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Special Analysis:
The Starter Experience

July 30, 2007
By Magic Lampoon staff
What exactly do new players get when they buy the new
Tenth Edition two-player starter pack, available for under
$10? It says it comes with two boosters and 20 lands.
What do you do with that? We decided to find out.

First of all, the starter boxes come in five different colors.
These colors do not mean anything. That is, the contents
do not depend upon which color starter the new player
purchases. Still, we recommend the blue box on principle.

More important, the new player isn't necessarily getting
the card pictured on the box. The red box has Kamahl, for
example. But he's not necessarily in there. Of course, this
is just like the way that boosters have pictures from the
set and it doesn't mean you're getting those cards.

Inside are two Tenth Edition boosters, 20 basic lands and
a pro player card. We got Antoine Ruel! No, he wasn't the
suspended one. At any rate, yes, pro player cards.
Someone seems determined that pro player cards are key
to marketing Magic.

There are 20 basic lands. Our package had exactly four of
each basic type. Specifically, there were two of each type
from Tenth Edition, and two of each type from Lorwyn.
This seemed too precise to be an accident, so we opened
up another starter to check. Yes -- it was the same. If
you'd like some insight into the Lorwyn lands, click
here.

By the way, our second starter package had an Olivier
Ruel in it. Yeah, he was the suspended one. These two
starters were side-by-side in the store and came in the
same display box -- maybe someone at Wizards had been
looking down at the packages while shuffling the pro
player cards that were to go inside.

Along with the apparently obligatory Ruel Bros. card and
the 20 basic lands are two Tenth Edition boosters. These
are 15-card boosters, but as you may have heard, Tenth
Edition boosters actually come with 16 cards. Sometimes
you get a token card, and sometimes you get a tips and
tricks card. If you get a token card, awesome! If you get
a tips and tricks card, rats! We got one of each, so you
should be happy and sad for us.

Actually, some people like the tips and tricks cards, so it's
a good deal for them. Our tips and tricks card explained
the stack. It explained how Incinerate and Giant Growth
might kill a target or might save a target depending upon
who played which second. That's a pretty essential tip.
Our token card, meanwhile, was a Soldier.

Interestingly, there was no explanation of what to do with
the Soldier token. We know, of course, and so do you,
but if you're a new player, what might you think? Is it
possible that you'd think it's a 1/1 with no mana cost?

Each booster also had a basic land. Yes, that was one of
the 15 cards. It replaced a common. We got a Mountain
in one and an Island in the other. Neither one was a John
Avon land, unfortunately.

So what did we randomly get? Our rares were a Verdant
Force and a Crucible of Worlds. Kick ass! Crucibles are
fetching more than $12 at some places. Our starter just
paid for itself.

This compares quite favorably with the starters from
previous core sets, where you'd get worthless junk.
Except Enormous Baloth, which obviously dominates.

We also got a foil Sky Weaver.

We checked the second starter, and the rares were a Mirri
and a Brushland. Brushland is kinda cool, we guess.

So is there a rule book? No! There isn't. There's a rules
sheet. It's like a poster. On one side it has a large rosette
explaining the colors' personalities, and telling you how to
get started, and on the reverse side, it has the basic rules.
The rules are explained in boxes plastered all over. It's a
lot prettier than the rule book they used to give you, and
definitely better than that dreadful comic book they used
to use to teach you how to play, but it's a little hard to
manage because of the size of the poster. You'd need a lot
of table space to lay it out and play while looking at it.

So, you might think that one player does something with
one booster and another player does something with the
other. Wrong! This is where Wizards outsmarted us. The
instructions on the front of the poster say to sort all the
cards from both boosters. Put the Plains with the white
cards, then the Islands with the blue cards, and so on.
This is a great idea. No. 1, it shows that Plains are used to
cast the white cards, and so forth, without having to
come out and explain it. No. 2, what were we going to do
if we didn't do this? Pack wars?

The sheet says to put all the artifacts together, and then
explains that you may not have gotten any.

