Kaldheim!

Following on from my catch-up with Magic a few weeks ago, today I thought I’d talk about the set that really caught my attention when I started to make some tentative steps at returning to the game. Kaldheim came out in February this year, and is a Norse-inspired set along the lines of Theros. The story heavily involves the planeswalker Kaya, who is one of my favourites as the only planeswalker in black/white, though as far as story goes, I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to happen on the plane. There are a lot of Vikings, clearly, and other cues from Norse mythology that link in quite well to the overall theme.

While the block structure is a thing of the past, WOTC has linked together the sets of a Magic “year” through a couple of themes, notably the tribal theme established in Zendikar Rising’s “Party” mechanic, and modal double-faced cards, where you choose which side of the card to cast as you play the card. In Kaldheim, all the nonland double-faced cards are Gods, which is quite fitting! The tribal organisation here is based around the ten realms of Kaldheim, which are analogous to the ten two-colour pairings. There is some development here of each realm, such as black and red (Immersturm) being a realm of fire and demons, though there isn’t really a great deal of development that you can do when you only have one set to showcase the entire plane.

The new mechanics of the set are Foretell and Boast. Foretell works in a similar way to Morph, where you cast the card face-down for 2 generic mana, and can later be turned face up for its Foretell cost. Morph cards were always creatures, even as face-down cards, but Foretell cards are exiled and so can’t be interacted with (except, I guess, by Eldrazi? I’m kinda new!), and you won’t know if it’s a creature or a spell that is about to be turned up. Boast is an activated ability that will only trigger if the creature attacked this combat. So it’s a slight drawback in that the creature has to survive that combat first!

Snow is back, first time in a main set since 2006 and Coldsnap, with more snow-covered lands as well as snow-covered dual lands, which is very nice! Snow creatures and other permanents (and non-permanents!) also feature, this time with a distinctive, frosty border! Nice!

I’ve been buying quite a few packs of Kaldheim, and a bundle. I’ve been investigating the different types of booster packs now available, and I really do feel out of my depth in this game right now. There are draft boosters and set boosters and collector boosters and some other types, with different cards that have different frames, that I don’t really follow all of the ins-and-outs, if I’m honest. Is there any need? Well the amount of content coming out seems to have had an effect on Standard becoming a bit cheaper, thanks to the number of packs being opened. But it feels a bit like the somewhat casual player – even the slightly-more-than-casual player like myself – might just be overwhelmed by the whole thing. I mean, it took me a weekend to work out everything, and I’m not sure I really get it, even now!

Anyway. Having bought up all these packs, I’ve been able to build a black and white deck that features the new Angels, or Valkyries as they’re called here. I opened three copies of Firja, Judge of Valor, a legendary angel cleric (party!) who triggers off the second spell, which is an intriguing mechanic. I haven’t built a Magic deck in a very long time, so this could be entirely awful, but I’m excited for new cards, so we shall see I suppose!

Creatures (20)
Firja, Judge of Valor (3)
Vengeful Reaper (4)
Hailstorm Valkyrie (4)
Cleaving Reaper
Doomskar Oracle
Starnheim Aspirant
Skemfar Shadowsage (2)
Elderfang Disciple (2)
Bloodsky Berserker (2)

Artifacts (2)
Valkyrie’s Sword (2)

Enchantments (11)
Valor of the Worthy (2)
Rampage of the Valkyries
Firja’s Retribution (2)
Ascent of the Worthy
Rune of Sustenance (3)
Rune of Mortality (2)

Land (27)
Snowfield Sinkhole (3)
Shimmerdrift Vale
Great Hall of Starnheim
Plains (7)
Snow-Covered Plains (3)
Swamp (8)
Snow-Covered Swamp (4)

The first thing you’ll probably notice here is that there are literally no spells. Well, no instants or sorceries, at least! This wasn’t by design, but purely accidental as I was building the deck and found nothing that I really wanted to include. This is very much a first-cut though, and could definitely do with refinement. I think it also speaks to the fact that I was doing it only with the cards that I had opened, without any real attempt to buy the singles that I wanted or needed. There’s also the element of sticking to just the Kaldheim set, of course, and the restrictions there. Strixhaven is an enemy-colour set, and there are a number of black and white cards in that set for the Silverquill college that I think might be a good fit, but I’ve not really investigated that set in great depth just yet. Of course, if we’re going to plumb the depths of my overall collection, I’m sure that the opportunities would be endless to get a really interesting deck ticking over! Might have to do that, at some point!

