Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony…SpartanNerd’s Music Review

          Nothing could taint the experience of finally seeing the Ninth Symphony performed live!  The Spartanburg Philharmonic absolutely nailed it…It may be the highest art Spartanburg has ever experienced, and this is an artsy place.  Worries about three of my students who didn’t arrive couldn’t scar it.  Neither the hazardous weather; neither the annoying synthetic buzz of the speakers in Twitchell Auditorium at Converse College: neither the horrible parking situation or record crowd audience.  No.  Beethoven’s music transcended it all.  This is a piece that I have purchased several times over the years, the first of which when I was sixteen years old and had my family scratching their heads.  A piece that I have taught about since my career began with glowing reverence.  A piece that I have never seen performed except in odd snips and pieces, and never with singers.
          The program started with the unconnected Modern piece, Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” which provided a point of variety and contrast, and set the stage for conductor Stefan Sanders’ remarks about the nature of life…the What, How, When, Why, and Where of life.  This piece has a pretty and controlled strings component, and “questioners” who played from the balcony, disconnected from the rest of the players, and playing with differing keys and tempos.  He explained that Beethoven strived to give us the answer that Charles Ives was also looking for with his greatest and final symphony.  He described the first movement as having an urgency, the second movement as a type of demonic dance, the third movement a tribute to love, and the fourth movement all about brotherly love.  I personally have always given deeper explanations of each movement…more technical ones.  But Mr. Sanders let his orchestra do the talking…
          As the first movement began, the straight sounds of open violin strings, the droning of the winds, the feeling of the orchestra being tuned, (a revolutionary idea in the great master’s day), the power of it all was too much for me.  My heart began to race and, yes, I began to cry.  How many times have I just sat and listened to recording of big-name orchestras?  How many rides from college back to Pacolet have I let this play?  (Yes.  Years ago.). I remember listening to this to go and pick up a pet rabbit with one of my sons, and I explained each movement and what was going on to him.  All of this crashed down on me at once.  To me the Spartanburg Philharmonic’s rendition was devastating, powerful, and unashamed to make statements in every way.  And the tempo that they played it in was perfect, not dragging at all.  And as annoying as that droning synthetic speaker sound in that room was, It was completely washed away by the raw strength of the orchestra.
          During the break between the first and second movements, you could hear a torrential downpour as a storm raged outside.  This was God smiling at us as we listened…the second movement evokes a tempest, and this heavy rain made a perfect backdrop.  As I listened, I noticed how perfectly balanced this orchestra is.  I have a few recordings that sometimes when I listen to, and feel like the recording or the players don’t sound as spot on as they could.  We had good seats for this concert…it’s true.  But the orchestra itself was pristine.  Never all night was there a single time that a horn was too loud, a section overpowering, or even a drum too tight.  I mention that I have never seen the Ninth Symphony performed live before, but I HAVE seen this movement performed a few times.  But the Spartanburg Philharmonic brought the greatest performance tonight.
          As there was another break before the third movement, something odd happened that I didn’t understand until later.  Four singers entered the stage and took a seat at the front.  For this event, the choir that was to sing the Chorale at the end was seated onstage for everyone to see.  But these four entered and took a seat up front, undoubtedly the soloists who would sing in the final movement.  And suddenly I had a slight panic.  There was to be no singing until the fourth movement?  Were they skipping the third movement? (Blasphemy!). No.  Nothing like that at all.  I felt my tension ease as the orchestra began to play the prettiest part of the the Ninth Symphony, the Pastoral movement.  I do enjoy the melody of this part…it reminds me of some of Beethoven’s other work.  But I will be the first to tell you as a teacher that this is also the least exciting part of the whole work.  After listening to the thing several times, you know the real treat is in the fourth movement, and sometimes it feels like some of the extended phrases and sections of the third movement are hoops Beethoven has you jump through to keep you anxious for the end.  The orchestra delivered this movement nicely, and then…
          So why did those singers come onstage so early?  Mr. Sanders had about a fifteen second break in between the third and fourth movement.  I don’t even think the players rested their instrument or turned pages.  He froze in place, as many times I have done in conducting different groups…and then, with more electricity than the raging storm outside, the fourth movement began, and I jumped to the edge of my seat!  And so the conversation began between the low strings and the rest of the orchestra, and it is like every single note is stamped on my soul.  I look over at the cellists and bassists at the right, and then back at the other players on the left, anticipating and reveling in it all.  Beethoven wrote this when he was COMPLETELY DEAF!  And the classic themes of the three movements before, Orchestra Tuning, Thunderstorm, and Pastoral are all shot down, and then the low players begin to play the hymn of the ages, the Ode to Joy, and the rest of the orchestra follows suit.  Then on cue.  My kinsmen, the singers, they all stand in one accord at the right moment…the same electric music that made me sit up in my chair had me moving again as they all sprang into action.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that wonderful bass singer singing the classic German text as we hear the conversation yet again, with words.  And how did this great chorus sound?  I was worried about the balance.  But it was sparkling and as pure as the greatest recording I have ever listened to.  And did I mention that I was glad to hear them singing in German?  My wife, sitting beside me the whole time, elbowed me in the side during the Turkish March and asked me if I was alright, and I realized again that I was crying.  The quartet delivered part beautifully, and when It was time for the rest of the chorus to come in with those notes…the ones with the droning trumpet…the notes that let you know a cathartic moment is upon you, it was ecstatic.  And the coda section of the piece, (should we really call it that?). This terrific group made it the greatest “mad dash” of all time.  Literally, the second that it was over, the audience roared in applause and stood to its feet.  The clapping went on for…five minutes?  And then it kept going!  Of course there wouldn’t be an encore, not after all that.  But what a rush!
          Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was the closing performance of the 2018-2019 orchestra season for the Spartanburg Philharmonic.  I want more.  Our city needs more.  Please keep this happening Spartanburg!

