Magic: the Gatherer
Especially if you love theme decks, go check out http://gatherer.wizards.com. Wizards just sponsored its own spoiler generator and searchable database, down to flavor text searches and links to scans of every version of a card.
It’s really handy for new sets, but you do miss Crystalkeep.com’s ready compilation of card-specific rulings – a must for a Type I player given all the errata on the old cards – and the Ultimate Spoiler Generator’s option to display pictures without clicking on popups one by one (compare the results for Counterspell, for example, or a basic land, though Gatherer loads very slowly when any search includes basic land).
On the plus side, it has a handy option to generate custom spoilers in plain text format.
Another satisfied customer, Part II
I just found another practical use for the Philippine Law Journal.
I just discovered the horrendous amount of red tape you have to put up with in a government university (the University of the Philippines). If you need to reimburse ordinary expenses, you take a round trip through Accounting. If you need to upgrade computers, you need to go through the College then University Property Office. And so on, until you cut through more layers in the Dean’s Office, Law Library, Printing Office…
Throw a party for the college staff and Editorial Board using your new expense account.
Championing Kamigawa, Part II
Again, our two rules for sizing up new cards:
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?
And, for the more general discussion, refer to”Shadow Prices” (see”Counting Shadow Prices“).
After gauging the feedback from the last column (see”Championing Kamigawa, Part I“), I decided to change the set review order slightly. As I said last time, Champions of Kamigawa was built to focus on its expanded legendary creature mix and gravitates around combat abilities and the like. You can take the hint when Oscar concludes the Lands might be the most titillating thing CoK has to offer…
Boseiju, Who Shelters All
Let’s cut to the chase and talk about this latest phallic symbol that has a lot of players drooling. Speaking of drooling, if I were to make a bad analogy, I’d call Boseiju a prophylactic. It’s incredible when you get to that moment you’re building up, but it’s a lot of dead weight on the way there.
When you have a complex effect, you break it down (see”The Landcycling Mechanic“):
1) Comes into play tapped
2) Colorless mana only
3) Two life a pop
In exchange, you get an uncounterable card that makes spells with a colorless mana component uncounterable. Yes, uncounterability is every Magic beginner’s wet dream, so let me present a detailed beginner’s explanation so they can better understand Champions.
First and simplest, let’s get aggro and aggro-control out of the way. Neither have a backbone of instants and sorceries, and Blue-based aggro-control intends to never hard cast those Forces of Will.
Second, let’s go to combo. Here, the first two drawbacks are crippling.”Comes into play tapped” is one of the worst drawbacks you can slap onto a land, since it’s like losing a land drop and the better part of a turn (see”Counting Tempo, Part I”), and not even Salt Marsh and other Invasion tap lands were worth even budget players’ time (see”The Budget 5-Color Mana Base“). In a deck that aims to win in a single turn, postponing that win is unacceptable. Worse, the colored mana slots in a combo deck are tight enough.
Further, Belcher isn’t going to want another land, is it?
Speaking generally, combo has come a long way since those first Timetwister– and Hurkyl’s Recall-based decks, and it’s become less about waiting for a key spell and simply countering it to break the combo chain. Modern combo decks are less willing to put up with an uncounterability card with a lot of hassles, since they’re now more capable of overloading counters with more diverse setup cards, or using Xantid Swarm.
That leaves us with control. Let’s recall the words of everyone’s favorite Type I pundit, Ben Bleiweiss (see”Mr. Bleiweiss vs. Vintage“):
“Boseiju might not be able to force through Ancestral Recall, but it can punch Yawgmoth’s Will through a barrier of countermagic. It can allow you to resolve any number of nasty sorceries and instants against any sort of control deck, though coming into play tapped is a very heavy detriment to this card – much more so than the payment of two life. Still, Boseiju very well can spell the difference in control mirror matches, where it neuters Force of Will, Mana Drain, and other forms of permission prevalent in many Vintage decks.”
Ben doesn’t present the complete picture, and you cannot discount the colorless mana drawback simply by treating it as a spell, since it competes for a land drop. Anyway, the two main drawbacks are equally formidable for control, since you certainly don’t want to lead with a colorless mana producer and playing Boseiju might create a crucial stall that will cause you to lose control early. Moreover, the colored slots are similarly tight, given the need to integrate more basic land to hedge against Crucible of Worlds, or more white sources in”The Deck”.
