Friday, May 22, 2020

Ikoria: The End of an Era.



On 5/18 Lurrus of the Dream-Den has been  banned, not just in legacy, but something that has never happened before, type 1/Vintage as well. For the first time ever, a card has been banned on the grounds of power level from Vintage, a format that has an assortment of powerful cards, including the power 9, Sol Ring, Library of Alexandria, every card from Urza and Mirrodin blocks, and so on. 



Now, Lurrus wasn't just banned in Vintage, he was also banned in Legacy, which makes sense, Legacy is Vintage-lite, which has a ban list instead of a restriction list. Four cards in total had been banned across three formats, Lurrus being banned in both Vintage and Legacy, Zirda, the Dawnbreaker also in Legacy, and finally Drannith Magistrate and Winota, Joiner of Forces. Now if you include Lutri, the Spellchaser, who was banned by the Rules Committee when spoiled, you have five cards banned across four formats.


I don't believe in the history of the game, any card had ever been banned before it's release to the general public. I know Memory Jar had an extremely early emergency ban, but that card was still released. However we aren't here to talk about Lutri, or the Rules Committee. They aren't technically part of WotC, and as such, have some leniency, although these days its getting hard to tell how far removed they are from Wizards. However, Lurrus isn't banned in EDH which contradicts the statements "Commander is played with vintage legal cards." However given the number of times I've been seeing silver bordered cards and ponies at LGS tables, I'm sure that rule has only been a suggestion for some time.

"We recognize that it's a rare occurrence to ban a card for balance reasons in Vintage rather than restricting it, but this is a unique case where restricting Lurrus wouldn't affect its usage as a companion, which is the primary motivation for making this change."--Ian Duke

Honestly, when I initially drafted this, I had assumed Standard/Type 2 would have a ban card, and did four cards in four formats, since banning cards in Standard since Kaladesh has become the chic thing to do, within the last year four cards have been banned formats, one of whom, Oko, Thief of Crowns, has sort of become the poster child of unbalanced Magic cards, being banned in four formats,Standard, Modern, Pioneer, and Brawl. I have a feeling Lurrus is soon going to take that down. Currently Lurrus sees play in a multitude of formats, in fact, he is seeing play in all of them. He replaced Liliana of the Veil of in Modern Jund, he has burn decks running Mishra's Bauble. It chaos. In fact 87% of decks in the recent modern challenge ran Lurrus. This however isn't due to the nature of his graveyard retreivel  mechanic, which while good, isn't broken. Instead it's his companion mechanic that's the issue here.

Years ago I read an article about a mechanic Mark Rosewater designed while working on Tempest, which he dubbed 'the forbidden mechanic'. In his own words, it was the most powerful mechanic he ever designed, even more so then the 'free' mechanic in Urza block. It basically was a mechanic that would guarantee a card in your starting hand. He said the cards would have been minor, and you would have to jump through a hoop, but he still determined removing that much variance would be detrimental to the game, and the mechanic was quickly scrapped. 

It seems almost like he forgot this lesson. Companion is by design, a guaranteed extra card in your hand, except it can't be tucked or discarded, or interacted with at all. While the deck building requirements are admittedly interesting, they aren't by any means even. Lurrus simply requires you to have no permanents (not cards) with a CMC greater than 2. Zirda simply requires every permanent to have an activated ability. There are some that have creature type restrictions, cards in your deck only have odd/even converted mana cost, and one that requires you to have 20 more cards in your deck. They look fun in a vacuum, even possibly for another game entirely. 

"We don't not make things we think will be enjoyable in newer formats because their is the potential of them being good in older formats"--Mark Rosewater 5/9/2020

The biggest issue seems to be a lack of play testing, which has come up more frequently, as WotC tries to release an ever increasing amount of product. However their are two larger issues to this as well. First is the issue of Magic being 27 years old. Vintage and Legacy don't make much money for WotC, if any. I don't blame them for not play testing how well a card interacts with a Tolarian Academy or a Black Lotus. Basically Legacy is getting the same treatment in post Pioneer world, as Vintage got when they started pushing Legacy, and if the game survives, in ten years they will being doing that to Modern. Further more, the majority of the player base will never encounter some of these cards anyway. So while, in a perfect world, they would have the resources to work on every format, I don't blame them too much in that regard. After all, this isn't the first card that generates obscene value with a Black Lotus. 

