2016 was a huge year. So many things happened across the globe… the majority of them Wizards’ product releases. Seriously I think Wizards farted out twice the amount of products that they did last year- all of them overprinted to hell.
While it was exciting to think we were getting so many Magic releases at the start of the year, about halfway through I became exhausted. By the time Kaladesh rolled around I just didn’t care anymore. There was too much.
I feel like Wizards has well and truly succumbed to corporate greed. In the last few years Magic has sold incredibly well, so now they’re pushing hard to keep that ball rolling (much like Sisyphus). Don’t they realize that ‘continual growth’ is an impossibility? It gets me worried.
Now don’t get me wrong- I don’t think Magic is going to die. But I might. Check in with me several years from now as my withered consumer husk scrapes itself across the floor to get another booster pack.
But enough doomsaying! Here are the best bits of 2016!
I’m almost as big a fan of landcycling cards as I am of the Spice Girls.
Just like the Spice Girls, there’s five of them and I’ve been waiting for them to make comeback for some time. Now that they’re here I’m super excited! I wanna be their player and cast them with my friends. Searching lands forever, lands drop never end.
What’s more each of them is pretty powerful. Some of course are better than others, but not everybody can marry David Beckham. But each one is more than capable of releasing a solo album, and the fact they’re instants and sorceries means they are well represented by Mirari Records.
Commander 2016 was one of the best Commander expansions for years and I think these are secretly the best and most playable cards in the set. Anybody who says otherwise can stop right now, thank you very much.
Of course the Spice Girls need a stage to play on, and this probably isn’t it- given it morphs into a death metal overlord if you aren’t paying attention.
That said, I find the death metal overlord in question somewhat hard to summon (outside of like a Prossh deck). Ormendahl spends most of his time backstage, receiving pelvic massages from groupies (and if that was me I wouldn’t want to be leaving either).
In the meantime though, his stage is surprisingly useful. While Ormendahl is enjoying the privileges of being a rock god the size of his mosh pit is swelling, and those dumb little metalheads are great for throwing through shop windows.
Then when the Profane Prince of Death Metal finally appears amidst a cloud of smoke and death and fire, the party really gets started. And nothing says ‘party’ like 9/7 flying, haste, indestructible and lifelink. Except of course the Spice Girls.
This year I found out there was more to life than Commander. Things like camping in Ikea stores and throwing water bombs at shopping mall Santas. And of course Conspiracy: Take the Crown.
I think that expansion is the best thing to happen to Magic in years (check out my design review here). It represents a conscious attempt by Wizards to add more interactivity to multiplayer. Too many multiplayer games involve players sitting behind defences and bluffing away attacks before comboing out to victory. Conspiracy: Take the Crown’s design focus was for players start attacking again, the design choices of such leaving echoes across all multiplayer formats.
Wings of the Guard doesn’t really have a strong echo in Commander, but in Conspiracy draft by god is it a little shit.
As a common you’re going to see it reasonably often- preferably in your corner of the table. By itself on the attack it’s a 2/2 flyer for two, which scales admirably when you send other creatures to roughhouse alongside.
Conspiracy is a very aggressive format and this card is probably the most aggressive of all. After being on the receiving end, you’ll never look at a parakeet the same way again.
I love big splashy effects. And not much leaves a splash quite like an octopus the size of an aircraft carrier (except maybe an actual aircraft carrier).
Of course the octopus is just a token, launched from a sorcery that would make Michael Bay proud. You need some derpy whatever to use as a springboard, but from there the octopus sails majestically through the air, executing a perfect triple backflip gainer twist before splashing down hard enough to wash literally everyone else away. That ‘No Diving/No Bombing’ sign be damned- disobeying the pool rules is so much fun.
This card is so cool it almost tempted me to start playing Standard again, back when G/U Crush was a thing. It has since found a home in quite a few of my Commander decks where it thrives on bombing away token armies and splashing away my opponents’ sunscreen.
