Congratulations to Freddie Tan and his wife Des, proprietors of one of the shops I’ve patronized since my high school days. They sponsored the first GameCon (Games and Collectibles Convention) last September 21 with the Mirrodin Prerelease as the centerpiece. It was held in the top floor of the large SM Megamall in the center of the city, and that mile-long shopping mall was also the venue of the last Grand Prix Manila.
It was quite an achievement, with half of the large hall occupied by Magic players, from Prerelease players to even a guy selling Moxen, and the other half occupied by the Legend of the Five Rings side tournament, Vampire and Mechwarrior: Dark Age book display, and the Heroclix demos.
And, most of all, Freddie didn’t forget to bring in the girls in tight sleeveless blouses, short black shorts, and gunbelts a la Lara Croft. Good move.
Glenson Lim (remember the signed Wasteland featured in my 101st column?) caught me as I was about to go join my family for dinner, but we sat down in the middle of the hall and beside the Warhammer gaming area with an agreement to concede after someone gained an advantage. His Wasteland did get played against him, but I was whipped after he played end-of-turn Fact or Fiction and won the counter war. He untapped and cast Mystical Tutor during his upkeep, and I named the card myself before conceding on his Turn 5.
I’ll get him next GameCon.
In the few minutes before I had to rush off, amusingly enough, a small crowd gathered in a three-foot radius around our table. Now, you might think they were in shocked silence at seeing a counterwar involving Mana Drains backed by Mox Sapphire and friends and Black Lotus on opposite sides of the table (yes, we have a very small fraction of the world’s jewelry supply). However, it was because we both play with two-millimeter Top Loaders – Glenson with gray Top Loaders and green sleeves and myself with blue Top Loaders and old Black Shields.
They must’ve been thinking, who are the clowns with the Battle of Wits decks?
Of course, the story isn’t complete without the Warhammer judge who walked over and asked,”Type I Magic? Isn’t that all about who wins the die roll?” I was sorely tempted to reply,”Limited? Isn’t that all about paying good money to play with bad cards?” but diplomatically pointed out he was watching a control mirror.
Freddie isn’t the only one experiencing good business, despite the peso depreciation and all. I went back to the small mall a couple of blocks from my old high school last weekend, and counted a lot of stalls selling Magic singles in addition to the two card stores that were around since I my high school days. The Tenth Anniversary won’t be the last even in this relatively small Third World market.
It so happened that some of the miscellaneous intros of recent columns noted funny plays with newer”The Deck” options. Since Mirrodin may well make the metagame as we know it obsolete, I thought I’d leave a note about a last one.
I detailed in past articles that I never really liked Future Sight. I tested it shortly after it was first printed, and then two more times after the first run. During each run, I ended up yanking it since I ended up pitching it to Force of Will early, or being able to cast it only when the game was in hand. When I did resolve it, I’d turn over a counter I couldn’t cast, a Swords to Plowshares that had no target, or two land in a row. It’s best viewed as a Jayemdae Tome on steroids, albeit one that’s hit by Red Elemental Blast after boarding.
I tried it again as part of the other things I’ve been experimenting with. It’s incredible with Fastbond, but it can be supported by a number of other elements that have worked their way into”The Deck” such as an extra fetchland or two in the mana base, multiple Brainstorms, a Duress that can be cast off the top of the library, and Vampiric Tutor in the sideboard for Cunning Wish.
My luck with Sight changed the last time I stuck it in. I wonder if buying a foil Future Sight for two dollars had something to do with it.
20:31:37 – It is now turn 18.
20:32:50 – Rakso moves Cunning Wish from tabletop to Rakso’s hand.
20:32:52 – Rakso moves Mana Drain from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:33:08 – Sol Ring is tapped.
20:33:16 – Volcanic Island is tapped.
20:33:17 – Rakso plays Cunning Wish.
20:33:24 – Rakso creates new card: Vampiric Tutor.
