Thursday, June 5, 2014

Conspiracy

Greetings, Dear Readers. Today we're going to talk about Conspiracy. Or rather, I'm going to talk about it, and you're going to listen. Actually, if you want to get semantic about it, I'm going to type and you're going to read. Then, maybe, you leave a comment and the whole exchange becomes a little less one-sided.

Anyway, let's talk about Conspiracy. As you may well know - being a plugged-in, internet-savvy Magic: the Gathering fan and all - Conspiracy is this summer's multiplayer-focused offering, continuing in the footsteps of Planechase, Archenemy and the original Commander precons. This time, WotC has offered up something a little different from the "Precon decks with a twist" model that all such offerings have followed thus far. This time out, we have a "Multiplayer Draft format with a twist".

The central conceit of Conspiracy is that you draft the set like normal, but included in the set are cards that directly alter the normal drafting process with crazy effects such as adding another booster pack to the draft, or allowing you to just draft AN ENTIRE PACK all at once, then sit out the rest of that draft round. Weird, crazy stuff! Then there are the Conspriacy cards, wich are the sort of fake, not-really-Magic-cards that we always get - rather than Planes, Schemes or the (utterly worthless) oversized Commanders, you get normal-sized cards that can only be used in a Draft format, but have some interesting abilities, like rewarding you with perfect mana if you just play ever single card in your draft pool, or giving all copies of a creature you secretly name Haste.

Conspriacies and the Draft-altering cards are to this set what Command Tower was to Commander 2011 - awesome for their intended format but literally useless outside that format. But since this is The Command Zone, not The First Pick Bomb Zone, we won't be focusing on that useless draft-only garbage.

You see, for us EDH/Commander players, the real selling point of this set is all the cool reprints, some of which are now available in foil for the first time ever, as well as a handful of unique new cards that DO have some use outside of drafts, and a smattering of new and returning Legendary Creatures!

Legendary Creatures

First up, I want to talk about the Legends of the set, of which there are ten: five reprints and five new ones.

Of the reprints, one is absolutely terrific and the others range from "Meh" to downright aggrivatingly terrible. The good one is, obviously, Edric. Edric is a reprint from the 2011 Commander decks, and is simply an EDH all-star. Many EDH fans will be more than thrilled to have access to a foil Edric - yes, I am aware he was in Commander's Arsenal; I'm using the CA version myself, but let me tell you the CA foils like like shit. I am only using the CA Edric because that's the ONLY foil option out there. Until now, that is. Upgrading to a proper "pack foil" Edric will be a priority for myself, and I'm sure I won't be alone in that.

The flip-side to Edric is also a reprint from Commander 2011 - Basandra, Battle Seraph. Basandra is easily the worst and lamest of all the new 2011 Legends, so her inclusion here almost feels like an intentional slight. However, her sexy art means that at least a few people will still want a foil copy of her, just because, sexy foil angel cards are... well, sexy.

The other three, Reya Dawnbring, Heartless Hidetsugu and Phage, the Untouchable are all firmly in the "Meh" camp. Phage being a Mythic while the rest are Rare is also frustrating and she'll make many a player sad when they crack her instead of something actually good. Phage is pretty terrible in EDH anyway, nearly unusable as a General, and not terrific overall in the 99. Reya used to be the shit back in the day, but is just an overcosted removal magnet these days. And Hidetsugu, while somewhat popular in the format, is kind of a dick card to most casual players, so whatever.

Fortunately, on the new side of things, we fare a little better.

Marchesa the Black Rose is sort of the flagship new Legend, being the sole Mythic among them, and the only 3-color Legend as well. Marchesa is pretty cool. While she doesn't open up a ton of new design space for Grixis fans, she does at least push more in the aggro direction, where as most existing Grixis Legends tend to reward more controlling or mid-range strategies. She's open-ended enough you could probably do just about anything with her at the helm.

Slightly more interesting, to me at least, is Grenzo, the new R/B Goblin Rogue. I'm not sure yet if this guy is actually any good, but he's definitely a hell of a lot more interesting and unique that most R/B generals. He seems difficult to utilize, but could potentially reward the more clever, creative deckbuilders with a unique and engaging new deck.

