For those who do not know me, I am a freshman law student of the University of the Philippines, and have played Magic since high school. However, I am no local pro. I cannot even attend Type II tournaments regularly because of all the other things I do. I do not even play multiplayer, because I have trouble finding people with a common time and because chaos games can drag on.
I simply enjoy Magic as a hobby; something to play in one- or two-hour sittings instead of one- or two-day stretches. I have won prizes before, but find these secondary to just having fun, and am quite content just carrying a casual deck with no sideboard. If you have no trouble with any of this, read on, because we will get along just fine.
In writing, however, I prefer not to focus on decklists. From my experience as a forum moderator, too many players do not know why certain cards are in decklists, and I think that it is even more important to know why certain cards are not there. I prefer to focus on the underlying principles in deck construction.
These underlying principles, after all, make themselves felt whenever one rates a new expansion.
Benchmarking: The Type I Rule Of Thumb
How does one know if a card is playable?
In Type I, despite the much larger card pool, the rule of thumb is very simple: Is this card better than everything else?
One fundamental rule of Magic is that the cheapest possible way of getting an effect is often the best. In the early years, no discard spell could hold a candle to the brutal efficiency of this Fallen Empires common:
HYMN TO TOURACH, BB, Sorcery
Target player discards two cards at random from his or her hand.
Coercion was cute, but traded one card and three mana for one card. Stupor was useful only if four Hymns were not enough. And Tendrils of Despair was a joke.
The Hymn’s only competition finally came with Urza’s Saga:
Duress, B, Sorcery
Target opponent reveals his or her hand. Choose a noncreature, nonland card from it. That player discards that card.
This was also a one-for-one trade… But at one mana, Duress was even more effective than Hymn in some situations. (It was also a lot more splashable — The Ferrett) Today, there is no question that the core of every discard-oriented deck is made up of four Duresses and four Hymns. One can add more discard slots, but this is often useless because casting discard when an opponent’s hand is already empty does not win games.
Thus, the first rule of thumb for every new discard spell is:”Will I take this over Hymn or Duress for my first eight discard slots?” These”benchmark” spells are well established in Type I, and common examples include Lightning Bolt and Incinerate, Mana Drain and Counterspell, and the original dual lands.
What newer spells have displaced old benchmarks? The best examples include Powder Keg over Nevinyrral’s Disk, Fact or Fiction over Ophidian (and over every other unrestricted blue card drawer as well), Morphling, and Masticore over Serra Angel, and possibly Blastoderm over Ernham Djinn.
Still, rarely is a newer card better than its predecessor from a more broken era (most notably Stroke of Genius over Braingeyser). Many newer spells, however, have no old-school equivalents, and can be considered their own benchmarks. Yawgmoth’s Will is one of them, and it ranks up there with Ancestral Recall in the brokenness scale.
Thus, when looking at a new card, keep these two simple rules in mind:
- 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?
Keep in mind, however, that you will be lucky to find a new expansion with ten cards that fit either rule. (Insight: Because you never have to buy cards that are worse than cards you already own, Type I is cheap after you build your deck.)
When looking at creatures, we mainly look at Rule #1. Why? We play creatures mainly to deal steady damage, and very few creatures have abilities so powerful that their power is secondary (such as Hypnotic Specter, Dwarven Miner, and Gorilla Shaman).
The most efficient creatures in Type I are those with two power for just one mana (such as Savannah Lions, Jackal Pup, and Goblin Cadets), and most other playable ones have at least two power for two mana. More expensive creatures must be very powerful to justify their late appearance, and have to be comparable to Morphling and Juzam Djinn.
“Fatties” are less playable in Type I than in Invasion-era Type II, simply because Type I removal is both cheap and brutal. In other words, you might tap out to cast a Shivan Wurm, only to have your opponent cast a Swords to Plowshares or Diabolic Edict, untap, then play an Abyss. And the last time I played Fires-esque decks, my opponents conceded every time I Mana Drained an early Shivan Wurm, then tutored up a Mind Twist.
Spectral Lynx, 1W, Creature Â— Cat, 2/1
Protection from green
The new River Boa is not as good as it might look. First, protection from green is next to useless in Type I because there is no green removal (aside from the obscure Drop of Honey) and very few green creatures. Second, regeneration is far less useful when benchmarks include Swords to Plowshares, Incinerate, Diabolic Edict, and The Abyss. Other combat abilities such as trample, first strike, and flying are also less important simply because they do not deal more damage and because blocking is less common.
Thus, Spectral Lynx is hardly as good as it looks. Regeneration is still rare for white, though, and it may work in a more casual environment or in a more creature-filled environment. In these cases, one can splash black and add Yawgmoth’s broken Will and tutors.
Note that Spectral Lynx DOES get around Powder Keg, and a white weenie backed by Duress and Gerrard’s Verdict may be a deck idea against Keg-based control decks like mono blue.
