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!

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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!.

 

Archenemy: Nicol Bolas. SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

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Long time no blog.  Sorry, Hub City Geeks.

But I’m back with a treat!  As you can see, for Father’s Day I got the Archenemy Nicol Bolas set!  And I am unboxing it for you today!

The top image is the front of the box.  Nice artwork.  And you know you are getting something nice!  Mine was actually slightly cheaper, as the Tangled Web in Spartanburg is holding a sale…everything 15% off!

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The back has some inspiring words, and a picture of some of the content.

Opening the box, you are greeted with this.  I was a little puzzled at first.

Also, note that upon removing the cellophane and the price tag along with it, you can see some information.  Ages 13+, 2-4 players, and 30+ minutes.

What I’m telling you and showing you is that this is the first really successfully executed MTG all-in-one board game style set!  While there is Arena of the Planeswalkers, which is “Heroscape” with Magic characters, Archemeny: Nicol Bolas retains the gameplay of Magic the Gathering.  And just like any dedicated board game, there is some setup.

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IMG_0112I was confused by the big white thing.  What that is is an envelope, and it contained the four deckboxes, which you will have to assemble.

IMG_0134Adding to the board game feel of the set, you also get a special life counter, which can go up to 100.  This is the “Commander’s Arsenal” style of counter, that hasn’t been released in a long time.  (Incidentally, if you get the Commander’s Anthology,” you get four of these.  I won’t be getting that product and reviewing it, however.)

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The first pack of cards I opened were the scheme cards, of course!  These cards are the same size as the Planes from Planechase.  I am showing you the front and the back…I really like the design.  And the back is almost like, “What if Magic the Gathering came out this year?”  This might be what the card backs would look like.  The front features more of that Egyptian style art, and a device resembling the “Talon Gates.”  (Apparently, Nicol Bolas was one of the first planeswalkers, and the gates are a trophy remaining from the first planeswalker duel on Dominaria.)

 

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The scheme cards are loaded with flavor.  And I think there also may be some spoiler content from the upcoming “Hour of Devastation” set.  Check out “A Reckoning Approaches.”  Is that Razeketh on the card?

The Included Decks

Next I will unbox each deck and show you a picture of the rares.  I will also point out the important commons and uncommons.  All of these cards are reprints.

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OK.  First let me say I am disappointed that these aren’t foil planeswalkers.  AT LEAST BOLAS SHOULD BE FOIL.

And while we’re at it, why didn’t they give us an oversize Nicol Bolas as well?

OK.  Rant over.  Let’s look at the tokens first.

They are double sided.  One image shows one side.  The other shows the same cards flipped.

It seems we should be making lots of horrors, zombies, and soldiers.

Now for Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker‘s deck.

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Wow.  This is a lot of rares!  And so many things fly.  Blood Tyrant…That guy’s a winner! Don’t have what you need?  Prognostic Sphinx will get you there.   Here is a needed reprint of Dreadbore. I almost think Harvester of Souls is a little boring at this point.  How many times has that been reprinted?  Icefall Regent was recently a big deal in standard.  Archfiend of Depravity has been there…but never really shined.  Bolas is a three color card, and it’s good that we get Dragonskull Summit, a buddy land.

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Here are the commons and uncommons.  Lightning Bolt.  YES.  Doom Blade.  YES!  Extract from Darkness has been fun in commander.  Slave of Bolas.  This is my first “upgrade.”  I picked up a foil over my recent vacation.

Because Bolas is a three color character, you get some mana rocks that help you fix your colors.  And you get these lands, notably Crumbling Necropolis.

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Each of the Planeswalkers in this set are pretty good, but Bolas is the most satisfying.  Still, he costs a ton to play.  Luckily, his deck helps get him out a little earlier with certain cards.

Gideon Jura  ‘s deck

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These are some all-stars in white!  (well, maybe not Aegis Angel and Lightwielder Paladin.)  As I looked at these rares…I knew them right away.  In the case of Fiendslayer Paladin, that guy was incredible in Theros/M15 standard.  Sun Titan.  Need we say more?  Odric Master Tactician is so good he right out finishes regular matches of Magic if he hits the board with some friends.