The only bad thing about it is Mirari Records doesn’t see any potential in it. ‘Poolside Summer Hits’ is kind of dud when there’s no water in the pool.
Whoops. I think I spoke too soon about making Michael Bay proud. Here’s another big sweeper that comes in handy when the board needs a bit of spring clean. What’s more it also drops a giant kaiju. It’s like Michael Bay teaming up with Guillermo Del Toro. In fact I think that’s Del Toro over there jacking off in the corner.
I love this card for so many reasons. It’s brutal, splashy, effective, and deposits a very big, very cool token on the battlefield.
But on top of all that is the flavour. This card is pretty much Godzilla, smashing his way out in some kind of reverse-fracking operation to stomp his way across the surface world. It’s theme/flavour/gameplay just come together perfectly, in a way that only cards like Form of the Dragon can match.
The only reason this card isn’t higher on the list is it sometimes feels clunky. Getting to nine mana is unfortunately every bit as hard as my man-parts are whenever I cast it, and blowing up a whole bunch of my own creatures and artifacts is not the kind of blowing I usually look forward to.
I said above that Conspiracy: Take the Crown left a lot of echoes (echoes…echoes…echoes…)
Well the biggest one is probably the Monarch mechanic, which I feel is the single best mechanic Magic has seen in the last decade.
The reason being is it promotes proactive play. Mutliplayer games sometimes stall because nobody wants to piss anybody off, and by the time somebody dusts the cobwebs off that dude that’s clearly meant to turn sideways, some douche already has their combo happening.
But Conspiracy: Take the Crown did what it could encourage more face-beating, the best execution of which is the Monarch mechanic.
Ever wanted to be king for a day? Monarch now means you can! You and everyone else. Introducing the crown to games of Magic makes them every bit as sadistic and vindictive and a pack of fourteen-year old girls who discover they’ve all been texting the same guy.
Of all Monarch cards, I like Skyline Despot the best. I mean come on, it’s a giant dragon. What do you expect?
That said, giant dragons that generate a steady stream of card advantage are a rarity and the fact it farts out more giant dragons is just gravy.
Expropriate is so jaw droppingly powerful. When I look at it I feel nothing but awesome power. I feel like I’ve got my finger on a nuclear launch button; like I’ve been handed a plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet; like I’m about to rip a massive fart in front of an air conditioner and crop-dust the entire building.
So much so that every time I play it I feel dirty and ashamed, like I’ve been watching incest porn.
I consider Expropriate one of the single most powerful cards ever printed. I put it on the level of Omniscience or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. We haven’t seen anything like it for years. One of its closest functional rivals, Time Stretch– itself an extremely powerful card- does less for more mana. And unlike Genesis Wave there isn’t an element of luck or deckbuilding involved. Just play and profit. Your opponents are sodomites and you are Almighty God.
At its basic level, think of it like Time Warp with Blatant Thievery attached. That’s generally what you should expect to get when you play it. But people and dumb and people are greedy and will often give you an extra turn so they can hang onto their Atraxa or whatever. The fools. The stupid, brainless fools.
When I first saw you Zendikar Resurgent, I knew you were something special. I know I say that to every girl I meet off Tinder, but with you I really mean it. (I know I say that to every girl I meet off Tinder, but with you I really, really mean it.)
For a long time I thought you would be the number one, and that nothing else printed could outdo you this year. You and your heaving bosoms of mana and perky nipples of card draw. It was love at first sight and I didn’t know how anything could possibly be better.
As we got acquainted I found out what a dirty little slut you were. You went through every Commander deck I owned that ran green. You let me take advantage of you in ways few others have let me. You let me summon my giant monster, and beat down with it harder than ever.
And it wasn’t just what I could do with you. It was your artwork too. You were beautiful to behold. A perfect picture of positivity, a radiant happy moment that is as rare in Magic as it is in episodes of Black Mirror.
I truly, honestly, for a long time thought you would be the No.1 on this year’s list.
But alas, you lost out to a bunch of legendary creatures. They just had more substance. I’m sorry. I still love you.
