Having made it up to Ice Age block in rating the cycles of Magic, we’ve seen one great development (the expanding horizon of good multicolor cards) and two terrible ones (the burning need to make more cards like Throne of Bone as well as an endless stream of vestigial color hosers.)
How did Mirage block do in addressing these issues I judge them for 15 years later?
The Gold Pros (Hazerider Drake, Haunting Apparition, Shauku’s Minion, Windreaper Falcon, Radiant Essence)
Obviously the answer is to make multicolored hate for monocolored…yes, please combine the good trend with the bad trends. But the designers stumbled on something important here, and while I don’t know historical influences or anything, these cards are a great development from my perspective. The big difference? These guys are reasonably costed creatures, so you’re not completely screwed if your opponents aren’t running the colors you’re hating. Radiant Essence is in my Karona/Karador tribal Spirit Commander deck, since in large games you’re just getting a 3/5 for 3 mana. While Haunting Apparition and Windreaper Falcon are underwhelming French vanillas without the appropriate color around, they fly (which in the case of the Falcon is really odd and therefore useful – a red/green bird?). Those little differences turn this cycle into something halfway decent, i.e. something you could stick in a deck without relying on the opponent. It’s far from great, but I’ve played a few color-protection guys in 60-card decks when they fit the rest of the theme anyway, and these can get there sometimes.
The Modal Hatred (Mangara’s Equity, Mind Harness, Reign of Terror, Reign of Chaos, Roots of Life)
The opposite of the creatures from above, these are monocolored spells that give you the option of which color to annoy when you cast it. These basically are the mother of Deathmark, Flashfreeze, and so forth, and those see Standard play for what they do, so it’s nice that designers figured things like this out early.
And each of these is playable too, at about the same level of power on each and at casting costs where you want them (special points to Mind Harness’s cumulative upkeep for letting the blue
mage keep mana up on pivotal turns). This is one of the most balanced cycles to this point in Magic history, and it showed real progress in keeping original Alpha flavor while, you know, being good. I could see monocolored Commander decks running any of these depending on the playgroup, and that’s a heap better than the cards we’ve been seeing in this vein.
The low mark on Resonance is mostly for Reign of Terror and Reign of Chaos not doing similar things. You’d think if they put them in a cycle, they’d all be Reign of…, or at least Terror and Chaos would mirror each other. That confusion’s annoying. The cards are decent though.
Vowel Dragons (Pearl, Mist, Catacomb, Volcanic, Canopy, and sometimes Teeka’s)
It’s difficult to know whether to include Teeka’s Dragon as the artifact one because it doesn’t cost 4CC and isn’t a 4/4, but it seems they wanted to include it, so we’ll just call it a semi-permanent member, like the touring keyboardist of an indie band (that easily could be called the Vowel Dragons, though this is in part because I own an album by early ‘90s three-hit wonders the Soup Dragons).
I’m a little surprised these didn’t become historically iconic – I mean, it’s a Dragon cycle! You can still get all of these from 1 to 4 dollars without difficulty. I think the problem was the rulesiness in an attempt at balance. While I see that as a flavor win (as well as giving green more flyers, which is a happy combination), Pearl/Mist/Canopy don’t strike someone immediately as being great cards the way the other three do. That always will be a problem when balancing cycles like this, especially if they fly; there are many haters, for example, of Jugan, the Rising Star from the Champions of Kamigawa Dragon cycle. I’d rather them keep making these cycles, though, as weird balancing makes more unique cards. These Dragons intrigue me, whereas the Titans are more just brute force. In any event, high marks once again for Dragons. Call it a Timmy pull or whatever, but Magic’s been good at making Dragons, and I’d rather talk about them than anti-red cards.
The Enemies (Double album!)
Each enemy color pair got its first pair of spells in Mirage. While the tail end of this group of 10 is really bad, the top end is famous from its days in Standard, and the best of these were also flavor wins (which they needed to be, given their pioneering status). I’m no expert here, but I suspect the best of these gave enough identity to certain color pairs that kept other ones down for some time. So what are the bounties here?
W/B: Circle of Despair and Purgatory. The first is nigh-unplayable – I can think of no deck that would waste a card slot with this – while the second is at least something you can build around and get some utility out of. 4 mana and 2 life isn’t an awful cost to reanimate something, and against many decks there’s more graveyard hate than enchantment destruction, so hiding the creatures in, well, Purgatory might be a safer plan than it seems. I like Purgatory, but it’s not amazing or anything. It would look a lot better if it weren’t the better card here.
U/R: Emberwilde Caliph and Frenetic Efreet. Caliph is terrible apart from the name. Efreet is well-known for pairing with Chance Encounter (and having errata for awhile so it couldn’t), inspiring Frenetic Sliver, and being all-around hard to kill. The annoying/random axis that Efreet inhabits feels very blue/red even now, so kudos for getting it right the first try.
B/G: Cadaverous Bloom and Grim Feast. Bloom’s fast mana powered the first popular Constructed combo deck, while Grim Feast is still a very solid casual card. The most natural enemy color pair for certain tournament players is still black-green, and I think having two of the best cards of this cycle is why. Both these cards have a strong identity and high playability. In other words, suck on it, Emberwilde Caliph! (#wordsIneverthoughtI’dtype)
For what it’s worth, Bloom is about $1.69 these days, so you could relive some Standard glory days with it if you like. The Seedborn end of me feels good when Dark Rituals and the like need green around. Yeah, that’s right…we matter.
