Looking Back At Scars Block

Looking Back At Scars Block

So it’s come to this, the end of the latest story-telling experiment from WotC. Mirrodin has been laid to waste, Phyrexia has sprung anew within it’s metal shell. The old has been corrupted, the corrupted have been renewed, the cycle continues.

I worked with Russell Tassicker on a review of Mirrodin Besieged for Gatheringmagic.com a while back and thought I’d revisit the Block as a whole now that the story has been told.

Flavourwise, I think the block has been superb. It’s interesting to note that New Phyrexia was originally intended as the first set of the block, the war with Mirrodin already having been won. It became clear within WotC, however, telling the back-story might be as compelling as what comes next. A quick review on some of the story arcs within the block, as told by the cards themselves.

The first set, Scars of Mirrodin, was 80% Mirrodin to 20% Phyrexian cards. This smart technique allowed for Scars to have a plenitude of light, bright artworks, with the “gloom” largely contained to the black cards of the set.

The overtones of the coming disaster were there, however. In retrospect, the end was obvious from the beginning. The oncoming army was bigger, badder, and better equiped. Why was the outcome ever really in doubt?

Scars introduced the new “heroes” of the set, the returned Elspeth, plus Koth and Venser, printed as a planeswalker for the first time.

Scars introduced three mechanics; metalcraft, infect and proliferate. Metalcraft was supposed to harken back to the “artifacts matter” days of affinity but never really hit home. It was always going to be weaker than metalcraft, the quest was simply “how much”. Proliferate is a great mechanic that actually aligns nicely with many of the older Mirrodin mechanics (such as Sunburst and Modular). Infect was the mechanic that most divided the player population. I guess I’m not a big fan, but Mark Rosewater so badly wanted to make poison work. Even though I’m not hot on it, I think mashing together Poison and Wither was the right way to go. It feels like that’s how it’s supposed to work, and I liked the sense that Phyrexia was “getting into the blood” of opponents and couldn’t be removed – yet another hint that Phyrexia was always going to win.

Besieged used a much darker palette than in Scars and split the factions 50:50. Most of the lighter tones were reserved for Red, but beyond that the mood had turned. The war was in full force. Flavourwise, the use of the “Zenith”-cycle was great as it evoked that time when the war could go either way – the Mirran’s were at their peak, but so was the onslaught of the Phyrexians.

In the article I wrote with Russ we spend a fair amount of time discussing the mirroring within the original Mirrodin, and the mirroring within Scars block. WotC used the return of original Mirrodin cards in Infected form to signify just how far the corruption of Mirrodin had progressed. Nothing was going to be the same after this.

Beseiged used mirroring everywhere. In the artwork:

And in the cycles:

And the even heroes of old Mirrodin:

One hero was noticebly abscent, in Scars, Karn. While the Phyrexian Praetors appeared in the flavour text, Karn appeared no-where. In Beseiged, Karn started to make appearences, and he didn’t look in that great of a shape.

Scars brought a new mechanic to the table, Living Weapon. It mirrored the fact that the original Mirrodin introduced Equipment to Magic for the first time. Now it introduced the next evolution of equipment. I liked the mechanic, and the Germ token related to the “biological warfare” theme nicely. It wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t strictly fair either, a nice power balance.

One more planeswalker arrived in Besieged, Tezzeret. It made a lot of sense, bringing the artifact-attuned planeswalker to Mirrodin and I don’t think he disappointed. In regards to signaling, this arrival of this Esper-based planeswalker should of been all the hint people needed that there would be coloured artifacts in New Phyrexia.

Oh, New Phyrexia. How the world has changed. The Mirrans have lost, but the Phyrexians have lost as well. No longer are they the Borg, one evil entity with one resolute cause. Now they are factionalised, as splintered as their hosts, the Mirrans, each faction run by an opposing Praetor.

Metalcraft was almost gone, but so was Infect, also fractured into all five colours. The biggest new features was the introduction of Phyrexian mana; basically the ability to pay life instead of mana costs. This has always been a very Phyexian thing to do, pay life for benefit. Think Phyrexian Arena, as a good example. But this was taking it to a whole new level.

