Musings

THE MANA DORK SPECIAL EDITION – The Young Dork

by July 19, 2017

young dork

THE YOUNG DORK

I remember sitting at the kitchen table, staring down at the hexes in wonder.

young dork catan 1

Each hex was a colourful landscape — a mountain, a sea, a green field like the one outside my house, a yellow field like the ones outside the city.

My father was dropping little discs with numbers onto the hexes. 5, 3, 2, 9, even a 12.

“What do the dots underneath the numbers mean?”

“How likely those numbers will come up,” my dad replied. “How many ways are there to make 2 with two six-sided dice?”

I thought for a moment, “Just one, right? With 1 and 1.”

“Good job!” he said, punching me lightly in the shoulder. “Now how many ways are there to make 8 with two dice?”

This was harder. 4 and 4, 5 and 3, 6 and 2, 7 and… wait, there wasn’t a 7 on a six-sided die! And then you had to work it the other way around, for the other die. so 2 and 6, 3 and 5, 4 and 4…

“Six!” I cried.

He nodded, smiling. He was separating out the components for each player now. It would be a while before we had plastic bags for each player’s starting components.

“But the 6s and 8s only have five dots underneath them. Shouldn’t they have six?”

He looked at the numbered discs with the universal expression of a parent who’s just been asked one of Those Questions. “I think it’s just a probability thing,” he said. “Like a ranking.”

“Oh. Okay!”

young dork catan 2

He placed a bunch of roads, houses, and cities in front of me. Small, brightly-painted wooden bits where, in my mind, hundreds of tiny people were playing out lives of commerce and exploration.

“Now, where should you put your settlements to start?”

“12!”

“Why is that?”

“It’s the highest number?”

I knew I was wrong when he shook his head. /p>

“Look at the board. You’ll get resources from the board when you roll the dice and the numbers come up. You can only get resources from hexes your settlements are next to.”

I looked at the board.

“Is that why the 6s and 8s are red and have the most dots? They’re the most important because they come up the most often?”

“Yup! Well, they don’t come up the most often. 7 comes up the most often.”

I started working that one out. 4 and 3, 3 and 4, 5 and 2, 2 and 5… and then I interrupted myself.

“But there’s no hex with a 7.”

“When you roll the 7, you move the Robber,” he said, placing a dark figure on a hex full of sand dunes. “The Robber shuts down a hex and you get to steal a resource from somebody else.”

“That seems mean.”

He nodded, with a slight shrug. “It’s just a way to represent bad luck. Bad luck happens to everyone. But you don’t have to put the Robber on a hex next to somebody. You can just put it somewhere else if you want.”

(Which I would do for years afterwards when I hadn’t previously been Robber’d, but that’s beside the point.)

“What is this?” I asked, holding up a cardboard card.

He looked over. “That shows you what you can build. And what you need to build it.”

I started reading. And calculating. Roads cost one brick and one lumber, so I needed to make sure I was near hills and forests, but cities gave more Victory Points, and they needed ore and grain (but why three grain? Were they building thatched roofs? Why are there more roofs than walls?), so I had to make sure I was near those, too, but the 6s aren’t near there, which meant probabilities were lower, so should I pick a corner with a 5 and 3 and the resources I want over a corner with a 6 and 2 with resources I could trade? And, and…

And then followed a lifetime of board gaming.

IF YOU’RE WONDERING WHY I SHARED THIS STORY…

A Muse N Games is running two boardgame camps this summer, for kids ages 9-12. The first one is running right now, but registration is still open for the second one, August 21-25. For $125, your kid gets five days of boardgames, RPGs, arts and crafts, snacks, and more, all supervised by experienced teachers.

It’s something I wish I had when I was younger. Boardgames, along with D&D and Magic, helped a lot with my reading and math skills. It meant I never really minded mental math problems or difficult chapters in my school work since I had already handled much tougher stuff trying to beat my dad in Catan or The Great Dalmuti or miniatures games or whatever else came our way. And they were just fun.

young dork kids

I can’t recommend or support it enough. If you’re interested, drop by the store or e-mail Scotia at scotia(at)amusengames.ca for more information!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic (most of the time).

Judgement Day: Kamigawa Block

by July 15, 2017

kamigawa block tapping cardboard

Judgement Day – Kamigawa Block

Welcome to Judgement Day; a series of articles that looks at popular opinions within the Magic community and finds out if they are rooted in fact or simply mass hysteria. Today, we’re going to look at a fairly easy target: was Kamigawa block as terrible as everyone thinks it was?

kamigawa block champions kamigawa block betrayers kamigawa block saviors

For those who weren’t around then, Kamigawa block was a block set on the Japanese-inspired plane of the same name. Story-wise, it focused on the heroics of a band of characters trying to stop the end of the world at the hands of an angry spirit dragon who was trying to get his baby back from an old man’s mirror (it makes more sense if explained in more detail but that’s not what we’re here for).

With themes of Spirits, Arcane spells, and tons of legendary creatures, Kamigawa came in during a very interesting time for Standard. It came in just after the notoriously degenerate Mirrodin and at a time when Magic was fast and heavy. It was then followed up by the Ravnica block, which focused heavily on multicolour play, something that the Kamigawa block lacked. In general, players didn’t like the higher cost and lower impact of the cards in Kamigawa block, but that’s not to say that the entire block was a write-off.

kamigawa block kabuto moth

First, we’ll look at Kamigawa block the way it was first introduced to most players: Limited. The Limited format for Kamigawa was kind of like a so-called “battleship Magic” meta, but without the battleships. Almost everything cost more than what most players are used to. Want a 1/2 flyer that can tap to give +1/+2 to a creature? That’ll be 3 mana for Kabuto Moth please. Want to destroy a land? You’ll need 5 mana for Feast of Worms. How about Unsummon? Consuming Vortex is just like that, except it costs twice as much (quadruple if you splice). Now, you may be thinking that this sounds like a bad time for everyone and, it kind of is if you have the wrong mindset. If you went into Kamigawa Limited expecting the same experience as Mirrodin Limited, you were going to be very disappointed and I think that that initial disappointment is part of the reason that Kamigawa gets such a bad rap for its Limited environment. It had a lot of solid, albeit insular, mechanics such as Arcane and Spirits and it is a generally fun time.

For Standard at the time, Kamigawa had some pretty solid additions as well. Katsuhiro Mori drove his Ghazi-Glare deck to win the 2005 World Championship and a good section of it was from Kamigawa. Another popular deck was UG Meloku control, which was mostly Kamigawa as well. Finally, there was the rise of Owling Mine near the end of the block’s time in Standard, which was also a popular deck that relied a fair bit on cards from the block. So, despite being so reviled, Kamigawa gave rise to a bunch of popular decks that some still have a fondness for even now.

kamigawa block ebony owl netsuke

Finally, let’s look at the lasting impact the Kamigawa block has had on the Eternal formats. There are so many cards that have become staples in one way or another that it wouldn’t be possible to make them all into one list without going on for too long and making my editor hate me. To start, we have a card that’s so good it’s either been banned or there are calls for it to be banned in every format: Sensei’s Diving Top. It made such an impact on Legacy that its recent banning killed one of the top tier decks when it left. Then there’s Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker also has powerful decks built around him, as does Glimpse of Nature and Azusa, Lost but Seeking. Several popular hate cards were introduced in this block as well, with the likes of Pithing Needle, Kataki, War’s Wage, and Threads of Disloyalty first seeing print here. Finally, Commander got a bunch of staple cards from this block, just a few of them being: Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, Time of Need, Hero’s Demise, Minamo, School at Water’s Edge, and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea.

