The Mana Dork

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!

THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 3

by March 9, 2017

Get out your boxes of bulk, it’s time to start brewing!

In the last two instalments of the Mana Dork, I’ve been talking about the Planeswalker Deck Challenge, where I competed with the Ajani Planeswalker Deck at Aether Revolt Game Day in order to demonstrate that the Planeswalker Decks could do more to set new players up for success.

I was incredibly lucky—I opened Ajani Unyielding in one of the booster packs for the Ajani Planeswalker Deck, along with a Greenwheel Liberator and some excellent uncommons. With this, I went 1-3, with 3 game wins across 9 games—well above par for what people currently expect for a Planeswalker Deck.

But I maintain that I shouldn’t have to be that lucky to get that win total. So in today’s edition of the Mana Dork, we’re going to brew our own Planeswalker Deck, following all of the restrictions Wizards sets for their official ones.

Shall we?

BREAKING IT DOWN

The Planeswalker Decks follow a well-established structure:

  • They promote the current set
  • They feature a custom version of a Planeswalker in that set, tuned for casual play
  • They include two copies of a custom rare card that tutors for that Planeswalker
  • They include three copies of a custom uncommon permanent that gets a benefit when you control that Planeswalker
  • They include four copies of a custom common card flavoured for that Planeswalker
  • They include four copies of a land that taps for both of the colours in the deck

Additionally, when we look at the decklists themselves, as well as the MSRP of the product and how it is produced and released, we can draw two more conclusions:

  • The deck should be worth about $11—the cost of a Planeswalker Deck when you take away the two booster packs it comes with.
  • Outside of the new cards specific to that Planeswalker Deck, they should have about two rares, 10-11 uncommons, and 12-15 commons, depending on how much land is in the deck.

Finally, there’s one more conclusion we can draw—based on the number of cards that have only one or two copies, we can deduce that Wizards includes incomplete playsets in the Planeswalker Decks in order to encourage new players to go out and buy booster packs to complete them.

However, I’m going to disagree with that last premise. I think that one of the purposes that Planeswalker Decks should serve is as an example of proper deckbuilding. Teaching new players what a consistent deck looks like is, I think, a better use of a pre-constructed product—as well, a more consistent deck does better against its opponents and therefore gets players more excited about the game. So for those reasons, I will ignore that restriction and include as many 4-ofs as I can in our brew.

(I should note that we are also forced to do without the custom cards each Planeswalker deck gets. In the next phase of this project, I will be competing in Standard events at A Muse N Games, which means I have to use cards that are legal in Standard—not ones I dream up for a column!)

Putting it all together, here are the rules we will follow for our deck:

  • One planeswalker
  • Four rares from the current block
  • 13-14 uncommons from the current block
  • 16-19 commons from the current block
  • Four copies of a land that taps for both of the deck’s colours
  • Grand total of $11 or less after the planeswalker.

So, which planeswalker are we going to brew around?


AKA, “THE BAANHAMMER”

Dovin Baan is my favourite character from Kaladesh—he is relentless and uncompromising, he flawlessly executes everything he sets out to do, he has the driest sense of humour in the Multiverse, and his journey as a not-quite-villain trapped in between doing the best for the people of Kaladesh and obeying Tezzeret’s orders was fascinating to follow.

However, despite how awesome he was in the stories, his planeswalker card has yet to see tournament play. Even with Blue-White Flash spending several months in 2016 as a top-tier deck, Dovin failed to make a mark.

So let’s change that, shall we? Dovin lends himself well to a control strategy, with his +1 neutering potential Crew activations and his -2 granting us card and life advantage. So our Dovin deck will be a classic blue-white control list.

Let’s start with some rares.

Baral’s Expertise is reasonably flavourful—Baral is one of Dovin’s underlings in the stories—and very powerful. Since Dovin’s +1 ability cannot hit Vehicles, we’re going to need a good sweeper for our well-wheeled opponents. Baral’s Expertise gives us something that can answer most major threats in the format (outside of other planeswalkers), and a free cast of something else in our hand. Free is good, right? We’re going to have three copies of Baral’s Expertise.

Our other rare slot will be spent on a good finisher for the deck. Several of the commons and uncommons we’ll be using give us Energy, so Aetherstorm Roc—an absolute house in Limited—will fit in nicely. Generating tons of Energy and tapping down creatures for days, Aetherstorm Roc is an ever-growing flier that will do a great job of taking out both planeswalkers and opponents with ease. And, let’s not forget—we can cast it for free off of Baral’s Expertise!

Going by TCGPlayer’s Mid price for these cards, we have spent $4.55 of our allotted $10—$4.20 for the Expertises, and 0.25 for the Roc. We’re in good shape—a good deal of value should be in the rare slot.

Onward!

Glimmer of Genius is the strongest draw spell in Kaladesh block and one of the strongest currently in Standard. Getting to scry before we draw is extremely good—we can filter away lands we don’t need, or answers that won’t answer what’s in front of us. And if one of the top two cards is something we want, we can guarantee drawing it. This card is seeing play even in non-Energy decks, so the fact that it produces Energy for us is a lovely bonus. We’ll take three copies.

Shielded Aether Thief and Aether Meltdown are both two-drop instant-speed answers to creatures and Vehicles that generate Energy, which, y’know. Sign me up, right? The Thief even gives us a good Energy outlet with its card draw. Three copies of the Meltdown and four copies of the Thief, please!

Finally, Long-Finned Skywhale has done a ton of work for me in draft and I have to feel good about including it here. Despite its blocking restriction, it can still get in the way of many of the best creatures in the format—but with all of our other answers it shouldn’t have to, and can ideally just beat down with 4 power in the air every turn.

3x Long-Finned Skywhale and Aether Meltdown and 4x Shielded Aether Thief and Glimmer of Genius puts us at 14 uncommons and another $2.96 spent—right on target.

We’ve got $3.49 left for 16-19 commons and four special lands. Can we do this?

The answer is yes. Dovin always has answers.

Specifically, these answers.

There is only one white or blue common in Kaladesh block where Dovin Baan is referenced in the flavour text—and lucky for us, it’s a great answer to the inexpensive Vehicles everywhere! Four copies of Fragmentize go in the brew, helping to reinforce the Planeswalker Deck flavour, along with four copies of Ice Over.

As I mentioned in the first part of this column series, the “Copy Cat” combo featuring Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian is also seeing tons of play (despite not performing well at Pro Tour Aether Revolt). So we’ll need some answers that hit both parts of that combo, as well as many other targets. Four copies each of Negate and Revolutionary Rebuff should do us well here.

Finally, Meandering River is the designated uncommon tapland for our colours.

4x Fragmentize, 4x Negate, 4x Ice Over, 4x Revolutionary Rebuff, and 4x Meandering River all add up to another $2.23—we’re done, with an impressive $1.26 to spare!

GET BAANED AT OUR ON-DEMAND STANDARD EVENTS AND THE GPT FAREWELL TOUR

Our list is complete—and now, it’s time to take it to the shop!

The Standard Spring 9 Week Challenge continues until April 16th. A Muse N Games will be running Standard tournaments every Tuesday at 7 PM, as well as additional tournaments Sunday March 12th at 2 PM and Saturday, April 15th at 2 PM. Compete in enough Standard events and you can earn alt-art battlelands!

On top of that, we’ve got On-Demand Standard happening—make sure you’re at the store with three other folks who want to play Standard, and we’ll fire up a sanctioned event with prizing for a $6 entry fee!

Registration is now open for the Amonkhet pre-release—sign up now for $35 Early Bird registration!

