Monday, January 29, 2018

My MVP's of the Winter Derby: Nightmare

In reality, this card should have it's own entry truly talking about how amazing it is. It's influence is so important, both in Oldschool, and to black as a color, that's its been standard legal for almost as long as standard has existed. It's probably one of the most reprinted black cards in the game, and in my opinion, it's the best black creature in the format.  I've run him as late as Theros limited in a mono-black control/devotion deck, and while he didn't help w/ Devotion, he didn't need to. He did the job himself.

I wasn't running a beta one, but it's appropriate.

While building the deck, I realized that I just didn't have the cards to make it a proper suicide black. A lack of Juzam sealed that fate, though I considered substituting Juggernaut (Derelor was sadly out of the question). Stone Throwing Devils just weren't feeling it for me, and without Hymn, the Dark Rit's weren't nearly as good as turn 1 cards. So instead, I went the control route, and realized, I needed an actual win condition.

I looked at my black beaters (under valuing artifact creatures like a noob), I made a list, with Nightmare at the top, other contenders included Sengir Vampire, Fallen Angel, Demonic Hordes, Lord of the Pit, and finally Mold Demon. I evaluated each of their strengths and weaknesses, and concluded Nightmare would make the best of the list, which it became a two of (though I wish I found room for Sengir, maybe next online event).

Nightmare became a quick 'answer creature', finding himself typically settling down in a nice cottage (and maturing some great life for me), going to the disco, or facing God himself. When he didn't befell one of these awful fates, he typically hit hard and fast, and even the -1 from animate wasn't that big a feal.
Edit: Someone pointed out he also can't be Control Magic'd, which is a plus I didn't think of.

If I could go back, would I run him again? Maybe not. There were games where I had some wimpy Nightmares, and while I never encountered an Armageddon, that doesn't change the fact it's very much possible. Further more, there are better artifact creatures at 6 mana, though not as strong at the raw power as him.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

My MVP's of the Winter Derby: Xenic Poltergeist.

The Winter Derby was an event that happened over the course of December and into January. Using Sweden Ban/Restricted list, the tournament had 7 rounds before a top 8 cut. I originally going to run a red/blue burn control build, a classic if you will.

Instead, I was forced to go mono black control, and it didn't do well. Among my seven opponents included a Land's Edge deck, two burn-control builds, and three rocket launched/infinite mana decks. I have however learned some good things about mono-black, and the format as a whole.
The deck, note the two Ashes to Ashes which proved to be useless.
The Side board

One card in there proved to be more valuable then I'd ever given it credit for before hand. No it's not the Gate (which was useless), nor was it Nightmare (who was the win condition). it was small throw away card I put in the deck as a budget option.

That's right Xenic Poltergeist proved to be extremely useful in the format, and for my deck. Often under looked in many cases until it was too late.

Mono-black has few answers to artifacts, and I wanted something that I could get away with throwing in the main deck. Originally I put him in, as a way to kill Moxes. After all, it breaks jewelry. The other benefits came as I actually played it for the first time ever in any deck.

First it had amazing synergy w/ Oubliette, allowing me to animate a pesky artifact (say a Howling Mine or Winter Orb), and remove it from the game. It could also trade another artifact in a field wipe (not uncommon when I played Nightmare), turn my discs into 4/4's, give basalt monolith summoning sickness, and block if needed.

I actually realized despite the lack of Icy, I ran some Royal Assassins because of the number of artifacts he could have killed w/ this guy would be spicy.

However, hindsight is 20/20, and I almost wish I didn't run the Disc along side him and oubliette, because that created some difficult situations.

I'll be posting other MVP's over the week, and I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Keldon Warlord: Terror of the playground.

"Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It's a whim of circumstance, and barbarism is ultimately triumphant"--Robert E. Howard

"Battle is our religion. This fortress is our temple"--Latulla, Keldon Overseer

As we've grown as players, and as people, we realize some cards, no matter how cool, just aren't good. The number of bad ass creatures of yesteryear are numerous. In the larger MtG, this can be attributed to power creep, with creatures getting flashier as time goes on. However, in this format, in theory these former power houses should be able to shine in there glory, and for some, they do. Mahamoti, Serra, Sengir, Shivan, all bad ass creatures in there own right, shine on once again, as if it was 1994. Other former popular creatures haven't fared so well. One of these creatures is Keldon Warlord.

The Keldon's are a group of Conan the Barbarians. Living for battle, they are actually separated into two races, the 'pure' Keldons who are hulking massive brutes who worship War as a religious act. Then there are the Gathan's, genetically engineered rogues who was made by a wizard that felt Urza's bloodlines project didn't go far enough into making the perfect warrior. Skyshroud Elves also appear among their ranks post Phyrexian Invasion.

Numerous Keldons appear throughout the lore, including Maraxus, Latulla, and Radha, however, this is talking about the original Keldon, Keldon Warlord.

What if they threw a war and everybody came?

I remember as a kid, he was a common sight among many red decks. After all, in a time where cards were scarce (especially when in the country), you didn't always have a playset of Shivan Dragons, and you filled spaces. Secondly, he can in theory, be HUGE, even if on average he's probably only a 2/2 or a 3/3. Even on the gatherer comments, people talk about how cool he was as a kid, leading your army of Orcs and Goblins into battle, being just generally huge.

I can honestly say, I didn't see him in the Winter Derby, nor did I expect to, after all, while he holds a place in my heart, there are better options. It can be argued that Hill Giant with it's consistent power/toughness is better. Even if it isn't, Mountain Yeti certainly is, with it's protection and landwalk ability.  Sedge Troll is better in B/R. Stone Giant is even better, being able to give creatures flying (and juggle trolls). In a time when every card is at our finger tips, both visually and limited only by our finances, the Warlord just can't compete.

