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The Comboist Manifesto: A/B/U Retrospective Part 3
By Stephen Bahl
The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 13: Comprehensive Retrospective Set Review of First & Second Edition, Part 3

Mind Twist
XB
Sorcery
Target player discards X cards at random.

I don't know exactly what deck originally caused Mind Twist to be a problem for the game (the DCI cited the early game “swing” that Mind Twist could create as being too powerful), but the card was banned in all formats back in 1996. In 2000, it was moved onto the Vintage restricted list (unbanned), but remained banned elsewhere. Mind Twist was finally unrestricted in Vintage in 2007. For some reason, Mind Twist is still banned in Legacy.

Even though I contend that Mind Twist should be unbanned in Legacy (I technically said I was “undecided” on whether it should stay banned the last time I analyzed the Legacy banned list, but I'm now more confident of this), it's still a pretty powerful card. It has two things going for it that will probably always make it seem formidable. Firstly, the discarding is done randomly, so opponents cannot protect their key cards by discarding chaff. Secondly, with a bit of mana acceleration, it is quite feasible to get rid of an opponent's entire hand.

Mind Twist is definitely a card for control decks. Maybe aggro-control decks. Combo decks generally don't have much use for it, and the card is mainly of interest from a combo perspective because it can potentially shut combo decks down. If a control deck uses Mind Twist, especially Mind Twist fueled by Mana Drain, it could very easily mean game over for a combo player. Combo decks that are highly reliant on graveyard interactions might be able to play around a big Mind Twist, but for the most part, the spell is a powerful bomb against combo decks.

Balance
1W
Sorcery
Each player chooses a number of lands he or she controls equal to the number of lands controlled by the player who controls the fewest, then sacrifices the rest. Players discard cards and sacrifice creatures the same way.

While Mind Twist is a classic sorcery that has generally been banned or restricted from tournament play that I think is no longer as threatening as it once was, Balance is a classic sorcery that has generally been banned or restricted from tournament play that is still extremely threatening. Balance is, well, a very imbalanced card. It's a two-mana wrecking ball of symmetrical effects. Balance was restricted in Vintage in the 1990's at some point. I haven't found any document specifying exactly when or why. There was a famous Balance-based deck in 1994 (the Maysonet Rack-Balance Deck, pioneered by Adam Maysonet) that exploited Balance's interaction with The Rack. I've also seen Balance used with Zuran Orb.

I don't think anyone knows exactly what the full power of Balance would be in today's Magic. The card is restricted in Vintage and unavailable in other tournament formats. A deck that can use multiple copies of Balance would be competing in an environment in which other, more broken cards would also be available. Stephen Menendian ran a test tournament in which players pitted famous decks from the past against each other. The Maysonet Rack-Balance deck fared very poorly against the rest of the field. Of course, the pools of cards, general rules, and deckbuilding have all changed considerably since the days when Balance was unrestricted. That the card still appears in many Vintage control decks as a one-off, which is a good indication that the card is still powerful.

I had a friend who, in a local tournament that didn't ban or restrict Balance, played a Land Tax deck that used Zuran Orb to get all of his Plains into his Graveyard, at which point he'd cast Balance followed by Planar Birth, leaving his opponent with no land while had a bunch of life and all of the lands in his entire deck on the battlefield. Now that's cheesy.

Purelace
W
Instant
Target spell or permanent becomes white.

Thoughtlace
U
Instant
Target spell or permanent becomes blue.

Deathlace
B
Instant
Target spell or permanent becomes black.

Chaoslace
R
Instant
Target spell or permanent becomes red.

Lifelace
G
Instant
Target spell or permanent becomes green.

Casual players tend to like the laces because they can be used for all sorts of cool tricks. For example, if your opponent has a creature with protection from black, you could use Lifelace to make your black creature into a green creature. What's this? Oh, the phone is ringing! It's for you. The 1990's called and they want their bad cards back.

