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Attention to Detail #35
Mishra's Goggles
by Jordan Kronick
August 18, 2006

What do goggles do? Why, anyone can tell you. The goggles – they do nothing! Well doing nothing is what I want to talk to you about today. It's come to my attention that some players – less experienced ones – think that each card in their decks should do something. I'm here to teach you the power of doing nothing. No, this isn't some class on zen philosophy or an explanation of the “draw, go” style of play. No, I'm here to talk about the cards we put in our decks that don't seem to really have any effect. One such card is making a splash right now, and is sure to be a big hit with both the casual and competitive crowds. I'm talking, of course, about Mishra's Bauble.

Mishra's Bauble – 0
Artifact
T, Sacrifice Mishra's Bauble: Look at the top card of target player's library. Draw a card at the beginning of next turn's upkeep.

Alright. I admit it. The bauble doesn't exactly do nothing. It lets you look at a card of someone's deck. There are definitely times when that could come in handy. Booby Trap is in 9th Edition after all. And knowing whether or not you need to spin your Divining Top or sacrifice a Sakura Tribe Elder when you have Counterbalance in play is always a nice thing. But let's be honest – the effect is not worth the 0 mana you paid to get it. The effect that's worth 0 mana is the card you draw to replace the Bauble. Now, drawing a card is usually worth more than 0 mana. After all, if there was a card that did nothing but draw one card for 0 mana (and I'm not talking about Evermind), it would be one of the best cards ever printed. Why isn't Mishra's Bauble? Well, it's because of the delay. Those of you who have been living in a cave might not know that the “slowtrips” as displayed on the Bauble were how things used to be back in Ice Age and Mirage era. We didn't get real cantrips until a bit later. Now, I'm not here to talk just about cantrips. After all, Magicthegathering.com did a Cantrip Week just a little while ago and I'm sure you've all heard quite enough about why it costs 2 more mana to draw a card whenever you cast a spell. No, I'm here to talk about why playing cards that don't do anything is worth the investment.

So let's start at the beginning. How do you use Mishra's Bauble most effectively? It might seem like a very simple question. After all, it doesn't cost anything to play or use it and it only does one thing (and it only does it once). Well, if you're thinking that the right time to play and activate your bauble is “right away”, you're correct. Most of the time. Some people will be quick to point out that if you've got an Ivory Tower in play or if your opponent is known to be using some discard spells it might be more prudent to hold onto the bauble. But let's get simple here. Most of the time, you want to play the Bauble as soon as you can and activate it as soon as you can. The reason for this is more than just “because you're able to”. It's because of the reason you play Mishra's Bauble in the first place.

I'll let you in on a secret. Mishra's Bauble doesn't really do nothing. Nobody plays with cards that really don't do anything. What Mishra's Bauble does, as many people are quick to point out, is reduce your deck to 56 cards, assuming you're running a full set. So you can explain it to your kid brother, I'll lay it out in more simple turns. A card which replaces itself and costs no investment of mana or other resources besides the card itself is essentially null. What Mishra's Bauble costs you is half a turn of waiting between playing the Bauble and drawing the replacement. Hopefully you'll get some Baubles in the early game so that you'll have plenty of more important things to do. But why do you want a 56 card deck in the first place? After all, 60 is only 4 cards more. Does 4 cards make a difference? It sure does. As I've mentioned before, Magic is a game of inches. One of those inches is adjusting the odds in your favor. Let's say that you are playing a game of Magic. Things are looking bad. You've burned through about half your deck in a long game. Your opponent is at 3 life. You've got a Lightning Helix left in your deck somewhere. Now – would you rather have this situation with 30 cards left in your deck or 26? Of course, you'd rather have 26. Because then you have a 1/26 chance of drawing the Helix and winning the game rather than 1/30. That's a very oversimilified version of events, but you see what I mean. So now you see why I think Mishra's Bauble is good. Not everyone thinks this way, of course. If they ever printed a card that everyone thought was fantastic and indispensible, they've probably made a mistake (or a Skullclamp). So what do the enemies of the Bauble say?

Well, the first thing they point out is that the card replacement is not instantaneous. This is true, and it's probably the biggest problem with the Bauble. Imagine a game where you have plenty of land in play and the game has ground to a standstill. You and your opponent both have cards left in your deck that could win the game. Now, if you draw a Mishra's Bauble and use it, you'll get another shot at an answer at the start of your opponent's upkeep. That's fine if the answer is an instant. Oftentimes it's not. It's something like Demonfire instead. Drawing a Demonfire on your opponent's turn can actually be dangerous. After all, they could have a discard spell. Here's where it's time to change the rules about Mishra's Bauble and how to use it. A brief interlude and then we'll get back to the reasons why Bauble is no good.

