Schlagwort-Archiv: Oath of the Gatewatch

Some winning OOB draft decks

No, this doesn’t mean that my „fixing cards“ series has already ended. I just wanted to uphold the tradition of posting decks which won me drafts, and since the format isn’t exactly brand new anymore, it’s time now.

I haven’t drafted nearly as much as I wanted during the last months due to real life reasons, but I did watch a boatload of videos and streams to confirm my outlook on the environment. To make this short: It is slow, certainly slower than triple Battle for Zendikar draft, and possibly the slowest since the infamous and unparalleled Magic 2014. Note, though, that „slow“ does not mean that you can ignore the existence of aggressive decks and completetly eschew early defense – it just means that defensive decks are generally favored over aggressive ones, and that you need to address the lategame and boardstall situations more extensively than in fast formats, which are mainly about not falling back early and winning races.

I usually, although not always, choose to draw in this format. Making your land drops is very important, since your higher mana slots will be well-filled, and mulligans hurt – the new mulligan rule notwithstanding – since you need both your lands and your spells. Also, most decks stretch their mana bases quite a bit (which makes sense, because you prefer power over consistency a little more in slower formats), and the „sixth color“ Grey compounds this. Being on the draw allows you to keep more 7-card-hands (or rather, makes bad but necessary keeps a little less bad – I’m not actually sure how often I would mulligan a hand on the play which I would keep on the draw).

If you look closely at my winning decks, you will probably notice a trend. (Okay, you don’t need to look THAT closely.) I assure you that most of the six other decks I drafted looked differently – but then again, those went all only 2-1 each, so there’s that…

 

Bunt

Note that I drew Mana Confluence only once and then didn’t play it, because my mana worked out perfectly fine without it. Skyrider Elf disappointed me by never showing up in a deck where he would have been really excellent.

 

Auchziemlichbunt

If you thought Deathless Behemoth was good in the previous format, try it in this! Having the biggest creature on both offense and defense is… well, big.

 

Warcalleroutonce

In the finals, I sided the Warcaller out – not because he was too slow against an aggressive deck, but because he didn’t have enough impact in an extremely grindy attrition matchup.

 

Greenagain

Fall was great, although I never needed to cast it with X>2. I never cast Serpentine Spike, though, although that was the card which finally cemented me in GR instead of UG/r. While I firstpicked those rares, I unbelievably got Outnumber very late, and Press even tabled. People are deeply stupid!

That’s it for now, but I promise to return to Arabian Nights soon!

 

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Oath of the Gatewatch in my Limited Card Pool

Eleven days into the new year, and MagicBlogs has yet to show any signs of life. That’s not an auspicious start into 2016…

Well, I’ll have to go ahead again, I guess. It may have become something of a tradition for me to completely overhaul my Limited Card Pool during the „days between the years“, and I did that before the official spoiler for Oath of the Gatewatch came out. That meant re-evaluating what was in my pool, but just as importantly, also all the stuff that was not – sometimes cards got lost in earlier crunchs for reasons which no longer applied, and sometimes I might have simply changed my opinion on cards in the meantime. Going over a little more than 2000 cards in my pool is already quite a lot of work, but closely looking at all cards ever printed just isn’t something I can do more often than once a year.

This is not to say that my main goal was adding stuff I had overlooked – to the contrary, I obviously had to concentrate on trimming down my pool to make room for new cards instead. I really don’t know which number of cards is ideal as an upper limit, but there needs to be one. It’s hard to cut perfectly serviceable cards, though. It’s even harder to say goodbye to complete mechanics, even if they never really worked out, like spiritcraft. Interestingly, I cut the precursor cards to surge – Skyshroud Condor and Illusory Angel – just before Oath of the Gatewatch would introduce that mechanic, because I realized that they didn’t play especially well.

I will not talk in more detail about the changes I made then – for the (very) few interested, there is an XLS document at the end of this entry with my complete, up-to-date Limited Card Pool list. Instead, I will focus on the influence which Oath of the Gatewatch had. Turns out that is quite a lot of influence, which is astonishing, given that I consider three of the four major mechanics from this set mostly a failure! However, the fourth delivers in spades, and there are just a lot of really interesting designs in this set – mostly at common and uncommon, so I was pleasantly surprised with the official spoiler after all those boring rares and mythic rares previewed before.

I will break down the new inductees systematically:

1. Grey

(„Grey“ is how I refer to cards requiring colorless mana.)

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I am really disappointed with the way Wizards are treating Grey. Mark Rosewater has made it clear that it will be a very rare occurence going forward, and since there will be no more of it in the foreseeable future, they made sure it will have an impact coming from a single expansion only. That, of course, means that nearly all of these designs are just too powerful for Next Level Cubes. There just aren’t enough usable cards – if any at all – requiring colorless mana to cast to make it worth including specific colorlessfixing in a cube. That is why I concentrated on cards which can be played somehow reasonably without colorless mana, but have activated abilities requiring it. Even here, there aren’t a lot of usable designs (and most annoyingly, not a single white one). So this is all I got from the most groundbreaking innovation in Magic design since Alpha: A couple of uncommons (I intend to use all of these cards at that rarity) which might encourage drafters to use a little more colorless mana producers than usual. This is nowhere near to creating a desire to draft Wastes, and nowhere near to necessitate the inclusion of additional land cycles producing colorless mana (okay, I’m not too unhappy with that – filterlands are terribly expensive, after all!)

