The Wish List: 8 MTG cards I long to see reprinted

There is a scene at the end of The Return of the King – I’m thinking of the Hollywood interpretation here, so forgive me, purists – wherein, having saved the known world from the menace of Sauron, several of the major characters take to an Elvish ship to begin a voyage to the Undying Lands.

The characters whom they are leaving behind, choked with emotion, wave them off from the jetty; and we understand, misty-eyed ourselves, that those ships can never return. This is not a voyage, but a metaphor for death. Our valiant friends are gone, destined to live on only in our sunlit memories.

I don’t want to diminish the emotional punch of this image, but… it’s pretty much how I feel about rotations in Magic.

I have been… and always shall be… your friend

When (like me) a player tends to adopt pet cards, it can be gut-wrenching to wave them goodbye.

Even when a card is nominally legal in eternal formats, its power level can be such that no realistic chance of successful migration exists. I like to play unusual decks, but not to the extent that I will register something completely unable to compete: I have learned to accept that the hits of standard past will not always find a good home in Modern (and Extended before it).

The last hope that I’ll be able to relive the glory days with some of my old cardboard companions lies down the narrowest of paths: the route to reprinting in a standard-legal set. In  some cases, the likelihood is smaller than in others – but on the off-chance that Wizards of the Coast decides they are prepared to indulge my personal nostalgia, I’m going to lay out my top-8 candidate list below, shut my eyes and cross my fingers.

As Susie (of Calvin and Hobbes) once famously said, as long as I’m dreaming, I might as well have a pony.

#8 – Blazing Specter

This card is a source of constant frustration for me, because it’s eminently reprintable. Each time we’ve visited Ravnica, I have watched the Rakdos spoilers on tenterhooks… but each time, I’m left forlorn.

An additional reason exists for my frustration. If I wanted to, I could play this card in precisely the same environment in which I discovered it: Kitchen Table magic. But, thanks to my awareness of the format system, I can never again happily compete in environments without reasonable shared boundaries.

We had some good times, though. The Ol’ Blazer here was a great mid-game top-deck in every black/red pile I built for years, coinciding with a rich period of deploying resource-denial which Chrome Mox and Stone Rain had lured me into. I can still hear the frustrated grunts of my opponents as their sandbagged, bomb-creatures unexpectedly hit the bin time after time.

Unlike many of the cards from that era in my card-slinging career, I feel that Blazing Specter remains a respectable play in potential Standard landscapes of the future. It’s not overpowered, but it’s solid enough to find a home with anyone who likes their card advantage quick, dirty and unexpected.

#7 – Vindicate

A victim of the contemporary policy which forbids land destruction cards being printed at 3 mana, Vindicate is the iconic utility card.

I’ve used it frequently in cube to eliminate pesky monsters, stop degenerate Academy Ruins loops and un-pacify my game-dominating win conditions. It feels great.

Some may point me toward Maelstrom Pulse, but to those people I say: sometimes it’s good to murder the opponent’s real estate. Land death may be considered un-fun by many, but losing to Urzatron, Karn – or a great big meaty man-land –  is pretty un-fun too.

Is it too much to ask, that one of the great swiss-army-knives in the game’s history be given another roll of the dice?

#6 – Everflowing Chalice

The perfect mana-rock, Everflowing Chalice holds a special place in my heart due to its interaction with Proliferate, a mechanic slated to return by Wizards at some unspecified future date.

With a counter-bearing chalice in play, repeatable proliferate effects quickly spiral into an abundance of colourless mana, which in turn allows the resolution of large, colourless planeswalkers* and ridiculous X-spells.

Of course, the chalice doesn’t need such shenanigans to be good. At 2 mana, it is the picture of efficient acceleration. At 4 mana, it catapults the board position forward and provides something useful to do when conventional 4-drops are posted missing.

The problem, of course, is that this card cannot return without the general reappearance of Multikicker. I don’t know how likely Wizards is to resurrect the mechanic, but I think the chances are slim that it will ever share the standard environment with Proliferate again, thereby limiting the potential fun to be had.

Still, this is one of the more realistic cards on my list. Here’s hoping…

* Yes, in the last entry I condemned Karn as un-fun. Yes, I’m now touting him as a great thing to do with a lot of mana. Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Move along.

#5 – Wildfire

If the last card on my list ever makes it back, I expect it will end up hanging around on street corners with its dangerous older friend, Wildfire.

When it’s good, Wildfire is literally the most powerful thing you can imagine doing in a Standard Format. Ramping to 6 has been fashionable in recent years, when Titans bestrode the landscape, so we know that it’s a readily achievable threshold – but Wildfire is an even better payoff, if you ask me.

If I throw down an Inferno Titan against an aggressive deck, it’s a favourite to dominate their strategy… unless they have a removal spell, or a couple of burn spells, in which case, I may find myself staring down my likely demise at the hands of several small men.

The great thing about Wildfire is that Doom Blade can’t undo all my good work. In fact, short of a counterspell, I’m going to absolutely ruin the board position of my opponent whilst simultaneously removing their ability to cast spells in a meaningful manner. While they scrabble around to find lands, I’ll typically be recovering at pace with the help of artifact mana, or racing ahead thanks to a Planeswalker I already had in play before the apocalypse arrived.

I’ve tried to make Wildfire work in Modern, with mixed results. My instinct is that, at 6 mana, it’s a natural apex predator for standard; but like Tyrannosaurus Rex, it will inevitably die out in more evolved formats.

Still, the dream of blowing up the world is one I’m not quite ready to let go of yet.

#4 – Rude Awakening

To explain why I love this card so much, I need to tell a story.

Back in Mirrodin/Kamigawa standard, I was getting back into the game and playing in tournaments regularly for the first time. Affinity was the boogeyman and I hated it, like many others.

