Archiv für den Monat: Januar 2016

Fixing Old Cards: Beta Blue & Red

(This is a link to the previous installment of this series. Chain clicks to find them all.)

It seems moderate interest in this series is still there, so I might keep it up a little longer, although I’m not sure if my posting frequency will stay quite as high. This is the final installment addressing cards last seen in Beta (among regular sets).

 

Psionic Blast

Psionic Blast Original

I was not sure if I should include Psionic Blast, since it has been reprinted in a regular set (Time Spiral). On the other hand, it is pretty clear that this set’s timeshifted cards should not count, since they do not reflect the design philosophy of the time when they were published. I the end, I was just shirking from having to explain my stance on Magic’s color pie, but I wanted to talk about it at some time anyway, so here we go:

I am convinced that the strictness with which R&D (and in this case, that means mostly Mark Rosewater himself) enforces color taboos is a mistake. Note that I talk about taboos, because that’s what they really are, not just weaknesses, even though they are being slowly eroded nowadays for good reasons (Green being allowed to remove creatures if this process somehow involves own creatures, White being allowed to draw cards if this ties in with a specific subtheme like equipment, etc.) If it were fine for Green to have Hornet Sting and Desert Twister (which it should be in my opinion, but Rosewater is adamantly against this), unconditional creature removal would be Green’s weakness. If Green is not even allowed to have a barely playable card like Hornet Sting or an overpriced card like Desert Twister, that is a taboo.

Hornet Sting

To illustrate my point, think of an adventurer group in a class-based roleplaying game – you know, the kind where a fighter, a thief, a cleric and a wizard drink together in a tavern, when suddenly a wealthy stranger approaches them with a treasure map and a tale of great danger… It is important for those kinds of games that their character classes are balanced out. Each needs a niche of something important they do much better than the others, or there would be no reason (okay, apart from actual, you know, roleplaying) for players to run a character from that class. The wizard should not be able to beat up people with his bare hands or wear heavy armor, the cleric should not be able to throw fireballs at a distant enemy or become invisble, the thief should not be able to turn away undead or instantly heal wounds, and the fighter should not be able to pick locks or creep over a battlefield unnoticed. And so on. Each class needs to have strengths and weaknesses to justify its existence, just like the colors in Magic

However, applying Rosewater’s ideas about the color pie to this example, the wizard would be too weak to even walk normally (hey, he can learn spells to fly and teleport after all!); the cleric would be blind (no worry, he’s guided by his god, right?); the thief would helplessly bleed to death from the smallest scratch; and the fighter would be too dumb to speak.

That freakshow mirrors the inability of colors to interact with some opponents‘ game plans even in the most basic way. Black is not bad at dealing with artifacts, it can’t do anything about them at all once they’ve hit the battlefield. The same goes for Red and enchantments, and for a long time it was also true for Green and utility creatures. To compensate for that lack of interaction, in Magic’s early years the colors‘ strengths were exaggerated ever more, leading to the brokenness of cards like Fireblast or Hatred (with both Dark Ritual and Culling the Weak legal at the time, to provide context) – and that was still before Urza Block pulled out all the stops! It makes some kind of twisted sense: If you cannot interact with your opponent’s game plan, you need to win faster.

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Green found another way, becoming the color you would play if you wanted to play all other colors by getting ridiculously good manafixing. I don’t think the color pie makes much sense if it assigns one color the strength to use the strengths of all other colors, though… In the same vein, I really do not get the argument that colorless spells (not Grey, but colorless spells only requiring generic mana) are allowed to do what some colors aren’t. A recent case in point: Scour from Existence. Yes, that card is even a bit less efficient than Desert Twister, but Rosewater’s stance is explicitly that efficiency does not matter! This is where his reasoning simply breaks down. And it certainly does not help that colorless spells actually have even been allowed to do stuff some colors are forbidden to do at all pretty efficiently during Magic’s history (examples are Nevinyrral’s Disk) or Duplicant – oh, and then there was that phyrexian mana thingy, which must count as well!)