Gideon Jura is an OK card.  There are certainly better versions of Gideon out there.  But this version is good and balanced for this set.  -2 the Gideon to remove some of Bolas pesky fliers.

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These cards are also pretty good, with excoriate exiling tapped cards.  Fencing Ace was the title of my deck back in Theros/Ravnica standard.  Pairing him with Fiendslayer is great.  The Flickerwisp…It turns out that Bolas can steal your planeswalkers pretty easy using the scheme cards.  But Flickerwisp says “return to the battlefield under its OWNERS’s control.”  Which is just sick.  Bolas can steal your Chandra, and you can just steal her back!

The SpartanKid made an observation…cards from Amonkhet have the Amonkhet expansion symbol.  But cards from other places get a special Archenemy symbol…

(I thought of this because of the Aerial Responder, even though he has the Archenemy symbol.  Somehow that triggered my memory, maybe because he is in Kaladesh?)

Chandra, Pyromaster‘s deck

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Dualcaster Mage, Grim Lavamancer, and Inferno Titan.  These cards are terrific!  I don’t know if Dualcaster made a splash in Vintage or not, but this was one of the predictions when it was first printed in Commander 2015.  This is my first copy of Grim Lavamancer…he is a staple in the Modern burn archetype.

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Hammerhand and Coordinated Assault help your guys get through.  Searing Spear…this is NOT LIGHTNING BOLT.  Chandra now has at least three pre-constructed decks, and none of them have the best burn spell in them.  That said, Searing Spear isn’t bad, it just can’t outpace Lightning Bolt.  Volcanic Geyser.  Why not just include Fireball?  The geyser has the advantage of being an instant, but it is one red slower.

Chandra’s card is one of the best Chandras they ever printed..  Seeing that she has NINE DIFFERENT CARDS, that’s saying something.  But a great many of those are not really tournament playable.  This one is a contender.

Nissa, Worldwaker‘s deck

IMG_0126Gavin Verhey, who was the lead designer on this set, proclaimed in the now famous preview duel on the Mothership website, said that Nissa’s deck could do the best with a long game.  And that may be because this is a two color deck, while the other two are mono colored.

She does have more resilient threats, but it takes longer for anything to get going.  If Bolas sweeps the board and Thragtusk is there, you at least get a beast in his place.  Forgotten Ancient can get out of hand really fast, (He was recently included in the Atraxa Commander deck.)  Oran-Rief Hydra is big to start with, and just gets bigger.

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Additionally, this deck can draw cards more easily, and Vision Skeins is incredible in a four player game.  (Of course, Bolas gets to draw also.)

The Nissa card here is the best of the three Gatewatch planeswalkers.  She pays for herself the turn she comes out.  She makes lands into man-lands.  And ultimateing her can be GG, if Bolas doesn’t sweep the board on the next turn.

PLAYING THIS SET.

I just got it yesterday!  But there has been some playing here in the SpartanNerd Household.  Last night me and the SpartanKid sleeved up Gideon and Bolas and had a traditional one-on-one.  The funny thing is, that worked pretty good.  It was a cute match, where each side would gain an advantage one after the other.  But eventually, Bolas overpowered him.

Today, I ran the Gatewatch myself against the SpartanKid, who played Bolas as Archenemy.  This match lasted about 70 minutes.  It seemed everytime I would get some traction, the scheme cards would undercut my progress.  That big splashy spell every turn really makes this a special set.  But it is also HARD.

