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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.

 

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This Space For Rent

The Southwestern Paladin

Common Saviors
Ranking the Saviors Cards You See The Most in Limited
by Jeff Zandi
5.20.05

Saviors of Kamigawa is here and the world of Kamigawa limited play has just gotten a little more complicated. When a new set comes out, the first way that most of us actually find out how the cards play is in limited formats like sealed deck and booster draft. This process began in cities all across America last Saturday in special pre-release events. I was the head judge at the pre-release in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It’s funny how you can start out a day knowing not much more than what you can learn from studying the Frequently Asked Questions report, and then, bang, twelve or fourteen hours later, you actually start to have a clue about an entire new set of cards.

Magic Online won’t have these cards for some time, so if you want to learn about Saviors of Kamigawa, you might want to dust off your DCI card and head out to your favorite Magic store to play in some booster drafts. When you do, the cards that you will see the most of are the commons.

In this article, I will rank all eleven commons in each color in order of their quality for booster drafting and for sealed deck. To save time, I will not be describing each cards wording, casting costs and so on. You can find these details elsewhere. The only other thing I would like to say, by way of disclaimer, is that I haven’t had these cards for quite a week yet, and there is only so much play you can do in that period of time. We do the best we can!

Actually, Magic: the Gathering’s newest set makes the limited environment a LOT more complicated. For a few years now, the packaging for Magic expansion sets has carried the label “Expert Level”. I have thought in the past that this kind of labeling was unnecessary. In the case of Saviors of Kamigawa, the label actually fits. How complicated is this new set? Well, let’s just say the cards have more text than usual. A lot more. I would not be surprised if the average card in Saviors has 10% more words than the average card from Champions or Betrayers. Third sets are a funny thing in Magic.

Some third sets, like last year’s Fifth Dawn, contain an unusual amount of powerful cards with really large casting costs. Apocalypse, the third set in the Invasion block, was famous for the number of powerful multi-colored spells that it contained.

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NEW ABILITIES

I know this seems obvious, but it’s very important. I great number of spells in Saviors perform some function based on the number of cards in your hand.

You need to remember that in all cases, it is the number of cards in your hand WHEN THE SPELL RESOLVES that matters. The number of cards in your hand NEVER includes the spell that you are currently playing.

Cards that have Sweep allow you to return a number of your choosing of some type of basic lands back to your hand in order to determine the effect of the spell at resolution time. In other words, the lands you return when you cast a spell with Sweep, and the number of lands to be returned, are not determined until the spell is resolving. This fact is very important. It means that if your Sweep spell is countered, no lands are returned to your hand. It also means that opponent’s must respond to your Sweep spell with whatever effects of their own BEFORE you have to decide how many lands to return to your hand. When the Sweep spell is resolving, and you finally decide how many lands to return to your hand, the effect of the Sweep spell is then determined and the spell finishes resolving without the ability of anyone to respond to it further. One thing to remember before you fill your deck with Sweep effects is that constantly returning lands to your hand can set you back in the game, where your board development is concerned. On the other hand, Sweep effects give you great opportunities late in the game to increase the number of cards in your hand.

LESSER RED COMMONS

11. Inner Fire. Four mana to put a lot of red (if you have a lot of cards in your hand) really isn’t too good, and it isn’t even Arcane.

10. Into the Fray is probably as good in a deck with cheap Splice onto Arcane spells as a lot of other BAD Arcane spells. Also, it COULD come in handy to force an opponent’s creature to attack when they really don’t want to. While this card is not particularly good, the fact that we are even talking about the tenth best red common as being somewhat playable may be a great testament to the overall playability of the red commons in the set.

9. Glitterfang is a fun card. It’s kind of hard to believe that this card hasn’t been printed before. I know, he looks a lot like the 1/1 hastey Goblin of yesteryear, but the ability (penalty?) of having to return this card to your hand at the end of every turn is funny. This is a little worse than not being able to block. People who understand this EXPERT set more than me COULD offer that Glitterfang helps you keep your hand full. I’ll allow that argument, as weak as I find it.

