The Voice of Isengard

Hey everybody!
Tuesday means just one thing here at spalanz.com, it’s game day! Today’s blog returns to Middle Earth, and the next deluxe expansion in the series of blogs I’ve been writing with my garbled thoughts on the Lord of the Rings LCG: today, we’re braving the Voice of Isengard!

The Voice of Isengard

The third deluxe expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG, The Voice of Isengard marks a bit of a turning point for me with this game. For the first three “seasons” of the game, I’d been playing fairly often, and have logged plenty of plays with all of the adventure packs up to this point. While there had been some odd moments where I’d thought my love for the game could have wavered (Watcher in the Water, I’m looking at you), I think the fourth deluxe marks a significant level of difficulty-increase, which in turn has seen me move away from the game to some degree. That’s not to say that I dislike this game by any means, and I still snap up the adventure packs and deluxe expansions upon their release. However, I find that I’m somewhat less inclined to actually sit down and play with them upon their release, and I actually have two cycles of cards that I haven’t yet played with, at the time I’m writing this.

I’ll probably come back to this point later in the blog; let’s actually take a look at the contents and the quests!

As always, there are two new heroes and a slew of new player cards in the box, as well as three new quests to play through that set up the following Ring-maker cycle. The player cards are headed up by the new Éomer and Gríma heroes, Éomer is actually pretty great, and quickly found his way into my Rohan deck as I began to re-tool it for spirit and tactics. He’s great for attacking, especially as how his ability gives him +2 attack when a character leaves play. Use an Escort from Edoras during the quest phase to buff your willpower, then he’ll leave and buff Éomer during the next attack phase – excellent! Ride to Ruin is another useful card to have if you have some cheap allies you don’t mind getting rid of! While probably not as deep as dwarves, the Rohan deck type is nevertheless rife with all manner of fantastic cards that work really well together.

The Voice of Isengard also brings the third and greatest Istari to the game: Saruman! Yes, I’m a big Saruman fan, I find him extremely compelling as a character, and had been looking forward to seeing him arrive. As the main game is set somewhere in the nebulous early part of Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman hasn’t actually fallen to evil, and so works fine as being a player card. However, he does showcase one of the new mechanics from this expansion, Doomed X. Whenever a card with this keyword enters play, each player raises his threat by X. These cards are usually quite powerful, and Saruman is definitely a prime example of this. With three willpower, five attack, four defense and four hit points for only three resources, Saruman is an exceptional ally. Furthermore, when he enters play, you get to remove a non-unique enemy or location in the staging area from the game for as long as he remains in play. Like the original Gandalf, Saruman does unfortunately leave play at the end of the round, but this effect can be incredibly useful, as you can get just enough time to set yourself up to deal with something potentially game-ending. The price is high, for sure – raising your threat by three can put you in a precarious position, so it’s not to be done lightly. But paired with some of those Valour cards from the Angmar Awakened cycle? He’s definitely got his place in decks, that’s for sure!

The encounter cards are varying degrees of awful, and most of them showcase the new Time X keyword. Whenever a card with Time X is revealed, you place resource tokens on it equal to X, and at the beginning of each refresh phase, you remove one counter. When there are no tokens left, something will happen, usually something terrible. There are also cards that remove tokens, which add to your woes! The mechanic lends a sense of urgency to the game, though, something that the designers said was a deliberate method of changing the meta, such as it is, for the game.

The Fords of Isen

The Voice of Isengard

The first scenario sees you trying to help a group of Rohirrim warriors defend the small Islet from fierce Dunlendings – more accurately, they’re protecting Gríma among them. The fact that there is a Gríma hero card in this box led to a similar situation to the Faramir business in Against the Shadow, though I must say I’ve never played with Gríma among my fellowship, so have never been too concerned by this!

The object of the quest is basically to outlast the awful encounter deck, and defeat the three stages of the quest. In addition to the Time X keyword on each quest card (the first of which can discard Gríma from play, causing you to lose at the first hurdle!) there are a significant number of effects that punish you for having cards in hand. This was another conscious decision by the designers, to combat strategies that had made it into the meta, and thematically reflects the hatred the Wild Men of Dunland have for the richer, more resourceful men of Rohan. I tend not to use too many card draw effects in my decks, but there are also a lot of mechanics in the encounter set that force you to draw cards, adding to the misery!

