Friday, November 30, 2018

Sunglasses of Urza: More then just cool face wear?

"For the eye altering alters all"
--William Blake, The Mental Traveller, line 62.

 Sunglasses of Urza is one of the strangest cards in limited edition beta. It's effect, for all points and purpose, is unique entirely to itself (an amazing accomplishment in 2018), and while limited, it's effect is powerful. It has had a strange history of errata, a story spotlight, and has remained something of an oddball.

Earlier today, Xanadude Boston posted this in his daily 'card of the day' post, which not only reminded me of this little gem, but also created a small discussion about it. I won't lie, I've certainly played this card before. I once had it in a pink deck with conversion and Blood Moon in the main. My older brother has run this in numerous decks as well, when the colors are appropriate naturally, and once, I mind bent and opponents, so it said 'You may spend white mana as though it was white mana'. 

This (and Urza's Glasses) are the only eye wear available to the sight impaired planeswalker. Sure their are plenty of lenses, Scopes, and assorted scrying devices, but if you want a cool summer accessory, the glasses are your only place to go.

"Groovy Shades man"--Urza

Art: The art in itself, is exactly what it needs to be, a pair of John Lennon's, sitting on what could be a table or counter. The lenses seem to be made of a gem, which doesn't seem like they would function well for seeing with the naked eye. Say what you want about Dan Frazier but most of the time, he draws amazing artifacts, and this one is no exception. The red from the lenses make for a good mental image, but the most impressive part is the small detail of the lenses casting a red shadow behind them, with an off screen light source shining down on them. The shadow also follows the frame of the glasses in an equal manner. It's honestly, a simple touch, but a good one. If the only thing wrong with the piece, it's boring.

Art: 4/5

Flavor: When Xenadude posted this, he said he was glad they weren't an Un-card. He also said this could work as a cycle. I agree, but only with white. White, as an actual color, is light without hue (or color without hue), thus making it the base form of color. If I may argue, the reason this turns white mana into red, is the red lenses, since the lenses add hue to white. If I had to argue flavor, trying to use glasses to turn green mana into red mana, it would make yellow mana, and so forth. Instead, it only works for white mana, since white lacks a hue. It would seem Urza is also the only one who's perfected this, since he's the only one who has this invented. 

I do wish WotC hadn't forgotten this. It would have been cool to see Urza walking around with a pair of Victorian-esque John Lennon's while plotting against the Phyrexians. However, that might be to rule of cool for late 90's WotC (though Planeswalkers piloting Giant Mech's prove that I might be wrong).

Flavor 5/5 (with my theory)

Playability: While cool, both in terms of what it does, and how unique it is, it's usefulness is rather, subpar.

Sure, I think everyone has combo'd this with conversion at least once, killing your opponents mountains, while maintaining yours.  I can't imagine someone didn't try this in a mono-white deck just to use lightning bolts, fireballs, and ball lightning. However it's still limited to one deck type, and does nothing on it's own. However, I also doubt anyone is going to disenchant it. I'd say its limited in scope gives it a 2/5. However, in Pink (or even mono white) it could be bumped to a three.

(Fact: At  one time, this card red W: Add R to your mana pool).

Total: 11/15. Like many cards out of limited, this card has the idea right, but the execution wrong, which is part of the charm. If we wanted well polished cards, we'd be playing Dominaria right now. I do recommend everyone to experiment with this one, if for nothing else, than to run it w/ Sleigh of Mind in u/r burn. Plus, bonus points if you show up w/ red tinted glasses.

Until next time!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Urza's Avenger: The cost of versatility.

"The difficulty in life is the choice"
--George Moore, Bending of the Bough, Act IV.

Which will you choose?

Versatility is one of the most underappreciated, and often overlooked attributes in MtG. While common wisdom will tell you that being able to do one thing good and consistently will always be better than being able to do two good things situational. However, when the times strikes for one of those things to be solid, it really works out better. 

This is where I'm coming to with this. Urza's Avenger is a versatile, hard hitting machine, with a modest base 4/4 for 6. Sure, it's not as good as a number of other cards in the format, with that range, but versatility.

Art: Honestly, the art on this is easily it's best part. With magic still trying to have it's 'tome look', and with Amy Weber's literal blue print picture, it works amazing, like something out of the workshop of Da Vinci. The indecipherable writing and the banner on the side also make for the illusion, not to mention the various markers and sphere. Personally the art gets a 5/5.

