Challenger Decks…SpartanNerd’s Thoughts

I have been trying to get some YouTube videos up about recent MTG things.  I recorded one but keep getting an error message on the attempt to upload.  ;(
Regardless, I have my duty to you, Hub City Geeks, to unbox and review sealed products.

The Challenger Decks are the supposed replacements for many consumer intro products to Magic the Gathering.  These products are meant to help a new player be successful during a Friday Night Magic tournament.  The Wizards of the Coast tried this before with Event Decks, many of which you can see a review of right here on  the SpartanNerd Blog. But they discontinued those a few years ago, they had proven to be lackluster and probably weren’t selling..I remember some sitting at comic book stores seemingly indefinitely.  This left a big hole for new players, however.  Intro Decks never have been good enough to get some FNM wins, and the Planeswalker Decks aren’t really much better.  I think the Wizards must have also figured that people trying to get into the game might also be confused about Duel Decks, and so they have also discontinued that, beloved of a product as they have been.

The Challenger Decks promise wins.  They have the deck lists that any regular player has seen…four copies of MYTHIC RARES, in at least one case.  Each one contains more monetary value than their $30.00 price tag.  And reportedly professional competitive players have been on the design team for these decks.  And after playing them, I believe it.

I am giving you a basic rundown of what’s in each deck.  I hope to have a video up soon to talk about each one.

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Anyone who has been playing competitive Standard will know what these are immediately.  Counter Surge is the Winding Constrictor deck.  Hazzoret Aggro is mono-red, what used to be called Rumanap Red before the banning of that card.  Vehicle Rush is Mardu Vehicles.  And Second Sun Control is an Approach of the Second Sun deck.

All of these are viable strategies to play competitively at an FNM.

You get a description on the back of the decks.

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b

c

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Each deck comes in a deckbox that is suitable for storage…you can store the cards in sleeves.  There is a sleeve over the box that I am going to throw away…this is more to sell the product than serve a functional purpose.

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Here is an unboxing shot of each.They all have the same items.  A divider.  A spin down counter of a random color (it seems.)  The infamously underwhelming Quick Reference guide.  A promo piece of paper, which is too boring for me to show you more of.  And the deck.  The maindeck and sideboard are separated.IMG_0908.jpg

These boxes are pretty sturdy…they have the same sturdy flap from some of the more recent sealed products.  I suspect it will hold up for awhile for a person who plays FNM occasionally.  But a serious player will want to upgrade to something nicer and sturdier.  The only complaint I have about this box is that divider doesn’t “stick up” or give you any way to see a distinct separation between the maindeck and sideboard.  That is nit picking, but it might be important.  What if a person accidentally has a maindeck card get put in the sideboard when they load into the box?  It could happen.

You can get a few dice in with the life counter, especially the smaller type.

I am going to review each deck separately.  But here is my unboxing experience.  I like that they advertise the cards that people want.  Fatal Push, Heart of Kiran, Hazoret, Fumigate…these are all cards that people want.  It is puzzling that Chandra isn’t on the Hazoret Red box…but they might be trying to contain a mass buyout of Hazoret Red.

Ok.  One more thing.  Why no decklist?  I know, you are supposed to tweak these decks to your taste.  But for crying out loud.  Does it hurt to include a paper decklist?  That little promotional thing is worthless.  Include a decklist, please Wizards of the Coast!  Please…for the SpartanNerd?

I rate the unboxing experience 4/5.  Mostly because of the missing decklist.

Stay tuned to SpartanNerd.com for more details about each deck…and I hope to get that YouTube thing going.

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The State of Magic the Gathering

There are lots of video bloggers out there talking about Magic the Gathering, but the one I think garners the most respect is “The Professor” from Tolarian Community College.  This guy is brilliant.  He plays the game.  He makes great video content.  And provides reviews into sealed products.

One thing I am hearing from The Professor, and others, is that the game is in trouble.  There are lots of reasons frequently listed, like;

  1. Standard becomes stale so frequently…People crack the meta-game.
  2. There is a ton of competing entertainment choices…most notably apps.
  3. Other card games, especially those found on app stores.  (Hearthstone, etc.)
  4. Too much product is produced.
  5. Local Game Stores are competing with big box stores.

I think number five is the biggest threat, and most of the other problems can be traced to the mass production of specialty products.  And so that is what I would like to write about.

 

The very first MTG packs I ever bought were from Wal-Mart.  Way back in 2000 at my last career working there .I picked them up out of curiosity…I had to restock some misplaced product.  Back then, you purchased them near Pokemon Cards, Baseball cards, and novelty items.  When I bought them, I thought they were weird.  I didn’t understand them.  I didn’t buy anymore for years.  (Wonder what happened to that couple of packs?)

 

When I started playing the game seriously, I purchased my packs at a LGS. And then I began to return to this section at Wal-Mart, as i began to dive deeply into the Return to Ravnica block.  But there were always a few items I could only get at The Tangled Web (in Spartanburg) or at other specialty stores.  These included Event Decks, and other things meant exclusively for LGS.

 

But somehow, Wal-Mart, Target, and other huge department store chains, have bought into it more, and now Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast are shipping those formerly exclusive products to them in humongous quantities.  and so.

 

  1. I picked up “Mind vs. Might” off of TCGplayer for $8.
  2. E-bay has this year’s gift pack on sale for $11.  I have seen stacks and stacks of these on store shelves…
  3. LGS frequently have Planechase Anthology on the shelf.  STILL.  I have also seen Commander Anthology.
  4. Commander 2018 (or 2017?) is warming shelves.  Draconic Domination seems to be all gone, but the other three are still available.
  5. Planeswalker Mystery Boxes and similar have begun to appear…these are re-packaged booster packs.  Incidentally, they are a terrible value.  You save no money in purchasing these.

