A Bit of Personal Background

This was initially a post where I gave some basic info on Sikhism since it’s in the news and most readers don’t know anything about it, following up on my brief comments on twitter. Then I realized I wasn’t going to say anything that wasn’t covered in the wikipedia article which you looked at already if you care in the first place. So now it’s a bit on my history with religion, since that’s useful background for the sorts of things I talk about all the time. Also, as I try to get into blogging a bit more regularly, it helps to make a habit of being prompted by current events and running with it, rather than expecting myself to engage in bouts of unprompted cogitation on some kind of schedule.

It’s an exaggeration to say I was “raised Sikh.” My parents weren’t religious enough to disrupt my intellectual development in any way, so it would be a slander to imply they imposed any religion. But it was the religious milieu I was steeped in growing up—going to the gurdwara, listening to weekly servies in Punjabi (which admittedly might have a higher chance of having an effect on me if I’d ever learned Punjabi), having langar (wikipedia quiz), hearing the bedtime stories, etc.

Many atheists have an “I was religious once” story. Most, just in my own experience. You can see Pharyngula’s daily “why I’m an atheist” posts for frequent examples. And there will a topic for another day about difference between (children or anyone) actually believing, saying they believe, thinking they believe, and wanting to believe. But I don’t have anything of the sort. My earliest memories of it amount to, more or less, trying to figure out why in the world other people were acting how they were. I didn’t see what I was missing, what explained why people did all this stuff. I can’t say I had a consistent worldview at the time; there was a disconnect between wanting to go along with social customs and being (apparently) smart enough to not accept utter nonsense. So I just never knew what the deal was. I guess when you’re a kid you have a such a large box of things you do because your parents make you, that going to the gurudwara didn’t even stand out. It must have made an impression, because I’d still go with them for a while even as an adult, despite having a much more unambigious understanding that it was a complete waste of time.

Not totally complete, because I could still do things like meet people there, socialize during the langar, etc. But the effiency is incredibly low when you’re just lumped in a roomful of people for no reason related to common interests. I never engaged enough to make friends (something I never had a serious difficulty with at school). My parents liked to have me meet their own friends because I was a well-known smart kid and it made all of us look pretty good. There may have been a few networking-type benefits once I was in high school but I can’t think of any material outcomes offhand. Anyway, not to go on too much, I think that gives an idea of what it represented to me as a kid—a huge time sink.

So I have no answer to the question of when I started considering myself an atheist. Because that’s just a word, and since in actual fact I’ve never been anything else, the question of when I sorted out the label doesn’t matter much. I do remember the first time I heard the word—it was in this Calvin and Hobbes:

I don’t remember when I realized that it was a viewpoint that mattered.

Aside: Calvin and Hobbes is amazing. It has to have done me a ton of good. It’s never “about” religion except tangentially in strips like the above. But just as increased knowledge as a child is critical for not being susceptible to religion, so is increased imagination, and C&H is brilliant at cultivating that.

A few comments on Oatmeal

This new entry in the popular webcomic The Oatmeal doesn’t say too much new about religion, probably nothing you haven’t heard before. But it was great to read for a few reasons.

First, obviously, it’s funny. Oatmeal is a funny guy, and seeing these ideas we actually care about expressed by him is a fun time. This highlights a real point though—oftentimes the audience for material like this is not religious folk, but atheists. I’d say that’s true of most of the famous atheist speakers. It’s also true of me. And it’s pretty clearly true for Oatmeal—one can imagine if he were seriously trying to convince religious people about their behavior, it would look very different from his cartoon about religious behavior. He’s a good enough comedian to know which group of people would find this funny.

This matters because it helps to realize that making atheist arguments in the hope that atheists will see them is a very valuable thing. Atheism still lives in an odd place where talking about publicly is not always easy (or much worse, depending on where you live). Some people even in the U.S. grow up never knowing it’s okay, and never knowing there are others like them. The internet has been an unpredecented tool for letting people know what’s out there, and that’s precisely why it’s amazing for atheism. You hope smart, clear-thinking kids in various parts of the country come across something like this, saying things they’d never heard anyone say before, and realize it’s what they always wanted to say themselves.

Second, he never does the “atheism is just another religion” panel. That was absolutely the foremost thought in my head scrolling down this comic the first time. I was sort of cringing waiting for it, actually skimming the comic a bit hastily. It never came though.

Before this, I had no idea of Oatmeal’s religious outlook. With his irreverent attitude toward everything, it seemed inevitable that poking fun at atheists would be in the cards. And actually, I still think that—I’m sure he could find funny ways to do it. But he didn’t take the easy attempt to do it here with the “atheism is a religion” fallacy. So when he does it someplace where it actually belongs, we’ll all laugh with him. Given that “atheist” is one of the most hated labels someone can choose to self-apply in this country, it’s always hit or miss whether even an otherwise enlightened person will suffer from the common misconceptions. It’s very nice that Oatmeal doesn’t, because it means we can link the comic around without a major reservation.

Third and possibly most important, the “no drawing here” panel. It’s maybe the one point the cartoon makes which isn’t heard very often, and needs to be heard more. How do we as a society deal with the fact that drawing certain religious symbols result in a nontrivial chance of being hunted and killed? If we all simply avoid doing so, we’ve let them win. That’s not even a religious point, it’s about the basic societal principle of not rewarding violence and thuggery by letting people use it successfully. It’s fair to say he should have included it to make a statement—whether a person cares about an issue so much that they take their life into their hands is up to them.

His solution is correct. Make clear that picture is omitted because of fear. Don’t just edit it out, but replace it with a message explaining why it’s not there (this could be done even more pointedly that this example). Don’t for a second let a reader think you respect the people who are making you keep something out of your cartoon; you despise their behavior and want everyone to know it. You don’t have to draw a religious leader to send a message, you merely have to let people know why you’re not doing it—because the last people who did got put into witness protection, or need to have constant guard and a fortified panic room in their house.

Burdens of Proof and Lack of Evidence

One of the common arguments against the notion of gods is that those who proclaim their existence have the “burden of proof” of showing why that belief is sensible. It’s typically presented as a sort of self-evident axiom, which then inevitably becomes a sticking point of discussion. The problem is that while this idea has its heart in the right place, it’s a lazy argument with no force. We should get in the habit of saying what we actually mean.

"Burden of proof" is a term borrowed from a law, where it has a specific technical meaning. It makes logical sense, because within a closed system of rules, you can lay down default outcomes for what happens if a burden isn’t met. If the prosection doesn’t meet its burden, judgment is for the defendant. It’s just a way of saying that the default outcome is in favor of the defandant. We can do that, because we can set up the system however we want. When you’re talking about metaphysics though, it doesn’t work so well. You can’t just declare that you win because it’s the default—there’s no judge sitting above you who cares what you think about that. You have to put more work into it.

Related is the well-known principle of Occam’s razor, which says to choose the simpler among otherwise equally strong hypotheses. A good rule of organizing thoughts in general, but similarly, it’s a mistake to apply it as an actual argument. Not only is it a logical dead end (because “simpler” doesn’t have any specific meaning), but it’s actively misleading given the complexity of various fundamental processes in the world (e.g. evolution). Every time you’re about to invoke Occam, ask yourself if you can explain the topic in question in fewer than the three words it takes to say “God did it.”

So where does this leave us? Realign the argument—what you don’t want to allow in the first place is getting yourself mired in the “no evidence for gods, no evidence against them” stalemate. Firstly, stop and think—is this actually how you go about analyzing things in your life? “No evidence for Santa Claus, none against; no evidence for flying spaghetti monster, none against; no evidence for invisible pink unicorn in the corner, none against. If you felt you had to perform this analysis for every single thing you could imagine, you’d never even have time to get out of bed in the morning. By slipping into that debate on the topic of gods, you’ve already conceded too much ground—you’ve admitted the so-called god hypothesis is worth evaluating.

Our goal is to learn things about how the world works, and that’s done by forming hypotheses that have explanatory power and testing them. Ideas that make no predictions, explain nothing, and cannot be tested are, for purposes of advancing our understanding of anything, meaningless. It’s really hardly even valid to call it “the god hypothesis” because it doesn’t have any of the properties of a hypothesis, but I think that little concession is mostly harmless. So what should be at the forefront when talking about whether a god exists is not “I don’t think it does,” but, “what will I learn by even trying to find out?” The answer is “nothing” for two independent reasons:

—It doesn’t purport to explain anything about the world. Note that even religious myths that contain truth claims, such as virgin birth, still fall into this. I’ve never heard anyone present a hypothesis listing the circumstances under which human-virgin-birth-with-assistance-of-God could be replicated or by what mechanism it takes place.

—No testable predictions. This is what gets glossed somewhat into the “no evidence for or against” issue. Be sure to focus on the fact that the issue is not whether anyone’s found evidence for or against, but that, without testable predictions, there is no such thing as evidence for or against. If something can never be supported by evidence or testing, it is impossible for it to increase our knowledge of anything.

Either one of these alone would be enough to render the idea unworthy of further thought.

The distinction is subtle between “the default hypothesis is ‘no god’ and you haven’t shown me evidence otherwise” and “does this idea of ‘god’ have any meaningful content?” The problem is that by social happenstance we’re stuck in the bizarre situation of trying to rebut an idea that is not, on its own merits, worth even a moment’s consideration. Most of the time when someone brings an argument or claim to you, there is at least something there to evaluate. The confounding difficulty of having to counterargue something that is fabricated nonsense of the truest sort is what causes people to fall back the sorts of devices I outlined at the beginning. But I want this to be reminder to be somewhat more vigilant in your thinking and discussion. The failure of godly arguments is not a want of evidence, but rather the lack of sufficient logical coherence to even earn the privilege of being subject to such inquiry.

Addendum:

Someone commented that in the “God did it” paragraph it sounds like I’m equating simplicity to sentence length. Just to clarify this a bit—I should have been clearer that there are really two separate points:

1) Logical. I don’t get much value out of the “simplicity” notion, and definitely don’t want to rest very important conclusions on it. I’d be curious if someone had come up with a really useful functional metric for what “simple” means in this context.