And finally—just announced—A Muse N Games is hosting the 2017 GPT Farewell Tour! Before Grand Prix Trials close down for good, you’ll be able to attend no less than ten Trials for the Grands Prix in Vegas and Montréal later this year. First place in a GPT at AMNG wins an exclusive playmat!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games, and is going to have way too much fun searching through AMNG’s bulk boxes to build this deck. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 2

by March 23, 2017

THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 2

Well, I did better than I expected, but still not good enough.

In the last installment of the Mana Dork, I said I would be taking the “Planeswalker Deck Challenge” — competing in Aether Revolt Game Day with only an Aether Revolt Planeswalker Deck and the contents of the two booster packs that came with it.

I’m doing this because, as much as I love Magic and I love the idea of Planeswalker Decks, I think Wizards of the Coast can do a much better job of setting new players up to succeed with these introductory products.

In preparation for Game Day, I picked up both the Tezzeret and Ajani Planeswalker Decks and did some preliminary testing with both. I felt it was important to give myself the best chance to succeed, in order to give the Planeswalker Decks the fairest possible showing.

In testing, the Tezzeret deck seemed inconsistent. Some games, I’d spam out a bunch of cheap artifacts, get out the Efficient Construction I found in one of the packs, and win off of a Tezzeret activation or thopter beatdowns. Other times, I’d spam out a bunch of cheap artifacts, get out an Improvise finisher like Wind-Kin Raiders, and watch it eat a removal spell before I died.

When I opened the booster packs from the Ajani deck, this happened:

Alright, RNG gods, I’m listening. Ajani it is.

The Ajani deck played better, too. It wasn’t as flashy as Tezzeret’s, but the simple aggro strategy of getting out good small creatures and pumping them up was much more consistent than casting Implements and praying with my shiny metal claws.

If you’re curious, here is my final decklist. With six or seven pick-ups from the booster packs—including the second Ajani, a Greenwheel Liberator, and a Daredevil Dragster—I aimed for a more consistent set of creatures, and greater ease in triggering Revolt when I needed it.

So, how’d I do?

ROUND 1: GRIXIS TOWER CONTROL

(Quick side note: “Grixis” refers to the colour combination of Blue, Black, and Red, and is named after one of the Shards of Alara. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the slang terms for colour combinations, here and here are excellent resources!)

In this match-up, I found out that Torrential Gearhulks are a thing. Also, why they are a thing. Also, holy Bolas they hurt a lot!

My opponent was on a control gameplan, so they were happy and content to take damage from my small, efficient creatures while they built up Energy counters and sculpted the perfect hand. I often saw them Disallow an Armorcraft Judge or Prey Upon, then flash in a Torrential Gearhulk to counter an Ajani’s Aid with a Disallow from the graveyard… and, at least once, Ajani himself. (Sadface!)

In the end, even though their Gearhulks couldn’t block my Audacious Infiltrators, I lost both games, and couldn’t get them below 10 life in either one.

Round Record: 0-1. Games Record: 0-2. (I’m an Ornithopter!)

ROUND 2: GREEN-BLACK SNAKEWALKERS

(Quicker side note: I am aware that GB Constrictor is an established top-tier deck, but this did not look like that deck. Also, how can I pass up a chance to call something “SNAKEWALKERS”? C’mon.)

This match-up was a lesson in value — getting more than one card’s worth of value out of a single card.

This was a common boardstate in the two games we played. I’d have a couple of small, efficient creatures, and they’d have a Winding Constrictor and a whole mess of Planeswalkers and tokens. 

Planeswalkers give you excellent value when they can stick around. Many produce tokens and other small blockers, and when I’m facing them down, I have to choose between attacking my opponent—which brings me closer to winning—and attacking their Planeswalkers, which brings me closer to a neutral boardstate, but not much closer to winning.

While Winding Constrictor doesn’t interact directly with Planeswalkers, it did work nicely with all the tokens my opponent’s Nissas were putting out, as well as the Energy counters that were feeding their Longtusk Cubs and Glint-Sleeve Siphoners.

In the end, even though I was able to get an Ajani out, I again lost both games.

Round Record: 0-2. Games Record: 0-4. (I’m a Jeering Homunculus!)

ROUND THREE: BLUE-BLACK SECRET HEDRONS

Hedron Alignment decks got a huge boost in Aether Revolt with the printing of Secret Salvage. Does this mean my opponent has a shot at winning with one of Standard’s unlikeliest methods?

But wait! I got both Ajanis in my opening hand! Double Ajani, what could it mean?

Oh, no! A wild Sphinx of Magosi has appeared! I didn’t even know that was legal in Standard! (It is, thanks to the Welcome Decks!) Does a huge flying creature mean my sweet, sweet Ajanis are doomed?

Yes, yes it does. Along with my boardstate.

I ended up winning game two when they failed to find a finisher, but my opponent was successfully able to beat me down with the Sphinx in game one, and took game three with a Hedron Alignment win.

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

ROUND FOUR: MONO-BLUE AETHERFLUX ENGINE

Paradox Engine has been the subject of much debate in EDH communities online. A 5 CMC artifact that goes in almost any deck — capable of untapping mana dorks and rocks for more spells, or creatures to block after an alpha strike — is quite powerful, and seems destined for the banlist.

But in Standard, it’s somewhat less powerful. There are fewer good mana rocks and dorks for it to interact with, and if you’re piloting a top-tier deck, you’re likely running Planeswalkers, which means even fewer things that tap.

My opponent’s strategy here was similar to that of the Tezzeret deck I mentioned above, but with better cards — power out a bunch of cheap artifacts, cast a Paradox Engine, then power out more cheap artifacts and card draw off the Engine’s untaps until they can land an Aetherflux Reservoir and win with a gargantuan 50-life laser kill.

Unfortunately, their plan never quite fired, and their reliance on non-creature artifacts meant there was nothing to block my small, efficient beaters. I took both games 2-0 for an unexpected round win.

Round Record: 2-0. Games Record: 3-6. (I’m a Maze Sentinel!)

CONCLUSIONS AND NEXT STEPS

I will be honest: I wasn’t expecting to even win a round, especially after the first three. I cannot imagine how I would have felt as a much younger or newer player, going into the fourth round with that record.

And while we’re being honest—that I was able to take a round against a homebrew deck with a complex win condition speaks well for the Planeswalker Decks as they’re constructed currently. It shows that Wizards is on the right track.

However, I still think an ideal Planeswalker Deck would have allowed me to win another odd game or two in the previous rounds, as well as a round win. In the next edition of the Mana Dork, I plan on proving that point by building my own “Planeswalker Deck” and competing in an A Muse N Games Standard event.

Alt Art Battle Lands from BFZ

THAT WAS A BEAUTIFUL SEGUE INTO THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH

Speaking of which, if you’re interested in playing or trying out Magic’s Standard format, have we got the promotion for you!

A Muse N Games is now running the Standard Spring 9-Week Challenge. Wizards has challenged the store to hold 15 Standard tournaments before April 17th, and there’s some very, very nice promos for people who come out and participate!

On top of the regular Standard events Tuesdays at 7 PM, AMNG will be holding bonus tournaments on March 5th, March 12th, and April 15th. As well, we’re hosting On-Demand Standard—whenever there’s four people in the store and they want to play Standard, AMNG will sanction the event for a $6 entry fee and offer prizing!

For more details, check out the official post here.

