Top 5 best worst sets

I’m going to be a bit apologetic in today’s post. Magic, as a game, has a long-standing history with plenty of great sets under its belt. However, it also has a dark underbelly of a history, with sets that one way or another failed to live up to the expectations. Sets that broke Standard to the point of players leaving in droves, sets that were extremely popular and hailed as one of the best sets ever by experienced players, while simultaneously being so complicated and convoluted, new players found the experience extremely lacking. Though some might consider me a cynic, I also like to see the good in the bad occasionally, and that’s what this list is for.

autumnwillow.hq

5. Homelands. Homelands, Magic’s seventh expansion, is a very early set, designed within the first couple of years of the game. It was designed by Kyle Namvar and Scott Hungerford, both working within the Wizards of the Coast customer service. This, obviously, would never happen today. The set is tiny, only containing 115 cards (140 if you count cards with different art), and it was designed to be the very first top-down expansion of the game. While Richard Garfield had previously designed Arabian Nights with characters and stories inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, the main focus of those previous expansions was to design cool cards on a card-by-card level. This time, Hungerford and Navmar set out to create a world and tell a story about that world through the cards. Even though some might argue that they were less-than successful, I’d argue that a lot of the cards have a compelling, fuzzy feeling – to me, a lot of the card art actually reflect a proper world. In some ways, Homelands is the first gothic horror-inspired set, beating Innistrad to the punch by an odd sixteen years. The set failed to introduce any new proper mechanics, although the ability which would later be dubbed Shroud, and even later be replaced by Hexproof, was first introduced in Homelands on the card Autumn Willow. Players also called out Wizards when they introduced the following Pro Tour format: players were forced to include five cards from each legal expansion in their decks, effectively forcing players to play with the Homelands expansion. The format was quickly dubbed “Homedicapped”.

 

avatarofwoe.hq4. Prophecy. No matter how you look at it, Mercandian Mascques block is very underpowered. After the development disaster that was the Urza-block, the entire R&D team was called into the boss’ office to get told off and promised that if a similar disaster ever re-occured, they’d find themselves without a job. The limited format is extremely slow and under-powered, to the point where Stinging Barrier, an 0/4 wall for 2UU with a ping ability, is one of the best – if not the best – common in the entire block, looking from a limited perspective. It had a few notable powerful strategies, however, most notably Rebels, which also made a splash in Standard at the time. Prophecy, the last set of the block, contained Mercenaries, black’s answer to Rebels, which were designed to serve as a counter-measure. Most notable of these are Rebel Informer, who would hilariously put Rebels back where they came from (i.e. the library). The set was extremely “Spikey” (as in, well-suited for players of the “Spike” player profile, the hardcore tournament players) according to Mark Rosewater, and I have to agree. Rhystic was the only new keyword and basically made your spells worse or completely ineffective if an opponent paid some amounts of mana when you cast them. This was paired with a whole bunch of cards that would interact with your own lands, some cards sacrificed your own lands for effects, others tapped them. It created some interesting game-play in the mix. Most importantly for me – and this is my list – were the awesome splashy spells later added by the development team. I was very new to the game at the time, I bought my first cards back when Urza’s Saga could still be found in some shops, and when I opened the “Distress” preconstructed deck to find Avatar of Woe looking back at me, I was hooked. The Winds, most notably Plague Wind, are still played to this day in EDH, meaning not all in Prophecy was bad. This, coupled with my fond memories of tapping Avatar of Woe at my secondary school’s cafeteria tables, puts Prophecy on number four.

 

phyrexianetchings.hq

3. Coldsnap. I have a friend, who no longer plays Magic, who once set out to play a nice Standard FNM. He was brand new to the game, had only played a few months, but was there mainly to have fun. In the second round of the tournament, as he casts one of his cards, the opponent responds by raising his hand as high as he could and shout “judge!”. The judge walked over and asked what the problem was, and later had to inform my friend that he was playing with cards not legal in the format. He had some cards in his deck that he had gotten in his Coldsnap Theme deck, which contained reprints from both Ice Age and Alliances, neither legal in Standard at the time, of course. My friend had to replace these cards with basic lands, but elected to drop from the event in shame and go home instead, and some time later, he quit the game permanently. Coldsnap was designed as a follow-up to the Ice Age-Alliances “block” – back at the time of these sets, sets weren’t really designed into blocks, since that wasn’t a thing at the time, sets were designed independently. Looking chronologically, Homelands belongs in the “block” as the middle set, since it was released inbetween Ice Age and Alliances. In 2006, fifteen years after the release of the previous sets, Wizards set out to finish the Ice Age block once and for all, with Coldsnap, a set that would be released and regarded as part of the Ice Age block, but would be legal in Standard as well. It has a lot of the same feeling as the Ice Age expansion in particular, It has Cumulative Upkeep, Snow lands, and a large number of cards and effects that would strike the heart strings of old players. It also reminded the rest of the player community that Cumulative Upkeep sucks, and was generally considered an under-powered set and a failure. I really like most of the art in the set, I like how it thematically tie in to the previous sets, and even if I wasn’t around for opening these sets myself, I’ve cast a Force of Will or two in my days. Coldsnap takes the number three spot because of its thematical execution, not its mechanical revolutions.

