You Lika The Juice? – Fevers, Hysterics, and Phrensies

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This is the time of year when I start culling my Type 2 (well, Standard I guess is the correct phrase) card boxes, shifting out the old stuff – Ravnica block, Ninth Edition – adding in Tenth Edition, and anticipating adding in Lorwyn stuff. Truth be told, I’m a bit sick of Ravnica – Standard right now feels a lot like Invasion Standard, where everyone is able to pick three or more colors, select the crème de la crème from each of them, glue it all together with ridiculously easy mana, and have themselves a really good deck.

First, let me give a warm shout-out to my man Ben Bleiweiss, who’s become the Mr. half of Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Bleiweiss this past weekend. He and better half Kate tied the knot this weekend, and regretfully I was unable to attend. I hope the wedding was beautiful, the reception kick-ass, and that the honeymoon is off on some remote exotic location without Internet access – since can you really relax if you’re constantly checking your emails?

Last week Evan Erwin mentioned that these were the Magical Dog Days of Summer, where there’s not a whole lot going on. It made me wonder – what exactly does “dog days” mean, and where did the phrase come from?

Good ol’ Wikipedia to the rescue!

“The term ‘Dog Days’ was coined by the ancient Romans, who called these days caniculares dies (days of the dogs) after Sirius (the ‘Dog Star’), the brightest star in the heavens besides the Sun.

“Popularly believed to be an evil time ‘when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.’

“Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant.”

Since I don’t see the seas boiling and my wine hasn’t soured yet, and no one’s in a phrensie, I’ll take “stagnant” for 100, Alex.

This is the time of year when I start culling my Type 2 (well, Standard I guess is the correct phrase) card boxes, shifting out the old stuff – Ravnica block, Ninth Edition – adding in Tenth Edition, and anticipating adding in Lorwyn stuff. Truth be told, I’m a bit sick of Ravnica – Standard right now feels a lot like Invasion Standard, where everyone is able to pick three or more colors, select the crème de la crème from each of them, glue it all together with ridiculously easy mana, and have themselves a really good deck. Now is where power rules Standard, and as a deckbuilder in love with synergy, it’s sad times indeed. I find myself yearning for the rotation.

I have to admit to a little bit of apprehension towards the new Standard in part because Time Spiral Block Constructed has a similar feeling to me too – power seems to dominate over synergy, and mana seems really easy too. Who would have figured you’d have four-color control decks running around in a block deck, outside of blocks where multicolor is stressed? Good four-color control decks?

I’d always come down on the side of easy mana, since there are few things worse in a game of Magic than having to fight your mana in addition to your opponent. Now I’m not so sure. Mark Rosewater has written on several occasions how limitations are good for creativity; if you’re restricted in the cards you can play, power plays a lesser role because you can squeeze fewer powerful cards into your deck. In that case, synergy and clever use of cards have the opportunity to shine more.

Going into this fall, we’ve got Terramorphic Expanse, all ten painlands, Time Spiral storage lands, Future Sight duals, Prismatic Lens, and Coalition Relic. Mana’s looking pretty easy, and we don’t even know what sort of mana fixing will be available in Lorwyn. I’m worried that we’re going to have another year or more of power cards ruling the day. Why would I be worried? Well, I have a problem with playing cards simply because they are the most powerful available. I realize this flaw is probably a large reason why I’ve never qualified for the Big Show in all of the 14 years that I’ve played this game. If a card is incredibly powerful — and everyone knows it’s incredibly powerful — then I have this strong urge to dislike it. Case in point: Tarmogoyf. It wasn’t a card that I saw much potential in initially, but since it was Green and a creature, I hung on to the copy I opened in my booster box, with the intention of rounding out the playset over time. Well, chalk that up to a big mistake, seeing as the damn thing is cropping up in any deck that can possibly shoehorn the beastie in, and the asking price has gone up to Damnation levels. And it’s been extremely difficult for me to want to play it now that it’s been proven to be a powerhouse, and everybody and their great aunt is playing it.

Of course, I will play it; it’s a Green creature after all, and I’m not totally averse to playing good cards, despite the evidence I present in this column quite often. I have traded for my second copy, and my extra Damnation is just waiting to be swapped for a third ‘goyf.

