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!

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!

Vampires!

Hey everybody!
So this weekend, I had one of the Commander 2017 decks delivered, Vampiric Bloodlust, and have spent a couple of days thinking about mixing it up a little with some of my favourite Vampire cards from recent memory!

Commander 2017 is the tribal-themed set, and while previous years have seen five preconstructed decks released around November time, this year we’ve got just four decks, and they’re out three months early! Colour isn’t a thing, so we have two-colour Cats, three-colour Vampires, three-colour Wizards, and five-colour Dragons! I kinda wanted them all, of course, but settled just on the Vampires right now.

Vampires is probably the tribe I feel most at home with out of all of them, having made a couple of decks that I’ve featured on this very blog with the bloodsucking brutes (you can see those decks here and here!)

Vampiric Bloodlust

There are five Legendary Creatures in the deck, two of whom aren’t actually Mardu-coloured so don’t really lend themselves to the deck as it stands. I wanted to use the front-man of the deck, Edgar Markov, as my Commander. The vampire theme is really strong with him, after all, and as I knew I wanted to go really into that here, I think he’s the best man for the job. His abilities, anyway, are rather marvellous:

Eminence – Whenever you cast another Vampire spell, if Edgar Markov is in the command zone or on the battlefield, create a 1/1 black Vampire creature token.

First strike, haste

Whenever Edgar Markov attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on each Vampire you control.

So not only do you get to create tokens, you also get to buff your entire team! Wonderful stuff. I say “entire team”, of course, because pretty much the whole damn deck is made up of Vampires! I’ve got a couple of cards in there from Tarkir block that will help to keep the theme going. So let’s take a look at the cards I’ve been fiddling about with!

Vampiric Bloodlust

First of all, I wanted to go with my old favourite of lifegain-and-drain, along with some of my favourite Vampiric buffs around right now. Stoneforge Masterwork is a particular favourite from Oath of the Gatewatch, which gives the equipped creature +1/+1 for each Creature type you control that shares a Creature type with it.

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief is included in the deck, though for this particular deck really bounces with her latest incarnation from Battle for Zendikar, Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Suited up with Stoneforge Masterwork at the head of an army of Vampires, she could be doing some pretty decent damage! At least, I hope so!

Vampiric Bloodlust

Battle for Zendikar block, and Shadows over Innistrad block have both got some really terrific cards to use in a Vampire deck, of course, so I’ve been plumbing some of those depths! I mentioned it in a previous Vampires deck blog of course, but Stensia Masquerade is a really great card for this. The deck also comes with Rakish Heir, another favourite of mine for this kind of deck. Putting the counters on these cards is good and all, but then what, right? Well, that’s where Mer-Ek Nightblade comes in, making the counters count. Heh.

Edgar Markov is, of course, Sorin’s grandfather, so it’s pretty flavourful to get one of the Sorin Planeswalkers in there. I quite like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, though Sorin, Grim Nemesis could be useful, and his -X should work well with the included Sanguine Bond. It’s quite annoying that we have Sanguine Bond but not Exquisite Blood, which would perhaps have been the more appropriate card to include. Not to mention, that card needs a reprint!

So anyway, I’m going to be taking a bit more time to go through the deck and sort it out so that it plays a bit more how I’d like. Stay tuned folks, it should be glorious!

Welcome to New Phyrexia

Hey everybody,
I’ve been thinking about doing something on the plane of New Phyrexia for a while now, as it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of Magic the Gathering lore to me. So sit back and enjoy the oil-slicked ride through metallic hell, as we take a look at what once was Mirrodin!

New Phyrexia

New Phyrexia was the 55th expansion for Magic the Gathering, released in May 2011 as the third set in the Scars of Mirrodin block. The storyline of the block is really what I want to focus on today, though I also have a deck that I’d like to share involving some of my all-time favourite cards from the set.

So, back in the day, the arch-villain of MtG lore Yawgmoth had been using the process of phyresis to cure ailments among the Thran people of Dominaria, a controversial process that earned Yawgmoth the worship of his creations, but he was declared a traitor among the Thran themselves. Yawgmoth took his knowledge to the plane of Phyrexia and refined his ideas, creating an entire kingdom of these half-dead, half-metallic things. Over time, the Phyrexians plotted to invade Dominaria and claim the plane for their own, but in this they were thwarted by the temporal bridge between Dominaria and Phyrexia being sealed.

