Playing Magic: Dominaria & Battlebond!

Hey everybody!
For today’s game day blog, I thought I’d take a look at another of my Magic decks that I’ve recently been enjoying, as well as throwing the spotlight on a couple of the recent sets for the game.

Magic Dominaria

Dominaria is first Magic set for a very long time to come out as a standalone expansion, part of the new three-and-one expansion model that will apparently allow for greater design space or something. There has been a lot of tinkering with the structure of Magic expansions in recent years, and we’re in the latest iteration of that now. Anyhow!

Back in the day, Magic began its life on the massive world of Dominaria, but has since moved around the multiverse and investigated a slew of new worlds. For the first time since 2007, we’ve gone back to where it all began, in celebration of Magic‘s 25th anniversary this year. Consequently, we’ve got something of a nostalgia-trip for a lot of people who were playing the game back in the day, as the story involves all manner of classic locations and characters, including Jhoira, Teferi, Jaya Ballard and Karn. It’s not all nostalgia, however, as we also get to catch up with Liliana and Gideon, who have journeyed to Dominaria on the trail of Belzenlok, the final demon who holds a piece of Liliana’s contract.

The set has seen a couple of rules tweaks, such as removing the term “mana pool”, and also a reworked border for Legendary permanents that was first tested out in the last Duel Deck, Elves vs Inventors. The new Legendary frame helps to distinguish these cards as, given the nostalgia theme of the set, there is a major focus on these sorts of spells. A new game term features in the set, Historic, which groups Legendary cards, artifact cards, and the new type of card, Sagas.

Dominaria Sagas

Sagas feature across all five colours, and generally have beautiful artwork reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript or stained glass. They all have three “chapters”, and enter the battlefield with a lore counter that allows the first chapter to trigger. After the third counter is placed, chapter three triggers then the card goes away. At first I was a little bit underwhelmed by some of these Sagas, and struggled to find a place for any of them in my deck, until of course I came to build the deck I’m talking about today!

Even for a relative newbie like myself (it’s been barely three years since I’ve been playing), seeing a lot of the artwork on these cards, and the returning themes and characters, it can be quite the nostalgia trip in itself. I’ve spent a lot of those three years collecting up older cards, and while I’m perhaps not as immersed in the lore of the original plane as I could be, it is still a lot of fun seeing this blend of the older stuff with the new Gatewatch vs Bolas storyline. All in all, a great set!

Magic Battlebond

Battlebond is the summer supplemental product that is focused on Two-Headed-Giant, the format where two players take on two other players. There is a theme of e-sports in the game, as the set takes place on the plane of Kylem, and specifically the arena of Valor’s Reach. Here, two-on-two combat is the spectacle that everybody is interested in, as combatants strive to defeat their opponents with flair and style.

In keeping with this theme, the set re-introduces the Partner mechanic from Commander 2016, this time using specific paired creatures that you or a team-mate can search for when one of them is put into play. There are 11 partnered pairs, including a pair of Planeswalkers, Rowan and Will Kenrith. While the set is designed for 2HG, Commander was another format consideration for a lot of the new cards, and these Planeswalkers are an example of that, having the first on-card reference to a Commander outside of the Commander products.

This is a supplemental set, and while there are a few new cards in here, there are also a healthy dose of reprints, most notably Doubling Season. I was unbelievably lucky to actually pull one of these when I bought a few packs upon release, so I’ll have to find a good use for that soon!

So what have I been making out of these two sets?

Garna the Bloodflame deck

I love Black and Red, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already here on the blog. After floundering around for a bit, I decided to look at building a Dominaria-block deck around Garna, the Bloodflame. It’s an interesting card that seems a little bit niche, and is perhaps symptomatic of the need to create Legendary creatures at both rare and uncommon in the set. I still wanted to use a lot of the Cabal-themed cards from Dominaria, so now supported them with some of the red, Keldon-themed cards. Finally, I added in some of the Azra cards from Battlebond (the half-demon creatures) and produced a fairly aggro-based deck that still manages, for me at least, to maintain some depth to it.

Creatures
Blaring Captain (2)
Cabal Paladin (2)
Champion of the Flame (2)
Garna, the Bloodflame (2)
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Mindblade Render
Rushblade Commander (2)
Stronghold Confessor (2)
Urgoros, the Empty One
Verix Bladewing
Whisper, Blood Liturgist

Instants and Sorceries
Diabolic Intent
Warlord’s Fury (2)
Blessing of Belzenlok (4)
Fervent Strike (2)

Enchantment
Demonic Vigor (2)
Frenzied Rage (2)
Lighting Talons (2)
Rite of Belzenlok (2)

Artifact
Blackblade Reforged

Land
Cabal Stronghold
Cinder Barrens (2)
Dragonskull Summit (2)
Mountain (9)
Swamp (11)

The deck is primarily focused around having fun, and uses a lot of cards that tend to do quite well without the need for specific combos to be set up. My favourite way to play the game, in many respects. Admittedly, a few of the cards here (particularly the Azra cards) feel a bit shoe-horned in, as there aren’t a great deal of Warriors to care about. I’m also not 100% sure on Josu Vess staying in the deck, but I think that this is a deck that I will be coming to time and again, and tinkering with it as new things catch my eye. The core of Dominaria-themed cards is there, which has something that is just so quintessentially Magic, that I’m sure it will be a lot of fun to bring new stuff into the mix alongside these things as time goes on.

