Tag Archives: MTG

Core Set 2020 Notable Cards

Introduction

Those who have visited the page in the past know that this isn’t going to be a “best of Core Set 2020” article. I might end up accidentally or incidentally choosing cards that would be considered good. However, that is not the intent of this article. There are plenty of other resources out there that will give you those cards. Instead, I like to do things a bit differently around here.

In the realm of Magic the Gathering personas or whatever they call them, I’m a Johnny. Sometimes I’m a Timmy. I am almost never a Spike unless I start getting beat a bit too many times on Magic the Gathering Arena. As a result, I look through spoiler lists with a slightly different eye than the usual reviewer. My list of cards will contain cards that I (a) think I can build crazy combos around but usually (b) ones that make me say, “Wow, that’s a cool card!” If that sounds like your cup of tea, join me and continue reading.

White Cards (Did Somebody Say Angels?)

Yes, it’s a reprint. But, what a reprint!

Planar Cleansing – Those of you who visit the page on a semi regular basis know that I am a hypocrite when it comes to Magic the Gathering. I will rail against other people playing solitaire Magic decks until I’m blue in the face even as I tap my own blue face for mana to play cards that don’t allow my opponent to play Magic. Planar Cleansing has always been one of my favorite cards. The art is perfect. The effect is ridiculous. And, if you hate all the Superfriends love from Dominaria, here’s your answer.

So, uh, does this mean we are returning to Theros?

Starfield Mystic – As soon as I saw this card, I texted Chris about it. Looks a bit like a Theros card, doesn’t it? He agreed. We’ve been talking for a while now that it would be nice to travel back to Theros. I mean, they’ve been back to Innistrad and Zendikar. This last trip was the third to Ravnica. How about some Greek mythology love this time, WotC?

Oh, there’s a 2 mana penalty for removal on my commander? That’s cute

Sephara, Sky’s Blade (Honorable Mention) – i think it was Jeff Hoogland who was playing this one on his stream recently. The alternate casting cost didn’t go off as much as I had hoped, but this thing would be ridiculous in an EDH white token deck. I’m sure someone else already has theirs built and tuned but I’d love to put one together myself.

Only one of us will be playing Magic today.

Pacifism (Lifetime Achievement) – Remember earlier when I mentioned that I like to play cards that don’t let my opponent play Magic? This is probably my all time favorite card ever printed. I don’t like this art, but I will still play the card.

Blue (Oh, I’m Sorry. Did you want to play Magic today?)

Further enraging the community by giving blue players another reason to tap their islands.

Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer – This card might as well just say, “Blue. Blue blue blue blue blue. Blue blue blue.” Everything about this card says to me, put 20 basic islands in your deck and play this card on turn 3. The only thing missing is a counter ability, but that’s tough to do when Planeswalkers activate at sorcery speed. Nevertheless, drawing 20 cards a turn, you’ll get a counter eventually.

Someone posted online that whoever came up with this card needs to be fired or promoted. On the name alone, promotion.

I saw this card on a Gaby Spartz’ stream, I think. She was playing limited and it seemed like every single person was playing this card. The card itself is a blue beast token with upside, but that name is absolutely magical. I’m putting four of these in my Mu Yanling deck just so I can repeatedly say, “I cast Octoprophet.”

I activate Teferi’s +1. Uh, just a minute there, Buddy.

Tale’s End (Honorable Mention) – This is a very specific counter and ultimate useless in most cases. However, it has that quality of blue Johnny cards that just speaks to me. Being able to either counter a Planeswalker or a particularly annoying activated ability of that Walker if you get it a turn late is oddly satisfying. You’ll still lose the game, but a turn or two later.

All my spells have flash? Perhaps I don’t want to draw all those cards with Mu Yanling.

Leyline of Anticipation (Lifetime Achievement) – One of the surprising reprints in this set was the Leyline cycle reprint. I’m not sure why they would have been reprinted now, but maybe because they are Enchantments and Theros was all about enchantments, that’s one more clue that we are going to go back there in the next sets.

Black (Your graveyard is looking a bit empty)

Why not just give it trample, too, and make you discard 2 cards a turn?

Rotting Regisaur – This is another one that I texted Chris about. 3 mana 7/6 with minimal draw back? And, as he said, one of black’s identities is sacrificing cards for stronger effect, so even if you discard something, chances are it will be back later. Sometimes I think the fine folks at WotC are just trolling us with these cards.

Half of a duress that exiles on a stick feels real nice.

Yarok’s Fenlurker – This card seems like it could be a limited all star, but I’m terrible at evaluating cards (as the next section will show). A 1/1 body that exiles a card from the opponent’s hand? Sure, the opponent gets to choose, but that’s still a great upside. Plus, it can be a grizzly bear for only 3 additional mana! See, I told you I’m terrible at evaluating cards.

4 mana 1/2? Sure, why the hell not?

Sanitarium Skeleton (Honorable Mention) – This card is absolute garbage. Sure it might be nice on turn 1 as a blocker for those pesky goblins that basic mountain decks like to play. And, it can sit in your hand for a few turns to be fodder for Regisaur. Why am I including this card in my article then? Who knows. Sometimes, a card just speaks to me.

If I can’t counter your stuff, I’ll just kill it.

Murder (Lifetime Achievement) – The caption to the picture says it all. I’ve been playing a UB no fun deck on Arena the last few weeks and it’s filled with counters and removal. This one is just such a tidy answer to pretty much anything that the opponent sneaks through my counter spells.

Red (Aw, man, do I have to?)

I hate red, but this is the kind of red I can get behind.

Chandra’s Regulator – Another card that necessitated a text to Chris. I think my exact words were, “This card might be garbage, but I love it.” We then had a discussion about Chandra planeswalker cards, how they are always garbage, and as a result, so was this card. Oh well, I still want to play it.

It might be red. But, the art and flavor text make this card solid gold.

Reckless Air Strike – There is so much wrong with this card. First, it’s a sorcery. Second, many flying creatures have so much more than 3 health. Third, we’ll just slap some artifact hate on the end there. Still, I’m sure to end up with this card in draft and it’ll prove just how unplayable it actually is.

We heard you like dragons. Well, we’ll dragon your dragon until you got a dragon.

Drakuseth, Maw of Flames (Honorable Mention) – I really include this card as an homage to our fallen homie (oh, he’s not dead, just inactive on the page), Chris. He’s a dragon guy. And this is quite the dragon. Hell, even that subtitle is ridiculous.

A red card that is sort of like a blue or black card? Of course this is my favorite.

Act of Treason (Lifetime Achievement) – Oh, you got a creature past my counter and I don’t have removal? Well, I guess I’ll just take it from you and beat you with it, then. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve used this card to steal someone’s giant creature and beat them.

Green (Giant, Stompy Dinosaurs!)

If Mu Yanling is blue, then this card is GREEN.

Vivien, Arkbow Ranger – This is another card that I texted to Chris about. I mentioned how I thought the card was sexy and he told me to calm down. Our conversation then went on to other NSFW content. Seriously, though, this card is dope.

He looks like he might live in Theros.

Loaming Shaman – I’m only including this guy as another possible hint that we’re heading back to Theros soon. That ability it kind of neat. What really grabs me is white horse guy with white hair and bear has gotta live on Theros.

A generic 7/7?!

Vorstclaw (Honorable Mention) – This thing is just a big dumb creature. It doesn’t trample. There’s no ramp. No text at all other than for flavor. And that’s even that isn’t much of a flavor. Earlier there was a 3 mana 7/6 with minimal draw back. Now, we have a 6 mana 7/7 with no upside. What is happening in this game?

3 mana now for 1 mana later? Sure, why not?

Gift of Paradise (Lifetime Achievement) – This is probably the slowest ramp in the history of the game. But, it is ramp. And ramp helps you to get to those 6 mana generic 7/7s that much faster. So, get out there and start ramping.

