Monday, December 30, 2019

The Last P.I. (pt 1)

(Please note, this short story has nothing to do with the usual content of my blog, nor anything to do with Magic: the Gathering. Please enjoy).

"It's the strangest case I've ever seen". Those were the words I heard on my phone at about 3 pm and a dreary Friday Afternoon. His voice, as with many who seek me out, was desperate, and it could be heard even across the landline.

The case, at first, wouldn't turn any heads, three gang bangers dead. However, it was how they were killed that was the cause of concern. The first one, two shots in the chest, apparently from his homie. The homie, in question, was found a few feet away, a snapped neck and a broken arm was what got him for his troubles.

The third one, a Tyrone McGee, had made an attempt to run for it, and got a hundred yards away, according to ballistics, frantically firing behind him, before apparently being cornered, and attempting a fight. It also ended with him being killed, but much less merciful, as his jaw and eye sockets had been shattered, and his chest cavity is apparently collapsed. A knife was also found near the body, but it apparently hadn't even his a mark, as no blood was found on the blade. Forensics had yet to comeback, however.

To all this, my contact said, was one witness, a migrant, who was failed to be picked by the local police. She refused to cooperate with the investigation, and has since disappeared, but was recorded describing the attacker as 'El Diablo'.

"We must have this 'devil' be discovered or disappeared. My bosses are starting to breath down my neck, and it's getting hard to have the local media to remain silent about it, this is the third incident like this, this month, and..."

He goes on like this for sometime. I reassure him, that I'm the best, and the case will be solved soon, and the rate will be worth him not losing his job.

Well, if you are listening to this, you must be wondering, well who am I? After all, something terrible has befell me if this recording is out, well I'm no G-Man or Spook. In fact, some who would fit that description are my toughest cases.

I'm, for the lack of a better word, a private investigator, but I do so much more. When a man receives a vision from God, I make sure it stays a vision. When some heiress is kidnapped, I'm the person that finds who did it, and if needed, make sure she doesn't end up in Africa. When some retired Majestic decides to take something into his own hands, I'm the one that convinces him to retire for good. Every time a child disappears without a trace, there is a pretty good chance someone in my field had something to do with it.

I'm the best, in my opinion, at what I do, and I have the record, and price tag, to prove it. Which is what's so alarming about this. There is a dozens of cheaper options, not to mention agents and detectives, that would do this case considerable cheaper, and just as efficiently, however, not as discreetly.

So why am I recording this, on tape, of all things? Well, something about this doesn't sit right, and I figure this would be a good insurance policy for myself. If this case is a set up, I'll use this with other evidence to bring down those who hired me.

Studying over the dossier that was faxed, I've concluded the suspect isn't ex-military, since his assumed lack of firearm training, nor is he a vigilante, since he left no calling card, as vigilantes tend to do. The other two cases, were just as random, an outlaw biker, and a pedophile, both brought down in surprisingly gruesome ways, which I won't repeat, both apparently by battery, and no evidence of fire fight. Nor any evidence of connection between the various men.

I've set up a rendezvous point between me and a local detective on the case through our mutual third party, early in the morning, and until then, I rest. After that, I shall search for the missing Jane Doe and check out the background of McGee. First day, goodnight.

-End recording-

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Narwhals: Inventors of the Shish kabab

"Narwhals, Narwhals.
Swimming in the ocean.
Causing a commotion. 
Because they are so awesome"
--Weebl, Narwhals.

Probably one of the most memorable Internet songs of the previous decade, Narwhals have come back into public consciousness thanks to a recent tragedy. Due to my blog being apolitical, and being about Magic, I won't talk about it.
Enjoy this photo instead.

So how well does Narwhal fair on it's own? Well let's find out!

Playability: Narwhal is a 2/2 first strike and pro:red for 4. Since its blue, it automatically gets a point.
While First Strike is good, blue is not famous as a combat color. However, Protection from red is an amazing mechanic, and that immunity to removal. Protection on a blue creature has so much better utility then other colors, thanks to sleight. Plus Chaoslace is nice as well, which could be brewed around with sea sprite.

Utilize with Pyroclasm.
Plus a 2/2 first strike can beat a grizzly bears in a fight. 

