Thursday, December 13, 2012

CCDD 121312—Nessian Battalion

Cool Card Design of the Day
12/13/2012 - Affinity got a bad rap in Mirrodin because it enabled one of the most broken Standard decks ever. We all know that the keyword has potential in another form. Many of us have messed with it a bit, and today is one of my attempts.

There are a few ways you can go with Affinity. Remember, it's a reward for getting a bunch of a certain type of permanent out. You could choose something ubiquitous like Affinity for lands, but that's silly; Lands are already a metric for how much you can cast and that ability would just mean "this card costs half what is says it does" most of the time. The Oxidda Golem cycle keyed off specific basic land types and while that's similar, it's kind of halfway toward Imperiosaur, Spectral Procession or Leatherback Baloth where we're asking the player to build her land base—and thus her deck—in a particular way.

A better option is to give players an excuse to play a card type they don't normally. Affinity for artifacts, enchantments or planeswalkers fit this mold (and tribal, but… yeah). Shrinking the hoop makes the prize worth jumping for. Now, Affinity for planeswalkers won't work since that card type is expressly mythic and you don't exactly need a common to get slightly better to make playing the 'walker you were lucky enough to open satisfying. Artifacts having already been done and maligned, that leaves Affinity for enchantments which seems like a reasonable enough inclusion in a block with a substantial enchantment theme.

There is one more top-level possibility: Affinity for creatures. Now, creatures are quite common and most decks want to have as many creatures as possible anyhow. The hoop is big, so the prize can't be that great. Even so, there's excellent flavor for this ability: the same flavor Convoke uses. Remember Convoke? One of MaRo's favorite mechanics from the original Ravnica block? Why not reward players for doing the thing they want to do anyhow? Worked for Landfall in Zendikar, right?

This card is from June 15th, and having now written that intro, I see this is way too good for a common. So imagine this is either uncommon, 3/3 or else 5G. That's appealing, right? It kind of makes each of your early creatures into a mana elf that can still attack or block. In fact, this is particularly appealing played with an actual Llanowar Elves since you'll be able to cast it two full turns earlier. That's not something Convoke can do.

Which by the way, is a huge question that has to be answered before we accept Affinity for creatures as something worth doing: If it plays so similarly to a mechanic that's going to come back anyhow, why not just use Convoke? The Elf example is one reason. Actually, that's the only reason I've got—and I'm not even sure it's a good reason. I'd love to hear your arguments in favor of one or the other.

In the meantime, I've found a more interesting execution for this particular card:

It's a common version of Talara's Battalion. It's also related to Yuluk (and friends) from Duel Masters. What's neat about this is that it's not quite a cost reduction mechanic like Affinity, a major drawback to the keyword I haven't mentioned until now. While Nessian Battalion's ability is technically a drawback, the card looks sexier than Nessian Herd because players see the card's potential immediately when glancing at the cost and size. While both cards ask you to play creatures (which you were going to do anyway), Battalion sets you up for an exciting moment where summoning it is part of a two-card combo. It also sets you up for disappointment when you draw the Battalion with no other creatures in your hand, but highs have to have lows, right?

I'm not actually sure that's right. What I am fairly sure about is, I would much prefer Nessian Herd or Battalion as written over some watered down version like "Nessan Battalion costs 2 more to cast unless you've cast another creature spell this turn." That's easier to use, but the stakes aren't as high and more options does not make for a better game, challenges do. The Silvergill Adept cycle is similar, so it is an option, I just don't love it.

Finally, I can't leave without pointing out that there are still many more possible applications of Affinity; I only covered the high-level card type versions. You can also do Affinity for elves or Affinity for green permanents. Ghoultree has Affinity for creature cards in your graveyard. Affinity for tapped permanents is an option (though not likely a good one). You could even do Affinity for snow if you wanted to get booed off stage.


  1. Affinity for spells might be an interesting storm variant, reducing cost instead of increasing instances.

  2. There is also the precedent of "Affinity for green creatures" in Khalni Hydra.

  3. Centaur Courser (3/3 for 2G) is a fairly unexciting card. It's one of those cards that fills out your 22nd or 23rd spell slot in a Limited deck because you don't have anything better. It's not really a card anyone is excited to run, or play.

    This is roughly Centaur Courser for 1G, with a condition attached to it that pretty much ensures that you don't get to cast it any sooner than turn 3, which is when you could cast Centaur Courser anyway. Color me unimpressed.

    1. Centaur Courser is a 23rd card? I disagree strongly.

    2. I mean, obviously Talara's Battalion was an inspiration for this, but that really just serves as a reminder that drawback mechanics are best used on rares and then only sparingly.

      Talara's Battalion had a lot of buzz in the initial release, but it never made a splash. Part of that was that it was much more difficult in practice than it was in theory, but also that it's just not fun to be told you can't play your spell.

    3. You forget the interaction with Memnite :)