Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Fourth Sin: Losing one's identity

(Writers Note: I'm aware I said this would be mythic rares, if you are that bothered, I'm sorry).


"Originally the world of Magic was to be what the players created in their heads. We were providing a tool box of elements the players could use in their own fantasies. Then it was decided (This was before Hasbro btw) that the real money was in owning an IP, so they desperately tried to take elements from Star Trek and Star Wars and shoehorn them into an open fantasy property...badly. It is all about building a recognizable intellectual property. That is why you see more and more repeat characters on cards. They do not want you creating a world of your own imagination as it is much more profitable to sell you one. You cannot make a shit cash grab movie without shit cash-grab characters. This is a market focused, cash-driven business, it is not art. And while there are some truly outstanding artists working on the game, artists far better than I will ever be, the end result is not art, it is a product and it is no longer a product designed to be a great game first and foremost."---Jesper Myrfors, Original art director for Magic: the Gathering. 9/4/2018



One of Magics most amazing aspects is it's identity. When the game launched in 93, every color, and every card type had a vague identity, but over the next few years, these identities were evolved, modified, or changed, into what some might call perfection. Each card type had a purpose and function, with the only muddle being between instant's and sorceries. The colors went a similar route, design space got changed around, mechanics were dropped, entire archetypes have vanished. While I will get through many different things, with this article probably being my longest, and my most complicated, it will also be my most honest.

It's well known that when Magic was first developed, it was an open based, 'catch everything' turn of ideas. 'Visit the shores of imagination...' was more then a tagline, it was a zeitgeist, a start of a truly new idea. In a time when TCG's come and go with the seasons, it's hard to remember that Magic: the Gathering really was something that had never been tried before, and it's success inspired a multitude of imitators, both from established IP's, and from completely unique works. Hell Deckmasters was suppose to be a series of card games, not some relic sitting on the back of Magic cards. 


"Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next."
-William Ralph Inge

 
"I can promise you this, in the early days I never had to justify my ideas to a room full frightened of non-gaming suits who were concerned about things they wouldn't or couldn't understand, in the end, before I quit...that was every day."--Jesper Myrfors, 9/04/2018


In order to examine the changes of the game, we must first examine the changes to the enviroment that created the game. Peter Venters once described that Mirage had three pages consisting of designs of Femerfer and Zhalfir, while Tempest, as well as the Weatherlight crew, went through four artists, and had over 40 pages of designs and sketches. This created, designs, worlds locations. Things were no longer vaguely described, but instead had clear set customs, clothes, and cultures to design around. Part of this was Pete Venters attempt at making a Magic: the Gathering RPG, as well, as stated, to make a stable IP. This would actually lead to Magic's first, and arguable most famous story arch, which was the Weatherlight Saga (which led into the pre/post revisionist schism). In all fairness, while the characters of the Weatherlight are archtypes, they all have some interesting flaws to them. Gerrard is a Mary Sue, but his life is full of complications and enemies because of this. Karn is a wise pacifist, to the point it's detrimental, Crovax is an amazing fighter, but its lonely to the point of insanity, Mirri is an outcast suffering from unrequited love, Tahngarth is a brute, but instead of a slob, is vain and xenophobic to the point it's equally as detrimental to the team. I have no opinion on Hanna, positive or negative, other then she's a wrench wench. Really, Captain Sisay, is probably the only one who has nothing bad about her, but she's a McGuffin in the original arch. Squee serves as comic relief, oh and we have Orim, who is there I guess? She's little more then an extra for most of the story. This however, would be the start of 'marketable characters'. Sure, MtG had an impressive number of story arch's and characters dating all the way back to Legends, but this was the first time most of them truly had a face, since the Armada Comics didn't sell particularly well. The experiment in story telling that was Homelands had flopped, and WotC felt it couldn't keep with the 'digging in the ancients' feel it was doing w/ the previous blocks. In a lot of ways, ironically, Homelands and the Weatherlight arc are similar, in the fact, instead of being setting driven stories (like previous blocks), they are character driven stories, even if how they are trying to do that is different.

"Before any of this, though, we knew we needed to step back and ask a few big questions. What kind of story did Magic need? How were we going to be able to tell that story on cards? What requirements of the game did we have to take into account? The answers to these questions, we felt, rested with the game"--Mark Rosewater, Weather(light) Report, 12/3/2007

"There is little of the Baron in each of us, as well as the crooning of the Minotaurs, and the soft silence when Serra and Feroz look into each other's eyes. With aspects of a faerie tale and psychological archetype, Homelands is about what lies beneath the surface of our consciousness, what drives us to pursue our goals and desires against all odds and possibilities."--Scott M. Hungerford, Designer of Homelands.

