Ooooooh… I’m still alive and Knut still loves me
I can tell that my editor missed me. In last week’s column, believe it or not, he inserted not just one but two – two! – editorial side comments into the article.
I could almost cry.
(Here’s another one coming just to start off this column – Oscar, preempting Knut)
Sorry. Little long-running inside joke here.
Incidentally, someone who wants to remain anonymous e-mailed in less than a day about the last column, regarding Heartless Hidetsugu:
“Well, my friends and I finished our weekly draft and decided to try multiplayer with our decks. I was playing a very aggro Red and eventually got the last two of my friends down to 6 and 7.
“I attacked the one with 7 life for 4 damage and then before damage was on the stack I used a Lava Spike on the one with 6 splicing Through the Breach then breached that guy into play and killed both of them. I wasn’t playing Breach or the guy in my draft deck but sided them in for the fun game.“
Betraying Kamigawa, Artifacts
Again, our two rules for sizing up new cards:
1) Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)
2) 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“).
Last week (see “Betraying Kamigawa, Part I“), we opened with the usually simpler creature category and a debate-with-self on whether or not Ninja of the Deep Hours is worth it despite the tempo penalties. Today, we move to artifacts and enchantments, which are tougher categories in that you’re now dealing with global, table-altering effects and you need to broaden your mental horizons to try to visualize every possible use.
Orb of Dreams
Discussing Hokori, Dust Drinker, I reminded you to make a mental note every time a substantial effect is rehashed in creature form, since there are so many cards that interact more powerfully with creatures. Given the rise of Mishra’s Workshop and Goblin Welder, you should do the same each time an effect is rehashed in artifact form.
If Hokori rehashed Winter Orb, then Orb of Dreams rehashes Kismet, an old lock component most prominent in Stasis decks and a forerunner of the cheaper Root Maze. Of course, Stasis has long since been obsolete since it’s far easier and takes up far less slots to use the same counter base to protect a four-turn Morphling kill than a forty-turn Stasis lock. Root Maze, however, was more recently seen in Green-based aggro-control decks, used to disrupt an opponent’s tempo or to directly interfere with combo components, such as the land that returns from Worldgorger Dragon’ effect or mana artifacts returned from Yawgmoth’s Will.
Control and combo decks aren’t going to shoot themselves in the foot with this kind of card, and aggro is dead anyway (see “The Death of Aggro“), so we’re looking at aggro-control. However, Workshop-based aggro-control has had a motherlode of lock components from recent blocks, and it now takes disruption on the level of Trinisphere to survive the numbers crunch. Neither Orb of Dreams nor Kismet are on that tier; in fact, Orb only intereferes with your advantage under Trinisphere or Sphere of Resistance.
The same logic works for Workshop-based, control-oriented locks. As a final note, unlike Root Maze, combo decks’ Rebuild nullifies Orb of Dreams without skipping a beat.
Experienced players will dismiss Ornate Kanzashi offhand, but I think it’s a good card to use to illustrate certain concepts to beginners.
The first thing you have to recognize is that you end up needing eight to ten mana just to play the first spell: five to cast Kanzashi, two to activate it, plus the spell’s casting cost. This less obvious drawback alone makes it unplayable, as it has other powerful Jayemdae Tome analogs such as Planar Portal and Urza’s Blueprints.
The second thing you have to understand is that Kanzashi gains you an extra card, assuming you can cast it, but does not steal a card from your opponent. Or, Kanzashi is +1 card advantage, not +2, and it’s the same comparison as Control Magic to Bribery (see “The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution“). The card you take may well have been at the bottom of the opponent’s library, and only cards that go into the hand are active resources.
Finally, remember that you’re not choosing the card on your opponent’s library, so snagging his Ancestral Recall or Black Lotus is just one of a number of slim possibilities. So, maybe have fun annoying the powered player in your group with this card and a five-color mana base, but remember that it’s mainly just that: an annoyance of an alternate Jayemdae Tome.
For the beginners, I consider this a Sneak Attack problem (see “Six Beginner’s Delusions You Meet in Heaven“). Getting this five-mana artifact out before your army of Legends is much clunkier than playing with efficient normal creatures. That said, you can have some fun cloning powerful legends-only effects and going to town. At the very least, have some fun and have all the versions of Ertai, for example, out on the table. Or maybe insert it into a deck for team multiplayer so you can run identical decks with the same legends for fun.
Equipment isn’t a very flashy Type I category, though they’re a shade better than creature enchantments in that they don’t go to the graveyard with the wielder. Nothing in CoK was particularly flashy, though, since aside from Sword of Fire and Ice, equipment was mainly a look at what you could use to boost Lions in White Weenie. Moving to Betrayers, everything looks vanilla. Shuko might be a poor man’s crusade and a cheaper one than Tawnos’ Weaponry, but Bonesplitter is twice the power for one more mana.
