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The Comboist Manifesto: I Have No Memory: Part 5
By Stephen Bahl
This is the fifth and final article in a series. I originally wrote "I Have No Memory" as a single article, but I realize that it was getting long. My intention was to say something about the most interesting card I've not played with for each and every Magic set that introduced new cards to the game. By its nature, this meant that my article would be over 100 paragraphs in length. So I split it into five pieces. Hopefully, you've been reading them in order. I guess the order doesn't really matter that much. Do what you want.

Conspiracy

Brago, King Eternal: This set introduced the “conspiracy” card type. Unlike special stuff from other releases, the plane cards from Planechase, the scheme cards from Archenemy, Vanguard cards, the cards from the Theros Challenge decks, etc., these have standard card backs and are, due to the nature of the variant format established by the product, cards that are just as much a part of the set as the other cards. Well, they can’t be played in the literal, game rules sense. I’ve decided to exclude them from consideration for my purposes. I have drafted Conspiracy and have used some of those cards, but it seems wrong to include them here. That mostly leaves reprints and cards that I have played, either in Conspiracy draft or in other formats. But I don’t think I’ve ever used Brago, and the card is clearly quite powerful. I’ve definitely had Brago in mind for some of the concepts I’ve brainstormed and such. But actual finalized deck construction and gameplay usage? Not yet.

Magic 2015

Ajani Steadfast: I bought more of this set than other core sets, and I have more experience with it. I talked Al0ysiusHWWW into attending the prerelease for this set with me, and I think that’s the last time he ever played Magic. My selection here is somewhat limited. I’d roughly estimate that I’ve played more with this set than any set after it and more than the sets before it going back to Fifth Dawn. So I’m picking Ajani Steadfast. There are better cards in this set. There are some great new cards here. But I’ve played them. I’m not surprised the card I find myself picking here is a mythic rare. I haven’t been citing many planeswalkers in this article. Most of the good ones I used at some point, and most of the rest don’t really interest me that much. Liliana of the Dark Realms is special because that’s the only planeswalker to do some cool stuff I really like. But Ajani Steadfast appealed to me from the start. That -2 ability is something I really wanted to try out.

Khans of Tarkir

Villainous Wealth: For dedicated combo decks, color distribution and access to different colors of mana is more of a logistical consideration than an overall theme. Many combo decks these days go blue/black/red because they rely on certain key cards in those colors and the costs of building a manabase to splash for white or green utility isn’t worth the benefits. But those decks aren’t really viewed as “Grixis” decks. I’ve played combo decks in all sorts of color combinations, but I’ve long had a soft spot for blue/black/green, or “Sultai” as this set dubbed it. Individual card consideration in the particular combo a deck is based around really matter more, but there’s a general pattern, and blue/black get a kind of core toolbox of cards to really enable combo decks. If a third color is added for utility, I’ve often found green to be fun. Villainous Wealth is ripe for exploitation by a deck with some sort of mana ramp, be it black, green, or artifact-based. When Khans of Tarkir was new, I was more focused on broken stuff: Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. If Villainous Wealth had been in an old set, I’d have played the crap out of it.

Commander 2014

Arcane Lighthouse: For those of you who have stuck it out, reading through all of my blathering, I’ll let you in on a secret, something I’ve never actually told anyone (I sure hope Spiderman doesn’t use this as a pull quote): I hate Hexproof. I think that it is a bad part of the game and I do not like it. At some point, Mark Rosewater talked about how design shifted from Shroud to Hexproof because too many inexperienced players were mistakenly playing with Shroud as though it were Hexproof, so they wanted to make it more intuitive. I consider this to be a very bad, egregious mistake that is not good. To be clear, it’s not that Hexproof is overpowered or that I hate losing to it. I just think that Hexproof makes for bad gameplay. So I get a kind of grim satisfaction out of a card that hoses Hexproof. Even if Hexproof didn’t exist, it’d make sense to, at some point, print a Shroud-hoser. Arcane Lighthouse seems like a solid, efficient card. I also like the flavor.

