Seedborn Musings – Tour de Cards (Part 5)

It’s a comparatively short tour through Urza block today.  Compared to Tempest’s 13 cycles, we’re looking at 9 today and those cycles aren’t even the remarkable ones of the block.  The two major land cycles are thoroughly famous, their most popular members being Tolarian Academy and Treetop Village.  These other 9 have had much less influence, although there’s still interesting and played stuff in them.  Here goes.

URZA’S SAGA

Nope, Haven’t Finished These Yet (Absolute Grace/Absolute Law, Douse/Hibernation, Bereavement/Yawgmoth’s Edict, Disorder/Scald, Carpet of Flowers/Spreading Algae)

Playability: B- 
Depth: B
Resonance: B

These are sort of meh.  Carpet of Flowers improved drastically with the loss of mana burn and now sees some Commander play, mostly when Bennie Smith’s around.  I’ve wanted to experiment with more color hosers in my Commander decks, largely because preconstruct fever brings legitimately high odds that any given color will be in your game.

Absolute Grace and Absolute Law give your opponents the opportunity to gang up on black and red mages by granting their creatures protection as well.  Even the black/red mages can slap each other now, so it’s weird but useful.  Scald seems like it’s not too far off as a blue hater versus green, but I could be wrong.  The main Resonance points come from each color having the same mana cost for both their hosers; black/red/white cost 1 and their color, blue’s 2U, and green’s just G.  The names and ideas aren’t consistent (why Yawgmoth on one of them?) but they’re okay otherwise.

The Embraces (Serra’s, Zephid’s, Vampiric, Shiv’s, Gaea’s)

Playability: B
Depth: A-
Resonance: B

The idea’s cool: Be like this land/deity/whatever and you’re a beefier creature.  That’s a sweet deal, especially when it comes with shroud as Zephid’s Embrace does.  They’re all 2CC in their mana costs and they’re all pretty equally playable.  There are two issues with this cycle, though.  4 of them give +2/+2 and flying; green’s gives +3/+3 and trample.  I’m not saying the green one should give flying necessarily,  but why couldn’t any of the others have been given some evasion ability that isn’t flying?  (Black could have gotten fear except its +1/+1 counter ability then would have made no sense.)  Also, why are four of them ‘s form with one being vampiric?  Was there nothing specific to which a possessive could be granted?  Then again, I’d rather have playable cards on which to debate flavor instead of the Wards…ew.  But I digress.

 This Chapter in the History of Cycles has Verses (Serra’s Hymn/Serra’s Liturgy, Lilting Refrain/Recantation, Vile Requiem/Discordant Dirge, Torch Song/Rumbling Crescendo, War Dance/Midsummer Revel)

Playability: B-
Depth: B
Resonance: A

The effects of this combined cycle – there’s an uncommon and rare cycle in these – are meh overall, but the flavor’s fantastic.  The idea of the verse counters is to add every upkeep (the song gets longer), and at the end of the song (sacrificing the enchantment) you get the effect, which is bigger for how long the song was.  As a concept that’s surprisingly out there, even for Magic, but they made the card names work with it, and as a result these come off far less pretentious than they otherwise would.

As cards, they’re…slow.  Some of their effects scale well with the pace of the game, duel or multiplayer: Lilting Refrain is a growable counterspell and Rumbling Crescendo does about the same thing relative to the board state at each counter level, particularly in a duel.  Their abilities matter at different levels, however, and that’s where the playability’s different.  Serra’s Liturgy is a scalable Seal of Cleansing, which is awesome, and Vile Requiem is a scalable Seal of Doom, which is also awesome.  (I realize the chronology’s backwards; normally I hate that, but the Seals are the best comparison here.  Sorry.)  Serra’s Hymn preventing one more damage every verse?  Shrug.  But hey, it’s a flavorful cycle, the rares are more expensive and playable than the uncommons, and as a group they’re serviceable.  Those are good marks for a cycle, and I’ll take it.

