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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 09 2017 12:00pm
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The Flashback schedule finally updated, and I have a quick one to write: triple-Odyssey. Not only is this a pre-Modern format, it’s one of the Spike-iest formats ever with unnatural play patterns. Its main theme is a graveyard set, but that leads to some baffling design decisions that lead to a good, interesting draft environment, but one with limited appeal. At the very least, it’s something to write about that gets my mind off the Masters 25 design. Let’s get to the mechanics!

 

Mechanics:

Flashback:

Flashback made its debut in Odyssey with 28 cards (plus two others that interact with it), but there are plenty of changes from what we would see in Time Spiral and Innistrad. The primary color for Flashback is red (with ten cards) as you would expect, but second isn’t blue (which only gets two cards) but instead green. That seems strange, but five of green’s nine Flashback cards produce tokens. In addition, other than the cards obviously pushed for constructed (Call of the Herd, Firebolt, Roar of the Wurm) they generally look awful. You have to consider the general lower power level of the time, but other than that you have to consider a couple of things. First of all there are a lot more two-for-ones here, especially at common (Morbid Hunger as the prime example), which modern WotC tries to avoid. Second, as we’ll discuss in a second, you’ll be relying on the back half of these cards a lot, so Flashback at any cost becomes important (especially the few cheap ones, like Volcanic Spray and Sylvan Might).

 

Discarding as a Cost:

Flashback is interesting, but it should be more than just a way to cast a spell twice. As such, to make Flashback more interesting (as well as pairing with the other named mechanics in the block), there are a lot of creatures that have an ability with discarding as a cost. This is spread through all the colors: white has combat-relevant effects with no mana cost (Patrol Hound, Resilient Wanderer), blue has a vertical cycle of creatures that bounce themselves (Escape Artist/Balshan Griffin/Amugaba in addition to traditional looters like Careful Study and Cephalid Looter, black attaches mana costs to those minor combat abilities (Fledgling Imp, Face of Fear), red discards at random (Dwarven Strike Force, Acceptable Losses), and green has the best overall effect in Wild Mongrel (remember, the color-changing gets around protection and Dark Banishing effects)—even colorless gets Patchwork Gnomes. There is also a common cycle of Rites, which are spells that let you discard a number of cards for a scaling effect—you may remember Rites of Initiation from its domination of (Vintage Masters). All of these activated abilities mean that reading a board state is hard, especially in combat.

 

Threshold:

Oh Threshold, one of the bigger high-level design mistakes of the Third Stage of design (Invasion-Ravnica). At its base level, Threshold is a mechanic (now changed to be an ability word instead of a keyword) that allows your cards to get better in the late game, and it’s on a lot of cards (44 total, 30 non-rare) spread mostly evenly through all the non-blue colors. These effects are big too; even ignoring the obvious combo cards like Krosan Beast, cards like Hallowed Healer, Mystic Zealot, Chainflinger, and Werebear are all reasonable commons that are crazy once Threshold comes on. As such, you don’t want to wait half the match to activate Threshold, so how can you do so quickly? Obviously looters are great, but there isn’t much self-mill in the set—Millikin is great, but other than that your okay choices are Think Tank, Buried Alive, and Bamboozle (none of which impacts the board like an Armored Skaab). Instead, what you’re often expected to do is exploit the creatures that let you discard a lot of cards, and you’ll often do so with no expected gain (discarding four or five cards to a Patrol Hound is very reasonable). This is the problem with Odyssey: making discarding your hand for no (immediate) gain the right choice is interesting, but it isn’t very fun except for the Spike-iest top percent of players (notice that when UG Threshold came back in Eternal Masters, it was paired with Commune with the Gods and Screeching Skaab rather than Wild Mongrel). I don’t have personal experience with this format, so I have no idea when you want to discard your hand, though at least now you’ll realize it’s a reasonable possibility.

 

Other Graveyard-Matters Cards:

Overall there are 134 cards with the word graveyard (over a third of the set), and while this includes all the Flashback and Threshold cards, there are other graveyard-matters cards in the set. The main cycle is the Burst cycle (plus the strange Diligent Farmhand and Pardic Firecat) which are “collect-me” cards that scale based on the number of copies in all graveyards (which makes them more interesting in the League environment, where each player could have gotten all of a certain Burst in their respective pod), and then a cycle of Shrines covers the same theme at rare. Also at rare is the “-vore” cycle, a cycle of Lhurgoyfs that count different card types in all graveyards. Going back to relevant cards for limited, there’s a cycle of Gravediggers for different card types, and while the cycle-namer is still obviously the best, all are good when you’re discarding indiscriminately to start a game. Next, black has a subtheme of cards that exile cards from your graveyard as a cost, and while these cards like Zombie Assassin, Painbringer, and Skeletal Scrying are strong, there is an inherent tension between these cards and Threshold, especially since there aren’t many sources of “free” graveyard cards (you generally have to draw most of them). Speaking of Threshold, it and Flashback makes graveyard hate good in the format, but for that reason it isn’t great, especially at instant-speed—Decompose probably isn’t playable, but Crypt Creeper looks fine, and Steamclaw might be good enough, as inefficient as it looks.

