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Attention to Detail #5
by Jordan Kronick
December 15, 2005

"Then and Now"

The past week has seen the release of Mirage to Magic Online. As a frequent player in the online world, it’s been pretty hard to avoid. I was initially very excited about seeing the set again, but my interest began to wane. I’ve been listening to months of doomsaying about the set, prior to its release. Lots of people believed it would be poorly received and nearly useless. I think that those people have been quieted, but it is certainly a more subdued time than when an entirely new set is released. I’ve played a dozen or so Mirage booster drafts, and I’ve added Mirage cards to my applicable decks. There has been one common thread of nostalgia through all my release experiences, though. Whenever I see a Mirage for the first time online, I remember what I thought about that card when it first fell out of a booster pack, in the misty bygone era of Magic. Cards which I was extremely excited about back then now seem rather dull. And some cards that I couldn’t think of a use for back then are now on the top of my list. Everyone goes through a slow evolution throughout their Magic lifetime. At first we are impressed by huge creatures and big effects, and eventually most of us begin to understand more intricate play. Today I’m going to talk about a few Mirage cards that I had a particular fondness or dislike for, back in the day, and how I feel about them now. There might even be a little strategy in here.

The first card that springs to mind when I think of Mirage is Cadaverous Bloom. When Mirage first came out and everyone searched through the cards for any answer to Necropotence, the eventual answer was Bloom. It took some time, though. Just like the offending Necro before it, the card started out as a confusing junk rare. I remain proud that I was one of the first people in my area to catch on. New players to Magic have to understand that back in 1996, talk of Magic on the internet was extremely limited. There was nowhere to get lists of decks that were sweeping tournaments in far flung cities, let alone countries. Eventually, deck ideas would trickle down when one of them scored a big hit, but it was far different than today, when all new cards are playtested by clever deckbuilders weeks before they are even released.

When I first discovered the incredible power of the ProsBloom deck (though it was without the Pros until Visions came out), I swept our Friday night tournaments for three weeks in a row, while other players struggled to find the cards to stop me or copy me. It was a good three weeks. That feeling rose in me again when I first heard that Mirage was coming to Magic Online. When I got the chance to beta test Mirage, I even put together a version of my old deck to tinker with. However, by the time I got my digital hands on some cards, I had little desire remaining for this deck. What could have changed? I loved that deck more than any Standard deck for years. It even looks like it will have a shot at being competitive in the new Online Classic environment. The only answer is that my playing style has changed since then. I’m certainly still a Johnny at heart, but I’m a particular breed. I’m the sort who likes to play decks on the cutting edge of tech. Cadaverous Bloom has been well and truly plumbed by players for nine years now. There’s very little new ground left to be explored. So what is exciting to me now? Surely there must be a reverse of the Cadaverous Bloom situation, somewhere in Mirage.

Lion’s Eye Diamond was a joke in 1996. It took a long, long time before it became the overpowered, restricted example of a development mistake. When we first heard about the Diamond, it was in a Duelist teaser article that promised “a 0-cost artifact that sacrifices for three mana”. There was a lot of speculation on how Black Lotus could be made reasonable. When we finally saw the result, we thought we had our answer. Lion’s Eye Diamond looked downright awful. I’m sure it still does to a lot of people. The best combos for this card were years away from being printed, and it cluttered up trade binders for a long time. With the online release of Mirage, it was a different story. Everyone has access to the strategy info for the Diamond, and the interaction with the readily available Auriok Salvagers is about as well known as tech can be. I didn’t check immediately on the first day, but the value on the Diamond is still right at the top among Mirage cards. Clearly there’s a lot of excited people out there to go with the naysayers, and I’m one of the excited ones. By the time LED was in vogue in various decks, I’d already mostly retired from paper Magic, so suddenly I’ve been presented with a whole new chance to build with this card. I’ve taken the Auriok Salvagers combo and built it into a Human Tribal Wars deck, I’ve attempted to combine it with dredging and madness and every other thing it can be attached to. Just goes to show that sometimes a card that escaped your notice years ago can come back as a strong favorite.