Berserk
G
Instant
Cast Berserk only before the combat damage step.
Target creature gains trample and gets +X/+0 until end of turn, where X is its power. At the beginning of the next end step, destroy that creature if it attacked this turn.

At some point I'm going to run out of good cards intersperse between these horrible cards. The laces are just so bad that I have no choice but to cover Berserk next. The good news is that Berserk is extremely powerful. The bad news is that it stopped being printed after Unlimited Edition. The bad news for combo players in particular is that Berserk speeds up aggro decks tremendously. That Giant Growth I mentioned earlier starts to look even more deadly if backed by Berserk—or two. On the other hand, aggro decks with Berserk sometimes start looking more like aggro-combo decks than simple aggro decks, so maybe Berserk isn't our natural foe after all!

Circle of Protection: White
1W
Enchantment
1: The next time a white source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage.

Circle of Protection: Blue
1W
Enchantment
1: The next time a blue source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage.

Circle of Protection: Black
1W
Enchantment
1: The next time a black source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage.

Circle of Protection: Red
1W
Enchantment
1: The next time a red source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage.

Circle of Protection: Green
1W
Enchantment
1: The next time a green source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage.

This cycle of cards was incomplete in the Alpha printing of the basic set, as Circle of Protection: Black and Volcanic Island were left out, supposedly by mistake. I say “supposedly” because I've seen it attributed to a mistake on reputable websites, but I haven't seen and recounting of the details behind this yet. In any case, the omission was soon rectified, with Beta. The original “CoP” cycle was pretty influential. Wizards of the Coast reprinted these cards in every core set through Ninth Edition and they even snuck their way into two large expansion sets: Ice Age and Tempest. They would have snuck their way into Mirage, the large set between those two, but Mirage got a laughably bad replacement instead (more on that if I manage to review Mirage). The “CoP” cycle spawned derivatives, notably the “Rune of Protection” cycle in Urza's Saga, but also one-offs like “Circle of Protection: Shadow” and “Rhystic Circle.” I don't regard the original circles of protection very highly, but I have to admit that most of their derivatives are even worse. It wasn't until the mostly innocuous Mercadian Masques that a real replacement, Story Circle, was printed.

While these enchantments can be used in mild combos, such as the interaction between Circle of Protection: Black and Pestilence (pay twice the mana, but prevent damage to yourself), for the most part, these cards require an opponent to actually have sources of damage relevant to your circles. If I'm running Circle of Protection: Black and my opponent is playing a green deck, my enchantment is useless. Seeing this, some new players fall into the the trap of putting all five circles into one deck. This results in even more dead draws and an even weaker deck. Sideboarding offers a more realistic option, but there are simply better sideboard choices available in almost any format.

These enchantments are too situational and damage prevention isn't generally that amazing anyway. These cards were diluting the power of white in core sets, which is probably why Wizards of the Coast finally dropped the circles of protection after Ninth Edition. They're not the worst cards, but they're not very good.

Swords to Plowshares
W
Instant
Exile target creature. Its controller gains life equal to its power.

Well, I've covered wards and circles of protection. I don't want to give the impression that the original white cards were all either as bad as Pearled Unicorn or as insane as Balance. White has some more sensible cards too. Swords to Plowshares could be the poster-child for strong white instants. Although it was eventually omitted from core sets, the card is good enough to be a staple in virtually any deck that uses white. Control decks can use the cheap, powerful creature removal to deal with the most powerful threat on the board. Aggro decks can get rid of a pesky blocker or utility creature. Combo has the least real use for this card, but combo players, if they plan to use creatures, need to be aware of this powerful form of disruption, as it is nearly ubiquitous wherever it is allowed.

Black Vise
1
Artifact
As Black Vise enters the battlefield, choose an opponent.
At the beginning of the chosen player's upkeep, Black Vise deals X damage to that player, where X is the number of cards in his or her hand minus 4.

