When Knights Were Boldyore
/yɔr, yoʊr/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [yawr, yohr]
–noun 1. Chiefly Literary. time past: knights of yore. –adverb 2. Obsolete. of old; long ago.
bef. 900; ME; OE geāra
Remember when a Serra Angel was the shizzle?
Most of you certainly don't; it was long ago and far away, the world was younger than today, and, well, for one thing, nobody back then had even heard of the word 'shizzle'.
But it's true, once upon a time, a Serra Angel was the very shizzle itself, and a Serra Angel with a Blue Ward on it... glorious day, glorious day, it was a combo to be dreamed of, because, yeah, that creep across the table from you could still Terror your wonderful no-Tap attacker, yes he could, and certainly he could Fireball or Disintegrate or Drain Life her if he had the mana (although your Angel was, pleasantly and thankfully, out of Lightning Bolt range, a distinction that, back in the day, really used to mean something) and he could even Plowshares her, but here's what he couldn't do -- he couldn't Unsummon her, and, most importantly, he couldn't Control Magic her.
9 out of 10 of you are reading this with a look of utter bewilderment (perhaps mixed with no little contempt) on your faces; you have no idea what the hell I'm writing about and furthermore, you just don't care. But the tenth, maybe, whoever the tenth reader is, maybe he or she is now remembering the insane pain of finally getting out that second white mana, tapping five lands (or three and a Sol Ring, or two Plains and a Basalt Monolith, or, just to show off a little, maybe even a Mox or two, you never know), slapping that Serra down on the table with a triumphant little grunt... and then looking with trepidation over at your opponent, who didn't appear to be worried. And why should he or she be worried? This was long before anyone had ever heard of Haste, so your Serra was nothing but a blocker for the first round, and then, on your opponent's next turn, he or she naturally tapped two blue and two colorless, chuckled evilly, slapped down his or her Control Magic, crooked his or her finger at your poor hapless innocent Serra Angel, and said "She is for me, James T. Kirk".
(Okay, none of your opponents ever said that because none of them are as geeky as I am, but you know what I mean.)
And the really tragic thing? Back then there were only three possible solutions to the situation: an Unsummon, a Disenchant, or a Tranquility.
So a Serra Angel -- the only creature in the game that could attack without tapping, a big flying 4/4 and, say hey and by the way, the only Angel in the game, too, can you dig that? -- was the very spiff, yes she was, but a Serra Angel with a Blue Ward... that was the bomb diggity.
Those days are dust and less than dust now, of course. I've lost track of how many creatures there are with Vigilance now, and it hardly matters, because at this point if you really want your creature to attack without tapping, you just stick a Vigilance on it. Stick a Vigilance on your Gate Hound and ALL your creatures can do it.
We've lost so much.
Nowadays, throw out a Serra Angel at your local card shop and the most common response (unless you're playing a geezer-mage, like me) is "What the heck is THAT?" And they'll pick it up, and they'll turn it around, and they'll scrutinize it from every direction, and then they'll toss it back down with a little sniff and say something like "A 4/4 Flyer with Vigilance? Is that all?"
And it's not much, I sorrowfully admit... not compared to some of the Angels flapping around the Magical ether nowadays.
Platinum Angel? What @#!!&$! brain trust came up with that... er... interesting... card, anyway?
I'm not blind, though, even in my nostalgia. Magic was broken in my day and had to be fixed. Interestingly, of course, Magic is still broken right now and still has to be fixed... but I grant you, over the past near two decades, the rules-mongers at WOTC have done an excellent job fixing nearly everything that was broken back when I had yet to see my first grey hair. Fast mana is pretty much gone now... by which I mean, you're not going to find any in Standard or Extended formats. WOTC has been absolutely meticulous in getting rid of everything that might give you a fast start... Dark Rituals, Sol Rings, Moxes, dual mana... it's all gone, replaced by stuff that does the same thing, but that costs more than you get back out of it, or comes into play tapped, or something else meant to make sure you aren't going to nuke your opponent into radioactive fragments on your first turn.
Which I don't mind. First round nukings always suck. I'm happy that they are mostly a thing of the past now. I miss my Sol Rings... hell, I miss my Moxes, and my one, beat to hell Black Lotus that was so worn down I never dared to shuffle it, just kept it in a sleeve so I could show people I really had one when I played the proxy... but I really do prefer to play in an environment where a game takes just a little bit longer to develop before some snotty 12 year old taps 4 mana and makes me draw 117 cards, or hits me with a 22/22 Trample creature. Or something.
And because I like slower developing games, and always have, I like SHARDS OF ALARA.
I know, I know, many people don't. (Or so I gather from what I read on the 'net and hear down at the shop when I wander in for a game.) And mostly, the complaint seems to be that it's much too slow, that it takes too long, that there isn't enough direct damage, that there aren't enough counterspells or control effects or Unsummons, that there isn't enough land destruction, that the only really effective SHARDS decks rely entirely too much on creatures, and creature decks are so boring, etc, etc, etc.
I like SHARDS for all those reasons. I don't need much permanent destruction; a couple of Naturalizes work fine for me. I love the multicolored creatures and lands and artifacts, I adore all the mana fixing, and I really REALLY like the fact that you can kill my creatures all you want, but they'll probably be back (Unearth) and when they go out, they could make something else bigger (the Algae creatures).
And I really love the fact that one of the Shards is a great big creature Shard! That's REALLY cool.
So I love SHARDS, for all the reasons most people seem to hate it. And I can't wait for CONFLUX.
But the biggest reason I love SHARDS is very simple --
It isn't goddam LORWYN.