Eventually Bolas accumulated enough flyers to just start picking planeswalkers off one at a time.  And what do you do when all you draw is pump spells while you have no creatures?  The last man standing was Nissa, and two Turntimber Basilisks, and two Fertilids.  Nissa had a ton of lands as well.  Bolas had the abovementioned flyers, but all were tapped, making death inevitable.  But I wasn’t going down without a fight.  He had three walking threats.  I landfalled the basilisks several times by using the Fertilid’s ability.  And at least removed the threats on the ground.  But it was a loss next turn.  Bolas scheme card even made me lose life before the defeat! (The Mighty Will Fall)

This was a fun time, and it could only be more fun with more players.  I will have to keep you posted here on SpartanNerd.com about future matchups.

SO WHAT DOES THE SPARTANNERD RATE ARCHENEMY:NICOL BOLAS?

It’s a terrific product, and the Board Game feel of it is very nice.  Check it out.

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Here is my Archenemy packed up and ready to play.  But believe it or not, I had just put the top back on it and shook it around.  The tray inside is perfect for keeping this set contained.  Even the life counter has a well designed spot in the set.  I haven’t sleeved the tokens or the schemes, but they fit nicely in their original spot underneath the deck box un-sleeved.

So this is a well designed package.  Well designed experience.

And I COULD take for instance, the Grim Lavamancer to a tournament to play.  And that is one of the rewarding things about collecting the sealed products the way I do, at least for Modern.  Some of the included cards here are very nice.

I wish the Planeswalkers were foil.  That is one of my complaints.  You pay $59.99 for a MTG product, there better be some foils.  Because these are all alternate art cards, they won’t be printed in foils unless the Wizards decide to reprint them in the future somehow.  You could get foil regular printing but that shouldn’t feel necessary.

The decks included are tailored for multiplayer matches, and so that is one of the narrow focus things about the set.  But you could play any decks against Bolas you wanted to, I suppose.

So I am going to rate this product a 4/5, knowing that my opinion will change the more I play the set.

Do you agree or disagree with the SpartanNerd’s rating of 4/5?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Amonkhet Pre-Release…SpartanNerd Experience

I was on the fence about playing in the pre-release this time.  My nerd closet is busting out, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with my stuff.  But after previewing the goodness of the Egypt themed Amonkhet, I couldn’t hardly wait to play.  So here is a review of my experience!

At midnight on April 22, the Tangled Web in Spartanburg SC had more players in it than I’ve ever seen there.  Maybe.  (Perhaps Theros had more?)    They totally hit capacity.  Pulled out every table and chair.  One guy voluntarily sat in the floor to build.  (He just wanted to.)

As usual, everyone was given a box.  Here is my box right after opening.

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This is one of the prettiest pre-release boxes I’ve seen.  And it has a neat construction as well.  Here’s what you get.  A nifty “Cartouche” box.  Six boosters.  A “The Trial of the Five Gods” card.  A stamped oil rare or mythic.  (mine is Throne of the God-Pharoh.),  And a deck builders guide.

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To save data, I am only showing you my rares, and a picture of my picks.  (The SpartanNerd Blog, like my nerd closet, is maxed out with stuff.)

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I crafted an incredible deck with the six packs of Amonkhet.  It has lots of flyers and just enough removal.   The god card is also very good, being indestructible, big and flying, and gaining you card advantage.

I have some small zombies that count as great early game removal.  And one of them, a rare,  has his own recurrence.  I have cards that return creatures from graveyard to hand, with Gravedigger being a classic. This is great for cycling or keeping annoying creatures out.  I pulled a big mythic angel but thought it not worth splashing for.  Throne of the God-Pharoah plus the curse is like insurmountable drain in this format. Bone Picker.  A black delver style card is also very good too.  

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You’ll notice I only have one Throne…It is a legendary artifact.  So I opted to only keep the one…probably the best move.  No one played artifact removal against me all night!

I won the dice roll every time, but like drawing more than playing first.  (I have a history of doing this in sealed.  It’s a good policy in the slower format.)

I took an early win.  2-1.  My loss was because of the poor choice to keep a hand without early creatures.  I think it unwise to count on playing control without any board state.  I didn’t see any -1/-1 counter abilities against my creatures for removal.  This guy played three colors.  Unwisely.   He had some big manticores.  But i was able to remove them.  

