No longer Standard: Time Spiral

Hey everybody!
We’re going back in time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and another look at one of the classic sets from Magic the Gathering. Today, it’s time to return to 2006, and Time Spiral block!

Time Spiral

Time Spiral is the fortieth expansion set for Magic the Gathering, released on 6 October 2006. It is the first set in the Time Spiral block, the twelfth block set for the game. The set was notable for being the first to include a whole sub-set of cards, much like we’ve seen in recent years with Masterpieces – this time, it was a set of 121 “time-shifted” cards, which were reprints of cards from Magic’s history, using the older card frame but with a black border, and featuring a purple rarity symbol. The idea behind these cards was to represent the past invading the present, as there have been some horrible things happening to Dominaria on the whole.

Two hundred years previously, Phyrexia invaded Dominaria, but was eventually defeated, leaving the plane in ruins. It’s a thrilling tale, if a little on the bonkers side, and definitely something I’d like to feature here on the blog once I’ve managed to get my head around it! One of the important things to know is that Teferi managed to save his home by phasing it all out of reality, as you do, and has now returned to find the rest of the land a salt-sown wasteland. It’s time to get help from his fellow planeswalker Freyalise and sort things out!

Consequently, there is an element of despair to the artwork across this set. The basic lands look really quite grim and forlorn, with rotting forests and desolate plains, swamps filled with the rotting Phyrexian hulks and so on. We also get some factional warfare in the return of Rebel cards, which represent the three factions from the plane of Rath, first explored in Magic‘s third block, the Tempest block (part of the Weatherlight Saga, of which Time Spiral block is considered a continuation). Again, this is a really intriguing storyline, so I don’t want to go into it here, but suffice it to say, there is a real sense of eking out a living in the shadow of the apocalypse, something I always liken to the Midnight expansion for Runebound – while evil didn’t win on Dominaria, it was defeated at such a cost as to leave utter devastation in its wake.

Mechanically, the set gives us a massive eleven keywords, including eight returning keywords from historical sets (that time/nostalgia theme again), two brand-new keywords, and a keywording of Flash. The two new mechanics are Split Second and Suspend, two quite flavourful mechanics that seem to have become quite commonly-seen in formats like Commander, for reasons I’ll go into now.

Split Second is a keyword found predominantly on Instants and Sorcery cards that basically stops the Stack – while the card with Split Second is on the Stack, other spells cannot be played in response, though mana abilities, triggered abilities and special actions can still happen. A common way around Split Second is to un-Morph a creature such as Willbender, who can counter a spell when he is un-Morphed in this manner. It helps that Willbender was included in the set as a time-shifted card, too! Perhaps the most famous card with Split Second is Krosan Grip, though the keyword does occur in all five colours.

Suspend is a mechanic that proved confusing when it first appeared, due to timing issues of when such things could be played. Suspend is keyword that almost acts like an alternative casting cost: rather than paying the card’s mana cost, you can pay its Suspend cost and exile it with a number of time counters on it; when the final counter is removed, it is then cast. It can be confusing because cards with Suspend cover almost the entire breadth of card types, but you must be able to cast the card at the time you exile it – so you can’t Suspend a creature card in response to having to discard a card, say, unless you have an effect in play that would allow that (and Time Spiral gave players just such an effect by keywording Flash, such as with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir). Furthermore, some Suspend cards don’t actually have a mana cost, but must be cast via Suspend – they aren’t considered to be “free” to play. An example of this is perhaps one of the more notorious Suspend cards, Living End. The Professor has an example Modern deck based on this card, which you can take a look at here:

Returning keywords and mechanics were plentiful, due to the nostalgia theme. Of course, having so many keywords in a set means there’s a lot to keep track of, and I think having Storm return in the set feels like a step too far!

Time Spiral storage lands

An often-overlooked part of the set, in my mind, is the Storage Lands. These are a cycle of allied colour dual lands that can tap for colourless mana when they appear, but you can pay 1 and tap them to add a storage counter to them. In later turns, you can pay 1 and remove X counters to add X mana in any combination of the dual colours. Cumbersome, for sure, but with effects like Proliferate from subsequent sets, these lands can fit into decks where counter-manipulation is part of the strategy for a nice additional bonus.

Planar Chaos MtG

Planar Chaos was released on 2 February 2007, and brought a few more keywords to the party, including Kicker and also Vanishing, which works almost like a reverse Suspend mechanic, in that it enters the battlefield with a number of time counters on it, and when the counters have gone, it leaves. A revised Fading, a lot of these cards are creatures who have effects that trigger when they enter and leave the battlefield, which can be quite useful if you can find a way to remove tokens quickly.

There were, in addition, a subset of 45 ‘planeshifted’ cards that are meant to function as part of the set, rather than being reprints of older cards. In Planar Chaos, these cards represent an alternate-reality present rather than the past catching up with the present, and consist of colour-shifted cards – the focus here is on cards that grant a colour an ability it wouldn’t normally have, but still denoting a path the colour could have had from the beginning – perhaps the most infamous being Damnation, the black boardwipe spell. Of course, there is a link for each card to the colour they are printed in – while boardwipes are generally the province of White (and, to some extent, Blue), it does fit into the Black theme of direct removal.

