Thursday, July 23, 2015

Merger With Commander Cast

Zoners, we are very excited to announce that we will joining forces with the team at Commandercast.com

After three years of operating The General Zone we have watched the audience grow immensely and we are so thankful to you for supporting us, especially our regular readers and commenters, without whom we would never have been given this opportunity.

We have been in communication with the CommanderCast team for some time now and Uncle Landdrops has appeared several times as a guest columnist and contributor to the flagship podcast. It is our shared belief that we can best accomplish our goals for growth and expansion by working together on one platform. All content will be hosted and published at www.commandercast.com and at this time we will be discontinuing The General Zone blog. No further posting or updates will take place here and we will no longer be monitoring the comments on previously posted articles. Please join us over on the new site.

By combining our strengths we will be better able to serve the loyal following that has grown up around us. You can expect to see an expanded publishing schedule with a larger variety of content including podcasts, articles, interviews, news, discussions, and game play commentary.

You can continue to reach us at the same contact points as before:
Unclelanddrops@gmail.com
GrandpaGrowth@gmail.com

Again, thank you so much for your support and we look forward to seeing you in the comments over at Commandercast.com

Saturday, March 28, 2015

In General: Commander Rules Update

Hello Zoners! Welcome to what will probably be the last In General segment here on The General Zone. In case you missed it: we announced last week that we will be merging with Commandercast.com.

This is big news and an exciting time for us here on the blog. However, in the midst of this transition period, the Commander world was rocked by an even bigger announcement. The March 2015 B&R List Update. You can view it here if you have not already: Link. I am going to assume that you have read it, but I will include direct quotations when I reference particular parts.

I am going to comb through the post line by line, spewing vitriol and contempt for the EDH Rules Committee every step of the way. If that doesn't sound like something that you are into, get out of the way. If you are still reading...hold onto your butts.



The Article is titled Banned List Announcement. Not unexpected. This is an understated, but nevertheless exciting tag line. There is no Buzzfeed click bait here.

The First section addresses changes to the Banned and Restricted List...there are no changes. Oh boy. You can tell something bad is about to happen. It is like when your significant other says that we need to talk, so you ask: 'Okay, about what?', and then they are like: 'No. We need to TALK.'

In the next paragraph they explain that they are changing how the command zone replacement effect works. Applying this new change, anything that could send your commander into your library or back to your hand can instead send it to the command zone, at your discretion. They take care to point out that this is a replacement effect, but that it can apply multiple times to the same event. In layman's terms: If someone wants to put their commander back in the command zone, there is no way that you can stop them from doing so.

Now, if you have followed In General for any length of time you will know that I am not a supporter of the Rules Committee, their implied authority, or really anything that they do. They are an exclusive group with subjective opinions asserting control over something that they have no legitimate claim to regulate. They are essentially playground dictators and they have no place in my Commander experience.

Before we delve into their justification for this rules changes I want to discuss a primary concern I have about governance: If you want to institute a policy, you should have demonstrable evidence that this policy will affect the change that you desire it to. The reasons should be logical and provable qualitatively. The results should be measurable and documented quantitatively.

If you change a policy, it should be because something has changed in the environment that you are trying to regulate. If you are simply waffling back and forth about an idea, but nothing has prompted this change, that signals to me that you should never have instituted a blanket rule in the first place. You couldn't prove it was smart and you still aren't sure. Subjective leadership is inherently ineffective for groups of a certain size.

Let's digest their justifications line by line:

"We want to engender as positive an experience as we can for players. Nothing runs the feel-bads worse than having your commander unavailable to you for the whole game. "

This is generic boilerplate nonsense. This is exactly the kind of answer you would expect from a politician or CEO: pure rhetoric. Everyone has goals to increase satisfaction, but merely dreaming of improvement will not create it. Secondly, there are EXACTLY equal 'feel-bads' created by NOT being able to deal with particular commanders. If you can't tuck a Zur or Rafiq early, you are going to have trouble fighting through opposing counterspells and protection later on. Unchecked, certain cards will just take away a game. Eventually, they will have more lands than you have removal spells and just recast their commander.

The presence of tuck encourages players to play more tutors so that in case their commander gets sent to the library, they can get it back—exactly the opposite of what we want (namely, discouraging the over-representation of tutors).

This is the perfect example of a solution that is supported neither by logic or data. I won't stop playing tutors because you have taken away one POTENTIAL tutor target. There is no reason to believe that people will use less tutors. Mathematically, tutors still increase your win percentage by improving the quality of your average draw and adding consistency to situational cards. People play them because they are strong Magic cards and they have a place in strong decks.

Secondly, I don't believe that it is appropriate for the rules committee to have an official opinion about whether or not people should include certain types of cards in their decks. Discouraging tutors, counters, land destruction, removal, combos, etc. this is highly subjective and the 'logic' of one person's subjective experience does not translate well to other people. This is, simply put, not a strong position to build your governance on.

"While we are keenly aware that tuck is a great weapon against problematic commanders, the tools to do so are available only in blue and white, potentially forcing players into feeling like they need to play those colors in order to survive. We prefer as diverse a field as possible." 

The first statement is patently false. Red also has access to this type of effect and it is the strongest form of removal available to Red in the format. See Warp World or Chaos Warp. The former doesn't see much play, but the latter was specifically designed for the original Commander product releases, so I would think that Sheldon Menery should be familiar with it. He was on the design team of that product.

I can respect the idea that the format should rich and open. You should be able to play whatever strategy or colors you like at a high level of competition. There is no way any format can be perfectly balanced. Some thing will always be better than another thing. 

In reality, Blue has a tradition of being the strongest color in Magic. The game's design team has chosen to distribute certain effects across the color pie in a particular way. This shapes the way colors and cards interact. The power and responsibility to control this is outside the scope of the rules committee's authority and, quite frankly, their ability.

"It clears up some corner case rules awkwardness, mostly dealing with knowing the commander’s location in the library (since highly unlikely to actually end up there)."

