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Redesign Alpha #3: Animation   Leave a comment

“As long as enchanted artifact isn’t a creature, it’s an artifact creature”

 “it loses “enchant creature card in a graveyard” and gains “enchant creature put onto the battlefield with Animate Dead.” 

It’s going to be one of those weeks. This time we’re looking at a trio of cards with “Animate” in the title, although they all do quite different things. Animate Dead, Animate Artifact and Animate Wall are on the menu- and it’s a a combination of bizzarely narrow cards, really odd errataed rules text and one piece of hilarious artwork. Let’s jump right into it!

Animate Artifact

Current Oracle Text: 

So, we meet our first card that differs to what the card said originally because of updated rules- although I do like the little reminder on the original that it would destroy something with 0 as it’s CMC. (Known then as casting cost). What I do like about Alpha is that we see a lot of the top-down design that is becoming more and more popular- and this is your classic “Suit of Armour comes to life” type card that hits on a well-known trope. Sadly, the downside is that the card is just plain complicated, with it’s current form sounding very odd. I’m not 100% sure why this isn’t just “Enchant non-creature artifact” so you can remove the “As long as enchanted artifact isn’t a creature, it’s an artifact creature” text for simplicity- I’m guessing I’m either missing something, or it’s due to really weird interactions with cards like Glint Hawk Idol and Angel’s Tomb, or other cards I haven’t considered. Either way, I want to design a card that certainly reads a lot cleaner but keeps that original flavour.

Now there’s thankfully an easy fix- just do what this card was seemingly intended to do, just with cleaner rules text and adapating the mana costs. I can’t see many other angles with this card- “Animate Artifact” has to stay as a card name- so we want something that well…gets an artifact and makes it move, attack, block and so on and so forth. So the original idea stays, but we’ll use the rules text of “March of the Machines” as a template for starters:

Each noncreature artifact is an artifact creature with power and toughness each equal to its converted mana cost. (Equipment that’s a creature can’t equip a creature.)

We’ll obviously tweak that when it comes to the finished card. But what about mana-cost? 3U seems too expensive, considering that the aforementioned March of the Machines costs the same and does it for all your creatures. So we definitely want a reduction, especially considering that aura’s are quite weak and vulnerable these days, a puzzle that still seems to require some work- Totem Armor was a decent step in the right direction, though. A single blue seems like it would make it okay. Although it’s very cheap, it only scales with time- Even if you enchant something on Turn 4, it’d mostly likely only turn it into a 3/3. For our draft environment in particular, it has a fair amount of targets- but the biggest would be about a 4/4, with a lot of the artifacts wanting to tap anyway, so I feel justified leaving it at the cheap cost of U! Lastly, due to the card still being fairly complex- this will remain at uncommon. The card will go into the file for now as this:

We’re not done yet though! The combination of animation and really complicated rules text continues onward for this edition, with Animate Dead. Firstly, the original:

Animate Dead

It’s a bit weirder in ye olde rules- although bizzarely the newer version reads even crazier…

Animate Dead

Firstly, sorry for making you squint to read all that text. The original reanimate spell, Animate Dead set the trend for not only other cards, but entire styles of play. It’s an effect we want in our redesigned Alpha, but ideally we want it in a less convoluted way. Now, this is quite a simple fix in many ways- we know what we want this card to do and there are plenty of cards which have this effect, and they appear quite regularly- Unburial Rites and Rise From The Grave are two recent examples. Oddly, for such an iconic card there’s not much to say- it’s just quite clearly a design that is far too clunkier than it needs to be, purely because of how the rules have evolved and enchanting a card in one zone that makes it move to another zone is a giant headache which ends up with probably one of the wordiest cards that has seen (modern day) print. The one thing I do like about this design that I haven’t seen much of (Although I am sure they must have done it) is reanimation cards that make the creature weaker when they enter the battlefield- this is only -1/-0, but I do like that little quirk, so I want my card to have that too. For me, this leads to what I think is quite a simple card that is fairly powerful in limited, even if it isn’t making huge waves in any constructed formats…

Now, we finish off with a less complicated card but one that I would say is much more pointless, in the often-forgotten Animate Wall. Now while a seemingly needless card, this does have a rather cool upside of having one of the most hilarious Magic arts I’ve ever seen:

 Animate Wall

Just look at that. The face of the wall, the fact that is has hilarious arms and feet, and the overblown woman’s reaction- but back to the card. The new wording on this card basically states “Enchanted Wall can attack as though it didn’t have defender.” This is a card I would personally never make, because it’s essentially useless without a huge amount of walls in a set- and I’d never put a huge amount of walls in a set. However, we’re lumped with a lot of walls in Alpha. The problem I have with this card is that although there are nine walls in the set, only 4 have more than 0 power and only one is in white.  Quite a lot of the walls are double-coloured too, so it’ll be tough people to splash this in draft environment we hope to cultivate. That said, due to our “No changing the name” rule, we have very little wiggle room. So what I’ve gone for, is this:

This was an interesting one to make- I felt that using this as an enchantment was just unexciting, but turning it into a combat trick suddenly led to some potentially exciting game play- you can lure someone into a trap, or steal in for those last points of damage unexpectedly. My main draw to the design was the flavour behind it though. The wall comes alive to claim a victim is the basic theme, but the “+X, where X is the toughness” is what I really like. The strength of a wall, in real life is pretty much how tough it is- so it gets it’s toughness added to it’s strength when it comes alive. It’s a card I really like the design of and I think it may actually be relevant in draft because of the large amount of Walls. A 23rd card for sure, but it could be an interesting one.