My only concessions to Gray thus were adding Blasted Landscape to my cycle of cycling lands, and replacing Mana Confluence with Grand Coliseum. Other than that, I will just throw these cards into my cubes if I feel like it and have players figure out if their decks support the Grey-Splash without too much trouble, and how bad it would be to play those cards without getting it. The reward is certainly there, and drafters may be encouraged to pick up that Crystal Vein or Pristine Talisman they might otherwise not have been interested in, but their main decision is not if it makes sense to „go grey“ in draft, but if the potential upside of those cards is worth the risks of not reliably getting colorless mana to use their abilities.

2. Allies

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So this is the main retribution from Oath of the Gatewatch to my pool! Allies were still a rather underdeveloped theme before, but got a major boost now. One thing got even more obvious: Unlike with slivers, there is no hope to achieve even the semblance of a balance between colors with them. (And I really don’t get why Blue almost completely refuses to participate, when even Black does its part.) It’s important to note, though, that (like with slivers) just having the creature type „ally“ must be considered to be mechanically relevant. To a certain extent, that is true for all creature types with tribal cards, but allies and slivers take this to another level. Nonetheless, „passive“ allies still have to be useful without tribal support (Stonework Puma being an exception which works because any player can pick it up to enhance their ally theme), and thus compete in the crunch with other generically useful cards.

Cohort as a counterpoint to the aggressive rally might actually be a good idea, by the way – I’m not clear yet how this will work in the official draft environment, but it seems like a great tool to round out the ally theme in Next Level Cubes at the least.

3. Support

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Support seems mightily lame for a keyword – it could just have been spelled out on a few cards which wanted that effect. However, it turns out that this mechanic originally could also put loyalty counters on planeswalkers and was then crippled by development. In its intended form, I admittedly would have liked it even less, but at least it would have merited a keyword.

There are plenty more interesting mechanics putting counters on creatures, so I really wasn’t interested in support as a keyword. I like the white common as a cantrip and the green as a smaller version of Stand Together, while the uncommon is mainly another badly needed green removal spell.

4. Surge

I use no cards with surge.

While I’m not against the basic idea of this mechanic, its execution failed to convince me, just like converge did. The challenge is to meet standards of elegance, playing interestingly and hitting the right power level; and with a mechanic as specific as this, there should be several cards using it to help set the tone of a draft environment, so even if I liked a single one a lot (I don’t) it would be a poor choice for my pool.

5. Artifact synergies

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I’m of course aware that colorless synergies and artifact synergies are not the same thing, but they overlap enough that it makes sense to use a few of the former to flesh out the latter.

I want to use the Ruins as an uncommon, and Reaver Drone as a common.

6. Multicolor replacements

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I have a fixed number of slots for (more or less) generic multicolor cards, and there is still room for optimization. These cards replace designs I’m less enthused with.

I hope Jori-En does not turn out too powerful. I will try it as an uncommon. If that doesn’t work out, I will probably remove it completely.

7. Other replacements

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The Cloak introduces menace to my equipment selection. It replaces Angelic Armaments, fulfilling their role even a bit better.

The Lantern replaces Darksteel Pendant, offering more versatility.

The Visions replace Clinging Darkness. They are a cool design on a good power level. I will use them at common, since Black should have plenty strong removal.

The Endurance replaces Boon of Erebos. While I’m okay with Black paying life for efficient spells, the Boon does not need that additional cost to be balanced, so I go with the more elegant design.

The Vines replace Shape the Sands simply because they are more likely to do what you want that card to do.

8. Miscellaneous

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The Warden hits a good spot as a generic manaproducing creature. It’s also useable as a staple common (see my explanation at the end).

Linvala looks like a powerful, but fair rare to me – a great comeback card, but less impressive when you’re not behind on board. Maybe I underestimate her, though.

The Caller does something cool for a reasonable price with a reasonable restriction and has unusual stats for a black creature (at least in my pool).

The Strike seemed at first a bit redundant with Murder to me, but at one mana more and at sorcery speed it can work as a common (I now use Murder as an uncommon because it’s so efficient), and both being splashable and exiling the creature set it sufficiently apart – even though my cubes avoid the amount of graveyard recursion which would make such effects necessary, exiling creatures is still useful, and I like to have a few cards which do it.

The red cantrip is exactly what I had always wished Accelerate were, but without the strange rider from Crimson Wisps.

Finally, the Pulse is on one hand a Regrowth variant, and will be mainly used for that – but more importantly to me, it is a playable lifegain card! These are incredibly hard to come by, so I am happy I can use this.

My updated list

I’m at 2063 cards now (not counting the basic lands). As you can see, I use a lot of tags to make it easier to find cards with certain qualities, but obviously that system isn’t perfect (and there may be glaring oversights).

