Escaping the Phantom Zone

Posted June 5, 2016 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: Decklists, Lists

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I remember the event only very vaguely: Two years or so ago, for some reason or other, Wizards gifted every Magic Online account (or maybe not every account, but all of mine were among them) a certain amount of phantom points. Those could, as their name suggested, only be used to enter phantom events (limited events where you do not keep the cards you opened).

Well, I’m not one to turn down free limited play and proceeded to use those points up as completely as possible. There were issues here, though: Phantom points could not be traded between accounts, so once I fell below the lowest entry threshold, they sat around useless. I guess Wizards‘ plan was that at that point, people would start to enter phantom events by the alternate method of paying real money (or the equivalent in tickets), but I wasn’t that stupid.

Then, a year ago, phantom points got converted into play points at a ratio of 1 to 6. The upside was that they could now be used instead of tickets for practically every event. The downside was that play points are still not tradable. However, it turned out that I was now again above the entry threshold for phantom sealed (60 pp) on one account, so my “dead” points had been reactivated! (Technically, I can now also use 20 pp to enter 2-player queues, but since I do not play constructed anymore, this leaves only Momir basic, and I haven’t yet tried to get such a queue to fire, which seems an unlikely thing to happen to me.)

So, Shadows over Innistrad phantom sealed it was! My first effort left me at 2-1, which gave me exactly my entry back to try again, and so I did. This time, I managed to rattle off the required 3-0, and I have now enough play points to enter a “real” draft, because flashback drafts cost only 100 pp. I successfully escaped the phantom zone! (For now.)

The deck that did it didn’t look to great to me, and I still don’t think it is really good, but it worked out well enough. It helped that I played mostly well and didn’t get unlucky:

Phantom Sealed

The madness tricks were, of course, the best thing about this deck. Welcome to the Fold did good work, but Slayer’s Plate turned ot to be my biggest trump, especially in conjunction with Call the Bloodline – racing a 5/3 lifelink creature that just comes back every turn is outright impossble. I played Triskaidekaphobia because I thought I needed another way to win unfairly, not trusting in my deck’s ability to grind my opponent out, but that turned out to be unnecessary. The one game it won me I would almost certainly have won anyway, and I found myself sideboarding it out repeatedly.

Another thing to note is that I actually won one game by transforming my Thing in the Ice – quite a feat considering I have exactly 4 insteries in my deck! Once again, though, I would very likely have won that game anyway if the Thing had just been a 0/4 vanilla creature, which was the function I expected it to fulfill when I sideboarded it in. I did so every game, and I now realize I should just have started it instead of the silly rare enchantment.

I won several games by milling my opponent with Manic Scribe, and here I’m not entirely sure if I would have won those games if the Scribe had been just a 0/3 vanilla creature. I think I would have stabilized the board and put myself in a winning position anyway each game, but then again, the presence of the Scribe changed the dynamics of each match so much that it is hard to say how they would have played out otherwise.

I just realized I have a small backlog of winning deck lists which I forgot to post as an addendum to earlier entries, so I’ll get that done now: The first is still from one of my last OOB drafts. OOB was in my opinion the best draft format in years, but I had to let go of it finally.

Esper Linvala vanilla

Note that I always cast Linvala, the Preserver as a 5/5 flying french vanilla creature (okay, in one case that was only because of egregious stupidity on my part). That was good enough. The mythic rare didn’t really stand out, though.

To Shadows over Innistrad:

Orzhov 3 Naya opponents

Not much to say here, I guess. This time, my mythics were as good as advertised (meaning they were bonkers). Interestingly, I played against opponents running exactly Naya colors every single round!

Gruul

This, however, was a pretty normal SOI deck. Okay, 4 Ember-Eye Wolf is maybe a bit off the norm, but essentially this is fast, focussed aggro with a lot of 2-drops and plenty pump effects. This is how you do it when you have to do without bombs.

I haven’t done very much SOI drafting so far for a number of reasons, one of them being that I do not like the format too much, and another that I have been overplaying the set when I was hyped about the new leagues. Maybe I will get a few more drafts in during the next few weeks, before I will probably give Eternal Masters a shot. It doesn’t seem like a great format to me either, but it will be available for so short that it would be silly of me not to at least give it a whirl!

