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Overworld Limited Guide

If there is anything that is a constant in my custom set drafts, it’s that people always complain that their decks are bad and incoherent (even if it’s far from true). Let’s hope that this guide can alleviate that!

Full Card List

Mechanics

Wanderlust (Whenever this creature attacks, look at the top card of your library. You may put it on the bottom of your library. If it’s a land card, you may put it onto the battlefield tapped.)

Wanderlust is a mechanic that encourages you to attack, even in slow ramp or control decks. Wanderlust creatures generally have a smaller body and need help to be able to attack. Chump attacking to get a wanderlust trigger is almost never a good strategy. Wanderlust comboes with cards that manipulate the top of your deck.

Vessel (Whenever this creature attacks, do something to other attacking creatures.)

The Vessel ability word appears on Ships, which are colored artifact creatures. Vessel is another mechanic that encourages you to attack, although, unlike Wanderlust, only aggressive decks will be interested to use it most of the time.

Riposte {cost} (You may cast this card for its riposte cost if a creature is attacking you.)

Riposte is a mechanic that encourages you to defend and balances out Wanderlust and Vessel. The mana discount allows you to keep up combat tricks more easily on your opponent’s turn.

Growth {cost} ({Cost}: Put a +1/+1 counter on this creature. This costs 1 more to activate for each +1/+1 counter on it. Grow only as a sorcery.)

Growth is a generic mana sink mechanic appearing on sea monsters. Many of the sea monsters with Growth have an additional mechanic that triggers whenever they attack and have the greatest power among creatures on the battlefield. Growth helps you achieve that condition, but also pump spells, or Equipments can help out.

Tip: You can respond to an opponent’s attack trigger with a pump spell to counter it, even using riposte. The power check is performed only upon resolution of the trigger, so you can attack first, then respond with a pump spell to meet the condition.

Quest hub (When this enchantment enters the battlefield, draw a card. You may complete each quest once. When you’ve completed both, sacrifice this.)

Quest hubs are enchantments with “quest abilities.” These are like normal activated abilities, but can be activated only once. Each quest hub costs two mana, draws a card when it enters the battlefield, and has two quest abilities with varying activation costs. Quest hubs act as mana sinks in the lategame that have a relatively low opportunity cost – you can cycle them early and ignore them until later in the game. Most quest hubs are very strong, but there’s a limit to how many you should play because you’ll never find the time to complete all quests if you play too many.

Tip: To represent the state of a quest hub, put a dice on it. On 1, the dice indicates that the first ability has been activated. On 2, the second.

Gold tokens (Put a colorless artifact token named Gold onto the battlefield. It has: “Sacrifice this artifact: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.”)

Some cards produce gold tokens, similar to those in Theros block. Gold tokens can be used for ramping, to keep up combat tricks, and for mana fixing. There are also cards that use artifacts as a resource.

Tribal

Overworld has a significant tribal component. On a scale from Innistrad to Lorwyn, Overworld is somewhere in the middle.

Archetypes

White-Blue Adventurers

While all colors have access to quest hubs, blue and white are the only colors that have cards that specifically synergize with them – in the form of the two uncommons Elvish Adventurers and Errant Adventurer. The low density of those pay-off cards means that this archetype can’t be forced. However, Errant Adventurer is a very powerful card in a deck with many quest hubs and allows you to pick them much higher.

The adventurer deck can play the control game and outvalue the opponent with the plethora of quest hubs, or use the mana advantage generated by Errant Adventurer to play the tempo game like many white-blue decks in Limited. As both adventurers have a relevant creature type, Elf respectively Pirate, they blend well with tribal archetypes.

Blue-Black Pirates

The blue-black aggro deck relies on otherwise mediocre cards such as Thirst for Treasure, that suddenly become very strong when combined with Captain’s Parrots and similar creatures. As Pirates are secondary in blue, the Pirate synergies can be implemented, but it isn’t essential. Blue-black can also be built more controlling, but many commons in these colors support a tempo strategy better.

Red-Black or Grixis Pirates

Red-black Pirates are a typical aggro deck with a few tribal synergies. Jacon’s Recruiters is a very high pick in this deck. Due to the gold tokens that are available in those colors, it is not unreasonable to play straight three-color. The third color will most likely be blue, where you can pick up additional Pirates. Southsea Sky Pirates is generally too cost-inefficient to make the cut, but with enough Recruiters, it becomes quite good.

Green-X Sea Monsters

A green-based ramp deck exists in the form of sea monster tribal (Kraken, Leviathan, Octopuses, and Serpents). As sea monsters appear in all colors save white, the second color is free to choose. Each of those colors has one common that supports the sea monster tribal. In addition, there is Culinary Ogre at uncommon, making red-green a slight favorite as the choice of color combination. However, this archetype can make use of the powerful fixing in the format and easily go three-color. Iyori Deepspeaker is a very crucial common for this deck.