I had an interesting thought the other day I wanted to share with you, regarding three recent announcements in the Magic world. Perhaps the speculation I’m going to make here might actually provoke Fevers, Hysterics, and Phrensies!

Exhibit A: The Masters Edition on MTGO
These booster packs are full of old-school throwbacks from the glory days of Magic. As I write this, we know that Force of Will, Juzam Djinn, Armageddon, Lightning Bolt, Mirror Universe, Thawing Glaciers, Moat, Sylvan Library, Goblin Grenade, Khabal Ghoul, Serendib Efreet, Forcefield, and Lim-Dul’s Vault are among the 195 cards you can find in each $3.99 virtual booster pack.

Exhibit B: Wizards is pushing the Legacy format
Brian David-Marshall recently wrote about the reasoning behind Legacy being featured at the World Championship tournament this December. Mentioning that October 2008 will trigger the huge Extended rotation (making Mirrodin the oldest set available in the format), Aaron Forsythe said “it is time to give Legacy a real try, for many of the same reasons Extended was invented and added to the competitive Magic landscape in the first place.”

Exhibit C: Rosewater promised the Magic holiday gift product was a must-buy
I don’t know if you read Scrye, but in issue #111 I interviewed Mark Rosewater about Summer Magic, and he touched on Lorwyn and specifically called out this year’s holiday gift product as a must-buy for players of all stripes. “From a value proposition,” says Rosewater, “it will be a really good deal for experienced players.”

Now, ever since that interview and the maddening cryptic hints, I’ve been pondering what in the world the holiday gift pack will contain. The “value proposition” for experienced players naturally lends one to think about reprints of old, hard to get cards. Of course, that runs into the sticky problem of the Official Reprint Policy (also see Randy Buehler’s articles on it, The New Reprint Policy and Reexamining Reprints). Wizards made a promise to Magic collectors in the wake of the Chronicles debacle never to reprint the rares from Alpha through Urza’s Destiny so that the old, out of print cards will hold their value. But let’s be honest – that promise was made quite a while ago, and slightly revised 5 years back. Magic is quite different now than it was back then. There’s a new regime running Magic R&D now under the command of Aaron Forsythe, and perhaps Aaron would be bold enough to take a look at the Official Reprint Policy and say, “is this really set in stone?”

Let’s think this through. Take for instance, the Star City Power 9 Vintage tournament series. It’s unsanctioned, allowing ten proxies, and is likely a big reason why interest in Vintage has been on the upswing. Be honest here—has the “reprinting” of Moxen, Black Loti, and Ancestral Recalls by the thousands, via basic land plus Sharpie pen, done any damage to the value of these old cards? One could argue the increased interest in the format by making it more accessible to players who don’t own the power cards of the format already has helped raise the value of Vintage cards.

So let’s step into the speculatin’ side of things. How would Wizards make Legacy more accessible to the masses? They obviously see that, coming up next year, there’s going to be a lot of favorite Extended cards that are going to get tossed out of that format, and people who really enjoy those cards and those decks and have the desire to keep playing them are going to naturally turn to Legacy. The big problem is that in Legacy you gotta have your dual lands, your Force of Will, Swords to Plowshares, Goblin Lackey, and Hymn to Tourach. The cost of some of these cards, while not in the same ballpark as Vintage powerhouses, can still get rather prohibitive. It’s why I have not looked even casually at the format; I’ve long since traded away most of what I’d need to compete in that arena to stay competitive in Standard, Block, and Extended.

So what if Wizards included in the Magic holiday gift product a “Master’s Edition” style of reprint booster pack that included some of the staples (including dual lands) you need to compete in Legacy?

The pros are obvious – the product would fly off the shelves and provide a huge cash windfall. Interest in Legacy would skyrocket, and Wizards would feel freer to promote the format knowing that the available card pool wasn’t as restrictive.

The cons are obvious too – collectors would scream bloody murder, worried that their investment in the cards would be in jeopardy. There’s the whole issue of “broken promises” as a PR nightmare. Some old-school players who invested a lot of time and money into making Legacy decks might walk away from the game in disgust.

