Hello folks and welcome back. I’m considering beginning all of my columns for the foreseeable future with a small mini-column on me in London. Obviously, I’m not there yet, and I’m not leaving for a few weeks, but it weighs heavily on my mind.
Every writer is influenced by the events in their life, whether Magic-related or not. A writer who just got a new job is going to have that reflected in the column, whereas one going through a rough divorce will similarly see that mood reflected. Even if the writer never mentions anything, tone and mood will carry over from real life to writing.
With me, an eager anticipation, a longing last look around at the States, and of course the natural trepidation with anything new and life changing are all mixed together to in a big bowl to create a soufflÃ© of angst. You are going to get that in my article.
With that stated and on the table, I guess I feel like a short blurb about the continuing saga of an Abe from West Virginia in the largest city in Europe has some redeeming value. Often, this blurb will be about Magic — what I’m playing, how I’m finding a causal play group, and more. Often times it will be about other things. My guess is that it will look like this:
Abe in London, Part I
This week I began looking for a flat. After a search that took about four hours and left me feeling like I had just begun, I realized that this is a momentous task. The university has their website for people advertising, and then I moved on to other websites like flatshare.com and moveflat.com.
I want to be close enough to the university that it isn’t an hour commute. On the other hand, I don’t want to be that close to the university. I am not going to London so I can live in the general Cockfosters area near the border between Enfield and Barnet. That’s not my idea of really exploring the city.
I emailed some people two days ago about a flat in Finsbury Park, which appears to be halfway down the Piccadilly Line between my university and central London. See, when I am looking at flat shares, I am looking at a few different websites:
There are various street map websites for London, and I look up the address on these maps. I want to make sure the location isn’t somewhere else entirely. For example, London alone has four Bramley Roads. Just thinking that I know where something is lacks the full knowledge that can be provided by a simple program.
I also have open a tube station map of the London Underground, so I can make sure that any flat is not too far off the beaten path for my tastes. I came across a great flat in northern Lewisham which was almost perfect, but I felt that 27 tube stops between some station near the bottom of the Docklands Light Railway (which is on the tube network, and sort of like a tube, but in my experience it runs much less smoothly, and with fewer trains) and my campus at Trent Park were simply too many.
Finding a flat is one of the most intimidating tasks I think I’ve ever undertaken. More stressing is the fact that I must have one when I arrive on Sept 20, which is not that far away. I also have this bias. This may be based on movies like L’Auberge Espagnole and shows like This Life. However, I really want a flat with a large number of people at the place. I’d be happy with four, five, six, or more people all here with me too. That’d be great!
I continue to spend time looking for flats, but it is quite frustrating when you see all of the flats out there, and then realize that many people will not even consider you because you are an international student and not even in the country. Then consider that there must be a lot of competition for flats for there to be this many websites and postings. It’s crazy! I may just get a flat for a short period of time, like two months or so, then try to look again if I don’t like it. That may be the smart move.
At this point, I’d introduce the topic of the day, and begin the meat of the article. You’ll note that today’s “Abe in London” was just three-quarters of a page long. After that, we still have a full-sized article at the end. For those who are not interested in the Londoning of Abe, you can skip right part the preamble and head to the article. For those who do have such interests, then the preamble is for you. In fact, you could read that part of my article, and then leave. This might be really handy if you don’t like Magic at all, but then you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now, would you?
Anyway, I am considering this in my future articles. Let me know if you have a strong opinion one way or the other in our fair forums.
Before I begin the article du jour, I want to personally congratulate Evan Erwin for his nomination to attend the Magic Invitational. I voted for him, and I hope beyond hope that he gets it. I would love to see someone awarded who recently climbed his way out of the submissions grinder that most Magic writers across the web find themselves in, and made it to Featured Writer. It’s a celebration of all of the hard work that goes into becoming a Featured Writer for those of us who did not have name recognition and the offers of writing gigs that often follow fame.
There’s one more thing. I read Mark Rosewater’s article on Monday. He was talking about what went right and wrong in this past year, and I felt that he was a bit down on a few things. Allow me to write a short paragraph or five to share my own views of this year, especially where they diverge from Mark’s.
My Five Favorite Magic Sets:
My Five Least Favorite Sets, from worst to fifth worst:
You’ll note a few things. I loved Champions, and really detested the follow-ups, which felt like they didn’t push mechanics enough, or they tried to hone in on traditional western views of Japanese culture (like ninjas), which felt fake. Saviors is my all time least-favorite set. Yuck.
