Tag Archives: Corbin Hosler

Why Eye of Ugin is the Ban

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We are just a few days away now from what will become a major turning point in Modern Magic’s history. For the past three months we’ve been living in “Eldrazi Winter,” and as much as I don’t love naming every period in Magic “winter” — a reference to the “combo winter” of old — it’s hard to argue that the term doesn’t apply to where Modern has existed since the release of Oath of the Gatewatch.

The Eldrazi decks, starting with the colorless and blue-red versions that took the Pro Tour by storm, quickly became dominant in Modern, a format ripe for the picking after the ban of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom left it without some of its former pillars. No matter how you feel about those bans, there’s no question that Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was a wide-open affair, and a wide variety of decks showed up for the event.

Unfortunately, none of those decks could stand up to Eldrazi. As our tentacled overlords began to lay waste to the format around them, it became increasingly important to not just have a plan to beat the rest of the format, but to have a plan for the mirror. After all, as deck after deck tried and failed to down the Eldrazi menace, planning for the mirror became the most defining part of any given Eldrazi deck, whether it was colorless, blue-red, red-green or the omnipotent white-blue versions.

As the format tried and failed to push out Eldrazi, the calls for a ban heated up. When the triple-Grand Prix weekend of Melbourne, Bologna and Detroit saw five of the six Finals deck turn out to be White-Blue Eldrazi — and with the deck making up more than 40% of the Top 100 Day 1 decks at all three events and winning on Day 2 at a percentage rate similar to Standard CawBlade pre-ban — the writing was on the wall, and a post-event interview with Aaron Forsythe all but confirmed changes would be coming in the form of a banlist update.

Thus led to the next great debate, and the topic of today’s article: what piece will be banned?

Before I go any further, I want to make a few disclosures. First, I have no inside knowledge of what will be banned, and though I am fairly confident in my ability to read Wizards’ tendencies with bans there is no guarantee of what they will do.

Eye of Ugin

It’s also worth noting that I’ve been on record since the very beginning stating Eye of Ugin should be banned. Long before the Pro Tour or any inkling of the actual decklists to come, I believed Eye of Ugin would become too unhealthy for the format to be allowed to exist, and you can hear my reasoning then during a guest appearance on the podcast Masters of Modern. This earned me the designation of “town crier” during an interview with BDM during GP Detroit coverage, but considering the fallout from Eldrazi it’s a title I’ll wear proudly in this circumstance.

Why Eye will be Banned

It’s Unhealthy

Now the argument about the “health” of a card is something that can go miles deep. After all, “health” and “power level” don’t always go hand in hand, though they often do.

Consider, though, Simian Spirit Guide, another card oft-talked about in regards to bans. It’s not like the card is too “powerful” on its own. While something like Jace, the Mind Sculptor is on the banlist because of how game-impacting it is on its own, Simian Spirit Guide is the opposite. Unless your plan is to beat down with an overcosted 2/2, it actually doesn’t do anything by itself. It’s rarely in “very good” decks, much less oppressive ones, so there’s no argument for it being too powerful as a card.

Simian Spirit Guide

But is Simian Spirit Guide “healthy?” Without derailing the topic of today’s article too much, I consider this the post child of “unhealthy” based on a simple criteria: Does this card further strategies that improve the play experience for a reasonable amount of Magic players? In the case of Spirit Guide, it does nothing but turn a Turn 3 deck into a Turn 2 deck in the vast majority of archetypes it sees play in. In this sense, it’s incredibly binary — it’s either incredibly good, or laughably bad, and I would argue this does not improve the average play experience. While I’m not making an argument today to ban Guide, I do believe it exemplifies many of the qualities that make a card unhealthy in a given metagame.

Eye of Ugin falls too far on the “unhealthy” side for me, though not terribly far from center. The card is very binary in all senses — it either is the best card in your hand or the worst, depending on how many copies you draw. You either play it with Eldrazi or it does nothing. There’s really no in-between with Eye, and feast-or-famine is not a particular healthy way to play games.