Did I say Skyline Despot was the Monarch card I liked the most? Oops. I lied.
But there is so much more to Queen Marchesa (long may she reign) than being a cool card. She is a cool character.
Lately Magic seems to be getting a little short of these. Everything seems to be focused around the planeswalkers and that whole ‘Gatewatch’ crap that was poured down our throats all year like castor oil. Magic story is beginning to feel like a sad Marvel’s Avengers clone.
The characters seem to be divided into two categories: superhero (or villain) planeswalkers; and collateral damage. What happened to having characters with vulnerabilities and flaws? That can’t just superpower their way out of any situation? I have vulnerabilities and I have flaws. And I consider it a superpower to be able to wake up before noon. Just how am I meant to relate to a bunch of mind-reading, fire-spitting, stampede-leading freaks?
The world of Conspiracy however takes a break from that. The events are driven by mortals that don’t have infinite power and can like, you know, die. The action is more covert than overt and the spiralling layers of intrigue spread throughout the story, setting and gameplay.
(Check out this awesome run-down of the cutthroat world of Fiora here and here).
Sitting in the centre of the web is the queen bitch of Paliano herself, holding strings she can tighten at any second. And unlike other villains that end up getting their plans foiled at the last minute by Magic’s Heavily Branded Justice League, Marchesa (may she reign extra long) has actually accomplished hers. She’s Queen of Paliano now. Stick that in your pie and bake it Bolas!
I also feel I need to mention Queen Marchesa (may she reign longer than the dinosaurs) the card herself. She is as solid a general as her previous incarnation, although she plays very differently. In true Paliano style her power is in her subtlety, and I have had a lot fun playing a ‘politcal control’ Commander deck with her. Think Zedruu pillowfort, but nasty. May she reign longer than I’ve had that [I think it used to be cheese] up the back of the fridge.
Beating one of my favourite Magic storyline characters of all time is a tough call, one that can only be accomplished by my other favourite Magic storyline characters.
Seriously, I was waiting for this card for such a long time.
Yeah yeah they both got their own cards back in Commander 2014. Which certainly didn’t disappoint. But see, I wanted to play them together. They’re family. They go together. Hand-in-hand; like salt and vinegar, Hansel and Gretel, Kim and Kanye.
I was so desperate I even pitched a variant format to my playgroup, ‘Brother and Sister,’ where you can play two commanders instead of one, except they had to be brother and sister. (The only other acceptable pairing I know of is Jarad and Savra: also a pair of zombie raising maniacs. Reanimating corpses appears to be a family tradition in Magic.)
I admit… I even started writing Magic fan-fiction about Gisa and Geralf, which may or may not see the light of day.
Then, against all expectations, Eldritch Moon gave me both together on one card.
I know there are many more fans of Gisa and Geralf out there (but I’m possibly the only one who has attempted fan-fiction). They were the standout characters from the original Innistrad block, and obtained many fans thanks to their constant bickering. For me and others like me this card being printed was like the kiss Prince Philip gave Aurora at the end of Sleeping Beauty. (Check out a fantastic character summary of Gisa and Geralf here.)
Despite loving Geralf and Gisa, I never really liked zombies. I believe I’ve mentioned that before. Ironic I know.
But since this cards printing though I’ve done a total one-eighty and I now live and breathe zombie goodness. I slapped together a zombie tribal deck using all sorts of thematic Geralf and Gisa cards from both Innistrad blocks, because I really wanted to play with them. In doing so the deck turned out to be surprisingly strong and resilient and it spat out enough shambling corpses to make your standard zombie apocalypse look like a kid’s party.
Not only did some of my favourite story characters ever get themselves printed in unison, they also resulted in the Commander deck I’ve had the most fun with all year. I’ve been sending tides of the living dead at my friends ever since. Go write some fan-fiction about that.
THAT’S IT THEN
So that wraps up 2016! Catch up on the sunshine and happiness of previous years here: