Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Second Sin of WotC: Banding

"The most popular question was 'how does banding work?" 
--Mark Rosewater, The Baby and the Bathwater, Dec 1, 2003

"It lets you ban an entire card"--An 8 year old, in response to Benalish Hero

"How does banding work?"
 --Common banter among Magic players.

Banding, one of the original mechanics in the game, and one of the few designed by Garfield himself, is an often confused, underutilized, and even misunderstood mechanic. In the six years it was part of the game, it caused poor rulings, funny interactions, broken combat math, and it was a fan favorite of the general at heart. You see, banding was a complex, but rewarding combat mechanic that allowed your creatures to fight in teams (and in the case of Bands with Others, form D&D parties, but that is a story for another time).

Banding simply put existed until Mirage block, as an 'evergreen' mechanic, which meant it belonged to the base set and could be reprinted at any time, as with so many other odd ball mechanics, including Poison Counters (not Infect), Enchant Worlds, and Rampage. Mark Rosewater, as well as a number of other designers openly despise banding, and removed it from the game, sometime during the design of Tempest, since the initial Tempest print sheet not only has banding creatures, but also has poison counters and Enchant Worlds. In fact, currently banding on the Storm Scale sits at 10, while it's younger brother Bands with Other's sits alone at 11.
Notice both 'cooperation sliver' and a Time Walk enchant world.

So why? Why did the mechanic 'need to go'. While it's true it wasn't the most understood mechanic, and by 1996 it's appearance in tournament play was unlikely, but it still had (and has) a dedicated fan base. In reality, it was too complicated to fit on the text of a card (Phasing got a similar reason, but at least that got a recent card printed), and it wasn't marketable enough. The sad thing is, despite them trying to make mechanics that make creatures 'a team' (Soulbond, Partner, Partner with X, Battalion). All these, from both a flavor and mechanical stand point don't come close to the same thing as banding.

"Er, I think there's a word for this. It's called "Banding".

But when WotC shifted their target market from experienced adult gamers to Pokemon kids, I guess they were scared of their clientelle not understanding how banding works. So they made an inferior, simplified version of banding that only works in defense.

2 out of 5 stars for functionality,
0 out of 5 stars for defiling the spirit of the game."
--DrJack, Gatherer comments

However, it's removal, while tragic, is understandable (while being officially removed in Classic 6th, it did get a power upgrade, and still uses the old pre-M10 combat rules). After all, some simplicity to rules is understandable, especially in the uncertainty of the mid-90's.

This however, set up a terrible precident, one that would only come into full fruition in the most recent of times. It meant essentially, there was no sacred cows. Sure the removal of mechanics in the game, only happened fairly recently, but remember Bury? Yeah, this would leave to that efficent keyword being phased out entirely. Numerous other mechanics have been removed, not just from the coreset, but from future sets all together. These include Landwalk, Fear (and it's bastard younger sibling Intimidate), Regeneration, Protection, and shroud. Some of these were removed due to 'drawbacks being bad', others due to complexity. However, designers who feel shuffling is the equivalent of 'load times' landwalk being unfair (but unconditional unblockability is fine), and protection to be to risky, might not be people worth taking design advice from.

"When I see this card, I see Banding at it's core, it's heart, it's soul. A mechanic that was broken from the start."--Evilcleavage, gatherer comments 5/19/2010

Maybe banding being removed wasn't a sin in on itself, so much as it was the harbringing of sin of 'over-simplification' that has been creeping it's way into the game, since Classic 6th edition. Which is most definitely a sin, but we will get to more of that in later entries.

"Landwalk has many of the same issues as intimidate…but even more severe. What do you do against a landwalk creature if you're playing the appropriate land? Not play your basic lands? Magic games are best when there is some interaction, and landwalk was not clearing the bar."--Mark Rosewater

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Re-examining Rohgahh.

Poor Rohgaah, despite a flavorful mechanic, and being the cover of Scrye #1, he's disliked. In fact, InQuest once called him 'the Worst Legend of all time', he permanently sits at a rating of 2.5 start out of 5 on Gatherer, and the comment section shows that to well.

Well it also has 'Spellfire' on the cover, so maybe not the best endorsement.

However, if I may argue, he has one new quality that he hasn't had in the past, he's now also a Kobold.

Yes that little tribe that couldn't, the tribe more famous as a combo piece in a jank legacy deck and a running joke (+0/+1 and trample, first strike on 0/1), then an actual tribe, and fan favorite to players everywhere.

Sure Goblins and Orcs are easily more consistent, more prolific, and even dwarves could be argued to be better in the format. However, Kolbolds, have not 1, but 3 0/1 red creatures for 0 mana, as well as three decent lords, two of which give abilities (first strike and trample).