It all boils down to Wizards consciously implementing ways to cheat the color pie, while nominally upholding their strict interpretation of it: Colorless spells, too easy manafixing, rarity-driven exceptions (they will usually explain those as flavor-driven, though) – they have realized Magic does not work if decks cannot reliably interact, but they have not drawn the correct conclusion yet: That colors should not have taboos, but merely weaknesses; and that a color’s philosophical identity should not dictate if it is able to interact with basic game elements, but how. Giving Green fight (and recently, even one-sided fight) was a step in the right direction, necessitated by the dynamics of limited play where the ability to neutralize opposing creatures is essential to the viability of almost every deck, but there is still a lot to do.

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Okay, now that I have explained why it is important that each color is able to interact with the basic elements of the game, I have to concede that there is no dire need for Blue to have access to direct damage like Psionic Blast. That is not my point though – it is that color taboos, in contrast to weaknesses, shouldn’t exist in the first place, and that it is fine for a color to do something which does not obviously fit its philosophy if it does it in a very color-specific way (and not too efficiently). This is what the flavor of psionics in Magic is about: Being able to hurt someone with a direct mental attack, but hurting yourself in the process. If you follow the game’s back-story (which I do only sporadically myself), you might know that this is exactly what Jace did to defeat Alhammarret, so this concept from the very first Magic set is still a part of the game today at least philosophically.

The long and the short of it: I did not change Psionic Blast’s function of dealing damage directly, because I believe that this specific way to do it fits Blue flavorwise as long as it isn’t too efficient. I just made sure that the backlash is big enough to not make the card a utility staple, and that limited decks would not be able to splash for it, since you really should not splash Blue for direct damage.

My design:

Psionic Blast

 

False Orders

False Orders Original

I think the basic idea of this card is fine. All it needed was to be cleaned up and made a bit more versatile. I took a page from Master Warcraft here, although that meant borrowing the ability which stops a creature from attacking for a turn from White, but in the context of this card, and fitting in with its chaotic flavor, I feel this was justified. Note that I replicated the timing restriction from Master Warcraft not because I believe it is necessary on either card, but because I am not absolutely sure it is not. Maybe the cards could do something they’re not supposed to without it because of some obscure rules interaction I am not aware of.

My design:

False Orders

 

Raging River

Raging River Original

Among all cards from Beta, Raging River might be the one whose concept is the least compatible with modern Magic design. Setting aside for a moment the incredible complexity of its mechanic: What the heck is red about a raging river, apart from apparently making your creatures harder to block? Since I do not think the mechanical concept of this card can be salvaged, a redesign has to lean on its flavor, and that is decidedly not red. Quite the dilemma! But you know what they say: „We’ll fix it in the flavor text.“

My design:

Raging River

 

Two-Headed Giant of Foriys

Two-Headed Giant of Foriys Original

Lastly, another design I am just fine with (using its Oracle wording, obviously). Okay, Red is not supposed to be especially great at blocking, but it still does block a lot, and with this card’s concept fitting nicely into Red, I don’t see a real issue here. I would have preferred a double-colored cost, but that seems not important enough to merit a redesign. If Two-Headed Giant of Foriys was not on the Reserved List, it would make a perfectly fine reprint in a current set, although probably at uncommon.

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Fixing Old Cards: Beta Green

(This is a link to the previous installment of this series. Chain clicks to find them all.)

 

Berserk

Berserk Original

Wizards have already tried to fix Berserk several times. Their first attempt involving its initial aspect of doubling the creature’s power was Surge of Strength, while the closest was Fatal Frenzy, completing the move of this design into Red. But I just noticed that the original isn’t actually quite as overpowered as many remember – take a look at this card from a recent set:

Temur Battle Rage

Just like Berserk, it effectively doubles the creature’s power, and in those cases where Berserk might seem overpowered, it also gives trample! And all that for only two mana without killing the creature (okay, this takes away the option of killing an opponent’s creature with it, but that was just a fringe use of that card)!

I have to conclude that Berserk isn’t really much too strong, but mainly too awkwardly phrased. In my redesign however, I decided to get a bit out of the way of Temur Battle Rage, accepting that this effect is now in Red for whatever reason, and concentrate on the flavor-driven aspect of killing the berserked creature instead. That reduces the card’s value as a finisher, but gives Green some kind of roundabout removal (something it is still in dire need of), while not violating the paradigm that green removal must be tied to it having creatures in some way.

My design:

Berserk

 

Camouflage

Camouflage Original

When a card’s Oracle text is twice as long as its original rules text which already fills up its text box to the brim, you know that you’re looking at a design which just doesn’t work. I tried to preserve the surprise element of making the opponent deal with your board in an unexpected way, and exercised a bit of creative license otherwise. Fudging with creature stats in this way is possibly more a blue effect, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be at least secondary in Green.

