Thursday, March 19, 2015

kill reviews: innistrad block

The main difficulty of writing an Innistrad review is that I wrote one already. I was fairly measured at the time, mostly shocked at how Wizards had managed to create such a good format, while taking note of how it contradicted Rosewater’s stated ideologies about How To Make A Good Set. The analogy that comes to mind is when an album comes out and reviewers immediately love it; they’ll even give it as high as a 8.8 or 4.5/5-star review. Then, ten years later, the album’s reissue causes them to state what we’ve known that entire decade: it’s a 10/10, and one of the best albums of the generation. But it’s only hindsight that gives us the capability to distinguish between being pretty good, and being a stone classic.

Innistrad isn’t just a well-designed limited format. It is the best limited format. The set is so tightly designed that I’d rather play six-pack Innistrad sealed than draft almost any other set. And when you actually draft it… holy god, there’s nothing better. I can’t do my usual “well this is good, and this was bad” shtick, because nothing in it was bad. The best I can hope for is to deconstruct the set to find out what makes it so brilliant.

The most important thing is what I’ll call the “ten pair” system. The set doesn’t just have synergies, but (almost harking back to Ravnica block ideals) gives each color pair a different thing that it cares about in limited, with some cards serving wildly different purposes depending on what deck is using them. Amazingly, it does this despite having zero gold cards below rare (and only one at rare and three at mythic).

Let’s go through how people classically approach a draft: you take the best card in the first pack, then the best card in the second, and then drift into drafting the two colors most open to you. Innistrad is fine with this, and will even reward it with cards that reward that specific color pair (for example, Travel Preparations in G/W). Then, as the draft progesses, you’ll choose between drafting cards strictly on nonlinear power level, or drafting around a specific “theme” (like G/W’s emphasis of Human tribal, present on cards like Elder Cathar and Hamlet Captain).[1]

[1] From memory, a quick table of the color pair linear (or semi-linear) archetypes:
W/U: Spirit tribal
W/B: Human sacrifice
W/R: all-in aggro
W/G: Human tribal
U/B: Zombie tribal/Makeshift dudes
U/R: flashback/spells matter
U/G: self-mill
B/R: Vampire tribal
B/G: morbid
G/R: Werewolf tribal

One reason this is so phenomenal is that, if one ends up in a fairly standard U/B Kill Their Dudes And Play Bad Creatures plan, one naturally wonders if they could have somehow drafted around Forbidden Alchemy and Makeshift Mauler more intensely. Then, in the next draft, even in the exact some colors, the deck might end up entirely different. People can have seemingly unrelated ways of drafting the same color pair, with one person routinely windmill-slamming first pick Deranged Assistant, with another person usually finding it left out as their 24th card.

And if someone does decide to go all-in on some weird plan in Innistrad draft, it’s almost a guarantee that the strategy really is possible. It’s a set of infinite possibilities, where a stroke of inspiration in the middle of the first pack can guide one to an easy 3-0 with cards they’d never even considered considering previously. In this way, it’s reminiscent of open-world RPGs like Fallout, where if something seems like it’s possible, then it is.

Of course, also like Fallout, there are people and monsters (and the environment) constantly planning to kill you. So maybe your inspiration won’t come from seeing a 12th-pick common, but from losing to some deck that did nothing but mill itself, make spiders, and gain life.

Even beyond the simple two-color archetypes, there were a variety of interesting things to draft. Two of these I consider the defining decks of the format.

Burning Vengeance, my favorite of the bunch, relied on getting some copies of the namesake enchantment, then using it combined with cheap UR(b) flashback spells to control the board before burning the opponent out. I loved this deck because, more than even most constructed control decks, it really symbolized what it means to be a control deck. You played a bunch of dinky removal spells to survive for some number of turns, before dropping a Burning Vengeance or two. Then how do you win? Well, the answer was right in front of you all along! Those silly removal spells are coming back to kill you! Control decks are usually doomed toward nonlinearity, with a collection of a bunch of efficient spells and a kill condition as an afterthought. A control deck with a card advantage engine that is itself the kill condition is something to be cherished.

I drafted this deck many times, and I love it with every fiber of my being. When I needed a casual deck to throw around with a few newer players, I consolidated a couple leftover draft decks in the archetype into a 60-card version (with the stated intent of demonstrating how a control deck can take over a game without creatures; the real reason is that the deck is just incredibly fun, especially with some one-ofs from my random pile of cards, including Deep Analysis).