2) Rhetorical. When arguing it with people, simplicity is a particularly unhelpful, because it’s going to be in the eye of the beholder. Someone who already thinks “God did it” is not going to be influenced by your claim that understanding the natural world as it actually is is a simpler prospect.

Poking fun at the three-word phrase “God did it” is also always meant to serve another function. It highlights that in some ways the failing of that worldview is its extreme simplicity—it’s has no limits, no underlying support, and is a response to anything (for Simpsons fans, it’s basically a play on the “a wizard did it” scene). I characterize the godly explanation for things in this flippant way often, because it’s accurate.

Today’s Ruling in Gill v. OPM

The First Circuit ruled today that section 3 of DOMA (the part preventing same-sex marriages from being recognized for any federal law purpose) was unconstitutional under Equal Protection Clause. I believe this is the first time a federal appellate court has done so. The opinion is here: http://www.glad.org/uploads/docs/cases/gill-v-office-of-personnel-management/2012-may-31-gill-v-opm-first-circuit-ruling.pdf?p1=News_links

I’m just going to copy a short post I made about the case. In addition, below it I’ll copy a post I made back when this case was at the district court level, since it explains some of the terminology (such as “rational basis”) you need in order to know what’s going on.

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I read the First Circuit opinion. Not very long (and no dissent). It’s interesting though, and there should be a lot for legal commentators/bloggers to talk about.

It’s not a straightforward rational basis opinion (see my old summary I linked above for some of the terminology). It says that simple rational basis analysis couldn’t work to defeat the law, since even such confabulations as “saves tax money” are enough to be a plausible rational basis. On the flip side, it says it can’t raise homosexuals to a constitutionally protected class a la racial minorities, since SCOTUS has declined to do so thus far and the lower court can’t just go making it up out of nowhere.

So they find room in the middle: they say that disadvantaged groups have often been given a version of rational basis that has some more teeth, even though it’s never been at the level of “intermediate scrutiny” (gender-based laws) or “strict scrutiny” (race-based laws). The argument is basically that if you look at SCOTUS behavior over the past many years, this is a realistic description of how they’ve acted in gays rights cases, so we’re going to do the same here. SCOTUS has never put homosexuals and certain other disadvantaged groups on “the list” of protected classes, but every time the issue comes up, those groups get the benefit of something greater than barebones rational scrutiny.

The question is whether SCOTUS will buy it, which is what I’m really curious to see the experts’ thoughts on. On the one hand, it doesn’t put all its eggs in the plain rational basis basket (which is always weak), nor does it explicitly claim heightened scrutiny (which would be an invitation to immediately lose if SCOTUS says homosexuals still aren’t on “the list”). But it seems like it’s requiring SCOTUS to admit that it’s not been totally consistent in applying the rational basis test—that there’s everyday rational basis, and then there’s the real kind that’s only used in certain cases. It sounds pretty close to asking the Court to identify yet another level of protection that’s in between the existing ones. I really wonder how that will go over.


————————


And the one from 2010:


A few things about these cases (haven’t read them, but read some summaries and comments):

Understanding Gill properly requires knowing a little bit about how Equal Protection works. The key concept is called “level of scrutiny.” Basically, depending on the classification made in a law, the court will choose a level of scrutiny to apply, which determines how strong of a justification the government has to show in order for the law to stand. For example, any racial classification drawn in a statute receives “strict scrutiny,” the highest level, which in practice essentially always results in the government losing the case. Any classification which has not been determined to warrant a special level of scrutiny gets the lowest level by default, “rational basis”—the government merely has to show some rational reason in support of the law (and the government nearly always wins).

Importantly, the most important Supreme Court case on the matter, Lawrence v. Texas (invalidating all anti-sodomy law) was very unclear as to what level of scrutiny they were applying. So there is still no clear authority as to whether or not homosexuals are protected class. In Gill, the court held that the relevant section of DOMA failed rational basis scrutiny. Even without holding that homosexuals are a class that deserve any special degree of protection, the ruled the distinction between different marriages made in DOMA lacked any rational basis and therefore violates Equal Protection. Now even though I agree with that, it’s a potentially shaky ground to stand on, as all the government has to do is show something that the court thinks is a legitimate reason that the law could have been enacted.

In Gill, the government didn’t try to use some of the more commonly cited potential rational bases for the law, such as encouraging child-bearing, traditional morality, conservation of state resources, etc. The Justice Department just conceded that none of these were rational. They tried to go with: 1) the federal government has an interest in not taking any stand on a currently contentious social issue (rejected by the judge because he says that the government is taking a stand with DOMA), and 2) the federal government has an interest in making sure to move slowly and incrementally on an issue like this (and again, the judge said that this is not what DOMA is actually doing).

