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Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 14:28

I stopped playing magic when Ice Age came out. Reasons include the fact that Ice Age was designed as a standalone, the snow mechanism, dissatisfaction with 4th Edition, and the fact that my favorite deck (BR Fast No Creatures) had fallen out of my pocket and was now gone. I sold all my cards (including probably 20+ dual lands, a few Power Nine, Library of Alexandria, etc.) and called it quits for the next 20 years.

I've recently started playing again thanks to Manalink, and as a thank you, I thought I'd review every block. As I've not lived with the past 20 years of magic, this may be an interesting vantage point.

Here are my deck-building rules, which were used to review the blocks:
1) total singleton: each card may only occur in one deck
1B) Basic lands are of course excepted. Certain lands may instead be restricted to 4 per deck, depending on the card (e.g. painlands, fetchlands, etc.)
2) Hosing cards are generally excluded, as these would not be effective against most decks
3) The maximum number of decks must be created
4) Flavor Matters (e.g. for Theros each god gets a deck, and cards relating to that god must be in that deck)
4B) I will make mistakes here; don't sweat it
5) Early Sets had me stumped for a while, but after some trial and error, I decided to divvy this into two blocks:
a. Unlimited, Arabian Nights & Antiquities
b. Legends, The Dark, Fallen Empire (plus basic and dual lands)
Legends was originally intended to be a stand-alone set, and I treated it as such. Matching the expansions like this keeps the Large-Small-Small expansion format. It also works on a different level, in that Legends, The Dark and Fallen Empire are, from a design perspective, fucking terrible, in a way that Arabian Nights and Antiquities aren't, but more of that when we get to the review.
As an aside, from a flavor perspective it would make more sense for Unlimited-Arabian Nights-Legends (which create/describe the world) and Antiquities-The Dark-Fallen Empire (The Brothers War and the descent toward the Ice Age). In that case, the third block should be Ice Age/Homelands/Coldsnap/Alliances. While the Unlimited block could be made to work, the Brothers War would be 303 mostly useless cards.
5B) Homelands got 1 standalone deck. To make it work, it got a black lotus and all lands are dual lands. Surprisingly it works
6) Ice Age will not be reviewed. Only half the cards of the original set are available, and the snow mechanic doesn't work. Sorry, but it wouldn't be fair.
7) Portal will be reviewed as a block
8 ) M10-M15 shall be reviewed as a block; The cards belonging to this block shall only include cards that do not appear in any other block (no reprints)
9) the other special sets (e.g. Archenemy, Planechase, Astral) shall not be reviewed.
10) Decks that have been created per the above shall be play-tested against any other deck from any other block that I created in accordance with the above rules.

At this time, I'm approximately halfway through (there are 7 blocks I've not yet looked at, plus M10-M15 and Portal; and thanks to the latest update I need to redo Tempest). I picked the blocks in no particular order, and will post the reviews in no particular order. Keep in mind that before I started writing the reviews below, I had already created, and played with, 170+ decks.


edit: if someone will teach me how, I'll gladly post the decks on here too
2nd Edit: It took me several months to get as far as I did, and I expect it will take several more before I finish (then again, Dragons of Tarkir hasn't been coded yet, and M15 isn't even out yet). If anyone wants to request a review of a particular block, please let me know.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 14:40

Ravnika Block

This was the first block I approached. The design (10 2-color factions) appealed to me, especially if you consider the rules I laid down for this challenge. In hindsight, this block is now my baseline. The flavor is good, but not great. The construction process is good, but not great. The quality of the cards is good, but not great. The fun factor is also good, but not great.
20-30 cards are fixed into each faction before I even started, which made deck-building easier, and is the main reason I started here. Figuring out which of the remaining cards were needed to fill out each deck was, well, let's just say that after having done the same process on another dozen blocks I would like to revisit this block. That being said, the 10 decks that I built all hold up pretty well. But, if I select "random" on duel, and Ravnika comes up, I always know exactly how big a challenge it will be, regardless of which faction's deck is chosen.