Muzzio, the new mono-blue guy, seems like a watered-down-but-still-probably-broken-as-heck Arcuum Dagsson. The idea of a Muzzio-helmed deck is almost as repellant to me as an Arcuum deck, but I actually like Muzzio quite a bit as a simple value generator in, say, and Esper deck. I can see him simply being terrific but not degenrate in Sharuum or Oloro decks.

Brago, King Eternal is not particularly interesting or exciting to me, but clearly has potential. He may well go on to inspire something in W/U besides the usual Control/Prison/Tax decks.

Finally, we have Selvala, Explorer Returned, a new G/W Elf that has a distinctly group-hug-ish feel to her. Frankly, this one is a complete dud, in my opinion. I'm sure she'll have her fans, but I just don't see any real, practical use for Selvala. At least, not one that Karametra can't do better.

Personally, the only things here that really get me excited are the pack foil Edric and getting a Muzzio for my Oloro deck. I don't have much use for the rest.

Reprints

There are two exciting things about reprints, in this set at least. One is getting more copies of some older, expensive card into circulation to improve accessibility for more budget-minded players. Two is the new availability of foil copies of cards that previously had no foil version (or in a few cases had only promo foil version that were just astronomical in price). In a few cases, both conditions apply to the same card - such as Exploration. More copies of Exploration all around should make them easier and cheaper to acquire, while Conspiracy also marks the first and only printing of Exploration in foil!

So, Exploration is definitely one of the hits. Some other notable reprints include:

Stifle - Not very good in EDH or Draft, was available in foil already, but was absurdly expensive, so at worst this should make for decent trade fodder. New art, too, so foils should still be solid gold.

Alter of Dimentia - Old card, semi-hard to find, not previously available in foil.

Fact or Fiction - Was already available in foil AND had an FNM promo as well, so this would be a dud... except this version has the awesome Jace vs. Chandra Duel Decks art, which was NOT available in foil, and will likely look totally awesome.

Misdirection - One of only a few rares from the mostly terrible Mercadian Masques set, updated with cool new art.

Brainstorm - Not at all hard to find, non-foil at least, but the Mercadian Masques version was astronomically priced, so this is a pretty cool reprint. Brainstorm isn't particularly good in EDH though. Sure some Melek and Intet decks play it, but in general it's much too weak.

Squirrel Nest - This is notable only for one reason: NEW SQUIRREL TOKENS!!!

Rout - Reprint from Invasion. Foil copies were quite expensive, and this also has AMAZING new art featuring Elesh Norn. Even though I already have a foil Invasion Rout, which I paid DEARLY to acquire I still plan to upgrade to this version simply for that art!

Victimize - A fairly obscure but quite playable uncommon from Urza's Saga. Not previously available in foil, and the new art is a bit of an improvement.

Reflecting Pool - Straight repring of the Lorwyn art, but if it helps put a dent in the foil price of this card, it's still totally worth it. I've been needing a foil Pool for a while, so I'm happy to see this here.

Swords to Plowshares - the FNM promos were at one point the only way to get this in foil, and they cost like a million dollars as a result. Then they release a new art version as a Judge promo, which at first also cost about a million dollars.Then they put StP in From the Vault: Twenty. While that had the sweet, sweet Duel Deck art, it also had the crappy FTV foiling process, which looks awful. But now there are like three foil versions available, two of which look crappy by dent of their foiling process, and the third still costs infinite money. The conspriacy printing solves all those problems. It has the awesome Duel Deck art, and will be foiled in the normal pack foil process, so that seems like a win. Personally, I'm a bit miffed, as I traded out the ass to get the Judge promo StP, and bought a couple of the FTV 20 versions as well. Not going to be too happy if those are devalued as a result, but overall, I think this was a killer reprint.