So- there’s three more cards in the file! That’s enough of getting animated at some odd designs for now though- next time we’ll get our first glimpe of Mishra (through his Ankh), try to survive Armageddon and despite not being on Innistrad, look at channeling our inner Wolf.

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5 Ravnica Thoughts…   Leave a comment

So! Return to Ravnica will be the Autumn set, as announced as PAX this past weekend. To get you in the mood, here’s 5 tidbits of information to get the juices flowing..

1. Gideon Jura was last seen heading to Ravnica

Not brought up too much, but Gideon was last known to be heading there to speak to the Infinite Consortium, seeking help to deal with the Eldrazi ravaging the plane of Zendikar.

2. Several other Planeswalkers are attached to Ravnica

Not even counting Gideon- we have Jace, Lilliana, Chandra, Nicol Bolas and Tezzeret also tied in to the plane via the aforementioned Infinite Consortium. Consider that Nicol Bolas is all but confirmed in M13…and we could be heading for a great showdown. Maybe we should expect many multi-coloured planeswalkers? Also, the Infinite Consortium had a cell on Kamigawa- and a Kamigawan has just randomly shown up on Innistrad- worth remembering…

3. Modern Reprints

R&D has said that they want to reprint the key staples of Modern in order to help the format grow- with many people assuming it’s accepted fact that the shocklands will see a return. With it clearly being geared toward muti-colour again, what other Modern staples might return- or be brought back because of Innistrad? There’s not too many reprints they did in Scars Block- although a lot of riffs of them- but ones too look out for may be Lightning Helix (R/W Aggro is a big player in Innistrad Block which also may prompt this), Chord of Calling, Cremate, Dark Confidant, Empty the Catacombs, Mortify, Protean Hulk, Putrefy and Wrecking Ball are just some off the top of my head…

4. Will Guild Mechanics change?

This is a really interesting one- presumably, the same guilds will return from before- but will they keep their mechanics? While some are clearly well liked by R&D and have been brought back already (Bloodthirst), some have been said on record by R&D members (I’m 99.99% sure it’s been said, but cannot find the links) that they do not like Haunt and they particularly dislike Dredge- so I can’t see them returning. Especially Dredge, considering the possiblities they’d most likely end up making that deck absurd(er) in Legacy. Will new mechanics be made? Will old mechanics not from Ravnica be used? Maybe they won’t need that many mechanics- maybe guilds will merge…

5. Possible Standard Implications

Now any set changes the face of Standard. Ravnica could do this in huge ways- we may see a lot more “crazy” decks, as presumably the set will provide crazy good manabases and a lot of good gold cards- so maybe 5 colour control is primed and ready? With Nicol Bolas around, will we see the return of Cruel Ultimatum? Time will tell…

Redesign Alpha #2: Air we go…   Leave a comment

So, after a long look at Alpha on Gatherer, that ran through at least one box of tissues as I wept at the task ahead, what became apparent is that there are quite a few problems facing me in this task. I’ll lay out a couple in this week’s entry, but others will flare up at times. Still, c’est la vie, restriction breeds creativity…

Can you count to (Power) 9?

Not just the Power Nine, but a whole host of other extremely powerful cards- Armaggedon, Balance, Control Magic, Counterspell, Dark Ritual, Demonic Tutor, Mana Vault, Mind Twist, Sinkhole, Sol Ring, Swords to Plowshares, Time Vault and Wheel of Fortune are all going to be running around, some of which wouldn’t see print today for their strength, but even discounting that- some could have an extremely adverse effect on our proposed draft format. However, I still want the cards to have that special feeling- I’m aiming for Black Lotus to still be a popular, sought after card- just without it being as powerful as it is.

Thankfully, unlike Richard Garfield, I will have the added benefit of several years of Magic Development to give me some insight into how to tweak these cards to make them fair and fun, although I’ll be eagerly trying a lot of different things. Keeping cards within their great heritage and the bounds of fairness will be key to a successful redesign, so the power 9 and friends will most likely be receiving most of my attention.

Another obstacle during the redesign is that some cards, while not totally overpowered- are too powerful for their commonality. Disintergrate, Fireball, Pestilence and Sinkhole are main offenders for being really out of place, but there are others, which we will have to revise and rejiggle around to not only make the cards fair, but balance out removal at certain rarities for our draft format. Most of the uncommons are seemingly just shoved in there for something that may have seemed correct before, but in the modern era, doesn’t fit at all. Rares vary from correct (Birds of Paradise) to bizzare (Elvish Archers- a 1/2 First Striker for 1G).  It will be interesting to tweak this- remember, one rule is to keep the same amount of commons, uncommons and rares.

So Much Hate

Now, I appreciate the necessity of hate cards, as they’re part of the fabric of Magic. That said, they got off to a very rough start in Alpha, generally being too frequent, too punishing and plain miserable. Obviously, that can be corrected- but the issue for us will be to have these hate cards not only be unoppressive, but to retain the flavour of their original card names.