Multicolor (Or, the gold border always makes me think it’s Mythic. Yes, still.)

Now, this one is Mythic. However, many of them are not.

Omnath, Locus of the Roil – If you have “I texted Chris about this card” for this one, then I’m pretty sure you have BINGO. However, I didn’t see this one during spoiler season. It wasn’t until Jeff Hoogland was playing an interesting Elemental deck that I texted him about this card. It looks like such a fun card.

Jeskai is as Jeskai does.

Kykar, Wind’s Fury – Back when Tarkir was the new hotness, I was drawn to Jeskai. I ended up trying to force Mardu in the prerelease event that I went to, but Jeskai is my first love, espeically when they got rid of the pesky red from their color scheme. This card screams Jeskai. And, so, it gets a spot on my list.

No Honorable Mention or Lifetime Achievement – None of the other cards jump out at me as interesting and there aren’t any reprints that I recognize.

Colorless ( Weren’t these cards brown before?)

A colorless card that is actually WUBRG? Mind blown…

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim – If you already got BINGO last round, go for Super BINGO this time. Or, you could play how was this message delivered? “This card is probably garbage, but I can’t wait to build a Commander deck around it.” I love the fact that it is an artifact, but also five colors at the same time. That’s all you need to get me to love a garbage card.

Bag of Holding – A second way to get me to like a garbage card is to name it after a Dungeons and Dragons item. When WotC first took over D&D, I was a little bit worried, but they’ve done a good job with the game. I haven’t played the Ravnica cross over yet, but I saw that they are releasing a 2 player version of D&D for losers like me who don’t have more than one friend.

Um, Time Vault is an artifact, yes?

Manifold Key (Honorable Mention) – Another sure fire way to get me to love a garbage card is to make it so that it reminds me of a card played in my favorite format to watch, Vintage. There’s a combo that allows you to go infinite with Time Vault and Voltaic Key. However, both of those cards are restricted. This one isn’t. Not yet. I’m not sure if there are 3 cards to remove from the deck to add 4 of these, but there’s a chance.

And stay dead!

Grafdigger’s Cage (Lifetime Achievement) – I was watching Modern the other day. And, yes, I did text Chris about it, but this card wasn’t involved in the conversation. Rather, I was telling him about the Hogaak deck that was casting the title creature on turn 2 or 3. WotC was quick to ban Bridge from Below to slow it down. But, thinking about that deck made me think about this card.

The Verdict (Core Set 2020 is a Core Set)

There are some good cards in the set. At its heart, though, Core Set 2020 lives up to the name. There was a time when WotC killed off core sets and nobody, aside from collecting nerds like me, seemed to miss them. I might be off base here, but I don’t remember a ton of complaining when it happened.

Therefore, I, for one, am happy to have the core sets back. I am a bit behind in my collecting, so I just recently picked up my box from Core set 2019, but it should only take a month or so to get up to speed with Core Set 2020. Until then, maybe I’ll do a draft or two on Arena.

Magic the Gathering Arena Review

Introduction

Note: Just to give some context, this review comes shortly after Magic the Gathering Arena switched over to the Mastery system from the weekly quests system.

If it seems like it’s been a while since there has been any gaming content on the page, that’s because it has. I have been working over the last few weeks to get caught up on my comics reading so that I can provide newer content. As a result, most of the recent articles have been reviews of older comic books.

I wrote in my last article that I’m now caught up and next week’s reviews should contain reviews of current comic books. This week I wanted to take a break from comics and get back to what started the page in the first place. Since Quinn is showing an interest in Magic, a new set just came out, and I don’t think I’ve ever done a comprehensive review of Arena, I figured MtG was a good place to start that pivot back into gaming.

The Good (Magic the Gathering Arena is fun!)

I wrote in my notes, “You got Hearthstone in my Magic! You got Magic in my Hearthstone! Two great tastes that go great together?” Because, at my heart, I’m a dad and I abuse dad jokes whenever I can. I think when MTGA was first announced, I even called it Magic the Gathering Hearthstone edition.

I realize now that I’m looking at these two screenshots that I’m selling MTGA short by comparing it to Hearthstone. Sure, they both have interactive backgrounds and an emote system, but that’s about where the similarities end. The animations in MTGA are so much better and more intricate. MtG’s gameplay is so much more in depth and rich than Hearthstone.

I was watching a Kibler stream where he played some ridiculous Angels deck against Day9. They both had nearly 100 angel tokens on the field. Kibler, laughing, said, “You wonder why they don’t have this on mobile? Here’s why.” I admit to asking why in the past. My phone would probably spontaneously combust trying to render that many animations at once.

Magic the Gathering Arena is so much more than just a rip off of Hearthstone. I am ecstatic to have been wrong about that. In my opinion, MtG is so much better than Hearthstone and I would much rather play this game for random gold and packs than Hearthstone. I do still play Hearthstone but only after I’ve finished my time in Arena.

The Bad (Magic the Gathering Arena is Standard Only – for now)

No luck if I want to trade in my wild cards for a set of Force of Will.

Look, I understand that they need to start somewhere and that Standard makes the most sense. I also get that the game is buggy and suffers from slowdown even now with only standard sets programmed. Still, I’m a Vintage player at heart and I’d love to be able to hoard my wild cards to put together a deck that I’d never play in a million years in paper or even on MTGO. It’s a pipe dream at best, but maybe I’ll live long enough for them to (a) properly optimize the code and (b) transfer all cards into the game.

After all, they’ve announced a new format specifically to address the fact that older cards have already been coded in since the game has been in beta since Ixalan. They’re calling it Historic (?), which seems like a really dumb name. Also, given their recent lack of success in creating new formats, I don’t give this one much chance of lasting very long. Then again, I’ve been wrong before.

The Ugly (Magic the Gathering Arena rewards aren’t as much fun?)

I mean, fire kitty is pretty cute. Also, speaking of buggy, he’s part of a game breaking one.

Like many games that want to keep you on the treadmill, Magic the Gathering Arena has daily quests. They used to also have weekly quests. By winning 15 games in a week, I could collect 3 free packs. Apparently, someone decided that was too generous and they changed over to this Mastery system, which gives rewards based on gaining experience through daily quests and your first three wins of the day.

I put this under the ugly section mainly because of my reaction to it. I was not happy with the initial announcement and became less enamored with the idea once I saw it in action. However, as with most things in life, it would appear that Wizards of the Coast knew better than I did. I’ve been playing Arena more now than I ever did under the old reward system. Well, played WotC, well played.

The Verdict (Magic the Gathering Arena is good)

It should come as no surprise that someone who enjoys Magic the Gathering would enjoy a PC game based on Magic the Gathering. Well, the surprising part here is that I despise MTGO. I don’t like playing it. I don’t like watching streams that play it. I enjoy watching Hearthstone so much more and it is mainly for the cartoon graphics and silly animations. Those, therefore, are the main reasons that I keep coming back to Arena and streams that play Arena.

The game isn’t very polished at this point. There are bugs and slowdown from a lack of optimization. However, it is Magic the Gathering. That part I mostly enjoy. I’m still suspicious that RNGsus hates me and loves my opponents. But, I will continue to play as long as they support the game. Look out for me on a virtual tabletop near you.

Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Return to Ravnica

Note: This is the final part of a 6-part series. At last, we Return to Ravnica for our retrospective.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Introduction

When Wizards of the Coast notified us that we were going back to Ravnica for the next three sets, my initial reaction was excitement. Then, I thought about it and had a brief text discussion with Chris and we both came to the same thought almost simultaneously. That seems early. I don’t think that either one of us thought that it was a bad thing. We just both got over the initial excitement at nearly the same time and concluded, “Why Ravnica again?”

