Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Design Review of Dark Ascension—Blue

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Other

Artful Dodge is probably worse than Distortion Strike, since it doesn't boost power and costs twice as much, but the option to get the second effect whenever you want, including the same turn, can't be underestimated. I'm glad they didn't duplicate the effect and went with the simplest version. That said, dodging doesn't feel like the right flavor for attacking unblocked.

Beguiler of Wills is another mythic rare with sick potential but a number of considerable downsides. I think that's a better path than cards that are so good you'd never not play them in Standard. Did a card that could theoretically steal your opponent's team need to cost 5, be as vulnerable as possible and have a limit on it's ability? I'm skeptical, but willing to trust R&D on this one.

I love it when they print strictly worse cards that are still very good. Bone to Ash is a full blue mana worse than Exclude, yet still terrifying to play around and invigorating to play. That's a good place to be. Believe it or not, Exclude was actually in the M13 design file for a time. We knew it was overpowered, but it can be tempted to bring back old strong cards for a time (like Lightning Bolt). In the case of permission, however, the card can be oppressive and we decided it wouldn't be fun to play against. Bone to Ash is good enough to be excited about, but not so good as to make anyone rage quit.

It always fascinates me when Wizards makes an assertion like "Kinship was a bad mechanic" and then seemingly contradicts later by printing a card like Call to the Kindred. I'm not calling them liars or hypocrites because there are many explanations. One, Wizards is not a hive mind where everyone agrees with everyone else, so it's possible for someone who loved kinship to sneak in a callback. Two, minds change—and thank goodness for that. Three, context and execution make a huge difference. Perhaps as a single rare, Call to the Kindred is fine where kinship wasn't as a common mechanic. Perhaps getting to look at five cards instead of one lets skill overcome luck.

Personally, I liked kinship. It was no slam-dunk, of course, but it was a unique use of tribal. As a designer, however, it's my duty to understand why most players didn't like kinship. I'm not quite there yet, but I think it has to do with the amount of work required relative to the benefits earned. What about Call to the Kindred? It'll slow the game down more than any number of kinship cards would have, but you're also quite likely to hit (provided your deck supports it). You're actually taking a much bigger change getting two-for-one'd casting your 4cc aura on a creature. Y'know, unless that creature is Invisible Stalker.

Chant of the Skifsang is, um, more impressive than Sensory Deprivation. 3 times the cost for 4.3 times the effect? Why bother stopping at -9/-0 when you can make the number pretty and affect less than 1% more creatures? Yea, diminishing returns!

Most of the mill effects from Innistrad affect only you or the player of your choice. Ghoulcaller's Bell mills both players, but very very slowly. Chill of Foreboding is not so slow in it's double-duty action. Milling 10 cards in Limited is nothing to sneeze at, but 11 mana is a lot to pay to for it. I guess this got nerfed so they could push Increasing Confusion. Confusion is so strong, players debated whether they'd rather have it or Devil's Play. Play has the edge that it can keep you from losing (by killing attacking creatures), but Confusion is more likely to win you the game when you can defend yourself. That's an impressive statement for a mill spell.

Draining Whelk was an obviously good card back in Time Spiral, and Counterlash clearly fills the same role. Does it do it as well? Unlike the Whelk, it requires you to keep another card in your hand worth getting for free and perhaps several if you don't already have your counter sights locked on a specific target. The Whelk is easier to use, but Counterlash has greater potential (including full-on Emrakul, the Aeons Torn). Ultimately, it's less important which card is better than it is that they are different enough to warrant their mutual existence. That one is better for Spike and the other Timmy or Johnny is just gravy.

All curses are unpleasant, but most have a simple, static effect. Curse of Echoes could do anything. Granted, a lot of the time it just says "enchanted player won't cast any instant or sorcery spells" but sometimes you've got to cast them to stay alive and you just have to accept the consequences. There are exceptions like casting Day of Judgment (not double!) or Doom Blade when you yourself control no black creatures and that—a weakness of the card—is what keeps it interesting. Glad they worded it for multiplayer madness.

Dual-color lords for the two-color tribes was pretty much inevitable. Diregraf Captain and friends fit the mold very well, but I have to wonder how much longer lords can continue to be 2/2s for 3. Maybe forever, but I suspect people will grow tired of that eventually and they'll start branching out. Imagine a 3/3 lord for 4. Blasphemy, right? The zombie-death trigger on Diregraf Captain is a very neat ability for a tribe that loves to swarm, die and be reborn.

Did they include Divination because it fits thematically or because they needed the effect for blue? I'm guessing a little from column A, a little from column B.

Dungeon Geists is very exciting to me, partly because it's a sweet and evocative card, but partly because it's crazy similar to a card we designed for Magic 2013 and that's just gratifying. Particularly since the two are different enough that we're not compelled to remove Frigid Captor from our set. Also, we probably want to grab the "opponent controls" text so that Captor won't capture itself when it's the only creature in play. (Some of you will recognize Frigid Captor as "Ice Golem" from our Replacing Mind Control discussion.)

Geralf's Mindcrusher is a big, rare Armored Skaab that can mill either player—the standard mill enhancement of the set. It also has undying (letting it mill twice). That's cool, but is it too similar to Relentless Skaabs, the undying update to Makeshift Mauler? That this pair is rare and uncommon where their forebears were both common probably makes the sameness fine.