There is absolutely no ambiguity in the rules about this. If a card in your library, or any face down card for that matter, is DISTINGUISHABLE such that you know the identity or physical location of that card in a pile of other face down cards, IT IS MARKED. Playing with marked cards is and ALWAYS has been against the rules of Magic. Also, when a library is shuffled it must be sufficiently randomized to the point where there is no reliable way to predict the position of any card(s). There is absolutely no need to create an ancillary rule just to enforce a rule that is already in force. 

Speaking of awkwardness. I always thought it was strange that they decided to include over-sized commander cards in the Commander decks. How is anyone supposed to shuffle that anywhere? What is even the point of using it in a game? They are novelty items meant for decoration and collection. They are not actual cards that can be used in the game. 

After a long discussion, we decided the best course regarding commander-ness was no change. Your commander is always your commander regardless of where it is or its status. That means enough hits from a face-down commander can kill you. 

The final rules change affects how commander damage is dealt, clarifying that damage dealt by a face-down commander is still counted as commander damage for the purpose of winning the game. I do want to point out that I have mixed feelings about this. There is no simple solution; any decision will be arbitrary. In situations like this I am in favor of having no position instead of taking an arbitrary one, but I understand the rules committee's desire to address the issue. My thoughts on this topic could fill an entirely separate article, but I will try to summarize.

A commander's commander-ness, in my mind, springs from its identity. It is embodying the leader of an army. The personality of that card is what unifies your other cards. I have a hard time believing that an army would follow a formless ball of energy unless THEY knew who it was. From a gameplay perspective, I don't like the idea of having to keep track of damage dealt by multiple separate Morph bugs. Am I going to constantly tabulate damage dealt just on the off chance that one is a Commander and could flip up at any moment revealing that I lost the game because it had done 21 damage to me? This situation seems tremendously awkward.

Personally, I think the simplest and most elegant solution is to say that only face up Creatures can deal commander damage. That makes it easier to track and everyone knows where they stand. Morphs are intended to be indistinguishable. Making one more important than any other is problematic for many reasons. Again though, this is just my opinion.

I expect there to be tremendous backlash from the community about these rules changes. Don't let me down. Grab your pitchforks and let's go storm the MTGCommander.net forums demanding the blood/resignation/both of the entire rules committee. Or, you know, we can just go back to our game of Magic and continue ignoring them.

-GG

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dragons of Tarkir Set Review: Mana and Utility

Hello and welcome back to The General Zone's Review of Dragons of Tarkir! If you missed any of the previous parts check out the links below.

Part 1: Legends
Part 2: Threats
Part 3: Answers

This is the final segment of the review and it will cover everything we haven't discussed yet, namely: mana producers and utility cards.

Mana is easy to define. If it produces mana, filters colors, or puts lands into play it is a mana card. Utility is harder to define. Utility cards expand the options for your deck, enhance synergy, or simply allow you draw or tutor through your deck. There are many different kinds of cards that fit into this category, so it is kind of a catch-all.


Great Teacher’s DecreeI was having a conversation recently where I completely panned this card, saying something like: "Why would you play an Overrun effect that doesn't win you the game?" The answer to that question is: if you weren't far enough ahead on board you just Overrun again next turn. It feels weird for me to endorse this card, but it gives you potential to win games that you have absolutely no business winning, especially in multiplayer.










AnticipateFor those of us who have been around for a while, or who play Cube regularly, this is a disappointment. You see, I remember the days when Impulse was considered to be the best (still legal) card in competitive Magic.

This does less for the same price, and the way the game has changed in recent years, that just isn't going to cut it. Impulse wasn't worth playing in Commander except in the most niche decks. Sadly, this more modern update has no reason to show up in any constructed format.









Dragonlord’s PrerogativeWhen I assemble a new Blue deck, I usually include Opportunity in the first draft. I WANT to play with this card. I just don't think that it is quite good enough to play with. The first part of my deck building process is to examine all options and give cards a chance that don't necessarily look good on paper.

This is an upgrade to Opportunity, however it is only a very small upgrade. Making it uncounterable is an upside because the card is very expensive; it can be tough to leave up protection for this card and cast it at the same time. Now the question is: how do we get a Dragon to go along with this?

There really aren't any Blue dragons that I am super-psyched about playing in competitive decks. There are of course the various Elder Dragon Legends that are perennial mainstays of the format, but I don't tend to think of those cards as standout hits. They are usually the sub-optimal Commander of a 'good stuff' deck.



CorpseweftNight Soil. Don't laugh, it works. It consistently makes a ton of tokens and it provides excellent crossover hate against Reanimate effects. Corpseweft provides much better value on the tokens: Removing two Creatures makes a 4/4 instead of a 1/1. That is a huge difference and something worth considering.

However, the main reason I would include Night Soil in a deck, and mind you that it would only actually happen in Pauper Commander, is that you can exile cards from the OPPONENT'S graveyard. If you are playing Black and you have a full yard, don't use this! Reuse, Recycle. Chances are that the actual Creature is better than a token.





Damnable PactOne of my favorite Magic authors, Matt Sperling, described this as a modal spell, and I agree with his assessment.

Your options are: max this out and point it at someone's face to kill them.
Or: draw cards until you have eight in hand.

I have a lot to say about this card, but I am going to try and keep it short here. Drawing cards is good. Doing it more is the flat out best indicator of who is going to win a game of Magic.

Is this the best way to draw cards? Heck no! But that doesn't always matter. If you need a way to restock in the late game, this will do just as well as the next thing. If you run into this problem a lot, see also: Skeletal Scrying, Promise of Power, Necrologia, Necropotence, Ad Nauseum, Yawgmoth's Bargain, et al.




Hedonist’s TroveWhile you are on Gatherer looking up all those other cards I just talked about, make sure you stop by and say hello to Yawgmoth's Will. Still one of the best cards in Magic over a decade later. If you have never cast this it, shame on you. If you have never had it cast against you: it kind of feels like drinking ipecac syrup.

Let's discuss Trove: It is a seven mana card, so it had better come pretty close to winning the game on the spot and, quite frankly, this doesn't. You will almost certainly win the game, but it might take a bit. I am very excited to play with this card though, because it is just extremely powerful. It is going to be a staple of the format for years to come.






