On Mana Leak.

Wow. Considering the fact that for the past several hours, whenever I think about the fact that Mana Leak has been confirmed in M11 I’ve been pretty much speechless, I probably shouldn’t be attempting to write about it. Nevertheless, I’m going to tilt the pitcher and see what pours out.

First off, we haven’t seen Mana Leak in Standard since 9th Edition rotated out in 2007.

Three. Years. Ago.

Back then, it was often seen hanging around with cards like Compulsive Research, various blue Signets, Mystical Teachings, and the Pickle twins, Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental.

There was no such thing as a Planeswalker card. By the time Lorwyn hit the scene, Mana Leak had been gone for nearly three months.

Remember Faeries? No? Let me help you out:

   

See, Faeries didn’t have the help of Mana Leak. And anyone who played during Lorwyn’s time in Standard will tell you: Faeries didn’t NEED Mana Leak. Faeries had their own version of Mana Leak in Spellstutter Sprite, not to mention one of the best blue spells (and probably my favorite) ever printed, Cryptic Command. And that’s not all. Scion of Oona was around in case anyone tried anything funny, like attempting to somehow remove your Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom. (Ah, yes…Bitterblossom. That’s a story for another day.)

But us, now, in 2010? We could really use a Mana Leak. Counterspells nowadays are either incredibly narrow, terribly situational, costed too highly, or some combination of the three. What used to be Scion of Oona is now Hindering Light.

Alongside Deprive, blue mages now have a realistic opportunity to play a GOOD counter-suite. In the early game, Mana Leak is essentially Counterspell; and in the late game, Deprive fills the same role.

The question now becomes whether it is worth it to counter a spell in the current Standard. We’ve become overrun with creatures and planeswalkers as of late. Generally, we’d rather deal with creatures in another way (Day of Judgment, instant-speed spot removal if necessary) since we have ways to remove them after they’ve hit the table, and summoning sickness gives us the opportunity to do so without giving the creature a chance to make an impact. The exceptions to this are creatures with haste and those with enter-the-battlefield abilities.

So, what creatures are we seeing in Standard that would fall into those categories? Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracle… Do you really want to spend a counter on those? Sphinx of Lost Truths, sure, that’s one I’d counter. Ranger of Eos, too. Bloodbraid Elf? No. And as much as Mike Flores wants me to “admit” it, I do not want to counter a Vengevine.

Okay, so that leaves Planeswalkers. I am perfectly happy spending a counterspell on a Planeswalker, as even though it seems like a one-for-one, we all know the card advantage that ‘walkers provide. But if the only spells worth countering in Standard are Planeswalkers, wouldn’t it be acceptable to just run Negate and take the risk of facing the occasional Sphinx or Ranger? Why do we “need” Mana Leak?

The truth is, permanents—creatures, specifically—have become so powerful that even “good” counterspells have lost a step. We need our counters to be versatile or they’re not worth running at all (see also: Standard). I’m beginning to wonder if that hasn’t been Wizards’ plan all along: Weaken the counterspells, then make creatures better and better until “classic” counterspells are balanced. Are we reaching a point where Counterspell itself would be a fair card to reprint? Think about it. No one expected Lightning Bolt to come back. (Hell, I remember being excited to see Incinerate come back in Tenth Edition!) Creatures were pushed to a degree that made Lightning Bolt no longer the powerhouse it once was, hence the return of the most classic burn spell ever printed.

Is it so crazy to think that perhaps Wizards is pushing the game to a level where Counterspell is balanced?



Be sure to check out the latest episode of Yo! MTG Taps! over on StarCityGames.com!

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On Deprive

If you haven’t yet heard, the following is a card rumored to be in Rise of the Eldrazi (unconfirmed; rarity unknown):

EDIT: Confirmed.

Initial thoughts:

What makes this better than Cancel?

1) You can play it on turn 2.
2) You can play it late-game effectively as “Counterspell.”

In the first example, playing it on turn 2, you’re now behind; yes, you traded with their 2- or 3-drop, but now on turn 3 you need another counter to deal with their 3- or 4-drop, which is likely better than whatever card they played on turn 2. So do you play ANOTHER Deprive (assuming you have it)?

