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Alara Reborn: First Impressions April 21, 2009

Posted by James in : all, reviews, previews , trackback

We now have a good deal of the Alara Reborn cards spoiled. Overall, I am not excited about this set. Some important things to consider:

So we have two issues. One, mana screw. Two, a generally low power level.

Mana Screw

I have to wait another 3 months for a set that I will find worth playing in draft or sealed. I am not excited to draft a set that guarantees that I get mana screwed. Shards of Alara and Conflux had the same problem but to a smaller extent. (But isn’t it OK to get mana screwed when everyone gets mana screwed? No. I don’t like getting mana screwed and I don’t like my opponents to get mana screwed. I want to play a game where people can play spells and be rewarded for strategic insight rather than luck.)

ethercaste knightWizards of the Coast stated that there are many two drops in Alara Reborn. This is a bad thing. Why? Whenever I play a three color deck, I feel quite lucky to get the two right colors of mana to play a two drop, such as Goblin Deathraiders. It often takes a long time to get the right colors to play a two color card. If I have an Eathercaste Knight in my opening hand and I am playing Esper (black/blue/white), then I have to draw the two exact colors to play it. Instead of drawing an Island and a Plains, I might draw Islands and Swamps, Swamps and Plains, or all Swamps, or all Plains, or all Islands. The odds of drawing a Plains and Island by the third turn aren’t that great.

If you have 18 lands in your 40 card deck (6 of each land type), then you can hope to draw all three land types every 7 cards you draw. However, real life is messy and you will often have to draw 10 cards to draw a certain land type. You can’t expect to see all three colors until around your fourth turn.

Conclusion: Two mana cards with two colors often can’t be played until around your 4th turn. You might as well pay 3 mana for a more powerful card at that point!

One way to avoid mana screw

It might be possible to avoid mana screw if you can play a two colored deck. However, a Shards of Alara draft will include a pack of Shards of Alara and Conflux, which both encourage you to play several colors. (Alara Reborn might actually function better in a triple Alara Reborn draft.)

One drops

There are one drops and landish cards in the set, but not much, and they are pretty underpowered. I applaud Wizards of making the Borderposts, but they are so weak that I would never want to play them in a draft. Of course, I would probably play them in an Alara Reborn draft despite the fact that I wouldn’t want to. I would feel “forced” to play them because no other mana fixing or one drops will exist.

Why are the borderposts so weak? Think of the fact that you will either play it as a land or as mana acceleration. As a land, it says, “Comes into play tapped, return a land to your hand, pay 1. T: Add X or Y to your mana pool.” That is simply the worst dual land I’ve ever heard of. Comes into play tapped dual lands were horrible. This is way worse than that. (On second thought, it isn’t that bad because you can still play a land that turn. So, it’s drawback is basically just coming into play tapped. You can play a land turn one, tap it for mana, then put a borderpost into play.)

As mana acceleration, these have an 1XY mana cost and say “T: Add X or Y to your mana pool.” That is the weakest mana acceleration I’ve ever seen. Obelisks are so terrible that no one wants to play them. (Sometimes obelisks are played just because we have no better option.) These are way worse than Obelisks.

The fact that you have a choice about how to play the Borderposts makes them slightly better, but not by much. If you ever play a borderpost after turn one, but early game, then you will be forced to waste a turn playing it and doing little else. (Since they are better than comes into play tapped lands, they are decent mana fixing after all. I actually dislike comes into play tapped duals in general, but it is decent for draft.)

I want there to be more one drops in Alara Reborn. That would help us from getting mana screwed. I already listed several ways this could be done here.

Lower Power Level

We have a set that is mostly under-powered. Yes, there are bombs in the set, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. You can end up drawing terrible cards when the opponent draws a completely powerful card that automatically wins them the game. (Bombs just add a different kind of luck factor to the game.)

Why did this happen? I suggest that Wizards thought something like the following: Hey! Let’s make cards just like before, add an extra ability (haste or exalted), then make it multicolored!

One problem: Two different colors of mana is a huge drawback. We want powerful cards if we play a two color card, like Meddling Mage, Watchwolf, or Tidehollow Sculler. For three mana we want something like Wooly Thoctar. One extra ability doesn’t cut it.

Let’s take a look at how under powered some of the cards are:

A 1/3 creature for 1U would be horrible. Adding exalted doesn’t help redeem this creature. The fact that it is an artifact isn’t a big help either considering that it will be easy to destroy.

It should be noted that this is actually much better than some of the commons with high mana costs.

For six mana I want a creature that is at least a 5/5 with an ability. Giving it plainscycling and forestcycling isn’t good enough. (For two colors of mana I would actually want this to be at least a 7/7 creature.)

For three different colors of mana I would want a creature to be at least a 5/4. For four mana I would want a creature to be at least a 5/4. Combine both of these facts and this creature should be at least a 6/5. Instead it’s a 2/4. It’s ability is interesting, but it is still a terrible card.

The fact that this card is three colors doesn’t seem to be a drawback at all. We can already get a potentially better monocolored 2/4 creature for four mana:

Comments»

1. Tom - April 21, 2009

I think you are too harsh on them. You evaluated three common cards of the set, don’t forget every set has gray ogres and fogs. You didn’t mention cards like Thought Hemmorrhage, Spellbrealker Behemoth, Maelsrom Pluse, Mycoid Sepherd and Terminate. And Sen Triplets is just insane!
I do believe this set has many good cards!

And for example Pale Recluse IS the way to avoid mana-screw in limited.
We already have tons of mana-fixing in the set (Mana Cylix, Tri-Lands, Panoramas, basic landcycling, Obelisks), they are not great (definetely not for constructed) but they do do their job in limited.

2. Jonathan - April 22, 2009

As always, great article. If you’re interested, two thirds of the set are available here: http://www.gamingetc.com/alara_reborn2.htm

I won’t vouch for the accuracy, but they seem to have a laudable track record.

Two things I’d like to mention. First, I completely agree with your analysis of the border posts. The positive part of them is that they allow you to make a choice, either to hard cast them or ‘cheat’ them. Flexibility is always a nice thing. However, your ability to make a choice is hardly a viable counterbalance to the sheer unplayability of these cards. Hardcasting them provides you a card that is strictly worse than an obelisk. And, ‘cheating’ them gives you a land which says, ‘this land comes into play tapped, when it comes into play return a land to your hand, and then pay 1.” Are you effing kidding me? You’re right to say that this “is the worst dual land” ever.
When you ‘cheat’ them you lose tempo, and when you hardcast them you get a slow artifact which provides you the same mana you used to cast it.

Second, I’m glad you mentioned the power/toughness curve with multicolored cards. If you haven’t seen this card from Ala. Reb., check this out (from the aforementioned site).

Sigiled Behemoth - 4GW
Creature - Beast (Common)
Exalted
5/4
#78/145

+3 mana from a wooly thoc. but…it has exalted? I think you said it best: “One extra ability doesn’t cut it.”

Keep it up. Peace

3. James - April 22, 2009

Tom,

Thank you for your post. I agree that there are some good cards in the set. I am more concerned with draft and sealed, and Terminate is the only card you mentioned that I can consistently hope to get in those formats. There are some pretty good commons in the set that I didn’t mention, but I still want more for multicolored cards.

Jonathan,

Thank you for your comments. Looks like Sigiled Behemoth is about as bad as Pale Recluse.

4. Tom - April 22, 2009

Yeah, Sigiled Behemoth isn’t very exciting, I agree.
I see what you mean: a 2/2 for 2 wouldn’t be too bad if it were monocolour. This set has no monocolours so a 2/2 has to cost (at least) 2 and has to be a multicolour. Which is not so good. I agree. Nonetheless, there have to be 2/2s, most possibly for 2, so they added some special ability.

I wouldn’t compare cards to Woolly Thoctar, which is so extremely good it made its way to the winning deck the last Grand Prix. In extended! Woolly Thoctar is just super-strong. So is Wild Nacatl. There are a lot of rares around that are worse than him (Serra Angel: +2 mana -1power). And I remember when Serra Angel was the centerpiece of a world champion deck (by which I mean Serra Angel isn’t completely crap just can’t compare to Mr Thoctar).

As far as I can tell every set has a few very good common cards (Oblivion Ring, Wild Nacatl, Incinerate, Mulldrifter) that will see constructed play, the rest… well, not so exciting. But hey, that is the way it is.

P.S. My different point of view doesn’t mean I don’t like your articles. They are great! Keep on writing!

5. michael - April 22, 2009

Now that MTGSalvation has the full spoiler, you can do a complete set review.

I am not sure how much this is going to help or hurt draft. Triple Conflux is fun. AAC is alright. I don’t know about a full block draft.

6. Jonathan - April 23, 2009

James,
How do you feel about the following card? Its P/T to mana ratio is absurd. Is its “downside” exploitable or an impediment?

Nulltread Gargantuan
1GU 5/6
Creature - Beast Uncommon
When Nulltread Gargantuan comes into play, put a creature you control on top of its owner’s library.

7. James - April 23, 2009

Good question. In draft it can be good, especially with creatures that have cascade. I doubt anyone would play it in constructed.

It will really hurt when an opponent destroys (or unsummons) your only other creature in response to it coming into play.

8. Recoculous.com: Magic the Gathering Articles » Alara Reborn Review Part 1 - April 24, 2009

[…] Now that the Alara Reborn spoiler is finished and I have spent some time thinking about all of the cards, I still agree with my first impressions. However, I decided that the Borderposts are better than I thought (at the time I wrote the first impressions article). They are pretty much just comes-into-play-tapped-duals. That’s not a great thing, but it will help a lot with mana fixing. In some ways I like the mana fixing in this set better than in Conflux. […]