The bizarre history of this card in tournament play goes beyond the scope of this review. I'm convinced that probably no one, not even those that have tested the card extensively, no exactly where Black Vise should stand anymore. To be clear, it's a good card. The easiest illustration of this is that, if Black Vise is dropped on the first turn, one can, with a single mana, hit an opponent for upwards of 5 damage just because it will take a couple of turns to get a hand size small enough to get underneath Black Vise. But that's crude and not entirely reliable. The real power of Black Vise emerges from two aspects, neither of which is directly related to the other. And that's what makes the card's power a bit murky.

Firstly, since this is a combo-focused review and lockdown decks can be considered a kind of combo deck, Black Vise is a powerful kill condition for prison-based decks. While a hard lockdown could potentially kill with almost anything, efficiency in deckbuilding is key, Black Vise is a one-drop artifact, which is pretty hard to beat. Also, most prison-based decks are control or control-combo decks that don't always get all the pieces at once for a total lockdown. Black Vise can allow a deck that slows the game down to win while doing so. There's a lot of variation in such decks, but Black Vise is such a versatile weapon that almost any prison deck could use it.

Black Vise is broken in environments where lockdown combo, slow control, or hybrids of the two are strong decks. The other aspect that affects the power of Black Vise is the nature of the decks that opponents might use. Back when Black Vise was first targeted for restriction by the DCI, some of the most powerful archetypes used considerable card-drawing. Against decks that are constantly refilling their hands, Black Vise is very potent, even without synergies. Black Vise was banned, at least in part, for wrecking decks based around cards that would, themselves, become banned. And once the card was banned, it was officially in the same group as other broken artifacts, and largely disregarded for casual and competitive play. It was eventually unrestricted in Vintage, along with Mind Twist. Unlike Mind Twist, I can't even remember Black Vise turning up in tournament decklists since the card was unrestricted.. Both cards remain banned in Legacy, although their ability to compete with the broken cards already running rampant in that format is questionable.

I think it's a bit of a shame that Black Vise, a great tool for prison-based decks, or even for resource-dying control decks, has been forgotten, because the card has been out of competitive play and out of print for so long. Still, for anyone that does use it, Black Vise is an amazing damage source, just so long as one can keep an opponent from being able to play spells.

Word of Command
BB
Instant
Look at target opponent's hand and choose a card from it. You control that player until Word of Command finishes resolving. The player plays that card if able. While doing so, the player can activate mana abilities only if they're from lands he or she controls and only if mana they produce is spent to activate other mana abilities of lands he or she controls and/or play that card. If the chosen card is cast as a spell, you control the player while that spell is resolving.

This card was enough of a rules nightmare that Wizards of the Coast shied away from the whole “take control of your opponent” idea for many years, although they eventually returned to it with a totally broken artifact. But this isn't about Mindslaver. Word of Command is strange. After Lich, it's probably the weirdest design choice out of all the original Magic cards.

Much like Lich, Word of Command was another one of the nominations for the Casual Card Hall of Shame. I briefly contested the nomination at the time, on the grounds that even though the card is all but useless against instants, it can potentially be effective against other cards. Still, it's definitely not that impressive. Word of Command's power is dependent on the composition of opposing decks, but I've never heard of a single instance of anyone even testing the card. It's a rare that wasn't reprinted after Unlimited, and is so convoluted that most players would be inclined to just disregard it. I've seen copies of the card—for sale on shelves in card shops. I've never seen anyone actually use Word of Command in a deck.

Word of Command was cut from the core set in Revised Edition for being, in the words of Richard Garfield, “buggier than a high school FORTRAN class.” Knowing nothing about programming myself, I don't actually get the joke, although I assume that it's funny, or was in the 1990's. Prominent CPA member Mooseman, in the Hall of Shame nomination thread, criticized the rules issues with Word of Command by comparing the card to “Play any card in opponents hand if it's Tuesday and raining.”