My design:

Camouflage

(It’s a pity that Americans probably won’t get the flavor text reference.)

 

Ice Storm

Ice Storm Original

I just discussed the issues of land destruction in the previous installment of this series. I decided to create a four mana spell with upside again, somehow mirroring my Sinkhole design.

My design:

Ice Storm

 

Natural Selection

Natural Selection Original

Well, when you have a card which does almost nothing, you can usually save it by turning it into a cantrip. You will have noticed that I already used that trick a few times. This card, though, would just have turned out really annoying if I had done that. I instead went with a typical green effect matching the card name’s flavor (trying to match that art would have been futile).

My design:

Natural Selection
(My original design had a flaw pointed out by Max in the comments: The cards looked at were, of course, still in the library! That meant that you drew one of the three cards you had looked at if you didn’t reveal, which was not my intent, and also lead to the issue of having to prove which card you drew. Max’s suggestion to fix my fix was what I actually wanted the card to do in the first place, so I adopted it.)

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Fixing Old Cards: Beta White & Black

(This is a link to the previous installment of this series. Chain clicks to find them all.)

 

Blaze of Glory

Blaze of Glory Original

Wizards redesigned that card a decade ago in a very clean way:

Valor Made Real

However, I’m not satisfied with that solution. I do not mind that the fringe utility of forcing an opponent’s creature to block has disappeared – that’s not what this design was about, and it didn’t feel especially white either – but I do mind that this card is unplayably weak even in limited. That is easily amended, though:

My design:

Blaze of Glory

 

Consecrate Land

Consecrate Land Original

Yet another unplayably weak card. Using one card only to protect another is rarely efficient. I doesn’t get better if that other card is already somehow protected by its card type (at least nowadays), and a single card of that type is usually less important than permanents of other types. I suppose it was designed to help a little against Flashfires, and to combo with one’s own Armageddon

Well, my misson is to make each card playable in limited – at least in some reasonably frequently encountered situations in some environments – so I have to give Consecrate Land a bit of a different spin, since all realistic applications of its initial function are constructed only (mostly casual constructed). I feel that consecrating a land should not only protect the land itself, but also those living on it; and this flavor translates well into a mechanic, because you now have a permanent actually worth protecting.

My design:

Consecrate Land

(Yes, I am aware that in modern Magic design hexproof has replaced shroud. I consider this an egregious mistake which needs to be fixed, though!)

 

Lich

Lich Original

Here we have another of those bizarre old designs which I believe would be best off ignored. Wizards seem to disagree, however, as they have revisited this concept a few times, for example with Lich’s Tomb and Nefarious Lich.

There is a lot wrong with this card: Its prohibitive mana cost, its complexity, its weirdness that causes rules issues, and its complete unplayability in normal settings coupled with its potential to be abused (think Nourishing Shoal and the like). Then there is the idea that you lose the game if that enchantment disappears, which admittedly resonates with the card’s flavor, but makes for terrible gameplay. On top of that, I do not even think it makes too much sense to convey the state of being undead with having zero life in Magic.

I opted for a clean design focussing on playability while preserving an element of risk here, borrowing concepts from existing cards (Crumbling Sanctuary, Platinum Emperion).

My design:

Lich

 

Sinkhole

Sinkhole Original

So, let us talk about land destruction. I agree with Wizards that it should never be a viable main strategy for a deck anymore. However, I still hold that the main issue with land destruction for three mana were the Llanowar Elves etc. which made it a possible turn two play. (Well, Wizards seem to finally have come around on those at least…) The fixed version of Sinkhole – Rain of Tears – saw fringe play in all formats at best, while four mana land destruction only sees constructed play if it does a whole lot more than just destroying a land. Still, for a couple of years Wizards kept weakening this kind of card until their designs were utterly unplayable in any format, like Maw of the Mire and Survey the Wreckage. They have finally bounced back a little, though, as Reclaiming Vines and Volcanic Upheaval from recent expansions show, which offer land destruction for four mana with an upside – a good place for this kind of card to be in, in my opinion.