It is Ridiculously High Variance

This is a natural progression of the “health” argument, so consider for a moment the following card.

Variance Incarnate

Instant

1

Flip a coin. On heads, you win the game. On tails, you lose the game.

This is a “fair” card, Krark’s Thumb notwithstanding. After all, since you win or lose exactly half of the time on average, it’s the epitome of balanced. But is that amount of variance something you consider enjoyable when you sit down for a match of Magic?

Eye of Ugin cuts too close to that extreme. If it’s in your opening hand and you have the famed Eldrazi Mimic-into-Reality Smasher start, you’re going to win an extremely high percentage of your games. On the other, plenty of people have made the argument that because it’s bad in multiples certain hands and draws become “auto-lose” because you drew too many copies of your Legendary land.

Again, in theory this can be balanced (even if it hasn’t been in practice). If the draws where you have the dream are offset by the draws where you lose to drawing too many copies, you can have a deck that isn’t “too powerful” for Modern.

But, again, I’ll ask: is that how you want to play Magic?

It creates more mana than any other card in Modern

Legacy is a high-power format where there are multiple lands like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors that exist as “sol” lands to provide more than a single mana a turn. In that context, Eye seems fair.

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Modern is not that. This is a format where mana — the thing that hall of famer Zvi Mowshowitz said is always the place to start with a format — has been tightly controlled. Seething Song is banned. Rite of Flame is banned. Chrome Mox is banned. Cloudpost is banned. Summer Bloom is banned.

In a given game in the Eldrazi deck, Eye makes more mana than any of those (with the possible exception of Cloudpost). Any hand containing Eye and multiple Eldrazi Mimics or Endless Ones represents 4-6 mana all in the neat little package of one land drop, not even counting the interaction with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth that allows Eye to actually produce three mana for an Eldrazi. That’s simply playing a different game than the other decks have access to.

I’ll just let PV handle this one

That pretty much nails it. There’s nothing wrong with explosive starts; after all, decks like Goblins can kill as early as Turn 3, but that explosiveness is supposed to come with a tradeoff. Fast starts are often punished by weak lategames — there’s nothing as bad as drawing Llanowar Elves or Frenzied Goblin off the top when you really need a card that does something powerful.

Eye not only dodges this problem; it completely inverts it. Not only do Eldrazi players root for an Eye of Ugin in their opening hand, they root to either draw it on Turn 8 if they don’t have one, or to draw the lands that allow them to activate. It gets the best of both worlds in a way that no other deck in Modern does, and that’s a role that nothing but Eye of Ugin can fill. When a card simultaneously allows access to both the most explosive starts and the most conisistent lategame, we have a problem.

Banning Eye helps Control emerge

This may one of the more contentious points I’ll make in this article, but it’s one I truly believe after playing thousands of matches of Modern over the last few years.

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Eye of Ugin is a big part of the reason traditional control decks don’t exist.

I know people like to point to the absence of Force of Will and Counterspell — and the lack of Force especially does have an impact — but it’s one that can be handled. Mana Leak and Remand aren’t Counterspell, but they aren’t bad, either. We have seen, at times, control decks like Jeskai or traditional white-blue pop up and have success, but those times are few and far between.

Remand

A major reason? Eye of Ugin takes the traditional domain of the Control deck — the late game — and gives that power to the Eye player. Eldrazi decks can spam out huge amounts of power early in the game thanks to Eye – that’s something Control can plan for. Eye can provide a stream consistent threats late game – that’s something Control can plan for.

But it can’t plan for both. And you can’t build a Control deck that can reliably beat a Turn 3 Karn Liberated while also beating neverending Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or an untouchable Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in the late game.

