I noticed that I am spending a lot of time (both in the last few columns and in some stuff I haven’t finished yet) complaining about the formats. The simple fact is that I am not having as much fun as I used to. While I like playing control decks, and while most of my PTQ top 8 pins* have been earned playing control decks, I cannot say that I enjoy playing an endless run of control-on-control matches.
Weirdest of all, I find myself missing the Urza’s Saga block.
I know that’s not supposed to happen. Saga block had all those broken cards. Saga block spawned all the horrible decks that were no fun to play. Wizards had to ban or restrict most of Saga block. Saga block was a mistake, right? Everybody knows that.
I’m not sure I agree.
Yes, the Type 2 environment built around Saga and Tempest blocks had some individual broken decks. Academy was broken, but it was amazingly fun to play. The problem was that it was amazingly annoying to be the person in the match who wasn’t playing it. Jar Grim (with Megrim and Memory Jar and turn 1 kills) was a mistake. But once those bannings had happened, the format was interesting. There were many good decks around when Saga block was legal, and the decks were always interesting.
I remember Tempest / Saga T2. The format had some powerful blue decks, like the blue control decks that eventually Capsize-locked you, but it had a number of other viable decks. Covetous Wildfire decks were powerful. Other artifact decks were built around Temporal Aperture. Suicide Black was potent. Living Death/Survival decks flourished because of the amazing creature base.
I miss all those creatures with comes into play abilities. I miss cards like Bone Shredder and Monk Realist and Uktabi Orangutan. I miss the creatures with what we used to call 187 abilities. The closest thing to a useful 187 now days is gain 4 life. Cloudchaser Eagle – sorry, Cloudchaser Aven – is the other exception, but it is a bit too costly to see play. Oh – I forgot. While green, the creature color, certainly cannot have a good 187 creature, blue gets one in Aven Fogbringer. And red has one, for a few months at least, in Flametongue Kavu. However, I want to see more creatures like Keldon Arsonists, Deranged Hermit, Abyssal Horror – even Cackling Fiend. I would even be willing to see Avalanche Riders come back – I hate playing against land destruction, but I really hate having the best land destruction/mana denial decks being blue, as they are right now.
I want to see mana acceleration again. I want to play with artifacts that could actually allow you to play with creatures and artifacts that cost more than three. Yes, Accelerated Blue was a pain, but it was not dominant.
Saga and Destiny did create some broken combos. Yawgmoth’s Bargain was not an attempt to fix Necro, but to break that concept a little more. It broke it completely. However, Bargain decks were never completely dominant – no more so than Psychatog at present, and certainly not as bad as Academy or High Tide. Moreover, decks like Bargain were extremely difficult to play. If you think that 1.5x + .5y is a tricky formula, you should have tried Bargain. Deciding whether you could go off with Bargain or whether you had to wait a turn required a lot more math. It was more important because there were a lot of strong decks that could beat Bargain if you gave them too much time. In many cases, one extra turn was too much time.
Saga Block Constructed was also a varied block. Mono-green decks had a complete mana curve, with serious fat and seriously fast weenies, all with Rancor to help out. Suicide Black had amazing starts – Swamp, Ritual, Duress, Ritual, Negator, Skittering Skirge is okay as a turn one play. However, Replenish, Morphling/Opposition, Sneak Attack, and many other decks all made showings somewhere along the line.
Even Saga/Masques T2 was interesting. Replenish changed to incorporate the fading enchantments Parallax Wave and Tide. Tinker became a powerhouse. Sabre Bargain relied on a few Masques cards, like Renounce. Newer variants of Ponza were still around, and mono-green, mono-black and mono-red decks were all pretty strong. Personally, I cleaned up with a variant on the original Rock and his Minions – using Deranged Hermit and Phyrexian Plaguelord for creature control and Rapid Decay to beat Replenish and Bargain.
In the era of Saga block, making multi-colored decks took some effort. The only multicolored lands were Ice Age painlands, City of Brass, and a few very weak multicolored lands like Thran Quarry. Green’s ability to fetch additional colors actually meant something, and Yavimaya Elders and Grangers were necessary parts of many multicolored decks, especially since Dustbowl and Rishadan Port were common parts of control decks. Heck, Dustbowl and Port were common parts of nearly all decks.
I think it would be interesting for Wizards to limit the number of multicolored lands in Eighth edition. I’m not saying it would be great – but it would be interesting. Obviously, Wizards could reprint City of Brass and all the painlands. Alternatively, Wizards could reprint none of the painlands, and rely on green for mana diversity. It could reprint Yavimaya Elder, Birds of Paradise, City of Brass, and the two-colored comes-into-play tapped lands from Invasion. One advantage here would be that most of these lands were uncommons, not rares, making it easier to get them. Wizards could also add something like Gemstone Mine, which could combine nicely with Petrified Field. That type of reprint would definitely make building opposite colored decks more difficult, and would shake up the format somewhat.
Again, I’m not saying that would be good, but it would be interesting.