The basic plan for the deck is just to go wide with these angel creatures and smash into my opponent. There are some useful abilities and interesting things that might be possible, but I don’t think I’ll be making full use of any of them for the time being. Firja’s ability to draw cards when the second spell has been cast could be handy, paired with some graveyard recursion to get those others back from the discard side of the ability. There is some, for sure, but not a massive amount! Creating Angel tokens should be nice, though I do seem to run the risk of just having hundreds of creatures out with nothing really flashy – it could be a very blunt and obvious deck to play! I’m sure I’ll have a tinker with it though, and see what else I can come up with!

I do find it interesting to note how, in a recent video, the Professor was talking about the overwhelming quantity of new product coming at us this year, and made the comment regarding how can anyone be expected to remember the ten realms as a shorthand for the colour combo, as they do for the Guilds of Ravnica. While we’ve spent three entire blocks on the plane of Ravnica now, and so it can be reasonably expected that the guilds are quite well-known, I think he does have a point when Kaldheim only came out six months ago, but I had no idea the black/white realm was called Starnheim, and would forever refer to the deck as Orzhov.

I wonder if we’ll ever come back to Kaldheim? I suppose, if the story allows, why wouldn’t we, but we seem to have been dashing about so much lately, and we’re set to continue dashing into 2022, that it’ll be interesting to see whether there is ever the room to come back. Magic seems to be in an interesting place right now, where it is old enough that there is a nostalgia that can be banked on – returning to Zendikar, Ravnica and Innistrad, to say nothing of Dominaria, is always going to be a huge draw for people. Giving us new planes, such as Kaldheim and Strixhaven, Ikoria and the upcoming New Capenna, feels a bit like the design team trying to get away from the whole Gatewatch thing. But the constant new stuff seems to be just diluting the overall feel of the game, somehow. Added to that, the branching out into other IP does feel a little bit like the game is lost, maybe?  

At any rate, I am finding things interesting with Magic right now, almost as an outsider-looking-in. I haven’t played it for a very long time, of course, so even given my history with the game and my fairly substantial collection, I do feel a bit like I’m on the sidelines. Maybe that’ll change as life continues to get back to normal, though!

A little night Magic… (part two)

Hey everybody,
Following on from my last Magic catch-up earlier in the week, it’s time to finish up my look at what I’ve missed from the last couple of years. I left things at Jumpstart, which was released last summer – which was followed by Double Masters, which looks like a phenomenal set for reprints, seeing a lot of expensive cards being reprinted almost like the intent was to simply increase supply. Classic Commanders like Kaalia, Sen Triplets and Riku, as well as more recent stuff like Atraxa and Breya. Jace the Mind Sculptor also reappears, alongside the Swords, and the Filter Lands from Shadowmoor/Eventide.

This was followed by Zendikar Rising, a Return to Return to Zendikar set. This is a set of adventure and exploration, apparently, and returns specifically to the feel of the original Zendikar block, without the Eldrazi. As far as story goes though, we’re in the post-BFZ era, where the plane has been ravaged by the titans. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s get into it!

Zendikar Rising is the first set to see Set Boosters, which are different to Draft Boosters in that they’re not designed, well, for Draft. Instead, you get a different distribution of card rarity, and we have the introduction of something called The List, 300 cards from the game’s past which are not Standard legal, but offer a chance to get reprints (though at random).

