Sunday 30 October 2022

The Brother's War Preliminary Review Part II

0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb 

Phyrexian Fleshgorger 5

Prototype is an interesting un-kicker effect. I suspect there will be some sneaky interactions with them, most likely those where you get to "cheat" on having a big CMC dork in play. Fundamentally kicker is a good mechanic and so prototype should follow suit with that. Modality is great on magic cards and even more so in limited formats.

Just because prototype is good doesn't mean this card is however. Much as I am loving ward as a mechanic at the moment too I find it hard to get excited by this. Seven is a lot and will not happen very often which means you really have to want a three mana 3/3 in your deck. Yes, it has bells and whistles but it isn't that big, threatening, or able to generate any sort of value. It is just a very mid level beater. I like the card and it isn't weak but it isn't very well suited to cube and doesn't excite me much at all in the way a Kavu Titan doesn't excite. I am at least looking forward to seeing all the other prototypes the set has to offer. 

Urza, Powerstone Prodigy 2

Nice to see this as an uncommon without too much pomp. I like powerstones a lot and look forward to seeing a deck that uses them well. Obviously we all love a looter but sadly for young Urza the cube is not after these sorts of effects at three mana. Cards need more impact than this at three or more mana. The only place I could imagine playing this was a deck themed around powerstones in some way. I certainly like this a lot but power creep ensures we don't get much opportunity to play with fun cards like this any more if we want to be at all in with a chance of winning. Yes, yes, commander can play with this

Ashnod's Harvester 1

Too low power overall. The body is a very weak beater and the graveyard disruption effect is either very minor or too unreliable to be worth including. Play a threat or play graveyard disruption. Or play Graveyard Trespasser which is at least just a lot more powerful than this! 

Mishra, Excavation Prodigy 1

Cute but fiddly and fragile. Mostly just too much mana up front to be something you really ever want. Obviously this would be a total bomb if you could trigger it more than once a turn so there is that...

Hurkyl, Master Wizard 4

The more things you try and draw with this the less consistently you will do so. Aiming to consistently get one card is likely the best strategy with using this. In my cube this is realistically just going to get instant and sorcery cards although when you build around this artifacts and enchantments enter the discussion. It is a fun card with some good high roll entertainment value. For cube it is a little fiddly and unreliable. If this were just draw a card at end of turn I would be a whole lot more interested. The cost is low enough and the stat line sufficiently bulky and defensive to all line up OK. A sort of blue Courser of Kruphix! But no, I think prolly don't be playing this unless you are very deep on the synergies. 

Urza, Prince of Kroog 2

Tempered Steel on legs! Also a good mana sink for all those powerstone tokens we seem to be making! Certainly this isn't going in a cube without a heavy synergy setup but I am not even sure if I want this in many constructed decks either. Certainly if there is enough low end artifact beaters in standard this could be very naughty but in a singleton eternal deck? Can't see it, there are just more powerful payoffs for the artifact decks. 

Mishra, Tamer of Mak Fawa 1

I like giving my stuff this ward very much. Sadly the unearth ability is narrow and fairly hard to make useful and the vanilla 4/4 body is very unimpressive. If this had a bit more presence or relevance while on the battlefield it would be most interesting but as it is this is a bit of a non-starter. You just can't go around paying five mana for such low threat and board presence. So rarely will this be able to attack safely and profitably. I would rather have a Carven Caryatid (2/5 defender for three with EtB draw a card) and that is not a card you see these days. Five is a suitably prohibitive cost in high powered environments like cube that you really need those cards to be proper game winners. 

Argoth, Sanctum of Nature 2

Mostly this is coming in tapped and so it doesn't quite get there. Five mana to make a 2/2 is a long way off the tempo one needs to compete in cube. As far as utility lands and late game mana sinks go Lair of the Hydra and Kessig Wolf Run have this well and truly beaten. The mill is more likely a preventative thing than a boon given how late you are going to be using this. You want your self mill cheap so you can get it going early. This isn't a weak card but it is a way off for cube as a stand alone. Tribal bears is perhaps the only place I would play this if not planning a meld. Perhaps a commander deck using things like Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds too? There is no way you are then not playing Voice of Gaea then as well though. In conclusion, unless tribal bears this is only playable alongside Voice of Gaea, maybe standard too, I can't speak to that. Not my area.  

Titania, Voice of Gaea 1

This is another card you are not playing by itself. Double up on that Zuran Orb! Woot. The body is fine but it isn't enough to be playing the card for, even with a smattering of random life gain added to the mix. Without Argoth this is just not packing the power needed. 

