Sixth Edition Round Up - by Phil Mattingly

Since everyone and his mother seems to want to chip in with their opinion about Sixth Edition, I thought I would to. Discussion is healthy, better to let it all out than bottle up your resentment about them passing over Undiscovered Paradise and putting in Psychic Transfer.

What we can say about the set as a whole? Its leaner and meaner, that much is for sure. 289 cards have been hurled into the void, and XXX have been bought in from the cold, making a set of 350 cards. Much of the chaff from fifth edition has been cut and although some fresh rubbish has been added, the overall quality of cards in the set has gone up.

Has sixth edition been a success or a failure? That depends on your point of view. If you're a WotC employee, the set is a success if it sells by the truckload. If you're an unrealistic Magic player, the set is a success if it brings back your personal favourite power cards from the last few expansions. If your horizons are a bit broader, it's a success if it makes for a Standard environment in which a diverse mix of decks and playing styles are possible.

After all, the recent Standard environment has been polarised into extreme beatdown, extreme control and extreme combo. The game has been sped up enormously, and as we all know, WotC now feel its time to slow things down again.

No bad idea, in my opinion. A return to decks that perhaps mix one or more of the three traditional archetypes would make for more interest and variety. Medium speed decks with an element of control, like Ernhageddon, were once very popular. A slower environment allows diversity to blossom, and that can only be good for all of us.

Without further ado then, on to a review of each colour's fortunes in this latest basic set rotation.

Black

Black has reached a crossroads. Two of the cards that formed its backbone, Dark Ritual and Necropotence, are gone. Speed black has been crippled, Necropotence and Pox obliterated. Worse yet, Black no longer has the Disk, and thus returns to its traditional weakness against artifacts and enchantments.

Five Most Significant Losses:

Oh the pain, the humiliation. Black control and black weenie both savaged at a single stroke. The dominant deck of the Standard environment between April and June 99 destroyed at a stroke. The awesome power of Suicide Black humbled. A sea change indeed.

Five Most Important Additions:

Three themes here for black. Firstly, there is a return to its traditional strength, card discard. Secondly, there are two good heavyweight fatties. Although the Horror with Dark Ritual is less impressive, in a slower environment a 4/4 on turn two or three will be potent. The Black Hammer will thrive in any protracted battle between creature decks. Vampiric Tutor will be ubiquitous throughout many decks, and particularly strengthens the hand of combo players.

Dark Horse (One traditionally ignored card that may flourish in the new Standard environment):

If we really are going to go back to Fattie battles, Ashen Powder brings in the best of the dead to fight afresh.

What the hell? (What were they thinking when the put this card back in?):

I'm sure there was a reason, but was this card ever played outside Type I? Can it be played in anything other than a combo deck? Are we going to like the combo deck it turns up in? Remains to be seen.

Lucky we kept... (Cards it's a good thing they didn't take out):

Big flyers are fun, and the Angel is a chuckle in Death and any deck that produces token creatures.

Really would have been good to see the back of... (Stuff that's still cluttering up the environment):

Not exactly the most playable card ever printed. Fun if it gets out, but otherwise pretty much of a waste of time. Almost as much of a pain to get Disenchanted as the Phyrexian Processor.

Should have got... (The card they really should have reprinted, but didn't):

Contagion is fun. It's a neat black control card and it forces people to think about how they play their creatures. Flexible utility and a card that rewards clever play. Real shame it didn't show up.

Thank goodness we didn't get... (The card it's a good job they didn't reprint):

Because let's be honest, one Demonic Tutor is harsh enough, three is just unpleasant. Bury Alive my Avalanche Riders? Yikes.

Blue

Blue probably suffers more from what it didn't get than what it lost. The staple stuff is still in place and the losses aren't too terrible. There's some nice extras, but perhaps they favour the combo deck just a little too much.

Five Most Significant Losses:

Well, its goodbye to TurboStasis and goodbye to two of blue's most important tools against speed red. Library manipulation sinks even lower with the loss of Portent and also Brainstorm. Steal Artifact makes dealing with permanents that much more difficult, which is a shift back towards the blue of old. Again, the loss of the Disk present mono-blue with some significant problems.

Five Most Important Additions:

Daring Apprentice and Lifeline is just ugly. Mystical Tutor, Browse and Relearn all point to a big blue combo deck. Coupled with the loss of Pyroblast, there could be some serious trouble brewing unless Urza's Destiny nips it in the bud. Abduction is even worse than Binding Grasp but, in what may be a new age of fatties, still valuable.

Dark Horse:

Again, if the game slows down and people start to deploy the big monsters, Desertion against your opponent's turn 4 fattie will be a neat play. Requires a little mana acceleration, but the Diamonds can see to that.

What the hell?

I just don't get it.

Lucky we kept...

Because its bloody good fun if the environment slows down enough to let you play it.

Really would have been good to see the back of...

What is this card for? This isn't one of the Four Playable Cards from Homelands.

Should have got...

Not Sage Owl, damn you. Impulse, bloody impulse.