Pernicious Deed - Straight repring of the Apocalypse version, which I am happy about because that art is iconic. The Apoc. pack foils were just ridiculously expensive, and I was on the verge of shelling out for the judge promo version which was merely expensive, not ridiculously so, but had SHIT artwork. Now I am hoping I don't have to make that compromise. As a Mythic in this set (WTF? How in the HELL is this a Mythic?!?!) I still expect it to be expensive, probably painfully so, but it stands to reason it will still be a lot cheaper than the Apocalypse pack foils, so that'll just have to be good enough.

Mirari's Wake - Another reprint stupidly and aggrivatingly bumped up to Mythic. That said, I still want a foil one. The original pack foil would be my preference (don't like this art much), but those cost more than I'm willing to pay, so I've been rocking the Commander's Arsenal version. This has the same crappy art, but at least it won't have the same crappy foiling process. I think there might have been a judge foil of Wake, too, so maybe this one won't be TOO awfullly expensive.

Sakura Tribe Elder - Possibly the best green common in the format. I'm currently running the horribly ugly FNM foil version simply because the Kamigawa foils were just way too rich for my blood, so I'm hoping this reprinting will change that equation.

Reckless Spite - Not the most exciting reprint, but this was previously not available in foil and this printing sports the awesome Commander 2013 artwork. EDIT: This was reprinted in Invasion, apparently, so it did have a previous foil version after all.

All of the above items are pretty sweet. Wake and Deed being mythic is a bit infuriating and a fairly nonsensical decision on WotC's part, but whatever. I'm just happy to have more copies available. They both deserved the reprint one way or another.

But there are a couple absolute bonkers reprints, and not in the good way. I'm talking about Pristine Angel and Hydra Omnivore. With the Hydra, I can at least appreciate the fact that it was previously not available in foil, so Conspiracy fixes that problem. But my issue is that the Angel and the Hyrda are both reprinted here as Mythics. To me, both should have been rares instead, and they just feel like absolute wastes of two Mythic slots. The Angel in particular is just not a good card, it's not exciting or cool or special feeling, and displays NONE of the qualities WotC has previously stated make a card "Mythic".

These two cards are such a huge mistake that I almost don't want to buy any packs of Conspiracy at all, out of fear of the extreme anger and disappointment I know I would feel if I were to crack either of these as my Mythic (opening Basandra would also elicit a terrifying rage followed by abject depression). But I probably will buy some anyway.

New Cards

There are a number of new cards (besides the Legends) that may be of interest to many EDH players as well.

Among the most hyped is the new Planeswalker, Dack Fayden. I don't think he's worth anywhere near his current $50 preorder price, at least not for EDH, but he's certainly playable, and I wouldn't mind have a couple. As one of the few three-drop 'Walkers, he's sure to get some attention. His abilities are all pretty sweet, if a little conditional. But my U/R Melek deck has a bit of a flashback thing going on already, so Faithful Looting on a Planeswalker is very compelling.

Another hotly anticipated card is Council's Judgement, which appears to be the "Legacy plant" in the set. It's notable for the fact that it's non-targetted Exile-based removal, meaning it can deal with things like Emrakul or True Name Nemesis, which is why all the Legacy hype around it. Hopefully real Legacy players will scoff at the 3 mana cmc and reject this card, because I'd rather like to have a few copies. It's straight up better in 1v1 than multiplayer, but it's also probably more fun to cast in multiplayer. Either way, it's a sold removal spell, and should be popular in EDH as well.

Extract from Darkness is a cool variant on the Body Double/Beacon of Unrest model. Usually you'll cast this with a choice already in mind, but the mill effect is just added value that means there's a tiny chance you might see something EVEN BETTER by the time this resolves. And it doesn't target, meaning you can wait until you see what gets milled before you make your final choices (and also means it's harder to screw this over with GY hate like Scavenging Ooze).

We also get a cool new clone in Dack's Duplicate, which is basically just a U/R Clone that also gains Haste and Dethrone. Not bad.

I'd most likely play Deathreap Ritual in Savra and Karador, if it cost three mana. But at four, I don't really think it's worth it.

