GyantSpyder’s Nothin’-but-Chaff M11 Set Review: White

Posted on Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 by GyantSpyder
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Posted in M11 contest entry, mtg, strategy

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The Gatherati have given M11 a good threshing for the last few weeks, and the set has been picked clean of tech, sleepers, cards that are awake, and cards that woke up only to realize it’s Saturday and who the fuck designs a cell phone alarm that defaults to going off every day at the same time if you set it to go off once.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do a set review. Nay, it means I can do the most legit set review of them all, because it focuses on what you get when you spend your dinero on this fine game — mountains (and islands, and forests, and plains, and oh somebody shoot me in the head) of delicious, inedible, flaky chaff. Welcome to GyantSpyder’s Nothin’-but-Chaff Set Review, M11 edition.

My ratings are all for the same format: Shoebox in the Back of Your Closet Constructed. I might add commentary for other formats I play or hear other people talk about, but if I don’t mention a card, it’s probably because it thinks it is better than other cards, and I’m not interested in jerkface, persnickety cards like that.

Besides, nobody wants to read an “all-wheat” set review by somebody with a 1650 online limited rating. That would be silly.

“Hey guys, Cultivate puts a land in your hand and one on the battlefield tapped: Seems good in a deck that needs a land on the battlefield tapped and one in my hand and that can pay 3 mana at some point, one of them green. In that deck, it will be a perfect fit, like a custom-tailored Oxford shirt. Combo it with Vengevine and Jace, which I hear some people have some of. Make a ramp deck, because why the hell not, every card that costs mana can go in a ramp deck — the whole point of a ramp deck is to pay mana for stuff. Control sure likes it too; I talked to him personally. We went bowling; true story. What are you doing behind my back with that piano wire?”

No, sir, reading that 500 times was enough for me — 501 would be overkill. Besides, they always say write what you know, and I know what it means to be worthless; I’ve ridden across town at 11:30 at night on the Baltimore Light Rail.

Same ratings as always, folks:

5.0 — Worthless, but this card is the real deal. Extends mankind’s notion of what it means to be worthless or otherwise occasions universal celebration. Examples: Chimney Imp, Sorrow’s Path

4.5 — Worthless, but creates the fully-realized impression it might have value in another reality whilst remaining without it in our own Examples: Homarid, Dash Hopes

4.0 — Worthless, but a past, present or future sentimental favorite. Examples: Dwarven Pony, Noggle Bandit

3.5 — Worthless, but I’d be excited to play this in a raw-dog, basic-land four-color sort-of-good-stuff deck, even if it makes me lose (especially when it makes me lose). Examples: Banishing Knack, Salvage Slasher

3.0 — Worthless, solid chaff. Somebody who doesn’t quite know how to play Magic might be excited to be given this card by a small child. Examples: Joyous Respite, Kranioceros

2.5 — Worthless, disappointing chaff. If I saw a bunch of these jammed into a urinal in a public bathroom, I’d still pee on them, but I’d feel bad about it, because they were denied a chance to be more interesting chaff by a cruel and uncaring universe. Examples: Adarkar Windform, Restless Bones

2.0 — Worthless, boring chaff. This card is mundane or unimaginative or otherwise fails to trick me into a having a strong reaction to it, as opposed to other crappy cards that do. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Examples: Spineless Thug, Dense Canopy

1.5 — Worthless and upsetting, even for stable, well-adjusted adults. Examples: Bog Hoodlums, Inner Fire

1.0 — Kicking and screaming constructed role-player. Examples: Cancel, Demonic Dread


Ajani’s Mantra

We all know the lifegain trick — new or inexperienced players like it, but as you get better at the game, you learn it is an arithmetic solution to a geometric problem. So lifegain cards get forgiven for sucking, to an extent. Sucky lifegain cards come in two flavors — sucky one-shot lifegain, and sucky long-term investments.

