Category: CML

Vampires are Storm


Everyone knows Black aggro is terrible in conventional Cubes and the Legacy Cube is a conventional Cube. Moreover, it probably has to be at least a little conventional to satisfy people’s expectations of what an official Cube “should be,” which might limit the number of solutions the designers have at their disposal — it would be great if Randy and Gerry could speak to that, and understandable if they can’t.

At any rate, Carnophage et al. are too weak of cards to match up well against much of anything in the average 2015 Cube environment, which is undesirable from a design standpoint, nobody disagrees with that. One solution would be to weaken the overall power level of the Cube by cutting its strongest cards, but I tend to prefer higher-power environments and so do the Modo drafters, presumably. Another solution would be to just cut Diregraf Ghoul et al. and replace them with different Black spells — more finishers, more removal, or more viable yet more expensive creatures. This may have the desirable result of strengthening Black, the conventional worst color in conventional Cubes, to the point it doesn’t suck in general. This would promote deck diversity through balance. I will come back to this.

The argument for trying to keep Black aggro would also be one of diversity — if a color doesn’t have aggressive options, then there’s less you can do with it. So in order for Black aggro to be worth having around, what Black gains in versatility has to outweigh what it will lose in power level. This is an evaluation that every designer has to make for every “theme” they put in their Cube — should I have Academy Rector and a few goofy targets, or a Sublime Archangel and three more beaters? Aggro “themes” are bigger than other themes — they require a lot of slots — but we don’t think about it much because putting in beaters in Naya is what everyone does and everyone should do. However, the conventional Cube community, at large, has ruled against at least one aggro theme: Blue aggro. Check out“blueggro”-in-your-cube/ and tell me that Lu Xun, Horizon Drake, and Mistblade Shinobi are worth three slots in your Cube. If they’re not worth it, the other bad support cards you need to make the theme big enough to be supported aren’t worth it, so then it’s time to get rid of the theme and allocate the slots to six Brainstorms, four Rune Snags, and a Dissolve or something.

I mention the multiples because in the case of Black aggro I could come up with no solution that did not involve breaking singleton. Jason Waddell’s excellent articles on CFB are not perfect, but they do have a lot of ideas worth borrowing, and the most successful one I’ve implemented in my own Cube ( is detailed here: The Cliffs are that Black aggro with Gravecrawlers, Carrion Feeders, Bloodghasts, and Blood Artists is lots of fun because the cards interact well with a number of other themes, can be reduced or increased in number to nerf or buff, and are viable and flexible enough to lead to interesting drafting and gameplay decisions. Some of the cards the Gravecrawler theme works well with are Vampires, and my Cube contains Blood Artist, Bloodghast, Bloodghast, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Guul Draz Assassin, and Stromkirk Noble, popular inclusions all, as well as DKA Sorin who makes little lifelinking Vampires.

Given that everyone likes these cards, and that Vampires, being an OK deck in a Standard format with Jace and Stoneforge, are among the most-pushed tribes in MTG history, a Cube Vampires theme is tempting. I tried it. It failed, but I learned something from it and some of what I learned I will type out below.

Start at my Vamps thread here: To the typical lineup of Vampires, you could also add Bloodline Keeper, Olivia, Kalastria Highborn, Vampire Nighthawk, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Vampire Nocturnus, Blade of the Bloodchief, Bloodthrone Vampire, Anowon(?), and maybe another few that I’m missing, without making the theme too obtrusive. People who aren’t drafting “the Vampire deck” will want to play with most of these cards at least sometime, and that’s what you want.

At first blush, therefore, the theme looks reasonable. Why didn’t it work? Most of why is captured by Waddell’s comment — “There’s not a lot of actual incentive cards. Maybe the captain and Kalastria Highborn? Like, Bloodghast just works better with Carrion Feeder than any of these dumb old vampires” — but I should go into further detail. You want the “filler” cards to be fought over by a bunch of different people, but not too much — so far, so good. You also want there to be the incentive of synergy if you get a lot of these cards; this is what did not happen. The payoff for assembling the tribe was just not that great, and the tribe didn’t come together often enough. For the week or two I tried the Vampire theme there were maybe 20 vampires in my Cube of 450 cards, or 4.4%. By comparison, there are 56 humans in my current build of 470 cards — 11.9% — and I still cut Mayor of Avabruck and worry about people not picking Champion of the Parish and Xathrid Necromancer until late.