The marquee weapon Umezawa’s Jitte might be worth another look, though. The basic ability gives you four free damage each turn. This isn’t much in itself considering it costs four to cast and equip, which doesn’t beat Su-Chi or Myr Enforcer.
The secondary ability, however, gives you rudimentary weenie control without unplayable activation costs like Rod of Ruin or more playable but still steep drawbacks like Masticore. -1/-1 is just right for opposing Goblin Welders, for example. Finally, as a bonus, it has a final defensive ability, also for free.
Given the four-mana price tag, it doesn’t look like you can try it anywhere outside Mishra’s Workshop and Arcbound Ravager, but it’s always fun to have another legend in the mix.
Betraying Kamigawa, Enchantments
Enchantments are gauged the same way artifacts are, since they tend to have global effects you have to approach with a broad mind. Unlike artifacts, however, they don’t have support on the level of Workshop and Welder.
Day of Destiny
Sadly, creatures make up the bulk of Betrayers of Kamigawa, and the handful of enchantments is nothing to write about. In the Web of War is a Megrim problem in that you’re going to cast the creatures first, anyway. Even assuming Lifegift were useful, everyone thinking of infinite life combos along its lines already found Zuran Orb + Fastbond + Crucible of Worlds. Finally, Clash of Realities has none of the combo potential of Pandemonium.
The most I can note is Day of Destiny, which is an antithesis of Night of Souls’ Betrayal and which ups the game’s Legendary Enchantment count to seven. For casual play purposes, I was wondering if it could have been cheaper than four mana. As far as Legendary weenies go, there are only six one- or two-mana plays with two power: Isamaru, Hound of Konda; Kentaro, the Smiling Cat; Sensei Golden-Tail; Eight-and-a-Half-Tails; Eladamri, Lord of Leaves; and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary.
Bonus track: It’s more fun when Oscar is wrong
Okay, so I give up.
It’s really hard to find something to write about from Betrayers, and I do my set reviews by reviewing spoilers by category.
Building from last week’s review of past mistaken calls, artifacts are much tougher than creatures. For the latter, you just have to visualize whether it’d make a good beatstick, or whether it has a powerful short-term effect you can suddenly drop on the board. As we saw, creatures aren’t as easy as they look already, so consider the multiple visualizations you have to go through to gauge the same artifact.
Let’s go back to Orb of Dreams. Note my preliminary assumptions:
1. Orb of Dreams is unplayable in a control deck.
2. Orb of Dreams is unplayable in a combo deck.
3. Orb of Dreams is unplayable in an aggro deck.
Then we go to:
4. In an aggro-control deck, Orb of Dreams is not better than Trinisphere, Sphere of Resistance, and other mana disruption artifacts.
5. In an aggro-control deck, Orb of Dreams does not complement Trinisphere, Sphere of Resistance, and other mana disruption artifacts.
Given the numbers crunch from past discussions of mana disruption or lock components, I conclude that Orb of Dreams isn’t going to make it, or not more than a specific niche card, at least. With the number of assumptions you make to discuss such broad effects, however, it’s easy to misjudge any one of them.
I don’t consider that a bad thing since I think it helps you focus your playtesting. You either know to discard a concept and focus on another if you know you can’t challenge an assumption, or you make what you’re looking for explicit if you think you can undermine an assumption. Let me demonstrate with Mirrodin Block, which really forced a lot of long, hard looks at artifacts.
Oscar on Fifth Dawn artifacts
With the breadth of possibilities, I think a set review writer is hard-pressed to give equal weight to all the assumptions. In fact, he’ll subconsciously affirm or debunk whatever is the most hyped assumption. If he proposes to steer playtesters towards something else, it’s unlikely that he’s thought out the proposed Take Two as thoroughly.
Thus, with Fifth Dawn’s Crucible of Worlds (see “Firing Up Fifth Dawn, Part II“), my first priority was visibly to cut the hype. A lot of people were fixated on combo possibilities such as Crucible + Fastbond + Crystal Vein or Zuran Orb, and I quoted Ben Bleiweiss as my example. I was correct there, that Crucible would be more useful in a slower deck and not in combo. I surmised, for example, that it would be more useful in a control on control matchup.
Shortly after the spoiler’s release and focused on debunking the proposed Take One – also note that at the same time, people were talking about Krark-Clan Ironworks combos, too – I didn’t foresee how underwhelming my statement on Take Two was, however. Yes, Crucible is a slower card than initial impressions would have it, but it has also forced a minimum number of basic lands for many decks.
