Thursday, April 30, 2009

Judgemental Bits Of Colourful Cardboard

Continuing the writeup on my latest order from Magic Arsenal, received late last summer. See the previous part for introductory blather.

This time we move on to the six Judgment repacks. The rares were Wormfang Behemoth, Telekenetic Bonds, Masked Gorgon, Ernham Djinn, Shaman's Trance, and Selfless Exorcist. I don't find any of them worth further discussion. They're mostly too narrow to interest me.

Of the 18 uncommons, I received copies of 10 different cards. There were three each of Infectious Rage and Aven Warcraft, and two each of four others. As usual, I found the uncommons more interesting than the rares. Anurid Swarmsnapper, Serene Sunset, and Swelter are very playable, and Infectious Rage looks like a blast. I love introducing potentially chaotic elements into games.

The commons were an even better group. I think this was part of the problem with the long-term image of Fallen Empires - the commons were just more fun than the rares and uncommons. With Magic card collation, players tend to wind up with all the commons they want from a set very quickly. After that point they keep buying packs for the uncommons and rares. When I worked in a game shop, I had several customers who would come in to buy a pack, open it, and set the commons aside without a glance to look at the uncommons and rare. Then they'd leave the store without even bothering to pick the commons back up off the counter (deliberately). They were about as valued as the wrapper the cards came in. Many others (including me) would happily give new players stacks of commons, for free, to get them started.

As good as that is strictly from a player's perspective, it's not so good from a buyer's perspective. The downside is that heavier buyers wind up disappointed with most of the packs they buy. If they don't care about the commons because they already have multiples of all of them, and the rares and uncommons are mediocre at best, then the fun quickly gets sucked out of buying more packs and they start to feel they've wasted their money.

This is not to pass, ummm, judgement on the quality of the rares and uncommons in Judgment as a whole. I'm only considering a small selection of the frankly less saleable cards. However, it gave me an excuse to tell the above stories about Fallen Empires and my game shop days.

I got six repacks, and received six copies of Toxic Stench (1B - Instant - Target nonblack creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn. Threshold - If seven or more cards are in your graveyard, instead destroy that creature. It can't be regenerated). That's right, it was in every pack. And it's not a very good card. In fact, it's almost strictly inferior to Terror (the only benefit is that this can hit artifact creatures), and only even gets close to par after you hit threshold. This card is bad.

I also got five copies of Wormfang Newt, and two to four copies of many others. Some of the commons that I can imagine adding to decks beyond a quick test are Spellgorger Barbarian, Goretusk Firebeast, Swirling Sandstorm, Cagemail (play it on your own walls!), Sudden Strength, and Folk Medicine. My inclination toward recursion also makes me like Battlefield Scrounger and Nantuko Tracer.

I also ordered a ten-pack of black rares. I was pleased with the assortment, because I actually want to build or adapt decks to include six of them: Nihilistic Glee, Living End, Stalking Bloodsucker, Lim-Dul The Necromancer, Final Punishment, and Vermiculos. There are three more that don't appeal as much to me, although I'll given them a shot in one deck or another: Curse of the Cabal, Strongarm Tactics, and Iname, Death Aspect.

I have no use whatsoever for the last one, Spoils of the Vault (B - Instant - Name a card. Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal the named card, then put that card into your hand. Remove all other cards revealed this way from the game, and you lose 1 life for each of the removed cards). I have a very strong aversion to removing my own cards from the game, and so the prospect of losing life for the privilege of doing so appeals to me about as much as a root canal without benefit of anaesthetic. I understand the best use of this card, in a highly tuned combo deck containing four copies each of its critical cards, but that's not a deck I'd ever build, or want to.

This order included two more grab bags, one each of "Grab Bag #1" and "Grab Bag # 2". Those items don't seem to be offered anymore. Instead, Magic Arsenal seem to have replaced them with a wide selection of somewhat more targeted assortments (Standard, Extended, etc.).

Grab Bag #1 contained 23 cards. Two uncommons from Champions of Kamigawa (Oni Possession and Sideswipe), Raise Dead, and a bunch of white and blue filler. A few of the latter may not be commons (Phantasmal Forces, Wall of Air, Wall of Tears) but they're still indisputably filler.