However, there is no doubt that he is hands down cool. He's art would find a place on any 80's metal album, he looks like he's riding a nightmare, and Mr/ Bockschmidt's ability to exaggerate leaves a good mental mark. He's also the one lord of way back when that doesn't have the 'lord' ability, instead leading by example by being stronger (and thus attacking).

What if they threw a war and everybody came?

The Art is easily his best feature. As said earlier, he would look fitting on the cover of an old pulp fiction comic or metal record. The warrior has exaggerated features, having the muscles of someone who been weened on red meat, pure iron, and steroids since he left the womb. Even his sword is over the top, not only being unpractically large, but containing over the top decorations and gems.

Even the surrounding atmosphere works, with the flaming castle being the major focus point, showing his latest conquest, which obviously he drew no quarter. Even his helmet is unpractical, but also extremely awesome, and the shoulder bad is just icing on the cake.

The only issue is the tiny leg (which isn't that tiny) below the sword. It's as if he's skipping leg day.

 Kev Brocksmidt revisited this art and has stated it as one of his most popular.

Art gets a solid 4/5.

Playability: As said earlier, where he excels aesthetically, he doesn't work as well on the battlefield. Not only is his fluctuating power risky and inconsistent. It can be lethal, as damage can kill him later in the turn as card remove from the battlefield. Sure, in a token deck he can get stupid big, but honestly, how many of those are there, especially in this format. I've debated running my beta one as a one of in mono-red aggro, because as I said, I like him, but I'll admit his playability is not good.


Flavor: This is where he makes it. The fact he doesn't check walls just adds to this (because how do walls give moral). Instead, his power increases with his prestige, and decreases as his prestige declines. That's probably his most redeemable feature. He just feels so, right. It's one of those cards you could pull out of a pack and not only enjoy, but think how you could make him good, and that is the type of card that allowed Magic to thrive throughout the 90's 3/5.

A solid 3/5 overall. It's nothing special, but it's a good addition to have in the card pool, even if it's just in the box.

Check out to see what he's been up to.
Also Kev has made two new arts, the one for the art book
Revisited, I'd actually like to see this on cardboard.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

What could have been: Super Hero

Play test cards are always fascinating. They show cards that could have existed, and what could have happened, (and what didn't). Alpha makes this more interesting, because everything is possible, and because its influence on the game can't be understated.

Alpha as an expansion, and philosophy certainly doesn't match up w/ the stiff rigid design of the modern color pie. Green land destruction, blue burn, land changing cards across all colors. In reality, it's a strange but amazing thing to look at. That's just what made it to print, many other classical tropes didn't make it to print. These included a Red Time Walk, a card that randomized ownership of all lands in play, a card that killed trolls and vampires, and among others the card I'm going to talk about today.

It's a bird... it's a plane... it's a strictly better Terror... 
Superman here is actually a really good creature. For those not in the know, that mana cost would translate into either WWW or 2W depending on who you ask, because during playtesting, they couldn't quiet get the concept of mana down. So with that knowledge, lets look at what we get:

-A Gray Ogre (or Pearled Unicorn) with a very relevant ability.
-An Instant Speed removal spell with feet.

Well realistically it probably wouldn't have kept that name, and certainly not that art. The 'Prince Charming' is speculated by some to be a possible working title. It's concept is pretty good, if not a bit generic, the hero who dies facing off against an impossible foe, being a martyr in the process. Much like Beowulf, he can die fighting a Djinn or Dragon, sacrificing his own life for glory (and because you made him).

This actually reminds me of a YGO(Yu-Gi-Oh) card "Exiled Force" in which you can sacrifice it on your turn to destroy any monster, regardless of it's power. The influence this card would have had on the game, particularly the color white can only be speculated, but it's very likely white would have become a color of self sacrificing creatures much earlier in the games life. Plus, this guy would be seeing play in white decks throughout the 90's.

In a lot of ways, I'm glad he didn't make it, because of his power (at least as printed). He can bury a creature, swing, counter spot removal, and be an amazing chump blocker.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Tenth Post!

How many of you still have some cards from 'back in the day', I bet many of you do. I managed, despite thieves, accidents, bad trades/ good trades, and drinking, have managed to keep a few. Today, in honor of my 10th post, I will show one of these bad boys (and threaten my ability to remain somewhat anonymous at the same time).

I'm aware my hand is filthy.
This time worn relic is Eron the Relentless, an immortal man who in the lore died numerous times. I can tell you this time worn piece has died countless more then that.

A small list of things that has happened to this piece of cardboard:
-Shuffled in dozens of decks, both sleeved and unsleeved.
-Shoved into book bags/boxes/pockets.
-Was part of a 7th grade diorama
-Had soda spilled on it
-Was in a deck deliberately sabotaged by a friend
-Spent three years in a damp basement in NY.  

One of my very first Legends, Eron I realized was amazing, being uneffected by summoning sickness and being able to survive combat allowed him to be more useful then some of the other jank I was playing at 5 mana (like Orgg and Goblin Mutant). More importantly he directly interacted on the cards with Joven and Chandler. I actually remember at a sleep over reading the lore about him with Retribution and Anaba Bodyguards, and why they aren't minotaurs (or weren't).

The best part was, my young mind assumed Legends, by the title, must be better creature types then other creatures (I was wrong!). It didn't stop me from making a deck later that combined the color friends feats of Invasion block w/ the legends from Chronicles (and Lady Orca). It eventually grew into a 400+ card monstrosity full of flavor and function, but that's a story for another time.

I almost got this card signed at Gen Con, but I had the foil TS version on me instead. Mr. Rush passed shortly there after. I'm glad I got to meet him. Alas, this is a small  update about a card I care very much about, who's been with my and my lot for a very long time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lich: What's the price of immortality?

"I will go to any length to achieve my goal. Eternal life is worth any sacrifice."
—Zur the Enchanter

I was just getting out of the shower!

