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Shadows over Innistrad Planeswalkers

After the train wreck that was Battle for Zendikar block, Shadows over Innistrad is shaping up to be a pretty sweet set. While I don’t think it will come anywhere near the original Innistrad, it’s still only a 2 on the normalized Return-to-Ravnica-Disappointment scale (which rates how disappointed you are with a return-to-set after the initial hype of returning to that plane, and on which Return to Ravnica is a 5), while Battle for Zendikar is at least an 8.

I have one problem with the set, though — the planeswalkers. Let me tell you why their designs suck:

Jace Nixilis.

It seems like Ob Nixilis wasn’t defeated by the Gatewatch; he merely took over Jace’s body. There seems to be a repeating pattern now that 5+-mana planeswalkers draw cards on their plus ability and remove threats on their minus ability. There is little room for variation left. At least the ultimate is different, but no one cares about that, because planeswalkers are always designed in a way that their ultimate is never activated ever. Why doesn’t Jace summon illusions for once? He does that all the time in the story. This incarnation is just boring.

Sorin, Cookie-Cutter

Oh look, another planeswalker that draws cards on his plus ability, deals with a threat on his minus ability, and has an ultimate that is completely irrelevant. People seem to be hyped about this card, but I don’t know why. He doesn’t strike me as very constructed playable. He’s just mediocre, bland, forgettable, and has bad art.

Nahiri, Mending Denier

Oh look, another planeswalker that draws cards on her plus ability, deals with a threat on her minus ability, and has an ultimate that is completely irrelevant. Ok, the ultimate is actually reached very easily, so maybe it could be relevant from time to time.

While Nahiri’s physical appearance inexplicatly didn’t change after centuries of being mortal, her spellbook changed quite a lot. I don’t mind that she got a new slice of abilities to represent her turn to the dark side, but she doesn’t feel like a Nahiri at all. It would have been nice if she had at least something to do with equipments, or artifacts in general.

The white in her also doesn’t really reflect in her abilities. The plus and the ultimate are both mono red, and only the minus ability is red-white. Despite all my criticism, I’m willing to give her a pass because the abilities do convey the story of Shadows over Innistrad very well.

Arlinn, Wall of Text

“Hey, but what about Arlinn Kord? She’s pretty unique, right?” you’re saying. No, she’s not! She’s just another spin on a planeswalker template that’s also overdone by now: The four mana planeswalker that spits out 2/2 tokens on a zero-ability. The transform ability is very cool, but she has so much text on her and only so little of that text is relevant. The ultimate would allow you to kill your opponent in a slightly cooler way, but unfortunately your opponent is dead long before you reach it. The two plus abilities are unnecessary in my opinion; either make them identical to reduce the complexity or remove the plus ability of the transformed side altogether.

Yes, Arlinn Kord is very cool, but like with all of these four planeswalkers, there is something obviously flawed about her design, and I cannot understand why these planeswalkers got their stamp of approval the way they are. It really seems to me like the design phase of these cards lasted for about five minutes, and they used the first few abilities they could come up with, while the rest of the time was spent on development to get the numbers right. They may be very well tuned as a result — but their design is so damn flawed!

I thought that we would see new, interesting concepts, like the Magic Origins flipwalkers, more often, but instead Wizards of the Coast seemed to be content here with just iterating upon the templates that have “worked” in the past. Quote unquote because I feel like a flaw with many planeswalkers is that just repeatedly using the minus ability is almost always the right play.

Doing it better

I complain a lot, but I also think that I can do it better. Here are two planeswalkers from my Shandalar set:

Two planeswalkers from Shandalar.

Liliana uses the Chain Veil to temporarily boost her power, while the Raven Man is as elusive as he is in the story. He can never be killed in combat, but also doesn’t affect the board except for threatening to ultimate.

It’s entirely possible that these two planeswalkers wouldn’t be able to pass through development, but if not, I’m sure there are similarly wild designs that would.

 

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Red’s Affection

Pia and Kiran Nalaar has to be the card in recent years that has the greatest disconnect between the flavor and its mechanics.

On the picture we see a man hugging his wife as they look over the streets of Kaladesh where their Thopter creations are buzzing through the air. In the story, Pia and Kiran are depicted as the loving parents of Chandra, who sacrifice themselves so that their daughter can survive. Like all other Kaladesh artificers in Magic Origins, Pia and Kiran Nalaar create Thopter tokens. And like many of the artificers, they have an additional artifact-related ability. In fact, the only thing that differentiates them from Whirler Rogue is a different activated ability. And what did they choose as the unique ability of Chandra’s loving parents? They throw their Thopter creations at your face…

An ability that is completely disconnected from their flavor — it’s just what red does, and so they got this ability. Even if you ignore the “loving parents” part and only focus on the “ingenious artificers” side of Pia and Kiran, why would they blow up their creations, which I assume they are quite fond of, to hurt you? I for one never throw my self-made cards at my playgroup.

