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By: Lord Erman, Nafiz Erman
Sep 19 2011 11:28pm
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ROGUE PLAY
Autumn Leaves
Part II
by Nafiz Erman

Hello dear readers and welcome back to Rogue Play. This week I will not show you any hot rogue decks even though I have a few in progress. And I will not do so because it's once again that time of the year. Rotation in Standard is about to happen and as always, this will be the biggest change of the year. But just like I did last year before the rotation (Autumn Leaves, Part I: read me say goodbye to Shards of Alara here), this year I will also talk about the rotating sets and in a way say "farewell" to them.

I actually know that everybody wants to see the new cards, talk about the new cards and start enjoying them. That we will also do dear readers in a short time. But first I believe that we all should be talking at least a bit about Zendikar; oh and M11 too. We all had great joy playing all those cards (some even for the last two years) and before we open a new page in our Magic-al lives, let's close the current one properly, if you know what I mean.

So let's start!

 

ZENDIKAR

The first time I heard about the theme of this block (lands matter) I said "meh". I mean, lands always mattered! How can they matter even more?!


Autumn leaves are falling and leaving us.

And a short story right here: Some time ago we were chatting with a friend on MTGO about the best card of Magic. He thought about the subject and wrote me a list of candidates. But in return I just named one card; one single card.

This card to be exact:

Island
Best card of Magic ever printed.

Of course you can replace it with a Mountain if you're a Red mage, or with a Forest if you like Green. You can also put dual lands there or even three colored lands like Murmuring Bosk if you will; but the basic idea will not change. Lands are the most powerful cards (thus the best cards) of Magic. Without lands, you cannot play those flashy and powerful spells you have in your deck. Oh and I'm fully aware that it is possible to build land-less decks these days but those decks are expections and exceptions neither make nor change the rule.

So back to the topic: Lands already mattered enough. I was really wondering how they could even matter more. And WotC, as always, managed to surprise me in a good way. I saw this card below and decided to shut up!

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Yup, lands can matter even more than they already do.

I was simply amazed. And then I saw the Landfall mechanic and my level of "amazedness" has doubled. From the mighty Lotus Cobra to the simple Grazing Gladehart, almost all those Landfall creatures were great.

How can you not love these?!
Emeria Angel Rampaging Baloths

Of course at first I had some "troubles" with the mechanic. Since years, I was always playing my land first and then I was playing my cards. And in time that turned into a reflex. So I was like a fool during the first days of the set; play Plains and play Emeria Angel

Yes I admit, I did that.

This set also introduced the Ally tribe to us. At first they weren't that amazing but in time they proven themselves to be at least a nice and fun tribe to play with. Speaking of tribes...

Vampire Nighthawk

M10 at that point introduced us some Vampires which weren't the usual Vampires we used to know. These new Vampires were... small! Much smaller than the ones we had in the past but at the same time they were much more playable. We all "smelled the blood in the air" so to speak and we all knew that there was going to be something about the Vampires in Zendikar. And yes, we weren't wrong.

Vampire Hexmage quickly became a superstar in Extended and even in Legacy, but the tribe was a bit weak at that point in Standard. And please keep in mind dear readers that that was the era when Jund was the one and only deck in Standard and no other deck was able to beat it.

But in ZEN Block there was no Jund and there things were a lot different. The mono Black Vampires deck was THE deck to beat in Block and only  Control decks were able to fight it. So yes, Zendikar gave Vampires a whole new meaning and introduced them as the next Aggro tribe of Black.

Zendikar also had a new spell type; it had Traps. They were all fun but Summoning Trap was especially fun.

Decks were built around it and it was also one of the cards of Zendikar that saw serious amount of play. I also personally had the pleasure of Summoning Trap-ing into a Sphinx of the Steel Wind and yes, it felt extremely good!

There were also great many other cards in the set as well; Sphinx of Lost Truths saw tons of play, Punishing Fire quickly became Grove of the Burnwillows' best friend, Spell Pierce started seeing play in many different formats, the Kor tribe was great and saw a lot of serious tournament play (after the Holy Relic decks spawned) and the enemy fetchlands became staples of Magic the day they appeared in booster packs. But there were even more! 

The mono Green Eldrazi Monument - Nissa Revane deck stormed the Standard scene for a certain period. Spreading Seas, an enchantment that looked very harmless at first, became the backbone of a deck we knew as Spread'Em. Day of Judgment first appeared in this set and quickly became a core set staple. Goblin Guide and Goblin Bushwhacker gave mono Red decks a new meaning and Steppe Lynx together with Plated Geopede created a new age in the history of Boros decks.