I look at every other block and compare it to Ravnika for a reason. It is very playable, and very balanced. The factional identity was strong, but not too strong, and I just like the overall look and feel.


Return to Ravnika*

It really isn't worthwhile to create a separate review for Return to Ravnika. It's more of the same. I have noticed that Wizards has improved their set design, and this block's gameplay appears to be an improvement*. Having access to extra cards meant not only having a deck for each faction, but also a mono deck and a 5-colored deck themed around the gateless.

*if a deck is selected on Random, I can't tell whether it's Ravnika or Return to Ravnika.


I realize that referring to Ravnika as a baseline does not do it justice. Ravnika got me playing color combinations that I'm normally not as fond of, simply by having them, and executing them quite well. An in-depth review of every guild and every mechanic would be too long to put in here, but the sheer variety inherent in these blocks keep them fun and refreshing. Simic plays differently from Boros, which is different from Orzhov, and so forth, in a way that most magic sets just do not supply.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 15:10

Unlimited Block
(includes Arabian Nights and Antiquities)

Looking back, it's amazing that they got it right the first time (especially looking at some of the later sets). Unlimited works very well, if you don't overload on unbalanced cards, of which there are plenty (on both extremes). Arabian Nights is, in my opinion, one of the greatest expansions ever made, because not only is it dripping with flavor, but it is very balanced, especially when matched with Unlimited. It really is more of the same, in a good way, and can stand up to scrutiny on its own. Antiquities, on the other hand, should never be reviewed on its own, but as a true expansion: extra cards focused on artifacts. Every card either is an artifact, or interacts with artifacts. It's kind of a nuisance, because unless you're playing against Mirrodin, the odds of a deck having that many artifacts is fairly low.
While Arabian Nights is a nifty little expansion, Antiquities is below par (3rd set syndrome?), but on a whole they slot in nicely with Unlimited.

It took a little while for me to determine the way to divide this block up, partly because I originally intended to include all the early sets, but in the end, I opted for 10 dual-colored decks. I took a different approach to building these decks compared to any other block. Each deck was allowed 4 dual colored lands, 1 of each mox and a black lotus. I would pick a color, and go through every card, deciding which other color that card best fit into, based on the modern color wheel (for example, Mind Twist goes with blue). I then did the same for artifacts (e.g. Shapeshifter goes with blue). Plenty of cards were not clearly associated with another color and these were used to fill up the decks.
The decks from this block hold up surprisingly well. They're at a disadvantage against decks from recent blocks, but that's just an added challenge, not a major handicap. The games are more reliant on luck, but a good player should be able to win about half the time.

Not a particularly strong block, but not pathetically weak. If Ravnika is 7/10 all the way around, this block would be 5/10 on all fronts.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 15:32

Legends Block
(includes The Dark and Fallen Empires)

Well, this is a disaster. When Legends came out, the dual-colored cards were an awesome innovation, and everyone drooled over them, and would shove them into their decks, but there are so many bad/unplayable cards, it's ridiculous. Everyone I knew loved The Dark, mostly because it truly was dark, though very few of those cards ever made it into your deck. Fallen Empires' great contribution was regarding tribal decks. Yeah, people would shove 4 Merfolk of the Pearl Trident in with a Lord of Atlantis, but a true tribal deck was impossible before The Dark made Goblin decks viable, and Fallen Empires expanded the concept to all colors. 2 Tribes per color was a great idea, because, frankly, half of them sucked. Thallids were a nice idea that could be executed a lot better today, while Homarids suck ass. No matter how hard you try, it's impossible to make a decent homarid deck.

Deck Building was a real challenge for this block. Between the half-baked tribal divisions of Fallen Empires and the overpriced/underpowered Legends (especially ones with First Strike) and whatever they were doing with the Kobolds.

I ended up making 2 exceptions for this deck-building exercise: A deck built around Rohgahh of Kher Keep has extra kobolds; and I ended up with one 40-card deck.

