Magic Memories: Stone Rain

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Feb 21, 2018.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    While looking for some cards for a deck, I realized that I do not currently own a single copy of Ice Storm.
    [IMG]
    A technicality that will shortly be remedied! So yeah, buying some copies post-haste. Not sure what happened. I used to have Ice Storm at some point. Must have been one of those things that was traded away when Al0ysiusHWWW had all of my cards. I'm a bit surprised that I failed to notice until now.

    I briefly considered starting a Memories thread for Ice Storm. It's a card that I always liked, but it kinda fell by the wayside because it was replaced with Crumble in Revised (man, looking at which card was tapped to replace a powerful card between Unlimited and Revised is always a downer).

    But really, the one I used more was Sinkhole. But really, if I'm being honest, the one I used the most, just because it was the most widely available, was Stone Rain. So I'll put Stone Rain in the title of this thread. Really, it could easily be all three of those cards.
    Psarketos likes this.
  2. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Maybe the title should be "Old School Land Destruction" :)
  3. Terentius The Instigator

  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    True. I was kinda shoehorning into the theme of me clogging up the Single Card Discussion forum. And it kinda works: it's just that from the beginning of the game there were multiple mostly interchangeable land destruction spells. I mean, Sinkhole is the best, but the others are pretty good. I used Stone Rain and Ice Storm together in the same deck and have some fond memories of ruining games for other people deploying both for greater redundancy of their fun, casual effects on gameplay.

    What's actually kind of odd now that I think about it is that Ice Storm was taken out of the core set for being too powerful, but Stone Rain was left in as a common, despite being identical. I forget if I ever mentioned it, but out of all of the resources for looking at Magic history, one item I keep going back to disproportionately for its small size is the 2002 repost of the 1994 Duelist explanation for changes to the core set: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/arcana/revising-base-set-2002-10-31

    It's a fascinating insight and really drives home just how different things could have been. They'd initially called the white-bordered iteration of the core set "Unlimited Edition" because it was planned that the original printings would be "Limited" and black-bordered, but that they'd keep reprinting the white-bordered version to meet demand. Obviously the whole concept changed, but the timing and details of that change were hugely influential. I personally own several thousand Revised cards and have at least a full playset of just about every rare. And I hadn't even started collecting yet back in 1994! There were enough Revised cards floating around in the 90's that they were bulk. But Unlimited cards weren't printed enough to meet demand. If the changes had happened a little later or if different cards had been swapped or reprinted early on, card availability to most players would have been completely different. But there's a lot to analyze in those changes, including some things that, in retrospect, seem silly. Like, it's no surprise that Ancestral Recall and Berserk were taken out of the core set for being overpowered, but it's not obvious that Gauntlet of Might and Forcefield were thought of as too powerful (I remember being impressed by them as a kid and I get some of the thought process from back then, but they're just so tame by today's standards that the comparison is interesting). And it's no surprise that Lich and Illusionary Mask were taken out for being too confusing, but it's not obvious that Twiddle and Two-Headed Giant of Foriys were in the same boat (again, I am familiar enough with the history to spot why those were problems, but it's interesting to take note of it). Anyway, that document really is a gem.

    So Sinkhole and Ice Storm were removed from the core set for Revised for being "spoilers" (which meant overpowered). But Stone Rain was left in. And it was reprinted, um, sixteen more times after that. It was in every core set through Ninth Edition, in most of the old large block expansion sets (skipping Urza's Block and then disappearing from expansion sets after Masques Block, but coming back one last time in Kamigawa Block), and in every single "Starter-level" set (all five of them). So it arguably beats Dark Ritual for "I'm a staple, put me in every set" in the old days, and certainly outlasted it going into the early 00's. Much like Dark Ritual and Counterspell, at some point there was internal backlash against the card within WotC R&D, and they've become firmly opposed to it, with the philosophy that three mana is too cheap a cost for a land destruction spell.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yep, Ice Storm was last printed in the glorious Unlimited Edition. It was taken off the Reserved List in 2002, so it could theoretically be reprinted, but so far it hasn't been reprinted. Sinkhole was in the exact same position, but then it was reprinted as a rare in Eternal Masters (which, of course, still doesn't make it Modern-legal).