In terms of set mechanics, there is a new Party theme which grants boons based on the creature types you have in play. Modal Double-Face Cards are a new type of double faced card that players can decide which face to cast (they don’t transform). These cards eventually proved to be the theme among the sets of the Magic “year” (it seems they’re not calling them Blocks anymore).

I adore Zendikar, the art is some of the best in the game, and I went through a phase of buying as much of the lands from that block that I could, which I’m quite pleased about. I’m also a fan of the Party idea, as I like the idea of assembling a proper type of Fellowship for my games. I think this is definitely a set that I need to look into soon!

Commander Legends is a draftable Commander set, which I just don’t understand how that’s supposed to work. There are 165 new cards, and almost 200 reprints. Drafting a Commander deck just seems odd – you’re drafting a 60 card deck, picking two cards at a time. You still have the colour identity stuff, though it is no longer a single-card deck. Weird. I don’t quite get it – though it is always handy to have Commander cards in circulation.

Commander meets Draft. Weird.

The next set is Kaldheim, which brings us to February of 2021. We’re getting there, folks! Kaldheim is Magic’s take on Vikings, and it kinda works. Much like Theros and Amonkhet, we get some fairly decent God cards which is always nice. Kaya is front and centre of the packaging, which is perhaps a reflection on WotC’s attempts to compensate following the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 (remember, they decided cards like Cleanse and Crusade were “culturally offensive” because they destroy black creatures and pump white creatures, respectively). Kaya is a fairly badass character in her own right though, and being a big fan of Black and White as a colour combination, I’ve appreciated her as the BW planeswalker since she first arrived in Conspiracy 2. Her role in the cinematic trailer makes it clear, in case there was any doubt, that she is amazing, anyway.

I’m getting too political here, let’s rein it in!

Kaldheim is somewhat tribal themed, with Giants and Dwarves, Angels (Valkyries) and Elves showing up. There is a huge development on Snow as a theme, moving on from 2006’s Coldsnap to have Snow on instants and sorceries as well as creatures (and of course, lands). I’m a big sucker for this, anyway – snow and fantasy games always reminds me of Runebound, one of my all-time favourite board games!

In addition to more modal double-face cards, and the second return of Sagas (again, something I like!) we have two new mechanics: Boast and Foretell. Foretell is a bit like Morph, which allows you to exile a card for 2 generic mana, and later play it for its Foretell cost. Boast is an ability that can only be used if the creature with said ability attacked that turn. All very interesting stuff, for sure.

I’ve really been sucked into the whole Kaldheim thing, and have actually been buying cards again – specifically for this set. I’ve been buying boosters and stuff, including Set boosters as well as Draft boosters, and have begun the process of creating a BW Angels deck. There’s a lot more to be said on this topic, so stay tuned for a blog coming on this, soon!

Something very strange has been happening with Magic though. They’ve announced that there will be sets released with themes from outside of Magic as we know it – called Universes Beyond – and they’ve released in paper Time Spiral Remastered, a single set that distills the essence of the original Time Spiral. Why? Who knows. Weird.

The first Universes Beyond set is coming sometime next month, and is set in the Forgotten Realms. I’m actually quite excited to see Drizzt on a Magic card…

The most recent set to release is Strixhaven: School of Mages, which came out in April and seems to be Magic’s take on Harry Potter. Well, not exactly, though it is described as “the magic school genre” – so that’s clearly a thing! The set is an enemy-coloured theme, spells matter theme delight – I think I’ve read somewhere that it’s the first set specifically devoted to enemy colour pairs since Apocalypse in 2001. Anyway, Strixhaven is a magical school that attracts only the best and the brightest. Among these are Will and Rowan Kenrith once more, who are really establishing themselves now in the lore of the multiverse.

Modal double-face cards are once again here, tying all of the sets of the “year” together, and we have a focus on instants and spells. Magecraft is a new ability word that triggers when casting instant and sorcery spells, and there is a new keyword that ties into the theme of the set, Learn. The keyword lets you either discard a card and draw a card, or to reveal a Lesson card from outside the game and add it to your hand. Lessons are a subtype of instants and sorceries that allow you to focus on a specific type of gameplay, their biggest thing being that you can “fetch” them with Learn cards. Seems a little one-shot-wonder to be of any real impact, but who knows? Maybe we’ll get more to support this type of thing in years to come.

