Friday, April 3, 2009

Tormented Bits Of Colourful Cardboard

Quite a while back, I placed another order with Magic Arsenal for a bunch of cards. I didn't write about that order before now because we took a Magic hiatus around my house starting late last summer so my wife could throw herself into a batch of crocheting projects, some of which you've seen here.

The crocheting has died down again, mainly because for the first time in recent memory none of our friends have babies either on the way or newly born (other than the ones who have already received a crocheted "welcoming present", of course, like Pastor Derek and Homeschooler's boys).

With no playing going on, I didn't want to spend too much time digging through those cards. Why torture yourself by browsing the candy store when you're on a diet? But play has now resumed, so these cards will soon be getting scattered and combined into new decks. Just in time, too - I'm down to only 16 ready-to-play decks on hand.

I wanted to write up what I got mainly to say what kind of stuff I got in the Magic Arsenal repacks and grab bags. Other people may be interested in that sort of thing before placing an order. I know from Google Analytics search term reports that last time I did this, I had people drop by for exactly that reason, using search terms like "Magic Arsenal repack contents". So this isn't entirely self-indulgent diary-keeping. Note the word "entirely".

Once again, I'll be talking about individual cards without doing Gatherer links for each. If I had done so, then each card name would have been a link, and you could have clicked on its name to have it pop up. That would have been nice, but this entry would have taken far, far longer to prepare by inserting all those links, so I took the easy way out.

Gatherer is an official online database of Magic card information, maintained by Wizards of the Coast themselves (the folks who make the game). To see the Gatherer entry for any card, go to this page and type the card's name into the search field. You'll see the card, along with its official wording (long story - most cards don't do quite exactly what they say anymore), rulings, what sets it's been in, and more. I'll provide the text for some noteworthy cards as we go.

First up, since the biggest limit on my deckbuilding was the number of basic land cards I owned, I got a pile more. 40 of each type except Islands - 60 of those. I like blue.

Then, since there were some cheap cards that I really like but didn't have multiple copies of, I got more: Soldevi Digger, Capsize, and Phyrexian Vault. All three feed my obsession with card advantage and recursion. The Capsize can get used turn after turn because of its buyback, the Vault lets me trade creatures who have outlived their usefulness (or who are about to die anyway) for a new card, and the Digger lets me re-churn my graveyard. All three fit my playing style perfectly, and I may well build a deck than contains the entire trio now that I have extra copies.

Capsize (1UU Instant, Buyback 3, Return target permanent to its owner's hand) is a card from the Tempest block, which came out while I was working at a comic and game store and playing dozens of games of Magic a week. It immediately became one of my favourite cards. However, I never bought or opened packs for myself, and even though Capsize was a common, nobody in my area would part with them. I only ever had one copy. With this order, I finally rectified that.

I also got two more Thorn Thallids; I had some, but they're badly beaten up. The same copies have been mainstays of my green decks since 1994, and I usually played unsleeved. The backs of those cards are now well into "marked" territory. Now that my wife plays Thallids, I figured I might as well replace my battered copies with fresh ones.

On a related note, I still play most of my cards unsleeved, but I occasionally used to crack open a pack of sleeves for myself back in the comic shop days, and still had some. I figured in the interest of being able to continue playing with these cards for many years to come (note: NOT to protect them to "maintain their value"), I got some more with this order. I got two packs of the "Player's Choice Holo-Blue Sleeves", which were under three bucks a pack. I got two because I don't generally build small enough decks for one pack to be of any use.

Despite their low price, these sleeves (which have now been playtested) are holding up well. The solid colour backs obscure the card back completely, allowing play with marked cards (or even proxies or tournament-illegal cards like collector's set editions) if you so choose. At my house we don't enforce the official tournament floor rules. Although even opaque sleeves wouldn't let you play a beat-up old card at a tournament, at our kitchen table it's no problem.

At this point, 3 of my 16 decks are sleeved, and those three were rather arbitrarily chosen. My wife's favourite deck, which gets the most play of any of them (I rotate around more), is not sleeved. She would find a sleeved deck harder to handle and shuffle, and I'm more concerned with making it easy for her to play than with protecting the cards.

The fronts of these new sleeves are treated with some sort of holographic process (hence the "holo", I guess), making all the card fronts sparkle like foils. While that's kind of neat, it has a side effect of sometimes making it hard to read cards from an angle. Actual foils inside one of these sleeves don't look any more impressive, not that I care about that anyway. Overall, I would recommend these sleeves to cost-conscious players, and will be adding a pack or two onto any of my future Magic Arsenal orders.