The entire pack (which only cost $1.99) is redeemed, though, by a rare that I really like: Solarion. Doubling things is always fun, and big artifact creatures are always fun, so it's just a matter of figuring out which multi-colour deck to put this guy into. Now if I could just figure out what to do with three more copies of Circle of Protection: White.

Oh, well, I can always use more bookmarks. Or maybe proxies....

Grab Bag # 2 was $2.99 and contained 25 cards. 20 of those cards are non-noteworthy filler. These are all either commons or uncommons that aren't colour-coded as such (many of them predate colour-coded rarities) and don't stand out. I should note that this "filler" would be perfectly good stuff for newer players, or players who didn't have the luxury of getting pretty much any cards they wanted for the first six years that Magic was around. It just doesn't amount to a drop in the bucket of my collection.

I'm still happy with the pack, though, for those last five cards. Three of them are only commons, but they're commons from my "gap sets", and I like them. Spire Golem is my first artifact creature with Affinity, and Dimir Aqueduct is a land that makes more than one colour of mana. Those are almost always worth tossing into multicolour decks.

The third common I liked from this pack was Petravark. It would have been interesting enough on its own, but it's made more fun by the fact that one of the rares in the pack was its big brother, Petradon. I'll definitely be running these two together in a deck.

The last card in the pack is a legendary artifact, Krark's Thumb (2 - Legendary Artifact - If you would flip a coin, instead flip two coins and ignore one). It looks like fun, but I don't know if I can gather up enough coin-flip cards to build a deck around it. I've read that this card is legendary just so the rules team at Wizards didn't have to figure out what would happen if two were in play. That may have been a joke (which makes me think I probably read it in a Mark Rosewater article); it seems pretty straightforward to me. Since replacement effects, like this, only apply once, having two in play would mean that each coin-flip was replaced by flipping four coins and choosing one of the results, making coin-flip cards not much of a gamble.

Here's the logic: the single coin flip gets replaced by two coin flips, by one of the Krark's Thumbs. The second Thumb would then replace each of those two flips with two more, for a total of four. I *think* that's what would happen, anyway. Rules Gurus are welcome to post comments correcting me.

The final item in this order was an assortment of 200 commons from Onslaught, the next chronological set from the gap in my collection. Magic Arsenal offers these 200-commons assortments from lots of sets. My basis for choosing between repacks and 200-common assortments is pretty simple. For large sets, which usually contain 300 or more cards and so over 100 commons, I'll take the 200 commons. For small sets, the 200 commons would probably contain far too much duplication for my liking, so I'll pay a per-card premium to get some uncommons and rares mixed in.

I was pleased to see all but one of the common nonbasic land cycle included. I got 10 of these lands, each of which come into play tapped, make 1 mana of a given colour, and can be cycled at a cost of 1 mana of the colour they make. That makes them perfect for splashing into multicolour decks. If you only need one or two white mana, for instance, then once you already have them available, you can cycle the white-producing land (Secluded Steppe) using one of the white sources you already have in play. Trading a redundant land for a new card is a good deal.

Blue next, for the completely arbitrary reason that it's next in the pile. The most I got of any given blue card was four copies. I like Disruptive Pitmage, but only got one copy. Most of the others look like they have the potential to be fun, but nothing's jumping out at me as really good or really bad. Feel free to assume that a copy of that sentence could be appended to what I say about each of the other colours.

There was a lot more repetition in green. I got five copies of Crown of Vigor, six each of Barkhide Mauler and Leery Fogbeast, and a whopping eight Snarling Undoraks. As it turns out, I like Snarling Undorak, but I'm not sure I want to build two whole Beast decks to accommodate all eight copies. I also like Barkhide Mauler, although I suspect I'd always resist cycling it ("It's a big stompy creature! I can't just toss that away!"), and Crown of Vigor because I like building and playing tribal-themed decks. The only other green common that stands out to me as especially fun is Birchlore Rangers; I only got one copy.

Six copies of one white card (Crown of Awe), five copies each of five others, one to four of all the rest. Disciple of Grace (five copies) is nice, and a better use of cycling than Barkhide Mauler. While I'd always be tempted to hold a big creature for later during the early game, I'd cycle a little guy like this without hesitation once the board got beefy. Battlefield Medic (five copies) makes me nostalgic for my Fallen Empires buddy Combat Medic. Battlefield Medic is no Combat Medic, and for that reason alone I'll probably never include it in a deliberately designed deck. I'll make room for Confessor and Unified Strike in the right decks (discard and soldiers, respectively).

