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By: spg, spg
Aug 27 2009 11:45am
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Explorations #38 - MED3 Sketches

Before we get started today, send me casual deck doctor submissions!  Email your casual deck idea to spgmtg@gmail.com and if I choose your deck to write about you'll get two packs of the latest set!  Time to get started!

If you've been reading my articles for a while, you know that I've been playing Magic for a very long time. I love the old cards, and love nostalgia. It should really be no surprise that I'm a big fan of the Master's Edition sets, and really enjoy thinking about these cards from the past and wondering how they fit in to the year 2009.  Today I'm going to go through the newly released spoiler from the upcoming Master's Edition III set. I'll talk about a bunch of interesting cards, throw out some new decks, talk about some old decks, and give my overall thoughts on the set in general.  Usually when I do "sketch" articles I focus on decks instead of discussion on individual cards, but moving forward I'm going to try out riffing a bit on interesting cards even if I don't have a specific deck it fits into.

I can't cover everything, but hopefully reading this article will give you a pretty good idea of what MED3 is all about!  Here's some quick reference material:

Here's an awesome visual spoiler for MED3 that Hamtastic put together.

And here are a few past sketch articles if you're interested: M10, Alara Reborn, Conflux, Shards of Alara (part 1, part 2, part 3)

Ok let's get started!

I've been waiting for these lands for a looooong time on MTGO. There's nothing more disappointing then building a badass Classic deck and then filling out the mana base with stuff like Godless Shrine, Overgrown Tomb, and Breeding Pool.  These original dual lands are just so iconic and elegant, what else is there to say other than simply 'it's about time'?

Speaking of iconic lands, how about this one?

Aren't you going to be pumped to open this up as the rare in your first booster of MED3? One of my buddies had this one early on when we first started playing, and somehow it was awesome. We used to play it so that "exchange two of opponent's blocking creatures" meant that you exchanged control of two of your opponent's creatures for two of yours.  I know that seems crazy, but stuff like that used to go down all the time before people really knew the rules.

I'd love to have a video of some of the games from back then, I bet it would be hard to even recognize it as Magic: the Gathering!

These cards may seem really strange to you, and they are.  They are from Portal: Third Age, which was a starter set used to teach beginners about the game.  They used symbols for power and toughness, weird terms like "intercept" and "on your turn, before you attack", and abilities like horsemanship.  Horsemanship was basically the same thing as flying, affecting which creatures can block which other creatures during combat.  Why didn't they just use flying?  Good question.

Way before Kamigawa block, Portal: Third Age drew their flavor from eastern influences, and as a result the set has a very different feel from your typical Magic card.  Riding the Dilu Horse?  That's a pretty cool name, but very different from what we've grown comfortable with.

I've talked with a number of players who learned via Portal, and every once of them has told me the same thing: "I wish I had just bought a preconstructed deck".  This is admittedly a very small sample size, but the major differences between those cards and "real" magic cards seems like a tough hurdle to overcome to me.

There are a ton of cards from Portal in Master's Edition III.  MED2 was very much about Fallen Empires and Ice Age, MED3 is very much about Portal and Legends.

Black Vise was absolutely hated back in the day, and has been restricted in Vintage and banned in Legacy for a very long time. One of the most feared game states in those early days was to be trapped under both The Rack and Black Vise.  Talk about a helpless feeling - damned if you cast your spells, damned if you hold them in your hand.

As time went on, Black Vise clearly proved itself the deadlier card. Turn one Black Vise can easily mean six damage by turn three for just a single mana. If you were playing a crappy deck with a mana curve that's too high, which lots of people did back then, it wasn't out of the question for a turn one Vise to just kill you all by itself!  And you thought Lightning Bolt was efficient!

I'd be shocked if Black Vise didn't get an instant restriction in Classic.  Let's assume it is restricted; I've got a great deck that it fits in.  A while back I wrote about a new look at an old classic deck: Sandsipoise.  Check out the article here.

