What is it Good For?

Posted in Latest Developments on January 28, 2011

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

Tomorrow is the Mirrodin Beseiged Prerelease. When you get there, you'll be dropped into the middle of a war between the people who call Mirrodin home and the Phyrexians who want to take it over. In Scars of Mirrodin, the Mirran natives had not yet come to understand what they faced. They know now, and they've mobilized. The resources that they developed to fight the Phyrexians, as well as the invading Phyrexian forces, will be yours to harness.

The release of a new Magic set can be a little overwhelming. There are all these new cards, and you might not know what to do with them right away. I've played with the cards in Mirrodin Besieged for almost a year now and I promise that there are lots of interesting things to do with them, but it will take time for some of those things to be revealed. Today, I'll give you a few things you can try right away.

    Attack with Lots of Creatures

One of the new mechanics in Mirrodin Besieged is battle cry.

In Future Future League playtesting, the first decks that impress us are usually aggressive decks. They're easier to build well because they depend much less on the other decks in the environment; building them is more about making the most efficient machine than answering threats and careful positioning. The same phenomenon often happens in the real world. Aggressive decks get perfected in the weeks immediately after a set release, then the control decks adapt to them. If you want to catch your friends and enemies off guard with new cards right away, battle cry might be the best thing to do it with.

Note that battle cry exists in white, red, and artifacts. It is not a coincidence that there are plenty of cards in both of those colors that create tokens. Those of you who are enterprising may reach back a block and combine red battle cry cards with red Eldrazi Spawn token makers. Between Signal Pest, Accorder Paladin, Goblin Wardriver, and some token generation, you can put a lot of power onto the board surprisingly quickly. If your opponents aren't ready for that, they may just die.

I'll end the discussion with a few comments on Contested War Zone.

One of the responsibilities of Magic developers that I don't often talk about is the responsibility to make things that customers actually want to buy. This is very similar to the responsibilities that people who make more traditional consumer products have. If, for the same price, an appliance company can make a toaster that looks ugly or a toaster that looks nice, both of which have the same ability to toast, they will make the nice-looking toaster. Similarly, given the choice between two cards that have the same power level, we will usually try to make the one that reads more appealingly. In Magic, we have a little more leeway to do goofy things, as many of our customers like different things than other customers. However, we still don't like making cards that read poorly unless we have a good reason.

Contested War Zone reads pretty bad. We wouldn't have made it the way we did if it weren't for someone. If you're planning on attacking with a lot of creatures, consider finding out if that person is you.

    Attack with Knights

I enjoy seeing the unexpected things you do with Magic cards we make, as our inability to predict everything is part of what makes Magic awesome. One of the things that I did not foresee was how enthusiastic many of you were about Knights. Magic 2010 had Soldiers as a subtheme in white, but we wanted to retire that in Magic 2011. On something of a whim, we made a Knight lord to replace it.

Fast forward to Mirrodin Besieged. We were nearly done with the set, and then creature types came back from Creative. There were a lot of Knights flying around. It made sense to me, as knights are some of the most badass individual warriors I can think of that live in fantasy settings, so I didn't think much of it.

Now let's fast-forward to these cards being previewed. The first thing everyone seemed to notice was that they were all Knights to go with Knight Exemplar. A few days later, Director of Magic Ramp;D Aaron Forsythe built a Knight deck with all those cards, demanded to play me, and crushed me twice in ten minutes when I played one of my less competitive Standard decks. I'd say you all had a reasonable idea. It will be fun to see how good an idea it is in the coming months.

    Poison Opponents. In Constructed

For better or for worse, infect as a strategy has not yet made its splash on competitive Constructed. I've seen tons of discussions on message boards about infect, both positive and negative, and that can only mean that infect is doing plenty of work elsewhere. Our data mining has told us that its effect is being felt in Magic Online casual Constructed. Despite that, when the whole world has watched, infect has skittered out of the limelight and hidden.

So far.

There are some really nice new toys for infect decks in Mirrodin Besieged, including Phyrexian Vatmother and Phyrexian Crusader. Unlike Scars of Mirrodin's black infect creatures, the aforementioned have some built-in resilience. Phyrexian Vatmother's 5 toughness is a lot. Phyrexian Crusader's first strike and infect make it hard to kill in combat, and it has protection from two colors that are very well known for their spot removal. You might, of course, want to cast Phyrexian Vatmother earlier than turn four. For that purpose, I suggest that you try Plague Myr.

Another significant addition to infect is Inkmoth Nexus. Inkmoth Nexus looks a lot like Blinkmoth Nexus, and this is no accident. However, that resemblance isn't why we made the card. Infect is one of this block's mechanics. It doesn't make much sense for us to do a mechanic through a whole block, but not have that mechanic affect Constructed. Historically, one of the best ways to power up aggressive decks is to give them awesome lands that double as creatures. Mishra's Factory began a long-standing tradition that passes through Treetop Village, Ghitu Encampment, and Faerie Conclave all the way to Raging Ravine and its associates. Mirrodin Besieged lead developer Erik Lauer decided that infect needed a creature land. Giving it more than 1 power would have been kind of silly, so we tried Inkmoth Nexus as printed to go for the nostalgia hit. The card worked out just about how we wanted it to in the Future Future League. Time will tell us how it goes in the real world.

    Dump Trolls on Opponents

There's a blue planeswalker out there on the loose, causing havoc and erasing minds all over the multiverse. When we last saw him, he was wearing a blue hood, throwing some crazy symbols between his hands, and drawing lots of cards.

We've got someone on the case.

    Poison Opponents ... Tomorrow

I like drafting. Like most active Magic players who like drafting, I have now drafted Scars of Mirrodin several times. Infect as a draft strategy has played out reasonably well in the real world, supporting somewhere between two and three drafters at any given table before the decks get too diluted to function well. The problem is that most times I try to be one of those decks—things never work for me. I don't quite get the creature density I need, and then my deck doesn't work that well. I've had plenty of success drafting other archetypes, but I cringe a little each time I move in on an early Plague Stinger. Many strong players I know who draft more than me don't seem to have any issues with infect, so this is almost certainly a personal problem, but that doesn't make it any less real for me.

If you've had experiences like mine, I can offer you a one-time solution that is good for only this weekend. Go to the Prerelease, and choose Phyrexian. Your deck will have a ton of infect creatures—more than enough to fill out a deck. Bring plenty of poison counters, as you'll be giving them to your opponents like candy.

Remember, this is a one-time-only deal that expires this Sunday afternoon. If you don't take advantage of it now, it'll be gone forever.

By the time you read this, I will have already had my Prerelease experience at the Wizards employee Prerelease, which took place the day before this article went up. I plan on doing exactly what I just said above and leaving my opponents crumpled over in piles of oily black liquid. Your chance to do the same thing is this weekend.

I hope you take your chance this weekend to get out to a Prerelease. Whether you know it or not, as a Magic player you're part of a worldwide community of multiple hundred thousands of people who play this game. The Prereleases are the four times each year when the largest fraction of that group does the same thing at the same time. If you go to a large regional Prerelease, you'll be part of quite a large gathering. If you go to your local store, there will likely be something like twice the number of people you normally get for an FNM, or more. By the numbers, they're the biggest event of the year. There's a strange sort of electric energy that comes with that, and you can't experience that energy every day. I hope you'll go out this weekend and take your chance to be part of it.

    Last Week's Poll
Which faction will you choose when, or if, you go to a Mirrodin Besieged prerelease?

    This Week's Poll
Are you attending a Prerelease?Yes, a large regional Pererelease.Yes, a store Prerelease.Yes, one of each kind.No.

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