 

tarmogoyf.hq2. Future Sight. Most Magic sets as they are released contain around two new mechanics, never before seen in the game. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, most small sets of old only expand on previous large sets’ mechanics, some sets contain a lot more new mechanics – most notably the Ravnica blocks, containing one small new mechanic for each guild. I say “small” mechanic because these are generally smaller in terms of design space, and a lot narrower than other mechanics. For an explanation of this, I recommend Mark Rosewater’s podcast, episode #161, “Design Space”. Future Sight did what Ravnica did and went completely overboard with it. Future Sight has a number of mechanics from the future, only represented on a couple of cards in the set. The total head count for new mechanics in the set is sixteen (!). In addition to that crazy number, Future Sight also included a number of smaller mechanics used in previous sets, such as Bloodthirst, Dredge or Hellbent, and in addition to that also keyworded previous mechanics that had yet to get their own keywords, like Lifelink, Reach and Deathtouch. Time Spiral block, with Time Spiral, Planar Chaos and Future Sight representing the past, the present and the future respectively, was lauded as one of the best block of all times by experienced players, but completely failed to capture new players, because the sets were too convoluted and too complicated, and the nostalgia is obviously not there for the new ‘uns. Future Sight was supposed to feature Planeswalkers for the first time, but they were pushed to the follow-up block Lorwyn instead, because getting the rules ironed out proved too difficult on the time constraint. However, the card Tarmogoyf features the first ever mention of the word “planeswalker” on a Magic card, in its reminder text, meaning the card was a cool glimpse into the future. The card was famously cut from the file and then re-introduced to the file from memory by Mike Turian, lead developer of Future Sight, and he changed the cost from 2G to 1G and the power/toughness from */* to */*+1, since he didn’t remember the exact specs from the deleted card. Turian’s bad memory created one of the most powerful creatures in Magic history, and it €100 on magiccardmarket.eu, despite being reprinted in Modern Masters. These famous mistakes makes me very fond of Future Sight, and as long as Tarmogoyf keeps winning me games in Legacy, Future Sight will forever be remembered by me as a good bad set.

 

brionstoutarm.hq

1. Lorwyn. This is really all about the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block, and I must begin by applauding Wizards for a few bold steps they took during the design, development and release of Lorwyn. The structure of the block itself, with two “mini-blocks”, each with a small set and a large set, is in itself an interesting feature of Lorwyn-Shadowmoor. The “third-set issues” had been known for years, and many different approaches have been taken to solve these, and as we recently learned, Wizards has decided to remove the problems with the third sets altogether by removing the third sets altogether. Perhaps they tested this idea in Lorwyn-Shadowmoor. The block is centered around the idea of a world that would change over the course of the block, nothing that special by Magic’s standards, but it’s interesting to see how different the different races are in Shadowmoor compared to Lorwyn. Lorwyn is centered around tribal mechanics, exploring tribes inspired by celtic folklore and fairytales. This leaves the set itself, though not the block, with a very warp, happy demenour, contrary to the usual grimdark stuff that can befoul Magic. This is another exciting difference between Lorwyn-Shadowmoor and other blocks, even if the block itself takes a grimdark turn around Shadowmoor. What really made the set (and the block) bad was the limited play, however. Making tribal the main focus of the block means plenty of creatures in the sets. This, in turn, means that the creatures themselves needs to be interesting, so that the gameplay is interesting. What failed during design and development, however, was that nobody realized how complicated the boardstates would become for especially newer players. With each creature entering the battlefield almost always contributing some effect to the board, it gets messier and messier the longer the games go. Mechanically, the flavour of tribal was surely well-reflected through the different tribes (giants, merfolk, faeries, goblins, elves, treefolk, elemental, kithkin), but the essence of celtic folklore isn’t really there. Still, Lorwyn constitues a much brighter and happier world than we’re used to, and above all, it has the best giant in Magic history, who also happens to be my favourite general in EDH: Brion Stoutarm. Any set with Brion clearly deserves the top spot on this list, as the best bad set in Magic history. If only they had conveyed the fairytale feeling in the mechanics more, it would’ve been a classic.