I still need to investigate what Core 2019 has to offer me, in this respect, to say nothing of the upcoming Commander 2018 edition!! I think Xantcha, Sleeper Agent could be a fun include in here…

Magic Lessons

Hey everybody!
In celebration of the return of Spellslingers to Geek & Sundry, I thought I’d publish this quick blog about a couple of decks that I’ve been using to teach the game of Magic to my girlfriend Jemma. We’ve been playing a few co-op games already, but I was keen to get this to the table as one of my favourite card games, although wasn’t entirely sure how. The results of these lessons are still a bit sketchy for the time being, but hopefully things will prevail!

I’d initially thought about introducing the game with Standard decks that are based around one of the tribes of Ixalan – I’ve already got a Vampires deck built, and have since built up Merfolk (really fun – watch out for that to be featured here soon!), Dinosaurs (both Dino Soldiers in R/W, and the big beasts themselves in R/G), and Pirates (just B/U), along with two further tribal decks; Wizards (from Dominaria) and flying birds of doom (U/W from the current Standard).

However, some of those things are potentially too confusing, so at the weekend I put together two 40-card decks that used cards from across the period when I was really getting into the game: Tarkir block, and both M15 and Origins core sets. The first deck closely replicates one of my all-time favourite decks to play, B/W Warriors!

Creatures:
Mardu Hateblade (2)
Dromoka Warrior (2)
Herald of Dromoka (2)
Arashin Foremost
Mardu Hordechief
Sunscorch Regent
Hand of Silumgar (2)
Chief of the Scale
Chief of the Edge

Enchantments:
Infernal Scarring
Raiders’ Spoils
Abzan Runemark (2)

Instants & Sorceries:
Coat with Venom (2)
Rush of Battle

Artifacts:
War Horn
Prism Ring
Hewed Stone Retainers

Lands:
Plains (8)
Swamp (6)
Scoured Barrens (2)
Evolving Wilds

MTG Scoured Barrens

The Warriors deck is fairly inexpensive – of course, it’s made up from cards that I already had in my collection, but it costs under $7 to construct via Card Kingdom, according to tappedout.net – and synergises well with itself overall. I’ve included the Sunscorch Regent as I wanted a big finisher type of card, but more than anything I wanted to show a variety of cards and, overall, the variety that is inherent throughout the game!

I’ve steered clear of a few of the more complex Warrior cards, as I was trying to be mindful of the keywords and rules concepts within the deck. As it stands, Vigilance and Deathtouch are quite key here, but then they were key to the deck anyway. Double Strike also features through Arashin Foremost, which in retrospect could be quite tricky to grasp. Rush of Battle was another key card for the deck, and introduced Lifelink – fortunately, that isn’t too difficult to deal with. Finally, Raid is on a couple of cards, but as the effect is printed on the card, it doesn’t really matter too much.

But what about the second deck? For this one, I chose Blue-Green, one of my favourite colour combinations that doesn’t involve Black, and went with a much broader theme of making creatures huge. Prowess was a natural include as far as rules goes, so the card pool was widened somewhat to include enough cards with this effect.

Creatures:
Druid of the Cowl (2)
Beastcaller Savant
Umara Entangler
Saddleback Lagac
Soulblade Djinn
Paragon of Eternal Wilds
Paragon of Gathering Mists
Jhessian Thief
Vedalken Blademaster
Armorcraft Judge
Lotus Path Djinn
Ridgescale Tusker

Enchantments:
Temur Runemark
Elemental Bond
Military Intelligence

Instants & Sorceries:
Lifecrafter’s Gift
Awaken the Bear
Dragonscale Boon
Gather Courage
Anticipate
Titanic Growth

Lands:
Forest (8)
Island (7)
Thornwood Falls (2)
Evolving Wilds

MTG Soulblade Djinn
I was looking to create a sense of balance within the decks at first, and had included the green dragon from Fate Reforged, Destructor Dragon, but as it turned out I think that was one creature too many – I’m not that great at building Prowess decks, as I invariably want to include too many creatures! Having already got the Ridgescale Tusker in the deck, I think that’s as big a creature as I need. This is another deck you can put together for under $7 via Card Kingdom according to tappedout.net, so the whole experience should be pretty cheap and straightforward if you fancy recreating any of these decks!

The deck does take a little more work than the Warriors deck, however, as there is some element of timing for when to play certain cards. We’re not talking combat tricks here per se, just the sequencing between cards that place +1/+1 counters, and cards that interact with those counters. For example, the sequence of Ridgescale Tusker putting counters on each creature, followed by Lifecrafter’s Gift that puts counters on each creature already with a counter on it, before Armorcraft Judge drawing you cards for each creature with a counter on it.

As it happens, Jemma took the Warriors deck – “lots of little men who support each other to fight” – while I was left with “a handful of creatures that want to be made huge”. It was a good choice, on reflection, as the U/G deck definitely had the tougher time of things.


Magic Lessons

A lot of people on the internets will tell you, when introducing somebody to the game, to stick with just vanilla creatures, and even to avoid Instants and Sorceries for the first few games, instead just duking it out between the creatures you’ve summoned. Stick with mono-colour, avoid all the complicated stuff, and just get the basics down.