At one particular FNM I found myself back-to-the-wall, at low life, facing down a tapped, post-combat Ravager wearing a Cranial Plating, accompanied by about three tapped artifact lands. I had stalled my way through the game, blocking earlier creatures with Sakura-Tribe Elder, oxidising threats, witnessing back Elders and Oxidises… but here I was, close to death. I had a mess of lands and one card in my hand.

“Can you play through this?” my insufferably smug opponent asked me, flashing two copies of shrapnel blast.

“Yes,” I told him, untapping, drawing a blank and resolving the Rude Awakening (with entwine) which had been my solitary card. A mixed, 11-strong band of Islands and Forests danced across the table to claim his life total.

As I reached for the poisonous stack of artifact hatred that was my sideboard, smiling sweetly, I watched my opponent’s face. Burned into his features was the legend: BUT YOU DID NOTHING ALL GAME AND SOMEHOW I AM DEAD AAAAARRRGGGHH.

Please, Wizards. I speak for all durdlers everywhere when I say please, please give me back that feeling again.

#3 – Eternal Witness

Oh, my.

I have walked the dark path more than once in my life. I have used this young lady to return a recently resolved Plow Under to my hand, as my opponent rolled their eyes and dropped their hand face down onto the table.

I have held her in my hand, hidden from view, as nervous young men agonised over how to divide my Gifts Ungiven piles.

I have stayed in touch throughout games in which I should rightfully have been steam-rolled, as she helped me to recycle Remand over and over again, until I could draw the action I needed.

I want to do these things and more – and I want to do them in standard again. Come on, Wizards – is my gal-pal here really so overpowered?

#2 – Cruel Ultimatum

There is always a greater power.

It’s pretty appropriate, on the basis of this classic flavour text, that Cruel only makes #2 on my list… even here, there is one card which has a greater pull on my heart-strings.

That card will wait, however. For now, let’s reminisce about all the things which made this card wonderful.

  • Value – I’ve heard this card estimated at a nine-for-one, on the basis that the life swing is equivalent to a consume spirit or similar. Sometimes it’s less, for instance when no creature is available in the caster’s graveyard, or the opponent has less than three cards; sometimes, against a red deck for instance, those five life points are priceless.
  • Power – The power to flip a game completely on its head; to turn a war of attrition into a one-sided thermonuclear combat, or to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
  • Iconic status – Just look at that casting cost. What card could be worth seven mana, all coloured, in such a demanding arrangement? THIS ONE. THIS ONE CAN.

Cruel can’t win from every position, but supported with the right friends it can create a mountain for opposing players to climb.

  • It can’t win through a board full of creatures – but if you damnation away the opponent’s team, it will handily dispose of their follow up threat.
  • It can’t stop an opponent from Cruel-ing you straight back if they had more than 4 cards in hand – but if you run pinpoint discard, you can guard against such situations.
  • It can’t hold the early game to stop you from dying before you hit 7 mana – but that’s why you should design your deck around keeping parity (or better) and drawing the game out until it becomes the ultimate stall-breaker.

Sadly, I fear we are never likely to see Cruel grace a standard table again. It is, by its very nature, part of a very unique cycle – and I question the willingness of Wizards either to reprint that whole cycle or to give us Cruel as a standalone. Perhaps I will simply have to make it work in Modern… wish me luck.

#1 – Etched Oracle

Oh, Etchy.  Will we ever again shuffle up together, my faithful companion?

There are so many things right with the Oracle.

  • He has a respectably-sized body, provided one can meet his multi-coloured conditions; I am already predisposed to playing decks with four or more colours, so that sounds just fine to me.
  • In addition, he has a magnificent upside once in play: a colourless Ancestral Recall, which I like to think is represented by the beautiful poly-chromatic orb he clutches in his filigree fingers.
  • Finally, he has the most gorgeous artwork I have ever seen on a Magic card. Gaun Yersel’, Matt Cavotta.

But there are also things which count against the Oracle, from a reprinting perspective.

  • He is only viable in an environment with plentiful colour fixing… and despite visiting such places several times, Wizards have historically chosen to overlook him.
  • He carries the Sunburst mechanic, which is thematically linked to Fifth Dawn, the specific set in which he was first printed. To create a world where Sunburst felt appropriate would take slightly more bending-over-backward than I expect Wizards to indulge in.

All of this is more painful, because I feel that he missed out (if you’ll pardon the pun) on his time in the sun.

When the Oracle first arrived, standard was a mess. Affinity reigned supreme and all organised play twitched helplessly in its iron grip; in such an environment, if a card wasn’t Oxidise at one end of the cost spectrum or Molder Slug at the other, it probably wasn’t getting played in any decks lining up against the artifact menace.

Eventually, bannings fixed standard slightly. For a brief period, I was able to play actual games with the paragon of good, fair creatures – and lo, he was glorious.

In the days of ‘damage-on-the-stack’, Etchy was the absolute stones. He was a house against attacking weenie creatures, a solid man to trade with larger animals… and if played correctly, he always came with an ancestral absolutely free.

  • Block your X/4 guy
  • Damage on the stack?
  • Pay 1, sac the Oracle, draw 3 cards
  • Damage resolves, your guy dies
  • Set off the party poppers, rig up a piñata, etc

If getting a 4-for-1 with my creature felt amazing, the 5-for-1s were even better. Sometimes, my fire-slinging opponents would swing their weenie team into my Oracle… I would block a small man… and they would hurl in a burn spell to finish him off. Naturally, I would cash him in, untap and go bananas – not difficult when the other guy is hurling good resources after bad, while I’m drawing into sweet spells and Eternal Witnesses by the boatload.

Ah, Etchy. Our time was so short, but so sweet. I struggle to fully express my feelings on this matter, but Whitney can pick up the slack.

It’s not all about me

That was my list, but different opinions provide life with a lot of its wondrous variety.

If you ran Wizards for a day, what would you throw back onto the printing presses?