Oh and we also had these in this set:

Plains Island Swamp Mountain Forest

Full art basic lands! Gorgeous!

And finally the set gave us those Ascensions. All of them were great but I believe that everyone would agree if I say that Pyromancer Ascension was the best of the bunch.

Eldrazi Monument

And let's sum up this set. Let's take a look at the best five cards of it:

 

NUMBER FIVE
Goblin Guide

There were days when Savannah Lions was the king. And look at what Zendikar gave us. A one mana 2/2 with haste. Incredible.

 

NUMBER FOUR
Lotus Cobra

Lotus Cobra This was the most hyped card of the set during the first days after the release. At first it had to live under the shadow of Jund but when Eldrazi Conscription decks became popular, Lotus Cobra also started seeing tons of play. At some point Mythic Bant and similar decks were very popular and Lotus Cobra was the main mana ramping engine of those decks. We saw this Snake creature a bit less after Shards of Alara rotated out but the potential of Lotus Cobra never diminished.

 

NUMBER THREE
Pyromancer Ascension

Combo was and always will be one of the most important parts of Magic, but Pyromancer Ascension is a bit different. Some Combo decks simply "storm" the Standard meta, but they don't do that well later in other formats such as Extended or Legacy. Look at Modern now and you'll understand what I mean. And this is why I think Pyromancer Ascension is different. This card will never lose its value and will always be played unless WotC bans it.

 

NUMBER TWO
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Would you agree this: If we make a list of Top-20 nonbasic lands of Magic (not including duals), we would definitely see Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in that list. It is such a powerful card and especially together with cards like Scapeshift, it becomes even more powerful (so powerful, that at the end it got banned in Modern).

 

NUMBER ONE
Enemy Fetchlands

Well yes, enemy fetchlands were simply the best cards of Zendikar and I don't think anyone would argue. Thankfully I am not solely a Standard player and this rotation will not hurt me.

Okay, I think we talked enough about Zendikar. Let's move onto the next set of this block which has two... uhm let's say, two very "special" cards.

 

WORLDWAKE

I cannot speak for everybody, but for the majority of the players, I think Worldwake is equal to these two:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor Stoneforge Mystic

Let's start with Jace.

When he first appeared, Standard was still "terrorized" by Jund and Blue as a color was nerfed to death at that moment. MaRo even wrote an article about it and said that the pendulum will eventually swing back. And then we received this Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But if my memory serves me well, back then the card that created the most hype wasn't Jace but it was Treasure Hunt. Standard was in urgent need of a good Blue card drawing spell and at first Treasure Hunt seemed to be the perfect option.

Only when we, the players, started playing with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, we realized how broken it was to be able to Brainstorm every turn and for free!

But Jace back then had a very powerful enemy; Standard back then was dominated by Bloodbraid Elf and Jace at first seemed a bit weak against it. But after the rotation and after the release of Scars of Mirrodin, we all realized how broken Jace was in the first place. And not only in Standard! Big Jace started showing up in Legacy decks and quickly became a staple of that format. Today even Classic decks play him. So even if you started playing Magic just yesterday, alone these facts should give you an idea about the power brokenness level of this card.

And then there was also Stoneforge Mystic. WotC really should have known better. Any tutor that costs two or less is dangerous. I'm not saying broken because then all of a sudden Rampant Growth would be a completely broken card. But I'm saying they're dangerous.

Demonic Tutor, Mystical Tutor and its kin should have given WotC a clear idea about cheap tutors.

I also believe that three is the perfect cost for such narrow tutors. Enlightened Tutor is crazy but Idyllic Tutor is not. Trinket Mage is not. And maybe, just maybe, Stoneforge Mystic would have been okay with a  cost (minus the Vial effect!). And speaking of her Vial effect, that as a matter of fact was the "icing on the cake" so to speak. So they came up with a two mana tutor AND an Aether Vial for equipments. Brilliant!

So yes, WotC should have known better.

Anyway, we were talking about Worldwake, weren't we? Apart from those two cards, this small set also introduced a set of perfect manlands. All five of them were perfect and they all saw tournament level play. Cunning Sparkmage was another very important card and also saw a lot of tournament play. Then there was Lodestone Golem, a card that didn't get much attention from Standard players but found itself a nice and warm home in Classic.

The other honorable mentions of this set are Explore, Terastodon, Kor Firewalker, Everflowing Chalice, Abyssal Persecutor, Eye of Ugin (which didn't make sense at first) and Avenger of Zendikar.

