Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Design Review of Magic 2012: Red - The Star Color of M12

I will be doing a review of the cards revealed from Magic 2012, and this one is on the Red cards. I'd like to focus on the set's design and development aspects, as other reviews on this site have.

In M10 draft, Red was hard to play as a main color. In M11, it was the worst color. But now Red gets its time in the limelight! Red is simply on steroids in this set.

It's reminiscent of Blue in M11 - in that set, Blue not only got the recurring mechanic, Scry, but it also got a huge boost in the number and quality of its common creatures for that set.

I have a feeling that R&D likes to shift the relative power levels of colors in Limited from set to set, because it creates interesting dynamics in draft when players know that one color is "the strong color" or "the weak color." But they don't want to make the same color weak every time, so they shift it around. I can't confirm that theory, but if it's true, then Red is a color that definitely gets the brunt of that a lot.

I'll like to take a look at the Red cards, sorted by topic.


Gorehorn Minotaurs 2RR (Common)
Creature - Minotaur Warrior
Bloodthirst 2

Out of the spoiled cards so far, nothing speaks more loudly than this card on how this environment is going to be different from other core sets. A common 5/5 creature for 4? Wow. (Insert Evan Erwin-style shriek here.) How many answers are there to 5/5s at common? It's not like it's particularly hard to hit the opponent before casting this - if this is anything like M11.

I get worried by commons that can't be answered with other commons, though. Seriously, this is a Woolly Thoctar that costs only 1 more, and has 1 extra toughness that really makes it hard to trade with. Even a Yavimaya Wurm, a 6-drop, can be double blocked by two outclassed 2-drops, but this 4-drop can't. 

I'm sure they tested this extensively, but I hope it's not the relentless kind of balance of Zendikar.

It seems some colors get a defensive theme in M12. These Minotaurs provide a big reward for busting through their defense. (Although I think the defense team is disadvantaged...)

Bloodstorm Berserker 1R (Uncommon)
Creature - Human Berserker
Bloodthirst 2
Bloodstorm Berserker can't be blocked except by two or more creatures.

This looks like a versatile card - if it doesn't get bloodthirst itself, it can help trigger it for others.

I like how this card makes you choose a build. For decks that have many 2-drop bloodthirst creatures like this, getting a 1-drop on turn 1 is much more important than it is for decks that don't. Good 1-drop creatures are going to be a high commodity for heavy bloodthirst decks. 

Furyborn Hellkite 4RRR (Mythic)
Creature - Dragon
Bloodthirst 6

A card that generates a lot of excitement. (A 12/12 flyer! You can see Timmy's eyes lighting up.)

While there's a part of me that doesn't like cards that say "remove me now or lose," cards at this cost are allowed to do almost anything. At least it can be chump blocked and it's not really much more damaging than a resolved Shivan Dragon.

At the time of writing, only one red Bloodthirst creature has been spoiled at common, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's at least one more. It seems bloodthirst is quite a big theme and not just a minor subtheme, judging from the number of enablers it gets:

Bloodthirst Enablers:

Goblin Fireslinger R (Common)
Creature - Goblin Warrior
T: Goblin Fireslinger deals 1 damage to target player

A tribal lord for bloodthirst guys, and a 1-drop Lava Axe if you draw it in your opening hand.

In the past, one-drops like Zephyr Sprite that plink the opponent for 1 damage every turn weren't very valuable. But this goblin's damage never gets "blocked" and gives you reach in a drawn-out game. It still won't be the best card to top deck when you're under attack from meaty guys, but there will be many decks that value this card highly.

From a design/development perspective, I dislike the blatant support for bloodthirst in this card - it's an uninteractive way to keep bloodthirst perpetually on.

I think Bloodthirst should be situational and interactive. Bloodthirst allows you to play in a different style, emphasizing combat momentum rather than card advantage. It also makes opponents scared about not blocking your attacker. That makes combat and combat tricks matter more. (I'm speaking in theory-land, because I only drafted Ravnica once - I was busy during that block. But those are vibes that I get from bloodthirst cards, as well as the mechanic name.)

If a deck provides the means to perpetually keep bloodthirst enabled, those combat-oriented aspects of bloodthirst will diminish. You get the bonus no matter how you attack or how your opponent blocks. 

