Yearly Archives: 2018

THE MANA DORK – Driving Standard Bans

by January 18, 2018

Four Standard bans! You know you have a crippling caffeine addiction when Wizards of the Coast bans four cards in Standard and you’re like, ayyy, an excuse for coffee! Gotta rewrite your column in time for that deadline!

standard bans standard bans

standard bans attune with aether

And by coffee, I mean energy drink. And by energy drink, I mean… okay, I mean like a few of them.

It’s fine, I swear. Just don’t do what I do. These are unwise choices that I make.

Anyway. Standard bans. Soapbox, please!

standard bans rogue refiner

Standard bans on the run!

Following a particularly pellucid Standard season, in which Energy decks put up an astonishing number of tournament results, Wizards has banned Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner from Standard play. They explain that while cards like Bristling Hydra, Longtusk Cub, and Aether Hub might be higher-profile, it is the “free” consistency provided by Attune and Refiner that push Energy over the top.

They’ve also chosen to ban Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon from Standard. To explain this, Wizards revealed some data from Magic Online in their announcement—specifically, that Ramunap Red has an eyebrow-raising 60% win rate against everything except Energy decks. Fearing that only banning Energy cards would let Ramunap Red run ramun-ampant, they’ve banned Ruins to hurt the deck’s late-game ability, and Ferocidon in order to open up counterplay via life-gain and token strategies.

standard bans rampaging ferocidon

Now. There’s a thing I like about this, and a thing I don’t.

I like that Wizards is more willing to ban things in Standard these days. Making sure Standard is a fun, inventive play environment is the most important thing Wizards could possibly be doing. Sure, it’s a shame that their 12-year streak with only two Standard bans had to come to an end, but all things must. And while we can rightly ask questions about what’s happening inside Magic R&D—or what was happening two years ago—it’s ultimately moot. The cards are out now. R&D can’t fix the present.

So I’m glad to see more standard bans. It shows that Wizards is willing to put our play experience first, even if it means admitting some pretty brutal mistakes. And the shake-up should make for some pretty fun brewing.

standard bans ramunap ruins

I am less forgiving, however, when it comes to that Ramunap Red statistic.

Wizards used to publish the decklists for every deck that went 5-0 in various leagues on Magic Online. This allowed enfranchised players to mine the data, stay on top of an ever-shifting metagame, see the newest brews, tweak their decks—and, importantly, for the rest of us to learn from them. It was an admirable amount of transparency.

Last year, they stopped doing that. Instead, they would only publish a curated sample of five decklists each day. Their stated rationale was that it would prevent Standard from being solved too quickly—but many players wondered what else was being obscured.

And now in this week’s B&R announcement we see the kind of Magic Online statistic we used to have, only it’s far too late to do any good, and for the sake of the health of the game I have to raise some points.

First: if players had access to the same Magic Online results they once did, they would have noticed Ramunap Red’s incredible win percentage much earlier. That headline-grabbing stat would have crushed the accepted wisdom that Energy was the only deck worth playing, and we could have had several months with the entire Magic community brewing and tweaking ways for Ramunap Red and other decks to out-race Energy.

Second: if Wizards’ goal in obscuring Magic Online results was to limit Standard from being solved so quickly, it has been a clear failure. Prior to this week’s bans, Standard was perhaps the most solved it had ever been—in part because we couldn’t mine through Magic Online results for those rogue 5-0 decks that capture the imagination.

standard bans revel in riches

I want to see those at the store, you know?

I want to show up for a Standard Showdown and face off against a wild-eyed opponent piloting some crazy brew they just came up with after seeing an insane interaction put up results on Magic Online. There’s a fire there. It’s why I play.

This week at A Muse N Games, there will be some great new Standard brews. I can just feel it. The bans have blown the field wide open, and I’m going to get to see some of that fire again.

My one small request is that we get those Magic Online results back, so that I can see it again and again and again.

standard bans superb owl

Let’s have an owl of a good time!

Coming up at the store—how do you feel about owls? Are you ready for some… superb ones?

As well, we have a Minneapolis PPTQ qualifier by popular demand, the Lord of the Rings Assault on Dol Guldur event, and the Netrunner Revised Core Set event all coming down the pipe!

See you there!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He actually does drive standard, although he’s thinking of banning the 6th gear—it’s pretty OP. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – Thoughts on Unstable, Challenger Decks, and More

by January 5, 2018

Before I get into my thoughts on Unstable —a note on my absence. Several projects kicked into high gear towards the end of 2017, leaving me little time to write about our favourite brand of wizard poker, and for my silence here I truly apologize. Brian and Scotia have been kind enough to keep the lights on for me, and I appreciate them greatly.