For people who want a bit more detail, the best summary I’ve seen was here: The Volokh Conspiracy � The DOMA Equal Protection Decision

efb on the link. Yeah, the posts were written by Dale Carpenter, a Volokh blogger who always writes about gay marriage issues. I am a big fan of Volokh as well though (not all the people on that blog for sure, but I do like Volokh’s posts).

My own comments:

Holding that there is no rational basis to apply different tax rules to people based on whom they’re married to is entirely correct. How much this ties into a potential argument over gay marriage is hard to say, because you get into the huge semantics of exactly what “marriage” means on a governmental level. Focusing on specific legal rights (such the tax and estate benefits at issue here) which are being irrationally denied to some people makes it much more clear-cut.

What I’m less certain of is whether is the best case to hopefully go up to the Supreme Court. It all basically comes to Justice Kennedy, what you think he was doing in Lawrence, and how you think he’d see the current case in light of that. If if he really meant to designate homosexuals as a protected class and apply a high level of scrutiny, then having him do the same here could be great. But if he doesn’t, and the door is open for the government to merely show a rational basis for such a law, things could be much shakier. Again, I don’t believe such a rational basis exists, but it’s not the strongest leg to stand on.

Avacyn Restored Prerelease

May as well copy here what I wrote on EJ, I’ve been talking about Magic a lot here. Little report on my AVR prerelease today:

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I had a deck today that I thought was very mediocre, but wound up going 4-0. I opened Craterhoof Behemoth, Angel of Glory’s Rise, and Gallows at Willow Hill, but not enough green/white/Humans to play any of them. Blue was my only solid color with Spirit Away for a semi-bomb, 2 Mist Raven, and a Nephalia Smuggler to go with them. Beyond that just went with black to get to 23 playables without splashing anything (remaining rares were Killing Wave and Gloom Surgeon).

Deck was:

  • Latch Seeker
  • 2x Mist Raven
  • Nephalia Smuggler
  • Scrapskin Drake
  • Amass the Components
  • Crippling Chill
  • Peel from Reality
  • Spirit Away
  • Vanishment
  • Wingcrafter
  • Blood Artist
  • Driver of the Dead
  • Evernight Shade
  • Gloom Surgeon
  • Polluted Dead
  • Renegade Demon
  • 2x Soulcage Fiend
  • Undead Executioner
  • Barter in Blood
  • Bone Splinters
  • Mental Agony

I don’t want to type out all the other cards, but as you can see I’m stretching for playables. My hope was to either curve into evasive creatures and race people with the blue tempo cards, or survive long enough to steal games on the back of Spirit Away alone. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t win a game where I didn’t draw Mist Raven. Some of the black cards (Soulcage Fiend) are sometimes flatly counterproductive, but my only black creatures not played are Butcher Ghoul and Crypt Keeper. Only blue creatures not played were 2 Rotcrown Ghouls. Some games I sided in Killing Wave just because I thought I was playing someone who wasn’t good and wouldn’t handle it well.

Basically cobbled together wins by stalling somehow (Gloom Surgeon is great for this) and triggering Mist Raven as many times as possible while getting in with fliers or Latch Seeker. Peel from Reality their attacker + Mist Raven is great. Nephalia Smuggler and Mist Raven in opener wins as long as they don’t have removal (which happened once). Best match was against a guy with Farbog Explorer and Nearheath Pilgrim, which had I seemingly no answer to but managed to beat twice through a combination of stupid bounce tricks and using Spirit Away as ridiculously inefficient removal for the Explorer.

All in all, was a lot of fun. Made me feel like I did what you’re supposed to in Sealed—find a deck with at least some positive interactions even though all you’re looking at is an array of mediocre cards. Makes me feel like Sealed is not quite as silly a format as I thought—I can see how a good player will make a working deck more often when there’s nothing obvious, but still looking forward to getting back to drafts with the new set.

Avacyn Restored Green and Other Cards

Rest of the cards (can just click the whole Tumblr to see all of them).

Cards: http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/productarticle.aspx?x=mtg/tcg/avacynrestored/cig#