Titania, Gaea Incarnate 6

Well obviously this is massive. It is flipping and melding into at least a 6/6, likely an 8/8 or 9/9 at the low end. It is also providing a huge mana influx along with fairly significant card advantage. It even has a mana sink and means to threaten the game without having to get Titania into combat. Most games Titania will win quickly by herself but those she does not she can win by animating all your lands. So yes, flipping and melding this is very big game. It is likely to win the game and is not too significant of a mana investment or cost to your deck. Argoth is likely only a fraction weaker than a forest and Voice of Gaea is a passable middling dork. You are likely only looking at an investment of 4 mana to get this all going with relatively minimal damage to your build. That being said you are not flipping this often without some effort, you want self mill and/or looting and lands you can easily put in the bin. You probably also want the means to tutor up the various parts of the meld, perhaps even with the means to protect it. I am imagining a deck with Grapple with the Past, Traverse the Ulvenwald, and perhaps Blossoming Defence. Without that kind of support you are just never realistically flipping this and thus there is little point including it. To me that makes this a build around and something you should only bother with in constructed formats. That being said, it is relatively painless and easy to include and support so perhaps it will be a relatively strong thing to do in those constructed settings. I certainly plan to include this in cube for a while just to get those achievements! Very likely to get cut from cube shortly after that first meld win however. 

Splitting the Powerstone 1

Very narrow and seemingly not even all that powerful. I am not sure where I would want this. I feel like it needed to cost two to make it cube interesting but I imagine that could have made it a bit scary in some other formats. This just smacks of a support card but at three mana you are typically past support cards. This also rather needs to draw you a card to be of decent power level and that is going to be hard to pull off. A nice way to use extra legendary Mox up but you don't tend to have spare extra legendary cards in singleton formats! I do want to find a deck with cool uses for powerstone tokens but even then I suspect this card will be on the fringes. 

Monday 24 October 2022

Laying Grave Titan to Rest


Grave Titan has stood as one of the best creatures in cube for one of the longest stretches of time. It is one of very few creatures that is so powerful that you play it in decks that can cheat out dorks while still being cheap enough to be a card you are happy to cast normally. When cards hold this kind of position for so long you get used to them as benchmarks and their decline is rather harder to spot in cube play than that of cards more on the margins. Titan has likely been on the decline for some years now but due to having such a high starting point it would have stayed well above the threshold for much of it. More recently however I think it has dipped below that threshold and it is time to say goodbye to Grave Titan. When this happens to a once "best in slot" creature it provokes me into at the very least giving serious thought to the matter. I recall fairly recently giving Eternal Witness a eulogy. It is certainly happening at a higher rate than ever now. Elspeth Knight-Errant next on the chopping block! 

So, what has befallen the Titan such that it is no longer the all round bomb it once was? As is always the way in magic there are several factors at play all combining to take the giant down. There is obviously the main and ever present power creep that has not only caught up with the Titan but six drops in general. Most decks are skipping that slot all together in cube these days and very few six drops see play at all. There are also a lot more tools to do what Titan does now, powerful cards and generally ones a bit earlier in the curve and with some more utility to go with it. We are talking Whirler Rogue, Seasoned Pyromancer, Esika's Chariot, etc. Dumping a load of dorks into play is great, it keeps you nice and safe and gives you a lot of options for attacking, sacrificing, buffing, and all that good stuff. It is however the kind of thing you want to do in the midgame so as to stabilize against early aggression rather than as your curve topper. Critically in the case of Titan they do not do what you need your top end to do which is end the game. Titan used to end the game as he would either hit for six to ten or Edict every turn while churning out loads of dorks which closes things out quickly and safely. Now however there is very few cases where Titan is able to just safely swing. There are too many other big tokens and little deathtouch dorks. Titan just winds up getting traded off fairly evenly in combat more often than not. As such he fails to generate that ongoing value or that reliable threat. He is just a lot of stats and bodies in play which is certainly good, just not when it is time to end the game. 

A pair of 2/2 zombies also gets very little done. Lets say I manage to efficiently kill Grave Titan with a one or two mana spot removal spell, which is fairly likely given how good removal now is. We are both a card spent a piece, you have a pair of little tokens and I have four more mana. In cube that mana will do a lot more work than the tokens most of the time. What was once a very powerful threat that would keep you safe while quickly ending the game is now ineffective at ending the game. It is unreliable at generating ongoing value and the EtB value it guarantees you just isn't very exciting any more. Don't get me wrong, the card is still very efficient and has a high power level, it is just no longer quite so suitable. Evasion would really help this to be more threatening. As it is Grave Titan is mostly just stats and just stats are not really how you go about winning in cube. Tarmogoyf has never really shone in cube either and it is the poster boy for just being a stat vessel. So there we have it, the end of a long and prosperous reign of Grave Titan in my cube. Probably one of the cards with most scalps to its name. 

