You Lika The Juice: Random Musings on the Time Spiral Prerelease

Before the event, I IM’d with Ben Bleiweiss that I was fairly certain this event would break records due to the appeal to both old-school players and new players wowed by Ravnica. Ben expressed some concern that Wizards’ game of Hide-the-Salami regarding the 121 extra subset of reprints would create some backlash of resentment from the Magic community that might suppress attendance. I can now add a feather in my “I Told You So” cap.

Breaking Records… and Appealing to the Fairer Sex?
I hope everyone got a chance to go to their local prerelease for Time Spiral. I worked both days helping StarCityGames roll out the new set to a record-breaking number of people. Before the event, I IM’d with Ben Bleiweiss that I was fairly certain this event would break records due to the appeal to both old-school players and new players wowed by Ravnica. Ben expressed some concern that Wizards’ game of Hide-the-Salami regarding the 121 extra subset of reprints would create some backlash of resentment from the Magic community that might suppress attendance. I can now add a feather in my “I Told You So” cap. The excitement level was higher than anything I can remember, higher even than Ravnica. Magic’s been around long enough for a nostalgic theme to work, and R&D did a great job putting it all together.

Working the admin desk (taking money, signing people up), I noticed another thing – there were a pleasantly surprising number of women at the prerelease. I don’t think it was just a function of higher attendance overall leading to an equally higher percentage of ladies (who are just naturally more noticeable than the horde of typically male Magic players), it just seemed like a much larger overall presence. I think most everyone would agree having more women involved with Magic would be a positive development, so I’m curious whether there’s something about Time Spiral itself that appeals to more women, or whether there is a larger trend of more women getting into Magic. I did notice a good amount of male/female partners for the 2-Headed Giant event, so perhaps the growing popularity of that event contributed? I’d love to hear any thoughts on that, especially from female Magic fans.

Sorry About the Crap Rare
There was a lot of speculation on how the rumored “purple” reprint cards would be distributed. I’d heard that Wizards was going to try and reward players who bought in bulk (booster boxes), so my personal theory was that each booster box would contain a few “bonus” booster packs that would be made up of these reprints (likely a random assortment each pack). My personal fear was that they’d just be mixed in with the other Time Spiral rares, and I was fairly certain there would be outrage if a player popped a pack and got a Fire Whip as their Time Spiral rare (and this was before I found out about Squire). Instead, Wizards did a brilliant move – basically adding a “Purple” super-rare to the pack in place of a common. It didn’t really sink in just how wonderful this move was until I started opening the packs I received as compensation for working the event. Typically when you open a “crap” rare, you can only pray for an outstanding uncommon or two to redeem the pack, and that’s certainly a fairly poor consolation prize. What’s great about Time Spiral is, even if you crack open a Pale Lace, the pack still has a chance to redeem itself! Behind the Pale Lace you might find an Akroma staring back at you. So while cracking packs, I noticed that nearly every pack made me a happy camper; while there exists the chance of cracking the Pale Lace/Squire pack, the odds are far longer for getting two crap rares. Having a much higher level of “pack satisfaction” will probably lead consumers to be much more willing to spend money cracking packs, which should also lead to a higher level of availability of desired cards.

Cha-Ching! Redeeming Norin the Wary
Writing for Scrye magazine, I get to see the new set spoilers a little ahead of time, and I specifically remember thinking that there must have been something wrong with the file when reading Norin the Wary. Did a line get lost in the process of dumping the data into Excel? Does Norin actually not do anything?! The only thing the card is good at is avoiding combat and dangerous spells, which from a flavor stand-point is rather hilarious… but from a practical standpoint is perplexing.

I remained skeptical about that version of Norin until I actually first saw one and read that, indeed, he was one of the most useless creatures printed of all time. I remembered that Wizards printed One With Nothing not too long ago, and rightly assumed this card was made specifically for those players who see “trash” cards as challenges, MacGyver-like puzzles to be figured out and turned into the perfect tool for winning (or at least doing something cool). The only scenario I could come up was playing Norin in conjunction with Confusion in the Ranks, itself an amusing puzzle of a card (I used to have a Confusion deck with artifact lands and cards like Viashino Sandstalker to break the symmetry).

Late in the day at the prerelease, I was chatting with some players and they brought up Norin, and how ridiculously bad he was. One of the players claimed he was completely useless, and while I agreed he was horrible in general, I mentioned he would actually be pretty awesome in a Confusion in the Ranks deck.

The guy looked at me for a moment… then reached into his pocket and gave me a dollar. Apparently he’d had a bet with his friends that no one could come up with any credible use for Norin. Cha-ching!

Psychic Flash
Towards the end of Saturday at the prerelease, I was cashing out my drawer and I suddenly realized I was whistling a rather archaic tune. Why would Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer randomly pop into my head at a Magic Prerelease? Granted, it’s a catchy little tune that I rather enjoy – when I was a kid, I had a cousin who played piano and I really liked listening to her play that song – but it’s not something that I hear very often. I thought that maybe I’d heard it playing somewhere at the convention center, maybe as muzak in the restroom or something, and thought nothing more about it.