The second is a long term loss for a short term gain. In recent sets, their have been an increased release of powerful chase cards. Oko, Field of the Dead, Once Upon a Time, and Underworld Breach had been banned in multiple formats, with Underworld being banned in Legacy, being dubbed by some as a strictly better Yawgmoth's Will. Naturally these cards exist to push packs, in an otherwise lack luster set. Avoiding any conspiracy theories about Oko and virtue signaling, Oko was still pushed hard, being such an oppressive presence when he hits the board, it could be nearly impossible to recover from, well without your own Oko. The mentality has become "If a card becomes problematic we will just ban it, after we sell the product". This makes for both a terrible standard environment, in which playing it even locally on any level but competitive is all but impossible, and a insecure environment, where no player can be sure their investment will hang around. A standard deck can cost several hundred dollars, and when you only get to run that for a few months at most, it leaves a bad feeling for the player in question. 

It use to be cards being banned in standard was a rare affair, and would occasionally conflict with already established products. I remember you could run Stoneforge Mystic in standard, as long as you played the event deck as is out of the box. My favorite story to this as follows. My twin one Friday calls me up and asks if I would be interested in playing in standard FNM. This being a rare occurrence I took him up on it, since he rarely plays. So what did he do? He bought a starter deck at Wal-Mart, the Nissa Kaladesh deck built around Energy Counters. The common in the deck, Attune with AEther had been banned. He said "who bans a common?" and left the event. It was the last time he ever went with me to a FNM event. This is just one example, but I'm sure it's happened to others. 



The next mechanic in question is Mutate. Despite another blow in the death knell of enchantments (especially local enchantments), its a rules nightmare. Besides the issues that stems from stacking cards on top of cards, there's the issue how it works with clone effects. Since at least 6th edition, a clone effect copies a card as printed, unless the card says otherwise. The best example I can give to this is how Vesuvan Doppleganger is always blue, or Quicksilver Gargantuan is always a 7/7. Things that don't get copied is counters, any temporary or permanent changes to the power or toughness (like Sorceress Queen or Riding the Dilu Horse), text changes, color changes, or any other temporary changes. It's my understanding that isn't how it works with a mutated creature, and if you copy it, you copy all the changes onto that creature. This doesn't just include the changes brought upon by the mutated creature, but any additional non-counter permanent changes to the creature as well. Since it "changes the characteristics of the creature". This isn't the case with Mutate, as copying a mutated creature mutates all characteristics as well. This I understand, copies changes made to the card from other sources as well (but I admit, I'm not certain of this). 

This mechanic becomes a rules headache, in addition to a number of other issues that have come up with the rule (such as blink effects), and is hard to keep track of on paper. It isn't however, hard to keep track of on Arena, like another card in the set. 


 Yeah that effect works well in paper, as do most random effects. They work even better online though. I think the way this mechanic works is a hint about WotC and designing for a digital client. There is a Chinese Whisper I've heard that phasing is making a comeback in the next core set, and while I usually don't share rumors, especially on my public blog, I do find this interesting. It's been said that phasing would work well on a digital client, because the memory aspects would be automated. I think it's interesting to watch for that, since there has been at least one card with Phasing printed in recent years. Combine this with WotC seemingly abandon of older formats entirely, and you have  

While it's still to early to be certain, but I have a bad feeling about the direction this product is going. I wish I was more well versed in the comics and sports card bubbles, because what I know, Magic is starting to resemble their end. With an ever increase in pushing limited premium products to artificially create scarcity. Whether it be alternative foil all-star cards, chrome and ghost covers, or borderless alt-art foils with pop culture icons on it, it's the same. 

I think WotC will continue this route until the cardboard market nukes itself, and then will move to a digital exclusive product. However, it's very possible, and I hope I'm right, that I'm wrong. I enjoy the social aspects of the game, and that's my favorite aspect of it. 



Standard cards currently banned in at least one format total: 10

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Mana Denial in Scryings by Stan Sterkendries



(This article is a guest article by Stan S. It's about a format I have yet to formally play called scryings. A hyperlink is below).


Some people want to win it all, or build great works of creativity.  And then there are those who just want to watch the world burn.  Me, I accepted long ago that it’s more realistic to just make my opponent’s lands burn, and that brings us to the topic of the day: mana denial in old school formats.  Or, more precisely, mana denial in the new Scryings format.

If you’re not aware of what this format is, you can find its list of legal cards here. Basically, the boys and girls in Sweden added more than 100 new cards to the Swedish legal card pool, and created an extremely diverse and interesting addition to the existing Swedish format.  As of today (May 13 2020), there doesn’t seem to be a definitive deck to beat, although various strategies around Sacred Mesa and River Boa seem to have emerged and/or are emerging.  Land tax decks seem to have gotten a significant boost from the ‘printing’ of Jokulhaups, Undiscovered Paradise and Zuran Orb, and some brave souls are endeavoring to make reanimator a thing.  One aspect of old school magic that seems to get relatively little attention in this format is good, old fashioned mana denial.  This article defines manadenial as preventing the opponent from getting the proper amount and colour of mana out of his lands.  The format has artifact and creature mana, which means cards like Goblin Vandal can take out mana sources too.  But in this text we’ll focus on attacking the lands.