(In fact, if one thing good could be said about it, it offered it's own experiment in TCG story telling, as viewed here: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/tempest-storyboard-2002-12-20)

This was lead to the Bradywalkers, which in their own rights, will get their own article at a later time.
               
While it's quick to point that the changes came with WotC being bought out by Hasbro, in reality, the changes behind the scene's came much earlier then that. In the mid 90's, as told by John Tynes, a corporate vacation to a ski lodge happened, and a game of swill or spill (truth or dare, but with alcohol), happened, and a new employee, sister of an executive, got offended from the game.

"Not that we realized it that night. I didn't pay any attention to Carrie, a newly hired employee and sister to one of the executives, who came in for a few minutes and then abruptly left. No, that night the Utopian egalitarianism of Peter Adkison's geek vision revealed its most intimate summit: Wizards was indeed all about geeks getting rich, cool and laid, with nary a wedgie in sight. At long last, we had achieved consensus."--John Tyne, Death to the Minotaur, part 1

"As we packed up to leave a little later I found Peter sitting, morose, on the front steps of the lodge. I sat down next to him in silence for a while. Finally, he spoke:
"This is becoming a company I don't want to be a part of anymore."'--John Tyne, Death to the Minotaur, part 2

While it's no secret that WotC commissioned MtG for money (remember, it was originally founded to fund a game Robo Rally), and shortly after this, according to John Tyne, hooked up with 'The Beanstalk Group', who managed brands, so they would end up on things like party favors and t-shirts. Everything came about the brand, and the brands. 

"When the manager of a Wizards demonstration tour commissioned a painting of a Magic character to use on a poster, the brand team flipped -- it hadn't picked an iconic character for that card set and the brand was in danger of spiraling out of control. Alert! Alert! After all, the manager hadn't used proper brand-development processes. He just picked a character he thought was cool and hired a good artist to paint it. Once, this would have made him an effective employee. But in Wizards' brave new world of branding, it was a mortal sin."--John Tynes, Death to the Minotaur, part 2

We see here, WotC switching from a 'throw it at the wall and see if it works' to a rigid corporate atmosphere. According to the article, John Tynes resigned in June of 95, still well into what many consider 'the golden age'. 

In reality, Wizards of the Coast started to buy brands, they were actually famous for it, if not for publishing, then to simply make it so other competitors couldn't pick up the game. In this time period, the innovative Deckmaster games like Netrunner, and Jyhad had been replaced with lackluster games of IP's like 'Xena: Warrior Princess' and fucking 'Dilbert'. This fever actually allowed them to Purchase both Five Rings Publishing Group, and the then legendary, but failing TSR (makers of Dungeons & Dragons). In August of that year, they acquired an actual patent on card games themself (US Patent 5,662,332). 

This would lead to WotC most pivotal buyout, well more acquisition. WotC acquired sole distribution rights to the Pokemon TCG, (one of the big three of card games), it sold better then MtG, and numerous Sport card series were discontinued because companies were printing Pokemon cards to keep up with demand. This caught the attention of toy giant, Hasbro, and the rest is history. Most of the original employees who were still their became millionaires. (Ironically enough, Adirkson bought the rights to Gen Con from Hasbro in 2002).

When I had originally intended on this, I planned on this being the 'Fourth unforgivable sin, selling out'. However, this wouldn't be fair. Honestly, I'd probably have done the same thing.
By the end of the next decade, not only would be most of the old guard have disappeared from WotC, many of their replacements have stepped down or disappeared without a wimpier. In recent years, thanks to the rise of social media, design teams have not only become more vocal, but their private lives have become more well, visible, and so has their connection to the fan base, for better or worse.


These changes, the idea's of corporate 'profit first, game last', combined with the 'I want to be famous' zeitgeist of the modern millenial makes for a strange juxtapose. While guest designers have been featured on Magic cards (with the lines Designed by X), it's been discussed given this credit to everyone on the team, so it could be known. 

