Vox Populi: Selecting 9th Edition

Vox Populi: Selecting 9th Edition
by Tom Fowler

A time of change is coming to Standard, as 9th Editon prepares to yield to the black-bordered 10th on this very day. As I did two years ago, when 8th Edition gave way to 9th, I’ll be looking at the results for “Selecting 9th Edition.” I’ll only be looking at the card choices, not the flavor text or art ones. Which choices were good? Which ones were not so good? That’s what we’ll be looking at today. My decisions come from the perspective of a competitive player, and will use the Standard environment of the last two years as the primary benchmark for the evaluations.

There were 13 card votes for 9th Edition. Let’s see how good the voice of the people was at putting cards into the core set.

Week 1: Emperor Crocodile d. Jade Leech

Look closely: he's wearing boots
made of crocodile skin
Well, that’s a quick strike one. Emperor Crocodile has never been a good card, and its most recent run in Standard confirmed that. If you have the Croc and another creature in play, Repeal changes from a good two-for-one to an insane three-for-one. The Croc is also a worthless topdeck after Wrath of God (or Damnation, and between the two, they get a lot of play). Jade Leech has a drawback of its own, of course, but Green has abundant mana. With four one-drop creatures that can accelerate your mana production, a tax on your Green spells is very manageable. Jade Leech has a Constructed pedigree from the days of Fires of Yavimaya—a deck that played eight mana creatures and didn’t mind the occasional extra green mana it had to soak up. Jade Leech is clearly the better card, since it doesn’t make your opponent’s removal spells better, and it’s a live topdeck after a Wrath effect.

Personally, I think Green should always have a 5/5 for 4 mana. The thing is that it need to be a good 5/5 for 4 mana, since Green is supposed to be the creature color. Emperor Croc just doesn't cut it.

Verdict: Thumbs down.

Week 2: Blinding Angel d. Dawn Elemental

Blinding Angel didn’t make much of a mark on Standard, and I don’t think Dawn Elemental would have had it won the vote. Dawn Elemental saw plenty of play when Mono-White Control was the best deck in Onslaught Block. The rise of Blue-White and (non-Slide) Red-White knocked MWC from its perch, though, and that was the last time Dawn Elemental was relevant. Blinding Angel saw some play back in the day, but the limiting factor on its appearances back then was Flametongue Kavu, who made a lot of otherwise good 4-toughness creatures irrelevant (Lightning Angel, for one, though it did see play alongside FTK in "Star-Spangled Slaughter" decks). The Angel’s effect is powerful, but if you wanted a 2-power creature for 5 mana with a good ability, Meloku was right there, smacking the Angel around. The better card won, but the result didn’t matter.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 3: Mana Leak d. Memory Lapse

This was a tough one for me to pick. I’m very positive on Memory Lapse, and always have been, and I’ve even argued that it’s a better tempo card than Remand. What it isn’t, however, is a decisive early-game counter, and that’s where Mana Leak excels. At some point, paying an extra 3 mana becomes irrelevant, but in the first few turns of the game, Mana Leak might as well read “counter target spell.” It’s been very serviceable since it came into Standard back in 8th Edition. No, it couldn’t replace Counterspell (that’s now Cancel’s job, though I personally would have gone with Hinder instead), but it sent a lot of perfectly good spells to the graveyard when it mattered.

Despite my fondness for Memory Lapse, I think this was the right call. Standard would have been a lot different had this vote gone the other way. Imagine Rune Snag being hailed as a savior of control! It could have happened.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 4: Yawgmoth Demon d. Havoc Demon

This isn’t exactly Ali vs. Frazier, is it? Neither of these cards were going to see Constructed play, though Havoc Demon has the slightly less terrible chance of being included on a decklist somewhere (it’s a 5/5 flier, after all, and it wrecks your opponent’s team if he manages to kill it). Still, I have no idea why Yawgmoth Demon won this vote. It’s slightly bigger and one mana cheaper, but there was only one deck that played a plethora of artifacts, and it favored 4/4s for 0 mana rather than 6/6s for 3BBB.

Since neither of these fellows would have made a dent in Standard, let’s look at Limited for a second. Triple 9th draft is popular on Magic Online, and turns up in the paper world as well (though less often). Which would you rather see when you open a pack? A large flier you can play that has a great leaves-play ability, or one that has a prohibitive upkeep cost (this isn’t Mirrodin block after all; just how many artifacts are you going to play in a 999 draft deck?) that’s a dagger if you can’t meet? I’d take Havoc Demon over Yawgmoth Demon in Limited every day, and twice on Sunday.

Verdict: Thumbs down.