Before we evaluate the new ‘printings’ in this set, it’s important to note that Scryings is more than a clone of the Swedish format plus some new cards.  The addition of these cards has made some existing cards a lot better in this new metagame.  I already mentioned Land Tax, but there is another card which in my opinion gets a lot better in this new format.  Magnus added a lot of incentives to tap out and/or untap all of your lands in this set.  A Wildfire Emissary, pump knight or Sacred Mesa isn’t nearly as efficient when you can’t sink all of your mana into it.  Reusing Hammer of Bogardan costs you a hefty eight mana every turn, and if you want to optimally use Dwarven Miner (which will get its own paragraph later on in this article), you want to whack a land every turn too, which costs you three mana every time.  Thawing Glaciers comes into play tapped, and gives you tapped basic lands, and the hyper efficient beater Waterspout Djinn requires you to return an untapped Island to your hand.  Tapped ones won’t do.  In such a format, Winter Orb can be a deadly predator to the unprepared opponent.  Keep this card in mind when you’re brewing.

Next up, let’s talk about the new additions to the format.  If you want to attack a manabase, there’s the pinpoint accuracy approach, and there’s the sledge hammer strategy.  Jokulhaups and Pox fall into the latter category.  Both of these sorceries require you to build around it, and will reward you with a crippled opponent who struggles to cast his spells if you play your cards right.  Losing at least a third, or all, of your lands and mana critters, and artifact mana too in the case of Jokulhaups, will make short work of mana intensive strategies.  If you don’t intend to play these cards, be prepared to face them, because people will be trying to break these strategies.

A card which has been used together with Pox is Desolation.  This thing is deadly in a game of attrition, but you need to build around it.  Bear in mind that if the opponent disenchants it during his own turn, he won’t sacrifice a land.

Next up are the more pinpoint strategies.  Staying in Black, Choking Sands is an interesting addition to the format for the dedicated land destruction enthusiast.  Generally speaking you’ll want to play Sinkhole over this though, unless if you’re the maniac who wants both obviously.  Dealing two damage to remove a nonbasic land is sweet, but three mana really is a lot more than two, and the ‘non swamp clause’ really hurts it.

Pillage is another three mana addition to the format.  This card is extremely versatile, being able to destroy both lands and artifacts makes sure you’ll always hit something good with it.  The double red makes this card somewhat clunky in many decks though, more often than not you’ll want one or two of these in your main deck, if you’re not running monored more than that will be too much.  Still, a good card.

Creeping Mold is Pillage’s fatter younger brother.  It will also hit enchantments, but four mana really is a lot.  Not bad if you’re running a lot of elves, but you usually want to do more than destroy one noncreature permanent for that mana cost.  Still, if you can make it work, good for you.

Orcish Squatters gets its mention just for completeness’ sake.  At five mana, you want more than a boltable creature that needs to attack to do anything.  It’s cute and hilarious if you can get it to work, but don’t base your manadenial strategy on this guy if you want to win consistently.  Still, old school magic is a game of creativity as much if not more so than of skill, so don’t let my skepticism of this card dissuade you from brewing with it.

Political Trickery is an interesting card.  It’s not suited to wreck an opposing manabase, and will only rarely allow you to colourscrew an opponent.  But you’ll always be able to rob him of his best land, and this format has some really good lands.  I’m sure most players will find a good use for a borrowed Maze of Ith or Library of Alexandria.

Dwarven Miner is in my opinion the best manadenial card in this set, and one of the best cards included in general.  It’s a small red creature, which makes it very vulnerable.  You’ll need to protect it.  But if you get to untap with it, wonderful things start to happen.  Whacking just one land with it before it gets bolted or plowed will already put you ahead, as soon as you manage to activate it twice, you’re pretty far ahead.  Hitting a dual per turn, an annoying Maze of Ith or Mishra’s factory, that Library of Alexandria he was hoping to use to grind you out, or that Workshop which was bound to be used to do broken stuff, all of this becomes possible.  Three mana per turn is a steep investment in the midgame, but the pay off can be oh so sweet.