The main problem is that the colour-hate cycle is a bit too overboard on cards of the mass land destruction variety, which never makes for a fun playing environment, so there will be heavy changes to those. There’s also a few more “troll” cards running around that will need changing- Gloom, which makes White spells cost 3 more. Not fun, and not conducive for the draft environment we want to foster. Even worse is Lifeforce, a GG enchantment that for GG, counters any black spell, which is not only a horrible card for play but just all over the place colour pie wise. This will be something that we need to tackle.

The Power Nine…walls

There are nine walls in Alpha. This is going to be a problem, because there’s not much I can do with a card name that has “Wall” in it. The problem I have with Walls is that the more there are in a set, the more boring gameplay will be. Sitting behind walls has it’s purposes, but it’s not particularly fun for the players on eitherside. Making these walls flavourful, playable and something that doesn’t drive you into boredom will be a fun little challenge. By no means the biggest, but I feel it’s worth it’s own mention.

So, let’s look at our first card in the set. It’s Air Elemental!

Air Elemental

So, we’re getting off to a solid start on this project by having one of the better designed cards in the set that still holds up today- while not being a particularly interesting card. It’s been reprinted 17 times, with the most recent being M10- and it’s not hard to see why. It’s simple, carries the flavour of blue and can be a strong uncommon in Draft formats that is fair and balanced.

Air Elemental, alongside pretty much every other blue creature in Alpha is something that is not particularly tangible- creature types include Clones, Djinns and Phantasms. It sets a tone that has kept with blue for all of Magic’s history- dealing mostly in conjured creatures, rather than natural ones. The only exceptions to this in Alpha are Prodical Sorcerer, a Wizard- also a natural fit for blue, two Merfolk cards and a ship – which are fine- because considering you’re setting the colour out with “Islands” as it’s source of mana, having creatures that live in or on water seems more than acceptable.

We also get our first taste of blue’s role in gameplay – having a route of attack consisting of smaller, lesser numbers- but with evasive abilities.  Air Elemental is a card that needs an answer fairly quickly, particularly with a lack of fliers and creatures with reach in the set- but doesn’t get it done in a couple turns, allowing opponents time to find an answer, or a way to win before the elemental gets them to zero.

For now, the verdict is that Air Elemental goes into our Redesigned Alpha file unchanged.

Non-MTG: Where did all the bad guys go?   Leave a comment

This is something non-MTG related here as I just felt like  putting it up- an article I wrote for a competition recently in which we were restricted to 500 words to write about something in Video Games we hated. This is what I come up with:

Ocelot. Ganon. Arthas. Three of the most memorable bad guys in the history of gaming. Compelling and hateable, they were satisfying to defeat and made the time you spent on a game worthwhile. These days, I hate that the art of the great villain is a lost one, with even some of the better games of recent times failing to deliver us a great bad guy to get our teeth into. Recently, when I finished Mass Effect 2 and beat the giant Human-Reaper under Harbinger’s control, I felt empty.

Because I couldn’t care less about the Collectors, Harbinger, or the Reapers.

They just don’t make them like they used to.

The strange thing is, Mass Effect’s universe is diverse and interesting- but when it comes to it’s villains, they’re bland and unexciting- the generic “powerful alien race that wants to destroy everything.” What’s to get excited about there? We’ve seen it all before and it just doesn’t cause me any excitement. The Reapers are just another in the long list of generic antagonists we get in our games today. What happened to the Sephiroth’s of the gaming world? A fantastic bad guy can turn a good game in to a great game, because finally defeating a truly great bad guy felt satisfying- but these days bad guys are one-dimensional and forgetable, seeming more like objectives than characters.

The gaming world isn’t delivering on great bad guys not only in terms of personality, but not even giving us great final boss battles- once the true cause célèbre of games. How can some of the biggest games of the past year, Mass Effect 2 and Gears of War 3, produce such bland final boss fights, when the likes of Metal Gear Solid provided several memorable ones in each game? Great boss fights are some of our most cherished moments in gaming and I still have vivid memories of taking on Psycho Mantis for the first time and being blown away. It was on a new level to anything I’d eve experienced, because it didn’t feel like Mantis was attacking Snake- he was attacking you personally and getting in yourhead.

I’m sick and tired of beating boring bosses in the first couple of attempts. It’s completley forgettable, unlike some of the greats from the past- Sephiroth for example, is still remembered fondly fifteen years later, because he felt like a true challenge, taking the combined efforts of your team, aswell as your enemies to kill him. Even then it took three battles. Combined with the fact he felt inhumane and extremely powerful- destroying villages and killing your friends. In a way, he made Final Fantasy 7 the great game it was. The likes of Saren pale in comparison.

The industry is capable of delivering better, yet it constant disappoints Give me somebody to hate. Give me somebody I can feel good and happy about sinking my time into defeating. Anything else just smacks of laziness. I swear to god, the next game that has “It’s AI that’s gone wrong and turned on it’s creators” is going to get a slap in the mouth for being dull and lacking in any amount of effort. I hate the lack of well-created bad guys in gaming at the moment- it needs to change.