Week 5: Confiscate and Rewind d. Persuasion (Handicap match)

Two cards instead of one is a better value and an easier choice, but was it the right choice? Confiscate costs more than Persuasion, but has the added versatility of being able to steal any permanent. Rewind is a pretty lousy hard counter, honestly (I always wanted Dismiss over it, and now we get rubbish like Discombobulate in 10th, while Dismiss still languishes out there), but it was potentially saucy when untapping lands that produced more than one mana. With the Urzatron now gone from Standard, that's not important anymore. Neither card is stellar, but they’re a decent duo, and better than Persuasion is by itself.

Had Rewind not been part of the vote, I think Persuasion would have been the better call. But given the choice we were presented, taking the pair was the right decision. Persuasion won a lovely parting gift in defeat, though: being printed at uncommon in 10th.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 6: Rathi Dragon d. Balduvian Horde and Goblin Goon (Triple threat match)

Much better than Barbarian Horde
This triple threat match was a battle between undercosted Red 4-drops. Goblin Goon is the only one that doesn’t give your opponent a free card or two when they kill it. The question is, does that offset its drawback? This isn’t Onslaught Block, where Red can just vomit goblins onto the table, and Goblin Goon’s best friend (Siege-Gang Commander) didn’t make the cut for 9th. (The pair are again separated in 10th, but this time, the Goon is the one on the outside looking in.) Leaving the Goon out was the right decision.

That leaves Balduvian Horde and Rathi Dragon to fight it out. The Horde had a run in the base set previously, when it was reprinted in 6th Edition. It comes with a large body, at the cost of a random discard. This means it’s a worthless topdeck if you have an empty hand and need a threat. Rathi Dragon has the same body, but it flies, and it costs you two Mountains instead of a random card from your hand. Are flight and the ability to be a viable empty-handed topdeck worth the loss of an extra card? I think they are. Dark Banishing and the like (I guess that would be Terror now) don’t see a lot of Constructed play, and given the Dragon’s size, one card alone isn’t going to take it down.

(Interestingly, the Selection 9th Edition home page lists Balduvian Horde as “Barbarian Horde.” I think we can all agree that Hill Giant would be the worst rare ever.)

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 7: Temporal Adept d. Time Elemental

When Temporal Adept first appeared in Urza’s Destiny, my first thought was, “Hey, look, it’s a Time Elemental that doesn’t completely suck.” Temporal Adept has a very powerful effect, and it has seen some play, but its fragility and activation cost are the limiting factors there. Time Elemental, on the other hand, is terrible. The restriction that the targeted permanents can’t be enchanted sounds completely arbitrary, and the fact that blocking with it really hurts is quite poor, also. Not to mention the whole zero-power thing. Temporal Adept will at least trade with a Jackal Pup and not deal you 5 damage in the exchange.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 8: Viashino Sandstalker d. Viashino Cutthroat

At the 10th Edition Release, a friend of mine managed to win a couple of games by attacking for the final 2 points of damage with Viashino Sandscout. He said, “this card is terrible, but it just won me a game.” It’s a 2/1 with haste and the viashino return-to-your-hand ability for 1R. For R more, you get an additional +2/+1 when you play Viashino Sandstalker. This is a card that’s seen play on tournament tables. It’s no Ball Lightning, but 4 damage for 3 mana on the third turn is respectable. Ramping up some more, for an additional 1, you get +1/+1 out of Viashino Cutthroat. The problem is, now you’re up to a mana cost of 4, and your spells that cost 4 need to be really good. Viashino Cutthroat is definitely not really good. The Sandstalker isn’t an all-star, either, but its cheaper cost and better power-to-cost ratio mean the right decision was made.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 9: Shard Phoenix d. Hammer of Bogardan

Shard Phoenix got a raw deal, in my opinion. As a Pyroclasm that keeps coming back, and that beats for 2 in the air when you don’t need to sweep the board, it’s certainly not a bad card. The problem is, aggro decks quickly dropped creatures with 3 toughness (Kird Ape, Watchwolf, Scab-Clan Mauler), making any sort of Pyroclasm pretty useless. Considering that Zoo could drop those three creatures on the first three turns of the game, paying 4R for a 2/2 just wasn’t keeping pace enough. Shard Phoenix and Gifts Ungiven play well together, but Gifts decks were established, and Kagemaro simply did better work.

Hammer of Bogardan, on the other hand, does kill 3-toughness creatures. And it keeps on doing it, as long as you can keep paying to bring it back. And while recurring it isn’t cheap, it does make for an effective late-game strategy. It also weakens countermagic, since you can just get the Hammer back next turn (Remand, not yet printed when 9E came out, would be especially weak against it, essentially letting you draw a card to give 2RRR to your opponent.)