 

Truth of it is, all of this overhead product is bad for the game.  It lowers peoples’ confidence.  MTG was the bread and butter of places like The Tangled Web.  But now, they are in competition with forces that are pretty hard to compete with.

The value and rarity of recent cards has tanked.  While people are hanging onto cards like The Scarab God, and Liliana the Last Hope, mostly the cards have gone down in value.  And printing huge numbers of things like Iconic Masters is a bad idea for the game.  People feel their old cards are losing value with modern reprints.

 

So what do I prescribe?

I am a fan of closing down the Wal-Marts and Targets altogether.  (Better for all small businesses,)  But since that isn’t an option…at least Hasbro and the Wizards should scale back this mass production.  Our game feels alot less special because they sell the specialty products alongside toilet brushes and clearance thong sandals.

“I need to go down to the Wal-Mart to get my oil changed.  While I’m at it I’m going to pick up some Scott Tissue, some dog food, and Doritos.  I think I will pick up that Iconic Masters Draft pack too…”

See what I mean?

I think us gamers should vote with our wallets.  We need to only, only, only buy our cards at LGS.

 

That is alot of rant, but if you agree or disagree, let me know in the comments!

Kubros He-Man…SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

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I received this from the SpartanWife for Christmas. I’m thankful for it…but this isn’t a product that I picked up on my own on purpose…Why you ask?

I saw this…and the Skeletor on the shelves at Wal-Mart for around $12 (I believe).    If you’ve been reading the SpartanNerd blog, then you know that I have been getting a subscription to a mystery box from Funko featuring DC comics characters for a year.  This box has been fantastic…and sometimes includes unexpected and quirky things.  But mainly it features Funko Pop! figures.  I take these figures and put them around my middle school classroom, where the children really mostly enjoy them.

To me, the Kubros are trying too hard to be Funko Pop!.  The figures are basic deformed…and because they are meant to be a Lego-style pop figure, the mouths on all of them look pretty wrong, and in the case of He-Man, the eyes do too.

Maybe I changed my mind…Keep reading!

The front of the box looks like what you see above!  The sides of the box feature Filmation style He-Man pics.  And the back looks like this…featuring Skeletor, Spock, Master Chief, Ezio (who?), and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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So the brand IS trying to make a diverse array of stylized characters.  I find it interesting that there are 25 different characters being offered…

Down at the bottom, notice that this is a MEGABLOKS product.  Did you know that Mattel just purchased MEGABLOKS, and that recently they renamed them MEGA CONSTRUX?  Not sure where this leaves the Kubros figures…but it seems Mattel had the licenses to make toys of all the things pictured…(MOTU, Star Trek, Terminator, Halo.)

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Opening the box…SURPRISE.  the box is lined with stylized Kubros art.  This reminds me exactly of what Funko did with their mystery box.  And then there are those creepy eyeballs again…

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So what’s inside?

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Five polybags of pieces, and an instruction book.

It took me about 30 minutes to build this figure.  A couple of notable things…the eyes are not stickers…they are pieced together.  I dropped the eyelid…there really is no replacing that.  Luckily, I found it.  The back of one foot has a hole in it, and this was mysterious to me until the very end.  It is where you place the “K” emblem which stands for Kubros.

The basic assembly is three steps.  First the head, which is made of layer after layer of “skinny” bricks.  The legs and body are all one big step basically.  And finally the weapons.

The eyes gave me a hard time, but I think it was the arms and hands that had me scratching my head.  One of the shoulder pieces was hiding under something until the build was almost completely over.  I was going into “compromise mode,” when suddenly the SpartanKid found it!

Here is the finished product.

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Slightly smaller that I expected…the box made me think he would be larger.

Here is a comparison to Masters of the Universe Classics He-Man.

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Comical, I know.  This reminds me of Groo vs. Conan.  (Which I haven’t read…only seen the covers of.)

After you build the Kubro, the only display options you have are to use weapons or not.  You can move his arms at the shoulder, and his neck is also articulated as a peg-joint swivel.

I am going to rate the Kubros He-Man a 2/5.  Sorry guys…As a Mattel Lego…not doing it for me the same way as the recent Mega Construx Heroes.  This design doesn’t work as well as a POP! figure.  The line of studs for teeth in the mouth…the strange looking eyes.  Where is his nose?   And He-Man doesn’t have THAT SEVERE of eyebrows.  They got the “fish head” haircut shape OK.  But where is the cross or 200x symbol on his chest?  To be fair, it doesn’t seem that Skeletor or Spock have proper symbols either from the images provided.

This figure is going in my classroom, or maybe my office…Adding to my collection of pop style figures.  It is OK…I think the Kubros brand is just TRYING TOO HARD to establish something in a market that is already flooded with successful products like Funko POP!  Kubros isn’t adding anything to any of these brands, other than throwing out more plastic to completist collectors.

So the SpartanNerd rates the Kubros He-Man at 2/5.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

From the Vault: Transform…SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

I’ve been playing Magic, the Gathering for some years now, but this is the first time I’ve purchased a From the Fault product.  I DID purchase the dated “Graveborn” Premium Deck, which was an all-foil set.  I was highly tempted to get From the Vault: Angels last year, but never saw it anywhere for retail price.  (I had most of the angels anyway.)

 

This being my first one, I thought I would really take a look at the packaging.  This roduct feels like something a collector might like to keep MIB.  I don’t see the fun in that, but it is what some people do.  After spending time with this package, I’ve decided I am going to keep it to store the cards that I am not currently using.  It looks very nice.  The front is glossy and colorful with blue and orange graphics.  The back show off an image of one of the sides of each of the cards in the set.  There is a contents list on the bottom, and a message about the nature of the transforming cards.

