Archive for November 2011

Looking At Innistrad Tribal Design #1- Werewolves   Leave a comment

Werewolves are probably the facet of Innistrad’s design that has been under the microscope the most, purely for the need to do them correctly was  the reasoning behind the introduction of Double-Faced Cards (DFC), one of the bravest leaps in Magic design in recent times, an idea unfathomable  to most of the playerbase until the first DFC trickled out from the Innistrad Party. It’s hard at first to see Werewolves design-wise as anything [i]but[/i] the application of DFC, but there is a lot more once you get beneath the surface.

It’s probably best to start with the obvious though- DFC and the “flip” mechanic, in which no spells leads to big stompy Lyncathropes, with 2 spells a turn sending them the opposite direction. It seems quite unusual a mechanic for R&D to have plumped for, at least in a vacuum- as we often hear about how keeping track of “X things happening a turn” often being rejected as too much of a fuss. (I recall reading in MaRo’s article about werewolves they had a Day/Night counter mechanic rejected for just that.) That said, I can’t help but thing R&D have come up with something fairly elegant in terms of gameplay and a very strong showing flavour-wise. Despite having seen a surprising amount of instances of people forgetting to flip their cards- something that happened both to and against me in the London PTQ- it seems to have been taken up easily by most and even if there are mistakes, frankly…it seems worth it. Werewolves are almost like the 4th Dimension in limited. Unlike most ‘new’ elements of Magic we every block, this is so startling new and different that you have to adjust your magic brain to it a little. No bad thing.

It’s one of the things that has made Triple Innistrad draft such a fantastic format. Werewolves play a very unique role in games, often dictating the pace of the game, whether it forces somebody to get their cards out early instead of holding back in order to prevent a flip from an opponent or slowing it down in order to get the flip on your own. Sometimes it feels quite nice to play out a couple werewolves, watch the opponent panic, dump their creatures on board and then Blasphemous Act them all away. (What can I say, I’m somewhat sadistic and it’s one of my favourite little tricks in Innistrad Limited.) If you are playing with the Werewolves, it will often come down to the “Flip, Or Not To Flip?” question, and the answer is generally different from game to game, which makes every draft  feel fresh and different. Sometimes it’s worth hold back on running out that Bloodcrazed Neonate to flip a Reckless Waif- sometimes you want an extra body down quickly in some instances, especially against an aggressive Human deck. It can also feel good to have a source of inevitability about your board. Sure, those Grizzled Outcasts may be a 4/4 now, but your opponent is most likely going to run out of spells at some point, and the Outcasts go from worth keeping on eye on, to clawing your eyes out.

On defense, it arguably creates harder decisions. Quite a common occurence is your opponent having an unflipped Werewolf on board early on that you need to play a spell to keep it small, or it becomes a huge problem. At uncommon, Gatstaf Shepherd is the most frequent offender, but at higher rarities, Kruin Outlaw and Instigator Gang are just absurd if they flip in Turn 4-5. As the player trying to stop cards flipping, is it worth throwing your big bomb out there, even if you’re fairly certain that they’re holding the key Brimstone Volley? Or knowing that if you don’t draw another spell, it’ll be reduced to chump blocking? It will be training people to think more about what they play and when, which is undoubtedly good for a player’s skill set in the long-term, but it does create some frustrating moments. Playing against heavy-Werewolf decks is somewhat nightmarish, especially if you’re a control player.  The clock van sometimes be too fast and you end up having to play terrible 1 and 2 drops just to stop the flipping. The only thing I really dislike about Werewolves in draft in terms of how they play out, is that they often punish you on a mulligan decision far too harshly. Say if you’re playing against the deck with Village Ironsmiths, Villagers of Estwald, Ulvenwald Mystics, Reckless Waif, etc…a sensible keep like this:

Island, Island, Plains, Murder Of Crows, Selhoff Occultist, Stitched Drake, Geist-Honored Monk

Can become a horrible disaster if you don’t draw one cheap spell quickly. In my experience with Innistrad draft, it has also reduced me to being loathe to keep any hand that is a two lander, even with a couple of 2 mana-costing cards, because if that 3rd land doesn’t come, Werewolves will just run away with the game much, much faster than you recover. For me as a somewhat average-to-good player, I get caught out- and to the newer player, I imagine this can seem hideously unfair. If you’ve just started turning up to FNM and you get crushed spectacularly even though the decision you’ve made is a decent one, it will put you off somewhat. (This is a recurring them, and my only complaint about ISD limited is that the great depth of what you can play comes with the downside that sometimes you can draft a deck perfectly and 3-0 one draft, but 0-3 another because people drafted decks that just blank you- but that’s an article for another time.)