Stealing a library for fun and profit


If you’ve visited this post to find out how one might steal the valuable contents of an actual Library (for instance the surviving relics of the famous Library of Alexandria), I am afraid I have to disappoint you. This is an article about the Magic the Gathering card game, not the plunder of priceless cultural heritage.

If you already knew that this article was about MTG, but wanted advice on how to steal a copy of the card Library of Alexandria, I’m afraid you will also be disappointed. Also, you are a terrible human being; seek help.

If you already understood the MTG connection, aren’t actually bent on larceny, plus you have always fantasized about repeatedly beating up on your opponents with their own resources, congratulations! You are in the right place.

Su casa es mi casa

It can be a tough life, brewing Magic Decks on a budget.

All around you, players with less drains on their disposable income are packing their decks with premium cards, while you are forced to build with scraps. All too often, you will run your eye down the length of your latest artwork and experience a sinking feeling, as you realise that it would be greatly improved by the addition of 4 Sphinx’s Revelation… a suite of cards from which you are separated by, at the time of writing, approximately $85.

Can you spare a brother 850 dimes?

If only there were a way to play with all the revelations, huntmasters and geists you desire, whilst still being able to pay your mortgage at the end of the month.

Well, happily, there is.

My new BFF

I’ve recently started ‘stepping out’ with a new man, doing all sorts of fun things like running through the surf of golden beaches hand-in-hand, or sharing one huge milkshake with two straws in a 50’s-style malt shop. His name is Nightveil. Let me introduce you.

NV, meet the guys. Guys, meet NV.

Nightveil and I have similar interests. We like MTG, cheesy romantic gestures and playing with cards from other people’s libraries.

We first met shortly before the start of the main Saturday Gatecrash prerelease in Glasgow, where a competitor from the midnight event pushed him across the table toward me with the words: “…this guy was insane every time I cast him.”

As I looked at him, I ran through an internal thought process which covered some of these key points:

  • The baseline power level for a playable creature has been creeping up in recent years.
  • This creature doesn’t have an obviously pushed power/toughness ratio for his mana cost.
  • He doesn’t have an ETB effect, so if he dies before he damages the opponent, I am left with nothing.
  • He’s apparently a specter, but he doesn’t get rid of cards from the opponent’s hand, just their library.
  • There’s no guarantee I can even cast the cards I exile. How is that good?

Luckily, the man making introductions wasn’t finished.

“He lets you play any of the cards you exile,” he continued enthusiastically, “Including lands! So if you can protect him for a few turns, you end up getting the right colour of mana to play the other guy’s spells just by naturally stealing his manabase.”

Inside my skull, a correction began to unfold.

  • If I can naturally play lands from the opponent’s deck…
  • …and most decks are close to 50% lands…
  • …this creature will, on balance, be drawing me a card every two turns.

Drawing additional land is certainly the kind of thing I’d want to be doing in a control deck, where consistent mana development is key. Perhaps NV did have some fringe uses, I began to think.

  • If I can hit lands over the course of a few turns, I might start to turn on the opponent’s spells too…
  • …which would start to drive the value of his ability closer and closer to ‘Draw a Card’…
  • …as well as providing a one card mill, which might have incidental value in a match where life totals were unlikely to be relevant.

If only I could find some way of increasing my ability to cast spells from off-colour decks, I thought, me and NV could potentially get some work done.

  • Chromatic lantern is an actual card, recently printed and cheaply available.

Remember me? We met at the RTR prerelease and you’ve been looking for a good reason to play me ahead of keyrunes ever since…

Hold the phone. We can perfectly fix our mana with a useful accelerator? Is our Specter just an Ophidian in the right deck?

  •  Ophidians haven’t really been good for quite some time.
  • Scroll Thief, Stealer of Secrets, even Dimir Cutpurse didn’t cut it.
  • Of course, Shadowmage Infiltrator saw play…
  • …because he had evasion.

I stared down at NV with fresh eyes.

  • This creature is essentially an Ophidian.
  • It has evasion.
  • It incidentally mills my opponent.
  • It has a respectable set of power and toughness, with the latter being especially relevant: blocking 2-power creatures is a thing, now.
  • It doesn’t die to Pillar of Flame or Ultimate Price, which are small but relevant edges against popular removal.

I was onboard… and in my brain, I started to brew.

The Specter’s playground

To make Nightveil Specter really sing, it’s necessary to build a deck that gets the most from his little edges.

For starters, we want a deck which:

  1. Plays for the long game
  2. Will be happy to utilise someone else’s land drops
  3. Can obtain value from incidental milling

To my mind, this suggests a controlling strategy with an alternate win condition of milling the opponent’s library. By fortuitous coincidence, Nephalia Drownyard is a card which is allied to NV’s colours and has already proven its worth against the ponderously slow, life-gaining control decks running around the Standard landscape.

Highly effective AND sporting awesome art? The perfect card.

So, we’re running a control deck, complete with Drownyards and Nightveil Specter. What are our other considerations?

  1. Our deck works best with a Specter in play, so it would be nice if we could protect one.
  2. It would be nice if our milling suite wasn’t dead in games where milling wasn’t in itself the means of victory.
  3. It would also be nice if we could leverage value out of the subtle distinction between drawing cards from our library and from our opponent’s library.

If we’re going to protect a Specter and we’re already a blue deck, it would make sense to have some counterspells. Since we’re also a black deck with a milling theme, it would make even more sense for some of those to be Psychic Strike, a shiny new toy from Gatecrash.

I have a sneaky feeling that this may turn out to be a very good card. I wonder if I’ll feel stupid or visionary in a year’s time?

Next on the list: get value from non-lethal milling.

There are a large number of creature decks in Standard. Milling the opponent’s guys might be useful if we could make such milled guys into a resource. Enter another pet card:

Have I finally found the deck for you to shine, old pal?