Pretty much all of these cards can be considered colour-shifted reprints, such as the aforementioned Damnation (in black) for Wrath of God (in white), or Brute Force (in red) for Giant Growth (in green); colour references in some may be shifted around to fit, but broadly speaking they are direct call-backs. However, they aren’t technically reprints, but new cards. As such, these cards were considered part of the main set, and so have a more general distribution.

MTG Planeshifted Cards

These alt-reality cards are reflected in the story, where Teferi allies with the half-elf Radha and the artificer Venser to attempt to close temporal rifts that have been opening across Dominaria. In order to close the rift above Shiv, Teferi loses his Planeswalker spark, though this will later prove to be a temporary loss.

Planar Chaos also introduced a cycle of Legendary Dragons in the three enemy “wedge” colours that form something of a mirror to the cycle of Dragons from Invasion (in the allied “shard” colours). These Dragons are notable for being the only way to play Commander in these colours until Tarkir block finally went deep into the wedge colours.

Planar Chaos dragons

There’s a pretty interesting article up on Channel Fireball from earlier this year, where author Josh Silvestri describes Ravnica/Time Spiral Standard as the best Standard, though precisely how much Ravnica contributed to that decision is possibly an interesting article of its own!

At any rate, Planar Chaos was followed by the third set, Future Sight, on 4 May 2007, and in keeping with the time feel of the block, included a subset of 81 ‘future-shifted’ cards that are printed in a completely different border, and often include extremely weird mechanics. The idea behind the future-shifted cards was to represent cards that could be featured in later sets of Magic – much like Time Spiral reached into the past for its time-shifted reprints, Future Sight was reaching into the future for a glimpse of what might be to come with these “pre-prints”.

The border on these cards was one of the most controversial changes in the game, supposed to represent the possibility that the card frame might change again (as it had in 8th Edition), although Wizards have since confirmed that the Future Sight border will never actually be used. It’s almost a similar story with the plethora of keywords introduced in Future Sight. In addition to pre-existing keywords such as cycling, dredge and hellbent, we saw Lifelink, Shroud and Reach become keyworded. The fun begins, however, with the catalogue of entirely new keywords, over a dozen of them, some of which have indeed become actual keywords on cards in present-day Magic.

Delve returned in Tarkir block as the mechanic of the Sultai, allowing you to remove cards from your graveyard to help pay for a card’s cost, while Poisonous was later re-worked as Infect in Scars of Mirrodin block; these are the most successful of Future Sight‘s possible new keywords. Gravestorm (allowing you to copy a spell with Gravestorm for each time a permanent was put into a graveyard this turn), Aura Swap (allowing you to swap an aura on the battlefield for one in your hand), Fortify (equip for Land cards), Fateseal X (the “hate scry”, allowing you to look at the top X cards of your opponent’s library and put any number on the bottom) and others have not yet returned, although sometimes I think it might be fun if they did bring one of these back!

Famously, Future Sight also features a couple of cards that include references that basically had no meaning within the scope of the game at that point. Steamflogger Boss with its allure of being able to assemble contraptions is probably the one that always leaps to mind, but at the time even the famous Tarmagoyf had reminder text that referenced the still-to-come Planeswalker card type.

In the storyline, the planar rifts continue to wrack Dominaria, with Freyalise giving up her own spark and her life to close the rift linking the plane with the alternative Dominaria (the one full of Phyrexian nasties). The only solution appears to be sending Karn, the only planeswalker known to have traveled through time itself, back to stop the original rents in reality by preventing the archwizard Barrin from casting the spell that obliterated most of Tolaria back in the day, when he was attempting to prevent the Phyrexians from moving on Urza. Finally, the planeswalker Jeska arrives seeking her mentor Karn, and her anger at the situation unwittingly allows her to bring back another of Magic‘s formidable enemies, Leshrac. But that’s a story for another day…

Time Spiral block

Time Spiral block is quite fascinating to me, dealing as it does with this after-the-apocalypse sort of storyline. It forms almost a lynchpin between old Magic and new Magic – the next block was Lorwyn, which of course brought us the original five Planeswalkers that formed the basis of the new heroes and stories. Names like Teferi and Freyalise would still loom large, for sure, but now it was all to be about Jace and Liliana, Ajani and Chandra. Interestingly, Future Sight was actually supposed to feature the new Planeswalker type of card, but the set already had so much going on, and the new type of card wasn’t going to be ready in time.