Honestly, I don’t even think this is worth playing on turn 2.

Let’s say you don’t play it on turn 2, but you hit your first three land drops and then want to counter something. What’s better in this situation? Cancel or Deprive? Cancel, obviously. Deprive leaves you with 1 mana open which will likely go unused. In the meantime, now you’re set back a turn and you’ve likely wasted any advantage that Deprive provided you.

So, okay, late game then. This is where Deprive is at its strongest. But when is it really going to be that much better than Cancel? Really only when you’re returning something like Halimar Depths, as far as I can tell. It allows you to tap all but 2 land, unlike Cancel, but is that really such a huge deal?

For the moment, I’m going to predict that if Deprive sees play in Standard decks akin to UW Chapin Control, it’s going to be in numbers less than 4, as its early game drawback just seems like too much for a deck whose strengths lie in getting to Stage 3. However, I can see it being a possible staple in some sort of UG deck that can recover from the tempo loss using the myriad of mana accelerants available in Standard.

Chapin’s List (UW Control)

Pro-Tour San Diego: Patrick Chapin and his Blue-White Control deck were featured in a video deck tech late on Friday evening. See below:

So, sideboard notwithstanding, I wasn’t far off. Looks like Chapin ditched the Calcite Snappers (regrettably, considering the moniker I used for the deck in my last post), but otherwise a very similar list to what I have above. I’m actually surprised how close I was to getting the same manabase—I’m only off by +1 Scalding Tarn. Chapin does indeed run 2 copies each of Mind Spring and Martial Coup, along with maindeck Flashfreeze and Celestial Purge.

Notice also the FOUR copies of Cancel in Chapin’s deck.

FOUR!

CANCEL!!

AT THE PRO-TOUR!!!

     

     

At first, this seems a bit odd. Before now, the problem with most of the playable counterspells (Flashfreeze, Negate, Essence Scatter) was that they were narrow, which often made it difficult to have the correct counterspell for the situation. Enter Worldwake: along come Jace, the Mind Sculptor AND Halimar Depths—both of which help to correct this problem. With these cards, it is much, much easier to have the right counter at the right time. Still, Chapin & co. chose to run 4 copies of Cancel. Why?

The “problem” with Cancel has always been blatantly obvious. Counterspell=good. Cancel=bad. The only difference between the cards is the extra 1 mana. It might not seem like much, but imagine if the price of a staple such as gasoline increased by 33% (oh, wait…it has). Sucks, right? But Worldwake has also gifted us with a means of making up that difference: the mother-lovin’, Everflowing Chalice. As Chapin explains in the video, Chalice may be the “best signet ever,” due to its versatility.

For the curious, here are the differences from my original list:

-3 Calcite Snapper
-2 Negate
-2 Path to Exile
-1 Day of Judgment
-1 Scalding Tarn

+2 Cancel
+2 Flashfreeze
+2 Martial Coup
+2 Mind Spring
+1 Celestial Purge

Lastly, here’s Chapin’s maindeck (as he had it arranged in the deck tech):

Jace and friend

Photo by Alexander Shearer

[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Flashfreeze
[4] Cancel
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[2] Mind Spring
[2] Martial Coup
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Treasure Hunt
[3] Oblivion Ring
[1] Celestial Purge
[3] Day of Judgment
[1] Path to Exile
[2] Arid Mesa
[1] Negate
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[4] Plains
[1] Scalding Tarn
[3] Island
[4] Halimar Depths

EDIT: Added Chapin’s sideboard:

[3]  Baneslayer Angel
[1]  Elspeth, Knight-Errant
[1]  Essence Scatter
[2]  Flashfreeze
[3]  Kor Firewalker
[1]  Mind Control
[2]  Negate
[1]  Perimeter Captain
[1]  Plains

Snapper Control for Standard

Just as a quick aside, I thought I’d post the list I’ve been working on for post-Worldwake Standard.