I feel like Kamigawa block has gotten a much worse reputation than it deserves. I think that if it had been released at a different time, it would have gotten much more love. It’s only crime is that it got stuck in the middle of two very powerful blocks and it was just “good”. It was the peanut butter in a ham sandwich; great somewhere else, but bad in the place it was put.

If you’re looking to try out any Kamigawa block cards you can do so on Mondays at 7:00 pm at the store or try out some Commander during our Friday Night Magic at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm. Legacy might be your jam and we will be hosting a Magic Legacy Quarterly with 100% of the entries paid out in store credit.

Jay Edwards is an advocate for janky magic combos, and exploring fun and casual Magic ideas. When he’s not contributing columns to A Muse N Games.ca, he keeps himself busy as a Magic Judge. His new column, Tapping Cardboard, will appear here twice monthly so be sure to check it out!

Tapping Cardboard: Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems

by July 7, 2017

hour of devastation hidden gems tapping cardboard

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems

Now that the Hour of Devastation is upon us, everyone is getting hyped about the obvious cards like The Locust God, Kefnet’s Last Word, and Liliana’s Defeat.

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Locust God Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Kefnet's Last Word Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Liliana's Defeat

While those cards are getting all the hype, a bunch of cool cards are getting thrown by the wayside. Let’s have an Hour of Revelation *wink* and look at some underappreciated cards that might prove to be Hour of Devastation hidden gems.

Back in M14, there was an uncommon that was alright in draft and completely ignored outside of that. If only we could have glimpsed this set back then and seen that there was going to eventually be a better version. First up on the list, we have Strategic Planning!

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Strategic Planning

To start, I’m going to state that this card is no replacement for Anticipate, but it doesn’t need to be nor was it built with that in mind. Anticipate goes in the control-type shells, the ones that need to respond to threats at instant speed. Strategic Planning goes into graveyard-based decks that were missing a way to put things in their graveyard without sacrificing an important card that they needed in hand. With Embalm and Eternalize being decent mechanics and some reanimation shenanigans existing in Standard and Limited, this card will probably find some sort of home in both formats. The one downside, for now, is that Contingency Plan does the job better, but it’s cool to know that a decent replacement will cover that spot after rotation.

Before the Hour of Glory, the lessons of the trials were sometimes painful. Afterwards, they became much dourer. Next on the list of Hour of Devastation hidden gems: Tragic Lesson.

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Tragic Lesson

The obvious comparisons in Standard right now is with Pull From Tomorrow, although this is more like Pull From Later Today since it doesn’t scale, and Catalog, which just isn’t very good. That being said, however, this can be hit by Torrential Gearhulk, which is something that some players may seriously take into consideration when updating their decks. This also doesn’t force a discard if you don’t want to or have a land with an ETB trigger (like Sunscorched Desert or Sandstone Bridge). Will this change the format? No, but it’s a good option for a few decks that like a couple extra cards in hand but don’t want to spend a lot to do that.

Everyone now knows about the three new gods of the plane, but there is a hidden fourth god. One that unseats a legend of the game and has so far flown under the radar. Hour of Devastation hidden gems number three: River Hoopoe, Usurper of Storm Crow.

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems River Hoopoe

Outside of being an upgrade to the iconic Storm Crow, this little bird is just great on its own. Early game, it’s an annoying flyer that can sneak in some damage or chump some smaller creatures. Late game, it provides a great mana sink that can easily help turn a game around. This little card will make a bigger impact on Standard than I think many people are giving it credit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this card around a few FNM tables in the coming weeks.

Casting a good creature is a sure-fire way to win a game of Magic. If that’s the case, casting the same creature card multiple times must win you the game faster, right? That must have been the logic behind giving us this next card, again. Our fourth on the list Hour of Devastation hidden gems: Unsummon.

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Unsummon

For those of you how never played when Unsummon was in Standard prior to this, it’s kind of annoying. It’s a single mana to throw off your entire tempo game plan if it is dropped early enough. Trust me, dropping a one-drop just to have it bounced back to your hand immediately is not fun at all. On the other side of the spell, it’s a great way to instantly restrict an opponent and force them to play the game at your pace. I can hear a lot of people saying “but Select for Inspection and Clutch of Currents exist and they don’t see play!”. Well, this hits any creature at any time, which is a marked upgrade from both of those cards. If you’re lacking some cheap removal, this is a great option.

There now exists a card no one asked for and nobody seems to want. A non-lord lord for a tribe that barely exists that has the whole community mocking it. Finally on our list of Hour of Devastation hidden gems: Crested Sunmare.

Hour of Devastation Hidden Gems Crested Sunmare

Ignore the fact that it says “Horse” anywhere on this card for a second as well as the entire first line. What we’re left with is a 5/5 for 5 that makes 5/5s if you gain life and that’s pretty dang good on its own. Just throw this in with any lifelinking creatures (looking at you Sacred Cat) and you’ve got yourself a pretty neat little engine. If only there is a creature that could make this even better… oh wait! Kambal! That’s a thing, right? And there’s Authority of the Consuls too! Hmm… This sounds like a deck in the making…

Orzhov Horse-Based Lifegain

Sorceries/Instants:
4 Authority of the Consuls
3 Blessed Alliance
3 Fumigate
4 Never / Return

Creatures:
3 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
4 Crested Sunmare
4 Gifted Aetherborn
3 Kambal, Consul of Allocation
4 Lone Rider
4 Sacred Cat

Lands:
2 Blighted Steppe
2 Concealed Courtyard
2 Shambling Vent
12 Plains
6 Swamp

Sideboard:
2 Drana’s Emissary
2 Fatal Push
2 Felidar Sovereign
1 Fumigate
2 Grind / Dust
3 Harsh Scrutiny
3 Scarab Feast

And those are some of the hidden gems within the Hour of Devastation! If you have any comments or suggestions for future articles, or if you want some help with a deck idea, feel free to email me at deckdesignsbyjay(at)shaw.ca!

There is still time to register for our Hour of Devastation prerelease at Midnight, Noon, or 5:00 pm on Saturday, July 8 or 6:00 pm on Sunday, July 9. You can do so online or in-store!

Jay Edwards is an advocate for janky magic combos, and exploring fun and casual Magic ideas. When he’s not contributing columns to A Muse N Games.ca, he keeps himself busy as a Magic Judge. His new column, Tapping Cardboard, will appear here twice monthly so be sure to check it out!

THE MANA DORK – Magic Announcement Week, Literally Everything Amazing Ever

by June 21, 2017

This last week was Magic Announcement Week, where Wizards of the Coast announced the next six months or so of products — including the initial celebrations for Magic’s 25th anniversary next year! And, holy crap, was there a lot of stuff announced!

Magic Announcement Week The Mana Dork

Magic Announcement Week also featured some news for how Magic releases will change starting in 2018, as well as a new Banned & Restricted announcement. So let’s have at ‘er!

Magic Announcement Week Pithing Needle
IT’S THE CORE NECESSITIES, THE SIMPLE CORE NECESSITIES

First things first: core sets are coming back!

In his column last week about the Magic Announcement Week, Magic head designer Mark Rosewater announced that core sets will be making a return, starting with what is currently called “Core 2019” next year. He explains that they serve a vital purpose in Magic — they’re a home for everything useful in Standard that’s difficult to reprint in Standard-series expansions, like generic answers, and creatures that can give decks new life. He also says they’ll be revamped significantly — although just what that means is up in the air.

He also explains that small sets, as well as the concept of blocks, will be going away — instead, Magic will simply do three large sets a year, plus Core sets. He says that small sets unnecessarily complicated draft environments, and that they were always less popular than drafting 3x of a large set.

Personally, I’m a fan of all of this. While I loved two-set blocks for how quickly they pushed us through environments, never feeling boring or dull, I think that going to a “Three-and-One” model will chew up design space less quickly, and give more of what more players want more of more often. It should be tremendous fun, and I can’t wait.

Magic Announcement Week Treasure Trove
UNTAP, UPKEEP, NEW UN-SET

Plus a whole slew of other new products were announced during Magic Announcement Week! You ready? Deep breath:

  • August 25, 2017: Commander 2017
  • September 29, 2017: Ixalan
  • November 10, 2017: Duel Deck: Merfolk v Goblins
  • November 17, 2017: Iconic Masters
  • November 24, 2017: Explorers of Ixalan, From the Vault: Transform
  • December 8, 2017: Unstable
  • January 19, 2018: Rivals of Ixalan
  • March 16, 2018: Masters 25
  • April 27, 2018: Dominaria
  • July 20, 2018: Core 2019

To explain some of these: Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan are the two sets in Ixalan block, featuring pirates battling dinosaurs. (You heard me right.) Iconic Masters is a Masters set built around “iconic” things in Magic — speculation is rampant, but it’s quite likely we’ll see cool angels, sphinxes, demons, dragons, and hydra. Explorers of Ixalan is a new boardgame-like product featuring four pre-constructed decks (zero new cards) and game tiles of some kind; Unstable is a new Un-set (!!!), Masters 25 is an as-yet-unexplained Masters set that celebrates 25 years of Magic history, Dominaria is a new large set that sees the game return to its first and largest setting after more than a decade (!!!!!), and Core 2019 has been explained above.

To say I’m excited would be an understatement… but I think the absolute best coming out of Magic Announcement Week might be the new Un-set. For those who might be newer to the game, there were two previous Un-sets — Unglued and Unhinged — where Magic took itself less seriously and released entire sets full of comedy cards. Who could forget classics like Hurloon Wrangler, Jalum Grifter, My First Tome, Greater Morphling, and Un-all star Cheatyface? And now you’re telling me there’s going to be a new one? Holy! The hardest part is going to be avoiding spoilers!

Magic Announcement Week Aetherworks Marvel

A MARVEL-OUS DEVELOPMENT

Just a quick note on this one — for those of you who were wary of a Standard where the best card won you the game on a coin flip, Wizards has taken the still-unusual step of banning Aetherworks Marvel from the format. Temur Energy builds will still be a thing, doubtless, but they will no longer feature Marvel spins in an attempt to find Ulamog or an expensive Planeswalker.

… which of course means that the format is now wide open, and you should absolutely be bringing your brews to test at our Tuesday Standard nights!

Magic Announcement Week Dueling Grounds

AMONKHET SOME LEAGUE GAMES IN

Before I let you all go, I have to shout out Amonkhet League Part 2 at the store. Seriously, to whoever came up with the League format: thank you.

By now, you’re at least a little familiar with the way League works: buy 3 boosters, build a 30-card deck, add a booster every week and/or every 3rd loss, play whenever there are League folks around.

But what a simple description doesn’t capture is just how joyful it is to play with what you bought in boosters. It brings me back to childhood kitchen-table Magic, where you’re just trying to jam this cool rare you found and win some games with it. No watching the metagame, no buying expensive singles, no $15 or $30 outlay every week — just boosters and hanging out.

And speaking of which, the atmosphere for League at the store is fantastic. If you’ve always been intimidated by Draft or Sealed play, League is just right for you — everyone is relaxed and willing to help. Cannot recommend it enough.

There’s just one week left for Amonkhet League Part 2, so if you’re going to jump in, do it this Sunday!

BEST CAMP EVER!

We’ve got a slew of things coming up at the store — regional championships for A Game of Thrones, Monthly Game Day, and Hour of Devastation pre-releases — but I have to, have to, have to plug the incredible Board Game Camps being offered this summer.

The camps will be on at the store July 17-21 and August 21-25, from 1 PM to 5 PM. For $125, your gamers-in-training will get five days of supervised board games, RPGs, arts and crafts, and a snack! (I’m jealous. Can you tell? I’m actually jealous I’m not a kid right now.)

There are 10 slots available per camp, so register now! If you register before June 30 for the July camp, or before July 15 for the August camp, you’ll get a $25 gift certificate for use in the store!

See you there!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games who was clearly born too early. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—Tools of the Trade: EDHREC

by June 3, 2017

We’re in a bit of a lull here at the Mana Dork—we’re working on the Amonkhet Planeswalker Deck Challenge behind the scenes, and Amonkhet League 2 launches this weekend—so for today, I figured I’d take the time to walk you guys through one of the tools I use when building EDH decks!

Wizards maintains an official database for every Magic card ever printed, called Gatherer. But Gatherer has a few drawbacks. Among other things, you can’t find out what other people are using in their decks—you can’t build off of the collected wisdom of the online EDH community.

That’s what EDHREC is great at.

EDHREC analyzes decks that have been posted to TappedOut or DeckStats to find out which cards people are using with which commanders. It then aggregates all that data into a set of card suggestions for that commander.

In plain language, EDHREC tells you what the most popular cards are for any given commander or it can tell you which commanders work best with a certain card.

What this does is provide you with a ready-made list of suggestions for the latest legendary creature that has caught your eye, stretching all the way back to the beginning of the game!

To see how it works, let’s look Athreos, God of Passage, the commander for a deck I’ve spent a lot of time tuning lately, my Athreos Apostles combo list.

The first thing that comes up are “signature” cards for Athreos—cards that are used for Athreos more than any other BW commander.

These are useful for most builds of Athreos—you’ll probably be sacrificing or blocking often, since you’re likely to get your creatures back, so Harvester of Souls and Dictate of Erebos are fine choices for any build.

But we want to go deeper. Let’s filter Athreos lists by Shadowborn Apostle—this lets us only see suggestions from lists that feature everyone’s favourite token non-token creature:

Nice! This is handy!

But let’s go one step further. My Athreos Apostles list combos off with Thrumming Stone—what if we only look at lists that have both Apostles and Thrumming Stone?

Helloooo, what’s this?

We’ve found a card that I don’t currently have on my list. Secret Salvage. And it’s in 100% of the decks that have both Apostles and Stone? Surprising!

Secret Salvage came out in Aether Revolt, and I initially dismissed it. Because my deck relies on leaving as many Apostles in my library as possible when I combo off, I don’t really want more than one or two in my hand at any given time. And paying five mana to get a whole bunch in my hand seemed… steep.

But I missed a key turn of phrase: “any number of cards”.

I don’t have to fetch all 34 Apostles with Secret Salvage if I don’t want to (and by the way, you should play Magic with 34 copies of the same nonland permanent any chance you get, it’s amazing—I also recommend Relentless Rats!). I can fetch just enough to make sure my hand has some gas when I hit the combo turn.

Five mana is still steep, but if I’m sitting there with six lands and thumbs a-twiddle while everyone else is Doing Things™, it’ll seem a fine price to pay.

TRIBAL DECKS

But that’s not EDHREC’s only trick. It’s got a couple more up its sleeve.

If you love tribal decks—and who doesn’t?—EDHREC has a section that aggregates data for tribes instead of individual commanders.

This can be extremely handy if you’re actually me in real life and you’ve spent literal days hitting EDHREC’s “Random” button to find an interesting general. Who cares about the general? Build a tribe! I have elves on the docket, I think, and I’m definitely going to be visiting EDHREC’s Elves page for ideas while I build it!

CUSTOM SUGGESTIONS

Here’s EDHREC’s most impressive trick, though—suggestions customized specifically for your list.