R/W: Energy Bolt and Reflect Damage. Both do yeoman’s work in these colors, dealing with life and prevention and hurting people, which is why I’ve had a hard time making decks I like in these colors. (I’ve made some cool ones in my time, but then other people in the group like them more and I sell them off. I won’t break up my Samurai though. They’re way too cool.) Even in Ravnica, there wasn’t a lot of flavor developed beyond these cards: there’s Lightning Helix, whose grandpappy is Energy Bolt; Boros Fury-Shield, whose grandpappy is Reflect Damage; and there’s Sunforger, which lets you cast Lightning Helix and Boros Fury-Shield (though I don’t recommend doing the latter since you can’t pay R). Great flavor, serviceable cards, and they do what red/white’s always done.
G/U: Malignant Growth and Warping Wurm. Both are weird and unbelievably bad. Both cards are illustrated by the same guy, but neither look in-color. What a letdown.
Basically, this is a fine cycle of initial enemy cards, bogged down almost entirely by blue cards. It’s a rare cycle you can say that about, though as a guy who loves Gaea’s Revenge/Thrun types, I’m okay with this.
20% of This Cycle is Relevant (Honorable Passage, Dream Tides, Desolation, Heat Wave, Elephant Grass)
Playability: The one that’s a $2 uncommon is good.
Depth: It’s a green prison enchantment; ergo, it’s better than the other color haters in this cycle.
Resonance: The others are flavorful but bad, and obviously I’d rather not mention them.
“Very, very extremely medium” (Tempest Drake, Mundungu, Army Ants, Simoon, Scalebane’s Elite)
Depth: A (because they’re all C cards)
When my cycle titles dip into pre-Python sketch references, it’s because there’s not a whole lot to say. (Well, these cards are very, very extremely medium.) I suspect the middle three have their uses, but I’m not sure. If any of you readers have used or refused these, say so in the comments. The sad part is that an all-mediocre cycle is better than a lot of the ones they made before this.
The Ally Rares (Guiding Spirit, Breathstealer’s Crypt, Corrosion, Viashivan Dragon, Femeref Enchantress)
The mark against Resonance is because I don’t understand why some of these bothered being multicolored. (What’s green about giving +0/+1 to a Dragon? What’s blue about Guiding Spirit?) But aside from Corrosion these are definitely usable cards. Sheldon Menery seems to like Guiding Spirit, while Breathstealer’s Crypt is one of those classic Johnny challenge cards that does nothing for 99% of decks, while that one deck from your playgroup 6 years ago with the Crypt still makes people afraid of it. And Femeref Enchantress surprisingly is one of only two cards with a specific trigger for an enchantment hitting the graveyard (the other being Scrapheap, which gains you 1 life about it; Femeref’s drawing you a card is much better).
This is a good cycle; I just wish I could like Corrosion more. I mean, it gets age counters and places rust counters! Sadly, that is not enough for greatness.
The Enemy Rares (Righteous War, Firestorm Hellkite, Squandered Resources, Suleiman’s Legacy, Pygmy Hippo)
The flavor on these is pretty good all the way around, though four of them seem epic and powerful while Pygmy Hippo watches. But the Hippo’s playability makes up for its flavor oddities – if it isn’t getting you ahead on mana (turn 2 Hippo, turn 3 land+Titan?), it’s keeping somebody’s mana tapped for awhile (and if it’s the person who goes right before you in a large multiplayer game, they might get reeeeallly annoyed at you). Even if the flavor’s odd, I’m just glad to see a green/blue card that “real decks” can play. Suleiman’s Legacy goes into that “good with Shields of Velis Vel” box (and I guess the new card Xenograft), so it’s saved from its oddities within the cycle (and why is this red-white?) The others are playable in their ways, but I must give extra props to Squandered Resources for flavor text. It’s one of the best texts in its style, i.e. it steps out of the fantasy-style faux-losophy and paints a life story in two sentences. I can get behind that.
Since Weatherlight is like Homelands (in having no cycles to review, at least), that’s it for this block. Though they still like printing color hate, it starts to get reasonable here, and while the gold cards are having a hiccup-filled transition into awesome, you can see things coalescing. I didn’t know a whole lot about Mirage block going in, but I’m pleasantly surprised coming out. Hopefully that will carry over to Tempest block.
VERY CLIMACTIC BONUS!
I placed my order for New Phyrexia cards this week. I got most of the interesting commons/uncommons along with playsets of the following rares:
If there’s any of those you readers want me to work with in a particular way, let me know and I’ll putter about with them. I’m going to make good on my Bludgeon Brawl review and use Mycosynth Lattice to equip my lands to Kemba, Kha Regent, throwing in Jor Kadeen to make 5/2 tokens. That’s as far as I’ve gotten with that deck, so if you have any suggestions for it, let me know. Red/white is a hard color pair for my building style, so I’m open to anything that should go in this deck. Lay it on me!