Eternal Masters – the pointless bestseller

Posted May 31, 2016 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Eternal Masters is coming out soon, and as the title of this entry says, I do not see its point.

Now, obviously there is a point to WotC putting the set out, since it will undoubtedly sell very well, and a bestseller does not need any additional justification from its publisher’s point of view. But why do people intend to buy so much of this set? What is their point? This is just what I don’t get. I feel forced to come back to the catchall explanation that people are just dumb – quite the easy copout for an analysis; but tried, and most importantly, true.

One especially perplexing fact I noticed is that many people do not even intend to draft the set, just crack open its boosters – that the contents of Eternal Masters were chosen with an eye on drafting it is actually the target of many bitter complaints I’ve seen! Now, not playing limited with the packs you purchase means that you miss out on most of their value. You essentially reduce a game product to a lottery lot this way. I will talk about this approach in a minute, but first let me briefly address Eternal Masters limited:

For one thing, considering the “RL” paper product, it is going to happen only very rarely. The set is being severely shortprinted in relation to expected demand on purpose, and the packs are severely overpriced in comparison to those from other sets with comparable limited play value. Retailers will be stockpiling and sandbagging Eternal Masters boxes, driving up booster prices and decreasing short-term supply even more. Even private end users will be tempted to keep their purchases unopened in the hopes of making profit with them later. This means that both sanctioned and private drafts will be far and few between. Of course, you could buy a box or two with the intent of organizing drafts privately, but unless the lottery aspect of opening those packs pays out, you will still vastly overpay for your draft experience.

Apart from that, Eternal Masters will actually not even constitute a great draft environment once its novelty wears off (which is, of course, less of a problem since such drafts will be unavailable again so fast). To summarize: The format will be very fast; the quality of your deck will depend a lot on your skill of opening many key uncommons for your archetype; and single games will often be decided by opening draws (since the format is fast) or by higher-rarity bombs. While many people do not mind such shortcomings as much as I do, this certainly doesn’t make for a play experience worth paying roughly four times the normal amount for a draft!

(Oh, and just for the sake of completeness, let me point out that sealed is even more expensive and generally less fun than draft, but especially less fun with Eternal Masters since this is a highly synergy-based format.)

The long and short of it: While drafting the set is, as always, the best way to get value from it, it is still heavily overpriced, and a rare opportunity many people will not even seek out.

But what about cracking those packs? Aren’t there a lot of heavily sought after cards in Eternal Masters? Well – actually, no! Or at least they are not as heavily sought after that buying these packs would be justified.

You see, the real chase cards of that set tend to be at least rare, and usually mythic rare (no big surprise here). And that is in a shortprinted set where boosters cost about four times as much as normal! How much value do you think you can realistically expect to open? Also, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that with any set in short supply, the best way to get value from a booster is to keep it sealed and sell it later. Yet again, for some reason, many people believe that Eternal Masters is a product where you can expect to open packs and sell their contents with a profit – and this is also true if people intend to keep those contents for themselves, because by definition, they could have gotten them cheaper on the secondary market.

No matter how you slice it, the contents of a set’s packs will never be worth more than the unopened packs. While this is of course true for every set, it’s much more noticeable when pack prices are so high – and also, the real value of packs lies in their gameplay when you use them for limited. I would argue that paying about 10€ for about three hours of gaming, while potentially getting back a significant portion of your entry via card values and winnings is not too bad a deal – compare it to attending a sports event, or going to a movie or to a club, and you’ll see that your spendings are well justified for the entertainment value you get. But this is obviously much less true if you are spending 40€!

You need to understand that playing limited with packs as you open them is the only way to extract entertainment value from them. Yes, of course you can put the cards you opened in casual or constructed decks or cubes and entertain yourself with playing them that way, but you do not need to crack packs for that. There is a secondary market for single cards, and it is always cheaper to buy the cards you need directly than trying to get them by opening boosters.

Thus, if you plan on opening Eternal Masters packs only because you want cards contained in that set, you are at best stupid – and at worst, you have a serious gambling problem if you enjoy the thrill of buying expensive lottery lots with terrible expected value!