I disagree with that approach to some extent, as part of the joy of playing Magic comes from that variety that I mentioned at the start, and the combination of cards working together to produce the deck. If you scale these things back, you lose some important parts of what makes the game so much fun, and I think you risk introducing the game as being quite boring.

“So it’s just, my creature kills your creature, until somehow we manage to kill each other?”

“No no, it’s actually a lot more fun than this! We can play other cards to influence the game, and create combos between creatures and keywords and effects!”

So why don’t you just include some of those cards from the outset?

I do agree, though, that you should absolutely stay away from Counter magic when teaching the game. If you’ve got a player trying to figure things out, and all you’re doing is cancelling their stuff, that is just a recipe for disaster. Similarly if they have the Control deck – at even the more basic level, it requires some skill at the game to know what to allow and what to counter. I think you should try to ignore the Stack as much as you can – of course, explain when cards can be played, but try to avoid talking about “in response” and the like. The few Instants that I managed to cast, I played effectively as Sorcery cards, and not as combat tricks in response to blockers being declared – that can be confusing and feel almost like the person doing it is cheating.

(However, I often use pump spells and other combat tricks almost as deterrents, and will pump the team with an Instant in the pre-combat main phase. It works particularly nicely with Boros decks, I’ve found!)

Something I think that can be quite subtle, and that a lot of people seem to overlook, is to make sure you play correctly when teaching, almost as a demonstration. Sure, let the other person order their lands above their creatures or whatever (Jemma actually had her lands on the left, and creatures on the right, which made me itch a little). But make sure your own board is clear, the lands are organised, the enchantments and artifacts are together, the creatures are together, etc. Tap and untap correctly (I’m terrible for just “slightly turning” a card when I tap it…) and generally be a good example of how to actually play!

Keywords
Okay, so sure, keywords can be tricky, especially if you don’t know what they mean. For the B/W deck, there was Deathtouch and Vigilance, and while I took care to ensure Deathtouch instances always included the explanation of that keyword, Vigilance unfortunately was not explained on the card. Similarly with the U/G deck, Prowess was always explained wherever it appeared, but there were instances of Flying and Trample that were not explained, so could cause problems when trying to remember. However, with perhaps the exception of Prowess, all of these keywords feature across a very wide range of Magic cards, so I think it’s really important that you get used to them from the start.

These keywords are also really quite symbolic of the colours they appear in – Vigilance in White, Trample in Green, etc. It’s important to see that these flying creatures can’t be blocked by non-flyers, so you need to come up with another plan. It makes the game much more interesting than just a case of throwing generic 2/2s against generic 3/3s. Magic isn’t about that, so why give that impression?

A note about Double Strike though – if I’d thought some more, I would probably have left that card out, so instead chose to explain it as basically doubling the damage dealt, and was careful not to block when doing so. You don’t need to be explaining the finer points of First Strike damage to somebody on their first ever game.

MTG Druid of the Cowl

Interactions
A lot of the joy and excitement that I get from this game comes from the interactions between cards, and colours, and I especially enjoy seeing those interactions work across block sets, as well. By only including basic creatures and basic lands in a starter deck, you remove so much of that from the game, and run the risk of making the game seem incredibly bland and unimpressive. At the very basic level, even a simple pump spell can make things seem more interesting.

I think the most complicated these introductory games became was when Jemma had a Hand of Silumgar with an Abzan Runemark attached, along with Chief of the Scale and Raiders’ Spoils out. That simple 2/1 Deathtouching Warrior was now a 5/4 Deathtouching Warrior – and then she played Rush of Battle to make it a 7/5 Deathtouch Lifelink Warrior! In contrast, I managed to draw 14 lands almost consecutively, and only had a Vedalken Blademaster out.

Needless to say, I lost both of our games…

Should you throw games when introducing somebody new to that particular world? A lot of the advice Warhammer players dish out is that yes, you should. By all means try, and deal out some damage, but don’t play at your normal level and smash face. Well, I think the same thing is true for introducing Magic to people. Don’t try to win too hard – not difficult for me with the U/G deck I was playing, but if I’d been playing the Warriors, I would perhaps have kept back some of the pump spells to make sure I didn’t overwhelm the board and demolish her.

I think it’s important to give a new person a good overview of the game, and allow them to play some cards, but it’s equally important to show them that it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You don’t want someone to think, “Oh, that game’s really easy!” after a couple of games. So by all means, I’ll attack with that massive beast creature that I’ve just dumped some +1/+1 counters onto and pumped with a Titanic Growth. I might even throw some trample in there. But I’ll also make sure to block with my mana dorks, and put myself behind sometimes. I’m not trying to win a GP, I’m trying to get another human being into playing this game with me!

MTG Sunscorch Regent

Did it work?
On reflection, the Warriors deck is perhaps a little over-powered, in that it works extremely well. In theory, the Blue/Green Prowess deck should allow you to make creatures enormous, and could be really strong as well, but I think it needs more refinement if that were to happen.