Somethings however, are amazing in the line of Modern MtG. Players being banned on past actions outside events, WotC suing a rival company in an attempt to stifle a competitors game due to them trying to claim they own the rights of a 'card turning sideways', favorism, and inside secrets (remember the New Phyrexia god book leak?). In reality, it's become about making the flashier product. 

In this, they gave the consumer 'what it wanted', from fetch lands, to shinier cards, to finally SUPER RARES. 

 Some of this literally stems from the Pro-Tour and professional Magic players. In the Halcyon days of WotC, things like tournament results were simple, and deck lists were outright forbidden to be printed. In this line of thought, it was to encourage people to design their own decks. Now, the Internet, a new medium certainly didn't help this, but at least in the beginning, people weren't so easy to share their secrets either. Then the first pro-tour happened. 

"The whole point of the Pro Tour is that it's a marketing vehicle. We want to be aspirational, but we were also trying to get them to focus on what the latest sets were going to be. Obviously right now Pro Tours are named after the new set that's just come out. Our problem was that the latest set to come out right before that first Pro Tour was Homelands...."--Mark Rosewater, An Oral History of the First Protour.

"He exacted his bitter revenge against management, though. At a Magic tournament in New York he set up a dress code for staff that consisted of black pants and brown shirts. This, combined with the black and red event banners he commissioned, made the whole thing look like a Nazi rally."--John Tynes, Death to the Minotaur, part 2.

The Pro-Tour marked a change, in what the player was. Sure, there had always been tournaments, in 1993 the first 'Worlds' was won with a Unholy Strength Mons's Goblin Raider and a Juggernaut. However, this created the 'professional' Magic player. No, these weren't spell slingers, these weren't Planeswalkers, or Duelists, they were professionals. I remember, even as a kid, hating the concept of the grinder of some existential level, as if it was a bastardization of everything I felt a game should be (it didn't help that I typically couldn't beat them). In reality, my early sentiments were right. Looking at the early decklist, their are some hilarious top 8 cards that got the Gold Border treatment, things like Apocalypse Chime, Sea Sprites, Soul Burn, and my favorite, Eron the Relentless. However, these quirky decks wouldn't last, and it was soon the Dojo effect happened. Named after the deck listing and article site The Dojo.

WotC openly embraced the Dojo effect, and glorified the winners. These players got the same praise as Roman athletes. It came with perks, soon 'player points' allowed the grindiest of players to stay at nice hotels, great flights, exclusive promo's. In some cases, where players got really big, they even paid people to show up, just to add prestige to the event.

Most infamously from this time, was the series of cringy MTV commercials, set at a hotel, featuring 'a radical dude in sunglasses'.

Eventually, WotC made a completely drastic change to the casual crowd. In fact, it has gotten to the articles written, are well, simple. Its like reading Duelist #1, which has insulted those who wouldn't want to have a middle ground. Combine this with some unusual pandering, and Magic's once solid base has broken. Players break away from the main game, constantly, and a 'new format' comes out seemingly each month, and disappears just as quickly. I'll write an article about this eventually.

Finally their is the cards themselves. Planeswalkers are so notorious of this, that they are literally their own article, but that is another time. Creatures, once served two functions, to attack/block, or two have small, repeatable effects. Legends introduced the idea of some bigger effects, but generally, it was small effects. This stayed true for a long time, I'd argue with a few exceptions, until Onslaught block. Gradually, they started to resemble enchantments in many aspects, with upkeep trigger abilities, repeatable abilities, and naturally, a constant increase in overall power. This was all before NWO (New World Order), which is something I will touch at a later time. Speaking of Enchantments, aura's have been almost replaced with Equipment, global enchantments that act like spot removal, and instant/sorceries that place counters on things. Then Global enchantments, they haven't suffered nearly as bad, but do colored artifacts step into their territory. Which brings us to colored artifacts. Artifacts use to be reserved for abilities that didn't fit into a single color, or allowing any color to tap into another colors specialty, usually at an inflated price. Oh boy, has that changed. There is literally an artifact for everything, which admittedly makes sense, but is often better then the in color copy of the abilities its based off of. I'm not even going to bother citing examples. However, Equipments do make the idea of using 'Enchant creature' spells useless.

Then we have fetch lands. Remember when building a proper base was important to avoid screw, and running more then two colors had a natural inherit weakness? Well not anymore. Fetchlands combined with dual, allow you to run 4 color decks with little issue of loss. They also have made mana screw a thing of the past (plus it thins the deck, with each fetch basically saying 'pay 1 life, draw a land and put it into play). Granted, Mirage had 'slow fetches', but they were that, slow. The new ones, not slow at all. In fact, they are considered so important to the game itself, that them appearing in Onslaught was included in the 25th Anniversary Timeline. Sure, lands still tap for mana, turn into creatures, have come into play effects, and so on.

