Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Zeffrikar Exploratory Design Part 1: Past as Prologue

This is the first part of my Design Vision Document for the set, what is going to be the rough equivalent of R&D's Exploratory Design. Obviously nothing is set in stone (Zendikar jokes), and I'll probably change direction more than a few times over the life of this project, but at least at the outset, here are the ideas I’m going to be keeping in mind before setting up a skeleton and doing a first pass at the commons.

1: Adventures in the Fifth Age

Zendikar temporally landed towards the end of the fourth age of design, but it was an outlier. The fourth age was defined by caring about the block structure – what each set meant in the larger block – and Zendikar didn't quite fit into that mold. Rise of the Eldrazi was designed to be drafted separately from Zen/WW, but that wasn't all that different from the more revolutionary Lorwyn/Shadowmoor break a few years prior. Zendikar was much more of a third-age block (defined by a block’s mechanical identity). The block screamed LAND LAND LAND pretty much all the time, including with the inflated costs associated with battlecruiser magic in Rise.

I'll be approaching Zeffrikar design with modern design perspectives. 5th age emotional themes will drive choice of mechanics and card designs. Zendikar was ostensibly adventure world, although as an emotional theme that didn't really come through during the first pass. But "adventure" will be the theme for Zeffrikar (as I imagine it will be for BfZ). (Interestingly, this shift in perspective changes the overall color identity for the world. LAND LAND LAND makes Zendikar a green-shaded plane. But the focus on the call to adventure and the visceral thrill of risk makes Zeffrikar much more red-aligned.)

If Indiana Jones is the base template Zendikar originally strived for, it's not enough to label a few combat tricks "traps" or to hide power-9 and dual lands in packs as treasures. I want the mechanics in the set to inspire players to take risks, and to reward them for doing so. I want the players to feel a sense of wonder and exploration. I want taking down (or landing with) an Eldrazi to give a great sensation of accomplishment.

This focus on adventure solves another problem I've been wrestling with, the Zendikar Besieged problem. This set wants to play out very similarly to Scars of Mirrodin block. There is a planes-travelling, all-consuming Big Bad threatening the continued existence of the indigenous people of a plane. The block naturally wants to focus on this conflict. The mechanics naturally want to divide along those lines.

In Mirrodin, the thematic hook was one of corruption and violation. The Phyrexians were the ones piloting the emotional feel of that block. Here, the thematic hook is adventure, of beating the odds. The Zendikari should feel like the eventual winners, even if we don't know how it will actually play out. The mood should be one of optimism, even if the threat is no less dangerous. This has to be reflected in the mechanics we dig out as well.

2: Sins of the Past

I’m going to be playing this as legitimately as possible. Design will take into account that Zeffrikar follows Khans block, that it’s the start of the 2-set paradigm, etc. I can’t take Origins into account, and by the time it’s out I don’t think I’ll want to make too many changes to the file based on it, but otherwise I’m going to try to take into account everything that R&D does in terms of how this block interacts with those around it.

Additionally, there are a number of major ramifications that “Return” blocks have before the first card is in the file. Imagine if Scars of Mirrodin had no artifact theme at all, or skipped the Myr, or didn’t make some mechanical nod to affinity. You could call it Mirrodin if you like, and even have all the art portray the same plane we saw the first time around. But without familiar mechanical hooks, no one would consider it a real sequel to Mirrodin. So on top of all the other considerations, there’s going to need to be some significant consideration given to the mechanics, named and unnamed, from Zendikar block to figure out which make sense to revisit in some fashion or riff off of.

So that will be today's discussion. I'm going through the mechanics of Zendikar block, in roughly the order they appear first in by set then collector's number, and grading them based on how eager I am to revisit them, how important they are to doing a Zendikar sequel, and how much they evoke the theme of adventure that I'm aiming for here.

