Where We Came From And Where We’re Going

They say that history repeats itself. This has been proven over and over again in history – but it has yet to be proven in Magic.

First things first: The winner of my contest! A couple weeks ago, I asked my readers to vote for who they thought was the most evil of all evil villains. Let’s see what the winners had to say:

Nick Blas, the winner of the contest, providing the answer with the most thought put into it, said:

“For Mortal, I have to pick Lex Luthor, for exactly one reason. Evidently, there is a Superman story where Lex goes into a diner in the middle of nowhere, sits down, offers the waitress a million dollars to go away with him. Then when she goes to get him a drink he disappears, leaving her to deal with the thought of what might have been.

“For Immortal, I’d be forced to go with the Auditors from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The Auditors are a group of nameless, non-individual entities who constantly try to make the universe more ordered, by destroying everything worth having. At one point, they try to destroy the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus, for example.”

Nameless fiends who destroy Santa Claus? *gasp* That deserves a Phyrexian Arena if anything does!

Earning a Lord of the Undead, David Zadok Stroud gives his two cents:

“First, Phantom kicks ass, pure and simple. 🙂 My all-time favorite musical, by FAR and away.”

He’s off to a good start, with several brownie points.

“As for the best sci-fi villain, I’m afraid I find myself compelled to vote for HAL. While he may not be a villain in the purest sense of the word, he definitely acts like one. And nothing is quite as scary as a powerful force under the mistaken impression that it’s doing the right thing…”

And he secures second place with a demi-moral almost-villain.

Deciding to go to a third place, BGHurt walks away with an Avatar of Woe for his vote for Diablo (anyone who gets banished from hell has to be bad news) and Sephiroth (a complex mutant on a quest to become immortal).

And, of course, our random winner(s) is (are) Scott and Amy English, scoring a Fallen Angel (another manifestation of the Phantom) for their vote of Barry Manilow and Cthulhu as the most evil mortal and immortal villains of all time.

Now, on to the meat of the article.

They say that history repeats itself. This has been proven over and over again in history – but it has yet to be proven to a major extent in Magic. And, what is that extent, you ask? I’m speaking of the trends towards the rock, paper, scissors, and hand grenade of the Rock, Paper, Scissors Theory of Magic.

First, a definition: The Rock, Paper, Scissors Theory is a simple one. Much like the game Rock, Paper, Scissors, Magic had decktypes that function much in the same fashion. Beatdown decks beat control decks; these in turn beat combo decks. Combo decks beat beatdown decks. It’s a vicious cycle only disrupted by the rogue Hand Grenade that takes everyone by storm.

Knowing this, we can look back on Magic’s recent Standard history and examine which aspect the expansions have leaned towards.

Our analysis will begin with Urza’s Saga and the upcoming expansions. Although there was a healthy metagame consisting of Rock (Stampy), Paper (Permission), and Scissors (Bargain/Replenish), the combo element far outweighed anything else. Sure you had Angry Hermit and Ponza, but most people played or played to beat Replenish or Bargain (though this decktype was largely forgotten in the shadow of Replenish once Nemesis was released). The environment was extremely fast one way or another. Either your beatdown deck killed you before you had time to shake hands with cards like Wild Dogs, Pouncing Jaguar, and Rancor – or you were facing down an army consisting of Attunement, Parallax Wave, Parallax Tide, and Opalescence (and you, incidentally, had no permanents). Even control decks worked on speed, like the Wildfire deck featuring lots of artifact acceleration – and even Accelerated Blue, which had similar acceleration, used to get out a Morphling quickly and to back up that Swiss Army Knife with loads of counterspells. Overall, the field was extremely fast and dominated by combo.

Once Urza’s Block rotated out, the madness seemed to end. With only the Masques Block and Invasion in the field, beatdown took over. Fires was everywhere and Blastoderm was in every deck featuring Forests. Rebels decks also flourished, bringing many a tear to many an eye (including those who played against Rebels, as they cried from sheer boredom*). The environment, though slowed down, could still kill you with a turn four Saproling Burst (preceded by, of course, the ubiquitous Blastoderm). However, this fast death was much more wholesome than the filthy experience of returning Attunement to your hand twice, dropping two Opalescences and three Parallax Waves, those two Attunements, and a Parallax Tide into your graveyard, and then casting Replenish. We’d moved into an era of beatdown where combo decks were virtually nonexistent.

Focus now on the present. Rebels are legal, but are they being played? Fires is much the same – I think people are finally realizing just exactly how bad that deck is for so many reasons it makes me sick. Almost every winning deck these days is a control deck. Whether sporting Absorb, Undermine, or both, these control decks will also feature Counterspell and even more counters including Exclude, Foil, and/or Thwart. A B/U/W deck could essentially run twenty-four hard counters with Excludes and Rethinks to round it out. Throw in Millstone and/or Nether Spirit, and you can’t lose. 🙂

My point is that we’re currently in an era of control. Combo is completely out of contention, and beatdown generally gets run over by superior control cards like counters, burn, Wraths/Routs, or spot removal like Terminate and Vindicate. We’re also dominated by Trish effects, keeping in every blue deck both Fact or Fiction and Accumulated Knowledge with Opt, Sleight of Hand, and Tsabo’s Web on the side if need be. Even black, which is so versatile it makes my head spin**, holds its weight in this controllish environment with some of the best control cards in existence, including Pernicious Deed, Vindicate, Death Grasp, Undermine, Phyrexian Arena, and even Spiritmonger to a point along with Void, Blazing Specter, Duress, Vendetta, Snuff Out, Terminate, Pyre Zombie, and Nether Spirit.

So, in the past three years, we’ve gone from Scissors to Rock to Paper. Now we can look at what’s in store for the future.

Here’s what we know: Invasion Block is staying put. Therefore, a great deal of the good control cards are staying with us. But, what we don’t know is what Odyssey will bring. From what I’ve seen so far of sketchy spoilers on MtGNews and select cards from the Sideboard, it looks like it’s going to be slower beatdown, much like the Masques Block/Invasion combination. With several elephant-generating cards, along with the slower burn spell Firebolt premiered on Sideboard, it appears that we’re about to travel backwards in time, winding back the clock. Just as beatdown carried over from Rath/Artifacts Cycle to Artifact Cycle/Masques Block, so might control pass from Masques/Invasion Block to Invasion/Odyssey Block. But, in the longer run, it appears that, with the rotation of Invasion block next year, we’ll be going back to a Masques-like era. I’m drawing this conjecture, of course, from a few cards and the theory that history repeats itself. Only time can truly tell what lies in store.

But, I’m pretty sure I’m right. Or not. (That’s what Rizzo says, and he’s usually right. Right? Right.)

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see for the real end result. Until then, get used to playing with counterspells!

Daniel Crane

[email protected]

* – This simply reflects the author’s opinion of what many Rebel players should have been doing – for Rebels, though effective, was an extremely dull deck.

** – I mean, it’s the color that goes”Ritual, Negator,” and it’s the color that goes”Bargain, Skirge (time elapses), you lose.”