Thursday, March 7, 2013

Set Design: Unanswered Question #3

Today's question is about our Egyptian world, Ankh-Theb. We've come up with quite a variety of mechanics for this world, but none of them is a game-changer. Chah made an insightful comment about this a while ago:
It seems to me that the most difficult challenge in designing these pitches is to find a mechanic that changes how Magic plays in a big way and creates a new game experience - something like Infect, DFCs, Level Up, Annihilator, Landfall, Hybrid mana, or Soulbond. 

Not every mechanic needs to do that - there can be fun but minor mechanics on the side like Cascade or Clash, or utility mechanics like Cycling. But it seems to me that most real-life sets have at least one mechanic that really sculpts new game play. 

The exception to that might be sets where the structure of the set itself rather than any single mechanic distinguishes the set's game play (such as the faction systems in Return to Ravnica and Lorwyn, or the high density of artifacts in the original Mirrodin).
Ankh-Theb certainly doesn't seem to be the sort of set that falls into the category described in the third paragraph. So tell us, readers: What is Ankh-Theb's game-changer mechanic?

95 comments:

  1. I did enjoy eternal servitude as it was presented up until now.

    However I would also have liked to see convoke to come back in this set, and for it to be put on very large artifacts and expensive spells to correspond to the creatures being used to finish enormous tasks.

    Apart from those I feel that the remark of chah has something hidden in it: the sets that did well had 2 mechanics like that, not one. They created a bi-pole in limmited between these mechanics:

    anihilator/eldrazi spawns vs level up

    DFC beatdown vs morbid (vs selfmill?)

    Landfall vs allies

    So, shouldn't the question also include what the complimentary mechanical axes of the set are?

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    1. I liked eternal servitude a lot too. I realise it might overlap with undying/persist, but I think it would be worth trying.

      Convoke itsinteresting too, if it gets the right flavour.

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    2. There are always competing mechanics (and corresponding limited archetypes), but usually only one of them is a real game-changer. I would not call allies or morbid a revolutionary mechanic.

      Delete
  2. Innistrad had 10 mechanical elements within its set. It wasnt just DFCs that made the game better / more fun. When drafting limited you had 10 options:

    RG wereeolf DFCs
    GW Humans
    WU Ghosts
    UB Zombies
    BR Vampire beatdown
    RU Flashback/mill
    UG self mill beats
    GB Morbid
    BW Tokens
    WR (I forget what this one was so it must not have been great)

    the point is, what made innistrad great was the FLAVOR, not the innovative game-play that came with DFCs. DFCs were not what led to the development of Innistrad, Innistrad lead to the use of the DFC. What we need to do, is determine what the SET is. We want it to be an Egyptian themed set sure, but what does that mean? What would the player expect? answering these questions will lead us to mechanics that fit the bill, and lead to great game-play.

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    1. We have been discussing what the set should be about in the form of pitches from various people, as well as listing Egyptian tropes on the project wiki. But I could get behind talking about it again with more focus, and trying to settle it.

      As for myself, I think it should have some element of Life/Death/Afterlife, but tinged with some kind of Mystical Spirituality rather than just be a creepy Grixis world overrun by bandaged undead. There are some other "tropes" I want to hit, like Pharaohs, Pharaoh Mummy Lords, Pyramids, Deities, Ankhs, Hieroglyphs, Oases, Fertile Fields, Temples, Tablets of Law, etc. But the main theme I personally like is mysticism (including the mystical powers of Pharaoh lords) and afterlife.

      However, even flavor-based sets require lots of mechanical work. I can see how flavor is an important starting point as well as a guiding compass, but it's not as if you pin down the flavor, and great mechanics just follow.

      Magic is a game that keeps reinventing itself, and if a Magic set doesn't have at least one new type of game play, that set is doomed. If it has multiple new things like Innistrad, that's fine too. But the point is that it has to have at least one new type of gameplay.

      It would be great if the process of accurately trying to capture a new flavor theme always lead to new mechanics or new gameplay, but that doesn't always happen. For example, many people have posted variants of persist/undying as the Mummy mechanic. They are reasonable representations of Mummies, but I feel that they're not new enough. Not every mechanic needs to be new as long as it's serving a good role in the set. But personally, I'd really like the Life/death/afterlife part to be the main theme of the set, and that main part should have new gameplay.

      By the way, I think Innistrad succeeded because it managed to translate a flavor feeling (like dread) into game play. It's similar to what you're saying but I would put more emphasis on "translate into game play" part, as it's not trivial.

      Imagine if Innistrad had no new gameplay, and just had a lot of top-down cards like Creepy Doll, Geistcatcher's Rig and Trepination Blade. It would have been a set that's both extremely flavorful and extremely bland to play. All of the subthemes in Innistrad that you listed as unimportant were a huge part of the reason why Limited players rave that it's one of the best sets of all time.

      Also, sometimes a mechanic accurately portrays a flavor theme, but sucks in terms of game play, like the loner mechanic in Avacyn Restored. So I think we have to think a lot about mechanics and game play; it doesn't just automatically follow flavor. We actually need to think "which of these flavorful mechanics bring new game play? Which don't?"

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    2. This is well said, and Wizards' recent efforts to make blocks really feel like distinct Games under the title of Magic has been really effective. Another great example was how Metalcraft and Infect played out over Scars of Mirrodin. In triple Scars draft, Metalcraft was a dominant strategy, and Infect felt more like a fringe deck isolated to G/B. Over the block, the power of metalcraft got more and more diluted, and Infect cards started showing up in more and more decks. This perfectly captured the slow, steady invasion of the Phyrexians in the storyline. The point is that the gameplay itself conveyed the story, not just the flavortext.

      Delete
  3. The undying variants so far felt very much like repeats of persist/undying. Also, while they represent sheer value, because you get a free creature, they don't really represent a new way of playing Magic. They don't make games revolve around a new axis.

    I'd like to see a mechanic that divides the battlefield into two sides, like the card Raging River. One side is the side of the living, one side is the side of the afterlife. Creatures can only block creatures on that side. There could be a mechanic that brings dead creatures back onto the battlefield, on the afterlife side. That would make games play very differently.

