August 9, 2016

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Musings of the Madman: From the Vault Frustrations

Welcome back all! We'll soon be granted a chance at getting some cool new foils via From the Vault: Lore. I'm particularly interested in because of a new version of Glissa, the Traitor, which may well be an "in-and-out" for Duel Commander and regular Commander. However, with each new From the Vault (FTV) release, concerns occur about both content and the foiling process itself.

On the latter, Aaron Forsythe asked on Twitter whether it was the foiling or general look that people disliked and though I was adamant on the foiling itself (the cards may curl at times, making them "wobbly" in a deck), there may be a preference for pack-foil look over the FTV look.

For those of you that aren't fans of the FTV foiling, is it the look of them that you don't like, or the curling?

A good number of people (2,134 votes, for 69% opposed, as 15% enjoying the foiling and 16% uncommitted) responded that they liked neither the look nor the foiling, some alluding to them looking "cheap" or so on, which has to be contrary to be intent of their production. While I hope we'll one day have them closer to pack-foil quality, the contents of the FTV boxes are always good watercooler talk, so let's delve into that for a bit. For our purposes, we're not going to examine Commander's Arsenal as it hasn't been repeated. We'll do this in chronological order and rate by essential, average and forgettable.

From the Vault: Dragons

Released in 2008, the most iconic of creatures featured in the release, as well as an insert for the Elder Dragon Highlander rules.

The essential? Nicol Bolas, Bogardan Hellkite, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and, it can be argued, Rith, the Awakener.

The average is dense with Ebon Dragon, Form of the Dragon, Thunder Dragon, Draco and Bladewing the Risen.

Among the forgettable we find Dragon Whelp, Dragonstorm, Hellkite Overlord, Two-headed Dragon, and Shivan Dragon.

Frustration level here is pretty minimal. Yes, Furnace Whelp would have been better than Dragon Whelp, but the set is overall quite nice.

From the Vault: Exile

One of the better sets, the 2009 edition ensured that every card therein was banned or restricted at some point in Magic's history.

The essential is plenty with Sensei's Divining Top, Skullclamp, Berserk, Mystical Tutor, Gifts Ungiven, Lotus Petal, Necropotence, and Strip Mine. It's like your birthday every day!

The average is moreso because of being banned, in Balance, Channel, Goblin Lackey, and Tinker.

The forgettable lies mostly in Kird Ape and Serendib Efreet, but Trinisphere isn't all that anymore either (Vintage may disagree).

Frustration level is fairly low. Mind Twist would have been nice to have in foil, and another Demonic Tutor variant as well.

From the Vault: Relics

Easily among the larger amounts of hits and misses, 2010 release Relics had a cool idea in foiling out some nice artifacts, but ultimately could have pushed a little harder.

The essentials? Aether Vial, Mox Diamond, Memory Jar, and Sol Ring. All playable cross-format and fun overall.

The average is plentiful in Masticore, Ivory Tower, Zuran Orb, Mirari, Jester's Cap, and Isochron Scepter.

The forgettable has its flagship in Sword of Body and Mind, where even Sword of War and Peace might have been better. Black Vise sees little play, Karn, Silver Golem is an EDH favourite and Sundering Titan is niche and hardly played. Jester's Cap is a fun reprint for casual play.

Frustration level is average here. Phyrexian Altar has needed an alternate foil forever and a day, and you can argue something like Coalition Relic or Darksteel Ingot may have been nice for Commander players.

From the Vault: Legends

The 2001 release is likely the first where I have some serious gripes about the content. While there are still quite playable cards, others are quite middling and could have been replaced with other options.

The essentials give us Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Progenitus, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Captain Sisay, and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. All cards you'll see in your Commander games and perhaps even some constructed play.

The average includes Kresh the Bloodbraided, Omnath, Locus of Mana, Oona, Queen of the Fae, Doran, the Siege Tower, Sharuum the Hegemon, and Rafiq of the Many.

Among the forgettable we find Visara the Dreadful, Mikaeus, the Lunarch, Cao Cao, Lord of Wei, and Sun Quan, Lord of Wu.

My biggest gripe here is the lack of legendary lands or other items. I'd also have preferred Mikaeus, the Unhallowed over his white counterpart, but overall this was a fun FTV release.

Frustration level is moderate, but it's more of an apathy-level frustrating than pure anger.

From the Vault: Realms

Lands! It's not just a super cool Legacy deck, but the backbone of nearly every Magic deck. Wizards did a good job with this selection, though there are a few eyebrow-raisers.

Among the essentials are Maze of Ith, Ancient Tomb, Grove of the Burnwillows, Dryad Arbor, Vesuva, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

The average selection holds Boseiju, Who Shelters All, Forbidden Orchard, High Market, Glacial Chasm, and Cephalid Coliseum.

Among some rather disappointing choices were Desert, Shivan Gorge, Murmuring Bosk, and Windbrisk Heights.

Frustration level is fairly high here, as about a quarter of the lands could have been replaced by nearly anything better, such as Tectonic Edge, City of Brass, Reliquary Tower or... your choice. Still, foil Glacial Chasm is quite sweet.

From the Vault: Twenty

Quite solid, the 2013 release featured staples from tournament-winning decks. Many of the cards are quite playable in Commander as well.

The essentials here are plentiful, from the ubiquitous Jace, the Mind Sculptor through Dark Ritual, Swords to Plowshares, Hymn to Tourach, Fact or Fiction, Venser, Shaper Savant, Green Sun's Zenith, and Gilded Lotus.

In the average section we get Kessig Wolf Run, Impulse, Wall of Blossoms, and Fyndhorn Elves.
In the "meh" section are Cruel Ultimatum, Char, Chameleon Colossus, Akroma's Vengeance, and Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni.

Frustration here is palpable. There are tons of overpowered cards that could have been reprinted, from Lightning Bolt to Ponder, but we can't complain too too much about a set that contains Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

From the Vault: Annihilation

The 2014 release is one of the few FTVs to have some really eye-rolling choices like Virtue's Ruin and Martial Coup, but at least the latter can give you some mid-game gas.

Amond the essentials are Armageddon, Cataclysm, Wrath of God (really dislike this art though...) Living Death, Smokestack, and Rolling Earthquake.

The average corner holds its own with Firespout, Child of Alara, and Terminus, which is nice to have in a cheap foil version.

The forgettable Virtue's Ruin, Firespout, unplayable-in-Commander Upheaval and cool, but expensive Decree of Annihilation and Burning of Xinye, which at least has a cool Portal: Three Kingdoms vibe to it.

Frustration level is pretty decent. Would have loved something like Choke, Damnation or even a cool Commander staple like Cyclonic Rift.

From the Vault: Angels

Angels are super popular, casual and competitive all rolled into one. Last year's release hit some fine old-school notes with Serra Angel in there and a nice Commander nod with Tariel, Reckoner of Souls.

The essentials? Baneslayer Angel, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Jenara, Asura of War, and Akroma, Angel of Fury, whose foil version is always on the expensive side.

The average is led by Akroma, Angel of Wrath (she just isn't as tough as she used to be), Entreat the Angels, Platinum Angel, Serra Angel, and Aurelia, the Warleader.

Leaving us wanting a little more are Archangel of Strife (with fantastic art), Lightning Angel, Iridescent Angel, and Exalted Angel.

You can never really be frustrated by a set full of cool angels, but I would have loved to see Fallen Angel with the original art in here, just as a personal wish.

From the Vault: Lore

At last we arrrive to this year's release, which has been met with a suprising amount of grousing on various forums. I'll come right out and say that even with the FTV foiling, a Dark Depths and Umezawa's Jitte is nothing to sneeze at, and could carry the box on its own.

The essentials are pretty obvious and bear repeating: Umezawa's Jitte and Dark Depths are format-defining cards and quite playable in Commander. They are joined by Cabal Ritual, Tolaria West, Momir Vig, Simic Visionary, Glissa, the Traitor, and Memnarch. Additionally cool for lore geeks, Glissa and Memnarch once fought extensively.

Average gives us Beseech the Queen, Conflux, Mind's Desire, Obliterate, and Unmask, though getting another foil Unmask is pretty amazing.

At the lower end of the spectrum are Helvault, Phyrexian Processor, and Near-Death Experience. The latter especially has been raising eyebrows.

Frustration level? Pretty minimal. I'd have preferred Phyrexian Arena or Vindicate over Phyrexian Processor, and almost anything over Near-Death Experience, but the playables are more than enough to offset this.

I hope you enjoyed this trip through time. Until next week, may you make good use of your own, personal knowledge vault.