We’re getting close to that time of year again. It’s the time of the year when Magic moves to another world and we get to see a brand new block. It’s also the time of year when we finally get to say goodbye to all the annoying nuisances of the past year.
Picture yourself pinging a faerie into a pile of broken glass with a badminton racket (or tennis racket). Ah, didn’t that feel good, cathartic even.
Doesn’t it feel like M10 only came out last week?
And then we have Master’s Edition 3 online. I’d been meaning to draft some of that this week, but work has kept me a little too busy of late. There’s the definite nostalgia factor of playing and drafting cards I haven’t seen in years, but I was also very impressed with what they did with Master’s Edition 2 last time around. To create a set with coherent draft themes with very limited material to work with was a damn fine achievement and I was interested to see if they’d managed the same with Master’s Edition 3.
Yes, I was one of the few people that actually enjoyed drafted Master’s Edition 2 rather than drafting it purely in the hope of cracking a dual land or three.
For all we love to stick the boot into the folks at WotC at the slightest hint of any kind of change, the one thing they have been really good at over the past few years is coming up with a brand new living breathing world every year. We’ve had a world made of metal, a world of one sprawling city, a world of classic fairytale (and its nightmarish mirror image), and a world split into five very different pieces. Each of these settings have looked distinctive while still being clearly recognisable as a fantasy setting.
A long time back I remember Weis and Hickman creating distinctly off-kilter (translation: weird) fantasy worlds as part of the Death Gate cycle. Unfortunately, like virtually all the Weiss and Hickman series I remember reading back then, the series fell to pieces a few books in, but the initial books did have some truly fantastic settings and storylines.
I make this analogy because virtually every Magic block of the last few years has been so good at painting a fresh new world. Zendikar looks like no exception. You only have to look at the land cards; there’s some freaky weird stuff happening on this world.
Originally Lorwyn was supposed to have a treasure hunting sub-theme. This was abandoned (with the hideaway lands the only remnants), but it looks like they’ve resurrected it for Zendikar. From the artwork there’s a clear theme of a strange ‘Indiana Jones’ type setting with plenty of adventuring taking place in a world full of odd and dangerous booby traps.
It’s a shame they ran with ‘Ally’ for the adventurer creatures. ‘Adventurer’ would have been much better at capturing the flavor. Ally just makes me think of Rebels for some reason.
I must admit to being fairly Timmy-like when it comes to new sets.
Enemy color fetch lands, feh! I want to see the giant monsters.
There’s a legendary giant octopus in this set? Wow! Maybe they’ll actually draw a proper Kraken this time round rather than a giant slug.
Are you sure this guy really made 4 PT Top 32s?
Playtesting tip for people playing in PT: Austin
Wait for the whole set to be released. Seriously.
I know how it feels. It’s the first or second Pro Tour you’ve qualified for and you want to do well so you’re going to put in hours and hours of testing to find the absolute killer deck. The problem: it’s an Extended tournament and the new set that’s going to be in the format isn’t out yet.
No matter, it’s Extended; we know what’s going to rotate out. The decks that are going to be affected least by the rotation will be the strongest, so we’ll start with them…
… and then the spoiler updates and you see that the fetchlands you thought were leaving for good are coming back in (not exactly, but functionally close enough with the Ravnica duals).
It’s always a tough call. Intuitively it feels that some testing, even if you don’t know the full card pool, should be better than no testing at all. I’m not sure on this. Aside from the potential for wasted time there are also other dangers. People get attached to pet decks, people form opinions on matchups that are completely turned around by a single card from the new set, people get into the habit of playing a card incorrectly because it was spoiled incorrectly.
Getting a head start might seem like a good plan. At the worst you have to go back to square one if the new set completely changes everything and if it doesn’t, then you’ve got a jump on the field. However, there is a danger you’ll get pushed back further than square one. Everyone else starts fresh while you have to unlearn a whole bunch of useless junk first to catch up.
My own experience of this happened with PT: New Orleans. We qualified a bunch of people from the same team and were keen to put in as much work as possible. The only drawback was we didn’t know what was in the forthcoming set, Odyssey. We did a bunch of work anyway and one of my playtest team dismissed Odyssey when it arrived as ‘the set was too weak to be relevant.’