Confession time: I’ve also been buying some Strixhaven cards. I’m a sucker for BW right now, and have been plotting another deck around the Silverquill college. There are five colleges in Strixhaven, each named after the Elder Dragon that founded it. Nothing to do with Harry Potter, whatsoever. Anyway – stay tuned for more on this deck, once I’ve figured out just what I’m trying to do with it!

Strixhaven brings us to the end of this two-part run-through the recent years of Magic sets! After the D&D set (in a similar move, Strixhaven is an upcoming sourcebook for the RPG, I believe), we’re going back to Innistrad once more, though I don’t know anything about that other than the set names appear to have been announced. I think I’ve got my work cut out for me in getting to grips with Valkyries and Ink-mages though, so I’m gonna leave it there for now!

Hopefully the challenges that parenthood has in store won’t interfere too much with me getting some more blogs written in the near future, so do check in soon when I hope to waffle on about my new favourite colour pairing of white and black in the most recent MTG sets!

A little night Magic… (part one)

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about cardboard crack on this blog, but following on from my discovery of some cards in the attic, which I mentioned very briefly in my May update, I thought I’d do a little bit of investigation into what I’ve missed in the few years since I last cracked a pack. What else am I going to do with my paternity leave, right?!

So let’s just remember that the last set that I was anything like present for was War of the Spark, which released in May 2019. Oh wow, so since I last shuffled up a deck of cards, I’ve had two children… wow! Since that time, I count six full sets have been released, the most recent of which is Strixhaven. But I’ll get to that later.

2019 saw a new core set, M20, the second of the new core sets to be released since they had been abandoned after Magic Origins back in the day. The core set was roughly based around Chandra Nalaar, although there doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of actual story for the set. Fair enough – it’s a core set, after all. Gimme the reprints I need!

After M20, the next set was Throne of Eldraine, which I do remember coming out as being something of a fairy tale set. Apparently it’s a top-down design based on Grimm’s tales and Arthurian legend. Sounds interesting! The storyline seems to be based around a conflict between the Knights and the Wild Peoples, with Garruk turning up to kidnap the resident king, but his kids manage to rescue him and ignite their sparks. The kids are Will and Rowan Kenrith, who I seem to recall came as partners in the Battlebond set.

There is a new card type in the set, called Adventures, which are spells stuck onto creatures. The video above shows how they work, but honestly, I just don’t get it. It’s not really like there’s a link between the two aspects on the card – the Adventure portion doesn’t seem to make the creature you can cast any bigger or anything, it’s like they had too many cards they wanted to fit in, so stuck 30 of them onto creatures and made up this weird thing.

Otherwise, Eldraine seems like an interesting enough set, and maybe I’ll look into that some more at a later date…

Moving on!

2019 also saw something called Secret Lair, which appears to be a very expensive booster game where you can get older cards reprinted. I’ve heard some pretty negative stuff about this whole thing, though, so suffice it to say I won’t be looking into these things.

Moving into 2020 now, the first set of the year was Theros: Beyond Death. A return to Theros, how delightful! The set is mainly focused on the Underworld of the plane, however, which the above trailer seems to show really well. Elspeth isn’t dead, or maybe she is but she’s beyond death now (eh? eh!) and we’ve also got Ashiok running around, one of my all-time favourite pieces of creepy-weird art from the game. There’s also a new Theros god, Klothys the god of destiny (in red/green, weird). We’ve got mono-coloured gods, the original five returning, plus five demigods, who I’m pretty sure we’ve seen previously as dual-coloured creatures. These demigod cards are more like their prequel versions? I don’t know.

The big news, to me, is that the set uses Sagas once more, the legendary enchantment type introduced back in Dominaria. Nice!