For the first game, we played with open hands, and I was providing perhaps too much advice and guidance, such as who to target with certain cards, which creature to play at which point. I was doing so as fairly as possible, as I wanted to impart some of the strategy and stuff. It also helped that I was land-flooded and she could see that I wasn’t being nice, but that I couldn’t actually play anything to respond. For the second game, we went with the standard approach, although Jemma did still ask questions about if a certain play was possible. Warriors are fun, and the deck is very tight-knit, but it did become quite confusing for her when trying to remember who was buffing who, and how they were doing it.

However, for someone who freely admits she is no good at the strategy, she made some really strong plays during that second match, which I think vindicated my choice of not using just generic decks to play the game. When we’ve been playing Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror before now, she has made very good calls on what we, as a team, should be doing, but I think the fact that she was suddenly playing against me in this game made her feel like she couldn’t deal with it. Persistence showed she can, though, and so I hope we’ll get to play some more soon!

Have you tried to teach someone Magic? How did it go? I’d be interested to read your comments below!!

Vampire thoughts

Hey everybody!
It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today I have something that I think is fairly interesting to share with you all: I’ve been thinking once more about Magic the Gathering, and have made some tentative steps into getting back into the game!

Remember at the back end of last year, when I tried my hand at a B/W Vampires sealed deck? Well I’ve been trying to do something more with that, making it more interesting while keeping it just within the Ixalan block rather than trying to be a full Standard experience. Well, I’ve been shuffling about with things, and while it might not be the best of decks out there, I thought it was cool enough that I wanted to share it here for game day!

Creatures
Bloodcrazed Paladin (2)
Anointed Deacon
Sanctum Seeker
Vicious Conquistador (2)
Skyblade of the Legion
Duskborne Skymarcher (2)
Legion Lieutenant (2)
Bishop of the Bloodstained (2)
Inspiring Cleric
Paladin of the Bloodstained
Skymarch Bloodletter
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Vona, Butcher of Magan

Instants & Sorceries
Pride of Conquerors
Rallying Roar
Vampire’s Zeal (2)
Costly Plunder (2)
Call to the Feast (4)
Arterial Flow (2)
Queen’s Commission (2)

Enchantments
Raiders’ Wake
Mark of the Vampire

Artifacts
Pillar of Origins (3)

Lands
Unclaimed Territory
Forsaken Sanctuary (4)
Swamp (9)
Plains (9)

One of the things I really wanted to try with this build is making a ton of Vampire tokens, getting really aggressive with them, and if they die, then they just make Elenda bigger – or the Bloodcrazed Paladin, of course, if I can flash him in for a few +1/+1 counters. Having a lot of pump spells in there also should help to make those tokens more than just meh, and I particularly like things like the Sanctum Seeker and Bishop of the Bloodstained for causing direct life loss rather than having combat as the only way to win with an aggro deck.

I’ve built a lot of Vampire decks along the way, of course, and while I think I’ll always prefer B/R Vampires such as this deck from Shadows of Innistrad, I do like the way that Black and White plays in general, which is why so many of my decks over the years have been in these colours. I should also look into building a Mardu Vampires deck – along with building up this deck to a full 60 cards, I’ve had a number of thoughts on tinkering with the Edgar Markov Commander deck from last summer, too.

I think there is plenty that can still be done to this deck to improve it, and to that end I’ve got a few singles on order to help refine the play somewhat, including a second copy of Elenda. My first build of any deck tends to be a little bit wild as I try to jam in as many copies of interesting cards as I can, before finally trimming things down to more efficient methods. I mean, the aforementioned B/R Vampires deck ran like a dream, and I’d like to see if I could do the same thing with this build in B/W.

Crucially, I’ve had no opportunity to test this deck yet, so I’m hoping that I’ll have some further insights once I’ve managed to get in a few games. My time for Magic-playing has been almost non-existent for the past year, so I think I need to re-evaluate things and see if I can get back into game nights and whatnot!

Anyway, I think the fresh new look of Dominaria has gotten me intrigued enough that I’m once more buying Magic products and seeing what’s occurring in the multiverse, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up next in my deckbuilding adventures!

Ixalan!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look at the new expansion set for Magic the Gathering – hitch up your dinosaur, as we head to Ixalan!

The 76th expansion for the game, Ixalan is a plane of dinosaurs and pirates, merfolk and pseudo-Mesoamerican exploration. We’ve known the name since at least April, when some leaked alternative packaging did the rounds, and the theft of an uncut sheet of cards not long after spoiled a lot of preview season for this set, but despite these leaks, I’ve been looking forward quite a great deal to this one. Amonkhet block was really nice, and I enjoyed a lot of those cards, but somehow I didn’t feel the theme really grabbed me as much as I expected. Ixalan, however, just seems to be speaking to me on a whole new level…

The story depicts the search for the fabled city of gold, El Dorado Orazca, and its legendary artifact, the Immortal Sun. There are four distinct tribes on the plane, with a lot of tribal cards for each that make this set feel like it slots nicely into this year’s Commander products! We have the dinosaur riding warriors of the Sun Empire (Naya), fighting against the Merfolk of the River Heralds (Simic), the Vampire conquistadores of the Legion of Dusk (Orzhov), and the pirates of the Brazen Coalition (Grixis). In the middle of all of this, we have the return of Vraska, posing as a treasure hunting pirate while she attempts to recover the Immortal Sun for Nicol Bolas (in return for Guild leadership of the Golgari on Ravnica). Jace is also here, naturally, although he’s once more lost all of his memories, and so is used by Vraska and the pirates as they fight against the Legion of Dusk.

