So 2011 has come and gone. Actually it went away about a month ago, but hey- being behind with the times is cool. It’s called ‘retro’.
And a lot of things happened in 2011. Japan got flattened by a tsunami, bananas rose to $15/kg, and I drove right into the back of a parked car (rushing to the New Phyrexia prerelease of all things).
And of course Wizards of the Coast pooped out more than a 20/20 Mycoloth.
Whilst there was nothing in this year’s bundle that completely upturned everything (here’s looking at you Jace the Gayhole Sculptor), there were certainly some real diamonds in there.
So given the fact everyone seems to do Top Ten lists around about this time of year, and I don’t want to be the only Magic blogger on the net without one, here’s mine.
These are the ten cards that got printed over the course of 2011 that impacted the way I play Magic, that defined new strategies for me and my playgroup, and the cards that I just simply fell in love with.
(And before you ask, no, Snapcaster Mage is not on the list. Go log onto StarCityGames.com if you want to read that crap.)
I’m a big fan of ‘Enter’s the Battlefield’ triggers on fat monsters. And along comes one of the best ever printed. Unlike conventional tutors, Mr Rune-Scar doubles as a win condition of its own right. When was the last time you saw a Demonic Tutor slap someone for 6?
It’s seen a good showing in several Standard decks, and even popped up in Vintage- just check out the ‘Demon Oath’ decks.
But whilst a fringe card competitively, it’s earned itself a place in almost any casual and EDH (sorry, ‘Commander’) deck capable of running it. Seriously, if your deck can manage a cost of 5BB, you better have a very compelling reason not to consider it. Its potential applications are enormous.
Search for your combo piece. Search for a spell to protect it. Search for a reanimation spell to get it back if it dies. Search for a Mimic Vat to make it killing it a stupid idea. Search for Evacuation. Search for another Rune-Scarred Demon. Search for the holy grail. Search for the meaning of life. Search for your wallet because you’ve got to get some more!
Or just do what all of us do and search for a Rite of Replication.
For a long time I wondered why Magic consistently shafted one of the most iconic fantasy creatures ever: werewolves. I even remember writing to Mark Rosewater or someone about it, threatening to shaft them.
And then along came Innistrad with an answer to all my howling (just to throw an unfunny pun in there).
Yeah people whinge that Werewolves suck, but they are very flavourful, promote interesting gameplay and deck design, and are….well… just plain cool.
And the Terror of Kruin Pass is the coolest of the lot. It’s aggressively costed, can hit for a lot of damage, and it even has a minor ‘lord’ ability that helps your wolf pack sneak in behind enemy lines. Oh, and did I mention best artwork in the set this side of Liliana of the Veil?
There are plenty of people who still say it sucks, but who cares if you suck when you’re the coolest dog in town.
Ok, I’ll be honest, I really can’t explain why I like this card so much. But I really do like it. Something about it just calls to me. The whole concept of a Thopter Mothership dropping down, assembling line of thopters, then zipping back up to the stratosphere is a bit too cool for words. Miles Davis-level cool. It’s like a giant flying robot version of Miles Davis.
The card also has certain practical applications. It’s essentially 10 power of flyers for 6. Playable in any colour. And if you aren’t using it for offensive purposes, the Assembly can consistently spit out lines of baby drones- the perfect recurring defensive wall. Or the perfect sacrifice fodder. I run a whole playset in my MUD Stompy deck and the tokens that don’t end up crashing into sphinxes get chewed up Kuldotha Forgemasters. Helloooo Blightsteel!
The only real problem though is large multiplayer games. A whole round has to cycle before you get your tokens, and most players really don’t want to leave a Thopter Assembly on the table. But late game, when kill spells are running short, the card advantage it provides really begins to emerge and it can take the game away for you.
And worst comes to worst, at the end of the day it’s a still 5/5 flyer. When was that ever a bad thing?
Remember me saying I like ‘Enters the Battlefield’ triggers stacked onto fat monsters? Well here’s another one.
Seriously, you’d be surprised at the kinds of shit people throw out these days. And then along she comes to sift through it and throw something right back at them. Sure, a lot of the time you won’t end up with anything better than some exploding vegetation, but every now and then you’ll hit the Plague Wind jackpot.
Oh and did we mention if you meet up with Miss Spires early enough she throws your opponent’s garbage out for you? And the fact she also happens to be a 5/7 flying tank? Like the girl has it all.
Except a nice face. So I totally get the ‘spires’ part- she looks like she’s got one rammed up her ass. For all she can do you’d think she’d smile more.
But that doesn’t matter- every time I’ve put her in a deck it’s me who’s been all smiles.
(Oh and did I say Plague Wind was the jackpot? Sorry, didn’t mean to lead you on. It’s actually Rite of Replication. Or Spitting Image. Seriously… infinite combo… have as many Miss Spires as you want…)
Its chancellor ability is arguably the best of the bunch, and hitting one in your opening hand gives you an instant leg-up in any large group game.
