The Tragedy Of Bad Rares, Part Deux

I have to tell you, it’s been great getting the feedback that I’ve gotten in response to my last post. Sometimes when you’re writing, you get disillusioned because you feel like you’re shouting into a great void, and no one listens. Reminds me of the line from the original Alien movie advertisements (gosh is that…

I have to tell you, it’s been great getting the feedback that I’ve gotten in response to my last post. Sometimes when you’re writing, you get disillusioned because you feel like you’re shouting into a great void, and no one listens. Reminds me of the line from the original Alien movie advertisements (gosh is that dating me, or what?). To paraphrase…

In Cyberspace, no one can hear you gripe…


Then, one day I’m driving along, and I’m thinking about Alan Webter and other writers taking R&D to task for the broken cards they’ve printed recently. While I have to agree to some degree that broken cards sap the fun out of the game, what really pissed me off were Bad Rares. Since I haven’t had much opportunity lately to play in any tournaments, I thought I’d write a column about that.

Boy, did it seem to touch a nerve out there! I’ve been swamped with letters, mostly from folks who agreed that Bad Rares pissed them off, too. I sent my gripe out into the void, and people heard me! To a writer, there’s little to top the knowledge that folks read what you’ve said and are moved enough to get on their email account and send off a letter. Thanks to all of you who read, whether you like my stuff or think its garbage. Thanks for taking the time to share my world.

Anyway, in honor of the feedback, I thought I’d address a few concerns from some of the letters that came in, and try to clarify my position on Bad Rares. I must have come across as thinking that”Bad Rares” were anything that did not classify as constructed or limited format worthy. Tony Gagliardi sent me a great email that pointed this out. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

“To Bennie Smith,

Your article was accurate only to a certain point. You have made the same mistake most other online writers make. You assumed that there are two types of magic, constructed and limited. I read somewhere awhile back that WotC estimated about 6 million Magic players world wide. I think that sounds high but even if it is accurate I bet only about 5 to 10% of those people play tournaments regularly. This means that the majority of magic players are casual or multi-players. When competitive tournament players look at rares they sometimes forget that playing casual or multi-player changes the whole aspect of how a card is used.”

Actually, I’m pretty well known as a casual group game player in our local circle, and longtime readers might remember me talking about group game tournaments that I’ve participated in. I came into Magic as a social game, something my gang of friends could do instead of D&D on a given night. We originally played group game ante decks, often with 200+ cards, with lots of things like Demonic Attorney and Contracts from Below. This was back in the days of Unlimited, when Arabian Nights packs could be bought for $5 (which I thought was an outrageous markup), and Antiquities was the new thing. Group games are amazingly different animals than tournament matches, and for a long time I would trade heavily for what others considered”bad cards.” I’ll give an example of my group game”value system” that’s become almost legendary around here. I was playing in an ante group game, and the ante was what we all considered fairly light… except for the Serra Angel my buddy’s wife Jill had flipped into the pile. Now THAT was a prize worth fighting for! It was the only Serra Angel in the group, and she was extremely unhappy to have it on the line. The rest of us were drooling like rabid dogs over the opportunity to get our hands on it. I ended up winning that game and was extremely glad to add the sweet Angel to my collection.

Of course, we had a code of honor that, in the event you lose a prized card in ante, the winner should consider giving it back to the loser for a decent trade.

So, Jill came up to me with a card in hand.”I’ll trade this back to you for the Angel.” She showed me a card she’d recently won from me in a previous ante. I shrugged and said”I think the Angel’s worth more than that… let me play with the Angel for a few games, and then I’ll trade it back to you.”

So, what was the card that she couldn’t convince me was worth a Serra Angel in trade?

A Pearl Mox.

A few weeks later, I’d won a few games with Serra and was starting to feel bad about not trading it back to her yet, so the next time I saw her I told her we could do the trade now if she wanted. She told me that she’d bumped into a guy who offered her 2 Serras and a few other cards for the Mox, so she didn’t need it anymore. At the time, I was just happy to be able to keep the Serra. It was only later that I started to realize what I’d let slip through my hands.

