MTGO is currently reading (for me) “downloading 1 of 574 files,” so I guess that means Zendikar has arrived. Before I get a chance to draft the new cards with a fervor (okay, slight interest), I thought I’d look back over the departing block.
Things I Loved
1. The Flavor (Shadowmoor)
I loved the artwork on this set. I could really visualise standing in a lonely field somewhere and hearing that metallic creak of a scarecrow turning in the… wait, there’s no wind.
Flavor, flavor, blah, blah, who cares?
Well, me, actually.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. Some people don’t care what the card’s called, or what the artwork looks like; they’re only interested in how good it is at bludgeoning their opponent to a pulp in the most brutally efficient manner possible, and that’s fine. The game’s there to be enjoyed however people want to enjoy it. Personally, I love the time and effort they spend in creating a rich background for each world.
And I like creepy. Really like creepy.
2. Goofy tribes #1: Giants
My favorite of the tribes despite it being the worst Tournament Constructed tribe by a good ten league stride.
The casual Giants deck I threw together was fun, and it was also dirt cheap. I’ve sadly lost the original decklist and only have this as an approximation of what I was playing:
4 Ancient Amphitheater
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Mind Stone
4 Crush Underfoot
4 Stinkdrinker Daredevil
4 Blind-Spot Giant
4 Thundercloud Shaman
2 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Obsidian Battle-Axe
2 Brion Stoutarm
1 Desolation Giant
1 Hammerheim Deadeye
2 Stonehewer Giant
1 Wandering Giant
1 Cloudgoat Ranger
1 Sunrise Sovereign
1 Feudkillers Verdict
1 Hamletback Goliath
1 Borderland Behemoth
1 Arbiter of Knollridge
It actually wasn’t completely hopeless to play. Thundercloud Shaman was usually a one-sided Wrath of God to mop up early creature rushes. Then after that, your guys were bigger and hit a lot harder. The singleton rare creatures all did interesting things, whether it was trying to make the most ridiculously sized Hamletback Goliath possible or completely undoing their early damage with Arbiter of Knollridge.
The fact I could play this deck at all is exploiting a casual metagame where counterspell control decks largely don’t exist. I did run into the odd Assassin deck though, and yeah, that really handed me an asswhuppin.
For this type of deck, the goal isn’t really to win (although old habits die hard). It’s to have fun, and it was a lot of fun for very little outlay.
3. Goofy Tribes #2: Treefolk
Second in the list of tribes they couldn’t be bothered to balance to the point of competitiveness (one very innovative three-mana card excepted) comes the creaking treefolk.
4 Sapseep Forest
4 Search for Tomorrow
1 Treefolk Harbinger
4 Bosk Banneret
3 Nameless Inversion
4 Battlewand Oak
4 Dauntless Dourbark
1 Leaf-Crowned Elder
1 Wickerbough Elder
1 Reach of Branches
1 Weed-Pruner Poplar
1 Timber Protector
1 Reach of Branches
3 Deadwood Treefolk
3 Thorntooth Witch
1 Orchard Warden
1 Woodfall Primus
Between Deadwood Treefolk, Thorntooth Witch, and Reach of Branches, this deck had a really durable endgame for grinding out wins. It also had some explosive starts (sort of, as these are still slow lumbering planks of wood) with Battlewand Oak and Dauntless Dourbark. Dauntless Dourbark was such a heavy hitter in the games I played him, I was a little surprised he didn’t make more of an impact in serious Constructed. Wrong place, wrong time, I guess.
Again, not a deck that’s going to set the tournament world alight, but fun to play. It was cohesive both thematically and strategically, which I like to see in my casual decks.
4. Sort of Goofy Tribes #3: Elementals
The multi-colored elementals deck looked fun, but every time I tried to build it I ended up with a manabase that made me vomit (and I never managed to get any of those damn Shriekmaw).
The Mono-Red version based around Ceaseless Searblades and any kind of activated ability was fun, apart from generating a bazillion triggers every attack step.
Biggest Green monster ever.
Here’s an 8/8 on turn 3. Make it 14/14 on turn four, turn sideways.
Cards don’t really get much Timmy than this, and bashing with it has been one of my guilty pleasures over the last year or so. It was also a lovely ambush deck for a few of the tourney netdecks that occasionally creep into casual land.