I'm sure that bloodlust decks will draft well and play well, based on how good WotC has been at balancing sets like M11. But it is like reintroducing the Hellbent mechanic, and then enabling it as an archetype through common cards that say "At the end of your opponent's turn, if your hand is empty, draw a card." Even if it makes the deck play smoothly and is balanced, it doesn't feel like Hellbent anymore.

Maybe it's the cost of making it a major strategy in the set, rather than one of 10 strategies to choose from. Not everyone likes to be reckless, but everyone enjoys placing +1/+1 counters on their creatures.

Goblin Arsonist R (Common)
Creature - Goblin Shaman
When Goblin Arsonist dies, you may have it deal 1 damage to target creature or player

The inclusion of this card is pretty awesome. 

I love Goblin Arsonist for the same reasons that I dislike Goblin Fireslinger - the Arsonist makes you work to achieve bloodthirst. You can choose to throw away card advantage in order to trigger bloodthirst. Your opponent might choose to block it with a toughness 2 creature because s/he doesn't want to turn on bloodthirst, fully knowing that it may be killed with the Arsonist's death ping. You might choose to damage the opponent rather than finish off the toughness 2 creature to turn on bloodthirst. Once you get a bloodthirst guy out with +1/+1 counters on it, that guy will attack and help turn on bloodthirst for other guys. In that way, "Momentum" becomes a factor in combat.

Burn Spells:

There's a ridiculous amount of top-quality burn in M12. Red will be a very deep color that can support many players in draft. 

Shock R
Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Red usually only gets one small instant burn spell of the likes of Shock/Lightning Bolt/Incinerate in most sets. (Not counting 1-damage spells.) Getting two is a big deal for Limited.

Incinerate 1R
Incinerate deals 3 damage to target creature or player. A creature dealt damage this way can't be regenerated this turn.

It's awesome that Lightning Bolt and Incinerate will co-exist in Standard, for the three months before M11 rotates out. If it's longer than that, whatever deck that comes out of it might grow to be too annoying.

Chandra's Outrage 2RR
Chandra's Outrage deals 4 damage to target creature and 2 damage to that creature's controller.

This will be picked much higher than it was in M11 since Red will be a strong color, and a tempo-oriented beatdown strategy will probably be very common.

Fling 1R
As an additional cost to cast Fling, sacrifice a creature.
Fling deals damage equal to the sacrificed creature's power to target creature or player.

I love this card. It does something different every time, and it has room for creative uses.

If you get lots of these, you could aim for a weenie deck focusing on a Titanic Growth - Fling combo. You attack with a Garruk's Companion, cast a Titanic Growth to give it +4/+4 and deal 7 damage, then fling it for another 7 damage. It could win out of nowhere.

If you're playing with black, a similar strategy could be done with Dark Favor

Lava Axe 4R (Common)
Lava Axe deals 5 damage to target player.

A decent staple card. The existence of so much burn could make this more threatening than usual.

Goblin Grenade R (Uncommon)
As an additional cost to cast Goblin Grenade, sacrifice a Goblin.
Goblin Grenade deals 5 damage to target creature or player.

There's so much reach in this set! It's a really strong tribal card too. I wonder if there will be a tribal element in Innistrad.

Fireball XR (Uncommon)
Fireball deals X damage divided evenly, rounded down, among any number of target creatures and/or players.
Fireball costs 1 more to cast for each target beyond the first.

Awesome card as always.

Non-Bloodthirst Creatures:

Red is a weird color in Limited - its creatures are weak in some sets (such as M10 or M11) - sometimes to a point where Red is mostly played as a removal color - while in some sets it gets creatures on par with green (such as in Zendikar). 

Goblin Piker 1R (Common)
Creature - Goblin Warrior

A very reasonable staple.

Goblin Tunneler 1R (Common)
Creature - Goblin Rouge
T: Target creature with power 2 or less is unblockable this turn

This guy's known accomplices are Fiery Hellhound and Child of Night.

This is the kind of thing I'd like to see for enabling a bloodthirst archetype in limited, not "deal 1 damage to you every turn."

Manic Vandal 2R (Common)
Creature - Human Warrior
When Manic Vandal enters the battlefield, destroy target artifact.

It's hard to imagine that this wasn't always a staple core set card in Red.

Fiery Hellhound 1RR (Common)
Creature - Elemental Hound
R: Fiery Hellhound gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

This was one of the few red common creatures that weren't underwhelming in M11, and it got to stay in. 

