Blue has been Cancelled.

“Blue is so damn awful right now… Which is exactly where Blue likes to be, in the shadows so it can creep up on a tournament to snatch the title. When people stop worrying about countermagic is when it is most potent.”
Kyle Sanchez, in his latest StarCityGames article.

Thanks Kyle. I needed that.

After countless hours spent in front of the computer, refreshing MTGSalvation’s infamous Rumor Mill, we were finally rewarded on Thursday morning with a complete Zendikar spoiler.

And wouldn’t you know it, blue looks terrible.

I had been waiting for some exciting cards to write about, but they just weren’t showing up. I even began a post (which I’ll likely edit a bit and end up posting anyway) so that I could just plug in whatever blue goodies appeared on the Zendikar spoiler. But what I was waiting for just wasn’t coming.

Mindbreak Trap? Sure, it’s NEAT! But where are the utility spells? Where are the draw spells?

Now, it’s very likely that I’m missing something somewhere, not examining cards closely enough, or not giving cards a chance. I’ll try to correct that in the coming weeks, after I’ve had a chance to play with some Zendikar. But for the moment, I want to talk about something else…

It’s a common idea nowadays, after its 5th(!) printing in 3 years, that Cancel is being forced down our throats, and that Wizards is going to continue printing it until we accept it and play with it.

Agreed? I thought so.

So guess what? I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to pull the old “pretend-you-like-something-long-enough-and-eventually-you-will.” The “grin-and-bear-it,” if you will. I’m going to Jedi Mind Trick myself.

I’m going to play with Cancel. In Standard.

In fact, I’m going to go out to this weekend’s prerelease and try to get myself some of those fancy MPR textless Cancels, just to hype myself up for it.

Results to come.

Some Thoughts, Some Updates, and Some News

As most of you are probably already aware, official Zendikar previews began over at DailyMTG.com this past Monday, although “official” spoilers have been coming in for a few weeks now.

The big news: we’re FINALLY getting enemy fetchlands!

     

This is something some players have been clamoring for ever since the original fetchlands were printed way back in Onslaught in 2002. Back then, these lands were even included in mono-colored decks as a way to thin the deck and improve the quality of cards drawn—because who wants to topdeck a land in the late-game? Well, um…

Oddly enough, due to Zendikar’s new keyword ability “landfall,” there could be a lot of players hoping to topdeck land in the late-game. In regards to landfall, the new fetches essentially allow you to get your land drops earlier in the game, by “fetching” a land out of your deck and putting it onto the battlefield at your leisure. If you play a fetchland and use its ability on the same turn, you’re triggering any landfall abilities twice. Land drops have never been so important. The potential downside to using the fetchlands in a deck based around landfall is that you’re pulling lands out of your deck, making them unavailable later in the game. If an opponent is able to weather the storm and deal with your threats, you’re going to have a hard time triggering landfall when there are no lands left in your deck to draw or fetch. This likely won’t be an issue, but it’s something to think about, especially if a good control deck emerges that can stall and survive into the late-game.

Speaking of lands to be excited about, take a look at this gorgeous, full-frame Zendikar island by John Avon:

This is the most beautiful island yours truly has ever had the pleasure of seeing. Anyone willing to part with theirs in exchange for any of the other full-art ZEN lands, please, send an email (for reference, it’s card #234 in the Zendikar set). I’ll be collecting these particular islands (foil and non-foil versions) and anything I can find with this artwork (binders, playmats, etc).

Introductions, Part II: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blue

Note: The following entry was originally posted in October 2007 on my MTGSalvation blog.

Date: January or February, 1995. I’m sitting in my cousin’s bedroom after having just returned from the mall and buying our first Magic cards. We’d both seen some guys playing it at school (we’re high school freshmen) and thought it looked like fun.

At first, I was a little hesitant to spend my money on trading cards; whereas my cousin came home with two Revised Edition starter decks and a few booster packs, I ended up with just one starter deck, and Bush’s Sixteen Stone CD.

We try our best to decipher the rules and each build something resembling a deck. At this point, we know nothing about the five colors’ strengths and weaknesses, so I choose to try and build a blue and green deck, since I like the actual colors.

Being accustomed to playing card games that allow you to simply draw and play your Ace, I keep dropping my creatures into play without paying their mana costs. Oops. A guy at school has a card called Shivan Dragon that’s 5/5. I got this thing called Craw Wurm that’s 6/4, so it must be just as good, if not better.