The Lich does double duty in our deck, stealing dead creatures from the other side of the table and recurring our own Specters which have met a grisly end. But so fond am I of the first interaction, I brought a friend along for him…

It wouldn’t be one of my decks without at least one card which made competent players shake their heads in disgust.

Many of you are tutting as you read this, remarking aloud that I seem unable to tell good limited cards from good constructed cards. Let me explain before you hastily close your browser window.

The Lich is great, but he’s slow. Sometimes, you will want to abuse the opponent’s graveyard with immediate impact: the Primordial is happy to oblige. He steals big creatures for a very small mana premium and bumps them straight into play. He can create two large roadblocks when you are facing aggression, or a very fast clock if you need to close a game.

Even better, he can be recurred himself in the late game by the Lich. In case you’re wondering, that is an absolutely dominating play and well worth screen-shotting if you pull it off on MTGO.

This brings us to the most difficult question: how do we leverage the fact that we aren’t drawing our deck, but someone else’s? Why might it be better to draw someone else’s cards rather than our own?

To properly answer this, I’ll need to share some of my observations from playing the deck which I’ll share with you shortly.

The Specter draws cards which don’t go to your hand, but are exiled attached to him. This creates a vulnerability, in that if he is killed, you lose access to those cards. But it also creates an opportunity: if your hand is full, you can enjoy a ‘virtual’ increase in hand size, because the game doesn’t care that you have 2 under the Specter when it comes time to discard.

That’s not to say you should store up his exiled collection – by contrast, I tend to snap-play any lands he draws and am strongly incentivised to use exiled removal on the same turn – but it is sometimes relevant when you are involved in a war of attrition. Little edges add up.

There is also an advantage to using your opponent’s threats and answers rather than your own: let’s call it effect density.

When I take your Thragtusk and play it myself, I’m achieving a couple of things beyond just drawing the card.

  • I’m reducing the number of Thragtusks you can use in a game by one.
  • I’m getting the benefit of a Thragtusk without having to spend a slot in my deck to do so.

These are not irrelevant advantages. Particularly in a Standard environment where players are loading their decks with premium creatures, they allow me to build a deck with a very low count of game-ending threats, confident in the knowledge that such threats can likely be obtained in other ways. The space this frees up in my library can be filled with answers and resource-advantage effects.

The little Specter that could

I finally settled on this list as a provisional home for NV:

4 Watery Grave
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Nephalia Drownyard
3 Evolving Wilds
4 Island
6 Swamp

1 Devour Flesh
2 Victim of Night
2 Ultimate Price
4 Think Twice
1 Cyclonic Rift
2 Snapcaster Mage

4 Psychic Strike
4 Nightveil Specter
3 Chromatic Lantern

1 Rewind
2 Inspiration
3 Mutilate

2 Havengul Lich

1 Sepulchral Primordial

3 Syncopate

While I don’t want to spend ages talking about every slot in the deck, I can summarise the approach I took in deciding them as follows:

  • I wanted to make sure I stayed alive, hence the plentiful removal suite.
  • I wanted to make sure my Specters stayed alive, hence the plentiful counter suite.
  • I wanted to have enough card draw to keep the deck ticking over, whilst allowing me to hold up countermagic, hence the Think Twice/Inspiration package.
  • I wanted to use all those effects multiple times, hence the Snapcasters.

The card I’m least happy about is Inspiration, but I can’t find a better solution for the moment on my budget. Suggestions are welcomed, although ripping other people’s card draw from the top of their library has been helpful up to this point.

If you like it, try it

This marks the start of my personal journey with NV; however, better players than I abound and if there is a truly powerful deck to be found which abuses the little guy, I am sure they will find it. Perhaps this post might start them thinking.

If, like me, you simply want to enjoy the feeling of playing a large Sphinx’s Revelation (which your opponent was kind enough to donate to you) in response to a removal spell on your Specter, be my guest. There is no sweeter premium mythic than the one you didn’t pay for.

Clash of the Titans

Tonight, we do something… different.

Tonight, we push the boundaries of what is possible with the meager resource pool of 12 geeks and 540 pre-sleeved Magic cards.

Tonight, we play team cube sealed.

Dear reader, you will of course recall my primer on the nature and appeal of cube-drafting… skimmed it again? Good.

With all that in mind, let me tell you a tale of triumph, tragedy and camaraderie.

Late in the evening, we descended like a cloud of geeky, chuckling locusts upon Spellbound Games (Glasgow’s premier gaming store – and arguably the most community-integrated business I have ever encountered). Huddling in our threes, we filtered through the stacks of over-powered cards, trying to find amongst them the most appalling, degenerate things we could possibly do to each other.

What’s that, you ask? Who’s ‘we’? Let me break it down for you:

Team Handsome AKA The Thawing Glaciers

Gerry, Duncan and Billy

Bacon Buddies

Antwan, Stuie and Chris


Paul, Doug and Peter

Inter YerMaw

Gordon, James and Yours Truly

I would spout lavish biographies for each contestant, but I’d only end up failing to do the other gents justice before musing for several paragraphs about why I make a twat of myself in every photo; that would be a painful process for all involved. Let’s get to the meat of the thing.

How it goes down

Each of the four teams receives a stack of 135 randomly determined cards, a quarter of the total cube pool of 540. Over the following 50 minutes, they must collaborate to build three decks from the cards available in that stack, adding basic lands as required from a separate pool.