But are there reasons for people who are not stupid to be happy about Eternal Masters? Well yes, there are, but some of them are doubtful, and none of them involve buying and cracking packs. Just in the way that WotC is happy about putting out a bestselling set, many retailers will be happy about their profit margin reselling it; and chances are, some private customers who are lucky and/or clever enough to get those packs at not too high a retail price will be able to make a moderate profit by reselling them (unopened) down the line, too.

Now, if reselling unopened product is the only way to profit from buying Eternal Masters boosters, there is still the question why players (in contrast to traders or speculators) celebrate the publishing of that set! Well, they of course expect certain cards in high demand to get less expensive when their supply is increased. Note, though, that you would still profit from this effect (if it comes to pass at all) the most by not buying any Eternal Masters product directly, but instead getting the cards you need from the secondary market!

That is a rather restrictive and cynical way to “enjoy” a new set, though, and it is based on relying on (many) other people to be dumb enough to buy it. It doesn’t seem like a great reason to celebrate Eternal Masters enthusiastically, either.

…oh, what is this I hear? The great thing about this set is that it makes eternal formats (in paper) more accessible? It’s right in the name Eternal Masters, right?

Wrong. Totally wrong! Whenever I see that point being brought up, I am reminded of the endless and pointless discussions I had on Zeromagic a couple years ago when I stated the obvious by saying that constructed Magic would get more expensive with the advent of mythic rares. (A thousand idiots cannot hear sense…) It was simple back then, and it is simple again now: The accessibility of a format depends mainly on the accessibility of its hardest to get staple cards. You know, those on the Reserved List, which Eternal Masters does not touch, and which no future product ever will. If highly sought after cards from the new set become less expensive (and that is still an if – rarity downshifts like on Elvish Vanguard aside – since there will not actually be that many additional copies in circulation, they will not be very cheap at all, and the hype generated by the set might well increase demand to the point where it cancels this additional supply out), this is still at best a drop in the bucket compared to what you need to spend on Reserved List cards.

By the way, any hopes for an eternal format without the Reserved List have just been officially dashed (again), but even if that came to pass, it would certainly not be what people wanted – the whole point of eternal formats is that you get to play with your old cards!

So – in which way could Eternal Masters possibly make legacy or even vintage more accessible? Would you call a major influx of budget players who try to compete with no-reserved-list decks against a field of “real” legacy decks an improvement? And this is already an unrealistic best-case scenario based on the assumptions that a) Eternal Masters will make at least assembling those decks noticeably cheaper, and b) many people will be content to compete with the enormous handicap of restricted card and deck selection!

Note also that any somehow competitive deck of that kind would per definition come to make up a large part of the metagame, incentivizing people to heavily metagame against it and thus making it worse again. If such a thing happens in a remotely healthy format, players will react by switching from this popular deck to a choice not affected by the metagame backlash – but this hypothesized no-reserved-list player group is by definition not able to react to a metagame change in that way. I don’t know about you, but if I am effectively restricted to a single deck choice which is increasingly getting hated on in a format, I will probably react by giving up on that format. (And once people actually do that, the metagame will stabilize and become healthy again! See, there is just no such thing as a healthy metagame which features a large amount of budget-restricted decks as a requirement.)

In my opinion, this best-case scenario is still quite a bad-case scenario, while not too likely in the first place. But let’s take a look at the alternative: Due to the Eternal Masters hype, actually more people might become attracted to eternal formats, and they might intend to enter them on equal footing! Well, obviously they need staples from the Reserved List for that, which means those become more expensive – and by that, I mean at a noticeably faster rate than they already do long-term! This would make eternal formats actually less accessible, because more players starting to invest in format staples will have two predictable effects:

1) It will lead to a larger fragmentation of these cards – meaning that fewer people will own the required number of copies, because more people will be in the process of building up their collection (which in most cases will never be completed). This will decrease the number of really competitive players further.

2) It will incentivize both retailers and private speculators to hoard cards from the reserved list, since their price is bound to go up for a while (an effect accelerating itself, obviously).