20:33:24 – Marcus says:’nod’
20:33:24 – Rakso moves Vampiric Tutor from limbo to Rakso’s hand.
20:33:27 – Mox Jet is tapped.
20:33:28 – Rakso plays Vampiric Tutor.
20:33:31 – Marcus says:’nod’
20:33:32 – Rakso’s life is now 5. (-2)
20:33:56 – Rakso moves Mana Drain to Rakso’s library.
20:34:05 – Rakso moves Time Walk from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:34:06 – Rakso is shuffling library…
20:34:09 – Underground Sea is tapped.
20:34:10 – Mox Ruby is tapped.
20:34:12 – Rakso buries Time Walk.
20:34:13 – Rakso moves Mox Sapphire from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:34:16 – Rakso moves Wasteland from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:34:18 – Rakso moves Mystical Tutor from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:34:21 – Mox Sapphire is tapped.
20:34:27 – Rakso moves Mind Twist from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:34:32 – Underground Sea is tapped.
20:34:33 – Mox Pearl is tapped.
20:34:35 – Wasteland is tapped.
20:34:38 – Rakso says:’Twist for 2′
20:34:43 – Marcus moves Mana Drain from Marcus’s hand to Marcus’s graveyard.
20:34:45 – Marcus moves Force of Will from Marcus’s hand to Marcus’s graveyard.
20:34:56 – Rakso moves Mana Drain from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
20:35:02 – Rakso says:’second turn’
20:35:02 – Underground Sea is untapped.
20:35:02 – Underground Sea is untapped.
20:35:02 – Volcanic Island is untapped.
20:35:02 – Mox Pearl is untapped.
20:35:02 – Sol Ring is untapped.
20:35:02 – Mox Ruby is untapped.
20:35:02 – Mox Jet is untapped.
20:35:02 – Mox Sapphire is untapped.
20:35:02 – Wasteland is untapped.
20:35:05 – Rakso moves Mana Drain from tabletop to Rakso’s hand.
20:35:06 – Rakso moves Cunning Wish from Rakso’s library to tabletop.
Maximizing Mirrodin: Artifacts
We began the Mirrodin review early – since this time, the spoiler came with card scans. I started off with creatures since it’s my usual pattern, and it’s the easiest category to start with if your reader happens to be a beginner. If you’re not satisfied with that reason, then let’s just say Steve Menendian, a.k.a. Smmenen called a Paragon Non-Disclosure Agreement so that people could trade for Chalice of the Void at the Prerelease while everyone chases after Chrome Mox. After reading this article, watch for Steve’s in-depth playtesting results on that unforgivable R&D mistake.
Anyway, we can put the next half of the creatures on hold and get to the artifacts. (I saved Isochron Scepter and some others for a second half since there are so many of them, but Raphael Magarik wrote an article on that specific card.) This is a bigger challenge, considering my Scourge review only had to deal with Ark of Blight and Stabilizer, so let’s focus on Rule #2 of my two rules:
- Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)
- Does the card do something no past card ever did, and if it does, is this new card playable?
Who headed the design team anyway? Why in the world would you print another Mox, precisely when you had to restrict mana artifacts down to Lotus Petal the last time combo dominated Type I, and fingers were pointing to Lion’s-Eye Diamond before Mirrodin?
This is the sort of card that can only be used by combo decks.
Beginners see the word”Mox” and forget that the originals granted a permanent tempo gain without any card or tempo disadvantage (see “Counting Tempo” for the full explanation). When Stronghold was released, few realized this immediately, and some even argued on The Dojo that, for example, you could easily use it in Sligh to cast your mid-range creature a turn earlier, and topdeck a third Mountain by your third turn.
This was, of course, wishful thinking, and only hype pushed that chase rare above the normal good rare price bracket.
Why only combo?
Following the language of my tempo articles, combo decks aim to build an overwhelming early tempo advantage, then bring powerful card advantage cards into play to make up. Set up, the engine brings in more mana and then more cards, then defeats you.