The quest for Immortality has plagued man for as long as man could think of self. History is littered with stories of people pursuing it in vain, from Emperor Chin, to the Pharoahs of Egypt, to Ponce de Leon, to the transhumanist of modern times, people have pursued some attempt at immortality for as long as we've known the self. Even Christianity, Judaism, and Catholicism, with it's emphasis as a death cult of sorts, promises immortality after the end of days.

However, Immortality is either too impossible to reach, or becomes a chore. Immortality is often shown to be a chore of sorts, a punishment even. People live to watch even there most loved ones die, the world around them change without them able to keep up. One article in 'Weird USA' (a website published by the gentlemen who publish Weird New Jersey) claims he met a man who said the Fountain of Youth in Florida was discovered by  a secret society sometime in the 1800's, and extreme measures have been made to keep it hidden. He also showed a list, with a number of American folk heroes on it, some who died at extreme ages, but not from disease, nor hunger, or age. Whether this is true or not, can you imagine how strange it must be to live so long, to realize that time suddenly has no consequence? I'm almost 30 years old, and I can barely understand the world in these unusual times, can you imagine someone 130?

Still this perspective never kept anyone from trying, whether it be through alchemy and science, philosophical thought, great quests for mystical items, demonic deals, or technology, some individuals will always long to live forever, no matter what the cost. Which is where we come to today's card.

"A lich was a wizard who wretched free his soul, for to keep safe in phylacrity, forsaken all life for immortality, plus immunity to lightning is cool!"---Dan, the Bard. Procrastinating Demi-Lich,

A lich is an Old English word roughly translating into 'Corpse'. Given it's archaic nature, the term lich was a common term for any animated corpse, and even skeletal animation, in many early fantasy books and short stories. The idea of a Lich being the dead remains of an animated wizard who cheated death first appears in the story "Skull-Face" a swords and sorcery story by author Robert. E. Howard, as well as number of short stories by Clark Ashton Smith. Another early passage of a sentient raised corpse appears in the short story ''The Death of Halpin Frayser" by Ambrose Bierce. 

"For by death is wrought greater change than hath been shown. Whereas in general the spirit that removed cometh back upon occasion, and is sometimes seen of those in flesh (appearing in the form of the body it bore) yet it hath happened that the veritable body without the spirit hath walked. And it is attested of those encountering who have lived to speak thereon that a lich so raised up hath no natural affection, nor remembrance thereof, but only hate. Also, it is known that some spirits which in life were benign become by death evil altogether."--Ambrose Bierce, The Death of Halpin Frayser, 1891.

However, the popularity of Lich's in popular culture is thanks to it's portrayal in Dungeon's and Dragon's, in which a Lich was an epic villain, often commanding entire armies, and scheming over the course of many centuries.  This served the basis for base set card Lich. After all, even a planeswalker, in all his might and splendor is ultimately mortal.

Art: The art, despite the bad quality, shows exactly what it says on the tin. The Lich in the art is seen with holes in it's flesh, barely being held together by dark magics. A stone engraving is in the back, and a spell being casted in it's hand, which serves at the only light source in the piece. Some minor details can give the robe an age'd effect, but alas it's a simple portrait. I like Gelon, but this one only get's a 3/5 from me. It works with the source material, and it's gets the message across, but it's not the first image anyone is going to remember.

Play ability: Lich is one of the most controversial cards in the game. Costing 4 black, it's the definition of not splashable, and it's most severe drawback, when it's destroyed you die, is enough to make most Planeswalkers put it down as quickly as they picked it up. It also has a drawback of turning your cards (not permanents mind you) into your life, forcing you to constantly sacrifice your resources to stay alive. You also can't pay life fore effects, since your life total is at a constant state of 0. It's boon's however, are incredibly powerful. Whenever you'd gain life, you instead will draw that many cards. This turns Healing Salve into an Ancestral Recall (I'll let that sink in), an Alabaster Potion into an instant speed Braingeyser. El-Hajjah now gains you a life everytime he deals damage (at a minimum), Charms now cantrip, Drain Life becomes stupid powerful, and even Fountain of Youth reads "2, T: Draw a card". Further more, it can realistically buy you a turn or two to draw an answer for the game, since you don't need to worry about conventional damage. Further more, it's uneffected by life loss, so any effect that forces you to lose life, forces you to lose none (Personal Incarnation anyone?).  Plus this is an instant win with Mirror Universe (and unusually flavoristic as well).

In reality, only a few cards can destroy it:

-Tranquility (the only well played Green enchantment removal)
-Disenchant (Yes, this card makes it extremely dangerous to have, I admit)
-Disk (Not as threatening, but very real).

A few other examples that fall into fringe territory include Northern Paladin (which is badass in it's own right) and Boomerang (Very much so this).

Now, like many classic black spells, it offers great power at a terrifying price, but if you can harness that power, you can be nearly invincible. 3/5.

Flavor: Like almost all Alpha enchantments, this is where the card shines. It's both amazing and sad this NEVER got a reprint, but I suppose that is part of the flavor itself. After all, only the most dedicated would hunt down the needed path to even find a spell needed. The drawback refers to enchantment as the Phylacria itself, and if it goes so do you. In the current rules of the game, you'd die as a state based effect before that trigger resolves, and that is a relic from the pre-6th edition rules where you'd normally not die until the end of the phase. It's life=draw is a strange argument, but I'd suggest it's the idea that you accumulate knowledge in some form. The draw back can be the same, as you take damage, people destroy your items, hoping each one is a phylacria, however, that one is stretching it a bit.

I'll give the flavor a 5/5, if for nothing else, the meta idea that it's impossible to find.

Note: Several cards have copied and improved on this through out the years, but eventually the idea of you becoming a Lich was scrapped so creatures could be Lich's instead.