Still, even on its own terms, Ajani’s Mantra is dull. If I’m going to make a bad long-term investment, it better promise me some awesome returns before failing to deliver. After all, my whole game plan revolves around the game going forever and nothing happening. In the unlikely event that it turns out that way, Heroes Remembered or Honden of Seeing Winds promise me lifegain well into the double digits. Ajani’s Mantra promises me maybe a Nourish, and it can be completely shut down by a turn 10 Jhessian Infiltrator.

Plus, this card’s flavor doesn’t sound magical at all, and its art is mundane. It’s something Ajani said at some point and presumably says a lot that has a marginal effect on stuff, plus a cloud that looks like a cat, which I see all the time. Nobody would want a card called “GyantSpyder’s Advice for Buying Steak Sauce and Hey That Street Sign Kind of Makes it Look Like that Guy is Humping that Deer.” The font would be too small.

RATING — 2.0

Ajani’s Pridemate

This is one of the flagship chaff cards in the set. Look at this card, and you immediately know M11 has a shitty lifegain theme. This card will, in turn, slide effortlessly into any lazily built lifegain deck. Even if there weren’t more than the usual number of lifegain related cards in M11 (which there very well might not be, I’m not going to count them), this card alone gives context to a whole bunch of other chaff in the set. That’s called “getting value.”

It’s also a card that begs you to build a half-assed deck around it that offers rapidly diminishing returns the more time you spend on it, and that’s something I love my chaff cards to do (take Blademane Baku, for example).

There are a few things holding this card back, however. For one, I am confused as to whether “mate” means Ajani has sex with these lion dudes. For another, why are there two of them when the title of the card is singular (is that Ajani in the background there?). For a third, why is the lion dude in the front clearly a tiger?

RATING — 3.5

Angelic Arbiter

I’m probably going to skip a lot of the crap rares in the set, because they’re not quite as worthless as the great many crap commons and uncommons, but I figured I at least had to address the first white one in alphabetical order so I had a place to put this paragraph.

Angelic Arbiter (or, as I call it, “Arbitrary Angel”) is a thick hock of flying fat with a complicated ability that may or may not do anything. One thing is certain — Arbitrary Angel is going to get a lot of people upset because they forgot to do the thing they wanted to do before they did the thing they didn’t care whether they did or not. It also wins the M11 award for “Most Likely to Stop Working Correctly on MODO Every Time a New Set Comes Out.” Somebody call a digital plaque engraver.

Whether or not the Arbitrary Angel’s abilities generate an advantage for the person who sinks a million mana into it depends on whether that person’s opponent makes decisions about what to do on his or her turn by some mechanism other than random chance. Since no other such mechanism has yet been discovered among Magic the Gathering players, the angel is about as likely to stop somebody from making a mistake than it is to keep him or her from doing something constructive.

How this is all communicated by lens flare, giant wings and a whole lot of butt-tentacles is anybody’s guess.

RATING — 2.5

Armored Ascension

This is a reprint of a fine card that plays well in casual decks. I like having it in the core set more than having Blanchwood Armor, because Blanchwood Armor is just good enough to keep letting me down, whereas, thanks to costing an extra mana, Armored Ascension is not quite good enough to get my hopes up, despite its levitational flavor.

However, Armored Ascension is starting to slip — the art that has been rerun twice now doesn’t show the spell combining the concepts of armoring and ascending nearly as hilariously as Frodo McShieldwings did.

Fun fact: Despite caring more about Plains than any card in Standard short of Landbind Ritual, no version of Armored Ascension has ever shown a Plains on it. You’re welcome.

RATING — 3.0

Assault Griffin

Sometimes you find one of those little round pads about the size of a dime in your apartment, and you leave it on your dresser for a couple of months. Then, one day when you’re bored, you pick up the little pad between your thumb and index finger and wonder whether there’s something in your room that is sitting on top of something else and running the risk of scratching that thing, because it is missing one of its little round pads.