Tuesday 18 October 2022

The Brother's War Preliminary Review Part I

I imagine the Transformers cards come under this general review block but again, I do not intend to cover them or use them. And again, I will probably fail at that as was so quickly the case with the 40K cards! At least the play part will be easier to avoid with these cards largely not being the sort of thing you want in cube. Certainly the big clunky gold stuff doesn't appeal much. I also both like the design and the flavour of these cards as I did with the 40K stuff. As they are coming in packs not some Secret Lair nonsense I have nothing against these at all, I am just scaling back where possible


Recruitment Officer 7

A nice new Savannah Lion with upside. I do like this a lot but then I like drawing cards. In practice this is probably worse than Skymarcher Aspirant as it is no investment of mana to have Aspirant improve in the late game. It is also likely weaker than Usher of the Fallen as Usher is more relevant early and offers better tempo. This is certainly a good one drop but there are others out there, it is an area we are swamped in redundancy. Depending on how deep you go on supporting white aggro you may not have room for this in your cube. The margins are so small on these W for 2/1 with minor upside cards that you could play this in place of any other just because you like it more and that would be legit. I think this probably kicks out Soldier of the Pantheon in my cube in a fairly direct yet ever so slight upgrade. I doubt the ability will be activated much and I suspect in very few of those occasions will that activation go on to affect the outcome of the game. I just really like the ability! 

Mishra's Foundry 5

As a stand alone card this isn't impressive enough for cube play despite being a solid card. You really want this in concert with other Assembly-Workers to reach its potentia. It is fine but it is sufficiently less mana efficient on the main usage that is winds up being behind in power level at least three other colourless manlands, likely more. Perhaps this is the 3rd or 4th best manland on offer alongside Blinkmoth Nexus and Factory for a cube focused around artifacts. 

Queen Kayla bin-Kroog 2

Commander card, and quite a fun looking build around one at that. You could build around this in cube and have a fun but terrible deck. 

Surge Engine 3

The mythic rarity of this card gives me pause. This looks like a rare and looks like it should be quite weak. Cards like this only tend to get bumped up to mythic when internal testing reveals power and they wish to use that power to help push product. This looks bad because a 2 mana 3/2 you need to dump mana into so that it can attack is pretty bad. I guess it is an OK defensive play early that turns into a relatively threatening card late game. This hits hard and evasively and can even offer card draw but it is all so mana intense and late it is hard to get very interested in it. It is like a really slow Thing in the Ice that requires more time but needs less built attention. Mostly I see this trading off with comparably cost dorks or getting easily and cheaply swept aside with any removal spell out there. I remain intrigued by this card so will test it reasonably extensively despite a strong belief it is crap. 

Urza, Lord Protector 3

I was shown a mock-up joke card the other day and it took me a couple of reads of the card before I realized it was a joke card. It was Teferi Mows the Lawn or something and had an actual lawnmower added to the art. I blame these Secret Lairs and these Universes Beyond and black bordered Un-sets, and cards like Urza Planeswalker for this inability to spot an obviously fake piss take card. Magic is an extensively silly world now and this Urza fits right in. I can imagine a version of this with googly eyes. I can imagine it being an official thing too... While Urza may be quite a silly magic card it is at least very epic which it kind of needed to be for one of most epic and significant characters in all of the lore. Silly and epic aside, is big Urza Planeswalker good? For cube, certainly not, you need to find the bits and then use them and that just isn't consistently happening before you get smeared. In EDH it looks like a lot of fun and I will try it in cube just for those achieves. Are the individual parts any good then if the melding is all a bit far fetched? Urza is narrow but he is a cost reducer and he does so with a large range. Etherium Sculptor plus Baral in effect and nearly in combined stats as well. A deck likely isn't looking for all those things at once, or certainly is going to be getting a lot more utility out of one part than the other which in turn likely makes the two drop more focused options better. Even so, Urza might wind up in combo decks just as a means to help power them out. 

The Mightstone and Weakstone 4

This seems very well suited to certain synergy decks in cube. If you support combo or artifact themes in your cube this has a good chance of having a place. It is a nice all round filler card for big artifact decks, a delightful thing to pair with a Goblin Welder. It is a nice rare piece of utility and spot removal in colourless. Without the synergies to go with it the card is too late in the day and not mana efficient enough. The value of a card like this in cube varies wildly and unsurprisingly hinges a lot on whether you have Mishra's Workshop and Metalworker powering it out and that sort of thing. A classic, good with other broken cards but not all that without sort of affair.    