So why the bad rap on this guy? Well, he only pumps the Kobolds he lords over 'Kobolds of Kher Keep', and he demands a tribute of 3 mana, or him and his buddies are defecting to greener pastures.


However, thanks to him, two cards have been printed this century that specifically make Kobolds of Kher Keep. Now, a black 5/5 for 6 with an even situational lord effect is definitely good, though he could use some form of evasion.

However, as said, in times before the grand creature type update, he never got bonuses, from the Overlord, the sergeant, or the task master. He now gets these bonuses, as minute as they may be. So in theory, he can be a 5/6 trampling first striker giving two of your other creatures +2/+2.

Then he's perfect for flavor. Unlike some other tribal/flavor decks in the format, you can use him to amazing effect, and he makes sense, and if you aren't playing a Legend legend in your 93/94 deck, shame on you.

Finally, black/red isn't a bad color combination, sure it's hard for the enchantment removal, but hell, run some discs. Include Ashnods Alters, and his small guys for a massive Howl from Beyond (or a massive damage), or include white, so you can run Army of Allah to help those little kobolds as well.

In reality, in a era of Yargle, niche edh commanders, and well, stuff, I can't say he's the worst Legend in the game, especially since he now has tribal synergy, he makes a great 'Champion' for your meager Kobold deck. Plus if you were worried about winning, you wouldn't be reading this!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Replacing Juzam in monoblack. How do alternatives add up?

It's not debate, that stat wise, Juzam is the mid-range beater in the format. With immunity to Bolt, Blast, Terror, and being a 5/5 for 4 with a realistically minor drawback, it's no wonder it's considered one of the most iconic creatures of the era.

However, due to a lack of availability and some less the savory issues with the game at the moment, it's realistically out of ones price range, which means one must come with an alternative, mainly for the Mono-black. Well I'm here to solve this for you!

Grading the cards:

Each card will start with a score of 5. I will then add a +1 for each advantage that card offers (evasion, cheaper or same CMC, durability), then reduce a point for it's weaknesses, for instance a card will lose a point for each mana it costs more then Juzam, each point weaker then then power (-.5) for each toughness, ect.



Sengir Vampire

Sengir is the most often said replacement for Juzam, both because it's iconic, and because it's powerful in its own right. With evasion, and a ability that discourages Alpha Strikes/Chump Blocks, it's understanble why it's cited so much.

  • Evasion.  +1
  • Bonus! Pumpable  +1
  • Immune to Bolt    +1
  • Power/toughness (4/4)   -1.5
  • Converted Mana Cost 5 -1
  • Dies to blast -1
At 4.5/5, this is a pretty good score, however, the additional point in no mana, and the reduction in p/t makes the difference. Plus, many could argue, while not strictly inferior, he plays different then Juzam. 


"Beep Beep MF!"

 Like many card, Juggernaut is a card that saw much fanfare in the early years of the game, but has since fallen out of popularity. Still a modestly powerful card in it's own right, even if it's weaknesses show.

  • Minor Evasion    +.5
  • Colorless            +.5
  • Immunity to The Abyss    +2
  • Major Drawback    -2
  • Converted Mana Cost (4)    +0
  • Power/Toughness (5/3)      -1 
  • Dies to bolt  -1
  • Dies to blast -1

At 3/5, on the score, Juggernaut is a lack luster alternative, but it's cheap, both in CMC and in dollars (even in Swiss if you go for white border). 

Clockwork Beast

 Another popular creature from the 'good ol' days', Clockwork Beast only fits into this slot due to the fact it's colorless, realistically able to come out as soon turn 2-3 (about the same as Juzam). 

In reality, it's drawback is minor, due to it swings for 11 before being even w/ Juzam. However, it does get progressively weaker, and it's ability can be very costly in the late game, however, I'm judging it as a minor drawback.

  • CMC (6)                    -2
  • Colorless                   .5
  • Bolt Proof                +1
  • Abyss Proof             +2
  • Power (X/4)               0
  • Minor Drawback       -1
  • Dies to blast              -1

In reality, this guy does hit hard, and with the ability to resist Abyss is just bonus points. However, it's 6 CMC, it's dewinding drawback, and it's lack of evasion keeps it from being amazing, but at 4/5, certainly an interesting proposal. 


Clockwork Avian 
This is some awesome art!