See you in the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games, and considers himself more of a Disruptive Student than a Maze Sentinel. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK -In Defense of Magic’s Story

by January 24, 2017
 
Long, long ago, my father and I used to play Magic. He had a Blue-White fliers deck, and a classic Black discard deck with Dark Rituals, Hymns to Tourach, and Hypnotic Specters. I’d build whatever I could out of his leftover Green and Red cards, and we’d play each other.
Hypnotic Specter
(“Do you know why this Hypnotic Specter is strong?” “… You can cast it after Dark Ritual?” “Not just that — it takes cards from your opponent’s hand. It takes options away from them. They can’t counter your spells if you took the counterspell away.” “OH!”  — 9-year-old me, learning about the metagame clock and card advantage instead of, y’know, how to catch fish and fix things.)
I got so into the game that my dad picked up one of the earliest pieces of Magic lore ever published — Tapestries, a collection of short stories by leading fantasy authors of the time. It didn’t delve much into Urza, Mishra, and the Brothers’ War, but the authors did have an absolute field day with the idea that you spent the game summoning creatures and then just… leaving them there. The book was filled with classic fish-out-of-water stories and bildungsromans with a fantasy flair.
Tapestries gave me my first taste of lore — that intoxicating concoction that turns a collection of numbers and game mechanics into an elf. Into something I can care about.
I tore through the stories and chased them down with the flavour text on every card in our collection. I caught glimpses and facets of Urza and Mishra, like shards of light from a jewel’s reflection. I watched the Kjeldorans war against Lim-Dûl in the italicized text on every soldier I cast.
Kjeldoran Skyknight
When my father stopped buying cards, I took a break from the game as well, though not for long — I was back six years or so later, in time to see Kamahl’s story of rage, and then of redemption. Then came Mirrodin’s struggle against Memnarch, and Toshiro’s battle against Kondo and O-Kagachi, with Kamigawa’s war against itself in counterpoint.
Then another ten years gone, until Sarkhan traveled back in time to save Ugin, and I traveled to a brand-new games store on Portage Avenue to attend a draft and support a friend’s new business.
In all that time, the lore captivated me — though not so much how it was packaged in novels. I found actually playing the game preferable to slogging through 50,000 words of action I wasn’t taking part in, and kept up on the lore through research in my downtime.
So imagine my reaction when I returned, and discovered that Wizards was now publishing Magic’s story directly to the web in digestible little short stories and vignettes every single week. “Joy” understates it.
And then — and then — in 2015, we saw the Origins reboot, and each of our (now-)iconic Planeswalkers got origin stories and motivations. Again, that alchemical moment, when these powerful, modal enchantments became something with faces I could care about.
In 2016, the Gatewatch. A team of these icons, traveling planes and battling foes in a way Magic hadn’t seen since the days of the Weatherlight.
It was with the Gatewatch that I saw the criticism mount.
Imprisoned in the Moon
To hear some of the commentary online, you’d think the Gatewatch dooms us to years of plain, careworn comic-book super-feats and gosh-darn-it Boy Scout do-gooderism. Stories with no stakes and no growth — only cool explosions, cooler monsters, and pushed, tournament-level mythics with first names instead of descriptive ones. Woe, oh woe were the purists when Emrakul was revealed as the villain in Shadows block. Weep, oh weep did the devoted fans with every “Ashaya” and chess-playing Eldrazi Titan. The Internet rang with dismay.
Clearly, Wizards is just pandering. Or setting things up for the movie. Or sacrificing artistic merit for the sake of selling a product. Or giving in to the Tumblr crowd. Or something. Whatever explanation is popular this week. It changes depending on who you ask.
Yahenni's Expertise
If you cannot tell — personally, I think that thanks to the weekly-short-story model and the Gatewatch, Magic’s story is the best it’s ever been.
I know we’re all nostalgic about Urza and Mishra and Yawgmoth and the Weatherlight and Venser and Elspeth, and nostalgia is wonderful and all, but look: here and here are the two most recent stories by Chris L’Etoile, a writer from BioWare’s legendary stories that Wizards brought in specifically to work on Magic. And then there’s Alison Luhrs, showing off here and here and here and here and here, a Wizards employee with a background in playwriting who’s turning out some of the company’s finest work — especially with Yahenni, a Kaladesh character you have to meet.
Go on. Read them. It’s worth the time, trust me.
When you’re done, I want you to read this story and pretend that you know nothing else about Magic.
Yes, I just made you read about Jace. But look at that story again — if you take away all of Jace’s appearances in Alara and Zendikar and Return to Ravnica and all the core sets, if you just look at that story and the ones that came after it, Jace is a fascinating character.
Origins Jace is what happens when you take Memento, the Hunger Games, and every Cold War double-agent spy thriller and blend it all up. Out comes an exasperated nerd who could be the brainy sidekick on the radio in any action movie — except this is Magic, so this sidekick gets pushed to the forefront occasionally and told he has to save the day. Or at least not die while he comes up with a plan.
It’s a novel take. Maybe I’m benefiting from not having been around for seven or eight years of Jace in core sets, but I’m entertained, and I can’t wait to see what happens when he returns to Vryn.
And when it comes to the Gatewatch — ensemble-cast media spellbinds us, like it always does. Marvel has propelled itself to juggernaut status based on how skillfully it has used its ensemble casts, to give you an example, while DC tries and tries again. Frankly, you’re not going to break the surface these days if you don’t have a broad cast that people can connect with, and the Gatewatch is precisely that.
I now have characters with weekly adventures I can invest in, delivered in an accessible way, and I cannot tell you how happy I am. Sure, George R. R. Martin delivering 2,000 words of Innistrad intrigue would be great. But today, I will take Alison Luhrs telling stories of Orzhov machinations on Ravnica just as gladly.
Dark Intimations
Finally — finally — if nothing else I’ve said here compels you, consider this: Nicol Bolas, Magic’s greatest antagonist, is coming back in Amonkhet. Revelations are at hand. Years of lore will be connected in ways we don’t expect.
Don’t you want to see what happens next?
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IS FREE GAMES DAY — AT THE STORE, AT LEAST
Sunday, January 29th is Free Games Day at A Muse N Games! Bring some friends and bring a game, or try one from the store’s extensive demo library! Staff will be on hand to help you if you have any rules questions, and there’s no charge to participate, so come on down!
On the Netrunner side of things, we’ve got the Netrunner Store Championships on Saturday January 28th. Bring your decks and a $15 entry fee and try to reveal — or hide — those corporate Agendas to win glory and fame (and some sweet prizes!).
Outside of that, there’s organized play every day — Modern on Monday, Standard on Tuesday, D&D, LCGs, and now Frontier on Wednesday, drafting (now with Aether Revolt!) and X-Wing on Thursdays, boardgame shenanigans, Sealed, and Commander (casual AND competitive!) on Fridays, more drafting on Saturdays, and D&D Expeditions on Sundays!
See you at the store!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games and completely unapologetic about how much he likes Jace and the Gatewatch. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK — The Revolt Will Not Be Televised

by January 12, 2017

 
Hello everyone! I hope your winter breaks were wonderful and relaxing, and that the Aether Revolt spoilers were the nicest-ever nutmeg in your holiday ‘nog.
We’ve got the Pre-Releases happening this Saturday, and Sunday so here’s everything you need to know!
Whir of Invention
NEW MECHANIC: IMPROVISE
 
Aether Revolt tells us the story of the Renegades’ struggles against the Consulate in their attempts to free up the supply of aether for the people of Kaladesh. Both sides have to get clever, canny, and creative in order to outsmart their opponents — and what better way to do that than to have a mechanic all about being clever, canny, and creative with artifacts?
Improvise lets you tap your artifacts to help cast a spell with Improvise — each artifact can tap for a single generic mana in the Improvise spell’s generic mana cost.
Improvise shares a lot of similarities with a previous mechanic, convoke — but note that Improvise does not help reduce coloured mana costs! Only the generic mana cost of a spell can be reduced by Improvise. So you can’t tap that adorable little Servo or that Implement of Invention for blue, unfortunately, as much as you might want to.
That being said, anything that reduces the cost of a spell is still a strong mechanic worth paying attention to. On average, I’d rate Improvise cards as if they costed 0.5-1.5 mana less than the printed cost on the card — and even less if you’ve got eight or more artifacts in your deck!
(Also, don’t forget you can tap artifacts that don’t normally tap for Improvise — if I get a Panharmonicon or an equipment like Torch Gauntlet in my Sealed pool, you can bet I’ll be tapping it to help cast an Improvise spell!)
Fatal Push
NEW MECHANIC: REVOLT
 