Despite COVID breaking out, we still had set releases almost as normal. Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths was next up, and is a set that I’ve previously mentioned as sounding interesting to me. It features the Tarkir wedges once more, and we have some pretty crazy-huge creatures (well, it is the land of behemoths!) The set is one of those for which I’d picked up some cards somehow without really realising! So I think I need to get in on this and see what it was all about!

This set is all about massive monsters, with a vaguely kaiju air to it. Narset is back as a planeswalker, by the way, in her original Jeskai colours as opposed to the blue/white of her last Tarkir incarnation. One of the big themes of the set is Mutate, a kind of “build your own monster”. Cards with this keyword can be cast for their Mutate cost, where they are attached to a non-Human creature, either above or below that target, and the two (or more!) creatures become one – that is, they’re considered to be the creature on top (for CMC and power/toughness) but with the abilities of all the other creatures below it. Interestingly, if the creature is flickered, then it comes back to the battlefield as individual cards.

There’s also the neat little keyword Companion, which is featured on some cards and instructs a deckbuilding limitation (such as all cards need to be a certain CMC or something), but allows you to include that card in your sideboard and then cast it – almost like a mini version of Commander. Originally, there were no particular rules around this, but later it was revised to cost 3 generic mana to cast your chosen Companion.

Having at least some of these cards has made me excited to start thinking about building decks with something of an Ikoria theme, so we’ll have to see if parenting duties will allow for that to happen!

We got the summer core set, M21, as well as a supplemental product called Jumpstart. This has been fascinating me since I’ve now taken the time to actually look into it and see what I’ve been missing. A massive set of over 500 cards, most of which are either reprints from the history of the game, or else ported over from M21, with just shy of 80 actual new cards. It’s not just new cards, but a new way to play – the boosters have 20 cards in them, and the idea is that you buy two, shuffle them together, and you play! The packs all have basic lands in them, but it’s kind of a case of just throwing together two random packs and hoping for the best, as there’s no way to plan a deck because of the random nature. It’s really quite fascinating, I have to say!

A MTG version of Smash Up? Interesting. It’s been a while, obviously, since I’ve seen a video with the Professor, but I feel as though any MTG product that he speaks well of must actually be worth looking into!

This blog seems to be running long, so I’m going to close up for now. I’m going to continue to catch myself up with the game that I’ve missed later this week, so stay tuned for more!

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.

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!

Of course,

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!

Three-colour Magic deck!

Hey everybody!
I’m feeling on a bit of a Magic kick at the minute, so thought I’d come along here and showcase something that I’ve been recently attempting to build: a three-colour Magic deck! Of course, it’s not like I’ve never done this before, but whereas for the Jeskai deck that I featured some time ago, I’ve gone much wider than simply sticking to the single block. I always feel a bit nervous trying this, because generally speaking a multi-coloured block will contain a lot of support and fixing, which helps the deck play better. Going wider as I have done here, though, I’m forever tempted to throw in all sorts of stuff which runs the risk of diluting the mana base. I’m no expert, as we all know, but nevertheless, I thought I’d share this deck as the first iteration of one of my favourite three-colour combos!

Today, we’re going Mardu!

Mardu is the three-colour wedge of red, black and white. I enjoy playing black and red, and I enjoy black and white, so the idea for this started out as throwing both ideas together to see what happens! I am also a huge fan of Tarkir block, as it was the one I remember the most as being “around” when I first got into the game. The theme of it is also really nice, and I think I’ve probably got more decks that feature cards from this block than from any other!! I did open a lot of Tarkir packs though…

In choosing to build this deck, though, I was at a bit of a loss for how I wanted it to turn out. For example, I know that red and black tends to be very aggro, and I know that black and white tends to be quite controlling. How to smash those two effects together and build a cohesive deck? Well, I’ve ended up with a fair number of creatures, and there are a number of combat-trick elements from the other slant on this combo – red and white. I’m not a huge Boros player, of course, but I do like the constant attack and the way Boros lends itself to combat tricks. So I’ve tried to create a deck that has some interesting tricks up its sleeve while also being fast and obvious!

