You Lika The Juice? – Some Things Change, Some Stay the Same

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Wednesday, June 18th – Mark Rosewater recently mentioned that, starting with Shards of Alara, each set is going to be comparably smaller than the sets sizes we’ve currently been seeing. Personally, this thrills me. As someone who likes to play competitively, it’s difficult to acquire a playset of so many cards out there that you want to build decks with, especially since we’re living in the era of Tier 2 cards, which widens the pool of “must-have” playables.

So if you’re tired of the
Same old story
Turn some pages
I’ll be here when you are ready
To roll with the changes

There have been a few announcements of late that impact how we play this game we all love, so I thought I’d spend a few minutes weighing in on some of them.

Smaller Set Size

Mark Rosewater recently mentioned that, starting with Shards of Alara, each set is going to be comparably smaller than the sets sizes we’ve currently been seeing. Personally, this thrills me. As someone who likes to play competitively, it’s difficult to acquire a playset of so many cards out there that you want to build decks with, especially since we’re living in the era of Tier 2 cards, which widens the pool of “must-have” playables. Assuming that purchasing of booster packs for drafts and by the box to crack open for singles is going to remain relatively level, there should be a greater number of individual cards floating around to purchase from sites like Star City, or in people’s trade binders. Increasing supply should push down prices/value and make acquisition easier.

Another possible side effect in having fewer cards might be the enabling of what I’ll call “Tier 2.5” cards to be more viable in competitive decks. For instance, I really want to try out both Beacon of Unrest and Doomed Necromancer in various decks, since I love graveyard recursion… but honestly, both spells pretty much pale in comparison to Profane Command. With less Profane Commands running around that are just head and shoulders above comparable cards perhaps the Beacons and Necromancers could find a home. As someone who loves both walking my own path and… well, winning competitively with rogue decks – I’m keeping my fingers crossed that having fewer overall cards will “flatten” out and actually increase the number of playable cards to some degree.

Mythic Rares

I’ve had the privilege of playing Magic since the beginning, when the idea of Collectible/Trading Card Games first hit the gaming community like a ton of bricks. I’ve given other TCGs a try over the years (in particular enjoying Netrunner, Warlord, and Dune), but for me, Magic remains the benchmark. So adding a new rarity strikes me as a little bit weird, even if it is, as Mark Rosewater points out, the industry standard to have “super-rares.” I’m glad that they’re implementing this new convention while they’re reducing set size, and according to MaRo they’ve crunched the numbers and the mythic rares won’t be too much more difficult to acquire than certain rares are now – I believe he calculated it at about twice as rare as current rares. Of course, if the next Mutavault is twice as hard to find that the current ones we’d all be in real trouble, creating a very real financial barrier to certain “must-have” that any serious tournament player needs to have in his stable of cards. Thankfully, MaRo assuages this concern by pledging that mythic rares are cards that feel very special and unique, cards like Planeswalkers, legends, and “epic-feeling” creatures and spells. At the same time, he says he does not want to include utility cards, cards that fill a universal function such as dual lands and cards like Mutavault or Char. Of course, there’s a little bit of concern that cards like Garruk Wildspeaker, cards that players definitely want to get a playset of, are going to be more difficult at Mythic. We’ll see how that goes.

I want Magic to remain as vibrant and healthy a game as it has been for many, many years to come, so if this is one way to keep Magic at the forefront of collectible games, I’m fine with it, though I’m going to keep an eye on the Planeswalkers since I imagine at least some of them are going to end up as good as Garruk, and thus a pain in the ass to collect as a Mythic rare.

All Booster Packs Will Have a Basic Land Card in Place of a Common

I’m not sure about this, though I do agree that having more land floating around for new players to acquire is definitely a good move. I can remember first learning to play Magic, it was definitely though to get the lands you needed sometimes. I’ve never drafted the Core sets so I don’t know how having one less common per pack impacts drafting. I do imagine having a couple less commons might be a bad thing for Sealed deck, considering how many card pools I’ve opened up over the years where I was positively scraping the bottom of the barrel to have enough playables.

