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Category Archives: Esparand

Esparand Constructed Primer

Hello,

I recently finished my Beginnings set, and with it the entire Esparand block. It is the first block I completed, which I am very happy about. While I focus mostly on Limited with my sets, in Esparand I also began designing specifically for Constructed. In most of my posts, I focus on Limited, so here is something different: A primer on what Esparand has in store for Block and hypothetically for other Constructed formats. I invite you to test the block on Magic Workstation or Cockatrice. All the files required can be found under Antares’ Projects.

Mana

When building decks in an unknown format, one of the most important considerations are the mana bases that can be supported. I like formats with good mana, where powerful three colored decks can be built. On the other hand, many people often criticize formats where mana problems are too trivial and there is no reason to limit yourself to one or two colors. Esparand has a cycle of enemy color manlands, and a cycle of allied color painlands. These form an environment where you can easily play three colors as long as you avoid too many double colored costs, but there is a price for doing so: You take a lot of damage from your lands and you have more enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands.

The enemy color manlands are included in Esparand, simply because manlands are awesome! Some of them would also have an impact on Modern, complementing those that are already played. While Walking Boneyard is probably a lot better in Block than it is in Modern, I cannot see an Izzet deck that does not run Steamrift Bluffs. It provides defense for a low mana investment, but can still smash for four in the lategame.

Dredge

One of the main themes of Esparand are graveyard interactions. Graveyard based decks proved to be very potent in Limited, but many of the cards also carry over into Constructed very well. “Dredge” decks are always centered around Sultai colors, or rather Simic colors with a varying splash of black to be more precise.

There are many paths you can take when building a Dredge deck. You can go all-in on reanimating giant idiots, or you can play just a good-stuff midrange deck with many graveyard interactions. All of these decks are fueled by Seed Life, the best green card for Constructed in Esparand. Satyr Wayfinder is the best card in the Dredge decks of the current Standard, and this card is even better.

Aggro

While I spend more time designing cards for control decks than anything else, there is still a viable aggro deck out there. Actually, I had to tone down many of the burn spells in the different sets, because I never thought about them being used in a pure mono-red burn deck in Constructed, and eventually they reached the critical mass where they reliably dealt twenty to the face. But you can also build more creature based aggro decks, most likely including Rakdos colors.

All aggro decks have four copies of Chandra Reignited in their sixty cards. One- and two-drops into turn 3 Temporal Lightning into Chandra is one of the best openings you can have. Temporal Lightning and Chandra Reignited are both cards that could make it into Modern. Many players I have talked to considered Temporal Lightning to be broken, but it would likely not replace Lightning Bolt in most lists. Even burn would not play it, because the risk of having it stuck in your hand on a two land draw is far greater than the advantage of casting it for free. In Storm decks, Temporal Lightning is great, but these decks are not Tier 1 right now. Chandra Reignited could see play in tempo decks or Jund.

Control

Slow, grindy decks are the backbone of a good Constructed format and there are plenty to choose from in Esparand Block. The tools are available in all colors, but you will probably play three colors to not end up with an underpowered deck. There is Sultai control, Grixis control, Esper control, Bant control, Abzan midrange…

One of the best finishers for a control deck is He Who Defies Logic. The god of time protects himself from removal by creating a copy of himself. Because of the new legend rule, you have to sacrifice only the original. The only ways to realistically deal with He Who Defies Logic is a sweeper or pressuring the opponent’s life total to the point where he cannot pay life for the clone. In many regards, it is very similar to AEtherling, but it is not as completely unkillable as the go-to-finisher of last Standard season. In exchange, it stabilizes the board faster and requires no additional mana investment after being cast. He Who Defies Logic would probably be a very powerful card in Standard, but is far too slow for eternal formats.

Midrange

We have not seen that many white cards yet, and it is true that white is always my weakest color, design-wise. I do not enjoy playing the color too much, and that reflects in my lack of creativity when it comes to designing mechanics and themes for it. But I have tried to be a little less biased recently and pushed some of the white cards. After all, I did not have any problems with pushing cards in the other colors either. Now, white has many tools for building a solid midrange deck, but can also be the supporting color in a control deck.

Into the Stars started at converted mana cost 2, and it was already a very good card. But for the non-Eternal mode to be good in a midrange deck, I had to drop the cost even further. Now it can protect your creatures against your opponent’s removal (even sweepers!) or remove a problematic creature to let you keep attacking. Speaking of attacking, Battlefield Chronomancer is very good at that. She started off at a lower level as well, but I pushed her stats further so that she cannot be removed by Temporal Lightning and other small creature removal. It might seem that the second ability is rarely relevant, but it helps you keep attacking into, for example, Chandra Reignited phoenices: If you have a 2/2 out and a simple 3/4, you cannot attack into the opponent’s Chandra. The phoenix would just eat the 2/2 and Chandra would tank the rest of the damage. Because of the ability, you are good to just run everything in.