Yes, I’m talking about Tron. A lot of people have pointed to its use of Eye of Ugin as a reason Eye won’t be banned, but the truth is Tron’s use of Eye of Ugin has been suppressing Control in deckbuilding for a very long time. The fact that the Turn 3 Karn deck will have a worse lategame after an Eye of Ugin banning is a feature, not a bug.

They Always ban the Engine

They banned Birthing Pod, not Kitchen Finks. They banned Second Sunrise, not one of the eggs. They banned Cloudpost, not Emrakul or Vesuva. They banned Hypergenesis, not Violent Outburst. They banned Splinter Twin, not Deceiver Exarch. They banned Stoneforge Mystic, not Batterskull.

I could take the analogy back to other formats, and the trend would continue. They always ban the engine that makes a “broken” deck run, not a cog in that engine. While you could ban Eldrazi Mimic or Thought-Knot Seer, those are simply the beneficiaries of the engine that is Eye of Ugin.

What it Won’t Be

I hope you’ll agree I’ve made the case why Eye of Ugin specifically should be banned, not simply claimed it was the only option. Of course, other people feel that something else should go, name Eldrazi Temple or even something else. I want to touch briefly on these other options.

Eldrazi Temple

This is the big one people have claimed should go before Eye. After all, Eye loses its wielder some games if too many are drawn, and doesn’t help cast big threats as much as multiple Eldrazi Temple do.

While this would certainly power down the deck quite a bit — possibly even moreso than an Eye of Ugin banning — I don’t believe this is the correct answer, and it goes back to the bit on the “health” of a given card. Yes, Temple may be powerful in the Eldrazi decks, but is also more healthy than Eye.

Image

Think about it. Eye of Ugin has this huge variance attached to it; sometimes it creates six mana on Turn 1, and sometimes it loses games when you draw multiples. If Temple is banned — which may or may not be enough to “kill” the deck, which is beside the point anyway — the Eldraiz decks will become even more dependent on that Eye of Ugin variance, just hoping to draw the perfect opening hands all day long and being heavily rewarded when they do so and heavily punished when they don’t.

Contrast this with Eldrazi Temple. It does the exact same thing every time it is cast, and will never make more than two mana the turn it is played. This increases interaction, since things like Ghost Quarter actually can interact with the times where the card would represent more than two mana over the course of the game. Eye of Ugin, on the other hand, can come down on Turn 1 and immediately spew out 4-6 mana worth of creatures before the opponent can interact. Decks can plan around Eldrazi Temple and its one-mana boost to Eldrazi, whereas it’s much more difficult to plan for a deck that sometimes makes 4-6 mana on the first turn. The goal of any healthy format is meaningful interaction, and Eldrazi Temple encourages that interaction over several turns. Eye of Ugin does not.

Anything else

Banning Eldrazi Mimic or Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher to hurt Eldrazi is like banning Boros Garrison to hurt Amulet Bloom: it may work to lower the power level, but it doesn’t address the root problem (For those who don’t realize it, Amulet Bloom can’t have its nut Slayers’ Stronghold combo without Boros Garrison). Why treat the symptoms instead of the disease?

Thought-Knot Seer

From a larger game design standpoint, making decisions like this actually sets a dangerous precedent. What happens when you ban one of the peripheral pieces to lower the power level of a deck (say, Deceiver Exarch), and then the deck finds a way to fill the hole and picks up right back where it left off? While this won’t happen every time if you take this approach, it will happen some of the time, and then Wizards is in the unenviable position of having to go back and try again to fix the problem. Imagine if Exarch had been banned but Twin simply adapted to play Bounding Krasis and kept plugging right along? Given their goals with that banning, Wizards would have had to go back and ban another piece, or possibly Splinter Twin itself. And if Splinter Twin eventually ends up on the banlist, why does Deceiver Exarch belong there? Do they then unban Exarch?

