This past week was the start of official previews for Born of the Gods, the second set in the Theros block, which will release in a few weeks. Plenty of exciting spoilers came out including some new mechanics, multi-colored devotion gods, and a lot of new heroic enablers. In the meantime, the biggest news was the announcement of a partnership with Twentieth Century Fox to make a Magic the Gathering movie. We’ll take a look at all this news as well as Grand Prix Sacramento, the SCG Open in Columbus, and the rest of the news from around the community.

Born of the Gods

It’s officially preview week for Born of the Gods which will have its pre-release on February 1st and be playable in constructed the following weekend. We’re going to take a look at the spoilers and new mechanics and see what the new set has in store for us.

New Mechanics

Inspired

This is a really hard mechanic to gauge because becoming untapped is a strange condition to fill. In the past we saw this space explored, specifically in the Shadowmoor/Eventide block. In those sets there was a mechanic that allowed you to untap cards to get some effect. In limited, the most powerful of these cards was Pili-Pala. You could combo this weird artifact creature with any number of auras that allowed it to tap for some effect. As a flying creature, it was even possible to attack with it to get access to it’s untap ability.

The Shadowmoor mechanic was fairly superior to the Born of the Gods mechanic because it allowed you to untap your creature at instant speed. In the new set we will always need to wait for the creature to untap. So instead of just needing an enabler to tap our creatures, we also need an enabler to untap them if we want to get real value. Let’s look at the marquee card for the Inspired mechanic: Pain Seer.

If you can come up with a way to tap and untap this you end up with a very powerful card advantage mechanic. However, even if it’s only a two-card combo you have a very fragile draw engine. Obviously this can’t compete with Dark Confidant but the resemblance is clearly intentional. The drawback on Inspired is fairly steep. Your creatures have some very powerful effects, but they have to live long enough to use them. Unlike an activated ability which you could use fairly soon, or even a tap ability which can  be used at instant speed, Inspired requires some kind of enabler. Even if it’s just the combat phase and the next turn’s untap step, you’re taking a big risk to get your value.

Tribute

This is a new spin on the punisher mechanic most popularized by the cycle of cards that includes Browbeat and Book Burning. The problem with these mechanics is that they give your opponent a choice and your opponent will always choose the option that is best for them instead of what’s best for you.

If your opponent can deal with a 5/5 creature, then that’s what you’ll get. If they have enough life to survive a hit for 5 to the head, then they’ll take it. You’ll almost never get the tribute result that you want, making these cards much less efficient than you want them to be. These cards will be tempting to play in limited, but they will not be very good. The simplest comparison is between Fact or Fiction, which lets you choose the cards you get, and Steam Augury which lets your opponent choose the cards you get. You’ll always want Fact or Fiction.

Archetypes

This is a very interesting cycle of creatures that gives your entire team a powerful ability. What’s also impressive is that it strips that ability from your opponent’s team. This is easily one of the most powerful mechanics in the set, especially in limited. Being able to give your whole side first strike or flying and immediately swing in is very strong. The six-mana Archetype of Flying is easily the most terrifying.

This can almost be an auto-win in the right deck. In Theros block constructed I can see this as an amazing card for U/W flying decks to turn off your opponent’s ability to block. Expect this card to see a lot of play in limited and block constructed, and the whole cycle should be useful. The white archetype is first strike and green gives hexproof. The black and red ones have not been spoiled yet, but my guess would be intimidate and haste, both of which will be spectacular.

Multi-Color Gods

The big reveal this week was that Born of the Gods will contain five new gods, and they will be two colors each. They will represent friendly-colored pairs going around the pentagon on the back of the card and require seven devotion, combined, to each color to become animated. So far, four of the five have been revealed, saving the Dimir god for the second week of spoilers. Let’s check out the four we’ve seen so far:

John, George, Paul, and Ringo?

John, George, Paul, and Ringo?

Ephara will be playable in limited but it’s completely outclassed as card advantage in Standard by plenty of other effects. Karametra is a decent ramp spell, but I’m not convinced there’s anything worth ramping into in Standard that needs this sort of effect. It’s a far cry from Primeval Titan. Mogis is very impressive and will be very playable in Commander and likely playable in at least one constructed format (Standard) if not two (Modern) and maybe even a third (Legacy?) since Indestructible Enchantment is incredibly relevant when that enchantment is a one-sided version of both The Abyss and Sulfuric Vortex. Xenagos is decent but will mostly see play in decks looking to create a Vorthos loophole in which Xenagos the planeswalker helps cast Xenagos the god.

All in all they are an impressive bunch, but I’m curious just how powerful of a card advantage effect the blue/black god will bring to the table. The rest of the spoilers so far have been alright, but nothing incredibly splashy. Perhaps I’m jaded by the Inspired and Tribute mechanics so I’m underwhelmed by cards like Pain Seer and others along the same lines. Still, we have another week of spoilers and a prerelease shortly thereafter. The hype is certainly high and while limited looks like it will be a lot of fun, constructed may remain painfully stagnant.

The Magic Movie

20th_Century_FOX_Home_Entertainment

This week Wizards made a pretty huge announcement. That’s right, they’ve partnered to make a series of films with 20th Century Fox, creators of a lot of stuff you’ve heard of like X-Men. Simon Kinberg is going to be the franchise’s creative steward so let’s take a look at his resume. As a producer he worked on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, and X-Men: First Class. He also has a lot of projects in various states of completion or non-completion including new X-Men and Fantastic Four movies and a Star Wars TV series. In short, this guy has done a lot of work with Science Fiction/Comic Book Fantasy and action movies.

We can probably expect something similar to how X-Men is managed now as a franchise. The first film will be an origin story and it will go from there. There is a large cast of planeswalkers to choose from at this point, but I would expect either Jace Beleren or Chandra Nalaar to be  the main focal character given how they have been branded pretty heavily by Wizards in the past few years. Elspeth could also serve as a strong main character, but Jace is really becoming the face of Magic as a brand. It would be interesting to put a real life actor to that face.

Either way, this should be an exciting announcement, but as usual people have mixed emotions. However, as we’ve discussed for the past year or so, Wizards needs to start expanding beyond just players of the game and into the realm of having an actual fan-base. So long as it’s a movie about the planeswalkers and not about playing Magic we should be just fine. It’s not like a bad Fantastic Four movie made people stop reading comic books. If the Magic movie is bad, people will still play Magic.

Weekend Pro Tour Recap

Top 25 Update

Calcano survives another week.

Calcano survives another week.

There isn’t too much to see here. All three ranked pros who finished with points at GP Prague moved up slightly in the standings. Jeremy Dezani cracked the top five, and given how many events he has been attending lately I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start closing the gap on Ben Stark by Pro Tour Born of the Gods in a few months. Meanwhile, NYC hero Christian Calcano manages to keep his ranking for another week. With a North American GP going on, will he be able to hold onto it?

Grand Prix Sacramento

(13) Tom Martell drafting for the top 8 of Grand Prix Sacramento

(13) Tom Martell drafting for the top 8 of Grand Prix Sacramento

Nearly two thousand players showed up to compete in Theros limited this weekend at the first ever Grand Prix in Sacramento. Of the precisely 1,855 planeswalkers who tried their hand at the sealed deck format, 206 went on to compete in the draft portion of the event on Sunday. Among them would be seven ranked players including Alexander Hayne, Reid Duke, Brian Kibler, Tom Martell, Paul Rietzl, Owen Turtenwald, and Josh Utter-Leyton. Just missing the cut, in 239th place, was Shahar Shenhar. Eric Froehlich, David Ochoa, and Christian Calcano finished much further down the standings. Also making the cut was Hipsters of the Coast writer Brendan McNamara, who finished day one at 7-2 and will be writing all about his experience later this week!

After six grueling rounds of drafting Theros we almost had an epic top 8 in Sacramento. Just missing the cut were Conley Woods (11th), Owen Turtenwald (13th), Gaudenis Vidugiris (14th), and Luis Scott-Vargas (16th). Making it to the final tables was (13) Tom Martell along with seven un-ranked players. The top 8 consisted of six Californian players to go with Aaron Lewis from Wisconsin and Nathan Maliszewski from Denver. Philip Yam and Aaron Lewis advanced to the semis in the top-half of the bracket while Tom Martell and Eric Pei advanced from the bottom-half. Yam made short work of Lewis but the Martell/Pei matchup lasted much longer. Martell however survived the semis, playing a nearly perfect game against Eric Pei to setup the all-Californian finals between Martell and Yam.

Both Martell and Yam come from northern California, an appropriate finish for the first ever Grand Prix in Sacramento. Phil Yam drafted virtually every strong blue rare in the format while Martell is one of the most talented planeswalkers in California and the world. The match started very poorly for Yam as he missed his fourth land drop until turn five. Making it worse was that it was his first island in a mostly blue deck. Martell had a Wingsteed Rider but Yam was able to stabilize with Griptide. Both players stalled on four lands for several turns. Martell suited up his Rider but Yam finally hit more lands and was able to start playing out some larger threats. Martell’s tight play though would carry him to a victory in game one.

Martell came out swinging hard in game two, hoping to not have to go to a third game. Yam stuck to the plan and dropped Thassa on turn four to get the scry effect online as soon as possible. Yam began to slowly stabilize the board when he was down 23-13 in life but Ordeal of Erebos became a Mind Twist for Martell. Down 26-8 Yam animated his Thassa with Sealock Monster. Unfortunately for the underdog he simply couldn’t apply enough pressure on Martell’s flying creatures and was done in shortly thereafter.

