Understanding In A MODO Crash: Legions Blue Isn’t Funny, And Neither Are You, Probably

At a Detroit PTQ, as Judge Shawn Jeffries asked if there were any questions, some yahoo asked something dumb in an attempt to be funny. And here’s the part I don’t get: Then, some other moe raised his hand with another question – and I stopped listening after,”If we open a Words of War, can we…” because I knew the rest of the question would be blah blah Ravenous Baloth blah blah. Why do people DO this? Also, I rank Covert Operative at 13th, and that’s no joke.

Whew, this is gonna be tough. Blue’s cards have a wide variety of functions, so it’s going to be difficult to put them in an exact order. Fortunately, the exact order is still not important; you have to figure out what you need for your deck. I figured out that, without consciously realizing it, the criteria I use are overall power level and replaceability. A card may be higher on the list than its power level would indicate if it performs a function that is fairly hard to find on other cards.

Before I get to the list, I’d like to go into rant on humor. Or lack thereof.

At a PTQ in Detroit which I will no doubt get around to at some point, judge Shawn Jeffries was running through the normal spiel that one has to endure before deck construction begins – and, as always, he concluded by asking if any of the tournament entrants had any questions. A hand shot up, and someone asked something really stupid and asinine in a poor attempt to be clever, while everyone else in the room had to sit there and wait. It was really dumb, so I forget exactly what was said, but I do know that it was another minute of my life that I’ll never be able to get back.

After that buffoonery was sorted out, yet another gamer raised his hand with a question. While this question was, on its surface, a little cleverer than the previous, for a few reasons it was the one that made me snap. I stopped listening after,”If we open a Words of War, can we…” because I knew the rest of the question would be blah blah Ravenous Baloth blah blah.

The first rule of humor that was broken was something I didn’t even consider before I started to actually type this; however, it is probably just as evident as (and incidentally, related to) the other one. This is the rule of proximity. Someone had just attempted”humor” by asking a fake question intended in jest; this buffoon turned around and did the same thing directly afterward. The first comment wasn’t even funny; no one was shouting”Encore!” or raising lighters. I’ve had this happen to me frequently. I make some sort of joke (the key often being presenting as little information as possible, to make the audience think a little), then some other buffoon has a tiny light in his head go off and makes the same joke I just made – except in a less intelligent fashion, as though he didn’t realize he was basically saying the same thing I just said. The first person in the PTQ scenario didn’t attempt a Nick Eisel joke, but the structure of the two”jokes” was similar enough that they follow the principle.

Here’s an example.

(Person #3 Solar Blasts person #4’s creature while person #4 is at one life).

Person #1: Well played, Gary.

Person #2: Haha that play you just made is really funny because I think something like that just happened at a Grand Prix; it was just like something Gary Wise did or something I think.

It was hard to think of an example off the top of my head, but I think it illustrates the point: If it doesn’t, I’m sure something else will happen soon enough that serves as a better example.

Now for the Words of War joke itself. For all you future comedians of American out there: Citing current events is not sufficient to generate humor. I’ve seen many people make this mistake. One time on Magic Online, right after a certain shooting incident, some patent idiot said”lol I think I just played the Maryland sniper.” He was under the mistaken impression that just by mentioning something that happened in the news, he could become the life of the party.

Hasn’t anyone heard of style over substance? I mean, maybe if he had gone into some manner of detail as to the similarities between his opponent and the shooter, it may have been not totally moronic… But even that’s a stretch.

There was a really good example of this at GP LA also, where the guy sitting across from Brian Davis kept making stupid comments about the notoriety of certain pros in attendance. I forget the better examples, but he was just stating the blatant stuff that everyone already knows (or”has heard about,” in case his comments were untrue) without trying to present it in a clever way.

He rambled,”Wow… I knew Zvi was here from blocks away… All I had to do was follow the smell! And that Ed Fear, does he look like Jesus or what?! But seriously, look at EDT’s shirt! Isn’t it whacky!”

And he went on like this.

The point is, the more a joke has been made, the more creative you have to be when attempting to make it an additional time. With all the time that had passed since the Nick Eisel incident, and thus all the times that people have said things or had to hear them, you honestly have to show a little more ingenuity than asking during deck construction if you’re allowed to add a Ravenous Baloth. If there were some way to disguise it as an actual pertinent question, part of the problem would be remedied. But not a soul on Earth would think for a minute that the guy was serious. A better method – although I wouldn’t recommend making any Baloth jokes anymore, as they’ve gotten pretty old – would be to go into a lesser-known detail. It may actually have been worth my having to wait another thirty seconds to start building my deck if someone said”Judge, there’s a giant circled no next to my Visara.”