Now, of course, there will be a point where the ever decreasing accessibility of those formats will outweigh the hype, and the pendulum will swing back again – players will lose interest, people will start selling those expensive cards instead of collecting or hoarding them, and prices will go down again. But at no point in that cycle will an eternal format ever support more competitive players than it did before, because the total supply of reserved-list cards stays constant (actually, it decreases slowly since cards get destroyed or lost). I do not know what your definition of an “accessible” format is, but it should be based on either the total number of players it can support, or on its entry cost. None of these factors are influenced positively by Eternal Masters, and as I just explained, it is even likely that they will be influenced negatively for a while.

This has been getting long enough, so let me summarize:

Because the Reserved List is there to stay, vintage and legacy are doomed to die, and Eternal Masters doesn’t change this a bit.

Opening packs of Eternal Masters means that you are wasting money. This is even true if you factor in entertainment value, since those boosters are absurdly expensive, and it’s especially true if you’re interested in single cards, which you could by definition get cheaper from the secondary market.

Oh, and of course Eternal Masters does not contain a single new card, meaning it does absolutely nothing to enrich any constructed format.

In conclusion: From a player’s point of view, Eternal Masters is completely pointless! It only exists to sell itself.

And just because someone might note that Magic overall only exists to sell itself: Yes, of course, but packs from “normal” sets like Shadows over Innistrad provide both reasonable entertainment value for your spent money if drafted, and they enrich constructed formats since they contain new cards. Thus, they are not pointless.

Eternal Masters, though, is.

Rating Shadows over Innistrad mechanics

Posted May 4, 2016 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Having played with that set for quite a bit now, I have formed my opinions on its mechanics. Note that for the purpose of this entry, I use “mechanic” to mean a rather broad spectrum of gameplay elements, which may or may not be “mechanics” in the sense of a strict definition of that term.

I’ve tried to encompass everything that shows up on more than two cards (and a few things found only on two cards which stood out to me) that isn’t a fixture in Magic yet – so no talking about menace, hexproof, planeswalkers or +1/+1 counters (two of which I deeply hate – guess which?) I will give two grades to each concept: The first for the role that mechanic plays in limited with this set only; and a second for its overall value to Magic as a whole, which will be strongly influenced by how well it is suited for Next Level Cubes (which are the pinnacle of Magic gameplay, after all!)

My rating scale here goes from A to F, with the following meanings:
A: Excellent design with no major inherent issues (cycling)
B: Good design with no major inherent issues (menace)
C: Either good design with some issues, or reasonable but not too interesting design without major issues (landfall, or reach)
D: Either good or reasonable design badly executed, or flawed design with appealing executions as a saving grace (converge, or bestow)
E: Bad design, this mechanical concept shouldn’t exist at all (clash)
F: Terrible design whose existence makes the game noticeably worse (hexproof)

 

By order of felt importance (in limited) to the set:

 

Transform – (A)/F; (A)/F

 

Skin InvasionSkin Shredder

The flagship mechanic of Innistrad-based sets, and immensely popular for flavor reasons. But does it play well? You’ll note I gave transform two grades in each category – the first one is for computer-based play (like with Magic Online), the second one for physical card play. I shouldn’t even need to explain the latter: drafts requiring pre-sleeved cards, players using checklist cards on camera in high-level coverage… Double-faced cards just do not work in real life games, and while that gimmick obviously pays off with regards to marketing, it is just not worth the loss of integrity with regards to gameplay.

This disadvantage, however, completely disappears once you move over to virtual cards being handled by a computer! Being an adaption of a real, physical card game is the only thing which stops Magic from using “cards” with any number of faces (while still retaining their “back”). If that constraint were lifted, additional card faces would be an excellent fundamental tool for any virtual card game. Why you would want to play a virtual card game which does not reprocude the feel of a real card game in the first place is a different question, though… Magic is still about playing with physical cards, or at least simulating that experience for me, so the latter grade applies.

Note, though, that I rate only the basic concept of transform here. Transforming werewolves specifically has its own paragraph below.

 

Investigate – (B)/D; D

 

Press for Answers

The grade in brackets has the same explanation as that for transform – clues are rather fiddly in physical play, and having non-creature tokens abound ups the complexity of gameplay a little too much for my taste. It’s not that investigate didn’t work, but it is just not superior to other cardflow mechanics (cycling, cantrips, scry) by so much that this extra complexity is justified.