Yet 4.4%, which is insufficient, is significantly higher than the proportion in the Legacy Cube — and my list did not include Guul Draz Vampire, Vampire Interloper, and other draft dreck I see here. It is always funny to me how Cube power-maxers say “Cube is about the good cards,” and then include Sangromancer and defend themselves. (Though Vampire Interloper does make our jokes about Greg’s including Stormfront Pegasus even funnier, if that’s even possible.)

But I digress. In the unlikely scenario someone assembles a decent Vampire deck in the Legacy Cube and gets an incentive card or two, they may win some matches. Far more likely are the scenarios where the deck only comes partially together (40 percent of cards aren’t “opened” in a 600-carder), or where all the cards go 13th pick. The Zombie theme, synergizing as it does with sac outlets and recursion, is only partially a tribal theme; by contrast, Vampires (minus Bloodghast) are just regular dudes. Pure tribal in Cube is fundamentally problematic unless it is Humans. Compare Mayor of Avabruck, a two-mana lord in a big tribe, with the possible Vampire reward cards:

Blade of the Bloodchief sucks, nobody else will ever want it.
Bloodlord of Vaasgoth also sucks.
Vampire Nocturnus looks like it should work, but it will not. 1BBB is a restrictive cost in my Cube, which has a lot of fixing — and no one who has ever played both triple KTK and full-RTR block should ever bemoan games decided by something other than color screw.
Stromkirk Captain will be drafted by nobody else and is two colors. In general, the lack of fixing in the Modo Cube engenders awful games and throttles options for multicolor aggro, which brings me to the next card.
Kalastria Highborn is an amazing card, but there’s only one of them, and it’s not worth it with such a small amount of Vampires.

The larger issue is that the Legacy Cube is too big — 600 cards is better than 720, but it’s still obese. With a 600-card singleton Cube, there will never be enough strong Vampires to make a worthwhile theme, yet the theme will be too large and will stoop to include weak cards to artificially support itself — Guul Draz Vampire isn’t better in the abstract than Sarcomancy. This will ensure Black aggro continues to suck, which will make Black continue to suck, which is undesirable for all the reasons I covered at the beginning that everyone agrees on.

There are certain problems that cannot be solved without drastically slimming down the Cube or breaking singleton, likely both, and one of them is the problem of Black aggro. That Black aggro is not seen as irreparable when Blue aggro is widely looked down upon is, I think, due only to inertia and accepted convention, yet for some reason there are Vampires in the Modo Cube and I am writing a polemic about it.

While we’re at it, I’ll articulate my thoughts on aggro in Cube: having it is absolutely vital, and most of my design choices in my own Cube — more fetches and duals to fix and fix untapped, a smaller size, a lower curve — flow from this axiom. Yet I think that singleton Cubes mainly support aggro through having control decks either draw too many 4-drops or color-screwing themselves. (It is also funny to me how Cube power-maxers claim that “the decks should do powerful things” when the average deck will just implode pretty often.) Anyway, this does technically balance the Cube by bridging the power gap between “Scorched Rusalka” and “JTMS,” but leads to rote drafting and lots of horrible games. I also think nobody would consider playing big singleton Cubes were the Cubes popularized first.

Yet it is easy to rip something apart without doing any better myself. I will propose several solutions:

— Actual redesign of the Legacy Cube with Gravecrawlers, Bloodghasts, and so on.
— Ideal: let everyone make their own Cubes on Modo and draft them free of charge.
— Decent: maybe offer multiple Cubes.
— If the constraints on my solution are what I think they are, I would cut all the weaker Vampires (maybe a dozen of them) and add the strongest Black spells, regardless of function, you can find. Demonic Tutor would be a good place to start.

Jason Waddell articulates the process by which a theme becomes not worthwhile in his excellent article “The Poison Principle,” though, for Vampires, a more pointed comparison might be to Storm. Nobody will argue that “Great, I get to pass this 14th-pick Empty the Warrens again” is a good drafting dynamic, yet here we are with Guul Draz Vampire. Anecdotally, this is what happens when I include a terrible, half-baked theme, which I have done dozens of times in the last three years since I assembled my Cube. There have been a lot of bad cards in my Cube and there are still a lot of bad cards. A few of the bad cards leave and come back and are adopted given time, but almost all do not.

I support experimentation in Cube — I’m on Riptide Lab all the time, I find maybe one idea in twenty worth trying and find that to be worth the time spent, and I have a lot of radical ideas for Cube, including lowering the power level to open up a wider variety of cards, a broader and less explored design space. I’m not arguing that no one should try Vampires — I have tried Vampires. Rather, I am arguing that, based on personal experience and heuristics, and in the context of a 600-card singleton Cube with a conventional power level, it is very likely Vampires will not fix the issue their inclusion is meant to fix, or will just fail to work out according to game-design principles we as MTG players largely agree upon.

Bottom Eight: Worst Modern Cards By Price


You ever do a Facebook search for an old schoolmate, find that they’re successful above and beyond their brains, and wonder, ‘Gee, I wonder how the hell he snagged her and the six-figure job?’ This often happens to Magic players — since ours is a hobby where there’s about as much opportunity for economic advancement as polo or luge — and it happens within the game itself, too. Who hasn’t thought to himself, when Googling bad cards, ‘Why is this terrible card worth more than my entire bank account?’ Usually the answer is EDH, a format based on the hypocrisy of pretending to not care much about ‘power,’ but today I’ll explore yet another underpowered format for durdly brewers: Modern. I’ll identify eight different price strata and roast the worst cards you can find at that price. Starting at the bottom:


$0-$1: Delver of Secrets

Delver of Secrets

‘Remember that time I played a Delver t1 and I was going to win, except there’s no Wasteland or Daze to protect it and pressure their resources, and everyone’s playing a fair deck, so my counterspells sucked, and when I tried to flip it, I couldn’t for five turns in a row, because there’s no card selection, so I had a 1/1 for 1 that matched up poorly against his Lightning Bolts and Tarmogoyfs, so I lost with this deck, as I always do, but I continued to play it anyway because it’s a blue deck and BLUE DECKS CAN’T POSSIBLY BE BAD???’

(Honorable mention: Skullcrack, Tempest of Light / Back to Nature, Treasure Mage)



$1-$3: Serum Visions

Serum Visions

In Magic writing, there are lies, damned lies, and Zac Hill on Serum Visions:

The only card that isn’t obviously absurd is Serum Visions, but I’ll go ahead and remind you that if you simply reverse the order of the abilities on the card, it’s good enough to get banned. Over the last three or so years, it has become more and more increasingly evident that Ponder / Preordain / Serum Visions / Sleight of Hand and their ilk are all just really, really powerful and only get better the more we play with them.

It’s not ‘obviously’ absurd — it’s just absurd to true connoisseurs of the game! Ah, MtG — if hipsters didn’t have Blue cantrips, what else could they feel superior about? In other news, it’s possibly correct to take p1p1 Fortify over Primeval Bounty, and Michael Olowokandi over Michael Jordan. (You say that’s wrong? You just don’t get it, man — mythic bombs are so mainstream these days.) Hey, Mr. Draper: you’ve quit the job, stop trying to sell me Mystic Snake Oil!

Moving away from corporate communiqués and back to reality, one’s experience with casting this ostensible Serum Visions ‘card’ is more like:

Needless to say, Serum Visions is so expensive because it’s bad. Ponder and Preordain are banned, and Serum Visions has crossed the picket line into playability; it commands the self-loathing, mercenary price-tag of a scab. But anyone who watched the start of the NFL last year knows what a dire price that really is …

(Honorable mention: Sleight of Hand, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle)


$3-$5: Foil Past in Flames

Past in Flames

Storm (not dead from the bannings, merely mutilated to the point of living in a leprosarium) is the kind of strategy that’s always powerful, and always way worse than it should be, because every meta ever is biased towards fair Blue decks, even when they’re bad (see: all the above cards), because that’s the way it had always been in Magic and, let’s face it, with all the old players owning all the Legacy cards, the only way to make a living from this game involving kissing up to WotC employees, and with WotC being way more preoccupied with the game not fizzling out like a fad than growing it beyond a nearly-saturated subculture, inertia and stagnation motivate MtG players way more than anyone would like to admit. Also: woe unto he who blingeth out his Storm deck.