Berserkers’ OnslaughtThis will get played, but there are already half a dozen cards that do this exact same thing. They are all just about equally good/bad depending on how you look at them. I don't want to be the guy casting too many Creatures or the guy casting do-nothing invest-enchantments, much less the guy doing both.













Commune with LavaThis is probably the best Red card advantage spell since Past in Flames, but that doesn't mean it is good. Remember when I was saying just a moment ago that Damnable Pact was worse than a whole list of other cards that do the same thing? This card is worse than Pact. So what does that tell you?

If you are playing mono Red, you really don't have many options. The best card drawer in mono Red is Library. Red mages just have it tough. My advice: play Blue.







Dragon TempestThis is a worse version of Fervor and Pandemonium stapled together, but they had the decency to give us a deep discount on the cost in exchange for the restriction that it really only works with Dragons.

Is this good? Probably...? I have never seen a dedicated dragon deck that was what I would call 'good', however they certainly do exist so I expect this card to see some amount of play.










Sarkhan’s TriumphRed cards really are terrible. If this were Green, you could get any Creature. If it were Black it would have a lot more text that would end up telling you that you could get any card you want. Why can't Red have an unrestricted tutor? Give me one good reason.
















Assault FormationThis card was named Battle Formation. They made a flavor-inappropriate change to the card just so that they could work ass into the title. Look at the card itself, not the name.

The art depicts a Dromokan army in front of one of THEIR cities. You don't assault your cities. You defend them. You assault someone else's city. Secondly, look at the soldiers. They are in a phalanx, a defensive formation. The whole Abzan/Dromokan philosophy is one of stout defense. The Mardu/Kolaghan assault. This card is just one big ass flavor fail.

I don't even know why someone would play this. Do you have a Doran deck, but don't actually have Doran in it? WELL, then do I have just the card for you...





Shaman of Forgotten WaysThis is not what I would call 'mythic'. The ability to Biorhythm people out will win games, but those are games you were probably going to win anyway. Recall that you already have a huge board when you activate the ability AND it takes a whopping 11 mana.

My main problem with Creatures that produce mana is that they will get killed incidentally. People cast Wrath effects. It just happens. It is going to happen about 10 times in a normal multiplayer game. You are so much better off casting Rampant Growth or Cultivate because the mana advantage will endure through a sweeper. Having your mana dorks killed is the worst because you fall behind on mana, on board, and in the card advantage race.




Atarka’s CommandI am a long time listener of the Limited Resource podcast. Marshal Sutcliffe has quickly become one of the best EDUCATORS in the history of the game. His contribution to the community by developing strategy content rivals that of greats like Luis Scott Vargas or Mike Flores.

Marshal uses a system called "Four Quadrants" to evaluate cards. We determine how useful the card is in four different typical game situations, to help us decide how good the card is overall. The quadrants are: early game, parity, winning, and losing. I am going to apply quadrant theory to evaluate the next few cards, starting with Atarka's Command.

Early game: In the early game, your opponent probably isn't gaining a ton of life, attacking with multiple Fliers, or at 3 life. Putting a land in play is cool, but this is a more color intensive and demonstrably worse version of Explore in this scenario. So basically, it is horrible early on.

Parity: Again, the first two modes are pretty useless. They third mode is now also pretty useless because you likely have many lands in play and aren't constrained on mana. The fourth mode is better in this spot, but if you have a bunch of Creatures and your going to attack into the other guy who also has a bunch of Creatures just to use this combat trick...well you are probably not a very experienced player. There are so many ways that can go wrong. Also, this situation just doesn't come up very often because the best way to break a board stall is a sweeper, and chances are someone has cast one or will cast one within two turns. So, bad at parity.

Ahead: Pretty good when you are ahead on board actually. You can deal three to the face and likely get in 8+ damage by pumping your Creatures. An 11 damage burn spell is definitely worth two mana.

Behind: If you are behind late in the game this card does stone nothing. Not even one mode is going to help you stabilize the board, get ahead on cards, or regain the lead in a race.

So since this card is generally bad in three stages of the game and good in another, I would classify it has highly situational. I.e. bad most of the time. That is not a good result.

Now that we have the hang of it, let's power through the rest of the Commands!



Dromoka’s CommandEarly: Poor. Early on, you are most likely using this to pump your guy and kill a Creature, which is fine, but not much better than any other removal spell.

Parity: This is excellent at parity. If they have a key permanent like an Anthem or God card, you can really get them. Killing a Creature and dealing with an Enchantment simultaneously is my kind of value.

Ahead: If you are ahead on board you are probably only going to get  value out of fighting, but not much else. Still, if your lead is big enough, you won't need much value to just win the game.

Behind: If you are behind, this really ins't great either. This is the most volatile situation, depending on the exact resources that you are behind on and the exact permanents that are in play, this could be good or bad. It is tough to tell.


The Fight mode goes a long way towards making this universally good. Removal is useful at just about every point in the game.



Kolaghan’s CommandEarly game: You might be surprised to hear me say this, but I like it quite a bit here. Destroying a mana Artifact and forcing them to discard an excess land is a great way to get ahead on mana. This card attacks multiple resources, which is a primary characteristic of quality disruption. It could also be the situation that you are killing a mana dork, which is also useful here.

Parity: This isn't going to bust your board stall wide open, but small incremental advantages are a good way to take over the game and prevent parity from ever occurring. If you get five or six 2-for-1's throughout the game, you are well on your way to winning. Also, the option to rebuy your best threat could easily give you control of the board.

Ahead: If you are ahead, this is probably at its worst, but it is still good. You get to dig up a Creature to help seal the game. Also, killing chump blockers or pesky Artifacts like Ensnaring Bridge will lead to quick victories.

Behind: For Kolaghan's Command, ahead and behind look very similar. Get back your best threat and hope that you can win with it. Whichever of the three other modes actually does something in the current game state, use it. That is the best value you can expect when behind.

So we have determined that you can use this to generate card advantage during all four quadrants. You can use it as removal in most of the quadrants. I would call this a standing ovation for a Black/Red card. Usually these kinds of cards suck pretty badly.