Posted February 19, 2012 by drafterildal in Uncategorized

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Quick PT Dark Ascension Thoughts   Leave a comment

Some quick thoughts about Pro Tour Dark Ascension…

The coverage was miles ahead of what we’ve previously been offered, with the main benefit being live games from start to end. Maintaining a steady stream of about six thousand viewers throughout is great news and I was impressed how there wasn’t a huge amount of downtime, filling things in with deck techs and interviews so that people weren’t switching off and coming back all the time- the best of this being when they got Aaron Forsythe and Zac Hill into the booth. The extended coverage means you get to build up the event as a big deal and can begin to get people used to players- one way this worked out well is how the team successfully made Jon Finkel look like a huge deal. Now obviously to a lot of us, Finkel already is a big deal and one of the worlds best- but for those who are new to MTG, they really sold him as a legend of the game. If you can build up players that people want to watch, it can only improve the game and viewing figures.

The constant coverage also helped catch some great moments and more magic. Without the new improvements, we’d never have seen Estratti’s ice-cold levelling of Tom Martell and the ability to swap between games was pretty nice, meaning instead of having to watch a judge sort out the Kibler/Finkel ‘extra wolf’ situation, we could just flip over to the Nagai/Da Rosa match. I also can’t help but approve of the addition of two extra commentators. I love Rich and BDM, but Sheldon Menery and Rashad Miller both add a different dimension- Sheldon in particular is fantastic on commentary and having a judge emeritus who is well respected by all in the game is a huge boost. It felt professional and had some neat little touches- using Cover it Live to update people on their particular favourites, down to the little intro video going to the booth to the games (which really helped get me in the mood.) All together it was a vast improvement and a great step into the next iteration of Magic coverage and although there are still kinks to work out, it was the stand out winner of the Pro Tour. If there was one thing they should really work on for PT Avacyn Restored, I would say maybe having a live results ticker in the webcast layout and giving those in the booth a better image of the board- it seems the commentators were having trouble deciphering what was being played and in player’s hands sometimes. I have to agree with Matteo Orsini-Jones’ article on Blackborder in that they could really do with a pro doing commentary too.

The top 8 of the tournament was fantastic. Three members of the Hall of Fame, one of which being arguably the best to ever play in Jon Finkel. Another dead cert hall of famer and one of the best in Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and three unknown, but possible future stars in Costa, Nagai and Rachid. The match ups were fairly varied too, which only added to the spectacle. It was a good showcase for standard with the final being contested between team-mates and two of the best against each other in an almost 75-card mirror in an enjoyable final, with a fan favourite in Brian Kibler taking the crown, even though the tournament had already ‘peaked’ so to speak with the frankly absurd Kibler/Finkel match that is going to be talked about for years to come. It was also good to see quite a diverse field in terms of nationality, with five countries present. Also, it’s worth noting that a good outside bet for the Magic World Cup in advance might be the Czech Republic. They can put a team together from Blohon, Juza, Jurkovic, Cifka, and Jaklovsky which could be quite formidable.

Metagame wise, I think it’s tough to say that any one archetype really dominated things- we did see a lot of Delver builds but that seemingly might be down to sheer numbers than the quality of the deck- the decks that put up good results are quite varied- R/G Ramp and Delver are your front runners now, but a lot of people were saying how Todd Anderson’s Mono-Green deck was very powerful and may have been a perfect call for the meta. Amazingly, Shouta Yasooka once again manages to put up a great beformance with a Tezzeret deck when seemingly nobody else can. For me, other things of note were Channel Fireball being regarded as having a bad weekend, yet three of their players made it to the Top 8, with PV and Kibler contesting the final- although LSV going 1-4 is always a shock. There was a lot more talk of people testing and playing with teams which is interesting, especially as (if you missed it), Aaron Forsythe said that WotC are looking to get team events going. That’s big news. All-in-all, a fun PT- roll on Avacyn Restored.

Dark Ascension Design Review: White   Leave a comment

Archangel’s Light

So we’re off to a bad start here. This is a very baffling mythic and I really didn’t understand why it was made at first. It’s not a key element to the story, unlike Helvault, which justifies the rarity as a central part of Innistrad’s storyline. The effect isn’t overly stunning for what it is- sure you gain a bunch of life, but most of the time you’ll die before you get there as this sits in your hand. On reflection, it feels like you’re paying for a heavily overpriced Elixir of Immortality that gives you a bit more life, but does it more slowly. As has since been explained by WotC, there was a problem with this card that it was a last minute replacement which they had to keep the same Name and Art, which is a considerable constraint- and as much as it’s a shame a Mythic slot was lost to this, Kudos to them for holding their hands up and admitting the weakness of the card and for erring on the side of caution as to not have a late change end up like others have, with an overpowered card. (Skullclamp says hello.)

Bar The Door

Good design here, with effect, art and name all tied together neatly. It’s barely playable in limited and unplayable in constructed though. I do like what they did in the promotional videos for this card though, stapling the art onto that of Zombie Apocalypse. I don’t think I’ve seen two arts merged together before like that, which was a nice little touch. It’s also colour pie 101 as you’ll notice this is basically Hysterical Blindness, which reinforces that blue takes away the power of opposing creatures and white boosts the toughness of it’s own.

