Into the Scrapheap? – Episode 1 (Alloy Myr)

There are tons of Magic cards now available to players. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them are what we might call variations on a theme.  Sometimes, a new card will be an exact upgrade of an earlier card: there is now almost no reason to play the card in a constructed deck. Sometimes, the card is functionally equivalent, i.e. it does essentially the same thing, although the slight differences may make one card preferred over the other depending on the needs of the deck. This variation could be a very narrow application, meaning that the new card is almost always going to be preferred unless you have a specific deck with a specific narrow need, or it could be that the cards are quite equal but just doing slightly different things, thereby giving you real equivalent options for your deck. In general this comparison will focus on function and mana cost, although sometimes there may be other considerations.

Our first card from the latest set (New Phyrexia) to examine is Alloy Myr. For 3 colorless mana, you get a mana producer (for any color) and a 2/2 body. It’s a beefier Birds of Paradise that can’t fly. I won’t delve into the Birds comparisons too much because if you’re already playing green in the deck, you probably want the one-drop Birds, if you are not green, then you’re not going to play a Birds, period. Alloy Myr can go into any colored deck at least, and can attack profitably, and will survive 1 damage pings. That’s a lot going for it. Alloy Myr is hardly amazing, but sometimes you want an artifact, a creature, and access to all colors of mana. If you do, this is likely to be your guy.

Cards Rendered Obsolete

Phyrexian Lens  3 [Artifact]

Tap, Pay 1 life: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

I suppose there might be times when you don’t want a ‘creature’, but is that going to override the regular pain inflicted by this card that is otherwise useless if you don’t need its mana? I can’t see playing this over Alloy Myr except in the most extreme cases (probably some weird combo where the life payment is irrelevant (but such a combo is not always going to happen or survive on the board). One thing to remember with all the cards on this list is that the creature designation means the Alloy Myr always has the drawback of not getting immediate access to the mana: you have to wait a turn, which can be a significant drawback in many cases.

Mana Prism  3 [Artifact]

Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool.

1, Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

For the same price of 3 mana, you can produce a colorless mana, or filter it for an extra mana (each time). Why wouldn’t you just play the Alloy Myr? I think Mana Prism can be safely described as obsolete, unless someone can point to a time when this would be better (OK, it survives a Day of Judgment, but it’s still just clunky).

Standing Stones  3 [Artifact]

1, Tap, Pay 1 life: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

This is definitely inferior to the Mana Prism, since it only filters, and at the cost of one life. Even if you argue that Mana Prism is not strictly obsolete, I think we can say this one definitely is (of course, the designation of obsolete always assumes that you don’t want more than 4 of the same effect in the deck – if you need more, I suppose you might play with the inferior version.)

Celestial Prism  3 [Artifact]

2, Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

This is just about as bad (swap the life loss for the extra mana cost) as the Standing Stones, and seemingly always worse than the Mana Prism or the Alloy Myr, except for the possible extra fragility of the latter being a creature.

Superior in Almost Every Way

Diamond Kaleidoscope  4 [Artifact]

3, Tap: Put a 0/1 colorless Prism artifact creature token onto the battlefield.

Sacrifice a Prism token: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

Keep in mind that the original cost of this artifact is one mana more than the Alloy Myr, and that the mana cost to produce the mana is one more than the Celestial Prism. Still, there may be times when you want those tokens (to chump block or fulfill some card’s need for creatures on the board) or the ability to save up the mana production, but there are probably better and cheaper ways to get 0/1 tokens and any color of mana. So, I think the Alloy Myr is superior in almost every way.

Prismatic Lens 2 [Artifact]

Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool.

1, Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

This is not better if you actually need to produce mana of any color, but it does cost one less if all you need is colorless mana and occasionally want to be able to filter mana into another color of mana. So, there will be times when this is preferred, especially if you want the extra mana the turn it comes into play. So the comparison is actually more apples to oranges (or at least Macintosh to Granny Smith) since it is a matter of what exactly you need in your deck.

Vesper Ghoul  2Black [Creature — Zombie Druid (1/1)]

Tap, Pay 1 life: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

Black doesn’t usually get much help with its mana base, especially if you’re not splashing green with it, and when it does, it usually hurts. With the much smaller body and the regular pain attached to this mana production, you better have a good reason to need access to other colors and for this creature to be black and/or a zombie. Since you can play the Alloy Myr in the same deck, and actually play it even if you don’t hit your black mana, the Alloy Myr is probably to be preferred in almost all cases.