Ojutai’s CommandEarly: This card is a little expensive for early game applications. However, counter a Creature and draw a card is very good as you move into the mid and late game, so I would say that this is good 'in transition'.

Parity: Oh yeah. Regardless of whether the board is empty or full, this card is FANTASTIC at parity. Card advantage is key here. Counter a threat, get a threat back from the bin is one of the absolute best plays in Magic.

Ahead: Again: counter + draw is excellent here. It is like to just win the game if you are significantly ahead. Aggro-control decks are founded on the principle that you can get ahead and stay ahead using cards like this.

Behind: Unfortunately, this doesn't max out all four quadrants. If you are behind, drawing and reanimating is probably your best bet, but I am not sure that will be enough to create parity. Certainly not enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

If 3 out of 4 is good enough to amend the constitution, it is good enough for you. Play it, like it.



Silumgar’s CommandEarly: This card is too expensive to be a factor in the early game. Complete fail.

Parity: Killing a Creature and bouncing a permanent will unravel a knotted board. Bonus points for being able to answer a Planeswalker.

Ahead: Also good here. The Negate effect will prevent your opponent from doing all manner of scary things like sweeping the board, drawing a bunch of cards, or casting Bribery, et cetera.

Behind: The kung fu combination of killing a Creature and a Planeswalker is sure to make a dent in anyone's board. Will that be enough to dig you out of a hole? Probably not. The particulars of this card are just too conditional. The Creature must be small. Pdubs are common, but not AS COMMON as Creatures. Bounce spells are bad when you are behind and so are counterspells. Tough to call, but I would say that this is situational at best...in this situation.

This card scores pretty well on quadrant theory, the main problem though is the high cost. Each mode on this card costs two mana at most. Why does the resulting combination cost MORE THAN double? That is not a good cost/effect ratio. Honestly, I could see this card costing just UB. Is that really so broken?




Haven of the Spirit Dragon
In Scion decks, this is just another five color land. The ability to rebuy a card from your graveyard is balanced with the cost of not being able to cast non-dragon spells with colored mana. Is it great? No. Is it going to see play in a couple fringe decks? Yes.

Well, we finally made it to the end. In more ways than one. In case you missed the announcement last week, The General Zone will be merging with Commander Cast. This is our final set review friends. We have had a great run and are very excited to move on to this new and exciting frontier.

I have really enjoyed writing here on the blog and interacting with the community. I hope you will all join us as we migrate to our new home on Commander Cast.

That being said, what did you think of the review? How do you like the new cards? Do you have any good stories from the pre release? Leave it all in the comments below.

See you on Commandercast.com!

-GG

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dragons of Tarkir Set Review: Answers

Hello and welcome back to The General Zone's Review of Dragons of Tarkir. If you missed any of the previous segments be sure to check them out in the links below.

Part 1: Legends
Part 2: Threats

In today's segment we will be addressing the answer cards. Answers are what you use to stop your opponents game plan. They answer threats and disrupt development. Removal, counters, discard, sideboard cards, color hosers, and graveyard hate all fall into this category along with many others. Answers are a diverse bunch; the best way to evaluate them is to think in terms of what problem you want this to solve and how well it can perform in that role. Let's find out what the Dragon clans of Tarkir have to offer us:



Hidden DragonslayerThe White entry of this cycle is a pretty spicy one. I am really into Creatures that kill other other Creatures. Reprisal is a decent removal spell, albeit one that doesn't normally see a lot of play in Commander. Stapling this onto a three power Lifelink is a deal that I can see taking, although for six mana I would expect something better most of the time.











Radiant PurgeThere are probably more multicolored permanents in Commander than any other format. That being said, this is a very tight restriction on a removal spell, let alone that it can only hit particular card types.

You see there is a general guideline for playable removal spells.

  • At zero mana you get a drawback AND a targeting restriction. Ex: Snuff Out.
  • At one mana you should get either a tight targeting restriction OR a drawback and NO targeting restriction. Ex: Deathmark, Swords to Plowshares.
  • At two mana you should get a loose targeting restriction or sometimes a tighter restriction that comes with a bonus. Ex: Doom Blade, Combust.
  • At three mana you generally shouldn't have targeting restrictions and sometimes you will get a bonus anyway, or maybe extra flexibility. Ex: Murder, Crackling Doom.
Radiant purge is pretty far behind on this chart and, as a result, isn't very good. There are of course examples of cards that perform better than these standards...those are the cards you should be playing instead.




SilkwrapWhen I first saw this card I got a little weirdy feeling. I thought that they just printed this in Khans. As it turns out Suspension Field has the inverse targeting restriction. For most applications in Commander I would guess that you would want to have Suspension Field. You are generally more worried about dying to a large Creature rather than a small one.

The biggest problem here though is that if you wanted this, you already had Journey to Nowhere, which is a Common and better than both of these. So bascially, you don't need this.







Surge of RighteousnessThis is the first of an enemy color hoser cycle of uncommon removal spells. All of them are very mediocre, but I am going to discuss them all for completeness sake, even though only one or two will ever see play. Spoiler: This isn't on of the good ones.













Blessed ReincarnationI don't know anyone who would use Polymorph as a removal spell in Commander. The risk of something going horribly wrong is just too high in this format. However, I have see people use Proteus Staff in their Blue decks to good success. You can continue activating it until they flip out something that is actually way worse than the original target. This gives you a similar safety valve in case they reveal something that is even scarier than what you targeted the first time.

The thing that sets this apart from Proteus Staff is that the target is exiled instead of being tucked away to the bottom of their library. For many regular threats, read: not someone's commander, you are happier exiling than putting into the graveyard or back into their library. On balance, this is a card that I could imagine seeing some play, but it isn't going to be a runaway hit because you can't use it on your own things.



Encase in IceThe Blue entry in the color hoser cycle is also quite poor. The only saving grace that I could imagine for this card is the relative lack of removal in Blue. However, with an eternal card pool you are sure to find better options than this. I would guess that just about ANY counter spell will serve you better than Encase in Ice.