More Note: One of my favorite decks of all time was a deck where I'd use Lich with Form of the Dragon to become a Draco-Lich, in it every end step I drew 5 cards, and I couldn't be attacked by non-fliers. It was pretty dope tbh.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What does it mean to be a Warrior?

"This card is more flavorful then every card in Kamigawa block combined"
--Iandustrial, Gatherer, 4,20,2009

"A warrior is worthless unless he rises above others and stands strong in the midst of a storm"
--Yamamoto Tsunetomo

What it means to be a warrior is something that stretches amongst all warrior cultures across the world and across time. From the Hittites, to the Marine, from the Channel of England and France down to the orient of Japan, every culture that has had a warrior culture or caste has asked this question. Many have come up w/ different answers, but one that stays true is the ideal of putting yourself at the best of human ability. Virtues of the culture are idealized (if not realistically practical), and are remembered, even when the less then savory facts aren't. Everything from the naked Zulu, half naked Spartan, to the heavy armored knight, to the technologically advanced Marine and SEAL, these ideals are championed in an attempt to separate the Warrior from the other castes of society. 

Naturally, like other philosophical questions, this ended up portrayed on an early Magic card. It's a simple, usually overlooked Magic card, but like many of the era leaves a profound mark beyond it's play ability (outside Shandalar of course). 

Art: The art shows what can be best described as a classical cinematic depiction of a Samurai warrior. Anson, who is famous for his horrific horror artwork, manages to show his versatility with this. Particularly in the detail of the samurai's uniform and the light source. The light source being something in the viewers direction (we will say the sun). In this, we see the light reflect off both the samurai's slicked back hair, and the well polished statue. The statue isn't of any character or symbol in particular, but it feels so right. The samurai makes no mind to it, as if it's part of his everyday life. Behind himis a simple green wall or bush, depending on your perspective and opinion, it fades into the light source, but a focused eye can see small details showing it didn't disappear. 

The best part of this is how realistic the samurai looks, his eyes steady, his cowl humorless. He isn't exaggerated like some of the art of Kamigawa, nor is he done in a historically accurate style (like Tetsou Umezawa). Instead we are giving a simple but evocative picture of a samurai standing, whether it be on guard, in front of another samurai, or in mid stroll, is unknown and irrelevant.

Art gets a 5/5.

Ability: It's strange that vigilance was once stretched across the color pie. In today's rigid design, It's a white mechanic, with it occasionally appearing in green. It does appear on a few blue cards, and many multicolored cards, but almost all those blue cards require white (The last one not being Serra Sphinx and Auramancers Guise back in Planar Chaos). However, it's across the color pie, and a few are red, including Axelrod Gunnarson, Windseeker Centaur, and card posted above! Green had Rabid Wombat, and even black got it's only mono-black creature in the form of Ghost Hounds.

The greatest warrior

It's strange to imagine a world were 'Attacking doesn't cause to tap' would be shared between white and red, but in a way, it almost happened. This card's plabaility is hurt like many, due to being an aura, however, it's effect even if only used once, can be pretty damn amazing, because attacking without needing to tap is an amazing feature to have. It allows you to cover your bases. I will rate this how I rate many aura's, with the idea that you treat is like a sorcery speed combat trick, that simply gets better if it can last longer. While it doesn't do much, it does what is needed, and gets it done. 

3/5 on playability, even if it only works once. 

Flavor: Now here is the philosophical point of the post.Why is making your creature a warrior allowing it to attack and block? Is it because it now has proper training? Does it make your creature faster, stronger? Is your creature just simply more dedicated to the cause? The idea that a warrior must be more vigilant then others around him, to be more then good, be exceptional, works extremely well with this. It's easy to know why Serra Angel, the Falcon, and Yotian Soldier have vigilance (the two fly, the last one is a robot that can move unusually quick). It's not so easy for other creatures, I mean, making your Djinn a warrior isn't keeping it from smacking you in the face, nor does making your raiders a warrior ever make them stronger. Maybe instead, you are imbuing them with the idea that they are stronger, and they try harder? I was actually disappointed this didn't get updated text and new art in Champions of Kamigawa (we got a white version called Vigilance instead).

Either way it's flavor gets a solid 4/5. 

12/15. Not bad for a card from Legends. 

In it's native Nipponese

Friday, January 12, 2018

Wanderlust: An unusual green spell for an unusual time.

"How terrible to wander wishing only to escape oneself."
"My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to stay home for very long"
 --Buffalo Bill
Wanderlust is described as a strong longing or desire to wander, explore, or travel. It's natural such a classical term would make it into the base expansion. After all, who isn't familiar with the term 'Wanderlust'. However the card, is well, strange, even for green. 

Green bleed effect.

Naturally, wanderlust would be an enchant creature spell. In it, you are using the natural energy of the earth (or nature) to give the creature a desire to leave his duties and explore. However, why is it a bleed effect? Is that the creature rebelling? Is him ignoring his duties causing harm to come to the Planeswalker? I'm not sure. 

However it's one of the only green bleed effects in the game. Black, red and even blue would continue to get them over the years, but this one is one of only a handful. 

Now green burn wasn't unheard of, cards like Sandstorm, Cyclone, Hurricane, Winter Blast, and so forth show that the idea of green having direct damage effects wasn't beyond the color pie in those days. Even a few creatures got it, including 'Tracker' and 'Thorn Thallid'. 

As said though, this is a bleed effect, which is why it's so strange.

However, it's not a very strong one, and as such, it can be easily played around. However, like all bleed effects, it can honestly get annoying over time. 

However I do enjoy the idea of a deck combining it with this little gem: 

Not legal in 93/94 (duh)

Playability: I'll give it a 1. It's just to easy to play around, and unlike other bleed effects that target enchantments, lands, or artifacts, the guy can still smack you in the face, or chump block.

The art: Cornelius Brundi is good at making a distinct style, fitting a old 'story book' feel. However, none had that look down as much as this piece. 