Green-White Elves

In the green-white pair, you can draft the elves archetype. Like a typical elves deck, you swarm the board and attack the opponent with an overwhelming force. A clear signal that elves are open is Elvish Reveler, as it is a great, efficient pay-off card for the deck. Elves can be combined with sea monsters to round out the deck with some heavy hitters.

Green-Blue Turtles

Turtles are centered in green and blue. The deck is based around the powerful pay-off cards Limestone Tortoise, Torta’s Warleader, and Keeper of Chronicles. Most turtles have a lot of toughness, and block very well, but to win the game, you need some additional finishers. As a control-ramp deck, it can put the most expensive sea monsters, costing up to eight mana, to use.

Red-White Conquistadors

While Ships appear in all colors save green, Ship synergy only appears in white (with the exception of one uncommon in red). Ships are at their best in a red-white aggressive token deck with a lot of pump effects. Iyori Port is a premium common for that deck. If you see a late Lecadian Conquistadors, read it as a signal that this deck is open.

Black-Green Voodoo

The black-green archetype is a secondary archetype, which isn’t as heavily supported as the other ones. The deck attempts to grind out the opponent, or get an early sea monster onto the battlefield with Return from the Deep. This deck lends itself well to splash multiple colors. The black-green deck is a valid back-up plan if the deck you’re trying to draft isn’t coming together.

White-Black Lifegain

Another secondary archetype. You can try to go into the lifegain deck, if you can pick up one or two of the pay-off cards Herald of Autumn and/or Malevolent Hosts early. Herald of Autumn is also a very good card in the elves deck, and will be contested heavily by other players. Malevolent Hosts, however, can be picked up late.

Draft Strategy

You can and often should commit to a certain archetype very early. Powerful, non-commiting cards dry out very quickly and you’re left with either picking mediocre cards or cards that are only viable in a certain archetype, such as tribal cards. Therefore, it is important to know which archetypes you can go into based on your first few picks, and to identify the signals when you should change gears and commit to a different archetype. To showcase this, let’s take a look at an example booster:

(Click to boost size)

In this pack, Cataclysmic Tide and Ruthless Strike are the outstanding cards and either could be the first-pick.  Dance of Tides is another solid pick. Beyond those three, all cards in this pack are either unexciting or commit you to a certain archetype. Keeper of Chronicles is one of the main reasons to draft Turtles, and Bloodsail Captain is just as powerful in the Pirates deck, and if you’re already commited to the respective deck, they outclass all other cards in the pack. Keeper of Chronicles, unlike Bloodsail Captain, is a fine card on its own though.

Overworld is a pauper format, meaning that rares don’t have as much impact as in most other draft formats. Sure, you can open the occassional slam first-pick bomb rare, but most rares are either situational, deck-dependent, or merely “good.” Powerful uncommons, and the high synergy commons, should have much more impact on your decision of where to go with your deck. During the draft, look out for these cards and then commit to the respective archetype early. If you read the signals wrong, and the deck isn’t coming together, a possible course is to pick up a lot of mana fixing and go into a multicolor good-stuff deck. When you have access to many colors, you can pick up solid cards that aren’t deck dependent more reliably.

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Breaking Modern with Overworld

Can this card be broken?

Kulmata Flamewaker is a rare from Overworld that doesn’t fit into any of the set’s main themes. It’s not a pirate, a sea monster, or has anything to do with seafaring. It is important that players who don’t really care about those themes can still get excited about a few cards here and there. Other people aren’t interested in Limited and rate sets based mainly on their impact on Constructed formats. Kulmata Flamewaker is supposed to be a card for those players.

With Iamur, I made the mistake of completely ignoring Constructed and designing only with the Limited environment in mind. As a result, the sets needs a major overhaul before it plays well even with the other sets of the block. For Overworld, I don’t want to repeat this mistake.

Kulmata Flamewaker could potentially do some things in Standard, but I think Modern with its cheap and efficient burn spells is where she could find a home most easily. Since when I came up with the card, I had the suspicion that it is quite broken, and here I want to find out whether this suspicion is justified. So, let’s try to break this card in Modern! This is just a theoretical exercise, but I find that thinking about the uses of custom cards in older formats is a lot of fun.

When we look at her applications in Modern, two possibilities come to mind:

  • The fair deck: Here, Kulmata Flamewaker is used as a tempo generator, able to accelerate your board development while dealing with the opponent’s board at the same time.
  • The unfair deck: Here, we combo Kulmata Flamewaker in conjunction with massive burn spells or red sweepers to generate huge amounts of mana and win the game on the spot.

The Fair Deck

The fair deck should consist of an aggressive shell with a lot of cheap burn spells like Lightning Bolt. We want to end the game quickly before the opponent has time to catch up with our accelerated start. We can use the mana generated by the flamewaker to cheat the mana curve, but that isn’t our primary plan. We’re more interested in the tempo we gain by casting multiple spells a turn.