The whole notion of this pirate/vampire/dinosaur-warrior/merfolk war has really gotten me intrigued, and of course I do have a soft spot for Mesoamerican history, so the whole package just appeals to me no end. Because the art… man, the art…

Tribal is obviously a thing on Ixalan, but let’s take a look at the new (and returning) mechanics. First up is Explore, which allows you to reveal the top card from your library, and draw it if it is a land. If it isn’t, you can put a +1/+1 counter on the Exploring Creature, then put the card drawn either back on top, or into your graveyard. Enrage is a dinosaur ability that has consequences whenever the creature is dealt damage. Raid is back from Tarkir block, but with some slight differences (including as an ongoing effect), and Vehicles are back from Kaladesh. Wasn’t really expecting to see either of these so soon, especially Vehicles, though it’s always cool to see old stuff brought back. We also have double-faced cards that transform into lands, which have card frames that look like old maps. While I do like this, part of me still gets a bit annoyed when Wizards messes with the frames too much. But not enough that I’d want to quit the game or go onto an extended rant about it, of course!!

Ixalan

Dinosaurs are obviously a marquee creature type for the set, and several older Lizards are being retconned as the Dinosaur creature type, which is nice. Ixalan has also given us our first and, so far, only Trilobite, and has brought about the rules change that makes Planeswalkers Legendary now, removing the Planeswalker Uniqueness rule in favour of keeping things a little more sleek.

I’ve been planning to use the vampire cards in my Edgar Markov deck should any decent ones present themselves, anyway, but when I learnt that Merfolk were moving into blue-green for this set, it made me want to make a Merfolk deck as well! I’ve never really been as keen on Merfolk as some, but I love the Simic combination (it’s one of only two places I enjoy playing green), so it’s natural I’d be drawn there this time!

I didn’t make it down to my store for prerelease, unfortunately, but instead had a sort of mini-prerelease of my own at home. I’d decided to go into this set pretty much blind, not paying attention to anything beyond the major spoilers when they hit. However, knowing the tribal theme, I had vaguely wanted to try out that Merfolk idea if I had enough cards for it. When I discovered Deeproot Champion as my promo, I had high hopes, but in the end it was B/W Vampires that leapt out at me, and so that was the deck I built:

Creatures
Vicious Conquistador (2)
Skymarch Bloodletter
Bloodcrazed Paladin
Queen’s Bay Soldier
Bishop of the Bloodstained
Anointed Deacon
Skyblade of the Legion
Bishop’s Soldier
Inspiring Cleric
Paladin of the Bloodstained
Glorifier of Dusk

Instants & Sorceries
Costly Plunder (2)
Skulduggery (2)
Vampire’s Zeal
Rallying Roar
Queen’s Commission
Call to the Feast

Enchantments
Mark of the Vampire
Revel in Riches
Raiders’ Wake

Land
Unclaimed Territory
Swamp (8)
Plains (8)

I was going for a bit of an aggro deck, which would be bolstered by having a lot of Vampires out when Bishop of the Bloodstained arrives. However, I think I had been going for theme more than anything, and only managed to win one game with them out of the three. My regular gaming buddy made a bit of a janky red/green dinosaur thing that ended up just smashing my face, when all I could do is get out vampire tokens. Hm!

Ixalan

There are some really cool cards in Ixalan, however, and more than many recent Magic sets, this one has got me desperate to be playing more of it once again! I’ve already been looking at upgrading this to a better, 60-card deck for Standard (stay tuned for that) as well as getting some more of the better Vampire cards for my Edgar Markov Commander deck (stay tuned for that, as well!)

Overall, then, I really like this new set!

Netrunner Rotation

Android Netrunner

Last week, Fantasy Flight put up a very interesting article that explained the way that rotation is going to work for their Netrunner LCG from October, and I have to say, I was utterly fascinated by it – to the point that it’s the subject of this week’s game day blog, in fact!

For the uninitiated, rotation is the definition of an organized play environment for the game, where older sets have been moved out of the pool to prevent that pool from growing prohibitively large. For me, it’s synonymous with Magic the Gathering, where sets rotate out of Standard at set points in the year to ensure the environment is manageable for tournament play. FFG first put up an article about this in 2014, which described how Netrunner would see the first two cycles of data packs rotate out of organized play when the first pack of the eighth cycle was released. That cycle has now been announced as the Kitara cycle, and takes the game to Africa and the Sub Saharan League. As this cycle comes into play, the Genesis and Spin cycles will rotate out, meaning that none of those cards can be used in decks for organized play from this point on.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

See, FFG are releasing a Revised Core Set, which isn’t just a core set with errata’d cards or something, but is essentially the next way to buy into the game. It doesn’t merely reprint cards from the current set, but rather includes a new mix of cards that features some from the Genesis and Spin cycles that are rotating out, meaning that you may not need to deconstruct those decks, after all!

They have released a card list for the Revised Core Set already, just to help further!