 

Now it’s time to get to the cards themselves, and I’m going back to the color-focused analysis since this set doesn’t have archetypes that are that focused, at least at first glance.

 

Cards:

White:

Once you get past the requisite Pacifism (Kirtar's Desire) there isn’t much in the commons, especially if you aren’t going into Threshold. Your default fliers are Aven Cloudchaser and Aven Flock, neither of which is spectacular even for the time. Instead you need to go into Threshold, as Patrol Hound is nice support, while the pair of Mystic Visionary and Mystic Zealot are decent payoffs. Second Thoughts is good (if expensive) removal, and while all the lifegain of the era doesn’t help much, the prevention trio of Hallowed Healer, Embolden, and Shelter are all nice. As for uncommons, a lot of slots are wasted by the cycle of Spheres, and there are other pure lifegain cards wasting lots as well. The main good cards are the debut of “protection from creatures” on Beloved Chaplain, the super-charged tapper Nomad Decoy, and the combination unkillable creature/Threshold enabler Resilient Wanderer.

 

Blue:

In contrast to white, blue’s fliers are its highlight at common, as Aven Fisher and Aven Windreader are decent cards that would become core set mainstays, and Cephalid Scout is a surprisingly good card drawer at common (remember, sacrificing lands can get you to Threshold). Aether Burst is also much better than you would think, as bounce is good in a format with a lot of tokens, killing creatures has the downside of getting your opponent to Threshold more quickly, and casting two or more is massively undercosted (though keep in mind getting a lot of one common is difficult in an old large set with 110 commons). Uncommons are mostly the same story—the fliers are reasonable (Treetop Sentinel/Aven Smokeweaver are fine, and Thought Eater’s downside either doesn’t matter or is an upside in most cases) and Puppeteer is a tapper, and the card draw is reasonably efficient. Instead, the interesting card is Chamber of Manipulation—it isn’t quite Ray of Command on a stick (since it doesn’t untap the creature), but it can repeatedly Fog multiple creatures (the one you take, and the ones that either can’t get through it or would make it chump), and there is a decent amount of sacrifice as well.

 

Black:

Surprisingly, black continues the reasonable fliers trend, as both Fledgling Imp and Dusk Imp are fine, while uncommon adds Childhood Horror as well. Childhood Horror introduces the main theme of black: Threshold isn’t always pure upside (as cards like it and Dirty Wererat become unable to block), and the cards that exile cards from your graveyard as a cost (Zombie Assassin, Screams of the Damned) let you treat that as a resource you have to balance (alongside your Raise Deads like Gravedigger and Morgue Theft). The removal is also very good, as the efficiency of Innocent Blood and Ghastly Demise pairs well with the card advantage of Morbid Hunger and Afflict.

 

Red:

Red is the same as always: the land of great removal and awful creatures. Ember Beast is far above the curve for the time though (since it forces you to play with other creatures, but just play with ones from other colors), and Pardic Firecat isn’t embarrassing. Up at uncommon, we have a pair of interesting five-drops, as both Dwarven Strike Force and Frenetic Ogre use “threat of activation” well. As for that removal, red has Blazing Salvo which seems good if the 5 life matters (that’s a lot, and both the Lava Axe and getting a creature out of the way can work), along with the more-traditional Firebolt, Flame Burst, Thermal Blast and really bad Lightning Axe Acceptable Losses. Uncommon has Geistflame (Engulfing Flames), a weird attempt at a trampling burn spell (Liquid Fire, though note it can just be Lava Axe if necessary) and an absolute bomb in Shower of Coals (seriously, it’s probably better than Cone of Flame even before the Threshold upgrade).

 

Green:

Green is actually kind of boring here since most of the good cards are obvious—you always want the cheap ramp cards with upside late (Werebear, Diligent Farmhand, Deep Reconnaissance, though the latter might be too slow), the token makers with Flashback (Elephant Ambush, Beast Attack, even Chatter of the Squirrel is reasonable), and Overrun, and this set wants you to take the fine creatures with graveyard-related upside (Springing Tiger, Wild Mongrel, Cartographer), but there aren’t many surprises. One interesting card is Rites of Spring, which would be awful in most formats (it’s pure fixing that costs a card), but the graveyard synergies seem decent (discarding your lands to search for other lands helps Threshold and thins your deck for free, and this is a much better way to discard your hand than the Patrol Hound spam (as you hit your land drops and/or have more fuel for other discard effects).

 

Gold/Colorless:

There is an allied-color gold cycle at uncommon, but unfortunately most of the Atogs have been forgotten over time. Yes, Psychatog’s abilities both synergized with the set themes and each other, but the other abilities (sacrificing lands, enchantments, and artifacts) aren’t as free. Going to lands next, there are two cycles. The common ones all sacrifice to generate any color (which helps with Threshold in the late game in addition to the fixing), but I think entering tapped hurts too much for that minor upside. The uncommon Threshold lands are much better known from Constructed (at least the Grixis ones), and the abilities are still good, but I’m worried the mandatory life loss (unlike the uncommon Deserts in Hour of Devastation) hurts a lot more in Limited—maybe treat them more like spells? The final colorless cycle is the Eggs, and they’re minor variants of Chromatic Sphere (and why the Second Sunrise deck and its derivatives are still named after it). They work well when Threshold matters and are fine filler, even if you don’t need the colors. As for the remaining artifacts, I’ve talked about most of them already, but Sandstone Deadfall is very strange—it looks like the worst Rebuke I’ve ever seen (in a time with much better removal), but it is colorless and gets half of Threshold on its own—is that good enough?

