by Bruce Gray -Casual encounters
Magic is an amazing game. I can think of very few games that allow you to do the sort of things Magic can do. No, I don’t mean cast spells and have minotaurs and dragons do battle. What I have in mind is that you can play a large number of different games, all with the same bunch of cards, and still have it be called Magic. That’s very unique. Think about it…how many different games can you play with Monopoly? Clue? Stratego? These games have 1 way of playing the game…but Magic has a number. In addition, the way to play Magic and what each player is seeking from the game experience differs greatly making the way for countless reasons and ways to play. That is what I love about Magic…every game is fresh, fun, and with a new outcome based on how and why you decide to play.
So, when someone says they play Casual Magic it can be very tricky to pin down how and why people play and this is why there can be a certain amount of disagreement over the cards that are acceptable to play. Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was complaining that he didn’t feel that there was any place in our Casual Magic environment for Planeswalkers. I had heard a similar argument raised a couple of weeks ago on a podcast and paused. I looked at my friend and was really interested in hearing about his thoughts on Planeswalkers.
My friend started making the argument that initially, when Magic was created, there was no need for additional Planeswalkers because the players themselves were serving that role. In fact, he argued, there really isn’t any place for MORE Planeswalkers than the players themselves because they represent something that is not “created” by the player in terms of spells in his library. How can you cast a spell and summon an entirely different person? It doesn’t make sense and it spoils Magic. He continued on in his diatribe by saying that Planeswalkers represent the creep of competitive Magic into the Casual community because everyone wants to play to most powerful cards and many of the Planeswalkers are exactly that. They spoil the fun of the game because they are such powerful cards that they drain the fun from the game and warp the board state for all the other players. You need to either immediately eliminate the Planeswalker or cast one of your own…so fight it…or join it. Needless to say, my friend was clearly the sort of person who was not overly interested in seeing Planeswalkers in our decks.
Now, I admit, I paraphrased somewhat on behalf of my friend…in part for expediencies sake, and partly because he used some rather “colourful” language is his complain, but the crux of the matter is that he clearly feels that Casual Magic is not the place for Planeswalkers. Now, on my end, I feel slightly differently about the state of Planeswalkers and I wanted to share my thoughts with you today.
Fundamentally, I have no issue with playing Planeswalkers in Casual decks or in Casual games in general and I have a number of reasons why. My friend started his argument with the inception of the game back in 1993 to justify why there was no place for Planeswalkers. They didn’t start the game with Planeswalkers…so we don’t need them now. This is an argument founded on the reluctance to change. Human being don’t like change and the older we get the more reticent we are to changing. Think about it…why do you do certain things the way you do? Why do you follow a certain path when you’re out walking the dog? Why do have a “favorite” when you order pizza? Why do you buy the same model of shoes when you need a new pair? Your brain craves things that don’t change and change scares it…so when you change a game like Magic by adding Planeswalkers there are some players who are unwilling to accept this change. So, when I heard this argument from my friend it was clear to me that he didn’t like the change.
Now, some of you will say “Ummm…Planeswalkers have been around for ages…what gives?” but the truth is that they were released in 2007 in Lorwyn which is only 7 years ago. That means for 13 years there were exactly zero Planeswalker cards, so for the bulk of the existence of Magic Planeswalkers just weren’t cards to play with. That makes them, on the whole, relatively new to the scene. Also, add in the idea that many players leave the game and then return to it (much like myself). Now, these returning players, who may not be familiar with Planeswalkers because they didn’t exist when they last played, are suddenly facing this new card type that is a major force to be dealt with in the game. No, I get the argument and understand the feelings of my friend.
However, there is also a part of the brain that craves new experiences and craves to learn. Why do we travel to new places? Why do we try bungee jumping or para-gliding? Why do we try new foods? Our brain, which is scared of too much change craves a certain amount of change and innovation or else it goes stale. My feeling is that Planeswalkers are one of those changes to Casual magic which is healthy for the game and the players involved. Now, like anything, moderation is the key, so integrating some Planeswalkers into your Casual games can be fun and refreshing. Of course, you can always go back to playing games without them…that isn’t a issue…but trying something kind of new and different for you is positive, so I feel like Planeswalkers can survive that ordeal and still be played.
The second half of his argument is essentially that Planeswalkers are too powerful. Essentially in Casual Magic there is a “Social Contract” and that Planeswalkers violate this contract. Now, by “social contract” I mean there are a number of nebulous rules about how to play the game in order to make the game experience fun for everyone. You hear about this most often with EDH, but the same sort of thing applies to Casual Magic. In essence, you don’t want to play cards that are so powerful that they spoil the experience for others, or play in such a way as to spoil the game for others. This means no rough combos, no “broken” cards, and no Planeswalkers.
