SpartanNerd Review…MTG Starter Theme Deck “Abzan Siege.”

Ahhh…The promise of new cards, cards that you will surely need!  You buy a Theme deck, and you can count on having a few good cards.  Then you get the two booster packs…Those have tremendous potential.  So how is “Abzan Siege,” the new “Junk” style deck (White Black Green) from the most recent MTG set, “Khans of Tarkir”?  Read ahead for my review!

1 box front

Here is the front of the box.  The premium foils for Khans of Tarkir in these starter decks has exclusive art, something new!

2 box back

And the back of the box.

3 what's inside

Here’s what you get in the box.  The deck.  A paper that has some details and hype, as well as deck list for all of the starter decks released with this set, and two booster packs.  There is also the new quick guide to playing Magic, which I have already pointed out elsewhere that I think is an improvement for training new players!

I am going to review the contents in this order.

1. Insert/Decklist  2.  Deck.  3.  Thoughts on the deck  4.  BOOSTERS!

4 insert

The art here is pretty good, showcasing Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker.  You get a summary of the wedge color clans.  “Junk” isn’t supposed to be called “Junk” anymore.  It is supposed to be “Abzan” now.  But they can’t make me call it that!  Long live “Junk!”

The back lists the contents of the deck.  Here I will present that extra large so you can read it!  (It also lists the contents of the other decks in this series.  You also get supposed good advice for playing this deck!)

5 decklist

6 encouraging message

Now for the cards…Creatures first.

7 Ivorytusk FOrtress

Ivorytusk Fortress is a great new rare.  As mentioned, this is the only place to get this art officially from the Wizards!  His ability is akin to “Prophet of Kruphix.”  But only for creatures with counters.

8 High Sentenels

There is one other rare, and it is also pretty good!  A great “mana sink” that really enhances your other creatures and gets bigger!

9 commons

Here are the commons.  Really nothing remarkable.  But there IS one good card to open your game with…

10 1 drops


Two copies of this guy.  I am personally a fan of Child of the Night in draft more than constructed.  But disowned Ancestor is a big blocker who gets bigger early!

11 notable cards

These guys are uncommon, and pretty good.  Giving your guys with counters trample, or especially flying isn’t anything to sniff at.

12 more notable cards

But these commons feel similar, but each have problems.  Their power/toughness vs. converted mana cost, and what they ask of you.  I could take or leave them.

13 armament corps

One more uncommon.  I haven’t decided what I think about him yet.  I am leaning away from liking him in constructed.  It isn’t always easy to cast all three colors…much less find two other mana.  And so there are better ways to get counters on your creatures.

Now for the lands…

14 nonbasic lands

Besides regular lands, you also get these guys.  I’m not sure what I think about the Tri-Lands for constructed yet.  You are getting access to each color you need, with the only expense of speed.  If they were only two colors, like the Guildgates from Return to Ravnica, they would be completely out of the question.

But the other lands are “Gain Lands.”  They enter the battlefield tapped, but you gain one life when they enter.  I prefer scrying over gaining life.  So these guys will be the first thing I swap.

Besides these lands, you also get 8 Plains, 7 Swamps, and 6 Forests.

Finally, the other spells.

15 instants and sorceries


16 Abzan Charm

Abzan Charm is what sticks out the most.  This is now one of the best Magic cards!  You get to choose one of each quality that each color in its mana cost does best!

17 kill shot

Kill shot is conditional removal.  I think I like other options better.  It isn’t a bad card, but you know, you have to be being attacked in order to destroy something.  This is a downside for the mana-hungry format being presented in Kahns of Tarkir.

20 incremental growth

And if I’m not mistaken, this card is bad because it REQUIRES three targets.  What if you don’t have three?  Are you really going to put a counter on one of THEIR creatures?  There is a similarity here to Cone of Flame.  But getting stung for one damage isn’t so bad if you need to target yourself in order to Shock a creature and Searing Spear another.

Before I go into the boosters, I think I would like to pause and talk about what I think about this deck.

The mana is just too slow.  Khans of Tarkir is releasing “fetch lands” that allow you to get the land you need.  Fetch lands are good because they are “deck thinner.”  You are getting two cards out of your deck when you crack a fetch land.  And the mana is usable right away.

I haven’t got to play Standard with Kahns of Tarkir yet, but the fetch lands have a TREMENDOUS impact on Modern.  Everyone that is good at Modern plays them.  But they have been expensive, which is why I haven’t had any.  The Modern decks I attempt tend to be easy on the mana because of this.  But now that we are getting these lands, Standard is going to speed up significantly.  I already spoke about playing sealed with this set, how slow it was.  I drafted last night also…It is just slow.  But constructed is going to be a speedy thing of beauty.  Almost like two different games entirely.  I say forget all of the fixing, and pay out or trade for some fetches.

I went ahead and modified this deck, putting in the two copies of “Windswept Heath” that I have acquired.  I also swapped out the gain lands for the scry lands, and also added a couple of pain lands.