A functional reprint of Repel, Griptide is a curious inclusion to me. It's as if Wizards thought Grasp of Phantoms was too much fun not to promote to common, but too strong not to nerf. As an instant, Griptide can slow a creature assault more than a single casting of Grasp, and can even slow down a haste creature.

I know a few people that are excited about Havengul Lich. It's definitely impressive and interesting, but I can't help but feel the gaining of abilities is pretty tangential to the Resurrection effect and that it being temporary feels even more random. It certainly reduces the memory issues that would crop up if the Lich permanently gained all those abilities, but the flavor is a huge bomb for me. I also wonder how often you'll have the mana to target your creature, cast it and activate it's ability. On second thought, that seems pretty busted with Royal Assassin. Nevermind.

Havengul Runebinder sure is a blue Cemetary Reaper. Kinda weird, but if any block gets it, it's certainly Innistrad. I kinda wish you had to choose between getting a creature or making your zombies bigger to enhance the flavor of bringing corpses to life or dividing them for spare parts. Maybe it started that way and then got all-upside'd. Boo to that.

Headless Skaab is just great.

Mystic Retrieval is the exact kind of card that makes me wish sorcery and instant used the same card type. They are identical in all ways except when you can cast them. Should we have 'creature' and 'critter' for flash creatures? Oh wait, 'critter' has flavor and is a noun. Um, 'creature' and 'sudden'?

Who didn't love Sentinels of Glen Elendra? Solid enough for Limited without being oppressive enough to make the Faeries deck. Nephalia Seakite—while not the most gothic or horror—is certainly a fun little card.

Niblis of the Breath continues the tapping-spirits theme. Carry on.

Saving Grasp is a nice little intersection of white and blue effects. Simple, useful and color-pie-friendly. Oh, and it uses text you basically never see. Nice resumé.

Coral Merfolk gets the Armored Skaab treatment? Thanks, Screeching Skaab. Doesn't hurt that this is one of the most disturbing cards in the set.

Secrets of the Dead has the simple, open-ended wording that Altar of the Lost feels like it should have. Maybe the Altar would have been too useful in too many other strategies but that doesn't make it as pretty as Secrets. Also worth noting, they could have put a cost on this like Mentor of the Meek, but didn't. Since drawing is all this does, that seems just.

In case you hadn't noticed, they want an aggressive mill deck to be possible. No, not possible, good. Shriekgeist is one of the keys to that deck. Gotta love cards that are unimpressive by themselves yet important to a serious deck archetype.

Soul Seizer is a well-crafted answer to the Mind Control problem. You get the same effect, for the same cost, but with the added hoop of having to swing with a small evasive creature. That's just about perfect. That the possession flavor is so strong cements this card in a ditch of awesome.

Stormbound Geist is my vote for the strongest common in Dark Ascension. Once again, this is a card I never would have designed to these numbers. They clearly pushed it as hard as they could. Me, I'd have stopped at 1/1 or maybe 2/1 flying. Compare to Sightless Ghoul (the arguably worst undying card) and the difference is night and day.

I love seeing new adaptations of classic cards that don't feel hot glue gunned. Thought Scour is such a card. I don't see a lot of blue zombie mage passing this late.

It's also nice to see beloved cards like Sea Gate Oracle (originally Court Hussar) being born in new forms: Tower Geist should make Spikes very happy.

I'm glad they gave geists a better identity in Dark Ascension. While I'm happy to see more zombies to put in a blue zombie deck, I wish they felt a little more different rather than having the exact same abilities with a few different numbers and a little undying splashed around. How is a much harder question. Perhaps something along the lines of "When ~ ETB, exile N creature cards from your graveyard. Put that many +1/+1 counters on ~" where N could be 1, "1 to 3", or "any number". Finally, I notice a lot less flashback this time around. I wonder if that's to avoid flooding constructed formats or if they ran out of ideas or just preferred the other stuff we ended up with.

1 comment:

  1. I feel compelled to point out that Lorwyn's lords weren't all 2/2s for 3. Several of them were (Elves, Goblins, Merfolk, Flamekin), but Giants and Treefolk were a lot bigger, Faeries got a 1/1 flyer for 3, and Kithkin had the nice aggressive 2/2 for WW.

    Saving Grasp definitely impressed me when I saw it in the file. The off-colour-flashback spells in this set seemed a rather more mixed bunch to me than in Innistrad; Burning Oil is trying the same kind of thing that Fire at Will did, but both feel like the restriction is too nonred to sit well with me. Reap the Seagraf doesn't feel exactly like a great exploration of what blue and black can both do, either. (Well, not in colour pie terms. It solidifies the message of "hey, blue and black are both zombie colours this block!" while losing the difference between them which most blue zombie cards have. Not exactly a home run.) But Saving Grasp is very nice, perhaps even more impressive colour-pie-wise than Aethertow which I thought was a great area of space of white and blue to meet in.

    (Hmm: it seems "attacking or blocking" feels like too white a restriction on a red burn spell, but permissible on a blue bounce spell. I wonder why I have that quirk of preferences. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way, or if it's just me.)

    Shriekgeist is fascinating; in a deck that's not wanting to mill, it's a 1/1 flyer with a *drawback*. Yet in a mill deck it's very solid. Excellent design for the role in the set.