Our final entrant isn’t really a manadenial card at all.  Primal Order doesn’t destroy lands, it doesn’t even tap them down.  It doesn’t invalidate them like a Blood Moon does either.  But it will punish the heck out of an opponent who plays too many of them.  This four mana sideboard card is a serious clock against an opponent light on basic lands.  Not ideal in a metagame filled with budget decks, but if you want to punish opponents for running nothing but duals and factories, look no further.  Those x damage per upkeep can really add up.  Be careful though, this effect is symmetric.

So, there you have it.  The mana denial strategies in this wonderful new format are plenty, and they’re good.  Have fun trying them out, and if you feel I missed something, be sure to let me know.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Elvish Archers

"Remember when this guy was a great two drop?"-Saikuba, Gatherer Comment.


Designed back when off-color abilities got bumped up in rarity, Elvish Archers was for a while considered a great two drop. After all, First Strike is a great ability, and in the color of combat tricks can help take out Juzam's, Erhnams, and even a blocking Shivan. 

I recently built a deck experimenting on first strike and combat tricks, and the archer was front and center of it. After all, in it's time, it was considered a green staple, able to take on many other two and three drops people were realistically dropping in 93-94. 

So how does it fair to the high tuned decks people are running in 2020? Why don't we find out.

Twang

Playability: A 2/1 for two is considered mana efficient since it's power is equal to its mana cost. First Strike is a good ability, and allows it to trade with the likes of knights. It can even kill a Hippy, if it encounters the flying bastard. Its converted CMC is two, but it's a 1G, which unlike the knights, is splash able. This gives it an amazing ability to be built into a multicolored deck. Numerous combat tricks, and several aura's can be used to help it. These include Giant Growth, Bloodlust, Rightousness, and Unholy Strength to name a few. Unlike the knight, it can be pinged, which might not seem like a big deal, but in a format with Pestilence, Icatian Javeliner, and the might Tim, that's a huge liability. Finally, in green, is no lords or crusade style effects. I feel if Elvish Champion or even Kaysa had existed in the format, I could justify giving it a 4, but as it is, its playability is 3/5.

(This rating also applied for A40, where it is a 1/2).

We wouldn't get a proper elf lord until 1999

Art: Anson Maddocks never fails in his art. His art always had a very dark and gritty feel, and the Archers is easily one of his best. The slim muscles, the pale skin, the tattoo, the bow, his depictions of elves are different from the high polished looking elves that were popular in fantasy at the time. The background elements of green and yellows functions very well. There vague enough to capture the imagination, while functioning as a good setting for the Elf. Normally I reduce a point when a plural creature depict a single creature, but Maddocks piece is just to perfect to do that to. 5/5




Flavor: The First Strike actually comes from the fact that it's an archer. Although very quickly the flavor mechanic of being an archer became pinging attacking or blocking creatures or as well as creatures that block flying creatures. However in the context of of what a bow does, it works. Sure, it doesn't work on Knights, wolves, or people with lances, but the flavor in Magic is never perfect. The two power also comes into the context of better weapons. The real icing though, is the amazing flavor text, which features a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae, where the line "we will fight in the shade" is attributed to King Leonidas of Sparta, when the Persian arrows blackened the sky. This bumps the flavor to 4/5.

12/15=4/5. Sure, there's certainly better creatures to throw into your deck. Without tribal support, it's just a 2/1 with a combat ability. The knights outclass it, across the board, as does Kird Ape, and arguable Drudge Skeletons. However, it's a solid creature, and an icon for a reason. Next time you throw together a green deck, try it out. It'll earn it's spot.  


Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Wayfarer: A M:tG Short Story (Chapter 1)



Every morning started the same. Hr woke to the roosters, he crawled over his siblings, wiped the sands from his eyes, and greeted the day. He walked out, to see the first rays of dawn, and he might feed the chicken, or let the cattle loose or dress the horses or if you were lucky, he would get to check the perimeter, which was his favorite job, because he could drag it out all morning long.

It had been ten years, as of last month, since his father had left Benalish City. Ten years since he left the luxury of bread smothered in butter and fresh food cooked deep in spices. However to the young man, every morning felt like a lifetime. He hated it.

"Son, get a move on it, I want you to help your sisters feed the chickens and carry the milk. Then after breakfast, you are to work until sunset on the timbers. I want to see a mountain by sunset."

Too tired to argue, he went with his two sisters. The older one, just two years his junior, had started to bloom in a lovely young woman. It sadly, had come with an attitude as well. The younger sister, was about nine if his math was correct, because she was born on the stead shortly after the move. As far as he was concerned, she wasn't a Benalkin. However, she was blood, and he did love her, even if he thought lesser of her then the other sister.

The older sister, Alesha Croger, had developed something of a 'bad streak', and she would lack on her chores to chase adventure, and the younger sister would gleefully follow. So he was more akin to to a warden, making sure the two did their early morning work, then about helping them. Though they never were kind enough to not request his muscle when he was following them.

He would carry the bags of seed, the buckets of milk, and even, if needed, hold the cow in place, if the cow wasn't cooperating, but that wasn't common. The two girls would gossip among each other, talking in whispers and giggles. He couldn't imagine what exactly they were gossiping about, they never went anywhere.

As the morning started to rise, the sky went from black, to purple to blue, and he knew, breakfast would be ready soon. "Hey girls, any idea what mom is cooking for breakfast?" Alesha shrugged her shoulders "how am I suppose to know, I've been with you this whole time." "I heard her tell Juscon to go with her to the coops, and since we still have some of that pig left, along with some potatoes in the basement I'd guess eggs with ham or bacon jerky, with a side of potato. You know, what we always have!"

The two laughed, as they moved their buckets from the last set of cows, and shooing them off to the field. "Who is supposed to watch them today?" "No one, dads letting the bull out with them, said he'll need some calves for winter, they'll be able to watch them for the time being". "Dammit!" he cussed as he picked up the buckets "Shouldn't you be doing this you milk maids?" "Oh but we're too delicate. How would we become respectable women if we were to work too hard!" More giggles commenced from both of them, as he hulked back to the house "Yeah, only because you two can't be trusted to do your work on your own. I have my own shit to do."

"Please, you're the laziest of all of us" said Alesha "you just want an excuse to go 'do the perimeter' and catch an extra hour of sleep behind the barn". He scowled, knowing she knew complicated things, and he wondered if she had told their father. It might be why he sent him on these morning tasks. Where they actually a warden for him?! There was no time to wonder about it. He could do that later.

"Gabriel, may you protect over us. May you bless our food, as you've blessed our harvest, and slay evil as it comes near us, and may you give us strength equal to that of your Angelfire. Amen".

The patriarch ended his prayer, the bread was broken, and the meal officially started. The bread was old, preserved in the basement safe from sun light. It kept it free of mold, but not from going hard/ It was dry, tasteless and hard.

"Mother, where is the butter?" moaned Joscun. He was a year younger then the second sister, still a child, but a surprisingly hard working one. Then next to him were two twins, both only five, who followed about the father, as he did whatever tasks he felt he needed to do for himself.  "Alesha hadn't churned any in some time, nor has Alexa, which is distinctly one of their jobs". The mother was once a woman of distinction, and while she now lived as a peasant, her attitude was still that. She gave a cold scorn at the two daughters, and it could be felt to everyone at the table. "I'm sorry... I'll...I'll make sure it gets done! I promise me and..." "NO!" yelled the matriarch "YOU WILL GET THAT TASK DONE! Alexa will be tasked with doing some spring cleaning and laundry here." "But mother" "DID I STUTTER!" The two sisters hung their heads in shame and said in synchronicity "No ma'am." "...and when your done with the butter, help your sister with the laundry, it's been a long winter..."

"This is why I married your mother" a deep light hearted chuckle came from the other side of the small table. The father was a large man, with big forearms, and a stomach just as large. He wasn't always so large, but since finding the farm, he's eaten well. He claimed he might have eaten more while in Benalia, but he didn't eat nearly as well. He dunked the bread in his milk, waiting for it to grow soft before chewing into it. "Honey, since you'll have so much time today, why not taking the cauldron and making a stew. You know the type I like."

"Why don't you make your own stew..." she mumbled. She might complain, but whenever he requested a meal, she made it, no matter how unpractical it was, or how much time it takes to prepare, she cooked it, for at the end of the day, she loved him. That much was true, and it showed.

"Joscun, you're tasked with getting me water, I'm going to need lots of water, please finish quickly". The father chuckled as he finished his meal "please, it can't wait until he's done, the day is young! Gabriel, I really need you to start on that wood, it might be early spring now, but it will be Winter soon, and we got lucky last winter, it was temperate. Don't forget your sword, the saw, the ax, the hatchet, and most importantly, water. Take my water skin with you also, can't be to careful".

"Father" said Gabriel with a smile "who's watching the sheep". "Well the twins". Everyone stopped. Never before, since the two young boys had started to walk, had they left the mans side. "They can walk, they can talk, they can sit on the hill and watch the cattle. If danger was to arise, I won't be that far away. I'm going to do some repairs on the house." He looked at the two children, who's eyes had lightened with a gleam of purpose. "Can I trust this important task to you two?" "Yes Sir!" they said.