The Fords of Isen is a very urgent scenario, forcing you to breeze through it quickly or else die horribly, face down in the muck.

To Catch An Orc

The Voice of Isengard

The next scenario requires the players to capture the orc, Mugash, at the behest of Saruman himself. Mugash has been leading raids into the valley of Isengard, but Saruman believes he has vital intelligence about Mordor, and so wishes to question him. At the start of the scenario, you are forced to put the top 20 cards of your own deck aside – copies of Mugash’s Guard and a single copy of Mugash himself are then shuffled together, and distributed among these out-of-play player decks.

Over the course of the game, you will encounter locations with the Searches X keyword – this allows you to search through X cards of your out-of-play deck, as you try to find the leader of the Orc tribe. You also get to choose one of those cards to keep and discard the rest, while placing any enemies into the staging area. It’s an incredibly different-feeling quest, with something of a built-in timer in the form of giving you a smaller deck to start. The mechanics of finding Mugash are quite prescriptive, but overall I think they’re really effective for providing an interesting, and engaging scenario. While the encounter deck can still be quite awful, it doesn’t feel quite so bad somehow, and overall I think this is one of my favourites.

Into Fangorn

The Voice of Isengard

The final quest takes us into Fangorn Forest, and we get to see the Ents! Despite (presumably!) capturing Mugash in the last scenario, he has since escaped his bonds, and the players pursue him into the depths of Fangorn. The Forest is alive, however, and the Ents are not happy with the players’ intrusion.

This is another interesting scenario, with some very interesting mechanics. Mugash is now an Objective, and the players must capture him to win the game. If he is captured when you defeat the first stage, then you progress to the second stage and attempt to keep hold of the Orc chieftain while putting 12 progress there. If he has escaped into the encounter deck, you instead advance to stage three and remain there until you find him again, then advancing to stage two and keeping hold of him until the end. It reminds me of a few earlier scenarios, where the possibility of losing an Objective can make the game suddenly a lot more arduous.

However, the encounter deck itself is no picnic, filled as it is with the Huorn! The Ents of Fangorn have the Hinder keyword, which basically annoys the hell out of you. Rather than attacking, these enemies remove progress from the quest when they are engaged with you, and with high toughness and high wounds, these enemies are not going to be picked off quickly! Indeed, the whole quest seems designed to slow you down, while the quest cards themselves continue to make use of the Time X mechanic. It’s actually a pretty fun, thematic scenario, but my god is it disheartening to actually play through!


Each of the quests in Voice of Isengard has something different to offer, and each is highly thematic to play through. While it’s an expansion that I’d wanted for a long time, being such a fan of Saruman and this area of Middle Earth as a whole, I nevertheless found it to be a little less than satisfying, because there no longer felt like the option to just enjoy the quest, as you had to rush through or whatever. All quests in Lord of the Rings LCG have a race element to them, of course, as you attempt to outlast your threat reaching 50, but moreso than ever, we’re now being forced into a very specific play style if we want to go through these newer quests. I get that the more competitive elements of the community had been asking for this since the game released, but I do get the impression that a fundamental shift occurred somewhere here, whereby the main focus of development for Lord of the Rings LCG was no longer exploring Tolkien’s world in all of its glorious abundance, but instead on nuts-and-bolts mechanics of flipping cards over and mathematics.

I still play Lord of the Rings LCG, don’t get me wrong, and I still love it, but I don’t find myself returning to these newer quests nearly as often as I return for just one more stroll through Mirkwood or the Long Dark of Khazad-dûm.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day here at spalanz.com, and this time around, it’s a small-scale game that is falling under the spotlight of awesome, the two-player Cold War: CIA vs KGB!

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

This is a game that I first came across five or six years ago now, when the revised edition came out from Fantasy Flight Games and I managed to pick it up for under a tenner. The Cold War isn’t an era that I’m super familiar with, though since I had been to Berlin in 2008, I’d grown a lot more interested generally in that whole era.

The game is basically a bluffing game, where the players take on the role of the CIA or the KGB and send a variety of operatives on missions to control global territory and win the ideological struggle of east vs west. Let’s take a look at some of the cards!