The other defining deck of the format (and probably better-known) would be Spider Spawning. People caught on to how U/G incentivized self-milling with some pretty terrible */* creatures, but thought of it as a rather inefficient gimmick. Then, some pros started playing a version that was UGb, splashing Spider Spawning, using 14th-pick Memory’s Journey and Runic Repetition to “go infinite” (flashing back Journey targeting Repetition among other cards, then Repetition to get back Journey).

It is beautiful. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s a creature-based combo deck that can gain an absurd amount of life with Gnaw to the Bone, flood the board with 1/2 spider tokens, then do it over and over again with cards that they had milled. Unfortunately for me, it’s also a straight-up counterstrategy to my beloved Burning Vengeance deck, capable of literally gaining more life than BV is capable of dealing in a game.

How many limited formats even had reasonable combo or control decks, let alone ones that cool?

But it’s not just that these decks exist that make Innistrad the best limited format ever. It’s how it took legitimate work in order for them to be found out; players had to sift through dozens of other proposed archetypes to find them. Timelines differ on how long it took people to catch onto Spider Spawning (especially the “infinite” version), but it was certainly over a month of professionals drafting the format multiple times a day, every day, before anyone found out about it. That’s the definition of an archetype buried in a set, and I doubt that sort of uncovering can ever happen again.
Other sets have attempted this archetype focus. Modern Masters (a set I will not be specifically reviewing) comes to mind, yet that set, despite being specifically focused toward the experienced drafters, still didn’t offer the wonderful experience of Innistrad. Why not?

I draw a distinction between having subtle archetypes and having blatant, or even mandatory, ones. Modern Masters didn’t bury an archetype within two colors, it simply laid out a bunch of wildly different, non-overlapping, linear archetypes, then forced players to pick one or lose horribly. There is nothing interesting about drafting artifacts in Modern Masters, or Allies in Zendikar. You just look at the type line and draft everything that matches your selection. Drafting G/W in Innistrad, though, you’re forced to constantly decide between the obviously efficient selection like Darkthicket Wolf and the linear choice like the previously-mentioned Hamlet Captain.

The building block of all these Innistrad archetypes are the common enablers (the word “common” used both in terms of rarity, and in the sense of being shared between multiple archetypes). Let’s take Silent Departure[2]. The surface-level impression, or of someone doing their first draft of a set, is that it’s a reasonably efficient blue removal spell that’s at its best in a more aggressive X/U deck that can take advantage of the tempo swing. The flashback gives it a moderate bonus that will be useful if the deck floods out late, or needs to push few a final couple points of damage.

[2] …please!

None of that is wrong, exactly, but it doesn’t appreciate all the work it does for wildly different blue-based archetypes. In a W/U deck built around flyers, for example, it’ll be used in a fairly basic way of gaining tempo and removing the few available blockers, whereas an aggressive U/R deck will combine it with “bad” cards like Bloodcrazed Neonate and Furor of the Bitten to win the game before the opponent can blink. Those are pretty well-trod uses of blue bounce spells, though. A Burning Vengeance deck, despite being the same colors as that aggressive U/R deck, will make completely different use of it, buying time before flashing it back for a massive blowout. A U/B zombie deck will also use it to remove blockers for their non-evasive large dudes, but will also cast it off Deranged Assistant or Armored Skaab as a strange sort of card advantage.

As the draft format aged slightly and people grew savvier about the different archetypes, those common enabling cards continually rose in value. Dream Twist, which earlier in the format had about a 50/50 chance of getting drafted after the basic land in the pack, was rarely seen after the fourth pick, as drafters in U/B, Spider Spawning, Burning Vengeance, or even dedicated mill fought over it. The aggressive W/G Travel Preparations deck, once thought of as innately the best at the table, became just another archetype.[3]

[3] If you draft 3x Innistrad with people who’ve never drafted it before, draft W/G Travel Prep. If you draft the same format with people who’ve drafted it a hundred times, don’t.