Creatures
Night Market Lookout (2)
Sunscorch Regent
Honored Crop-Captain (2)
Serene Steward
Angel of Despair
Ankle Shanker
Boltwing Marauder
Strongarm Monk
Ruthless Ripper (2)
Paragon of Fierce Defiance
Zurgo Helmsmasher

Planeswalkers
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Instants
Coat with Venom
War Flare (2)
Supernatural Stamina
Double Cleave (2)
Built to Last (2)
Foul-Tongue Shriek
Built to Smash (2)
Ride Down

Enchantments
Mardu Runemark (2)
Citadel Siege
Battle Mastery

Artifacts
Talisman of Hierarchy
Prism Ring

Land
Evolving Wilds
Nomad Outpost (4)
Foreboding Ruins
Smoldering Marsh
Clifftop Retreat
Inspiring Vantage
Needle Spires
Lavaclaw Reaches
Shambing Vent
Scoured Barrens
Akoum Refuge
Wind-Scarred Crag
Bloodfell Caves
Stone Quarry
Forsaken Sanctuary
Cinder Barrens
Swamp (4)
Plains (2)
Mountain

Overall, I think this is the kind of deck that really speaks to me, as the kind of Magic deck that I like to play. It’s not overly-competitive, it’s not overly-complex in terms of effects or whatever, it’s got enough interest to be fun and stuff, so it should just be a really nice deck to play!

There isn’t really any kind of “plan” to the deck, which might seem a little odd at first, and would certainly fly in the face of a lot of MTG strategy out there. However, I’ve found that the best way to build a deck to succeed is through a lot of redundancy. If I were to build this deck around, say, Zurgo Helmsmasher as the main protagonist, then his removal would potentially cripple the deck. He will benefit from a lot of the effects that I’ve included through anthem-effects on instants and other creatures, and he’ll get to do a lot of damage that way, for sure. But he isn’t the key piece.

All of those instant speed combat tricks can affect pretty much any creature, and most of them will have a devastating effect. Getting first strike or double strike, pumping them up to ridiculous power/toughness, it’s all good! Unless you’re playing some of the more esoteric meta-game win conditions, the object here is to reduce your opponent from 20 to 0 life. If I can do that by just throwing jacked-up creatures at my opponent, then why not, right?!

The deck does need a bit of tinkering, though. The land base in particular is a bit off! Whenever I build decks like this, I try to include as much mana-fixing as possible, for obvious reasons, and I usually find myself wanting to have the complete relevant cycle for a three-colour deck. For example, the “refuge lands” from Tarkir block are all present for my relevant colours, and the generic taplands from OGW and SOI are also here. However, I’m working with what I have, so I’m not buying more cards just for the sake of it – as such, there are some cards that I could benefit from, if only I had them!

I think, if I were to look at the deck again, potentially thinking about buying cards as “missing pieces” for the deck, I’d probably want to swap out the two artifacts, and the Paragon. I’ve been guilty before of wanting to force in all the Paragons that I can into my decks, but really they’re not always that necessary. I also find myself thinking the Angel of Despair is a bit too expensive, though it is nice to have removal in a deck.

Definitely need to do some more thinking on this one, I think…!

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!

Cat Dragons!

Hey everybody,
It’s Tuesday, so that must mean it’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com! Today I’m going to talk about a silly deck that I’ve put together almost on a whim, building around the fantastic legendary creature, Wasitora, Nekoru Queen!

Wasitora is one of the new Commanders from last year’s set, coming in Jund. You may remember that I bought the Vampire deck, but only went for singles from the others, including this delightful beast! She’s a 5/4 Legendary Cat Dragon, so already we’re on to a winner here. With Flying and Trample, she’s quite decent I feel, although does have a CMC of 5 (2+Jund), making her fairly expensive to cast if she’s ever sent back to the Command Zone.