Fate Reforged

Cloudform: I just checked and it looks like I never talked about this at the CPA. Weird, because I thought I had. Search isn’t coming up with anything. So ever since Fate Reforged came out, I had this idea for a deck that could arrange the top cards of its library and get Cloudform on Phyrexian Dreadnought. Other candidates for Cloudform targets included Eater of Days and Hunted Horror. The deck’s name was going to be “Is That a Dreadnought in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?” (I crack myself up, really). I even have a draft partial decklist on the TappedOut website. I was going to do some testing and eventually put the deck together with real Magic cards. Of course, I never got around to it.

Dragons of Tarkir

Collected Company: If you’re really into dragons, well, Dragons of Tarkir probably has enough of them for you. They really went all-out for this one. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a weak set overall. Fate Reforged was a much smaller set, but had more playable cards. Collected Company is pretty good. The card was controversial in the Standard environment, with lots of players wanting it banned. It stuck around to the bitter end. Outside of the slow, weak environment of Standard, the card is merely decent, not broken. My local game store was trying to sell opened boxes of the “Dangerous” deck from the “Armed and Dangerous” Clash Pack (which they’d presumably bought cheaply) because people were buying the product just for the copy of Collected Company in the “Armed” deck. Standard players were all either using “CoCo” or complaining about its existence. I made a note to myself to look into picking up some copies of the card once it rotated out of Standard and didn’t cost a fortune. Of course, I never got around to it.

Magic Origins

Demonic Pact: In hindsight, Magic Origins doesn’t really feel like a core set. It feels more like a hybrid of a core set and an expansion set. Not sure how much the distinction matters anymore. I was fond of the set when it was new, and I still like it. I do think they missed a lot of opportunities to push some interesting cards and mechanics. Demonic Pact is one of those. Yes, it’s usually pretty easy to take some sort of measure to get rid of your own enchantment, so the drawback isn’t dangerous enough to justify really pushing the power level of this card over the top, but I wish they’d done it anyway. Great flavor for a black card and I have a fondness for “hot potato” cards that are powerful, but with the caveat that they become dangerous over time. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to Illusions of Grandeur. I never felt like Demonic Pact was quite powerful enough for me to bother with it, but I thought it was a borderline case and I wondered if I could find a way to break it.

Battle for Zendikar

Painful Truths: I knew that at some point, I’d start to get into sets new enough that I just haven’t explored them the way I might with sets that have been out for several years. There’s no hard line for this. Battle for Zendikar seems like a kind of inflection point, though. Like, I might be approaching the realm of sets so new that I haven’t gotten a chance to play with the cards. Of course, if were a draft enthusiast or tournament grinder, then I might have gone through more of the cards in these sets. Painful Truths has deckbuilding constraints and is somewhat situational, but it’s generally more potent than many of the older spells with similar effects. In a three-color deck, I could see myself running Painful Truths over, say, Night’s Whisper. And I’ve used Night’s Whisper a whole lot.

Commander 2015

Mizzix’s Mastery: In principle, Mizzix’s Mastery is right up my alley. I do balk a bit at how expensive the Overload cost is. But I could see myself casting it without Overload on some spell that’s more expensive. I mean, on the extreme end, if I target Enter the Infinite, I probably win. This could be a viable card for casual combo decks. It only recently caught my attention. I’m interested, but not crazy over it. This is no Yawgmoth’s Will or Past in Flames. Still, I have some ideas for it.

Oath of the Gatewatch

General Tazri: This set is famous for obnoxious, broken, colorless eldrazi. Well, I’ve played with those. General Tazri has an activated ability with WUBRG as the cost. If nothing else, that’s attention-grabbing. But being more practical, the triggered ability is strong. General Tazri would make a fine “general” card for a tribal allies deck in any sort of casual environment where that applies. These days, that probably means it’s mostly relegated to Commander.

Shadows over Innistrad

Tireless Tracker: I have mixed feelings on the “Investigate” mechanic from Shadows over Innistrad. Well, I have mixed feelings about the whole set, really. It’s a bit of a letdown compared to the original Innistrad. But Investigate is both kind of interesting and also a little too slow and clunky for me to want to use it. Didn’t really bother with it much except a little bit in the Magic Duels computer game. But some of the individual cards seems pretty strong, with the mechanic being a nice bonus on some already respectable cards. Tireless Tracker stands out particularly as something that would be fun to exploit. I’m thinking Natural Balance or something crazy like that.