Theme Decks Are Becoming Intro Packs

I think this change is (mostly) a fantastic idea! I’ve long been an advocate for theme decks being a good way for curious people to give Magic a try; back in the days when Magic first came out, you just had the “tournament decks,” which were just a collection of random cards and basic lands. You certainly couldn’t shuffle it up and play it right out the box and have a decent experience. I’ve recommended new players buy a theme deck and play a few games, then buy a few boosters and start to “tighten up” the deck, pulling out the cards you don’t like and adding cards you do like. So I was glad to hear that the new intro packs included a random booster to give new players exposure to that whole element of Magic that’s so fun. That’s the good part. The bad part is, for some ridiculous reason, the total cards you get including the booster pack is only 56 total. Assuming you would somehow use every card in the booster pack (which obviously you wouldn’t), you couldn’t actually play this intro pack in a Friday Night Magic tournament. I think this is a huge mistake – not so much for brand new players, but I do know of returning players who haven’t played Magic in a while return to the game on impulse; they show up one Friday night, feel that ol’ Magic feeling again and say like “heck, give me a precon deck and sign me up.” He’s not expecting to win, but he at least wants a playable deck. With these new intro packs that’s not possible without buying at least 1-2 additional booster packs and then go through your three packs and find 19 cards (including land) to add before you’re tournament legal. While this is certainly a good learning experience, I think it’s a mistake to make these intro packs so far from being tournament legal without investing more time and additional expenditure. Would it have really cost Wizards that much more money just simply adding a booster pack to an already playable preconstructed deck? That booster pack – first hit’s free! Magic boosters are like Doritos – you can’t consume just one.

I do think it’s nice that, instead of including a premium land they’ve decided to include a premium rare — even though I personally don’t like playing with foils, I know they add a level of excitement for a lot of players. I’m also happy that they’re pledging the premium rare is going to be “a good one at that,” which will make those particular rares a little easier to acquire and making the purchase more valuable; I always thought it was rather sad that so many of the precons featured “trash rares” that nobody really wanted (with a few nice exceptions here and there).

Hybrid Cards & Elder Dragon Highlander

For those of you who are fans of Elder Dragon Highlander, did you see the announcement regarding Hybrid mana cards? Considering all the hybrid cards we’ve got in Shadowmoor and the apparent continuation of that theme in Eventide, there was some clamoring for a revisit of the rule that you can’t play hybrid mana cards unless both colors line up with your general. The Keepers of the Rules got together during Pro Tour: Hollywood, considered changing the rules but decided ultimately to keep things the same. Here’s what they said in case you didn’t see the ruling in their forums:

After much discussion, and some strong opinions on both sides, we’ve decided that EDH will be better served by continuing with the current system: Half-offcolour hybrid cards are not allowed in EDH decks.

The reasons on both sides are numerous, but in the end the format benefits in several ways from maintaining the restriction to “fully on-colour” cards. Diversity of cards played is increased, proper segregation of the colour-pie is protected, and the flavour of decks is better maintained by this rule.

We realize this might be a little frustrating to some deck builders (myself included sometimes), but in a way this gives more freedom to those same builders by increasing the aforementioned diversity of playable/”best” cards. I’ll leave this thread open for post-mortem discussion, but as always please keep it civil.

So, to restate… cards with the {R/G} mana symbol may only be played in EDH decks whose general is both Red and Green. This will continue to be true after the release of Eventide.

This was posted by Gavin Duggan, the EDH Rules Rep. My personal feeling is that this is a good thing. I already struggle with building my decks since there are too many fun and good cards I want to include, so many things end up on the cutting-room floor. It’s agony! If hybrid cards were fully opened up that would make things even harder; for instance, why would you not play Kitchen Finks in every single White/x or Green/x deck? Or Vexing Shusher in every single Red/x or Green/x deck? This way you lock it down so that you’d only play them in a Green/White or Green/Red deck, and anything that cuts down a bit on the decisions I have to make I find very helpful.

Oh, and regarding Limited Resources getting the ban-hammer? Good riddance!

Pivot to Block Constructed

I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it down to the memorial tournament for Richie Profitt; people have really contributed a ton of wonderful prizes and I have a feeling that everyone is going to have a really good time and walk away with something special to remember this tournament always, making it a fitting tribute to the fine gentleman we are all going to miss. So I’ll be keeping one toe in the Standard waters until then, but my main focus is going to be shifting to Block Constructed in preparation for at least the one local PTQ being held in Richmond the end of August.

Birmingham gave us a baseline, and there have been some fine articles put up on this site examining the baseline and proposing new ideas – in particular I’m really looking forward to giving Chapin’s Shaman deck a whirl, especially since hometown hero Michael Rooks took home the Mid-Atlantic Regionals trophy on the back of his super-aggressive Shaman deck. Chapin’s deck isn’t nearly as aggressive, but I think that’s only natural given just how many Firespouts seem to be running around the format. Rage Forger is a super card that has been criminally overlooked, and I saw Rooks crush dreams with that guy two weekends back. In particular I love how the Forger can be used to pump up your Mutavaults – good times! I’m also kinda digging Reuben Bresler Elemental deck – Makeshift Mannequin plus Twilight Shepherd? Good times!

Anyway, I’ve been brainstorming some ideas for Block and wanted to share them with you, see what you think and if any of them had some potential. Do you think they’d hang tough in the format or die a miserable death in the no-man’s land between Faeries and Kithkin? At least I’m not tossing out yet another Elemental deck into the mix, hey?