Despite all this writing about archetypes, though, it’s not the archetypes that make Innistrad great. It’s the option of playing an archetype. Innistrad limited is a Rorschach test like no other format but cube, and drafting it will tell you how you approach the game. You can draft any color pair at any point on a spectrum between fully all-in linear and completely modular and win a draft. You can make up an archetype on the spot. Most recently, a friend hosted an Innistrad draft for Halloween. I drafted GWU Invisible Stalker/Travel Preparations aggro and went 3-1. I’d never considered such a thing before, but it worked out.[4]

[4] Admittedly, third-pack Garruk Relentless and Gavony Township helped (I had been UW before that pack).
In my initial review of the set, I mentioned how the usual prerelease-day talk of “lost/won with an unbeatable rare/mythic” was replaced with “just beat an overpowered mythic no problem,” and I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why this is. Innistrad’s rares, for the most part, are a lot less straightforwardly powerful than they are an invitation to play a different archetype than what someone is accustomed to drafting. Is Geist-Honored Monk a good card? Unquestionably yes, and it can go into any white deck in the format without issue. But a deck set up specifically to take advantage of the fact that it makes Spirit tokens, or one already geared toward flooding the board, is going to get more mileage from it than other decks. When it comes to more marginal rares like Mindshrieker, things get a lot more ambiguous. Is this a 1st-pick bomb, or a 6th-pick playable? How does it compare to Murder of Crows or Claustrophobia? It depends on what you’re doing with it. And that’s the wonderful aspect of Innistrad’s “bombs.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum lay Innistrad’s unplayable cards. Rosewaterist design philosophy tells us that cards at the end of the pack, the cards that are completely worthless even in limited, are a necessary evil of a large set. Without them, the thinking goes, their place would simply be taken up by the next-worst cards in the set. It is therefore impossible to be rid of unplayable cards.

Innistrad demonstrates that this is wrong. I encourage you, reader, to go through the entire set of Innistrad and find me cards that are completely limited-unplayable, in every archetype, even out of the sideboard. If you find more than three, you’re just evaluating some of them incorrectly.

Having a spectrum of quality does not mean that some cards have to be worthless. It means that some of them have to be worthless for most decks. Those remaining cards can be dedicated toward furthering a certain archetype (or as sideboard fodder against it). Innistrad’s almost slavish devotion toward making all its cards playable is perhaps its most impressive feature, one that goes a great deal toward making its many archetypes and strategies viable. There would be limited decks where I’d routinely side in half a dozen cards; it’s something that can separate the FNM-quality drafter from the professional-quality one (not that I’m as good at Magic as a pro).[5]

[5] I did, however, draft with them sometimes. The first Grand Prix I made day two of was Innistrad/Dark Ascension, and I went 7-2 the first day with no byes, then 2-1’d both of my drafts (a play mistake to not play around an opponent’s one-outer cost me one of those matches).

This aspect of the set is what gives me hope for future draft formats. Innistrad strikes me not as a set with a single burst of creative genius that made it so great, but as a set that underwent thousands of hours of painstaking refining, retooling, and overhauling to become what it is. Any new set is certainly capable of having all its bad cards replaced with niche ones, of making all its rare limited bombs archetype-enablers rather than singlehanded game-winners. The developers just have to put the work in. The sad part is that it just might not be worth it for the company as a business. Why bother improving a set to the point where only 10% of players notice the difference, and only after the set has been out two months? At that point, they’re supposed to be getting hyped up for the next product anyway.
The set was, in very minor ways, imperfect, but finding the flaws is like looking for scrapes on a PSA 10.0-graded Black Lotus. Of the ten color pairs, the R/W was the one rarely invited out to play with its nine friends; its pair-enabling flashback spell, Rally the Peasants, was an underwhelming payoff compared to what the other colors got, and there was no real linear theme for the pair. Invisible Stalker was frustrating to play against, and should have even been made rare, or worse in some way.[6]

[6] This card led to one of the biggest discrepancies I’ve ever seen between people’s belief in how good it was against them versus how highly they value it themselves. People are well aware that it’s nigh-unbeatable when combined with Butcher’s Cleaver or a myriad of otherwise-mediocre creature enchantments, yet they can’t connect the dots and see that this means they should probably not pass it in the first pack. “But you need one of those specific cards to go with it!”, they’ll say, in a format where multiple archetypes are based around a specific uncommon, and the Spider Spawning deck relies on at least three different ones. It turns out that the reason people lose to Invisible Stalker is because the card… is good.

That’s it. That’s literally everything bad I have to say about that limited format.

After all that talk only about Innistrad limited, aren’t you ready to read about Dark Ascension? Too bad! It’s time for single-set Innistrad constructed.