Clockwork Beast was so popular that it got a spiritual sequel in Antiquities, called Clockwork Avian. A flying 4/4 for 5 (then weaker). 
  • CMC (5)            -1
  • Power/toughness (x/4)       -2.5
  • Bolt Proof         +1
  • Dies to Blast      -1
  • Abyss Proof       +2
  • Colorless            +.5
  • Evasion (flying)     +1
  • Minor Drawback    -.5 (due to rewind being cheaper)

At 4/5, it's on par w/ the Beast, and while swinging for less, it's evasion makes it a bit more consistent then it's older brother.


Often the replacement to Juggernaut in the modern time, due to it's little drawback that isn't relevant in this time period. 

  • CMC (4)     0
  • Power/Toughness(4/4)     -1.5
  • Immunity to Bolt      +1
  • Dies to Blast             -1
  • Immunity to the Abyss   +2
  • Minor Drawback (in certain formats)  -.5
  • Colorless                                              .5

6/5, it's an amazing contender. While not Juzam, it makes a good contender for second place (with Sengir)

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel

The black sheep of this family, Fallen  Angel is often better when built around, but it does have benefits. 
  • CMC (5)       -1
  • Power Toughness (3/3)  -2
  • Bonus! Pumpable   +1
  • Dies to Bolt -1
  • Dies to Blast -1
  • Bonus! Immunity to Control Magic +1
  •  Evasion (Flying) +1

Fallen Angel isn't a straight replacement to the big J, but she's solid when built around. Unfortunately when not built around, she's rather lack luster, though being able to pump her up to swing lethal is nice.  

Final Score: 3/5

Nameless Race

Nameless Race
Looks like a certain cartoon character.
One of the few rarities that in theory it can come out bigger then Juzam, even if unlikely. It also has the draw back of paying life upon cast, which can be more disasterous then losing life on upkeep. However, if being used in the board against mono-white, can ultimately be very powerful indeed. Plus Trample is always nice.

Fun Fact: This creature currently has no creature type.
No Score (due to variance)

Non-Swiss Formats

Probably the weakest on this list, Derelor unlike some of these guys actually saw major tournament play in 96 in a deck called 5 color sligh (where a set of twins of this saw play as the only black card in the deck). 

  •  CMC (4)   +0
  • Power/Toughness (4/4)   -1.5
  • Dies to Blast                  -1
  • Immunity to Bolt           +1
  • Severe Drawback           -2
  • Bonus: Tribal Relevant (Thrull)   +1

At 3.5, he's the weakest choice on the list, but also one of the most cheapest to actually own.  Again, his draw back is severe (as someone who's actually run him in decks), but at a 4/4 for 4, he's not all that bad. I can understand why he'd see play in a 5 color deck.

Ihsan's Shade

Ihsan's Shade 

The last creature on my list (sorry Dread Wight), Ihsan's the quintessential 95 black legend in my mind. With a combination of durability, strength, and awesome flavor, who doesn't like Magic's own fallen Paladin.

  • CMC (6)     -2
  • 3 black       -1
  •  Power/Toughness (5/5)         +0
  • Minor Drawback: Legend                 -.5
  •  Immunity to Bolt                  +1
  • Immunity to Blast                  +1
  • Bonus! Immunity to StP        +1
  • Minor Evasion (Protection from White)     +.5

According to my math, Ihsan gets a 'perfect' score of 5/5. However, I feel, he's not perfect, and as such, I decided to save the best for last using the "5/5" system.

Juzam Djinn

Juzám Djinn
  A card that needs no introduction, Big J himself.

  • CMC (4) +0
  • Power/Toughness (5/5)     +0
  • Immunity to Bolt             +1
  • Immunity to Blast             +1
  • Minor Drawback (Upkeep)             -1

In reality Juzam got 7/5, which means this grading system isn't amazing, is it?

Well, that it, and it took me way to long to type this out, but if you have a request of something I accidently (or deliberately) missed, send me a message on here, write on the inevitable twitter thread, or send me a message, and I'll add it in the sequel article. I also hope, this inspires you not to spend a few grand on a set of this badass. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Twiddle: The Swiss Army Knife.

"Twiddle doesn't see play because you touch yourself at night"-Gary J Steffen Jr.

Cards with multiple forms I call modular cards (not to be confused with the Mirrodin Block mechanic). Before the charms existed, cards with a wide variety of use and versatility was actually kind of rare. No one Bolt's there Fungusaur to give it +1/+1, it's almost always used offensively. The same could be said for Swords, though I at least seen that used to keep someone alive before (against creature less burn).

Twiddle is one such card, it's a simple, deceptively complicated card, that has almost infinite applications, much like the Swiss Army Knife I compare it to.

In all it's simple elegant glory.