What you see above are EDHREC’s suggestions for my Athreos Apostles list. As you can see, most of them are about improving the mana base—and rightly so, since I haven’t put a lot of the fancier lands in my deck. (If you’ll recall, I’m a big advocate of basic lands.) But if I want some consistency—which I do, because a combo deck requires consistency—I should definitely consider it.

Custom suggestions will only work once you’ve uploaded a decklist to TappedOut.net or DeckStats—I recommend the former—but once you’ve done so, it will be a tremendous help.

HOLY CRAP I WANT TO SEE A MAGIC DECK WITH 34 OF SOMETHING, WHEN ARE YOU AT THE STORE

I’m glad you asked!

In the world of Magic, I’ll be there this Sunday for the kickoff of Amonkhet League Part 2. It’s all the fun of kitchen-table Magic with all the new friends you make from organized play! Buy in for $20 any time in the next few weeks, play League games with other League players any time you’re in the store, and earn special prizes!

If Magic’s not your agenda, make sure you swing by for the Netrunner Regional Championships on June 10th! AMNG has a great Netrunner community that provides some stiff competition when the cards are shuffled up, so it should be a great time!

And finally, AMNG is also running a special Father’s Day Ticket to Ride Tournament on Sunday June 18—and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to meet the illustrious Mana Dork the Elder while you’re there!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He is probably going to get thoroughly crushed at Ticket to Ride. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – Native Planeswalkers and Legendary Creatures

by May 17, 2017
Native Planeswalkers and Legendary Creatures

Well, that’s a wrap! Pro Tour Amonkhet is in the books, and surprising absolutely nobody, Mono-Black Zombies won the whole wait whaaaaaaaaaat

It’s true, though. Gerry Thompson, rocking his sweet Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sleeves and deckbox, piloted this list to his first-ever Pro Tour win. No Gideons, no planeswalkers at all in the mainboard — and speaking of which, his entire mainboard consisted of cards that were $6 or less per copy when Amonkhet released! He cruised through much more expensive decks, the sheer consistency of his zombs swarming over Temurworks Marvel and Mardu Vehicles lists with ease.

It was refreshing to see. Pricy, greedy combo decks have been running the tables in Standard play for the last few months (though thankfully we still saw a LOT of creative homebrews at the store!), so having a traditional, inexpensive aggro list take Pro Tour Amonkhet says a lot, I think, about the viability of new brews, and how you can win an event without reducing your wallet to weeping openly and listening to “Hide and Seek” on repeat.

I mean, like, it’s a great song. But I’ve definitely heard Imogen Heap singing in the back of my head when I looked at the price on some of those four-colour Saheeli combos and older Mardu Vehicles lists.
Mmm, what’d you say?
Mmm, that you only meant well
Well, of course you did
Mmm, what’d you say?
Mmm, that it’s all for the best…
Anyway.
– – –
So, I have a question. Why do so many players want to see “native planeswalkers” in each new Magic set?
 

It puzzles me. “Native planeswalker” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. If you’re going to define a character by their ability to hop dimensions and bend the fabric of space-time, why stick them at home? We should see them when they’re out exploring the Multiverse. We should see weird characters we don’t understand yet, faces and abilities that are a gateway to more mystery.
But lately, what we’ve seen — and here’s the part that I don’t understand, what I see people asking for — are a series of homebodies.
Beginning from the Magic Origins reboot and ignoring planeswalkers who existed previously, we’ve met Arlinn Kord on Innistrad, and Saheeli Rai and Dovin Baan on Kaladesh. “Native planeswalkers”… who could have done their jobs just as well if they were legendary creatures.
(Notably, neither Arlinn nor Saheeli leave their planes at all during the course of their stories. They are “planeswalkers” who do not planeswalk even once! Heck, Rashmi did more planeswalking than Saheeli did, inside the Planar Bridge!)
Now, I love their design as characters. Arlinn is a powerful and bad-ass older woman, Saheeli is a charming and daring inventor, and my feelings about Dovin Baan have been mentioned previously. I am glad they are here, and I am happy to see what they have brought to Magic’s stories.
But to be honest, though, they could have been legendary creatures and done largely the same thing. And we could have had more space for weird and fascinating planeswalkers from other worlds, walking previews of Magic’s future with a face and name.
Like Ashiok.

Ashiok is a perfect example of what I’m talking about, perhaps the most recent perfect example. Ashiok doesn’t even have a face. It’s just smoke, and horns, and nightmares, and what happened to my library oh Ugin no no NONONO —

Ashiok is mystery. And terror, in this case. Ashiok saw play in many Standard lists of its era. Ashiok is a perfect hook for a future world (“What do we know about this place? … Ashiok is from here? Welp, I’m scared now…”). Ashiok simply existing is exciting, because it represents so much that we do not know about the wide, wide Multiverse.

Ashiok is exactly what I think a planeswalker should be.

I’m not just concerned about planeswalkers, though. I’m also concerned about what the desire for “native planeswalkers” has meant for legendary creatures.

Starting again from the Origins reboot and skipping the Eldrazi Titans for now, most of the legendary creatures we’ve seen have been side characters, also-rans, and supporting cast members. The “mentor” cycle in Origins, Zada and Jori En and Noyan Dar on Zendikar, Thalia and Odric and the twins on Innistrad, and so on. The only legendary creatures here who I think got an appropriate story treatment are Rashmi and Baral, both on Kaladesh.

It used to be that legendary creatures were the pushed, center-stage, face-on-the-poster chase cards everybody got excited about. The cards that changed the game. Back in the day, I saw people get hyped for Kamahl, and Phage, and Bladewing the Risen the way they now get hyped for non-Origins-5 planeswalkers.

(Quick note: “pushed” is slang for “a card Wizards has deliberately made very strong for its mana cost in order to help ensure it sees play in high-level tournaments”. Taken from “pushing the envelope”.)

These days, legendary creatures largely exist as nods to us Commander players, and hooks for the occasional short story. Rarely do they break into the Top 8 of Pro Tours.

Why has this changed? Why did it have to?

Look at Ulamog up there. Perfect example of what I think legendary creatures should be doing in Magic. Perhaps a divisive example, as not everybody is a fan of the Eldrazi Titans, but nevertheless perfect for this discussion.

In Ulamog we see a very pushed legendary creature present in many top-level lists as a game-ending all-star. The Temurworks Marvel lists from Pro Tour Amonkhet often used Ulamog to finish games. You are scared when Ulamog comes down, as so very little in Standard can answer it.

And critically, people opened Battle for Zendikar boosters looking for Ulamog. Others bought and will buy Ulamog as a single — which is much more profitable for the LGSes that keep the game alive. Ulamog drives sales and thus makes the game healthier as a whole. And it does so without having loyalty abilities.

Ulamog is exactly what I think a legendary creature should be — or, perhaps more clearly, Ulamog is performing the mechanical and marketing functions I think a legendary creature should perform. (Maybe we don’t need 10/10 indestructibles for 10 with two removal spells as a cast trigger all the time. But you get what I’m saying.)

This is getting lengthy, so I’ll cut to the chase cards.

I think those mystifying calls for “native” planeswalkers are the result of two things: Wizards putting an enormous spotlight on planeswalkers, and players subconsciously treating ‘walkers the same way they used to treat legends because of that spotlight.

I think this is compounded by the regular presence of pushed Gatewatch planeswalkers in Standard. People will naturally want to see characters from new planes mixing it up with Chandra, Jace, and the rest. As a result, we have players calling for “native planeswalkers” that could just as well be legendary creatures, simply because planeswalkers are the most pushed card type and people want new things.

