Dear Mr. Tan,
But…(there had to be a but, didn’t there), while I enjoy your writing, I felt a desire to comment on the way in which many of your recent articles have, in some ways, attacked Wizards of the Coast for certain decisions they have made. Specifically, I am talking about Wizard’s attempts to design cards with an eye towards Type 1. The printing of Chalice of the Void seemed to especially arouse your ire, and while I fully understand, and even agree with many of the arguments you made about how Chalice (which was possibly intended as a foil toward the most expensive decks, i.e. those carrying Moxen and Lotuses), hoses”budget” decks more than any other, I wanted to ask about some other comments you made in recent articles.
“I don’t trust R&D to make what they think are”Type I-specific” cards. No one there knows enough about Type I, and their little gift might prove more abusive than they realized. Then, we’re stuck with it until DCI says something, and no one knows whether or not they’re looking at the new mistake until they actually make a restriction.”
Taken from your recent article, The State of the Metagame Address (which was, by the way, very well written and compelling, as usual), the above text seems to suggest that you do not think Wizards can make cards for, or even designed with half an eye towards, Type 1. In fact, Wizards themselves have admitted they simply have not the time and resources to playtest Type 1 (a statement which, although I find it disappointing, I fully sympathize with), and they would probably agree with your assertion that no-one at Wizards knows enough about Type 1 to design cards for it.
But, my question is, does anyone?
Although I play Type 1 fairly regularly, I certainly cannot think of any way in which cards could be printed that would be good in Type 1 and not completely abusive in other formats. And while certainly not wanting to compare myself to you, I wonder if even someone who has with a complete grasp of the Type 1 metagame (as you certainly do) would be able to. Type 1 and other formats seem so incompatible, so different in power levels, that it would be an almost impossible task. Most cards that have influenced both Type 1 and, say, Type 2 or Extended in the recent past have either been too powerful in the younger format (e.g. Psychatog) or merited restricting in Type 1 (Gush, Fact or Fiction).
Some cards, of course, are perfectly balanced and an excellent idea (the Onslaught Fetchlands, for example, I think were exactly right, both in power level and in ease of play). The vast majority of cards, however, are too weak for Type 1, or a breakaway star that ends up being restricted or hated out of the metagame.
(I certainly do not claim to possess any total grasp of the metagame, and all of the above comments are simply my opinion, and are probably completely wrong. Feel free to tear them apart).
Now for my rather presumptuous challenge – Mr. Tan, if you do not think Wizards can design cards for Type 1, do you think you can? That is to say, can you think of say, three (or more) cards that Wizards could print tomorrow that would be powerful enough to influence the Type 1 metagame in a healthy way, and yet not be so powerful as to completely unbalance Type 2? (Meanwhile, let’s ignore Extended, Type 1.5 and Draft.)
Once again, Mr. Tan, thank you for your continued articles which bring a rush of enlightenment and enjoyment whenever I read them. I can only hope that this (perhaps overlong) letter, has sparked some little interest, and that you might be good enough to reply.
Okay, first of all, Alan here is a twenty-three year-old B.M.M.S. (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery… why didn’t he just say”med student”?) over at Cambridge in London.
This is a very timely letter, with the new restriction announcement and all. (In case you missed it, they hit Burning Wish, Lion’s Eye Diamond and Chrome Mox.) To my mind, restricting Chrome Mox is inevitable, but has its own taint of silliness. I mean, what was the point of letting it become legal and burning collectors when it was so obviously restriction material, right?)
To answer you, though, I don’t think anyone really knows how to design cards for Type I, and Future Future League for it would have to take into account so many more variables. However, I think no one has to know how to.
Looking over the latest expansions, I think Type I has gotten along pretty well with them. Unlike old sets like The Dark and Fallen Empires, each new set showcases a clear focus on a new mechanic or less-explored area of the game. A lot of the time, something from each of these filters up to Type I. Now, you might consider one card from an entire mechanic or cycle, but remember you’re pitting it against thousands of older cards. The moment, say, half the cards in an expansion are Type I superstars is the day Wizards is desperate to stay in business.