With a lot of effort, I managed to create a dozen decent decks. The odds are definitely stacked against you, playing with any of these, and the fun factor will probably be low (with some exceptions).
The flavor of Legends is.... well, let's be honest, the set designers threw their D&D stuff in there for shits and giggles. The block is definitely bottom of the barrel.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 16:38

Homelands: Single Set

OK. Let's be honest. There are only 43 Homelands cards in Manalink. There's not a lot to work with. Deck "building" was more a matter of subtraction.

I did my best to make the deck playable, and it's really not bad, if you have a lot of luck. Making every land dual and adding a black lotus barely lets you scrape by, and if you don't get lucky right away, you're dead.


Instead of reviewing what is justifiably considered the worst set of all time, I'm just going to give a historical perspective of the releases of the various sets:

Unlimited: magic was awesome, amazing, splendiferous. It was addicting and fun and infectious. The set was reasonably balanced, and people would have a favorite color (or two) and build a deck based on the cards they had. Good, bad, we didn't know. The game was new and there was nothing like it and everyone ate it up.

Arabian Nights: The flavor was cool, although back then it barely mattered. It was an expansion, giving us enough great cards in every color to satisfy everyone (Sorceress Queen/Nettling Imp/Sengir Vampire Combo? Alladin, Abu Ja'Far, Old Man from the Sea, Wyuli Wolf). It was coherent, the power level fit, and it really was just more of the same.

Antiquities: this was a bit weird. Artifacts were pretty cool in those days, so a set devoted to artifacts was a great idea... until you opened the booster. Colored cards all sucked - no exceptions. There went half your cards, into the leftover pile. The artifacts, on the other hand, included Feldon's Cane, Ivory Tower, and a number of other cool cards. Ornithropter was the original hidden gem. And the lands were phenomenal. Try drawing the three Urza's lands in a deck with disintegrate; or pumping up Mishra's Factories. And strip mine was just plain evil.

[Revised: ok, they're adding some classics to revised and removing some cards; no big deal, except that some really cool cards got left out]

Legends: gold cards? nuff said. Counterpoint: banding.
The legends were really cool, and if you got one, you shoved it into your deck. Until you realized that Tobias Andrion cost as much as Serra Angel or that you'd never have enough spare mana to make Ragnar worthwhile

The Dark: Just a cool set overall. Preacher, Sunken City, Uncle Istvan, Ball Lightning and Venom were great additions that made up for the cards you wouldn't use. And Goblins. Holy fuck, Goblins. You could have a deck with each and every card containing the word "Goblin" in the title (and back then, decks only had 20 lands)

Fallen Empires: Tribal Theme was awesome. Goblin decks could be expanded with Goblin Warrens, Goblin Grenade and Goblin War Drums, making them a force to be reckoned with. Thallids and Thrulls were just cool, and that dork with 4 Lords of Atlantis in his deck finally got to make good use of it. On the down side, no matter how you tried, any deck containing Homarids would lose. You kept trying, but you'd still lose. And I don't think white got a fair shake, but, that might just be personal bias.

Fourth Edition: wait. you already took away my moxes, but now my dual lands too? WTF?

Then came Ice Age. It also contained basic lands? wait, it's meant to be played separately?
Until then, you had the basic game (Unlimited/Revised) and expansions. You didn't have a standalone block, and the idea that Ice Age was meant to be played separately just didn't sit too well.
The Flavor was also a let down. After, in order: Arabian Nights Theme, Artifacts, Gold Cards, Creepy, and Tribals (were they called that then? I can't remember) the new idea was snow.
A lot of people looked at the new mechanic and thought "huh"? and cumulative upkeep is a disaster.
It looked like the game was out of bold ideas.
This marked a turning point for the game. Block Construction wasn't even a remote possibility yet, and for a lot of old timers this was time to move on (those that stayed generally left when homelands got released)

With the benefit of hindsight, block construction is a good idea. It keeps the game fresh, and lets ideas and settings rotate in and out. But at the time, ice age was just a slap in the face. We put up with Legends being nearly unplayable, because gold cards were awesome, and we had swallowed Antiquities and The Dark because we were so hungry for more. We got satiated on Fallen Empires Empire, and when Fourth Edition got rid of a lot of favorite cards (Rock Hydra, Demonic Tutor, Vesuvan Doppelganger, Clone, Sol Ring, Veteran Bodyguard, Wheel of Fortune, Resurrection, Fork, and more) Ice Age really needed to step up its game, and it failed For a game meant to be a standalone, it wasn't different enough, and and for an expansion/enhancement, there were too many cards and it included cards we already had.

