I made the finals of a 5k yesterday, but unfortunately lost to Justin Gary, former US National Champion and member of Team Your Move Games. My multiple Deranged Hermits just didn’t cut it against his uncounterable Wraths and recurring Hymn to Tourachs. If you are confused as to why Justin Gary was in California for a 5k, not to mention the odd card references, it is because we were actually playing the game Epic. I had never played the game before last Wednesday, but it was similar enough to Magic that I was able to learn it pretty quickly. I had a good time, and took home a thousand dollars for my trouble. Unfortunately, I don’t think most of you would either appreciate or understand an Epic report, so I will continue on to the regularly scheduled Magic content.

One of the reasons I found myself playing in an Epic 5k is the lull that occurs before a new set release. Much like everyone else, I’m looking forward to Zendikar, although I don’t want to write another “these are the new cards, here is what they do” articles. Not to say I haven’t written those before, but at this point there has been plenty of speculation about the cards we know already, not much of which is all that useful. New cards are exciting and all, but I would much rather write something more substantive.

That brings us to the most relevant of formats: Master’s Edition 3!

I’m not actually joking, although I will talk about some of the recently spoiled cards so that those of us who don’t MTGO (although you should, since it’s awesome!) don’t go away feeling TOO cheated this week.

The new cards (from the last few days) are in fact pretty good, Lotus Cobra aside. I’m not saying the Cobra is terrible, since it isn’t, but that it is receiving much more hype than it deserves. I don’t want to rant about him too much, but I find it funny that people tend to see cards in their best possible light when evaluating them. It may well be that Cobra is good enough to make the cut, but trying to justify playing it because Cobra plus Harrow leads to insane plays on turn 3 just isn’t the right way to go about putting it in decks. The main problem is that decks with big spells don’t really want crappy 2/1’s, and if you are manascrewed this guy is infinitely worse than a normal mana producer. The most likely fit would be in some sort of medium-aggro build with Cobra, Bloodbraid, Baneslayer Angel (since you need SOME five-drops to really take advantage of the snake). Dreams of Cobra’ing out Ultimatums or the like seem like just that, dreams. Maybe I’ll save what I really feel for MTV this week.

The hits just keep coming for Red decks, although I still am holding out hope for the Blue action when we get the whole set. The cards I am referring to are the new burn spells, both of which have potential:

From MTGSalvation:

Punishing Fire 1R

Instant

Punishing Fire deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Whenever an opponent gains life, you may pay {R}. If you do, return Punishing Fire from your graveyard to your hand.

This would have been a pretty elegant answer to Kitchen Finks, but I doubt that particular interaction will come up in Extended. Punishing Fire doesn’t flat out answer lifegain from a very controlling deck, since doming them whenever they cast a spell that gains a ton of life isn’t that great. What it does excel at is punishing creature decks that side in lifegain spells, since every time they gain’em up you get to shoot down a dude. It is cute that the new cycle of lands that gain a life when they enter the battlefield get hosed by this, although they would have to be pretty widespread before Punishing Fire could be maindeckable.

Now to the better of the two:

Burst Lightning R

Instant

Kicker 4 (You may pay an additional 4 as you cast this spell.)

Burst Lightning deals 2 damage to target creature or player. If Burst Lightning was kicked, it deals 4 damage to that creature or player instead.

Now this is awesome. I mean Magma Spray saw plenty of play, and it is so much worse than this. I know it was to kill Kitchen Finks, but please. If Spray is good enough, I would be quite surprised if Burst Lightning isn’t, since Shock / Lightning Blast is a pretty good combination. When you are killing a little dude, you don’t waste mana, and having the option to fry something large or go to the face for a hefty four damage is impressive. Quite a success, and a good second string option to back up Lightning Bolt.

Alright, now I can talk about Master’s Edition with a minimum of guilt. There is always the risk of being self-indulgent when writing, but hopefully I have enough here to entertain even those who choose not to play online, or those who do and haven’t been drafting Master’s Edition. Plus, once they realize what they are missing, they might even try to expand their horizons if I make a compelling-enough case! Zendikar isn’t going to be online for over a month anyway, and I am far past done with M10 at this point.