That’s a lot of uncertainty that undermines consumer confidence, and is entirely avoidable simply by peeling the band-aid off at once and getting it over with. It’s also why they banned Dig Through Time alongside Treasure Cruise. Sure, most Modern decks weren’t exactly jamming Dig very much, but what if they just replaced Cruise with Dig after the ban and kept warping the format? Then you have players who thought the bannings were over with get punished a second time around when Wizards makes another run back at the deck.

That’s why you’re not going to see them tip-toe around with this one. The Eldrazi decks needs to be trimmed, and Eye of Ugin and possibly Eldrazi Temple alongside it are going to banned to do that.

And then the Modern world opens wide for us to explore.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter/Twitch/Youtube

 

MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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Five Shadows over Innistrad cards to get excited for

It’s that time again, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since Oath of the Gatewatch, does it? Just yesterday, we were gushing about the new Eldrazi cards and going wild over the broken state they left Modern in, a problem I fully expect to be remedied with a banlist update next week.

Okay, with that in mind maybe Oath of the Gatewatch, while hugely impactful on Magic’s history, wasn’t actually that great.

Luckily, Shadows over Innistrad is.

This set looks poised to deliver in a way that Battle for Zendikar and to a lesser extent Oath of the Gatewatch did not. While the BFZ draft format was fun (and got much better with Oath), the block itself didn’t blow everyone away in the traditional sense.

Still, the introduction of the “sixth color,” or in reality colorless mana, was a touchstone moment in Magic’s history, and we’re going to see the repercussions of it for years to come. Whether it’s with a return of Eldrazi or something else, or maybe just making colorless evergreen, Oath will forever change the future of Magic thanks to that step.

Which brings us to Shadows over Innistrad, which must follow up on that set. And while it’s  not going to be hard to break Modern “less” than Oath did, the truth is Shadows isn’t just living up to the shadow of Eldrazi – it has to live up to the storied history Innistrad brought to the game.

Namely, that means an incredible Limited format — certainly one of my personal top three since I started in 2009, and for many a top three overall — as well as a pretty diverse Standard meta that despite the crazy powerful cards in Liliana of the Veil and Delver of Secrets was actually fairly diverse with some fun interactions.

All that said, is there any way Shadows over Innistrad can live up to the hype?

I’m optimistic. Here’s why.

Arlinn Kord

arlinnkordarlinnembracedbythemoon

Werewolves are back, baby!

I know a lot of people didn’t love what Werewolves did to a draft. And having watched the Top 4 of a Team Limited event have to deal with a double-faced card (Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh), I can understand the trepidation. They give away colors, show power picks and generally just kind of mess up a draft environment.

That said, the mechanic works great once you actually sit down to play. The tension between flipping and re-flipping cards in Limited leads to really interesting games, not to mention how it oozes flavor.

Arlinn Kord is one of those. Our first Werewolf planeswalker, this is the most fun you can having flipping walkers since Garruk Relentless. And the power level might even be higher than that format staple version of Garruk. Arlinn hits the battlefield ready to pump a member of your team to really get in there, or comes down after a board wipe to refill your board and create a blocker to protect herself for the flipside.

And the flipside is nuts. Keeping with the aggressive theme, she can get your entire team in there, or play the quintessential midrange game, gunning down an opponent’s creature and then flipping back to make more wolves. This is about everything a midrange deck could want in a planeswalker, and it happens to come with an ultimate that can end the game when needed.

Olivia, Mobilized for War

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Speaking of attacking, very few cards enable that as well as our new, slimmed-down Olivia Voldaren. Whereas the original Olivia was a powerful late-game card that took over by itself, new Olivia brings her friends to the party and makes sure they’re ready to rumble.

Not only does she turn excess lands into haste and pumps — a pretty great way to mitigate flood in aggressive decks — but the real benefit comes from this being an incredible Madness enabler. While some of the other Madness enablers we’ve seen require a mana cost to use, Olivia simply asks that you cast a creature anywhere on your curve. This means you can tailor the cards you’re casting to the cards you’re pitching to Madness, and that means the value is undeniable. Whether it’s a sweet creature like Asylum Visitor or “just” a removal spell like Fiery Temper (and let’s be honest, it’s gonna be Fiery Temper), Olivia does exactly what you want a 3-drop to do.

