The Long & Winding Road – My Favorite Things: 2009

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Monday, December 14th – As 2009 nears its end, I found myself reviewing the year in terms of Magic releases. This has been an outstanding year for new Magic cards and Magic design, especially for those that play Eternal Magic. Both Shards block and Zendikar have had surprising effect on Legacy and Vintage.

I have something of a split article this week. If you’re looking for Vintage content exclusively, skip to the end – I analyze the 5C Stax decks from the Philly Open IV in response to some forum posts, and have a brief report from the December Blue Bell. Otherwise, let’s continue.

As 2009 nears its end, I found myself reviewing the year in terms of Magic releases. This has been an outstanding year for new Magic cards and Magic design, especially for those that play Eternal Magic. Both Shards block and Zendikar have had surprising effect on Legacy and Vintage.

Favorite New Magic card — 2009

2009 saw the release of four Magic sets: Conflux, Alara Reborn, Zendikar, and M10. Of these, Zendikar is easily my favorite, but to identify my favorite new card, it’s helpful to break out my favorites from each set. Please note that I make no claim that these are objectively the “best” cards in these sets, just that for whatever reason, they’re cards that I really enjoyed in 2009. If you haven’t already realized, reviewing this list might reveal what a great year this was for Magic card design.


BanefireBanefire is probably the best X spell ever printed for Constructed play, and although I love the design and hope that it finds a home in competitive Constructed decks, I played it sparingly in 2009.

Esperzoa – I really like this card. It’s actually kind of funny to think that a 4/3 flyer with a very marginal drawback given the artifacts available sees basically no play at all.

Hellspark Elemental – This guy is right up my alley, and is a card I expect to play for years.

Inkwell Leviathan – Probably the Conflux card that had the most impact on my year, I played Inkwell for a time (with Tinker in Vintage Oath) and played against it quite a bit in Tezzeret decks. Arguably dethroned by Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Inkwell was nevertheless a format-warping card for Vintage, and was single-handedly responsible for reducing Echoing Truth from a Vintage staple to a has-been.

Knight of the Reliquary – Knight was over-hyped for a time, then under-valued, and finally seems to be in the right place; Knight sees play everywhere from Standard to Extended to Legacy. Great card, but honestly I don’t think I’ve ever even had one in play, personally.

Noble Hierarch – Also love this card, as it’s a Birds of Paradise that is actually Vintage playable.

Path to Exile – Shards Block basically made Zoo a playable Legacy deck (between Wild Nacatl, Path to Exile, and Qasali Pridemage), and Path is also very good in Vintage. One of the few spells that is actually keeping up with the creatures in terms of power creep.

Progenitus – I won a Mox Jet playing Progenitus in April, and I got to watch a good friend come in 17th with Progenitus at GP: Chicago. Although I no longer play Progenitus in Oath, I still have a fondness for this ridiculous creature.

Volcanic Fallout – I wish this card had been in Lorwyn block. Regardless, I got to play with and against Volcanic Fallout quite a bit, and it’s a tremendously well-designed card.

Alara Reborn

Anathemancer — It’s hard to believe the ripple effects Anathemancer had on Standard so recently, because I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone mention this card. I really underestimated this one though, it was excellent and had a definitely effect on Standard.

Bituminous Blast – That Cascade sure can be a blowout. I had a few good ones this year, but I haven’t played with it enough for it to be anywhere near my favorite card.

Bloodbraid Elf – See above.

Esper Storm blade – I loved this card in draft and in Esper Aggro for block constructed.

Finest Hour – Again, one of the coolest cards in a deck that was good for a couple days this year.

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund – I fell in love with this card when I lost a match at the Boston $5K to it. I’ve since won two pieces of power in Vintage with Karrthus in my sideboard. No, seriously.

Maelstrom Pulse – I haven’t played much Standard since May / June of this year, but when I did, I rocked B/G Elves with Maelstrom Pulse, and had a great time doing it. I also ran this in a Legacy deck; it’s a card that I expect to play again and again in various formats.