Ok, so that can work depending on your playgroup, but I always respond to this sort of argument like this: What’s fundamentally wrong with letting someone play with a busted combo once in a while? So long as he swaps the deck out after he Painter’s Servant/Grindstones you to death what’s the harm? I agree, it is no fun to play the same grossly over powered deck time and again, but once in a while there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I WANT to see that combo…it’s how I learn! It is highly unlikely I will ever piece that combo together myself, so if I can see it once in a while that’s COOL. Sure, we all groan and scoop, but the fact is we just watched a premier combo slice and dice. That’s pretty neat to see…and it’s even MORE fun if you can beat it. So, in your playgroup, there is no reason you can’t play some busted combos, or absolutely degenerate cards, or Planeswalkers, so long as you are prepared to mix it up and play some different decks that give everyone the chance to play and have fun.
Which brings me to learning…part of the interesting part of playing Magic is learning. You learn by watching other people play. The decks they build. The cards they value over others. How they decide to play and the interactions they create. To rob yourself of the chance to learn something just because you don’t like it or you feel it spoils the fun seems a little short sighted to me. Sure, you don’t want to play against the things you don’t like or the overpowered cards every game, and so moderation and variety needs to be mixed in, but there is nothing wrong with players running Planeswalkers in a Casual game. Just be sure you learn from the experience so you know how to interact with that situation in the future.
My last point in terms of allowing Planeswalkers into Casual play is much more “nuts and bolts” way in the sense that increasingly Wizards is printing cards that specifically target Planeswalkers so that you have more tools to manage them. Think about it, in the last 2 years they have printed things like Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall, Fated Retribution, and Fated Conflagration all of which can target Planeswalkers giving you a number of options to deal with Planeswalkers. So, if you don’t like them you at least now have an option with which to fight them.
No, I see no good reason to NOT allow Planeswalkers in Casual games of Magic, but they do require a little more careful consideration. You and the people in your playgroup need to have a discussion if there are players who are genuinely upset by Planeswalkers. Perhaps you can work out some sort of a compromise to allow everyone to play the decks they build. This is the beauty of the “social contract”…it can be amended and changed. However, maybe your playgroup is 100% okay with Planeswalkers, in which case keep calm and carry on.
At the end of the day the criticism of Planeswalkers in Casual Magic probably has far less to do with the actual cards and more to do with the fact that some players have stronger decks and win more frequently. If that is the case, limiting Planeswalkers is one potential way to even the playing field, but the more important factor is building decks that match the overall skill and power level in your playgroup. The complaints against Planeswalkers are likely more symptomatic of a problem than the actual cause. So, there is nothing wrong with having decks that emulate tier 1 decks in various constructed formats, but there is also a time and place for other fun and less powerful decks to keep you playgroup fun and fresh.
Thanks very much for reading guys and if you have any ideas or thoughts on Planeswalkers or Casual Magic in general, I’m all ears. Just shoot me off a tweet at @bgray8791 because I’d love to hear what you think.
Until next time, Keep it fun, Keep it safe…keep it Casual.
Archetype of Courage – this seemingly innocuous little soldier may be a linchpin in White Weenie moving forward, maybe sideboard in a Boros “White Weenie” or the more recent Orzhov Human. While it won’t affect your opponents Double Strike creatures granting your entire army First Strike while removing it from the enemies is going to create some very awkward blocking decisions, and also make it very difficult to profitably attack into you.
Archetype of Endurance – while this is a fearsome ability creature decks would love to counteract the overwhelming amount of removal, especially from decks like Mono-Black Devotion, I wonder if he is going to be in play fast enough. That huge cost does come with an equally huge sized body but may just not be good enough if the dorks you’d use to speed him out don’t stick around to work for him. I feel like he has more of a casual appeal against that guy who’s deck is all hexproof with creatures you couldn’t kill otherwise.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos – long live the King !!! Yet again another legendary cat creature appears that is able to bring along members of his clouder with him. There is some risk built in to his ability in that he does need to put his neck out by either attacking or blocking, but as Elspeth says “…soldiers most fervently follow generals who lead by example.”. Obviously pairing him with static pumps like Phantom General or Glorious Anthem ( editor’s note: Spear of Heliod ) makes him and his kin much more resilient and deadly.
Fate Unraveler – I love static abilities that are non-symmetrical especially when they are going to trigger every turn. Sure one point of damage per turn may seem like a slow bleed but when you factor in how it shuts down a very relevant half of Sphinx’s Revelation it look even more attractive. The 3/4 body is also significant being resistant to damage based removal, providing a useful wall or even crashing the red zone to end the game quickly.
Fated Conflagration – The ability to target a Planeswalker may be the saving grace of this removal spell. Five points of damage is really no small shakes but at four converted mana cost with triple red in there the amount of decks which will be able to cast this is rather narrow. Red decks will want to take advantage of the Scry 2 as it is the type of effect they are usually very hungry for.