Since we’re planning on using a bunch of cheap burn spells, Young Pyromancer and Snapcaster Mage are obviously included in the deck. With these, we have enough early creatures, but we need something to do with our excess mana. We’re looking for creatures that are powerful enough that the opponent most likely can’t stabilize after we cast them early, but cheap enough that we can reasonably cast them when we don’t draw Kulmata Flamewaker or the combo gets disrupted. Of course, they should be also be castable with only red mana. After contemplating about our options, I arrived at the ragtag team of Goblin Rabblemaster (can be played off a single Lightning Bolt), and Thundermaw Hellkite (can be played after untapping with the Flamewaker). I don’t think we want to go any higher and include things like Inferno Titan, and it’s questionable if we even want Thundermaw Hellkites. They’re too difficult to cast in a land-light aggressive deck.

The base of our deck looks like a standard Izzet Delver of Secrets shell, but given that we play a lot more creatures, I think the spell count would be too low for Delver to be good. Here is a list I put together:

19 Creatures
3 Young Pyromancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Kulmata Flamewaker
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
18 Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Flame Slash
2 Roast
4 Electrolyze
4 Serum Visions
23 Lands

The Unfair Deck

Let’s explore the more combo based possibilities. Kulmata Flamewaker turns Lightning Bolt into a ritual, but that’s not exciting enough. We want to generate 20 mana, not just 3. Luckily, red has access to a plethora of sweeper effects that help us do just that. Cast Blasphemous Act with eight creatures out and get 100 red mana? Well, that’s probably far more than we need, considering Emrakul, the Aeons Torn costs only a measly 15, but it’s certainly what Travis Woo would do if he’d get his hands on this card.

Anger of the Gods, and Earthquake should work just fine. The plan of the deck is quite clear then. Cast sweepers to stabilize against aggressive opponents, and use the them also in conjunction with Kulmata Flamewaker to cast giant Eldrazi.

We want a way to search for the Eldrazi and the flamewakers, so Commune with Nature and Chord of Calling get slots in the deck. That means we’re playing green. We also want some early defense and acceleration. Green mana creatures help with our Chord of Callings, but have the problem of being swept up in our board wipes, so we have to get more creative with our picks. Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Roots both survive Anger of the Gods. So does Spellskite, which we use to protect our Flamewaker.

We use Khalni Garden and Forbidden Orchard to produce additional creatures for our sweepers to hit. Khalni Garden tokens also help with casting Chord of Calling.

Here’s my list:

21 Creatures
4 Wall of Roots
2 Overgrown Battlement
4 Kulmata Flamewaker
3 Spellskite
1 Eternal Witness
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
3 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
15 Spells
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Earthquake
4 Commune with Nature
3 Chord of Calling
24 Lands
3 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Khalni Garden
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Stomping Ground
3 Forbidden Orchard
4 Temple of Abandon
1 Forest
1 Mountain

Conclusion

The fair deck looks quite alright, but I think that the deck trades off its increase in power disproportionately against consistency. The standard Izzet tempo decks I think are still superior. Sure, the draws where you get to cast Thundermaw Hellkite on turn 3 are great, but how often is that going to happen? In the harsh reality of actual Magic, the combo gets disrupted more often than not, you’ll have the burn spells to trigger the Flamewaker, but nothing to do with the mana, or your expensive creatures strand in your hand.

The unfair deck looks like a Tier 2 combo deck that works great against creature decks, but can’t ever win against control or against combo decks like Scapeshift, or Splinter Twin.

I don’t think I succeeded in breaking Kulmata Flamewaker, but maybe you have some ideas to improve these decklists?

Pushed Uncommons

The natural tendency is always to take a flat power level as the starting point for a card. After you figured out what a card is supposed to do, you try to find a fair level, where it is playable but not oppressive. But some cards, even commons, have to be pushed above this mediocrity to make for a more interesting limited environment. If there can be no premium commons or uncommons in a booster pack, there’s just no excitement in looking through it. It is inconsequential which colors are open and which card you pick.

Of course, there is a limit to how powerful a common should be. They show up very often and can warp the limited format around them. But uncommons can and should sometimes be pushed to bomb territory. But still, I find myself hesitant to do so. Only after a few test drafts of Overworld I realized that the power level of the cards is far too homogenized.

In a blog post, Wizards stated that they intend each uncommon to be below the power level of Mahamoti Djinn, which is an odd benchmark to set considering I can think of a handful cards just off the top of my head that violate this rule: Cone of Flame, Elite Scaleguard, even something as simple as Serra Angel. Even if Mahamoti Djinn is a bit low, the limit should be somewhere below Cone of Flame or Elite Scaleguard. They often just win the game on the spot, which I think an uncommon shouldn’t be able to do.

The sheer power of an uncommon is not be something that should be pushed that far. That is what rares are for. Build-around cards are maybe an exception and can have game-breaking effects at uncommon if they support or enable a unique draft strategy. A good example for this is Angelic Accord. On the other hand, the efficiency of uncommons can be pushed without worries. In Overworld, I tried to do this for at least one card of each color. None of these uncommons are game-breaking, but they are still great, first-pickable cards.