Philosophically, my stance is that players should not have to fear an attack on their mana base if they do not abuse that security. This means land destruction should not be viable against „normal“ decks with reasonable stable mana supported by a good number of basic lands, but it should be possible to punish greedy mana bases (for example, splashing for a color using only a single land producing it which can be fetched in multiple ways; or excessively using non-basic lands), as well as strategies relying on utility lands, land auras or massive ramp. I believe that three mana land destruction which actually cannot be used before turn three fits that paradigm. Thus, Rain of Tears is fine with me for constructed purposes. I also believe that removal which only can hit non-basic lands should be allowed to be a bit more efficient.

Rain of Tears

Back to fixing Sinkhole: The reason I do not just say „I’m fine with Rain of Tears“ and call it a day is limited. A spell which only destroys a land is simply bad in limited unless a specific environment is warped very heavily towards giving lands value. Take Battle for Zendikar limited as an example: Awaken played a big part here, converge encouraged greedy splashes, and there were a couple strong utility lands at uncommon – and yet, Volcanic Upheaval was still 99% unplayable, and even the much more versatile Reclaiming Vines a rarely used sideboard card. While it is certainly possible to crank up the importance of lands even more (for example, by additionally introducing common manlands and dual lands), I do not think I should design cards specifically for such an outlier format.

In an environment warped too strongly towards lands, there is also the danger that three mana land destruction might suddenly become maindeckable. Usually, trading a spell for an opponent’s land isn’t a great deal in limited as well as in constructed, but it’s closer here, because limited mana bases are more shaky, and spell efficiency isn’t nearly as high as in constructed. A reasonable chance to actually have a big impact in a land-centric environment might push a card like Rain of Tears over the edge, or at least close enough that many players will start to use it, even if that is not correct – and then we have the very issue of those non-fun games which are about possibly colorscrewing decks with perfectly reasonable mana bases.

This is why three mana land destruction which can hit basic lands wasn’t on the table for me, meaning I actually had to find a new design. Going with the flavor of the card name, my thoughts immediately went towards a concept which has already found a home in Red (Fissure), and a bit later even spawned a variant in Black (Befoul). I can accept Befoul as is, although I feel it should lose the „non-black“ restriction, but I decided to instead try a concept that Black does not share with Red, and that plays less as „creature removal with a land destruction option attached“ and more like „land destruction you might actually want to use in land-centric environments“.

My design:

Sinkhole

 

Word of Command

Word of Command Original

While you could argue that designs like Psychic Theft or Psychic Intrusion are closer mechanically to this nearly illegible abomination, in my opinion its vibe is best captured by Worst Fears, which I accept as a fixed version, although I would have preferred to cost it at 4BBB (and I do not use mythic rarity on principle). It may look quite different, but it is actually pretty exactly where I was going with my redesign before I remembered that such a card already exists.

Worst Fears

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Fixing Old Cards: Beta Artifacts

(This is a link to the previous installment of this series. Chain clicks to find them all.)

It seems I finally discovered a topic in the intersection of my own interests and that of my potential readers, so I’ll keep the ball rolling for a while. I will proceed chronologically now, addressing all cards from the original Magic set (referring to Beta instead of Alpha, though, because I consider the latter to be essentially an early misprint) which have not been reprinted in a regular set yet first. This time, I will look at the rest of the artifacts.

 

Chaos Orb

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I actually do not really want to „fix“ this card, since there is no possible design I really like which would be even remotely similar in function. Let’s break it down:

1. It is extremely efficient colorless removal, which shouldn’t exist. Of course I can easily make it less efficient, but the very point of this card is its efficiency tempered by making the player jump through an especially weird hoop.

2. It is somehow „chaotic“ in nature, meaning that you cannot really be sure what will happen when you use it, although you have a certain degree of influence. While such chaos can be reproduced in several ways, I am just not a fan of that kind of effect. In my opinion, randomized libraries supply all the randomness which this game needs.

3. Most importantly, it breaks expectations what Magic gameplay is about. Specifically, it introduces manual dexterity. That kind of design space is nowadays reserved for Un-sets. The basic question is if there is a point in trying to fix a card when such a fix necessarily removes its fundamental nature.

My answer to that question would be no if this wasn’t mainly a creative exercise. I decided to provide a redesign just to meet the challenge, but if I were ever put in the position to decide if a slot in any card set will be filled with a Chaos Orb redesign or a new, conceptually completely different card, I would always choose the latter. In my book, Chaos Orb is not just bad design, it is in bad design space. Still, I will do what I am here for, keeping the „colorless removal“ and „chaotic“ aspects, but removing the efficiency and the Un-sets flair.