I dropped the „mythic“ rarity again, since I only used it in very strictly defined cases, and those were few enough that it wasn’t necessary to make these cards actually rarer than rare.

„Common“, „uncommon“ and „rare“ are again my default rarities for Next Level Cubes, while I have modified „staple“ to be a subset of the commons instead of a separate rarity: It now means that this is a common which could make sense as a staple (defined as a card guaranteed to be in the draft pool even if not all commons are) if I use that concept in a cube, but doesn’t need to be even if I do, depending on the specific cube. That is different from the three „real“ rarities which, while not set in stone, are (again) intended to be strong guidelines I will only stray from very infrequently, if at all. (The numbers before the letters „S“, „C“, „U“ & „R“ are for sorting purposes, just like the asterisks before the color / card type indicator.)

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

LimitedCardPoolOGW

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The OGW Leaks – why do People Support Wrongdoers so Strongly?

Possibly the most interesting thing about the Oath of the Gatewatch card leaks is the attitude large parts of the community have shown in their aftermath, especially in response to Trick Jarrett’s article. The reactions towards Wizards of the Coast, although that company has objectively been wronged by people deliberately breaking their trust, show an amount of hateful glee which is remarkable and suprised even me, who has been a staunch and vocal critic of Wizards for many years. I have been thinking a bit about what is going on here.

Firstly, let’s get some facts straight: During the last couple of years, early leaks of cards from new sets have become quite a rare occurence compared to earlier times. Especially, big surprises have not been spoiled for us since the New Phyrexia godbook leak, if I remember correctly. Wizards have really tightened their security around their intellectual property.

Coming Oath of the Gatewatch, they have failed. There were several separate instances of leaked cards already, weeks before offical preview weeks begin. Some of those were rather minor (unless they’re somehow connected to bigger leaks), but two stand out: The reveal of the new Kozilek and the new basic land Wastes a month ago, and the reveal of all expeditions and almost all mythic rares (plus a couple of lands at lower rarities) a few days ago.

Now, there was originally some indication that the first leak might have been orchestrated, but in retrospective this seems very unlikely now. Yes, spoiling Kozilek and Wastes (and concurrently, albeit apparently from another source, Mirrorpool) at the same time suggested that there was a plan behind these reveals, but we now know that this plan included spoiling those very cards officially, and the seeming coincidence that specifically those two cards were leaked is well explained by the very plans to spoil them offically, pinpointing the source of the leak as someone who was involved in those plans.

Also, the idea that Wizards wanted to get the community to talk and speculate about the meaning of the new mana symbol has merit, but with every day passing it became clearer that it could not be in that company’s interest to maintain the enormous confusion resulting for several weeks without clarification. If the leaks had been orchestrated, Wizards would have found a way to clear up all those misconceptions after a week or so at the latest (even without admitting that this had been an intentional leak). Generating buzz is one thing, but allowing players to form pet theories they fiercely cling to, and then disappointing them with a „boring“, obvious explanation is another, and instigating major rules confusion all over the community is even worse. Wizards are incompetent in some areas where they do not allocate enough resources (Magic Online, their web presence etc.), but they are emphatically not incompetent in their marketing decisions. Claiming that the bedlam which ensued after those leaks was either planned or not anticipated by them is just ignorant.

Their reaction to that leak was certainly telling: Evading all questions for several weeks, then offically presenting the two cards as if nothing had happened before, and later admitting and condemning that leak specifically in a clearly butthurt article. There is no way this is playing on with some kind of PR stunt – they make themselves look way too bad here.

Note that this article did not address the much bigger second leak at all, although that certainly hurt the company even more, revealing almost all mythics and expeditions – the major selling points of the new set! – in one fell swoop. That is simply because they do not want to validate these cards or draw attention to them, since they have not officially been spoiled so far (which is in line with their actions after the first leak). You need to be aware, though, that this article still vents the anger about that leak as well, which explains some passages that might seem a bit overblown if only put in the context of the first leak.

Concerning the source of those leaks, it is possible that the first one (Kozilek and Wastes) happened due to negligence – someone involved in preparing the official representation left a file in a place where they shouldn’t have left it, and someone else stumbled over it. It is extremely likely, however, that at least the second leak happened because somewone violated an NDA which had been a requirement to get access to those cards in the first place. If you seriously consider that person a „hero“, your moral compass is way, way off! It doesn’t make you a hero either if you publish info which you came across accidentally, but hey – you’re not owing the big, bad, soulless company anything. I can get behind that. But if you consciously break the trust someone put in you (for example, if you visit a Wizards employee friend and take a picture of a yet unrevealed card which happens to be lying around), you’re a scumbag; and if you explicitly break an NDA in a major way, you’re a criminal, too.

And yet, many people celebrate any and all leakers as heroes. Why is that?

There are many levels of answers to that question. The most obvious is egoism: People want to see cards from the next set as early as possible, no matter what. Once again, I can get behind that! I am a deeply involved Magic player, and that means I spend a lot of time thinking about this game. The earlier I get to know a card, the more time I can put into evaluating it and putting those evaluations into different contexts. I am an information-processing machine craving data. If there is something to be known, I do want to know it – now! Still, I am a far cry from publically endorsing scumbags and criminals.