Functionally Equivalent, Depends on your Specific Need

Scuttlemutt  3 [Artifact Creature — Scarecrow (2/2)]

Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

Tap: Target creature becomes the color or colors of your choice until end of turn.

This has the same-sized body, so your choice may come down to whether you want a Myr or a Scarecrow in the deck. This card would definitely be preferred if you wanted a Scarecrow creature or needed to be able to change creatures colors.  Actually, in most decks this would actually be superior to the Alloy Myr simply because you get an extra function on a practically equivalent card.

Coalition Relic  3 [Artifact]

Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

Tap: Put a charge counter on Coalition Relic.

At the beginning of your precombat main phase, remove all charge counters from Coalition Relic. Add one mana of any color to your mana pool for each charge counter removed this way.

It’s not a creature, so it taps for mana a turn quicker, and if you have someway to add counters to it in your deck, then you’ll want this. I just think that all other things being equal, at least a creature can always be turned sideways to attack. This card’s cost on the singles’ market, however, suggests that many people find ways to take advantage of it.

Darksteel Ingot 3 [Artifact]

Darksteel Ingot is indestructible. (“Destroy” effects and lethal damage don’t destroy it.)

Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

Indestructibility is nothing to be sneered at in a world full of artifact removal. You are much less likely to lose access to your ‘any color of mana’ with this card, and if that’s a concern, play this instead of the Alloy Myr. But if you think that 2/2 body might come in handy, you should go with the Myr.

Star Compass 2 [Artifact]

Star Compass enters the battlefield tapped.

Tap: Add to your mana pool one mana of any color that a basic land you control could produce.

This is cheaper, but really only as fast as any other mana-producing 3 cost artifacts since it comes into play tapped. That is still faster than the Myr creature with summoning sickness, though. It is also limited by your basic lands in play. In most cases this won’t matter, unless you have a bad mana base for a multi-colored deck, but you never know when your opponent will do something to annoying to you and the Alloy Myr being able to produce any color of mana becomes a boon (say, requiring you to pay a cost with a specific color requirement or suffer the consequences). This is definitely inferior to the Darksteel Ingot and Coalition Relic, unless that 2 casting cost is somehow better in your particular deck.

Springleaf Drum  1 [Artifact]

Tap, Tap an untapped creature you control: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

This is a bit cheaper by some measure, but requires two cards to produce one mana. There may be some decks that want to get this out early and have ways to take advantage of it. Imagine tapping and then sacrificing an Eldrazi spawn token with this – 1 colored mana and 1 colorless mana. But it’s still two cards to produce two mana essentially, and you have to wonder how you got the Spawn token out there (another card?). Sometimes, in fact many times, you would rather have the Alloy Myr, I think.

Probably Inferior in Most Cases

Elvish Harbinger 2G [Creature — Elf Druid (1/2)]

When Elvish Harbinger enters the battlefield, you may search your library for an Elf card, reveal it, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.

Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

This has the same converted mana cost as the Alloy Myr, albeit green in color and with a slightly smaller body. This suggests that there may be some decks (i.e. non-green ones) that will prefer the artifact creature. If you want this mainly for the mana production, you’re better off with a Birds of Paradise, but there are many decks that can take advantage of the Elf searching this offers. If you’re playing a green elf deck that has lots of color requirements, then this is your card, otherwise go with the Birds, unless you’re not playing green at all, in which case you’ll want the Alloy Myr.

Conclusion

There are, of course, plenty of other options out there for producing mana of any color; these are just the ones to consider around the three-drop slot, when you want an artifact or a creature. I definitely think the Alloy Myr can serve some useful purposes in decks that want access to lots of mana, but don’t necessarily need it right away. (And remember, this guy is only an uncommon, not a rare like Birds). And the larger than average power/toughness on a mana producer is not an insignificant consideration (although 2 toughness still dies to Pyroclasm 😦 ) I may very well try this guy in my “Five Color Fun” deck.

To sum up then, it looks like our first contributions to the trash heap (i.e. cards that even a super casual guy like me should never be putting into a constructed deck) are

  • Phyrexian Lens,
  • Mana Prism
  • Standing Stones, and 
  • Celestial Prism,

with Alloy Myr being generally preferred to several other cards as well.