Eldritch Moon

Bedlam Reveler: In another context, I’d have liked this set more. WotC had just recently switched to the now-defunct two-set block model, and players were burned out on the massive overdose of eldrazi cards from the previous block, even though it was only two sets full of eldrazi instead of three. But we moved away from Zendikar and then, annoyingly, it was obvious that the “shadow over Innistrad” was going to be Emrakul. So we got one set of reprieve before yet another set full of Eldrazi. What’s frustrating to me about this is that the weariness and the eldrazi oversaturation overshadowed some really solid mechanics. If not for the “We’re moving on from eldrazi—just kidding” bait-and-switch, both Meld and Emerge would have been fine mechanics. And I actually really like almost all of the good non-eldrazi cards here. The Escalate mechanic is nice, Skulk is fun, and I’m a fan of Madness too. But one my favorite cards in the set has to be Bedlam Reveler. I even bought a playset of it, fully intending to use it in a Burn-style deck. Oops. I mean, it’s not too late or anything. But yeah, this is an easy selection.

Conspiracy: Take the Crown

Recruiter of the Guard: This is a fantastic set. There is a strange trend, though, that the new cards in Conspiracy sets are disproportionately providing more strong white cards, including many that are uncharacteristically good in Legacy, relative to what other modern sets are doing. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s pretty noticeable. Recruiter of the Guard is similar to Imperial Recruiter, which I have used. The old red card (reprinted in Masters 25, which isn’t out yet as I type this sentence, but will have been released well before the article is published) looks at power and the white version here looks at toughness. This does have some ramifications, but the cards are otherwise similar and there’s a lot of overlap in what they might look for. I’d say the fundamental difference is whether white or red mana is more accessible for one’s deck, but with Imperial Recruiter only existing in the obscure Portal Three Kingdoms set, it’s probably been more a matter of practical affordability. Since I’ve played with Imperial Recruiter, I have a rough idea of what to expect with Recruiter of the Guard. So while I’m not excited at the prospect of exploring some new ground with such a card, I liked the old version and I’d be happy to play around with the new one.

Kaladesh

Aetherflux Reservoir: Well, I’ve played with some Kaladesh cards, but as with other recent sets, there’s a lot that I just haven’t used yet because I haven’t had the time. Aetherflux Reservoir is an interesting sort of inverted take on the Storm mechanic, and I’ve made my enthusiasm for that mechanic pretty clear, I think. In the single card discussion forum at the CPA, I started a thread analyzing Aetherflux Reservoir and I contemplated building a deck around it. Of course, I didn’t follow up on that. Incidentally, Kaladesh would have some enticing runners up. I didn’t write about it, but I was interested in trying to build a combo deck with Metallurgic Summonings. Wildest Dreams looks cool. Aetherworks Marvel is infamous for its performance in Standard, but is probably tame in a broader context. I could arguably count Paradoxical Outcome as well, although I did some early theoretical testing with the card for Vintage Storm decks. But Aetherflux Reservoir is just a really cool card. How often do you see the phrase “deal 50 damage” on a Magic card?

Commander 2016

Vial Smasher the Fierce: I wasn’t particularly impressed with very many of the new cards from this product, although several of them are clearly very, very strong in Commander. And hey, that is the format for which they were designed. I don’t really care for the “Partner” mechanic, but I can’t argue with results: most of the powerful Commander decks these days seem to be using Partner commanders. Ignoring that mechanic and even ignoring Commander entirely, this card itself looks like it’d be fun. I have dreams of some red/black Burn deck using this with Fireblast. I don’t know how practical it is, but I do want to try it.

Aether Revolt

Crackdown Construct: I liked this set a lot. Although my example of Mist Dragon as a combo with Crackdown Construct is patently silly, there are other, more practical options. It might seem droll for me to select something that I’m seeing strictly as an infinite combo enabler, but infinite combos are something I’ve played around with a lot, historically. Compared to the old stuff, or even other new combo enablers, this one is special. Crackdown Construct is a unique card. Nothing else freely feeds on activated abilities themselves. I’ve used several cards that feed on the effects of activated abilities, but that’s more confined. Crackdown Construct even works when Mist Dragon loses flying! Maybe I’m just being silly, but it’s also worth noting that this selection is powerful, and I do like powerful cards.