We also achieved the return of Karn.

Karn’s name is double sided. Has he been liberated from the Mirrans or from the Phyrexians? Does it matter anymore, now they are essentially one and the same? I always thought the Mirrans would lose, but wondered if Mirrodin Pure wasn’t an even more psychologically devastating name than New Phyrexia once the Phyrexians had won. Mirrodin, now pure because we’d got rid of all the Mirrans.

It was nice to see some unfinished cycles completed…

…how the landscape changed as the war progressed….

… and how the pure became corrupted.

The return of the Mirari was a nice touch.

And we finally got to see those praetors we’d heard so much about.

A nice touch was that Urabrask the Hidden wasn’t quoted on any flavour text. Because he was, you know, hidden.

The artwork also held together the stories of the planewalkers nicely.

Leaving the story lines of both Venser and Tezzeret up in the air just enough to keep the audience – well me at least – interested in what’s going to happen next.

So here are a few predictions.

1. Metalcraft was a miss and we won’t be seeing it again. The dumbed down version of Affinity really make anyone happy and will eventually be long forgotten.

2. Infect was, sad to say it, a fine form of execution for poison and will be seen again. It’s a linear mechanic that’s worthy of a revisit. My guess is that when Phyrexia invades the next plane a few infect creatures will come along with it, at least for the first set, but not nearly as many as invaded Mirrodin.

3. Proliferate was a hit and will return. It’s a great mechanic and 14 cards is just not worthy of how fun it is.

4. Living Weapon was good but unlikely to return any time soon. It fit the theme and flavour of Scars block, but might not fit anywhere else. Maybe one or two cards in the next “Phrexia invades” themed block.

5. All the planeswalkers will return in some form or another. At some stage. Eventually. I think “Karn, Herald of Phyrexia” or some-such would be a great start to the next Phyrexian block. Or possibly at the end of the block, “Karn, Destroyer of Worlds”. Whatever floats WotC’s boat.

6. Phyrexian Mana will return. It’s great, high impact, high flavour, and a ton of fun to play with and around. It’s clearly not been fully explored and deserves a set of its own.

Overall the set has been a success. Now you can observe just how the Phyrexians conquer worlds. Here’s the story in card form.

Mirrodin is dead. Long live Mirrodin, in the heart of the New Phyrexians.

Thinking About Fifth Dawn

Thinking About Fifth Dawn

A while ago I worked with Russell Tassicker to write a review of Mirrodin Besieged. In that review we noted some of the mirroring that takes place in Scars of Mirrodin and Mirrodin Besieged. With the third set, “Action”, just around the corner, and with mirroring such a strong theme, I thought it might be interesting to see what’s already been mirrored in Fifth Dawn in the new Mirrodin sets thus far, and what is still left to go.

Here’s what we’ve already seen from Fifth Dawn mirrored in SOM/MBS:

* Auriok Champion – Mirrored by Mirran Crusader
* The Beacon Cycle – Mirrored by the Zenith Cycle
* Chimeric Coils – Mirrored by Chimeric Mass
* Energy Chamber – Mirrored by Vedalken Infuser
* Engineered Explosives – Mirrored by Ratchet Bomb
* Ensouled Scimitar, Kaldera cards – Mirrored by “Living Weapons”
* Fist of Suns – Mirrored by Sphere of the Suns
* Grafted Wargear – Mirrored by Grafted Exoskeleton
* Razormane Masticore – Mirrored by Lava-Tail Masticore
* Summoner’s Egg – Mirrored by Clone Shell
* Trinket Mage – Mirrored by Treasure Mage
* Vedalken Orrery – Mirrored by Shimmer Myr

Now, we’ve already seen spoilers for the upcoming Praetor Cycle. The Praetors, I would argue, are the “Action” mirrors for the Bringers Cycle in Fifth Dawn, though instead of Bringing … whatever it was they brought in Fifth Dawn, the Praetors are trying to bring in New Phyrexia.