Playability: 3/5

Art: David Cherry art is effective, showing multiple Narwhals trying to move forward, being the Jedi of the sea. The colors really fit the blue card, with the sea green water, and the salty looking sky.

The Narwhals can be more distinct looking, but it works.  Art 3/5.

Narwhals having First Strike makes a lot of sense. However I don't understand why they have Protection from Red. Nor do I understand why such a massive animal is merely a 2/2. However,  I suppose a 3/3 for 4 with two good abilities would have redeemed Homelands to much for the EDT liking.

Flavor 2/5.

In conclusion,  2.8/5. A forgettable mediocre rare that is made famous time and time again thanks to things outside of Magic. I wouldn't want it to be any other way. 

Remember, just don't let them touch your balls.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Take me away on the winds of change.

"Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams (share their dreams)
With you and me
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night (the glory night)
Where the children of tomorrow dream away (dream away)
In the wind of change (the wind of change)."--The Scorpions, Winds of Change
Winds of Change is an interesting, and arguable bad card. While it provides no card advantage. it is one of the only red draw cards in the format, and while it's not as popular, or as numerous, as it's older brother Wheel of Fortune, it has found it's niche time and time again, whether abusing dredge, or going for the kill with Underworld Dreams, it's usefulness time and time again has been shown. So how bad is Winds? Well, it's not the power card that Wheel of Fortune is, but I wouldn't call it bad, it's certainly a trickster card at least.
Playability: Coming in a mere R, WoC shuffles in your hand, and draws a new one. However, it doesn't just do it to you! It does it to your opponent as well. This makes playing a first turn Winds one of the most strategically sound plays in the game. I've more then once heard the grunts and moans of a player who mulliganed down to n6, just to be given a hand they are disappointed in, and more importantly, they are stuck with.
The card also can work, as mentioned, in dreams. particularly well after a well played Wheel or Timetwister, just be careful in the mirror match.
I'll give it a playability of 4, because of it's niche.
Art: Is that a cliffedge, a mountain, or the ocean? Depth is not this art pieces friend. While it's certainly memorable, particularly between the sky, the broad use of contrasting color, and the warrior himself, and leaves a strong imprint on the imagination, it isn't without it's flaws. The leaves are a nice touch though.
I always liked the 5th art better anyway
Art: 3/5.
Flavor: I guess the winds of change can be chaotic, which is why it's red, though the name feels blue.
I guess the idea works on the card itself. In reality, I never got the flavor of this card, and while I've been a long time fan of it, for numerous reasons, I've never really reflected on why it exists. The possibility of the unknown that comes with change?
Either way, it's flavor is just going to be a 3/5.
In conclusion: A niche rare, but a good one none the less. While it's not the BEST card in magic, it certainly fills it's roll, and I'm glad it exists.
3/5. A fine addition to OS Magic.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Surfing Omegle

When I was asked to replace a person who dropped in the "Duel Commander: event for November, I had decided, after a heated argument, to build Abu Ja'Far. However, a talk about politics isn't alone, the other reason was for none other then I've had an itch to try my hands at White Weenie.

Why? I'm not sure, but it's something I hadn't built in a rather long time, and I always use to like white as a color.  Perhaps the idea of knights and soldiers, storming together and overcoming foes is my reason for this, or perhaps, I'm just bad at Magic, who knows.

Had I realized the starting life total was 30 instead of 20, I might have gone with something more midrange!

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Probably the biggest cost of this, was the lack of artifact creatures. While that will make sense in a second, it was rather a dumb piece of oversight, as the Abyss is very real.
Also, unfortunate, is I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried, find an Order of the White Shield at the last minute (basically I didn't own one). However I did want to utilize as many mana dumps and pump effects as possible, since the late game is often not a lot to do, and lots of mana available, which is why I included Icatian Priest and Kjeldoran Knight.
If only I kept the Trade Caravan, maybe...
Serra Angel and Aysen Crusaders turned out to be big MVP's, with honorable mentions going to Kjeldoran Knight, Icatian Lieutenant, Shield Bearer, and Abu himself.
Pump Effects
What would white be without them? I included every pump effect available in the format besides Angelic Voices (again, don't own one). This included Serra Aviary, which in retrospect, I question, but worked well with the idea of utilizing it as removal, and I once killed the Abyss with it.