When Shadowmoor first came out, I dedicated some time to testing various Persistence-themed decks for Standard and ended up figuring playing the theme that close didn’t work all that well in the current metagame. Perhaps it would work better in Block? Heartmender of course helps keep Persistence going, and Ajani does the job as well, knocking off —1/-1 counters and giving the gang Vigilance while you’re at it. I’m also figuring between Ajani, Kitchen Finks, and Primal Command, there is a good amount of lifegain here to keep you in the game against the aggressive decks until you can establish some control. I’m figuring some number of Austere Commands in the board would be good, since this deck of all decks would be more than happy to Wrath early and often.

I cooked up this deck while thinking about how a Doran-centric deck would be relatively immune to the ubiquitous Firespout, and then jumping at the idea of squeezing Firespout into the deck itself. The idea is to spend the early game disrupting and killing anything that moves before finally dropping your monsters. Timber Protector makes your Doran and Colossus invincible, and I have daydreams about having two Timber Protectors out there. Yeah, I’m weird.

Hitting the Flask

4 Cursecatcher
4 Fertile Ground
4 Devoted Druid
4 Elsewhere Flask
4 Jace Beleren
4 Savor the Moment
4 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Overbeing of Myth
2 Flow of Ideas
2 Cloudthresher
4 Mutavault
4 G/U “Cairns”
3 Mosswort Bridge
5 Forest
8 Island

I cooked up this little beauty after I first saw the sneak preview card for Overbeing of Myth from Wizards’ Eventide booster pack preview. Actually, that’s not exactly true. First, I picked myself off the ground, then I picked my jaw up off the ground, then I argued with some of my buddies as to why would I ever play this over, say, Oversoul of Dusk.

Because this guy is a Maro with your own personal Howling Mine attached. This is card drawing for Green, fellas! Since he’s Blue and Green, we can assume to include some amount of card-drawing in the deck (and I’m also assuming some Blue/Green “Cairns” to complete the cycle on the enemy-color side), so the main concern is figuring out how to give this guy some form of evasion so your gigantic Mythic Maro isn’t chump blocked forever by Faerie tokens. That’s what led me to Garruk’s trample ability, which then led me to thinking about the Green/Blue Savor the Moment deck in Standard that used Planeswalkers to help get more mileage out of the restrictive Time Walk.

When playing against Planeswalkers, one thing you’ve got to weigh is whether or not you’ve got to attack the Planeswalker immediately or whether you can wait a turn; Savor the Moment can really mess with that math, letting you ramp up Garruk and draw three extra cards to make MyMa lethal for instance.

The Flasks seem like good mana-fixers, help keep your hand full and allow you to get full yield from a Flow of Ideas. The Cursecatchers struck me as a good early-drop that can help fight Cryptic Command, which seems like it would be a bit problematic for this deck. I’m also concerned about it’s ability to deal with Kithkin. Ah, we sure could use a Wall of Roots!

Shoo-fly (NiceDraft.dec Part 2)

4 Thoughtseize
4 Devoted Druid
4 Sickle Ripper
4 Dusk Urchin
4 Blowfly Infestation
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Wildslayer Elves
3 Flourishing Defenses
4 Incremental Blight
2 Witherscale Wurm
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Vivid Grove
3 G/B “Cairns”
3 Reflecting Pool
4 Forest
5 Swamp

This was inspired by my winning draft deck from a Regionals side event I wrote about last week, which I built around a first-pick Blowfly Infestation and had odd things happen when my opponent played a Flourishing Defenses. I applied some of the boldness I had when building my deck for States when I made Top 8 with Dredge, by not being afraid of playing “sub-par” cards to strengthen the theme. You certainly haven’t seen any mention of Sickle Ripper and Wildslayer Elves outside of Limited articles, and yet I think they both play vital roles in this style of deck. One thing that excites me is the chance to really break off Dusk Urchin, a card that is brimming with potential yet has not enjoyed any breakout performances so far. In particular I’m looking forward to getting a counter or two on it and then dropping the 3 counter-side of Incremental Blight on the Urchin (while hopefully killing my opponent’s board between the Blight and Infestation) and draw a boatload of cards. And c’mon – Incremental Blight with a Flourishing Defenses out? Sign me up! We even get Devoted Druid and Kitchen Finks to play into the —1/-1 counter theme.

Does this look like a pile? Of course it does – but then so did my Dredge deck, so much so that I eventually named it NiceDraft.dec because people were laughing I was beating people with a draft deck. There is still a truckload of elements not yet explored in Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block Constructed outside of Faeries, Kithkin, and Elementals, and my hope is that perhaps I’ve stumbled across one that’s worthy of some attention.

‘Til next week!


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