Putrid Leech – The Leech is definitely up there on my list for 2009. I did get it right with this card, putting it in B/G Elves early on, while other people were still advocating Bramblewood Paragon and Wolf-Skull Shaman. While the Leech lost a little luster with the removal of damage on the stack, it’s still one of the better two-drops in Magic.

Qasali Pridemage – I think it was obviously immediately that Pridemage was an excellent card. What might not have been obvious was the warping effect it would have on Legacy, and the fact that it would see play in Vintage. What an awesome, well-designed, and balanced card.

Sphinx of the Steel Wind – To my knowledge, Mike Solymossy was the first one to buy stock in Sphinx as a Tinker target. Sphinx and Inkwell are the two main Tinker targets today, and it looks like the pendulum is swinging gradually in favor of Sphinx; the use of Dark Confidant as a draw engine in current Tezzeret is a big factor in this decision.

Thopter Foundry – Did ANYONE see this card being a force in Shards Constructed, or Extended? Possibly the best sleeper card of 2009.


Baneslayer Angel – I like these because one time I got one in a prize pack, and they’re worth like, a lot. As in, you can practically buy an Italian Mana Drain for the same price. I’m actually not a huge fan of the card itself, as it seems to warp Standard (which, based on my very cursory read, seems to hinge upon this card and Bloodbraid Elf).

Dragonskull Summit / Full cycle of M10 Duals – These are very playable and well-designed duals, so much so that it’s hard to believe this design took so long to exist.

Elvish Archdruid – One of the other Standard decks I played with this year was Elf Combo, and Archdruid is obviously amazing in that deck. I hope it continues to see play in the future.

Great Sable Stag – The green mage in me, the 17-year old that won 3 tournaments in a row with Senor Stompy in 1997, absolutely loves this card. Part of me doesn’t like it, because it’s really pushing the edge of non-interactivity.

Harm’s Way – More tricky spells like this, please. Do you hear, WotC? MORE, not less. No, I’m not being rude, because I said please.

[Lightning Bolt] – This is ineligible because it obviously isn’t a new card, but I still had to mention how happy I am that this is back in Standard. Leaving the game for a time and coming back to that “Shock” nonsense was really quite disconcerting.

Sign in Blood – Again, more card draw spells like this, please. It shouldn’t just be 5C Chapin decks that are allowed to draw extra cards. Giving aggro and mid-range strategies relevant card draw (think Thoughtcast or Harmonize) creates nice tension in deck design, opens up more lines of play in-game, and keeps more strategies relevant.


Arid Mesa / Full cycle of enemy fetches – These have to be high on the list. Not only are they relevant in Standard (and for more than creating endless debates about the percentage change in draws by deck-thinning and whether that’s worth the life investment), these open up some deck design space in Eternal formats as well – at the price of keeping easy mana-fixing available in Extended.

Bloodghast – A card relevant to Dredge decks in all formats, with awesome art, that also manages to dramatically increase the price of Undiscovered Paradise, of which I have a ton from the years I spent playing casually? Yes please.

Burst Lightning – Speaking of Shock, here’s a weaker Lightning Bolt that isn’t strictly worse. See what they did there? It’s much easier to swallow.

Crypt of Agadeem – You always know these types of mana generation effects are going to result in weird, crazy combo decks. The current Unearth combo deck in Standard is a perfect example of this, and I love me some just-barely viable combo as much as anyone.

Day of Judgment – Wrath’s gone! Wrath’s back! The format sees little change either way! This just means another Wrath for EDH, plus you can make 12wrath.dec to ruin the day of your friend that plays casually. So, I guess that’s good.

Goblin Guide – Back in my day, we played with Jackal Pup, and we liked it. Ever block a Spiritmonger with Jackal Pup? You kids today are so spoiled.

Hedron Crab – Crab people, crab people, taste like crap, look like people… anyway, I really didn’t look at this card and see “Extended Dredge V4.0” on it, yet here we are. Nicely done.

Iona, Shield of Emeria – Iona is also on my short-list. For one thing, she helped me reach the finals of a Lotus tournament. She’s also very good in Dredge decks in all formats, so she’s a key player in two of my favorite Eternal decks. Iona has seriously bumped up the power level of Oath in Vintage and should keep Oath in the top-tier level of decks for quite some time.