URZA’S LEGACY

Not Intended for Multiplayer (Planar Collapse, Second Chance, Brink of Madness, Impending Disaster, Defense of the Heart)

Playability: A
Depth: C
Resonance: C (Nothing here; it’s a mechanical cycle)

The various sacrifice triggers here make sense and are semi-balanced in a duel (though Defense of the Heart still seems ridiculous, but whatever).  But 4+ creatures total, seven+ lands, or an opponent controlling 3+ creatures?  In multiplayer those conditions are semi-automatic, making these enchantments fire often.  So the top playability here is very high.  I bet for every 10 Commander players who auto-include Defense of the Heart in their green decks, 7 could tell you the card’s in a cycle, 4 could tell you one other card in it, and 1 could tell you the whole cycle.  These numbers are made up.  It’s funny that you can buy a playset of each of the nongreen cards and still not equal the cost of one Defense of the Heart.  That makes me want to build something for casual with Form of the Dragon and Second Chance…hmm…

URZA’S DESTINY

The Seers (Jasmine, Brine, Nightshade, Cinder, Ivy)

Playability: B-
Depth: B
Resonance: A-

They’re average as cards, asking you to play monocolored decks (or maybe hybrid?) and then rewarding you only a medium amount for so doing.  The reveal part of the activation seems like it would give opponents full information as to when they should kill these 4-mana 1/1s.  Nightshade Seer, which inspired Nightshade Assassin (didn’t know until I did this article), seems to be the best one as repeatable removal in a color that doesn’t spend its spells quickly all the time (as opposed to Cinder Seer, whose main function is what already does with the spells you’d be saving).

But the flavor is top-shelf for a few reasons.  First, they’re 4-mana 1/1s with consistent naming and 2C activated abilities.  Second, the names are evocative without being standard for those colors; as such, they provide flavor depth for the game as a whole.  Third, there’s the common Scent of _____ cycle, spells with the same text as the Seer activations.  And fourth, Donato Giancola did the artwork for all five Seers, and it’s incredibly distinctive.  You could cover up everything but the artwork and still peg these as a cycle.  That’s how it ought to be whenever feasible, and that makes me like this cycle even as I’ll probably never play any of it.

Auras with Counters (Archery Training, Private Research, Festering Wound, Incendiary, Momentum)

Playability: C
Depth: C
Resonance: B

Like the verse enchantments, these are way too slow to do much good.  They did a good job with the names keying off something specific to one thing (even as I don’t understand how to make momentum magical v. physical), but the real fun and resonance come from the arrow/page/infection/fuse/growth counters that are put on the auras.  Surprisingly, most of these are on at least one other card, even if they don’t combo well.  I like weird counter types about as much as I like odd creature types, probably a little bit more, so as with the Seers I like this cycle more than its playability deserves.

The Red One Isn’t a One-Word Verb; Why Not? (Scour, Quash, Eradicate, Sowing Salt?!?!?, Splinter)

Playability: B
Depth: A
Resonance: B- (Mechanical cycle with no flavor text)

I would have given a B for Resonance if not for Sowing Salt’s name.  (They get a B- for all costing 2CC.)  Still, over the years in 60cardland, these have proven their value.  They’re a touch slow and narrow, but they’ll make sure you’re not dealing with the problematic permanent again, and that’s well worth the tradeoff in speed for several playgroups.  The exiling’s also handy in an indestructibility-filled world (nice Blightsteel Colossus; it and its friends go over there now – no, not in your graveyard; stop shuffling).  They aren’t flashy, but they’re all useful, so kudos there.  Besides, Eradicate is the only known reason to run Lifespark Spellbomb, and that deck is hilarious.

CONCLUSION

Urza block might not be as well-known for its nonland cycles, but they’re designed decently and with still relevant effects.  It’s a passing grade with no embarrassments.  You can see a lot better through these cycles how this was supposed to be the enchantment block; that’s a lot of uncommon and rare enchantments for a block.  I’m still getting over the relief of these cards not being as bad as Mirage, but it’s still amazing how far Magic design had come in just two years.

Next article in the series I’ll go into Masques block.  Who knows what I’ll find there?  I certainly don’t.

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About Seedborn Muse

Articles: GatheringMagic.com, 2012-; Muse Vessel, 2011; StarCityGames.com Talent Search, 2010; Hardball Times, 2008-2010; Baseball Prospectus, 2007. Books: Spill of the Tongue, Slip of the Mind (Draft in 2011; wanting feedback); Hardball Times Annual 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Songs: soundcloud.com/earth-dyed-red. Sketch comedy: In development.
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15 Responses to Seedborn Musings – Tour de Cards (Part 5)

  1. Kuchi says:

    Masques Block next? Oh dear, I so didn’t like that one…
    Hm, I was already playing back then? Whoa, am I getting old or what? 😉

    • Seedborn Muse says:

      Well maybe the Masques cycles are cool if nothing else. I don’t know off the top of my head what’s there – the Rebels v. Mercenaries theme cuts into how many cycles are available – but the Legates were nifty, I guess.

      I started playing in Onslaught and that’s only a couple articles away. Feels weird.