Break of Day

This is a card that I like. With a simple concept that at sunrise, the Humans get a little bit stronger when it isn’t night-time, as well as fateful hour conveying the feeling of a “last stand”. It’s also a very smart way to show off fateful hour in the common slot with a simple effect. The card is decently costed too, with limited looking to continue a theme where the creatures have quite low toughness across most the colours, meaning the card is better than it looks on first glance and has a decent home in this set.

Burden of Guilt

This is cheap removal for limited and the card feels white in every way. Using somebody’s guilt to keep them controlled not only fits white as a colour, but Innistrad as a plane. It’s a good riff off the usual tappers we see and you get that nice balance that you’re still paying for the tapping, but it’s not on a vulnerable body that can be picked off at any time. What’s quite cleverly been done is having this in a set where Village Bell-Ringer, the Niblis’ (Nibli?) and Galvanic Juggernaut exist so tapping isn’t always the perfect answer- but it gives White a decent way to deal with Undying creatures, too.

Curse of Exhaustion

A nice little effect here. Very few limited purposes with probably an eye towards giving White a little defence against Burning Venegance in block. From a flavour point of view, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about White having a Curse as it doesn’t quite sit right. The odd thing is that this card would be fantastic in a Werewolf deck, as you could make it easier to flip them and harder to reverse the effect, but it’s just not in the right colour- and I think you’d be look foolish splashing for it- although if you’re W/R or W/G with enough werewolves to make it worth it, it could be a huge beating, but your creatures would need to be 50% lycanthrope or something.

Elgaud Inquisitor

Again, another good white card along the line of “Human dies, becomes ghost”. Not sure why he’s an Inquisitor, though. A slightly above average common that plays well with White’s themes and several draft archetypes- natural human builds, and various combinations of sacrifice decks- he’s also similar to Mausoleum Guard in that he gives opponents a difficult decision whether to kill it and give you a flier, or take damage from letting them through- exacerbated by the lifelink clause. Naturally, he’s good to leave at home to block too, as you can always cash in for 2 life and a spirit.

Faith’s Shield

A well designed card. It shows off Fateful Hour in a fairly powerful way for limited- Stave Off that can upgrade into Brave the Elements. An interesting quirk on this card is that it reads “target permanent” rather than just “target creature” like these cards normally do. It’s a card that shows off Fateful Hour in a flavourful manner- when times are desperate, the Humans get more powerful effects- which translates in giving you a chance to hang in there just as things get tough- and if  you’re in a racing situation, it can power you through the blockers for an alpha strike.

Gather the Townsfolk

Another good way to show off Fateful Hour here- two guys for two mana that can explode into 5 guys if need be. It’s one of those cards that tells a good story too. When things are okay, only two people turn up. When shit gets real, five people turn up. A strong limited card that plays nicely with the upsurge of Sacrifice themes that Dark Ascension provides. With a few cards that care if the sacrifice is human, it gives Townsfolk more versatility than say, Midnight Haunting. You can combo this with some great cards- Falkenrath Aristocrat or Falkenrath Torturer to steal some games off the back of a fatefully houred Townsfolk. It is the premier common for the new mechanic in this set- much like Morbid had Brimstone Volley in Innistrad.

Gavony Ironwright

A Horned Turtle for White with some upside here. A simply designed uncommon, allowing players to have an opportunity to stall out an aggressive opponent by making everyone big blockers. I suppose the flavour is that it’s an armoursmith, which I guess means the guy is so good at blacksmithing that he just gives all the creatures on your team a slightly better Accorder’s Shield. Must’ve pulled quite a few night shifts.

Hollowhenge Spirit

Design-wise there’s not much to say here. It’s a spirit and a flier with two abilities, which makes Uncommon it’s rightful home. A decent limited trick that can mess with combat, which continues the theme that has developed during Dark Ascension, which is that Spirits have more of a “mischievous poltergeist” feel, in the sense that they mess around with combat by tapping mostly, although in this case it just plain takes someone out of it.

Increasing Devotion

What I like is that although Dark Ascension is the set where things get considerably worse for the human populace, with a lot of them meeting their end and others turning to demonic cults, Increasing Devotion is a card that at highlights that not all humans are giving up on Avacyn, despite her disappearance. It’s a powerful card and is my favourite kind of limited rare- It’s powerful and can swing the game, but it won’t end it immediately. A good fit for white in the “Increasing Cycle” that plays extremely well as a top-end card for Innistrad’s Token theme. It’s a good fun card for the casual players too- Conqueror’s Pledge has always been a kitchen table favourite, and this is in a similar vein.

Lingering Souls

A format defining card that will not only have impact on the standard metagame, but also delivers huge rewards in limited too. It’s a hugely upscaled version of Midnight Haunting and in what is a rarity for Spirits, it highlights the story well via the flavour text,  Hollowhenge being a “key” town in Innistrad as it is the former Avabruck, where Werewolves slaughtered the entire town, so it would naturally be filled with angsty ghosts.  I like it as a card that is good to all players. Obviously high-level players appreciate the raw value you get out of it, while the more casual player can appreciate it too, as the effect is very clear for them to see. A well designed and aggressively costed card that will see play in all types of magic.

