TWR: Ravnica Allegiance Full Spoilers

The next big set for Magic: The Gathering is called Ravnica: Allegiance, and releases this month on the 25th. I took a quick peek at some of the spoilers at the tail end of last month, and now with the full spoilers shown off, I thought I would dive a little bit deeper into the set. It’s looking pretty good as the first set of the block did, but I happen to like more of the guilds that are a part of Allegiance — specifically Orzhov (Black/White), Simic (Blue/Green) and Azorius (White/Blue). Despite these leanings, there are some great new cards in all colors, and some new legendary cards that look fit to brew around. Like the set before, Allegiance has two recurring cycles of cards that I’ll cover first:

Shocklands:

We got five of the ten Shocklands last time, and this time we have the remaining five. They didn’t release them according to allied/enemy color pairs, so it’s a mixed back. If you’re looking for your own set of the shocks (like I was at the beginning of last year, and purchased a full set) now is the time to get them. They were at all time lows with the reprints (and thankfully the reprints didn’t tank the costs of my older copies) and now you can get a full set at a cheaper price. I intend on getting at least one more full set for my own collection. They are especially good in cEDH decks, so if you want to step up your game don’t hesitate to grab them.

Locket Cycle:

Also returning is the Locket cycle, and we get the five other color pairings. As mana rocks go, these aren’t the fastest (even signets are arguably better) but they are good for mana fixing in budget decks, or if you have a use for the card draw mechanic attached to them. If you’re running signets and cluestones already, these are a nice addition to that sort of mechanic. With these cycles out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the set:

Multi-Colored:

As with Guilds of Ravnica before it, Ravnica: Allegiance has the majority of the good cards from the set in the multi-colored category. There’s some really good stuff here, from new legendary creatures with really nice effects, to Enchantments and even Sorceries that look good. I’m particularly into the new Teysa, as she adds a new Panharmonicon-like effect that triggers off of creatures dying. I also really like Prime Speaker Vannifar because she’s Birthing Pod on a stick. High Alert is a nice redundancy for my Arcades deck, like Assault Formation and Rolling Stones before it. The new simic mana dork (Gyre Engineer) is nice. Kaya’s Wrath is another Wrath of God style board wipe in good colors. Captive Audience is just mean, and the type of thing that makes me want to brew a Rakdos deck. Gruul got some great cards too, with Nikya of the Old Ways being nice ramp for creature heavy decks, and Rhythm of the Wild stopping said creatures from being countered along with giving them all Riot so you can abuse +1/+1 counter synergies or give everything haste. Good stuff all around.

White: 

I really like Smothering Tithe. It’s more ramp for a color that desperately needs it, and if you’re against someone with a good card draw engine, you could potentially end up with a bunch of treasure artifacts or at least slow them down due to the taxing effect. I might find room for this enchantment in my stax deck. Shield Formation is a nice way to counter a board wipe, and the Angel, while expensive is still a nice way to prevent yourself from losing the game.

Blue:

I feel like Blue gets all the love most of the time, and there are some great cards here. Mass Manipulation is the first theft card I’ve seen that can also target Planeswalkers, and though it is expensive, mono-blue decks shouldn’t have trouble finding four blue mana. Essence Capture is a counter spell that I’d like in my Merfolk deck due to the +1/+1 counter synergy. Verity Circle would be great against Azami decks who tap creatures constantly without using them to attack — a ton of card advantage for little cost. The merfolk card looks good for merfolk decks especially having the adapt keyword, and if you can make more counters you’re looting more often. The Sphinx is cool because you can scry early if its in your opening hand, but also just provides a static scry per turn and card selection is always nice.