Storm

The second main theme of Esparand, next to graveyard interactions, are instants and sorceries. Consign is the keyword to support this theme, and appears mainly in Izzet colors. Consign is a mechanic that carries over poorly into Constructed, so there are only a few playable cards with that mechanic out there. The spell must be good on its own for it to hit Constructed.

In Constructed, Izzet decks are trying to generate powerful turns with Ancient Ritual and Ashborn Phoenix, while keeping the card flow going with Stream of Knowledge and other cheap draw spells. All Consign spells go infinite with many cards in older formats, such as Cinder Pyromancer. However, these combos are less resilient than Splinter Twin and just about as fast. There is one exception: With Esparand released, Blistercoil Weird would be banned in Modern, so that not every single Consign spell has to be banned.

Future Thief

Last but not least, the little creature that defines the Block format like no other: Future Thief from Eternity.

Future Thief is arguably the best card in the Block and would have an impact on Modern, and maybe even Vintage. If it were a real card, it would probably be worth way too much money.

When I designed Future Thief, I was looking to fill the slots for the multicolor mythics in Eternity. For the Dimir one, I did not have a legendary character in mind, so coming up with something that feels mythic was a bit difficult. I imagined that the blue part could be a Future Sight effect. Together with the drawback of “Skip your draw step,” that black cards sometimes have, this could make an interesting card. Somehow, I ended up putting it on a creature instead of an enchantment and now it is bonkers good. Very soon, the “skip your draw step” changed to the current effect, so that she cannot lock you out of the game.

But although she is that powerful, I think that it is a good thing that she is the best card in the block and not a card like Sphinx’s Revelation. Future Thief is the best way in Block for a control deck to generate card advantage, and she discourages a noninteractive, snore-fest like the Azorius control deck from Return to Ravnica standard. Instead, she promotes an interactive style of a deck, where card advantage is generated step by step. In addition, Future Thief is very skill-testing, and can create many interesting and dramatic situations. Imagine a bomb is sitting on top of your deck as you end your turn and your opponent elects not to attack this turn, so that she burns it away and with it your future in that game. The drawback can also overshadow the Future Sight effect when the deck is not built correctly. In Limited, she is actually not a very high pick.

All of this makes Future Thief my most favorite card from among all that I designed. And I found it completely by chance.

Wrap-Up

That is my primer on Esparand Constructed. I hope I made you eager to play with the block yourself on Magic Workstation, or Cockatrice (when I can get Advent’s awesome plugin again).

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Paradoxic Creatures

In Beginnings, there will be two uncommon cycles of paradoxic creatures. These are split creature cards that represent the same character from different realities or timelines. You can cast either half of split creature card just like an ordinary split card, and while it is on the stack or battlefield, only the half you cast exists. Like their instant and sorcery counterparts, paradoxic creatures all have names that sound well when you say it as “X and Y.” For example, Bound // Determined is read as “Bound and Determined”, and Judge // Executioner is read as “Judge and Executioner.”

The reactions to the paradoxic creatures have been very split. Nonetheless, I am happy how they turned out individually, regardless of the worth of the idea as a whole. Below you can see all the paradoxic creatures from the two uncommon cycles. There will also be a few legendary ones at rare and mythic, but they will have different name templates. As you can see, among them three are still missing. I am looking for names for them and asking you to share any ideas you can come up with. The cards below should give you a good idea of what I am looking for. So, if you can think of a good name for the black, the red-black or the red-green one, please share it in the comments.

I hope the image is loading correctly. Otherwise, here is the direct link.

Planeswalker Tuning, Part II

Part I

Update on Part I

Guys, I had to nerf Chandra. Her -X ability was too oppressive even at 2 starting loyalty. Now she has just a stinky, regular ultimate. When you deem every 1-toughness creature unplayable because of her existence, that is definitely a sign that the card is just broken and needs to be dealt with.

But moving on…

Auria, Guardian of Worlds

Auria’s design originated in Iamur. She was supposed to be in the second set ‘Grim Tidings’, but ultimately I decided that she did not fit very well. In Iamur, she is now only referenced: A great savior from another world that banished the ancient kraken gods to the abyss a long time ago. But when the old gods rise again, she does not return, being needed elsewhere.