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Ashnods Transmiggathingy got put into the deck as a anti-terror/abyss tech, as well as a deterent in combat. While Moral and Army of Allah allowed them to utilize more constructive tactics.
Formation and Heal were both included in the deck for it's cantrip abilities (but lightning blow was in another deck).
Death Ward helped me in a pinch more than once, including against a disc at one point.
Finally Blessings was met with much fanfare, but did little, and most games I played it, I felt I put it on the wrong target.

Rather light, which is the biggest issue with the deck. I probably should have included disc, and maybe even Time Bomb into the mix.
In reality consistency is key, and against control, it became a race to see if I could do enough damage before a Moat or Abyss dropped. Against weenie or midrange, it became an issue of having to fight off bigger creatures. Which is where the issue ultimately stemmed from, and why the deck got it's name.
A bunch of small white creatures coming in strong, just to lie flaccid after a good start.
0-6. W/L.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Jacques Le Vert: Hero of Pendlehaven

Abandoning his sword to return to the lush forest of Pendelhaven, Jacques le Vert devoted his life to protecting the creatures of his homeland.

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Jacques le Vert, or Jack the Green for us anglos, is probably one of the considerably more playable Legends legends, with his home arguable being the best of the Legendary lands. I recently acquired one, and started building an EDH deck around him. With a cut off of Alliances, it was full of removal and beaters! Like any good OS deck should be.

Playability: While a castle effect, even a permanent one, isn't the most amazing ability in the game, it does share some unique qualities, and the fact he pumps himself, effectively makes him a 3/4 for 4, not bad given the time period. The most notable thing, when compared to other castle effects, is he pumps only your creatures, a unique aspect in OS, and the fact he pumps himself, is a notable good aspect. Now a 3/4 for 4 isn't going to turn heads by it's own, but it does put a few classic green creatures out of Bolt range, and as stated above, a toughness boost is always a criminally underrated effect. In 95, you can also utilize him to good effect with Pyroclasm, and he works well with Earthquake as well, assuming the X is a relatively low number. Playability 3/5. 

Art: It's a shame Andi Rusu only did art for a few sets, because he's one of the better classic artists of the game, with a thick story book look. I already gushed over him in the Sir Shandlar article. Jacques stands there on what I must assume, is the English channel (or the Dominaria Equivalent), looking good for his inevitable portrait. The washed out colors, the facial features, the minimal but distinct background features. The art looks like an old worldly attempt to capture the color and cold of the coast on a foggy morning. 

Lets not forget Jacques himself, standing there with his Sword of the Meek, his tunic and armor show he's, at the end of the day, a warrior. The art is easily the best piece part of the card. It gets a 5/5 from me. 

Art 5/5.

Flavor: While both him, and his home, pump creatures, they do it differently. Sadly, most cards that reference him, actually reference his home, Pendlehaven, a tournament staple even to this day. I do like the idea that Jacques Le Vert's mere presence increases your green creatures resolve simply by his presence. I also like the idea of him pumping himself, but if he loses his green (say to a lace), his heart goes with it, and his resolve shrinks as a result. It's like an alignment shift, and it's something I wish came around more in MtG, but alas...

Oddly enough, he's not the only Green Legend that has an effect like this. Kaysa and Meng Huo have a similar +1/+1 effect that effects themselves as well. Just food for thought. 

Flavor 4/5. 

So according to my ultimate rating system, he'd be a 12/15, making him a 4/5. In other words, a good card. Not bad, for a Legends legend, and certainly not the worst Legends legend by any grade. Sure, there are more efficient beaters at 4 mana, there are better lords as well. However, for someone looking to spice up a deck, he's a solid inclusion, and as a gold card, you get style points!

I will end with this quote:

" one sordid case, Kaysa—wherein so much life was bid that we had to question the appropriateness of the player's relationship with the card. We found him two weeks later in a hotel room with a jar of peanut butter and a play set of Jacques le Vert."--Geordie Tate, A Magic Journey (source).

Monday, October 7, 2019

Cruising on the Fallen Empires!

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"Don't let the Swedes see this"
--William John Thomas II, the Conqueror, on the Duelist article, "The Power of Fallen Empires".

 "Absolute Madman"--Alvin Mason

"No-No! I'm not interested in score ;)"--The Friend of the East.