I'm actually surprised I found this.
In the art we see a germanic figure looking over a valley with some irrigated farmland and a flowing stream. It's simple in detail and color, but it works. The man can be seen with a hunched back, and in it a bad, with various supplies, including pots/pans and a dagger. The hand on knee shows our adventurer has wandered a long time, and is tired. 

Not much else to be said on the art, but it's certainly memorable in it's own right. The colors are contrasted enough that it leaves a good sake of details in an otherwise simple drawing. Especially the grass around his feet. Modern video games gush over 'individual blades of grass', so I figured I would point it out. Another easily notable thing that gets missed, is the river has a bridge/dam up near the bush. 

The art gets a solid 4. Really gives the purpose of wanderlust across to the artist, and even fits the tome feel of early Magic cards.
Flavor 3/5, fits the tome feel, but the mechanics feel off. 
8/15= 2.6, not bad for a box filler, but it's a shame that this great piece of art is on a lackluster card. Well, that's base edition for you, right?
I also enjoy this version a bit more, but I'm a fan of Guay.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Magic's Early Goth Phase.

It's the early 90's, the Cure is still in public memory, Sandman is one of the best selling comics in the game, and MTV is at it's all time height in popularity. Gaming and the Goth scene had some strange overlap in the early 90's. Thanks to the game of "Vampire: The Masquerade" by White Wolf, gamers and goths had a great deal of common ground. (Not to mention it's share in fringe culture). An article by John Tynes "Death to the minotaur"  had this passage:

"In particular, the goth subculture of Seattle was strongly represented, with numerous employees dressed in black and various bits of metal glinting in their clothes or skin. The crossover between the goth scene and the role-playing geek community was strong thanks to Vampire: The Masquerade, a hugely successful game whose premise was ripped bleeding from the novels of Anne Rice. The goths of Wizards had the cheerful, morbid humor endemic to their society, along with a dramatically heightened sense of outrage to perceived slights or efforts to sell out. One employee, Rhias, wore an impressive variety of black corsets to work every day and kept a mummified dead cat nailed to the wall of her apartment."

 With this, it's easy to see the parallels between this, particularly in Seattle, which was also the home of Grunge (the Seattle Sound). 

Earlier this week, I posted an old magazine Ad, for the expansion of Fallen Empires. No sooner then a day, someone posted how this, and the Dark were showing Magic willing to take a more Gothic approach, and how important this was too teens like him, showing they were willing to release a mature product. It instantly reminded me of the above mentioned article. However, it also got me thinking about the sets. Fallen Empires didn't really have much of a Goth feel, sure Armor Thrull certainly had a classical gothic feel, with it's arched sewers. However, the Dark, certainly did, but three cards in particular stood out.

This has a great feel to it.
Now this is goth.
The set, which was both designed and directed by Jesper Myrfors, was as much an art piece as it was an expansion. Featuring numerous classical references, real world quotes, cards with powerful downsizes, mature themes, and even the frames, with cards in the original US print being darker then other printed set, and the colors white brightened and dark boldened, given the cards a very unique feel, even among it's contemporaries. It's in my hands down opinion the most aesthetically pleasing expansion in the entire game. 

However, I'm here to talk about goth's, and it's influence in early MtG, particularly the Dark. Three cards art shows this better then anything else, all drawn by the above mentioned artist, Elves of Deep Shadow, Sisters of the Flame, and The Fallen. Myrfors was known for his experimental art, and these three cards take a Photo realistic approach. 

 Elves of Deep Shadow: Here we see the original MtG hottie (Serra isn't that hot, lets be honest), the queen of Type 0 Negative, in all it's glory. I won't say too much on this, since I plan on evaluating the card at a later time. Instead, this art piece is one of my favorites, and when it was reprinted in Ravnica, fan demand was so high for this art it got a reprint as an FNM promo. (It also got a reprint on MTGO with the art). 

The model for the art was a woman named Amber, who was (as of 2008) the leader singer of a Seattle based band Varnish. According to legend, this was an accurate depiction of what she looked like in 1993, but others claim it takes some liberties. 

"They are aberrations who have turned on everything we hold sacred. Let them be cast out."--Ailheen, Speaker of the Council

Creepy smile
Almost nothing exists on this one, but it looks like it could be on a metal cover. Any 90's metal band would love this to don it's CD Jewel covers. It's art isn't as good as the other two, but it fits the bill all the same. Universal light source, a figure looking at the player, and a creepy overview of the art itself. 

In the lore a 'Fallen' was a wizard who died from mana burn, burning out it's soul, and replacing it w/ an entity of malice. It would have intellect, and even magical abilities, but no soul. In the GCU it became a zombie, allowing it to follow it's master through the swamps. 

"Magic often masters those who cannot master it."

This piece literally looks like it walked out of early 90's MTV (People have said that it reminds them of the music video Never by Heart). It's also probably his most impressive piece, with two light sources, a glow from the moon above, and a glow from the fire below. It's makes an impressive impression on the card stock. Here is an example of The Dark hue frame btw:
The contemporary, without the darkened hue.

The Dark version. Notice the lack of bright colors.

While this card is just getting an average of 2/5 (I might due a review on this). It's still an amazing piece, even if I can honestly say I've never run it in a deck.

 "We are many wicks sharing a common tallow; we feed the skies with the ashes of our prey."

So I hope you enjoyed my review on Magic: the Gathering and it's early Goth phase. If you are interested in reading the first hand account of Wizards of the Coast in it's early days, it can be found here

If you are interested in hearing what Elves of Deep Shadow sounds like:

Monday, January 8, 2018

Ramirez DePietro: The most flamboyant legend.

"Now and then, we hoped that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates"--Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Recently, the last set of the 'Ixalan' block came out, and with it, the proof I feared, Ramirez wasn't being re-released in the expansion.