The next big change…This deck doesn’t have enough chumps!  Go back up and look at the commons…Go ahead.  I can wait.

Two copies of Disowned Ancestor are the only one drop creature.  Then you have six two drops, two of them Child of the Night, one Sungrace Pegasus, and the other three Ainok Bond Kin.  The Ainok and the Ancestor have Outlast, so that is asking EVEN MORE mana.

Outlast is weak sauce for combat.  It is good in the early game if you don’t have anything to play.  I’ll give it that.  But so far I don’t see it being an effective way of getting counters.  I feel better about incremental boosts from static abilities than using this activated ability, which requires a tap, so you can’t do it on the turn they come out, and requires a tap, which also keeps them out of combat.

I swapped in some good stuff.  Fleecemane Lion.  That is the kind of two-drop people need to play in Standard.  How about something like Favored Hoplite?  Then you hit him with a boost spell, and he gets counters.  Because he has counters, then he reaps benefits from say, Abzan Falconer.

So it is a synergistic deck as it is vanilla, with no modification.  But it isn’t strong enough.  At least not for the Metagame in Spartanburg.

So I rate this deck a 2/5.  I really appreciate the two rares…those were great!  I was glad to really learn a few new cards, and I wanted “Abzan Falconer” and another copy of “Abzan Charm.”  The art in the insert is average for what it is.  Sarkahn looks cool, but that is all it really has going for it.  But the deck just isn’t strong enough for a competitive metagame.  It is great for what it is…a deck for new players learning to play the game.  I see kids get ahold of a product like this, and they think they have something really really special with that foil rare.  It is shock and awe for them.  But it falls flat for expert purposes.

Now for the boosters!

I said before that I would open the boosters and photograph them live from sets like this!  So here goes!  What did I get in the first pack?

21 booster 1

Don’t know who this is on the package.  Don’t care either!

First my commons.

22 commons

First the commons…There is my sixth copy of “Jungle Hollow.”

Next the uncommons…

23 uncommons

Temur Charger just isn’t my thing.  I don’t play red either.  The vampire guy’s art really creeps me out.  What is that tongue hanging down below his chin?  (shudder)  This is the kind of card I like to use.  I just don’t know how I will use it yet.


24 rare and extrasMaster of Pearls

Let’s have a closer look,

25 master of pearls

This card is all over the place.  You can hard cast it as a 2/2 for CMC2.  If you do, he might as well be vanilla, I suppose.

But he has Morph…When he flips over from being morphed, all creatures you control get +2/+2, which is something!

The problem here will be what it asks of you.  It wants five mana, two of which have to be white.

In draft yesterday and sealed deck, I got a copy of this card.  Usually it gets removed before its ability can trigger.

Now for Booster pack number 2!

26 Booster two

The guy pictured here was BEAST in sealed deck…

27 commons

You gotta love that art for “Savage Punch!”

28 savage punch

Now for the uncommons…

29 uncommons


Chief of the Edge is my favorite here.  He goes with the other chief, and they boost each other.

And my rare was…

30 rare and extras


Mantis Rider.  Not bad.  He is the “America” creature that coincides with “Lightning Angel.”

31 mantis raider



So no planeswalkers.  No mythic rares.  No premium foils.  Just plain old boosters.

I rate the Abzan Siege deck at 2/5.  What would you rate it,   Let me know in the comments!



SpartanNerd…What happened at Kahns of Tarkir Pre-Release Sealed Deck


“Fetch Lands! Need I say more!

I have been playing “junk,” that means Green White and Black. Kahns of Tarkir calls this “Abzan.” Whatever. The cards revealed so far are pretty amazing! I can’t wait!”

I wrote these words and saved them as a draft in WordPress over two weeks ago.

Sadly, my sealed deck experience fell flat.  And I’m not sure why.

I went to the midnight pre-release, basically on a tiny little nap.  I left early, about 10:30 PM, and wished I had brought a commander deck or something.   I didn’t intend to purchase anything outside of basic snack needs.  But the Tangled Web was slam dunk packed, and excitement was in the air.  When it was finally time to break out the packs, I was happy to see a beautifully designed box, and got a nice pin to wear also depicting the symbol of the “Abzan Houses”.

The seeded deck came with a beautiful foil “Hardened Scales,” a good card.  And I got a good bit of cards in my other packs that went well with “Abzan Houses” green-black-white colors.  Only one rare didn’t fit at all.  I was also happy to get a copy of “Windswept Heath.”  (If you know the SpartanNerd’s secret identity, then you know why!)

My problem was, I believe, that I didn’t have many chumps.  A large quantity of my card pool was four drops and higher!  I got a copy of “Anafenza, The Foremost” but she amounted to one of the cheapest spells in my deck!  I did have a few morphs, but I’m not sure I played the best ones.  (Abzan Guide costs way to much to morph.)  I got some removal, but most of it was over-costed.  I didn’t get many black cards to refill my mono-black deck.  (I am of the opinion that the wizards are trying to suppress mono-black devotion.)

