Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth: Combo and Controversy

The Players:


Dakra Mystic


Spirit of the Labyrinth


Dakra Mystic was a preview card given to Yours Truly on DailyMTG. When they get set aside for YT, even the cards that don’t seem so busto on first blush (e.g. Heartbeat of Spring, a Swimming With Sharks preview) have a surprising tendency to define tournament formats. And it’s not just Top Decks! Long before Top Decks I was lucky enough to ahem top deck preview opportunities for Fledgling Dragon and Ravenous Baloth; and most recently (aka just yesterday) for the greatest tournament card drawing spell of all time, Necropotence; again not a Top Decks preview, going the other way in time.

Tipping our collective hats to Rakdos Pit-Dragon (which nevertheless found a home in Legacy), let’s assume for the moment that Dakra Mystic might be a legitimate spell to play in Constructed Magic. How about Spirit of the Labyrinth?

This was a card that commanded some initial hubbub but hasn’t set the Standard metagame on fire just yet. For sake of argument lets look at what some of Magic’s reviewing luminaries have had to say so far…

“3

“This is one heck of a hate bear. I actually don’t think the disruption ability is that absurd as it does not protect itself in the way that Gaddock Teeg might, for example. That said, it has a definite purpose and there are decks that will not be able to function with this in play. The most important aspect of this, however, is its size. This guy puts a ton of pressure on the opponent’s life total while they are struggling to find card advantage. That increases his chances of play by quite a bit. Remember that cards like Think Twice do get around this when used on an opponent’s turn.”
-Conley Woods

“3.5

This is a Vintage/Legacy staple more than anything else, and it’s a beating in those formats. Not only does it horribly embarrass Brainstorm, it turns off a ton of cards in Delver decks, and Aether Vial means it’s ready to ambush card draw at any point. Death and Taxes finally became one of the best decks in the format a few months ago, and this amazing card will only help solidify that.”
-Luis Scott-Vargas

[LSV also rated Spirit of the Labyrinth as his #2 BotG card in white]

Brian David-Marshall and I liked it quite a bit on our Top 8 Magic podcast, too, if I recall.

Pretty decent first blushes, and on a decently combat efficient body, to boot.

Remember at this point I am less trying to convince you of ANYTHING and just want to establish a baseline that these might be some playable creatures.

The Basic Combo –


The basic combo is to just get the two creatures in play and start exploiting their text boxes. You use Dakra Mystic on the opponent’s turn and it’s half a Howling Mine (the good half!) and the opponent will not get an extra draw.

But…

Beast Mode!


What happens when you use Dakra Mystic in the opponent’s upkeep? The formula here is to choose “we both draw” and pass out of the opponent’s upkeep.

Sure, there will be some times you want to “Millstone” both cards (the opponent will draw a card to break up your combo) but you generally want to choose Howling Mine mode; why? That’s how YOU [alone] get the card advantage. You draw one card on both turns whereas on his turn he still has the Spirit of the Labyrinth limitation to contend with.

But…

Judge!


Unlike a lot of my friends who have already departed their various and far flung homes to start gathering in anticipation of the upcoming PT, I haven’t played a single game of Theros Block Constructed. However — assuming these two drops are reasonable cards to play in the format — there is a little something extra to this combo that would have me giving it a second look.

Untap — Upkeep — Draw…

The early part of the turn sequence is tattooed on most competitive players’ spines. We do these things automatically!

That means if you force both players to draw on the opponents’ upkeep…

… The vast majority will draw on their draw steps, too.

This could be a problem.

The ruling that went around the PTQ I played I last weekend was this.

  1. You are under no obligation to stop the opponent from drawing.
  2. Game loss (drawing extra cards).

Again, I don’t know if there is a whiz-bang better option in Block, but I do know that if I have two choices of comparable “MTGO” EV but one of them gets me X number of free wins in IRL Magic, that might very well put it over the edge at deck selection time.

Mystery Friend: This sounds very Mike Flores angle-shooty, yes.
Me: Can you remove either “Mike Flores” or “angle-shooty”? They’re redundant here :)

Objection!

So you get “one free win a round” … Is that good enough? Once anyone hears about this, your combo is over!

I don’t buy it.

We all have a limited amount of willpower. Each decision we make over the course of a day taps into that limited pool. When we’re out… We start making poor decisions, missing things, turning green and tearing up helicarriers. In the round I picked up my second loss in the aforementioned PTQ to go 4-2 (I finished 6-2 and therefore out of Top 8) I missed two Ephara, God of the Polis triggers + one Nyx-Fleece Ram trigger in the deciding Game Three. The match was excruciating, with my opponent getting an early Heroic flyer and pansting it up DI for ~10 lifelink per turn with Anjani, Mentor of Heroes distributing defense to keep me off of fighting back. Even if I had figured a way to stabilize the board with his forces getting bigger and more plentiful every turn… I might have had to deal 200 damage, which would have been a feat.