Thus, it’s a combo deck that can afford to pitch the weakest spell in its hand to set up its combo, or pitch a superficial spell when set up to gain a crucial additional mana to keep the engine going and kill you this turn. Relatively younger cards like Mox Diamond and Lotus Petal fit this bill nicely.
There’s really no point and the question isn’t if this will get restricted on principle, but when. I seriously wish they’d pre-announce restrictions, so collectors don’t get burned, like some probably did when Mind’s Desire’s price spiked immediately before the unexpectedly swift restriction announcement.
Other than some combo, no aggro or control archetype will want the card disadvantage. The only other possible experiment I can think of is a white-based deck that runs on the Land Tax/Scroll Rack combo, since those were weakened by the restriction of Mox Diamond. This particular combo, however, has weakened in an increasingly fast metagame, and two turns to set it up and a couple more to reap an advantage is just too slow. Many White Weenie and Deck Parfait builds use either Land Tax or Tithe, though, and this could help. However, the disadvantage is far worse than Mox Diamond’s for these decks.
Chalice of the Void
This is the second Mirrodin aberration, and it doesn’t take much imagination to hate what this does.
First, read “A Mana Curve Can Be A Line Or A Blob” and get a feel for various archetypes’ mana curves.
- Now, if X=0 (0 mana), Chalice keeps every free mana artifact off the board. This hurts Workshop-based decks, and cripples many combo decks, especially those that overload all the way to Lion’s-Eye Diamond. And at zero mana, this can boil down to the die roll and the opening hand (or mulligan).
- If X=1 (2 mana), Chalice counters every Sligh or Goblin creature and burn spell, and affects a handful of other archetypes like Stompy.
- If X=2 (4 mana), Chalice counters every Suicide Black creature and disruption spell, plus some others with a lot in the two-mana slot like White Weenie.
- Four mana is a lot already – but if you want to go further, X=3 could, for example, hurt Hulk Smash, since that shuts down Psychatog, Intuition, and the Cunning Wish that picks up the Artifact Mutation or Naturalize.
Chalice is indiscriminate. First, it hits mana slots, not colors, so splashing colors into your aggro deck won’t matter. Second, it’s colorless itself, and can be played in any deck. Note that any deck can manage X=0 or X=1 easily, and any deck with Mishra’s Workshop or even Mana Drain can manage X=2 reliably.
Now, “Counting Tempo” and “A Mana Curve Can Be A Line Or A Blob” explained why you want the cheapest possible creatures for a smooth development, and the large Type I card pool pushes weenie decks into using mainly one-mana creatures. They have to, because anything more expensive would be too slow or screw up the mana curve, and there’s simply no point in using Ironclaw Orcs when Jackal Pup costs half the mana.
Note that this especially applies to budget decks. Without tempo-breakers like Mishra’s Workshop and Moxen to condone bumps in the mana curve, they have to make do with efficiency and redundancy. So again, if you can get what you want for one mana, you have to instead of waiting another turn.
Budget play isn’t technically an issue in analyzing the Type I metagame, but its state impacts on a lot more players. They’ll be even more annoyed when you consider that fully-powered decks should be least affected by Chalice. Having powerful but non-artifact tempo cards like Mishra’s Workshop let you diversify a deck’s casting costs since you’re no longer encouraged to stick mainly to the one-mana slot, and working in powerful bombs like”The Deck” does also results in some mana cost diversity.
Putting all this together, Chalice:
- Hoses entire archetypes
- Can be played in any deck to shut down at least combo and weenie aggro
- Hoses budget archetypes worst and some powered archetypes least, by nature
These are three very weighty bullet points, and when you say”entire archetypes,” you’re talking about radical changes to the metagame.