Given this hassle, most control decks won’t bother. Control Slaver, 7/10 Split and Hulk Smash don’t have enough targets, and their main targets are cheap instants that are already easier to slip past counters, like Intuition, Accumulated Knowledge, and Thirst for Knowledge.
That leaves”The Deck”, which does have the bombs, but in a deck that now runs on Skeletal Scrying, the third drawback severely restricts its draw ability. Further, it’s almost suicidal in a deck built for the drawn-out game, and Exalted Angel isn’t a good enough excuse.
But let’s assume for the sake of discussion that Boseiju is good in”The Deck”. Again, all these drawbacks will hurt your early board position and development, and you might even Necro-lock yourself out of Scrying. If this happens, you’ll be in a catch-up position where Boseiju is less useful, since it can’t counter your opponent’s bombs unless you hard cast a Force. The best Boseiju can do is take you out of a losing position by forcing a Balance, Mind Twist, or small Yawgmoth’s Will.
The thing is, you’re avoiding a losing position in the first place, and Boseju won’t achieve more than better early development and a Red Elemental Blast. On top of this, your opponent has a turn to Wasteland the thing, Crucible aside.
With all the drawbacks,”The Deck” won’t even maindeck Boseiju because uncounterability is useless outside the control mirror’s counter wars. However, you conclude it’s not replacing a Red Blast in the sideboard.
Having cut through all the hype in this CoK story, I leave the beginner with two lessons.
First, you’ve probably been dazzled by Maze of Ith. However, note it stunts development similarly and has larger drawbacks than you think, so it’s really a very narrow, specialized card that stinks outside these specific uses.
Second, note how uncounterability itself is really a very narrow ability, and the added mana costs have never been worth it, from Scragnoth to Obliterate.
Don’t fear counters.
A better understanding of tempo (see”Counting Tempo, Part II”) will pull you out of more counter wars than expensive uncounterability. Note how control decks love cheap, instant card draw, and how the prime counter war supports remain the most tempo-efficient counters: Red Blast, Force, Misdirection, and even Duress.
Forbidden Orchard (for combo)
Having cut off the overhyped Boseiju, let’s proceed into the Forbidden Orchard. For obvious reasons, this chump blocker generator isn’t going to make it in aggro or aggro-control, so let’s start with combo.
Here, Orchard might be seen to compete against Glimmervoid for the ninth or tenth multiland slot after City of Brass and Gemstone Mine. Theoretically, I suppose Orchard would be better than Glimmervoid, since you’ll have lost the game by the time those 1/1s deal enough damage, but you might lose the game due to the additional mana loss from Glimmervoid if you’re hit by early, lucky artifact mana denial.
The more interesting discussion, however, is whether Orchard is a primary multiland, or whether it’s better than City of Brass. In theory, City will deal damage immediately, but less of it overall, while Orchard will deal more damage, but in later turns. This is very relevant to Long Death, a combo deck that aims to win very quickly, but uses Death Wish, Necropotence, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain.
I would seriously test this there. In the best case scenario, you will take less or the same damage from Orchard compared to City. However, I’d also note that if your first setup attempt is disrupted, the game will drag for at least a couple more turns, and you might just take more damage from the weenie Spirits.
For more casual play, incidentally, since they are Spirits, maybe you can whip up some theme deck with Orchard or an older card like Field of Souls.
Forbidden Orchard (for control)
Some of you might be surprised that I talked about Orchard in Long Death before I went into the obvious synergy with Oath of Druids. Yes, I do think a more stable combo mana base is more important than Oath here.
Now to the obvious. Where Phyrexian Tower and later Cabal Therapy made Academy Rector a far less clunky combo card, Forbidden Orchard is a more seamless way to activate Oath of Druids against creatureless decks, compared to past attempts from Verdant Touch to Funeral Pyre.
First of all, a combo version of Oath is useless outside casual play. This will probably involve something that tries to go to critical mass in a turn with Cognivore, something cruder like the Dragon Tyrant deck (see John Dale Beety,”The One-Hit Wonder“), or something funky like Serra Avatar and Dragon Scales.
Regardless of how you do it, you will not be able to combo out on the same turn you play Oath, which defeats the point of playing combo in today’s Type I. There’s also the lesser drawback of running a combo that can be stopped by Swords to Plowshares.
Thus, if you want to use the Oath / Orchard combo, you’ll have to go with a more conventional control deck with the Gaea’s Blessings, probably using Darksteel Colossus unless you go back to classic cards from Morphling and Spike Feeder to Crater Hellion or whatever.