So on the turn I missed my Nyx-Fleece Ram trigger, got flustered with myself for a second and tore up a basic Forest to mark the top of my library… Which distracted me from drawing a card from Ephara, God of the Polis [that I might have, otherwise]. The other Ephara trigger was a little tricky. I used a Triton Tactics on my Tethmos High Priest to re-buy a creature I desperately needed mid-combat, ran all kinds of Heroics, enchantment bouncing, and Retraction Helixes mid-combat to gum up The Red Zone while trying to trade in combat… And just forgot to draw with everything else going on given a difficult blocking decision.

BDM said I held on really admirably… And pleaded with the top of my deck that the two extra cards I missed wouldn’t have gotten me there (they were thankfully a pair of Plains). My point being I had been playing with these cards all day and did a pretty good job of staying focused most of the rest of the rounds. I was generally unfamiliar with Journey into Nyx Limited but pulled off a 6-2 in my first PTQ in something like five years. And yet, with Top 8 in sight… I missed three separate triggers, any of which might have made or broke me in other circumstances.

Do you REALLY think that you get only ONE win out of this combo?

Our willpower runs thin over the course of a day.

If you, as the conditioned combo player, force this combo, over and over, opponent’s upkeep after opponent’s upkeep… You are simply going to catch players. If a fully informed player is only 1% likely to brain fart and accidentally draw on his turn, a team of say ten players playing Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth combo over the course of multiple upkeeps each on an eight-round day will rack up an embarassing number of free wins from players who actually know better (above and beyond players who have already received “ignorance” game losses), just from sheer volume of repetitions grating up against ingrained untap-upkeep-draw routines. It’s like hitting ctrl+x on a Mac, or frustratedly jamming alt+z staccato on the MTGO Wide Beta. We’re just used to what we’re used to… And here that is poison. Poison that will in all likelihood get worse in the later rounds, when folks are jet lagged and tired.

Those three Ephara and sheep triggers I talked about missing? Those are just the ones I caught in the loss I actually played spells (I’m sure you can guess how the other one went). In matches I won I missed several other sheep triggers, and I gave two different opponents in complete lock down free turns with one life (one when I was in extra turns). But hey! Complete lock down.

People make countless mistakes they don’t know about or see… And forcing them to play differently than the way they are conditioned to play “automatically” is a surefire route to mental chafing… And in this case, potential game losses.

I once took down a PTQ where no fewer than four of my opponents received game losses for mechanical errors (shuffling their graveyards into their libraries by picking up the wrong pile on Natural Order, over- or under-drawing with Urza’s Bauble in Pox or Yawgmoth’s Will) or lost to on-table mind tricks by YT (priority passing, tapping the wrong mana, or using the wrong ability on a multiple-mode spell like Funeral Charm). Why? Because when you are playing your 36th game of Magic in a day — with a Blue Envelope on the line in another state if not country — even a two-time GP champion can brain fart. It happens. We are playing the game “in the real world” and not in an ideal place where no one misses anything, or MTGO simply doesn’t let you.

Plausible Deniability

Nobody wants to be “that guy”.

The question is, 1) if Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth is a thing in Block Constructed (bet to begin with), 2) is there any other way to play THAN the “use Dakra Mystic on the opponent’s upkeep” strategy? You can let him draw per normal and then activate later on… But, assuming you don’t need your U for something else, aren’t you just giving away value by NOT playing with edge?

So… What do you all think?

Because I think this is actually an interesting line of discussion, I wanted to tap into my Flores Rewards budget to incentivize folks to chime in.

(If you don’t know what Flores Rewards is, there used to be a site called http://FloresRewards.com sponsored by TCGPlayer that has been resurrected as a twice-weekly feature… This week’s is here.)

The Game:

Respond to this question in the comments below!

I.

Assuming you don’t need your U for something else, aren’t you just giving away value by NOT playing with edge (i.e. activating Dakra Mystic on upkeep [with the possibility of the opponent receiving a Game Loss for drawing extra cards])? <-- Whatever you want to say about this.

One lucky responder will get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (rando).

II.

Who was my Mystery Friend? <-- A name, pls tks.

Yet another lucky responder will get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (you have to guess right for this one, but otherwise rando).

In the off chance that we get 100 Likes and / or Google Plusses on this entry, a third responder will also get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (rando again)!

Get to it beloved readers!

Big thanks to TCGPlayer.com for the free prizes :)

LOVE
MIKE

P.S. Deadline for responses / guesses / tallies is Thursday midnight EST!

Superficial Saturdays #16 – THE MIGHTY THOR #337 by Walt Simonson


TheMightyThor337
Comic: THE MIGHTY THOR #337 Artist: Walt Simonson

I was hanging out with Matt Wang today [okay yesterday now] and told him I wanted to do something old school for Superficial Saturdays; he suggested this high impact cover from Walt Simonson.

Forget for a moment the look and execution of this cover and instead just look at what is being depicted.

This is a monster swinging Thor’s magic hammer!

Do you remember this scene from Joss Whedon’s blockbuster movie?

The Hulk — the strongest one there is — can’t budge Mjolnir.

A defining piece of the Thor mythos, Mjolnir can only be lifted by those of particular strength and especial moral worth. Captain America has been able to pick it up on occasion (and most recently led an Odin-powered Avengers team with Mjolnir when Thor was down during Fear Itself)… But almost no one else.

