Songs for the Damned

My plans of a "50-60 player nepotism driven n00bcon 12" has bumped a sandbar of sorts. Yesterday I decided to try and actually write down the names of the people I've invited - in proper form via carrier owl or via drunken shout-out - and found myself with a list of 102 names. Well, it's less than the last years at least, so we should have some extra leg room. And the fact that I haven't managed to publish the invite list anywhere yet may cause some long-way travelers to have second thoughts on booking planes, so we might still come out on double digits when the dust is cleared. I'll update the n00bcon webpage before the end of the month. If you are a returning traveler wondering whether or not there's a chair with your name on it, feel free to reach out if you need to know before the next couple of weeks.

On that note; Scryings. I've immensely enjoyed the latest tournament reports and set discussions around the blogosphere, trying to pick up some pieces and get an idea of sorts of what to possibly expect a week from now in Arvika. Svante Landgraf wrote a very interesting - though a little cryptic - article about his first impressions, and over at Gunnarson's Bag the ol' Axelrod posted a card-by-card set rating about a week ago. It is cool to see what people come up with, and some brews are just insane. I mean, a Lich deck top8'd a 50-player Scryings tournament. Did not see that one coming.

People have a tendency to write about what cards they enjoy or are somewhat excited about. I guess I could do that too; spitting out 2,000 words on the glory of Jokulhaups and Orcish Squatters or whatnot.

Restriction worthy. I did beat a Hall of Famer almost exclusively of the back of this one just a couple of months ago after all.

But today, let's instead give some spotlight to the forgotten and besmirched and delve into the lowliest cards, lest they in silence return to the bulky corners of our Magic piles. In Gunnarson's review, a total of four cards in Scryings were given the lowest 1/5 rating. This post is not me saying that I disagree with the ratings, nor me stating that they are unpolished gems overlooked by the masses. These are not powerful cards. This is their apologia.

Royal Herbalist. 1/5.

Royal Herbalist doesn't look all that interesting at glance. A one-drop 1/1 in a color that don't need more one-drop 1/1s. In a weenie deck, this is outclassed by a plethora of cards, at least unless the Goblin matchup turns out to be an attrition party where a few extra life to cancel out a grenade is more important than I expect. Its home in any beatdown deck is questionable at best. But unlike pretty much every other 1/1 for one mana in the format, I do not believe the herbalist was built for attacking. Let me illustrate with two quotes from the same episode of All Tings Considered:

0:25:13 - "I actually just bought a bunch of Fountain of Youth. /.../ Fountain is a thing, I like Fountain in general."
1:20:27 - "Oh man, here's a real stinker. Limited stinker. /.../ Royal Herbalist."

I mean, as effect goes, Herbalist can hold a candle to Fountain of Youth. Sure, 0 mana is lot less than W, but being able to use it multiple times per turn is a thing. It can also protect even more life by chumping a blocker or sucking up a Lightning Bolt.

But as relevant as the life gain is the exile effect. The interaction between Herbalist and Sylvan Library is nothing to scoff at.

With Sylvan in play, four life equals one card, so each activation is similar to drawing a quarter of a card. The sweet thing is however that you'll be drawing the cards you want. Look at the top three with Sylvan, put back a couple, and exile the ones you dislike to dig deeper and deeper each turn, all while gaining life in the process. As long as you know what's on top of your library, the ability will be closer to a "scry 1" with upside than anything else. I could certainly see the herbalist pulling some weight in a casual deck like Field of Dreams.

And speaking of blue enchantments, Herbalist and four mana is a "lock" with Zur's Weirding. From that angle it surely looks like she could play a part in some tier4 combo brew.

High Tide. 1/5

Next up is High Tide. That's a nut to crack. I've seen arguments for High Tide as a Dark Ritual of sorts, though that seems more cute than viable. You'll need four islands in order for High Tide to net you two extra mana after all, and while it is sweet to drop a Mahamothi or Amnesia two steps below curve, there are far smoother ways to do it (like Mana Vault, or good ol' power). If we want to use High Tide, we want to go broke.

Compared to Mana Flare, High Tide requires you to use all your extra mana in that same turn. On the other hand, it will not give your opponent the same boost and - in particular - is a one-mana spell rather than a three-mana permanent. And the mana expands quickly. If you e.g. have a fairly moderate board of two Candelabra, a Browse and five Islands, playing two High Tides will net you 30 blue mana. Then you could activate Browse like six or seven times to dig up things like another Candelabra, another High Tide, and then just win the game somehow. Fireball perhaps.

That's 34. Now to find another candlestick and a wincon.