Thank goodness we didn't get...

Because he's an evil little beggar, and tends to define blue in any environment he appears in. No ophidians means a varied selection of blue strategies.

Green

Not a bad deal for a green at all this time around. The losses aren't too severe, and although Perish will remain a big thorn in the colour's side for years to come, it has welcomed back some old friends that will give it a shot in the arm.

Five Most Significant Losses

The first three are a blow to fast green creature decks, although Crumble and Scavenger Folk are semi-redundant with Uktabi Orangutan back in the format. Sylvan Library will be missed from a format where it might have flourished in slower, utility oriented decks. The most serious loss is Lifeforce, because now there's very little Green can do about Perish.

Five Most Significant Additions

Creeping Mold epitomises utility and is an omen of the format to come. Maro is a beating and is likely to represent the pinnacle of the newly fashionable fatties. River Boa in an environment without Quicksand or Incinerate will be very potent. Nature's Resurgence is handy against Perish, and the Orangutan will be ubiquitous wherever there are artifacts to be destroyed.

Dark Horse

If enchantments become popular, the Grove is a good option for Green even if you do need to recast your Rancors.

What the hell?

Its cute and all, but basically a rare for the limited format.

Lucky we kept...

Cos its good to be able to play with three or more colours.

Really would have been good to see the back of...

Why is this still cluttering up a rare slot?

Should have got...

Because this guy represents great utility and encourages multi-colour decks. Good in standard and limited, cheap and simple to use.

Thank goodness we didn't get...

Because we've done the recursion thing once already, and the Blessing will always cast a shadow over any environment it's available to.

Red

As everyone knows, red ones go faster. Unfortunately, the wheels are starting to come off the great red speedwagon as the colour is dragged away from Dead by Turn 4 Guy Sligh and back, perhaps, towards Ernham and Burn'em and the Geeba decks of old. Sligh's future is definitely goblin shaped.

Five Most Significant Losses

Ball Lightning has secured Sligh's position as the King of Beatdown Decks since its reprinting. Its removal is perhaps the clearest indicator of the way the enivronment is headed. With Incinerate gone, most direct damage now does 2 points, raising the value of toughness 3 creatures significantly. Mana Flare directly removes at least one combo deck and makes it tougher for new ones to be created. Pyroblast is replaced by Boil and blah, strengthening any deck with a small to medium amount of blue and Tradewind Rider in particular. Many decks, not just Sligh, will suffer from the lack of a cheap counter for blue spells.

Five Most Important Additions

Instead of Dissipate and Phyrexian Furnace, the Hammer only has to worry about Planar Void and Carrion Beetles. Its likely to flourish in a slower environment and any deck with a heavy red component should think seriously about including it. Pillage is excellent utility and strengthens the hand of Land Destruction decks. The Recruiter may find a niche in a Lackey Sligh deck, conversely, Aether Flash may prove a useful counter to hordes of goblins. Final Fortune is a tempting option for genuine goblin speed freaks.

Dark Horse

Tough to split this one. The Horde will flourish as long as spot creature removal is poor, but cards like Reprisal, Exile, and Radiant's Judgement are likely to keep it in check. Flying fatties without summoning sickness are always attractive candidates for a reanimator deck and if other supporting elements are made available in later expansions, the Dragon may be back to reprise its role in the infamous '14' deck.

What the hell?

Well, its fun, but I rather doubt it's going to see much tournament play.

Lucky we kept...

Flexible and powerful, a good tool for control decks and for an en-Kor heavy White Weenie. Red/white anti-creature with Earthquake, Hammer, Wrath of God and Exile may be a viable option.

Really would have been good to see the back of...

I mean, what exactly is worth conquering in the current environment? Isn't Wasteland just better 9 times out of 10? If the Outpost had come back, maybe this would have been okay. Isn't Political Trickery just more fun though?

Should have got...

A card that exemplifies slow, thoughtful, controlling red. A great balance against white weenie and many types of control deck. Can pose a serious threat on its own and is immune to the typical white spot removal tools.

Thank goodness we didn't get...

Ugh. There was a time when almost everyone seemed to be packing four of these. Horribly good synergy with Cursed Scroll, could provide a devastating punch to any creature heavy deck. Admittedly less unpleasant if seperated from Tithe and Undiscovered Paradise, but would still have a marked effect on the environment. Time for some new cards and some new strategies.

White

Another colour that has survived relatively unscathed. White weenie, one of the oldest archetypes in the game, remains solid even with the loss of White Knight. The big gains though are made by control and combo decks, one getting a boost to its creature removal, the other a very useful tutor.

Five Most Significant Losses

Hardly the most devastating losses. Compare and contrast with red or black. Island Sanctuary will be missed by the slow control decks that like to turn it into a Moat. White Knight will probably not be gone for long, a decent replacement seems likely in the next few expansions. Blinking Spirit might have flourished in an environment with a lot of control vs control matchups, but will not now sadly get the chance. Divine Offering was a useful tool against artifacts, but two of the most potent have of course been removed. Greater Realm hardly ever saw play anyway, and red and black are heavily muted in the new environment.

