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!

 

 

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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!)

SpartanNerd…Thoughts on Frontier MTG

Surely, Magic the Gathering readers, you have heard about Frontier?  The “new format” being pushed by fans of MTG.

MTG seems to be struggling recently.  The Wizards made a mis-step in messing up the way Standard rotates, in an attempt to grab more money be more creative.  Something.  Regardless, fans dropped out of Standard, and effectively out of the game, because of the raw expense that the new 18 month schedule would demand.  Throw in that Modern has been discontinued on the pro tour level, and lots of fans are finding distaste for what is going on.

They posted apologies, and fixed the rotation after they realized the fans were voting with their wallets.

The wizards brought back “player rewards.”  (NOT).  They started something called “Showdown” which rewards winning players with a booster pack that guarantees three cards, two of which are definitely rare, and the other is “premium foil.”  meaning Expeditions and Inventions are included!  However, I have yet to see someone open one of those high-dollar cards.

It seems the fans are doing what the fans do…promote something new as a suggestion for saving the game.  Commander was the first example of a fan created format.  And the Wizards have done the best job of supporting that format.  Commander lives and thrives as maybe the second most popular MTG format after Standard.  The only problem is that tournaments are a rare thing to come by.  Other fan efforts haven’t fared as well.  Do you remember Tiny Leaders?  It seemed to be a blip on the radar around here.  I think Frontier might meet a similar end…Keep reading to find out why.

I first heard of Frontier at a Modern tournament at the Tangled Web.  The store owner and tournament organizer asked for a vote if we were interested in them scheduling an event. Most of the people in attendance were in agreement.  So late January/Early February is when it will be happening, apparently.  This kind of reminds me of exactly how the Tiny Leaders thing went down.  After playing in one tournament, where only a handful showed up, I have never seen another scheduled.  I put a ton of effort into making that deck…I even over-paid for some cards (that were inflated because of the sudden demand…”Abrupt Decay” for $35 anyone?)  Tiny Leaders was an Epic Fail…it was a fad. Maybe there are some people out there still playing that?  But even the “Sultai” colored tiny leaders general printed in Conspiracy: Take the Crown didn’t revive interest.  Will Frontier meet a similar fate?

WHAT IS FRONTIER ANYWAYS.

I suppose I shouldn’t assume you know what I am talking about, reader.  So here goes. Frontier is a fan created, non-rotating format, that allows all cards printed for Standard since M15, which was the advent of the current MTG card frame.  (A black border with holofoil stamps on rares and promos.)  There is NO BAN LIST currently.

Read that again, and think about it.

Keep thinking.  Recent cards.  No Ban List.  Did you arrive at what I arrived at?

All sets since M15 are…

M15 (core set)

Khans of Tarkir

Fate Reforged

Dragons of Tarkir

Origins (Core set)

Shadows Over Innistrad

Eldritch Moon

Kaladesh

Jeskai Black and all varieties of Azban are now going to be front and center again in the Frontier format.  Those two strategies were so good, they aren’t going to get any better. Abzan was good at control, mid-range, and aggro levels.  Jeskai Black is a control deck that wants to combo off.  We will also have the Eldrazi strategy rear its head again.

Why won’t some of the current decks in standard work?  Let’s take SuperFriends as an example…”Ruinous Path.”  “Utter End.”  “Anguished Unmaking.”  Three ways to remove Planeswalkers.

Throw in amped up token makers that improve Jeskai Black…”Hordeling Outburst” “Raise the Alarm”…See where I’m going.

These decks were crushing in Standard, and Abzan made Standard very stale…so stale even the SpartanNerd was turned off from it for awhile.  But these decks only get more tools to work with by adding in sets that rotated before they actually became a thing.

BUT WHAT ELSE.

Frontier aims to solve one of the problems that Modern has.  Card prices.

After-market, MTG cards gain value because of the economic laws of supply and demand.  “Liliana of the Veil” and “Damnation” cost so much ($100) because they have only ever received one printing, and both cards are sought after and useful in certain Modern decks.  On the other hand, no one cares about “Path to Exile,” which is a useful enough card in some of those same decks, but it has been reprinted eight times.  Path costs about $10 on a good day.

But if we keep on this line of thinking…Frontier will end up in the same place soon enough.  Fetch Lands…Frontier now only has half of the fetches that Modern has.  Modern’s fetches cost $50-$75 for the oldest lands.  Won’t Frontier’s fetches reach that level in a few years?

Snapcaster Mage.  He is about $50-$65 because of demand in Modern.  Jace, Vrynn’s Prodigy remains at $40, post Standard rotation.  In Frontier, he is bound to become the next Snapcaster.  Liliana, the last hope is currently $40 in Standard.  Won’t she become another Liliana of the Veil in Frontier if we give it a couple of years?

Frontier might currently be cheaper.  But that won’t last.  So that makes it a “Band-Aid” for this problem that MTG is facing.

Remember, NO BAN LIST

Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time.  Yep.  They are legal in Frontier.  Good thing I held on to my copies after the bannings…These will be Power Nine style cards in Frontier.  if the format catches on (which I doubt,) these will surely be the first cards banned.

Fans don’t have “market research.”  The Wizards test and test and test for Standard.  They admit they test much less for Modern, but they let Modern figure itself out, mostly.  Their Commander products work so well because they test them in a lab over and over, and see how new cards work in different situations before unleasihing them on the world.

But fans lack all that research, and that is another reason why this experiment is set up for failure.  The Wizards timed cards to rotate out before introducing new cards.  This can be EASILY SEEN if you read any of their “Making Magic” and “R & D” articles online.  And I am going to walk YOU through an easy to see one.

Back in Khans of Tarkir block, “Morph” was brought back.  As a returning mechanic, old fans were sure to know how it worked, and welcome its return.  New players might not “get it.”  When Fate Reforged came out, they added Manifest, which was an expansion on Morph.  But now the top card became a 2/2 creature, and that card could be anything.  A basic land.  A spell.  A bomb.  Or a 1/1 shrimp.  Who knew?  But this was an added layer of complexity to what is actually a pretty simple mechanic.  Finally, when Dragons of Tarkir came out, they added Megamorph.  Just Morph with the creature getting a counter when it flipped.

You see a smooth evolution here?

And during this time the fans are starting to hear about the Origins Planeswalkers.  There was going to be a concrete way for us to see them “gain their spark.”  That turned out to be the “flip” walkers.  And an article surfaced explaining how this mechanic flowed smoothly from Khans block to Origins, and connected to the block afterwards, Shadows Over Innistrad.  (I have been trying to find that article.  That would be helpful!)

The Wizards had to be sure they could teach players how to flip their cards in a non-confusing way.  Never mind that some players were playing when Morph was first introduced, or some players played during the first Innistrad block, where double-sided cards were introduced.  They had to capture the new players for standard, and teach them all about flipping cards, and how that doesn’t use the stack.  (Flipping a creature to a Planeswalker worked differently, exiling the card and then returning it transformed.)

All the while, from a business point of view, I can see them printing double sided tokens way out ahead of time.  And I know now that it has something to do with contracts at the factories that print their cards.

The point is…there is tons of logic to what the Wizards have done in designing the game called Magic the Gathering.  And there is tons of logic so that each new expansion can come out as its own individual game.  And as a standalone game, it has to be able to be fun for established players as well as accessible to new players.

And when fans say something like, “Lets make a NO BAN LIST MODERN.” or make a thing called “FRONTIER: NO BAN LIST RECENT SETS,” they are defying some of the research and development work that the Wizards used when they invented the cards.

A format like Modern makes sense.  It is curated.  It allows almost any card when you look at it as a whole, as long as it was printed for Standard during Eighth Edition or later.  When a deck like Splinter Twin or Amulet Bloom or Caw Blade or (insert busted deck here) takes over Modern, they ban the most offensive card to nerf the deck, in a way that doesn’t have a huge impact on the rest of the game.  Hence, Summer Bloom was banned, not Amulet of Vigor or Primeval Titan.  The ban list is full of cards that seem inoccuous.  Summer Bloom seems kind of harmless to a person with no experience tapping lands for double manna and bouncing them back.  And once in awhile, a Stoneforge Mystic or Jace, the Mind Sculptor comes along…But still, the wizards have kept the format going and healthy for the most part.

There is a definite attractive “punk rock” element to fans wanting to make a new Modern. The format could be better, if they allowed more sets.  Maybe go back to the first Innistrad block.  Imagine playing a competitive all-innistrad deck. That would be fun!  Imagine getting to mess with Devotion again, seeing how the gods of Theros worked with cards from all of these sets that they rarely see a competitve play with?

I am all for Frontier.  I hope it does revitalize the game.  I just don’t see it happening.

And that’s my two cents about Frontier.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!