Friday, November 11, 2011

Tiles Vs. Cards

Saw an awesome Geeklist on Board Game Geek today.

My brain doesn't seem to have the wiring to deal with sports discussions or celebrity gossip. But a lively discussion about cards and tiles…that is the kind of "trainwreck" I will slow down my car and even roll down the window to keep track of.

"There was a period where I actively avoided card driven games due to a fear of investing in a game that will wear out in a fraction of the time."

The OP then goes on further to say cards as a design choice inevitably "cheapens" a game.



I like tiles, and I like cards. Both of these things will, eventually, wear out under enough manipulation. I wish I had a game I played so much the cards broke. The closest game in my collection is Snap, whose pieces are in a configuration that Mr. Miller could only dream in his darkest, deepest colby-jack-and-salami fueled nightmares.

Jigsaw Puzzle!

So of course after many, many play-throughs the cardboard layers are starting to separate. You know what I am going to do after the game has lost it's playability? I'm going to buy another copy!

Expensive you might say. But really, any game holding you and your group's interest long enough to wear out its pieces probably deserves a little additional investment. How many pristine game boxes are sitting in your closet right now? How many have you played more than 2 or 3 times?

In addition, thanks to the Magic: The Gathering cultists and their card-protecting fanaticism, anyone in the world can purchase these things called sleeves. If you really need to.

I buy my zombies at Radio Shack

Saw the Graveborn deck spoiled today, and…past the 3 Animate Deads…one card jumped out of the pack for me.

Diabolic Servitude

Alternate arts will be Crosis the Purger, Animate Dead and Cabal Therapy. Meaning we'll get the above scene, unchanged, wrapped lovingly in the new Magic card borders.

Sometimes its hard to identify with the villians in today's Magic story lines. In Wizard's rush to make their art grittier and more realistic, artists often end up handing over horrific creatures who have lost all sense of humanity. It is hard for me to empathize with Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

But this anonymous Phyrexian minion in the art for Diabolic Servitude, more than just about any other card, espouses a belief all black mana-using mages have always held.

Sometimes, it feels good to be bad.

Sure all the "emergency" midnight appointments at the cemetery really cut into your party time. But that pile of body parts doesn't just lay around the office stinking up the place. You bring that stuff to life!

Despite Innistrad being 25% all about lightning-charged science zombies, we have to dig back to Urza Block tp see one actually controlled by a sweet thumbstick remote. Especially boss when you have to fashion your own double A's out of aether and meteoric nickel.

The guy takes pride in his work.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Advertising Advice

So, in addition to Magic and board games, I'm going to dabble in the occasional small writing critique. You can avoid them easily if so desired.

At my work email, I just got invited to some sort of web seminar, or "webinar". This happens quite frequently. The writers of these invitations think of themselves as the ultimate pitchmen, the Ron Popeil of  webinars, or "Webinpeils."

"I know your time is valuable. So I won't waste it. I'll get right to the point."

Looking here, we have found actual evidence of some sort of shadowy mirror universe lurking beneath the English language. When you start your email with the previous 3 sentences you are magically saying the exact opposite.

1) your time is not valuable.
2) I am wasting your time.
3) I'm not getting to the point any time soon.

If you are going to lie 3 times in the first 3 sentences, why should I continue to the 4th?


Over Halloween, they spoiled 5 cards from the upcoming Graveborn collector deck. Didn't find out about it until I finally got around to listening to Monday Night Magic…but here are the cards:

1) Crosis, the Purger

 Graveborn is supposed to be a reanimation deck. First turn you get something like Crosis into your graveyard. Second turn you reanimate him to the battlefield. Third turn you attack and hopefully have enough mana to activate him and make your opponent discard a large portion of his or her cards. There are quite a few better cards for reanimation. But on the other hand I really like Crosis's style. He's obviously a Highlander staple. And I don't have one yet. So this card gets a big thumbs up times three.

2) Buried Alive

I was really happy when this card was reprinted in one of the recent pre-constructed Highlander decks. Then I was sad when I ended up buying a different deck. Than I was happy again when I got a Weatherlight version of Buried Alive in the mail. Buried Alive is certainly not as powerful as 1-mana Entomb. But putting 3 creatures into your graveyard sets up a lot more shenanigans, especially in Highlander. Combined with Living Death, Buried Alive can take over the entire table in a single turn.

3) Animate Dead

Chewie on Monday Night Magic brought this to my attention. Animate Dead is going to be reprinted, and Wizards must have figured out a way to smoosh the current oracle wording onto a physical card. Making me very happy, because this is the classic reanimator tool. I remember using this to reanimate Lord of the Pit

Now about the oracle wording. This used to be an "enchant dead creature" card. Then it used to be a straight enchantment that changed to an enchant creature once it entered the battlefield. It's gone through lots of revisions. Here's a quick parlor trick: If you take a drink every time you read the word "enchant" "creature" and "battlefield," you never actually finish reading the card.

"When Animate Dead enters the battlefield, if it's on the battlefield, it loses "enchant creature card in a graveyard" and gains "enchant creature put onto the battlefield with Animate Dead." Return enchanted creature card to the battlefield under your control and attach Animate Dead to it. When Animate Dead leaves the battlefield, that creature's controller sacrifices it."

4) Entomb

This is a huge money card, since one mana is about as efficient as you can get. Also an instant, so you can search during your opponent's turn. And…I just noticed this…you can bury any card, not just creatures. Making this a one mana tutor for spells with flashback.

5) Avatar of Woe

I am familiar with this card for one reason. It's a pillar of my friend Greg's hellish Emperor deck. Combining counterspells, bounce, damnation, pestilence and this to create an unstoppable terror machine until you give up in frustration. The amazing and degenerate thing about multiplayer is it ensures cards like Avatar of Woe will basically always be cast for 2 lousy black mana. Really. But hey, if you cant beat 'em, join 'em. I'm sure Avatar will be just as good in Highlander.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stealth Spam

Here's how it went:

"Thank you for your wonderful blog."