There is the sense of Magic‘s history that comes out of the set which, when you look through the list of subsequent expansions, is largely quite absent. Up to this point, the game had previously had a storyline that was set on the plane of Dominaria, told through multiple sets and featuring a cast of heroes and villains that had become quite well-established, if not well-rounded. Following the new card frame in 8th Edition, the game jumped around some planes, taking in Mirrodin, Kamigawa and Ravnica before stopping off once more on Dominaria for this block, before moving off into the multiverse and exploring such amazing places as Zendikar, Innistrad, Theros and Alara. It wasn’t until the 25th anniversary of the game last year that we finally had a return to the plane, and caught up with Teferi, Jhoira and the others. It’s almost like the design team wanted to swing by the original plane just one last time before they headed off into the vast potential of new and different planes.

For that, it’s almost a bittersweet set. I really like it for the flavour, whether people think the block has any power or not. There are a whole load of interesting cards in this block, and it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look beyond the handful of cards that keep coming up time and again in Commander or Modern.

Playing Magic: The Orzhov Syndicate

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “playing Magic” blogs, but in light of the fact that I’ve started to collect some cards again, and seeing as how we’ve just experienced another return to the plane of Ravnica, I thought it’s about time I wrote up a blog showcasing the Orzhov deck that I’ve been talking about in a number of my previous blogs! So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is a bit like the idea of a corrupt Church organisation, not all that far removed from real life, where the leaders are more businessmen than clerics, and who have a very temporal power through their control of all manner of deals. Indeed, one of the Guild-specific land cards in the original Ravnica block is Orzhova, the Church of Deals. There is a strong theme whereby even in death, a person’s debt is rarely paid, and so the Guild features a lot of ghosts and shades, with a few keywords that have come in over the years that play on that idea.

The original keyword mechanic for the Orzhov Syndicate was Haunt. Widely considered to be a terrible mechanic (head designer Mark Rosewater himself considers it “a mistake”), a card with Haunt will be exiled rather than placed in the graveyard, “haunting” another permanent on the battlefield. When the card it is haunting is itself then put into the graveyard, that action will trigger the Haunt effect of the original card, basically getting a second use out of it before both die.

During Return to Ravnica block, Orzhov had the mechanic Extort, which allows you to pay an additional white or black mana whenever you cast a spell, whereupon each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total lost. Commonly referred to as “drain and gain”, it’s a great way to ensure cards have impact for you the whole game, and it’s the mechanic around which I’ve built my deck that I’ll talk about shortly!

During the latest Guilds of Ravnica block, the new Orzhov mechanic is Afterlife X, which creates X 1/1 Spirit creature tokens when the card with Afterlife X dies. I suppose you can think of this as a cleaner Haunt, or at least, a cleaner implementation of the idea of Haunt! It’s also extremely on-point for the idea of never quite paying off your debts to the Syndicate!

Unlike my Dimir deck, my Orzhov deck is all about the Guild, and goes heavily into the theme of Orzhov, using cards only from Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks.

Orzhov Syndicate

I’ll be the first to admit, this deck can be clunky as hell. Because of the fact that I’ve got the self-imposed limit of only including Guild-specific cards in the deck, it’s really difficult to reliably make the deck win. I’ve also included some cards in there for the sheer theme alone, and ordinarily wouldn’t consider using if I were trying to make the deck more playable. But it’s a lot of fun to build decks that are dripping with theme like this, so there is definitely that in its favour!

Creatures (25):
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Kingpin’s Pet
Treasury Thrull
Syndic of Tithes
Syndicate Enforcer
Souls of the Faultless
Maze Sentinel
Basilica Guards
Sin Collector
High Priest of Penance (2)
Tithe Drinker (2)
Orzhov Guildmage
Vizkopa Confessor
Thrull Parasite (2)
Crypt Ghast
Pontiff of Blight
Vizkopa Guildmage
Dutiful Thrull (2)
Basilica Screecher (2)

Instants & Sorceries (5):
Purge the Profane
Executioner’s Swing (2)
Obzedat’s Aid (2)

Artifacts (4):
Orzhov Signet
Orzhov Cluestone
Orzhov Keyrune (2)

Enchantments (4):
Gift of Orzhova (2)
Shadow Lance
Blind Obedience

Land (22):
Orzhov Guildgate (3)
Orzhov Basilica (3)
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Plains (8)
Swamp (7)

Orzhov Syndicate

There are 15 instances of Extort as a keyword in the deck, though thanks to the Pontiff of Blight, every single spell being cast has the potential to gain Extort – and in case you were wondering, multiple instances of Extort on a card do indeed stack, so there is definitely the potential for some serious drain and gain shenanigans going on there!

Of course, Extort isn’t the only thing going on with the deck. There is a certain element of Control, thanks to stuff like Blind Obedience (a card I normally dislike playing due to the amount of hate it can attract) and the High Priest of Penance forcing some difficult choices to be made by any would-be attacker. The lifegain potential in the deck is high, due to the multiple instances of Lifelink outside of Extort, though one of the big areas this deck falls down is a failing to weaponize that. I’ve talked more in-depth on weaponizing lifegain in my Ayli Commander deck blog, though, and I think if I were to travel outside of the Ravnica block cards, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a really punishing version of this deck.