    Fading has stated that Egyptian mythology isn't about dead fighting dead like that, that once they're gone they're really gone. But we could use the concept that that's how it used to be in this world, but something has gone wrong and the gateway to the next life has been blocked by some force. I think that's one of the best ideas for a set conflict that's been generated so far.

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    1. I agree that if the way to the afterlife has been somehow blocked it is interesting, but effectivelly what you suggest is reintroducing shadow, with ways to remove/ add it to creatures when they die. Which is does not feel very inovative but is interesting as a concept.

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    2. Afterlife (When this creature dies, if it doesn't have shadow, return it to the battlefield with shadow.)

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    3. This could actually be interesting, especially with things that add remove shadow, care about shadow etc etc. However remember that shadow is not very popular as a mechanic in general, since it essentially is flying and can only block creatures with flying in a set without reach.

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    4. I'd be a little worried about afterlife, for starters how will players remember which has and does not have shadow.

      Once we get past that I worry about having almost two different boards in action. If we have two players with one with all shadow creatures and the other with all non shadow creatures, suddenly everyone's creatures are unblockable and the game becomes an uninteractive race , no more clever combat tricks, no more bluffing to get creatures through, neither side is really interested in the other. Potentially we find end needing cards like:

      Between Worlds' monitor
      WB

      W: ~ gains shadow until your next turn. Activate only as a sorcery.

      2/2

      and that sort of card. Perhaps playtesting would prove me wrong.

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    5. Add more effects like "~ can block creatures with shadow" and "T: Punk target creature with shadow?"
      Maybe afterlife creatures also gain skulking.

      I imagine players putting all these creatures below their lands and calling it the underworld.

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    6. Shadow in Time Spiral didn't feel non-interactive, I think it was executed there better than Tempest, and could provide a guideline.

      Jay's version of Afterlife looks more balanced than the one I proposed further down: Afterlife (while this is in your graveyard, it may attack or block and gains Shadow. It can block or be blocked only by creatures with Shadow.), which has cute interactions with exile-from-graveyard effects, but can be dangerous with self-mill or discard.

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    7. The original version I proposed a few months ago in fact used Shadow. I feel that my "die into Shadow" mechanic fundamentally plays differently from Shadow though, kind of like the way Infect plays differently than Poison even though Infect is just Poison + another effect.

      - The creatures don't start out with Shadow so they don't lead to super-fast games. (My version had an activated mana cost for returning them from the graveyard to the battlefield with Shadow.)

      - Your guys start out on the living side of the board. As the game progresses, more of your guys move to the Afterlife/Shadow side of the board. You can control this "population shift" to some degree to get your guys to where bodies are most needed. For example: you need a Shadow blocker, but your opponent refuses to kill your "Die into shadow" guy. You could sacrifice it to some effect so you can bring it back into the Afterlife/Shadow side. But maybe your opponent was withholding attacks on the Living side because s/he didn't want to let your "Die into shadow" guy chump block and die. Now that that's happened, maybe s/he'll start attacking on the Living side again.

      In addition, just a few creatures can have the ability to be cast on either side.

      This might take a lot of work to play well. But I hope this shows that it's a whole new ball of wax to work with and it's different from just reintroducing Shadow to the game.

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    8. OK, I'm starting to be able to visualize this better. Stop me if I'm wrong but I have almost a make believe wall in the middle of game mat. On the left my creatures are the 'living' and to the right my creatures are the 'dead'. My opponent is going to mirror me, so that we have a sorta two board set up. I could see that being possible if we have enough ways to get creatures across from one side to another. In terms of whole board effects - enchantments, wraths, lords etc, are these going to affect the whole board or just one side, i.e.

      Day of Egyptian judgement

      Destroy all creatures without shadow.

      or

      Honor the Living

      Living creatures you control get +1/+1.

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    9. I really like the feel of "two battlefields," especially if there's a slow, one-way flow between them during the game.

      Another variant on Afterlife:
      Honored Warrior 1W
      Afterlife 2W (2W: return this from your graveyard to the battlefield with Shadow and "when this dies, exile it")
      1/3

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    10. Old Pharaoh 1WW
      Creautre - human Cleric
      Afterlife (when this creature dies, if it doesnt have a -1/-1 counter on it, return it to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter. CARDNAME has shadow as long as it has a -1/-1 counter on it)
      2/2

      Delete
    11. Eternal Warrior 2W
      Human Warrior
      Lifelink
      Afterlife 2W (2W: Return this from your graveyard to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on it. It's a Spirit and can only block or be blocked by other Spirits. When it dies, exile it.)
      2/2

      Third-Eye Seer 1W
      Human Spirit Shaman
      1/3

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    12. What if you blended the shadow and undying concepts with a custom counter? Something like:

      Afterlife (When this creature dies, if it doesn't have any counters, return it to the battlefield with a shade counter. It has shadow.)

      That way, you could blend in +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters to represent different ways of moving to the next work, which could give you cards like:

      Pharaoh's Champion
      WW
      creature - human soldier
      ~ etbs with a +1/+1 counter
      2/2

      (trying to capture the flavor of a brave soldier who's not afraid to leave the world)

      or something like

      Soul Blast
      BB
      instant
      Put two -1/-1 counters on target creature.

      for dark magic that destroys a soul, preventing it from returning from the grave

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    13. I like this idea quite a bit too, though I agree it's likely to have the problems of shadow. (And I think would do the same job as "creatures can attack in the graveyard" with a lot less mechanical problems.)

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    14. Aha! The problem with a creatures attacking and blocking from the afterlife is that it can be uninteractive if the opponent doesn't have a good way of blocking.

      So what if afterlife creatures didn't do normal damage? Say they milled, or always did 1 damage to the defending player? That makes them matter, but makes it feel more ghostly and less like a synonym for "unblockable"?

      Alternatively, maybe ghosts can be blocked by creatures but can't block?