Black: 

First we got Firesong and Sunspeaker that gave our instants and sorceries lifelink. Now we have the Pestilent Spirit that gives these spells deathtouch. I really like this card but haven’t figured out where to put it so you can break it. I’d say most likely the best in a Rakdos deck mainly because you’ll probably run some burn spells, but I’m sure it could be used elsewhere to great effect. Awaken the Erstwhile is interesting as it clears players hands, but it could backfire as it will create 2/2 zombies for each card discarded. It’s a nice flavor for zombie decks, but you’d probably want to have the most cards in hand when you cast it. Lastly, Font of Agonies is an interesting card. I’m debating if this can find a place in my Zur deck, as it looks nice in conjuction with Necropotence. Each time you pay life to activate the card draw for Necropotence, you’ll get blood counters on the Font, and then can pay 1B and remove four blood counters to destroy a creature. A nice way to control things while digging for wincons.

Red:

Immolation Shaman is a nice hate bear. A 1/3 for two mana, he’s easy to get on the board, and he punishes the activation of abilities by allowing you to ping the player who does so. He also has some built-in protection by letting you beef him up if some direct damage comes his way. I’m really into Cavalcade of Calamity though, and think I’ll be slotting it into my Krenko deck. Since Krenko makes a ton of 1/1 goblins, this essentially doubles up that damage by hitting the player for the 1 damage for each attacking goblin. This is doubly nice because that damage will get through regardless of if the goblin is blocked.

Green:

Craterhoof Behemoth now has a little brother. The End-Raze Forerunners are expensive, but give a mini version of the same buff that Craterhoof does. Nice redundancy for decks that want this effect. The Wayfinder is a nice bit of card selection for green decks, and Wilderness Reclamation is a great way to make sure you always have mana up. Probably not a great option for mono green decks, but if you need mana left up for counterspells, it’s awesome.

Colorless:

Not a huge amount of good artifacts in this set, but I do like a couple of them. Junktroller is a nice reprint as it is used in decks like Grenzo. The Sphinx is interesting, as it is all colors despite technically being colorless, but it has Hexproof from monocolored, so it basically can’t be removed by a bunch of removal that is out there. Finally, the Tome of the Guildpact is a nice little rock for decks that use a bunch of multi-colored spells. It’s a bit costly, but it does add mana of any color, and gets you a bit of card draw for those multi-colored spells. I’d add it in if you have a good selection of these types of cards.

So there you have it. Another new set is coming, and it looks good. I’m still wanting to spend more money of Ultimate Masters personally, but if possible I’ll be trying to go to this pre-release. What cards are you excited for from this set?

TWR: Ultimate Masters Spoiled

Ulitmate Masters releases early next month, and it was just recently spoiled. When we first found out about the set, there was some community backlash because of the increased price point, but we have already seen lower than MSRP pricing for box pre-orders at LGS and online retailers. They also spoiled the box toppers which I showed off earlier in the month. That sneak peak of the set was enough to color me interested, with some amazing reprints coming and simply too many good cards that I’d love to get copies of. However, with the ridiculous $300+ price tag for a box, I figure I’ll only buy a couple packs and then buy singles as the reprints should drive the price down on some of the better cards.

People figured out that because the 3-booster blister packs were being sold at box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, they could actually buy the same 24 packs for a lesser price than buying a box, but then they would miss out on the box toppers. I’m in love with these new super art cards but I can’t justify the expense so I’ll likely never have one. I’m okay with this, and am going to roll the dice on a few packs just to see if I can make my money back. Anyhow, the rest of the set is public information now, so there’s a few cards I wanted to highlight that weren’t given the box topper treatment. Despite the fact that there are some multi-colored and hybrid mana cards in this set, none of them are particularly good so I skipped those. Let’s take a look.

Colorless and Land:

Holy shit! Phyrexian Altar hasn’t been reprinted in a long time and is a great card! I really wish they would have reprinted Mana Crypt instead, but this is a damn good artifact as well. Eldrazi are getting some love too, with this set containing some of the best Eldrazi along with a couple of their tribal spells. These aren’t great for every deck, but if you want an Eldrazi theme or a good finisher, they can work great (mostly in EDH). The couple of lands I highlighted here are also interesting, one essentially being a ashnod’s altar but provides black mana, and the other is a land that replaces itself if it happens to hit the graveyard, which is pretty cool.

