Posted tagged ‘Rating’

Looking at a Random Card: Foul Familiar

September 10, 2012

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

Foul Familiar: Gatherer gives me another creature, another really old and another black card; so let’s talk about it: Firstly, I have to remind myself that this card predates damage on the stack, although I am used to look at it with this rule in mind. How much of a difference this makes, especially in a limited environment, should be obvious – being able to attack with a 3-power-creature and save it after its damage is “locked in” for a black mana and 1 life is huge. But then again, that was already almost all this card had going for it. It cannot block, and it wasn’t too impressive an attacker even by the standards of its time (especially considering that most of the small creatures which got actually played then had first strike, protection from black, or both). It offered some value as an ever-recurring threat against a creature-light, removal-heavy deck, but these decks never really existed – creature-light decks would usually win by locking down your mana (The Prison, Turbostasis, Decks with Armageddon or Jokulhaups), and/or protect themselves with a circle of protection,  and/or win the attrition war with discard which would get the Familiar out of your hand without much effort. And anyway, with or without damage on the stack, Foul Familiar was never efficient enough to be of interest in constructed environments.

I used to keep it in my limited card pool for a while for two reasons: Damage went on the stack since not too long ago, and this card was a spirit which you could recast again and again, giving it great synergy with spiritcraft. When the first reason fell to the wayside again, the second just wasn’t enough for me to keep it, especially since I have access to Blinking Spirit and Lantern Spirit (BTW, check out my entry about Blinking Spirit, where I already said a lot about the self-bounce mechanic). The comparison of Foul Familiar and Lantern Spirit is especially enlightening: The Familiar is worse in nearly every way, with the sole exception of boasting a higher power. In a constructed environment, this would only make it superior if the metagame really was vulnerable to a single recurring creature, but just as I already wrote when discussing Blinking Spirit: Such an environment never existed and will very probably never exist, and even if it did, it would be no fun to play in. So Foul Familiar will, in all likeliness, forever be a dud in constructed.

In limited, it got obsolete with the loss of damage on the stack. If any 1-power-creature can trade with it, its ability becomes useless, and all that’s left is a 3/1 for 2B that cannot block – a possible inclusion in some draft decks, but nothing you’d want to put into your cube in the first place, especially since it features that potentially interesting, but effectively nearly irrelevant additional ability. The exception is an environment with spiritcraft, of course – obviously, the Familiar wasn’t designed for that, but this just shows how open-ended self-bounce on a creature is. It is also conceivable that you want it for other repeated enter or leave triggers. So it still has a possible use for deck-builders, but since its originally intended function of an unkillable, recurring threat doesn’t work anymore, it is an inelegant execution, inferior to both Lantern Spirit and Blinking Spirit (albeit in another color, obviously), but partly making up for it with interesting flavor – that life payment is convincingly black – and clearer focus, rewarding players who have a plan for its use. To recapture its original function under current rules, it would need an additional ability though, like, for example, “Whenever this becomes blocked by a creature, destroy that creature at end of combat”. In the end, it has become a bit too narrow (that’s why I don’t use it anymore in my limited pool), and thus only gets a D+ from me (Blinking Spirit got a C-).

To the index of all cards reviewed by me so far

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Looking at a Random Card: Circle of Protection: White

August 17, 2012

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

Circle of Protection: White: A non-creature! But a really old card (as old as they come, actually) again…

It’s funny: I just wanted to add a quick entry to this category, but then got hold up by noticing a few mistakes (wrong card names and a wrong link resulting from them) in old entries which I thought I might want to refer to, and correcting them. That took a while, so I have an additional incentive to keep this a bit shorter than usually.

I already talked about different kinds of hosers when I was musing about Guerilla Tactics. I also already said a few things about Circles of Protection in my Manabarbs entry, most importantly that the Circles were overpowered, unfair and frustrating to play against. That is just it. A single card, especially a cheap and splashable one, should not be able to shut down all damage capacity (barring explicit exceptions, like cards saying their damage cannot be prevented) from a color. While all five of the original Circles have seen at least a little constructed use at some time, the only ones of real importance were those against Red and Black (because those colors couldn’t deal with them), and here especially the anti-red one (because against the only really strong mono-black deck, Classic Necro, Karma was much stronger; because mono-red decks were almost always viable, while mono-Black has fallen on hard times since Magic’s early years; and because the damage potential of single red cards you could expect to face was much higher than those of black cards).

