Schlagwort-Archiv: black

Fixing Old Cards: Arabian Nights Black

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

Okay, I’ll keep going, at least for for the moment.

 

Guardian Beast

Guardian Beast Original

This ability is needlessly complicated. It’s also not black, but white (see Fountain Watch, Leonin Abunas and Indomitable Archangel.) I took a page from Disciple of the Vault for a black artifact-related ability.

My design:

Guardian Beast

 

Juzam Djinn

Juzam Djinn Original

I absolutely love that card as is! (And no, it doesn’t cost only 2 mana. Look closely!) This is probably at the top of my list of cards which I want to have in my Limited Card Pool but can’t (or at least are too sensible to) afford.

 

Khabal Ghoul

Khabal Ghoul Original

Here, the one thing I’d like to change (the creature type has already been errata’d to Zombie) is the mana cost – I feel this card should require double-black mana. I do not feel strongly enough about this, tough, that I think it merits a redesign, so I’ll leave it be.

 

Oubliette

Oubliette Original

Another card which is worded incredibly weird – in fact, so weird that at one time it had been errata’d to phase the creature out! And all that just so that it would keep its auras and counters if it came back. Well, there is a much easier way to do this. It’s in the domain of White, though, but if we add just the right amount of black-flavored cruelty, we can make it work. Oh yes, the resulting card is overall (but not strictly) stronger – you’d better free that creature from its prison soon, or you do not need to bother anymore.

My design:

Oubliette

 

Stone-Throwing Devils

Stone-Throwing Devils Original

Here my only issue is power level. While 1-mana 1/1s with a combat-related ability can be useful in limted environments, that ability needs to be somewhere in the realm between deathtouch and flying. First strike is just not good enough. I like the card concept, though, and I believe that ability is still tertiary in Black (at least it should be), so I just added a little more oomph in a devilish-feeling way.

My design:

Stone-Throwing Devils

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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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My Limited Card Pool: Black Non-Creature Spells

This is the sixth entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. Here are my previous entries:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

Black Non-Creature Spells (Phyrexian Boon should no longer be on that list.)

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

One annoying thing which I cannot get out of my pool, although I wish I could, is that needless „non-black“ rider on black removal spells. It’s fine to have a couple of those specifically for a color themed cube, but that restriction pops up on way too many cards which otherwise are (and should be) generic choices, like Executioner’s Capsule, Seal of Doom or Befoul. I would actually prefer to dispense with all „color (spare)“ tagged cards completely, since that card aspect does not provide much play value in Zweidritteldraft even if I use a color theme, but I simply need them for their main function (Saltblast and Befoul, for example, provide hard-to-come-by maindeckable land destruction; and the aforementioned Capsule and the Seal are members of essential cycles).

WotC has stopped to use that rider on black removal spells lately, providing a couple of truly generic choices, but I will probably never be able to completely get rid of it. Note that removal cards which spare artifact creatures, on the other hand, make perfect sense in an artifact cube, since artifacts will be plentiful enough there that these cards aren’t just randomly weaker against one player. That makes an additional non-black rider, like on Ritual of the Machine – which is a wonderful design otherwise – especially annoying, though.

Black, to a slightly lesser extent Green, and to an even larger extent Red are the colors where a certain uniformity of non-creatures spells is an issue. Both White and Blue have so many noticeably different designs to choose from that cutting that variety down to a manageable level is hard. The other colors, however, provide too much of a few good things, and too little variety overall – at least if we only look at usable limited cards.

For Green, one mostly has to make sure there’s some creature removal present, and a little card draw (which Green should have), then cut down the plethora of pump spells and mana providers to a reasonable level. Green is a fine color to sport an above-average creature ratio, and there’s no dearth of choices in that area, so you do not need to go scavenging for fillers. In Red, however, almost every spell seems to deal damage or destroy something, which is severely limiting that color’s scope in limited, and making it necessary too look pretty hard which versions of these basic effects play noticeable different due to varying numbers in their costs and effects.

With Black it isn’t quite as bad, but you still have to wade through a sea of creature removal. Discard is the second most pronounced theme, but many basic discard spells, like Duress, Ostracize or Coercion don’t really work that well in limited due to being too situational or inefficient. (Discard tacked on creatures, however, plays well and is powerful, which is why I had to make a lot of cuts there and maybe will do even more). Returning creatures from your graveyard to your hand or directly to the battlefield is number three. Overall, Black has less of an issue with variety itself, but with power level: Creature removal is powerful (and it needs to be, to keep the game interactive), so it needs to be supplemented with less powerful (but still playable) stuff. There’s a bit of a gap between „strong“ and „weak“ in Black non-creature, non-removal spells, though, which I haven’t been able to satisfactorily close in all areas.