Loyal Cathar

This Cathar is easily one of the home-run hits of the set. It’s a card with limited and constructed purposes- a decently costed but not overpowered card, but I’m personally in love with this card as a simple concept, designed elegantly. In life, he is vigilant as he guards the walls from whatever horrors lurk outside, but when he dies and returns zombified, he now can’t block as he’s trying to burst in, now a mindless zombie- a complete opposite of what he once was.  Fantastic flavour. If there were ever a card that hammered home how bad it is for the humans, this is it and when this card was spoiled it just confirmed for me that the implementation of Double-Faced Cards has been a master stroke and one of the main reasons this block is such a runaway success.

Midnight Guard

Filler common here for when you need to flesh out a deck, given a little boost with psuedo-vigilance, providing you can play another creature. Works well when there are a handful of flash cards running around. I like the concept here, of the overwhelmed yet hard working guard chasing after everything that appears in the night. Brilliant art on this guy too. My only complaint is that we now have an infinite combo in Pauper with this guy and Presence of Gond.

Niblis of the Mist

I’m not a fan of the Niblis’. They seem very out of place as there’s been no mention of these “Niblis” spirits before. Why not just use geists for consistency? Otherwise, it’s another spirit that is running around messing with people by terrorising them, which translates into Spirits have a tendency of tapping creatures in Dark Ascension, which works well as a concept as I’ve mentioned earlier and can make for some interesting situations for limited.

Niblis of the Urn

The other white Nibbly (Sorry , that’s just how I want to pronounce it in my head) creature that taps creatures during combat. An interesting card here as a 2 mana 1/1 flyer isn’t overly strong, even with the tapping ability so I personally find it a bit strange that it’s an uncommon. It can obviously tap the creature in the air blocking it, but if they have two guys who can block it, it’s pretty much relegated to chump blocker status. That said if you have a couple of these, and other means of tapping, you can live the dream of faltering most their blockers each turn. Personally unsure on it.

Ray of Revelation

A good reprint here- the name fits the plane and it goes well in the cycle of on colour-pair flashbackers. As there are a lot of good targets for this in limted formats, such as Claustrophobia, Bonds of Faith, Burning Vengeance and many others, it makes Ray one of the most powerful sideboard cards you can have. A subtly great design not only for the set, but they’ve managed to get this effect into the Modern format with this reprint.

Requiem Angel

I really like this card. It’s another of those “fair rares” which won’t win the game straight away despite its powerful effect. I really appreciate the flavour on this card despite it being slightly subtle. Normally the idea is flavour wise that on Innistrad, when somebody dies they pass into the “Blessed Sleep” and quite literally rest in peace. However with Avacyn gone, the humans cannot have this much craved death and can be tampered with, stitched into monstrous forms and all manner of shenanigans, so all Avacyn’s Angels can do is guide dead people’s ghosts the best it can- so you get 1/1 tokens instead of a totally dead dude. Excellent.

Sanctuary Cat

Meow. Filler common and a cute little card and I can’t really think of much to say here- I’d say I was glad they managed to hit the cat trope, but Black Cat does it so much more better.

Seance

Another design home run here. It’s one of those cards that gets people thinking of the possibilities and makes them want to try it out, even though the results are probably not going to be what they desired. The flavour is great though and basically describes what a Seance would be- summon the spirit of a loved one, have them around for a cup of tea and a chat, before they bugger off for good. Perfect, perfect, perfect. This is a card that states the case for top-down design and I think it hits on a flavour level as well as creating an interesting card with an unusual effect.

Silverclaw Griffin

A continuation of the theme that the avian species of Innistrad are on the side of the Humans, we are presented with a very decent flier at Common with stats and abilities that are quite powerful. Simple card that pads out the set and will star in limited. Can’t help but feel for Abbey Griffin in all it’s mediocrity though, as now it can’t even claim to be the best Griffin in the format.

Skillful Lunge

Traditional white combat trick that are a dime a dozen, although this feels like it could fit in any set rather than just Innistrad. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this in a core set one day. A fine design.

Sudden Disappearance

Another quirky White card here and another reason to let people live the dream of actually getting some use from Sundial of the Infinite. I think it’s a cute little card that fits the set it’s in and will probably be a hit with some casual players. That said, it has virtually no Standard or Limited applications as far I can see- which unfortunately happens a bit to white’s rares this set.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

I’m very happy that WotC  gave us another “character” card, like Olivia and Mikaeus. For too long it’s been a case of the central characters of a plane just being the Planeswalkers, but I really like this not being the case for this block. It’s very much a struggle that’s isolated to the natural inhabitants of the plane and that the ‘walkers like Lilly and Garruk are just a little bit removed from the central storyline (Although Sorin is there and I don’t mind that too much as he’s clearly ingrained in the history of the plane) so we have some of the key figures of Innistrad appearing on their own cards, playing into their themes. Thalia is a central figure in the “Fight for Thraben” that was described in the flavour parts of spoiler week and clearly a person of large influence for the humans, so it’s only appropriate she appears here. Her mechanics suit her too as she is represented in the storyline as a zealot-like Human, so the fact she makes non-creature spells cost more fits her role. In terms of play, it’s quite clever- a fair amount of the time in Limited, your White-geared decks are going to be aggressive and full of creatures, so this will generally aid your cause- the average G/W deck that likes to vomit out creatures constantly with the odd travel preps in between will like her and she’s actually got decent stats and is a good ground beater for that kind of deck too. A great card with limited power and many constructed applications.