You usually didn’t run Cop White in your sideboard, because at the time when White Weenie was an important metagame factor and that Circle available, White Weenie usually already ran 4 Disenchant maindeck and seldom had a reason to side them out even if it didn’t expect Circles (Nevinyrral’s Disk, Mishra’s Factory, Serrated Arrows, Icy Manipulator, combo parts… you always found good Disenchant targets), which made using the Circle a risky proposition: If you relied on it (and what was the point of using it if you didn’t rely on it?), one Disenchant could ruin your day. (Also, one of White Weenie’s best weapons against control was Armageddon, which would usually leave your Circle useless.)

But that only means that this Cop wasn’t as STRONG; it doesn’t imply that it was ever a FAIR card. It is a typical random hoser, and it would leave honest, fair strategies, when they could not find that Disenchant, completely helpless – if a game revolves around answering a single card, that is terrible gameplay (this is the more true the less effort your opponent had to invest in that card).

It’s even worse in limited (even though there are usually few mono-colored decks), since an opponent might actually not have a way to deal with a Circle, and even if he does, it might still not be correct to play it, even after sideboarding; but also, because Circles are here useful against two-colored decks, too. Circles were one of the major reasons limited sucked when they were common (and making them uncommon did certainly not improve their play value, but just made sure that those terrible cards showed up less often).

Where Circles REALLY suck, however, is in casual – how much fun is it if your honest Griffin tribal deck is being shut down by a random Circle? (And how much fun are those Circle decks some people like to run, usually in conjunction with Sleight of Mind effects?)

To be fair, in contrast to Deathgrip the Circle doesn’t COMPLETELY bereave you of your ability to play your deck at all – you can still defend yourself and wait patiently for a way to get around or get rid of the Circle, and if you play another color, it is usually not worth bringing in against you (while Deathgrip still is). On the other hand, I cannot give it the slight upgrade Deathgrip got because that card might at least be useful in an out-of-control metagame to keep an otherwise overpowered strategy in check, and this CoP fails here – it is just annoying, but neither powerful nor reliable enough to fulfill that role. Overall, just like Deathgrip, it is a card which should never have existed in the first place and features only the smallest saving grace preventing it from getting the worst grade possible (a fully fledged F). So, this is again an F+.

To the index of all cards reviewed by me so far

Looking at a Random Card: Thelonite Druid

August 8, 2012

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

Thelonite Druid: Time to revive this feature, and of course with a creature – well, before this becomes a beat poem, let’s just get to it:

Fallen Empires really was a terribly designed set, lacking lots of stuff you should be able to expect from a Magic expansion: Big creatures without disadvantages; burn (which doesn’t require you to sacrifice something), counterspells, artifact creatures… There were several powerful cards hidden in it which players didn’t appreciate at first, so in retrospective Fallen Empires has gotten a much better rep than Homelands, but actually FE was worse designed – just try to play it in a limited environment and you will realize that. It was all about small creatures, counters and tokens of all kinds, unnecessarily complicated mechanics in general and cards with disadvantages which could be overcome or ignored in a constructed setting, but didn’t work too well in limited – oh, and most of the cards, especially at common level, were simply really weak, and many of the mediocre ones were incredibly annoying (just imagine a couple of Homarids in play).