Outwardly a cantrip Gray Ogre isn’t so exciting, but this ended up in a few of my casual decks and was really useful at smoothing out the mana draws. I suspect Elvish Visionary will get used a lot in the same way. It’s always good to have a filler type card to pad out decks where the theme doesn’t quite stretch to 60 cards.
It was also a good excuse to slip a few Murkfiend Lieges into the same deck.
One of those cards that screams ‘How many copies of this can you get in play?’ Not many, as it happens. Most people concede when you get up to four. Fun little critter though.
8. Worm Harvest
Another card that asks ‘How big an army can you build?’
Like Scapeshift, this is another card that never quite hits its Standard potential, as a set came out between it and the cards that really want to play with it. Dakmor Salvage works effectively with Worm Harvest, but it isn’t Life from the Loam. I liked the Red-Black deck I built around Worm Harvest and various discard-draw effects like Goblin Lore and Wheel of Fate.
It was rubbish. Most of the time I finally got the engine going to produce wave after wave of wriggling attackers, only to die to some puny flying creature nibbling away over the top.
The only one of the ‘Class’ lords I really got behind, although the Assassin ‘lord’ was a card I wouldn’t have minded building a deck around.
Of course, making a deck that revolves around stealing all of your opponent’s lands so they can’t cast anything isn’t very nice from a casual perspe…
Screw it. I’m evil.
10. The tribal mechanic
Every so often they come out with a mechanic that’s so good you really wish it was part of the main game. Like the proper breakdown of creatures into race and class, Tribal is one of those mechanics that feels like it should have been in the game from the very start. I know I was hoping they would continue with it through subsequent sets, as they have with Planeswalkers. When I put Dragon Fodder and Goblin Assault in a goblin deck, it feels like they really should be Tribal Sorcery/Enchantment — Goblin. I guess it’s a mechanic that’s supposed to be special for the Lorwyn block, but it would be nice if it got bled into the core game at some point.
It was also a shame Tribal didn’t extend to the lands. Ancient Amphitheater is crying out to be Tribal Land — Giant, but after what happened with Affinity I can understand them being nervous on this.
Yes, I like terrible cards and decks. I thought you would have worked this out by now.
Things I Hated
Now onto the stuff I didn’t like as much. I’m not saying that the things on the following list were mistakes or bad from the start. It’s a feature of Magic that some cards are going to be better than other cards, and even the good things can outstay their welcome to the point where you get sick to death of seeing them. That’s why the regular rotations are such an important part of Magic. If you find you really hate a current Standard metagame for one reason or another, there’s always the knowledge that those cards will eventually rotate out.
I’m guessing this is probably a controversial choice. I’m certain there’s plenty of you that are sad to see this go, just as I’m certain there are probably as equal number thinking, ‘Finally, now f**k off to Extended.
I have no problem with this as a tournament card. It’s very good, both flexible and powerful, and it gives a player plenty of options. It would have been nice if they’d made the Red Command not quite so much of a joke in comparison. Cryptic Command ended up going in a lot of Constructed decks in the end, but I suspect this is less a problem with the card itself than another problem I’ll get to later.
My main problem was I saw it crop up in the casual room. A lot.
I’m normally very placid, but I do remember one comment that almost made me wish I could put my arm into the monitor, snake it all the way through the internet, materialize in someone’s bedroom on the other side of the world, and bash their head against the nearest hard object until their brains fell out. The justification went along the lines of “it’s a card that gives me lots of options, therefore it’s fun.” Following the same logic, I suppose I could argue it’s okay for me to tie you to a wooden chair and hammer rusty nails through your scrotum. It’s fun, for me anyway.
Playing against Cryptic Command was the definition of unfun. Whenever it got played against me, I always felt someone had taken a good run up and then kicked me right in the nuts. At least with a fast Red deck or a stupid big Primulcrux you know the game is going to end quickly. That’s hardly ever the case with Cryptic Command. Not only does it beat you, but it sucks up ten or fifteen minutes of your life while you wait for your opponent to eventually find something to administer the coup de grace.
Again, this is not a direct criticism of the card. The best Magic cards are often ones that are very good at frustrating an opponent’s strategy. It’s just there’s a time and place for everything, and the place for this card is marked ‘Tournament Practise Room.’
2. Brutally Good Tribes #1: Faeries
This is one area where I think Wizards might have tipped over into legitimate error. Looking at the toolkit available with the Faerie tribe is like seeing a wish list for a control player.