Ultimately, this is meant to be just a fun deck that is really dripping with theme, and one that brings back fond memories for me when I was first getting into Magic the Gathering, watching Spellslingers and enjoying the interactions of the cards, as well as seeing just how much fun you can have playing this game!!

Games updates!

Hey everybody!
I may be in the middle of moving house, but I’m still trying to keep abreast of all the goings-on in the games world! There is, after all, quite a great deal happening in the world, and I feel like it’s a glorious time for us nerds as we move into the summer.

First up, I want to talk about Lord of the Rings, and the first pack preview for the upcoming Vengeance of Mordor cycle.

After your adventures in A Shadow in the East, Dorwinion seems to be bright and beautiful, free from the taint of evil that the mysterious cult had swept over the land. After a month of peaceful travel, your band of adventurers have made their way back to the capital city to enjoy one last night of the citizens’ hospitality before returning home. You are glad for the rest, but your thoughts cannot help but drift back to the horrors you witnessed in the shadow of Mordor, and wonder whether the evil has truly been rooted out. 

Your fears are confirmed when you awake in the middle of the night to the sounds of clashing steel and cries of fear pouring in from the streets. The enemy has gotten Inside the Walls. Thane Ulchor, a traitor to Dorwinion, has returned to the city with an army of Easterlings. His agents within the city slew the guards and opened the gate to let them in, and now the battle rages in the streets. It is up to you to defend the helpless citizens, support the city guard, and push back the invading forces before the city falls into the clutches of darkness.

I feel very much like this cycle is setting itself up a little like Against the Shadow, which was an urban cycle focused on Gondor, and began with a pack set in the city with the task of rooting out a traitor. While comparisons can be made with controlling locations and Assault on Osgiliath, I think this one could be quite interesting, with the locations you control having effects on them that remain in play even after the card has left play.

Of course, the most interesting aspect of this pack is the new Tom Bombadil ally card, which is shuffled into the encounter deck if you manage to play a copy of the Tom Bombadillo! card from your hand. It’s an interesting way to bring in an ally like this – previously, they’ve been included in the encounter deck as Objectives. It’s exciting to see that the game is still bringing us new ways to play, even this far in the game’s history.

I’ve not been playing Lord of the Rings nearly as much as I’d like to this year, though I have rediscovered my love for the adventure card game with Arkham Horror LCG, and recently picked up the Return to Night of the Zealot box from my local store. While I’ve finally made it to playing The Dunwich Legacy, I think it might be fun to give this one a try and see how much more difficult the additional cards make things!

I’m still not caught up with the current cycle, which I think has now seen the final pack released, but I am looking forward to the next box already, as it looks really interesting with its dual-planes of play. I’ve already talked about this in a previous blog, of course, but I really need to catch up with this game and put some time aside to really investigate what it has to offer. I mean, it’s really not that I dislike the game, it just doesn’t seem to have the table-time that I think it needs. Symptomatic of the times, of course, as I don’t seem to be playing anywhere near as much as I’d like. I guess I’m mainly painting miniatures these days, which brings me on to…

Warcry, the skirmish game set in the Mortal Realms, the game I’d nearly forgotten about with everything else going on, has had another warband revealed, and it is just weird!

The Unmade are just…well, weird! They look like some wonderful Drukhari experiment or something, and I can probably see myself getting hold of some of these models simply to paint, though I’m not sure if they’ve taken the spot of the Iron Golems as my favourite.

They look… I don’t know, almost too-40k. Especially that elongated champion-like figure. Very much John Blanche-esque, make no mistake!

They could also make some useful Cultists for 40k, thinking about it…

Model of the set is probably this chap with the chain, though. The models coming out of Nottingham these days are all pretty amazing, but the sense of movement in these warbands is just phenomenal, and I thought it just looks really, really cool!

Where the hell did this come from?! Talisman: Batman?! Not only a re-skin of the classic game, but a Super Villains edition, where you navigate the hallways of Arkham Asylum, evading Batman to free the inmates! Sounds hilarious, and it’s always interesting when you have the opportunity to play as the villains!

I’m actually trying to thin out the boardgames collection once more, as space is currently at a premium while we get settled in the new house and prepare for the arrival of the firstborn, but it is definitely very tempting, I have to say!!

Core Set 2020 is now out, with no real storyline as such (well, it’s a Core Set, so…) but focusing on the life of everybody’s favourite pyromancer, Chandra Nalaar. The set focuses on three-colour wedges, which I like because it’s the first time we’re seeing this since Tarkir block, the set that I really started playing in. I’ve not played in prerelease, of course, but I would like to get my hands on some of those cards for my decks!

There is always something quite nice about a new Magic set, and especially seeing a Core Set again. I’m really trying hard not to fall into the spiral of the cardboard crack, but Magic is probably the best one-on-one card game experience I can think of, so I think it will always be there in some form, and I enjoy collecting at least a few cards from each set and seeing what I can do with them!

Getting Back into Magic!

Hey everybody!
So it’s been a while, but I’ve started to get myself back into Magic the Gathering, having been thinking a lot about what I’ve been missing since I was last looking at it back when Guilds of Ravnica came out last year.

