Monday, April 30, 2012

M13 Trajectories: Wolf Dancer

Welcome to M13 Trajectories, where I discuss cards from the files of our fan M13 set and how they changed through input from multiple people.

Today's card was suggested by Nich Grayson:

The comment from his first version remains and this is what he commented.
1/22 Nich: Here’s an alternative new Lord if we want to move away from Class Lords. I just couldn’t stand to print Elvish Archdruid for a 4th consecutive time. It seems the current craze is to make green’s 2/2 token Wolves, but Bears were there first. I think Bears have a special place in many Magic player’s hearts so I wanted to make a worthy Lord for them. 
This comment actually reflects many topics we had contention on over the duration of design. Is it bad to reprint cards many years in a row in a core set? What kind of creature type is the best to support? Should we avoid card concepts reminiscent of the previous set?

The first change this card went through was in the creature type of the token it produced. It was proposed that it become a Humanoid Scout/Ranger/Druid that summons Wolves rather than Bears.

Nich is one of the collaborators in the set who really wanted to change things that had been repeated. He didn't want this creature producing Wolves because this virtual set would be hypothetically released after Innistrad block.

Pasteur commented on this topic:
1/26 Pasteur: Adjacency to ISD isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Immerwolf may support wolves, but really is a werewolf-lord. This interacts nicely with Garruk Relentless/Kessig Cagebreakers/Darkthicket Wolf, which is at least some synergy. For those who love the lineage of core-sets, this is also interesting as it’s Master of the Wild Hunt meets Lurking Predators? Could easily be a druid.
The card became this:

I like this card. The phrase "whenever an opponent casts a noncreature spell" hasn't been used very often. The only effects with similar wording I could find are Mystic RemoraDovescapeInk-Treader NephilimCurse of Echoes, and Hive Mind, but they feel very different.

I also like how it could interact with Wolf cards from Innistrad. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with Werewolves since neither side of a Werewolf card actually says Wolf, although it could work with Avacyn Restored's Wolfirs.

Now that I think about it, a version like this might work in a Werewolf deck:

But anyways, one thing that struck me as odd about the original Den Mother is that it looks like a build-around card for your own tribal synergies, but it also looks like a card you bring in from the sideboard because it hoses spell-heavy decks with the "whenever an opponent casts a non-creature spell" clause. I wasn't sure if this dual positioning of a card was a bad thing or not, which was what I commented on the card.*
*Nich has pointed out in the comment section of this article that it was meant to work without a lot of tribe members, and that's totally true; it's modular enough that the Den Mother can be played by itself in a deck without any other tribe members.

Pasteur suggested dropping the +1/+1 bonus for Wolves, and it became this:

Now with the lower cost, the ability to hose removal looks downright constructed-worthy.

Hosing removal is a very difficult thing to do right. I love WotC's direction of making creatures better to catch up with the power level of spells, which has been going on for many years. Jay Treat has been pushing to make removal spells worse in our M13 set, in order to make creatures a little harder to tamper with. It's reflected in our set list, where Black gets Diabolic Edict and Assassinate with no Doom Blade.

Personally, I'm against it since if WotC were to print worse removal spells, that is the way to make creatures worse, not better. Or rather, good creature cards that demand answers that we currently find exciting such as Champion of the Parish or Consecrated Sphinx would become unprintable. Some card games have creatures attacking creatures. Some card games have creatures that accumulate damage, so that no creature stays on the board forever. But in Magic, removal spells are an indispensable source of choice-making, board fluctuation, and interactivity.

At the same time, I also dislike the style of making creatures better through overpowering them in the style of Titans, where they not only grant card advantage but also require you to kill them right away or lose the game. These cards can make proactive win-cons as good as board-controlling spells, but in a way, they also have the effect of making answer cards like Mana Leak or Thoughtsieze even more relevant in the game by being the only things that can handle them effectively, a point made by Matt Sperling in this article.