I find this somehow fascinating, and it makes me think that the game is expanding at a sensible rate. It is somewhat similar to the way that Magic works, by having a core set come along with those all-important cards, but the rotation here is so much more leisurely that it doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a mad scramble to keep up. At its smallest extent, there will be five cycles of cards that will form the current meta, which represents a good number of years with which to play these cards. I mean, Netrunner has already been out for what, five years now? That’s a five-year Standard season that allows you to really get a decent amount of play out of your card pool!

Back when they announced rotation originally, I was all for it, and I remain so. The fact that it took almost a year longer to get going than they’d initially thought notwithstanding, I think now that we’re here, and seeing how they’re handling it, I’m really impressed at what’s happening.

Will I be getting a copy of the new core set? Probably not. While I have taken part in Netrunner tournaments in the past, I don’t think it’s something I’m planning to do in the future, so it’s almost irrelevant to me. I’m really pleased to see that the game is being supported so well, however, and I’ll doubtless be buying the data packs as they come out anyway, as casual play is really all I get into these days!

No longer Standard: Kamigawa block

Hey everybody!
For today’s game day blog, I thought I’d return to Magic the Gathering, and an idea that I had a while ago to do a blog showcasing what I think is an excellent set, but a lot of folks in the meta seem to write off as worthless. Last time, I took a look at the M12 core set, and talked a little about why I thought it was a really great looking set overall. Today, I’m continuing this theme with a look at what feels like the red-headed stepchild of Magic sets: it’s time for Champions of Kamigawa!

Champions of Kamigawa

Champions of Kamigawa was released on 1 October 2004 as the thirty-third expansion for Magic the Gathering. The release came hard on the heels of Mirrodin block, which I’ll get into shortly. With a focus on feudal Japan, the cards heavily tapped into this theme, with all manner of spirits and kami decorating things, while samurai and ninjas popped up throughout the block.

The storyline was about the war between the spirits of the plane of Kamigawa and its mortal inhabitants. These Kami spirits have a particular type of magic referred to as “arcane”, which became a bit of a showcase here, while the regular mortals have cards that are more ordinary within Magic’s history.

Champions of Kamigawa made a number of changes to Magic, which I’ll go through briefly before getting to the new mechanics of the set. Firstly, the block was all about Legends. Legendary Creature was first seen on a card in this set, with every rare card being Legendary to showcase this change. Furthermore, the legend rule was changed – rather than just not being able to play two Legendary cards with the same name, now playing a Legendary card with the same name as one already on the battlefield caused both cards to go to the graveyard, essentially making them a sort of removal for themselves. (It’s important to note that this rule has since been changed again with M14). Defender also became a new evergreen mechanic in this set, replacing “this card cannot attack” on cards.

Let’s talk about new mechanics.

Kamigawa Block

First of all, then, we have Arcane spells, representative of the magic of the Kami spirits. This subtype is found on Instant and Sorcery spells, and while it does nothing by itself, some cards have the rules text “Splice onto Arcane”, followed by a cost of some kind. This allowed players to play an Arcane spell in addition to the card that had the Splice text, but keep that Arcane card in your hand for later use. Sure, your opponent would then know you had that card in your hand, but in theory it could provide a decent deterrent, to say nothing of the fact that you could potentially get multiple uses out of these things. Unfortunately, the mechanic was seen as a little bit clunky, and most often the spells weren’t even worthwhile playing once, let alone multiple times.

It remains something of an ambition of mine to make a spirit/arcane deck and make it work, but as yet, I’ve not managed to get the cards I want…

There are a lot of Spirit creatures in Kamigawa block, and many have the ability Soulshift, usually followed by a number. Soulshift allows you to return target Spirit card with converted mana cost equal to or less than the Soulshift number. This number is invariably one less than the Spirit card going to the graveyard, so they can’t recur themselves.

Again, one to try out with the Spirits deck…

Bushido X is something that I feel should be more flavourful than it ends up being. According to wikipedia, “bushido” evokes the tenets of the way of the samurai, such as compassion, honour and integrity. In the game, the mechanic gives a creature +X/+X whenever it blocks or becomes blocked. I can see the vaguely heroic sort of theme they’re going for there, but the term seems to require more than just a combat pump, you know? It’s still an interesting idea, for sure, and can lead to some interesting tactical choices for your opponent, especially if you have multiple creatures with the mechanic!

Finally, Champions of Kamigawa introduced Flip Cards to the game, which was the first time a card face was so dramatically altered (without counting the new frame design brought out in 8th Edition). These cards are essentially two different cards, one on the top and one on the bottom. When a specific condition is met, the card is flipped 180 degrees and becomes a new permanent. There are quite a few interesting rules things that go on with these flip cards – at least, interesting to geeks like me! First of all, the flip card only ever has the normal characteristics of the top portion (the right side) of the card, unless it is on the battlefield and flipped. So you can’t search for the flipped side of the card, though your opponent can name that side (he just won’t find it). Essentially the bottom portion of a flip card doesn’t exist until the flip condition is met. Once the card has been flipped, that’s it – it can never flip back up the other way. All of the flip cards in the block flip into something Legendary – creatures for Champions and Betrayers, and enchantments for Saviors. Any counters that were on the card before it was flipped will remain on it when the card is flipped, as well, as the card never leaves the battlefield.