    I have no idea why the author of that deck primer didn't use Stone Rain.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Much like Counterspell, WotC continued to use Stone Rain as a baseline card for the cost of providing its effect, with most other variants being a bit more expensive to do something extra and with the original card remaining in the core set and acting as a kind of default. And then, in the early-to-mid 00's, they reversed their stance and decided that the old costs were too good for these effects, while simultaneously making some other effects in the game stronger. I contend that this is a mistake. While historically cards like Counterspell and Stone Rain did invoke bad reactions in some players, they were also used extensively and helped balance gameplay. The cascading effects of some of the "policing" that these sorts of spells once served has become somewhat forgotten because it isn't available in most tournament environments and has become increasingly insufficient in others. Frustratingly, it's becoming the "old guard" and the cranky, nostalgic players who pine for the "good old days" who are the only ones left truly appreciating the function that having land destruction at 2R or 2G or BB served, that having counters at UU served, and just generally that having efficient "answers" to everything meant, the kind of gameplay it produced. I say this not to advocate a "good old days" stance myself: I don't think that's quite right. Magic is a fascinating game with great depth, but it has always had its flaws and it issues. We can't make the game perfect, but many new developments in the game, perhaps most new developments, have been positive. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. But I do see some troubling trends, and the move away from land destruction is a very clear and identifiable aspect of all this.

    Granted, it's not really fun to get blown out by Stone Rain and similar spells. "He killed all my lands and I couldn't do anything for the whole game" is frustrating. But I'll put it this way. I used to have a black/red dedicated land destruction deck. This thing went overboard on LD effects. I forget if I was using Strip Mine (probably was), but I had Sinkhole, Stone Rain, Despoil, Avalanche Riders, Befoul, Raze, and maybe some other stuff. I forget. It wasn't really a good deck. It lost a lot of games. There were some matchups it just couldn't win. People who could quickly drop efficient attackers could overwhelm my much slower deck. But some opponents wanted flashy, controlling stuff in three or more colors. Some deckbuilders got greedy with their mana. And this deck punished them for it in spades. And you know what? I think they deserved it. If your deck is cutting corners, splashing colors willy-nilly, and paying no regard to the possibility that your opponent might disrupt your manabase, then why shouldn't you lose to land destruction spells? No strategy is perfect. We all have bad matchups. Shouldn't "blow up your lands" be that bad matchup for "I'm greedy"?
    TomB likes this.
  7. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Back when friends and I were first testing MtGO in closed Beta, I built my primary deck around two favorite cards of the time - Stone Rain and Flametongue Kavu. My anti-counterspells anti-discard Nayan burn deck of later years gleefully used Molten Rain, best when Reverberated. I have long since settled on the position that land destruction is a non-fun strategy in Magic, yet I am still looking for a deck concept that can properly incorporate Structural Distortion as the inheritor of one of my favorite aesthetic concepts in Magic, for when I need it :)
    Terentius likes this.
  8. Terentius The Instigator

    Well... non-fun for the target of land destruction; I'd find it hilarious if I was on the trigger end :D
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I get where you're coming from. Or I think I do, anyway. But I'd contend that an important distinction isn't that land destruction is inherently unfun, but that it is an effect with a greater-than-average danger of potentially becoming unfun. Land destruction can be used in multiple ways. In extreme cases, it could be the protector of fun. Let's say I play some extremely powerful land with which I intend to in some way ruin your day, such as Tolarian Academy, Library of Alexandria, or The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. You manage to blow it up with Ice Storm, thwarting my attempt to [make lots of mana and kill you/gain massive card advantage and kill you/wipe out all of your creatures and kill you]. Your land destruction spell has made a game out of what was shortly going to become a non-game.

    But even when deliberate mana denial is one's primary strategy, it can still make for fun gameplay. That's why Nether Void used to be such a popular card: people liked shutting their opponents down, keeping them from being able to play anything. And on the other side of the table, if you can manage to circumvent it, if you can fight your way around mana denial, there's a certain satisfaction to it, much like winning by piloting your way around countermagic. It's really only unfun when you have no recourse, but that's true of anything. If I'm playing my All Spells deck and I keep losing because my opponents are running lots of Force of Will, Leyline of the Void, Ravenous Trap, Tormod's Crypt, Pithing Needle, etc., then I'm not going to have very much fun. Land destruction has something of a fan-base and when I see people gravitate toward it, I figure that it can be fun, rather than that those people are just anti-fun people. I can see the appeal. Instead of playing countermagic and saying, "No" to your spells, I can disrupt your resources and never have to say, "No" to anything. But when it's too efficient, too oppressive, then "I don't even get to try to do anything" becomes a bit much. Land destruction can be anti-fun. But I think WotC became too scared of it. Stone Rain isn't that powerful. Standard-legal LD spells are almost never good enough to be playable anymore.

