Featuring Jo Fu, Jules Low, and Rachel Stevens

“Travel back in time to a war-torn Tarkir where five clans clash with the mighty dragons of the past. The choices made now will decide the fate of Tarkir.” At least, that’s the idea according to the Magic site. Let’s see what our writers have to say about this release:

How long have you been playing Magic: The Gathering?

Jo: Since Scars of Mirrodin, with some EDH before then. Commander is still the format of my heart, but I’ll hit up a casual night or a FNM every once in a while. I did, however, go to a Khans midnight prerelease in Brooklyn, and my first round opponent had card sleeves that said “I’d tap that.” I think we embarrassed each other.

Rachel: Since the Ninth Edition core set and Ravnica: City of Guilds block in 2005, though I did get some of the tail end of the Kamigawa (Japanese derived setting) block. I’ve been going to set prereleases since the Magic 2014 core set release, and haven’t missed a single one since. I primarily played kitchen table Magic where everybody just played with whatever cards they had on hand, and then I really got into building silly decks that I could afford to build in the Standard format. I have a Commander fungus deck with Ghave as my general; it’s my baby.

Jules: Since the year before last, with Magic 2014. It was both Rachel and the digital equivalent of the game, Duels of the Planeswalkers, that got me interested even though I had always known about the game but never the depth of its rich lore and history. I’ve only been to one prerelease event so far, the one for Magic 2015, and despite losing almost every game I had a blast. So far I’ve mostly played online digitally, and a few times in-person, but I’m hoping to find more people interested around my area.

What are your favorite pieces of art in Fate Reforged?

Rachel: White: Channel Harm, Blue: Pressure Point, Black: Fearsome Awakening, Red: Rageform, Green: Temur Runemark, and Colorless: Pilgrim of the Ages.

I know what I like, and what I like is glowing things and robots. Temur Sabertooth was a close runner-up for green.

Jules: Oh jeez, okay, so, as resident art nerd of all things, I have been pouring over the card art for days. Here’s what I’ve got so far as top picks.

White: Wandering Champion. It just screams momentum and action. The detail is beautiful and it’s a real comic book scene in such a minuscule format. The flavor text also just adds the right amount of snark to the card.

Blue: Shifting Loyalties. I love the depiction of the massive orc fighting beside two agile monks as allies. With the flavor text it, it hits home how easily the real-life Khans were able to integrate some of their enemies into their civilization and armies.

Black: Diplomacy of the Wastes. An orc slicing a blade clean through a table says it all. Sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen, especially if the sword is very very big.

Green: Map the Wastes. I really love how fantastical the art is here. It’s just what can only be described as a temporary city being dragged by a colossal behemoth through a harsh desert in search of any oasis. It screams world-building, and there’s so much packed into one image.

Red: Mardu Runemark. Just look at it. A fierce lady wielding terrifying, glowing red swords amidst a wasteland of a battlefield you know she cut down hordes in, the ethereal smoke-like effect her blades carry. It’s a fantastic piece of art.

Jo: Okay, so I’m an awful person whose favorite card art in Khans of Tarkir was Sultai Scavenger; my taste in card art can be immediately ignored. I will totally second Diplomacy of the Wastes: it’s dynamic and very cool. Aven Surveyor is sweet too; I love the perspective. But still, the most beautiful art in recent sets has been the lands. That Adam Paquette Forest is a place I want to live.

What mechanics do you have the most fun playing?

Rachel: I’m Abzan (Green/White/Black) scum, so I gotta say Bolster. I love +1/+1 counters.

Jules: Ferocious, seeing as I am definitely a Temur (Green/Blue/Red) sort of person. I love big creatures, and this directly rewards me for having at least one on the field.

Jo: I love Bolster! But I love winning more. I selected Jeskai as my clan for the prerelease, and Dash was by far the mechanic I wanted to play most.

Photo by Jules Low

Prerelease box with promo card, clan badge, and spindown.

What do you think of the mechanics of Fate Reforged on the whole?

Bolster

Rachel: Plays well with Outlast in Khans of Tarkir, so of course I’m in favor.

Jules: I haven’t had the chance to give this a try, but I do like me some +1/+1 counters.

Jo: I have no Outlast cards in my Khans pack, or else I would’ve run it. On its own, Bolster seemed good, but eliminated the choice from a person. I ran a couple Jeskai Sages, and was really reluctant to make a 1/1 any bigger.

Dash

Rachel: I really want to like it, because it’s close to a mechanic that I came up with  myself in my spare time designing cards for fun, but I don’t like that cards with Dash bounce back to your hand at the end of  your turn.

Jules: This saved my bacon, even temporarily, in a few matches at the prerelease. I really like it, especially with the flavor of playing it with goblin cards. Just dropping a goblin or two onto the field and letting them wreak havoc was wonderful.