So, you go around to all of your things that are on top of other things and look, and some of them are missing a pad and some of them aren’t. The DVD player is always missing one, for example. But you’re not sure which thing this one is from, and you don’t really want to put hot glue anywhere near your DVD player, so you put it back on your dresser for a few months in a little ceramic cup with a pen cap and a few buttons that correspond to as-yet undiscovered now-unwearable shirts.

This is what Wizards is doing with Snapping Drake.

RATING — 2.0

Blinding Mage

White’s power of blinding things seems poorly articulated. For one mana and tapping, Blinding Mage can blind one dude, For 8 mana and not tapping, Dawnglare Invoker can blind all the dudes an opponent controls. Given that both these cards use localized, unfocused light sources, they should not have such disparate effects. Looking into the sun doesn’t blind me less if there are a thousand other people also doing it.

Blinding Beam is the way to do blinding cards right — give them a reason to blind something specific. The beam-like quality of the blinding also makes it conceivable that they work on things like Wall of Frost, which, while not affected by blinding, might very well be affected by beams.

Fun fact: There are four creatures in Magic that are already blind, but they can all be blinded again by blinding mage. You’re welcome.

By the way, does anybody actually play tappers for fun? I mean, they work great in limited, but I don’t think I’ve seen very many casual decks sporting Master Decoy. People seem more likely to just forego removal altogether than to have their creature removal die to creature removal. This makes Blinding Mage a bit less exciting than it might otherwise be in the ol’ shoebox.

RATING — 2.5

Cloud Crusader

This is one of many Magic cards with art that could also appear on a heavy metal album cover, and that’s a fine thing. It seems as if waving around that big sword would be difficult to do with one hand regardless, but would be especially difficult to do with the griffin’s huge wings in the way and his own billowing cape to deal with. It seems likely he’d either get his sword caught in his clothes and plummet to his death, or cut off his own griffin’s wing and plummet to his death (that is, if green doesn’t just straight-up plummet him to his death).

It’s surprising that different artists did the art for Cloud Crusader and Arbitrary Angel — each is made impressive by the big wings and a blazing skyscape and unimpressive having a face and torso too small to be discernable. (Oh, and Arbitrary Angel would appear on more of a corporate rock album from the late 70s, like an early Journey album or something from STYX. It’s just a little too “white” for Earth, Wind and Fire.).

All that said, Cloud Crusader is a meh piece of chaff. It’s functional in limited, but once it’s in the shoebox, I can’t see any reason to pull it out. Somebody turning to the chaff isn’t going to be looking for power level — if she wanted to play good cards, she’d play good cards. It doesn’t matter very much whether this is better than Mothrider Samurai or not.

RATING — 2.0


Time Ebb was better chaff than Excommunicate, even though Excommunicate is in a better color for limited. If I have 50 Time Ebbs in a box, that’s kind of cool, it’s like I have a giant Time Ebb. Fifty Excommunicates don’t aggregate in a fun way. Excommunicating a whole lot of people isn’t a fun or fantastical thing to do.

Back in the mid-90s, my mom was threatened with excommunication by some random Midwestern douchebag Bishop for subscribing to a left-of-center Catholic newspaper. He just sort of up and said that anybody subscribing to this newsletter should be excommunicated. That informs why I think this card is lame — excommunicating one person is a sort of severe thing to do, but the more people you excommunicate, the weaker it makes you and the more it makes you look like a dillweed.

And besides, it’s not like it has actual consequences. All it means is a bunch of very specific people aren’t allowed to talk to you, and, when the rubber meets the road, most of those people will still talk to you anyway. If you think it actually has power over heaven and Hell and stuff like that, you missed the part where the guy wanted to do it to housewives who read a Catholic newspaper.