It seems that just providing late-game creatures with a lot of 2-for-1 abilities without giving those same cards the ability to win in a few turns would already be doing a lot towards making the heavy removal plan bad. However, that may cause games to be too heavily centered on card advantage. Card advantage is associated with long grindout games where both sides neutralize each other's cards, accumulating small gains here and there over the course of the game, and the one player who has something left on the board wins. This is something WotC has been avoiding. Perhaps some fatties can have built-in card advantage effects that only help fuel your own deck's proactive synergies without helping you to neutralize the opponent's cards so much, but I don't know exactly what form that should take.

With that in mind, Wolf Dancer is awesome in that it makes it bad for opponents to overly rely on removal spells, without being oppressive to opposing creature decks or making it a "you must remove it in a few turns or lose" card. It is currently in the back of the files and not in the set, but it totally should be.

I hope you enjoyed this. Join me again on Friday as I talk about a Tribal Lord that flavorfully helps two tribes.


  1. Everyone likes bears. It should be a bear.

    1. How about cats? Doesn't everyone like cats?

  2. (My original submission was called Den Mother. You can find it in the 99'd File.)

    Nice write up. I have a couple of things to include.

    When I added it the green design file, I also included two reprints - Ashcoat Bear (to teach players about Flash at common) and Caller of the Claw (to use the Bear token we would need for Den Mother and to be a splashy reprint.) I knew the tribe wasn't large and wanted to give Johnny something to work with for his Bear deck.

    Since the tribe is small in Standard, I though a +1/+1 bonus plus token making would allow the card to combo off itself. I tried a really modular design. So Den Mother doesn't need a lot more Bears to be good because it makes it's own army of 3/3's while it remains on the board.

    I agree with your comments on removal and how to hose it. Very insightful stuff. This coming down turn 2 or 3 makes it very hard to play around. And the fact that it only makes 2/2's also make it innocuous enough that player's may still cast their other spells and accept the penalty of creating tokens for Wolf Dancer's owner. They will still cast Rampant Growth, because they've got a bigger creature in their hand to take care of the little army they are helping create, for example. Making cards that punish a play style, but still seem fun can be hard. I think this does it.

    PS - If you can find Den Mother, see if you can add it to the article. I just love the illustration I found for it.

    PPS - I look forward to Friday's card write up.

  3. FWIW, I'm thinking worse removal would prevent cards like Consecrated Sphinx and the Titans from being printed and that Magic would be better off if more cards mattered and you actually had to interact with them.

    1. Could you expand on this? (It's probably worth a whole post on its own.)

      I'm having a hard time understanding some of your reasoning on card power lately. On the fine-tuning thread for example, I don't understand why there needs to be a tapper that's strictly worse than Master Decoy/Blinding Mage.

      Here, I don't understand why you want to prevent cards like Consecrated Sphinx or Titans from being printed.

      I have a really hard time finding any empirical justification for titans being overpowered. With the possible exception of Primeval Titan in EDH, there just aren't any formats that they're breaking (unless it's kitchen table Magic, which pretty much always breaks whenever one player shows up with a deck full of mythics and the other players don't).

    2. Daniel, I guess I hate tappers because they are so brutal against slower decks, Auras and Equipment.

      My feeling is that Tappers, Pingers, and Looters are all equally nuts in Limited at common, and I don't see why Pingers were moved but Tappers weren't. I guess it's good that sets aren't "overdeveloped" and that sets don't have a flat power level, but I wouldn't mind seeing a nerfed tapper with higher activation cost (such as the one in AVR), or a tapper that's moved to uncommon.

      One thing I do like about tappers at common is that it might teach new players to wait until their opponent's turn to activate something.

      As I wrote in another post, I don't think Titans are overpowered statistic-wise, I just don't like the way they win right away unless removed and it's worth trying to find another style of making fatties playable.

      Jay, I don't understand what you mean by "interactive" in this case because removal is a kind of interaction too.
      Blocking is another type of interaction, but I can't easily envision a style of Magic based on fatties being balanced by being blockable with other fatties.

      My only problem with removal is if it makes 6+ drops unplayable (which admittedly was true for most of Magic) or if a player can keep the board clean of creatures most of the time. I'd rather put more protection on 6-drop creatures.