$5-$10: Watery Grave

Watery Grave

The other day my playgroup was trying to figure out which was worse: Plateau in Legacy, or Watery Grave in Modern? Though Plateau’s price has, so to speak, leveled off at a fairly high mesa, and has plenty of room to grow — you can Chain stuff to it, Chain Lightning off of it, etc. — Watery Grave just reminds me of “what happened to my weed when I was home from college for the summer and my parents started walking up to my bathroom.” Sadly, the card is too expensive to be used as toilet paper …

(Honorable mention: Scapeshift, Shadow of Doubt, Restoration Angel)


$10-$15: Aven Mindcensor

Aven Mindcensor

I like to play W/b Martyr in Modern, and its bad matchups these days are mainly decks that do degenerate stuff like searching their library for a whatever-card combo (MPod, KPod, RG Tron, Titan Scapeshift), so I proudly packed three Aven Mindcensors in my sideboard and thought that nothing bad could happen again. In theory, I ate a fetchland, forced a blind Pod activation, fizzled a Kiki-Pod combo, had them fail to find off Eye of Ugin activation after activation, and Ajani Vengeant-ed their lands when they tried to go for the kill. In practice, they killed my 2/1 and I lost a bunch of matches. (Quick aside: how the f does the stupid Scapeshift deck ALWAYS HAVE SCAPESHIFT???)


$15-$20: Sphinx’s Revelation

Sphinx's Revelation

A ‘Standard-only’ mythic in playable guise, Sphinx’s mimics the MtG mindset by perpetuating itself at its best — what are you hoping to hit off a Revelation, but another Revelation? Then you can kill all their guys and gain a bunch of life and render whatever they’re doing irrelevant — interaction, sure, in the sense of Big Brother ‘interacting’ with Winston Smith through the telescreen. Good thing it’s 2013 and not 1984! Modern games tend to start on turn one and playing enough Revelations to chain them consistently is asking to get killed by the small child with Burn, so you can go off and complain to your friends about the misfortune when in fact you were just playing a worse deck than the guy with the Shard Volleys.


$20-$30: Glimpse the Unthinkable

Glimpse the Unthinkable

The other day, I was playing my Martyr deck and lost to U/B Burn. ‘Lost to Burn with a lifegain deck, CML?’ you might ask. ‘How did that happen?’ Because they went after my library, and not my life! It was basically like the Scopes Monkey trial, I guess — and with a similar outcome: the secularist was Martyred. The deck might very well be good, but I just put this card on here as a jibe at EDH players and casuals because I’m pretentious like that.


$30+: Chord of Calling

Chord of Calling

Paying $35 for this card would be like paying $120 million over six years for a mediocre quarterback, when the only reason anyone else has ever heard of your city is from watching The Wire. Good thing nobody in sports is dumb enough to do that! And if you thought $35 for Chord was a ripoff, check out its mana cost …


Thanks for reading!



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Top 8 Worst Draft Formats of All Time

In Honor of Magic 2014: The Eight Worst Draft Formats of All Time

by: CML


Who’s for the Game?

Here’s a sobering idea: With the rise of New World Order, the Modern Magic card, for the most part, is designed with either Limited or Constructed in mind.

This neat dichotomy fails to explain away cards like Savageborn Hydra, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, or Pack Rat, which exist solely to ruin games of Limited and depress the cracker of prize packs. It also doesn’t account for smash hits like Hindervines, Restore the Peace, or Showstopper, which depress the cracker of drafting packs.

Staff of the Sun Magus
M14’s weakness as a draft environment is at least partially due to a raging Staff infection.”

So things aren’t quite that bad. They’re worse! Sets like Modern Masters come out, and the draft aficionado wonders why the other sets aren’t as good as Modern Masters, and Modern Masters isn’t as good as it could be.

Savageborn Hydra
In the event of Constructed, I’m a hostage.”


