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

Superficial Saturdays #11 – CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON #6 by Joe Bennett

captainamericaandthefalcon06
Comic: CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON #6 Artist: Joe Bennett

I actually remember buying this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON back in 2004 on account of the cool cover.

It’s got big swaths of primary colors, nice light and dark, and even if Cap looks kind of like a big red, white, and blue thug; Scarlet Witch is expertly rendered (for the style). Even though Wanda is way more covered up than the average girl superhero, she has an inescapable swagger in the backside. But more importantly her hands speak a language of their own. Wanda’s right hand is almost hungry. You can kind of imagine it pulling and pawing at Cap.

It’s not actually Saturday, I know. Also I haven’t done one of these in a while. But this one was in my queue for Superficial Saturdays to cover for a while, and I thought it was appropriate for the weekend. For anyone who has seen the tv commercials, you know that the Falcon is a big part of this weekend’s big movie; and for anyone following Avengers 2 news, you know that the Scarlet Witch is an upcoming character (she makes a short cameo in Winter Soldier).

For what it’s worth, I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier quite a bit. It was a little predictable but still an absurdly good action movie and one of the best comic book superhero movies of all time. If nothing else, it inspired me to get back to these!

LOVE
MIKE

What Exactly Makes Flame-Wreathed Phoenix a Casual Card?

You don’t click into Serious Fun during a preview week with the expectation of seeing the next Thundermaw Hellkite.

But this week on Bruce Richard’s column over on the Mother Ship, that’s exactly what you get (kinda sorta half the time).


Flame-Wreathed Phoenix

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix is kinda sorta a split card.

With the punisher Tribute in full force you have a card that half the time is a Rathi Dragon with no drawback and half the time a Talruum Minotaur (-Phoenix!) with wings.

Rathi Dragon was a powerful card for some versions of the Red Deck (in particular in mirror matches in its day); and as I noted in my original review of Bloodbraid Elf there was a time when Talruum Minotaur was capable of contributing to a Pro Tour Top 8 Constructed deck.

And now… More flying!

So… What’s the damage on this card? Why so casual?

I think I can imagine Flame-Wreathed Phoenix being played in serious Constructed decks. Even just as a 3/3 flying creature it gains a re-buy ability reminiscent of most of Magic’s many Phoenixes. This is powerful the same way that Chandra’s Phoenix is powerful. It’s kinda sorta built-in card advantage. For one more mana, you get a slightly bigger hasty flyer. As someone who has enjoyed smiting opponents with Chandra’s Phoenix, I can appreciate a flying, resilient, Talruum Minotaur-Phoenix.

The rest of the time it is just a 5/5 flyer for four mana. It’s like you took Juzam Djinn and erased the awful Nettletooth Djinn-ness and replaced it with the universal sign for not being blocked.

One side of this card I can see getting behind; the other side is just a mana less than Thundermaw Hellkite, which is an insane proposition.

Is the punisher Tribute dilemma really that big a deal?

Browbeat is a similar card that seems to have good value on both sides. For 2R you either get to draw three cards (better than most blue equivalents about the same cost) or you brain your opponent for five (better than most red equivalents at the same cost). Good and also good. But Browbeat, despite being legal in multiple Standard Constructed formats over the years, never really made its mark on history.

(Though Philosophy of Fire innovator Adrian Sullivan did at one point Day Two a Pro Tour with Browbeat in his Red Deck.)

browbeat
Hollywood

What was the problem with Browbeat?

Could this same problem limit the love given to poor Flame-Wreathed Phoenix?

Mere efficiency is a limitation. Yes, five damage for 2R is a good deal and three cards for 2R is a great deal. But you don’t generally want your opponent dictating to you which good / great deal you are getting. Think about the sheer number of times you have probably beaten a Vexing Devil. Am I vexed? I’ve been Vexed, sure. I think I generally have a good win percentage over Vexing Devil decks. Which is weird because I would gladly pay R for a 4/3 creature and I would generally love to pay R to deal four damage.

Sadly, my guess is the flexibility afforded the opponent will make Flame-Wreathed Phoenix even less successful over time than Vexing Devil.

Is 2RR a good deal for a 5/5 flying creature? I think so.

Is 2RR a good deal for a 3/3 flying creature with haste and a built-in re-buy? I think you are on rougher ground there. I did say I could appreciate it, but it is another matter committing to the card. At four mana, it’s not good enough to win the game on its own consistently, and you might just be stuck with a lot of land committed to doing very little against an able opponent.