Sorceries and Instants are the same, but they've done away with color hate and land destruction. Alas, I have no intention on writing this. 

Then finally the colors, Red lost it's 'tough as stone' aspect, green has simply got more efficient, but I guess when looked, has lost it's direct damage spells (and it's small fliers), white, well white has almost entirely replaced blue as the color that can do anything (though damage prevention has had a slow road of being phased out of the game), but is still mostly a aggro strategy, blue, well blue can do everything, but it's lost it's burn abilities entirely (including pinging), black, well black still gets discard, sure it no longer can destroy lands, but most changing, it lost it's 'Power comes with a price' theme, as cards offer little to no drawbacks, and as the graveyard has increasingly become a second hand, black has become even more efficient and powerful. Black has also lost its weakness against itself, which was one of it's most memorable traits.

Then finally, the border and art. Art is subjective, but the border isn't. The original borders were flawed, but served as aesthetically pleasing aspect that helped define each color. When 8th edition, rolled around, they changed the borders. Card games that release all sorts of crazy borders and gimmicks, are always healthy, right?

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2000/1*tFUN2FntHop7X7ol0uTf5w.jpeg
It's evolution is fairly amazing to look at objectively, isn't it?


These are totally healthy design evolution, with asymmetrical borders, questionable graphics, little shiny yugioh things, and at the end, the 'Evocations', which have so much going on with them, it nearly killed the idea of the 'ultra rare' all together. The sad thing is, they got it right, once, with the Planeshift flame. Modern looking borders with distinct, flavorful designs, that are unique enough to be memorable, but not so unique, that they looks like it's a different game.



The writer of the article that made these, has a game called 'spot the imposter', check it out.




See this, it's a mess, even by modern tcg standards. Sure that flip land shouldn't be in your hand, but the point stands. While this game might be old, their is no reason for gimmicks like this.

Sorry if this comes off as a rant, but I felt these things needed to be said. I've fallen in LOVE with the 93/94 community, and I love the fact I'm not called 'that guy that doesn't like new cards' in this community. (Which isn't true btw).

Finally a few sources:

https://medium.com/@raphaelaleixo/the-graphic-design-for-magic-the-gathering-card-frames-b3b6da4cd003 provided the images used to compare the borders. Used without permission. He however, has a great article on this, which goes into much better detail about this then me.

Death to the Minotaur Pt 1: https://www.salon.com/2001/03/23/wizards/

Death to the Minotaur Pt 2: https://www.salon.com/2001/03/26/wizards_part2/

The first of the MTV commercials I mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HztAWVUO1Zo

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The third sin: Power Creep


"You may live to see Man-Made horror's beyond your comprehension"
--Attributed to Nikola Tesla

For those of you not in the know, currently there is a 1/2 for W with flying, and a 2/3 for 2 with no drawback that has a pump effect and replaces itself, currently in standard. Neither are considered playable.

Power Creep, by definition, is when cards are deliberately made better then previous cards, and this, also by definition, is something of a loaded statement. It's been said that creatures have caught up with spells, and that spells have been weaker to balance it out. It's true in a way, Modern Magic would never have the cards such as Balance, Time Walk, or Ancestral Recall (this one can be debated, I know).

So what is the definition of Power Creep? Well the MTG Wikia describes it as:



“Power creep is a phenomenon present in any collectible game that uses both old elements and new ones. The idea behind it is that the company has to sell their new products, but everything new they create has to compete with previously existing pieces. To compensate for this, new cards (or miniatures or whatever else may be used) end up becoming superior to other cards to the point of becoming strictly superior."

Now Power Creep has had a long history of being a controversial statement, the first truly noticeable example of this was none other then Muscle Sliver.



The second amendment right here

 






Yeah this thing is strictly better


You see, Muscle Sliver, even in a vacuum is better then Grizzly Bears, though Grizzly Bears is suppose to be the base line, which at the time was the rules of design. Simply put, even if you run just 4 Muscle Slivers in your green aggro deck, there is a chance you will have two 3/3, where as the bears will always be two 2/2's. In the following years, the cards that came out, were subtle in being better to outright being extreme. Serra's Zealot is better then Tundra Wolves because of it's creature type (soldier). Basically they've been attempting to constantly push the bench mark of creatures (or at this point were) at the cost of every other card type.



"I'm fully aware of the consequence of power-creep within a game system, and it is something that we constantly talk about in R&D. I'm not sure how to take your comment that Magic is continually creeping—yes, the power level of the game as a whole goes up every time a card is printed, simply because we can't unprint anything, but I do think we've done a good job of keeping sets and blocks within an acceptable band of power over the years, while at the same time making sure each new set and block offer cards that are appealing to play with. For instance, the power of cheap creatures is not higher now than it was in the Mirage-Tempest era, the power of mana acceleration is certainly way weaker than it was in the days of Alpha or Urza's block, card drawing is off-peak, as are combo cards, and today's “hard counters” look weak when compared to even those from the Mercadian Masques and Invasion era. That said, some things are at their all-time high right now, including life gaining cards and mid-range (4-6 mana) creatures. Rorix, Arc-Slogger, Meloku, Ghost Council, Loxodon Hierarch, and Kokusho are all relatively recent cards that are more or less the cream of the crop of their category historically. In making all of these delicious fatties, we here in R&D have called into question the basic costing curve of green, the so-called “creature color.” We want to redraw the line in a place where we think it makes sense going forward, and 2GG 4/4 with an ability falls on that line. If red can get a card like Lowland Giant (at least theoretically), then green should get something better for the same cost. It's not creep for creep's sake, and it was done with a keen eye towards the future. Green should have the most efficient mid-range creatures."--Aaron Forsythe, 2006

"No, the rise in the power of creatures over the last eighteen years have been part of an ongoing effort to make creatures not suck."--Mark 'I wish instants were sorceries" Rosewater, January 27th, 2012



Since then, power creep had been obvious, and while it certainly ebbs and flows, there are several points worth mentioning.

Urza Block: Often called the most powerful block of all time. It's hard to imagine now, but almost every card in Urza's Saga was better then what came before it. I remember a friend of mine spending 10.00 on a mono-green echo deck, and managed to steam roll our little impromptu tournament with it. Literally the number of game changing cards this expansion had can't be under stated, and in all colors to. This would only become even more noticeable a decade later w/ the proliferation of EDH (which will be another sin btw).

Mirrodin Block: Though I intended on referencing Onslaught's tribal mechanic with this, it's nothing compared to Mirrodin block. Affinity combined w/ the new card face made this one of the worse selling blocks of all time, and even in the "Energy ban" of last year, this still historically has the most banned cards of any standard/type 2 format. It's a shame, because the real victim of this was Kamigawa, which not only had it's power reigned in considerably, but suffered from poor sales unrelated to it as an expansion.

This expansion had Crucible (which admittedly was a contest designed card), Affinity as a mechanic, Archbound Ravanger, Sword of Fire and Ice/Light and Shadow, equipments in general, plus the card that nearly killed type 1, Trinisphere.



Now there is a proper way to do power creep, and an improper. Personally I always felt the block system released cards too fast, to consistently. If we went back to core sets w. expansions releasing 'when they are done'. My favorite example of this is 'Ancestral Recall' vs 'Brainstorm' vs 'Impulse'. Brainstorm vs Ancestral Recall is one of the oldest arguments in the game. Sure Ancestral Recall is more versatile, forcing an opponent to draw three has worked for Mill decks in the past, but it can also be redirected by the Ice Age card of the same name. The three cards are also stuck in the hand, making them susceptible to Mind Twist. On the other side of the coin, Brainstorm allows you to save two cards, protecting them from everything outside of mill. Later in the games life, this argument became even more so, with the invention of the mechanic 'Miracle' but that's not relevant at this time.
On paper Lightning Bolt is better then incinerate, until you need to take out that Troll. The examples go on, and on.

Today, most of the power creep has been shifted to the two major card types, Planeswalkers, and creatures. For those of you now in the know, Planeswalkers are a card type that WotC introduced in 2007 with Lorwyn block, spear headed by the head of story at the time, Brady Dummermouth.This has earned them the name 'Brady Walkers', however, after Dummermouth's firing, this name has someone fallen to the way side. While no other regards can be stated in lou of Planeswalkers, since nothing before them can be compared to, creatures have gotten absurdly more powerful with each passing  block.

