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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pauper Perspective: Zendikar

Over all I have to say the commons in Zendikar seem fairly unimpressive, adding very little volume of quality to the pauper player. This will also tend to make limited a bit strange and rather dependant on non-common bombs.

First up there are strikingly few creatures with a relevant power in the set at the common level. Assuming the spoilers are correct, I was unable to find even one example in White or blue, and only a total of eleven in the other three colors. Green, the normal color for big stupid creatures, only appears to have five examples at the common level. Green's Mold Shambler could easily be an MVP, with it's reasonable and versatile kicker to destroy a non-creature permanent, and Scyth Tiger will also see play at almost any level.

Relevant Toughness on the other hand, appears to be very well represented. By my count there are 16 creatures with relevant toughness, making this possibly the most defensive group of commons in some time. I'm not sure how you win this game with defensive creatures, but I guess we are going to find out.

Evasion is another "odd" point for the commons in this set. Flying is not nearly as pervasive as many had hoped. Most of the evasion tends to be color or basic land driven, so very situational at best. Other relevant creature abilities tended to be very lite. I think only three in total, with only one relevant first striker, and one deathtouch.

There were also surprising few traditional combat tricks. Nearly all the modifiers at the common level appear to be driven on the landfall mechanic. Since lands can't be played mid combat, they have to be telegraphed during the first main phase to impact combat, making a lot less tricks for the pauper player.

Acceleration is present, as one would expect in a land matters block, but honestly does not feel as "good" as it did in M10. Removal by contrast was pretty much what I expected, weak at the common level, but present in some form in nearly every color. Starck contrast can be drawn to the equipments at the common level, which all appear to be fairly good. The common level lands are not bad, and may be worth playing in some cases even off color.

These cards, combined with Terramorphic expanse, adds a lot of tricks back into the landfall mechanics, but your opponent should still see it coming. Wizards appears to have been a lot more focused on the mythic/rares for this set, and left the pauper player sort of out in the cold.

Zendikar, EDH and You

Several of the spoiled cards so far have caught a lot of excitement for players of all varieties of sanctioned tournaments – Standard, Extended, Legacy, even Vintage. But not much has been said yet about the un-sanctioned formats – 5color/250, EDH. Since I don’t play 5color/250, I won’t go into that too terribly much. My focus today is going to be on what cards excite me for EDH. While I’m probably biased towards my own deck (meaning I’m more excited about Green, White and Blue stuff) I’ll try and comment on the Red and Black stuff as well.

Bear in mind, that while I’m focusing on EDH, several of these cards may overlap with your ideas for 5color/250, or even your ideas for Standard/Extended/etc etc. Also, while I could try and rank them in terms of excitement, because I’m lazy, I’m going to stick with going straight down the spoiler list – which means we’ll be going in WUBRG order.


Day of Judgment - 2WW
Sorcery (Rare)
Destroy all creatures.
"I have seen planes leveled and all life rendered to dust. It brought no pleasure, even to a heart as dark as mine."-Sorin Markov
Illus. Kev Walker#9/249

And we start off with an obvious one for all formats. Most EDH decks want to control the board in some way – removal is always highly rated. Dropping the regeneration clause from Wrath of God doesn’t significantly change how good this card is, and having a second 4-cost Wrath effect in your deck of 99 singletons literally doubles your chances that you’ll be able to sweep the board when you need to. I can’t imagine building a deck where I’d want a Wrath without also wanting a Day of Judgement.

Felidar Sovereign - 4WW
Creature - Cat Beast (Mythic Rare)
Vigilance, lifelink
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have 40 or more life, you win the game.
4/6
Illus. Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai#12/249

This was the card that prompted me to write this article, as this guy is absolutely nuts in EDH. After all, don’t you START at 40 life? All you need to do is regain what little you’ve lost in the first couple of turns, and you’ve just won. He’s best, of course, in a deck that’s designed to gain life – which is already one of white’s key abilities. The ability to flat out win the game is nice, but even without that, for 6 mana you’re getting an extremely good creature – Vigilance and Lifelink are an excellent tagteam, letting you gain life while both attacking and defending, and the 6 toughness on his backside make it hard for other players to trade profitably in combat with him. This guy is going to pretty much be an auto-include in any white deck I put together. And as far as Standard is concerned – seems like he’d make a pretty good tag team with Baneslayer, dontchathink?