Now, I agree with Mark on the crappiness that is Coldsnap. Print a few of its creatures in normal sets without the snow stuff, like Stalking Yeti, and I’ll be happy. Snow was so insular, and the set is so blah.
I don’t care whether or not people “get” the concept of Planar Chaos. You want to know what I care about? I care about getting cards for colors that have never existed, and likely never will again. I will be using Pyrohemia in decks for years. There will never be a better card with the same ability in Red. I will be using Harmonize for the rest of Magic’s existence as a game. Other cards, like Pongify, have a similar impact on my deckbuilding.
The simple fact is that the set’s impact is longer than one or two months. After the initial impression dies down, do you have a good set or not? Planar Chaos is a great set. You simply cannot deny that these cards are among the most useful additions to Magic in ages. I am so happy that Wizards made this set and these cards, and I want more. Give me a handful more of these out-of-color-pie-but-oh-so-flavorful cards in every set!
I felt Future Sight was almost as amazing. I am collecting cards that make up my essential Magic collection, so that I can pare my collection down to transportable size in order to hop the pond. Want to know what set has the most uncommons in my uncommon boxes? Future Sight. Planar Chaos is second most prolific. These are smaller sets than Invasion or Mirrodin, yet they have more cards getting the nod to be placed in the essential boxes.
I know Future Sight was more complex than most sets, and I know that there should be some sets less so in the foreseeable future. However, when Mark says that there may never be another set as complex, I feel sad. This was a blast, and I think Time Spiral block was the SINGLE BEST BLOCK IN MAGIC HISTORY. No qualifications. I think this was a home run of home runs, better than Ravnica Block, better than Invasion Block, Urza’s Block, or even the Rath Cycle block. This is better than anything I have ever seen. To hear that Wizards may not just be leaving the theme behind, which I understand, but the concepts and precepts that built some of these fantastic sets, disappoints me tremendously. I loved these sets, and no one from R&D should be disappointed with these cards.
With that, let’s head into ye olde article.
I was recently thinking that I wanted to do something special for my 200th article. After come consideration, I have decided to pull out 200 cards that I think are really keen and that you should be playing with and write them all up. These will all be underused cards. Because a 200-card article would absolutely smash the normal allotted article size, I felt that it would be best if I pulled out 50 for each article, 197, 198, and 199 before going into the final 50 in article number 200.
This is article 194, so I have this and two more articles before I move into that four-article fest of underused cards.
I have begun to pull out cards that I like for the article. In fact, I’ve already written up about ten of those cards in an article. I have a stack of “definitely” cards, and a stack of “maybe” cards.
As I search through my cards for the goods, I have come across some real stinkers. These are some of the worst cards of all time. What I thought I would do today is to share some of these classic bombs, and then build some decks around them. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the first stinker.
This four mana enchant creature does nothing more than allow said creature to ignore the rule about blocking just one guy. For four mana, you could Wrath of God. You could Serra’s Embrace that creature, attack, and have it available for blocking, with enough power and toughness boost that it should deter most attackers. Instead, we get a candidate for the weakest enchant creature of all time with the mighty Entangler. At least Seeker can get a few hits in. This card can only be used on defense, only if there are multiple attackers, and only if it could normally block them. It also gives a fair warning to your opponent that it can chump block. It might as well read:
If it had Flash, then someone somewhere might play it. If it only did something of value, maybe a sealed deck player would find a use for it. In a world of crappy creature enchantments from Vigilance to Lance, this one may take the cake for the most uber-crappy.
Yet I have to build a deck around this card. Calling this a Magic card is a disservice to the word “magic.” There’s no magic here.
Let’s see what I can do:
This deck wants to play a blocker like Living Wall, Cho-Manno, Eesha, Dawn Elemental or Voice of All against a mono-colored deck. With so many choices there should be one that works against your opponent. Then you drop Entangler on it, and block every attacker with your one defender.
Once you have set up your defense, the deck has a lot of evasion to get the win. Amrou Seekers have White fear, and thus can likely get some serious hits in against any non-White player. If they are playing White, you can Plainswalk them with Righteous Avengers. One of these creature should be able to get through against any deck. Voice of All is a flyer that can have the right protection, Eesha can always get through, and the Dawn Elemental flies.
