First off, let’s get my overall rating of the set. I’m giving it…an 8.3, and it didn’t even have to fly off a balcony to get that! Mind you I’m still wallowing in the euphoria of new mechanics, and not having to deal with Travel Preparations anymore, so saying that I set my rating so it works with my Weekend At Bernie’s spoof title is legit. You got me, and props for knowing why I chose 8.3.
8.3 isn’t a rating I think will stick however. After the Prerelease high wears off, and I play a few more Sealed events, I could forsee writing right here on this blog how much I dislike Avacyn Restored, for a multitude of reasons.
My first major gripe is possibly overblown because I’ve read so much about the flavor of the set, and other non-competitive things related to AR since I had nothing better to read about during the spoiler season. Sealed does a terrible job of highlighting the whole Angels vs. Demons aspect of the set using the ‘loner’ mechanic. In case you’re not aware, there are a bunch of cards in the set that don’t play well with other creatures being in play, or hinder your ability to play more guys. Most of these creatures are undercosted fatties like Demonic Taskmaster, a 4/3 flier for B2 that requires you to sacrifice another creature each of your upkeeps. Note that this card is unlike previous ‘tribute’ cards(think Lord of the Pit) in that it does not have a drawback if you just don’t have anything else to serve up to Demon Dad(should probably reserve that title for…wait a second…Griseldad! It’s officially too easy. Carry on.). Anyway, Sealed just doesn’t seem to provide the foundation to play a deck that revolves around the loner mechanic. Never mind the fact that most of the more important loner cards are Uncommon or worse, how bout the mass of non-creature spells that just seem bad in a deck that wants to use something like Homicidal Seclusion. Maybe this loner thing is more niche than was advertised, and certainly will be better in draft where you have more control over the composition of your pool, but it was still a pretty big letdown.
Moving on from the nit-picky sort of things that likely only annoy me, the next irritant that keeps this set from being downright awesome is a somewhat unassuming blue creature called Elgaud Shieldmate. Miss Elgaud, who looks like she left straight from Cygnar for Innistrad(which, oddly, makes me dislike her even more), is a 2/3 Human for U3 with a SoulBOND that grants Hexproof to both parties. I already pretty much hate this creature after one event, and though it doesn’t have much directly to do with me receiving me second loss in said event due to this creature, that particular situation provides a simple, yet effective example of why I hate hexproof. Essentially, my opponent paired up Miss Elgaud with Latch Seeker, a 3/1 unblockable Spirit, and just beat me down with it. Nevermind the other factors that contributed to my loss(a story for a bit later regarding the complexities of this format), the point is that I lost because of an ability that is very hard to interact with. Hexproof is just a big middle finger to interaction. I could deal with it being on some annoying 1/1 unblockable for two that is at least uncommon, and in a very fast format where many times you don’t find your Dagger or Cleaver or Sharp Pointy Thing to assemble Eggs+Basket in time for it to matter, but this time it’s far worse. Sure, it’s a 2/3 for four mana, but it gives anything hexproof, AND itself! Suddenly, my opponent gets to choose what I cannot interact with for the rest of the game, and it’s not as though the Shieldmate can’t still rumble. Removal is very, very limited in this format, and outside of Zealous Strike and Joint Assault, I don’t even like any of the cards that can surprise it during combat in the common slot. Worse yet, it’s difficult to just kill before it gains hexproof because it has three thoughness, and if you can it likely takes your whole turn to Death Wind it, or use a spell you would rather have used on whatever Miss Elgaud was going to team up with. Let’s not even think about how annoying she is with Cloudshift, a card that I’m not certain about yet, but suspect is actually awesome in some archetypes. To top all of this off, she is COMMON. Just writing a paragraph about this card makes me tire of it. I think I’m going to keep a running count of how many times I lose to that card. We are currently at one. Expect it to rise.
The previous paragraph really illustrates why the keyword hexproof is just bad for Magic. It was cool on Troll Ascetic, a dude who lived in an era of Arcbound Ravager that everyone thought was interesting but not powerful enough to play most of the time. Now hexproof is heavily featured in the best decks in Standard on Stalker and Geist of St. Traft. I suppose I can concede that it being on some ultra powerful mythic card is fine, and that the mileage one will get from the keyword can vary widely in all formats, but when it’s good it’s because it stops the essence of Magic from happening. Two people are supposed to be playing a game, and they are supposed to be interacting with each other by doing things to each other’s cards, not just blandly staring at an unblockable guy that has Pro Red/White that is going to kill them in two turns, or a flying 4/4 Geist that brings an Angel to the party every turn. Being able to suit up a guy with various Swords/Pants/Whatever while your opponent can’t do anything about it is just frustrating, and easily creates hopeless, or worse, boring situations. Recently, people have started to jam Spectral Flight in their Delver decks in an effort to be more aggressive. How good must hexproof be to want to play Spectral Flight with it? Sure, Geist has something to do with that, and perhaps we’ll never see anything quite as good as Geist ever again, which would be fine with me. I just don’t like the idea of being unable to interact with your opponent’s cards while they are unhindered, and doing so with creatures that sometimes would still be respectable if they were downgraded to simply have shroud. It could be that I’m just not seeing things the right way, or maybe this is just the future of Magic, but there are far more hexproof creatures being cast than there used to. I see it as something that needs to be kept in check, and a generally bad sign for the future. Hexproof now being common in draft, relatively cost efficient, reusable, and available on any creature is going to be very irritating.
