Shatter Again

Posted in Feature on December 25, 2008

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

This was my first new article of the year, a preview of the mighty Mind Shatter. Opinions were mixed about Mind Shatter at the onset, and I have to admit I had to go pretty deep into the tank to get where I wanted to go on the preview (you would be surprised how difficult it is to write certain previews). I am picking this article for two reasons: 1) It started the year off pretty well, and 2) Mind Shatter has, far and away, proven itself to be far more playable, powerful, and everywhere than I could have anticipated. Mind Shatter + Guttural Response is one of my favorite post-board sequences ever now. It is almost like the old days all over again.

Back in the summer of 1998, Magic R&D did something I just didn't understand. While in hindsight I can appreciate the decision from perspectives of pointing, power level, and even aesthetics, it was just something that, armed with my own set of experiences, I just don't think I would have done in the same spot. What was so puzzling? R&D released the red twin to Allay, this card Shattering Pulse. Have you read Shattering Pulse? I mean it's not the most exciting artifact removal spell of all time or anything, but it costs exactly as much as Shatter... but has that great buyback option attached as well! As a Mental Magic player, Shattering Pulse was a great addition to the richness, complexity, and improvisation of that format... But I just couldn't get over the feeling that they did Shatter wrong.

Shatter was never so popular as far as artifact removal spells went, quite obviously overshadowed by Alpha white mate Disenchant... but I will not soon forget the tournament report when Rob Hahn, the first greatest writer of the Magic Internet, won his solitary PTQ in the mid-1990s. Rob played Shatter in his white Howling Mine deck as a redundancy over Disenchantinstead of Divine Offering because it was actually better at destroying Nevinyrral's Disk under Gloom! Nevinyrral's Disk wrecked Rob's deck, which spread its myriad artifacts and enchantments all over the board while claiming territory and locking the opponent out... and while Divine Offering was clearly the more impressive card at two mana, Shatter was simply the right card for the right job. Rob's playing it, and qualifying with it, taught me one of the most fundamentally important rules of my life as a deck designer, months before I began my tournament career. Positioning Shatter was just a great decision, so not greedy at the design level, puzzling into the right spot, and then paying off...

Shattering Pulse
On an even more personal level, I found it—this Shattering Pulse—dizzying because at my own first Pro Tour, we (Magic Online Brand Manager Worth Wollpert, the Meddling Mage Chris Pikula, and YT) all played Shatter in our Necropotence decks. In the same format that we could play Black Vise, Land Tax, Balance, and Force of Will we chose to play Shatter. Chris even made Top 4 of that Pro Tour! To me Shatter was like Gnarled Mass, Consuming Vortex, or Lim-Dûl's High Guard... Maybe not the optimal card in the abstract, but sometimes the optimal choice to fulfill a particular destiny, at least at a particular time. Shatter played a number of important roles in my early development as a player, so by contrast, this Shattering Pulse that blanked poor Shatter as a "strictly worse" always rubbed me the wrong way.

Of course since Time Spiral last year, there has been another instant for that "destroy[s] target artifact." Ancient Grudge was the best card in last year's Extended format, and remains Top 5 this year. Shattering Pulse might have been strictly better than Shatter, but Ancient Grudge is almost a Shatter glued to an Oxidize! How absurd is that? While Shattering Pulse is potentially infinite in utility, Ancient Grudge pairs speed and card advantage to result in devastating inexorability. Shattering Pulse was a lusty hooligan who beat on old lady Shatter's reputation and dropped her in a push chair, but it was Ancient Grudge that dropped that ancient rep down a winding flight of stairs. Shatter who? Shatter huh? If you only look at the top performing red deck of the Mirrodin Block Pro Tour–Kobe, you will easily notice the absence of Shatter in Masahiro Kuro, Pitlordda's Go Anan Red Deck... That makes it easy to forget the 16 copies of Shatter elsewhere in his Top 8. I could almost hear the whisper of an old friend, See? I'm good! People still like me!

Now I'm the first person who will strap on an Ancient Grudge tee-shirt, wave a giant Ancient Grudge hand pointer at onetime Extended monsters NO Stick and Affinity... but I also think that even with multiple Pro Tour Top 8 finishes to its credit, it is easy to discount Shatter as a sub-optimal card when compared with strict improvements to the original model, certainly to some available contemporaries in other colors (especially given the flexibility of mana offered by today's land bases). But you know what? When there's a job to do, and that job is destroying target artifact, Shatter has stepped up to acquit itself many times over.