New Phyrexia

During the Brothers’ War, Urza and Mishra inadvertently reopened this portal, allowing the Phyrexians access to Dominaria. The Phyrexians, under the leadership of the demon Gix, sided with Mishra, however their plans of invasion were once again thwarted. This pitted Urza against Phyrexia for a long conflict that eventually saw the artificial plane reduced to a smoldering ruin.

Centuries later, the golem Karn built a new plane of mechanical perfection, initially named Argentum, and left the construct Memnarch as ruler. Memnarch, however, was corrupted by a black oil from Phyrexia and transformed the plane into Mirrodin, in an attempt to become a Planeswalker like Karn. The oil was somehow sentient, and sought to rebuild Phyrexia on Mirrodin. However, rather than reproducing the original hive mind of Phyrexia, the rebuilding has influenced all five colours of mana, leading to five factions within the military conquest.

These factions are led by the Praetors, which are introduced into the game via their Legendary Creature cards: Elesh Norn, Jin-Gitaxias, Sheoldred, Urabrask and Vorinclex.

New Phyrexia

I think the Praetors are perhaps the most iconic part of the set, with pretty much all of the cards still seeing a lot of play in formats like Commander. Each of the five has a huge effect that impacts the board, often in quite an obnoxious manner:

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – buffs your creatures while causing all of those creatures controlled by your opponents -2/-2;
Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur – you draw cards at the end of your turn, while reducing your opponents’ hand size by seven;
Sheoldred, Whispering One – returns a creature from your graveyard at the beginning of your turn, and forces your opponents to discard theirs;
Urabrask, the Hidden – gives your creatures haste, but causes your opponents’ creatures to enter the battlefield tapped;
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger – doubles the mana your lands produce, but causes your opponents’ lands not to tap on their next untap step.

These guys can be particularly oppressive, though obviously being creatures, they can be vulnerable.

New Phyrexia

The defining mechanic of Scars of Mirrodin block was Infect, of course – creatures with this mechanic deal damage in the form of -1/-1 counters to other creatures, and poison counters to players; if a player ever has 10 poison counters, he loses the game. While Infect had been featured on black and green creatures in Scars of Mirrodin, then white creatures in Mirrodin Besieged, it finally made it also into red and blue in New Phyrexia.

The set also included “Phyrexian mana”, coloured mana that could alternatively be paid for with 2 life. A very black effect, Phyrexian mana actually appears on 34 cards across all five colours. Additionally, we get some returning mechanics, including Proliferate, which adds another counter of a kind already present on a card or player. Which makes it the perfect partner for Infect, and brings me to my deck!

New Phyrexia

Creatures 
Butcher of Malakir
Captivating Vampire
Crimson Mage
Falkenrath Exterminator
Guul Draz Assassin (2)
Indulgent Tormentor
Malakir Bloodwitch
Massacre Wurm
Mephidross Vampire
Nirkana Cutthroat (2)
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
Onyx Mage
Quag Vampires (3)
Rakish Heir (2)
Sheoldred, Whispering One (2)
Stromkirk Captain (2)
Vampire Hexmage (2)

Instants
Grim Affliction (2)
Uncanny Speed
Vampiric Fury (2)
Volt Charge (2)

Enchantment
Lightning Talons (2)
Raid Bombardment (2)

Land
Akoum Refuge (2)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt (2)
Dragonskull Summit
Lavaclaw Reaches (2)
Molten Slagheap (2)
Sulfurous Springs (2)
Swamp (6)
Mountain (6)

This deck has been evolving from something much more Phyrexian, into a more general kind of black/red punishment style of deck. I was trying to evolve it into a Modern viable deck, looking at more lower-CMC cards, and I’ve purposefully started to invest in shock lands for this reason! Sheoldred is still in charge here, of course, and rather than going a bit half-assed with some Infect creatures, I’ve instead decided to use Proliferate cards to work in tandem with the Vampire mechanic of adding +1/+1 counters when they deal damage. Proliferate will also work with the storage lands, and the level-up cards, though I’ve since removed some of these.

There are still a couple of cards that I’m thinking about swapping out, but it’s been fun to pilot so far!

