Yawgmoth’s Whimsy: Countering Force Of Will

And then Peter Jahn replies to Will Rieffer’s comments on the expense and possible shift of Extended, and how Nether Spirit wouldn’t be good no matter what….

Will Rieffer replied to my reply. I guess I have priority again. I do have a response.

Most of Will’s arguments are pretty well reasoned. I just have a few quibbles – and one big disagreement.

First, the quibbles. I don’t agree that Nether Spirit would be good in Extended if not for Swords to Plowshares. I don’t even believe it would be good in the current T2, since a Nether-Go deck would not stack up well against cards like Call of the Herd and Coffin Purge, or against Mystic Enforcer for that matter. Nether Spirit decks work by forcing the opponent to over-commit and stalling until a Wrath of God or the like clears the board. I agree that Swords to Plowshares would mess up that plan, since it could remove the Nether Spirit. However, in the current Extended environment, a lot of other cards would also give a Nether Spirit deck fits – Ebony Charm, Phyrexian Furnace, Werebear, and Mystic Enforcer, fliers, shadow – even silliness like Topple and Exile. Nether Spirit was a big fish in a small pool (T2 including Masques block), but it is just a minnow in a larger environment.

The point is that cards are always going to have a lower value in larger card pools. Cards are only good if they are better – either in themselves or in combination with other cards – than the available alternatives. You play cards in a draft or sealed deck that never get played in Constructed, because there is nothing better in the draft. You play cards in Block that cannot survive in Standard – and the same holds true of Standard and Extended and T1. Predict is not Sleight of Hand and Sleight of Hand is not Ancestral Recall – but each gets played in its format. And each has a value based on that format. My point was that cards that have value in Extended have shown their value in a larger card pool already, so they tend to retain their value better. That’s quibble number two.

I will agree with Will that I have a slight bias and advantage – I am middle-aged, both Ingrid and I work, we both play Magic, and we can afford to get the cards we need. Moreover, Ingrid judges large events and prereleases, so she usually gets a couple of boxes of each set as payment, in addition to the cards we draft and buy. However, I do envy Will if he can get enough cards out of two boxes a set to play Standard competitively – Ingrid and I opened a lot more than two boxes of Odyssey and still only had three Call of the Herds and a pair of Upheavals. We always end up buying, borrowing, and trading to play competitive Standard decks. And Standard always costs more than Extended, and T1 is cheaper than anything else – once you own the Power Nine.* That’s quibble number three.

However, I have a deeper problem with the call for the DCI to tell us exactly when sets will rotate in Extended – I don’t believe they should set a schedule or rotate sets. Any set rotation will invariably mean that the format will change dramatically. It is an oversimplification to say that the format is about the duals. Technically, the format is defined by the duals and the ability to search out the duals. The duals let you get the colors you need… But cards like Tithe, Wood Elves and the Mirage fetch lands let you get the duals you need, when you need them. The newer cards do not allow that same level of search, since most allow you only to search for basic lands and since the search cards will not get painlands. If the DCI states that two sets will rotate out every two years, for example, then we know that the duals will no longer be as useful in two years, when the Mirage fetch lands and cards like Tithe are gone.

I know I have talked about this before, but without the ability to fetch the duals, the format will be much different. If the only available multicolor lands are either painlands or come into play tapped, then faster and more consistent decks like Sligh and Stompy will dominate.** Moreover, fast access to the duals can make multicolored decks competitive with control decks like Stasis, Tradewind Rider/Opposition, or Winter Orb decks. I don’t have a serious concern about the cost or availability of dual lands – duals have been cheaper and more available that Urza’s Rage for the last year – but I do have concerns about having the format dominated by speed beatdown and mana denial decks.

Wizards could address part of this problem by reprinting some of the critical cards in 8th edition – for example, Wizards could reprint the fetch lands instead of the Ice Ages painlands, but that only solves part of the problem (and may create others). A set rotation would also mean that we would lose lots of cards that are critical to the current decks – Swords, Wall of Roots, Krovikan Horror, Pyroblast, etc., etc.*** That’s what set rotations mean – cards that see a lot of play are suddenly only playable in fun decks, not in tourneys. That’s the down side of set rotations.

Set rotations are necessary in Standard to keep the environment fresh and interesting. However, I would argue that the Extended environment is already fresh and interesting (unless the ridiculous number of decks packing Winter Orb continues to grow). We already know that next season, some of the decks that are currently good will no longer be tier one – but we know that will happen without a rotation. The advent of new sets – and additional experience – will create new decks and new threats. That’s simple evolution – and it occurs even over the length of the Extended season. If you doubt me, check out the top 64 decklists from PT: New Orleans. How many of those decks are still viable? How many of the decks that made day two at GP: Houston even existed two months ago? It does not take a set rotation to keep the Extended environment fresh.

Setting a firm schedule for rotations would mean that the prices for some old cards – those about to rotate out – would fall dramatically at the end of the season. I don’t see what else would change. Dual lands are readily available, and at prices comparable to other high quality cards. So are the other cards needed to play Extended. Rotating the sets will not bring more players into the game, but it could drive out some old school players looking for another chance to play Pebbles or Sligh with Ball Lightning.

I agree with Will that we do not know when – or if – the DCI will rotate sets in Extended again. I don’t agree that not knowing is a bad thing – I see far more bad than good coming from set rotations in Extended. Let sets rotate in Block and Standard as scheduled… But I, for one, would prefer to have Extended never rotate again. I do expect bannings, as we discover cards that are just too broken in the larger card pool, but there is no reason to rotate out unbroken cards. The cards are available to players, the format is doing fine, and I would like to see that continue.


* – We finally do have some P9 cards – at least enough that we can both play T1 decks with at least some of the good stuff – different stuff – in each deck. I cannot recommend marrying a Magic player too highly.

** Of course, if Fireblast, Viashino Sandstalker, and Ball Lightning also rotate out, then Sligh may not be good. But even if the fast, mono-colored, consistent deck is not Sligh, whatever that deck is, it will still beat any deck that cannot get all the colors of mana it needs in a consistent manner. And mono-colored decks are not all that interesting.

*** Let’s assume that the DCI does rotate sets again, and that Extended loses Ice Ages block, Mirage block, and Fifth edition. Look at what goes away (besides "problem" cards like Force of Will, Swords to Plowshares and Illusions of Grandeur): Phyrexian Furnace, Abeyance, Anarchy, Aura of Silence, Arcane Denial, Anarchy, Ashen Ghoul, Bad River (and the fetch lands and Kjeldoran Outpost), Ball Lightning, Blanket of Night, Bounty of the Hunt (and Elvish Spirit Guide), Burnout, City of Solitude, Contagion, Deathgrip (and Lifeforce), Drain Life, Dwarven Miner -and that’s just tip of the iceberg (actually, just the cards from A-D.) The list of cards leaving the format that might be playable, but are not broken, goes on and on. Those sets contain 1855 cards, and only a few of them are reprinted in later sets. I want the option of playing all those cards in Extended, unless they actually break the format.