My design:

Chaos Orb

 

Copper Tablet

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It is kinda strange that Wizards have never revisited this simple, elegant design. They have almost obsoleted it with Scalding Tongs, and of course, Red got stuff like Sulfuric Vortex and Curse of the Pierced Heart, but the basic idea of an artifact which pings each player has never been reprinted. I believe that is a shame, since all it takes is a slight upgrade to generate an interesting card.

My design:

Copper Tablet

 

Cyclopean Tomb

Image4.ashx

This is an extremely unwieldy and complicated card which doesn’t really do anything with any degree of efficiency – and if it were efficient at what it does, that would even be bad! Cyclopean Tomb’s initial design was about enabling swampwalk (which isn’t in use anymore), colorscrewing opponents (not something Magic design strives for nowadays), and giving yourself more swamps as manafixing or a way to grow your Nightmare or whatever (no, really). Today, it can additionally neutralize utility lands (which didn’t even exist back then).

Once again, this is a card which would be better off lost in the mists of time than redesigned, but I did my best. It didn’t help that name and artwork do not seem to have any connection whatsoever to the card’s mechanic, though… I also strongly suspect that the artist illustrated the wrong meaning of „cyclopean“, which was probably intended to denote „gigantic“. Thinking about all this mess, I decided to go with the flavor of a slow corrupting influence somehow tied to swamps which could be undone by removing the Tomb.

My design:

Cyclopean Tomb

 

Forcefield

Image3.ashx

Forcefield is one of those rares sitting in the awkward space of being not good enough for constructed, but potentially oppressive in limited. Actually, it is not even that good in limited either, because there are many situations where it does little or nothing, but it’s quite unfun to play against when it works. My goal thus was to make it less dominating in those situations, but more useful generally.

My design:

Forcefield

 

Gauntlet of Might

Image7.ashx

I actually like that card as is. I do not mean there isn’t room for improvement – there certainly is – but the point of this series isn’t attempting to find the perfect versions of designs, but to fix those I consider inadequate. Gauntlet of Might, with its current Oracle wording, would be a nice rare in a contemporary set, so I’ll leave it be.

 

Illusionary Mask

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Here we go again: I like nothing about this card. No, I do not even like morph, and even less this incredibly complicated alternative way to put creatures onto the battlefield face down. The potential to abuse it with stuff like Phyrexian Dreadnought is just the icing on the cake.

However, fixing cards is also not about eliminating every concept I do not like. Face down creatures have become a staple in Magic and proven to work well enough, so it would be wrong to completely redesign this card to avoid using them. Instead, I concentrated on eliminating complexity and abuse potential.

My design:

Illusionary Mask

 

Time Vault

Image.ashx

The original Magic: The Gathering set explored uncharted waters, so the high number of designs I consider fundamentally flawed should not surprise anyone. This is yet another. Any possibility to repeatedly take extra turns, even at the cost of skipping turns first, seems just ripe for abuse, and its game play value is highly dubious. And yes, this card was obviously intended not to become untapped in any other way than via skipping a turn, no matter what the current Oracle wording says – it reads clearly „to untap it, you must skip a turn“, and it definitely means it, since even in Magic’s earliest days noone could miss the brokenness of combining this with any untap effect. (There might not have been a way to untap artifacts directly yet, but Animate Artifact and Instill Energy did exist!)

I decided to create a version of this card which does leave open a few contrived ways of „cheating“ to get extra turns, but not too easy ones, and not unbounded. Even more than with Illusionary Mask, it should prove my willingness to design cards which are „not for me“, at least in the context of this exercise.

My design:

Time Vault

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Fixing Old Cards: The Power Nine

Since the first part of this series has been met with moderate interest (read it if you want to know what this is about), I felt motivated enough to do a second, greatly improving the chances that this will actually develop into a series.

This time, I will take a look at the Power Nine.