Equipment Matters (Kor Tribal)

Kor didn't get a lot of tribal support during their time in the sun, but, like their Leonin brethren from Mirrodin, they had a mechanical theme caring about being equipped. This fits fine into the adventure theme, and I'm planning on revisiting it. A


Traps really have me torn. I really dislike virtually useless subtypes, and there were only two cards that cared about traps in Zen. I like the idea of cards labeled traps, and they definitely are worth revisiting through the adventure lens, but I wish I could bring them back without the inelegant subtype. Since I don't think I could get away with that, there either have to be more "Traps Matter" cards to justify the subtype or we'll have to go without. B


Kicker doesn't do a whole lot for me. It had a very functional purpose in Zen/WW, giving you a mana sink for all that extra land you rushed to get out, but on its own it doesn't help sell Adventure. D


I really don't care for Landfall. Obviously lands have to matter in this set, but I think that a different mechanic will satisfy that requirement, like Metalcraft did for Affinity. C-


The poor man's sliver. They fit the adventure theme just fine, and should be in the set, although I will probably try to take a different mechanical approach to the cleric/wizard/warrior model they used the first time around. B


Quests definitely capture the adventure theme. These are in. A

10 Life (Vampire Tribal)

Vampires were reintroduced as a characteristic race in Zendikar, and while most of them had bleeder-style effects, the common mechanical thread was caring about players being at 10 life or less. This was cute, and might deserve a throwback card or two, but I don't think it needs to have a full mechanical theme dedicated to it. C+

Colorless Spells

The Eldrazi will definitely be a major focus here, and this is kind of their shtick, so assume some space will be dedicated to it. (The Tribal type will not be making its big comeback here.) A


I don't think so. It's such an oppressive and unfun mechanic if you're not piloting the Eldrazi it's attached to. There are better ways to show their destructive tendencies. D

Eldrazi Spawn

These 0/1s served so many cool little functions in RoE. They were really the glue that held that set together. I'd like to bring them back, but they would have to be at least somewhat synergistic with the rest of what's going on. B-

Level Up

I like the mechanic, and even though it captures the feel of adventure in a lot of ways, I don't think it was iconic enough the first time around to require it to be a returning mechanic to the plane. C

Totem Armor

I love this mechanic. Of all the keyworded mechanics of the block, it was probably my favorite. I want to bring it back, but it's not especially iconic, and I'm not sure yet if it will help out any themes I'm aiming for. C+


Another great mechanic from RoE. It was just refeatured in Khans block, so there's no way it's showing up here. F

Defender Matters

Meh. R&D every once in a while tries to push this as a theme, and it never interests me, despite my Johnny ways. It runs contrary to the primary emotional theme I'm aiming for (nothing is less adventurous than having defender) and Zeffrikar won't likely have the need for it since I'm not going for as much of a battlecruiser magic set as Rise. F

CMC Matters

A Brian Tinsman favorite, this was a mechanical theme that played off the giant Eldrazi in the set. Mentioning CMC in the rules text has fallen out of favor with R&D, so I don't imagine that this could be a strong mechanical theme. It might show up on a few cards at uncommon or rare, but it will depend on how the Eldrazi evolve through the design process. D

In short, here are the mechanical hooks that are almost definitely returning, and need space dedicated to them on the design skeleton:
  • Equipment Matters (Kor)
  • Traps
  • Quests
  • Allies 
  • Colorless Spells
  • Lands Matter, but with the volume at half (or lower) of what it was last time

A philosophical question: Are allies and traps honorary keyword mechanics? The first sets in the block both before and after it had 4 named mechanics (Shards: Unearth, Devour, Exalted, Cycling; Scars: Proliferate, Infect, Metalcraft, Imprint), but as far as keywords, Zendikar only had kicker (a returning mechanic) and landfall. Most blocks recycle one or two named mechanics. Both traps and allies were large mechanical themes, but assuming that both are coming back in some form, and also assuming I want one and only one returning keyword mechanic, should I even start looking at other keywords to return?

My feeling is that they shouldn't count as the returning keyword mechanics. I have a short list of keyword mechanics I would consider using in Zeffrikar on top of the list above. Come back later this week where I'll go over that list, and start discussing ways that we can evolve the Maps, Traps, and Chaps for their return. In the meantime, feedback and critique are welcome, so comment away. Also, I do some of my brainstorming over on Twitter, so feel free to weigh in there as well.