Lightning Elemental 3R (Common)
Creature - Elemental

I'm glad this guy is replacing Arc Runner.

Bonebreaker Giant 4R (Common)
Creature - Giant

Berserkers of Blood Ridge got upgraded.

Crimson Mage 1R (Uncommon)
Creature - Human Shaman
R: Target creature you control gains haste until end of turn.

I think this is a good kind of haste granting, requiring mana but not a card slot. (You want to play a 2cc 2/1 creature anyways.)

Goblin Bangchuckers 2RR (Uncommon)
Creature - Goblin
T: Flip a coin. If you win the flip, Goblin Bangchuckers deals 2 damage to target creature or player. If you lose the flip, Goblin Bangchuckers deals 2 damage to itself.

At first I thought this was another silly coin flip card. Then I realized that this guy is a Bloodshot Trainee for combo-building Johnny drafters, and a coin flip card for the small pocket of players who crave the rush of not knowing what will happen. Great design.

Volcanic Dragon 4RR (Uncommon)
Creature - Dragon

A very reasonable uncommon. Much better than something like Earth Servant. But I hope Flame Servant can still be in there to inspire some burn-heavy decks.

Flameblast Dragon 4RR (Rare)
Creature - Dragon
Whenever Flameblast Dragon attacks, you may pay X. If you do, Flameblast Dragon deals X damage to target creature or player.

Red gets Ancient Hellkite at a lower rarity and cost.

There seems to be at least one Dragon for each rarity. (The Mythic one is the bloodthirsty Furyborn Hellkite.)

Chandra's Phoenix 1RR (Rare)
Creature - Phoenix
Whenever an opponent is dealt damage by a red instant or sorcery spell you control or by a red planeswalker you control, return Chandra's Phoenix from your graveyard to your hand.

I love how you can sometimes point your burn spell at an opponent and not feel you lost card advantage. In that sense, it's a much better Chandra theme card than Chandra's Spitfire. M11 Chandra signature cards were too hard to trigger since you wanted to save burn spells for creatures.

With cards like Searing Blaze and Arc Trail, this must be constructed playable.

Inferno Titan 4RR (Mythic)
Creature - Giant
R: Inferno Titan gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
Whenever Inferno Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, it deals 3 damage divided as you choose among one, two, or three target creatures and/or players.

For the sake of card prices and power creep issues, I think it's good to not have bonkers Mythics rotate with a new bonkers Mythic every year.

Support Spells:

I see some slight upgrades in a few spells.

Slaughter Cry 2R (Common)
Target creature ges +3/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

I consider this an upgrade to Thunder Strike, even though it costs more.

Goblin War Paint 1R (Common)
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted Creature gets +2/+2 and has haste.

While this isn't necessarily an upgrade to Volcanic Strength, it still makes red better - there's less Mountainwalk around to punish red decks!

Act of Treason 2R (Common)
Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap that creature. It gains haste until end of turn.
"Rage courses in every heart, yearning to betray its rational prison."
- Sarkhan Vol

Is Sarkhan alive? Or is it just a quote from when he was?

This is one of my favorite common card designs, along with Fling. I don't always run it in Limited, but it does something different every game.

This combos well with sacrifice effects, as it did in M11.

Tectonic Rift 3R (Uncommon)
Destroy Target land. Creatures without flying can't block this turn.

The land destruction effect getting moved out of common means higher density of useful effects at common!

Land destruction spells are hard to design. LD decks are unfun to play against, so the LD spells are usually costed at 4cc or higher to make sure dedicated LD decks become unfeasible. At that cost, it's hard to run enough copies to destroy enough lands to lock players out of a color. When that's the case, the LD spells usually need an ability tacked onto it or have another mode like artifact destruction for it to be even marginally useful. 

The flavor for this one is a bit of a stretch but still makes sense to me. The addition of the flying clause is a clever way to make it feel like it was a seismic event that knocked the defending team off of its feet. 

And the 2 effects belong together in the same deck - an aggro deck that wants to keep the opponent from stabilizing just a few more turns.

Some Final Points About Goblin Fireslinger

Earlier, I wrote how I don't like Goblin Fireslinger because it doesn't make you pilot your deck with a bloodthirst philosophy. On the other hand, I don't think it's all bad. It does have good effects for drafting and deck building. It allows gradient archetypes to be distinct from each other.