The main idea of her design is an animation effect that, in contrast to Gideon Jura, lasts until your next turn. It entails that damage is not prevented, meaning that damage dealt to her still removes loyalty counters. She is indestructible for as long as she is a creature, but this only means that she will not die from lethal damage, that is damage equal to or greater than her toughness. If her loyalty drops to zero, she still dies. I figured that a Serra Angel body perfectly fits for that animation effect.

The initial design again featured no ultimate, something I had to change as this planeswalker does not work without one. The +2-ability was meant to be used as an alternative to the animation ability to gain loyalty in a situation where you do not want her to be a creature. But it was quickly removed as testing showed that you always want her to be a creature. Eventually, I also replaced the minus ability as well as it was almost always inferior to the animation ability, and when it was good it was annoying. I realized that her animation ability defined her so much that her second ability could only be a niche effect; something that is not useful very often, but very powerful when it is. Auria is a finisher in midrange and control decks. You can activate the 0-ability when your opponent’s only out is a sweeper, or when you are about to sweep the board yourself.

A slight concern about her ultimate has always been that by the time you reach it, you have already beaten your opponent to death. But you can get there after only three activations or two attacks. If you are lucky, your opponent will not be dead already.

Niusha of the Spires

Niusha is the second planeswalker in Esparand and she did not change much from her initial version. Her abilities completely revolve around her variable cost. I knew that every of her abilities would either have to cost loyalty or care about her loyalty in another way. If she could increase her loyalty somehow, that would make her X-cost matter less, which does not feel right to me. Now you get a completely different card depending on how much mana you spend on her.

I anticipated that she would be very dominant in the block constructed format, but that turned out to be false. She is good, but not an automatic four-of in every blue deck. Obviously, she is excellent in decks that can generate a ton of mana, such as blue-green ramp decks. But she is mainly held back by Chandra and by the manlands from Esparand.

What I do not like about her is how she plays in the 7-8 mana range, where she acts as just a one-shot effect more than a planeswalker most of the time. But there are situations where you play her on 6 or 7 loyalty and not immediately sacrifice her for the extra turn. Instead, you tap something large down, planning to take an extra turn when it is more advantageous. Still, I consider changing her last ability by reducing the loyalty cost but disallowing it to be used unless another of her abilities was activated during your last turn. This prevents both immediate and consecutive extra turns; very clunky wording though.

Ajani Savage

Some experimental designs work out, while others have to be discarded. This Ajani was a purely mechanical design, given a random face until I figured out in which direction to go with this one. The main gimmick of this planeswalker is the interaction of the second ability with the other two. But he is just not a very interesting card to play with. The 0-ability has too much “crossing-fingers” involved to ever be used, leaving him with the ability to make one Elemental token or to pump something when you have lethal this way — so it is a token 90% of the time.

Maybe I will rework him a little bit and try again, but for now he will be replaced with this new guy:

Eldres, Aeon Wanderer

Again, an experimental planeswalker. Maybe this one will work out. Eldres is another purely mechanical design based on the idea of a planeswalker with flash. The abilities are chosen such that they are especially powerful if you have mana left to make use of them. You can play him on your opponent’s end step, activate his plus ability and hold up a sweeper at instant speed, making your opponent very miserable. Without flash, he would just die miserably himself. The ultimate is not finished yet, but it is not very important anyway. I guess it casts creatures from your library or something…

Those are all the planeswalkers I wanted to present to you. Thanks for reading!

Planeswalker Tuning, Part I

I have been testing a bit of Esparand block Constructed lately, and made changes to the sets accordingly. I focused a lot on testing and tuning the different planeswalkers. I am always eager to ramble on about planeswalker design, so eager that I have to split this into two parts or this post would be excessively long. Here are two of the planeswalkers from the Esparand block. I look at how they started, how they changed over time, and the lessons I learned from them.

Chandra Reignited

This Chandra is the result of my eternal quest to find the “perfect” red three-mana planeswalker. The original design was a Goblin planeswalker from Paiura:

There were a lot of things wrong with it. There was no reason for him to be black, and the abilities felt a bit off just to justify the additional color. Nowadays, I would not be comfortable with “Destroy target creature” on such a low cost planeswalker either. However, the plus-ability played very well and turned out to be a great choice for a three-mana planeswalker. So, Jukjuk inspired a new mono-red version of this idea, now a Chandra summoning her trademark phoenix. With the additional power gained from having a flying token, I decided to put the ability on a zero-activation instead and gave her a new plus-ability. I like the choice between aggro and control options in her first two abilities. However, good planeswalkers can all cash-in right away for a more powerful effect (see Ajani Vengeant or Jace, Architect of Thought), so that you do not feel quite as sad if it gets killed on the next turn for free. So, I could not give her an ultimate as her last ability.