Mishra, Claimed by Gix 6

Unlike his brother Mishra is rather more all round playable in cube. He is just a fairly meaty threat that has some scaling potential. As he can trigger the turn you make him he is a lot like a Siege Rhino when you are ahead. He then goes on to trigger subsequent attacks and even remains an effective 4/5 all by himself. Mishra is meaty and threatening but he does suffer somewhat from being quite linear. He can fail the spot removal check fairly hard and is competing on space with the likes of Kalitas and new Sheoldred, both of which seem more powerful and more playable. Mishra is a fine card but it is probably not quite making it alone and needs that boost from the potential to meld. 

Phyrexian Dragon Engine 7.5

This doesn't excite me much but it does seem good. It is slow and vulnerable but it is also really threatening. This attacks for 4 and makes any sort of combat trick or instant interaction terrifying. I don't normally love a small doublestrike threat as they seem quite vulnerable but with this dork I don't much card if you kill it as the unearth is so tasty. It is like a really convenient Ox of Agonas on the back end while being much more playable on the front end. A high threat cheap dork they somewhat need to answer with a late game gas injection sounds really great. I will be happy pitching this in the bin too giving it good synergy with loads more cards. It is like a bigger scarier Bomat Courier. All told this seems good enough to play by itself which in turn gives a real boost to the prospects of Mishra. 

How good is Lost to Phyrexia and as such how much does that add to the value of Claimed by Gix? I think the answer is basically none as if you are attacking with the pair of them already you must be pretty far ahead. I suspect the times you could meld are going to be such a small percentage of games and in those, the percentage of those in which the meld actually changes the outcome is tiny again. In a fairly standard black red good cards deck I imagine you are talking a couple of % at best of games where you get to meld. And in those it is making a difference in a couple of % of games resulting in a near 0.01% ballpark of relevance. Obviously I will run them both together for a bit for those achieves but once I meld Mishra will be getting retired unless I have rather misjudged him. Dragon Engine however might well just last beyond that.

Sunday 16 October 2022

1996 Nostaligia


I had not appreciated the power of nostalgia until, as with so many things in life, MtG demonstrated it to me (well before this 30th Anniversary nonsense I might add, you can keep your $250 boosters thank you very much). I recently went to an event with a bunch of old magic friends. A dozen of us rented out an old National Trust property in the country and played games, ate well, and got pissed up for a long weekend. The main gaming event was a round robin magic tournament spread over three custom formats. We had a Neon Dynasty 15 card highlander event, a commons-from-a-set sealed pool auction (in which I bid down to 5 cards and 14 life for Mirrodin so that I didn't have to try and win with nothing but Homelands commons!), and an event using the top 8 decks decks from the 1st Pro Tour as seen on the link below.

I started playing MtG the release week of Ice Age and I went to my first constructed tournaments not long after. These 1996 Pro Tour decks were using the same cards and formats that I cut my teeth on. I have always liked those older cards and do tend to go with original printings and art on my cube cards where possible. My favourite cards from my personal cube collection are a FBB Wrath, a FBB BoP, and a Beta Llanowar Elf. In cube however these classics are just a small fraction of the cards. In this 1996 Pro Tour event all the cards were these classic art and borders. Not only was there a different aesthetic but the game was a totally different beast. Tempo was a barely relevant concept and card advantage was basically everything. Over the years I had forgotten how much the game has changed. And yes, while it is wildly better now in most ways it certainly wasn't bad to begin with. The old magic had a real charm about it. Some epic games with wild swings. Life gain was so much more powerful because clocks were so slow and board development was so minimal (partly due to very few good threats and partly due to there being so many reset and mass removal effects). Two life might well simply mean a near Time Walk as your opponent is slowly killing you with a Mishra's Factory. Zuran Orb was able to turn all your dead late game land draws into extra time and thus extra draw steps. No wonder it was considered a bomb back then despite not really being playable these days. 

The long and short of it is that I had an absolute blast playing with these janky old pro tour decks, despite the games being much more random in outcome, and the decks being pretty poorly built, using badly designed cards, in a game where the designers were still a long way off properly understanding what they were making content for! It was simultaneously playing Magic and somehow not. It both felt like playing something fresh and new while also old, comforting, and familiar. So with all this untapped Magical fun I had found I set about finding ways I could make it more cube like. I have been doing 40 card singleton decks so long now that they are entirely my go to. It is how I wish to frame everything. And so I set about building constructed cube like decks to mimic the main archetypes in the 1996 Pro Tour top 8 decks. 

