Last week, I gave you The Most Powerful Multiplayer Card in Time Spiral. And this week, I promised I'd get you the
Funnest Most Fun Multiplayer Card in Time Spiral!
And that card is...
WARNING! Time Spiral Legends Week approaching! WARNING! Time Spiral Legends Week approaching! Abort column on fun! Move to canned package!
Captain, what's that on the viewscreen? Why, it's an approaching deadline! Set writers to stunned!
Alas, the fun will have to wait until next week... Or will it? After all, some of the
funnest most fun cards in all of Magic are legends. There's something about a good legend that's just soul-satisfying; they're as flavorful as a Thai meal with lemongrass soup, and twice as nourishing. If you can't have fun when you plop down a legend, you're not trying.
Furthermore, legends are arguably what make Magic Magic. Not to bash the competition here, but I've played other systems, usually based on some kind of marketing license, and they never really gelled for me flavorwise. I mean, I often liked the mechanics of the game in question, but there was something about the absence of good legends that never let me forget I was, at my heart, juggling numbers.
I'd lay down a card that was supposedly legend-like, crying, "I cast Mister Incredible!" – but it didn't feel like Mister Incredible to me. Mister Incredible was somebody I'd seen on the movie screen, spent a couple of hours watching; this was a piece of cardboard that bore his name and a couple of lines of text. Disappointing. (And even more disappointing when you realize that some systems have many, many versions of Mister Incredible, meaning that this particular Mister Incredible is, well, not so Incredible and merely one of a vast army of Incrediclones.)
But Magic, because it's its own universe, comes alive when you cast a legend. It's exciting when you've been reading about Kaervek the Merciless for the better part of a decade... And suddenly, you can cast him! And he does cool stuff! And he's the only one you can have on the table at any given time!
Man, that sets the Vorthos in me to tingling, lemme tell you.
But when it comes to multiplayer, let's rank the Time Spiral legends by power, fun, and coolness. Power is defined as "How likely will this card (or a deck built around this card) be to win you the game?" Fun is defined as "How much entertainment can you get out of playing this card?" And coolness is, well, how much it makes a game of Magic feel like you're actually slinging spells on a battlefield.
We'll rank 'em... Okay. Scale of one to five. Five's the high end, one's the low end. That should do it. I'm even gonna give you a special bonus; I was only supposed to review the new legends, but I'll review all the old ones while I'm here!
"Wait a minute!" you cry. "Didn't you say that we're ranking on a scale of one to five?" And indeed, I am. But Akroma is just one of those cards that breaks the dang scale.
Who doesn't love Akroma?
She's the marquee card of not one, but three classic types of players: Timmy loves her because she's a big big fattie that flies for a bunch of damage, Spike loves her because she wins games, and Vorthos loves her because of that beautiful glint in her eye as she soars across the battlefield, all but unstoppable in her quest for power.
Only Johnny's disappointed. "She just kills people," he laments. Where's the fun in that?
And that is, sadly, Akroma's main problem. That is what she does. She kills people in her unstoppable way. In that, the love of Akroma is kind of when you fall for a very hot chick and put the blinders on; at first, you think that she's so beautiful, you couldn't imagine her doing anything wrong. She does exactly what you want, and she does it better than anyone else... What's the problem?
The problem is, sadly, that she has one trick. And that's it.
Slowly, conversation by conversation, you realize she has no other interests. If you take that one thing out of the equation, well... Actually, she's kind of boring. There's nothing else to her.
If you're smart, you find someone else who has a little more to offer.
Likewise, Akroma. She's titanic, and flies through the air with the greatest of ease, but if everyone's piloting the Big Nanny then it gets a little boring. Everyone's waiting to get to eight mana, everyone's got a Condemn ready to take her out, everyone's trying to get two Akromas in hand so that they can kill their opponent's Akroma and get their Akroma. Pretty soon the game becomes a big Angel-fest, which is a lot less fun than it sounds.