That is even true if a computer handles the physical logistics for you, thus no different grades in the latter category. However, if restricted to Shadows over Innistrad limited, clues admittedly play well. They do not compete with other card flow mechanics; they sepcifically synergize with certain cards, and they do not create unwanted interactions with other mechanical themes (namely, artifacts-matter cards, but there are a few more hidden ones, like card draw triggers, for example). Thus, they are a fine fit for one set/block, but I wouldn’t expect or want to see them return. They are not bad, but Magic can do better.

 

Madness – D; E

 

Incorrigible Youths

Yup, madness is inherently flawed. While due to several rules cleanups no longer quite as complicated as it once were, it is still about turning a disadvantage into an advantage if you get specific two-card combos, making gameplay especially swingy. Madness is one of the main reasons I do not enjoy Shadows over Innistrad limited too much, and that is already taking into account that this environment has been very carefully developed to mitigate its swingyness somehow. When it combines with cards from outside that environment, things go completely awry.

For those very reasons, madness had been deemed very unlikely to ever return by Mark Rosewater himself just a few weeks ago (obviously he knew it would return, but had to pretend he didn’t). Shadows over Innistrad was just the perfect fit for it flavorwise – and just as double-faced cards do, madness proves that flavor does trump gameplay if this drives sales better.

 

Delirium – D; E

 

Traverse the Ulvenwald

So, this is supposed to be a kind of “fixed” threshold. Well, I see the issues with threshold, but I hold that those are solvable by careful development (basically, the most important thing is to make the gradient between threshold and no threshold not too steep).

Delirium, on the other hand, looked from the very beginning like it would play badly to me, and it actually plays even a bit worse. It adds so much complexity to drafting and deckbuilding, and even more to actual gameplay! It is much easier to keep track of the number of cards in each graveyard, and also a lot more predictable – if an opponent can cast spells or discard cards, you can usually guess quite well if they can get to threshold, but with delirium you often just do not have a way to even make an educated guess. I am certainly not a fan of dumbing down gameplay, but I found myself way too often dealing with delirium in an “oh, look what just happened”-fashion even on my own cards. This is another reason I do not enjoy this limited format much.

The worst thing, however, is how hard and unreliable delirium is actually to achieve (which was explicitly a design goal, by the way). I’ve seen players mill more than half of their deck into their graveyard without getting there (in a completely reasonable build, for what it’s worth); then, in the next game, play Fork in the Road and block with a Wicker Witch and get it on turn three.

I haven’t yet experience with delirium in physical play, but it is entirely possible that I would even push its grade down to an F there. I remember Tarnogoyf to be annoying enough… I wish they had just brought threshold back instead.

 

Skulk – B; B

 

Furtive Homunculus

Finally, a good design! It is obviously not something most people think about when Shadows over Innistrad mechanics come up, but that might actually be a good thing – well playing mechanics tend to be rather unobtrusive than spectacular. I have found skulk mattering quite a lot, though, and it is also something the colors Blue and Black really need (a simple shared creature keyword).

 

Two or no spells – E; E

 

Hinterland LoggerTimber Logger

This is the werewolf transform trigger mechanic, which I am addressing separately from transform in general. Now, admittedly, these triggers often create interesting gameplay decisions. But this is just what keeps this mechanic from getting a straight F! Werewolves are incredibly punishing towards both mana screw and mana flood, and extra punishment for those two greatest scourges of Magic is definitely not what this game needs, so here we have yet another major reason I dislike Shadows over Innsitrad limited.

 

Milling – C; C

 

Crow of Dark Tidings

This mechanic has two rather different applications: Milling yourself, or milling your opponent (even though some cards can do both). Now, milling your opponent is a straight F in my book – it is an alternate win condition that is very hard to interact with. Milling yourself, however, which is what I am rating here, has really interesting applications by using your graveyard as a resource, although this can and definitely has be overdone (dredge probably being the worst example…) What it comes down to is that this mechanic has a few issues, but I’m really happy about some existing designs.

