Originally, I sat down to write an article about my thumbs up review of M11. I’m not messing with you either. There are a multitude of reasons for my stamp of approval. However, it felt forced and a wee bit boring with the plethora of M11 articles out there. It suddenly occurred to me, nobody has done an article on collecting. Sure, we have rating scales individual cards for constructed and draft playability with many authors giving their seals of approval. The process feels very mechanical and sterile. My own personal Magic libido doesn’t find rating scales sexy. If a pro gives a card a 4.5 out of 5 to a card, does that get you excited? Oh yeah baby, it has a 4.5 in draft and constructed. That’s hot.
To make this process feel a little more organic, let’s try something a little bit different. Using M11 as a base for what I want to talk about, I’m going to propose another way to look at sets. Cards can be divided into groups of potential, great, good versus jank, utility and junk. The boundaries between any of these categories may overlap, intersect with lines with blurred lines. If you want to crunch numbers to get the precise average constructed or draft ratio for the new M11 set, you might want to go read something else.
From my years of experience, I will vouch that the potential of any card is the most important aspect of judging cards. What I am talking about might be better served with examples. Take Dark Depths, before Vampire Hexmage. The important part is not to say whether the card is good or bad. The critical mindset is to examine what this card could do. It is easy to say now, but Dark Depths had massive potential. Maybe, I am approaching this the wrong way. Take Baneslayer Angel or even Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Those two cards have no potential. None. I’m not arguing they are nuckinfuts. They are some of the most powerful cards ever inked, but they will never be more powerful than they are now. Jacey Jace will still be Jace.
Recently, the creative genius Conely Woods was wise enough to sport a set of Mosswort Bridge alongside Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In this instance, Emrakul is the great card so to speak. However, Mosswort Bridge is the card with potential. Emrakul can easily be replaced with Progenitus or whatever is hot at the time. Think about it, no matter what ever future card Wizards decides to print, the Hideway cycle of lands can potentially play them for free. Heck, on the super casual side of Magic, hideaway lands could play Gleemax. Just mull on that a moment. Hideaway lands will be able to play any card ever printed; past, present and future. For Free.
Again, I think the characteristic of potential is thee most important quality of a Magic card. They are the cards that can be the most fun, greatest and jankiest of cards. No matter what, it’s what these cards mean to you, the Magic player. Cards like Mosswort Bridge can be whatever you want it to be. Do you want it to play big spells? Do you want it to play off-color spells? It doesn’t matter. You can play these cards however you like and are only limited by a card collection and imagination. Take the powerful Isochron Scepter. How do you want to use it? Do you want to imprint an endless supply of Counterspells or Lightning Helixs? It's your choice.
Flip back to M11. Why do I like M11? The set is full of cards with potential. Sun Titan has the most potential. Will it be good? Maybe, but I can build whatever kind of deck I want with them. A person really can’t say that about Baneslayer Angel. Exactly, how many decks can you make with that angel? Wizards has been nice enough to print a spattering of cards in the set to make deck builders wonder at their potential. Ajani's Pridemate has me equally intrigued. With all the life gain, I wonder if lifegain will actually be used as a resource for spells and abilities. We’ve had a spattering before with cards like Kavu Predator, but it seems we may actually be getting a small peek. Anyway, make it a high priority to collect cards with potential.
One last blip, is Doubling Season popular cause its fun or because it has the potential to be fun?
The Great Reprints
Unlike my Worldwake shake-down permanently putting me on a list named balled on black paper, my indifference to Rise of the Eldrazi, the spoilers for M11 gives me faith in the game. Not every card will be a Mass Polymorph. M11 has the right mix of great cards like Day of Judgement and Birds of Paradise. Just to ensure the air is clear, Baneslayer Angel is a great card. Every one and their grandmothers love the card. Who wouldn’t? To top it off, we get what I call the Dragons of the set: the Titans. They are the cycle of cards that make you drool over the unopened booster box in anticipation. The Titans are simply fun.
Even though cards like Day of Judgement are reprints, I am on the opposite end of the reprint policy. I love reprints. In my eyes, I never see anything wrong with a reprint. Even though I already have a play set of Day of Judgement, I can always trade it for something I don’t already have. It has value to someone especially new players. I have the option to trade, sell or keep it. Also, reprints are a good way of easing players into the competitive circuit and rewards long time players. For example, I opened a Garruk Wildspeaker in Lowryn and one in M10. The new M11 set allows me one more opportunity to complete my set. As a long time player, I don’t have to scramble to collect every card.
When I say utility, I am talking about cards like Duress, Naturalize, Condemn, Mana Leak and Lightning Bolt. Maybe not the most super awesome of cards, but they are vital to deck construction. Mana Leak is probably the easiest to illustrate my point. Are you building a blue deck? Well, you need counterspells. They don’t define the deck but are crucial for the deck’s success. Take Force of Will, the Skullclamp of Legacy for example. If my opponent counters my first turn Thoughtseize on the play, I still have no idea what deck they are playing. For all I know, they could be playing Thopters, Merfolk, Progenitus, Threshold, or even New Horizons. I have no idea. Maybe when my opponent plays his/her land for the turn, I might finally have a clue.
