State of the Show (What’s next?)


I’ll probably shoot and post episode 10 by Sunday.  Prereleases are happening, and I’m playing in one at midnight on Friday, and possibly one Saturday afternoon.  The shooting itself for this show shouldn’t take long, but I probably need to make some stills for it, because the modifier stats are kinda small.

I am hard at work on scripts for the next few shows, but instead of doing a regular show next weekend I’m going to ditch the script and bust out my camera stand and shoot me cracking a box of Born of the Gods. I know cracking a box is a popular Youtube format, and I’m not against shameless pandering.  But cracking a box isn’t something you can script for.  I’ll probably practice by ‘opening’ some packs from my cube and just talking through them.

My cube is ginormous (700+) and has a few themes to it, but that is a topic I’ll save for when I need a break from set retrospectives.

After Vanguard and the box opening video, my next project is Masques block, then Odyssey block. I might get a deck retrospective in the mix too, which will in all likelihood be my Vintage foiled-out deck.  Fallen Empires and Homelands are on the wish list as well.

I was a kitchen table player from around Homelands to Tempest block, so while I can talk about Homelands or Mirage block, I don’t think I can really attest to mainstream player reaction very well at the time.  I could do the research for these periods, but it would entail appropriating a lot of other people’s writing, and I’d be worried about doing that and not giving credit.  That kind of thing matters.


Also, I’d bet dollars to donuts that Wizards will send Nathan Filion a care package if they can find his publicist’s address.

Episode #10 rough script

Episode #10 script and notes.

The next topic’s Vanguard.  I was surprised how much I had to say about it.  I’ll probably doctor it in the next few days, but the context building works for me.