What did you think of the list? What’s your favourite bad set? Leave a comment below!

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Khans follow-up

The first StarCityGames Open with Khans of Tarkir legal was played yesterday, and as is evident from the Top 8 – Treasure Cruise treasurecruise.fullhas had at least some appearance in the tournament, with six copies in the T8, along with a singleton Dig Through Time in another BUG Delver deck.

Apparently, the numbers are still a bit up for debate – the UR Delver deck played the full set, as did Karsten Cotter in his builds of BUG Delver in his article, though those lists are obviously not proven. The BUG Delver list from the SCG T8 that did play them played only two. I’d say the middle ground, three-of Treasure Cruise, is the way to go, and Stuart and Stuart of Legacy Breakfast argues the same thing in their Khans of Tarkir set review.

Obviously we’ve yet to see the last from Treasure Cruise in Legacy, I think we’ll see an even greater format penetration of it in the coming weeks. On the flip side is the new SCG policy of naming BUG Delver “Sultai Delver”. Can we all just agree to stop doing that? BUG Delver is a bad name, but Sultai Delver is even worse.

EDH nights with Damia

After a Khans of Tarkir sealed, my friends and I decided to hunker down for a good old 5-man pentragram EDH game on saturday. Khans of Tarkir sealed, by the way, is very enjoyable and should be tried by everyone, even if Abzan seems to be the best clan by about a mile. I played Abzan, and it went well, so I’m not bitter.

damia,sageofstone.hqI decided to crack Damia, Sage of Stone instead of Brion Stoutarm this time around. I built Damia because I wanted to use the other good EDH cards I happen to have that didn’t go into Brion, which left those three colours. Incidentally, Damia is also on the other hand of the spectrum of “the commander matters” compared to Brion – while the Brion deck is very commander-centric and he’s very important to the deck’s goal, Damia is far from the most important card in the deck and essentially only ensures that I have some way to re-fill my hand late in the game. As with Brion Stoutarm, the deck is far from finished, so I won’t post a complete list. However, the deck’s idea is to use green’s ramp spells to get lots of lands into play early on, control the game through various silver bullets and countermagic, and finish the game with a huge spell or creature when the timing is right. All of it is tied together by the powerful black tutor effects, allowing me to get what I need when I need it, and the deck uses regrowing effects like Eternal Witness and Archaeomancer to play the long game well.

I wrote about pentragram in a previous post, “Different ways to command“, but the rules, in short, is that you sit around the table in a pentagon, the two people next to you are your allies, and the two people across are your enemies. The player to first eliminate both enemies wins the game.

The table was, starting with me, Damia (ramp control); Marath, Will of the Wild (aggro, my ally); Varolz, the Scar-Striped (combo, my enemy); Surrak Dragonclaw (aggro control, my other enemy) and finally Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (combo control, my other ally). I wasn’t too unhappy with the set-up, Surrak was a brand new deck and thus not really optimized just yet, and Varolz has a certain reputation and isn’t always very subtle in its execution, meaning it’d draw some hate from Grimgrin as well. I assumed my real “opponent” would be Marath, since it can deal loads of damage in just a couple of turns and eliminate people from nowhere if left unchecked.

Keeping tables fair since ’08

Marath, however, mana-screwed pretty hard, despite mulliganing aggressively for lands. Apparently, Marath was playing a Boros deck for the first few turns of the game, and even after Surrak resolved a Wheel of Fortune, Marath still had to cast Solemn Simulacrum to find his first green mana-source. Meanwhile, Grimgrin was getting plenty of cards through the use of Skullclamp, Solemn Simulacrum and animation of the latter. He elected to begin beating down on Varolz to begin with, however, choosing not to bully the mana-stalling Marath. Surrak played a couple of threats and attacked mostly on Marath, who returned the favour shortly. Meanwhile, I played lots of lands and ramp spells, and couple of counterspells in order to keep the table fair – Glen Elendra Archmage and Hinder to name two. I also stole a Cosecrated Sphinx via Desertion, and although it’s not as powerful as in free-for-all, since you only have two “opponents” in pentagram, it’s still awesome. It drew me 8-10 cards and was in play when Surrak cast Wheel of Fortune, but I declined to draw any extra cards, not wanting the extra attention.

