Scars Block And Magic 2012: A Flavorful Goodbye
Soon enough Return to Ravnica will be known in full and then I'll be able to do a proper flavor review of the upcoming set. Until then though it's only fitting that I say goodbye to the sets leaving Standard Scars of Mirrodin block and Magic 2012. Rather than an assessment of the departing sets by power level—I'll leave that to the professionals—I'm looking at fun and flavor with a helping of music on the side.
Scars of Mirrodin: (I've Had) The Time of My Life
I remember the start of Scars block being a rush. The return of the Mirrodin setting brought with it the promise of artifacts—dangerous artifacts—and a chance to see what happened to Karn's metal plane of Argentum in the post-Memnarch era. The most prominent retroactive change a retcon to repopulate the plane was necessary to make the return to Mirrodin tick. In the original Mirrodin block storyline the "soul traps" that had been used to populate the plane sent almost everyone back to the appropriate plane leaving only a few main characters and soulless creations. For Scars of Mirrodin this was changed to the soul traps sending back only people who had been abducted and those born on Mirrodin stayed as they had nowhere to go. A near-empty plane would have been fine for the original plan of starting with New Phyrexia but not for the vision of all-out war between the Mirrans and Phyrexians hence the retcon.
As for Scars of Mirrodin the set it was a good ride in the beginning. Look at the decklists from the 2010 StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville the first such event where Scars of Mirrodin was Standard-legal. What cards were seeing play? Spikeshot Elder. Ezuri Renegade Leader. Wurmcoil Engine. Copperline Gorge. Sure there were decks playing Jace the Mind Sculptor but he wasn't yet the "big bad" who would be banned from Standard. Limited could be annoying as the odds were against you opening a quality Infect deck in Sealed (but much higher that you would play against a lucky duck who did get one). Even so I enjoyed Scars of Mirrodin while it stood alone from Tempered Steel to Memnite to Argentum Armor. (Remember when that was scary equipment and you were just begging not to get hit with a second-turn Quest for the Holy Relic activation?)
It's only in hindsight that Sword of Body and Mind pointed at the trouble to come but that's no reason for me to put Baby in a corner. Scars of Mirrodin did something new and something cool. I'll remember it fondly.
Mirrodin Besieged: Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Mirrodin Besieged and I didn't end so well but I can't be upset with what I saw before it all went wrong.
To be sure Mirrodin Besieged had its detractors at least for individual cards. Geordie Tait did a memorable point-by-point takedown of Blightsteel Colossus laying out his case that the card never should have been. Other cards showed the gains the Phyrexians had made in turning Mirrodin to its side including Corrupted Conscience; Glissa the Traitor; and Inkmoth Nexus.
That's not to say that Mirrodin's denizens the Mirrans were going down without a fight. Battle cry was the Mirran riposte to Phyrexia's living weapon and between Hero of Oxid Ridge scattering Phyrexian underlings Hero of Bladehold making her own army and Signal Pest calling out enemy locations the Mirrans offered plenty of slice-and-dice promise.
While I was watching the war I was mashing Phyrexian corruption and Mirran purity into the same deck. "Oh Signal Pest and Inkmoth Nexus you're so awesome together! Play nicely on my side! We can all get along!" Both of course have become staples of the "Robots" decks that have succeeded in old Affinity style in both Modern and Legacy.
Before I could take the two of them for a spin though Pro Tour Paris came along and a certain deck made its debut. The original incarnation was called "Caw-Go" but the name soon changed to the dread inspiring...
That list looks quaint now doesn't it? There are just two pieces of hardware to fetch up with Stoneforge Mystic and one of them is a Sylvok Lifestaff! Of course Ben Stark made the most of his one Mirrodin Besieged equipment card Sword of Feast and Famine and between Squadron Hawks and Sword-wielding editions of Gideon Jura he took down the Pro Tour.
In short order the metagame warped around Caw-Blade. Standard players who were around for Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth in April 2011 will remember the infamous 32 Jace the Mind Sculptor copies of 32 possible in the Top 8 where the participants split 50/50 on the question "Explore and Lotus Cobra or Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge Mystic?" The Friday after Tom LaPille promised cards in the next set that would be targeted at Jace the Mind Sculptor.
New Phyrexia: Forget You
I've given my not-exactly-popular take on the Vorthos aspects of New Phyrexia already so I'll stick to the objectively verifiable Constructed impact of the set. New Phyrexia broke Standard when it was new it darn near broke Standard when it was old and thanks to the ironically named Mental Misstep it even managed to break Legacy for giggles.
Between Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace the blatant synergy with Stoneforge Mystic decisively answered the question of what color to pair with Jace the Mind Sculptor. Pat Cox's triumph with RUG in Standard notwithstanding the top decks of the June 2011 Indianapolis StarCityGames.com Invitational were a Caw-Blade army. Stoneforge Mystic joined Jace the Mind Sculptor in the Standard "sin bin" when the June bannings came around and Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace together were responsible for sealing her fate. Three months later Mental Misstep was tossed from Legacy with the September 2011 announcement.
Fast-forward to the June 2012 StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis and what's the story with the highly ranked Standard Decks? Delver of Secrets with many of its empowering instants and sorceries once again supplied by New Phyrexia. Gitaxian Probe and Vapor Snag were no-questions four-of cards while Gut Shot Dismember and Mutagenic Growth also made appearances. Though Delver of Secrets avoided a Standard ban in the end swatting "The Fly" was a topic of serious discussion among elite players and I'm sure the topic received more than just a casual mention in the Wizards offices.
With a few exceptions for cards such as Beast Within (I'd love to see this reprinted) Birthing Pod (which may lead to weird chains and broken turns but at least is vaguely cool and brainy about doing so) Caged Sun (getting its due in differently competitive play) and Vault Skirge (an Affinity/Robots staple) I'll be happy to swap New Phyrexia and friends for Return to Ravnica. Out with the old and in with the new!
Magic 2012: The Long Goodbye
What is it about human nature that makes us cling too long and demand that others do the same? When sports stars walk away while they still have something left as Kurt Warner did many fans howl and shriek demanding one more year. When the sports stars stay in too long as Brett Favre arguably did the howls turn derisive: "Don't these oldies know when to give up?"
Magic is a young card's town too and many pieces of cardboard linger on past their primes.
I'll be the first to admit that I love Honor of the Pure but after three consecutive sets I knew its time had come and was only half-sad not to see it in Magic 2013. Ponder has had three chances in Standard and twice it has proved an annoyance so I hope we go awhile without seeing it again. Some cards end up tiresome after just one go-round (Phantasmal Image anyone?) while others are broadly loved but need to take a break such as Birds of Paradise. Every staple short of the five basic lands has a sell-by date and Giant Spider finally reached its. October 5 2012 will be the first day in which Giant Spider will not be a Standard-legal card.
Other cards are still dragging out their long goodbyes. Acidic Slime was novel when it made its debut in Magic 2010 but it's like a vestigial tail in Magic 2013; what is it supposed to do when Return to Ravnica comes out and Magic 2013 isn't drafted heavily anymore? Similarly the Rootbound Crag cycle is well designed and even inspired an enemy-color cycle in Innistrad block but by Magic 2014 at the latest I hope to see something new. Let the allies and enemies leave Standard at the same time and open up space for a new or returning cycle. There's no need to prolong this goodbye.
On that note it's time for my exit. Join me next time when I'll tackle Return to Ravnica's flavor.
As always thanks for reading.
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