|Posted by Jason Rhoades on May 31, 2013 at 2:00 AM|
Dragon's Maze (Magic: The Gathering Review) - This review judges the expansion set for it's gameplay, flavor, art, and production.
Wizards roped themselves into an extremely tight corner going into the development of Dragon's Maze. This was the third, and final set of the wonderful revisit to Ravnica and it's ten guilds. The previous two expansions focused on five guilds each with 250 cards to do so. The new expansion had to favorably appeal to all ten guilds with around 150 cards. How do you appeal to fans of all the guilds with half the resources? With a little bit of magic, Wizards seemed to know just the trick.
Ten guilds - Millions of fans.
Gameplay: Just like every other expansion, you want to have your cards with power to excite the flavor, but also keep everything balanced for tournament level play. Magic R&D has an amazing track record for this, and they delivered in Dragon's Maze with only a couple minor disappointments. The most challenging part was making sure all ten guilds still functioned differently with all of them in one set.
Luckily, that was very well handled. Boros attacked in battalions just as much as Azorious detained their opponents. While the majority of players flocked to certain guilds during the release tournaments, it wasn't because of a lack of playability from the less popular guilds. Furthermore, each guild's signature mechanic was expanded upon and improved. Simic received more +1/+1 counters than their biomancers could even fathom, and Selesnya had some new token generators to keep their peace with. Unfortunately the worst card of the set also went to Selesnya, but let's make up for that in another section, shall we?
Players chose Tajic and the Boros Legion to claim the most victories.
Limited was a pretty fair battlefield, though some guilds proved to be more reliable. Boros paved the way for more victories than any other guild with their durable offense that could still protect the player in a pinch. However, the other guilds weren't without options. Zhur-Taa Druid helped Gruul get that extra damage after their walloping bloodrush attacks.Tithe Drinker kept a lot of greedy Orzhov players alive long enough to leech their opponents to death. Dimir was a little challenging to trigger their Cipher, which probably saw the least play.
This, and Tithe Drinker, were the two all-star cards in Limited.
Now onto Standard,which is the most competitive format, and the most important one to keep balanced. Let's not beat around the bush and talk about Selesnya's best card ever: Voice of Resurgence. Most powerful cards have to work their way into the format, or be experimented with, but Voice of Resurgence was a no-brainer for everyone running green and white. It's the best answer to control decks since Thallia who also happens to be white. The reprint of Putrefy was extremely well-received. Selesnya also banked with one of the best instants in the set: Advent of the Wurm. Ral Zarek, the sole planesalker of the set, didn't make a huge impact, but he definitely didn't underwhelm either. Finally, blue gained a rare occurence of a strong offensive creature in the form of Aetherling. That thing can simply survive anything.
Behold the best card in Dragon's Maze.
The theme of two-color guilds didn't really carry into the standard format as much as it did in limited. Most of the winning decks ran three colors, which is made all the more easy with the wide selection of dual lands that Dragon's Maze also chose to reprint. Maze's End, which was initially expected to be a flop, proved to be a suitable win-condition. Everyone seems to underestimate land in every expansion, but they are definitely deserving of more attention due to the fact that they can be in any deck and are generally the hardest card types to get rid of.
The Gates proved much more reliable than anticipated by the fans.
My personal favorite card, from a gameplay perspective, was Plasm Capture. I love cards that change momentum, but even more, I love mana accelerating. This card simply glowed as I read it's text. I also loved Gaze of Granite. At it's cheapest, it can board wipe tokens for three mana. In late game, it can take out the whole field, Planeswalkers and all.
Your turn. I'll Counter That. My turn. Game.
Flavor: The running of the maze is probabaly the most focused storyline Magic has ever done, and their are good and bad aspects to this. The Maze was a very interesting concept, and led to an intimate connection with the ten guild champions, also known as maze-runners. It was a great way to build the realism of the Plane by having such a specific plot taking place. However, going from the revival of an entire realm with the previous block's final set, Avacyn Restored, to an organized competition amongst the guilds was a bit anticlimactic.
Jace examines the maze, wishing he was on another plane with something more interesting to do .
Something that's getting all the more unbearable is Wizards lack of releasing novels to accompany the expansions. Therefore, we are left with the Secretist trilogy of small e-books to tell rushed sets of scenes which ultimately boiled down to a confusing amalgam of each maze-runner's experience in the maze. The story suffered from a lack of impact and the continual withdrawal of detailed storylines.
The style of the guilds, however, was a completely refreshing and exciting design. Each guild was wildly expanded upon and several flavorful characters, creatures, and locales were added. The maze-runners, while lacking emotional depth, were all great representations of their guilds, and all looked fantastic. I personally didn't like the design of Ral Zarek, but he's an entertaining character, nonetheless. His smug attitude was tough for me to favor, and I've always disliked the more ordinarily human-designed planeswalkers.