Single-set constructed is not something I normally do. I cannot recall ever playing the format with any other set. But Innistrad-only constructed is one of the best formats I’ve ever played. It has a shockingly diverse selection of archetypes, from various aggressive decks to four-color Burning Vengeance and UGb self-mill (the latter being the deck I settled on).[7] That lack of unplayable cards somewhat transferred over to this format, where a shockingly large percentage of the set saw play in one of these decks.

[7] My eyes nearly bulged out of my skull when I played a mirror match and lost to their sideboard Undead Alchemist. If I didn’t scoop on the spot, it was in a vain hope that they’d spontaneously disconnect. After the match, I don’t think I’ve ever bought cards, edited a decklist, and requeued faster.

When Dark Ascension came out, the block format immediately shifted: white-based tokens was the only playable deck. This remained the case even after Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue were banned. In a way, it’s pretty impressive that a small set could be forceful enough to completely ruin even a block constructed format so convincingly.

To be fair, Dark Ascension didn’t ruin Innistrad draft. It was… fine. I do appreciate a few minor things about it, like the B/W Dead Humans theme that was hinted at in Innistrad, but in general it made the format slightly worse.

There’s a difference between being bad and not being special. It didn’t offend my sensibilities, but I thought of it as Innistrad fanfiction. It used the same mechanics, the same ideas, and most of the same archetypes as the previous set, while expanding in fairly predictable ways.

While I certainly drafted plenty of DII,[8] it wasn’t the same. It was as if a few of my friends had been replaced with cyborg clones of themselves, and I tried to shrug it off like “eh, no one else will hang out with me anyway.”

[8] The set came out just as I started going to a real-life card shop to draft on a weekly basis. This store had something I’ve never seen anywhere else: they concluded that a draft was “worth” 4.5 packs, so if you had five packs (or nine packs for two people), you could pay your entry fee in packs and still receive prize support. At one time, I had a streak of 16 match wins across a month of play, so I managed to go infinite in paper Magic. I’ve never managed that drafting online.

As wonderful as Innistrad was as a large set, the block design doesn’t inspire the same delight. The arc was supposed to go “things are bad, things get worse, things get better,” but there’s no way to show, in a Magic set, things going from bad to worse (at least, not within the confines of a horror environment). Innistrad already had enormous murderous undead behemoths, and that’s when things aren’t bad? I understand what Innistrad was going for with cards like Feeling of Dread and Night Terrors, but that’s just too subtle for people who aren’t obsessively looking for it.

I already brought up that and other points in a set review I wrote when the set was new, so pretend pt i from that article is in this space. More importantly, that piece has a short Garruk-authored section that I completely forgot about.

Let’s move on, then, to Avacyn Restored.
In the latter days of Dark Ascension, the hype was beginning for Avacyn Restored, and as people might imagine from the bitter, cynical author behind these reviews… I was fucking excited! This great block is going to get its blockbuster finale, and I get another large set? Phenomenal. The lead designer, Brian Tinsman, had a pretty solid recent track record: his previous three large sets were Champions, Time Spiral, and Rise of the Eldrazi, and while the first two of those had their critics, those were all exceptionally good draft formats. What’s more, I had never done a single Rise draft, so here was my chance to get in on the ground floor of what was destined to be one of the best sets ever.

My local store had a preorder deal: a box (with promo card) and the prerelease for just over $100. I plopped my trade binder on the table and daydreamed about spending a future evening busting open that box and boisterously drafting late into the evening.

Allow me to break into quoting Rosewater’s 2012 State of Design.

“The most important thing is this: Avacyn Restored was a giant success. By what metric? People buying packs. A lot—a LOT—of Avacyn Restored has been sold. So much so that R&D had a meeting to discuss all the things we did right in the set.


Why was Avacyn Restored so popular? I have a bunch of guesses. I know the Angel theme was popular. I think soulbond, while somewhat misunderstood, was well liked. I believe miracles, despite some online grumbling, was a huge success. And I feel much of the audience just enjoyed the good guys winning after a number of years with the bad guys victorious.

My job as head designer is to figure out what works and what doesn't. I do this by not just paying attention to what people say but by watching what people do. […] The biggest of which is it made players—and once again, a lot of players—smile.”

