Magic 2011 Core Set Fully Spoiled: So Where Has the Magic Gone This Time?

As of last night, when one intrepid Magic: the Gathering player photographed the entire Player’s Guide for Magic 2011, we have the entire set spoiled over at MTGSalvation. This is no ordinary core set, both because of its contents and its context. The context, arguably the more important of the two, is the power creep. Remember Shock? Remember Serra Angel at rare? Well if you’ve tuned in to the last 365+ days of Magic: the Gathering, you know those cards are relics of a weaker time. Now is the time of Bolts and Baneslayers. And they are mighty.

But the people at Wizards R&D know that they are walking on thin ice. Most Magic players have been following the game for a long time, and these new and reprinted powerful cards that obsolete years and years of cards are understandably frustrating. In fact, Wizards was close to pulling back a bit, at least according to this column on the official Magic site by ultimate head honcho Mark Rosewater:

At first Lightning Bolt was removed, but there were fans in the Pit that lobbied for its return. Then Baneslayer Angel was removed but there were concerns that it was wrong to take a card that’s valuable in so many decks and only allow it in Standard for a single year (okay, fifteen months).

So the question on everyone’s mind is: Will M11 continue the power creep, plateau, or pull it back? In my non-professional opinion (I’ve been playing a long time, but I’ve only done tournaments in limited, not constructed) the creep continues, but it’s slowing. Let’s take a closer look.

I’m going to go through this by color, but I’m going to skip white for the simple reason that I actually think it’s a really well-designed color. If anything, it might be a little underpowered compared to other colors. Or, if not that, it has seen the least creep since last year’s core.

So, moving on to blue. Let’s start with the first blue card in alphabetical order:

Æther Adept

Bounce with a body hasn’t looked this good in a very long time. Now, I know that blue has been weak for a while now. I read the blogs. I’m aware. But this at common just seems a little bit surprising. Blue is not a color known for getting a solid body attached to its spells. Heck, blue doesn’t get that many solid bodies in general, let alone with what I’m going to call soft removal. This little guy is going to make a lot of people very happy, but it’s setting the bar very high in terms of power level. If this is common now, who knows what we’ll see in a year.

Air Servant

This guy’s ability is not going to prove especially useful, and he probably won’t see any constructed play, but seeing a 4/3 flyer for 5 is a big surprise, especially with a cost that’s not color intensive at all. And on an uncommon. And in blue. This guy is an airborne powerhouse. It feels like R&D is just slapping flying onto creatures and not upping the cost. Look at the also-new Conundrum Sphinx. At least that one’s a rare.

Mana Leak and Diminish

I’m pairing these two spells as an example of newfound efficiency. Blue loves spells, and now it’s getting some of its favorite powers for cheaper. Powering down creatures minimally for expensive mana costs is in the past thanks to Diminish, and Mana Leak brings us back to a time where countering spells was even easier. Blue has got its groove back, but maybe a little too much so.

Now on to Black and its newfound love for vampires. But it’s not the vampires that strike me as being signs of new times.

Grave Titan

First of all, this guy is undeniably weird. Yes, it’s part of a mythic cycle with a requisite number of abilities, but there’s something about deathtouch on a 6/6 that just makes me go “What?” But awkward design on the top fifth of the card aside, it’s the middle bit that’s interesting. Look at all that creature efficiency. White and green tend to be the colors churning out tokens for massive swarms these days. This guy gives you a total of 10/10 in creatures for 6, and every time he attacks that’s 4/4 more. Even if he’s dealt with in a couple turns, he leaves his controller with an army of zombies that will be potentially even more frustrating than he was. I’m not calling broken on this guy, or on any card, but he shows new swarming potential for the future of black.

Nantuko Shade

Oh, this guy’s back. At least they kept it at rare. Can you imagine a bunch of these guys crawling around with their little super-efficient mantis pincers? Nantuko Shade is, without a doubt, the most efficient shade in the game. And shade’s can be devastating. Versatile cards are second only to broken cards when it comes to winning games, and scalable creatures are incredibly versatile. Not to mention that he’s just a powerhouse on turn 3 that just becomes more and more powerhouse-y over time. This guy will cause a serious stir in mono-black standard decks.

Red is the other color that seems to be doing just fine in terms of design. There are some great new cards that seem well-balanced. So let’s move on to green.

Fauna Shaman

Back in the day, an ability like this would be found on a 1/1 with a converted mana cost of at least 3. Now look, we get bears with an epic boost. This ability is nothing to shake some flora at, and we get it, once again, on a sufficient body for a non-color-intensive cost. Oh boy.

Garruk’s Companion

What? You do know Watchwolf was uncommon, right? In fact, Garruk’s other new toy is pretty great too. That is begging to become a new epic draw engine.

Mitotic Slime

Even more creature efficiency. This is very powerful, but at least it’s in a color where it makes more sense this time.

And as for those pesky artifacts, these two cards are being printed in the same set. So that’s special.

Overall, things are not as bad as they could have been. The power creep has certainly slowed since the decision to first reintroduce Bolt and create Baneslayer Angel. But it hasn’t stopped yet. And our next set is a return back to Mirrodin. And we all remember how well that went. Be careful, Magic R&D. It’s a lot easier to start the power creep than it is to stop it. And it’s even harder to go back after things get out of hand.

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