Although Kai Budde won that tournament with an updated Trix build, YMG busted the metagame with a reanimator deck (featuring new boy Entomb), and Tomi Walamies reached the final with a control deck utilising Call of the Herd.
We’d gotten as far as deciding Shadowmage Infiltrator might be a good card.
Personally, if I’m building decks for a big tournament, I don’t really like to get started until I have full knowledge of everything that’s going to be in the card pool. Trying to test a metagame with incomplete information feels a little foolish to me. That’s just my opinion anyway. Other people are better at adjusting as more information from the new set comes in..
I realise this is probably all moot anyway now, as by the time this article goes out nearly all of Zendikar will be spoiled in any case. That’s okay. There’s something deliciously evil in offering good advice totally after the fact.
I am evil. You may not have realised this yet, but you will.
While I like what I’ve seen so far of Zendikar there is one thing I’ve noticed that does give me cause for concern.
First, two spoiled cards:
The first is a new version of Goblin Lackey that sacrifices a turn’s quickness to gain a bit more beef in combat with double strike. This probably isn’t a better trade but we do have Siege-Gang Commander and the new Goblin lord, so there’s a good chance he’ll turn out to be fairly handy.
The second card is one of those annoying answers they always seem to find for counterspell decks just when you think they’ve received the good kicking they richly deserve.
Great Sable Stag? Counter it? Nah, I’ll just exile it instead.
That’s a nice big cascade. Remove them all from the game.
Storm count? What storm count?
And of course there’s the more prosaic use of getting the last word in when it comes to a good old fashioned counter war. For free. As in zero mana.
Yep, it looks a useful card. Probably not as versatile as Cryptic Command, but it does have the advantage of being able to fight against the current strategies that really hurt counterspell type decks. In other words, quite handy.
None of this would really be a big deal, until you look at the rarity symbol.
When the concept of Mythic rares was first announced, I applauded it as one of the rare signs of common sense. We want to reduce the size of sets to reduce the amount of chaff, but want to avoid the Coldsnap problem and still maintain a degree of collectability. Mythic rares is a simple and elegant solution.
Superb, no complaints from me, provided it didn’t get silly. “No utility cards” was the promise. By that I assume they mean staples of multiple deck archetypes. That would mean cards like dual lands, Mutavault, Umezawa’s Jitte, etc. That doesn’t mean the cards aren’t going to be tournament quality. It makes sense for planeswalkers to have mythic rarity, and amongst all the stupid big flashy legendary monsters there will inevitably be a few that have abilities strong enough to make them tournament viable (e.g. Rafiq of the Many).
Then we come to M10 and BaneOfSensibleManaCosts Angel. She, unfortunately, is the Yu-Gi-Oh rule personified. By the Yu-Gi-Oh rule (you’ll have to excuse me, I’m not massively familiar with the game and I’m treading out onto fragile internet trolldom logic at this point) I mean a situation where a common card is functionally outclassed by an uncommon card, which is outclassed by a rare card, which is in turn outclassed by a super-rare. The problem with this scenario is that choice is effectively taken away. If you have equal access to all cards then you play the super-rare. No decision making process is required.
Think of poor old Serra Angel. If you pick her up in a draft you’re going to be quite happy to bash face with a 4/4 vigilant flier. But once the draft is over, that’s it for our poor maiden of Serra. The best she can hope for is a future life as a proxy with ‘Baneslayer Angel’ written across her with a black sharpie.
This is not new. Poor old Grizzly (sorry, Runeclaw) Bears have been left in the dirt on many occasions. At least with the poor old bear there were plenty of options. Did you want an extra point of toughness, or maybe first-strike, or flying, or the ability to restrict your opponent to being able to only cast one spell a turn?
Choices are good. Then it becomes a strategic decision. Some cards better fit different circumstances.
When it comes to BaneOfSensibleManaCosts Angel there is very little choice. She completely outclasses pretty much everything of a similar cost so the choice is not so much to play her over something else, but rather how many you actually own.
The most irritating thing about her is it’s all really obvious. People remember Tarmogoyf and how that jumped to a $20-$30 card (I might be off on the price here for reasons that will shortly become apparent). What you might not remember is the price Tarmogoyf started out at. I picked up a playset off eBay for $8. That’s $8 for all four, not $8 each. I picked them up for 4 tix each when Future Sight came out on Magic Online, and if I’d have had more confidence would have picked up many more than the playset I needed.