    I think it's telling that in Legacy, Czech Pile is a first-tier deck, and yet even Sinkhole sees very little play. Stone Rain probably only remains viable in Modern because Deathrite Shaman is banned. It sucks to try to thwart a greedy manabase with a well-timed Stone Rain only for your opponent do go, "I'll just turn that land in my graveyard into any color of mana I want."
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I think that LD spells have either been balanced or have erred on the side of being too weak in most environments. It can become a problem when it's especially undercosted or when it is too easily repeatable. But those instances are very rare. Examples that come to mind are Balance and the Crucible of Worlds + Strip Mine lock. But those cards are generally recognized as broken. I don't think that I've ever experienced a casual environment in which Stone Rain or similar cards were the real problem. They do tend to draw complaints, but then all of the best cards do. I can't think of any card I really like that doesn't tend to draw complaints. People complain about Counterspell, they complain about Hymn to Tourach, Pestilence, Necropotence, Survival of the Fittest, Illusions of Grandeur, Stasis, Zuran Orb, and so on and so forth. If no one got to play with any cards that someone didn't like, the game wouldn't be worth playing.

    Anyway, I had the thought to hunt down the old "Ponza" deck that I remembered inspiring me many years ago. I found it and, to my horror, the maindeck has 62 cards! It's such a cool deck, but now I feel all icky. 62 cards?

    4 Mogg Fanatic
    4 Fireslinger
    4 Lightning Dragon
    2 Orgg
    4 Stone Rain
    1 Aftershock
    3 Apocalypse
    2 Wildfire
    4 Shock
    4 Incinerate
    4 Cursed Scroll
    4 Wasteland
    4 Stalking Stones
    18 Mountain

    Sideboard:
    1 Aftershock
    2 Wildfire
    3 Nevinyrral's Disk
    1 Grizzly Bears
    4 Meltdown
    4 Pyroblast
  11. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I think our opinions on theory converge on three mechanics, and our aesthetics converge on one, regarding counterspells, discard, and land destruction. I respect all of them from a "components of the game" perspective, and I love land destruction on an aesthetic level, not coincidentally because it is a classic component of the red and green color identities.

    When faced with an abundance of black blue hard control decks online, I made one of my favorite, and most ridiculously vicious, decks ever. If someone brought land destruction to the local environment (which has never happened, possibly due to horror over the aforementioned vicious deck), then I would show off my personal affinity - casting things without mana costs (pun intended).

    This is a "types of fun" issue though. For nearly every other player I interact with in person, they do not share my love of metagame theory and deck building as puzzle quest. They want to do one thing specifically at a given time, generally speaking, and if I bring a deck that says, "You dont get to play the game" to them, whether by countering all their spells or destroying their mana base or wiping out their hand, they do not take it as a challenge. They take it as me dominating the fun and wasting the limited time they are interested in investing into Magic, the game as they see it.

    There are a few exceptions (fortunately), but for me this is a knowing my audience issue. You definitely see this division in the "Just for Fun" section of MtGO, which has needed fixing for a long time and will hopefully be addressed by Arena. Some of us want an environment that emulates our casual table brewing and power level expectations, while others take "Just for Fun" to mean "Tournament Winning Netdecks Piloted by Non-Pros." Theory side you and I agree, it is the practical application side where we may diverge due to circumstance and familiarity.
    Oversoul likes this.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    That's a potent example, but it doesn't even need to be that extreme. Land destruction spells are a bit of a balancing act when it comes to actually winning games, and usually they're especially susceptible to several different types of opponents. And yet it seems like it's mostly new players who get upset about countermagic stopping what they want to do. After a while, people get over it and even cultivate skills and deckbuilding choices to deal with cards like Counterspell. And yet it's some experienced players who will build a color-hungry value deck on a tight curve with no resilience against mana denial, and get upset when their plans are ruined by Stone Rain as though they think they're entitled not to have their mana production interfered with. In the former case, I kind of have a response of, "Well, you're new anyway. You'll learn." In the latter, it starts to become more like, "Grow up, you big baby." I can accept that if I'm packing lots of land destruction and I go up against a deck with no lands in it, I have dead cards. But I also expect that Mister Four-Color-Goodstuff should suck it up when he doesn't have the right colors.

    You know, now that I think about it, my experience in real tabletop Magic games has almost always been that if I brought a broken deck and crushed people, they were curious to see how it worked, sometimes even excited. The only protests I got, and mild at that, were many, many years ago when I got to play with the same people on a regular basis and they didn't want to see the same combo deck over and over, which I think is mostly valid. And I guess I can't be surprised that players found powerful decks they'd never seen before fascinating. I felt the same way when the shoe was on the other foot. Nearly all of the objections I've seen have been online, for whatever reason.