Master’s Edition is a pretty fun format; you get to play a ton of weird / awesome cards (and some that aren’t so awesome, actually), you can open expensive dual lands, and you even get to Ride the Dilu Horse from time to time. I would suggest that you keep the Legends and Portal: Three Kingdoms spoilers open on Gatherer when reading this, since many of these cards don’t even show up in our automated card feature!

Much like any of the Master’s Edition sets, MED3 is a relatively slow draft format. It is certainly much more balanced than some of the previous editions, since the creatures are as a whole better and Horsemanship adds a solid aggressive option. The tension between Flying and Horsemanship is interesting, since there are actually way more Horsemanship dudes than fliers, making Flying even better than it normally is on offense, but a lot worse on defense.

Unsurprisingly, I tend to draft Blue just about every time. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. This format is enough slower than regular formats that card draw (ie, [card Ancestral Recall]Brilliant Plan[/card]) is actually as insane as I think it is. I admit that I sometimes have the tendency to value card draw a little more highly than I should (and that may be an understatement), but in this format I am pretty sure I am not overrating it.

I most often pair Blue with White or Black, since they are Blue’s natural allies. That matters because of all the Legends, who will provide the muscle for just about all non-Green decks. The presence of a ton of overcosted and huge multicolor dudes is definitely a point in Blue’s favor, actually. Now Blue legitimately has access to good creatures at every point in the curve, and has no reason to dip into other colors solely due to creatures. All you need is The Finisher, aka Riven Turnbull. In the words of former (and possibly future) Channelfireball.com writer Tim Aten:

Tim: My love for Riven Turnbull borders on the unnatural.
Tim: I wish I could move to Vermont.
LSV: huh?
Tim: So I could marry him.

Tim wasn’t exaggerating much, actually. At 5/7 for UB5, Riven is quite the catch. He stops every other common creature without breaking a sweat, and even taps for Black mana, uh, just in case.

Before I got distracted by The Finisher, I was talking about the color pairs. Red and Green are both decent splashes in Blue-based decks, although Red is much more common. Green is at it’s best when it is a main color, while Red shines as the three or four card splash for Burn spells.

I certainly am not going to devote multiple articles to the subject of MED3, so I have one shot (plus clarification in the comments for any questions that arise, of course) to get my point across.

Let’s start with common/uncommon pick orders for each color:

Blue

Obviously, Blue is first:

Sun Ce, Young Conqueror
Lu Meng, Wu General
Brilliant Plan
Reveka, Wizard Savant
Lu Xun, Scholar General
Dance of Many
Remove Soul
Recall
Wu Longbowman
Forced Retreat
Spiny Starfish
Wu Warship
Flash Flood
Wu Elite Cavalry
Force Spike
Benthic Explorers
Labyrinth Minotaur

The Horsemanship guys all dominate games. 3/3 Horsemanship Man-o’war, Air Elemental, and Thieving Magpie are all quite insane, although Brilliant Plan does sneak right in there. Reveka always seems to go pretty late, and I’m not sure why. Dance of Many is better than it may seem, since the abundance of Legends, which it just kills, means that you won’t often be paying the UU upkeep cost. The sickest play I think I made was to Dance of Many my opponent’s [card]Stangg[/card], killing it and it’s twin, then putting my very own Stangg Twin into play (that I got to keep for good). After Wu Longbowman, the quality drops rapidly, with the rest of the cards being pretty much interchangeable. You want as many of the top cards as possible, then a good mix of the rest, since all the lower end cards fill specific roles.

Black

Ashes to Ashes
Ghostly Visit
Famine
Carrion Ants
Demonic Torment
Xiaho Dun, the One-Eyed
Wu Elite Companions
Banshee
The Wretched
Stolen Grain
Lesser Werewolf
Wei Strike Force
Spirit Shackle
Evil Presence (I’ll explain this one later)

Ashes to Ashes is just the stoneblade, as it is a sick 2 for 1 for the measly cost of five life. It even hits Black creatures, unlike its imitator, Reckless Spite. The removal spells are as good as they look, although for some reason Demonic Torment gets a bad rap. I consistently pick Torment up as late as 8th, when it is one of the better cards in the set. I guess the somewhat cumbersome text hides the fact that it is basically Pacifism. As for Evil Presence, there is an explanation. It has one job and one job only: Kill Karakas. Karakas is hands down the best card in the format, since it can bounce all their 5+ casting cost creatures for free while still saving yours. There are so many Legends in this set that I don’t think I have ever seen a player with Karakas in play lose the game. That is, unless Evil Presence was on the Karakas! It may be ugly, but Evil Presence is really the only way to stop Karakas, and Karakas must be stopped.