Iona, Shield of Emeria - 6WWW
Legendary Creature - Angel (Mythic Rare)
Flying
As Iona, Shield of Emeria enters the battlefield, choose a color. Your opponents can't cast spells of the chosen color.
7/7

Yes, yes. Really awesome, shuts down a whole color. For this much mana though, I’d rather be playing, say, Akroma. Besides, how often do you see people running monocolor EDH decks? Either they’re mono-blue, and can just counter her, or they’re mono-white, and have already killed you. Unless you’re running a graveyard strategy, like some people I know *coughPhilcough* leave her in the trade binder.

Luminarch Ascension - 1W
Enchantment (Rare)
At the beginning of each opponent's end step, if you didn't lose life this turn, you may put a quest counter on Luminarch Ascension. (Damage causes loss of life)
{1}{W}: Put a 4/4 white Angel creature token with flying onto the battlefield. Activate this ability only if Luminarch Ascension has four or more quest counters on it.
Illus. Michael Komarck#25/249

All of the Ascension cycle are pretty good, but this one in particular for EDH stands out. The first 3 or 4 turn cycles of most EDH decks consist of “Land, go.” Or possibly “Land, mana accel artifact, go.” Or even “Land, library manipulation, go.” If you manage to drop this turn 2, by the time you’re laying your 3rd land drop, you’re probably only one or two counters away, and by the time you take your 4th turn, this card will be online. Two 4/4 flyers on turn 4 seems amazingly good to me. Granted, it will draw you a lot of hate, but even if you only manage to get one creature out of this, you’ve paid 4 for a 4/4 flyer. Still a pretty good deal.

Later in the game, this card obviously declines in usefulness, as it paints a huge “ATTACK ME” target on your forehead once everyone else’s deck are online. This is where the politics comes in – “It’s only going to give me one counter, why not swing at Phil instead before he puts Glory in the graveyard?”

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the obvious favorable interaction with Doubling Season (one of my all time favorite cards) – now it only needs two turns to turn online, and 1W gets you double the pleasure by putting out two 4/4 flyers.

Archmage Ascension - 2U
Enchantment (Rare)
At the beginning of each end step, if you drew two or more cards this turn, you may put a quest counter on Archmage Ascension.
As long as Archmage Ascension has six or more quest counters on it, if you would draw a card, you may instead search your library for a card, put that card into your hand, then shuffle your library.
Illus. Christopher Moeller#42/249

I mention this one only in passing, as it really needs to be built around to be good. While the white Ascension only requires you not take damage, the blue actually requires you somehow draw more cards than normal, which means this one only works if you pair it with one or multiple cards – Mulldrifter, Thought Reflection, etc. That being said, if you can get this puppy online, the payoff is pretty sweet – every draw is now a tutor. Look for the combo EDH players to try to use this guy, even though getting it to six counters is going to take significant investment.

Rite Of Replication - 2UU
Sorcery (Rare)
Kicker {5} (You may pay an additional {5} as you cast this spell.)
Put a token that is a copy of target creature onto the battlefield. If Rite Of Replication was kicked, instead put five of those tokens onto the battlefield.
Illus. Matt Cavotta#61/249

I know a certain person who will assuredly be putting this into his EDH deck as soon as he gets his hands on a copy, as it fits his deck’s theme. Outside of him, I can see it being played, though – EDH games often go long, and being able to have 5 copies of the best creature on the table in a format full of awesome creatures is a really good effect for 9 mana. Even un-kicked, it’s the same price as Clone (a card I’ve always found room for if I’m playing blue in EDH) at the cost of having to be able to target the creature (no copies of Inkwell Leviathan, sadface.)

Roil Elemental - 3UUU
Creature - Elemental (Rare)
Flying
Landfall - Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may gain control of target creature for as long as you control Roil Elemental.
3/2
Illus. Raymond Swanland#62/249

In the land of control effects, repeatable ones reign supreme. I like being able to steal other people’s stuff and beat their face with it, but this guy is very fragile – most decks pack lots of creature removal, and at only 2 on the backside he’s hard to protect.

Bloodchief Ascension - B
Enchantment (Rare)
At the beginning of each players' end step, if an opponent lost 2 or more life this turn, you may put a quest counter on Bloodchief Ascension.
Whenever a card is put into an opponent's graveyard from anywhere, if Bloodchief Ascension has three or more quest counters on it, you may have that player lose 2 life. If you do, you gain 2 life.

Graveyards do a lot in EDH. Everybody plays spells. Everybody has creatures die to removal. All you need to turn this sucker on is 1 Volcanic Fallout and 3 opponents. Unchecked, this card can win games singlehandedly. That said, this card also paints an even bigger target on your forehead than the white Ascension, so be cautious with this one.

Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet - 5BB
Legendary Creature - Vampire Warrior (Mythic Rare)
{B}{B}{B}, {T}: Destroy target creature. If that creature is put into a graveyard this way, put a black Vampire creature token onto the battlefield. Its power is equal to that creature's power and its toughness is equal to that creature's toughness.
5/5
Illus. Todd Lockwood#99/249

Hrm, a Vampire EDH deck? I could see this guy being the general of such a deck, as repeatable removal is always valuable. The BB investment and BBB cost on his ability make me think he won’t see play outside a mono-black deck, however, even in EDH.

Beastmaster Ascension - 2G
Enchantment (Rare)
Whenever a creature you control attacks, you may put a quest counter on Beastmaster Ascension.
As long as Beastmaster Ascension has seven or more quest counters on it, creatures you control get +5/+5

I feel like the spoiler got cut off here somehow, as it’s missing artist and card number data, but even from this much of the card, I like it. What’s the number one way to win a game of Magic? Attack the other players with creatures. This card rewards you for doing what most decks do already – swing!

Khalni Heart Expedition - 1G
Enchantment (Common)
Landfall - Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a quest counter on Khalni Heart Expedition.
Remove three quest counters from Khalni Heart Expedition and sacrifice it: Search your library for up to two basic land cards, put them onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.
Illus. Jason Chan

For the same reasoning, I like this card – it's something you're already doing, and no one’s going to mess with it, as it’s effect is not powerful – the key here is that it’s effect allows you to PLAY those more powerful spells.

Turntimber Ranger - 3GG
Creature - Elf Scout Ally (Rare)
Whenever Turntimber Ranger or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a 2/2 green Wolf creature token onto the battlefield. If you do, put a +1/+1 counter on Turntimber Ranger.
2/2
Illus. Wayne Reynolds#191/249

I give this one notice for one reason – Conspiracy. EDH, for me, is about building silly things, and this guy plus Conspiracy set to Ally is a two-card absurdly-large combo. Throw in a Pandemonium effect and you’ve got a combo win on your hands. Since it’s way too slow of a combo for Extended, it’s off to EDH land for us! Now where's my foil Kresh...

Eternity Vessel - 6
Artifact (Mythic Rare)
Eternity Vessel enters the battlefield with X charge counters on it, where X is your life total.
Landfall - Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may have your life total become equal to the number of charge counters on Eternity Vessel.
Illus. John Avon#200/249

One of the few cards that’s gotten mainstream EDH attention. It’s effect is obviously very good – either someone has to be able to completely overwhelm you, or they have to score enough General damage, it’s unlikely that you’ll be losing due to zero life once you get this on the table.

Trailblazer's Boots - 2
Artifact - Equipment (Uncommon)
Equipped creature has nonbasic landwalk.
Equip {2}
#208/249

JohnnyK has long been in favor of using Equipment to enhance his creatures, as they (usually) stick around if and when the creature they’re attached to dies. With that in mind, I challenge you to find an EDH player (even one running a mono-colored deck) who is running nothing but basic lands. (Hint: you won’t, with maybe one exception.) Being able to make your general (or any other creature you have lying around) unblockable is a HUGE plus for any EDH deck, and this is just the utility that will see a lot of play.

The Refuge Cycle and the Fetchland Cycle

I lump these into one, as while they will obviously see lots of play in EDH, and deserve to be mentioned, they’re not gang-busters like the non-land cards. They're just solid cards to have for any deck.

You may notice I forgot to mention any red spells. This was an intentional oversight. Red suffers from the same symptom it always has – it’s not good in multiplayer. Red’s flavor of short-term gains doesn’t work well in a massive multiplayer format, and nothing spoiled for red so far really catches my eye as something I’d want to run in EDH. Maybe there’s some awesome stuff that just hasn’t been spoiled yet – but I’m not holding my breath.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What the Future Holds

A while back I posted on the SciFi forums, about the title of the Zendikar novel, The Teeth of Akrum. It didn't take long for some one to question why they should be interested in the title of book that wouldn't come out for another year. Well folks, here is why. This week one of those stubs was up dated, to give the entire background story for the Zendikar block.
"Lurking in the space between the aether and the physical plane, there is a great evil waiting to emerge. Zendikar is a land of danger and adventure, a world of deadly risks and priceless rewards. It is also a prison to one of the most deadly species known to the Multiverse: the dreaded Eldrazi. When our story opens, part of the mystical containment spell that has kept the Eldrazi captive for millennia has been breached.