Now, consider that using Chalice in Type I is extremely brainless. You don’t have to design a deck around it. Hell, you don’t even have to design a mana base for it. You also don’t have to play any differently to set Chalice up; you can just stick it into any deck and then refer to a rough, pre-made guide and decide X based on your friends’ scouting reports. (This last point really sours the small store metagame, where you know what everyone is playing.) Heck, it’s like a cheap, colorless Charm that can be played as either an undercosted Null Rod, an undercosted Aether Flash, or an uber-Meddling Mage.
In short, Chalice of the Void adds nothing to deckbuilding or actual play, but it affects broad swathes of the Type I metagame.
Thus, you ask, what was the point of printing this card?
Pat Chapin actually leaked the mechanic months in advance on the #bdchat channel on EFNet, but no one imagined it would be this undercosted or colorless. If this is R&D’s idea of a Type I playable card, then congratulations, see you at the format’s funeral.
Should Chalice be restricted?
Chalice isn’t broken in the conventional sense Ancestral Recall and Necropotence were broken. You can draw a comparison, however, based on virtual card advantage: it can neutralize so many cards in certain archetypes even before these are drawn from the library. If you don’t subscribe to this, however, you might consider a restriction out of the sheer boredom Chalice adds to Type I. Note that printing a cheap, colorless card that hurts every combo and mono red aggro in turn benefits the decks that lose against these two decks – and you’re not sure where the domino effect will end and whether it will drastically narrow the field the way Growing ‘Tog did.
And even if Chalice is restricted, you still get a cheap, colorless hoser that comes as a bonus to any deck that sticks it in and draws it in the opening hand. You end up with something like first-turn Blood Moon – only this time, you don’t need to have Lotus in hand as well.
You know I hate cards that induce this kind of randomness, and wouldn’t mind a ban, even.
Again, who led the design team? We know R&D doesn’t know much about Type I and we don’t want them pretending they know it inside out and inflicting unintentional damage. However, R&D surely has some time for Extended, and some of the Type I concerns apply to the large Extended card pool as well.
Anyway, if you need more information, fellow Paragon Steve Menendian will have several pages of playtesting results to convince you with, starting tomorrow.
In the meantime, many decks will have to deal with Chalice or get hosed. Sligh has built-in Gorilla Shaman or Goblin Vandal, and can turn to 2- and 3-mana solutions. Red, at least, has the largest pool, and can even experiment with unlikely cards like Crash, the free Shatter (and Stompy can maindeck Naturalize). Combo decks will probably have to use something castable with one land, like Crumble or Gorilla Shaman. White decks pack Seal of Cleansing, which is also two mana, but can turn to three-mana solutions such as Aura of Silence, Abolish, and Devout Witness. Black seems out of luck, since the viable artifact killers are Powder Keg and Gate to Phyrexia, and both are in the two-mana slot. Phyrexian Tribute, anyone?
Here’s a quick chart of cheap artifact killers, even the obscure ones, for brainstorming purposes:
- Goblin Tinkerer
- Powder Keg
- Shattering Pulse
- Primitive Justice
- Hammer Mage
- Latulla’s Orders
- Seal of Cleansing
- Diving Offering
- Gate to Phyrexia
- Artifact Mutation
- Hull Breach
- Devout Witness
- Aura of Silence
- Dismantling Blow
- Orim’s Thunder
- Reliquary Monk
- Viashino Heretic
- Mogg Salvage
- Rack and Ruin
- Keldon Vandals
- Uktabi Orangutan
- Caustic Wasps
- Phyrexian Tribute
- Pernicious Deed
- Thornscape Battlemage
- Crosis’s Charm
- Aura Shards
Any changes, however, dilute the decks concerned and screw up their mana curves, and only make the already powerful decks not hosed by Chalice stronger.
Time to e-mail R&D and recommend a better crack supplier, people.
Oh, and you might want to e-mail the DCI and have Mishra’s Workshop restricted, too. This set broke the camel’s back. With yet other Mirrodin cards like Spoils of the Vault, I’ve started taking bets on how many restrictions Mirrodin will cause.
