ello and welcome back to the Lab. During these waning weeks of the year, I've traditionally been inclined to loosen up a bit. Okay, so this column's loose enough as it is. Still, that won't stop me from offering up my most gratuitous grab-bag column ever. You see, I like things, and I also like lists, and I also also like making lists of things I like (like lists). Ideally that sentence is rattling around your skull.
Inspired by the ridiculous amount of awesome content added to Magic this year, I offer the equivalent of the lavish awards show I'll never host. Through a giant top-ten list of things (five of which are top-ten lists), I'll recap the releases of the year and the cards that hit my sweet spot. Oh, and I'll build decks too (of course.)
For any long-time Johnny, the year began on the highest of possible notes. The lead designer of Mirrodin Besieged was a man named Mark Gottlieb. Years ago, Mark anchored the Lab, back when it was called House of Cards, and basically did nothing less than inspire a legion of frenetic Johnnies with his dazzling writing and wit. Any fan of combination decks should spend a string of days burrowed in his archive. I was a rabid fan during his reign, and can stoutly declare I wouldn't be here without his encouragement to create and explore. I can only hope that I've provided a similar wellspring of Johnny activity throughout my years here.
My favs of Mirrodin Besieged:
10. Blightsteel Colossus
A throwback to Darksteel Colossus, which boggled minds back in the day with its giant, sturdy fatness. Blightsteel upped the ante by being infectious, and thus, the new poster-construct for game-winning fatties.
9. Praetor's Counsel
For many reasons, I enjoy this card. Could it be the super-Regrowth ability I've long awaited? The emblem-esque no-maximum-hand-size FOREVER effect? The appearance of Karn in the art? Probably a mix of the three.
8. Darksteel Plate
It's like Shield of Kaldra, but sleeker. Sure, you can't use it as part of an Avatar-summoning triad, but the Plate is elegant and worth a slot in many a casual deck.
7. Blue Sun's Zenith
To represent the super-cool Zenith cycle I'll use the blue one, my favorite of the five. Useful as both a Mind Spring and a potential miller, it's the improved Stroke of Genius I never thought I'd see.
6. Contested War Zone
A chaotic delight, this wacky non-basic switches sides and pumps teams with gusto. It also enables one of the most ridiculous decks I've ever made.
5. Myr Welder
I'm a sucker for cards that leech activated abilities of other creatures, and Myr Welder couples this effect with the satisfying imprint ability. Plus, Myr are awesome.
4. Shimmer Myr
Whoever sculpted this card hit it out of the park. Following the path of fellow flash icons Leyline of Anticipation and Vedalken Orrery, Shimmer Myr has delectable flavor (text) as well. Did I mention Myr are awesome?
3. Consecrated Sphinx
I'm way too scared to write about this card. It speaks for itself.
2. Psychosis Crawler
This is a colorless Maro with a life-loss ability tacked on. In other words: the new finisher of many combo decks that involve drawing masses of cards.
1. Knowledge Pool
The most insane, game-warping card ever printed. I was given this card to preview and actually rolled around my room laughing for a couple minutes upon reading it.
New Phyrexia is personally my favorite traditional set in a long while. Let's see: a direct griefing vision, Phyrexian mana, the perfect return of colored artifacts, and the reestablishment of Magic's most famous baddies are only some of my reasons why. For me, this set harkens back to the old days of Magic while still feeling fresh and new.
My favs of New Phyrexia:
I wanted to get one living weapon card on these lists, since it's a cool mechanic. Batterskull is capable of both beating face and producing infinite mana. What? Seriously: I did it.
9. Tezzeret's Gambit
Proliferate!!!!!! Phyrexian mana!!!!! Card draw!!!!! In one card!!!!!
8. Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Positioned as Mirrodin's last hope, Melira provides the anti-poison tech that many players clamored for. She also turns the persist cards into infinite loops of joy.
7. Shrine of Burning Rage
I found the Shrine cycle very exciting and fun. I also enjoy dealing mega amounts of damage, so the red-aligned Shrine was my pick.
6. Volt Charge
I love me some proliferate, and pasting the mechanic onto a burn spell is a great way to make me smile.
5. Rage Extractor
Phyrexian mana was the innovation I'd waited for since snow mana, and it delivered. Rage Extractor is the only card to bear the Phyrexian symbol in its text, and that weirdness alongside its delicious redness was what earned it this slot.
4. Phyrexian Metamorph
Oh hi, Clone and Sculpting Steel. Yeah, we don't need either of those now, since this card renders them both obsolete in one go. Phyrexian Metamorph is well appreciated around both kitchen and tournament tables.
3. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
In terms of shock value and overall jaw-dropping-ness, the Praetor cycle absolutely succeeds. I like Elesh Norn the most, as she devastates boards. My deck around her and Natural Affinity is the meanest thing ever.
2. Karn Liberated
The return of Karn to modern times is a great move, catching the eye of old-timers while bugging out newer players with the following three words: Restart. The. Game. I love it.
1. Birthing Pod
This nugget blasts open the gates of eccentric deckbuilding by forcing players to pay attention to converted mana cost, one of my favorite aspects of Magic cards. Birthing Pod enables really ridiculous decks to exist, like Nate Hannon's from a while back (probably my favorite reader deck of the year).
Sadly, I botched my first attempt at a Rage Extractor deck earlier this year. I was too enamored with using Tainted Sigil for some reason. Here's a better try.
Rage Alongside the Machine 2.0
Boom. I wasn't prepared for this release, and as its creative density exploded all around me, I reveled in the abstraction of Magic as I once knew it. Designing for core sets is one thing, but for over-the-top multiplayer products!? This set explored different ways to ponder and play Magic, and with next year's Planechase update looking to follow in its footsteps, I'd say this is one of the most important releases ever.
10. The Mimeoplasm
High variance levels plus a charismatic name and concept equals me laughing a lot.
9. Archangel of Strife
"Choose war or peace." I've never had to do that before!
8. Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
The first card to really care about zones. I really tried to break this card, but failed. Still, it's a weird but loveable little guy.
7. Chaos Warp
How does red deal with problems? With chaos! I'm a fan of randomness, and Chaos Warp delivers in that area.
6. Nin, the Pain Artist
Any versatile red and blue legend has a place in my heart. Nin can be used in many strategies to great effect. (And yow, that flavor text! You suffer for her art.)
5. Ruhan of the Fomori
I love the idea of an efficient 7/7 attacking players at random, without any regard for proper threat analysis. Playing this card in duels is another easy way to send me into hysterics.
4. Riku of Two Reflections
This card had me grinning from ear to ear. Offering two slices of reflecting power (for both creatures and spells), this legend is so open-ended that I'm frightened of building around it.
3. Minds Aglow
The "join forces" cards are now staples of multiplayer games, but like Ruhan, they are surreal in duels. Minds Aglow won this slot over the others for its high drawing potential and awesome name (and art!!!)
2. Zedruu the Greathearted
What a weird mesh of abilities. Anyone who decides to build around this card is either insane or tripping on something. That's a compliment.
1. Animar, Soul of Elements
In the end Animar is too revolutionary to earn anything but the top spot. Creature cost reduction like no other, and protection from many kill spells. Additionally, Animar's one of those cards that speaks to my soul (out of three this year). For me, green and white were locked in battle for third place in my personal color wheel, and Animar has helped tip the scales towards what I find the most spiritual color.
I can't ignore Riku's presence any longer, and I knew I wanted a Commander deck for this slot after basically ignoring the format all year. Relentless maniac Darth Parallax sent me this list, and it's wacky-tastic.
Riku of Two Reflections
Commander (with a touch of Un-)
Here's Darth Parallax's explanation:
The way this deck works is to either use your enchantments to make Precursor Golem broken, or use Riku to make Essence of the Wild broken, or use Knowledge Pool to make the rest of the deck broken, or use them all to make everyone's heads broken. However it goes, SOMETHING is going to break. It just will. You can also "be normal" (where's the fun in that?) and just play Illusion aggro, and when they die toss 'em to Skaab Ruinator. Then play Simic Sky Swallower, Draco, and Magmatic Force as your game-enders.
But really, I think you'll have more fun if you see how many things you can break.
Magic 2012 was a solid addition to the year, and brought back many fun oldies. My favorite brand-new cards to appear in the set were...
10. Personal Sanctuary
Chosen mostly for art and flavor reasons than anything else, this enchantment does have its place in red-white damage to everything decks. (Manabarbs likes it a lot.)
9. Rune-Scarred Demon
I applauded the pseudo-return of old powerhouses like Demonic Tutor and Fact or Fiction (in the form of Sphinx of Uthuun). In the end, this Demon feels more well-rounded to me.
