You know, I recently realized that for all the complaining I do about the Urza’s Block, I’ve never taken the time to write about the positive aspects of the Block.
Woah, now. Don’t get me wrong. As far as I’m concerned, the bad vastly outweighs the good, as far as Urza’s goes. I still shudder at the words “Yawgmoth’s, memory, time, academy, windfall, Negator, voltaic and untap lands.” For every nice card, strategy or mechanic in the sets, there are multiple degenerate cards, strategies and mechanics. But, that doesn’t mean the Block is a wash – we need to look at what went right for Urza’s Block.
Green. Wow. Was Urza’s Block the sweetest thing to ever happen to green ever? Lots of good creatures – thanks to the echo mechanic, which was tailored for green creatures. Pouncing Jaguar is the perfect example of what’s right about the Block. Rancor was a little strong, so far as green enhancers go, but you won’t hear me complain about that. Deranged Hermit is a focal card for many decks, as well as an excellent “fatty.” Plow Under, Thorn Elemental and Rofellos showed up in Destiny to aid several popular strategies. Even though Urza introduced two huge pitfalls for creature-based decks, Masticore and Powder Keg, green had plenty to overcome these problem cards. Between the quick pressure and threat of Uktabi Orangutan, green could often smash right through removal strategies.
Cycling. An excellent mechanic. Without Fluctuator inciting problems, cycling is one of the best mechanics ever. Not overly powerful, yet very versatile and useful (especially under Classic rules), the better cycling cards are still frequently played. Miscalculation is probably the best example of a well-built cycling card – very maindeckable, situational, yet still broad.
Replenish. *SIGH* If only… they hadn’t… printed Opalescence… Replenish would be one of my favorite cards. There was a really cool deck circulating around Virginia right after the release of Saga, which used a ton of enchantments (Lilting Refrain, Legacy’s Allure, Energy Field, etc.) and Crystal Chimes to assert board control and gain card advantage. It was FUN, it was BALANCED and it was GOOD. I can only imagine how much better it would be now, with Replenish and the Parallax Cards.
“Counter” Enchantments. We hardly knew ye. Several of these cards are very playable. The Terror one (sorry – I can’t remember the name, and I’m sort of cut off from society at the moment). Come on! You played Nekrataal, right? This is a little more situational, but it can be devastating. War Dance. People are using Seal of Strength – this can do the same thing. Everyone knows Lilting Refrain is playable. Tempest’s Legacy’s Allure was very popular, too. This mechanic, like many of the bright spots in the Block, didn’t see play because they were overshadowed by the amazingly overpowered cards.
Monk Realist. We need this guy. He’s amazing. Keep him around, please.
Phyrexian Plaguelord. This was my favorite card in Urza’s Legacy. I saw him and thought “he’s almost like a vampire. But he doesn’t fly. But he’s huge. But he doesn’t do that cool thing. But he does other cool things. Wait. He’s better than a vampire!”
Diabolic Servitude. I’m a little torn on this one. On one hand, it does a nice job being degenerate. On the other hand, it does it as non-degenerately as possible. I loved Recurring Nightmare – this is kind of a fixed version.
Wildfire/Crater Hellion. Yeah! Red needed some huge spicing! In other words, it hadn’t seen any good “blow a hole in the world” cards for awhile. These two are nice.
Powder Keg. One of the best finesse cards ever made. It’s good, but not too good. I was thinking it a little too versatile for my tastes, but Elliot Fertik changed my mind on it. Without Nevinyrral’s Wunderschiebe (wonderful disk, for the Deustch [German] impaired), control needs something to control the early game. It ain’t Disk, but it ain’t bad.
Sigil of Sleep. Here’s something I really like, that there isn’t a whole lot of currently: cheap, strong effects that are a huge liability to the opponent, but fairly risky to play (like Empyral Armor). Sigil is very good against Rebels, and a generally interesting card, in the same vein as Curiosity. It requires your opponent to play a more conservative game, if he or she hopes to maintain control of it.
Thran Quarry – yay. It’s a five color land, but it sucks if you aren’t playing creatures. Also, I like it because it’s the only five color land available in the Block. When too many get into circulation, you start running into problems with combo decks and overly powerful utility decks.
Arc Lightning. I’ve always loved Pyrotechnics, but it’s just a little too costly for what you get. Arc Lightning is an improved version of a great card. That’s, um, great.
Corrupt. It’s a Drain Life. Wait! It’s better. BUT, it’s not a combo kill card, anymore. Combo decks don’t like waiting around to get a bunch of basic land in play. Good card. Playable and powerful.
Free spells. These were SUCH a good idea… they just went bad in practice, with all the degenerate-ness. Still, there has to be a way to modify them to be balanced. I love the way they work – “yeah, I’m free, but you have to be able to pay for me, if you want me to be free.”
Avalanche Riders. One of the coolest cards ever made. Stone Rain + Shock. And, if you’re willing to pony up the echo, you get a 2/2 creature, too. That’s a lot of options.
Smokestack. I’ve always had a soft spot for this polluting machine. I don’t know… maybe it just makes me feel like Monty Burns.
There are probably plenty I’ve forgotten. I’ll try to address that on Friday.
Who does no good for no one.
“One cannot fly into flying.
-Should have been the flavor text on Jump.