As you may have guessed, the story doesn’t end there. Do our stories ever really end around here? We almost always seem to have more to say if you just give us time. I, especially, suffer from what Stephen King used to refer to as diarrhea of the word processor. Chris is much more vocal about his opinions, so you’ll have to tune into the podcasts and videos to hear what he thinks.

Besides, you really need them all to get the true 2 Generations Gaming experience.

At the very least, the announcement got me feeling nostalgic. Initially, I was going to do a top 5 or top 10 Magic the Gathering sets. Then I got the crazy idea to rank all of the sets. I finally settled on this retrospective to look back on all of the sets since I got back into the game. Initially it was going to be a 5 part series, but now you hold part 6 in your greedy little hands. I told you to just give me time and I’ll find more to say. Enjoy!

Some Quick Notes About Core Set 2013

This was my first exposure back into the game. I was wandering around Wal*Mart before the redesign and I noticed that they were still making Magic the Gathering cards. Though I didn’t buy them at that time, but the next time I was in the store, they suckered me in with their “Deckbuilder’s Toolkit” set which more or less spoke to the noob in me who hadn’t played the game in nearly two decades. I brought the set home, opened it, and was hooked almost immediately. At that point, it was mostly just a collector’s hobby since I didn’t know anyone else who played. My kids were too young, Chris hadn’t started playing yet, and my wife and I were too busy with babies to even consider playing against one another.

This photo is a lie. Either these people are all on drugs (the baby included) or they are delusional from a lack of sleep.

I still thought about the game and what was possible. Several cards made an impression on me. First and foremost was Talrand, Sky Summoner. At heart, I’m a blue mage and the card represents everything I want to do with Magic the Gathering. If I had known about Commander back then, that would have been the first deck that I mad scienced into existence. Instead, I learned about Krenko and that started my love/hate relationship with goblins in the game. More recently, I just learned that Door to Nothingness is in that set, too. While that is probably to most definitely a terrible card, that never stopped me from trying to make something out of nothing.

Why Should We Not Go Back to Ravnica?

I’m a bad news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the reasons that I came up not to go back to Ravnica. The first reason is pure selfishness. Having missed out on most of the game due to my absence from it, I feel personally slighted by this decision. Instead of taking us back to one of the planes that I missed (see the last section for more), they are bringing us back to Ravnica.

I’m about to borrow a phrase from my kids for this one and I’m not above acting childish. It works for our President.

Furthermore, it just seems like overkill at this point. This is the third visit to Ravnica in 13 years. I was able to brush up on some of the lore and I will talk more about it the “Why” section. In short, it’s a great story. But, what more can the have to tell about Ravnica right now? Perhaps that’s why they’re professional writers and I’m a struggling self published author.

The final point is one that Chris made on the podcast. With Red and by extension Red/Black being so powerful right now, a Ravnica block might only strengthen that. The block is two color focused. In the past, Rakdos has not been one of the color combinations that they’ve given a high power level. What if they decide to change that this time? Are we going to live under the tyranny of an extended RB reign for the foreseeable future? I hope not, but fear we may.

Why Should We Return to Ravnica?

I’m not sure that I made a compelling argument against going back to Ravnica. Truth be told, I’m not all that against the decision. I really like Ravnica. It’s the time that both Chris and I got back into the game, so it holds sentimental value to us. It will be fun to see if we really can go home again.

Since Presque Isle (aside from family, of course) is the only reason I can ever find to go back to my actual childhood home town.

I mentioned lore in the previous section. Over the weekend, I was able to look back at the “Player’s Guide” booklets that they include in every Fat Pack (because that’s what they are WotC, I don’t care if you changed the name) for the Ravnica block. I forgot how much I enjoyed that story. The guilds get the most focus and for good reason. By giving the color combinations names, people are able to relate more to them. The proof of this is that they are used as descriptors for decks in the tournaments that I watch. It’s just more interesting to hear Mardu (I know that’s Khans, but it’s the same idea) Pyromancer instead of RWB Pyromancer.

With the guilds, there have been new mechanics during each visit to Ravnica. Will that continue, or will they reprint some of the old mechanics? If they do the latter, that might be a slight point against the return. Will they reprint all of the mechanics so that they are all Standard legal at the same time? That might actually be a valid argument for the return. Maybe don’t listen to me. I’m often a fan of chaos, especially in Magic the Gathering.

Finally, what other cards or card types could be reprinted. Chris is a fan of the shock lands. When he said that, it made me think of the bounce lands and the possibilities of having them standard legal again. I’m not usually a fan of reprints, but both of those land types make the head spin with the possibilities. Even if they don’t reprint cards, they can bring back old favorites with new abilities. Going back to Ravnica could be a good thing indeed.

Where Else Could We Return Besides Ravnica?

…in no particular order, which I guess is just a list of 5, but everyone likes Top “X” lists, so there you have it.

Alara: Inspired by Chris, I went through and tried to think of some planes that I’d rather visit than Ravnica. This led me to think about recent sets and what I enjoyed about them. One of my favorite recent blocks was Tarkir, but it would be even sillier to go back there than Ravnica. So, instead, I went back a little bit further. Alara is three color focused, similar to Tarkir. Those color combinations are named and the set seems to rival Ravnica’s popularity in some circles. I think that a Return to Alara would be nice.

Ice Age: This one is a purely emotional decision. Chris and I started playing the game during this block. Maybe that’s a stretch. I go back a bit earlier than Chris, but we discovered on the comics podcast that we both frequented the same stomping grounds way before we ever officially met. Besides, who doesn’t want snow lands and Skred back in the game?

Antiquities: Chris mentioned this one in the podcast. He said that it felt like a natural extension to the Dominaria set. I didn’t admit it at the time because I didn’t want to sound dumb on the podcast, but I freely admit now that I didn’t know what he meant. I don’t remember my time in the game during the first Antiquities set. However, having now looked at the card list, I can see what he was saying. It’s a classic set with some classic cards and if WotC is feeling nostalgic, then why not take it all the way back?

Kamigawa: This was my one big idea. First, I have an abnormal attachment to the set due to many of the cards being used in one of the storm decks that I built a couple of years ago. Also, some of the cards are in the cubes that I draft. They are just fun cards. Finally, I thought since they have been doing recent sets based on ancient civilizations, why not an Asian theme? Well, I’m going to hold on to this suggestion for the future. With the release of the Chinese planeswalker decks, I might have been on to something.

Well, not only could I not do a Top 5 in order, but I can’t even think of a fifth to round out my list. If any of you have any ideas, I’d love to hear about them and discuss. Leave a comment, write an email, or Tweet at us!

Conclusion

While there are other times during Magic the Gathering’s history that I’d rather visit, I’m not mad about going back to Ravnica. The story is fantastic, the mechanics are almost always at least fun, and I get to revisit my Vorel of the Hull Clade Commander deck to see if I can improve it with the new cards. Who knows, there might even be stuff for my Alesha, Who Smiles at Death deck. As always, we keep on the sunny side of life here at 2 Generations Gaming.

Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Dominaria

Note: This is now part 5 of a 6 part series. I have decided to make Return to Ravnica it’s own article.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Introduction

Welcome to part 5 (of 6 now) of my retrospective on Magic the Gathering since Scars of Mirrodin. It’s been a fun trip for me to look back at all of the sets and it reminded me why I love the game so much. Not that I needed the reminder, but familiarity breeds complacency. Every now and then, it’s appropriate to reminisce on the good times that you’ve had.

Relationship advice from your Friendly Neighborhood Noob of All Trades.

Noob’s History with Magic the Gathering

I’ve probably mentioned this several times, both on the web page and in the podcast, but I wasn’t initially impressed with Dominaria. Chris sent me a text with a link. The link was an early and unauthorized leak for the set. After making the joke that someone was definitely going to lose a job over this, I clicked the link. Before I tell you my initial impressions (Spoiler Alert: I already did in the first sentence of this paragraph), let me set the scene.