      Delete
  4. Egyptian themes to consider:

    Reincarnation WB
    Reincarnation is a big theme in mythology

    Servant of Ra 1W
    Creature - Human Cleric (Common)
    Vigilance
    Reincarnate(ability word) (When this creature dies, you may exile it possessing target creature. Possessed creature has vigilance)
    1/2

    Warrior of Anubis 2BB
    Creature - Human Warrior
    Intimidate, whenever CARDNAME deals damage to a player, that player discards a card.
    Reincarnate - (When this creature dies, you may exile it possessing target creature. Possessed creature has Intimidate and "whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, that player discards a card)
    3/4

    Mummify 1BB
    Sorcery
    Destroy target creature. It cannot be exiled.

    Egyptians also believed in a lot of Cycles, so there could be more than the normal amount in the set (as just a minor flair)

    the flooding of the nile was a big thing. ,aybe we can re-interperate this as the flooding of power for creatures (maybe found in green / blue? and using +1/+1 counters)

    Marshland Crocodile 2GG
    Creature - Crocodile
    Tidal - At the beginong of your upkeep, you may either put a +1/+1 counter on this creature, or distribute all +1/+1 counters on this creature among other creatures you control
    2/2

    THIS IS OP but im coming up with this on the fly... haha

    my point is that because the egyptian setting is so well known and rich in flavor, we should let the flavor dirve the mechanics, not try and force flavor to fit mechanics we already made.

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    1. I personally dislike the idea of using reincarnation (a buddistic concept) to an egyptian theme.

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    2. I love reincarnate. It's come up a few times before here with various flavors, and feels like everything Haunt wanted to be.

      Forgotten Ancient is a fan favorite, and Tidal feels similar. I could see it getting crazy with multiples in play, though it does take time to get going, and isn't great when you're behind. I'd want to explore it further.

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    3. I like reincarnate a lot and definitely want it to exist (I'd prefer to flavour it as "ancestor's guidance" somehow). But I'm not sure it's egyptian?

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  5. another conflict could be that typically the dead are mummified and left to go on to the afterlife, but lately some unknown force has been re-animating the mummified remains of corpses, and making them battle their loved ones. the difference between normal undead and these mummies, is that the original souls are still tied to the bodies, making them coherent of the attrocities they are committing. it can be found out that a powerful necromancer is behind all this. the "good guys" can call on the powers of their gods and ask their gods for help (represented with the spells etc) then it can be found out that one of the eqyptian gods is really the one powering the necromancer, and the third set revolves around an all out conflict between mortals and gods, where the god of the underworld is attempting to take over the mortal realm with the aid of the dead. or something.

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  6. Here's a crazy idea:

    Honored Warrior 2W
    Creature (C)
    Afterlife (While in your graveyard, this may attack or block and gains Shadow. It can block or be blocked only be creatures with Shadow.)
    2/1

    Eternal Servitude 3B
    Enchantment - Aura (U)
    Enchant creature card in a graveyard
    Enchanted creature card gains Afterlife (While in your graveyard, it may attack or block and gains Shadow. It can block or be blocked only be creatures with Shadow.)

    Purification Rite 1WB
    Sorcery (C)
    Destroy target creature, then exile up to one target creature card from a graveyard.

    Ghostbuster 3G
    Creature (C)
    ~ may block as though it had shadow.
    2/4

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    1. I'm a little unclear on a few thing, what happens if the creature dies in combat. Does it just return to the graveyard? What does a creature attacking from the graveyard look like when playing the game?

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    2. There are probably a lot of complexities I haven't thought through. The idea is to make the graveyard the "second battlefield" that Chah was getting at above. I have no idea if it could be implemented intuitively, but it's a different angle and changes lots of card evaluations in the set it appears.

      While in a graveyard, the creature should be immune from Murder, but would 'die' to Purify the Grave. If it dies in combat, it should exile.

      Afterlife (While in your graveyard, this gains Shadow and may attack or block as if it were on the battlefield. If it would die, exile it.)

      Delete
    3. I tried this exact same thing before it making it this far. I'm thinking there are too many rules changes required to make it happen. That said, using your graveyard as an underworld battlefield seems bad-ass.

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    4. I just don't believe the rules can handle this.

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  7. It is funny that I made my comment to chah before you posted this. Attacking from the graveyard sounds interesting, yet I believe that it is overpowered: unearth is the level of attacks from the graveyard RnD are ok with.

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  8. This set desperately wants a keyworded graveyard mechanic. I'm thinking a tweak on flashback - Instead of recasting the card from your GY as is though, the casting from the GY has an entirely different effect. The effect should in general be small, eat up more of your GY than just the card, and have a basic effect for each color repeated at common - uncommon and rare can deviate from this patern, especially in later sets.

    W - Gain 2 life
    U - Draw a card
    R - 1 damage to creature.

    I also think that for NWO purposes this should be sorcery-speed, so here we go:

    Panic Scarab - 1R - Instant (Common)
    Up to two target creatures can't block this turn.
    Exile ~ and one other card from your GY: ~ deals 1 damage to target creature or player. Activate this ability

    Ritual Scarab - 1R - Instant (Common)
    Add RRR to you mana pool.
    Exile ~ and one other card from your GY: ~ deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

    Shrink Scarab - U - Instant (Common)
    Target creature gets -3/-0 uEoT.
    Exile ~ and one other card from your GY: ~ draw a card.

    Concentrate Scarab - 3UU - Sorcery (Uncommon)
    Draw 3 cards.
    Exile ~ and one other card from your GY: ~ draw a card.

    After typing them up I removed the keyword (gravegrasp) since it ended up being activated, which doesn't lend itself to keywording.

    Thoughts?

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    1. I'd just go for:

      Death Scarab 1B
      Creature- Insect U
      Deathtouch
      Revenge- 1B, Exile Death Scarab from your graveyard: Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn. Play this ability anytime you could play a sorcery.
      1/1

      It's just flashback on a creature, but I think it could have a nice fit in a graveyard set.