Superman
This guy, sure; good AND strong.

So seeing a monster not just swinging Mjolnir — but busting the Thor logo — was a big, big game. This was, if memory serves, the first issue of Walt Simonson’s defining run on THE MIGHTY THOR. Simonson wanted to do something different, really put hit stake in the ground, and the idea of someone else picking up the magic hammer to challenge Thor was the way he went.

The cover was shocking… And memorable enough that we are talking about it three decades later!

Plus, I think it’s pretty cool looking!

Simonson can be an acquired taste; his art isn’t for everyone (in particular comics dilettantes), but there is no mistaking him for anyone else, or anyone else for him. The cartoon lightning bolt. The flat color. The exaggerated motion. The audacity around the logo. So many things to love.

LOVE
MIKE

Harness by Force is my Favorite Journey into Nyx Card

HarnessByForce
Harness by Force

If you’ve listened to the Top 8 Magic podcast review of Journey into Nyx, you know I am a fan of Harness by Force.

Oh wait, you haven’t listened to the Top 8 Magic podcast review of Journey into Nyx? And you’re too lazy to actually navigate to ManaDeprived to listen over there (you know, in Canada)?

I suppose I can help you out there:

Nyx or Ixnay: White, Lands, and Artifacts

Nyx or Ixnay: Blue

Nyx or Ixnay: Black and Gold

Nyx or Ixnay: Red

Nyx or Ixnay: Green

Well, there you go! Five podcasts about Journy into Nyx! In the red chapter I talk about why I like Harness by Force.

The simple story is that I’ve always liked cards like Threaten and Act of Treason, which have been tournament staples in almost every format that they’ve been legal. Threaten, for instance, made it to the Top 8 of its debut Pro Tour in the hands of Gabriel Nassif as a three-of main deck (his only non-creature spell).

In G/R decks various Threaten (and the like) have proven great sideboard cards against players trying to stabilize with big creatures. Planning to hold off my little army with your one sizable six drop? Threaten has something to say about that! (and while we’re at it, let’s go to Game Three)

I’m sure at one time or other you’ve handled a Threaten, Act of Treason, Mark of Mutiny… or even one of the four mana versions to successful effect.

Harness by Force is just the “card advantage” version of these cards. “Card advantage” in quotes because it isn’t actually card advantage in all likelihood… But because you can get off two of them with a little extra mana. Two giant defenders holding your team down? Well how about we hold them down; you know, forcefully? I like that this card can be a mana dump. Sometimes a low curve aggro deck draws into six lands and is wondering how it can ever come back to win… But with Harness by Force it at least has something to do with excess Mountains other than to soak up the tears of the flooded.

My predicted status for this card will be sideboard Staple.

LOVE
MIKE

Post Script

In between my starting this blog post and publishing it, Kerrydan actually posted yet another podcast! You can go over to ManaDeprived.com to give it a listen (and a like!) or just play it here. Lazybones.

Superficial Saturdays #15 – DAREDEVIL #12 by Paolo Rivera

Daredevil12
Comic: DAREDEVIL #12 Artist: Paolo Rivera

Mark Waid’s 2011 reboot of DAREDEVIL (DAREDEVIL volume three) has had no shortage of acclaim… Or acclaimed artists. The book itself was unapologetic old-school fun, and well-written without approaching some of Waid’s more epic superhero work (say KINGDOM COME, or even FLASH)… But that didn’t stop it from being basically the best mainstream superhero book in the spinner racks for the past three years.

A big part of that was that aforementioned succession of superior artists… Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, and of course Chris Samnee working in similar, stylized, and high-velocity styles. Samnee is the most associated with the book, eventually pocketing an Eisner Award, but it launched with Rivera, who put up quite a few covers even after he quit internals… including this #12 (which featured Samnee interiors). And in case you were wondering, I buy basically everything that Marcos Martin or Chris Samnee draw.

What’s great about this cover?

It’s super stylized. Marvelously minimal. Flat color; bold design decsions; essentially the anti-1990s.

Despite being defined by big chunks of black or negative space, Rivera does a masterful job with the figure’s hands. They are elegant in execution and telling a story of their own that is almost set apart from the other 75% of the piece.

And speaking of telling a story… ?

What’s with all those lines?

This cover shot is from Daredevil’s POV. Daredevil is blind, and “sees” with a superhuman radar sense. He can “see” the bounce and curve of DA Kirsten McDuffie’s breasts… And the uneven rendering in fact tells us that they are where Daredevil is putting his focus. We even get that radar-esque lines-styling across the top one-third of the image (and with some color contrast) to make sure that we share Daredevil’s focus.

Rivera makes a masterful number of choices here. Daredevil can’t see color, so everything cloth is just black. Kirsten’s shirt is black. Her — is it a skirt? — is all black. We can’t tell, color-wise, where a top ends and another piece of clothing begins. But Daredevil can observe texture, so we get some detail around both her buttons, and some varying design and direction making up her bra… In part because Daredevil himself is “staring” at at.