Here's the list that I ended up with:

Here's one way to make this deck a LOT better with a simple change:

Out: 1 Phyrexian Totem
In: 1 Black Vise

Sure if would be great if you could run four of those bad boys in this list, but one is pretty decent also.  The deck already runs a full playset of Enlightened Tutor to search it up, and with the Sandipoise combo in play your opponent will be unable to stay underneath the Vise.  If there's any hope of Sandipoise actually ever becoming a semi-competitive deck again, Black Vise will definitely have to be a major component.  Strip Mine and Balance also definitely want to be in this list once they hit the scene.

Aren't you guys psyched about the boost in power that your Minotaur deck just got?  Didgeridoo was miserable when it came out in Homelands, and it's still miserable today.  I guess you could use this to cheat Chameleon Colossus into play on turn three or get away with paying only colorless mana for Hurloon Minotaur.

At least they had the presence of mind to make this Minotaur artifact only cost one.  Before I looked it up again I had the cost in my head as three.  Not an unreasonable thought based on some of the cards they made back then, unfortunately.

Did you know that these cards used to be chase rares?  Carrion Ants was one of the most expensive cards from Legends, and Killer Bees was right up there too. I can remember seeing Carrion Ants in the showcase at my local card store for $20.

I'm not really sure what drove the price so high, other than the traditional 'early days' excuse that people had no idea what they were doing.  I can remember friends being psyched that their Killer Bees had the potential to take down Shivan Dragon, so maybe that explains it.  People do tend to love things that grow to incredible size.  There's also the fact that the card pool was much smaller and there just wasn't as much available.

Just thought this would be a fun little piece of information to throw out there.  It's hard to believe you're looking at two former chase rares, isn't it?

Speaking of chase rares, you're looking a card that started off as the exact opposite right now.  Bazaar of Baghdad was considered junk for most of its lifetime, and you could pick yourself up a copy for just a few bucks.  Nowadays it goes for like $250, and is one of the most powerful cards in Vintage.  So what happened?

Well, Wizards started printing cards that gave the graveyard significant utility.  Back in the early days, Bazaar was a way to filter your hand - but came with intrinsic resource disadvantage.  Why go through all of this bother when you can just play Library of Alexandria and draw a bunch of cards for free?  This question didn't originally have many good answers, but in 2009 it sure does.  How about Dredge for starters?

The most obvious deck to test out moving forward if you're into competitive Classic has got to be Dredge.  This deck was already very strong, and it just gained access to four copies of the most powerful card ever printed for the strategy!

Dredge may be a very OBVIOUS deck for new Classic, but it's hard to say if this is going to be a good choice for tournaments moving forward.  The situation is similar to Affinity or TEPS in Extended.  If people take it seriously and build their decks appropriately, then it can be maddening to fight through all of the hate.  If people don't give it enough credit then Dredge is capable of running through a tournament with its eyes closed!  It all depends on how the metagame shakes out.  It'll be fun to see how things develop!

Speaking of trash that turns into treasure, Reset is another card that got absolutely no love until WAY after its day.  Back around the time when Wizards/DCI removed the errata from Flash and ruined Grand Prix Columbus, High Tide/Reset was one of the combo decks brushed aside by the ridiculous power, speed, and consistency of Protean Hulk of all things.

This deck was called Solidarity, and has no relation to the combat trick.  I've always loved this strategy, and felt some major disappointment when it became less-than-viable in Legacy.