The deck-building process is a delicate balancing act. The teams must consider several factors:

  • What archetypes are available?
    • Does the stack contain a host of small, efficient creatures and burn which lend themselves to aggro decks?
    • Is it jammed full of controlling effects which clear the board, draw cards and present enormous threats late in the game?
    • Are there any highly synergistic combinations of cards which suggest a particular type of gimmick deck?
  • What colour combinations and splits are viable?
    • Most decks in a cube event will be in at least two colours, even if one is very clearly the primary colour and the other a splash.
    • When building three decks, it’s important to consider which colours are strongest in the pool; which colours will sit most easily together, based on the mana-fixing which is available; and how it is appropriate to split up certain colours.
    • Some colours lend themselves to being split as splashes amongst multiple decks, if the right cards are present; for instance, red and black typically have removal options without heavy mana commitments, so they might be apportioned to several decks in order that they all have a chance to deal with problem creatures.
  • What is the appropriate power distribution amongst the decks?
    • Once a pool is opened, certain combinations of cards may represent a powerful core or theme for a deck.
    • If multiple packages like this exist, how hard should the team work to split them across the decks? Should they be as evenly spaced as possible, or crammed into one deck to create a monster which will almost guarantee a match win each round?

There’s more, but hopefully this will give you a flavour of how difficult the decisions faced by each team are.

Our personal challenge

In last night’s event, the men of Inter YerMaw were faced with a series of tough calls. a quick glance at our pool revealed:

  • The tools for a powerful green ramp deck
  • The mana fixing and variety of effects for a fairly interactive White/Blue/Black (Esper) midrange deck
  • The creatures and burn for a Red/White (Boros) aggressive deck with a clunky curve, but brilliant equipment

In the process of building, a few things became clear:

  • It was difficult to decide on the optimum configuration for the Esper deck, as the effects were almost universally of medium power and the options were so varied. Even today, we are still debating card choices!
  • The Boros deck was walking a difficult tightrope between including all the amazing equipment in our pool and ensuring that it had enough creatures to actually carry that equipment.
  • Close to the end of deck-building, with the clock ticking loudly, it started to dawn on us that the Green deck (now including black and a series of very neat interactions) was absurdly powerful.

With the ‘end of deck-construction’ alarm ringing, we were forced to accept that complete optimisation of our strategies was a pipe-dream. Now we had to roll the dice, sling some spells and hope that it all came together.

Playing the event

Once deck construction is complete, each team chooses a seating order for its members, which will determine the opponents each will face in their matches: Team A’s player 1 will face Team B’s player 1, etc.

The teams are then randomly drawn against each other, after which point the players will sit down opposite their numbered counterparts and play a match. The team’s result overall is determined by the aggregate of the match results: if Team A’s players 1 and 2 win and their player 3 loses, Team A will win the round 2-1.

One endearing feature of the team format is the ability to confer with your wing-men (or gal-pals; cube is a gender-equitable pursuit) throughout the event. In practice, this means consultations over whether starting hands are suitable or should be mulliganed, or guarded discussions about which sequence of plays will produce the best results on key turns.

Round 1: Inter YerMaw vs. Doomgape

Nervous and excited, we took up our positions.

  • In seat 1, wielding our strong Green/Black (Golgari) deck, I faced off against Peter.
  • In seat 2 was James, packing the Esper midrange brew against Paul.
  • In seat 3, Gordon rounded out the line-up, facing Doug with our Boros concoction.

With apologies to the Magic-illiterate segment of my audience, I’m afraid I must now get technical.

The Golgari deck was exceedingly complex, running a toolbox of creatures which could be fetched by Fauna Shaman and recurred with Genesis and Volrath’s Stronghold. Squee was one of these creatures, greatly enhancing the strength of the interaction. This made it very powerful in the long game and incentivised me either to slow down the play, or accelerate my own game plan.


Luckily, acceleration was not a problem, as the deck also had a suite of ramp spells to put me turns ahead in mana development. It also had some strong cards to abuse the early ramp, in Grave Titan and Wurmcoil Engine.


Finally, it was packing a Crucible of Worlds engine, which included Strip Mine, Wasteland and Evolving Wilds.


Yes, folks, we really opened this in a sealed deck.

My games against Peter, who was playing a Red/Green (Gruul) beatdown deck, went largely as follows:

  • Peter would mulligan, then deploy some early threats whilst I developed my board.
  • I would activate Fauna Shaman, resolve a Plow Under, or play a strip mine and start to improve my hand while attacking Peter’s mana.
  • Eventually, I would stabilise on a low life total, with Peter hoping to draw a burn spell which could finish me off while I tried to close that window of opportunity by gaining life or killing him quickly.

The range of powerful options and trickery available to the deck made it a joy to play. Peter fought valiantly to make an impression for his team – and twice had me dead to any burn spell on top of his deck – but ultimately didn’t have the tools to push through a ridiculous series of interactions. In fact, in our second game the board state became so stupidly lopsided that his teammate Paul was only able to laugh out loud when consulted.

Of course, Paul himself was playing a deck which created either laughter or despair for his opponents. James found out, to his cost, what it was to play a deck full of solid spells against a who’s-who of the cube’s top 20 cards. Paul started the match with a first-turn Sol Ring and things went downhill from there. Each time I glanced to my right, he had added a Kokusho, or a Liliana of the Veil, or a Griselbrand, or a Recurring Nightmare to his side of the table.


James’ face was, increasingly, a work of dark poetry.

When the match was over, Paul even managed to flash a Mind Twist which he had never deployed, leaving us to roll our eyes and wonder why a cold, distant god despised us so.

In the pivotal clash, Gordon lost out narrowly to Doug’s slightly ‘bigger’ aggro deck, whose creatures slightly overmatched his own. After the fact, he declared himself unhappy with the overall feel of his deck, foreshadowing a lesson we would eventually learn for future Team events.

With the next clash looming, Gordon and I broke for some much-needed chicken snacks.

The only thing I regret is waiting until 9pm to get started on this bad boy.

Result: Doomgape 2-1 Inter YerMaw

Round 2: Inter YerMaw vs. Team Handsome

As if it wasn’t intimidating enough to face a crack unit named for their formidable beauty, I had the misfortune of lining up against ‘The Handsomest Man in Scottish Magic’ himself, Billy Logan.