Five Most Important Additions

Enlightened Tutor is a big boost to combo decks and perhaps to control decks too. Exile and Reprisal improve the quality of white's creature removal, something it has lacked ever since they were removed. They're no Swords but will have their place in an environment full of fatties. Serenity is a good balance against deck heavy with enchantments and artifacts and can be easily included into any deck with a little white. Archangel is just a big fat flyer, too big for casting perhaps but just fine with Oath of Druids or reanimator decks.

Dark Horse

Tariff in, Winter Orb out. Unfortunate, but if people are paying more for their creatures, especially Echo creatures, maybe Tariff will get a look in behind Exile and Reprisal.

What the hell?

Well, it almost made the breakthrough last time round. Smacks of combo decks unfortunately, and that makes everyone nervous.

Lucky we kept...

Fatties without Armageddon is no fun at all. A necessary tool for beatdown against control.

Really would have been good to see the back of...

Why oh why oh why oh why? About as much use as a paper saucepan, which, incidentally, is something you can make out of all the Animate Walls in your trade folder.

Should have got...

Because its flexible, utilitarian and requires a bit of thought to play with. If red hadn't got such a kick in the nuts, this would have been Honorable Passage.

Thank goodness we didn't get...

Control decks need lifegain, sure, but Gerard's is so efficient that it would rapidly come to smother any other type of lifegain available. Much better to do the same thing from a different angle.

Artifacts

Five Most Significant Losses

Perhaps the most significant changes to the set lie here. The loss of the Disk is perhaps the headline of the whole rotation. Mono-black and mono-blue are seriously impaired by it. So too are the 'permanentless' decks like CounterPhoenix that relied on it. It's a good change though. People are never going to want to invest in permanents when they can have the whole lot Disked away. Winter Orb leaving boosts many control strategies while simultaneously closing down Prison. The Cap strengthens combo decks and makes control vs control sideboards less easy. The Vault is a much appreciated handicap to Combo decks and Feldon's Cane is much the same.

Five Most Important Additions

The Totem will be a very interesting and potent card, not least because it will shut down all creature abilities, including mana generation. Particularly useful against Tradewind Riders. The Diamonds will be appreciated by many decks, particularly control and FattieGeddon strategies. Snake Basket is a good way to win for many creatureless control decks, and the Wand of Denial is a similar help. The Puzzle Box is more amusing than useful, but can be a big help to combo decks.

Dark Horse

In a slow environment, and particularly one with no Cap, the Totem may find a place in control vs control matchups. Always fun to play with, it may just get a second chance this time.

What the hell?

Only really useful in Limited, and pretty much of a dog even then. A real shame that some fantastic artifacts were passed over in favour of this card.

Lucky we kept...

Because its been a while since deck depletion was a viable strategy, and it might be nice to see it once again.

Really would have been good to see the back of...

Does anyone ever use this card for anything other than infinite combos? No. Are infinite combos inherently dangerous, balanced on a razor edge between playability and abusiveness? Yes. So get rid of the bloody thing.

Should have got...

Fun fun fun. Good artifact creatures are a rare pleasure, and the Biskelion can find a place in many decks that would otherwise struggle against creatures with Protection. Honourable mention for Mindstone too, a card we really should have got back in this rotation.

Thank goodness we didn't get...

Because anyone who remembers Wall of Boom knows what happens if you leave a colourless fireball hanging around for the Infinite Mana Combos to pick up.

Land

Most Significant Losses

I honestly don't think anyone cares about anything other than Ice Floe, and there are much better anti-creature cards for control decks now.

Most Important Additions

Really not very exciting this. Possibly some reasonable uses in FattieGeddon, more likely to end up in a combo deck.

Dark Horse

They only put one land in after all.

What the hell?

Although its tempting to list Crystal Vein.

Lucky we kept...

Because multi-colour decks are great, and the City is a well-balanced card.

Really would have been good to see the back of...

Awful horrible tatty things, only really useful against Boil, Flashfires etc. and thus almost completely outmoded by the cycling lands.

Should have got...

Because they're useful, efficient, flexible and fun to play with. Really would have been nice to see these guys come back in. All sorts of subtle effects like library shuffling, deck thinning and so on.

Thank goodness we didn't get...

Because let's be honest, it'd be in almost every deck and would push the environment back towards speed again. Particularly unhelpful if available to combo decks to let them cast off colour tutors.

So that's it. The next sixth months still remain to be shaped by Urza's Destiny, after that will come a great upheaval as the Rath Cycle leaves and Mercadian Masques enters. The ball has started rolling away from mono-colour and back towards multi-colour decks. Each colour is returning to its traditional strengths and weaknesses, with the result that they will have to rely on one another to survive. All in all, its early days and we won't know exactly where Standard is headed until after the World Championships in August.

Comments and criticism welcomed.

Cheers,
Phil Mattingly
phil@arq.co.uk