I think this is why we’ve been seeing so many Standard environments where Gerry Thompson’s ‘walker-less maindeck is a notable aberration, rather than a regular sight.

I think the game would be improved if we used some mechanical strength and some marketing muscle on legends more often. Legends can serve as the face of a set just as well as planeswalkers, they can carry just as much of the story and key-art load on their shoulders, they have the same uniqueness drawback — and importantly, they can free up space for more interesting and creative planeswalker designs, since the ‘walkers no longer have to do as much work selling the set.

… and for the sake of maintaining my credibility throughout the above arguments, we shall ignore the amount of time I’ve spent in previous columns gushing about Commander, because I’m not biased at all. Never. Nope. Nuh-uh. Pure, unbiased journalism and punditry right here, folks. The Mana Dork — Your Trusted Source For Reasonable Magic Opinions.

Please?


OKAY FINE, MAYBE I AM BIASED, BUT AT LEAST YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HUMBLE ME FOR IT AT THE FOLLOWING STORE EVENTS

On the Magic side of things, Amonkhet Game Day is this weekend! We’ll have events on both Saturday and Sunday, with registration at 11 AM, gameplay at noon, and prizes for participation, Top 8, and winning the whole thing. Come on down!

As well, the GPT Farewell Tour is coming to a close, with just three events left — GPT Vegas Limited on Friday May 26, GPT Vegas Modern on Sunday May 28, and a final GPT Vegas Limited on Friday June 2. These will be your last chances to earn byes for GPT Vegas and win our sweet GPT Farewell Tour playmat, so make sure you sign up!

Outside of Magic, we’ve got the Netrunner Regional Championships on Saturday June 10, the Star Wars 40th Anniversary X-Wing Tournament on Sunday June 11, and a special Father’s Day Ticket to Ride Tournament on Sunday June 18!

There’s tons of stuff happening at the store — we’d love to see you there!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He’s actually super-biased, don’t believe what he wrote up there. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK — The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Conclusion

by May 7, 2017

The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Conclusion

“What possible circumstances could render these draconian measures necessary?”
— Dovin Baan

We took a bit of a break for Amonkhet’s release (and a couple of soapbox moments), but we’re back with the final installment of the Aether Revolt Planeswalker Deck Challenge.

Here’s the idea: I believe that the Planeswalker Decks, as currently constructed, are a solid product with which to introduce new players to Magic… but they could be so much better. They could be built with more competitive cards, greater synergy, and an eye towards a strategy that better fits one of Magic’s established deck archetypes, rather than simply featuring a mechanic from the newest set.

For my first step in testing this out, I competed with the Ajani Planeswalker Deck in Aether Revolt Game Day at A Muse N Games, using only the contents of the deck and included boosters. I posted a result of 1-3 — with my single round win coming as a result of facing off against a homebrewed combo deck that was intimidating in function, but failed to fire in the games we played. While the result looks good on paper, I felt incredibly outclassed on the battlefield, as my Silkweaver Elites regularly went up against Torrential Gearhulks and Winding Constrictors.

I then brewed a Dovin Baan-themed deck, following all of the rules both formal and informal that Wizards follows with their Planeswalker Decks — with the exception that I would include many more complete playsets, and did not have access to the unique commons, uncommons, and rares that proper Planeswalker Decks come with.

Finally, I competed in a Tuesday Night Standard event at A Muse N Games with the Dovin Baan deck.

So, how did I do?

ROUND 1: TEMUR TOWER
My first match-up was against “the saviour of Standard”. Temur Tower decks were posting some good results in competitive events, breaking into the well-established two-deck metagame of Mardu Vehicles and Copy Cat combos. How was my pure control deck going to do against a more modern, midrange-y, value-based control deck?

It began in tension. We played land drops and Shielded Aether Thieves, and eyed the battlefield warily from behind our carefully-sculpted hands. I was digging hard for an Aetherstorm Roc or a Long-Finned Skywhale, something that would let me go over the top of their defenders. They were digging hard for a Dynavolt Tower so that their deck could come online.

I hit their first Dynavolt Tower with an Ice Over… and promptly realized the weakness of the card. Ice Over doesn’t actually tap down the permanent it enchants, nor does it prevent triggered abilities (or some activated abilities) from happening. Not only would my opponent get at least one use out of an Iced Over Dynavolt Tower that was untapped, it would continue to build energy for them.

After a long, hard battle, they eventually won off of activations from their second Dynavolt Tower. I had taken them nearly to time, however, with a bare handful of minutes left for Game 2… which they won quickly with a couple of early manlands.

Round Record: 0-1. Games Record: 0-2. (I’m a Hedron Crab!)

ROUND 2: GREEN-BLACK CHITTERING HOST

“Dude, what is this? You won a Standard event the other night with RW Dwarves! You broke the metagame! Why aren’t you playing that now?” — a passersby, to my opponent

“Man, I just wanted to play with Chittering Host. Chittering Host is cool.” — my opponent

My opponent was not wrong. Chittering Host is indeed cool. It is also… menacing… to face off against. There were some minor delirium synergies in the deck, but at its core, this was a classic “Rock”-style deck that swarmed the board with small creatures and sought to resolve a Chittering Host for an alpha strike.

Game 1 saw me hold off some of their beaters with a couple of early Shielded Aether Thieves (seriously, those guys are bros), until I eventually — finally! — resolved a Skywhale and protected it. I ground out the win by flying over the top with the Skywhale and clogging up the ground with Aether Thieves and various answers.

Unfortunately, I would make a critical mistake in Game 2. I was beating down again with a Skywhale and had a Baral’s Expertise in hand, while their board grew and grew and grew. Nervous, I cast the Expertise to bounce a couple of tokens and value creatures… and not the Westvale Abbey that had been sitting on my opponent’s side of the battlefield since Turn 3 or so. They recast some small creatures, sacrificed their board, and immediately began swinging with Ormendahl, Profane Prince for the game.

Game 3 ended with another critical mistake on my part — I kept a greedy hand instead of mulliganing it away. Chittering Host chittered all over my cold, dead bones in short order.

Round Record: 0-2. Games Record: 1-4. (I’m a Calcite Snapper!)
 

 

ROUND 3: RED-GREEN PUMMELER

Okay. Alright. I didn’t face off against Mardu Vehicles tonight — the matchup my deck had mostly been built for — but I’m about to shuffle up against RG Pummeler, another aggressive deck that relies heavily on artifacts. This is good. This is a good thing. I’m ready for this. I was made for this.

Game 1: I was not made for this.

Game 2: I have answers! That’s two Pummelers down! Thank you Fragmentize! Now I just need to hit a Long-Finned Skywh — oh, dear, that’s their third Pummeler… oh, dear, that was my face.

Round Record: 0-3. Games Record: 1-6. (I’m a Wandering Tombshell!)

CONCLUSION AND MOVING FORWARD

I should get better at playing Magic.

In all seriousness, though — this deck felt so, so much better than the Planeswalker Decks I tested. Pushing Temur Tower to time and almost winning a second game over a GB Rock variant may be Pyrrhic victories, but I will take them. I felt like I always had answers, and a line of play towards a solid win condition, instead of feeling completely outclassed by Turn 5 — like a Ford Pinto trying to race a Lamborghini.

I will admit to perhaps some bias — since I built the deck from scratch, I knew its lines of play and outs quite well, as opposed to having to learn the deck while I play it, as I did with the Planeswalker Decks. But I feel that this is minor in the grand scheme of things. I’m still inclined to wonder how much of the 0-3 round result is due to the power level of the various cards and how much is simply due to my play mistakes, as detailed above.

