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In Defence of Dragon's Maze - Jerome Ramcharitar (5/13/2013)

It seems that a lot of people were not impressed with Dragon's Maze after the set's full visual spoiler released last week. Now, I haven't performed a full survey or a series of interviews with a representative sample of Magic's community, but even the comments on Magic's Facebook page suggest the divide between the “can't wait to get my hands on it” fans and the “can't get far enough away from it” critics is stronger than ever.

So my goal is to defend the set, given my experience with the Dragon's Maze prerelease, and argue that this small-yet-dense release of cards is a masterpiece in Magic's design.

First, the cards are wild and varied and fun. Anyone who has played enough of Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash knows that each of the ten guilds is flavourfully and mechanically distinct. Wow, do they stand out. So what, you might ask. How does that add to the diversity of Dragon's Maze? Because the cards in Dragon's Maze are excellent complements to the original synergies of the RTR and GTC sets. Rather than adding to the already strong themes and mechanisms of the sets, Dragon's Maze finds a way to connect stray cards from seemingly divergent guilds. The result is surprising and fun. My brother used an incredible bounce combo using pieces from across the block. Plus, I've seen Boros-Azorius decks use bloodrush creatures (cast and rushed) in a powerful battalion frenzy.

Though the split cards go back to Dissension's original gold split cards, these two-in-one cards go a long way to creating overlap and synergy between guilds. Fuse is a damn cool keyword by virtue of its flexibility and gestalt appeal. But in my own plays, I've noticed that the split cards let players dabble in a third or fourth colour—allowing a fourth or fifth guild to enter the deck—with minimal risk and a lot of payoff. For someone as wary about mana-screw as myself, the set makes the risk seem more than worth it. Because it takes strands from the previous two sets, Dragon's Maze gets away with making cards like Ready // Willing an appealing choice even for a strict Golgari build. In that case, the sweet mana-fixing makes it easy, too, to add an Orzhov and Selesnya Cluestone
Selesnya Cluestone
Selesnya CluestoneSet: Dragon's Maze
Raoul Vitale
{T}: Add {G} or {W} to your mana pool. {G}{W}, {T}, Sacrifice Selesnya Cluestone: Draw a card.
to prepare for that single bomb sorcery.

Finally, this set succeeds in doing what Wizards always does best—pacing, expansion, and innovation. We've all had a chance to explore the mechanics of each guild, but only now do we so how far these powers can reach: a flier with Unleash, a double-Detain spell at two mana, and a single-mana Populate card. We're only talking about commons and these cards are still those that have power and impact.

Of course, there are some guilds that are better explored than others. Dimir seems to have gotten a very bad deal in all this. But overall, the guilds prove to be versatile—with a bouncing bloodrusher and a mass extort-granter—enough to let you run strange strategies in off-guild decks.

I say good job, Wizards. The set—the whole block—is simply amazing, engaging, and diverse. I certain enjoyed playing it and will enjoy drafting it in the months to come.

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