I was perusing the Internet last week during my trip to see family in North Carolina for the holiday when I saw that someone here at Wizards decided to hold an online chat coinciding with the unveiling of the December Banned and Restricted List update. While I am generally a fan of making little things like these into events, I wished the idea was implemented at a time when something more momentous was being announced. As it stands, I'm sure the chat was a Shakespearian much ado about nothing.
For the most part, the “nothing” shouldn't have surprised too many people. Standard has good cards and good decks, but no real offenders. Some people groan every time they see Umezawa's Jitte, but the card is beatable and the so-called “best deck”—some version of mono-blue or blue-black control—doesn't even consider the card, even though it is a cheap artifact playable by anyone capable of tapping two lands.
In Extended, it looked as though the dreaded Psychatog was all set to dominate after the first wave of post-LA Grand Prix, but the format has steadily evolved over the most recent GPs and PTQs. There are aggro decks, control decks, combo-ish decks, and all five colors are showing up to a reasonable degree. Life from the Loam raised some eyebrows around here, but that's about it.
Vintage is currently ruled by the Unholy Trinity of Mishra's Workshop, Mana Drain, and Tendrils of Agony, but it's stable.
It's almost as if those three are in a standoff, each waiting to see if anything will be done about the others. We just don't feel anything needs to be done. Ravnica and Portal cards are making a tiny bit of noise, but nothing has upset the proverbial apple cart.
The real questions arise with Legacy. The format's coming-out party—Grand Prix Philly—was a smashing success, with a nice turnout, a relatively diverse field, and a Top 8 full of surprises. But there are problems lurking. Goblins look dominant, due in no small part to two cards that have proven themselves to be ban-worthy in the past—Goblin Lackey and Aether Vial. When there are maindeck Engineered Plagues and Rune of Protection: Reds in the Top 8, we have to question just how healthy the format is. And when the very deck that all this hate was aimed at still manages to win the tournament, we really need to take a step back. Luckily the upcoming Grand Prix—Lille gives us an opportunity to do just that. We made no changes to the format this time around partly because we felt one tournament—the first major one for a new format to boot—is not the greatest indicator of what's going on, but mainly because we didn't want Lille to be a “lame duck” format wherein cards would still be legal for the event but everyone would know they were being banned in a few days. No one wants to play in that environment. So we get to wait and see, which is fine considering there are no more big Legacy events scheduled for a while. We can afford three more months to get it right if need be.
Besides Goblins, Lille should help us answer some of the other problems around the format, such as, “Is Time Vault / Flame Fusillade actually broken?” and the big one, “What cards can we un-ban going forward?”
Online Prismatic players should breathe a sigh of relief that Enduring Ideal is finally getting the axe. It has all the qualities of cards we generally don't want in the format—it tutors, it's difficult to stop, and it virtually ends the game. As far as other tutors go, Ravnica has deposited an elephant in the room in the form of the transmute mechanic. Cards with transmute certainly look like the type of thing we'd ban, but we don't want to make any hasty decisions before people have had the chance to try the cards out for themselves. Maybe they're narrow and slow enough to be enjoyable without making the games play out the same every time. Or maybe they're just as bad as every other tutor we've purged from Prismatic. Try them out, get a feel for them, then drop me a line regarding how you feel about them using the link at the end of the article. Prismatic is the hardest banned list to maintain mostly because we don't get the data (in the form of decklists and results) that we get for other formats. I'm always open for hearing anecdotal evidence from serious and responsible players.
As for Vanguard, let's have a moment of silence for the Hell's Caretaker avatar. A drastic change, to be sure, but the Hooded One was about as dominant as an avatar can be in Standard Vanguard. We came to the decision to really weaken it only after discussing the possibility of leaving it alone and instead banning cards that work well with it from Standard Vanguard (or Vanguard across all formats)—cards like Yosei and Kokusho. We opted for altering the avatar this time mainly because that action is in line with our current policy, but we'll be revisiting the idea of bannings again soon (which would allow us to “restore” avatars like Hell's Caretaker to something akin to their original statistics). What do you think? Post in the forums or drop me a line—is altering avatars a better way of balancing Vanguard than banning individual cards?