Mind you, this was before there was a Scrye or price guides; I valued the cards based on their playability. In a group game, a Pearl Mox isn’t worth a whole lot. It’s vulnerable to Nevinyrral’s Disks, Shatterstorms, Disenchants and other artifact destruction. To me, just playing a trusty land was a better choice. I didn’t think about the mana acceleration because group games lasted long enough to play your big spells without needing Moxes. But Serra Angel on the other hand was an awesome group game card. Not only did it have the ability to fly, but also it could attack someone without air defenses, and still be there to block any attacks on you! This was amazingly good in group games, and so the Serra was worth more than the Mox in my mind.

A couple years later, I started hearing about tournaments, and the Pro Tour, and got curious about that scene. I picked up Scrye magazine to see what some of these tournament cards were valued at, and my eyeballs popped out when I saw how much the Mox was going for (something like $60 at the time). I then looked up my precious Serra… $4. Hmm… maybe I’d made a bad decision. Now, is that an understatement, or what?

Tony continued:

“If you would take the time to look back over all the”bad” rares printed and shift your mind to the casual multi mode (think emperor,chaos,5 color,etc.) you will find that some of these bad rares are actually pretty darn good without being reworded. I think your article was pretty acurate but just did not go far enough.”

He’s got a good point, and not just about casual playability; it often pays to look back over cards that are considered bad or unplayable, just to see if the environment has shifted enough. Who would have thought that an almost forgotten card from Fallen Empires, High Tide, would spawn a monster deck in last Extended Season, due to the influx of”free spells” and land untap effects in the Urza block?

But, I think this letter hit home the fact that I didn’t make my point clear. In the world of the internet, where writings about tournament Magic are dominant, the casual players out there might feel neglected or left out of the discussion. Tony’s right – the casual players outnumber the serious tournament gamers by a vast margin, and they will have a different value system for what’s”bad” or”good,” but the serious gamer tends to think of”bad rares” in terms of cards that are unplayable in a tournament environment. That’s not what I meant at all. I meant cards that are just unplayable, period. Either because it was overcosted, loaded with too many drawbacks, or because there are other cards that are strictly superior.

I used Food Chain in my last post as an example. Can anybody justify this as a playable card in a casual environment? I mean, casual cards should not mean bad cards! I hope Wizards doesn’t look at a card concept, decide that it’s going to be a casual card and makes it overcosted and adds lots of drawbacks in order to distinguish it from a tournament card. If that’s the case, it’s a real shame. Just make the card playable, and if it doesn’t hit big on the tournament scene, it’ll see play in a more casual setting.

Let me call on a trusty, favorite group game card I love to use… Greater Good! I think most people would agree that Greater Good is not considered a top tournament card. Sure, it’s shown up periodically in Sneak Attack, and as sneaky tech in Urza block Replenish decks, but it’s generally not played. I did build an interesting Standard deck I called”Marogeyser” that used Greater Good, Maros, Weatherseed Treefolk and Scent of Ivy that could”go off” and attack with 26/26 trampling Pouncing Jaguars on turn 6 or 7, but it wasn’t consistent or fast enough to make a big splash. But when I incorporated that engine in a group game deck, added Firestorms, and Boom! Wow, what a great group game card!

I think Greater Good is a fantastic example of a playable card that was well designed, carefully costed and with drawbacks that kept it from being horribly broken but not impossible to work around. It didn’t find it’s way in any dominant tournament deck, but it’s found its niche comfortably in the casual environment. I think that’s great! I don’t mind popping a Saga pack and pulling a Greater Good. It’s a playable card that came close to being a decent tournament card, and might one day find its way into a top deck. Greater Good is an example of how a”bad rare” should be designed; it’s at the very least playable in some sort of deck.

I’ll end things on what I consider a funny note, though I’m sure the author didn’t intend it to be so.

Please tell this guy that if every pack had a good rare in it, nobody would buy packs, Wizards would go under, and we’d all lose a game that we love. Simple economics. Jest me opinion.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a Wizard’s employee clueing me in to the inner workings of their decision-making process. Now we know. Heh.

Next week I’ll give you some strategy stuff. I promise!

Bennie Smith