Illusory GainsIllusory Gains is the most interesting Control Magic effect that I have seen in quite some time. It also just so happens to be quite poor. Why are we going to pay full price for this when we could pay less for a better card? IF you wanted to play actual Mind Control you can. I don't recommend that because there are probably ten better ways to take control of your opponents' stuff than that. This effect is worse than Control Magic so I would expect it to cost less than control Magic, sound fair?









Mirror MockeryThis is some of the greatest and most inspiring flavor text that has ever made it onto a Magic card. It is wasted on a pretty silly card, but hey, what am I complaining about. I will take ANY good flavor text over the constant stream of babble that gets printed nowadays. The quality of literature and humor in Magic's flavor text is more akin to a teenager's Twitter feed than a professional writer's portfolio.

If you have a Creature with ETB triggers, you can put this on your own thing for profit. That is a high risk and I don't really know why you need a second trigger from your Frost Titan. If you use it on other people's Creatures then you can use the token as a blocker to pick off their team or perhaps even trade, although this doesn't seem like a great use of the card. In my opinion, the payoff from this just isn't worth what it takes to set it up.




Profaner of the Dead
This seems pretty sweet. A one way board sweep, even if it only clears things back to the hand is still worth looking at. This takes a little bit more to set up than I would like, but there aren't enough comparables to declare this unplayable. Decks like Animar are going to be very interested in this because they will be able to play it with a heavy discount, they are likely to have a large Creature to feed to it, and they can immediately capitalize on an empty board by attacking for the win. Look for this a finisher in those decks, but I don't foresee it popping up much anywhere else.

It kind of bothers me when the English language has words like profane which are spelled and pronounced the same regardless of whether they are being used as an adjective or verb. Profaner sounds to me like what you would use to mean 'more profane' if you weren't all that familiar with the language.




Reduce in StatureBy now there are more than a dozen versions of this card. Blue, make something small, maybe it becomes a frog or cat or sheep or some such nonsense. This card is still just as good as its predecessors, but it also has all of the same problems. PLUS this isn't an instead and it doesn't remove abilities. I don't see much of a future for this in Commander. Pauper Commander maybe.

Dragons would know humility. Why wouldn't they? I am sure a dragon can kill another dragon, which means that they would still know the fear of death and loss. We clearly see dragons being killed in several pieces of art. Maybe the dragons are having trouble learning Humility because that card turns things into 1/1's and not 0/2's.




Silumgar Sorcerer
Oh my lord reminder text really destroys the templating on cards. This would normally be a very attractive text box, but I am so distracted by the line breaks that must be created because of the god awful parentheticals. If the dev team is concerned about people not properly understanding Flash, then why are they using it as an evergreen mechanic?!


Back in the real world where no one cares about my typesetting pedantics, this is a two-power, three-drop that has three relevant abilities. This card looks like it is small balling a bit for Commander, but you are getting a lot for the cost.





Silumgar’s ScornIn Commander, we aren't hurting for playable counter spells. There are about 15 great options and 50 more that are totally reasonable if you don't want to by Force of Will or Cryptic Command. That being said, in many decks, this will be very close to Counterspell, which is definitely a quality card.












Stratus DancerThis is not may favorite of the cycle, but it is still very solid. It compares very favorably to things like Voidmage Prodigy. If you are able to counter something like a ramp spell en route to getting a 3/2 Flying, you have given yourself a huge boost in tempo and likely gotten in 6-9 damage already. I have a tough time seeing how you could leave this out of Blue Aggro-Control builds.











Foul RenewalFoul indeed. I like my removal to come with a couple things: few targeting restrictions and card advantage. I am sometimes willing to pay large sums of mana to make sure that I get that. You might be slower and require more resources, but if every single card that you cast is a 2-for-1 you are going to be tough to compete with in the late game. I am really digging this digger and I can't wait to put it to use in some of my decks.











Self-Inflicted WoundThe Black entry in the color hosing cycle is easily one of the worst. This should absolutely be an Instant, I am not accepting any excuses for that. Diabolic Edict. It is ten years old and really isn't that good. Why are we regressing?

This is an interesting point about power creep that I want to make. Nowadays, the power is more concentrated around flashy, promote-able rares. If they can't make a poster out of it or put it on the front of a booster pack, no one cares. The overall power level of the game is moving up, but it is also being concentrated on fewer and fewer cards leaving things like this in a very disappointing spot.





Silumgar AssassinI like this card quite a bit and it is just as good as the other members of the cycle. It calls directly back to flavorful cards from Magic's past. While Hidden Dragonslayer gave you a Reprisal effect, this gives you a Smother. Color appropriate, thematic, awesome.

The only problem that I see with this card is that its evasion ability allows it to sort of 'duck under' blockers, but activating the Megamorph ability INCREASES its power and thus increases the chances that your opponent can find a suitable blocker. The difference may not be significant in practice, but there are significantly more Creatures in the subset of [Power > 2] than there are in the set of [Power > 3].





Descent of the DragonsI am never going to play this card. Neither are you. Instead I am going to go on a flavor rant.

What happens with the mechanics of this card is not the same as what is being pictured in the art. This card pictures dragons which are all from the Atarka clan, so they should all be on the same team. It also implies that the dragons are going to EAT the big cow things. So this card should have all of your Creatures fight all of your opponent's Creatures. It should also be Green. The flavor text somewhat matches up with this design.

The text box however, tells a different story. It implies that non-dragon Creatures are exploding and dragons are coming out of their dead bodies. Like alien eggs hatching from the corpse of a dead animal. The flavor text does not line up at all with this design. It would indicate that the dragons emerged AFTER they beasts were eaten...since you know that is what happens on the card, why would they be emerging hungry? They don't even emerge until they eat. This whole card is a steaming pile. I just can't anymore.




VandalizeI love Fissure Vent. I don't get to play it all that often because it is a bit slow for competitive Commander, but it is certainly powerful enough to make it into a nominal deck list. It does a lot of what you would want non-Creature removal to do. For a common it is certainly pulling a lot of weight.

Well imagine my delight when they print an updated version which has:

  • A better name.
  • Better flavor.
  • Better flavor text.
  • An easier mana cost.
  • The ability to hit ANY land.
I think we can place this squarely in the victory column.




