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Attention to Detail #27
Recycle, Reuse, Renew
by Jordan Kronick
June 23, 2006

Hey there, true believers. The new releases in the world of Magic keep rolling out and it seems like just yesterday that Dissension was shiny and new. And yet, the official previews for Coldsnap are a mere 3 days away. We've even had one sneak peek at a new Wrath-variant in the Pro Tour Charleston coverage (if you didn't see it, I recommend taking a look). With all the new stuff popping up, I thought I'd take some time this week to look at new stuff that's old. What am I blathering about? Why, Tenth Edition of course. Starting last week (and continuing on every week for a while) on Magicthegathering.com, the process of letting the players choose some of the components of the next core set has begun. At different times in Standard (the format most strongly affected by the content of a core set), what cards show up with white borders has a drastically different effect. Sometimes there are powerhouse cards like Opposition or Wildfire and they help define the format. Sometimes the content of the current block is so strong that the core set barely makes an appearance (like in the days of Astral Slide decks). For what it's worth, I greatly enjoy the former. We're at an interesting position in the Standard format for the next two years as Coldsnap means that there will be more cards legal in Standard than ever before. For a year of that time, 10th edition will be part of that huge format. And I would much rather see a huge format with a lot of possibilities than a huge format full of cards that just don't quite meet their potential. This week I'm going to go through each of the cards which has so far been revealed to be in the new core set and talk about what possible impact they could have on the course of Standard. I'll be sticking to things that are confirmed rather than suspected, but there may be a bit of clairvoyant behavior on my part from time to time as well.

The first vote for the players to make in the Selecting Tenth Edition process was between two cards that have mirrored each other since Alpha – Hurricane and Earthquake. For two cards that are so similar, I have pretty strong feelings in one direction about them. I really dislike Hurricane. It has always seemed to me to be very off-color for green to be doing large amounts of direct damage to players. Sure, green is very good at killing flying creatures. But far too often Hurricane is the killing blow for a deck of fatties rather than an aerial defense. Earthquake on the other hand is perfectly suited for red. It kills non-flyers and damages players, both of which are right up red's alley. Love them or hate them, they're both iconic cards. And both of them have been out of Standard since 7th edition. This is an important consideration for another reason. When it comes to voting things into 10th Edition, I'm going to be strongly pulled towards any card that hasn't appeared since before 7th Edition to one that has, because it means the former would be making it's first appearance on Magic Online. Both of these cards are already available (and pretty easy to come by), so that wasn't a concern here. Of course, anyone who checked the site this week knows that Hurricane got the nod from the players and Earthquake will have to wait at least 2 more years before it comes in again. So what does this mean for Standard? Well, I think it gives green a big edge, of course. One of the drawbacks of Hurricane is that the damage it deals to players hits you as well. Sometimes this doesn't matter and you can use it as a final kill card after getting ahead on life totals. Sometimes it makes the card dead in your hand as the flying armada reduces your life too low to make effective use of it. Green has always had a plethora of life gain cards, but until recently they've mostly been junk. Stream of Life and Nourish haven't seen much tournament play to say the least. However, one of the best cards in Ravnica block (if not the single best) is a life gain card that happens to be green. I'm talking about Loxodon Hierarch of course. I think that Hierarchs and Hurricanes are going to go together like peas and carrots in the Standard format of the future (although 10th and Ravnica will only exist together for a few months). It's hard to make predictions a year out with 4 whole sets unknown between the two, but if life gain continues to improve in such a way that it is attached to aggressive creatures like the Hierarch, there could definitely be something to be had. Of course, Hurricane's main use is to destroy flying creatures. Green's strength in a format is often defined by how well it can deal with it's one big weakness – which is that it's dead last in terms of creature control and also in the number of flying creatures that it gets. The presence of Hurricane all but negates the chances of a white/blue skies deck having any impact in the same format. Although flying spot-removal like Wing Snare is always around, it's the big flying-Wrath that really strikes fear into the hearts of Skies players. Hurricane has always had a bigger effect on the metagame than it appears. Although it has never seen much play in Standard, whether it exists or not will help define what decks are playable and which are simply running the risk of this one card tearing them to pieces.

Although only one vote has finished (the second vote – that of Paladin en-Vec vs. Auriok Champion is currently running), the first week of Selecting 10th Edition gave us 8 more cards which are guaranteed to appear in the set because they were chosen to receive new art in the upcoming core set. Here's a quick rundown of those cards before I go any deeper.