Creatures that you can play at the end of an opponent’s turn? Check.
A creature that also doubles up as a Counterspell? Check.
A creature that doubles up as a Control Magic? Check.
A creature that doubles up as a Time Walk? Check.
A creature that pre-emptively deals with threats in an opponent’s hand. Check.
The only thing missing as far as I can see is the instant speed creature that draws cards.
I never bothered building the Faerie deck. I couldn’t really see a casual angle that would allow me to finish a game without my opponent quitting or disconnecting first.
The error part for me is letting theme overrule game design. From a theme point of view it makes sense for so many of the faeries to have Flash. They’re small and fast. From a design point of view, giving the main counterspell color lots of creatures with Flash is a really bad idea. It takes away the tension of deciding whether to summon a creature or sit on counterspell mana, and replaces it with, “Did you do anything this turn? No? I’ll summon this, then.”
Thankfully, the deck was very expensive to build, so I didn’t run into it too often. As opposed to…
3. Brutally Good Tribes #2: Merfolk
The Merfolk tribe actually had some interesting fun applications around either the milling aspect or the generating-an-effect-when-tapped aspect. I tried a few decks around cards like Summon the School, Stonybrook Schoolmaster, Judge of Currents, Drowner of Secrets, but never really settled on a list that I enjoyed playing regularly.
4. Brutally Good Tribes #3: Elves
I’m torn on elves. There were plenty of interesting cards to muck around with, but there was always the obvious casual option around Imperious Perfect, Bramblewood Paragon, and Elvish Promenade. It did have the ‘seen it too many times before’ problem, but then I also had some fairly good games against decks that weren’t just tournament knock offs. And other games I just got murdered fairly rapidly.
5. Brutally Good Tribes #4: Kithkin
Another deck I’m torn on. It was another where I got the ‘are you sure you’re in the right room?’ feeling, especially when Black or Green-white tokens were popular, but I did have some good matches. The kithkin in themselves weren’t bad. I always felt like I could fight with most of my reasonably tuned casual decks, providing it was just the little folk.
Spectral Procession (and to some extent Cloudgoat Ranger), however…
6. Annoyingly Ubiquitous Tribes: Rogues
A weird pick for a tribal deck to be annoyed with. As far as I know, people liked prowl, but a Rogue deck never really made it onto the tournament stage.
Right after Morningtide came out, just about every deckbuilder seemed to have the same idea, and for about a month nearly every casual game was against some form of Rogue deck.
It’s tough to be really mad about it, though. People want to play cool decks. Sometimes people all have the same idea at the same time.
7. Color not really meaning anything
Outside of Faeries, this might be the only other thing that verged on a proper mistake with the block. Aaron Forsythe was right when they brought enemy pain lands into Xth, people should be able to cast their spells. Color still has to mean something, though. There’s a reason why Cryptic Command has triple Blue in the mana cost. It shouldn’t be available to every deck.
Reflecting Pool / Vivid Lands kind of broke this open. The problem with relaxing color restrictions to this extent is the influence of powerful cards grows as they can fit in more decks. Bennie Smith criticisms of Lorwyn block are appropriate. It might look like a healthy Standard format with different decks, but in reality it’s just the same powerful cards over and over in slightly different configurations.
Stop running away. It’s only a little three power flying drake. I’ll stop it coming through next time. I promise.
In the hands of some people, Garruk is a 2GG spell that dominates, either ramping up to huge threats or spitting out an army of beasts before finally bringing the game to an end with Overrun.
In my hands, it reads: “2GG. Put a 3/3 token into play. Prevent the next 3 damage that would be dealt to you.”
Unlike all the other examples, this is an example of me hating playing with rather than playing against. Or rather me hating the fact I’m so incompetent I can’t keep them around for more than a turn, ever.
They are a nice addition to Magic. It’s unfortunate that the Design and Development people couldn’t quite get them right for Time Spiral. That set would have been a natural fit thematically, whereas they don’t seem to have much of a fit with Lorwyn block at all.
As a curious aside, when I was at the last Invitational, one of the card types we were told not to submit was Planeswalkers. This surprised me a little, as the Planeswalker type seems the absolute perfect type for an Invitational card. I can see how it could make things awkward from a tie-in point of view. The Planeswalker cards are now being pushed as the major characters from the game in the spin off merchandise. It could certainly become either odd or awesome if a player’s likeness moves from just being on a card to also being a major player in the next story arc to take down Nicol Bolas.