To begin with, it seems like there’s been a lot happening! War of the Spark is out, and all hell seems to have broken loose on Ravnica, as the Planeswalkers of the Gatewatch face off against Nicol Bolas. I think I need to really get to grips with what on earth has been going on overall, though there is that novel coming out that, I presume, will deal with all of that! In the meantime, though, I’ve been taking a look through a lot of my collection, adding a few bits here and there, and have already been building up a couple of decks – one of which, I’m sharing with you all here today!

Jund

Jund is one of the five Shards of Alara, primarily aligned with Red mana, spilling over into both Black and Green. The Shards were introduced in Shards of Alara, unsurprisingly, and gave names to the allied three-colour groupings. The flavour of the Shard is very much something I like, using the vibrancy of Red as a base to build upon. I’m not hugely into Green, but I do enjoy the pair of Red and Green, so that’s all fine.

There is a strong theme of wildness and passion that comes out from looking at the actual Jund-themed cards from Shards of Alara block, where the theme of predator/prey comes out through the Devour mechanic:

Devour N (As this enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This creature enters the battlefield with N +1/+1 counters on it.)

Jund Savage Lands

For my deck, I’ve got quite a few things going on, which should hopefully make it interesting to play. There is a theme of Enchantments matter, spells matter, and a counters sub-theme, along with more of a meta-theme of shamans playing about with magic. This latter might take some explaining, so bear with me!

Creatures (14):
Radha, Heir to Keld
Deeproot Chamption
Dragonmaster Outcast
Blightcaster
Savage Ventmaw
Boltwing Marauder
Hellkite Hatchling
Paragon of Eternal Wilds
Poison-Tip Archer
Guttersnipe (2)
Kiln Fiend (2)
Winding Constrictor

Instants & Sorceries (9):
Blood Divination
Doublecast
Grim Affliction (2)
Virulent Swipe
Firebolt
Ground Assault
Enter the Unknown
Death Frenzy

Enchantments (8):
Sight of the Scalelords
See Red
Gruul War Chant
Untamed Hunger
Pyromancer’s Assault
Retreat to Valakut
Bonds of Mortality
Infernal Scarring

Artifacts (4):
Primal Amulet
Thunderstaff
Worn Powerstone
Dowsing Dagger

Land (25):
Mountain (4)
Swamp (4)
Forest (2)
Bloodfell Caves
Jungle Hollow
Rugged Highlands
Timber Gorge
Hissing Quagmire
Cinder Barrens
Rootbound Crag
Cinder Glade
Savage Lands (2)
Akoum Refuge 
Molten Slagheap
Kazandu Refuge
Dragonskull Summit
Evolving Wilds

So we’ve got a lot going on, but the thought process here is stuff like the Blightcaster killing creatures whenever Enchantments enter the battlefield; the Primal Amulet, Deeproot Champion, Guttersnipe and Kiln Fiend doing things whenever instant and sorcery cards are cast; and the Winding Constrictor increasing the number of counters that get put on cards through effects like the Deeproot Champion and Enter the Unknown. Hellkite Hatchling is the only card with Jund’s Devour mechanic, which is nice to have for flavour purposes, and will also benefit from the Winding Constrictor.

The land base is a little bit janky, I’m currently thinking about swapping out a few things, and can’t decide if I want to get rid of the manland or the storage land. It’s always a question of cost as far as lands are concerned though!

I mentioned earlier the theme of shamans going crazy casting spells. I want the deck to have a fairly strong theme of magic coming through in the artwork, with spells that have a strong feeling of casting (Blood Divination, Doublecast, Firebolt), artifacts of power (Worn Powerstone), and even powerful spellcasters themselves (Blightcaster, Dragonmaster Outcast).

Artwork on cards is something that I’m often very sensitive to, wanting a deck to feel like it’s coherent as well as looking it. Another theme I wanted here was for the cards to all share the post-M15 border, and for any colourless mana symbols to have the “diamond” symbol, and not just a number in a grey circle. All very unimportant to most players, I know, but it’s something that I’m becoming increasingly concerned with.

As a side note, Firebolt’s appearance in the upcoming Modern Horizons means that it’s only Worn Powerstone that is keeping this deck Modern-legal. Ah well!

This deck should be interesting enough to play, in theory, so I’m looking forward to trying it out in the near future, along with some of the others that I’ve been putting together!

Playing catch-up!

Hey everybody!
It feels like it’s been a while, due to real life intruding quite rudely once again! But I’ve now sold and bought a house, and while playing the waiting game, I thought I’d catch up with some of the new (and not-so-new!) stuff from recent weeks and months!

new stuff!

