Rosterbation is a term that I learned from the great Seattle Mariner’s blog USSMariner (couldn’t find it’s true origin). When talking about dream lineups and rotations and trading players the term gets thrown around a lot in comments and forums (as well as the verb “Stop Rosterbating”). The ability to make the dream roster using whatever players there are in the game is something that passes through the mind of almost any sports fan and engages in great conversations. It’s not a bad thing, and in fact can be a healthy from time to time.
Magic has it’s own semi-related term: “Magical Christmasland” as coined by Brian David-Marshall (@Top8Games) (or Michael Jacob). It presents what the best situation is to get the most explosive opening hand draw. If your deck worked exactly like this every time it would be unstoppable. Of course, with Magic there is randomization and the very real possibility that you may never get a hand like that. When players are looking at new cards for the first time, it’s always the Magical Christmasland situation that gets people up in arms about how good a card actually is. It’s the hope that drives people to play those decks for the one time it does work.
Rosterbation is about what you would love to have but can’t get for a set of something while Magical Christmasland is the order that you would prefer it to be. There is cross-over in both areas: In baseball you want your lead-off guys to get on and your 3 & 4 hitters to drive them home (Magical Christmasland).
Today I’m going to talk about the other side: rosterbation for Magic. No, it’s not about acquiring cards that you need to build a deck, but having access to the cards needed to build it. Confused? Well answer me this: can you build a reanimator deck in Standard at this current time: (SHA, CON, REB, M10, ZEN, WWK)?
In Magic, there are very constant deck archtypes. The common ones are Aggro (White Weenie, Sligh, Green Stompy), Control (Blue/White, Mono Blue/Black/White) and Combo (Whatever shows up here, but reanimator is always a popular one). There are certainly different strategies that people use in the main archtypes, and if you’re playing causal (which is open to the whole existence of Magic) that’s not a problem.
But you know players that will play their favorite decktype in Standard (or Extended) even when it’s not viable. Some people love to play Elves (Aggro/Combo), others Blue/White (Control), and others mono-Red burn (Aggro/Control). But as sets enter and rotate out of the format, sometimes it’s just not wise to attempt to play that type of deck that doesn’t have the cards. In Lorywn block, it was much easier to play an aggro/control tribal deck then it was to play a straight control/combo one. It’s not always wise to try and build a deck you can’t really build.
On the other side of when people see a card released for the first time is “Wow, that would go great in X”, hence going with the Rosterbation way of thinking rather then the Magical Christmasland way. Take a look at Iona (pictured above). With her ability to shut down decks, the best way to make sure she’s really effective is to get her out as soon as possible. What’s the easiest way to do that?
The trouble is no matter how you want to try and force it, it’s not going to happen in the current Standard (Like fetch). To make reanimator work, you need a way to get it in the graveyard (usually discard or a way to get it from your library to your graveyard), and a way to bring it out. In the current card pool of Standard here’s how many cards you could consider for a possible deck list:
- Corpse Connoisseur
- Emeria, the Sky Ruin
- Hedron Crab
- Liliana Vess
- Marshal’s Anthem
- Protomatter Powder
- Rise from the Grave
- Sedris, the Traitor King
- Sharuum the Hegemon
The earliest you could reanimate something with no acceleration is by turn 5 (Protomatter Powder/Rise from the Grave), and that’s if you’ve got something in the Graveyard to reanimate (a little Magical Christmasland effect needs to take place here). Emeria can’t be considered reanimation by traditional style since it mostly needs to be m0no-White and by turn 8 at the earliest (again with no acceleration); it’s more of an attrition card anyway. Sedris needs to stay on the field one turn if you cast him without able to Unearth that same turn, still making him slow.