The different abilities and loyalty costs went through innumerable changes. Some early testing showed that the original version was not able to protect herself quite enough, and her X-ability was not able to kill something most of the time either, and she always just died for free. That led me to change her phoenix to be sacrificed on upkeep, so it could be used defensively for a turn. Later, I increased her starting loyalty to 3, but that turned out to be too much as she would make 1-toughness creatures unplayable in every format she would be in. Revoking that change was necessary, but she did not have enough ‘oomph’ anymore: I changed the phoenix summoning to a +1 because activating the loot ability was almost always superior. And if she was not powerful enough already, I buffed her -X ability again by adding the X>=5 condition you see now. The problem was that she often sat at 6 or 7 loyalty and the opponent would not care as there would be no creatures worth killing. Now, once Chandra is at a high loyalty, you enter the ‘Super-Chandra’ mode, where she can kill everything off or deal large chunks of damage to the opponent without losing any loyalty.

It is nice that there are so many free parameters with her design, which makes fine-tuning that much easier. I am very happy how she turned out and how she plays. Now, Chandra is a planeswalker that is very, very pushed, but hopefully in the right way, just like Liliana of the Veil.

Liliana, the Tomb Raider

Speaking of Lilianas, there is also one in Esparand. I wanted her to be the flagship for a graveyard-centric set, so she is also very graveyard-based. In the early design phase of the set, I intended to have -1/-1 counters in Esparand, which resulted in her initial plus-ability. Chandra, the Firebrand is one of my favorite planeswalkers, but the ping ability is just not very good. But what if you would get to place a -1/-1 counter instead? A planeswalker with such a plus-ability would be playable because you could kill any creature, eventually. I never tested this version of Liliana, but now I am convinced that this is a very bad idea, as it could be very oppressive. So I gave her a new plus-ability:

Draining for 1 is not the most spectacular effect, but you want to play her for her reanimation ability. She received an extra loyalty so that you could make use of that ability even better. I also gave her a completely new ultimate, one that is not graveyard-related. The reason is that, although she is supposed to be very graveyard-centric, you do not want your planeswalker to be completely shut down by graveyard-hate such as Rest in Peace. That would not make for great gameplay. Some testing showed that she needed an ultimate that goes over the top of other grindy midrange decks, so I chose Army of the Damned as the effect. Such an ultimate is usually not very good versus control decks, but continuously reanimating your best creatures should grind them out well enough. The ultimate needs to go over the top of decks that try to do exactly the same thing.

Wrap-Up

Fine-tuning the ability of planeswalkers to protect themselves is the most important aspect of balancing them. Chandra has her phoenix that can be put on defense, Liliana tanks with her face. Having a way to get immediate value out of a planeswalker if protection cannot be provided for him or her is also a big plus. Beyond that, a planeswalker that has built up his or her loyalty must be a massive threat and not make the opponent shrug in disinterest. This is not a balance concern though, but a gameplay concern. For all intents and purposes, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes does not have an ultimate. That made the Pro Tour games in which he was featured in a bit more boring to watch.

Next time, more planeswalkers will be tuned. Until then!

Presenting Beginnings

I have not updated much lately, and most likely will not update much in the near future, as I am working on something else which I am not ready to share right now. But I still plan on finishing my Esparand block. Here, I want to present the first preview of ‘Beginnings’, the reboot of the second set of the block. You can find it here.

Keep in mind that the set is currently a conglomerate of ideas, so it might seem a bit cluttered. I am still uncertain as to which mechanics I want to have in the final set. At this stage, I am focusing on getting the flavor right and designing some random cards. Here are some of the preview cards (previews of the preview so to say):

The new mechanic in Beginnings is Paradox. I am still using my original version, but it might still change during development:

A paradox creature.

Most cards will have the same atmosphere as in Esparand. The plane is ravaged by the storm, and most of the land is transformed into a lifeless desert. However, the desertification is still ongoing and many islands of green are still left.

White gets to search out Plains from time to time.

Filler…

Many cards will deal with transcending time, mortality and all that stuff:

With logic forfeit, everything is possible.

Another new mechanic are the split creatures. They represent two versions of the same character existing at the same time due to time travel paradoxes. These are potentially a very bad idea, but also potentially awesome!