"Bad"--Mr. Oaks

These are just minor few rants or raves of what I managed to get off of the most insane deck I think I've ever built, and the second largest I've ever built. 

Unfortunately, earlier this week, a friend of mines father died, which prompted me to go south and help him move some stuff. While there, I stopped in at one of my flgs, and after buying several cards, including a Jacques le Vert, when the operator decided to invite me to a OS event, happening up the road, a two hour drive south for me, and after a day of weighing pro's and con's, my friend said he decided he'd like to go, and I decided to check it out. 

So why this 'deck'. Well the format used a points based value system for cards, straight out of Duelists #8, as well as a 8 maximum of any card, as long as the point value wasn't above 20. While mulling over what to build, a sarcastically posted 'This post gets two dozen likes, I'll run a deck of playset of every card from Fallen Empires". It didn't (the group didn't have two dozen people on it) get that many likes, but I was openly encouraged by a few, and outside a few rares I didn't have a full set of (Draconic Sylex(2), Sand Silo's (3), Dwarven Hold (1) Orgg(2), Ebon Praetor(2), Elven Lyre (3), and Icatian Lieutenant (3)). I also decided to run a handful of non-Fallen Empire cards, for the sake of consistency, Jacques le Vert, because I just bought him, and he was in a penny sleeve already, along with Arcades Sabbath for the same reason. A wheel of Fortune and Mind Twist because I enjoy those card. Playset of Righteousness, because it's my favorite combat trick, a play set of Untamed Wilds for fixing. Finally, a playset of Sleight of Mind and Magical Hack, because of all the color hate cards among Fallen Empires. I reached 20 points, added basics (20 of each basic), counting the lands of Fallen Empires, makes 40 additional lands. 

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"Ever build a really stupid deck?"

 So the day comes, I wake up late, fly down 31 cutting through Indianapolis, and reaching the bar early, only to find everyone else is running late. So I buy a wrap, a drink, and start shuffling. My friend built a B/R Land Destruction deck. It had a set of Sinkhole, eight stone rain, a set of Hymn to Tourach, and other good cards.

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Me on the far right showing off my set of Rainbow Vale, with my friend on the left in the checkers.

Game 1 (vs Land Destruction)

 Sometimes helping people work to well. My friend did very well, winning most of the pick up games. I did the best against him, running a small weenie aggro attack against him. However, I couldn't get anything further, and eventually, he would drop a Demonic Horde, or a Hippie. Then it would become an issue. I quietly lost against him, shook his hand, and went to game two. 

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Sitting across for the first round against my friend. my reflection in the window is proof.

Game 2 (Vs Fish)

I went against a Fish deck. It was a quick, poor game, of getting beat down in an extremely quick manner. I moved on, ordering something to eat. 

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500+ cards, all love!

Game 3 (Vs Black/Blue control)

Ever get beat down by Nightmare? I lost to six of them. I did manage to play Icatian Town in this game, and I did start an aggro move.  However, Pestilence did that in. I did do better in this, then the other two games as well.

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It was a slow game, and I had hoped my hunter would hold the Nightmare at bay, until the Assasin came out.


Game 4 (Blue/Green singleton/jank). 

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the jank I lost against

This gentleman ran a deck of synergy and beatings. Including Tim and Ship for burn. I don't remember much from this match, other then I lost it. I do remember game one, I ultimately lost to a Thelonite Druid, animating enough Forests to overrun my meager defenses. One of the best decks I ran in the event. At one point, I had multiple Homarids against him.

Game 5 (Mirror Lich/beatdown)

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Lost to this gentleman and his impressive three color lich build. The other deck is pictured.

I actually played a different deck against this initially. However, I insisted to run one game with FE against this gentleman from the south. I lost to both a Lich/Mirror combo, as well as a Force of Nature, which he was running for reasons. 

Game 6 (Vs Alt. 4th).

The host, insisted on playing against the build. He ran a similar deck, a Black/White deck made from Alt. 4th cards he managed to get together. These games were some of the longest, and thus most entertaining, and the only game I managed to get out a Hand of Justice/Icatian Town combo. The games were long, were hard, but in the end, the lack of removal did me in. 

