Looking at a Random Card: Kaboom!
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Kaboom!: Fine – fitting with my somehow wavering motivation of late to go on with this column, I get a card which lends itself to a rather short entry!
For me, Kaboom! is essentially an Un-set card: More or less funny to read, but not a serious consideration for actual play. It supports three styles of play, neither of which I’m really a fan of:
1. Randomness. Being a card game, Magic really has enough randomness as is. Actually, its randomness is even a bit on the high side, with mana screw and mana flood deciding too many games. Of course, having to adapt to unpredictable developments is part of what makes this game fun, but overall the least this game needs is cards which deliberately enhance its randomness. Then again, it can be argued that Kaboom! is not actually meant to have a really random effect, leading to the second point:
2. Combo. Note that I differentiate between synergies and combos in Magic in a way not everyone does: Both refer to the impact of several cards used in conjunction being bigger than the sum of their impacts when used on their own. However, a synergy describes that effect between cards which are already useful on their own, while a combo means that some or all of these cards are rather useless without another part of the combo, which means in turn that the impact of that combo must be overwhelming (in most cases this simply equals “winning the game”) to make up for that disadvantage. This, in tun, makes combo decks have a higher variance (once again increasing the game’s randomness). Also, they tend to be non-interactive. Lastly, they reduce the game to the task of assembling that combo, greatly diminishing its tactical diversity. For me, synergy is a tool for good deckbuilders and good players to get an advantage over the course of a game, while a combo is a means to avoid actually playing the game. Thus, Kaboom! can’t win here: It’s bad when it is random, but it’s even worse when used as part of a combo to produce a reliable effect. Note, though, that it is even inefficient in doing so – Erratic Explosion is the much stronger choice, unless you play…
3. Multiplayer. I still haven’t found a multiplayer variant which is actually fun for a player who prefers interaction (in other words, a Spike), but wants to play Magic, not Diplomacy. I strongly suspect that this is impossible due to inherent contradictions. (Note that team play, on the other hand, works great – let me take this opportunity to link to an entry of mine which failed to generate any responses for some unfathomable reason!) Thus, I’m not interested in multiplayer applications of cards (although I have an idea for an interesting team version, loosely comparable to Archenemy, in the depths of my brain, which will surely surface one day). Anyway, the issues I have with the first two styles of play are actually multiplied in multiplayer: How much fun is it to randomly end the game with a lucky Kaboom!? How much fun to play against a deck geared towards doing this reliably? To be fair, I don’t really see this card being used in multiplayer groups at all – without additional help (or the Unhinged card Gleemax), it will never deal more than 16 damage, and lifegain is abundant in multiplayer. Since, in contrast to Erratic Explosion, Kaboom! isn’t able to do anything else than attempt to end the game (okay, except taking out Planeswalkers), that really makes it a bad inclusion as far as I can tell, even before taking into account the whole “Let’s gang up on the idiot who tries to kill us all at the same time” issue.
There is a German saying, relating to soccer: “Die Wahrheit ist auf dem Platz”, which can roughly be translated as “Truth shows on the field” – whatever assumptions one might make beforehand, all that matters in the end is the actual play. Many cards which look interesting just do not deliver when they get used in the game (hey, just another opportunity to mention DFCs…). Kaboom! is a prime example for such a card. Even its name, while amusing at first glance, goes on to be just silly with all further looks at it. Kaboom! is like that movie with the moderately funny trailer: You go see it and find that the scene from the trailer was the only funny scene in the whole movie. It’s been designed for the gimmick, not for gameplay. Such failure can bear only one result: An E.