This new set hits the paper world on August 28th, and Magic Online on August 31st.
Today I'm going to go down the list and give my impressions on each card. I'll talk about what each card means for Magic Online and discuss decks from the past that show the true power of these Exiled cards. This article is going to be part blast from the past and part deck sketches, and mostly focused on Classic and casual.
I'm going to have a lot more to say about some cards than other, but here comes a whole bunch of stuff! Hopefully something here gets you psyched about this upcoming MTGO release...
Balance is one of the most powerful cards of all time, and a very interesting entry to this list. Way back in 1994, Rack-Balance was one of the first 'ridiculous' decks that I ever played against. I was slaughtered. Here's an old-school list:
Looking at this deck, it may be a bit tough to figure out exactly what the deck does. The basic gameplan is to search for Balance as quickly as possible. Use Bazaar of Baghdad, Sylvan Library, whatever it takes. Since many of the cards in this deck are cheap, and many are also artifacts and enchantments- Balance will often provide a ton of card advantage for you. At this point The Rack kicks in. Your opponent starts taking damage now that you've stripped his hand with Balance. Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning either weaken him, control creatures, or finish him off.
Now while some of the choices in this deck seem crazy, you have to remember that it was a very long time ago. Not only are you looking at a deck that runs Consecrate Land, but you're also looking at the deck responsible for the original restriction of Balance! Hard to believe, isn't it?
There's been some talk of leaving Balance unrestricted in Classic, which sounds interesting - but I would guess that this has almost no chance of happening. For Classic players, this is a financial benefit. Just about all of the cards likely to impact Classic from this set are anticipated to be restricted, so most players will only need to pick up a single set.
Assuming that this one is restricted in Classic, I think that it still fits into a wide variety of control decks as a singleton copy. Let's take a quick look at the paper world for some info on this topic. Balance is currently banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage. In the past, Vintage decks like Stax and many-color Fish have run Balance - although it's not as widely used as you would think for such a powerful effect.
Modern Vintage control is dominated by Tezzeret, a blue and black deck that rarely reaches into other colors. If you're interested in checking out this Vintage Tezzeret deck then check out this link. http://www.deckcheck.net/deck.php?id=28269. For those of you unfamiliar with Vintage, it may be fun to check out what a Vintage control deck looks like. This one runs a bunch of traditional control elements such as card draw/tutors (Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Mystical Tutor, Gifts Ungiven, Intuition, Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor), counterspells (Force of Will, Mana Drain), and Vintage power (Yawgmoth's Will, Time Walk). Tezzeret the Seeker and Time Vault provide an infinite turn engine, and Tinker brings Inkwell Leviathan into play - but we'll talk more about Tinker later.
So Balance may not be a hot card in modern day Vintage, but if we're talking about Classic then our closest paper Eternal comparison is Legacy - at least until the Exiled and MED3 combination shakes things up. Balance is currently banned in Legacy as mentioned above, but that doesn't mean we can't use it as a information point while thinking about Classic. White is currently a major component of top-tier Classic control decks, take a look at this one played by Kerrick a few weeks ago.
This list is very, very similar to something that you would see run in Legacy, a format where Balance is banned. Adding Balance to a deck like this, even as just a singleton copy, seems like an absolute no-brainer. Balance helps to counter an early aggro-rush, has awesome synergy with Planeswalkers, and the heavy blue component helps makes finding the single copy easier. I expect Balance to be fully involved in Classic control moving forward.
On the casual side, let's live in a fantasy world where Balance remains unrestricted for a second. How about something like this?
Ajani Vengeant survives Wrath of God and Balance. Firemane Angel has value even in the graveyard, and also serves as an additional win condition. This one may be unnecessary, but I love Firemane Angel! Some other options for this deck could include suspend threats like Duskrider Peregrine, and ways to save your hand from Balance such as Ignorant Bliss.
This version of Balance also features new art, as you can see above. I love the idea here, but the execution seems to come up a little bit short. What's going on with her crotch? And what are those glasses? Old man spectacles? Other than that it's cool though. Personally I'd prefer the original art, I'm big on nostalgia.