Look at that detail

I found this cool comparison on (Source below)

Mechanics: The nitty gritty of why I wrote this article. Urza's Avenger comes from the old school thought that versatility should equal cost. A 4/4 for 6, even in 1994 was subpar (if not terrible), however few creatures have the possibility of so many abilities on them. With three being outright good mechanics, and banding being the O.K. mechanic. I've longely wondered about using it w/ equipment's and enchantments. A mere Giant Strength can turn this from a curiosity into a powerhouse, being able to be a 4/4 with first strike and trample, or banding and trample, or simply a 5/5 flyer (which is pretty nice).

Another interesting take is to utilize it in a Banding centric build as the champion creature, even if it's to just give him trample.

All and all, it's best to let dreams lie. It's playability is sadly 2.5/5. Even as an artifact, on it's own, their is a better cards to pick. Still, you should experiment with it, like I'm going to, and maybe I'll bump this a point. Stay tuned.

Flavor: While the idea of it being versatile at the cost of power is perfect, it's the meta-design of it I like. Mainly on how it compares to it's brother's counterpart, Shapeshifter. Both are creatures designed by each brother with versatility in mind, but they do it different. I will write an entire article about this, don't want to waste anything now.

It's flavor is a solid 4/5.

11.5/15. While the art and flavor of the card are certainly memorable, the card itself leaves much to be desired. Perfect for the occasional kitchen game, but not so perfect in a more competitive setting. I however, still love it.

If you have any stories to share about this bad boy, please do.

As Promised


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The 5th Sin: The Jacetice League

Sadly the image in the middle of this card is lost to time, so I need to stick with this.

As you might remember, in my previous article, (sorry for the delay btw, life happens), I had an amazing quote by none other than Jesper Myrfors who talked about IP's, and it versus art. I won't re-post the quote here, instead it made a point about Magic, and the story around it.

In the beginning, there was literally no story, none at all, involving MtG. Names were given vague definitions, idea's were simply thrown around, combined with vague flavor texts, it was literally a large part up to the player to fill in the Holes. What is Serra? Is Samite Healers doctors without borders? Does Urza have two heads, or two sets of eyes, or is he simply wise enough to change his glasses as needed? What's the rest of Benalish society like? In fact, it's first Expansion 'Arabian Nights' didn't have a story attached to it at all, instead borrowing from familiar sources, Garfield's wedding party, and 1001 Arabian Nights. Legends almost went the same route, with real world legends being the cards you'd summon (that was scrapped relatively early though). In fact, the first expansions with a story was Antiquities, The Dark, and Fallen Empires, each having a 'archeological' feel to them, with elaborate flavor text in the past tense, as if you were reading and seeing a piece of time.

By the mid-90's this had largely changed. It was decided that money was in, well, Intellectual Properties, and while the Magic Comics were varied in both quality and interest, the story behind them were scrapped for the Weatherlight crew.

The Weatherlight Crew is largely a deconstruction of established archetype's (Gerrard being an anti-hero, the goblin is actually smart) or cliche's (Minotaur is an asshole brute, cat girl is cat girl, boastful wizard, ect), however, they are memorable in their own right, and should be credited where credit is due.

According to sources, Mark Rosewater, and Michael Ryan, wrote the initial concept for the crew, as well as helped flesh out their personalities and backstories. Then 'something' happened, what exactly that was is a mystery, and remains so, since he has largely been tight lipped about it.

However some changes from the main story that have been leaked over the years include:

  • The rathi Portal was suppose to time travel, with an Ancient Ertai sitting there, instead of getting the badass Phyrexian Opportunist Ertai.

  • Mirri was going to eventually win over Gerrard, and they'd have a half breed child (rumor), Mirri wasn't suppose to die.

  • Crovax was going to get a redemption arch (as depicted in Planar Chaos), instead of becoming one of the biggest badass's in the Weatherlight Saga, and pre-teen's self favorite token sweeper.
  • Phyrexia and Urza had nothing to do w/ Gerrard and the over-arching story of the Weatherlight. Infact, Gerrard was the 'Korvecdal', the uniter of the three human tribes on Rath against Volrath.
  • Volrath would turn into Tahngarth, leaving him tortured in Rath
  • Gerrard's often forgotten Hourglass Pendant played a more important role in his story.

There is an unconfirmed rumor that's sat in the back of the Internet for well over a decade now that The Weatherlight is a ripoff of 'Pirates of the Dark Sea', a old TRS cartoon. 

I also found this interesting piece of trivia: 
"The first times the name Weatherlight appeared in flavor text in Mirage, it was translated as "Brise légère" (Light breeze). When the ship became the main focus of the story in the Weatherlight expansion, the translators found this name was too joyful for the dark mood of the plotline and chose to rename it "Aquilon" (Boreal wind). They justified the change by adding a special flavor text to the french version of Jabari's Banner in which Gerrard explain he made the change when he became captain."

