Stidjen's Magic

Anything I want to say about Magic

That new set smell

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Innistrad marks the end of a spoiler season and simultaneously the beginning of a new one: one of exploration of unknown waters. The whole set is out and brewers and players from around the world try to figure out what the cards do for metagames new and old alike. What cards will impact the casual tables? What interactions will populate the Sunday tables at the next Pro Tour? Every single set has, at least for me, a common pattern in how you react to it upon release and thereafter. What happens when all is new and shiny?

Welcome, <name set>

For me, every new sets brings with it some form of excitement. Obviously this differs per set, but I can’t remember a set that I didn’t like. Core sets, for examples, aren’t very exciting. Innistrad, on the other hand, had me hooked the moment I took notice of its gothic horror theme. I’m somewhat of a flavor geek – not really while building decks, but I like to take some time to let the overall feel of the set resonate with me. I have a habit of reading the novels too, which is another way to get to know the world behind the cards.

A new set means a new set of possibilities to explore. Every segment of the Magic playerbase wants to know about the new sets. Vintage players look for that handful of cards designed for their format. Legacy players do the same and Modern players too, to a lesser extent. Standard is a format that will no doubt shake up with each new set. With a new block like Innistrad, the impact of a new set coincides (well, not really a coincidence) with the departure of another block (Zendikar) plus a Core Set (Magic 2011).

New is better

I find that during spoiler season (starting with the first card(s) revealed, leaked or spoiled), the yeasayers outnumber the naysayers. People like to burst other people’s bubbles, but we like it even more if we find the next Jace or Tarmogoyf. Even apart from the money you could gain from this (buy cards dead cheap and sell them when they’re hot), we just love being right. “I just knew this guy would be the next big thing!”

I am glad the naysayers are the minority. Positive thinking (in Magic, but everywhere else too) encourages weird brews and new ideas. If you haven’t tried it, you’ll never know. If everyone would be overly skeptical of everything, the new Innistrad-Standard metagame would just be Scars-block with M12 thrown in. “Why would I try this? It just dies to Dismember and has no immediate impact on the board state.” Instead, we have a somewhat anxious player base ready to dive in.

This is more true for casual players like myself. I don’t have to care if my new deck will beat deck X or Y. Instead, I just get to build awesome decks and see where it goes. “Hey look, Angel of Flight Alabaster would go great with Kamigawa’s spirit cards!” is a quote reserved entirely for players in the casual realm. We have a metagame, but the metagame is defined by our imagination rather than what deck can kill the fastest. For a player like me, winning is fun, but winning using my own ideas is even better. No offense to those who play tournaments often, but your prime motivator is winning. Sure, you wouldn’t play if it weren’t fun, but there were still players playing the game when Jace and his accomplice Stoneforge where stifling the whole Standard metagame.

Journey of Discovery

Like I said, a new set marks the beginning of a new journey. Besides from the obvious new decks that spawn (remember, casual players are much more incentivised to build a deck centered around New Mechanic X than tournament players), we have to watch out for new cards for some of our existing decks. For example, New Phyrexia’s Etched Monstrosity demanded a slot in my Maelstrom Nexus-deck. Sun Titan was the card that glued the pieces of my Ally Mill-deck perfectly together.

This discovery is what makes Magic so great. Just when you’re about to get bored by the latest set (maybe not bored, but ready for a new experience), there’s a new one on the horizon! Being a casual player makes every card potentially playable, contrary to the harsh reality of tournament play. My Royal Wave-deck from a few weeks ago would never work in Standard. We need to remove Sol Ring and Thran Dynamo, thereby taking the stinger out of Genesis Wave, and pretty much the whole deck. Genesis Wave ties the deck together and without it, it would be harder to assemble the whole Empire. While I like building with restrictions, I wouldn’t have as much fun playing with, say, Everflowing Chalice when I know Thran Dynamo works much better.

No, being a casual player brings with it a sort of liberty. We can do everything we like, and we can eat the whole Innistrad-cake. While I feel that Innistrad is an attempt to bring flavor to the foreground, I feel that players like me still enjoy it the most. The more there is to enjoy, the more there is to build and brew with.

Inhale flavor

As somewhat of an artistic person, both the artwork and the storyline are things I’m interested in. (I’m one of those players who’s angry about the fact that novels are no longer in fatpacks.) Besides mechanically discovering Innistrad (as described in the previous paragraph), I also take a stroll through the artwork, the flavortext, and all the storyline I can take in.