Seat 1: I faced Billy, sporting a Blue/Red (Izzet) control deck.

Seat 2: James took on Gerry, who was playing a base-Green ramp deck which included the brutally powerful Mirari’s wake.

Seat 3: Gordon’s opponent was Duncan, whose deck I didn’t get a great look at – suffice to say it was also playing some red spells.

My games against Billy were extremely uninteractive, with one player or the other gaining the ascendancy through a series of powerful and inevitable plays.

In the first, I managed to win despite the fact that Billy resolved a Bribery which put my Grave Titan into play under his control. The secret? Pack Rat, an egregious card in limited formats which was part of my Fauna Shaman toolbox.

Suffice to say that, without true mass removal, Billy’s otherwise excellent deck had very little in the way of answers to a rat.

In the second, Billy countered my Fauna Shaman to cut off early access to the rat, then locked me out with a Frost Titan as I stumbled slightly on mana.

The third game was a true testament to the power of Pack Rat. I kept a hand without green mana, but with a rat and two colourless utility lands. A rat on the second turn essentially ended the game, although Billy played like a man possessed to try and cut it off. Eventually I drew Squee setting up an unbeatable engine which quickly ended the match.

Sadly, in seat 2, James had been overrun by the powerful, early monsters Gerry had ramped onto the board; while in seat 3, Duncan had similarly claimed the spoils for Team Handsome.

As we prepared for the next round, James and Gordon were both expressing dissatisfaction with their decks, while it was increasingly obvious that a traffic cone could have piloted my degenerate stack to a winning record.

“Activate Pack Rat, discarding Squee. GG mate.”

Had we made an error in not consciously splitting its powerful combinations across all three decks? It certainly felt that way to my teammates – and I was left to regret waiting until so late in deck construction to start focussing on those cards, which if addressed earlier might have yielded a more even distribution of our pool’s ‘oomph’.

Result: Team Handsome 2-1 Inter YerMaw

Round 3: Inter YerMaw vs. Bacon Buddies

Entering the home straight, our team had the dubious honour of being the only one firmly out of contention for 1st place. Nonetheless, a quick pep talk had us firing on all cylinders again, determined not to go quietly into the night. Imagine Judi Dench quoting Tennyson in Skyfall and you won’t be far off.

Seat 1: I faced Chris, running classic Blue/White (Azorius) control.

Seat 2: James was up against Antwan, piloting a spicy Boros recipe which included Stoneforge Mystic plus Sword of Body and Mind.

Seat 3: Gordon met Stuie, rocking a pretty nutty Green ramp deck himself.

My matches with Chris were not tremendously well-balanced. Although he set a high standard for power with his opening play, Library of Alexandria, I was able to fire off Plow Unders in both games and get my engines online to grind out the wins handily. I cannot overstate how powerful the axis of Fauna Shama/Squee/Genesis/Pack Rat was when my opponent had  no way to interact with my graveyard.

The fun stuff was happening elsewhere, however…

Gordon had the joy of staring down the following sequence of plays from Stuie in their first skirmish:

  • T1: Forest, Elf, Mana Crypt, signet.
  • T2: Forest, Primeval Titan, cheeky wink.


Predictably, he did not take the game from that position.

As Stuie continued to demonstrate why fast, plentiful mana is a bad thing for game design, the deciding exchanges were taking place in seat 2. James and Antwan were reaching the climax of their third game as I wrapped up my own match and I was able to join in the final decision of the game.

The board state:

  • James on high life, with 4 cards in library and Consecrated Sphinx in play alongside Celestial Colonade and oodles of Mana.



  • Antwan on 3 life, with 2 cards in hand and two mana available, a Stoneforge sporting the Sword of Body and Mind.


It was Antwan’s end step and James cast Impulse, which in that situation, read: “Tutor your library for a card, then stack your library as you choose.”

The choices were: three uninteractive cards and Remand.

“I take the Remand, right?” asked James.

“Definitely,” I replied, adding nothing to the process except an opportunity to claim later that I was partially responsible for his triumph. Yes, I am that guy.

Seconds later, James swung with vastly more than lethal damage and counterspell backup against a defenseless opponent. It’s testament to just how hard we’d been kicked in previous rounds that we flinched when Antwan pretended to tap mana… before extending the hand with a broad smile.

We had done it! At least one victory was ours – and a greater one had been delivered to Team Handsome, who took down the tournament thanks to our result and some dubiously calculated tie-breakers.

Result: Inter YerMaw 2-1 Bacon Buddies

As the dust settles…

Based on Billy’s stated position of being so pumped about winning that he could, “…play a trumpet with his c**k,” alongside the general sounds of laughter and enjoyment heard around the shop during the event, I’m happy to conclude that this one was a hit. We’re certainly keen to run more team cube in the future – and I expect the only problem we’ll have is oversubscription.

On our next outing, I’ll be particularly conscious not to concentrate all the power in one deck; also, I’ll try to ensure that all the players are involved and invested in the deck they’re playing, so that we don’t have a situation where someone is less than comfortable with their build (as Gordon ended up being this time).

I’d like to offer thanks to Joao, for generously donating his premises to make our cube dreams come true; and to our cubers, who were just a fabulous bunch to rock some cards and some laughs with.

Before I sign off, I just have to share some of my idiotic deck with you all. Ask yourself: does this seem fair? Until next time, cube-lovers…

Wrong, on so many levels

A special time to play cards

Perhaps it’s an –

No, wait, scratch that.

It’s certainly an indication that I’m a sentimental old fool, but nonetheless I have to say it: for the first time in ages, I’m genuinely excited about a new Magic set release.

Why now, you ask? Why not for any of the other quarterly set releases which have arrived like clockwork over the last few years?

Well, friends, its because we’re all set for a Return to Ravnica.