Mindbreak Trap – While obviously overvalued early for a card that’s a clear role-player (why does this always happen, by the way?), Mindbreak Trap is still a great card that adds a nice level of surprise to Legacy and Vintage in particular. I thought it would have more relevance against Cascade in Standard, but Cascade Control decks a la Shards Constructed didn’t transition into Standard the way I anticipated.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood – Back in my day, we played Heart of Yavimaya, and we liked it. Well, I did, anyway. This card is sort of like that, but… good.

Plated Geopede – I love this type of card – it’s a good, solid, aggressive creature for draft and standard.

Punishing Fire – Very nice design on this card.

Ravenous Trap – This is a mean, mean card that I don’t like. Okay, well, I don’t like it when I play Ichorid. It’s really pushed players in Vintage to diversify their sideboard hate, now that there are enough “good” hate cards to do so. Despite this, Ichorid still seems to be on fire lately in Vintage. Have you tested the version from the Philly Open IV yet? I know, right? It really is that good…

Sadistic Sacrament – Finally seeing some play in Vintage, I still think this will be a nice, niche-type card in that format. Also great nickname, “Sad Sac.”

Spell Pierce – Another card on my short list. PLEASE WotC, give control players some decent counter spells in Standard. No, NOT Cancel. What is it with you and Cancel? I know some people complain about control decks, but the format just isn’t right without a few dedicated control strategies. Look at Rav / Time Spiral Standard – there were plenty of varied control options in that standard format, and they functioned fine in a balanced format that had combo (Project X, Dragonstorm, Dredge) and good aggro decks as well (Gruul, Radkos). Wow, got off track pretty quickly here – Spell Pierce is on my short list because it is extremely good in Fish and Oath decks in Vintage, and anything that helps diversify that format is a good thing.

Sphinx of Lost TruthsCephalid Sage replacement in Extended, and another solid draw option in Eternal Dredge decks, with a nice body attached… works for me.

Trusty Machete – Ok, so this card hasn’t done much yet. I think it might eventually and I like the silly name.

Vampire Lacerator – This is one heck of a one-drop, independent of any Tribal Vampire stuff.

And the winner is…

As you can see, that’s one heck of a list. I’m partial to Spell Snare, Iona, and Progenitus because they all helped me win tournaments this year. I also really like Bloodghast and the new cycle of Zen fetches, because of the design space they open in multiple formats. Harm’s Way is a great card that is exactly the type of card of which I want to see more. Putrid Leech, Maelstrom Pulse, Bloodbraid Elf, and Noble Hierarch are all cards I really enjoyed battling with this year. Ultimately, though, one card stands above the rest: Qasali Pridemage.

No, really. I absolutely love Qasali Pridemage.

Look at what this card did to Legacy. Wild Nacatl obviously played a huge role in the viability of Zoo in Legacy, but Pridemage fills an important role: it can destroy Counterbalance. Of course, it can also destroy Mishra’s Factory, Phyrexian Dreadnought, Moat, Crucible of Worlds, Ghostly Prison, and so on, and does so while slotted onto an aggressive creature. It also lets Zoo stay on the offensive against opposing Goyfs, thanks to Exalted.

I expected Pridemage to be good in Shards Block constructed, and it was, but I didn’t realize how good it would be in Vintage. When testing with Meandeck Beats, one of the things that stood out immediately was that I won every game where Pridemage resolved. A resolved Pridemage against Oath shuts off both their avenues of attack (Time Vault and Oath itself), and against Tezzeret, they need to switch gears immediately to find Fire/Ice or Repeal in order to clear the way for Time Vault. Pridemage can also buy you the one fundamental turn you need to ignore a Smokestack or Tangle Wire against Shop decks. When I played Elves against Noble Fish in Vintage at a Blue Bell earlier this year, Pridemage was a main deck answer to Skullclamp – highly annoying.

Qasali Pridemage is my favorite new Magic card from 2009.

If I had to make an unranked Top 10 list (that let me combine cycles, because I like to cheat that way), it’d look like this:

Qasali Pridemage
Zendikar Enemy Fetches
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Putrid Leech
Path to Exile
Noble Hierarch
Bloodbraid Elf
Maelstrom Pulse
Spell Pierce

Favorite Reprinted Magic Card – 2009

Lightning Bolt, hands down.