Volcanic VisionBoom sucka! What does your whole team think about my Obliterate now? Red mass removal has come a long way in recent years. There is enough of it to make some frighteningly effect control decks. Really all that these decks are missing is a way to guarantee card advantage. With the limitations of Red spot removal and a lack of counterspells, you have to be able to make up for it with brute force...or a steady stream of fresh cards. Having a board sweeper that gets back another board sweeper is going to lead to a lot of card advantage.








Ainok SurvivalistThis card is a little bit strange because it looks so much like it should fit in the Rare Megamorph cycle. In fact if you just made it Rare, no one would be able to tell the difference. But alas, it is an uncommon, so it doesn't get a free keyword/evasion ability at the top of the text box, but the Morph trigger is still very relevant.













Display of DominanceCan anyone explain to me what is happening in the art of this card? Is the Rakshasa killing a Creature, because that doesn't make any flavor sense. The card can't kill Creatures. This is equally problematic if the other Creature is stabbing the Rakshasa. Perhaps the pink nonsense is somehow related to the protection effect of the card's second mode. I really have no idea.

This card does a lot of what you would want in a Green deck. It counters removal spells, remove problem permanents like Grave Pact or Future Sight, and it does so at Instant speed. At this cost, you can't ask for much more than that.






Epic Confrontation
IN THE FACE!!! This is a solid card. It is very likely to hit something relevant and the size boost lets you trade up a significant portion of the time. I think that both Epic Confrontation and its predecessor Bear Punch are both quite playable in certain decks, but they are far from the best thing that you can be doing in Commander.












Inspiring CallI am not going to speculate on the relative likelihood of this saving your whole team, nor am I going to explain the different ways to get +1/+1 counters onto your Creatures. I am simply going to say that, if you dodge or at least partially dodge a Wrath effect while drawing multiple cards, that is a big game. However you can make this work, you should go ahead and do that.

That is all for today ladies and gents. Remember to leave your comments below. I will see you next time for the epic finale of our Dragons of Tarkir set review where we will take a look at all of the things we haven't talked about so far.

-GG

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dragon's of Tarkir Review: Threats

Welcome to The General Zone's Review of Dragons of Tarkir! My name is Grandpa Growth and it is my pleasure to comb over all of the new cards with you and share my thoughts.

As always, the review will be broken down into four different installments.  Legendary Creature cards, threats, the answers, and everything else.

Uncle Landdrops has already posted his review of the new Legends. Check it out here: Legends

Let's go over the ground rules for the review articles:
  • This is a blog about Commander, so my comments on cards should be viewed in that context unless otherwise stated.
  • I will not discuss every card. If it isn't relevant to Commander I may leave it out of the review. Also, I will not discuss any reprints, since we already understand where they fit in the metagame.
In today's article we will be discussing the threat cards. A threat is something that you use to win the game. Mostly Creatures, but planeswalkers, and spells that make Creatures or add to the board are all threats. Pretty simple. Let's jump right in!


Arashin ForemostWe begin with one of the warrior themed support cards. A Double-Striking 2/2 for three is a pretty standard offering in Magic these days. This gives you the ability to have other warriors get Double Strike as well though. I have seen a lot of people try out the full variety of these cards, but I am not sure it is ever going to work. Mirran Crusader and Silverblade Paladin are the accepted staples in this category and I don't see why you would play Arashin Foremost over either.









Ojutai ExemplarsI love modal spells. Flexibility is power in this game, and these monks are pretty flexible. Khans block has brought us a number of cool Creatures with modal triggered abilities and this is the most exemplary of the bunch. I like all the abilities on this one and the stats are great for its cost. This is a great midrange beater that keeps you way head in the damage race and is tough to block.










Profound JourneyThis just might be the most expensive reanimation effect that I am willing to consistently play. I am not sure that this is actually going to make it into any of my decks because the ends don't justify the means, but the effect itself is intrinsically powerful. Getting back some major threats or planeswalkers is a good way to take the lead in a game. Having a second shot at key permanents like Mindslaver or Doubling Season will help add redundancy to engine/combo strategies that play mainly on the battlefield.

When I saw this card I just assumed that it was picturing Narset. The flavor of the card evokes her story in a very visceral way. In the plot of the set, she travels to the various Ojutai strongholds to uncover the secret past that is hidden deep within ancient scrolls. However, that doesn't seem to be the case here...the character doesn't actually LOOK like Narset, which feels like a missed opportunity to me. The art is a huge part of selling the flavor of a card, and it just doesn't transfer well for me.



Secure the Wastes
This card seems amazing to me and, in my opinion, should be the gold standard of token generation. It scales perfectly, it is an Instant, and it makes tokens that are a relevant color and type. There are decks that can absolutely use this card. Some of them are even staples of the format.

HOWEVER, My problem with this is that so many premium token generators have been printed in the last few sets that we have become supersaturated. Many of those token generators are just straight up superior to this.

I question the design teams lack of ingenuity and reliance on 'the usual suspects' of card design. Not every block needs a card like this. Maybe we don't even need this card more than once every five years. At this point in time, this design space has been fully explored and there are better versions available if you wanted to play with them.




Sunscorch RegentThis is a sleek mid-market threat that plays very well in both single and multiplayer. I can't see this cracking into the top decklists, but there are certain scenarios that will make this card very threatening. I am particularly interested to combine this with Extort effects, life payments, and other such nonsense that will allow you to leverage the bonus of extra life, turning it into a game-breaking resource advantage.










Clone LegionHoly McWow! This is the grand-daddy of them all right here. This is basically an excuse for me to never include any Creatures in my decks ever again. Why do you need to play anything? There are enough Clone effects and Mind Controls to steal games consistently.

This is certainly the best card in the set in my opinion and one of the splashiest cards that we have seen in a while. If you are hunting for big games like my pal Uncle Landdrops, this is definitely going to make your hit list.








Icefall RegentI don't know too many people who play Dungeon Geists, but this is supposed to be a bigger, better version of Dungeon Geists. It costs one extra colorless mana, which I am usually not into, but let's take a look at what we get for it:

First, we have an extra point of power. A four power Flier is definitely better, but not having an extra point of toughness is pretty distracting. Leaving alone the lack of cubic design symmetry (a card having the same p/t as its converted mana cost) a 4/3 isn't ideal. We are talking about a five drop that will still die to Lightning Bolt.