In case your Entangler defense breaks down, you have a quartet of Swords to Plowshares to fall back on. You also have Aura of Silence to take out various methods of keeping your creatures from attacking, like Powerstone Minefield or Barbed Foliage.
There is your Entangler deck. I hope you enjoy. I do not believe that I have ever used Castle outside of a theme deck, and I’ve never used Entangler, Living Wall or Righteous Avengers at all. I doubt I use Jayemdae Tome much in my articles, preferring the Emmessi Tome these days. Of the remaining cards, Eesha, Cho-Manno, Kor Haven, Swords, the Auras, and Dawn Elementals are normal choices for my decks, while Amrou Seekers should be.
Let’s talk about how bad this card really is. At first glance, you spy that this is a 3/3 for three mana. That’s certainly not a problem. We like cheap creatures. It even has an advantage “cannot be blocked except by Blue creatures.” What’s the problem?
Islandhome was a great ability, and I wish they’d bring it back. There is a conceptual issue with my Man-o’-War attacking people who may not control Islands. From a flavor standpoint, only Islands are the basic land where creatures might not be able to hop landtypes. We can see creatures from mountains coming into the forests, and from plains into swamps. However, how do creatures like Manta Rays and Dandan get out of the water and attack someone? For that matter, how do creatures from the mountains, islands, plains and swamps get over to the islands?
Magic doesn’t do an amazing job at capturing this flavor. Sometimes you wonder how creatures have certain abilities. Goblin Flotilla, for example, is a Red goblin with Islandwalk. How: by floating boats? How come Mountain creatures in boats, out of their element on the High Seas, cannot be blocked by creatures who make their home in the water? Don’t you think that Pirate Ships and Tidal Krakens can find those Goblin Flotillas with little effort?
While most of these issues exist in Magic, Islandhome at least made sense. You never questioned the flavor of Islandhome. Take Giant Shark, for example. Giant Shark cannot attack unless the opponent has Islands — that makes sense. Saltwater creatures could not swim up the freshwater streams and attack those in forests or mountains or swamps or plains. The best part of Islandhome is the other disadvantage. If you control no Islands, sacrifice the Giant Shark, because it cannot live without Islands. Again, this makes total sense from a flavor perspective, and it led to some clever use of cards like Magical Hack in the old days.
The point was to cost Islandhome creatures really cheaply, like Dandan, or to give them powerful abilities or large power/toughness. Sea Serpent is big and common, but with the Islandhome disadvantage. Vodalian Knights is just a 2/2, but with two useful abilities. These are great examples of using Islandhome cleverly. (See also: Kukemssa Serpent)
Unfortunately, Manta Ray is not so clever or interesting. Compare Manta Ray to the much maligned Giant Octopus. The Giant Octopus is simply a Blue Hill Giant, yet it got a lot of attention as players and writers attacked Wizards for printing boring cards like it in the main set.
Giant Octopus costs one more mana for the same 3/3 body and no abilities. People did not think that was worth it, and that it cost too much mana. However, compared to Manta Ray, is was positively broken.
Islandhome is a significant disadvantage. You cannot even play the creature with Islands, for fear of its death. If you have a Birds of Paradise, a Forest, and a Gemstone Mine out, you can’t drop the Manta Ray. Then, once you get it out, you are in danger of its death due to Magical Hacks and clever Stone Rains. After that, you can’t even swing unless your opponent has out an Island, which should happen less than half the time. From a purely offensive standpoint, this creature has a worse disadvantage than Mijae Djinn.
With that disadvantage in mind, let’s look at its good ability. This says that it can only be blocked by Blue creatures. Normally, this would be a great ability, as roughly 20% of all creatures are Blue. However, since you can only attack those with Islands, the chance of them having a Blue creature is pretty good. Those that don’t have many Blue creatures in their probably don’t have many creatures at all, and thus this ability is meaningless.
In other words, the only creatures that can block the Manta Ray are controlled by the only color that is made from Islands. If you can only attack roughly 40% of the time, and almost all of those decks have Blue creatures than can block, it’s a pretty worthless ability.
Now, if they had altered it slightly, to read “Manta Ray cannot be blocked by Blue creatures,” then it would have been clever. Instead, it’s chaff of the worst kind, because its two abilities simply do not make much sense together.
With that said, let’s take a look at a Manta Ray deck.