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  9. When I pitched the set initially, I had in mind that each color would have its own version of afterlife, ie a set of rules that would benefit when a creature you control dies, you if you followed them. Some examples:

    Blue would care for cards in hand greater than a number,

    Green would care about controlling a bigger creature when this creature dies (natural order style)

    White would care about difference in life totals, red about number of attacking creatures that turn, black would not care about anything other than the death.

    Then these laws can be universal, and grant a benefit to everyone who follows those rules as long as you control permanents that have these rules on them.

    Idealy, I thought that the beneficial effect would be common to all colors, and the only thing that would change is the conditions you check upon death., but I realise that to find a suitable effect is impossible, and that this is very difficult to keyword.

    Examples:

    Creature of white law 2W
    1/2 common
    Whenever a creature dies, his controller may gain 1 life

    Creature of black law 2B
    1/2 common
    Whenever a creature dies, every player looses 1 life.

    Creature of red law 2R
    1/2 common
    Whenever a creature dies, if it attacked this turn, its controller may have ~ deal 1 damage to target player.

    Creature of green law 2B
    1/2 common
    Whenever a creature dies, if its controller controls a creature with more power than it, he may put a +1/+1 counter on it.

    Creature of blue law 2B
    1/2 common
    Whenever a creature dies, its controller may fateseal1 target player.

    These are some examples. I hoped to use special rarity cards to place some artifacts (tablets of law) that would act as world enchantments, that would make the mechanic accessible to everyone in limited (like DFCs), because I did not like the idea of the laws being on creatures, since it felt too clunky. Therefore these tablets of law would be my ideal mechanic for the set, and they would govern what happens when a creature dies in a different way for every color. I tried to communicate this before but it was not liked as an idea so I did not insist on it, but I feel that it could make for something very unique.

    These global ennchantment type artifacts, if included in every booster, will therefore allow to shape many different strategies in limitted.

    We then would be left with enough space to work on top down egyptian designs, without being enslaved to a primary mechanic.

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    1. I really like the idea of Tablets of Law that work like world enchantments, and having one in each pack.

      Lay the law (You may cast this only if you are the most recent player who dealt combat damage to an opponent/played a land/some other condition. When this enters the battlefield, return all other Tablets to their owner's hands/destroy all other Tablets and each of their owners draws a card.)

      I don't think death triggers represent Afterlife in an interesting way. I personally would like to see the creature in its afterlife rather than just see a one-shot effect like gaining life.

      But the part about caring about how a creature died is feels very much like afterlife.

      Delete
    2. Verdant Law
      Emblem—Tablet
      You may start the game with one Tablet in the command zone.
      Whenever a spell targets a creature, counter that spell. Its controller draws a card.

      Delete
    3. Chah:

      I believe that the main idea is the tablets to be used to give different feelings/incentives to each game, provide new archetipes in draft and limmited and allow some of them to complement or create new constructed types of decks.

      They do not need to be connected to death triggers, but they could be what determine if a creature has an afterlife or not, perhaps?

      Jay:

      That is an interesting take on them. Would you reveal them therefore from the beginning of the game? And to get another one, you would have to cast spells?

      Delete
    4. As proposed you get to play up to one Tablet at the very beginning of the game, and through no other means. With the possible exception of a spell that lets you replace your chosen Tablet. At no point would a Tablet be shuffled into your main deck.

      Not married to that idea, just riffing.

      Delete
    5. I prefer to think that the tablets are laws that if sanctified at some expense with a specific ritual will have an effect on the whole plane.

      So while adding things that start in the commander zone is funny, the problem is that these could not be legal in standard or limited as is... only in commander!

      I am intrigued by the idea however. My riffing is more along the lines of:

      Law of Knowledge 2UUU
      Enchantment - Tablet
      You may cast ~ only if you have drawn 3 cards this turn.
      The creatures in play of the player with the most cards in hand gain afterlife/ eternal servitude/ whateverthenameofthereturningtothebattlefieldmechanicis.
      [the priests of Thoth gather the knowledge for the afterlife. Only those who know enough shall pass the doors to the next life]

      Law of War 1RR
      Enchantment - Tablet
      When you play this tablet, destroy all other tablets you control. You can play ~ only if a creature you control dealt combat damage this turn.
      Creatures attack each turn if able. All attacking creatures have Eternal servitude/afterlife/lalala.

      Law of Bodily Strength 2G
      Enchantment - Tablet
      When you play this tablet, destroy all other tablets you control.
      Play ~ only if you have control a creature with power 4 or greater.
      The creatures on the battlefield tied for the biggest power gain eternal servitude blah blah blah.

      etc etc...

      Delete
    6. Maybe there can be creatures that when they deal combat damage to a player, they allow you to put a tablet token into play? I dont like the idea of just starting the game with a tablet in play. I think this changes the game way too much for little benefit.

      Delete
  10. I was a huge fan of the mummify variants, but what if we attacked the mummy problem from a different angle. Remember Dearly Departed:

    Forgotten Pharoah 2B

    Zombie

    Mummify (If a spell or ability would place ~ in your graveyard from your hand or your library, instead place it on the bottom of your library)

    As long as Forgotten Pharaoh is in your graveyard each other zombie you control has "2B: Regenerate this creature."

    2/2


    Sacrificial Viashino R

    Mummify (If a spell or ability would place ~ in your graveyard from your hand or your library, instead place it on the bottom of your library)

    As long as ~ is in your graveyard, red creatures you control have "1R: this creature gets +1/+0 until the end of turn."

    1/1

    It still captures the idea of preserving death without bringing the creature back from the battlefield. This still doesn't capture the big idea we want though. One thing that Egypt did a lot of was deifying their rulers, so what about a legendary creature/ascension theme. For example:

    Riverborn noble 2WW
    Human Advisor

    During your upkeep place an ascension counter on ~ for each human you control.

    Remove 3 ascension counters: Put a 2/2 human soldier token onto the battlefield.

    Whenever a Human dies or ~ is dealt damage, remove an ascension counter from ~.