I’ve been playing Magic the Gathering since the beginning. I don’t have any cool Alpha or Beta collecting stories to tell, but I got into the game when I met someone in college who played the game. When I left school the next year because I met my future wife and moved to be near her, I tried to teach her the game. It wasn’t something that interested her and I didn’t find anyone else who played the game. When combined with the fact that I hadn’t fully developed my commitment to collecting, I moved on to other interests.

I miss my Ice Age cards. Hopefully someone gave them a loving home.

I won’t go into the whole story of how I got back into the game. Just know that it involved an initial missed connection at Wal*Mart, a sheepish admission, and 2 other dudes. Let your imagination chew on that one for a while. Once you’re ready, I’ll continue. Back with me? Okay, let’s continue the story.

As someone who played the game from the beginning, but took a nearly 20 year break from the game, I was excited to be going back to the beginning of the game. It gave me a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. When I finally saw some of what we were getting, it was uninspiring.

Dominaria First Impresssions

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is the set that was supposed to take us back to the beginning of Magic the Gathering. We were supposed to be transported back 25 years to our college, teenage, or even childhood years to reminisce about all of those games of Magic the Gathering we played against friends and family. Instead, after clicking the link to the spoilers, I was transported to just another mediocre Magic the Gathering set. Where was the history? What about the recognizable names? Why not even a reference to Black Lotus?

Heck, I’d even take a Grizzly Bear for old time’s sake.

I should have known better. Any time I take Wizards of the Coast literally in their descriptions, I end up letting myself down. I can’t blame them directly. They are in the business of advertising. As a result, they are doing everything they can to sell their product. It’s not their fault that I fall for it every time and over hype myself.

It happened with Masters 25. It could be any card from Magic the Gathering’s 25 year history. With that one simple statement, off my imagination went. What could possibly be in that box that I’m (or Chris and me together) are going to buy? They recently unbanned Jace. Could it be a defective box containing only Jace the Mind Sculptor, allowing me to live out my dream of retiring on sales of Magic the Gathering cards? It could be literally anything! (Disclaimer: It cannot be any card on the reserved list.)

It could even be a boat!

Both early spoilers and comments from the community cured my hype. One comment in particular stuck with me. “Remember,” the person wrote, “Island is a card that was printed in Magic the Gathering over the last 25 years.” That brought me crashing back to earth. Sure, there are great cards, but there are also not so great cards and even terrible cards, too. I braced myself for Dominaria being another let down.

Final Verdict on Dominaria

The one card that became my focus of the set was the new Karn. Karn Liberated is one of the best cards ever printed in the history of the game. Along with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, It is the backbone of Modern control decks, not that any of them exist anymore. Karn, Scion of Urza might be a good card and I’ve never argued that it isn’t, but it’s a shadow of his former self, in my humble opinion.

Aside from that card, nothing jumped out at me from that initial spoiler reveal. As a result, I wasn’t looking forward to Dominaria. It wasn’t until Chris started to look closer at the set through the remainder of the spoiler season that I started to see the potential of the set. He made the point that as the set filled out, it started to look and feel like classic Magic the Gathering.

Mox Amber quickly became one of his favorite cards, though he had to explain his thinking to me about it’s potential power level.

In addition to getting a new Mox for the first time since Scars of Mirrodin, the set gave us a potential Tron/Storm killer in Damping Sphere. The also introduced saga enchantments (Phyrexian Scriptures hasn’t proven to be as popular as I hoped, but it’s still my favorite) and as a result, a mechanic known as historic. In a set that lives for flavor, that’s quite possibly my favorite inclusion.

Initially underwhelming, overall Dominaria is a great set. Chris and I have gone back and forth a few times on whether it is the best set in the history of the game. Obviously, having missed a great deal of the game’s history, I can’t make that claim. What I can say is that it is probably my favorite set since coming back to Magic the Gathering. That’s it for now. Join me, hopefully tomorrow, as I finally (for real this time!) wrap up this series with the Return to Ravnica block.

Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Kaladesh to Rivals of Ixalan

Note: This is part 4 of a 5 part series.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Introduction

After revisiting Zendikar and Innistrad in the first four sets of the new block structure, WotC felt inspired to bring us to three new planes in the next 6. First, we went home with our favorite firebrand. Then, a dragon became a god in the desert. Finally, they must have given a 7 year old kid a 2 liter bottle of mountain dew and a set of sharpies before releasing him into the R&D office. Because Ixalan is a magical tapestry of pirates and dinosaurs woven together with vampires and merfolk.

Pirates and dinosaurs?! What more do you need?!

As with all of the Magic the Gathering sets, there are things that I like and things that I dislike about these six. Because I want to stay positive, I tend to focus on the things that I like. Overall, that was easy to do with this block of sets. There is a lot to like about the current state of Magic and I’m optimistic about the future of the game. Join me as I tell you why.

Kaladesh/Aether Revolt

As I mentioned above, this is the first new plane introduced for a couple of cycles. In addition, as I eluded earlier, this is the home plane for Chandra Nalaar. As a result, we finally got a great planeswalker card for her. When it was spoiled, some referred to it as Chandra, the Mind Sculptor. While I hesitate to agree with that sentiment, it is a good card and it has seen play as recently as this past weekend PT.

Plus, I pulled a foil from my first pack and sold it for 70 bucks on eBay a couple of days later. So, I’m not going to complain about the hype.

Kaladesh is also home to the mystical force known as aether. It is used for magical purposes, but also incorporated into constructs to simulate technology. This latter use of aether introduced a new type of card to the game in the form of vehicles. While their introduction excited me as all new mechanics and card types do, they weren’t the feature of the plane.

Kaladesh is also home to everyone’s favorite token, the thopters, but shockingly, they don’t represent the epitome of this marriage of magic and technology either. Sure, many (perhaps all) of the denizens of Kaladesh utilize thopters in every day life. And, I come here not to bury the thopters. I come to praise them. But, they don’t come close to the cool factor of the giant loveable magic fueled robots, the Gearhulks.

What happens when you fuse the soul of a Snapcaster Mage with a hunk of metal and zap it with some Aether? Oh, this isn’t a riddle. You get this guy.

Two final points before leaving Kaladesh for the deserts of Amonkhet. First, do you love infinite combos in standard? Because, thanks to Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, we got an infinite combo in standard! It was fun while it lasted before WotC banished Guardian to eternal formats. Finally, I mentioned in my previous article that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to see the Eldrazi coming. Granted, I might not have been paying attention here, either, but I was able to fortell the coming of Nicol Bolas.

Amonkhet/Hour of Devastation

This pair of sets had a similar feel to Theros. I’m not as much of a fan of Egyptian mythology as Greek. Still, I find anything based on ancient civilizations fascinating. I once made the joke, after buying a Dremel multi tool, that ancient civilizations were able to build such remarkable structures without such modern amenities. Clearly, they were better men than me. But, I digress.

How is this just like Theros then? Well, you have the return of gods to the game. Just like Theros, each of the gods has a like god from the actual pantheon of Egyptian gods. The big difference is that our favorite (possibly) immortal dragon, Nicol Bolas has taken up residence on the plane as the big boss man, er, god.

Where there’s Bolas, Ugin can’t be far behind and vice versa. Perhaps there will be a reckoning on Ravnica?

Three mechanics introduced in the sets are absolute flavor wins. The first two are embalm and eternalize. Both involve the afterlife of a creature. As we all know, that’s a major theme in Egyptian mythology. Those were neat to see included in the sets. The third gave both Chris and I “WTF” moments initially. I thought the cards were either a joke or misprinted.

We’ve had cards that flip upside down. They have “fused” and “melded” cards together. There have been double sided cards. That format has been the most resourceful for them. They’ve used it on creatures, planeswalkers, and even lands now. So, the concept of a card becoming another card is not new to the game. It’s just that the latest iteration of the concept initially looked…let’s say, odd. I know you’ve seen them, but look at them again with an innocent’s eyes.