A set, that could partially be called a meme set, features Aztec Merfolk, Dinosaur riding Inca's, Vampiric Conquistadors, and multi-racial pirates. It's an ok set, with inorganic art, vampires that are weaker then a Benalish Hero, and memes, I'll admit there is a few cards I honestly like in the set. Partially because I like Pirates, and always felt pirates never got their due.

Ramirez is one such Pirate, a bold, important pirate captain, who is eccentric and charming. He's also extremely metro. Don't believe me? Just look at this art.

If you can get a better image for me, I'll love you.

This is a pirate of class and distinction! He's the type of man who sits with you at the bar, and then robs the Baron, then woo's his wife and daughter, and lets you have first pick. This guy, is a legend among legends.

So you might be saying 'but Axelrod, you retard, the time of Legends was thousands of years ago, and he's not a planeswalker, why would he be in Ixalan anyway?'. I believe Ramirez was one of the original D&D characters that made it into a card. So there is literally nothing written about the guy except his flavor text.

In fact his flavor text reads: "Ramirez DePietro is a most flamboyant pirate. Be careful not to believe his tall tales, especially when you ask his age." It's obvious Ramirez (much like Jodah) found the fountain of youth. He's ageless, which could be a good excuse to why he could be on Ixalan.

Hell since they are from the same expansion, you could even make a reference to him talking about Bolas. "Yeah I saw him once, was going to kill him myself... but something came up... lucky for Bolas I tell you... what now... no I don't need to." 

Art: As I said, the best part of the card is the art itself. It's easily some of the best Foglio has ever done, and I wish he did more in this style. It hints at his trademark style, but is realistic enough w/ exaggerated features that it feels like a work of it's own. He even got the atmosphere right, with the crashing seawaves, and the ship he's recklessly standing on, basically Ramirez is posing, for the fucking Planeswalker. I give this a 5/5.

Play Ability: While Ramirez is cool, he's not cheap. A 4/3 for 6 spread across two colors. Now it should be noted, he has first strike (either due to his skill with the saber, or his ship has a cannon). 4 damage with first strike is enough to kill some of the biggest threats in the game. Juggernaut, Su-Chi, various elementals, Craw Wurm and Giant, even a blocking Serra and a Hungry Vampire. Even many of his contemporaries can't possibly survive him (including the fearful Lady Orca). However, his three toughness is problematic, given him over into Trisk/Bolt range. However, play a bad moon (or if you like a Sunken City) a turn before, and watch him shrug off the wrath of Zues like it is no ones business.

For Play ability I'm given him a 3/5. He'll turn some heads when you cast him, but unless you love him, he's not needed.

(In replacement of a photo of my signed one).

Flavor: I'm not convinced Ramirez is evil. No honestly, they made him black because he's fearless (can't be terror'd now can he?). He's blue because he's a pirate, duh.

He once formed an adventuring party with Dakkon Blackblade, Nebuchadnezzar, and Hunding Gjornersen. Uncle Istvan stayed home and watched the fort just in case.

Now I'm getting back into why he deserved a reprint. He's just stubborn. He'd be really fucking old, and his skills have served him well so far, why does he need to adabt. He tells tales of killing Craw Wurms, surviving Hellfire. It's served him well this long, he doesn't need any tricks, because he knows them all, at least in his mind. As this card, it show his first strike means he's skilled, but the three toughness shows he's reckless. Similar to a certain pit fighter with one toughness.

I'm giving his flavor also a 5.

Making this cards average 4.3, which rounds down to a 4.

Really, I do like the card.

I also really like Pirate Rambo.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Weakness: The other 1 mana black aura.

Weakness: Weakness is a weak creature enchantment that for a black mana gives -2/-1 to one creature. It's not the worse enchantment in the format (not by a wide margin), but it's not nearly as good as you'd hope.

You can thank Random Card for this.

I'll admit, I actually used this is a modern deck. A deck called 'Beta Max' which was a deck utilizing cards only printed originally in Beta edition. This along w/ Terror made the base 'spot' removal spells, and I'll tell you what, it helped give me a 100% win against the elf match.

Complete set of removal in the deck. Also had Icy.

It's actually a good way to remove dorks, Lions (really mono white in general), Goblins. It can nerf an Erg Raider a hippie, and even slow down a few creatures.

In modern, you could play this for great humor on a Goblin Guide, Infect Critters, a wild Nacatl, and a slew of other aggro creatures.

I'd actually argue it's better in Modern, then it is in 93/94, not that it's bad, but it's strictly worse then Paralyze (a card that wasn't modern legal). Everything this card can do, Paralyze can effectively do as well (maybe better). It can tap down a Djinn, given you a decent advantage in their drawbacks. This can only prevent some damage from them.

For this, I'll give this a 2/5. It's adequate, and it shows Garfields obsession w/ side by side comparisons (this being the opposite of Unholy Strength).

Art: The art shows what appears to be a feeble man who looks starved. Like most of Shulers works, it's simple, yet well detailed piece, with a solid matte background. The best part though is how well detailed it is, given the time it was made. His portrait style also works really well with the 'tome' look early MTG was going for. For this, I'll give it a 4/5.

Flavor. Tome look aside, the flavor is rather bland. It gets a creature weaker through magical means, sometimes killing those too weak to survive it's curse. Again, it's boring, but gets the point across. So 3/5

This would make it's rating 3/5 average. It' gets the point across, it fits the bill, but it's boring, and a sub-optimal pick (even when compared to Paralyze). It can kill well in the early game, but it's a card with diminished returns as the game goes one.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wild Growth: The Enchant Land that could (or couldn't)

Enchant lands are an interesting but under utilized design. With only a 106 cards in the entirety of the game (not counting Enchant Permanent), it's certainly one of the less common Enchant types (still more common then Enchant Dead Creature).