In this format, I expect there will be lots of really aggressive decks. Sometimes a player gets a few more burn spells, while sometimes a player gets a few more creatures cards, resulting in slightly different builds. I'd like to refer to these slightly different builds as "gradient archetypes."

I think it's best if each of those builds play differently from each other, and require a slightly different drafting strategy. Sometimes though, the parts are too interchangable - whether a player gets a few more burn spells or gets a few more creatures cards, the overall style of the deck would still be the same: "Remove your blocker. Attack. If your life is low, burn you directly."

Goblin Fireslinger makes you choose a build - it might not be good enough unless you have a high density of bloodthirst creatures. (Unless you're boarding it in against a deck that turtles up for a long game.) Some decks can just be normal aggro decks with a sprinkling of bloodthirst, while others can be heavy bloodthirst. The latter will want lots of bloodthirst enablers, while the former might not value them as highly. That's an example of how there can be many gradient builds based on differing levels of commitment to a theme like bloodthirst, and those builds can be more or less distinct from each other.


  1. Goblin Fireslinger doesn't trigger Chandra's Phoenix. u mad?

  2. My mistake. I edited it out.

  3. Not sure if I like reviewing the design of a set without having the whole picture yet, but your analysis of what we know so far already is very good! Definitely got me thinking a bit. I'd love to see things like this more often, analysis of design in a real set, maybe even using that as a jumping-off point for your own designs. See what's going on in such-and-such color in limited, use that as inspiration for how to execute that color in a different setting.

  4. I like it how the set tagline is "gather your allies", they strongly promote multiplayer this year (with Commander), then they make a mage cycle that can target only creatures you control.

    Also I'm calling this card for M13:
    Instant, 3R
    Target creature gets +4/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

  5. I think the mage cycle can target only creatures you control because otherwise the they will kill off the Illusions.

    If you're right, in M14, maybe there will be
    Instant, 4R
    Target creature gets +5/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

  6. I like Goblin fireslinger because it's a very narrow skill tester. It seems like the kind of card that you might want because it enables bloodthirst, but realistically it gets as out classed almost any 1 drop does in limited. There might be ways to get value out of it late through a goblin grenade, but I really doubt Goblins is an archetype for drafting M12. This card is a red harring, which are great to use to teach new players about drafts.

    Crimson mage is a great design. Haste is the most interesting of the key worded abilities on these guys, because they can target themselves. Boros Guildmage was always a favorite in the RG aggro Bloodthirst decks because top decking her late meant she could give herself haste, then follow up with a bloodthirsty beast post combat. I don't think you'll really play many goblin pikers, but this Guy always makes the cut.

  7. Hi! To commemorate both Aaron Forsythe's birthday and mine, I've released an almost complete version of the set on my GDS2 mockup entry.

    Here's my world page on the GDS2 wiki.

    If you liked it, you can download the PDF spoiler from the set from this page on the GDS2 wiki:
    [url][/url], and it includes instructions to print and play a draft game with friends.

    Have fun! :)

  8. Nice preliminary review, Chah. Tons of solid observations.

    The bloodthirst creatures do seem very agressively costed, not just for a core set, but compared to the originals. These guys will be fine without the extra counters and brutal with them.

    I can appreciate the Timmy-appeal of bombs like Furyborn Hellkite, but I'm just not a fan of any cards that give the opponent one draw step in which to answer them or flat out lose. Yes, the help games to end but so do more interactive threats.

    While I like Goblin Fireslinger out of context, I have to agree with your point about the effect on bloodthirst. Seems too easy, not to mention redundant: Goblin Artisan is perfect for this slot. He actually seems like one of the more relevant one-drops you can play late in the game.

    I played during Ravnica and I can tell you that no one feared bloodthirst in any relevant sense. Scab-Clan Mauler and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk were the best of the breed and they usually came down too early to worry about blocking. Ghor-Clan Savage was the only one you could really bluff about.

    I have to say I'm kind of tired of red being "the removal color" that gets ripped apart by drafters who will just splash a couple mountains for some burn, leaving "the red player" dregs. I'm not suggesting it should have less burn, but perhaps more of its burn should require a heavier color commitment. I will be curious to see if the bloodthirst creatures add enough meat to the color to warrant accepting this thievery.