  2. Shoe says:

    You missed Brilliant Halo, Despondency, Fiery Mantle, Fortitude and Launch!

    Also in Urza’s legacy, there were Rancor, Sleeper’s Guile, Cessation, Sluggishness, and Slow Motion

    There were the cycling lands as well if you count that…there were probably a lot more even I am forgetting with cycling!

    • Seedborn Muse says:

      I don’t explain it each article because I hate redundancy, but I’m not covering commons or lands in these articles. There’s less to comment on them normally and they’d take up space. And my comments on Rancor would be less than positive…

  3. Shoe says:

    I’d wager thats why most of us love it! 😛 Facesmasherey is AWESOME in my book!

    • Seedborn Muse says:

      My best friend, who taught me Magic, started in Invasion block. To him, green’s purpose is to fix your mana so you can play other stuff. But he played Rancor. And bashed my face in. A lot. I’d have a Magic-lifelong vendetta against Rancor. It’s a visceral urge by now, a feeling of vindication for my younger days every time I stop a Krosan Cloudscraper from Rancoring at me. The 25-year-old me is defending the 17-year-old me every time I deal with Rancor. Everyone has those couple of cards that stand out for them that way. Opposition is one; Rancor is another; I’m sure there are others.

  4. Vrag says:

    Thanks for all the comments on these. I think this is the first one where I actually recognized all of the cards as part of a cycle before reading your article. So, I think it shows that they improved with the resonance. Also, it’s fun to get thinking of these old cards that I haven’t looked at in a while. Those enchantments and auras with counters make me want to make some kind of silly proliferate deck.

  5. I was running Cinder Seer in a deck as a fakeout. I would intentionally use his ability to show cards I wanted everyone to know I had, while hiding others. Some players believed I was just hiding lands, while others would fear what they thought I wasn’t showing. Good times.

    Oh, and I was using an alternate art promo of Cinder Seer that I think came in a Duellist. http://www.coolstuffinc.com/main_viewCard.php?viewtype=Magic%20the%20Gathering%20Cards&Card_Name=Scent+of+Cinder&pbxynum=30&setPBXY=1 to get a look at the image.

    • Ooops, I was remembering Scent of Cinder as the alternate art card. I ran both Cinder Seer and Scent of Cinder since I didn’t have more than 2 of either card!

      • Graveborn Muse says:

        The alternate Scent of Cinder with the Carl Critchlow art? Gorgeous!! Critchlow brings the horror every time 😀

  6. Kuchi says:

    And by the way, that Sowing Salt thing has always irked me, too. I’m a sucker for puns and other kinds of wordplay, so this cycle feels completely off just because of the red card.
    Also, I’m still waiting for the black, green and blue Akromas… Somehow it feels like Wizards have started a cycle there, though deep inside I definitely hope they’re never going to complete it. That would be awful.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      Blakroma!! I have waited for so long. They kind of ruined it with the Steelwind Sphinx, which was Esperkroma. What keywords do you think B, G and U should get?
      Also, there should be a white and black Morphling at some point

  7. Kuchi says:

    ‘Esperkroma’ sounds nice. We always call her the ‘Akroma Sphinx’, which sounds a little clunky but does the job.
    Um, the keywords. Well, that is actually tougher than I thought. How about this then:

    Blakroma (Also a nice creation btw!)
    5BBB
    Flying (She IS an angel, man.), deathtouch (Not that I’d like that. But we have had a lot of fatties with that ability recently, like the black Titan or Wurmcoil Engine, so it would be a possibilty.), Protection from white and from green (obv.)
    Whenever Blakroma deals combat damage to an opponent, you lose 2 life and draw two cards.
    6/6

    Or stuff like that. It is really hard to draw cards out of your hat without having had time to think things through (Whoa, alliterations for the win!).
    The blue one would probably include lots of card draw, unblockiness (That is not even a word, yet everybody knows what I am talking about. Cool!), flash, and one or two Counterspell-like abilities somewhere… 😉
    The green one would lose flying (Naturally. It’s green, okay?) but have trample, perhaps provoke or something similar, and of course lots of contradictory abilities. This is something that happened to the Fury Girl as well. I mean, uncounterable but morph? Huh?
    Quick aside: I really don’t have a problem with Green getting less flyers than the other colors since modern green monsters really kick ass. But why do green flyers – when they do exist – alsmost always have to be strictly worse than their white/blue/black/red counterparts? Jugan, anyone? That makes me sad and wish they had instead created some creature without flying. It would probably have been a lot better then.

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