The brood lineage, the Eldrazi minions, have been released and are poring over the plane, devouring everything in their path, but the swath they cut across the land is nothing next to the destruction that the still-imprisoned Eldrazi Titans will wreck once released.Nissa Revane, a planeswalker and proud elf warrior of the Jorga Nation, is witness to what the brood lineage can do. She sees that they pose a bigger problem than most suppose. Sorin, an ancient vampire planeswalker, knows this as well as anyone because he was among the original jailers of the ancient scourge. He has returned to Zendikar to make sure the Titans do not escape.

They both want the Eldarzi threat extinguished but each has their own agenda. Nissa wants the Eldrazi off her plane entirely. Sorin wants to put the lock back on their cell. And there are still others who want the Titans to escape.Together they set out across the land on search of the Eye of Ugin, the source of the Eldrazi uprising, where they will face what could be their final challenge. Will the Eldrazi escape to menace the Multiverse once again?"
So the vampire is a good guy, sort of?

What kind of creature is the Eldrazi? Will it be mono-black like the Phyrexian menace? My guess is they are colorless, but more on that later.

What up with the Eye of Ugin? How is it releasing this new threat from it's prison? Where have we heard that before?


Boom! There it is. Ghostfire baby. Futuresight is back to the future.
Only those gifted with the eye of Ugin, the spirit dragon, can see his fiery breath.
Rise of Eldrazi is the name of the last set (was pretty established already). The Word Eldrazi appears in the Zendikar Orb of Insight 2 times, most likely in flavor text.

Ugin the spirit dragon will play some part in Worldwake or Rise of Eldrazi.


Zendikar will feature a strong mono-color undertone, and Worldwake will build on this in some manner. The third set Rise of the Eldrazi, will feature colorless spells.


This leads into the next block titles, which we know to be a return to Mirrodin, and Phyrexia.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grim Tidings #13 - Planechase Aftermath

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

Let me start off by stating that I hate being so negative.

I was really jazzed last week when I sat down and played with Planechase. The art is cool, and the mechanics are very interesting. I was intrigued with the decisions I would be faced with on choosing to spend mana on Chaos Rolls, or attempting to Planeswalk away from dangerous locations. I thought all 82 effects (well most of them) were terrific! I was ready to go.

Actual Planechasing
So last Monday my playgroup sat down with a stack of 40 of the Plane cards, and shuffled up our 5-Color decks. The game started off as a four player, and slowly increased to six as people arrived for the evening.


First turn, first plane we visit was… Cliffside Market! Wow! During the first upkeep, people immediately began exchanging life totals, 20 for 20. It was thrilling, seeing the massive swings of life back and forth! Okay, my sarcasm is dripping, but it was kind of neat, With only four players in the game, everyone was genuinely engaged with the Planar effect. Players spent a lot of mana early on rolling for Chaos, (probably because there was nothing else to do with your extra mana in your first few turns.) Several land exchanged control on Chaos rolls, and exchanged back again, and again. But overall, the effect was, well, irrelevant.

That’s OK though, right? Not every Plane has to be killer. Plus if you take into account that Cliffside Market occurred on turn one, you could expect it wasn’t too impressive. Eventually someone rolled a Planeswalk, and we left Cliffside Market, never to return (for that evening at least).

The following succession of Planes we encountered weren’t all boring though. On a positive note, I witnessed some really creative combinations and synergy!

While at Naya, I saw a clever infinite mana loop with a Planeshift Lair and a Ravnica Bounce land. The crafty perpetrator of this combo discovered that he could tap the Lair for mana each time before he played the Rav-land, bounce the other repeatedly. He played his entire hand that turn (over-extending a bit in the process!) Still a cool effect though!

I got the short end of the stick when Sea of Sands was flipped right before my turn. I cast Vampiric Tutor (Lose 2 life) at EOT, and put Wheel of Fortune on top of my library. I drew the Wheel (Lose 3 life from Sands) and then thought it would be cute to try and kill off the table with the Planar effect. Unfortunately when WoF resolved, and drew 6 non-land cards (Lose 18, Gain 3 = Overall Loss of 20!) Ouch! Oh well, such are the perils of Rabiah!

So far, it seemed to me that Planechase would be pretty fun. It was cool at first with a small game of 4 people. However, more people eventually showed up, and the game became far more complicated and my opinion changed.


Planechase Downside
What I observed was that there is a tendency later in the game to just altogether to ignore the Planar card. It seems that a well-constructed, 300-card, 5-Color deck is generally is more interesting than the random planar effects that you can’t really control. Late game, players would rather invest their mana on spells they can rely on than on the unpredictable Chaos rolls.