Fated Infatuation – another in the cycle of triple cost ‘fated’ cycle. This one has a potentially much more powerful effect but is limited to what creature you have on your side to copy. The obvious play is to abuse this with Populate to get additional copies of your hellish beasts. Trostani is one that comes to mind which had already been paired with Cackling Counterpart when Return block was legal but wasn’t very popular. We will see if it is more playable this time around with an even more restrictive mana cost. As a plus it does have the extra little bonus of a Scry 2 when played on your turn.
Felhide Spiritbinder – I can totally get behind this latest Inspired creature. With a resilient body that will no doubt find his way into an aggressive deck you’re rewarded with additional fighters for a very reasonable price. I’m interested to see this in a deck like G/R Monsters which has some real worthy targets to clone out. My mind immediately wandered to Fanatic of Xenagos which will let you double up with a 4/4 Trample regardless of your opponents choice sine the Tribute will trigger when it enters play.
Raised by Wolves – this card seems to be a bit more on the cute side by oozing out tons of flavor. Showing the ‘Power of the Pack’ mentality of the wolf in a great way it still needs additional pieces to really get full value from it. Pairing it with other wolfers like Master of the Wild Hunt or Huntmaster of the Fells you might find the true thrill of the hunt. Really too expensive for constructed play even if it does add six power to the field
Reap What Is Sown – more of a nuisance then a blowout as far as combat tricks go, unless you have some just underpowered first strikers ready to block. If it was a divide three +1/+1 counters among up to three creatures then I’d like it much better. Still, it’s a surprise and might become a very desirable trick for limited.
Herald of Torment – just like a demon to give but also take a little in return. Losing one point of life per turn isn’t so bad when you get to grant a three power boost and flying to one of your creature to bleed your opponent out faster. While many of the Bestow costs are slightly excessive for their effect, this one seems to be pretty spot on.
Listed here are all the promos for the different events leading to Game Day. More info on Battle the Horde and the Hero’s path see this article.
Eater of Hope – the demon always demands a sacrifice, but this time the sacrifice is beneficial and nonobligatory. While he isn’t horrible as a 6/4 Flying body for seven mana his abilities are pretty good as long as you have fodder to satisfy his hunger for sacrifice. He’s got some built in protection with the first ability allowing him to sac another creature to regenerate. That second ability is what really makes him shine allowing you to feed the hunger of the demon to destroy pesky creatures. If you have a good token generator or naturally recurring creatures then this bad boy might be what you’re looking for.
Forgestoker Dragon – a pretty standard dragon showing fairly typical stats but with a pretty intriguing ability. While fairly mana intensive if your opponent has a formidable air force that you are trying to bypass it isn’t always necessary to clear all blockers, just the ones that would be a nuisance. While not necessarily a dragon of choice for constructed this should definitely see play in casual formats and could be a great addition to a Kaalia Commander deck.
Arbiter of the Ideal – Some of the Inspired creatures with their more fragile bodies leave you scrambling to find ways to tap them that don’t involve attacking but with this 4/5 Flying body that should rarely be an issue. Paired with manipulation of the top of your deck this should often gain you tons of value with the downside of turning the new permanent into an enchantment more of a nuisance then a hindrance.
Silent Sentinel – While extremely high end as a seven drop and requiring an attack to trigger its ability the sheer power of that ability is what could see this card see some action. Commander players who are already abusing enchantments will likely find this ability very welcoming especially in Uril, the Miststalker decks.
Tromokratis – Call the Kraken !!! Here it is, a legendary kraken. This humongous sea monster has some pretty interesting abilities. The first I find is largely ineffectual which grants him Hexproof unless he is attacking or blocking, but if you have spot removal for him there’s a good chance it’s an instant so once he attacks blammo. It’s the second ability that I much prefer where if you are either able to tap one of your opponents creatures or make the kraken fly you can basically make him unblockable. Or combo with a Bow of Nylea and you can probably take down entire armies with this monstrosity of the sea.
Fated Conflagration – The ability to target a Planeswalker may be the saving grace of this removal spell. Five points of damage is really no small shakes but at four converted mana cost with triple red in there the amount of decks which will be able to cast this is very narrow.
Game Day promos
Pump, pump, pump it up! That’s what this Merfolk wants to do and he does it all day and everyday by unntaping lands, mana rocks, dorks and other abilities; the list goes on and on. He’s definitely going to find play in EDH for some added shenanigans. We already know that, but what about standard? The next set has Kiora, the Crashing Wave with her ability to Explore and also to “Release the Krakens”. Simic might be finally ramping up to some Prime Speaker Zegana, Prophet of Kruphix, Master Biomancer and something else, right!?!? Ramping up in a deck with flash, counters and draw sound like a party, maybe even Plasm Capture could find a spot. To be continued…
Pain Seer – What should be referred to as Confidant Lite this card definitely need an alternate tapping condition in order to ensure a steady stream of card advantage. This is without a doubt going to also be paired up with untapping abilities in order to gring out maximum value.
Gerald Knight was inspired from insomnia.