@mtgaaron: Problem #1 with working in Magic R&D: time distortion field. What year is it?
Yes folks it's that time again when 2012 gives way to 2013. The world counts down New Year's celebrations hit the streets champagne corks fly and a new Magic set comes out.
Well one of those things happens anyway. Two if you're at a classy sort of midnight Prerelease.
But one way or the other it is most definitely M13 time. And this core set has three of the things all good core sets should have. To wit:
The Flashy Planeswalkers
Folks you're in luck. I managed to get exclusive interviews with both Ajani and Liliana only here on StarCityGames.com. (Later: Sorin tells all! His breakup with Lingering Souls and why Honor of the Pure "should just rotate out already.")
J: Ajani you have definitely hit the gym since we saw you last. You've slimmed down a full mana and you're sporting a sexy new +1 ability.
A: Thanks! That's something I was really looking to improve on. All the guys I was working with last time around—Kitchen Finks Spectral Procession Bitterblossom—LOVED the -1 but the "gain two life" wasn't doing it for them. I took some time off to reinvent myself and I love my new role. Adding just one counter feels so much more versatile. Previously I was only working with the mass token makers but now Loyal Cathar Champion of the Parish and even Geist of Saint Traft are interested in building lists with me.
J: And your comeback couldn't have come at a better time. A lot of people were worried Gideon and Tamiyo were taking over shop from you guys—the originals. Jace just hasn't been the same since being banned last year.
A: I know poor guy. I keep trying to tell him there's no future in milling but he won't listen to me.
J: Speaking of Gideon do you worry about competition from him?
A: Not at all! Gideon and I fit into completely different roles. I'm only ever going to be working with the aggressive one- and two-drop white creatures. I'd feel way out my depth trying to do what he does fitting in with Sun Titan in the heavy-hitting control deck. That's so not me. But twelve flying damage on turn 5? Now that is my style and he's not taking that away from me anytime soon.
J: So you don't see you and Lingering Souls doing something together?
J: Some pundits have been comparing the new you to Elspeth. What's your take?
A: I'm honored. No really I'm very very flattered. White planeswalkers have been trying for years to do what Elspeth does: be equally amazing on offense and defense and be able to switch effortlessly between stabilizing a difficult board and taking over a clogged one. And to be honest I can't touch her. I just can't. She's amazing. I don't know how she does it.
I've tried to buckle down and do one role really well and I'm a mana cheaper! So maybe I can give her a run for her money in White Weenie. We'll see.
J: Any parting words?
A: Just want to give a shout-out to my boys Craig Wescoe and Paul Rietzl! Love you both lots! xox
J: Liliana it's clearly been tough for you over the last few months. First Moorland Haunt and now Lingering Souls are everywhere not to mention Strangleroot Geist and Blade Splicer. To someone who started out collecting Stromkirk Noble and Lord of the Unreal scalps this shift must've come as a nasty shock.
L: It has. It's been very hard trying to break back into a format that's turned its back on me. That's where this latest reinvention has come from. I was finding myself +1ing against a pair of Spirits more often than not anyway so I'm looking for a new angle. At least this way I'll get a bit of value from adding loyalty.
J: Do you worry that your abilities are too narrow?
L: Ugh. I do. A lot. Look I'm really holding out for the return of duals in Return to Ravnica. Without those my only shot is mono-black control becoming viable again.
J: What are the chances of that?
L: Somewhere between "hell freezing over" and "you breaking into professional Go-go dancing."
J: I've tried but I just can't quite get that swing.
L: Don't remind me.
J: Suppose we do get Swamps of different colors printed in Standard. What direction are you looking to take that in?
L: Well my strength lies in being a four-mana planeswalker that +1s for value. I need to be in a deck that can make use of a lot of mana and I need to not be under too much pressure the first couple turns I'm in play. If we can check both those boxes we've got something. Mana-fixing extra cards killing a couple creatures possibly even getting ultimate mode on.
If you look at cheap planeswalkers that get incremental advantages with their plus ability you see a pretty good set. I'm not talking Chandra the Firebrand here; I mean Elspeth Tezzeret or Sorin. The guys that get you some percentage of a card with every activation. We can really get out of control if left alone for a turn or two.
J: Dream game? Dream matchup?
L: Game I'd say get two Swamps kill a creature get two Swamps kill another creature and then just hang out getting Swamps until the deck doesn't have any left. No more mana problems and insane amounts of card advantage. Going ultimate is just the cherry on top.
For that to work I need time and not too much pressure. So for matchup I'd say the same ones I loved a few years ago as Liliana Vess. Any slowish midrange or control matchup where both players have expensive creatures and not too many plays before turn 4. And hey I don't want to sound snobbish here but I really dig a deck that can make use of my ultimate. Forbidden Alchemies and the like maybe even a Bonfire of the Damned if you're feeling fancy. Sadly it's not every deck that can use a ton of extra Swamps. But if you need sixteen black mana for whatever reason I'm your gal.
J: Hey thanks for chatting Lilly. Any shout-outs you want to make?
L: Cabal Coffers. And Mind Sludge. God I miss you guys.
The Sweet Reprint
Who remembers when M10 was in spoiler season? A lot of playgroups were having excited whispered conversations like this:
Andrew: So M10 has been rumored to contain a certain discontinued one-mana burn spell from Alpha.
Yes. THAT one-mana burn spell.
Paul: EARTHBIND?? SWEET!
Rancor is like Lightning Bolt in a lot of ways. It's efficient and amazing at what it does without being unfairly undercosted (see: Tarmogoyf Stoneforge Mystic). It gives a huge boost to aggressive strategies. And any draw with two of them and a backing of efficient creatures will put your opponent in a 0-1 hole faster than they can say "Snapcaster targeting my Ponder."
A lot of you younger folks might be scratching their heads. "But Jeremy" you're protesting "it's a creature enchantment. I know it was great and all back when Acridians and Pouncing Jaguars roamed wild and free but these days we have Snapcaster Mage and Lingering Souls. We've moved on and frankly I wouldn't touch a Pouncing Jaguar with a ten-foot Staff of Nin. Is Rancor still really that great a card? Aren't you going to hit a Snag or two?"
To those younger folks I say "Consarn it sonny-boy! When I was your age I was Tinkering up Phyrexian Colossi with my bare hands out of a pair of old wheels and string! Now get off my lawn!"
Young whippersnappers thinking they know it all. No respect. Er what was I talking about again?
Oh right Rancor. The power of this card just isn't obvious on the surface. You already learned way back in Magic 101 that creature enchantments suck. They kill your guy or trade with it and you're down a card: the classic two-fer.
Yeah you can play around that too by being careful when you play it or running hexproof creatures like Dungrove Elder or Thrun. But even assuming it hits play it's just +2/+0. That's not so scary surely?
Well it wouldn't be. But it costs one mana. One mana. Think about getting hit with a Rancored guy on turn 2 or 3. You have two options neither good:
- Take the damage. You're getting hit for four or five or seven a turn. At some point you're going to have to take option 2 because there's no way you're racing that.
- Trade. You still take a bunch of damage and Rancor goes back to their hand. Hope they don't have more creatures in hand—what are the chances of that right? They're only a green deck. Oh look that guy you traded with was a Strangleroot Geist. Awkward. You'll need a lot more blockers where that one came from.
Rancor is terrifying because for a tiny investment it turns every race in your favor. If guys are turning sideways and other guys are standing in the way the difference a Rancor makes is tremendous. This is actually even truer now than when Rancor was originally printed. Then creatures were roughly 2/2 and there wasn't much that put multiples into play. Now green creatures are bigger and there are tokens all over the shop between Lingering Souls Gather the Townsfolk Blade Splicer and Moorland Haunt.
How much damage is a double-Rancored Arbor Elf going to do attacking on turn 2? An awful lot.
How much of a beatdown is a turn 2 Rancored Strangleroot Geist? On a scale of one to ten it's a beatdown and a half.
This card is going to make waves caused mainly by terrified blue mages running away from angry trampling green guys. Prepare accordingly.
The Unassuming Role-Players
These are the cards that everyone scrolls past in the spoiler. We want to see the Thragtusks the Sublime Archangels the Thundermaw Hellkites with big splashy effects on Standard. We want to gape at the Worldfires or the Omnisciences that will certainly never see play outside of Commander but gosh aren't they cool. We want to speculate briefly about combining Boundless Realms with Valakut before we realise that it's Valakut not Scapeshift that's banned in Modern. We idly wonder if a one-of Nicol Bolas will make it into any Standard decks this time round.
Fact is that Sign in Blood will have a more profound impact on Standard than 80% of these cards. It's simple and it's good. Zombies will certainly play a couple. (How much airtime did Vapor Snag get in New Phyrexia spoilers? It turned out to be quite a bit more relevant than Lashwrithe.)
Smelt intrigues me. Not because it's very far above the curve but because red doesn't usually get such efficient answers. Killing artifacts cheaply and well is green's domain. Green gets Oxidize. Red gets Shatter Crush and Overload.
The reprinting of Essence Scatter is a big red flag that Mana Leak may be no more. Essence Scatter is worse by a fair margin but it is still good enough to potentially see play. It counters the important things against the green decks and a certain two-mana 2/1 flash in the blue mirror match.
Farseek is a signal of a different sort: if this is getting reprinted we may well see Ravnica duals return later in the year. Otherwise it's strictly worse than Rampant Growth. If they are this is an exciting reprint. Farseek for a two-color land is obviously awesome and contributed to many a successful four-color green deck back in the day.
That's it for this week. Here's to the new year (of Magic)! May it be long and prosperous and full of miracled Bonfires.
Until next time