Berserk is already available in MTGO, but it's cool that paper players will be able to shuffle this one up for less than $80 or so per copy - which is roughly what a near mint Bersek goes for on eBay today. If you're into Beta, then you'd be looking at more like $150 per copy. One of the awesome things about MTGO is the ability to play with some older cards that cost an arm in a leg in paper on a budget. I'm talking about stuff like Berserk, Juzam Djinn, and Diamond Valley.
What's the major downside of Berserk? The ART. Apologies to Steve Prescott, but I am just not digging this one at all. The cartoony-style doesn't work for me, neither does the goofy facial expression. This one doesn't scream anger to me, it just screams goofy. I do like the staff and assorted wizard tools hanging on this guy's belt to show that he used to be somewhat sophisticated and composed, but that's about it. Give me the original armored soldier with the madness in his eyes any day.
Berserk hasn't seen much play in Classic, even though it's been available since MED1. Every once in a while a few copies find their way into an Affinity list. Something like this, which made a Classic PE top8 earlier this year:
If you're looking for a twist on Affinity, then maybe try out Berserk for a bit of a different look.
You can skip this next little section if you're not interested in reading about my first real Magic challenge match as a small child way back when...
Way back in the days when Revised was the hot new set, I had the best deck out of my playgroup of friends. This is not saying much. It was blue/black (at least I had that part right!), ran about seventy-five cards, and had a manacurve that would make your head spin. One day at school I got a challenge from someone else at school, to meet him in battle at the local card store on Saturday morning. Of course I had to hop on my bike that weekend to defend my honor.
My opponent was one of the cool kids at school, definitely part of the in crowd. I straddled the line between 'kids who love to play baseball' and 'kids who love to play Magic and video games'. Now, I don't have the stereotypical nerd upbringing stories that many kids who are into Magic and video games have. Check out many of Mark Rosewater's articles for examples. I was never bullied, had plenty of friends, went to lots of parties (probably too many!), and was decent at sports. With all of that being said, I still remember being intimidated back then at the prospect of facing a cool-kid basketball star at Magic.
After accepting the challenge, we negotiated the terms of our match. Way back then we couldn't just agree to play Standard. The idea of formats as we know them today barely existed at all, and the tournament information that did exist was not widely circulated/known at all. We decided that the best thing to do was create a small list of banned cards, everything else was fair game. Channel was the first cards we agreed on for the banned list. You wouldn't believe what else was on this banned list if I told you. I barely believe it, and I was there. Let's just say that three of the cards were Demonic Hordes, Wall of Stone, and Millstone. Balance was not on the list. I'm serious. Please don't judge me!
So the format was set. We show up at the card store on Saturday morning. I've got my nerd posse and he's got his nerd posse. Time to throw down! We're playing a best of three set, and playing for ante - which is also hard to believe, but that was the style at the time. Playing for ante the way we used to do it is really as weird as it sounds. We actually removed a card from each others decks before starting the game, so we were both running without something from our decks. Considering I was running a seventy-five card list, this was probably a blessing in disguise.
Game one was an absolute blowout. I landed turn two Sengir Vampire off of double Dark Ritual and the big guy went all the way. I didn't see very much of my opponent's deck, although I did Control Magic a Sedge Troll, and he cast Wall of Ice. I won a beat-up, but BETA Birds of Paradise in ante. Game two was basically the exact opposite scenario. I don't even think I cast a single spell in this one, and was beaten down quickly with Llanowar Elves, Kird Ape, and Blood Lust. I lost my prized Underground Sea in ante! This seemed to be the worst-case scenario at the time.
So it all came down to game three. I had one of the weirdest draws imaginable, but managed to get a bit of an offense together consisting of El-Hajjâj with TWO copies of Unholy Strength on turn two. These may seem like terrible cards, but the fact of the matter is that I had a 5/4 with pseudo-lifelink headed into the red zone on turn three! The problem here is that my opponent's turn one Birds of Paradise allowed him to play turn two Channel -> Fireball! This was, of course, one of the cards on our custom banned list.
I'm not sure if he was trying to put one over on me or what, but he said Channel -> Fireball in a really embarrassed way. I called him out on this, and we went about trying to figure out how to resolve the situation. Again, you won't believe what we came up with. At the time of the foul, he had five cards in his hand (Channel, Fireball, and three others). Our solution was that he would remove Channel from his deck, shuffle his hand into his library, and then draw five new cards. Yep, I'm serious.