Abolish the Draft

Take heart, though! It used to be that nobody drafted anything, ever. The lack of Limited in Magic’s early history severely worsened its development. Think of it this way: what are ninety percent of commons doing in every set, except as draft fodder?

Balduvian Shaman
I could design worse when I was seven.”


So drafting was born. Mirage-Visions-Weatherlight was the first block you could actually draft, but Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse was the first block where Limited was directing the design — the first Cube, if you will. Some claim Limited begins with MVW, others with IPA — in the interests of not running out of terrible draft environments, I’m going to start with MVW and work my way down the list.


8. Old core sets

I imagine these drafts were as often dodged as those for Vietnam, but maybe (as in Israel or South Korea) there was no way of avoiding them. These sets were absolutely massive — up to 449 cards in Fifth Edition, which we looked down upon, as spoiled children — and filled with unplayable cards; your chances of cracking a Birds of Paradise in one of those fin-de-siècle boxes was about as bad as that of getting a Liliana in a box of Innistrad.

Redeeming aspect: With all those white-bordered lands running around, you could just grab a stack and ghetto out your Constructed deck of choice. If you drafted Alpha, there was some chance of getting value.

Cube lesson: Cut cards like Vizzerdrix.


7. Lorwyn block

Drafting tribal is about as uninteresting as you’d expect. You were screwed if you didn’t get a tribe, not all the tribes were good, and the curve was often surprisingly high.

Redeeming aspect: A surfeit of activated abilities repelled new players, leading to the worst commercial downswing in Magic history.

Cube lesson: Tribal(ism) is the cancer of Africa.


6. Magic 2012

Basically Magic 2014 without much removal. Once, I won a draft with only three card types. Aggro is supported here, though, which is more than I can say for the Modo Cube.

Redeeming aspect: During summer 2011, I was forced to find something else to do with my Friday nights.

Cube lesson: Go easy on the enchantments.


5. Scars of Mirrodin block

I’ll choose to draw.”

Yep, sounds good, I’m about ready to do something else with my evening.”

No, I’ll be on the draw.”

Redeeming aspect: The storyline makes it more likely that Wizards will print Komeback to Kamigawa before Scars of Mirrodin Redux: The Second (Psychic) Surgery. Also: Glistening Oil, fracking, etc.

Cube lesson: Heed the Poison Principle; support aggressive decks; cut Swords.


4. Magic 2014

While games of M12 were like ripping off a band-aid, games of M14 are the slow and exquisite torture of being digested by a self-satisfied Blue mage or Sarlacc. You’d think they’d’ve learned from their design mistakes …

Redeeming aspect: … even if they didn’t, you can learn!

Cube lesson: Vary and limit your removal; support aggressive decks.


3. Masques block

Back in the 20th century (my younger readers will find this hard to believe) card shops were even worse than they are now. Their interiors were dirty, their locations remote, their life-spans the stuff of Rousseau or Sierra Leone, their proprietors hucksters of a Jerry-Lundegaard variety. I was 11 years old when Masques came out, and not even I would buy much of it. Underpowered? Check. Tribal? Check. Bad color balance? Check.

Redeeming aspect: Misdirection has cool art?

Cube lesson: Do everything differently.


2. Urza’s block

Before there was Blue in M14, there was Black in Urza’s-block draft.

Here are some Black commons: Pestilence, Befoul, Expunge, Duress

Here are some other commons: Monk Realist, Launch, Headlong Rush, Gaea’s Bounty

Redeeming aspect: Though billed as the “Enchantments Cycle,” Urza’s block was actually centered around the slightly less dumb card type of Artifact.

Cube lesson: Balance your colors; don’t lard your format with a terrible third set.


1. Avacyn Restored

More than enough ink has been spilled on AVR’s Limited suckage — I’ve never seen a format yield so easily to a simple mathematical analysis — but I’ll just say that if I wanted to play a format with awful color-balance and a high curve, yet such a steep power curve and lack of removal that the games ended within the frame of a few spells cast by each player, I’d play the Modo Cube.

Redeeming aspect: To be fair, the individual cards are by and large wonderful, but that makes AVR all the more disappointing — so it headlines the list!

Cube lesson: Design with people over the age of four in mind. (Ahem, Modo Cube.)


Thanks for reading!