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!

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 Unboxing and Review…Nissa Planeswalker Pack

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So the age of the SpartanNerd reviewing Intro Packs is over.  Recently, a few intro decks have been fun.  But they were never competitive.  Sometimes I would feel like gambling…Hey lets buy some boosters and see what we get.  A Zendikar Expedition land?  A Kaladesh Masterpiece Invention?  But then I would see that an INTRO DECK came with two boosters, and the certainty of a playable deck, at least at the kitchen table.  And so that’s why Intro decks had alure to me.  Throw in that I get A TON OF HITS off of unboxing and reviewing sealed MTG products, and then you see my motivation.

But too often, the intro deck was a lackluster offering, enjoyable mostly by kids and people learning the basic HOW the game is played.  So is the PLANESWALKER PACK any better?  Did the Wizards of the Coast just UPGRADE the “getting into the game” experience?  I know the guy who can tell you.  Me.  That’s who.

The Intro Pack Planeswalker Pack comes in the box shown above.  Mine was shrinkwrapped with an extra “tough” piece of plastic. around the middle.  I wonder why?

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The back gives us some information about what we are getting, with a little blurb about what the deck is about.  Now if I was a new player, I might be interested in the deck from reading this.  In fact, I saw a new player yesterday purchasing this deck, and he definitely said he was more interested in this than the other intro decks on sale.  (I was at Wal-Mart in line coincidentally close by.)

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I was surprised when I opened the box to find  similar packing strategy to the Commander decks.  There is a big plastic sleeve over a tray.  I like this…it keeps the cards well protected…and this stuff is re-usable.  I don’t use it, but it can be used by people who want to make some effort.

The next thing about made me want to shout exaltations!

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What you are seeing is the contents of the package, all placed into a deck box.  Not just any deck box, but a deck box that is large enough to hold the shrink wrapped deck, two booster packs, and all o the promotional materials.  In short.  The deck box is big enough to hold the deck SLEEVED OUT!

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Here is the Nicol Bolas deck I recently reviewed, sleeved in Dragon Shields.  The sixty cards fit perfectly!