Amonkhet

Approach of the Second Sun: I like alternate win condition cards. Off the top of my head, I know I’ve played with Epic Struggle, Celestial Convergence, Felidar Sovereign, Barren Glory, Biovisionary, Laboratory Maniac, Helix Pinnacle, Coalition Victory, Phage the Untouchable, Vraska the Unseen, and The Cheese Stands Alone. I haven’t played with Chance Encounter, Mortal Combat, Near-Death Experience, Battle of Wits, Darksteel Reactor, Door to Nothingness, Maze’s End, Hellkite Tyrant, Mechanized Production, Revel in Riches, or Azor’s Elocutors. Those all look fun too. Approach of the Second Sun is just a great concept. Also, I don’t like this set very much, so there’s not very much competition. But Approach is a really cool card.

Hour of Devastation

The Scarab God: I thought at the time, and still maintain, that this is a really lousy set. And I’ve played with some of it, hitting some of the potential gems that I could otherwise have listed here. One of the only interesting cards in the set that I haven’t actually played is The Scarab God. I like undead armies. I see some strong potential combo applications and control applications for this card. It’s one of the god cards, so the power level is actually pushed to a tolerable level, rather than the mediocrity of most of the rest of the set. I think that some day, I’ll put this into a deck.

Commander 2017

Kess, Dissident Mage: Really, it’s not even close. This is a card that lets me cast spells out of my graveyard. It’s even reasonably good. I mean, it’s only one spell per turn (per my own turn, at that). Four mana and three colors is a bit steep. But it’s a 3/4 flying creature too, which counts for something. And the ability doesn’t cost mana, so once the initial hurdle is cleared, this thing becomes powerful. I like the card, but the confluence of limitations on it (only one spell per turn, the need for three different colors of mana, four mana to get started) mostly rule it out of the kind of combo deck I gravitate toward. But if I do end up playing the sort of deck that can squeeze value out of Kess, I’ll totally go for it.

Ixalan

Sunbird’s Invocation: I like the concept behind Sunbird’s Invocation. Six mana is a bit much, but it’s possible to work around that. Ixalan is still fairly new. I am pretty sure that I’ll play with Sunbird’s Invocation at some point, but perhaps not until it rotates out of Standard. I realize that there’s some Standard deck out there that uses both this and Approach of the Second Sun, and I selected both cards for this article, but I didn’t really pay attention to that stuff. I don’t have any particular interest in using them together in the same deck. I just think they’re cool cards.

Unstable

Crow Storm: Well, selection on this one is wide-open. Unstable strikes me as one of the most gorgeous, fun-filled, well-designed sets in years. It looks amazing and there are so many things I’d love to try. Also, I haven’t played with a single card from this set. That’s the problem with silver-bordered cards. I can’t really play them via online media. It’s got to be in-person. And it’s got to be in a casual setting where silver-bordered cards are considered acceptable. I don’t have anything like that going on right now and I haven’t sought it out. If I had a regular playgroup, I'd push for a "Silver Border Casual Constructed Night" or something like that. So I could pick any card from this set (other than Steamflogger Boss and the basic lands). And with such an open field of cards that are appealing, sometimes appealing in very different ways from each other, trying to pick one just feels like a random guess. I’m going with Crow Storm because it’s the kind of card that could really be a black-bordered Magic card and I kind of wish it was. Sure, the flavor is a joke, but mechanically, it’s just a good Storm card. Bryant Cook, creator of Legacy tournament deck “The Epic Storm” had some analysis of whether the card would make the cut in his deck if it were an option. Empty the Warrens occupies similar space, but each has some advantages and disadvantages.

Rivals of Ixalan

Mastermind’s Acquisition: Being the newest set, I haven’t had as much chance to play with Rivals of Ixalan. There are several cards I want to try out. Mastermind’s Acquisition wasn’t the most obvious choice, but I can’t help thinking of it as an option for a revival of my Relentless Pony deck. Infinitely copying Mastermind’s Acquisition would be far simpler than my elaborate schemes from 2004. And hey, in a pinch, the card is a Diabolic Tutor.

Well, that's it. I've covered my non-memories for every Magic set that introduced new cards. What are your non-memories? Let me know in the forums here

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