It didn't take all that long however for me to realize the issues with making a 40 card singleton deck from the 1996 era of magic. The cards mostly are unplayable and there is very little in the way of redundancy (outside of red X burn spells for some reason...). This makes replicating the decks and how they are supposed to play very tricky. My solution to this was expanding out the time frame in which I was going to source cards from. It was a fairly arbitrary exercise anyway and just so long as I remained happy with the feel and flavour of the results we were all good. To start with I went all the way back and allowed anything from Alpha to Ice Age but made sure to "ban" out the cards I still have banned in my cube today. I didn't want the thing to become some kind of vintage event. I was trying to capture the feel of that specific pro tour top eight and it was not full of Mox, it was very much a standard event. Going back in time however didn't feel like it hurt the feel at all, in part thanks to Chronicals being legal at the time and making a lot of cards from those sets standard legal again (or Type II for those that lived it!). 

There really is not much in the way of Old School, or even just the pre-Modern, card pool and so I dabbled in expanding to newer sets. I built some with everything up to Urza's Block legal and I did the same but stopping at Mirage. While this gave me scope to build a greater number and wider variety of decks they did start to move away from resembling the intended archetypes. I have since gone on to make more decks with more unusual era criteria as I loved this exercise of building old classic decks in cube form. I did end up make some lovely creations that yearn to be played but the set is not yet complete and they likely deserve their own dedicated article. 

In my quest to make good decks I even toyed with allowing multiple copies of a card provided it had different art all within the specified era but decided no-one wanted to play in a format where you could play 10% of your deck as Hymn to Tourach! Ultimately however I managed to make four distinct decks to resemble the four main (and proper, yes looking at you here Tam) archetypes represented in that top eight. They are a delight to battle with and are something I have now stashed away so as to delight other magic players whenever the time calls for something a little different, something with a bit of history behind it. I am presently in the midst of making up 8 decks in a half way house of pre-modern and old school as I enjoyed the first deck building exercise so much. By allowing sets up to Urza's block I got a whole lot more scope to build a load more cube versions of classic and progenitor decks.

In the beginning of MtG history there were just decks. People put spells and land together, usually with too little of the latter, and they tried to make sure those spells were the best mix of spells on offer. Then decks started to specialize a bit, they went about doing things. Usually this was preventing the opponent from playing the game by messing with all their mana sources. This 1996 Pro Tour is that era of magic. There is/was no tempo decks, no combo decks, no aggro decks. Just decks doing things. There is a control archetype and it is defined mostly by it's lack of a thing. It is the deck that doesn't mess with your mana, instead it messes with everything else you do. It is just a deck like all the others but it has more answers and less threats and as such lines up with what we think of as control today. In just a few short years from this time of magical innocence we had found most of the core forms a deck can take. Aggro decks in Sligh, then in Stompy and White Weenie. (To be fair White Weenie did sort of already exist but it was just a bad Erny Geddon build, a kind of accident arisen just as a housing to ram full of pump knights, also, only total masochists play mono white in a world where Dark Ritual and Gloom co-exist...). We also then had tempo decks using cheap threats backed up by cheap disruption arise. We had full on combo decks with Tolarian Academy Stroking people out, and some more reasonable Reanimator strategies. The game was starting to be properly understood and mapped out. That arc from the simple high power in beta down through some of the lowest power sets in magic history and then back up to Urza's block is where the real wild west of magic was. It is where all the most broken cards are to be found while the designers were finding their feet. An era of discovery and rapid change. 

So, at the very start of this arc where decks were just piles of cards doing things we find ourselves. It is time to take a look at some of these cube-ified classic decks in all their splendour. The first deck I made trying to replicate the 1996 PT lists is the classic Erny-Geddon, which was represented twice in the event by Poulter and Lestree and it might well be my favourite of the lookers. I have always like green and white lands the most and this list contains some glorious and classic art beyond that. A chance to use Serra Angel couldn't really be passed up even if it is one of the weakest cards in the list. This deck also had the greatest degree of scope of the four decks to build. I had a build that used Meekstone and cut out the bigger dorks. It was probably better overall but you can't go round cutting not only the namesake card of the deck but the most powerful creature of the era! Ultimately with just the single Armageddon copy this deck is more of beatdown deck than a prison deck, especially as I had the temerity to put a decent land count in all of the decks it would be facing. Something most of the actual PT top 8 were kind enough to not bother with! I particularly enjoyed the way the Fallen Empires lands play in this list, to a new player they mostly look dodgy and bad but they add a lot of option density to a typically drier format and interact nicely with several other cards. 