What it comes down to is that both of these are recurring threats. But I think Hammer is the better one overall. Shard Phoenix is a decent card, but the parade of 3-toughness animals made for aggro relegated it to trade binders everywhere. The same fate might have befallen Hammer of Bogardan, but only one of them kills a Watchwolf without help.

Verdict: Thumbs down.

Week 10: Blackmail d. Addle

Blackmail makes you money, but
Addling gets you good cards.
Blackmail underwhelmed during its time in Standard. The reason for that is that it’s a very underwhelming card. It becomes Coercion if your opponent happens to have three or fewer cards in hand. Above that number, though, and it’s a crapshoot. Crafty players will expose spells and extra lands they don’t care about, leaving the real goods in their hand, waiting to be played (or to be Persecuted—and can we all shed a quick tear for that not coming back in 10th? Thanks.) One-mana discard spells need to be disruptive and hit hard, like Duress and Cabal Therapy. Blackmail is nowhere close to that level.

Like its big brother Persecute, it’s possible to miss with Addle. You can name the wrong color and get nothing but a Peek for your 1B, but even then, you gain information. The next Addle will hit the right color, and you’ve definitely learned enough to make Persecute worthwhile. Addle was good during Invasion Block, and I think it would have been good during the last two years of Standard play. It would pluck pesky spells like Teferi, Dragonstorm, Wildfire, and the like, all of which can be shielded from Blackmail in the first few turns. Addle does require you to know something about the environment and the deck you’re playing against, but I like cards that reward players for being smart.

Verdict: Thumbs down.

Week 11: Weird Harvest d. Animal Magnetism

After two bad calls in a row, the voters got off the schneid with this one. Weird Harvest was a critical component of the Heartbeat of Spring decks in Standard. During the Team Standard season, that was the best deck out there. Teams that had a player who knew the deck were at a tremendous advantage over teams whose players fumbled their way through the combo. In normal play, Heartbeat remained a strong deck, putting up good showings across the board.

That deck would not have been possible with Animal Magnetism. I’m not sure any deck would have been possible with Animal Magnetism, really, except I-Want-To-Play-What-Has-to-be-the-Worst-Fact-or-Fiction-Ever.dec. And really, who wants to play that? Weird Harvest was the right call, but let’s not pretend this was anything but an automatic decision.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 12: Furnace of Rath d. Gratuitous Violence

Honestly, neither of these are going to make an impact on the tournament scene. So we’ll have to evaluate them based on their overall usefulness and fun. On those metrics, Furnace of Rath is the right call. It’s a two-way street, but it doubles damage from any source, while Gratuitous Violence only doubles damage from your creatures. True, it’s only your creatures, so your opponent doesn’t get any benefit from it, but Gratuitous Violence requires your creatures to deal damage to something. Furnace of Rath just requires a source of damage. Creatures often die or fall victim to something like Condemn before they deal damage. I’d rather have my Incinerate turn into 6 damage and deal with whatever my opponent has.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Week 13: Glorious Anthem d. Shared Triumph

When I reviewed the choices made for 8th Edition, I spent a lot of time saying what a bad decision it was to choose Glorious Anthem over the much better Crusade. Given the choice between Glorious Anthem and Shared Triumph, however, I have to come down on the side of the Anthem. Shared Triumph is great in a format where creature types are important and a homogeneous deck can be made (note, however, that it didn’t get a lot of love during the Onslaught era, when that condition was true). If you want to make a Solider deck, Shared Triumph should be your enchantment of choice. Good decks rarely have such uniformity in their creature types, however. You have Lions, Soldiers, Hounds, Priests, Rebels, and Knights, all united under the White Mana Banner, but all unable to share in any other’s triumph. They can all be inspired by an anthem, though.

I still dislike Glorious Anthem for bouncing the superior Crusade from 8th Edition. Paired against Shared Triumph, though, it deserves its place. This time.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Adding up the thumbs, we have nine on the good side and four pointing down. That’s a pretty good average for the voters. This was a similar ratio to the one we saw for the 8th Edition votes (even though I didn’t use the thumbs up/down system in that article; it would have been 8-to-4 if I had), so the Magic players who are voting are consistently doing pretty well. Last time, the selection of Glorious Anthem over Crusade was dreadful, and clearly the worst of the bunch. This time, there isn’t one single vote that jumps out as being obviously wrong. I disagree with four of them, yes, but none as vehemently as two years ago. Yawgmoth Demon was a bad call, but it's not like Havoc Demon would have been tearing up the Standard scene in its stead.

Remember that these are just my take on how the votes went. The ballots went against me four times, and you, loyal reader, may side against me even more often than that. Sound off in the forums with your opinions.

If we’re all still here in two years, I’ll do this again for 10th Edition.

This was 9th Edition, from the voice of the people.

~Tom Fowler


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