Hi there, and welcome to Ancestral Recall, a webseries on Magic’s past from the player’s point of view.  I’m your host, Eli Kaplan.  Today’s story?  Vanguard.
Back in the late 90s, Wizards didn’t have a centralized web system of stores with preferred status for organized play like they do today.  Now we have Friday Night Magic, a system designed for local gaming retailers to get people in the door playing the game.  Its predecessor was a decentralized system, Arena League.  Arena League got players access to cool foils and had a mix of unusual formats.  One Constructed format was Vanguard, which they did five or six times.  Each ‘season’ had eight cards that existed outside play.  You picked one, and added it to a 60 card Standard legal deck to fight other people.  The more matches you played, the better your rating was, and somehow stores mailed in their match information to Wizards.  One season I was in 17th place in North America due to going 26-3 with one deck.
Not that Arena League really meant anything, but…
[This zone would be the Commander Zone today]
[Disclaimer:  Eli isn’t going to discuss the Magic Online Vanguard cards.  The format’s virtually dead, anyway.]
Vanguard cards were representations of famous Magic legends.  You could play alongside Mishra, Urza, Serra, Gerrard, Sisay, Volrath, Maraxus, Starke, or Sidar Kondo.  [All but the most diehard Vorthoses are probably stumped by the last three.]
Vanguard cards had three key characteristics.  Each of them had a modifier to your initial life total, a modifier to your starting hand size (which also limited your maximum hand size), and a special ability.  The modifiers were supposed to balance the different Vanguard abilities.  And some were tailormade for specific strategies.
Do you like playing Draw-Go and have a good enough early game to keep from dying?  Then you wanted Squee. Squee gave you perfect information, letting you look at your opponent’s hand at any time, and even gave you a starting hand size of TEN!  That’s like a free Ancestral Recall.  All it cost was starting at 16 life.  
Ramp decks could play Sisay, providing themselves a one-sided Mana Flare.  Or Heartbeat of Spring, in current form. That way they could power out four drops on turn two, and six drops on turn three.  This ramping strategy had a steep cost, however.  You had to start off with five cards in hand and seventeen life.  
The first season focused on the Weatherlight crew, and later sets explored Rath and the characters of Urza’s saga.  We got looks at little known characters like Xantcha, and Takara.  Who I really think is just a nod to one of Wizards’ old distributors.  Until the Lorwyn Five came along, Vanguard was the only place where you got to see actual Planeswalkers like Serra and Urza represented on cards.  
By the way, Urza?  An overgrown Prodigal Sorcerer?  Who was the genius who thought of that idea?  At least his ability was relevant when facing off against his brother Mishra, who usually came to the table with lots of efficient, small beaters.
At the end of the format, they had two open seasons where you could pick any Vanguard card to play instead of just the current season.  The format was full Tempest/Saga block (after the draconian bannings), and I had cooked up an awesome number.  The deck relied on creatures with comes into play abilities, fueled by the free combo enabler that was Barrin.  Barrin was the guy that obliterated the Tolarian Academy in the face of massive Phyrexian invaders on Obliterate.  His ability let you unsummon any creature.  The only cost was sacrificing a permanent.  I brought in all sorts of efficient guys like Avalanche Riders, Deranged Hermit, Wall of Blossoms, and Ghitu Slinger to attack and play abusable effects over and over.  Two mana, sacrifice a permanent to draw a card?  It was quite the engine.  Gaea’s Cradle provided mana to do crazy things.  In one month, since I was only able to play one night a week, I rattled off forty wins and three losses.  It was easily the most effective brew I ever came up with.  It looked rather similar to Aaron Forsythe’s famous rogue deck, Angry Hermit, because it also played with Plow Unders and Arc Lightnings.
Let’s look at some of the most creative and fascinating Vanguard cards.
Look at Eladamri.  Now here’s a guy who knows how to take one for the team.  This guy was a nightmare for red decks, because killing your creatures through burn was incredibly hard, and starting at 35 life guaranteed that games wouldn’t end on the usual fast schedule Sligh decks wanted.  Starting off with six cards was not a big deal.
Lyna, the leader of the Shadows, was generally considered a dud in multiplayer games.  Sure, you could attack anyone with almost no resistance.  But losing the ability to block is a major cost.  Rakdos’s Unleashed monsters had beefy stats. The creatures in the format, though, were anemic by today’s standards.
Sliver fans were delighted to get access to the Sliver Queen, who gave you eight life and could spit out colorless Sliver tokens for three mana.  Yeah, the actual Sliver Queen could do it for two mana, not three.  But the Vanguard version was much, much easier to get into play, as it were.
These days, if you want to play with Vanguard cards, you can add them into the mix with your cube drafts.  I don’t recommend them for EDH, because designing broken decks around them is too easy.  My recommendation is that you pick up a bunch of them and have players pick one randomly, with an option to reject their pick and take a new one instead.  There are clunkers out there.  Gerrard’s horrible because even if you’re drawing two cards a turn, you only have a maximum hand size of three, so you’re going to be discarding a lot.  And knowing what your ability is will help you steer your way in the draft.  If you get Tahngarth, then there’s a good chance you’ll want to draft red/green and lots of fatties, because hasty swings kill.  
This isn’t a set per se, so I’m not going to give it a score, but I will make a strong recommendation for casual fans to track these cards down and give them a try.


Ancestral Recall #9 Exodus Retrospective Show Notes



The show’s live.

I’m glad that you, dear reader, could read my notes, so that you can see what I added and cut.  I revise scripts constantly before and during shooting.  The conclusion got extended, the initial explanation got expanded, and I actually liked the way I punched the score in.  I wish I had extended the length of that shot, though.

This show was the show where I explained how old sets had power concentrated in non-creature permanents to a much greater extent than today.  That’s one of the issues I have wanted to talk about from the show’s inception.

Also, the Il Cartographer edit was incredibly ingratiating.  Every time I see that card, I sing the song.  It isn’t really danceworthy, but I wanted to be goofy on camera.  There are one or two frames where you can see Strong Bad, but they’re mostly covered up well.

And yes, I probably will reference this joke in a later show, almost certainly during Odyssey block.

I like namedropping coverage people.  I really regret not having worked with Rashad Miller or Marshall Sutcliffe or the SCG coverage people, but that’s what happens when almost everything I did in coverage happens in Japan.


Provisional notes for episode 9. Spoilers!

Yeah, who cares about spoilers, it’s a 15 year old set.  I will do some shooting and revision later this weekend.


AR 11 Exodus Retrospective

Hi there, and welcome to Ancestral Recall.  I’m your host, Eli Kaplan.  Today’s story will look at the third set in Tempest block, Exodus.  Why listen to my stories?  Because my stories are best stories.
I want to start today with a little discussion of third sets.  Historically, third sets are small and don’t get drafted a lot in comparison with the second set, let alone the third set.  Financially, this makes a difference, as fewer cards are opened and thus chase rares in these sets are particularly valuable, despite having less total play time in Standard.  In retrospect, a lot more cards seem more powerful in third sets than in previous sets.  This is what it is.
Anyway, since Mirage codified the block system, Exodus was an exemplar third set.  It had lots of powerful cards that shook up formats.
[Exceptions:  Rise of the Eldrazi, Avacyn Restored, Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block.  That’s a lot of exceptions.]
Exodus had a number of staple cards that have since seen LOTS of print in core sets.  Soul Warden, Merfolk Looter, 
Reclaim, Wood Elves.
Limited Resources – Banned in Commander, and for good reason. This just shouldn’t exist in any multiplayer format.
I really want to know what this card does.  I guess it’s a good idea to look at the card text.  [Curiosity]
Cataclysm – The fixed Balance.  Just one land, one artifact, one enchantment, and one creature for each player, and all other permanents get sacrificed.  Incidentally, no Planeswalker shall survive the Cataclysm.  
Paladin en-Vec – The first double protection knight, this guy was a mainstay in Standard for quite a while. 
Soul Warden – This essential component of lots of decks, such as Soul Sisters and any number of Life decks, first saw print here.  It’s been in standard in one form or another ever since.  
Curiosity – Niv Mizzet’s ultimate combo piece saw print here.  I love this card, it enables aggro decks to keep playing guys.
Equilibrium – Even without abusing 187 (CIP abilities), this card’s broken because it gives all your guys an additional Unsummon for just one small mana.  That’s gigantic tempo advantage.
Ertai, Wizard Adept.  The first Counterspell on a stick.  He got worse later on.  
Forbid – Good Lord, what were they thinking?  Counterspell with buyback?  This was a key component of Randy Buehler’s “Buehler Blue” deck.  The World Championship gold-bordered precon was the deck I used to learn how to play control successfully.  And Forbid was amazing, ignoring card advantage for board advantage.  
Carnophage is the second one mana bear for black, after Sarcomancy.  (It even provides for the upkeep cost if you lose the Sarcomancy token.)  These cards were critical in a black aggro deck.  Hmm, if there were some kind of card that could help this archetype…
Oh yeah, Hatred.  Unless something horribly goes wrong, as long as you’re ahead in life, have an unblocked attacker, and can pay for this, you win.  It’s Channel-Fireball in a single card.
Recurring Nightmare – This card was partnered with Survival of the Fittest to power out ginormous guys and brutal combos.  
Slaughter – Buyback Dark Banishing! All it costs is four life…  I like this card for cubes.  It makes for tough decisions.
If your Commander table has way too many plus one plus one counters on it, teach them a lesson with Spike Cannibal.  
Keeper of the Flame used to be stronger until they took mana burn out of Magic. Having the ability to lower your life at will actually mattered with Keeper of the Flame.
It’s symmetrical, but if you want to find a different alternative to giving all your guys haste, there’s always Pandemonium.
Price of Progress – This is a staple in Legacy and Vintage burn decks.  Ow, have mercy.  
Seismic Assault is yet another combo engine.  Yes, it has harsh color requirements.  The Swans of Argyl combo works well.  
Rather than just show you his card, let’s play his entrance music.
Oath of Druids.  Yeah, this card’s really fair.  You can use Forbidden Orchard from Kamigawa to give them a 1/1 spirit token, and then on your upkeep, you can oath out Progenitus.  Or Emrakul.  Or any other patently ridiculous giant fattie, without paying for it.  There’s a very good reason this is banned in Legacy.
Final rating:  This set’s incredibly powerful and chock loaded with all sorts of broken engines, which got exploited to insane levels with Urza’s Saga.  There are a large number of iconic effects such as looting which got viable, fairly printed forms in this set.    