 

The blue cards

Image.ashx Image2.ashx Image3.ashx

 

Here Wizards have already done what needed to be done and created fixed version of these cards, which I am completely fine with:

Image4.ashx Image5.ashx Image6.ashx

 

The Moxes

Image7.ashx Image8.ashx

Image9.ashx Image10.ashx

Image11.ashx

 

Again, Wizards have already fixed those cards:

Image12.ashx Image13.ashx

Image14.ashx Image15.ashx

Image16.ashx

 

While this cycle is okay, I believe that with modern design technology we can do better. There are two aspects I want to improve:

1. The Diamonds feel just a little too slow to convey the vibe of jolting your mana which the Moxes were aiming for. There is still room for upgrading them, as the strictly superior Coldsteel Heart shows – they offer no bonus for locking you into getting a specific color from the beginning.

2. I like to tie them closer to their colors. Especially in limited, the Diamonds may get used off-color just for ramping, and because of that very extra ramping utility they might also be used to splash colors with little cost. I’d prefer them to be in-color picks. On the other hand, closer color ties allow for pushing them a little more with regard to the first aspect.

 

Therefore, my designs are aimed at providing efficient in-color ramp:

Mox Emerald

Mox Jet

Mox Pearl

Mox Ruby

Mox Sapphire

 

Black Lotus

Image17.ashx

 

Here, Wizards have printed several variants of this card’s original design, but none of those really capture its initial function. For example:

Image18.ashx Image19.ashx Image20.ashx

 

My design:

Black Lotus

(Yes, I upgraded the „of any one color“ part, because I feel that the option to mix colors fits the flavor better. Then again, I am not responsible for designing the Magic Online interface for this card where you would have to choose between 35 possible combinations…)

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Fixing Old Cards: Promos

I was reminded of Nalathni Dragon yesterday, and a wave of nostalgia hit me. What a cool card! I even used to possess a „playset“ of it – not that I could remember to actually ever have played with it, though. Even for the most casual decks, it was just too bad. Heck, it would even be too bad to be used in current limited formats! If it ever had been included in a set of roughly the era when it was printed, it might have seen limited play then, but that says more about how terrible limited was at that time than about how useful Nalathni Dragon is.

Isn’t that a pity? Such a cool card to look at, but with almost zero playing value! Pondering such thoughts, I hit upon the idea of dusting off my Magic Set Explorer and mocking up versions of old cards which pass the test for modern design sensibilities, while capturing as much of the original’s flavor as possible. This is the first installment of a series where I „fix“ old cards in such a way, beginning with those old promos which were not originally published as a part of any expansion or special product. My goal is to produce designs which play well in limited (giving them a rarity for that purpose) and are not broken in constructed environments, while staying close to the original feel.

(There might or might not be a second installment of this series.)

 

Nalathni Dragon

Image8.ashx

This card has the following issues:

1. Banding is not remotely close to a mechanic which could be printed today.

2. Also, banding clearly does not belong in Red, so I need to reproduce this card’s vibe in a completely different way.

3. It is too weak. Fortunately, that issue can usually be addressed by tweaking some numbers.

My design:

Nalathni Dragon

 

Arena

Image0.ashxImage7.ashx

Issues:

1. Lands should produce mana, at least indirectly.

2. The ability can lock an opponent out of playing creatures. While this isn’t an issue in high-level constructed play, it just isn’t fun to play against and too easy to set up in limited and casual.

My design:

Arena

 

Sewers of Estark

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Issues:

1. That card name really does not fit an instant.

2. The second part of its ability does not belong in Black.

3. It’s terrible.

My design:

Sewers of Estark

 

Windseeker Centaur

Image3.ashx

Issues:

1. Vigilance – and also any similar ability – does not belong in Red. The vibe of this centaur being alert needs to be portrayed differently.

2. This is clearly a design for a common (by modern standards), but a double-colored mana cost on a common 3-drop creature does not play well in limited.

3. The card is weak.

My design:

Windseeker Centaur

 

Giant Badger

Image.ashx Image2.ashx

Issues:

1. The original art is charmingly quaint, but does not fit the mechanic, while the new one is stone ugly.

2. The badger’s ability is only really relevant in limited environments, but does not play great there, since it encourages early boardstalls.

3. Again, there’s the problem of a common 3-drop creature featuring a double-colored mana cost.

4. And again, this is a weak card.

My design:

Giant Badger

 

Mana Crypt

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Issues:

1. Obviously, this card is completely busted.

2. There’s a coin flip. I personally loathe coin flip cards, but they are still a part of Magic today. However, they are not supposed to be constructed viable anymore, and the basic idea of this card is high risk for high reward, so a version that isn’t strong enough for tournament play wouldn’t do anyway, which rules a coin flip out.