I played until 3:30 AM, then decided to drop.  My first match as a loss to a blue-red deck, and my second match was a draw to five color deck that was mainly a mirror but splashing red and blue.  I reckoned that it wasn’t worth staying the other four rounds after what amounted to two losses and me getting sleepier and sleepier.  (With house framing to do the next day!)

The weird thing about this particular format for sealed deck was how doggone SLOW it was.  You pretty much have to play three colors, and mana-fixing is the number one priority.  This means 18 cards of the 40 are boring lands.  I was able to fix with “life gain” lands, however, three copies of “Jungle Hollow” and one “Soured Barrens.”  As well as the “Abzan Banner” and Sandsteppe Citadel.”  But all of these lands enter tapped, so that will slow you down.  Then there is the opposite.  “Windswept Heath” is very speedy!  But combine this slow mana base with cards that ask for ridiculous mana requirements, and you get a slow, slow, slow format.

Hub City Geeks, I’m afraid this was my final midnight pre-release.  You are going to have to wait until Saturday afternoon when the next set comes out.  I just don’t play that well during the day, much less in the wee hours of the morning!

I am going to post a copy of all of the rares I got as they are in my trade binder, then say a word or two about them.



Windswept Heath”  Especially glad to have this fetch land!  I want MORE!

Trail of Mystery” was a good idea.  It never showed up in all six matches of MTG I got to play.

Hardened Scales” I opted not to play this guy but instead to play Trail of Mystery.  All I know about sealed deck is “keep it about the creatures”  And enchantments don’t do anything if they don’t have creatures to effect.  The art of this card is very pretty…this is the promo foil version.  I like the idea of what this card does, however, and it is going to find a home somewhere somehow in my constructed decks.

Anafenza, the Foremost.”  I believe Anafenza is meant to hate on “delve.”  (With that mechanic, you exile cards from the graveyard as a cost for colorless mana.)  The other ability goes well with “outlast.”  (Outlast lest you pay a cost and tap a creature to put a counter on it. She lets you put an extra counter.  She also gives them a counter when they attack)  Because she is a potentially early bomb, she also got removed a good bit.

Abzan Charm.”  OK, not a rare.  This card is being touted as a potential top card in Standard and Modern.  So here it sits in my binder!  It is good removal.  It is also a “sign in blood” for you.  And lastly it can target two creatures giving them a 1/1 counter.  If you are paying attention, then you know this will go great with “heroic” stuff from the “Theros” block!

Meandering Towershell”  This is one of those cards…it makes you scratch your head.  Like “Alms Beast” did in “Gatecrash.”  WHY?  Why should it be exiled when it attacks?  Then come back during the attack phase next turn?  I don’t see the point.  You could LOSE THE GAME BY THEN.  In case you are wondering.  NO I DIDN”T PLAY IT!

Sagu Mauler.”  Not in my colors.  But a pretty good card.  I may eventually try out the “sultai” graveyard strategy.  It might be an enhancement to “junk” to add another color.

I’m not giving up on “Kahns.”  This time I was just unlucky, and maybe should’ve played on Saturday afternoon instead of midnight.  I have already made a new “White weenie” deck with my new cards.  We’ll see how that works out next time I get to play standard.

Thanks for reading, faithful readers!

SpartanNerd Review…”R2-D2 Draft” at the “Tangled Web Comics and Games”

Regular readers of The SpartanNerd Blog will know that just about the ONLY place to play Magic the Gathering in Spartanburg is at “The Tangled Web Comics and Games”…Be sure to visit them sometimes.  I mention this because the most recent tournament I played in is of the kind that ONLY can be played there.  “R2-D2 Draft.”

Here is what it really is.  It is one of those Coca-Cola coolers on wheels that you see in gas stations filled with ice and glass bottles of coke in the middle of the summer.  It got its name because evidently at some point in its history it had decorations like R2-D2 on it, which have since been removed, but the name lives on.  The store owner puts piles and piles of cards in the cooler, and mixes them up.  If you just want some cards at any time, you just have to pay $5 for ten seconds to pull out a giant pile of cards.  Some will be good.  Some will not.  This is the beauty of the game.  You get a ton of cards more than you would for a booster pack, plus a ton more of rares.  And the nature of this thing is that the cards are from all manner of sets and collections.  You never know what you’ll get!

So for the “draft” tournament, everyone makes a deck from cards they get from the R2-D2 bucket.  The technical term for this tournament would be “bucket cube” or something like that.  And it isn’t really a draft as much as it is a sealed deck.  (You aren’t passing the cards around and picking your favorites.)

I don’t know if I was lucky or if I am starting to just get good at limited formats.  But I made it all the way to the top and lost in the final round!  Here is what my deck was…

1 Crackleburr

This was the real key to my success.  FOUR COPIES OF CRACKLEBURR!  If my opponents didn’t remove them, then they would get hammered over and over.  If they removed them because they are indeed annoying, then I would drop some bomb and they wouldn’t have removal then.  I never saw this card before today, but I am certainly glad to add it to my collection!

