Friday, August 16, 2019

MtG Judge: The Slow Creep

"The Hand of Justice will come to cleanse the world if we are true."
Oliver Farrel

Image result for mtg judge with balance tattoo

Recently, it was announced the once venerated MtG judge, is now going to be employees (wait, we can't use the E word anymore), I meant associates to a new program, the Judge Academy, which is a for-profit Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) scheme, lead by Tim Shields, owner of Cascade Games. It comes complete with yearly membership fee's (400 bucks to be a level 3, 100 bucks to be a level 1), which I guess technically makes them no longer volunteers? Then again in reality, they haven't truly been volunteers in sometime.

Back in 2014, I went to my last official YGO event up in Purdue, where I decided I'd do some trades and run Vampires. I got stomped, hard, and by the second half of the event, was in the back table with the old foggys and children. I was sitting back there doing trades, when word got out I play Magic, and for some reason, YGO players always over value Magic cards.

It was around this time, a beast more stomach than man walks up and sits down, we start with a pleasant conversation, and then he mentions his friend is going to give him a cheat sheet so he can become a Magic Judge ("and earn the big bucks"). YGO Judges are often compensated with things like lunch and most recent product, not like the small gravy train of shiny cardboard known as Judge rewards. I ask him "Do you play Magic?", which he responds "No". I simply look him in the eye and tell him "Don't do it, do something else with your time". This started a long conversation where I'd say how he didn't know the players, didn't know the game, and thus he shouldn't be a judge.

"The last thing the community needs is another self righteous twat, making incorrect judge calls, holding those around them in contempt, and are ultimately there for a profit"--Me (maybe not in those exact words)
The two children who were sitting next to me waiting for me to finish a trade looked on in shock, because this sort of argument, which was becoming increasingly common in Magic, is practically unheard of in Yu-Gi-Oh, a game where even major tournaments are rewarded with cardboard, and complaints to Konami about making it 'more prestigious' are met with 'it's a children's card game'. In the last few years, as predicted, a number of controversies has followed the judges. Accusations of pedophilia, questionable (sometimes completely wrong) judge rulings, accusations of bribery and favor,  being shills, and probably the most damning of all, a lawsuit about employment.
So, how did it go from being a local hero and a volunteer to the mess that is this, well, like all things, we need to go back to the beginning.

The Duelist Convocation International (DCI) was launched in late '93 as a sort of rules advisor for MtG. They promised these rules would only be held for official events, and promised for the home game, to play Magic however you want. Soon though, their recommendations became law of sorts, and most play groups played by their standards. Interestingly enough, originally, the DCI was outside Wizards of the Coast and was largely independent from them in the 90's, but worked hand and hand with WotC. While swag certainly existed, in the format of products, clothing, even paid meals! Certainly it was exciting. With the rise of the Protour in the second half of the 90's, judges became even more important, and the growth for them was needed.

An interesting note in an attempt to get new players, was the creation of the Guru Program. A guru was essentially a rules advisor, and the program could allow for Guru's, who taught new players, to get special promotional products, the most famous of these, the Guru Lands, which is currently the most expensive basic lands in the game.

"Dear Guru,

It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that the Guru program is being discontinued, effective immediately. This is largely due to the fact that beginning this summer, Wizards of the Coast, Inc. is launching the Magic: The Gathering® Academy. The new program will run in Magic® retail locations throughout North America. From beginning game play to deckbuilding, the Magic Academy promises to fulfill the goals of the Guru program and profoundly expand upon them.

The Guru program was very effective in exposing thousands of people to the Magic game. We truly appreciate that part of the enjoyment of being a Guru was derived from teaching friends how to play the Magic game, and we hope you will continue to do that. And as always, Wizards of the Coast will still run all the immensely popular Magic leagues, tournaments, and other organized-play programs.

We thank you for your continued support.


Wizards of the Coast"--
Email sent in 2/21/01

The Ambassador Program that would replace this would be discontinued in under a year. 

In 1998, the first Judge Promo was released, the now heavily coveted foil Lightning Bolt. This was followed up with cards like Gaea's Cradle, Vampiric Tutor, and Stroke of Genius, along with less valuable, but equally historically important tournament cards like Oath of Druids, Memory Lapse, Dissipate, and Hammer of Bogardan. 

