Custom Card Game Design
This is a slightly different post than I’ve previously made, yet I’m going to make it because I think the implications of the card in question (Cavern of Souls), in regards to custom design, are as staggering as they are anywhere else. Cavern of Souls was officially spoiled last week, after it had already been unofficially leaked in the rumor mill on MTG Salvation. When it was announced, I felt a great disturbance in the force. As if millions of blue players cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I’m going to be bold here and say that this card will be the single most format warping card printed for years, and likely will remain so for years to come.
And I love it.
It’s more fact than opinion that blue is the most powerful color. Sure, the other colors have all had various degrees of success, but not to the degree that blue has. There are a lot of reasons why blue is so good, but the biggest reason blue excels is the counterspell. There’s a reason that so many legacy and vintage decks are running 4x Force of Will and almost all standard blue decks are running 4x Mana Leak. Counterspells are ridiculously powerful, and to put it bluntly, not much fun in large doses. Any deck that isn’t blue has to contend with the fact that their big beater can simply fizzle out after putting in the hard work to summon it.
Counterspells are so powerful, in fact, that it’s led to an unfortunate side effect – blue is stuck in a world of narrow design. Blue has the smallest, most narrow slice of the color pie of all the colors. Why? Because it’s simply too good… every good blue card released is another card that needs to be balanced around not only standard but every other format as well. So, rather than break legacy, WotC errs on the side of caution (usually) and scales back blue a bit, pigeonholes it into a very narrow design space, relatively speaking.
Cavern of Souls fixes all that! As has been stated many times by WotC, most recently in this article which introduces Cavern, they want MtG to be a more interactive game. They would much rather allow the player to resolve their fatty only to have it die to Doom Blade rather than the player cast it only to have it leaked before it ever hits the table. Sure, in that scenario there isn’t much difference, but it’s the psychological effect that takes its toll on newer players. This card nicely gives players of all calibers the ability to protect their creatures and makes the game far more interactive.
A lot of players are going to have a hard time with this, especially those who run blue control. Is blue control dead? Of course not. But it will change. Counterspells are now more apt to be used against an opponent’s non-creature spell, and I think cards like Vapor Snag and other bounce effects will be much higher picks for blue players. It’ll take these players awhile to adjust to this type of interactive control, and I expect control decks to be a bit less dominant for awhile. Even in Legacy and Vintage this is going to change things, in fact I think that was the point, beacuse Zac Hill says (in this article) “We expect it [Cavern of Souls] to define almost every format in which it can be played.”. With Mana Leak rotating out in the Fall, and this card existing, I think we’re witnessing the dawn of a new age for blue.
So what does this mean for design? For me, it means that I need to go back to Caeia and Eldrazi Unleashed and revisit every counterspell. I want to learn from WotC’s mistakes and not breed a counter-heavy environment. Either that, or I put Cavern of Souls (or something similar) in the block. For other designers, those who pay attention to eternal formats (I don’t), it means that there is a whole new world to explore. You can now design that awesome blue creature that before wouldn’t see print because it would make blue ‘too good’ in Legacy. You can experiment more with bounces, because players are going to be more apt to using them. And, you can gear your counterspells at being really good against non-creatures.
I’m glad Cavern of Souls exists, and the fact that it does tells me a lot about the thought processes of WotC designers. I can’t wait to see not only where my designs go (looking forward to finishing this block, so far playtesting has been a blast), but also where real MtG goes.