Later in the evening, I had the privilege to go to dinner with Pete “Mr. StarCityGames” Hoefling, his top lieutenants, and the artists who had come to the prerelease. Pete took us to this nice little seafood place, and one interesting feature of the restaurant was an old-timey piano in the middle of the place. A handful of older patrons alternated between playing and singing along to various old-tunes, and it was nice background to our Magic-themed conversations. Towards the end of dinner, somebody ripped into… you guessed it, The Entertainer.

It kinda freaked me out. That just seemed like too big a coincidence to me.

To add to the freakage, the next week I made a call from my full-time job to our China office for the first time. After wading through the automated voice mail, I was put on hold. The hold music… this rather hideous electronica version of The Entertainer.

I’m still a little freaked out.

Crushin’ on Heather Hudson
I now have a small crush on Heather Hudson. Going out to dinner with Pete during prereleases is a lot of fun in part because I get to meet and chat with some of the big names in Magic artwork. Terese Nielsen and Jeff Miracola were great company, but there was something about Heather Hudson I found incredibly appealing, from the way she dressed, to her off-beat jokes and the way she laughed. Meeting Ms. Hudson carried me back to my college days and those awesome, quirky, and delightfully cute art-school girls I hung out with as much as I could, soaking up their creativity and then going home full-charged to crank out short stories, poems, and song lyrics. She made me miss that electric atmosphere that creative people generate when they gather together. I definitely need to figure out how to spend more time with artsy folks.

I wish I hadn’t been so broke, I would have loved to pick up a couple prints, like Chord of Calling, or Spike Feeder (a.k.a. “Peaches”)… and given me the chance to soak up some more of that wonderful artsy vibe before she flew off back for the left coast.

What Were They Thinking? Selecting… Confusion
Time Spiral didn’t just bring warm fuzzy feelings of goodness and delight. It also brought a little confusion dating back to Wizards’ “Selecting Tenth Edition” promotion. Now, I really like these promotions overall; it’s nice to open the process up to the mass of Magic players on a handful of cards, even if sometimes I become a bit appalled at what wins and what loses. Although I was apparently tagged as Mr. Casual by the Wizards powers-that-be, I actually think much closer to Spike when it comes to what cards I want to see in base and expansion sets, so I follow these things quite closely in order to see what’s going to be available for tournament play.

For Week 1, the choice was interesting: Hurricane versus Earthquake. I quickly decided on Hurricane because I kinda like it when the color pie lines are blurred. Red doesn’t really need more X-spells, and Hurricane offers an interesting complement to Green’s themes of mana acceleration and life gain.

Now this was back in June… so, flash forward to Time Spiral and now we’ve got Squall Line, which is basically the same card but arguably better (as an instant). I’m presuming that back in June Wizards was aware of the contents of Time Spiral, so why would they set up the possibility of having two functionally identical yet off-color themed cards in the same card pool for Standard? It’s one thing to have several Giant Growth variants out there, but Hurricane stands out as something special Green doesn’t get. Did Wizards think that Earthquake would easily win and set this up as a false choice, only to be surprised by the results? It was a very close election. Or are they hoping to push some sort of weird Green X-burn deck?

I found the whole thing a little confusing.

Similarly, we had a vote in Week 9: Mind Stone versus Guardian Idol. This was back in August when I’m sure Time Spiral had been set. In this case, Mind Stone won (which I was happy to see, remembering Mind Stone as a really solid tournament-caliber card), but the possibility existed for Guardian Idol to exist alongside the cycle of Totem cards from Time Spiral. It just struck me as weird to offer up a mana artifact that could turn into a creature to coexist alongside an entire cycle of mana artifacts that could turn into creatures. Did they want to push a variety of W/x Wrath-a-lot decks that beat down with their mana artifacts after sweeping away garden variety creatures that players were foolish enough to actually summon?

I bounced these concerns off Ben Bleiweiss during prerelease weekend, and he suggested that Tenth Edition and Time Spiral were developed separately, with different goals in mind in terms of balance and elements to include. Perhaps that’s the case, but I can’t imagine that R&D would evaluate Tenth Edition in a vacuum. The Core set typically has a fairly large impact on Standard, so again I’m left with…

What were they thinking on these two votes? Class? Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act?

Ach, Hans! Why Didn’t You Tell Me Saffi Was a Hottie?
Wikipedia indicates there’s a short story explaining Lhurgoyf’s famous flavor text in the Monsters of Magic anthology. Now that Christopher Moeller has made it obvious to the Magic players at large that Saffi Eriksdotter had a lethally-distracting rear end, I can’t help but be curious what happened in that short-story. Did Saffi subscribe to the old adage, you don’t have to run faster than the large carnivore, you simply have to run faster than someone else?

Okay, tune in next time when, among other things, I give you a Geezer’s Guide to some of the purple Timeshifted cards. If you weren’t around during the ancient times when these cards walked the earth, allow me to shed some light…

Bennie Smith