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Onslaught - a Complete Review

Onslaught is the name of the new Magic the Gathering expansion set Wizards of the Coast hopes will keep us buying their product. But, before you get out your wallet and pay those ever increasing prices, you'll have to decide if it's worth it. Is Onslaught a fresh, exciting new set or is it a boring retread of old ideas? This review hopes to answer that question.

Let's take a look at the new mechanics first:

Cycling X (X, discard this card from your hand: Draw a card. Play this ability only if this card is in your hand.)

Morph X (You may play this card face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.)

Well, cycling is obviously _not_ a new mechanic. It was first seen in the Urza block and it didn't really make much of a splash there, except for a short-lived deck based around Fluctuator. If I remember it correctly, the deck had four Fluctuators, a Lotus Petal, a Dark Ritual and a Haunting Misery. The rest were cycling cards, most of which were creatures and a few lands. A good draw consisted of a Fluctuator, a Blasted Landscape (the only cycling land that didn't come into play tapped) and any other land. On the second turn you could play the Blasted Landscape, cast the Fluctuator and cycle through your whole deck. At that point you could play the Petal, sac it to play the Dark Ritual and use the mana to cast Haunting Misery on your opponent for 20+ damage, depending on the number of creatures in your graveyard. A second turn win isn't bad and it's not even too hard to pull off. Unsurprisingly, three of these cards have been banned since, including the Fluctuator.

Morph doesn't sound very exciting, but then again, neither did threshold, which nevertheless made for some very fun tactical games. The problem with Morph, though, is that it gives people the option to cheat by playing some excess lands as 2/2 creatures. Of course you'll find out eventually, but you do have to make it a point to check every face-down creature when the game is over. That could get annoying, especially against opponents who are in a rush to get to the next game.

On the other hand, Morph opens up some interesting possibilities. For one, you can use a card like Flicker to turn over a big creature without having to pay its morph cost. Note, though, that phasing it out won't work, because it'll stay faced-down when it phases back in. The morph mechanic is also going to have an impact on creature removal. Do you Shock the 2/2 and hope it doesn't turn into a 3/3 or do you Terror it and hope it doesn't turn out to be black? The more morph creatures in Onslaught and subsequent expansions, the trickier it's going to be to play with removal.

As usual, the spoiler this review is based on is the one from So blame any inaccuracies in the spoilers on them, please! Any problems in the review itself, like when I miss some obvious combo that completely breaks the card, however, are caused by line noise between your computer and this website...

Every card will be rated on a five point scale. This scale represents the estimated amount of fun that can be had with that particular card. Although strong cards tend to be more fun and thus score higher, don't be surprised to find some very strong cards scoring low, because they're just _too_ strong.


First, let's look at the stats:
  • 1 star : 35
  • 2 stars: 69
  • 3 stars: 97
  • 4 stars: 103
  • 5 stars: 26
As usual, most of the cards fall in the 3 or 4 stars category. Still, there are a lot of cards in Onslaught I could have done without. There are a lot of overcosted commons, filler for sealed and draft, but inferior for any constructed formats.

Another problem that isn't new, but is becoming more and more prevalent, is that of the must-have rares. Almost any card that can swing the game in your favor these days is a rare. That's understandable from a sealed deck point of view, as you don't want players to have too many I-win cards, but for casual play it can be a disaster. If you don't want to spend as much money on your hobby as your friends do, you'll end up with inferior and, more importantly, boring decks. There are only so many theme decks you can make with the Onslaught creatures and they mostly build themselves.

I'm not crazy about the continued printing of "fixed" older cards. It's starting to feel as if the designers ran out of ideas after the first few sets and are now mostly just recycling and combining old ideas. Even the morph mechanic, although it promises to make creature combat a lot more interesting and bluffing a much bigger part of the game, is based on old cards like Camouflage and Illusionary Mask.

The decline of the flavor text quality hasn't stopped yet. I've noticed only a few that managed to add flavor to a card, most just took it away. We all know already that goblins are stupid, elves are tree-huggers, wizards are clever, clerics are pious and zombies are dead. The problem is that the design team starts with a card, notices there's room for flavor text on it and then tries to think of something fitting. Most of the time, that ends up being some quote from or about the creature on the card or, if it's a spell, about the effects of the spell. There are only so many ways you can call someone brave, strong or scary.

Well, that's enough criticism from me. On the positive side, the set as a whole looks like it'll be fun to play with. The creature themes are a bit heavy-handed, but there should be enough clerics, soldiers, wizards, birds, zombies, goblins, beasts and elves in older sets to give these theme decks some variety in casual play.

Cycling isn't all that exciting, but it's a solid extra option. Only time will tell how much fun morph turns out to be. I expect it to make creature combat a lot more interesting, but it may just turn out to make the game too random if you keep having to guess which creatures you have to block and which ones you can safely let through.

In the end, I'll be buying a box of Onslaught in spite of all my criticism. And that's what counts, right?

Have fun!

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Onslaught continues the story of Kamahl, who struggles to cope with what it means to be a druid. At the same time, he has to help his sister, Jeska, who has been transformed into Phage, a being that can kill with a mere touch. At the same time Ixidor, an illusionist with the ability to shape reality is out to kill Phage for killing his one true love. Who will find her first?

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