Maybe if 4th Edition hadn't been released, ice age may have been received much better, but the combination of 4th Ed and Ice Age getting released one after the other meant for a lot of people that it was time to call it quits.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 18:15

Innistrad Block

Innistrad is fucking awesome. The block is dripping with flavor, in a way that few older blocks are, and while the depth of the flavor is easily matched by Theros and Tarkir, the setting is different enough to make it special.
More than that, its tribal factions are very coherent and make a the color-pairings more natural than the forced guild-system of Ravnika.

The tribal/creature factions made deck building relatively easy, though vampires were in such abundance as to require two decks. Each deck is strong enough to stand on its own, and are as good as any other sets. There is enough variation to make any kind of deck, from various dual colored decks to mono and on. Even the leftover cards that don't fit into any other decks formed a formidable deck.

In terms of gameplay, the block is just plain fun, where you can see a story develop as you play, and the Transform mechanic especially is a great variation (that beats similar mechanics Monstrous, Level-Up, and Flip Cards)

So far this is my favorite block, plain and simple.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 18:44

Lorwyn/Shadowmoor

Should this be one review or two? Is this one mega-block or two small blocks? Don't care.

Tribal themes are fun. Fallen Empires is, from a modern perspective, a horrible set, but when it came out it was a lot of fun building decks around elves, thrulls, merfolk, orcs, or whatever you felt like. But they needed to be balanced out by strong cards from other sets. They just weren't competitive.

Lorwyn took Fallen Empires, and made it work. It also changed the setting. The flavor is more fairy tale than fantasy, which makes it stand apart from the rest of Magic - in a good way. The problem with fantasy is that it can get a bit staid. Turning merfolk into merrow or goblins into boggarts doesn't fundamentally alter the game, but it makes the same old same old feel fresh and new.

Building decks around the tribes was surprisingly easy, and the decks are decent (6/10). They're not as strong as I'd like, and if matched up to a deck from Ravnika, Theros or Innistrad (the new normal) you've got to be at your best to win. At the same time, you can't get complacent when facing off against Unlimited, Onslaught or Kamigawa.

There's a certain fun factor in playing kithrin after kithrin or overrunning your opponents with goblins. Similarly, Playing a competitive deck with Faeries should put a smile on everyone's face. (yeah, I should give a shoutout to elves and merfolk, but they get enough love from other quarters)

If you remove the flavor and setting from this block, these cards are ok - better than the bad sets from yesteryear, not as good as modern magic; but a lick of paint can do wonders, and in this set they did.

Shadowmoor changed things around. Where Lorwyn's color splits were very distinct, there was no such deference in Shadowmoor. Tribes needed 3 or 4 colors to work. I understand that the idea of the story was the fairy tales turned dark. But after the whimsical world of Lorwyn, the dark turn it takes isn't quite enough - it's not as deep as Innistrad, or as pervasive as The Dark, or as stomach-churning as Phyrexia. Fairy Tale turned Bad is an overplayed theme, and barely separable from regular fantasy.

Deck Building was a challenge, because the tribes bleed out. Getting color balance is a challenge of its own, and the tribal theme paints you into a corner. Keeping a coherent story with that, well, luckily there aren't that many cards in this mini-block.

Gameplay is passable. The quality of the decks are on par with Lorwyn, provided you don't run into color trouble. Hybrid Mana as opposed to gold saves the set, but only barely.

I'd rather play Lorwyn any time.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 19:11

Zendikar - Rise of Eldrazi

Yes, I did separate these out. The relatively low number of cards in Eldrazi made it a challenge, but that's the way the block was designed.

Zendikar/Worldwake gave me 5 allied color tribals, a 5-color elemental deck and a 5-color quest deck. The tribal decks are no more fun than any other tribal deck, from either a design perspective or a playing perspective. I'm glad I did this block early on, or it'd be a lot more tedious to get through here.
The quests are probably the standout aspect of the block, and had these been integrated into individual decks they might have been interesting to play against each other, but honestly the way the mechanic plays out feels forced and tedious. Other similar mechanics (such as suspend) just work better.

Rise of the Eldrazi is surprising. There's barely enough cards for 4 decks, but they're all good. I built 4-color decks around each of the 3 Eldrazi, and a 5-color deck around the planeswalkers. Anyone familiar with magic knows that these shouldn't work, but somehow they do. The decks are competitive against any other deck I've built, without being overpoweringly so (once the Eldrazi come into play, these decks win, but the odds of making it that far are about 50/50).

Rise of the Eldrazi is unique and interesting and it works. It's designed around a certain type of gameplay (survive until your big monster comes in for the kill) and it does so without disrupting the game or its compatibility with other decks. Too bad it's only a single set, but, it looks like a new block is coming.


That being said, the one downside about Rise of the Eldrazi is that all decks play the same (survive until your big monster comes in for the kill) and this is an inherent weakness masked by how few cards/decks are in this set.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 19:30

Scars of MirrodinNew Phyrexia

Let me preface this by saying that I have not yet attempted deck-building Mirrodin. That block poses a challenge because of its very nature. But this review is not about Mirrodin, and, unlike Ravnika, it's not more of the same.

A review of Scars begins and ends with Phyrexia. The storyline is about the Phyrexian invasion, and all the cards are conveniently marked Mirran or Phyrexian.
Decks are generally one or the other, although for numbers reasons I had to have one mixed deck - black, of course. The distinction is real, from the flavor, to the mechanics, to the strategies. Because it revolved around the invasion, the Mirran flavor is more straightforward and easy to comprehend than in the original Mirrodin block, and the way the factions congeal is a nice shift. The Phyrexian invasion is masterfully done. It's real horror, not just shock shlock.

From a deck building perspective, the split made my life a lot easier. These were further divided amongst planeswalkers, Praetors, a Myr deck, etc. They were fun to build. They're fun to play. But, again, here there's a difference between the Mirran and the Phyrexian decks. The Mirrans are more on par with my baseline, while the Phyrexians are the standout. Not that the decks are better, but that Infect/Proliferate is more fun to play with, and the flavor is implemented well enough that you can imagine them invading whichever realm the other deck is from.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 08 Apr 2015, 19:48

Time Spiral

What a lovely mess.
Let me start by saying that I love the kind of tribute that this block was designed around. Even if I wasn't part of magic through those years, I can still appreciate the clear labor or love that this was. Naturally, I split deck building into two camps: Shifted (time shifted, color shifted, future shifted) and non-shifted. There's a mono-shifted deck for each color, a non-shifted mono deck fo each color, a sliver deck, a deck built around tokens, and a deck built around time, and multi-colored decks.

From a deck building perspective, this was just plain fun. Ok, having that many mechanics in a block can be confusing - so what? Seeing which cards got shifted into Time Spiral, or which ones got color-shifted in Planar Chaos should make any magic fan giddy. Future Sight's shifted cards were a bit more troublesome, because the mechanisms are thrown in for the sake of throwing them in, and weren't subjected to the grand test that is open play. Some cards made it into future sets, some didn't, and even then those aren't notable cards in those sets.

Dealing with the non-shifted cards, some decks were fairly straightforward. But I had a lot of fun building decks around 1. slivers, 2. Tokens, and 3. the time mechanics (Echo, Suspend). Slivers should be more fun to play than it is, but it just isn't. The last two decks provide glorious gameplay, by being different enough that it's interesting.

Overall, however, the decks are not that good. They're barely better than the Legends block, and can't keep up with the better blocks.
This may have more to do with the rules I set out than any inherent flaws in the design, and when I finish this bunch of reviews, I'll revisit this block with the goal of creating fun and/or strong decks. But that will be another story, for another time.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 09 Apr 2015, 01:39

Kamigawa Block

What if Magic had been invented in Japan? Would we end up with Kamigawa? The flavor is japanese fantasy, in the same way that magic is western fantasy. The cards are fairly similar too, with a lot of pedestrian entrants, a few strong cards, and some interesting combos to build your deck around (e.g. Meloku the Clouded Mirror & Patron of the Moon).