I seriously thought the cards were misprinted. It’s just such a jarring design.

Ixalan/Rivals of Ixalan

I already made the joke about the development of the set earlier. Don’t misunderstand me. I actually loved the concept of dinosaurs and pirates. Can’t forget vampires and merfolk, but they’re not nearly as cool as the others. Funny enough, I also already referenced one of the other major developments of the set in the previous section, double faced lands. Certainly not as exciting as pirates or dinosaurs. Not even really as exciting as the less exciting vampires and merfolk. Still worth a mention.

Let’s talk about the dinosaurs for a minute. There are your normal run of the mill dinos. You know the ones, The velociraptor who bags your groceries at the super market, as long as it isn’t chicken. Then there’s the old lady T-Rex who hangs out on the park bench and eats the pigeons. And we can’t forget about the dilophosaur children who attack the bus driver every morning and never actually make it to school.

Adorable.

Then, you have your Elder dinosaurs. You might wonder why the old lady from the previous paragraph doesn’t get consideration for elder dinosaur. Well, quite simply, it’s because she isn’t epic enough. Elder dinosaurs don’t sit on a park bench! They have word vomit for keyword text, or increase your hand size to inifinity, or kill everything on the board, or exile cards from your opponent and give them to you, or…have trample? Okay, so that last one doesn’t seem quite so epic. But, I assure you, it is!

Or, they are uncastable and have little to no impact on the game if you do happen to get to 9 mana.

Lastly on the plane of Ixalan, and most important to a filthy casual player like me, is the hybrid board and card game that Wizards of the Coast released. I’ve gotten to play it a couple of times with the boys and it is a fun way to introduce people to the game of Magic the Gathering. Even as a more seasoned player, I liked the addition of the strategy of the board game element. I’m glad that they will be doing more of this.

The Verdict

All three of the new planes brought innovation into the game. As Chris and I discussed on the podcast yesterday, the two set structure tends to make the second set weaker. It isn’t as much of a problem in the 3 set blocks because you expect one of the sets of the three to not be as strong. But, in a 2 set structure, that means that half of the block is weak. It’s just simple math.

Nevertheless, as I said in the beginning, I like to focus on the positive. There’s plenty from each of these sets that I enjoyed. It may not sound like it on the podcast, but I’m mostly optimistic about where Magic the Gathering is right now and where it is going in the near future.

I have only Dominaria and the Return to Ravnica block to cover before I’m done with this retrospective. I wasn’t sure exactly how, or even if, I would pull this off and it’s a bit of a relief to be at the end. It’s been a fun look back at my time in the game. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it, too, and will come back in a couple of days for the final article.

Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Origins to Eldrich Moon

Note: This is part 3 of a 5 part series.

Part 1 | Part 2

Introduction

This is the time in Magic the Gathering history when the game was supposed to change forever. They made an announcement that there would be no more core sets. Admittedly, I don’t always have my finger on the pulse of various communities, but I never heard a huge outcry during the announcement. Granted, as a collector, I mourned the loss of those sets, but I’m not sure that many others did.

Aside from that, they reduced the number of sets for each block from 3 sets to 2. In response to this announcement, I did hear quite a bit of murmuring from the crowd. Perhaps it was a bridge too far so soon after the abolition of core sets. As we’ve discussed several times, some portions of the nerd community have become resistant to change. Furthermore, they are quite vocal about it.

Actual quotes from Star Wars fans after every new movie.

Magic the Gathering Origins and Competitive Play

In the previous two articles, I’ve included the core set with the block. I change that here for two reasons. First, with the core sets being discontinued, WotC assured us that there wouldn’t necessarily be “blocks” of sets anymore, even though there were for the next six cycles. Second, since Origins was supposed to be the “last” core set, they promised something innovative for the set.

As with most of WotC’s promises, this wasn’t entirely true. While there were some new things in the set that I will talk about briefly, at it’s heart, Origins was a core set. I think in my article about it, I called Origins the “corest of core sets”. I don’t blame them. Core sets existed for a reason. If you’re going to have core sets, then it should fulfill that purpose. Just don’t promise that you’re going out with a bang and then offer a slightly exaggerated whimper.

Okay, enough of my own “Grumpy Cat” impression. As I said, there are things that I enjoyed about the set. Before I get to those, I will just write a quick note about competitive. I’m not a competitive player by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t aspire to be one either. I do enjoy watching Magic, though, and this set was very kind to competitive players.

Plus, as an added bonus, it gave us the earworm, “I ain’t no Hangerback girl”. Just me? I can live with that.

My Thoughts on MtG Origins

Finally, we get to my positives from the set. Not to give too much away, but they’re what you have come to expect from a filthy casual such as myself. I might be mistaken here, but it’s the first time that I noticed that WotC made the story front and center in the game. I know that there has always been lore. It’s one of the things that we love about Magic. But, this is the first time that I saw them pushing that story on their web page and through the cards. That story focused around five main Planeswalkers and their journey through Magic history.

Speaking of those Planeswalkers, they lived up to the promise of “something different”. None of them start off as Planeswalkers. Instead, they are cast as younger versions of themselves. Then, through a mechanic associated with their color identity, they “gain their spark” and flip to become a Planeswalker. There has been at least one other flip Planewalker since, but this was like nothing that I have ever seen in the game before this set. I don’t know if they have plans to do so, but I would love to see more cards like this in the future.

Of course, I have to stick to my roots and use our friend Jace as the example.

Battle for Zendikar/Oath of the Gatewatch

I have to admit that I was surprised when they announced this group of sets. While the first Zendikar block might have been popular at the time, the only thing that I ever heard from players was how much they hated the Annihilator mechanic. Wizards of the Coast even publicly admitted that Annihilator might have been a mistake. I think I wrote in my previous article that we haven’t been back to Mirrodin, mostly likely because of infect. But, now, we’re back in Zendikar with an even less interactive mechanic? Okay. Let’s do this.

Yes, the Eldrazi are back. No, they don’t have Annihilator. Most of them don’t have Annihilator. Okay, none of them have Annihilator, but Ulamog is hungry and he wants to eat your deck. In keeping with the colorless theme, this set has colorless colored cards. Yeah, I know. For a game that prides itself on its adherence to logic, that might be a tough circle to square. Hear me out on this one, though. I mentioned earlier that WotC was choosing to incorporate lore more into the game. The Eldrazi are colorless creatures that consume all in their path. Zendikar is a rich source of resources. It makes sense that as the Eldrazi consume Zendikar’s resources, there would be those that were in the process of being converted.

This card has two colors, but is still colorless! Madness!

Maybe I thought too much thought into that. I’m sure that I put too much thought into it. Okay, I’m positive that I thought about that way too much. But, it was a fun train of thought for me and who knows? Maybe I’m on to something.

Back to the sets themselves. You can’t just have colorless spaghetti monsters (Actually, she’s not even here. More on her in the next section. Spoiler Alert.) destroying all in their paths. Well, you could, but that’s not much of a narrative. In addition to the old mechanic of landfall to symbolize the land itself fighting back, there’s also a mechanic called converge that pumps the ability of cards based on the different types of mana used to cast them. Multicolored v. colorless. Great flavor win!

Shadows Over Innistrad/Eldritch Moon

If it was a surprise that we returned to Zendikar, it was a relief to go back to Innistrad. I said several times in my previous article that Innistrad was right in my wheelhouse. If you haven’t read that article, I will summarize here. Having grown up with fantasy and fantasy horror, Innistrad reminded me of times playing the D&D campaign Ravenloft with friends as a teenager. The addition of flip cards, the lore win of graveyard interaction, and a strong story overall cemented Innistrad as one of my favorite blocks. I’m glad to be back.

