Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Coolest Card from Gatecrash probably not the one you were expecting. It doesn’t have any blog-o-sphere buzz, and it’s unlikely to set the tournament scene ablaze. But when it comes to a cool card, I guess you could say that those factors are immaterial.

There are three things that stand out to me about this guy:

It’s highly complex for a common. A casual or inexperienced player is likely to glance at Leyline Phantom and think, “Ooh, a 5/5 for 5! Oh, too bad it returns itself; that sucks,” whereas a more experienced player is likely to glance at it, and immediately have an aneurysm from considering too many possibilities at the same time. And "head-plosion" is the correct response: the Phantom is one of the most synergistic, complicated, limited pieces I’ve played with.

It’s a powerful card for any Simic deck, since it can be cast repeatedly to trigger evolve, as well as a  team player in an Esper Extort deck, since it’s a strong early game defender and provides a repeatable spell to trigger Extort. It also has synergy with Sage’s Row Denizen to set up Dimir mill effects, and directly combos with Consuming Aberration. And even in a deck with none of those interactions, it’s still an annoyingly efficient attacker and blocker that potentially has pseudo-vigilance, which is obnoxious for opponents to play around. Considering its numerous interactions and its utility in Limited, I’m a little surprised Leyline Phantom wasn’t an uncommon; I’m guessing the reason it stayed at common is that drafters are likely to fight over it, and it’d be awkward to have multiple players in a pod drafting different strategies still end up needing the same card.

The template is unique. Combat damage triggers typically specify either to creatures or to players (or opponent, in the case of Hydra Omnivore). Besides the Phantom, the only other two creatures that trigger from any combat damage are Drinker of Sorrow and Sunhome Enforcer, and the enforcer barely counts since his ability is just a poor man’s lifelink. What makes Leyline Phantom unique is that its trigger affects itself. Again, combat damage triggers typically either affect the creature being dealt damage to (if it’s a creature trigger, like Lowland Basilisk), or one of the players (if it’s a player damage trigger, like Bloodcrazed Neonate). The unique template sets up the coolest part of the card, which is the reminder text. Getting to use the word “survived combat” is a direct result of the space opened up by using “dies” instead of the old put-into-the-graveyard template, and it gives Leyline Phantom the same kind of functional-form aesthetic as Obsidian Fireheart, which I thought rocked. Not to mention the best part...

The reminder text opens up new space. The “survived” phrasing is a neat experiment, and maybe if it works and players dig it, it’ll show up in the 2014 and 2015 blocks. It’d certainly be helpful to have another creature ability for blue, especially since blue creatures still tend to encourage players to sit back and turtle when they should be attacking. A combat survival mechanic also seems like it’d work in red, since it sounds thematically appropriate for a color that likes fighting, and like blue, red tends to come up short on creature mechanics. The first example that popped into my head was that it’d make a great trigger and reminder for a flip card, like if Bushi Tenderfoot / Kenzo the Hardhearted was re-concepted as a double-faced card. I like the idea of a white citizen turning into a red warrior after his or her first taste of battle. The other thought that occurred to me was that Olaf’s enrage mechanic could be easily repurposed to work with survives:

Enrage (When this creature deals combat damage, put a +1/+1 counter on it. ~ gains a counter only if it survives combat.)

Using this version of Enrage makes for some fun puzzles in deciding races and when to attack or block, and opens up the chance for some sweet combat tricks involving first strike and damage prevention.

More generally, the new template gives aspiring designers a new tool to tinker with. The actual guild mechanics from RTR block operate in a fairly narrow space, which is fine for playing with, but less good for getting the creative juices flowing. So I'm glad Leyline Phantom opened up some new areas to build in, and I'm curious to see what else you all can do with it!


  1. Survives is interesting. Seems like it could also be used to capture the flavor of learning from your mistakes/gaining experience, and also with noncombat damage. For instance, possibly:

    Savvy (Whenever this creature takes damage, if it survives, put that many +1/+1 counters on it.)

    Or more simply/more similarly to Enrage, only one +1/+1 counter.

  2. "Survived" isn't really a new templating tool any more than "the land continues to burn" or the severely condensed reminder text of Ninjutsu. It doesn't allow any new effects or rules text that didn't exist before. I do like using reminder text that uses plain language to explain things as opposed to strictly "Magicese," and if it inspires you to make something new, that's great. But that's a question of creativity, not new design technology.

    1. I see what you mean, but in a certain sense, I think new language _is_ new design technology. Throwing out designs because there's no elegant, intuitive way to template them is pretty common for me, at least.

    2. Except there's been no templating change here. It's just the use of the lack of restrictions on language used in reminder text. Actual card text hasn't been changed or added to the game in any way.

      It's a good thing as a reminder that one can be a bit looser with keyword reminder text, since you can have more complex mechanics buried "under the hood" and explained using more plain language.

  3. I used this card in every sealed I've done so far with Gatecrash. It was an MVP. I'm not sure if we need the survive clause on the repurposed Enrage, though. It makes it seem awkward with first/double strike. I like the combat damage trigger, though.

  4. I would describe Leyline Phantom not as complex, but as subtle. Many players won't appreciate the value in "having to" recast it until they see its synergy with Extort and Evolve, and that will add longevity to Gatecrash's Limited format.

    Slightly simpler than Enrage:

    Veteran (Whenever ~ survives combat with another creature, put a +1/+1 counter on it.)

    Veteran can be a bit of a lie, though the smaller the bonus the more likely it is an opponent will chump and allow it to happen.

    1. I like Veteran, but it's unclear when you put on the counter. Does the ability trigger when combat damage happens but the creature doesn't die? Or is it at the end-of-combat? Can we make it more clear what happens if this creature is blocked by or is blocking multiple creatures?

      With Enrage, there's a similar problem if your creature has first strike.

    2. You could explicitly add "At EOC":

      Veteran (At end of combat, if ~ survived combat with another creature, put a +1/+1 counter on it.)

      Or you could keep the same text and just clarify in the FAQs and rules that it triggers at end of combat. As long as players aren't doing it between the first strike and regular damage steps it shouldn't matter.