I cannot tell you how much I hate, loath, despise, detest, abhor, abominate, scorn, and disdain LORWYN. And it's not because of the card design (although Hideaway pretty much bit the big one) because, like SHARDS, it was a block of cards filled with interesting tactics that built slowly into fun strategies mostly based around permanents interacting in intruiging ways, which is the stuff I like best in Magic. And I've always loved to build tribal decks even before people called them tribal decks, so LORWYN should have worked pretty well for me there, too.
And there are some damn fine cards in the LORWYN block, cards I'm happy to have, cards like all the Planeswalkers, and the various Commands, and Sage of Fables, and Battle Mastery.
Yet, overall I despised LORWYN and could not wait for it to be over (and just when I thought it must be over, WOTC rolled out a fourth LORWYN set to really aggravate me). And why did I hate it so much?
Two reasons. The art, and the miserable wretched no good lousy hateful disgusting despicable rotten horrifyingly filthy Hobbi -- er, Kithkin.
I abhor Kithkin. Why? Because they STINK, that's why. Because they bite, lick, and chew. Because they're dorky little midget freaks who gnaw on your kneecaps in battle, THAT's why. They're stupid looking and have moronic names and they're really short and they use table knives instead of swords and they have big ears and flat heads and what have they got in their nasty little pocketses anyway?... and in FOUR FREAKIN' SETS OF TRIBAL CARDS we didn't get so much as ONE STINKING SPELL to make all the little vermin explode.
Just one spell. Something like "Massive Kithkin Explosion" or "Kithkin Extinction Event". Make it cost eighteen mana, and make it be a Sorcery I can only cast on alternate Tuesdays when there are no Enchantments or Artifacts or non basic Land in play and a guy named Bruce is visiting my upstairs neighbor. I don't care. Make it a gold. Make it a mythic rare. It doesn't matter, I'll buy 20 on Ebay. As long as it's something like "All Kithkin in play are removed from the game and their controllers take 2 damage per Kithkin removed in this way plus you may kick them over and over and over again in the kidneys while they writhe in agony on the linoleum" I'll be happy. More than happy. Delirious. Ecstatic. Capering like a dwarf, chortling and chortling. Oh, all the Kithkin exPLOded! Oh that's so deLIGHTful! Do it again, do it AGAIN!
Leaving aside Kithkin -- which is all but impossible as they're just so insanely horrifyingly aggravatingly mind bogglingly awful, but, still, doing our best to move on for the moment -- nearly everything in the LORWYN block looked really, really stupid. Changelings could have been cool, if, you know, anything at all about them had been cool, but, especially, if there hadn't been some global mandate handed down from WOTC to their artists to make all Changelings looks as dopey as possible. I'm serious, I'm sure the word 'dopey' was in the actual memo. Capitalized. As in "make them all look like the Disney Dwarf of that name".
But new creature types are always chancy; I give WOTC credit for continually taking shots, even after past godawful flops like Thallids and Saprolings and Thrulls and whatever those appalling Blue shellfish things were. They took a lot of shots at new creatures in LORWYN and, yes, pretty much all of them sucked steaming piles, and it was especially sad when new creatures that really should have been cool, like Scarecrows, refused to do anything but sit in the corner and whimper miserably at their own absysmal suckitude (unless you managed to get 4 Reaper Kings, in which case, fill a deck with really cheap other Scarecrows and 4 Fabricates and then just BLOW STUFF UP! WHEEEEEEEE!!!!). But a crapload of original creatures who are all sucktastical isn't a mortal blow for an expansion. As long as an expansion gives props to the classic creatures of yore, it can still work fine.
And here, I have to say, LORWYN did give some props. Merfolk, Giants, and especially Fairies rocked hard once LORWYN came out... and yet, still, there was the Dopey Memorandum that must have gone around to all the LORWYN artists, commanding, nay, demanding that every creature in a LORWYN set look like, you know, the Disney Dwarf who has no beard, and fewer braincells. Merfolk looked... freaky. Giants looked... goofy. Fairies came closest to looking cool, but even they couldn't quite get all the way there.
And then there was the ongoing horror, the insufferable insidious vileness, that LORWYN inflicted on Goblins.
Boggarts. I mean, excuse me, WOTC, put down the SANDMAN trade paperback and the crack pipe and back away slowly. BOGGARTS? That enormous sucking sound you hear is, well, the sound of all those poor LORWYN goblins sucking and sucking and sucking.
It's not that some of them weren't cool, conceptually. And it's not that there haven't been lame-o loser Goblins before this. But never in MTG history has there been an entire block of expansions in which Goblins all had such stupid frickin names (Squeaking Pie Grubfellows? Bring me the head of the card designer who came up with THAT name, right NOW) and all looked so uniformly retarded.
I grant you, Quill Slinger Boggarts nearly saved LORWYN all by themselves, and if only WOTC had given every Boggart the Quill Slinger's power as a standard tribal ability, the whole block could have turned itself around. But they didn't.
Yes, LORWYN gave us evil black elves and nasty black treefolk and that was very nearly cool enough, especially along with the nifty new Merfolk and sweet new Fairies and awesome new Giants, lousy art or no lousy art. (Balancing that, the white elves were boring and the white giants were just plain straight out disturbing. Cloudgoat Ranger? WTF? What exactly are those Kithkin doing with that Giant to make him fly, anyway?) Yet it was all in vain, all for naught, all a terrible, horrible waste.
Because of Kithkin.
Of course, future sets could still redeem LORWYN. All it will take is one Predatory creature with "Devour Kithkin/Boggart: When this creature comes into play, sacrifice any number of Kithkin or Boggarts, or remove from play any number of Kithkin or Boggarts you do not control".
That would be cool. And reduce Kithkin to what they should always have been -- fodder.