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

The CIA and the KGB each have the same resources to draw upon, from the deputy director the the master spy or the assassin. The cards all have the same abilities, they just have different artwork to indicate the faction they belong to. Each of these agents has an initiative (the number next to their photograph) and an agenda (the text boxes on the right). We’ll get back to these things in more detail in a moment.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

The objective of each game round, representative of one year’s struggle in the Cold War, is to win influence over a country or event that is determined at the start of that round. Each of these Objectives is worth a victory point (the number in the bottom right corner), and is fought over by agents recruiting Groups of people to aid them in their attempt to exert influence there. This is shown by the Objective’s Stability, the large number in the centre of the card there. These Objectives also have a population ranking, and agents can never recruit more Groups than the number of population icons (on the bottom left of the card). Let’s take a look at some Groups:

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

These cards all belong to one of four factions – political (purple), media (blue), economic (gold) and military (green) – and have a power rating from 1 to 6, as well as an ability common to that faction. These Groups are used by players to attempt to gain influence over the objective, and a player can recruit enough Group power up to but not exceeding the Objective’s Stability.

For example, the Egypt Objective shown above has a population of four, and a Stability of eleven. A player may recruit the Police (4), Bankers (6) and Artists (1) Groups in order to attempt to gain control of the Objective and claim its 20 victory points. If both players have managed to accumulate 11 power-worth of Groups, then the Bias icons (in the top right of the Objective cards) are used to break ties – for Egypt, the player who has the most political (purple) power would win, but if no player has any political power or those numbers are tied, it then comes down to economic (gold) power, and so forth.

If a player has more power than the Objective’s Stability, he causes civil disorder and his agent is revealed, and removed from the game “as his superiors disavow all knowledge of the agent and his activities and abandon their agent to his doom”. Wonderful stuff!

Assuming civil disorder has been avoided, the player with the most power places his domination token on the Objective – but the struggle isn’t over yet! The two agents are then in for Debriefing, where they are revealed and their agendas are resolved in initiative order, lowest to highest. Three of the six agents have separate effects that happen, depending on whose domination token is on the Objective – for instance, if the Master Spy is resolved, and the KGB token is on the Objective, the CIA will actually get to claim that Objective for themselves.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

So that’s the basic gameplay for Cold War: CIA vs KGB. There is so much to the actual game turns, of course, as you attempt to bluff your opponent and fight over the Objectives round after round. The individual effects of Groups can cause a lot of back and forth as the game goes on, and right up to the point where the agents are revealed, you never really know if you’ve won the Objective that turn. There is so much to immerse yourself in, as the stock 1960s-era photos help provide that definite feel for the world of the game.

Curiously, though, it’s the sort of game that generally flies under the radar, I feel. The box is tiny – I purposefully took that photo at the start from quite a way off to try to show you that it’s the sort of game you can very easily travel with (even more easily than Space Hulk Death Angel, whose entire contents will fit into a deck box). It’s not the usual sort of flashy thing that you see on the shelves of your LGS, like the fantasy and sci-fi things that more often than not take up room there. There are also no expansions, just a simple collection of 59 cards and a couple of cardboard tokens, yet the enjoyment you can get out of this is just great!

I just love it!

Magic Metamorphosis

Hey everybody!
Having a week off work means that I can take some time off and relax, especially since I’ve now finished my degree. It also means I can be around to see things like this come out much quicker than normal!

Mark Rosewater has got a new article up on the Wizards website, talking about upcoming changes to Magic the Gathering’s set structure and stuff – changes that will be happening from next spring, no less!

Back in 2015, we had the end of Tarkir block and Magic Origins, which together were the last three-set block and the last core set, respectively. Since then, Magic has been published in two-set blocks that have taken in Zendikar, Innistrad, Kaladesh and now, Amonkhet, with Ixalan coming later this year. Each of these five blocks is a large set followed by a small set, the idea being that two-set blocks wouldn’t allow for the kind of fatigue that three-set blocks had caused. However, it seems players are still upset with having small sets, no matter how big the block overall happens to be, so starting with the April 2018 set (currently named “Soup”, but which will be announced later this week, apparently!) Magic will be see three large sets published every year, which may or may not be linked by location. Intriguing…

The fourth set of the year is going to be a core set again, only with a difference. It still seems to be geared primarily towards newer players, but the idea is to include more reprints that will benefit all players without being straight-jacketed into the theme of a particular block. I always liked core sets, and was sorry to see them go (you can read all about my love of M12 here!) so I’m excited to see what this could bring!