And, hey, Vampires.

Relentless Dead

relentlessdead

One of my favorite things about the original Innistrad was the tribal theme. I’m really glad they kept that around for our return to the plane, because the fact that there was just enough payoff in Draft to go mono-spirits or werewolves added a lot of fun to that format. After all, linear decks are usually fun to build and play — not to mention they are a great guidepost for newer players — but when they’re simply another deck rather than all the decks like in Lorwyn block, it adds a nice touch to Limited.

In Constructed, I certainly had fun playing Werewolves tribal because Full Moon’s Rise was awesome and Immerwolf was absurd, but the rest of the tribes had more success than my FNM deck. Namely, Spirits and Zombies did well, and Zombies in particular was a great deck to have in Standard because it was just so flavorful.

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I know not everyone cards about flavor, but I think Magic is in a great place if the think the Zombie deck does is exactly what the average person would answer if you asked them what a Zombie deck should do. Diregraf Captain was a boss, and with Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger the zombies just never stayed dead.

Relentless Dead is the perfect continuation of that. Not only does it reference the art of Endless Ranks of the Dead in an awesome throwback, but it’s a great card on its own. It’s a good 2-drop that’s hard to block and keeps the pressure coming, but it’s also an incredible insurance plan against board wipes or, you know, combat in general. This time around, the dead aren’t just endless — they’re relentless as well.

Drownyard Temple and Warped Landscape

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DrownyardTemple

These aren’t the most flashy cards in the set, but I truly believe they’re some of the better designed ones. It shows that even after nearly 25 years of making lands, Wizards can still deliver new designs that make for fun gameplay.

The beauty is in the simplicity. Look at Landscape; it seems incredibly similar to lands we’ve had in the past (Panoramas), and the design is so simple it seems almost surprising it hasn’t existed before. But somehow here we are, with a new land that will not only be an important Limited pick and a great card for new players to fix their mana inexpensively, but something that takes on a whole new light in the wake of Oath of the Gatewatch. All that wrapped in a simple package we’ll be taking for granted in two months’ time.

Temple is more exciting on its surface, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper. Again, it’s a novel effect we’ve only even come close to with Dakmor Salvage, but Temple’s simple design opens up all kinds of room. Will the Modern Life from the Loam deck want it? What ways can we make use of sacrificing lands? Is there a better feeling than sacrificing this to Titania or Dust Bowl? While those last two may only feel good for one side of the interaction, the fact this card has me asking these questions for the first time 20+ years into Magic’s existence has me excited for the possibilities.

Triskaidekaphobia

triskaidekaphobia

First thing I thought when I looked at this card: “What the hell?”

Second thing I thought looking at this card: “What the hell, why not?”

It almost seems like a card that should exist in the next Un-set. But instead here it is in its 13 fully bloody shades of glory. It’s true “gimmick” cards like this can cause the community to divide sharply. But truth is these are incredibly exciting to a portion of our community. I figure people who don’t like it can ignore it and move on. At least, they should live with it, because it’s just so darn fun.

It’s probably not even “good” in the traditional sense of Standard power level. With painlands in the format, not to mention the duality of its effect – this won’t be winning any Grand Prix or PT Top 8s anytime soon. But you better believe someone is going to die to it at FNM. And you better believe the wielder of 13 will remember that story forever.

More than that, this card exemplifies all that’s right with top-down design. It’s fun, incredibly flavorful, and every single piece of this card just works. Thirteen bricks, 13 blood stains, 13 words in the lines, 13 logs, etc.

Hell, there’s even 13 words in each sentence preceding this in this section. Spooky.