Planeswalker Lament

I love the Planeswalkers. Cool card idea, cool execution. Unfortunately, they’re mostly also very expensive 😦  I’d love to collect them all and make decks for each, but there will probably always be a few that remain out of reach (Jace 2.0 is seeing Legacy and Vintage play, so it’s not going to come down in price too much, even though it has dropped about $20 recently (maybe because it is under threat to be banned?)

Here are the ones I don’t have yet. I ran a quick price comparison between a few online dealers that I’ve dealt with recently, and I was a little surprised to see ChannelFireball come out the best – they are very competitive in their pricing, they ship fast, and when I had a problem with an order once, they were totally cool about it. So, I’m listing their prices here, and I’ll include the cumulative price for the other sites below. If they didn’t have the card, I substituted the StarCityGames price, which seems to usually be the highest.

Ajani Goldmane $4.99
Ajani Vengeant $4.99
Chandra Ablaze $3.49
Elspeth Tirel $8.99
Gideon Jura $29.99
Jace Beleren $10.99
Jace, the Mind Sculptor $79.99
Karn Liberated $19.99
Koth of the Hammer $24.99
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker $17.99*
Sarkhan Vol [$9.99]
Sarkhan the Mad $4.99
Sorin Markov $9.99
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas $34.99
Venser, the Sojourner $10.99

GRAND TOTAL: $277.35
COMPARISONS:

Old School Gaming: $282.70
Star City Games.com: $299.85
Pastimes.net: $311.62

Obviously, the Standard-legal cards that see significant tournament play are still a bit pricey. I actually opened a Nicol Bolas in a booster pack, but I was dumb and sold it (for way less than $18!!). But the next duel deck is going to be Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas, so maybe I’ll get him back. OSG is pretty comparable to CF, but they seem to have a greater tendency to be out of stock. I like Channel Fireball, as well, because of their free strategy content, and I’m happy to support them with my business, especially since their prices are so competitive. (I am not being recompensed by anyone for saying any of this – I’m just surfing the web like the rest of you.)

So, right now, only Chandra Ablaze is in my price range, but I just bought her alter ego, so I may hold off a while. I’ve got my eye on both Ajanis, though, as well as Sarkhan the Mad.

A dud of a booster pack

I’ve mentioned before what a lottery-like experience opening booster packs is, and today’s experience only goes to show it. What a dud!

I was buying some sleeves and boxes today and figured why not a booster pack just for fun – after all, you never know! I should have known… Cost of booster pack: $3.99. Retail price of singles (including the land and the token card): $3.54. I actually lost money on the deal! To top it off, while the rare was decent, it was decent enough that I had already bought one, and with my proxy policy, I hardly needed a second. The only way I get any value for it now is if I can trade it (the online store buy price is only $1.00).

Let’s take a quick looksie, shall we?

First, the Limited fodder – might be fine if you are booster drafting, but I was never going to need one of these for even my off-the-beaten-path, weak-junk constructed decks:

Loxodon Convert – a 4/2 for 4 vanilla creature. Enough said.

Vapor Snag – I don’t play a lot of bounce spells, although I have been working on a post about this very card and its ancestors (watch for it).

Thundering Tanadon – a 5/4 trampler for 6 mana (or 4 mana plus 4 life). Color me unimpressed.

Death-Hood Cobra – a grizzly bear that you can sink lots of mana into for very small returns!! My son does love a guy with deathtouch, though…

Then there are the interesting cards that I’ve either already ordered or wasn’t really excited enough to order:

Evil Presence – I like this card, and already have some from earlier sets. A swampwalking deck seems like fun (I used to have one built), and so does turning off a manland for one mana (although it’s probably not a good enough answer for the pros – it’s probably not better than Spreading Seas after all). So who knows, this may even see some play from me.

Scrapyard Salvo – this begs to be built around in some way, except you’ve got to wonder how a game is going if all your artifacts are in the graveyard. I’m almost tempted to try it in my Kuldotha Red deck – it does add a little reach to the deck, but then I’d probably have to put the Panic Spellbombs back in, and I wasn’t too impressed with those.

Forced Worship – I suppose this is OK. It’s seems handy to be able to move it around, but it doesn’t shut down abilities. There are better versions of this type of card out there.