Flamewright is cool, but definitely not an EDH card. Sure, you're silly Wall Tribal deck might happly include it, but beyond that, this guy just doesn't do anything imipactful.

Realm Seekers is part of a cycle of creatures that all come into play with a bunch of +1/+1 counters based on some criteria, and then have an activated ability where you remove a counter and pay some mana to do an effect. Of the five, Realm Seekers is the only one I feel is truly good enough for even an average-powered EDH deck. And even then I'm not entirely sure it's good enough. That said, it should normally be a 12/12 at minimum, and the fact that it can get non-basic lands is compelling.

Plea for Power is downright laugable. I can see where, in Draft, you might have board positions where letting an opponent take an extra turn is less scary than letting them draw three cards - essentially, you are choosing between "your opponent draws one extra" versus "your opponent draws three extra cards". But those situations are rare in Limited, and are going to be virtually nonexistant in EDH. Make no mistake - in EDH this will ALWAYS just be Concentrate.

Magister of Worth is possibly the only Will of the Council card I really like, and I say possibly because I may not end up liking it. It certainly looks potentially awesome on paper, but it's one of those cards I can see proving to be disappointing in practice.

Reign of the Pit is like a Fleshbag Marauder on crack. And I LOOOOVE me some Fleshbag Marauder! The only problem is, at six mana, I can see this often failing to kill what really needs to be killed, as by the time you can cast it, your opponents all have more than one creature out. It's especially bad against token decks and decks with lots of cheap mana ramp dudes like Wood Elves. Still, it's probably quite good in the right decks.

Grenzo's Rebuttal is similar to Reign of the Pit, in cost and function. It gets rid of things while also leaving a token behind. But this is a form of Democratic destruction that should prove interesting in more political-minded multiplayer groups. I like it, but is' going to be somewhat hard for the caster to control or predict the effects, so that may turn off some players.

Conspriacy brings us a truly awesome multiplayer-oriented Dragon in the form of Scourge of the Throne. Even more than Marchesa herself, this is the king of Dethrone cards. I cannot wait to jam this monster into my Aurelia deck, and probably others as well. I predict this cards nickname will quickly become "Scourge of Oloro Decks". I don't think it's coincidence that Oloro is depicted sitting in a huge throne...

Marchesa's Smuggler is possibly more fitting for 60-card Magic, but almost certainly has some EDH applications. He seems a fitting helper alongside Ruhan or Thraximunder, for instance. If nothing else, he can just keep targetting himself, and get bigger and bigger via his Dethrone ability, but pushing through fatties is obviously his best use.

Finally we come to the future newest member of the ban list - Treasonous Ogre. Yes, yes, there's a pretty good chance he won't actually be banned - the RC is awfully gunshy about banning anything these days, and it will take nothing short of Turn 3 or 4 Ulamogs running roughshod over the format for them to take action, but the thing is, this guy makes that possible. Channel is banned for a reason, folks, and while this guy is a heavily nerfed variant, it still makes too many scary things possible in a 40-life format.

That said, if Treasonous Ogre can be used with a modicum of restraint, it could end up simply being a really good card for Red, which is a color that can honestly use the help. I'm not trying to bash on Red here, but the fact is, Red simply has fewer staples, and a shallower pool of mechanics and effects to work with. The Ogre could be a much needed boon to Red mages, but it could also be a format-warping disaster. Time will tell...

What's Missing?

Honestly there are no truly suprising exclusions from this set. Unlike with Modern Masters where everyone was counting on Thoughtsieze and/or Damnation to make an appearance, or the Modern Event Deck which everyone just KNEW had a Bitterblossom in it (but didn't), it was really hard to know what to expect from Conspiracy. No one was guessing Exploration or Misdirection would show up, for instance.

One card I am slightly suprised to not see, in retrospect, is Remand. I feel like this would have been a fantastic reprint, due to the high price of even regular copies, nevermind the foils. Plus, they could have given us a foil version of the recent Duel Deck alt art version, much like they did for Swords to Plowshares, Mortify and Brainstorm.

I also really, really want the Commander 2011 version of Flametongue Kavu in foil.