Okay, but what are those shadows over Innistrad? Who knows? Who cares? It’s probably just witches or giant bats or something like that. It’s certainly not a giant spaghetti monster that has come to consume this plane that we all love. To be honest, I had no idea during the first set that there would be Eldrazi on Innistrad. I mean, I did find it odd that Emrakul was missing from Zendikar, but I wasn’t paying full attention to the story at the time. I was just happy to be back on Innistrad.

It appears that there may have been clues if I had been paying attention.

You got Eldrazi in my zombies! You got zombies in my Eldrazi! Two disgusting things that go great together? I admit that it was a complete surprise when the reveal of Eldritch moon showed that much of the madness on the plane was courtesy of Emrakul’s influence. I wasn’t sure how the crossover might work and felt skeptical that it would be any good. I’m happy to have been proven wrong. While not as strong as the other Innistrad sets, in my opinion, Eldritch Moon delivered enough fun to be a solid filler set if nothing else.

The Verdict

The “new era of Magic the Gathering” as ushered in by the end of core sets and the switch from 3 set blocks to a less rigid construct for sets got off to a mostly successful start. While Origins was, at its heart, just another core set, it did introduce some cool new things into the game. My favorite from the set was the flip Planeswalkers. I hold out hope that we will see more, but to this day they are unique to Origins. Kudos to WotC for keeping things unique.

I never got to play the original Zendikar. I wasn’t even able to collect it as boxes were pushing 300 dollars at the time that I was trying to put together sets. It was nice to be able to see some of what I missed without having to deal with the annoying Annihilator mechanic. I’m not as much of a fan of the Eldrazi as maybe Chris is, but I’ve developed a soft spot since these sets for the big lugs.

Emrakul, in particular, has a goofy triggered ability that I enjoy.

The revisit to Innistrad wasn’t as much fun as the first. Guess you really can’t go home again. The Eldrazi only partly played a role in making the Innistrad not as fun. I actually enjoyed the story and some of the weird creatures that came as a result. It was just too much of a good thing perhaps. That’s what I fear from a Return to Return to Ravnica. This will be the third time on the plane in just over a decade of time. What could they possibly have that will make it worth it? I suppose time will tell.

3 down, 2 to go. Next time, we visit the 3 newer planes introduced recently; Kaladesh, Amonkhet, and Ixalan. After that, it is Dominaria and Return to Ravnica to finish the series. I hope you all have been enjoying reading this as much as I’ve been writing it. See you in a couple of days.

Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Theros to Dragons of Tarkir

Note: This is part 2 of a 5 part series.

Introduction

I’ve already explained the rationale behind this series of articles in the previous article, found here. Picking up that thread, Return to Ravnica got me back into the game and Scars of Mirrodin and ultimately Innistrad cemented my interest in the game. Theros and Tarkir made me fall in love with the game. Both of my recent prereleases were attended for these sets. Chris and I fed each other’s addictions. It’s always during those times that our interest in the game is the strongest and this was no different.

Theros Block

Core Set 2014 – 2011 was Titans. 2012 was Mages. 2014, well 2014 holds a special place in my heart. Sure, a big, dumb 6/6 that let’s you rez your little dummies is fun (Sun Titan) and a tiny dummy that can summon you an army of even tinier dummies (Jade Mage) are both fun, but what if all of your dummies could work together? 2014 introduced me to slivers and what has become a life long quest to make slivers work in a deck.

I never got it to work consistently, but I did bother Chris one game with this guy and a few of the plus one guys. And, we all know that bothering Chris is my favorite MtG mini game.

Theros: This is awesome. A couple of blocks ago, I got gothic horror for my MtG experience. This time, I’m getting ancient Greek and Roman lore. I studied math and philosophy in college. My wife studied classic as part of her education degree. We went to Greece for a vacation to celebrate her graduation. This set speaks to me on a primal level. As an added bonus, this is about the time that I actually started to think about Magic as a strategy game. With mechanics like heroic and monstrosity, I could no longer ignore the siren’s call of synergy.

Born of the Gods: Just like the previous two blocks, the middle set was the smallest of the three. Also, like my previous looks back in those blocks, I was smart and I saved some to talk about for the smallest set that might not have that much to discuss. In reality, I just forgot about them in the previous section, so I’ll talk about them here. First, I forgot to mention “Bestow”, a mechanic that allows you to cast a creature as an Aura, which then detaches and becomes a creature again when the creature it attached to dies. Makes perfect sense, right? Nope, I explained it poorly. See Nyxborn Eidolon for some cool art and an example. Finally, what is a Greek themed set without gods?

Mogis is probably my favorite from this set. Still trying to make a deck work around him.

Journey into Nyx: Cripes, I forgot another mechanic in the last set as I was trying to make up for missing the earlier two mechanics. Inspire triggers whenever the creature untaps. Satyr Nyx-Smith is a neat example and it leads me right into the mechanic of this set. Strive lets you cast multiple copies of a spell and choose different targets for each copy. Ajani’s Presence always teased me as a possibility for a heroic deck, but the Strive cost is a bit too steep for an aggro deck. Probably by design, I imagine. We are still a set off from creating game breaking cards. Spoiler Alert. This set also contains my favorite card from the block and scry engine for my empires deck that I talked about in the last article, Sigiled Starfish.

Tarkir Block

Core Set 2015: Through it all, trying to remember everything, and I still forgot Chris’s favorite mechanic from the set, Constellation. Well, I was trying to be true to my with the game and constellation never spoke to me. So, what cool stuff is in 2015? Not much, which is why I took up space mentioning constellation. I mean, it does have probably the best named card ever, Hot Soup, and Waste Not, which was designed by the MtG community. And sure, Sliver Hivelord is pretty cool, too. Other than that, it was a pretty standard set and right about when I started to tire of Core sets.

It seems like I wasn’t the only one who was tired of them, either, because Wizards announced that Origins would be the last core set and later reversed that decision. But that’s in the next part.

Khans of Tarkir: My other prerelease came during this set. I brought the boys along for this one because I always want to include them in the things that I enjoy. That proved to be a bit of a mistake because they were a bit too young for what ended up being a much longer day than expected. I also chose poorly for my prerelase kit and went against my nature with Mardu. Both the clan and the cards were telling me to go aggro and I tried control. It met with failure. I lost the first two games and then Aiden wanted to leave, so we dropped. It was so miserable that we haven’t been back. That’s not entirely true. The last part is true, but it’s not necessarily because of this experience. It’s just that life gets busy.

Fate Reforged: I don’t remember exactly what was happening during this set. It was right around the time that I had one of my breaks from the game. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in the set. I actually loved the story that was being told about time travel and bringing the Dragons back to the plane. I’m not usually a fan of time travel, but when dragons are involved, I will temper my skepticism with some healthy, “Awesome!”

And it paved the way for them to print one of my favorite cards ever.

Dragons of Tarkir: I was back in the game by the time this one rolled around. Maybe it was just the business of the new semester that kept me away for Fate Reforged? I know for a fact that I was back in for Dragons. I remember that I wrote an article about attending the prerelease with my kids and decided against it. The set, though, was so much fun.  When you put dragons in the name of a set, you had better come with the dragons. It is not a stretch to say, “Here there be dragons” in Tarkir anymore.

The Verdict

Theros was an undeniable flavor win. The ancient Greek lore spoke to the math, philosophy, and classics nerd in me. Besides that, we had fun playing the block. While looking through the set to write this article, I texted Chris, “Theros was just a solid block.” He agreed and we talked about how much fun it was. I then, as I often do, speculated how much fun it would have been to draft the set. Granted, I did a prerelease, but drafts are a completely different strategy. Who knows? Maybe one of these days I will put together a Theros block cube with all of my spare cards.