This isn't entirely a fair assessment. Kamigawa is a much more coherent set, with strong tribals (particularly the rats), better color distinction, no ridiculously over/under powered cards, and clear design strategies readily available. Building decks was as straightforward as figuring out a few natural mashups, and the names I gave my decks are fun and informative (Oni & Ogres, Way of the Rat, etc.) There is something whimsical here, but it just doesn't connect with me.

In a way, this set is perfectly cohesive, and on its own I'm sure it's more fun than Unlimited, but not by a lot. Unfortunately, quality of the decks are on par with unlimited, and will likely lose to those from stronger (i.e. most) sets. The gameplay and strategies are similar to Unlimited, the power is similar. If this set had come out around that time, it would have been a significant improvement. Coming just before Ravnika, well, the it just doesn't compare.

But again, I want to emphasize that this block was very cohesive, with strong flavor throughout. If I were judging on flavor alone (both story-wise, and integration into the game mechanics) this block would be near the top of the list (The great ones being, in no particular order: Tarkir, Theros, Innistrad, Arabian Nights, Kamigawa, Scars of MirrodinNew Phyrexia; honorable mention to The Dark).

This block is like a beta version of what magic has become, as exemplified in my review of Theros below
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 09 Apr 2015, 01:59

Theros

Creating a whole block just to make Didgeridoo a useful card is a bit extreme.

That being said, this is another superb set. Over the last few years, Magic has become very good at set design. Writing this review just after Kamigawa brings up a strong point: Kamigawa was the turning point, in that flavor really matters. Before that, they had the graveyard block, the artifacts block, the spells block, and so forth. Starting with Kamigawa they had a smooth integration between flavor and design, with mechanics and themes that went well with each other.

In recent years, Magic has gone from strength to strength. Whether we're talking Scars of Phyrexia or Innistrad, the setting and mechanics matched perfectly. Return to Ravnika can easily be dismissed as a retread, but it plays better than the original. Theros (and Tarkir) continue that strong showing.

Being more knowledgeable with greek mythology, I'm impressed with what they've done here more than I could with Kamigawa, but even those less familiar can appreciate the block.

The gods are well-done, powerful, but not as ridiculously so as the Eldrazi, enchantment creatures could have been a disaster, but work quite well, and the constellation mechanic is kinda cool. Building decks around gods allows for coherent storylines and lets you play to the god's (and color's) strengths.

The Monstrous mechanic compares favorably with Rise of Eldrazi's leveling up and Innistrad's transform (again, started with Kamigawa's flip cards)
The decks are well-balanced, and power-wise on par with innistrad, Scars of Phyrexia, et al, and fun to play with. The gameplay of the gods, and colors, are not quite as distinct and clear-cut as in Ravnika, and the setting is not as novel as Innistrad, but that's ok, because I'm comparing this block to the best of the best, and this block can hold its own.

Altogether a great block, and a nominee for best block ever
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 10 Apr 2015, 20:31

Portal Review
(requested)

4*Capture of Jingzhou, 4*Temporal Manipulation, 1*Time Walk lets you makes a tournament legal deck where 1 out of every 4 cards gives you another turn.

Ok. Dividing up this block was an interesting experience. There aren't that many cards coded, so it shouldn't be a problem. There aren't enough cards for 7 decks. But if I take out cards that were reprinted from other sets there's barely 5 decks. And what about the crapload of cards that are functional reprints - of cards in the same block. Should I leave them in? Take them out? In the end, I got 6 decks by taking out the functional reprint spells, some of the functional reprint cards (Grizzly Bears/Forest Bear) and by removing some of the cards that just don't feel right for the flavor/setting (e.g. Air Elemental).

This set is very different. For one thing, the color bleed is very odd. As an example, my black deck is a white weenie / card advantage combo, with a splash of the big beasts normally associated with green. Someone explain that to me.