The Fix to Dominion

Dominion is a promising mechanic, but it has a lot of problems. Engaging in a pump spell war to control the biggest creature sounds exciting, but when the players lack the right cards to do so, which happens more often than not, the mechanic feels uncontrollable, random, and swingy. That it doesn’t work within the rules isn’t that great either. To avoid the feel-bad moments, players should always have some control over the power of the dominion creature. “My opponent played a bigger creature? Alright, now I have to change my line of play, but I’m not just being stopped dead in my tracks.” Each creature with a dominion effect should be able to pump itself, but the efficiency should be inferior to most pump spells.

Meet the mechanic with the uninspired name Growth:

The new dominion.

Growth allows you to buff your creature continuously, but it becomes more costly each time you do it, so you can’t go on forever. Dominion is no longer a mechanic, but these types of abilities still accompany Growth on most creatures that have it. They all trigger when the creature attacks.

Alright, I think this should work. The arms race we engaged in during playtesting was certainly fun. I ended up with a 16/13 Serpent creature before I finally busted through my opponent’s defenses. What do you think? Would you enjoy this type of gameplay from time to time?

Developing Overworld

Over the last few days, I did some preliminary testing of Overworld. So, how did the individual mechanics turn out?

An uncommon Quest hub enchantment.

Quest Hub

Quest hub is a very new addition to Overworld. I wanted a mana-sink mechanic that also reinforces the adventure theme of the set by capturing the flavor of questing in role-playing games. Originally, there was a cycle of invokers in the set, but I figured that they were not the ideal mana sinks. They are removed quite easily, and they’re very swingy, since they often win games by themselves.

Quest hubs on the other hand are much harder to remove, but can’t win a game single-handedly. You play them early with little opportunity cost and it gives you something to do later on. I decided very early that all quest hubs should cantrip. It may read at bit weird, but it increases their playability dramatically, and allows me to put much more expensive, and less game-breaking abilities on them.

The special frame can signal “quest abilities” without the need of additional text such as “This is a quest ability.” Through some convoluted combos, a quest hub could of course gain other activated abilities, and they wouldn’t fall under the quest ability rules.

I haven’t tested all of these yet, and I’m still trying to find the right numbers, but I like how they play overall. They will definitely stay in one form or another.

A creature with dominion.

Dominion

Dominion recently received a significant change. Previously, it was an ability word that cared about whether the creature had the greatest power among creatures on the battlefield. Now, it only compares its power with creatures your opponents control. I also upgraded it to a keyword, because, as it turns out, the previous version didn’t even work: Layers and stuff…

The former change was made to reduce the feel-bad moments, where one of your creatures turned off the dominion ability of another. But even with this change, the mechanic feels kinda mediocre. With its current implementation, it almost never comes up that both players fight with a flurry of spells to turn dominion on or off. It just is. Or isn’t. Maybe the cards surrounding this mechanic can be changed to better support it, but currently it’s a candidate for the trash can.

A combat trick with Riposte.

Riposte

My main problem with combat in limited is that the defending player is always at a disadvantage because he or she can’t keep mana untapped as easily. Combat is not really interesting if only the defending player has to play around things, even less so when he or she can’t afford to do so.

Riposte allows you to leave mana open for tricks on your opponent’s turn. I really like how it increases the interactivity of combat. What I learned, though, is that the Riposte discount doesn’t justify taking away from a card’s offensive potency. Otherwise, aggressive decks won’t end up playing them and you’re back to square one.

Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents build “sea moster tribal.”

Tribal

What makes Overworld unique are its weird tribal themes. Turtles, pirates, and sea monsters? Who can argue with that? Overall, the tribal synergies felt really well-balanced, both in quantity and quality. However, situations arise very often where you look at a booster with the only playable card in your colors being a tribal card of a tribe you’re not drafting. You end up skipping many picks, and scrape for playables at the end.

A common creature with Wanderlust.

Wanderlust

Wanderlust filled the entire spectrum. Some decks just don’t care for the additional lands and flipping the top card becomes much less exciting. But for decks that need the mana, there is an interesting tension whether you should attack for the chance of generating additional resources or defend, especially when you’re behind. The former decks probably just shouldn’t include the Wanderlust cards, and it’s not the mechanic’s fault. The mechanic looks more powerful than it plays, though, and I underbudgeted the creatures as a result.

I also consider removing the “you may put it on the bottom of your library” part, as it didn’t come up very often that you wanted to do that.

Ships are colored artifact creatures with Vessel abilities.

Vessel

Vessel is simply a generalized Battle Cry. Obviously, battle cry is a fine mechanic, but what abilities besides +1/+0 work well on it? Abilities only relevant in combat, such as first strike or deathtouch, are somewhat a waste because your opponent wants to be blocking the ship anyway. On the other hand, Vessel of Lost Souls plays very well.

Is the vessel ability word even needed when all and only ships possess these types of abilities? After all, ability words only group together a set of familiar abilities, but the “Ship” creature type already does that.

Summary

There is still a lot to be tuned, but except for dominion, all the themes and mechanics show potential. I am unsure whether Dominion is salvageable or should be discarded. My current inclination is to simply replace it with Monstrosity and save the trouble. Coffee?