Let me do a quick tally.
36 packs – box preorder
6 packs – midnight prerelease
6 packs – two drafts on the day of release
6 packs – Grand Prix[9]

[9] I had absolutely no intention of playing the entire day, but my pool was a very good R/W aggressive one capable of killing most opponents with Silverblade Paladin and friends before they could start playing bombs. I started out 6-1 (again, no byes) before losing the last two matches to bad draws. Now, normally, I’d add a caveat like “…but I don’t know if I could have played it better,” but it was impossible to make a play decision with that deck, let alone an incorrect one. The pool conspired to make me play the highest number of games of Avacyn Restored sealed without reward.

I, personally, bought 54 packs of Avacyn Restored (including event entry, but excluding all prize packs). This is potentially the most physical packs I’ve ever purchased of a single set; it’s certainly the only set I’ve ever bought a box of (let alone preordered). 48 of these packs were purchased on or before the day of release.

So when Mark Rosewater goes into his yearly design column about things that were good and bad in the previous year, and he tells me, a paying customer of his company’s product, that he knows that Avacyn Restored must be a good set because people (such as myself) bought so many packs of it… that is offensive.

I’m often accused of being angry about Magic-related things (namely in these reviews), when that is rather rarely the case. I am often contemplative, usually taking things into historical consideration rather than blindly loving things, a skeptic in a room full of blind optimists. But I am actually angered by Rosewater scoreboard-pointing over Avacyn Restored, and I hope my readers excuse the vitriol to come.

The reason I bought 54 packs of Avacyn Restored is that Wizards fucking betrayed me. After my favorite limited format ever, I was willing to throw down an amount of money (far more than the average player spends on packs) completely blind, based on a trust that the company had built up with me based on their previous sets. And that trust was completely shattered.

Avacyn Restored is a bad Magic set. The depth of its badness is staggering: it is not simply its lack of creativity in design, it is an outright rejection of every lesson that should have been learned from every Magic set leading up to it.

Its place in the block, its Creative idea, is the cleansing of all the evil from Innistrad. Somehow, this purge leaked over into its limited format, which is a point-by-point rejection of everything that made Innistrad good. The format does so many things wrong that it plays not as a successor to Innistrad, but a sickening parody, like an undeveloped negative of that previous set. If both Innistrad and Avacyn Restored adhered to New World Order rules (and I’ve seen no indication that they did not), where Innistrad demonstrates how complex a format can be made with simple pieces, Avacyn Restored shows how stupid and needlessly obtuse it can get under the same circumstances.
I’d like to start with a few anecdotal examples, and build up from there. My prerelease deck—literally the first time I’d ever read most of these cards—contained four Mist Raven, a Deadeye Navigator, and a smattering of instant-speed blink effects (a recurring mechanical motif in the set). When I was gaming at three in the morning, I had a game where I played two Mist Ravens, then a spell that blinked two of them back into play (returning one to my hand). My opponent cast the same creature five turns in a row. I did that with commons printed in the same color.

I did not feel as though I had triumphed due to superior playing ability, or deck construction, or seeing an archetype no one else had. In fact, I didn’t feel good about it at all. Halfway through the game, my stomach twinged; I physically felt bad for putting my opponent through that. I apologized for my prerelease deck after the match, and he shrugged it off.

A second piece of anecdotal evidence: Angel’s Tomb is an uncommon in the set, which has a high per-pack number of soulbond creatures. Rules question: you play one of those soulbond creatures when you control no creatures but Angel’s Tomb. What happens? Do you get to soulbond it to the Tomb? What if you have another creature already in play, which you don’t want to soulbond it to?

Contained in the answer to this rules question is that Avacyn Restored is awful.[10]

[10] The solution to the first case is that, because Angel’s Tomb was not a creature when the soulbond creature entered the battlefield, it cannot soulbond with the Tomb, because the soulbond ability doesn’t trigger at all. In the second case, soulbond does trigger, because of the presence of another creature; this allows one to bond the creature with the Tomb. This is one of the few cases in Magic rules where the rules manager’s job should be to come out and say, “this shouldn’t technically work within the rules, but play it as if it does.” (as precedent, I’d like to cite how Twiddle effects shouldn’t have technically work for, like, five years before they Oracle updated all of those cards.)

Anecdote: I lost to Sigarda in limited. It came into play, I read the card, went “yup,” and immediately lost because nothing in my deck was remotely capable of dealing it with it nor competing with it on any axis.
Anecdote: the exact same, but Entreat the Angels.
Anecdote: the exact same, but it was me playing that Deadeye Navigator I mentioned being in my pool.