High Tide combo is nigh unplayable in 93/94+FE formats, as the ability to sculpt the hand early or actually use the mana to win is very limited. But with Lat-Nam's Legacy and Browse in Scryings this could possibly change. I have no idea what an ideal list could look like, or if it's any good, but I presume that Transmute Artifact may be a part of it (to find e.g. Candleabra and Book of Rass to gain mana/cards, or possibly Grinning Totem as an extra Braingeyser or Ancestral). Maybe the deck will try to win on the opponents turn using Rocket Launcher or similar, and could then include Reset to gain even more ridiculous amounts of mana. I don't know, but it would after all be a fairly convoluted spell-based combo deck, so I'm sure I can trust Gordon Anderson to help me out in the brewing department.

Reveka, Wizard Savant. 1/5.

For Reveka, any arguments may sound more like excuses than actual tech. So to start, I want to reiterate that I do not argue that Reveka is a strong card. I probably wouldn't even say she's interesting. Sure, she combos well enough with Instill Energy. And one could argue that two damage at once makes a greater impact than two damage spread out over two turns in a format where Mishra's Factory is prevalent. Still, Tim isn't played outside Living Plane decks - where one damage each turn is far better than two damage every other turn - so we have to dig deep to find a purpose here.

High-five worthy to pull this off though.

What then, is the purpose of Reveka? Brawl and Oldschool EDH. To have the option to play monocolor decks in those formats. There's one other option in that field as Scryings viable cards go; Hakim, Loreweaver. (Yeah, technically Taniwha fits the bill as a mono-blue legend from those sets as well, but the phasing ability removes her from the rooster). So Hakim then. A 2/4 flier for 3UU with an activated ability to take an enchant creature card (or aura, as the kids today call it) from the graveyard and place it on him, as long as he is not already enchanted. He can also destroy auras already on him, in case something rad shows up in the yard.

There really aren't that many good or even decent auras in 93/94 though, at least not as building a Voltron goes. Our Eldrazi Conscription is Divine Transformation, and it goes downhill from there.

In a blue deck, the options are pretty much limited to Unstable Mutation. There aren't even any tier2 options here, like Blessing, Regeneration or Giant Strength. I suppose you could desperately argue for Invisibility or Fishliver Oil (though he already has evasion, and he is a five-drop that attacks for two), or possibly Anti-Magic Aura or Spectral Cloak. Maaaybe Puppet Master if you're really stretching. But that's it. The rest of the blue auras are either redundant (Flight) or made to be put on your opponent's cards (Creature Bond, Tangle Kelp, Control Magic, etc). That makes him a terrible choice as commander; as he is basically an overcosted Azure Drake with a lot of enticing text we can never really enjoy. He is the definition of a teaser card.

With Reveka, you at least get to use her text. And do you know how good pinging is in 100-card highlander formats? Good enough that Triskelion is worthy of 3 control points in Brother's Highlander. Good enough that Prodigal Sorcerer and Tracker are pretty much staples in their colors, and that Rod of Ruin is kinda playable rather than just laughable. Reveka won't be a rock star, but she looks like the best candidate for the job she's intended to do.

Casting of Bones. 1/5.

Casting of Bones is partly a convoluted joke. If you have a set called "Scryings", you obviously need to have a card that show some actual scrying. The "Casting of Bones 2.0" - Skeletal Scrying - is not from a legal set, so Casting would have to do.

Power creep in the clairvoyance business!

On the flip side, the effect is actually kinda interesting. During the inaugural Scryings draft stream - where I drafted five copies of Casting of Bones - I compared it to the modern card Compulsive Research. In constructed, it certainly can't fit in every deck, but it has some serious synergy with Pox, can help discard in some reanimate shells, and is a solid way for black weenie to refill their hand. In e.g. Pox, you could either put it on your own creature (if you have any) to refill as soon as Pox has resolved, or put them on the opponents creatures to add insult to injury.

My deck from the first Scryings draft. Winning record.

I've spotted Casting of Bones being played in constructed in Oslo; in a Diamond Valley sacrifice deck with Rukh Egg and the likes. But black weenie or suicide black is where I'd most like to make room for it myself. Emptying the hand is a thing, and getting a solid refill if one of your threats die seems sweet. In my mind, the jury is still out whether or not this will find a home in constructed, but the art and flavor makes me unable to not enjoy casting some bones regardless.

How do you block this? And how to you attack into this?

This was a fun experiment, focusing on bad cards for a couple of hours rather than analyzing the more exciting ones. I've often found myself lurking through the murkier corners of the traditional 93/94 card pool; whenever I see someone playing with Master of the Hunt or Touch of Darkness I feel a spark of joy. Perhaps cards like Royal Herbalist or Casting of Bones will spark a similar feeling some years down the line if someone dares sleeve them up for a tournament. And if someone actually shows up playing High Tide in Arvika, I will surely give them a beer. I'll be there with Orcish Squatters.