Another option would be reprint all the painlands – all ten – plus City of Brass and maybe even Gemstone Mine, but reprint Yavimaya Elder and then Back to Basics as a green enchantment (yes, that would have to be done in a new set, not 8th edition.) That would make green a more important color, since it – and it alone – could reliably create multicolored decks. Right now, getting all the colors is a green theme, but it is undervalued since other colors can do just as well. Obviously, since Invasion was the multi-colored block, it was important to make multi-colored decks easy to build… But once it rotates, easy, non-green multicolored decks are not going to be a given. If it is difficult, we could see green control decks again. That would be a refreshing change. We haven’t had one since Saga was legal. Remember Trinity Green? It was another deck rooted in Saga block cards.
I miss Saga block. Have I mentioned that? I hope Wizards starts thinking about what Saga brought to the table, aside from the broken cards. We could use some of those cards back.
I want to wrap this up with my recommendations for Eighth Edition. I hope Wizards is listening. (As an aside, you can debate these choices on StarCity’s discussion board, where the 8th edition discussion is.)
Here are the cards I would want to see in the next basic set:
- The charms (Emerald, Ebony, Funeral, etc. – except the blue one, which involve phasing) all provide versatile, interesting cards that are not broken or amazing, but are useful.
- Impulse or Brainstorm, these provide instant speed library manipulation, but do not provide additional cards – they are glorified cantrips.
- Creatures with useful abilities: Viashino Heretic, Uktabi Orangutan, Monk Realist, Gaea’s Chosen, Yavimaya Elder, Utopia Tree, Nekrataal,
- Some green staples: Wall of Roots, River Boa, Choke. (City of Solitude would be even more interesting, but it would violate the reprint policy.) And green needs a good fattie – reprint Verdant Force.
- The spikes – Spike Weaver, Spike Feeder and maybe one or two more. After that reprint Natural Order – since I have just listed about two thirds of Secret Force, and Natural Order would make it complete – would be nice, if not exactly realistic.
- For black, Carnophage, Twisted Experiment, and Phyrexian Negator. Those cards are much less scary without Dark Ritual. Reprinting Phyrexian Arena might be a nice touch. A playable instant-speed black removal card might be nice, as well. Snuff Out is probably too good, but maybe Terror should come back.
- Red Elemental Blast, which destroys Chill and provides another weapon against Blue. Burnout would be okay as a fallback. Blue Elemental Blast is not necessarily needed – blue already has lots of counters and useful red hate.
- Argothian Enchantress, which could combine with Verduran to actually make a playable Enchantress deck.
- Tranquil Grove, or even Tranquil Domain, and Presence of the Master.
- Kjeldoran Outpost
- Star Compass, which I think this would be far more useful in an environment with fewer multi-color lands, and could replace the diamonds if you wanted to free up some artifact slots. (Fewer multi-color lands? Remember that Invasion block has comes-into-play-tapped duals like Salt Marsh, sac lands like Ancient Spring, opposite colored painlands and the Dragon Lairs. There is no way all of them can be reprinted, so we are going to have fewer multicolored lands no matter what.) Chromatic Sphere could also be worth reprinting.
- Artifacts like Thran Dynamo, Scrying Glass, Bargaining Table, Citanul Flute, Temporal Aperture, Scroll Rack, Dancing Scimitar should appear.
- Misc. stuff; Scragnoth, Mogg Fanatic, Skittering Skirge, Exhume,
Some controversial ones: Rancor (I know – Trample is too complex for basic sets), Cursed Totem, Null Rod, Cursed Scroll, Phyrexian Furnace, Arcane Denial, Stinging Barrier, Sylvan Library.
Armageddon, which is worth a whole article in itself, is another possibility.
- Either Healing Salve or Sacred Nectar (because you don’t need both)
- Some of the bounce: Unsummon, Boomerang, etc. Blue has way too much bounce in Type 2, and since some more bounce is going to appear in every set because of Limited play, the amount of bounce in the basic set should be limited. On the other hand, I’m not certain I want to see Temporal Adept leave the format.
- Fat blue creatures: Blue should not have the best fat. Get rid of Vizzerdrix, Sea Monster, Benthic Behemoth, and Glacial Wall. If Blue needs a fattie – which is not unreasonable – add Tidal Kraken.
- Daring Apprentice has always been useless without Lifeline, so dump him.
- Mana Short makes it too easy for blue control deck and their mirror matchups – especially in an environment with Cunning Wish and Upheaval. It might be worth bringing it back in a future set, but in some other color.
- Miscellaneous unplayable cards, like Castle, Elite Archers, Reverse Damage, Elder Druid, Monstrous Growth, Shanodin Dryads, Crystal Rod and its friends, Feroz’s Ban, Orcish Oriflamme, and so forth.
That’s hardly comprehensive, but it’s long enough for now. If you have some thoughts of your own, check out the StarCity forum discussion on 8th edition.
* – That’s as good as it gets – I have made top 8 occasionally, and even top 2, but have never qualified.