2 red bombs

Here are those bombs I mentioned…

3 useless bombs

Sorry about the blurry picture.  These guys were largely useless.  And Panoptic Mirror was a mistake to add to this deck.  I should have added some other chump or something.  The thaumaturge just amounted to a chump blocker, as did the other guy.  I could have played cheaper chumps, in other words.  But sometimes these guys would coerce my opponent into removing them.  They seem scary.

4 great cards

Here are my best combat tricks in this deck.  I had another Awe Strike in my card pool, but I didn’t play it.  (Should have.)  The creature card here made a land tap for any color.  (mana fixing)  Awe Strike could buy you some extra time and undo a burn spell.  I would hold cloud shift until the right moment, and then blink a creature that something bad was being done to.

I also used some burn spells.

5 burn spells

I used these spells sparingly, treating them as removal.  I only burned an opponent out once.

6 Goblin Churigeon

I got three copies of “Goblin Churugeon.”  (I found out that that is another word for surgeon.)  The goblin didn’t attack, as a 0/2.  But sacrificing him or another goblin allowed me to regenerate one of the bombs if they happen to be targeted with removal.

7 chumps

Here is the rest of my chumps.  a couple of goblins and flyers.  The Scalding Devil was a good mana sink.

And finally the lands.

8 lands

Only one fixing land here, Izzet Guildgate.  In hind-site, I shouldn’t have played four plains.  Two would have done the job.

The tournament went down like this…NO ONE COULD BEAT ME!  Only one guy, someone I never saw before named “Chris.”  He beat me in round three, and guess who I had to face in the final round of the tourney?  Yep.  Chris again.  In the middle of the match, he informed me that he played in the pro-tour France, so…  The very last match, (the third of 2-out-of-3) was the first time I had mana screw.  All I could draw were the stupid white lands!  And his green and red based deck just flattened me!

I never play blue and red.  Why did I this time?  The Crackleburrs and the goblins were good enough.  I thought about trying something with “Sporemound” but didn’t really have the support.  I had Goblin War Drums…a card Chris played and I didn’t like a dummy.  My thinking was and enchantment like that is kind of useless in sealed.  But in that case it really wasn’t.  So I learned from that.  Most of my artifacts were garbage.  I had several crab things, but they were over-costed and really bad cards.  One opponent looked through my sideboard as I played, and when my match was over mentioned that I should have sided “Circle of Protection: Green.” in the end.  But I didn’t.  I’ll know better next time!

This small tournament was a great warm-up for tomorrow night’s pre-release for “Khans of Tarkir.”  Maybe I will do just as good then!

I will keep you posted, oh Hub-City Geeks!



SparanNerd…”Return To Ravnica Block…I am going to miss you!”

When I started playing Magic the Gathering, I had a vague idea of what a “set” was.  I didn’t get the full on meaning to the game.  “Return to Ravnica” and its two companion sets, “Gatecrash” and “Dragon’s Maze” were the sets that truly absorbed me into the game and taught me that there was a new and an old in MTG.

As I accrued more and more of these cards, I began longing for the day that the “Innistrad” block would rotate out of Standard…I was at a disadvantage…I didn’t play seriously when those sets were released, so I didn’t have “Cavern of Souls” or “Geist of St. Traft” or “Olivia Voldaren” to stomp my opponents in the ground.  True, I did have some cards from the sets, but I was a learning player.  And I knew when Innistrad rotated out, “Theros” block would be the new thing, and I wouldn’t have this problem so much anymore…instead I could do like my really good opponents and build stadard decks as they are meant to be built, with maximum resources.

But as much excitement as I have for the release of “Kahns of Tarkir” next week, I find it bittersweet.  the RTR block has been good to me, and now that I am having to retire a bunch of my cards, (at least for Standard), I am reflecting on what the cards mean to me and what they have taught me.

I will also be talking about “Magic The Gathering Core Set 2014” or “M14” cards that are rotating out as well.

Below I will provide a photo, and a “tearful goodbye” paragraph.  Enjoy!

Nightveil Spector


Vampire Nighthawk had me spoiled…She was one of my favorite cards to play when I began playing this game.  A three drop with flying and other abilities, in black, is just perfect!  The Nightveil Spector was a good replacement for the Nighthawk.  This card was good, and when Theros came out, it kept getting even better!  The Nightveil Spector was easily the card I played the most over the last year, besides “Gray Merchant,” who was part of the reason this guy was so good!  I have a story about this involving “Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.”  Here I am, playing Mono Black devotion, with two Spectors on the field. I steal my opponents card with the spector, and instantly think…”Dang.  I can’t play it.”  But then I realize…How could I forget?  The Spector is also blue!  So I charged up my Shrine using the blue devotion supplied by the Spector, (who just stole the card…) and played Fated Infatuation…a Three drop spell that lets me copy another creature and then scry.  This moment won me the game!