I will get lots of flack, when I dare say, Twiddle is the most underrated card in the entire format. It's name, which means to change something minor, or to fiddle with something pointlessly, does exactly that. This card does exactly that, which for the cheap price of a blue, taps or untaps and artifact creature or land.

Here is a list of the things Twiddle can be used, both offensively and defensively.


Tap down a would be attacker/blocker (especially Colossus of Sardia)
Tempo disadvantage from tapping a land during the upkeep
Tapping down a 'cost rock' like Vault or Monolith
 Untapping a value land, such as Tron/Workshop
An Extra Draw off of Library
Makes Factory a 4/4 defender for one turn
Untapping a Time Vault (the best use)
Getting a second creature off Rubinia/Sea Singer

Saving a creature from Royal Assassin
Turning Off/On an artifact like Howling Mine/Winter Orb
Untapping a creature as a combat trick (plus Leviathan)
Second Maze Effect
Tapping a Erg Raider

It also synergizes with the following cards really well:
Siren's Call/Nettling Imp
Sirens Call
Disc (allowing you to use it in a pinch)
Royal Assassin

Sure time hasn't been as good as it use to be, you can no longer fog a blocking creature with it, and it doesn't turn off every artifact anymore. However, I feel it's still absurd that it doesn't see any play.

Playability: 5/5.


The art of Alexander is always breath taken. This is no exception. It's pretty amazing, however the best part is the debate on what is going on. Is the Island tapped down, out of mana, or is it the jellyfish? Is the Jellyfish simply being untapped? It's the perfect art for such a metaphysical effect.

In reality, the art was commissioned as a land, but got put on this instead.  (


Flavor: The idea that it's a 'small change' works well with what it does. It does something extremely minor, changing the state of a permanent, but it's such an important and amazing effect. I'd dare say, this card views what magic was intended to be, a card of small effect with numerous application.


Conclusion: I hope you all try out this gem, whether it's in casual brews or tournament uses. I promise, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The First Sin: The Reserved List

"These reprints, they kill me. I buy ten boxes to resell, and people like me keep WotC in business"--A shop owner, on Modern Masters.

It's a Wednesday, my work day is free due to dental surgery, and I'm here with nothing better to do. It's honestly the best time to start this series. I honestly didn't wish to even touch the Reserve list, due to it's controversial nature, and the fact literally everyone and their mother has said it's two cents about it. However, an article about the Sins of WotC can't even begin without their first, and arguable biggest double edged sword.
The person who is mentioned above is the brother of someone else quoted in a different article, and the two of them dived head into MtG early in the fall of 93. He went in for the possibility of profitability, while the other enjoyed the game. Together, they've created a shop that still stands, free of the will of WotC and the DCI. Shops like this were vital to the early health of WotC, along w/ the early sharks. When you're guaranteed to sell 10 boxes, an upstart needs that.
You see, in order to look at the Reserve List, without objectivity, we need to try to imagine ourselves as WotC in the spring/summer of 95. In three years, WotC went from being a small printing company ran in the founders basement on weekends, to being a major company, the three years had unparalleled (and more importantly unchecked) grow.

"Wizards also experienced explosive growth. I joined the company in May 1994, when there were about 50 employees -- already up massively from a year earlier, when only a handful of people worked at the company. By the summer of 1995, the employee rolls stood at 250 and climbing."--John Tynes, Death to the Minotaur, 3/23/01

In 1995, Magic's future was for it's first time, uncertain, the last year had been a strange roller coaster ride, Fallen Empires being a success, but being overprinted to combat price gouging, criticism of Ice Age featuring not only reprints, but cards with the same effect but different names, and well Homelands. 1995 isn't known for being a particularly good time for the brand. Further more, price gouging was going on locally, with many 'collectors' and stores hoarding onto pieces of cardboard.

For context, the comic Industry was about to have what's known as the 'comic crash'. While I won't get into the large details, speculator markets drove up the demand for comics, which could be overturned for a small profit just a few months after it's release, which the industry responded, with special edition covers, with one gimmick more gaudy then the last. The logic of hoarding comics for a small profit continued to cardboard, and it worked. Growth of the cards at this point were steady. InQuest #2 has an estimated value of Icy Manipulator at $85.00, when just a month earlier, it commanded an estimated value of $70.00. This is just but one example, but scans exist online to see for yourself. The main mentality was this trend would continue, since Revised did little to hurt the price of limited edition cards (and even unlimited edition).