The Gatewatch

The Gatewatch is going to be dialled back a little. This is kinda fine with me, as I like a good planeswalker but having so many Gideons running around right now is a little unnecessary. I think the idea of including different planeswalkers is good, though I do get why they wanted the Gatewatch in the first place, so it was never a huge deal for me either way. They’re also cutting back on the Masterpieces series, so that not every set will have them. I’m conflicted by this – I only ever opened one, Mana Confluence, and pretty much immediately sold it anyway. Paired with the return of core sets and the potential for reprints there, I’m not exactly distraught at the loss of Masterpieces. However, their presence in regular packs made people open more packs generally, and so card prices have been particularly good in sets where they’ve occurred. If fewer packs are going to be opened, then I’m a bit concerned that the cost of Standard will creep back up again, and I’ll be left with fewer cards for my money. Hm.

The article ends with the news that a new element of R&D is being formed to focus solely on the actual gameplay environments such as Standard and Draft, in the hope of not causing any bad seasons as seems to be happening right now.

It’s always good to see these sorts of articles, and I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the guys at Wizards for being so communicative with their audience. It sounds like things are being shaken up mainly for Draft, but the two-year Standard (eight sets, total) is being retained after the feedback last year. I’m primarily interested in Magic for the theme and the worldbuilding, of course, so I’m much more interested in what this means for those aspects. It sounds like it will allow for greater flexibility to tell stories, as they can have one, two or three sets taking place on a particular plane, which can only be good for us, the players! The return of core sets could be great, so overall, I’m excited to see where we’re going next!

Breya 2.0

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and I’m sticking with Magic for the moment, as I’m riding the wave of where my interest lies for the time being. Today, I wanted to talk about my attempts to change up the Breya Commander deck that I picked up a short while ago!

Breya, Etherium Shaper

Breya is an artifact creature who makes thopter tokens on her entry into the battlefield, but her abilities are a bit of a blend of the colours she represents, which does leave her feeling like a bit of a hodge-podge of stuff. That said, having an artifact creature commander does lend itself to artifact tribal, so I’ve tried to go more in that side of things. Because she makes thopters on entry into the battlefield, I thought it might be nice to flicker her in and out, though of course in Commander now you can always have your general available in the Command Zone if need be, so it’s not a huge thing to have to flicker her. I’ve got a number of other creatures who also do things when they enter the battlefield, though, so that the flicker cards shouldn’t be wasted. Something that I do enjoy is the amount of cool Kaladesh cards that are relevant to this deck, namely the Master Trinketeer that gives thopters +1/+1, which should help, and also Padeem, who will give all my artifacts Hexproof. They’ll still die to boardwipes of course, so I probably need to look into making them Indestructible as well, but that’ll be for another day…

Something that has kinda happened to this deck as I evolved it was the addition of quite a number of expensive cards – expensive for me, that is! I’m definitely a budget-focused guy, and if I’m paying more than £5 for one card, it really needs to be a specific card that I’ve wanted. However, I started on the slippery slope by getting a copy of Ashnod’s Altar, which I mentioned back in the original blog post when I picked this deck up, and have kinda gone on from there, really! I’ve never played with Sensei’s Divining Top, but a lot of folks (particularly the Command Zone podcast, which is what got me started on this whole thing!) talk about it being a crucial card, so I eventually bit that bullet and picked up a copy for around £12. I’ve also been adding in a few cards that I’ve luckily had hanging about from various booster pulls and the like, including Ghostly Prison, Serum Visions, Phyrexian Arena… Something that I’d noted about the deck was how exciting it was to have these “classic” cards like Skullclamp, so it’s again keeping in with the theme of the deck there.