 

Discard as cost – D; C

 

Call the Bloodline

This is the flipside of madness, because (some of) those cards actually play better without the obvious, major benefit with which madness provides them. Interesting effects with discard as a real cost play well, and minor synergies with threshold, delve, spell mastery, scavenge, unearth, flashback etc… still make them interesting for deckbuilders.

 

Clues-/ Investigate-matter cards – D; E

 

Erdwal Illuminator

WotC taking a new mechanic to the next level in the very first set they use it is probably a consequence of switching to a two-sets-per block model. Such cards are obviously highly parasitic, which should explain the latter grade. I also do not like their effect on drafting and deckbuilding too much, though – it is one (good) thing if you should always be on the lookout for synergies, but another (bad) thing if you have to fully commit to an archetype to get a competitive deck. The classic uncommon buildaround enchantments tend to make both drafting and gameplay worse. People like them because they make drafting decisions easier, and because they sometimes lead to broken decks, but they add extra variance to both drafting and gameplay, and they are usually very hard to interact with (which again means worse gamplay).

Buildaround enchantments are the final major reason I dislike Shadows over Innistrad limited, and some of those fall into this category. Making investigating explicitly matter has led to several problematic designs, so my first grade is correspondingly low.

 

Instery-/ Noncreature-matters – C; C

 

Cathar's Companion

This is a theme that includes prowess. One thing I do not like about it (and also not about prowess) is how it somehow randomly mixes up “noncreature spell” and “instant or sorcery spell”, which is especially pronounced in Shadows over Innistrad. I really prefer the cleaner version only caring about insteries, but I had to grudglingly accept prowess as a contributor to insteries-matter-themes in my Next Level Cubes. Still, this is what makes the difference between a B and a C for this mechanical theme in my book.

 

Human tribal – C; D

 

Intrepid Provisioner

Tribal as a mechanical concept is a B in general, but its execution differs from creature type to creature type, and from environment to environment. In Shadows over Innistrad, the various tribal themes tend to be a little too subdued, and the specific effects a bit too all over the place. Humans are among those who work a little better, though. On the other hand, human tribal is a pain in open environments, since humans exist plentifully in all five colors, and a great many older cards have this creature type without showing it on the typeline.

 

Wolf / Werewolf tribal – D; E

 

Howlpack Wolf

I am already not impressed by this tribal synergy in Shadows over Innistrad. Outside of that environment, there is just too little further support, and also you are effectively forced to use “two or no spells” cards, which is bad, as are double-faced cards in general.

 

Vampire tribal – D; C

 

Stromkirk Patrol

Vampire tribal in Shadows over Innistrad doesn’t reach critical mass without tapping into other problematic themes. However, some of the designs help out the already existing vampire tribal cards nicely.

 

Zombie tribal – D; D

 

Compelling Deterrence

Zombies might be the least noticable tribal synergy in the set. Also, putting most of those effects into Blue makes them less useful for wider environments. This may change if blue zombie tribal reaches critical mass some day, but we’re still far from that point.

 

Spirit tribal – C; C

 

Apothecary Geist

Like Human tribal, spirit tribal seems to affect play a bit more often than the other kinds in Shadows over Innistrad, and it is useful in wider environments to give that tribe an additional synergy component beyond soulshift and spiritcraft (with the latter effectively requiring you to use arcane spells, which just isn’t something you want).

 

“Creature flashback” – C; D

 

Nearheath Chaplain

By this I mean creatures with abilities that include exiling them from your graveyard as a cost. In most cases, they produce one or more tokens. This plays reasonably well, but in the context of the entirety of Magic design, I prefer similar, straighter mechanics like flashback, scavenge or unearth, because cards in graveyards having abilities already add considerable complexity to gameplay.

 

Second color costs – D; E

 

Geistblast

These are two cycles of one-colored cards which provide additional value via abilities with mana costs in a different color, with the allied-color cycle featuring tribal creatures, and the enemy-color cycle noncreature buildaround spells. In Shadows over Innistrad, they stand in for the lately ubiquitous two-color uncommon cycle. With such designs, I feel it is important that their usefulness with access to only mana of their color compared to having access to both colors is balanced out well over the color combinations, and that they also fulfill roughly similar functions in deckbuilding. This is in my opinion not the case here – the cards range from good maindeck candidates to mostly unplayable withouth their second color, and from mostly just providing solid creatures to requiring/enabling highly synergetic decks.