0 cards

Other Spells
2 Brain Freeze
4 Brainstorm
2 Cryptic Command
3 Cunning Wish
2 Flash of Insight
4 Force of Will
4 High Tide
4 Impulse
3 Meditate
3 Opt
1 Peek
3 Remand
4 Reset
3 Turnabout
42 cards
3 Flooded Strand
12 Island
3 Polluted Delta
18 cards

3 Disrupt
2 Echoing Truth
1 Meditate
1 Mystical Tutor
2 Repeal
1 Stroke of Genius
2 Twincast
2 Wipe Away
15 cards
Brain Freeze


I know that this one relies on the Urza's block cards Turnabout and Stroke of Genius - but they're coming soon!  The basic idea here is to build up a few Islands and then start to chain together High Tide with card draw, card filter, and (most importantly) spells like Reset to untap your powered-up lands and generate huge amounts of blue mana.  After you've cast a whole ton of spells, Brain Freeze finishes off your opponent.

So what's so cool about this deck?  Isn't it just another storm combo deck?  Well, it sorta is, but it has one awesome property: the entire combo functions at instant speed.  This is functionality very powerful.  I remember shuffling up Solidarity in a Legacy tournament a few years back and being really surprised at how cool it was to be able to win up until at the very last second.  With many combo decks you need to decide "is this the turn?".  With Solidarity there's a lot more flexibility.  For example, it's a regular occurrence to combo off and win the game while your opponent has lethal damage on the stack!  All that you need to do is mill their deck away and then Stroke of Genius them for one, cool!

I was disappointed that Mind Twist wasn't in From the Vault: Exiled, but psyched to see it in MED3.  Here's an early iconic card that's still good enough today to be banned in Legacy.  There's not a whole lot to say here, but I'm really interested to see what this does in Classic.  Will it make its way into the Pox lists?  I bet it will, but only time will tell.

Personally I'm pretty disappointed to see Active Volcano and Flash Flood in MED3.  I was really hoping that this would be the set to give us Red Elemental Blast and Blue Elemental Blast.  Active Volcano and Flash Flood are somewhat parallel, but their utility is generally overshadowed by the original red/blue color hosers.

I mean, Active Volcano is useful - but it doesn't counter Force of Will.  I guess they need to save something for MED4?

Illusionary Mask is one of the weirdest cards they've ever printed.  Back when this card was being cracked from packs, I had absolutely no idea what it even did.  I'm still not sure if I do, to be honest =)

Basically this card is a precursor to morph, implemented in a way that has 0.1% of morph's elegance.  It allows you to get a creature into play as a secret and then flip it over later.  Believe it or not, this card was actually played in competitive Vintage.  If you use Illusionary Mask to bring something like Phyrexian Dreadnought into play, then you get around the tough "comes into play" clause.  Before Stifle became the cool way for kids to get their 12/12s on the cheap, people used Illusionary Mask.

That got me thinking, how about a casual deck built around this artifact?

Mask Beatdown
Classic Legal
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
4 Eater of Days
4 Leveler
12 cards

Other Spells
4 Illusionary Mask
4 Stifle
2 Trickbind
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
4 Mana Leak
2 Cryptic Command
24 cards
2 Academy Ruins
22 Island
24 cards
Eater of Days

This one uses a whole bunch of creatures with tons of power but a negative 'comes into play' ability alongside Stifle and Illusionary Mask.  Eater of Days seems really terrible, but if you get it without the drawback then it's totally awesome.  Same goes for Phyrexian Dreadnought, which is a much more accepted Stifle target.

This deck is total jank obviously, but seems like a lot of fun.  It's kind of a reanimator-style strategy without using the graveyard at all.  Too bad all of those cards are so expensive.  I guess the target audience for this one is rich casual players.

Speaking of cards that I probably never played correctly, this brings us to Takklemaggot.

It's almost unbelievable that one card contains the text "enchant creature", "target creature", "placed in the graveyard", "-0/-1 counter", "no legal targets", "becomes an enchantment", "controller of the last creature X was on", "does not revert to a creature enchantment", AND "even if other creatures are afterwards brought into play".  The Oracle wording is just as bad!

Isn't it almost unbelievable to look at the power/toughness on these vanilla creatures given how difficult these guys are to cast?  Especially in a world where you can get a 5/4 for just three mana?  Legends had a ton of high casting cost, gold creatures with wildly varying sets of abilities.  Some were strong, some were weak, some were borderline useless, and some creatures were just vanilla.