However, I’ve decided to make these additions to the deck based on a couple of strong limitations: all the cards must be printed in the “new”, post-M15 Modern card frame; and if anything produces or references colourless mana, it must show the actual colourless mana symbol. Aesthetics are very important to me, and for a format like Commander, which emphasizes self-expression, I think it’s important to let these sorts of things come through. Of course, it’s a limitation in some respects, but there are still a hell of a lot of cards available for the deck to use – for the card frame stipulation, in addition to four blocks (nine individual sets) and two core sets, there have been three Masters sets, three Commander sets, five Duel Decks, and the Duel Decks and Planechase Anthologies. Amonkhet is also now a thing, and I’m evaluating a couple of things (those Monuments, for sure!) to add in, as well. Of course, the colourless mana symbol is more of a sticking-point, as there are a couple of things I’d like to include but have stopped myself doing so, but overall I feel spoilt for choice here anyway, so I’m sure it’s all good!!

As a side note, I’ve also swapped out all of the lands, for land art that I actually prefer. Again, it’s all about the aesthetics. I’ve currently got all of the Ravnica bounce lands in the deck, which originally caused me problems as I didn’t have enough good lands to bounce; I’ve since put in the recent common dual lands to try and get more variety there. However, between these and the tri-lands, the deck can potentially be very slow, as there are lands coming into play tapped, some of which are then bounced back to my hand. I’ve been thinking about swapping out the dual lands for the Khans duals, as I’d at least gain life when they enter the battlefield, but so far haven’t gone in for all that.

There are still plenty of cards that I’m thinking of including, and I’m sure I’ll be adjusting the deck for a long time time come yet, but for now, here’s how my beautiful cyborg commander is looking – enjoy!

Breya, Etherium Shaper

Creatures
Silas Renn, Seeker Adept
Hanna, Ship’s Navigator
Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Sharuum the Hegemon
Baleful Strix
Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Chief Engineer
Chief of the Foundry
Combustible Gearhulk
Contraband Kingpin
Enigma Sphinx
Etherium Sculptor
Filigree Angel
Foundry Inspector
Magus of the Wheel
Master of Etherium
Master Trinketeer
Noxious Gearhulk
Psychosis Crawler
Reclusive Artificer
Restoration Gearsmith
Sanctum Gargoyle
Shimmer Myr
Solemn Simulacrum
Soul of New Phyrexia
Sphinx Summoner
Thopter Engineer
Vedalken Engineer
War Priest of Thune
Workshop Assistant

Planeswalker
Kaya, Ghost Assassin
Tezzeret the Seeker

Artifacts
Armillary Sphere
Ashnod’s Altar
Blade of Selves
Commander’s Sphere
Conqueror’s Flail
Cranial Plating
Hero’s Blade
Inventor’s Goggles
Lightning Greaves
Orbs of Warding
Sensei’s Divining Top
Skullclamp
Sol Ring
Swiftfoot Boots
Whispersilk Cloak
Worn Powerstone

Instants & Sorceries
Artificer’s Epiphany
Ghostly Flicker
Trash for Treasure
Whipflare
Serum Visions

Enchantments
Ensoul Artifact
Phyrexian Arena
Ghostly Prison
Pia’s Revolution
Thopter Spy Network
Propaganda
Efficient Construction

Land
3x Plains
3x Mountains
3x Swamps
3x Islands
Arcane Sanctum
Ash Barrens
Azorius Chancery
Boros Garrison
Buried Ruin
Cinder Barrens
Command Tower
Crumbing Necropolis
Dimir Aqueduct
Evolving Wilds
Grand Coliseum
Highland Lake
Holdout Settlement
Inventors’ Fair
Izzet Boilerworks
Meandering River
Mishra’s Factory
Mystic Monastery
Nomad Outpost
Orzhov Basilica
Rakdos Carnarium
Shimmering Grotto
Stone Quarry
Submerged Boneyard
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse

So that’s how it stands right now! Will Hour of Devastation see any changes? How about the upcoming Archenemy decks? I guess we’ll have to see!!