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It opens up nicely, revealing the frontside of Huntmaster of the Fells, the backside of Liliana, Heretical Healer, and the frontside of Delver of Secrets.  You totally could stop here and just prop this product up on display somewhere.

The box feels like a display box, and upon further exploration, I discovered the correct way to open it.

 

There is a magnetic flap!  So you don’t even have to destroy the package.  NICE!

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Here’s what’s inside.

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The cards come in three cigarette wrappers.  There is a spindown life counter with a special From the Vault Transform symbol, and a nice informational poster.  Let’s look at that.

 

Nice art, with a description of each card and the story that goes along with it.  That is a nice picture of the new Delver of Secrets art, and yet another picture of Gideon on the other side.  (Gideon is very often depicted in promotional media like this.)

Now let’s look at and discuss the cards.

First of all, upon opening each pack, I discovered that they were stuck together.  I mean.  STUCK. TO. GETHER.

These cards have a special foil treatment, on both sides.  I have owned a couple of FTV printings, one of VESUVA and another of AKROMA, ANGEL OF WRATH, and those cards have the same foil treatment, but only on one side.  These cards being double sided…I guess what I’m saying is the foil treatment being on both sides is what made them glue each other together.  And it was pretty stout.  I mean, Bruna, the Fading Light was stuck to Elbrus the Binding Blade and Chandra was stuck to the Ixalan card while I began photographing.  I hadn’t even noticed!  Now separating them wasn’t scary, and there didn’t seem to be any accidents…no scratches or anything.  I just want to point out that this happened to the SpartanNerd the first time he opened a sealed From the Vault.

So here are the cards with some commentary.

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Garruk Relentless//Garruk, the Veil Cursed.

The first double sided planeswalker, and notable at that…he flips when he has a loyalty for two or less.  He is a token generator, and essentially a planeswalker with five abilities not counting the transform mechanic.  Having said all this, this is the least played of all of the cards in this set.  It is nice that they paid some attention to Garruk, however.  He hasn’t been seen since M14, when he was killing other planeswalkers all over the place.  The Wizards have decided to feature Nissa mainly as the green planeswalker mascot.

Chandra, Fire of Kaledesh//Chandra, Roaring Flame

This set features all five of the Magic Origins planeswalkers.  These each have a creature card on one side, that transforms into a planeswalker.  Chandra is the mascot for red burn strategies.  This card is a slow shock effect, and frankly a little hard to get transformed into the planeswalker form.  IF you do ever get her to level up to Chandra, Roaring Flame, you still don’t have that great of a planeswalker for all of your effort.  I supposed if you made Chandra a Commander, you might be able to do something with her.  I am placing her in my Archangel Avacyn commander deck.  (I played a match that heavily featured Chandra.  In Commander, she isn’t so bad when you have a board presence and every little bit of damage you can deal counts.)

Liliana, Heretical Healer//Liliana, Defiant Necromancer

I have been slowly building an entire foil mono-black Liliana tribal deck.  I have the stamped foil of this card, and thought that would be the prettiest version.  I was wrong.  The From the Vault printing with the extra awesome foil on both sides wins.  So I guess I am going to upgrade!

As far as all of these cards go, Liliana is the most popular commander.  She saw some fringe Standard play in her day, and still sees some Modern play sometimes in rack and zombie decks.  It is pretty easy in black to get her to flip, and then Liliana Defiant Necromancer is pretty close to Liliana of the Veil, clearly the best and most useful of Modern-legal planeswalkers.

Speaking of my Liliana tribal commander deck, the rules change that came with the release of Ixalan now lets me have multiple Lilianas out at a time.  And since I have each printing….

Huntmaster of the fells//Ravager of the Fells

A card that beat me a ton when I first began playing MTG.  I began playing in tournaments during Dark Ascension.  The Huntmaster is the definitive werewolf.

I haven’t seen this card played in Modern in awhile.  Modern wants to be a three-turn win format (It remains a four turn, teetering on three turn.), and because this card is a four drop that doesn’t have haste, it’s a little slow.  But if you can get it going, then it can win games all on its own.  Remember Kalitas?  Kalitas himself is just good enough.  And the Huntmaster of the Fells is also.

Arguel’s Blood Fast//Temple of Alcazotz

When I saw this, I said, “What??? Whoever heard of that card?”  Turns out that it is a new card from Ixalan.  This one transforms from enchantment to land.  I think this will be a nice addition to my Liliana tribal commander deck, as Necropotence is one of the things.  (Pay life for cards is a sub theme.)  The backside of the card is a powerful sac outlet.

Is this card a thing in Standard right now?  I’m not sure.  I have been out of the Standard scene for awhile.  I do have a Tezzeret deck, but have only played in two Ixalan standard tournaments.  This card has definitely not been on my radar.

Is there a precedent for this?  A Standard card in a From the Vault set?  I think they used to actually put preview cards in From the Vault sets.  So that would be pre-standard…

Arlinn Kord//Arlinn, Embraced By the Moon

Here’s one that I saw played in Standard back before the last rotation every now and then.  The “Shadows Over Inistraad” block didn’t feature as strong of a werewolf mechanic as did the original Inistraad.  Here we have a werewolf planeswalker.  She is also a planeswalker with five abilites, like Garruk, and she also makes wolves.  (Like Garruk.)  For werewolf tribal purposes, Arlinn is a must have.