Jo: BOOM, I love the Dash mechanic. It was the one I wanted to play most, and I’m sure that when I draft this set in the future, I will be mercilessly exploiting its goodness. I got hard murdered a couple times with Dash, and I look forward to being on the giving end of it some day soon.

Delve

Rachel: There’s nothing like surprising someone with a powerful card you shouldn’t be able to play because you’re low on mana; this one gets a thumbs up from me.

Jules: I would really love to give this mechanic a shot. It’d be great to just turn all of my losses into a big net gain in the form of some powerful pay-me-my-money creature card, especially for a newbie such as myself.

Jo: Sultai had so many more cards that pitched other cards into your yard. I was hoping to get some of the strong Delve cards from Khans (Treasure Cruise, Dead Drop), but could never get a good Delve machine off the ground.

Ferocious

Rachel: This mechanic isn’t especially interesting to me, mostly because it feels more like a bunch of disparate things that happen to have one thing in common and a matching label, and it’s a rehash of something from the Alara block. The differences between this and Naya’s mechanic from back in 2008 are a single number and identification of its existence.

Jules: I wanted to like this more. I listed it as one I was looking forward to, and in the end, it just ended up seeming like such a wasted opportunity. I’m sure with more time I’ll come to love it, but for the time being, it felt like it needed some work.

Jo: I can see how it’d be useful for combat tricks, especially since there are more than a few spells that let things get bigger. But I never used it, and I wouldn’t build a deck around it.

Manifest

Rachel: This Morph variant is interesting to me. It basically lets you turn any card into a 2/2 creature by turning them face down, with an optional overlay to help you keep track of whether it’s a manifested creature or a morphed creature. The flavor of it being a blue fireball made out of dragon magic vs the orange fireballs of Morph’s modified magic is pretty cool. The whole thing is super complex rules-wise, though, and there are some weird rule interactions with older cards. I wouldn’t recommend putting manifest cards in a kitchen table deck if you’re a new player whose circle of friends have strange decks filled with older cards.

Jules: Sadly, this wasn’t really for me. I like Morph for what it is, but I feel this adds a confusing layer on top of that, and it felt frustrating, both when using it and having it used against me. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad mechanic; perhaps I just need to master it to really appreciate it.

Jo: I can see Manifest and Delve working well together, but like Jules, I didn’t really see the appeal. Sure, you can get a bear, but what if that’s a card you need? I would hate to manifest into a land if I’m strapped for it.

Prowess

Rachel: Eh. I like that it can give blue something to do in combat besides just bouncing things or tapping them or otherwise being annoying, but it DOES rely on doing those things to get that benefit.

Jules: Again, I just didn’t get an opportunity to try this one out properly. I’ll probably like it more once I’m able to add more blue to my deck, but for now it’s a very middling ability to me. Not bad, just nothing too special.

Jo: I played Abzan for Khans, and cut hard into Jeskai for Fate Reforged, so I was all about the prowess. It gives you a lot of versatility and defense options, and I’m all about reactions and stacking spells.

photo by Rachel Stevens

Examples of Fate Reforged‘s booster pack art.

What are your favorite cards in the set, and what do they do?

Rachel: Picking three favs: Daghatar the Adamant, Dragonscale General, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Daghatar and Dragonscale General play around with +1/+1 counters in a way that’s fun to methey can buff your guys and diminish your opponents. Ugin can deal damage, get rid of threats, and get its controller significantly ahead if you manage to use his ultimate.

Honorable mentions to Warden of the First Tree, which plays around with some “level up” style mechanics used previously, and Dromoka, the Eternal. Dromoka gives green something it isn’t normally supposed to get in the form of flying, which is an important form of evasion in creature combat. In addition, whenever it attacks it gets buffs from your creatures.

Jules: So far, Temur War Shaman, Shamanic Revelation, and Sandsteppe Mastodon. They all lend well to my play-style of trying to get out as many big creatures as I can, drawing as many cards as I can, and making my creatures as tough as possible. Being able to boost my life is also a power I benefit in any cardI like making sure I am the meatiest, sturdiest target for my opponent. I may not be as cunning or swift but I definitely aim to be able to take a few punches and throw them back twice as hard when the time is right.

Also, out of nowhere, Goblin Heelcutter. Little dude came to my rescue a few times, especially with the Dash mechanic. Definitely a dark horse contender that I never gave much credit to before I played the prerelease.

Jo: Cunning Strike! It was a card in my Jeskai colors, and despite being expensive, it’s a great removal with a mechanic like Manifest in play. I think, for what it does (especially for card draw in limited), you have a lot of options playing it. I love drawing cards, so Wandering Champion was also a friend of mine. And boy, was Flying Crane Technique a welcome win condition in Jeskai. It was fun to have a lower curve compared to some green players and to stomp through with a bunch of doublestriking babies.

How accessible do you think this set is to new players?