With Varolz half-dead from Solemn Simulacrum and Grimgrin beats, I elected to tutor for my pack-fresh Villainous Wealth, and cast it for 9 on Surrak. The pay-off wasn’t great, only Scourge of the Throne and Vedalken Orrery were cast, but I did exile a Price of Glory which would’ve been annoying. This prompted Varolz to wrath away the board, and I chose not to counter.

mana-chargeddragon.hq

…and mine are long, and sharp, my lord / As long and sharp as yours

More creatures entered the battlefield, Rampaging Baloths and tokens from Varolz, Marath from Marath, and after Varolz cast Bane of Progress creating a pretty huge creature, I elected to cast Decree of Pain, wiping the board again and drawing eight cards. By now, I had Reliquary Tower in play, so I was fine with that. The board was left with Vorapede with an undying +1/+1 counter on it for Varolz and not much else. The following turn, I cast Bribery, targeting Surrak’s deck, found Molten Primordial, nabbed the Vorapede, cast Runechanter’s Pike, equipped it to Vorapede and swung with both creatures on Varolz for 24 damage, exactly lethal.

Varolz is thereby out, which leaves the table in a strange situation – Marath, my ally, is Grimgrin’s only remaining enemy after Varolz was eliminated, and he’s at very low life totals from being behind all game. However, Marath had a Mana-Charged dragon on hand, cast it, and with my help, brought Surrak within Molten Primordial’s killing range.

It is on the surface a disappointing ending to the game when Marath is left as a kingmaker, but it was a fun game nonetheless. Marath chose to hand the victory to me, his ally, rather than Grimgrin, his opponent, which does make some sense at least. It happens, and the fact that these situations happen shows that the format is far from perfect, but also rewards diplomatic play and friendly banter over the course of the game.

Damia worked out very well for me, the deck performed as expected. I didn’t cast the commander all game, however, since I was always stacked on hand thanks to Consecrated Sphinx and other draw spells, and I was never lacking in threats. After all, why win with your own threats when you can beat your opponents with their own?

Top 5: Worst Magic card art

Magic is, in many ways, a very visual game. Card art is important, it’s been established over and over trough the history of the game. Back during the very early years of the game, WotC used to put different card art on the same card, in the common slots! For example, Hymn to Tourach, a Fallen Empires common, has no less than four different pieces of art work, and that was the norm. Art direction was also a bit fidgity in the beginning, and it wasn’t uncommon for R&D to pool all the card art that didn’t go well with the intended card towards the very end of a design and try and swap them around to make them make more sense.

We’ve come a long way from this, and although some might argue that the cards of old were more indicative of an artist’s style, nobody can argue that today’s pieces of artwork are a lot more coherent than before. The cold, hard truth, however, is that most Magic art work is utterly forgettable. Everyone has their favourite pieces, and I too have a soft spot for Rebecca Guay’s style I admit, but this post is dedicated to those that went down in infamy. This is my top 5 of the worst Magic artwork ever.

 

silhouette.hq5: Silhouette (Legends). Weighing in on our fifth spot is the little instant that just couldn’t. Nevermind the fact that it just doesn’t make sense (for how can a shadow have eyes and a mouth?), but there are two issues with this art: first it’s generally a lot more cartoony than most other pieces of Magic art. That’s not a bad thing inherently, it’s quite funny after all, but the tone of the “Legends” set doesn’t really shine here. Secondly, the card art looks like something belonging on a red card or a black card, not really a blue card.

 

reversepolarity.hq4: Reverse Polarity (Antiquities). Also an offender in the same vein as Silhouette, Reverse Polarity is even worse. Not only is the style very cartoonish, the depicted scene, along with the cartoonish style, makes me think I’m reading an Asterix comic rather than playing a fantasy card game. And what does the card actually do? It gains you twice as much life as the damage you’ve taken from artifacts this turn. Is that demonstrated in the art? Not quite. You have to appreciate the surprised look on the barbarian with the horned helmet as his morningstar bounces off his opponent without harm, but otherwise, this is a piece of artwork best left in the closet.

 

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3: Angel of Retribution (Torment). It’s not quite apparent from this picture, but the card I got in my Torment booster pack featured an angel that looked like it was printed with an old ink jet printer. Simply put, the card was grainy as hell. Further, the angel in question looks like the Magic version of Swedish electropop/europop “sensation” E-type, and that alone makes me shudder. The angel in the art also looks a bit hunched over, slow, tired. Maybe it was supposed to do that, since Torment was the “black set”, with fewer and worse white and green cards, but just the fact that it’s a whopping seven mana (!) for a 5/5 first strike, flying angel is also another kick in the sack every time I see this art. It’s part of some of the worst memories of my early teens, which is saying quite a bit, to be honest.