Not very promising…and very suspicious.

"I spent an hour on your blog, reading your posts with pleasure…"

Highly suspicious!

"I really like the Picture of the Day: Jabba the Hutt"


Photon Torpedos…Away!

"I really love my job! We have a friendly team and good management. But unfortunately I have no idea how to convince a blogger to link to us, I'm afraid I might lose my job because of it. :("

It is with some pride that I look back on my blog and realize I've been operating long enough to establish a parasitic presence on at least a few people's RSS feeds…and also have begun to attract some of the higher quality spam lurking out there. Probably the most well written I've ever seen.

Anyway, more high-flying content to come!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Maybe They've Run Out of Things to Do with One Sided Cards?

I've recently caught a bug for the long-running podcast "The Dice Tower" and will gain no relief until each episode is listened to. Main contibutor Tom Vassel is tireless in his reviews of board and card games, examining (and even playing) more titles than I would have imagined humanly possible. And he has about 10 kids, too. I have 2 and that seems to absorb a pretty decent sized chunk of time.

Episode #225 gives a good example of the standard podcasts, reviews of games they've recently played contrasted with news of upcoming releases. And boy are there a lot of releases! Perhaps confining one's interests to a single collectible card game makes more sense after all.

Dice Tower #225 - Profound Influences

Interesting for Magic players, this episode provides a bit of an "outsider's perspective" on Innistrad's double-sided card mechanic/design feature. Tom stresses that he is a casual Magic player, but he does enjoy the game greatly. The choice to start messing around with the backs of cards is really a mystifying design decision.

I've never been a huge fan of "Party Games" but the next party I'm at, I want the traditional role of "The Great Dalmuti" replaced by "Hart an der Grenze," the electrifying game of customs enforcement. Trying to smuggle contraband through airports, combined with a working "bribe" mechanic sounds like the cat's pajamas especially with everyone acting the roles out.

Talk of Hart an der Grenze can be found at 38:00
Talk of the Innistrad expansion can be found at 42:40

After I'm all done with the audio podcast stream, there is a completely independent video podcast. He must seriously never sleep.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Star Trek: Expeditions

So I haven't been playing much Magic lately. So I'm afraid I'm going to fulfill a long-standing threat I've been making. I'm going to start talking about other games, too.

I'm just now fully recovering from a heck of a weekend. So going this route, I have plenty of material.

First Up: STAR TREK!

Star Trek: Expeditions is cooperative. Each player assumes the role of one of the iconic characters: Uhura, Bones, Kirk or Spock. The scenario is pretty familar to anyone who has watched Star Trek. A planet is petitioning to join the Federation. They are rich with natural resources, in particular large quantities of sweet, sweet dilithium. It was supposed to be a routine diplomatic mission.

But of course, things go horribly wrong when the away team beams down. The President is acting strangely. And rebels on the planet are now almost to the verge of civil war. Oh, and there's a Klingon Battlecruiser orbiting the planet.

The crew wander around, slowly uncovering clues and solving dice-based challenges.

Which brings us to the current situation.

The actual difficulty of the game leaves something to be desired. When I play a cooperative game, I expect not to win the first time through. Games like Arkham Horror and Red November live up to those expectations, starting you out on turn one to the gentle caress of slimy tentacles or the sharp scent of burnt gnome flesh.

In Star Trek: Expedtitions, any moderately organized group of adventurers are going to get things figured out.

But then that creates some additional issues.

The unchallenged mind wanders. It looks for things to keep it occupied. What you see in this picture are two grown men getting into an small argument about loot hoarding. Seems someone has a few too many klingon clues he's sitting on and not doing enough with them.

It's classic Spock vs. Kirk in-fighting.

But while Spock and Kirk are doing their normal thing, no one expects Uhura. I didn't realize it during the game, but looking at the picture I seem to have collected a few things too. And not only objects, but a sizable number of away team members. Transporter Officer, Security Officer, some type of Liaison Officer.

And even a Medical Officer. Which seems totally pointless when one of the other players is BONES MCOY. The guy who fixed the Horta with some quick-dry cement. He already has the "Medical" skill. Twice. I kid you not.

Beam up to the enterprise. Beam down to the surface. Woo the High Priestess. Every act you perform will give you some serious deja vu in regards to the typical Star Trek narrative. You even need to spend some time dog fighting with the Klingon Battlecruiser.

But nothing is really tough, and I strongly suggest laying some ground rules before you find your crew mutinying, or at least going on the occasional flight of fancy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Traitorous Blood

I completely missed Traitorous Blood.

Through all the previews and speculation, I hadn't really considered the card much, just another Threaten type effect in a long line of vaguely similar spells.

The card is a sorcery, which might have had something to do with my obliviousness. Released in a block right after Act of Aggression, it's hard to go back to looking at sorcery-speed effects as worthy of my attention.

But we definitely should. Or at least I definitely should.

Because Traitorous Blood gives the target creature evasion in the form of trample. Better than flying, in fact, because trample gets around any of the OTHER creatures who might have flying.

There are creatures who just sit around and get fatter in EDH. Kresh is one guy I can think of right off the top of my head. Vulturous Zombie is another. But there's really a whole class of them.

The reason for their slothful ways usually involve the large quantity of potential chump blockers hanging out around the field. Small flyers, utility creatures and more are always ready to dive in front of a potentially killing maneuver.

But now the damage gets through in most cases. And heaven help you if you have a copy of Nicol Bolas out.

Is it better than instant speed? Might be worth considering.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Fresh Look at White Borders

Back in the day, we didn't use fancy "webs" or "Internets" to get our cards.

