Tag Archives: Planeswalkers

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, 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 -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!