    3. You're right, Daniel, it does deserve a post of its own. In the meantime, I'll just say that I think cards at the power level of the titans are bad for the game and that we wouldn't have reached that plateau if removal weren't as good as it is.

      I agree with Chah about tappers. They should be sometimes good, but not always.

      Removal is absolutely a form of interaction, but it's not usually a fun one. Have you played Milles Bornes? Don't. It's terrible. Worse than War. I'll explain more in the promised post, but Magic should be more about creature combat than "here's a threat—here's an answer."

  4. This is another card that doesn't really do anything by itself. Designs that give my opponents interesting choices just don't do much for me. It's like the punisher mechanic or rhystic. Sultan's Lamp and Explosion Elemental have shades of the same.

    Pack Mother 1GG
    Creature- Beast (U)
    Whenever you play a green creature, put a 2/2 green wolf token onto the battlefield.

    That would reward you for doing things, instead of punishing your opponents.

    1. I think this is a different category from Sultan's Lamp, where the intention of that card was to set up a minigame.
      This card does something by itself just by being a 2/2. It also has a protective ability for all of your guys.

      I don't see why punishing the opponent for doing something is bad. Is Obstinate Baloth bad because your opponent running a discard deck has a choice to not cast his/her discard spells during the game? (As if that were a choice)

      Do you think Gaddock Teeg is bad? Den Mother is for preventing something rather than setting up a synergy yourself. A softer way of preventing something is to punish that thing instead of outright banning it. A card that says "opponents can't play non-creature spells" would have to cost much more.

      I understand some players might not like the feeling of giving opponents any choice at all, but this is more a matter of player preference, such as the way some players don't want to play effects that require life payment or random discard. Strategically, it is very sound to soft-ban things with punishment, especially if the fact that it's a soft-ban allows you to play it as a 2-drop rather than something costly like Iona. Not every player needs to like it as long as it's liked by the players who use it and it's not hated for being abusive.

      If you look at how the card affects strategy, it's a card that protects your team from removal, somewhat like Kinsbaile Borderguard or Dauntless Escort, except those guys protect your team against board sweep while this guy protects against spot removal.

      I think it's a good thing that it gets better if the opponent is playing removal and is only normal if your opponent has a light non-creature component. That is because if a card proactively produced so many tokens that the removal player can't keep up, some other decks types might be screwed.

    2. Duncan's opinion is 100% valid, and I'm glad he made us aware of it, but I agree with Chah here, and I suspect the majority of players do too. Let us know if you don't.

  5. I'm not sure if Wolf Dancer hoses removal the way you want it to. On its own, a 2/2 doesn't usually draw spot removal anyway, and the way the card is phrased, both the Dancer and its token get removed by a sweeper.

    1. If your opponent wants to remove something, you will get a token every time unless the opponent targets this guy first. You will also get a token every time the opponent casts a Ponder, Gitaxian Probe, Mana Leak, Equipment, Planeswalkers, etc. so unless the opponent can lock out tokens early, this will draw removal.

      This doesn't prevent board sweep, but low-drops like this should only prevent a subset of things opponents can do. Maybe it's better if the tokens entered the battlefield at end of turn to provide a slight reprieve against board sweep, but I'm not sure it's worth the delay, and I don't mind that a 2-drop is not fool-proof.

    2. The 2/2 tokens seem perfect to me. Enough to be relevant without being overbearing. It could often be worth saving your removal for the fatties that follow this play, knowing that you can handle the 2/2s later or block them even. That it's not an automatic choice either way is exactly what we want.

  6. It's funny that you say "Mystic Remora, Dovescape, Nephilim, Curse of Echoes, and Hive Mind", but not Lurking Predators.

    I'm confident that at GG 2/2, this is much stronger than it looks.

    1. I didn't interpret Lurking Predators as the same category as Den Mother because Lurking Predators triggers with every spell the opponent casts. No deck can afford to not cast anything, so it's not actually molding the opponent's play very often. (The opponent might choose not to cast anything if s/he's ahead on the board, but that doesn't count.)