These were but an ever increasing amount of series of promo's released in the late 90's, and early 2000's, including Arena Promo's (not to be confused with the recent mobile game), JSS, and most famously, FNM Promo's (these are in a lot of ways the foil of Judge Promos).

However, these were still largely random, they weren't announced ahead of time, and some were exclusive to events, (the first mail in promo was Memory Lapse, which was also available as a store promo in 07). However, the one that really took off the idea of Judge Foils, was none other then, ironically enough, Balance. 

It starts!
Thanks to the early fledgling days of social media, rounds of this card image started making it all over the Internet, and there was a renewed interesting in the possibility of becoming a judge. It's influence on the concept of both judge promo's, and the idea that judges could be compensated with cardboard, that in a pinch could be sold off, can't be understated. 

Image result for mtg judge with balance tattoo
Rob Castellon "Princess Buttercup" shows off his judge tattoo.

This largely continued this way, with promo's being received at tournaments, until 2014, with the creation of the "Exemplar Program. One of the goals of the EP was to extend the reach of judge gifts, as well as to encourage peer to peer recognition of fellow judges. I'm positive this was done with the best intentions, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

"If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it must be a short walk"--MAD

I believe,personally, this is around the time the "sociopaths" entered, as well as certain cult of personalities started to pop up, around various judges. It's around the time that I had the conversation at the top of the article, and when Judge foils started to become a big business. You started to get players who weren't familiar with the intricacies of the rules, in positions that require them. You started (allegedly) getting back room deals done for what amounts to shiny cardboard. Now this, I'll admit weren't all judges, but it was an open secret. 

Now remember FNM promo's? Yeah, they sort of had the opposite effect. They started off as good, well off cards, as well as iconic cards, that were good, but not terrible expensive. Thinks like Flametongue Kavu, Counterspell, Disenchant, Remand, Mogg Fanatic. So on, and so forth. They slowly got worse as time went on, eventually being phased out with foil tokens, before coming back, before being replaced with packs.

Prerelease promo's use to showcase some of the best cards in it's respective set. Cards like Emrakul, Shelly, Wurmcoil Engine, Beast of Burden, Dragon Broodmother, Sun Titan, ect. Eventually it was decided this was counterproductive, and instead, pre-release promo's become one of several dollar rare cards, before finally being randomized as any rare (or in special cases, certain uncommons) in a given set.

Textless player rewards were cut entirely.

The first real cut at the seems between Judges and WotC when in 2015, a large leak happened, which allowed for a number of cards, as well as the colorless mana symbol, to be leaked all over the internet. Sure, this happened when a pro-player deliberately leaked the entire New Phyrexia God Book. However, being a pro-player and journalist, their wasn't much WotC could do.

In 2015, an 18 year old Magic Judge, Paul Vale (someone to young to have been a judge very long) filed a lawsuit, claiming that being a judge made him an employee of WotC, and thus he should be paid and receive benefits. This was dismissed by WotC, and a judge dismissed it as well, but Vale could file again, though as far as I know, he hasn't.

Smelling blood in the water, judges Adam Shaw, Peter Golightly, Justin Turner, and Joshua Stansfield, along with 109 other plaintiff's, filed a class action lawsuit in 2016. Though this was also eventually thrown out, these two cases were enough to get many companies to end their 'volunteer programs', including WotC own D&D Organized Play Program.

Most controversial, was when Hambly, released a trump card after his untimely ban (which he claimed was for political reason, and which I'm not getting into), that numerous judges were sexual predators. Instead of an immediate response, their was silence, and it tarnished both judges to WotC, WotC to certain factions of the player base, and the player base, to the judges. 

Magic 4 Bad fan card from my set 'Uninteresting'.

"First off, these lawsuits are without merit. To reiterate what was said in the press release, with the exception of the Pro Tour, the World Magic Cup, and the Magic World Championship, Magic events are run by tournament organizers and local game stores who directly engage judges. But these lawsuits claim that Wizards runs all events and that the people judging those events are Wizards employees. We all know this isn't how things work.