There are still a whole bunch of interesting options from Fifth Dawn available for mirroring. Here are some of my picks of old cards that could do with a new brush:

* Crucible of Worlds – An oldy but a goodie, with Fetches back in Standard a Crucible derivative could prove an interesting land-advantage engine. An inverse version would be cool – either destroying a land each turn, or preventing cards from graveyards from being played.

* Door to Nothingness – We haven’t seen a lot of “I Win” cards of late. Maybe Blightsteel Colossus is our new Door To Nothingness. However the flavour is very Phyrexian, considering they like to kill you with Portals.

* Doubling Cube – Considering the large number of X spells in Standard a mana-accelerator like this is due. Someone, somewhere wants to be able to break Time Reversal and Praetor’s Council.

* Endless Whispers – Another great card with Phyrexian appeal, and infect version of this wouldn’t be hard to pull of. But is an infect version needed? Hardly! An artifact version would be great, and a lot of fun with Glissa in the format.

* Eternal Witness – Gimme gimme gimme. I’d lurve a new Witness, even a 1/1. It’s totally flavourful considering someone has to document how the war goes down. Gimme. Gimme gimme gimme.

* The Station Cycle – Yes, we’ve have the Golem Foundry and Titan Forge, but these haven’t had the appeal of the Cycle. With the war-machine in full swing, a return to the Stations in earnest would be great.

* Magma Jet – Burn! Burn the impure! Well, not quite. But more flexible burn is great. We have yet to see burn + proliferate, but it can’t be that far behind the rest of the pack (removal with proliferate, counter spell with proliferate, etc).

* Mana Geyser – This one seems to be in order, considering some of the sample artwork for Geosurge. If it’s instant, it’s low mana (2 or less), and it adds enough mana (4 or more), it’ll see play somewhere.

* Skullcage, Staff of Domination & Vedalken Shackles – I really doubt we’ll see reprints of these, but an EDH buff can dream.

I should also note the mechanics in Fifth Dawn were Sunburst, Scry and Entwine. Sunburst is pretty played out, and I don’t see it getting a reprint. We saw Scry in M11, so it’s not unforeseeable that it could be in Action as well, as players would be well versed in how to play it. Then there’s Entwine. A new version of Entwine would be awesome, however unlikely.

So that’s it. No predictions here, not even on which faction will win. But no doubt, with all the mirroring that’s occurring, some old cards will be back in new forms. The only question is, which ones?

In Defense Of Mirrodin Artifact Lands

In Defense Of Mirrodin Artifact Lands

I tweeted this weekend that artifact lands might still crop up in Scars of Mirrodin, when @seanthielman and @Uselessend reminded me that @mtgaaron had declared the artifact lands a ‘mistake’ back in 2004.

Yes, Artifact lands were a mistake. A beautiful, glorious, mistake. Except… Aaron didn’t say they were a mistake. What he said was:

Either printing the lands was a mistake, or printing the other cards once we knew the lands were in place was a mistake. If we had to do it over, something would change.

Or to put it another way, the combination of Affinity and Artifact Lands was a mistake.

In the Scars of Mirrodin spoilers so far, Affinity has not appeared. Instead we have the new artifact-based mechanic, Metalcraft. Like Affinity, Metalcraft gets ‘turned on’ by the presence of artifacts on the field. Unlike Affinity, this does not (thus far) reduce casting costs, but merely adds abilities / bonuses as a result.

When Aaron said, “If we had to do it over, something would change.”, could he have meant the Metalcraft mechanic instead of Affinity, rather than the loss of Artifact lands?

Okay, the thought that Artifact Lands might return is a long shot, almost an impossibility. But they exist, and without affinity around to abuse them, would they be completely overpowered in the new Scars Standard? I doubt it.

For me, Artifact Lands defined the landscape of Mirrodin in all its robotic glory. They conjured the image of a world so alien that the very ground you walked on, the mountains, the forests, the plains, the islands, the swamps themselves were mechanioid, organic and metallic, foreign in their familiarity. It would be a shame not to see them return and help define Mirrodin again.