  1. Looks like an exciting start! I agree with most of your mechanic analyses here, so I'll just list my possible points of contention:

    I'm not sure it's impossible to replace landfall, but I don't think the affinity analogue necessarily applies. As you mentioned, Zendikar didn't have many named mechanics. Landfall was THE thing and I'm worried that for a lot of players the set won't feel like Zendikar without it.

    The other point is that while you're right about how well both traps and quests fit thematically, they're both rather wordy. I'd be okay returning one, but probably not both, and either way I'd want to first make a good faith effort at capturing the flavor with something simpler.

    1. Landfall was pretty much at the center of why I didn't like Zen the first time around. I understand the block was pitched as land matters, so they had that volume turned way up for landfall and its support cards, but the creative layer they put on top of the mechanical is so much more interesting to me. That's why the adventure elements like quests, allies and traps are ranked so much higher.

      When I'm building a 60 card deck, it frustrates me that, by default, there are 24 less cool cards I can throw in because lands. With landfall in the mix, manabases eat up even more space in your deck.

      Note: Landfall will probably be in the set. But it will be on a handful of cards in green and probably one other color, and it won't have the ability word attached to it. Sporemound as an example. http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=370605

    2. I'm fine with it not being as pervasive, but I think not calling it out by name is a mistake. If we don't build the natives' faction around it then I'd be happy to see landfall as a them for a green color pair like warriors in Khans.

    3. I feel like making the one person who hated landfall the head designer of Return to Zendikar is like putting a Republican in charge of the EPA.

      That said, Scars of Mirrodin didn't include Mirrodin's most famous keyword, and I'm totally on board with everything else Jay has said and plans. So I'm excited to see how the set works without Landfall.

    4. As he said below, Jay is still carefully considering it. Part of being a well rounded designer is the ability to make things for your audience that you personally don't like. As long as you're willing to listen to other opinions and think things through carefully rather than relying solely on gut instincts, nothing is off limits.

    5. The ratings here are all clearly based on your experience, with little or no effort to adopt a neutral point of view. This seems like a poor place to start if this is a serious project to make you a better designer.

      I get that you don't like landfall, but you'll learn more by designing cards that people who do like landfall like than you will ever learn by trying to prove why people who like landfall or defender matters or... are wrong.

      [For the record, and this may weaken my above point, I also didn't care for Zendikar. My biggest complaint would be that I found it totally devoid of theme, and as much as Mark said "don't you get it, adventure world?" I never "got it." Mechanically it played fine, I thought, but it wasn't gripping. Put a different way, to me Zendikar is a pile of cards, not a cube.

      I honestly don't even really know what Adventure World is supposed to be, but certainly the original execution wasn't it. "Don't you get it, adventurers use Grappling Hooks?" Oh and these Allies, these are the fighers, and these are the wizards, and...

      That said, I really enjoyed Rise of the Eldrazi an definitely consider it one of Magic's high points (despite Mark's lengthy protestations about it). I definitely enjoyed the Defender Matters theme, among just about everything else about the set.

      All that said, none of that makes me pessimistic about the return, as I suspect they'll do it better this time, especially since they don't have to set up this (totally nonsensical) world.]

    6. @Tommy: It sounds like we're coming from a very similar place as far as Zendikar goes. Adventure world appeals to me. Lands matter world? Not as much.

      Also, of course the ratings are based on my experience/opinions. I'm pretty open about that. I graded them on a few factors - how much I like them personally is one of them, but not the most important. The major factor is how well it sells "Adventure."

  2. Here's an excerpt from an article I am working on (EXTREMELY rough draft) that might be useful to you in thinking about the 'experience' of Zendikar: (Note, I'll be cutting out some parts that aren't directly related to the matter at hand.)

    In Zendikar, we can see the beginnings of experiential design. Now, Zendikar was by no means designed with an agenda of cultivating an experience in mind - Zendikar started off as a bottom-up set, "the land set", and so its design was heavily skewed towards lands, and not towards any specific experience. But Zendikar wasn't marketed as "the land set" - it was marketed as "the adventure set".


    Now, Zendikar was envisioned as "the adventure set" relatively early in its design. Many designers thought "the land set" would be problematic, so there were a couple safeguards built into the block from the beginning (such as the 'independent' third set) and this experiential design was one of them. They were designing not only to capture the genre of "adventure", but also the mood - how do you make the players feel like they're adventurers?