  • Abundant Growth: 1.5 just goes in if you need fixing.
  • Blessings of Nature: 4.0 great anytime, usable for its normal cost.
  • Borderland Ranger: 2.5 better fixing, playable in just about anything.
  • Bower Passage: 1.5 usually weak, how often is this a concern anyway.
  • Champion of Lambholt: 4.0 Serious threat if not removed quickly
  • Craterhoof Behemoth: 4.0 8 and color-limited, but still should win almost as much as things like Griselbrand.
  • Descendants’ Path: 1.5 I can see being tribal enough to want it, but not very often.
  • Diregraf Escort: 1.0 very narrow
  • Druid’s Familiar: 3.0 Curving into this is going to be a serious beating.
  • Druid’s Repository: 1.5 This feels like a Ritual that doesn’t always work.
  • Eaten by Spiders: 3.0 Think there’s enough flying going around to maindeck.
  • Flowering Lumberknot: 1.5 Need a ton of soulbond to try jamming this in.
  • Geist Trappers: 2.0 not as efficient as most of the soulbond guys, but might be important.
  • Gloomwidow: 2.5 efficient and a good way of stopping fliers early.
  • Grounded: 0.5 Even if they have fliers, this is unlikely to be a huge help.
  • Howlgeist: 3.5 Really nice topend for just about anything, especially with soulbond going around.
  • Joint Assult: 3.0 Good trick anytime, and green has a lot of soulbond.
  • Lair Delver: 2.5 Close enough to Divination to play in most decks I think.
  • Natural End: 1.5 Don’t think this is maindeck in the format so far.
  • Nettle Swine: 2.5 Great vanilla body to fill out your army.
  • Nightshade Peddler: 2.0 Not as good as the other soulbond I think, but Typhoid Rats turned out pretty well.
  • Pathbreaker Wurm: 2.5 Good topend anytime.
  • Primal Surge: 0.5 Could be fun to side in against something where you think you’ll actually be able to cast it.
  • Rain of Thorns: 1.0 Just a Stone Rain too often, like before, can’t really maindeck it.
  • Revenge of the Hunted: 4.0 Great to miracle, fine finisher on its own.
  • Sheltering Word: 1.0 a lot worse than Ranger’s Guile.
  • Snare the Skies: 2.0 1 mana make it a lot more usable than Spidery Grasp.
  • Somberwald Sage: 2.5 Green a lot of fat guys, I can see this working.
  • Soul of the Harvest: 4.0 Just fine on his own, and the activation will win anytime he doesn’t.
  • Terrifying Presence: 2.5 A trick that should always pick off some creature and gain a little life.
  • Timberland Guide: 2.5 bear with some extra versatility
  • Triumph of Ferocity: 2.5 I think most green decks will be of the sort that want this.
  • Trusted Forcemage: 3.0 3/3 for 3 is a good starting point for any soulbonding plans.
  • Ulvenwald Tracker: 4.0 Wins quickly if you have the best guy, and might help out a lot some other times.
  • Vorstclaw: 2.5 Can’t really see not playing this, especially with soulbond possibilities.
  • Wandering Wolf: 2.5 Great opener, and possibility for buffs fits in this set.
  • Wild Defiance: 1.0 I guess you might bring it in against red.
  • Wildwood Geist: 2.0 This works out as a pretty efficient body when you’re on the offensive.
  • Wolfir Avenger: 3.0 Quite a lot for 3 mana.
  • Wolfir Silverheart: 4.0 pretty savage beating in almost any situation.
  • Yew Spirit: 2.5 late game only, but might become impossible to deal with.


Other cards:

  • Bruna, Light of Alabaster: 4.0 5/5 flier for 6, fine way to end most games.
  • Gisela, Blade of Goldnight: 4.5 gets a notch higher than the others because her bonus is enormous.
  • Sigarda, Host of Herons: 4.0 5/5 flying hexproof is still good enough unless you’re about to lose.
  • Angel’s Tomb: 2.5 Can easily get 6-9 damage in, but often dormant.
  • Angelic Armaments: 2.5 Really slow and expensive, but might sometimes be unstoppable.
  • Bladed Bracers: 2.0 pretty weak effect.
  • Conjurer’s Closet: 1.0 General comment: this set winds up having a ton of flicker enablers and few targets that give a lot of value.
  • Gallows at Willow Hill: 3.5 Such a blowout if it works can I can see trying to draft around this.
  • Haunted Guardian: 2.5 I think lots of decks will want to hold off the ground early on.
  • Moonsilver Spear: 5.0 Stone cold bomb. Untap on turn 5 and win.
  • Narstad Scrapper: 1.0 really expensive filler body.
  • Otherworld Atlas: 0.5 Even for some deck that wants this, it’s so slow to get going.
  • Scroll of Avacyn: 1.5 Cycling cards can always find a slot if you really need something.
  • Scroll of Griselbrand: 1.0 Effect is worse than the other one.
  • Tormentor’s Trident: 2.0 Still pretty clunky.
  • Vanguard’s Shield: 1.5 Even if you’re very defensive, might be better off with another creature.
  • Vessel of Endless Rest: 3.0 Only ramp in a set where you get up to big bombs, and fixes mana.
  • Alchemist’s Refuge: 2.0 3 mana to make your opponent nervous while attacking, and you need a good creature in hand too.
  • Cavern of Souls: 1.0 Biggest Constructed/Limited split.
  • Desolate Lighthouse: 3.0 Great use of extra mana in any deck that can run it.
  • Seraph Sanctuary: 0.5 Would need to feel really good in my colors to want the change of like 2 life in a game.
  • Slayers’ Stronghold: 3.0 A lot better than Refuge I think, since it adds good value to any creature you draw.