Viridian Betrayers – a card that could be a complete dud in your hand if you haven’t been able to hit them for poison yet… you might just be better off paying one more mana for Tel-Jilad Fallen, which at least has infect all the time and might get by some artifact creatures. Of course, if you’re casting this guy on turn three and haven’t done any poison damage yet with your Green infect deck, you might have bigger problems than a part-time infecter. Maybe I’ll try it…

Geth’s Verdict – The ‘sacrifices a creature’ clause means you can sometimes get their untargetable dudes, assuming that’s all they have on their side of the board. So, if they’re relying on Thrun FTW, you might just have an answer, otherwise, you might prefer some more specific removal. Not bad, but just as liable to go astray.

Pristine Talisman – I already ordered four of these for my lifegain deck, although they may not even make the cut there. I think this should only cost 2 mana at most, frankly.

Cathedral Membrane – I already ordered four of these. This guy is begging to hook up with something that lets him block more than one guy (Valor Made Real or Entangler). Not sure it’s really going to be worth it, though…

Reaper of Sheoldred – I hadn’t paid much attention to this, mainly because it costs 5 to cast, but since it doesn’t have to attack to help the team to victory, and it looks like a pretty decent wall, I may throw this guy into my poison deck.

Viral Drake – I already bought a couple of these for my UB controllish poison deck, and I don’t think I’ll want a third, but who knows – he has the potential to put your opponent on some sort of a clock…

And then there’s the rare: Myr Superion. I’m disappointed, not because I don’t love this guy – I do! – but because I already bought one for over $2, and you obviously need four in the deck, so proxying was my plan. Trading it for something comparable is now my only hope. I may need to get a little more active in the local Magic scene just so I can trade my dud rares. Either that, or this guy becomes a constructed powerhouse and shoots up in price (like my Splinter Twin).

So, today’s lesson: a single booster pack is more likely to be a dud than a stud.

Commander Musings

When I first heard of Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), I thought this format sounded really cool. It was so attractive to me because when I’m deck-building, there are always more cards I want to include than can really be squeezed into a deck. This is due in part to my desire to put in all the thematically relevant cards (I build quite a few ‘tribal’ decks). Also, I like synergy, so I try to put in everything that synergizes. All of this means that a 100-card singleton format would be ideal, especially for a guy who often only buys one copy of an expensive rare (by my standards – but remember, nothing more than $4).

And then I started reading articles about the format. These articles made it clear that there were certain cards that ALWAYS go into an EDH deck: Umezawa’s Jitte, Sensei’s Divining Top, Sol Ring, etc. Well, that’s lame. I’m not opposed to winning or even trying to win, but it’s obvious that if I ever tried to play EDH with anyone outside my home, that I would get crushed by the min-maxers, and probably foil Japanese copies of the min-max cards! And now Wizards of the Coast has announced that it is going to print cards specifically for this format—and at this point I will start calling it Commander, since that seems to be the wave of the future. This can’t be good for a casual format. Commander tournaments are no doubt on the horizon. New commanders definitely are.

That’s fine, really. Different formats are for different people, and if Wizards designed everything for a player like me, they’d probably be broke. Things like cube drafting hold absolutely no interest for me at all, but I can see how some people would be really excited by it. This just means that I have to tweak the format to fit my needs and interests – something I’m always happy to do.

I’ve already adapted the Commander idea to my planeswalker decks. One of the problems with the Duel Decks is that the decks are centered around a planeswalker or some other card that you really want to see every game. Let me put it this way: You don’t buy the Elspeth Duel Deck so you can play with a Catapult Master. My original solution was just to slam 3 proxy copies into the deck to give you a more reasonable chance of drawing the star card in a game. But the Commander solution seems even better. Put the planeswalker in the command zone and play it like a commander. It is so fun playing a Chandra deck knowing you’ll always start with Chandra in your opening hand. It also means you can build the deck around her abilities. If the planeswalker dies, then it goes back to the command zone, and you cast it again for one more mana. If things get out of control, you can always limit it to four castings total, but it hasn’t been a problem so far.

But if I want to have the ‘real’ (OK, ‘pseudo-real’, since apparently I’m not actually interested in the ‘real’) commander experience, what shall I do? I could just develop my own banned list (after all, the real banned list has Coalition Victory in it :-(), but my wallet serves essentially the same purpose anyway. 🙂 Still, I’d say that you play a 100-card singleton format because you want to experience more variance than a 60-card 4-of tuned deck, so you just shouldn’t play with tutors. Period. You want to get to your best card? Pack some more card draw! I think fetchlands (not that I own many of those) or land-fetching elves could be OK: thinning a large deck seems like a fair and reasonable strategy, and lands are a bit different in nature than spells (although that seems to be changing in some recent sets). I’ll limit my changes to that for now, and see how it plays out.