I like cards like that. They reward people that are quick to spot the potential. When it comes to Baneslayer Angel (or Thoughtseize, or Mutavault, or Figure of Destiny, or Reflecting Pool) it’s patently obvious the card is nuts, and when you need them for a major tournament you have little recourse but to bend over and take it like the good little consumer.
I can’t fault WotC for this. They’re a business. If they didn’t make money selling cards then Magic would no longer exist. It makes perfect sense to toss in an obvious chase rare or two to generate excitement about a forthcoming set and drive sales. That’s even more important when it comes to a core set with a high proportion of reprints. Baneslayer Angel has a role. She’s the insurance policy for M10.
Tournament staple that she is, it’s hard to see BaneOfSensibleManaCosts Angel at any rarity other than mythic. She’s big and flashy and any Timmy opening her is going to squee like a gaggle of teenage girls at a Twilight convention. Conversely, anyone seriously interested in Limited is also going to be very happy she’s fairly scarce. In the past we had Loxodon Warhammer, the noob-hammer. Now we have the noob-angel, patron guardian of noobs everywhere (I suspect this was also by design).
Anyway, that’s enough criticism of BaneOfSensibleManaCosts-
I have to, okay. I’m a red mage at heart. Big flying tanks with lifelink make us feel… a little nervous.
… and back to our spoiled cards from Zendikar.
For me, a mythic rare has to be splashy. It doesn’t matter if it’s utterly rubbish for tournament play, and is probably better if it is, it needs to make Timmy’s eyes light up when he cracks it. Baneslayer Angel fits that. She also happens to be a good tournament card. Planeswalkers do this. Sometimes they’re also good tournament cards.
(Or a giant legendary octopus of incredible awesome doom)
(I’m going to be so disappointed if it turns out to be another blue Hill Giant)
Then we get to Spike, the serious tournament player. Is he happy to see these cards at Mythic?
Well, not really. I’m guessing most Spikes get their cards as singles directly from dealers. They don’t crack many packs unless for drafting, so there’s less likely to be that ‘Wow’ moment of opening juicy rare goodness.
If goblins becomes one of the top decks in the new Standard, and it’s getting some very useful looking new recruits, then Warren Instigator will probably be part of it. If it becomes Faeries-type good, then a playset of Warren Instigator is going to be pricey to get hold of.
Same for Mindbreak Trap. It isn’t Cryptic Command, but it sure looks like it’s going to take care of quite a few of the annoying niggles for any control deck. If it becomes a must-have for any control player’s armory, then expect it to get expensive.
Having both of these at Mythic just seems like a lose-lose situation.
They’re either tournament bad without the flash factor to seduce little kiddies. Or they’re tournament good and everybody grumbles about the cost of trying to keep up with Standard again.
I still think Mythic Rares are a simple and elegant solution to downsizing a set while maintaining collectability. There’s also a lot of potential for abuse there as well. I hope WotC resists the obvious temptation to gouge their player base. I quite like the Mythic slot being used for dragons and other big dumb critters. It’s not quite so special if they turn it into another tier of rarity.
Anyway, (semi-) rant over, but while we’re on the topic of Mythic Rares. Time for the silly casual deck of the week.
Silly Casual Deck of the week.
- 1 Grim Poppet
- 1 Sanctum Gargoyle
- 4 Etherium Sculptor
- 1 Sharding Sphinx
- 1 Sharuum the Hegemon
- 1 Sphinx Sovereign
- 1 Tidehollow Sculler
- 1 Esperzoa
- 4 Master Transmuter
- 1 Magister Sphinx
- 1 Sphinx Summoner
- 1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 1 Filigree Angel
- 1 Enigma Sphinx
It’s a Master Transmuter deck.
I think there was a Standard version kicking around a while back that focused on multiple copies of the good cards (Sharuum, Grim Poppet, Tidehollow Sculler). This is detuned so I could fit in all the crazy Esper Sphinxes.
This is one of my favourite casual decks at the moment, mainly because it can do so much cool stuff. Most of the monsters have powerful coming into play abilities and you can do really silly things with an active Master Transmuter. There’s a lot of synergy between the cards and it also fits a coherent theme (Giant Esper Sphinxes).