Avacyn Restored Red Card Ratings

Moving on. Cards: http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/productarticle.aspx?x=mtg/tcg/avacynrestored/cig#

  • Aggravate: 2.0 5 is a lot to hope to pick off multiple x/1’s. And if you’re in a board state where an attack for them is bad, you’re probably winning.
  • Archwing Dragon: 3.0 Late-game inevitability, hard to remove. Would be higher if there weren’t Angels everywhere.
  • Banners Raised: 1.5 Like Break of Day for a surprise finisher, but few other uses.
  • Battle Hymn: 0.0 Can’t see what you’d use this for
  • Bonfire of the Damned: 5.0 Can’t see not picking or not running this. Actually good without Miracle, completely ridiculous with.
  • Burn at the Stake: 4.0 Easy to finish or remove anything with this, dinged for color.
  • Dangerous Wager: 1.0 +1 card if you’re hellbent. I’d rather have had a card the whole time.
  • Demolish: 1.5 Only some decks want Stone Rain, and don’t meed maindeck artifact removal.
  • Dual Casting: 1.0 Need a lot of instants and sorceries for this to do anything.
  • Falkenrath Exterminator: 2.5 have to get a 1/1 through, but the threat of taking the game over matters.
  • Fervent Cathar: 2.0 nice sudden aggro
  • Gang of Devils: 2.0 by the time this is dying, real 2-1 for potential might be getting unlikely.
  • Guise of Fire: 1.5 really anemic removal for red
  • Hanweir Lancer: 2.5 nice soulbond guy
  • Havengul Vampire: 3.0 this is a nice threat for 4, since he matters even if he can’t get through right away.
  • Heirs of Stromkirk: 3.0 Ensuring that she gets through is another nice way to do it.
  • Hound of Griselbrand: 3.0 This guy will be a pain to deal with.
  • Kessig Malcontents: 1.5 filler guy, and synergy doesn’t seem worth the effort.
  • Kruin Stalker: 2.5 good 2-drop, remains hard to block later.
  • Lightning Mauler: 3.0 good at any time in the game.
  • Lightning Prowess: 3.0 great ability, hard to go too much higher than this with an Aura though.
  • Mad Prophet: 2.5 Looting is always fine, and body is okay too.
  • Malicious Intent: 1.0 a tapper without the removal element, only the aggressive, and an Aura.
  • Malignus: 2.5 Can’t finish with him, but hard for your opponent to avoid getting really low.
  • Pillar of Flame: 3.5 Nice removal, avoids various effects.
  • Ranging Poltergeist: 1.5 this is a lot for something that basically trades with a small guy of their choice.
  • Reforge the Soul: 2.5 really don’t know, but think I’d play it.
  • Riot Ringleader: 2.0 slightly better human synergy, but no Hamlet Captain.
  • Rite of Ruin: 3.0 Wrath or even some Armageddon action if you need. Might be too late too often though.
  • Rush of Blood: 1.5 weak combat trick, and the sudden finisher application is narrow.
  • Scalding Devil: 2.0 I’d probably usually play this guy for good mana sink later on.
  • Somberwald Vigilante: 1.0 Much worse than Ashmouth Hound. Gets in for 1 until they play a real guy.
  • Stonewright: 2.0 Soulbond that takes extra work. Need to be very red.
  • Thatcher Revolt: 1.0 only purpose is maybe synergy with a few random things.
  • Thunderbolt: 3.0 fine removal, think there are a lot of fliers around.
  • Thunderous Wrath: 4.0 non-Miracle use is a little too slow to be higher.
  • Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded: 3.0 really only good if you get him T2 before they have anything.
  • Tyrant of Discord: 3.0 I’d play a 7/7 in a lot of decks, and this has a weird random chance to just blow them up.
  • Uncanny Speed: 1.5 really inefficient unless you have something big and evasive and mana to cast it.
  • Vexing Devil: 2.5 the mechanic works, but only really matters if you’re aggressive.
  • Vigilante Justice: 0.5 need a ton of humans for this to be worth a card.
  • Zealous Conscripts: 4.0 This is a much better type of card for winning the game out of nowhere.

Rating Avacyn Restored Black Cards

Continuing: http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/productarticle.aspx?x=mtg/tcg/avacynrestored/cig#