Legacy Tournament Report


There are many reasons Seattle is a great place to live — great food; the opportunity to hear WotC employees cry like overachieving schoolchildren when you beat them at unsanctioned events; a gender ratio that’s slightly better than a Yukon mining town; beautiful bodies (of water, views of which you can enjoy from your car while stuck in traffic) — but Mirkwood is my favorite time of year. For three months, I hole up at Card Kingdom like some library-bound bore and practice Legacy. I used to do this at another LGS, existing on Doritos, sleeping on sell-through Chronicles commons, defecating out the window, and sweating into the dehumidifier, but when Card Kingdom opened, I became classy. Now I eat grilled cheese at Café Mox, which offers every kind of pleasure except hard alcohol, televised sports, a discotheque, and another gender. Now I sleep on beds of digitized love-letters from OKCupid. Now I defecate on myself when I play Legacy. Now I sweat my friends when they’re in the top 8. Just kidding! After I lost round two, I drove back home. I hope the rest of my car found rides.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We have an active Eternal scene here. The Legacy players look down upon the Modern players, and the Modern players look down upon themselves. Every Monday a group of grizzled regulars gathers in the windowless dungeon of Card Kingdom to play the format where winning a GP won’t buy you a deck. It’s a cesspit of mediocrity, but I mean this as a high compliment. Legacy is hard, and if you’re mediocre at it, you’ll have a huge edge on the field. “Winning the battle of mistakes” is a phrase that comes to mind.

That Monday I sleeved up a little something different than usual. Merfolk is often a good choice at Card Kingdom, since the field is full of people who think they’re smarter than everyone else and therefore can’t “spot the fish.” The UWR Delver list was giving me fits, though, so rather than be negative about it I decided to praise the gods for making tempo players too stupid to not include fringe playables like Swords to Plowshares, Stoneforge Mystic, and Grim Lavamancer, while relying on Green graveyard-based creatures that do nothing against cards nobody plays like Rest in Peace, instead. My sunny disposition wasn’t going to turn my fish into a playable deck, though, so I ordered something a little different. “Batman” is a new addition to our Legacy group who just graduated high school and somehow has all the Legacy staples ever. He’s sassy, he’s 18, and he’s rich. In other words, he’s perfect — except it’s a he. “Fish With Shroud” sounded like a good way to stop getting Plowed, so I sleeved up this:


Lands (20)
Tropical Island
Blue fetches / Windswept Heaths

Creatures (20)
Muscle Sliver
Sinew Sliver
Predatory Sliver
Crystalline Sliver
Galerider Sliver

Spells (20)
Force of Will
Swords to Plowshares
AEther Vial
Sideboard (15)
Force of Will
Cursed Totem
Spell Pierce
Harmonic Sliver
Life from the Loam
Rest in Peace
Relic of Progenitus
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Meddling Mage
Gaddock Teeg

The tournament started auspiciously, with a win against a balding loudmouth who uses Magic like Joyce used literature — as an escape from his failed medical studies. Between that and his choice of the stone-unplayable Miracles, this round was basically a bye. Meanwhile, a pudgy Asian man with a pretentious wrist brace was rubbing his nose like a Rick James whose dealer had run out of Claritin, and a suburbanite with a goatee was trying to convince himself Progenitus was good against a field of Terminus and Liliana. I lost a round to whatever, beat a Tezzerator deck, then lost another round to whatever. On Tuesday we tested at my house with Batman and a sleazy cable salesman, and though I won one game against Punishing Jund with a lone Galerider Sliver on the board, the deck sucked. It turns out basic Islands and abusing Standstill are a nice upside to certain Vial aggro strategies. Who knew? I tried UWR myself, but cantripping turned out to be too hard, because I am an imbecile.

