Breaking Cards Again

Posted in Serious Fun on November 12, 2002

By Anthony Alongi

Most readers are aware of my other weekly column, Casual Fridays, which ended at starcitygames.com this past month. When I concluded that long-running series, I decided that there were two traditions I didn't want to give up – first, the Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame, which I will update with every expansion at that very Ferretty site. The second tradition, which started about the same time over three years ago, was Break this Card.

BREAKOUT

It started as a bit of a joke, with Jangling Automaton. I wrote an article on the Dojo in the style of Cathy Nicoloff, who was quite a Magic Internet presence at that time. I copied her eloquent weekly layout, replete with boxed inserts and fancy fonts, to sing the praises of this fine artifact creature. (Cathy went on to start up and preside over a now-defunct Magic "portal" site called meridianmagic.com, and then moved on to other, non-Magicky things. Regretfully, I never found out what she thought about my poor excuse for a satire.)

It was my fifth or sixth Casual Fridays, and the response knocked me over. I got tons of praise – and lots of Jangling Automaton decks that readers felt were worth exploration. The most frightening thing about this was that the decks were quite varied – not everyone was using Lure and Tolarian Entrancer.

Feeling I had found a source of great Internet conversation, I began stepping it up and nominating rare cards for consideration by readers. You know, the stuff that just makes you fume when you push aside the first 14 cards to see the "money" candidate. Fabulous R&D forays such as Sorrow's Path and Security Detail got the "Break this Card!" treatment. The early history of the contest was clearly to showcase cards no one liked very much.

I gave out fabulous prizes (I scrawled on the horrible cards in question and then mailed them), and all were content.

BREAKTHROUGH

Starting with Invasion block, though, I started to take another tack. I wanted to take a look at cards that were not necessarily awful, like Coalition Victory and Dralnu's Crusade (which, incidentally, got a bit of a boost from Onslaught!). This guaranteed me a wider variety of approaches, since there are only so many ways you can approach a truly bad card like, say, Oath of Mages.

In addition – and I know I may take a bit of flak for this – it was getting harder to find an indisputably bad rare in each set. The last, great bad card was Pale Moon from Nemesis. Really, think about it. There's been no rare (or even uncommon or, I daresay, common) that unquestionably bad since. Every rare from Prophecy (yes, Prophecy!) forward has at least got a shot at board impact if you build a silly, stupid enough deck.

So it became more natural for me to focus on these potentially silly decks, based on fairly arcane cards. Graceful Antelope may have been my favorite – it generated some of the most creative and insane decks I had seen since the contest had began. You'd be amazed what some people can do with other people's plains!

My hope is to keep that sort of spirit alive, by continuing the Break this Card! contest here. But since Jay Mouyldenheiser-Salallalallalazaar™ has a gig on this site that runs pretty close to what Break this Card! would do, and I don't want to be accused of associating with him, I need to tweak the contest a bit.

Therefore, this contest will only accept decks that excel in non-sanctioned formats. (That's my fancy way of saying we'll be doing chaos multiplayer decks, but I'm open to the occasional deck for team or a far-out format.) In addition, I will push harder to find a card that no one would expect to find in a sanctioned tournament, and which might even gain a bit from a casual group format.

So what card will we start with?

THEM'S THE BREAKS

Selecting a card for a contest like this is a harrowing experience. You want to find a card that everyone agrees is a tough customer – but it has to be able to generate lots of diversity. Cards like Risky Move or Kaboom! are unlikely to do that, so you look at stuff like Tephraderm instead – it's mediocre, but it's not single-mindedly so, if you know what I mean.

At the same time, you don't want to point to a card, laugh hysterically, and then have the entire Internet community look at you sideways because it just won a million Top 8's. (Astral Slide is a good example. Even though this was uncommon, I was thinking of tweaking Mark Rosewater's nose by mocking this difficult card. Then Ben Ronaldson rolled out the ninth-century tapestries and blocked off three wings of his castle in England to playtest it in secrecy for the current worldwide Nationals gauntlet. I was really, really glad that I kept my mouth shut for a few extra weeks!)