The second deck is the infamous necro deck, piloted in the event by Leon Lindback. I took Necro to my first couple of sanctioned events and I got thoroughly pounded as you might expect for a 13 year old kid with under a year of playing experience. This deck is naughty as I snuck in a Lake of the Dead which is outside of the format I set. I don't even think it improves the deck I just didn't have another suitably old unique swamp! I also do not have an old Sinkhole and so I had to ruin the look anyway. Nice to have things to work towards! This deck is a little bit more of a black weenie deck than a classic necro deck due to lack of redundancy (the same issue I ran into with the Geddon list) and as such should probably be playing a bad moon. Ideally though taking out the bad creatures and replacing them with second copies of the key cards would make this play a lot better and more representatively. Being the only mono colour deck of the four this one certainly struggled most with making up numbers. At least it didn't have to face Circle of Protection: Black and Karma on top of all those protection from black dorks....) That being said, I seem to have not put Aeliophile in this list which is a big oversight in a format chock full of protection from black dorks! Some very easy to cut Bats in this list! It isn't even the best 0/1 flyer for one black mana in the format which is pretty damning. Demonic Tutor does help this deck play somewhat closely to the original and it is a real classic. The first deck to really use life as a resource and really push the envelope on just winning via card advantage. 

Deck three is this most classic of control decks. It aims to outlast and deny everything. All counters and removal and no real threats. Both Loconto and Regnier played versions of a blue white control deck in the top eight they were fairly different. Despite the better finish of Loconto this is much closer to the better built Regnier version which in honor of Rob Salmon we shall call Hamster Control. Good card advantage was so hard to come by in early magic. Your best means to get it was with mass removal effects like Wrath of God. By running no creatures you blank a lot of the opponents cards and thus gain pseudo card advantage. In a format where tempo is of low import and card advantage is almost everything that is a pretty good plan! This to my mind really was the archetypal and original control deck. It predates Randy Beulers mono blue Draw Go list as well as the Counter Post decks that were only possible once Strip Mine had rotated out (and indeed in the case of the meta we are specifically talking about here - Outpost actually being printed!). This list is a joy to play with it all being about timing and lining up your answers sensibly. Threats were not diverse or popping out too fast back in 1996 and so this deck could really take its time and make a long term plan to safely secure the game. Playing this as an experienced player does make one appreciate why a lot of good older players really love their control decks. 

Lastly we have one of the most innovative decks of the format. This one suffers a little from lack of redundancy as well and could really do with another Howling Mine and Winter Orb or two. This too was a creatureless deck but I couldn't make that work for these colours. The prison element also suffered rather and so this ended up looking more like a burn deck than an odd control/prison deck. So, while I love how this looks and plays I do not think I have done justice to the list. Yes, Mark Justice's list. I have sat here for too long now trying to work out how to word that better so it doesn't look like a pun or just read badly, But I can't so moving on. As you can see, all of these lists except the one with countermagic elect to attack mana bases. This was effective due to how little lands people played as well as the high power in mana denial cards. We see almost none of that these days as people do not enjoy having nothing that they can do. 

So, if you get the horn for old magic cards and want a big old nostalgia hit build up some decks like these and do some battles. Or play the actual decks and just look at these like the beautiful works of art they are! But we are not done yet for sexy pictures and nostalgia injections. I have a few more decks from extended time periods. There are some pet cards I just love and wanted to squeeze in but didn't feel I could reasonably do within the parameters of my first objective! Obviously one doesn't just stop when a task like this is completed, we look for the next task to work towards and it transpired that was the same but sliding the timer along and repeating. So these are three of the decks from my part complete project to do eight distinct tribute builds to various World Championship decks up to and including Urza's block. 

I also got sufficiently carried away to start designing and old school cube. Just to see what it would look like and to see how sexy it would be. It transpires that it is pretty much like my very first cube just with the Mirrodin cards removed. A cube where threats are sufficiently low powered that you mostly play combo and control decks. A format arguably low enough in power that the actual power cards are not all that egregious! Certainly it is a project I will not abandon however it turns out that I am less into the art styles progressively less as the pre-modern era goes along. There is a sort of cartoon look that seems to take over from the darker older styles from Urza's block onwards  and I start to lose that magical nostalgia vibe. It is also not that new or exciting as I have done so much cubing with that style of cube when I first got into the format. I could try and do a cube with cards just up to Urza's block but I imagine it would be pretty terrible to play even if it was delightful to look at. 

Here is a link to what I have put together so far for the pre-modern cube. It lacks the sexyness as Cube Cobra doesn't automatically chose the version of the card I want it to and I am certainly not about making it look all nice before I finish it off and test it!