So his new hand is completely full of mana birds and mana Elves, which he unloads onto the table. I cast Pestilence and then go to town removing his creatures. My double Unholy Strengthed El-Hajjâj went all the way with Pestilence backup. I won Bayou in ante, and immediately traded it back for my Underground Sea. I left having won a beta Birds of Paradise in ante, as well as prevailing in the most idiotic Magic challenge match of all time. It was a good day.
Channel is one super-powerful card from this list that could potentially survive restriction. Probably not, but it seems like there's at least a chance. I mean, if Necropotence can escape restriction then I'm pretty sure that Channel can.
Let's say that you're interested in using Channel in Classic. There are two scenarios that seem to make sense to me.
The first scenario is a potential revival of Channel + Fireball. Back in this day this combo was super powerful, but also very dangerous. If you poured all of your life into Channel, then Counterspell on your fireball was a complete disaster. Fast forward ten or fifteen years and we have access to Banefire, which can't be countered in this scenario. I have no idea if this is good enough or not, but it seems like something worth investigating.
One interesting factor that arises due to the presence of Banefire is that Channel becomes a must counter spell, seeing is that it's the only counterable piece of the combo. You could even cast Channel without having Banefire in hand to either test for counterspells or to draw one out of your opponent's hand. That's interesting, right?
The second Channel scenario that jumps to mind is Charbelcher combo.
Creating GG for Channel is a lot easier than many other ways to generate the seven mana necessary for Goblin Charbelcher. Turn one Lotus Petal plus a pitched Elvish Spirit Guide creates all the mana necessary to go off. Take a look at the deck above and you'll see that there are many, many different ways to generate GG on turn one.
I want to end this section with a cool quote from Magic creator Richard Garfield about Channel: "Everyone felt clever when they found Channel/Fireball, which was one of the reasons the combo was there. It was a nice combo, but you had to be very careful with it; a Counterspell or Lightning Bolt could ruin your day. Even a Healing Salve was bad news!"
Gifts is a fairly recent and established enough card, so there's not a ton for me to say about it. The major bummer here is that Wizards passed on their chance to turn the awesome Gifts art into a textless card! I would have absolutely loved to see that.
Goblin Lackey is the card that turns the Classic Goblin deck into the competitive Classic Goblin deck. For a very long time in Legacy, one of the important questions to ask yourself about your deck was: "Can I deal with turn one Goblin Lackey?" Can your deck deal with Siege-Gang Commander on turn two? How about Goblin Piledriver in addition to the Goblin Piledriver that they already cast on their second turn? These may soon be highly important questions in competitive Classic.
After Exiled hits, Classic will have assembled pretty much the entire suite of powerful Goblins - no need to wait for the release of Urza's Saga. Also not only will Classic have all of the powerful Goblins of Legacy, but it has one major tool that's banned in the paper format: Goblin Recruiter.
Here's a sample deck that uses Recruiter, Lackey, and the new M10 Goblin Lord: (Goblin Chieftan). If I were to play with Goblins in the near future, this is close to the list I would start testing with.
This list starts with a core of strong red Goblins, and then adds black mainly for (Warren Wierding), but also for the experimental Wort, Boggart Auntie and then Duress and Earwig Squad out of the sideboard.
In additions to competitive applications, I'm also personally a big fan of this new art - major step forward. The old art always seemed totally lackluster and generic to me, especially for such a powerful, iconic, keystone card.
I don't have much to say about the original 2/3 for one mana. It's already available on MTGO, a long time staple of Zoo-style decks, and just simple generic beatdown. The only interesting thing here is that Kird Ape was ever restricted in the first place!
99% of the time I prefer the old card frame to the new one, but this is one major exception to the rule. Lotus Petal looks totally sweet in the new card frame, and I really wish I could get a non-foil version. This is always a good card to have in your collection, assuming that you're interested in playing a Classic combo deck at any point.
As Classic fills with powerful restricted spells (such as Balance discussed above), Mystical Tutor will become more and more important. If you're interested in playing Eternal, then I'd make sure to have at least one copy of this card in your collection. I fully expect it to become restricted at some point in the future, in a fun world where Wizards has brought Vintage power online =)
I don't have a lot to say about Necropotence. Now that it's restricted, it is not a major player in competitive Classic or in casual decks.
In addition to this, I think the new art is terrible. Not only does this artwork lack the iconic skull of Necropotence, but it's also confusing as hell. What is even going on here? I mean I get that it's some kind of black magic, but what is that upside-down hands thing? If they were trying to show life being sucked out of something and converted into magic power, they really couldn't have worked a SKULL into that somehow? Is that Liliana? If not, then it looks a lot like her. Did they really need those guys praying off to the side? There's just way too much going on.
Stay tuned for more on Necropotence.
Sensei's Divining Top
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say about Sensei's Divining Top. It's a cheap enabler that turns on a few combos and probably helps good players win a little bit more often. It was banned in Extended because shuffling takes too long in the paper world. Something like this is a staple of Extended/Legacy play when Top is in the game:
At the end of your opponent's turn, use top to check out the top of your library
Crack a fetchland, shuffle
Take another look at the top three
Crack another fetchland
Activate Top, take another look
Activate Top again, now that you only know two out of the top three cards
Excessive shuffling is obviously not as big of a deal on MTGO. The shuffler takes like 0.1 seconds, whereas it can take a minute or so for a player to perform a physical shuffle. In the paper world, this also gives players a bunch more opportunities to cheat - if they happen to be in to that sort of thing. I'm just happy that they didn't ban Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy or Classic. It suffers from the same mechanical issues as in Extended, but I guess Wizards doesn't care about it as much since they don't have Legacy PTQs to worry about.
Here's a fun deck that I played a long time ago that uses Sensei's Divining Top in a sweet combo that isn't Counterbalance.
The basic idea is to get Sensei's Divining Top and Timesifter into play, and then stack your library with expensive cards to take infinite turns. Cards with inflated casting costs such as Krosan Tusker and Wirewood Guardian make sure that you have a lot of ammunition. These guys not only help with Timesifter, but come into play legit while you're taking tons of turns to serve as win conditions.
You might have fun with something like this if you're interested in a Sensei's Divining Top soft-lock combo that isn't CounterTop. At some point in the future I think I'll update this deck to use more modern cards. Evoke creatures seem like a natural fit here!
Serendib Efreet was one of the most confusing cards of my early Magic career. Early on I opened up a Revised pack and found this thing:
I really had no idea what to do with this thing. Some of my friends said it was illegal and couldn't be played. Someone at the card store I used to go to told me that you could pay for the casting cost with either blue or green mana. I guess this was the origin of hybrid mana? As idiotic as it sounds, the most popular opinion around my playgroup was that the card was supposed to be played for 2G - so I ran it alongside Erhnam Djinn in green decks. I guess the whole card frame color held a lot more importance to us than a little tiny mana symbol. Just to reiterate, this was a scary time when nobody had any idea what they were doing.
Serendib Efreet is another card that has been on MTGO for a while already, so there's nothing really new here. The Efreet is very rarely played in competitive Classic aggro-control decks as an efficient and evasive threat. One of my absolutely favorite tier-two Legacy decks is soon to be playable in Classic - it's called Faerie Stompy:
The only missing critical component of this deck in Classic is City of Traitors, which comes out soon with Exodus. I guess you could replace City of Traitors with Crystal Vein if you really wanted to play it now.
This deck competes with Merfolk in the minds of people who want to play blue aggro-control, which is why it's generally considered tier-two. It's still a lot of fun though, and if it sounds like something you'd enjoy then go ahead and shuffle it up once City of Traitors hits the scene.
Here's another one that I don't have too much to say about. It's already available on MTGO, doesn't have new art, and is already fairly well understood. Right now this one is played mostly in Classic Affinity and the Classic Elves combo deck.
Strip Mine is one of the most powerful lands ever printed. It's currently restricted in Vintage and Banned in Legacy; I would be shocked if it didn't receive an instant restriction in Classic. If you haven't had a chance to play with Strip Mine in your career yet, then take my word for it. If you're into Classic then you know how good Wasteland is - Strip Mine is a million times better.
Why is it so good? There's no way for your opponent to play around this with conservative use of fetchlands and a deck packing enough basics. Crucible of Worlds plus Strip Mine is a ridiculous long-game position to be in. Life from the Loam plus Strip Mine is just as bad. In Vintage (which is the only format where Strip Mine is currently legal), tons of different decks run it - everything from aggro to control. I expect something similar to happen in Classic.
The first deck I ever won a tournament with was Necro, back in the Ice Age days. It's kind of hard to believe, but back then you were allowed to run FOUR of these! Here's a list:
This Necropotence deck was absolutely brutal. It packed amazing explosiveness, the best mana consistency imaginable, resource denial, a reset button, life gain, and a strong long game. It's hard to believe that this deck used to be Standard legal! Four Strip Mine, four Dark Ritual, four Necropotence, and four Hymn to Tourach? Are you kidding me?!
After the so called "Black Summer" of 1996, where pretty much everyone either played Necro or played specifically to beat Necro, Wizards took action and restricted Necropotence. Oh wait, no they didn't! They decided to restrict some of the support cards instead, so Hymn to Tourach and Strip Mine were chosen. This did not kill the Necro deck, and it came back many more times through the years in many different forms.
Tinker, to me, is the most exciting card on this list. One of my all time favorite decks was based on Tinker and played by Jon Finkel to win the 2000 World Championships. I'm not going to provide a decklist, since basically every card is unreleased on MTGO, but you can watch footage of the finals online here:
Yep, this took place in the glorious era where Magic was actually covered on ESPN.
If you watch this matchup, you'll see the ridiculous power of Tinker. Not only does Tinker allow you to tutor for any artifact, but it also allows you to accelerate into something much more expensive than your current location in the mana curve. For example, Jon Finkel accelerated into this guy:
Not bad, especially when you get to untap him for free with Voltaic Key. In Vintage for a long time, people loved to play Tinker with this 11/11.
Nowdays though, there's a new primo target for Tinker - which is likely the one that you will see in Classic as the new metagame develops:
Not only does Inkwell Leviathan have shroud, but he also landwalks over most decks in the format, and tramples even if they are able to block it.
Speaking of playing this card in Classic, definitely expect this one to be restricted on day one. I'd be astonished to see it survive, although I guess you never know. In Vintage, decks are full of Moxen so there's always something to sacrifice to Tinker - but Classic isn't there yet. There are plenty of artifacts running around, but nothing as widespread as Mox Sapphire. Mana Crypt is probably the closest thing, and this is pretty far removed. Turn one Island, Mana Crypt, Tinker is tough to beat though.
The new Tinker art is pretty cool too, although I don't really get why Tezzeret looks so old and weird. I guess that's part of the storyline that I'm unaware of, but it's pretty cool. Personally I prefer the original art, but I guess we'll get that when Saga hits.
If you're a casual player, then it may be a surprise to see Trinisphere show up in this set. This one remained unchecked in every format from Standard through Legacy/Classic, but has been restricted in Vintage since 2005, about a year after the release of Darksteel. Powering out this three mana artifact with Mishra's Workshop on turn one creates a gamestate where players are largely unable to cast spells - something that Wizards is not a huge fan of.
Trinisphere is another card that's been around for a while and doesn't have many casual applications (that I can think of anyways) - so I don't have a ton to say for this one. Refer to the Serendib Efreet section above for some Trinisphere material.
I have to say that overall this set is really exciting, and I think they did a fantastic job putting it together. There are a few cards that I would have liked to see (Sol Ring, Land Tax, Mind Twist), and some definite chaff (Trinisphere, Kird Ape) - but the card selection is solid.
To me the major bummer of this set is the new art. Maybe it's just me, but I'm just not feeling most of it. Personally I'd prefer for sets like this to just be textless versions of the original art. I am a huge sucker for textless cards.
I can't wait to see how Classic develops in the next couple of months. Not only does From the Vault: Exiled add some awesome new options into the format, but it looks like Master's Edition III is going to also. It's an exciting time to be a fan of Eternal formats (casual or competitive) on MTGO!