    3/3

    So the idea is create a card that lies in between creature and planeswalker in a similar vein to the vanity of Egypt's Pharoahs. Part of me even wondered whether to use a new card type or have a creature transforming into a planeswalker (not impossible since creatures can transform into enchantments.) There is a lot happening on this card but it could be a theme. I don't if any of these cards could be justified at common but I am strong believer that Ankh could be another counter driven set and I think that's fine. As long as we find the right ideas as to what our counters do.

    Finding a new way to play will always be tough particularly since Ankh and most our sets were top down, built around a theme rather than play style. Feedback welcome, particularly whether these feel innovate or remind of other sets.

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    1. wow in the time I started and finished writing this post several new posts emerged, impressive.

      Delete
  11. One of the first things the Innistrad team did was to brainstorm Horror tropes. With that list, they then messed with cards and mechanics that could bring those tropes to life. Ankh-Theb needs the exact same thing.

    Before we do that, I'll make one more observation & suggestion: A big part of the reason Innistrad's flavor beat the flavor of every other set ever is that the theme was a fiction genre rather than a setting. Eastern Europe as a starting point would not have lead anywhere nearly as interesting.

    So, as rich a location as Egypt is, I think we need more to draw inspiration from. Specifically we need stories rather than merely places. We could go with Old Testament stories, or Curse of the Mummy stories, or bleed history a bit and bring back Arabian Nights. Unless one of those stands head and shoulders above the others, we should probably draw from all of them.

    Here's just a few tropes to get the list started:
    pyramids with traps and treasures
    slaves and slavers
    foreign empires occupying the land
    oppression
    chosen people
    deserts, sand-buried runes, trading oases and mirages
    mummies and curses
    lamps, genies and wishes
    greed
    infinite history
    alien-built monoliths
    pantheons
    ...

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    1. ok i love the idea of combining Arabian nights with ancient Egypt themes for an overall badass desert world

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    2. To clarify, identifying these tropes isn't just about giving us fodder for a bunch of top-down designs, but for identifying the heart of the set to build a core mechanic around. DFCs came about because they identified that transformation was core to the horror genre, based on vampires, werewolves, jekyll & hyde, etc.

      So far, I'm not convinced death is a central theme. I'd say greed is what keeps coming back underlying all of these tropes. But let's get some more and see if that remains the case. Or if anyone senses another underpinning theme.

      Delete
    3. One Egyptian theme we've tried but haven't place centrally is the idea of the river and seasonal nature of the Nile.

      Any mythology theme set makes think of world enchantments or curses and other major spells instantly affecting the board, and a sense of unpredictable. How could major represent floods, earthquakes and either consequences of angry gods.

      Delete
    4. So, here's one of the things I've noticed about our fan design projects: we tend to aim too small. This isn't a bad thing, but when we're engaged in set design or world building projects I feel like we're scraping at the bottom of the barrel instead of giving the audience MORE than what they want.

      Take our M13 project. The central mechanic was Lair, the Kird Ape ability, narrowly beating out our second choice of Exalted. It was a fine enough concept, but trying to figure out the 15-20ish cards it was going to fill out was a SLOG.

      So what did the actual Wizards do? They went with our number two option, Exalted, AND they had a cycle of Lair creatures. 11 cards with exalted and 5 with Lair. 16 cards, which was about what we were aiming for all together.

      Another example would be from GDS2. There were 8 sets explored. Over the course of the competition, dozens of mechanics were offered as "the key" mechanic of their block. What wound up happening? Evolve and Battalion (two of the mechanics suggested) wound up being just 2/5th-ish of the total mechanics in the set!

      All of these Egyptian tropes are fine, but only a few of them are really going to translate into a mechanical hook. So, here's what I'm suggesting:

      In Ankh-Theb we have a desert world with Mummies.
      In Ekkremes we have a steampunk world.
      In Frontier we have cowboys.

      What if our set was called Frontiers of Ankh-Ekkremes?

      It's a desert world whose denizens are trying to advance their loose, burgeoning civilization, but still haunted by ancient evils. There are clear ties between these three Tropes: everything from "Ancient Indian Burial Grounds" to wacky steampunk gadgets can be found in the Western genera. Think Deadlands. Or The Mummy meets Wild Wild West. Or Bubba-Hotep.

      I think we have about 1.5 really good mechanics from each set, but no one mechanic is really enough to carry a set. Most sets have 4-5 really solid concepts, even if they aren't all keyworded. If we put them all together, I think we could have something.

      Delete
    5. I agree that we need to go big or go home. But I have no intention of stopping at one solid mechanic for whatever set design we end up with! Unlike the GDS2 contestants, we have an arbitrary amount of time to flesh out our world.

      If we had to deliver a set in the next two weeks, we might try combining our present ideas and praying that the result felt cohesive. But I don't think that Egypt + Wild West + Steampunk is a sufficiently resonant combination that we should be aiming for it when we have no deadline to meet.

      Indeed, I think the most successful sets have had a single schtick, not a variety of them. Ravnica is a city-plane ruled by ten guilds. Innistrad is gothic horror land.

      Delete
    6. Right, and FAE would be decidedly steampunk. I don't think this is just out of convenience or necessity, it's just that these three sets really aren't that far apart thematically and it's fighting a good thing to keep them apart.

      Cherie Priest novels and Deadlands are the basis for the mythos here, and more importantly they are the basic fantasy approaches to these ideas.

      Delete
    7. It's really more about the Trope with Mummies. Mummies aren't scary in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt has gods and pharoes and slaves, but ancient Egypt doesn't really have mummies.

      1890-1940 has Mummies. All of the best Mummy movies aren't about the Mummies in their own time, it's always that the Mummies are unleashed in a modern era, and all the modern technology can't defeat them. That's one of the reasons why Mummies wouldn't make sense in Innistrad, despite being one of the four iconic Movie monsters. Innistrad was all about a world with contemporary monsters plaguing the lives of people. Mummy movies are about Ancient evil invading a modern world. Frontier and Ekkremes are that modern world.