White:

The Wall of Reverence is a shoo in for lifegain decks but would also be a nice add for Arcades, where it becomes a nice beefy attacker and will also keep our life total high. Heliod’s Pilgrim is a nice tutor in the right decks, and Containment Priest will fuck over token decks. Cool utility.

Blue:

 

I didn’t see a lot to love in blue outside of these two cards. I’ve been wanting a Glen Elendra Archmage for some time but it’s a bit pricey at the moment. Counterspells on creatures are a nice touch and it’s a wizard to boot. Dig through time is just a nice spell all around, especially if you can cheat its mana costs — I have one in my Jodah deck for this reason.

Black:

Black had a strong showing. Buried Alive and Entomb are the two best graveyard tutors for decks that want this effect. Unburial Rites works right along side them to allow you to cheat big fatties into play on the cheap. Shriekmaw has been a staple for some time now, especially in decks with recursion. Songs of the Damned was a surprise for me, but I actually really like it for big mana mono-black decks.

Red:

Gamble is red’s only solid tutor, and copies of it are still in demand. Anger is a nice haste enabler for decks that need it. Seize the day is another extra combat card, but these are nice to have when playing red.

Green:

Fecundity is a nice enchantment for sacrifice themed decks. Card draw is always a good thing. Ditto ramp, with Kodama’s Reach being one of the best (alongside cultivate). It’s not expensive but still a great card. I’m happy to see Pattern of Rebirth here too, as that will slot right into my Karador deck.

Overall the set looks great. I won’t be able to buy as much of it as I would like due to the higher price point, but fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get something good out of the packs I do pick up. Then singles will round things out. Good stuff to look forward too, for sure!

TWR: Thoughts on Ultimate Masters

Earlier in the year, Wizards of the Coast had said that Masters sets were not performing as expected, the community had made it clear that some of the reprints were not desirable while many cards that are super expensive were not making their way to these sets. Masters 25 which released earlier this year was said to be their best offering to date, and they went ahead and increased the price saying using that justification. The set ended up being a bit of a flop. There were some cool cards reprinted while most of it was chaff. The company said this was because Masters sets are meant to be drafted, but honestly the focus of these sets were supposed to give Modern players reprints and new weapons to use. It was also a beneficial set for Commander players who want reprints of cards deemed too expensive.

A while back, Guilds of Ravnica released and with it a “Mythic Edition” that was not well received by the community. It was sold only through Hasbro Direct and was rather expensive. In it, you got “super art” reprints of Planeswalkers, and then some boosters of the new set. Apparently it was sold out very quickly and people had issues with the website or didn’t get to order at all. Wizards took it upon themselves to then send some “Ultimate Box Toppers” to those who were negatively impacted by the purchase. Thought this is a good PR move, this does kind of feel like a slap in the face to those of us who said “fuck that” to buying one of these boxes. We thought it was overpriced, and we were not then subsequently rewarded for trying to buy said product. Whatever the case, those Ultimate Box Toppers are going to be available to the public, so at least that’s something. The caveat here is that you have to buy a box of their new product, Ultimate Masters, in which you’ll get one of these super art reprints. Here’s what we know so far:

Ultimate Masters releases December 7th, and will be the last Masters product “for a while.” Each booster box will contain 24-packs, with each pack containing a premium foil.

  • MSRP is $335.76 / box ($13.99/pack).
  • Boxes are only available at Local Gaming Stores, but each comes with an “Ultimate Box Topper” buy-a-box promo, which is a near borderless foil promo.
  • There are 40 box toppers in total.
  • UMA packs will be available at big box stores for $34.99 for 3 packs.
  • UMA is printed in EN and JP languages, but available worldwide.
  • Spoilers are on November 19th and 20th, with the full set reveal on Nov 21.