Champions of Kamigawa has got some really great theme and flavour, and in fact has some truly all-star cards that see play in decks to this day. Perhaps most notable of all of these is Sensei’s Divining Top, although I should also mention the big dragon spirits, notably Kokusho, the Evening Star. A lot of these cards are still played in Commander, which is of course a bit of a home for all manner of crazy decks and strategies! However, the set does seem to have been otherwise forgotten.

Betrayers of Kamigawa came out on 4 February 2005, and brought along two new mechanics to the Kamigawa party, including the arrival of Ninjas on the scene! Ninjutsu appeared on Creatures with the subtype Ninja, and allowed a player to return an unblocked attacking creature to their hand and pay the associated cost to replace that creature with the Ninja creature instead. Perhaps the best marriage of theme and mechanic yet? At any rate, it’s quite a powerful mechanic, and one that a defending player should be particularly wary of when their opponent has untapped mana. Naturally, Ninjutsu appears most often in blue, so you’d be wary of such untapped mana anyway, but still! Importantly, a card that you Ninjutsu into the game was never declared as an attacker, so anything that cares about such things wouldn’t apply here.

Secondly, we have the exceptionally niche Offering ability. Five Legendary Spirits were printed in the cycle, with the ability that allowed a player to sacrifice a creature of a specific subtype (for example, Snake Offering on Patron of the Orochi), and Flash in the Legendary Spirit by paying the difference in mana costs between it and the sacrificed creature’s cost. So for example, Patron of the Orochi costs six generic mana and two green mana; if you sacrificed Orochi Eggwatcher from Champions, which costs two generic and one green, you could Flash in the big snake dude by just paying four generic and one green. Not a bad trade-off, as you could get a 7/7 for your 1/1 on turn five. There’s an interesting interaction with these Patron cards that’s worth pointing out here, too – Orochi Eggwatcher makes 1/1 Snake tokens, one of which you can sacrifice to bring out Patron of the Orochi. Tokens have no converted mana cost, so you’d have to pay the full cost of the Patron, but it would allow you to flash in a massive 7/7 which is kinda nice!

Betrayers also introduced ki counters, the accumulation of which on a card can lead to specific effects, such as flipping the flip cards printed in this set. However, the set is probably most remembered today for the card Umezawa’s Jitte, the artifact card that keeps gaining charge counters whenever its equipped creature attacks, the removal of said counter giving its equipped creature +2/+2 until end of turn. With all of the counter-abuse available in the game at large, it’s not difficult to create monsters with this thing!

Kamigawa Block

The third set of the block, Saviors of Kamigawa, came out on 3 June 2005. The set features a significant amount of cards that care about the size of your hand, referred to as the Wisdom mechanic (though the mechanic is not keyworded, so never actually appears on cards). Playing into this mechanic has been the ability of the Soratami creature type throughout the entire block. You know Tamiyo, who most recently turned up in Eldritch Moon? Well, her race, the Moonfolk, are native to Kamigawa, although Tamiyo herself didn’t appear until original Innistrad block some years later. Being a race of intellectuals, they have the ability to increase your wisdom by returning land cards to your hand to trigger abilities. It’s kinda cool to have seen this land-return going on for the whole block, but only now really mattering.

Channel is an ability word that appears on several Spirit cards that allows you to essentially treat those creature cards as instants, paying a lower mana cost and gaining a one-time effect rather than paying that card’s higher cost to have the effect on the creature itself. For example, Shinen of Flight’s Wings is a 3/3 Flying Spirit for five (four generic, one blue). You can discard the card and pay its Channel cost (one blue) to give target creature flying until end of turn. This is kinda important for the next new mechanic…

Epic cards are Sorcery cards that are essentially an attempt to create Legendary Sorcery cards. Basically, you cast the spell for its mana cost (between 6 and 10 CMC) and you cannot cast any other spells for the rest of the game. However, at the beginning of your upkeep, you get the effect of this spell again, and continue to do so for each of your upkeep phases for the rest of the game. So for example, Enduring Ideal lets you search for an enchantment card and put it into play. At the beginning of each of your subsequent turns thereafter, you’ll be putting enchantments into play for as long as the game lasts. I think it’s a pretty cool concept, but the abilities of each of these Epic cards are a little underwhelming considering the trade-off you make. In the case of Enduring Ideal, you’d need to make sure you have a lot of good stuff in place already, as you’re pretty much left with what you’ve got out to play the game. Of course, they can’t be too powerful – say you had a card that hit your opponent for direct damage, you’d probably apply too much pressure, given the amount of cards that can interact with that sort of thing. But it’s always interesting to see how these things worked out back in the day!

The last new mechanic is Sweep, an ability word that allowed you to return a number of land cards to your hand and copy an effect for each land card returned in this way. Interesting interaction with the hand-size matters abilities going on in the set, but it has only appeared on four cards in the entire history of Magic, so hardly an impactful mechanic, you know?

Saviors of Kamigawa continues the theme of the block for having one of the all-star artifact cards in the game, this time it’s Pithing Needle, which allows you to turn off the activated abilities of any card when it enters the battlefield, for as long as Pithing Needle is in place. The needle can be particularly powerful for preventing Planeswalkers from using their loyalty abilities, which are activated abilities, as well as a whole host of other things. Heck, you can prevent your opponent attaching Umezawa’s Jitte to a creature by naming it with Pithing Needle!