Today I wish to talk about one such card, Wild Growth. Wild Growth is a green aura spell, that basically adds a green mana whenever enchanted land is tapped. In many ways, it's a dork that can't swing, but in some sense is less susceptible to removal. However, a Strip Mine, Armaggedon, Stone Rain or Sinkhole makes you feel bad about yourself.

Look at all the birds and the bees!
Now I've always been a fan of this one myself, after all, no one is going to waste a Disenchant on this, it will die to less then Llanowar Elves, Birds, and Elves of Deep Shadow will, and it can be abused the Candelabra, Ley Druid, and other assorted old school untap effects. This card was actually once commonly played at game shops across the country. In fact, the released fan expansion 'Middle Age' made it into a cycle. Church added white, Burial Ground added Black, Lava Flow provides a red, and meandering river gives a blue. Just to show how common this card was once upon a time.

I was actually disappointed to learn this card isn't modern legal.

Now as stated, it is susceptible to land destruction, and as such, can make a land a pretty big target. However, it's sometimes worth losing an enchanted Forest, instead of losing that Library or Maze. Sure Armaggedon is in the format, but you were losing the land anyway at that point.

Yes in EC, there is four Strip Mine, so I wouldn't recommend ever running this card w/ that banlist. Land Destruction is just too common.

Art: The art simply shows a primeval forest, in full bloom, with even insects. Given the size of the picture window of a card, it's scope in it's own right is impressive, with tress slowly fading into the shade a forest like this would provide. The color effect also has a unified light source, something most early mtg cards couldn't really hope for.

 It's simple, but gets the message across, and while I'm a big fan of early Poole, I'll be the first to admit that most of his art isn't wall hanging worthy, even though they all work for the medium.

I'll give this one a 4. It leaves a good impression on the owner of the card, without being overwhelming, and while very well done, it's a tad bit boring, keeping it from being a 5.

Playability: I've run this card (and the cards it's inspired) over the years numerous times. I've run it in good effect in Enchantress, Aura.dec, and even ran Trace of Abundance in Boggless Boggles. In more modern magic, where numerous cards count the number of enchantments (and aura's) you control, it can be an often overlooked way to deal a few extra points.

The fact a turn 1 Wildgrowth will either cost you a Strip Mine (not ideal, but there are better targets), oe guarantee you 3+ mana on turn 2 (assuming you get a land drop) As said earlier this can combo w/ Ley Druid (for the three people still running him) and Candelabra, and it can generate a surprising amount of mana for a such a low investment.

As stated, it's probably to frail in the EC banlist, due to the abundance of Sink Hole. It also doesn't win the game by itself. There are countless stories of people enchanting Birds, or swinging leathal with Elves. This card will never let you do that, and if the game drags out, it can become increasingly useless.

Fringe: I once played against a Vineyard deck that utilized these on opponents lands. This of course being when mana burn was still part of the game. Just food for thought.

Still, I'll give it a 4. Even if I might be too generous. (Note: in EC, just treat it like a 2).

Flavor: Not much to say on this one. The flavor, like most Alpha cards, is simple and to the point. You swell the  land with life energy, so when you draw it, it adds an additional green whenever you tap into it for mana.

5/5 on the flavor. Tastes good.

13/15, making the average 4/5. Sure, it's not interesting, but it gets the job done, which is the point. Sure, playing with power is awesome, but it was these simple memorable cards that made early Magic the game everyone loved to play.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mana Clash: What could have been.

Mana Clash, is what I like to call a 'game' card, in the sense that it forces a small game within the game of Magic. A sadly rarely used mechanic, it can be an awesome card, or a terrible card, all based on luck.

Now did you know this card was made as a tribute to what was almost the name of the game. It's true, sometime between 91, and when the game came out in 93, the game was tested under the name 'Mana Clash'. Don't believe me?

(I was suppose to have an image of this, but unfortunately Google failed me. If this changes, I'll change this post). 

You see, Magic was too generic of a name to copyright, and a few different names got thrown around, including 'Mana Clash'. Even test print cards were made of it. Instead, 'the Gathering' was added instead.

For the sake of posterity, some playtest cards had this background.

However, I'm not here to talk about playtest cards, or what could have been. Instead, I'm here to talk about the card from the Dark, Mana Clash. It was created as a tribute of the test name.

Feel the burn!

Mana Clash is the only 1 drop red spell in the format (and the game) that can in theory end the game in one turn. It being worth under a dollar also helps for the budget burn player looking to have some fun in the process.

I'll be honest, on average I might do a total of 6 damage with this card divided randomly between both players, but my record is 19 damage (25 if you count me). I've also had games were I did 0 damage with it. However, when playing with red, it's possible you will get burned.

Art: Honestly, I never liked this art. Yes, Mr. Tedin is a great artist, but that doesn't mean I have to like all his work. In fact (in fear of getting boo'd by certain purists) I enjoy the post-8th art better.

It's at least drawn by the legendary Ron Spencer
However, the art of the Dark version functions on what it's doing, burning an unfortunate Planeswalker. So I'll give it a 3.

Playability: This card is a fairly polarizing card. You either love it, or you hate it, with little middle ground to be found. It's hard to bad mouth a one drop that can do 5 damage on turn 1, but it's risky to play a burn spell that can hurt  you more then the opponent, do literally nothing, or be less useful then a shock.

However, interactions like this are also very entertaining, and the occasional spike you might meet that gets salty over it is just the icing on the cake. Mmm sweet sweet salty icing.

So due to it's unique nature, and it's entertainment factor, I will (much like casting this spell) throw caution into the wind, and give this a generous 4 (though I'll admit, in reality it should probably be a 3).

Personally, I've mused is it worth building in 93/94. I have one in my twins 'Winter Derby' deck, and I'm waiting for feedback on how well it is doing, but in our Planechase game last night it went 0 (Infinite Mana plus Planechase is a bad idea btw).