It’s easily fixed. Don’t include that character in the spin offs, keep it as just a card in the set. I don’t think the Invitational is coming back any time soon, but a “be a planeswalker in the next set!” type prize might be a cool promotion and fulfil the old role of the Invitational card.
9. Shadowmoor draft
As much as I loved the flavor, I really hated the Shadowmoor draft format (although not as much as Coldsnap). Everything seemed slow and cumbersome, and those stupid hybrid auras were far too swingy. I stopped drafting it early, fed up of too many games where it didn’t feel like I had any interaction at all.
10. Chase Rares that were a little too obvious
The thing about Tarmogoyf is its awesomeness was not originally recognised.
Skipping serious online Constructed was an easy, and cheap, choice for this block.
Things I Didn’t Get To Do
And enough with the moaning, and onto the regrets about cards that looked cool, but I either didn’t get round to building decks with them, or didn’t quite find a build I was happy with.
1. Goblins with Wort, Boggart Auntie
They took Goblins in an interesting direction for this set. It was also a tribe where you could build an interesting deck, without it being dull or oppressively overpowering. I touched on it with the Crunchy Goblin Popcorn deck, but didn’t really build a proper Wort deck to take advantage of the ability to grow back goblin cards.
2. Reaper King
A cool card, but he was a lord without a tribe. Look at the rest of the scarecrows in Shadowmoor. It’s mainly a bunch of filler creatures to round out your Limited decks, or really narrow-use combo cards (Painter’s Servant, Pili-Pala).
In the end, I tried building a deck around changelings instead to abuse the Reaper King’s Vindicate ability. Actually, I wanted to pull off the Changeling champion loop where you blow up all their stuff. Never pulled it off. I had a few fun games with the deck, but never got it tuned to the point where I kept it around to play regularly.
I got four of these early, and tried for the Red/Blue Noggle deck (because it seemed such a silly tribe). It was never a Crackleburr deck. It always ended up being an unblockable Riverfall Mimic deck.
4. River Kelpie
A damn cool deck with either Retrace or Persist. It was another card I picked up four of in the hope of building a deck around and never got there. There was a little bit of netdeck avoidance there, as it did crop up in an interesting-looking control deck for a time.
5. A decent -1/-1 matters deck
This I did build, but it always felt like a random collection of cards rather than an actual deck. Necroskitter ended up being a surprisingly expensive card to get hold off. I tried versions with Chainbreakers and Leech Bonders early on, along with silly little Fate Transfer or Scarscale Ritual combos.
I suspect I tried to do too many things in the same deck rather than focusing on different aspects of the -1/-1 counter theme. There were a lot of fun little combos and tricks build into Shadowmoor around this theme.
6. Other Chroma decks
Sanity Grinding actually became a deck-of-the-week online at some point, so I steered clear with my usual netdeck avoidance.
I like making token hordes, and this does that. I think I stayed away because I’d seen it in too many other decks and didn’t want to travel the same path. It was also a little too easy to tip elves into the obnoxiously good tribal category.
Alas poor Scapeshift, away before you really have a chance to shine. I played a singleton in a forest-based deck and yes, you do get to hit really hard with Battlewand Oak. It might be a good thing it’s leaving, as it breaks Landfall in half.
An interesting card. Thought about it. Never got round to trying it out with Aura’s like Edge of the Divinity.
10. The Red/Green Giants Deck
Giants was a Red-White tribe, but there was a really interesting Giants related card in Green: Elvish Handservant. The biggest problem with Giants was the casting costs were all humongous. I really wanted to build a proper beatdown deck based around Elvish Handservant, Blind-Spot Giant and a variety of Changelings to serve as pretend Giants.
Unfortunately, this was early on when I didn’t have access to Karplusan Forest. The lack of a Red-Green dual in Lorwyn also hurt. Trying to build this with only basic lands and Terramorphic Expanse didn’t work. The spells seemed fine, but the unreliable manabase crippled the deck. I picked up the relevant dual lands as well as extra ‘Giants’ in Taurean Maulers later on, but never got back round to rebuilding the deck.
As you can see, there was plenty of stuff in Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block outside of the well-travelled tournament paths. I hope the same is true for Zendikar.
Now, how’s my download doing?
“Download terminated due to connection failure.”
Thanks for reading…