Hello ladies and gents, Harrison here with another MTG article for you folks. Now, unless the postal service to your cave is particularly slow, you may have noticed that the latest and last core set from Wizards, Magic: Origins, is available for your consumption. Over the last two weeks I attended a few pre-releases and a draft, and I thought I’d share my thoughts and impressions with you. I’m going to talk mostly about the way the set plays, rather than any sort of discussion of the flavor that it does or doesn’t have. So let’s crack on.
Pre-release events have followed more-or-less the same format since Return to Ravnica. Players receive a kit consisting of 5 boosters of however the set is meant to be played (5 Khans of Tarkir, 3 Fate Reforged 2 Khans of Tarkir, etc, etc), a seeded booster with cards the colour(s) of which you picked beforehand, and some promotional product like dice and lore sheets. The main difference, and this is almost certainly an improvement since RTR, is that you no longer get a pre-determined rare. While a Rakdos player was always going to have a Carnival Hellsteed in their pool, for example, now you don’t have that guaranteed bomb and it makes the decks you create, and by extension the games you play more fun and interesting. Origins had a slight departure from this format, in that you actually open 7 boosters in your kit, 6 of Origins and one seeded. The seeded booster had less than 15 cards in it (and it’s to my eternal shame I didn’t actually pay attention to how many their was), which means you have a larger-than-average sealed pool.
The last seven pre-release events have been almost entirely the same, except for the specific cards, because it’s a format that works. Players who are more interested in the lore and background get plenty to sink their teeth into, while competitive players get a format that’s very close to that of a regular Sealed event. As a player who is almost entirely focused on Constructed, I like the fact that I end up with more than six boosters worth of cards. Larger card pools lead to higher power levels in decks, which lead to more interesting games. Speaking of interesting games, let’s talk about how the set plays.
My God, you could grate cheese on those things!
So I have very mixed feelings about playing Origins. On the one hand, Wizards has done a great job of actually making a core set interesting. There are multiple archetypes present in the format, such as UR Thopters, BG Elves and RW Aggro. While we do struggle with the eternal problem of crappy commons, most of the cards I opened or got passed were playable. The removal present in the set was good … if you play black. Otherwise your options are rather …. limited (heh).
On the other hand, this is still a core set. The only overarching theme (more on that later) is the journey that the Big 5 Planeswalkers go through, from legendary creatures to full-blown ‘walkers. The mechanics that are present in the set are … honestly, kind of boring. Menace is an ability that we’ve previously seen since Goblin War Drums, which arrived all the way back in Fallen Empires, in 1994! So while it’s good that it’s finally made its way into keyword territory, it’s not all that exciting to see ‘can only be blocked by two or more creatures’. It’s not even as exciting as Renown.
Renown is one of the other mechanics we see in Origins. Renown is a parallel of Monstrous from the Theros block, but rather than paying mana to activate the ability, it triggers whenever the creature deals combat damage to a player. It then gains a number of counters (as printed on the card) and becomes renowned. Most of these new creatures also have additional abilities that require them to be renowned, again similar to Monstrous. While some of these creatures will see constructed play – looking primarily at Scab-Clan Berserker and Goblin Glory Chaser – it’s a combat ability printed on creatures. It’s only as exciting as whatever else that creature can do, and that’s not much.
The Scab Clan need a new PR guy. Who’s scared of Scabs, anyway.
Maybe I’m spoilt, having just started to play serious magic when Return to Ravnica hit, but there’s been very few mechanics in recent sets that have actually managed to interest me. Prowess is just a combat trick, Delve just makes cards cheaper, and Bolster is just counters. At least Morph and Manifest managed to be interesting (even if Megamorph may be the laziest name of all time).
Speaking of Morph and … cards with two faces (look, it’s a bit of a stretch) we come to the marquee cards from Origins; the Planeswalkers. Origins has five ‘walkers that each start out as themselves, before their sparks ignited. Those ‘walkers are Gideon (as Kytheon), Jace, Chandra, Liliana and Nissa. Each of them have a unique flip condition, such as attacking with two other creatures or having other creatures you control die that transforms them into themselves in the full flight of their Planeswalker power.
All of these new creatures have remarkably cheap mana costs for Planeswalkers, especially Kytheon costing a single White mana (!!!), which is balanced out by the fact that you do have to jump through some hoops to get them as ‘walkers. All of them are quite powerful and will see play during their lifetime in Standard.
What if I told you that you’re going to grow up to be the most broken ‘walker of all time….
So at the end of the day Origins, at least after a short fortnight, feels like the best core set Wizards have ever produced. As a limited format it is interesting to play, having multiple viable archetypes and a good mix of playable creatures and removal. For constructed there’s a whole bunch of cards that will find homes in many a deck, including five incredibly cheap Planeswalkers. But it’s also still just a core set, and this is the last one for a reason. They just fail to be as interesting as an expansion set manages to be, and the two block paradigm we’re moving into should give us a much more healthy and interesting hobby.
But that’s a discussion for another day ladies and gents, thank you for reading and I’ll talk to you next time.