We didn't have price lists.

We didn't have checklists.

I was still hoping for a dual land a year after they stopped printing them.

A couple days ago, after a grueling walk UPHILL, I decided to go through the bulk collection down at the local game store. I came up with a couple interesting finds.

Without a blink of an eye, you could probably buy Evacuation and Worldslayer from any online store worth its druthers for less than 50¢, plus shipping.

And if I had ordered online, I might have ended up with the original Mirrodin printing of Worldslayer.

And even more so, I probably would have ended up with some black-bordered variant of Evacuation.

Instead, here I am with a white bordered CORE SET printing.

Ugly, you might comment? Perhaps unsightly?

You would be WRONG.

Here's why.

I'm going to throw it out there…WHITE is the new BLACK.

I am no stranger to white bordered cards. When I started, all the magic cards I could lay my hands on were white bordered. The ones in the packs were white bordered. The ones I traded with my friends were white bordered.

If for some reason you ended up with a black bordered card, you were probably holding some form of ELITE WEAPONDRY in your hand. I know I had a Fellwar Stone from The Dark in my collection, and I must have indeed traded away a great many cards for such a jewel. Even if now its worth is a little to the left of nothing.

Then they started printing more expansions, like Ice Age. The market was flooded with black bordered cards. We started to see the Core Set/Expansion White/Black border printing cycle for the first time.

From the get-go we, bright-eyed magic collecting innocents, were conditioned by The Man to prefer black bordered cards over white bordered cards. The black bordered ones always came out first, and were always harder to find because the inevitable core set reprint would flood the market.

All the way through ninth edition, we got white bordered cards as the "second best" option every time a new core set came out.

So where are we today?

The expansions come out. What color are the borders? BLACK.

The core sets come out. M10. M11. M12. What color are borders? BLACK.

Duel decks come out. What color are the borders? BLACK.

Everywhere you look, there are the black borders, staring you back in the face. Do the cards do anything different? Nope. A white bordered Evacuation is still going to suck all available creatures off the board in one fell swoop.

The only thing holding white-bordered Evacuation down is the perceived rarity. And by "perceived" I mean how often you see a card in circulation, either in someone's collection or in a deck being played on the table.

When you play a game of Elder Dragon Highlander, what version of Evacuation do you see?

Short answer: no one plays Evacuation you dolt, that's a terrible card.

Long answer: the original stronghold version. Or the tenth edition Franz Vohwinkel one.

If you play me, what are you going to get?

A windmill-slammed white bordered Evacuation, blowing all your stinky creature cards back into your slimy mitt where they belong.

Two more core set printings (and they are bound to happen sooner or later unless they design a better Evacuation that costs 1 less or something) and the white bordered Evacuation will be numerically MORE RARE than black bordered versions as a whole. The circle will be complete. And I will have triumphed!

Try getting that level of satisfaction through the mail, ladies and gents!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


After rolling the card around in my head for some time, it is time for some deeper considerations.

Mindshrieker is a little dude, easy to cast in the first few turns of the game. And he benefits from the kind of high-casting-cost rich decks you find often in EDH games. While a bird-centric deck would be ideal, I think just about any EDH deck (blue, mind you) is going to love Mindshrieker.

Let's play out the bullet points.

1) The pump effect is fairly cheap (2 of any mana), repeatable, and happens at instant speed. You can use it in response to a Lightning Bolt. You can use it after your opponent decides not to block. You can use it after your opponent does decide to block. There is a world of possibilities. A great starry-whorled galaxy!

2) You can use it against yourself, or your opponent, whoever you most want to mill.

3) The milling itself will probably not be a big deal, since it's only one card at a time. And unless its land, your Shrieker is getting pumped by at least 1 and probably much, much more.

4) Here's where the milling might be useful. When deck manipulation (like you might see in the occasional blue deck!) comes into play. Personal Tutor, Brainstorm, even Sensei's Divining Top. Some time ago I went off on a lark and put my ancient copy of Millstone into one of my decks. This seems like the effect I was going for, only much, much more effective.

And regardless of your motives, the Mindshrieker is going to be swinging in or blocking with gusto. Spellbound Dragon is less blind, but you can only do the effect once a per turn. Mindshrieker keeps getting bigger. With the miniscule cost of 2, I am predicting at least a +6+6 bonus every turn Mindshrieker gets into the action.

What a bird!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Awesome and Weird

I received an email a couple days ago. It was a heartfelt plea for me to finally clean up my act in regards to the continually worsening blog design here at the Minotaur Illusionist.

I have some pretty eccentric ideas when it comes to personalization, and combined with a stunning lack of html skills that can lead to some pretty atrocious color combinations and low contrast layout settings.

I have decided on this day to relieve the strained, tired eyes of the random people who stumble across my blog and switch back to a "default" type of blog template. White and black and hopefully "read" all over. And I can work my way forward from there.

Long time readers (I know there are at least 2 of you!) will be familiar with my random blog template changes. This is more of the same, with hopefully an emphasis on readability.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Card Backs: A Retrospective

The link to my card back theories was featured prominently on this week's Monday Night Magic (about 3 minutes worth, towards the end), and Chris seems a little doubtful about my wingnut card back theories.

Honestly, I feel like new card backs are the future. But on the other hand, I never in a million years would have believed double faced cards were coming, either.

I will leave the issue with a single point. 

