Calm Down, Nothing Is Dying

This post is a response to Neale’s (@wrongwaygoback) blog post Against the Dying of the Light. I realized it got too long to really be a comment so I’m making it a full post, but if you haven’t read Neale’s piece, go do that first, I’ll wait. Oh, and read the comments, too, they’re interesting. I’ll wait again…

OK, now, my take.

Frankly, I hate turn-two kills, much less turn one or zero kills. If I want to play a game of solitaire that lasts three minutes, there are about a thousand Flash games on the web that will serve that function.

Now, I don’t know if you were playing in early 1999, but the PTQ season then was Extended… and it was owned by High Tide, a combo deck that could go off as early as turn 3, and almost completely ignored the opponent unless that opponent was slinging counterspells. Oh, and the deck had no creatures. And it sucked. I stopped playing Magic for about a decade, not entirely because of that, but it was a factor. The game environment Neale described would be awful and I’d stop again if the game was dominated by completely non-interactive combo decks that could go off reliably in the first few turns.

I want to interact with my opponent (well, not all of them, but at least their decks). I want to have to figure out which of multiple plays is better given a board state of moderate complexity, and that decision should be more than “can I go off now or do I have to wait another turn for counterspell mana, too?” Creatures bashing into each other can be a part of the plan, that’s fine. I’m perfectly OK with creature-less decks, too, but not if they are the only really viable option.

Yes, big combos can be fun in Commander, but that’s a different animal. People tolerate non-interactive combos in Commander because generally speaking, most of them don’t happen on turn 2 or 3. And if someone at the table is known to have a deck that is likely to combo off really early in the game, that person is almost always singled out and bashed by everyone else, which often disrupts the combo (or just kills them before they can go off anyway).

Also, I have to take issue with the “best deck” chronology Neale laid out, because the “best deck” mantle didn’t hand off straight from Jund to Valakut. There was a window, admittedly small, in between the release of Rise of the Eldrazi and M11 where Jund was really just one of a handful of Tier 1/1.5 decks, and almost certainly not the best one:

UWr Superfriends
Mythic Conscription
Next Level Bant
UW control (usually tap-out, but sometimes with main deck counters)
Naya Vengevine

I blogged about that while it was going on. That was the best Standard has been since I started playing again right after Zendikar came out. Man, that was fun. Maybe Neale didn’t approve since all of those except for Superfriends are essentially creature-based decks, and even Superfriends ran a playset of Wall of Omens. However, I think most other players would agree that the environment then was varied, interesting, and a hell of a lot of fun to play—though putting together a sideboard was a challenge, because you couldn’t possibly sideboard for all of those.

[Sidebar: Note that right now we have a card pool of almost exactly the same size in Standard (two full blocks plus one core set) but nothing like the variety of that environment. I’m a big a fan as anyone of WotC R&D, but I will say that I don’t like Scars block nearly as much as Shards block, at least in terms of Standard. I think Zendikar block is really good and I’m a little worried about what happens when Zen rotates out and Scars block makes up the bulk of the Standard environment. We’ll see how it goes.]

Now, to agree with Neale, Jace is not the problem here. That awesome post-Rise, pre-M11 environment had Jace, and yes, many of the decks on that list played him, but not all of them did. However, that environment also had Stoneforge Mystic, which only one of those decks (Naya) ever played at all, and not all builds of that ran everyone’s favorite Kor Artificier. This suggests to me that it is not, in fact, Stoneforge Mystic that is broken; I’d take that a step further and say it’s not creatures that are the problem right now.

It’s the equipment; it’s just too good. When Stoneforge Mystic’s best target was Basilisk Collar, she wasn’t a problem. Even with Sword of Body and Mind, SFM wasn’t a card that saw a lot of play. Sword of Feast and Famine, however, is just a little too good, and Batterskull, well, that bad boy is, to quote the original article, “ass-fuckingly” amazing.

Yes, the current environment is a little boring because of the Caw hegemony, but at least Caw is an interactive and skill-testing deck. “A little boring” is not particularly ban-worthy, though if they ban anything, I say it should be Batterskull, not Stoneforge Mystic or Jace.

Also, the whole “ban this card” conversation is getting a little tiring. I’d go on about this, but it’s already been said pretty well.

Now, I do also agree with Neale that the game is becoming more creature-centric, and that seems to be pretty clearly by design. But I’m not all that troubled by it, since there aren’t that many ways to make creatures really good relative to spells, which by their nature have immediate impact on the board, which most creatures don’t unless they have flash or haste. So, you can make creatures really mana-efficient and load them with abilities (e.g., Baneslayer Angel, Thrun… neither of which see much play in Standard), or you can make them essentially hybrids between creatures and spells (e.g., the Titans, Stoneforge). Come on, the 1/2 body on the Mystic isn’t a problem, nor is the flying 1/1 of Squadron Hawk. It’s the spell-like abilities. Just realize that most of your spells are just “spells with legs” and you realize that most of the best creatures right now are the best because of the “spell” part, and you realize that spells really are still in control.