So, it makes sense that you might want to run one Excommunicate in your draft deck to get an attack through, but I can’t imagine plugging four of them into decks to play for fun. It’s a dull, dry concept, and the card doesn’t actualize it very well, what with the smear in the middle and all the people around it yelling “HOOOOOLY CRAAAAAAAP!!!”

RATING — 2.0

Goldenglow Moth

Remember when I said that investing in lifegain “better promise me some awesome returns before failing to deliver?” Well, to paraphrase Montel Jordan, “This is how you do it.”

Goldenglow Moth can gain me four turns worth of Ajani’s Mantra every time it blocks! If I can pump its toughness every turn and convince my opponent to attack into it with small creatures for five turns while doing nothing else important, that’s 20 life! That’s chaff-tastic!

RATING — 3.0

Holy Strength

Holy strength has always been the lamer strength. It is so much lamer than Unholy Strength that, even though it’s already a bad card, it feels worse than it actually is. Holy Strength has been so thoroughly humiliated by Unholy Strength that Holy Armor looks superior, just because there isn’t an Unholy Armor running around kicking sand in its face.

It’s not like +1/+2 itself is bad for chaff. Indomitable Will was awesome — one of my favorite chaff cards of Kamigawa, the block with a “chaff matters” theme. Armor Thrull is one of the best chaff cards of all time.

But even Edge of the Divinity on a white creature is strictly better chaff than Holy Strength — not because of its additional possible upside, but because Holy Strength is a punk. If you’re digging through chaff cards, you’re putting up with enough crap and don’t need to associate with punks.

RATING — 1.5

Infantry Veteran

Infantry Veteran deserves credit for one thing and one thing only. He has never fixed his seriously fucked up face. He’s living in a world of magical healing where people turn to stone and back again, where magicians heal a universe-shattering apocalypse every April, rain or shine. If dude can morph into rhino, dude can get a rhinoplasty.

The only reason Infantry Veteran’s face has stayed fucked up through 13 years and five reprintings is because dude just doesn’t give a fuck. Especially from a 1/1 for 1, I can respect that.

RATING — 3.0

Inspired Charge

Laser swords notwithstanding, this is just another variant of “if you get angry, you get stronger, yeah, all of you” without much to recommend it specifically.

Cards like this make me wonder why creatures engaged in combat with wizards and mythical beasts can be magically enhanced by anger. If they’re fighting some demon or sea monster or brushwagg to the death while their buddies are getting offed by lightning bolts and doom blades and whatnot, are they not already sufficiently perturbed?

I hate to break it to you buddy, but you’re an unarmed owl facing a crimson hellkite. If you’re got anything left in the tank, now’s the time. I should not have to spend 2WW to alert you to the severity of your situation.

RATING — 2.0

Mighty Leap

This card succeeds in every way that Inspired Charge fails, and by that I mean it has a flying elephant. When you’ve laid down the basic structure of an art object, it’s not enough to just leave it there — you need to populate it. Not every space in that structure is begging to be filled with something specific, but that doesn’t mean you just leave the inessential chambers empty. That’s where you put something, anything.

A flying elephant is as good a thing as any — I certainly prefer the sincerity and sense of fun in this card to something rote and tedious like Angelic Blessing or Elspeth, Knight Errant’s second +1 ability.

RATING — 3.5

Palace Guard

Palace Guard should have spoiler tags on it, because it comes out and says something about Magic that it sometimes takes people years – or never – to figure out, and in doing so, ruins a fair amount of exploration.

“Go ahead. Block any number of creatures.”

“Any number? Really? You mean I can block any number of creatures? I can block as many as I want?”

“Sure. Go ahead, block any number.”

“What happens then?”

“Did you read the rest of me?”

“Yeah, the foul stench part is kewl!”

“No, I mean the rest of my rules text. Read it to me.”

“Palace guard can block any number of creatures.”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean then? Then nothing. That’s all that happens. We can block as much as we want, and it never does anything. Oh my God it never does anything. You never do anything. You never win. We never win. You can block any number of creatures, a million creatures, and none of it matters. You still lose. We still lose. I am terrible at Magic.”