The Renegades have all lost something at the hands of Tezzeret, Baral and the Consulate. And like every angry person who’s been backed into a corner, they fight back more viciously as a result. Cue the Revolt mechanic.
Cards with Revolt check to see if a permanent you control has left the battlefield this turn. Lose a creature in combat? Revolt triggers. Sacrifice a Servo so Yahenni survives a boardwipe? Revolt triggers. Flicker something with Felidar Guardian? Revolt triggers. Bounce your own things to hand with Baral’s Expertise and re-cast one of them so you can get the Revolt trigger on it? You guessed it — Revolt triggers.
(In older formats — crack a fetchland? Revolt triggers.)
Make sure to save Revolt cards for your second main phase each turn, if you can — combat is one of the easiest ways to make sure you lose a permanent. And I’d keep an eye out for things that sacrifice themselves in your Sealed pool — there are many more than average in Aether Revolt, and they will each do a good job of enabling the Revolt mechanic. If I’ve got a couple of Revolt cards that I really want to make sure paid off, I’d like to have at least 6 things that sacrifice themselves, just to make sure I have a certain amount of reliability.
Yahenni's Expertise
A NOTE ON “EXPERTISE” SPELLS
 
Aether Revolt features a cycle of very strong “Expertise” spells associated with legendary creatures in the set that each do a thing, and then let you cast something for free.
I’m seeing some confusion online about precisely how they work, so I figured I’d clear it up here.
Here’s what happens when you cast an Expertise spell:

 1. Cast the Expertise. The Expertise is on the stack.

 2. Choose the free spell you will cast. Determine all targets and parameters of the free spell (note that X costs will be 0).

 3. The Expertise resolves and goes to the graveyard. The free spell is now cast and at the top of the stack.

 4. The free spell resolves and goes to the graveyard.
Important ways in which this is relevant for your Sealed pool —

 A. The servos from Sram’s Expertise will be on the battlefield in time to pay any Improvise costs on the free spell, or to sacrifice for the free spell.

 B. The creatures and artifacts you bounce with Baral’s Expertise will not be on the field when the free spell resolves and therefore cannot be the targets of the free spell or help pay for it with Improvise. However, if one of them was yours and it fits the criteria, you may now cast it as the free spell you get from Baral’s Expertise.

 C. If you attempt to cast Yahenni for free off of Yahenni’s Expertise, Yahenni will not see the creatures die from the Expertise and will not be buffed accordingly.

 D. You can cast a card you drew from Rishkar’s Expertise for free with that same Rishkar’s Expertise.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions, be sure to ask the Judge at your Pre-Release flight — they’ll be happy to help you.
Sweatworks Brawler
 
SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! ANNOUNCING A SUNDAY PRE-RELEASE!
 
For the first time, A Muse N Games is hosting a Sunday pre-release event! (Kermit arms flailing)
 
Here are the Facebook events for each pre-release flight:

Make sure you book your spot as soon as possible, as they fill up quickly! (note from Scotia – Prereg ends tonight at 10pm Wednesday Jan 11 in store and online)

– – –

That’s it for me — I’ll see you at the tables!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor for A Muse N Games. He is totally Revolt-ing. Tune in every two weeks for the Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK SPECIAL EDITION: THE GIFT DORK

by December 6, 2016
The Mana Dork
Are you looking for a gift for that special geeky someone, or family, in your life? Look no further.
01_ornaments

Hello, everyone! I hope your various holidays are going well for you, whichever you choose to celebrate. 😀
Usually, I write about Magic: the Gathering here on the site, but today, I figured I’d take a moment to help out anyone trying desperately to find a geeky gift within a particular price point. If you’re that person, welcome! I hope the following info is helpful.
We’re going to look at ten different gifts today — one for each price point from under $10 to above $100. Most of these are going to be board games, since they don’t need any extra accessories and they’re easy to wrap.
Ready? Let’s go!
* * *
1. ORNAMENTS FOR WINNIPEG HARVEST ($3)
 
Pictured above, these lovely dice ornaments are available from the store for $3 each. $1.50 from every ornament goes to help out Winnipeg Harvest, making them perfect for the socially-conscious gamer.
(Or, really, anybody who’s having some particularly bad rolls in their Dungeons & Dragons game and needs some new dice from off the tree!)
* * *
02_localcrafts
 
2. CRAFTS FROM LOCAL ARTISTS ($10-$35)
 
A Muse N Games always has art from local artists on display, but they’ve got several items in especially for the Christmas season. Make sure you stop by and check out the dice bags, cards, coasters, and much, much more!
* * *
codenames
3. CODENAMES ($25), or CODENAMES PICTURES ($25)
 
Vlaada Chvátil is one of my favourite board game designers, and Codenames is perhaps his crowning achievement. I can’t recommend it enough.
In Codenames, you split into two teams, Red and Blue. There’s a grid of twenty-five different code words in front of you. Each team has to guess which code words belong to their team before the other team guesses all theirs. Each team has a Codemaster who can give clues — but the clues can only be a single word followed by a number. So if you’re on my team, and I need you to guess “Left”, “Neighbour”, and “Bible”, let’s say, I might give you the clue “Flanders 3” — and hope desperately that you’re a Simpsons fan!
I love Codenames because it can support groups of any size, the randomized code words make it infinitely replayable, and the clues often rely on shared experiences and references you might not remember, making every game different!
If you don’t have Codenames, you owe it to yourself to pick it up “for your significant other” (cough). If you or your giftee do have Codenames, you can pick up the recently-released Codenames Pictures, which replaces the code words with abstract images for an additional layer of difficulty!
* * *
04_fiasco
 
4. FIASCO ($35)
 
Fiasco is a role-playing game from Jason Morningstar designed to be played in about three or four hours. Unlike most role-playing games, you don’t need a Game Master to play!

In Fiasco, you give each player a set number of six-sided dice — some dark, some light. The players pick what “playset” they’re playing — whether it’s a shady casino heist, a Bond-movie caper, or a Coen Brothers-style crime gone wrong in small-town America — and who everyone’s character is. Over the course of the game, they’ll act out the scenes in-character, and award each other dark or light dice based on how well their characters performed.

(To see Fiasco in action, here and here are videos of Wil Wheaton and friends playing through a session of Fiasco on Tabletop!)

Hanging out and making your own movie is a great way to spend an afternoon, and if your giftee is on the creative side, Fiasco will probably go over quite well! Highly recommended.
* * *
05_flashpoint
 
5. FLASH POINT: FIRE RESCUE ($48)
 
Have you ever wondered why you always have to be playing against each other in board games? Are you tired of Monopoly disputes lasting much, much longer than the actual game? Flash Point: Fire Rescue to the rescue! (Pun intended.)
Flash Point is a co-operative game, where everyone plays as firefighters working to put out the blaze in a family home. Every turn, you have a set number of action points you can spend to move through the house, put out fires, or pull victims to safety. If you help 7 of 10 victims make it to the ambulance, you win!
The game also has an “expert” variant with a more challenging map, different roles for the firefighters, and rules for combustible materials and randomized set-ups. It’s great for families — easy to grasp for the kids, but still challenging for the adults as well!
Flash Point: Fire Rescue is one of my favourite co-operative games on the market, and if you’re looking for something the whole family can play, look no further
* * *
06_splendor
 
6. SPLENDOR ($50)
 
Codenames might be the most talked-about game among my friends in 2016, but Splendor is a close, close second.
In Splendor, you play as Renaissance merchants, buying and selling gems to increase your wealth and impress the local nobility. Turns play quickly, with each player choosing to do one of three things: collect gems, build a card, or reserve a card to build in the future. As you play through the game, your gems and cards you’ve built help expand your economic power, allowing for bigger and bigger turns and more and more chances to get prestige points from visiting nobles. 15 prestige points wins the game.
Splendor is one of the best games I know of for teaching the concept of building an engine: developing a strategy that will help you win the game, and then carrying through with it. If this sounds like it’s up your giftee’s alley, Splendor is sure to please!
* * *
07_takenoko
 
7. TAKENOKO ($60)
 
This is by far the most adorable board game I’ve ever played.
Takenoko revolves around the adventures of a ridiculously cute panda bear as it tries to eat all the bamboo in the Imperial Gardens, and an exasperated gardener who tries desperately to stop it from doing that. Your job is to manage the growth of the bamboo and the panda’s appetite, so that the bamboo patterns match special achievement cards in your hand. At the end of the game, the player with the most points from their achievement cards wins!