Congratulations to Tom Martell, champion of Grand Prix Sacramento!

Weekend SCG Series Recap

The SCG Open standings heading into Columbus this past weekend.

The SCG Open standings heading into Columbus this past weekend.

SCG Open Columbus

Even with a North American Grand Prix taking place a few thousand miles away, almost 700 players arrived in Columbus, OH to battle Standard constructed. A few well known players even made the trip, forgoing the grueling limited battles taking place in California. Among them were Gerard Fabiano, Chris Vanmeter, and SCG mainstay Todd Anderson. However, six of the top eight finalists would be making their first splash at a major tournament on any circuit. Kent Ketter, who finished in the top 16 of GP Pittsburgh, and Mike Kenney, who finished in the top eight of SCG Indy (two weeks ago) would be the only experienced players at the final tables.

Six different archetypes appeared in the top eight, without a single mono-black devotion deck (though five of them show up in the 9th through 16th finishes) and only one mono-blue devotion deck. Experience paid off as Kenney, playing R/W midrange, defeated Andrew Kellogg piloting B/W midrange in the semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, Kent Ketter took R/W devotion all the way to face off against Kenny in the finals. In the midrange-vs-midrange final match it was R/W which took the top prize. You can read the full recap of Mike Kenney’s victory over at the SCG coverage site.

Meanwhile, 342 players stuck around for the Legacy portion of the Open on Sunday, including Kent Ketter. Other notables in the eternal event included the same big three who I mentioned above in the Standard event, but also the polarizing Alex Bertoncini who ended up finishing in 9th, just missing the top 8 of the event on tie-breakers. It will be interesting to see if Bertoncini can earn a berth in the Player’s championship. In the end it was a moderately diverse top 8 with two blade decks, three delver decks, Sneak and Show, reanimator, and Jund Depths. Not a single delver deck was long for the semfinals as they, and the Jund deck, all lost in the quarters. In the end, none of the blade or delver decks were long for the finals as Adam Fronsee, piloting Sneak and Show, went to three games with Thomas Graves, who pulled out the victory with his reanimtor deck, becoming champion of the Legacy Open.

The Quick Hits

  • Time Spiral takes on Shards of Alara in the third quarterfinal match in this week’s Battle of the Blocks [Star City Games]
  • Brian Demars concludes his 2013 Vintage year-in-review [Star City Games]
  • Heather Lafferty interviews Erin Campbell, host of The Deck Tease podcast and all-around uber-nerd [Gamer Boy, Gamer Girl]
  • Wizards announced that they will be expanding video coverage for the Grand Prix in 2014 [Daily MTG]
  • Michael Martin ranked all 41 planeswalkers. Spoiler – Jace is the best [Star City Games]
  • MT Scott’s ultimate cosplay competition enters the semifinals so vote for your favorites [Gathering Magic]
  • Monique Garraud asks the community about the influence of local gaming stores [Grinding it Out]
  • Adrian Sullivan attempts to resolve the disputes between Sam Black and PV about making the ‘right play’ [Star City Games]
  • Mashi Scanlan and LSV present their demands for 2014 include playing a Grand Prix on MTGO  [Magic TV]
  • Carsten Kotter talks about the complexity increases from one constructed format to the next [Star City Games]

Wallpaper of the Week

I wonder if Dave Bowman is inside that jug somewhere?

I wonder if Dave Bowman is inside that jug somewhere?

I have to say that the artwork for Ephara is pretty stunning. Considering that she is meant to represent the deification of blue and white, I think Eric Deschamps really nailed this one on the head. The feel of the artwork is very majestic, which fits the theme of the Theros gods quite appropriately. On top of that, Ephara herself is oozing with scholarly knowledge and life. It’s hard for me not to admire all the details in the scroll, her stone armor, her dress, and of course the water jug full of stars.

Grade: B+

The Week Ahead

It’s a double-header on tap for the top circuit as the Grand Prix schedule brings us to Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur. Expect Vancouver to have a packed house after nearly 2,000 planeswalkers played in Sacramento this past weekend. Vancouver is just a hop, skip, and a job across the border from California to Canada. Vancouver has been home to two Grand Prix tournaments in the past, hosting an Avacyn Restored limited event in the summer of 2012, and an Extended tournament in the winter of 2008. This weekend, the eighth largest city in Canada will be home to a Standard constructed.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur will play host to its seventh Grand Prix dating all the way back to March of 2000. A Pro Tour was also held there in the winter of 2008 shortly after the release of Morningtide. This weekend, Theros limited will be the format of choice in this Asia-Pacific region Grand Prix, the first of the year. The Star City Open travels back to the east coast next weekend with a stop off in Baltimore, MD. Commentary will be presented by Patrick Sullivan and Matthias Hunt. With two Grand Prixs and the SCG Open there will be plenty of Magic action to tune into next weekend!

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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