Round 2 against J.D.   a person I’ve rarely beaten.  He played green red.   I lost game 1,  A grind-y match,  where i drew a land when i only had one life, and needed removal.   Game 2 though…he played a red card that is 4/2, with a requirement that he discard a card, and got to tank an embalm creature.  Sick!   So he won that too.  I had the god in hand.  But couldn’t see the way of turning him on.  I felt good about my hand too.  But it just wasn’t good enough against what he had.  Sadness!

Game 3.  Creature stall for a long time.  My opponent cloned kefnet.   He almost decked himself as I held him off forever.  Then with two life remaining, he cycle-shocked me.   He took away game 2.   And i dropped

It was great fun!   I left for home at 4:15 AM.

WILL I PLAY TOMORROW?  (I did.  My deck was white-blue, featuring the white god Oketra.  Either I or my deck performed better.  But it was a slow deck that took awhile to get everything working.)

“Breed Lethality” Commander 2016…SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review

FOUR COLORS.

Wow.  This was the selling point of Commander 2016.  The Wizards of the Coast put out five brand new decks, each with a four color general  And because designing four-color cards is such a difficult task, they created a new “partner” mechanic, that lets you mix and match a pair of two-color commanders, for some new EDH ideas.

If you have been reading the SpartanNerd Blog for awhile, you know I recently picked up Kaalia of the Vast, a three color “mardu” general.  I did this because I really like casting Angels, Demons, and Dragons.  But also…this is one of those cards serious EDH players should have.  And at this point, I do consider myself a little bit serious about Commander.  I think the “Breed Lethality” deck, with Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice will be the next deck along the same line as the Kaalia thing.  You can’t find it anywhere!  I have been looking patiently at the big box stores, knowing that they will stock it at MSRP.  But all I ever see are “Open Hostility” and “Stalwart Unity.”  Luckily, at the SC Comic Con I saw Atraxa’s deck…and in Japanese no less!

Because it is in Japanese, (Kanji I assume), I thought it a good idea to wait awhile and get some experience with the deck.  This was a great decision.  I feel like I have a thorough review for you today, chock full of experience!

This week has been Spring Break, and I spent a great bit of time playing Commander.   I saw “Breed Lethality” quite a few times…almost exactly the stock version.  I took my own baby out, the almost totally foiled out Liliana Tribal to a few tournaments this week.  There was one time that in a five player match, two players had Atraxa!  She’s good!  But there is also a little bit of sadness when a deck gets so popular “everyone is playing it.”

Well anyway.  Here’s my review!

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We get the same sort of box we always get.  This time, though, the writing is all in Japanese.

The window shows you a real clear view of the oversized foil general, Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice.  Flying.  Vigilance.  Deathtouch.  Lifelink.  At the end of your turn, Proliferate.  That is…add another counter of any kind on the board…on as many different permanents as you want.  This general is so good…, it’s no wonder people want to play it.  It is almost like a challenge for you to figure out how to use it!  Proliferate Poison Counters…Experience Counters.  Abuse cards that look for +1/+1 counters.  Suspense counters.  Time counters.  On and on.

Here’s the back.  It shows off some other cards.

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These three are the “Partner” generals.  You can mix and match them.  In fact, if you did buy the other Commander 2016 decks, you would have fifteen different cards to interchange all together!

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Here’s the contents of the box.  This time I am going to complain a little bit about the box.

This is the first time that I have DOUBLE SLEEVED an EDH deck.  This deckbox can’t accommodate Dragon Shields double sleeved.  It CAN hold Dragon Shields without the double sleeved system if you side load them into the box.  But not the double sleeved.  (Why did I double sleeve?  To write the english text in Sharpie on the card as an aid as I tested out the deck.)

The other items in the box are…The deck.  The General.  The box, along with a plastic tray that can double as a swimming pool for Lego Mini-Figures, a how to play reference guide, which is probably just as unsuitable in Japanese as in English for EDH, and then the insert which contains story, art, how to play the deck, and the all-important decklist.  But it’s all in Japanese, so I can’t tell you what it says!