So, for my first Commander (revised) deck, I think I’ll build a Vampire deck. I’ve tried building a 60-card version, but there are so many cool vampires out there, not to mention other thematically appropriate cards (Vampire’s Bite, Go for the Throat, etc.), that it just feels wrong to cut cards out. The choice of commander comes down to three choices, although all of them cost a little more than I would ideally like (since I’d like to get the commander out early and often, just like voting in Chicago):

All of them have the potential to be insane against other decks, and since the deck is mono-black, some removal is even dead against your commander (Terror / Doom Blade, e.g.). Once Anowon is out, your opponent(s) will be losing a creature every turn. That seems good. Of course the Evincar makes it pretty tough for any non-black weenie strategy to survive, but I don’t know if that is even a viable strategy in Commander (revised). I like Drana, though, because she is a win condition all on her own, which you always have access to, once you get to 5 mana (plus I do have a foil version of her – Pimp my deck!). But thematic issues do matter, so I think the obvious choice has to be Anowon. Drana and the Evincar will still be in the deck, though!

I’ve got a bunch of cool vampires, and now that I’m working on this deck, I’ll look to acquire some of the ones I’m missing, although I may wait for Zendikar block to rotate to see if prices go down on the some of the Standard staples. New Phyrexia did offer us Chancellor of the Dross, which seems pretty cool, although unlikely to use its first ability in this format. Plus, Innistrad looks like it may have more vampires.

Obviously missing from the deck will be the more expensive vampires, which, if Vampire Nocturnus is any indication, may not come down in price even after rotating: Vampire Nocturnus ($11.99), Bloodghast ($6.99), Kalastria Highborn ($4.99), Sanguine Bond ($6.99), Mephidross Vampire ($6.99), and Nirkana Revenant ($4.99)

There are a few vampires that I won’t include, such as Vampire Lacerator, which doesn’t seem so good when your opponents start at 40 life, or Bleak Coven Vampires, since I don’t plan to play many artifacts in this deck.  I would have included a Diabolic Tutor, if I hadn’t banned tutors—he is on my deckbox at least 🙂

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As a follow up, I have now made the first draft of my Anowon deck, although I haven’t yet played it (I need to make another Commander deck, I guess). And sadly, my Diabolic Tutor box doesn’t fit 100 sleeved cards 😦

Then, I found this Commander Primer article by Benny Smith. Reading it, my first thought was “yeah, only needing one rare is one of the reasons I am attracted to playing Commander.” Then I read about choosing a commander and I came to an interesting realization: I have more Spike in me than I would have thought. The reason Anowon is a bad Commander choice is because of the very reason I chose him: It’s a great choice to fight against almost any other (non-Vampire) deck; it’s also the very reason I’m a bit turned off of Commander: the multi-player politics. Anowon will cause my opponents so much grief that they are all likely to gang up against me, since everyone else at the table will have at least that one thing in common. And that’s what bothers me about multi-player… I understand and appreciate the random factor in a game like Magic, but you can still deckbuild to improve your odds. But you can’t really control how other people choose to react to you or your deck (and I’m not the kind of guy who can or even wants to try to manipulate people’s minds or moods – to me, that’s a different game).

I guess my problem is that I am very competitive if I get into a competition, and I want to win, but I HATE losing even more than I like winning (this has been a problem for me going back to my little league days, actually). So, I tend to avoid the losing by just not getting into the competition in the first place, especially if I know the odds are against me winning. I know, this is just a personal issue I need to work out, but it makes it very frustrating to play a game like Magic competitively, since even the best players lose a LOT of games. Luis Scott-Vargas seems to me to be a pretty good Magic player, and I’m sure he has an overall positive win percentage in competitive matches, but how many ProTours has he actually won? And how many has he lost? If that guy loses games, matches, and tournaments ALL THE TIME, what hope is there for me? Think about the fact that even the year Ted Williams batted .406 in the Major Leagues, he was getting out (i.e. losing) 60% of the time!