Akroma will dominate newer playgroups to the point where they have no choice but to build the anti-Akroma deck or to start playing Akromas of their own. Smart playgroups will recognize the power of the Big A and back off, slowly, saving her for special occasions.
She's a wonderful date for certain occasions. She can spice up your life. Just don't get too attached, you know?
This is the kind of card that drives Johnny nuts. He sees a powerful effect attached to a near-fatal drawback and he goes, "Man! I can do something with that."
Maybe he can. But not consistently. The problem with Dralnu is the problem with control in multiplayer in general; you don't have enough power to protect everything on the board. There aren't enough Counterspells in the world when six players come to town, which means that your creatures are going to hit the bin on a regular basis. And with Dralnu's drawback, all it takes is one Lightning Bolt to ruin your whole day.
Which is not to say that it can't be done. You could make him untargetable, but then you're filling half your deck with cards that read, "Protect Dralnu: get me no closer to my win condition." And it's no fun when your protection engine stutters and someone's Demonfire decimates your board.
Thus, I gotta close the books on the guy. I like the idea. I like the fact that there's a lot of power there somewhere, since flashing back instants could get ridonkulous and fast. But the whole sacrificing thing?
Endrek Sahr is a fascinating balance in multiplayer. Thrulls were one of the coolest tribes in Fallen Empires, since they were so flavorful; they sacrificed themselves willingly to help others. The problem is that almost all the good Thrulls (Thrull Surgeon, Mindstab Thrull, Armor Thrull) need to sacrifice themselves, not other Thrulls, to do the dirty work. Thus, unfortunately, the Thrulls become generic 1/1 dudes.
Still, even a guy who creates generic 1/1 dudes at will can find uses, assuming you have things to sacrifice. I'm not a true Johnny crazy deckbuilder, but even I can see there are a lot of cool ways to abuse him - even though it's an ugly four colors, I'm thinking that Aluren, Cavern Harpy, and Goblin Bombardment could be "fun" from a winning kinda perspective. (Then again, it'd just be a variant on the ol' Cavern Harpy/Cloud of Faeries/Soul Warden/Maggot Carrier Extended deck from a ways back.)
And as any good designer knows, every 1/1 goes with a nice, custom-tailored Coat of Arms.
The coolness, however, is amazing. I love the fact that the man can't control himself. He breeds and he breeds until they devour him whole. And who doesn't love that?
The thing about Eron is, well, he's a big dude who smashes face quickly and regenerates for a billion red mana. It's unusual for red to have a creature that regenerates, and haste is a little better in multiplayer than it is in duels since so much more time passes between each of your upkeeps, but really? That's about it.
As for the coolness, I bear a special grudge against Eron. See, in the days before the Internet made spoiler lists a matter-of-fact occurrence, we players did not know what cards were in a given set. And I saw a special preview card from Homelands:
"Of course," thought I. "If Fallen Empires had a Thrull theme, Homelands will be the Ferret theme!" I envisioned seven or eight cool ferret cards so that I, The Ferrett, could build a ferret deck. And I bought a box.
You know what I got? Ten billion Eron the Relentless, and the sad knowledge that Joven's Ferrets is the only ferret card in all of Magic. (Oh. And Repopulate. Whee.) Thus, I cannot claim that Eron is cool. He is the anti-cool. He is the man who killed ferrets for me.
Wizards? Print some dang ferrets. Trust me, the kids'll love 'em.
You might be surprised that I would rank Ib's sorta-ability as a 3, but that's because of how Goblins work in multiplayer. Generally, they come boiling out of the gate, take down a player or two, and then come to a dead stop as the first 5/5 or 6/6 legendary dude slams in front of them and blunts their assault. Ib can ensure that multiple Goblins working in tandem can take down, well, just about anything that doesn't have protection from red.
Not very interesting, true. But it does make Goblins slightly more multiplayer-friendly, even if you're guaranteed to lose any Goblin a player chooses to block.
The coolness, though? Well, I gotta be honest; I was hoping for something more suicidal from Ib, who's been proven to be pretty slow on the uptake. This Ib is a little too strategical. If I had to give Ib its own text, it would be Goblin Pyromancer – "Kill or die." There ya go.