Finally, my magical christmasland wishlist card for this set would have to be Academy Rector. I need a foil Rector SOOOOOO bad, but not bad enough to pay upwards of 100 bucks for it. It could also stand some new art, although that old lady is kinda iconic at this point.

But really, with stuff like Exploration, Edric and Stifle already in the set, there's plenty to love and there should be at least a little something for just about everyone.

I can see where, due to it's intense focus on draft-specific and multiplayer-specific mechanics and gameplay, many players might be turned off from the set as a whole, but still might be plenty excited about one or two reprints. In fact, I myself am somewhat conflicted about all the draft-playable-only stuff, and a few highly questionable reprints, to the point where instead of buying lots and lots of packs, I'm probably just going to draft this set once or twice at most, then just cherry pick the singles I really want, to avoid getting stuck with the worthless chaff.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Journey Into Nyx EDH Set Review, Part 6: Gold/Artifact/Land

Final installment folks, and final chance for this set to wow us with something. To be fair, I did kinda forget momentarily about the new Grave Pact variant, which is pretty exciting, but really only goes in decks that already play Grave Pact. But other than that, I've been pretty underwhelmed.

Today we're wrapping up the review with the rest of the bunch, including Mutlicolor, Artifact and Land cards.

Gold

Neat, but too small and too expensive to activate.
Well, this is pretty impressive. Two decent +1's and a silly Ultimate? I'll take that. This guy will be right at home in my Marath deck. He can fuel Marath shenanigans with the first ability or dig for gas with the second.

Gaining 100 life isn't all that big a deal in EDH, though, what with the General Damage rule and all, but then again it's nice to have a Planeswalker with an Ultimate that doesn't make your opponents collectively shit themselves and turn you into the Archenemy on the spot.
After Prophet of Kruphix, I was expecting more from this guy. Then again, UG doesn't really need more Prophet-level brokenness. Verdict: Not universally playable, but okay in the right deck.
Well, now that's more like it! Go go Boros aggro! This guy just wants you to attack. Like, don't do combat math first, don't worry about how much mana your opponent might have open. Just say screw it, and GET IN THERE.

Love it!
Man, that Strive cost... phew.
Meh. Even with Haste and not coming into play tapped, this still just doesn't compare favorably to Army of the Damned.
Not sure yet, but I think I really dig this guy. I know I would definitely have run him in my Vish Kal deck, but that deck became Oloro and now I don't have a home for Athreos. Oh, and he in a nonbo with tokens, just FYI.
Scary bird!

Also, Limited fodder.
Neat. I like him for my Melek deck, even if he does sadly increase the permanent count (unless I can find a permanent to cut, of course). As a General, I have no idea how to build around this guy. Obviously, you run Top. But beyond that? No idea.
Oh, if only this guy had Deathtouch!
Very disappointed in this God. Love the art, though, even if the card is junk.
Now this seems seriously playable. Find a way to tap it without having to red zone it, and you've got yourself one hell of a Transmute engine going. Actually, at two mana, it could come down early enough to get one or two safe attacks, and that may well be enough to be worth it.
Weak, but cool enough it might see fringe play. W/B Cleric Tribal? I dunno, I kinda like it, even if I know it's really not a good card. But sometimes playing bad cards just because you like them is what EDH is about, right?

















Artifact

Generic Anthem is generic. And not all that great. Anthems usually aren't great in EDH, unless they also double your mana or do something else wacky.
 Nowhere near good enough to replace Greaves/Boots in most decks, because most of the time Shroud/Hexproof is more valuable than any of these other abilities. Still, while it might be a card you feel is too janky to run, you probably don't ever want to see them on the other side of the table.
While I can think of a few critters I would love to Equip this onto (Fathom Mage anyone?) it's just almost never going to be worth it, especially at Equip 2.  But I'm not sure even Equip 0 would make it that much better. It's just too small an effect.
Jeez that's a lot of mana to tap something down! Seems awful. 
Pretty art. Boring card.



