And then there’s the creatures. Two things excited me about the creatures of Mirage. First of all, a lot of the creatures have had their types changed to reflect new ways of doing business. All those Knights are now Human Knights. Taniwha is a Serpent. Although I haven’t seen one yet, I hear that Shauku, Endbringer is now a Vampire! Tribal Wars has always been one of my favorite formats on Magic Online. It combines the increasingly large cardpool of online and the easy searching options to make a really fun and quick format. No longer do you have to search through your cards one by one trying to find all the Elves or Spirits or Crocodiles. Now you can just do a quick search. I strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in the casual side of Magic Online try this format if they haven’t already.

The second part of the creature type equation that excited me was the Djinns and Efreets. I’ve longed to build a Djinn tribal deck for a long time, but with the bulk of the online Djinns coming from the five uncommon Invasion Djinns, it just didn’t seem feasible. Now with Mirage, I was finally able to throw together some of my favorite self-destructive powerhouses and make a pretty decent deck. It’s a bit lacking in some areas, due to my limited cardpool, but I wanted to share it with you all. I haven’t posted a deck list to this column before, and I wanted to give everybody a taste of just what kind of casual decks I build.

Djinn Tribal

4x Emberwilde Caliph
4x Emberwilde Djinn
4x Mahamoti Djinn
4x Halam Djinn
3x Vaporous Djinn
2x Zanam Djinn

3x Magma Jet
4x Counterspell
4x Ęther Burst

4x Threads of Disloyalty

4x Fellwar Stone

2x Lonely Sandbar
2x Forgotten Cave
10x Island
8x Mountain

As you can see, there’s a whole lot more to Tribal Wars than just creatures. This format is every bit as competitive and challenging as any other. That each deck requires a minimum of 1/3 of the cards to be creatures is a limitation which prevents the format from being defined by some of the less creature intensive but more powerful combo decks of Classic. Plus, you’re not likely to find Affinity decks showing up in Tribal, as most of the creatures in those decks don’t have creature types!

But the fun with Mirage doesn’t stop with Tribal. Singleton and Prismatic are the two other oddball formats which allow pre-Invasion cards. And both of those formats have a lot to choose from in Mirage. Although the recent appearance of Transmute cards in Ravnica has overshadowed just about everything else, there’s some very important cards that have maintained a high value partially due to being indispensable in the format. Mysical, Enlightened and Worldly Tutor each provide quick access to many potential answers. I fully expect that they will be banned along with the other tutors (such as Diabolic), but for the time being we can take advantage of four of them. Another important addition is the Mirage fetchlands. Although they are clearly inferior next to the Onslaught ones, they have the same effect. When combined with the Ravnica dual lands, they help smooth the mana base in Prismatic just when you really need it. And as more dual lands are released through Guildpact and Dissension, it will only get better.

As you can see from my frantic examples above, my interest in Mirage has changed, but remained strong. I mentioned earlier that most players go through a metamorphosis in their play style. Most often this happens when a casual player steps up their game and decides to try playing tournament Magic. But sometimes the reverse is true. I think my interest in Mirage demonstrates a situation where my original interest in the set was all about tournaments. When I first saw the cards, I was searching so hard for a way to beat Necro and get those three weeks of tournament wins that I wasn’t thinking about what fun decks I could build. I think that Magic Online is the reason for my new love of casual Magic. I will never grow tired of the tournament scene, but easy deckbuilding and lots of opponents makes for an environment where even the most dedicated Johnny can get back to their roots and play some oddball formats with fun old cards.

I know there’s a lot of people sitting out there that don’t want to try playing with Mirage. Those people say that they only play Standard or Extended and aren’t interested in playing anything else. I urge you to reconsider. Not only is it fun for casual play, I’ve been told that Magic Online will be having more Classic and Tribal tournaments in the coming months. So even your “fun” decks have a shot at winning the big prizes.

It’s been a week of fun here on Attention to Detail. Sometimes the details that are most important to notice are those that affect the way you enjoy the game, and not just how you play it.

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