(The panda probably also wins, too — so much bamboo they get to eat!)

Takenoko is an accessible game that doesn’t overwhelm you with different mechanics and options. At the same time, the different choices you make throughout the game affect each other, and you have to do a good job of reading your opponents to make sure you complete your cards before they complete theirs.

If your giftee likes pandas, cuteness, and a surprising but not overwhelming amount of strategy, Takenoko is a fantastic choice! If your giftee doesn’t like pandas… I’m very, very sorry. I’m sure they’re nice people.

* * *
08_coup
 
8. ADD COUP TO ONE OF THE OTHER BOARDGAMES I’VE LISTED (+$20)
 
Alright, I’m cheating here by not actually giving you a $70 game, but Coup is so good! It’s up there with #10 on this list for one of my favourite games of all time.
In Coup, you’ve got two cards in front of you, face down. They represent important people you have influence over. You can claim to use the abilities of any card — but be careful! If people call you on it and you don’t have the card, you have to turn one of yours face-up and you’re halfway out of the game. But, if you do have the card, the person who called your bluff loses one and they’re halfway out! The last person standing wins.
Coup plays like poker with only fifteen cards and two-card hands. I love, love, love the interplay and bluffing and guessing in a game that has so few components. Best of all, the games are only about 15 minutes each, so you’re never out of the action for very long!

Buy Coup. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

* * *
09_fivetribes
9. FIVE TRIBES ($80)
The ancient game of mancala gets a number of surprising new twists!
In Five Tribes, the board consists of thirty small squares, each of which depicts an oasis, village, encampment, or desert, and each of which starts with a number of people on it. The people are Elders, Viziers, Builders, Merchants, and Assassins, and over the course of the game, you’ll be picking up and moving around these people to get different bonuses. Build towards purchasing the services of a powerful Djinn, or developing many of the squares, and you’ll be in a position to win!

Like Splendor, the gameplay of Five Tribes lends itself to building an engine: finding a strategy that isn’t immediately obvious, and taking advantage. The rules are quick and easy to grasp, but the complexity of the decisions you’ll have to make and the moves you can and can’t do help make Five Tribes a wonderful strategic brain-burner.

Five Tribes has taken mancala and made something fantastic and unique. If your giftee likes complex games that while away an afternoon, Five Tribes is going to go over very well.
* * *
10_scythe
 
10. SCYTHE ($110)
 
This is the big one. It’s also my favourite game of the year, and one of my favourites all-time.
Imagine it’s just after World War I or so, on an alternate Earth. The countries of Eastern Europe have developed steam-powered robots that help them farm, and fight. Now, you have to help a folk hero for your people claim territories and resources, and advance the cause of your nation, in the face of ever-increasing threats. This is the world of Scythe.
The designers at Stonemaier Games have created something that has the epic feel and scale of Risk, with wonderful art and storytelling, and layers upon layers of strategy and engine-building, in an extremely streamlined package. One of my favourite things about it is that you don’t have to get in fights to win — but you have to look like you can win them, which creates an amazing feeling of tension as you jockey for position on the board.
Scythe is not an easy game to grasp, but it is extremely rewarding. If your giftee is big into board games — the more strategic, the better — I can’t think of a better gift than Scythe.
 
* * *

stockingstufferpromotion

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL — GIFT-WRAPPING, STOCKING STUFFERS, AND MORE

 
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that A Muse N Games has gift-wrapping available, for the price of a small donation to Winnipeg Harvest! All the easier to help make sure your gifts get home safely wrapped and covered, AND people in Winnipeg don’t go hungry over the holiday season.
As well, if you spend $200 or more at A Muse N Games, you’ll receive a FREE stocking-stuffer game to go along with all the wonderful gifts you’re already giving! Want to have a fun afternoon or evening playing all sorts of different games with friends and family? This is a great way to do it.

That’s it for me for now — hope I’ll see you at the store in the next few weeks!

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.

THE MANA DORK – Impressions from Commander 2016 and AMNG Leagues!

by December 2, 2016

The Mana Dork
I am beginning to think I have previously been a tad too cute with the titles. Also, given that we’re doing a bit of a round-up today, it seems appropriate to simply call out the round-up, eh?
Onward!

Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa

COMMANDER 2016 IMPRESSIONS

Who has two thumbs and called it? This guy.
Here’s what I said back in October, before Commander 2016 released:
“But what if Wizards decided to go wayyyyy out there, and design two creatures that could co-exist in the command zone?
It doesn’t require much of an adjustment to the rules—just increment your commander tax for each card individually, define your deck’s colour identity using the colour identity of the two commanders combined, and come up with a new mechanic that allows your new commanders to co-exist. And it opens up some interesting gameplay decisions about when you cast your commanders, and how.”
The mechanic I predicted was worded thusly:
Alliance (You may begin the game with up to two creatures with alliance in the command zone.)
It differs from the actual Partner mechanic in that it defines the cards themselves as commanders—which, you know, probably should happen if we’re going to play a format called Commander. But other than that, I was almost word-for-word correct with my craziest prediction!


Okay, enough self-regard. You’re here for impressions.

The decks themselves are quite good. I’ve played one game with Kynaios and Tiro and several games with Saskia, and generally speaking, I have all four colours between turns 4-6 or so. I have yet to truly be mana-screwed.
Wizards has done an excellent job in constructing the decklists—they needed to make sure the decks had equal access to all of their colours with relative frequency, without reprinting expensive, in-demand cards like fetchlands that would have made it easy to do so. And they have succeeded.

Additionally, the decks contain many Commander staples—hello, Chromatic Lantern! Hello, Ghostly Prison!—making sure that they can hold their own against a variety of custom-brewed lists.

The Partners mechanic is extremely novel, and it’s going to take a while to figure out. I have a strong feeling that Partner commanders are going to be much better at the head of decks that don’t rely on the commander, than ones where the commander is central.

Shadowborn Apostle

To give you an example, here’s the latest iteration of my Shadowborn Apostle deck, now featuring Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa and Tymna the Weaver in front.
This is a combo-ish deck—get six Apostles on the field, sacrifice them, bring out Rune-Scarred Demon, bring out Thrumming Stone, get every Apostle on the field, do Fun Things™ with them. Previously, it has featured Athreos, Little Teysa, and Karador as commanders.
It had a problem, though—I never had enough draw, or enough to do in the middle of the game.
Sidar and Tymna help me solve that problem. They don’t need to be out for the deck to function, but having them both lets me poke people with Apostles and draw 3-4 extra cards a turn, which greatly helps with the velocity of the deck. See more cards, cast more Apostles, combo off more quickly.
This is where I think Partners will do best—as supports for their deck, rather than as keystones.