Then, there is the pent-up frustration with a company which treats its customers as drug addicts, not caring about providing the best possible experience for them (no matter how often they claim to do so), but only about maximizing their profits. This is the company which has been keeping Magic Online continuously in a state of barely playable for one and a half decades, simply because this is the most cost-efficient way to maintain it. It is also the company that has been making sure that competitive play became ever more expensive over the years, and that has been consciously rigging high level play to make sure that players from their home market will completely dominate it. There are many more smaller – but sometimes clearly more evil – things Wizards are responsible for (for one example, google the Zach Jesse ban), and once again, I can get behind that frustration.

There is an issue, though: Humans really like to perceive things as polar – good vs evil, right vs wrong, company vs customers. So, someone hurt Wizards somehow? Applause – they obviously deserved it! It is a typical gut reaction, but people should pause and reflect a little before they allow themselves to voice such statements. Evil companies are evil because they do evil things, and because doing evil things is bad. If someone else does an evil thing, even if it happens to hurt an evil company, that is still bad. Worse – whatever justification that person might have to do those evil things could turn out to be the exact same justification which made that evil company do their evil deeds. Identifying right vs wrong is not about choosing sides once and then feeling morally superior for the rest of your life. (That is wrong.)

And then, things tend to be always a bit more complicated than we would like them to. Shockingly, an evil company is not made up exclusively of evil people. So, even if hurting that company overall seems morally justified, it doesn’t mean that hurting the people working for it is, some of whom may actually be doing their best to improve things from the inside! Allowing our (completely justified) frustration to turn into unreflected general hatred is actually one of the more evil things we humans do.

However, between the very personal satisfaction of seeing new cards earlier, and the vague general frustration with the big evil company, there seems to be a reason to support leaks which I had overlooked so far, but have become aware of recently. To understand it, we have first to be clear that leaks actually do hurt Wizards! There is a lot of poorly thought-out rationalizing why leaks would actually not be a bad thing for them, but once again, people readily assume that Wizards have no clue how to market their products best, which is an ignorant and downright stupid assumption. Also note that we are not talking about a random common leaked a week earlier here or there, but about leaks of the magnitude we have been seeing with Oath of the Gatewatch: Previewing a major (and probably the most spectacular) theme of the new set several weeks early; and showing practically all cards of highest interest at once weeks before their official previews start. Especially the latter completely destroys the whole marketing strategy of Wizards for this set. Say, who of you truly believe that marketing strategies do not influence sales? You might want to not get into this discussion in the first place – it’s a waste of time to argue with people who completely ignore reality around them.

Those very marketing strategies, though, are what put Wizards at odd with their customers. Why exactly do they profit so much from their own carefully crafted revealing scheme? Well, they are obviously generating hype, but what I didn’t realize (because I was never affected by it) before somone else pointed it out is that they generate that hype at the exact best time to induce people to make impulse, and worse, panic buys!

There is a German term which I’m not completely sure is translated absolutely correctly with „promotional trip“: „Kaffeefahrt“. Another one – „Haustürgeschaft“ – is probably exactly translated with „doorstep deal“. Both refer to businesses which consciously exploit the fear of people to miss a good deal if they do not make it right now, and which would run very badly if those people had enough time to think about that deal and analyze its advantages and disadvantages.

This is exactly what Wizards is setting up with every new set. It is why they show us one or two mythic rares per day, hyping them as much as possible – not always for the competitive crowd, but mainly for the casual players who tend to be more easily impressed. These players believe they need those impressive cards, and they believe they need to preorder them right away, before they get much more expensive. That wouldn’t work if those cards had been known and thoroughly discussed for a week or two before it became necessary (or possible) to preorder.

It would be naive to doubt that Wizards‚ sales are actually hurt by leaks, but it pays to think about why exactly that is the case. A new Magic set is not a movie, where getting spoilers beforehand would ruin your enjoyment of the plot. Its appeal, however, is strongly determined by subjective impressions. It makes a heck of a difference if a large segment of the player base perceives the new Kozilek as using some incredibly convoluted new mana of a pseudo-sixth color which requires massive functional errata of hundreds of old cards to work at all, or if Wizards get the opportunity from the very beginning to explain that some costs may now require colorless mana (and that’s all). The absurd overthinking which happened in the wake of this unplanned reveal will stay for a long while with many players, and color their perceptions of Oath of the Gatewatch. However, this is the case where a leak actually hurt both company and customers.

As to the spoiled expeditions and mythics, Wizards are right to remind us that a couple of people who had been working to present these cards in an especially interesting way were bereft of the fruits of their labor – but in this case, the interests of company and customers are not the same. Yes, some people might prefer to see a few cards spoiled per day instead of a whole bunch at one time, and maybe get some spicy flavor or cool additional information with the reveals. But mostly, what is happening is that we get to look closely at this impressively-looking set of kitchen knives a few weeks before we can buy it, and realize during that time that, actually, we do not need it at all (and that it is likely not nearly as good a deal as we were led to believe at first). People getting time to think before they need to buy isn’t good for many businesses, and Wizards is one of those.

