Saturday, February 4, 2012

Design Review of Dark Ascension—Other

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Other

I already mentioned how I wish that Altar of the Lost were modular rather than parasitic. It could have worked with all manner of cards castable from the graveyard if they'd just omitted "with flashback" like they did on Burning Vengeance and Secrets of the Dead. Maybe they thought it was too good with retrace (Call the Skybreaker).

I'm glad not all the equipment they print is as strong as Silver-Inlaid Dagger. Avacyn's Collar is an interesting collection of abilities. That only humans grant spirits is both flavorful and in keeping with the other human-improved gear*, but who would have expected to see vigilance paired with a power bonus? Humans are usually small enough that the vigilance doesn't stop them from attacking on its own, but it does mean you have to attack into their guy and let them get a free spirit (which you know can be made at least 2/1). That said, I'm glad they didn't boost toughness because we don't need more board stalls. *It's a little odd that you put this on cards that make spirits anyhow, thus getting many spirits from one creature.

Chalice of Life is neat in theory and I'm glad they made a seemingly nice artifact that turns evil. Not sure how often you'll actually see Chalice of Death because of the way the trigger is worded, which is a bit awkward to read, but I'm glad they're keeping 2HG and Commander in mind.

Elbrus, the Binding Blade is a cool piece of equipment, reminiscent of Ensouled Scimitar and the Kaldra trifecta. I'm not surprised by the cost, since there's a 13/13 evasive monster underneath, but I am surprised it only grants +1/+0. I guess they were going for "it looks so innocuous, but it's so cursed", but it makes the attack that leads to the transformation so underwhelming that it causes anti-climax. Or the opposite of that. They may have also reasoned that if the equip bonus was too high that players may not even want it to transform or that the game might end before it does, but I still think it should've granted at least +3/+0 or something.

A lot of my friends were excited about Evolving Wilds returning. I like the card and what it does for the game, so I'm happy enough too, I just don't get why they were so jazzed about it. "Now I can play four or five colors!" Yeah, I guess. Should you? Does that gain you so much?

Executioner's Hood is the colorless version of Gruesome Deformity and I approve. Not only is it nice to have a nonblack intimidate granter, since intimidate is no longer the black-specific mechanic fear was, but it's a much more playable card as an equipment, making its impact and thus existence more meaningful. (That said, Gruesome Deformity was an almost required callback to Fear).

Grafdigger's Cage has gotten a lot of attention for being a cheap, universal hoser to one of the block's own major themes. It's been explained that it's better to print such safety valves earlier to prevent the format from degenerating for 3+ months longer than it had to. That makes sense to me. It's interesting that they decided to hose libraries in addition to graveyards. I'm not sure that fits the flavor, but I guess they wanted to solve problems in Legacy or future problems (Does the next block have cast-from-library cards)?

Grim Backwoods is pretty cool. I'm not sure it's as good as the rest of the cycle—it certainly takes more work to profit from, but it seems fair not to make the whole cycle for Timmy or Spike.

Haunted Fengraf is pretty exciting for Spike. Trade an unneeded land later in the game for a new body? Yes, please. This isn't remotely unique to Innistrad, but I quite like how this card rewards you for playing fewer colors (or punishes you for playing more, if you prefer).

Dark Ascension removes one pack's worth of chances to snag a Butcher's Cleaver or similar uncommon human-buffing equipment, offering the common Heavy Mattock instead. Mattock is pretty weak (though still playable in a human deck) and I'm glad for it. The others could be a bit oppressive.

Helvault is crazy strong. Yes, it doesn't turn on until you have 7 mana, but once it does, you get a free Path to Exile every turn. That's damn hard to fight. I played against it with three artifact removal in my deck, but I didn't draw one for four turns and I'd already lost by then. That this is a top-down, plot-driven card makes it all the more impressive.

Jar of Eyeballs is awesome. Just don't confuse it with Shrine of Piercing Vision. A bit unfortunate they're so similar and were printed so close together.

Vault of the Archangel is similar to Gavony Township in that they both do nothing without creatures on the board and get absurd quick with just a few. That it feels so white/black in contrast to Township's green/white is a nice bit of design. Should we worry why the Archangel's vault is part black and gives creatures deathtouch? Nahhh!

I'm not a fan of Warden of the Wall because it looks like it does a lot, but kinda doesn't. You can boost mana or you can block 2/2 fliers, but not both. And you can't do either the turn it ETB. I wish it had one less ability. Any of them, really.

We're so used to terrible Pyromancer equipment like Hankyu and Razor Boomerang, that we just assume Wolfhunter's Quiver is unplayable. It's not. The 5 equip cost is a serious disadvantage, but: there are a ton of 1 toughness creatures for you to kill every turn, Quiver lets your vampires grow even when outclassed on the board, and it totally wrecks werewolves. Not bad.

Finally, we have Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Planeswalkers are hard to make well and I'm always impressed how Wizards pulls it off most of the time. His first ability feels a bit more white in practice, but if you focus on the fact that it's a black vampire and that he basically murdered some unseen human to make him, it feels fine. The second ability surprised me because they've talked about Emblems like once-in-a-blue-moon kinds of things, and here they are handing them out like candy. Cool. It's last ability is a doozy and links directly to our conversation about Sylar, the 'walker-hunting planeswalker. That it destroys not one but three souls is impressive, but the second line means you're not just removing cards, you're getting three Volition Reins (and any ETB abilities of your targets). That's one hell of an ultimate for just -6. I suppose it takes three more turns to get there, but you are making chump blockers in the meantime.

For those concerned that the white mana has made Sorin "good," let me put your fears to rest. Sorin didn't create Avacyn or come back to restore her out of a sense of duty or charity. He doesn't have a soft spot for humans and want them all spared. He's just trying to balance the ecosystem so that he and his kind don't run out of food. I'm pretty sure there was a movie about that. Point is, Sorin is still looking out for numero uno, and is just ensuring that his favorite bedtime snack doesn't go extinct. It's a pretty awesome villain that seems like the hero in some lights.

I've heard some people express dissatisfaction with Dark Ascension overall, mostly around the perceived lack of tournament playable constructed cards. I don't know how right or wrong they are about the set's impact on Constructed (though I suspect they're overreacting), but I also know they're mostly the same people who would complain in any situation. Personally, I think DKA is one of the best small sets of the last few years, continuing and refining mechanics and archetypes from the large set, and keeping the flavor flowing. There wasn't as much in terms of new mechanics, but I think the existing mechanics were deep enough that simply rounding them out was plenty.

Let me leave you with one random musing. In a world where spirits, vampires, werewolves and who-knows-what are all eating the humans, after the humans become scarce, when does war break out, each monstrous faction vying for control over this common food source?

Did I miss anything? What did I get wrong. Let me know, and thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Grafdigger's Cage affects libraries because development was worried about Birthing Pod decks being too strong. Its effects on Legacy were noted but not a primary consideration.