    The answer is in "risk" and "discovery". The entire set cultivates a feeling of taking risks and conquering the unknown.

    Landfall is the best mechanic of the block, in my humble opinion. Beyond the obvious flavor of exploration, there's also the uncertainty of drawing enough lands to reliably trigger Landfall. One amazing thing about Landfall is that, though it make you feel triumphant, the triumph only lasts a turn - soon, the moment will pass, and you'll be left wanting it one more time... it basically creates in the players a sense of wanderlust, of continually seeking the horizon. What a wonderful way to make them feel like explorers - giving them the same desire that explorers have. This is one reason I particularly love Landfall. Landfall simply accomplishes everything asked of it at once, in a very fun, satisfying, and innovative way.

    Spells with Kicker tantalize you with a big future, if only you take the risk of not casting it now... taking that risk, seeking the big payoff at the end, is very Indiana Jones. [...]

    Everything you do in Zendikar has the chance to trigger a Trap - but often, you have to risk it to win it... the Traps are helpfully flavored very adventure-y, but even if they weren't, I'm confident they'd make players feel like Indy when he was trying to navigate that one corridor full of riddles with deadly consequences.

    Many Quests have risky or uncertain triggers, maintaining an uncertainty in whether you'll ever complete your Quest. Taking these risks, putting your creatures in the red zone, or waiting on the possibility of fulfilling your Quest, really puts players on the edge of their seats.

    Allies had the same basic idea behind Landfall, unsurprisingly. "Will I draw my Allies?" What makes them more interesting is the sense of unity and growth they create - the more Allies you have, the more rewards you get. It combines the feelings of Quests and Landfall very well, but at the cost of losing out on the land-focus.

    Obviously, the set is not designed wholly around a sense of adventure - we don't see many cards outside of these mechanics that engender these emotions, unlike other, future experientially designed sets. But we definitely see a beginning to a "moody" approach to design."

    1. One key point to note is that I think Landfall is THE best mechanic in the set - its design is fantastic, and it serves to emphasize the themes of 'risk' and 'adventure' in some vital and important ways, in my opinion.

      The reasons for landfall to return: everyone expects it to (don't fight player expectation); it's the definitive Zendikar mechanic, so it's the best way to make it feel like we're returning to Zendikar; it fosters an experience of anticipation; and it has a huge amount of design space.

      The argument against landfall is mostly related to how it played out in Zendikar block. It made for an oppressive Limited environment, as all the buffs happened only on your turns, meaning the environment often became "attack, attack, attack!"

      How do we fix this? There are a few different ways:

      1.) Landfall triggers no longer overwhelmingly encourage combat on your turn. Think along the lines of Sporemound, Cosi's Ravager, Hedron Crab, etc.
      Pros: It maintains the exciting 'free' spell effect, and it's very much in line with original Landfall
      Cons: It does narrow our range of usable effects.

      2.) Landfall triggers that do involve combat could cost mana. This would keep them from all triggering at once, and give players some interesting decisions.
      Pros: It gives us more design space, and it's an interesting expansion on the original Landfall, showcasing that this is an evolution of Zendikar. (It was only seen on Seer's Sundial before.)
      Cons: It is a less exciting form of Landfall, and compares unfavorably to the original Landfall.

      Regardless of how we choose to fix it, the point still stands: Landfall, to many players, is Zendikar. Returning it seems very important.

    2. Good points all around. My primary issue with Zendikar 1.0 was rooted in landfall, particularly at the volume it was at. Player expectations are very important though, so I am going to give this a lot of thought.

      Out of curiosity, what are you writing the article for?

    3. Yeah, many of the issues with Zendikar were caused by Landfall. I agree it needs a new direction, but not necessarily to be removed.

      The article is about experiential design in recent sets - that is, designs that revolve around experience, emotion, mood, etc. I started writing it during discussions of the 'experience' of Tesla. It's not really "for" anything but myself, I guess... I don't have a website to publish to, or anything.