Favorite Magic Card – 2009

I don’t know how I could pick anything other than Oath of Druids, so I won’t. I love big creatures, and I love big spells decks, and I love winning Power. Oath let me do all of those things in 2009.

Favorite Magic Decks – 2009

This is a huge category, so while I originally intended to look at it this week, I will do so next week, along with some updates on Vintage.

That ends the Magic portion of my favorites, but here’s some for other, non-Magical categories.

Favorite New Videogame – 2009

My favorite videogame I played in 2009 is, without a doubt, Fallout 3. That game is just outstanding.

Full Disclosure: I don’t play a lot of videogame RPGs, but I’ve fallen for the Bethesda RPGs, beginning with Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Oblivion was one of the most fully-realized games I’ve ever played, and Fallout offers more of the same in a setting that I can’t get enough of. I’d much rather play 120 hours of game-play in a dystopian post-Nuclear Holocaust future in the style of 1950’s science fiction than I would in a generic fantasy setting, not matter how fully-realized.

The main quest in Fallout 3 is tremendous, but the download content varied wildly in quality. The Pitt, Broken Steel, and Point Lookout were all good (especially The Pitt and Point Lookout), while Operation Anchorage and Mothership Zeta were too focused on combat (not the best part of the game) at the expense of story.

There’s only one small snag here – Fallout 3 actually came in out in 2008, so although the DL content came out in 2009, I’m disqualifying it.

Full Disclosure: I didn’t own a PS3 until last month, so a good part of the PS3 catalog was not part of my videogame experience this year.

So, what other games are on my short list?

Batman: Arkham Asylum – Easily the best Batman game of all time. Quite possibly the best comic book game of all time. This game combines everything that is great about the Batman mythos and builds it into a game that provides a great replica of what it would be like to be Batman, with tremendous graphics.

Borderlands – Awesome game, sort of a combination of Diablo and Fallout 3. Light on story, though, so playing it without other players over Xbox Live results in a diminished experience. Not everyone is going to dig the cell-shaded look, but the Claptraps are a riot.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – I haven’t been able to play this much yet, but there’s a reason that it sold 4 million units on Xbox 360. Still, I haven’t been truly happy with a CoD online experience since the second one was out for 360. I prefer the lower player count of something like Gears of War.

Resident Evil 5 – This is basically just a graphically-updated version of RE4, but this time with cooperative play. That makes a huge difference. I had blast playing through this twice with two different friends.

Left for Dead 2 – L4D 2 is as lot of fun. It really is. That doesn’t mean that you won’t feel like you spent $60 for an add-on pack for L4D.

Street Fighter IV – Best fighting game I’ve played in years.

Little Big Planet: Game of the Year Edition – Along with New Super Mario Brothers for the Wii, this is the best platform game this year. Great sense of humor and the ability to customize adds a lot to the experience.

Infamous – Similar to Prototype, but better. This game actually ended up shipping over a million units in 2009, making it a definite slow-burn hit for the PS3.

Uncharted 2 – I haven’t played this yet because I just got a PS3, but I played the demo and it is awesome.

As you can see, plenty of great options and this is an abridged list. At the end of the day… I’d say that Batman: Arkham Asylum was my favorite single-player game in 2009. For same-couch co-op, RE5 was my favorite. For online co-op, I loved Borderlands.

Overall, my favorite game in 2009 was Fallout 3. Sorry, I changed the rules mid-way through. It’s just really that good.

Favorite Rereleased Game — 2009

This was a tough category! Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the best point-and-click adventures ever, the Secret of Monkey Island, was re-released on Xbox Live in a new, special edition. Still, my favorite by far has to be Worms 2: Armageddon. If you can afford the $10, and have at least one friend, you need to buy this game as soon as you’re done reading this article. It is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with any game, on any system, ever. There are some things missing from the Dreamcast / N64 versions I used to play, and some things added, but its close enough to still deliver a classic multi-player experience that holds up today.