And here's my Top-5 of Worldwake: 

 

NUMBER #5
Tectonic Edge

Tectonic Edge

I didn't talk about this land above because I wanted to save it for here. It really took a lot of time for WotC to finally balance Strip Mine. Wasteland wasn't good enough (good = balanced), Ghost Quarter was still not the one but finally, many years later, they finally managed to balance it. Tectonic Edge was an important card and I'm sure it will be a highly played card in Modern for years to come.

NUMBER #4
Wrexial, the Risen Deep, Butcher of MalakirOmnath, Locus of Mana

Not all cards are printed for Constructed and/or Limited. Some cards are being printed with casual formats in mind and Worldwake was full of them. The lead designer of this set was Ken Nagle and he's known to be a big Commander fan. And we saw his impact in the first set he got to lead; tons of greatness for Commander and casual Magic.

Please note that Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, Quest for Ula's Temple and Thada Adel, Acquisitor were also in this set. So yes, Ken Nagle loves Commander and Commander players love Ken Nagle!

 

NUMBER #3
Manlands

Lands in Zendikar were impressive and lands in Worldwake didn't disappoint anyone either.

All five of them saw serious play and even that fact alone shows how good they were.

 

NUMBER #2
Stoneforge Mystic

I don't have anything else to say. See above.

 

NUMBER #1
Razor Boomerang

 

What? You weren't thinking that I would name Jace as the best card here, were you?

...

..

.

Well okay, of course number one is Jace, the Mind Sculptor here! I just didn't want to state the obvious that obvious(!).

Razor Boomerang

And that was Worldwake. This set will always be remembered because it's the home of two cards that got banned in Standard. Standard doesn't always get the privilege(!) of having banned cards, and therefore Worldwake is special; but sadly not in a good way.

 

RISE OF THE ELDRAZI

The third set of this block was not a small set. Generally speaking this was a fine set but to be honest, I liked Worldwake and Zendikar more than Rise of the Eldrazi.

Surely when we say Rise of the Eldrazi, the first thing that comes to our minds is the Eldrazi themselves.

All were big, scary and extremely powerful and the moment I first saw them, I knew that they all were going to get played somewhere. And I wasn't wrong.

They all saw play in Standard but especially their eldest brother, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, saw (and still sees) play in almost every format out there. Cheating him into play was the recipe for an easy win, and people used him with Sneak Attack and Show And Tell and Through the Breach in many formats.

Rise of the Eldrazi also had two planeswalkers; one was Sarkhan the Mad and the other was Gideon Jura. Sarkhan the Mad briefly saw play in Jund decks but Gideon Jura was the big hit here. But what made them so special was something else; they both were... different planeswalkers!

Sarkhan the Mad was killing himself every time you used him and Gideon Jura was a planeswalker with no ultimate ability. And those things were a first. We never saw such planeswalkers, and I was truly impressed.

One other important and new thing that came with this set was the Level Up mechanic. The basic idea behind this mechanic was Figure of Destiny from Eventide, and Rise of the Eldrazi designers just gave it a name and came up with many interesting cards for it. And it turned out to be a successful mechanic as well. Cards like Student of Warfare, Kargan Dragonlord and Joraga Treespeaker all saw tournament play.

There was also one other thing the Rise of the Eldrazi designers cared about and that was family ties.

What? Family ties? What are you talking about?!

Well, I said that because this set was the home of the White twin of Wall of Blossoms called Wall of Omens, the younger brother of Court Hussar called Sea Gate Oracle, the cousin of Soul Warden called Soul's Attendant and the stepsister of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker called Splinter Twin.

I saw these before... I think!
Wall of Omens Splinter Twin Sea Gate Oracle Soul's Attendant

And finally this set was also the home of Vengevine and Eldrazi Conscription. Both stormed the Standard scene until Scars of Mirrodin came. Vengevine's impact lasted a bit longer but eventually times have changed and they found themselves outside of the Top-8 lists of Magic.

And the honorable mentions from this set are Overgrown Battlement, Consuming Vapors, All is Dust, Awakening Zone and the best card of the rebound mechanic called Staggershock.

And finally here's my Top-5 of Rise of the Eldrazi:

 

NUMBER FIVE
Vengevine

I don't believe WotC likes Dredge. I don't think they will make it ever a winning strategy. But self milling is always a big part of Magic and they simply cannot disregard this fact. So from time to time WotC is coming with some "soft Dredge" decks and the famous Dredgevine deck was one of those. At some point Vengevine was a creature over $30,00 and served all those players well who paid that price to acquire him.