My design:

Mana Crypt

 

What do you think?

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Oath of the Gatewatch in my Limited Card Pool

Eleven days into the new year, and MagicBlogs has yet to show any signs of life. That’s not an auspicious start into 2016…

Well, I’ll have to go ahead again, I guess. It may have become something of a tradition for me to completely overhaul my Limited Card Pool during the „days between the years“, and I did that before the official spoiler for Oath of the Gatewatch came out. That meant re-evaluating what was in my pool, but just as importantly, also all the stuff that was not – sometimes cards got lost in earlier crunchs for reasons which no longer applied, and sometimes I might have simply changed my opinion on cards in the meantime. Going over a little more than 2000 cards in my pool is already quite a lot of work, but closely looking at all cards ever printed just isn’t something I can do more often than once a year.

This is not to say that my main goal was adding stuff I had overlooked – to the contrary, I obviously had to concentrate on trimming down my pool to make room for new cards instead. I really don’t know which number of cards is ideal as an upper limit, but there needs to be one. It’s hard to cut perfectly serviceable cards, though. It’s even harder to say goodbye to complete mechanics, even if they never really worked out, like spiritcraft. Interestingly, I cut the precursor cards to surge – Skyshroud Condor and Illusory Angel – just before Oath of the Gatewatch would introduce that mechanic, because I realized that they didn’t play especially well.

I will not talk in more detail about the changes I made then – for the (very) few interested, there is an XLS document at the end of this entry with my complete, up-to-date Limited Card Pool list. Instead, I will focus on the influence which Oath of the Gatewatch had. Turns out that is quite a lot of influence, which is astonishing, given that I consider three of the four major mechanics from this set mostly a failure! However, the fourth delivers in spades, and there are just a lot of really interesting designs in this set – mostly at common and uncommon, so I was pleasantly surprised with the official spoiler after all those boring rares and mythic rares previewed before.

I will break down the new inductees systematically:

1. Grey

(„Grey“ is how I refer to cards requiring colorless mana.)

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I am really disappointed with the way Wizards are treating Grey. Mark Rosewater has made it clear that it will be a very rare occurence going forward, and since there will be no more of it in the foreseeable future, they made sure it will have an impact coming from a single expansion only. That, of course, means that nearly all of these designs are just too powerful for Next Level Cubes. There just aren’t enough usable cards – if any at all – requiring colorless mana to cast to make it worth including specific colorlessfixing in a cube. That is why I concentrated on cards which can be played somehow reasonably without colorless mana, but have activated abilities requiring it. Even here, there aren’t a lot of usable designs (and most annoyingly, not a single white one). So this is all I got from the most groundbreaking innovation in Magic design since Alpha: A couple of uncommons (I intend to use all of these cards at that rarity) which might encourage drafters to use a little more colorless mana producers than usual. This is nowhere near to creating a desire to draft Wastes, and nowhere near to necessitate the inclusion of additional land cycles producing colorless mana (okay, I’m not too unhappy with that – filterlands are terribly expensive, after all!)

My only concessions to Gray thus were adding Blasted Landscape to my cycle of cycling lands, and replacing Mana Confluence with Grand Coliseum. Other than that, I will just throw these cards into my cubes if I feel like it and have players figure out if their decks support the Grey-Splash without too much trouble, and how bad it would be to play those cards without getting it. The reward is certainly there, and drafters may be encouraged to pick up that Crystal Vein or Pristine Talisman they might otherwise not have been interested in, but their main decision is not if it makes sense to „go grey“ in draft, but if the potential upside of those cards is worth the risks of not reliably getting colorless mana to use their abilities.

2. Allies

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So this is the main retribution from Oath of the Gatewatch to my pool! Allies were still a rather underdeveloped theme before, but got a major boost now. One thing got even more obvious: Unlike with slivers, there is no hope to achieve even the semblance of a balance between colors with them. (And I really don’t get why Blue almost completely refuses to participate, when even Black does its part.) It’s important to note, though, that (like with slivers) just having the creature type „ally“ must be considered to be mechanically relevant. To a certain extent, that is true for all creature types with tribal cards, but allies and slivers take this to another level. Nonetheless, „passive“ allies still have to be useful without tribal support (Stonework Puma being an exception which works because any player can pick it up to enhance their ally theme), and thus compete in the crunch with other generically useful cards.