Birds of Paradise
G
Creature — Bird
Flying
T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.
0/1

I liked it better when its creature type was “mana birds.” While it's not strictly pertinent to reviewing the original Magic cards, I have an anecdote to share for this card. Concurrent to writing this article, I've been sorting some cards that were piled in my closet for two years. I just found copies of Birds of Paradise from old, white-bordered core sets (Third through Sixth editions) that had been modified, presumably with a permanent marker, to have black borders. I was pretty confused for a while until I realized what had happened. I guess someone I got cards from at some point really wanted a black-bordered playset of Birds of Paradise, but without having to pay the exorbitant sums required for Limited Edition rares. Birds of Paradise would later be released in Ravnica and other black-bordered sets, but for now, I'll stick with my vandalized cards.

Supposedly Birds of Paradise was designed late in the creation of Magic by Richard Garfield, on account of the originally submitted artwork for Tropical Island featuring a bird a little too prominently. If that story is true, players everywhere can thank Mark Poole's avian fixation for giving us one of the greatest creatures of all time. And fans of green mana-fixers for multicolored decks must really appreciate this last-minute addition. However, note that real birds of paradise don't actually look anything like the birds depicted in the artwork for this card. So those of us hoping to learn a little ornithology from our card games are left disappointed.

Well, that was two paragraphs and I haven't said anything about the overall power of Birds of Paradise. Great. This review is going to take forever. Anyway, a one-drop that can produce any color of mana, with no drawbacks, is really, really good. The only green-using decks that can't really make use of this card are extreme aggro decks that can't stand the thought of a zero-power creature and extreme combo decks that can't be bothered to wait a turn for a mana-producer to start working. For just about any other deck that has green as anything more than a splash color, Birds of Paradise is a superb inclusion. Flying is sometimes not even useful on the card, although for decks that pump their creatures up, Birds of Paradise can sometimes win games involving creature standoffs by flying over blockers. It can also, if necessary, chump-block huge fliers in an effort to buy time. Oh, and Birds of Paradise doesn't die to Earthquake. Speaking of which...

Earthquake
XR
Sorcery
Earthquake deals X damage to each creature without flying and each player.

A strong board-sweeper that has been reprinted many times over the years. The damage to players is symmetrical, but can still be useful, especially for a more aggressive deck that is already ahead on life anyway, perhaps killing an opponent outright or setting one up to be finished with Lightning Bolt or another damage spell.

Fast combo decks generally have no use for Earthquake. Why kill creatures when you can just kill your opponent? But I could see Earthquake working for combo decks in slower games, especially ones that will be determined by board position. Perhaps Earthquake would be a good tool for combo decks in multiplayer games, used to reset much of the board and slow things down while one assembles combo components.

Hurricane
XG
Sorcery
Hurricane deals X damage to each creature with flying and each player.

Perhaps because hitting all flying creatures isn't usually a big of an effect as hitting all non-flying creatures, Hurricane was originally printed as an uncommon, although it has since been reprinted as a rare to match its red counterpart. If you're being killed by flying attackers, Hurricane is nice, but for most games, since most creatures are non-flying, it lacks the impact of Earthquake, and is a somewhat less attractive option for the same sort of thing. On the other hand, a deck that can hold off all non-flying attackers, especially in multiplayer, could make good use of Earthquake deal with those pesky airborne attackers that fly over most walls. I lost the CPA's first tribal game in part because, while making last-minute changes a little too hastily, I cut the Hurricanes from my green wall deck. It's not a bad card, just usually not as relevant as Earthquake.