In April of 2004, smack in the middle of the "Ask Wizards" Column, one Mark Rosewater answers a question. Here it is:

Q: "What does the 'DECKMASTER' on the back of Magic: The Gathering cards mean?"
-- Craig Stubing, Chicago, Illinois
A: From Mark RosewaterMagic Lead Designer:
"When Magic was first designed, Wizards of the Coast had plans for a series of trading card games. To group these games together, they were all given the name "Deckmaster". MagicJihad(renamed Vampire: the Eternal Struggle) and Netrunner, for example, were all Deckmaster games. Wizards of the Coast eventually abandoned this method of grouping our trading card games, but the Magic card back is locked (to ensure that all the cards look the same fromm the back) so the Deckmaster logo remains."
Now fast forward 2 years from now. How would Mark answer the question?
"Well, Craig, the Magic card back is locked (to ensure that all the cards look the same from the back) so the Deckmaster logo remains. Except, of course, for those 10 werewolf cards we printed way back in Innistrad. They will forever remain the exception to the rule."
Are people going to be using the special "checklist" card to disguise their Innistrad double-faced cards in the next Modern Grand Prix? Honestly, they will probably be using card sleeves. Which would also hide different card backs.
Richard Garfield, when designing the original Arabian Nights expansion, conceived of a hot pink card back to differentiate from the Core Set. I don't think we will be seeing colors for different expansions, but one single "modernized" remake.
But that is neither here nor there.
The Innistrad previews keep coming. I found my new favorite card to discard to blazing shoal:

In EDH, this is going to be both a monster board sweeper and a great pitch card for just about everything. I've already put Greater Gargadon into my Spellbound Dragon. Now things are about to get more Blasphemous. And to think, I was kinda excited about Into the Maw of Hell. And to think a few years ago I was kinda excited about Shivan Meteor.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Endless Ranks, Rooftop Storm and MORE

Last night, they previewed a pretty dynamite card for zombie decks. It was this:

There is an entire world of casual zombie decks out there. People going all-in-black with simple cards like the Warchief and Cemetery Reaper. People switching over to blue and black for cards like Jhessian Zombies and Lich Lord of Unx. Or maybe heading over to black and red for cards like Pyre Zombie and Deadapult. Black and green Zombie decks! Black and white Zombie decks! They all exist, you just have to believe hard enough.

Endless Ranks of the Dead empowers zombie decks of all kinds, because they all have one thing in common…their unnatural love for the creature type zombie.

This time around, the pull will certainly be towards the blue/black spectrum for the excellent "science" zombies Innistrad previews have hinted towards.

Rooftop Storm lets you play Zombies in your hand for FREE. Endless Ranks gives you extra Zombies.

You might envision yourself casting Rooftop Storm and then powering out a HUGE zombie for free on the next turn. Problem is, however, that 6 mana is just about the top of the Zombie food chain. So if you cast Rooftop Storm, you will probably have enough mana at this point to power out any zombie you want through normal methods.

The most powerful Zombie you would ever want to put out would probably be Bladewing the Risen, Sedris the Traitor King or the awesome Thraximundar. And there's always Phage.

This does lead to an interesting application in EDH, since if your general is a Zombie you can cast him for free (plus the usual tax for repeated castings, unfortunately).

But in most cases you are going to have to find a way to get zombies in your hand and get them on the ground running as fast as possible.

One of my favorite cards, Read the Runes, would give you plenty of cards to either discard into the graveyard (if you wanted them there) or cast them for free using Rooftop Storm.

For straight card draw you could probably use Keep Watch or Distant Melody. Gaveborn Muse has the advantage of being card draw that you can also cast for FREE using Rooftop Storm. Although you will probably die pretty quick unless you hurry up and actually win the game.

The ultimate card would probably have to be Null Profusion. But now we are up to having 2 6 mana enchantments on the board at once! Which happens in EDH, but not much.

Speaking of EDH, I've been thinking about the annoyingness of Rhystic Study and think I have found a better card for my black EDH decks. Gravestorm! The next time you play EDH, check out people's graveyards and see how often you can find someone you could probably draw a card off of. I think the groupthink will probably blame your opponent, and not you, for the extra card…leaving you in the clear for shenanigans!

So there you have it. A bunch of cards, dumped in a pile. You're welcome!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Day and Night, "Back" to Work

When I've been absent for a while, I sometimes feel like I should come back with a big, complex post. Something that required a lot of research, in-depth analysis. Something to show for myself being gone for so long.

Let's see how I do.

Apparently people are crazy about magic players, but not in a good way.

There are also a few revealed mechanics for Innistrad.

The "transform" mechanic, aka "the day and night" mechanic, seems to be at the top of people's radar.

I'm trying to imagine what Wizards R&D could possibly do that would rival the unnatural weirdness of "flipping the card over" as an actual mechanic.

To be honest, I can't even imagine a double-faced card showing up in an "un" set. And here it is, coming in with a vengeance, one guaranteed in every pack of Innistrad you buy.

I am reminded of the card Illusionary Mask. This card lets you cast a creature for a cost "equal or more" than its actual mana cost in exchange for casting it face down. This is not the "morph" mechanic, but something very similar.

Can you cast Civilized Scholar with Illusionary Mask? Does Ixidron (one of my favorite cards) automatically turn a Civilized Scholar into a Homicidal Brute?

No! As near as I can tell, any type of flipping mechanic instead does nothing…except for the "transform" trigger itself. And there are about 100 more interactions people will have to figure out when these cards enter the pool.

Here's the weird thing about Magic expansions. You basically have to play with them. Every time a new card set comes out (about 4 times a year), all the new cards get lumped together into the giant Magic card pool (over 10,000 unique cards) and we just have to deal with them.

It's not like Carcassonne where you can just say "let's stay away from The Princess and the Dragon, that's a little too random." Unless you and all your friends are members of the same Borg Collective, rogue cards are getting in because its all the same pool.

Are there any exceptions? Currently, 3 types of cards are on the "shunned" list in the great Magic Collective.

1) "Un" Cards. These cards are from sets literally created as a joke, to fuel more casual magic games with design mechanics that don't fit into the rather dry and technical framework of the Magic The Gathering Comprehensive Rules.