    4. Traps do engender a feeling of walking into danger when they're sprung on you during combat, but I hesitate to say that they create a better or more common variation of this experience than any run-of-the-mill combat trick. The issue with Traps in Magic is that they're concealed within the hand of cards, which 1) is something that many LSPs won't pay attention to at all, 2) even if you are inclined to "play around" tricks it's not realistic to factor the possibility of every single Trap card into your decision-making, especially since only two are commons, and 3) unlike games such as Yugioh, where the act of laying a trap is a game decision in itself, in Magic your potential arsenal of traps accumulates as part of the turn structure built into the game, which doesn't create distinct moments to instill a sense of trepidation in your opponent. This is especially true for the "utility removal" traps like Pitfall, Inferno, and Whiplash, which were playable regardless of whether you expected your opponent to ever meet the condition or not (and in the case of the last two, potentially optimal to play on your own precombat main phase -- the last time anyone would think of a play as "trap-like" -- to clear away opposing blockers for your landfall aggro dudes).

      Likewise on the topic of how hidden information doesn't necessarily affect the mood of the game for the opponent, kicker cards only play into the risk/reward narrative for the player holding it in hand. The opponent has no idea whether you've been sandbagging that lethal Burst Lightning for 5 turns or if you just drew it off the top.

      Allies also create interesting decisions in determining how high/spread-out you want your mana curve to be in deckbuilding, as well as how you want to sequence your plays when you have multiple Allies at the same CMC. I'm not a huge fan of tribal myself but they were solid role-players in the two-color aggro decks I liked to draft.

      Can we talk a little about the Worldwake mechanics, seeing as they are a part of Zendikar block proper? Multikicker I believe was justified by the "big mana lots of lands" focus, and I wouldn't mind seeing it go as its design space isn't that expansive. Landfall instants were a big plus for me and should stay. And enemy-color manlands would be a great followup to Khans block, though I'm not crazy about the Zendikons.

  3. I agree with you on traps -- I like the idea, but don't like useless subtypes (most instants aren't traps?). I wonder if it could be an ability word instead?

    Blah Trap 3R
    Trap - If an opponent did blah you may cast this for R.
    Do whatever.

    And cards that care about it could say "Search your library for a card with a trap ability"?

    1. You can't search decks for cards with a trap ability. Those are not allowed to be referenced by rules text.

      Totally don't understand the trap hate! Traps add a lot of depth to limited environments.

    2. Jack at least, and Zeff I think as well, are saying they like the idea of traps, but don't like them having the subtype "Trap". I don't particularly see it myself, but then, I'm one of the people who wishes Tribal had been permanently adopted for every set from Lorwyn onwards. I like spell subtypes for the same reason I think the game is better with creatures having the Advisor or Fish subtypes - they add flavour and allow potential mechanical interactions, perhaps with cards that will only be printed in several years' time.

    3. I agree with you with the ability word route, but then rules-wise you couldn't have cards that care about it, the exact example you give would not be doable. Ability words have no rule meaning (i.e. they're basically flavor text).

    4. Ability words wouldn't really work on traps, as ability words are used to define a uniform condition that turns the ability on, which is the opposite of what traps do.

      If I were printing traps for the first time, they would look like this:

      Baloth Cage Trap 3GG
      If an opponent had an artifact enter the battlefield under his or her control this turn, you may pay 1G rather than pay Baloth Cage Trap's mana cost.
      Put a 4/4 green Beast creature token onto the battlefield.

      They would be identical to the original minus subtype, because subtypes on noncreatures are almost never worth it.

      Traps are awesome, and the only reason I'm hesitant to do it again is because of the subtype.

    5. I'm with AlexC here, I favor as many subtypes on Instants/Sorceries as possible. No one complains when creature types are irrelevant, I think (for Magic) additional typing is better than only including minimal typing.

      The ability to print Trapmaker's Snare et al is well worth it. What is the downside?

      Also, I don't think there is any reason ability words have to define a condition, they just have to indicate something a bunch of cards have in common. They are totally meaningless ruleswise, so they can really do anything you want. They're flavortext. Of course, this makes them unuseful as a way of labeling traps.

      Do you also dislike Curses having their own type? I really don't get this.