The Road game is the only game I won, a 5 man game of Planechase. One player had run a full power, EC w/u/b control version of the deck, and had locked most of the game with Moat/The Abyss. Next to him was the Alt. 4th deck, who struggled along, me, a flare/big red/burn build utilizing Power Surge, then Fish. 

After a concordant effort, the three players managed to kill the Control build, but Alt 4th left prematurely. The burn player killed fish, only for me to play a Icatian Priest, and swing for thirty two damage with Order of Lietbur. It was awesome.

All and all, it was a good time, had by all, and an amazing Luncheon. It reminded me why I loved Fallen Empires so much as a kid, and why I would want to go back to using the cards regularly when playing OS.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Castle: The closest thing we got to Camelot.

"Hang out our banners on the outward walls; / The cry is still, ‘They come'; our castle's strength / Will laugh a siege to scorn."
—William Shakespeare, Macbeth
We  are finally getting an Arthurian expansion, after 25 years. Which is why I was inspired to write this, and this will be my only mention of this set.
A strong defense is a great offense, or so they say. Fortifications existed from the earliest farming communities, to the age of flight, when it was finally decided to be a technological obsolete tactic. Among all of these, nothing captures the romance of a bygone era like the castle. You can't think of any fantasy setting, especially classically written ones, without some giant castle, usually with a moat, parapets, and so forth. It would make sense, for the base set, to include one, as it's a common generic fantasy trope, and it even almost got reprinted in modern times, but someone asked why a castle would be an enchantment (instead we got the same card called Builders Blessing).

I'm not going to lie, I wasn't allowed to play for Ante when I lost my Castle in a game of Ante to my older brother. When I learned Crusade was a card, I was less interested in Castle, but I've continued to run it over the years, and one day, I'll try it in OS.
"Just carry the wall with you"-Me, to Serra Angel (probably).
Playability:  As seen above, the current incarnation is stronger then the original, considerable. Given attacking creatures also get the bonus. This was just one of many functional changed that happened on cards in "Classic" 6th edition. This does hurt a few points it will receive below, however. 

Given in OS proper, there are 6 cards with Vigilance, with 5 of them being creatures, only two can be run in mono white (Serra Angel and Yotian Soldier). If we go 95, we get the Sleigh, Ghost Hounds, and Serra Paladin (which gives another creature vigilance). The two most playable of these, are already mentioned, with Bartel being a fourth (but off color). 

So it being abused with Vigilance isn't that likely. However, it does help a defending bands, giving much needed toughness to the creatures in question. It also helps nullify burn, forcing some of it's most potent removal to go to the face or become card disadvantage.

I think, playability, it's a solid 4/5. Plus, anyone who's used even one with a Serra can realize how good two extra toughness can be. 

Flavor: As stated earlier, it doesn't make sense for attacking creatures to be protected by the Castle. It makes perfect sense when defending creatures are, and while I don't understand why exactly multiple castles work together, I just attributed it to layers of the wall. I'm also not sure why it's an enchantment, besides functional reasons, but that's a common theme among early magic cards/

As promised, the flavor is 3/5. 

My brother spent years announcing the errata on this card.

Artwork: Castle is a cute, simple drawing, like many of the early art pieces. It has a number of small, interesting details that give it life, though, such as the stonework of the castle itself, with none of it being perfect. The Castle also has depth, with black windows showing the interior exists, but unable to be seen, as if looking from the outside, and parapet's in the background show it's 3D. Other details are the flag, a flag, a drawbridge and gate, but unfortunately not a soul to be seen. Many early art pieces are like that, with the image seemingly lifeless. 

The clouds though are the best touch. As said in other posts, he could have gotten away with just painting the sky blue, but that little extra detail makes the card pop. 

Honestly the art is a solid 5/5. Another simple, but effective and memorable art piece, that one sure isn't to forget.

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A close up to show the small details

Saturday, August 31, 2019

An apology

"Regret is the insight that comes a day to late..."

Image result for pucatrade angry mob

Well, earlier this week, I wrote a rather heated article on Brian Weissman, and his performance at Magicfest Las Vegas. I, personally, was in a rush, with various projects on my own end, and trying to get the article out while it was fresh in people's mind, and wrote an subpar post.

The article was rife with hearsay, inaccuracies, and just plain lies, which I had heard in various groups, or made assumptions on, and rolled with.