Final Ratings

Quest hub: 7/10
Dominion: 3/10
Riposte: 8/10
Tribal: 7/10
Wanderlust: 6/10
Vessel: 6/10

Story Time: Overworld

Overworld is a set that I’m trying to finish for far too long now. I was never quite satisfied with how it turned out. But I have a few new ideas now, and I hope that I can finally finish the set. I will talk about those ideas in the next post. Here, I want to share most of the Iamur storyline, told through the cards of Overworld.

Only here for the cards? That’s fine too. Tell me in comments if you think one needs a few changes. Otherwise, enjoy the silly story of Iamur. And if you think there is something I can improve upon, please tell me as well.

Iamur Story

Kiora doing Kiora-things.

Kiora Atua

Kiora journeyed to Iamur, having heard stories of its vast, primordial ocean covering the entirety of the plane. She hoped to gather the creatures of the sea and harness their powers for the battle against the Eldrazi on Zendikar. But what she found was not the world she was hoping for, but a world ruled by humans and other land-dwelling lowlife. She would have continued her search in the depths of the sea, but someone or something was preventing her from diving into the deep.

While traveling the plane, Kiora met Kayisha, a mermaid native to the underwater realm. They briefly traveled the Overworld together, Kiora learning more about its lore from the native planeswalker. Shortly after, they came upon a desolate lighthouse and were attacked by its guardians. Inside the lighthouse, she found the answers she was looking for.

Millennia ago, the angelic planeswalker Auria defeated the gods of the deep and imprisoned them beneath the sea, separating the two worlds with an ethereal barrier. The barrier was maintained by an array of power stones scattered across the endless sea. With the intention of releasing the creatures of the deep, Kiora summoned a gigantic tsunami to destroy the lighthouse and the power stone inside. The barrier endured, although weakened, and Kiora set off to find more stones to destroy. Eventually, the barrier was sufficiently weakened that the old god Nolgul could enter the Overworld. Nolgul obliterated the remainder of the power stones, collapsing the barrier. Meanwhile, Kayisha, horrified by Kiora’s reckless act, descended back into her world, to warn her kin of the events to come.

The Ur-Kraken.

Kalimaras

Kalimaras is the god of the deep, the progenitor of all creatures of the sea. Known as the Ur-Kraken, he is as old as Iamur itself. During the first age, he ruled the seas with his mate, Atqu. The humans were living isolated on small islands, too afraid to venture out into the sea. Then Auria came to Iamur, and liberated the humans. The angel slew Atqu, and banished the remainder of the gods to the depths. Kalimaras withdrew himself to the bottom of the sea, mourning the loss of his mate, while leaving the underwater realm to be ruled by his sons, Nolgul and Ctaleth.

Slowly, hate corrupted the two brothers, and they spent every day attempting to break the barrier and exact vengeance on humanity. Kalimaras was only awakened again millennia later, when Kayisha, the deepkin shaman Tidesprite, and the merfolk explorer Aquiti reached his lair at the bottom of the sea.

Tidesprite beseeched Kalimaras to stop the invasion of the Overworld. In exchange, she would agree to become his new mate. The old god did not care to care to help the humans, those who had slain his companion, but after seeing what had become of his children, he accepted Tidesprite’s offer. He struck down his sons and consumed their essences. Without the old gods to lead the naga, the denizens of the Overworld could easily vanquish the invaders.

Mother of Krakens.

Naandr

Naandr is a demigod, and the progenitor of a new lineage of sea creatures. She is the offspring of the union between Kalimaras and Tidesprite. Whereas her half-brothers were embodiments of destruction, Naandr embodies life and creation. Within her, Iamur found balance. Now, the denizens of the Overworld and the denizens of the deep lived together in… well, harmony would be a stretch. There was a balance. We will leave it at that.

A planeswalker from Tel Atar on Iamur.

Commodore Kavira

Kavira was a Tel Atarian captain in command of a small galleon. While tracking down a group of smugglers, his ship was attacked by a kraken at Crimson Coast. Most of his men were able to escape, but Kavira stayed on the sinking ship. Facing certain death, Kavira’s spark ignited and he was pulled away from Iamur. Kavira was excited about the possibilities of exploring new worlds, but he also knew that his own world needed him now more than ever. He planeswalked back to Iamur and when he returned to Tel Atar, he quickly became a legend. He was declared dead, but now a story was passed among sailors that Kavira was devoured by a kraken, only to cut through its stomach and slay the beast single-handedly. A tale Kavira did not care to dispute. He was promoted to Commodore and now commands a fleet from his new flagship, the “Ocean’s Cry.”

A vampire planeswalker from an unknown plane.

Bloodlord Szavos

Szavos is the son of a royal vampire family from an unknown plane. His family was exploiting the human population of the plane, driving them to near exctinction. During her journey across the multiverse, the angelic planeswalker Auria also visited his world. An ally of humanity wherever she goes, Auria wiped out the vampires of the plane, including Szavos’s family. When the angel ran her sword through Szavos’s mother, his spark ignited. He escaped the massacre.