8. Path of Anger’s Flame is a poor man’s late game finisher. However, this card is Arcane, and its cheap three mana cost makes it completely appropriate as a finishing strategy for red/green or red/black limited decks.

7. Shinen of Fury’s Fire is a 2/1 Spirit with Haste that only costs three mana. This card has the Channel ability, so you can discard Shinen of Fury’s Fire to give a target creature Haste for just one red mana. Decent.

GREATER RED COMMONS

6. Akki Underling is the last of the higher tier of red commons. If you play second and drop this guy on turn two, a little patience can have you attacking with a 4/2 first striker for a couple of turns early in the game, eventually enabling you to play one card a turn while maintaining your combat superiority. The idea would be to draw a card, making your hand size seven, then attack with the Underling, who will probably go unblocked. Now you can safely play a single card, dropping your hand size to six. Even though your Underling drops back to 2/1 size and loses first strike, it doesn’t matter since he didn’t take any damage from any creatures that might have chump blocked him (since he had first strike when you attacked with him). Next turn, you can do the same thing again. Having said all of this, I’m not crazy about the idea of sitting back and playing slow just to get the Underling pumped up, but sometimes it will be the best thing to do.

5. Akki Drillmaster is not exciting in of itself, a 2/2 for three mana. What IS exciting is the ability to give each of your subsequent creatures, especially your larger mid to late game creatures, Haste.

4. Spiraling Embers gives you a good reason to hold cards in your hand.
Every unnecessary land that you keep in your hand instead of playing might end up winning the game for you, when Spiraling Embers deals damage equal to the number of cards in your hand to a target creature OR player.

3. Ronin Cavekeeper is a giant monster just on the edge of being too expensive to consider. In the current limited formats, a six casting cost beast like this is completely acceptable, as long as you don’t include too many cards at this cost. The Cavekeeper is even splashable with its casting cost of 5R. Bushido 2 makes this monster a heavy hitter that you have to consider for your limited decks.

2. Barrel Down Sokenzan is the most powerful damage-dealing red common in the set. That being said, this card is definitely a double-edged blade. Yes, you can return three mountains when the spell resolves and deal a big six damage with only a three mana spell. On the other hand, red decks generally need their Mountains on the board. Barrel Down Sokenzan has two important things going for it, it’s an instant and it’s Arcane. Removal spells are at a premium in Champions/Betrayers/Saviors draft, so get used to making this spell a fairly high pick.

1. Sokenzan Spellblade is a great creature for five mana, and an Ogre to boot. In combat, this card has an effective toughness of four, since any creature blocking it will activate this Ogre’s Bushido 1 ability. This creature is fairly hard to kill, and it delivers a big punch with the ability to give itself +X/+0 where X is equal to the number of cards in your hand for just 1R. If you get this guy unblocked and get to activate its power up ability twice, you might win yourself a game or two, making this big guy the best red common in Saviors of Kamigawa.

LESSER GREEN COMMONS

11. Dosan’s Oldest Chant is the latest in Wizards’ continuing experiment to determine when does a gain life spell become decent enough to play. This non-Arcane sorcery is not quite good enough. It’s funny to imagine that the two weakest green commons in the new set each have one amazing thing in common…they each let you draw a card.

10. Rending Vines is a perfectly fine card that, in the current limited environment, will spend most of its time in your sideboard.

9. Sakura-Tribe Scout is a tiny little 1/1 Snake that you can tap to put a land into play. I’ve already heard one exciting Magic story about how this great Magic player prevailed thanks to giving his Sakura-Tribe Scout haste and using it to put an extra land into play just in time to play the game-saving spell. I think I lost interest right after they admitted that they were playing this guy in their deck.

8. Matsu-Tribe Birdstalker is kind of a liar. When you look at him, he kind of looks like Matsu-Tribe Sniper, he even has a bow and arrow like the Sniper. Birdstalker is to Sniper as bird-WATCHER is to, well, a sniper.
While the Sniper hold down flying creatures much larger than he is, the Birdstalker takes only pictures and leaves only footprints. In the unlikely event that you have paid the 2GG cost to have this weak 2/2 in play, you need only to pay an additional green mana to enable the Birdstalker to block and probably die to most flying creatures you might face. Not exciting.