      Den Mother specifically punishes reliance on non-creature spellcraft like removal or card draw, and the opponent might hold off noncreature spells until the Den Mother is dealt with.

      But whether it's similar to Lurking Predators may be a matter of interpretation.

    2. Holy crap. I've been playing Lurking Predators this whole time as though it said "opponent casts a noncreature spell". Obvious mistake on my part.

  7. The final 2 CMC version of Wolf Dancer needs to be A) Legendary and B) Mythic. Compare with Master of the Wild Hunt. The difference between 2 CMC and 4 is staggering for a card like this. Even if it were Legendary, in legacy this would wreak havoc. Turn 1 Mox Diamond/Lotus Petal/Elvish Visionary, Forest, Wolf Dancer, go. Now every brainstorm, thoughtseize, emtomb, force of will, removal spell, planeswalker, equipment, ritual, tutor etc etc is a free bear? There's a good chance you won't have to cast anything else the whole game.

    For this to be anything remotely sane, take a lesson from Rhystic Study:

    Whenever an opponent casts a non-creature spell, any player may pay 1. If no one does, put a 2/2 green (whatever) creature token into play.

    Or maybe Mentor of the Meek style:

    Whenever an opponent casts a non-creature spell, you may pay 1. If you do, put a 2/2 green (whatever) creature token into play.

    Even so, does this make any thematic sense at all? Why does your opponent playing non-creature spells make bears or wolves or whatever? A variant that would make it less broken and give it some thematic basis:

    Aetherblood Wolfmother GG
    Creature - Wolf Spirit

    Whenever an opponent plays a non-creature spell or activates a Loyalty ability, you may pay 1. If you do, put a 2/2 green Wolf Illusion creature token onto the battlefield with "Whenever this becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice it."

    "The Aetherblood wolf pack feeds on the magical energy rippling in the wake of an angry Planeswalker."


    Giving it some thematic identity makes it seem less random. Adding in Loyalty abilities makes it feel more internally consistent, and making them illusions makes sense if they are magical beings created from the magical resonance of another planeswalker. Why would casting a fireball or a counter spell make a real wolf? Making them illusions makes sense thematically and means you can't sword them up, making this endeavor dramatically safer.

    1. I don't think they're that unthematic.

      They're guys living in nature who are against unnatural things such as spellcraft and call upon wolves to fight those unnatural things.

      If flavor that requires a little imagination isn't allowed, then Innistrad Werewolves' flip condition wouldn't be allowed.

    2. I feel like Wolf Illusions are more likely to carry swords than garden-variety Wolves, right?

    3. Green's slice of the color pie dislikes unnatural things and, in this case, the color is identifying non-creature spells as unnatural. I understand if you believe that's too far over the line of what would count as being unnatural. But I think the flavor is clear enough.

      In the original Den Mother concept, you could imagine each bear waking up from hibernation when it sensed a magical encroachment.

      The Wold Dancer calls a pack together like a posse to attack the offending party.

      These flavor concepts are similar to the trope of Green attacking anything that enters or disturbs it's forests.

      Finally, I can't imagine developing this around playability in Legacy. The fact that it could even have an impact could only be seen as a good thing, right? That format needs cards that actually impact it in some way (and it's debatable that this even would.)

    4. I could see it as a 1G 1/1 so that even a Geistflame will kill it, which seems fair considering you'll still get a 2/2 bear out of the deal. We used GG because this is such a green effect.

      Adding Illusion to the card seems extremely out of color and less resonant. Including loyalty abilities is just messy and confusing. I get a Wolf when you cast your 'walker and when you use him? But I don't get a Wolf when you activate abilities of other permanents? What's happening there?

  8. I really like the version of this that pumps as well as makes tokens. I also really like it triggering off of noncreature spells, as green should have a powerful way to combat all the control cards that other colors provide (especially blue and black.

    On a side note, I'm running a design challenge this week on my blog, Mad Olaf's Magic Cards ( Check out the link to play along!