Cohort as a counterpoint to the aggressive rally might actually be a good idea, by the way – I’m not clear yet how this will work in the official draft environment, but it seems like a great tool to round out the ally theme in Next Level Cubes at the least.

3. Support

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Support seems mightily lame for a keyword – it could just have been spelled out on a few cards which wanted that effect. However, it turns out that this mechanic originally could also put loyalty counters on planeswalkers and was then crippled by development. In its intended form, I admittedly would have liked it even less, but at least it would have merited a keyword.

There are plenty more interesting mechanics putting counters on creatures, so I really wasn’t interested in support as a keyword. I like the white common as a cantrip and the green as a smaller version of Stand Together, while the uncommon is mainly another badly needed green removal spell.

4. Surge

I use no cards with surge.

While I’m not against the basic idea of this mechanic, its execution failed to convince me, just like converge did. The challenge is to meet standards of elegance, playing interestingly and hitting the right power level; and with a mechanic as specific as this, there should be several cards using it to help set the tone of a draft environment, so even if I liked a single one a lot (I don’t) it would be a poor choice for my pool.

5. Artifact synergies

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I’m of course aware that colorless synergies and artifact synergies are not the same thing, but they overlap enough that it makes sense to use a few of the former to flesh out the latter.

I want to use the Ruins as an uncommon, and Reaver Drone as a common.

6. Multicolor replacements

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I have a fixed number of slots for (more or less) generic multicolor cards, and there is still room for optimization. These cards replace designs I’m less enthused with.

I hope Jori-En does not turn out too powerful. I will try it as an uncommon. If that doesn’t work out, I will probably remove it completely.

7. Other replacements

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The Cloak introduces menace to my equipment selection. It replaces Angelic Armaments, fulfilling their role even a bit better.

The Lantern replaces Darksteel Pendant, offering more versatility.

The Visions replace Clinging Darkness. They are a cool design on a good power level. I will use them at common, since Black should have plenty strong removal.

The Endurance replaces Boon of Erebos. While I’m okay with Black paying life for efficient spells, the Boon does not need that additional cost to be balanced, so I go with the more elegant design.

The Vines replace Shape the Sands simply because they are more likely to do what you want that card to do.

8. Miscellaneous

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The Warden hits a good spot as a generic manaproducing creature. It’s also useable as a staple common (see my explanation at the end).

Linvala looks like a powerful, but fair rare to me – a great comeback card, but less impressive when you’re not behind on board. Maybe I underestimate her, though.

The Caller does something cool for a reasonable price with a reasonable restriction and has unusual stats for a black creature (at least in my pool).

The Strike seemed at first a bit redundant with Murder to me, but at one mana more and at sorcery speed it can work as a common (I now use Murder as an uncommon because it’s so efficient), and both being splashable and exiling the creature set it sufficiently apart – even though my cubes avoid the amount of graveyard recursion which would make such effects necessary, exiling creatures is still useful, and I like to have a few cards which do it.

The red cantrip is exactly what I had always wished Accelerate were, but without the strange rider from Crimson Wisps.

Finally, the Pulse is on one hand a Regrowth variant, and will be mainly used for that – but more importantly to me, it is a playable lifegain card! These are incredibly hard to come by, so I am happy I can use this.

My updated list

I’m at 2063 cards now (not counting the basic lands). As you can see, I use a lot of tags to make it easier to find cards with certain qualities, but obviously that system isn’t perfect (and there may be glaring oversights).

I dropped the „mythic“ rarity again, since I only used it in very strictly defined cases, and those were few enough that it wasn’t necessary to make these cards actually rarer than rare.

„Common“, „uncommon“ and „rare“ are again my default rarities for Next Level Cubes, while I have modified „staple“ to be a subset of the commons instead of a separate rarity: It now means that this is a common which could make sense as a staple (defined as a card guaranteed to be in the draft pool even if not all commons are) if I use that concept in a cube, but doesn’t need to be even if I do, depending on the specific cube. That is different from the three „real“ rarities which, while not set in stone, are (again) intended to be strong guidelines I will only stray from very infrequently, if at all. (The numbers before the letters „S“, „C“, „U“ & „R“ are for sorting purposes, just like the asterisks before the color / card type indicator.)

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

LimitedCardPoolOGW

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