Magic the Gathering: Fear, Crumble, Lifetap

Posted by @ 2:11 pm on August 12th, 2010

I don’t give a fuck: I like Magic. I haven’t played in at least ten years, but even just off my memories of the game up to, oh, 18, and later in the online versions, I will attest that MtG is the greatest and most intricately strategic and customizable game ever created. Fuck chess and backgammon. Magic is a universe where not only are there so many possible utilities under the array of spells and creatures you can involve in any given match, but also a ridiculous level of inner-tuning, logic, semantic, prediction, counteractivity, and innovation of nuts and bolts. It is the ultimate rendering of a game where to be successful you must decide your approach, construct your apparatus, and operate that apparatus under the manner of luck and the countless structures employed by each opponent. There are so many fucking spells.

Today I’m bored again and found my old archives of cards I have left after I sold most of them off when I quit in high school. I decided to pull 3 cards out at random and write about their utility. It seems to me to have a lot to do with manipulation of other entities, like words and systems of words.

Oh, and also, kiss my ass, Magic rules.

Fear

Fear seems like a pretty worthless card. It’s an Enchant Creature, which means that you are directly manipulating an entity that already must be in play in order the spell to even be cast. Indirect spells can take up space in your hand if you get them at the wrong time, as a starting draw of cards give you seven to deal with and you redraw one each turn by default (thereĀ  are ways to influence how many cards you draw). This card doesn’t get used a lot, though I can remember specific settings where it actually did a lot of damage in that it wasn’t expected, and therefore became harder to defend against. If you aren’t used to people playing a card like Fear, then suddenly not being able to defend against an attack (unless you happen to be playing black, which is a popular color as it has a wide range of damaging and manipulative spells), then you can easily find yourself going down in a matter of turns, particularly if your opponent enchants a creature with a strength of 4 or 5 or greater (meaning they are doing 4 to 5 damage to you each turn at least, unless you can stop it, and each player only begins with 20). Thus, out of nowhere a card that most people would never consider using can win you the game in the right situation.
Crumble

It’s nice to be able to destroy a thing. Green doesn’t have a lot of these kinds of destructive spells, as green is more about regeneration and multiplication than it is aiming to wreak havoc. In this instance the spell has the added benefit of giving you extra life in addition to destroying the opponent’s object, which is pretty nice considering it only costs one green mana. The term ‘bury’ here is different than simply ‘destroy’ as when an object is buried in Magic it can’t be brought back into play later. Most cards, after being used (if they are spells) or destroyed (if they are active cards like creatures or artifacts, which go into play until they are destroyed) go to the graveyard, a discard pile of inactive cards. There are many sorts of spells that involve bringing cards back out of the graveyard by reanimation or returning used spells to your hand for use again, thus making the graveyard more of a purgatory than a dead zone. Some decks make really amazing use of having the graveyard not be a point where the spells end, but a way of altering the space between the unplayed cards in hand and those in play (for instance, a popular strategy is to discard creatures that cost a ton to cast early on and then use simple spells of reanimation to bring them into play before there is much going on on the board, making them even more monstrous, and sometimes ending the game really early just because there is no way to stop the spell that you weren’t expecting to see in play until much later). Still, Crumble isn’t going to win you any wars: it’s too nice. I’d be surprised to see someone play this bitch.

Lifetap

There are lots of weird Enchantment spells in Magic, which by design go into play and stay there, often altering fundamental rules either for your benefit solely, to the detriment of your opponent, or for some, universal bonuses that give the same effect to both players. In this instance of the cards that affect universally, many people then use those kinds of enchantments in cohesion with other cards that make the affect valuable for them, and a detriment to the opponent. For instance, the card Howling Mine is an artifact that when in play lets each player draw an extra card during the draw phase of their turn (usually at the start of a player’s turn, you draw 1 card). This usually accelerates game play and gets a lot more spells involved, since both players are cycling through cards faster. Using Howling Mine with a card like Black Vice, which deals 1 point of damage at the beginning of your opponent’s turn for each card more than 4 they have in their hand, then makes it bad for them to be drawing more unless they can get all the cards out of their hands by casting them to keep from being damaged. You, on the other hand, just get a bunch of cards (though by default you are only allowed to have 7 cards in your hand at a time, unless you have cards in play that extend this). One popular and effective deck I remember seeing a bit was using multiple Howling Mines and multiple Black Vices (though you are only allowed 4 max of any card in your deck), letting the damage flow and your own spells come into your hand like wildfire.

Anyway, this particular Enchantment, Lifetap, is another you wouldn’t see in play very often, mainly because it is useless unless your opponent is playing Green (forests produce green mana). Against an opponent running a red/black deck, this card would be a waste. You might, though, see it show up in tournaments as a part of a player’s sideboard, a set of 15 cards you are allowed to bring along with your main deck, to switch out for other cards in a series (most matches in Magic tournaments are best two out of three). Thus, if you found your opponent was playing green, you might slip this in the second game and cause him the dilemma of giving you life every time he uses his land to cast spells, entering into a weird economy duality where you are working to kill the opponent, and the only way is to do so by casting spells and creatures, but also then needing to weigh how much value you can get out of the card being cast and how much life the opponent is getting.

Many cards like this in Magic are interesting in the way they force the sedimentary logic of the game to be changed on the fly. Blue in particular is about control, manipulation: it often is the centerpiece of logic based decks over decks that want to fistfight. Though many decks operate on pure damage infliction (they use spells that deal direct damage to the opponent, and mean creatures that attack fast and have good strength points), often the decks that do really well in tournaments are those that so constrain the way the game operates by changing the rules to operate in their favor and against the opponent, that sometimes it becomes an inevitability that you can no longer stop your opponent, even if you aren’t dead yet. Watching those logic systems develop by layering of rules and interaction of cards being played together in increasingly intricate ways can be fascinating. The cards can work alone, but the more you are able to have a deck be a cohesive structure, where each operation interlocks in surprising or powerful ways with the other, the more intimidating and difficult to counteract you can be. I’ve seen decks whose interior logic I would call a work of art, and definitely a creation outside the bounds of what is being given.

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