Here is a small flow chart of the two power white 1 drop, from 93 to the present.







As you see, it starts w/ limited print rare Savannah Lions. An effective 2/1 vanilla that manages to be a decent beater, at the cost of it have literally no ability. It was, for many years, actually considered too powerful to be printed, and whether this is true or not, could be debated (I personally feel it wasn't, even in 94). Savannah Lions was finally printed in 2003 in 8th, and 8 year stretch between it's last printing in 4th edition. While in this time, Tethered Griffin was printed, it had a major drawback of needing control of an enchantment, and didn't see much play.

Around the same time, Isamaru was printed. Mark Rosewater once said it was 'legendary, for balance reasons', and being a 2/2 for 1, in white, was pretty good, even if you could only have 1 in play at a time (Remember, in 03, the legend rule operated on there could only be one, so only one in play on any side).

In M10 (2009), we got a strictly better Lions in the form of Elite Vanguard. While it might seem minor to the untrained eye, Elite Vanguard actually is strictly better to the type, which is two very relevant creature types, Humans, and Soldiers. There is literally no reason not to run this over Lions and almost no reason to run this over Isamaru. However, it was far from stopping there.

In 2013, we got Theros, which contained Soldier of the Pantheon. It had a charm effect and protection from Multicolored spells and permanents. Now strictly better then EV.

At this point, a 2/1 for 1 would almost be the standard, we got war falcon, which had flying but you needed a soldier or knight for it to attack, Mardu Woe-Rea[er which offers only ups, and has tribal synergy on top of that, then finally, we got Kytheon.



Yes that right their is the current culmination of power creep. A 2/1 soldier, who can become Indestructible, and then, if conditions are met, can easily transform into a Planeswalker. He still didn't see much play, despite these things.

Savannah Lions has very much been outclassed. 


I did intend to write about other examples, on how more the 4/4 for 5 angel,  how much better 'bears' have gotten, dragons, and so forth have become. However, this here paints a good picture. 

Now it's a format with a 2/3 for 1 with a minor build around mechanic doesn't even get a second glance, because it isn't needed. 

I predict that if this trend continues, which it will, soon the Eldrazi titans will be shrugged and said passively 'yeah sure, he was good back in the 2000's, but he have this here now, and he's just all around better'. 

Yeah a frightening though.

I hope to see you next time, where the fourth sin will be Mythic rares, and it's snow balling effect on rarity.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Raging River: What is the battlefield?




 “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”--Sun Tzu


Alas, maybe next time my love.
       The battlefield, the field, or simply, in play, is one of the strangest area's in a flavor concept, particularly to design for. Few cards in the entire history of the game manage to invoke the concept of changing the landscape, or using it as a tactical advantage, and even less succeed in delivering that. The few others I can think that utilize the battlefield from a flavor perspective is 'Caltrops' and 'High Ground'. However, neither of these are as daring our and grandeous as Raging River.

Fun Fact: In the 90's, Raging River actually recieved Errata to count as an 'Enchant World' since multiples of them on the battlefield could be a rules headache.  This has long since been changed back to it's original functionality.

       Recently a local seller was parting ways with a Beta Raging River, to my depression and surprise it was recently bought out, and thus he was selling it 500 firm (though he did eventually offer me a discount). While I LOVE the flavor of Raging River, I honestly couldn't justify 500 for a card that I ran in a deck TWICE ever.

       Then I thought, why don't I try it in more decks. It's flavorful, it's effective, it's cheap, and while it does nothing by itself, it works well as a combat trick. It's amazing in it's own right, when played correctly, and since it's been a while since I evaluated a single card, I figured I should do this one.


Art: The art is probably the worst part of the card. While effective in it's own right, it's well, boring. Though a lot of small details, such as the mountain in the background and the jagged rocks on the water make it notable, it's still rather plain. No offense to Sandra, but I'm giving it a 3/5. It's good and effective, but doesn't leave much of a mental mark.


Flavor: The mechanic is actually where the card shines. The idea is, being a powerful planeswalker, you are literally opening the ground up, separating the battlefield. The river, in uncross able, however this doesn't effect things that fly, since they can fly over it. Honestly the only problem with it, from a flavor perspective, is that it can only be used when you attack. It would be interesting, if it worked with both players, when they attack. The final thing, you can see how your opponents creatures sit on the battlefield, you can tactically design your assault with that information. Flavor is a 4/5. It's an amazing, in both execution and deliverance, with it's one minor issue being its one sided effect.


