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

by June 21, 2017

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

Magic Announcement Week The Mana Dork

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

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

First things first: core sets are coming back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Announcement Week Aetherworks Marvel

A MARVEL-OUS DEVELOPMENT

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

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

Magic Announcement Week Dueling Grounds

AMONKHET SOME LEAGUE GAMES IN

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

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

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

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

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

BEST CAMP EVER!

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

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

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

See you there!

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

THE MANA DORK -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—Let It Go, Let It Go – By Jesse Mackenzie

by January 21, 2016

The Mana Dork

“… that perfect girl commander is gone… “

I’ve decided to retire a deck, folks. And rather than “conceal, don’t feel”-ing about it, I’ve decided to share the story.

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest

Shu Yun wasn’t originally a voltron deck—a deck where you suit up a commander with powerful effects and swing for combat damage. Continue reading