Second, this changes nothing with regard to our support of the Magic community and organized play. We will continue to be focused on our mission to bring people together through their shared love of Magic."--Helene Bergeot, A Message to the Magic Community, 4/20/2016 (ironic date tbh).

This brings us to the present. After 25 years of success, the DCI/WPN/Arena/JP/whatever is finally being closed. While it wasn't a perfect system, despite it's human flaws it was more than adequate, and it did it's job relatively well. The Judge rank system actually kept people in check, the appeal process could help someone learn the rules, and while I'm certainly not defending it, I will admit Magic might not be around today if not for it. 

The Judge Academy, is a for profit company run by a man named Tim Shields, a man who sold is power, to get this started up, and to be in charge of the entire company. Just like the previous system, a long written test is required in order to become a RA or higher (which the good news is, they brought back the RA), requires a fee. A yearly fee, which aren't union dues, but simply allow you to do it for less than free. 

  1. RA: Free or $50.00
  2. Level 1: $100.00
  3. Level 2: $200.00
  4. Level 4: $400.00

"While the joke may be that everything is going to “kill magic”, I’ve learned over the years that nothing can stop the Judge Community. We are an organic and ever changing community, and the fact that we change with the times, adapt to the future, and continue moving forward, is what makes Magic Judges so amazing. We have been through Program Changes, New World Orders, NEW New World Orders, and who knows what else. There will be a transition period, but I am so excited for what the future of judging will bring to this game, and the community of Judges I care so much about."--Nicolette Apraez, Welcome to the Judge Academy!

Though it's too early to see how it works, the idea of Judge Academy has been compared to a pyramid scheme, but instead of getting money back that you've invested, you are getting special cardboard. I can't tell you how well this will work, since only time will tell, but we will see starting October 1st.
From a rather infamous podcast, (Judgecast 232), he talks about how it was rushed together, and it seems WotC was rushing them. Perhaps WotC wanted out of the judges as quickly as possible. Nicolette up there mentions she just finished moving to Portland earlier that day, and ideally they would have had a year, a year and a half to prepare for this move. They also made fun of Reddit, when during their AMA, user Ubernorstrom asked a series of hard hitting questions. I wish I had a screen cap of them. They deleted their thread, a literal delete fucking everything move.
Image result for arthur cartoon janitor

"I don't know how we're going to ship foils into Eastern Europe yet"--Tim Shields.

Back in the old days of the Internet, the joke was, "They do it for Free" in terms of moderation. This came to a full meme on 4chan with the image of the Janitor from Arthur. This naturally extended to Judges, when I would say on occasion, usually for a response "you do it for free". I can't say that anymore. They do it for less then free. 

The worst part is, this was caused by a number of outsiders, who wanted a job that didn't require manual labor, a bunch of virtue signalling asshates, and a change in tech to jump on a new fad. I hope you are happy you sociopaths.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Adding Alliances to the OS 95.

Image result for alliances mtg

One of magic's later early sets, Alliances doesn't really fit anywhere. Sure it's technically part of the Ice Age block (either with Homelands, or with Coldsnap), and as such, it's an amazingly unusual set, as Magic started to grow into it's 90's identity. 

The first set designed under the guidance of Sue-Anne Huxley, it featured cards by a number of play testers and designers who would go on to shape the game, but is rifed with old idea's as well, such as multiple card art, unusual color pie choices, and some really powerful effects/spells. I'm here to talk about the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of adding the set, to the ever growing 95 set list and player base.

The Good

Balduvian Hordes

Balduvian Horde
"For Freedom!"-William Wallace

In early days of standard, Balduvian Hordes got a lot of hype, that failed to live, largely due to just how powerful Necropotence and it's various incarnations. If Necro had been banned in standard, I imagine the infamous Red/Green aggro deck would have been much more successful, which this effective beater. Sure the random discard is steep, but if it sticks, it's almost as good as Juzam.

Agent of Stromgald

Agent of Stromgald
"Hey kid, wanna buy a black lotus?"

Everyone loves color fixers! Agents gives B/R another interesting filter creature, who has an interesting bonus of being a 1/1 red knight.