This is an interesting twist on Grafted Skullcap, a card used in the mono red Stax redux called Welder MUD. Speaking generally, Mindstorm Crown seems inferior since it doesn’t cycle through your library if you’re caught with an unplayable card in your hand. For example, you might have drawn two unnecessary lands off of it the previous turn. Unless you find yourself needing the option to hold cards back or a specific card back, or unless you see players with Hurkyl’s Recall (which is nasty with Skullcap’s discard), this sounds like a good general rule.
Yes, my first correspondence with Brian Weissman was to authenticate a Beta Icy he signed (at the Hong Kong Invitational years ago) and I acquired. Yes, I love the card (it and Alex Shvartsman Strip Mine from a MeridianMagic contest I entered gave me the idea to collect cards signed by friends). No, I have no idea how it can be played today, dammit.
And yes, the hand and ball art is a lot better than the inexplicable Ice Age”bone crank,” but nothing beats the Beta version.
Bonesplitter and Empyrial Plate
Equipment is a spin-off from Rancor, and that old common is one of the few playable creature enchantments in Type I. This means the mechanic gets an automatic spot in a Type I review. And, hey, I used Tawnos’s Weaponry in all-commons White Weenie decks years ago.
If you’ve followed how we review creatures, then you realize that a good piece of Equipment must, except in very few cases, add a healthy amount of power to a creature. Abilities like Lightning Greaves and Vorrac Battlehorns are nice, but you need to justify having a creature enhancer instead of just another threat. Likewise, combat-only effects like Dead-Iron Sledge are dead weight in a metagame with so many creature-light decks. Finally, you also have to consider cost, meaning that Loxodon Warhammer and Vulshok Battlegear are too expensive to use. Also, Fireshrieker won’t be very effective since a deck has to have a healthy number of creatures before adding enhancers (or it might be left with a lot of enhancers with no creature to enhance), and this points you to weenie decks.
After considering power-to-mana ratios, you’re left with Bonesplitter and Empyrial Plate. The first can be considered in any weenie deck, while the second closely parallels Empyrial Armor, traditionally paired with Land Tax and Soltari Monk and Soltari Priest in White Weenie.
Taking Bonesplitter first, again, you need a large creature base to make it work. Green won’t use it, since Stompy already has the original Rancor, and being cheaper (and adding trample) outweighs not going to the graveyard when the opponent kills the target in response to Rancor.
Red won’t use it since classic Sligh doesn’t have enough creatures, and Reckless Charge is faster in Goblin decks.
Black won’t use it since it can’t afford to cut disruption for more weenies and an enhancer.
White, finally, would prefer Empyrial Plate, especially if it had Land Tax. The shallow pool of white one-mana creatures and the many tricks available to that color discourage an expanded creature base like those of Stompy and Goblin, so running both is probably not advisable as well.
Running both, though, might be interesting since there are new white creatures like Leonin Den-Guard that get stronger when equipped, and the Equipment has to be killed separately. The only interesting one, though, is Auriok Steelshaper, which comes with a built-in Crusade.
It’s surely fun in a theme deck, and I honestly picked up four copies of Zhalfirin Commander. I’m not sure if it’s worth it beyond that, though, since a cunning player can ignore all the equipment and focus on the creatures, and White Weenie just doesn’t have the creature pool to go all the way to thirty or so. However, fellow Paragon Steve O'Connell, a.k.a. Zherbus, is very happy with his retooled Holy Tommy Gun, featuring new synergy from Auriok Steelshaper, Raise the Alarm, and Isochron Scepter:
Leonin Sun Standard
This is a stronger version of Gerrard’s Battle Cry, but that wasn’t used over Crusade. The mana needed to pump the creatures will probably keep this out of use as well, and you might consider Auriok Steelshaper tricks first if you’re interested in this one.
This is an interesting combination of Null Rod and Cursed Totem, with a price tag of three mana. Null Rod, however, is played mainly to shut down mana artifacts, so we have to look at this from the Cursed Totem point of view. There aren’t a lot of commonly-played creatures with activated abilities, and when they’re used, they often make up a very small fraction of the deck – such as Psychatog, Goblin Welder, Morphling, and Masticore. Cursed Totem is thus a very narrow solution – and even if you find an opponent who, say, runs Mogg Fanatic, Grim Lavamancer, and Gorilla Shaman in the same deck, it’s still not much.
Adding another mana for the partial Null Rod effect doesn’t do much, either, since there are very few commonly-used activated artifact abilities, such as Powder Keg, Memory Jar, Zuran Orb, and a handful of others such as Phyrexian Processor. Isochron Scepter might add itself to this short list, but I doubt there’s a combination of creature and artifact that will encourage you to play with this one, unless there’s a particular player you want to pick on.
At first glance, this is just a Jayemdae Tome with a cheaper activation – one mana during your opponent’s draw step. Tome is too slow by today’s standards, and the people who want it use Future Sight instead. Looking at”whenever an opponent…” though, you might keep a copy of this in your deck box to slip in for a multiplayer game.
This is an interesting twist on Coastal Piracy. However, while drawing cards is good, removal to buy time to draw cards works better than this. Even assuming it drops before you start taking damage, pre-Mirrodin Type I features creatures that nail you in just a handful of blows.
Imagine Liar’s Pendulum in a familiar, classic Sligh deck, replacing the old Cursed Scroll slot. You empty your hand and then play Pendulum. Next turn, you topdeck and activate Pendulum. Neither you nor your opponent would have any idea what was on top of your library, and no matter what the opponent does, you play the card.
That, however, is the problem.
Since neither you nor your opponent knows exactly what card is on top, all a smart opponent has to do is figure out the probabilities. For example, if you name”Mountain,” then both of you know you have a rough 1/3 chance of topdecking it and thus telling the truth.
Thus, a smart opponent won’t aim for 100% accuracy, and simply say”No” each time for the two-thirds chance of being right.
If you name any other card, your chance of being right is much, much lower and”No” moves a lot closer to 100% accuracy.
Gate to the Aether
This is an interesting twist to cards like Temporal Aperture and Future Sight, but the high cost and the symmetry make it hard to break. I think it suffers from what I call the”Sneak Attack” problem. Sneak Attack, see, is a tough card to base the deck around since it’s most painful when it resolves and hits you with unplayable creatures, especially Nicol Bolas. However, if Sneak Attack doesn’t resolve, your deck falls apart.
In the same way, Gate to the Aether becomes more than a clunkier Future Sight or Jayemdae Tome only if you load your deck with expensive permanents – and that brings its own set of headaches, as discussed in”Why Timmy And [author name="Brian Kibler"]Brian Kibler[/author] Shouldn’t Play Type I.”
I’m not sure what to do with this one. It seems to be a slow kill that punishes slow decks that need a lot of permanents out, such as control decks. If you have a casual Millstone deck, though, it’s probably that kind of slow deck. Played alone, it won’t have much effect on the game until it finally decks the opponent, which will take a while and your opponent can stop playing land to stall.
This card just amuses me because of the name and because I saw my old college friend Richie Chua playing it in the Prerelease at GameCon (sadly, I had a family engagement that morning as well as impending final exams, and wasn’t able to play myself).
I’m not sure what you can do with 0/1 tokens or creature type Pest, but you might be more interested in the obscure Fallen Empires Breeding Pit. The Thrulls suffered from the problem of not having any mana efficient creatures other than Derelor, and nothing in the one- and two-mana slots – but I had loads of fun playing a theme deck with four Breeding Pits, four Thrull Champions, and four Bad Moons. (Me too – The Ferrett)
Till next week! Wish me luck in Hell Month, a.k.a. Final Exam Season. (Remember, classes open in June in this country, and our proximity to the equator means our summer is from April to May.)
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Paragon of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance