Ancestral Recall #12: Torment Retrospective


It isn’t as long as Odyssey, but since it’s a small set, it’s got a lot of content. People namedropped include John Rizzo (and the runner-up in Magic rant artists, Geordie Tait), Zvi Moshowitz, and Randy “Macho Man” Savage. The initial imitation goes bad after a while, but the second one is JUST right.

Macho Man is easily one of the most mockable voices in wrestling, but that’s part of the fun!


State of the show #2

Just a few notes, I’m doing a lot of multitasking and want to collect my thoughts here.

The next two shows I’ll do are Torment and Judgment.  I might interrupt those for a retro deck tech, but it depends on whether I can get the animations right or not.  After that, I’ll probably go back to Masques or forward with Onslaught.

I want to do a series on seminal decks, decks that will teach you fundamental strategies and improve your play by understanding them as archetypes.  The list needs work.  And that’s why I am asking you guys for help.

Trix is a good example of pure combo, Miracle-Gro is an aggro-control deck, Zvi’s My Fires is a classic aggressive deck with lots of opportunities to outplay opponents, Sligh has to be discussed, and Caw-Blade might be a good example of a classic Control deck.  Or I might go with Weissman’s  “The Deck”, the only deck that has the distinction of having the most ambiguous deck name ever.

I’ll probably put this at the end of the next video as a short message.


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.


Planting the flag in the soil

Greetings, fellow Internet denizens.  My name’s Eli Kaplan, and I’m setting up a blog for my web series, Ancestral Recall.

I used to be a feature writer at StarCityGames under editors Ted Knutson, Ferrett, and Steve Sadin.  I also did coverage at Japanese Grand Prix, Nationals, and the occasional Pro Tour from 2000-2008 for the Mothership.  I sporadically put out new pieces when new sets came out, but I was pretty much retired on the day I left Japan to head back to the States.

Why did I stop writing?

The biggest reason was that I didn’t have access to the top Japanese players, and I wasn’t playing paper Magic twice a week anymore.  I was just an American among Americans, in an environment where there were plenty of competent writers.  I didn’t feel like I had anything novel to contribute.  And so if I didn’t have anything that would make me stand out, I didn’t have a reason to write.  I value the Magic audience, and I respect their time.  I’m not going to take their time up if I don’t have anything that can’t be replicated by others.

Also, grad school ate up lots of my free time.  I’m on the very last part of a long stretch.  I have my comprehensive exams in March, and then I’m done.

Recently, the adult education program where I teach had its budget cut significantly.  My hours got cut in half.  So as soon as I pass my test, I’m heading back overseas, most likely back to Japan.  Most of the teaching gigs in Philly expect me to be around until July.  I don’t plan to be here that long.  But I needed to do something in the meantime.

I’ve always wanted to write my Magic memoirs, and while I am still an active Magic player at FNM (I haven’t had any motivation to play at PTQs), I know that there aren’t any websites that really pay much attention to Magic’s history.  The only serious outlet where Magic players can get access to stories from the past these days is Mark Rosewater’s fantastic podcast, Drive to Work.

I teach.  More and more teachers are using multimedia, particularly those in curricular development.  I do want to stick my foot into that pool.  So I seek to do video production in order to improve my career skills.

But I don’t feel like making videos about English as a Second Language.  So I decided to do Magic videos instead.

This blog will collect my scripts and show notes.  I ad lib a lot when I shoot, so the scripts don’t correspond to the video that much.  Most of the captions come to me when I’m editing, though as of episode 8 I’m building in wait time so I can add caption gags.  The heart of the show is in the video itself, not the script.  But I hope you can glean some knowledge and enjoyment from what goes on behind the scenes.