Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Making the Most of What You Have

Since my return to this game some 2 years ago, I have found myself struggling between the reality of my budget, and my love of the game. I have long followed the works, of Chris Romeo, whom I have missed since his retirement some time ago. His work is a bit dated to the times of it’s writing, but his budget philosophy and card analysis hold true even years later. Unlike most budget players, I find myself in a position of having play-sets of all the un/commons, but very little left over for rares. I often have the discussion with writers and players alike about what are the best rares to have. I like to take this to the extreme and ask, if you could only have one rare play-set in your collection what would it be?

Obviously not all rares are created equal. Some have price points that would restrict them from consideration. Tarmagoyf, Mutavault , and Bitterblossom each have play-set prices in the $100-200 range. The question really is, if that was all the power you could have, would you even want them? I would think not. While these are great cards, they really are all limited in there scope, range, and overall use of the game. If you could really only have one set of rare cards, there are a few things you would want that card to bring to your decks. A priliminary look shows over 5,000 rares to consider, including reprints. First off since this is a budget article, let us assume that you really do have some budget constraints of say $20 for consideration. If you can afford to drop several hundred dollars on your single rare, it probably doesn’t have to be your only rare. This drops the list by about 10%. That’s right, roughly 90% of all the rares ever printed are considered with in range for most budget players.

Now to get maximum use out of your single rare, most players will want it to be standard legal. What good is having your flash card, if you can’t take it to FNM and show it off? Not much if you ask me. Just knocking things down to Standard brings us to fewer than 1000 rares for consideration. That is still a lot to consider, and more then we could discuss here. If I were going to sink almost 5% of my annual budget into a single play-set of cards, I would want to know that it is something I would be able to use for years to come. The best way to presume that a card will be reprinted and favorable for many years to come, is to look at those that have already been reprinted. I will short cut this process, and look at the rares in the current core set of tenth edition. These cards may not be the most powerful in the game, but they have demonstrated a particular staying power, and will probably see print again and again. Having been printed at least one other time, there are more copies in print making them easier and less expensive to acquire. Looking at tenth edition there are just over 100 rares to consider.

Earlier in this article, I provided a link to Chris Romeo’s feature articles on SCG, and now I would like to bring your attention to a particular article regarding essential rares for Tenth edition. I think this article gives a good base for our ongoing discussion. This gives us a lot of insight into our possible options. Now that we have some mutual basis for our discussion, please allow me to add my own thoughts to our equation. In my opinion you would want that card to be playable in almost any deck you would construct, so a land, artifact, or at least a utility creature or spell in your favorite color would be your best bets. I have long been a proponent of players who tend to play certain colors, but it is certainly an option. Lets face it, land is kind of boring no matter how good it is, and they tend to be a little on the niche side, even Mutavault only reaches maximum effectiveness in a deck heavily centered around tribal aspects. For my money, my one rare would almost certainly be an artifact, since you can play it in any deck regardless of color considerations.

This narrows our field down to about a dozen for us to consider. In truth almost any of these would be a solid investment in your collection. This remaining list breaks down pretty neatly into Creature, and Utility cards. In the Creature camp, we have Chimeric Staff, Colossus of Sardia, Razormane Masticore, and The Hive. Utility cards bring Citanul Flute, Doubling Cube, Howling Mine, Jaemdae Tome, Legacy Weapon, Loxodon Warhammer, Millstone, and Sculpting Steel. In many cases the Flute, the Steel and the Warhammer could be thought of as creature cards rather then utility, but I will skip that discussion.

At the end of the day there are three leading contenders for my best pick. First up Citanul Flute. If this card put your creature directly into play, it would be the nuts. Instead it only telegraphs your next more. Next up Razormane Masticore. This card says deal with me or die. It is very well costed and balanced, but can be a little tricky to play, and would take some practice to be highly effective. The need to pitch a card every turn makes this a heavy investment to maintain. If your opponent does find a way to deal with it, it may very well be game over for you if your resources have been stretched to thin.

And the winner is…

Loxodone Warhammer.

What does almost every deck have in common?-creatures.

What is the most common path to victory in this game?- damage from going into the red zone.

This card hands down gives you an advantage on the most prolific spell type, and the most common path to victory. Because it is an equipment, it can be used by any creature, and does not automatically creature a 2-4-1 opportunity for your opponent, because it stays in play even if the creature gets blasted out from under it. It is well costed, fitting nicely into the 3rd turn with a 3 mana cost, or easily drop on turn two if your deck runs any of the common acceleration tactics. The combat bonus is nice, giving any creature a +3 power, turning even tokens into major threats.

It just gets better from there, what does every big creature need? Trample of course, now your guys are getting damage through to the dome, despite the chump blockers. Want to add insult to injury? Don’t forget that this creature also picks up lifelink, so every time it hits, your life total goes up, while your opponent’s life/board position dwindles.

Since it has been reprinted, you can easily pick up this card in the $4-5 range if you don’t mind white boarders, or slight signs of play. Be prepared to pay in the $5-6 range if you insist on pristine black-border cards. Either way this card is a bargain, and a most have for any collection that can manage the investment. Don’t forget that it originally saw print as an uncommon, so the patient collectors out there can even find these in uncommon boxes across the country for as little as $0.50 each. That is the kind of find that just makes your day.

In closing, I would like to just a moment to talk about several cards you should already have in your collection that combo well with the luckhammer. First off is Thieving Magpie. It has a large enough rear-end to make it hard to shoot out from under the hammer, and the trample makes card draw almost a given. Next up is Ballista Squad/Orcish Artillery. Use these for max benefit by declaring them as blockers, putting damage on the stack then tapping for the activated abilities. You will gain life from the combat damage, plus the activated ability damage, giving you a 2-4-1 or better most of the time. Wilt-leaf Cavaliers is one of the more attractive vigilance creatures, because if hitting with the hammer is nice once, doing it again on the defense is even better. Fire Juggler gets a nice damage/life swing if you hit with the clash. It gets even better if they are foolish enough to block with multiple creatures. Lastly Springjack Knight can get crazy damage through when you win the clash. Who cares if it dies, if it pounded for 10!

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