However, we’re not talking about Commander today, because this deck is decidedly silly. I mean, it’s built around a Cat Dragon, for goodness sake! I keep having these thoughts of building just a normal 60-card deck with Commanders in them, which end up being only viable in Legacy or casual formats, and I’m pretty sure in Legacy this build would be utterly thrashed! But, it’s pretty fun to play, and so I thought I’d show it off here.

With flying and trample, you should be able to trigger her effect – when she deals combat damage to a player, they must sacrifice a creature; if they can’t we create 3/3 cat dragon creature tokens! Adorable!

5/4 is a respectable amount of damage, for sure, but the deck is mainly looking at ways to make that even more impressive. So I’ve got a few cards in there to help buff her up. For me, top of that list is Crucible of Fire, which gives Dragon creatures +3/+3. Very nice! Sight of the Scalelords can give an additional +2/+2 before combat, as well as Ambuscade Shaman giving another +2/+2. With Thunderstaff tapping for an additional +1/+0, Wasitora can potentially swing in the air for 13 trample damage, which is very nice!

Wasitora

I think I may have mentioned this before, although it’s probably abundantly clear anyway – I do like to have Enchantments out. I know people tend to avoid Auras, but I quite like all types of these things. This isn’t an Enchantments-matter style deck, but there are some fairly useful and powerful cards in here to help the strategy. Dragons are a big theme of the deck, of course, and so there are an abundance of cards from Tarkir block (still my personal favourite) that lean heavily into this theme. Dragon Tempest gives flying creatures haste, and allows dragons to deal damage to either target creature or player when they enter the battlefield, based on the number of other dragons in play. Here’s where Wasitora’s token buddies will certainly help, of course!

Wasitora isn’t alone in the deck, she’s one of seven dragons in total, including Atarka World Render, and Kolaghan the Storm’s Fury, the latter being another personal favourite card. Indeed, I think I disassembled a B/R deck specifically to put him in this one. There are other creatures in here to help with mana fixing and the like, but the plan is to build up to the big dudes as quickly as possible and dominate the skies!

The deck is designed to be a bit silly, so isn’t fully-optimised for greatness. I was building it using what cards I had to hand, and apart from Kolaghan, I wasn’t particularly wanting to disassemble other decks to build this one. It’s the sort of deck that I like to play for a laugh – it’s not bad, but it’s good for the end of a night, when you just want some casual games and nothing too fancy.

Let’s take a look at it in all its glory, then!

Creatures
Wasitora, Nekoru Queen
Atarka, World Render
Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
Broodmate Dragon
Dragonlord’s Servant
Shockmaw Dragon
Savage Ventmaw
Lathliss, Dragon Queen
Ambuscade Shaman (2)
Burning-Tree Emissary (2)
Bladewing’s Thrall (2)
Whisperer of the Wilds

Enchantment
Flameshadow Conjuring
Dragon Tempest (2)
Sight of the Scalelords
Crucible of Fire
Infernal Scarring (2)
Frontier Siege

Instant
Shivan Fire (2)
Dragonrage (2)

Sorcery
Seismic Rupture
Fearsome Awakening (2)
Explore

Artifact
Thunderstaff
Kolaghan Monument
Atarka Monument

Land
Shimmering Grotto (2)
Savage Lands (4)
Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
Timber Gorge
Cinder Barrens
Bloodfell Caves (2)
Jungle Hollow (2)
Rugged Highlands (2)
Forest (3)
Swamp (3)
Mountain (5)

What a deck, right?! I’ve had some pretty decent success with this deck in the past where my opponent doesn’t have any way to deal with flyers, so after a fairly slow set up I’ve managed to get a few Enchantment cards out that allow me to cause utter carnage when I have just one big dragon on the board – using Flameshadow Conjuring to produce two Kolaghans and swing in the air unopposed for 10 damage was pretty nice, I have to say! Of course, games like that do leave me vulnerable in the early game when I can’t bring any defensive creatures out, though that’s another reason to enjoy the Tarkir dual lands, which grant you 1 life when played. I do enjoy the annoyance factor that you can achieve when your opponent does one damage to you, and you then play a land and regain that life, so they do it again and you play another land and keep undoing their turns!