The two got up, grabbed toy wooden swords, and ran out the door. "See why can't you all be that enthusiastic! Especially you Gabriel. Now, everyone, you have your tasks!" He stood up "Gabriel I'll come check on you sometime past high noon, and I'll bring you food, as for the rest of you, your mother is in charge of your tasks, and as you know, she's not as forgiving as me... haha..." his laugh could be heard as he disappeared.

Everyone got up, to their tedious tasks. They shambled to them, lack of enthusiasm would be an understatement. Gabriel got his stuff, a necklace of great personal importance, his sword, his hatchet, the saw, the ax, his and his fathers water skin, and a stolen bit of jerky from breakfast. He then proceeded to the well, to see Joscun working the well. Though Joscun was admittedly young, he was a runt, and a mothers boy. He had little in terms of masculine skills, instead working with the mother on various chores. Their father claimed the poor winter in which he'd been born was the reason for his lackluster mannerism, and had hoped he would outgrow it as he had gotten older.

"Boys sometimes come out a little queer in the beginning, but then grow out of it. My younger brother was a runt, but by the time we were men, he could kick my ass... o' course we were in the service, maybe I'll let him get conscripted..."

That memory rang in his head as he watched the boy struggle to simply get water from the well. "Hey, fill up my skins will ya'" "Do it yourself..." he spat as he grabbed the large bucket, and struggled to carry it back to the house. "Damn wimp" he mumbled "One day I'll kick his ass" he bitched as he pushed down the lever. The cool water rushed out of the spout, pouring all over the skins. It was rather wasteful, more water probably spilled out into the sod then in the skins.

Not that he cared, quiet frankly, he hated it. The hard work, the blistering sun, the isolation of the stead, the dry stale bread. He was old enough to remember living in the Eternal City of Benalia. He day dreamed about what was, and what could have been, often. The lumber work dragged on slow, the temperature increased, and before he knew it, his shadow had indicated it was high noon.

His father said he'd check 'after high noon', but he would probably not show up at all. He figured as good a time for a respite as any. He rested onto the back of the saw'd logs, and grabbed the necklace. It was a wolf with seven teeth, with special shines included onto it. Though he admittedly didn't know how it was made, he knew it told his family lineage, with each blood line among Clan Croger, having slightly different designs of shines and glares. The secret behind the making of each family seal was fiercely guarded secret among an order of artisans, that according to his grandfather, had served the empire since the times of Torsten Von Ursus.

He had been wearing it in secret since they day they left. He could never understand why though, why leave the comfort of luxury. Why change exotic foods, buttered bread, sweet juices for the foods of commoners. Sometimes he closed his eyes, and thought about those days. He'd think of memories of his friends, carelessly playing in hallways and streets, of stealing fruits from the vendors. Of warm beds, and of leisure. It was the life.... if only but a dream.

"Taking a wee nap, are we? Well was it worth it?"

"I was only... only resting my eyes."

"Well open your damned eyes, it's dark, you've been resting your eyes for how long? Ah I guess it's no problem, no harm no foul, after all, I should have checked on you, its okay, just glad you're okay, we was worried about you when you never showed up for some stew."

His eyes shot open, the thought of food overcame the want for rest, and he saw the monster he called his father towering over his slumped form.

"Yeah thought that would wake you up. We saved you a bowl, but it's going to be cold, hope that doesn't bother ya to much. Your mother insisted on cleaning the cauldron. before it got dark. and well, we were hungry. I just assumed you were up here working diligently and lost track of the time. No big deal though, I remember I was "

"Yeah... I'm sorry, help me up?"

The two latched hands, and in the glint of the new moons, the wolfs teeth shined.

"Why you still wearing that relic around kid? I told you, we ain't Benalkin anymore. We no longer citizens of Benalia City. Instead you should take pride in our home here in the wilderness of the Kb'Briann Highlands. I'd like you to inherit this land, after all, you're my oldest."

There was something that clicked, something primal, within his soul. His father started walking towards the stead "come on, before one of your siblings steal your stew, I made sure to save ya some bread to, can't have stew without it."


"No."


"Excuse me? You say something?"


"No, I'm not going to inherit this place, I want to go back to Benalia",


"Kid, the heat must have made you go daft. You're still young, you don't know what you want."


"I... I want to taste warm bread with melted butter and cinnamon! I want to eat exotic foods from countries I never heard of, and drink fine wine, not things you made from what spoiled in our basement. I want to be surrounded by beautiful women, and have purses heavy and thick".