So it's 2008 and those devious puppeteers in Renton, WA have once again produced a Shatter, Mind Shatter, an update to a once-terrifying sorcery dating back to Alpha. Click here.

Mind Shatter

Yes, Mind Shatter is "strictly worse" than Mind Twist... But I don't know if that means anything in any practical way. For one thing, Mind Twist has been off the tournament player's palette of design tools for a decade and more. But then again, Brainstorm was strictly worse than Ancestral Recall, and it turned out to be one of the truly great cards. Mind Shatter might just follow in Brainstorm's footsteps; no, it's not quite Mind Twist, but Mind Twist was utterly overpowered, the centerpiece to Alexander Blumke's 1995 World Championship deck, and just as restricted as Ancestral Recall by the time tournament Magic hit its stride in any significant way.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of playing a Mind Twist—or felt the dread of having it played against you—let me tell you, there's a reason it was on the Restricted List. I played a solo Mind Twist in the first deck I ever used to win a tournament, the finishing touch for the progression of Dark Ritual, Hypnotic Specter, and Hymn to Tourach... into The Rack. Conveniently, we have The Rack in Standard once again, so perhaps the old favorite and old favorite update can skip hand-in-tethered-hand into the winner's circle (once again). While the addition of a single mana to Mind Twist is something that we certainly notice, the same process has been anything but lethal for Alpha cards with updates past. Incinerate and even Volcanic Hammer, both poorer Lightning Bolts, have been great in competitive decks, despite not quite living up to the perfect efficiency of their grandfather.

So what about this card? How does Mind Shatter fit in?

At two mana... Well, I wouldn't recommend playing it for two mana.

At three mana, Mind Shatter is a little worse than a Coercion; serious players don't really play Coercion very often, but the ponderous Coercion, too, has been a reasonable role player over the years, and has even elbowed its way into at least one Constructed Pro Tour Finals. It's not likely you will be playing Mind Shatter for its X=1 option very often. However, when you are, it is probably fine. You are trading cards against an opponent in topdeck mode, or you need to get a card out of your hand when mana is tight and the one-for-one seems like the best option. This still isn't what Mind Shatter was meant to do, but at the very worst, the option to play it for three mana is a useful layer of versatility that will win some games.

Mind Twist
At four mana this card starts to generate card advantage, a functional Hymn to Tourach (if twice the cost). It's important to note that Mind Shatter forces random discard, making it more dangerously disruptive than the two-cards-for-four-mana spells we have seen in tournament Magic in recent years, such as Strands of Undeath.

Especially in small formats like Block Constructed, or certain corner-case Standard decks, cards like Fugue and Three Tragedies have seen play, been good, and even been matchup breakers. Due to its random discard (not to mention versatility), Mind Shatter is clearly better than these cards that have already seen some tournament success.

All in all, the combination of versatile mana points and random discard will put Mind Shatter in a position for numerous bad beat stories... ("So of course he got the Wrath of God"). Even when you're not getting the Wrath of God, Mind Shatter will be able to really devastate the opponent's hand if you can make it big enough, fast enough. Will fast mana make fast friends with Mind Shatter? Like format-breaker Stroke of Genius before it, Mind Shatter can conveniently transform mana into card advantage. As such, one of the obvious ways to make this card great is to play it with spells like Lotus Bloom to echo the success of World Champion Blumke and his ability to cheat three free. Yes, blowing a Lotus Bloom will cost you an additional card, but you are likely going to be translating that into multiple spells on the other side. Hand destruction at this power level is almost like playing a combo deck... Paired with a little board control, you can theoretically just clean up with anything.

I can see this card fitting into slow versions of The Rock in Extended right out of the box. With Gifts Ungiven, many of these decks are playing one or two copies of another sorcery (Profane Command), while trying to lock the opponent out with a Primal Command loop for the Eternal Witness and half a Plow Under... Mind Shatter could be just a faster setup hammer, the kind you only have to play once before finishing with Loxodon Hierarch.

Ultimately, I see the right deck with the right needs—and the right mana capabilities—being able to make good use of Mind Shatter to speed up grinding wins, assert overwhelmingly disruptive card advantage in corner cases, and positively thrash (other) mid-range decks in those thoughtful, do-nothing mirrors. This is actually the kind of card that I really love to play; as with good old at my first Pro Tour, I will enjoy trying to find Mind Shatter a home.

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