Red

Forked Lightning
Cinder Storm
Corrupt Eunuchs
Fire Ambush
Chain Lightning
Immolation

and done. Ok, not really, but that’s kind of what it feels like!

Raging Minotaur
Disharmony
Crimson Manticore
Hurloon Minotaur
Active Volcano
Fire Drake
Frost Giant
Anaba Spirit Crafter

Red is basically a bunch of awesome burn spells and really bad creatures that cost RR. I would recommend it remain a splash, unless you can pick up enough Raging Minotaurs to make it worth your while.

White

Guan Yu, Sainted Warrior
Zhang Fei, Fierce Warrior
Eightfold Maze
Shu Elite Companions
Misfortune’s Gain
False Defeat
Shu Cavalry
Loyal Retainers
Shu General
Wall of Light
Heal
Shu Soldier-Farmers
D’Avenant Archer
Alabaster Potion

White is pretty shallow as well, although its cards are quite synergistic. Defensive cards and Horsemanship dudes combine well, even if White generally is a support color. One of the top two cards on the list (no chance I’m writing those names more often than I need to) is usually what it takes to bring me in to White.

Green

Desert Twister (even an expensive Vindicate is still a Vindicate)
Riding the Dilu Horse
Killer Bees
Slashing Tiger
Meng-Huo’s Horde
Wormwood Treefolk
Jungle Lion
Tracker
Hunting Cheetah
Trip Wire
Spoils of Victory
Elves of Deep Shadow
Giant Growth
Willow Priestess
Scryb Sprites
Fire Sprites
Faerie Noble

All pick orders change based on what you have, but the Green one is very dynamic, much more than the other colors. There is a particular Green-based aggro deck that values Jungle Lions, Scryb Sprites, and Fire Sprites much higher than this list, which is based on the assumption that you are drafting a “normal” deck. In the hyper aggro version, all the expensive cards move behind the cheap ones, since you aren’t playing for a long game. This approach is surprisingly effective, since the 1/1 fliers are way better than they look. Blue and White don’t actually have real fliers in this set, so Scryb Sprites can very easily just go the distance.

Even after all these lists, I need to address all the sweet Legends. The distinctions among the Legends are less important, since honestly they are mostly interchangeable (except The Finisher; he is just awesome).

For the most part, you want to pick up like three or four of the high drop Legends, and they tend to go pretty late. There aren’t really any I would take over premium removal spells, and most of the efficient common creatures are still better. Few of the Legends are unplayable (Bad), so I will sort them into Good and Ugly for ease of reference.

The Good

The Finisher (Riven Turnbull)
Tobias Andrion
Stangg
Lady of the Mountain
Sunastion Falconer
Princess Lucrezia
Torsten Von Ursus
Marhault Elsdragon
Sir Shandlar of Eberyn
Jerrard of the Closed Fist
Kei Takahashi
Lady Caleria

The Bad

Ramses Overdark

The Ugly

The rest of the bunch. They are all playable, but not really thrilling.

So there you have it, all the commons and uncommons in order, with the Legends kind of on the end. As usual, I have to lecture you about having a plan while drafting. One of the reasons I draft Blue so often in this set (besides [card Fact or Fiction]Brilliant Plan[/card] – have you read that card!) is that I really have only found two really effective plans. Fast aggro on one side, either with multiple Raging Minotaurs, many Sprites, or White Horsemanship guys, and control on the other. I obviously don’t draft the super aggro deck that often, although it can be a lot of fun, which leaves me with control. This format lacks card advantage, so if you want to be controlling you virtually HAVE to be Blue, hence my large percentage of Blue drafts. Besides that, there isn’t much to know that you can learn without jumping in some queus. Never pass Karakas, Mind Twist, Mana Drain, or a Dual land, and when in doubt, take the most expensive creature you can cast!

I hope everyone enjoyed this brief departure from normal; trust me, from next week on we will have plenty to talk about, what with the pre-release and all. Speaking of which, if you are in Northern California, come battle me at the Superstars prerelease, where I’ll be gunslinging!