Ancestral Recall ep 8 show notes

This show debuted the oval bluescreen.  This is what I wanted since day 1.  The next thing I want to do?  Add more detailed lines.  I’m a horrible digital artist, though.  But I need lines to guide my image sizing.

You might have noticed a few professional wrestling references in my shows.  Portcullis is a heel card, and it’s fun when its controller gets their comeuppance.  I like heel cards that can be reversed.  They make for good narratives.

I talk a lot about how I don’t like Propaganda effects.  I usually associate them with annoying opponents.  I do like using them, though, but when I do I usually like splashier versions, like Ensnaring Bridge.

Last month I dug up my old Standard Ensnaring Bridge deck, which had a playset of Vindicates and Death Grasps in it.  The coolest thing about that deck was the old KMC Gunmetal sleeves, though.  Man, I miss Japanese KMCs.  They keep the cool ones for themselves and only ship the boring ones overseas.

One thing that I did with this video was adding more ‘wait time’, giving time between card profiles to allow for captions.  I want to manage the visual input so that it’s a little easier to follow.  This also allows me to slow down my speed just a bit.  My earlier videos had me talking a bit faster than I’d like.



Ancestral Recall ep. 7 show notes

This one will be the last show I do with blocky bluescreen.  I’m much more happy with episode 8’s curved bluescreen.  The only good thing about the blocky blue screen was that it gave me a great reference for where I was putting my card images and getting their size close.

I loved the Shocker pun.  Sometimes my hands are especially clumsy, and I had the pose for JUST a second, and then it went to all hell.  This show is probably going to be the most risque one I do, due to the nature of the joke.  The only thing that puts the show in PG territory is card art.

This set seriously had so many neat things in it, that I had to put a list in the credits that covered all the things I wanted to write about, but didn’t.  The show was the longest to date, and while I enjoyed making it, I didn’t want to sit on it for forever.

Tempest is one of the few sets I took the time to acquire by getting a complete set.  My set’s in Portuguese.  Why Portuguese?  I dunno.  It was cheap, and I’m glad I picked it up.

So many missed opportunities, but I felt like I hit the most important bits.

Oh yeah, and I like the hat!  I seriously was going to the bathroom to check on my hair constantly in earlier shoots.  It drove me crazy. How could I focus?  By wearing a hat.  I put it somewhere this week, so I can’t shoot without it.  I went to four different thrift shops looking for one, but my head is stupidly large (I needed a 2XL at the actual hat store on South Street).  So that limits my selection significantly.

I didn’t want to copy any of the people on That Guy With the Glasses, so I went with a flat cap with a neat argyleish black and white print.  It’s pretty warm, and when I was playing it at FNM my head got sweaty.  Weird.  I usually wear knit caps, but I wanted to get something to put me in the zone.  And it felt good to wear it.

Also, the show shows off my kick ass Batman shirt at the end.  I got it at a Japanese surf shop.  It’s my most expensive shirt.  And it is truly sweet.


Ancestral Recall ep. 6 show notes


This show was important for me.  I wanted to tell some of my stories as a coverage guy.  I didn’t like how it came out in retrospect.  I felt like I came across as petty and hostile towards Tsukamoto. And you know what?  I was being honest.  I hate cheating, and the idea of doing it at the feature match table?  That was disrespectful to me and to Magic as a whole.  But I really wanted to dress down the table judge for letting that kind of crap happen.

The state of Japanese judging was pretty dreadful at the time, though, in my humble opinion.

The Komuro matchup was a god damned shame.  I mean, I could have changed the outcome by saying “Dude, why did you miss that it had trample?”  I chose to shut up.  And it didn’t make the game look good.

On the other hand, making the game look good is important for coverage writers.  On the other other hand, it’s important to get the details about controversy.  And the situation was utterly controversial.  I’m just glad Komuro won a Pro Tour so we don’t have to dwell on this morass.