Evidence of this was observed when the game stalled out on boring dud-planes like Krosa. The effect +2/+2 effect is pretty inconsequential unless you have a swarm of Saprolings (or similar), and the Chaos roll hardly breaks even (Why spend all of your mana for a 16% chance to add WUBRG to you pool in a five color deck where you have all colors anyways?)


The other phenomenon I saw was that the group would “camp out” at great places like Pantopticon or Minamo, because they like drawing cards. Who doesn’t like drawing cards? In retrospect, Planes like this probably add to the staleness, because 1.) there is little incentive to leave, and 2.) you are filling up your hand with even better cards to spend than random Chaos rolls!

Not to sound elitist, I think Planechase is probably better suited to “lower caliber” decks than the Super-Mr.-Suitcase-Showcase-of-Sheer-Power in our particular 5C playgroup has. If our decks were just a little less innately powerful, visiting different planes might be relevant. But for the deck composition we have, Planechase is simply underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, I think its still fun to play, but its certainly not worth the $80 for the complete set of Planes.

Perhaps I should reverse my opinion from last week and suggest that Planechase IS better as a constructed format, where you choose teh ten planes your wish to frequent (rather than the 40 card random community pile.) At least in this scenario you have a reason to walk away from a location, and more strategy to make the Plane relevant to your deck composition.

So all in all, Planechase is nice, but not for every game. I won't give up on it quite yet.


Zendikar Bonus!
While Planechase might flop, I’m predicting a great October for 5C with Zendikar! The previews are just beginning, but I already have tagged six cards for First Reminder! I think these are essentials, so make sure you get a set early!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

August in Review and the Planechase Problem

August turned out to be a really huge month for our little blog. Not only did Jedi Jed begin what I hope will be a stellar career of contributions here, but we had an amazing month of unique viewers. Just under 1000 unique visitors made their way to the site, and the ads are beginning to generate a revenue stream. We also had a couple of new contributors commit this month, but I won't steal their thunder by announcing those just yet. I'm also hoping a few other people are going to pick up the digital pen. There is a lot of great stories and view points in our little community, and I hope others begin to make themselves heard.



The Problem with Planechase



This new product has it's official release events this Saturday, and I really encourage everyone to make their way out to one of the events, and give this new game format a try. That having been said, I can't help but notice a few issues with this concept.



Most strikingly is the urgency of the product itself, or rather the complete lack there of. Since this is strictly a casual product, with no plans of sanctioned events, there is no incentive to own this new line. Not that I would ever encourage anyone to simply use the digital quality images from Wizards own web site, and what ever local lazor quality printer resources they may have to proxy these plane cards, but it does seem remarkably easier then the $80 price tag suggested by Wizards. Can someone at Wizards help me understand what incentive they are creating with players here?



Next up seems to be a miss match with the target audience for this product. They appear to be marketing this as a casual product, but have filled the preconstructed decks with cards better suited for a new player. Wizards- you already have product designed and marketed to new players, if you are going after the casual player, you need to include cards that speak to a casual player. Try including rares that are fun, but too expensive for a casual player to justify. That is what casual decks are made of, and would sell a casual product. A quick review of Extended rares with prices over $5 reveals at least this half dozen cards, each of which could be built around for a fun casual deck, without throwing off supply/demand issues in Extended.



Crucible of Worlds

Doubling Season

Glimpse the Unthinkable

Ink-Eyes

Stuffy Doll

Sword(s) of...



So it seems Wizards is counting on the Plane cards selling this product, rather then the constructed deck. To review, there is little incentive to buy the plane cards if you, say own a computer, and the preconstructed decks seemed to be targeted to new players rather then casual players. The only hope this product has is playability, because value seems to be lacking at worst, or off track at best.

My play group has had just one opportunity to play with this planechase concept so far. We played with our pet decks, and not those constructed for the sets. I found that the plane effects did add dimension to the games, but at the cost of yet another thing to keep up with in an already complex multi player game state. I feel that there is a distinctive power line for the plane cards. If decks and/or game states are below that line, they really add a lot. Decks and/or games states that are already above this line, seem to be bogged down by this concept.

The long and the short of it is, I really feel like this product was not made for me, and I'm really not sure that Wizards did a good job of making it for the casual player. Release events are this weekend, so come on out, and give this a try. It may not work for me, but it may be just the thing for you or your play group. If you are a new player, the preconstructed decks are a good value option for you.