"The cards aren't worth anything because WotC kept reprinting them"--Marco, reseller, 2009

In Early 95, 4th edition was released, and soon followed Ice Age and then Chronicles. These sets contained numerous reprints (Chronicles actually being an 'extension' of 4th edition). Naturally, in a time where playing the game was more important to most then having bling, the price of cards dropped. Though I can't find an immediate magazine, InQuest #7 released in Nov 95 had Beta Icy at a mere 25 dollars, with an estimated high of possibly 45. 
Some of the most notably hit were City of Brass, Carrion Ants, the Elder Dragons.

Just for example:                      #2 (June 1995) vs  #7 (November 1995)
City of Brass(AN)                             27.50                    10.00 (6.00 for Chronicles)
Shivan Dragon (Beta)                      25.00                    20.00
Carrion Ants(Leg)                           32.00                   18.00 
Nicol Bolas (Leg)                            30.00                    10.00
Dakkon Blackblade(Leg)                 25.50                    15.00
Killer Bees (Leg)                             27.50                    10.00

 If you were a speculator, and saw these reprints, and the number they dropped down, you'd be worried about the future of your investment. Numerous stores lost value from hoarding into cards, and some decided to close their doors (or did due to the comic crash that was looming around the corner).

However, WotC was answering a demand. 4th edition was a huge success, and so was Chronicles, and Ice Age (which was still initially being billed as a stand alone game). It just wasn't as successful for speculators. Numerous shops wrote in complaints, threatening to cut support of the game. As an emergency compromise, WotC introduced the reserve list.

First introduced in March 96, the Reserve List was a guaranteed list of cards 'never to be reprinted'. The list included cards up until Antiquities that were never reprinted, as well as all non-reprinted rares from Legends and the Dark. Further more, the 'rarest' cards from IA, Fallen Empires and Homelands were also on the list. In 2002, they decided nothing post Masques would be put on the list, and in 2010 they closed the foil and non-legal print loophole.

This was actually the worse thing they could have done, because it showed WotC was willing to buckle to the demands of people who aren't the players. It would be a grim foreshadow of what was to come two decades later, but for the time, it showed they were willing to compromise with speculators and resellers.

So why? Despite, with WotC financial woes, a revoking of the list, and a all premium set with things like Duals (even a limited set) would sell like hot cakes, and some fools would buy them even at 20 dollars a pack. This however, is pure speculation, because when the next crash on cardboard happens, it may be to late for WotC.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What's in an expansion? The futile attempt to make an old school expansion pt 1.

I at several occasions asked what would be required, or what you would like to see in a 'new' Oldschool expansion?  The answers were as varied as could be, naturally some said a simple 'why?' or 'wouldn't that defeat the purpose?', in which I admit, it would, but wouldn't it also be something interesting.

Others would say things like 'Old School needs Stifle and Damnation' or 'more banding and rampage' or 'hexproof creatures, more efficent beaters at 1-2 CMC'.

The most exciting thing to ask about M:tG is what if? What if Legends wasn't playtested and released as it appeared in early 94, what if 'Vortex of Chaos' was released instead of 'Meanderings'? (which became Mirage/Visions). What if Force of Will remained red? What if Ice Age had the original Duals like intended? What if that M:tG rpg was released, and WotC didn't buyout TSR (or acquire Pokemon)?

It's fun to think, what if?

It's also fun, to think 'what makes Old school magic magical? Can it be replicated? We all will disagree when the Magic ran out, but we will all agree that something truly amazing existed within the the first two years of the game, something that might not be replicate-able.

I thought for several months about this, and I think I have some answers. First the cards need to be have symmetical effects. Think the original crusade, while a few assymetrical effects exist in these sets, the majority of them effected all players, as was intended as a 'drawback' at the time. Second, simple, easy to recognize tropes. Magic is littered with classical easy to recognize tropes, from the goblin king straight out of The Hobbit, to Cosmic Horrors, Muscular Barbarians, battle ready angels, vampires, and so forth. Finally, real world flavor text, which I always felt was a great shame they did away with.

Also these mechanical set ups:

First: Long winded, strange cards, but flavorful cards. Things like Remove Enchantments, Tangle Kelp, Goblin Kites. These cards are long winded, but excel in flavor despite their rule heavy text.


I feel this enchantment here shows what I mean. The concept is clear, two allies fall in love in combat, which allows them to fight more effectively, and with each other. However, when one dies (or god forbid the enchantment is destroyed), it's lost forever.  Actually this one is probably a bit to rule heavy to truly be an 'old school card', but it certainly feels like it could be.

'Can't be destroyed'

Believe it or not, two cards that are in 93/94 have to deal directly with indestructibility. These cards are simply Concentrate Ground, and Guardian Beast. However, it shows the idea was there, from the beginning. I figure'd another card that had a similar cause would work well.