    6. I do dislike curses having their own type, for a few reasons.
      First, subtypes have implied rules baggage. Some creature types are trivial, but there are a million cards that can support a Brushwagg deck, if that's what you're into. Because every creature has a creature type, they matter no matter how obscure they are. That's not the case with Curses and Traps. There are two cards total that care about traps. Three that care about curses. I don't think that's enough upside for the implied rules baggage subtypes care about.

      Maro has had a number of podcasts/articles/etc. over the last year about things they would do differently if they knew then what they know now. While I agree with most of it, I am pretty opposed to having subtypes on spells like fire/ice/nature etc. The upside is too small and it adds more complication to an already very complex game.

      This segues into the other main reason I dislike traps and curses as subtypes. Unless they are evergreen subtypes, it doesn't make sense that an aura you stick to your opponent in Innistrad is a curse and one that's not in Innistrad isn't. Similar to how tribal noncreatures were considered a mistake in retrospect, largely because of inconsistency across sets/blocks. Also, because its not evergreen, it blocks perfectly reasonable reprints in sets that don't have it as a "mechanic".

      The middle ground, where the subtype is supported enough to justify its baggage and inconsistency, results in mechanics like splice onto arcane, which is considered a major failing due to its parasitic nature.

    7. FWIW, I would like more subtypes if they were used consistently (I liked curse). But since Wizards tried with tribal and decided it didn't work, I don't like a compromise where _some_ trap-flavoured cards are "trap" and some aren't, and some fire flavoured cards are "fire" and some aren't, etc.

      I don't understand the rules problem. Chroma is an example where the abilities don't all do the same thing. And IIRC wizards haven't made ability words rules-relevant YET, but nor have they reprinted cards adding or removing them, which suggests they could be. Indeed, that seems part of what they're FOR.

    8. Chroma was actually retroactively added on to an existing card - Phosphorescent Feast from Future Sight. :)

      If the game were to be rebooted from scratch, I wouldn't mind seeing spell subtypes glommed onto existing spells as trinket text. What bugs me now is there's a vast difference in the way staple creature bodies/effects are printed versus staple spell effects, with the latter being much more likely to receive an actual as opposed to functional reprint. Somehow players don't mind it as much on creatures because most creatures are limited filler anyway, and most Constructed playable ones have enough unique effects that it wouldn't make sense to print the exact same card under a different name. But it'd get pretty annoying if I had to rebuy, say, Naturalize or Negate every time Standard rotated because WotC insisted on giving the functional reprint a slightly different flavor and "spell subtype."

    9. Amidst all this discussion regarding subtypes, I'm wondering:

      Is the Tribal supertype necessary in order to put those subtypes on instants and sorceries?

      Because I'll be honest, I was ever so slightly disappointed that the various dragon-themed spells (like Silumgar's Scorn) weren't Instant - Dragon (for instance). Letting Sarkhan's Triumph tutor up Draconic Roar feels like it would have been flavorfully awesome.

    10. Ability words are entirely invisible to the game. Nothing can reference an ability word.
      The Tribal supertype is necessary to put creature subtypes on non-creature spells.

      How much rules baggage is there in the 'trap' and 'curse' subtypes, versus a personal dislike of something standing out as different?

    11. Reading this response form a judge, I still don't really understand the necessity of Tribal:

      "Q: What’s the deal with tribal anyway? Why is that a card type at all?

      A: During Lorwyn block, the design team wanted to have things that weren’t creatures interact with the plentiful “creature type matters” effects they were putting in the block. For instance, they wanted to make instants and sorceries that players would be able to find with Boggart Harbinger. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just add creature types to cards, for example, by making Tarfire an Instant – Goblin, because goblin isn’t a spell type. Their solution was to introduce another card type, give it all the same subtypes that creatures had, and put this new card type on any noncreature card they wanted to give creature types to. It isn’t the most elegant solution, but it works."

      Like... there's a segregation of what subtypes are associated with which card types, and somehow it was less complicated to invent a new card type than it was to desegregate subtypes?

    12. Desegregating subtypes doesn't just make Trapfinder's Trick hit Mistform Ultimus, it also makes Mothdust Changeling tap for {G} because that's rules baggage that comes with the Forest subtype. It's certainly much more complicated to desegregate subtypes than to add a new type.