 

ekunducyclops.hq2: Ekundu Cyclops (Mirage). This one isn’t so much about the quality of the card art in general, it’s more of an issue with the execution. The art features two naked or semi-naked creatures, the top one with a somewhat distinguishable penis, and the bottom one, apparently female, riding an enormous phallic symbol. Further, it might just be some latent homosexuality of mine, but I also figure the mushrooms on the “base” of the enormous phallus looks a lot like penises too. The card is also played off excellently by its flavour, although not really part of the art, which refers to something “one-eyed” several times, which is reminiscent of a certain penis euphemism. The whole card is very unfortunate, and it makes me think Mr. Robert Bliss suffers from the same illness as Jonah Hill’s character in 2007’s Superbad, where he just “couldn’t stop drawing dicks.”

 

wordofcommand.hq1: Word of Command (Alpha). As predictable as this might be, there are indeed no words, of command or other, to describe how bad Word of Command is. It’s literally just two white eyes on a black background. Worse still, it’s drawn by my countryman Jesper Myrfors and he’s done some pretty amazing Magic art as well (Tropical Island and Tundra comes to mind), and he’s also the original Magic art director. By this virtue, he was also the designer of the set “The Dark”, released back in 1994. Granted, the set didn’t bring any new mechanics to the table, but it was in some ways Magics first top-down  designed set – the intent was to show the dark sides of all the colours of Magic. Further, this was back when Magic was going through it’s explosion like growth spurt of its very early years, and everyone on hand got to design sets, but still – Jesper Myrfors has had a huge impact on the game. Though my respect for this man and his contributions to the game I love cannot be understated, there’s no denying Word of Command is sort of a low-point in that part of his career. Hats off, though, it’s certainly recognizable as one of Magic’s worst card arts ever.

Decks of tournaments past: Uw Merfolk

Though Merfolk has somewhat of a presence in today’s Legacy metagame, much thanks to True-Name Nemesis, it is by no means a true DTB, or even a tier 1 deck. This wasn’t always the case, however, Merfolk was a true force to be reckoned with back around 2010 – it had a great match-up against Bant CounterTop, one of the best decks in the format, it was alright against the format’s combodeck due to 4 Force of Will and 4 Daze paired with some quick beats, and it was okay against most random decks, simply because beating up people with 4/4 Islandwalking fishes is straightforward and easy enough. It was terrible against Goblins and Zoo, however, but that didn’t stop me. The fact that everyone else ran mono-blue didn’t stop me from trying various splashes, for example Tomoharu Saito’s GP Columbus 2010-winning deck which effectively was mono-blue in the maindeck, but splashed black for sideboarded Engineered Plague and Perish.

As for myself, I played with a white splash. White gave me access to a bunch of sideboard tools, but more importantly, it allowed me to play Sejiri Merfolk (for real) and Swords to Plowshares in the maindeck. Most importantly, I got to play with my expensive lands. I played this pile to the semifinals of a tournament in may of 2010, just as the black splash Merfolk began to rise in popularity:

Uw Merfolk, summer of 2010

Easily the worst card in the list, by far

Easily the worst card in the list, by far

3 Mutavault
4 Wasteland
4 Flooded Strand
3 Polluted Delta
3 Tundra
3 Island

4 Cursecatcher
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Merrow Reejerey
3 Sejiri Merfolk
2 Merfolk Sovereign

3 Swords to Plowshares
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Aether Vial

Sideboard:
2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
1 Swords to Plowshares
4 Spell Pierce
1 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Submerge
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Relic of Progenitus

Sejiri Merfolk is obviously quite terrible, but I thought it was unique, and it shored up the aggro match-up, and it was cute. First strike is great vs. Zoo, and the whole idea with the white splash was to turn Zoo from a 35/65 match-up to like 40/60. Not worth it, but the Swords to Plowshares were great all day, they allowed me to beat, in turn, Umezawa’s Jitte; Llawan, Cephalid Empress and Iona, Shield of Emeria in the quarter finals, all three essentially death penalties for a mono-blue Merfolk list. The sideboard is okay too, in retrospect, I’d cut Sejiri Merfolk for something more relevant, and add the fourth Swords to Plowshares to the maindeck instead, and the one-of Threads of Disloyalty is as random as they come in a deck with no card-drawing outside Silvergill Adept. The full set of Spell Pierce and the four grave hosers were both good calls though, and Submerge is always Submerge, especially in a metagame where everyone and their dogs were playing Knight of the Reliquary.

The tournament, in its entirety:
Storm (2-1)
Bant Aggro (2-1)
Reanimator (2-0)
Next-Level Thresh (1-2)
ID
QF: Bant Aggro (2-1)
SF: Goblins (0-2)

The QF Bant Aggro match-up was the same as in round two, and apparently, he got salty as all hell over my white splash afterwards, or so I heard. That alone makes it all worth it, in retrospect.