We’re sitting here with a large number of fattie creatures (Thanks Ken!) that we can’t reanimate:
- Kalonian Behemoth
- Goliath Sphinx
- Hellkite Overlord
- Lorthos, the Tidemaker
- Inkwell Leviathan (Artifact)
- Iona, Shield of Emeria
- Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund
- Novablast Wurm
- Prince of Thralls
- Admonition Angel
- Sphinx of the Steel Wind (Artifact)
- Bogardan Hellkite
- Butcher of Malakir
- Empyrial Archangel
- Magister Sphinx (Artifact)
- Sharuum the Hegemon (Artifact)
- Broodmate Dragon
- Platinum Angel (Artifact)
- Realm Razer
But most of these creatures that would’ve been printed in earlier times would’ve been automatic targets for reanimation since they’re game-changers if they hit the board early (even Goliath Sphinx, it’s a 8/7 flyer). Yes, the Unearth mechanic is great for getting a couple of creatures back from the graveyard, and the one-time deal is fine. But for the other cards, what we’ve got is one piece of the puzzle while missing another important piece: the way to get it out of the Graveyard. We’ve got a simple problem of Rosterbation: we’d love to get something that we can’t have to make our decks complete.
Decktypes shift all the time depending on the availability of the cards. Sometimes Wizards prints cards that benefit Aggro decks, other times it’s more Control. The pendulum swings back and forth to change Standard then just trying to have one decklist beat everything all the time (See: Affinity, Faeries, Jund). But this time, you actually can’t build a good reanimation deck in Standard because the important piece isn’t there.
And Wizards is behind this.
Why would they behind this lack of good reanimation? Sure, Dredge in Extended, Legacy and Vintage is so good (Where Iona is seeing play as a reanimation target) that maybe a little slow down in the decktype is alright. Is it because people don’t want to lose to a turn 4 Dragon? Well, there’s plenty of removal spells in Standard including bounce, burn and exiling. What “would be” reanimator decks have been turning into Polymorph and Summoning Trap (which, ironically, is suffering from a large lack of good Blue counterspells (or, not ironic)).
In previous sets, there were great reanimation cards that made it a viable strategy:
- Doomed Necromancer
- Dread Return
- Hell’s Caretaker
- Living End
- Makeshift Mannequin
- Order of Whiteclay
- Profane Command
- Reya Dawnbringer
- Torrent of Souls
While not all of these were the best options, there were ones that saw serious tournament play (and still do in older formats). It did give you the option of making a deck the way you wanted to to have fun with reanimation. Look at the difference between the number and quality of the spells/creatures to what we have currently. Notice a difference?
It’s this type of thing that I look at Wizards and shake my fist at them. They know when something rotates out of Standard so they plant things here and there. Look at Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage (4 years), Unnatural Selection and the Onslaught Block (2 years), Worm Harvest and Zendikar Block (2 years) (though, Worm Harvest does work with itself, but still). There used to be great reanimation spells but with very few targets, and now it’s the opposite.
This really begs the question: is reanimation not good because the targets are? Iona might be the more popular one since it could shut down the most popular decks with ease at a time when Wizards is shifting from multi-color to mono-colored decks (again, with the pendulum).There’s enough anti-graveyard cards that would make this not a feared decktype. Or, is this lull something that Wizards knows it would warp the game if it were included in this format? Something in the future possibly?
There’s always cards to support any type of decktype you want to do; Aggro always has cards, control always has cards, and there’s always some weird wacky combo deck that appears. Even if it’s not the best decktype to play, there’s always been cards to support it (so that guy who always plays Blue/White control at FNM can always play that deck). There have always been reanimator cards, but something is missing here; for the first time in a while, I haven’t been able to build a fun reanimator deck for Standard. Here’s the thing with reanmation, you do need a little hope with Magical Cristmasland to pull it off, but that’s why you play the deck, right?
Wizards knows what’s coming up in their sets so they know when to overdue something or pull it back. Maybe there is something in the future that says “Whoa, better not let people play me from the Graveyard too easily.” Or maybe I’m just taking a look at what one card (Iona) would do to this environment. ‘Course, it might be silly that one card would dictate an entire dismantling of a long standing decktype. Tyler Durden did kinda say, “Self improvement is rosterbation. Now self destruction…”
He tailed off, though I’m assuming that Magical Christmasland would’ve been a great fit (Self destruction is Magical Christmasland). I guess I’m done with my self improvement for today.