Nightveil Spector, you’re insanely good.  Me and the Gray Merchant are all that much grayer without you.  I will even miss your art, though only the special foil is really good…

Lotleth Troll

2 LT

Another insanely good card.  And a card that seems to have been forgotten in the current metagame.  Too bad for everyone else.  This troll is a real fighter.  On turn three, when your red opponent thinks he can burn the troll before you have enough mana to regenerate, BAM.  You just put your Desecration Demon, Jarrad Lich Lord, and Erebos God of the Dead in the graveyard to give him counters…an alternate way of saving him!  Then on turn four you have a troll that can swing for five..WITH TRAMPLE!  This combat trick drew awe from many newer opponents.  I always played four copies of the troll in my “Junk” deck.  I would even ditch trolls to pump trolls.  This guy is a game winner.  I never got to draft one.  But I’d bet you in draft this guy is unstoppable.

I’ll miss you, Lotleth Troll.  May the “Abzan House” find more ways to help you out in Modern!

Lilliana of the Dark Realms

3 Lilliana

My favorite card EVER is Lilliana Vess, clearly a superior Lily to this card.  But LOTDR has uses…

This card taught me about deck thinner…a concept every Magic player should learn.  So you have to have 60 cards in a deck…Why not figure out how to get what you need faster…and LOTDR ability to find swamps in your deck and place them in your hand keeps you from having dead draws.  I often would use this card as a burn spell also.  Her negative ability is basically “mutilate” for one creature.  But it is her ultimate and emblem that makes this card crazy if used properly.

Not long ago, maybe two months ago…I decided to play this card along with “Rakdos’ Return.”  The Rakdos card isn’t something I played much…Really I had never played it in a tournament.  But three times that night, I was able to burn my opponent for lethal damage by using Lililiana’s Emblem ability and a copy of Rakdos Return.  One time was a spectacular win, where I was down to one life and was topdecking.  I actually said out loud to my opponent, after he sent all of his damage to my face, “If I don’t draw the right card, you win the game.”  But I drew my lone copy of Rakdos Return and burned him for 36 damage.  Not bad at all!  And it was a moment were people suddenly started whispering around the room.  I could hear the words “Rakdos Return for 36 with Lilliana’s Emblem.”

I guess I will have to thin my deck with “fetch lands” or “evolving wilds” (gasp!) from now on. Lilliana of the Dark Realms, whether or not the wizards like you or not (they don’t), I will miss you! Good luck getting rid of that cursed veil!

Shock Lands…

4 Shock Lands

As I moved into regular tournaments, I started to see that usually it was the seasoned players not playing the regular lands.  Instead they played special lands…especially “Buddy Lands” and the like.  The “Shock Lands” confounded me.  Why would you pay two life for a dual land when clearly it was unnesecary?  And there were “Guildgates” which were basically the same thing, but always entered the battlefield tapped.

Thankfully this mystery was solved for me as I played more and more MTG.  The shock lands increase your chance of having the mana you need available when you need it.  Guildgates are just too slow.  “Buddy lands,” “Evolving Wilds,” Transguild Promenade…these are good for formats other than standard.  (Sealed is a good place for these)  The standard environment tends to be…”fastest man with card advantage wins”.  You are technically “behind” a land drop if your land enters the battlefield tapped.  The life you pay for a shock land pays off in the end.

Shocklands, I will not miss you.  You are being replaced with “Fetch Lands,” which will be used to find you in Modern!

Mazes End

5 Mazes End

I have three different printings of this card…Sad really.

Maze’s End was a gimmick where you could play ten different guildgates, then tap the Mazes End to win the game.

That’s all you have to do.

See the above entry about the Shocklands to see why this is a bad idea.  Oh yeah.  You pretty much have to play at least THREE COPIES of the guildgates to make this work, so that’s thirty cards, plus four copies of Mazes End.  That’s 34 slow cards.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t fun to win this way against little kids and noobs especially.  It is a fine SLOW game plan.  No one has quite figured out how to play this strategy in Modern as a reliable strategy either, (yet.)

Mazes End…you are a nice concept.  I will miss the cute feelings young kids express when you beat them down without swinging.  Other than that, I will keep my deck together for a rainy day…

Jarad, Golgori Lich Lord

6 Jarrad

I love this guiy.  He’s hard to kill and goes nicely in the “junk” deck beside Lotleth Troll.  And I have two foils!  Jarad can beat you down in THREE DIFFERENT WAYS!  Regular swinging (with counters), as a “sac outlet” which you can also use as a burn spell, and as a surprise attack later in the game when you can give up a few lands, and when he comes back in that late game, he will have a ton more counters on him!

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, I will miss opponents just scooping when they see you enter the battlefield the second time.  May Abzan house or Sultai be good to you in Modern!