That one’s not as obvious; like I said, still probably not funny, but it’s a vast improvement. People should have to think a little.

And then there’s delivery. Delivery can go a long way in helping a good, or even poor, joke become even better. I find, with my demeanor especially, that deadpan works rather well. But there’s no point in continuing this discussion. I’ll leave you with brief profiles of some of the funniest gamers before I tell you why Chromeshell Crab is so good.

  • Kenny Hsiung – Over-the-top humor, outrageous behavior, infectious lingo

  • Jason Opalka – Another master of lingo, has perfected the Movie Reference

  • Jeff Cunningham – Incredibly subtle, for more refined tastes

  • Peter Szigeti – Same basic concept as Kenny, but better known and possessing at least a shred of dignity

  • Matt Rubin/Kyle Rose – Masterful delivery, whether intentional or not

And now, the blue cards…

1. Chromeshell Crab

The Crab, which happens to be a beast, falls under the classification of”Morph Creatures You Should Never Ever Play Face-Up.” The first way to use the Crab works even if it is your only creature. When it blocks or is being blocked by something 3/x or larger, put damage on the stack, then switch the Crab for a creature of your choice. Since the Crab will die, the end result is that you now control your opponent’s best creature. Another good way to use it is in response to one of your creatures dying, form combat damage or otherwise. If someone Shocks your Glory Seeker, switch it for one of their guys in response… Plus, you get to keep the 3/3 Crab.

A word of caution, though: since the ability is a”switch” effect, if either target becomes illegal prior to resolution, the switch will not take place.

2. Willbender

In blue, cards 2 through 8 are rather shaky territory and may vary according to personal preference. I actually put Willbender lower than this for two reasons: when you morph it, you get a paltry 1/2; and you have to leave two mana open at all times to maximize its effectiveness. Early in the game, that can be a lot.

That said, the Willbender provides an incredible effect that isn’t readily replaceable. The key that makes this a very high pick and Meddle a sideboard card is the phrase”or ability.” This card gives blue/green or blue/white a decent way to handle an opposing Sparksmith. You can ruin combat for an opponent by switching Timberwatch Elf’s target; you can make your opponent Searing Flesh or Flamewave Invoke himself; you can make an opposing Battlefield Medic do your bidding; and so on.

3. Weaver of Lies

If Spectral Sliver is the”black Undorak” then this is the”blue Brackus.” A surprise 4/4 for five mana is unheard of in this color, making it a nice relatively early-game card. In the later game, a 4/4 is still nothing to laugh at, but it is here where its ability is most likely to shine. Its ability can be a combat trick to shrink your opponent’s huge beasts, or you can re-use your own morph triggers… Or both! Once its ability has been used, you can beat with it or leave it back while your fliers do the dirty work.

4. Echo Tracer

Bounce is quite a valuable commodity in this format, as the only Onslaught bounce spells were a slow but powerful sorcery, an instant that could backfire, and a painfully expensive enchantment, all uncommons. If you, for some reason, have found yourself in pack 3, playing blue, and you don’t have very many fliers, by all means take a flier over this. But the versatility of this card – saving creatures from removal or combat, bouncing a key creature before combat, or wrecking a double-block – warrants the inclusion of at least one per blue deck. Especially good in the blue/white and blue/green decks, as it can pass for”removal.”

5. Mistform Seaswift

The order of the next two cards would be a nice debate in the Krouner/Sottosanti”dilemma” series. For each card, I’ll list its strengths relative to the other.

They are both key components to a good blue deck as they are both solid creatures with flying. The Seaswift morphs, attacks for three instead of two – and what really pushes it over the top is that it has the all-powerful Mistform ability to operate selectively with your Sparksmith, Wellwisher, Endemic Plague, or Slivers, among others.

6. Keeneye Aven

A somewhat hot topic of debate is whether it’s best to play an off-color cycler or an off-color morph in a deck. Well, which is better? A 2/2 for three mana, or a reasonable cycling cost? Assuming those are a wash, the Keeneye Aven beats for almost as much as the Seaswift but is much less fragile. A 2/3 flier will usually rule a sky full of 2/2s. All in all, the Seaswift may have a slight edge. The Swift is better in an aggressive deck and the Aven in a defensive deck, which means that I personally prefer the Keeneye Aven.

7. Mistform Ultimus

This has all the cool aspects of a Mistform creature, but it doesn’t cost anything to activate. Granted, this can sometimes be a drawback if your opponent has something tribal. It can’t be Cruel Revivaled, it can be Piety Charmed, it fuels all your tribal abilities, and since it counts as every creature type in every zone, you can return it to your hand with Cruel Revival or use it to amplify absolutely anything. Oh, and it’s a 3/3 for four mana – which, as I discussed previously, is a very powerful thing in this format. If you can see a decent amount of tribal interactions in your deck, you may want to take this over every uncommon and common.