I do like how Werewolves ability to flip into something bigger and better can create some interesting choices in Deck-Building. It’s what I call the “Tormented Pariah Question.” Do you play a card that is clearly bad for it’s mana-cost on one side, which the chance of getting a card that is good for it’s mana-cost if it does? Obviously Tormented Pariah is the clearest example, as a 3R vanilla 3/2 is horribly unimpressive and probably nearly unplayable otherwise in a format that can give you better 3/2 options in Crossway Vampire. It also has more impressive creatures for less P/T that have better abilities (Kessig Wolf, Ashmouth Hound) and anything that costs more than 4 mana is considerably better. However, turn that into a 3R 6/4 and suddenly it’s alright. There’s not many of these as most Werewolves are generally acceptable bodies, but some make me question myself. Often in Green, if you asked me to pay 5 mana for a 4/4, I’d be wanting to cut that card for something better. 5 Mana 7/7 though? Now we’re talking! Because for everytime you spend your 4th turn making a measly 3/2 while your opponent starts shenanigans with Makeshift Maulers, Chapel Geists and Festerhide Boars and the like, there are times that a flipped Pariah is going to put your opponent under serious pressure. I’m sure it’s intentional and I do appreciate how R&D seem to have made every Werewolf somewhat playable. (Although as a few other writers have noted, there are very, very few cards that are stone unplayable- which is a sign of an extremely diverse and healthy drafting format.)

As for the flipping mechanic it’s self, I can only imagine how many sleepless nights this cost everyone at WotC. They were certainly right to rule out the Kamigawa-style flip cards early, but I can imagine DFC was not a decision settled on very easily. Not just for the rules issues and the potential that it could cause to send Drafts a bit crazy, but whether it captured “Day and Night” correctly. For me, that is still up to debate, although as I said earlier, I feel they’ve probably found one of the better, if not the best solutions. It doesn’t recall remembering too much information- I felt it did at first, but after playing a lot more drafts, checking the spell count becomes a part of your usual routine. What I also like is that for the new player, while possibly over-complicated, there is a nice feeling of “Wait, It’s two cards for the price of one!” and it’s incredibly eye-catching. Ensuring there is one in every pack, while maybe not conducive to a professional draft, means that the newer player will certainly get used to them quickly and can ingrain all the nuances they bring sooner rather than later. Having Mayor of Avabruck and Ludevic’s Test Subject as promos is also a smart move in this regard- if the first Innistrad card you get is DFC, the seeds for understanding are planted early.

What I do like is that although there are not many Werewolves in Innistrad compared to other tribes, a wide array of Werewolves are covered- in how people handle it and react to it. We do have the Vanilla werewolf in Gatstaf Shepherd but the rest provide some kind of insight into the Werewolf mentality. Grizzled Outcasts sees the people barred entry into a town, and gaining their venegance for this in their Werewolf form- they’re also people who actively seek to transform, hence the name “Krallenhorde Wantons” on the back. (Wanton being a Human who wants to remain a werewolf- although R&D haven’t explained this term on cards at all.) We have other humans embracing their nature- Reckless Waif and Kruin Outlaw seem to enjoy the power where as Ulvenweald Mystics actively seek to transform themselves. We also have those who simply cannot control it. Hanweir Watchkeep seems to dislike his nature and has zero control over it, hence the “Must attack each turn if able” ability. It’s a nice little touch that makes each Werewolf distinctive.

Red and Green were always the best colour choices and I’d be slightly dissapointed if they ever bleed out of those colours. It works well with the colour pie- Red, the colour of unbridled passion and individuality (Notice how most the “packs” of Werewovles are in Green?) where as Green was the solid first pick with it always having been a colour of man and nature combining, working together or in this case, entwining. The only downside I can see in how Werewolves have been done for me personally is that there hasn’t been any real distinction of the Werewolf packs that exist in Innistrad, as they provide a very interesting dynamic. We have Ulrich of Krallenhorde Pack mentioned, but that’s it- as the packs, and their differences was one of the best parts of the Planeswalker’s Guide To Innistrad segment on Werewolves. I’ll be interested to see if that comes into play in Dark Ascension and the 3rd set- as well as the fact we seem to have a situation where the Werewolves are leaving Vampires and Zombies well alone which personally makes little sense flavourwise, although I understand it may of been omitted at first to not try and over-complicate the story. To me they’re the prehaps not the best tribal design lurking in Innistrad but they are the most thought-provoking and have the most room for development- my hopes for Dark Ascension is that we see them in R/G only still. As a little tidbit, if I were to be designing Dark Ascension and had to come up with the legendary Werewolf to match Olivia Voldaren, Grimgrin and Geist of Saint Traft…

Lastly, let me add my voice to the chorus- Moonmist and Full Moon’s Rise are the wrong way around!

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Posted November 29, 2011 by drafterildal in Magic Design

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