You can cast either half of this card from your hand. On the battlefield, only the one you cast exists.

A new look at Paradox

My initial design for the second set of Esparand was called ‘Storm of Chaos.’ The main new mechanic was going to be ‘Paradox.’ In essence, this mechanic was supposed to be the fixed version of the Pact mechanic. What is the problem with the Pacts? The same problem that most abilities have that trigger on upkeep: Players always instinctively reach for their deck to draw a card at the beginning of their turn, thereby forgetting about upkeep triggers. That is why I advocate that more triggers should trigger at the beginning of combat. Most of the time, forgetting a trigger is not very backbreaking, but losing the game certainly is. If you even want to consider printing commons with paradox, this issue has to be fixed. Here is my initial wording:

Paradox (You may cast this card without paying its mana cost. If you do, pay its mana cost before combat during your next turn. If you can’t, you lose the game.)

The mechanic allowed you to pay the mana cost at any time until the beginning of combat. It was even worded so that you could not accidentally lose the game by forgetting the trigger: Instead of being a trigger, the ability was defined so that it does not allow you to go into combat until you had paid. If you are unable to pay, you lose the game.

But even by making the mechanic fail-safe as possible, I was not comfortable with its implementation. What if your opponent destroyed one of your lands? What if you banked on drawing a land in six cards, but failed to find one? All of these concerns made it clear that Paradox was not a good idea, and I scrapped the entire set looking for a new concept.

A new look at Paradox

Since then, I came up with a new concept for the second set. It is now called ‘Beginnings’ and its guiding theme is the search for the origins of the Storm of Time. But as it turns out, time travel does not make sense. I would welcome it if more sci-fi writers would embrace that fact instead of giving us lame explanations as to how time travel works in their universe. Explanations such as “the other you just ceases to exist” or “a new alternate time line is created.” I want to avoid these lame cop-outs, so paradoxes must be a major part of the story. That made me revisit this mechanic. I came up with this fixed version:

Paradox (You may cast this card without paying its mana cost. If you do, during your next upkeep, pay its mana cost or sacrifice it.)

This version is much less problematic, but its use is restricted further to only permanents. For the old version, I designed quite a few combat tricks that now no longer work. Here is an example card:

Yes, these are the kinds of designs I enjoy.

I am undecided whether the cost should be paid in the upkeep or at the beginning of combat. As I have said, I do not like upkeep triggers that much, but here it makes sense, because then you can accurately predict if you will be able to pay for the cost (no gambles!).

Creatures with paradox can be used effectively on offesne, where the mechanic acts as a pseudo haste, as well as on defense: You can put a blocker onto the field without paying for it, and if your opponent decides to attack into it, you can just trade it away and not worry about ever paying for the creature. Does it make sense that you can do that? No. That is so great about it! Strangler of Logic enters the battlefield tapped not to avoid that interaction but to avoid one-turn-kill combos with Burst of Speed and similar cards. For smaller creatures, this will not be necessary.

Most cards with paradox will be creatures. Here is a noncreature example:

You can play this on turn 2 and pay for it on turn 3.

Beginnings and an Ajani

I posted some cards before from the second set of Esparand block, called ‘Storm of Chaos.’ I was positive that I would use that terrible name only until I could think of a better one, but now I have thrown the entire concept of the set out of the window. The concept was that without its arbiter to control the Storm of Time, chaos on the plane would be unbound. Now I am working on a new concept for the second set and it is currently called ‘Beginnings.’ Here, the two protagonists Telar and Niusha, together with a few allies, travel back in time to an era that was previously deemed inaccessible. The beginning of time, or “zero” as it is called, is an era where not everything is messed up yet. As the plane has not yet been ravaged by the Storm of Time, in this era, Esparand is anything but a lifeless desert.

Just like Esparand, Beginnings has three mechanics. The first mechanic is Foreshadow, as it appeared in its predecessor. Epitaph is replaced by Flashback, and Consign by a yet undecided mechanic, as these two mechanics do not seem to fit the setting I am going for. That will be a lot of mechanics for the entire block, but I hope I can make it work. The different mechanics just have to work well with those from Esparand.

Ajani, Primal Soul

Here is the first preview card from Beginnings. I wanted to have a green planeswalker in the block, as the other four colors are covered already. I started with a green-white version of Ajani, but he evolved into Naya, then into red-green. I already made a green-white planeswalker back in Iamur, so I like it this way better anyway. The only problem is: It does not feel like an Ajani anymore. But Ajani Vengeant did not as well, so is it that big of a problem? Maybe this version of Ajani is closely related to Ajani Vengeant, or an event in the future turned him into this more savage character (time travel explains everything!).