Lands

Um... it's certainly okay. I don't know. I tend to avoid using City of Brass where possible, only running it in three or four of my 16 or so decks. But, hey, it's there if you need it, so, great.



















Well, this concludes our look at Journey Into Nyx. Thanks for coming along with me on this... journey (wah wah). So turns out this set is, for the most part, even worse than Born of the Gods (which I still think of as being pretty mediocre, though some aspects of it have grown on me with time). But it's not entirely devoid of playable cards, so whatever.

I really loved Theros, but I've been pretty much over this block since that set came out. By BNG came around I was already ready to move on. Now, it just feels like the house guest that won't leave. Sorry, Theros, you were cool until you got drunk, now you've just made an ass out of yourself. I have no idea where I'm going with this analogy or what it even means. Eh, nevermind.

Until next time, enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Journey Into Nyx EDH Set Review, Part 5: Green

Big, dumb monsters incoming! That's right, it's the Green portion of our set review.

Green

Odd card. Probably not terribly useful.
Generic Limited Uncommon #23...
Definitely playable in Echantress decks, maybe pillow fort decks as well. Nice little bit of card advantage and recovery.
Horribly expensive for what it does. Pass.
Chameleon Colossus's big brother. Same basic stats, but this guy STAYS big. Nice.
Neat. Probably fine for mono-green. Probably not for multi-color decks. 
Unlike the other symmetrical cards in this cycle, I don't think Flash is enough to offset this symmetry. Giving your opponents double their mana is, to put it bluntly, suicidal.
More Limited junk.
 Wow, that's bad!
Holy balls the upside on this guy is badass. The downside is that it'll cost you infinity mana to get there.
Centaur tribal gettin' some love. Nothing wrong with that.
Possibly good removal option for mono-Green?
Awesome art.
God, why does every mechanic in this block cost all the mana ever?
Not bad. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my Enchantresses to cost 3 mana, though. Still playable.
Meh.






















Man, still nothing particularly awesome or exciting. Playable, sure, but not terrific. Almost at the home stretch folks. One more to go!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Journey Into Nyx EDH Set Review, Part 4: Red

Let's hope Red gets a better-than-average haul, because the last three colors got shafted. But it's Red, so that's unlikely. But we'll give it a fair chance anyway.

Red

These effects are fun, and if used properly can be powerful. But the symmetry means they can just as easily blow up in your face as you fall victim to your own damage-doubling spell. Flash helps alot here, but time will tell if it helps enough. My feeling is that this is still a bit too gimmicky to really be good.
Obviously you play this in mono-Red. Maybe in two-color decks, if they're basic-heavy. It's not bad at all, just too color-specific.
This isn't really an EDH card, per se. But I am looking forward to running this in my Aurelia deck, which basically plays random, small Doublestrikers and lots of powerful equipment. Suiting this guy up with a Sword and going to town seems fun.
Limited fodder.
Ugh. That mana cost! Wow.
Cool, but not good enough.
Maybe in Uril? Doubt it, though.
Bad Insurrection is bad, but honestly it might still be playable, in the right decks at least.
Definitely not EDH material, but it can punish the early ramping phase of the game. Prolly not worth it.
 Nope.
Filler.
I'll just quote the venerable Jason Alt on this one:
"It’s so bad. This could have been good and then at the last second someone said “can we add 3 to the mana cost for no reason?” Compare this to Lightning Rift. If this cost 1R it might enable a new archetype. It would be terrible, but it would be the kind of thing someone would try to build. Scry cards cost too much, this costs too much to play and its activation cost is too much. No one has that much mana. Why didn’t they make this good?"
A 1-mana damage spell that is scalable will always have some potential.  Maybe not a lot, but some. I would at least consider this for a Melek deck.
This is pretty cool. I like it. I'll be looking for somewhere to stick a copy of this. Seems iffy, but worth trying out.
Just... don't.
Reprint! Now with 100% less bacon!
Weaksauce.























Red sucks as usual. But it has a couple of semi-playable spells and the Mythic is pretty bad-ass, if not widely playable. So compared to the other colors, Red really didn't do too bad.