Flavor: the Flavor of this card is a bit of a strange one, since it actually doesn't work with lands or mana. However, the idea is you're causing energy to be unstable, and there is a chance it might burn you, or not, in an unpredictable manner. It's a stretch, I know, but that is what I got for it.

I'll give the flavor of it 2.

Nine, divided by 3, equals 3. An average, yet memorable card, worthy of some consideration into burn decks. Particularly those who take a 'fun first' approach, as well as those who enjoy the possibility of generating salt.

For the sake of posterity, here is the third art, my least favorite piece.

The less we talk about 7th art, the better.

(Writers note: I'm well aware there is a large number of combo's with this card, including Krark's Thumb, and no it doesn't work with Chance Encounter anymore, though that would be awesome. I'm trying to keep this strictly to 93/94).

Monday, January 1, 2018

First Post.

Hello, and welcome to Gunnarson's Bag.  A blog dedicated to talking about Magic: the Gathering cards dating between 1993-1997 (and possibly beyond).

Now many of you might be wondering why did I make this blog? After all, I was offered to write articles for Wakwak and other sites, so why do this instead?

Well while I will probably post the concept of decks, and how well they run elsewhere, here I will post musings, idea's, and favorites of cards from my favorite era's of the game.

Now, as an example, I will post the first card that comes to mind, and the card that earned the name of the blog, Axelrod Gunnarson.

Don't worry if you don't remember him, most people don't.

However, he's this bad ass right here.

Yes, I know a 5/5 for eight (across two colors) isn't all that impressive, but between the depressing art, the scope and scale of the subject, the bad ass name (I actually imaged some fantasy tier biker when I first read the name in a magazine), and the fairly unique ability, he's always left a chord with me, even if I admit he's not very good.

Now I would have gone w/ his Cousin (and my profile pic) Dakkon Blackblade, but I figured using him would be a bit more unique instead.

I'll be honest, I'm a budget player, and as long as I've played Magic (too long), I have been. It's probably not going to change. Well when you are a budget player, you learn how to play with your handicaps, and I might even argue, might be able to evaluate cards better. Not to be an elitist mind you, but there is some truth to 'baptism by fire'. 

The card breakdown would go like this

Art: How well the aesthetics of the card work. This will focus on the art on the card, and in some cases, the border as well.
1: Doesn't make sense, atrocious, or simply childish art. Not a good piece at all.
2: Unusual choice, but not the worse. Could be better.
3: Although the piece as an art piece has its flaws, it works for the card, and thus gets a passing average.
4: An exceptional piece, leaves a vivid mark on the user. Sometimes may even take advantage of the medium.
5: Truly the best WotC had to offer in the 90's. Easily one of the best pieces in the game. Still recognizable even today among people who weren't alive when the card was fresh.

In the case of our namesake, I'd give him a solid 4. Axelrod being hunched over in the corner of the actual piece is an exceptionally good touch on the art piece. The dark colors and neutral tones also help with this, almost giving the art a 'story book' look to it. Particularly his surroundings which has a great 'less is more, but not too less to it' Finally, there is Axel himself, who is crying while spreading ashes from what I think is a bag (I could be wrong). Obviously the remains of someone he cares about. Then just how big he is, a Giant among giants, those things under him our trees, just to give the scope of his size. (Plus, there's a shot there for the ladies).

Play ability: How playable is the card.

1. Terrible, unnecessary pointless, or over costed and under utilized. Leave to the dust bin of your common box.
2. Just bad. While not utterly terrible, it's effect is either so niche, so pointless, or so difficult, it's just not worth the issue.
3. Your typical utility card. Boring, but gets the job done. Grizzly Bear is probably the greatest example of a 3 playability.
4. Good cards. Most decks are composed of these and 5's. Always good to draw, no matter what point of the game. Even better to draw when needed.
5. The best of the best. Except not much of these due to the nature of the blog.

In this case, Axelrod as said earlier, isn't the most playable guy in the game (or even in Legends). He's a 5/5 for 8 CMC over two colors. I mean he's tied with Lady Orca for the least playable Black/Red legend in Legends (Devilboon at least makes tokens). However, in his defense, he's black, which helps a bit against Terror, as well as being pumped by an opponent's Bad Moon, and that is always worth a point. His ability is also unique, but limited. You'll be lucky to gain a Syphon Soul off of it in 93/94, though I've used the effect to solid use in EDH and other such formats. It should be noted, he's also currently a giant, even though that doesn't help us here.

I'd give him sadly a 2. While I like him, and his ability, it's just too much set up to get use out of.

Flavor: This is how well the car works w/ what it's suppose to do. How well does it 'feel' if you will. Does the card just raise questions, are is it so good, you'll come back for more.

1. The card fails at functioning as intended with the medium.
2. Questionable effects, odd ball rulings, mismatched colors.
3. Boring, but makes sense with how it works. Shows well in cardboard form.
4. What most cards can strive for. Solid, memorable card. particularly cards with drawbacks, and niche spells.
5. A masterpiece in design and function. These cards is what made Magic well magical.

I don't understand why he syphons souls (maybe it has to do with the powder/ash?). I don't understand why something so massive in the art is a 5/5 (only a bit stronger then a 'Beast' under modern guidelines, but is as strong as a Shivan Dragon or a Horde of Demons in the old ones). I do get Trample, but even that is questionable. To further up issues, literally nothing on this Legends legend has ever been written. Nothing on a piece of flavor text, not a short story, not even a comic. He's literally just on this card. For this, I'm given him a 2, but alas, I still love him.

Finally Overall: How well the card works as a unit. By taking the other three scores and getting the average.

In the case of Axelrod. He gets a 2.6, putting him on the subpar, but allowing him to exist not to bad. After all, he got a blogged named after him

Any requests, advice, insight? Please PM on facebook, or send me an email. I will say, this is my first blog ever, and it's a work in progress, so please be kind.

Happy 2018.

Axelrod Gunnarson