    I'm tired of Goblin Piker. Yes, he's the cleanest indication of red's power level regarding cheap common creatures as well as being a member of red's favorite tribe, but he is seriously boring. People love bears and unicorns, but no one loves pikers.

    Actually, there are a LOT of spells returning in 2012 from 2011 and 2010. I know the core set has the tough job of being an introductory set, but I'm not sure if the one-returning-expert-mechanic thing will be enough to keep the existing audience interested at this rate.

    Bonebreaker Giant is kind of a big milestone for red. I love that red's identity has started to include semi-fat commons and it's only fair to print Bonebreaker considering there was a colorless 4/4 common for 5 in the last core set.

    I'm not convinced Bangchuckers is all that brilliant. I can't speak for all Johnnies, but this guy doesn't yell clever combo to me. I wish he cost less and damaged you rather itself when it failed. What happened to the big push to avoid unfun/all-downside mechanics? There's not that much difference between an undercosted card with a negative keyword and a card that literally wastes itself half the time. Maybe if there were a toughness-boosing aura that let you re-flip coins or if he dealt damage equal to his power.

    Volcanic Dragon is a fascinating move. It's a massive threat in the uncommon slot but seems about fair at 6cc. Where by "about fair" I mean it's a limited bomb (the old kind, you don't auto-lose to) and only has to fight Fireball for best-uncommon-in-the-color. Certainly a different approach than Dragon Whelp.

    Chandra's Phoenix looks awesome.

    I'm impressed with Tectonic Rift. It's slightly nerfed LD, but I like the flavor and can actually imagine playing this in limited.

    Overall, there's some sweet new stuff and a lot of old stuff. We'll see if the new can carry the old. Again.

  9. The good thing about Goblin Grenade in fighting the problem of red being the "splash for removal" color is that it rewards you for committing, since you're certainly not going to have use for it unless you're investing in at least a couple goblins as well.

    Bangchuckers is... strange. I can agree to an extent that it rewards the Johnny-ness of slapping a Kite Shield or boosting Aura on it, but it does so only in the context of Limited (even weak constructed would have that strategy quite suspect). It's a Johnny-ish option in a very Spike-y format. That's interesting, but I'm not sure how effective it will be.

    Another way that bloodthirst will be different this time around is that it is, apparently, primarily in a brand new color. The bulk of bloodthirst cards we've seen are in black, and if rumors are true green will only see two or so. Black is a color with less direct damage than red, but has a greater abundance of evasive creatures; it will be interesting to see how these two colors approach the mechanic from different angles.

  10. Yeah, I'm not overly excited about Bangchuckers as a design. I really hoped that they were moving away from the strict heads I win, tails I lose cards. Bangchuckers would be a lot more attractive as a build around if it was:

    Goblin Bangchuckers 2RR (Uncommon)
    Creature - Goblin
    T: Goblin Bangchuckers deals 2 damage to target creature or player. Flip a coin. If you lose the flip, Goblin Bangchuckers deals 2 damage to itself.

    As is, you're working pretty hard for a goblin that MIGHT do damage.

    On Goblin Pikers: I still think its pretty awkward to print creatures with abilities when a vanilla is also in the set. It really sends the wrong message that rarer cards are more powerful. I mean:

    Goblin Powercreep Piker 1R
    Creature- Goblin C

    Would do a lot to establish that red identity, while not warping anything.

    Doesn't seem over the line to me.

  11. Guys, I enjoy your comments, and they really deepen the discussion.

    I wasn't really thinking about how people will continue to splash Red while others try make it their main color. I guess Red's position in M12 won't be as strong as Black's position in Zendikar, where the best Black spells were color intensive.

    I think Bangchuckers need to be win or lose in order to cater to the coin-flip adrenaline lovers. They've disliked coin flip instants and sorceries where you get a cantrip draw if you failed to get anything, according to a MaRo interview.

    I still think its strong enough, although you would have to build your limited deck to be really slow or really fast (to put the opponent on defensive mode) in order to maximize it.

    Imagine if your opponent has a Bangchucker equipped with a shield. It would make you think twice about playing your toughness 2 creature, even if you know the Bangchuckers might miss the first time. And a huge ratio of cards in limited decks have toughness 1 or 2.

  12. Maybe the Goblin Powercreep Piker above could be a 3/1 for RR, to reward playing red as a main color.

  13. 3/1 that can't block for 1R seems perfect.