Rachel: Hoo boy. It’s definitely on the high end of allowable complexity for sets these daysit’s no Time Spiral, but little else is. I think it’d be best if a new player started with Khans of Tarkir, but a new player should be fine if they don’t leap into the deep end head first.

Jules: As someone who is still very much a new player, it’s not as bad as I feared. There’s still a lot of complexity and depth, but the game at least doesn’t penalize you for not fully mining the full potential of the new mechanics and play-styles. That, and the mechanics introduced in Khans are pretty accessible, you can get a sense of what they do and I like how they’ve tailored them for each type of play/clan.

Jo: I’m biased, because I saw mostly Jeskai and Mardu cards, which are almost entirely focused on combat tricks. It’s hard to imagine a newbie talking through stacks and mechanics mid-combat. Some of the cardslike Rageformhad WAY too many words on them. A newbie might give herself away, with all the reading she’d have to do on the spot. While I love the new mechanics, the fact that some of them need a ton of explanation is very unfriendly to newbies, a recent trend that I’d like Wizards to reverse.

Photo by Jules Low

Ugin’s Fate booster pack token card, and non-land alternate art cards

What did you think of how the prerelease was handled, if you went?

Jules: I loved it. My store was very casual and fun about it all; it was really well organized and while I missed out on pre-registration, they made ample room for people to walk in on the day and play. Altogether, there were sixty players. I played eight games against four different people, who were all very nice and classy players. Despite there being only myself and one other woman there, all the guys were very respectful and helpful. One of my opponents, who’s been playing since 1997, even helped me with my deck when he handily beat me 2-0. I also won my first ever games! So all in all, it was an exhilarating day and I’m liking prereleases more and more.

Rachel: I was disappointed that the Ugin’s Fate packs were just handed out to people instead of being obtained through the goofy prerelease activity involving achievements in the sealed boxes at my store. Other than that, it was handled professionally, especially considering how hectic it could have been with all of the people involved. I ended up winning prize packs by winning two matches and getting a bye, losing only my first round to someone who was apparently a local pro. I made an excellent deck in my colors and obtained more cards for my Standard format deck.

What disappointed you about Fate Reforged?

Rachel: Boob-plate on the art for Temporal Trespass. We’d been doing so well with armor for female characters lately, god damn it.

Jules: Aside from the aforementioned boob-plate, I don’t have too much to really complain about. I will say that the three-color-clan system did screw me over a couple of times in terms of what I got in my booster packs at the prerelease, making any ideas for decks I had beforehand not as viable. Some of my best cards were in colors I’m not really comfortable with, but that’s nothing too unique to Fate Reforged; however, that glimpse of a fantastic card being green only for it to require white/black when you wanted it to be blue/red can be a little disheartening.

Jo: Nothing! I thought it synergized well with Khans, and I love the flavor. I came into Magic at Scars of Mirrodin, so I love the format where two different parties fight and you get to choose to ally with one of them. My Naga army will fight again!

What do you think about the sound of the unique drafting environment? (Fate-Khans-Khans, then Dragons-Dragons-Fate)

Rachel: I think it’s interesting. They made a set that plays with two different sets, and two sets that don’t play with each other, to represent two different presents that result from a choice made in the past.

Jules: I really like how they’ve been able to translate the parallel states of these sets into a mechanic, and it’s a nice way of handling it all. Plus, it adds some level of oddly accessible complexity. It’s simple enough as is, but there’s a lot of room for different tactics with the way drafting works here.

 Jo: Love it, especially after the disappointment of Journey into Nyx. I drafted at the house of someone with a box, and Nyx on its own had so little flavor; it was impossible to play without diluting it with more interesting cards. I’m excited to play in stores, since the sealed format, with five Fate packs and one Khans seemed to have a mighty large curve and some really scary five-mana drops.

Are you looking forward to Dragons of Tarkir?

Rachel: Tentatively, yes. I’m sure Bolster will be back, but I just hope Sarkhan traveling through time doesn’t mess up the plane of Tarkir too much.

If a post from the Tumblr of Doug Beyerhead of the Magic creative teamis to be believed, we should be getting trans women in Tarkir. Whether that will be in the stories told on the Magic site for Fate Reforged or Dragons of Tarkir remains to be seen, but I’m interested.

Jules: Yes. I’ve enjoyed Khans a bunch, and Fate Reforged was pretty dang cool. I hope any trans/non-binary representation we might get in Dragons of Takir will be handled with grace, because that will just be a delightful cherry on top.

Jo: Can’t wait! This set seems to have a lot more energy than Theros, and morphs are way better than the flippy cards of the Innistrad block. I wish the mechanics were simpler, to be honest; the setting is so wonderful, that it’s a shame that most of the fun cards have no space for flavor text. Remember “Ach, Hans”? “Whoa, is that a DRAGON?” could’ve been on a ton of these.