Vengevine

NUMBER FOUR
Wall of Omens & Sea Gate Oracle

Both were very nice utility cards and I'm really sad that Standard is losing them. They both will be truly missed. I personally had great time playing them.

NUMBER THREE
Splinter Twin

The first time I checked this card, it was a $0,10 casual card that was seeing only some limited play in the Casual Room. And then the second time I checked it, it was a $5,00 hot chase rare that was winning Pro Tours!!! How weird is that??!

 

NUMBER TWO
Gideon Jura

I'm very happy that WotC kept him in Standard by printing him in M12. He's without doubt the best five mana planeswalker ever, and all the new five mana planeswalkers in the future will always be compared to him. We don't always get game finishers at five mana which are this good, and therefore Gideon Jura will always be an important part of Magic in the years to come.

 

NUMBER ONE
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

He's nowadays the prime target for "cheat into play" kind of decks and I really want that this will stays like that forever.

What do you mean?

Well I mean that I cannot imagine another card that would be even better meaner than Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for that ultimate "cheat into play" spot and to be honest, I really don't want to imagine it either. Emrakul is mean enough. Let's keep him as the meanest and scariest creature of Magic. Anything that would be even meaner than him would really be broken. As if a creature with flying, Annihilator 6 and which is immune to spells is not broken enough (that can't be countered and Time Walks if you hard cast him)!

Okay, I'm done with the Zendikar block. Now it's time to take a brief look at the final set that will leave Standard.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

 

MAGIC 2011

What I should say at the end, I will say at the beginning. M11 was without doubt the best core set WotC ever printed. I mean M10 was also great, like "five fireballs out of five fireballs" great, but M11 was even better. It was simply a "six fireballs out of five" kind of a set.

First of all it was great that the design team kept the best cards of M10 in this set. It really felt good to see cards like Lightning Bolt, Baneslayer Angel, Acidic Slime, Sign in Blood, Doom Blade and Duress back in M11. It was also very good to see some old favorites in this set; such as Condemn, Corrupt, Voltaic Key, Nantuko Shade, the new Kodama's Reach called Cultivate, Day of Judgment, Fling and more importantly Mana Leak. The new versions of the Leylines were also great.

It felt good to have them back.
Condemn Mana Leak Leyline of the Void

But what made this set so special, was actually the quality of its new cards. And mainly these:

These cards simply defined Standard. Every creature all of a sudden started getting compared to the Titans.

"Can this one beat a Titan?"
"No, but it has its uses. I mean if you..."
"If it can't beat the Titans, then sorry but it's not good."
"..."

This is the type of discussion we're still having because contrary to what I believed, WotC kept these Titan in M12 as well.

But even though M11's biggest impact seemed to be the Titans, soon we all found out that the real gem was something else. And surprisingly it was something very simple. It was actually this:

Squadron Hawk

Who would have thought? Who would have thought that this harmless looking "limited fodder" was going to dominate the Standard scene for almost a whole year? It first appeared in the deck called Caw Go but after a short time, when Caw Go "transformed" into Caw Blade, Squadron Hawk became the real king of Standard's creatures.

But there were even more great cards in the set! For example Obstinate Baloth was one of those. The irony here was the fact that it was printed to fight Jund but at the end it found itself in Jund lists; making sure Jund dominated even more!

Oh and then there were also Fauna Shaman, Mass Polymorph, Sylvan Ranger, Preordain, Overwhelming Stampede in this set too! I mean, you do see why I think that this is the best core set, right? Oh wait, then we also had Serra AscendantPhylactery Lich, Dark Tutelage and Pyretic Ritual in here!

Oh yes... M11 was good. Very good. Maybe even a bit too good (because M12 after this core set didn't quite feel well).

And finally this set introduced us those so called "planeswalker signature spells".

Even though they all weren't that useful, some saw serious play such as Jace's Ingenuity, Ajani's Pridemate and Liliana's Caress.

And now comes the Top-5 of this fabulous set (contains only new cards):

 

NUMBER FIVE
Obstinate Baloth

This card was designed with one single deck in mind, just like Great Sable Stag was in M10, but sadly it arrived a year or so late and the damage was already done. But still, Obstinate Baloth played its part and saw a lot of play in that brief period when it was in the same Standard with Jund.

 

NUMBER FOUR
Squadron Hawk

This creature even sees play in Legacy these days. And this fact should give you a clear idea about how useful it is in the right deck (which happens to be the Caw Blade deck).