Unfortunately, there is only one viable werewolf commander, Ulrich Krallenhorde, and he isn’t too great.  Still, if you are into that, jam Arlinn Kord into your deck.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer//Nissa, Sage Animist

Here is an Origins planeswalker that did see play in standard.  Really, anything that ramps for cheap works for green.  People would cram four copies of this in their deck, and play it to get out the lands they needed, and eventually they would do this and flip one of them, and proceed to have huge advantage on the board. This is one I was glad to see rotate out!

I haven’t seen her play in Modern, however.

Kytheon, Hero of Aroas//Gideon, Battle-Forged

Nothing to see here.  Move along.

(Just kidding.)  Really, this card didn’t see much play in Standard, and hasn’t in Modern or Commander either.  I think he is under-appreciated, and he probably would have fit better back in M13 standard.

He is basically a one-drop planeswalker.  That isn’t Tibalt.  So that’s something!

I think he is waiting for the right White Weenie moment to come along.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy//Jace, Telepath Unbound

And here is the money card in the set.  Jace can be had for about $25, regular printing, and $35 in foil outside of this set.  Back when he was Standard legal, he fetched $4o or more for the regular, not foil version.

Why is he so good?  He is a two drop looting creature.  You can play him early game or late game, and he is still good.  When you do his loot ability, if you have five or more cards in the graveyard, he becomes an incredible control planeswalker, with a negative three ability that lets you reliably snapcaster an instant or sorcery from your graveyard.

Is he better than Snapcaster Mage?  I don’t think so.  Almost nothing can beat the flash-in flashbacker, who becomes a great surprise chump blocker and lets you get something out of your graveyard.  Jace has to sit there for a turn before you can even activate his ability.  But he is still useful, and if you can get him to flip and keep him on board, you get great card advantage.

I’ve heard of Jace played in almost every format, even Commander.  This might be the best card in this set.  Except it’s not…

Delver of Secrets//Insectile Aberation

This probably is (the best card.)  Not many Magic the Gathering cards are as good as Delver.  And he’s a common!  So this card doesn’t cost a ton to own four copies.  But this special art special foil printing is bound to be popular with people who relaly like hitting their opponents hard and fast.

Delver is great.  He gets you card advantage.  You don’t have to trigger his transform ability if you don’t want to.  If you do want to, on turn  you can begin wrecking your opponent in the air.

Check this scenerio.  Turn one, shock in Breeding Pool.  Play Delver of Secrets.  Turn two, reveal Giant growth from the top of your library, flip your Delver  Play your Forest as land for the turn.  Declare attack for 3 in the air.  Hit Insectile Aberation with Giant Growth twice, (Because you started with one in your opening hand.)  You brought nine damage in the air on turn two.  Congratulations.  You are a jerk!

Delver is played in every eternal format.  Because he is eternally good.  That’s why!

Archangel Avacyn//Avacyn the Purifier

This is one of the funnest cards in the set.  She has Flash.  Flying.  Vigilance.  Makes things Indestructible, Sweltering Suns.  All in one Legally Blonde package.  Lots of flavor here, too.  If you followed the story of Shadows Over Inistraad, you saw Avacyn twist into a self-righteous evil.  When you Flash her in (Angel to the rescue!) everyone else on your team has indestructible until the end of turn.  And incredible shock to your opponent if you played her from your hand.  An incredible threat if she is your Commander.  And when she flips, (because one of your non-token cratures died,) she hits everything on the board for 3, and lightning bolts your opponent (s) as well.  And yes.  That’s Commander Damage!

Fun!  If you like a card that does stuff, look no further than this card.

Bloodline Keeper//Lord of Lineage

Here is the card that I think I will have the least use for.  Maybe not.  I like Vampires, and played Black Red vampires occasionally in the last Standard environment.  And here is where I think I am not that interested in building a Vampire Tibal Commander deck.  Vampires are OK.  But how often have I had a ton of them?  Not that often.

This guy is good, if you are interested in buiding such a deck.  Most Vampire decks have Olivia VOldaren as their Commander.  (She’s just sick!)  But maybe Kalitas would be good.  (No.  I know he would be good.  See above!)

Elbrus the Binding Blade//Withengar Unbound

I remember the first time I saw this card.  I knew I had to have it!  The flavor of the thing is pretty cool.  This was in the very early days of playing MTG for me, and the idea of getting that giant flyer out and smashing people was just awesome.  I had alot to learn…it is pretty hard to get seven mana to play an equipment.  Then pay to equip that to a viable attacker.  It really is pretty hard.  (I was playing this in Standard, belive it or not!)

Now Elbrus remains one of my favorite cards.  And to have this incredibly cool foi printing is just great.  And it is something else to put into Liliana’s Commander deck!

I left the weirdest for last…

Bruna,the Fading Light//…//Gisela, the Broken Blade/////Brisela, Voice of Nightmares

Weird.

Basically, the Wizards pushed the transform mechanic as far as it could go, inventing the meld mechanic, and making six cards with the ability.  Melding pieces two halves of a card on the backside of two creatures, combining them together into an eldrazi.  Brisela here represents that, as she was the best example of a played meld pair in Standard.

Gisela actually made her way into decks that didn’t feature her other half.  She is a good angel, with Flying, First Strike, and Lifelink.

It is Bruna that makes this a devastating thing.  Say you played Gisela early on, and the opponent doom bladed her.  No problem.  Play your Bruna in your second main phase (turn six or seven) and at the end step, you have Brisela!  An incredob;e 9/10 flying vigilance lifelink first strike hate machine!

THE SPARTANNERD’S RATING OF FROM THE VAULT TRANSFORM

Well.  A couple of things.  The cards sticking together is a little unnerving.  I don’t know when these were printed and packaged, but I imagine the problem might be worse if they sit unopened on a store shelf for a long period of time.  I immediately put “snugs” on mine.  (form fitting side loading card sleeves for double sleeving.)