Desecration Demon

7 Double D

OK, I already mentioned that Lilianna Vess is my favorite card.  But truth is I have two more favorites.  Grave Titan and Elbrus the Binding Blade/Whithingar Unbound.

I mention this because the Binding Blade was my first “demon” card.  I was pretty allergic to the idea of playing demons…until I figured out they were game winners!

Desecration Demon isn’t any different.  (I like to call him “Double D.”)  There was a time abut four months ago, that this card was upending everyone’s game with Mono Black Devotion.  But before you know it, people figured out the trick to beating Double D here is to just sac something.  Sure he gets a counter, but they just bought more time to draw removal.  And until Master of the Feast came out, you pretty much could count on people playing this guy.

But a 6/6 flyer for four, in all black…That’s broken.  (But not if they sac an ornithopter, an Elvish Mystic, or a 1/1 chump token.)

Desecration Demon, I will miss you because you were reliable for awhile.  Then I learned something about the meta-game.  It is always changing.  You really were a fad, like silly bands and jelly shoes.  But you are being retired to the binder of rares.  Maybe I’ll trade your foil for a “Butcher of the Horde”!

Detention Sphere

8 D sphere

In the early days of Return to Ravnica, I played “Azorius.”  You should read this article.  While I prefer Esper nowadays, (gotta have the black too.)

I regularly played Azorius in my earliest standard tournaments.  I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t work our for me.  I was locking down their creatures.  In those early days, full on control wasn’t played so often.  So I was trying to quickly arrest their creatures, exile their stuff, etc.  To sweep the board would have been a nightmare for me.  Nevermind that hasty red creatures usually beat me, or giant green creatures would beat me.  Geist of St Traft would beat me.  In fact, I got beat a lot.

Detention Sphere was a key part of this strategy.  But as Theros came out, there were more ways to easily remove enchantments.  And this card almost disappeared.  But it was feared against “pack rat” if you played that particular strategy in Mono Black.  (It could exile all of your Pack Rats!)

D-Sphere, I will miss you and your controlling ways on the battlefield.  You will continue to be beast in Esper Control as a Modern Staple my friend.

Fencing Ace

9 Fencing Ace

Here we have three would be friends.  Near the end of last year, as I locked into a regular Standard routine, I began to try a new strategy, “Heros.”  My Hero deck had the Fencing Ace as a main player…you can’t beat his double strike!  But then he got a few helpers…one was a big brother “Fabled Hero,” a double striker who could be pumped if enchanted (He has Heroic).  And Fiendslayer Paladin, a card that makes people “pooh” and “a hhh”

Because the ace was so slow to start with, I tried numerous ways to speed him up.  One way was Savage Siummoning, the green foil you see above.  But rarely did that ever work out.  You were flashing in one of these heroes before your opponent could respond, then whacking them upside their head with double strike something or another.  The strategy would work, except you have to draw what you need at the right time.  I remember rearranging one guys face on turn three once.  That’s about it.  Usually, my opponent would find some way to adjust.  If they could just stop the double strikers, then I would lose.  Big time.

Fabled Hero, I think I am going to miss you because I never seemed to be able to find you when I needed you.  Even though you were uncommon, I felt compelled to leave you in my rare binder.  You went well with so many others…Two-Headed Cerberus, Fabled Hero, Skylasher, Satyr Hoplite, and more even.  You begged to be pumped and enchanted.  And I was much obliged.  But you just weren’t good enough.  Can’t wait to really figure out how to use you some day!


10 Mutavault

So I played in the South Carolina Star City Games State Tournament (probably not a good idea.)  I lost terribly.  I didn’t have one of these cards.  One of the best cards in the format.  So I dropped $30 on a copy while there.  (I regretfully traded one that I got at the 2014 pre-release, not knowing what I was doing!)  This card became a real hit in the mono-black strategy, working well with Pack Rat especially.  (you made a surprise rat!)

But this card died easily to “eye gauge”  A surprise kidney punch if someone side boarded it against mono-black.

I am NOT GOING TO MISS YOU.  I wish I had never seen you.  I wish I had saved my $30.  You are not a bad card. Nope.  You are great at what you do. But you NEVER SHOW UP when I need you to pump my rats.  (I only have one copy.)

Maybe I’ll trade the $30 copy.  Last time I checked, it still was $30 right at rotation time!

Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict

11 SRev SV

I include these two because they became my arch enemy.  As I moved to a Mono-black strategy that was getting me into the final rounds of tournaments, I feared these two cards to most.   And because Sphinx’s Rev was woefully out of my price range, I couldn’t even try to pull together a mirror match for all the Sphinx’s Revelation control decks that were popping up in response to Mono-Black.

First of all, the sweeper.  What good is devotion if you have no creatures on the field.  Supreme verdict also CAN”T BE COUNTERED!  (Enough said.)

But Sphinx’s Revelation is a card that wins games outright.  A control player not only gains life, but draws as many cards as they would like, and this card gets played as an instant at the end of your turn.  Too bad for you.  They are generally looking for “Elspeth, Sun’s Champion” or “Supreme Verdict.”  Then they hit you with that on the next turn.  And you are dead before you know. it.

