Weatherlight comes out on Magic Online this week, which takes me back more than ten years down memory lane, strolling past Auras I have Silenced, Dingus Staffs I have decoded, and Bubbles I have Matrixed. In the summer of 1997 when Weatherlight arrived, I was enjoying my final high school summer, getting ready for college, and summoning a hell of a lot of Hakim, Loreweaver. I was a very dedicated casual player, playing tons of Magic every week, but having played only one sanctioned tournament in my life. It was still months before I would be swept away by the Magic tournament crowd I would encounter at Harvard. Looking over Weatherlight today brings back a lot of very specific memories of awesome Weatherlight decks I built and enjoyed back then. The memories are so vivid that I'd like to show you some of the supercool combos the decks revolved around, just like I'd show you back then.
As a bonus section at the end, I'll explain the reasons for the recent shift in tournament-legal dates for new Magic sets.
Setting a New Standard
First of all, it's worth taking note how far the design technology of Weatherlight had advanced since the small sets in the previous couple of years. Don't get me wrong, I love those early Magic sets, and the newness, creativity, and accuracy of their ideas is incredible. Alpha is my favorite Magic set of all time, and the one I most admire, because of the astounding number of elements Richard Garfield got so perfectly right before there was any foundation on which to build. With only superficial changes all the way from then until now, I find Garfield's original Alpha color pie to be truly a work of art.
Having said that, you can see that Mirage block is dramatically more advanced in modern Magic design and development theory than anything before it. And of the Mirage block sets, Weatherlight most of all. Here's a quick metric to show what I mean. Let's compare Visions and Weatherlight to the preceding four small sets in how many cards each set happens to have had promoted to Tenth Edition, ten years later. The Tenth Edition designers and developers had dozens of sets to choose from when putting the new core set together, so any particular card getting in to Tenth Edition had to pass a high standard of quality, simplicity, interesting gameplay, appropriately curved numbers, and purity of concept. So how do the sets stack up?
Fountain of Youth
Aura of Silence
Cone of Flame
The Dark, Fallen Empires, and Alliances all have their merits, but many of the cards lack simplicity (having tons of extraneous text), and tons of the cards are terribly weak in power level. Mirage, Visions, and Weatherlight design and development had evolved past all of that. You really see the proof when you notice only one card each from The Dark, Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Alliances meeting the right standards to be promoted into Tenth Edition, whereas Visions provides seven cards, and Weatherlight an incredible thirteen. (Mark Gottlieb was the first to point this out.) My hat is off to the Mirage block teams for bringing design and development theory such a huge leap forward in the space of just one year—one of the largest single years of advancement in the history of the game.
Fair Weatherlight Friends
Here are the Weatherlight decks I remember playing most fondly. They weren't high power level, they weren't cut-throat, and it didn't matter. They were incredibly fun, and they kept me in Magic head over heels. Perhaps somewhere in the last ten years you can even find a card that makes some of these combos better!
This is a classic Johnny card, having no obvious application, and in those days I was a classic Johnny. My Teferi's Veil deck was blue-red featuring Ball Lightning and Thalakos Seer. If Ball Lightning went unblocked, Teferi's Veil saved it before the end-of-turn sacrifice. When Thalakos Seer attacked (and was almost never blocked), the phasing rules of the era said that while "comes into play" effects didn't trigger from phasing, "leaves play" effects did trigger. Card drawing galore! That drew me into the blue-red Dracoplasm, which was a great way to gobble up Ball Lightnings into a more useful, more permanent form. Because I had Dracoplasm, I had some other guys with very high power and drawbacks to eat. Because I had those high-power guys and Ball Lightning, I had at least one Phyrexian Dreadnought to eat 12 power of temporary creatures or 12 power of creatures with drawbacks, and combine them into one unstoppable 12/12 Dreadnought. Those were the days.
Two Weatherlight cards plus an Alliances rare equal... total opponent destruction! Æther Flash was powerful on its own for the way it locked out all opponents' creatures with toughness 2 or less. My combo was to get Æther Flash, Dingus Staff, and Varchild's War-Riders in play all at once. In my upkeep the War-Riders's cumulative upkeep would pop out an ever-increasing number of 1/1 Survivors for my opponent. The survivors would all pop on arrival due to Æther Flash, causing Dingus Staff to deal ever-increasing damage to my opponent. Bam!
Alliances' Varchild's War-Riders stands as one of my favorite cards of all time to this day. It is such a great top-down concept, and it's such a great execution. The perfect finishing detail on the design is the way it has a very intentional trample AND rampage 1, so that the growing number of angry 1/1 Survivors it leaves in its wake can never ever defeat Varchild's War-Riders in a fight, or even slow it down, no matter how many there are. The 1/1 Survivor tokens can only cower in terror when the War-Riders stomp through, then hope to take revenge by hitting the War-Riders' controller while the War-Riders are tapped. It's a rare jewel when a card's concept and the execution are both so creative and so perfect.
Bubble Matrix was another puzzle for me to try to solve creatively, a bizarre symmetrical card that affected both players, just like Æther Flash and Dingus Staff. "Prevent all damage that would be dealt to creatures." How could I break the symmetry to my advantage? When you have this artifact out, the board stalls out like crazy. Size doesn't matter in creature combat anymore—everything that blocks just bounces off unharmed. So I wanted lots of small creatures so that Bubble Matrix could let them block forever and be unburnable... and they had to be small so that it benefitted them that Bubble Matrix canceled creature combats... but they had to do something useful even though they couldn't fight through opposing creatures either. Eureka! The deck I played was Bubble Matrix + Zuran Spellcaster + Prodigal Sorcerer + Clone + Norritt + probably Pirate Ship. With the Bubble Matrix out, all the Tims blocked all day and shot their pings over the top. When I didn't draw the Bubble Matrix, I had to settle for using all the Tims to kill all the enemy creatures.
I believe that Regionals 2007 may have been my second lifetime sanctioned tournament, and I think I played a deck with Aura of Silence, Howling Mine, Gerrard's Wisdom, and Gaea's Blessing. My opponent sideboarded in a Forsaken Wastes and played it, turning off the lifegain of my Gerrard's Wisdom. I was low on life already, and I ticked below 5 life before I drew Aura of Silence. Argh. Forsaken Wastes's "Lose 5 life" clause had locked me into certain death.
If I disenchanted Forsaken Wastes with Aura of Silence I would lose 5 and die. Was there any way out? Think think. Oh I see! If I can destroy Forsaken Wastes with Aura of Silence, I'll lose 5 life and go to -3 life, but if I can cast Gerrard's Wisdom during the same phase, I can go back up to 8 life and survive. In those days, you could go below 0 life and survive as long as you went up to a positive number before the phase ended, at which time the game checked your pulse and declared you dead or alive. Sadly, I could not cast both the Aura and the Gerrard's Wisdom in time, and I lost the match. It was later in the week that I realized that you lose 5 life when you target Forsaken Wastes with a spell, but that Aura of Silence isn't a spell when you sacrifice it to destroy something, so I wouldn't have lost any life at all, and I have could have just destroyed the Forsaken Wastes as soon as possible. And probably won. To have had the opportunity to make such a cool play ("Aha! Aura of Silence trumps Forsaken Wastes's Trump-Disenchant clause!") and to have missed it was exquisitely frustrating. It's one of those misplays you carry around with you forever.
Policy Change: No More Waiting
That's all for Weatherlight Week. Now for something completely different: There is an interesting tidbit attached to the recent announcement of evolutions to the Magic Online Prismatic and Magic Online Singleton formats made last Saturday here. Here is that part of the announcement if you missed it:
DCI Floor Rule Change announcement
Announcement Date: December 1, 2007
Effective December 20, 2007, all new Magic releases will become legal for Constructed play on the day of the product's release (rather than the 20th on the month following the release). The first set affected will be Morningtide, which will become legal for Constructed play on February 1, 2008.
In other words, from Morningtide forward: As soon as you can buy cards, you can play them. Sounds pretty simple doesn't it? Here are the reasons for the policy change:
- People want to play the cards they own. We should let them. A new set coming out is an exciting time to be a Magic player. Under the old policy, you would go get some cards from the new set, rush home to rip open the packs, rebuild some of your old decks and make a couple of new ones. And then? You would sometimes have to wait a month before you were allowed to play any of your new creations. Lame. When people get new cards from the new set, they want to be able to play with them. Now they can.
- All stores now share the same release date. The old policy literally dates back to the previous century. In the early days of Magic, our distribution network was not as strong as it is now, and many locations wouldn't have product on the shelves until a few weeks after other stores did. If Jake's local game store had its Weatherlight shipment on the official release date, and Don's local game store in the next town didn't get its Weatherlight shipment for 3 more weeks, it would be unfair if Jake could play Weatherlight cards in tournaments against Don in the meantime. Nowadays the distribution channels are a lot smoother, and almost all game stores in all states, provinces, and countries have new Magic sets available on the same, official release date. So the original reason for the "wait two to six weeks" policy has largely evaporated.
- Playing fresh environments lets players be creative and succeed by innovating before the Internet does. Another way the Magic world has changed since the mid 90s is the explosion of the Internet. People trade decklists and ideas over the Internet so fast these days that if you have to wait four weeks after the set's release before you can play the cards, half the cool decks will already have been figured out and revealed to everybody. When you can play the set immediately on release, you can be the one who figures out sleeper cards like Tarmogoyf or Greater Gargadon or Makeshift Mannequin before everyone else does, and you can use them to succeed at tournaments before the Internet lets everyone else catch on. It's fun to explore a fresh, unsolved metagame and how it gets rocked by a new set, and it gets less fun if the Internet has already analyzed it to death for five weeks before anyone actually gets to play it. Magic tech is going to evolve rapidly in those first few weeks after release, and now players get to be at the forefront of the evolution, playing the actual cards instead of just talking about them.
- It was confusing to many people that you had to wait to play the cards you bought. Perhaps you've heard this frustrated question: "Ok, I figured it out: You can play the two most recent blocks, plus the most recent core set, plus as a special exception: Coldsnap. Lorwyn is totally in the most recent block—so why are you saying my deck is illegal?" When you buy a bike, you can ride it. When you buy a video game, you can play it. When you bought Magic cards under the old policy, why couldn't you play them? There was not a very satisfying answer. The change reduces this confusion.
- Figuring out the old policy's tournament legal date was really hard. Here is the old policy as written in the floor rules. It was actually significantly more complicated than the summary of it in the announcement above, which says "the 20th on the month following the release."
104. New ReleasesIt reads like an SAT problem. I'd rather spend my time deciding what spells to cast.
New Magic card sets (new expansions or new editions of the basic set) released during the first fifteen days of a month are allowed in Constructed tournament play on the first day of the month following their retail release date. Card sets released after the first fifteen days of a month are allowed in Constructed tournament play on the first day of the second month following their release date. Therefore, card sets always enter Constructed tournament play two to five weeks after their retail release date, on the first day of the month.
Also, two clarifications:
We will try hard to avoid scheduling big Constructed events on release weekends. We're not going to have Worldwide Regional / Provincial Championships happen on the same day a new set is released if it can be avoided.
Cards from Prerelease tournaments are unaffected. If you get cards from a set's sneak-preview Prerelease tournament, they become tournament-legal on the set's official release date, just like all the other cards from that set. They do not become legal on the Prerelease date.
Last Week's Poll
|Elves vs. Goblins|
With over ten thousand votes cast, this one was a squeaker. I have to admit, I had thought they would both put up at least 40% , but that the Goblins would win by a good 15%-20%. But the Elves pull out a heroic victory at the buzzer. Maybe the recent tournament success of Lorwyn-fueled Elves put them over the top.