finally, Joyous Respite. Gaining one life for every land you control is laaaaame. Unless you control a thousand land, of course. But if you do, you should be winning, or at least sitting back and waiting for your Fireball to appear.
I’d love the Green in this pool to be playable. It would sort out a lot of problems. However, it misses too many key creatures, especially three drops. The snake children are nice enough… but I want more snakes in my before I slither on my belly down that path, thanks.
I think I’ll avoid the green this time. But this time, I think it’s with good reason.
The Long-forgotten Gohei is a fine card. It acts as a Glorious Anthem for your spirits, and it speeds out your arcane spells. Plus, it’s difficult to remove in this relatively artifact-free environment.
Of course, the art is a bit rubbish, but we can’t have everything.
Nine-Ringed Bo. How flashy! Nine rings… do the poorer monks and Samurai have Three- and Four-Ringed Bo’s? Substandard, situational removal, play it if necessary.
Finally we have the Jade Idol. I’d play it in a deck with many spirit and arcane triggers… otherwise, I’d leave it guarding my house.
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge is basically an island with an ability. Though there are no Legends in this pool, I would include this card as it may kill an opponent’s Horobi, Death’s Wail should the opportunity arise.
Rare land in Sealed Decks… truly teh sux0rs.
Cloudcrest Lake? If the colors need it, then so be it. It sucks if played early, however… the loss of tempo can cripple certain decks. The U/W archetype should have the least worry about early tempo, so this is probably the best of the dual land cycle.
Aaaaaand… that’s your lot.
Pencils down, children. The exam is over.
So how did you do? Did you, like me, think that the pool looked pretty straightforward at first, but then realize that the true build was buried deep in the mud of the banal? Did you try color after color, combination after combination, paring cards with other cards and crossing your fingers?
In this pool, I faced mammoth pot-holes wherever I turned. There seemed to be no way to obtain a cohesive build with power and strength in depth. All I knew was I wanted to play the Blue.
In the end, I went for a very heavy splash. Hell, it’s almost an even three-color split. But I felt it was the only way to play the good stuff and be competitive.
And here it is…
Heaven help me.
Kami of Ancient Law
2 Floating-Dream Zubera
Kami of Twisted Reflection
Teller of Tales
Sire of the Storm
2 Soulless Revival
2 Rend Flesh
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
To start, I have to play the Blue. A pair of 3/3 flyers with fantastic abilities, some nice early game with double Mini-Jens… all that is missing was a mid-game.
Of course, a mid-game is missing from the Black. And the Red. And the mid-games of the Green and White aren’t exactly brilliant. After comparing the relative playables in all colours, I conclude that the U/W build has the strongest cards.
As for the splash… while the Red Shrine and the Glacial Ray are nice, Black has a deep splash potential.
Here’s what I like about the build:
- Blue 3/3 flyers. They fly, they’re 3/3. Ok, so they’re evil blue, but two out of three ain’t bad.
- While I dislike the heaviness of the Black splash, I like the fact that I’m splashing almost exclusively for spells, rather than my usual guy-heavy roster. The Black Zubera is a spirit to combo with the Gohei, and he blocks a Nezumi Cutthroat. Although getting him down on turn 2 is a lot to ask, he has uses in the late-game too.
- Healer, Deceiver, Breath, Restraints, Rends… we have nice removal and decent combat trickery. Add this to the Neil of Cleansing and the Kami of Twisted Reflection, we seem equipped to handle a number of eventualities.
And what I dislike:
- The splash is as heavy as post-binge Oprah.
- I found that whatever color combination I paired, there’d be huge holes in the final build. Not enough guys, no decent spells… A splash was necessary, but finding a small splash with cards enough to make a deck was almost impossible.
- While the Black makes the most obvious splash, I’d really like to splash the Red for the Shrine and the Ray. As I’m playing Blue and White, splashing the Red as well as the Black is too much. So do I play the Green instead, for mana-fixing? That’s all five colors! This pool really stumps me.
Overall, I’d be surprised of success with this pool of cards. The cards are weak in important areas, and while we have some powerful spells they haven’t the support to make the deck a contender. I may squick out a win here and there with Gohei-fuelled spirits, but more than likely I’ll be drafting after round three.
I think we’ve been spoiled with the last few pools. Even when we disagree with each other, the fact that the pools were strong and diverse meant that our choices were little more than a preference call. This pool, however, leaves little room for manoeuvre. Whatever we try, there will be faults and questions to be answered.
I hope the next pool has a dragon in it. I feel much more confident when I can play with 5/5 flyers.
Until the next pile…
Thanks for listening.
Scouseboy on MTGO