We Pondered our options and Brainstormed easy deck ideas, but it wasn’t until Batman said “mono-Red” that the choice seemed Preordained:

MONO-RED COMBO ('Shooting the Moon')

Spells (41)
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Worldspine Wurm
Inferno Titan
Simian Spirit Guide
Sneak Attack
Through the Breach
Sensei's Divining Top
Blood Moon
Seething Song
Lotus Petal
Lands (19)
Arid Mesa
Scalding Tarn
Sandstone Needle
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors

Sideboard (15)
Defense Grid
Chalice of the Void
Grafdigger's Cage
Red Elemental Blast

I brought the deck to Card Kingdom FNM, the best place to not play FNM and feel superior for playing Legacy and drinking seven-dollar craft pear ciders. My friend Aaron was there. I squashed his Shardless like a BUG, with Sneak Attack playing the part of Impromptu RAID. The next two days I pilloried Punishing Jund and tied with Miracles (again, unplayable, but if people didn’t play unplayable decks there would be no Legacy).

The morning of Mirkwood I woke up early — 10:40 — and drove my van-load of three up to Arlington. Arlington is a small town halfway to Canada; at least when I usually drive in that direction, there is the promise of frat parties or, past that, a new, barbarian country that feels like America in the nineties. The tournament site (“Mirkwood,” presumably after the title tournament — not sure where they came up with that one) was nice: with its ramshackle podium, heirloom instruments, delicious food, in-cel nerds, etc. it felt like the Seattle of my adolescence. I must give unironic props to Joe Bono and some other people for running a great event.

In round 1 I was paired against a random playing Death and Taxes. I’d seen him somewhere before, but I didn’t remember where — my best guess is Round 8 of April’s Legacy Open. His eyes were bloodshot from fatigue, and they turned even redder as I ruined Karakas with more annihilator triggers than Chavez. Death and Taxes: a socialist paradise indeed! Then some other stuff happened. Maybe I’ll splash Black for Dread of Night next time.

In round 2 I played Tim “OMGClayAkhen” Aten. After I showed in Sneak Attack and squished his Demon with a couple of Worldspine Wurms, he morosely remarked it was “the second game in a row [he]’d had turn-two Show and Tell and lost.” In game two I kept an opener of some spells and some lands that were Ancient Tombs. I spun the dreidel over and over again, but no Ararat would spring forth from my library. Meanwhile, Tim was discarding. There is nothing quite like going to four life off your dreidels and not finding the promised land, just another Tomb. It was in that moment that I understood the ordeal of Anne Frank. In game three I had the death wish, so I just lost to countermagic and Jace. Who the hell boards in Jace against mono-red? He can’t even survive after bouncing a Goblin Guide.

On the drive home, there was traffic near Everett, which pissed me off because nobody should live there. I then went to the soccer game, watched the Sounders win, and got called unmentionables by a joyless cow — it was nearly a perfect tournament; the only thing missing was a Portland Timbers career-starting injury. (Ha! Just a little Portland-unemployment joke for you.) It must have been weird to be a Portland fan at the Clink, it’s not like poetry slams attract crowds of 65,000. After that, I got kinda drunk with Aaron and his girlfriend and lamented my perpetual misfortune. Someone texted me that three of the Card-Kingdom suburbanites had made Top 4 (including the insufferable former med student), so I drank some more and forgot about it, until I was assured they hadn’t won, so I remembered it and typed it here. I would play Shooting the Moon again in a heartbeat, but Batman has already promised to build me Waterfalls. Cascade is a nice mountain range, and cataracts are clouding my Ancestral Vision. I predict it’ll be a good choice after Theros, too, since the last big set had only a marginal impact on Legacy. You might even be able to splash White for a pointless Enlightened Tutor package. If you do, play four Plateaus — they’re not gonna get any cheaper, though they might just rise for a bit, then level off.

Keep it dusty,

Theros Previews: Thassa, Ember Swallower, and More!

Theros Previews: Thassa, God of the Sea; Ember Swallower; and More!
by: CML

After a long, hot, wet American summer, the too-long Standard season has changed into a better season — Theros spoiler season! Though I haven’t been this eager for a new set since I was a kid, there’s something about big sets that’s always exciting.

In recent years, Innistrad gave us cards like Snapcaster Mage, Delver of Secrets, Geist of Saint Traft, Past in Flames, and Liliana of the Veil, while Return to Ravnica produced Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay, Sphinx’s Revelation, and shocklands halfway between the price point of “old Ravnica duals” and “old Ravnica duals presented by Xerox.”