So, I can partly also get behind people considering leakers as some kind of Robin Hoods protecting unwary customers from the marketing schemes of a greedy company. Many opinions voiced are still woefully unreflected, but I am starting to comprehend where those people come from. Wizards‚ way to handle spoiler season is largely a means of artificially increasing demand, and I understand why some people perceive early leaks as a form of protection against this kind of manipulation. It is extremely unlikely, on the other hand, that this is what the leakers‘ motivation is rooted in. They undoubtedly have their own petty, egoistic motives, so we might not want to canonize them for what they are doing.

One last thing: There are additional reasons to get angry about Trick Jarrett’s article. He is creating the impression that people sharing available info about leaks are doing something wrong, and even seems to threaten those, which is unacceptable. He also writes a lot of bullshit about what journalism is and what it is not, and he uses the term „theft“ for something which, while possibly illegal, is most certainly not. He also pleads solidarity with a few writers and owners of small sites when his real concerns are obviously his company’s profits. These are points which are valid to address with criticism, and once again I can get behind people who feel little empathy with Trick or the company he represents – and yes, they brought this on by themselves. Still, it makes me feel uneasy when I see by how much many people overreact here.

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How to Support Gray in Next Level Cubes

It seems my motivation to blog about Magic fluctuates more wildly than I anticipated… Well, these are interesting times for cubebuilders, so let’s roll while the momentum persists!

When I talk about „Gray“ as a Magic color, I refer to those early spoilers from Oath of the Gatewatch, which I believe will turn out to be real, and which I already analyzed here, coming to the conclusion that their new mana symbol stands without reasonable doubt for one colorless mana. I used to refer to that symbol as „<>“, because this is how it was written in the original MTGSalvation thread discussing it, but seeing as this is unwieldy (especially so in any editor with HTML tags), I will switch to the simpler „#“ for the time being. It seems possible, though, that the official shorthand for it will be „C“, since that letter has not too long ago been removed from official references to chaos mana, and obviously I would conform to that, but as of now, „#“ will do.

Just as preliminary is my choice of „Gray“ as a pseudo-color word for spells requiring colorless mana, which I will use in contrast to „Clear“ for colorless spells without that requirement – if I’m really unlucky, the „official“ terminology might actually end up the other way around… However, for the moment, „#“ and „Gray“ it is!

With Wastes as a new basic land, I have little doubt that gray cards will not be confined to Oath of the Gatewatch alone, although they will not necessarily show up in every future expansion, and maybe only in small quantities, like multicolor cards in many sets. This means I will likely want to use them in my Next Level Cubes as well, although this certainly depends on how they will be designed – with only two examples to go by so far, the jury is still out on them: Mirrorpool seems decent, albeit not escpecially a bread-and-butter example for this „new color“, while Kozilek, the Great Distortion is far beyond anything I want in my Limited Card Pool. There will probably be a decent number of usable commons and uncommons, though, and I find myself already planning how to integrate those gray spells into my cubes.

You see, this is actually not easy! I’m afraid it would even be outright impossible if Gray turned out to be a full-fledged color featuring #-intensive early drops in the vein of Leonin Skyhunter, but I do not see that happen in limited (a few rares of that kind might be an option for constructed, though) – there are both design space issues and gameplay issues making this unlikely. Instead, I mainly expect a relatively small number of midgame cards costing #, and an even smaller number of ## lategame cards at higher rarities. Gray will thus serve a role as a splash or at most tertiary color, and not enable six extra viable color pairs (Gray-Blue etc.) in draft, because the former is doable with some design effort, while the latter seems impossible to me.

And yet, even this presents me with sizeable issues, because of the differences between Two-Thirds-Drafts and normal draft. Remember, I created this special draft variant for four players after juggling a lot of numbers, since it is impossible to give those four drafters access to the same number of cards as in normal draft without making the majority of their picks irrelevant. If we consider a normal draft using 14-card boosters (assuming there is a basic land slot which does not contribute to players‘ decks), each drafter gets to see 3*(14+13+12+11+10+9+8+7) different cards – that’s 252. (With 15-card packs, it would be 276.) In Two-Thirds-Draft, even using my new standard of 13-card boosters instead of 12-card boosters, they only get to see 4*(13+12+11+10) different cards, for a total of 184! This is already a stark compromise, made possible by completely eliminating downright unplayables and not maindeckable sideboard cards. And note that even with that smaller number it’s only the two-thirds-mechanic which makes sure that all pick decisions are still relevant.

However, this also means that each player drafts only 36 cards, while in a normal draft he would get 42 or 45. This is usually not an issue because in a normal draft those extra cards will be of no consequence – unplayables, almost never used sideboard cards, redundant filler-level maindeck candidates, and hatepicks of minor relevance. The first two categories do not exist in Next Level Cubes, while the latter two hide among the undrafted cards.

All this changes, though, if drafters are suddenly required to draft a high amount of lands (or other mana cards)! We are not talking about the usual 2-5 picks invested in manafixing or utility lands which happen in most draft environments, we’re talking about 6-10 picks required to make running an additional (pseudo-)color possible! While you may still get what you need in only 36 picks, obviously your margin for errors is a LOT smaller, and you might easily end up with too little manafixing, too few spells, or an overall untuned deck.