I finally bought a playlet of Sphinx’s Revelation two weeks ago for $8 a piece.  Considering it was $40 just about a month prior, i figured now was the time to buy.  This card isn’t going anywhere.  It will become a staple in all of Magic.

I will not miss seeing you across the table, Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict.  BUT I look forward to a future playing you in Modern!

Deathrite Shaman

12 Deathrite S

Ah.  My first banned card.

Did you know that this guy was $40 to $60 dollars before he was banned in modern?  One drops with powerful abilities ten to be like that.

One day they will unban you from Modern, and then I will play you good.

You can guess that I used this guy a lot in both Mono-Black devotion and Junk.  And you would be right.  He is a nifty card.  I guess you will take up a spot in my binder after rotation.  I will miss you, Deathrite Shaman.

Doom Blade

13 Doom Blade

Here is a card that I learned to play early, hated when they rotated it, and cheered when they brought it back.  This is the card that taught me to have a sideboard.  You didn’t want this in your hand if you were playing against another player who was playing black.  But it is good removal against everyone else.  In draft, it was also a great card, you get just about ANY removal you can.

I’ll miss you, Doom Blade.  I wonder if you will be reprinted in the FINAL CORE SET, M16?

So what cards are you going to miss, oh Hub City Geeks?  Let me know in the comments.  I intend to begin doing an article like this anytime there is a rotation in the future if I get responses or if I see a lot of traffic here.

SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review…Magic The Gathering Duel Decks…”Speed vs. Cunning”

I rather enjoy the duel decks series of cards…I may just have to purchase that big box of four or five that is coming out soon, so I can see what the older ones were like before I started playing Magic.

The “Speed Vs. Cunning” deck is meant to be a preview product for the upcoming set, “Khans of Tarkir.”  I picked it up…kind of as an impulse buy.  My oldest child had already seen the spoiler for “Zurgo Helmsmasher,” and said that he wanted that card really badly.  So when I saw this at Wal-Mart, I grabbed it.  I guess I couldn’t resist the foil…

I’ll start with pictures of the packaging and all of that jazz.  (I meant, all that Heavy Metal.)

1 package2 back package


Here is the front and back of the packaging.  First thing I notices was that this packaging wasn’t quite as spectacular as the last Duel Deck offering, “Jace vs. Vraska.”  But I guess this time we don’t get planeswalkers either.


3 what's inside


Here is what’s inside, besides the cards.  Two deck boxes, both featuring Arcanis the Omnipotent and Zurgo Helmsmasher respectively.  There is a poster exclusively for this set….and what’s that?  No extra useless poster?  YES!  They have improved that situation!  Now there is a quick reference rules card for new players.  This is SO MUCH BETTER.  Who knows how many of those blue posters that featured Chandra that I threw away.  This might still find its way to the trash, but the Wizards are always talking about reaching and teaching new players.  This is a step in the right direction.  I am including a photo of the front and back of that rules card below.



4 new rules card5 new rules card back


The two-sided poster inside didn’t disappoint.  Here the art is good, and it gives you plenty of information about each deck.  I like how the fantasy flavor is sprinkled in as well.  This Duel Deck is supposed to highlight the fight between the Mardu and the Jeskai.  The next set, “Kahns of Tarkir” is supposed to feature three-color cards.  Mardu is Red White and Black.  Jeskai is Red white and Blue.



6 poster arcanus

7  poster zurgo

Below is the deck list.  I thought it best to make this as large as I could, so you could read it.  There is a list on both sides of the poster.  The first is the Arcanis the Omnipotent deck.  The second is the Zurgo Helmsmasher deck.

8 arcanus decklist9 Zurgo decklist


Now it’s time to see some actual cards!

10 Arcanus and ZurgoThe two premium foils that come with this deck are really powerful cards.  No question.  I think Arcanis is an odd choice to showcase because he is all blue, rather than a three color card, however.  Here are my thoughts on each card.


Zurgo Helmsmasher has haste and swings for 7.  WOW.  He is a 7/2, however.  He is indestructible on your turn, though.  And if he kills a blocker or blockers, then he gets +1/+1 counters, which makes his stronger and even harder to kill when it isn’t your turn.  Having to attack each turn is fine for a card like this.  But he isn’t a blocker, unfortunately…He is generally tapped when you get to block.

Arcanis the Omnipotent is clearly different.  A good contrast.  He is only a 3/4, but has built in evasion in that you can return him to your hand for two others and two blues…which you probably have out.  Also, you can tap him in response to a sweeper or something if he isn’t already tapped, and then you get to draw three cards.  Not what control players across the table want.  So Arcanis is hard to kill in his own way.

I will go over the components of Arcanis’ deck, “Cunning” first.

First the boring lands.

