See? They Were Wrong: Odyssey Does NOT Suck

Hey, wasn’t Odyssey the bane of Constructed? The new Homelands? Suck-o-riffic? Then what happened? All that, and gratuitous quotes from a Coen brothers movie starring Nick Cage (hint hint).

“That there’s for his orthodonture and his college. You soak his thumb in iodine, you might get by without the orthodonture, but it won’t knock any off the college.”

Doesn’t it seem to happen every year? It’s Big Block Rotation time, when three sets we’ve come to love and hate get tossed out the Type 2 window to be replaced by some new set that dares to fill those big, warm, fuzzy clown shoes. Invariably folks weep and wail and gnash their teeth about how horrible the new set is. That there’s just nothing worth playing in it. It’s filled with overcosted chaff. The counterspells suck! There’s no decent card drawing!

This time around, the derision seemed even fiercer, and even percolated to the highest ranks. Pros proclaimed from their bully pulpits that the set was the Second Coming of Homelands. Writers well connected with the professional community ascertained that the general consensus was that Odyssey was very weak for Constructed play.

“An’ when they was no meat we ate fowl. An’ when they was no fowl we ate crawdad. An’ when they was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand.”

“You ate what?”

“We ate sand.”

“You ate sand?!”

“Thass right . . .”

I felt bad for Mark Rosewater; Odyssey was his baby. For those who don’t know, he was the big cheese on the developing end of things. I got an email from him the other day; this is what he said:

“By the way, just to clear a misconception up. I was the lead designer for Odyssey. Randy Buehler was the lead developer. I was the one who led the team that created flashback and threshold and designed the majority of the cards in the set. Randy led the team that balanced the cards for Limited and Constructed play (making sure the cards weren’t too strong, tweaking cards to enhance their interactions, insuring a good consistent game in limited, etc.) Most people outside the company don’t really have a good handle on the difference between design and development, so it’s an honest mistake.” – Mark Rosewater

The mistake he mentions no doubt was my”memo” a while back between [author name="Randy Buehler"]Randy Buehler[/author] and Richard Garfield, operating under the (false) assumption that Randy and Richard were the driving force behind Odyssey. I’m not sure where I got that impression from, so let’s just blame Rizzo for it. Why not? What can he do about it up in Maine? Anyway, I’ve apologized to Maro so hopefully he doesn’t hate me anymore… At least until I put my foot in my mouth again.

So, Odyssey was Mark’s baby, and people were slamming it left and right. It must have felt the way some Moms must have felt when they watched their baby’s grow up to be boxers who stepped into the ring with Mike Tyson.

“Sir, we have an indication you were born Nathan Huffhines; is this correct?”

“Yeah, I changed m’name, what of it?”

|”Could you give us an indication why?”

“Yeah, would you buy furniture at a store called Unpainted Huffhines?”

I wrote a two-part series on Odyssey looking at the playable spells for each color that cost four mana or less, with four mana being the general benchmark for tournament-caliber spells. I found a lot of them, way too many to justify the”general consensus.” Mark was doing his own research, too. At Pro Tour New Orleans he wrote down all the cards from Odyssey that showed up in decks at the Feature Match table.

This was Extended, with a power level light years above the current morass of slowness that is Standard. If Odyssey sucks so badly, it couldn’t possibly make a ripple in the Extended card pool, right?

Holistic Wisdom. Entomb. Careful Study. Zombie Infestation. Engulfing Flames. Shadowmage Infiltrator. Skeletal Scrying. Coffin Purge. Wild Mongrel. Werebear. Barbarian Ring. Druid Lyrist. Divert. Standstill. Pilgrim of Justice. Nimble Mongoose. Iridescent Angel. Call of the Herd. Mystic Enforcer. Firebolt.

These twenty cards sorta blow that conventional wisdom right out the water. While some of these cards are fluky especially for a pro-level event (Pilgrim of Justice?!?), there’s some real power here. These cards made big splashes at New Orleans, and this was after only a month or so of playtesting Odyssey in the huge Extended card pool. I expect other cards may very well make the transition in time for the PTQs.

“There ain’t no pancake so thin it ain’t got two sides.”

Then we start getting the results from States. Top 8 decklists are chock full of Odyssey goodness. Looking over the deck lists posted on Star City, I counted seventy-five different Odyssey cards in decks that cracked the Top 8. Seventy-five! More than one in five Odyssey cards were good enough to find a home in a top 8 deck. That’s a damn good showing.

Green (18): Spellbane Centaur, Beast Attack, Call of the Herd, Roar of the Wurm, Bearscape, Squirrel Nest, Wild Mongrel, Druid Lyrist, Nimble Mongoose, Krosan Beast, Chlorophant, Ground Seal, Elephant Ambush, Sylvan Might, Moment’s Peace, Simplify, Chatter of the Squirrel, Overrun.

Blue (15): Upheaval, Standstill, Syncopate, Divert, Persuasion, Aether Burst, Thought Devourer, Amugaba, Think Tank, Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor, Cephalid Retainer, Predict, Peek, Extract, Careful Study.

White (12): Karmic Justice, Devoted Caretaker, Beloved Chaplain, Lt. Kirtar, Sphere of Duty, Sphere of Law, Mystic Crusader, Mystic Penitent, Mystic Visionary, Divine Sacrament, Pianni, Nomad Captain, Aegis of Honor.

Black (10): Innocent Blood, Braids, Cabal Minion, Tainted Pact, Execute, Zombie Infestation, Haunting Echoes, Rotting Giant, Coffin Purge, Mindslicer, Skeletal Scrying.

Red (9): Savage Firecat, Spark Mage, Firebolt, Shower of Coals, Price of Glory, Engulfing Flames, Kamahl, Pit Fighter, Ember Beast, Reckless Charge.

Land (6): Barbarian Ring, Cepahalid Coliseum, Mossfire Valley, Skycloud Expanse, Shadowblood Ridge, Darkwater Catacombs.

Gold/Artifact (5): Shadowmage Infiltrator, Mystic Enforcer, Catalyst Stone, Psychatog, Mirari.

“Don’t forget his latents, Ed!”

Just like in Extended, there are some fluky cards here. For instance, Chlorophant and Amugaba probably didn’t deserve to be in a constructed deck and were probably just riding on the back of an otherwise decent deck. But even discounting a few flukes, there are still an impressive number of good cards here.

“Well, now, honey we been over this and over this. There’s what’s right and there’s what’s right, and never the twain shall meet.”

The proof is right in front of your faces, folks. And it just goes to show you that the pros are not all-knowing. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that it’s not in the interest of most professional Magic players to explore the possibilities of new sets. Many pros play the tried-and-true, and are most interested in consistency when building their decks. Why would they invest their precious playtesting time towards discovering hidden gems that may not pan out? And they sure wouldn’t want to encourage the rest of us break open a great new card and tilting over their metagame applecart.

“Got a name for people like you, Hi. That name is called recidivism. Ree-peat 0-fender.”

My advice to you, for what it’s worth, is to ignore conventional wisdom – flip off the general consensus, because they’re talking out their rear ends more times than not. When a new set comes out, take a good long look at it, and give new cards a try. Results may surprise you – and believe me when I say that when you put hidden gems in your deck they will win you games, because your opponent is following the general consensus and hasn’t paid attention to what it can do.

“Don’t forget the boo-kay, Ed!”

For those of you who may be confused by the random quotes, they’re from one of my all-time favorite movies. Special kudos for those of you who recognize them. A Hint: It ain’t Fargo. Have a great Thanksgiving Holidays!