Aside from the Onslaught fetchlands, I consider the Wishes to be the best example. They’re balanced, they’re interesting, they force you to restructure your entire deck if you want to use them which adds variety, and they allow more interaction with a lesser-used area of the game (I gave a lot more comments in”Stop Hyping the Wishes!“). Cunning Wish adds a new layer to control decks, and Living Wish has found a place in Survival of the Fittest-based aggro.
I do regret the banning of Burning Wish; outside combo, it was only really used in”Burning” versions of control decks. I’d argue they hit the wrong target. A lot of power sorceries were sideboarded for use with Wish not really to tutor for them faster, but to tutor for them when needed and get something else for utility when not. Despite the short list given by R&D, you have to admit that the true abuse lay in Burning Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will. However, this was abusive because Burning Desire also ran Lion’s Eye Diamond and Dark Ritual, which led to Will being used as a mana multiplier more than anything else. Thus, I wouldn’t have been sad to see, say, Dark Ritual restricted over Burning Wish, to be consistent with the latest Type I and Extended restriction philosophy.
Anyway, you have a lot more rookie cards stepping up. Fire / Ice is one of the best gold cards ever. Renewed Faith, Slice and Dice and Decree of Justice have various support roles, and even Complicate was tried by some. Madness as a mechanic was tested with old cards like Bazaar of Baghdad and, until recently, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Cabal Therapy became Academy Rector’s bosom buddy. The more reasonably-costed flashback cards saw play, too, from Chainer’s Edict to Flaming Gambit. Accumulated Knowledge provided a whole new draw engine, and Isochron Scepter makes it all the more interesting. Even the Tribal mechanic was stronger than it looked, with Goblin Piledriver honestly surprising me.
And so on.
If you approach Magic design”vertically,” or try to improve, rehash and reduce costs on existing effects, you won’t do anything except allow players to do in Turn 1 what they used to do on Turn 3. You’d be forced to design one-mana 5/5s or something.
Current design, though, is hardly that narrow. Rather, it’s done”horizontally,” and they try to broaden the pool of options. Instead of narrow categories of no-brainers where new designs just try to displace old staples, you have to pick cards and build synergy when you build a deck, and it lets new archetypes compete against old ones.
Admittedly, there are certain nuances unique to Type I, instead of just being more pronounced like the way Type I mana curves can be flatter than any other card pool’s. Chris Flaaten from Norway gave the example of Tainted Pact. With a lot of restricted cards and a wide card pool that lets you stock many similar versions of the same effect, Tainted Pact is a very good Impulse in Type I in the right deck, but without being an insanely cheap setup card like Spoils of the Vault.
You also have zero-mana artifacts, which makes Gorilla Shaman more powerful here than it was in the old Extended. They also affect the way other cards work, from Winter Orb to Mind’s Desire.
However, given all the cards and interactions in Type I, it’s very hard to take something in isolation. We saw this in Chalice of the Void (again, Pat Chapin leaked it to us back before it was an artifact). Moreover, Chalice doesn’t even need synergy with the rest of a deck. (By the time Lion’s Eye Diamond is gone, though, it’s probably high time to get sneaky and yank the Chalices from your main deck, and just rely on the threat of it to force opponents to de-optimize decks. Then you can focus on the decks that aren’t badly hosed by Chalice, and bring Chalice out again later on.)
Thus, I’m actually content to let cards filter up to Type I the normal way, without trying to intervene in natural selection and risk screwing up due to incomplete knowledge of the format.
If you have reactions or thoughts I didn’t touch on, it might be a good idea to send them to Star City with all your Banned/Restriction list comments. In the meantime, there are still a lot of tempo breakers out there for combo and pseudo-combo decks, and whatever you come up with has immunity for three months.
Finishing up Mirrodin
I still have a lot of Mirrodin to catch up on for a regular feature that’s, ironically, intended for our less active readers who trade in the weeks following the prerelease. Going back to our mental weighing of each card and application of the game’s theoreticals, let me first cite once again 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?
With the restriction of Burning Wish, it’s a good time to go to the latest set’s sorceries.
Brian Weissman e-mailed,”The card Fabricate might also become a problem, as real tutor effects in Type 1 are always potential problems.” Currently, though, an artifact tutor is more balanced than it looks.