There has been a lot going on, it seems, with stuff like the Kill Team expansions coming out the other week. Kill Team Elites and the new killzone will be featured in their own blog coming soon, as there is quite a bit to go through there, but suffice it to say, I like this tranche quite a lot! I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to pick up the Vigilus Ablaze book, though I suppose I have stalled a bit with my Chaos Space Marines project due to the impending house move, so that does at least kind of explain that. And the Ambull has been out for a while already, but I’ve still only played Blackstone Fortress the once, so I hadn’t really been feeling the need to expand that game quite so soon. In the end, though, my natural curiosity won out and I’ve picked up the big monster to see what I’ve been missing.

I’m actually keen to try out the Fortress again soon – it’s something that I’ve thought about a couple of times since Christmas, as I’m sure I hadn’t been playing it properly when I had that first game! Should definitely make more of an effort there! I don’t feel quite so bad, though, as I had heard that a couple of people in my local group had only just finished the base set campaign and opened the mystery envelope a week or two ago, so that feels like it might have a lot of game in the base set alone!

Of course, we’ve got Traitor Command coming out soon, so that’ll be even more stuff to look forward to! I was recently reading a thread over on boardgamegeek where someone had been decrying the state of expansions with this game, which I thought quite funny as I suppose I just hadn’t been expecting expansions to come out for this game with anywhere near the regularity other people had been expecting! Personally, I was expecting we’d see another expansion, along the lines of a big-box thing with new models and a new campaign, around November this year, and that would be it. We’re already getting different enemies to try with missions of their own, and Combat Arena coming at some time will apparently give us new heroes as well. Warhammer Quest isn’t, to my mind, the sort of game system that will come with multiple expansions month on month. Remember when games like Runebound and Arkham Horror had one small box and one big box every year or so, and otherwise all was quiet? Seems like we’re getting a lot more support for this one already, and we’ve not yet reached the one year anniversary!

I suppose I just find it amusing how expectations have changed, perhaps with the rise of Kickstarters and the ability to get a game and multiple expansions all in one sitting. I realise that I do tend to demonise Kickstarter a lot, but part of me feels like it has spoiled us for how game releases used to be!

Ultimately, though, Blackstone Fortress is a third-tier game for GW, after the big wargames and the skirmish variants of those games, so I think we should all just calm down a bit.

As well as all of this Warhammer goodness, I’ve also decided the time is possibly right to try and get back into Magic! I do this every so often, it seems, dipping out for a couple of sets then coming back and trying to play catch-up. I picked up some boosters for Ravnica Allegiance when I was collecting my Warhammer purchases the other day, and have also ordered some more online, for both Ravnica Allegiance and War of the Spark. Seems like all hell has broken loose since I was last properly in the game, around a year ago! I did pick up a Guilds of Ravnica bundle, but didn’t really spend any time properly looking through the cards due to the set not having many of my favourite Guilds within. Orzhov and Rakdos have returned in Ravnica Allegiance, however, so I thought it might be fun to get back into the swing of things now, and see what’s been going on.

Turns out, a lot! Just looking through the cards in the set for War of the Spark, it seems like that has broken with a lot of tradition by giving us 36 Planeswalker cards, something previously unheard of! It is, however, an “event set”, and shows the culmination of the story from, as far as I can make out, Battle for Zendikar block, when the Gatewatch was first formed. Wow! So there’s a hell of a lot to catch up on, and I think it might be about time to jump in with the new novel, as it feels like there is a lot of story going on here, and I’ve heard rumours that a lot of the Planeswalkers that we’ve seen and enjoyed over the years might actually be dying… The novel is out in August here in the UK, from what I’ve been able to see, so I’m looking forward to picking it up and seeing what I’ve missed! As the first novel set in the multiverse for, I believe, 8 years, it will hopefully be an event!

Planeswalkers, powerful mages from many disparate realities, must unite against the elder dragon Nicol Bolas, who has claimed dominion over Ravnica and is perilously close to completing the spell that will grant him godhood. Now, as dozens of Planeswalkers fight alongside the Gatewatch – led by Chandra Nalaar, Jace Beleren, and Gideon Jura – against Bolas and his relentless army of Eternals, nothing less than the fate of the multiverse is at stake.

Exciting stuff!

MTG Modern Horizons

I’m weirdly also really looking forward to the Modern Horizons set, the first time a set is going to be released directly into Modern (and other non-rotating formats, such as Commander!) I’ve had a brief look through some of the spoilers that have made it into the wild so far, and it was actually these cropping up on instagram that got me looking into the game once again! I’m not into the whole competitive Modern scene, or anything, but I was really enjoying building some decks just with the cards that I have, regardless of Standard, and seeing the interactions etc. So I could see myself picking up some of these in the future!

I do miss my days playing Magic, I have to say. I enjoy the Warhammer stuff, of course, but playing a card game is so much cleaner than fiddling with glues and knives, after all! While I think this pattern of drifting in and out of the game will likely continue for quite some time to come, I can certainly see myself always being around the game, even if it’s just collecting some cards for a nebulous possible future use. I mean, the artwork is just beautiful, and so incredibly evocative. It’s cool that Wizards are making efforts to have a properly-contained story now, as well, so maybe we’ll have more of these event sets in years to come…

The Big Kopinski

“I’m basically still doing what I was doing aged five, drawing spacemen, bikers, superheroes and monsters, so here’s a book full of them!”