There were few things more frustrating than my original multi-player group that I learned Magic with. They were all great guys and good friends, and I liked learning to play Magic with them and the fun little tournaments we would organize. But, it was so frustrating playing against a couple of guys I am sure are just much smarter than I am, and a couple of guys who had invested in better cards than I was ever going to have. Sure, the idea of beating the expensive cards with my cheaper cards was attractive, but think about how much I would have to lose just to beat him once. So, perhaps another hallmark of the “super casual” is a desire to avoid losing at all costs by only playing games where absolutely nothing is on the line (or all the decks in the competition are actually yours) 🙂

 

For now, then, my deck is a Drana deck – she seems useful in delivering Commander damage, and hopefully looks a little less threatening.

New Phyrexia Event Decks

The announcement I’ve been waiting for finally arrived: the decklists for the new Event Decks! I was really pleased with the Mirrodin Besieged Decks. Both seemed like value to me, and were quite similar (essentially budget lists) to the decks I was seeing in the big tournaments: one was essentially a Kuldotha Red deck and the other played a bit like Brian Kibler’s UB poison deck. In play, they stood up reasonably well to the tourney decks (I proxied RUG and CawBlade) as well (OK, I’m sure if Gerry Thompson was playing the tourney deck, I wouldn’t have been able to compete so well, plus I didn’t do a lot of sideboarded games, but still…).

The New Phyrexia decks look like a hit and a miss to me. Keep in mind that I’m not looking to these decks to help me at Friday Night Magic, although they both look like they can do that job alright. The War of Attrition deck has 2 Stoneforge Mystics for crying out loud! I priced it out (for singles) at Channel Fireball for about $54, so if I can get it for MSRP, then I’m getting the cards for 50% off, not to mention the fact that I would never, ever splash the cash for Stoneforge Mystic ($16 at CF). And I thought the Goblin Guides in Into the Breach were sweet! It’s also got a Mirran Crusader, 4 Kor Firewalkers, and a Puresteel Paladin which I’m excited about.

The Rot from Within deck isn’t doing anything for me, though. It’s not that it’s a bad deck – I actually suspect it will be more competitive than the other one – it’s just that I already own most of the cards (most are pretty cheap and/or common) and I already have my own poison deck (still coming in a future post – I just got my first shipment of New Phyrexia singles to put the final touches on it). The Inkmoth Nexus is obviously the best card, but I actually have one of those (lucky booster pack pull) already. The rest of it is pretty cheap stuff – I think the Channel Fireball price barely comes out above the MSRP (maybe $27). I’m more interested in continuing to tweak the old UB poison deck than getting another one.

So, I’m going to go see about pre-ordering the War of Attrition deck at the local store (because I suspect that that one is going to sell like hotcakes – am I wrong?). I think I’ll take a pass on the other. Still, awesome idea, Wizards. Thanks!

Booster pack time!

I’m really not a big fan of booster packs – it just feels too much like playing the lottery. But, when my wife drags me shopping to Walmart, it’s about the only consolation I can get. I hate Walmart! And after today’s experience, I hate it even more. You can’t even browse their booster pack selection because it’s all safely put away behind a counter (not that there’s much to browse – it looked like a few Mirrodin Besieged, a few Scars of Mirrodin, and maybe an Intro pack or two were all that was available behind the counter). I understand that there are dorks out there who steal these kinds of things, but really! I slipped past the line to ask the girl behind the counter if she could just hand me one of the packs. Of course, she looks at me like I’m asking for Martian cow milk. Finally, she figures it out, grabs the pack (with a lot of direction on my part – “no, no, the one a little more to the right”), and then says, “You have to pay for it here.” Her line has like four people, and my wife is already checking out about five lanes down. This is not good enough for her: “Well, I can have a CSM bring it down to you there.” OK, fine, I get it, lots of shoplifting (I live in a pretty tame small town, actually), but come on, do I look like some teenage punk looking for the cheap thrill of the shoplift? I’m an overweight 30-something dad; do you really think I’m going to ask you for a pack, and then just conveniently forget to put it on the conveyor belt? There’s plenty of other stuff in the store, worth a lot more than a booster pack, that I could have done that with, which she wasn’t protecting!

Anyway, I bought a booster pack today. A booster pack. I often feel like Charlie in the old Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie (not the Johnny Depp one – I haven’t wasted my time on that one) when in math class, working on percentage problems, the kids are describing how many chocolate bars they’ve opened looking for a golden ticket. On his turn, Charlie says, “Two.” And his teacher responds, “OK, 200.” “No,” says Charlie, “just two.” “Well, I can’t do just two…” the teacher continues, and so does the scene. Everyone at this point is looking at Charlie like he’s just crazy. I can imagine going down to one of these serious game stores packed with tournament players talking about how may booster boxes and packs they’ve opened, and me saying, “I think I’ve opened ten packs total.”

But today’s pack was a winner! A minor winner, at least. I went with the Scars of Mirrodin pack, since there are more rares and mythics that I’m interested in from that set (Koth, Elspeth, Venser, etc.).  I have no idea how good the pack was from a Limited perspective (we draft pretty rarely around here), but from a small-time collector/player’s perspective it wasn’t bad, and it had a rare that I almost bought recently but didn’t because it seemed a little pricey.

Glint Hawk Idol

A second one for my collection. This is a card that I’ve wanted to do something with for awhile. I am brewing up an artifact deck, but I’m thinking that will only be blue. It could go in my Myr deck, except that it’s off theme (more on that deck another time). A 2/2 flyer for 2 seems pretty decent, but only if you can reliably turn it into one.

Flameborn Hellion

Completed my playset – not that I will probably ever play him. This is one of those obviously-made-for-limited cards which is one reason I don’t like boosters. A hasty 5/4 Juggernaut for 6?  As LSV would say, why would I play this when I could play an Inferno Titan for the same price? (not that I own an Inferno Titan…)

Sylvok Replica

Copy #6. Part of one of those filler cycles of cards. Don’t get me wrong, I like the cycles they do in each set. And this one is useful, except that if I want to kill an artifact or enchantment, I can certainly find cheaper options than 3G. It would take a pretty narrow deck that wanted a 1/3 artifact creature to go with this ability, but you never know…

Moriok Reaver

Completed the playset – another one of these thematic cycles of common fodder. I don’t think a vanilla 3/2 for 3 is all that good, is it? I think I’d rather have the Barony Vampire; at least it’s thematically interesting.

Perilous Myr

Copy #5. This is a good card. I think it has seen some tournament play, and I’ve tried it in my Furnace Celebration deck. It will surely have some uses over the years, so I’m not unhappy at all to get another one.

Vulshok Heartstoker

Completed the playset – unfortunately, the kind of deck that wants his ability doesn’t want to spend 3 mana for a 2/2, so this must be another obviously-made-for-limited card. I use Teetering Peaks in my Kuldotha Red deck, but that’s a +2/+0 for 0 mana.

Vedalken Certarch

Only my second copy, but I’ve considered tapping abilities to be pretty weak, and this one needs three artifacts to do so, otherwise you have a 1/1 for 1. Will it go into my mono blue artifact deck? Uh, no.

Copper Myr

Completed a second playset. It sure seems like there’s an inordinate number of these in the booster packs I’ve opened. I guess the five colors of myr all run together in my mind though. Anyway, 2 for a 1/1 mana producer is OK, although unless you specifically want the artifact creature, you’re better off with Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise. I have used a few of these mana myr in some decks, so it’s not terrible.

Tumble Magnet

Copy #7, but I’m happy to get more copies of a tournament stud. As I said above, I don’t particularly value tapping abilities, perhaps because I don’t have decks that can really take advantage of it. I definitely like this card with the proliferate ability. I have a blue-black poison deck, modeled a little on Kibler’s tournament deck, that finds this card useful.

Screeching Silcaw

Completed the playset – if it wasn’t so situational, I’d like this card for a discard/graveyard deck. There was a recent tournament deck that tried to deck people that I really liked and may try to replicate, but this card wouldn’t make it. Without a bunch of artifacts, all you have is a 1/2 flyer, and even with the artifacts, you still have to do damage or it doesn’t do anything. I’d be surprised to learn that people took this very high in Limited, although it does have evasion, so I’m sure it saw play.

Viridian Revel

Only my second copy, but this is another card that tempts to build around it, except that it’s probably not powerful enough to deserve such attention. Still, you get something to turn their permanents into artifacts, and then kill those permaments – that seems pretty good. Probably better just to play a cantrip to get your extra card, though. One of the things I have noticed is how the pros always seem to keep their hands full of cards, but this seems to be the result of uber-powerful, uber-expensive cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Still, it has made me more aware of the power of card drawing, and I now watch for opportunities to fill my hand back up. I don’t think this is a very good solution to the problem though.