When I first started playing, I LOVED gold cards.  I would find pretty much any excuse to play gold cards.  Way back then they were still a novelty.  Unfortunately nowadays Wizards has railroaded this concept so completely, that gold cards aren't really novel or interesting in any way, shape, or form.  They are just more cards.

I would actually play these guys, just because they are gold.  Here's one in particular that taught me a lot about Magic:

I used to play this in the blue/black deck I've mentioned before as one of my original decks.  I remember thinking to myself: "I know Llanowar Elves is good, this chick is the same thing except 5/4 - so obviously she's way better."  Truly understanding why this thought is completely ridiculous was a pretty big step towards actually getting decent at Magic.

Of course if we're talking gold creatures from Legends, we need to talk about the Elder Dragon Legends.

These guys were the absolute trump card of early kitchen table games.  If someone brought Nicol Bolas or Palladia-Mors to the table, you knew they meant business.

All five of these guys were reprinted with white borders in the first compilation set: Chronicles.  This caused the value of the originals to drop significantly, which pissed off many old collectors.  As a response, Wizards created the idiotic reserved list - which in my opinion is a major black mark on the game today.  Although that's a topic for a different article...

One last gold creature before we move on:

Did you guys know that Umezawa made his first appearance in Legends?  He was pretty fat, had terrible art and some weird abilities, was Tetsuo and not Toshiro, and his Jitte was nowhere to be found... but he was there!

I'm a huge fan of Imperial Painter in Classic, mainly since it's somewhat affordable and just can't really be played in paper Legacy due to the scarcity/cost of Imperial Recruiter.  Strategic Planning is similar, and I'm looking forward to playing with it at some point.  It's a solid card draw spell that's occasionally exactly what a deck wants.

Sometime around the Vintage World Championships last year, Strategic Planning was discovered as a strong card in particular Control Slaver builds.  This drove the price through the roof, well over $100 per copy.  Vintage players are SERIOUS about their cards, and this one development basically priced everyone out of Strategic Planning.  It'll be fun to play with this one on MTGO.

Here's another card that's in the same situation, super expensive in paper and about-to-be-affordable on MTGO.

Grim Tutor has been used in Legacy and Vintage combo decks as redundancy to the original badass: Demonic Tutor.

Another iconic black card from the past.  I won a copy of this card in ante back when I first started playing and have kept it straight through to today.  Goes for $60 or so in paper per copy, so I'm psyched to get a chance to run an affordable playset of The Abyss in Classic.  I'm not sure if it's competitive, although any effect this powerful needs to be looked at very carefully.

Back when I used to play Legacy tournaments weekly, there was one player who loved to run a Landstill deck splashing black for The Abyss.  This idea seems really exciting to me!

Let's keep things going with older cards that would be a blast to play with, but cost a bunch in paper.  Only about $40 for this one, but $160 for a playset of anything is pretty steep - especially for a card that isn't top tier quality.

I would guess that most players reading this haven't had a chance to play with Land Tax.  Believe it or not, this one used to run around in Standard unrestricted.  Even after restriction, Land Tax had a serious impact on the tournament scene.  One of the most brutal strategies to use this card revolved around white weenie creatures, Land Tax, and Armageddon. Here's an example list that used these cards:


Sleight Knight
1996 World Champion
2 Phyrexian War Beast
4 Order of Leitbur
4 Order of the White Shield
4 Savannah Lions
2 Serra Angel
4 White Knight
20 cards

Other Spells
1 Lodestone Bauble
1 Zuran Orb
1 Sleight of Mind
1 Armageddon
1 Balance
4 Disenchant
1 Land Tax
1 Reinforcements
1 Reprisal
4 Swords to Plowshares
16 cards
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
4 Mishra's Factory
15 Plains
4 Strip Mine
24 cards

4 Divine Offering
1 Energy Storm
1 Exile
1 Reprisal
1 Spirit Link
2 Serrated Arrows
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
1 Black Vise
1 Sleight of Mind
2 Arenson's Aura
15 cards
Order of the White Shield

Tom Chanpheng played this list to become the 1996 World Champion.  The basic idea is to run a white weenie strategy supplemented by Land Tax, Balance, Armageddon, FOUR Strip Mines, and a whole bunch of various utility cards.