This week while playing, I heard the Atraxa’s story.  Basically, four of the Praetors, Elesh Norn, Jin Gitaxias, Sheoldred, and Vorinclex each decided to transform an angel into a Phyrexian Horror.  Urabrask, the red Praetor, decided to stay out of it.  This is why Atraxa is all four colors except red.

This is a pretty cool story.  I don’t really know that much about the Praetors.  I do have Elesh Norn for my Gifts Ungiven deck in Modern.  And I have a foil Sheoldred coming in the mail to add to Liliana’s deck.  But really, neither would be all that great added to this deck…that’s not really how this deck wants to play out.

So…On with a review of the cards!

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First of all, here are the generals.

Atraxa, Who I already explained.  You get this smaller card to shuffle and be discreet with in your hand, in case someone out there was wondering.

Inkra Shidiqi, the Usurper…this person lets you gain life equal to the toughness of your creatures when they deal combat damage to a player.  I find this an odd ability in the colors Green and Black.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to play or play against this card yet.

Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker.  He flies, and lets you put counters on him whenever your opponents play a spell.  (And since this game is titled MAGIC….)

Reyhan, the Last of the Abzan.  This character gains the +1/+1 counters of other creatures when they are put in the graveyard.

I have partnered Ishai and Reyhan….they are an incredible combination!  I was able to 132 +1/+1 counters on Reyhan!

Here are the tokens…next in the deck.  How cool is it to have a Japanese “Germ” token!

Now for the main deck.  As before…I will really only comment on cards that I find to be really significant through my experiences.  But this time the deck is terrific, so…

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Thrummingbird.  A 2/2 flyer that lets you proliferate.  This is getting you there!  Abzan Falconer.  Do you like fliers?  I thought you did!  Tuskguard Captain…everyone gets trample if they have a +1/+1 counter on them!  Juniper Order Ranger.  Everyone deserves a counter!  Whenever another creature enters the battlefield, they get a +1/+1 counter, and so does the Juniper Order Ranger!

The Signets.  And Darksteel Ingot.  One thing about this deck…if you are playing Atraxa, and you can’t get all of your colors, you might just be behind everyone else.  The Wizards wisely reprinted the signets and Darksteel Ingot to help you fix your mana.  (Commander’s Sphere is practically the same thing as Darksteel Ingot.  It isn’t indestructable, however.)

Mortify and Putrefy.  This deck doesn’t have that much targeted removal.  These two do nicely, if not as well as Fatal Push, Path to Exile, or Vendetta.

Crystalline Crawler, Deepglow Skate, and Duelists Heritage…these are all new cards.  They all work really well.  You get to load counters on the Crystalline Crawler, who is colorless herself.  So you can play that without all of that fixing.  Deepglow Skate lets you double the counters on a permanent, and then Duelists Heritage helps you play politics, as you can choose an attacking creature to give double strike too!  Forgotten Ancient…He gets a counter whenever anyone casts a spell…even you!

Kalonia Hydra…double counters every turn!  Ghave, Guru of Spores.   I remember the first time I ever saw this guy as a general…wow.  He can make a ton of Saprolings.  Scavenging Ooze.  Need I say more about that card!

Of the cards on the bottom…Fathom Mage lets you draw a TON of cards.  Merciless Eviction and Spitting Image.  Merciless Eviction is almost the only sweeper in the deck.  Spitting Image…It is frustrating to see this card across the table.  Not pictured…Treasure Cruise…

There are plenty of basic lands, but here are the fixers.  You need the power of ALL OF THESE!

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Command Tower AND Opal Palace.  Bounce lands.  Tri-Lands.  And Evolving Wilds.

As I have played against this deck this week, I have noticed one of the most striking modifications is to add Fetch Lands and Shock Lands to help with the fixing.  This is something I have rarely seen in Commander…but it makes sense for these four color decks.

 

Playing the Deck

All week I have played this deck, and played against it.  In different places.  So I have a varied look at it.

The deck is great as is.  And I have seen it played like that some.  When I have played it, I like Forgotten Ancient/ Ishai Ojutai Dragonspeaker combo.  The Mana Fixing has to be right…But I haven’t had any trouble myself.  I have seen other people have trouble assembling the necessary mana base, however.

You want to be sure to get some creatures on the battlefield, and then to have some counters on those creatures.  Besides not assembling the colors you need, the other way to lose is to have “counter screw.”  This actually has happened to me, and it’s frustrating.  But it was all about the luck of the draw that time.

You want to get cards like Corpsejack Menace, which doubles the counters.  You have to be careful about the order of the triggers in order to maximize your value, however.

When playing against other people who play this deck, I have seen one standout strategy for a custom deck: infect.  In EDH, you still are dead with ten poison counters.  Not twenty as you would hope.  I saw one guy kill everyone at his table in one turn.  I was holding an excellent mono-black hand, and that guy ruined my game!

SpartanNerd’s Rating of “Breed Lethality” Magic the Gathering Commander 2016

I’m going to give this product a 5/5.  It’s goodness all around.  The Wizards were able to give us a functioning deck with cool new game play.  They didn’t have to reprint fetches and shocks, (which would have wrecked the product availability and after-market price even more.)  The four color commander Atraxa is great, and promises a future of creative deckbuilds.

I’m not sure how the “infect” problem should be handled, though.  Atraxa is well loved, and so a ban probably isn’t going to happen.  But getting killed off frequently by infect isn’t fun.  So there’s a problem for the EDH rules committee.

THE SPARTANNERD RATES “BREED LETHALITY” 5/5.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

 

SpartanNerd Thoughts…Modern Masters 2017

OK.  WOW!

What has me so enamored?

Liliana of the Veil

Snapcaster Mage

Damnation

Enemy Fetch Lands

Cavern of Souls

Gifts Ungiven (Can you imagine drafting this card?)

Double D (Desecration Demon…again, an amazing card to draft.)

Blood Moon

Tarmogoyf

Abrupt Decay

Domri Rade

Harmonize  (Green card draw…draft this!)

Path to exile

I mean…these are just some of the main cards everyone is talking about.  The reprinting of the top four…these have been called for by fans for a long time.  Liliana, Damnation, Snappy, and enemy fetches have all only ever been printed one time.  Their aftermarket values are super high.  Oh and Cavern of Souls too.

I think MTG has been in trouble.  At least Standard and Modern have been.  Standard, because “Stale Standard.”  Modern…It is so expensive to get the above staples, coupled with the Wizards stopped running Pro-Tour Modern events, and then the little fad called “Frontier.”  (Is is really just a fad?)  And MTG players love EDH…the top selling product for the Wizards is reportedly their yearly Commander release.

I look forward to drafting with these cards…that’s going to be great.  The cards scream ARCHETYPES!.  (Reanimator, Red-Green beatdown, Esper Blink, and so many more.)  And the box I pre-ordered…that is already an epic win.  If I don’t get Liliana or the D-word…I will pull something I want to trade for them.

I just keep going back to the card image gallery, and salivating.  Never have I been so pleased with a set.  I was psyched for Theros block releases.  But this goes beyond any hype…  Liliana and D….have been on the radar for a re-print.  The Wizards even said they considered her for M-15.  How that other card didn’t make it into “From the Vault: Annihilation,” I just don’t know.  We didn’t need another Wrath of God, especially with Heliod on it.

Back when they did the other two Modern Masters sets…people said, “Nah.  They won’t re-print Blood Moon or fetch lands.  That would be crazy.”  They have, people.  Draft and buy this thing.  And get back into Modern.  I’m getting bored!

(Technically, Tarmogoyf is the most valuable card up there in my list.  Not sure how…it has seen a few re-prints.  Yes.  Great card.  But in Modern, you pretty much need four copies of that $200 card in order to play the Zoo or Jund archetype decks.  Just saying!)