This opens up a can of worms, since there are good reasons why Green has been the least-used control color (see”Sleazy Sleazy ‘The Deck’ Sideboarding“). First off, Oath is obviously useless against combo, and even a faster Colossus kill is irrelevant, since you will never be the beatdown against combo and can take your sweet time once you disrupt his setup. Second, if you cannot force an early Oath in a control mirror, Orchard hoists you by your own petard. The same thing happens against an aggro-control deck that removes or counters Oath. Third, there are a handful of minor issues, such as Goblin Welder being able to stall a Colossus kill while its own friends come out to play, and vulnerability to graveyard tricks regardless of what kill you use. You may even get, say, a Food Chain combo slipped past you because you had dead cards in hand, and the Oath engine will eat up seven spells if you use two Gaea’s Blessings and just one kill card.
Assuming you can make it work, you’ll probably strip out White, with Oath replacing Exalted Angel and Decree of Justice, Naturalize replacing Disenchant, and Fire / Ice filling in for Swords. You also get Sylvan Library and Regrowth back, partially making up for Balance. Either that, or you strip down to a Blue/Green version. Or, you can push the envelope by maindecking Red Blasts if you assume that you now own control and aggro-control.
So, the magic question is, will this work better than the current”The Deck”?
I don’t want to discourage anyone, since I am eager to see the test results from the new Oath myself – after my upcoming final exams, that is – but I simply don’t think so. Again, there are good reasons why the KrOathan sideboard plan never became the standard, no matter how well it owned aggro.
First, you still have the combo problem, and a combo deck will even gladly walk into an Oath trap (see”The Control Player’s Bible: The Emeralds“) with Xantid Swarm. Second, you cannot have fantasies about owning aggro without considering aggro-control. You cannot simply replace spot removal with Oath, for example, because a Fish deck that disrupts your Oath will turn the Orchard against you. The underlying feeling is that you’ll be playing a half-baked combo deck, with all the new conditional cards you put in. Again, I could be wrong, and Orchard may well be able to break these conditions wide open.
Still, I don’t think aggro is control’s biggest problem at the moment, but in any case, it’s something on the shelf along with KrOathan – or maybe something to clown around with in less powered, less experienced metagames.
To reiterate the beginner’s lesson, anything on a land that has to do with being tapped when you need it, or something else related to land drops like Dromar’s Cavern’s drawback, usually renders it unplayable.
For budget play, Underground River and classic painlands work better. In the long run, being able to cast your spells properly will actually save you more life.
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Another beginner’s lesson: Untapping is not as broad or powerful an ability as you think. The strongest untap abilities in the game are those that work seamlessly, have minimal additional mana costs, and come with only small drawbacks. You have, for example, Quirion Ranger where the untap came free with a Stompy (see”Head to Head: Stompy“) mana ability, Cloud of Faeries, and Frantic Search for Tolarian Academy or things with graveyard interaction.
Voltaic Key and Quirion Ranger never broke anything, and Minamo, School at Water’s Edge won’t break Tolarian Academy any more than its predecessor Deserted Temple from Odyssey did. Do consider that both Deserted Temple and Minamo are worse than Candelabra of Tawnos, since the lands cost a land drop to play, and you won’t be able to get both Academy and the support land out the turn you go off.
No, Candelabra isn’t out of retirement, either.
Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper
Yes, Ancient Tomb was that good.
Sadly for Type I players, as discussed, everything else just deals with legendary creatures and combat abilities. It would have been nice to have a land set as interesting as Alliances’ with Thawing Glaciers, Lake of the Dead, and Kjeldoran Outpost – or maybe even Urza’s Saga’s insane land cycle – but the design focus was elsewhere.
Token desert notes
Out there in the far west, we got to meet people from the cultural minorities. Some of them, though I don’t have the photos, look more Armenian than they resemble the usual Han Chinese.
Surprisingly enough, though, when we went back to Beijing, I one of the mainland China university students we were with rendered one of the tribal dances in full costume, and she probably had years of practice.
Speaking of the mainland Chinese students, talking to them was a real eye-opener. Crystal here, for example, is a Chinese ophthalmology student, and for some reason, we ended up talking about gender issues before I left for the airport. When I asked if she thought if it was more difficult for a lady to become a doctor in China, she laughed and immediately said no.
Take that, patriarchal, Spanish machismo-influenced Philippine society!
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