Glimmer of Genius

KALADESH PLAYTEST LEAGUE IMPRESSIONS
(This section is going to be much shorter—mostly because I don’t have neat predictions to preen over.)
I spent a bit of time in the Kaladesh Playtest League in recent weeks, and it was an absolute blast!
If you’re not familiar, here’s the deal with League play, in brief:
Start with three booster packs.
Build a 30-card deck using cards from those packs and land from the store.
Play with as many different people as you can over multiple weeks. Matches consist of a single game, with one free mulligan.
Each week, and after every third loss, you may buy an additional booster to add cards to your card pool and rebuild your deck.
Have fun!
In practice, it felt like “mini-Sealed”. I was stretching all those good Limited muscles, looking for synergies and assessing card playability—but there was much less pressure, because of the casual, fun-focused nature of the league.
And I have to say, it’s also pretty fun knowing that, with three rares and only room for 17 or so non-land cards in your pool, you’ve got a pretty high likelihood of drawing an awesome bomb in almost every game.
In short—built, played, had a blast. Cannot recommend enough.

Argothian Enchantress

ETERNAL MASTERS LEAGUE, AETHER REVOLT PRE-RELEASES, AND MORE!
And if you’re excited by the idea of League play—good news, everyone!
AMNG is doing an Eternal Masters League for three Sundays in December! At 2 PM on the 4th, 11th, and 18th, you can buy into the league for $40, netting you three Eternal Masters boosters and a chance at glory. EMA boosters will also be available at a special discounted rate of $15 per booster when bought for League play, so come on in!
Also, AMNG has announced that they’ve started doing… SUNDAY pre-releases. (Ooooooh)
Starting with Aether Revolt in January, the store will host a 6 PM Sunday pre-release, alongside the midnight Friday and noon and 5 PM Saturday pre-releases! MOAR MAGIC, amirite?
See you in the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – Quiet Speculation, Commander 2016 Edition

by October 20, 2016

The Mana Dork

First things first—this weekend is Kaladesh Game Day! Come by the store for tourneys at noon (Facebook event) and 5 PM (Facebook event), where a $6 entry fee gets you a shot at some pretty nice alt-art cards for top-8 and top-32 finishes, as well as a gorgeous mat if you win it all!

I don’t have much of a Standard brew going for this Game Day, but luckily, Commander 2016 is just around the corner—spoilers start next week on Monday October 24th, we’ll probably see the full decklists that Friday, October 28th, and the set of decks as a whole comes out Friday, November 11th.

So it’s definitely time for some rampant Quiet Speculation!

Mana Confluence

PREDICTION #1: A WHOLE LOTTA COLOUR-FIXING

This is one of the easiest predictions to make, so let’s get it out of the way first.

Commander 2016 has been confirmed to feature Magic’s first four-colour legendary creatures. (Nephilim, we hardly knew ye.) In order for the decks to be playable out of the box, they’re going to need to include many colour-fixing cards—cards that will ensure you have access to multiple colours of mana very easily.

While I’ve seen some rampant quiet speculation that fetchlands like Flooded Strand will be included, I highly doubt this will be the case—they are quite expensive, and Wizards will not want to repeat the problem they had with Commander 2013, where heavily-invested players snatched up multiple copies of what was supposed to be an introductory product only to turn around and sell it.

Instead, here are a few reprints I think we’ll see that haven’t (all) been printed in Commander products:

What will be truly interesting to watch for are possible new lands that tap for four colours. We’ve had many iterations of dual-lands and tri-lands in the past, but never quad-lands—if there are quad-lands in this set and they don’t enter the battlefield tapped, they could have an impact on Legacy and Vintage, where cards from Commander set releases are also legal.

If I had to guess at what a quad-land’s design would be like, it would look something like this—

Mountain Valley Waterfall
Land

Mountain Valley Waterfall enters the battlefield tapped unless you pay W, U, R, or G.

T: Add W, U, R, or G to your mana pool.

Now, that’s pretty strong, but judging from the designs of Transguild Promenade and Rupture Spire—which enter tapped and require you to pay 1 generic mana or sacrifice them—I think making the ETB effect cost coloured mana lets this remain within the realm of possibility.

Taigam's Scheming

PREDICTION #2: VILLAINS

We know Commander 2016 will feature four-colour legendary creatures for the first time, and from the schedule of the short stories that go up on Wizards’ website, there’s a window of five weeks that could be dedicated to Commander 2016-related stories.

With that, here’s my second piece of rampant quiet speculation: the face cards of Commander 2016 will feature villains from the game’s history.

Here are my guesses, along with a possible colour-pie philosophy for each four-colour combination:

  • Sans-White (Blue/Black/Red/Green) — This is a perfect colour combination for a mad scientist. White’s sense of community ideals and public good are not present, making this colour combination ideal for depicting progress at any cost. I predict we’ll see Ludevic, Innistrad’s demented genius of grafting and biological invention, as our sans-white commander.
  • Sans-Blue (White/Black/Red/Green) — Blue is the colour of knowledge, willpower, and self-perfection, so what do you get when you take that away? A populist demagogue, a rabble-rousing public speaker and rebellion leader who relies on the wisdom of mobs to accomplish their goals. For this one, we’ll go way back to Magic’s earliest expansions—I predict that Tourach, founder of the Order of the Ebon Hand, will be the sans-blue commander.
  • Sans-Black (White/Blue/Red/Green) — This is a tough one. We so closely associate Black with villainy that it’s difficult to pick out a character who is A.) not selfish or power-hungry at all costs, defining characteristics of Black, and B.) has not yet received a card. In a surprising twist, I’ll predict that Feather, Ravnica’s last surviving Firemane Angel, has chosen some tragic and unsavoury strategies in a fight to regain control of the Boros guild from Aurelia.
  • Sans-Red (White/Blue/Black/Green) — Red is the colour of passion, energy, and heat. When extrapolated, it becomes the colour of desire, of giving yourself a reason to do things. When we take that away, we get the personality of a doomsday cult leader, an inevitable acceptance that everything is going to end. I predict Taigam, the dark-minded monk from Tarkir who betrayed the Jeskai Way and Narset to join the Sultai Brood, will be our sans-red commander.
  • Sans-Green (White/Blue/Black/Red) — Losing green’s sense of harmony, wholeness, and things-are-fine-as-they-are opens up this colour combination to depict any number of masterminds from the history of the game. While Urza is commonly believed to be a sans-green character, I highly doubt we will get an Urza card. Instead, I predict Eliza of the Keep, a necromancer from Grixis who sought to defend her home during the reunification of Alara, will be our sans-green commander.

Anax and Cymede
PREDICTION #3: TWO COMMANDERS IN THE COMMAND ZONE

This one is completely crazy—and totally invalidates Prediction #2, which is much more likely—but hear me out, because it’s fun to talk about.

Designing cards with four colours in their colour identity is extremely difficult, and there are a few ways to build them so the casting costs aren’t very restrictive—

But what if Wizards decided to go wayyyyy out there, and design two creatures that could co-exist in the command zone?

It doesn’t require much of an adjustment to the rules—just increment your commander tax for each card individually, define your deck’s colour identity using the colour identity of the two commanders combined, and come up with a new mechanic that allows your new commanders to co-exist. And it opens up some interesting gameplay decisions about when you cast your commanders, and how.

Let’s say that Doran and Ashling, two characters from the world of Lorwyn, are teaming up to fight off Oona and preserve the balance of the Great Aurora.

To get a Sans-Blue deck (White/Black/Red/Green), you could do something like this:

Doran, Many-Ringed 1WBG
Legendary Creature—Treefolk Shaman

Alliance (You may begin the game with up to two creatures with alliance in the command zone.)

Whenever a creature you control receives damage, prevent an amount of that damage equal to its toughness.

0/6

Ashling, the Defiant 1R
Legendary Creature—Elemental Shaman

Alliance (You may begin the game with up to two creatures with alliance in the command zone.)

XXR: Deal X damage to each creature and each player.