8. Riptide Director

This guy is very slow, and he’s pretty fragile compared to a Slate of Ancestry or Jayemdae Tome. 2/3 for four mana isn’t too bad, but naturally the optimal use of its ability is what makes this card shine. In the late game, even a couple of activations for one will greatly increase your chances of winning. With Mistforms and other random wizards, it will probably net a few cards per activation. Also, if you don’t have that kind of mana to spend, the Director makes an okay Lavamancer’s Skill target.

A point of interest that this card reminded me about: in general, because you get more packs to work with, eight-man draft decks tend to be faster than three-on-threes, which tend to be faster than two-on-twos. I may have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating; this means that slow but powerful cards take on an added value in team drafts. Fewer packs means fewer Glory Seekers to outrace the blue/red mage, fewer Nantuko Vigilantes to destroy Dragon Roost, and so on.

9. Primoc Escapee

This card is naturally more likely to get cycled than Keeneye Aven, making it seem more versatile. The cycling cost is right on this one, as opposed to the three mana it takes to draw a card off Hundroog (Hundroog! – The Ferrett) or Macetail Hystrodon. 4/4 fliers are obviously very good – but seven mana is obviously a lot. The Seaswift, while obviously more fragile, attacks for almost as much damage, but costs roughly half the mana. The Escapee is obviously better once it’s in play, but it’s that much harder to get in play.

10. Wall of Deceit

This is a really good card that fills a void in many blue decks. The fact that, on offense, it is at best a 2/5 ground creature that keeps it from being higher. It’s not terrible to lay this on turn 2 to stall the ground while your Ascending Avens do their thing. Later in the game, if the board clears (after a Slice and Dice or what have you), you can turn this back face down and attack with it. And since its morph cost is so low, it makes a really good combat trick. Block a morph, and pay U with damage on the stack, while your opponent pays much more mana to keep his creature alive or simply lets it die.

11. Riptide Mangler

A nice two-drop to deal with opposing morphs in the early game. In the mid-or-late game (or even the early game, if you have nothing better to do with your mana), a simple activation of two mana allows you to trade with most creatures. You can also attack with it, of course. This beast is like a 3/3 or bigger for four mana that you can”buy” in two easy payments.

12. Synapse Sliver

Four mana for a 3/3 is good; five mana for a 3/3 is pushing it. This one has a good ability though, and it happens to fall in the color of Mistforms, making its ability all the more likely to be abused: Drawing cards is still a good thing. It’s hard to say how good this would be in a different color, as the remaining cards on the list aren’t too terribly powerful. Be careful of opposing Slivers or Mistforms.

13. Covert Operative

Five mana for a 3/2. That’s pretty bad. What isn’t bad is the fact that this guy can’t be blocked, even by fliers. It makes a solid clock, and it is almost as good as an Aven Soulgazer or Gluttonous Zombie… But not quite. I’ve seen this guy get Lavamancer’s Skill more times than I care to mention. Anything is a better Skill target than a 1/1. Online, I frequently see this go as late as 13th, which probably means very few blue drafters, but still probably shouldn’t be happening.

14. Master of the Veil

Another cute way to reuse morph triggers, like Echo Tracer or Willbender, or Backslide an opposing monster in combat. It has a reasonable morph cost, and it gets slightly bigger when you morph it, instead of smaller like many blue morphs. Anything that you can save from another morph with damage on the stack couldn’t be too bad. You probably won’t be playing this one face-up too much. And of course, it’s a wizard, which means…

15. Warped Researcher

It’s better than a 3/3 for five mana to begin with, and it gets even better if you have a lot of cyclers. That should be no problem in blue. It’s still a little on the slow side – but with an abundance of cyclers in your deck, it should perhaps be picked higher. Like the Covert Operative, I see this go a little later than it probably should on Magic Online.

16. Glintwing Invoker

Slightly overcosted. You’ll probably be able to find better offensive cards, like fliers, and better defensive cards, like walls or Riptide Biologist. It can be pesky when you get to eight lands – but note how I said”pesky” and not”game winning.” I mean, it can win games, but its effect isn’t as powerful as any of the other Invokers.

17. Shifting Sliver

Lower than the Covert Operative because of its lower power, but also because of the fact that it isn’t entirely unblockable. It’s sort of like a suboptimal 2/2 flier for four mana that can’t block other fliers. Hmm. It does put your opponent on a nice clock in many cases, so it can be a fine main deck card, especially if you’re a little short on flying creatures. Most of the Mistforms worth maindecking already fly, so making them slivers to make them unblockable will likely be redundant.