We also get the Frost Titan, 'Shroud Tax' ability. This was constantly underrated when it first debuted, but as time went on people began to realize that it is as good as Shroud in many situations, sometimes even better. With Icefall Regent, being that it functions as an ETB removal spell, actually giving it Shroud or Hexproof would be impossible given the current mindset of R&D. I personally think that this is a great choice of a protection ability for this type of Creature and can't wait to test it out, however I am skeptical whether it can actually make it into any of my Blue decks.




Living LoreThere are a ton of interesting things going on with this card. I love the idea of getting to exile a Cruel Ultimatum and smash for a while before eventually recasting the card and laughing maniacally as I revel in my ultimate victory.

Unfortunately, there are a laundry list of problems with this as well. First of all, it is a fragile Creature. Moreover, it is a Creature that requires some legwork to set up. It doesn't give you much more than a body either, and you won't have great control over the size of that body despite the fact that you always have to pay the same price for it. The ability to outmaneuver this card with graveyard hate, Creature removal, or counters just makes this too unreliable to really be a win condition in this format.





Blood-Chin FanaticI am not sure what deck you are going to put this in, but profitable sacrifice outlets are always great, especially when they can attack. This provides both early damage and a way to reach across the table in a board stall and continue to attack your opponent's life total. Sadly, Warrior tokens aren't super easy to come up with and feeding this real cards doesn't seem like a great way to get things done. The same cast of characters are going to show up along with this: Skullclamp, etc. It is all very exciting to people who care about this type of thing, but I am not one of them.







Deathbringer RegentThere is a huge potential for card advantage with this. It hearkens back to many great cards from sets past like Reaver Demon and Sunblast Angel, but Deathbringer is tougher to trigger and this is problematic. You MUST cast it from your hand AND there MUST be a particular number of Creatures. It isn't enough to be behind, you must be ridiculously behind before you can bring yourself back from the edge of death.









Risen Executioner
Remember when Black removal spells couldn't kill Black Creatures? It took over a decade for us to figure out that there was no reason that needed to be true. Sadly, something else is starting to happen because of a similarly arbitrary mechanical theme. To an outside observer, it is starting to look like Zombies just can't block. That is sad.

Design overuses the same tropes and the same mechanics; re-packaging them under new names and circling back over the same territory. It is all very sad and boring and I am wholly uninterested. There are new cards that actually include new ideas that I would rather get to instead.






Dragon WhispererI like my Creatures to be multi-functional. A two-drop is going to be good for a few points of damage in the early game, particularly when they have evasion. Later in the game when your 2/2 is no longer dominating the board, you can then switch into token-production mode and threaten to defeat your opponent with a steady stream of large Fliers.

I often write about how excellent Wrath of God is in Commander. Formidable exposes you to being beaten by Wrath of God by forcing you to commit multiple Creatures to the board even to just 'become Formidable'. However, Dragon Whisperer does let you mitigate this a bit by allowing you to add to your board presence significantly without exposing additional cards to a board sweeper once you have met the conditions.




Ire Shaman
Here we get our first look at the 'new' Morph mechanic: Megamorph. The morph cost on many of the rare cards is very competitive. In fact, there is a cycle of rare Megamorphs, of which this card is a part, that are all very aggressively costed and provide the opportunity for card advantage.

I like Ire Shaman quite a bit. I just talked about how two-drops are often good for quite a bit of damage. You can get in meaningful attacks at a point in the game where most people are durdling about and increasing their mana supply. If you get to the point where they are able to put out a blocker, you are now flipping up Ire Shaman, dealing an extra point every turn and you get a free card. Nice.




Thunderbreak RegentI don't see this as much of a Commander card, but there are many cards in this set that I feel fall into that category and I have priced myself into talking about all of them because they are mostly Dragons. Dragons are inherently important to Commander because people like them so much. Why? I have no idea.

A Flying midrange threat that doesn't do much besides damage is not a good card. There are some decks that care about dealing damage quickly, but they aren't very good. Dealing damage in a card-advantageous way, or at least a card-efficient way, is vastly more important than dealing damage quickly in Commander.





Avatar of the ResoluteHardened Scales, Ghave, Doubling Season. If these cards are familiar to you, then you probably have a deck that this card is going into. Let me know how it works out, because you guys all know by now that this just isn't my bag.
















Collected CompanyThis card looks sweet on the surface, but it has some very significant problems. In order to guarantee that you hit two Creatures when you cast this, a very large portion of your deck would need to be dedicated to eligible threats. If 20-30 of your cards are Creatures that cost three or less, you are probably not set up very well to win in the late game.

Being an Instant is great and potentially generating card advantage is even better, but who cares about flashing in a mana dork and a small threat? This is the end of turn four we are talking about. Someone at the table is getting ready to cast a Titan and there is another guy holding multiple board sweepers. This card is sweet, but it just isn't where you want to be in this format.





Deathmist Raptor
Again, this card is geared much more heavily towards Standard. There are not enough high-quality Morph cards to reliably trigger this. Even then, you get back a small-ish Creature that isn't likely to win you the game. Deathtouch makes a huge difference because it is hard to block profitably and it can help you defend yourself against more expensive threats, but these benefits are exaggerated.

There are many popular removal spells that exile their targets, rendering the main upside of this card moot. Most proper game-winning threats are either going to Fly right over this or have a built in way to kill it, e.g. Inferno Titan.





Den ProtectorThis is the second in the Rare two-drop Morph cycle, and it is a pretty sweet one.

Comparing it to Eternal Witness, you have to invest a two more mana, but you get a 3/2 that is tougher to block. I see these cards playing great alongside one another.













Foe-Razer RegentThis dragon is undersized for what you have to pay to get it, but the idea is to play it, fight a dork, and make it bigger. That all sounds well and good, but if you are paying this much mana you can do better.

The value of adding counters to Creatures through additional fight effects is pretty marginal because there are relatively few quality fight cards. Additionally, you don't want to commit a large percentage of your removal portfolio to situational cards. That is a recipe for disaster.







