01/23/2011 MM: "Dark Shadows, Part 1"

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Curse of Exhaustion looks awesome. I can see myself splashing that in a werewolf deck. Also, like all curses, it's inherently good politically.

Elbrus makes me angry. DFCs should not be legendary. Ever. Sorry, Student of Winds flashbacks.

Black Cat looks awesome. I can almost see myself putting it in a deck with Sun Titan and some sort of cracking engine.

Re: Humans, is that any different from the DFCs in ISD? So, looking at humans turning into monsters:

Cloistered Youth: Yes
Thraben Sentry: No
Civilized Scholar: Yes
Delver of Secrets: Yes
Ludevic's Test Subject: No
Bloodline Keeper: No
Screeching Bat: No (And again, transforming into a bat is the narmiest part of the vampire mythos.)
12 werewolves: Yes

So, the double-faced creatures of Innistrad have 15 humans transforming into monsters, compared to 4 other creatures.

Ghoultree looks awesome: It's virtual vanilla, to be sure, but it's above the curve, and has, ahem, an affinity for the dead. Again, anything that uses the affinity mechanic has to be careful doing so, and I've always thought Dryad Arbor foreshadowed Khalni Hydra because of the connection between artifact lands and affinity.

Gravecrawler + Grim Backwoods = fun times. Granted, Reassembling Skeleton's even better for this combo.
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Re: Humans, is that any different from the DFCs in ISD? So, looking at humans turning into monsters:

Cloistered Youth: Yes
Thraben Sentry: No
Civilized Scholar: Yes
Delver of Secrets: Yes
Ludevic's Test Subject: No
Bloodline Keeper: No
Screeching Bat: No (And again, transforming into a bat is the narmiest part of the vampire mythos.)
12 werewolves: Yes

So, the double-faced creatures of Innistrad have 15 humans transforming into monsters, compared to 4 other creatures.

While you're actually pretty right, an interesting difference is that DA has Humans that transform into Vampires, Zombies and Spirits (if you count Soul Seizer as such) whereas the INN humans transform into non-tribal monsters. 
So, thoughts on the Spoiler, in order from color, then by alphabet. Much of my perspectives will be based on the relevance of the cards to EDH, my preferred format. I will only play Limited in the Release events, as fodder to acquire or gain a few cards off immediately.

Archangel's Light. This is one of those cards that R&D wants to throw out that promote a "bad rares"/"bad mythics" sort of chain. There are bad cards at all rarities, but this one tells you: Unless you are very good at filling your bin, don't use this card. In a way, it's a white Praetor's Counsel, and that's where it will be very useful, indeed.
Curse of Exhaustion. MaRo, you didn't do a good enough job of communicating to your team about what goes where, and how? Wasn't this a theme of the first set? A one-sided Rule of Law as a method of preying upon humans? Where do you acquire the flavor to even conceive of this card? (I understand YOU didn't design this.)
Gather the Townsfolk. I understand your need to continue the line that Humans don't need to be supported on cards, but that's no longer the case. You need to starty chucking "Human" at token type lines when the card is decidely determining Humans as the subjects of what it's making. However ... there is also a problem with these tokens not having class types, for which two alternatives in Magic exist: the supported Citizen type (Icatian Town and Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII), and the defunct Townsfolk type. This allows you to place "odd job" Humans with types to make them relevant. You don't even have to make "Citizen" matters effects, but it would be nice since Humans are so prevalent.
Gavony Ironwright. Armorers and weapons crafters should all be artificers, bar none. This includes Village Ironsmith, who apparently has the same job!
Seánce. Might be interesting where you don't run reanimation and want to make sure your opponent does't take your stuff. Thing is, Reanimation and graveyard hate is prominent in formats with any concern for the graveyard ... like this block! So this card seems pretty odd in that respect except for a few nice things: It allows you to cast skaabs without having other creature cards in your graveyard, or without eating them (for future use); it also allows you to use cards that are painful when they die. But predominately, it will allow you to chuck cards into your bin at blinding rates so as to feed the card a creature every tunr, even if you lose it that turn, for its etb/cip effects.
Silverclaw Griffin ... doesn't have silver claws. Fail.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Promote a EDH general or enabler in a heavy creature deck, huring non-creature-based decks quite a bit. Might be fun.
Call to the Kindred. What a ... waiting ... for someone ... to figure out a way ... to break the card. Because, right now, you pay a lot to make a creature vulnerable to an effect that has "random" printed on it. The best way, of course, is in a heavy tribal deck, that isn't Fish-like. And you need enough of said tribe to actually care about that have useful abilities (not just Limited fodder, like most of the commons and uncommons these days).
Counterlash. When I commented on this card to my siblings, I was told immediately not to mention this card. But that's what this card is.
Mystic Retrieval. Why doesn't this have "random" on it? I think you guys hit on a great flavoristic method of reducing the power of some cards, regardless of cost, by including said term on them, when dealing with things that get stuff from graveyards back. This card, while expensive, will still enable use of getting some really bad, and borken, stuff back. Even the art seems to suggest that maybe some of the book's contents are irrevocably lost, and you don't know what.
Saving Grasp. This card prompted me to look up if there was ever a Unsummon variant with flashback. There is, but it's bad. This one is more a Rescue, but you don't have to control the thing, just own it. What deliciousness!
Stormbound Geist. Worse, or better, than Cloud Elemental? Not sure, although wasting two cards to kill it does seem to push it to the better category. I'm not sure three abilities like this should be at common, but that's not my only complaint about rarity pushing into lower complexities (see below).
Black Cat. I really, really want to say "excellent flavor" on this, and it really is good top-down design! Encountering the black cat means you get bad luck (lose a random card). But it's a zombie. In the gothic horrors, cats were not undead imnions, they were living, breathing creatures. In European Christian folklore about cats, they were the reincarnated souls of dead witches, who served the devil, and were thus unkillable. Perhaps Undying would have been better flavor for this creature, even if you pushed the rarity up? I think you got the Relentless Rats variant nicely, but it doesn't feel like a "Black Cat" for type reasons only.
Geralf's Messenger. No Finks variant this, this is more a Inquisitor Exarch with a draw back and a benefit. That it is unable to serve the primary purpose of Finks, being defense and stall, means that it attempts to play an aggressive role, but etbs-tapped! It's like you want your opponent to kill it at sorcery speed, otherwise you're not going to get much aggro out of it. That said, it works better in a Grumgrin, Corpseborn shell, where he can use it to fuel more pain and getting larger. The same is actually true of Gravecrawler. Art is boss, though.
Increasing Ambition. Demonic Collusion was a bad card, this one is only slightly worse. How difficult would it be to have made this a Grim Tutor variant, including doubling the lifeloss on the flashback cost?
"Search your library for a card and put it into your hand, then pay 3 life. If [CARDNAME] was cast from your graveyard, instead search your library for two cards and put those cards into your hand, then pay 6 life. Then shuffle your library."
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. Will be using this guy in my Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck. Just an added bit more of creature etbs to abuse. That I have only three human creatures in the deck helps!
Alpha Brawl and Blood Feud. So, they introduce the ability word "fights," and then fail to abuse the flexibility it offers. Is it too confusing to have written "Target creature an opponent controls fights each other creature that player controls"? I understand that there are some differences, but fights allows you to deal the damge to each other creature equal to the first's power, regardless of the number of either.
Faithless Looting. Someone suggested that Red's looter ability should be "discard, then draw." No! Dredge has enough help as it is! (But, look at Windfall's red variant, Shattered Perception.)
Heckling Fiend. It takes me a bit to realize, then be astounded by, the fact that the fiends in the art are holding sticks with human hands on them. Heckle, indeed! Braco, Clint Cearley.
Scorch the Fields. I like how the razing breath of the dragon manages to toast all humans, but avoids every squirrel, mouse, or wren living in said field, as if my magic. Come ON, R&D!
Increasing Savagery. I wonder why this Decree of Savagery variant wasn't more like said card, since Green is about sharing and pumping the field in general. This seems a lot more ... specific and picky ... for Green's tastes.
Somberwald Dryad. Now there's something that shows up in Horror tropes, dryads! Moreoever, it is yet another example of obsoleting Grizzly Bears at the same rarity.
Village Survivors. The art is amazing, and evokative. It is nice to see the flavor on this really built into the card itself. The card is, of course, Limited chaff, but it does a good job of giving you the "group of survivors" feel. Excellent.
Vorapede. Stupid.
Diregraf Captain. And really, the rest. Three abilities (generally): a personal ability, a +1/+1 pump, and something that benefits those other guys. The Vampire has and grants first strike, but otherwise there are no other symmetries (haste would have been too like other vampires with haste?). :W::U: gives hexproof, another broken ability in colors that shouldn't really get it to this degree, because its MORE powerful for control to have it than it is for aggro, and this color pair exemplifies control. I can see why these 2/2s for 3 are at uncommon, despite the overbearing and powerful abilities they offer their tribes, because of the need to push these in Limited (the ability to draft or pull two and build the tribe around them), but I feel the effect could have been preserved without the extra "personal" ability as well. These guys are, in my opinion, too strong.
Warden of the Wall. This card seems so backwards. A creature that is more vulnerable to sorcery speed removal that you spend your resources on, and can't use defensively on your own turn. To use as mana, you give up as a creature, only its still vulnerable to creature removal! There doesn't seem to be a player-focused tension here, aside from a drawback that you can't tap it for mana the turn it comes into play, which makes it worse than nearly every single other 3 mana artifact that taps for one mana; so much worse despite its ability to become a creature, because those artifacts can tap for color, which this can't.
Grim Backwoods and Vault of the Archangel. The naming convention seems to have broken with Innistrad: These aren't placename specific, now generalized. I suspect the other three lands in Avacyn Restored will have more of a "pro:human" feel to them. Unless they are Eldrazi-style "ancient hidden evil" promotional lands. These would be the :U::R:, :R::W: & :G::U: lands.
"Possibilities abound, too numerous to count." "Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969) "Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion Backs)

I just read through the complete spoiler list, and Dark Ascension looks awesome! Couple of questions/comments (related to your column):

1. What in the world is that thing on Artful Dodge? Some sort of alien zombie monkey?

2. I'm normally good at this, but Immerwolf being part of the captain cycle went completely over my head.

3a. Is Elbrus the sword from the viral email story about the cathar who gets kicked out of the Church when he realizes his boss is a demon worshipper

3b. Withengar is awesome! I love the multiplayer ability.

4. Red looting: discard, then draw?

5. Oh no. Somebody breaks the Helvault! I'm guessing it was Liliana Vess? She's evil like that.

1. It looks like a wolf, being magicky-magic'ed.
2. Me too. Though you can kind of see it in the mechanics.
3a. Good thinking!  I bet it is.
3b. I agree. Sometimes you just have to print cool stuff like "whenever a player loses" or "destroy all humans" as is.
4. That doesn't seem likely... it would sure be red-like, but probably wouldn't pass the "unfun" sniff test.  Maybe random discard?
5. It's either of the Walkers... Lili in order to release the Demon she's hunting, or Sorin
to release Avacyn

3a.  I thought it was the ritual knife from the Geist of St. Traft story.
Curse of Exhaustion was then put into white in Dark Ascension to show the shift in Innistrad, that even the purest part of the land was starting to get tainted. The problem is that I didn't do a good job explaining to Erik the importance of "curses are in every color but white." As such, he changed our green curse called Curse of Tastiness to red—now called Curse of Stalked Prey—to match it with the vampire slith mechanic (+1/+1 counters for damaging, AKA "feeding off of" the opponent). Not understanding the value of curses being in every other color, he didn't replace the green curse with another curse in green. (By the time the file got to development, only one green curse remained.)

Okay, that's why there's no green curse in Innistrad. But if having a green curse was important to you why isn't there a green curse in Dark Ascension?

As soon as I saw this, I thought, "This should be green to help werewolves".  But either that effect doesn't fit green's portion of the color pie or we have to accept Maro's crazy story.  I'm not saying that mistakes don't happen, but design and development talk back and forth all the time.  I can't believe that that no one on the design team caught this and it just got changed to white to show "taint spreading to white". Just calling it a "curse" doesn't make it feel tainted.  It feels like an all upside Rule of Law.  Making the caster sacrifice a permanent for each spell after the first sounds tainted!
Helvault: it's like ghostbusters. lol
:ubm: :brm: :rgm: :gwm: :wbm: :urm: :bgm: :rwm: :gum:
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He was teasing us about the Helvault and how we should pay attention to what it does to find out what happens in Avacyn Restored. And after about 30 seconds of thinking, I realized that the Helvault was going to be destroyed.
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