Diminish Returns

Diminishing Returns

The poor man's Time Twister. As someone who's played this, the ten cards aren't as big a drawback as you think, as long as you only use it once. It could greatly compliment Underworld Dreams as well. 


This is what you get for being on Justice!

Alliances has some amazing color hate cards, one of the best being Dystopia (with Braid of Fire being second). I'd argue, as long as you can afford the cost, it's better than The Abyss, being able to hit the likes of Pump Knights and Whirling Dervish.

Amazing Lands

Kjeldoran Outpost
Hey dude...

I can't be to quick, but with the exception of the Trading Post, all the sac lands work great, and as long as Strip in check, each compliment their color greatly.

Gorilla Shaman

Gorilla Shaman
Magic's cutest tournament staple

The card that even the playing field of early type 1. Mox Monkey is, in my opinion, the best artifact destroyer in the entire game (Hammer Mage being a close second). He got even better a decade later with the set Mirrodin.

Kaysa/Juniper Order Advocate


Green gets good, albeit conditional, Crusade effects. Kaysa, s probably the most notorious. I know a few old school players who still curse in her name.

In reality I could go on about this set, but I do have other things to talk about. Guerrilla Tactics, Undergrowth, Primitive Justice, Lat-Nam's Legacy, ect. 

The Bad

Arcane Denial

Arcane Denial

"The Gentleman Counterspell". Arcane Denial was so powerful, being able to replace itself, that it's 'drawback' was often negligible. Its splashability, made it an amazing guaranteed counter spell, and is the reason WotC said they'd never print a splashable 2 cost hard counter ever again. 20+ years later, that still holds true. 

Lodestone Bauble/Misinformation

Lodestone Bauble

"I hope never to see Memory Lapse again"--Olga, to me.

Putting cards from the hand/stack/graveyard is one of the most powerful effects in all of MtG. Robbing someone of a draw is the most powerful thing a player can do. Lodestone Bauble is the more powerful of the two, robbing someone of (4-x) card draws for free, is great. The ability to replace itself is absurd, and all at the low, low cost of free. 

Misinformation works similar well enough, costing a B, but at instant speed, and allowing it to pick any cards.

Pitch Spells
Each of these are game warping in their own right, due to their versatility, and with the exception of Scars of the Veteran, all have seen tournament play at one time or another.

Lim-Dul's Vault

Lim-Dûl's Vault

A early centerpiece for Pros/Bloom, Lim-Duls Vault is easily the best deck manipulator in the format, and is bested only by Demonic Collusion and Demonic Tutor. It's real bonus, is it's an instant, allowing for you to sit on answers, then playing it when you are free. 

Storm Crow

Storm Crow
(storm crow joke here)
We all got sick of these jokes years ago. Do we want to encourage it's return?

The interesting

Soldier of Fortune

Soldier of Fortune

Often used for stalling in it's day. Forcing a player every turn to shuffle their deck was amazing tech, but it would get it's time in the sun one set later, with Mirage tutors.

Wandering Mage

Wandering Mage

Hands down, the oddest tribal card in the entire set, but to unusual not to love.

Winter's Night

Winter's Night

The snow covered Mana Flare effect. Infamously the only three colored Enchant World in the entire game.



Garfield .Phd. Legend has it, this was suppose to be the original name for the 'Goddess of Life' Freyalise, but Garfield didn't like it, and said it 'sounded like a purple hippo with wings'. The poster child of group hug tactics.

Lim-Dul's Paladin

Lim-Dûl's Paladin

Besides having awesome art, it's a strange card designed to get around COP:R/Black. Sure the discard is difficult, but it's a choice, and if you choose not to, it replaces itself with a card draw. If it's blocked, it becomes a 6/6 Trampler.

Library of Lat-Nam/Misfortune

Library of Lat-Nam

"Damned if you do" cards are interesting, but often considered bad. Any card that forces player interaction, is a good card though.