And yet Rivera draws Kirsten’s hands same-old same-old. No radar styling… They even get some different color treatment. Movement; slightly nuanced color treatment [instead of flat color]. We already said they tell a story of their own. Why?

It looks cool?

That isn’t where Daredevil is putting his focus [so the artist is making it simpler for readers]?

Composition?

Ah, “why” questions.

For me, it’s cool enough that all this, all together looks cool. It’s sexy without being ridiculous; and harnesses a fair number of storytelling limitations and turns them into unique design elements.

Which is all-and-all masterful; at least in this writer’s opinion.

LOVE
MIKE

G/R Draft Mini-Report

Okay, here’s the deck:

My first picks were:

  • Courser of Kruphix
  • Nylea, God of the Hunt
  • something I can’t remember… Probably one of the Voyaging Satyrs :/

So if you’ve been following the Top 8 Magic podcast lately you know there is a New York City PTQ on May 10 and that BDM has been pressuring me to play in it.

The problem: It’s Limited!

Prior to this week I had literally never played a Theros card in a forty card deck; I mean I could be Cube drafting right now (and taking beats from Andrew Cuneo).

Anyway when Rashad Miller and Marshall Sutcliffe recently visited the podcast they told me about trying to draft a slow B/W deck. My first swing at draft was a complete failure. I managed to go [essentially] 0-3 in a Swiss draft (gotta get those reps in), basically getting torched by fast decks.

My next attempt was a R/W deck (my slow guys got beat up by Portent of Betrayal, so I decided to be the Portent of Betrayal deck), where I was able to go 2-1. The second win was in the final round (I lost the second round to stuff like sending my Impetuous Sunchaser into a Nessian Asp), which was kind of a painful grind… But getting better.

This G/R draft was much more successful. Huzzah!

I probably did a lot of stuff wrong, and probably built my deck wrong (one or more of those Satyr Wayfinders came in in two of the three rounds, for instance), but it’s tough to lose when you drop a fast Courser of Kruphix and draw DI extra the entire duel. #EasyGame

Anyway, a mini-report:

Round One:

My opponent was a blue heroic deck. I got raced early by Triton Fortune Hunter that couldn’t be blocked due to Aqueous Form. Is this good?

Whatever, my guys are much bigger; and Courser of Kruphix kept me in the game due to its card advantage. Eventually I was just pressing with too many big bodies.

I sided in a ton…

  • +Voyaging Satyr
  • +Voyaging Satyr
  • +Setessan Starbreaker
  • +Setessan Starbreaker
  • -Mountain
  • -Oracle of Bones
  • -Wild Celebrants
  • -Wild Celebrants

Game Two I had what I thought was an absurd draw with Turn Two Voyaging Satyr into either Peregrination (into Titan of Eternal Flame), or Satyr Wayfinder and another Voyaging Satyr. But my opponent played Loyal Pegasus into Retraction Helix and basically Time Walked me. It was enough. I really didn’t get it (my hand had so much acceleration and velocity). But he won by a mile.

Game Three I had a better, faster, start and my guys were just much bigger than his. I sided out Wild Celebrants for Setessan Starbreaker because he had a lot of auras. I had both those guys in play at the end of the game, and basically just waited for him to tap out for some five drop and Threatened him to death.

1-0

Round Two:

This opponent was a G/U deck; but super deeply green. Like a heavy Nylea’s Disciple deck. The Disciples kept him in it in Game One… He did a great job stalling this one with multiple Disciples and multiple Time to Feed, but we eventually stalled the ground. I got a little Monstrous and annoyed him a bit with my two-card combo of Titan of Eternal Flame + Akroan Crusader (only playmate). He kept playing huge guys including a 10/10 Nemesis of Mortals. Eventually I just got a huge turn where I played double Portant of Betrayal and double Savage Surge to deal 25 in a single turn.

That was pretty fun.

2-0

Round Three:

Last round I was pretty sure I would play a legit White deck. My opponent was the durdle B/W deck I originally wanted to draft. Be basically had a bunch of 2/2 and 1/X Inspired and Heroic guys. I got a fast 4/4 Fanatic of Xenagos and Nessian Asp and just attacked with one guy per turn while holding back the other guy. He never really attacked me.

3-0

All in all I feel way better than I did just two drafts ago. I didn’t think I did anything outstanding in the draft. Courser of Kruphix was the obvious pick, and my second pack had Bolt of Keranos. Third pick I had the choice between gambling that Fanatic of Xenagos would come back (taking a Time to Feed) but I elected not to gamble.

Can’t say I was too happy about having only one Human; but I felt like it was worth playing the Titan anyway; they came up together a bunch. Interestingly, I never triggered Heroic on any creature I owned the whole draft.

What do you mean there will be a third set to learn before May 10?

LOVE
MIKE

Superficial Saturdays #14 – RUNAWAYS #2 by Jo Chen


runaways2
Comic: RUNAWAYS #2 Artist: Jo Chen

Nothing too much to say here, other than I really like the composition of this cover. Not a huge surprise that Jo Chen did a good job on a comics cover (she is widely considered one of the best cover artists in the industry and a former Eisner nominee)… But this is a probably my favorite of her many detailed covers.