Somehow, we interpret the “all mana in opponent’s mana pool drains into your mana pool” text from Drain Power to mean that my opponent loses all his life points and I gain all his life points. We know this can’t be right, but neither of us can figure out what else it could mean, so we continue to play this way, and I continue to win for UU.

And that would be the last time for several years that I could say I was winning games by paying UU. A few days later, I saw a Force of Nature (“He’s 8/8!!! Bigger than Shivan Dragon!!! And he has Trample!!”) and soon discovered Keldon Warlord, Royal Assassin, Sorceress Queen, Sengir Vampire, Johan, Dakkon Blackblade, and Sol’Kanar the Swamp King. I wanted to play creatures, and I wanted to kill creatures. Blue’s creatures were crappy (“Leviathan is huge, but I don’t want to sacrifice my lands!”), and other than Serra Angel, so were White’s. Besides, cards like Counterspell and Circles of Protection were cheesy, cheap ways to play. Anyone playing said cards were immediately scorned in my playgroup (if they were any good, anyway; if we could easily beat them, we didn’t care as much).

     

I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to play blue or white. Swords to Plowshares?!? Why would you want to make your opponent GAIN life? Boomerang a creature to its owner’s hand? Um, okay, they’ll just play it again next turn. No thanks, guys; I have Terror, which takes care of things more permanently, WITHOUT giving my opponent extra life. Besides, my creatures are bigger.

The only blue creatures that I liked were ones that could copy other, better, creatures. Vesuvan Doppelganger seemed good, and so did Clone.

     

Date: Autumn 1997. I’m sitting at Legends, a small hobby shop inside Towson Town Center mall, ripping open packs of Tempest on the day of its release. In my first few packs, I open the one card I was really, REALLY hoping to open: Rathi Dragon. I’m already playing 4 copies of Balduvian Horde (“He’s Juzam Djinn but better because you don’t lose a life every turn!”) in my mono-red burn deck, alongside 4 Kindle, 4 Fireblast, a single Hammer of Bogardan I managed to trade for, and hopefully I’ll soon be able to get a Thundermare too. Rathi Dragon will fit perfectly into my scheme of haste creatures (Suq’Ata Lancer, Viashino Sandstalker) and burn.

     

In addition to a few packs, I bought this new thing called a “preconstructed deck,” which is neat because it’s a deck that’s already made and ready to play. There are these creatures in the new set called “slivers” that help each other, so I bought the preconstructed deck called “The Slivers.”

     

 

A short while later, when playing the precon for the first time, the card that sticks out at me as being very powerful is Lobotomy.

I had stopped playing Magic at the very beginning of 1996 (just after receiving a box of Ice Age boosters for Christmas!), and didn’t start playing again until September of 1997, when I started to recognize the power of control. My mono-red deck, while based mostly around hasted creatures, often sat back with a handful of burn to deal with any threatening creatures. I also had a tendency to get my opponent within burn range and then just sit with a Fireblast or two in my hand, waiting until my opponent was on the brink of killing me, at which point I’d proceed to sac some mountains and win the game. (The flavor text of the Alpha through Fifth Edition version of Shivan Dragon comes to mind.)

It was around this time that I started entering tournaments at the local mall, and I got my first DCI card. Unfortunately, while my playgroup referred to my mono-red deck as “The God Deck,” (we’d never heard the word “Sligh,” and the term “Red Deck Wins” had not yet been coined), I performed horribly at the weekly tournaments. I had never even heard of a sideboard, and when I did, I refused to build one. I didn’t think it was fair to change your deck to specifically hose someone else’s.

People use the term “on tilt” to describe a situation where a player loses early on and subsequently plays poorly throughout the rest of the tournament. Where tournaments are concerned, I was “on tilt” from late 1997 until about 2002.

Date: September 1999. I’m sitting in the cafeteria at Villa Julie College, teaching a classmate how to play Magic. She’s playing with my mono-green beatdown deck, using cards like Argothian Wurm and Rancor. I’m using this red/artifact deck I built based around Wildfire and a lot of artifact mana, with support from Masticore, Cursed Scroll, and Covetous Dragon. I had actually happened to take a look at an InQuest magazine and see that a deck really similar to mine won a Pro Tour, piloted by a guy named Kai Budde. I only recently started playing again; the second half of senior year and then my first year of college were filled with too many distractions. Over the summer, I bought a few boxes of Urza’s Saga and Urza’s Destiny, and was hooked again. I heard about a card that people are calling “the best creature ever printed.” It’s called Morphling, and I can’t figure out why it’s so good. It’s a 3/3 for five mana, which is nothing special. It does have a few good activated abilities. I guess that’s why it’s good. Another creature people are raving about is Masticore. I pulled a foil one from a pack, and then I sold it for $30 to a guy at the weekly tournament at Towson Town Center mall.