MSRP for this set is ridiculous once again. We thought the Mythic Edition of GRN was bad, but this is almost $100 more, and you only get one super art card instead of a set. Seems like a bad value. Rumor has it that local game stores are actually selling these boxes for somewhere in the ballpark of $240, so that’s at least a bit better. The other good news is that though you won’t get a super art card if you don’t buy a box, they are not buy-a-box promos in that regular versions of those cards are in packs. There are a ton of good reprints that have been revealed so far, and I’m sure there will be more for us to look forward to once we get the spoilers later this month. The super art cards are absolutely gorgeous though. Take a look:

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I want nearly every card displayed here, so I’m more hyped for this set than I was for M25 or Iconic Masters. I’m just hoping that the reprints mean a drop in price for some of these cards so that I can get extra copies. Packs are a bit expensive so I probably won’t buy many, opting for singles instead. I still think these should have been included as chase cards in packs, basically a new masterpiece set, but I’m okay with normal art as long as I get some good cards. Where Wizards is going from here is anyone’s guess. It appears there won’t be Masters sets next year, and we only know about two more sets on Ravnica. I’m hoping for a second Battlebond set, and would prefer a new plane to explore next year rather than another return to an old one. I guess we’ll see.

What do you think about this set? What about price increases? Let me know in the comments.

The War Report: Grand Prix Las Vegas

Grand Prix Las Vegas ran from June 14th to the 17th this year, and though these sorts of events have been happening for years, I never saw myself going to one. I’ve known about Pro Tours and the competitive scene but I was always a kitchen table player so I always assumed these events were mainly for the pros or those aspiring to get into that scene. When it comes to the Grand Prix at least, there is more to do for the average Magic player than I would have first expected. It’s true, there is still a main event that the pros are participating in, but outside of that there are tons of events going on for everyone else, so my roommate and I decided that we should go a couple of months back. Part of this decision was made easier when a member of our pod moved out to Vegas, so we figured we could get the gang back together while simultaneously participating in one of the biggest Magic events of the year. This year is also the 25th anniversary of the game, so it was an extra special convention.

It really wasn’t a spontaneous decision to attend; we casually discussed it a while ago and though I thought it was a great idea it was unclear if we’d have the extra money to go. A few weeks ago he went ahead and secured a room at a hotel near the convention center, and let me know it was done so I scrambled to get my finances in order so that I would be able to make it. With the support of my lovely woman I was able to make the trip and I’m glad that I did. Though the convention started on Thursday, we decided that we could afford to take that Friday off in order to get a head start on the weekend. With Sunday being Father’s Day we needed to get back home as early as possible so we also headed to Vegas super early on Friday as well. I was in the car and on my way by 6:30 that morning and arrived shortly before 11 am. Our friend had work until 5 pm and check in at the hotel wasn’t until 3, but we managed to check in early and took advantage of the time to have a meal and enjoy the AC before heading over to the convention center.

As soon as we headed inside the main hall, we were greeted by an overwhelming amount of people and visuals. The place was packed when we arrived, and we spent a good couple of hours just walking around looking at everything on offer. Rows upon rows of tables were filled with people playing various forms of Magic. Vendors lined the rows and every card you could ever want was on sale — in multiple languages no less.