2) Ante Cards. These cards are from the very early days of Magic, when Richard Garfield thought people would perceive the game much differently than they do now. Ante Cards assume that you are using the Ante Rule in your magic game, i.e. "playing for keeps" for a randomly chosen card from each side. Very few magic players play for ante anymore. But if you do, and you have a few Contract from Below, you are probably doing pretty good.

3) Dexterity Cards. This type is represented in Un sets with cards like Volrath's Motion Sensor and real cards such as Falling Star.

Everyone knows about Chaos Orb. This guy has achieved arguably more mytholicial trappings than even any of the power 9. Has anyone actually seen him in action? No…unfortunately the card is officially banned in every magic format due to it's dexterity requirements.

Here are the weird play requirements that make double-faced cards roughly in the same league as these other 3 types.

1) You have to play with card sleeves, or use a proxy card instead of the real card in your hand. The proxy is then swapped out whenever you put your real card on the battlefield. 

2) If you are playing in a sealed pack draft, you are allowed to hide double-sided cards by any reasonable means to conceal what card you actually picked. Players must remain seated in doing this.

I would stack both of these issues at least as high as dexterity requirements on my personal magic card comfort level. Which actually means I don't have a big problem with it (who doesn't love dropping cards on the table?) but I can definitely understand people who do (like drafters).

Which leads me to a pretty big revelation. And you are welcome to tell me if I'm crazy or not.

I think we might see the end to a constant companion all these years of Magic playing. I'm talking about this guy:

The good 'ol Magic Card Back.

I'm not saying there's going to be a future where every card is a double-faced card. What I'm saying is that we are heading toward a future with a redesigned card back.

Way long ago, in a set called Eighth Edition, Magic made a huge design change. They altered the front of future Magic cards from this to this.

The reasons for making the change were
1) To improve clarity
2) To improve readability
3) To make room for more text
4) To make more room for art

Now, here we are, looking at a card back that has never changed since 1994. The reason the design has stayed "locked in" has always been to avoid mechanical complications of cards with different backs.

Well, here we are.

Why would Wizards be deeply interested in changing the backs of Magic Cards? Let's take a look at the card again.

1) The fonts and colors for the Magic: The Gathering logo changed long ago to a high-visibility yellow, as seen everywhere else.

2) The Deckmaster logo is no longer used.  Since all the other card games in the "Deckmaster" series have all since died out.

3) There is a blue pen mark going through the Deckmaster logo that once, logo ago slipped though the proofing process and has remained, immortalized for all time like fingerprints left in fresh concrete.

4) The Magic Card Back is ugly. Ask any graphic designer.

So let me sum up the bright new future I, as a magic player, have awakened into. There are now double-sided cards. They exist, and everyone is going to start playing with them somewhere around September 24th. There's no going back to a time without them, unless these new additions experience a shunning similar to Ante Cards (which isn't going to happen). Finally, assuming the surety of these double-sided cards being around for a while, don't be surprised when the M13 set comes out next year and the card backs are completely different. 

I won't be.

edit: bad terminology is bad terminology…they are "double-faced" cards, not "double-sided" cards. Ugh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Friday Night Magic and the Feminine Mystique

Over at Red Site Wins, there's a bit of a kerfuffle brewing over the gender imbalances present in the Magic: the Gathering organized play scene. There are more men than women. By a lot.

And since Magic uses none of the strength and dexterity requirements sport organizers have traditionally used to ostracize women and remove them from participation, there must be something else.

I don't go to Friday Night Magic, because it's a huge drain on money and time. But I never stopped to consider the other negatives…you are playing against complete strangers who many or many not even like you. If FNM is anything like the standard prerelease (which I try to attend), the social element of magic is almost completely absent.

Unless you are playing sealed 2-headed giant. Every single one of those folks get a free pass, because that format is just awesome.

I've never been propositioned to get into the back of someone's truck…but even in my limited play experience I have had interactions that were decidedly uncomfortable. Players who really did not feel they lost to me fairly, and players who took an unusual level of glee in beating me. Usually over a single pack of cards. And since I'm male, I have none of the bizarre situations dumped on me in addition to these struggles.

The article on Red Site Wins caused me to do a bit of research last night, and there are more than one blog (all much better than mine) focused on calling out misogyny in the broader gaming world.

There definitely needs to be more people talking about this because otherwise the problem will never go away.

It has made me all the more determined to shore up a gaming group among my friends and try to get together a little more often.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1 Mana Super-Pingers

A good card, followed by its terrible cousin. Both of which I personally think are totally rockin'.


Background: was originally from the set Torment. Thematically, Lavamancers are both a) grim and b) iguana fanciers.

 Grim Lavamancer is ready to wallop your opponent for 2 damage starting on turn 2, provided you have a way to keep putting more cards into your graveyard. Luckily, this usually happens fast in a red deck, especially if it is populated by aggressively costed cards such as Grim Lavamancer.


Background: A Time Spiral re-imagining of the artifact Cursed Scroll. Nails your opponent for 2 damage starting on turn 3, provided you are willing the pay 3 mana for the privilege.

I assume most people don't (want to pay the 3), which is why it's viewed as a universally crappy card. Because the other requirement, showing a card in your hand, usually isn't  a pain come the 3rd or 4th turn. Again…provided you are playing an aggressively costed red deck, full of cards like Magus of the Scroll.

And what if your hand is full of Mountains? You STILL get do 2 damage!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Tuck Rule

Saw the blog post over at Muse Vessel.

Here is the issue:

Spell Crumble, and many spells like it, provide a pseudo-permanent removal option against commanders.

An "exile" or "go to graveyard" type effect is covered by the Commander rules, and results in the option to have your commander go to the "command zone" instead. The command zone was concepted to essentially be the "penalty box," a temporary place to think about your actions before getting sprung a few turns later to wreck more havoc.

In contrast, there is no similar "tuck" rule and so the default option demands your commander end up back into your library.

The "tucking" process is sometimes unavoidably humiliating for both you and your commander.

1) Any oversized coverings or enhancements must be removed
2) Colorful and dazzling sleeves must be swapped out for the standard sleeve the rest of the deck uses
3) Oversized foil versions of the commander (like the cards that came with the commander sets) must be replaced with the standard (foil or non-foil) versions.

And after you've suffered all that, then the actual game play ramifications start to sink in. Unless you have a tutor in hand, it might be many, many turns before you see your commander again. Any synergy you've built into your deck between your esteemed commander and his troops are lost.

I was originally pretty hardened against the idea of changing the status quo.

My reasoning:
1) Tucking is just another form of removal, albeit a particularly good form for the commander format

2) Tucking punishes decks that rely too heavily on their commander

3) The multiplayer arena will balance out any unbalances created by a "tucked" commander. A player with a tucked commander will be seen as less of a threat, and will attract less trouble over the other players in the multiplayer game.

But then I had a couple of really bad tuck situations, culminating in a "fun" 2-player game to test out the pre-constructed Commander decks.

If you don't have any of the Commander decks, I will point out the issue.

Some of them are packed with tuck effects, and none of them have creature tutors.

I wonder if Wizards was trying to make some sort of statement.

Regardless, I had lots of tuck effects…my opponent did not. His commander went by-by without ever doing anything. When he drew land, he got to play a land. Whenever I drew land, I got to play my commander again. Didn't seem fair.

So for the future, I can definitely see trying things out with a change to the often-argued-about "tuck" rule.

Would I still use tuck effects even if they didn't get rid of the commander? You bet I would (and I will!). Because even completely separate from the "Commander" rule, recursion in Commander is insane. A particularly gruesome combo piece still needs a good tucking (if not exiling outright).

So perhaps for my next game I will have to try this. Consider me persuaded, Mr. Graveborn Muse.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The End of Force of Will

I've got a big problem with counterspells. Well, with not every counterspell but one in particular.

This guy…

Force of Will was printed as an uncommon during the Alliances set. What was I doing during the Alliances set? Pretty sure I was in my "no magic" phase, playing Warhammer 40k to my heart's content. Can you believe the kids are using laser pointers for this now? Back in my day we found our line of sight by looking over the shoulder of our miniatures then arguing about it for 15 minutes.

What did I miss out on? I just checked an the cheapest you can hope to pay for a single Force of Will is $50.00, for a heavily damaged copy in still good-enough shape to sneak into a sleeve.

Now in my world, I could probably write "Force of Will" on a post-it note and combine it with one of my other cards to make a serviceable proxy. Since I don't play any tournaments, the actual price of a tournament-legal copy is ultimately meaningless.

But the real reason my goat is getting got over this card is the near-UNIVERSAL use in any legacy or vintage magic deck featuring the color blue.

Force of Will is seen as absolutely essential in upper-tier competition because it is one of the few counterspells that can be cast for zero mana on any turn to beat the unexpected combo.

I don't play any tournaments, whatsoever. I've already established this. The closest I've come to the pro-circuit is getting my head caved-in by two separate pro-players using the same Volrath commander deck at my regional prerelease. And they aren't doing regional prereleases any more, so forget that!

But I do watch them on GoodGamesLive. And there's something I have noticed.

Sometimes, there is a first or second turn combo…all a player's cards align just right and the other player is screwed. More often than not, they don't. And then you have quite a few turns to get a least 1 blue mana untapped and ready for counters. Counters that aren't an instant 2-for-1 AGAINST you every time you whip them out.

Back in May, at the Legacy Grand Prix in Providence, Rhode Island, a guy named James Rynkiewicz played a 3 color Bant (white, blue, green) control deck to the 1st place position. His last opponent was Bryan Eleyet using…guess what…a combo deck (Hive Mind).

James won, even after losing the first game when Bryan's combo went off in the 3rd turn.

James used no Force of Wills. What counterspells does he use? Daze and Mental Misstep. He used these very-limited spells and combined them with the land-destruction and mana-denial of Wasteland to win anyway.

My hope is to see the relevance of Force slowly diminish into obscurity. Because it's obviously not a good card other than in these bizarre combo situations people keep talking about.

And with more situational counterspells…hello Flusterstorm…people will have more of what they really need instead of this 5 mana monstrosity.

Today is the U.S. Magic Nationals, of course, being televised (or internet-vised, I guess) live here. You won't see any Force of Wills, not a single one. Because it's Standard format.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Anti-Tutor

Back when Shards of Alara came out, I was really excited about Mindlock Orb. Here was some secret tech!

But there are certainly some problems with the card, which come to light the more you think about it. On its own, Mindlock Orb doesn't really do anything. And it costs 4 to get out!

Much later, I would find out the card I was hoping for was actually printed in an EARLIER set, right under my nose.

The card? Aven Mindcensor.

Aven Mindcensor gives your opponent a small chance (4 cards) of finding what they are looking for. In exchange, you get a slew of upgrades:

1) It costs 3 mana instead of 4.
2) It only stops your opponents from searching, you can still tutor all you want
3) It's a creature you can use for all of the normal creaturely things when you aren't hating people's tutors
4) One of those creaturely things is attacking, and Aven Mindcensor happens to be a 2/1 flyer
5) While the Censor is a creature, it also has FLASH. This means you can cast him in response to someone's Demonic Tutor or Fetchland and hose them right off the bat.

How much tutoring goes on in your typical game of magic? To be honest, not a huge amount in the games I've been playing. You'll have to look at your own metagame and count the Misty Rainforests.