     

On Tuesdays I play at a store called Strategic Castle, where I recently saw a blue green deck that used Deranged Hermit with Equilibrium to make tons and tons of squirrel tokens, and then use Gaea’s Cradle with Stroke of Genius to make you draw your entire deck. Apparently, this is what’s known as a “combo” deck. A friend of mine is trying to get all the cards to build this deck.

     

In the meantime, I’m working on a combo deck of my own. It uses Oath of Druids to get a Serra Avatar into play, which I then Fling at my opponent for the win. I run Bloodshot Cyclops as a backup to Fling, and Sneak Attack as a backup to Oath of Druids. I’m planning on picking up the last few cards I need at the prerelease for the new set, Mercadian Masques. Speaking of which, I heard about this card in the new set called Two-Headed Dragon, which I can’t wait to play with!

Yeah, that Fling deck never worked out. I was probably just not playing it correctly, and then I got tired of it too quickly. But it was my first attempt at playing combo.

Date: July 30, 2002. Today is my 22nd birthday. It’s been almost three years since I last played Magic (not counting a trip to the Invasion prerelease in 2000 where I didn’t have the money to play and didn’t really know what I wanted to trade for). For the past few weeks I’ve been reading some articles online about the current tier 1 decks. Last month, I found a website called MTGNews where people talk about Magic strategy and all kinds of stuff. They gave me some advice about a casual Reanimator deck I’m building. It goes: turn 1 Dark Ritual, Entomb a large creature (Reya Dawnbringer, Laquatus’ Champion, Iridescent Angel, and Penumbra Wurm are my current favorities), and then play Exhume to get that creature into play on turn 1. Crazy fun!

     

I’m at a card shop called Walt’s Cards, where I’m trading with an awesome group of guys for a bunch of commons and uncommons for the Standard deck I’m working on. It uses Wild Mongrel as a discard outlet to get Anger in the graveyard, fueling a hasted fast creature beatdown, supported by Browbeat. It’s not long before I see the light, and I’m switching the red out for blue: Wonder, Circular Logic, Careful Study, Æther Burst, Merfolk Looter… I can’t believe it, I’m actually playing Counterspell!.

It didn’t take long (about a month, if I recall correctly) before I was playing a Hunting Grounds deck, packed to the gills with cards like Repulse, Exclude, Mystic Snake, Wrath of God, etc.

     

However, slinging a few permission spells here and there does not a blue mage make, and I still had a few more stops on the road to favoring Islands.

Date: December 2002. I’m at my friend’s apartment, playing Magic on his living room floor. I play a turn 1 Duress, followed by Innocent Blood, Chainer’s Edict, and Mutilate; meanwhile I play out my Cabal Coffers and Mirari, then Corrupt him to death.

     

I had been bitten by the control bug, and my next deck was MonoBlackControl. I posted entirely too much on the MBC thread over at MTGNews, but it was good because I felt like I had really mastered this deck.

I can’t say I switched over to playing control exclusively; I had a good run with a Goblins deck during Onslaught block.

As per my usual pattern, I stopped playing for a short time in early 2003, but started back up again in the summer.

Date: September 20, 2003. I’m in Virginia at the Mirrodin prerelease, trading for Troll Ascetics and Solemn Simulacrums.

Date: Early October, 2003. I’m sitting in the food court at White Marsh Mall, where six years earlier I was playing my first Magic tournaments. I’m in the process of ripping open 72 boosters of Mirrodin on my 30 minute lunch break from work, hoping for Chrome Moxen.

Date: December 2003. I’m at Barnes & Nobles, playing with a Mirrodin-only MonoBlack Control deck using Extraplanar Lens, Promise of Power, and Barter in Blood. It’s nowhere near as good as my Odyssey-Onslaught Standard version. I’m working on an affinity deck using Broodstar as finisher.

And of course, everyone knows who was released in Darksteel. I think I managed to get a playset for ~$20.