What’s here is good.  But I think there is a glaring ommision or two.  How about Westvale Abbey//Ormandahl, Profane Prince?  I could have taken this over the Vampire, or over the Arguel’s Blood Fast.  Thing in the Ice…Hello!

The Wizards also ignored Morph and Champions of Kamigawa Flip cards.  Maybe it was economically better for the Wizards to print the double sided cards instead, but if they wanted us to get maximum power out of similar mechanics, when we could have done with Nazumi Graverobber or Willbender.

But I am happy enough.  The new printings of Liliana, Jace, Withengar, the three angels, and Garruk make me pretty happy.  I don’t play much red-green, but I am glad the Wizards printed Huntmaster of the Fells, which is about a $12 card.

The value I got for $39.99 (retail) at the Tangled Web in Spartanburg was very nice.  You already can’t find this product cheaper than $65 on TCGplayer.com.  And if the story of From the Vault Angels happens to From the Vault Transform, then it will eventually make its way above $80.

So I am happy to rate this product at 4/5, marking off because the cards sticking together worries me a little bit.  It is a great selection of cards, that came in a nice, displayable package.

Do you agree or disagree, oh Hub City Geeks?  Let me know in the comments!

Goblins Vs. Merfolk Duel Decks…SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

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At this point, my favorite sealed MTG product seems to be Duel Decks.  I own a ton of them.  And the only ones that I haven’t purchased since I began getting serious about the game are Mind vs. Might, the one released earlier this year.  That one was widely panned, and I couldn’t get excited about a Storm deck vs. a Beatdown deck.***

But Merfold vs. Goblins.  That’s different.  First of all, Elves vs. Goblins is incredible fun.  What made that so successful was not only the intense tribal flavor, but also the gameply, where you really felt like you were piloting an army of elves vs an army of goblins.  Merfolk Vs. Goblins seemed positioned to do the same thing.  Does it?  Keep reading for my full review!

PACKAGING.

The box comes in the same kind of box that Duel Decks have been released in for awhile. It makes a nice display.  (pictured above)  Not sure why you would keep it MIB, but it looks like a sell-able product.  This box shows off the flashy foil rares.  The back of the box has good information.  I think this is to really sell the product to new players.

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The box isn’t easy to open and get the product out.  (unlike Commander boxes.)

I opened mine before a draft tournament.  So I took hasty pictures on the Tangled Web table sized playmats

Here’s what’s in that package.

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The main product is sealed in two trays that make up the bulk of the box.  THis is covered by a plastic blister that shows off the foil rares.  Behind the tray is the Quick Reference, a guide to playing the decks, and the two new boxes intended for each deck.

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Here are those deck boxes assembled.  Notably, these boxes are big enough to hold SLEEVED CARDS.  (Can you hear the SpartanNerd crying tears of joy?)  Virtually all of the other duel decks we have ever gotten have come with pretty “poker card” type of boxes.  The exception was the Duel Decks anthology.

These boxes still leave a little to be desired, but that they can hold sleeved cards is BIG.  The wizards apparently took cues from the design of the Nicol Bolas Archenemy set.  These are also side loaders, but they have the janky folding flap that tucks into the main box.  However, there is a slot for easy opening.  The boxes have art on them reflecting what they are intended to hold, and they also feature the set symbol on the other side, which the SpartanKid pointed out is a trident and an axe head combined.  After saying all of this, these boxes are still made of thin cardboard…thinner and cheaper than what the actual cards are made of.  And they couldn’t possibly stand up to heavy use if a person decided to say, carry around this box to alot of tournaments.  (Sleeving out the cards fills them to the max.  There is enough room for 60 cards plus the tokens in Dragon Shields, but you wouldn’t be able to carry a full sideboard.)

But if you are like me, and your duel decks stay together resting in an organized fashion, waiting to see some light play, then these boxes are just fine.

The other things…the quick reference guide is a must include, as this product will definitely find its way into the hands of beginning players.  This isn’t an intro deck, but new players are bound to be drawn into purchasing these at the low price point.  (Mine was $19.99 at the Tangled Web.)

The poster features nice artwork, and importantly, a DECKLIST.  (The last sealed product I opened for the SpartanNerd blog didn’t include a decklist. BOO.)  I keep my decklists all in one place for when I inventory my cards about three times a year.  (Occasionally I might borrow a card from a pre-con deck for Standard, Modern, or Commander.)

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You get two life counter dice, and that’s about it for the packaging.

THE DECKS.

Longtime Hub City Geeks will know that that SpartanNerd is running out of photo space on WordPress.  So I have minimized my pictures a little.  Here are the decks with the flashy rare cards.

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Warren Instigator.  This one wasn’t on my radar.  This is how you get alot of Goblins on the field, and trigger Enters the Battlefield effects.  Oh yeah.  DOUBLE STRIKE.  You Get TWO triggers.  Sick.  This is one of the sets money cards.  This foil printing is already worth around $5.

Goblin Diplomats.  This showcases the funnyness of the Goblin deck.  And they are hilarious.

Master of Waves.  Here is one from my favorite THEROS BLOCK.  Master of Waves is a BEAST.  in the Merfolk deck, you will definitely have a ton of devotion to blue, and so will get a bunch of elementals when he enters the battlefield.  And this new art makes it look like he’s been working out!

Harbinger of the Tides.  And iconic merfolk that is removal on a stick.  Amazing.

So I am going to show you a mat full of the strategy of each deck, starting with Merfolk.

MERFOLK

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Merfolk in Modern is a strategy that depends on lords, which are creatures that give others of the same type +1/+1,  and Islandwalk, which is a type of evasion.