Tying into very specific synergies also makes this kind of design practically unusable outside of the environment they were created for, thus the E grade here.

 

Equipment matters – D; C

 

Militant Inquisitor

This is another synergy which just doesn’t seem to really kick in in Shadows over Innistrad limited, but whose designs help that theme in a greater context.

 

Vessels – D; C

 

Vessel of Malignity

I am always more strict with designs which are part of a cycle, but do not work well in that capacity. Power level differences between those enchantments are just way too high. Cannibalizing the cycle for different environments should have merit, though.

 

White sacrifice – D; D

 

Bound by Moonsilver

I give this its own grades because it is quite unusual for White to sacrifice things as a cost, and while the synergies in Shadows over Innistrad are obvious, it still doesn’t really fit into the color. I like Angelic Purge as an exception, but making this a recognizable theme was overdoing it in my opinion. Also, the cards feel like they are just good by themselves and not like a theme you want to build around – they tie into many different synergies, but nothing stands out.

 

Creature recursion – C; D

 

Ghoulsteed

These are creatures returning from the graveyard. Sanitarium Skeleton is the most ubiquitous of those, but the ones where you have to discard to bring them back play even more synergetic in this set.

I am wary of recurring creatures, though, and you do not always want to up the count of exiling effects as much as Shadows over Innistrad does. Unkillable creatures should be a big exception in my opinion, not a fledged-out theme.

 

Lands to graveyard – D; E

 

Crawling Sensation

This is a minor theme in Green caring about lands going to your graveyard, putting them there in unusual ways, or having them in your graveyard to get them out again. I don’t like it. It is one more unusual thing to keep track of during gameplay, and another rather random symergy producing swingy effects. For example, while Stoic Builder is a fine design, Groundskeeper will oscillate between useless and gamewinning in the same deck from match to match.

 

Bite – B; A

 

Rabid Bite

This is how I like to call “one-sided fight”, after its most basic (green) version so far, Rabid Bite. It is something Green desperately needed for years.

 

Devils – B; B

 

Dance with Devils

Tokens with activated abilities are admittedly a bit fiddly – for that reason, it took me quite a while to take to eldrazi scion tokens. However, these devil cards are just really cool and play very well. I hope there will be more of them in Eldritch Moon – at least one more design seems really obvious.

 

Showlands – E; D

 

Choked Estuary

This is the rare cycle of dual lands. They play almost no role whatsoever in limited at rare, and they are just bad lands outside of that environment, with no chance to enter the battlefield untapped when it matters most (when you finally topdeck your sorely needed land). They do help aggressive two-color decks to start their curve with a one-drop, which is something few other dual lands do, but that is not enough.

 

So, that’s it! Those grades are rather low overall, which shows that I am not especially pleased with this set. I like its flavor, and I was impressed by the way it has been promoted, but its gameplay has been disappointing to me.

I’m not even mad at WotC

Posted April 27, 2016 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

…because it makes no sense to be mad at them. They are an evil, soulless company. They do as evil, soulless companies do. I despise them, of course, but I am not mad at them, because for me, there is a requirement to be disappointed first before I get mad. For the same reason, I am not mad at Donald Trump when he fires off yet another barrage of hateful lies and stereotypes – I know that is just what he does, and I have to expect such things from him.

I am mad at you instead, humanity itself (and by extension, even a bit about myself), because I probably still hold too high an opinion of our species and thus can be disappointed. I am not mad that a megalomaniac, misanthropic asshole like Trump exists and does what megalomaniac, misanthropic assholes do; but I am mad at all the people who do not unambiguously oppose him, or even support him. And in that vein, I am also not mad at WotC because they just displayed yet another time their disrespect for their customers, and their disregard for their customers’ intelligence; but I am mad at those customers proving yet again that they (and partly, I must admit, we) do not deserve their respect, and do not show enough intelligence.