8. Azure Mage
I also fall for creatures with repeatable activated abilities, and a whole cycle of them burst into being this year! I like them all, but Azure Mage wins for being a Treasure Trove with legs.
7. Warstorm Surge
Finally. The one-sided Pandemonium. Electropotence was a pretty good try, but those Immersturm mages eventually figured it out. This card made me do a little war dance in celebration.
6. Phantasmal Image
2011: The year of the super-Clones. Tacking on the brittle Illusion ability to an undercosted Clone is a recipe for an awesome card.
5. Chandra, the Firebrand
To me, Chandra 3.0 represents 'walkers as they should be: exciting, balanced, and not overpowered. After some shakiness last year (including one huge violator), I think 'walkers have found their proper rhythm.
4. Adaptive Automaton
This card is an instant classic and has a home in so many decks. Not much else to say.
3. Hunter's Insight
I like seeing green get the card draw it deserves, and while I was expecting Harmonize, Hunter's Insight hits the flavor and power buttons even harder. I've drawn upwards of ten cards with it before.
2. Jace's Archivist
A Windfall machine. #allyouneedtoknow
1. Sundial of the Infinite
As you may have inferred by now, I love weird cards. Sundial of the Infinite qualifies, and is another of those soul-speaking cards. I ruminated on the infinity of time and other Big Ideas for a while upon reading this little trinket.
The trumpeted recent shift in design ideology led directly to Innistrad, the scariest plane ever. It's a fun set to explore and think about, and I know it's only the first act of a grand tale.
10. Grimoire of the Dead
A reference to the famed Necronomicon, this Grimoire hits a flavor home run (and can be proliferated!!!).
9. Evil Twin
Another cool Clone variant? I opened this card in the third pack of my Innistrad Prerelease experience, immediately splashed blue for it, and upon heading home placed it in my blue-black Ninja deck. Just... awesome.
8. Prey Upon
Had to mention this important common. The fight ability word gives green a, well, fighting chance in the removal world.
7. Tree of Redemption
Tell me this card didn't bend your mind like silly putty. Go ahead, try.
"Transform all Humans." Even without the clever Fog ability, that sentence is enough to grab my attention.
5. Mirror-Mad Phantasm
This card is forever stained with the pupil-resin of all Magic players, on account of the whopping amount of eye-bugging it induced. A Richard Garfield design, Mirror-Mad Phantasm shares a spark of brilliance with its creator.
4. Garruk Relentless
I offered my Garruk blurb last week. A quick recap: this card is nucking futs.
This multifaceted Spirit Bird can rip libraries and life totals to shreds, and hinges on converted mana costs, equaling a card that I love.
2. Civilized Scholar
A blue-red card like no other, Civilized Scholar and its alter ego Homicidal Brute take a classic story and riff on it, Magic-style.
1. Laboratory Maniac
I didn't even laugh upon reading this card. I just stared at my screen, mouth agape, for minutes. When I finally tore my eyes away, I felt like my reality was dissipating around me, and, quietly, the seeds of a story bloomed in my mind. The flavor text was whizzing around the grooves of my brain like it had always been there. I have never felt so strong a connection to a Magic card. For me, Laboratory Maniac is proof that Magic's appeal can transcend the boundaries of normal games.
There are many ways to enable a win with Laboratory Maniac, and readers have been kindly sharing them with me. The Mirror-Mad Maniac deck is well known, but what about Lab Spoils? I'll let Ryan M. take over from here.
The deck is capable of turn 4 and 5 wins a surprising amount of the time. The idea is to pull together the Maniac, an Ad Nauseam or Spoils of the Vault, Angel's Grace or Phyrexian Unlife, and Terrarion or Gitaxian Probe. After casting the Maniac, the Grace or Unlife allows Ad Nauseam or (preferably) Spoils to empty the deck. A well timed Terrarion or Gitaxian Probe allows the combo to activate instantly. Beseech the Queen is an excellent tutor for any piece you are missing, and Pact of Negation works to protect you during the turn you attempt the combo.
While New Phyrexia makes a strong case, I've got give it to Magic: The Gathering Commander for being an unprecedented leap into abstract realms.
The contenders are: proliferate, infect, battle cry, living weapon, Phyrexian mana, join forces, morbid, and transform. All of these are cool enough, but in my mind, there's one clear winner: proliferate.
What are your favorite cards, themes, and Magical aspects of 2011? I hope you all enjoyed today's column, and if feedback allows, this could be a staple article for closing out years. Until next time!