Interestingly, Saviors of Kamigawa also has a Legendary creature that has been banned for use in Commander due to his power level. Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is a two-cost Moonfolk Monk who, when the fourth spell of a turn has been played, flips into the Legendary Enchantment Erayo’s Essence, which just counters the first spell played by each opponent each turn. Think how crazy easy it can be to flip this guy into a counter-magic machine!

Kamigawa Block

Champions of Kamigawa block has got a lot of interesting cards among its three sets, with theme in abundance and some pretty powerful cards that are still regularly played. With such a huge number of Legendary Creatures in the set, the card type became almost diluted until it was meaningless, though can still now provide a bit of a treasure trove for Commanders. True, these cards are overwhelmingly mono-coloured, but can provide some really interesting decks.

I love the block for its oriental theme, something that we don’t often get a lot of in western culture fantasy, or at least something that we don’t get often where it’s implemented well. Here, the theme is tremendous, and really worthwhile taking the time to investigate. I’ve mentioned a few times how I want to build some decks using these cards, and most recently I’ve been considering how to upgrade my Eldritch Moon prerelease pool from those 40 cards to a proper 60 card blue/white Spirits deck that uses a lot of the fodder here. That’s still a work in progress, anyway!

Something that always saddens me about this block specifically is browsing singles online, and seeing how the huge premium commanded by those cards like Umezawa’s Jitte, Ghostly Prison, Eight and a Half Tails, Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker, etc, how it just drops to the majority of the set being less than a couple of pounds/dollars. Despite not playing Magic in the early 2000s, I’ve nevertheless managed to pick up so many Kamigawa cards because they’re just so cheap! For a deck-builder who loves theme over everything else, this block can be a paradise. Add in some Tarkir cards to bulk things out and keep that theme going, and the world’s your lobster!

It seems that a major problem for Champions was the fact that it came hard on the heels of Mirrodin block. A block that made heavy use of artifact cards, and made the horror that is Affinity a thing, Mirrodin allowed players to built incredibly powerful decks that took a lot of beating, and while this is probably best left for a future blog, suffice it to say that it was a particularly dark and difficult time to be a Magic player. Kamigawa didn’t have the same power level and, while being flavourful in and of itself, was very soon overshadowed by the amazing original Ravnica block, which will also be the subject of another blog in the future! Added to this fact, it seems that, while a lot of westerners are familiar with Japan and Japanese culture – not least from the wide consumption of the amazing Studio Ghibli films – Kamigawa block went too deeply into that well, and employed a lot of reference and theme that still felt quite alien to a lot of American and European players.

Kamigawa block itself did have a lot to offer at the time, Mirrodin notwithstanding. There are a number of stories around the internet of folks who were there for Standard and whatnot, definitely worth checking out the reddit Q&A linked in the last paragraph, and also this article from Star City Games, where MTG Hall of Fame-er Masashi Oiso discusses the infamous Gifts Ungiven control deck. While other decks did the rounds, it seems some form of blue control was king. Some interesting history there!

At any rate, that’s my look back at Kamigawa block, three sets that are no longer standard, yet well worth the experience of diving into! How do you feel about the block? Were you playing Magic back when the sets came out? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Attack on Titan

Well, Cryptozoic have been churning out quite a few Cerberus-engine games since I last took much significant notice of them! Enjoying DC as much as I do, though, I’ve not really felt the need to take too much of a look. But at a recent games night, my usual gaming buddy brought over Attack on Titan, and we gave it a whirl. Both of us are old hands at the usual Cerberus stuff, so I wasn’t expecting too much to change – boy, was I wrong!

The game is superficially the same, with a main deck of cards, a basic deck that you start out with, and a currency system based on power. However, this game is based on the anime of the same name by Hajime Isayama, and deals with the idea of humanity living behind massive walls as defense against the roaming Titans, who eat humans at will. As such, the game is set out with five districts, and cards are revealed from the main deck into each of these districts at the start of the round. This idea essentially replaces the line-up, anyway. Furthermore, there are four Archenemy Titans stacked into the deck at the start of the game, timed to appear at specific intervals – these Titans are placed into a district and must be fought before they destroy the walls. If the heroes defeat all four Titans, they win; if the Titans destroy all of the districts, or if they manage to kill three heroes, or if the main deck runs out, the heroes lose.

So it’s a co-op game, which I quite enjoy anyway, but I was especially grateful for that this time around as it was a difficult game! There are regular-style Titans throughout the main deck, as well as good stuff for the heroes to buy, and these things will also attempt to knock the walls down. At first, the game felt a little bland, as we weren’t really doing all that much, but once the first Titan showed up, followed swiftly by the level-one Archenemy Titan, the game escalated quickly. Archenemy Titans have a hit-points level that needs to be reached before they can be dealt enough damage to be defeated. To add insult to injury, they’ll also regenerate lost hit points if you can’t defeat them there and then! Brutal!

It was a really fun twist on an established formula, and one that I definitely enjoyed as a change. Co-op games are always a lot of fun, and while I wasn’t familiar with the source material, having Tony on hand (who is a massive manga fan anyway) certainly helped there. But I don’t think it’s particularly important to know the story to enjoy the game – as usual with theme, it did lead to some cool moments, such as the idea of Titans being on the outside battering walls down, and the like, but it was still a tense game without any prior knowledge.

Attack on Titan