Red is more diverse, with only two cards represented by more than four copies: five Goblin Taskmasters, and eight Break Open. Break Open is probably the least appealing card in this assortment (although I like it more than Spoils Of The Vault). In a very morph-heavy environment it might be playable; at my "casual format" kitchen table, it would only be good if it were reuseable. Give it buyback, make it a cantrip, or make it an enchantment with an activation cost -although in the latter case I'd still probably need it to be a cantrip before I'd play it.

Despite the stack of Break Opens, the red cards as a whole look great. Lay Waste (only one copy) is good, Wave of Indifference is a cruel finisher, and I like Pinpoint Avalanche for the simple reason that it's an instant instead of a sorcery. I may need to build a goblin deck just to use the Taskmasters, Skirk Commando, and Sparksmith. Plus, Brightstone Ritual is just nuts (R - Instant - Add R to your mana pool for each Goblin in play). Unfortunately, I only got one each of the Sparksmith and Ritual.

Sparksmith is the kind of card I love: 1R - Creature - Goblin - 1/1 - T: Sparksmith deals X damage to target creature and X damage to you, where X is the number of Goblins in play. It introduces a potentially self-destructive element of anarchy to the board. I enjoy embarking on gambits where the result will either be victory or self-immolation. I'll be writing about my Warhammer 40,000 experience sometime; my fondest memories of that game involve the Splatta Kannon.

An ability like Sparksmith's will often be worth taking some damage for. You'll usually reserve it for some creature that's going to make your life miserable (or over), like a big flying creature you can't block. If you run the numbers, you'll often find that the damage is less than the troublesome creature would have done to you over the next turn or two. Consider a Sparksmith on the table with four goblin buddies and no flying allies, looking across the table at an oncoming Shivan Dragon. That dragon is going to hit for at least five damage, and probably more. Taking a single five-point penalty to get rid of it is a good investment. I find newer players tend to let the dragon hit once or twice before getting desperate enough to shoot it down at a cost of some more pain. That's certainly what I used to do, and it's a mathematical mistake.

Finally, black. There are only more than four copies of one black card in my assortment: six copies of Screeching Buzzard, which is good anyway. I like Disciple of Malice for the same reasons as Disciple of Grace (they're mirror images, or more accurately negatives, of each other). Nantuko Husk is like Fallen Angel's creepy little brother, and being a zombie is a nice bonus just because I like zombies. In general, not just in Magic. Syphon Mind and Haunted Cadaver will both go into my discard deck.

I don't like Wretched Anurid or Accursed Centaur, both for the same reason. I like playing with creatures. The anurid punishes me for doing so, and the 3/3 body just isn't big enough to offset the penalty.

I can't contrive many situations when I'd be happy to draw the centaur (B - Creature - Zombie Centaur - 2/2 - When Accursed Centaur comes into play, sacrifice a creature). His casting cost says to play him early. But you can't play him on turn one, and on turns two through (around) four you won't be willing to lose another creature, dropping behind in the arms race, for just a 2/2. Those stats don't make him one of the big boys. By the time you'd be willing to trade one of your little guys for a big one, 2/2 doesn't affect the board enough to bother. This strikes me as another bad card unless you're playing lots of creatures with potential drawbacks (like Lord of the Pit, Dormant Sliver, Minion of Leshrac, or - hey! Wretched Anurid) and you want to be able to remove one if it starts to turn on you.

That's all of this order, and I have no other orders planned for the foreseeable future. Next time I write about Magic, it'll probably either be about one of my decks, or about my game stats. I've actually recorded the results of all the games my wife and I have played over the last year or so, to see how the various decks perform against each other.

My son sometimes exhibits obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I have no idea where he gets them.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny. His captors are apparently trying to break him with psychological tactics. Here we see them carrying out a mock execution - death by apple-bonking. I fear this will not end well for Hostage Bunny.


RebelAngel said...

Apples don't bonk bunnies, blue guys in top hats bonk bunnies.

Anonymous said...

Stupid rabbit is going to get what's coming to him. I hope justice is served before Obama outlaws apple-boarding.