I am sure I will find more new and fun ways to make and build these magic period pieces in some sort of cube based way. And I am sure if they are sexy enough I will be getting out my camera and making posts about them! For now however here is the first three of the up-to-Urza-era tribute decks. 

This first deck is Sligh or RDW or even Ponza if you really want to stretch the imagination. If we are calling this RDW it conceptually has not changed much since. This deck is broadly trying to do what a RDW list is trying to do now. Burn was pretty strong back in the day which helps make up for dorks generally being pretty weak. This was the first pre-modern cube style deck I built which looks like a current era deck in that it has a plan, a curve appropriate to that, redundancy, and that can be easily defined as an aggressive deck. It mostly tried to be wrapping things up while the opponent was still floundering around doing not much in the way of relevant stuff and fighting on such a direct axis so as to make irrelevant a lot of the cards in the opponents deck. 

Next we have the dreaded beast of the Academy deck. Commonly agreed upon as the most broken and oppressive deck ever to exist in standard. Capable of turn one wins and just doing absurd things with cards and mana. This deck looks good even when utterly stripped of redundancy. It was one of the few builds where I had plenty of options for things I could happily put in (High Tide and Turn About anyone!?) Indeed I could well have made this list more powerful or more interactive and able to get out of sticky situations. In practice it probably needs no help and should be curtailed a little if possible in order to promote better and fairer games. The power of this deck is also somewhat telling in that I already had every single card I considered for the build which is entirely not the case for any of the other 11 decks I have done/am doing so far like this. I should put in a Meditate but it is one that I didn't have  and so I just threw in a cantrip. It should probably be a Whispers of the Muse rather than Brainstorm so as to align it better with the time period! By the time I come to play this set of 8 I am sure I will have tweaked these three pictured here somewhat! I did at least let it have Memory Jar which it never got to enjoy in real life as the card was emergency banned before it was tournament legal due to how egregious it would have been in this shell. 

And lastly for now we have this elegant little stompy deck landing somewhere between Svend Geertsen's 1997 deck and Matt Linde's 1999 list. Just lots of stats on the cheap. Even purer and more linear than the mono red aggro deck! Stompy has not held up so well against the test of time as the red deck has and we have not seen mono green decks of this style since. Mono green decks that have had success since stompy have all gone a bit bigger or longer with much more mana or more more value. 

The final five decks completing this series will be a BG Survival Recurring Nightmare list, a big artifact red deck, a white weenie deck, an UR tempo deck, and another UW control deck and who knows when my whims will take me to completing it or where they will go there after! With all this silly current power creep, over printing of cards, hard to take seriously crossovers, and cash grabbing releases of late it would not be of much surprise to me if I were to end up spending more time focused on the earlier periods of magic rather more! I hope you enjoyed this little nostalgia trip and found the old cards to be a delight to behold. Playing with exclusively old magic cards is a thing I would encourage all keen players to have a go with at some point, either for the first time or as a revisiting. I was surprised at the contrast in both aesthetic and play style and I was around at the time! These spells and cards are starting to look and feel like the ancient tome bound secrets a wizard might treasure. 

Friday 7 October 2022

30th Anniversary Edition

It would seem that to celebrate 30 years of the game Wizards of the Coast very much wishes to take their customers roughshod up the shitter. I managed to read the whole article ( announcing the debacle before the penny dropped. I assumed you would be getting a complete set in addition to your four boosters so you could both build and draft with your purchase. But no, Wizards wish to sell us four boosters for a grand. No lube. No foreplay. Just a fucking grand for about as many cards as you would get in your standard deck of playing cards. I very much hope this product flops and sends Wizards and expensive lesson. At this stage I would be fine with it being a terminally expensive lesson. 

So, moving past the gobsmacked outrage and potty mouth we can look a little at why this was such a bad move and what ramifications it may have. Where to start? Lets just begin with the slap in the face that is this price tag. It doesn't send the message that Wizards respects their customers. Mostly what it smacks of is a company that is badly run and failing to internally communicate important things. This has to have been one of those decisions made by different people at different points in the process. Some group pushed for a product like this to inject options on high end cards for commander players. Keep the commander community sweet and stop bleeding away potential revenue to producers of fakes. Not an unreasonable thing to consider. Then after that got OKed some finance people shit the bed in panic that this reserve list grey area product would crash the secondary market thus eroding confidence and severally harming the primary market further down the line. To keep the finance minded people chill and still get this product out Wizards just set a price tag that would shut up both internal groups without seemingly any consideration for those external to the company... At $250 a booster and with a reasonably high rate of dud rares in the set the price tag for chase cards is going to have to be pretty severe. Ultimately quite comparable to CE (collectors edition) prices. This affords those products a degree of protection but at too greater cost. 