11 arcanus lands

Notable here is Mystic Monastary, a “tri-land” that taps for all three colors.  (you have to choose which you want each turn) That’s about it.  The two fetch lands are Terramorphic Expanse…also unremarkable.  There is more blue land here than any of the other kinds.

12 arcanus white cards 13 arcanus red card 14 arcanus blue cards 15 arcanus gold cards


Here is a little survey of the cards.  There is only one red creature.  Lots of blue creatures.  a bit of a mixture of white cards.  And two gold cards.  Hussar Patrol and Lightning Angel.  The only completely new cards here are Thousand Winds and Jeskai Elder.  Thousand Winds is a creature with “Morph” a returning mechanic from the past.  This time, when he morphs, all other creatures go to their owners hands.  NICE!  I thought Lighning Angel was pretty good.  With a CMC of 4, flying, vigilance, and haste.  The Cunning Sparkmage is usually just a chump blocker.

Many of the blue cards feature “morph.”  This is where the beauty of this deck lies.  While it isn’t good to pay three for a 2/2 bland vanilla creature, morphing them is always a good thing to do.  They all have some benefit for you that your opponent will not like.

16 Traumatic visions 17 repeal 18 Lightning Helix 19 steam augury 20 stave off

(Not photographed…”Impulse”  How did I leave that out?)

Here are the instants.  These guys are all good.  I would argue that “God’s Willing” is better than “Stave Off,” because you get to scry.  But scrying isn’t in this deck, so…Repeal and Lightning Helix are always cards people ask for to be reprinted…so here’s your chance, people!

Steam Augury has seen some play lately…This card fits well with Impulse and Sphinx of Uthuun.  Basically you are getting card advantage on your opponents terms somehow.

And a card that has a spiritual opposite in the other deck…”Traumatic Visions.”  This card gets to be cycled for a basic land of any type, or you can play it as a bad “cancel” for five CMC.  It isn’t a bad card, though.  You get the option for either one which better fits your situation…

22 trap cards

And finally something else cool…TRAP CARDS!  One for each color…

I didn’t know there were trap cards in Magic?  These are really bad for your opponent.  You get to play them for a cheaper mana cost under certain circumstances.  otherwise, it’s good for you, not for your opponent playing Zurgo.


Speaking of Zurgo Helmsmasher, what does his deck contain?

The “Speed” Deck has these lands.

23 zurgo lands

Notable here is Nomad Outpost, a new tri-land.  Also a “Man land,” Ghitu Encampment.  Speaking of spiritual opposites, this deck has two fetch lands, “Evolving Wilds.”  (Evolving wilds and Terramorphic expanse are the exact same thing with different titles.)

Now for the good stuff.

25 zurgo red cards 29 zurgo gold cards 30 zurgo sorcery and enchantment 31 zurgo instants

This deck is notable for its red creatures, its reliance on Goblins, and combat tricks…with a touch of burn.  I would say that this deck is mainly red, and the other is mainly blue.

26 hell's thunder 27 scourge devil 28 goblin warchief

Here are some notable examples.  Notice the “Unearth” mechanic.  You get kind of a “whip of erebos” trick with it.  The wizards said that a quick play or effect and then exile is now going to be a regular thing.  That last Chandra did this.  The Goblin Warchief goes well with the other goblins in this deck.

32 fiery fall

And the spiritual opposite of Traumatic visions…Fiery Fall.  You can cycle for any basic land you need, or you get a Lava Axe with CMC 6.


This says it all pretty much for Zurgo Helmsmasher’s deck.


SO how did the decks play against each other?  I have played against Arcanis several times.  Clearly that is the better deck.  Zurgo’s deck is supposed to be about speed, but the mana curve isn’t quite right or something.  Zurgo himself is impressive, but everything else just isn’t good enough against all of the ability for Arcanis to respond.  Arcanis has the traps, the instants, and the morphs going for him, as well as card draw.  Zurgo is supposed to be a beatdown deck, but unless you draw the right goblins early and curve into the big stuff just right, you won’t have a chance against Arcanis.


I also played the “Paulkranos World Eater” deck from the same time last year that introduced “Theros”  This Hydra did better against Arcanis.  But Arcanis still had plenty of answers.


My rating for this product?

Well, Arcanis’s deck is good.  It gets a 5/5.  I substituted for the four new cards with “Platinum Angel” and “Scuttling Doom Engine” and the SpartanKid played it in the most recent Modern tournament…He beat three people!  (generally newbies, but still…) So it is a competitive deck as well if you tweak it a little.  (Also, Arcanis is a re-print.  Who knew?  He was legal!)

But Zurgo’s deck falls flat.  I am going to give it a 2/5.  If it curves out wrong, you don’t stand a chance against it’s opposite.

The packaging was less spectacular than the last similar product, but on the other hand they improved the introductory propaganda for new players.  I always just ditch the packaging anyways.

So Magic the Gathering Duel Decks “Speed vs. Cunning” gets a 3/5 from the SpartanNerd.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments!