What We Learned—Take Five Turns (April 15)

Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

As I talked about several months ago, spoiler season is one of Wizards of the Coast’s greatest tools for marketing Magic: the Gathering. For two weeks the internet is glued to Magic’s home website along with countless other community sites including everything from major players like StarCity Games down to blogs and podcast sites across the board. Spoilers spread like wildfire clogging the pipes of the internet with images, commentary and “new-standard” deck tech creating a sensory overload for any fans willing to immerse themselves within.

The key to a successful spoiler season will always be creating exciting cards. This season got started with a huge bang. Mark Rosewater, lead designer of Magic, always starts spoiler season by introducing the design team for the upcoming set. The team for Dragon’s Maze was lead by Alexis Janson, winner of the original Great Designer Search. Joining Alexis was Dan Emmons, Aaron Forsythe, Erik Lauer, Shawn Main and MaRo himself. These brave folks had the incredibly daunting task of designing the set that would wrap up our second tour of duty in Ravnica. If Rosewater’s spoiler was any indication, they did just fine.


Talk about hitting the ball out of the park. At four mana, with four loyalty and a +1 ability that protects himself, Ral Zarek has all the hallmarks of a format staple planeswalker. This means he could see a lot of play, and not just in Standard. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Modern as well, as his -2 ability, comparable to Ajani Vengeant’s, is very relevant in that format. Retailers are pricing him conservatively though, asking $35 on pre-order over at StarCity and just shy of $30 over at TCGPlayer. Just to remind you all, Jace, Architect of Thought, hit $50 very early on and was much less impressive than Ral Zarek.

But let’s not beat around the bush anymore. Look at that ultimate ability. It wasn’t enough that Wizards spoiled a planeswalker, always a fan favorite, but they spoiled a card with two of the most beloved mechanics of the colors blue and red ever printed: taking more turns and flipping coins. I think it’s safe to assume that most Izzet mages just about wet the bed when they saw Ral Zarek.

Triggering the ultimate ability isn’t an auto-win the way Jace, the Mind-Sculptor is, but it should be pretty close. On average it’s going to net you two free turns. On occasions where you get three turns out of it, well you just cast Ancestral Recall, maybe in a draft, who knows. That’s pretty insane. At best, you get to take five turns. In a row. After the turn you’re currently in. Throw this in your EDH deck with Mirari and Chance Encounter, because, why not, right?

I could go on, but I think the card really speaks for itself. I’m not a Magic finance expert. I’ve dabbled in that and lost far too much of my free time for my liking. But I’ll tell you this much, $30 is too low for this guy in my opinion. He won’t approach JTMS numbers, but he’s going to be a juggernaut in multiple formats for a long time to come. If Ral Zarek doesn’t get people to buy Dragon’s Maze in droves, nothing will.

The Quick Hits

  • Ever wonder how much work goes into cos-playing a character  from a Magic card at a GP? Hint: way more than you put into preparing for your last GP. [LegitMTG]
  • Most of the votes for YMTC4 have been pretty close so far. The odds of this card being an Aura instead of a Global Enchantment are about as high as this card being the next Yawgmoth’s Bargain. [YMTC4]
  • “My opponent made some very questionable lines of play in games one and two. I figured if I feigned weakness in game three he’d walk right into all of my removal in hopes of killing me faster. It worked! Hooray!” Psychology for the win. [TCGPlayer]
  • It’s that magical time again when we all talk about why WotC gives free invites to the Pro Tour that they are kind enough to pump oodles of money into. [20 Tweets]
  • Okay guys. It seems like every week now someone is writing about tilt and other emotional feeling things. [Channel Fireball]
  • I wonder if Magic players, like athletes, regress to a mean average over their career. Why aren’t there advanced Magic stats? Oh, the point I’m trying to make is that Brian DeMars is awful at Magic. [StarCityGames]
  • Kyle Ott is interested in saving some of Magic’s endangered species. I’m sure the Sarah McLachlan commercial to save the Kavu isn’t too far away. [LegitMTG]
  • Halfway there! It’s part three of Abe Sargent’s five-part list of the top 100 multiplayer cards ever! [Gathering Magic]
  • M.J. Scott interviewed prolific Magic artist Ken Meyer Jr. this week. He has some amazing non-Magic pieces too. [Gathering Magic]
  • In case you were worried she’d gotten soft as the Envoy of Ghosts, here’s confirmation that Teysa Karlov is still a bad-ass. [DailyMTG]
  • I didn’t know if I was really going to play in the DGM pre-release, but now I’m hellbent on becoming Champion of the Maze! [DailyMTG]
  • This week’s Who to Follow features three SCG Grinders. Surprisingly missing are Alex Bertocini and Edgar Flores. Too soon? [Who to Follow]
  • In the dumbest article of the week, Matt Sperling and Roberto Gonzales debate Pro Tour Special Invites. [Channel Fireball]
  • People are upset that the FTV Dryad Arbor looks like a forest. I wish more of my opponents were this incompetent about board state. [Recurring Nightmares]
  • Here’s an announcement about changes to announcements. Just think about that for a moment. [DailyMTG]
  • This is the best tournament report you will read all year. [TCGPlayer]
  • Melissa DeTora answers ten questions she gets asked often. Not surprisingly the most common question involves her lack of male genitalia. [TCGPlayer]

Wallpaper of the Week

This week we’re back to portrait art with the newest planeswalker, Ral Zarek. I really enjoy this art, with all it’s steampunk goodness, except for one thing. What is up with his eyes? I don’t think I’ve recalled a ‘walker with creepier eyes since Urza himself. Is this guy a powerful mage or a used car salesman? With those eyes and smile I just can’t tell.

Grade: B+

The Week Ahead

As a public service announcement I’d like to inform you that by the time you read this signups for the DGM prerelease at Twenty Sided Store will be online. I advise you register early, as this one is going to fill up quickly. Also, your taxes are due today.

4 Responses to “What We Learned—Take Five Turns (April 15)”
  1. David McCoy says:

    RIch, can you explain to me how Ral Zarek’s +1 ability helps him defend himself? The tapped target permanent will just untap during your opponent’s next untap step, unlike Ajani Vengeant’s, which only makes his tapping ability relevant during your turn.

    • Rich Stein says:

      It’s not the greatest defense, but it lets you untap your own blockers or untap your lands after you’ve cast spells so you can cast more spells on your opponent’s turn.

      What I like most about it though is how it captures blue/red. On the blue side, you untap your own stuff to be more reactive on your opponent’s turn. On the red side, you tap down your opponent’s stuff to beat them down uninhibited.

      Also, as we’ve seen with planeswalkers in the past, like JTMS, being able to get up to 5 loyalty is it’s own sort of defense.

      • David McCoy says:

        I can see you point about untapping a creature to block for Ral Zarek, but I feel like is +1 ability isn’t designed for defense. Since you have to tap and then untap, you are forced into two non-ideal choices: 1) Pre-combat, tap down a blocker and untap a permanent that already used it’s own tap ability; or 2) Post-combat, tap down an opponent’s permanent and untap a creature that attacked to defend Ral.

        Option #1 is extremely aggressive and doesn’t leave much defense for Ral, while option #2 can be somewhat defensive but doesn’t really provide an advantage for the attacker because you don’t get to tap down a blocker. Either way, his +1 ability doesn’t seem very effective as a defensive tool and more like an aggressive/combo-oriented ability.

        Then again, I’m not particularly skilled at card evaluation, so I could be completely wrong. Plus, blue definitely isn’t my color.

      • Rich Stein says:

        I think the comparison to Ajani Vengeant on the +1 ability is a bit unfair. A better comparison, and one that perhaps helps more, would be Koth of the Hammer. Koth had a +1 ability that untapped a mountain and turned it into a 4/4. Pre-combat this could give you a major boost in combat. Post-combat you could play Koth on turn 4, and then hold up one red mana to cast Lightning Bolt. This is similar to Ral Zarek’s +1, except that Ral Zarek ends up with 5 loyalty where Koth ended up with 4. I think Ral Zarek’s abilities on the whole are all superior to Koth’s and he saw plenty of play for a time.

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