Far too few dragons to be a Sarkhan.

I learned that planeswalkers that just durdle around with their abilities need an ultimate, or they are not very interesting to play with. But this Ajani here just kills people if he lives, so an ultimate would never be activated anyway. Whether this is the best loyalty setup for him has to be tested. On paper, abilities like the zero-ability always look more powerful than they really are: When was the last time you wanted to pay five mana for a planeswalker that did nothing on the turn he entered the battlefield?

Another possible loyalty setup is +1 // +1 // -3 // {4}. Here is the main difference: With the current setup, when you have charges from the 0-ability floating and things go wrong, you may have to waste those charges to +1 on nothing. Should it be this way? That may turn out to be frustrating, but on the other hand, building up loyalty while also building up charges may be too powerful.

Referenced keywords

Evolution of Mechanics

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I want to evolve the Esparand mechanics throughout the block, but I am not very confident in that regard. I only started drafting regularly during Innistrad block and therefore I did not experience the evolution of many blocks first-hand, only hearing about them from other players. This kind of experience would be very useful in order to understand what works and what does not work.

Evolution of set mechanics

If we look at blocks from the recent past, we see that there are some continuations of the first set that were very successful, and others that were seen as greatly inferior to their preceding set.

  • Lorwyn Block: Morningtide expanded on the tribal theme of Lorwyn by changing the focus from “races matter” to “classes matter.” While I really liked Lorwyn, drafting the complete block, even on Magic Online, which tells you exactly the creature types that are in your deck, was very confusing and frustrating. They tried too much with Morningtide and failed.
  • Shadowmoor Block: The pattern continued with Shadowmoor. Once I got to the Eventide booster, I did not know what I was supposed to do. I did not have a single blue/green card in my deck, nor any of the other color combinations that the set supposedly told me I should have drafted. In a “hybrid to 11” block, it feels natural to do both allied and enemy color, but the execution was lacking.
  • Alara Block: Many criticize Alara for a lot of things. Many of the multicolor designs felt forced, the shard’s identities were not as clear as they could have been (watermarks), and Conflux and Alara Reborn were just too much over the top. I feel that the only thing that evolved throughout the block was the multicolor theme, while the shard mechanics stagnated. In fact, I feel that they had run out of ideas during Alara Reborn, which led to very weird common designs such as Kathari Bomber.

The subsequent blocks did it right. Worldwake did not have anything new except for Multikicker, an expansion on Kicker, and Scars block evolved by spreading Infect into more and more colors, while also adding a few more small, flavorful mechanics. The Innistrad follow-up Dark Ascension only added Undying, which worked great with the rest of the themes.

However, when a mechanic has not sufficient design space, the cards in the later sets feel like the “left-overs” from the first set. I cannot lose the feeling that this will happen with Bestow in Theros. Is it not that everything obvious has been done already? Keyword X and +Y/+Y. There are certainly more cool designs out there, but enough unique designs that can fill the common slots for two sets? I doubt it.

Evolution of Draft Archetypes

With the release Scars of Mirrodin, the draft order has been reversed — we now draft a block starting with the youngest set. The main reason for this change was that this shakes up the draft format more significantly. If we would draft THS THS BNG coming next year, players would just draft exactly like they are drafting triple Theros now and see what they can pick up out of the last pack. Opening a new set with your first booster, you are forced to alter your draft strategy.

However, the downside is that this approach significantly weakens the niche archetypes that can be drafted in the single set draft. The prime example for this would be the DKA INN INN format: Dark Ascension was a great set, but nonetheless, most players felt that this draft format was worse than triple Innistrad. Innistrad had many fun niche archetypes that relied on a single card, such as Burning Vengeance, or Spider Spawning, whereas Dark Ascension offered little for players who loved those archetypes. It tried to imitate Burning Vengeance with Secrets of the Dead, but that card ended up being unplayable and you had to hope you could pick up a Burning Vengeance in pack two or three if you forced that archetype — a dangerous wager. With that said, I feel that INN INN DKA would have been an awesome format.

Going back to Esparand

It sure seems like Eternity could turn out disastrous for the draft format if it is not designed with utter carefulness. I am currently considering that the block is to be drafted in normal order. Esparand has some of those niche archetypes that I talked about, and I do not want to repeat the mistakes of Dark Ascension. Fortunately, save for these niche build-around decks, the major archetypes of Esparand will be supported well in Eternity. Here is how:

A mythic land that will play an important role in the eventual story.