But anyway, time for playtesting. Looking at the cards, I didn't expect much, figuring this to be on par with Unlimited or Kamigawa. The cards are very reminiscent of the early days, like an oversized Arabian Nights. This shouldn't be surprising considering when Portal came out (1997-1999), and the gameplay is somewhat similar to those early days. But when I started playing, I was really surprised. My black deck ran the gauntlet much longer than should be possible, thoroughly beating decks from Ravnika, Innistrad and Theros, losing only one battle in the first 6 matchups. For a deck thrown together from a couple of leftovers, this shouldn't be possible.

The flavor is also nice and thick, comparable to Kamigawa, Theros and Tarkir. [ok, who's expecting a block set in Persia or India soon?] Full points here. In my opinion, MTG has these last few years gotten very good in terms of a consistent quality both in terms of gameplay and with respect to flavor, but going 15-20 years back, both were a bit of a gamble, blocks lacking in one or the other, such as The Dark and Homelands having excellent flavor but shitty cards, or Tempest having solid gameplay, but they might as well have saved themselves the cost of hiring writers and artists. (let's not mention how Antiquities and Legends failed on both fronts)

When I've tested the other decks, and played with this one some more, I'll finish this review, but, the first deck I tested was strong enough for me to write this half-review.

Ok. Now that I've spent some time with this, I think this is a nice variation, but nothing special. The Horsemanship gimmick gives Portal decks an unfair advantage over non-portal decks, without which it just wouldn't win nearly as often. The block is a product of its time, in gameplay, card design, and power level. It's certainly a good block relative to whatever else was out around then, but looking at the whole span of magic, not quite as wonderful. A fairly average block, by virtue of the high quality magic has attained, but for its time very well-done. Even if the block has a lot of functional reprints.
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Re: Block Review

Postby dingbat1 » 28 Apr 2015, 05:08

Onslaught

It dawned on me that MTG blocks fall into 2 categories. Old-school and Modern. The gameplay mechanics are different. Modern is faster, more coherent, more straightfoward. Old-school has a lot more variation, even within the same deck. It's a slower game, with many interesting combos, but where luck is much more likely to have an impact. Flavor is also different. Not better or worse, mind you, just different.
If I play random decks, a modern deck plays well against a modern deck, and an old school deck is comparable to an old school deck, but an old school deck will probably get destroyed by a modern deck.

I really want to say Modern starts with Ravnika, because of how balanced, polished, and fun that block is. Kamigawa's flavor, depth, and mechanics could make a claim, but the pace and style of gameplay feels like it belongs more with the older stuff. Despite coming out earlier, Mirrodin almost definitely belongs with Modern, while the throwback Time Spiral not only harkens back to the good old days (were they ever really so good?), but truly feels like it should be part of that world. While it's hard to draw a clear line, Lorwyn and everything after are definitely modern, while Onslaught and everything before are definitely old-school.

That being said, Onslaught is by far the best block of the old style. Because, who doesn't love tribal? There's just something deeply satisfying about creating a deck built around one set of creatures and destroying your enemy with it. Whether it's elves or goblins, zombies or dragons, wizards or clerics, it's just satisfying to have a cohesive army and attack en masse.
Not only that, the decks hold up fairly well against modern sets.

Onslaught also has great flavor. Ok, I'm sure some people are scratching their heads. The flavor pales in comparison to not only newer blocks, but even older sets like The Dark, Homelands, or even Arabian Nights and Antiquities. But that's wrong. The Tribal Theme is the Flavor. Rather than piece together a storyline written by WoC, you're creating your own storyline about how the goblins came down from the mountains to destroy their long-term enemies, the Elves. Or the soldiers (why is white tribal always human?) are facing the zombie apocalypse. Or the noble clerics face off against the heretic wizards. For once, you're creating your own story, your own world, rather than merely adventuring in theirs.

If this truly was the last block of old-school magic, then this is one hell of a way to go out with a bang. Deck building is exciting, overwhelming your opponents is fun, and each tribe can hold its own against any other deck from the old days. Two thumbs up.
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