I was reminded of the Mindcensor again after watching the GGS Live coverage of last year's World Vintage Championships. Round 4 Conley Woods casts Aven Mindcensor in response to Stanley Chen's Merchant Scroll. Then later in the game casts another Aven Mindcensor in response to Demonic Tutor.

This year, the annual Gen-Con Vintage Event is taking place at the exact same time as the U.S. Magic Nationals (also at Gen-Con), but hopefully someone covers this because each match is always highly entertaining.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Land Battle: Dragonskull Summit vs. Blackcleave Cliffs

Which 2-color land is better for Commander?

The lands from M11 (and M12)…

or the lands from recent exansion block Scars of Mirrodin…

The local gaming store is clear on which rare land is superior. The Scars lands cost $3 while the M11 lands are only $2. The sticker says it all. Case closed? Of course, they have to take into account all the different formats the players who frequent the store might partake in. For our purposes, we know what format I am mostly concerned with.

In a way, the lands are exact opposites of each other. The M11 lands come into play untapped as long as you control one of the 2 relevant land types. The Scars lands come into play untapped as long as you have 2 or less lands.

With the M11 lands the longer you go in the game the better chance you will have either of the 2 land types. Hopefully even by turn 2 unless you have a crazy 3, 4 or 5 color mana base.

For constructed, say Standard, on the very first turn when you laydown the Blackcleave Cliffs you will benefit from an untapped land. But come turn 3, any more Blackcleave Cliffs are suddenly transformed into Urborg Volcanos. Not as good!

For Commander, we run into a few more variables. There are more wildly multicolor decks, and more crazy land that taps for colored mana but not technically a basic land type (like Barbarian Ring).

And sometimes you just care less about your land coming into play tapped. Momentum is normally down, and at least at the beginning of the game waiting an extra turn for your mana isn't too bad.

Heck, maybe the best land should be the uncommon "refuge" cycle from way back in Zendikar. The land always comes into play tapped, but you get a nice shiny life out of the deal.


The M11 rare land cycle is much more interesting, and I'll give you an example of why.

Picture this: you are deep in a Commander game. You have about 7 lands out on the field, and all the players are looking for a good card to go crazy with and start taking over the battlefield. You already have what you need in your hand, but you're just waiting for one more mana. You'll take anything. Heck, a Strip Mine you can just tap for 1 colorless would be good enough.

What you do NOT want to draw in this situation is Blackcleave Cliffs. Instead, you want to draw into the awesomeness of Dragonskull Summit. This is where an untapped mana really matters, towards the end of the game when waiting another turn for 1 more mana can feel like ETERNITY while your friends drop all their crazy stuff onto the board.

So if you are sitting there looking at all the cards under the glass, you know which land I would pick. Don't let the extra money fool you, with the new core set coming the Dragonskull Summit cycle is definitely going to stay nice and cheap.

Still working on my mana base, look to further posts for elaboration!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reversal of Fortune

I thought I would take a few moments to talk about why Time Reversal is an awesome card.

Apparently people are all pissed off about it being reprinted in the M12 Core Set.

Lets get the obvious out of the way.

If you had $200, you can play Timetwister which is slightly better.

If you had $20, you can play Time Spiral, which is slightly better but not quite as good as Timetwister.

If you have Time Reversal in your collection, you better play Time Reversal…because it is very close to Timetwister and Time Spiral with a pretty redonkulous ability.

Of course you need to know when to play it.

Here are my observations for Time Reversal:

1) Destroys all graveyards. Whatever problem graveyard you are dealing with, Time Reversal tucks it all back in. Then it tucks in all the graveyard crap that is just getting started in your other opponent's graveyards.

2) Destroys the meticulous hand-sculpting seen in control-type decks during a long game of Commander. Brings the entire table back to an even footing in the cards department.

3) Of course its not even footing, because as we've seen in High-Tide style decks after the Reversal hits the ground you still get to take the rest of your turn!

I just thought of the perfect pairing to Time Reversal. Noble Benefactor. What better thing to tutor for than the card that's going to shuffle everyone else's tutored cards back into their library. Deliciousness indeed.

Okay, so I don't know how much of an argument I was able to make. I pulled my first and only Time Reversal in M11. What would I do with a 2nd one that I found in M12? I have no idea, but I guarantee you I would find a way.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fellwar Stone

When I first started playing magic, the best source of mana acceleration was hands-down Sol Ring.

The world of Magic was moving in a less-powerful direction, although none of us knew that then. The Moxes were far distant machines of myth. And soon Sol Ring would be "restricted" in the various ad-hock playgroups around my high school and a vacuum would be created.

It originally was not uncommon to see Sol Ring tapped to cast…another Sol Ring. That was a part of the game, and we accepted it. But with the restriction of Sol Ring, we looked around for other sources of easy artifact mana.

The best I could find was Fellwar Stone. Not quite as good as a Sol Ring, but still one mana that you could accelerate further into off a tapped Ring already in play. The color of the mana seldom mattered.

What were people accelerating into? Faster Wrath of God, Faster Armageddon, Faster Serra Angel. Or perhaps drawing more cards with Aladdin's Lamp?

Today, we still have Fellwar Stone. My version is from The Dark, which must have cost me an valuable card in trade at one point, because packs of The Dark were then already selling for $8 a pack. Fun fact: the game store up the hill from here (the one that smells like my sweat) just got a box of Worldwake shipped in from locations unknown. How much are they charging per pack? That's right, $8. Overpriced for both!

We come to the modern age, and Fellwar Stone is now available in most of the new Commander Decks. It still has the awesome quote from "Mairsil, called the Pretender." Is there some reason he wasn't made into a card during Time Spiral block?

Evaluated from the perspective of multiplayer commander brings some impressive points.