There is probably even a third group in the company that has seen the increased price tag on Modern Horizons boosters, then the high cost of the secret lair products, and had the opinion that they can generally get away with charging silly money for product and still have it sell. I imagine this group got well on board with the idea of charging a boat load for this product, both as a test to see quite how far they can take the piss, and as a means to make a massive killing and get themselves big bonuses. 

While the high price of the product will mostly prevent it from directly crashing the secondary market it's mere existence has eroded confidence. It is not directly breaking the reserve list promise but it is uncomfortably close. I have already seen a dip in CE and reserved list cards since the announcement. This lack of confidence isn't going to be seen as a crash, it is going to be seen as a slowing of growth. I would expect the relative value of reserve list alpha/beta/revised cards to go up less in the next ten years that they would have if this product was never announced or brought to market. Economics is all about confidence. The 30th Anniersary Edition is the biggest hit to that confidence since Chronicals and the subsequent advent of the reserved list. It is basically that simple. Yes, not everyone is benefitting from the significant value and appreciation of old reserve lists stuff but most are in some way benefitting from the market stability and confidence that the reserve list brings. Our cards hold value better and there is more availability of product as a result too. 

Another thing this product seems to do is endorse the use of proxies. Again, very understandable that with CE and similar product often being used in commander circles, that Wizards thought this was a good idea. And in many ways it was, just so poorly executed. These cards should have been competing with counterfeiters, not CE and actual reserved list stuff. These boosters should have been much nearer the normal sort of price for boosters and that way they would have sold a lot more and given people a good alternative to using fakes. What Wizards have unwittingly done is just opened the door fully on the "use proxies" debate while entering the market with outrageously uncompetitively priced options. 

I do not think anything too drastic is going to happen, I don't think the game is going to drop dead nor the markets crash. I don't expect this product to do well but equally I do not expect it to completely bomb. If this was a terminal mistake it is going to be a slow death. Likely pitted with increasingly desperate moves from Wizards. 

I had very mixed feelings about Modern Horizons, Secret Lair Products and much of what Wizards have been doing over the recent years of the game. I was sad to see the competitive scene crumble despite having no involvement in it anymore. Secret Lairs somewhat stopped the collector in me. I certainly don't include that product in anything I do collect as I simply do not have the budget to waste on such things. Rather an incomplete collection than destitute! I felt betrayed by the pricing on Modern Horizons and stopped being a complete Wizards loyalist and fanboy when MH1 was announced. That was when I started using fakes in my own cube. This however is the point at which I am happy to advertise that fact and recommend others do the same. Fakes are bad for the game if people are trying to sell them off as real and scam each other. When knowingly used as proxies they make the game more attractive and accessible to all. The only loser is ultimately Wizards and they have had plenty of opportunity to remedy that. When you operate a monopoly as Wizards effectively do one should expect forms of competition to arise in unconventional places. Wizards do not seem to respect that somewhat unique aspect of their business. They seem much more as if they like to bury their heads in the sand when there is talk of fake cards. 

While I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of this release I don't find myself caring, despite what the language might suggest. That is to emphasise my shock. I cared at Modern Horizons and I cared at Secret Lair. A lack of caring is quite the ominous sign. It is when you know the love is gone. As a reader of this I would be like "yeah mate, of course you don't care, that is why you have written this huge rant about it". Certainly it might seem like I care. Mostly I am just commentating on Magic as that is what I have been doing for many a year now. This feels like more of a eulogy than a rant. I don't think Magic will die, and I am certainly not quitting. But I think we are just friends now. I think we have changed too much! This is a eulogy not of Magic but of my relationship with it. The fact that I am playing so many different cubes at present, skipping out sets, doing loads of things with old school and pre-modern legalities, all suggest that this falling out of love had already started. I think it just took me seeing a laughably price tag on a product and finding it funny rather than getting angry or emotional about it to realise that we had run our course. There is always that season in a series where you are still enjoying it but you realise there is nothing more to do. It should wrap it up there and end on a high rather than carry on pushing with weaker content and retrodden paths. Obviously that is not how economics work and things limp on till there is no more money to be had. It is just sad to see that.

If anyone is considering buying this product do please let me know complete with the reason why. I am super interested. I would advise against it but that is as far as I go. I am not intending to sell out of Magic or stopping playing or even stopping with the blog. I am just less committed than before. I enjoyed poking holes and poking fun at this farce. Perhaps that is a direction! Likewise, if you don't however think this is a farce, even if you do not intend to invest in it at all I am keen to hear your supporting arguments. They will be responded to kindly (by me at least!)