The Merfolk deck here highlights this by including three merfolk lords.  If you get all three out, you win.  (But the odds are against you.)  The evasion piece here is Aquatech’s Will, which is a busted spell that makes an opponent’s land into an island (in addition to its other types) and also lets you draw a card.  There are FOUR COPIES in this deck!  That’s how important it is.  One of our lords, Master of the Pearl Trident, gives all merfolk you control islandwalk.

What else is here?  Some iconic merfolk.  In addition to Master of Waves, we also get Cold Eyed Selkie, who is big in Commander.  We get Scroll Thief, who would be an automatic inclusion into any merfolk deck, and is an important core set type of MTG card.  Harbinger of the Tides.  And Tidebinder Mage, who was important a few years ago in standard.  (M13-Innistraad-Return to Ravnica-M14 Standard).

Then this is a blue deck, so it also has plenty of control.  Notably here is Essence Scatter, because you KNOW your opponent is going to cast creature spells in this duel deck environment.  Concentrate and Misdirection, which are classics.  Tidal Wave, which gives you a quick, big blocker, and Engulf the Shore which is a sweeper.

GOBLINS

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It’s hard to put your finger on the strategy of goblins.  There is a randomness to it, that finds success anyway.  And they are also always pretty much hilarious.  In this deck, you want to build up a critical mass of goblins before the merfolk are able to get out their evasive lords.  So board presence is the key, rather than evasion.

There aren’t that many goblin lords, but they are still about spiritually the same.  Goblin Wardriver has Battle Cry, which means whenever he attacks, other attacking cratures get +1/+0.  Goblin Chieftain is a goblin lord.  Goblin Rabblemaster makes goblin tokens with haste everytime you get a combat stage.  (Rabblemaster was important in Khans block).

Other ways to get out tokens?  Krenko, Mob boss makes a ton of goblins if left unchecked. Goblin Ringleader lets you get goblin cards in your hand.  (Tribal instants and sorceries count as goblins!)  Also, when paired with Warren Instigator, this is just incredible.

Blue has control, but red has burn of course!  Very notable here is Goblin Grenade.  (This card wasn’t in the first Goblin Duel Deck.  It wasn’t a thing yet.)  Goblin Diplomats makes the merfolks swing into a bunch of goblins that can black and eat them up.  Tarfire, the aforementioned tribal instant which was in the previous duel deck, as was Gempalm Incinerator.  I haven’t got to see the Goblin Razerunners do his thing yet.  (I have played seven matches.  He seems busted though, as a goblin burn spell on a stick.)  Tokens are so important here that we have four token producing spells.  (Three copies of Krenko’s COmmand and one copy of Hordeling Outburst.)

Goblin Charbelcher.  Ahh.  The Eternal Masters art.  With Black Lotus among other things flying out of the cannon.  The way this works is, you pay to activate it, then reveal your cards until you hit a land.  The number of card revealedis the amount of damage assigned to target creature of player.  Now out there in the world, there is a Modern and a Legacy version of this strategy as a whole deck.  Basically, you will build a deck with only a single land, probably Stomping Ground.  You build up your mana base using Simian Spirit Guides and borderposts, or other fast mana tricks, and then you activate the cannon and reveal all of your cards.  Hopefully at least twenty damage is sent to your opponents face!  But here, you will probably only get a few damage ponts in as the deck has a bunch of lands.  But it is a flavorful and important inclusion.  This is reliable removal that the merfolk deck can’t stop.

Ghostfire.  A colorless burn spell that costs two generic and a mountain.  Why?  I think the wizards just wanted to reprint it.  But it is handy against something like Master of Waves, which has protection from red.  This card is important also historically, as it gave the wizards inspiration for the cards with DEVOID in the recent Battle for Innistraad block.

HOW THE DECKS PLAY OUT.

So far, the Goblins beat the Merfolk most of the time.  These decks are INCREDIBLY balanced against one another if both players hit a land drop every turn and play a spell every turn.  The experience here is not unlike Elves Vs. Goblins.  You just about have the same experience.  While the Elves work differently, trying to power out big green monsters, the Merfolk work organically together to create evasion and hit the opponent hard.  The Goblins work about the same as the previous decks, with the new tricks of Goblin Charbelcher, Goblin Grenade, and Goblin Rabblemaster.  DIfferent bosses, with the same strategy of go wide and do whatever it takes to damage the opponent.

It is pretty much hilarious when someone gets Master of Waves out and gets a huge board presence, only to suddenly lose it to Ghostfire or Goblin Charbelcher.  On the other hand, it is humorous to make the Goblins have a Mountain Island and then hit them hard with islandwalkers.  Also, the Merfolk get that sweeper spell, which does away with the tokens.  It also wipes their board, but they don’t rely on creature tokens as a base strategy the way Goblins do.  (I really think Master of Waves is here for the new players.  He is splashy and flashy and fun.  But another merfolk lord would have been better.  Or a devastating artifact along the lines of the charbelcher.)

THE SPARTANNERD’S RATING OF DUEL DECKS: MEFOLK VS. GOBLINS.

Maybe you think I’m a fanboy.  But I’m giving this a 5/5.  The WIzards must be listening.  They improved the deckboxes and included a decklist.  Mind Vs. Might was poorly received because it was considered unbalanced, and therefore unfun.  This set is the opposite.  So the Wizards ARE LISTENING.

The SpartanNerd rates Merfolk Vs. Goblins a 5/5.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments, oh Hub City Geeks!.

 

***I eventually DID pick up the “Mind Vs. Might” Duel Decjs.  As told by everyone else, one there is no balance at all.  One deck gets early advantage and then pancakes the other.  However, notable that each deck contained ten rares, and also the storage boxes are of the same design we have with Merfolk Vs. Goblins.  Incidentally, I got mine for $8 off of TCGplayer!  I am going to piece these out, and am excited about making a commander deck with the blue/red legendary.