      Delete
    8. I don't think "Steampunk Wild West with Mummies" sticks pleasantly in the brain the way "Gothic Horror" or "Ten Guilds" does. I love mash-ups, and Six-String Samurai is one of my favorite movies. But mixing three distinct themes doesn't make for a marketable Magic set. (And ultimately, that's what this project is about.)

      You make a very valid point about mummies only being scary out of their own context. Perhaps the conclusion to draw is that we should give up on mummies as creepy ancient monsters.

      Delete
    9. I could get behind Egypt meets Cowboys or any other chocolate and peanut butter (the same way I like Cowboys Vs Eldrazi). But mashing everything up just because we haven't found our game-changing mechanic yet is sloppy. I also see potential for Cowboys in the Factory Plane. Heck, you can go Stargate and mash Ankh-Theb and Ekkremes. Just please don't do all of them. There's no focus there.

      Delete
    10. I'm really not inventing this stuff whole cloth. Deadlands, the iconic fantasy western mythos, has elements of Steam Punk (Mad Scientists) and Mummies (Zombie cowboys and ancient gods brought forth by American Indian tribes).

      Wild Wild West? John Carter of Mars? I'm not saying you do all of them just to do them, just that they work better together than they do apart.

      Delete
    11. How about this block structure:

      Ankh-Theb (Big)

      Frontiers of Theb (Big)

      Revenge of the Gods (Small)

      You get to set up the classical Mythology set first, explore the world thousands of years later, then mix.

      Delete
    12. While I can agree to thinking big and putting multiple big mechanics like Battalion and Evolve into a set, that's not the same as making a set be about multiple themes.

      That said, mashing up themes is not bad. Mashing up two things can lead to interesting new genres, like Steampunk western, or Zendikar's "D&D meets Indiana Jones." But mashing up three things sounds like a mess in most cases.

      Concerning Mummies:
      Mummies can be scary in Ancient Egypt. A Mummy that was buried in 3000 B.C. was already ancient, rotting and scary by the time of Julius Caesar, which is still Ancient Egypt (say, 50 B.C.).

      I'd really like to create a feel of an ancient, mysterious, mystical, and advanced society. You know, the kind of thing that inspires things like Stargate, or an Egyptian version of The Mysterious Cities of Gold. I hope that terrifying Mummies that are like Pharaoh Lich Lords are also in that set, just like desert raider tribes, oasis caravans, fertile delta fields, slaves building pyramids, glittering temples, and ancient rites would all be in the diverse environment of that ancient world set.

      Also, I think it would be fascinating to take the beliefs about the journey to the next life and the powerful gods, and imagine a world where that's literally true.

      Other than this "Mysterious Ancient World" approach, we could also have a "Tomb Raider World" approach or a "Mummy Horror" approach, but I don't think either taps into the full richness of the setting as "Mysterious Ancient World" approach does.

      Mashing it up with Arabian Nights would be a terrible idea. They're not the same thing at all.

      Delete
    13. My point is Steampunk western isn't a new genre. Neither is Zombie western. Those are the two I'd be mashing up.

      Delete
    14. I think farming is another good over lap. Harvest from the Frontier set would work well in Egypt, too.

      Delete
    15. My phone doesn't like long posts to GA, sorry for the 1 sentence flurry.

      Delete
    16. The final thing I think could be neat would be to think about the transform and combine mechanic I posted in the Ekkremis thread fitting in a world like Ankh-Theb. The number one thing in my mind for Egyptian mythology are the Pyramids. You could use the combine and flip technology to have your game plan consist around building huge monuments or Colossuses or Stone Sphinx.

      Delete
    17. I'm a big fan of Deadlands, actually. At least I was back before D20 sullied it. There's definitely zombies and steampunk and a few other things thrown in there. Despite their being old gods, it's definitely not egyptian at all. The more important point, though, is that Deadlands has a grand scope because it's intended to be a setting for players to spend many many hours roleplaying inside, which is a completely different need than a Magic set has. Even if it's not, I don't want to make Deadlands Magic anymore than D&D Magic.

      Delete
  12. What about this:

    Pharaoh 1W
    Creature - Human Cleric
    Afterlife (This creature may attack and block from the graveyard and may only be blocked by creatures in graveyards.)
    2/2

    and the rule is, if the creature "dies" it becomes exiled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As noted, if this could be made to work within the rules, it could be really neat. Gatecrash's Serene Remembrance would be an awesome reprint in that environment.

      Delete
  13. Idea #1.

    Attacking and blocking from the graveyard is too complicated. But what about simpler abilities that your servants can perform for you in the afterlife?

    "Afterlife" could mean "while this card is in the graveyard" or "when this dies, exile it, and it gains", whichever is easier. Though I think the graveyard is more flavourful, and more interactive (as you can have "remove target card from a graveayard" cards).

    G.
    Alluvial Tiller.
    1/1.
    Afterlife -- {T}: Add {G} to your mana pool.

    1B.
    Vengeful Spirit
    1/1.
    Afterlife -- {1}{B}, Exile ~: destroy target non-black creature.

    Idea #2

    Casts. Have four casts, either as creature types or keywords. Roughly equivalent to slave, soldier, priest and noble. Eg. Minion, Soldier, Priest, Wizard. Or Thrull, Warrior, Advisor, Priest. Or whatever works best flavour-wise.

    And then have cares-about-cast cards.

    Merchant Guard
    W.
    1/1.
    Creature -- Human Soldier
    ~ gets +1/+1 as long as you control a creature of higher cast.

    3B
    Mass Revolt
    Sorcery
    Choose a cast. Destroy all creatures with that cast.

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    Replies
    1. Alluvial Tiller looks great, I like it. Am I right that the ability only works while it's in your graveyard?

      Battle-Rattle Ancestor 2R
      Creature - Goblin Shaman
      Afterlife - At the beginning of combat on your turn, if ~ is in your graveyard, you may have target creature get +2/+0 until end of turn.
      2/2

      Delete
    2. Alluvial Tiller is going to be a problem. It's hard enough to see what's in a graveyard, and allowing those cards to tap makes it even harder to tell what's in play and what's in your grave. That's the problem with letting things attack or block in the graveyard. You can make all the caveats you want about exiling creatures or whatever, but the second they start acting like cards in play it's going to be really hard to tell what's in play and what's not.

