This past week, I broke into Vegas with the help of about 2600 Pro Points worth of misers. I, of course, seized this opportunity to log on to Twitter (well, after downloading Spruke's new album on iTunes) to keep abreast of the fallout from the most recent changes to Magic.
"... Rest assured, this will be the sixth time we have destroyed it, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it."
But which changes were the most important? Logically, I started by looking to see what Drew Levin had to say. After all, Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage should be right up his alley, as it is a powerful new Legacy combo made possible by the change to the legend rule.
DrewLevin: thepchapin!?! You have Internet access?
thepchapin: Yeah, they do have that here… So hey, what's new?
DrewLevin: M14 Rules!
thepchapin: Sure, but which ones? Everyone has been talking about how much harder legends and planeswalkers are going to be to kill. It makes me sliver just thinking about it.
DrewLevin: Ah, but what about the most format of them all?
DrewLevin: You know, the Eternal one!
DrewLevin: Legacy! We here in the Legacy community realize that the M14 rules changes will have about as much impact on Legacy as Modern Masters.
thepchapin: You mean it will help kill it?
DrewLevin: No, I don't mean in terms of how many people play it, I mean in terms of what cards are relevant.
thepchapin: What? What about Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage?
DrewLevin: Not to be attempted in metagames with Wasteland, Stifle, Swords to Plowshares, Lingering Souls, Deathrite Shaman, Blood Moon, Echoing Truth, or anything that punishes you for playing lands that don't produce colored mana or more than one colorless mana.
DrewLevin: If you still want to build this deck and want your deck name to be useless and uninformative (in keeping with the traditional Legacy deck naming convention), I have tons of global warming-related ideas. Please don't actually do this, though. It's really bad.
thepchapin: So, you're saying Thespian's Stage + Dark Depths is really bad in Legacy?
- 1 Forest
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Creeping Tar Pit
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Glacial Chasm
- 4 Maze of Ith
- 4 Rishadan Port
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 3 Tolaria West
- 2 Tranquil Thicket
- 3 Tropical Island
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 4 Wasteland
- 2 Windswept Heath
- 1 Wooded Foothills
- 1 Academy Ruins
- 1 Karakas
- 1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Dark Depths
The deck is relatively straightforward, with the only major point of interest being the addition of Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths. Pretty much, you just Intuition for both of these lands and a Life from the Loam, and you can build a 20/20. Yes, people can interact with it, but it is a very powerful interaction that lets 37-land decks kill a lot faster and out of nowhere than they used to.
To pull off the combo, you simply turn your Thespian's Stage into a Dark Depths, albeit without any ice counters. Choose to keep the Stage (as both will be legendary), and then it gives you Marit Lage. It didn't used to work, as your two Dark Depths would destroy each other and you would get nothing. Vesuva doesn't work because it still comes into play with ice counters.
Of course, sticking a single copy of each land into a 37-land deck isn't the only way to take advantage of this new combo. It is totally possible that one could merge it with a Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage deck to reliably assemble a 20/20 between turns 2 and 4. That isn't the most powerful thing you can do in Legacy, but it wins most games and doesn't really take up all that much space in your deck. I'd still want access to the Life from the Loam + Intuition package, but you can be built a bit more for speed.
Intentionally, Drew has stalled on the value of this interaction to avoid tying us down to the subject when the more pressing matter at this time is Jace, the Mind Sculptor no longer cold-clocking enemy Jaces. I am still not totally sure how I feel about the change to the planeswalker uniqueness rule, but either way it's not that big a deal. Here's how I see it:
- Player A can play a planeswalker that Player B already played. Probably generally net positive, as it decreases the already big advantage of going first.
- You can no longer use a Liliana of the Veil to stop a Liliana ultimate or a Jace, the Mind Sculptor to stop a Jace ultimate, etc. This one may actually be net negative. Yes, of course, you can still use creatures to attack walkers just like you always could; however, planeswalker ultimates have been balanced under the old rules that allowed a safety-valve, an inherent interaction that gave people a natural out. Without this, planeswalker ultimates will trigger more often. This makes existing walkers like Jace and Liliana stronger, but suggests future planeswalkers will have either more modest ultimates or overall power level. Otherwise, planeswalkers ultimating could become a bigger part of the game than it currently is (which is a dubious thing to promote, though not inherently bad).
- You can get extra uses out of your extra planeswalkers. It used to be that if you used Liliana to edict someone, they could play a creature on their turn and know that you could not edict them again (since Liliana was at one). Now, you can just drop another Liliana next turn and repeat as long as you are willing to lose the original. It's hard to know how this will feel long term, as short term it is easy to miss the strategic depth it added (since we already understand it) while the strategic depth it adds is unclear (we have never played with it).
- Having extra copies of planeswalkers and legends is less important than it used to be. While extra walkers used to be removal for opposing walkers, now they are modal spells.
- More people get to do their things. While I know I enjoy the strategic depth of using walkers to remove opposing walkers, I'm certain there are many people out there that find it frustrating when they want to play their Jace, Architect of Thought and their opponent played one first.