Karl Kopinski

The Big Kopinski is the first volume in a series collecting sketches by the artist Karl Kopinski, who you will likely know from his work on the card game Magic the Gathering. I mean, that’s certainly from where I was familiar with the guy! Among so many other iconic images for that game, he also produced the wonderfully evocative artwork of Liliana that was used as both box art and playmat art for the Innistrad set, and is without a doubt a classic rendering of the infamous Planeswalker.

I started to play Magic seriously around the time of Origins, and learned the basics of the game from watching Spellslingers season 2, as well as playing via the Android app. The app uses a number of cards from M15 and earlier, and playing a black/red deck, I became familiar with Kopinski’s style though a lot of these cards. That Goblin token in particular is one that I feel should be on my Christmas card list, I am so used to it by now!

Karl Kopinski MTG cards

There is definitely something evocative about his work, particularly seen in the Temple of Silence art, but also the lighting in both Gatekeeper of Malakir and the Rakdos Drake – the use of light to create an imposing shadow is particularly striking, don’t you think? There are elements within the Rakdos Drake art, but perhaps moreso in the Blood Cultist art, that show a kinship with the grim darkness of the Warhammer universe (and, of course, that of Warhammer 40,000) – unsurprising, given that Karl has also worked for Games Workshop over the years. His style is definitely more veiled than that of the archetypal Warhammer artist, John Blanche, but it still lends itself perfectly to the setting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he numbers artwork for Chaos among his work in that franchise, although is not averse to drawing the defenders of humanity, too:

But let’s look at the book itself.

Karl Kopinski

Like I said, it is principally a book of sketches that range from the fantastical and the futuristic to the more mundane and the realistic. It’s a fascinating collection of drawings that is an utter delight to leaf through. Even if you aren’t familiar with the man’s work, it’s a really nice book that is a treat for the senses, one that you can lose yourself in as you study the worlds created on the pages. I was really taken by that guy dragging the demon-head, shown above, imagining all kinds of scenarios it could be illustrating!

(As a side note, they are also lovely pages, with a very nice, soft feel to them – just in case you’re interested in that sort of thing!)

Karl Kopinski

There are a lot of fantastical, sci-fi bikers in the book that look a lot like they have strong design elements of the Izzet League from MtG. And there are also superheroes, including the humerous older Batman shown above! But the most arresting image, to my mind, has got to be this hulking goblin character:

Karl Kopinski

This is truly a fantastic piece of artwork, whether you think it unfinished or not. That face! The textures Karl uses on the skin feel so real, and the detail just brings this piece to life off the page. I couldn’t help but gaze intently at this dude, again, imagining all manner of worlds and situations he could inhabit. It’s just fabulous, and a really great example of the hundreds of others across these pages.

Now, I’m not an art student, but if you’d like to learn more about Karl’s work with a focus on the MtG stuff, you won’t go far wrong by checking out this video from The Magic Man Sam:

You can see more samples of his work (and purchase any you like the look of!) from his website, here.


I am very grateful to the publisher of this book, editions caurette, for sending me a copy to review here on my blog. All of the sketches used to illustrate this blog were taken from the book, as was the quote at the top of the page. You can pick up a copy of The Big Kopinski direct from the publisher, here.

Gaming catch up, and more!

Hey everybody!
I tend to talk about Warhammer a lot on this blog, which I suppose is fine because it is my blog and all, but every so often I like to branch out a bit and take a look at the wider world, and see what’s going on that I might have missed! Well, I thought today would be one such branch, as I take some time to catch up with what I’ve been up to and whatnot!

I read this article on New Year’s Day, and I feel weirdly sad to see Christian Petersen leave FFG. I suppose it’s just a bit of fear of the new, and while I haven’t really been all that into FFG games of late (there was a time when they were the only publisher I bought from), I still feel a sort of attachment to the company, and of course, its CEO. I used to enjoy the In-Flight Reports during GenCon, and always thought he sounded like a cool guy. Hopefully we’ll continue to see amazing quality games coming from the company, anyway, and I hope we don’t get too much of a shake-up when he is replaced. Although I remain quite firmly convinced that Lord of the Rings LCG is going to be saying farewell soon enough!

There was another preview for the Arkham Horror LCG on the same day, showing Tarot cards as a new type of player card for the game, which sound like an interesting idea. Over the festive period, I started the ball rolling with building a couple of new investigator decks for the game, as I’m intending to finally get around to the Dunwich Legacy! It’s been a few years now, of course, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the game has in store for me as I venture beyond the core set! Stay tuned for updates on that one – Arkham Horror LCG is definitely a fun game, and if you’re a fan of the lore, it certainly has a lot to offer!