  • Appetite for Brains: 1.5 More situational than most Duress effects, might be an out to bombs
  • Barter in Blood: 3.0 Shouldn’t be hard to get into good situations for this
  • Blood Artist: 2.5 Swings a lot over the course of the game.
  • Bloodflow Connoisseur: 1.0 Black doesn’t make tokens or anything. A much worse Unruly Mob.
  • Bone Splinters: 3.0 Needs to get something good to make the 1-for-2 worth it, but can get anything.
  • Butcher Ghoul: 1.0 Undying guy that’s too small to 2-for-1 very often.
  • Corpse Traders: 3.0 Hill Giant is fine, and turning a small guy into Coercion even once is valuable.
  • Crypt Keeper: 1.5 Don’t think AVR has much graveyard stuff to hose, Zombie synergy, or black aggro
  • Dark Impostor: 4.0 Save-or-die for your opponent once you hit 6 mana.
  • Death Wind: 4.0 Fireball anything as an instant.
  • Demonic Rising: 4.0 I really don’t think this should be too hard to activate.
  • Demonic Taskmaster: 3.0 Beats down fast and hard, but eggs in one basket. Chance of straight-up losing to a Pacifism is real.
  • Demonlord of Ashmouth: 4.0 Unstoppable enough to be worth paying for.
  • Descent into Madness: 0.5 Not sure what this is for.
  • Dread Slaver: 3.5 Seems like this will be really hard to deal with.
  • Driver of the Dead: 2.5 Pretty handy, but might often be a shortage of good targets.
  • Essence Harvest: 1.5 Not sure this format will have many decks that want a finisher like this.
  • Evernight Shade: 1.5 Need a lot of black before this amounts to much.
  • Exquisite Blood: 0.5 If you’re already damaging them, you probably just want a card that helps.
  • Ghoulflesh: 2.0 Just a bad Dead Weight, but you won’t cut removal.
  • Gloom Surgeon: 2.5 No idea really. But he can attack early and/or turn half your deck into life if you need it.
  • Grave Exchange: 1.5 This seems like a lot for two effects that both are situational.
  • Griselbrand: 3.0 I don’t think picking him early and forcing black really hard is a great strategy.
  • Harvester of Souls: 4.0 A card you can cast far more often that still wins most games it appears in = more net wins than something like Griselbrand
  • Homicidal Seclusion: 2.0 Still a 5-drop that you have to do a lot of work for to make good.
  • Human Frailty: 3.0 Pretty sure this goes in the maindeck.
  • Hunted Ghoul: 0.5 A pretty sad situation when you have to play this.
  • Killing Wave: 2.5 Affects both players and gives opponent a choice. I want to play it, but narrow in reality.
  • Maalfield Twins: 3.0 Going to be hard for them to clean up unless they have a 5/5.
  • Marrow Bats: 3.0 Tricky. But unless they have 2-3 fliers, you can afford to regenerate and keep beating.
  • Mental Agony: 2.0 Worse than Mind Rot, but fine.
  • Necrobite: 2.0 Undying Evil turned to be pretty good, but largely because it cost 1.
  • Polluted Dead: 1.5 Not very efficient and ability won’t often amount to much.
  • Predator’s Gambit: 1.5 I don’t think Unholy Strength is great unless you’re very aggressive.
  • Renegade Demon: 2.0 All he needs is a 3/3 and this is kind of a waste.
  • Searchlight Geist: 2.5 2-power fliers are always okay, and can hold off an Angel if you need.
  • Soulcage Fiend: 2.5 Could be better if black aggro really works.
  • Treacherous Pit-Dweller: 1.5 This gets either shut down or blown out if your opponent has basically anything.
  • Triumph of Cruelty: 1.5 Skeptical of things that do nothing unless you already have some advantage.
  • Undead Executioner: 3.0 Should cause your oppoenent some difficulty in any situation.
  • Unhallowed Pact: 2.0 Doesn’t do anything immediately and doesn’t give card advantage, so only worthwhile if there’s a standout target.

Rating Avacyn Restored Blue Cards

  • Alchemist’s Apprentice: 1.0 Delayed cycle whose only purpose is maybe chumping once
  • Amass the Components: 2.5 Seems on par with Divination
  • Arcane Melee: 0.0 Pointless
  • Captain of the Mists: 3.0 Tap ability on a fine body
  • Crippling Chill: 2.0 Cantrips are always okay filler, this one should often do something.
  • Deadeye Navigator: 3.5 Makes combat messy for your opponent and potential for huge synergy
  • Devastation Tide: 2.0 Hard to evaluate, but this is even more situational and less powerful than Terminus.
  • Dreadwaters: 0.0 Might change if mill is supported enough to be a deck in triple AVR.
  • Elguad Shieldmate: 3.5 Giving your best guy hexproof should basically always be great.
  • Favorable Winds: 1.5 Need a lot of fliers to make this better than a creature.
  • Fettergeist: 2.0 Really not sure how to evaluate loner creatures
  • Fleeting Distraction: 1.5 Can just put it in when you need a 23rd.
  • Galvanic Alchemist: 2.0 Still a Horned Turtle, even if ability is expensive
  • Geist Snatch: 2.5 An average counterspell
  • Ghostform: 1.5 even in aggressive blue deck, seems weaker than Feeling of Dread
  • Ghostly Flicker: 1.5 Depends entirely on synergy. Hard to keep 3 up compared to Cloudshift
  • Ghostly Touch: 1.5 Even in aggressive blue, it’s asking a lot to use an Aura for this
  • Gryff Vanguard: 3.5 I’d probably rather have Tower Geist, but in AVR this card enables all your flicker synergies
  • Havengul Skaab: 2.0 Doesn’t seem great enough to want it to be your only creature on turn 7-8.
  • Infinite Reflection: 3.5 Making all your guys into the best guy on the board has to be good in most situations.
  • Into the Void: 2.5 Nice tempo gainer, but no Quicksilver Geyser
  • Latch Seeker: 3.5 Basically requiring your opponent to have removal is always a nice thing.
  • Lone Revenant: 3.0 Body is fine even when he’s not active, and even one activation is a great return.
  • Lunar Mystic: 1.0 Need a lot of instants to expect to use this even once per game.
  • Mass Appeal: 1.5 I’m sure occasionally this will be great for your deck and you’ll get it late.
  • Mist Raven: 3.0 Aether Adept with flying is solid.
  • Misthollow Griffin: 3.5 but 3/3 flier for 4 is even better
  • Nephalia Smuggler: 1.5 really need a ton of ETB creatures before you want a reusable 4-mana Cloudshift
  • Outwit: 0.5 How many things in the set can this even counter
  • Peel from Reality: 1.5 Blue has a lot of tempo gainers. This one needs synergy to be good.
  • Rotcrown Ghoul: 1.0 Overcosted Hill Giant unless mill is somehow a deck.
  • Scrapskin Drake: 2.0 Not a great flyer. The extra toughness doesn’t mean much when it can’t block.
  • Second Guess: 0.0 Chances to cast this seem too unpredictable to run it or ever leave mana up.
  • Spectral Prison: 3.0 Removal that they need to use a card to get rid of. Small chance of being blown out.
  • Spirit Away: 4.5 Mind Control effects are always good, and this one should win games.
  • Stern Mentor: 1.0 So now it’s two mill commons and one (contextually) good uncommon. I’ll admit I can see it working.
  • Stolen Goods: 1.5 A random spell from their deck is probably worth less than 4, and can’t plan with this.
  • Tamiyo, the Moon Sage: 4.5 Planeswalker that can defend herself, should take over games.
  • Tandem Lookout: 3.0 Should be a lot of chances to leave this guy back and bond with a flier.
  • Temporal Mastery: 2.5 Only a Miracle if you get it in a racing situation, otherwise just Explores.
  • Vanishment: 3.0 Great tempo (with no card disadvantage) either way.
  • Wingcrafter: 2.5 This is basically Cobbled Wings, but hits for 1 on his own.