Thraben Doomsayer

I’m not sure about how I feel about this card flavour-wise, as it seems pretty muddled- I can kind of get that a Doomsayer would create his own little “cult mob”, hence the token generation, but if he’s predicting that the game is up, why does everyone get stronger? Surely they should get disheartened and worse? Obviously that would make for a terrible card, but hey. Vorthos for life. It’s a pretty good rare however and a Psuedo-Lord here when Fateful Hour is on and a token maker is always powerful, although this not Bloodline Keeper. Another fair Rare and an absolute all-star in the Humans deck.

Thraben Heretic

Clever card here, with a Human who is taking matters into their own hands in a somewhat controversial way by just killing all the corpses to prevent them becoming Zombies, or Skaab-feed. Good to show that not all the humans are being decimated. Fantastic art on this one by the way. As for play, this isn’t bad for limited- like Silverchase Fox, it’s a 2/2 for 1W, which is playable- and you get a utility effect too. It can downsize Harvest Pyres, Spider Spawnings and such- albeit slowly and provides a useful tool against the skaab-heavy decks.

Top 5 White Designs:

1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2. Loyal Cathar
3. Requiem Angel
4. Seance
5. Increasing Devotion

Overall, I like what’s been done with White. Humans have continued to show deep flavour (Just ask the zombies), showing some branching out in new directions in addition to the reinforcement of most of the themes humans were along before. Spirits seem to actually have some mechanical ties flavour-wise now rather than just being bodies that also happened to be spirits, while also tugging back on White’s insane power in limited a little. Good job all round.

Dark Ascension Predictions   Leave a comment

So, Dark Ascension previews begin tomorrow- so here’s something to get the excitement flowing as we all expectantly wait for the first cards to trickle through in what has been a very, very tightly controlled release so far. I have to feel for Wizards a little though…how on earth do you follow up Innistrad? It’s been one of the best sets ever.

Futureshifted

So we’ll start with our only assured glimpse of the Future, in Future Sight. Trying to pick any cards from Future Sight that may show up is quite difficult, as only one per set ever seems to turn up; or not at all, in the case of Shards Block. Scars Block only had one (Bloodshot Trainee) even though everyone and their mother thought that Sarcomite Myr would be in. Here’s the list of cards that might make it… (If there’s any you’re wondering why they aren’t here- just ask in the comments!)

Bitter Ordeal

We have to ask ourselves, looking at this card- “Will Gravestorm be a mechanic?” It’s certainly a possibility, and there is some evidence to imply it may be the case. Gravestorm does play well with filling your Graveyard- which, in case you’ve been living under a giant rock, is a huge part of Innistrad and as seen here, Mark Rosewater drops a strong hint about the return of Unearth. Having both would play nicely with Gravestorm, as you’ll be wanting to throw as many cards into the yard as possible- so it seems a natural fit. That said, Storm has many times been critcised by members of R&D as a plain “broken mechanic”. Obviously Gravestorm and Storm are different beasts in many regards, but I have to imagine R&D will be slightly trepidatious at throwing the mechanic out there. So if we were to assume it was in DKA, would this card have a chance to ordeal some punishment? For me, it’s not very likely as it’s not a particularly exciting way to show off the mechanic and with cards like Memoricide and Surgical Extraction running around, Bitter Ordeal may end up sitting on the sidelines.

Bonded Fetch

I think that Bonded Fetch is one of the most likely candidates to see a reprint. Homonculi are already running about in Innistrad, with them being very unlikely to appear in other blocks as they don’t turn up often. It would, as many cards in Innistrad are, be a home run in terms of flavour combining with mechanics- the Fetch loots away unneeded parts finding the right ones- to help it’s master perhaps find a creature in the yard to make a Skaab. A looter with haste is also something we haven’t seen before and would surely be a high priority pick in limited. As it stands, I don’t see any reason not to have this in Dark Ascension.

Bridge from Below

Bridge would almost certainly be one of the most wanted reprints. It’s a staple of Legacy Dredge and WotC might want to print it just for that- but we’ll see. It does make Zombies and it does fit the theme of Innistrad, making it a fitting reprint. Realistically I don’t think it’s out of the question either, as it could actually be a really intresting rare for Limited, carrying on the U/B Zombie themes- generating more bodies from your Stitcher’s Apprentice and more incentive to be milling yourself.

Fleshwrither

This is my sleeper pick to go in. Transfigure plays very well with the mechanics of Innistrad and it’s flavour. Mechanically, sacrificing creatures fills up your graveyard, as well as playing extremly well with Morbid. Even now you could Transfigure Fleshwrither for a Woodland Sleuth to have a chance to recur it from the Graveyard. I think it can work flavourwise- unhappy with your latest Skaab? Destroy it, reuse the materials and make a better creature! It also goes down well with one of the key aspects of Gothic Horror- that of Transformation, which R&D have really pushed as a concept in recent interviews that have trickled out since Worlds. It’s a powerful Mechanic which I think would be perfect for the block.

Mass of Ghouls

Although it’s already appeared (in Tenth Edition), it’s worth noting that it might be put in for limited purposes as a vanilla. As far as limited goes, as black is lacking big creatures at common, so perhaps this will be in the next set to redress that.