A day later, Mr. Weissman sent me a formal letter, explaining in his own words, various inaccuracies. We had a good conversation, and I'm now writing this.

Brian Weissman created the first version of "The Deck" in 1994, which quickly spread across Usenet, often with his name attached. The accusations he simply "optimized an existing archtype" are false.

He never won a worlds, let alone in 1996, nor in 1993, 1994, and 1995.

He didn't eliminate Athena in the tournament, but she took her first loss to him.

He wasn't sponsored to be there, and the Vintage Magic sleeves are his own personal lot, which was bought at a great deal from his friend Daniel Chang. Most of his decks are sleeved in them as a personal preference.

His YouTube channel isn't, nor has ever been monetized.

He repeats he was unaware of the etiquette about deck photo's in OS, and apologizes over it. In fact, he claims the photo'd deck was what he wish he ran..

The previous article will be made private, but for posterity, won't be deleted, if anyone wishes to read it, they can contact me and I will send it to them.

I apologies, to both The OS Community at large, and to Mr. Weissman personally. I, like many of us, got swept up in the zeitgeist of the moment.

While this does raise the question, what do we do about cheaters in the community, I think that is a question for another post.

Again, my apologies to everyone involved.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Autumn Willow the MILF

"At first I imagined Autumn Willow as a woman in regal robes. After I read the Homelands background, however, I found the story of her waning power a sad one and decided that a softer, romantic portrayal would be more appropriate. I also chose to paint her as a human figure due to my background in classical and Renaissance art history, periods in which dryads and forest goddesses were depicted as women."--Margeret Organ-Kean

The original Shroud creature (sorry Lurker), and even more so, the first Hexproof creature, Autumn Willow, like many green cards, was, in it's day, on the cusp of tournament play ability. However, Autumn Willow is more noteable then that, with it's classical looking art, of a beautiful, but sad woman, on a 4/4 body, would both perplex, and resonate with players, and she's managed to stay in the minds of those who played her, when she was new, after all, in the first protour collection, she gets three different signature along with her gold border. Not many cards can say that, especially creatures. This puts her in the ranks of the likes of Masticore.


Playability: At the start, she's a 4/4 for 6 in green. Not exactly the best start. However, she has a conditional version of shroud, which protects her more then some will admit. It gets around spot removal, as well as The Abyss (since The Abyss targets). Throw in a 4/4 body, which is fairly durable, and it's a solid creature. While it might not be Erhnam, it's a fair, well designed legend, and its no wonder why it managed to see play in three top 8 decks.

As a bonus, in team games, you can allow teammates enchant/target her as well. 


Art: Homelands, had very little going for it correct, but it's art direction is top notch, and each of it's legends are memorable in their own right (except Grandmother Sengir). This is in part, due to their art. Autumn Willow is no exception, and mark my words, it's one of the best pieces, not just in Homelands, but in the entire history of the game. 

The art shows a melancholic middle aged woman, sitting in front of a willow tree and a lake. She's the personification of mana on the Homelands, and in the setting, she's slowly (very slowly) but steadily losing power, as the influence of the Baron spreads and Feroz's Ban weakens, which is why she made her so sad looking. She will soon be gone, and that which she protects will be defenseless without her magic.

The biggest question on this though, is why a middle aged woman. In classical art, nature spirits and abstract personifications are often displayed as beautiful women. As the quote above suggests, it was originally going to be much more regal, but I feel it wouldn't be nearly as memorable if it was. 

This imagining of the Autumn Willow does the character justice, showing her as one would expect a caring protective motherly figure, would. 

MOK, thank you for the wonder piece, and enriching this game as a whole. 

Fun fact: The model for that card was none other than the beautiful Kaja Foglio.

Art 6/5.

Flavor: As the protector of the Great Forest, she watches over Caravans, protects the anarchistic folk of An-Haava, and commands the faeries of the Forest. This card displays none of that. Instead, it shows a weakened Force of Nature (as a 4/4), who uses the Great Forest to protect herself, except for the help from an Ally (thus the selective shroud). In reality, the flavor can be jarring, especially if you are unaware of her backstory. 

Flavor 3/5.

Total: 4/5. No wonder she's an iconic classic.

"Autumn Willow starring in 'Leaf it to Beaver' as the Beaver."-InQuest Games "What ever happened too..."

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

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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.