Play the bauble as soon as you can. Activate the bauble as soon as it's safe. If you draw a bauble in your starting hand, it's a good idea to just drop it right away and use it right away. After all, in the early game you want to smooth your mana curve and get the good stuff earlier. If you're in a situation as described above, this is not exactly right. Here you want to save the Bauble's activation until the end of your opponent's turn. Why? Because then you'll draw your replacement card on your turn when it is probably not going to get discarded. There's a caveat to this of course (who knew it was so hard to do nothing?) - sometimes the “nothing” that the Bauble does can be important. Sometimes risking the chance that your opponent has a discard spell can be worth it if you need to know what your opponent's going to be drawing next turn. Let's say your opponet has a tapped Grizzly Bear and you've got a Grizzly Bear. You know he's got Shocks in his deck. Play the bauble on your turn. If you activate it now, you can know whether or not he's got a Shock coming. If he does have one coming, then your bear probably isn't long for this world and you should attack. If not, then you know you can hold your Bear back to block his Bear. If you'd waited until his turn to activate the bauble, then you wouldn't know what he just drew. You'll know for next turn, but time is always of the essence. So – use your bauble as soon as it will be most effective, which is usually – but not always – right away. Now, back to why Bauble sucks.

So that delay is a problem. You're not truly playing a 56 card deck. It's more of a 56* with an explanation in the fine text. That's not the only reason that people don't like the bauble though. There's also the issue of space. I'm sure you've had this problem before – you're building a deck (be it constructed or limited) and you've got too much stuff to put in. Maybe you got a lot of great playable draft cards or there's a lot of cards that seem just right for your new combo deck. Now, you could put in Mishra's Baubles to make the deck smaller. But what if you don't want to make the deck smaller? Suppose the following situation – you've got a deck with 30 Lightning Bolts and 10 Mountains. Now – would this deck be better as 28 Lightning Bolts, 8 Mountains and 4 Mishra's Baubles? The answer is both yes and no. Although you're increasing the chances of drawing any given card in the deck (bolt or mountain), you're decreasing the number of necessary cards that are available. Suppose your deck of Bolts comes up against someone with a similar deck full of Healing Salves (and they haven't yet been ridiculed into hiding). If you reduce the total number of Bolts in your deck, you actually have a smaller chance of beating this person because you have fewer overall threats. You may draw them more reliably, but you simply have less. Let's look at it another way. Say you've got a control deck and need 4 more cards. Your choice is between Counsel of the Soratami and Mishra's Bauble. Now, the Bauble will speed the deck up a little. But the Counsel will actually provide card advantage. It's going to cost you a few mana to do so, but without the mana concern, it provides a more powerful effect. If your deck has no other card draw options, it might be better to choose the Counsels.

I had a similar situation during a Coldsnap-Coldsnap-Coldsnap draft earlier this evening. I drafted a Bauble (mostly because I needed a fourth for my playset), and assumed I'd throw it into my draft deck as I always did with Baubles. However, when I looked at the deck, there just wasn't room for it. There's always room for Jello, but not for Baubles I'm afraid. The deck utilized my favorite CCC draft strategy of playing Surging Dementia in large numbers. The 6 Dementias and 4 removal spells meant that I only had room for 13 creatures (and a Grim Harvest). This left me playing 16 land already (which I thought was fine considering my two Boreal Druids). Now, if I played the Bauble, I would have to remove either a land or a spell. If I removed a land I was playing a very dangerous 15 land. If I removed a spell then I was removing one of very few threats in the deck. In the end I didn't play the bauble and I'm happy with that decision. A 39-card draft deck is often a good thing – but not always. Sometimes you want to make every card count and there's just no room for cards that do nothing.

What you are doing when you play Mishra's Bauble is trading card quality for reliability. You are using four possible slots in your deck for cards that could otherwise be doing .. well, anything. Mind you, you shouldn't build your deck with 4 Baubles taking up the place of 4 spells. You should find a way to put them in place of both spells and land. Whether this is a 2/2 split or a 3/1 split, it depends on the deck and the style you're going for. Baubles are often used in aggressive decks so they can cheat on land. They're not actually playing any more threats than usual, but they're playing something to ensure that they get through their land and to the threats more quickly.

Mishra's Bauble is going to spark a lot of debate over the next couple years. It doesn't cost any mana and it works fairly well in all archetypes (combo, control, aggro). So whenever someone makes a new deck, they'll have to decide for themselves whether they want it do something all the way through or maybe play just a little bit of nothing.

 

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