I expect Gray to be supported in normal draft just like snow was in Coldsnap: A good number of basic lands inserted in the common slot to average out roughly 1 per booster (Wastes actually is denoted as common on the card itself) in addition to a couple of more interesting cards which just happen to also provide that kind of mana. This is, however, exactly what NOT works in Next Level Cubes! Or, to be more precise, it only works in very specialized Next Level Cubes explicitly designed to make it work. I once designed just this kind of cube with a snow theme, so I know what I’m talking about… That cube worked fine, but it really was a one-of-a-kind thing, and more an experiment than a blueprint for future cubes. Normally, I want more variance in my cubes for higher replay value, and including Gray in a cube should not mean that it has to be as dominant as snow was in that one. Also, I do not think anymore it’s a great idea to make players draft uninteresting cards like basic lands, and addiionally I do not like putting several copies of one card in a cube for aesthetic reasons. If you want to take that route, though, I suggest using eight copies of Wastes (together with a generous amount of basic-land-searchers, just as in my snow cube) overall, ideally as a one-per-booster in the third and fourth booster round. Together with a couple of more specialized #-producers, this should easily support two Gray drafters, and with a medium amount of struggling, three.

If I do not want players to draft basic lands, though, I only have one choice: I have to provide a certain number of Wastes to them for free! I already provide 15 copies each of Plains, Swamp, Forest, Island and Mountain to every player, and I can just add a couple of Wastes here (I hope there will be 4 different pictures…) After long deliberation, I have decided that three Wastes per player is the optimal number (and yes, fitting exactly 78 sleeved cards into a deckbox without issues was a minor consideration). That way, drafters still have to invest a few picks into mana cards (which is kinda the point of Gray, I feel), but not so many that the payoff is no longer worth the effort.

Three Wastes are just enough to support a Gray splash without fixing via a 8-7-3 or 9-6-3 mana distribution, but just one or two fixers will noticeably stabilize that mana base and probably allow for cutting a land. On the other hand, you usually do not even want more than three Wastes in your deck, seeing that you probably run a two-color-deck and have the option to pick up more attractive producers of # like utility lands and mana stones. Instead, you will probably be on the lookout for basic land searchers like Evolving Wilds, Traveler’s Amulet or Pilgrim’s Eye, which can either fetch your Wastes or your main colors.

With this setup, I actually do not need many new entries into my Limited Card Pool to support Gray. I already have enough basic land searchers (especially the Gleam of Resistance cycle does excellent work here) and a generous selection of mana stones and utility lands producing #. If Oath of the Gatewatch makes me want to include Gray in my Limited Card Pool, there are only a couple of additional cards I will need (assuming that there won’t be better options in that set itself):

For cubes which focus on certain color pairs, I will need an additional dualland cycle to complement Adarkar Wastes and co. – this will be the filter lands cycle (Mystic Gate etc.). I parted with those lands not too long ago, not because they did not play well, but because I did not see how I would need them in addition to all those other dualland cycles, and because they were kinda expensive. Well, bad luck: They did not get cheaper in the meantime, but their ability to produce colorless mana makes them valuable again to me!

Another cycle I already had considered for different reasons which would go extremely well with Cubes featuring Gray are the original bouncelands, like Karoo – they’re essentially „duallands“ here, but require commitment to a main color, which is good. They will go a long way towards enabling Gray splashes.

Lastly, I will probably acquire Grand Coliseum and Blasted Landscape again. The former suddenly plays consideraby different from City of Brass, while the latter is just what you want if you need to make sure you have a source of #, but are not really interested in drawing multiples of those.

There is a large number of other cards which suddenly may take up a new role in a cube thanks to the introduction of Gray, and it is a lot of fun to look through a card database and identify them, but these are the ones which work especially well with our new „sixth color“.

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Why „<>“ is the New Symbol for one Colorless Mana

Alright, it seems I’m not ready – yet – to entirely quit blogging about Magic, having put my hiatus on hiatus. I just cannot not talk about this, and I am deeply bewildered that it hasn’t been made a topic yet in what’s left of the German Magic internet community (meaning MagicBlogs & PlanetMTG). Obviously, people only bother to use their keyboards if asked to post a spam comment in order to participate in some kind of lottery for free…

I cannot imagine how this can not be on the mind of every moderately invested Magic player; and as it has been on MY mind continuously for several days now, I do what I must and write about it. I am, of course, talking about those Oath of the Gatewatch cards which have been spoiled very early, and specifically about the meaning of the new mana symbol they feature. The first two cards were originally tweeted by @Mtgfocus (before that tweet was taken down again), while the third has been posted directly to MTGSalvation, from whose spoiler page I have taken these pictures. There is overwhelming consensus that these cards are real (including a confirmation by some shadowy authority with an excellent track record, which MTGSalvation has access to), and there are actually good reasons to believe that this may be an officially orchestrated „leak“, but I will not go into that. I will instead explain, why – assuming the authenticity of these cards – the new mana symbol shown on them is extremely likely to mean exactly one colorless mana, and nothing else, which is a hotly (and poorly) discussed topic in the Magic internet community where such a thing still exists.