One of the coolest things on display was this humongous Serra Angel statue. Situated nearby were extremely over-sized cards showcasing all of the first printings of each artwork for the card. It was a shame that there wasn’t anything else like this on display, but you could get your own oversized cards from the “prize wall” nearby. There was also an “official” merch presumably run by Wizards of the Coast, and that’s where I got this beauty:

Before I left there were a few things on my bucketlist. I wanted a t-shirt commemorating the event, I wanted to do my first ever live draft and I wanted pick up some cards on my wishlist. There were a few shirts on sale at the shop, but this was the only one that mentioned anything about GP Vegas. The other shirts on sale were each of the individual mana colors, with some sort of slogan using the mana symbol as one of the letters. For example, the word “Nope” written across the front of the shirt with the O being the blue mana symbol. Funny yes, because blue is the counterspell color, but not really my thing. I liked the black one best, with the word “Doom” written across the front with one of the O’s being the black mana symbol. I still preferred the GP shirt, with the simple rendition of a black lotus on the front and the 25th anniversary logo and Grand Prix locations on the back.

I ended up participating in less events than I would have expected. The first few hours in the convention center were overwhelming… we had just driven for four and a half hours and were a bit jet lagged, and there was no real rhyme or reason for the event. It took some time to figure out where to go to sign up for events and whatnot, but once we did we decided to play some commander. There were sealed events, a beta draft qualifier and “on-demand” drafts. You could also play 4-player commander on demand, so that’s what we did. Each of these queues required payment and sign up and then you’re given a buzzer. You wait around til the buzzer goes off and then meet at a “gathering point” where a judge will verify names and then seat you. We had to wait about 30 minutes before we got a 4-player game, and it was over in about ten minutes or less. The guy who won literally pulled a turn 3 win con out of his ass and that was that. We went ahead and played a for fun game and I won that one at least. After this point it was time to meet up with our friend who was finally off of work, and we set off to do a Dominaria draft.

Later in the evening the on-demand drafts turned into “turbo drafts,” which are essentially the same thing but instead of playing three rounds you only play one. This was my first ever live draft, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I opened poorly, and though I made what I thought was a decent deck I got stomped pretty quickly. Unlike the pre-release events I’ve done at my LGS where you get packs of cards as reward for playing (and winning), at the convention you were rewarded with “Prize Tix” in various amounts. These were used on the aforementioned prize wall. I earned 20 tix for participating in the round of EDH, though the winner got an additional 40. For the draft format, you get 100 tix for winning and 10 for losing. Some people were cool and did a 60/50 split, but the guy I played against gave me the 10 and walked away. Dick. The second day I did one more paid event, a Battlebond draft with our friend while my roommate did his beta draft qualifier. That one didn’t go so well either, and unless the judge forgot to give them to us, I didn’t get any tix from that one. At the end of the day, I ended up with a total of 40 tix, and the prize wall was always so damn packed that I didn’t bother spending them. They’re an additional little souvenir from the weekend. The “Cake Tix” was for the 25th anniversary cake they were giving away but I didn’t have any of that either.

The two parts of the weekend that were my favorite were playing EDH with our original pod back in the hotel room, and the games of EDH we got going at the end of Saturday. I guess you could say I love EDH. Oh, and I met Josh Lee Kwai from The Command Zone podcast. He’s Internet famous, so that’s pretty cool. At one point I finally decided what cards I would like to get my hands on, limiting myself to spending $100 or less, but wanting to get some value. These were my spoils from the weekend:

The top row were purchased for said $100 or less. The bottom row were promo cards for participating in events. Teferi and Land Tax have a home in one deck that I’m building, while Atraxa has been on my mind as a commander I would like to build for a while now. Doubling season I’ve talked about quite a bit lately, and having been recently reprinted it’s dropped from $75 to $36, which is a steal at this point (and I doubt it will drop much more before slowly creeping back up to that high point). It will be included into whatever I do with Atraxa, be it Superfriends or +1/+1 counter shenanigans. The promo lands are more of a souvenir than anything, but that promo Death Baron is a sweet alternate art and will slot right into my Scarab God zombie tribal deck.

Overall it was a great weekend and a neat experience. I don’t know that I would do it again though, because I’ve discovered that I truly do not like drafting, so if I do anything like this in the future I’ll be focusing on EDH alone. Still, if you love the game like I do, I’d recommend checking out a big convention like this at least once for the experience!