Looking at M11, it has been stuffed more than Kobayashi with utility. When I first started watching the spoilers, I thought Wizards must really want us to have answers. It is something I highly praise. Nothing is worse than not having the answers needed to threats in the format. I look at it this way, if I don’t put the cards needed to win in my deck then it is my fault. I remember when Tooth and Nail was running around in Standard. At that time, there were very few good answers to cards like Darksteel Colossus. When an opponent landed the indestructible juggernaut, there was little to do besides racing them.
Good versus Jank
The most difficult part to access in a set is whether cards will be good. In right environment, anything can be good. When Terror was reprinted in Mirrodin, it was completely worthless. It wasn’t necessarily a Jank card in my eyes, but useless during that Standard environment. Therefore, by default, there will always be some jank cards in a set. The best a player can do is properly access the current and the future metagame. Sorry, I wish I could say more about the subject. It is simply difficult to access if a card like Doom Blade will be an automatic four of in a deck or sideboard fodder.
My definition of Jank is cards like Spreading Seas. For awhile, it was a powerhouse. Kinda like Flashfreeze or Kor Firewalker. Again, I am not here to argue their constructed viability. They are simply cards with limited applications. I don't mind Jank cards in limited amounts. Honestly, I really like Kor Firewalker and Spreaking Seas. M11 has just that right balance. We have the weapons available to beat up on certain archetypes if something gets out of control.
What I am more particularly concerned with is the amount of Junk in a set. Cards nobody wants to play with unless they are forced to play them in a draft. These are the Graxiplons of a set. Keeping in mind M11 is a base set, the card pool contains very little junk. Sure, not all the commons are very exciting. At least they aren’t complete junk. If this was more of an expert set, I might be more critical if it were say the expansion for Zendikar. I won’t dive more into this area since I believe most people are fully capable of identifying junk cards.
So...What do I Collect?
My advice is to collect anything with a high potential. Yes, even if its a budget rare and especially if they are cheap. Why not buy a set of Dark Depths? Before Vampire Hexmage, Dark Depths was being sold for less than a dollar. I equate it to buying junk or penny stocks. So...you spent 2 dollars on four cards. If they are never powerhouses, are you really out that much? Out of the Titans, I suggest picking up Sun Titan or Primeval Titan for their multiple applications. Grave Titan will probably be the best one. However, Grave Titan is just the flavor of the week. Before hand, it was Visara the Dreadful, before that it was Avatar of Woe, before that, it was Spirit of the Night.
Anything else, trade.
If you are not going to play with it, trade it.
More than likely, it will lose value. Once anything moves out of standard, prices drop. I've held onto many of my high price rares. Why? I thought they had value. They sit in the binder and collect dust. I only have one of them, can't make a constructive deck out of them, but I must keep it. It gets reprinted later and drops in value. A better flavor of the week gets printed, it drops in value. Akroma, Angel of Wrath anyone? It was at one point fetching 12 dollars or more. Now, a player can pick one up for 4 dollars. How did that investment turn out? Iona will be the same way. Over time, it will continue to drop in value as everybody wants to play with the new flavor of the week. Part of my strong belief is Wizards will continue to print cards. Add more cards to the numerous cards people can buy, the more it will dilute the consumer dollar. It is basically the demand versus supply argument. In this case, I am talking about Magic as a whole. Every time Wizards prints a new Grave Titan, it devalues all the other Avatar of Woes.
Now, if you are going to spend 30 dollars on a GraveTitan to play competitively. Sure, go ahead. I just wouldn't collect the card.
Lately, a lot has been written about the banning of Mystical Tutor. I’m not here to add to the valid points on either side of the debate. What I do find particularly humorous is how we as Magic players have such an odd relationship with the company that makes our hobby. Just about every Magic player dreams of one day getting a job in R&D. Thus, I have to laugh when writers or players attack Wizards for their obvious stupidity and in the same paragraph, and sometimes even in the same sentence, ask for job. Is it just myself, or does anybody else find this phenomenon hilarious? Even with a blurb saying they highly respect the people of Wizards, I don’t think it is the wisest of decisions. I don’t think my wife would be happy with me if flogged her in public then justify it by telling her I love her. Odds are that I will still be sleeping on the coach.
The outrage and logical tongue-lashing from the fans of Magic is comical. Beyond the obvious, I find myself shaking my head at the rant. A good rant will at least offer some suggestions on how to fix the problem or at least contemplate the stark reality of working at Wizards. Many argued about the lack of scientific data analysis on Mystical Tutor. Seriously, how much time do you think Magic employees have to waste? I have many side projects at my job. My normal everyday work takes up 98% of my time. I spend some weeks never even touching those side projects. Employees at Wizards already have full schedules. Then, people write rants saying Wizards should have done this and this and this and this... I ask, in what reality people? There isn't enough time. Even though they are smart people and care deeply about the game, they can't devote every single spare second to maintaining the Legacy format. It's called shooting from the hip.
Also, to the people at Wizards reading this: you guys and gals are a bunch of idiots constantly making mistakes and ruining our beloved game. Please stop making cards because you are all incapable of making the game enjoyable. By the way, if a job ever opens up in R&D, please email me. If you can’t find it, I believe it can be found under blocked emails. Maybe we can do lunch some time and I can tell the company how all the employees are doing everything wrong. Call me.
Anyway, good luck, good game and good night.