    13. Do you have an explanation/defense that doesn't involve changelings?

      Because you really just convinced that changelings were a terrible idea.

    14. I mean, the same goes for anything that can change types: Mistform creatures, Xenograft, Imagecrafter. But the bigger problem is it breaks a bunch of cards intended for "choose your own tribe" play. Imagine Distant Melody choosing Island or Belbe's Portal choosing Arcane.

      There's a perfectly consistent system if you do this from the start, but changing in in Lorwyn creates all sorts of unintuitive interactions or a bunch of errata that doesn't match the printed text.

      To be clear: I think Tribal was a terrible idea and has done a lot of long-term harm by making most subtype referencing rules text templates longer, but the alternative wasn't any good either (and would have required all the same wonky templates).

    15. Re: Tribal

      I don't understand why the rules couldn't have just said "non-creatures can have creature subtypes" or something like that. But wizards have repeatedly said that they couldn't do tribal like that, and that doing tribal at all was a mistake. And I can't see any reason for them to lie, and they're usually right about this sort of thing, so I assume they're right.

      Re: Ability words.

      Jenesis, well spotted, thank you. OK, a single example of errata'ing an ability word onto an old card sounds more like agreement than not. They've done this with keywords -- errata'd cards with equivalent functionality to use lifelink when there was no functional change, and then errata'd them back again when the rules changed so there WOULD have been a functional change.

      But... people say again and again that "ability words are invisible to the rules" but offer no evidence for it, and it seems contrary to every other way the rules work. (The comprehensive rules say ability words have no rules effect, which is true, but different.) Anything CAN be referenced by the rules, like I would have said wizards would never say "replace all instances of this word with this other word" outside silver-border, but that's what overload did.

      The rules usually reference things that are expected to be an inviolable part of the card: colour, name, etc, etc, etc. And DON'T reference things that can change: rarity, expansion, part of a name (in different languages) etc, etc. Can an ability word change? Can wizards reprint a battalion card without battalion? They could, but there seems little benefit, since ability words are usually fairly central to a card's identity. Is there a benefit to referencing ability words? Yes, definitely, just like saying "cards with flash" or "cards with defender" for keywords.

      They haven't, but I can see nothing in the comp rules preventing it, and no problems in doing it. I feel like I'm missing something -- sorry, what am I missing?

    16. Ability words are flavor text. They're italicized and serve no technical purpose but theme. Magic could reference ability words, just as easily as they could reference flavor text. But that's silver-border stuff.

      Do I agree it should be that way? Definitely not. They're making life harder on themselves.

    17. I imagine the reason they are is for situations like M14 where they wanted Sporemound. If cards referenced Landfall, people would be confused and/or upset when they didn't work with Sporemound, but they don't want a random word on one card confusing people and they don't want a card interacting with cards that don't even say the thing they reference.

    18. @Jules&Jay: I think that's the most compelling reason to not let the rules see Ability words. Let's be able to reprint cards with threshhold without it counting towards the set's named mechanic allotment. Let's be able to tack it onto things like phosphorescent feast without actually errataing.

    19. @Jay re: rules baggage of subtypes. I don't care about actual rules baggage that come with those cards. I care about the implied rules baggage that comes with inexperienced players seeing instant combat tricks with a subtype attached right next to instant combat tricks without. It screams out that "this means something!" when, two uninteresting blue cards aside, it doesn't.

      If we're going to make subtypes like curse and traps, let's make them matter for something other than flavor, because all the flavor in those instances is captured by card name convention and card mechanic.

      (Note, curses were handled slightly better than traps imo, but I still would have preferred more support.)

      (Note, part 2: I loved arcane spells. Two major mechanics in the block cared about whether the thing you were casting was arcane or not. I understand the parasitic problem Maro has discussed, but parasitic mechanics are fine as far as I'm concerned if handled at the right volume and cross-block planning is handled a little better (as it is these days).)

    20. The "you can't reference ability words" thing was one of the multiple choice questions for GDS2 if you want to look it up. I don't think referencing ability words is a good idea because I don't want any constraints on the use of ability words whatsoever. Design should be able to use them to help players see whatever they want them to see.