Fire Sprites: A request (OS /95)

Very few constants have survived over the years, but green not getting fliers is one of the most constants. While a few hhave appeared here and there, as far Mark Rosewater is concerned, it's not part of green's color pie. I never liked that, because small flying creatures (insects, birds) live in woodlands, and more importantly, all assortments of fairfolk. However, I'm not here to talk about the color pie, but instead

In the recent debates of a 1/1 flier for two, and which one is the best, Fire Sprites is almost never discussed, and in fact, Emerald Dragonfly is probably constantly better then it. However, it does have one unique advantage to the butterfly, and in the fact, Homelands got some fairy support. With a request from Stan to review this card, I will do my best to be objective in reviewing it for both the conventional OS format, as well as the 95 format.

"Dear Stan, I wrote to you but you still ain't calling..."

Playability: A LGS has free MTG Tuesday, which has evolved into "Tribal Tuesday". With my package of Planechase cards, I allow multiples of casual standard players earn promo's by playing a sanction-able format. For this, I needed some tribal decks, and one of these I've considered was mono-green fairy's (it turns out I only owned two nobles). Fire Sprites actually made it into the initial list, over the Leprauchaun and Brownie, because it had flying (always a good ability).

The fact it filters into red is very interesting, because it allows one to splash red, in a format with difficulty fixing colors (especially on the cheap). With this, it could allow a zoo variant to run the likes of Bloodlust and Earthquake, or since my fairy deck would be almost exclusively flyers. Combine this with the usual green combat tricks.

Still, it lacks behind the likes of Emerald Butterfly, Scryb Sprites,  Birds of Paradise, and arguable even Willow Faeries if you are playing the 95 format. Still, an interesting green creature none the less, and it gets a point for some tribal synergy and for having a interesting filter effect. 3/5

Art: Unfortunately I couldn't find a stand alone piece. Julie Baroh was one of those early artists who you either really enjoyed the simple style, or you disliked it. While Underworld Dreams and Clone are rather famous, some art pieces are a bit more obscure, including Fire Sprites. The art piece, shows some mischievous sprites sitting in what appears to be a fire, whether a fire place, or a bonfire, is unclear, and honestly, unnecessary.  While a rather basic painting, it's noticeable enough to stand out in a pack, and well enough to make a small impression. It's background is nice to, with the darker fire contrasting with the lighter fairies and black background that much more impressive. 3/5

Flavor: The weirdest part of the card. I guess the green mana for the ability represent kindling, they set on fire for the red mana, and it makes sense they would be cheap, weak, and could fly. I never understood why Fire Sprites would be green though, since they are often depicted as being literal mischief makes of fire. However, I suppose every fairy until Homelands was green, and it would make sense they would be as well. Plus I think the mechanic as it stands, would be really weird on a red card (as in filter G: for R). Though odd, I'll still give the flavor of it as a 3/5.

There you go, three 3/5. In my opinion a completely average, unusual, and magical card. Not amazing, not unusually bad, not amazingly unusual. Which is fine.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wall of Heat, or None Like it Hot!

"At a distance, we mistook the sound for a waterfall..."

For those of you not currently in the United States, we've been gripped by a massive heat wave, and to put it bluntly, it sucks. Which came as the inspiration for todays article. While I was going to do something written about Baron Sengir, or about War Mammoth, I ultimately decided that Wall of Heat was the most appropriate decision for this.

Which brings up an interesting question? How do I judge walls? They actually have some unique qualities about them in OS (such as being able to block Basilisk without fear of death), tribal support, and under costed value, with the various infamous drawback of not being able to attack. I was surprised when I realized, despite my general love of them, I never actually reviewed a wall.


Card: Wall of Heat is a 2/6, for 3. If not for its wall status, it'd be a powerful, but uninteresting vanilla. However, since it's a wall, it losses one point for that drawback. It has 6 toughness for three, which isn't that unique in the color, since Ywden Efreet has the same thing, with an additional point of power, Wall of Stone is tougher, and Wall of Dust, while weaker, comes with a more useful ability. Sure, 6 toughness is pretty good, after all, who wants to fight the heat, but there are just better options. 2/5

Art: I always loved Richard Thomas wall art. This one is no exception. His images of a wizard (or maybe a planeswalker) standing behind a wall of their creation, are often rather ingenious and fascinating. This one's contains a woman, holding a sun like orb, and radiation heat around her. The constant changes in color, though is the best part of the art is the constant changes in color, particularly where the color's fail to appear, hinting at the appearance of the woman.