Enough about my personal vendetta against hexproof, and negative things about AR in general. I could complain more, and in fact some of the things I like about the set may in fact seem like bad things, but I am all about the following.
Miracles, are in fact, sweet, at least in Limited. Even being on the bad end of them makes for swingy, interesting Magic. It does have the strange effect of causing me to feel like I’m watching a sporting event in the sense that I am no longer directly involved in the game’s outcome, and can only watch and hope that my
team deck will come through just like the other team deck did. Most miracles are not back breaking, but they do put you pretty far ahead in tempo. Vanishment, Banishing Stroke, and Thunderous Wrath are usually removal + a decent sized spell for that turn, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider how decent they are at their normal cost. Remember, this is Limited, and almost any removal is good removal. You may notice that I left off one uncommon miracle when talking about tempo and how they are ‘pretty good.’ I left out Blessings of Nature on purpose because it is miles ahead of the other three. It is like a 4/4 haste guy for G, and oftentimes better than that if the counters go on an evasive dude, or get spread out to create a pseudo-anthem effect. In the latter case, even if your opponent can deal with a creature, you still gained value, and it only cost you a Green mana. Also consider how strong Blessings is in the early game. Attacking with a 6/6 on turn three isn’t pretty. If you hated turn one Reckless Waif before everyone in the world figured out two drops were good in Limited for the umpteenth time, you are going to lose your shit when this happens to you. That said, pick Blessings accordingly, and smash some faces.
Something else I really like about the set is the length of games in Limited. At the end of Round one at the Prerelease, ten out of about 30 matches were ongoing, and it’s not because everything just sucked like in Kamigawa. No, I don’t blame Bushido for making it slow. Kabuto Moth didn’t have fucking bushido, and it was a first pick, so shut it. The complexity of soulbond, and playing with a ton of new cards slowed everyone down a bit, but board states just tended to be more complex, and decisions about what spells to cast were not always easy, even during early turns. My deck had a bunch of activated abilities thanks to Uvenwald Tracker, Galvanic Alchemist, and a pair of Captain of the Mists, and seeing the right play was seemingly impossible at times. There were just so many avenues I could go down every turn, and having to consider what I could draw later when discerning the correct path was just exhausting. I see this level of complexity as a challenge, and something that will allow me to test myself as a player. It will also grant better players a huge advantage because there are so many more ways to screw up now. There are counterbalances to this(read: stupid hexproof), but I expect the better player to win games in AR at a higher rate than is typical.
The actual event of the Prerelease was awesome as well. The whole Helvault thing was pretty sweet, even if it didn’t have anything really useful inside it. To be fair though, Wizards shipped all those puppies out for free, so you really can’t complain too much. I would have liked to see something I could play in an actual Magic deck besides the Prerelease card, which was so bad I gave it back to the store because they didn’t have enough to go around. At this point I don’t even recall what it was, just that it sucked. Apparently, and I just learned this today via Twitter(@NigelTheLondon if you’re inclined), some Helvaults were ‘upgraded’ to have judge promo Demonic Tutors in them, or other interesting goodies. Some people seem to feel cheated, but really it is just another ‘hidden treasure’ type thing a la Zendikar, and I’m all for this sort of random fun stuff at Prereleases. It’s probably a good thing that the guy who posted the contents of a Helvault on EBay before Saturday didn’t get an upgraded one, or some percentage of the Magic community would be quite dissapointed, even though just a normal Helvault is a pretty cool and flavorful idea. I also enjoyed the achievement aspect, which was this postcard sized thing you got with your product that had stuff ranging from ‘attack with five creatures in a turn,’ to ‘greet someone who is at their first prerelease,’ to ‘speak in a monster voice to an opponent who controls a non-human, non-angel creature that shares a creature type with one of your guys.’ The deal was, players had to get 12 of these achievements, turn in the card, and that allowed them to crack one of the seals on the Helvault. I admit that though I was not much of an achievement whore in WoW, I played differently to get a few extra of these, and it actually almost cost me a game!
As for my actual matches, and my Sealed pool, which I’m sure now I built wrong, that’s for next time. I’m pushing 2000 words and 1:30 AM simultaneously, so for now I’ll just tease my next post, where people get turned into goats, and the dead can dance. Props again for knowing.