Here’s why I like Theros so far:

  • The art is a beautiful departure from the fanboy-ish / pornographic photorealism that’s been the main style since Shards of Alara. Yes, bad art is a part of New World Order, too.
  • The card frames are about as good as it gets without, you know, returning to the old one.
  • It is possible that, come October, the new Legend rule will go from “irredeemably godawful” to “merely horrendous.”
  • Sword-and-sandal and sword-and-sorcery are sweet, but together? A veritable triumvirate. (Back-to-school special: your sexually repressed Latin teacher glossing over the ‘sword-and-sheath’ jokes that every Roman writer made a lot of.)
  • I guess the mechanics look fun, too. The incremental advantage from activated abilities makes me slaver like the arriviste reactionary I am. Even if Monstrous really is just a lame version of ROE’s Level Up, Devotion is just a lame version of Eventide’s Chroma, and the reminder text on Bestow has the legal rigor of the Zimmerman jury, it beats Slivers that look as human as Star Trek “aliens.”

“Live long and prosper — don’t be a Magic pro.”

Here’s why you should like Theros:

“Mad Kraken, yo.”

The Shipbreaker is probably too bad for Standard or a regular Cube, but he more than makes up for that in flavor. Pass the Caesar salad, and hold the crab-cracking implements, as he dies to removal just like any Cancrix or Hatchling.

Bident of Thassa - Theros Spoiler
“The Dude Abident.”

On the topic of salad tongs, the Bident seems OK — though the effect was first printed on Coastal Piracy, the new generation that likes stuff like “dudes” and “the combat step” will recognize it from Edric, Ruiner of EDH Games. Artifact and enchantment are two non-interactive card types that, paradoxically, make the Pitchfork easier to kill. I would also like to add that Thassa’s weapon is only two-thirds as cool as the Master of the Pearl Trident’s.

Thassa, God of the Sea 2U

Legendary Enchantment Creature -God M
As long as your devotion to blue is less than five, Thassa isn’t a creature. (Each U in the mana costs of permanents you control adds to your devotion to blue.)
At the beginning of your upkeep, scry 1.
1U: Target creature you control can’t be blocked this turn.

Cards like this are tough to evaluate, since one has to grasp for precedents, and even then those fail to tell the whole story. My guess is that Thassa isn’t great for Constructed or Cube, since the activated ability is expensive and the Scry 1 trigger is not Dark Confidant or Phyrexian Arena or even Dark Tutelage. I also think we may be underestimating how hard it is to get to five Blue, but pick up a copy and test her! There’s only one way to find out.

“Hungry? Why wait.”

I love Ember Swallower, but I wish they’d costed the Monstrosity activation at six instead. Cubes will not want a 4/5 for 2RR, though he does do a good job of blocking Hellrider, Hero of Oxid Ridge, and Hound of Griselbrand (the Game Triple H’s.)

“The Greeks have gotten less attractive with age — which the pederasts predicted.”

This is another tough card to evaluate. I think they’ll be played a little, but with aggro decks trending towards heavier creature counts and Boros Reckoner already in the three-slot, the potential may be limited. Cubers will enjoy targeting the happy couple with a Flame Jab or Rancor over and over again.

“Satyriasis in men, nymphomania in women …”

The satyr could be abusable, though unlike Burning-Tree Emissary, Lotus Cobra and Priest of Urabrask, he doesn’t leave behind a body (Snapcaster Mage teaches us how potent a 2/1 can be). Also unlike BTE and the Priest, though, he ramps.

“Disco Demolition Night.”

If Smash to Smithereens is played in Legacy, Destructive Revelry can be too. This might be the best Constructed card spoiled so far. Cube curators will have to compare this to Hull Breach, Wear // Tear, Artifact Mutation, and Qasali Pridemage.

“Things have really come to a head.”

Polukranos is my favorite spoiler. The Monstrosity activation will draw comparisons to Bonfire of the Damned and Olivia Voldaren, as well as old-school dumb draft bomb Living Inferno, but Polukranos is much more interesting than those cards. Timing the instant-speed pump correctly will take a lot of judgment and finesse, and it’s nice that after the whole AVR hand-holding soul-bonding no-removal fiasco, Wizards is not afraid to print an ability on a Mythic whose activation could get you blown out.

Thanks for reading. Join me for more previews next week!