I had a different reaction to Tarkir. It focused on multicolor like Return to Ravnica. Unlike Ravnica, the clans were three color instead of two color. Having never played during Alara, the concept of three color decks intrigued me. I also learned a great bit about the MtG color wheel. The three colors of Alara were three allied colors while the three colors of Tarkir were two allied colors and one enemy color. That all changed when the dragons came back, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Up next is the end of core sets. Is it really, though? We also take a trip back to some recent planes before going to 3 new and exciting ones. The final part will talk about the set that took us all the way back to the beginning and set the stage for the Return to the Return to Ravnica. Be sure to keep reading and I hope these articles are bringing back as many great memories for you as they have for me.

Magic the Gathering Retrospective: Scars of Mirrodin to Avacyn Restored

Note: This is part 1 of a 5 part series.

Introduction

Why Scars of Mirrodin? Chris and I are going to talk about Magic’s return to return to Ravnica on the podcast this week. After their most recent revisit to their old home, it’s clear that the R&D guys at WotC are feeling nostalgic. This nostalgia has inspired me to take a look back at my history with the game. While I have been playing the game since the beginning, it is only since Scars of Mirrodin that I’ve been actively engaged in the game.

Plus, Mirrodin introduced poison to the game and that’s everyone’s favorite mechanic. Am I right? Guys? Guys?

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Return to Ravnica was my actual reintroduction into the game. I then worked backwards to fill in my collection with older sets. It wasn’t until the Zendikar block that boxes became prohibitively expensive, so I stopped at Mirrodin. This article started as a Top 10 list since Mirrodin. Then I was going to rank all of the sets.

Why isn’t this a ranking? I decided not to do either because; (a) that’s a lot of sets and (b) more importantly, rankings are stupid. There’s plenty from all sets that I both enjoy and don’t. Besides, I started this web page to be a different voice from everything else out there. Instead, I’m just going to tell my Magic the Gathering story and how it has evolved over the last 5 years or so. Hopefully it succeeds and that you enjoy.

Scars of Mirrodin Block

Core Set 2011: We know them. We love them. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but Wizards did try to kill them after Origins and now they’re back. Someone somewhere has a soft spot for the dependable and comfortable core sets. This one was neat because it had the Titan cycle (Primeval Titan is my favorite) in it and all of those cards are awesome.

Even this guy who doesn’t see much play is pretty awesome in cube drafts.

Scars of Mirrodin: These sets are a very different style that I’m used to in a Magic the Gathering set. In addition to being more colorless focused because of the artifacts, poison and phyrexian mana are included. Most mechanics tweak the rules a bit, but they work fully within the confines of the game. Occasionally, a mechanic might add a new twist to the game. Both poison and phyrexian mana break the game in fundamental ways.

Mirrodin Beseiged: Being the smallest and middle of the three sets, there isn’t much memorable, as least for me. One card did jump out at me as I was looking through the binder, though. I pulled more than one of Phyrexian Rebirth and got obsessed with trying to build a token deck around that card. It never happened, but maybe I have a new project for the coming weeks.

The lore nerd in me alone is excited to write a story for that artwork.

New Phyrexia: This is it. All hope is gone. The fight is over. Mirrodin has lost and the Phyrexians have remade it in their image as New Phyrexia. This is reflected in the cycle of Praetors (here I’m true to my blue roots and want to build around Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur) in this set, incredibly powerful creatures that are the envy of all Commander players, yours truly included.

Innistrad Block

Core Set 2012: 2011 gave us Titans, appropriately named big dummies that could be used to make your opponent miserable. 2012 brought us Mages, 2/1 creatures with a mana activated abilities. I mean, I guess that’s just as cool as 6/6 creatures who can ramp 2 lands per turn. Not really, but they also gave us the Empires cards. I used them to make a deck that made Chris miserable for a game a few months ago.

Because I’m the happiest playing MtG when I can durdle my opponent into a stupor.

Innistrad: Okay, this is more like it. While Mirrodin was cool and it added some interesting things to the game, it was a bit too alien for me. As a fan of fantasy and horror who played several campaigns through the D&D setting Ravenloft, Innistrad speaks deeply to me. Vampires and Werewolves, and Ghosts, oh my!

Dark Ascension: I was so focused on sharing my excitement for the set that renewed my love for Gothic themes in fantasy settings that I forgot one of the best parts of the Innistrad block. Double sided cards! Sure, you have the Legacy meta defining Delver of Secrets. But, what about Loyal/Unhallowed Cathar that changes color identity when it flips?

Don’t forget about this thing, either! It’s a weapon that turns into a demon!

Avacyn Restored: Forget for a moment that I can’t pronounce Avacyn. Look, I’ve heard it pronounced Ah-va-sin many times by many different sources. My brain still wants to make it Ah-vah-kin for some reason. What’s that got to do with anything? Nothing, I just needed to get that off my chest. In addition to the titular angel, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, there are three others that play a pivotal role in the lore. Also, the Planeswalkers (Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage) are the first ones that I noticed that aren’t the usual five.

The Verdict

Mirrodin changed Magic the Gathering in several ways. I have heard the argument more than once that they were game breaking and not at all in the spirit of making the game more fun. While I won’t either agree nor disagree fully with that sentiment, I will leave you with this. We haven’t been back to Mirrodin in any way, shape, or form, so that might tell you something. Heck, they even took us back to Zendikar and people hated Eldrazi more than they hated the Phyrexians.

Innistrad restored some of the balance of the game, lore wise. Instead of weird and alien creatures trying to subjugate other weird and alien creatures, we had vampires, angels, werewolves, spirits, and demons. It was a much more familiar setting and one with which I was far more comfortable. I can’t say that I would have quit Magic if Innistrad hadn’t been more traditional, but I do know that my joy in the game would be greatly diminished.

Make sure that you don’t miss the next part when I will discuss the Theros and Tarkir blocks. You may have noticed that I skipped the Return to Ravnica block. That’s because I’m saving that one for last since it connects so well with the next sets coming out and they are the reason for this look back in order to move forward.

First Impressions of MTG Arena

Introduction

I used to be invited early to beta tests for new games. I invested a couple of times in somewhat top of the line gaming laptop computers, so I had the specs that game designers coveted. Test the game in the highest resolution with the highest FPS, and really put it through the paces. Since all of those computers have met with tragic ends after only months of use, I’ve gotten smarter and gone with a budget laptop that will allow me to do the bare minimum as far as gaming goes and is more focused on work. I can get a better gaming desktop for cheaper and I won’t be carrying that everywhere I go, so less of a chance of it falling down the stairs or being run over.

Still, with the recent push to mobile gaming, for many games specs aren’t as important. Either that, or it is later in the beta invites for MTG: Arena. Because, somewhat surprising, I received a closed beta invite to the game sometime last week. I do know that they were attempting to do a stress test on their servers, so maybe they just did a flood of invites. Whatever the reason, and for better or worse, I’m in the game.

The Good

Regular readers of the page know that one of my saying that has become cliche is that I say “It’s….” followed by some game as explanation for why something is good or bad. I almost always follow it up with some explanation, but at this point I feel like it is expected, so at the risk of being hack writer guy, I’ll start there. MTG: Arena is good because, well, it’s Magic the Gathering. Sort of. That’s not to say that there are elements of the game missing.

Before you ask, no Force of Will and, especially no Storm Crow (yet)…

Everything that makes Magic unique among card games and separates it from Hearthstone, the main digital card competitor, is there. I worried when I first saw the game that they were trying to make it too much like Hearthstone. They did…sort of. More on that later. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve grown accustomed to Hearthstone. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy it (not all of the time), but it can be a fun diversion.

It’s just that Magic is different and it always has been. One of the things that I don’t like about Hearthstone is that there is no interaction between players, really. You interact with your opponent’s minions and occasionally throw a fireball or pyroblast at their face, but you can’t interact or interrupt their turn other than secret cards and those aren’t targeted.