Unholy Strength is back in my pool over Predator’s Gambit. I wanted the additional rider to raise the power of that aura a little, but I should have realized that wasn’t achieving much, while sacrificing elegance.

I’m happy Scavenged Weaponry exists, since it fits better into that cycle between Chosen by Heliod and Dragon Mantle than Scourgemark; the latter isn’t too exciting unless you have a very pronounced heroic theme (which I won’t); and I wanted this cycle’s mana costs to be less uniform.

Feast of the Unicorn being common and Mark of the Vampire being uncommon has only indirectly to do with power level. The Mark is more generically useful due to its higher power level, and because succesfully attacking just once with it already almost justifies playing it (which, of course, is part of the reason why its power level is rather high). The Feast, on the other hand, is meant to help create the very environment where putting it on a creature is something players want to do, and thus needs to show up at common there.

Auras like Caustic Tar obviously can enhance an enchantment theme by representing an independent, non-creature actor on the board, but they’re actually more important supporting a land theme in the same way, making maindeck land destruction more viable.

About land destruction: A focussed LD strategy obviously has no place in a Next Level Cube. Being able to punish players with too greedy mana bases or running too many high-end cards by destroying a land as a tempo play has some merit, but is a sideboard strategy, and cards which cannot be maindecked have no place in Zweidritteldraft. This is why I got rid of all dedicated LD (Sinkhole, Ice Storm, Molten Rain, Ark of Blight…) other than Tectonic Edge, which is maindeckable since it sits in a land slot.

If I want a „lands-which-do-things“ theme, however, I need both a crucial mass of maindeckable cards which interact with lands and of cards which makes running those interactive cards desirable. If I just want a few utility lands (or land auras) for a cube, I still have to make sure players can interact with those. Multiple-purpose cards like Befoul or Pillage are excellent choices here, and they also can serve as tempo plays or to punish shaky mana bases.

Is it a good idea to punish those? Yes, it is! I always make sure that my cubes contain enough mana fixing so that players can assemble a working mana base for the type of decks supported by that cube (which means between one-and-a-half and three colors, unless it is a monocolored cube, obviously) – this is why I use fetchlands, spotlands AND signets at common. In concert with the house rule of starting the game with 8 cards this means players can usually avoid color screw, even if confronted with a stray LD spell. However, sometimes a player decides to go beyond the number of colors which is the norm for decks in a cube. That is fine, and the tools are there to do this, but there needs to be a substantial cost involved, and that cost is the requirement to invest extra picks into mana fixing, but also opening up the opportunity for their opponents to attack a vulnerable mana base. The latter is also just fair towards the other players, since it is frustrating to lose to a multicolor best-of deck which gets lucky with its mana.

Thoughtseize is, at the moment, a much maligned card in standard, since it can deal with any (non-land) card. That it is situational, costs you 2 life, and requires you to spend a mana to remove a spell which your opponent had not to invest any mana in before, is usually left out of consideration. With Counterspell nowadays only a faint memory for many players, and even a blast from the past they never encountered in a competitive setting for many others, that discard spell seems to have inherited the mantle of the bogeyman for those who hate interaction in Magic. The complaints are so similar, as is the reasoning donwplaying or ignoring the card’s inherent disadvantages, and the lack of willingless to simply build more robust decks which do not fall apart if they are forced to trade one or two crucial cards.

Just like countermagic is for blue, discard is essential for Black’s color identity and its ability to interact. In limited, one-for one discard is weaker than in constructed, because decks do not rely on specific key cards to function, and because games tend do go longer on average, and there are fewer reactive cards, so players are in topdeck mode more often, rendering a discard spell a blank. (Discarding multiple cards, on the other hand, is stronger in limited, because there is fewer card draw.) For Black to have a useful, generic discard spell of that kind at all, Thoughtseize needs to be a common.

Unhinge is a candidate for the weakest card in my pool (way weaker than Mind Rot, just as draining a point of damage is weaker than dealing two), and I’m always looking out for a replacement cantrip, but so far there’s nothing better.

Between Doomed Necromancer, Ashen Powder and Phyrexian Delver, but also all those Raise Dead variants, giving Breath of Life to White and leaving out Zombify seems only logical.

Whew, that was long – a lot of general things sprang into my mind this time!