In 2018, I played a grand total of 47 games. I used to play that many in a month, so this is a definite down-turn, but in December I started making a conscious effort to try and play more. That was certainly helped by playing the Harry Potter deck-building game with Jemma over Christmas (I’ll have to get round to featuring that on the blog sometime soon!) Excitingly, she has said that playing that game has made her better-predisposed to trying stuff like Lord of the Rings again, so hopefully we can trudge off into Mordor together soon!

Though I’m not sure we’ll be playing much Magic anytime soon…

The new set, Ravnica Allegiance, is coming out at the end of the month, and is quite exciting for me as it features two of my very favourite guilds, Rakdos and Orzhov. While I did buy some bits for the last set, Guilds of Ravnica, as it only had Dimir as a guild I usually play I wasn’t entirely fussed with it. I did actually build a Boros deck, as I ended up with a lot of those cards in the packs I picked up, and I do like playing Boros on occasion, but I am particularly looking forward to the Rakdos and Orzhov cards this time around, as well as another perennial favourite, Simic!

I feel quite excited about this set, even if I don’t get to play anything of it. We’re getting some exciting new cards for some of my favourite guilds:

The new mechanic for Rakdos is Spectacle, which offers an alternative casting cost if an opponent lost life this turn – in keeping with the classic Rakdos, Lord of Riots guild leader, naturally. They’re discounts on some cards, and increases on others to yield enhanced effects. Speaking of the cult leader himself, he’s getting a new card – Rakdos, the Showstopper – as are many guild leaders of old, such as Lavinia and Zegana. Each guild also gets a new Legendary Creature, which will be fun for Commander, and there are a couple of new Planeswalkers, including Kaya for the Orzhov (last seen in Conspiracy 2, so that’s fun the ghost assassin is now in a regular set).

Orzhov is getting an interesting new mechanic, Afterlife, which creates a 1/1 Spirit token when the creature with Afterlife dies. It wouldn’t be Orzhov without seeing Teysa again, and of course she’s back with new token shenanigans, which I’m sure will make her a powerhouse when she comes into the wild. Granting tokens vigilance and lifelink is lovely, and causing a trigger to occur twice just makes Afterlife so much more powerful on its own. She’s going to be a hit, I’m sure – I’m just a little sad I probably won’t be able to get her outside of a lucky pack opening!

Simic has Adapt, which allows you to put +1/+1 counters on a creature if there aren’t any by paying the Adapt cost. Given the number of counter-synergies within Simic guild cards alone, I can imagine Commander players are going to get a whole lot of fun out of using these mechanics with older iterations from the guild. I can certainly see myself adding in a few to my Prime Speaker Zegana deck, for sure! New Zegana still gives some card draw, but acts a bit like a Lord for all cards with a +1/+1 counter on them, giving them trample. Very handy. In case you aren’t interested in beating your opponent down the traditional way, Simic also has an alternative win condition with Simic Ascendancy, which allows you to put growth counters on it whenever you add a +1/+1 counter to a card – if Simic Ascendancy has 20 or more growth counters on it, you win! Cards like Hydroid Krasis, which enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters, or Combine Guildmage, who gives you an additional +1/+1 counter on any cards entering the battlefield for a turn, or Biogenic Upgrade, which allows you to distribute three +1/+1 counters across creatures you control, then to double the counters on that creature, will definitely help you get Simic Ascendancy close to 20 growth counters! Of course, that’s the dream, but even so!

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a lot more excited for Ravnica Allegiance, at any rate!!

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Seeing the new year in with this #nowReading

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Finally, I thought I’d have a brief ramble about a book I finished reading at New Year, United States of Japan. Taking as its starting point that the Axis won World War II, we see a very different take on the West Coast of America, as Japan is in charge of most of the area. There are pockets of American resistance, fighting out of the Rockies, but Japan holds California in an iron grip. The majority of the book takes place in the late 1980s, but it’s a lot more technologically advanced, with everybody using porticals (basically, smartphones) to play games almost constantly. This activity is strictly monitored by the authorities, so when a game called Unites States of America is suddenly made available, showing an alternate take on the end of the war, these rebels are shut down with maximum prejudice. The whole thing ends in a rather shocking denouement in San Diego, with the future fairly unsure for our protagonists.

I went into this novel with a bit of trepidation, as I wasn’t sure it was going to be all that good. I’m not entirely up on my Japanese culture, and there were a number of references to it peppered throughout, but I found the book really easy to read, and positively raced through it. I do enjoy alt-histories like this, and I love a good post-apocalyptic storyline, so the fact that both elements were combined here was really quite fun.

One of my main frustrations with the book, though, was that I found myself wanting to know more about the wider world than we were getting from the story. WW2 was said to end in 1948, then the novel leaps forward 40 years, with only a few fleeting references to what Germany was up to in Europe and on the East Coast of America. I know Peter Tieryas has written a second book within the same universe, which seems to deal more with a specific aspect of the universe than seeing things from a wider perspective, but I find myself wanting to know more of what this world could look like! Hopefully there will be a third book that might see that.

At any rate, it was a real discovery for me in the final days of 2018, and I would say it’s definitely worth a read if you’re into alternative takes on stuff like this!