I’m here to report that the turn structure is still there. There are still two main phases, a combat phase that allows you to choose attackers and defenders, and an upkeep and cleanup. Those last two aren’t defined by the game. They happen automatically. Through it all, the game still has instant spells that you can cast at any time, even during your opponents turn.

Glory, glory, say blue mages. Draw, go, is a viable strategy in this new Arena.

I saw someone on Twitter say that the game is barely Duels 2.0. Maybe it is because I never played that particular game other than against the AI, but I don’t have that same impression. Sure, Arena is similar in many ways to Duels, but Arena feels meatier. It felt more like playing Magic the Gathering than Duels ever did. That’s what I like about it and that’s what will keep me playing. It’s not perfect, though, not by any stretch.

The Bad

I mentioned earlier that when I first saw screenshots for the game, I worried that they were taking too many cues from Hearthstone. Once, during a conversation with Chris, I even confused him by calling it MTG: The Hearthstone Update. It’s virtually impossible to get into digital card games without being compared to Hearthstone in some form or fashion, even for a 25 year old game like Magic. Hearthstone is just king of the hill of digital card games.

They definitely took clues from Hearthstone. There is an emote system that is set up almost exactly like Hearthstone’s. The backgrounds, while not yet interactive, have a similar feel and vibe to the tables that Hearthstone has. Aesthetically, my brain couldn’t figure out if I was playing Magic or Hearthstone because the look of the games is so similar.

See for yourself…

Additionally, the cards have animations and sounds. I understand that they need to separate this property from the more serious MTGO and that they’re trying to grab some money from players who only play Hearthstone. It’s a strange dynamic that MtG players will often cross over into Hearthstone, but there has yet to be many prominent Hearthstone players who have become competitive MtG players. So, I get it. They just seem to be trying a little bit too hard to emulate what they think makes Hearthstone different instead of highlighting what Magic does well.

The Ugly

Right now, the only mode that is offered is Standard. That’s it. I get that it is going to take them time to program all of the interactions of older cards and who knows how long something like that can take. However, there’s no draft mode, which is odd. There’s no commander and I don’t even see any indication that they’re going to update with the new Brawl mode that is being introduced with Dominaria. Come to think of it, I didn’t even see any mention of Dominaria in the game, either. Maybe I overlooked it. I will look again when I play.

First, if they want this to be viable as a Magic product, it has to update with or very close to new set releases. Nobody is going to play last year’s standard when this year’s standard will be available in paper and on MTGO. Secondly, as a fan of limited and eternal formats, standard only is not going to keep me entertained or engaged for very long. They could find themselves with another dead digital property on their hands.

…and not so shiny objects, and shiny non objects…let’s face it. I’m easily distracted by… well, easily distracted covers it.

The Verdict

This mish mash of Magic and Hearthstone is a little bit too much Hearthstone and not quite enough Magic the Gathering for me right now. As I said, I enjoy Hearthstone, but I don’t want it in my Magic. Those aren’t two great tastes that taste great together. Once upon a time, Chris and I experimented with a Hearthstone “rules” Magic the Gathering where you play from a mana deck each turn. It was supposed to remove mana flood and screw, which are two things that we (and many players) hate about the game. It did, but it wasn’t Magic, so we haven’t done it since.

Perhaps it will take some time and since it is closed beta, they aren’t at a finished product yet. Maybe with more games, more cards, more opponents the game will grow on me and it will become part of my regular rotation. After all, it took several years and many hundreds of games before I accepted Hearthstone as part of my daily gaming routine. MtG: Arena might just be on that trajectory.

I did say to Chris that this game seems to be their answer to Hearthstone. When I downloaded the client in anticipation of my beta invite, it was very small. So, not only have theyA� made it look and feel like Hearthstone, they have optimized it for mobile. So, I suppose that this parting statement sums up my feelings about the game. Again, to Chris, “If they do port it to mobile, I’d probably play it over Hearthstone.”

Feeling a Draft (RIX, RIX, IXN – 4/1/2018)

Introduction

A couple of days ago, I got inspired to go online and do a Magic the Gathering draft. I wish that I had taken notes, because after I realized that it would have made a great article. I still think, even without notes, that I can make it into a decent article. Instead of getting into the weeds too much, I can just talk about some general “ideas” that came from the experience. Hopefully, in the future, I will keep better notes and I can refine my writing to more accurately reflect my thoughts during the draft.

One of the things I do remember is that early in the draft, I texted Chris and said, “I’m drafting and I’ve gotten all of the vampires and cleansing rays.” He asked if it was standard. I replied that it was and he said, “Well, you’ve already won.” I agreed and it turned out to be true. I won the first match, though it was closer than anticipated, took a bye match 2, and then had to drop because Easter plans with the in laws loomed. Therefore, we unfortunately don’t know the ultimate fate of this deck, but I’m just going to live in the fantasy that I went easy 3-0 and collected my “no prize”.

I’ve never actually won a no prize. By extension, does that mean that I’ve actually won?

P1P1 – Snap Pick Bishop of Rebirth

Oh man, how lucky am I? First pack, I opened a Bishop of Rebirth. When I did a two man draft against Chris, we opened this card. I hadn’t anticipated at the time that it could be a bomb. Having somehow drafted it and played it against him, I now see that it very much is and can change the tide of a game very quickly.A� Of course I’m going to pick that one first and then worry about the rest later.

3-0, here I come. This Bishop of Rebirth is going to…wait, what is this? As you can see from the picture above, that’s not Bishop of Rebirth. That’s Bishop of Binding. It’s not a terrible card, but is definitely isn’t Bishop of Rebirth. Oh, crap.

Remainder of Pack One

So, what do you do when the bomb you thought you drafted turns out to just be Mentos and Coke? Well, if you are me, apparently, you just draft vampires. Seriously. I started down that route and realized about halfway through the pack that vampires were wide open. Not only that, but I did a test to see if anyone else was paying attention. I saw a Cleansing Ray early int the pack and thought about picking it to protect my vamps, but there was another card that I wanted, so I went with that.

Much to my surprise, the Cleansing Ray came back around. I definitely took it that time because now it was the end of the pack. What is going on with this draft, I wondered? Vampires are wide open and Cleansing Rays are not being drafted. Clearly, my opponents are not paying attention or they are focused on other strategies. I guess we’ll see.

Come to me, Ugly. You will not show up later on in these matches to destroy me.

Packs Two and Three

I just continued to draft vampires. I was also at the point where I just hate drafted every single Cleansing Ray that I saw (there were a total of five that I drafted). I think it was after the third ray that I texted Chris and we had our conversation. I ended up with 3 Conquistadors, a Legion Lieutenant, a couple of Oathsworn dudes, one or two Queen’s Commissions and other ways to make tokens for lifelink and a way to bring back the Oathsworn dudes, a Skymarcher Aspirant, and those are just the cards that I can remember 4 days out. Plus, I was able to get some removal. It really was a beautiful deck and I wish that I had been able to get a screenshot of it.

The Match

As I already mentioned, I was only able to play one match because I got a bye Round 2 and had to drop Round 3. The match wasn’t as much of a runaway as I anticipated. Game 1, I got the Legion Lieutenant to stick late in the game and finally ran him over. He was able to remove my only fliers in game 2 and stick one or two of his own for the win there.

He also removed my lieutenant early in game 3, but I was able to neuter his fliers effectively and control his ground game enough to hold on until I could give another one of my vampires flying and get through his blockers for the win. It was intense and I almost timed out, but felt good to get back into drafting.

The Verdict

Guess who’s back? Back again?

While I had a miserable experience drafting the latest Masters set, which Chris and I talked about on the podcast this past week, this draft went much better. I may be playing the results a bit here, but I think that I’m going to continue to draft in Ixalan for the next few weeks until Dominaria starts and then I can’t wait to see what experience that set provides in terms of drafting. It’s probably my favorite (and most accessible for me) way of playing the game and I’m glad that Wizards continues to support it in a big way.