Oases in Eternity

Esparand’s oasis subtheme was only very mild, so I think I will be expanding on it a bit. Oasis lands are all common lands that trigger an effect when they enter the battlefield, similar to Khalni Garden and friends. Eternity will have its own cycle of common oases with new effects, a few cards that care about oases, but also effects that can flicker lands, so you can reuse the enter-the-battlefield effect multiple times. These represent “time displacement,” a subtheme I want to try out.

Epitaph in Eternity

Epitaph will not evolve much with Eternity. The only thing I will be trying out are effects that trigger “when you remember” (When you pay this card’s epitaph cost) a creature. It will unfortunately be the ability where I make cards not because I have not made them yet, but because I have to make something.

Double the consign activations (expect for sorceries… awkward).

Consign in Eternity

Esparand puts a heavy focus on instants and sorceries, which is especially supported by consign. In Eternity, the eternal mechanic further strengthens this focus and the consign deck also gets a few new tools: New aggressive consign spells, value creatures with an irrelevant body to consign on, and cards that care about instants and sorceries.

One expansion of the mechanic I want to try are sorceries with consign. In Esparand, consign appeared solely on instants. But there are some effects, such as Elemental Appeal, that only work on sorceries. While instants with consign can be activated at any time, sorceries can only be activated at any time you could cast a sorcery. I left these out of Esparand for complexity reasons, but this feels like a natural progression (maybe sorceries first would have been even better).

Evolution of the Story?!?

By now, I wanted to have something more than a few lines written on the story of Esparand. But admittedly, I am a better designer than I am a writer. So, if anyone is interested in helping me with some world-building, leave me a note.

Referenced keywords

Developing Esparand

I’ve made quite a few changes to my Esparand set after our last draft. As always, you can find the complete image spoiler here. Here are my thoughts behind them:

Steer Fate removed

A few weeks ago, I added a new mechanic to Esparand: Steer fate (Choose land or nonland, then reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a card of the chosen kind. Put it on top and the rest on the bottom in any order.). The motivation to include this as the fourth new mechanic of the set was to reduce the variance and make more games more fun. The choice was between scry and this mechanic.

A basic card with Scry. Most cards have had their steer fate changed to scry 1 or scry 2.

In theory, steer fate should be more effective in filtering lands and nonlands than scry, which was the my main goal with the mechanic. I figured there would be some problems with it, but I was willing to try it out. As it turned out, my concerns were not far-fetched. Steer fate has several issues that make it a clearly worse choice to scry:

  • Your opponent gets to see what you draw. That’s not too big of a concern, and actually goes well with the Foreshadow theme of Esparand, but it’s still a minus.
  • You cannot scry useless lands or spells to the bottom. What do you do if you desperately need a Plains, but an Island is a dead card?
  • The whole operation of steering fate takes quite a lot of time and dexterity. You have to flip cards from the top with one hand, put those cards into your other hand or on the table (which is already full of relevant graveyard and exile cards), then when you flip the correct type, you have to put that card back, then you have to pick up your library and put the rest on the bottom. Compare that to how much less time it takes to scry 1.

These reasons are incentive enough for me to replace the mechanic with scry. Going forward, scry will be an evergreen mechanic in sets I might do in the future, and I would love it if Wizards did the same. As an evergreen mechanic, there is no need to showcase the mechanic on rares or mythics, or have cards that play with that theme, so I am fine with scry being less prevalent than in Theros.

White improved

Worded so that it stops consign spells (Meddling Mage does not).

With only one white drafter at the table, you would expect that deck to be very good. But as it turns out, white is not a particularly deep color. While for the other colors, there is a balanced spectrum of good and bad cards, white has a few very good cards, but also a vast ocean of mediocre ones. To my defense, it is still not nearly as bad as it was in Magic 2014 (what on earth did they do in that set?). I have improved some of the white commons, and revamped two of the uncommons with the following idea behind the changes: White does not take part in any of the broken things the other colors can do in the set, so it should take the role as a hate color. It already had the best graveyard hate in the set, but now it also has hate against consign decks in the form of Nullifier Giant, as well as a hard counter. This unique environment, which is very instant and sorcery focused, cannot be balanced properly with only blue getting access to counterspells.

Scrying over Screw > Screwing over Scry

The cards that can mill the opponent every turn could completely negate steer fate and make it utterly useless. With scry, that will not be any different. To alleviate that, the two worst offenders, Sage of the Sands and Obelisk of the Ages, have been changed to either mill the top or bottom card of a player’s library. The affected player gets to choose. “Top or bottom” is a bit of an awkward wording, and it will not be quite clear to a new player why it is written that way, but the frustration caused by having your scries get screwed over heavily outweighs that confusion.