On a punisher — SORRY. TRIBUTE. — scale, where would you put this card?

Vexing Devil > Browbeat > Flame-Wreathed Phoexix

That is my guesstimate.

This is the kind of card that I really want to be good because it looks cool; but I am not really sold on.

By the way last week Patrick Chapin reminded me that I gave basically the same preview rating to Rakdos Pit Dragon that I gave to Jace, the Mind Sculptor at snap judgment time.

In my meager defense, they made Rakdos Pit Dragon a Top Decks preview card; I assumed it was as good as, say, Lightning Helix (okay, this is a lie).

I think I see this as a role player; it has some attrition applications and could also, ahem, punish players who can’t easily deal five damage to a creature. Though it is kind of atrocious against Anger of the Gods.

Love,
Mike

(just kidding)

LOVE
MIKE

Mitigating the Pain on Pain Seer

This just spoiled:


Pain Seer

Second toughness.

Sometimes — but not all the time — a Dark Confidant.

Better or worse than Bob?

My first impulse was that Pain Seer is worse, generally, than Dark Confidant. For example, presuming you have made your Pain Seer-including deck correctly, you don’t get a freebie on the first fresh turn you’ve got Pain Seer on the battlefield. I mean, unless the opponent has Blind Obedience down or some such.

So… Card down.

Beyond missing the extra card on the first / next turn, you have a general requirement with this card to attack. I mean of course there are other reasons why your Dark Confidant / Pain Seer / Dark Confidant wannabe might be tapped / ergo need to untap; you could be on the wrong side of an Icy Manipulator, or Master Decoy… But generally speaking, your creature will be tapped because you just swung.

So: You swing; presuming Pain Seer survives, you get to untap it and net a free card. If you don’t swing, you are far less likely to [have to] untap, and ergo won’t get the free card.

So generally speaking… Worse.

Worse than Dark Confidant, right?

Especially given the fact that you won’t generally get the first card, I’d put Pain Seer < Dark Confidant; but I don't think it is 100% cut-and-dried.

Longtime listeners of the Top 8 Magic podcast (BTW BDM and I posted a new one just last week!) know that I think Dark Confidant is probably the most overrated creature of all time. I’ve always conceded that it is playable (fine… “quite good”) but just not the unconditional bee’s knees that everyone else seems to think. For example, I was once in the finals of a team PTQ where I instructed Paul Jordan to not attack with his Keiga, the Tide Star for lethal. We read the opponent for Shining Shoal (would have been lethal going the other way) and we could just watch the opponent die to his own Bob.

He did.

Moreover, I have been playing a lot of Modern lately. One thing I have noticed over and over is my opponents attempting to suicide their Dark Confidants into my various Elves and Merfolk. There’s a reason for that: You can’t very well control whether or not Bob kills you. His greatness comes at a cost… And that cost is sometimes your life.

Conversely — and a little perversely — you can leave your Pain Seer back (you know, the opposite of attempting to suicide your Dark Confidant) to avoid any chance of an accidental death.

Verdict?

Pain Seer isn’t objectively as strong as Dark Confidant… But to be fair Dark Confidant is widely considered one of the strongest two drops in the history of a game defined by great two drops. Given its inheritance of Dark Confidant’s attention to casting costs, you can’t just jam Pain Seer into any deck (limiting its efficacy somewhat). I do think that it might go in some sideboards for matchups where is it unlikely to be blocked (or where potential blockers are cards like Omenspeaker that will not prevent it from untapping and attacking to untap again).

Snap Judgment Rating: Role Player (likely upper mid-tier sideboard card)

LOVE
MIKE

Pick One, Pack One

Last night I put out a Tweet that got a surprising amount of feedback.

(In case you missed it, this references my new tumblr account, which to date has basically just been screen shots from Holiday Cube 2013.)

My good friend Tom Martell snarked my Cube skillz:

(A tweet that was favorite’d by the normally very nice Thea Steele… Probably Josh Ravitz is rubbing off on her.)

It was great because of all the feedback from…

Noted TCGPlayer and StarCityGames writer Anthony Lowry:

Grand Prix Champion Matt Sperling:

And Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas:

But what I wanted to start a conversation on was the strategic psychology around the pack’s first pick.

For me, I took Lightning Bolt.

Had I not taken Lightning Bolt, I would probably have taken Stoneforge Mystic; my reason there is just that I want to experiment with playing beatdown decks other than RDW [in Cube]. My drivers in taking Lightning Bolt was probably obvious to serious students of Cube archetypes (or anyone who, at least, follows the Top 8 Magic podcast).