I have so many potent feelings and associations bubbling around in my brain as I contemplate this revisitation that it’s hard to line them up and make something coherent out of them… But here it is: in this post, I’m going to talk about:

  • Why Ravnica is special to MTG players in general
  • Why it’s doubly special to me
  • …and why Wizards of the Coast have made an extraordinarily good decision in revisiting the plane in 2012 – doing what looks like a bloody good job of it, too.

Ravnica, the ‘goldilocks’ set

To properly understand the appeal of Ravnica to MTG players of all stripes, one has to consider all the different factors that impacted on its positioning in our consciousness.

First up, Ravnica is a multicolour set.

Multicoloured cards are special. They tick a lot of boxes for Magic players.

  • They look nice – no boring, mana-coloured borders, but gold instead.
  • They tend to appear infrequently, so they feel special and interesting when a player sees them for the first time.
  • In certain circumstances, they feel like they’re made just for us.

That last point may read a little strangely, but allow me to explain by way of a personal interlude.

Most players, even those who end up highly competitive and well versed in the game, will tend to start playing in some kind of casual environment. They learn the basics of play, get the bug and start to buy cards from which they build their own decks; they enjoy some things more than others, so they bias their decks toward those things; they develop favourite decks, becoming very invested in the things those decks do and the colours of cards they deploy.

I started as this kind of player. This road led me to mono-black decks in the mid-90s, which brought me many happy hours of resolving turn one Hypnotic Specters via Dark Ritual. When I returned to the game in the early 2000s, I began associating myself with black (my original love) and red as a colour combination, jamming my Specters again alongside terror, lightning bolts and other red burn.

Then one Saturday, as I flicked through folders in my local card store, I found them: a clutch of black and red multicolour cards from Invasion block.

My jaw dropped.

As I stared at Blazing Specter, reading and re-reading the text, I realised that someone out there was in the business of making cards just for me. They had taken the things I loved about both ‘my colours’ and created something fused from both; my favourite colour combination said something about my personality and this card felt personal in a way that others didn’t.

Without further ado, I drew all four copies out of the folder and handed them to the shop assistant. 

The Second reason for Ravnica’s appeal is the fantastic ‘flavour’ of the set.

So many fantasy settings deal with medieval culture, rural communities, ‘one true Kings’ etc… the trope becomes tiresome. In Ravnica, we have a world characterised by complexity, renaissance in feel, with numerous different powerbases and cultures all jammed together in a planet-spanning cityscape. This isn’t two starving hobbits traipsing to Mordor; this is vibrant, colourful and varied.

It’s the antidote to conventional fantasy.

Thirdly – and very importantly, in a historical sense – Ravnica represented an escape from the oppressive play environment created by Mirrodin.

The Mirrodin block, which predated Ravnica by two years, cast a long and dark shadow over Standard (the most commonly played version of tournament Magic). Filled with overwhelmingly powerful cards, it positioned the hated Affinity deck at the top of the competitive tree and transformed the tournament scene into a horrific series of reruns. Play Affinity or be smashed by Affinity was the stark choice open to players; faced with this, many left the game.

Even after a wave of bannings, the game struggled to recover. I was there, folks – and trust me, it was depressing.

Standard, as a competitive format, rotates every year: the block which is two years old leaves and a new block steps into the spotlight. Ravnica’s arrival coincided with Mirrodin’s departure… and watching something so despised disappear whilst simultaneously beholding the riot of balanced, colourful and interesting cards which were arriving was a euphoric experience for many of us.

These three things, in my opinion, put Ravnica in the ‘goldilocks’ zone: at that time, for that audience, it was just right.

Let the good times roll

The City of Guilds may have been a great play environment for everyone, but it was particularly brilliant for me, because it coincided with a period when Magic was enhancing my life in numerous ways.

If a person plays magic for long enough, they may begin to associate life events with particular block and Standard environments. I apologise, to my uninitiated readers, for the outpouring of block-names which follows, but there really isn’t another way to do this.

For me, Onslaught/Mirrodin standard represents the time when I was learning the competitive game, but also a time when I made an ill-advised move away from home for work and subsequently faced the collapse of a long-term relationship. It was a pretty miserable period.

Mirrodin/Kamigawa standard I associate with recovering from that situation and moving back to Scotland; beginning to draft regularly at Highlander Games in Dundee (breeding ground for many top Scottish Magic talents; sadly, I’m not on that list); and starting to discover a Magic scene which existed in my home-town of Glasgow. It was a transition period.

Kamigawa/Ravnica standard brought me not just an incredible play experience, but a social regeneration.

When I think about this time in my life, I think about meeting Magic players who have become firm and loyal friends. I think about enjoying events together irrespective of my own relative success. I think about some of the most fun constructed decks I’ve ever played with. I think about continuing my run of appalling limited play, but not really caring because I was having a great time. I think about drinking too much, dancing too long and generally enjoying myself to excess.

This year, I’ve attended the weddings of two friends I met at this time, accompanied by some of the other friends we were playing with; those were good times too. Ravnica is so laden with positive personal associations that it’s hard for me to express.

Hats off to Wizards of the Coast

Having a strong intellectual property with a loyal fan-base is a great position to be in, make no mistake – but it’s not a pre-bottled success. To hit a home run on a Return to Ravnica, Wizards had to get the timing and execution right, or risk souring the fond memories they had worked so hard to create.

Have they picked the right moment?

It’s hard for me to say if Wizards could have waited another year, or two, or three and still have enjoyed the same level of impact with their announcement that Ravnica was coming back; however, I can say with certainty that I felt elated when I discovered what was afoot and I know I’m not alone. On that basis, I’m prepared to say this is the right moment, or at least as right as any moment from here onward.

Have they executed in a way that will meet expectations?

As I write this, there are only 89 of a total 274 cards known to the world. I can’t possibly give a formed opinion about the overall execution of the set, but I can say that as with its predecessor, the signs are there.