First of all, you have to compare Fabricate against Tinker, and it’s obviously weaker than the original. Tinker’s tutor ability comes with an insane tempo boost, be it a temporary one to get a Memory Jar onto the board much faster, or a permanent one like doubling the mana supply with Gilded Lotus, as you saw in Extended.
If you try to use the tutor to set up a combo, you’d start around the Memory Jar kill. However, three mana is a lot in Type I, and this isn’t even an instant like Cunning Wish. Wasting a turn just to fetch Memory Jar is just too slow, not counting the other things you have to set up for the Jar kill. In fact, if tutoring is all that you need, the existing tutor and manipulation spells are so much cheaper, and you can play a Draw Seven for the same price as Fabricate.
If you want to add a toolbox feel to your artifact-based control deck, you’ll probably pass over the three-mana and sorcery as well. Again, you don’t want to waste the better part of a turn just tutoring, and there aren’t that many artifacts that would be worth it. Currently, it’s easier to rely on a redundant deck structure with multiple copies of your core artifacts, and use Goblin Welder to back them up.
Three mana might be something when the next two sets come up, but it’s still a lot of mana.
This is another card a lot of people said should be”restricted on principle.” I might have used that line a lot myself, but not on Sylvan Scrying.
We compared Fabricate against Tinker, and we obviously also compare Sylvan Scrying against Crop Rotation. The conclusion is identical. Where Fabricate doesn’t have Tinker’s tempo boost from saved mana, Sylvan Scrying doesn’t have Crop Rotation’s saved land drop. It’s not even an instant, either. You’ll appreciate the combination of both if you were one of those evil people who’d Crop Rotation a Gaea’s Cradle for another Gaea’s Cradle in more casual games, or even an end-of-turn Treetop Village for a surprise kill.
So without the tempo boost, would you still use a two-mana sorcery to fish out a particular land? So far, you wouldn’t.
Library of Alexandria is nothing special to tutor for, since keeping seven cards in hand is a lot harder these days. It’s powerful, but very slow. That also means the opponent has more time to find a Wasteland if he needs to.
Tolarian Academy is a more powerful choice, but it isn’t the fulcrum of combo decks anymore, such that a tutor that can only fetch Academy would get cut for more flexible cards, especially since, if necessary, you can tutor into Academy using regular tutors. Moreover, Chalice of the Void has artifact mana-heavy combo players thinking.
Strip Mine is an inutile choice, considering you may as well just run Ice Storm if that’s all you can fetch.
There aren’t a lot of other broken picks, since fetching Kjeldoran Outpost, Thawing Glaciers or Mishra’s Factory would hardly be abusive. The only thing left is Bazaar of Baghdad, but Dragon can fetch that with regular tutors and Intuition instead of running a very narrow tutor and sorcery. It’s dubious Sylvan Scrying would replace the backup Compulsions there, and Bazaar itself doesn’t look like it’ll be restricted soon.
Of course, remember that you learn as much from knowing why you don’t use a certain card as you do from knowing why a certain card is broken. Also remember that any of my premises could well be wrong, even in the future. For example, a deck around Crucible of Worlds and Strip Mine might become broken in a few months, who knows.
Until then, these other tutors can’t put a finger on Spoils of the Vault.
Trash for Treasure
This is similar to Tinker, but it’s also very similar to Goblin Welder. Since you’re not pulling something from the library onto the board, you can just wait for Welder to lose summoning sickness.
A lot of people were probably thinking of exploring Affinity, but it just doesn’t work in Type I. If you set up all that fast mana, playing overcosted creatures is the last thing on your mind. Having marginal card draw available after that effort isn’t a big improvement.
Bah, this makes the Beta Drain Life in my still-intact ProsBloom deck obsolete, since the mana is simpler, the life gain isn’t limited by a creature’s toughness, and it saves me the trouble of explaining the original version. They should find an excuse to print the”fixed” Fireball with the unique casting cost found only in the Beatdown box set.