Maze of Ith is such an amazingly powerful little card that I know of a lot of multiplayer groups who just ban it outright. It's the only non-mana-producing land that I have no qualms about putting in my deck, because it protects me from any-darned-thing I choose.
It's not that Maze of Ith is combolicious; it's just that it slows down combat to a crawl, making things monotonous when everyone has one of them out. You want fun games, not games where people are yoinking their best creatures out of combat all the time.
Ith's a little more fun because he's a creature and can attack, but a little less powerful because, well, you can kill him and he can't touch anything with protection from either blue or white. And he's in a color that encourages control decks, so you wind up with a guy who's extremely flavorful yet not particularly thrilling to pilot.
I've met Maze of Ith. And you, sir, are no Maze of Ith.
Yes, Wizards, vanilla legends are an important part of Magic. I agree that you had to print one, just to remind the kids of today that not every card has to be stuffed with seventeen different mechanics. And Jasmine is pretty.
But why not Jedit Ojanen? Come on guys. You've got his dragoons. Oh, I know, I know...
When it's "cute girl" versus "Scary cat-head guy," "cute girl" wins every time. Alas.
Jaya Ballard loves fire. And that's a damn good thing, because she's going to draw a lot of it. When you have an Incinerate on a stick, almost everyone at the table has a vested interest in not seeing Jaya hit your next upkeep. And even as a 2/2, she's not big enough to protect herself. In practical multiplayer Magic, I'd guess that Jaya's actual power (on the "power" scale, mind you) is actually a 2.
If she can stick around, though, she's tremendous. Once she hits and sticks she begins to slowly work the blue mage, and can remove pretty much whoever she wants, or just send the entire board up in flames. If she becomes active, she's a 4 or 5, easy.
Thus, I'm averaging her out to a 3. It's that weird "power" balance of multiplayer, where you cast something so strong that everyone will pull up to a short stop in order to take her out. Whee!
As far as coolness goes, though, have you seen that art? That cocky expression? That rakish tilt to her hips? Have you traveled through the best flavor quotes in history, each spoken by the phenomenal Jaya Ballard? She is the coolest mage in all of Magic history.
Don't argue. You'll just lose.
We've seen her before, and she has the same problems that any spellshaper does – namely, will she live long enough to go active? – but she's harder to kill and harder to activate, so she'll have an easier time of making it to your next upkeep in one piece.
When she does, well... I have to admit that I have a fondness for "Living Land" effects. I like envisioning my lands awakening with an earthquakey roar and walking across the land to destroy the enemy! And better yet, I love destroying other players' lands, having them come alive with a snort as Wrath of God sends them to an early grave.
(Say, what do they bury dead lands in? You can't cover them with earth. Hmm.....)
I had no idea how powerful Kaervek was until I finally got to play him in a group game. The board was reasonably stable, but once I plopped the big K down I won.
"I kill that," said I.
"I kill that!"
"I kill THAT!" I cried, and then leapt to the top of the table to howl at the moon with the full power that I had coursing through my fingertips. People lived in terror. Cats and dogs, living together.
Yeah, I won that game. The problem is, though, that I lost a lot of the rest of them; Kaervek's a big puppy, but getting to seven mana is often an issue. Worse, you're playing black/red, which means that you're in the color that can't remove enchantments and dies to a lot of things with "protection from..."
I tried this deck. Feel free to improve it in the forums (and to substitute the dual lands of your choice), because I'll tell ya... It didn't work.
Lim-Dul the Necromancer
I covered my issues with Limmy in last week's column. Click over, punky!
The problem with low-cost legends is that, well, any spell can kill them. But Mangara is cool because unlike other similar effects, removing him from the game is not a cost; in other words, you tap him and target a creature, and if you can find some way to return him to your hand before the effect resolves, their creature goes on a one-way trip to RFGland while Mangara stays in place.