TWR: Thoughts on MTG Arena

A few months ago I was invited to the Magic: The Gathering Arena alpha test. There was an NDA and all at the time, but I found it a pleasant enough experience, with what little I tried. At that time, they launched with only the cards from Ixalan, and because at the time I had already played with and bought a bunch of packs of Ixalan in real life, I wasn’t too excited to play. Fast forward a few months and the NDA is dropped. They’ve finished the Ixalan block along with adding the Amonkhet block. Recently they added Dominaria, and I assume they will add the Kaladesh block before it rotates out to give the full standard experience. Or maybe they won’t. I have other thoughts as well.

I’ve played most of the digital versions of Magic in existence. The yearly Duels of the Planeswalkers series was interesting, but such a restrictive package. Magic Duels that was out a couple of years ago seemed like Wizards of the Coast’s answer to Hearthstone, but they didn’t get too far in before they stopped supporting it. Magic Online seems to be the only place where people get a near table top experience and it’s the only version I haven’t used. I’ve seen it in action though, and though it looks a bit archaic it still seems to be the best version of the game available in digital form. I think that with Arena, Wizards of the Coast are trying to revitalize their aging OG platform by bringing the graphics and gameplay up a notch.

I would be sharing screenshots but there is no built in screen shot button, and I was too lazy to use a work around. At the end of the day, Arena looks great and plays smoothly. The animations are well done, the sound effects are immersive and the cards look great. At this time it doesn’t support ultra wide 2k resolutions so my monitor has a lot of wasted real estate, but I’m sure that sort of support will be added in the future (along with a screen shot button). This is one of the first digital versions of Magic that I’ve played that actually feels intuitive. Some cards in this game require you to search your library or draw a set amount of cards and then put cards on the top or bottom of your library, etc. The interface with which these actions are completed is fast and makes sense. I feel like new players and old veterans who haven’t played in years will be able to pick up and go.

Now for the bad stuff. You’re given a few packs to get started with, and this means you’ll have random chances to either get something worthwhile or get a bunch of crap. The preconstructed decks work okay, but none seem competitive enough — particularly when playing against someone who has been playing for quite some time and is dropping Teferi’s on the board. Packs can sometimes come with a “wildcard” which will allow you to essentially craft a card of your choosing of the wildcard’s rarity. That’s a nice way to pick up a  Teferi of your own, but it isn’t necessarily going to win you the game. Getting packs takes forever. You’ll have to complete 2 quests a day to get a pack. At that rate, getting a decent deck together means grinding out with a bunch of draft chaff doing the daily quests for gold, and hey if you manage to get 5 wins you’ll get a pack, but if you just keep on losing, well you get the idea. There’s a missed opportunity here to be more like Magic Online, where there is a marketplace for singles and you can just create a deck and buy it outright. I’m a firm believer that it’s not the cards but the pilot who chooses their own destiny, but at the same time I’d much prefer to be able to throw down some cash to make a decent deck and be done with it. When I play the game in real life, I build decks using a combination of existing cards and singles purchased online. I want that same sort of experience. I’ll take the rewards slowly as they come, but I’d like to build a decent deck outright.

Some things I can see happening with the platform: I could see the above store option working well. The problem there is that it still won’t compete with Magic Online, because there’s still not the whole 25 years worth of cards available in Arena. One option I do see them having the ability to promote is Brawl — the new EDH variant that works with Standard-only cards. The problem there though is that like standard it is a rotating format, so how do they justify removing part of the cards from the program as they add new sets? What do people get for credit for the cards they already purchased? Unless they do go ahead and program this game to be the new version of Magic Online I think that I won’t be putting money into it. It’s an okay time waster, but I just don’t care about Standard enough to want to play this that often. I’d rather go to a store and play EDH with strangers face to face. If Brawl is added that might at least give me a reason to both play Brawl at all, and to play Arena as my go-to for Brawling.