2/1

Now, like I’ve said before, this is completely out-there and incredibly unlikely. But come on—we’ve all tried to come up with “tag-team” rules for Commander at least once, right?

That’s it for me! Have fun at Kaladesh Game Day this Saturday, and make sure to praise me for my clairvoyance—or have some good-natured fun at my expense for my foolishness—when we see what’s happening with Commander 2016 next week!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He has totally come up with tag-team rules for Commander, and will tell you about them if you ask. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK-Highway To The Aether Zone

by September 23, 2016

The Mana Dork

Normally, I kick off my columns about a new set with a series of puns related to upcoming card names or mechanics. However, this is Kaladesh, and it has already done a better job than I ever could:
Start Your Engines
 
It’s Kaladesh pre-release weekend at A Muse N Games, folks! Here’s what you need to know about the set.
NEW MECHANICS: ENERGY, VEHICLES, AND FABRICATE
Powered by the aether suffusing its atmosphere, Kaladesh is Magic’s most technologically-advanced plane yet. As a result, we’ve got three new mechanically-inclined mechanics on their way!
Voltaic Brawler
Energy
Energy is a new type of counter that’s placed on the players themselves, similar to poison counters and experience counters. Many cards in Kaladesh give you Energy, and Energy can be spent on anything that allows you to spend it.
Note that, yes, every card that spends Energy has a way to give you Energy. There are some cards that give you Energy without having a way to spend it, but no Energy card in the set is dead on its own.
When you’re playing Sealed at the pre-release, keep an eye out for the “Thriving” cycle of commons — Thriving Ibex, Thriving Turtle, Thriving Rats, Thriving Grubs, and Thriving Rhino. Each of these will give you two Energy when they enter the battlefield, and they’re solid creatures for their mana costs. If you’re building an Energy-based deck, having two or three of each of the Thriving creatures in your colours will be a great way to build up Energy and put some defenders on the board!
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Vehicles
 
Vehicles are completely new to Magic, and they function a little differently than what you might expect.
Each vehicle is an artifact that can sometimes become a creature, if you use its Crew ability. To crew a vehicle, you may tap any number of creatures with total power at least equal to the vehicle’s Crew number. So in the case of Skysovereign up there, you can tap three 1/1 Servo creature tokens, one Voltaic Brawler, or any combination of creatures whose total power is at least 3.
When you do this, the Vehicle becomes a creature until end of turn, and can attack or block as normal if it doesn’t have summoning sickness. At the end of the turn, everyone goes on furlough and the vehicle is parked, no longer a creature.
It’s important to remember: every permanent you summon gets summoning sickness, not just creatures. So if you drop a Vehicle onto the board, you cannot Crew it and attack with it right away unless it has haste.
Which brings us to Pilots.
Speedway Fanatic
 
If you’ve opened up a couple of sweet Vehicles and you’re looking to make a deck that goes vroom, keep an eye out for creatures with the Pilot type, like the Fanatic up there. They’ll give your Vehicles some very handy bonuses!
Fabricate
 
Magic tends to have a lot of different ways to give creatures +1/+1 counters, but I have to say, this is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen.
Angel of Invention
 
 
The Angel here is a pretty complex creature when it comes to Fabricate, but I picked it because it’s a good example of how Fabricate can play out.
When you play a creature with Fabricate, you can choose to either put +1/+1 counters on it equal to its Fabricate number, or put a number of 1/1 Servo artifact creature tokens into play equal to its Fabricate number. You cannot mix and match — so for the Angel here, you either get two +1/+1 counters or two 1/1 Servos. You can never get one counter and one Servo.
 
This means that not only will there be a lot of creature tokens running around — making it easy to Crew some Vehicles — but also that anthem effects get a lot more powerful.

Look again at the Angel of Invention. If you choose the +1/+1 counters, you’ve spent 5 mana on a 4/3 creature with flying, vigilance, and lifelink — that’s quite a strong creature! It will do a lot to help stabilize your life total in the late game.

But! If you choose the Servo tokens, you’ve spent 5 mana to put 6 power on the board, since the Angel buffs its own Servo tokens! You can use the newly-2/2 Servos to block and clog up the board while you execute your gameplan, making it a good option in the mid-game when you need to hold off some creatures.

There are going to be a lot of interesting choices around Fabricate, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to making them.
Mox Opal
MASTERPIECES
Remember the Zendikar Expeditions from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch? From here on out, each Standard-legal block is going to have its own set of extra-valuable reprint cards!
They’re called the Masterpiece Series, and on average, you’ll see 1 out of every 144 packs. They’ll feature a custom border and a third, new foiling treatment — different from both normal pack foils and the From the Vault foils.
For Kaladesh, we’ll be seeing Masterpiece Series: Kaladesh Inventions, featuring 54 artifacts across both Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, including such expensive reprints as Mana Crypt, Mox Opal, and Crucible of WorldsKaladesh Inventions cards, like the Expeditions before them, are legal for use in Limited formats when you open them, and for the formats in which they are currently legal. So, yes, you can use that Mox Opal at the Pre-Release if you open it, but you won’t be able to include in a Standard deck at the Kaladesh Game Day on October 22.
With the Masterpiece Series cards, Wizards is hoping to do two things: put more copies of these valuable cards into circulation, and drive down the price of other cards in the block. They’re not going to bring down the price of the existing printings all that much — you don’t make Lamborghinis cheaper by selling a gold-plated Lamborghini! — but Wizards hopes that everyone digging through Kaladesh packs for Masterpiece Series cards means the supply of other Kaladesh cards increases, making them less expensive as a result.
If you open a Kaladesh Inventions card at the Pre-Release, congratulations! You can use it in your Sealed deck!
Contraband Kingpin
GENERAL PRE-RELEASE TIPS
 
Despite only having three new mechanics, Kaladesh is a pretty difficult set to evaluate — each of the three mechanics strongly encourage you to go all-in on building them, and with the exception of Fabricate, they’re each very different from anything Magic has seen before.
That being said, there are a couple of things that have stood out for me.
First and foremost — remember that Vehicles are not creature spells on their own. Without other creatures around to Crew them, they’re just going to stay parked on the board, doing nothing. So I’d be careful about using too many Vehicles and not enough creatures. When I’m deckbuilding, I’d count the Vehicles as non-creature spells, because they’re essentially just added bonuses when I have creatures around.
(Note that it is legal to crew a Vehicle with another Vehicle, and then crew a bigger Vehicle with that vehicle, and on and on and on, but that’s generally reserved for the most desperate of situations!)
That being said, they are a great way to add late-game punch. If you’ve got a Servo token or two that you’ve been saving to chump-block, you can drop down an Ovalchase Dragster and punch some much-needed damage through instead of holding up the Servo every turn.
Also, while I haven’t looked at each colour in depth yet, I will say that some of the cards in Blue add some very subtle, but powerful effects that shouldn’t be overlooked. Glint-Nest Crane looks like a very good way to find artifacts and hold off some Servo tokens, while the repeatable scry from Aether Theorist should do a lot to smooth your draws for a few turns, and more if you can get a good source of Energy.
Finally, make sure you get some water and good snacks. Don’t be like me, folks. Never be like me.
Commencement of Festivities
SEE YOU AT THE PRE-RELEASE!
 
As usual, Open Dueling will be available with the new Planeswalker Decks. Pay $25 to enter, and get a Planeswalker Deck and the chance at an even bigger prize!
Spots are still available for each of the three Pre-Release flights, but they’re going quickly! You can reserve your spot in-store for $40, or buy tickets to the Midnight flight, the Noon flight, and the 5 PM flight on Eventbrite.

See you at the Inventors` Fair!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He is definitely going to try and assemble the Animation / Decoction / Fabrication Module contraption at the Pre-Release. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic! 

THE MANA DORK—THE GAME THAT HAD NO GREEN OR BLUE

by September 8, 2016

The Mana Dork

 

I have to say, Conspiracy: Take the Crown did not disappoint!

Not only have I built a new commander (I’ll be telling you about Grenzo, Havoc Raiser in a future article!), but drafting the set gave me a tale for the ages.

Join me, my friends. Sit back, and listen as I tell you the story of the Game That Had No Green Or Blue.

We begin, of course, with the draft that led to it.

Spy Kit

THE DRAFT

Pack 1, pick 1—a foil Spy Kit. I regret nothing. Yes, there was a decent rare in the pack, and probably some better uncommons. I don’t care. Spy Kit is hilarious, and it works with all of the “Hidden Agenda” conspiracies that care about creatures. Win-win!

After that, I tried to stay in White and Black for much of Pack 1 (with the exception of an early Messenger Jays—assuming my opponents all vote “feather”, the Jays are a 5/4 flier for 5 mana that lets me draw a card and discard a card, which is really good in draft). I knew I was heading into a multiplayer game after this, and people are generally reluctant to attack in multiplayer, which means a control strategy is good to have. And White and Black had the best control cards in the set.

Unfortunately, I committed very publicly—about halfway through the pack, I had a Smuggler Captain and a Noble Banneret face-up in front of me, so my opponents knew I was in those colours. The Black and White cards dried up very quickly, and I was forced to pivot into other colours to get playable cards.

Which led me to Red. Hello, aggression, my old friend. I’ve come to draft your cards again.

I was able to pick up a Garbage Fire at 5, which was surprising—5 damage is very high for 3 mana. The second pack added a lot of White cards to the pool, which let me get multiple Custodi Peacekeepers, each of which could tap down creatures with as much as 7 power. I named the Peacekeepers with my Noble Banneret and Smuggler Captain, and turned them face-down.

Kami of the Crescent Moon

The third pack gave me a very tough choice, but not for the reasons you might think—I opened Kami of the Crescent Moon and Spectral Grasp in the same pack.

Now, if you’ve played Commander with me at the store, you know how much I looooooove drawing all of my opponents cards. It was really tempting to pick Kami of the Crescent Moon and either stuff it into my Gwafa deck, or just grab more blue cards and hope to have something playable. Or both.

Spectral Grasp, meanwhile, is a great way of dealing with an opponent’s big beater. Unlike normal Pacifism effects, Spectral Grasp only stops a creature from affecting you, specifically. It’s a lot more political, which helps you stay under the radar. And it’s just a better card for my existing gameplan.

And I’m here to have the best Conspiracy game I can, and to try and win.

Spectral Grasp it is.

The rest of the third pack was unremarkable, except for a Garbage Fire I was able to pick up at 9. I ended up very solidly Red and White, with a splash of Black if I wanted it. Little did I know how prophetic that would be.

THE LIST

For the curious, here is the decklist I ended up running. My gameplan was to hang back and protect myself with Custodi Peacekeepers while my opponents fought it out, then use Garbage Fires to take out threats and pump up Kiln Fiends to swing for the win.

THE GAME

And it is here that we come to the focus of our tale. The Game With No Green Or Blue.

Image result for mtg conspiracy 2 monarch token image

The players were as follows:

–          Mono-Black Monarch

–          Mardu Sinuous Vermin (“Mardu” is a slang term for the colour combination of White-Black-Red)

–          Mardu Daretti

–          … and myself, Red-White Control Featuring Foil Spy Kit.

Before we shuffled up, I had run around the store gathering up just enough Goblin tokens for the Hold the Perimeter I had drafted… only to see that the Mardu Sinuous Vermin player had drafted it as well! So two of us start with two 1/1 Goblin tokens that can’t block, and two of us start with a 1/1 Goblin token that can’t block and a 1/2 Soldier token that can’t attack. Hilarity!

The early turns involved a lot of drawing cards and staring at each other warily. Mardu Sinuous Vermin and Mardu Daretti played their namesake cards; Mono-Black Monarch ran out a couple of creatures to protect herself, and got the monarchy well into the midgame. Meanwhile, I had dropped my non-foil Spy Kit and a Goblin Racketeer, which promptly walked into a Death Wind. With no green player to ramp out of control, or blue player to counter all of our things, we were in a deadlock.

Turns 7-10 were where things got interesting.

Garbage Fire

I cast Besmirch to steal a Stromkirk Patrol from the Monarch player, in order to steal the monarchy from her with her own creature. The next turn, the Sinuous Vermin player asked me if I’d let him hit me with a Goblin token in order to take the monarchy, so he could draw into a burn spell to help deal with the Daretti across the table. So we cut a deal: in exchange for him revealing two cards in his hand to me (perfectly legal under tournament rules!), I’d let him hit me. He showed me a Murder and a Kill Shot—both perfectly good removal spells, neither of which could hit Daretti. I nodded, he swung, he Took the Crown.

The turn order passes to the Monarch player, who casts Marchesa’s Decree—should’ve known she’d have a way to steal the crown, no matter what!—and sits there quietly, holding back blockers.

It’s the Daretti player’s turn. He untaps with Grenzo’s Ruffians and equips them with a Hedron Matrix before attacking. They’re set to deal 9 damage to each of us if they connect.

It’s a good thing I had a… Garbage Fire of a draft, amirite?

While I could let the Sinuous Vermin player spend one of his removal spells, I felt like being the hero of the table for a little while. I cast Garbage Fire, dealing 9 damage to the Ruffians, and celebrations were had. This was, though, the first step of my undoing.

The turn comes to me. My second Besmirch steals a Pyretic Hunter, and I swing at the Daretti player with the Hound, a Kiln Fiend, and a Goblin token equipped with the Spy Kit. I’m expecting blockers, and I’m planning to reveal the Adriana’s Valor to save a creature or the Incendiary Dissent to push through lethal… but Daretti concedes, allowing my creatures to kill him.

And if you’re a seasoned drafter or Conspiracy player, you know what happened next—I had left myself open to attack, and the Sinuous Vermin player took advantage, using a removal spell I hadn’t seen on my Soldier token and swinging in for lethal damage. If I had let the Vermin player use his removal spells on the Ruffians, I could have used my Garbage Fire to take out one of the attacking creatures and saved myself.

Marchesa's Decree

But our tale is not over yet, oh no.

We’re down to the Sinuous Vermin player and the Monarch player. The Monarch player now has two Marchesa’s Decrees and the monarchy; the Vermin player has his Sinuous Vermin and one or two other creatures. Both players are at just 1 life.

The Vermin player can’t attack – he’ll lose to the Decrees. The Monarch player has nothing to attack with. There’s very little in either of these colours that can remove enchantments. It’s going to come down to who can draw a solution off of the top of their deck.

And after a few turns of tense draws, the Sinuous Vermin player casts Gang of Devilsand hits it with his own Murder, dealing 3 damage to the Monarch player and winning the game.

In true Conspiracy fashion, an epic game ended with an epic betrayal, and it was fantastic.

Murder

COME BY FOR THE YAM FEST, AND ALSO THE POKÉMON!

This Saturday, A Muse N Games is having a sidewalk sale as part of the St. James Village Biz Yam Fest! Come by for a games day all day, and bring a donation to Winnipeg Harvest. And if you want some deals, make sure you’re around between 11 AM and 4 PM, when the store will have a sidewalk sale with 20-40% off selected products! (FYI: the sidewalk sale is cash or credit only, and all sales will be final.)

As well, you’ll be able to meet Ben, who created the character Keet for the latest expansion of Red Dragon Inn! And of course, the Lures will be out, for all of your Pokémon needs.

Finally, make sure you tune in to this space in a couple of weeks—I’ll be talking about some of the new commanders that have come out recently, and getting excited for Kaladesh!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on Magic!