A number of you complained about the Classic Suicide Black feature, saying it was too simplistic. Well, I apologize and this column is a permanent work-in-progress, but I thought it would help a lot of beginning players. Suicide Black is one of the most popular budget decks today, but I’ve seen a lot of Manila beginners use more recent Mono Black Control decks as their starting point. Hence, I put the historical note emphasizing the distinction, as well as the old play-by-play.
For the last time… Consume Spirit and Cabal Coffers don’t belong in there.
Replacing Corrupt with Consume Spirit would be a good move, if either spell belonged in your Type I deck in the first place!
Also for the above budget players, you have to know that Wrench Mind is technically inferior to Hymn to Tourach, a Fallen Empires common. The discard isn’t random, there’s a more than marginal chance the opponent might just pitch an artifact, and the rehash wasn’t even made Misdirection-proof. The art on Wrench Mind is nothing compared to the wolf head Hymn, too.
I featured that favorite piece of mine in”The Death of Art” in case you missed it.
This is obviously unplayable, but you might take a second thought. I did, and I couldn’t find a way to make use of it. If you really need Timetwister, you’ll be able to tutor for it or find a similar restricted version faster than you can make seven mana.
Now, you might say that comparing this to a restricted spell is unfair, and you might yet find some way to get around the mana, like Dream Halls, Mind’s Desire or maybe something unrestricted like Spellweaver Helix. If you’re looking for an unrestricted Draw 7 that can be used outside a combo, though, Diminishing Returns is one such card. It’s a lot easier to make its drawback irrelevant than it is to find three extra mana on the same turn. In fact, the drawback is so often irrelevant (if your deck has some redundancy), that it’s been used a lot more often in Magic history than a player looking at it for the first time might think.
Promise of Power
This was something interesting from the spoiler, but it’s just not workable at second glance. In a combo deck, you might use this to set up, and then have it double as the win condition (maybe use Time Walk as the kill). However, a five mana sorcery with triple Black in the cost is a tough setup card, and even Necrologia is less unwieldy.
The same argument works outside combo. Feel free to mail in a story of defeating your local bully with an uber-Maro token, though.
Tooth and Nail
Same problem with the casting cost, and even old school tricks like Natural Order are more playable. Remember that you have the problem of paying the mana and having creatures worth looking for in your library. If you’re drawing comparisons, Hunting Pack’s storm is more useful in more situations. The only thing I can think of is some two-creature combo that’s an instant kill, and still worth all that mana.
I’m a bit frustrated since I want to see an Entwine card make it in Type I, and maybe the next set will bring us something better. However, I do point out that Tooth and Nail is wonderful paired with B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster), and you can place your orders with StarCityGames after reading this…
First, this isn’t better than Pillage, which does double-duty against a number of pesky things from a Mox to Powder Keg and Masticore. However, with cards like Sinkhole and Nether Void in Black, you have to remember that Red is more noted in Type I as a hate color (think Price of Progress and Blood Moon) than a land destruction color.
This is hardly the last word in cutting edge tech for January, but you have to give them credit. Hey, I have a friend who’s been egging me to write something about his killer combo: Mana Clash and lucky coin. So far, I’ve resisted the urge.
I have another recent letter, and this one was too good not to print. I’m sure you all know Sean Roney, and this one really cracked me up. I’m glad he isn’t a comedian just in his cartoons, so I’ll actually print the letter to turn the tables on the gag.
I sure hope I don’t land in a cartoon because of this…
You probably already covered this savage Type I tech in your”You CAN Play Type I” column, but I felt I should share this with you in the off chance you don’t know about it. I mean, its so groundbreaking it threw me for a loop when I first saw it active in a game. I was like”Why the hell hasn’t anyone ever though of this before!?” Of course, you’d be the dude to know if this was at the Vintage Championships recently, as I was passed out at the whole time the coverage was on Star City (sorry, dude!). But here goes…
I was in this one game against a guy who is known to be a groundpounder beatdown player. I’m desperate and throw down the only card that will save my butt because our board position is in a total stalemate, yet the two cards he has in hand will probably be the aces in his sleeve he needs to win. So I flop down the last card in my hand: Glasses of Urza (a good Affinity booster. I’ve done the testing and stand by the fact that in the Vintage metagame, its better than the Spellbombs). So I take a gander and see if I’m gonna get a turn after I’m done. He may just kill me, and I have to know. Sure enough: Crash of Rhinos (the guy actually had an honest-to-goodness ORIGINAL Mirage version–the awesome collector skills he flaunts sometimes) and Storm Seeker (Legends version. Bleh. Ink looks like crap on those. Feel sorry for him.)
