There is a new offering from Wizards of the Coast to help new players learn how to get into Magic the Gathering. It is the “Shadows Over Innistrad” Booster Battle Pack.
I did what I shouldn’t, and picked up the Booster Battle Pack at Wal-Mart for $9.99. This is important, because the Wizards say that they specifically made this product to sell in stores like Wal-Mart, Target, etc…not specialty comic book stores.
So what does the SpartanNerd think? I’ll let you know, and also will let the SpartanKid fill you in as well!
So the Booster Battle Pack has a big picture of Jace looking at a clue…the same image that is all over the place on Shadows Over Innistrad products.
The back of the box gives you a contents list, and some light instructions. I like this box in general…and I liked it even more when I opened it!
Inside was this cardboard sleeve…the sleeve held the two decks intended to battle against one another, and also two booster packs as well. In fact…I considered just purchasing two booster packs instead of this…but it was barely more expensive at Wal-Mart…so that’s why I went ahead and got this…plus…I wanted to review something new.
The sleeve has instructions on what to do…Unwrap the decks. Decide who plays what. Open booster packs. Add five cards of the decks color. Shuffle and play. Easy…right…
Here is the contents all on display. The little piece of paper at the top right is the quick reference guide…not really too useful for this product as it is meant for 60 card decks.
The two decks feature two special rares…these are legal cards in Standard as long as Shadows Over Innistrad is legal. They are from a special smaller set, however, called Welcome 16. Basically, specialty stores like The Tangled Web in Spartanburg get free decks to give to new players…these decks are those exact things. But when you purchase the Booster Battle Pack, you don’t know what colors the decks will be. Luckily for me, these are my two colors…Black being my favorite, and White being my secondary color.
Aegis Angel…why don’t you ever see play? Because you are a six drop with an ability that is better handed out a different way. Nightmare…I always say Black is best…this is because it can do everything every other color can do. With an evil slant. Nightmare is black’s version of a big green vanilla monster. But at six drop…he isn’t very good.
Here is the black deck…with its contents displayed. Twelve swamps plus a Blighted Fen, and seventeen other cards. The two Demons Grasp are strong removal against the white cards in the other deck. Not too good in Standard, though. This is the kind of thing you draft…a late pick usually. Dead Weight is better. Mind Rot is here…and I had thought that card rotated out. But this is the Welcome 16 version. So I will happily consider using it again! Sengir Vampire represents Innistrad pretty good., as does Walking Corpse and the other vampires and zombies. Zulaport Cutthroat is a star in Standard right now.
The White Deck is just about perfectly balanced against the black deck. It has twelve plains, a Blighted Steppe, and seventeen other cards. Aegis Angel gets a few angel friends…Serra Angel is a classic. You don’t get the same kind of removal here…Smite the Monstrous is the only card dedicated to removal. You also get some pump spells, which are more in the spirit of white anyway. There is some light life gain. But overall, this deck is about as bland as the black one.
The SpartanKid has something to say..”I think the white deck is out of place in innnistrad right now.” I believe he is correct. Besides the angels, most of the flavor seems to be Oath of the Gatewatch/ Battle for Zendikar related.
Now I am going to show you the two booster packs. And then we’ll have a laugh. Here is the first one.
Did you notice anything? That’s right. Only two white cards. And three black cards. Could we take five cards from this pack and add to our deck? NOPE.
I pulled a pretty good rare…only in red. “Pretty irrelevant” said the SpartanKid.
Here is the second pack.
Four white cards, and two black cards. One awesome thing about Shadows Over Innistrad boosters is sometimes…a lot of times you get more than one rare. In this case, I got two. (You COULD have three if you happen to get a foil!)
So I did the sensible thing. I chose the five cards to add to each deck from the two booster packs.
Some kids whose parent buy this for them might have a problem sharing….This game is at its essence a trading card game. But I could potentially see some kids having a problem. And then there is the fact that one of the rares is white, and there isn’t an additional black rare to balance it. And if you are sharing…who gets the other cards? Since there is only a single blue basic land in one of them, a new player might not even know what red land or green land even looks like.
So how does the Shadows Over Innistrad Booster Battle Pack play out?
Me and the SpartanKid played a few matches…as much as we could bear. The 35 card decks make it different than any other format. The other thing…this is Magic the Gathering at its blandest. You CAN get some sense of what each color (white and black) can do. The decks are flavorful only in the most basic sense. (Demons Grasp, Zombies, Vampires for black, Angels and small guys for white.)
I wonder how effective of a tool to teach Magic the Gathering this Booster Battle Pack actually is? I tried to imagine myself…a brand new player. And then put together and play these two decks…Let’s just say I did. And somehow decided I liked it. So I went to a tournament with my 35 card deck. NOT ALLOWED. You have to have at least 60 cards. Let’s just say the store owner gives me a freebie deck to match. Then I get smashed by someone with a real constructed deck. Say…Blue White spirits, Black Red Vampires, LSV’s Cryptolith Rite thing, or gasp…what if it were a Modern tournament!
The SpartanKid had something to say…and it sums up my feelings as well.
“It’s pretty boring to play. So it might be discouraging for people trying to learn Magic.”
The mind of a ten year old! (A seasoned player…he’s been playing for almost five years.)
I’m glad to add the rares to my binder. Maybe I’ll use them in Commander. Maybe.
I did enjoy the packaging! I like the little cardboard sleeve that holds it all together with tension. In fact, we used that the whole time we tested the two decks. It works fine for that small amount of unsleeved cards. And the larger box is pretty useful in general for whatever. So the wizards do get an A for the packaging.
That doesn’t excuse the poor execution and reasoning behind this product. If they wanted to teach new players…they should come up with a different way. That the boosters didn’t contain enough cards of the colors required was annoying. And that is supposed to be random…so how can they make that suggestion with confidence? The Booster Battle Pack wasn’t worth $9.99. It could have been worth more if the rares in the booster packs were better. But they weren’t. So the free deck from the comic book store, plus the two boosters are supposed to equal that price, but in this case they weren’t. So…
One more thing…The Wizards assert that this little set is supposed to evoke some of the feeling of playing sealed deck. BAH HUMBUG. I really enjoy sealed. Because it’s fun…(especially Shadows Over Innistrad sealed, where i’ve played three times since its release.)
So I give the Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad Booster Battle Pack a 1/5.
It might be a good starting point for a person…but if I were them I’d bank on starting with an intro pack…which will probably still fare janky in a tournament, but at least be legal.
Not only doesn’t it do a good job of teaching the game, as well as fails to give you a playable tournament deck, it also leaves some components to chance, including the after-market value. In my case it wasn’t worth $9.99. (Luckily I just spent my scraped up change I found in my office at work!) Not only those things, it was also bland and boring. I advise anyone who loves playing MTG to avoid this like the plague unless you just want some Welcome 16 cards. I also advise you to tell other people…new players especially to try starting out a different way. Finally, avoid buying Magic Cards at Wal-Mart, Target, Toys-r-Us, etc. Get them from your local gaming or comic book store if you can. This will be better for you SOUL in the long run. This product just adds more of the bland stuff the big box stores sell to their inventory. Send a message…don’t buy it.
So how would the SpartanNerd encourage new players to learn to play? What suggestions could he offer to the Wizards? I think I shall write my NEXT post about that.