Going forward, I’ll change up a couple of things — I will keep the $11 limit for the 59 non-planeswalker cards in the deck, but I will likely change the distribution of rares, uncommons, and commons, and I will buy two booster packs to add to the deck, just like the regular Planeswalker Decks.

We will see how it works. I’ll be continuing the experiment for future Magic sets — albeit in fewer columns, since I don’t want this space to become the Planeswalker Deck Dork! — until I feel like the Planeswalker Decks are at a good place in their construction.

Until then — onward, to glory! And by glory, I mean getting viciously beaten in Standard games, all in service to my audience.

 

DO YOU DARE TO COMPLETE THE TRIALS OF AMONKHET? AND ALSO POSSIBLY A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY?
 

The Trials of Amonkhet are underway at the store — complete various Magic challenges with various friends in various formats to earn shiny lazotep d20s and d4s! Make sure to ask at the store for details.

And in July, the Fantasy Flight Store Championships are happening! Compete in official Fantasy Flight Organized Play events for Star Wars Armada, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, and Star Wars Destiny for sweet prizes and the respect of your peers!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Do not ask him what was in the hand he kept. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – The Second Sun Approaches!

by May 11, 2017

Amonkhet Prerelease –  The Second Sun Approaches!

amonkhet-prerelease-mana-dork

Hail Nicol Bolas, the God-Pharoah! May his return come early, and may we be found worthy!

amonkhet-prerelease-approach-of-the-second-sun

The store’s Amonkhet prerelease is only hours away, and Magic’s newest set has a ton of fun toys for Limited and Constructed play. Cycling looks like it will be making some noise with the new cycling dual lands and a number of fun payoffs like Drake Haven and Archfiend of Ifnir. The new exert and embalm mechanics are going to make for some very interesting choices during games, the Aftermath cards will have players agog (atog?), and the prevalence of -1/-1 counters will have implications for removal spells and build-arounds in every colour.

Here’s everything you need to know to do probably-better-than-last-time-maybe-or-at-least-walk-in-with-more-confidence-because-confidence-is-good-right-yes-excellent-good-show!

amonkhet-prerelease-aven-wind-guide

EMBALMS AWAY

Embalm is pretty straightforward: it’s like Flashback, but for creatures. Once the Embalm creature is in your yard, you can pay the Embalm cost and exile the creature to create a token that’s an exact copy of it, except it’s also White and a Zombie. (Which raises the question: most Zombies are Human, but Humans are also Human. Does that mean an Embalmed Anointer Priest is a White Zombie that’s more Human than Human? These are the things I think about.)

 First things first: yes, the Embalmed token itself also has Embalm, but it doesn’t matter, because tokens can’t exist in the graveyard. (Or in your hand, library, or exile.) Whenever a token would change zones — by dying and going to the graveyard, for example — it vanishes from existence as a state-based action, before players receive priority. Which is a fancy way of saying that before you could activate the token’s Embalm ability, the game has already ushered it along into the next life.

That being said, Embalm is still powerful and something you should think about when building your deck for the Amonkhet prerelease. You’re getting two creatures off of one card, on a bit of a layaway plan. Don’t count them as two creatures when you’re building with them, of course, but do remember that you’ll be able to clog up the board state a little longer, and that you’ll be facing down extra blockers and board stalls some percentage of the time. I’d definitely consider looking at exile spells like Cast Out and Final Reward for the creatures, and bounce spells like Winds of Rebuke to deal with the tokens. (Remember what I said about how tokens can’t exist in players’ hands? Turns out, if you bounce a token… )

amonkhet-prerelease-ahn-crop-champion

I HAVE BEEN EXERTING MY BRAIN BUT CANNOT COME UP WITH AN EXERT PUN

Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more, or close up the Hekma with our Naktamun dead! Exert lets a creature give 110% when it swings to convey some additional benefit, at the cost of not untapping the following turn.

A reminder for using Exert — you must declare whether or not you’re Exerting a creature BEFORE blockers are declared. The option to Exert a creature triggers as the creature’s being declared as an attacker, so you have to decide before your opponent declares blockers.

This means you must Exert your creatures carefully if you want to successfully use them during the Amonkhet prerelease. There’s no use Exerting every time and skipping every second combat — AND giving your opponent a combat step where he knows you can’t block! I’d be careful to Exert only when you need it for your creature to get through or when you specifically need the creature’s Exert bonus. If you can read your opponent and anticipate what the boardstate will be in a turn or two and whether or not it’s safe, go ahead!

amonkhet-prerelease-heaven-earth

IN THE AFTERMATH

Aftermath is pretty straightforward: it’s like Flashback, but for spells.

Wait, what? Don’t those already have Flashback?

Actually, Aftermath is a new take on split cards like Fire // Ice and Ready // Willing. Cards with Aftermath also function as two separate spells, but one of them can only be cast from the graveyard. Then, just like with Flashback and Embalm, the card gets exiled.

 Once again, we’re getting the value of two cards for the cost of one, on a bit of a layaway plan. This time, though, we’ll have to be more careful — many of the Aftermath spells have heavier mana costs than normal, and none of them have cycling, so they’re not going into your graveyard for free. I would look at the “normal” side of an Aftermath card when building your Amonkhet prerelease deck and judge whether or not I actually want it in my deck before including it.

 (Also, a side note for the more invested among us, and by “invested” I mean “people who like Isochron Scepter“: as of Amonkhet’s release, all split cards are treated as though their CMC is the combined CMC of both halves when in any zone other than the stack. This makes them much more difficult to use with Scepter and similar effects, but much easier to actually remember how they work without six minutes of Googling and a judge call. Overall, I’m a fan.)

amonkhet-prerelease-scarab-feast

I LIKE TO RIDE MY CYCLING CARDS, CYCLING CARDS, CYCLING CARDS

An old friend slides back into Magic with Cycling’s appearance in Amonkhet!

Cycling is sometimes challenging to evaluate. Cycling cards are usually a little overcosted, but the benefit is that they’re not dead in your hand or deck — if you’re in a situation where you’re holding a Cycling card that does nothing for you, you can cash it in to draw a card instead, and have another chance at drawing that premium removal spell much-needed land drop. In general, you can safely include narrower effects and more toolbox-y cards in your deck when they have Cycling, because they don’t take up an entire card slot.

With Cycling, I’d be careful to manage the number of cycling cards versus the number of cycling-payoff cards in your deck. I’ll be looking for at least 8-9 cycling cards before I include my first Drake Haven or Horror of the Broken Lands.

amonkhet-prerelease-bounty-of-the-luxa

GENERAL NOTES

As always, drink water, eat healthy, get some rest, and don’t be afraid to call a Judge if you need to, they’re there to help everyone at the Amonkhet prerelease.

Also, remember BREAD — bombs, removal, evasive creatures, aggressive creatures, then duds. Live by the bread, die by the bread. Be the bread.

(… if you’re wondering why none of those phrases used “bread” originally, I recommend breadening your horizons. Eh? … Eh?)

amonkhet-prerelease-combat-celebrant

THE PLANESWALKER DECK CHALLENGE CONCLUDES IN OUR NEXT COLUMN — WHILE YOU’RE WAITING, COME HANG OUT AT THE STORE 

I have finally plunged the Dovin Baan Planeswalker Deck we’ve forged over the course of Aether Revolt (1, 2, 3) into the crucible of Standard combat at A Muse N Games, even as the fires of the Revolt began to smolder. Soon, my friends, I shall tell you tales of towers, rats, and energy. Soon.

In the interim, A Muse N Games is hosting Amonkhet prereleases events all weekend! Swing by at midnight, noon, 5 PM, and 6 PM Sunday for sweet, sweet Amonkhet Prerelease Sealed action — and a chance at sweet, sweet prizes!