Now Szavos travels across the planes with the sole purpose of tracking down Auria and exacting revenge for butchering his family. When it came to his attention that the seal of Auria was broken on Iamur, he traveled to the plane, expecting that the guardian of Iamur would return to defend humanity once again. But to his surprise, Auria was nowhere to be found.

A humorless elf.

Amras, King of Autumn Isle

Amras is the king of the elves since time immemorial. He is nearly as old as Kalimaras himself, ruling the elves from the mystical Autumn Isle ever since. Many human adventurers attempted to find the Autumn Isle, but all failed as it cannot be found by following a conventional map. Amras himself, like most elves, is no adventurer. He left his home only once in his entire life. At the dawn of the second age, when the gods of the deep were defeated and the humans laid claim to the sea, he met with other leaders on Khamora to discuss the order of the world. When the invasion of the Overworld began, Khamora invited him to join another meeting, but he declined, and decreed that this war was not the elves’ affair.

It’s a Turtle. And an Island.

Turtle Island

Iamur is home to the most majestic turtles in the multiverse. Each island you set foot on might not even be an island, but the shell of a giant turtle swimming across the sea. And even ordinary islands were at one time grown on a turtle’s back. Every few centuries, a giant turtle discards its shell and plants a new island in the endless sea.

Turtles are ancient beings and many have lived since the first age. They sleep for most of their lives, and only awaken when events of great import are about to occur. When Nolgul was seen walking the Overworld, the turtles congregated to discuss what their role should be in the upcoming conflict. Unfortunately, turtles deal in vastly different time scales than most mortals.

There has to be text here, or the formatting gets messed up.

Stormtide Sovereign

The island of Myria trains the most proficient breed of hydromancers on Iamur. They are employed by Myria’s navy, their tasks ranging from divination, to navigation, to serving as a ship’s “armament.” But some of these wizards choose a different path after their training, and become explorers and adventurers.

The most skilled hydromancers are able to move across the sea without the need of a vessel, and are able to conjure elementals from the tidal waves on which they surf. Myrians are pacifists, though, and seek knowledge above all else. Myrian hydromancers are forbidden from using their powers in battle, except in self-defense.

Crafting Limited Archetypes

The Ten Color Pair Approach

Lately, on the MTGSalvation forums, there has been a greater focus put into designing for and crafting limited archetypes. The general consensus seems to be that each color pair should have a defined draft archetype. I’d like to share my thoughts on this and offer some counter-arguments.

While this approach is was somewhat used in the Tarkir sets, it was featured even more prominently in Magic 2015, which I think is the most convincing proof that this approach doesn’t necessarily work all the time. In Magic 2015, the archetypes felt very diluted, half-hearted, and the pay-off was often just not there. Sure, the Undergrowth Scavenger deck was great when it came together, but what about the other archetypes? You drafted blue/red artifacts and your pay-off is a 2/3 flyer for 3. Not very impressive. Blue/green bounce? While you’re spending your turns squeezing out some very minor value, your opponent just kills you with Triplicate Spirits.

Magic 2015 wasn’t a very pleasant draft experience. But Innistrad used the same concept and it turned out pretty well. So, what’s the difference? When you try to force ten different archetypes into a single set, you quickly run out of space to support all of them. But in Innistrad, the allied color draft archetypes were based on tribal synergies. This meant that many cards could do double-duty for enabling archetypes. For example, a Zombie that mills a player can enable your Spider Spawning, while the Zombie tribal deck just cares that it’s another Zombie. In addition, the pay-off cards were just much more powerful.

I intend to use this approach for my Overworld set, but a lot of tuning will be needed to make it work.

Build-Around Cards

You can save space in your set if you concentrate the pay-off for drafting certain archetypes into few, but powerful cards. These build-around cards have to be great when you draft around them, and terrible otherwise, so they don’t get picked by other players. In Innistrad, the black/green self-mill deck was called THE Spider Spawning deck because it was centered so much around that card, while in blue/red you drafted THE Burning Vengeance deck.

Concentrating the pay-off into these powerful cards meant that more slots could dedicated to “hidden gems” for certain archetypes. The numerous cross-interactions also meant that the different archetypes had a good amount of overlap. This is another problem with Magic 2015. Not only were the draft archetypes very diluted, but there was also next to no overlap between them.

To spice up the format, you can also throw in some build-around cards that don’t really go with any of the set’s themes. If a build-around card doesn’t demand anything from your deck that’s specific to a certain draft environment, you don’t have to spend any resources on supporting it. A card like Immortal Servitude comes to my mind. Is drafting around this card a very effective strategy? Probably not, but it’s certainly fun, and maybe that’s exactly what a player wants to do in a custom set draft.

In one of my Iamur drafts, one player had a lot of fun drafting around this rare.