      I have a really hard time imagining a new player ever questioning why the type line of Blaze says Sorcery -- Fire. I think the biggest problem would be them wanting to know why Icy Blast is an Ice spell and Encase in Ice and Frost Titan aren't, but as has been pointed out, the types shouldn't mix.

    21. @Tommy: Ah, thank you! Ah, ok, found it. It does say basically that.

      Although even after reading Mark's answer, I'm still not sure I agree. You can't say "creatures with landfall" but you could say "creatures with a landfall ability" or "whenever a landfall ability triggers, copy it" or "battalion counts one fewer/one more attacking creatures". That seems a lot more likely than reprinting a landfall or battalion card without the ability.

      In theory, you could just choose cards with an appropriate theme and reprint them with an ability word. But wizards haven't, and I think the ability word, even though it doesn't have rules meaning, is usually seen as an integral part of the card.

    22. @jack You can't say "creatures with a landfall ability." Ability words can't be referenced by game rules/effects.

      @zefferal I disagree. Inexperienced players pay less attention to the type line and are more likely to ignore things that don't immediately make sense to them. It's the intermediate players who believe they understand everything but don't who get confused by such things, but those players have the resources (friends, dailymtg, the comp rules) to figure them out pretty easily.

  4. Regarding Allies and the largely failed attempt to integrate the D&D concept of a cleric/wizard/warrior model, it may be a smart idea to ditch Allies in favor of a further refinement of a class-type matters theme.

    It could be a potentially great bridge between Khans and BfZ, allowing both a rejuvenation of Khans' Warrior theme (which dissipated as the block progressed) and a means to give new value to fringe constructed cards like Pitiless Horde (if there were Berzerker Tribal).

    1. That is a clever idea. I'm still debating how to handle the tribal component here, and I like what that opens up.

  5. I'm trying to think of a set more intimately tied to its central mechanic than Zendikar is to landfall, and I can't. For many, many players, Zendikar is "the landfall set." It was beloved by nearly everyone, and all of those fans are expecting it to return in BfZ.

    This isn't to say it's not *possible* to ditch landfall, only that you have to have a very, very good reason (hint: "I didn't like it" isn't good enough by half) and that what you do execute on has to be not just good, but such a home-run that your players can't imagine landfall being a better choice for your set.

    If you do manage to pull that off, I'll be eager to see the results, but it's certainly not the route I would go down.

  6. One somewhat-tangential note. Zendikar was introduced to us thematically as "adventure world" and mechanically as "the land set" where "lands matter".

    In practice, however, almost all the "lands matter" was "lands entering the battlefield matters". There were very few other kinds of "lands matter" in Zendikar itself, certainly not in any volume. (Worldwake brought another sensible kind of "lands matter" which was manlands.) I don't think kicker counts as "lands matter" because every set has some mana sinks these days - in Gatecrash it was extort, in KTK it was outlast, DTK it was dash, and none of those sets had a "lands matter" theme.

    This was one thing that somewhat bugged me about the block. But in retrospect it bothers me a bit less: the block was one way to do "lands matter", but not the only way. Verdia is another way. MtG will likely find a couple more other ways of doing "lands matter", just like there'll be more enchantment blocks that do things rather differently to how Theros did.

    Anyway, like I say this is somewhat tangential, because for the purposes of gaBfZ you likely want to stick to doing things the way Zendikar did them rather than the way any of us think Zendikar "should" have done them :) And earthform, while an extremely cool mechanic that I remain convinced would work just fine in the rules, would most definitely not be sensible to have in the block immediately after a morph-manifest-megamorph block!

    1. I like the idea behind Cultivate, but it's pretty wordy and in its current incarnation will be very repetitive. I'm fairly convinced that Earthform won't work within the rules, and Dowse seems even more problematic than Sweep, which was already a bad mechanic.

    2. To clarify: I'm not saying I don't think other approaches to land matters can work, but Landfall is one of the best mechanics Magic has come up with ever and we can't bring it back in a different land block because it'll be too similar to Zendikar. Here we can and should return it.