7. Shinen of Life’s Roar is a 1/ 2 Spirit that forces all creatures able to block him to do so. This can be a valuable ability late in the game. Just in case the creature version of this ability doesn’t end up being useful enough, you can use this card’s Channel ability to use this card as a kind of instant-speed one-time use Lure. As useful as this ability might be, you wouldn’t want more than one of these in your deck, and you might not want any at all. I believe that this card and the next card both fall just outside of the top tier green commons.

6. Fiddlehead Kami is, at worst, another 3/3 Spirit for five mana. However, when you play another Spirit or Arcane spell, the Fiddlehead (I call this guy Chewbacca, I kind of think the artwork looks like a Wookie) gains a regenerations shield. (a few years ago, if a creature had a regeneration ability used on it when that creature did not yet have damage applied to it a “regeneration shield”. I believe that the current description is simply “regenerated”. Fiddlehead Kami’s exact wording is “Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, regenerate Fiddlehead Kami”. This card is perfectly fine, if not terribly exciting. This card will make the cut in a good two colored deck a little less than half the time, I believe. The next five green commons will be played much more often.

GREATER GREEN COMMONS

5. Promised Kannushi, or, as I call her, the Promise Keeper, is a little 1/1 with, amazingly enough, Soulshift 7. Basically, this card is a slow-motion Raise Dead for your biggest Spirit creatures.

4. Nightsoil Kami is a 6/4 “Craw Wurm” (only better because he’s a Spirit) that has Soulshift 5.

3. Inner Calm, Outer Strength makes little creatures very big and makes big creatures absolutely gigantic. Of course, it all depends on how many cards you have in your hand. Compared to other giant growth-type abilities, even those in Champions and Betrayers, this card is not so good. However, this three mana cost Arcane instant will very often get the job done.

2. Okina Nightwatch is slightly better for limited than the 6/4 Nightsoil Kami because it costs five instead of six and needs one green mana to cast instead of two. I’m not particularly thrilled with the cards that need you to have seven or more cards to get the premium capability from the card, I find the idea of having seven or more cards in your hand unrealistic in the greatest number of game situations that you will find yourself in. The Nightwatch, however, and cards like it, only ask that you have more cards in your hand than your opponent has. I like this ability because I think it represents a much more plausible way for you to get the premium ability out of a card like Okina Nightwatch.

1. Elder Pine of Jukai fills several roles for your limited deck. He provides an early drop that can block and kill a 2/2 if necessary. This 2/1 Spirit also has Soulshift 2. The best thing, however, is the ability of this card to put extra cards in your hand whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell. With Elder Pine of Jukai, you could easily maintain a six or seven card hand while playing a land and a creature just about every turn. The subtle effect of this card’s triggered ability is the way it thins out your deck, removing the lands from your deck and putting them right into your hand. It may not be the coolest card advantage effect of all time, but it is very good. This is why the Elder Pine of Jukai is the best green common in Saviors of Kamigawa.

LESSER BLUE COMMONS

11. Cut the Earthly Bond lets you bounce a creature to its owner’s hand if it is enchanted. This card lives in your sideboard. I wouldn’t bring it in unless I thought my opponent was playing at least four creature enchantments in his deck, which is a difficult thing to know. I would probably have to SEE four creature enchantments played by my opponent before I would sideboard this card in. This card is an Arcane instant, and elegantly priced at one blue mana.

10. Dreamcatcher is, well, bad. If this card gave you a 1/1 creature that you could sacrifice whenever you wanted to draw a card, it would be A LOT better. Instead, you get a 1/1 Spirit that can be sacrificed to draw a card when and only when you play a Spirit or Arcane spell. Why not just play a better card and leave Dreamcatcher in the junk pile.

9. Oppressive Will is a counter spell whose effectiveness increases with the number of cards you keep in your hand, allowing you to easily counter your opponent’s big spells while you get killed by all of your opponent’s little spells that he played on turns 1-4.

8. Oboro Breezecaller is as low-ranked as any flying creature I can remember. He’s just not very good, and he’s not a Spirit either.

7. Murmurs from Beyond sounds pretty good at first, you reveal three cards, your opponent chooses one that goes into your graveyard, giving you the other two to keep in your hand. Reminds you of Fact or Fiction, right? Well, even though this Arcane instant is attractively priced at 2U, this card is NOT Fact or Fiction. In limited play, when you reveal three cards from the top of your library, losing access to the best card (this isn’t as hard to determine in limited play as it is in constructed) makes this card just not worth it most of the time.

GREATER BLUE COMMONS

6. Freed from the Real is a fun card, allowing you to make an opponent’s creature much less useful for him, or making one of your own creatures much more useful. Play it on their guy, and spend a blue whenever you want to keep him tapped and out of the realm of attacking or blocking. Play it on your Frostwielder and watch your opponent throw up as you machine gun his creatures one after another.

5. Moonbow Illusionist is a decent little two-powered flyer for just three mana. This card also has the ability to lock an opponent out of a color that they only have one source for on the board.

4. Ideas Unbound is a cheap card drawing spell that pays big dividends to good players. If you want, feel free to play it on turn two (a weaker play) to help make your early game hand better. Use it in the mid-game to replace several unneeded lands that you have been keeping in your hand. Late in the game, with an empty hand, play Ideas Unbound to put three cards in your hand. You now have the rest of the turn to play the three cards that you draw. If you are unable to play all three of them, simply discard the leftovers at the end of the turn (even if it’s less than three cards) to satisfy the spell. Remarkably good.

3. Minamo Scrollkeeper is a real surprise and quite a powerful common considering that it is what we USED TO call a “wall”. Scrollkeeper drops a
2/3 blocker on your side of the board for just two mana. Opponent’s have to worry about how to get through this little guy without losing a creature.
They probably won’t be able to. More often, your small two mana investment is going to end up costing your opponent one of his precious creature removal cards. The fact that Scrollkeeper also allows increases your maximum hand size is just more icing on the cake. This is the best defensive creature for limited play in a long time.

2. Descendant of Soramaro cost four mana, a touch more than you would like to pay for a 2/3 creature, but the ability to control the top X cards of your library (where X is the number of cards in your hand) more than makes up for it.

1. Shinen of Flight’s Wings is a five casting cost 3/3 flyer. That’s really all you need to know. This is the most powerful flying common in the block, pound for pound. Each of the five common Shinen cards unite a familiar ability usually associated with a certain color with a creature that has that familiar ability built in. The blue Shinen might be the best of the lot for limited play, and the best blue common in the set for limited play, in my opinion.

LESSER BLACK COMMONS

11. Deathknell Kami is a cool creature name utterly wasted on a poor creature. Basically, there is nothing too terrible about this card, right up until you see that if you pump up this 0/1 flyer (which you can do with colorless mana, an interesting ability) you have to SACRIFICE IT AT END OF TURN. Exactly what is the purpose of this creature? It seems like a promising enough design on some levels, but what you end up with is utterly unplayable. I guess this card falls under the heading of “skill tester” but it really is a shame. This card can’t really be played in any format I can think of, competitive or casual.

10. Gnat Miser’s name is SO CLOSE to being “Giant Miser” that I can’t quite hate this card. However, this is not a good card. Reducing player’s maximum hand size by one is not a good enough reason to play a crappy little dude like this one.

9. Death of a Thousand Stings could be an interesting card that lets you deal a reusable point of damage each turn. Unfortunately, this card is a little too clumsy to use. Maybe if it came back to your hand WHENEVER you had more cards in your hand, instead of only at the beginning of your own upkeep. I tried to use this card several times, but found that it is easy enough to include a better card (probably a creature dealing a lot more
damage) over Death of a Thousand Stings.

8. Shinen of Fear’s Chill is the worst of the five common Shinen cards, providing a two-toughness creature for five mana with no useful abilities and the drawback of having to attack each turn. This card’s Channel ability allows you to discard it to give a creature Fear until end of turn is slightly more useful, but probably not enough so to include Shinen of Fear’s Chill in your better limited decks.

7. Raving Oni-Slave is EITHER the best, most powerful two drop in your deck, or else he’s six points of life lost just to accelerate into a 3/3 creature.
Even if your deck DOES have three Demon cards in it, which would be pretty lucky, you would most likely not have one of them in play when you cast Raving Oni-Slave. In the right deck, one with at least three Demons (and preferably one with one four casting cost Demon) you might have to take the risk and play a couple of these. Basically, they will either be VERYGOOD in your deck, or else very costly to you in terms of life points lost. I can’t help myself, my gut tells me this is a good creature. Think aggressive when you play this guy.

6. Kami of Empty Graves is a four drop that will trade with four toughness creatures, but will also trade with one power creatures. Soulshift 3 helps make this card a little more useful, but essentially, you just don’t want to waste a four mana slot in your deck for a creature as brittle as this one.
The upside just isn’t there. This card, like the Raving Oni-Slave, is almost good enough to be in a lot of decks. The next five cards are all quite a bit better than these previous six.

GREATER BLACK COMMONS

5. Sink into Takenuma is an Arcane sorcery with Sweep, allowing you to return any number of Swamps to your hand when this spell resolves. Your opponent must discard a number of cards equal to the number of Swamps you return to your hand. This card is unwieldy, but powerful. Unwieldy because it costs four, and unwieldy because you will probably have to return three or four Swamps in order to remove your opponent’s entire hand. There can be no doubting the power of this card, however, because it can net you so much card advantage. For the overall cost, I think I would just as soon play Three Tragedies from Betrayers of Kamigawa. Sink into Takenuma gives you scalable solutions to the opponent’s hand, and that’s the reason that you have to consider playing one in your deck.

4. Kuro’s Taken is the little engine that could. Cheap regeneration is a plus in the current limited format, and this card adds both a Rat and a Samurai to your deck, not to mention Bushido 1. The artwork for this card puts me in the mind of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That alone will make some of my friends play with it!

3. Deathmask Nezumi is most often a simple 2/2 for three mana. However, when the planets are all in alignment, and you have seven or more cards in your hand (maybe you just played Sink into Takenuma), your little three caster can turn into a 4/3 monster with Fear. Very playable all the time, terrifyingly explosive some of the time.

2. Death Denied allows you to reload your hand at instant speed. The only downside of this card is that it is a support card. As good as Death Denied is, you really only need one of these for your deck. Furthermore, this card can’t do much to help you early in a game. Just make sure you get one of these, even if you have to draft it fairly early. (I have found, at least in the first week of Saviors limited play, that you don’t have to draft this card terribly early in order to get one for your deck.

1. Kagemaro’s Clutch is an enchantment that gives the creature enchanted with it –X/-X where X is, you guessed it, the number of cards in your hand.
I like this card for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s reliable removal for small creatures OF ANY COLOR. Even if the creature you enchant with the Clutch isn’t destroyed immediately, it retains the –X/-X, keeping the enchanted creature in check until you have enough cards in your hand to kill it, or until you can use another effect to finish off the enchanted creature. Put all the useful ways to play it together, and what you have is the best black common in the set for limited play.

LESSER WHITE COMMONS

11. Curtain of Light is essentially a cantrip (a card that draws a card to replace itself) that stops one of your opponent’s creatures from damaging one time. Not very exciting. It’s an instant but not Arcane (I guess they can’t all be Arcane instants…)

10. Spiritual Visit SHOULD be a good idea. With a Splice Onto Arcane cost of one white, Visit is easy enough to add to any Arcane spell you play. But make no mistake, Spiritual Visit is no Glacial Ray. The effect that you get with Visit is a 1/1 colorless Spirit creature token. Most of the time, the point of this exercise will be to give you another chump blocker. There are simply much better cards to include in your deck than this one.

9. Cowed by Wisdom is very enticing looking. What it LOOKS like is a kind of Pacifism for one white mana. Looks can be deceiving. Cowed by Wisdom will be the shut-down kind of creature enchantment that you want only in the slowest and most controlling blue/white draft decks. In the largest number of possible outcomes, I think that this card doesn’t make it, because it affects only one creature, unlike a card like Ghostly Prison. Basically, when you dedicate a slot in your deck to a card like Cowed by Wisdom, you need to be able to count on that card to shut down an opponent’s creature.
Imagine the scenario where you have one or two cards in hand, or even no cards in hand, and you’re counting on your draw this turn to keep you in the game. Cowed by Wisdom is the worst top-deck ever, because in the critical moments of a game, it cannot be counted on to reliably take an opponent’s creature out of the game.

8. Kitsune Bonesetter presents a lot of the same kind of problems that Cowed by Wisdom does. In each case, your ability to get a decent level of quality out of the card is based COMPLETELY on having a lot of cards in your hand.
Bonesetter is a lot more limited than other creatures of its kind. It can prevent damage only to creatures and not to players, and its 0/1 body is as bad as it gets.

7. Kitsune Dawnblade has not been very popular with players so far, but I don’t see much wrong with a 2/3 Samurai with Bushido 1 that taps a creature when it comes into play. I would not want to load up my deck with multiple copies of this guy, but I think he is entirely playable.

6. Torii Watchward is a 3/3 Spirit for five mana that doesn’t tap to attack (oh sorry, I forgot there was a name for every ability nowadays…creatures that don’t tap to attack are now described as having the creature ability
Vigilance.) Future Magic cards will have abilities like Urgency (must attack each turn if possible) and Web (ability to block flying creatures). If this kind of thinking keeps on going to its logical end, then a lot of players will gain an ability called Concordance (players require a thick book with all of the arcane creature abilities explained inside). Players might start to use an ability they already have called Let’s Do Something Else…but I digress.
Torii Watchward is a 3/3 for five mana that also has Soulshift 4. You could do a lot worse than include one of these in your deck.

5. Plow Through Reito is cheap enough at 1W, and is an Arcane instant. Plow has Sweep, meaning that the targeting creature will gain +1/+1 for each Plains that is returned to the hand of the person playing the spell.
Although this giant growth effect could be very important, this card is a weaker use of Sweep than some others. Off the top of my head, I would say this card is very good if I am Sweeping one or two Plains back to my hand and less optimal if I am needing to return more than two Plains.

GREATER WHITE COMMONS

4. Araba Mothrider, and the three cards listed after it, represent the best four white cards in Saviors for limited format play. These cards have something in common, they are all cheap creatures that give you more than your money’s worth. It would be perfectly fine to include multiple copies of these cards in your deck. Moreover, as these cards are not extremely powerful, they will be available in drafts without having to use a high draft pick on them. Araba Mothrider is a 1/1 flyer with Bushido 1. Not bad at all.

3. Shinen of Stars’ Light is a 2/1 first striker that you can discard from your hand to use its Channel ability, giving a target creature first strike until end of turn. Perfectly useful as a creature early in the game, perfectly useful as a combat trick late in the game.

2. Moonwing Moth is a two powered flyer for three mana. This creature can be pumped +0/+1 for one white mana, giving it good defensive options at any point in the game when you play it.

1. Kitsune Loremaster is a 2/1 for two mana that can pump its defense +0/+X where X is the number of cards in your hand. Early in the game, you can use this creature to punch through for early damage or sit back to stop large attackers. Late in the game, you can block virtually anything on the ground with this creature. For adaptability between aggressiveness and defensiveness, Kitsune Loremaster earns my highest ranking among white commons in Saviors for limited play.

AFTER CONSIDERING ALL 55 COMMONS

I would have to say that white offers the greatest challenge, when it comes to evaluating its commons for potential in limited formats. Every white common does something relatively useful, yet I included only the best four white commons in the category of “greater white commons”. In reality, I think every color in Saviors is deep in playable cards. This means that Saviors is very good for limited play, and especially good for drafting.

However, this set may be too focused on how many cards are in your hand. If this mechanic (it’s really not a mechanic the way Bushido or Arcane is a mechanic, but you know what I mean) overwhelms player’s patience, then Saviors will have failed to bring a truly satisfying conclusion to the Kamigawa block, at least as far as limited play is concerned. My sense is that Saviors is a good set because it adds real dimension and adds more skill to an already healthy limited formats. Whether this set, or even this block, really provides interesting options for constructed play is still up in the air.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
zanman@thoughtcastle.com
Zanman on Magic Online

 


 

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