So far, I’ve seen several cards that excite me and ‘push the envelope’ in terms of power and/or utility.

Firstly, there’s the elegantly designed charm cycle, represented here by poster child Izzet Charm:

This card is beautiful, because it does a range of useful things for a deck which wants to contain the game early and exert an advantage in terms of card quality going long: in the parlance of the game, a ‘Control’ strategy. I love, love, love this kind of deck.

It’s also extremely good value for two mana, further advancing an efficiency agenda which Wizards seem to have been pursuing for some time. Similar charms appear in each of the other four featured colour combinations, so there’s something for everyone.

Next up, there’s another nice control card, Mizzium Mortars.

This one captures my imagination for two reasons:

  • It shows off a new mechanic, which is intriguing
  • That new mechanic makes this spell scalable

This is one of the first spells I will be acquiring four copies of after the set’s release. It does everything I want a creature removal spell to do.

  • It’s cheap, so I can play it early
  • It kills most of the things I’m likely to face in the early game
  • It’s not a dead draw later in the game, when I’m stumbling after a bad start, staring down an army on the other side of the board… because I can play the ‘overloaded’ version and sweep that pesky army away.

Finally, we have a big, splashy card of the Planeswalking variety: Vraska the Unseen.

This card is nakedly powerful and versatile.

It hits the same note as some original Ravnica previews, by providing some real ‘wow’; it hints at a set full of cards which do things we haven’t seen before. Vraska will be one of the stars of Return to Ravnica, but more importantly her existence whets the appetite for other treasures yet to be revealed.

Bring it on

My gut feel, coloured by no small amount of nostalgia and childish glee, is that Wizards are about to serve up a feast for their loyal customers. The product is full of promise.

That said, I’m more excited about the fact that I’ll be hooking up with my Magic pals to go and relive part of our great adventure together. For me, Ravnica is about friendships, emerging from bad times and cranking the fun up to 11. Here’s hoping the return leg can deliver on some of that, too.

Dungeons and Dragons: a wonderful experience, but not really a business model

I read something today that, initially, intrigued me; then made me sad; then ultimately made me philosophical.

Wizards of the Coast, the subsidiary of Hasbro that controls the Dungeons and Dragons (henceforth D&D) brand, is to release a new edition developed with substantial input from the game’s fan-base.

On the face of it, this seems an interesting idea. I haven’t played with anything other than the older, “2nd edition AD&D” rules, but I’ve heard things about the later editions. None of the things I’ve heard were particularly positive. On that basis, reverting to the game’s fans and asking them how to fix things would appear a reasonable course of action for a classic game that has lost its way.

As I read on, though, I began to feel more melancholy about the whole idea. The article talked about a perceived decline in sales, a golden age of roleplaying which was now receding into the misty past. It drew comparisons between the financial success of enterprises like World of Warcraft and the comparatively meager numbers put up by D&D’s online equivalent despite the game being free at the point of access. I started to see this effort by Wizards as a publicity stunt, pure and simple, a desperate attempt to drum up interest in yesterday’s product.

Happily, this wasn’t my last stop on the emotional rollercoaster – because it led me to think about why D&D was failing to produce sales and how that related to my own experiences.

When I first started playing D&D, it became the all-consuming hub of my social life. As a member of my high-school’s outsider/geek gang, nothing could have been a more perfect escape from the ‘festival of cack’ that was our contemporaries and their ‘scene’. Every weekend, my friends and I would cluster into the house of some infinitely patient parent, order a stack of over-sized pizzas and tell larger-than-life stories together.

I’d play a character decidedly unlike myself, take part in thrilling escapades, solve baffling puzzles and discover fantastic treasures. Crucially, I’d grow and develop that character over time, becoming richer, more famous, more deadly, or achieve any number of other fantasy milestones. Most importantly of all, I’d be doing all these things in the company of my favourite people.

In theory, of course, the adventures we’d be acting out would be based on scripts sold to us by the developers of D&D. Our Dungeon Master would purchase a generic story, into which we’d then fit our established characters so they could take on the challenges it contained.

In theory.

But in practice, things played out a little differently. Each week, we were improvising the lives of our characters on the hoof, building up relationships and rivalries with the other characters; the more we got into this groove, the less comfortable we felt responding to the awkward prompts of a pre-destined plot. Over time, our adventures became less like the stories being dreamed up by paid D&D writers and more like a heroic-fantasy-soap-opera. By their very nature, the schemes and alliances between our characters drew more emotional investment from the players than the arrival of a random minstrel in town, proclaiming news of a beast to be slain or a Lord’s favour to be won. We were drawn to the stories in which we were central characters, woven right into the fabric of the plot rather than taking the roles of a party of everymen in events someone else had conceived. We wanted to tell our own stories, so we did.

As we got older, this idea progressed. I would run sporadic games throughout our twenties, in which I wrote custom plotlines around the characters players had created, because they were more satisfying by far than having the players become the allies of some 2-dimensional protagonist. Each episode remained unwritten until the previous one had been completed, so that the plot had a chance to grow from the actions of the players, rather than force me to push them down channels into clumsy set pieces. The more the experience was personalised, the more fun it was; the more fun it was, the more we wanted to play.

It’s this truth that, in my opinion, is at the core of D&D’s failure to sell products. The game is brilliant – but it’s at its best when the players are creating it for themselves, not following someone else’s script. Why would I buy your generic adventure, when the personal one I created with my friends is miles better?

Core rules, dice, pens and paper – these are the things gamers need to get started, the things a company might realistically expect to sell for years to come. But the insight I achieved through my nostalgia was simple: unlike other products, D&D won’t die if it stops selling units and making profits for someone. Players will use their old rulebooks and their own narratives to keep the game alive, create new adventures and introduce it to the next generation.

The best and biggest parts of D&D exist in the imagination of the players… and while that’s not a marketable commodity, it is a priceless one.