This deck splashed blue for Sleight of Mind, believe it or not, in order to modify the protection colors on Order of Leitbur and Order of the White Shield.  Seems like total jank?  Get a load of this: Tom's deck couldn't even CAST Sleight of Mind.  Chanpheng misregistered his deck and left out Adarkar Wastes, leaving him with zero blue sources in the entire deck.  Apparently running a few uncastable cards is the key to becoming World Champion?

It's fun to look at this card in the context of modern Faerie Lords.  Way back in Homelands there weren't really even any Faeries.  That's what you used to get for three mana in a Faerie Lord, nowadays you get this bad boy:

Kind of an upgrade, huh?

Here's another one that fun to look at in the context of more modern cards, and is constant ammunition for the crowd who loves to crusade on about how much green gets the shaft.  This card costs six in green, but black and white get it for just three mana.

On the bright side for green mages, they have been a bit off of this crusade ever since Tarmogoyf was printed.

Mana Drain is a ridiculously powerful Counterspell variant with a long history of success in Eternal Magic.  I am going to be publishing an entire article in the near future dedicated to Mana Drain, but for now I'll just share the Drain deck that I would start testing with if I were interested in playing it in competitive Classic once MED3 and Exiled hits.

Tezzeret Drain
Future Classic Legal
3 Trinket Mage
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Painter's Servant
5 cards

Other Spells
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
4 Counterbalance
2 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Brainstorm
3 Standstill
3 Chrome Mox
3 Sensei's Divining Top
2 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Tinker
1 Mana Crypt
1 Grindstone
1 Pithing Needle
33 cards
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Academy Ruins
4 Wasteland
4 Mishra's Factory
11 Island
1 Strip Mine
22 cards
Tezzeret the Seeker

There are a million different ways to build Tezzeret control with Mana Drain.  Here's a really greedy one.  Not only does it run the Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top combination, but also brings the synergy with Standstill and a bunch of potential non-spell action.  It runs Trinket Mage along with Tinker and Tezzeret as a way to search up a toolbox of artifacts.  Speaking of Tinker, Inkwell Leviathan combos with it to form one major win condition for the deck.  Remember that it's also not out of the question to resolve Inkwell Leviathan legit with the help of Mana Drain.

On top of all of that, this deck runs the Painter's Servant/Grindstone combo as another way to win once the artifact searching mechanisms are in place.  This isn't quite as good as creating infinite turns via Time Vault, but there's something really exciting about Mana Draining a bunch of mana for yourself into a big turn Painter/Grindstone win.

So as you can see, this deck packs a whole ton of stuff into one list.  It's almost like five decks in one.  I don't know about you, but this one seems like an absolute blast to me and I can't wait for Master's Edition III to hit the store so that I can test this one out.  It's hard to say if playing five decks in one is good or bad, especially without testing, but this seems like a fantastic starting point for testing in the post-MED3/Exiled environment.  This one is going to require a ton of testing, which unfortunately I can't do until these sets are released - expect another article on this in the future.

Alright, I want to close on a card that I'm really disappointed WASN'T in MED3.

I knew that this one was a long shot, but I was really hoping that Timetwister would find a way into Master's Edition III.  I know that it's part of the power 9, and lots of people are against printing the power 9 online, but I thought this might be the perfect "feeler" card. If they don't start printing power online soon, then it's going to be tough to find opportunities to do so.  There's probably only one more Master's Edition coming, and time is running out!