“Good card combo!” He says sternly, with all seriousness about the game state on his face.
Damn, I’m dead. He takes his turn, I lose. The power fiend didn’t even need Concordant Crossroads to get that combo going. Can you believe it. Taps out, casts Rhinos, then Stormseeker.
I should quit this game.
I suck too much and need some advice on deckbuilding. Maybe I should stop reading GameSpyDaily.com for Magic tourney coverage, because their netdecks never get me anywhere, especially against the dreaded Rhinos/Stormseeker thing.
Anyway, just thought you might want to know about this in case it hasn’t been featured in the”Control Players Bible.” But this has probably been a waste of time because I’ll bet you knew and already did a five-parter on how it stacks up against The Deck.
Maximizing Mirrodin: Enchantments
Trying to split up the remaining cards, I decided to add the enchantments to today’s column, though given all the space the artifacts took, there just aren’t a lot of them.
Like sorceries, we usually apply Rule #2 to enchantments. We’re usually looking for something new, or a twist on an old effect that we can use. By their nature, we’re looking for something more global and permanent compared to one-shot sorceries and instants, or offensive creatures.
Rule of Law
This is probably the most significant enchantment in Mirrodin. Yes, it’s a carbon copy of Arcane Laboratory, but that didn’t mean Naturalize was worthless, right? Basically, it gives non-Blue decks access to the sideboard card, and at the very least will make the White Weenie players happy.
Arcane Lab is just one of those effects you have to know how to play around, and what to do when it gets through is an interesting mental exercise (hint: count cards in libraries). However, do note that the current combo deck to beat is Dragon, and its engine runs on card abilities that don’t count as the one spell.
March of the Machines
If Rule of Law is a carbon copy, March of the Machines is a watered-down version of Titania’s Song. I can’t see a use for either today, though, considering Karn, Silver Golem is better both as a Mox killer and as the general of a transformed mechanical army.
This is one of the cards you think hard to find a use for, but for the trouble you’ll have to go through to play this, you’re probably better off designing a deck that sets up Future Sight. Maybe you’ll find something to do with this in a five-color casual deck, or in one of those alternative formats where you swap decks before playing.
Hum of the Radix
This doesn’t do anything, considering it costs four mana, has double Green in the mana cost, and artifact decks already happily play Sphere of Resistance on themselves.
Take note this is technically inferior to Bottomless Pit, which isn’t even a rare.
I wanted to end today’s column with a beginner’s note.
One common mistake is to succumb to the temptation to stuff all sorts of cute things into your deck, without looking at the overall picture. Feldon’s Cane and Zuran Orb, for example, are two of the most common cutesy cards that get played. Maybe even Glasses of Urza. You have to consider that your cute addition might be a card more useful in more situations, and with only sixty slots, you can’t afford to leave any chaff in there.
You might think this is an improved Concordant Crossroads, and you might even have picked up Fervor for your fat decks. First, while this is better than Fervor, Concordant Crossroads is probably better without considering color because it can kill The Abyss and Nether Void. However, this and the entire ability is irrelevant to begin with, because instead of paying one mana and one card to get haste, you may as well get another attacker.
Haste is great and all, but only when it comes for free, like on Slith Firewalker or even Ball Lightning. Using Anger and Survival of the Fittest also worked, because you didn’t really lose a card in hand just to get the ability. Finally, Reckless Charge will probably do a lot more damage, and has better card economy.
So to end, remember that your goal is to win, not have the creature with the longest list of abilities in play.
(When Glenson Lim dragged me out of my cave here in Manila, we really did see an Urza’s Glasses on one table, complete with an opponent practically laying his hand on the table. It felt like 1995 again, back when everyone in my play group of fourteen-year olds ran Black Vise, Glasses of Urza, Feldon’s Cane and Zuran Orb in every deck, and even Fountain of Youth.)
Until next week!
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