It goes on and on, and this is sure to be a fan favorite for years to come. And while Triskaidekaphobia will undoubtedly take the title of both “most flavorful” and “most unpronounceable,” it’s just the tip of the 13-sided iceberg when it comes to flavorful cards in Shadows over Innistrad. From Thing in the Ice to Startled Awake to Relentless Dead to Shard of Broken Glass to Sinister Concoction, to the Escape Rooms at the Triple-Grand Prix weekend, to the Avacyn reveal in Detroit with the wonderful Christine Sprankle cosplaying, the ties between flavor and gameplay have never been stronger.

We’re slowing unraveling the pages of this mystery as we investigate further. It’s going to culminate with the reveal of who the Shadow is on Innistrad (Emrakul? Marit Lage?) and then we’re going to fully immerse ourselves in the twisted world of Innistrad.

I can’t wait.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter/Twitch/YouTube

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PROTRADER: Shadows over Innistrad Rotation Review

I talked a lot last week about Rotation for Standard and how it is going to affect player interest in our most short-lived format. I also covered the cards from Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins that I thought fit well in this new world and evaluated their financial upside.

This week I’m going to complete that analysis — this time with Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch — to take us live into the new (and mad) world of Standard!

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PROTRADER: Looking to Standard Rotation – Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins

My interest in Standard is usually very fleeting. When I’m covering a Standard event, I get pretty deep into it. I know the decks, I know the pilots and designers, I know the strategies. Then a few months will go by without me covering a Standard tournament, and I’ll gradually lose interest and track of the format. Coupled with the fact my Friday Night Magic is Draft instead of Standard, it means my connection with Standard is tenuous at best most of the time.

Except.

Except at Rotation, that is.

That’s where we’re at now, or at least heading up on it. Previews are coming fast and furious — not to mention in some pretty incredibly awesome ways — and we’re quickly getting ready to depart pre-Sarkhan-meddling Tarkir (the Dragons will be sticking around). That means the fetch lands are going away. Gone is Siege Rhino. Mantis Rider is no more. We won’t be cruising or digging through time any more, nor will we be dashing any Kolaghans.

siegerhino

I love Rotation. It’s a time of unbridled creativity for deckbuilders, and as much as I enjoy writing finance and coverage, the truth is I like to play a little Magic too. In truth, I actually play quite a bit. While I’ll leave the Grinder Finance to Jim since I’m rarely ever to play in big tournaments anymore thanks to doing coverage at them, I spend a lot of time playing in several tournaments a week at home, and I play a good deal of Magic Online.

My favorite format to brew in is Modern, and I’ve had a fair amount of success doing so. Obviously Merfolk is the deck most people associate with me, and I’ve done a lot of work over the years to help shape it into its current beautiful form. But I’m constantly brewing up other decks as well, and while I’m not sure I had anything to do with it I was streaming Flagstones of Trokair – Boom/Bust for a week before they spiked.

Anyway, I won’t bore you further with my exploits, other than to say I enjoy Rotation for the same reasons. It makes Standard new and exciting, and often times more fun.

It also brings with it financial opportunities. It’s those that I’ll be exploring today.

The Future of Standard

Honestly, I feel like a lot of post-Rotation decks will be heavily based in Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins unless Shadows over Innistrad just blows it out of the water (which is certainly possible). But take, for example, this Jeskai Dragons deck that Top 8’ed the Star City Games event two weeks ago. Outside of the mana base, which will adjust for all decks, only nine(!) cards rotate from the maindeck, and some of those are fairly easily replaceable with cards from Magic Origins or newer sets. The Dragonlords themselves are all still very powerful, and Thunderbreak Regent and Draconic Roar isn’t getting any worse.

Thunderbreak Regent

It’s not the only deck in this position – the Bant Company deck that won that event has only some fetch lands and a pair of Wingmate Roc rotating out. In many ways, we’re already living in the future.

So what opportunities does this present financially?

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