Benalish Hero
W
Creature — Human Soldier
Banding
1/1

Savannah Lions
W
Creature — Cat
2/1

Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
U
Creature — Merfolk
1/1

Will-O'-The-Wisp
B
Creature — Spirit
Flying
B: Regenerate Will-o'-the-Wisp.
1/1

Goblin Balloon Brigade
R
Creature — Goblin Warrior
R: Goblin Balloon Brigade gains flying until end of turn.
1/1

Mons's Goblin Raiders
R
Creature — Goblin
1/1

Llanowar Elves
G
Creature — Elf Druid
T: Add G to your mana pool.
1/1

Scryb Sprites
G
Creature — Faerie
Flying
1/1

Shanodin Dryads
G
Creature — Nymph Dryad
Forestwalk
1/1

Timber Wolves
G
Creature — Wolf
Banding
1/1

Wall of Wood
G
Creature — Wall
Defender
0/3

Birds of Paradise is unequivocally the most versatile one-drop creature in First/Second Edition. The other eleven one-drop creatures are of very limited use in combo decks, but do provide the first look at how Wizards of the Coast would approach designing creatures. Green gets the most one-drops, with the most options. White gets a strong rare and a mediocre common (but it is equivalent to one of the green rares, because apparently green having access to banding is rarer). Black gets a good rare. Red gets a common and an uncommon, with the uncommon being strictly better than the common (for some reason, red is the color that gets cards that are strictly inferior to other cards in the same set). Blue only gets one common, and it has no abilities. While that's all pretty blatantly skewed in favor of green and against blue, I doubt many players were bemoaning the weakness of blue, the color with the best spells.

Merfolk and goblins would become more relevant in later sets, with tribal synergies. This also applies to soldiers. But really, by that time, there would be better merfolk, goblins, and soldiers anyway. Really, the only creatures here that are any good are Will-o'-the-Wisp (a flying, regenerating creature can be a passable one-drop in some environments), Savannah Lions (for aggressive decks), Llanowar Elves (mana acceleration), and Scryb Sprites (a flying 1/1 for one mana is good enough that when it was reprinted in blue, the card was highly sought after).

Their are elf-based combo decks and they can be very, very powerful. All the elf combo decks I've seen use the ubiquitous Llanowar Elves, the elf card that Wizards of the Coast has reprinted so much that they reprint it even when they're not reprinting it (hence Fyndhorn Elves). So out of all the original one-drop creatures, well Birds of Paradise is the best. But Llanowar Elves is second!

Conversion
2WW
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice Conversion unless you pay WW.
All Mountains are Plains.

Karma
2WW
Enchantment
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, Karma deals damage to that player equal to the number of Swamps he or she controls.

Blue Elemental Blast
U
Instant
Choose one — Counter target red spell; or destroy target red permanent.

Lifetap
UU
Enchantment
Whenever a Forest an opponent controls becomes tapped, you gain 1 life.

Deathgrip
BB
Enchantment
BB: Counter target green spell.

Gloom
2B
Enchantment
White spells cost 3 more to cast.
Activated abilities of white enchantments cost 3 more to activate.

Flashfires
3R
Sorcery
Destroy all Plains.

Red Elemental Blast
R
Instant
Choose one — Counter target blue spell; or destroy target blue permanent.

Lifeforce
GG
Enchantment
GG: Counter target black spell.

Tsunami
3G
Sorcery
Destroy all Islands.

The original color hosers. There would be more. And it's sort of hard to care about these cards. They're so impractical for both casual and tournament play. Color hosers have been used in sideboards for tournament decks, but most good sideboards don't focus specifically on colors, but on answers. These suffer from the same problem as the circles of protection: drawing a color hoser against the wrong color results in a dead card.

Seeing the original color hosers all lined up together, it is interesting to note the pairings and the oddballs. Blue and red get the elemental blasts. Black and green get the enchantments with activated spell-countering. Red and green get the land destruction sorceries. But blue's hoser for green is just a weird, bad card and black's hoser for white is a cost-increasing continuous effect. Gloom would have become worse, but was reprinted with a change from specifying “circles of protection” to “white enchantments with activated abilities.” The white color hosers have nothing in common with the others (except for the part where they hose the two opposing colors on Magic's color wheel).

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

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