"The way you're talking, it's not the only thing you want that's heavy and thick. Did your soul get mixed up with your brothers!" He laughed hardy and said "come home, I will open a bottle from my collection, we can talk it over your dinner."


"No I don't want that rock hard bread! I want real food!"


"Don't bad mouth your mothers cooking or I'll beat you all the way home"


"I'd like to see you try you old man! I'll, I'll leave! I will!"


"You'd just do that, leave your siblings, your parents, at the start of the harvest? What kind of coward are you! Where would you even go!"


"I'd go home! It's only across The Domains! I have a sword, I can read and write! I have all I need"

"Don't be a fool, you're no wimp, but you overestimate your abilities kid. Think about it, your sister is better at the sword then you! You'd honestly not even last a week. You'd wind up a bandit at best, and at worse, a slave. Now this is your last warning, come on or by Gabriel I swear..."

"What?! What will you do!"

"You think you're that strong, go ahead, walk out, see what happens. I'll see ya tomorrow night! I almost guarantee that."

He turned around, spat on the dirt, collected his sword and his largely untouched water skin, and stormed towards the nearest civilization he knew.

"Son... wait!"

He heard his father rush towards him. Perhaps he was going to offer him a hug, for luck, and good tidings. He turned around, his arms outstretched. He instead found a hand pull down his necklace.

"This will offer you no protection! Now get lost! You'll be back."

The two walked in opposite directions, no words were said, no goodbyes, no prayers. Gabriel insisted he would never return.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

My musings on stonehands



Enchant Creature spells were in a weird place in early Magic, as they kept trying to one up them for additional mana. Holy Strength got favorable destiny, the wards got the scarabs, and Firebreathing got Stonehands.



When I decided the deck would be a 95 deck (bad idea, Dwarven Traders weren't worth it), but this meant I could replace my Firebreathing with Stonehands, a little known three drop enchant creature spell from Ice Age that gave the firebreathing mechanic as well as an additional +0/+2. In theory, that's great, a format with tons of burn based removal, two additional points of toughness can make a threat. Plus it even fits the theme better, showing dwarves utilizing their magic over the earth.

That's where the issue comes in. With the exception of the Lieutenant and Shivan Dragon, every dwarf in the deck had one toughness which meant they were still well in Lightning Bolt range. Shivan Dragon obviously doesn't need the +0/+2, which leaves only the Lieutenant, which already has it's own, more expensive, but more versatile version of the mechanic. Then there was the cost. Three mana is a lot more then one. Even in a deck running multiple mana flares. Since the primary goal was to make my dwarves unblockable with the Warriors, it was a noble goal, but three additional power, even temporary is probably better than +1/+2.

I guess at the end of the day, this isn't a bad aura, so much as its bad in my deck. I can see it working well in something stronger, like a troll deck, or even orcs. However, the Lollipop Guild is just a little to weak.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Dwarven Lieutenant: The Foreman of the Lollipop Guild



When designing Dwarf tribal, the obvious guy would be the only piece of tribal synergy allowed in the format (Dwarven Pony and Heartwolf aren't legal in OS), so it was obvious, if I was going to do this, I needed to include him. So why did I even want to do this, well that's a story for another article.



Playability: Stating as a 1/2 for 2, Dwarven Lieutenant is about the average curve of a red creature at the time. He does have the Soldier subtype now, which adds a possibility of synergy, but not by much. However, a two cost firebreathing effect is pretty nice, especially since it doesn't have to target him. This allows some tribal synergy with his warrior brothers. However, so can Firebreathing, and be more effective. He can also go in for a swing, and moral the unblocked dwarf that got through. If his fellow tribe members were this efficent, I feel he'd be better, but he's only as good as the men below him, so he's sadly a 3/5. Average, but just good enough on the cusp of playability.



Art: Jeff Menges is always a favorite of mine, but his art usually lacks color. This one goes into a full spectrum of reds, grey, blue, and white. The details between the chain mail, the shadows on the ground, and even the mountains in the background. Everything in this, is deceptively simple, but amazingly distinct. Given the small size of the card frame, it's a testament so much can fit on the art, and not feel cluttered. It leaves a distinct impression on the mind, and the memory. 4/5




Flavor: Dwarves are tough, and a Lieutenant would be something of a stronger dwarf. It makes sense he along can take off a small band of goblin raiders, would be overwhelmed by stronger enemies like orcs or a Goblin Hero. His ability, while nicknamed "fire breathing" isn't actually fire breathing. Instead it represents him boosting moral to other dwarves around him. Why does it require mana? I'm not sure. These days, it would probably be a static or triggered ability. Still it works with what it is. Flavor 3/5.