“Welcome to the desert of the real.”

Palace Guard is depressing. It has an ability that was impressive only when it was used very very sparingly or not at all. Blocking as much as you want is a lot less impressive when you slap it on a Horned Turtle that still sucks. Valor Made Real does a great job of creating the whiff of specialness out of nothing, but that whiff was farted out of the room by Palace Guard which makes what they do a mundane part of a third-rate tribal deck.

RATING — 2.5

Siege Mastodon

Tom LaPille creamed himself over inventing Siege Mastodon back when M10 came out, and when he did, I was on board. Siege Mastodon was one of the flagship cards of M10 in the same way that Mighty Leap is one of the flagship cards of M11 – it’s a common we haven’t seen before that has new enough, simple enough mechanics and flavor that it sets a tone for the set, and it also involves an elephant.

Siege Mastodon’s relative value has gone down significantly in M11. It isn’t new anymore, white seems to be all about flying now and not about big-butted groundpounders. The soldier theme was a defining characteristic of M10, and while nobody has really mentioned this that I’ve seen, it’s straight up gone – no swordsmiths, armorsmiths, first-striking rhinos (M11 is a bad set for rhinos in general), all gone.

Without a white dedicated to slogging it out in the trenches, Siege Mastodon is relegated to standing around watching other things fly – an important role, but neither a fun nor exciting one – and part of what makes Mighty Leap so fun and funny.

Sadly for Siege Mastodon, the joke’s on him this time.

RATING — 2.0

Silvercoat Lion

“When the children cry,” it is because it turns out their fancy new Magic card has been born into a world already designed to make it irrelevant.

“Wait” before you dismiss the card out of hand, though, because it is a lion, which is a cool animal, and if you’re going to have to make a worthless card that is out of flavor for what the rest of its color is doing in a set and has no fantasy resonance, you might as well make it a cool animal.

This card “was big in the 80s before slipping into irrelevance and then dissolution in the early 90s and subsequently reforming as a glorified novelty act hearkening back to a time that never quite existed.”

You know puns and references are dominating card reviews “when the children cry.”

Shit I said that one already.

“Mike Tramp”

RATING — 2.0

Solemn Offering

Sometimes you really want a chicken sandwich, but you’re not sure what kind of chicken sandwich you want. It really doesn’t matter, so you go up to the counter at the sub shop, and you order a chicken cutlet sandwich with lettuce, tomato and pickles. And then they give you a chicken parm sandwich. You eat it and you just as easily could have chosen the chicken parm. It’s not like you wanted it less. But it pisses you off a little or disappoints you that nobody listened.

Then you begin to doubt yourself. Maybe a chicken cutlet sandwich with lettuce, tomato and pickles would have been awful. Should you have said something other than cutlet? Maybe it’s your fault, and they did you a favor by giving you the chicken parm sandwich. It was okay, right? I mean, you like chicken parm. You should have eaten something healthier regardless. And no, chicken cutlet isn’t healthier, it’s still fried, and if they’d asked, you would have let them put cheese on it.

The four life you gain from solemn offering is like the parm (you know, from a parm tree) on the unordered but begrudgingly enjoyed parm sandwich, made a little bit more exciting because Ajani’s Pridemate is there to trick you into thinking it matters. Hey, maybe it does. Maybe the lifegain really is making the difference, and this card is a lot better than it was in M10. But it still isn’t what you would have ordered if anybody would have given you a choice.

RATING — 2.5

Stormfront Pegasus

Now we come to the card that looks like it was painted on the interior vault of an Italian cathedral, or on the packaging for an action figure that comes with a brush and a bottle of bubbles. I like the Clydesdale hooves on this duder – they make a fair amount of difference. He’s all, “I came here to prance, but I know how to party.”