Thousand-Year Elixir turns Transmuter’s ability on right away, which means you avoid that whole ‘it’s dead before you ever actually get to use it’ problem. It also makes it really hard to kill the Transmuter or just about anything else if you have the mana open.
The obvious main strategy is of course: return cantrip artifact or Borderpost to hand, put huge enormous Sphinx into play. There’s plenty of other things going on as well though.
If you don’t have an enormous giant artifact monster in hand then the Transmuter can keep bouncing Elsewhere Flasks and Kaleidostones until you find one. Sphinx Summoner will get you, well, everything actually. Sharuum and Sanctum Gargoyle give the deck durability as they’ll fetch everything back out of the graveyard if you bounce them around enough times. Filigree Angel should gain more than enough life to avoid dying to a stray Lightning Bolt. Tidehollow Sculler and Grim Poppet are your spoilers.
Most of you are probably aware of it already, but for those that aren’t there’s a nasty trick you can pull off with Tidehollow Sculler and an active Transmuter. If you stack the initial card-stealing ability and then bounce the Sculler in response, you get to remove a card in their hand for good regardless of whether the Sculler is in play or not.
All these options make the deck a lot of fun to play and it often looks very impressive when that Transmuter gets going.
Of course, there are backup plans as well. Between Etherium Sculptor and the Obelisks sometimes you can just ramp straight up to one of the big sphinxes and ride it home. Esperzoa can also bounce your monsters if you want to reuse the come-into-play effects (most notably with Sanctum Guardian), but is mainly there because of the interaction between it and either Elsewhere Flask or Kaleidostone.
Most of the rares are fairly cheap online. Master Transmuter and Sharuum were above the 1 tix mark when I put the deck together. The Transmuter is fun enough to be worth it though. Most of the other giant Sphinxes are dirt cheap despite their Mythic status.
This was actually the deck that brought home the M10 changes to me. Losing the ability to stack damage and then bounce an artifact creature with the Transmuter, even if only to replay it fresh (you can choose to play the artifact you bounced to hand), does take away some strategy options during the game. Magic is a complex game and continually getting more complex. Sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice the ability to do some cool tricks in order to keep that complexity level under control.
Actually the biggest thing I miss from Xth Edition is Mind Stone. Mind Stone was a real boon to casual decks that aren’t green. The fun cards are often a little more expensive in mana cost so fun casual decks can get a little top heavy on the mana curve. Mind Stone was great for giving those decks something to do in the early game as well as giving them a little more speed to do their cool stuff before the more straightforward creature decks ran them over. Mind Stone was also great for regulating mana draws as you could always burn it for a card once you hit enough land. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t find room for it in M10, to be honest.
Back to the deck and this is a great example of breaking a deck down into a core component that is fairly consistent (Master Transmuter, Thousand-Year Elixir, Etherium Sculptor, cantrip Artifacts, Obelisks) and a random component to provide versatility and variability (all the one-ofs).
The Transmuter core allows you to run any package of expensive artifacts. I went for the Esper Sphinxes to stay more on theme. You could just as easily run some nastier big guys such as Darksteel Colossus, Platinum Angel or Inkwell Leviathan.
If you’re feeling a little more Spikish, then the deck can run more of the disruptive elements such as a full set of Tidehollow Scullers and more Grim Poppets for creature control. Filigree Angel is probably still worth a slot, but Sharuum probably wins the fight against all the other sphinxes. Although, surprisingly, the life setting ability on Magister Sphinx either on myself or my opponent has won me a surprising number of games when I’ve played the deck online.
If you want to add a slice of Johnny then Glassdust Hulk plus multiple Sharuum’s will give you a combo kill of an unblockable, infinitely large attacker. I haven’t tried this online yet so I can’t run through exactly how the triggers work. It’s along the lines of legendary rule kills the first copy of Sharuum, which is then put back into play with the second Sharuum’s ability, which triggers the legendary rule. Repeat until Glassdust Hulk hits critical.
Anyway, I’ve managed to exceed my word count limit, so that will be it for this week. I’ll be back with another deck next week (I may actually try and fit in some examples of playing the decks when my net connection stops being quite so schizophrenic).
Thanks for reading.