Funnily enough, I played a similar list in march of 2010, but overall a better configuration I’d say:

Uw Merfolk, spring of 2010
3 Mutavault
4 Wasteland
4 Flooded Strand
3 Polluted Delta
3 Tundra
3 Island

4 Cursecatcher
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Merfolk Sovereign

4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Aether Vial

Sideboard:
2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
4 Path to Exile
4 Spell Pierce
1 Echoing Truth
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Relic of Progenitus

A much better deck overall, with a more consistent maindeck, and a better sideboard, played two months before the pile above. The deck actually got worse over time. As luck would have it though, this deck only made it to the quarterfinals:

The death of fishes in 2010

Zoo (2-0)
Zoo (0-2)
Countertop (2-0)
Countertop (2-1)
Bant CBtop (2-1)
Bant Survival (2-1)
QF: RUG (1-2)

The notes from the tournament tells me I lost in the third duel of the quarterfinals after drawing land, Aether Vial, land, Force of Will after he Pyroclasm’d my entire team to cinders. A funny anecdote from the tournament I remember is that after losing to my opponent in the quarterfinals, I thanked him for the match and said “Good luck in the next one”, to which he replied “Yeah, you too… Oh, wait!”

A eulogy for an old friend?

The number of creatures that has once seen play in Legacy but are now overshadowed by younger and more powerful alternatives can be made long. Werebear and Mystic Enforcer were both once played in UGw Threshold, which was the norm back when the format was almost brand new and everyone was playing Goblins, but they are both effectively neutered by the presence of Tarmogoyf. Fledgling Dragon was once played in UGr Threshold, but again, doesn’t hold a candle to the 4/5 for 1G. Tradewind Rider used to be a card, but if you walk a lap around the room at a Legacy tournament and ask everyone you meet what it does, I’m sure about half the people will have no clue whatsoever. In fact, Tradewind Rider was really only good in a specific build if Survival for a time, and even when Survival of the Fittest was the scourge of the format and eventually banned, it was the green-white builds with Iona, Shield of Emeria and Loyal Retainers as well as the straight UG combo build with Vengevine that finally got the enchantment banned.

My point is, there are a lot of cards, especially creatures, that have been very popular and powerful in Legacy but has eventually been overcome by the power creep of Magic in general. To me, the one exception is Nimble Mongoose. I remember opening Nimble Mongooses with my brother and thinking it was a pretty neat card “for an uncommon”, while cards like Mystic Enforcer were obviously better. I remember playing Nimble Mongoose throughout my last year of Vintage, in an UGw Threshold deck called “Birdshit” (which I will feature on here some day). I remember making the leap to Legacy and playing CounterSlivers for the first six months before coming to my senses and returning to my Nimble Mongooses and playing Canadian Threshold for the first time. By now, however, his old pal Werebear was nowhere to be seen, replaced by a really expensive rare from Future Sight, with art that nobody could tell what it was. I remember my brother giving me a misprinted Nimble Mongoose (the mana symbol is missing a part of the little tree) which I still play with to this day. I remember when Innistrad was released and Delver of Secrets, after much debate, was hailed new scourge of the format and the best threat in RUG, and though Nimble Mongoose took the back seat then, he was still firmly in the car.

Now, however, with a format that’s extremely hostile towards graveyards in general with Deathrite Shaman and Rest in Peace, Nimble Mongoose has a tough time keeping up. People have tried time and again to cut him from RUG, only to get stabbed by Miracles and other decks where he shines, before coming back, making reparations and adding a playset of him again. With the printing of Treasure Cruise as an Ancestral Recall competing for the same resource as Nimble Mongoose, perhaps it’s the final nail in the coffin.

I sure as hell hope not.

Decks of tournaments past: Next-Level Thresh

Sometimes I like to dig through my old archive of decks, and occasionally I find stuff that I really liked in the past. Often I record decks before tournaments, and I update them with the match-ups and results afterwards, and this time, I found an old relic from the merry year of 2011: Next-Level Thresh.

“Next-Level” was a rip off of Patrick Chapin “The Innovator” and his Next-Level Blue. Someone apparently thought the deck name was silly enough, and this is in a format stuffed full of silly names. The deck is essentially an “evolution” from Canadian Threshold (RUG Delver).