Art 3/5

Flavor: There are so much strange about the flavor of this. It's power and toughness makes sense, but why doesn't it fly, is it that localized of a spell? Why can some drunk dwarves blow up an abstract. Finally, I never, once, understood the flavor text of the card. I'm giving the flavor on this one 2/5.

There we have it, 7/15, rounded down, makes it a 2/5. Another one from Legends I suppose. I guess, just like the Heat itself, none like Wall of Heat.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The controversial history of mulligans.

Recently I got into a discussion over random variance,  and card games with a colleague of mine. His argument insisted that bad players like variance, because it allows them to occasionally beat good players. He insisted on the fact that the most skill intensive,  least variant formats, tournament attendance is down. 

I double backed, saying if the choices are me playing.a deck that I dislike, or not playing, I (like many) have other hobbies outside Magic, and variance is the spice that makes Magic enjoyable.

As many of you know, Magic is introducing a new Mulligan rule "London Mulligan", in an attempt to attack mana screw/flood, as well as making the lay lines more consistent. While many a magic players have shown this to be a terrible idea (who's ready for the next combo winter?), WotC has insisted no such thing will happen, and we will continue to get the amazing tournament experience we crave, with more casting spells, and less mana screw. 

However, as everyone knows, the idea of mulligans isn't new, in fact, it's as old as revised edition, and possibly unlimited edition. So if random variance is important,  why create a way to subvert it, well for fun of course, but it should always come with a draw back.

Ante Mulligan: Something I know exists only in theory. Though not an official mulligan rule, there was once a ante rule, where youd shuffle your hand in, draw seven, then ante an additional card. I've personally never seen it, but a few have told me it once existed, and I felt it interesting enough to include. The faults of this rule is obvious,  since it only works with ante, which was always technically optional anyway.

Original Mulligan (Seattle Mulligan/no lands&all lands): One of the most remembered rules of pre-6th. Introduced in Revised edition, the mulligan worked if you had a land of all lands or no lands, you would reveal your hand, shuffle it into your deck, and draw seven new cards. For tournament play, you could only do this once. In my opinion, this is the best rule particularly for 93/94. Library, Maze, and Strip wouldn't be nearly as broken if they forced you to keep a bad hand.  Sure they kick the storage lands in the nad even more, but hey, that's they way the game works sometime.

Paris Mulligan: Originally conceptualized by Pro Tour player Matt Hyra, it was accidentally put into the rules for Pro Tour Paris in 97, and the name stuck. In this, it's simple, you shuffle your hand into your deck, and draw one fewer card. It was formally introduced with Classic 6th edition, and became a major component of the design process. Most famously, a Darksteel card called Serum Powder directly interacted with the mechanic, which is important, remember that.

Vancouver Mulligan: Introduced with the expansion Magic Origins, Vancouver worked similar to the Paris Mulligan, except before you drop lay lines, anyone with a lower hand size then 7 can scry 1. Some interesting rule questions come up with this and Karn liberated, but it's for it's worth, is functional and gets the job 

London Mulligan: Tested in Arena and Mtg:O. London Mulligan allows you to draw 7, then pick and choose which cards you wish to put on the bottom of your deck. For example, you are on you second mulligan, you got that Leyline to kill dredge, you simply put two cards on the bottom, thus having a hand of 5. 

Magic_Aids has abused this with Serum Powder to consistently win on turn 3. You can look up the video on YouTube.

A similar issue has come up with OS, allowing a player to drop numerous free/cheap spells on turn 1, just to timetwister, guaranteed a 7 card hand regardless. 

"Magic the way Garfield intended"--Magic_Aids.

However the biggest crime of this isn't the fact it hyper powers hate cards and combo players, but instead removes the most important aspect of the game, the variance.

Tonight I was in a booster draft, and while sitting I could overhear another (much experienced) player talking to one wet behind his ears about how mana screw is bullshit. He states only Pokemon and MtG have this problem, and its complete shit, and then he starts listing off other games "that have solved this" like Vanguard and Vs System, and Duel Masters.  I yell at him "the difference is all those games are dead", but he didn't respond. 

It's something I truly stand on, Magic reliance on luck, and Garfield's open embrace of it in his design, is Magics biggest gift for its longevity.  It's been the cause for David and Goliath outcomes, amazing comebacks, and bad beat stories. 

I later spoke to him while he was lighting a smoke and said "Dont listen to them, mana screw is part of Garfield's mathematical perfection". He laughed, said he almost never gets screwed, because he knows how to build decks, and went on to win first. 

I guess in conclusion: Magic needs variance, both in decks being played, and in luck of the draw. If I wanted to play a game where everyone had the same cards, I would play poker, if I want to play a game with a foregone conclusion, and a guaranteed set of rules, Chess certainly has more prestige then MtG.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Chandra: The importance of consistent character design.


While a good chunk of my readers pay little to no attention to spoilers, and spoiler season, it's something I've yet been able to give up on, and while the chances of me playing with these cards slowly but consistently diminish, it's still something I check out.

Recently, spoilers of Chandra Nalaar, one of the original Lorwyn 5, and magic's premier pyromancer, has come out, with a set largely set on her past. This included, not one, but three Planeswalker cards, each around her, before her debut in Lorwyn, however, there was something, off about these cards, mainly the way she looked.

(Art: Anna Steinbauer)

This came with many questions on 'why does she look Asian?' After all, Chandra was always depicted with red hair, occasionally freckles, and largely Caucasian features. Now I understand different artists will have different styles, and occasionally styles don't mesh. However, if this was the only case of this, it would probably not have been noticed, or became something of a joke, instead it was followed with this:

(art: same as above)

Both Chandra's clearly have Asian features, which don't fit the decade and a half of art other cards depicting her show.


All these different arts, all drawn over the course of a decade, all have a few telling things in common (even child Chandra), Chandra has pale skin, bright red hair (sometimes that is on fire), she typically wears armor (but isn't a must for the character), and she has goggles (with this being absent on child Chandra).

To further this inconsistency, the box art for the set (Magic 2020) has Chandra looking like a man.

Image result for Magic m20 box art

However, this isn't a recent trend, in fact, its the opposite. Gideon's general appearance and skin tone has changed so much, he's basically a meme at this point.

However with the recent inclusion into digging deep into MtG's past, for content, many characters have gotten cards, with effects that don't make sense to the character (Xantcha was a terrible sleeper agent, that was the point), have effects that defeat the point of cards they are based on  (General Varchild), or literally seem like different characters they simply attached names and art to (Tawnos, Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist).

For a company that claims so much about wanting Magic to evolve beyond a TCG, and become a multimedia franchise, they sure don't understand the importance of consistency in character design. Well, at least now, I think for the best example, look at Gerrard Capashen. Despite numerous cards featuring his name, his likeness, and quotes by him, his depiction is ALWAYS consistent, even with the reference to him in Dominaria. In fact, most of the weatherlight crew is depicted accurately, even two decades after their story has ended (Mirri being the one current exception).

However, none of this is as bad as what they did to my favorite coward walker, Serra.

Artist: Matthew Wilson
Artist: Rebecca Guay

Serra had two consistent designs, one from the vanguard, which also appears on the card art for Humble, and the Rebeeca Guay's depiction of Serra, which appears on numerous cards, as well as the Homelands comic. Instead, we get a depiction of Serra, from the Urza Saga card Worship, granted not the Serra as it looks two images above, which is the statue of her, but instead the person worshipping in front of it, assuming Serra is her. Now I have no issue with shit talking Serra, it's like a hobby of mine, but I still like her, and the depiction, showing her as a character who literally worships herself, is a bastardization of probably the most famous female character in MtG.

Character consistency is the most important part of any IP. No one ever depicted Darth Vader with a katana, no one ever made Optimus Prime a a Volkswagon Bus. The only time a character is changed, is the time it shows the fan base to move on (look at Harry Potter). WotC, please get your art department together and consistent.

Tl;dr: Get your IP together wotc.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Farmstead: Home Sweet Home

"When father bought the farm we sold the farm.
Mistook his blood for rustic charm
Sold his ghost as an antique to the city"
There is very few agreements in OS Magic. Most people say power is good, so is Library. Then they say Farmstead is one of the worst cards in the game. With it being two mana for one life, being an enchant land, costing literally 3 white mana to cast, and having a very restrictive ability, it's no wonder Farmstead hasn't been seen since Revised edition, and why it's often labeled as one of the worst cards in the game.
"Kids today can't hold a spade
Rest In peace your weary trade
In the world there is no place, such a pity..."
Is farmstead honestly as bad a card as they say? Especially in this format, where consistent repeatable life gain is difficult? Where Lich can turn it into a draw engine? I, for many reasons, shall look into it to find out.
"Well the barman shakes his head, and fills my glass
says 'we're living in the past, why preserve a dying craft and it's misery?'"
Playability: At 3 mana and a local enchantment, Farmstead has a lot going against it. Enchant lands are particularly the worst, whether your format has a playset of Strip Mine or not. It also doesn't guarantee anything the turn it comes out (unlike many local enchantments), and it's effect is one life. While I did say repeatable life gain is nice (it is). I know life gain gets a lot of hate in modern magic, but one of the most important things about winning is not losing, and this card excels in that department. I'd say sadly, the biggest hurdle for farmstead is, not one, but two cards have done this better, Fountain of Youth, and Caribou Range (if you're playing 95). In it's defense, mono-white often needs mana dumps in the late game, and while I may enjoy it, I can't honestly give it a higher rating then 1/5.
"Come sit down we are lamenting, about yesterdays sad ending.
About the water in my whiskey, the brass passed off as gold/
/of a day when wood was wood, silver was silver, gold was gold,
sweet home was home"
Art: One of my favorite Poole pieces, Farmstead is probably the most 'American' piece of art in the game. It wouldn't look out of place as the set to a 50's/60's American rural television show like Little House on the Prairie or Bonanza. While the piece doesn't show any humans, it does show numerous things that would be seen on a Farmstead. Most prominent are the axe, which rests on a stump, and the house itself, a simple stone cabin with a hey roof. Whats easy to miss is the anvil, which is necessary, even today, for the use of making horse shoes, but in a setting like projected, could be used to make almost anything necessary. It's just a small detail that's easy to miss. Then you have the 'road', naturally worn from the surrounding grass, which suggests frequent passing of feet, free range chickens, as well as cattle (assumable cows). However, the best detail, is the tree in the corner of the image, with a shadow it's given over the 'road'. It's easily my personal favorite part of the piece, and also shows the light source fairly well. The background, which is pines, a lightly cloudy sky, and a few wild birds, fill  in the blanks extremely well. Art gets a 5/5 from me.
"'Son these tools are artifacts, endangered species left it's tracks.
So wrap me up in plastic wrap in the city.
There is no going back for me, this antiques rustic eulogy
shall be sold as folk on the street', such a pity..."
Flavor: Living in old country isn't for the faint of heart. You work day and night, however the results, can be great. This represented well in the idea of gaining a life, but having to spend to get it. The two white mana represents upkeep, strained labor, and risks, it takes to maintain such an operation.
Some of the things you can plop a farmstead on it also notable, for both being strange and hilarious. You can open shop next to the Library of Alexandria, in a Desert, on a Strip Mine (really any lands from Antiquities is hilarious), in the City (of Shadows or Brass), on a Quay, in some dirty ruins, and even an Ice Floe. However, just as flavor would suggest, it's most effective if you enchant it on a plains.
Flavor 4/5.
Final rating 3/5: Sure it might blow, but is it memorable and oddly strange. It's art is easily its strongest selling point, with everything else being mediocre in comp.
"Well I'll never understand, why they long to use those hands, to build a stand that would always stand in old time country,
but settle on white rooms, and hollow doors
paper ceilings, padded floors
luxury boxes where your stored, in old time country"--Erik Petersen, Olde Tyme M'mery
Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and closeup
RIP the NYStyle Ranch (2006-2018)