Last week, I received a FedEx envelope packed full of cards from Magic's latest expansion, Shadowmoor and learned that as many changes as the game has endured, it's still Magic.
In the package were five starter decks, now called "theme decks," and 10 booster packs. I grabbed four friends - all Magic vets who'd strayed like I had - and decided to stage an old-school tournament. Everyone got one theme deck and two boosters to build a deck of his own, at which point we'd all form a circle and attack left. Whoever was left standing at the end was the winner.
Rather than a random assortment of cards from all five colors, theme decks are 60-card, two-color decks that actually lend new players some viability right out the chute. Each deck has quite a few combos to use right away, and starting off with a two-color focus made getting back into the game a lot easier. What's more, a number of cards use "Hybrid" mana now, which allows you to choose which color mana you use to cast the spell.
The first of the five theme decks is "Mortal Coil," an annoyance deck that weakens your opponent's creatures. Over time, he's left with a crippled fleet, and your army of flying blue/black creatures with "Persist," a new ability that allows creatures to return from the dead with -1/-1 tokens on them, can zoom along and smack him around unheeded.
Similar to "Mortal Coil" is "Army of Entropy," a red/black deck that similarly weakens enemy creatures, but does so by making use of the "Wither" ability - every time a creature with Wither damages another creature, the creature's power and toughness drop by the attacking creature's power. Assuming a 2/4 monster with Wither is blocked by a 3/3 monster, at the end of combat, the 3/3 monster receives two -1/-1 tokens, rendering it a 1/1 until it dies or someone plays a spell that removes the tokens.
Also included is the red/green "Overkill" deck, which bears resemblance to green weenie decks of old, only this time your little 2/2 goons back up giant 7/5 monsters, and there's some direct damage in there, to boot.
The old lockdown deck makes an appearance with the white/blue "Aura Mastery," which uses enchantments and the new "Conspire" ability (tap two creatures, and you can copy a spell you just cast) to pin down your opponent's big creatures and buff your own.
Last is the green/white "Turnabout," which features the new "Untap" mechanic - certain creature abilities are only activated when you untap them; it makes for some interesting (and devastating) Upkeep phases.