What the sheet didn't explain is what to do with the
Treetop Village that we randomly got in a booster as one
of the uncommons. Hopefully, the new player treats it as
a green card.

How do the two players play? It says that one player
chooses a color and takes those cards, including the lands
you put with them. The other player then takes two
colors. The first player then takes one of the remaining
two colors. Therefore, one color isn't used.

There's a slightly goofy issue here -- it says to divide up
the artifacts. There was one artifact, the Crucible of
Worlds. You can't divide up one artifact. Furthermore,
what if you don't want to play the artifact? There was no
land destruction in these packs, no self-discard, no
self-land sacking and so on. There was a Ravenous Rats,
though. Does that make Crucible of Worlds playable?
Then, we had that Treetop Village. Does that make
Crucible of Worlds insane? The players are on their own
as to what to do with one artifact.

Our packs didn't have any totally dead cards. The fact is,
though, you may have dead cards in this "format,"
because of the nearly preposterous randomness of it.
Then again, the old starters had stuff like Sacred Nectar in
them. Talk about dead cards. The new starter is really
random, but it may in a strange way be closer to Magic as
real people actually play it than the old starters ever were.

Here's what we had. Remember, you would play two of
these five groups of cards, except for the extra Crucible:

Suntail Hawk
Pacifism
Angelic Wall
4 Plains

Wall of Air
Robe of Mirrors
Sky Weaver (foil)
Reminisce
Unsummon
Boomerang
5 Island

Diabolic Tutor
Fear
Ravenous Rats
No Rest for the Wicked
Spineless Thug
Gravedigger
4 Swamp

Goblin Sky Raider
Bogardan Firefiend
Rock Badger
Lava Axe
Firebreathing
5 Mountain

Grizzly Bears
Elvish Berserker
Verdant Force
Kavu Climber
Spined Wurm
Yavimaya Enchantress
4 Forest
Treetop Village

Crucible of Worlds

Notice how the groups of cards aren't the same size.
What happened to white? It just doesn't have as many
cards. This may not matter a whole lot, though.

So, suppose a player ends up with blue and green. He's
playing 22 cards. If the other player is black and red, he's
got 20 cards.

Now it's up to the two players to figure out how to play.
Here's an example of the basic rules from the poster:

Phase 3 of a turn is combat. If you don't have any creatures in play,
or if they all have summoning sickness, then you can just skip
combat.

When your creatures attack, they're headed toward the opponent. If
nothing gets in their way, they'll deal damage to the opponent. (You
can
't send your creatures after the opponent's creatures.) The
opponent, however, can use his or her own untapped creatures to
block and fight your attackers.

When you're first learning how to play, it's best to attack as much as
you can. Once you've seen how attacking and blocking work over
and over, then you'll be able to see the strategy behind deciding
which creatures to attack with and which to hold back.

Summoning sickness was explained to some extent in
another box on the poster:

Play creatures: You can play any creature spells in your hand that
you can afford. The bigger the creature, the more lands you'll need to
tap in order to play it. The sooner you play your creatures, the
sooner they start fighting for you. When you play a creature, it gets
"summoning sickness." Summoning sickness prevents a creature
from attacking, but it will recover from summoning sickness at the
start of your next turn. (See the
Playing Spells section.)

As you see, it's far from dumbed down. On the contrary,
it's written for gamers who are able to grasp the concept
easily without a lot of handholding.

So, that's "starter-level" Magic now. The new starter
product, as weird as its contents may sound on the
package, has some things going for it.

-- You get real boosters, so there's a chance of getting
worthwhile cards instead of Sacred Nectars and
Vizzerdrixes. Vizzerdrixen?
-- You start by playing with instants, abilities and all the
real rules of Magic instead of a dumbed-down version.
-- The text on the poster inserted seems to be pretty
thorough, and doesn't include that comic book guy from
the previous starters.

On the other hand:

-- The poster is unwieldy. A book would have been easier
to use while playing because of the size.
-- Playing with scrambled boosters is incredibly random.
-- Pro player cards.

Discuss
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Here is the rules sheet from the new
starter package, with some Magic
cards lying on it for scale.