- Flavor. This is basically a non-issue. You can already summon the same legend four times despite him dying the first three. You can also summon multiple copies a variety of ways using Magic. Hell, a Pegasus can band with a Sea Serpent while carrying a Sword of Fire and Ice. When the conceit is that you can evoke Magic to conjure anything you want from a multiverse, it is really not asking much for you and me to each have the ability to summon the same legend.
- This may be a key change for making Theros, the fall expansion, work. I have no idea what the block will be like beyond what has already been revealed, but I could believe it if these changes made the set work better (or at all).
- The legend rule has changed several times before. It's not that big of a deal that it is changing again. You used to not be able to play your own or kill your opponent's legend if you were late to the party. You were just out of luck. Of course, before that, you used to not even be able to play more than one copy in your deck!
- Magic gains complexity every set, and there have to be ways to reduce the complexity in some areas. Once you appreciate that this is a cost that must be paid one way or the other, it's nice to be able to reduce complexity without heavily disrupting gameplay. After all, it is not even clear that this doesn't increase strategic depth. Complexity and depth are not the same. For example, it is actually far more interesting for a Sakura-Tribe Elder to block a Savannah Lion now despite damage no longer stacking reducing an option (since an option everyone always takes is no longer an option).
- My guess is that there is a good chance this is very minor net positive, but I do feel a touch of sadness because this feels like one more scrubbing away of a rule that gave character to a class of cards and differentiated them from everything else. I don't think this is as big a watering down as Slivers no longer effecting opponents since legends and planeswalkers are still different from other cards.
Brief Aside on Slivers
While I agree that tribal lords only affecting one side is generally better game design and Slivers only affecting one side may be necessary to put them in a core set, was it necessary to call these new creatures Slivers? What differentiates them from any other race now? Worse, the artwork makes them look like Phyrexians instead of insects that form a swarm.
I am not, however, the flavor police and will give the benefit of the doubt here that there is a very good reason that they are looking humanoid. Still, it is important to remember that just as removing Chris Pikula and Bob Maher from the artwork of Meddling Mage and Dark Confidant is not without a cost to the existing player base, so too is removing the old look and feel of Slivers with this new one.
The legend rule change does have some impact on card power, most obviously mana producers. It seems like the two most notorious are Gaea's Cradle and Mox Opal. While this is a power level buff to the Cradle, I really don't think it's a big deal since it being game deciding is a bit of a parlay even once you are playing a Cradle deck:
- You have a Cradle in play.
- You have another Cradle in hand.
- You have enough creatures to make the Cradle big.
- You don't have so many creatures that you have all the mana you need.
- It is game deciding that you have an amount of mana that two Cradles can provide but not one.
There will obviously be games that Gaea's Cradle wins to because of this; I just don't think it will have that big of an impact on the metagame. Mox Opal, on the other hand, is a bigger deal. It matters a little for Legacy, as it certainly is a very real buff to Affinity and anyone else using Mox Opal, but it is clearly Modern where it will really shine. It's probably not going to dramatically alter the landscape or anything, but it does make Affinity stronger. Increasing the strength of fast mana in the format is not trivial. In Legacy, it has to compete with Lion's Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Mox Diamond, and so on. In Modern, every buff to fast mana means more.
FiveWithFlores: Patrick! Let me just tell you about this Cube draft at Jon Finkel's palace I was just in.
thepchapin: Err… Hi!
FiveWithFlores: So I drafted Flores Winner Winner Chicken Dinner Critical Napster Raka Deluxe Flores Stock Mana Twin Mono-Black Naya Lightsaber Flores Napster Napster – SoFloresOrNo.dec.
thepchapin: Um, I'm supposed to be breaking down the M14 rules changes, so I kinda have to hurry.
FiveWithFlores: First, remind me again of your thoughts on my e-book.
thepchapin: The Official Miser's Guide is fascinating, offering not only strategy and articles aimed at improving one's skill, but with some of the most colorful characters in the game.
Indestructible is now a keyword!
This is exactly how more than 99.99% of people assumed it worked already and is irrelevant more than 99.99% of the time.
Unblockable is explicitly not a keyword!
This avoids needing 183 keywords to include all of the variations of unblockable. Also, this matters basically none at all.
You don't need to announce how you are playing a land.
Only 26 people on Earth did this anyway. This is slightly more relevant than the previous two changes since Oracle of Mul-Daya really does get Lightning Bolted, but it is still less than 1% to matter. This is a clear improvement.
You can have less than fifteen cards in your sideboard.
When it comes to sideboards, it is now pretty clear that fourteen is better than zero. A nice clean improvement.
You can now sideboard in more cards than you take out.
Love it. This actually adds strategic depth, will reduce penalties that lead to non-games, and will be used wrong more often than right, meaning it will likely actually increase the role of skill (albeit by a very small amount). I'm a huge fan of this change and think it will lead to a lot more fun and stories over the years than people currently realize.