Here we have our deck of sea creatures. The deck sports a lot of cheap monsters that cannot attack unless the opponent has an Island in play. In the likely chance that no Islands are to be seen, simply tap a Tidal Warrior or a Reef Shaman to make it so. Then swing with your cheap army.
Dandan, Hammerhead Sharks, Vodalian Knights, and Manta Rays are all pretty good at getting hits in early. Later in the game, the Pirate Ships can help the team either by killing bad guys or by sailing over for four damage a pop. Even later than that, the Marjhan will arrive. It can take out non-flyers with ease, and assist the Pirate Ship in mad tingings. It can also get in a large hit, but you may have to sacrifice a creature occasionally to untap it. Since the deck is all creatures, I hope you can find one…
The deck has a few tricks. Seasinger can tap to take an opposing creature of your choice. You can also use your Seasingers, Reef Shaman, Tidal Warriors, and Vodalian Knights to pump up a large Vodalian War Machine. Just be careful using it against colors that can kill the Machine at instant speed — like Black.
There really aren’t many ways to use a Manta Ray, except in a deck like this. This is where is shines, although that luster is not gold, but merely pyrite.
Continuing the theme of lousy Blue creatures is Sea Troll. Let me ask a hypothetical. If Wizards printed the following card, would you approve?
Creature — Snake
It’s just a humble, vanilla, Blue Gray Ogre. Is this playable? Obviously, you wouldn’t run it in a Constructed tournament, but what about Limited? Is this a viable creature?
Now, Sea Troll is a 2/1 for 2U, so as far as numbers go, without reference to its ability, it is strictly worse than a Gray Ogre. Maybe its ability will put it over the top, but merely as a creature, it’s lousy. It’s not even a Blue Gray Ogre.
Let’s look at the Troll’s ability. It regenerates, which is rare in mono-Blue and even rarer with Blue mana instead of Black. Its regeneration only costs a single Blue mana, and that’s pretty handy when you look at something like Ghost Ship. That means it must be really good, right?
In fact, is Sea Troll were a 2/1 U2 troll with U: Regenerate, it would be okay, but nothing major. You would play it in Limited and not be embarrassed. Even in Homelands-Homelands-Homelands draft there were answers in common slots like Torture, Funeral March, and Serrated Arrows.
However, Sea Troll’s text does not stop at merely regeneration. You see, it can’t always regenerate, despite being a troll. Damage from Red sources cannot be regenerated, which is fair. In many fantasy stories, trolls cannot regenerate from things like fire or acid. However, if Sea Troll read “U: Regenerate. This creature cannot be regenerated is destroyed by a Red source,” it would still be okay.
However, this troll is so bad that it can only regenerate from Blue sources. In fact, it can regenerate from any Blue source, just Blue creatures. In all of Magic, is any regeneration ability weaker than “U: Regenerate. Use this ability only if Sea Troll is blocking or blocked by a Blue creature?” Wow.
I guess I’ll just have to make do.
I could combine Sea Troll with Entangler to make one of the lousiest, most worthless creatures have one of the worst creature enchantments on it. Then opponents would be blinding by the sheer worthlessness of my permanents and I’d win with ease.
This deck uses a lot of… low value cards. Sleight of Mind, Llawan, Riptide, Sea Kings’ Blessing, Fylamarid, Metathran Transport — these are not cards with anything that you could call value. Sea King’s Blessing is a Legends uncommon from long ago and it is still cheaper than most modern day uncommons.
The deck is simple. It wants to turn opposing creatures Blue through Fylamarid, Metathran Transport and Sea Kings’ Blessing. Once it does so, Sea Troll, the two aforementioned flyers, Llawan, Riptide, Tidal Influence and Possessed Aven (after threshold) are available to hose their creatures.
The deck has a smattering of card drawing and countermagic to keep you in the game. It even has a pair of Sleight of Mind for some clever color-switching as needed (like on Llawan).
It’s an easy enough deck to use, and it is also the very first time I have even considered using Riptide in a deck, let alone actually doing so. There’s that, at least.
That brings us to the conclusion of another article. Today I used some of the classic, all time bad cards to build some decks. I also congratulated Evan on a job well done, told Mark that I thought Time Spiral block was tops, and spent about three quarters of a page talking about flat hunting online from the States. That’s a busy article, and I hope you enjoyed it. See you in the forums!