So as long as you have Stoneforge Mystic in a format, you will always have Squadron Hawks somewhere in there too.

 

NUMBER THREE
Fauna Shaman

Fauna Shaman

If you can't have Survival of the Fittest in your deck, then Fauna Shaman will be your best bet. She saw a lot of play in that Dredgevine deck but sadly lost her appeal after that deck vanished from the Standard scene. But you should watch out and be careful when judging her now, because Innistrad might just be the next thing she needs to be a superstar again; this time in Modern.

NUMBER TWO
Preordain

If you are allowed to play Brainstorm, then fine; you should definitely play Brainstorm. But if you're not allowed to play Brainstorm, then Preordain is the best card out there for that job. 'Nuff said!

 

NUMBER ONE
Titans

Nothing else is needed to be said about the Titans. We all know that they all are very powerful and that they will continue defining the Standard meta for the next year as well.

 

WRAP UP

So these were the cards we are going to say goodbye in a very short time. I know how exciting the new cards look like, but this week I wanted to remind you how fun the old cards were actually. I don't know about you, but I will truly miss most of them.

Speaking of new cards...

 

NEXT WEEK ON ROGUE PLAY
My 'Innistrad', Part I

Innistrad looks amazing this far and I really can't wait to get my hand on some of those new cards. And starting with next week, we will together go over this new set and do our "countdown". As you may remember, I changed the format of my "MY SETNAME" articles and instead of going through the colors, now I'm doing a Top-40 list and do a countdown. And next week we will examine the first half of the set and talk about them in great detail.

So we'll see us next week then!

Thanks for reading.

See you online
Nafiz Erman, aka Lord Erman

4 Comments

Nice recap by apaulogy at Tue, 09/20/2011 - 12:55
apaulogy's picture
5

I like how you address the tutor ability of Stoneforge Mystic. I agree that it would not have been OP if it cost one mana more and didn't vial. The Vial ability didn't really even matter that much until they printed Batterskull. Still, things that bring in uncounterable trumps are not good. I agree that WotC should have known better.

Good work, sir.

The vial ability:Should have by walkerdog at Tue, 09/20/2011 - 14:34
walkerdog's picture

The vial ability:

Should have had a CMC limit (2-3), should have had a higher cost, or should have just made you pay the cost of the equipment being vialed in. In fact, if you just had to do it on your turn only it would have been much closer to fair. Uncounterable is fine, but doing it on their turn for a low cost after you already got to tutor, all for 4 mana total just was way beyond overpowered.

EDIT as much as I love the current core sets, they don't really compare to the first 4-5... duals, sol ring, vampiric tutor, etc all in those sets. The overall card quality did suck, but look at the power level of a lot of those cards! As far as 7th-on (basically modern core sets) it is the best by far.

I enjoyed a lot this article. by LOurs at Wed, 09/21/2011 - 16:37
LOurs's picture
5

I enjoyed a lot this article.

I just would add some comments

"Would you agree this: If we make a list of Top-20 nonbasic lands of Magic (not including duals), we would definitely see Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in that list"

hmm ... sorry I dont. Even if it is great & powerful, I dont see it into that top 20 lands list along with cards like wasteland, strip mine, T. academy, any fetchs, maze of ith, bazaar, workshop or even karakas... but yea, it definitly belongs to the great inovations though ;)

Imo iona deserved an honorable mention also as she introduced a crazy powerful effect into the game and still see play today in the most broken formats (as terastodon does btw). Another card i really enjoyed to see was surprinsingly Nature's Claim, probably the best 1cmc disenchant effect (the only ? i dont know ... good question). This tiny instant is pretty handy, and will be still ran for a moment I think

Waiting for next articles

Thanks everyone for the by Lord Erman at Thu, 09/22/2011 - 08:30
Lord Erman's picture

Thanks everyone for the comments.

Now that I think of it, Stoneforge with a casting cost of 2W and without the vial ability would have been a fine card; it could have been an uncommon even! And if you really MUST add the vial effect onto it, then it should have been something like this:

X, TAP: Vial into play that Batterskull you just tutored with me but first pay its casting cost you cheater!!

This would still be an uncounterable way of putting Batterskull into play, but at least not as broken as it is right now.

LOurs, yeah, Iona deserved mentioning. As well as Terramorphic Expanse! That simple mana fixer is leaving Standard and I should have at least mentioned this. Thankfully Evolving Wilds is still in Standard.

Thanks again for the comments.

LE