The greatest aspect of the world of Ravnica will always be the Guilds.
My personal favorite card, going from flavor, is Deadbridge Chant. Something about a brutish, mystical chant that slowly brings the world around it to life is truly magical. Vorel and Teysa are my two favorite guild champions, though with Teysa, it's probably because I strangely find her attractive. More power to her artist, I say. My favorite guild is definitely Simic, and I enjoyed their new cards a lot. Not only did they give me my favorite counter spell, (My previous favorite was also Simic) but they gave me my favorite mythic with Progenitor Mimic. Of course, Goblin Test Pilot is easily the most comedic card of the set. It's completely unplayable, yet still wasn't disappointing.
The world around you revives from it's lifeless slumber while you grunt and perform interpretive dance.
Artwork: Where Magic has never disappointed is it's artwork. Wizards constant search for new fantasy artists and hiring the best in the business pays off in spades. Dragon's Maze only adds to the massive amount of expansions that prove Magic: The Gathering has the best collection of fantasy artwork in any fiction across any entertainment medium. Ravnica has always provided one of the biggest departures in art style with it's focus on the plane's sprawling metropolis, and blending geography with architecture.
The darker side of Magic artwork is as haunting as ever.
The zoomed out landscapes of the new Guild Gates were easily the artistic highlight of the set. The maze-runners all looked like colorful, visual representatives of their guild, minus Azorious' maze-runner, who was one of the few muddled pieces in the mix. Several of the current fan-favorite artists like Raymond Swanland and Igor Kieryluk were back in full force. The Maze's End itself is an artistic borefest, unfortunately. A simple archstone with a very boring color palette.
One of the most detailed artworks in the expansion.
Ryan Yee gets the honor of painting my favorite artwork in Dragon's Maze for Ascended Lawmage. What a beautiful sense of motion and unnatural color that painting has. As much as I like Simic, I actually enjoyed looking at Rakdos' artwork the most out of all the guilds. Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch looked amazing, and so too did Master of Cruelties. Even their new Guild Gate was my favorite.
I really, REALLY hope there's an air conditioner in there.
Production: The available products and packaging weren't unlike other recent magic sets. Luckily they made a new cycle of playmats, which were rumored to not be printed, and released sleeves and boxes for each of the maze-runners. The product packaging chose to feature a lot of Ral Zarek and the Guild champions as well.
There's a little too much of Ral Zarek's smugness.
The real highlight of the expansion were the prerelease and release tournaments leading up to the street date. The prerelease has lately become the most "themed" tournament for a Magic expansion. This has all been for the better, because now the prerelease feels like the players are actually taking part in the story of the world. When the novels don't exist, the players will take any focus on the story to heart. Being able to choose a guild and receive an allied guild box was a great way to make players feel involved.
The prereleases have come a long way from just receiving a promo card and your boosters packs.
The highlight of the prerelease was the virtual running of the maze. Having every win count towards your guilds progress to the end was an incredible way to unite certain players and keep them playing even if their odds weren't great. The prerelease card was the Maze's End which was a great thematic choice, but, it was also a slightly boring card. Good thing Wizards decided to throw in an extra promo card Plains, which is a first of it's kind. Many hardcore players instantly wanted to make a deck with all prerelease Plains once they saw them.
This was the actual maze used to track your guilds progress during the prerelease.
Overall: 'Dragon's Maze' had a huge challenge in front of it, but ultimately surpassed it. This expansion's success shows the talent of Magic Research and Development. They were risky as always with the powerful cards, and chanced breaking the format with Voice of Resurgence. Instead, it just added another great card to the ranks of the best tournament-playable cards available.
The story was a little lacking, continuing it's downward spiral away from great plots. The overall lore and world design is still a terrific highlight and as long as that exists, the foundation for great stories is still there. Wizards released the product with an amazing themed tournament and had plenty of products to buy the set exactly how you wanted, and accessorize to your favorite guild. 'Dragon's Maze' could have gotten lost in the very maze it was building, but made it out as a great addition to Magic: The Gathering and it's wildly massive multiverse.
Gameplay: 9/10 - The balance wasn't broken, yet exciting and powerful cards were added. All the guilds were fairly playable and unique.
Flavor: 6/10 - The story was anticlimactic and smaller in scope, but the design of the guilds and the maze was the highlight of the set.
Artwork: 9/10 - Though not quite as memorable as the previous two sets, the quality of artwork was drool-worthy with amazing fantasy design.
Production: 10/10 - A top of the line prerelease, plenty of product choices and accessories, and no production delays. Keep this up Wizards.
A great product that was deeply satisfying despite small shortcomings.