Overdose on Cardboard Crack

(Editor’s Note: I know that I’ve been heavy on the Magic articles lately, but this is an exciting time for the game right now. I will do something on Diablo III on Friday to prepare for the podcast next week.)

As most of you already know, Pax East was this past weekend in Boston. Since it is the most “local” of these conventions, I made a vow last year to go this year. Coincidentally, I made the same vow this year for next year. I broke that vow and the gaming gods punished me accordingly. Among the constant stream of Twitter and Facebook updates (that I checked in between rounds of the Star City Games GP in Miami), was news of a new Orcs Must Die game, a Hearthstone adventure mode with more cards, and many new spoilers from the latest Magic the Gathering expansion set. They’ve never done a dragon themed expansion before and we quickly learned that they weren’t lying when they said that “Here there be dragons (of Tarkir).”

The block started with a plane on which all of the dragons had been hunted to extinction. Having relatively recently lost big time to Chris’s dragon deck, I thought that this was a great idea. I love my dragons and all of their destructive power, but this loss was especially devastating for some reason. Usually, I take the losses in stride, but I immediately started to plan ways to exterminate that dragon deck. I still haven’t quite finished the planning stages of my “Dragons Be Gone” deck and I’m afraid that it might be too late now.

The second set, Fate Reforged, saw one of the characters travel back in time and reverse the events that led to the deaths of the dragons. It is this set that introduced the dragons, obviously, and started to turn the plane topsy turvy. Five powerful beasts rise from the fray to destroy the puny human clans and take their rightful places as the rulers of Tarkir. Several prominent characters saw their fates changed as a result of what happened. I suppose that’s where the name of the set came from. While somewhat underwhelming to me and Chris, Fate Reforged provided a perfect bridge between past present, and future or alternate past and present…or whatever actually happened.

Truth be told, I lost interest in Magic to such a degree that I had no idea the new set was imminent and that spoilers were about to happen. I remarked to Chris that it felt really early, but then they were happening. A couple of dragonlords, command cards (that let you choose two of four options), new mechanics (like Megamorph, which always makes me think of Power Rangers), and a set that looks to blow the roof off, as I thought it might. Both Chris and I found a renewed interest and excitement for the game as the days passed and new cards were added to the web pages.

Enter Pax East. By the end, we met all of the dragonlords. We witnessed the final destruction of the clans and a refocus on ally 2-color magic instead of the 3-color wedges of the clans. We saw Sarkhan changed by his successful alteration of the timeline, or creation of a new timeline….or whatever happened. Other than the lords, we got new dragons. Lots of dragons. Dragons that breathe fire and those that breathe acid. Dragons that morph, dragons that clear the board. Dragons that buff others, dragons that draw cards, dragons that alter the effects of spells, dragons that don’t really do much…okay, that one so far is a lie. Almost all of these dragons look impressive and no matter which ones I end up pulling from my fat pack and booster box, I will put them into at least one of my decks. I’ve already started. I have a dragon in my Mardu deck and I’m thinking of putting one in my new Abzan deck. As I said to Chris, it is at the point of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Crazy as it is, that wasn’t even the best Magic news to come out of Pax East this weekend. They also announced the theme of the last core set in the form of a double sided Liliana card. On one side is a legendary form and the other side is a planeswalker form. More information reveals that the set will focus on five different planeswalkers and tell the stories of how and when their sparks ignited. As somebody who simultaneously liked and hated the core sets, this is exciting and interesting news. I am a fan of the two sided cards even if I haven’t found a way to use them in my decks. The main thing that I don’t like about the core sets is the amount and quality of reprints. Since it is the last core set, they can go one of two ways. They can either go crazy with the reprints to give players one last chance to get some of the cards from the past that are very expensive on the secondary market or they can have one last core set where they showcase their imagination and originality.

Personally, I think that they will lean towards the latter. They might reprint some cards as they always do because they are also taking the occasion to relaunch their Duels of the Planeswalkers series with the same Origins branding. They are making the game free to play to draw in that audience. They also have brought back some of the more popular games modes that they removed in the last version of the game. Making new players feel like they have a chance is key to getting those players to enjoy playing your game, so giving those new players cards to play in a card game seems legitimate. Hearthstone does a terrible job of this, in my opinion, but they report huge numbers of players, so what do I know?

This article isn’t about Hearthstone. It is about Magic and there is still plenty to discuss. There may be reprints in Origins for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph, but I don’t think that there will be a large number of reprints. My main reasoning is that Wizards also (I know, right?!) announced their new Modern Masters set. I remember the first Modern Masters as an overpriced set of reprints. This appears to be the same, but one of the cards spoiled has me excited beyond reason. Upon seeing the card, I wrote a message to Chris telling him that I was considering an order of a box of the set at $350+. Thankfully, he talked me off the ledge, but that card still speaks to me on a deep level and I’m not sure why. Modern Masters 2015 contains reprints of Tarmogoyf. Widely considered to be one of the best cards for many modern decks, fewer copies of the card exist than maybe should because at the time of printing, not many considered it to be that good of a card. While not on the price level of Alpha cards, it still costs quite a bit. None of that matters to me, though. I just think that it has the most fun name of any Magic card ever created. As I said in my recap of the Star City Games modern tournament, I defy you to find a card that is more fun to say than Tarmogoyf. $300 for a chance at bragging rights on a card that is fun to say? Shut up and take my money! Totally worth!

Are you all newsed out after announcements of Dragons, two sided planeswalkers, a relaunched digital game, and reprinted tree zombies? Well, prepare to be severely disappointed because there’s more. After learning of the origins of five of the planeswalkers, Magic is bringing us back to Zendikar. They haven’t announced any more than the name of the first set, but just that one word was enough to send players into either a near orgasmic state of joy (me, for one) or spastic fits of rage (many of the standard players) in a fight that some are calling the “Battle over the Battle for Zendikar”. Not really. I’m almost sure that I just made that up.

So, what (aside from nearly everything) could divide the player base into warring camps? We don’t know how the events on Tarkir have affected other planes, but when we last left Zendikar Eldrazi were devouring it. If you think that a set full of dragons is going to make for powerful decks, wait until the mana consuming Eldrazi make their comeback. Sure, they have huge casting costs, but (and they have big butts, too) the costs are always colorless, they swing (usually at your face) for massive amounts of damage, and they have annihilator to destroy any board that you might have built to try to counter them. I’m not a competitive player and only got to play the Eldrazi in an old version of Duels of the Planeswalkers, so I’m excited for the possibilities of being able to annihilate (haha, get it?) my opponents. Oh, and from a purely Magic nerd point of view, Zendikar was the set of full of art lands. So, that possibility exists. If you give me a chance at full art lands again, I welcome our new Eldrazi overlords.

Wizards of the Coast absolutely crushed it with these announcements. I don’t know if anybody else had the same reaction as Chris and I did. We both considered finding another hobby because we were both so unimpressed by the set. Fickle? Perhaps, but Magic can be an expensive hobby and if it isn’t returning that expense in terms of enjoyment, I can think of many other ways to spend that money. I, for one, am interested in Magic again in a big way. Well played, Wizards. I might not be your white whale, but you will continue to get my hard earned money for at least the next year.

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