If you read this blog entry, you really should know what I am referring to, but to make sure: This is an announcement by WotC from a few days ago; and this is their statement from yesterday, after they experienced a massive backlash on social media (and probably through other channels as well, but social media are nowadays the only relevant platform for public outrage short of outright riots).

I will just quote the most relevant passages to get my point across. First, from the original announcement:

“The adjustments to the Platinum pro player appearance fees, effective after the conclusion of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, are as follows: Platinum pros will receive an appearance fee of $250 for competing at Pro Tours (previously $3,000), an appearance fee of $250 for competing at the World Magic Cup (previously $1,000), and an appearance fee of $250 for competing at a World Magic Cup Qualifier (previously $500).”

“These decisions were not made lightly, and were finalized only after much discussion about the goals of the Pro Tour Players Club. The appearance fees we awarded for Platinum pros were meant to assist in maintaining the professional Magic player’s lifestyle; upon scrupulous evaluation, we believe that the program is not succeeding at this goal, and have made the decision to decrease appearance fees.”

Then, from the update:

“We unintentionally broke the trust of current Platinum players, those players who have been working to achieve that status, and the wider Magic community.”

It could actually hardly be any more obvious that at least one of those statements is a lie – very probably the latest one. And yet, players are already back to “oh, they surely had good intentions, but punted, and now they have apologized and reconsidered, everything is fine again”!

It is not fine if a company lies to its customers. It is also not fine if they intend to break our trust and only back up after seeing they didn’t get away with it (this time). It is most disappointing, though – and making me actually mad – that so many people do not see this for what it is!

Look, they explicitly state that this decision wasn’t made “lightly”, which implies they put a lot of thought into its consequences. Also, rebudgeting a six-figure amount of dollars isn’t something a lone low-level employee would do on a whim, not even at Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro. Even if they hadn’t explicitly said it, there is no reasonable doubt that several people rather high up in the company’s hierarchy must have been involved, and certainly everyone who is specifically responsible for the organization of professional play. (And even in the exceedingly unlikely case that this wasn’t true, they still would have lied to us about the decision-making process.)

So, what they want us to believe is that several persons from upper management, including those whose very job it is to create professional play policies, did not realize that they broke the trust of people by taking 5-figure dollar sums (per person!), which they had already been promised, away from them? And you believe that?

See, I know very well that people can mess up things badly from time to time. It is still at best in the outermost fringes of barely believable that a single person competent enough to hold a job deciding about six-figure budget changes would overlook these consequences for the very group of people they were explicitly directed at. Such a mistake is once again especially unlikely when it is the very job of that person to assess the consequences of such policy changes. And it gets once again more unlikely by an order of magnitude when the very announcement of these changes spells out clearly that people who were promised to get an amount of 3000$ per event next year would now only get 250$. If you believe this, you should also not convict someone for murder if their defense was “I didn’t know he could die if I slid his wrists and left him unconscious in a locked room. I’m sorry!”

However, fanboy glasses are a really potent means to alter the perception of reality, so let us pretend for a moment it was at least remotely believable that a single person messed up that badly. But this decision cannot have been made by a single person. There were undoubtedly several people involved, and it must not have occured to ANY of those that they were taking away massive amounts of promised money from a group of people, if none of the above statements was a lie!

It is incredible to which extent WotC relies on the non-existence of common sense among gamers, and this once again proves that they can – and that makes me mad.

You know what happens when you repeatedly let someone get away with obvious lies? Correct – they will lie ever more often to you! And here you have the answer why this pattern of “outrageous announcement, public outcry, sheepish apology” has been repeating itself so often during the last couple of years. WotC get away with it. They try out how far they can push the envelope, then paddle back if needed, showing goodwill just for not doing outrageous things they tried to do, while slowly eroding our expectations. In the end, we’re actually happy that they only do a little bad stuff to us, because we compare it to the very bad stuff they had threatened to do – and at the same time we give them credit for “listening to us”!

…or, more precisely, you do. I am unfortunately prone to a great many weaknesses, just like any human, and naivity is even one of them, but at least I see clearly through the most obvious lies of this company. If you do not, even after I broke everything down for you, then their demeanor is actually your fault. And this is why I am mad at you.


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