CREATURES (4):
[3] Calcite Snapper
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria

COUNTERSPELLS (7):
[3] Negate
[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Cancel

REMOVAL (10):
[3] Oblivion Ring
[3] Path to Exile
[4] Day of Judgment

OTHER (12)
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Treasure Hunt

LANDS (27):
[4] Halimar Depths
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[3] Island
[4] Plains
[2] Scalding Tarn
[2] Arid Mesa

This list is inspired by a deck I watched Patrick Chapin play on the Magic Cruise last week. I didn’t get the list from him or anything, but I watched a couple of games and I liked what I saw.

UPDATE: Based on the coverage of PT San Diego, Chapin & crew (including Gabriel Nassif and possibly Mark Herberholz) may also be running maindeck Martial Coup and Mind Spring. I’ll update with the official list(s) sometime this weekend (as soon as I can get ’em)!

I don’t have an exact sideboard as of yet, but I’m thinking 4 Spreading Seas, 3-4 Flashfreeze, some amount of Celestial Purges, maybe a Luminarch Ascension or two. Into the Roil seems to be a great catch-all, especially for when a planeswalker slides past your Negates/Cancels; then again, a 4th copy of Oblivion Ring should do the trick (but I sure do love the cantrip option on Into the Roil). I need to test the maindeck some more to find the weak spots before I get a good idea of how the sideboard is going to end up.

     

So far, with no sideboard, I’ve been loving this deck. Originally I was thinking Esper was the way to go, but the Jace/Halimar Depths/Treasure Hunt engine makes Esper Charm a lot less necessary—and let’s not kid ourselves, Esper Charm is the best reason to play UWB. Cutting the black from the deck takes a lot of pressure off the manabase, freeing up space for Tectonic Edge. Having now actually played with Celestial Colonnade, it’s better than I expected. Vigilance on a manland in a control deck is just SO. GOOD.

     

To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about blue right now. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good. Really good. I love it. But the problem is, so does everyone else. While that won’t stop me from playing the decks I want to play, it’s never as much fun to play a deck when everyone else is playing it, too. On the other hand, maybe I should look at this as an opportunity to focus my efforts on how to edge out the pseudo-mirror match; that’s a skill I’ve always avoided, simply because it was not as enjoyable to play against a deck similar to my own.

Nevertheless, I’m really excited to see what the pro players have been brewing up for Pro Tour San Diego this weekend. Keep up with the coverage over at the mothership!

Yo! MTG Taps! Exclusive Interview with Patrick Chapin, & More!

Yo! MTG Taps! MC2 Coverage Part 2 – Patrick Chapin, the Mind Sculptor is now available for download!


Check it out over on MTGCast!

The second installment of our coverage of the Magic Cruise: An EXCLUSIVE interview with the Innovator himself, Patrick Chapin!

Also includes bonus audio coverage of Patrick’s monologue from the Magic Cruise on the impact of Worldwake!

***EXTRA! EXTRA! DOUBLE-FEATURE FRIDAY!!***

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 11 – The REAL Episode 11 is also now available for download!

It’s been three weeks since our last “official” episode, and we’ve got a lot to talk about! A bit about the Magic Cruise, BigHeadJoe goes over GP Oakland, and we discuss a little Standard and Worldwake. Also, we have some listener emails and our first listener voicemails!

Be sure to check out the MC3, coming up in February 2011!

Contact info:
Email: yomtgtaps [at] gmail [dot] com
Voice Mail Line: 1-331-MTG-TAPS
Twitter: twitter.com/yomtgtaps
Joey Pasco’s Twitter: twitter.com/affinityforblue
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/yomtgtaps
Facebook: Become a fan of “Yo! MTG Taps!”
Bigheadjoe’s Blog: http://otherworldlyjourney.blogspot.com
Joey Pasco’s Blog: http://www.affinityforislands.com

Thanks for listening!

It Gets By With A Little Help From Its Friends

A pre-Worldwake look back at post-Zendikar blue.

Blue was never bad. Just not as good as we’re accustomed to.
A 450-lb man who loses 150 lbs—a full 33% of his body weight—would certainly not be considered “skinny” by any means.