There's a deck waiting to be built here. Really. And it'll be slow, and remove one permanent at a time, and probably not be at all competitive. But I look forward to losing to it, because that's such a whacky way to die that I don't even mind.
There are other cards that tap to steal, like Seasinger, and they all have the same drawback; like Mangara, they're all darned fragile (which means they're in a box somewhere with a leg-shaped lamp). Any spell that can remove them ¬– and there are many – will get them their creature back.
Which is why you don't play these guys on the third turn. Wait a while. Let everyone exhaust their removal on the big guns, taking out the real threats, and eventually someone will cast a creature and nobody, at long last, will have a response.
Then steal it like you were the guy from Grand Theft Auto. It's more fun than most "Steal a creature" spells, since it's so easy to get your creature back... Well, sorta.
I gotta be honest; I looked at this card and went, "Wow. That's a powerful effect!" And then I waited for someone in my gaming group to build a deck around it, since I certainly didn't have any obvious ideas of how to abuse it.
Surprisingly, I'm still waiting.
I think this is an absolutely great card. And when someone turns up with it, it's either going to be so powerful that it just wins in some stupidly effortless way that it won't be much fun to play against, or it'll be less potent than it looks and encourage some weirdo combos.
I can't tell you for sure. I've shaken the Magic 8-Ball, and it says, "Ask again later."
Generally, this is the perennial trivia footnote; since it's every creature type, there are a ton of Magic questions that end with, "And Mistform Ultimus, of course."
Sadly, the Mistform has found no home. Since he has no special abilities on his own, he generally brings nothing to the party. At best, he's a big 3/3 in some tribal deck that's filled with wimpy 1/1s and 2/1s (like Kobolds or Wizards).
Still, I like playing him. I like repeatedly reminding all my fellow players that my Mistform Ultimus is one of that. See that Soldier? Yeah, he's a soldier too. You just cast a Fortune Thief? Hey, my Ultimus is a human rogue, too! A dragon? Say, my Ultimus is a –
Sometimes they kill my Ultimus just so I cannot point this out any more. This makes me a sad panda. And by the way, Mistform Ultimus is also a panda!
(JUDGE INTERJECTION: No it's not.)
Well, for one thing he has so many mana symbols on him that you don't begrudge anyone bringing him into play on the cheap. And even after they bring him into play, they still have to pay for him, so he's eminently fair.
Then there's his ability. He's a 7/7, yes, and he flies, so he'll take anything down, but he does not trample. This means you have a good chance of not losing your hand if you have any chump blocker. This fits the bill of "a terrifying card that doesn't seem totally overwhelming," since he'll only punish you if you've left your aerial defense behind, which is something no competent Magic multi-player ever does.
In fact, Nicol Bolas is balanced all around. You can't –
Fire Whip on Nicol Bolas?
Oh, man, that's just mean.
I guess he'll be in next week's article on "Fun" cards.
Saffi actually has a really good ability for multiplayer: she protects your creatures from global removal and targeted destruction, which there is an awful lot of in my group. If someone Wrath of Gods away your Akroma, you have Saffi, ready to bite the bullet for her!
Is that a card that's worth a slot in your deck, though? I dunno. I'd tend to think not; while she's powerful, she's also very narrow, and you're probably better off with effects that get you more or better cards.
But still. The fun inherent in leaping up onto the table and shouting, "Run, Hans! It's the – " every time someone decides to pop your best guy cannot be ignored. I know I'd do it. A lot.
Oh, I think, groaning inside, I know what this is for. Yet another slot in the "Reanimate a dragon" deck that uses Bladewing the Risen and Bladewing's Thrall to chain into silly combos that blow everyone out. You can use some effect like Exhume to put it into play after a Buried Alive or something, and then start discarding creatures to it to both attack in decimating ways and to set up for the most devastating Living Death / Living End ever.
That's certainly potent. But not very exciting, really. Spike is happy, Johnny can work a weak thrill out of it, but the rest of us are just sort of waiting.