    A curious aspect of "casual" Magic that has probably been with us from the beginning but which I mainly see in Commander is the strange notion that the things I'm trying to do to kill my opponents are fun, but that the things my opponents are doing that interfere with that are unfun and uncasual. The example I rememebr at one point was the guy moping about having his manabase disrupted (wasn't me who did it and I forget how it was done, but it might have been stuff like Stone Rain) and how it ruined the game, but then later comboing into a big Craterhoof Behemoth attack to try to kill everyone else at the table, which was apparently fun and casual. My thought was like, "Look, if you enjoy winning and find it fun and dislike losing and don't think it's fun, then just come out and admit it. People might call you a sore loser for that, because you are one. But at least you'll be honest about it!"

    Bit of a tangent here, but I don't know where else it'd fit right now anyway. While the term "netdeck" is now virtually universal, I think that it originates in an attitude of bitterness and folly, one that doesn't really make much sense. To be clear, I don't really object to the term and actually use it myself. It's a well-understood label in the Magic community that has its uses. But there's this mentality I've noticed. People use deck construction, especially in casual formats, as an outlet for self-expression. They take pride in their creations and make a kind of artform out of it. And that's really cool. But then some people actually get mad about "netdeckers" by which they mean people who view decklists written by others. I don't think that these zealots would apply that same approach to other things in their lives. Or perhaps they do. I don't know. Like, I might come up with my own cookie recipe, but that doesn't mean I won't try someone else's!

    But you used the phrase "Tournament Winning Netdecks Piloted by Non-Pros." And while I haven't seen much of that exact thing, I've seen similar. In Legacy, certain areas, especially certain tournament circuits, are known for grinders, whom I've amusingly seen referred to as "barnacles." These guys play in lots of tournaments and their decklists are pretty much always whatever won the last big tournament. Many of the more creative Legacy players like to make fun of them because they see the same signs a lot. The barnacles attend tournaments all the time and they play very strong decks (by default, since they're usually tournament-winning lists copied exactly). So they perform well to a certain extent, but they don't have the same understanding of matchups, the same skills, or even the same field of opponents as were in that tournament, so their choices might fall flat and their gameplay is likely to. They don't bother learning about less prevalent archetypes and frequently make rules mistakes because they aren't paying enough attention. There was this hilarious tournament report involving the card Suppression Field where the player's opponents couldn't be bothered to read the card. It went something like, "I'm not good at Magic, but I understand what an activated ability is. 6 out of 8 Legacy players do not."

    Kind of reminds me of League of Legends. I don't play it much anymore, but I got decent at it for a while some years ago. I'd play Karthus and go mid a lot, because it was my strongest role. At the time, Karthus was not a popular mid for the pros. But I wasn't playing against the pros, I was playing against other people who were being matched against me. They were playing whatever champions the pros were playing. I was playing the champion I was actually good with. So I tended to win a lot. Turns out trying to copy what the pros are doing doesn't mean you'll beat someone who's not a pro but is merely pretty good at doing the things he's doing. :p
  13. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    League of Legends is an excellent example I am going to use, and you have hit on what I believe is the core issue here - Minimax, one of the first principles of game theory. Minimizing your maximum loss is generally the best strategy in competitive contests. How that usually translates is, "Minimizing your opponents impact on your strategy is the best course." Minimizing opponent impact, from the opponent perspective, generally equates to rendering their contributions marginally meaningful or effectively meaningless, and from this derives the fundamental problem - "the best" strategy from a winning perspective is often the one where an opponent is effectively (and visibly) nearly superfluous.

    Putting this in Boxing terms: Minimax shows that the "best" strategy is to knock out your opponent as soon as possible without opening yourself to counterattack, thereby minimizing immediate and overall loss. It takes amazing technical skill to knock out an opponent in the first round without opening oneself to the same risk. Yet the concepts of a "good," and an "entertaining," fight are the exact opposite of one person knocking out the other immediately, no matter the incredible speed, vision, and technical prowess involved.

    This is why sports have divisions, chess has Elo, League has tiers - to balance "good," "entertaining" competition with demonstrations of technical and theory skill (which will in most cases adhere to Minimax as closely as possible). This is what Arena will fix, almost certainly.