Mechanics: The idea of dividing the battlefield in half, works wonders particularly when flying creatures aren't a factor. I've combo'd this in one deck w/ Gravity Sphere, so it wasn't, and it at best makes your creatures unblockable, at worse makes suicide attacks much more profitable. In fact, it's onesided-ness from a mechanical stand point makes it amazing, especially in a format where almost everything is assymetrical. The best part of this, in a time when countless evasive abilities have come out, this card still works on a flavor level as intended. Mechanics 5/5.


With a 4/5 in average, I feel, while doing nothing on it's own, it's an underrated, and beautiful card, which should be considered for anything more casual.





Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Card Nicknames

We all love customizing cards. Whether it be with alters, with names, with jokes, Magic is as much our game as it is WotC (arguable even more so). It's not unusual that since the early days of the game, nicknames have been a common sight on the table.

I love card nicknames, I often refer to them as such instead of their actual names.

While some nicknames are actually really common in MtG, some are sadly forgotten relics of time, and some, as you will see in my list, some of these are local favorites, or names I've heard over the years. If I remember them, it means they stuck somehow, and are worthy of being on this list. So here, in attempted chronological order of release, although I had initially intended this to cover all mtg cards, I've decided to stick to 95-back for the sake of this blog, since I realized just how many of these cards their are.



Limited/Unlimited Editions


Prodigal Sorcerer: While his nickname Tim or Tim the Enchanter is extremely common, and so well known it created the name for the entire archtype of creatures that would follow him.  This name comes from the Classic Monty Python's The Holy Grail, where a wizard in the movie is named Tim.

Another Nickname for him, from The Don himself was 'The Blue Assassin'. It included written text bubble and flavor text that said 'where is my royal friend?'

Birds of Paradise: Often called in my circles, and occasionally heard elsewhere as mana birds. Probably came from the original printed creature type 'Summon mana birds'.

Circle of Protections: Often abreviated as CoPs, this has lead to occasionally being called COPS, The Fuzz, The Police, and so forth.

Veteran Bodyguard: Lou Ferrigno was the model used for this art, and as such is often called it. When running my Alpha print in EDH, I'll always say 'Lou Ferrigno has my back'. 

Swords to Plowshares: Often called STP, I've heard more then a few rockers/Metal heads make a joke about that by calling it Stone Temple Pilots after the 90s alternative band. 

Llanowar Elves: In recent years, calling them Lawnmower Elves has gotten really common, especially with his reintroduction in standard earlier this year.

Juggernaut: I often call it the Choo-choo train. Recently, after my acquisition of a 9 seater Station Wagon, I've named it the Juggernaut and use the two interchangeable. 

Benalish Hero: Similar to the Bodyguard above, I've seen this one called Sigourney Weaver, due to a similar appearance to how she would have looked when MtG first dropped.

Samite Healer has a long history of being called Sammy.

Dragon Whelp: My older brother's original play group commonly called this 'The Flying Time Bomb'

 Hurloon Minotaur: Back at Don's, it was often customary to yell 'HUUURRRLOOOON' as you summoned one. 

Lightning Bolt: In a similar vein, we use to go 'bzzt' when casting a bolt.

Hypnotic Spectre: Often called Hippy/Hippie, one of the most iconic creatures of old school magic.

Arabian Nights

Juzam Djinn: I've heard of him called 'the Devil', as well as 'InQuest' due to him being the unofficial mascot of the late magazine.

Edit: I was informed in Denmark, this card is commonly called 'the cow' or just 'cow', and making a low bellowing Moo noise as it attacks isn't uncommon.

Ernham Djinn: Erny//Ernie

City of Brass: Called City of Ass numerous times, including in an InQuest, and referenced on an Unhinged card.

The card named after Richard Garfields wedding party I've seen named by the people their names were inspired from (Mijae=Jamie, Ydwen=Wendy, Wyluli= Lily Wu).


Antiquities


Armaggedon Clock: Often gets called 'the clock of doom' in my circles.

The three Urza lands are often called Urzatron named after the 80's Saturday morning cartoon 'Voltron'. 

Atog: The 'tog, and the goat (which it name comes from) are occasionally used.
Legends

Dakkon Blackblade: I've called him Dakkon 'Motherfucking' Blackblade (or 'motherloving' depending on who's in the room) for years now.