Custom Set Audience

When you design your draft archetypes, you also have to keep in mind that your set probably won’t be drafted nearly as often as the official sets. This means that you have a higher percentage of players who draft for the first or second time and need more guidance during the draft. Build-around cards are great for this, because a new drafter can just first-pick them and then pick every card that goes well with it. This might not even be the right thing to do, but what I’ve found is that players find the draft experience frustrating not when they draft a bad deck, but when they didn’t draft a cohesive deck.

Esparand was my attempt at imitating the Innistrad draft format. I planned out many cool interactions and had cards that were “hidden gems” for a certain archetype. While some drafters surprised with their really cool, thematic decks, the majority of the players felt frustrated because they didn’t understand how the cards were supposed to interact, or their important cards got picked by those who didn’t really need them. I don’t think the format was bad at all, but this is something I definitely want to improve in my next set.

Siege of Ravnica

In Siege of Ravnica, all ten guilds will be present. So the “ten color pair” approach would make sense here. But the set is loaded with so much stuff already that I run into the problems mentioned above hundred-fold. Still, each guild should have a theme behind it or it wouldn’t be a Ravnica set, even when it’s being torn down. To make it work, I try to stick to the following guidelines:

  • The guild archetypes are optional. Some cards will reward you for committing to them, but you won’t have a bad deck if you elect to ignore them.
  • The pay-off cards are concentrated into very few cards that are useless to other draft strategies.
  • Most of the powerful enablers and pay-off cards are multicolored to further prevent them being picked by the wrong drafter.

The Selesnya draft archetype is based around Rally the Conclave. While many cards generate tokens at common, Harmonic Gathering is the card you want in this deck.

We’ll see how it turns out. My guess is that some guild decks will work, while others will just play as a pile of good-stuff.

Wrap-Up

How to craft the draft archetypes for a specific set is a very complex question, and there are many things to consider. While the “ten color pair” approach can work for some sets, it might not always be the best approach. When you’re crafting your archetypes, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Try to craft overlapping archetypes. This makes the draft format much more interesting and less linear. Tribal synergies mixed with other themes are a great way to do that.
  • Don’t include “fake archetypes.” These are archetypes that appear to exist, but aren’t really supported at all, or only half-heartedly.
  • When you have enough space in the set, design as many cards as possible to support each archetype. If you’re running low, concentrate the archetypes into very few, but powerful, synergistic cards. Make sure they are useless to other drafters.

Do you want to defend Magic 2015 from me senselessly bashing it? Do so in the comments :).

A Kiora for Overworld

Some planeswalkers do vastly different things on each incarnation, while the abilities of others always stay mostly the same. I suspect that Kiora falls in the latter category, should we see more of her in the future. Based on this premise, I designed a new Kiora for my set ‘Overworld.’ Her goals are the same as they were on Theros: Searching for mighty creatures of the sea to help fight against the Eldrazi.

I feel like, when you bring back an old planeswalker, you do not have to explain much about the reasons for his or her presence on the plane. When Theros came out, I thought “Sweet! A new Elspeth!” and “Who the hell is Xenagos?” Only after I read about his backstory I began to like him. In the same vein, the nautical theme of Overworld and “Kiora is awesome!” should be reasons enough for her to be in the set.

A new Kiora for Overworld.

Are we at the point where a six mana 9/9 creature with a large upside can be printed? I think we are. Her -4 ability is exactly that. While Baby Kiora needed to reach her ultimate to summon giant Kraken, this incarnation can do it right away. But you can also go a different path and try to reach the ultimate. A challenge with this Kiora was to make this path attractive enough, as a 9/9 Kraken that leaves a planeswalker at one loyalty behind sounds pretty damn attractive. But if you expect the Kraken to just be hit with a cheap removal spell, you would rather plus to protect her, accumulate more card advantage, and threaten her ultimate.

Her plus ability compares very unfavorably with the one of Garruk, Caller of Beasts, both six mana planeswalkers. But this is ok, considering that it is the main ability for Garruk, while it is only secondary for Kiora and her ability does not require a dedicated creature deck to work.

The ultimate can be reached very quickly. It has to be or otherwise it could not compete with the Kraken. And after you have drawn a bunch of cards, what would you rather do than draw even more cards?

More Overworld

In the last two weeks, I worked on my Overworld set further with lightning speed. Although I anticipate that this rush of creativity will level off rather quickly, it is great while it lasts. In the meanwhile, I dekeyworded the Treasure mechanic and came up with three new mechanics for the set instead. These are Dominion, Adventurism and Riposte.

Dominion

A rare creature with a dominion ability.

In Iamur, the large creature mechanic was “Power 8 or greater matters.” There was even a weird 8/1 Octopus in the set to support the theme. For Overworld, I wanted a new mechanic, but tailored to large creatures as well: Dominion is an ability word signaling an effect that is active only for as long as the creature has the greatest power among creatures on the battlefield. Here I like the flavor and that it should be very interactive. Only one monster can have dominion over the sea, so both players will engage in an arms race to buff up their largest creature to get the dominion effect. Naturally, a set with this mechanic should have many ways to alter the power of creatures. Equipments are especially great as you can reequip to activate the dominion of another creature instead.