Here's the short list I created, with a nominee for each color:

White – Oblation. The problem with all of white's mediocre cards is that they all gain you life. That would mean a contest that picks such a card will be about life gain, and how you could make life gain really good, or really bad, or…*snore*

So anyway, Oblation seems to do something non-life related and fairly obscure. So I put it on the short list. Yes, I know it's good in limited and may even work some day in constructed. That's why I'm not going to pick it. Ssssshhhh…don't tell Oblation! I don't want it to know.

Blue – Wheel and Deal. Peer Pressure came close but it begs for Standardize. Wheel and Deal gives up tremendous card advantage in group, and some people like playing politics, so it's a challenging thought. The problem is, everyone would send me Iron MaidenViseling decks. (Admit it. You would.)

Black – Strongarm Tactics. There were lots of potential cards in this color. Death Match is the card that makes me think that future Break this Card! contests here at MagicTheGathering.com should ignore perceived multiplayer power level – but for now, I'm calling it too good. False Cure was another consideration – but I just did an article on it a few weeks ago.

The Tactics has a win condition workable in multiplayer, and begs the question of a group discard deck, which is challenging. Also, many decks would also include Words of Waste, which was another card I looked hard at.

Red – Tephraderm. As I hinted above, I like the idea of a card that gives you multiple approaches. I wouldn't mind seeing what readers could come up with to get this thing to deal damage to various creatures and opponents. Notice please that this is not a bad card – but it's a questionable one, and people like us are going to spend more time looking at it than we have a right to.

Green – Animal Magnetism. Now here's a poser. What kind of creatures do you use? And how many? What do you do with what gets put in your graveyard, if anything? And on top of all that…you get to pick the opponent that selects your creature, which leads to some interesting exercises in multiplayer threat assessment.

As fun as Strongarm Tactics would have been, I think I have to go with the Magnetism.

Animal Magnetism

READY-1-2-3-BREAK!!!

So here are the rules, and make sure you read 'em, because I'm not as nice as that Mouyldenheiser-Salallalallalazaar™ fellow. If you want your submission to have a chance, it must:

  • be in my seriousfun@wizards.com mailbox by midnight Central Standard Time, Tuesday November 26;
  • include a real first and last name – I refuse to call out handles like "SerrasBoyfriend439" or "SuchASupahSquirrel", or whatever the tang you kids like to call yourselves today;
  • include a decklist (duh, but you'd be surprised) that would pass muster at a sanctioned tournament (i.e., it must have at least 60 cards, use legal cards, and so on – and yes, I, too, noticed the irony of having a sanctioned-tournament rule in a contest that's geared toward non-sanctioned play, but we're going to move on as if that never happened);
  • include at least one copy of the card Animal Magnetism (well duh, but you'd be surprised);
  • contain "Break This Card" in the subject line of the email, so that my wife does not go insane and destroy me before I have a chance to pick winners;
  • include the notation "4x I read Anthony's rules", because I know at least a dozen of you have stopped reading and I need an easy filter for the morons;
  • not include any attachments you expect me to read;
  • have an obvious tilt toward chaos multiplayer format (and if there's another non-sanctioned format that you feel this card screams for, I'll entertain the idea); and
  • avoid Rosewater-esque signoffs (e.g., "May you magnetize many animals")
  • be the only decklist you send - in other words, only one deck per person.

I will acknowledge all entries that jump through the flaming hoops I have set before you. The best ideas will get posted in a future article. Here are the criteria I'm using:

  • creativity (is the deck original?)
  • rigor (could the deck honestly pull off the trick(s)?)
  • pithiness (can you describe the deck in 200 words or less?)
  • flattery (do I look fat in this dress?)
  • ability to follow the simple rules above (are you not a moron?)

So if you're game, show me your animal magnetism in group play! I'm looking forward to your best shot.

Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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