On top of that, the GPT Farewell Tour continues with GPT Montreal Standard on Sunday April 30 and GPT Vegas Legacy on Sunday May 7, both at noon (11 AM registration)!

Finally, it is time for the human boardgames to be celebrated! International Tabletop Day is Saturday April 29, and A Muse N Games has a bunch of fun things planned and prizes waiting! Bring a game, bring a friend, bring both, bring neither, just come on down!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He has spent the last week staring at As Foretold and dreaming of free counterspells on his opponents’ turns. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK Commander Banlist – Prime Time and Garbage Time

by April 8, 2017

Commander Banlist The Mana Dork

Commander Banlist – Prime Time and Garbage Time

HOW TO AVOID TWO COMMON LOGICAL TRAPS WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE COMMANDER BANLIST

Man, I’m like the worst clickbait artist ever. How am I supposed to lure you in to read a whole list if there’s only two things on the list?

Anyway.

Commander Banlist Feroz's Ban

As I mentioned in my last column, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the Commander banlist. And I keep running into the same two logical traps in almost every Reddit thread and pleasant moment of spoiler-season small talk.

So while I’m testing our Dovin Baan Planeswalker Deck for the Planeswalker Deck Challenge, I figure I might as well do myself a favour and talk about how to avoid these fallacies. If nothing else, it’ll help all of you guys have better banlist discussions with your friends.

Shall we?

Commander Banlist Prophet of Kruphix

LOGICAL TRAP #1: “This card has so many answers! It shouldn’t be banned!”

Prophet of Kruphix is the most recent addition to the commander banlist and the card where I see this argument come up the most often, so let’s begin with it.

Yes, Prophet of Kruphix can be answered by many things, including kill spells, bounce spells, exile spells, counterspells, Speak & Spells, the musical Godspell, and Roadhog hooking her to point 2 on Ilios. The problem from an argumentative perspective is that this is also true of literally every other card in the game—including cards that are rightly banned.

Griselbrand has answers. Black Lotus has answers. Yawgmoth’s Bargain has answers. Even original Emrakul has answers—I once played in a game where someone didn’t know Emrakul was on the commander banlist, and we let them cast her for politeness’ sake. I immediately bribed her with Gwafa Hazid on my next upkeep, and the toughest creature in Legacy sat there admiring her shiny gold coin until a boardwipe came along.

When an argument is just as true of something you do not wish to prove as something you do, it ceases to be effective. This is the case when it comes to relying on answers for why a card should or shouldn’t be banned.

There are two more flaws with relying on the presence of answers as a premise for your argument.

One, remember that answers are never guaranteed to be available—someone has to have the right answer at the right time with mana to cast it. Your pod might have That Guy playing Counterspell Tribal with Talrand or Baral, but there’s always a chance they’re holding lands instead of their 19th or 20th piece of countermagic. Therefore, suggesting that the presence of answers proves a given card should be unbanned is flawed, because the answers are not always present.

And two, if your base assumption for a card is that it gets answered, why are you discussing it at all? Logically, we must assume the card goes unanswered, in order to assess its effects on the game and whether it is bannable in the first place.

So when you’re arguing for a card to be unbanned, please remember not to say, “It has so many answers, it’s fine!” That premise is flawed.

Commander Banlist Mana Crypt

LOGICAL TRAP #2: “This card is so mechanically strong! It shouldn’t be legal!”

If you’ve ever wondered why some broken cards are legal, while much weaker cards are banned, I’m about to tell you why.

Mechanical strength is the typical measuring stick for what should be banned in most other Magic formats. So it makes sense for the Rules Committee to apply that same measuring stick to Commander, right?

No, it does not.

First, we must remember that balanced competition is not the Rules Committee’s goal. They intend for Commander to be “a refuge from competitive formats”, and to create a place where “strong cards are not a problem”. I find many faults in how they conduct themselves, but I cannot find fault in that.

Second, evidence shows that the Rules Committee almost never bans a card based on mechanical strength alone—and the current explosive growth of Commander at least partially proves that they are correct to do so. For more proof of this, we look to Tiny Leaders—as enchanting as it is, the format has largely faded away, partially as a result of insufficient work and testing on its banlist. Therefore, if a format is successful, its banlist must play a role in that success.

So we must conclude that relying on mechanical strength to prove or disprove our points is another logical trap, another flawed premise, and we must find arguments that more closely match the reality of Commander if we wish to discuss the banlist effectively.

What are those arguments?

I’ve noticed that once you get past the dexterity cards, ante cards, and “cards that interact poorly with the format” like Coalition Victory, the Rules Committee generally bans cards that create multiple turn cycles where the game is over, but it hasn’t ended yet.

Commander Banlist Primeval Titan

To borrow a term from football, the RC bans cards that create garbage time. They allow strong cards that can end the game quickly, but ban cards that put one or more players too far ahead without actually ending the game.

And, again, I don’t think they’re wrong in this instance. Commander is a format with four players that is not explicitly competitive. It makes no sense to waste the time of one or more players by forcing them to spend too much time in a game they have a negligible chance of winning.

So Ad Nauseam and Tooth and Nail remain legal, while some ostensibly weaker cards like Prophet of Kruphix, Braids, and Primordial Titan are banned—because Ad Nauseam and Tooth and Nail at least win quickly, while Prime Time, Prophet, and Braids create garbage time.

Commander Banlist Ad Nauseam

THE AD NAUSEAM QUESTION—PUTTING “GARBAGE TIME” TO THE TEST

It’s time to apply the idea of “garbage time” to specific cards.

Let’s look at Ad Nauseam. It is a prominent win condition, or setup for a win condition, in almost every deck that includes Black. If you combine it with a card that can prevent life loss or game loss, such as Angel’s Grace, you can draw your deck for a paltry amount of mana. The card is ridiculous in its strength, and a common bugbear for commander banlist discussions.

It even meets the criteria of not ending a game on its own—or does it?

What happens when Ad Nauseam resolves? Either the Ad Nauseam player wins, or loses, and generally very quickly. Put another way, either the game ends, or the remaining players continue at relative parity. In no situation does the game continue for multiple turn cycles with one or more players alive, but out of contention. There’s no garbage time after an Ad Nauseam.

Compare with Prophet of Kruphix or Primordial Titan. Assuming as our premise that Prophet/Titan resolves and goes unanswered for multiple turn cycles (as we discussed in Logical Trap #1 above), the Prophet/Titan player has vastly, vastly improved their ability to generate and convert resources, putting other players out of contention. But the game has not ended. We’re in garbage time.

Compare also with Upheaval and Worldfire—two inclusions on the commander banlist that are less contentious. Both cards are boardwipes that allow their caster to float mana, wipe the table, then re-cast their commander or any number of cards from their hand. Again, one player is ahead and multiple players are out of contention in a game that hasn’t ended. Again, we’re in garbage time.

I argue that Prophet, Titan, Upheaval, and Worldfire are all bannable because they create garbage time, while Ad Nauseam and Tooth and Nail remain legal because they do not.

You may ask, “If some players are out of contention, why don’t they just concede?” To which I respond: if people are regularly conceding when they see a card that doesn’t even win the game, should that card not be banned?

Commander Banlist Teferis Reponse

IN CLOSING…

Let’s not argue that a card should be banned or unbanned because of the presence of answers.

Let’s not argue that a card should be banned or unbanned because of its mechanical strength.

Let’s instead argue that cards should be banned or unbanned based on how much garbage time they create.

Thank you.

Commander Banlist Aether Thief

IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ME AND WISH TO ENGAGE IN FURTHER DISCUSSION, I WILL BE ATTENDING THE FOLLOWING EVENTS AT THE STORE

There’s so much going on!

In the world of Magic, we’ve got the Standard 9-Week Challenge, the GPT Farewell Tour, and Amonkhet Pre-Releases all coming up. I’ll be there for Standard next Tuesday the 11th to put the Dovin Baan Planeswalker Deck through its paces!

Also, International Tabletop Day is Saturday, April 29th—come on down to the store for special promos and special events all day!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He’s going to leave what ELSE he would ban as a mystery for now. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—Is Wizards Taking Control of Commander?

by March 24, 2017

Well, this is fascinating.

We’re going to take a break from the Planeswalker Deck Challenge series (1, 2, 3) this week to talk about a recent announcement Wizards of the Coast has made, and what it could mean for Commander as a whole.

Specifically: Wizards is going to be making 1v1 Commander on MTG Online a Thing. And this has Implications.

(First, a very quick glossary of some terms that might not be familiar:

  • MTG Online/”MTGO”: The official client for playing Magic online.
  • Rules Committee/”RC”: The grassroots group of community members that currently governs the Commander format, making rule and banlist decisions.
  • Duel Commander: A 1v1 rules variant of Commander with its own Rules Committee and its own banlist, very different from regular Commander. Controversially, they changed starting life totals from 30 to 20 last year. Popular in France, and sometimes called “French EDH”.
  • Leviathan Commander: A format that splintered off from Duel Commander last year after the life total change. Leviathan Commander is roughly identical to Duel Commander, except it keeps the starting life total at 30. Popular in Italy.
  • 1v1 Commander: Not currently an official format—just a term used to describe one-on-one Commander games on MTGO. But that may change.)

This week, the official Wizards Tumblr page for Magic Online made the following announcement, which I will quote here in full:

30 LIFE FOR 1V1 COMMANDER

The Modern Masters 2017 Edition deployment today contained a change which moved the starting life total from 40 to 30 for 1v1 Commander games.  (Games with 3 or 4 players remain at a starting life total of 40.)

We have plans to introduce more support for 1v1 Commander.  As part of this, R&D determined that format is better off with a starting life total of 30. At one point we had planned to introduce this change as well as league support and a modified banned list today, but later decided to instead introduce it during Amonkhet season.

Unfortunately, in this process the life total change did not get taken out of this build, and so today it is live. Now that it is live, since it is a change we were planning on making anyway in the future, our intent is to simply leave it in place.

Stay tuned for an article about what support we plan to offer for 1v1 Commander leagues moving forward!

– Lee

 

To my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of Commander that Wizards has taken control of some rules for the format—even if it’s just for a variant. Previously, they have left every decision in the hands of the Rules Committee.

Going from 40 life to 30 life for 1v1—identical to Leviathan, and Duel Commander pre-2016—is interesting enough. But modifying the banlist is a big signal that more changes may be en route.

The Commander banlist has been the subject of vociferous discussion for years, and I have spent many thousands of words (that I could have gotten paid for by writing articles for the store instead! Ah, hindsight is Marit Lage… ) arguing for and against various cards. It is at the heart of the many PR problems faced by the Rules Committee as a whole, and it is what makes many players question whether or not the Rules Committee remains relevant today.

The idea that the Rules Committee controls the list entirely, without input from Wizards, is core to the identity of Commander. This is The Casual Format, The Grassroots Format, safe from the hard-edged Pro Tour circuit, and you can tell because Wizards isn’t even in charge of it.

But despite that, all is not well in the clachan. Many believe that the Rules Committee’s choices of what and what not to ban are dubious, based largely on anecdata from their personal playgroups. And regardless of what you believe, it is fact that if they collect real data, they share none of it with the public when making announcements.

This lack of transparency has not helped the RC’s public image. Even when Sheldon Menery—the public face of the Rules Committee—writes a column about the banlist philosophy in an attempt to explain their thinking, he is… circuitous.

That article is approximately 2,000 words spent building up the straw-man fallacy that banning cards based on mechanical strength would lead to cascading additional bans, when Menery could simply have said that the format is about mechanical strength, and bans are instead made based on whether or not a card creates “garbage time” scenarios where multiple players spend multiple turn cycles with zero relevance in gameplay. Which is all true, if never stated so concisely.

And yet Commander has been extremely successful in recent years, as the Casual and Competitive events at the store show. Is this because the RC is doing something right? Is it simply because Wizards is putting Commander pre-cons on every shelf? Is it both, neither?

So it’s in the middle of this bubbling cauldron that Wizards makes the announcement above.

But what does it mean?

 

Let’s look at one more key line from this announcement—the fact that Wizards will be supporting 1v1 Commander leagues going forward. This is new, and huge.

Currently, Magic suffers from the Not-Hearthstone problem. Specifically, it is a game designed for paper play in physical spaces with instant-speed interaction and counterplay, making it unsuitable for presentation as an eSport. Hearthstone, meanwhile, is designed from the ground up as a digital game with almost no instant-speed interaction, allowing for a slick, smooth presentation and no constant little delays waiting for priority from an opponent passed out/BMing on the other side of a keyboard three million miles away.

Hearthstone is a very popular eSport, and it got there using a business model Magic pioneered. It’s ridiculous to think that Magic can’t be successful in that same arena. There’s money to be made in eSports, and it makes sense that Wizards would go after it.

But how do you get there, given MTGO’s notoriously user-unfriendly graphics and constant priority delays?

Well, you start by giving viewers a strategy they can latch onto quickly. One with a strong visual component. Possibly one that centres on a legendary creature they can see at all times and that the players have access to at all times.

I think Wizards will be pushing 1v1 Commander as a potential eSport. I think they’re taking precisely the steps required to do so—running 1v1 Commander leagues, and asserting control of the banlist and ruleset—and I think they will watch and see how the community responds (cf.: how popular the leagues are on Twitch) before pushing further.

I also think Wizards is testing the waters for asserting control of Commander as a whole. Today, many players enter the format thinking Wizards controls it, as they do every other format, and are shocked to learn that the Rules Committee exists and has the power it does. The RC was instrumental in the creation of Commander as a whole, but the format is now largely self-governing, and there’s an argument to be made that the RC is almost vestigial in its purpose and impact. If players respond warmly to the choices Wizards makes governing 1v1 Commander on MTGO, this announcement may be a bellwether for Wizards’ eventual assertion of control over Commander some years from now.

Only time will tell.

THAT WAS LIKE THE CHEAPEST TROPE YOU COULD POSSIBLY END A COLUMN ON, MACKENZIE, HOW ABOUT YOU TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON AT THE STORE INSTEAD

Can do!

The Standard Spring 9-Week Challenge rolls on, with Standard every Tuesday night, On-Demand Standard whenever four or more folks want to shuffle up, and one more special Sunday tournament in April.

The GPT Farewell Tour is off and running, with Kickoff Weekend starting tomorrow! GPT Vegas Legacy is tomorrow at noon, GPT Vegas Limited MM2017 is Sunday at noon, and GPT Vegas Modern is Monday at 7! Make sure you show up 15 to 30 minutes ahead of time to register.

Speaking of registering, Amonkhet Pre-Release events are now open—you can register at the store or on Eventbrite for $35 before 10 PM Wednesday, April 19th!

Finally, Free Games Day is happening tomorrow at the store! Bring a game, bring a friend, bring both, bring neither and just show up and learn some new boardgames—it’s all good! Admission is free, but the fun is forever.

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He is not sorry for the Heartstone/Hearthstone pun half a column ago. Tune in every two weeks for the Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!