    MtGO, by contrast, has nothing in place to regulate casual games. One person wants an amateur boxing night where they can explore the concept of boxing with other amateurs, and they are thrown in with a Spike who has copied the skills of Mike Tyson. That does not make the Spike wrong, it means that one of those people needs a different space.

    In local Magic environments, one person can contribute to the overall consensus balance regarding minimax and entertainment, but they are only one vote. And if the consensus disagrees with their perspective sufficiently, they are going to find themselves effectively outside that local environment.

    A League, or Elo, type framework for Casual Magic is probably coming for online play, and that will be a positive for everyone. In the meantime, while there is an objective mathematical measure for "best adherance to minimax," there is not a "right" answer for the balance of what is good or entertaining. You are right that for many people, that balance is in the region of, "I dont notice that my opponent is quietly minimizing the relevance of my input," and I suspect that is just how humanity tends to be in a lot of cases :)
  14. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    On a different Stone Rain note, this art and I do not agree at all, but I threw this card into a final run for my Approach deck as a lark for testing. Turns out that if you tack basic cycling onto a land destruction card, it is effectively invisible to the overall deck functionality while occasionally causing opponents to concede games due to lack of one color mana. TL;DR - even mediocre land destruction cards can be finessed fairly easily into weapons (in Standard, anyway).[IMG]
  15. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I have spent an icy day so far testing on MtGO Oversoul, and I definitely have seen you are right - black, blue, and white control elements with easily diversified land bases (though monetarily expensive, still ubiquitous) have gained a lot on land destruction in the past few years. Molten Rain and Structural Distortion together were failing to shut down three color blocks even with Reverberate draws, because seemingly half the land base was fetch lands that fetched dual lands that entered untapped at an irrelevant cost. I would go so far as to say land destruction has become a subpar strategy without some combo element empowering it, and that is very interesting.

    I thought of another mechanic where I think our underlying conversation applies - Infect. I introduced my local environment to Infect decks, and there was some initial amazement at the sheer power and speed involved. One player took the deck I had made (as usual, I was interested more in seeing the application of theory than piloting the deck myself for long), enjoyed it and then made it better with a few tweaks I had not seen, rending it much harder to disrupt.

    Every other player was tired of it after a few viewings. If I brought it to a table today, they would pass on playing at all, to a single person. That is how the playgroups I run in see heavy counter and discard as well...as they would land destruction if it could keep up the way it used to (now I am not so sure). Definitely interesting, definitely informative, and soon thrown a "House Rules" ban for all those reasons discussed above about how people come to see things as unfun.
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    When it comes to the appearance of Magic cards, we all have our preferences, but I like to think that I'm not a huge snob. I like good art, but if I don't care for the artwork on a card, it's only a minor consideration. I'm one of the 12 people in the world who actually preferred the white border and I was sad to see it go, which I'm pretty sure makes me a filthy pariah. So there's that. I don't mind a little bit of edge wear and such on my cards. I tend to double-sleeve almost everything these days, but I have a lot of older cards that I clearly played without sleeves and it doesn't really bother me. I mean, yeah, I prefer cards that are in better condition, but collect a lot and I collect some pretty overpriced cards, so I sometimes settle for something a little more worn if it's cheaper. I'm not one of those collectors who drools over mint-condition stuff.

    Even so, for many years, this was one of my only copies of Sinkhole...

    Sinkhole.jpg

    It's beaten up and it made me sad. I can't remember where or when I got it (it might have been one of the first Beta cards I ever owned), but it was just like that when I first saw it. I only ever played with it in a sleeve. On the one hand, I didn't own many cards that old (and still don't). So it had a bit of a cool factor going for it. But seeing my very neat-looking Unlimited Edition copies sitting there in my graveyard with this scratched up mess alongside them was a little jarring and just made this poor old card look pathetic.

    This card doesn't make me sad anymore! I no longer play with it at all and it has retired to a place of honor (in a box of old cards). A few years ago I bought a couple of Unlimited copies, completing a fully playset. Apparently, I neglected to check that I was down to zero copies of Ice Storm. Oh well.
    Psarketos likes this.
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Pillage is getting reprinted in Masters 25. I approve, in principle. However, every Pillage reprint has been a bit of a letdown in that only one of them reused the original Richard Kane Ferguson artwork and zero of them reused my single favorite flavor text ever.
    [IMG]
  18. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Hey, Blake talks about his old-school land destruction deck in his Master 25 card preview article

    Blake Rasmussen's article
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  19. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I posted this yesterday but my internet was being wonky apparently - I really like the art and flavor text on the new Pillage. [IMG]
  20. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

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