Retiring from Conquest

Hey everybody,
Recently, I’ve been looking over the games that I have, and checking through several of those that I have decks set up for the LCGs I follow, and have decided to retire all of those from Warhammer Conquest. The game died when FFG and GW parted ways, officially at the end of February this year, but the nails were firmly in the coffin back in September when the announcement came. The game was actually pretty popular at my local game store, and I had hopes that I’d still be able to get in some games, including trying out some new decks, but Arkham Horror LCG has definitely supplanted it as the LCG of choice, and I’m left with rather a lot of cards that I’m not really doing all that much with! But then, I’m kinda used to having games like this…

Fun fact: Anrakyr was the first #Necrons character I painted! #WarhammerConquest

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Before I dissolve all of the decks I have set up, however, I wanted to record for posterity here the Necron deck that I built up a year ago when the Necron box first came out, and subsequently tweaked with a couple of the cards from the subsequent Planetfall cycle. It did quite well for me on the couple of trips out I had with it, so I thought it’d be useful to have in case I ever find some fellow hipsters and decide to get back into this down the line!

Anrakyr the Traveller
Pyrrhian Eternals (5)
Slumbering Tomb
Awake the Sleepers
Pyrrhian Warscythe
Harbinger of Eternity
Mandragoran Immortals
Immortal Legion
Warriors of Gidrim
Immortal Vanguard (3)
Doomsday Ark (2)
Praetorian Ancient
Lychguard Sentinel (2)
Hyperphase Sword (2)
Tomb Blade Squad (3)
Canoptek Spyder
Canoptek Scarab Swarm (3)
Hunting Acanthrites
Reanimation Protocol (2)
Drudgery (2)
Defensive Protocols (2)
Sautekh Complex (2)
Defense Battery
Ratling Deadeye
Noise Marine Zealots
Sacaellum Shrine Guard (2)
White Scars Bikers
Kroot Hunter (2)
Sybarite Marksman
Kabalite Halfborn
Saim-Hann Kinsman

There are ten out-of-faction cards included at the end here because of the subtheme Necrons have, that of enslaving other people (not something in the fluff, but whatever). There are soldier units in there for the Mandragoran Immortals to take advantage of, warriors for the Immortal Vanguard, and scouts for the Tomb Blade Squads.

Overall, it was a lot of fun to play the couple of times I got it to the table, though I think it’s quite unfortunate that the game ended with the Necrons such a comparatively under-developed faction. Of course, the enslavement mechanic means you technically have a much bigger card pool than pure-Necron, but even so… it would have been nice to have had another cycle, and see what more we can get out of the pool!

Amonkhet!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day again here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look through the new Amonkhet expansion for Magic the Gathering!

Amonkhet

This is the 74th expansion for Magic, which is kinda mind-boggling to think of. The set is heavily inspired by ancient Egypt, and takes place on a plane ruled by the elder dragon Nicol Bolas. While Bolas himself doesn’t appear in the set, plenty of the art evokes his iconic twin-horns, and the theme is heavily implied that the people of Amonkhet are awaiting his return, not aware that he is a planeswalker.

The story of the set follows on directly from that of Aether Revolt, where Tezzeret had caused the revolt on Kaladesh before being confronted by Liliana over his master Nicol Bolas’ current whereabouts. Tezzeret had revealed that the dragon was residing on Amonkhet, which is coincidentally the location of one of the four demons Liliana had sold her soul to, Razaketh. The Gatewatch resolved to confront Bolas, against the wishes of the newest member Ajani, who instead travelled to Dominaria to try and get more allies.

Amonkhet

So, Amonkhet!

There are a number of new mechanics and themes for this expansion, which combined make it feel like a totally new plane, to me. Aside from the fact that the artwork is unusually consistent for a Fertile Cresent theme, it just feels somehow exciting to me! So let’s take a look at some new mechanics.

Amonkhet

First of all, we have Cycling coming back. This is the mechanic that allows you to pay a cycling cost and discard the card with Cycling, then draw a card (there is also a version that allows you to search for a card type). It’s a pretty great mechanic that really just gives your cards extra utility, and makes it a little less shaky to include some cards that you may otherwise not want in your deck, as if you draw them late in the game they still have a use.

Amonkhet

-1/-1 counters are back, though this time without a name such as Wither or Poison. There is a lot of movement around these counters, where some creatures enter the battlefield with a number of counters on themselves, and you can move them around or take them off when they deal damage, or whatever. Of all the new features of the set, this is the one that feels a little too clunky, and seems to require a full build-around to make it work.