      That said, I like the second idea you have there of having abilities that work. See my suggestion of Revenge above. However, these abilities really want to be sorcery speed in the NWO. Having to care about an opponent's graveyard ALL the time is way to stressful. That's why Scavenge is sorcery speed and most of the flashback in Innistrad is on sorceries.

      Delete
    3. Making sure that all of the triggers happen at the same time (either upkeep, beginning of combat, or end of turn?) can help to make sure that you only have to focus on the graveyard at a single time each turn, and don't have to continuously worry about it.

      I like Revenge as well. Scavenge costs were generally unappealing, but you might be able to make Revenge cards with one-shot effects that are costed more attractively.

      2W
      Creature (C)
      Lifelink
      Revenge - 1W, exile ~ from your gaveyard: Target creature gains lifelink until end of turn. Activate this ability only as a sorcery.
      2/2

      Delete
  14. So Races for the set would be:

    Leonin obvi as we need cats and car warriors. (Cat head humans)

    Viashino (crocodile head humans)

    Aven (Bird headed humans)

    Anubi (Hound headed humans)

    And Humans! (with regular heads)

    (minor tribal as a theme could work here!

    what im also thinking: one of the major themes of Egyptian lore is treasure and gold and greed. what if this was a GOLD set. with "GOLD counters". What is a gold counter? maybe we can flavor it as just "treasure"

    Treasure Elf 1G
    Creature - Elf
    T: You put one Gold Artifact token into play that has "Sacrifice this: add D to your mana pool"
    1/1

    What is D you ask? What if D was a YELLOW mana symbol that could be spent as mana of ANY color, but only for mana costs on GOLD cards.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can see Humans wanting gold the most:
      Humans are in WB

      Human Pharaoh 1WB
      Creature - Human Pharoh
      For each D spent to cast this, put a 1/1 white human slave token into play
      At the beginning of turn, put a 1/1 white slave into play for each slave you control.
      2/2

      The cat people can focus on equipment and would be in WR

      The hound people can focus on the afterlife mechanic primarily and be in BG

      Hound Man BR
      Creature - Hound Human
      Afterlife BR (Exile this from yard: put a token into play thats a copy of it, accept it has shadow)
      2/2

      the viashino can be UG swampy crocodile men

      and the avens can be WU

      thal leaves UB, RG, GW, BG, and UR for other "themes"

      A UB mill theme could be cool, and would play well with afterlife. UBR self mill aftrlife decks.

      this is a starting idea i just came up with but we could change / expand it from there

      Delete
    2. City of Gold
      Lnad
      T: add D to your mana pool. (D can only be used for gold spells)

      Delete
    3. Pillar of the Paruns

      Which reminds we should totally use Ancient Ziggurat too.

      Cat people seem like a must.

      Delete
    4. I like Ant's ideas for races, but I would probably divide them up like this:

      Catfolk: WB
      Avenfolk: UW
      Houndfolk: BR
      Oxenfolk: RG
      Crocodilefolk: GU

      Delete
    5. an egyptian themed set with ox, lizard, hound, cat, and bird tribal? YES PLEASE

      Delete
    6. actually, do we even need humans at all? or these can all be human sub types.

      Ox Human
      Cat Human
      Lizard Human
      Hound Human
      Bird Human

      I would love to see a Cat Human Warrior Priest but that would be so scrunchy. but its so cool sounding haha.

      Delete
    7. I would definitely want non-animal Humans in the set. It allows the audience to relate to the world more.

      Also, I'd really just like to use creature types wherever it's flavorful, and resist the urge to make a pattern out of it.

      People with Jackal heads is a shoo-in, and Avenfolk seem strangely fitting. Oxenfolk, not so much, and I don't want it to be a major presence just for the sake of setting up this pattern.

      Scarabs are another example. I would love to see Scarabs in an Egyptian set, but I loathe the idea of making them Scarab-headed humans just for the sake of completing some pattern.

      If the pattern is going to contribute to the set, that's fine, but we've got to ask, what is the theme of this set? Anthropomorphic Animal World? It might make sense in a Native American set where each Human is associated with an animal tribe (for example). But it doesn't capture the essence of Egypt in my opinion.

      Also, this set isn't a tribal set, so we don't need to carve up the colors and distribute tribes evenly. I actually think it feels unnatural to set up a perfectly symmetrical system like this.

      We should just use flavorful creature types wherever fitting without letting it dictate the set structure; it's not a tribal set.

      Delete
    8. What if Ankh-Theb were a tribal set?

      We could use heiroglyphic icons for tribal mana…

      Delete
    9. I don't think the essence of Ancient Egypt is Tribal, but if it were, I'm not sure animal affiliations are what Egypt is about. Some prominent tribes that seem fitting to have mechanical identity might be: classes like Priests, Slaves, Pharaohs; or divine/supernatural beings like Deities, Avatars (Pharaohs are Avatars?), Spirits, Mummies. Maybe there can be Allies if we want a Tomb Raider world.

      I think we should definitely brainstorm ways to use heiroglyphic icons on cards though.

      Delete
    10. Worst case, we could reprint some glyphs.

      Delete
    11. That's a pretty bad worst case. Let's do better.

      What do glyphs do? They encode mysterious information. As much as I feel that there are too many DFCs floating around in these discussions, that or Morph (walking glyphs?) feel like the best way to do these. After all, you have to decipher them.

      Hmm...Cipher

      Secret Peril 2R
      Sorcery (C)
      ~ deals 3 damage to target creature or player.
      Glyph {R} (Exile this card from your hand face down encoded on a creature you control: When that creature dies you may cast ~ for its glyph cost.)

      Delete
    12. The above suggestions were not random animals for the sake of having them.

      ANUBIS (Hound Head): hound headed humans with a flavor of embalming and the underworld (the dogma of anubis)

      Since jackals were often seen in cemeteries, the ancient Egyptians believed that Anubis watched over the dead.