18. Voidmage Apprentice

You can’t reliably leave four mana open until the late game, so you’ll often have to counter a spell at the first opportunity to do so. Also, morphing this leaves a measly 1/1 creature in its wake. That said, it’s better than an off-color morph, it’s a wizard, and it can be a”mise” sort of card. If it just so happens that your opponent does in fact play a really good spell while you have this out with four mana open, then congratulations, you’ve mised.

19. Crookclaw Elder

This has a nice ability – and it’s the card-drawing one, although I’m sure the”gives flying” one also has its uses. It’s definitely maindeck worthy if you’re at a shortage for win conditions, since it is a three-power flier. But when you pay six mana, you really want more than two on the rear end. Creatures that cost half as much have a decent shot of trading with this, resulting in a Tempo Loss. I don’t know the URL, but if you can find it, Eric Taylor wrote an article about tempo that could help your game. (Which one? This one? Or this one?- The Ferrett)

20. Mistform Wakecaster

This may be slightly low, but the fact of the matter is that you can do better. The Mistform ability is nice, but I often find myself cutting this card. It’s not significantly better than the Keeneye Aven to warrant the extra mana and lack of cycling… And if, for some reason, you want to make all your creatures the same type, it’s going to be pretty expensive. It’s amazing what one mana will do. As usual, though, if you’re hurting for fliers, it’s an acceptable maindeck card.

21. Dermoplasm

Joey Bags thought I put this one a little low, and that may be the case – but I think where I placed it is totally defensible. It can be a combat trick if you have a morph in hand… But not a particularly good one unless you’re green/blue and have something worth putting into play. It’s pretty bad face-up. If you don’t have a morph in your hand, you can’t even bounce it back. It doesn’t allow you to cheaply activate morph trigger creatures; there are certain cards you actually want to play face-down and then turn up while it’s in play. I don’t have much experience with this card, but I figure that unless you have a lot of Treespring Lorians, Brackuses, or other nice big morph creatures, this is in the realm of off-color morph.

22. Merchant of Secrets

The definition of a Reluctant 23rd Card. It doesn’t do anything, but at least it doesn’t cost you a card. Only play this if you really need a card or have no better plays; save it for last if possible so you aren’t wasting early mana on it. And I guess it can create a diversion for one attacker for one turn while your fliers peck away at your adversary’s life total.

23. Keeper of the Nine Gales

Without its ability, it’s a Goblin Sky Raider, which usually doesn’t do enough to make the cut without multiple Sparksmiths. If you have two other birds, you can activate it – but as the illustrious and fabled Rodman asked me,”If you have three birds out, shouldn’t you just attack with them?”

24. Gempalm Sorcerer

You could put it into play – but wouldn’t you rather have a morph? You could cycle it, but it’s awfully expensive, and giving a bunch of 1/2s flying for a turn doesn’t seem worth it. It does two things, but it does them both poorly. If you’re in need of a wizard, though, it’s at least large enough to trade with a morph should you cast it.

25. Cephalid Pathmage

Another Goblin Sky Raider wannabe; these guys should certainly set their aspirations higher. Giving up a card to make something unblockable for a turn is awful; how often did you play Touch of Invisibility in Odyssey? And that didn’t even cost you a card! I’d consider playing this if I had Phage the Untouchable (which I would’ve drafted over something better) and no Dirge of Dreads, just to be a wiseass.

26. Mistform Sliver

The Mistform ability is good – but not that good. A 1/1 for two mana of the type of your choice is still a 1/1 for two mana.

27. Dreamborn Muse

More expensive than an off-color morph, and with no potential for trickery. And for some reason, it doesn’t fly. I guess it’s conceivable that you could side this in against a slow green deck, but chances are, if your opponent has enough cards trapped in his hand to make this worthwhile, you’re winning anyway.

28. Fugitive Wizard

Whether this is better than Aven Envoy is uncertain, yet a pointless distinction.

29. Aven Envoy

Whether this is better than an off-color non-cycling non-morph is uncertain, yet a pointless distinction.

I wish there was another card in blue that was worse than Aven Envoy – but alas, there is not, so I must bid you farewell until next time. Next week, of course, I will bring you the secret of all natural male enhancement… By which I mean Legions White in limited. After that, though, I don’t know. Are there any topics pertaining to Limited you’d like me to explore? Let me know on the message boards or via e-mail.

I’ll leave you with a song.

I can’t seeeeeeeeeeeee

The end of meeeeeeeeeee

My own expannnnnnnnnse

I cannot seeeeeeeeeee

I formulate infinity

And store it deep inside of me.

Tim Aten

The Scum of the Earth

[email protected]