Amonkhet

Exert is a new keyword that is fairly straightforward. When a creature with Exert attacks, you can choose to exert it for an additional benefit, though that creature will then not untap during your next untap step. It’s a fairly decent effect mostly, and is probably the mechanic that I’m most excited to build a deck around right now. So stay tuned for that!

Amonkhet

Embalm is definitely among the more flavourful mechanics introduced in the set, and while the intricacies feel like they may be too much to keep a track of, it’s something I’m again thinking of building a deck around. A creature with embalm gives you the option to bring it back from the graveyard as an embalmed token copy of itself, except it’s a white zombie in addition to its other types. So a creature such as Aven Wind Guide above is out on the battlefield, giving your other creature tokens flying and vigilance, then it dies and goes to the graveyard. If you choose to pay its embalm cost of four generic, one white and one blue, you can exile the card from your graveyard and put a token on the battlefield in its place. The big drawback is touted as exile, meaning you could at most get one reactivation of the creature, but I might see how that sort of deck would look sometime soon.

Amonkhet

Finally, we have another graveyard mechanic with Aftermath, a split card mechanic that allows you to cast the top half of the card as a normal instant or sorcery, then the bottom half of the card only from your graveyard, paying that half’s mana cost. The card design is just insane, and I have to say that I’m not a fan of it personally (to the extent that I don’t currently foresee myself including any of these cards in a deck for aesthetic reasons). But they’re here, and I suspect that there will be more in the next set, so yeah…

Amonkhet

While they’re not mechanics as such, it’s also worth talking about the Gods of Amonkhet here. Each colour has its own god, such as Bontu the Glorified for black here, and each has its own Monument artifact card that allows you to cast creatures of the god’s colour for one generic mana less. Each of the gods is a creature, with a colour-specific keyword, and is indestructible, but cannot attack unless a specific state has been achieved, such as with Bontu needing to see a creature die under your control. Furthermore, each of the gods has an activated ability that will allow you to achieve that state, such as Bontu sacrificing a creature for one generic and one black.

There is also the theme of the Trials of the Five Gods going on in Amonkhet, and each of these trials has a colour-specific enchantment that does something when it enters the battlefield, such as the Trial of Ambition forcing an opponent to sacrifice a creature. The Trials are at uncommon, while there are also associated Cartouche aura cards at common that attach to a creature for a benefit, and bounce the Trial back to your hand, making sure you can repeat the effect of them. I find the Cartouches much more exciting than the Trials, but for theme’s sake alone, I think it’s necessary to include them in a deck!!

Amonkhet prerelease

So, I’ve been talking a lot about building decks so far in this blog – let’s take a look at my Prerelease deck from Amonkhet:

Creatures
Ahn-Crop Crasher
Bloodlust Inciter
Bontu the Glorified
Doomed Dissenter (2)
Emberhorn Minotaur
Gravedigger
Nimble-Blade Khenra
Plague Belcher
Trueheart Twins
Wasteland Scorpion (2)

Sorcery
Blazing Volley
Pursue Glory
Wander in Death

Instant
Brute Strength (2)
Fling

Enchantment
Cartouche of Ambition

Artifact
Edifice of Authority
Hazoret’s Monument

Land
Cascading Cataracts
Mountain (9)
Painted Bluffs
Swamp (7)

I didn’t make it to prerelease this year, being absorbed in my degree work and house-hunting, and basically forgetting about it, despite having signed up for it! So I thought it would be cool to work out a deck from my pool anyway, and came up with the above. I was so pleased to get Bontu in my pool, as I had been hoping to get a copy of her for Standard or whatever. My pool overall would have been pretty decent – much better than that of my last prerelease experience! And I would have gotten to play black/red, my favourite combo!

Well, let’s see what happens when Hour of Devastation is out!

Planechase

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com and, if you follow me on instagram, you may have seen that I recently bought myself the Planechase Anthology box that came out at the end of last year. (If you don’t follow me there, why not?!) While I don’t always like to have a glut of similar stuff on my blog in one go, I wanted to feature this on a game day blog despite Amonkhet being released officially at the end of this week, so prepare for cardboard goodness for a while!