Some pieces of art just trigger this amazing initial reaction that gets to you. My stomach turned upside down with a lot of art in Innistrad. Did they really show is such and such? Yes, they surely did. Wasn’t this and that a taboo on cards? Well, apparently not. These all make my whole Magic experience more enjoyable.

Another thing that flavor does is reinforce certain cards and mechanics. My favorite Magic storyline I have read is that of the Kamigawa-block. In it, Toshiro Umezawa is the hero – very rare, considering Toshi is very much black-aligned. My interest in ancient Japanese culture helped me dive into the whole trilogy, and afterwards Kamigawa had gained a place in my heart. I built quite some decks that only spawned because my reading triggered it. My Toshiro Umezawa-deck was one of the most enjoyable decks I’ve ever had (which I sadly dissembled and didn’t archive).

A final thing the storyline brings is natural suspense. If you follow the spoiler season on the mothership a bit, you’ll have a decent grasp of the current situation and a glimpse of things to come. What’s up with all those hedrons (Zendikar)? What’ll those giant monsters do (Rise of the Eldrazi)? Who will win: the Mirrans or the Phyrexians (Scars of Mirrodin)? Why is Innistrad becoming more dangerous and why did Avacyn disappear (Innistrad)? Questions that lack a definitive answer and feed speculation and imagination are my favorite, and looking for them in a Magic set helps me enjoy it more.

New card smell

Another thing that happens within me is the urge to play with new cards. And I don’t mean new decks – I’ve talked about that above. There’s this allure new cards have that makes you want to play with them. I remember when Mirrodin-block was being played, Pentad Prism was a mainstay in our group. Champions came out and everyone started playing Sakura-Tribe Elder and Sensei’s Divining Top. And Ravnica came out, it was all Lightning Helixes and Last Gasps.

The funny thing with those changes is that sometimes, those cards didn’t even make sense. While Sakura-Tribe Elder is a great card, some (green) decks didn’t need it. Still, we played it. The same goes for Last Gasp: it is a very good card in tournaments, where the creatures are generally smaller. Not so much in casual, where big creatures rule, and Terror is better most of the time (you could make an argument for Skeletal Vampire, but that card didn’t get played all that much in our group).

The thing to take away from this section is this: whenever there’s new cards, there’s the urge to play them. Even when there are better alternatives and even when they’re not needed, we do. And again, this is good – humans are a curious species, we like the discovery. If anythin, we can have a good laugh about it in five years time, like when we thought Top was expensive at $ 2.

After a while

When the initial excitement subsides, we’re left with just the cards. A problem I have with spoiler season is that they build up to such a climax that after a while, your bubble is bound to be burst. You think about how great and neat the set is but in the end, you don’t have that spark anymore. Again, I’m speaking for myself here, but I feel I’m not alone. For example, you hear a lot of complaints (if that) that the SCGLive-tournaments accelerate the format in such a way that the format reaches its saturation point sooner. This feeling happens with me too, but not because of SCGLive. After a while, I’m done with a set and would like to see new cards. If I had to blame anything, I’d blame the interwebs. Reading the same articles but by different authors gets annoying after a while.

A good example is the Zendikar full-art lands. At first, I was overwhelmed with joy. Sheer joy. This was the best thing ever! Why would they ever print regular lands again? I stuck them in every deck I could and try to get them as throw-ins to trades whenever possible. But you know what? I rarely play them anymore. Sure, they’re great. But after a while, you’ve seen them all. Again and again. Oh hey, it’s another deck with Zendikar basics. If I look at the decks I’ve built recently or am planning on building, I have lands from Invasion, Scars-block, Mirage and M11 sleeved up and ready to go. Zendikar lands where cool at first, but in the end, they were just lands.

All that’s left to do then is wait for the next set. And while I do, I often stumble upon cards from older sets that I didn’t know. When you’re bored (this word may me an exaggeration) of the latest set, your attention turns elsewhere. Maybe it’s a deck you’ve always wanted to build, but didn’t. Maybe you remember an idea you once had that got reinvigorated with a new set. And if even that doesn’t cure your Latest Set Blues, remember that a new spoiler season is just ahead.

How about you?

So, how do you cope with Latest Set Blues? Or don’t you suffer from it? How do you experience a new set? I’m curious to know, so please make your voice heard.

Next week, I’m back with a whole array of Innistrad decks I might build at some point. See you then!

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