Thoughts on other colors

All other colors only received minor changes. To view a complete list of changes, see at the bottom of this post. For the most part, I was very happy with how the set played out. Esparand appeared to be exorbitantly graveyard-based, in contrast to the previous draft, where the set appeared to be not graveyard-based enough. So, I think no direct conclusions can be derived from that observation yet. It is worth keeping an eye on red- and/or green-based beatdown strategies, and if they can put up a good fight with the more “unfair” decks, but as of now, I do not see the reason to make any changes. Paradox Cavern obviously still needs to be fixed.

Mana Fixing

I have gradually made changes to Esparand during the last steps of the design process that worsened the mana fixing until the current point, where there is basically none left. I am looking for ways to improve it again so that three color decks are viable.

Eternity Preview Card

But enough of complicated development talk, here is another preview card from Eternity. It is inspired by the Hearthstone card “Mana Tide Totem.” Enjoy!

As it turns out, I like drawing cards…

Esparand Change Log

Set III: Eternity

I’ve already talked briefly about ‘Eternity’, the third set of my Esparand block, here. You can now find a small preview under ‘Our Projects.’ The set has a very peculiar setup: I want to conclude my time-based block with a set that doesn’t focus on time, but on timelessness instead. Here’s a very brief summary of the story:

Niusha ventured into the tumultuous center of the Storm of Time. She destroyed the artifact from which it feeds its energy, and subsequently the storm collapsed. However, instead of returning to normal, the flow of time on Esparand suddenly stopped. The plane was frozen into one eternal moment and time ceased to exist.”

How will this theme be represented in the set? Obviously, you can’t go too far with it, and make the set play just like the flavor would command it to. As it turns out, stuff happens in games of Magic. These are some of the ways I try to represent timelessness within the set. While they are a good start, I still need some more subthemes to flesh out the set.

The graveyard remains an important focus throughout each set.

Art choice

The first thing one will notice when opening an Eternity booster is that the atmosphere is very melancholic, and everything seems to be frozen. There won’t be much action happening in the artwork at all. While for my other sets, gathering artwork only had the intent to make it look better, here it’s an essential stylistic device.

Of course, I can’t rely solely on the artwork to carry the flavor. The cards must also be able to speak for themselves, even only with the card text.

Mechanics of Eternity

I mapped out how I want to distribute the mechanics within the block. Epitaph and Consign are the major focus mechanics and should be present in all sets. With its focus on determinism, Foreshadow is a great mechanic to have in Esparand. It will be rotated out in favor of the Eternal mechanic in Eternity. In Storm of Chaos, the Paradox mechanic will take its place, which I will present next time. Steer fate as the supporting mechanic will also stay present in all sets. In addition, subthemes will rotate between the sets: Esparand had extra turns as well as sequencing spells. Storm of Chaos will have split creatures. What it will be for Eternity, I don’t know yet.

But let’s take a look at Eternity’s main mechanic:

“Exile target creature until end of turn” is valid card text (Banisher Priest & co.).

Eternal {cost} (You may cast this spell for its eternal cost. If you do, change its text by removing all instances of “until end of turn” and exile it as it resolves.)

Eternal is probably my most favorite mechanic for this block, simply because all others turned out to be extremely difficult to word, and still people have difficulties to grok them. Eternal stayed exactly the way I first designed it. It has a slightly limited design space. The majority of the cards will be pump or shrink spells, but there are possibilities beyond those.

Journey Across the Stars is a differing design. It can be used to blink a creature (to save it from removal), or to exile a creature forever. It is the only “modal” spell of the bunch; on all others the eternal effect is strictly better if you have the mana. While it is not the most efficient card for either mode, the versatility could make it playable in Constructed.

Symbols for infinity

Rings can be used as a symbol for infinity.

Other than for Eternal, cards are currently not any different from those in the other two sets. There has to be continuity within the block, but Eternity still needs one or two other subthemes to differentiate itself. There could be bunch of creatures that enter the battlefield tapped, or a lot of cards that prevent untapping, but that feels lame and probably doesn’t play that well either.

I’m thinking that the best bet is to have cards that represent symbols for eternity and/or infinity, such as an Ankh, infinity loop, butterfly or phoenix. Rings also represent infinity, and they were never done before as equipments, for some reason.

Epitaph works great here. In Esparand, the flavor of the mechanic wasn’t really obvious, but for Eternity it fits perfectly.

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