Trigon of Thought

Completed the playset. I wanted all these Trigons from Scars to be cool, but even my slow, clunky decks find these cards too slow and clunky. Even if you had a proliferate engine going, 2 mana to draw an extra card every turn might not be all that great. That’s six mana and three turns to get the original max advantage from a card that already cost 5 just to put out. Why not just play Jace’s Ingenuity?

Carrion Call

Copy #5. Tokens are so fragile, and wimpy tokens that cost 2 mana apiece are not that good. I tried to play this in my Phyrexian Poison deck, but these insects don’t even have flying. Master’s Call is one mana cheaper, and the Myr are more useful once you have a Myr Battlesphere out.

Tempered Steel

This was it! It’s been on my wishlist for while for my Myr deck, but since it has seen some tournament play (albeit Tier 2), it was always a bit pricey—not outrageous, but enough for me to hesitate. I almost ordered it in my most recent order (New Phyrexia cards! – watch for an upcoming post), but fortunately I did not (getting a second copy of a pricey rare isn’t of much use to me, since I was just going to proxy the extra copies I needed anyway.) Still, this wasn’t a super win—that only happens when the rare is worth more than the booster pack itself—but made me feel like I got my money’s worth from the pack.

Multiplayer & Pentagram

When many people think of casual play, they think of multi-player. And nowadays, there’s a lot of talk about Commander (aka EDH), and how awesome it is, especially as a multi-player game. Wizards of the Coast is even designing cards specifically for Commander now, and has been designing some cards that are clearly meant, and worded, for multi-player play. Recognizing this, I should make it clear that even though I call myself a “super casual” player, I am not actually a big fan of multi-player. To me, Magic is a duel of the mind – your deck against mine – not a game of politics and diplomacy. If I want to experience the sociality, diplomatics, and politics of a multi-player game, I’ll just play Diplomacy, the best of this sort of game ever made, IMHO. I’m just not that interested in a game that drags on and on, which tends to punish someone for playing out early threats (i.e. doing what their deck was designed to do), and where winning feels lucky more than skillful.

This is one reason why I loved the Archenemy set when it came out. It’s the best of both worlds when you have more than 2 people who want to play at the same time (which is common enough at my house): it’s a multi-player duel. I do probably need to design some decks for that to help the non-Archenemies better compete with the Scheme cards (another good topic for a future post here), but we’ve had a lot of fun with it anyway. I am definitely more interested in playing something like Two-headed Giant or Emperor than a pure free-for-all chaos multiplayer game of any sort. (I’ll talk about my thoughts on Commander another time.)

This is also why I was excited to read about another multi-player format that I’ve never heard of before in a recent article on GatheringMagic.com. In a follow-up Google search, I also found this article which explains the details of play and has some sample decks, so I don’t need to do that here. Basically, it’s five players, each with a mono-colored deck, duking it out against their color enemies. I’ve always been a fan of mono-colored decks (ah, the purity), and this is a multi-player variant where you have definite and clear objectives for winning besides just “survive longer than everyone else.” I’ll have to play it some before I can decide whether the “political” angles mentioned in the articles are too much for me, but I have been known to play games with this kind of multi-player dynamic (in Settlers of Catan, for example – a pretty awesome game in its own right, by the way) by simply ignoring most of my opponents and focusing on the controllable strategic dimensions of the game; so, if that’s possible, it might be OK.

I totally agree with the author’s stance on color hosers. Each color already has a tendency to work against its enemy colors, so there’s still plenty of stuff to help you defeat your enemies without being a jerk about it. In general, I prefer a proactive, “make the best/coolest X colored deck you can”, approach. My decks don’t usually have a ton of removal – I want to win by executing my strategy better than you execute yours. But if I design decks specifically for Pentagram, then I might include a few cards I know would be good against its enemy colors, as long as every color gets its share of the action.

For now, I plan to use my “Planeswalker Commander” decks to test out this new (well, old, really) format, since I happen to have a Planeswalker deck of each color: Elspeth, Tezzeret, Liliana, Chandra, and Garruk. Perfect! (I do plan to discuss these decks and format more in a future post). Hopefully in a week or two I can report back on my experience.