Date: June 13, 2004. I’m with Ryan, a non-Magic-playing friend of mine. We’re at the movies to see Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban. He mentions a card game he heard about called VS System (Ryan’s a huge fan of comics), and asks if I’ll play with him if he gets some cards. I recently found out that Joe, my best Magic-playing friend, would be moving from our home state of Maryland to live with his dad in Texas, so I figure I won’t be playing much Magic in the foreseeable future. So, VS System, I’m in. In fact, within two days of this conversation I’ve bought a box of Marvel Origins and I’m trading for $25 Sabretooths.

     

I’m not going to lie; I loved playing VS. Having been a Magic player, I carried over a lot of the same strategies and was able to play the game at a higher level than most of my friends at first. A lot of times people would ask me if VS was a better game than Magic. And while VS did have certain aspects that I liked (its resource system, specifically), I could never quite say that VS was a better game, even though I was playing strictly VS and absolutely zero Magic. In hindsight, I realize that what I liked most about VS were the friends who played with me.

Occasionally I would be at a VS tournament and see some people playing Magic, and I’d take a glance at what was happening, and peek at some of the new cards (some Japanese set, or something). It was a lot like being out and seeing an ex-girlfriend; you want to look and see if she’s better- or worse-looking than she was when you were dating. Honestly, from what I could tell, Magic was just as good-looking as she ever was (and she’d mostly gotten over that whole “metallic world” phase).

I started to entertain the idea of a little Magic on the side…

Date: May 21, 2005. I’m by myself at the Saviors of Kamigawa prerelease. I’ve never gone to a prerelease without my friend Joe before, but since he’s been in Texas now for several months, I don’t really have a choice. None of my other friends play Magic.

I’m waiting for my flight to start when I hear a familiar name over the intercom, being told that his round is about to start without him. As it turns out, Chris—a guy who’d started playing Magic along with me in high school ten years earlier—was playing Magic again and was at the Saviors prerelease. Wow, awesome. We chat and make plans to get together and play.

And when we did get together, Chris absolutely smashed me with a monoblue control deck. It didn’t matter what deck I played. He’d counter anything relevant that he couldn’t steal with Vedalken Shackles, and win with either my creatures (under his control), or Meloku the Clouded Mirror. I wanted to play this deck. (I also loved the Unhinged Islands that Chris was using in his deck.)

     

Chris showed me the power of blue. For so long, when I thought of powerful decks, I thought of powerful creatures, or fast creatures that would win before the opponent had a chance to stabilize. Even having used blue to supplement certain strategies (UG Madness, Hunting Grounds.dec), I’d personally never really thought of blue as a force unto itself. I’d seen monoblue decks before, but never like this.

It took more than ten years from that first day playing Magic (incorrectly) and winning with Drain Power, but over the years—picking up bits and pieces of various strategies, feeling confident as I answered opposing threats (rather than playing a threat and worrying whether or not it would stick)—I’d finally learned to stop worrying and love the blue.

Because seriously, why should I worry? Now I play my threats with counter backup.

Warren Instigator & Mindbreak Trap

Earlier this week, Evan Erwin tweeted that he had seen the full card text from Warren Instigator, and that it was “beyond mythic.” If you haven’t seen the card yet, take a look:

Beyond mythic indeed. When it was spoiled early Friday morning, everyone seemed to be going nuts. As many have said, Goblin Lackey was a powerhouse in Extended, and this card has the potential to be better than Lackey. The fact that the ability triggers twice is what has many people up in arms. The possibility of dropping two Siege-Gang Commanders has got players frothing at the mouth.

While I can’t say that I disagree—this is truly a very strong card—I do want to point out some things. Namely, the very real danger of overextending with this card. Let’s use as our example the current “dream” scenario for the Goblin deck (on the play):

T1: Mountain, Raging Goblin. Attack, opponent at 19. Cards in hand: 5.
T2: Mountain, Warren Instigator. Attack with Raging Goblin, opponent at 18. Cards in hand: 4.
T3: Mountain, Goblin Chieftain. Attack with all, opponent at 10. Instigator triggers twice, drop two Siege-Gang Commanders from hand into play. Cards in hand: 1.

At this point, with a perfect hand and absolutely no opposition, the Goblin deck can win on the next turn. But at the same time, it’s wide open for getting wrecked by a cheap board sweeper such as Infest or Pyroclasm. On the draw, Day of Judgment becomes a threat.

