Thoughts on Apocalypse
Let me begin this article by noting a disturbing trend that has caught my attention. Two weeks ago (by my reckoning), in this space, I mentioned that the deck known as Junk could not retain its power in the post-7th Type 2 due to the loss of River Boa and Armageddon. The night my column was published, I went to my usual Saturday night Magic tournament at the Battlezone, and lost in the round of 8 to-- what else?-- Junk. Seems that Cloaking a Noble Panther is still a strong play. I also lost to a different Junk deck in the Swiss, of course, but who's counting? Okay, so I made a mistake. Then in my next column, I shoot off my mouth about how Suicide Black is not viable. Can you tell where this is going? Once again, that very night, I make the finals of the tournament and lose to a Foul Imp with double Unholy Strength. Remember, though, black doesn't have any good weenies left. Yeah. Right.
The bottom line is, I've recently managed in making a complete idiot of myself anytime I try to predict the upcoming metagame-- or, more specifically, dismiss certain decks as being non-viable. There's a lesson here, and that lesson is that we should not dismiss ideas out of hand without having tested them, for the most part. Or the lesson might be that I really don't know jack. I'm not sure. Probably both. So I'm going to make a conscious effort to try and shut the hell up on this particular subject in the future. If I stray out of line, dear readers, I trust that you will forgive me my momentary episodes of idiocy, or at least realize that I am more to be pitied than censured.
I like Apocalypse. A lot.
I hate Spiritmonger. A lot.
Apocalypse is great for a number of reasons. First, and most obviously, it brings back the mechanic of enemy colors interacting, complete with enemy-colored gold cards. I love enemy colors, for the most part. Some of what I consider to be the coolest decks ever-- Snuff-o-Derm, Counter-Phoenix and Squirrel Prison among them-- have been multicolored. Oh, and one of my favorite creatures ever belongs to two enemy colors: Frenetic Efreet. But I am probably getting ahead of myself here. To express the benefits of enemy-color interaction in a slightly less emotional way: It is good for Magic for the enemy colors to be able to work together. Although they should never be quite as synergistic as the so-called friendly colors-- they are, after all, enemies-- there are many situations in which they lend themselves to combined strategies, such as the three decks I mentioned above. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that.
To be honest, the thing that will probably have a more lasting effect than any other part of this set is the enemy-color painlands. Even without any sort of true dual land, having to rely on City of Brass and Dragon Lairs for a land base if they wanted the versatility that comes from multiple colors of mana in a single land, enemy-colored decks have begun to spring up following 7th Edition. U/G Opposition decks and R/U Trade Routes/Seismic Assault decks are two of the examples I have seen. These new lands are huge for these decks. I will bet that they will still be highly influential when most of the other cards of Apocalypse have long since ceased to amaze, facilitating multicolor decks, and I hope they make them into future editions of the basic set.
But that brings up an interesting point, one that was first brought to my mind by an article that Michael Granaas wrote for Star City (it should be easy to find in their author index, it's titled "Land Ho.") If the opposite colors now have straight painlands-- no come-into-play-tapped jazz-- then that puts them on equal footing with the aligned colors. And that just might not be right. After all, didn't we decide that it was good for enemy colors to have slight drawbacks compared to friendly ones? So what we need are true duals to return for the friendly colors-- lands that come into play untapped and tap for mana of two colors without pain or other drawback. They might not count as their respective basic land types like the Revised duals, but they'd work essentially the same. So how about it, WOTC?
I have strayed from the point. Let me return to talking about the enemy-color gold cards and other such stuff.
There's really not that much else to say here. Yes, Black/White appears to have gotten its fair share of the bombs. Yes, Black/Green has a broken creature which I shall discuss further in just a moment. Yes, Red/White, Red/Blue and Green/Blue also have interesting new cards to watch out for. I don't have anything to say that's especially inspiring or hasn't been said before, so I won't. The things that make enemy-color cards good are the same things that make friendly-color or mono-color cards good. Destroying any class of permanent is good. Having a 5/4 flier that Armageddons when it comes into play is good. I think that Apocalypse will slip into Constructed with a minimum of fuss. There will be new decks, and some decks will splash a third color that they might have avoided before, but it won't cause any problems. Drafting is another matter, but that's not my forte. As the actual release date and date of legality approaches, I'll have more to say, but that time is not now. For right now, I want to talk about the most undercosted card I have seen come along in quite a while.
This card is an excellent example of a lesson that I think all learning Magic players should pick up on, and that is when a card has the potential to be an unhealthy influence. A term often used for this concept is "broken"-- I think we all know what this means, so I won't define it. What I have come to believe is that there are two kinds of broken:
1) Cards whose effect is simply extremely powerful and/or lends itself to extremely powerful plays. Time Spiral, Memory Jar and Mind Over Matter were/are examples of this kind of brokenness. It probably would not matter overmuch if these cards were costed a few generic mana more or less-- they produce an effect that is sweeping and probably not a good idea to introduce to the game, except under carefully restricted conditions.
2) Cards whose effect is not gamebreaking or unusual, but which are severely undercosted. Take Ancestral Recall. It lets you draw three cards as an instant, for one blue mana. This is widely, and appropriately, considered a powerhouse. Yet it is not the mere fact of drawing three cards at instant speed that makes Ancestral Recall "broken"... Opportunity nets you four, after all. No, it is the fact that the mana cost of the card is grossly out of proportion to the effect produced.
Spiritmonger is an example of the second kind of brokenness. I hesitate to call it "broken"... but let's just say that I honestly believe it's right up there with Morphling and Masticore, both names of renown. Yet its statistics do not make it broken-- they would have been right at home on a creature costed from 7-9 mana. At 5 mana, though, they are simply out of line according to the conventional wisdom of card templating. The effect produced is similar to what we would face if Phyrexian Negator had no drawback, for example, or if Blastoderm did not fade away. It's just generally accepted that this is the sort of thing you do not do. Except Wizards, apparently, has done it.
Will the game survive this card? Certainly. Would we all have been better off if it had been printed with a casting cost to match its power? I believe so. That's this week's inadvertent lesson, I suppose-- always be on the lookout for cards or decks that produce an unhealthy play environment.
That sums up my preliminary thoughts on Apocalypse now that we've all seen the spoiler. Later on, when I have something more to go on, I'll try to get more specific.