The new cards

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Why I am absolutely convinced: There is overwhelming evidence for simply equating „<>“with colorless mana, while at the same time no evidence at all that it is anything else. There are, additionally, good arguments against any theories of it carrying any different meaning, while the arguments against the simple hypothesis do not hold at all. In fact, ca. 95% of all people arguing against it simply do not understand the rules of Magic, another 4% entertain additional misconceptions about the gravity of consequences from this change with regard to card errata, and maybe 1% actually have something like a valid argument, but one which is easily trumped by the arguments supporting this hypothesis.

Rules Brush-up

First, let me clarify the rules: There are exactly six types of mana in Magic – white mana, black mana, green mana, blue mana, red mana and colorless mana. No matter how mana is produced in this game, it will always have exactly one of those types, although it may carry additional restrictions (like being usable only to cast creature spells, for example), or aspects (like being snow).

Mana costs, however, may reference not only these types of mana, but additional categories which are neither necessarily inclusive nor exclusive with those types. The most prominent of those is generic mana, which means „mana of an unspecified type“. Others are hybrid mana (mana of either one or another specified type), snow mana (mana generated from a source with the snow supertype), and phyrexian mana (mana which can instead be paid for with 2 life). These categories of mana have their own symbols.

As of now, one type of mana shares a symbol with a category of mana: (1) etc. is used to denote colorless mana when referencing produced mana, but to denote generic mana when referencing a mana cost. This confusing double use of a mana symbol (or rather, a set of symbols, since it can be used with any natural number, and even with placeholders for numbers like X or Y) has – so far – only been possible because generic mana is never produced, and colorless mana has – so far! – never been part of a mana cost.

These are the basics everyone weighing in on this discussion needs to understand, and if they do not, their opinion is worthless, disturbing noise. Thus, you can safely ignore any reasonings including made-up terms like „true colorless“, „strictly colorless“ or „dedicated colorless“; and most importantly, the whole argument that errata of old cards producing colorless mana to use the new symbol would in any way be a „functional change“! (Caveat: „Dedicated colorless“ makes sense when referring to cards requiring colorless mana to cast or activate abilities. There is no need for any further specification of „colorless mana“, though.)

Arguments not rooted in poor rules knowledge

After getting those 95% out of the way, let me now address the 4% who say that, even if if it is only a templating change, such an errata would not happen. These people actually do not have a real argument, since similar (and even more drastic) changes HAVE happened repeatedly during the last years, and even for worse reasons, clearly showing WotC’s willingness to mass-errata cards for future gain. Just remember things like „cast“, „activate“ and „battlefield“! With „<>“ becoming the symbol for colorless mana, there will be a few hundred cards getting a new template, which isn’t unprecedented or outrageous at all; and even more importantly, this errata will finally remove the unnecessary ambiguity of the set of symbols which right now has two different meanings in different contexts. Even if this change would not open up a ton of new design space by finally introducing colorless mana in costs, it would have been long overdue.

This brings us to the 1% actually having something like a valid point: Why make this change in the middle of a block? Isn’t it unnecessarily confusing to have two different templates for cards producing colorless mana in the same draft evironment? Well, yes, it may be a bit confusing, but it is done for good reasons. When is the best time to introduce something fundamentally new like an additional mana symbol? Obviously, when you introduce cards which make a fundamentally new use of it! While an introduction midblock isn’t especially elegant, these concerns pale compared to the desire to align such fundamental, connected changes. So, the only question left is if, just to avoid some temporary confusion, it would not have been a requirement to introduce both the new symbol and the new kind of mana cost in the first set of this block. Again, it seems pretty obvious to me that the desire to evolve the block mechanics for the second set in a flashy way to give that set a more interesting identity trumps these concerns. So, yes, one aspect of the timing of this change is an argument against it, but another aspect of this very timing is a much better argument for it, leaving this point maybe not completely refuted, but very weak.

Edit: Some people consider it a real argument that the new symbol would somehow be graphically associated with the eldrazi, pointing to its identity as „eldrazi mana“ or something. I thought this was just trolling, but just in case, I will refute it: 1) This is a very simple, graphically abstract symbol, just as befits a symbol for colorless mana. 2) It actually has no real semblance to the hedron symbol of Zendikar, having rounded instead of straight edges, being concave instead of convex, and showing symmetry with regard to four axes instead of just one. 3) The hedrons are not even of eldrazi origin – they are the things built by Nahiri to contain them, which would make them an exceptionally poor choice to base an eldrazi mana symbol upon.

The evidence of Kozilek

Now that I have explained why there are no good reasons to rule the hypothesis “ „<>“ is the symbol for one colorless mana“ out, let me elaborate how everything we know points towards it: First of all, the new Kozilek is unambiguously colorless because of flavor, but also because this is shown by the color of its frame (since it does not have devoid). So, whatever „<>“ stands for can not be colored mana at all (I think noone believes this anyway). The only question left is if this symbol possibly denotes colorless mana with an additional aspect. The most popular theory here is that „<>“  is a specific type of colorless mana which can either be paid for with „<>“ (obviously), or with two colorless mana. This is by far the least unlikely competing theory and shares fundamental aspects with all other dissenting ideas, so I will let it stand in for those here.