If anyone at Wizards is listening, then please do me a personal solid and release the power nine on MTGO.  It is the right thing to do.  People want to actually have a chance to own these cards, even if they don't play in paper.  Hell, I own power in real life and I totally support reprints - paper or online.  I really believe in Magic as a game first and a collectible second.  I know there's a balance of the two, but you've got to prioritize.

So That's a Wrap

I couldn't cover every card in the set, but I think this is a pretty decent representation.  This one is getting long and I need to get some sleep.  But let me know where I came up short.  Any awesome cards that I missed and you can't wait to shuffle up?  Any cool applications or cards that I totally missed the boat on?  Comment and let me know!

Remember to send me your casual deck doctor entries!  spgmtg@gmail.com

Thanks for reading!

Steve Gargolinski


As I read through the spoiler by hamtastic at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 12:32
hamtastic's picture

As I read through the spoiler I thought that "Riding the Dilu Horse" was a euphemism for drugs. I've later learned that it's part of the Three Kingdoms story.

"The more you know..."

Great article!

Euphemism for drugs or some by spg at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 22:11
spg's picture

Euphemism for drugs or some kind of sex thing =)

"I've talked with a number of by Urzishra (not verified) at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 14:22
Urzishra's picture

"I've talked with a number of players who learned via Portal, and every once of them has told me the same thing: "I wish I had just bought a preconstructed deck". This is admittedly a very small sample size, but the major differences between those cards and "real" magic cards seems like a tough hurdle to overcome to me."

I just wanted to dispel some myths surrounding Portal. Yeah it was a simplified way of playing Magic. Yeah it didn't have all the same mechanics of the mother game. But it was a great way of just picking up and playing a game of cards. I remember I picked up a bunch of portal and portal 2 for way way way cheap back in the day. Mostly because they were cheap and they were magic cards.

I think it gets a bad rap because as you learn the game the main game is far more advanced and has far more interactions but playing Portal is a lot like playing Limited. it really was. It was fun.

I didn't mean to say that it by spg at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 22:12
spg's picture

I didn't mean to say that it was a bad way to learn, I just haven't met anyone personally who started with it and was happy that they did. Would love to hear from players who got a lot out of Portal!

Nice article! by Squircifer at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 17:06
Squircifer's picture

The trip down memory lane. I rememeber playing with all of these cards back when they were nothing like they are today. If I had only known about the Bazzars! I am more than happy to see these cards hit online. Even though now I am more of a casual player than anything else, it will be fun to play with these again. Decent lists as well. Some solid ideas, which I may look into. Drains have been a desired card for a long time, but I will not pay hundreds anymore for paper (leave me alone about online cards!) I will have to build a Sorrows Path deck just cause. I actually have a copy of this that I have had since day one. And like the majority of people out there, we could never play this thing correctly. Ahhh the days of old....

Portal cards were fun and getting the alternate art was neat for the collector side of me and my friends. That alone was reason enough to get some of the cards. And finally will able to play with Portal 3 cards without taking out a loan.

Thanks for the feedback man! by spg at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 22:44
spg's picture

Thanks for the feedback man! Glad you enjoyed it!

Definitly one of your best by LOurs at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 18:09
LOurs's picture

Definitly one of your best article. Congratulations, what an awesome work ... and lot of notalgical memories with your history parts... a reference article.

Thanks LOurs! by spg at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 22:44
spg's picture

Thanks LOurs!

vise by whiffy at Thu, 08/27/2009 - 18:38
whiffy's picture

as per the restricted anouncments black vise and every other card from med3 ar leagal as a 4 of in classic untill at least sept 20th.

Instant Loan by Susan (not verified) at Wed, 09/02/2009 - 03:23
Susan's picture

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Spam bots are not really by Paul Leicht at Wed, 09/02/2009 - 03:47
Paul Leicht's picture

Spam bots are not really welcome. Sadly for you this isn't a blog so your inept scripting does not impress.