Rating Avacyn Restored White Cards

To practice my card evaluation skills I should look through the spoiler for the upcoming set and try to rate the cards (for Limited purposes btw) before the big bloggers do it. Here’s white—I’ll try to get to the others before LSV posts his stuff.

Cards here: http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/article.aspx?x=mtg/tcg/avacynrestored/cig#

  • Angel of Glory’s Rise 3.5 Big flier for 7, occasional instant win.
  • Angel of Jubilation 3.5 Good abilities, can’t pick early due to cost.
  • Angel’s Mercy 0.0 Junk.
  • Angelic Wall 2.0 Deck dependent
  • Archangel 3.5 Another giant Angel for 7.
  • Avacyn, Angel of Hope 4.0 8 is pushing it for an “I win” card.
  • Banishing Stroke 3.5 Okay without Miracle
  • Builder’s Blessing 1.5 Some decks might really want to stall
  • Call to Serve 1.5 Weaker than Spectral Flight
  • Cathar’s Crusade 4.0 Bomb enchantment
  • Cathedral Sanctifier 1.5 weak 1-drop
  • Cloudshift 3.5 Countering removal and/or reusing ETB should be versatile
  • Commander’s Authority 0.5 way too expensive
  • Cursebreak 0.5 sideboard only
  • Defang 4.0 all-purpose removal
  • Defy Death 1.5 5 is a lot for a one-time Rites
  • Devout Chaplain 2.0 Needs both a deck that can activate and an oppoent with targets
  • Divine Deflection 4.5 A blowout anytime you have the mana
  • Emancipation Angel 3.5 Happy to play this even if it’s not enabling anything
  • Entreat the Angels 4.0 Should win anytime you Miracle this
  • Farbog Explorer 2.5 A perfectly good “just a dude” dude
  • Goldnight Commander 3.0 Should usually be a solid beating
  • Goldnight Redeemer 3.0 Big flier, but not great on cost or abilities
  • Herald of War 4.0 That’s more like it
  • Holy Justicar 2.0 Tapper that’s very overcosted unless he hits the jackpot
  • Leap of Faith 1.5 Situational 1-for-1 trick
  • Midnight Duelist 1.0 At least he’s a filler Human unlike Sanctuary Cat
  • Midvast Protector 1.5 Sorcery-speed protection is an overcosted Crossway Vampire
  • Moonlight Geist 2.0 I’m never happy with a “keep me alive by using all my mana” card.
  • Moorland Inquisitor 2.5 Nice bear
  • Nearheath Pilgrim 2.5 Nice almost-bear
  • Restoration Angel 4.5 Basically always a winner
  • Riders of Gavony 3.5 Hill Giant with Vigilance and protection from something useful.
  • Righteous Blow 3.5 Fine removal
  • Seraph of Dawn 3.0 2 power for 4, but lifelink on a tough body makes you win races
  • Silverblade Paladin 3.5 Turns basically any board into a beating
  • Spectral Gateguards 1.5 Turns basically any board into a stall
  • Terminus 3.5 Not something you want to cast at every opportunity
  • Thraben Valiant 2.5 Should always be useful
  • Voice of the Provinces 2.5 6 is a lot for 3 in the air and 1 on the ground.
  • Zealous Strike 2.5 Skillful Lunge