Edit: The theory that „<>“ means „can only be payed with „<>“ (but can be used as generic mana)“, while still being different from already existing colorless mana, is again considerably less likely, because this would effectively create a new color, making Kozilek not colorless. (Or it would create two different kinds of colorless mana, one of which shares a symbol with generic mana, which would be incredibly confusing and poor design.) It would also mean that this new mechanic is even more parasitic. This idea just shows how far out you need to go to deny the obvious, simple explanation.

However, this theory is exceptionally weak from the very start! Before Oath of the Gatewatch, we have not had colorless mana in costs at all – and now, instead of introducing those as the first step, we get an additional tweak on the thing that we did not even have before? (And yes, it would be „instead“, not additionally, because otherwise we would need yet another new symbol for „simple“ colorless mana introduced in the same set – I shouldn’t need to explain why this idea is completely absurd…) This is already immensely unlikely.

The evidence of the Wastes

But then, we also have that new basic land to look at. A BASIC land! We know that WotC have been extremely cautious with this fundamental kind of card after being burned by snow-covered lands. Now, assuming that they would use that concept on a card producing a both very specific and complicated type of mana (instead of a simple, fundamental colorless mana), which then would very likely be tied to the flavor of the eldrazi (or even just Kozilek), and thus to not only one block, but one set, is downright absurd. There is parasitic, and there is extremely parasitic, and WotC have been very conscious about implementing parasitic mechanics during the last years. Using up the uniqueness of introducing a new basic land for such a narrow concept is downright inconceivable. 1995 was a different era, but when WotC nowadays prints a new basic land, it is meant to be relevant forever!

Even more importantly, cards costing „<>“ would be downright unplayable in draft, since this format uses only one booster from the new set. (In sealed it would probably not be much better, either.) Everyone who doesn’t realize this just lacks enough experience as a limited player (or, better, as a cube builder). It will never be worth it to go for both the cards costing and those producing it. (And no, you will not be provided the new basic lands by your tournament organizer any more than you would in a Coldsnap draft. This is not only logistically impossible, it also defeats the very purpose of such a mechanic.) Of course, you could just default to paying double on this mana, but that would mean that this completely new type of mana, spectacularily introduced just for this one set, would not even matter! I really do not agree with all of WotC’s designs, but such an epic design fail is definitely beyond them.

Edit: It has been brought to my attention that this block will be drafted new set/new set/old set, other than former formats. This means that „unplayable“ becomes merely „playing badly“, which is still not something we should expect.

On the other hand, „<>“ just meaning one colorless mana plays great in draft. Notice all those eldrazi scion tokens? The Blighted lands? And especially (since we are looking at the new Kozilek) Kozilek’s Channeler? Oh, and you should also take note that Evolving Wilds can fetch this new basic land. The latter doesn’t make a difference to both theories directly, but it addresses another concern which has been voiced:

Why print a land which is clearly inferior to a gazillion existing lands? Well, DUH, it is not! Being basic is an extremely relevant advantage, both in limited and in constructed. Evolving Wilds, Fertile Thicket, Blighted Woodland and Natural Connection prove the former. In constructed, there are also many cards specifically looking for basic lands. Oh, and let us not forget the new dual land cycle which just happens to care for basic lands as well! Saying that such a land is useless is stupid even before considering its value for commander players running a colorless general (which might actually have been a major impetus to creating this land).

Okay, it breaks the rule „non-basic lands should not be clearly superior to basic lands if you disregard the quality basic“. Note, though, that this rule was driven by the desire not to make basic lands obsolete, and applied to the design of new non-basic lands to make sure those did not get too powerful! Applying it inversely to not print a new basic land which is needed for other reasons makes no sense. That rule was never meant to be an end unto itself. And this basic land was long overdue: There are six types of mana in Magic, five of which have been associated with a basic land producing it since the beginning of the game. With the introduction of colorless mana as a specific cost requirement, finally filling this gap became inevitable.

Summary

1) “ „<>“ equals 1 colorless mana“ is by far the simplest explanation.

2) Errata to old cards producing colorless mana is not just possible, it is needed, even without considering a new type of cost; because of the old template’s ambiguity, and the confusion it evidently causes all over the player base.

3) This is a fundamental, yet simple change to the game which opens up enormous future design space, while the alternative theory would imply a complicated, extremely parasitic and short-lived gimmick actually obstructing future design space.

4) A new basic land simply producing one colorless mana has been a gap to be filled anyway, but has also specific uses in both limited and constructed.

5) „<>“ as just colorless mana plays great in both limited and constructed, while the alternative sucks in limited, and only a bit less in constructed.

6) The timing of this change is easily explained by marketing concerns trumping temporary confusion concerns. (And I’m sure WotC will go out of their way to explain how things work prior to the Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease.)

If these cards are the real deal (which I am convinced of), „<>“ is now the symbol for one colorless mana. End of story.

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