What I like in particular on this piece is the contrast of two styles that you rarely see side-by-side.

Victor Mancha in the foreground is depicted in the usual nuanced, almost photo-realistic, Chen cover style.

The background villains — Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Kingpin, Red Skull, and Dr. Doom — are depicted in a Kirby-reminiscent style with flat colors. I think they two harmonize well here, and make for something different,.

I hope you like it as well.

LOVE
MIKE

Ten True Facts About My Prognostic Sphinx Deck

  1. I “picked” “literally” the worst time to make a sweet new rogue deck. There isn’t even an open Open! (this weekend is the Journey into Nyx prerelease, etc. etc.)
  2. This is a Tapout Blue Control deck in the tradition of Jushi Blue; a much different kind of deck than most Standard Control decks. The goal is to scare off attackers with Prognostic Sphinx, then get in with Prognostic Sphinx. Patrick Chapin talks about Semi-Soft Locks in books like Next Level Deck Building; an unchecked Prognostic Sphinx is like a Sensei’s Divining Top with fists… Grinding the opponent out while punching him for three.
  3. I know Master of Waves looks weird in this deck, but it’s a much better than Prognostic Sphinx’s original sidekick (the Keiga to Prognostic Sphinx’s Meloku if you grok)… Arbiter of the Ideal. There are relatively few ways to kill a Prognostic Sphinx, but Edict effects don’t care about Hexproof. Master of Waves gives you bodies (plural) to help defend Prognostic Sphinx against Devour Flesh et al for a turn. Then once you start attacking with Prognostic Sphinx… You grok. Anyway, Master of Waves will randomly beat a Red Deck in Game One a fair amount.
  4. Even with four Master of Waves, four Tidebinder Mage, and two Staff of the Mind Magus, you can lose to a Red Deck. It’s true :(
  5. That said, this deck is superb against Red Decks.
  6. It’s even better against black control decks like Mono-Black Devotion or the polychromatic black variants. Those decks started off as tough opponents (especially in the Arbiter of the Ideal days). Nullify is quite good against lots of their threats, including Underworld Connections. Don’t get cocky and lose to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, though.
  7. Speaking of Nullify, it is not good against U/W Control variants. This was a little counterintuitive for me (I assumed an advantage) but we actually have fewer interactive spells / Counterspells than U/W or Esper in Game One. U/W actually has a decent number of trumps over us (Supreme Verdict > Prognostic Sphinx, Sphinx’s Revelation > Opportunity, more in-matchup relevant permission + Thoughtseize) though it is winnable in Game One. Pithing Needle became a late sideboard edition to fight Planeswalkers.
  8. I generally dislike Pithing Needle but this is actually the perfect deck for it; Pithing Needle sometimes does nothing but it is pretty mana efficient in decks that have bulk card advantage spells like Divination or Opportunity.
  9. Voyage’s End is generally better than Cyclonic Rift, but when Cyclonic Rift is good (say against multiple Planeswalkers or Assemble the Legion, where you have time to set up) it’s backbreaking.
  10. The deck was originally soft to opposing Mutavaults; Encroaching Wastes made for acceptable Mutavault defense but now also makes for good disruption. This is especially the case against non-blue mid-range control decks. And hitting an Underworld Connections? Whew.

Here’s the deck, en total:

Prognostic Sphinx Tapout

4 Ratchet Bomb

1 Aetherling
2 Cyclonic Rift
4 Dissolve
4 Divination
3 Master of Waves
4 Nullify
3 Opportunity
4 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Syncopate
3 Voyage’s End

sb:
2 Encroaching Wastes
13 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Enlightenment

sb:
1 Pithing Needle
2 Staff of the Mind Magus
4 Jace, Memyory of Thought1 Master of Waves
4 Negate
4 Tidebinder Mage

LOVE
MIKE

nldb

Superficial Saturdays #13 – ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 by Stuart Immonen

UltimateFantasticFour09
Comic: ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 Artist: Stuart Immonen

This will probably be an atypically long — and maybe atypically political — edition of Superficial Saturdays.

Which might be surprising given this unambiguously awesome cover of Sue Storm.

I like so many things about this cover; even though Sue’s force field power is generally depicted as a defensive weapon, we get to see some energy; and even though Sue is ostensibly “blocking” you can see that she’s getting angry and is probably winding up to kill someone to death (or you know, batter them with invisible force field balls or whatever).

The force field power is meant to be “invisible” and Immonen does a handsome job of it. We can both get the gist of the circular shield she is calling up at the same time we can see all the way through; ergo he accomplishes a pretty difficult task of conveying invisibility and invisible shield-dom, which, if you think about it, is not easy at all.