Plus everyone else starts a little closer to death. All you need to do is sit back on your massive life total and avoid playing any serious threats. Let everyone else continue hurting each other before you drop the Chancellor to mop up.
And its body and abilities are perfectly tailored. Flying gets in there to help the mopping up process, and any form of repeatable life gain is extremely important in multiplayer. The dude actually makes you harder to kill.
But most importantly, the Chancellor has a secret survival mechanism attached, and that is the fact there is almost always going to be something more dangerous on the table.
Now if you picked ‘D’, I’m not saying that’s a bad play, but in most circumstances you’d get a slap on the side of the head for wasting your Terminate. A 6/6 flying lifelinker ain’t squat compared to the stuff people usually try and get away with.
This is easily one of the most insidiously powerful multiplayer cards ever printed. Sure, it’s only really tailored to one particular game type, and requires a certain amount of finesse to get the most out of. But if you’re skilled enough at table-talk and reading the game-state, then you need to play four.
Oh, and abuse the ‘free mulls’ rule for as long as you have friends.
There is a whole other side to Magic that only ever pops up in multiplayer that I just find so compelling. And that’s politics. Forming alliances. Backstabbing. Table talk. Psyching people out. Purposely avoiding notice then winning from nowhere. And it was so good to see cards get printed last year that tapped into that vein.
I already touched upon those one of those cards with Chancellor of the Dross. But the Chancellor doesn’t touch that ephemeral area of gameplay anywhere near as much as one particular card:
Zedruu is purpose-built to maximize table-talk. And even if your group has outright banned table-talk, you can’t deny that certain decisions you make during the course of a game will determine the actions your opponents take against you… and each other.
Donate-on-a-Stick is a great way to make friends and turn others against each other. Want a friend? Promise a Thought Reflection. Don’t like someone? Gift-wrap a Magmatic Force, then watch the Blitzkreig fall on their shoulders.
What’s more Zedruu rewards your charitable actions with cards and life for every little gift you give. Which is insidiously powerful, because as your opponents start slapping the dickens out of each other, you’re netting yourself a massive resource advantage. Then you take the game away.
Of course the smart player will knock Zedruu out as soon as she appears, but as a tailor made EDH (Sorry! COMMANDER!) General you can just plop her out again. And all you really need to do to make her stick around is be a bit of bully, a bit of a charmer, and have a very glib tongue.
Hey, I just described myself perfectly!
Every once in a while along comes a card with pure smashitude. And off the top of my head I can’t think of anything with more smashitude than this. Wizards really pulled out all stops with this one:
A lightning bolt every upkeep? Tacked onto a 7/7 body? Not particularly effective, but jaw droppingly awesome.
Sorry… did I just say not particularly effective?
You bet I did.
The sad problem with this guy is he suffers from ‘Blood Tyrant’ syndrome- where he actually is so gloriously effective in multiplayer (with no way to protect himself), he just ends up with a giant target on his back. Seriously, in most games his life span can be measured in seconds. You’ll be lucky to untap with him.
But if you do… well…. I can only think of one thing more fun than using it to blast the snot out of everyone- and that’s having sex. ‘Nuff said.
Now you’re probably going to be surprised to see this card ahead of Magmatic Force.
You can give some of the credit to Veronique Meginaud. I’d marry her just for that.
But Celestial Force is different from its Magmatic brother and Verdant father. Where the other two enter the battlefield wearing little stickers saying ‘Doom Blade me!’, players are often more likely to let Celestial Force slide (which means you can gaze lovingly at Veronique Meginaud’s masterpiece a little longer).
Since it doesn’t involve blowing things up or pooping out babies, the advantage it brings is often overlooked. It has exactly the same insidious power that Chancellor of the Dross does.
Fact: life gain makes you harder to kill. And Celestial Force can deliver it more effectively than almost any other creature I can think of.
Put it this way- in a 3 player game, by the time you get round to attacking Celestial Force has already netted you 9 life. Its closest rival, Phantom Nishoba, will only have netted 7 (and that’s only on the attack, provided it hasn’t eaten a Terminate by then).
The only dudes that can actually net you more life are guys like Windbrisk Raptor and Victory’s Herald; guys lifelink your entire team. But no-one gets away with that crap.
But gameplay elements aside, Celestial Force is just one of those cards that really resonates with me. I can’t explain it, as it’s more than just being a 7/7 with amazing art that generates oodles of life gain. There’s something else there, and I don’t know quite how to describe it. I guess there was just a soft spot in my heart waiting for it and now it’s there forever.
Oh, and Veronique, if you’re reading this there’s a soft spot in there for you too. You single by any chance…?
You know how I said earlier if your deck can spare 5BB you need a very compelling reason not to run Rune-Scarred Demon? Well this is it.
All my 5BB slots in every deck I own have been taken forever. Sheoldred, I love you.
Gameplay-wise, Sheoldred does everything I want a card to do. She’s got a big fat body, reanimates other fatties for you, and can rack up a kill count to rival Ted Bundy. Hell, even the swampwalk comes in useful often enough- there’s always some douchebag trying to play black in multiplayer.