 

Draconic Domination Commander 2017 deck- SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

Extended review…I should say….

I purchased mine at the Tangled Web in Spartanburg three weeks ago, for $39.99.  Most places are marking this up now, so I was grateful to see it on the shelf, and not marked up much.

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I have played the deck several times…just at home with the SpartanKid as well as at some tournaments.  So how good is it?  Is it worth the hype?  Keep reading!

The front of the box features that window where we can see the oversized foil commander card.  “The Ur-Dragon.”  Dumb name.  Cool concept.  Apparently the Ur-Dragon was the original dragon in the multiverse…making him the most powerful.

Here is the back…

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We have a contents list and some encouraging information with some pictures of the cards…conspicuously absent is…”Scion of the Ur Dragon.”  The Scion is here alright.  But I think the Wizards purposely tried to under-hype him.  He is a super popular commander, and it is notable that a foil of him wasn’t included as well.

Why?  They are working hard to prevent mass sellouts and major markups on the product after market.  “True Name Nemesis” was printed back a few years ago, and it became impossible to find that deck.  This is also why Stoneforge Mystic wasn’t reprinted in Nahiri the Lithomancer’s deck.

Foiling out the Scion of the Ur Dragon and featuring him on this box would virtually guarantee the same end result.  This deck is ALREADY hard to find.  (It has been out for less than a month.)  While the others in the series warm the shelves.  (Vampires, Cats, and Wizards.)

This box opens like all the others…best from the bottom.  Here are the contents.  The foil Commander “The Ur-Dragon.”  The deck.  A poster/guide for playing the deck.  A nice box (there was originally a plastic liner).  And the Magic the Gathering Quick Reference.  (It’s not a guide for Commander.)

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Let’s spend a second really looking at that big card.

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BIG is the keyword here.  Not only is it an oversized card, it is also a large creature, costing nine mana all around, and requiring one of each color.

This is why (so far) I haven’t made him my preferred Commander.  You’ll never cast him, and they’ll see him coming a mile away.

What else.  Well for all that mana, you do get a 10/10 flyer that gets you card draw and board advantage.  And he can make your dragon spells cost one less also, which helps this deck a good bit as far as speed is concerned.

This guy is new.  Scion of the Ur-Dragon has been around for awhile.  Now we know who he is the Scion for!

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Notice anything missing…NO DECKLIST.  Instead we get the message, “Learn more about this deck at magic.wizards.com/c17   .

I am calling fail on this one.  I keep these little posters specifically for the decklists.  Sure, I could always look them up on the internet.  But I like having the paper item…it helps me with cataloging what I have.  Just saying.  BOO!

Let’s open some cards…

First, we get the foil legendary creatures on top.  And these are all new guys…designed for the game of Commander.

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I have preferred O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami.  He is relatively lightweight mana-cost wise.  Ramos is lightweight, but the other ability is hard to pull off…(the one that costs ten mana…two of each color.)

O-Kagachi has removal built in.  Not only is he huge, with flying and trample, but lets you destroy something else on the field.

Next, the tokens.

Cat Dragons.  YES!

As before in my EDH unboxings, this image shows the same token cards, just flipped over.  The gold tokens are also notable…King Macaar made these back during the Theros block.  This deck makes them another way…(you’ll see.)

Now for some rares…And what an incredible assortment we get!  This set of EDH is TRIBAL themed.  Meaning that most of the creatures are of the same type.  So we get a deck full of DRAGONS!!!

Bladewing the Risen.  Crosis the Purger,  Dromoka the Eternal.  Niv Mizzet.  And on and on.  Some of these are iconic.  Some of them have been staples in the existing Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck.  The Wizards opted to go with the “baby” version of the Dragons of Tarkir, I think because the Dragonlords were all mythic rare.  The baby ones have been underplayed, so…(Already I have seen builds where these are swapped out for the Dragonlords.)

 

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Wasitora, Nekoru Queen is another new card.  This is the one that makes the Cat Dragons.

Taigam isn’t a dragon, but helps you because your dragons get protection from being countered.  (He’s really good…more on that later.)  There are also some other humans/creatures that help you with the mana costs of dragons.

I’m hoping I’m showing these pictures in the correct order…I took them awhile ago….

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Yes.  That wierd patch of mountains was in that spot.  These cards are some of the staples of Commander.  Lightning Greaves, Darksteel Ingot, Sol Ring, and Nihil Spellbomb.

IMG_0529These cards are perfect for this deck!  Dragon Tempest…that is a game winner.   One of those things that eventually adds up.  Palace Siege.  Usually use the “dragons” option!  Earthquake.  Like.  almost every creature in this deck flies!  Crux of Fate.  YES!

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Steel Hellkite.  This guy makes your opponents think.  You can pump him if they don’t block.  If they do block, you can pump him and kill their thing.  And if he manages to do damage to the opponent, then you can use him to sweep the board.

Fist of Suns.  This is a card that I managed to cast early game when I was running slow on mana.  Then some jerk destroyed it.  I lost that game because of mana problems.

Here are the rest of the lands.

IMG_0532Here are the rest of the lands.  Lots of fixing.  Tri-Lands.  A copy of each Vivid. Make no mistake.  This is a slow mana base.  It works.  But if you get behind, you can be hurting holding useless cards.  You do get Command Tower and Opal Palace, and Command Sphere.  This deck has Crucible and Haven of the Spirit Dragon, one of which frustratingly mentions Ugin.  And there is a new fixer called Path of Ancestry which enters tapped but provides a scry…this land is tribal for a creatures deck.