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Besides that nifty box, here are the other contents.  I just throw away the “quick reference guide.”  But this is the kind of thing that should include it.  New players encounter questions as they learn at their kitchen table.  I feel this thing isn’t really adequate compared to experience time at the table.  But it is at least a start.  Other than this we get a nice poster, which includes a decklist.

So on with the review…I spent a little time talking about the Nissa (and Chandra) Intro Deck cards already.  In short, the cards are a little unrealistic for tournament play.  They cost six mana, meaning that in most competititve tournaments a player will be run over before they can play the card.  The cards have minimal upticks…Nissa here gives you three life gain if you plus her…and you get to dig through the top two (WOW) cards to find some lands.  Not much of a payout for six mana.  (Heroes Reunion.  One Green and one White mana.  Instant speed.  Seven life gain.  See what I mean?)  The bottom ability at 12 loyalty is basically over-run.

No, the Nissa won’t be a tournament splash.  But she IS supposedly balanced against Chandra from the other available intro pack.  (Chandra’s top ability is basically Shock.  So Nissa’s three points of life gain can outlast Chandra in a head to head fight.)

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Packed on top in the cellophane wrapped deck are these four rares…

Bristling Hydra…it gets you energy and lets you use energy.  Energy is a tentpole mechanic of the current Kaladesh block.

Aethersquall Ancient…a Leviathon that also gets you energy, and lets you use it to sweep the board.  A pretty incredible card.

And Verdant Crescendo, a card SPECIFICALLY FOR the Nissa, Nature’s Artisan planeswalker.  It even says so.  This is an important addition…the card acts basically as a second and third copy (when you figure the odds.)  It makes it that much more likely to get to play with your “big, splashy card.”  Which is one of the important things about the “planeswalker pack” that is supposed to be better than the “intro pack.”

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Here are the creatures and lands.  All common and uncommon.  Classic wierdo green and blue stuff, with some energy counter usage.  Nissa basically aims to run over her opponent with big creatures, either with trample or flying.  Of more interest is “Woodland Stream,” a mana fixer that can’t be had any other way than purchasing this product…

img_9365Nissa doesn’t use that much other magic other than creatures.  Attune with the Aether is ramp an energy, Apetite for the Unnatural is artifact removal, and Malfunction is creature removal (blue style.)

NOW FOR THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL THING.

You can only get the cards in the picture below by purchasing this product.  And they are all considered STANDARD LEGAL.  Guardian of the Great Conduit is a wonderful creature, who gets better if you control a NISSA planeswalker.  Notice it doesn’t say which one…

Counting the one from this set, there are three two other Nissa cards that are legal in Standard right now.  The Guardian could be a big deal to some people.(Nissa Vital Force, Nissa Voice of Zendikar, and when this Intro pack was released, very briefly Nissa the flip walker)

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The blue-green mana fixing might be important too.  Woodland Stream isn’t as good as Lumbering Falls.  But it COULD be important when things rotate.

HOW DOES THE DECK PERFORM?

I am going to disagree with the vast amount of other product reviewers.  I think this is a terrific product.  And a pretty good casual deck.  I have played it against lots of other decks, and it wins some and loses some.  Loses more often, but still, it isn’t completely lame.  I appreciate Verdant Crescendo alot, in that it makes it possible to get Nissa, though it is a dead card draw later in the game if you already have her out.

I would grade this deck at 60/100 as far as playablity.  I believe a kid out there could walk into a gaming store, buy this deck and play it on Friday Night Magic, lose to a few competitive decks, and maybe gets some wins in the lower rung of the tournament against other new players.

I rate this product 5/5.  It is fun, and accomplishes some of what it aims to do.  I’m not sure how format warping the exclusive cards could be, but I don’t think these will matter that much.  In future Planeswalker Packs, who knows what could happen?

So the SpartanNerd rates Nissa, Nature’s Artisan Planeswalker Pack a 5/5.  Do you agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

(For a review of the similar Chandra Planeswalker Pack, click this link.)