Shadowmoor First Impressions

18:48 Sun 20 Apr 2008
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I went to the Shadowmoor prerelease yesterday, and quite enjoyed it. It was a lot more fun than the last prerelease for me. Partly because I went on a Saturday, and because most of the usual crew were there.

I have to say that I thought the event was run very well. This is a marked difference from the majority of prereleases I’ve attended in the Bay Area. This time it seemed as if the organizers had actually put some thought into how to do things better—for example, when you signed up you would get a slip with the number of the table you’d sit at for deck construction, and the organizers actually put information about upcoming events on this slip. Seems obvious, but this kind of foresight and organization is not something that’s been much in evidence in the past. This time, though, they did very well, so well that when a computer glitch ate the Two-Headed Giant tournament standings going into its last round, they were able to cope with that and still not run over time.

Sadly, I was out of 2HG by that time, as Brett and I had had a frustrating run of not drawing the good cards in our decks, securing our only win out of three rounds when our round two opponents failed to show up. At one-two, we dropped, but then waited for Seth and Nick to finish their tournament (they lost, ending up two-two).

The earlier individual tournament went better for me, my three-zero-one record supplying me with eleven boosters (prerelease prizes are more valuable because the sets haven’t been released, so the prizes are the only ways to get supplies to run drafts, and the sfmagic group has two draft evenings to get through before the cards are commercially available).

I played a Red/Green/Black deck with some ridiculous rares in it, as well as solid removal and acceleration, all important factors for Sealed Deck success. In addition, my first three opponents all suffered from mana screw in our matches, making the games less fun but giving me a large edge in them.

Shadowmoor is a “color matters” set, as opposed to Lorwyn which was a “creature type matters” set. Generally I prefer the color theme to the tribal theme. In addition, Shadowmoor brings back one of my favorite concepts from Ravnica, hybrid mana. Mana costs in MTG are made up of either colored or generic requirements (or a combination), that is, either they can be paid with a specific color (White, Blue, Black, Red, Green) or with mana of any color (or colorless mana). So a card with a cost of 2U requires two mana of any color and one Blue mana. Hybrid changes this by turning the colored mana symbol into an “either/or”, so that it can be paid with e.g. either Blue or Black. This is a lot simpler than it sounds, and looks completely intuitive on the cards, with mana symbols that are simply split versions of the two possible colors. I like hybrid mana a great deal because it makes it harder to get color-screwed—you’re often playing both colors, and so should be able to pay the hybrid costs even if you happened to draw land for only one color. I also like the flexibility it brings, allowing a deck that’s nominally in one color stretch out to others without actually committing to land in other colors.

Apart from that, Shadowmoor has four major mechanics.

Conspire is a keyword on instants or sorceries that allows you to copy the spell (once) when you cast it by tapping two creatures you control that share a color with the spell. I think it’s pretty interesting in Limited because it requires a balance between tempo and card advantage. Tapping two creatures can lose you a lot of time, even if it gains you card advantage.

Persist is a keyword on creatures that means that when they die, they come back with a -1/-1 counter on them. It’s fine, but it doesn’t strike me as that interesting.

Wither is a keyword on creatures that means that when they deal damage to other creatures, they deal it in the form of -1/-1 counters. In other words, the damage they deal is permanent. That’s quite a big difference from normal combat, and makes the decisions involved in creature combat significantly more complicated. Since creature combat is a huge part of Limited, I this makes Limited more interesting. So far I like it a lot even if it creates situations that feel quite strange.

Untap is a new mechanic, represented by a reverse of the MTG tap symbol, that’s conceptually very simple: instead of tapping an untapped creature as the cost of some ability the creature has, you untap a tapped creature. Simple, but because attacking still involves tapping creatures, it’s rather interesting. I think it’s an excellent addition to the game, just as hybrid mana is, and that like many excellent additions seems completely obvious once it’s out there.

Overall, I think it looks like a good set, and I look forward to drafting it. I also hope that I’m better at it than I was at Lorwyn and Morningtide, because they’ve been my worst draft environment ever…

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