This, I feel, sums up the current state of blue in Standard. While blue may have been worse between October and January than it ever has been, in hindsight I think it was a mistake to say it was “bad.” Counterspells were narrow and card-drawing was much less effective, true, but the color still had its strengths.

To wit: There was a time when many considered Morphling to be the best creature ever printed. With a wealth of abilities previously unheard of, Morphling could pump itself to 5/1, stack damage, and then become a 1/5; it could gain Flying; it could gain Shroud. It could untap itself, doing a passable impression of Vigilance.

Now compare Morphling to Sphinx of Jwar Isle:

     

For 1 additional mana, the Sphinx enters the battlefield with Flying. It enters the battlefield with Shroud. It enters the battlefield as a 5/5, and for all of these Morphling-esque characteristics it requires no more mana than the inital investment. It trades faux-Vigilance for an ability that—in a format with fetchlands, cascades, and soon Treasure Hunts—may be even more relevant. (Not to mention “Knowledge is Power” is the unofficial mantra of the blue mage, right?)

Could the Sphinx actually be better than Morphling?! Well, yes and no. It’s all about context, and when Morphling ruled the skies, blue spells were at their best. (And as much as I would’ve loved to see it, if Morphling were to have been reprinted it would likely occupy the slot in your trade binder right next to Meddling Mage.)

Still, the Sphinx exemplifies the quintessential blue finisher quite nicely: difficult to block, and easy to protect.

No, blue was not bad. Rather, it simply could not stand on its own. Yet, with another color or two along for support, blue found a way to stay strong. With a bit of persistence, blue-based control strategies started showing up as early as six weeks into the post-Zendikar format! At Worlds (late November), a Standard RWU Control deck was in the Team Finals, and Gerry Thompson unveiled his “Spread ‘Em” deck. As Conley Woods put it:

Typically, control decks are only able to emerge as “good” decks once a metagame as been firmly established. This is because the deck needs to know exactly what problems exist in order to determine which answers it must run. (Blue Uprising)

The difference between pre-Zendikar blue decks and those we’ve seen of late, as Conley goes on to point out, is that usually the counterspells are more versatile. This allows them to appear a bit earlier, as their answers don’t have to be so specifically tailored for the metagame. It is this loss of versatility, coupled with the loss of Instant-speed library manipulation, that fueled the perception of blue’s demise.

So, now we have Worldwake. Now we have the Mind Sculptor himself to help sculpt our hands into the ideal mix of answers and threats. We can dig for Treasure in the Halimar Depths, and accelerate our mana by drinking from the motherlovin’ cup. BLUE IS BACK!!!1!!

     

Not so fast. Let’s take a step back.

Blue mages—like starving children in a frenzy over a hunk of stale bread—have managed to drive the price of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to near-Baneslayer levels. I’m not exactly saying the price is unwarranted, because the card is certainly a piece of beauty, and I hope it’s every bit as good as people are expecting. But it has yet to prove itself. Had JtMS been released while Lorwyn was Standard-legal, I’d have been surprised to see it reach a pre-sale price half as high as it’s seeing now.

But, but…we’re SO HUNGRY!!

Worldwake is certainly giving blue a nice shot in the arm, don’t get me wrong. But I think we’re putting the cart before the horse, here. Blue mages are feeling so under-nourished from Zendikar that what may turn out to be a Happy Meal is looking like Thanksgiving Dinner.

So yes, go test your blue-based control decks. Play your Jaces, and your Treasure Hunts (I know I will be). But don’t set your expectations so highly that anything less than “bah-ro-ken” is a disappointment. I don’t think Mono Blue Control will be a reality, but pair it with a pal and I think blue control decks will be just fine.

BONUS:

A Yo! MTG Taps! Video Supplement – Coverage of the Worldwake Prerelease!

Recorded at Dream Wizards Games in Rockville, MD.

Apologies for low audio. We recorded with an iPhone, and I did my best to try to clean it up, but it’s still a bit iffy.

No footage of actual games, but hosts BigHeadJoe and Joey talk a bit about their experiences at the Magic: The Gathering – Worldwake prerelease.