Final Verdict 3/5. An average card from an average set. Still, it's luckily not a bad card. The ideal card to find in a pack, and much better then a number of Old School creatures, and that's a blessing.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Dwarven Soldiers: The backbone of the Lollipop Guild.

"There is a legend among present-day Dwarves that the Dwarves of Sarpadia will one day return to defend Dwarvenkind against a deadly peril."



This month, for the 95 tournament, I ran a Dwarven tribal deck I called "The Lollipop Guild". First to answer the question of the name. The Lollipop Guild is the name of the midgets that sing in the Hollywood classic of The Wizard of Oz. It's only appropriate that a deck composed of midgets, be named after midgets. 



"We are the Lollipop Guild...."

 While the deck did have a number of weaknesses, goblins hit harder, the deck nukes any hope of winning after I'm done shuffling, and dwarves don't fly, which means skies hit to well. However, there were a number of good plays I managed to do, and I won more then one game, even if I lost every match. This, in part, is due to the brave guild enforcers, the Dwarven Soldier. 

Pay your dues or we will break your shins.


Playability: Two power for two mana is pretty standard for the time. It lacks the one toughness of the Ironclaw Orc, but doesn't have the coward mechanic, and in a pinch, will bravely defend their planeswalker with their life. They have not just one relevant tribe, but actually two, since the GCU have the creature type Soldier, which not amazing, allows it to be synergize with both Fallen Empires lieutenants. The ability is almost relevant, as both Ironclaw Orcs and Orcish Artillery sees play in 94 proper, and Lumberjack sees play in 95. However, its more likely to be flavort ext then an actual mechanic.  Playability: 3/5.

Art: The last card I did with multiple card arts was Brasssclaw Orcs, which I disliked due to how much work was behind it, and somehow, had completely avoided doing a card that fit that, from Fallen Empires, to Alliances. However, since it's my task to review the cards, including art. I shall do it, for my adoring public. 

Douglas Shuler Art:



I always enjoyed how much this looked like Dwarven Warriors from the core set. After all, they were both drawn as Shuler. However, while this art has much going on with it, with some nice little details, it isn't as good looking as Warriors, nor is it Shulers best work. There is just alot going on in the art, and the color are drab, but that's part of it's charm, showing these are common soldiers, strong and steady. Art 3/5.

Randy Asplund Art:

"Orc must die, Orc must die... lets kill this dragon"


Randy Asplund has a long history in medieval art, and it shows. He's the ideal type of artist for early Magic: the Gathering, and it shows perfectly. This piece is no exception, and while not necessarily purely medieval like some of his art, it's certainly an old school fantasy feel, which would be perfect in an old issue of Dragon Magazine, or in an AD&D module. The color is the best part of the piece. The blond hair, the green trees, the red dragon. Even the details are distinct. The notches in the chainmail, the braids of hair, the bones on the dragon, the clouds in the sky, and even the shadow on the ground. This is easily the best of the arts. 5/5


Rob Alexander Art:



This piece of art takes Alexander out of his usual comfort zone of large landscape pieces, and instead focuses on a creature. Well, he sure out did himself with this one. The mono-chrome looks as if he's in a tunnel, with a small light source. The barely visible background elements of ropes and and stands add to the atmosphere of this piece, and while it's not technically the art, this card has the most poignant flavor text of the three, which compliments the art very well. 

"Let no one say we did not fight until the last . . . ."
—Headstone fragment from a mass grave found in the Crimson Peaks

The art helps us remember, that the Fallen Empires is meant to be a depressing set, as the end of civilizations, and this art reminds of us that. 5/5

Flavor: All the flavor texts are the same, showing the ultimately doomed dwarven civilization and it's belief that it will one day return to help present-day dwarves. The mechanics however are where it shines, being stronger fighting it's ancient enemy, the orc. The two power shows it's better training over it's warrior cousins, thanks to it's superior training. Finally, it's one toughness shows how it's ultimately doomed against it's superior enemies. 4/5

Overall (combining the average of the art) 4/5. While not the strongest card, it serves as a great common, to capture the imagination and establish a baseline. It's honestly a shame the orc/Goblin/Dwarf tribal rivalry didn't get to continue on, outside of this set. It would have been great, to establish the colors great identity. Instead in two years, dwarves and orcs were phased out of the game, and outside of one block, we wouldn't get any dwarves until a few years ago, and just two years prior for orcs. Alas, a missed opportunity. I will write another article on that. 

The Lollipop Guild was happy to have their service in their ranks.