Next-Level Thresh, fall of 2011jace,themindsculptor.hq
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
1 Flooded Strand
4 Wasteland
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
2 Island
1 Mountain

4 Tarmogoyf
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Grim Lavamancer

4 Brainstorm
3 Ponder
4 Stifle
3 Spell Snare
4 Force of Will
2 Counterspell
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Dismember

Sideboard:
2 Spell Pierce
3 Submerge
3 Pyroblast
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Mind Harness
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Nature’s Claim
1 Firespout

Looking back, the deck has a number of flaws apparent. First of all, why would I even play this pile when straight old RUG just got Delver of Secrets? Fall of 2011 was a crazy time, obviously. Spell Snare is mandatory in those numbers, people were scared to death by the newly released Snapcaster Mage, along with the usual threats of Tarmogoyf, Stoneforge Mystic, Dark Confidant etc. The deck also plays a couple of Counterspells, which I really like actually. Essentially, we’re looking at a “tempo” deck that sacrifices much of RUG’s early power and threats in order to have a stronger late game with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I also cut Daze, because returning a land to your hand when you want to resolve stuff like Vendilion Clique, Snapcaster Mage and Jace. In retrospect, the fourth Ponder is mandatory, probably at the cost of a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The sideboard is also quite embarrassing, the fact that I played Nature’s Claim over the much stronger Krosan Grip shows that I didn’t really understand where the deck wanted to be.

So how did I do? Well, 4-2 and outside the T8 on tiebreakers. In fact, I was 4-1 going into the last round, where I had an on-camera feature match against my friend who was playing Lands. Lands is a pretty terrible match-up for straight old RUG, but winnable if you can get a Nimble Mongoose online quickly enough, since it’s immune to stuff like Maze of Ith. If you cut your Nimble Mongoose for spells costing 3-4 mana instead, guess what happens? Yeah, I didn’t stand much of a chance. To boot, the commentators were obviously not really into Legacy, and berated me for making plays like casting Brainstorm in my upkeep in response to my opponent tapping my only land with Rishadan Port. My friend was 3-2 going into the round, but had a shot at the T8 if he won, so I won’t blame him for wanting to play out this extremely positive match-up. Hilariously, my speedy loss in the last round prompted a whole bunch of ID’s on the top table, and my friend ended up 9th after all, on tie-breakers as well obviously. I ended up in 11th or 12th place, if I recall correctly.

The entire tournament:
Reanimator (2-0)
Pattern of Rebirth (1-2)
Bant Zenith (2-1)
UW Stoneblade (2-1)
Reanimator (2-1)
Lands (0-2)

jin-gitaxias,coreaugur.hqThe Reanimator decks of the tournament were obviously not as powerful as they are today, since Griselbrand wasn’t printed yet, but they had Jin-Giraxias, Core Augur in its stead, and he did well enough for most of the pilots. Having a pair of Surgical Extractions and Snapcaster Mage after sideboard was apparently key here. The Pattern of Rebirth deck I lost to in the second round was basically a combo version of Nic Fit, it played Veteran Explorer, Cabal Therapy, Pattern of Rebirth for Protean Hulk for the kill. Stifle interacted well with the deck but I remember making a couple of small mistakes in the third game, and after a while we both found ourselves topdecking, which resulted in him hardcasting (!) a Protean Hulk before I could find a threat or a cantrip. Good times.

I hope this small walk down memory lane was enjoyable, I certainly did.

Deck Spotlight: Brion Stoutarm EDH (part 3 – mana, creatures and utility)

My previous two parts of this deck tech has covered the integral parts of the deck (part 1), and the control elements (part 2). In this part, I’ll cover the mana acceleration and mana fixing in the deck, and finally the rest of the creatures not featured in the previous posts.

Mana accelerants/mana fixers:boroscluestone.hq
1 Kor Cartographer
1 Burnished Hart
1 Pilgrim’s Eye
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Explorer’s Scope
1 Sol Ring
1 Wayfarer’s Bauble
1 Boros Signet
1 Darksteel Ingot

All of these are fairly standard. The deck is quite hungry for coloured mana, so that’s why I have few accelerants that only produce colorless mana, the only one being Sol Ring. Although Koth might not be considered only mana acceleration (since he could technically win the game on his own), but he is very poweful mana acceleration for a turn or so, so he goes here as well.

The other creatures:
1 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Wall of Omens
1 Griffin Dreamfinder
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
1 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Stalking Vengeance
1 Petradon
1 Artisan of Kozilek
1 Moltensteel Dragon

Most of these creatures are in the deck by a virtue of having a decent Enters the Battlefield trigger. These include Stoneforge Mystic (who finds Lightning Greaves primarily), Wall of Omens, Griffin Dreamfinder, Petradon and Artisan of Kozilek. All of these could be cast, triggered and then flung with Brion and I wouldn’t care too much, though doing exactly that with Wall of Omens might be bad. Purphoros is there because getting the two damage on each opponent whenever a creature enters the battlefield for you is broken, and the rest are there for minor utility and getting through damage. Moltensteel Dragon is especially powerful later in the game.