In M10, Stormfront Pegasus was a confounding functional reprint. Was it really worth it to not just call the thing Mistral Charger? It sounds like the name was somebody’s pet project. In this case, though, I think it was justified.

Stormfront Pegasus was a must-kill-or-block-or-otherwise-answer threat in M10, and its extra-resonant name was much more befitting of its tiny little sphere or badassitude. When white has a lot more fliers, it probably won’t stand out as much, but it still justifies itself.

Stormfront Pegasus is proof that it isn’t enough for a card to have a name that can translate across block creative concepts – it should have a name that doesn’t suck when it translates across block creative concepts. Mistral Charger fulfilled the first, but not the second, so good riddance to bad horsies.

And it’s not like anybody was using their Mistral Chargers any less before than they are now that you can use 8 of them. 8-flying-pikers.dec just broke a vase. I mean legacy. I mean a vase when it fell off the shelf and knocked it over, because it’s 120 cards in a plastic box with a picture of Ang from Avatar on it. His name is Ang, right? Christ, I’m almost 30.

RATING — 3.0

Tireless Missionaries

It’s appropriate that they gave a card that is shittier than Venerable Monk a shittier name and concept than Venerable Monk. And Venerable Monk is itself a pretty shitty card for a whole bunch of reasons, related to being not fun at all and useless in any mildly competitive format, like Throw Me Against the Wall to See if I Bend Constructed (Venerable Monk is bad at that because of the emotional difficulty of throwing a blind Filipino man with sufficient force).

That symmetry the lone saving grace for Tireless Missionaries (well, that and that it has sort of a sex position in its name, by which I mean “ireless,” which is what sex is like sometimes if you ask nicely and wash the dishes first). I mean, I know a 2/3 that gains life at least has a purpose – it holds off aggressive decks full of 2/2s and gains back one and a half attacks full of life. But this is an advantage built into the card that operates at a totally different level than the card will when it is actually on the battlefield.

You can make a card that is ideally suited to attack through 1/1s, but no other creatures. But if it is only played in formats where the creatures people play are random, its purpose will be lost.

This card is there to bulk up the shitty lifegain theme and to be worse than a 3/3 for 5 would be, but the more I think about it, the more it disgusts me.

This card is just pretentious. It thinks it has a “role.” It thinks it “can do something.” I resent that it reaches so far above its station.

RATING — 1.5

Wild Griffin

Lazy, lazy lazy. This card has never been a real card in a real set, and it shows. They should change the name of this card to “Not Wind Drake,” because that’s all it is. It’s Wind Drake, except they decided ahead of time they wanted to put this dude in as many sets that don’t matter as possible, so to pad that number, they put it in white sometimes for no reason – in three beginner sets that don’t matter, and then in 10th edition. Then they put it in M10 with Stormfront Pegasus, which makes it look like a doofus.

The least they could do is spell it with a y or something. Wyld Gryphon I would play. Maybe I’m just being narcissistic.

RATING — 1.5


5. Goldenglow Moth

4. Infantry Veteran

3. Armored Ascension

2. Mighty Leap

1. Ajani’s Pridemate

Man, if Ajani’s Pridemate turns out to be constructed playable in some random crapfest of a deck, I’m going to have Roc Egg on my face.

Wait, you said I left out Roc Egg? Roc Egg is PLAYABLE, man, PLAYABLE! What are you TALKING ABOUT!!?! You get a pawn of ulamog, and a bloodthrone vampire, and some bloodghasts, and some peppers and mushrooms, and a whole lot of cheddar cheese and a season ironed skillet, and then you put a land into play tapped and coat the skillet with butter before saccing everything and serving three with orange juice, using the may ability to replace those dudes with spawns, who bring back other dudes and garnish with parsley, winning the love and affection you always hunger for but which will never be afforded the endless boxes upon boxes of chaff magic cards that fill the world’s closets and landfills.

Like sands through the hourglass, man. Like sands through the hourglass.