Thanks to you, too, for sticking around. It’s not nothing, and I appreciate it.

Now, let’s see how long it takes me to shake this rust off. I have Thoughts™!

Unstable Thoughts gimme five

FIRST, GO PLAY UNSTABLE

Quickly! Before Rivals of Ixalan season begins!

A story: at the Un-Spiracy draft event (which was 2 packs of Unstable, 1 pack of Conspiracy for the ultimate multiplayer mayhem) here at A Muse N Games (wherein I drafted this mad Frankensteinian monster of value, Brago Contraptions Control), I cast a simple card, Gimme Five, and got ready to run around the store giving high-fives.

In a moment that beautifully illustrates the joy of Unstable, everybody in the store high-fives me—Brian, Scotia, Dorian, the players in the other Un-Spiracy pod, the lovely family trying out a new board game at the front tables, and even the players in my own game.

Thirty seconds later, I’ve got an 11-life lead that I would later ride to victory, and everybody in the store got a little bit closer and got to share in the joy of gaming with each other. What more could you ask for?

(Speaking of asking—I do recommend asking people you are about to high-five if they’re okay with it. Some people prefer to avoid physical contact, and it’s on each of us as players to make sure game stores are safe spaces for everyone. This means avoiding not just unwanted physical contact, but the implicit social pressures surrounding it as well.)

((But once you’ve asked, man is it sweet that Unstable created a moment like that!))

thoughts on stable chief of the edge

A CHALLENGER APPEARS

Late last year, Wizards of the Coast announced that the Duel Decks line would be coming to an end, and in their place would come “Challenger Decks”—a new line of more competitive (and by corollary, more expensive) pre-constructed decks.

Designed largely by former professional players now working for Wizards, and resembling largely the Event Decks of old, Challenger Decks will take into account the current Standard meta and provide a 75-card list that can hold its own much more effectively at Friday Night Magic and Standard Showdowns.

thoughts on unstable prey upon

While I’m certainly glad to see the Challenger Decks en route (not least because they prove me right), I do have one small quibble—I think the wrong product died.

In order to make space in their product line for Challenger Decks, Wizards is ending the Duel Decks line of products. These were two opposed 60-card decks designed for casual kitchen-table play, independent of Standard legality. Over the years, they were a great way of reprinting much-needed cards for Modern and Legacy with sweet new art, and—crucially—a great way to try out Magic with a buddy for under $30.

Arguably, there is less need for Duel Decks now. The Masters series and Conspiracy series allow Wizards to reprint cards in great volume. Various other sealed products let you try Magic in a less structured way. You can come to a Magic Open House here at AMNG and get your sorceries on without paying a cent.

But there was really something to be said for taking two Duel Decks and bashing them together. They were a curated experience designed with great care, and I’ll miss them to pieces.

As for which product I think should have been retired in their place… well.

thoughts on unstable gideon martial paragon

I spent some time last year discussing Planeswalker Decks, which you can read in the links above. They’re good for new players—an excellent learning tool—but in my personal opinion, they’re not quite consistent enough to be truly great.

Rather than ending Duel Decks, here’s what I’d do instead: repackage Planeswalker Decks as the new Duel Decks. Market and price a matched pair of budget Standard decks from the latest set with custom Planeswalkers on the front, and sell it for $30.

By selling them as a matched pair, you send the implicit message that these decks are meant for play against each other, and not necessarily at FNM. You get the curated experience of Duel Decks with the marketing power of Planeswalker Decks, and by the time new players are tired of bashing Huatli into Angrath and looking for something more, Challenger Decks are right there to take them to the next level.

Wizards listened (no they didn’t, it was parallel development) the last time. Let’s see if they listen (read: continue doing their own market research because they’re a big corporation and I’m just a columnist) again.

thoughts on unstable rivals of ixalan

RIVALS OF IXALAN IS COMING

If hype was a sound, I’d be making it.

thoughts on unstable better than one

THINGS ARE HAPPENING

AMNG has thrown open the doors to a shiny new 2018! On top of our usual weekly events, here’s what’s going down:

– Jan 6: Magic Open House & Open Board Game Day
– Jan 13/14: Rivals of Ixalan Pre-Release Events and Pre-Release Party
– Jan 13/20: Star Wars Destiny Legacies Launch Party

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He was exiled during your previous attack step and has now returned to the battlefield under your control tapped and attacking. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!