I knew a guy once who had a frightening obsession with Sol'kanar. He had a hundred Sol'kanar cards. He had Sol'kanar wallpaper on his PC, in the days before Wizards did that sort of thing for you. He wrote Sol'kanar fan fiction. And I'm led to believe he actually stalked Richard Kane Ferguson for a while.
That's the sort of obsession that borders on creepy, but it does attest to a powerful flavor that yanks an otherwise-mundane card into the realm of legend.
Come on! He's the Swamp King! He's got a big club! And he swampwalks, so you know that nobody can stop him! And he feeds on the essence of black spells!
Any card that can turn a Magic nerd into a stalker has to be at least decent. Thus, I'm rankin' this guy higher. Also, my friend Vrax has an all-legend deck, and he often beats us about the head and shoulders with Sol'kanar while protecting him with the tragically-undervalued Karakas.
P.S. – If you've read this far and you play with legends, here's your reward: go buy Karakas somewhere. It's obscenely overpowered in most group games, and it's not too hard to find at an affordable price. It protects your legends and bounces everyone else's; what more do you want?
He's good with other trampling creatures, and makes them more tramplelicious. That's a nice effect, but also very narrow; it's the sort of card that asks, "Hey. Are you playing with trampling guys? You're not? Well, then I'm useless."
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Teferi was the winner of last week's "Most Powerful Multiplayer Card In Time Spiral" Contest, and it's time to show you the deck that I've been running him in – it's not themed around him, but then again it has something like an 4-2 record, which is darned good when you consider that each of the 4s involved me beating at least three other players along the way.
(And yes, this is an old-school deck, and it's expensive. I know this. Cheaper decks will follow next week, so consider this a sort of bonus deck in a section that wouldn't otherwise have one.)
The deck's a definite sign of my "I hate to play the deck the same way twice" kick, but it's got answers for just about everything except an early rush. (Viashino Heretic and Sol Ring are reasonably cheap these days, and so potent I can easily tell you to slot them into any deck.) And Tefering a Stuffy Doll in response to someone's attack phase is good times indeed.
Teferi may not be fun for other players. But it's probably fun for whoever has him. Weight that as you will.
I like Thallids, man, but they're slow to build. Thelon helps get around that slowness, but in such a way that it feels kind of boring. Every turn, all your Thallids get a +1/+1 counter – we get it. Except he's not a Thallid, so he gets chumped by a Sudden Shock.
Now, if they'd called him Felon of Havenwood and had him go around stealing people's Saproling counters, that would have been awesome. Ah well!
I gotta say that I love this guy's flavor text – but unfortunately, that's about it. The guy led a whole crusade to kill Goblins that was, at least according to history, frighteningly effective... And all the guy can do is pop a single Goblin? No reusable effects?
Okay, as a 2/2 first striker with protection from red, he's not a chump. But I wanted a Goblin-destroying machine. Alas!
To be fair, Verdeloth is only fun at one point in the game. That's the late game. That's when you've been playing for an hour and everyone has seventy zillion lands out, and you're looking for something to break the stalemate.
Then Verdeloth arrives. And you tap twenty mana to cast him, and pray he doesn't get countered. And if he doesn't, you've just summoned a mighty army of oak onto the table. It is at that point that Verdeloth is the most fun creature ever in the whole universe.
Verdeloth, unlike poor ol' Endrek Sahr, gets along fine with his own creation. In fact, he helps 'em right along. He's pricey, of course, but what did you expect? It's Saprolings, guys. If you wanna have real fun, I guess you could combine him with a Pandemonium the turn before for a complete annihilation.
I've spoken about Vhati before, in my very second column, but I'll say it again: If you want to make friends, Vhati's not a bad way to go. He's gotta live long enough to tap – a problem with so many legends – but once on board, he can play very ugly tricks with trample.
See, the thing about trample is that you have to assign at least enough damage to kill something. If Vhati suddenly turns that "something" into "one" before you assign the damage, you can plow the rest of that tramply goodness to your opponent. Which, depending on your nature, can make you good friends or terrible enemies.