The utility (the rest):carnagealtar.hq
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Fling
1 Price of Progress
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Skullclamp
1 Carnage Altar
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

The two cards I want to discuss in this list are Skullclamp and Carnage Altar. They are the deck’s only cards that say “draw a card”, other than Solemn Simulacrum, who cantrips himself. Skullclamp has obvious utility with the general, since any creature could be equipped and flung for value, especially after dealing some combat damage. Carnage Altar is the odd one out, and is a way to make the stealing cards into removals. It’s also very rare to see in EDH.

We’re nearing the conclusion of this series. In the fourth and final post, I’ll share my lands (though it’s – like the rest of the deck – very much a work in progress), and then the list in its entirety.

New contributor and new looks!

raginggoblin.hq

One of psykopatmullvad’s favourite creatures.

Since yesterday, GoyfWars now has the first official contributor to the blog other than myself. Psykopatmullvad (lit. psychotic mole) is an old friend of mine, and we’ve been playing Magic together for about ten years or so. He’ll be contributing MTGO videos to the blog occasionally, breaking up the text-heavy posts of mine. I’m personally looking forward to his contributions. A short presentation of the new contributor can be found under “About the authors” above.

UPDATE: Also, with the new contributor, I’ve changed the theme of the site compeltely. The nifty thing about this theme is that it displays the author of each post, meaning visitors can now click the author and find all posts by said author immediately. Also, I’ve added a classic Legacy scene as the new header, two Tarmogoyfs stuck bro-fisting each other forever.

Deck Spotlight: Brion Stoutarm EDH (part 2 – control)

Thus far, I’ve covered the conceptual phase of the deck, and the parts of it that really makes it tick – the cards that steal creatures and the cards that makes all my dudes hasty. However, since red-white has little natural ramp outside artifacts and other permanents, the deck needs to be able to control the game long enough to gather enough mana to do some of these fun stuff. This is my control package in Brion Stoutarm:

The creature bit:magusofthemoon.hq
1 Leonin Arbiter
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Magus of the Moon
1 Desolation Giant
1 Leonin Relic-Warder
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Flametongue Kavu

The first three of these are fragile but powerful control elements if they’re allowed to stay on the board, especially the third one. Magus of the Moon has a way of shutting down entire decks, even in EDH, or at least slow them down considerably. Especially if paired with one of the other two, it can buy Brion a lot of time. All three have to be cast with some sense of diplomacy, however, since they tend to gather frowns from around the table. The other half of these six are creatures with useful Enters the Battlefield-triggers, and the first two of these really benefit from having an active Brion in play – cast the creature, respond to the ETB-trigger by flinging them on an opponent, and the permanent they remove stay exiled forever, all while you’re dealing some damage and gaining some life. Flametongue Kavu is just a feel-good card of old, I played a lot of him in Extended back when that was alive, and although 4 damage is not that much in EDH, he can take out some smaller generals and utility creatures, and is techincally card advantage himself. The one in the middle, Desolation Giant, is the odd one out, who, when kicked, leaves nothing behind but himself. What a jerk.

The enchantments:
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Blood Moon
1 Stranglehold
1 Oblivion Stone

The interesting cards here are really only Blood Moon and Stranglehold. Blood Moon has the same effect on the board as Magus of the Moon, but is quite a bit harder to remove than the creature variant. Stranglehold is also very effective against a lot of decks, especially seeing as how it’s only punishing your opponents. The rest of the cards are more or less mandatory, while I do hate Oblivion Stone for blowing up my own Lightning Greaves and mana rocks, it can be tutored by Enlightened Tutor, and it does do its job well.

The spell-based control:blasphemousact.hq
1 Condemn
1 Path to Exile
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Unexpectedly Absent
1 Chaos Warp
1 Day of Judgment
1 Wrath of God
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Vandalblast
1 Blasphemous Act

Quite a lot of cards in this section, ranging from pin-point removal for both creatures (Condemn, Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares) to just about anything (Unexpectedly Absent, Chaos Warp), to board wipes that keep Brion and me alive in order to reach the mid game where he gets to do his thing. I’d consider most of these mandatory for a red-white deck, especially Chaos Warp, Hallowed Burial and Vandalblast. There’s no end to the awesome things you can do with especially the latter, just overloading it to kill everyone else’s Sol Rings will effectively turn back the clock for your opponent a turn or so, which sometimes gives Brion enough time to ramp into the big stuff.

That’s it for the control parts of the deck. In the third and last installment on my Brion Stoutarm deck, I will present the creatures and the utility stuff, and then post the list in its entirety.