Of course, dominion has the downside that it does not really synergize with other dominion creatures, so there cannot really be a “dominion deck.” But if you have multiple fatties out and you can only activate the dominion ability of one of them, I think you will survive.

Adventurism

A common creature with Adventurism.

Here is another top-down mechanic. Adventurism, as the name suggests, is the mechanic for the adventurers of the set. Explorers of various kinds sail across the endless sea and constantly discover new lands. But to do so, they have to be very daring (which of course is attacking the opponent). So, adventurism reads:

Adventurism (Whenever this creature attacks, look at the top card of your library. You may put it on the bottom of your library. If it’s a land card, you may put it onto the battlefield tapped.)

Overworld is a format where you beat each other up quite much, and adventurism plays into that. It encourages you to attack for value, the best encouragement by far. I initially designed the ability without the pseudo-scry, but after playing a bit with Explorer’s Scope in Commander, I realized how frustrating it can be. So, I made this change which forfeits a bit of elegance in favor of good gameplay; a more than acceptable trade.

Riposte

A combat trick with Riposte.

Combat tricks are important for limited to keep both players able to attack into what would otherwise become a very cluttered board. But a format with many good combat tricks can also shift the advantage too much to the attacker, leaving the defending player vulnerable to all kinds of shenanigans as he cannot afford to leave up mana for his tricks on the opponent’s turn. In a “go-face” format, there are bound to be many great combat tricks. But I like combat to be interactive, and not just a mere race. I want to shift the advantage back to the defender a bit, and give him the tools to be on an even playing field. This led me to include the Riposte mechanic:

Riposte {cost} (You may cast this spell for {cost} if a creature is attacking you.}

While Riposte spells are not only usable on defense, they are cheaper to cast if you do. This allows the defending player to respond to the opponent’s tricks while still playing threats on the previous turn.

Wrap-Up

These will be all the new mechanics. Now, on to fleshing out the different tribes! As always, check out the visual spoiler linked above and tell me what you think!

Pirates vs. Octopuses: The set

I have wanted to complete my Iamur block for a very long time, but I always lost my focus or was too dissatisfied with my work to continue with it. The second set, Grim Tidings, went through numerous revisions. When I started working on it, I envisioned it as the set for the “overworld” of Iamur. On Iamur, the plane is covered by a giant ocean with only a few islands sprinkled in between. Although there are humans and other species living over the sea, the world underwater is far more interesting on this plane. The two worlds are separated by a magical barrier known as “The Great Pull.” In the first set, Iamur, we only get to know the underwater part of the plane and all of its inhabitants. But in Grim Tidings, so the idea, this barrier begins to fail, and the sea-dwellers are now entering the world that they call the “overworld.”

However, this concept had several problems. Grim Tidings was supposed to be drafted in tandem with Iamur, meaning that it had to fit into the draft format and assume most of its mechanics. But a set that focused on a seafaring, pirate-ruled world does not work well with the Iamur mechanics from a flavor perspective. And although the story progression felt natural, that it was being told from the point of view of the humans did not. After being introduced to all the seadwelling species, it makes more sense that the clash of the worlds is being told from their perspective instead.

This led me to do a complete revamp of Grim Tidings and I made it into a simple follow-up set to Iamur. Here, the barrier is broken but the set still plays majorily underwater. We have to visit the overworld at some point, though. This is an ideal concept for the third set: Overworld, a stand-alone, large set with new themes and mechanics. I prepared a small teaser with a few cards here. This is what I got for now:

Vessel

Vessel is an ability word meaning “Vessel — As long as ~ is attacking, other attacking creatures you control have {ability}.” This mechanic is found on ships, which are all colored artifact creatures. Ship mechanics have been brought up every now and again on the forums, but I did not like any of those because they were all far too convoluted. So, my vessel mechanic is very simple. Here is the “haunted pirate-ship”-trope featuring the mechanic:

A haunted Pirate ship.

There are also other colored artifacts in the set:

Ramp and mana sink in one card? Sign me up!

Treasure

Treasure is a mechanic for pirate-themed cards. It keywords the Gold tokens that were introduced in Theros block with Gild and King Macar. Here is a simple example:

A common with the Treasure mechanic.

Overworld will still be a ramp-heavy set with many giant monsters waiting to be cast. The treasure mechanic helps in casting them and takes the place of Melody and Swallow from Iamur and Grim Tidings.

Pirates and other tribes

The set will have a strong tribal theme. Pirates in blue, black and red are the most supported tribe. Many cards will also care about sea monsters, namely Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses and Serpents, which will also get their own mechanic. There will be Turtles in green and blue and maybe one more tribe in white. I consider Elves for green and white.

This fine gentleman is not a pirate lord, because I have not designed any yet.

If you want to see more, check out the card spoiler! If I will actually complete the set, I cannot say. Nowadays, I avoid working only on a single set and just work on whatever tickles my fancy. So tell me what you think and if this is something you want to see more of!

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