Red Deck Wins is my favorite deck to draft in Cube; my reason for this is that, lifetime, I have a sum total of one one-win drafts, and the vast majority of my Cube 3-0s are Red Deck Wins. Simply (at least for me), Red Deck Wins has produced the best results, Cube after Cube.

What I love about this pack is that there are no other red cards. Taking Lightning Bolt here cuts off red to the left, in theory discouraging players from cutting my precious Red Deck cards off from the other direction.

Everything came together in this draft. I successfully cut off the red cards, and ended up with a near-masterpiece:


(I could have probably built my deck a little bit better, but I really liked how the draft went.)

But my original question wasn’t just about what I took. It was about what whoever was reading might have taken.

Given that I was dead-set on Lightning Bolt (and would have taken Stoneforge Mystic second) I was pretty surprised at some of the responses I got.

Limited Resources front-man (and frequent Top 8 Magic guest) Marshall Sutcliffe would have taken Necromancy:

He was joined by Open Series standout Drew Levin:

… Oh, and Jon Finkel:

Is Necromancy THE pick then? It’s hard to argue with Jon… But I know where I want to go in Cube. Usually I force only RDW or Storm… And while Necromancy typically smacks of a “broken” B/U deck, it isn’t Storm.

Further, from Drew:

Tangle Wire is an interesting card that some folks suggested. I am not a huge Tangle Wire guy in Cube, and have cut it from my Red Decks in the past.

How about Mishra’s Workshop?

Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy have something in common; and kind of common with [my] Lightning Bolt (if not strictly). Lightning Bolt can go in any kind of deck that can cast it. It can go in Red Deck Wins, some kind of control, or as just whatever removal. Lightning Bolt is flexible like that, just as it has contributed to everything from Pyromancer Ascension (combo) to Red Deck Wins (beatdown) to Jund (mid-range) to various blue-based control decks (obv). Caleb Durward once told me he thought Lightning Bolt might be the best red card, ever.

But Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy go into particular decks. Mishra’s Workhop is not valuable unless you have lots and lots of artifacts. I know I’ve screwed up with various Signets and Time Spiral with Mishra’s Workshop on the battlefield.

Necromancy’s job is to get out the big bigs; Drew’s sevens and eights if you grok. Necromancy can play as an efficiency / value spell… But excels when you get to use cards like Survival of the Fittest or Entomb to put specific powerful creatures in the graveyard. When you take Necromancy, you are going down a certain path. You want to take big guys; you want to pick up resources that will help you dump the big guys into the bin.

And hey! Jon would have taken it.

(But, just so you know, when I take a Lightning Bolt, I am every bit as focused on an archetype as a Mishra’s Workshop- or Necromancy-taker.)

Most interesting to me was that some other notable players would have considered Counterspell:

The aforementioned Open Champion Caleb Durward:

And many-times Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Chris Pikula:

Counterspell?

A few weeks ago Tom Martell gave me an interview for the Mother Ship. One of the things we talked a lot about is what it means to be a good drafter. For my part, I have had runs at GP and Nationals stages that put me in the Top 25 rated drafters in the world (you probably didn’t know that). I did it by forcing U/W and Black decks only. When I qualified for US Nationals a few years ago, I needed to learn to draft… And forced blue decks over and over. I put on 200 points of MTGO rating and won every 8-4 I played for weeks going into Nationals. Needless to say, I didn’t really back up the ratings at Pro Tour or that more recent Nationals.

Interestingly, Tom says that those kinds of results don’t make a good drafter, but a flawed one.

I think my completely discounting Counterspell (and to a lesser degree not understanding some of Drew’s initial arguments around Necromancy) expose maybe a source of success for me in Cube… But also a flaw in my drafting ceiling, at least according to Tom’s model. I just don’t know how to draft a deck that wants Counterspell! What archetype does Counterspell go in?

Counterspell is, of course, Lightning Bolt’s Blue opposite number. But, Lightning Bolt in the abstract; NOT just “my” Lightning Bolt, that is a conceptual stand-in for “Red Deck Wins.”

Just something to think about.

But man, do I love Holiday Cube 2013!

LOVE
MIKE

Superficial Saturdays #10 – SECRET AVENGERS #18 by John Cassaday

SecretAvengers18
Comic: SECRET AVENGERS #18 Artist: John Cassaday

One of the thing a good cover does — especially when you hire a separate artist to do them (rather than just paying say a perfectly great interior artist) — is to really catch the eye.

Does this not catch the eye?

Are you not entertained?