Narcomoeba

This would be another card that could be a reprint for constructed purposes- Dredge for Legacy and possibly Illusions in Standard. However with no Illusions in the set, they’re not going to be in there if you ask me. I mean, what do Illusions do flavourwise that Spirits can’t in Innistrad?

River of Tears

Don’t let the non-fitting flavour text fool you- just look at Graven Cairns in Future Sight, then Lorwyn! Seriously though, I think this has a chance to be a land cycle in Dark Ascension. There’s currently no ally-colour fixing in Innistrad, just enemy ones- so I would find it a little odd if there wasn’t any to come in the block, particularly with the tribes being in allied colours. Besides, River of Tears is one of the best land names ever created, how could you not want it in a U/B deck?!

Spellweaver Volute

This is one of those really insane crazy cards and what’s interesting to note is that as the time of writing, our only DKA card we know of is Faithless Looting– along with Desperate Ravings, it seems like U/R is getting a lot of card draw and discard. Volute would play excellently with that, so I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see it make an appearance as one of those cards that could make an already fun archetype even go even deeper in limited.

Tarmogoyf

Oh baby. If this card were to be in, it would provoke a huge reaction from the community. People would love to see this reprinted and I honestly think it may well happen. Now the biggest mark against the ‘goyf if the creature type- so far Lhurgoyf’s have been exclusive to the plane of Dominaria, so that may prevent it turning up on Innistrad. That said, there are many reasons to consider why Tarmogoyf may appear. Firstly, it fits in with the graveyard theme seamlessly with it’s power and toughness, which we’ve seen in certain variations already- Sturmgeist, Boneyard Wurm and Splinterfright- the latter of which are in green. The second reason is that WotC have made a lot of noise about really pushing to make Modern a great format, with Aaron Forysthe (Head of R&D) on record as saying they will be reprinting certain modern staples. One of the biggest barriers to entry in Modern as it stands is the Goyf being very expensive- currently on SCG, a playset would set you back $360. I can’t imagine that the guys over at WotC are overly thrilled knowing that. I think that could get it the reprint. (Not to mention Legacy sees it too.) The only downside is that there may be worries about Goyf being oppressive in Standard (Turn 2 Mulch, Turn 3 Goyf anyone?)- personally I don’t think that would be the case, but R&D will probably want to tread carefully after having to ban in Standard for the first time in years.

Yixlid Jailer

Really don’t think the jailer will be seeing print in Innistrad block. It would have huge ramfications for future Standard metagames, Block Constructed and would be really quite a bizzare print in a set with Flashback. I wouldn’t rule out the printing of it in the 3rd set of the 2012-2013 block, “Hook” however.

Sorin?

So, Sorin is all but confirmed for Dark Ascension. Face of the set, Ultra-Pro sleeves…he’s coming. The question is, how? There’s been a lot of murmurings about his colours. Many are expecting him to be B/W due to the art on the picture- I’m not a fan of that reasoning which was also thrown out for Elspeth Tirel when her art surfaced. What has caught my eye is that in one of Maro’s Tales of the Pit, one of the remarks was “Why does Sorin need a sword? Find out in the previews!”. This for me, indicates Sorin is probably not going to be white…but will helping Innistrad’s humans. A sword made of Silver for Werewolves. While Vampires are clearly not the best of friends to the Humans, they do need their food source and probably aren’t too willing to let the Werewolves and Zombies kill them all- so maybe the Vampires are going to step in and give them a hand before they starve. Will that make him B/W? I doubt it. He may be helping the  Humans, who are most frequent in white- but that doesn’t mean he’s that colour. Vampires are in B/R, however and I think Sorin may go into those colours instead for flavour reasons, but also because  I doubt Wizards would put two Mono-Black planeswalkers in the same set- they normally vary it a bit more per block.  As for abilities- well, you have to assume there’s going to be Vampire flavour. Vampires in Innistrad are quite aggro and focus on life loss and gain. I’d expect his plus ability to deal damage and gain life off it. I also have a feeling he may have a mini-overrun for Vampires too, along the lines of +1/+1 and lifelink til’ EOT.

Other Random Predictions

– With there being no DFC in Avacyn Restored, we will almost certainly get our legendary Werewolf(s?) in this set.

– At least one Graveyard mechanic returns. My money is on Unearth, but wouldn’t rule out Retrace or Gravestorm. I would bet against Dredge, Threshold, Haunt, Madness, Delve and Persist.

– We’ve been told that things get “Worse for the Humans” of Innistrad in DKA. It’s hard to translate that into cards, but I think it probably means that White won’t be such a dominating colour in Limited.

– The “ARC” nonsense that was on Twitter continues to go nowhere. Josh Brauer, do something!

– To try and coincide with the new comic, we may get the planeswalker “Dack Fayden.”

– Spurned on by Faithless Looting, Burning Vengeance becomes a deck in Standard. BUG Self-Mill also makes the jump from block.

– Mono-Black Control fails to return again.

– Vampires become the more dominant tribe in limited, which slows down, similar to how WWK slowed Zendikar block.

– We get one legendary human based around Necro-Alchemy.

– With Garruk and Lilliana key to the plot of Innistrad, we’ll get a card for “The Chain Veil”.