1) The more players in your game, the greater chance the mana color produced will be relevant to your deck
2) The more colors in your deck, the greater chance the mana color produced will be relevant to your deck
3) Fellwar Stone is one cheaper than Darksteel Ingot, and it will still be one mana cheaper than the new Manalith being printed in M12 Core Edition.

4) If you have a wedge-colored General, Manalith is functionally identical to any of the Shards of Alara Obelisks.

The majority of my decks fall into the 2-color band of commanders, however, and I must unfortunately wonder if this card is still "good enough".

1 mana of acceleration is trivial, isn't it? For a 2 color deck, there is always one of the Ravnica Signets, ex. Rakdos Signet. For more color fixing, 2 colored Allied decks have the Alara Reborn borderposts, ex. Veinfire Borderpost.

What Fellwar Stone ends up being is somewhere in the middle. Slightly faster mana, with a less dependable mana fixing ability.

In more modern magic, the equivalent artifact "mana stone" is Mind Stone. The mana color is completely chucked out the window in favor of a colorless mana combined with possible card draw.

Is the color important? Definitely. So maybe its good enough. And the art is really cool. That's all I can come up with.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The World is Not Enough…Slayer

In the surprise reprints department, apparently World Slayer is coming in July.

I am quite excited to get a chance to hopefully play with this card. I have read about the insanity that happens should someone get World Slayer and an indestructible creature together on the board at the same time. But it might be a pretty good piece of board wipe on its own, especially in a multiplayer game.

I think a World Slayer might have a more innocuous board presence than other board wipers like the Disk or Oblivion Stone. At least until you use it a couple times.

Almost as easy to activate, since you just need a creature and one opponent who can't block. And it gets everything! If you are facing some unkillable combination of permanents on the other side of the board, what better way, really. Hopefully I have my Greater Gargadon suspended at the same time!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Spellfight: Tainted Strike vs. Exsanguinate

In one corner…Tainted Strike. A formidable game-ender I remember fondly from my Scars of Mirrodin prerelease game. (Yes, all the way back then!)

Until Scars of Mirrodin came out, the most powerful poison-counter creature available was arguably Swamp Mosquito (because of flying). Highest poison counters delivered at one time was whoever you attached Snake Cult Initiation to. Then infect came out and you could staple poison on anything for super-powerful killing potential. In a normal game of Magic, infect is not much better than normal damage, unless you build your entire deck around it.

But when we move to Commander (aka EDH) poison warrants some serious discussion. Have you had the talk with your Magic group? There's nothing in the Commander rules about poison counters, so the default rules are the original magic rules…10 counters and the infected player loses. This equates to some QUAD-damage to any player unlucky enough to get hit.


In the other corner…Exsanguinate! A formidable game ender I remember fondly from my Scars of Mirrodin prerelease event. (Is there an echo?)

A fiendish cross between Drain Life and Syphon Soul. Ramps pretty well in multi-colored decks since it uses any color mana to fuel the X. With enough mana, Exsanguinate can hopefully slug out the whole table, leaving you with a fairly arbitrary life total (because everyone else has zero).

Here are the points I have come up with so far:

1) Tainted Strike is much easier to deploy, casting at instant speed with only 1 mana.

2) The downside is that you need a sufficiently large creature to cause 9 damage on its own. Because you can't count on any other sources of poison to show up to the table.

3) The upside to Exsanguinate is that it creates a bigger life swing between you and your competitors. And while it doesn't kill any one particular player any faster, if people have been playing well it will probably kill the weakest among them.

4) The  life gain is significant. In a 4 person game, a 7 mana Exsanginate would gain you 15 life, practically another turn of damage, unless things haven gone truly…terribly…against you. But I like to see more of a 15 mana Exsanginate, draining 13 from each and netting 39 life. You can't go wrong with that.

Right now, my gut is leaning toward Exsanguinate. The last couple games I played saw a substantial increase in board wipe. Bigger creatures either win the game on their own or perish a quick and fairly unavoidable death. Plus there is a hidden cost to playing Tainted Strike with successful, ultra-poisonous results. Your group is bound to make some sort of house rule (usually while you are in the bathroom) raising the poison limit to some more reasonable figure like 15 or even 20. I'm sure there are many Skithiryx players out there who know this scenario well.

If you have any input yea or nay for either card, please let me know. I received a lot of feedback (including 1 phone call!) over my last fight between Eternity Vessel and Mindslaver. The response was mostly that I was completely nuts for picking the Slaver. Perhaps I'll have to do a mailbag with reader responses for these types of things.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 20, 2011

I Love Reassembling Skeleton

I heard about the bannings and couldn't think of a single thing to say about it. I don't play standard, I really don't play anything except for prison-rules dining room table magic. And the only thing slowing that format down is when one of the kids starts crying in the other room and you have to call a time-out until you figure out who sat on who.

I know nothing about Stoneforge Mystic. But do you know what I DO know about?

Reassembling Skeleton.

I. Love. Reassembling Skeleton.

This is the card that Drudge Skeletons was trying to be, but never quite succeeded.

And it will be in the new M12 Core Set!

Second row, first on the left.

Look at that! With improved flavor text.

"They may show up with the wrong thigh bone or mandible, but they always show up."
-Zul Ashur, lich lord

If you are in your game for the long haul, there is no better creature than Reassembling Skeleton. As long as you have drawn at least one, you will always have at least one. Two mana gets easier and easier the longer the game progresses, until you are bringing that guy back again for almost free.

Who better to sacrifice to just about anything? Goblin Bombardment. Spawning Pit. Necrosavant.

After a big Wrath of God, there's nothing more disheartening (ok there are probably a few things) than seeing a lonely Reassembling Skeleton standing amongst the wreckage, twiddling his finger bones.

Give him some equipment, and watch a few turns later as you re-integrate his bony countenance wrapped around that very same artifact!

Truly the most amazing creature ever printed. I want ten of them.