But there’s more to it than that. Sheoldred has a real presence. And that’s something you don’t see very often. From reading the first snippets of flavour text on Scars cards I was clued in about her existence, but who she actually was was a mystery… until all was revealed in New Phyrexia. Seriously, I almost told my then girlfriend I’d found another woman.
For all intents and purposes, Sheoldred is the Phyrexian leader. Yes, technically the Praetors all share leadership, but for all the OLd SKooL players out there, black is the most identifiable Phyrexian colour, and Karn was a brainwashed old puppet who no-one really believed anyway, so that makes Sheoldred the queen bee.
Ladies and gentleman, you’re looking at a supervillian. Just look at all the shit that went down on Mirrodin. Sheoldred steps up alongside Nicol Bolas to usher in a great new era of villains. She is the Lim-Dul or Volrath of our time.
And god damn is it fun to summon the bitch queen of Magic and send everyone else to hell with her.
So what tops Sheoldred, possibly one of my favourite characters and cards ever printed in Magic? This does.
I almost made Sheoldred no.1, for the simple reason I’m getting sick of playing this card.
I’ve seriously stuck it everywhere I can. The card is like Bogardan Hellkite 2.0: I own about three playsets and every single copy has a home. I actually depleted ChannelFireball.com of its entire stock.
Like I’ve said time and again, I love ‘Enters the Battlefield’ triggers on fat monsters. And sure, the queen bee isn’t that fat, but with all her babies she amounts for 6 power of flyers. And that’s really something for green. You can use that 6 power to smash face in duels, or create a defensive wall in multiplayer which no-one in their right mind would want to attack into.
I’ve shoved Hornet Queen into so many decks. My token deck. My ramp deck. My Mimic Vat/Rite of Replication deck. My Eureka deck, where it turbo-boosts Regal Force draw triggers out of control.
But the place I stuck it that made me love it so extraordinarily much was my Legacy deck.
That’s right, Hornet Queen is a house in Legacy, and I’m surprised no-one else has caught on to it.
I’ll write about the deck sometime, but it’s a mid-range descendant of the old Secret Force decks from fifteen years ago. Originally it ran Simic Sky Swallowers at the top of the playable curve. Yes they were very effective, but they were my only reason for a blue splash and by cutting them for Hornet Queens I found I could still have my 6 power of flyers and not fall prey to Wastelands or islandwalking merfolk.
But other qualities emerged. Believe it or not, Hornet Queen is actually harder to get rid of than Simic Sky Swallower. Just ask Gatekeeper of Malakir. Like what are they going to do? Swords to Plowshares a token? Pfft! And they’d have to be absolutely stupid to try and bounce it with Jace. The only things that actually get rid of it are Firespout, Wrath of God, and Pernicious Deed. But only a minority of decks actually play any of those cards, and most never get to Deed for 7 anyway.
Plus having a wall of flying deathtouch tokens presents a royal pain in the ass. They can take out almost anything that comes at them, creatures even the mighty Simic Sky Swallower would be afraid to tangle with. Tombstalker? No problem. Tarmogoyf? Dead. Super-sized Knight of the Reliquary? Whatever. And if you’re on the defensive you can just leave a baby or two untapped to throw in front of whatever’s coming at you and still swing in with the rest. Plus being flyers, in a format where not much actually flies, you’re not going to get much resistance. Not that anything would live through a combat phase after messing with it.
And Hornet Queen can even save you from Emrakul. Show and Tell just kicked the hornet’s nest (sorry, it had to be said). Just sacrifice the four tokens and two lands then block with the queen. The most powerful entity in the multiverse, killed by a tiny little bee? Embarassing.
Sure, Hornet Queen is not Progenitus, but I feel it has a rightful place alongside Terastodon as a prime Natural Order target. And against a certain subset of decks it’s actually better than both.
So what happened was a very cool creature got printed, one I really liked, and then I found a use for it no-one else had in the competitive format I love. It changed the entire way I play Legacy. And the fact I use it, and use it effectively, has begun to gather attention in my local metagame.
And I guess that’s why I love it more than anything else that’s been printed for a very long time. I feel the discovery of its potential is mine, and that somehow I’ve pushed some part of Magic forward in doing so. It might be a very small part, the corner full of mid-range Natural Order-based Legacy decks, but it’s the corner I call home. It’s like I’ve contributed something to Magic in a way.
And because of that Hornet Queen will forever be my little baby.
Now let’s stick one on that Mimic Vat.
So 2012 is upon us. What will happen? Will something else flatten Japan this year? (Hopefully anti-whaling activists, that’ll show them). Will the price of bananas go ape again? (sorry that wasn’t funny at all). Will I drive my car into another stationary object?
But one thing is for certain, and that’s that Wizards is going to print more cards. And I’m really going to like some of them.
And already I can feel something in stirring in my heart. Something just for you, little Vorapede…