Many sets wrongly have the reputation of being centered around “unbeatable” rares and mythics that are actually quite easy to deal with, but people want to blame something other than themselves when they lose. Avacyn Restored has the difference that those cards actually are unbeatable.

What made Innistrad’s bombiest rares so unique is how easy they were to deal with. Probably the biggest blowouts, the cards that would single-handedly take over games, were Bloodline Keeper and Olivia Voldaren. Those are both 3/3s and vulnerable to just about every piece of removal in the set (though, admittedly, Olivia happens to dodge most of the pseudo-removal enchantments like Claustophobia). Avacyn Restored gives you splashy bombs whose splashiness is mostly contained in being completely invulnerable to everything, and even if they weren’t, the set didn’t have any removal to do anything about them.

There were no archetypes. All the cards that an Innistrad player would look at and go, “aha, this seemingly-unplayable card is actually the centerpiece of-“ nope, it’s just unplayable. The premier deck is the deck that has the most copies of Druid’s Familiar, because that’s a four-mana card that gives six power and toughness that’s better than a straight-up 3G 6/6 would be. The “soulbond matters” cards are worthless, because your souldbonded creatures are winning the game anyway (and if they’re not, then you shouldn’t have taken them).

They seemingly tried to avoid Zendikar’s two-drop problem by removing all the two-drops. The drafting solution is to second-pick every two drop you see, because no one else will have any.

Usually, when hatred of Avacyn Restored arises as a conversation topic, miracles are the mechanic that people single out. However, my brain is just so overflowing with dislike that they usually don’t scrape the top ten list. I do acknowledge others’ frustration at them, though, and I think it’s bad design to play up what’s generally a frustrating moment in a game. That is: the game is neck and neck, your opponent draws something, bam, the game ends. The loser grunts angrily and eyebrows-down-walks away. The mechanic of miracle changes this to: “I drew this card THIS TURN! I WASN’T planning it at all! I got it from PURE LUCK, and I get a DISCOUNT ON THE SPELL because I JUST DREW IT! This card! The spell that won the game.” It’s the most aggressive rub-in possible, and the mechanic mandates it.[11]

[11] I consider miracles a net positive for the game, though, because they spawned what has to be the only frame-perfect gif ever made that was Magic-related (and a close second behind Rollerblading Raptors Mascot as the best gif of all time):

Of all the dumb half-ideas in Avacyn Restored, blinking is my least-favorite. What’s cool about comes-into-play abilities on creatures is that they do their thing, then they’re just power and toughness (and maybe a simple keyword ability) as far as the board state is concerned. New World Order-era design emphasizes a simple board, so that there’s greater weight to the strategic options that come up, instead of a million different on-board effects, tricks, and things that modify everything else.

Look at Ghostly Flicker.
Think about its potential applications mid-combat.
Then consider how the set has a greater-than-usual number of creatures with CIP abilities, in order to make cards like Ghostly Flicker “cool” and “fun.”
Then consider how there are more creatures on the battlefield than usual, because of the slow pace of games and the dearth of removal.
Then consider than soulbond, a comes-into-play ability, is on many very important common and uncommon creatures.
Then consider the implications that all this has for your opponent as they make blocks.
Then consider how your opponent might have their own Ghostly Flicker.
Then consider how a stated goal of New World Order is oh my god I can’t even continue this train of statements, the whole thing is just blatantly awful.

People are going to stereotype me for going on like this about Avacyn Restored, and I really do not care. Because if I could go on an unhinged rant about one set, it would certainly be Avacyn Restored.

What I expected from a company who made this suck-awful set is to go “hey, our bad, please forgive us.” Instead, the head designer just looked at all the enraged people, went “nah” and did the textual equivalent of a Scrooge McDuck money-swim with a pool labeled Your Avacyn Restored Preorder Money You Moron.

Now that the seething is complete, I’d like to propose How I Would Fix the Block: leave Innistrad card-for-card alone. Tilt Dark Ascension toward red and black, with fewer white cards than normal. Emphasize a “kill whitey” theme throughout the set, to play up the monsters hunting down the remaining humans. Avacyn Restored comes around and it’s tilted toward white, away from red and black. Play AVR limited as Dark Ascension/Avacyn/Avacyn. This doesn’t solve the problem that Avacyn Restored had no effort put into its limited play, but it would have made the block design a lot stronger.

Executive summary: on average, Innistrad block was average.


heitorvrb said...

I can watch that gif all day. Each person in the frame has a great reaction. LSV`s face sums up what it is to lose to miracles.

James Nye said...

I would have mentioned that the experience and emotions tied to drafting triple Innistrad are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax. But other than that, pretty good review. B+

markdash said...

Executive summary: on average, Innistrad block was average.

Well, THAT was a fucking depressing sentence to read.

Joe Cotten said...

Not sure how on- or off-record an offhand Blogatog comment is, but today, when asked what he considered the best and worst NWO draft sets, Maro said Innistrad and Avacyn Restored, respectively. So I guess they realized eventually.

schadenfreudy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
schadenfreudy said...

Both you and Maro are deeply deeply slightly wrong about limited. Rise of the Eldrazi was the best limited format ever, and Innistrad was 1a. Also, reading this review, I just realized that Innistrad and Zendikar block are basically evil twins. Really Bad limited format, boring middle set makes it a bit less bad, world historically good standalone set, compared to Really good limited format, boring middle set makes it a bit less good, world historically shitty standalone set. Even reversed thematic shifts: oh no these monsters came out of this magic stone vs oh yes these angels came out of this magical stone.

To clarify, reason why I like Rise slightly more: the archetypes were weirder, and the really cool/weird archetypes didn't rely on uncommon as much.

Unknown said...

Your opening made me at first question how the color pairing thing was any different from other formats, but then I realized with slight horror (wordplay not intended) that probably ISD was what cemented in the minds of R&D the "need" to have this in every large set. Even in DKA, things got really unsubtle with those uncommon gold lords, and to me the idea seems to have been carried forward with egregious heavy-handedness. (Plus, it's annoying when the cards tell the player to do something and then it isn't good, as you've observed; as a lover of BR aggro decks, I really wanted Theros minotaurs to be good and it was always performed terribly for me.)

Anyway, one of my deep regrets is that ISD was basically when I got into Magic, and so I never got a chance to draft it knowing what I do now. Even as a totally new player, though, I got bits and pieces of the depth of the format. Somehow, I twigged to the self-mill thing being potentially good early on while basically ignoring/never seeing a copy of Spider Spawning, which made for awkward decks that sometimes just won with Makeshift Mauler. Burning Vengeance I never even thought of as a real card until the format was gone, and I only figured out about GW Humans when it was too late and overdrafted...but in spite of all that, I did know the joy both of repeatedly smashing my local RG werewolves drafter with tempo plays and of losing interesting games to the BW Unburial Rites Value guy.

Reading the rest of this, I've finally realized parts of why I like AVR unreasonably well even though intellectually I have to admit I'm wrong to like it. It hit me at a time when I was just gaining enough competence with the rules that the soulbond and Ghostly Flicker problems you mention were actually advantages to me because I got to feel clever at my local FNMs. The higher levels of complexity in terms of board state had yet to occur to me (lenticular design?) or else weren't relevant after all the better players started ditching the format/playing it only half-assedly; it seemed like people just kind of shrugged and tapped out a lot. Basically, I think I liked it because I was winning more than normal. There was a feedback loop where this in turn begat more playing AVR until I started to understand the format better than players far superior to me and beating them, which in turn made me want to play more. I find myself wondering what part of this experience could be distilled from the AVR environment and put to use, because the feeling was really very addictive.

OFSheep said...

Miracle is my least favorite magic mechanic because it forces me to be smug about a topdecked card, and I hate doing that. It emphasizes its own randomness. Like if an entire set centered itself around dice rolls and coin flips and gave you absurdly powerful effects if you won, we wouldn't be that happy, would we? Bonfire of the Damned is almost literally that. If I win I don't get to say that I outplayed my opponent or pulled off a clever feint, I get to say that I won a dice roll, and the game is forcing me to rub it in.

B. Moser said...

Oh it's, it's a bit worse than a dice roll.

With any mechanic, you always have to step back and think "what would this be like if EVERY card in my deck could do this?" In miracle's case, apparently you'd have three or four spells in your opening hand that are slightly overcosted to fairly costed, and you'd spend the rest of the game playing things at half cost or less as you draw them.

At the end of the day, we have to admit Mark's right on this one though. Mechanics that don't require thinking, lady boobs, and giant invulnerable monsters you can't kill are what sell sets. Not all this horrible thinking and exploring nonsense.

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