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My Limited Card Pool: Black Lands & Creatures

This is the fifth entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. Here are my previous entries:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

Black Lands & Creatures  (Gluttonous Zombie is missing in that list. It should be a common, tagged with „intim“. Disciple of Phenax, however, shouldn’t be there anymore.)

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

I once had a kinda lopsided cycle of threshold lands in my pool, consisting of 4 cards, with Nantuko Monastery filling both the green and the whte slot. (The reason for that was that Nomad Stadium is completely unplayable.) I have in the meantime thrown all lands which need two colors of mana out of my pool – they’re too unwieldy, and also seldom well balanced. I also didn’t like how Barbarian Ring is essentially a weaker version of Cabal Pit (in limited, obviously), and Cephalid Coliseum just did more of what Blue was already doing in that environment, and probably already had done to turn the land’s ability on. It came down to the black member of the cycle being the only one I really stood behind, so I left it in, both as a special land and support for Black’s threshold theme.

Tormented Hero is very likely to leave my pool soon to make room for a replacement from Born of the Gods, Ashiok’s Adept (the mouseover here won’t work for a while, since that set isn’t out yet.). The issue with the Hero is that its stats are more remarkable than its heroic ability. If that switch happens, Vampire Lacerator will have to go as well, because Diregraf Ghoul returns. Those cards are quite similar. The Ghoul is the slightly better choice (and I got rid of the 10-life-mechanic in my pool otherwise), but was too similar to the Hero. With that gone, it can come back.

Nezumi Cutthroat has already made a similar comeback, formerly edged out by Vampire Interloper, because it was too close to Surrakar Marauder. That card now has become a victim of my trimming down the landfall theme (and pulling it away a bit from dedicated aggression), and so the Cutthroat, which fits better into Black, has returned.

Painsmith, like the other three Smiths I use, has to be common for theme density reasons. Without that concern, I would certainly make them common.

Goblin Turncoat and Weirding Shaman are not exactly the most exciting tribal support cards, but they are still the best choices available, and in an important mana slot. There’s also a card which only made my pool due to my need of a black 3-mana goblin for that tribe: Spiderwig Boggart. (Yup, I misspelled that card in my list.) It is also useful as a generic creature, but would not have made the cut otherwise.

Typhoid Rats and Giant Scorpion were selected in concert with my choice of green deathtouch creatures, which means they pushed out Sedge Scorpion and Daggerback Basilisk for being too similar.

Liliana’s Specter freed up space for Scholar of Athreos by pushing out Shrieking Grotesque. It also killed one of my favorite commons, Chittering Rats, but if fits better with Ravenous Rats. Also, being denied a draw step can be really annoying if you are in a place where you cannot play a card at the moment.

There’s a certain glut of black 4-mana creatures involved in discard, although they all do it in different ways: Abyssal Specter, Cunning Advisor and Disciple of Phenax. I’d like to get rid of the latter for that reason, but right now I need it to fill a slot among the Black matters cards, and it makes more sense than any other option (Gray Merchant of Asphodel is too swingy, thanks for aksing).

Edit: I didn’t realize that the Disciple and Phyrexian Boon were already out of my list (or should have been), so that problem is solved!

Marsh Flitter is another creature which feels strange at common, but needs to be there for theme density reasons. It also provides important extra goblins for all those tribal support cards asking for sacrifices.

Phyrexian Scuta, while a fine design, would be Juzam Djinn if it wasn’t for RL reasons (hint: Look its price up).

Gluttonous Zombie is my choice of a black 5-mana common creature. I just noticed it is missing in my list.

For a while I had Fallen Angel in the 5-mana black flying creature slot, but that card could win a bit too fast out of nowhere. Skyshroud Vampire is a very reasonable replacement. (Sengir Vampire, on the other hand, is just a black Air Elemental with mostly superfluous extra text.)

Aphetto Vulture (yeah, another misspelt card in my list) is, once again, not exactly my idea of a common, and I’m not really a fan of that kind of recursion, but this time, the zombie tribal theme needs it, and the alternatives play worse or are too similar too other cards (Vengeful Dead would be the FOURTH zombie tribal support card at 4 mana, and is kinda similar to Shepherd of Rot).

Kokusho, the Evening Star marks the very highend of 6-mana creatures I use. (Luckily, there’s a lot of ways to deal with it all over my card pool which do not send it to the graveyard.)

Chancellor of the Dross would be a cleaner design without the Chancellor ability, which I do not like at all, but isn’t too annoying ( I hope). A 6/6 flyer with lifelink, however, is perfect for a 7-mana creature.

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