Arashin SovereignThis is a trap. Let's examine that ability:

Why would you want to tuck the Creature away on the bottom of your library? This is really only inhibiting you from using some recursion effect to eventually get it back. So you almost certainly won't do that.

You probably don't want to put it on top of your library in most situations either. In most games, you are going to lose pretty handily if your opponent has multiple removal spells. You put it on top, they kill it and attack you, repeat. How many turns can you survive taking damage before you just lose?

The only situation that this ability is actually useful in is a late game topdeck war. If they have nothing and you have nothing, you can draw a 6/6 Flier instead of a blank. This all assumes though, that your opponent can't exile it, mill it, counter it, steal it, copy it, or Pacify it, which is a bit of a stretch.




Boltwing MarauderThis card is wholly unexciting on its own. It is a mediocre threat with no ability to generate card advantage and no ability to protect itself.

However, it does have one saving grace: This guy can kill in one hit. There are plenty of decks in Commander that can create infinite or at least arbitrarily large numbers of tokens. Mr. Boltwing here is ready to turn that new supply of dorks into a huge amount of damage to the face.










Harbinger of the HuntAgain, this is the type of card that I would normally leave out of the review because it is just so pedestrian, but this is Dragons of Tarkir where everything is a dragon. Xhibit put some dragons in our dragon so that we can dragon-ception while we watch M.C. Escher draw dragons that are drawing dragons.

It is like the marketing team did a focus group and some kid was like, "I like dragons." Then everyone else at the table agreed and R&D decided that maybe they should just make everything a dragon to appease the masses. I shudder to think what will happen when they ask the same question to the kid who said that he "likes turtles."





Necromaster DragonThis card is only slightly less lame. This at least makes tokens and mills, but the packaging is just too expensive in my opinion. I don't think that anyone is really going to play this because quite frankly: there is no reason to.

Instead of justifying that opinion I am going to talk about physics. This dragon is huge. It is so big and so fat that I can't imagine how it would ever fly. There is a hard limit to how big something can be and how much it can weigh while still being able to fly.

In fact, using a little information from your engineer friend's materials science textbook, you will learn that even using the lightest and most efficient THEORETICAL materials, you really couldn't get this mass into the air if it is more than half a ton. A dragon this size would not be able to move, much less fly. Which, I imagine, is why we see so many of the Silumgar brood dragons lazily plopped on the ground.




Pristine Skywise
One of the Skywise on the other hand, may actually be able to fly. Some of the smaller ones pictured in the set's art aren't much bigger than a horse, which is much more realistic. A 40-ish foot wingspan could maybe put a 1000 lbs. dragon in the air for a short time, but you wouldn't really call it 'flying'.

Also, taking off without the help of a high elevation would be a nightmare requiring an expenditure of calories on the order of the millions.

Such an inefficient use of energy would be a severe disadvantage to a Creature living high in the mountains where the air is thin, temperatures are colder, food is scarce, and then they'd have to find a way back to the summit again.



Ruthless DeathfangThe really tricky bit would be landing this bad boy. At best, the wings would barely be generating enough thrust to keep the dragon aloft, but landing would require beating their wings at an incredible rate. Unless these things can flap like a hummingbird (again, necessitating massive energy consumption), they would crash into the ground in a spectacular and lethal 'splat'.

This all assumes that the creature could even beat its wings at all, but in reality the forces acting on their wings would be more than enough to snap bones and tear flesh.

For those of you who are thinking: 'Gosh Grandpa! The dragons fly with magic.' You're a fool. Magic is what fools call science. It is also the name of a card game.

In case you were wondering: No, I am not going to talk about any of these cards that are wrapped into the text.



Savage VentmawThis card is sweet. Six is a lot of mana. There is good chance that you can get this down early with some Cultivating. Once you start the beatdowns you are going to be tossing out Ulamogs and Colossi with RECKLESS ABANDON. I think this card is neat and I might actually just build a big dumb Creature deck so that I can have fun playing/losing with it.











Swift WarkiteThis card is also sweet. It is a reliable source of recursion and card advantage tacked on to a flying body. This I can get behind. Or on top of. Really anything but beneath it seems to be fine.

I love the look of the Kolaghan dragons. That is some terrifying, high fantasy stuff right there. This might be one of my favorite pieces of art in recent sets. I imagine this thing gliding effortlessly like the alien ships from Independence Day; just obliterating anything underneath it while it floats casually along to its next destination.








Narset Transcendent
Finally, we are in the home stretch. The planeswalkers in this set are just awesome. Starting with the newly sparked Narset Transcendent. At a monster 6 loyalty this girl is huge and she actually has a relevant +1 ability. You could be drawing extra removal/counterspells while moving swiftly up to her ultimate which will lock all your opponents out of using their own non-Creature spells. Being able to rebound your removal or card draw is enough to make me want to play this card, but she really does have the total package. If you have a deck with both plains and islands, you are crazy not to play this card.







Sarkhan UnbrokenI don't know why Sarkhan is unbroken, but I am sure glad that he is. Did I miss somewhere that it was implied he was going to break? Is that what happened went he went crazy after his domination by Nicol Bolas?

Regardless, this bad boy is a lot of colors, and that usually isn't a good sign, but these are three colors that have a lot of stature in Commander. There are a few high quality generals that would love to fight along side this planeswalker.

Ticking up while providing card advantage is the best test of whether a pdub is playable in my opinion, so ability one is a check. The second test is whether or not it can protect itself. Well, a 4/4 Dragon means a lot more in Standard than it does in Commander, but this is a still a heck of a token. Check. Finally, does the ultimate ability win the game? I would have to guess that this is pretty close to a game-ender. It doesn't say that you straight up win, but getting 5+ dragons on the board will likely give you enough air power to have lethal if you get to untap. If they do end up sweeping your board, oh well, I guess you will just have to go back to drawing two cards per turn.

Well, that is all of the threats. Let us know how you feel about the changes to the blog, the review, and the new cards in the comment box below. I will be back next time with continuing coverage of Dragons: reviewing the answers cards from the new set. See you then Zoners.

-GG