I’m not really a horrible player, though.

Anyway, that’s my Cat Dragon deck. I might take some time to tinker a bit with it, and maybe tune it up in terms of some direct damage spells as well, who knows – I’ve got a fairly decent collection of Magic cards now, after all, though I can’t say that I have been keeping entirely up to date as I used to. But there may be some new things that I could fit in there for fun, as well…

The Merfolk of Ixalan

Hey everybody,
I’m writing about one of my favourite Magic decks in recent months today – following on from the Ixalan set at the start of the year, I’ve been wanting to talk about my Ixalan Merfolk deck for quite some time. Let’s get to it!

Ixalan was the 76th expansion for Magic the Gathering, and is something of a meso-American theme, with exploration and pirates being a main theme and tribal being the main focus. When the set initially released in September last year, I was all for making a Vampire deck, as I do love the tribe, although in Ixalan the vampires come in black and, oddly, white. However, as I opened up some packs, I began to realise that I had a lot of Merfolk creatures, and opportunities began to present themselves.

I think it wasn’t really until this Spring when I finally built the deck, and I have been quite surprised with just how powerful it can be. There is a lot of synergy within the tribe in this block to make the Merfolk really quite powerful, from buffing them with +1/+1 tokens, to making them unblockable and giving flying, etc. Let’s take a look!

Creatures
Merfolk Mistbinder (4)
Deeproot Elite (4)
Seafloor Oracle (2)
Sworn Guardian (2)
Mist-Cloaked Herald (2)
Herald of Secret Streams (2)
Vineshaper Mystic (2)
Deeproot Champion
Kumena’s Speaker
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Kopala, Warden of Waves
Tatyova, Benthic Druid (2)

Instants
Negate (2)
Spell Pierce
Dive Down (2)
River Herald’s Boon (4)

Enchantments
Deeproot Waters (2)

Land
Woodland Stream (4)
Hinterland Harbour (2)
Botanical Sanctum (2)
Island (9)
Forest (8)


So there we are!

The idea, I guess, is that you place as many +1/+1 counters onto the creatures as possible, and the Herald of Secret Streams makes them all unblockable. The ability to have an army of unblockable Merfolk is actually quite easy here, because the deck is so tightly-constructed. So often in my decks, I find myself wanting to incorporate a number of different effects through using a breadth of different cards, but here it’s almost totally different, and I just want to double-down on the idea of these Merfolk creatures doing their thing.

The great thing about building a deck like this – indeed, any tribal deck, really – is that you’ll always be able to do something with your cards. I mean, a lot of decks that are built around something happening usually need to assemble that combo, and will need to spend a lot of time searching through the library to do so. Here, though, there isn’t a great need for sequencing of cards – obviously, it’s better to have actual Merfolk creatures out before you then play something like Vineshaper Mystic or River Herald’s Boon, but there is no need to assemble the combo because the entire deck just works with itself – it’s almost like it’s all one big combo! It’s not so much the idea of redundancy in a deck, just that the deck has been built so that it doesn’t matter if a specific legendary creature isn’t yet out, or whatever. In fact, the legendary creatures included in the deck are almost there for flashy distractions, and it doesn’t matter if they are removed etc, because the heavy lifting is going to be done by the mass of unblockable, hexproof Merfolk themselves!

It’s been quite something to see this deck in action, I must say, and I do think of it as one of my favourite decks that I’ve managed to build!

Magic Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artifacts:
War Horn
Prism Ring
Hewed Stone Retainers

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

MTG Scoured Barrens

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

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

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

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

Enchantments:
Temur Runemark
Elemental Bond
Military Intelligence

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

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

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

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

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


Magic Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTG Druid of the Cowl

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

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

Needless to say, I lost both of our games…

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

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

MTG Sunscorch Regent

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

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

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

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