I was not 100% sure what I was looking at but it looked like some ka-raz-ay em effer was karate chopping a dude’s head in half. Is that what it looks like to you? Do you not want to check out what’s going on inside?

For those of you not “in the know” this cover was one of many John Cassaday covers reuniting the award-winning artist with the writer who helped make him huge: Warren Ellis (on SECRET AVENGERS).

For his part, Ellis was in the midst of a SECRET AVENGERS that was kind of like the realization of everything Ellis presumably dreamed of as a kid. They were like one-of single stories a la PLANETARY (the book that first brought Ellis and Cassaday together), but he ran a rotating harem of big-name artists, one whiz-bang single at a time. Ellis tapped Jamie McKelvie from PHONOGRAM and Magic fan favorite Kev Walker; broke off a clever Alex Maleev time travel story starring Black Widow, and more. My favorite was this one, which featured David Aja from HAWKEYE and THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST for some Master of Kung-Fu martial arts action.

I know this feature is supposed to be about covers, but the internals were a treat, too.


2D

escher


Wouldn’t that karate chop have made you want to look inside?

LOVE
MIKE

Superficial Saturdays #9 – ADVENTURE TIME #16 by Meredith McClaren

adventuretime16
Comic: ADVENTURE TIME #16 (cover d)
Artist: Meredith McClaren

First of all this picture is just beautiful. So subtle. It would be cute and tender pic even if we didn’t know who the characters were.

But what makes this an interesting cover to me is the un-stylized finished product. ADVENTURE TIME is known for its frankly crude illustrations. You know that giant bat the little boy and his dog are snuggling into? This is how she might look in an ep of ADVENTURE TIME:

marceline

ADVENTURE TIME goes so far out of its way to make the little boy Finn to look awkward and snaggle-toothed; his Mr. Fantastic-like dog Jake implausibly proportioned. But in McClaren’s cover, they are just a really cute kid and his dog.

Gorgeous.

LOVE
MIKE

Superficial Saturdays #8 – CONAN THE BARBARIAN ANNUAL VOL 1 #1 by Barry Smith

My friend and podcast partner Brian David-Marshall (once “Brian Marshall”) suggested this classic CONAN THE BARBARIAN cover by the similarly-hyphenated Barry Windsor-Smith (credited at the time as “Barry Smith”):

conan
Comic: CONAN THE BARBARIAN ANNUAL VOL 1 #1
Artist: Barry Smith / Barry Windsor-Smith

Barry Windsor-Smith is one of my 2-5 all-time favorite comic artists. I would read his ARCHER & ARMSTRONG all day if he were still writing and drawing it. At his max level of focus, BWS’s attention to detail and line work are simply second-to-none. Keeping in mind the more limited coloring capabilities of comics in 1973 (relative to 2013), let’s run down five [with Flores] or so details that BWS could have ignored but chose to include / spend time on here…

  1. Conan is standing in water. He bothered to draw the little puddle effects around Conan’s ankles (and the bodies around him), triggering some slight coloring / light / shading differences above and below the wet.
  2. Conan’s feet / toes / toenails: BDM loves to point out certain flashy / big name artists who either don’t draw feet, mysteriously have smoke coming up around characters’ feet (so they don’t have to draw them), crop frames so they don’t have to draw the feet, or just draw feet badly. BWS? Here’s a foot — not a boot — and here’s some toenail ink while I’m at it. Eff you.
  3. Conan’s hair versus whatever is on his left shoulder (animal fur?)… Point being one of them you get the sense of not just length / texture / even oil… The fur or whatever is on his left shoulder is ostensibly a similar substance but using the same inks can convey this wiry or bristly texture. Most artists wouldn’t even ink individual hair details on the featured foreground figure.
  4. Blood – The sense of wetness he conveys with black ink on Conan’s sword and axe is basically perfect.
  5. The grass / wheat / fauna directly behind the characters – as in he bothered to draw in these details. In fact, the work on his long grass better than most artists’ inking of foreground characters / anything at all.

… But that’s just five or so things out of this 1973 cover.

Here’s the kicker. In big, bold, letters this annual proclaims itself full of “two of the greatest Conan sagas ever told” … which means it is a reprint issue.

Back when he was critiquing my work on a regular basis BDM — a longtime comics editor in a previous life — would talk about a step that good artists took X pages into their careers. They would start good enough to get work and then at some point — bam! — they were at some crazy next level. BWS — “Barry Smith” back then — was the artists of the original story as well. This was what that cover looked like:

conan2

What a difference a day three years makes.

LOVE
MIKE