In this set, Thelonite Druid was almost straightforward with sacrificing being a strong theme in this set. I am ashamed to say that, at that time, with me just having begun my Magic career, I thought it was a powerful card: All my forests could attack! I somehow overlooked the fact that I had to invest 3 mana in a 1/1 creature (instead of one which could have attacked by itself), had to sacrifice it or another creature, had to spend two mana on top of everything (effectively reducing the number of attacking lands), had to have a lot of forests in play (effectively forcing me to play mono-Green, unless I got my hands on really many dual lands)… oh, and had to spend all of my turn for this, because I would tap my lands to attack. In other words, this would never work, wasn’t even impressive if it worked, and was anyway a horrible waste of resources which I could have put to much better use in a number of ways. I even might have noticed that once I got to play with that card, but somehow, although I traded for four of them (you obviously need four of them, right?), I never got around to use it. That was because I had lots of other ideas for decks which seemed more interesting: Actually an indication that the Druid wasn’t that interesting after all…

If you put it in your limited deck, you will find that its main function (providing that it makes sense at all, requiring a rather slow and low-powered environment) will be to discourage potential attacks during the midgame via the threat of exchanging your worst creature for a number of 2/3 blockers. So, even in the unlikely enough case that the Druid has a place in a limited environment, all it does ist facilitating stalls…

I also cannot envision building a cube where the Druid would serve a purpose (I certainly would never WANT it) – it would have to be very slow, would require synergies with the sacrificing of creatures and encourage largely mono-colored decks.

I’m not sure how much I’d like this card even if its stats were adjusted so that it became playable in a reasonable environment. Mass animation of lands is essentially, depending on how aggressively it’s costed, one of two things: Either a somehow complicated game-ending effect like Overrun, or a way to put excess mana in the lategame to use. I do not think it is the best execution for either. As the card stands, it is too weak and unnecessarily restrictive, while being moderately complex.

Since it does nothing to actually damage gameplay other than being a disappointment for players trying it out, there is no reason to hand out a grade worse than E, but there is also no reason to give it anything better: This is a flat-out E, like so many early creature designs.

To the index of all cards reviewed by me so far

Looking at a Random Card: AEthersnipe

April 12, 2012

(What am I doing here? Read here!)

AEthersnipe: Okay, I didn’t really get the impression that this feature was missed by you when I put it on hold (mainly for RL reasons), but I’ll still continue it. With yet another creature, of course. Well, I guess randomness is truly random…

I really like the evoke mechanic. In its basic implementation, it essentially gives you the choice of a spell-like effect for a little mana or a creature in addition to that effect for more mana. Usually, when you pay the higher cost, you get a pretty good deal, while the evoke effect alone tends to be less exciting (Shriekmaw, which I consider too powerful, is an exception here). Still, if you always hold the card back until you can pay for the creature, your greed will end up costing you games. That is exactly the kind of skill-rewarding card I appreciate!

From a next level cube designer’s point of view, creatures with evoke are extra useful for a number of reasons: They present you with variations of basic effects which feel and play noticeably different from the standard cards. They allow you to get extra spell-like effects into a very creature-heavy environment. They offer a large number of possible interactions with certain mechanical themes involving dying creatures and cards in the graveyard, but also high-costed cards or creatures.

AEthersnipe is an excellent representative for this mechanic. It is simple and elegant, providing a basic and useful effect, and it is satisfying without being overpowered when paid for fully. Like all evoke creatures, it has the creature type elemental, which sadly doesn’t get tribal support in its color (that is all in Red), but since Blue and Red are the colors of the elements, it makes sense to expand that tribe into Blue in a cube, so I’ll count its creature type as useful. It isn’t strong enough for constructed, but that’s fine with me, since it is hard to balance out being useful in constructed and not being overpowered in limited (Briarhorn was just barely good enough as a fringe card for constructed, and Mulldrifter is really pushing it in limited). Also, AEthersnipe is not THAT far away from constructed viability – a real good blue elemental tribal card, or maybe a blue deck based on an effect unearthing creatures from its graveyard for a turn, may be all it takes that it finds its way even into competitive standard decks (well, obviously it also must be reprinted to be legal). There’s just one little thing I don’t like about this card, and it’s mostly aesthetical: I don’t understand why its mana cost only includes one blue mana, while its evoke cost includes two (probably the right call here). Then again, the card has really cool, beautiful artwork!

Just falling short of being a constructed-level card prevents it from getting an A, but I gladly hand out a B+ here!

To the index of all cards reviewed by me so far