This show is one that everyone seemed to skip.  It’s my least favorite show of the bunch that’s still live.  I might even consider revising it.

I never did tell my PTR story, by the way.  That’s a topic I may share some other day.  I find it a little egotistical to crow about my coverage writer experience.  I think I had some good gags and enjoyable lessons I was able to share as a writer.  BDM really liked my style at GP DC (Or was it Philly?) in 2008.  I told Riki Hayashi who was also doing coverage that I thought that the most important part of text coverage was telling a story.  Depicting everything isn’t important.  Depicting the key plays and human drama (if there is some) is what matters.

I feel that I fell short of that mark in this show, except for the Saitou section.



Ancestral Recall ep 5 notes

Cool, we’re at the ‘end’ of season 1, as I originally planned it.  This one’s a deep cut, going all the way back to a set that I find lousy. The creatures are weak and boring, except for a few rares which were awesome.  But Magic wasn’t able to figure out what the power level should be.

I wanted more Squire jokes.  Squire is the butt monkey of Magic.  But I felt like I was beating a dead horse after a while.

I’m really proud of my art discussion here.  It was a giant pain in the ass; I don’t like doing stills in other programs that much.  But it paid off.  And I am a legit Drew Tucker fan.

Yes, the set is very weak by modern standards.  But at the time, it was new, it had cool art, it had fresh concepts (white being a bad guy), and that was enough for me to enjoy it.  My set reviews do have current insight, but I try as much as possible to try to think about the set in the context when I was playing it the most.

At some point, I want to do a ‘missed opportunities’ show.  If so, I’ve got to revisit this set.  And lots of others.  Also, it encourages others to go and see the older videos.

I liked the Spinal Tap reference.  So sue me.

The innovation in this show?  The final score.  People like numbers, so they feel like they can understand the subjective quality, at least from my perspective.  I am just one guy, though, so I don’t want to claim ultimate arbiter status.


Ancestral Recall ep. 4 show notes


This show was also a major improvement on the preceding one. I used Keynote to do some fun profiles on old enemy gold cards, and used a great PS&G track to back it. I wouldn’t do it again, because I’m worried about content ID, but it looks like the track got missed. It isn’t surprising, considering it’s a track from a fairly obscure TV show.

This script was lazy at the end. I didn’t have the usual outro in front of me, and the delivery suffered for it.

I trimmed a lot from the script because I was worried about length. Boredom is not what I want the audience to experience.

Yelling at the captions is something I love. I like to pry bricks out of that fourth wall.

Why did I change the scenery?  I was spending the end of the year at my parents’ place, and there weren’t any rooms with white walls and good lighting.  So I decided to brave the elements and shoot outside.  Shooting in a winter wonderland doesn’t quite work.  I live in West Philly, which is rather short on natural settings, so I figured I’d take advantage of the shift.  Necessity is the mother of all that.


Ancestral Recall #3 Show notes

The breakthrough I did with this video was that I figured out how to get closer to the Colbert setup by making a blue screen/greenscreen overlay on the side.  I edited the raw footage before adding captions, then overlaid the blue screen, saved it, and then opened the new file and added captions and stills to that.  It isn’t rocket science in hindsight, but I had to figure it out on my own.

This was my first set retrospective, and I liked it a ton. I was able to get into the details of how mana fixing used to work, and contrast it with the more modern models.  If there’s something I regret, it’s adding cards that suck.  I should make more fun of sucky cards in every set.

This script was much longer, and I cut a lot of it making the video.  Wafo-Tapa?  No discussion.  I probably should have done it in a two parter.  Maybe some day I’ll revisit when I get to Planeshift, the set that really had only one card that mattered, Flametongue Kavu.  Seriously.  Planeshift had some good commons and uncommons for limited play, but in terms of Constructed goodies… it wasn’t that special.  It wasn’t bad, but it was the definition of mediocrity.

I wanted to get into the different design approaches, symbiosis versus Chinese menu… but it was long enough.  I was wrestling with iMovie the whole way, too. It’s gotten easier.

Anyway, that’s the scoop on episode 3.