      SOBEK (Crocodile head): crocodile headed humans (viashino (look at jund))

      Sobek was connected with the Nile, and protected the king. Live crocodiles were kept in pools at temples built to honour Sobek.

      HORUS (falcon head): Bird headed humans (aven)
      Horus was chosen to be the ruler of the world of the living.

      The "horus" tribe seems like it would be a cool enemy of the "anubis" tribe

      BASTET (cat head): cat head (leonin) people would fit the set perfectly and there is obvious cat references in mythologies.

      Bastet was usually seen as a gentle protective goddess. However, she sometimes appeared with the head of a lioness to protect the king in battle.

      We had the leonin in RW which fits this perfectly.

      SO just off of that we have:

      cat people in RW
      dog people in BR
      Crocodile people in UG
      Avens in WU
      which would leave RG for a "tribe"

      I believe the "Ox head" is in reference to this god:

      KHNUM (ox head): Man with the head of a curly-horned ram AKA minotaur.

      so we could have viashino, leonin, anubis race, Minotaur, and aven tribes.

      all of which are backed by mythology and would definitely evoke the feel of the set visually.

      Delete
    13. The missing color pair in this setup is BG, not RG...

      Delete
    14. I think we should use any creature types that evoke Egypt. Jackal people are a must. I like the idea of Viashino having a more Crocodile look in this world.

      Taking a well-known animal-headed deity like Anubis and making a humanoid race out of it is a cool gimmick, but the question is, do we want to do that with everything? Do we want this set's theme to be a tribal theme of "Battle of the Animal Headed People?" Does this mean Egypt is Animal World? An Egyptian set is a Tribal set? I think that's the theme that's going to be hammered home into the audience if we build this into the set's structure. Rather, we should just have them as individual flavorful cards.

      I think we should just use flavorful Egyptian creature types wherever they fit, period. (As opposed to a parallel race structure that makes sure every 2-color combination has a creature type that is specifically about animal heads.)

      For example, we should just have the normal number of Minotaur cards, or whatever number the set calls for. Those Minotaur cards should have an Egyptian look, and that is probably best achieved by referencing art of Khnum. But we don't want to make this set be about "The Battle of the 5 Animal-Headed Races" in the way Innistrad prominently features 5 races, for example.

      Delete
    15. i see your point now, and i agree completely. we do not want this to just be "war of the animal heads"

      Delete
  15. I'm not entirely sold on this implementation, especially because it has feel bad shield down moments where you lose both your creature AND the spell if you don't have mana up.

    I think this might be easier:

    Glyph of Explosion 2R
    Instant-Trap
    If a creature you control died this turn, you may pay R instead of Glyph of Explosions mana cost.
    Glyph of Explosion deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

    This feels like a fine little cycle, and could compliment a trap theme that we've already discussed.

    ReplyDelete
  16. If you don't actually show them that there's a trap the sense of mystery disappears, it's just a surprise. The shields down moment is concerning, but I think is pretty hard to do away with while also putting it on the table. I suppose if you gave them all the same cmc you could just pay to put them face down and get them for free upon death.

    For instance, with every red glyph costing 2R to put under, every blue glyph costing 2U, etc. Paying three mana including all of your deck's colors maintains the mystery.

    Either way, I forgot to stick a sorcery speed clause on these, but they need one to not just play like the trap version you proposed.

    Trap Door 4U
    Sorcery (C)
    Put target creature on top of its owner's library.
    Inscribe {2U} (2U: Exile this card from your hand face down encoded on a creature you control. When that creature dies you may cast ~ without paying its mana cost. Inscribe only as a Sorcery.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Encoding' a spell on a creature means you can cast it whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player. It doesn't replace 'imprint' as a way to associate an exiled card to one OTB. But we can totally make another word that means you can cast it when the creature dies. Perhaps, 'inscribe.'

      Another possibility that also creates suspense:

      Dyle River Scribe 2U
      2/2 Bird Wizard
      Inscribe (When ~ dies, you may cast a seal card in your hand without paying its mana cost.)

      Seal of Doom 2B
      Enchantment—Seal
      Sacrifice Seal of Doom: Destroy target nonblack creature. It can't be regenerated.

      (It was the seals I'd been thinking of when I suggested using the glyphs. Having since looked up the glyphs—*shudder*)

      Delete
    2. Using existing seals with inscribe is terrible, partly because they're all cheap, but mostly because their very nature is to be an extra-slow sorcery and getting them instantly is just silly.

      They're also not nearly exciting enough to justify the parasitism of the above version of Inscribe. This version is completely open-ended:

      Inscribe UUUU (When ~ dies, you may cast a sorcery or instant card in your hand with mana cost UUUU or less without paying its mana cost.)

      Delete
    3. And something completely different:

      Symbol of Learning U
      Sorcery—Symbol
      Draw a card.
      When you cast ~ from your hand, you may cast any number of Symbol cards from your graveyard.

      No suspense here, but it's the love-child of Flashback and Arcane.

      Delete
    4. Insignia - Discard ~. You may cast one Arcane instant or sorcery in your graveyard for its Insignia cost.

      Alternatively:

      Insignia- Discard an Arcane instant or sorcery. You may cast ~ from your graveyard once for its Insignia cost.

      Insignia of Thought - 1U
      Instant - Arcane
      Draw a card.
      Insignia - 2U

      Insignia of Strength - G
      Instant - Arcane
      Target creature gets +2/+2.
      Insignia - GG

      Insignia of Ash - 1R
      Instant - Arcane
      ~ deals 2 damage to target creature or player. If a creature damaged this way would die this turn, exile it instead.
      Insignia 3R

      Insignia of Blood - 2BB
      Sorcery - Arcane
      Each opponent loses two life. You gain life equal to the amount lost this way.
      Insignia 4BB

      Insignia of Alliances - 1W
      Sorcery - Arcane
      Put a 1/1 white Soldier token onto the battlefield.
      Insignia - W

      Delete