Favorite CD – 2009

Full Disclosure: The CD player in my Mazda broke this year, and because my commute is between 15 minutes and a half-hour depending on traffic, I haven’t had much motivation to fix it. This has resulted in me acquiring a lot less music in 2009 than I normally would. Regardless, here are some of my favorites:

Them Crooked Vultures, Self-Titled – One of my all-time favorite cds is Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age. This cd is reminiscent of that one, not surprising given the similarities in the band lineups. Full Disclosure: I am also a complete Dave Grohl junkie. I haven’t listened to it enough yet to decide if it will have the same staying power, but it is definitely very good.

Arctic Monkeys, Humbug – This is kind of a new direction for this band, and I like it. A much stronger release than Your Favorite Nightmare.

The Dead Weather , Horehound – I was more than prepared to be deeply disappointed in this, given the relatively poor quality of Jack White’s releases lately, but there are some choice tracks on Horehound.

Doves, Kingdom of Rust – Not a classic, but another good cd from this band.

Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – This is probably the best cd you didn’t hear this year, unless you have heard it, in which case I’m pretty sure you like it.

Band of Skulls, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey – I don’t recall where I heard this initially, and the full cd is kind of uneven, but there are some excellent individual songs, including “I Know What I Am”

The Decembrists, The Hazards of Love – Another year, another great cd from the Decembrists.

Franz Ferdinand, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand – I doubt they’ll ever match their debut cd, but this is still one of the better cds from 2009.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz – When I went back and checked how many plays this album had, I was really surprised. I hope these guys stick together a while longer.

I think ultimately Phoenix is my favorite cd from this year, but Them Crooked Vultures is likely to be the cd I listen to the most, all told.

Favorite Book I read for the first time in 2009

World War Z, for sure. The Road was also terrific, I’d recommend reading it before you see the film, if you’re thinking of doing so.

Some Light Vintage Reading

On The Mana Drain forums, some Workshop players were disappointed with my coverage of the Stax decks at the Philly Open IV. I’m going to rectify that now.

There were 8 players who ran 5C Stax lists at the Philly Open IV. Below is a breakdown on some key cards:

Balance – 3 of 8 main, 1 of 8 sideboard
Tinker – 8 of 8, main
Gorilla Shaman – 1: 5 of 8, 2: 2 of 8
Duplicant – 4 of 8
Chalice of the Void – 1 of 8 main, 5 of 8 sideboard
Demonic Tutor – 8 of 8
Vampiric Tutor – 7 of 8
Thorn of Amethyst – 6 of 8
Sphere of Resistance – 3 of 8
Karn, Silver Golem – 6 of 8
Sundering Titan – 7 of 8
Crop Rotation – 1: 6 of 8, 2: 1 of 8
Ancient Grudge – 2 of 8 main, 3 of 8 sideboard
Triskelion – 6 of 8 main, 2 of 8 sideboard
Bazaar of Baghdad – 7 of 8
Dark blast – 1 of 8 main, 1 of 8 sideboard
Platinum Angel – 2 of 8
Memory Jar – 2 of 8
Null Rod – 1 of 8

5C Stax players, I hope that addresses your concerns.

Blue Bell – 12/5

I played B/R Stax on 12/5, playing the list that I listed out here, with a small adjustment to the sideboard (I cut both Tabernacles for a third Greater Gargadon and a Helm of Obedience).

Round 1 – Lose 1-2 to 5C Stax (0-1)

The first round, I played against 5C Stax. I assumed Jon was playing Workshops. My opening turn was Black Lotus, Mishra’s Workshop, Trinisphere. Unfortunately, Jon drew a Tangle Wire off the top, so his opening turn was Workshop, Tangle Wire. On my Upkeep, that tapped down my Lotus, Shop, and Trinisphere, so Jon was able to dump out all his fast mana. He then established Crucible with Wasteland, and took over the game.

I came out way, way ahead in the second game thanks to Dark Confidant, Crucible of Worlds, and Smokestack. I also had a Relic Leyline of the Void, blanking Jon’s Graveyard. A Welder threatened to end the game immediately, but Jon was able to Tinker into Triskelion. This added another fifteen turns, but I still had control, and Jon scooped in response to my Helm of Obedience.