Ironically according to nautical superstition, changing the name of a ship is bad luck, which might explain alot.

However, after several years, this story finally raps up, with an apocalyptic war between two (and a half) planes, Urza vs Yawgmoth, and in my humble opinion, as far as stories go, it was awesome. Then Planeswalkers in stories took a back seat.

You had a setting of post-apocalyptic Barbarians, sci-fi metal plane, tribal race wars, fantasy Courasant, and not-Japan. These were better or worse, depending on opinions. Then came Time Spiral. In a goal to win back older players, it was the 'nostalgia' expansion, and Planeswalkers came back. The mechanic concept was simple, make a lot of throw backs to fan favorite old cards from yesteryear, include legends of loved characters who didn't get love in their own time (I was delighted to finally get a Kaervek and Tivadar card). However, they made the Planeswalkers, each and everyone of them, over powered Mary Sue's, each as powerful as Urza Planeswalker (who in the old lore was suppose to be the most powerful Planeswalker), as well as bring back Nicol Bolas. Then they had the 'Mending' an act that would  change the nature of the 'spark' bringing them back to the powerlevel they had as of the Invasion block.

This was done to introduce what commonly was called the Brady Bunch, named for the creator of them, Brady Dummermuth. Planescrawlers were another common name thrown. They were extremely unpopular, first for their uninteresting and stereotypical designs, but also because this introduced with it, a new card type, Planeswalker cards.

The 'Lorwyn 5'.

For the first time, since the games creation, Planeswalkers were represented clearly in cardboard, sure their was that cycle of Enchantments, and Dakkon Blackblade, but these were, more like mini-players then enchantments and creatures, and for a few years, even a 'bad' planeswalker could win you the game over sheer attrition.

With little being printed to deal with them directly (the two common ones being O-Ring and Hexmage), the only way was to swing, or burn directly at them, or if you were in blue, counter them, they disrupted the frail balance of the game between control, aggro, and combo, shattering the base entirely. It's hard to overstate how powerful these cards are, especially if you never played with them before. Basically, imagine them as enchantments that can take combat damage for you, guarantee you small free spells each turn, and generate card advantage each turn simply by existing.

This spicy boi destroyed an entire format.

However, they also removed the player, the 'planeswalker' from the equation entirely, granted not right away, that came later.

The Jacetice League didn't even exist under Brady, instead they were scheming and conflicting characters, each with flaws, ambition, and  goals unique to themselves. However, after a certain incident, Dummermouth was fired, and umm.... I'll just post the image.

"Rid me of this curse, witch, or die with me."
—Garruk Wildspeaker

You see, Garruk had a back story, where he encountered the black planeswalker Liliana (she originally wasn't associated as a necromancer, but a generic power at any cost black planeswalker). She on her own mission to get out of a contract with numerous demons for eternal youth, found a powerful artifact called 'the chain veil', and in their encounter, curses Garruk, so he relentlessly hunts her through the plane, assuming that if he kills her, the curse will be lifted.

This even had a companion piece:

"I've seen corpses prettier than you, beastmage."
—Liliana Vess
However, at this time (2012) there was a strange influx of new players, as a series of video games and focused marketing managed to make ground among a new generation of gamers who might have overlooked it. The above image of Garruk choking Liliana 'triggered' certain games, and they complained.

"Regarding Triumph of Ferocity: Wizards and I apologize for the upsetting situation related to card imagery. In light of the community conversation it can clearly be viewed in a way that is in direct opposition the brand image we strive to maintain. This was absolutely not our intent, but intentions don’t override the real emotional reactions our fans have. While the bigger story provides context, individual cards are seen in isolation. That is the standard each card needs to live up to. In hindsight this story point could have been depicted in a less real-world related and emotionally charged way. We will take this as a learning opportunity and strive to do better in the future."--Elaine Chase, Brand Director for Magic: the Gathering.

This controversy would sadly get Dummermuths 'position terminated', as well as a major retcon of the characters and backstories known as 'Magic Origins'. Although all the characters had major retcon's, the most sited and controversial is none other than Nissa. 

Originally, Nissa was an elf-supremist, who had a 'my shit don't stink attitude', who simply allied with a vampire because the alternative was death. In the Zendikar book, she largely berates him, and flaunts how much better she is, which brings another point, about Nahiri, and stolen IP, but I'll leave that for another time. 

Now Nissa is a generic elf druid, who hugs trees and loves life.