I'm sure some of you are hoping that I'll use the rest of this article to go over last week's Limited pointing exercise. I'd love to do that, but I don't have access to any of the results because I'm currently several miles above the Bering Sea on my way to Worlds in Japan.
We just flew over the International Date Line, which makes my article officially late. What a beating.
I promise I'll get to the pointing stuff sometime before Guildpact previews begin, but in the meantime I want to talk about some fun stuff—namely, Magic decks.
I don't have any pressing duties—such as writing coverage or judging—waiting for me in Yokohama, which should make the trip quite enjoyable. For the most part, I'll be mingling with the Japanese local players as well as the pros, getting a feel for how the things I've been involved with over the past year—Ravnica, the Hall of Fame, player cards, and so on—are being received and what we can do better in the future. As part of my “ambassadorship,” I get to play in a Team Standard showcase on Sunday against the Japanese High School championship team. My teammates? A couple fellows named Garfield and Rosewater. Hopefully we can intimidate them to death.
As I was put in charge of making the decks for our team, I've been spending quite a few hours playing Online in the evenings trying to perfect the perfect trio of decks. I must have tried two dozen ideas, drawing on everything from old FFL experience to current proven archetypes to wacky off-the-cuff nonsense that is only worth trying because I can do it so quickly and easily online.
I'm not going to share our team decks here; hopefully they'll be included in the Worlds coverage on Sunday and besides, I don't want our Japanese adversaries getting any more of an advantage over us than they already have. But I'll share some other stuff I made just, you know, for kicks. I don't usually have a good reason to include current decklists in my articles, and everyone loves decklists.
I chose nine of the decks that didn't quite make the cut for teams and built them out of real cards to take on the trip. Wizards employees will be doing a fair amount of “gunslinging”—playing against all comers—over the course of the event, and these decks should make for some good stories even if they don't win all the time. I intentionally watered several of them down just to vary people's play experiences. “Fun Magic” should be just that.
There is one crazy deck that I spent a lot of time trying to actually perfect, however. Check out this list.
Quick history on Warp World… Our own resident warped wacko Mark Gottlieb designed the card during Ravnica development. I liked the card a lot; it was big and splashy, looked really fun, and had potential to do some degenerate stuff. Mike Turian was in charge of making a deck around it for the FFL, and quickly came to the conclusion that the best way to build it was red-green with 4 Warp World and 56 permanents. Turian's version would ramp up its mana with Sakura-Tribe Elders, Birds, and Wood Elves, and then hope to warp into a board full of Shivan Dragons and Verdant Forces, while probably cutting his opponent's permanents in half. The deck was explosive if inconsistent, and the Ravnica team played it safe by upping Warp World's cost from seven to eight.
I didn't think much of the card until I read an article about it by Michael Hinderaker on a site called Londes.com. Michael kept the red-green 56 permanent structure, but found a couple gems that combo'd with Warp World brilliantly. One was cards that gave tokens to your opponents, like Forbidden Orchard and Hunted Troll. You own the tokens if you control the effect that generated them, so they count towards your number of permanents when Warp World resolves, not your opponent's. It's a quirky rules loophole, but some of the most memorable Magic decks try to prey on such nuances. The other key addition was Anarchist, which helps facilitate endless Warp recursion.