The Wizards won’t reprint fetches and shocks for Commander, but that is what’s needed here.

HOW DOES THE “DRACONIC DOMINATION” DECK PLAY?

Since my first unboxing, I have played this deck just about exclusively with the stock cards.  I wanted to bring a strong review.  I have no plans to review the other decks from Commander 2017.  Maybe I will…but right now I have to save money…and my Magic budget is going to have to replenish my Standard deck.

I have played this deck casually at home and in “sanctioned tournaments.”  I personally have yet to take down a table of four.  But this deck rarely comes in last place.

Go back to what I said about the mana base.  These lands are too slow to generate the required five colors.  You need to get five colors out, and quickly.    The best fun I’ve had with this deck is on games where people have slow draws and I have lots of fixing with tap lands to load on the board early game.  Then you are just (hopeully) top decking good stuff that you can play.  But some of the cards, like Palace Siege, have a double requirement on mana, making those cards even more difficult to play.  And you can hang up playing Ramos for his ability.

The dragon tribal theme is very strong.  Dragon Tempest makes it out on most every game.  And like I said, that is a huge winner.  It gives all your flying creatures haste, and deals damage to something equal to the number of dragons on the board.  Which if that number is four or five, you can really take out a creature, or send that damage to a player or planeswalker.

Utvara Hellkite makes Dragon tokens.  And those trigger Dragon Tempest.  You win!

Sometimes it’s a difficult choice for your opponents to figure out what is the worst thing on the board for them to kill.  Should they kill the commander or Utvara Hellkite?  How about Taigam?

Crux of Fate is incredible.  You get to kill everything except for Dragons, leaving you in a board state of total advantage…you are hoping an opponent doesn’t follow up with a sweeper.

I haven’t played Scion of the Ur-Dragon as commander yet.  Why?  I have been killed by him too many times.  This deck didn’t come with it, but Skithiryx (Skittles) is a big black dragon with infect…and people typically make the scion into a copy of Skittles and kill you off quick.  I hate infect…and won’t be modding this deck with Skittles.  Besides, the Tangled Web league docks you points for using infect.  (Yes!)

The dragons are great on the field, but they can also be a liability.  People tend to take control of your dragons and use them against you, or reanimate them from the graveyard for the same reason.  If they do, though, your games can become super fun!

I like The Ur-Dragon in the graveyard.  You can target him with the Scion easily!

Ramos has made it to my hand once.  I guess he is slippery with the odds somehow?  Someone made me ditch him into the graveyard once.  BOO!

MODIFYING THE DECK

So overall, the deck is fun, but needs a few things to make it great.  I think  Dragonlord Silumgar would be perfect.  This deck needs Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Nicol Bolas.  Who would I fire?  Originally I thought it would be Taigam.  But NO WAY!  That guy has protected my dragons so much!  Some of those baby dragons can be upgraded or swapped for these.  I’m not a big fan of the Bolster mechanic, so probably would get rid of Dromoka the Eternal.

You could add fetches and shocks to this deck! I would probably replace anything that has a double mana requirement.  It’s just too hard to reliably pull those cards and abilities off.  These have been the cards that sit in my hand the most, waiting on me to get that other black or blue source.

A player could go after Skittles.  But most Commander players don’t like infect.  It doesn’t feel like a fair way to win the game.  The rules committee should consider raising the number of poison counters hare required to kill you from ten to twenty.

SPARTANNERD’S RATING OF “DRACONIC DOMINATION”

Out of the box, this is a playable deck.  That is something!  In a tournament, it can stand up to other decks.  It is a good matchup against Voltron-type decks, and mono-color decks don’t stand a chance.  It has taken down Meren of the Nel Toth and Atraxa.  People have to pay attention to what you have on the board…big flying monsters with abilities.  These are just hard to ignore.  Your opponents are probably also playing big hard-to-ignore creatures…so then it comes an evaluation game.  What gets killed off first?  The fact that the dragons are big flyers make them constant threats.  The decks that usually beat this are more control oriented…(This is why Taigam, Ojutai Master is so good…he keeps your dragons from being countered.)  Famously, a deck I call, “Force Field” came back from near lethal damage, and locked me down with Sphere of Safety…this person had a TON of enchantments on the battlefield.  This deck could remove that with Rain of Thorns or with another “destroy permanent effect.”  But I was unable to draw those.  This person was extorting every turn as well, so they slowly took me down and dug themselves out.

To make it to the top, this deck will need modifying.  Not to complain too much.  That mana base needs some speed.  My losses have usually come because of mana problems, more than creature or strategy problems.

I wish it had some planeswalkers.  Why not Sarkhan Unbroken?  Seems like a no-brainer!  How about Ugin and Bolas?  Here was a chance to reprint creature Bolas.  Why didn’t they?  Surely not the True-Name Nemesis effect…Bolas as a Commander isn’t really good.(Maybe that’s why…)

As a product, I have to take off for the fact that they didn’t include the decklist.  They continue to include the “Quick Reference Guide to Playing Magic” which doesn’t mention the rules of Commander.

But the deck is pretty terrific, loaded up with legendary and excellent dragons.  It is fun to play.  The mana problems that it has are pretty serious.  I am going to mark off there.

So that’s two marks off.  The SpartanNerd is going to rate the Commander 2017 “Draconic Domination” deck at 3.75/5.  I just want you to see how optimistic I am that this deck could be really great.  If you get this, consider upgrading the mana base, and consider other dragons to replace some of the baby Khans dragons.

The SpartanNerd rates “Draconic Domination” at (we’ll say cautious) 4/5.  The wizards need to include decklists with every sealed deck.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!