Lord of the Pit
Fountain of Youth
Howling Mine
Might of Oaks
Story Circle
Vampire Bats

That's seven pretty awful cards and one pretty amazing revelation. The revelation, of course, is Incinerate's return to Standard. This card has not been Standard legal since Mirage rotated out of the format in 1998. That's a long time for such an iconic card. Incinerate was the prodigy of Lightning Bolt. It cost an extra mana, but had a slightly better effect. When it first appeared in Ice Age, a lot of people complained that it wasn't very good because Lightning Bolt cost only 1 mana. How little did we know that both cards were undercosted. Since then we've had quite a few instants that do 3 damage. Urza's Rage, Ember Shot, Yamabushi's Flame, Sonic Seizure – each of these cards owes its existence to Lightning Bolt and the quest to print a balanced version. Incinerate's return to the fold is a fairly momentous thing. For a long time, most people assumed that Incinerate was gone forever and we'd never see 2-mana 3-damage instants without drawbacks ever again. We resigned outselves to using Volcanic Hammer when we wanted to do 3 for 2. But no more. The existence of Incinerate in a format is always a defining factor. Many formats have been defined by what burn spells do and do not exist in them. Take a look at Pro Tour Charleston this past week. While some people focused on the incredibly powerful creatures of Ravnica block, the winning team realized that the burn of this block is absolutely top-notch. What is the leading burn spell in Ravnica? Why, it's another 3-damage for 2-mana spell. Lightning Helix, of course. In a world where playing multiple colors is easier than playing a single color, Lightning Helix is incredible and absolutely blows Incinerate out of the water in terms of power. What will happen when these two cards – not to mention Demonfire and untold numbers of other burn spells from Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos and Future Sight – exist together? Burn is going to be huge. Will there be a strong red deck in Standard during the time between 10th Edition's release and Ravnica's rotation out of Standard? I guarantee it.

So what of the other seven cards that I listed? Can they have an impact to even cast a shadow on the importance of Incinerate? In every case I would say no. The only two cards among them which have a shot of making it into the standard format with any regularity are Story Circle (could a fine choice against whatever red deck shows up to use Incinerate) and Nekrataal. 'Taal hasn't made much impact since his much-hyped debut in 8th Edition. The problem creatures always seem to be one step ahead of him, and his relatively fragile frame just doesn't seem to mesh with his 4cc these days. I do not discount the possibility that Nekrataal will find a home however. Sometimes a Dark Banishing is just what the doctor ordered.

Lord of the Pit joins the ranks of Sengir Vampire, Force of Nature, Shivan Dragon and Mahamoti Djinn as another big iconic creature from alpha that makes its return to the core set. Of all of these cards, Lord of the Pit probably saw the least play – be it in tournaments or casual. He's never really been a good card. He's not really a good card now, either. But what he does have is style and history. Lord of the Pit has never existed on Magic Online, and it makes me very happy that he now will. Big demons with outrageous upkeeps are a part of Black's nature. And it's a joyous occasion that the original Demon returns to us. While I may never actually use it in a deck (really – who would?) it makes me happy to know that it will be out there.

Might of Oaks and Howling Mine are two cards that show up in the core set with great frequency. Might, ever since it first saw print during Urza's block and the Mine ever since Alpha. Howling Mine had a big impact in the Owl decks earlier this year. Will there be other chances for it to shine in 10th Edition? No, I doubt it. Honestly, I feel that Howling Mine should be retired for a time. It finally got a chance to be big in Standard. Now that it's had that opportunity, perhaps something else should get to play in its place for a while. I'm not suggesting that it's too good or that it should be removed forever. Simply that the chances of Howling Mine ever having as big of an impact on the format as it did this year are extremely limited. Owling Mine took a lot of people by surprise, but the cat's out of the bag now. As for Might of Oaks, it's never really been great. It's a big favorite of casual players, though. And it's also a very nice card to see in core set limited. It can be incredibly swingy – often acting as a 7-point direct damage spell for 4 mana – but it's a fun card and I'm glad to see it coming back again.

That brings us to the last two cards on the list. First is Vampire Bats. This card is now and always has been awful. There's really not much more to say about it. It's not going to have any impact on standard and probably won't see much play in 10th Edition limited, either. It's better than Plague Beetle at least. The last card is one that I've always had an attachment to even though I realized it wasn't good. Fountain of Youth first saw print in The Dark. One of the reasons I loved it so much is that the art really evoked the mood of the set. But the reason that we know Fountain of Youth is coming back is that it's getting new art. Without the cool look that I'm used to, I'm forced to examine this card as a tool. And it's just not very good. It's a 0-cost artifact, which is the right price for sure. However, the life gain is so incredibly minimal that it could never have an impact. The last time anyone though Fountain of Youth was worth playing was when Ice Age was released and a pair of Fountains was one of the only ways to keep Zur's Weirding going indefinitely. These days we've got much better choices for that duty (Skullmead Cauldron comes to mind). Fountain of Youth is a bad card. But bad cards are inevitable.

The more recent card to be included will be either Auriok Champion or Paladin en-Vec. Most people (including me) believe that the Paladin is going to win this vote heavy-handedly. It's a stronger card and it's done a lot of cool things over the past year with it's best friend, Umezawa's Jitte. I think a lot of people are going to disappointed when it has very little impact on Standard after 10th, however. It remains to be seen whether or not white weenie can continue to march the way it has for the past year or two. The one good thing I can say about the Paladin is that with the inclusion of Incinerate, any creature with protection from red is going to be an important part of the puzzle in 2007.

That's it for this week. I'm going to make sure to keep updating each week on my feelings of the votes that come along and the votes that pass. I encourage each of you to go to the site and vote for the cards you want to see. This isn't a presidential election – your votes really do count! Until next week, have a good one.



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