Moving further back to Darksteel (see “Deconstructing Darksteel, Part II“), I said that Trinisphere was obviously something very powerful for Mishra’s Workshop decks, which was both obvious and correct. However, I also said that given how the format had already adjusted to the likes of Sphere of Resistance and Chalice of the Void, it wouldn’t be as earthshaking.
Curiously enough, Steve Menendian and I used the same expression, that “Trinisphere may not quite be the straw that breaks the Workshop’s back,” and I hope JP Meyer didn’t write something like that, too.
In retrospect, maybe I was off in terms of degree, given the number of annoyed rants about Trinisphere these days, all the way to proposals that Trinisphere and not Mishra’s Workshop be moved to the top of the Watch List.
I think I was completely correct with Serum Powder. I was right in saying that it could be the dead card in a good hand of seven as many times as it could give you a free mulligan into seven, that it would be a dead card when drawn during the actual game, and that removing your opening hand from the game screws up spell ratios and might even remove key combo components. The conclusion was that good deckbuilding doesn’t cost spell slots, and today’s combo components are so redundant, anyway.
Finally, the same priority with Crucible was seen with Skullclamp, which I dismissed with one sentence: “Sacrificing your own creatures in a normal weenie deck isn’t all that efficient, and if you try to set up some combo a la Breeding Pit or Carnival of Souls, it’s simply far more awkward than existing designs.”
Again, at the time, a lot of people were talking about creature-based infinite combos of some sort, and I didn’t think it would make it in existing weenie decks. As you saw from my discussion of Arcbound Ravager, I hadn’t envisioned the new Affinity aggro. I guess I was at least right about Aether Vial being too slow for Type I in any case.
Oscar on Mirrodin
If you look at my Mirrodin reviews and the sheer number of potentially environment-defining spells at the time, I hope you appreciate how overwhelmed your imagination could be at the time. My Mirrodin artifact review in fact spanned one column on artifact creatures, two on artifacts, and two extra columns to answer e-mails (see “The Half Time Mail Call” and “Mail Call, Part 2“).
I think I was correct with Chrome Mox, saying it would automatically be restricted – and that Wizards should have pre-announced it instead of causing uncertainty for early traders – and that it would be useful only in combo, though a notch below Mox Diamond. I think I opined in later columns that, post-Chalice, you might use it in other decks to help diversify the mana curve, but that didn’t work out very well.
I think I was also correct with Isochron Scepter. It was best in slower decks that could muster a flexibility of instants, and much as I tried to diversify the discussion lest I be accused of being myopic, it really was an old “The Deck” pick. It had its run, though, and in the end, even with the expanded flexibility provided by Cunning Wish, it just wasn’t fast or powerful enough.
My largest oversight was, of course, Mindslaver. Initially, I compared it to Grinning Totem and saw it as a fun card. When you tried to dissect the effect into card advantage and mana terms, you might not do all that much damage, on average, unless a guy had a good spell he could cast on you or you could make him counter his own spells for a pseudo-Mind Twist. It could, of course, do quite a bit of damage Weldered out against combo, but at the time I felt combo would be sent into a decline.
Where did my assumptions go wrong? I never envisioned Mindslaver recursion, and when someone did, the lock concept was never the same again. Again, your playtesting has to break out of old mindsets like this.
For the same reason, my review of Damping Matrix was underwhelming because I did not envision the new archetype.
I also got caught in a mindset discussing Goblin Charbelcher. I identified it as a new kill card, but downplayed how good it could be as one simply by not considering you could make a combo deck with only one or two land.
Let me save the most hyped and most talked-about artifact for last: Chalice of the Void.
This was so complex that the Paragons more or less refrained from talking about it until people who wanted to got a playset together, while ignoring Chrome Mox. I think we were correct in the initial assumption: Chalice would redefine Type I.
I was correct in that it would be a headache for combo, would kill the common budget archetypes, and that powered decks with mana bases that could diversify casting costs like “The Deck” and Workshop decks would benefit the most. Thus, a lot of the discussion went to other concerns, like the impact on budget players.
However, Chalice was so complex and far-reaching that its effects came in stages. My assumptions were roughly correct, but only if you consider they were written for the first stage only, which I think is fair, and I only made passing notes about dropping Chalice afterwards since it would be less useful after everyone had adapted. After everyone adjusted and new archetypes came out, Chalice did in fact become less useful for the decks that originally milked them.
With mana curves diversified, Chalice became a more specialized hoser aimed at specific rungs. Suicide Black, for example, ironically used Chalice for one as disruption after it was thought that Chalice for two would make it extinct. The last deck to do this was mono blue, and it can Chalice for one comfortably since it has no one-mana spells.
If you go over discussions and critiques of Chalice, I think you have to take everything in context since it was a very broad discussion over several time periods.
‘Til next week! I hope!
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
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Team Paragons of Vintage, still open for franchise
University of the Philippines, College of Law
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