Archenemy: Nicol Bolas

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and I thought I’d feature the recently-released Archenemy expansion set for Magic the Gathering, having picked it up a couple of weeks ago now. While multi-player games aren’t something that I always get the chance to play, I just couldn’t resist getting this box after watching the seventh episode of Game Knights over on the Command Zone!

In case you didn’t watch the video, I’ll talk a bit about the Archenemy format first. Though, you really should go watch the video – Game Knights is a fantastic series, and having Gavin Verhey (the lead designer for this set, no less!) come on and play was a real delight!

Archenemy: Nicol Bolas

So, Archenemy is a multiplayer format for Magic the Gathering, where one player takes on the role of the Archenemy, with the other players trying to take the Archenemy down. There’s no actual set number of the opposing team, though three decks are included in the product, which perhaps gives a clue to the optimal number of players. The format was developed out of the idea of a set that would include just over-the-top powerful cards, and was purposefully designed to be cool and flavourful at the expense of anything else. There’s actually a really nice write up of the development of the original Archenemy product from 2010 over on the MTG wiki page.

Archenemy: Nicol Bolas

The Archenemy player always goes first, and starts with 40 life. He also has a deck of 20 oversized scheme cards that sit in the Command Zone and provide some devastating effect in addition to his own 60-card deck. These schemes can do all sorts of stuff, from destroying creatures to adding additional mana to the Archenemy’s pool.

In contrast, the team of opponents each has 20 life, and takes a simultaneous turn, during which they can confer among themselves as to the best play to make. While mana and hands aren’t shared, you can block an attack for a teammate with your own creatures. The Archenemy player wins if he eliminates all of his opponents, and the team wins if they take down the Archenemy.

Archenemy: Nicol Bolas

Other than the scheme deck, and the simultaneous turn, Archenemy plays very much like any other game of Magic, and the four 60-card preconstructed decks in Archenemy: Nicol Bolas are made up entirely of reprints of older cards, to reflect that. Each of the four decks is headed up by a Planeswalker card, with three members of the Gatewatch (but no Jace! Gasp!) opposing the classic Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Coming in the middle of the Amonkhet block, the product is very flavourful to that setting, and I get the impression with some of the decks that you could actually swap out the reprint cards for Amonkhet-block cards (the Nissa deck, for instance, is actually blue/green).

There are a couple of interesting cards included in the decks that are fairly expensive already, so it’s nice to get the reprints there. Grand Abolisher is always nice to have, and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker was getting somewhat difficult to find here in the UK. I think the balance in the decks in this respect is good, in that you’re likely going to be able to get a hold of this product for a while, and not have to snap it up now “just in case”.

Archenemy: Nicol Bolas

I love the fact that Wizards is producing stuff like this in addition to the main line of expansions for the game. While it’s true that some people will no doubt buy this and take apart the decks (indeed, I’m considering making a few exchanges already) it’s nice to get that board game experience for Magic. Rather than relying on people to have their own decks, and having to work out the format etc beforehand, you really can just take this box off the shelf and play. As I said earlier, I don’t get to play a lot of multiplayer games anymore, but I couldn’t resist picking this one up. Now that I have it, I’m definitely going to try and get a group assembled to see if I can try it out for myself!

Announcement Day! #amazing!

Hey everybody!
Well, it’s Announcement Day once more, and my good god, what an announcement day it is, as well!

Take a look at the news here!

We’re starting with the next block, Ixalan, which of course has already been talked about previously. Vraska is back, leading pirates against dinosaurs in the search for the fabled city of gold, Orazca. This sounds hilarious, and could well be amazing! The second set of the block, Rivals of Ixalan, sounds like you’ve made it to the city, and are now trying to control it in order to gain the power of the plane. Not sure how that will play out in the mechanics of the set, but before that, we’ve got a multiplayer boardgame-style game coming out: Explorers of Ixalan! Four 60-card decks, and 50 game tiles will allow you to battle for control of the city, which sounds like it should be a lot of fun!

Between Planechase, Archenemy, and now this, it seems that Wizards are real keen to push the multiplayer format. That’ll be interesting!

The next duel deck is to be Merfolk vs Goblins, which sounds cool. There’s another Un-set coming out, which I’m not a fan of personally. To celebrate Magic’s 25 year anniversary, a Masters set is coming out in March that features cards from across the entire history of the game.

And finally…

Dominaria

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!