2017, huh? Weird one, honestly. For starters, this year was about three years long and included saber-rattling with North Korea, a culture-wide reckoning regarding sexual harassment and assault, a genocide in Myanmar, and a record-setting hurricane season. It was entire decades of development doled out in 280-character bursts, and I’m worn out.

This was a hectic year for Magic, too—four Standard sets, two Masters reprints sets, one silver-bordered set, and the now-standardized From the Vault, Duel Decks, and supplementary set (Explorers of Ixalan). Aether Revolt—the first of those four sets—feels like an epoch ago. So I thought I’d take this final article of the year and think back through some of the highlights—and nadirs—of the last twelve months.

Rob’s Official Favorite New Printings

#5: Shadow of the Grave—I don’t know exactly how this ended up here, but I’m going to go with it.

#4: Shefet Monitor—The Monitor humbled me. Initially, I adored it—overcome by nostalgia, I would pick it as early as I picked Krosan Tusker back during Onslaughtt. I waited with it in hand, neither able to take a turn off to ramp and draw nor hold out long enough to hard-cast it. I stopped prioritizing it. Eventually, I stopped playing it. It taught me a valuable little lesson about letting myself be seduced by the past.

#3: Walking Ballista—A kill card for infinite mana engines, a more flexible Triskelion, a Modular target, and a card that fits in any deck and on any curve. Made me miss Hangarback Walker far less than I did at the start of January.

#2: Bumbling Pangolin—Earlier this month, I lost an Unstable match after dropping a turn two Spike, Tournament Grinder, then paying fourteen life for a Jack-in-the-Mox and an Umezawa’s Jitte, both of which were deployed on turn three. My opponent dropped a Bumbling Pangolin, which ate my Jitte. That wasn’t the first nor the last time Pangolin crushed my dreams. It’s the exact sort of niche playable that turns this from a game to a story generator.

#1: Fatal Push—In larger formats, with their compressed playability pools, this is a removal spell without a drawback. It nukes Tarmogoyf (and has affected its price more than a large-scale reprinting did in the past) and handles threats as diverse as Thalia, Obstinate Baloth, a Batterskull Germ, and a Plated-up Inkmoth Nexus. It’s also perfectly Black—sure, it’s triggered mostly with a fetchland, but it can also represent either a sacrifice or an act of retaliation when your Confidant gets sent to the showers.

Side note: Honestly, Gods bore me. Consider The Scarab God an honorable mention with Hazoret, our first Legendary Creature—GOB! Also considered, but disqualified for inelegance, were Solemnity, Ramunap Excavator, and Ramos, Dragon Engine.

Most Important Reprints of 2017

#5: Serum Visions (MM17)—Such a small card. I remember this coming around ninth pick back in Fifth Dawn. I remember it languishing in bulk boxes for a decade. I remember it becoming Modern’s third choice for card selection (or fourth, after Probe). To watch such a paltry little card become worth reprinting—and worth calling out for reprints—has been a journey that sums up the vicissitudes of Magic and how “fringe” can become “staple” with just a few tweaks of the format or the Banned list. Plus, the new art is sick.

#4: Mind’s Desire (Duel Decks: Mind Vs. Might)—As Duel Decks get shuttled off to the slush zone, I wanted to take a second to mourn them and their weirdness. Half-themed and half-Limited chaff, with untuned lists that prioritized different play experiences over consistency, they never really gelled as a product. But, in their last year of life, they gave us a matchup that was Warrior tribal versus a highlander Storm deck, that was confrontationally based on cards from Coldsnap and Kamigawa, that asked players to embrace two $.99 legends. Duel Decks are going out like they lived, and we should all be so lucky.

#3: Steamflogger Boss (Unstable)—A black-bordered card in a silver-bordered world that, with context, becomes a powerhouse build-around, Steamflogger has been anticipated for years. In context, it’s powerful, but it’s also on-rails, mandating that you pick up Riggers and Contraptions and hope it holds together. A card going from a silly joke to an archetype anchor is an interesting case study.

#2: Aven Mindcensor (Amonkhet)—Aven Mindcensor was a $15 uncommon for a minute there. Now it’s a $.49 rare. In addition to underlining the effect of scarcity on card pries, the Mindcensor proved that people will justify trying to play niche cards in Standard formats just because they’re good in older formats. Luckily, we’d cut our Mindcensors by the time Hour of Devastation came out, relegating them to D&T and, later on, terrible brews with Field of Ruin.

#1: Mana Drain (Iconic Masters)—I remember discussion in the mid-90s about when Mana Drain became a liability. It’s always been an excellent card, but in the Draw-Go style of decks that embraced it, it sometimes became a way to counter a spell at the cost of two to three life from mana burn, rather than a combination ramp spell/counterspell. As blue decks have become less reactive, the card has only gotten better. Mana Drain is also worth calling out because it’s a sacred cow for reprinting. Wizards has so much reprint equity locked off in the Reserved List that pulling the trigger on Mana Drain (and on Force of Will last year) shows their commitment to reprinting high-ticket cards. Next spring should be interesting when Masters 25 starts getting spoiled, and I’m already excited to reserve this slot for something saucy.

Least Favorite Cards of the Year

#3: Inalla, Archmage Ritualist—Clunky as all get-out, Inalla seems to do something different each time I read it. I understand and support the need to narrow the potential of some cards before they break (and indeed, Inalla is a combo with the once-forgotten Wanderwine Prophets), but if you need to clutter up the text box this badly, consider redrafting what the card is supposed to do.

#2: Dire Fleet Captain—There’s so much printed on this card designed to hold it back. “If you control another non token Pirate,” two mana to create a token—was Mardu Strike Leader too powerful? This is such a discouragingly conservative card when it could have been a reason to run pirates.

#1: Hostage Taker/Ordinary Pony—Two cards that received day one errata to prevent infinite combos. That’s sloppy.

Five Best Days Out of Three-Sixty-Five

#5: There was a day in September—the date isn’t recorded—when all things were perfect, when the temperature was sub-eighty and the humidity sub-saturated; and, while summer still licked against the windows and dripped from the trees, you could tell that it was temporary, that something was coming in with the light breeze. I started thinking about getting one last trip to the Atlantic in. I never did.

#4: On July 25th, they took my cat’s eye out. The veterinarian told me he most likely wouldn’t make it through the anesthetic at seventeen, but that it was worth trying before it fell out of the socket. After the surgery, as I hand-fed him rotisserie chicken basted in antibiotics, the stitched-up slit of his eye didn’t look horrific or painful. It looked like someone of enormous tenderness and medical capability had taken his pain and turned it into emptiness—still a loss, but a loss that alleviates as much as it aggrieves. Since then, each new day with Spriggan is a minor celebration.

#3: On January 21st, my girlfriend drove up to Washington with a carload of friends to participate in the Women’s March. She and I texted through the experience and I, ensconced in a series of coffee shops, record stores, and bars (it was a self-care day for me), followed along on Twitter. The surge of righteous anger didn’t dissipate throughout the year; it strengthened, and brought in a wave of women representatives and a culling of sex criminals from the highest political and social positions. We’re going to be talking about it for decades to come, and she was a part of it. That’s wrth praising, even if I only saw it third-hand.

#2: On August 21st, I wallowed in a swimming pool, watching the sun get obscured by the moon while crickets and nightbirds tuned up. It was eerie and beautiful, and was also a reminder of how small our scope is and how broad the world.

#1: On July 21st, Sean Spicer resigned and the world was introduced to Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci, whose White House tenure lasted under two weeks. Also, I got engaged.

Three Stories Worth Reading

3: “Guidance/The Party”—Jen George is a lyrical and elliptical writer, and I love her flat but rich style. This is a neat and off-putting piece that captures what makes her appealing to me.

#2: “Juicero, the $399 internet-connected juicer, explained”—a nonfiction piece from Vox, this is a better narrative story than half of what gets published in fiction magazines.

#1: “Cat Person”—I have strong feelings about this story, which means it’s successful as a piece of art. While I hesitate to recommend something due to buzz rather than merit, there are some things that have an disproportionate effect, and thus require engagement. I think this is one of those.

That’s the rundown, folks. I have a box of Unstable calling my name, so I’ll sign off for 2017. 2018 is looking like a hell of a year already—I have wedding planning to do, we all have Dominaria drafting to do, and there’s tons of social, political, and cultural lifting we all have to pitch in on together—so I’ll just say one final thing: thank you. Thanks to everyone reading this and to Hipsters of the Coast for offering me the opportunity to share a writing credit with thoughtful and talented writers. Above all things, I love writing and I love games—to be able to write about games on this platform is a honor. Here’s to 2018!

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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