Further, Immonen’s depiction of Sue and her uniform are basically perfect. As Ultimate Sue Storm we are looking at a younger woman; and a generally young super-scientist. But per the essentially evergreen depiction of the classic Fantastic Four uniform, she is covered top to bottom; and it is a uniform. One of the things I’ve always loved about the FF is that they all wear the same thing (other than Ben Grimm) with generally little variation and it makes sense for their team and family aesthetic. Immonen’s fabric wrinkles are great and in particular how he deals with Sue’s breasts is basically perfect. Yes, this is a skin tight / form fitting uniform. Yes, there are a woman’s breasts under there. And yes, they are flattened to a degree by the uniform rather than jutting out ridiculously. Unstable molecules or no, that’s how fabric works.

Also my wife was walking by while I started writing this and said this would have been a hell of a shoe ad.

Regardless, it’s a hell of a cover.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #9 came out about a decade ago, and — at least cover-wise — it was awesome (I think you will agree). All the things that make sense / are awesome about the execution of this cover… I want you to hold those in your head while we dial back another ten years (a series of covers are kinda sorta the impetus of my writing this particular Superficial Saturdays).

To that end maybe the rest of this will be a mite unfair, because 1993 or so was a weird time for the comics industry.

It was spitting distance from the X-plosion of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee with their X-FORCE and [adjective-less] X-MEN launches circa 1990. It was also quite close to the Marvel exodus of superstars Liefeld, Lee, MacFarlane, Silvestri, and others for Image Comics. Marvel was on the wrong side of a talent drain and was clearly reacting to troubling market forces.

But I can’t say I particularly like some of those reactions.

To that end I want to highlight some FF stuff I didn’t like from that era. First let’s look at FANTASTIC FOUR #371.

FF371

FANTASTIC FOUR #371 featured red and / or white special embossed covers. I don’t know how you feel about the art on this cover but that’s about as good as it looked IRL. I wouldn’t, on its own merits, be picking any of the Paul Ryan era FF comics for Superficial Saturdays.

I’d rather focus on two elements of this comic book cover:

FF371a

At the top we [still] have “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

When my old Comic Book Idol co-competitor Jonathan Hickman took over FANTASTIC FOUR from Mark Millar a few years ago, they didn’t let him run with that across the top. It was a big deal for Hickman to earn the banner back (and he of course put together one of the best runs of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, ever, and my personal favorite). Point being, that banner at the top is a big deal, or at least should be. It’s puffery to an extent; but really, Stan and Jack… John Byrne… Waid and Weiringo… It’s an awesome title to be in charge of. A dream job for a comics fan.

The other thing I want to point out on this cover is the $2.00 price tag. I mean good luck finding a $2.00 print comic book in 2014, but this was twenty years ago. The cover is… kind of shitty. They up-charged customers to $2.00 for that “embossed” shitty cover.

Let’s jump ahead to FANTASTIC FOUR #374.

FF374

As you can see the regular price for FANTASTIC FOUR at the time was about $1.25… So paying an extra 60% for that shitty embossed cover was a pure hype move.

The bigger thing about this is how the 1993 team dealt with Sue.

Jeez-us.

The peekaboo works for Power Girl. Maybe Ahsoka Tano. But a stylized peekaboo “4″ on Sue [Richards] is just atrocious.

One of the iconic things about the Fantastic Four is that they all have the same uniform. They are a family and all match. Sure, when Johnny is on fire you can’t see his blues, and Ben is a giant pile of rocks so only wears the shorts, but Reed and Sue (and Reed and Sue and Johnny) are all meant to dress alike.

Maybe. Just maybe I get sexing the title up… But it doesn’t even make sense with Sue. Forget about the fact that she’s a married woman; and a mom; there are sexy married moms. But this uniform doesn’t just seem character- and age-inappropriate, it’s hideous. It’s insulting. This woman is a science adventurer who has stared down the fundamental forces of nature. She is the once and future queen of the seven seas. She can contain an exploding supernova sun with the power of her mind and can bend the behavior of the most intelligent creature in creation to her heart. Thigh highs and a peekaboo? It’s not just ugly / insulting / inappropriate… But a betrayal of the character.

Oh, and even though you have The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! in your hands, why not just reiterate the names of the characters on the cover? Obviously the New Fantastic Four angle with sales favorites Spider-Man, The Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine is a blatant grab for dollars based on those characters’ popularity… Why the hell would you replace “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” with their names? Are we somehow banking on increasing sales based on guest characters but somehow don’t think prospective buyers know their names?

I’d like to close this section with the next issue, an anniversary issue of sorts, FANTASTIC FOUR #375:

FF375

For a garish “holograhix prizm” readers get fleeced from $1.25 to $2.95 — more than 100% more than the usual price. I mean some special covers are things of beauty but this one wasn’t. It might be the worst of the three. But just four issues after the $2.00 “embossed” FANTASTIC FOUR #371? Argh.

They let us know this isn’t our parents’ comic magazine.

Not with peekaboo thigh-highs Sue front-and-center. Is this meant to be “bad”? “Bad” as in bad-girl as opposed to poorly executed? Overtly sexually exploitative? I mean if that’s the intended thrust… It isn’t even a good example of the form. Rather than dwell on whether or not we should have scantily clad superheroines at all (I think there are cases where it can be dealt with substantially better than with science-mom, like anything Emma Frost)… This cover just makes no sense.