The third game was quick and brutal, with Jon using Recall to get ahead, and then Tinker into Trisk to sweep my creatures.

Round 2 – Lose 1-2 to Tezzeret (0-2)

In round two, I lost another close match, this time to Rob Edwards. The first game, I mulligan to six, and Rob is able to establish Key / Vault relatively quickly, while on 14 life, with Dark Confidant and Mana Crypt in play. I considered scooping, but didn’t given that he had Bob and Crypt out. However, he played Repeal on the Mana Crypt, and I scooped due to my concerns over time in the match. I probably should’ve waited at least a few turns to see what flips Rob had off his Bob.

The second game, I had control of the game from the start, and just needed to make sure I didn’t die to my own Confidants.

The third game, we both took mulligans to six, but I wasn’t really able to interrupt Rob’s gameplan enough. My draw had too much mana and not enough action.

Round 3 – Win 2-1 versus Dragon (1-2)

My opponent kept a mana-light hand game one, so there wasn’t much to report. Smokestack with Crucible took out all of his permanents. In fact, all I saw was Dark Confidant and some Underground Seas, so I sided in two Red Elemental Blast.

Game two, it was clear very quickly that my opponent was playing Dragon combo, not Tezzeret, and I wasn’t able to interfere with his development fast enough to stop his combo.

I brought in my graveyard hate and Helm of Obedience for game three. I stuck an early Helm but didn’t have the Leyline to go with it. My opponent had Key out and played a Vampiric Tutor, which resolved, and I Helmed the Time Vault off the top of his deck. We both had Dark Confidant in play and were attacking past each other, but he kept flipping actual spells like Force of Will. When he was on six life, he flipped Worldgorger Dragon and lost.

Round 4 – Win 2-1 versus Oath (2-2)

Somehow I managed to face Steve Nowakowski in the 3-point bracket. Tough day for the team, apparently. I knew Steve was playing Vroman Oath.

Game one, Steve was able to counter most of my relevant spells, and got Oath out and active off my Goblin Welder. He hit Iona with three lands and a Sol Ring. I didn’t do anything but pass back. Steve activated Oath, sending the rest of his deck to his Graveyard. He then tapped two lands to flashback Krosan Reclamation to shuffle back Yawg Will. After that resolved, I used Goblin Welder on his Sol Ring to deny him the mana to cast Yawgmoth’s Will, and steal a game I had no business winning. Or, at least, I meant to do that. Instead of giving him Voltaic Key or Top, I gave him a Mox, and it turned out that he had a land in hand and was therefore still able to win. Steve fumbled, and I fumbled right back – not the highlight of my day (or his — which is worse, seeing the play messing it up, or not seeing it at all?).

In game 2 and 3, I was able to use Graveyard hate to keep Steve off any Yawgmoth’s Will nonsense, and ultimately was able to lock him out of both games using Smokestack. In game two, Steve’s sideboard Sacred Ground was blanked by my Leyline of the Void, an interaction I hadn’t anticipated but was quite happy about as I had established Crucible with Wasteland.

Round 5 – Lose 0-2 versus Tezzeret (2-3)

I got paired against teammate Allen Fulmer this round and scooped. We played two games and I lost both.

This tournament could’ve gone very differently for me – it may have been right to mulligan my opening hand game 1, round 1, but if Jon wasn’t on a Workshop deck or hadn’t had the Workshop with Tangle Wire, I probably win that game. Similarly, I should’ve made Rob play out game 1 of round 2, as he very well could’ve died to Bob before finding Tinker for Sphinx or Fire/Ice (although I don’t think the odds are in my favor, it’s possible and shouldn’t have taken too much time off the clock).

I still like B/R Stax a lot, and overall I think the list was fine. I really like playing the one Vampiric Tutor main, and the sideboard into Helm plan was solid when I used it against Dragon and Oath of Druids as well as in the Shop mirror.

I’ll continue to test this list and may play it again; I’m also testing Meandeck Beats, as I think it is the best Vintage budget deck in the format right now.

Next week, I’ll discuss MD Beats as well as some of my favorite decks from 2009.

Matt Elias
[email protected]
Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source