Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Study as a Virtue

I've been looking over Theros since it's been spoiled, trying to dig up the positives in a set I'm not seeing much value in. Oh sure, the obvious values are there; Planeswalkers are good, gods are good, multicolored stuff will be helpful etc. Everybody knows this. But the part that intrigues me is always the unsolved problem one: what is good that people underestimate or insist is bad?

I don't think there's much to underestimate in Theros and all the stuff that is bad is...bad. Aggro as an archetype is non-existent, which is fine because removal doesn't kick in until turn 4 at best. Everyone is predicting 7+ turn games and assuming Scry will let them hit the lands they need. With Scry being on about 20 of 229 cards, 13 at common, I think they might be overestimating how useful Scry will be. That doesn't mean it won't be helpful but to really make consistent decks I believe it would need to be available in higher numbers. So once again: slower format, grindy games.

It's disappointing to see so many plain-jane cards here. Thematically they're wonderful but mechanically they don't add anything to the game or explore the space in an interesting or dynamic way. 

That doesn't mean there isn't any fun to be had. One neat little theme I've noticed are the cycle of spells that target up to two creatures-Dauntless Onslaught, Triton Tactics, etc. They did this in Urza's Saga too, with Rack and Ruin, Symbiosis, etc. They also had cycles of 'growing' enchantments, similar to the Boons of Theros but as global enchantments, such as Recantation or Discordant Dirge.

I hope that these callbacks were on purpose. I realize they may not mean much to newer players but to me it demonstrates that WotC still values its history. Urza's block was a pretty dark time for the game because of the insane Blue combo decks that were powered by broken artifacts, despite being the enchantment block. What that means is that there is a whole host of overlooked ideas from that block that can be given legs again with modern design knowledge. When I see connections like Cutthroat Maneuver and Symbiosis, I feel a bit more confident about the future. I may not like this set but it's possbile that there will be cool things to uncover in block. 

It's also possible that this set starts things off very slowly, with an improving draft and sealed format coming up as we go. I hadn't considered that until recently but one way to generate some excitement for the third set in a block (one that historically WotC has generally seen decreased sales numbers on) might be to really add in more balance in the form of removal, aggressive creatures, and spell or permanent interactions in those sets, creating something more dynamic as time goes on.

Let's call me cautiously optimistic.

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