Goblin Legionnaire, RW, Creature Â— Goblin Soldier, 2/2
R, Sacrifice Goblin Legionnaire: Goblin Legionnaire deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
W, Sacrifice Goblin Legionnaire: Prevent the next 2 damage that would be dealt to target creature or player this turn.
This card looks like the original Mogg Fanatic, but remember that although Fanatic is stronger under Sixth Edition rules, it is weaker in Type I because there are less creatures and raw power is often more important than flexibility. Still, like Mogg Fanatic, this would be stronger in more casual or more creature-heavy environments, and it is in the color of both Savannah Lions and Jackal Pup (it may be used make Powder Keg less painful, too).
None of the various gold 2/2s look especially powerful enough, but some of them may provide better warm bodies for some decks like casual Merfolk decks.
Penumbra Bobcat, 2G, Creature Â— Cat, 2/1
When Penumbra Bobcat is put into a graveyard from play, put a 2/1 black Cat creature token into play.
This creature is effectively two, and would be amusing against Balance. It is something to try, but simpler cards such as Serendib Efreet are probably still better. The higher mana cost may still be enough to disrupt a deck’s momentum after an opponent’s timely Mana Drain or Swords.
The other Penumbras are just too expensive, of course.
Spiritmonger, 3BG, Creature Â— Beast, 6/6
Whenever Spiritmonger deals damage to a creature, put a +1/+1 counter on Spiritmonger.
B: Regenerate Spiritmonger.
G: Spiritmonger becomes the color of your choice until end of turn.
Again, regeneration is less powerful in Type I, and a 6/6 body is less powerful than it looks if it is still easily killed (check my Bad Magic Tech buddy Greg Smith’s compilation of 99 Ways To Kill A Spiritmonger!). Next, abilities that add power are weaker in Type I, again, because a creature is so easily killed. The last ability is irrelevant.
One might compare Spiritmonger to a Juzam or Phyrexian Scuta and say that and extra green mana for the added abilities is amazing. That extra mana, however, will complicate a mana base and may slow one down enough to lose, and raw power is usually the only ability you need. Many other interesting creatures have this problem in Type I, such as Desolation Angel, and only Lightning Angel comes close to playable.
And, remember that for five mana, one can get a Morphling Â— always a tough standard to beat!
Cromat, WUBRG, Creature Â— Legend, 5/5
WB: Destroy target creature blocking or blocked by Cromat.
UR: Cromat gains flying until end of turn.
BG: Regenerate Cromat.
RW: Cromat gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
GU: Put Cromat on top of its owner’s library.
Some call this the new Morphling. (Who? WHO ARE THEY? I want their names! — The Ferrett, who firmly believes that Cromat sucks) Recognize, however, that WUBRG is tough even in Type I, and most such decks are based around blue. An opponent can simply attack a Tropical Island with a Wasteland, then kill Cromat (or simply play an Abyss). And even if Cromat manages the GU ability, it still has to be recast and one loses a card draw. Thus, while Cromat’s combat tricks are better than Morphling’s, it still cannot match the untargetability and Morphling is still the premier one-card combo.
By now, you should already note that the other abilities are less relevant.
Tidal Courier, 3U, Creature Â— Merfolk, 1/2
When Tidal Courier comes into play, reveal the top four cards of your library. Put all Merfolk cards revealed this way into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library.
3U: Tidal Courier gains flying until end of turn.
All the new mechanics in Apocalypse such as Penumbra, Whirlpool, and Kicker simply cost too much, even for casual play. The various couriers may be tried in theme decks for fun, but this one just falls below the Fact or Fiction benchmark.
Apocalypse: Creature Enchantments
Creature enchantments are difficult to use in Type I because they allow an opponent to trade one of his cards for two of yours, and because Type I decks tend to have less creatures to enchant. Thus, despite the seeming power of cards such as Quicksilver Dagger, none are worthy.
Again, do not be upset. After over a dozen expansions, only Control Magic, Treachery, and Rancor are playable creature enchantments. These are the only ones that both get around the card disadvantage and have powerful effects for their cost.
Do not be upset if hardly anything seems interesting enough for Type I. Knowing what is not good enough is important in itself, especially for Type I players who just enjoy buying four copies of whatever looks new. Check out the next installment of this column for the non-creature spells, where we may find some worthier cards.
Oscar Tan, a.k.a. Rakso
Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.bdominia.com/discus/messages/9/9.shtml)
Featured writer, Star City Games (www.starcitygames.com/magic.php)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (www.magic-singles.com/cpa)
Moderator, Bad Magic Tech e-group (www.groups.yahoo.com/group/badmagictech)
Clinician, Rogue Deck Clinic (www.groups.yahoo.com/group/RogueDeckClinic)