But perhaps the downside of reprinting the cards wouldn’t be so bad, and Wizards could take steps to mitigate it. For one thing, they could make the reprints white bordered, and make the art different. There are obviously a large base of players out there who like to “bling” out their decks with foils and original, black-bordered prints that may start out playing with the reprints but would actively seek out trades and purchases down the road to make their deck more cool. Sure, some of the really outrageously high priced cards might suffer in value, but it’s not unreasonable to guess that the rise in interest in the format will fuel interest in original, black-bordered printings of cards. That could end up balancing the value of Legacy cards overall, and possibly even raise them in the long run.

Wizards could slow-roll the reprints, by releasing only a limited number of them at first and then monitor the impact it has on the market value. Then perhaps release another batch the following Christmas, right after the big Extended rotation. Going back to BDM’s article: “There has certainly been some discussion but there are no plans to run Legacy PTQs in 2008,” assured Scott Larabee but added: “We haven’t finalized 2009 yet. Someday… maybe…”

Perhaps we’re seeing the early stages of Wizards figuring out how to keep the game healthy and the fans engaged in official formats as Magic travels through its second decade. Radically changing the reprint policy might be on the table. What do you think?

Before I go though, a reminder – today is August 8th, the deadline for the Auction of the People contest! Have you gotten your submission in yet? I had a lot of fun hashing out my deck, and I started out with the goal that each card actually fit the theme of the deck. The problem of course is that some letters of the alphabet don’t have much selection; case in point, the letter X (“We know that your choices for X are limited, so you won’t be penalized for resorting to Xanthic Statue.”) Naturally, of course, I decided that whatever my X card was would actually be a central player in the way the deck was supposed to work.

I eventually settled in on Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed. Check out this beauty:

Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
Legendary Creature
Sacrifice Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed: Return target black card from your graveyard to your hand. Play this ability only during your turn, before the combat phase.

He obviously provides a role as an engine for recurring cards like Living Death and Twilight’s Call, so long as you use his ability during your first main phase. And honestly, what Invitationalist wouldn’t love to play this Portal Three Kingdoms card? He’s got Horsemanship! The only downside is the fact that he’s a Legend, and I didn’t want the risk of having two or more in my graveyard when I wanted to have the engine rolling, so he’s only a singleton copy.

Putting together an infinite Death/Call engine deck fitting the contest restrictions wasn’t too difficult:

2007 Auction of the People
One-Eyed Death, by Bennie Smith

1 Altar of Dementia
1 Blood Vassal
1 Carven Caryatid
1 Dimir House Guard
3 Eternal Witness
1 Fallen Angel
4 Golgari Signet
1 Highway Robber
1 Indrik Stomphowler
3 Jalum Tome
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
4 Living Death
1 Morgue Toad
1 Nantuko Husk
1 Overeager Apprentice
1 Phyrexian Ghoul
1 Quirion Sentinel
1 Rith’s Attendant
1 Sadistic Hypnotist
1 Twilight’s Call
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Verdant Eidolon
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed
1 Yavimaya Granger
1 Zombie Infestation
9 Swamp
14 Forest

Like any good Death deck, this one is chock full of self-sacrificing and comes-into-play abilities. I also wanted to include creatures that sacrificed for mana in order to be able to cast Death or Twilight’s Call over and over again, hopefully looping Kokusho or Highway Robber — or fueling Altar of Dementia — to go ahead and win on the spot. Note that Altar of Dementia can also be used on yourself in order to prime your graveyard for larger mass reanimation. Outside of feeding the engine, I wanted to run mana-fixing/acceleration with the Signets, and the Stomphowler is in there as a safety valve in case any of the other Invitational decks run some sort of enchantment/artifact based lock (and let’s face it, this being Legacy the odds are probably pretty high there).

One last note: I know the Wall of Blossoms and Carven Caryatid technically put the brakes on this being an “infinite” engine (since you don’t want to draw your deck and then not be able to draw a card and lose), but presumably you won’t need to execute the loop infinite times to actually go ahead and win the game, and I thought the added card draw would be needed to make sure you actually drew into your Living Death/Twilight’s Call in time.

Okay, that’s it for this week, see ya next time!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com