Enough about the stuff I specifically ordered; let's move on to the grab bags and repacks. As always, I love grab bags. Offer me a mixed lot at a really good price, and you can have my money. The fact that this is my second Magic Arsenal order containing grab bag assortments should speak for itself as to whether I was happy with the first batch. However, let's get into the contents.

My Magic card collection stopped cold when I stopped working in a game store, and didn't resume until I started buying Time Spiral packs many years later. I owned lots of cards from all sets up to and including Apocalypse, then not a single card from any set after that until Time Spiral. My first Magic Arsenal order changed that, getting me a bunch of Odyssey cards. There were a few strays from the sets in between in the grab bags from that first order, as well, but for the most part my collection still had a big gap between Odyssey and Time Spiral. Continuing the practice of working up chronologically, I got assortments from Torment, Judgment, and Onslaught this time out.

First up, the six repacks of Torment. This gave me a sampling from that set of 6 rares, 18 uncommons, and 66 commons, which I think is enough to get a feel for a small set. The 6 rares were Shambling Swarm, Turbulent Dreams, Hell-Bent Raider, Possessed Centaur, Possessed Aven, and Possessed Nomad. I kind of like that out of six rares I got three that are in the same cycle, and it's a pretty good cycle. I'll probably also play Shambling Swarm more than the obligatory one or two tryouts that the Raider and Dreams will get.

I'm not going to list all 18 uncommmons. There were two copies each of Pyromania, Hydromorph Gull, Hypochondria, Pardic Collaborator, and Dwell On The Past. All the other uncommons were single copies.

I love Dwell On The Past. It's a sorcery that lets you shuffle four cards from your graveyard into your library, for one green mana. Gaea's Blessing is an automatic inclusion in almost every green deck I build, but I don't have many copies and few people will trade them cheaply. Dwell On The Past is a worthy substitute, and next time I order cards I'll want more copies.

I thought Boneshard Slasher was terrible at first (1B - Creature - Horror - 1/1- Flying. Threshold - As long as seven or more cards are in your graveyard, Boneshard Slasher gets +2/+2 and has "When Boneshard Slasher becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice it."). I'm not a big fan of creatures with the "skulking" drawback. However, considering that 1B is the standard cost for a 1/1 black flyer anyway, it's not a bad deal.

The only other uncommon I got that bears discussion is Flaming Gambit (XR - Instant - Flaming Gambit deals X damage to target player. That player may choose a creature he or she controls and have Flaming Gambit deal that damage to it instead. Flashback XRR). This may be the worst red X-damage card I've ever seen. If you got to choose the target creature when you cast it, it would be playable. As it is, it's an X-damage spell that might as well read, "Your opponent may sacrifice his most useless creature to prevent all damage this deals." The flashback cost is reasonable, but it doesn't elevate the card to useful status. This one goes straight into a binder, never to be seen again, after I go through the formality of including it in a deck for a one or two game test drive.

That brings us down to the commons. In the six packs, I got five copies of Frantic Purification, four copies of a few others, then one to three copies of the rest. The commons have lots of threshold, as expected, and the flashback costs are pretty reasonable. Branching into alternate flashback costs, rather than just mana (two mana and pay 3 life is a frequent cost) definitely made the mechanic more useful.

Wizards must have felt that red direct damage needed to be taken down a few pegs when this set was in development. Flaming Gambit was awful, and then I see Kamahl's Sledge at common (5RR - Sorcery - Kamahl's Sledge deals 4 damage to target creature. Threshold - If seven or more cards are in your graveyard, instead Kamahl's Sledge deals 4 damage to that creature and 4 damage to that creature's controller). 7 mana for a common is an odd strategy, and one that says, "We don't want people playing red in draft or sealed formats." It's not a terrible card once you reached Threshold, but until then it's overcosted and simply too expensive for many decks.

I'm stopping this part now. It's more than long enough already. I'll cover the rest of the cards I got in this order, with lots less backstory, in the near future. Probably not my next post - so it'll be safe for the non-Magic folks to return - but I'm going to start that writeup today, so it should be soon.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my black Orks.


HEROBITS said...

What a cool game. I bet my friends would love to play it. By the way, did you know that there's an upcoming game card to be released on June 2009? It's like playing like a superhero. I'm pretty sure you gonna enjoy it.

RebelAngel said...

I am afraid I only read the first couple of paragraphs and then started to skim until I just popped here to read the comments.

My eyes glaze over when my hubby starts to ramble on and on about manna and graveyards and what-have-you.

He'll probably be by (I have hooked him on your blog.) and love it, or at least read it all with interest.