My changes to the deck really help the recursion engine run; that's how the deck wins, after all. The ideal draw involves a turn three Heartbeat of Spring and a turn four Warp World off of an Orchard or two. From there you hope to flip an Anarchist, some combination of cards that will give you eight more mana, and any of the various cards that increase your permanent count, such as Hunted Troll, Fists of Ironwood, and Wood Elves. You keep going from there, Warping and Warping until your opponent has lost all his permanents (either through your picking them off with Galvanic Arc and Nullmage Shepherd, or by simply flipping instants and sorceries). You'll begin building up mana, which can go into Selesnya Guildmage to up your permanent count, or into Kumano for the eventual win. You should be able to find Warp Worlds even when an Anarchist doesn't show up through clever use of Sensei's Divining Top in between resolving various Wood Elves and Civic Wayfinder triggers. Conclave Phalanx will keep your life total high (so you don't die to mana burn if you stall), and Azusa lets you deploy the lands that the Wayfarers are putting into your hand. It's all very spectacular.
As fun as this deck was to play online, it's probably abysmal to play with real cards. First, your opponent has to understand the “own vs. control” rule. Second, you have to keep track of lots of stuff—fluctuating amounts of red and green mana, the order of six or seven triggered abilities going on the stack at once, and numbers and types of three different types of tokens that are entering and leaving existence faster than Higgs bosons. And, oh, the shuffling. The shuffling! Your opponent will not enjoy shuffling his one Plains back into his deck for the ninth time in a row as you refill the board with permanents and adjust your various abacuses.
So if you have the cards to try this beauty out online, I recommend it. If you are a patient man with strong fingers and good accounting skills, give it a go with the paper cards as well. It should work wonders baffling, amusing, and frustrating your opponents all at once. I know I can't wait to try doing just that in Japan. I can only imagine how crazy this deck can get if you give yourself access to older cards like Gaea's Cradle, Deranged Hermit, and Eternal Witness in casual play. Just don't expect to win too many games against opponents with Duress or Force of Will.
Here, quickly, are a couple of other concoctions we'll be battling with at Worlds.
This is another nasty little lockdown that prevents your opponents from being able to do anything and then takes twenty years to kill them. Devin Low built this version while we were testing Ninth Edition and Ravnica, and it is surprisingly potent. The goal is to get out a Howling Mine or two and a Teferi's Puzzle Box, and then Plagiarize your opponent every turn for the rest of the game. Literally. We like to “plant” cute little combos like this in the Core Set so that beginners can stumble upon them through experimentation, and sometimes the combos are good enough to be competitive. Opposition and Static Orb in Seventh Edition was one of the best recent ones. Plagiarize and Puzzle Box? Probably not so much.
Dark Confidant is a heck of a card. Tournament players appreciate him for what he is—a high-risk high-reward card engine that is about as cost-efficient as a creature can get. On the flipside, many players won't even accept that he's playable, let alone good. He's certainly not meant for everyone. The Confidant—“Bob,” after Bob Maher, Jr., the Invitational winner that designed it—originally cost
BB, at which time he was enabling one deck and one deck only, mono-black beatdown. The development team relaxed the colored requirement, allowing Bob to find his way into a bunch of potential decks, ranging from Dave Williams' 4-color Extended Zoo deck to Chris Pikula's nearly mono-black Legacy disruption deck. And if you're a glutton for punishment, try something like this, with 18 cards that damage you
This deck may be my favorite of the bunch, mainly for its cross-block synergies. In an attempt to “play nice” with Kamigawa
, our creative team made several of the creatures in Ravnica
into Spirits, including Carven Caryatid
and Twilight Drover
, the little card-advantage engine that could, no longer has to settle for tutoring up Indomitable Will
Aura theme gives him lots of juicy targets like Galvanic Arc
and Moldervine Cloak
. Faith's Fetters
wasn't invited to the party, sadly, because it is an Enchant Permanent
and hence cannot be fetched by the ‘Wisp. A couple cards that didn't make it into this version that might be worth a look are Blinking Spirit
and Auratouched Mage
I hope you enjoyed my little diversionary looks at some of what I've been doing here at Worlds. If you want to see some “real” Standard decks, go check out our online coverage—the four 6-0 decks from Day 1 hint at what appears to be an outstanding environment with lots of room for creativity.