If we are breaking Sue from the rest of the FF uniforms (you know, to show off her thighs)… Why are we covering her back up with a military jacket? Oh, all the FF match again! Except Reed doesn’t even have long sleeves! So they don’t!

WHY DO THEY ALL HAVE GUNS?

Sue Storm can suffocate a god or rip a spaceship in half with her brain. What the hell does she need a gun for? Though I am really not sure if I hate the fact that they dressed her (and Reed, and kind-of Ben) like Cable more from the story-inconsistency standpoint, or the fact that they erased all her clothes only to cover her back up again, pointlessly.

Well, at least Sue had a good, in-story reason for the costume switch. Nobody wants to look like an old frump (you know like in the Immonen cover at the top):

photo

Because on the page where you introduce your Leading Lady’s well-thought-out costume change, what you really want is a coloring error ON THE SAME PAGE that misses all the skin you are supposed to be showing off.

LOVE
MIKE

Superficial Saturdays #12 – MAGNETO #1 by Paolo Rivera

magneto01

Comic: MAGNETO #1 Artist: Paolo Rivera

This is a relatively recent cover (maybe two months young) RE: a new-look Magneto.

I’ve always thought of Magneto as an A-list and relatively interesting villain; but Magneto in recent years has been characterized as if not a superhero, the consigliere to longtime X-Men leader Scott Summers. That said, I’ve never really bought Magneto as an interesting hero figure. He’s done quite a few bad things — repeated genocidal attempts on the human race on the far end, ripping Wolverine to pieces on a nice day… I just have a hard time wanting to buy a comic book about him as a good guy.

Which is what makes this cover interesting.

This is a great, stark, image; it’s engaging… If I saw it in the comic book store I would pick it up and give it a look.

That isn’t particularly surprising, of course. This is Paolo Rivera! Rivera is one of the best artists — and especially cover artists — in the Marvel stable. He’s not just good at rendering figures, but often does interesting things mixing it up as a designer.

The post-AVX Magneto is drawn as a bald man. I’ve probably missed some issue somewhere but I’m guessing that at least part of it is evoking the memory of our dear, departed Charles Xavier. Further, Magneto is generally depicted in a stylized white uniform.

What does Rivera do here?

Even though Magneto’s face / head is that of the current bald man, he reminds us of the classic Magneto helmet — in suggestive barbed wire. This is almost a juxtaposition of 2-D and 3-D imagery; I can’t actually tell. Does part of the “helmet” actually wrap around Magneto’s head? I think so; that also doesn’t make much sense in terms of the internal logic of the image.

And barbed wire?

Rivera could have chosen lots of different materials for this image; this one, despite a complete absence of regalia or insignia, hearkens back to Magneto’s childhood in WWII concentration camps. I think.

Super simple image, but expertly executed.

LOVE
MIKE

Haven’t Used a Single Wish Yet, and Not Planning on It by Patrick Chapin

One of the most compelling voices in the Magic community, Patrick Chapin “The Innovator” is a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and the author of Next Level Deckbuilding.

“Haven’t Used a Single Wish Yet, and Not Planning on It” was originally published on another website; it appears, now, on Five With Flores at the author’s request.


A while ago, I was at RIW Hobbies getting ready for an event. Some friends of mine were discussing a philosophy question one of them had been asked recently in a class.

“If a genie gave you one wish, and you couldn’t wish for more wishes, what would it be?”

The two of them had been debating the “best play.” Others chimed in with suggestions; by far money was the most popular wish, though how much seemed to be a matter of debate. Other suggested wishes include “Living as long as one wants,” “One’s parent to still be alive,” and “Finding the ‘perfect’ girl and having her fall in love with you.”

With all of these ideas of how to spend the wish, the guys in the conversation were initially shocked and then quite skeptical when I replied, “I would not use the wish.”

“Call!” They were not only surprised, but initially a bit disappointed, thinking that I was only resorting to this answer out of laziness or lack of imagination.

“Seriously, I would not use the wish, not on anything, not at all.”

At this point they began to suspect that I was attempting to look “too good for a wish.”

“It’s not about being too good, it is about the universe already being the best possible way for today and that I am continually bettering my life though my own will, though my efforts. Why would I trivialize my life, what I am done, what I will do, Who I Am, by using a wish to get what I want rather than getting it myself?”

They mocked me at this point, claiming that if I were in that situation, I would surely wish for something.

“Whatever I would want is already mine if I take it. The Universe is the ultimate wish granter. The difference between the genie granting my wish and the universe is that the universe gives me an opportunity to be it myself, plus it gives me what I really want. The genie merely lets me “witness” it, as oppose to be the cause of it, plus the genie can only give me what I think I want. I already have essentially unlimited potential, but if I take the genie up on his offer, I am basically a slave to him, as it is him that is the source of my experience, rather than myself and the Universe.”

They continued to be skeptical, claiming that it sounded all well and good to say that, but why would not $100 extra be better than not using a wish at all?