Craw Giant: Craw Daddy, something that was a common nickname where I grew up. Often joked with 'Daddy's coming home' when paired with a Lure.

Marhaults Elsdragon: Due to his flavor text and art, I've heard him called 'Spock' more then once.

I call him John Travolta, due to an uncanny appearance to the actor.

Angus Mackenzie: Sometimes also called 'Tim the Enchanter' for looking like him.
The Dark


Uncle Istvan: Often called 'My Favorite Uncle' 'the Good Uncle' or simply 'Summon Uncle'. 

Tivadar's Crusade: Sometimes just called Genocide. Other times it's just called 'that other crusade'. 

Ashes to Ashes: Naturally some in more immature times called this 'Asses to Asses'


Fallen Empires:

Pump Knights: Common names giving to Order of Leitbur and Order of the Ebon Hand (and their two cousins in Cold Snap and Ice Age).

Homelands

Autumn Willow: The original 'Mom'. Some people also named her 'The milf', due to her mature feminine art work. 

Baron Sengir: Common nickname for him was 'Baron Badass', and a term I still use to this day.

Eron the Relentless: In the slew of celebrities that look like creatures, I've seen this one named Axl Rose. 

An-Haava Constable: Sean Connery. Just look at the art.

Didgeridoo: Do to the popularity of minotaurs at an particular local shop in Upstate, Didgeridoo was a common spells. Any type or form of countering it, usually was responded with a Didgeridon't.

Promo

Arena: A local classmate use to utilize an aura enchantress deck, along w/ Pacifism style effects to benefit his cards. When he discovered that my pacified creatures could still kill his w/ this particular land, he refered to it's 'cheapness' as 'The Jew Land'. It's a name I still occasionally use (in right company) to this day. 

Ice Age Block

Zuran Orb: I met a person who hadn't played in a considerable amount of time, and he asked what ever happened w/ Zuran Orb. He said it's the reason he stopped playing, and dubbed it 'Cheater's Orb'. I'd honestly say the name is fitting. 

Gorilla Shaman: Often called Mox Monkey due to it's cheap price tag and cheap ability to blow up moxes. 

Necropotence: Has been called 'The Skull' before.

Blinking Spirit: Named Blinky 'the most annoying creature in Magic'



So I hoped you liked this simple article on some interesting card nick names? Did I miss some? Do you have any local favorites? Please, comment on them and/or tell me.

Good luck at Gen Con everyone!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Howl from Beyond: The forgotten combat trick.



"A thundering howl seemed to emanate from the Brown’s hand, a loud shrieking roar that struck with such intensity that Garth staggered backward even as he raised a protective shield about himself. The sound was blocked within his circle of protection but behind him he could hear the screaming of the mob as the demon howl bowled them over. With a wave of his hand Garth extended the wall of protection to the crowd, many of whom were writhing in agony, blood pouring from ruptured eardrums, so shaterring was the scream summoned from the demon realms."--William R. Forstchen, Arena

ROARRR

In these days, you always see three major combat tricks, Bloodlust (in red), and Berserk/Giant Growth (green). However, a few combat tricks haven't stood the test of time like the others. Righteousness and Blaze of Glory were commonly paired cards in those days, but they are both defensive, it's understandable why they don't see play.

However, another one that use to be fairly common was Howl from Beyond. I understand Black is the strongest color, and there usually isn't room, even in black aggro, for what's essentially a minor, and occasionally expensive combat trick.

However, I feel it's best to think of it less of a combat trick, and more of a x burn spell with a creature restriction. If you get through, you can dump all your mana into an unblocked creature, potentially doing lethal, you can even the odds of a chump block, you can even kill a blocker if used on a first striker (which in old school black has no shortage of). If running dual color w/ red, it can also be forked, if you are into that sort of thing.

In all actuallity, its a fairly boring card, with even the art being lack luster at times. I also feel it really gets it's stride in the 95 format, which gives us two of the best black ritual spells, Songs of the Damned and Spoils of War. Not to say it's bad in 93/94, but it's probably a bit lack luster. I did however, long consider it in the black/red Kobold deck, combined with an Ashnods alter could make for an amazingly big Kobold that might just sneak if for that 0 damage.



Mark Poole actually drew both versions of this card. 

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.


https://magic.wizards.com/sites/mtg/files/image_legacy_migration/mtg/images/daily/mm/mm81_16.jpg
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.

"yup"


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!