I’ll admit, this is the kind of card that can be scary for control players such as myself. If it’s not dealt with, it will end the game in short order. But unless Zendikar provides a playable way for a Goblin player to refill their hand, a single Volcanic Fallout or Day of Judgment could swing the game entirely in the other direction, leaving the Goblin player in topdeck mode for the rest of the game. I’m not saying it’s not a great card; I’m only saying that it’s a magnet for a 3-for-1, and that’s something you might want to consider when evaluating this card for Standard.

Also early on Friday morning, MTGCast provided us with the spoiler for Mindbreak Trap:

Now this is something to potentially get excited about. While right now it’s probably not right for Standard play (hoses Cascade decks, but only if 3 spells are played—otherwise it’s an expensive Double Negative), it could do some serious metagame-shifting in the Eternal formats where multiple spells in one turn are much more commonplace.

Still, there are possibilities for this card in Standard. Alongside other counterspells it will put opponents in a very awkward position. Think about it this way: If your opponent tries, in typical anti-counterspell fashion, to bait your counters with non-essential spells, they play right into the trap. If, however, they want to play around Mindbreak Trap, they’ll have to play their most important spell first, which leaves them open to Negate, Essence Scatter, and any other playable counterspell. And if you’re in a pinch, you can leave 4 mana up and hardcast it.

While it’s certainly no Cryptic Command, Mindbreak Trap is a versatile card that could be a threat even in Standard, depending on what else Zendikar brings.

And now some BREAKING NEWS: We’ve just gotten what at first looks like another answer to Baneslayer Angel in Standard:

A 6/3 with evasion for 5 mana with a 187 ability seems like it could be pretty good. HOWEVER! Check out the creature type. Demon. Now reread Baneslayer Angel. That’s right, protection from Demons. No dice!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Ol’ Halo Hunter can potentially hit this lovely lady:

A ridiculous bomb, no doubt, but at 9 mana is unlikely to see play in Standard. On the other hand, we’ve become accustomed to 7-mana sorceries in Standard, so maybe this isn’t such a farfetched idea after all.

An Introduction & UW Artifact Control

First, a quick introduction (which I’ll likely flesh out later). My name is Joey Pasco, I’ve been playing Magic since I was a freshman in high school when Revised Edition was the latest Core set. Like a lot of players, my relationship with the game has been on and off, but I’ve played for at least a short time during every Standard season since 1995. I’ve taken no breaks from the game since Ravnica block.

Recently, I’ve been looking for ways to contribute somehow to the MTG community, and for a long time I thought about writing a blog. This morning, one of the Magic players that I follow on Twitter, @wrongwaygoback, asked me to post a decklist that we were discussing. I figured, what better time to start blogging than now?

At this point I have no set plan for my content, but that could quickly change. For now, I’ll be posting decklists and general thoughts on the game.

     

UW Artifact Control – Post-Lorwyn Standard (pre-Zendikar)
Based on the list posted by Neale Talbot, found here.

CREATURES:
4x Court Homunculus
4x Esper Stormblade
4x Ethersworn Canonist
4x Ethersworn Shieldmage
4x Master of Etherium
3x Baneslayer Angel

INSTANTS:
3x Path to Exile
4x Harm’s Way

SORCERIES
2x Sleep

ARTIFACTS:
4x Fieldmist Borderpost

PLANESWALKERS:
1x Ajani Goldmane
1x Tezzeret the Seeker
1x Jace Beleren

LANDS:
4x Glacial Fortress
3x Gargoyle Castle
2x Arcane Sanctum
6x Plains
6x Island

SIDEBOARD:
4x Silence
4x Vedalken Outlander
2x Sleep
2x Pithing Needle
3x Open the Vaults

At the moment, the deck tends to take a lot of mulligans. I seem to keep ending up with hands that are extremely mana-light or mana-heavy. There’s no card draw in the deck, which would help things, but I’m just not sure what to add. Esper Charm would be great, but it’s not worth wrecking the manabase to include black. Also, Gargoyle Castle is an absolute beast (it’s definitely my favorite card in M10). This is another reason not to mess with the manabase, as adding black would likely require cutting any lands that produce colorless, such as the Castle.

     

I threw Baneslayer Angel into the deck because it’s obviously one of the strongest single creatures in Standard right now; however, it doesn’t actually fit with the artifact theme. I can’t say it’s underperforming, but maybe added synergy would be more valuable than a single bomb.

Another card I’m unsure about is Sleep. It can be a beating, and it can also just sit in your hand. I’m on the fence.