“Money is a means, not the end in and of itself. The point is to know yourself, the Universe experientially. To wish for $100 may give me a $100, but what have I really gained? If I was $100 short, if I wanted $100, I could just go get it. If I found myself with $100 extra, I would find a way to give away an extra $100. The thing is, if the genie gave me the money, it would devalue both money and my human experiences. You and I both know what it is like to trade hours of actual work for a single digit worth of dollars. That builds character, character that if I could just wish for money, I would not have.”

Adam was appalled by this answer, “You are concerned about building character? Is this a joke? Who cares about building character, go do whatever you want with the money and build character that way! Are you really telling me you wouldn’t have used a wish to get out of going to prison? What about losing all the money you had made back in the day?”

When I was younger, I lived a strange life, one of excess and riches, mindless self-indulgence, and adventure. I was making a fairly absurd amount of money for a kid living so dumb. I decided to move past that life, giving it all up. Unfortunately, these types of things have a way of catching up with you, and eventually it did. It felt like I lost everything.

My money, my cars, my material possessions, my power, all gone. I let it go, though, and tried to move on with my life. I took a job with Wizards of the Coast R&D, my literal dream job. It was the most satisfying work of my life at that point and by no small margin. Then, however, my past continued to revisit me. My freedom was stripped from me, taking me four years to regain. Was I a victim? No sir, and any perceived individual injustices can be written off to having made mistakes that can have unpredictable side effects.

It wasn’t just my freedom that I lost, however. My dream job obviously disappeared, as I could certainly not make it to work each day. In addition, the first girl I ever loved was under a great strain. We were together for three-and-a-half years, but the prospect of years and years of waiting, as well as the stress between us over how difficult both our lives had become was too much. After I was down 18 months, she left me and while I was broken-hearted, I can hardly blame her.

I had lost everything. Didn’t I wish I didn’t lose everything? Don’t I wish I didn’t feel that pain?

First, obviously if I really thought I had lost everything, then it would show a lack of understanding about what it is I really have, but outside of that, it is easy to look back and see how each and every one of those forks in the road has lead to a better life than I would have had if I had “used a wish.”

The money, the cards, the self-indulgence? What was that worth? I make a lot less money now then I did when I was a kid, but I have more wealth. Not only do I have more to show for it, but it means more to me. I value things that I would never have valued when I was a kid. If I buy flowers for a girl today, it means something very different to me then it did when no amount of flowers would “cost” me anything.

I think about all of the things I have accomplished that I never would have, had I not had the motivation of “needing money.” For instance, isn’t it very likely that I never would have written a book? Writing a book is very difficult, but needing to keep a roof over your head is strong motivation. Now that it is written, however, I find it one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. If I had unlimited money, I likely never would have. I hardly was staying sober for a week straight, let alone in a position to finish such an undertaking.

What about my freedom? I didn’t value my freedom ten years ago, the way I value it today. I truly did go to the “School of Hard Knocks.” I experienced strange, dangerous, bizarre, difficult, painful, enlightening, moving, and joyous moments in life that I never would have if I had gotten out of it by way of a wish. It is almost as if I had received a wish a year earlier, as I had almost mystically gotten out of a bad situation. What had changed? Not much, not nearly as much as what was different now, after this four year education.

It is not just about valuing my freedom, my life, though that is a big part of it. It is about how strong I am now, as the trials and tribulations I have endured have giving me priceless experience points, so to speak. If not for the four years I spent behind barbed wire on top of that mountain, I would not be the man I am today. I really like the man I am today.

What about losing my dream job? Well, the truth is, at the time, I wasn’t as good at it as I could be. I was immature. I was used to being an overachiever and did not pour all of my effort into it, or rather I didn’t know how to. It has been nearly eight years since I had that job. I have continued to educate myself, practicing design, pushing myself everyday. I want to do that kind of work again some day, and I have spent the last eight years perfecting the craft, becoming the best possible designer I can be. I am going to keep pushing myself to be better and better, striving to some day have an opportunity to do that kind of work again, as I truly love it and if I have a second chance someday, I will have the benefit of years and years of strengthening of my skills to make me better, as well as added maturity.

What about losing my first love? Well, now I am in Love with the woman of my dreams, an unlikely connection that I never would have made had I “used a wish” so many years ago. My first love? I will always have love for her and I am thankful for our time and experiences together, but there is no question that my girlfriend today is a better fit for me than I ever realized there could be. Surprise, surprise, the Universe knows what I want better than I do! It isn’t just finding a girl that is better for me, it is also about learning to be a better man to a woman. It is about learning Who I really Am, and what Love would do.

Everything I have ever experienced leads me to believe that the Universe doesn’t make mistakes. Everything that happens is the best possible thing to happen. I know it is easy to debate or dispute this, I am merely saying that everything in my life points to this as Truth.

Each and every human experience that I encounter is a blessing that helps me evolve and Know Life. It took each and every experience I have had to bring be today, and it will take each and every experience I am to have to make me reach my full potential. I wouldn’t wish to give up a single one, not for anything.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”


Editor’s Notes:

Thanks very much to Patrick for this contribution!

For those keeping score, Patrick is 1) currently and happily working in game design and 2) got married to his dream girl last summer.

LOVE
MIKE