Happy Easter to me! #MagicTheGathering

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Planechase is a variant format for Magic the Gathering that is similar to regular games in almost all respects, except for the addition of a Planar Deck of ten cards that each player uses alongside his or her regular constructed deck. These cards are usually Plane cards, featuring a location and artwork from one of the many iconic locations found across the Multiverse, though there are also Phenomenon cards that can crop up. Planar decks consist of ten cards, no two of which can have the same name.

Planechase was originally published in 2009, with four products that featured 60-card casual constructed decks, and four ten-card Planar decks. The constructed decks were almost entirely reprints from earlier Magic sets, but also included four preview cards for the upcoming Zendikar block. These decks were five-colour, red/white, red/green, and mono-black. In 2012, a new set of four products was released, with new Planar cards and the new Phenomenon cards, alongside four 60-card casual constructed decks. Unlike the 2009 set, Planechase 2012 introduced a slew of 21 new cards that were legal in eternal formats, several of which became popular enough to receive multiple reprints over the last few years.

Magic the Gathering Planechase

What is the Planechase format?

At the start of the game, the first player reveals the top card of his or her Planar deck, and that card’s effects take place across each player’s turn. Some cards, such as The Academy at Tolaria West, have an effect that takes place throughout the turn, whereas others, like Orzhova, only trigger when you Planeswalk away. To Planeswalk, you roll the special Planar die, and if you roll the Planeswalker symbol (that fork thing), the active plane is put on the bottom of its controller’s deck, and the player who rolled the symbol gets to reveal the top card of his or her own Planar deck. You can Planeswalk any time you can cast a Sorcery spell, and for each additional time you choose to Planeswalk on your turn, you must pay one additional generic mana to do so. There have been a total of 86 Planar cards printed for the game, all of which are included in the Planechase Anthology, and depending on how you’ve built your Planar deck, it could form a hefty part of your strategy to Planeswalk multiple times in the game to ensure you get to use those effects.

Four sides of the Planar die are blank, and have no effect in the game, but there is also the Chaos symbol (the weird colliding-planes thing), which triggers the Chaos ability of the active plane if it is rolled. I’d say that the Chaos abilities on the Plane cards can be the more beneficial reason to keep them in your deck, and sometimes, you might not want to Planeswalk away too soon. Chaos abilities use the stack, and so can be responded to if you need to.

Magic the Gathering Planechase

As well as including all of the Plane and Phenomenon cards ever printed for the game, Planechase Anthology includes four 60-card decks from the 2012 edition of the game. While the 2009 edition were all reprints, it would have been nice to have had both sets of the constructed decks, not least because those decks include hard-to-find things such as the Mirrodin Artifact Lands, Cabal Coffers, Phyrexian Arena and Master of Etherium (although Wizards has been reprinting many of these things in products like the Commander pre-cons).

At any rate, the four decks included are each led by a legendary creature, and I know that Maelstrom Wanderer at the very least is pretty much a Commander staple. The cards in these decks are really nice to have, and while I mentioned earlier that some of the newly printed cards have since seen reprints, there are still ten that have only ever been printed in Planechase 2012 or else here in Planechase Anthology (Elderwood Scion; Felidar UmbraFractured Powerstone, which is admittedly somewhat format-specific; Indrik Umbra; Krond the Dawn Clad; Preyseizer Dragon; Sai of the Shinobi; Sakashima’s Student; Silent-Blade Oni, and Thromok the Insatiable). In order to buy the four legendary creatures and the rest of these cards that have never since seen a reprint would cost just over £30 as of the writing of this blog – importantly, that’s the price to buy this printing of the singles, as well; some cards like Silent-Blade Oni and Maelstrom Wanderer have a significant premium attached to their actual 2012 printing. I feel really pleased, then, that I actually managed to pick up this box of cardboard goodness for £60 from my local game store in Wrexham, which is cheaper than every other place I’ve seen. They originally reduced it in January to £80, and I did consider getting it at the time, but I’m really glad that I waited!

While I’m sure that, in time, I’ll be pulling these decks apart and making all kinds of weird and wonderful things with the contents – or else adding in different things to change them up and whatnot – for now I quite like the idea of using it almost as a boardgame. Much like I have kept the duel decks that I’ve bought intact, I like the fact that I have a collection of decks that are designed to be played against each other, and require little more than pulling off the shelf and shuffling up before I’m playing.