 

Archetypes:

As you would expect from an older set, the archetypes aren’t as clearly defined as they are now, so you’re mostly just looking for good (or playable) cards in open colors. However, the one exception is with all the graveyard synergies in the set. The graveyard themes are everywhere so you can’t really avoid them (except in blue strangely enough, which has almost no keyworded cards, and Aether Burst is the only real standout), but there’s a big difference between something with light interactions (a UW Fliers deck that has a Mystic Zealot, Balshan Griffin, and Patrol Hound on their own merits, and occasionally they’ll interact favorably) and the deck that wants you to discard your hand on turn two (for game-changing Thresholds and cheap Flashbacks, while not losing too much card advantage due to the collect-mes and other Flashback cards). Overall I’d focus on building a generally good deck with your first few decks in the format, while recognizing the edge cases that can exist, especially in the Flashback format where the player pool generally consists of people that either have never played the format (and thus have no clue about the anti-card advantage slant of the high-end of the format) or people who played a lot during its time in print (and know the crazy strategies much better than you).

 

 

Conclusion:

Triple-Odyssey is a strange choice for Magic Online, as it may have been the first time that draft format was on the platform (as MTGO was officially launched after Judgment was released, and I have no clue which Flashbacks were done in the old days, or if any weren’t full-block). It also doesn’t have many card availability concerns—the most expensive card is Petrified Field at under 5 tickets (since Entomb showed up in the Premium Deck Series: Graveborn deck given to a lot of accounts for free), though Moment's Peace being a 2.5 ticket common is worth correcting. Still, it’s certainly a unique Limited experience, and one WotC hopefully won’t be repeating.

 

As for me, I’m still grinding away at the Masters 25 stuff, and I need to be on my toes for whenever the next Flashback gets announced. I’m also wondering if I should do any Commander 2017 stuff, as it’s technically a reprint set, and the complete decks are showing up on MTGO for the first time in a couple years. That also means they can’t skip any this time—though the delayed release means that Stalking Leonin and whatever other Eternal-relevant cards there are (I’m writing this on Tuesday, about halfway through previews, and Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist might be efficient enough, while Territorial Hellkite might still be playable in the right shell even though they tacked on an anti-1v1 rider) won’t be available for Eternal Weekend testing. Maybe I could cover that in a catch-up article where I cover C17 and my From the Vault: Transform predictions? Whatever I decide, until next time.

 

Vincent

@CheaterHater1 on Twitter

4 Comments

Update: Because MTGO is MTGO, by Cheater Hater at Wed, 08/09/2017 - 13:40
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Update: Because MTGO is MTGO, three cards won't be in collation for the Flashback:
https://twitter.com/MagicOnline/status/895328826368040960

Charmed Pendant and Holistic Wisdom are rares (and aren't spectacular), but Painbringer is one of black's stronger uncommons. The lack of that card means that there isn't as much tension in black between maintaining Threshold and using your graveyard as a resource.

Another update: the Flashback by Cheater Hater at Thu, 08/10/2017 - 17:45
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Another update: the Flashback Schedule has updated and the mystery Flashback Draft is Triple-Ravnica. I've already done a Year of Modern Flashbacks on that block, so now I need to figure out if I can do a sequel article or have to be content with a remaster.

Another update, though this is more of a mistake: Apparently the full C17 decks aren't being released on MTGO for some reason. I could have sworn they were talking about that when C17 was first announced (though I think it was just on Twitter randomly, so I don't have a link), but now the official sites are all saying they'll show up in the Treasure Chests in November (the November part isn't new). I understand the deck model doesn't work on MTGO, but I'm sick of MTGO being a second-class citizen, both in terms of release dates of supplemental products and not getting all black-border cards. The second point doesn't even make much sense here, since there aren't many complicated Manifold Insights or Cruel Entertainment-type cards (the hardest are probably Alms Collector and Stalking Leonin, and both of those are possible Constructed cards). Instead, the MP-focused cards are probably going, like the Curses and Vindictive Lich (though I think both the Lich and Territorial Hellkite are close, even in 1v1).

I agree and I think a lot of by Paul Leicht at Thu, 08/10/2017 - 19:07
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I agree and I think a lot of people who are commander fans agree as well. It is a shame they won't see their way to putting these on mtgo. Not sure what our options are to combat this sort of backhandedness except just sell out of the client which seems like cutting off our nose to spite their face. And they won't really notice or care at all. Same as protesting about it. Sucks to be powerless.

Concur. This is a shame and by AJ_Impy at Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:34
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Concur. This is a shame and an annoyance: You'd have hoped they would have learned their lesson with Palace Jailer.