In recent years, Wizards tried to depict the colors less one-dimensional (“black is not necessarily evil!!!!!”). With Drana, Liberator of Malakir they succeeded in making a black hero character into an elegant, flavorful card. But for Pia and Kiran this was impossible, because there is just no way to depict love and affection in red mechanically. That’s also why Chandra is still depicted as nothing more than “the angry pyromancer.”

So, how about we expand red’s color pie (again!)? One possibility I see is giving red a small share of defensive spells:

A defensive red spell.

But it would be important to differentiate red creature protection from those of other colors. Here’s how it could be done:

  • White doesn’t need to sacrifice anything to save your creatures. Defensive Magic is part of their color pie and a white mage can just create an invulnerability shield.
  • Black doesn’t save creatures. The creatures save themselves. Vampires, demons etc. sacrifice the pawns to regenerate.
  • Red doesn’t have access to defensive magic, so when someone throws a fireball at his friend, the red mage can’t just create an invulnerability shield. He has to throw himself before the fireball to save the friend.
  • Big green creatures are just naturally indestructible.

Of course, this is only one possibility. These red defensive spells would only appear from time to time, and like Protective Instinct, they wouldn’t be too playable. Still, I have reservations about this addition to red’s toolbox and would prefer a solution to red’s one-dimensionality that fits better into its slice of the color pie.

If we choose not to expand red’s color pie this way, would Protective Instinct be fine as a one-time thing?

Khemia – Revisiting Worship

It seems my modus operandi is to do a lot of custom design over the course of a few months, followed by almost nothing on custom design for a few months.  Work, family, all of that keeps me busy sometimes.  That said, I’m back in the saddle for a little while and rather than continue to slog through Dareth block, I’m taking a detour and working on Khemia instead.

I’ve put out a few posts about Khemia and one of my biggest problems is making the worship mechanic work.  I had a few goals with worship –

  • Evoke the flavor of a lesser being worshiping a more powerful one. [OPTIONAL – make it so that inanimate objects can be worshiped as well]
  • Minimize wordiness while keep the mechanic easy to grok
  • The mechanic must place +1/+1 counters on creatures with a higher converted mana cost [OPTIONAL – and loyalty counters on planeswalkers, charge counters on artifacts/]
  • Limit worship so that it can’t happen every turn, ideally once per game, but without memory issues.

I’d previously not been able to accomplish this.  After last night, I have what I believe will be the final version of worship.  Using Soulbound as a template, I’m bypassing memory issues by basically pairing the worshiped with the worshiper.  Behold (as always, the numbers don’t matter and need to be developed upon):

Instead of an “activate this ability only on your turn” clause, I’ve made it be a tap effect, which means it can be used during your opponents turn to befuddle combat math, but I’m ok with that.  Also, while the worship doesn’t last the entire game, it does last as long as you control both the worshiped and the worshiper, so that’s fun.

And like I said, it opens up design space elsewhere.  Such as this card (whose numbers would of course need tweaked before deciding on a final version, but you get the idea):

So, I feel like worship is at a very good place and I’m excited to move forward with Khemia.  I’ll be putting up more posts as the design of the set continues.  If you’re reading this, is there anything during the design process you’d like to see talked about?

Thanks for reading!

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 :).

Announcing: Across the Multiverse

Legions was the all-creature set, and Alara Reborn the all-multicolor set, carrying their respective block’s themes to extremes. The Siege of Ravnica block’s focus are planeswalkers, so the logical conclusion of the block is an all-planeswalker set. In Across the Multiverse, the second set of the Siege of Ravnica block, every card is a planeswalker. While the fight against the Eldrazi continues, we explore the multiverse with the help of planeswalkers to find the Ravnicans a new home.

To make the set’s theme work, the basic effects, such as counterspells, and combat tricks, must exist in the form of planeswalkers within the set.

A basic planeswalker design acting as a Divination.

Of course, some planeswalkers will have more than one ability, especially at higher rarities.

Activating your planeswalkers every turn should grant you enough invetitability to close out any game. You can attack with the tokens they produce, or with the direct damage they can inflict. Still, some planeswalkers have to throw themselves into the fray to allow for more complex combat situations.

A white filler planeswalker.

A planeswalker could become a 2/2 creature, a 2/4 creature, or even a 5/5 creature with trample. The design space here is limitless, and I really look forward to exploring it.

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