I’ve written about the interesting depth of Magic’s color flavor before, but Ravnica and the Return to Ravnica blocks made even the most casual players think about what each color represented, and how its strengths and weaknesses aligned with what those hues wanted to do.
To some extent, these distinctions were muddled in RTR and Gatecrash, since five guilds had to vie for attention in each set. It was my worry that things would be compounded for the worse in Dragon’s Maze, where all ten dual-color archetypes (and their associated mechanics) would be battling it out.
Now that the expansion is live in both paper Magic and MTGO, it’s clear that Dragon’s Maze manages to give every guild (and therefore every player) something they desperately needed.
Double the guilds, double the fun
Ten guilds and crossovers via split cards always meant that DGM’s design had to be flawless to prevent it from becoming a flavorless, confusing disaster. And while there are certainly cards I absolutely despise (more on these in a minute), for the most part, Dragon’s Maze is stuffed with fun utility.
I attributed this in large part to the exciting split cards Wizards of the Coast has developed. Unique ideas like Beck & Call or Catch & Release perform two real-life functions (in addition to the in game mechanics!). Each half gives players something interesting to toy with (Beck is begging for token combos, for instance) and the split/fuse function means DGM’s designers got to spotlight two guilds for each card slot, maximizing color representation.
The set’s designers went out of their way to give every affiliation something that was lacking in Ravnica or Gatecrash. For instance, Dragon’s Maze finally brought Izzet some needed beatdown in the form of Nivix Cyclops and Fluxcharger. Sire of Insanity allows Rakdos players to put the hurt on control decks attempting to seize their momentum. There are many cool new cards like these, and they’re all welcome.
There’s also a large amount of hate cards in Dragon’s Maze, specifically counters to Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict, both of which are popular in Standard. Voice of Resurgence, Notion Thief, and Ruric Thar are all offered as potential threats to draw-go strategies. And while I personally enjoy control decks, I believe moves like these are best for a healthy competitive gameplay environment.
Re-cycled ideas disappoint
My main disappointments in Dragon’s Maze come from the set’s more boring artifact and monocolored cycles. Having Cluestones take up ten common slots in the set is a big letdown since each guild’s key rune (which also cost 3 mana) just came out a set or two ago, and the fact that Guildgates and Shocklands are relatively common. Getting one or two Cluesotnes simply feels bad whenever you open a pack.
The Gatekeepers, a cycle of four mana 2/4 bodies with mediocre ETB effects, are similarly boring. In my opinion, they should have been a lot stronger considering how hard it is to hit their required thresholds, especially in draft play. Let’s not get started on the single color “maze creature” cycle, all of which are six or seven mana. Overall, I feel like all 20 of these card slots were basically throwaways… though it’s not like every other Magic set is immune to lackluster cards.
My final design gripe is the terrible, unfathomable lore of Dragon’s Maze. At the prerelease, almost every player was confused about the story behind the Implicit Maze, primarily because it is a terrible premise for a set, raising questions like:
- Why would the ten guilds even care about running the maze?
- Why is it called Dragon’s Maze if Niv-Mizzet didn’t create it?
- Why are the maze runners running the maze, if it’s not a race?
- Why was the Maze’s End promo card designed to be unplayable?
This may seem like a dumb gripe, but the Implicit Maze truly was a waste. There were so many other potential angles; I would have much preferred a focus on the struggles of the guildless vs the powers that be. Such a story would have resonated more with the kind of clashes we’re currently seeing around the real world, and would have given characters like Gideon Jura and Ral Zarek more interesting things to do than to worry about completing a wild goose chase and defeating David Bowie (or whatever else is at the end of the labyrinth).
Un-limited Sealed and Drafting fun
Disappointments aside, Dragon’s Maze is a great set to play in limited. While I don’t particularly enjoy the suggested draft format of DGM/GTC/RTR, I’ve found (to my surprise) that DGM/DGM/DGM is a blast. The set is fairly slow, with so many three and four drops, meaning early gameplay moves along quickly and later turns result in epic, hard-to-calculate struggles. There is a lot of removal, a lot of fatties, and tons of fun abilities, like the aforementioned Fluxcharger’s power/toughness swapping.
In addition, the large number of split cards adds tons of flexibility to limited decks. You can use Far & Away in a Dimir deck, sure… but either half of the card would be useful if you don’t find yourself running both colors. The rewards for fusing them, of course, add to the possibilities and excitement. Nothing feels better than destroying your opponent’s expectations with a perfectly timed fuse.
Dragon’s Maze probably isn’t full of chase rares that are going to dominate the metagame/your wallet. Lots of the most fun cards are common or uncommon, and even the rares/mythics in the set probably won’t be stratospheric in price. That’s good for constructed deck builders, since finding and purchasing the singles they need will be easy and affordable. Almost every deck archetype can benefit from a handful of Dragon’s Maze cards, and I’m sure the inclusion of so many maze runner legends means the creation of crazy new Commander/EDH decks, too! The set’s oh-so-easy color fixing mean it’s a great pick for draft and sealed deck players as well.
Since you probably aren’t going to score anything that trumps your paycheck in Dragon’s Maze, I’d advise against buying boxes in search of money mythics. Instead, shop or trade for what you need, but don’t forget to sit down with your frenemies at the local game shop for a Dragon’s Maze draft or three. You’ll have a rewarding tournament experience, and you might just accidentally stumble on a yet-to-be-discovered card interaction (among the many thousands this set introduced) that will propel your next deck to the top tier.