Verdict: These changes are generally just solid improvements, though I am curious the consequences these will have on planeswalker ultimates.
What about Dragon's Maze Standard? It seems like a Modern GP and a Block PT plus the new rules impacting Legacy have Standard in the rare position of not getting the spotlight.
For instance, people don't yet realize that Aetherling is a true stone-cold killer and is going to take over Standard. Of course, last Saturday's SCG Standard Open winner has one, so maybe the tide is already beginning.
"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." -Mark Twain, most likely in regards to Sphinx's Revelation.
This is an example of a full-on dedicated control deck that may be legitimately tier 1 because of the printing of Aetherling. Not since Jace, the Mind Sculptor has control had such reliable kill card.
I like the use of such a nice variety of reactive cards, making Sphinx's Revelation more likely to find you something useful for whatever exact board position you may find yourself in. I do have concerns about this build's weakness to permission. Aetherling is basically unbeatable if you resolve it. If only there was a way...
Other notable Dragon's Maze additions include Turn // Burn as another cheap removal option that gives us added defense against Thragtusk and Warleader's Helix for some extra life gain and planeswalker defense (not to mention a fine tool for dispensing of Restoration Angel). Renounce the Guilds out of the sideboard is also new but not particularly earth shaking. It's a great answer to Falkenrath Aristocrat and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Interesting to note the Clones in the sideboard, which are currently used primarily for their ability to kill opposing legends. Come July 13th, I we'll be seeing a lot less Clone types in people's sideboards.
This past weekend was actually a double-standard weekend, meaning insider trading was illegal unless you are a member of congress... Err, I mean there were two SCG Standard Opens. The one on Sunday was won by Aaron Barich with the Naya Aggro deck he played to the Top 8 of Saturday's event.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
The primary new card here is Voice of Resurgence, which is just an absurdly strong Magic card and will be a defining card for the next couple of years. The card is ridiculously expensive and a slightly strange card to be mythic, but it is as good as the hype says. Here, it is just a good man, but it also gives us valuable Supreme Verdict resiliency, not to mention help against Restoration Angel.
The other new addition is Advent of the Wurm, giving us a little high end. It's also a nice tool for the mirror and for recovering from a Supreme Verdict. Between this, the Voices, the Strangleroot Geists, the Experiment Ones, the Boros Charms, and the Rancors, this list is slanted much stronger against Verdicts than most.
The most notable element of this list isn't really what's here—it's what isn't. Notice anything missing? No Burning-Tree Emissary, huh? With Voice of Resurgence and Strangleroot Geist as the only two-drops, this is just a different direction you can take Naya that is less all-in and more on raw card power.
It isn't new, but note the Volcanic Strengths in the sideboard. This is what Standard has come to. It is a very different world these days.
All this talk about Standard has me wanting to brew. What about Grixis for a change?
This list is largely influenced by conversations Gerry Thompson and I had in San Diego. His theory was that the only people that don't lose to a resolved Aetherling are people that lose to a resolved Olivia Voldaren. And, you know, he might be right.
It would take a lot to get me off of Sphinx's Revelation, but having access to Nephalia Drownyard does give us a way to trump Sphinx's Revelation decks, which have evolved pretty far away from control mirrors. Cavern of Souls also provides us a way to force down Aetherling, ensuring victory against opponents with too slow of game plans.
This is a lot of one-for-one removal without that much card draw, but maybe you don't need to get that far ahead to seal the game up thanks to Aetherling's power level being at such a ridiculous spot. I wouldn't mind more planeswalkers, particularly Jace, Architect of Thought, but I'd want to make sure we keep at least twenty sorceries and instants in here for Augur of Bolas.
Pillar of Flame is particularly important, as we need to have plenty of answers to Voice of Resurgence. Probably the biggest glaring weakness is the lack of a good sweeper. There are plenty of edict effects to choose from, so it's not about Geist of Saint Traft or anything. It's just that if someone has lots of cards that make multiple threats (like Lingering Souls, Voice of Resurgence, Scion of Vitu-Ghazi), it could be a problem for our one-for-one removal strategy.
Barter in Blood is a passable option, but it's really not that much of a sweeper. Mutilate requires taking the deck's mana in a very different direction but could be fueled by Evolving Wilds or possibly even Farseek. What we really need is some sort of Slagstorm. Magmaquake might be an option, but it is unfortunate that it doesn't hit fliers like Spirit tokens.
Ok, I'm out. You guys are great. Take care.
Anybody that actually gets this.
Sideboards – Fourteen is better than zero. Trust me on this.
Matt Sperling – Editor comments making fun of editor comments in an article about someone eventually famous for making editor comments but written before they had ever made any editor comments. [Editor's Note: LOL.]
John "Friggin" Rizzo – Does one need a reason?
Gerard Fabiano – Taking Magic culture to new places and bringing more exposure to the game in King of Nerds. He's already in the final ten, so follow the link and vote to get him and Magic on the show!
Ffej – Who doesn't write articles?